Monday, October 31, 2011

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Home-Grown Costumes

We're done trick-or-treating... finally. This has been an... interesting... evening.

After dinner, I brought the boy down to the lab. (At age six, he's old enough to keep it a secret. He also knows that if he doesn't, I can fit him with a small device that will administer an electric shock whenever he starts to say something indiscreet. He's already started a series of experiments designed to render himself immune to electric shocks; I don't know whether to be proud or worried. But I digress...)

We activated the fog machine first, to give the neighborhood time to fill up. Then we winched the exo-suits up out of the growth tanks. I set the timer on the hidden access port, and then we got into our suits. The control wombs worked perfectly; once the connections were made, we could operate our pseudo-saurs just by moving the equivalent parts of our bodies.

It was a magnificent moment when we emerged into the fog. My son was, for all practical purposes, an actual velociraptor; while I lumbered along behind him, a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the flesh.

Admittedly, we didn't get much candy. My son would nuzzle the doorbells, and roar his "trick-or-treat!" Then, often, the person at the door would scream and drop their bowl of candy. So we should have had as much as we wanted, but candy is very hard to pick up without opposable thumbs.

Then my son found some kids from his school, including that one kid who always picks on him. That was... satisfying to watch. Deeply, deeply satisfying. In fact, I was tempted to look up some of my old school-mates and give them a well-deserved scare, but my suit was starting to get itchy and I could hear sirens in the distance. The fog would slow them down, but it was time to get back to the lab. I'd built these bio-suits to behave like dinosaurs; I hadn't designed them to be bulletproof.

So I roared for my son, and nudged him back towards the lab. He left off chasing his so-called "peers," and away we went. I was able to activate the hidden entrance without making my dinosaur body thrash around too much, and we ducked inside just the flashing lights got close enough for me to see. And then we tried to climb out of the suits.

That was where life got difficult. You see, we'd pulled them directly from the growth tanks. I had used about four times the usual dosage of growth formula to get them ready in time... and they were still dripping with it. So when we tried to take the suits off, we couldn't: they'd been trying to graft themselves onto us.

I finally had to maneuver my suit over to the experimental laser - not easy with a body that size! - and make a few strategic cuts. I managed this by switching the laser on (very carefully, with my snout) and moving the dinosaur-body into its path. The laser promptly gave out in a shower of sparks, but by then I could wiggle one arm free. I took some work to reach the clone-dissolving spray (left over as a precaution from some experiments a few years back), and that finally did the trick.

So my son and I are loose, and the suits are gone. Admittedly, the shower in the laboratory may never be the same, and there's a huge pile of half-dissolved dinosaur parts in middle of the assembly room; but all in all the evening was quite a success.

Book Review: Night of the Living Dead Christian

Night of the Living Dead Christian

This book is a bit of lighthearted - well, for the most part - Christian fiction. I'm reading it because the author's response to Geds' review of it got me interested. And since it is interesting, and since some of my Christian readers might be interested in something outside of the ordinary realm of "Christian Fiction," I thought I'd offer my responses to it.

This is not an especially long book, and it reads fairly quickly. That's not a complaint - by my standards Frankenstein is a short book, but that in no way detracts from the experience of it. Night of the Living Dead Christian is also, for the most part, funny. It's a particularly slapstick sort of humor, but it works. (The author refers to it as a "farce," and I think that's a pretty accurate description.)

Unfortunately, it does have some problems. The book is written entirely in the First Person, which would be fine except that there are two first-person narrators. One of them is Matt Mikalatos, which - if you're paying attention - is also the name of the author. Matt gets the slapstick, humorous bits of the narrative. The other narrator is Luther, a werewolf in search of a cure for his condition, who breaks in when the author wants to make more serious philosophical points. His sections were, at least for me, an unwelcome interruption in a story that was otherwise rather enjoyable. There are some other issues, too, but they'll require a much more detailed look at the narrative to explain, and they're probably things that a casual reader could easily ignore (or just overlook).

It's a Christian book, so of course it has a Christian message, but I have to say it's at least an interesting twist on the usual message. It's sort of Halloween Christianity: instead of just saying that we're all sinners and we need the redeeming love of Christ to be forgiven, the basic message is that we're all monsters, and we need the redeeming love of Christ to become fully human.

As a message, I'm not entirely sure it works - but note, among other things, that I am not a Christian, and therefore very definitely not the target audience for this book. Still... I think that would make an interesting Halloween sermon; I'm not sure the metaphor holds up so well when extended far enough to fill a book. The main issue I have is that "monster" is a rather more extreme term than "sinner" - all sins might be equal in God's eyes, but on a day-to-day basis most people don't consider, say, lying to a police officer about how fast you thought you were going to be morally equivalent to stabbing someone in the neck with an ice pick. So trying to say that we are all of us monsters seems to me to dilute the meaning of the word "monster".

Overall, I'd definitely recommend this to Christians looking for a fun and clever bit of explicitly Christian writing. It's a mildly subversive look at certain sorts of Christianity, and an interesting lense for examining Christian beliefs. I do have some issues with the story, but overall I think that it's a good fit for its intended audience.

Now, that's the short version of the review. I wanted to go ahead get this up in time for Halloween (though at least one of the people who I think would enjoy the book is on the wrong side of the world, and may very well be done with Halloween by now). I have a considerably more detailed look at the book - like, ten pages of review at present, and at least twelve by the time I get done writing it out - which I'll probably put up in sections when it's done. But in the meantime I have at least finished reading it, and hope to have a more thorough examination of it ready soon.

This is Halloween

Here's one more selection of spooky things for you holiday enjoyment. In keeping with the spirit of Halloween, I'm putting them... well... below the cut.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween Story 3: They Came From Under The Bed

Tom sighed and picked up the remote. He really wanted to finish his movie, but it was late and the movie still had a fair bit to go. He switched it off and stretched his arms... and froze.

There were voices coming from his son's bedroom. Not a voice. Voices.

He stood and padded softly out of the living room, and down the short hallway to the boy's room. The voices, soft and whispery to begin with, fell silent as he approached - but now there was a soft scrabbling, as if something, or several somethings, were racing across the hardwood floor. The sound sent a chill down his spine and put a tightness in his chest.

He stopped in the doorway, but whatever had been there was gone. The spill of light from the hallway behind him and the dim glow of the night light still left plenty of dark corners, and for a moment the urge to cross to his son's bed struggled with the urge not to put his feet down in a darkened room where something had just been moving. Then he flipped on the lights and started forward.

His son was sitting up in bed, blinking against the sudden glare. "Hi, Dad."

He looks guilty, Tom thought. Aloud, he asked: "You still awake, buddy?"

The boy nodded.

"Who were you talking to?"

"Nobody." The boy was looking down at his hands.

"I heard voices."

"Myself. I was talking to myself."

For a moment, Tom considered arguing... but really, what was he going to say? There was nobody here, nobody the boy could have been talking to. Maybe he was just having a conversation with his toys or something. And maybe the skittering sound had come from a toy, too - something his son had dropped or slid across the floor. So he said, "Okay. Listen, it's pretty late. Try to go to sleep, okay? And if you hear anything moving around in here, you call me. Got it?"

The boy met his eyes, looking solemn. "I got it."

He nodded and ruffled his son's hair. Then he stood and went back into the hall, flipping off the light as he left. He went through the rest of the house, turning off the lights. He brushed his teeth, and slipped into bed. And then he lay there, staring up at the ceiling in the dark.

After a few minutes he got back out of bed. His sock feet were silent on the floor, and his eyes had adjusted to the darkness... as much as they were going to, anyway. Moving carefully so as not to bump anything, he made his way back to the living room, and then to the hallway that led to the boy's bedroom.

Yes: there were definitely voices in his son's room.

He kept his steps slow and soft as he moved down the hall. This time there wasn't any light to give him away. The voices grew louder, clearer, closer... but he still couldn't understand them. He had the strange impression that they weren't speaking English. Surely Tom Junior, at age five, wasn't making up his own languages? Wasn't this too young for that?

Tom reached the doorway but stopped just outside it, where he wouldn't be visible from his son's bed. He could hear his son's voice, babbling softly. Then another voice answered, in the same sort of nonsense-words. For a moment, Tom thought that maybe his son was making the second voice, too. Then a third voice joined the conversation, cutting in over the second one.

He drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, using his mouth so he wouldn't make any noise. Then, ever so carefully, he stepped into the doorway.

There was something on his son's bed. No, two somethings... three... more... Those weren't shadows on the covers. They were alive, whatever they were. And they were all around the boy. His first thought was a swarm of rats, but he didn't think rats moved in groups like this... and he knew that rats didn't talk.

For a moment he froze, afraid to step forward and equally afraid to step back. Then something moved at the edge of his vision.

He turned his head slowly, and found himself eye to eye with one of the creatures. It was sitting on top of the big Ikea bookshelf beside the door, looking directly at him. The night light left it in shadow, just like all the others on top of the bed; Tom had the impression of needle-sharp teeth and gleaming eyes in a dark, uncertain body.

It exhaled, a soft sibilance that made the others fall silent on the bed. The boy started to say something, in that strange other language, but Tom lurched back and flailed at the switch.

Light flooded the room, and for a moment he couldn't see. He could hear, though: clawed feet scampered across the floor, carrying dark bodies under the bed and into the closet. He felt something brush his hair as it leapt from the top of the book shelf and landed in the darkened hall behind him.

By the time he could see again, they were gone.

Tom Junior was still sitting up in his bed, and once again he was blinking. This time Tom could see tears at in the boy's eyes. "It's okay," he said, crossing the room. "You're safe."

He knelt in front of the bed and twitched the covers back.

There was nothing under there.

He crossed to the closet and pulled the door the rest of the way open. There was nothing in there, either. His son sniffled on the bed, then asked: "Daddy, why did you make them go away?" He didn't answer immediately. The things he'd seen had been too big to hide in the boy's shoes, but... he ruffled through the hanging clothes, in case something was clinging to them. He knew he was risking a finger, maybe even a hand, but he had to know where they'd gone.

Nothing was hanging on the clothes. Nothing was in the closet, and he couldn't see any holes that they could have escaped through.

After a moment he closed the closet door, and went to sit on the bed beside his son. "What were they?" he heard himself ask.

"It's okay," said his son. "They're nice monsters. They need help. They were going to take me with them" - he sniffled again and wiped at his eyes - "so I could help them."

And as soon as it was dark again, they'd come back. Tom knew it. He couldn't find them; he couldn't stop them. They'd come back, and they'd take his son away with them.

"Okay," he said finally. He stood up, crossed to the light switch, and flipped it off. Then he went to the night light and flipped it off, too. Then he felt his way back over to the bed, and sat beside his son. "Talk to them," he said. "Tell them I'm coming with you." And he listened as his son began speaking in that unknown language.

In the morning the house stood empty.

Creepy Comic

Okay, so it's getting close to Halloween and you just aren't finding anything creepy enough to really get you in the right mood. Well, I have a solution: Robin Seale (author of the The Watcher of Yaathagggu) has a guest comic up over at Midnight Tea Party.

Go. Read it. Be creeped out. You always really suspected that this was how it worked...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween Story 2: We don't go out at night.

At first we didn't believe it. We thought it was a hoax, some sort of mass hysteria, something like that. It just seemed so unlikely, you know?

But it was true.

It was an archaeological project in Armenia that set them loose. That's what they say, anyhow: a bunch of academic types using a small army of grad students and local labor to unearth some very old ruins. They breached the wrong vault, and found something inside - and then they died screaming in the darkness.

That night, most of Armenia was overrun. The night after that, Georgia and Azerbaijan and parts of Turkey and Iran. On the third night, they pushed down into Iraq and Syria, and up as far as Volgograd. A hastily-assembled U.N. task force moved in to try to close the vault. They were still fifteen miles from the site when darkness fell. Nobody made it back out.

The following morning, they bombed the ruins. Maybe that sealed the vault, maybe it didn't - nobody can get close enough to be sure. It doesn't matter anyway - whatever came out of there had already established nests outside the ruins.

A year later, we still don't know what they are. Hell, we don't even know that they're a "they" and not an "it." We know more than we did at first, but that's not saying much. The little ones are about the size of birds. They don't look that dangerous, but if they get you with those tentacle-tongue things... You don't come back from that. And the big ones are worse.

We know they don't come out in daylight, but we don't know why. Maybe light hurts them, but maybe not, too. There's some evidence that they don't actually feel pain, not the way we do. We don't know if they're intelligent, or if the things that look like planning are actually just instinct. We don't know if they communicate, and if they do we don't know how.

We know they're everywhere. The cities are still safe - anywhere there's enough light is safe. But without the countryside, the cities are dying. Maybe we'll reach a point of equilibrium, as we lose more of our population; maybe not.

We don't go out at night. We don't want to see those obscene shapes drift past, darker than the night. We don't want to feel that soft, questing touch from the shadows. We don't want to watch our world slipping away from us.

We huddle close to the light. Some of us, the ones who haven't given up hope, still search for something, anything, that will save us from the things in the darkness. The others... they hold on for as long as they can.

It's all we can do.

Reflections on being sick... again

I’m sick again. Headache, lethargy, all-over achiness... Bleh. I shouldn’t be surprised, I guess. It’s been a busy month, plus the weather is changing (finally!) and the cedar trees have decided to dump their pollen everywhere. But, yeah, I’m spending a couple of days at home, resting and reading and drinking a lot of water.

There’s a potentially interesting situation shaping up at work, but I don’t trust myself to write about it now. So I’ll tell you about that next week, if you don’t mind. Or even if you do.

There are some of us who don’t get sick, for one reason or another. Some are seldom sick, and others are entirely immune to human diseases. I’m not one of them - I can travel the world by an act of will, but apparently I can’t fight off a perfectly ordinary head cold. So... yeah, I think that’s pretty much it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Halloween Story 1: Allergies

Becky woke up with a stuffy nose and a slight headache. She didn't think much of it; with the change in temperature and the way the plants were reacting to the recent rain, her allergies had been acting up for the last week. Besides, she didn't have to get to work for another three hours, and she didn't have any deadlines looming for her classes.

She made herself a cup of tea, and ate a blueberry muffin for breakfast. She could still feel the pressure behind her eyes, so she took a couple of painkillers and some decongestant, and drew herself a hot bath. She found a book and settled in, hoping the heat and the steam would help loosen things up.

Half an hour later, Becky's headache suddenly worsened. She sat up in the bath, and unexpected sneezed. For a brief moment, the pressure eased - and some of the pain went with it. She was reaching for something to wipe her nose with when she felt something pull itself back up into her nostrils. The pain was back, and worse than ever: she felt something crack inside her head.

Her boyfriend found her in the bathtub when he came home from class an hour later. She was still breathing, but only barely; the EMTs said things like "deep shock" and "blood loss" and "trauma" and studiously avoided noticing the way her face had been broken outward from the inside.

Weeks passed. Enormous amounts of time and money and effort went into reparative surgeries. Counselors and law enforcement officials, family and friends: everyone wanted to know what had happened to Becky. But Becky almost never spoke again, and when she did it was only to say, over and over: "It hatched. It hatched. It hatched."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Halloween Costume

My son wants us to be dinosaurs for Halloween. This... this can be done.

Growing the exo-suits will be a challenge - I'll have to expand the biodevelopment tank to make sure there's enough room. Then I'll need to make sure that the "brains" will work to translate our movements into dinosaur movements. Oh, and I'll need to make sure that the control wombs can support us - I'd feel really stupid if I climbed into my saurian bioroid and then suffocated because I forgot to give myself a way to breathe while I'm inside.

But I think this year's costumes will be a great success. Who could possibly refuse to give candy to a child who's dressed as a real, live velociraptor? Especially when his father is a tyrannosaurus, and watching from the middle of the street. My boy will love the opportunity to run and jump and roar - and to scare his friends, of course.

I'll have to get working. Halloween is coming soon, and I'll have to quadruple the growth formula to get the costumes fully grown in time.

The Martians Are Coming

I have weird dreams. If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you know that. But last night's dreams were a bit unusual, even by my standards.

There was, basically, an attack by aliens. They were flying around blowing things up and burning down cities - very War of the Worlds. And I was traveling north, trying to get to some shelter or cache that I had - though what help that would, I have no idea. I'm pretty sure it wasn't stocked with plasma cannons or anything like that.

This went on for quite some time, which in some ways was the oddest part of the dream. I'd drive for a while (often going offroad in a rather vehicle-abusing fashion) and then find a place to hole up. Then I'd start moving again, often with spaceships overhead and cities being immolated around me. At least two of the places where I holed up contained people I knew, old friends of mine.

The dream didn't seem to be building to any particular narrative resolution (sometimes my dreams do). There was just running, and hiding, and more running, and more hiding. I suppose it could be a sort of metaphor for the last couple of weeks, but it might also have been, well, random.

So, what weirdness is plaguing your life just now?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Halloween Comic Recommendations

Since it's about that time, I thought I'd draw your attention to a couple of Halloween comics to help you get in the mood. First of all, there's a series called The Last Trick-Or-Treaters over at Rhymes With Witch. They're fun and disturbing, so go read 'em.

Second, from my sidebar, I'd like to draw your attention to The Watcher of Yaathaggu. It has an interesting story, great art, and a fascinating setting - perfect for anyone who's wondering why there aren't more Lovecraftian comics out there.

Finally, if zombies are more your thing, check out Dead Winter and The Zombie Hunters. Both excellent zombie comics, in very different ways. And if the guy who used to write Everyday Decay happens to read this - dude, could you at least put the archives back online somewhere? I completely understand why you stopped writing it, but it'd be nice to go back and look at it again.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Writing takes work

Saw this over at The Bottom Feeder, and thought I'd pass it along. Go read his thoughts on it, too.
"What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me... is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through."
~Ira Glass
Edited to add: someone in the comments over at The Bottom Feeder was kind enough to put in a link to the youtube video, so I'm embedding it below the cut:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reflections on Conjuration

Kate has moved me to a new kind of training this week: we're conjuring things.

Conjurations get used for any number of things. (If you've been following along, you know that already.) Attack and defense, guarding and stealing, spying and hiding things... I knew about those, at least in theory. Nevertheless, studying conjuration has been a bit of a revelation.

The Watchers have access to some rituals that aren't included in the general areas of the archives. Some of them are simply too dangerous to employ, like the one that High Priestess used to summon the Corpsewalker, but we have to know about them anyway. Others are things that the Watchers use to monitor our fellow worshipers - things that would be harder to use if they were more commonly known. But some of them are just... obsolete.

In the old days, if somebody really crossed us - or, for that matter, if one of our own left the ranks or revealed our secrets - we would summon something horrible and set it after them. We don't do that any more, because nowadays we aren't just concerned about hiding how to do that; these days, we don't want anyone to know that we can do those things at all. An eight-foot-tall monster that looks like a cross between a jackal and an ape, but with wings... well, that's not exactly subtle, is it? And sure, maybe any witnesses wouldn't be believed, or maybe we could keep them quiet - but between the advanced state of modern forensics and the fact that about 90% of the population can record high-quality video with their cell phones, maybe we couldn't.

We're a lot safer if only a very few people know about the things we know. It gives us some advantages in dealing with the rest of the world. But that isn't the whole story; that isn't the only reason we keep these things secret. The rest of the world is safer this way, too.

That's what Kate tells me, anyway. I was raised to believe that we serve the Ancients - or, more precisely, that we serve the Elders, who in turn serve the Ancients - and that we would eventually be rewarded, or at least spared, for our service. "Eventually," in this case, means, "when the Ancients rise up and tear the world apart, spreading chaos and destruction until nothing remains." But the Elders, or at least the Watchers, seem to be actively working against that goal - at least in some cases.

I haven't asked about that. To be honest, I'm not sure I want to know. Well, no: that's not true. I don't want to know badly enough to risk the possible consequences of asking.

But it's... interesting.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. No monstrous entities from beyond our world were conjured in the creation of this post.

Book: Night of the Living Dead Christian

I just downloaded Night of the Living Dead Christian to my Kindle.

I'm not sure, at this point, whether or not to recommend it. It's Christian fiction - not my usual reading - but not entirely serious; its author describes it as a "farce." It's also set in a world of werewolves, vampires, and zombies. Since this is precisely the sort of metaphor and symbolism that I like to play with myself, I'm curious to see what the author's done with his monsters. Geds, over at Accidental Historian, has been been writing a not terribly positive review of it, and odds are that if it didn't work for him, it probably won't work for me, either.

However, the author[1] has also shown up in the comments on Geds' reviews, and he's... taking them in remarkably good spirits. He disagrees with Geds' assessment, of course, but his disagreement is calm, well-spoken, and gracious. (He also makes actual, specific points in his rebuttal: about what happens in the story, and how he thinks it works, and like that.) That was what tipped me over from "Eh, I'm curious but I don't think I'll buy it," to "You know what? Let's see what he wrote."

So Night of the Living Dead Christian is on my Kindle, and I'll start it as soon as I finish Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I'll probably post a little mini-review when I'm done.

[1] Apparently, at least. It's the Internet, so you never know, but I don't see any reason to doubt that he is who he claims to be.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Real Work Conversations: Microwave Popcorn

Boss: "It smells like Chinese food."

Me: "Not my fault. I only do bacon. And popcorn, I could do popcorn."

Boss: "Popcorn is good. I can throw popcorn at you."

Me: "A fitting revenge, since you'd be using my own popcorn against me."

Me: "I wonder if anyone's ever been stoned to death with popcorn?"

Valuable Life Lessons: Consequences

So I'm putting Firstborn to bed last night, and in the process I flip over this plastic bucket that's sitting on his bed.

This particular bucket has a history. We picked it up at Target last weekend, so that we'd have something in the car in case the evening's illness decided to visit us again. (Which, actually, it did, so... yay us?) Anyway, after cleaning it out, I'd put it Firstborn's room Sunday night, just in case he needed it again.

So last night - Monday night - as I'm putting him to bed, I flip over the bucket and find that there are toys hiding underneath. I remarked on this - "Hey, there are toys under this bucket," or something equally insightful - as I put the bucket back on the floor.

"I was using the bucket to hide the toys," Firstborn informed me. "That way they could surprise people."

"Well, they surprised me," I told him. I scooped up the toys and dropped them in the bucket. Then, because I like to check on things like this, I asked: "Are they okay down here in the bucket? Or should I take them out in case you need the bucket to throw up?"

Firstborn thought about this, but only for a moment. "We should take them out," he said decisively, "just in case."

And I nodded, and I did. But I am very proud of that 'just in case.' That's a boy who's looking ahead to consider what might happen, and what we can do about it. That's an understanding of cause and effect - of actions and consequences. And that's something that I very much want him to learn and understand.

And he's getting it.

I'd like to say something like, "These are the moments that make parenting worthwhile," but that's not right. Parenting is either worthwhile, or it isn't - and there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer for that, but it's something that has to be weighed in the balance overall, not something that can be justified by a particular moment here or there. But it was still a damned fine moment.

It's all in the wrist

The secret to making plans that never go awry is this: set up your plans so that if it looks like something is starting to go wrong, you can change them. It's not so much a matter of planning as it is one of attitude.

Weirdly, this ties directly in with some of my earlier thoughts on impermanence and balance. Sometimes, event have a kind of flow to them, and pushing against the flow just won't work... but getting out of the way, and coming at it from the side? That works just fine.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Our Weekend With Bats

This past weekend, my wife and I took the boys down to Austin for the weekend to see the bats and visit my wife's friend and her new boyfriend[1]. This was a really good trip and a really bad trip, all rolled into one.

The drive from Dallas to Austin takes about three, maybe three and a half hours. For us, with one thing and another, it was more like a five hour drive. Fortunately, we weren't trying to hold to a strict schedule - and Beautiful Wife's Friend was very understanding. When we arrived, we met them at a beer-burgers-and-playground sort of place near their apartment, which gave the boys a chance to get out and exercise. Then we went swimming at their pool, which was cold but welcome. I stretched out on the side of the pool to dry off, or at least I tried to - Firstborn kept rolling me into the water.

Then we dried off and went down to the Congress Avenue Bridge. After a certain amount of walking at a quick march - harder than you might think with a five-year-old and a stroller full of toddler - we found a nice spot under the bridge and waited for it to get dark.

And waited.

And waited.

And listened to the bats squeaking and rustling under the bridge.

And waited.

And watched it get darker.

And waited.

And saw one bat.

And waited.

And waited.

And then we saw a whole bunch more bats come out and start flying around, until there was this steady stream of bats pouring out from under the bridge, and it was really really cool. I don't think Secondborn really cared - he was more interested in the rocks on the ground - but Firstborn watched the bats flying out with great interest and enthusiasm.

Then we went to another, different beer-and-burgers-and-playground place, and had dinner. Firstborn played Aliens vs. Zombies vs. Humans (or some variation) with the other kids on the playground, while the rest of us ate and drank and were merry. It was more than a little bit past the boys' bedtime when we left, and on the way out Firstborn informed me that his stomach hurt.

We drove back to our hotel, and got the boys out of the car. Firstborn had apparently been waiting, conscientiously, for that precise moment when he could be copiously sick without dirtying either my wife's car or our hotel room. (He explained this after he was, y'know, done.) Once we were sure he was finished, we took everybody up the room and dropped most of them in a hot bath. Secondborn was already passed out, so he missed out on that experience.

Bedtime preparations followed. I'd done all the packing for the trip, so I had a nice moment where Beautiful Wife said, "Oh, I forgot to pack a toothbrush..." and I said, "No you didn't," and handed her toothbrush to her. (Because I'm cool like that.) Then we all went to sleep...

...For a little while, anyway. Until Secondborn woke up and repeated Firstborn's earlier performance, only without the presence of mind to choose his targets. So it was not exactly the night of deep, restful sleep that we'd been hoping for.

On Sunday morning we got together with the Beautiful Wife's friend (and the friend's boyfriend) again, and had breakfast. We'd stopped by Target on the way over there (mainly because we were afraid that, with the kind of night we'd just had, I might not have packed enough spare shirts), so we were late again. Firstborn was playing with a new Transformer and cheerfully showed it off to our hosts. I say we had breakfast, but we really spent a fair amount of time just hanging out, too, which was fun.

And then we drove home. Which, again, took longer than it really should have, but wasn't all that unpleasant - the big problem was that Secondborn wasn't any too happy about being trapped in a car seat. He was firmly of the opinion that he should be out of the seat, moving around, creating chaos, and putting himself in danger. He settled down after we put Elmo on the portable DVD player - and, not coincidentally, after we got some food into him.

And then we got home, and unloaded the car, and started the laundry, and made sure both gas tanks were full for the beginning of the week. Because, again, I'm good like that. Indomitable, that's the word for it. Could be my middle name, if I didn't have one already, and if my parents were completely off their gourds when I was born.

...But I digress.

So that was our weekend. To recap:
1. Road trip was long but went fine.
2. We were late to everything except the bats.
3. Bats are cool.
4. Everyone was sick.
5. My wife has cool friends.

Got it? Good. And good night.

[1] The friend's new boyfriend. Not my wife's new boyfriend. I'm quite sure my wife doesn't have a new boyfriend.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Quoting my iFriends: Secular Humanism

So, emilyperson posted this in the comments over at Confessions of a Former Conservative. It struck me as one of those thoughts that ought to be shared, so I'm reproducing it here:

I’m reasonably sure you can be a Christian secular humanist. The word “secular,” contrary to popular belief, doesn’t mean “anti-theistic.” It just means it lacks mention of religion. All a Christian would have to do in order to qualify as a secular humanist is not tie hir theology up with hir humanism.

(Of course, it’s more complicated than that. Religion informs worldview, and worldview influences philosophy tremendously. But a Christian can still say “because it’s right” without adding “because God said so.”)
That'll preach.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Reflections on Difficult Questions

Can I just tell you how much I love my boyfriend? The guy who knows about my bloodline, who knows that my people are actually kin with the Worms of the Earth - and who has at least some idea of what that means - and who hasn't so much as remarked on it? It's not that he doesn't realize, or hasn't thought about it. I asked him. It's just that he doesn't care.

I'm keeping this one.

Anyway, onto the other stuff. I just told him about this, and he said I should write about it, so here I am. This is Claire, by the way, in case you missed that somehow.

So, let's see... what do you need to know? Well, I've been working for an optometrist under the auspices of my boyfriend's Elders. It's a decent job, with regular hours - that's nice. But since he's been learning to become a Watcher, I usually get home before he does. And today when I came home, I found that we had a visitor. Want to guess who it was?

When my boyfriend wrote about her, he called her Anne. She's the last survivor of the group that brought the death-blight - the Corpsewalker - to our world. She was the one who got suspicious, the one my boyfriend sent to Father Peter to get help.

That was odd, by the way. I'd never suspected Father Peter of anything. The idea that he might have suspected me was a little unnerving, except... well, he never did anything, you know? But Anne went to him for help, and he tried to help her. He didn't laugh at her, or send her off to counseling. So he knows something.

Anyway, there was Anne, sitting in front of our apartment. This, I was not expecting. But, okay, I can't just ignore her. So I said, "Hi. Anne, was it? From Our Church?"

She nodded. "I wanted to ask you some questions," she said. She didn't say it loudly, and she didn't look scared or aggressive or anything like that. She just looked sort of determined.

"I probably can't answer you," I told her, "but come inside anyway."

I unlocked the door and we went inside. And she looked around, like she'd expected something less normal. She wasn't as tall as I am, and she had a round face and a kind of round, muscular build. Tomboyish, I guess you'd call it. I locked the door behind us and said, "What did you want to know?"

She looked at me, and cocked her head slightly to one side. "Was Father Peter right?" she asked. "Were you the ones who... helped us?"

There was a moment there, when I could have told her that I didn't know she was talking about. But when I thought about it, it was already too late for that. Instead, I said: "I can't answer that... and you could get into an awful lot of trouble by asking it." I was thinking about the Whisperers. As far as I knew, they were still off-duty, but if they weren't... or if the Watchers happened to be watching us...

"What kind of trouble?" she asked.

I hesitated.

She started to say something else, then stopped. Finally she said, "Look, I don't know what happened. I don't know how it happened. But something horrible was going on, and I was right in the middle of it, and nobody - not even Father Peter - will tell me anything about it. They keep saying it's too dangerous... like not knowing is any better."

And I thought, Oh. Unwilling sympathy, I think that's what I want to call it. I said, "All right." In my head, I was running over the oaths I'd sworn to my boyfriend's cult. How much could I tell her without killing us both?

"Father Peter said you two might be able to help," she continued. "He said he wasn't sure it was a good idea, but he was going to tell you about... things." She hesitated, then asked: "Are you friends of his?"

I held up a hand to stop her. "Come on," I said, and led her into the kitchen. I got out a couple of glasses and poured us each some wine. I took a sip; she gulped down about half of hers. I poured some more before I spoke.

"Okay, so. Yes, we're friends with Father Peter... but not when it comes to this. Okay? You asked about what could happen. Well... death could happen. Madness could happen. Maybe something worse. And he was risking that by talking to my boyfriend about... that. You understand?"

She nodded.

"Your friends... they stumbled onto something secret. You were right about how dangerous it was. But it's over." I hesitated, not sure how to say what I wanted to say next. What I wanted was to tell her to run away and never look back, to get out into the normal world and stay there. "You have a choice," I told her instead. "You can walk away now, and just accept that you're never going to understand exactly what happened. Or you can try to learn more, but to do that you're going to have to choose a side."

She stiffened. "I don't know enough to choose a side."

"Yeah," I said, and sighed. "And the only way to learn more about them is to swear allegiance to one of them. That's why everyone keeps telling you that questions are dangerous. The wrong question to the wrong person could get you both killed. Or worse, like I said."

"So the only way I can learn enough to make an informed choice, is if I've already made a choice? That's..." She let the thought trail off.

"That," I finished for her, "is about the size of it."

Tidings of Autumn

Maybe it's just this time of year. Weather's changing, nights are getting longer, holidays loom like an impending landslide, and - at least at my house - everybody's sick. Or almost sick. Or trying very hard not to get sick. It's easy to feel a little down, or maybe more than a little. I've been feeling it, too: tired, stiff, hazy, uninspired. I have the attention span of a gnat on crack. And what I really want is to spend a couple of hours sitting in a hot bath with a good book, but if we got that sort of chance the Beautiful Wife needs it even more than I do.

And anyway I'm stuck at work, because we're training on the new website that we're setting up. Hopefully. Someday...

On the plus side, I'm listening to No More Kings sing "Zombie Me," which never fails to amuse me. And I can go home in an hour or so. And I do love my boys, even when they're certifiable biohazards. And hey, now I have something to post on the Blog o' Doom. So hey, here you go.

The Cell Phone Bible: Feedback and Q&A

Okay, so The Cell Phone Bible is finally done. This seems like a good time for anyone who's curious to ask question, or make comments, or offer their own alternate versions. Want to know why I approached the story a particular way? Ask. Want to ask why I didn't do it some other way? Feel free. Want to write your own take on the concept? Run with it.

1 Corinthians 13:11, revised

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. Then did I come to have disposable income, wherefore I went out to buy that which I had been unable to afford in my youth: for verily Legos and action figures are a serious expense, even unto the righteous.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Werewolf stories

It must be nearing Halloween, 'cause I've been thinking about one of my old, old characters. (From back in college, which was quite a while ago now.) This was back when essentially all of my characters were author-inserts - though if we're being honest, that's still kind of true - so he's about a sixteen or seventeen year old werewolf.

I'd been reading a lot of vampire fiction at the time, and decided to cast myself as a werewolf as a sort of protest. (Apparently I wasn't the only one thinking that way; at that point, every single werewolf book on the market had some version of "does for werewolves what Anne Rice did for vampires" on the cover.) This was before that sort of dark fantasy really hit the mainstream; nowadays there are quite a number of people writing the kinds of stories that I wanted to be writing back then.

I don't have a copy of the first story I wrote about him. This is not, from a strictly literary perspective, any great loss. The thinking behind the story is (at least for me) more interesting than the story itself was. I was basically comparing werewolves and vampires, and wondering why vampires seemed so much more popular. (That, again, is a lot less true now than it was back then.)

Looking at Dracula, I saw that vampires could change shape - into wolves, at that; also bats and mist. They could control the weather, and control animals, and and were enormously strong and fast. They could go out in daylight, too: they wouldn't have any powers, but they wouldn't be harmed, either. And the basic fascination with vampires seemed, to my mind, to be intimately tied up with their fundamentally predatory nature.

On that basis, there wasn't any obvious reason why a werewolf couldn't be equally compelling. Like vampires, they could only be killed in particular ways. (I hadn't yet learned that the vulnerability to silver was essentially a recent invention for movie-werewolves.) They were strong and fast and predatory; they didn't have as many shapeshifting options - wolves and wolfmen, usually - but they could probably do them any time they pleased; and if the vampires could control animals and weather, then the werewolves almost certainly could, too. The big mark against werewolves, as I saw it, was that Hollywood insisted on treating them like indestructible, furry serial killers - which was actually a pretty bland treatment of an idea which had a lot more potential.

I should also add that all of this was before White Wolf came out with Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse.

The character went through several different incarnations after that, but that was where he started. There's no real point to this, except that it's what I happened to be thinking about just now.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Let the Training begin!

This morning we started the training for for our brand-new completely-revamped website (the Content Management portion in particular). It went almost exactly the way I expected it to.

That is, we got the laptops set up in the room where the training was supposed to take place. A phone switch then died, which prevented our network guys from setting up the switch that we had planned to use to connect the laptops. So, we set all the laptops to use the WiFi. This worked, mostly, except for one laptop that simply couldn't pick up an IP on the internal WiFi network - presumably the wireless router was overwhelmed by all the attention.

The training was due to start at 9:00 a.m., so naturally that was when the trainers (/technicians) arrived.

The new site is not set up - they haven't finished enough of the code for us to put it on our server yet - so the training was going to be done on their development server. Which, unsurprisingly, crashed last night, and was therefore completely inaccessible this morning. And since the trainers arrived just in time to start the class, they didn't find out until we already had everyone waiting at their computers. So, naturally, they were unable to get it fixed despite buying some time by showing off what elements the website contains and what cool things it will be able to do.

So we called off the training, and rescheduled it for Monday. And then I went back to my desk to try to catch up on the stuff I'd missed while I was in training waiting for them to get their shit together. And then I went to lunch.

On the plus side, that meant I was able to attend the Weekly Family Lunch; and they did manage to get the thing fixed in time for the afternoon training, which didn't help any of our content suppliers but was something of a relief to those of us with publishing rights. The system looks pretty easy to use from their end, which is also to the good.

Tomorrow, we'll start looking at the back-end stuff: generating and modifying templates, setting permissions, creating workflows, and like that.

Anyone care to place a bet on whether we actually manage that training?

The Cell Phone Bible, Part X

The Throne was not exactly as Jesus had left it. Oh, it was eternal - everything in Heaven was eternal - but a great deal of Heaven gave very different impressions, depending on who was looking at it and what they were doing at the time. So it was that even though nothing had changed, the Throne was no longer a high and solitary seat; instead it was smaller, lower, and placed behind something that might have been an elaborately gilded and ornate desk. The Cherubim and Seraphim seemed further away: still singing their unending song of praise, but soft and distant enough not to be distracting.

Jesus approached His Father at a dignified pace. He was completely aware of the spreadsheets on the desk, and the numbers they contained. He was also aware of the way the Father was regarding those figures.

"YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS." It was not a question. The Lord God Almighty was all-knowing and all-seeing; He did not deal in questions, except of the rhetorical variety.

"I know, Father." Jesus stopped in front of the desk. "But look - wars have all but stopped, charity has increased dramatically, and the people..."


"They need more time," Jesus said. "We are only just beginning to guide them. I know there are problems, but we can solve them."

"NO." The Father straightened on his throne. His eyes burned and the light of His presence, always awesome, now became terrible as well. The throne seemed to rise as the desk and its contents fell away. "THIS IS DONE. IT DOES NOT WORK. IT IS NOT WHAT THEY NEED."

"Father..." Jesus protested, prepared to beg for the ones He ministered to.


And His Word was Law.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Cell Phone Bible, Part IX

Idea courtesy of apostate, who found the 'What if...?' text in his Facebook feed. If you're coming in late, you can start at Part I.

IX. Sacred Love
Latisha smiled as Jesus greeted her. She knew it was Jesus and not one of the angels, though she was happy to talk to them, too. She recognized her Savior's voice.

"Good afternoon, Lord." She was smiling as she spoke; she always smiled when she talked to Heaven. Latisha knew absolutely that her Savior loved her, and the idea that she was living at a time when she could speak with Him directly never failed to excite her. Oh, there were disappointments - He refused to say just how soon the world would end and the Judgement would come, among other things - but Latisha never complained. She trusted her Lord absolutely. Whatever His plan might be, she knew she would be happy with it. Even if she didn't always understand His ways, the Lord knew what was best for her. "I was just wondering... would it be better to get the groceries this morning, while Joey's at school, or wait until after and take him with me?"

"Latisha..." There was a slight pause, and Latisha had the impression that her Savior was pursing his lips in a slightly puzzled fashion. "When you do your grocery shopping isn't any of My business. As far as Heaven is concerned, it... well, it doesn't matter. It doesn't affect your salvation. It doesn't have anything to do with how you treat other people, or with how you love your God."

"Yes, Lord," she replied. "But when do you think I should do it?"

As a devoted Christian, Latisha was committed to living her life in complete accordance with the will of Jesus, following God's Grand Plan for her life. In her youth, she'd spent an awful lot of time thinking and praying and reading the Bible, trying to figure out what she needed to do in order to follow the plan. For the last week, she'd been able to ask Jesus directly - and it had saved her so much time. All to His glory, of course; the time she saved, she put back into into praising His name and doing His work. So the idea that there were parts of her life that didn't require His guidance was... incomprehensible.

"I think you should use your own judgement, Latisha." Jesus' voice was warm, loving. There wasn't a hint of reproach anywhere in it. If the Redeemer had, hypothetically, ducked out of the normal flow of time to grind His exalted teeth in frustration for a couple of not-really-minutes, there was nothing to indicate it.

"I'll do my best, Lord," said Latisha. She was still waiting to hear when he wanted her to get the groceries. The Almighty did things in His own time, but He loved her and always had an answer for her.

"Get them this morning," said Jesus, finally. "The lines will be shorter."

"Thank you Lord," said Latisha. "Praise be to You. Use me as You would." Satisfied, she reached out and closed her Bible with a gentle, reverent movement.

* * *

"How many times was that?" asked the Metatron, who was standing outside the station where Jesus had just been speaking with Latisha.

"So far?" Jesus shook his head. "Three today. Eighteen, yesterday."

The Metatron shook its head. "That is not the sort of guidance we intended to give."

"You're telling me." Jesus looked around, wishing - yet again - that he could draw a deep breath. "I wanted followers, not puppets. People who would spread the good news, who would love God and love their neighbors as themselves. Not slaves to every little detail of My will. And these sorts of questions are so trivial... If Our resources were limited, they'd be a real problem. We'd never be able to get anything important done."

"Many of their questions are trivial," the Metatron agreed, "but have You looked at their requests?"

"Their...?" Jesus let his reply trail off, because as soon as He considered, He knew what the Metatron was referring to. Oh, no, he thought. Oh, no, no, no. This is not going to go over well at all...

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Name of the Blog

Another thing I noticed in the search logs was that someone actually did a search on "nagamakironin" - which is the distinctive part of the URL for this blog, but probably incomprehensible to anyone without a background as... odd... as mine. So, since some of you might be curious, I think I'll take a moment to explain.

When I first started this blog, I didn't really have a clear idea of what I was going to do with it.[1] So I was casting around for possible names, but several of my first ideas were already taken.[2] So I decided to try something obscure enough that there was essentially no chance that anybody else was already using it. "Nagamakironin" was what I came up with, and I was right: nobody else was using it.

It's actually two words. "Ronin" is a masterless Samurai, as some of you doubtless knew already. Their masterless status puts them oddly outside of the accepted feudal structure, and you can find them characterized as noble and independent heroes, base and untrustworthy villains, or anything between - depending mostly on who's telling the story. (Well, and on how corrupt the local Samurai were thought to be.)

The first word, "nagamaki," translates roughly as "long wrap." It's a kind of weapon. Years ago, I saw a picture of a bunch of Samurai sitting together in full armor. Most of them had swords, but not all. I think one had a spear ("yari"), but the one that really caught my eye was holding a... well, it looked like a katana, except that the hilt was almost exactly the same length as the blade. It took me years to find out what that was called, but it's a nagamaki:
The name - "long wrap" - can arguably refer to either the fact that the handle is wrapped like a katana, or to one of the primary motions you use with the weapon. (I've never found anyone who's really sure which is correct, or whether it's a bit of both, but as you can see in the picture the hilt is not always wrapped. Sometimes it's lacquered, more like a polearm would be.) It's an odd sort of in-between weapon, either a long-handled saber or a short-hafted polearm, and apparently it was used historically both by front-line troops and on horseback. It passed out of general use somewhere in the 1200s, if I recall correctly.

Anyway, taken together the title in the URL - Nagamaki Ronin - is a nod to the main character of my Great Unpublished Pulp Fantasy Novel (world building | further notes). Cat is an outsider and a bit of a loner, studying at a martial school, and the navic (essentially a nagamaki) is his preferred weapon. And, yes, I need to get back to working on the second draft of that...

And so but anyway, that's why I have the URL that I do.

Incidentally, the nagamaki isn't the only weapon to have that half blade/half handle set of proportions. There's an equivalent in the Chinese martial arts, which is usually marketed as a "pudao", though "huyadao" would be more historically accurate. There seem to be some European equivalents also, including some with straight, double-edge blades, but it's even harder to find reliable information about them; they don't seem to have been very common.

[1] I was thinking, if I remember correctly, "What the hell, maybe it'll help me build what the Publishing industry refers to as a 'platform', and garner some readers in case I ever get published."

[2] "Militant Agnostic" is the one I particularly remember. In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't name the blog that. It would have been oddly off-key for what this blog has actually become.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

There will be a slight delay...

So... Secondborn woke up.

This would be fine in most circumstances. Unfortunately, in this particular case he woke up at about two in the morning. Screaming. And when we picked him up, he screamed even more. When we tried to put him back down, he screamed louder. When we tried to give him Tyenol, he screamed and sobbed.

This is not the sort of thing that's conducive to a good night's sleep, or to general health and sanity.

This is also an inevitable and inescapable part of being a parent. If you have children, this will happen to you, and rather more than once. That's one of the reasons that I get a bit infuriated when someone starts insisting that children are in all times and circumstances an unlimited, unequivocal blessing; but never mind that.

Our best guess at present is that it's an ear infection. The Rampaging Toddler usually sleeps quite well[1], and the fact that he screamed louder any time he wasn't upright is a pretty good (though not absolutely reliable) indicator.

So the next two entries in The Cell Phone Bible[2] will be late, owing to a massive lack of uninterrupted sleep. At this rate, I probably won't have them ready until early next week. Sorry 'bout that. (Blame the baby. I do.)

[1] When he's not rampaging, of course.
[2] They'll also be the last two entries in The Cell Phone Bible, unless something completely irresistible occurs to me in the meantime.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Reflections on Boredom

Sorry for skipping out on last week. It was busy - very busy - but there really wasn't much worth remarking on. With the Corpsewalker gone, we're back to general Watching, mostly of our own people. I'm fine with that, but obviously there isn't much I can say about it without violating my oaths. So it's been busy but boring.

I did check on Claire's parents, which was more embarrassing than I expected. Oh, they weren't doing anything private; it's just that her mom spotted me somehow. At least, she met my eyes and waved. So I waved back, and dropped the... um... connection.

And that's really the most interesting thing that happened. It's nice when things are boring, at least some of the time.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. There is absolutely no reason for law enforcement at any level to take an interest in me.

Still more weird dreams

Okay, so there are zombies everywhere, and we're gathering the survivors inside a building where they'll be safe. Except there are still a few zombies in the building, and I end up trying to dispatch one of them with a bokken (wooden practice sword). I'm mostly successful, in that I manage to get the thing beaten down, but while I'm trying to, um, destroy the brain... the sword breaks.

So, I go back to my area to get a real sword, with a steel blade. Only when I get there I find myself in the middle of a conversation between Satan and Batman, over the contents of Satan's pouch (or purse? or something?). Apparently Batman wants a particular kind of crystal bead that's in there. Satan is claiming he doesn't have any, but of course he does - and Batman knows it.

And I never did get to go back and finish that zombie. I'm still frustrated about that. Stupid alarm clock...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reflections on Violence

So there we were, having a night out on Sixth Street, when I noticed... No, I'd better start a little earlier than that. There I was, working in the Pharmacy, when Kevin (not his real name, obviously) came in. He didn't act like he knew me, so I didn't "notice" him, either. But I knew him, from one of the family get-togethers a while back.

Oh, right, sorry. This is Claire. I'm just borrowing my boyfriend's computer to hack into that blog he uses when he talks about his life. I was just thinking about that night, so I thought I'd sit down and write out my impressions. And since I know my boyfriend will want to see them, and the rest of you might be curious, I figured I'd put them here, too.

So, anyway, Kevin. He was a distant cousin of mine, and the family sent him to check up on us. I'd been dating my boyfriend for a while at that point, and I was starting to think that maybe he didn't know that I was anything other than an ordinary girl. Plus, I was... well, I was getting attached to him. So I'd quit telling them about what he was doing, or how he was treating me, or much of anything, really. Looking back, that was kind of stupid. I'm sure they thought he was trying to recruit me.

So we're out on Sixth Street, and Kevin is following us, and all of a sudden these two guys attack him. My boyfriend called them the twins, because they looked alike, and says he doesn't know anything about them - and that his people don't know them, either. I believe him, partly because back when he wrote that he didn't expect me to ever find it, let alone read it... and partly because the way he reacted at the time looked like he was genuinely freaked out by the fight... but mainly because I trust him.

Whoever they were, they beat Kevin to death. So, looking back again, it's no wonder my family thought that my boyfriend's people were out to get us. It's also no wonder that they quit talking to me around that time; they weren't sure if I could still be trusted. That was why I didn't do more to protect my boyfriend; it took me a while to realize that there was a war on. I did what I could, as soon as I realized, but by then my family couldn't trust me... and just about the time I managed to explain things and start figuring out how to salvage the situation, my boyfriend caught me talking to the same cousins who had tried to kill him.

I guess I should count my blessings. That could have turned out sooooo much worse than it did.

But I don't know who the twins were, either. Still. And that's after asking around the family.

And that bothers me. A lot.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist isn't true, so nobody has to worry about strange cults or people with the blood of snakes here in the real world.

And now my sinuses are trying to kill me...

Anybody got a hand drill? I need to use it on my forehead. Seriously, I don't know what's in the air right now (well, actually, I sort of do - a chemical plant caught fire near Waxahachie yesterday), but my sinuses are actively trying to kill me.

It seemed like a good idea at the time...

And now I take requests from the search logs

Time for a quick question-and-answer session, for the benefit of those poor souls who were reduced to searching online for the answers to life's difficult questions. Today we'll be addressing two important issues:

1. How to explain the Zombie Apocalypse to parents

First of all, I'm a little worried about this. I mean, I'm a parent, and I already know about the coming Zombie Apocalypse. So does my wife. In fact, we're usually the ones trying to explain it to other people.

But we're parents with young children, and not everyone is in our particular stage of life. I suppose it's possible that grown men and women might find it difficult to explain the impending arrival of the Walking Plague to their parents, who - being of an earlier generation - might have grown up thinking that the dead would only rise when Gabriel sounds his trump to announce the Last Judgement. They might be wholly unaware of the Cambodian "zombie" outbreak (caused by a new strain of Malaria), especially since the original article is no longer available. (Government cover-up, much?) And in that case, I suppose that, yes, they might find it a bit difficult to understand why they need to prepare for survival in a world overrun with hordes of the hungry dead.

Still, the basic concept isn't that hard to explain. I mean, the zombie rises from the dead and bites someone. The person who just got bitten turns into a zombie, and then bites other people. Those people all turn into zombies, who go out and bite even more people, and the next thing you know, human civilization has come to an abrupt and messy end. Either you're ready to survive, or you're part of the problem - the shambling, moaning, flesh-hungry problem.

So here's my advice:
First off, use visual aids. Halloween is almost here, and it's not like there's any shortage of zombie films around. Invite your parents over for a "Scary Movie Night" and watch one. Any of the classic Romero films are good, but if that's more than your parents are willing to watch you could try Zombieland instead. Not only is it a lighter take on the coming apocalypse, it's full of useful safety tips. Then, when the movie is over, switch off the television, turn to your parents, and explain: "Now, when this happens, we'll need to be ready..."

They'll probably listen. Nobody wants to be zombie food, after all.

2. How To Tell If Your Velociraptor Is Having Pre-Marital-Sex
Okay, look. I know it's not easy being a parent. I mean, you watch the kid hatch, you get those wonderful moments where they stare at you adoringly with those big saurian eyes. You do your best to raise the child right, you make sure they have enough food to grow big and strong, you try to get them a good education - or at least teach them how to hunt for themselves.

But then they get older. They start hanging out with 'raptors from different packs, kids you don't know or don't approve of. Or maybe they've gone even farther afield; maybe now they're spending their time with that T-rex down the street. And they get cranky - threatening to rip your guts out if you try to set a curfew, little things like that. It's perfectly natural for you, the parent, to start wondering what else they might be doing. After all, you can't be with them all the time.

Don't panic. There are some things you can look for.

First of all, is your velociraptor still wearing his or her purity ring? If so, you're probably safe - no matter how far they've backslidden or how wild their behavior has gotten, no young raptor would ever have sex while wearing their ring.

Unfortunately, there is a very slight chance that they might take the ring off, have sex, and put it back on afterwards. If you're suspicious, examine the purity ring itself. Does it show the sorts of dents and scratches that come from trying to remove jewelry using claws designed to tear into your hapless prey? If the marks are there, then your sweet little baby is probably having pre-marital sex.

But what if your child doesn't have a purity ring? Speaking frankly, if that's the case then your parenting is definitely part of the problem. Oh, sure, the "experts" will tell you all about building trust, talking to your children, and letting them make their own choices. Who's giving you this advice? Dr. Grat is an apatosaurus, Professor Loyork is a triceratops, and that talk show host Miss Lowrrr is a stegosaurus. Look, I'm not prejudiced, but every single one of them is a herbivore.

So maybe that sort of approach works for them and their plant-eating children. Believe me, if you're trying to raise a velociraptor, you can't afford to think that way. That sort of soft, touchy-feely approach leads to teenage rebellion, loose morals, pre-marital dinosaur sex, and eventually the extinction of our entire way of life with a massive meteor impact. Don't let that happen! Get your little 'raptors to a church, get their tails in the pews, make 'em take the pledge, and slap a purity ring on those lovely clawed fingers. Your hatchling's future happiness depends on it!

Monday, October 3, 2011

From the seach logs...

I don't get a huge amount of traffic. It's tragic, I know, but it's true. It's also not entirely unexpected; I write mainly to amuse myself, and because I enjoy writing. Since I have no particular theme - aside from, y'know, "This Is What Wandered Into My Brain" - and since I tend to put entries up without a great deal of proofreading or revision, I don't really expect to attract a huge and devoted following. Quite the opposite, in fact: I'm pleasantly surprised by the number of people who do read, and sometimes comment.

So I'm always interested in what brings people here, especially the folks who presumably aren't regular readers. Most of the time it's nothing special - I get a small but steady number of hits related to people searching for information on the Carmelite Hotel phishing scam, for example. Other hits are quirkier, but not especially surprising given the sorts of things I write about: people have landed on the blog while doing searches for "holiday horror movies", say, or "dreams about alien invasion". Variations on the theme of "creepy metaphors" show up regularly.

And, of course, I get the occasional hit from someone looking for information on the process of deconversion, or evangelizing to unbelievers, or things like that. Which is fine; the Blog o' Doom isn't an in-depth resource for such things, but I think that the information I do have is worthwhile.

Every once in a while, though, I get hits from some search terms that would never have occurred to me. In the past week, for example, I've had someone search for "Gofulu Cthulhu" - apparently it's a popular misspelling? - and, on a related note, "why do people spell cthulhu different".

This is funny to me. (The answer, by the way, is that "Cthulhu" is an approximate phonetic rendering of a name which was never meant to be pronounced by human speech organs. So if the person who was doing that search stops back by, well... now you know.)

Those weren't the best ones, though. The best searches were the ones that, well, put it this way: not only would I not have expected anyone to find my blog this way, I wouldn't have expected anyone to ever search for this. There are two of those from the last week's logs:
1. how to explain the zombie apocalypse to parents
2. how to tell if your velociraptor is having pre marital sex

I just... thought I'd share that.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Cell Phone Bible, Part VIII

Idea courtesy of apostate, who found the 'What if...?' text in his Facebook feed. If you're coming in late, you can start at Part I.

VIII. The Nature of Human Adaptability
The Archangel Gabriel turned his attention to the image in front of him. What was ordinarily a blank rectangle - a frame without a picture - assumed light and life, color and depth, and finally movement. He was looking at another mortal, not so different to his eyes from all the others he had spoken with. This one had pale skin and silver hair, was located in North America, and had opened a Bible.

"Jonathan," said the Archangel, by way of greeting. "You need guidance?"

"Well, no," said the mortal. He was looking at his Bible, as if he could read its expression. "I need you to get in touch with my daughter, Fiona. She forgot her uniform this morning, and she'll need it for practice. I'd call her myself, but she also forgot her cell phone."

Gabriel considered this, for a period of not-exactly-time which the mortal would never perceive. Beside him, Uriel was guiding a French policeman to the home of a murder suspect. On his other side, Isda was directing an African girl to the nearest United Nations relief effort, where she could find food - a distance of just over one hundred and fifty miles, which would doubtless prove longer on foot. Behind him, Anael was explaining to a disconsolate fifteen-year-old in Estonia that love should always be something to live for, and never a thing to die for.

"You want me to contact your daughter... about her uniform?" Gabriel let the question hang, expecting the man to realize just how petty a reason this was to occupy Heaven's attention, and just how arrogant he was to ask favors of the angels.

"Look, I know you can do it. You call people all the time. I've heard Bibles ringing myself. Just call her and let her know, would you? She'll have her Bible with her. She's been carrying it around ever since you people started talking."

Gabriel considered his options. He could simply refuse. After all, this business of speaking to mortals directly through their Bibles was simply a ritualized version of prayer; and while prayers never went unanswered, very frequently the answer was no. He could simply disconnect, closing the Bible and severing the contact. In either case, though, the mortal seemed very likely to try again. Heaven's Call Center was busy enough already; it didn't need that. Then too, Jesus had exhorted the angels to help the mortals wherever they could - barring direct intervention, of course. After all, if the angels couldn't answer their questions, where else might mortals turn? Gabriel had no doubt that Satan had introduced his own, competing system just as soon as Heaven's work became known to him.

He realized that the mortal was still talking: "...will only take a minute, and this is important. She only has three more practices before tryouts, so missing this could cost her a place on the team."

For a brief moment, the Archangel's hand dropped to the horn at his belt. The man had no sense of perspective. None. And none of his fellows did, either - if they did, they'd be working together instead of fighting all the time. It would serve them right if he sounded his trumpet...

A hand fell on his shoulder. "Not yet," said Jesus quietly. "They're still learning. And the time has not yet come."

"So what do I tell him?" Gabriel gestured at the image before him, a portrait of a man growing impatient with the divine.

Jesus smiled at him, and suddenly the archangel Gabriel knew exactly what to say.

"Jonathan," said Gabriel, cutting the mortal off in mid-exhortation. He had to; the man wasn't going to shut up on his own. "Has it ever occurred to you that if a place on the team was that important to your daughter, she would have remembered her uniform? I know you want that for her, but has it occurred to you to wonder if she wants that for herself?"

"She's fifteen," the mortal responded. "She doesn't know what she wants for herself."

"...But she wants a chance to find out," finished Gabriel. "Also... next year, in about sixteen months, when she's pregnant...?"

The mortal made a choking noise and reached for his Bible as if to shake it. "Wha-?"

"...Just remember that it isn't about you, will you? She really will have thought that she was in love. The best thing you can do is be there for her. Let her make her own decision about what to do."

And with that, Gabriel blanked the image and severed his connection.