A call for topics

It’s Monday morning yet again, despite my best efforts‒the beginning of yet another pointless work week in the dreary tail bit of the year, when the sun sets at 5:31 pm local time, thanks to the outmoded “daylight savings time”, making people like me, who are already dysthymic/depressive and are also subject to some seasonal affective problems that much more unstable.  Spread the word: daylight savings time causes significant morbidity and mortality* and does no one much, if any, good.

I’m writing this on my cell phone again, or “smartphone” if you will (though dumbphone seems like a better term given the way most humans use theirs).  I deliberately didn’t bring my laptop to the house with me over the weekend.  It’s not as though I’m writing stories anymore; I’m just writing this ridiculous blog.  So there’s no particular impetus to make the writing process easier for me, as using the laptop does.  I might as well use the smaller, lighter device when I don’t feel like carrying the heavier one.

I had a reasonably boring weekend, which I guess is a good thing.  I watched a few movies, and I went on some comparatively long walks‒I think I totaled about 12 miles over the course of the two days.  I also spoke with my sister on the phone on Sunday, and that was good.

That’s about it.  That’s the extent of my non-work life.  It’s the best I have to offer, and it’s as like as not just to get worse as time passes.  But I was able to force myself to get almost eight hours of sleep on Friday night and Saturday night, thanks to Benadryl and melatonin.  Oh, and of course, I did my laundry on Sunday, as I always do.

Sorry, I know this is really boring so far.  I don’t know what to tell you.  I didn’t really have any subject in mind for today, other than my brief diatribe about daylight savings time and depression/seasonal affective disorder.  Obviously, it’s a topic that affects me significantly (no pun intended), but there’s otherwise not much for me to say about it.

Eliezer Yudkowsky has an interesting bit of insight into it that he gives as an illustrative case in his excellent book Inadequate Equilibria, dealing with, among other things, the reasons why no one has done research on much stronger light-based treatments for SAD.  But you can’t expect depressed people to take initiative to do remarkable things to help themselves, since a major part of the problem with depressive disorders is comparative inability to take positive action.

If anyone out there has any requests for subjects or topics for me to discuss in a blog post, I’d be more than willing to consider them, though if it’s not a subject about which I have any expertise, I may not be able to do anything worthwhile with it.  Still, I have a fairly broad knowledge base regarding general science, especially biology and physics.  I like mathematics, though I’m not that deeply knowledgeable about esoterica thereof‒a regretted failure of my youthful imagination when I was in college.  Similar things could be said about the deep aspects of computer science; I wish I had known how interesting the subjects were back then and so had pursued them more than I did.

Of course, I have a fair amount of personal knowledge in the reading and writing of fantasy/science fiction/horror, though I haven’t read any new stuff in a while.  I haven’t even read any of my own books in a long time.  I think the most recent horror I’ve read was Revival by Stephen King, which was pretty good.  I haven’t read much if anything in the way of new fantasy since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  I’m reasonably well versed in slightly older comic book lore, especially Marvel.  And of course, The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings are among my favorite books.

I enjoy Shakespeare, but I don’t consider myself any kind of scholar of the Bard.  I like his works and his words in a fairly straightforward fashion.  I also like Poe quite a lot, as you might have guessed from my recitation videos of some of his poems.

Anyway, that’s a quick summary of some of the subjects upon which I might at least feel justified in opining.  So, if anyone has any suggestions or requests in these or even other, tangentially related subjects, I would appreciate them.  I like to feel useful or productive in at least some way, so I can justify my existence to myself.  It isn’t easy.  I’m a much harsher judge of my usefulness or worth than Scrooge at his worst, and I expect no ghosts of past, present, and/or future to visit me to give me some epiphany that changes my character.

It would be nice if some rescue mission were to happen to save my soul, but I don’t see it as plausible, and I don’t think anyone thinks it’s in their interest‒or anyone else’s‒to save me, in any case.  So in the meantime I’m just stumbling along like a wind up robot that’s been forgotten by the child that wound it up, legs moving and shifting until the mechanism breaks or the spring finishes untightening.  And damn, that’s an annoyingly efficient spring.


*I don’t have the data for this, but I strongly suspect that, if the sun set at least a little later‒say an hour later, even‒things would be slightly easier for people with SAD.  It might be difficult to tease out the statistics, but SAD doesn’t just kill by increasing rates of suicide, though I’m pretty sure it does that.  People experiencing exacerbations of depression have higher rates of numerous other illnesses and accidents beyond the obvious. 

“When comes the storm?”

I brought my laptop with me yesterday after work, and I’m using it to write this post.  I was afraid this morning that I would need to avoid its use.  I was worried that there would be heavy rain and high winds at the train station thanks to the “subtropical storm” morphing into a hurricane that’s bearing straight at the east coast of Florida.  However, this morning it’s just a bit breezy, and the rain is not very impressive—more a drizzle than anything else, though it is steadier than rain tends to be down here.

I have my raincoat on, just in case.

As of yesterday, the announcement was that today the trains would stop running after about 5 pm, so I’m going to need to leave work early if that’s still the case.  In addition, the announcement was that there would be no train service on Thursday, since the storm is predicted to make landfall at around 1 am Thursday morning.  So, I may not be going to work on Thursday, since if the trains aren’t running, the buses aren’t likely to be running, and I have no other reliable way to get to the office.  If that’s the case, I probably won’t be writing my traditional Thursday blog post.

I doubt anyone will mourn.

Maybe I should take this as a sign from the universe that I should just give up on this blog post, as I’ve given up writing fiction or playing guitar or even really listening to any music, let alone singing along.  I get the impression that my post yesterday—which was on a subject I find interesting, and thus about which I tend to go on and on and on, even when writing on my phone—wasn’t particularly interesting to anyone but me.  There’s nothing terribly wrong with that, but it’s a lot of work just to spew my random thoughts into the void, when for the most part, I already know what those thoughts are.

I’ve given myself plenty of such potential “signs” to look out for, that I would take to mean that the universe wants me to stick around.  Not that I really believe in any such nonsense; it’s just a bit of frivolity.  Most of the potential signs I’ve chosen center on my love of numbers; they relate to certain automatically generated codes that happen when processing things at work.

I gave myself more than 10 opportunities over the last several months, and they’ve all failed, which was predictable.  I knew that they weren’t likely—I was looking for palindromic sequences of eight digits in an eight-digit code that turns over very rapidly, since numerous offices and businesses use the service—but I figured, since I’m a fan of numbers, and especially such numbers, if one of them came up honestly, in the normal course of business, I would take it as an indicator to reorient myself somehow, at least for the time being.

I don’t actually imagine that the universe cares one way or another whether I live or die, or indeed, whether anyone or anything lives or dies, except to the extent that the universe contains minds instantiated in flesh.  All of those that might have any pertinent opinion have shown the general tendency to find their lives more comfortable when I am not around them much, as I’m sure I’ve noted ad nauseam in the past.  So, there really is nothing significant holding me here.

Even those distant people with whom I keep in occasional contact, and who would probably be sad for a bit if I were gone, would not experience any true upheaval in their lives.  I’m disconnected from nearly everyone, beyond tenuous cobwebs; the people at the office are the ones who would have the greatest adjustments to make, but these would be rapidly achieved, and some people there would no doubt get raises as they took over some of my duties.

I’m tired, in so many ways.  I’ve slept worse than average even for me this week, probably partly because of the change in the clocks over the weekend.  And the fact that it gets so dark so early in the evening this time of year has never been good for me.  I’m on the first train of the day here, now, but I was up for hours already before I left the house.

I kind of wish for something to take the whole issue out of my hands.  I don’t tend to cross streets against lights deliberately—that would feel utterly impolite and inappropriate to me—but I have been willfully walking into the road even when right turners are approaching the intersections, hoping that someone will be reckless and run into me.  It’s a silly little thing, but if someone caused such an accident, they would be the ones disobeying traffic laws, so the fact that my “gain” would inconvenience them would be appropriate.

So far, I’ve had no luck.  I don’t really expect to have any in this sense—even if someone were to hit me, the speeds are too slow to be likely to be lethal.  Still, I have channeled the Joker (from The Dark Knight) a few times while crossing the street recently, saying, “Hit me, hit me, I want you to do it, I want you to do it,” under my breath as drivers approach the intersections.  Of course—rather obviously—no one has hit me so far.

Wusses.

Oh, they’ve just confirmed with announcements on the train that, yes indeed, there will be no service tomorrow (and today it will stop early) so I don’t plan to write a post tomorrow.  If you’re looking forward to my bastardized Shakespearean quote for the week, I can only apologize, but I’m not going to go out of my way to do it.  It’s not as thought there would be any point, to it or to anything else that I do.

Every day, more and more, I feel like someone lost in a Lovecraftian landscape full of creatures that make little sense to me, and with whom I cannot effectively communicate or interact.  I know that I make no sense to them, also, or at least very little.  I suppose, in a way, I’m the alien, I’m the mutant, so I have no “right” to expect them to try to understand me.

But surely, to Cthulhu or to Yog-Sothoth or to Shub-niggurath, humans and other mortal creatures must look as horrifying and alien as those creatures do to the hapless humans who encounter them in the stories.  Cthulhu may find the presence of humans to be as repulsive (and even frightening) as humans would find an encounter with cockroaches, ants, and mice or rats in their kitchens, in their food.  If it’s evil for Cthulhu to want to destroy humans, then it’s surely just as evil for humans to want to fumigate their homes when they are infested with “pests”.

I know, I know, Cthulhu isn’t real*, but that doesn’t change the point I’m making.  The monster, the outsider—the stranger—can be just as innocent, just as horrified, just as frightened as any human in any scary story.

Fear is not the mind killer, despite what they say in Dune, but prolonged fear is erosive, corrosive, and a burden that can become too great to bear.  And being a stranger in a strange land may be a low-level kind of fear—often more of a stress and tension, really—but it is real.

And even a monster, a stranger, might hope or dream or wish that somewhere, somehow, someone would rescue it, would reach out and try to help it, so that it doesn’t have to feel so lost and alone and afraid.  But it might recognize that it has no actual right to expect that anyone would ever do such a thing, and—seeing as it is a monster, a stranger—that its nature is to be alone until it finally succumbs to its local increasing entropy.

Anyway, that’s nearly all for today.  I won’t be writing anything tomorrow.  As for Friday, well, whether I write anything then will depend on factors such as whether the trains are running again by then so that I’ll be able to get to the office okay, and of course, whether I’m even alive—but, then, it always depends on that latter variable.

In closing, I’ll refer to a different topic.  Many of you are probably aware of the very large Powerball jackpot that was recently won (or so I understand) by some human somewhere.  If you’re interested in reading a story about someone who wins a similarly large jackpot and tries to do good with it, leading to unexpected and earthshaking consequences, you could read my short story, “I for one welcome our new computer overlords” which is available as a standalone story through Kindle, and also as part of my collection Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, which is available on Kindle and in both paperback and hardcover editions.  I think it’s a pretty good story.  If you read it, I hope you enjoy it, and I’d be grateful for any feedback I’m able to receive.

Stay dry and safe, wherever you are.


*As far as we know.

A Raven-ous Friday post

Good morning, yet again, I say as I often do—though I sympathize with Gandalf’s irritated inquiry after Bilbo wished him good morning at the beginning of The Hobbit.  I won’t go into that discussion, however, since—much like when Costello didn’t want to talk about which end of a racehorse he owned—it’s a long tale*.

As I warned you yesterday, I have indeed finished and edited my recitation of The Raven, and I posted it on YouTube.  I’ll embed it here, below.  As you can see, I dispensed with the mask during this performance, though I left on one of my two pairs of dark glasses—these ones are actually reading glasses, but I wasn’t reading; I did the whole thing from memory.

I left the mask off because I wanted to be able to convey the emotions this poem always engenders, at least in me.  It’s weird, but I cannot seem to express or often even feel emotions of my own, or at least not recognize them, unless I’m reading something—out loud usually—or singing along with a song, or singing it myself.  I think sometimes that’s why I, and people like me, enjoy melancholy and dark songs so much.  It’s our only way of even crystallizing, let alone expressing, our own feelings.  Often, it’s the only way we can even tell what they are, at least if we have alexithymia/dyslexithymia.

Anyway, all of you are hereby warned that, if you watch the video, you’ll have to look at my face, unimpeded by the mask, though at least I’m wearing dark glasses.  Unlike that weird, one-hit-wonder pop song from the eighties, though, this is not because the future is bright.  Ultimately—in the long run, anyway—the future is dark.  Indeed, one could say that the future is darkness itself.  But that’s not going to be fully instantiated for trillions to googols of years, so you’ve got time for a quick bit of breakfast before we go.

With that warning, here is the video of my recitation of The Raven, with background “music” by me.  I hope you like it.  If you do, I would be grateful if you could give it a “thumbs up” on YouTube, because apparently that makes things more likely to be recommended to other people and all that.  Obviously, if you want you can subscribe as well, though if you follow my blog, you’ll probably know about my videos shortly after they are posted, assuming there ever are any more.  Also, of course, if you’re inclined, you can share to social media and whatnot, and that too would be appreciated.

It’s interesting, but before recent times, I found the YouTube recommendation algorithm quite good and useful, directing me at times to subjects that I wouldn’t have known related to me without the recommendations, such as Asperger’s.  But of late it’s been spending a lot more of its effort recommending videos I’ve already watched.

To be fair to it, when I like something, I do often rewatch it many times, just as when I like a book I reread it many, many times.  But still, it would be nice if, instead of things that are entirely rehashes and obvious draws from channels to which I subscribe, it would do more of the thing it did with Asperger’s, a sort of “a lot of people who watched similar videos to you went on to look at these videos and related ones”.  I don’t think there was any recognition of connection in the algorithm, it just spotted patterns across a very large data set and suggested similar patterns to me (and no doubt to many others) so that I would stay there at YouTube.

But I have noticed that most of these algorithms in general don’t work too well with me anymore, if they ever did, whether it’s Netflix or Amazon or YouTube or Facebook or Hulu any of the other various things that can make money if they can recommend something to you that you’ll watch.  I’m apparently too weird, or perhaps just to anhedonic, for typical things to appeal to me.

I guess I shouldn’t really hold it against YouTube too much.  I recently tried to restart all three of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Lord of the Rings, The Belgariad, some comic books, some Japanese light novels, and—most concerning of all—some physics/cosmology books that I enjoy.  I haven’t been able to get far in any of them.  I just get…well, not exactly bored, but unable to maintain any interest.  Just apathetic.  As Pink (the character in The Wall) sang, “Nothing is very much fun anymore.”

I am at least looking forward somewhat to this Sunday evening when we will be able to watch the Doctor Who sixtieth anniversary special, and Jodie Whittaker’s regeneration moment, The Power of the Doctor.  I think it’s going to be fun, though it will be sad.  I’ve enjoyed the 13th Doctor, and most of her episodes, especially in the last two series.  I look forward to seeing the 14th Doctor, of course, but will miss 13.  She isn’t my favorite Doctor, but she’s been very good.

Anyway, that’s enough for now.  BBC America will be showing the above mentioned program Sunday night at 8 eastern, so if you like Doctor Who, keep that in mind.  It’s just possible that I might go on to recite some more poems, or read bits of books or stories that I like and want to share, but I think I’ll use the mask again for those, unless my face changes significantly.  That’s unlikely to happen, since unlike the Doctor, I don’t regenerate**.

I’m off work tomorrow, so there won’t be any more posts before Monday, if there are any at all***.  You can all be thankful that you’ll be granted at least a restful weekend without my words.


*Or “tail” in Costello’s horse’s case.

**As far as I know.

***After all, something might prevent me from making them even on usual days.

Who is this Frigga person, and why is a day and a minced oath named after her?

Well, it’s Friday once again, despite all the odds against that happening*.  I’ve now been writing these quasi-daily posts for almost two weeks.  Really, I suppose, it’s closer to being a week and a half, but that’s a difficult measure to use, because half a week, of necessity, involves half a day in the middle, since weeks have an odd number of days, but days, and daily things, are whole numbers.

I’m told that the number of days in the week was originally related to the number of “non-fixed” celestial bodies that are visible to the naked eye:  the sun, the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  Of course, our modern. English names for the days don’t completely match up with the names of the planets/moon/sun, but we do have a Sunday, a Moon Day, and a Saturn Day**.  That’s almost half a week worth of days…but, of course, since weeks are made up of an odd number of days, we can’t have a whole number of days equate to half a week, anyway, as I said before.

It’s good that the number of minutes, hours, and seconds in our standard time measurements are more sensible.  It’s my understanding that this comes from the Babylonians, who were not only good with hanging gardens*** but with highly divisible numbers, such as 24 and 60.  Just look at all the ways you can divide sixty evenly:  by 2, by 3, by 4, by 5, by 6, by 10, by 12, by 15, by 20, and by 30!  And 24 isn’t a slouch for being a smaller number; you can divide it by 2, by 3, by 4, by 6, by 8, and by 12.  Just imagine if the number of minutes in an hour, or seconds in a minute, or hours in a day, were odd numbers.  Imagine if they were prime numbers!  How cool would that be?

No, wait, I mean that would be highly inconvenient.  And it would be inconvenient.

Presumably there were other attempts to devise systems for measuring time during a day—I think I recall reading that sometime around the French Revolution and the creation of the Metric system****, there was an attempt to innovate a decimal clock of some variety.  You can sort of understand where they were coming from, if this story isn’t apocryphal.

But there appears to be a sort of natural selection with secondary inertia that applies to things like systems of time division, and it’s very difficult to knock out an entrenched one that functions reasonably well, and upon which many dependencies have evolved, without some truly catastrophic breakdown of the prior system.  Just look at the QWERTY keyboard layout!

None of the preceding was what I had “planned” on writing about this morning.  Well, I say “planned”, but it was just a vague notion, and I distracted myself right from the start with stochastic and tangential thoughts, which is almost always how these blog posts happen.  As it was written by the great Robert Burns—you know he’s great just from his first name—the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.  And my plans are rarely among the best laid; in fact, I don’t think my plans have gotten laid in more than ten years.  No, not even on Frigga’s Day, which you’d think would be good for such things.

I had thought about a post detailing a movie or story idea, about a person who wakes up one day to find, or perhaps discovers gradually, that he has become a zombie.  He’s not a philosophical zombie à la David Chalmers, but a horror-style zombie…of sorts.  He doesn’t start shambling about (much) and he certainly doesn’t have the urge to bite and/or eat living humans, except maybe when they’re being really annoying.  He’s just gradually rotting and falling apart and wearing away.  He has no vivacity, has low energy, and his face and body are steadily decaying and becoming disgusting.

But none of the people around him seem to realize what’s happening to him, even when he tries to call attention to it and see if anyone can help.  He’s gone to doctors and sought out zombie-therapy (it’s not a unique problem to him), and tried medications, and meditations, and supplements, and lifestyle changes and all that sort of stuff, but it doesn’t seem to help…or when it does, it only helps a little, or for a very short while.

I’m imagining his appearance degenerating sort of in the fashion of David’s friend, who was killed by a werewolf, then showed up more and more rotten every time while he urged David to break the bloodline of the wolf in An American Werewolf in London.

And our protagonist is unable to rest, because, well, rest doesn’t really help a zombie feel better.  It’s just immobility, after which, if anything, he’s stiffer and sorer than before.

A big part of the story would be him feeling tormented by the fact that the people around him don’t seem to realize that he’s got this problem, even when he tries to ask for help.  And he could really use some help, because—being a zombie—he’s unable to help himself.

Finally, he decides he just has to try to figure out what ways there are to destroy zombies reliably, and with reasonably little pain and mess, so he can end his torment.  Some versions of the zombie lore say its enough to “shoot them in the head” as in George Romero’s movies, but others say zombies will keep moving as long as any part of them remains intact.

He considers using fire, but that would be very difficult to force himself to use.  He still feels pain, you see.  Indeed, he feels it more than most, because his body is slowly falling apart, and his nervous system is fairly screaming at him that something is wrong, all the time.  So, if fire didn’t work, or if someone “rescued” him after he’d doused himself and lit the match, he’d be in that much more pain and his existence would be that much more horrific.  Similar issues arise with notions like walking into the depths of the ocean to be crushed or jumping from a very high cliff.  If he shot himself but didn’t aim perfectly, he’d be “alive” but with part of his brain destroyed, assuming destroying the brain even works on zombies.

And the people around him might still not realize that he had a problem.

I’m not sure how this story would end.  Is there ever going to be a way to cure this affliction?  It seems unlikely.  There are treatments that sometimes relieve symptoms (in the story world), but there is no known cure, because the cause is nebulous.  Zombie-ism is at least somewhat genetically influenced, since it tends to run in families, but no one is quite sure how, and it appears to be too thoroughly multifactorial even to conceive that there might be one single root cause.

It’s a bit ham-handed as stories-that-are-metaphors go, but if it were well done and well-acted, it could be decent.  If someone did it, I might watch it, or read it, seeing as I am a zombie myself.

Let me know, please, if someone makes that movie or writes that book.  Thanks!


*As far as I know, there was almost no chance that it wouldn’t happen, but it sounds more dramatic the other way.

**And you could sort of make the case that Wednesday, from Wotan’s Day, is a Jupiter Day, but that’s stretching things a bit.  I’m not sure that in Norse mythology Wotan or Odin was ever actually associated with the planet Jupiter.  And Friday is supposedly named after Frigg, or Frigga (played by Rene Russo in the MCU), a Norse goddess of fertility or some such, very loosely similar to Venus—and apparently, many languages (as in the Spanish “Viernes”) refer the name of this day of the week more directly to Venus.

***You’ve gotta be careful with hanging gardens, though.  If they fall, your former garden can become a dwelling place of demons, as in the line from Revelation 18.

****Which is quite a logical, internally consistent, and excellent system.

Outlaw’s Mind – Part 8

Timothy hadn’t taken the Paxil long enough, nor at a high enough dose, to feel any sort of withdrawal syndrome from having stopped it.  In fact, he didn’t consciously recognize any difference at all at first from not having taken it the following morning.  The first inkling he had of a change was when, in the middle of the school day, he first saw the girl who had been bemoaning the split-up of the boy band she loved.  She glanced at him as she came into the room for that hour’s classes, and Timothy felt a curious little pang.  He felt as though he had done her wrong but couldn’t think what he might have done.  She didn’t look at him for longer than a second, and he was soon distracted by the beginning of class.  Even so, as they left almost an hour later, she with a small group of friends, Timothy continued to feel troubled.

That afternoon, as he walked toward the door to the apartment, his eyes were drawn to the side of the building, where he could see the hose wrapped around the spigot on the building’s side.  He felt a curious, almost guilty feeling when he saw it, but couldn’t figure out why.  He went inside before the neighbor arrived that day, but when he heard her go into her home, as he almost always could, he again felt a strange embarrassed, guilty feeling.  He didn’t dwell on it, though.

His mother said nothing noteworthy to him that evening, but he thought she eyed him a bit more pointedly than usual.  She stuck to her usual evening small talk, and the two ate a peaceful dinner and watched a sitcom together before Timothy went to his room to go to bed.

That night, Timothy had a bit of trouble falling asleep.  This was not unusual; he was somewhat high-strung, and he often found that relaxing in the evenings was a minor challenge.  He realized at that moment that he hadn’t had any trouble sleeping on those few days when he’d taken his half-Paxil.  That fact made him slightly regretful.  He wondered, idly, whether it was sleeplessness that caused his horrible temper, or at least contributed to it.

It wasn’t much of a wonder, but it distracted him enough to help him drop off to sleep.

An unclear amount of time later, he found himself swirling into a strange sense of half-wakefulness.  His head felt fuzzy, his thoughts were dim, and it took him a few seconds to realize two things:  first, that he needed to get up to use the bathroom; and second, that he couldn’t move.

His eyes flickered open.  The room around him seemed surprisingly bright given the depth of the night, yet it was also strangely fuzzy, as though he were looking at it through glass that had been smeared with Vaseline.

Then he saw why he couldn’t move, and every other consideration left him.

Half-sitting, half sprawling atop Timothy’s sleeping form was a hideous, unspeakable figure.  It was dark, dusky black, as if it had formed out the nighttime shadows themselves, and its rough shape was somewhere between that of a hulking dog—perhaps a giant-sized rottweiler or a pit bull—and a human.  But this similarity was only rough.  Its outline was covered with folds and wrinkles, undulating and pulsing as though serpents or worms moved about below the surface of its midnight skin.  It was so large that its haunches were across the lower part of Timothy’s legs, its lower body pressed against his thighs and his abdomen, and its partly raised chest supported above Timothy’s, its arms pressing down on Timothy’s shoulders.

Horrified and terrified, Timothy tried to scream in shock and fright, but he couldn’t so much as make a sound.  Even his breath felt paralyzed.

His attempt to make a noise, though, seemed to call the thing’s attention.  Its head had apparently been looking up and around the room, as though perusing Timothy’s various belongings.  Now it shifted down to look at him, realizing that he was awake.

The shape of the head was roughly humanoid, but it was much larger.  It was bald and elongated, with the same undulating wrinkles on its surface as on the rest of the body.  If it had a nose, it must have been as flat as a gorilla’s.  Its eyes were small relative to the size of its head, but they shone a piercing red, like the lasers in a supermarket scanner.  As the gaze turned to meet his, Timothy felt briefly blinded, the crimson light flashing into the back of his own eyes.  He saw that, when the creature moved its head, it seemed not to be moving solely through the normal dimensions of space.  It looked as though one portion of it disappeared into nowhere as another portion appeared abruptly in the real world, and this, rather than ordinary motion, was how it moved, as though what Timothy was seeing was merely a projection into normal space of some entity with a higher number of dimensions.

Its face, though, stayed consistent, even as the wormy, impossibly flowing rest of it turned the head to face him.

Timothy tried harder to scream.  He failed.

As if in answer to his own mouth’s opening to fight for breath against the weight on his chest, Timothy saw a mouth that must have been there all along open in the monster’s lower head.  It was huge, gaping, a gigantic, wide slit of a mouth that reached all the way around to what would have been the location of the thing’s ears if it had seemed to have any.  It cracked open in a gaping smile that could have encompassed Timothy’s whole head.

As the jaws parted, Timothy saw countless narrow, needle-sharp teeth.  A long, glistening, snakelike tongue came out and licked all along the creature’s upper lip.

In addition to the terror that set his heart racing and made him wish he could howl and shriek with terror, Timothy now felt a deep revulsion, a disgust as visceral as if he had stumbled upon a rotten corpse lying in his bed beside him.  Glistening black liquid oozed along the lips where the thing’s putrid pink tongue slathered it.

He wouldn’t notice until much later that—despite this nauseated, disgusted reaction—he didn’t notice any smell from the thing.

As it looked down at him, its wide mouth still split into a rictus of a grin, it’s laser-pointer eyes glaring at him, Timothy saw its tongue snake away from its face, moving as though it was, perhaps, another iteration of whatever it was that lived beneath the thing’s skin and made its undulating wrinkles.  It wove and bobbed through the air between its head and Timothy’s, and then the head began to bend forward.  Its tongue drew closer to Timothy, he could feel a feverish heat radiating from it, baking his cheeks and lips.

Timothy thought about how snakes and lizards tended to smell as well as taste with their tongues, that these were among their primary ways for testing their environment.  He thought that the thing must be about to taste him, to make sure he was palatable, before literally biting his head off.

He didn’t spare a single instant of thought to wonder how it could be possible for this thing, this impossible creature, to exist at all, let alone to be laying across him, holding him in place, in the middle of the night in his own home.  He merely recognized that he had to get free.  He could not let this horrible thing devour him.  He would not let this thing devour him.  He had to move.

He struggled to move his arms, his legs, his body.  He wanted to knee at it, to scratch, to punch, to do something, but his body would not comply with his commands.  It wasn’t just that he was held down.  Even in the portions of his arms where the thing did not lay, he couldn’t move.  He couldn’t clench his fists; he couldn’t wiggle his toes.  His body was not obeying his mind’s commands.

Had he been drugged?  Had he been poisoned?  Had this thing somehow shot him with some kind of venom, and that was why he couldn’t move, didn’t even feel that he could breathe?

The tongue waved and wiggled through the air, taking its time as though it were enjoying the scenery on the way to its destination.  It was clear, though, that it was coming closer to Timothy’s face, that it was going to caress him…to taste him.

Even his head wouldn’t move; he couldn’t turn from side to side to try to avoid the tongue.  Maybe he could close his eyes—he’d certainly been able to open them—but he had no desire to do that.  He knew, somewhere in his bones, that closing his eyes would not make this thing go away, would not conjure it out of existence.  It would simply make him blind to whatever it was about to do, more vulnerable rather than less.

His helplessness, his inability to act on his fear, frustrated him even more than it made the fear grow.  It was maddening not to be able to act, not to be able to try to flee.  This thing had him completely at its mercy, and it was playing with him.  Its tongue taunted him, drawing closer only slowly, teasing him before it came into contact.

Timothy had no way to read the creature’s expression; its face was too inhuman, too fixed into a permanent, insane slash of a grin, to draw any conclusions.  But he thought that it was laughing at him.

This didn’t exactly bring up the same rage that he’d always felt in waking hours when faced with such laughter, but it did make him angry.  He hated bullies, he hated tormentors, he hated the cruel ones who not only took advantage of those weaker than they, but who delighted in it.  He’d always felt that way, for as long as he could remember.  This hatred was stronger than his fear of any bully.  It was stronger than his desire to avoid pain.  It was stronger than his desire to live.

If he was going to die—if this inexplicable thing that lay across his body was going to eat him—then he was not going to do so without at least making a mark.

If it was going to bite him, then it was going to be bitten as well.

Somehow, Timothy’s rage empowered his own jaws and the front of his neck, or perhaps they were able to move for the same reason his eyes were able to open and to focus.  It was not easy.  The muscles of his neck and temples and cheeks did not want to be forced into wakefulness.  But Timothy had no patience for their laziness.  He was in charge of them, not the other way around.  A much clearer anger than his usual rage drove him, and with an insane effort of his own, as the tongue came nearer, he too imitated a snake, bringing his head forward with his jaws open.  He caught the tongue between his teeth, paying not the tiniest bit of attention to what its texture was or if it tasted bad or was caustic or poisonous or anything else.  Instead, he bit down on it as hard as he could, sinking his incisors and canines deeply into its thick, slimy flesh.

Did it scream?  Timothy thought it gave off a sound of some kind, but like the movements of its body, this noise seemed to happen in some other dimension, not completely intersecting with the world of Timothy’s bedroom.  Whatever the sound was, perhaps just a sound of the mind, it was both surprised and in pain, and the grim satisfaction of this truth drove Timothy to bite down harder.

The thing yanked backward, drawing its head and body upward.  Its tongue yanked out of Timothy’s mouth.

And all of a sudden, it wasn’t there, and Timothy was twitching and writhing in his bed, gasping for breath, throwing his blankets off and scrambling to stand up.  His body, out of nowhere, was doing what he wanted it to do, but it was clumsy, stiff and slow, as though he were just now waking up from sleep.

When he got his footing, he stared around the room.  It was dark, deep nighttime, and there were no lights in Timothy’s room, but a distant glow from the bathroom fixture leaked under the crack of the door.

Had that been there before?

He looked back and forth around his bedroom, trying to see where the monster might have gone.  Was it in the corner?  Had it darted impossibly under the bed?  Had it ducked into the closet?  It seemed too big for any of those possibilities.

Timothy’s heart raced and he breathed as though he’d been sprinting.  He wouldn’t really notice it until a few minutes later, but his tee-shirt was partly plastered to his sweaty skin.  It was a miracle that he didn’t scream out loud.  It was almost as great a miracle that he hadn’t wet the bed.

He couldn’t see well, not as well as he had a moment ago.  Despite the newly noticed dim glow under the door, the room seemed darker than it had.  Timothy scrambled for his bedside/desktop lamp, fumbling at it, almost knocking it over, as he turned the switch on the back of the lamp head.

The sudden light, though sometimes weak and pallid during the daytime, seemed blindingly bright, and Timothy had to squint at first when it came on.  His eyes quickly adapted, though, and he tore them around the room, seeking any trace—a trail of glistening slime, a few drops of blood from its injured tongue—of the creature that had lain atop him.  There was no visible trace that he could find.  Even his blankets, which he first kicked at and then grabbed and threw back on the bed to examine, showed no trace of any unnatural presence, no excretions, no stains, no markings.

It was almost as though the thing had not really been there.

Timothy’s fear, though, was as real as any fear could be.  Indeed, now that he could move, the sense of fear was greater than it was before, dominant over that outrage that had allowed him to break through his immobility and bite the thing.  He could feel his body trembling, could almost hear his heart beating, tripping along so fast that he could barely have kept count of it had he tried.  He jerked around in place several times, trying to catch sight of anything that might be lurking behind him even in his small bedroom, but nothing was present that hadn’t always been there during the day.

He glanced at his window, then fixed his gaze upon it.  The curtains were drawn, and it was night outside, so there was no sign of anything through it.  When the drapes were open, though, it looked out on the street.  There were no streetlamps in front of the duplex in which Timothy and his mother lived, so there was no sign of any light through the covered pane, but Timothy knew that, if he were to open those drapes, he should see the meager front yard and then the street and the surrounding neighborhood of similar dreary dwellings.

But if he were to yank aside those layers of fabric now, what would he see?  Would it be a normal nightscape, just the same place it was during the day thrown into darker shadow?  Or would he see something else?  Would he pull the drapes aside only to find the beast’s horrible face pressed against the pane, its slathering tongue licking at the surface, just waiting for Timothy to see it before it crashed through the glass to take revenge?

And behind the monster, would the city beyond still be there?  Or would Timothy find that his house had been transplanted into some new, alien realm, of which the thing that had lain atop him was only the least terrifying of inhabitants?  Would there be towering shapes with tripod legs and faceless heads, with long, swirling tentacles as thick as oak trees and as sinuous and threatening as moray eels?  Would there be eyeless, flying creatures crossing a bleak, starless sky, and distant mountains so high and jagged that one couldn’t even make out their peaks through cloudless air?  Would the stunted grass of the lawn be replaced by carnivorous weeds, with oozing acid and sharp fangs lining leaves that were shaped like jaws?

Timothy considered, for a mere instant, going to the window and throwing aside the drapes, proving to himself that the world beyond was just as it always had been, which he told himself must be the case.  But he thought that, even if it were so—as surely it must be—he would still scream if he yanked the curtains open.  Even if the world was normal, he would still shriek if he dared to look.  And he couldn’t stand that thought.  He couldn’t bear the possibility.  He felt that, if he were to face his fear that way, it would kill him.  He would give a howl of shock—shock at finding an alien landscape, or just as great a shock at finding everything normal—and drop to the floor, suffocating, paralyzed again, dying even before his mother—who would no doubt be awakened by his scream—could make her way into the room.

The thought of his mother distracted him.  She was just through the bedroom door, down the little hallway, her bedroom along the back of the apartment.  Only two doors separated them.  The apartment’s small size, a fact that was occasionally a source of dissatisfaction for Timothy, now seemed the purest of blessings.  He could yank his bedroom door aside, rush through it, the hallway weakly lit by the bathroom light that was always left on at night, and go into his mother’s room, awakening her.  He would tell her he’d had a bad dream, ask if he could sleep in her bed with her.  True, he was a teenager now, and an unusually self-sufficient one; it had been nearly a decade—maybe more than a decade—since he’d prevailed upon his mother to soothe nighttime fears.  That didn’t matter, though.  He was not ashamed to be afraid.  Not after what he’d just seen.

But then…if outside his window might be filled with a hellish new reality, might not even the rest of the apartment?  Might he not open his door to find the hallway already populated by things like the one that had lain atop him?  What if the whole space of the hallway floor was covered with the impossible, writhing shapes of creatures like that one and worse, their red laser eyes all swinging about to regard him in surprise as he opened the door, then bearing down on him in a mindless, chaotic mass that would devour him from the outside inward?

What if he found them already feasting on the remaining pieces of his mother’s body?  He could imagine seeing her head, torn off her body, her mouth and eyes agape, somehow still staring at him accusingly, blaming him for the horror…somehow still barely alive though decapitated, even as a horror made from the stuff of nighttime chewed at the stump of her neck.

And an even worse notion occurred to Timothy.  Maybe he would find his mother quite whole and well, standing amongst the red-eyed beasts, gently patting the head of the one that Timothy had bitten, soothing it, reassuring it.  He had the terrible thought that she would be saying—not to him but to the creature—that she had raised Timothy solely so that once he was old enough, plump enough, meaty enough, he could be fed to monster.  And then, of course, she would come to Timothy, holding a slaughtering knife in her hand, and she would slash his throat, dropping his bleeding body to the floor, where the creatures would start to eat him long before he was dead.

No.  That wasn’t possible.  None of that was possible.  Timothy shook his head, berating himself.  None of that was happening, none of that was going to be so.  If he opened the door—or if he opened the curtains—he would find the hallway, the apartment, the world outside to be just as it always had been.  His mother would be sleeping in her room, his best advocate and protector in all the world, not his butcher.

He would surely find that if he looked.

But he was not so sure—not so convinced—that he was willing to look.  After what he had awakened to find on his chest, he could not be sure enough of anything other than what was right before his eyes.  He could see his room, he could see his bed, his desk, his dresser.  These were normal as far as he could tell in the light of his desk lamp.  Anything else was unknown.  Anything else was up for grabs.  Anything else was not safe.

He was alone.  He was stuck in his room by himself, terrified, unable to process what had happened, unable to explain how the thing had been laying on top of him when he’d awakened, unable to understand where it had gone.  There was no one who could help him.  He was on his own.

What could he do?  Nothing.  Nothing but what he finally did, after an unmeasured interval passed, which was to crawl backward into his bed again, shuffling until he was seated against the small headboard and the wall behind it.  He grabbed the corner of his blanket, the part that was still on the bed, between his two outstretched ankles, pulling it toward him first with his legs, then with his hands when it was close enough.  Imagining that, just maybe, the part that hung onto the floor would come back with some monstrosity attached to it, a smaller relative of the thing that he’d bitten, like an alien fish on the end of a hook and line, he had to force himself to yank it up quickly, relieved almost to the point of a yelp when nothing but blanket came in response to his pull.

Timothy wrapped the blanket around himself, covering himself up to his neck, accepting the restriction of movement on his arms even as he tucked the material behind and underneath him.  Better to be protected than to be free to move.  Better to be warm.  He considered even covering his head, but then he would be trapped under the blanket, unable to pull it aside for fear that his room itself would have been taken away while he wasn’t looking.

No, better to keep looking, to armor the rest of him but to keep his head free, his eyes wide.  He wished he didn’t even have to blink.

He hated himself for being so afraid, ashamed that he was unable to face his fear.  But he was unable to do otherwise.  And it certainly didn’t occur to him that his fear might be unjustified, irrational.  Why would it?  He had seen the monster.  He had felt it lying atop him.

He couldn’t have said how long he sat there, propped against the back of his bed, against the solid, cinder-block wall behind it, staring into the familiar refuge of his room, unknowing what might lay beyond and unwilling, unable to force himself, to investigate.  If he dozed off at any point, he did so while still awake, and that sleep never became deep.  He didn’t know what time it might have been when he had awakened to find the otherworldly abomination all but smothering him.  It could have been an hour after he’d gone to bed.  It could have been an hour before his alarm clock was due to go off.  The time between was the eternal and instantaneous time of dreams, and he could never have given even a guess about its length.  If asked, he could not have guaranteed that it had not been far longer than eight hours in length.  He could not have sworn—not if he was honest—that it hadn’t been many days, or even years.

When the light of the returning day finally began to brighten the space behind his window curtains, it only came to Timothy’s attention gradually.  By the time he noticed it, dawn was well underway.  Enough time had passed that his acute fear had faded, but the sense of unreality was stubborn, and Timothy didn’t leave his bed, didn’t even dislodge his blankets from where they wrapped him up like a strait jacket, until his alarm clock forced the processes of habit into action.

Have you not love enough to blog with me, when that rash humor which my mother gave me makes me forgetful?

Hello and good morning.  It’s Thursday, November 4th*, the first Thursday of the new month, and—of course—it’s time for another edition of my weekly blog post.

Halloween has passed, alas, and now we enter the weird time wherein Thanksgiving symbols—at least in the US—struggle to hold onto at least a brief period of prominence before they are overtaken, no later than November 25th this year, by Christmas decorations**.

I’m slightly sorry to have to admit that yesterday I flipped back to writing Outlaw’s Mind on computer.  I’ve been getting quite a bit of minor but irritating arthrotic*** pain at the base of my thumb, and where the metacarpal meets the wrist.  I’d forgotten this.  It probably feels worse than it really is, since it’s been a while; also, the last time I experienced much of it, I was in wretched circumstances.  But I’ve felt it plenty of times before, even going back to my teenage years.  I think I tend just to get really focused when I’m writing and use those joints to a greater than ideal degree, causing wear and tear.  That damage no doubt accumulates, since healing is rarely complete in any region of the body, unless you’re a spiny mouse, so the discomfort starts earlier each time.  But it’s not primarily inflammatory, because there’s never even a hint of heat, redness, or noticeable swelling, and it only flares up with use, so arthrosis it is.

Because of that, and the minor inconvenience of storing my writing when not in use, and of flipping back to reread what I’d written yesterday instead of merely scrolling up, and, of course, because computer writing is easier to read, even for me, I’ve switched back.  I’m occasionally troubled by the spirit of the great Harlan Ellison, who (so I’ve read) thought that one can’t write decently or effectively on a word processor/computer because it’s too easy.  He supposedly disdained anything beyond the typewriter.  Ellison-sensei could be an opinionated curmudgeon by all accounts, but such an argument clearly doesn’t stand up on its face****, or Ellison should have committed to writing every one of his first drafts on stone with a chisel.

I can’t say I would completely have put it past him.

But I don’t think writing with a modern computer is necessarily worse, or that it changes anything all that much in any given writer’s style.  I wrote a good deal of the first draft of Son of Man on a very small smartphone using its note-taking app.  That wasn’t easy on my thumbs, but at the time I didn’t have a portable computer, and I was riding busses about three hours a day, so I was able to do a lot of writing that way.  I don’t think it was any easier than writing by hand at a desk would have been, and I don’t think my writing suffered or improved noticeably for it.

If you’d like to check, you can read Son of Man and compare it with Mark Red or The Chasm and the Collision or the short stories Paradox City and Solitaire, the first and often second drafts of all of which were written with pen on paper, and you can compare it also with Unanimity or any of my short stories starting with “I for one welcome our new computer overlords”, which are straight computer-written.  You can also compare it with The Vagabond, which was originally written partly as pen on paper but mostly on a Mac SE using WriteNow.  Or you can read all the tales in Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, which begins with a story part of the first draft of which was typed, if memory serves, and ends with a story that was written partly by hand and partly (first draft and all) in Microsoft Word™.  Unfortunately, now that I’ve told you the difference, your experiment will be hopelessly confounded by bias.

Oh, well.  Read them all anyway, what the heck.  You can buy extra copies for friends and ask them what they think without revealing the above information.  If you want to make things double blind, you can ask a third party to ask your friends what they think.  Or you can just read the stories.  I know that a lot of them are horror of one sort or another, but remember, just as a puppy isn’t only for Christmas*****, a horror story isn’t just for Halloween.  The darkness of night continues to grow, at least here in the northern hemisphere.  The time of daylight is in full retreat, and it will be weeks and weeks before it even begins to take back ground, let alone before it comes to dominate again, revealing all the stark unpleasantness of the world in its cold, bitter glare.  In the dark, it is easier to pretend.  And sometimes, if you’re lucky, your imagination can run away with you.

Which brings me back to Outlaw’s Mind, for which I’m gradually regaining my momentum, which was no small task since it’s been interrupted more than once.  Maybe the handwriting thing was just a way to trick myself around my resistance to getting going on the story again.  If so, it seems to have worked reasonably well, and Outlaw’s Mind will perhaps be all the better for its disjointed history.  I’ll do my best to make it so.

In the meantime, Happy November to you all.  It’s generally a month I like, even though it exists in the lee of my favorite holiday.  It evokes memories of still-falling autumn leaves blowing about in briskly cold (but not yet bitter) winds, and the anticipation of two big family holidays, each associated with feasts and TV specials and games and long weekends and so on and on.  And though many of those things are no longer mine to enjoy, alone here in south Florida, I can at least say that it’s a time of year where one can enjoy walks outside without obscene layers of sunscreen and emergency water rations to replace all the bodily fluids that have soaked one’s clothes.

I don’t know what it’s all like in the southern hemisphere but considering that summer’s on its way for them, it’s probably great.

TTFN

Happy Birthday


*It’s my mother’s birthday.  She would be turning eighty, if my memory is correct.  Happy Birthday, Mom, wherever you are!  Knowing her, if she’s anywhere, it’s someplace good.  She certainly would deserve it.  As would my father, of course, who would have turned eighty-two precisely a month ago.  He was a bit of a curmudgeon—I take after him in many ways—but a good person.  So, belated Happy Birthday, Dad.

**And to a far lesser extent, Hanukkah and other solstice-related holiday decorations.  You rarely see any Saturnalia symbols, though.  I’m not even sure what those would look like.  Oh, well.  We get plenty of the Norse decorations.

***The auto-correct thingy tried to change this word to “arthritic”, without even asking me, but that was an incorrect correction.  The suffix “-itis” indicates inflammation, usually as a primary component of a given disorder.  Though there may well be secondary inflammation in the root structures of my thumb, this is clearly a wear-and-tear phenomenon, and so is an “-osis”, not an “-itis”…the latter suffix which the program keeps changing to “it is”, which is again wrong, and again, it’s not asking me.  I wouldn’t mind a little red wavy underline to bring it to my attention—asking me if I was sure about writing that—but especially if I enclose something in quotes, the program should not presume to correct what I write.

****Which sounds both difficult and painful.

*****It’s also delicious in a sandwich on Boxing Day.

For thy part, I do wish thou wert a blog, that I might love thee something.

[Just a quick reminder:  Anyone who wants to leave me a comment—I know, it’s not likely to be many people—should not waste time doing so on Facebook or Twitter.  I check Twitter intermittently at best, to try to minimize unnecessary despair, and though I share many things to Facebook, I rarely go there directly, as being there is far too prone to stress me out at an even more extreme level and make me even more depressed than usual (if that’s possible).  Comment here, on my blog, or on Iterations of Zero if you read that.  I’m on WordPress all the time, since I follow quite a few other people’s blogs, and I get frequent notifications about “likes” and comments.  This is probably an exercise in futility, since I doubt anyone really wants to communicate with me more than is absolutely necessary—goodness knows I don’t want to communicate with me—but just in case.)

Hello and good morning.  It’s Thursday again, the last Thursday in October of 2021, and so it’s time for the ordeal* known as my weekly blog post.  In three days, it will be Halloween, my favorite holiday, though I suspect that many if not most will be celebrating it on Friday or Saturday night rather than Sunday.  I have a costume to wear, which I’ll probably only put on at work; it’s a sort of steam-punk version of The Master from Doctor Who (it’s my own original interpretation of the character, but Doctor Who does have a sort of steam-punk quality to it), complete with chameleon arch fob watch, Harold Saxon’s signet ring, and The Master’s laser screwdriver**.  I also have a cool cane with an extendable telescope that really works (though it’s not terribly powerful).  Other than the hardware, it’s all black, of course.

Beyond that, not much new is happening.  I’ve been writing the first draft of Outlaw’s Mind by hand, and that seems to be going nicely.  I don’t know whether the story will be better for it, but I don’t think it will be worse, and anyway, it feels a bit like going back to basics, which is nice.  It also feels like it will help avoid me getting too carried away and writing more than I should.  As you all may have noticed, when I have a keyboard, the words come very quickly, and I often go off on tangents.

I’ve been getting in some regular walking recently, as much as six miles a day, both to get a bit healthier and, if possible, to lose some weight (the less of me there is, the better, I say).  It also ties in nicely with a recent impromptu post I did for Iterations of Zero, which I think about three or four people may have read—probably not all the way through.  One of the nice things about walking is, it lets me think about the notion or idea or whatever you want to call it that I discuss in that blog post, particularly in the penultimate paragraph (really, the last full paragraph), which involves going for a very long walk.

It really is a pleasing and beguiling course of action to contemplate, and it’s particularly useful in that it minimizes inconvenience for most other people.  Also, there’s frankly nothing anyone can do to stop it, legally, since it doesn’t involve doing anything that is definitively a danger to oneself or to others.  It’s really diabolically simple.  It just requires commitment***, and that’s something with which I tend to be overflowing.

In addition to that encouraging consideration, the other day, while taking a slightly new route, I thought of a story idea related to walking, which I immediately “wrote” down—actually, I used voice to text because I was still walking—in my “story ideas” entry in my note taking smartphone app.  It’s always fun when ideas like that come, even if the story never gets written.

Speaking of stories, here’s a reminder to you all that Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities is available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats, and many of the tales in it might make for excellent Halloween reading.  While you’re at it, The Vagabond is certainly, without doubt, an excellent Halloween story.  And, technically, Unanimity Book 1 and Book 2 are pretty good for Halloween, and the three stories in Welcome to Paradox City are quite strongly so.  Of course, one could hardly say that a teenage demi-vampire was entirely out of place on Halloween, so Mark Red is also good reading for this holiday.

I do tend to lean in that direction when I write, don’t I?

With that, rather unusually, I think I’ll call this blog post to a close after only a relatively short amount of writing.  I do hope you all enjoy the holiday.  Spend some time, if you can, having fun with family and friends (as long as you take appropriate precautions regarding infectious diseases), eat some candy, watch some scary movies, read some scary stories, maybe dress up in fun outfits, and generally have a laugh at the darkness of the world.

You might as well; it certainly laughs at us.

TTFN

The_Doctor_Falls_Master_Kill_it bigger


*At least, I assume it is for all of you—some form of penance, perhaps, through which you wash away sins with a relatively minor bit of suffering.  It’s the only plausible explanation I can think of for the fact that you’re reading it.

**Who’d have sonic?

***So to speak.

HOLE FOR A HEART teaser

Note: This story will appear in my upcoming collection Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and that’s why I’m posting this teaser.  However, it has already been published in “Kindle” format, and there is a link to that below, in case you cannot wait for The Cabinet to be published*.

holeforaheartredgreywith frame

HOLE FOR A HEART

     Jonathan Lama drove west along Interstate 80 on a warm, late spring day, headed for Chicago.  His journey was at least partly an excuse to test the recently purchased ’97 Mustang convertible he drove.  He was not a true car aficionado, but he liked the Mustang, and he had a good friend, Rob Gardner, who was a mechanic and lived near him.  When Jon had told Rob that he was looking for a second car and had found the Mustang for a very good price, Rob had all but offered to go in halfsies just to have the chance to work on and restore it.  Rob plied his trade only part-time—and under-the-table—since a severe back injury had left him both eligible for disability benefits and honestly unable to work a full schedule.  He was, however, good at what he did, and after much effort and a fair amount of additional expense, he pronounced the car ready for long-distance travel.  All the remaining work was cosmetic.

     So far, Jon had no complaints about his friend’s efforts.  He’d previously only driven the Mustang around central New Jersey, where he lived.  In the beginning, it had ridden rough, and the speedometer had malfunctioned, making Jon nervous every time he took it out, though it had been easy enough to match the speed of traffic.

     Now, the speedometer had been replaced and checked and was working as it should.  The engine ran powerfully on all eight cylinders, and Jon could barely tell that he wasn’t driving a brand-new car, at least based on those criteria.  The interior still needed a lot of work, and the car’s paint was noticeably faded, but Jon had never disagreed with Rob in prioritizing functional issues. Continue reading

SOLITAIRE teaser

Note: This story will appear in my upcoming collection Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and that’s why I’m posting this teaser.  However, it has already been published in “Kindle” format, and there is a link to that below, in case you cannot wait for The Cabinet to be published.

[In case you can’t tell already from this teaser, this is a VERY dark story, so be warned.]

solitaire cover

SOLITAIRE

            UP, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN…

            The nine of hearts is showing on the left.  Nothing very noteworthy about that, except that the card’s already partly stuck to the table, lying in a tacky spot of something someone spilled there and didn’t bother to clean up.  I’m already not sure I’ll be able to pull it loose without tearing, at least if I have to wait too long before I play it.  I should have been more careful when I was laying it out, I guess, but…well, it doesn’t really matter.

            I look across the table, trying to meet Vicki’s eyes.  She’s not paying any attention to me.  She’s just sitting there in her chair, with a bowl of oatmeal resting in front of her.  The oatmeal’s probably cold by now.  She never can just eat her food; she always has to putz around until it’s tepid at best, and until anyone watching is as annoyed as hell.  Right now, I’d bet she doesn’t even mean to finish the stuff.  She’s just sitting there, staring into the distance, lost in thought, ignoring her food, ignoring me, and ignoring everything else.

            UP, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN…

***

            “I’m really sorry, Jerry, but…I’ve got no choice.  I’m giving the account to Walt.  You’ve always been good for Tel-Co before, but…well, lately I’ve been getting…complaints.”

            “Complaints?” I asked.  To be honest, I didn’t give two shits about any complaints—what they were, why they’d been made, or who made them.  But it was expected that I’d be concerned, and I decided to be a good boy and play the part that was assigned to me.  I think I must have failed pretty badly; my voice sounded dull and flat even to me.  Chasing certainly seemed puzzled.  I liked that, at least.

            Chasing’s tie was plain and red.  His suit, of course, was blue, because he considered that a “power suit,” God only knows why.  Unfortunately for him, the suit, along with his red tie and white shirt, made him look like a reject from some Army recruitment poster:  a cheesy, modernized version of Uncle Sam, but with a puffy and worried face, no beard, and hair that was kept from going the traditional, distinguished white by regular application of Just for Men®.  That thought amused me, and I suppose I must’ve snorted a bit, because Chasing looked at me quizzically before he continued.

            What a dork.

            “You know that I’m behind you all the way, Jerry,” he said, probably with about as much truth as we put into all our advertising.  “But…well, more than one person—and these are people I have no reason to disbelieve—more than one person has been…complaining.”

            He looked at me for a reaction, but I just watched his face, thinking about how much better it would look if someone would throw a bottle of acid on it.  He must’ve been disturbed by the way I stared at him, because he suddenly looked down at his shoes.  Maybe he just didn’t like what he was forced to be saying.  I don’t know.  I don’t care, either, not really, and I didn’t at the time.  After all, whether the universe contracts in on itself or just fizzles out into a haze someday, we’ll all be long gone and forgotten.

            “I’ve heard that you’ve been…well, neglecting your responsibilities.”  Now Chasing grabbed a pen out of his pocket and started fiddling with it, flipping it around in his fingers.  He only did that when he was really uncomfortable.  That discomfort was obvious in his voice, too, when he said, “You haven’t been meeting your deadlines…or your extensions.  It’s not like you.  More importantly, though, is that when you come through, you’re not providing quality work.  Yesterday I read your outlines for the next Tel-Co TV spot series, and frankly…well, frankly I was shocked.  You can’t do things like that, Jerry; Tel-Co pays us a lot of money to give them the best.  And you are the best, I know that, like everybody here does…” He stopped then, looking at me, probably waiting to see how I was going to react to his forced praise.  I wasn’t sorry to disappoint him.

            Looking back on it now, it’s kind of surprising that I remember what he said so clearly, considering that I really, honestly didn’t care, not even in the most distant part of my mind.  Somehow, I can hear him as if it was all happening again.

            Isn’t that a horrible thought?

            “Look, Jerry, it seems obvious to me that you’re having some kind of…personal difficulties.  I don’t know what they are—the stress, the pressure, something at home—and I’m not going to pry…at least not unless you want to talk to me about it.”  He stopped again there, I guess waiting to see if I was going to open my heart to him.

            What I wanted to say was, “The problem, Chasing, is that you’re a greedy asshole bastard, and I’m probably one, too, but that doesn’t matter, because the world doesn’t notice either of us until it finally swallows us up, and the universe doesn’t notice the world at all.”  I knew he wouldn’t understand, though, so I stayed quiet.  Chasing looked like he couldn’t decide whether to be disappointed or relieved, and I was more than happy to see him confused.

            “Well, look,” he said, “I’ve gotten approval in advance for you to take a few weeks off.  With pay.  I want you to just stay home, starting tomorrow, and…relax.  Take care of whatever it is that’s bothering you, okay?  We need you here and we need you whole, Jerry.”

            “Thanks,” I said simply, then just watched him until he muttered something appropriate and left my office.  When I was alone behind the closed door, I laughed—quietly but intensely—until there were tears in my eyes.  What an idiot!  At that moment it was hard to think of anything more appealing than the notion of worms chewing on his rotting corpse.  Although, come to think of it, that would be a sort of cannibalism, wouldn’t it?  Heh.

            I turned around in my chair.  For the rest of the day, I stared out through my office window, looking out onto that disgusting city, watching the world as it died around me, most of its inhabitants not even realizing that it was ill.

***

            UP, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN…

            The next two cards showing are the three of diamonds and the ten of clubs.  That’s convenient.  I’ll be able to move that nine when I’m done dealing—assuming, of course, that it’ll come unstuck.  Who spilled that shit there, anyway?

            It must’ve been Denny.  He always makes such a mess.  Well, okay, not always.  Not right now.  Right now, he’s over in the family room, watching cartoons on TV before he goes to school.  It must be nice to be in kindergarten and not have to go anywhere until noon.  Not that I have to go anywhere today.  Chasing, the prick, saw to that.

            Poor Denny.  To have been born and to be growing up in a dying universe, on a world where life is not only futile, but hateful and wretched as well.  I wish I could do more for him than I have.  But I can’t.  Nobody ever can.

            UP, DOWN, DOWN, DOWN…

FREE RANGE MEAT teaser

Note: This story will appear in my upcoming collection Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and that’s why I’m posting this teaser.  However, it has already been published in “Kindle” format, and there is a link to that below, in case you cannot wait for The Cabinet to be published.

Free Range Meat cover

FREE RANGE MEAT

            It was unusually hot and bright that day, and as Brian approached the parking lot, he almost regretted his decision to walk to the shopping plaza where his nearest Whole Foods was located.  Though his backpack was currently empty, he was already sweating heavily beneath it, his tee-shirt sticking to his back.  The front of his shirt also, though less sopped than the rear, bore visible sweat marks.  Brian had decided already that, as soon as he got home, he was going to take another shower.  He hated to waste the water, but even his conservational idealism had its limits; many hours remained before bedtime, and he really didn’t want to spend the rest of the afternoon stinking of stale sweat.

            The sky was barely dotted with occasional small clouds, but the air was noticeably humid, and the temperature was well into the upper eighties even though it was only early May.  Brian shook his head, tossing his mid-length, straight hair—also damp with sweat—from side to side as he went.  He wondered, given such unusual warmth, how anyone could possibly doubt that climate change was real, that the world was getting warmer thanks to the unrestrained use of fossil fuels and the ridiculous output of all the cattle humans raised just so they could eat steak and burgers, wasting countless acres of land that could have grown food for people to eat directly, without nearly so much impact on the environment.

            He had to remind himself that one unseasonably hot day was no more proof of global warming than a particularly cold winter day was evidence against it.  Still, the emotional weight was hard to resist.  He didn’t think he was mistaken in believing that his childhood summers had not been as severe, nor as early, as they were now.  That was memory, though, surely colored by the fact that a child’s body was more resilient than an adult’s—though Brian was lean and muscular from regular workouts, a regimen he’d undertaken more to fight against his moderate scoliosis than for trying to look good.  Indeed, at forty-four, Brian had often been assured that he looked easily ten years younger.  The tee-shirts and shorts he habitually wore helped this impression, but even in a suit and tie, which he wore when meeting with certain clients, Brian could easily pass for a young, upwardly mobile professional rather than a man approaching middle age.  Even his simple, wire-framed glasses made him look young and intelligent.

            Brian took no special pride in the fact that he looked good for his age, except to think to himself that this was what clean living did for a person.  And though, just as with the weather on any given day, he knew that his individual attributes couldn’t honestly be used as evidence of a general trend, he was nonetheless convinced that his health and appearance were due more to lifestyle than to genetics.  Perhaps his genes could be credited with the fact that he was smart enough to recognize better ways to live and had the will to act on that recognition. Continue reading