Thursday, December 29, 2005

For me, every day is Christmas. Though the official feast day has passed, Jesus continues to invade.

Today, a repost of a story I composed and put up last year. I hope it will remind you of miracles.

The First Noel, 2004

    The Hanukkah travel rush was over, and Bethlehem was quiet again. Hence, the corner where Ben Simon worked the graveyard shift hadn’t seen a car pass in ten minutes. He looked up from his English textbook and peered across the street, to the small booth where his friend Isaiah worked. They had both gotten late-night jobs at gas stations at about the same time, and frequently used faux company loyalty as an excuse to pick on each other. Diagonally across the intersection from Ben was a third gas station manned by Mordecai Steinberg. While Ben and Isaiah had the occasional squeegee fight in the middle of the empty road, Mo usually stuck to his booth dutifully, reading the Torah.

    Tonight was too cold for squeegee fighting, and the batteries had just run out in Ben’s Game Boy. His parents were mad at him for working on the Sabbath, and he had homework due on Monday.

    Ben was all but dozing off when someone knocked on his Plexiglas window. He started and sat up on his shop stool.

    “Sorry. What do you need?” Ben rubbed one eye with his palm as he looked up.

    Outside the window stood a young woman wearing a military dress uniform. She was all straight lines – vertical spine, squared shoulders, and perfect uniform creases. And yet her face was gentle, hinting at a smile. Ben had no doubt she could take him apart in a hand-to-hand fight, and no one would make fun of him for getting beaten up by a girl afterwards.

    Her eyes grabbed his, very pale and very clear, and she smiled. “What are you doing here?”

    All at once, the world burst open. Light poured through the dingy windows of the gas station, and left no shadow. Ben Simon’s ears popped, his eyes widened, and he threw up his hands in terror. The woman outside the window threw light like a pure white sun, her smile only growing wider.

    “Don’t be afraid!” she whispered to Ben. “I bring good news. The best news the world has ever heard. An hour ago, right here in Bethlehem, a Savior was born. The Messiah, Ben. Right here.”

    At her words, the fear began to drain away. Ben lowered his hands and looked at her. Her eyes were bright and full of joy, and they stole his breath away.

    The Messiah. Here.

    He found his breath, struggled to pull it in. “Wh-“

    “Not five blocks away. Down the street,” she said, lifting her arm to point, “you’ll find a newborn, wrapped in cloth. He’s in the laundry room of the hotel, lying in the sink.”

    Ben barely had time to picture the King of Kings in his makeshift cradle before the angel looked over her shoulder, laughing. A battalion of soldiers in the same uniform, burning brighter than the day, swept in on wings of gold and silver, filling the intersection and the surrounding streets. Their voices shook the walls of Ben’s booth as they shouted, “Hallelujah in the highest! Peace on Earth to the favored of God!” There voices were as joyous laughter, filled with love and zeal.

    The angel looked back to Ben, her wings unfolding like the sunrise. “Go, go!” she shouted giddily, and he lifted herself from the ground. Behind her followed the rest of the brilliant soldiers, shouting their chorus again and again. Moments later, the night was quiet again, and Ben could hear only his own riotous pulse. He stumbled out of his booth, staring at the sky, until he finally looked down to see Isaiah and Mordecai standing next to him.

    “You... you heard that. You saw it,” Ben stammered.

    “I know which hotel she meant,” Isaiah started, stealing glances at the stars. “We should... I mean, we’ve gotta- Mo! Wait!”

    Mordecai Steinberg had turned and run headlong back toward his gas station, pumping his arms like an Olympian. He spun about breathlessly and shouted back:

    “I’m getting my car! Don’t move!”

* * *

    “Fernando! Is it refreshing?”

    “Crap, I’ve got no bars. We hit a dead pocket... no! Wait, there it goes. What does it say?”

    “Turn around! Shaun, turn around!”

    The van halted sharply, and the young man and woman in the back braced themselves as best they could. Bina Zarafshar clutched at the notebook computer on her lap as the monitor swung forward and down. The cord running from the computer to their team’s cell phone snapped taught, and Bina caught her breath.


    Fernando noticed at the last second and pulled down his hand, slackening the cord. He chuckled nervously and sat down. “That was bad. Almost tugged it right off your lap.”

    “It’s okay. It’s fine. Wait. Did we-“

    “Yes, yes, we got dropped. But we’ve got good reception here. Good spot to reconnect.”

    Shaun parked the van and climbed into the back.

    “How close are we?”

    Bina looked to the chart. The latest data from the feed had been factored in, and the numbers were huge. Monumental.

    “Oh, we’re close.” She couldn’t help but laugh. They were almost on top of it. “Try turning right back at that last intersection.”

    Fernando nodded and grinned eagerly. “This is too good. Too good. You should redial now.”

    “Oh! Right.” Bina double-clicked the link to her ISP, and the cell phone began dialing. None of them considered the absurd charges they were racking up, connecting to the Internet through an international call. The signal shot through the atmosphere, and a few moments later, the connection was up again.

    “Good,” said Shaun. “You let me know if we get dropped again, okay?” His eyes grinned every bit as much as his mouth. He hopped back into the driver’s seat.

    “Of course. Just brake easier!” Bina looked back to her screen. She logged back into the University network, and the feed began again. “All right, we’re receiving data... yes, definitely turn right back at that intersection. The stream was almost off the chart right there.”

    “Let me see,” Fernando said, leaning in to see the screen. Bina turned it toward him, and he laughed aloud. The graph, which read “Divine Particle Density,” showed a spike in an already remarkably high, steady level at about the time they had passed the intersection.

    “When we show this to the Nobel committee,” Fernando smirked, “do you think they’ll mind the name ‘divine particle?’”

    “It’s as good a name as any for what they are,” Shaun shouted from the front, putting the van back in gear. He swung the vehicle around as fast as he dared and headed back along the road. “Tell me the convergence hasn’t moved.”

    Bina shouted back, “No, it hasn’t moved for hours! And it has to be in this town... where are we?”


    “No, what country?”

    They all laughed. For all they sleep they had gotten in the past week of tracking and traveling, they should have been exhausted. But sleep was far from their minds.

* * *

    No one was doing laundry this late, thankfully. There was a slight draft from under the door, but other than that, the room was warm enough. Joseph leaned on the wall by the sink, sleeves rolled up, looking down at his son. He hadn’t stopped grinning for hours. He couldn’t help but think that there was a better place to put him, but he had dried out the basin well enough. And besides, the child had been sleeping peacefully since the doctor had left.

    Joseph sighed happily and threw a glance at Mary, who stirred on her cot. A few thin, dark curls still stuck to her wet forehead, and her face was still ever so slightly flushed. Joseph knelt by her side, by his wife’s side, and let himself just stare at her face. Her mouth was barely open, her breath steady and calm. A nice change of pace from... had it only been an hour ago? He shook his head in awe and smoothed Mary’s hair back from her face.

    “My God,” he breathed, “you’re amazing.”

    Her breath drew in sharply, and her eyes flickered open.

    “Oh! Did I wake you up? I’m sorry...”

    “No, no, it’s okay,” she said sleepily, squinting her eyes and stretching. “Is the baby still...”

    Joseph nodded. “Yeah. Still asleep in the... sink.” He chuckled despite himself.

    Mary smirked, shaking her head from her prone position. “The sink. Oi.” She slipped her hand into her husband’s, catching his eye. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

    Joseph squeezed her hand and held her gaze. He merely nodded, and leaned in to kiss her.

    It was then that the doorknob turned. The couple looked up sharply as a young man poked his head into the room.

    “Hello?” he said.

    “Hello,” Mary replied. There was suddenly no sleep in her voice, and she sat up on her cot.

    The young man was jostled forward by someone behind him. He stepped through the door, and two other teenagers followed, all scanning the room expectantly. They all wore blue uniforms with the logos of three different gas stations on their breast pockets. Their eyes settled on the sink in the corner at the same time. The one in the back gasped. “Is that... is the baby...?”

    Joseph threw his wife a confused look, and found her doing the same. “How do you...”

    “This way! It’s got to be right here!” came a woman’s voice from outside, speaking English.

    A moment later, three Americans burst into the laundry room, carrying a laptop hooked up to a cellular phone. They all wore wrinkled, lived-in shirts and jeans, and were watching the screen of the laptop with awe in their eyes. The only light-skinned one of the three, who had nothing in his hands, looked urgently to all those assembled in the small room.

    “Please, tell me one of you speaks English.”

     The three gas station attendants, Mary, and Joseph, all began speaking at the same time, in English.

    “Oh, thank God. Look, there’s a completely unique quantum event happening in this room, right here! We’ve been tracking it from America for the last nine months, and... what is it?”

    Bina had set down the laptop and walked over to the sink, almost in step with Ben. Joseph took a step toward them, but Mary put a hand on his arm. The Jew and the gentile peered over the edge of the basin.

    And there, wrapped in three of his father’s old t-shirts, was the child, his breath whistling softly through his nose. If peace were a child, it could be none other than this. Ben’s breath caught in his throat, and Bina’s eyes lit up.

    “It’s him.”

    “It’s a child,” Bina gasped.

    Joseph breathed deeply, still uncertain. “How did you know we...?”

    And all at once, the rest of the new arrivals realized that they had found what they were seeking. Suddenly they were all laughing in delight. Ben knelt by the sink, eyes locked on the Anointed One. Shaun grabbed Fernando by the shoulders, tears in his eyes. “A child! Of course it’s a child!” He turned to Mary and Joseph to explain just as Mo Steinberg did the same, and they launched into their stories as one.

    “Wait, wait, wait!” It was Ben, who only now looked back up from the sink-turned-cradle. He held up a hand for silence, and turned reverently to Mary and Joseph. “What is his name?”

    Mary met his gaze, slowly beginning to smile again. “His name is Joshua.”

    They all took in the name in silence. Fernando grinned and nodded in approval. “Joshua. Jésus in Spanish. It means...” His voice trailed off.

    Mary nodded with him. “The Lord saves.”

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Morning

It's been decided.
For a change of pace,
it will be the stars
that will shine down
on God.

Monday, November 28, 2005

There's been an interesting discussion on existentialism on Chase's blog. Check the comments on the Friday, Nov. 18th post.

I am contemplating becoming a student again, this time at William Jessup University in Rocklin. Those of you readers who pray, please do pray for me. My plans are only the most basic at the moment, but I'm hopeful things will come together soon.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

I'll bet you'd never have guessed my next post would be about artificial sweeteners.

Not long ago, my Mom and I attended a nutrition class at our church. The instructor loaned Mom a video entitled Sweet Misery: A Poisoned World. Mom was so impressed with the movie that she had me watch it.

As it turned out, is was a documentary on the harmful effects of aspartame, commonly markeded at Nutrasweet. I took the information to heart and have since been telling people, offhand, that aspartame is dangerous. I didn't really questioned the documentary until last night, when Liam raised some objections to the chemistry behind Sweet Misery.

So, I leapt this morning into Wikipedia, and found their article about aspartame, which, incidentally, confirms the content of Sweet Misery.

I encourage you all to at least take a brief look at the findings before having another diet soda. A quick summary: when digested, aspartame breaks down into methanol, aspartic acid, and phenylalanine. All of these substances are potentially harmful to the human body, though to what degree remains controversial. That said, please note the heading "Recently published research" near the bottom of the article.

Heh. Also note that from here on out, you will be seeing a lot of Wikipedia citations in my posts. It's an amazing site, and I encourage you all to visit it frequently. Poke around, and see what you can find.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

While I'm not generally one to repost quiz results, I had a feeling about this one. Took the test, and turned out to be right. In color, at least.

Your Hair Should Be Purple

Intense, thoughtful, and unconventional.
You're always philosophizing and inspiring others with your insights.
 Posted by Picasa

The picture above is from several years ago. Every so often, I think of going back. Very tempting, indeed.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

[a brief sampling of quotes I've saved from friends and family:]

You can go places in crazy, even if you already are crazy. It’s a matter of partitioning.
   - Amanda

Some people are so smart that they just have accents.
   - Alex

Damn you and the alphabet!
   - Cody

Oh, Eh, FBI Can Kiss My Ass *Speaks Directly Into The Camera*
   - Matt, from an IM conversation

It’s so much helpful…er.
   - Jenna

Twinkies are the snack equivalent of roaches.
   - Cody

Do not butt me with your butt!
   - Kathi

Nick, make a reflex save as the tyrannosaurus breathes fire on you.
   - Dave

I think caramel corn is the answer to my problems.
   - Mum

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Yeah, I've been at this roleplaying thing for a while. It's essentially an exercise in improv acting and using a rules system to your advantage. I try to focus more on the character aspect, but it's easy to get involved in a discussion of character classes, hit points, and special abilities.

There's been at least one game of one kind or another going among my group of friends for several years now. I've been involved in a lot of them, creating and playing a whole bunch of characters in a whole lot of settings. There have been a few serious moments, but mostly just frivolous good times, making up stories and getting away with stuff you just can't do in real life.

It's time once again to sort through the stack of roleplaying character sheets in my satchel, and figure out which to let go. Only this time, it's interactive! I'm gonna run down the list, and any of the relevant Storytellers, Dungeon Masters, etc. who read this may kindly let me know if I'll ever need them again. Feel free to also post reminisces, etc.

And now, from top to bottom:

Whisper of the Rushing Wind, Celestial Exalted.
Modeled after Judi Dench. Functioned as a guide in Liam's Exalted game, in which the characters were invited to the renewal of wedding vows between the Sun and Moon. I only played in one session, but it was quite amusing.

Lee Simons, a.k.a. Lost Packet, Seattle Police cybercrime officer.
I sorely miss this game. A cyberpunk setting, as one might guess, with much of the game taking place in cyberspace. Lee's avatar was a cartoon rabbit with ghetto wear and twin uzis. There were hilarious antics involving a swarm of digital bats. Hats off to Liam for that one.

Caleb Tears-of-Gaia, abomination.
That is to say, a vampiric werewolf. It's easy to miss the fact that abominations are full of roleplaying possibilites, because they're so powerful as to be unplayable in most settings - except by the most trustworthy of players. I took the opportunity to play one in Shannon's post-apocalyptic World of Darkness setting, since it wouldn't have been particularly unbalanced there.

Kar'Dath, Narn drug dealer.
I know I don't need this character sheet any longer, since the character has long since lost his mind and died in a prison revolt. I'm keeping it mainly for the picture I drew of him, which started a tradition in Carolyn's Babylon 5 game. Goofy pictures make for good character sheets.

Vinzo Targa, Centauri telepath.
My unplayed successor to Kar'Dath in Carolyn's B5 game. The game was thoroughly enjoyable because of the emphasis on social play rather than combat. Anyone who's caught an episode of Babylon 5 will understand that tendency. The game was particularly memorable because of several moments, including the introduction of the immortal Dio Sabbath, Space Cowboy. Thank Drake.

The Razorclown, Abyssal Exalted.
An outstandingly evil, twisted incarnation of Zippy the Razorclown from days of old. Prone to flashy combat maneuvers, calculated madness, and jesterish dialogue. This game had less to do with full-on villainy than high adventure with a group of rather wicked people. Very fun until the lava tentacles showed up. Ow. Lenny did admirably besides, it should be noted.

Sergei, mutant Russian spy.
Member of Kyle Katarn's entourage in Matt's Rifts game. Post-apocalyptic fun for the entire family. And an opportunity for me to deliver snappy dialogue in a Russian accent. Many fun pseudo-memories.

Remar Sukos, Solar Exalted and travelling merchant.
I think I'm holding onto him so I'll have an Exalted character ready, in case Lenny decides to start up again. Notable because of his cool anima banner, and for the fact that he convinced a pirate not to sack his ship.

Thorn, dimension-hopping demon.
Making characters in any Palladium Games system - Palladium, Rifts, Beyond the Supernatural, etc. - is a gigantic pain. One day, I noticed that fiends in Palladium, Thorn's native setting, have the "dimensional teleport" ability. When Matt decided to run a Rifts game, Thorn simply leapt from high fantasy to sci-fi, just like that. His equipment list reads: halberd, mace, NE-300 "Stutterer" grenade launcher. Handy.

Zippy Von Zippy, the Razorclown.
A long-enduring character of mine in prose and roleplaying. The idea of a gothic clown with a gigantic sword and magic gloves that make fish catch on fire popped quite suddenly into my head, and hasn't left since. His character has developed significantly, in my mind, at least, since his original incarnation. I plan to have a story or two about him written... someday.

and finally,

Pedro Vallastrada, a.k.a. Pantera.
Anthropomorphic cat superhero. Also deceased. The tradition of goofy character pictures continued in Nick's superhero game, in a big way. And it was a good game besides, with a shocking twist ending: half of our heroes defected to the Nazi party, and only villains survived the grand melee that ensued. Alas, Pantera took his super-secret past with him to the grave. Unless I told everyone afterwards. I forget.

And that's the stack as it stands. Oi. That's a few characters. There are more besides, but those sheets are long gone. Marcus Robinson. Milos Daskalos. Gully Ironblood. Stuart the Bug. Sachiel the Blackguard. Orson "Osh-Kosh" Montblanc. Plenty of stories, lots of memorable moments.

I'll get into the philosophy behind roleplaying in a later post. For now, I'll sign off.

Whew. It feels good to be writing again, at least.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Dan pointed out to me how long it's been since I last posted something here. Sorry. Didn't feel like that long. In any case, there's news to report.

The car has been recovered, in working order, no less. In a twist of fate - ha, ha, bleh - I sprined my left ankle quite badly a week after my car was stolen. Will be in a cast for a couple more weeks, approximately. Only after I've healed will I be able to drive my car, which has a manual transmission.

All this thinking about career paths lately has led me to consider the ministry. That's still a big question mark at the moment, but I am particularly excited about a couple things. For one thing, more Christian education. Been wanting to learn more about the Bible and theology for a while now. There's a lot there to be learned. Also, connecting and serving more at Arcade Wesleyan. The suggestion has been made that I volunteer to be a Sunday School teacher. I like that thought. More and more, I see myself as a teacher of some sort, working with kids. Exciting. I haven't had a goal that I could actually describe as exciting in a long time.

So, I'm looking to get back down to Sacramento soon. Have to heal up and take care of a few expenses first, but barring disaster, I should be down there by the end of the year.

I'd like to get back to my much neglected fiction stories as well, but I'm not promising anything. I've got several hundred pages of deep theology to read in about a week, drafting work to do, and a wedding reception to attend.

Matt Turner's wedding reception, no less. Yeah, you read right. 3:00 this Saturday at Santa Anita Park. Come, ye friends from days of old. Shake the guy's hand.

Ahh, a post. Needs a closing. May as well steal from Paul.

"May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." - 1 Corinthians 13:14


Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Life update:

Plans had been formed to 1) find an extra job in Grass Valley, 2) save money, and 3) use said money to move to Sacramento and get my own place. Phase One had been completed - washing dishes at Rebecca's Mighty Muffins - and all was proceeding according to plan.

Last Sunday night, however, my car was stolen.

The plan has been, and is being, adjusted substantially. Details once the fragments settle into place. Suffice to say, the goal of being in Sacramento at the end of the year is looking well in hand.

Pray for me. Pretty stressed, not a little lonely, but hoping for the best.

Incidentally, I've invented a word.

Godwork: n. a seeming coincidence which is clearly an act of God, usu. resulting in an obvious, often long-awaited blessing.

Oddly enough, I didn't care terribly much when I discovered my car was missing. I knew God could use that for the best, and I'd manage. The stressful bit is having to decide on a timeline for moving to Sacramento, given a number of recently-emerged factors.

I get the feeling it's gonna require more work than I'd like. Which is to say, any work at all. I'm also getting the feeling that this is all part of God's plan to break me of my absurd laziness. Part of me is, understandably, dreading that process, but I'll be glad for it.

Much is coming.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

I would like to note that there has been an uncharacteristic amount of activity over at Nightsawake 2.0. Please do visit.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

As per the directions, I post the following:

1. Reply with your name and I'll respond with something random about you.
2. I'll tell you what song/movie reminds me of you.
3. I'll pick a flavor of jello to wrestle with you in.
4. I'll say something that only makes sense to you and me.
5. I'll tell you my first memory of you.
6. I'll tell you what animal you remind me of.
7. I'll ask you something that I've always wondered about you.
8. If I do this for you, you must post this on your journal. You MUST. It is written.

I'll at least pick a few of the above. The default jello flavor is champagne, because if there's gonna be any jello wrestling, it's gonna be a classy affair.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Destruction is certain for those who say that evil is good and good is evil; that dark is light and light is dark; that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
-Isaiah 5:20 (New Living Translation)

Yesterday, Pastor Steve continued his sermon series on the book of Revelation. We had come at last to Judgment Day. Steve was excited about the message that morning, and us along with him. His energy was contagious. At last he read aloud the passage in which Satan's two servants are cast alive into the lake of fire, receiving their just reward, and he called for an amen! ...with rather weak results. He tried again, with a little goading, and we responded loudly, if still a little uncomfortably. Same thing when Satan himself was condemned to eternal torment. It was hard for us to cheer, somehow.

I thought about it during the service, and I realized that they all deserved it. For one thing, God's justice is just. The Bible is clear on that. And if you take into account what Satan and his servants do in the book of Revelation alone, their punishment should be harsh indeed.

Still, it's hard for me to cheer someone else's demise.

A case of sympathy for the devil? Perhaps. Largely, with me, it's just the fact that I myself totally deserve punishment for things I've done. Thanks to Jesus' grace, I'll be fine on the day of judgment. If we take the images from Revelation, God will call me to account for everything I've ever done in my life. Every secret, every vile thought, every drop of malice... and in the end, I'll have no excuse. And in the very end, He'll say, "All right. I'm glad that's done. Welcome home, son." Sometimes I envision myself feeling guilty for accepting grace, like it's a cop-out or something. But nah. I think I'll likely be a little to thankful at the moment.

I hate the idea that not everyone will make it to Heaven. Hate it. Some days it's easier than others to accept the idea that people are given a choice to take in Jesus, and that God knows everyone's heart, and is thus the only person who can rightly judge us. Some days I see people perpetrating evil in the world, malevolent and unrepentant, and I pray for justice. A second later, though, I often pray for their hearts to soften instead.

Some won't repent, but I pray that all will.

Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
-Luke 15:3-7 (New International Version)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

I've posted two of my anime music videos to There's Killswitch Exile, and my Big O video. More to come, possibly. It's a large download, so those of you with broadband, go nuts.

To find my stuff, you can go to the main page of the site and search for "the razorclown."

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

We pillage, we plunder, we rifle and loot.
Drink up me 'earties, Yo Ho!
We kidnap and ravage and don't give a hoot.
Drink up me 'earties, Yo Ho!

Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A pirate's life for me.

We extort, we pilfer, we filch and sack.
Drink up me 'earties, Yo Ho!
Maraud and embezzle and even hijack.
Drink up me 'earties, Yo Ho!

Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A pirate's life for me.
Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A pirate's life for me.

We kindle and char, inflame and ignite.
Drink up me 'earties, Yo Ho!
We burn up the city, we're really a fright.
Drink up me 'earties, Yo Ho!

Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A pirate's life for me.

We're rascals, scoundrels, villans and knaves.
Drink up me 'earties, Yo Ho!
We're devils and black sheep, really bad eggs!
Drink up me 'earties, Yo Ho!

Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A pirate's life for me.

We're beggars and blighters and ne'er-do-well cads.
Drink up me 'earties, Yo Ho!
Aye! But we're loved by our mommies and dads!
Drink up me 'earties, Yo Ho!

"Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A pirate's life for me.
Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A pirate's life for me.
Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A pirate's life for me.
Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A pirate's life for me.

(lyrics reprinted without permission. yar.)

Today, Liam is off and away to begin his service in the Navy. Abruptly. A fittingly dramatic exit, to be sure.

On the upside, I now have a chance of winning a game of Risk.

You shall be sorely missed while you're away, Crwuidth.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

I’ve had a man shout at me because I made his lox and bagels closed-face, not open-face. Same ingredients, mind you, but different presentation. He literally slammed his plate down on the counter and stormed out of the bagel shop.

I watch people mutter when the have to stand in line for more than a minute. I’ll be standing behind them, and they’ll turn, shake their heads at me, and make little comments about how long it’s taking.

We have TV shows and magazines devoted to what celebrities wear and what they do on the weekend. Lots of them.

A couple weekends ago, I was talking to my friend Tony outside of Arden Fair Mall. You can usually find him down there, hanging around out front. Working, actually. He’s homeless, and he spends his days begging for change, so his family can stay in their hotel room for one more night. We talked about his wife and daughters, his medical problems, and God. During our conversation, he referred to the mall as “that Babylon over there.”

When we finished talking, I walked to the food court to get lunch, and was more disgusted with the mall at every step. For the price of one stupid-looking, supposedly cute pair of shoes, Tony and his family could keep their only place to stay for a few more days. While Tony stood out in the sun, begging for money for food and shelter, someone was complaining about the price of a video game, which they simply did not need. Pointless, I thought, glaring at the designer clothes and DVDs.

Even as I thought it, I knew I would be playing City of Heroes by the end of the day.

I’ve calmed down a little since that afternoon. See, I’m something of a capitalist. I like having cool stuff. And what I’m thinking is that the problem with our consumer culture isn’t having goodies. The problem is when we take them seriously.

People actually think they need frivolities. Whether they take the form of Calvin Klein pajamas, some oversweetened coffee thing at Starbucks, or what have you, the fact is that they’re extras. Non-essentials. The problem is, some people seem to be buying into the message the commercials are feeding them: you need our product, and you deserve to have it however you want it.

The problem is, that’s just not true.

While the iPod is a brilliant invention, doesn’t really matter. You can make it worthwhile – a friend of mine was working on copying the entire Bible into a text file on hers – but that’s not what it’s meant for. Like so many things, it’s for fun. And in today’s culture, we’ve begun to prioritize fun above serving others, personal responsibility, and morality. Obviously problematic.

I don’t believe it’s wrong, in and of itself, to buy cool stuff and enjoy it. Just don’t pretend you have to.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The last mission of Starcraft is preposterously hard. I feel like if I beat it, I'll become some sort of superbeing. Like I'll graduate to a new level of tactical mastery. The secrets of the Xel'naga will be opened to me. Every last one of the outlying colonies will be brought in line. I'll command the Zerg swarms with a thought, and the galaxy will fall before my onslaught.

It's seriously pretty hard. And I'm giving it a fair amount of my time. When I do beat it, I'll more likely sit back in my chair, watch the ending cinematic, and think... okay, now what? Next time I play against other humans on the network at Lenny's, Chase and Adrienne will still flatten me. Probably.

And even if not, I'll just be better at Starcraft.

I've gotta kinda re-insert myself into society. Sitting on top of eight acres in a small town next to the small town just outside of Grass Valley isn't quite my speed. I'm extremely grateful for the open couch at Lenny's house, which gives me a chance to see people on the weekend.

It's hard to be a servant when it's just me and dad. Dad's house has always been sort of an alternate dimension to me. A different, lazier place. Have to remind myself to get up after dinner and do the dishes, since dad never asks. Come to think of it, I have to remind myself to be a servant when I'm around my friends, too. It's far to easy to slip into self-centeredness.

I'm once again in a place where I must figure out what my life is and isn't about. Careers, relationships, what have you. As yet, it's all pretty ambiguous. Expecting some sort of resolution soon.

Monday, May 30, 2005

(a second draft of the story i posted last time. i've changed the ending for clarity.)

The young swordsman squinted out at the desert. “What do you think it is, Sir Isaac?” He drained the last of the canteen, then spit the lukewarm water over the edge of the parapet with a grimace.

Isaac was just coming up the stairwell, polishing his sword with a square of cloth. “Should have swallowed that. We’ll be on short rations until we take the oasis.” The knight glanced up at the sun, which was perhaps an hour from its slumber beyond the horizon. Squinting himself, he peered out at the glint of light atop the dune, perhaps a thousand paces outside the fortress wall.

“You see it? Looks like someone left a sword out there. I thought we gathered them all after yesterday’s battle.”

“Apparently not,” Isaac replied coolly. He regarded the younger soldier’s curved scabbard, and the ornate hilt emerging from it. “I see you’ve got yourself a nomad’s blade.”

Grinning, the soldier glanced down at his own sword admiringly. “It’ll hold me over until I get one like yours,” he said, nodding at the knight’s unsheathed blade. Even at this distance, he could see the sky in Isaac’s sword, a reflection creased with the nicks of battle.

“Indeed.” Isaac narrowed his eyes once again at the light in the desert. His left hand still polished the blade with an uneven rhythm, the cloth jumping back and forth across the steel.

“Sir Darren said he’d make me his squire if I made something of myself in the desert campaign,” the soldier said, his eyes distant, his mouth grinning still. “Not bad for a merchant’s kid, and a half-blood at that.” He turned and leaned against the parapet wall, looking back at the single tower of the fortress.

Isaac looked down at his sword for a moment, tilting it in the slowly fading light. Then, the rag moved once again, up and down the blade. “See that you do. This kingdom needs more low-born knights.”

“Amen,” the soldier agreed, turning back to the desert. He went to grab his empty canteen, then remembered. “Right.” With a shrug to himself, he threw Sir Isaac a glance. “I’ve heard that your mother was a nomad too, sir. Like mine.”

“Quite right.” Isaac stuffed the rag into his belt and sheathed his sword with a heavy clink, giving the young soldier a hard look. “Several have made an issue of it, and lived to regret it. I suggest you don’t.”

“Of course, sir. My apologies.” The young man lowered his head, surreptitiously looking back out at the dunes. As he did, the light flickered twice, and disappeared. The soldier raised an eyebrow. “Huh. What do you make of that?”

Isaac flicked his eyes at the missing glint and walked back toward the stairs. “The sun’s setting. It isn’t in the light anymore.”

“Of course, sir,” the soldier repeated. Something in his voice made Isaac pause, turn back to the swordsman. His eyes remained on the desert, averted from the knight. Sir Isaac shook his head and began to descend the stairs.

"My mother taught me the nomads' signaling code, sir."

Isaac stopped. His gaze remained fixed on the stairs, but his hand went slowly to the hilt of his sword. The swordman watched as the knight's fingers wrapped around and gripped the handle. Isaac said nothing, and looked out at the dunes.

The swordsman, with a sigh, drew a dagger from his belt. "You told them when the guard changes." Eyes on Isaac, the swordsman flipped the dagger at the watchman's bell at the corner of the parapet. The dagger took one slow turn and struck the bell, the clatter of its landing on the stone deck lost in the bell's single, reverberating toll.

Down the stairs, the sound of armored men approaching, fast. Isaac slipped his sword from its scabbard and returned to the top of the stairs. The last of the sunset echoed from the blade, bright as a signaling mirror. Hesitantly, the swordsman drew his nomad steel, raising it to guard.

"So, you want to make something of yourself," Isaac sneered, taking the first step forward. The armored boots reached the bottom of the stairs behind him. "You think I'm a traitor, don't you?"

The half-blood swordsman flexed his swordarm. "Not to the enemy."

Dark eyes seething, Isaac stopped halfway across the deck. More than ever, he looked like a nomad raider, scowling fiercely at the swordman and his plundered blade. The soldiers behind him topped the stairs.

"Your mother would be proud," the traitor Isaac spat, the moment before his head left his shoulders.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The young swordsman squinted out at the desert. “What do you think it is, Sir Isaac?” He drained the last of the canteen, then spit the lukewarm water over the edge of the parapet with a grimace.

Isaac was just coming up the stairwell, polishing his sword with a square of cloth. “Should have swallowed that. We’ll be on short rations until we take the oasis.” The knight glanced up at the sun, which was perhaps an hour from its slumber beyond the horizon. Squinting himself, he peered out at the glint of light atop the dune, perhaps a thousand paces outside the fortress wall.

“You see it? Looks like someone left a sword out there. I thought we gathered them all after yesterday’s battle.”

“Apparently not,” Isaac replied coolly. He regarded the younger soldier’s curved scabbard, and the ornate hilt emerging from it. “I see you’ve got yourself a nomad’s blade.”

Grinning, the soldier glanced down at his own sword admiringly. “It’ll hold me over until I get one like yours,” he said, nodding at the knight’s unsheathed blade. Even at this distance, he could see the sky in Isaac’s sword, a reflection creased with the nicks of battle.

“Indeed.” Isaac narrowed his eyes once again at the light in the desert. His left hand still polished the blade with an uneven rhythm, the cloth jumping back and forth across the steel.

“Sir Darren said he’d make me his squire if I made something of myself in the desert campaign,” the soldier said, his eyes distant, his mouth grinning still. “Not bad for a merchant’s kid, and a half-blood at that.” He turned and leaned against the parapet wall, looking back at the single tower of the fortress.

Isaac looked down at his sword for a moment, tilting it in the slowly fading light. Then, the rag moved once again, up and down the blade. “See that you do. This kingdom needs more low-born knights.”

“Amen,” the soldier agreed, turning back to the desert. He went to grab his empty canteen, then remembered. “Right.” With a shrug to himself, he threw Sir Isaac a glance. “I’ve heard that your mother was a nomad too, sir. Like mine.”

“Quite right.” Isaac stuffed the rag into his belt and sheathed his sword with a heavy clink, giving the young soldier a hard look. “Several have made an issue of it, and lived to regret it. I suggest you don’t.”

“Of course, sir. My apologies.” The young man lowered his head, surreptitiously looking back out at the dunes. As he did, the light flickered twice, and disappeared. The soldier raised an eyebrow. “Huh. What do you make of that?”

Isaac flicked his eyes at the missing glint and walked back toward the stairs. “The sun’s setting. It isn’t in the light anymore.”

“Of course, sir,” the soldier repeated. Something in his voice made Isaac pause, turn back to the swordsman. His eyes remained on the desert, averted from the knight. Sir Isaac shook his head and descended the stairs.

The swordsman waited until the knight was out of sight, then silently drew the dagger from his boot. Lifting it above his head, to catch the light of the setting sun, he signaled to the swordsmen waiting atop the distant dune. Confirm?

Slowly, the reply came. Sir Isaac. Returning to base.

Serrata only nodded and sheathed his dagger. The half-blood swordsman sighed, remembering when his mother had taught him the nomad’s signaling code. He’d used it in childhood games, flashing the signs for attack and retreat to his friends.

It would be only minutes before the men returned with the spyglass and the signaling mirror, and a handwritten copy of the traitor’s message, sent by light of sword.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

My dad listens to Rush Limbaugh in the morning, and thus, so do I. Every half hour his program takes a break for a news update, which is produced by ABC. Listening to Limbaugh and ABC News in close succession is absolutely dizzying. It’s a rodeo. One moment the talk is leaning to the far right, then it sweeps left with a snap, then back again. When Clear Channel Broadcasting switches to Fox News this summer, there may be a bit more continuity, to say the least. But the current situation is truly strange.

Is anyone else disturbed by the state of the modern media? It’s been said that newspapers and television media are losing ground to talk radio and Internet blogs. The two sides of this division – the papers and TV versus talk radio and the blogosphere – are notoriously politically slanted, left and right, respectively. Personally, I lean toward the right in my politics, and prefer the latter media. My personal preference isn’t necessarily an indicator of better accuracy on one side. I think Tom Sullivan is more trustworthy than Charles Gibson, but I honestly don’t know. What I do know is this: both sides can’t be right. That’s what disturbs me.

The current debate over filibustering judicial nominees is a good example. In the Senate, Republicans are trying to change current procedure that allows Democrats to filibuster President Bush’s judicial nominees. Limbaugh and others proclaim that the Constitution outlines specific areas where filibustering – holding the floor and speaking for an extended period, in an attempt to keep a given issue from going to a vote – is appropriate, and the nomination of judges is not one of them. This idea, true or not, is never mentioned by the nightly news, which refers to the Republicans’ current efforts as the “nuclear option,” a denial of minority rights and a political power play. Anchormen and reporters refer to years of Senate tradition which would be abolished by the removal of the filibuster in this situation.

Follow me here. Talk radio says that filibustering judicial nominees is actually against the rules, and shouldn’t be allowed in the first place. The nightly news says that it’s an established tradition in the Senate. The only way both views could be true is if the Senate has been filibustering judicial nominees for years despite the rules. This is possible, but more likely, at least one side of the media is badly skewed. Badly.

Maybe I would side more with television and newspapers if they were more even-handed. I recently watched a report on NBC that left my jaw hanging. The gist was that moderate Republicans in Congress are leaning toward the left, and that Bush would have to alter his agenda to recapture them. That was it. Not a hint of counterpoint. Not a mention of the fact that Republicans have majorities in both houses. Just the idea that there are Republicans shifting toward the Democratic side, and that Bush would have to do the same. By contrast, talk radio has frequent liberal Democratic callers that get to bring up points and spark debate. The discourse is not always functional, but there are often good, logical arguments that actually illuminate the perspective of both sides. That doesn’t happen on the nightly news.

All of this just speaks to my general ignorance of the facts. I don’t know what’s really going on in Washington, Iraq, or Guantanimo Bay. I rely on secondhand reports, many of which come from people with agendas. It’s getting hard to trust anyone bearing news, including and perhaps especially the old, established news outlets. The spin is making me dizzy. As are the reversals of position we’ve seen from Newsweek, CBS, the Sacramento Bee, retractions of stories and apologies for inaccuracy.

How trustworthy is Jim Lehrer, I wonder? And do I want the news badly enough to sit through the News Hour?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

(for the players of my BESM game: a little update. forgot the name of the city where the battle took place, and have thus officially renamed it.)

Dragons End Battle at Mesa

Mesa City, Midlands- One could only guess what the Southern troops were thinking as the burning projectile streaked down at the city. Perhaps they thought it was a Northern missile attack gone wrong, or a secret weapon their queen had failed to mention.

The Lithoventian soldiers had only a slightly better idea what was headed their way at roughly the speed of sound. Moments earlier, a communications satellite in low orbit miles above the battlefield had abruptly stopped working. The second object trailing the fallen satellite, the one bearing the rune of invincibility, was the true mystery.

Shortly before dawn on Tuesday morning, the satellite and the dragon struck Mesa City, carving a 300 meter wound in the center of the settlement. Immediately, the dragon arose unhurt and destroyed the city as both Northern and Southern troops fled. According to data from Central Order Defensive Technologies, the dragon flew into space, destroyed the satellite, and flung it down, following close behind.

“This is an eventuality we hadn’t even considered,” said Lt. Jerome McManus of the 24th Psionic Commando Division. Five soldiers from PCD 24 were killed when they attempted to defend the city from the attacking dragon, and were immolated by the dragon’s breath.

When asked how the military would proceed after the attack, Lt. McManus replied, “That all depends on Congress, and the dragons,” implying that an emergency resolution may be forthcoming.

The dragon, as yet unidentified, was also seen to have attacked a group of Southern mechanized troops who apparently fired upon it. While the reports of Southern casualties vary, approximately five magitek armored troops were destroyed by the dragon.

Several Lithoventian soldiers report seeing a second dragon approaching from the south, and sensing its mental presence. As that dragon neared Mesa City, the soldiers heard a psionic message, saying: “If this city be what thou sought, and fought to gain, consider it lost.” The military has yet to issue a statement on the meaning of that message.

The Joint Chiefs of the Armed Forces have convened in the Capital to discuss the incident and plan further strategy.

Mesa City has been abandoned by both Northern and Southern forces. Satellite imagery shows that the city has been utterly destroyed, and that no less than three dragons remain at the site.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Please forgive the lack of storytime. I realized, rather suddenly, that I didn't know nearly enough about the story I'm telling. The problem with my writing method is the distinct lack of prewriting. I'll start into a story without first charting out a plotline, or a setting, or detailed characters. As a result, I have a lot of fragments of stories, and only a few complete ones.

I'm taking some time to flesh out Walter Kleinmann and Broadgate. Also, I've been much inspired lately to work with an idea I had not long ago. Expect to see pieces of that sometime, at this address.

So until I next have something new, here's another old fragment. Kinda like this one. I've edited a bit, deleting terms and adding little explanations for those not familiar with the World of Darkness roleplaying setting.

Enjoy. And thanks for reading.

One cool summer evening, the pack descended from the foothills. They numbered four, and had traveled far together. Lean and tough, they had endured much, surviving through times of starvation and battle, always together. Through hunger, invaders, and cold, they survived. The wolves raced down as one from the Sierras, into the valley, toward the city. Close together, teeth bared, they moved swiftly toward Sacramento, the rushing wind in their ears, the light of the setting sun glowing in their eyes. All around them, the constructs of man sped by, and the wolves barely noticed. Unlike others of their kind, they did not fear nor loathe man. Intentionally, they headed for the city, their path straight and true. Soon they would walk the streets and alleys, searching for food, watching for prey…

…and begging for change.

“This one! This one! Get over!” Muffin shouted, pointing frantically at the fast-approaching offramp.

“Aye, Captain!”

Scruffy saluted sharply, gripped the wheel of the mopar green Dodge Dart convertible and slammed the brakes. A dissonant chorus of horns blared from behind while the 18-wheeler in the right lane swept by. With a quick BLAAT! of the horn, Scruffy stomped the accelerator and wrenched the steering wheel to the right, sliding the car over the white wedge painted on the asphalt and onto the Watt Avenue exit, five inches off the bumper of the PT Cruiser in front of them. The light ahead was green, and they slid around the corner, heading south.

Scruffy sighed in satisfaction and leaned back in his seat. Gully had stopped blinking. Roads was huddled in a corner of the back seat, his tail wagging subtly. Muffin relinquished her deathgrip on the door handle, and a look of incredulous amusement passed over her face. She turned to Scuffy. “That was pretty tight.”

Roads whined from the back seat.

Muffin promptly turned around and spied his tail beating the air. “Oh, shut up. You thought it was fun.”

“We gonna get something to eat, Gully?” Scruffy called to the back seat.

“Yeah, sure. Let’s see if there’s something along here.”

Roads looked up at Gully, his ears perked, and made the pre-arranged growl and head-bobbing motion for Jack in the Box.

“Walks-the-Roads votes Jack in the Box.”



“Mmm. Potato skins.”

“The motion passes!” Gully smirked down at Roads, who gave a wolfish smile and wagged. “And we’ll go through the drive-thru so you don’t have to change.”

“Dude! I haven’t moved my legs since Nevada!”

“We can stretch in the parking lot.”

“And I gotta shift sooooo bad…”

“Just use the bathroom.”

Muffin suddenly smacked Scruffy on the arm and pointed at a McDonald’s on the right. “Pull over! Right here!”

“What? We’re going to Jack in the Crack!” Still, he turned abruptly into the parking lot and stopped. Muffin usually had a reason for these sudden outbursts.

And she did. She nodded at a door set into the wall of the building, away from the main entrance. “Bathroom’s on the outside.”

“Ah! Muffin, you’re awesome,” Gully smiled. “Scruffy. Go for it.”

“He-ey!” A second later, Scruffy’s seatbelt snapped upwards and the door slammed behind him. He flung open the bathroom door and leapt inside. Seconds after the door swept shut, a feral roar echoed dully from inside, and a young couple entering the restaurant turned and shuddered.

Muffin sighed. A few moments passed, and Scruffy emerged from the bathroom, whistling merrily. His lime-green hair was freshly spiked from a splash of water, and he looked quite refreshed. Muffin slugged him in the shoulder as he got back in the car.

“We heard you, smart guy.”

“Ow! It’s not my fault if they have thin walls! Dude…”

Standing on the seat, Walks-the-Roads yipped at Gully in the Garou language. [I should change here. There might not be another good place.]

“Yeah, cool. Pop the trunk, Scruffy?” Gully stepped out of the car and took a second to stretch. Muffin followed, placing her heel on the hood and leaning forward, groaning. Rummaging through the whatnot in the trunk, Gully found the small sack with Roads’ clothes and walked with him to the bathroom. When the coast was clear, he opened the door and slid the bag inside, closing it after his friend. Through the door he heard the usual sounds of transformation: claws on tile, bones popping and snapping, subdued yowls of pain… and then, the rustling of the bag. After a minute, Walks-the-Roads emerged from the bathroom in Homid form, dressed in a stained pair of khakis, leather sandals, and the white shirt Gully had given him, untucked.

He grinned. “Bathrooms are so wrong.”

Gully grinned back. “They really are.”

“Hey! Food! Now!”

The Gravelthrower pack sat in the far corner of Jack in the Box, drawing uneasy stares from the other diners. Nothing they weren’t used to. The scene, they had all realized, would be much the same if they were human. A pack of vagrants, shabby and not a little smelly, is on the fringe even if they aren’t werewolves. Still, the supernatural barrier between human and Garou, the invisible wall of fear built by the Rage, was hard to bear. Without a pack, without understanding friends, none of them could have endured it. They had endured much and traveled far, all together.

Scruffy stuffed a small handful of ketchup packets into his pocket. No one else in the pack gave him a second glance. Muffin already had two packets of mustard and five of salt. Gully and Roads had similar stashes. In the Bone Gnawer tribe, they never had to worry about food – just seasoning. Their spirit benefactors had taught them to make food of anything: by throwing an old shoe, some gutter sludge, and a newspaper into an old rusted pot and stirring, they could, in moments, create a nutritious paste. However, the mush wasn’t much for taste. Bone Gnawers quickly found out that a little ketchup went a long way.

“Hey,” Muffin smirked, peering out the windows, “we should find a Chinese place and get some soy sauce.”

Scruffy grinned and flashed Roads a look. “Sweet and sour sauce.”

Muffin looked genuinely distressed. “Aw, I hate sweet and sour mush.”

Smirking softly, as usual, Roads said, “I like sweet and sour mush.”

“Everyone likes sweet and sour mush but you, Muffin!” Gully joined in, stabbing a finger at her across the table. A gawking six-year-old in the next booth caught his eye, and he threw the girl a nod. Gully barely heard a muffled, “Don’t stare, Jenny.”

The predatory look leapt into Muffin’s eyes. She turned to Scruffy and leaned forward. He leaned back. “All right, Flips-the-Bird. We fight for it.”

“Why are you looking at me?”

Muffin bared her teeth in a grin and swung her gaze around the table. “I’ll take you all. Come on.”

Suspiciously, Scruffy asked the right question. “What’s the game?”

“Not hide-and-seek,” Roads interjected, “I don’t like soy sauce.”

“No, no hide-and-seek. I mean fight.”

Puzzled looks flew around the table. Gully leaned forward. “Three on one.”

“Yup.” Muffin had her poker face on.

“What? To a knockout? Pin?”

Shaking her head, Muffin laid out the plan. “We have a circle on the ground. First one out loses. You come at me one at a time. No holds barred. You each get one chance. Deal?”

Silence fell on the booth. This had to be a trick. Muffin was the Ragabash of the group, born under the trickster's phase of the moon, and she took it seriously. And she was an amazing fighter, but not compared to her three packmates together.

Scruffy munched a french fry and shrugged. “What the hell. I’m in.”

Gully and Roads nodded assent. “Yeah. All right.”

Poker face solid, Muffin stood and emptied her tray into the trash. The men of the Gravelthrower pack exchanged glances.

“Just to see what she’s up to,” Roads nodded.

The circle was drawn in ketchup in the back of the parking lot. Muffin stood ready in the center, arms hanging at her sides. “You choose the order.”

Scruffy elbowed Gully in the ribs. “You’re the Ahroun. Get the job done, man.”

Gully sighed and stepped to the edge of the circle. “No holds barred?”

Muffin shook her head and took a step back, tensing for the attack.

In the blink of an eye, Gully pounced, charging forward and grabbing for Muffin’s waist. She let him come to her, even let him get his hands about her – then drove her fingers into his sides. Gully’s eyes went wide, and he lost control, bursting into a fit of laughter. His momentum shifted instantly from attack to retreat as he dropped the Ragabash and cavorted to avoid her fingers. Tickling mercilessly, Muffin planted her foot and shoved the Ahroun - born under the warrior's moon, champion in battle, unmatched in combat - out of the circle. He collapsed on the asphalt, giggling hysterically.

The poker face broke. Muffin looked up at Scruffy and Roads, grinning like a self-satisfied coyote. “…nnnnext.”

Roads guffawed.

Scruffy looked down at Gully, who had finally caught his breath. “Oh, man….” Then, yowling an impromptu war cry, he bound into the circle, diving low to take out Muffin’s legs. She vaulted over him, landed straddled above him, and attacked the nape of his neck with tiny scratches. The battle cry slipped into a mad cackle, and Scruffy scampered out of the ring. The instant he left the ketchup circle, Roads leapt forward and wound up to shove Muffin from behind. At the last second, she ducked, Roads’ arms shooting out above her head. Her arms flashed up to find Roads’ armpits, and he hooted, trying to swat her away. It was simple enough to ram the wolf out with her shoulder.

The triumphant Ragabash looked down at her defeated packmates, who stared back at her, still giggling.

“Aw, man!” Scruffy cried, “we… he, he… got owned…”

Muffin raised her fists above her head and howled in victory, her eyes flickering with guile.

A minivan honked at them to get out of the way.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Natalia clung to him for a moment, grinning into his chest. With only a moment’s hesitation, Walter slipped his arms about her shoulders and gave her a little squeeze. She giggled and took a step back, looking up at him with her intense dark brown eyes. As the night wore on, she would be cold in her miniskirt and high-heeled sandals, if she were still outdoors.

“So, is tonight the night, Walter? Do I finally get to feel you-“

“Not tonight.” It was a struggle to hold eye contact. He caught the little spark in her eye even before she smirked at him and punched him in the solar plexus. Surprisingly good swing for a girl her size, at which Walter smiled very slightly.

“I know. You’re one of those nice guys. Come on, buy me some coffee. It’s a slow night. Whatchu doing out here?” She walked beside him toward an all-night café, re-rolling the sleeves off her white button-down dress shirt.

Walter’s eyes lingered on her for a moment before he answered. “Trying not to think about a case. I hope to come back to it with a fresh mind later. Just airing out my mind tonight.”

Natalia nodded, pulling a pair of costume glasses from her purse and slipping them on. “Good idea. Get your mind off work and come see your favorite little ho.” She grinned at him mischievously.

He winced. “Natalia, that is not how I….” Strictly, it was an accurate description, but he hated thinking of her as a whore. The look on his face said exactly that, in no uncertain terms.

She laughed and looked away from him surreptitiously.

The young man behind the counter at the café saw them approaching. “The usual, right?”

“Ah, Donovan. Thanks for showing up.”

Councilor Donovan Llewellyn squeaked at the sudden noise and about-faced sharply. Somehow, he never heard Giovanni approaching. The young Councilor was wearing another expensive, form-fitting shirt and baggy slacks. One of his many nightlife outfits, though not one that the tabloids would latch onto. Not compared to some of the others. Giovanni bowed smartly to Donovan, hands in pockets.

“Giovanni. Looks like you’ve got other plans after this.”

And there was that twinkle in the young man’s eye once again. Whenever Donovan had seen that look in his own children’s eyes, he never hesitated to punish them. “Yeah, just a physical therapy appointment. You should try her sometime, Donovan. Get the hormones moving again.”

Donovan yawned, just in time to conceal a look of utter disgust. “Actually, I like my hormones how they are. Tepid. What did you want to discuss?”

“Geoffrey Harrison.”

It was silent for far too long before Donovan managed a reply. “Have you heard something?”

Giovanni appeared to look up at the sculpture above them, but was really watching the question hang in the air. The small pin attached the right pocket of his slacks, the knife of the Cult of Masael, caught the light.

“I heard he was a good worker.”

“Yes. Very thorough.”

Giovanni nodded, pointing his finger at Donovan. Exactly, the gesture said. The junior Councilor never took his eyes off the sculpture. “Do you think that’s why he was killed? Maybe he saw something?”

It certainly sounded like he was asking a question. “I can’t imagine what.” And honestly, Donovan couldn’t. There was certainly corruption in these halls, but it didn’t tend to get people killed.

Giovanni chuckled good-naturedly. “That’s good, I suppose. I mean, if you knew, you’d probably be in trouble!” He looked to the elder Councilor, and there was only laughter in his eyes. Still though, that kind of laughter Donovan hated to hear from his own children.

Donovan found his pulse climbing. “What do you know, Giovanni?”

“Know? Nothing you don’t,” he replied, looking Donovan in the eye. “I just wanted to say that I hoped you’d stay safe through all this.” With a soft, statesmanlike smile, Giovanni patted Donovan on the shoulder as he walked past. “Good night, Councilor.”

At such a time, Donovan would have expected himself to say something. But as the young man, his peer, made his way casually to the door, he could only muster: “Wait… what…”

“Sorry, got that appointment. No way I’m gonna be late for her.” And with a backwards wave, he was out the door.

It could have been an hour that Donovan Llewellyn stood there beneath the steel moebius strip, dumbstruck at the fact that Giovanni Tolermo had just told him to stay out of the way. Of what, he had no idea; which was, of course, was the worst part.
Kleinmann. He was investigating. He had to have discovered something.

“So you can’t talk about it?”

“Not legally,” said Walter. “I can say that it is a very disturbing murder investigation, but that’s all.” He took a sip of his house decaf, noting once again that he only drank coffee with her.

Natalia stirred her usual drink, a high octane mix of espresso and mocha. It occurred to Walter that he had never seen her drink anything without caffeine. She leaned onto his arm comfortingly. “I’m sorry. That’s no fun. It was probably exciting the first time, huh? But not anymore.”

Walter nodded in agreement. “True. The first time, I was out to prove myself, test my skills. But now, it is just…”

“Frustrating.” She gave him an understanding look. Not one of the practiced looks she gave her customers, but a look full of insight. Sipping her coffee, she gave him a little scratch on the back.

“Yes. Frustrating. I wish I could tell you more. Perhaps you could help me figure it out.”

“Pshh. Not my line of work, guy.” Her eyes jogged to the side as she took another sip, widening suddenly. “Ha. Work. Here comes my only appointment for tonight.”

Walter narrowed his eyes, looking up to see Councilor Tolermo emerging from the Council Halls just across the street, looking eager.

“Oh, come on, Walter. You’ll see me another night. Don’t be greedy.” She grinned at him, squinting as she did. It was the same look she gave him every time they parted.

Walter removed the look from his face as best he could and nodded to Tolermo. “Councilor.”

“Good evening, Court Officer. And hello, Natalie.” Tolermo wrapped an arm around her waist. “It was Natalie, right?”

“Mmm-hmm,” Natalia said. “Right this way.” She quickly led the young man off. “Good night, Walter. See you later.”

As Kleinmann waved, Councilor Tolermo looked over his shoulder and mouthed a name. Natalia. He smirked wickedly at Kleinmann and turned back around.

Donovan looked out the door to see, in the midst of the usual midnight crowd, Walter Kleinmann. The Court Officer had his back to Donovan, and seemed to be watching someone. What they had to discuss, Donovan thought, was best discussed in private. Perhaps in the morning, after he had tried, and likely failed, to get some sleep.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Once again, Kleinmann found himself walking the streets, airing out his mind. He had left his uniform back in his apartment, along with his notes. Still, the case stalked behind him, casting its shadow over him. He tried to feel the warm night air on his short-furred arms, to listen to the melange of sounds from the clubs and cafes around him, to do anything but think about the investigation.

Still, the faces of the Harrisons stared at him expectantly from the back of his eyelids.

A club's door stood wide open, breathing sweat and strange fumes into the street. At a sniff, Kleinmann picked out three different hallucinogens, swimming in the razor scent of alcohol. Bass whumped against his tall ears, which folded back instinctively. Kleinmann slowed his pace as a dogman ambled out of the building, smoke curling from his nostrils. One one arm, whispering behind her hand, was a young girl. On the other, looking more nervous than the other two, was a young man. The dogman tugged his two companions along the promenade, laughing with the girl.

Kleinmann watched them go, trying to clear his mind.

As usual, Giovanni was late. Donovan was unsure why he himself insisted on being anywhere on time of late. Even the old guard was getting lazy, when it came to official business. There was, of course, time for politicking any time of the day, any day of the week. Which was what annoyed him most about Giovanni's latency. Donovan knew the junior Councilor's priorities. So why couldn't he be punctual about them?

Thus, Donovan was left with time on his hands. A strange feeling, of late. It seemed the city-state that was Broadgate took more and more effort to run smoothly every day. More meetings, more phone calls, but most of all, more deal-making. Every day, Donovan met someone else he had to appease. Mostly the Cult of Masael, lately. It was becoming quite trendy, which caused Donovan no end of irritation.

He stood alone in the foyer of the Council Halls, contemplating his red-lined shadow on the floor. The wash of city light floated from the low cloudcover through the wide, domed skylight above. In the center of the great circular chamber, suspended from the walls by taut steel cables, was a giant moebius strip of steel. Below it stood a great classical pillar of marble.

Donovan rarely found subtlety where he wished.

Four days had passed, slowly, since the murders. Kleinmann was certain the murderer had military training, given the precision of his work. Every cut had been purposeful, intentional. And there was something familiar about the killer's technique. Kleinmann hadn't caught it at once, but after reviewing the scene a thousand and one times, a memory had spoken up. At that crime scene was something he'd seen before. After four days and nights, he couldn't decide what.

Perhaps, Kleinmann thought, there is a better place to clear my mind. And far in the back of his head, a reasonable voice suggested that perhaps there was another reason.

"Walter! Hey!" called the other reason.

Already, Walter could feel the weight. He turned around, sliding his padded hands from his pockets. There she stood, thankfully without a man attached to her.

"Hello, Natalia."

(to be continued soon...)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

So, here's a scary thought. What if the standard for getting into Heaven was perfection? That is to say, if you've ever done something wrong, you haven't earned your way in.

Actually, it makes sense to me. Heaven, it's written, has no pain. It's an eternity of communion with God, where every need is filled. No hunger. No mourning. How do you earn that? What do you do to deserve a complete lack of anything bad?

It's also written that God is just. That is, He gives people what they deserve. I've looked at myself pretty hard for the past couple weeks, thinking about this issue. I'm really the only case I'm qualified to judge at all. Thus, I re-asked the question of myself: Do I deserve to go to Heaven?

That's not actually the question I asked. I considered whether I deserved Hell. And the answer is yes.

I thought about the weight of everything I've ever done wrong. Quite heavy. I tried to imagine the sum total of all the pain I've caused other people throughout my life. It's a scary thought, once it begins to add up. And regardless of the good I've done, my sin remains. It can't be undone.

Furthermore, my sins have grieved God. An eternal being, who loves me. My temporal actions have eternal consequences. So I must conclude that I haven't earned Heaven, and I deserve Hell. I speak only for myself, and I encourage others to do the same.

Does anyone think they've earned Heaven? I don't think I have.

The only reason I'm going is that I've accepted grace. It's an option for everyone, thanks be to Jesus. If salvation were fair, instead of merciful, we'd all be screwed.

11. Explain why, if your god loves us all, more than half of us are going to Hell after we die. Specifically, refute or explain the following words of Christ, as presented in the New Testament: "Many are called but few are chosen," and "Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth unto salvation, and few there be that find it." If your god loves all of us, couldn't he find a better way?

12. Explain what type of offense could possibly justify eternal, unbearable torture in Hell; if your sect does not believe in Hell, then refute every passage in the Old and New Testaments which describes Hell (such as 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 and Revelation 20:15). (Do not exceed 100 words.)

13. Explain how your god can be both just and merciful, when these terms apparently contradict each other.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

There will be more theology coming. I'm actually in the middle of researching one of the big questions that's plagued people for a while. Now that I'm really looking into the question at hand, I'm realizing how challenging it is. It's wonderful. Questions are essential to grow in faith. This next one will provoke plenty of good conversation, I'm sure.

For tonight, something else.

* * *

There had been brutal murders in the city of Broadgate. This one, Kleinmann thought, was nothing less than an atrocity. It seemed that nothing that belonged inside the man's body was left inside his body. Nor his wife's. Their respective remains covered the entire floor of the apartment, the expensive couch, the paintings on the walls. Only their faces were intact. Not their heads, but their faces. All that was left of them showed surprise, staring at their own inner workings.

"Hideous," Kleinmann muttered. He stood in the doorway, looking for a path inside. Surveying the room, he could see no footprints on the clean areas. There had to be a path. His nostrils were filled with the scent of blood and sweat. Several people, but only three scents weren't the police officers securing the crime scene. One person had done this.

"We're secure, Court Officer," the sergeant in charge reported. The man's eyes snapped from Kleinmann to the gruesome scene in the apartment. As Kleinmann watched, the policeman went pale.

"I take it you have not found the suspect yet," Kleinmann said.

The sergeant narrowed his eyes at Kleinmann. "You expect us to find the guy five minutes after we get here. Nice."

"No, sergeant," Kleinmann answered, keeping his voice even. "I assumed you had not because you certainly would have told me if you had."

"Oh." The man lowered his eyes, stealing another glance at the murder scene. "I'm sorry, sir... this is just..." He threw up a helpless hand, gesturing to the carnage.

Kleinmann nodded. "The worst kind of murder... as though one were better than another. But you see what I mean."

The sergeant shrugged and wiped his brow, looking away from the room. "Disgusting."

Kleinmann was silent for a moment, staring. Searching. "The worst kind. Vicious, but intentional. This took time. And expertise."

"Sounds like an assassination to me."

Kleinmann nodded. "Who are the victims, sergeant?"

The sergeant was removing his gloves, prepared to leave the rest to the Court Officer and his subordinates. "The front desk tells me this is Geoffrey Harrison's suite. Apparently, he works for the Finance Ministry."

Finance. "Thank you, sergeant. Send the forensics team straight here when they arrive."

"Yes, sir." With an offhand salute, the sergeant turned and headed back toward the elevator. Halfway down the hall, he stopped. "You are Court Officer Kleinmann."

Kleinmann looked the man in the eye, seeking his intent. "I am."

The sergeant nodded. "Well, it was good to finally meet you, sir. Good luck."

A ringing noise shrilled from Kleinmann's pocket. "Thank you," he said, answering his phone. The sergeant stepped into the elevator.

"Walter. Have you discovered anything?"

"Nothing yet, Councilor. I've only just arrived." The elevator doors closed, and the sergeant was lost to sight. Kleinmann turned away from the open door and shut his eyes. "But this is perhaps the most horrible thing I have ever seen. The victim was a state employee. Mr. Geoffrey Harrison."

"Yes, I know," said Councilor Donovan, followed by a short gasp.

Kleinmann stood up a little straighter. "You do."

The Councilor sighed on the other edge of the line. "Yes. I was informed."

Kleinmann waited through several seconds of silence. No further explanation came. With a sigh, he said, "It sounds like I will have to take a statement from you, Donovan."

He pictured Donovan Llewellyn nodding resignedly on the other end of the line. "Of course, Court Officer."

"When I am done here."

"Very well. Until then, Walter." The line went dead.

For a long while, Kleinmann held the phone before him, looking at it questioningly. Strange notions, bizzare scenarios ran through his head, anything to explain why the most decent man he knew would be involved with the most brutal murder he had ever seen.

The faces of Geoffrey Harrison and his wife, only now settling to room temperature, remained silent.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

When I first saw the Heirophant's questionnaire on John's blog, I decided to answer all of the questions, and went to far as to say I would. I went through about a third of them, decided it was a waste of my time, and quit. John and I talked about the questions a bit, and I thought that was enough.

Then, Liam answered them all. I had been going back and forth about whether or not I should have finished the questionnaire until then. Now I realize I've made myself a liar, and once again failed to complete something I've started. For now.

I'll be using my blog to answer some of the questions I thought were actually worth answering. The rest, I will answer and post elsewhere upon request. As I said on John's blog, a lot of the Heirophant's questions are really poorly conceived. The website itself says, in bold and italic, "this is not intended to confront Christians," probably because any Christian worth his salt would knock these questions down like so many termite-eaten bowling pins.

So, I come to you as a Christian, who has studied not as much as he should have. If some of my answers are imperfect, please correct me. I am prepared to defend my answers, and also prepared to learn.

Tonight, I address question 46, a common myth that must be dealt with.

46. At no point in the four Gospels did Jesus claim to be the son of your god. (He said "son of man" quite frequently, and at one point referred to himself as "a son of god," but that was a common Hebrew expression at the time. Someone who was "a son of god" was a Jew. This reflected the Israelites' belief that they were the chosen people of your god. See also Job 1:6). Why, then, do you believe that Jesus was divine? If you don't believe that Jesus was divine, then why do you call yourself a Christian?

John 8:54-59
Jesus answered, "If I am boasting about myself, it doesn't count. But it is my Father who says these glorious things about me. You say, 'He is our God,' but you do not even know him. I know him. If I said otherwise, I would be as great a liar as you! But it is true - I know him and obey him. Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad."
The people said, "You aren't even fifty years old. How can you say that Abraham has seen you?"
Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, before Abraham was, I am!"
At that point they picked up stones to kill him. But Jesus hid himself from them and left the Temple.

In this passage, Jesus plainly claims to be God. Note:

Exodus 3:13-14
But Moses protested, "If I go the people of Israel and tell them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' they won't believe me. They will ask, 'Which god are you talking about? What is his name?' Then what should I tell them?"
God replied, "I Am Who I Am. Just tell them, 'I Am has sent me to you.'"

Jesus refers to himself using a the word Hayah, a name of God which no Jew could mistake. This is why the crowd attempts to stone him - for blasphemy. Also, even more plainly:

John 10:30
"The Father and I are one."

More answers to come. Count on it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

For a long while, Kleinmann just stood and examined the statue. The Cult of Masael had decided on this as the central material icon of their religion, and it showed. The titanic figure was no less than 25 stories tall, and surrounded by strategically placed spotlights which kept the statue permanently illuminated. Masael was designed to be androgynous, with a narrow, supple physique, but thoroughly muscled. One great golden hand raised above its shoulders, a clenched fist of victory. The other hand was pressed against the heart, the head with its effeminate face bowed, chin to chest. A wave of platinum cords swept over its shoulders, stirring when strong enough winds blew.

It was, Kleinmann thought, a very acceptable image for the general population of Broadgate. He only let the thought bother him for a minute - that Masael's well-designed body had not one of his features.

He lifted his short-furred hand to check his watch, and caught a faint reflection of his face. The long muzzle, decisively marked with black and brown. The tall, pointed, listening ears at the top of his head. And the eyes, which, though they were round and yellow, looked nothing at all like a dog's.

Kleinmann began the walk back to his flat, making his way through the thick crowd around the base of the Masael monument. Children and adults alike stared at his passage, looking away even from the glory of the statue at the center of the square. Dogmen were not uncommon, but a dogman in a Court Officer's uniform was unique. As he politely navigated the crowd, he tipped his cap every so often and allowed himself a smile. He was proud of his rank, and rightfully so. There had only been a few sergeants of his race in the Broadgate police force before him, and before them, only civilians. It was rare indeed for anyone, let alone the courts, to rely on the analysis of a dogman.

Again, Kleinmann considered the Cult of Masael. The crowds had only grown since the statue had gone up, and he had seen more and more people in the Halls of Order wearing he sign of the Cult. The small, golden dagger, pinned to the lapel. A strange symbol, for which he had heard various explanations.

A dagger. Why a dagger?

His thoughts were interrupted by a chime from his pocket. He removed the small silver phone from his pocket and answered. "Officer Kleinmann."

"Walter, there's been another homicide. Down at the fifth residential bloc."

"I will be there momentarily. I'm... curious as to why I'm hearing this from you, Councilor."

"Oh, I was in the Hall and I heard it come down the line. Besides, does a man need an excuse to call a friend?"

"Apparently yes, tonight," Kleinmann said wistfully. So strange to hear a good friend's voice with such ill tidings. "I'll take care of it, Donovan. Thank you."

Councilor Donovan sighed audibly. "No, thank you, Walter." A click.

Kleinmann folded his phone and slid it back into his coat pocket. Another long night lay ahead of him, and he knew it. Already, there were questions.

* * *

And so we have a very first draft of the beginning of my latest short story, set in an alternate modern Earth, in the city of Broadgate. More to come.