Humanity and Hemoglobin

    Blood dribbled across my lips and down my chin. The metallic tinge in the liquid rolled across my tongue, and I wondered at it’s ability to sustain life. However, I was very careful to not let too much of it fall into my throat, spilling most of it over my front. I didn’t like the taste. Never had. But right now it was a necessity, because that’s what vampires drank, and that’s what I needed to be.

    I tried not to look at Bill’s body as it hung in the vampire’s secret kitchen, draining of blood and lifeless. Only hours before, he had been doing cannon balls into the house’s pool and splashing the girls in the hot tub. Like the rest of us, he had been overjoyed at receiving the invitation to join the new reality TV show One Big House, hoping it would rocket him to stardom. Now we would be lucky to leave alive, let alone be famous.

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    I’d had the good fortune of a warning when I saw the “producer” lady make the first attack on one of the other house guests in what we had thought was an interview room. However, I didn’t have much time after that before the screaming began. The only person I’d come across to warn was Karen, and she’d laughed off my story like I was a drunken lunatic. I knew my luck would run out sooner or later, and they would find me no matter how stealthily I crept around the house.

    Sneaking back from the secret kitchen behind the hidden door in the pantry, I poked my head out for a split second to take in my surroundings. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Well, nothing but the dead silence. Only two steps out, and a hand appeared from nowhere, grabbing my shirt and slamming me against the refrigerator. When my vision cleared, I saw what I had thought was the cameraman baring his fangs at me.

    “A little mouse, squeaking around to find a way out of the trap, huh?” 

    Now was the time to see if my bluff would work. I put a hand on his chest to hold him back as much as I could. “Do I look like a mouse to you?” I indicated the blood around my mouth and down my front.

    His thick, brown eyebrows wiggled in confusion, and he sniffed me. “You smell like a human.”

    I scoffed and gently pressed on his hand that held me. He reluctantly released me as I explained. “Of course I smell human. I’m soaked in human blood, and I’ve been cozying up to them for days.”

    He shrugged. “I guess that makes sense. I didn’t know we were gonna have anyone on the inside.” He leaned back against the island countertop.

    “It’s a good way to ask them about their background; figure out which might have people come looking for them,” I said, thankful that this monster had basically handed me my cover story.

    The cameraman chuckled. “Then I guess we have nothing to worry about since Mistress Georgia gave the order to take them.”

    “I guess not,” I agreed, though I wanted to ask more when his words struck me, hinting that the others might not all be dead. But asking more might give away that I wasn’t actually one of them. “Is this the only one we are allowed to snack on?” I pointed back toward the pantry and Bill’s body, trying not to gag as I remembered the buckets that were collecting his blood.

    “For now,” the cameraman confirmed. “We’ve got the rest in the basement, screaming and whining. It’s pathetic. One even tried threatening us, saying that her father will come and get the lot of us thrown in jail.” He laughed as he turned to walk away. “I don’t think she realizes what we are, or that you were making sure nobody would look for them.” I was sure he was talking about Karen. “Come on. The Mistress has called a meeting, and you know how she gets if someone is late.”

    If I went to that meeting, I would be found out the moment the producer, who was apparently their leader, Mistress Georgia, saw me. “Alright,” I said, as I grabbed a wooden spoon from the kitchen counter and followed. I prayed that some of the lore about vampires was true. As quick as I could, I snapped one end of the spoon handle to give it a point and jammed it into the monster’s back, hoping it hit the heart. 

    He spun around with a snarl that cut off in a faint whimper. As he fell to his knees, his skin turned an ashy grey with red cracks growing through it. Before I knew it, he was just a smoldering pile of dust and clothing.

    My heart, which had decided to pump into overdrive, began to slow, and I calmed myself by doing something normal, like sweeping up a pile of dust and folding clothing. I hid the clothes and retrieved my weaponized spoon, but it was obvious that I would need more. Unfortunately, it seemed like the vampires had done a decent job of avoiding using wood in their mansion of a house. After a few minutes of searching and sharpening, I only had my original spoon stake, a couple more broken off a cutting board, a longer one from one of the cupboard doors, and a kitchen knife.

    And with my new arsenal, I took a step into the hall only to realize that I didn’t know where I was headed. The obvious choice at this point would be to escape. The longer I stayed here, the more likely it would be that I would end up very, very dead. But the words of the now pile of dust echoed in my head. We’ve got the rest in the basement, screaming and whining. The conversation with myself went back and forth for too long.

    What could I do for them anyway? I could go get help. How many would die while I was away? Maybe none. Maybe all. Why would I risk my life for them? I hardly know them. They are just random people I met here. I don’t even like some of them. So who would care or blame me if I just escaped? They might. Their families might. Naturally, they would have at least some people that loved them, even if they had cut ties to one another. I had family and friends I didn’t talk to much, but I knew we loved each other. Each one of the people who had come here had completely different lives that had never touched my life until now. What made my life more valuable than theirs? It’s mine.

    Then one question came to mind that I couldn’t ignore. What if your positions were switched? I would hope that anyone who could help would decide to do so. I would pray that anyone human would show up. Because at this point, all humans were in this together, to live. That common strive to live was what linked us, and the undead couldn’t share that.

    I was halfway to the presumably locked front door when the guilt and sudden connection to my housemates turned me around. 

    It didn’t take long to find the door to the basement. While I figured the meeting had occupied most of the vampire/TV crew, I assumed they weren’t dumb enough to leave the humans unguarded. I went over several scenarios of what I might encounter down there, along with how I would deal with it, but the uncertainty of the next few minutes made my hands shake as I concealed my improvised weapons about my person and stepped down the stairs.

    Everything looked normal down in the basement, with the huge couches, ping-pong table, pool table, and stocked bar. However, the door in the back, which had always been locked, was now open to a shadowy room. I walked toward it, strolling as casually as possible, and stepped in. My eyes adjusted quickly enough to take in the cement floors and iron bars which penned the rest of the humans in the back half of the room. They all looked up at my entrance, as did the boom operator on my side of the cage door. She leaned against the wall, filing her nails.

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    Scenario 3 it is, I thought.

    “What the…?” the vampire started.

    “You?” That screech came from the cage as Karen slammed her hands against the bars. “You’re one of them?”

    Good, I thought. Help me play the part.

    Tossing her anger aside with an annoyed huff wasn’t difficult to fake, and I turned to the guard. “They want one of them for the meeting. Can you open the cage?”

    She looked at me for a second, clearly confused from remembering me as a guest at the house. But after a moment, she shrugged. “Sure. Can you save some for me?” she asked with a glance and the blood covering my face and shirt.

    “I’ll do my best,” I assured as she pulled out a key and turned to the door in the iron bars.

    The door swung inward and the humans huddled into the corners. I followed the guard inside and slipped one of my wooden stakes from my sleeve.

    “Any volunteers?” she asked the group with a chuckle.

    I lifted my arm to make the strike.

    She, however, turned around very quickly, and I was too slow. She locked my arm in her hand, digging into it with her newly sharpened nails. I dropped the stake to the floor. 

    “Looks like we have a little trickster trying to be a big hero,” she said with a hiss before pushing me to the ground and pinning my arms to the ground with her knees. “I’ve heard that bravery adds some good spice to the taste.” Her fangs elongated and she descended to drain me of life.

    I closed my eyes, accepting my death, only to hear a grunt and gasp. I peeped out, seeing my attacker turn the same ashy color with red cracks. Before I could push her off, she crumbled and covered me in dust that tasted like moldy bread. Coughing and choking, I tried to get back to my feet.

    More weight suddenly fell on top of me, and I felt a splintered point against my throat. When the dust cleared, I saw Gary grimacing above me.

    “Get off, Gary,” I said, trying to push him off. 

    He tilted to one side then righted himself on top of me, returning the point of my own weapon to my throat. “You’re covered in blood. You’re one of them.”

    “The guard attacked him after he tried to kill her, Gary,” Pat whispered. “He’s one of us.”

    The point lifted from my jugular and Gary frowned in thought. “Where’d the blood come from?”

    I hesitated in answering, but when I did, I couldn’t meet anyone in the eye. “Bill. They drained him dry.” I heard a gasp and sob in the darkness.

    Gary nodded, satisfied at my remorse, and helped me back up. I dusted off the dead vampire and looked at the group. 

    Nine of us left. Nine of us together. Nine of us alive with hopes and futures outside of this house. I took a deep breath and promised myself that we would see those futures.

    “Who’s ready to fight?” I asked, wondering who to give the spare stakes to as I pulled them out. I let Gary hold onto the one I had dropped, which he had used to save me. 

    Karen was the first to step forward and I handed her a weapon. “This doesn’t mean I like you,” she sneered. I chuckled inside at the ridiculousness of the thought.

    Once those with a fighting spirit had been armed, I looked at the group. “Apparently they are in a meeting, so now’s our best chance to escape.” I flipped my stake in my hands. “Nobody gets left behind.”

    With a few determined nods, those strangers I now considered closer than some family joined me in the fight to escape that house of death.

***

    I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be get onto one of those reality shows where a bunch of overdramatic people are put together in a house. I don’t think I would fit in very well in the sense that I would try to lessen the drama, which apparently doesn’t make for good television. Either way, I don’t think it would be fun to go on a fake one run by vampires looking for an easy meal.

    The reason I chose to look more into this dream is because of something I’ve been contemplating lately, which is the incredible variety of people in the world and what connections we have with one another. 

    For example, I was at work the other day, seeing stranger after stranger pass by. Normally (and I know this is a common attitude of many), people annoy me in general, so my thoughts only turn to them when it also involves me. I know this is a selfish attitude to have, and I try to fight it when I become aware of it, but it seems like an extension of the natural inclination toward self preservation. I worry about myself first, and then others if I’m taken care of. However, on this certain day, my mind went to wondering what these strangers were thinking about. What kinds of experiences have they had in their lives to make them the people they were? What hardships have they endured? What are their priorities, and how do those affect how they act? And what brought them right there, at that time, to be in the same place as me? And should that mean something? Will I never have the chance to get to know this person ever again?

    Many more similar kinds of questions pass through my mind, but in the end it awakened an emotion that I usually reserve for other situations. I felt an outpouring of fraternal love for these people, almost as if they were my own family. I realized that each one of them were living their lives the best they could, just like me. They might have different worries and thought processes, but every one of them was striving for some kind of happiness or contentment, just like me. I know this is also a feeling shared by many, but I didn’t know what to do about it. It was slightly overwhelming. 

    Now, whether that feeling of love was generated by an innate sense that we all share some kind of spiritual heritage or by the simple realization that every single human being is sharing the same struggle that we call life, I don’t think it matters. What matters to me is that I realized that everyone has their reason for doing things, and in the end, that reason is because we are all striving for happiness. Knowing that, and as long as I keep it in mind, I find it easier to try and understand others when they act in a way that seems wrong or absolutely stupid to me. For whatever reason, they think those actions will help them in their quest to complete or fill their lives. With this, communication then becomes the key for true understanding of one another, but that is a discussion for another time.

    Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that I like everyone. People can still rub me the wrong way and I might dislike being around certain people. But I try not to jump to conclusions and judge the person. They are sharing this struggle of life just like me. We are just on different paths, and I only see where our paths have crossed.

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    So, in a situation where a bunch of strangers are thrown together in a house, I am proud that my dream self decided to try and help the others that had been captured instead of just saving my own skin. I was able to see that we were all in the same situation, and not one of us were more valuable than the other when it really came down to it. Though I can only hope I would actually have that kind of courage in real life.

    Vampires, on the other hand, are not human. Screw the undead.

 

Artistic Actuality

    “What do you think he’ll do?” I asked.

    “Shhhh,” Paul hushed me, and we sat back on the steps to watch and wait, trying not to look like we were watching.

    The last time I’d gone out with Paul and his paints, it had been a time of good-natured hilarity. He had painted a 20-dollar bill on the ground, so life-like, that we watched person after person bend down and try to pick it up. Many even tried several times before believing it was just the cement of the sidewalk. Paul had the talent. I was just the idea man. It was a good thing we both shared the same sense of humor. 

    We had done similar things with pictures of dog poop, open man-hole covers, and even a monster’s hand reaching out from a sewer grate. But those were all directed at random passers by. Today we were targeting Neil, a friend of ours from school, just as a congratulations on getting his first job at a news stand in the neighborhood.

    I had distracted him and blocked his view as Paul had painted one of the recent magazines Neil was selling. He placed the optical illusion so it looked like it was about to slip down a drain pipe. We were hoping it would make Neil sweat a bit, and now we were waiting for him to notice. But he wouldn’t look up from the car magazine he was reading whenever he didn’t have a customer. His focus always leaned toward motor vehicles.

    “We should have done a car magazine. He would have noticed it by now,” Paul whispered.

    “He would have caught me swiping it for you to copy,” I responded.

    Then, as if something supernatural had pulled at our eyes, we both looked at the two people approaching on the sidewalk. The woman, in a sleek green dress that matched her flowing red hair, led her companion with purposeful steps. He wore a classic business suit and had his face glued to his phone. The pair passed us, but as they reached Paul’s sidewalk painting, the woman stopped and looked down. She quickly bent down and picked it up. Not the paint that Paul had put there. Not even a sheet of paper that could have gotten stuck to the paint. She lifted a full, multi-page magazine off the cement and started to flip through it. Paul and I looked at the ground where his painting had been. Nothing but grey sidewalk remained.

    “Pay the man, will you, Jeffery?” the woman asked as she continued down the sidewalk.

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    My eyes met Paul’s for a moment of silent conversation before we scrambled to our feet and chased after the woman.

    “Hey!” I called to her. “Excuse me, ma’am.”

    She turned around with a raised eyebrow. “Yes?”

    I fumbled for words as we caught up to her and stopped. “I…um. Can I see that magazine?”

    She looked back toward the stand. “My assistant was just paying for it. I didn’t steal it.”

    “No,” I started, unsure of how to explain, “I just want to hold it for a second.”

    With a slight hesitation, she handed it to me. As I examined the cover, I couldn’t notice any difference between it and the one Paul had painted. But again, that was the whole point.

    “No, I’m sorry,” came the voice of the assistant as he caught up to us. “Please don’t bother Miss Valiere. She doesn’t have time for the likes of you.”

    But neither myself, nor Paul were paying the least bit of attention to him. I was flipping through page after page of the magazine, gaping at the words and images printed on them.

    “But I just painted that,” Paul marveled.

    “I know,” I said.

    “How?”

    “Would you please give back Miss Valiere’s magazine?” Jeffery said as he tried to snatch it out of my hand. 

    But the woman’s hand stopped him with her delicate but quite strong fingers. “What did you say, young man?” her voice was husky and coarse.

    Paul looked at me, and I just shrugged.

    “Madam, don’t let yourself be accosted by these hooligans.”

    “I painted that,” Paul said, pointing to the magazine.

    Both the woman and her assistant glanced at one another, then burst into laughter.

    “You don’t even know who you are talking to, do you?” said Jeffery.

    Then the name he had said, Valiere, clicked and I looked down at the cover of the magazine, which depicted an oil on canvas painting of an emerald-green island alone in the ocean. Below that, large letters read, “The New Masterpiece of Deborah Valiere.” And I understood their laughter at Paul’s statement.

    “Not the painting,” I clarified. “The magazine. He painted this magazine on the concrete, then you picked it up as a whole magazine.”

    Again, the older pair looked at one another and laughed.

    “Come, Miss Valiere, we need to get to your next appointment.” Again, he tried to grab the magazine, but I pulled it away.

    “It isn’t a joke,” I protested.

    “We don’t have time for your tomfoolery,” Jeffery scowled and made another grab, which again was stopped by his boss.

    “If they are so insistent, let them prove it,” she suggested with a smug grin.

    Paul stared at her, wide-eyed. Perhaps he was a little start-struck still. I didn’t know who this woman was, but he might have heard of her. “What?”

    “Do it again.” She nodded toward him. “Paint something so real that it becomes real.”

    “I…I don’t know how I did it,” he stammered.

    “Humor me,” she encouraged, not unkindly. “Just give it a try.”

    He rubbed the back of his neck. “Um…okay.” And he turned around to go back to where we had been waiting to prank Neil. Paul picked up his paints and knelt on the ground next to the nearby building where I lived. We gathered around him, but he had frozen, unable to begin a single stroke.

    “Just do whatever comes to mind,” I prodded. “If it doesn’t work, oh well, we hallucinated for some reason. No biggie.”

    “Right,” he agreed, grabbing the blue paint.

    And he was off. I’d seen him get into the zone before as he worked, and there was no stopping him. He would keep painting, drawing, or sculpting until he was satisfied. Soon enough it became apparent that the blue was the oceanic backdrop for an island that was taking shape.

    Jeffery scoffed. “This is just an insult, Madam. Let’s just move alo–“

    “Shush,” she cut him off, and we continued to watch Paul create.

    Browns, greens, reds, and more gave shape and texture to the island, and bit by bit, I felt like I was looking down on it from a helicopter flying overhead.

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    Paul finished by topping the island in an active volcano, lava bubbling in the pit. He sighed and leaned back.

    “You have talent, child, I’ll give you that much. You might even have a future in…” She trailed off as she peered at the painting closer. 

    Then we all noticed what she had. The lava was actually bubbling and beginning to run down the side of the island. Even a faint breeze could be detected rustling the leaves of the trees.

    We all leaned a bit closer. “What in the world is that?” Jeffery gasped.

    Miss Valiere knelt down next to Paul. “This is amazing.” She leaned over and reached out her hands to touch the painting that was no longer a painting. As her weight shifted further and further forward, something didn’t seem right to me. And then I saw it. She shouldn’t be leaning that far. Just as her weight began to tip, her arms deep into the ground that was now an open sky, I grabbed her belt and yanked her back. She fell into the arms of her assistant and me. 

    She looked at the rest of us with a look of unbelief that we all mirrored. “I could smell it. I smelled the ocean.”

    All four of us looked between one another and the picture on the ground for a moment, unsure of what to do or say.

    Eventually, I chimed in. “Can you paint over it?”

    They all looked at me as if I was crazy. “Why would you–“ Jeffery began.

    “She almost died,” I interrupted. “I’d rather not have some random person walk by then fall hundreds of feet to their death in an unknown ocean.”

    Paul nodded and got out a grey that matched the cement. Lucky for us, the paint didn’t fall through the painting like Miss Valiere had. He quickly had it looking like a normal sidewalk again.

    “You must come to my studio,” the woman told us as Paul finished. “And bring your things. We must find out what the cause is of all this. Is it you? Is it some special paint? Or could it even be this sidewalk? Whatever you have discovered will change the world, and we need to understand it.” She held out her hand to Paul. “Will you come?”

    He looked to me, utter confusion apparent in his eyes. “You too?”

    “I got your back, buddy,” I assured him.

    He turned back to the professional artist and her assistant. “Let’s do it.”

    As we set off down the road, unsure of where it would lead, I heard Neil call out behind us. “I’ll catch you guys later.” But my mind couldn’t come up with any kind of response that seemed appropriate for the circumstances.

    I waved goodbye.

***

    There isn’t all that much to say about this dream in regards to social, economic, or political trends of today. But I do think there is a little to say about the concept of blurring the lines between art and reality. In my dream, it was a very literal thing where art was becoming reality. However, I think that there is a lot art that can have an equally impactful effect on reality as Paul’s paintings did.

    There are a lot of people who might argue between the concepts of art imitating life or life imitating art. However, I think most people would agree that the truth is that it is a mix between the two. If that is true, that life imitates art and art imitates life, a cycle of imitation is created that seems to have no beginning or end. In conjunction with the events of my dream, I would like to focus on the half of the cycle where life imitates the art we see.

    One of the largest and most impactful art forms of today, I would say, is film, whether it comes in movies, television, or even on the internet. While there is a lot of wonderful and uplifting content that people can enjoy, it seems like most of the world, and hollywood, likes to focus on shows filled with various degrees of graphic violence, gratuitous sexual content, and foul language. And much of the time it glorifies this kind of behavior whether directly through the hero or indirectly by making it seem even normal.

    Now, I’m not ignorant. I know that the world is truly filled with all of these things, and that sometimes they are even required. Violence might be needed for self-protection. Sex is needed for people to procreate and even express love. Personally I don’t think foul language is ever needed because there are many more entertaining and intelligent ways to get one’s point across. But while these things happen in the world, they aren’t things that need to be blatantly paraded before the audiences. There is danger here. Seeing these kinds of things over and over in our entertainment breaks down a normal person’s sensibilities and can even normalize the graphic behaviors of the characters on the screen. What do we do when the world is full of people who think that violence is the solution to petty debates, young teenagers that haven’t developed a sense of responsibility that see no risk in having sex before they really know someone, and toddlers cursing up a storm at babysitters or teachers because they didn’t get the cookie they wanted? Wait, that seems like the world we live in already, doesn’t it? I feel like I remember when I was a teenager when this kind of behavior was generally accepted as bad and looked down upon, even by the majority of other teenagers. But now it seems like it is encouraged by peers of all ages.

    I know that there are other factors that effect these kinds of behaviors in people, but the media and the art of film can’t hold itself blameless from contributing to this kind of society. They might claim that their art is just imitating life, and in some cases, that might be true. But it can always be done in a more tasteful manner, and even be more transparent in condemning destructive behavior.

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    It’s true that my opinion on this topic might not be the most popular view, but I think it at least deserves honest consideration. When art reaches a point of becoming reality in some form or another, it might be entertaining or amazing to see, like technologies from Star Trek becoming a part of our everyday life, or a picture of a magazine turning into an actual magazine. On the other hand, we need to be careful that it doesn’t end up endangering the lives or happiness of others, like shows about teenagers getting pregnant making real teenagers think that it is a perfectly normal thing to do, or a painting of an island becoming a portal to a deadly fall into the ocean.

    For those that find merit in this argument, we can then ask about what to do about it. For my part, I am trying to become a novelist and screenwriter that will treat these topics with taste and class if they are included in my material at all. Hopefully that will show the world that you don’t need to normalize deviant behavior to make something entertaining. For others, people can choose not to support that kind of art by not viewing or listening to it. And as far as film goes, there are options for filtering content so that you can enjoy some quality storytelling without feeling like you need to scrub your brain out afterward.

    No matter what you do, I wish for your reality to only imitate the kind of art full of obstacles overcome, happy endings, and character growth with the least personal loss.

Manipulation and Misinformation

    I stepped out into the evening’s fading light and sighed. If nothing else went well on this business trip, at least the food was good. With a belly full of some of the best steak in town, I turned to take a walk down the river and admire the setting sun as it reflected off the calming ripples in the water below. I wasn’t the only one that looked forward to the summer nights along the river that brought a cool breeze to grant relief from the day’s heat. Couples and families enjoyed meals in the outdoor seating of a multitude of restaurants. Youth and the elderly meandered up and down the path along the river.

    Then a single man caught my eye, standing at the guard rail on one of the piers. He wasn’t watching the water, or the sunset, or even the darkening sky. He was watching the people. Now, people-watching isn’t odd, but there was something in his eyes as he scanned the crowd. It wasn’t amused. It was more of a cold analytical gaze with a specific purpose in mind. The hairs on my arms prickled as his eyes passed over me.

    Just as I was about to turn and walk in the opposite direction of the creepy man, he pushed himself off the railing, stuck his hands in his pockets, made a tiny hole with his lips and walked off, upstream. I thought I would hear a whistle from him, but only the pleasant chatter of the people reached my ears.

    I took a few steps downstream, ready to resume a pleasant evening, but something stopped me. At first, the thought came to me that is was some kind of sixth sense. But after a moment, I realized what had happened. All the pleasant chatter had died down to a quiet murmur of groans. I also turned my head to see more than a few people raise hands to what seemed like headaches.

    Then the world exploded.

    Everyone around me flew into a rage and started attacking one another. Fists flew into faces, chairs broke over backs, and bodies flew into the water. Someone tackled me from behind and we fell into bushes beside the walking path. Despite the blows raining down on my back, I was able to push my unseen attacker off, turn around and raise my fists to defend myself. But before the teenage boy in a Superman t-shirt could resume his assault, a homeless man covered in dirty brown rags flew into him and took them out of my sight. As I looked around from within the bushes, I mentally thanked the teenager for pushing me into a hollow in the shrubs that hid me from the outside world while giving me a decent view of everyone around.

    The fights continued all around, and I saw drops of blood begin to speckle the ground. This was a nightmare. All I had to do was wake up. I closed my eyes and began rocking back and forth.

    “Just a dream. Just a dream. Just a dream,” I chanted to myself. “Just a dream. Just a dream.”

    The chaos continued for what seemed forever. Just a dream.

    But eventually, the sounds of screaming rage and pain began to die away, replaced by shouts and weapons fire.

    I opened my eyes and peered through the leaves to see people on the ground struggling against cuffs and ties around their hands and feet. But already the fight in them was beginning to die down. Other people in riot gear and sleek helmets fired tasers and rubber bullets to bring the raging mob down. 

    Then one of the masked faces appeared before me, and a hand shot in to the bushes to grab me by the collar. I was dragged out of the bush and forced to the ground. One hand was in handcuffs before I gathered my wits enough to resist.

    “What are you doing? I didn’t do anything!” I yelled.

    The hands immediately released me and I stood up to see soldiers running all over and checking on the people who they had stopped from fighting.

    “Are we clear for now?” asked the soldier behind me who had brought me out of the bushes. Her voice was stern, but not harsh. “Looks like we've got someone that’s blocked here.”

    I turned to her. “Blocked?”

    “Yes sir, I’ll take care of it.” She removed her helmet to reveal her close-cropped, blonde hair. “Hello, sir. I’m Captain Bloom from INTOP, the International Network of Tune Overwatch and Protection.”

    “What?” I had no idea what she was talking about.

    “We are a small organization, but we are spread wide and well equipped,” she explained without explaining anything.

    “Equipped to do what?”

    “Handle this. What’s your name?” she asked before I could continue to barrage her with questions.

    “Ahhh.” I was still so confused that I didn’t know how to answer, or if I should.

    “I.D.” she stated as she simultaneously reached for my wallet in my back pocket. She pulled out a phone and snapped a picture of my license. “We’ll be in touch.”

    She turned to go, but I needed more answers, so I stopped her with a hand on the shoulder. “For what?”

    Her head snapped back at me and my hand immediately fell back to my side. “I’ll try to explain quickly,” she offered. “We discovered that there is a specific sequence of notes, or tune, which messes with the human brain when heard, causing people to do exactly what you saw happen today. The tune is so specific and odd that it rarely occurs. But when it does, we respond. Some, like you, seem to be immune, so we’ll be in contact with you to see if we can figure out why.”

    “Oh,” I said. There wasn’t much else to say, so I just watched the captain join her troops in releasing the citizens who had calmed down from their frenzy. They treated injuries and assured that nobody had been seriously injured. And before I knew it, they were gone. 

    Everyone in the area slowly reunited with their families and friends to check on one another, concerned for black eyes and bruises they had sustained. Ambulances soon arrived to assist those more seriously injured. I heard musings and ideas of what had happened. Everyone’s memories seemed to have been affected, but none of the thoughts being tossed around came close to what Captain Bloom had told me, if it was even true. I decided to head toward my hotel across the river and sleep off the stress of what had just happened. 

    The foot bridge spanned the river not far away, and I was soon watching the rippling depths rush beneath my feet. Things began to seem almost normal again, like that horrific fight had been just a dream.

    A chill crept over my skin, and goosebumps prickled me out of my ease. The bubbling waters suddenly grew louder, and I looked to see if something had agitated them. When I saw no change, I realized that the water hadn’t gotten louder. Everything else had gotten quieter. 

    I looked up to see that I was alone on the bridge, but crowds had gathered on both ends, staring at me with a focus I’d never seen before, unmoving. Then a figure stepped to the front of the group before me.

    The people watcher. Only he wasn’t watching people anymore. He was watching me.

    His lips again curved into whistling shape, things began to connect in my brain that was miraculously free of the influence of his tune. He knew exactly what he was doing. He had started the mob fight. And now, he was targeting me.

    The man jabbed his chin toward me, and the people obeyed. Men and women on both sides of the river rushed over the bridge in a desperate attempt to reach me. I had no idea what would happen when they did, but by their frothing mouths, I didn’t want to find out. 

    With one quick thought, I took the one escape available to me, leaping over the railing and into the cool river. When my head broke back through the surface, I heard several splashes behind me, but the river was swift, and I was already well down river. 

    As I looked back, it seemed that those who had jumped into the water were no longer quite under the man’s control. Glancing up, I saw his face, filled with a burning rage that chilled me even more than the river did. Stroking with the current, I prayed the river would carry me well out of that man’s reach.

***

    This dream may touch on some other subjects I’ve already written about, but I guess having a similar dream multiple times in a row means that it might be a message that needs to be heard more than once.

    I feel like most people in the world, myself included, are often like the manipulated people in the dream. Someone with some kind of influence can say the right words, or sing the right tune, and we will be whipped into a frenzy and pretty much dance on that person’s strings. And it seems to me like when that happens, like in the dream, what we end up doing is focusing all our attention on one another, rather than the source of whatever it is that making us angry, depressed, or whatever emotion they want to evoke within us.

    It can happen in all sorts of settings, whether it’s republicans vs. democrats, Christians vs. Muslims, whites vs. blacks, everyone vs. unhealthy foods (whichever ones we are taught to fear at the time), or even elders vs. youth. We are conditioned to hate and attack one another rather than question what we are told. And why would that be? Why does so much of the information that floods our lives inspire us to vilify one another or the incorporeal?

    In my opinion, it is because that takes the focus off of the real source of whatever problem we are all experiencing together. That source, those that cause misfortune and suffering among others, usually benefits from that situation, so in order to continue to keep that benefit, they must shift our focus elsewhere so that we don’t see the truth and take away the power they have.

    But then there are people like I was in the dream; people that aren’t controlled or duped by the misinformation fed to the masses. These people are a threat, so they become the sole focus of the trying to control the population. I have no doubt in my mind that there have been people or industries whose ideas, innovation, or knowledge of the truth have been crushed by lies generated by the powers that be, silenced by money, or possibly even killed for their idealism.

    So how can we escape? How can we avoid being manipulated so easily by politicians, media, or even celebrities?

    I know I don’t have all the answers, but one thing that I think could help would be to always question the information we are given. Research where it comes from. Explore all sides of whatever issue it is. In general, and if at all possible, never take anyone at their word.

    If we are able to do this on a larger scale, I believe that we will be able to, as a society, see the truths of the world much more clearly and be able to guide our world toward one that is beneficial to all and not only for the few.

    Remember to always question.

 

 

Prisons and Parenting

    I sat down in the prison visitation room, staring at the empty seat on the other side of the reenforced glass, waiting. It felt like I was doing way too much of that lately. I felt useless. And that feeling was exaggerated when I had to hand over my sidearm while in the prison.

    None of this made any sense. I had been against him going to work for his father in the first place. I knew the elder Mr. Shaw was dirty. I’d seen it, but I had no evidence. And evidence is all that mattered to Bram, his father, and the courts. Within just a few months, Bram had been more difficult to talk to, and he was more secretive than he had ever been in college. Then he was charged with insider trading and sent here last week. Having been one of the most honest men I’d known in my life, that didn’t make sense. And in my first visit, Bram had confirmed as much with his pleas for help proving his innocence. 

    Then I got reports yesterday about a drastic change in behavior from Bram. He’d been fighting, and not just other prisoners as might be expected, but guards, cooks, and anyone he could get his hands on. I had to see it for myself.

    I didn’t have to wait too long.

    Screaming and shouting reached my ears well before the doorway to the prison interior smashed open. It took three guards to secure Bram and get him into his seat, despite his having already been handcuffed.

    His face turned to me with a feral snarl and bulging eyes. But for a moment, so fast I wasn’t sure it had happened, the expression slipped into a hint of surprise and dread. He was back to growling at me before I could be sure it had even happened.

    “Oh. It’s you.”

    “Hey, buddy,” I said with a small wave.

    “What do you want, Harold? You shouldn’t be here,” he sneered.

    “I hear that my peaceful best friend has started to punch almost everyone he sees. Where else should I be?” I held open palms to him, pleading that he be open with me.

    “Maybe stabbing us in the back again, I don’t know.” He jerked toward the glass, but a guard’s shoulders held him down.

    “What are you talking about?” I asked as my brow furrowed. I didn’t like where this was going.

    “My dad told me what you did. It’s all your fault that I’m in here. That investigation you launched turned up planted evidence of crimes my father and I never committed.” His foot banged against the metal separating our feet.

    I sighed. I hadn’t wanted to worry him about the investigation, so I had left him out of it. “Bram, I knew you might be angry that I started investigating your dad, I get that. But I didn’t plant any evidence. Your father is lying to you. I didn’t want you to go to jail. I know you are innocent.” I smiled, hoping that would clear some things up.

    But Bram just gritted his teeth at me. “He said you would say that.”

    “Come on, man,” I pleaded. “What can I tell you to convince you of the truth?”

    “I already know it. So you should just leave.”

    “I have five more minutes.”

    “You really should just get out of here, for your own good,” Bram said, and for a moment, I thought I saw pleading in his face. I could tell his legs were bouncing around; an old nervous habit of his.

    “You might be satisfied with the crap your father has landed you in, but I’m not going to give up on you,” I growled. My anger at the situation had started to overcome my pity. “If you’d rather believe a greedy, lying scumbag like your father more than someone who wants to get you out of prison, that’s on you. I however am going to make sure the truth…”

    Boom!

    The explosion shook everyone to the ground, and an instant later, the door behind Bram blasted open to reveal a mangled hallway littered with debris, but with rays of sunlight streaming through the dust.

    Before I could react, Bram was out of his seat, bashing the distracted guards’ heads with whatever he could find.

    “Stop, Bram!” I shouted and banged on the glass. “This will only get worse!”

    He didn’t look back as he disappeared down a path that I assumed led to what he thought was freedom.

    I ran back through the visiting area, past panicking guards and visitors to the security check where I’d left my weapon. Nobody sat at the desk, but with a few pounds at the desk, I got someone’s attention.

    “Just evacuate the building please. We’ll sort everything…” she tried to say in passing.

    But I slammed my badge against the bars separating us. “I’m a cop. I can help, chase down some of the escaped inmates, but I need my weapon.”

    The corrections officer looked around, wondering what to do for a moment. But she approached and held out her hand. 

    “What’s your box number?”

    I handed her the key. “Twelve.”

    Shouts and alarms filled the air as I waited, tapping my toe on the ground. I had to stop Bram from making his situation worse. Looking back on the conversation, the way he was acting made me think he knew the explosion was going to happen. And I would feel safe putting money on his father being behind it all.

    “There’s nothing there,” the officer said as she came back. “And I can’t really take time to sort this out right now. Sorry.” And with that, she was gone.

    I didn’t have time to think about it either. I had to catch Bram before he got hurt or   committed an actual crime. Moving as fast as possible through the chaos, I ran out of the prison, flashing my badge whenever an officer stopped me. I saw some inmates back in handcuffs and under control, but a quick look told me that he hadn’t been rounded back up yet.

    Several flashes of orange jumpsuit caught my eye in the distance, making for the tree-line. But one of them limped familiarly, as if from an old injury sustained in football tryouts in an attempt to impress a dispassionate father that couldn’t care less. I sighed in slight relief. Now that I knew where he was going, I could catch up with him pretty quickly.

    I began jogging, trying not to draw too much attention. I had to bring Bram back alone, and without incident. It would be hard enough to try and prove his innocence without adding this breakout to the mix.

    After a few minutes of tramping through the woods, I heard a rustle of leaves and a whisper. I slowed to a walk and moved in that direction. The sunlight streamed through thousands of breaks in the leaves, casting an odd mix of shadow and brilliant color over every surface that made things difficult to make out very well.

    I thought I saw two people. However, just as I realized they weren’t wearing prison jumpsuits, pain exploded my head, and everything spun as I fell.

    My back slamming against a tree jarred me back to consciousness. Two men held me in place by my arms as a third stood before me.

    “It’s nice to see you again, detective,” Mr. Shaw greeted.

    The reply I wanted to give was muffled by the gag that barely let me breathe.

    “I know what you are probably thinking, and you’re right. I did organize the breakout to get my son out of prison, though you’ll never be able to prove it.”

    I struggled against the arms that held me, but they wouldn’t budge. 

    “You’ve probably been wondering why I would do such a thing after I went through so much trouble to get him in there.”

    This was something I wanted to hear, since it had been confusing me.

    Bram’s dad held up a gloved hand holding a pistol. My pistol. “I thought it would be a pretty poetic way to make your investigation into my activities go away, and get rid of my pathetic offspring at the same time.”

    At that moment, I recognized a spot of orange off through the trees that wasn’t foliage.

    Mr. Shaw must have seen my glance. “Yes. That’s him, waiting to meet me in that clearing so I can take him out of the country to live in a tropical paradise.” He lifted the gun and leveled it at his son. “It’s too bad you’re going to kill him.”

    Desperation flooded my body with adrenaline and I head-butted one of my captors, releasing my arm to land a nose-breaking punch into the other. Muscles coiled and I lunged at the sociopathic criminal still aiming for Bram.

    Bang!

***

    This doesn’t follow the dream that I had precisely. I’d lost my sword instead of a gun, and I was running across rooftops, but the heart of the dream remains the same. It was about someone I cared for being manipulated by someone who feigned that caring.

    Recently in my life, I have encountered others in similar situations, though not as deadly. Without going into too much detail, a friend of mine has an ex that has basically poisoned her son against her, all while presenting the front of a man who was the victim of a selfish and careless woman. While she tried to protect her son from getting involved in the messier parts of divorce by saying as little as possible to upset him, his dad set the standard with lies to gain pity. After that, whenever she tries to tell her son the truth of what happened, or how things are, all the dad has to do is deny it and say it’s a mistake or a lie. And since that is what the manipulated child heard first, he believes it. Because of this, he has gone from a child who could hardly be away from his mother without getting upset, and turned into a cold, secluded, backbiting, and generally unhappy child that believes so many lies about life that I fear a very rude awakening when his dad can no longer hide the world from him. It is painful to see him go through this, not to mention the pain he puts on his mother with his yelling and hateful comments.

    I know that this situation is not at all unique. There are plenty of families that are in similar situations. I pray that not as many have to deal with the extremely self-centered actions of a sociopath like my friend has to endure. Even if a split family only has differences of methods of how to raise the shared children, that situation is difficult enough. Divorce alone is extremely confusing for a child.

    But when one party purposefully manipulates the naïveté of their own child who adores them, what can you do?

    In my dream, I could do nothing for Bram, who had been guided by his father’s lies into not trusting me, one who truly cared and had the power to help. We feel like there is nothing my friend can do with her son, who has been guided to thinking that anything his mom does to try to help teach him or improve his life and future is awful and wrong. I hope that I reached Mr. Shaw before he killed his own son. What can she do before a more realistic equivalent happens with her family?

    I don’t have an answer to this question. I wish I did. All I can think of is to hope and pray for the truth to rain down on anyone being lied to before the lies they believe permanently harm their lives. If anyone else has thoughts about this, please let me know.

    For now, I will encourage her to show her son all the love and care she has, no matter what happens. And in the end, I think that might be all that anyone can actively do for their friends and family. Eventually, if the naive go out into the world, they will discover the incongruities between what they have been told and the truths that become apparent. 

    Again, this isn’t really much of an answer of what we can do in such situations, and I wish there was more, which is why this blog is shorter than most. But if any of my readers has any ideas on how to help these loved ones, please comment or email me your ideas.

Covetous Command

    The guard that stood to the left of the small wooden door peered at me suspiciously through the slits in his helm. I returned the gaze with equal intensity. His eyes moved on to dart up and down the nearly empty hallway, and I smirked at the nervousness he betrayed. I couldn’t blame him though. He was behind his enemy’s lines and surrounded, even if it was during peace talks. I respected him for accepting the intimidating assignment, just like his counterpart, my companion, who stood on the other side of the annex we guarded, on the enemy’s side of the wall.

    “How…have…the war?” came the guard’s muffled voice.

    “What was that?” I asked.

    He lifted his helmet off his head and held it at his side. “How long have you been in the war?”

    “Four years,” I said, wondering why my uniform didn’t include a full helmet like that. I scratched under the thick leather hood connected to my scaled jacket. “What about you?”

    “Seven.” He adopted a vacant stare. I’d seen that look on older soldiers as they were cast back into previous battles.

    “Too long either way, I say,” I offered.

    The guard shook himself out of the memory. “Agreed. Let’s hope these talks go well.”

    They had tried talks in the past, but nothing was ever resolved. Nobody really understood why, but the chiefs always convinced us that it was unavoidable.

    “What’s your name?” I asked.

    “Sergeant Taylor. Um…Neil.”

    “I’m Brady.” I stuck out my hand and we shook. “Thanks for talking. A couple hours of silence will wear down anyone’s nerves.”

    “I mean, either way the talks go, talking will be a good idea,” Neil said.

    My brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

    Neil shrugged. “If it goes well, we’ll have already made a new acquaintance. If it goes badly, maybe we will understand the enemy a bit more.”

    I chuckled. “So you want to get information out of me without giving away any yourself?”

    “Unlikely, I know. I’m hoping for the former,” he said behind a sly grin.

    “As am I.”

    I pulled out my dagger and started cutting at my nails as I leaned against the wall. I noticed Neil tense up and slowly relax as clippings fell away.

    “Nervous to be within the walls of your enemy?” I asked.

    He chuckled as he pulled an apple out of a small satchel. “Who wouldn’t be? After decades of fighting, killing each other is what we do.”

    “You think we’ll rush you and try to get at your king?” I smirked.

    He looked me up and down, then up and down the hallway empty of all but us. “Not anymore. One shout from me and he’d escape into a whole company waiting on the other side of the annex.”

    “I do think it was a pretty good way to have equal ground for them to negotiate on,” I agreed.

    Neil’s apple crunched between his teeth, echoing off the stone walls.

    “What would you be doing?” I asked.

    “Hmmm?”

    “If you weren’t here, in the war, where would you be?”

    Silence hung in the air as he stopped chewing and stared into space. It wasn’t the haunted look of unwanted memories, but contemplative with slightly squinted eyes.

    “I’d probably still be a soldier,” he said.

    I looked at him with raised eyebrows. “Really?”

    He took another bite. “Yeah. My dad was a soldier since way before the war. He recently retired. My grandpa was a city guard before that. So I guess you could say that soldiering is in my blood.” He turned his head back to me. “What would you be doing?”

    I had already given this some thought, so my answer came easily. “My family has some land near the coast. I think I would like to take care of sick and injured animals there.”

    “Wow. That sounds like interesting work.”

    “I hope so. Lots of people need help caring for their horses, cows, dogs, and such.”

    “Very different than soldiering.”

    I chuckled. “And thankfully so.”

    “Do you have—“ Neil began, but a barking laugh erupted from behind the door. We looked at each other with questioning frowns. Listening more carefully, there were two voices laughing.

    “Come in, all of you!” called a jolly voice from inside.

    Neil shrugged, and I sheathed my knife. We opened the door and entered together to see King Smith and High Chief Wells gripping each other’s arm in friendship.  Our counterparts came in through door on the other side of the annex.

    All four guards waited in anticipation for someone to explain what had happened.

    My High Chief began, resting his massive fists on his hips. “Well, it looks like this is the beginning of the end, boys.”

    “The war is over?” Neil’s fellow soldier asked.

    The king addressed the question to everyone. “There are certainly a bunch of details to work out, but we have both agreed that we want to end the fighting, and we will do everything we can to make that happen.”

    I could see nothing but smiles throughout the room.

    High Chief Wells continued. “I don’t know why, but it seems like our predecessors were unable to—“

    The shouts came first from the king and Neil’s side of the wall. Seconds later, I could hear armored feet running through the hallway inside the wall. Both doors burst open at nearly the same time. When the soldiers on both sides saw that their leaders were unharmed and confused, they put away their weapons.

    Too many people started talking at once, but one of my men walked up closer to me and saluted. I returned the salute and waited for the report.

    “General, an attack just began on the eastern sector, low ramparts,” he stated with a side glance at Neil.

    “General, huh?” Neil smirked. “In four years?”

    “Well,” I admitted, “maybe a bit more.” I turned back to my soldier. “What happened?”

    “Not quite sure, sir.”

    It took only a moment to make the decision. I turned to the leaders of the warring peoples. “With your permission, I insist that you both remain under guard here. I will go find out what is going on with our troops.” I nodded to King Smith. “I suggest you have someone do the same.”

    Both rulers nodded and I turned to go, but a hand on my arm stopped me. “I’d like to see it for myself, and help if I can,” Neil said.

    I looked at both leaders, who had just been clasping arms. Their laughter already seemed to be drowning beneath the clang of battle. They had come together to make it happen. The only way to preserve that peace was to do it together. I nodded to him.

    “Stay and protect them, no matter what,” I ordered my troops before dashing out the door and down the hallway with Neil at my side.

    After calming down the first shouts about enemies inside the wall when soldiers saw Neil, I kept my hand on his collar so he appeared to be more of a prisoner than an intruder. Even so, we gathered quite a curious following of soldiers that seemed more interested in what I would do with the enemy than heading toward the fighting. 

    We came out of the wall’s corridors and into the large courtyard behind the lower ramparts of the easter sector. Every soldier with a bow was loosing arrows over the wall toward our enemies. Two catapults were being cranked back, and one was already being loaded, presumably a second or third time. Other soldiers with shields gave everyone else cover from the arrows that flew into the courtyard from the other side of the wall. It was only a matter of time before the enemy’s catapults could be aimed in this direction to cause some major damage.

    “Hold your arrows and take cover!” I shouted. Only the few soldiers around me could hear, and they looked at me curiously. “I said lower your weapons!”

    With that, they recognized me and hurried to obey. The command was echoed around the courtyard, then up and down the wall. Nearly everyone ran for cover. Those that worked around the loaded catapult hesitated a moment, but when their shields obeyed the order to take cover, they had little choice but to follow to avoid becoming a pincushion. 

    Everyone waited beneath the cover of stone while the hail of arrows continued. I held my breath and prayed that Neil’s forces would follow suit. It didn’t take long for the arrow shafts to trickle off and die, and I sighed, thankfully.

    “Hurry!” someone shouted. “We can get off a few more shots while we have the chance.”

    Several soldiers ran to the catapults.

    “Hold!” I shouted, freezing most of the men in place. I walked forward with Neil, who I saw with a sidelong glimpse darting nervous glances around the courtyard.

    “Who the devil keeps telling you to…” the most enthusiastic of the soldiers growled until he saw me walking up to him. “Oh. General, I thought you were with the peace talks.”

    I recognized the man as Chief Boleran, leader of the mountain tribe. His armor gleamed more than any other man’s. It even sparkled with a few precious gems. “I was, but something seems to have interrupted that. Everyone stay under cover.”

    Soldier returned to the shadows of stone, but Boleran held his ground. Only he, Neil and I stood exposed. 

    “What happened?” I asked.

    “We were all waiting for the results of the talks when the devils started raining arrows down on us. We retaliated.” He finished with a glare over my shoulder at Neil.

    “Interesting,” I commented. “I thought the order to cease hostilities during the talks was for given on both sides of the wall.”

    “Looks like it won’t work out,” he said with a stern frown. “It’s a shame they want to kill us so badly.”

    “Hmmm, I don’t know about that. What do you think, Sergeant Taylor?”

    Neil stepped forward to stand at my shoulder. “Well, seeing as how the High Chief and King have agreed to end the war, I am looking forward to ending this pointless conflict and going home.

    “Impossible,” Boleran whispered. “It’s only been a few hours.”

    “I guess High Chief Wells and King Smith are a bit more reasonable than their predecessors. They were laughing together until all this.” I spread my hand to indicate the results of the small exchange.

    Chief Boleran smirked. “Well apparently not all his men share his desire for peace when they start attacking us during the talks.”

    I recognized that he had a point, so I turned to Neil. “Is that possible?”

    “Of course it’s possible. I just told you what happened,” scoffed the chief.

    “I was asking the sergeant.” I turned back to Neil.

    To my astonishment, he smiled. “It’s entirely possible that not everyone wants the fighting to end without decisive victory.”

    “See!” Boleran barked.

    “However,” Neil added, “it was made very clear within our ranks that disobeying the order to cease hostilities was an act of treason that would be punished by death and stripping the offender’s family of all lands and titles. Only a fool would dare that wrath, and all the fools have already been killed in this war.”

    “I like that policy. I wouldn’t mind implementing something like that here,” I said. “So if nobody on your side would dare loose arrows first, the only logical conclusion is that the offender is on this side of the wall and didn’t see any negative consequences to their actions.” The puzzle pieces were coming together in my mind to form a picture I didn’t like. “They might have even seen profit in continuing the war.”

    Boleran glared, but held his tongue.

    Neil still seemed perplexed. “Who would possibly profit from a keeping a war going? I could maybe see wanting profit from winning a war, but continuing a war is a waste.”

    “But what are the tools of the soldier’s trade?” I asked Neil, though I kept my eyes on the chief.

    “Weapons and armor,” Neil answered. “A blacksmith?”

    I saw Boleran's eyes widen with a sliver of hope. I didn’t need any more convincing. “A blacksmith is a laborer who can easily make a living by creating and repairing tools for farmers, cooks, and more. Think bigger. What are soldier’s tools made of?”

    “Iron and steel. So, obviously, war greatly increases the demand for metals. Anyone who owns a mine will have profited greatly during this long war.” Neil was catching on.

    “Very much so.” I exaggerated my perusal of Boleran’s fancy armor.

    “Who supplies your forces with most of its raw materials?” Neil asked, though I imagined he had noticed the death glare between the chief and myself.

    “He is standing right in front of you.”

    Silence fell between us. I could only imagine what the other soldiers thought we were talking about.

    “I did nothing, and you can’t prove otherwise,” Chief Boleran growled.

    “Right now, no,” I agreed. “But you couldn’t have done this alone. With the right motivation, at least one of your men will give you up.” 

    I looked around at the faces that watched us, trying to guess which would have been bribed or threatened by this powerful man.

    That split second was all it took.

    “He’s attacking the general!” Boleran screamed, and I saw a knife flash toward me with no time for me to act.

    I was dead. I knew it.

    But then the knife disappeared, and something crashed into me. I fell, and Neil landed on top of me.

    “I’ll stop him, sir!” the chief continued shouting as he pulled out a sword.

    I tried to wrestle Neil off of me and escape his clutches, but he rolled over without any resistance. 

    As the situation dawned on me, I drew my former enemy’s blade from its sheath and spun around to deflect Boleran’s attack. My next stroke removed his sword hand from the arm and he fell back, clutching the bleeding stump. 

    “Arrest him!” I shouted as I pointed Neil’s sword at the chief.

    I turned back to see Neil on his back, a jeweled dagger protruding from his chest, and eyes staring into nothing.

    “You’ll kill us all!” I heard Boleran shouting, and I returned my attention to the raving madman. “They want us all dead, and you’ve already let them inside our borders!”

    “Gag this traitor and take him to High Chief Wells,” I said just loud enough to be heard by the men who held him. “I’ll be right behind you.”

    I knelt back down and picked up my fellow soldier, recent friend, and savior so I could return him to his family and the peace we both hoped for.

*****

    I’m not a politician, neither in the real life nor the dream, and I don’t claim to be fluent in things that have to do with the government, but I am a citizen of a country, and my thoughts and feelings on what matter to me weight just as much as any other one person’s. And that is the crux of the matter I would like to discuss? Certain people’s desires have more weight in governmental proceedings than most. While that doesn’t seem fair, for some reasons, it makes sense. It would be near impossible to get a vote on every possible decision a country could make, so we create governments composed of people that we elect to make those decisions on a daily basis. This puts those people in positions that give them a great deal of power. But that is where everything begins to fall apart. Someone can say whatever they want to say to get the power they crave, and then they can completely act against everything they said they would do. At that point, it seems like the people are powerless. And then, if someone with some kind of influence over the elected officials tries to pull the strings, what are the effected people supposed to do about that?

    In the end, we have one very important question. How do we avoid this situation of being led and manipulated by leaders that only benefit themselves or the few? Personally, I think that it all comes down to the idea of power. More specifically, it comes down to what kind of power a people respects or allows to exist. In general, I see three different categories of power: power of force, power of greed, and power of people.

    Power of force is pretty straight forward. It is the power someone gets from wielding some kind of weapon of physical control. We have seen this kind of power displayed throughout human history, over and over. And it seems like each time leaders and governments use this power, they get their desired results in the short run, but eventually, the people will no longer put up with it, rising up to overthrow their oppressors.

    Power of greed seems to be where the current western society and culture is centered at the moment. The more money a person has, the more power they seem to have to make whatever they want to happen become reality, whether through the legal system, or through underhanded dealings. And what they want is usually more money and power. Governments seem to be filled with these kinds of people who see money as a source of power, and they want to either have it, or be allied with it. And when their greedy, self-centered decisions effect millions of people who have no say in the matter, that government has changed from a representative and protector of its people, to an overlord and dictator of its people. A government is supposed to be there for all of its citizens, not just the ones that have the money to influence decision-making.

    This leaves power of people, which is the ideal, and what the majority of the world is trying to achieve. This is where the decisions and actions of a leader or government are truly supported by the people they care for and carry the weight of the nation. It is a rare occasion when this power comes to the forefront and persists for a meaningful period of time.

    Again, the questions comes to this, “How do we avoid being lead by power of greed and achieve more of a power of people situation?” I don’t have a complete answer to that. I don’t know what allowed High Chief Wells, a more reasonable and benevolent leader, to gain his position in my dream. What I do think can help is by looking at these three systems of power without the lies that are told to the people. 

    It seems to me that mass deception persists within the current culture. So many people are so dissatisfied with the way things are run in governments, despite whether they lean left, right, or whatever, but they think that there is nothing they can do about it but rant and rave. This attitude seems to be exacerbated by mountains of ridiculous laws, controls, and various tools of government used to depress its own citizens. Another deception that seems to be prevalent in many minds is that our enemies are among our fellow citizens, causing infighting that distracts people from the abuses caused by the leaders.

    So, at least part of the answer is that we need to wake up and recognize these lies for what they are. Firstly, I must admit that I was being partially deceitful in saying that we currently reside in a power of greed situation with current leadership. The power of governments and leaders, no matter their corruption or purity, always comes from the people. We have been conditioned to believe that it is the government that should tell us what to do, when it is just the opposite. The people are the ones that tell the governments what to do. And if the government resists, they must rely on the power of force. And this, as I pointed out, usually ends in violent revolt and the downfall of the oppressive rulers. We must see that we, as a people, have the true power.

    To address the second deception that turns us against one another, I concede this is harder to dispel. Differing views on various debated topics seem to divide people so much that bridging the gap is impossible. But then I look at what happened with Neil. I don’t know what was going on in his mind, but despite the hatred instilled by decades of war on both sides, we saw beneath our armor and connected with the shared pain of loss and our desire to end the fighting. In real life, I truly believe that if regular people dig deep enough, we will find that we all care about the same things like health, family, personal growth, general happiness, and the preservation of those things. People start to differ when it comes to how to gain and protect those things. But when you get down to it, we all want the same thing, and that should unite us more with bonds stronger than our differences in point of view can destroy.

    After we recognize that we the people are the true holders of power, and that we have the same goals we are striving toward, we can use that power to affect the changes we desire in our leadership. I don’t know how my people in the dream broke whatever hold Chief Boleran had previously, but I believe it had something to do with the people bringing a person like High Chief Wells to power. And I think that is a start we could try to emulate. We need to elect leaders that truly represent the desires of the people, and honestly want the benefit of all they are responsible for. In the U.S., this isn’t just about our president. Our leaders, from small city council members, all the way up to Washington D.C. have impact on what happens to us and what decisions our government makes. 

    And while I agree with many people that the system has become corrupt, I don’t see it as an impossible hurdle to overcome. If we actually become united, we can remove the corruptions in our government and show them that money and greed are nothing compared to the will of the people. We need men and women who will withstand any temptation from money and its “power” that might arise, and that sympathize with the struggles of the common citizen. I have seen people reach for these goals, despite actual physical dangers to themselves and their families, and it amazed me.

    I have rambled long enough, and I didn’t mean for it to get so political when I started, but the suffering and malcontent I see around me makes my heart ache. To finish, I plead with our leaders to become the representatives we wished them to be when we put them there. And I pray that the people can cast aside the blindfolds that have been put on us and see the power we have as a united force.

Perplexing Perspectives

    "So, he says, 'I found a hair in my food.' But the cook says, 'Then you shouldn't have ordered the rabbit stew.' Get it?" The voice worked its way through the thick fog of buzzing in my mind.

    "Yeah. It just ain't funny," another voice growled.

    Sounds gradually became clearer and clearer. Soon after, I felt the loose ropes binding my hands behind the chair beneath me, and the pounding in my head lessened bit by bit.

    "You just don't like jokes to do with hair, baldy," the first voice said. I cracked my eyes just enough to let in some of the blinding candlelight and get a glimpse of my guards.

    "Then why would you tell them?" The squat, balding guard sat at a circular table a few paces away, picking through a few scraps of food on a plate in front of him.

    The jokester tapped out a few dance steps on the table right in front of me and struck a pose. "Just to see if you have a sense of humor about yourself. You gotta crack a smile sometime." His tall frame looked to be made of stick that wore clothes, and the size of his nose made his head look comically top heavy, as if he would tip upside-down at any moment. 

    The spacious dining area in which I found myself disappeared into dark corners beyond the candle's glow. But the floral-carved embellishments on the pillars and framework glittered a dull glow with red highlights.

    "Don't count on it," the grumpy guard said through a mouthful of chicken.

    "You know what your problem is? You don't..."

    I drowned their bickering out as I focused on getting my hands loose. Luckily, it seemed like these guys practiced their comedy more than tying knots. With a few calculated wiggles, I pulled my hands free and let the rope drop silently to the wooden floor.

    I knew I would have to be careful. I'd never tried this before, but I hoped I failed this attempt. Ever so slowly, my hands came around to my front,  and I grabbed the tablecloth of the table were the funny man stood.

    "Now take Lady Cam, she–"

    I stood up and jerked the tablecloth toward me. The tall guard's feet came with it and he fell, face first, onto the table and rolled to the floor.

    The balding guard jumped to his feet surprisingly fast, threatening me with a fork and knife. I lunged at him with the off-white tablecloth and wrapped it over his head and torso. Before he could stick me with the fork, I kicked at his legs and brought him to the ground. A wooden chair soon crashed over his covered head, and the lumpy cloth stopped struggling. I held the chair legs ready to defend myself against the tall guard, but his fall must have knocked him out cold. He breathed deeply on the floor of the dining area.

    Where are they? I had been asking myself that question for a while now, and I was sure my search had led me to the answers. I found the door and took my leave of the two guards. As I entered the hallway, the floor shifted and I bumped into the wooden planks of the wall. The floor righted itself, and I knew I was on a boat. I crept through the passageways as silently as possible, careful of more guards, but nobody was there to challenge me.

    Soon enough, I made my way to the deck where moonlight bathed the large ship and the surrounding river in bouncing silver rays.

    I found the gangplank that led to the docks on the opposite side of the ship and made my way toward the city that lay beyond. But before I set foot on solid land, they stepped into the light of a lantern near the edge of the river.

    “Angel!”

    Both of the women’s faces turned up toward me. I sighed in relief at the sight of my wife, unharmed, holding our baby in its basinet.

    “Get away from my wife, witch.”

    The smooth, black cloth of the stern woman’s long coat barely ruffled as she leaned to the love of my life and whispered something in her ear.

    To my horror, my wife extended her arms beyond the retaining wall and over the river, supporting the white basinet with her pale fingers. Before I could say a word of protest, she let go. The child fell to the rushing water as a cloud passed in front of the moon, obscuring any view of my infant’s fate. 

    The sound of the splash was swallowed up in the roar that erupted from my throat. 

    As I ran at them, my wife walked away to disappear in the darkness. The witch, posing as a professional woman of business, stood calmly to confront the rage I had become. I grabbed her by the collar of her coat and shoved her against the stone wall that came up to my waist. Not a single hair in the tight bun on her head ruffled out of place.

    “What did you do to her?”

    “Nothing.”

    I slammed her against the stones again, leaning her farther over the water. “That wasn’t nothing!” I peered into the dark streets of the city behind me. “Angel! Where are you?”

    “She can’t talk to you right now,” the witch said with a smirk.

    “Did you cut out her tongue or something?”

    “I misspoke,” she corrected with a nod of the head. “She won’t talk to you right now.”

    “What are you talking about, demon?” I spat. “She’s my wife. Why wouldn’t she talk to me? Why would she drop our baby in the river?”

    “She does what must be done. She understands much more than you will ever be capable of.”

    “Bring her back. Bring back my child.” My trembling legs almost collapsed as sadness sapped my strength.

    She fixed me with a haughty stare. “I will not. I do what must be done.”

    Defiant determination exploded from my chest. “Then I will as well. If you won’t bring back my baby, you will help me find him.”

    With one last shove, I drove the grinning witch over the edge of the wall. But I didn’t let go, and we both fell into the dark water below. The chilled river swallowed me up, and I almost panicked. However, my anger kept my fingers locked around the evil woman’s coat. 

    I kicked my feet to bring us back to the surface, something fought against me. Suddenly, the witch felt very heavy, weighing me down, and I felt her soft coat become rough and scaly. Then I had nothing to grasp, and she came free of my hands. Not much light from the dockside lamps penetrated the darkness of the river, but I caught quick movement before the giant jaws of a crocodile snapped closed, inches from my nose. 

    She vanished with a flick of her powerful tail.

    The cold of the water seeped deeper into my bones, and I knew I had to reach the surface, and land, soon. I kicked and struggled to raise myself up, but my sodden clothes weighed me down, laughing at my desperate efforts to rise only a few inches. My chest spasmed, struggling to release my last breath and take another. I wasn’t going to make it.

    Something slammed into my chest, knocking out my last precious breath so hard that I couldn’t take another even if I had wanted to. It latched on, and I thought the witch/crocodile had decided to finish me off. Yet no teeth pierced my flesh. The water rushed around me, and before I knew it, I burst through the surface and landed on soft sand in the shallows. I gulped air back into my lungs as the arm unwrapped itself from around me. 

    The light of the moon returned and revealed my rescuer to be Kade. The gills he had grown since his curse flexed on the side of his neck, not knowing what to do when he breathed through his mouth.

    “You alright?” he asked, flipping brown locks of wet hair out of his eyes.

    When my breathing was finally under control, I ignored his question. “Did you see him? Did you see the basinet with my baby?”

    “Baby?”

    “And the witch! She turned into a croc. Where did she go?”

    “Slow down,” Kade said, holding up his hands. “I saw the crocodile. It took off upriver. I did see an odd thing floating downriver a minute or so ago. Are you saying that was your baby?”

    I got to my feet and Kade joined me. “Which way is downriver?”

    Kade pointed to my right. “It’ll be way down there now, with a current this fast.”

    I started to run, fighting against aching and wobbly muscles.

    “How did he fall in?” Kade asked, keeping pace.

    “She dropped him in,” I puffed.

    “The witch?”

    “My wife.”

    Kade stopped, and after a few moments I heard his quick steps catch up again. “Why would she do that?”

    My eyes scanned the river as I ran. “I don’t know. But after I find my child, that is what I’m going to find out.”

 

***

 

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    Now, I had this dream several years ago, well before I met my wife. At the time, I don’t think I even recognized a face for the woman that took on the role of my wife in the dream. So I hope my wife now doesn’t think that I have a fear of how she will treat children.

    One of the reasons that I chose to write about this dream does have to do with my wife though. We just found out that she is pregnant, so babies are on my mind a lot these days, though I hope that my child will never be put in such a precarious situation.

    The aspect of this dream that most captured me at this time was the fact that, if the witch had been telling the truth, my dream wife dropped our child into a river with complete mental clarity, knowing exactly what she was doing. For some reason, as I remember my dream, I had an inkling that this was completely true. This would then lead to two conclusions that I can see. Either my wife disliked our baby so much that she would rather see it drown than be with it anymore, or I was unaware of some truth that my wife had discovered. From the feelings I had in the dream, the first is completely unlikely, leaving the second option as the one that held the truth. And what it all comes down to is a matter of perspective.

    There are so many books, essays, speeches, memes, or whatever that talk about perspective, so what I have to say about it probably won’t be anything completely original. However, as I look at the world and see the intolerance, the blind hate, and the general ignorance that abounds, it is obvious that that are plenty of people who cannot comprehend the concept of perspective. The very idea that someone else has lived a life that gave them a different, but just as legitimate, set of values is so alien that their brains turn to hate-filled mush if anyone tries to explain this reality to them.

    But the human race needs to gain a greater ability to be sympathetic to one another. I would say that we should even strive toward empathy for one another, or as close to it as we can get. This requires everyone to have open minds that are willing to stretch into situations that might be uncomfortable.

    In my dream, I did not know the things that my wife had known which led her to dropping the baby in the water. If I had, I might not have been so upset, and the dream would have been much less eventful, but it would have been much more peaceful. But my first reaction was to ask “what” questions, and anger consumed me. By the end of the dream, I was determined to figure out the “why” of the situation. I was still angry, but I understood that there was more for me to know if I really wanted to understand the situation. I would like to think that my dream-self was striving for a wider perspective before coming to conclusions.

    Now this was a dream where the reasons were never revealed to me, but I can think of another similar situation from the Old Testament. Moses’ mother put him in the river as a baby so that he wouldn’t be killed because of the decree of the pharaoh. Now, imagine if a traveler on the other side of the river had seen this happen. They don’t know about any decree to kill babies. All they see is a woman abandoning a helpless infant in a river with all sorts of dangerous animals. They might not even see the child’s sister hiding in the bushes to keep an eye on her brother. Their conclusions would probably be that this is a horrible woman. She is a deadbeat mom who is just avoiding the responsibilities of parenthood. There are all sorts of hateful things one could think about seeing a woman performing this action. It isn’t until perspectives are changed that truth becomes revealed. 

    With all the things I see on the news and social media these days, it seems that most people’s default is to spout their outrage at the slightest inkling of something that offends them or even has the possibility of offending some random person in any way. All this does is create more offense, hate, anger, and widens the distances that separate the human race as a whole.

    This attitude needs to be stamped out with all the force we can muster. If we don’t, the situation will only get worse and worse. Hate will build upon hate, and all will suffer for it. For example, whenever I hear about the police shooting someone, or someone shooting the police, all I hear is angry shouting. Not many are trying to think of what kind of situation the other person is in. Maybe the cop was frightened out of his wits because he had a friend shot and killed in a similar situation. Maybe the young black man felt like he had to get a gun in order to protect himself and his family from the true criminals in his neighborhood. Maybe the suicide bomber had family members being threatened by actual terrorists. Maybe the terrorist’s family had been killed by a missile when the soldiers didn’t know there were innocent families next door. Maybe the soldier had a father in the Twin Towers. Maybe the young girl was raped, and the thought of the child brings back those horrible memories. Maybe that pro-life advocate was told they should have been aborted by their parents, or has had experiences that show them that all life is sacred. There are so many lives that people lead, and nobody can be aware of them at all times.

    What we need to try to ask more is just one word: why. When we ask this question, we are trying to put ourselves in their situation, changing our perspective and view of the world. When we understand the why of anyone’s actions, in most situations, our sympathy for that person will grow, and support will come more readily than blame.

    Now, I’m not suggesting that we get rid of anger altogether. There are times in which anger is appropriate. But that will usually come after a full understanding has been reached by taking our perspective and adjusting it to the position of those involved in the situation.

    I realize that this might be easier for people like me, with imaginations that can go into places they have never been before. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back or anything because I know it is still something I need to work on as well. But as a whole, if the human race tries to expand their understanding, stretch their imagination, and understand the perspectives of the people around them, or even of people on the other side of the world, I know that we will be able to come closer and be better for it. It will allow us to strengthen bonds that will tie us together and inspire us to work toward the common good of all.

Cause and Effects of Exorcism

    “It’s mostly just a nuisance”, the nurse said in response to my questions. “Nobody has actually been hurt yet. Kinda like when he was alive. But he is making that room unlivable, depriving other elderly clients of proper care.”

    “What kind of mischief has the recently departed Mr. Waterbee been up to?” I took a few steps around the small living quarters of the retirement home. Sheets had been ripped off the bed. The table and chairs had been knocked over. And water dripped where it shouldn’t be in the tiny kitchen area.

    “You can see the worst of it. If anyone was watching television, he would keep changing the channel to Animal Planet. Nobody could sleep in here, and one even got tossed out of bed.” She walked over and lifted a chair. “He never liked anyone touching his things.”

    The television flipped on to a documentary on the story of a dog saving its owner who broke his leg while hiking.

    “Always the dogs,” the nurse chuckled as she grabbed up the remote.

    “Babe,” said a voice from behind us. Shay and Calvin stood in the doorway.

    I walked out into the hall and kissed her on the cheek. “Hey, gorgeous. What did you guys find out?”

    Calvin stuck out his tongue in disgust.

    “Well, there were only a few locals his age still alive. it took some digging, but I think they all agree that Mr. Waterbee had always been quite a handful his entire life.” She pulled out her trusty notebook she always used when investigating a ghost. “One woman, however, thinks that things took a particular turn for the worse in the summer of ’39. When he came back to school after the break, he was meaner, and more unreasonable than ever.”

    I sighed. “Well that narrows it down. We’ll take a few jumps through the summer months to see what happens. You ready, Calvin?”

    Calvin’s shoulders slumped, and he groaned. “Do I have to?”

    “Have to?” Shay repeated. “You ‘get’ to. You think many kids get to see actual evidence of ghosts and travel through time to try to help them? Besides, if I left you alone in a town none of us have been to before, that would be incredibly irresponsible parenting. Get your stuff.”

    “You bring your son to exorcisms?” the nurse asked from behind me.

    “He’s not my dad,” Calvin spat.

    Shay whacked him on the shoulder. “Step-dad. So, close enough not bite people’s heads off about it.”

     I turned a smile to the nurse. “There’s nothing dangerous about what we do, so he gets to come along for the ride when we have him.”

    Calvin rolled his eyes at us adults.

    “Anyway,” Shay said, “we’ll get started on Mr. Waterbee right away. Let’s go, my handsomes.” Calvin and I followed her to the entrance of the retirement home.

    “But the ghost is in here,” called the nurse, pointing to the late Mr. Waterbee’s old room.”

    I waved. “But that isn’t the source of the problem.”

    We drove to the outskirts of the small, midwestern town and found a suitable field to set up. The equipment didn’t take long to prep, since we were so practiced at it, but assembling a time-machine had to be precise work. Setting the dial to the desired date, I activated the machine. The three of us watched the world warp around us. Light bent, warped, and shifted through all the colors of the rainbow outside our tiny bubble. And in what seemed no time at all, it was all back to normal. The surroundings were slightly different, but it was the same field.

    “I’ll go into town and check up on…what was his first name?”

    “Gregory,” my wife answered as she set up a lawn chair to wait for my return. Calvin started to wander around the field, kicking stones.

    I found out where the young Mr. Waterbee lived on that first outing, and after a few more jumps of observing his behavior, we narrowed whatever turned his heart sour to the last few days of summer vacation.

    “I’m bored,” Calvin said as he put down his tablet with an apparently dead battery.

    “You know what?” I said after a quick thought. “We’ve been at this a few hours, and a break does sound good. Let’s hide the equipment for a bit and check out the ice cream shop I saw. I should have a few older coins they’ll take.”

    The short walk was pleasant enough in the bright summer sun. It had been a while since I had heard insects buzzing like that. I ignored any perceived complaints about how warm a person was. We were going to get ice cream, after all. 

    The bell over the door jingled as we walked in to join a few others from the town escaping the heat. Soon, I left with a chocolate cone, Calvin had vanilla, and Shay had a cup of cool water. I smiled at her dislike of sweets as I caught a chocolatey drip on my tongue.

    We watched the townspeople go about their lives from a unique perspective that only time travelers could appreciate. While it was very similar in some ways, others were so alien at that time, that Calvin couldn’t help but screw up his face in confusion at the way things were different. I looked forward to the him he would start taking history classes.

    As soon as his ice cream was gone, Calvin got on a little sugar high. He jumped on the low branch of a tree where Shay and I sat in the shade.

    “Be careful, hon,” she told him.

    “Eehhh,” was the only reply he gave.

    I watched as a group of children played hopscotch on the sidewalk across the street. A stifled sniggering came from behind me and I turned just in time to see Gregory Waterbee jump up to grab the branch that Calvin had his legs wrapped around. 

    The crackling snap of the branch shot straight to my heart, which tried to recoil through my back. Calvin and the branch came at the ground fast and crumpled into a heap. Gregory was already skipping away with a laugh.

    Calvin’s mother and I were next to him in less than a second.

    “Are you alright?”

    “Can you move?”

    “Is anything broken?”

    Several worrisome seconds later, Calvin gasped in the breath that had been knocked out of him. He got to his knees, coughing.

    “What happened?” Shay asked.

    “That,” I answered, “was Gregory Waterbee.”

    They followed my gaze to the giggling little twerp as he approached the corner of the block.

    Calvin got to his feet and took a couple steps toward the other child.

    “Careful, buddy,” I warned. “Remember why we are here. We don’t want to make things even worse.”

    “I won’t hurt him,” Calvin said as he jogged toward the prankster.

    My step-son neared the other boy, and only then did I notice that Gregory had another follower. A dog, a young chocolate lab, bounced around at his heels. They had almost crossed the street to the park when the puppy noticed something in the road that caught its interest.

    Calvin reached the corner and saw the dog, but Gregory hadn’t seemed to have noticed that his companion wasn’t following.

    As the sound of a rumbling engine came to my ears, Calvin’s head turned down the road to the car that I knew was coming. In that instant, I knew we were at the moment of Mr. Waterbee’s turn for the worse.

    Shay and I ran to catch up to Calvin, but just as I got close enough to see the approaching vehicle from around the corner, he jumped out into the road, waving his arms at the car that hadn’t seen the dog.

    “Hey! Stop!” Calvin yelled.

    “Calvin, get back here!” Shay yelled.

    Gregory turned around then to see the horrific scene centered around his puppy.

    The distracted driver finally noticed the boy waving his arms in the road and slammed on the breaks. But he wouldn’t stop in time.

    Calvin seemed to notice this too, and he dove for the oblivious dog, rolling just out of the tire’s reach.

    Gregory came running. “Slobby!”

    The driver got out as Shay and I reached Calvin.

    “Are you ok?” I asked.

    He winced as he stood with the dog in his arms. “Yeah. I’ll be fine.”

    The driver apologized profusely until he saw Gregory walk up to the puppy. “Little punk,” he grumbled. “Woulda served ya right if I hit it.”

    I glared at the man, who realized I was willing to fight. He tipped his hat, got in his car, and disappeared.

    “Here’s your dog,” Calvin said as he handed the licking pup to Gregory’s outstretched arms.

    “Thanks. Did you get hurt?”

    Calvin looked at a hole in his shirt. “Just scraped up a little.”

    Gregory’s eyes lingered on a pebble on the ground. “Sorry. About the branch, I mean.”

    “Yeah. You shouldn’t treat people like that,” Calvin scolded.

    “I know.”

    “Luckily, there was no harm done,” I interjected. “Some people will treat you the same, or worse, if you keep that up, young man.”

    Gregory looked up at me with an eyebrow raised. “But he didn’t,” he said, indicating Calvin. “He saved Slobby.”

    Shay laughed. “That’s because, deep down, Calvin knows that helping others is always the best thing to do.”

    Calvin scoffed. “Whatever, mom. You know I like animals, even if it wasn’t a cat.”

    I laughed along with my wife.

    Gregory smiled at the banter. “You wanna go swimming at the reservoir with me and Slobby?” he asked Calvin.

    Calvin’s eyes lit up and he looked at his mom with pleading eyes.

    “I’ll go get your swimming trunks,” I offered. “You guys go on, and I’ll meet you there.”

    The rest of the day was spent in a peaceful play that put my heart at an ease that it hadn’t found since my own childhood.

    When we returned to the present and the retirement home, I approached the same nurse at the front desk. I saw in her face that she didn’t recognize me, and I knew we had done our job.

    “Hi, you don’t know a Mr. Waterbee, do you?” I asked.

    “Yeah,” she replied, “but he doesn’t live here. He lives with his family a few blocks away.”

    “Ah. I must have gotten turned around. Thanks.” I left without another word.

    I couldn’t keep the corners of my mouth from turning up at the thought of my family and the good they could bring to the world.

 

***

 

    I don’t often have dreams that involve more than one person I know in my life, but when I do, they are usually just along for the ride. This is one of the few times that they have played major, if not leading roles in my dreams. And this is the very first time that Calvin, my step-son has been in my dream. When I told him about it, he gave me one of his typical responses. “Eehhhh.”

    But for me, this was a significant dream. It showed me how much he is becoming a part of my life. We might not have the chance to see him every day, but his mother and I are constantly worrying about him and thinking of ways we can help him grow into his full potential. He is also changing the way I think about lots of things, one of them being the influence elders and parents have on children. I am not saying I came into this as a perfect parent, or that I am becoming a perfect parent. What I am saying is that his behavior makes me think harder about how his actions affect his mother and I, and how my actions affect the two of them. I’m sure he isn’t doing this on purpose, but if nothing else, I am thinking more critically in those areas. He seemed to be playing a similar role with Gregory in the dream, only a bit more blatantly. He demonstrated that he could have a significant change in that grumpy old man’s life. 

    This whole concept can be said to be derived from the idea of the butterfly effect, where tiny actions can result in huge consequences that might not be immediately foreseen. Now, this isn’t a unique idea at all. And it certainly isn’t anything new in a time traveling story. But it is something that I think is worth consideration. And this dream helped be see it in an way I hadn’t looked at it before.

    Calvin is not the only one with the power to change the lives of others by simple actions like he did in my dream. Every single person has the power to use their kindness and care to change the lives of the people around them for the better. This truly is an awesome power. And as my favorite superhero often says, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” 

    So the question then becomes uncomfortably personal. Am I using the power I have to influence the lives of those around me to enrich and bring happiness, or am I using it in such a selfish way that it degrades and brings misery to others? I believe I need to ask myself that question more often. It needs to be more at the forefront of my mind in any human interaction I have. 

    The great thing about this whole idea is that, most of the time, it doesn’t take a huge amount of effort on our part to do what is best for those around us. Calvin wasn’t trying to show Gregory how being kind and helpful can make everyone’s lives happier when he risked himself to save a puppy. He just wanted to save a puppy. In fact, he had been on his way to tell off the kid, which I imagine could have had the opposite effect. People are often childish, petty, and do things out of spite if someone points out that the way they are living their life is hurtful and self-destructive. But that simple act of protecting a dog, which Calvin would have done anyway, showed a higher and happier way of living to this other child, whose life changed so dramatically that he lived longer than he otherwise would have.

    The flip side to all this is that examples of the opposite kind of behavior are also true. When someone cheats, steals, and lies their way through life, the people around them will think that such behavior is acceptable and imitate it, even if only as revenge for some wrong done to them. Even simple and childish selfishness can make other people more protective and cut themselves off from other people. I’ve seen people do this because they don’t wan’t others who could be selfish, liars, or what have you, to take advantage of them. The only thing that these attitudes will create in the world are people that are grumpy, closed off, and untrusting of everyone. And like the more positive side, even simple, small acts that are unkind can have significant effects on other people. An example of a likely hypothetical situation could be this; the small, selfish act of cutting someone off on the highway could blow up into full on road rage that might get people killed. And I am sure that people have had more experiences with similar situations.

    What this all comes down to, in my mind, is that we all need to be more aware of the actions we take in our lives. If we take care to make our actions more generous and kind to those around us, especially family that we are often around, we can create an atmosphere of happiness that people enjoy being a part of. And anyone can do this. Even a grumpy, stubborn, and often rude child can show the kindness that he or she naturally has inside him to bring happiness to every person they come in contact with.

Starships and Sustainability

Emptiness. I looked out into the vast emptiness of space and saw a reflection of myself and all the people on this crowded ship. Our storage hull, and bellies, groaned with the ache for sustenance no longer there. The little we had brought from Earth was nearly gone. As the weeks of travel lengthened, my mind wandered out, past our hull, to wander amongst the nothingness, only to come back and find less of a man than when it had left. 

“Beautiful stars, aren’t they, Captain?”

“What?” I turned around to see my security chief, Sergeant Tibik, in the doorway.

“You’re looking at the stars. I think they are gorgeous.” He sighed as he looked out into space.

“Oh, yes.” I waved him in and returned to the window of my office, refocusing my vision from the blank emptiness to the pinpricks of light that drifted in the midst of it all.

He stood next to me and watched. “Each one is a possibility.”

I looked at Tibik and cracked a grin. I admired this man. When everything seemed so empty and hopeless, all he focused on was the hope. I thought I might test that hope a little.

“Many possibilities have failed us,” I reminded him.

He waved a hand to swat away the negativity. “Bah. That’s the past, and they only improve the probability of a successful possibility next.”

I chuckled and patted him on the shoulder. No matter what happened, life could be as full of hope as the sky is with the never-ending stars. Hope is everywhere, despite the pain and emptiness in between. “Thanks.”

“For what, sir?”

“For smiling. You have something for me?”

He faced me and held up a file for me. “Report on the system we are approaching. Warrants a closer look, I believe.”

“Let’s get to it then,” I said, motioning to the door. 

Tibik led the way as he explained briefly, “Long range scanning showed oxygen and other essential elements in the atmosphere. We are coming up on the planet so we can do a more detailed sweep.”

“Is it visible yet?” I asked. 

“It should be soon.”

As he opened the door to the bridge, Tibik shouted, “Attention on the bridge!”

Everyone got to their feet and stood at attention, yet heads jerked awkwardly and eyes turned. I soon noticed the source of the small lapse in discipline. Through the bridge’s forward shield glass, a beautiful orb or greens, blues, browns and floating whites hovered before us in the blackness.

“At ease,” I whispered, and the whole bridge crew went back to staring at the planet.

“Report,” I asked.

The soldier at the sensor controls read the information from the screen. “Near-earth atmosphere and gravity. Full of carbon based life. No signs of advanced civilizations.”

“Tibik, I want you to form a recon team to go down there. You know what we are looking for.”

“Yes, sir.”

As he left the bridge, someone whispered, “I bet those traitorous Texans won’t find a place this nice.”

“I still can’t believe they abandoned everyone with the resources for the entire fleet,” someone responded.

“Hey,” I interrupted. “Breaking through the alien blockade was dangerous and chaotic. We can’t know what their captain was thinking in that insanity.” The crew fell silent.

Something started beeping.

“Um, sir?” The soldier at the sensor controls pressed a few buttons.

“What is it?”

Something crashed into the side of the ship, sending everyone to their knees that wasn’t already sitting. Alarms blared all around us.

“They followed us.”

“Bring us around and return fire!”

“They blew out our main engine!” someone yelled back at me.

“Shoot them anyway!”

“Captain,” the helmsman said, “we are caught in the planet’s gravity. We don’t have the power to pull out.”

“Use the secondary thrusters to guide our entry,” I told him. “Aim for water. At least I hope it is water.”

I moved to the tactical station. “What are we looking at? Why haven’t they fired again?”

The soldier there pointed at her instruments. “Looks like just a smaller scout, or raiding ship. A few torpedo blasts sent them out of range, but they aren’t coming back. I think they meant to send us crashing with the one surprise attack.”

“Coms, I need to speak to the ship,” I said as I walked to the microphone at my seat.

The alarms went silent. “Alert system is on, sir.”

“This is the Captain. The Chitters have followed us and we are now falling onto an unknown planet. Make your way to escape pods and arm yourselves. Essential bridge personnel will guide the ship for an emergency crash landing. We’ll see you on the surface.”

I clicked off the radio just as Sergeant Tibik returned to the bridge. He opened a locker and started handing out weapons. “I think I can be of some use here.”

I patted my friend on the shoulder. “Take tactical.” I turned to the rest of the crew. “I’ll need at least a helmsman to guide us down, the rest of you are free to go to the escape pods.”

Nobody moved.

I smiled at their loyalty. “If you have family, consider that an order. They’ll need you.”

Four of the crew saluted and jogged off the bridge. That left me, Tibik, and three others to go down with the ship. We each strapped into our positions and readied for the landing. As we entered the atmosphere, flames licked up around the hull, obscuring our view of the land below.

“Be ready, helm,” I said.

“Yes, sir.”

The flames broke and we suddenly had a clear view of the planet below.

“The blue, right there,” I called.

“I see it,” the helmsman responded.

The nose of the ship turned to point toward a long strip of blue among green. At this distance it looked like a river, but as we dove toward it, the true width of the waterway showed to be quite expansive. A long and meandering lake like this was ideal.

“Escape pods are taking off, Captain,” informed Sergeant Tibik.

The ship took a steeper dive and before leveling out to make a level approach. My hands gripped my console tighter as the blue inched closer. As soon we touched, everyone jerked forward in their seats. I heard crunches and grinding as pieces of the ship were ripped off by the lake. As gravity quickly took more control of the ship our momentum quickly ran out. The nose dipped into the liquid and the glass was obscured by chaotic bubbles of blue and white. After what seemed like several minutes, but was probably only a few seconds, the ship came to bob on top of the water.

I stripped off my straps. “We won’t stay afloat for long, we need to get to an escape pod. Those are built to be boats as well.” The crew followed me through the corridors and into the hatch of the escape pod.

As the pod shot out from the ship, the top popped and flew off, to let us speed across the water in the open air. It was only then that I noticed the tall cliffs that surrounded the lake, topped by the jungle greens of tall trees and creeping vines. Before I had time to really admire this new planet, the Chitters’ ship flew overhead. 

Several dark objects detached and fell toward us. The helmsman tried to swerve to avoid the aliens, but they were too quick. Hook-like hands latched onto the sides of our small craft. The ship flew off in search of other survivors, leaving us to the deadly creatures crawling into our boat. Tibik stood up and aimed his rifle at the nearest shell-like carapace attached to us. The energy blast at that range ripped a hole right through the alien and it dropped into the water.

“Gahhhh!”

I spun to see one of my men get flung over the side of the craft. The Chitter lifted one of its bulbous bio blasters at Tibik. The pistol was in my hand and firing before I knew it. Three blasts to the chest threw it off balance, and a fourth sent it over the edge, if it wasn’t dead already. After a few more well placed shots, our craft was clear.

“Let’s hit the shore and find the rest of our crew,” I instructed. “I doubt everyone will be as lucky as us.”

***

It has been quite a while since I had this dream, and quite a while since I have made a new blog post, but that is why dreams are awesome. They can be analyzed and have meaning well beyond the time they are dreamed.

But I chose to write about this dream for a couple reasons. Firstly, it resonates with the entertainment I am currently engrossed in with my wife (yes, I'm married now). We have started watching episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I also introduced her to Firefly. These two shows both portray a future of the human race when we are able to easily travel between planets. Both have interesting science-fiction premises, plot devices, and deep characters. However, the society that the shows take place in are extremely different.

Star Trek shows a society of humans and aliens, Starfleet, which is united in purpose for the most part. They truly desire to achieve what is best for as many of its members as possible. Aside from the occasional visiting character, which often turns out to be a villain, the members of the crew, and their counterparts on other ships, their society isn't bogged down by government corruption, conspiracies, criminal underworlds, and a whole lot of greed.

On the other hand, Firefly is rife with these societal blemishes that make people's lives harder. It is argued, and I personally agree, that these things are what make Firefly such a great show. However, the quality of life of many people in this world is so poor that it’s as if they were living in the past, and not the distant future.

The second reason that I choose to write about this dream is that I have been thinking about the future of the human race, and what we need to do in order to achieve the best future possible for every life on the planet. I saw an article the other day on the discovery of a planet that is the most Earth-like of any planets previously seen. This wasn’t a new article, but it caught my interest, and made me curious as to why this kind of thing isn’t bigger news in the large scale. I think back on the history of space exploration and everything I’ve read about its early stages, and it seems like it was of international interest on a scale that reached down to nearly everyone’s homes. 

But nowadays, I hardly hear anything about new things discovered in space, the mission of the international space station, or even discoveries on our own planet. It seems like the world is more concerned with celebrity or political scandals, what societal trend they can be outraged about, how people gain financially (legitimately or at the expense of others), and other things that seem more centered on self-preservation and greed than anything else. 

What good will this do us? To what kind of future will this societal behavior bring us? As far as I can tell, it will be much more like Firefly, than Star Trek. And even that is being hopeful. If we don’t invest in efforts of space exploration and travel, when this world becomes uninhabitable, we will have no choice but to perish along with it. And the destruction of our world could be the result of our parasitic consumption of the planet’s resources without trying to sustain it, or the invasion of a deadly alien force from which we can only flee.

My dream certainly represented a future where we might have advanced technologically, but certainly not much as a society. If one ship, or even the rulers of that ship are willing to ensure the starvation of the rest of the human population in favor of the possibility of more comfortable living conditions, I believe that would show how low the attitude of the average human had sunk. But just to clarify, I don’t really think that Texas would do anything like that. Some of the nicest people I know are from there. But they do have a stereotype of thinking they are bigger and better than everyone else, kinda like the United States as a whole.

Anyway, I ramble on. The thing is, I would much rather live in a future where greed and self-preservation are not the primary factors that govern people’s actions, like in Firefly, or slightly in my dream. A future like Star Trek would be much more preferable, and not just because of its holodeck technology. The attitude of the majority of human society in that future is stated very well in the movie Star Trek: First Contact, when a woman from the “past” is appalled that there is no money in the future, and that the captain isn’t paid. He responds by saying, “The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.” 

I believe that the only way we can get to a future that even remotely resembles that kind of utopian paradise is by starting now. We have to create a world where the basic needs of all our lives are met, by investing in technology, agricultural systems, medicines and education that isn’t there for gain and profit, but to allow the human race to exist in a way that doesn’t encourage greed, hate, and exclusion. Only in that way can we build a future, whether on this planet or another, where everyone can focus on self-improvement and the improvement of those around them.

Analyzing an Adventurous Afterlife

Originally written in October 2015

I’d thought that everything would be peaceful after making it into Heaven. I mean, it was at first. No problems at all behind the pearly gates. Everyone’s needs were met. I even got a job within the first week of my arrival. It was awesome welcoming people into Heaven. Kinda like being a Walmart greeter back on earth, I guess, except, you know, people are happy, and I got to show them around a bit. Seeing their overjoyed faces as they looked forward to eternal bliss was more satisfying than any job I’d had in life. Then the attack came. A tribe of orcs spilled out of the mountains beyond the entrance where I worked, raiding the closest block of paradise they could get their hands on. But they fled after the first defenses were mounted, disappearing back into the hills after suffering only a couple losses. It was on my day off, so I didn’t see it. 

But apparently the guards found my key on one of the slain beasts. Now, this would have normally sent me to prison back on earth. However, heaven had no prisons, so they didn’t know what to do with me. Exile to…that other place…was obviously high on a lot of people’s lists. Until the Tribunal made a decision, I was confined to my home, with guards posted outside.

As far as I knew, no official inquiry was being made to confirm or deny my guilt, no matter what I said. It was assumed that I had given the beasts my key so they could enter virtually unopposed. That left it up to me to prove my innocence. I didn’t know who had planted my key, or let the orcs in, but I was going to find out, or destroy all the monsters if that’s what it took.

So my eyes popped open in the middle of the night, accepting the reality that not everything was peaceful in paradise. I had to make my move. After two days of confinement, judgement could come at any moment, and then I would have no chance.

I crept out of my blankets and ninja-ed my way around my quarters, gathering the equipment I had prepared for my journey. Sadly, I had nothing with which to fight the orcs. There was no reason to have a weapon in Heaven unless you were protecting it, like the soldiers and guards. Grabbing two of my potted plants, I carried them carefully upstairs to the window. Peering down, I spotted the two guards on either side of my doorway, one talking on the phone and another reading. I waited patiently for the phone conversation to end. No need to alert anyone else to my plan. It was still hours before the sun even began to hint at rising.

“Yes, honey, I have to be here all night. I can’t leave Weaver here all alone. What would she do if the big bad traitor attacks her with his ‘welcome’ button?”

“Shut up, Gifford.”

“I’m just messing with you,” the shiny soldier said, nudging his companion as she read. He went back to the phone. “Alright, babe. You get some sleep. I’ll be relieved in the morning and we can have a late breakfast. Love you.”

“You sure are a lucky…”

Crash…crash!

Weaver went down, her steel helm protecting her from any lasting damage, but the impact left her unconscious on the ground. The second pot however, landed on Gifford’s shoulder, which was also protected by steel plates, shattering and sending flakes of pottery and dirt into his face. He looked up at me in surprise that soon scrunched into anger. He ripped the key ring off his belt to open the door.

No time. I flung my legs over the window sill and dropped. The guard was still struggling with the lock when my feet crunched his helmet down onto his shoulder-guards. I collapsed to the ground with him, trying to roll back to my feet as soon as possible and knock him out before he could draw his weapon. Luckily that wasn’t necessary as I saw him breathing with a peaceful look on his bearded face, which was resting in a growing puddle of drool on the pavement. 

I quickly took their sword belts and strapped them on myself, glancing up and down the road to see if anyone was coming. But it was a quiet and peaceful night, like any night in Heaven.

Escaping the outer gate was even easier. The guards were only looking outward to the hills and mountains, and guarding the main gate. However, the service entrance a couple dozen yards away wasn’t locked with a key. It was more of a crank an pulley system and it couldn’t be seen from the outside wall unless it was open already. I disappeared into the trees and was gone before anyone could suspect anything was awry. 

Three days later, I still hadn’t spotted a single orc in all the hills and mountains I wandered. I set up my hammock again, high in the trees, and went to sleep frustrated and angry.

My dreams were infested by shadows of beasts that scampered off before I could get close enough to actually see anything. These restless dreams were cut off by snapping branches and muffled whispers. I opened my eyes to stare straight into the disapproving face of Billy.

“Good morning, sunshine,” he said, breath hot on my cheeks.

I jerked up to a sitting position, sending the hammock swinging. Billy’s perch in the tree next to my head apparently wasn’t stable enough and the motion sent him teetering from 30 feet up. 

“Watch out!”

“Catch him!”

Thud.

“Ow.”

I looked under my bed to see the source of the voices that were now moaning under a pile of Billy.

“Get down here,” Billy stated in his calm voice. I never liked Billy’s calm voice.

Once I had returned to the ground, all six of them were back to their feet and brushing themselves off. When they surrounded me, I smiled at the effort they had taken to fine me. I felt grateful for a second, but then remembered Billy’s voice. He was the most stern of everyone, and eyes kept glancing to him as if waiting for him to do something.

“The game’s over,” he said through clenched teeth. “It’s time to come back. They let us come look for you because we convinced them we could get you to come back and face your punishment without a fight.”

“Wait,” I managed to choke out, “you really think I did it?”

“It had your key. How else could he have gotten it?”

“I don’t know, but I’m gonna find out.” I countered. “And if none of the orcs will tell me anything, I’ll destroy them all so they can’t do it again.” Hurt and rage wrestled for dominance in my heart. I couldn’t believe they would turn against me so easily.

Billy looked at me for a moment, considering my words. “You really have gone insane, haven’t you?”

My hands clenched. “If I have to fight every one of you in order to be able to prove my innocence, I will. And if you really think I’m crazy, think of how crazy and hard I’ll fight. And if you think I’ll hold back because you are my friends, then you really know I’m innocent.”

A few of them shuffled their feet uncertainly. Billy scowled. “Look, it doesn’t matter what we…”

“What is that?” someone asked and I saw a hand point out toward a clearing that led up to small clearing in front of a canyon between a couple of the largest peaks in these mountains.

Eyes turned to see a train of wagons rolling down a dirt path. Colorful paint covering every inch of wood assaulted our eyes even from a distance of about 200 yards.

“I didn’t know there were gypsies in the afterlife.”

I just stared at the strange sight, not caring who said what anymore. This was an anomaly I hadn’t thought possible. I took a breath to comment on the matter when the scene changed drastically. 

From the trees and cliffs to either side of the road, dozens of orcs poured over the vulnerable wagons and their inhabitants, hacking and slashing with their axes and hammers. The caravan managed to put up a well coordinated defense, circling their wagons in a defensive perimeter and hailing arrows onto the aggressors. But they wouldn’t last long. It took an average of four or five arrows to take down one of the beast, and each one fell a little bit closer to the wagons.

I took a step toward the carnage but found a hand pressed against my chest.

“We have to take you back,” Billy said, confusion quivering behind his eyes.

“Whatever,” I said as I removed his hand. “If you think it is more important than protecting innocents from those that attacked your home, you are free to chase me down again and try to do it by force.”

I pushed past my perimeter of friends and ran, pulling both swords out of their scabbards. The first orc went down before it even knew I was there, tripping up a couple of its companions. Several more turned faces, that I could only assume were surprised and angry, on me and raised their weapons.

Before I could raise my own defense, several arrows dropped the closest of the monsters and a flying hammer bowled over the rest of my mounting enemies.

I turned around to see every one of my friends charging across the open ground to join in the fight. Excitement thundered through my chest, and I knew that I would be clearing my name today and returning with honor.

Half of the attacking orcs had now stopped their assault on the wagons and faced their new opponents. A howling screech erupted from the throats of the slobbering brutes, violently vibrating through the air of the confined canyon valley.

The front row of orcs facing me took another deep breath and released a blast of fire from between their jaws, funnels of flames racing to engulf me where I stood.

I threw myself to the ground behind the body of one of the fallen monsters, pulling a muscular, smelly arm over me for a bit more protection. The wave of heat rolled over me for several seconds, but didn’t manage to set anything ablaze. I raised myself back up in time to see several orcs leap from their ranks and fly into the air. Their path arced and they began to dive, aiming for the intruding humans across the field. A particularly nasty specimen made a bee-line for me, double-bladed battle axe poised to split me right down the middle.

I readied my swords, knowing I had to time every move perfectly if I wanted to survive. When the orc came within range I let my blade fly, hoping to throw it off course, or to disrupt his attack and make him counter instead. But what happened took my amazement at the day’s events to a new level. A ball of blue energy surrounded the spinning blade. The orc tried to bring its weapon down to bat away my attack, but the blue aura exploded on impact sending the howling beast hurtling back toward its companions. It impaled itself on the spear of another orc who hadn’t noticed till it was too late.

And it looked like I wasn’t the only who had unexpected tricks up his sleeve. Crystals of ice erupted from my group of friends, engulfing orcs and freezing them in place. Another orc ran back to its companions, limbs flailing spiked weapons wildly into its surprised comrades. It howled in protest of the mind control one of my friends had on it. And then the battle was in full swing. I lost myself among the heat, blood, and sweat as I swung and dodged blades, blasted green-skinned enemies with pure energy, and avoided the powerful attacks of flame, rock, or whatever else the brutes could come up with.

Then my sword clanged to a stop against the sleek curve of a scimitar. My brows knitted in confusion as I followed the gleaming silver to the handle, to the slender, but strong hands, and up to an angry, smirking, and familiar face.

“Tabby?” I asked, “What are you doing here?”

She batted my sword and attacked, but I managed to stop her again. “No point in explaining when I’m just going to kill you,” she said flatly. She slowly brought up her hand and touched the flat of my blade. It instantly melted into mush and dripped to the ground in pieces. I leaped back as she renewed her attack against my weakened defenses. I threw a weak blast of force at her to give me a break, nailing her in the stomach and tossing her onto her backside. I snatched up one of the orc’s spears, hoping I could use it to keep some distance between us. I realized that no other orcs were attacking me. None of them would come even close to the woman who wore the symbols of their tribe around her neck. Some glanced at her with a look of fear and scampered off to join the battle somewhere else. Tabby raised herself to her feet and smiled.

“You stole my key and let them in,” I said. There was no question about it now. 

A shrug was the only response she gave.

I gathered as much energy as I could in my hand and threw it at her as hard as I could.

She planted her feet and didn’t even try to dodge the orb of pure force, holding her hand out in front of her and catching the attack with her palm. It pushed her back a few steps, but instead of exploding, it shrank and drooped, fading into blank air.

One thing was certain, the afterlife wasn’t the peaceful place I had thought it was. And before hurling myself back into the fray of battle, a curious question passed through my mind. Is there an after-afterlife?

******

What happens after we die is probably one of the biggest and most debated mysteries in the world. Not to mention all the varied possibilities that history and culture has produced. Now, I’m not here to argue which of these afterlife possibilities is correct. I have my own beliefs, as do most people in the world. I’m just musing over what some of these options could mean for our lives here and now.

The other day I watched an episode of a show where a longtime married couple finds out that one believes in heaven, and the other doesn’t believe in any kind of afterlife. This caused a temporary rift between them because the husband that believed in heaven thought that if his wife didn’t believe, she wouldn’t be there with him for eternity. This didn’t have much of effect on the wife because she didn’t believe it would happen anyway. But it just goes to show that what one believes about what happens after death can have a significant impact on this life and how we treat it.

For those that believe that this life is all we get, I see this belief bringing about two kinds of attitudes. There are those that believe that if this is everything, we might as well make the best of it, improving ourselves how we can, contributing to society in positive ways to make the future a better place. They might also attempt to achieve a level of immortality through children and being remembered by others. Most people I know with this believe have this attitude and are some of my best friends. The other kind of attitude that might develop creates people with absolutely no conscience. They believe that since nothing they do in this life has any bearing on them afterward, they might as well do anything they can get away with to improve their life however they see fit. This is obviously a socially destructive attitude that helps only that person. I am grateful that there are more of the first kind in my life, but looking at history and the world today, it seems like the second kind have a horrifyingly large amount of influence in the world. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all greedy and immoral people, or people without a conscience don’t believe in an afterlife. I’m just saying it seems easier to rid oneself of a conscience if they believe that their actions in this life will have no lasting negative effects.

Then there are people that believe in the traditional Heaven and Hell accepted in much of the western world. Before delving into what this belief does to people’s attitudes during mortal life, let's think of what Heaven and Hell are to most people. As I understand it, when someone goes to Hell, they suffer for the rest of eternity. Some might believe that the level of suffering depends on the severity of mortal transgressions, and some might believe that once you cross a certain line, you no longer qualify for Heaven and will suffer the same torments as the world’s worst sinners. That second view doesn’t seem fair. Of the two, I believe a fair and loving God would punish and reward according to the individual, not some heartless spiritual mathematics. Then there is Heaven, where there are similarly differing beliefs, where some say people are rewarded according to their good deeds and others say that all that make it there are rewarded equally. I have the same opinion here as I did on the different versions of Hell. A just and loving God would treat people as individuals, not as one lump sum. 

For an analogy, I will use my father. I do this because I believe my father is a prime example of an ideal patriarch in this mortal world, and because I believe it appropriate when another common name for the God that gives us Heaven and Hell is our Father in Heaven. My father wouldn’t give all the children the same thing on Christmas. He would learn about what we wanted and give to us accordingly within his limitations. Each of the kids was encouraged and helped to pursue the talents and hobbies they became interested in. And with punishments, there wasn’t one punishment for any and all misbehaving. If we lied or snuck out we might get grounded. If we skipped chores, we would get more chores. If we got bad grades, we would be put in a situation where studying and homework was even less optional. Luckily my dad didn’t have to get too creative. I believe I was a pretty good kid.

Now, considering what Heaven would be like, there is a common visualization of complete peace where those that make it are forever singing and praising God. Now lets think about this. I’m sure there are people who love singing and praying. I personally enjoy praying, and I have my reasons for that. However the general reason that I perceive that people would praise God is to express their love and gratefulness for what he He does for them. In this life there are many things to be grateful for. Our families and good people that come into our lives. Progress in whatever endeavor we try. Opportunities to learn and grow, and success in doing so. Along with continued health and provided means to continue doing these other things. But in this fluffy version of Heaven, what are we grateful for? For not being in Hell? If all we would do in this heaven is praise God, none of the things we were grateful in life apply anymore. If this is all there is, it seems like God is an egotistical maniac that only created an entire world full of life to find out which of them are best at inflating His ego. To me, this seems absolutely ridiculous.

Some people emphasize that we don’t have to do anything in Heaven. This seems equally ludicrous to me. If I don’t have anything to do here on earth, it feels like there is something wrong, and I create something that I have to do. An eternity of no goals or things to work toward seems absolutely boring and like no kind of paradise I would want to be a part of.

The version of Heaven that was in my dream is obviously ridiculous, but wouldn’t that be crazy if that’s how it was? In ways, it would be cool if we could live some of the most epic adventures imaginable. But a lot of the suspense and sense of adventure would be taken away if I was immortal. For some reason, the dream kept that sense that I could somehow be destroyed. Though that would then lead to the question of what happens after that. Endless Heavenly adventures? That’s almost too crazy to think about.

I do believe that Heaven will be a place where those that make it can still learn, progress, and grow to new heights. Any loving father would want his children to fulfill any and all potential, breaking past barriers and perfecting any aspect of themselves they want to. I believe God is the perfect example of this kind of father, and he wants to give us all opportunities to grow. And we can’t really grow without adversity. The greatest things worth doing are never going to be easy, and I believe this will hold true in Heaven. To me, Heaven won’t be a perfectly peaceful place of total contentment. Yes, I think we won’t be subject to death and suffering like we are on earth, but ideally we will have struggles and frustrations that we can overcome by growing and progressing in whatever way necessary.

If Heaven is any other boring eternity where nothing happens or changes, I see no point in trying to get there, and I would actively try not to be there, and search endlessly for some other option. Maybe I would let in orcs to liven things up a bit.

The belief in any version of Heaven and Hell can have a huge impact on how people live their lives. It wouldn’t only be a conscience guiding people’s positive actions, but a mix of conscience, fear of punishment, hope for reward, and just love and gratitude to God for what we have. However, I see it as sad that there are people that believe that they will get into Heaven solely on the merit of believing in whatever their version of a savior is, or a few past actions and not on the gathered whole of how they lived their lives. This belief allows them, in their minds, to live incredibly selfish and uncaring lives that bring down everyone around them. I don’t see any belief or past actions that excuse people for being inconsiderate jerks their whole lives. If you believe in any kind of Heaven you want to get to, you should make an unending effort to live a life that would be deserving of eternal reward, through kindness, charity, good deeds, and then whatever dogmatic principles you adhere to to cap it off. Bottom line, I don’t believe there is any point in someone’s mortal life when they can be handed a figurative ticket with assured entrance into paradise.

More opinions on what happens after we die I am less familiar with. Reincarnation is a widely held possibility that seems interesting to learn about. As far as I understand, we are born and reborn in different forms of life for one reason or another. I’ve heard that if the lives are lived well enough, we progress to a superior form until, something. I don’t know. Someone enlighten me if they can. But the possibility seems intriguing enough to explore. It would be fascinating to leave this life and remember every life we have had. I think it would be cool to have memories of living as a bird, soaring over the earth, or a fish exploring coral reefs from a unique perspective. From what I understand, to be worthy of a better next life, we would have to live the current one as best as possible. I think that would affect how people live life by encouraging them to improve themselves and enrich the lives of those around them. As far as I can tell, reincarnation is a good motivator to live a good, charitable life.

There are certainly more possibilities and opinions on what happens to us after we die, but I don’t think you or I have the time or patience to analyze absolutely every one of them now. No matter what people believe, I think it is worth thinking about. Is what we think will happen to us after we die something we would actually want to happen to us? This could include how we are remembered on earth. And if we believe that what we want to happen is possible, are we living a life that will make that a reality? And should I start training now to fight orcs?

Understanding the Undead

Originally posted in August 2015

A moan that could only escape the lips of the undead scraped through the darkening twilight like sandpaper over broken glass.

My heart raced toward my mouth as my stomach dropped to my feet, creating a strange feeling of being all torso. I flattened myself against the closest building and reached for the protection of the crowbar at my belt, peering around the shadows for the source of my soon-to-be death.

A split second, and the gentle scrape of worn sneakers shuffling across the asphalt came from around the corner not three feet from me. Leave it to me to stumble on the only alley without a tin can or something for the zombie to kick around and warn me a bit sooner.

The thing was big. Not much taller than me, but wide, it had arms almost as big around as my head. And it appeared right in front of my face.

Dead, for sure.

Pale eyes turned slowly to meet mine, with his jaw hanging slack and the flesh missing from the lower left quarter of his face. The complete lack of emotion in his gaze seemed to rip the breath from my lungs with an invisible hand. The hand reaching for my weapon froze.

“Hethhhhhhaaaa,” the dead thing spluttered.

Then I noticed a grocery bag hanging from his limp bloodless fingers. I instantly took a deep breath as he turned away and continued to step limply down the road. 

Just a halfer then. Relief flooded my veins with warmth again as I watched the young man, who had obviously been a football player at the local university, judging by his letterman jacket.

From the observations of my friends and I, we had come up with a hypothesis on these zombies. Whenever someone became infected and survived the encounter with a zombie, they would turn into a halfer, becoming dead and rotting in flesh, but not in mind. They would still be themselves, but a strange aggression and hunger would come over them. But only some of those halfers would give in to that craving. Those who had subdued similar emotions or practiced controlling their urges and cravings in full life would last the longest in this half life state. Practiced at behaving normal despite their anger and darker impulses, they could stave off these even stronger emotions better than most. That is why I wasn’t surprised to see a calm, football-playing halfer. Not hard to believe a player of an aggressive sport might have anger issues that he had to deal with in regular life. That was the latest theory anyway.

It was always a strange mix of emotions that overcame me when I encountered a halfer. There was repulsion at what they had become, because their rotting flesh was just gross, and at the thought of what they hungered for. There was also sadness and pity, because you could tell what they used to be, and what they still wanted and tried to be all of the time. And of course, the fear, for what they could, and probably would, become.

The others, the full on zombies, were a bit easier to deal with. Fear and hate. If you had any other emotions, you would end up dead.

I continued on, hoping I could get my own shopping done and get back before it was too dark. That’s when the real danger emerged. For some reason, the dead didn’t like coming out during the day. My guess is that it was uncomfortable for them because the sun and warmth quickened their decay. That isn’t to say that they didn’t come out in the day. If there was something they really wanted out in the light, they had no problem going for it before slinking back into their cool, dank holes.

I wrapped my jacket closer and zipped up the front all the way. Fall was coming, and life would start to get that much harder in this world that was continually on the cusp of dying. As I looked around, despite the orange and purple light of the spreading sun, everything seemed washed in grey watercolors. The vibrancy of the world was leaking through cracks of reality into a hole of nothingness.

The building I approached looked like any other: run down, broken, forgotten. But when I threaded my way under the toppled wall of an upper floor, I found a closed glass door covered by a sliding metal grate. I’d tried to open it myself when I first came, but it seemed so solidly rusted that I couldn’t budge it. I’d almost left, thinking I had the wrong place, but a wiry little old man had come up to the door. He flipped a couple of simple little latches on his side and everything opened wide. It was perfect. The zombies wouldn’t have any interest in the place because it looked dead already. And even if they accidentally stumbled to the door when escaping the daylight, it was sealed shut.

I knocked lightly and waited. Soon enough the stooped old man with strangely white teeth appeared to grant me entry.

“It’s good to see you, my boy!” he croaked as he raised a hand to rest on my shoulder and pull me in.

“Not really a boy anymore, gramps,” I laughed as I waited for him to close and lock the door.

He shuffled across the floor that was as littered as the streets. “Well you are about as old as my grandson, so it seems appropriate.” 

“Oh yeah?” I chuckled. “Does he still have his boyishly handsome looks like me?” I wished I could snatch the words out of the air like hated fireflies and stuff them back in my mouth before they reached his ears. The taste would have been similar.

The older man who had never given me his name froze with his hand on the latch that opened the door in the floor to the shop on the level below.

“I’m sorry,” I muttered.

He visibly shook off the despair and raised the heavy wooden planks with the strength of a man at least 20 years younger. “We all have a past, don’t we?”

We walked down the hidden stairs into his shop. With all the rows of shelves dominating the floor space, the old man made maximum use of the room his shop allowed. Even then, it seemed to expand far beyond where the walls of the building above would be.

“Let me know if you can’t find anything,” he said as he disappeared down one of the aisles.

I knew what I needed to find, and where he usually kept it. Soon I set down the packs of jerky, bottled water, flour, toilet paper, and lighter on the counter. “Not too much today,” I said as I set down my bag. “Just running low on a few things.”

“Sounds good,” he said as he rifled through the things I wanted. “What have you got to trade today?”

I pulled a small, portable propane tank with an attached burner for easy cooking and set it on the table. Scavenging through a camper’s things was always a good find.

“Nice,” he commented. “I think that will cover the meat and water.”

I smirked at the game he was playing. In all the times I had come to his shop, I’d never seen any kind of gas burners. We both knew it was worth way more to him. But he also knew that it wasn’t worth quite that much to me. We had a wood burning stove at my place. And usually if I scavenged something like that, it wouldn’t be the only one. And that was certainly the case here. I pulled out a second mini propane tank. “And how about we throw in a few flashlight batteries to even things out.”

He smiled as his haggling was about to increase.

We both froze as we heard a faint creaking above us, followed by a tiny knock on rattling glass.

“Excuse me,” the old man said as he went upstairs to let in the new customer. Before long, he came back down looking at a little piece of paper and followed by a little girl in a blue and white striped dress with long black hair that looked strange with how it shined almost too brightly in the dim lights powered by a muffled gas generator. 

After a minute of him grabbing a few things off the shelves and putting them in a bag, he handed it to her. Without a word, he let her out and she was gone. Then he was back. “Where were we?”

“Adding flashlight batteries to the deal,” I reminded him. I wouldn’t press about the girl. Other people’s business was their own.

“Right,” he grabbed a few AA packs off the shelf behind him and took the propane tanks. “That everything?”

I nodded as I put everything in my pack. “For a few days, probably.” 

He guided me out to the door and we looked at the clouds that had begun to cover the sky. “Better get home quick,” the old man advised. “It looks like it will be dark even earlier than usual.”

I waved as I cleared the rubble that concealed the doorway.

My mind wandered and I fell into a light jog down the road home. Mostly it was fantasizing about the world overcoming its current troubles and beginning to build back up again, but this time even better than before.

It was about the time that I was planning my acceptance speech as savior and president of the New World Coalition that I heard it. 

The scream was as faint as the last breath of a dying man. One that I would have missed if it wasn’t timed perfectly between my steps.

I couldn’t tell where it came from, so I stopped and listened for more. Nothing at first, then a slight shuffle of feet and a growling moan accompanied another faint whine. 

I dashed to the corner of a dark alley just up the road on feet as light as possible. I peered around the corner, to witness a scene that was horrifyingly familiar and too common. Two zombies bore down on their prey, who was balled up in a heap of trash. I almost thought it was too risky to intervene, especially with the fading light. Survival of the fittest, right? Then I saw through their legs to a flash of white and blue stripes. The little girl!

No question now. I snatched the crowbar I always kept tucked in my belt. My angry growl turned their attention to me as I lunged at them. The first fell under the crowbar, with the front of its skull caved in. The second made a grab at me with jaws wide to take a hunk of my flesh for his breakfast. I kicked at its knee to send it crashing to the ground. Once I managed to pry my weapon out of the first zombie’s head, I let it greet the other in a similar fashion.

The girl came to her feet slowly and whispered something at the ground.

“What was that?” I asked. “Did they bite you?”

She shook her head hard and raised her winter-blue eyes to mine. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” I picked up an oily rag and wiped the blood and brains from my crowbar. The mess had splattered on my clothes a bit too. Looks like I knew what I would search for first tomorrow. “Where do you live?”

“On a hill,” she muttered. “I took a wrong turn.”

I chuckled at the childlike mistake. “I can see that. How about I get you home?”

She nodded, her eyes returning to the ground, and picked up the bag she got from the old grocer. “We gotta hurry, huh?”

“Mmhmm,” I agreed. And she took the lead, setting a quick pace toward wherever she called home.


********

That dream would continue to include the girl’s absent-minded engineer father, who took an obviously powerful approach to defending his home from the zombies. However, the attention this drew would be his undoing, and I had to escape with the girl back to my place in the middle of the night.

I wouldn’t have done a blog about my zombie dreams if it hadn’t been for my sister/editor. I think of them as fun and exciting stories to share, but rarely have any real insight into the world or human condition. But she mentioned to me that one of my dreams like this made her think of how unprepared she would be for such a situation.

For my part, I agree with her. I don’t know if I would survive very long in a zombie apocalypse. To help illustrate that point, I share an experience. Not long ago, I went to a renaissance fair, where there was a booth that you could pay to throw some axes at stumps. It looked like fun, and I saw kids a third of my age doing it and succeeding. I figured it would be more fiscally sound to just buy one of those hatchets and practice on some trees out behind the house. (Luckily I live in a place with woods out back.) And when I was about to buy that, I remembered that I was in the army and have a hatchet of my own. 

This is all looking like I’m even more prepared, right? Anyway, I went out back with the dogs one day. (Don’t worry, I made sure they were behind me when I threw.) After a half hour, all I had to show for it was a sore shoulder, dirty shoes, and a single successful throw. I hit the tree almost every time, but the blade only stuck once. Some have said that the hatchet I used is poorly balanced and not meant for throwing at all. But I say that I don’t care. I should be able to use a sharpened bit of anything and make it stick in a tree. I wasn’t about to give up. I picked up the hatchet again and brushed some cobwebs off it. Slice.

Blood began to drip from my forefinger immediately. It was sharper than it looked. I decided that it was time to head back, dripping blood all along the path to the house.

First point. This hatchet is the only weapon I have. I know I was in the army. I know how to use firearms. I just don’t have any yet.

Second point. I can’t use my only weapon to maximum efficacy. Sure I would be able to use it up close and personal against zombies, but keeping your distance is preferred in this scenario.

Third point. I am rarely prepared for injury. If I’m wielding a weapon that can do real damage, I should bring something with me that can at least slow bleeding.

Fourth point. Having nothing to do with my experience, I have no food storage. If I couldn’t go to a supermarket twice a week, I would just run out of food. Of course, if an apocalypse occurred, I would be one of the first to raid one of these places, but that can be a dangerous prospect.

I’m sure there are many more points, but those are the ones that stick out to me most at the moment. I know there is a zombie craze going on these days and some people slightly wish it would happen, but I doubt there are all that many people who are in better situations than I am in at the moment. 

To help my case though, I would like to point out that I am an Eagle Scout and I do have some basic wilderness survival skills. That should give me a few days longer, right?

Anyway, my point is, when disaster strikes, we need to be as prepared as possible. Most disasters come in the form of natural disasters, and I think the best thing we can do is to build up a storage of non-perishable foods so we can provide for ourselves and our families as long as possible until help comes and things start to rebuild. We could even help our less fortunate neighbors like the old grocer did.

And if possible, brush up on self defense and crowbar skills so we can rush to someone’s rescue from the flesh-eating undead.

The Freezing Fingers of a Fantastic Father

Originally written in August 2015.

"Hurry up, Dad!" I called into the restaurant bathroom. "We are late!"

"Just a second!" he yelled back. "I think I've almost got it!"

I knew he shouldn't have gotten something that falls apart so easily. The pulled-pork sandwich had plopped a huge chunk of saucy meat on his shirt, right above the left breast pocket. It hadn't helped that his hands had been shaking quicker than a hummingbird's wings. 

The door opened and Dad stepped out. "How is it?"

Honestly, it was difficult to tell. There wasn't any obvious sign of red BBQ sauce, but that whole upper quarter of his blue shirt was damp, and the spot where the mess had been was dark with water. I wouldn't be able to tell for sure until it dried.

"Good enough," I said, already heading to the door. "Now let's get going." I heard him take a deep breath and fall into step behind me. He quickly overtook me and held the restaurant door open for me and an elderly couple that barely acknowledged him.

"We had better run, right?" he suggested as we started down the street. The gymnasium wasn't too far away, but he should have been there two minutes ago.

I quickened my step to a brisk jog, right alongside him. I knew he could go faster, but was holding himself back for my sake. He was just an awesome father like that. I also knew he wanted to go faster. No matter how nervous this event made him, he wanted to get it over with. But more than that, he wanted it to end in his favor and take that jerk down a peg.

It had started almost the moment we got to town, visiting grandma and grandpa for a summer vacation. I don't know if this guy had a history with Dad or what. Neither had ever said. But he had come to almost all the local events that we had for the city's summer festival, and almost every time my dad opened his mouth, this guy had tried to one-up him. My dad said something about his career in the computer technology and this guy had to say he was the mayor or something. My dad said he was proud of my writing and the jerk said his kid won some state championship. Stuff like that. 

But the straw that had broken the figurative camel's back, and my dad's nearly limitless patience, was cold hands. It had always been a running joke in the family about how cold my dad's hands were. Uncomfortably so. He was a little embarrassed about it and tried to not expose them to other people's skin too often.

"That's nothing," the jerk had blurted when he overheard the conversation. "They call me 'The Freezer' because my hands are so cold. I hold people's sodas in the middle of the summer to keep them cool." He was currently holding a beer that didn't look cold at all. And from the way he staggered, it wasn't for someone else. 

"He ain't kiddin,'" said the plastered wife that looked like the clown-demon from Spawn. Though I couldn't decide which form she most resembled. "I swear I got frost bite on my boobs one night the first year we were married."

People had laughed at that, but I could see my dad fuming.

"Prove it," Dad had stated quietly.

The jerk paused and frowned. "What?"

"Let's see whose hands are colder."

"Fine," the idiot had muttered, sticking out his hand to my dad.

"Not like that," my dad protested. "With thermometers and a large audience to see you fail."

Their immediate surrounding had fallen silent as they stared at each other with loathing that nobody else understood.

"I'll get it set up for the gymnasium tomorrow evening. 7 o'clock."

"See you there," Dad said as he turned away with tall shoulders and joined my little brother in a carnival game tossing hoops on bottles.

And now we were late, bursting through the double doors of the gym to hear the words, "...graduated with top honors while still managing to start and raise a family." The girl on stage was familiar, since I'd probably seen her face a couple times in the last few days, but I'd never met her. "And with no more delay, here is this city's returning son, and my amazing father, Mr. Douglas Zaugg!"

Relieved applause broke out as people realized that Dad was now headed toward the stage to stand by his rival and the appointed judge.

I sat in the front row just as the announcing girl with long dark hair and eyes a color I couldn't quite place sat down next to me.

As the judge began to explain the details of how the competition would work, I leaned over to her and whispered, "Thanks for stalling until we could get here."

"No problem," she whispered back, not taking her eyes of the contestants.

After a moment, I leaned over again. "Who are you and why are you pretending to be my dad's daughter?"

She turned her head with an annoyed eyebrow raised. A second of contemplation and she answered, "Don't worry about it."

I let it go for the time being. Focusing on my dad's big moment was probably a better idea than causing some other kind of incident. I turned back to the judge's announcements.

"And the one who can make the thermometer drop the furthest, will take the title of 'The Freezer' until another can best them. Mr. Mayor, would you please step forward?"

The jerk sauntered up with a wave and a smile to the audience, receiving a great deal of applause from the people I was sure he had bribed to be there. However, he didn't have the jovial, care-free attitude he had worn the past few days. It was as if he was taking my dad seriously now, and he wasn't happy about anything that threatened his superiority complex.

Just as he was about to grasp the cartoonishly large red bulb at the end of the thermometer, an unearthly howl arose from outside, rattling the windows of the gymnasium. The first thing I thought of was in the movie when Harry stuck his head out of the Henderson's car to scream like a police siren and get people out of the way, because everyone knows sasquatches are talented at noise mimicry. Then I realized that it was actually a siren and everyone was jumping out of their seats and running.

"Tornado," was screamed from several places among the audience as everyone left to seek shelter.

My dad's rival was already off the stage and dashing for the exit. Dad, however shot frustrated glances between the man and the unused thermometer before he jumped off stage and accounted for everyone in the family. From there, we went to his friends who ran the general store, since they apparently had a storm cellar there and would let us join them. 

I looked behind as we ran through the alley to see the unknown girl sticking with us, a mischievous glare in her eyes. With or without the tornado, this family vacation was far from coming to a peaceful conclusion.

*****

The appearance of my dad in my dreams is not uncommon. But this one was themed around him in a way that few are.

This was a relatively recent dream, and it isn't that surprising to me because my dad is currently running for city council in the place he grew up as a kid in Utah. No, he didn't come back for a vacation and find a rival to run against, though we vacationed at grandma and grandpa's place often when I was a kid.

It is a long list of difficult situations that brought my parents to live in the house where my dad was raised. Back in 1999, he worked for a tech company in Utah, when they offered him a position with a branch they were opening in Massachusetts. He eagerly took it and worked there for a few years. After the tech industry scare after 9/11, they shut down the branch, leaving my dad without a job. He tried to stick it out there and find another position, but nobody was biting and after limping along with mostly part-time grunt work, he took the offer from his brother to help him start his own restaurant. My uncle is pretty successful with the franchises he owns. This required the family to move back to his hometown and rent grandpa's old house while they built a new one. When licensing ridiculousness prevented Dad from setting up a franchise place on the already acquired property, my parents decided to do something original and started Zoggers, home of the Knotty Bunz. That business went along for several years, several months of which I worked there until I found a job at the school I was attending. It was lots of hard work and long hours, baking early in the morning till closing after dinner, and my parents weren't making enough to hire someone else to manage the place. Eventually, the strain wasn't worth the little amount they pulled in coupled with the debt they accrued. Many people were disappointed when the restaurant closed and blamed the location, stating it wasn't great for a new and unknown restaurant to start. Losing the business meant also losing the house and going back to grandpa and grandma's place. Not knowing what else to do, he found what work he could, while renewing some of his education in the computer industry. Eventually, this worked out and he got a decent job doing the kind of stuff he likes to do, some of it pretty interesting even though it goes way over my head. Then, in August of last year, my mom had a bicycle accident which led to a major stroke. She is recovering well, trying to regain control of half of her body and learn most of her words all over again, but one of the difficult parts about it, aside from the obvious, is that my dad had just barely got his current job and hadn't yet qualified for their health insurance plan. Luckily, my family has made many friends over the years and they helped out a lot to get us through the toughest parts in whatever way they could. My dad now works through the day and comes home to take care of my mom, relieving the women from our church that come to help her out when she needs.

I don't tell you this story to get pity points or anything, but to paint a picture of the setting of my father's life as it is now, and to illustrate the respect, love, and gratitude I have for him. Through all this time, he has never given up his hope, his faith, or his incredibly happy attitude. Yes, he can express his frustrations sometimes, but it is always in a healthy way that lets us all laugh at the end of it. Like right now, communicating with my mom is like a constant game of charades because she has "yes" and "no" down as good as ever. Every time I hear them talking over the phone, they are both laughing at all the horribly wrong guesses he has at what she is trying to say.

And now, to add to the burdens already on his shoulders, he has seen the way his home town is being run and changed, and he doesn't like it. He always loved his home because of its rural setting, appreciation for the past, and its heritage. Now it is changing rapidly, with shopping centers popping up, farms failing and having to sell to businesses whose only interest in the city is how much money it can make from its citizens, and taking away people's yards to expand roads in order to draw more businesses that will clutter and overtake the small town atmosphere that many people there have appreciated for generations. He wants to prevent that from happening. My dad isn't against change or modern progress, but he recognizes that it has its place, as does tradition and the ability to live in a family-friendly neighborhood that isn't overrun with the bright business signs and dangerous traffic of a larger city.

Every time I visit, it seems like some field of corn that I used to walk by with my cousins is replaced with some type of construction, or a beautiful old house is torn down for a gas station. I don't like it. Soon there will be no refuge left.

So I love that my dad is trying to do something about it. He has passed the primary election and is now prepping for the general election in a few months. This process is much more complex than just touching a thermometer, but potentially much more rewarding, and no tornado siren will save the current powers when they see that they might no longer get to keep their self-indulgent ways.

So wish him luck. Even if he doesn't win, I think my dad deserves at least some recognition for being the incredible father, husband, and human being that he is. If nothing else, I hope he reads this and knows the admiration I have for him, cold hands or no.

Partitioning the Peacocks from the Paupers

Originally written in August, 2015.

I tugged on the collar of my shirt, trying to release a little of the heat building up underneath my tuxedo.

“Hey, Charlie!” I called to my manager and pointed to the wall panels. “Time.”

He nodded, and I sighed in relief as I walked to the first wall panel. Summer was just beginning, so the cool night air lingered until after the lunch rush. But now, in the mid afternoon, the heat began to bake those still inside The Rainbow Feather. I bent to grab the handle on the wall and lifted it like a garage door as it slid into the ceiling. I raised wall after wall until the entire dining area could see out to the waves on the beach below and a gentle breeze cooled the sweat on my forehead. 

As the sun traveled toward the western horizon, I watched a trickle of patrons arrive and begin placing their orders with the waitresses, sitting wherever they preferred to look out over the water. They were polite guests that only added to the floral decor with their own bright colors in familiar hues of blue, green, and gold.

Mr. Peck and his wife, regulars that came in at least weekly, scratched their way up the hill the restaurant stood on, right toward me as the crowd was beginning to grow. I greeted them with a bow. “How are you two this evening?”

“Oh, fine,” he chirped, “just hungry of course. And getting out to enjoy beautiful this weather.”

“That is a great idea, sir,” I answered, careful not to step on any feathers as I continued my rounds, eyes open for any undesirables.

That was my job. I was basically a classy bouncer. This establishment was intended to serve a very specific clientele, which it did very well. So well, in fact, that others wanted in on the pleasures too. I made sure that the restaurant stayed exclusive, even if I had to carry out those that tried to sneak past my vigil by the neck.

The first try of the night I caught easily. She tried to hide behind some of the distracting ruffles of a legitimate customer, though I don’t know how she expected to get service anyway. I saw her drab white feathers easily and caught her eye before she was within ten feet of the building and she flapped off like the chicken she was.

A couple turkeys managed to get to a table before I saw what was going on. They had painted themselves up with the proper blue and green colors, even managed to put on some authentic highlights to sell the disguise. But a few of their dirty hues poked through and drew my attention. I walked up to the table as they were sitting.

“I think we will start with some water,” one coughed, helping his mate into her chair. “We will know what we want by the time you bring that.” He obviously wanted to interact with the staff as little as possible to keep up appearances.

“Oh, I’m not a waiter.” I smiled pleasantly.

They both looked up, seeing in my face that they had been caught.

“Please, sir,” she gobbled. “We have watched the peacocks come to this place for years. It always looked so fancy. We just wanted to try it out. We will just have appetizers, if you want. We can pay. Promise.” She was panicking.

I bent down and put my knuckles on the table. “I don’t make the rules. I just enforce them. And this rule cannot be bent for any reason while we are still in business. We serve peacocks. And we serve them peacock food. This isn’t a place for turkeys like you.”

“This is discrimination!” the male bird squealed. “I demand to be treated like an equal! I want service!”

This was out of hand. The other customers don’t come here for this. This was what they want to avoid. I had to end it quickly.

Before they knew what I was doing, I had the two birds by the necks, hauling them out of the restaurant. The female went limp, sadly accepting the rejection. But the male kicked and scratched with his claws. Luckily his beak couldn’t reach my arm.

As I threw them out toward the beach, their wings leveled them, but they still landed heavily in the soft sand. They sulked away after that, probably to their own restaurant just down the way.

I looked down at my jacket to clean myself off, but found a couple long rips in the side. Sighing, I took it off and went to drop it in my car. Hopefully the restaurant would pay for the repairs. And hopefully I wouldn’t have any more difficult encounters tonight. The claws on some of those bigger birds could do real damage. But those are the risks you take when you are a high-class bouncer for a bunch of fancy birds.

*****

I have no clue if there are actually restaurants with bouncers or similar exclusivity. And if there are, I don’t think I would like to work for them. Even if they do only serve peacocks.

In my memory, there is only one restaurant I have been to that might have had some kind of dress code. It was the most expensive meal I have ever eaten. Granted, it included an appetizer, a dessert, and a side of lobster tail. I don’t think I want to remember the bill of my friends who were drinking alcohol that night. Even so, I don’t think they would be too upset if someone came in jeans and a t-shirt.

I am glad that I have never seen a place in the society I live in that would refuse service to anyone based on the circumstances of their birth. And I have only seen movies where they would do so because of a person’s social class, or apparent lack thereof. Golf clubs and stuff like that are that way, right? I’m not sure, I’ve never been.

Anyway, having said that, I don’t think it is bad to have places that are exclusive in one way or another. I think that most of these kinds of places will naturally draw a specific type of client because of the type of service they provide. For example, it's mostly kids and younger adults that go to laser tag places. Bingo games are usually for the elderly. Maternity stores are for women. Hooters caters mostly to men’s sensibilities. Super expensive anything is for the rich, just like Goodwill and places that sell used items are for people at a lower economic status. It isn’t that other people are banned from these places. They just might get some odd looks.

Specifically addressing places that are meant for the upper crust of society, some people might be upset that there are restaurants so expensive that you have to earn at least half a million a year to afford a meal there. It doesn’t bother me at all. Those people are paying outrageous amounts of money not only for the food, but for the atmosphere. They want to surround themselves by people like them and have things in common with those people. I say let them have it. I’ll keep my perfectly tasty meals that can be found all over for decent prices. That way I don’t have to deal with rich people whining about whatever they think they deserve but aren’t getting at their place.

As long as they aren’t kicking out a turkey whose money works just as well as a peacocks, and is dressed for the occasion, everything seems fine to me. Let all the birds eat together.

This is one of the rare occasions where a dream isn’t quite as good or entertaining as the real life I am living. Well, except for the fact that I could speak with talking animals.

Trusting in the Toy Story

Originally written August 2015.

I burst through the door like I was running from the apocalypse. For everyone here, it might actually be the end of the world.

"We have to get out of here! They are gonna attack us with..." I stopped when I saw her. She was tied to a chair in the middle of the operations room, looking miserable, surrounded by several of my coworkers, both scientist and security. Then I saw the boss. sitting in another chair off to the side, somehow looking even more miserable. 

"So there really is an attack?" one of the guards asked as eyes turned from me back to the prisoner.

She sighed, "That's what I've been trying to tell you."

"But you won't tell us how you know, or how it will happen," he countered.

Her eyes dropped to the floor.

"It doesn't matter," another added. "Nothing can get in here. Even if they could find us, the doors are impenetrable without authorization from inside."

I looked at her and her eyes met mine, pleading. "Not if they don't come from that direction." I corrected.

Several scoffs echoed among security. "We are hundreds of meters underground," one explained, talking as if to a child. "And the rock of the mountain above is laced with traps and bombs for anyone attempting to drill another path."

"And to the sides?" I asked.

"Sides?" he asked. "How could they..."

"A drilling submarine from deep in the sea not far off," I said, explaining what I had heard in the bar.                                                                                                                                                                  

Silence was the only response I got for a while.

The boss stood up, tears forming in his eyes. "You knew about all of this, didn't you."

She nodded. Obviously he had discovered the truth I had tried to explain to him about his new love interest. Though it had only gotten me suspended, not tied to a chair.

"That's why I came back to get you to leave with me!" she cried. "Please run away with me before they come!"

"Let them come," said the head of security, pulling out his pistol.

"You don't understand," she sobbed. "We'll all be dead before you even see them."

I stepped forward again. "She's right. Apparently they have some kind of weapon attached to the submarine that fires a deadly radiation that can penetrate right through the dirt, rock and walls of our little facility, killing us in moments. Then all they have to do is wait till it wears off and then poke their way through and everything we have built here will be theirs."

The weapons lowered, uselessly.

"Untie her," the boss said, his voice hollow. "Let her go."

"You aren't leaving?" she asked through tears as her guards loosed her bonds.

"I won't just hand over my life's work," he said with a little more emotion in his words. "It might be pointless to resist, and die while they still take it all. But I can't just abandon it. Anyone who wants to leave can do so."

Nobody moved. With the situation changing so suddenly, they didn't know what to do.
Then I walked over to my desk, footsteps echoing through the cavernous room, and sat in my chair, ready to continue what I had come here to do in the first place.

The traitorous woman dashed from her chair to the boss, wrapping her arms around his neck. "I'd rather die at your side than live in a world without you."

His hands slowly lifted and inched around her waist as his face softened. He said nothing, but as their eyes met, he smiled.

It was very faint at first, but the rumbling grew louder and louder with each moment, until it deafened every ear in the room. People dropped to their knees so they wouldn't fall from the tremor that rattled the facility. Coffee mugs fell off tables to crash on the ground as everyone looked for the cause, confusion on everyone's faces.

Metallic screeching pulled all attention to the wall just to the left of the large display screen, and before long it twisted and split, breaking outward, into the room. A rotating, sparkling point pierced its way through, rotating as it reflected the light in the room like a disco ball. Further and further it intruded, growing every second until the drill gave way to the dark grey hull of a decently sized submarine. The spinning slowed as the rumbling lessened. I smelled the salty wetness of the sea, leading me to find spouts of it pouring from cracks between the broken wall and the submarine. Not enough to be concerned over though.

A hush came again as the drill settled, leaving only the quietly splashing water and remaining pebbles that dropped into it.

The quiet was broken by the crackle of a radio turning on and the ruffle of the soon-to-be speaker's clothing.

"What are you doing?" the voice came. "We came to rescue you."

"I really do love him," she replied in a fearfully confident voice.

"Oh good grief," the voice exclaimed. "You were our best agent. I don't want to have to replace you."

"I know where I belong," she answered, grabbing the boss even tighter.

"Well, crap. We are too close for the radiation now. Guess this will have to be done the old fashioned way." And the radio went silent.

Four panels on the side of the hull flipped open and rocket launchers popped out, taking aim at different occupants of the room.

"Wait!" I screamed, jumping to my feet and putting myself between the guns and my friends. "I think I have a way to settle this."

The radio crackled back on. "And what would that be? There is no way you can harm me. Negotiating won't benefit me at all."

"You don't want to damage this facility any more than you have to. That is obvious from your initial plan to use radiation."

"So?"

"I challenge you to a coin toss contest. If you win, we leave, no more fuss."

"You can't!" the boss yelled, but I calmed him with a wave of my hand. 

"What is more important to you? This place? Or her?" He couldn't respond to that. I knew it was a tough question for him to answer. But it didn't matter. I had a plan.

"And if you win?" the radio asked.

"You give us a better chance. You come out with your men to fight face to face. Even a rain of small caliber bullets will do less damage than a few rounds from those things." I pointed at the machine guns trained on me. "And I bet you have way more men in there than we do. The fight won't last long, right?"

A pop and pressurized hissing preceded a door opening in the submarine with a rope ladder that lowered to the watery floor.

Our nemesis stepped out and made his way down, chuckling. "I accept." He waded through the water and up the steps to the rest of us, followed by dozens of his men. At least three times our number. "I like you. You are funny. What is to stop me from finding and killing you all after I win and you vacate?" The smile that curled within that greying goatee made my hair stand on edge.

"You accepted. I trust your word. You wouldn't want a guilty conscience, would you?" I smirked as friendly as I could.

A few of his men chuckled, but this man scowled. Maybe he didn't like the mention of his conscience.

"Coin toss contest, you said?"

I pulled out two coins from my pocket. Each had a figure of the Disney castle on one side, and the opposite side had Buzz on one, with Woody on the other from Toy Story.

"The characters are heads, castle is tails." I handed him the coins for inspection. "We each flip one, and heads wins over tails." I took them back when he handed them. "First one to win twice is the winner."

"Sounds fair." He nodded his balding head in approval.

"Which one do you want?" I offered.

He thought for a moment before deciding. "Woody."

I handed him the cowboy coin. "Onto the ground so everyone can see," I said as I positioned the coin on the back of my thumb. "Ready?"

"Ready."

We both jerked our hands upward and the pair of cartoon icons spun into tiny gold orbs over our heads.


********

I had this dream only a week ago or so, and I found that as I analyzed it, it was more than just a dream of spies and adventure and life or death stakes in secret facilities with weapons that seemed to come from science-fiction. The issue of trust seems to pop up several times in the narrative. And it makes me wonder if it is trying to tell me something about my life, or if my life is informing the narrative of my dreams.

Recently, I was with my girlfriend at her apartment. We had finished dinner and an episode of Sherlock, which is an amazing show, and were just cuddling. I noticed a gleaming wetness in her eye just before she buried her face in my shoulder. 

Did I do something? 

Shake of the head. 

Did I not do something? 

Shake of the head. 

Was there something I could do? 

Shrug of the shoulders.

With a little more cajoling, I derived that she was having an issue with trusting me. She assured me that I hadn't given her a reason not to trust me, but with her ex-husband and ex-boyfriends, her trust had begun to run thin. Apparently she had promised herself that if she ever got in a serious relationship with a guy that had an ex, she would talk to that ex about the potential husband. 

When she said that, I gave my blessing. I have nothing to hide from her. Especially when my ex divorced me for her own reasons. I'm not saying I was the best husband ever, but neither was I a cause of pain and suffering of any kind. I thought we were both happy until everything came crumbling down around me.

Anyway, that experience luckily didn't give me any trust issues, because she never tried to hide anything from me. I can only try to imagine what my girlfriend is feeling with the past she has had.

Is she feeling like the boss did right after he found out he had been betrayed and lied to? Empty and hopeless, focusing all her energy on her worldly goals to the point where she would die for them without any other care.

Is she feeling like the enemy? Upset that one he had cared for wasn't what she seemed and trying to kill the hurt emotion by killing its source?

Is she feeling like me when making the wager? Hopeful that her clear communication is understood and wishes honored even though she has that inkling that it might not be a good idea, so she makes a vague and indescribable backup plan?

She is such an open book that I don't have any trouble trusting her. The only issue that might ever come up with her that is similar is mistaken perspectives or emotional assumptions. But you get that when you are in any kind of relationship with anyone. And those can be fixed with clear communication.

I honestly believe that most problems and issues between people or cultures could be solved with clear and heartfelt communication. Sadly most peoples aren't that willing to have that kind of communication. All they want to do is shout so they will be heard above everyone else without listening. And communication is always a two-way thing, even if one person is completely right and the other is completely wrong. You can't get someone to believe a truth you have until you listen to the reason they believe the lie.

And then there are the people who care nothing for others. The sociopaths and wackos that only care about themselves and how to get exactly what they want, no matter the cost to others. And those are the people that give so many others complexes and baggage that they will carry around the rest of their lives. It's my opinion, but I believe that a lot of these people are in very powerful positions in business and politics. But this isn't surprising when their ability to control and delete any emotion also allows them to adopt any emotion at will that will manipulate and influence those around them, convincingly lying their way to the top of whatever they set their targets on.

I'm kinda rambling, but I just find it sad how little trust there is in the world these days. And I like trusting people. I like being able to turn my back on someone and know that they will support it instead of stabbing it when they think it will benefit them.

My girlfriend has contacted my ex, but without a reply. When I asked if this concerned her, she said that it didn't. The fact that I was openly willing to let her talk was enough to gain my trust. And I don't plan on losing that trust.

Even if I don't know if I can trust certain other people, I will always make the effort to trust others before anything else. The benefits of open relationships, whether friendly or romantic, far outweigh the risks avoided when closing yourself off. 

I know that this could lead to heartache on tremendous degrees. But, hey, if I can take the chance to save my friends from horrific deaths by tossing around some Toy Story coins, I can continue to offer my trust to those around me. And I hope others can take that same chance with me.

Polar Bears and Comcast

(originally written in July, 2015)

Little waves splashed and broke against the rotting wooden panels of our little row boat, taking up the silence between us that we couldn't fill with conversation. Graham and I were on a mission. We knew what had to be done, and there was little point in talking about it anymore. My cousin, the older of the two of us, rowed as quickly and quietly as he could, though I didn't know what being quiet would do for us. The island was still a little ways away, and the castle on the jagged rocks stood well above water line, well out of ear shot from the shore. Besides, we were already obvious to anyone looking out a window. It was night, of course, but our powered Tron suits lit us up better than the sun could have. The blue neon strips of light were indicative of the protection afforded by the clothing, but not much else could be more obvious. The witch knew we were coming. That didn't change the fact that we had to find her and dispose of her. We found a dock to tie off the boat. Graham started up the narrow winding path that undoubtedly led to the front gates.

I put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. "If we can't be super sneaky, we can at least try to be unpredictable." I pointed to a low window on the near side of the castle, illuminated from within by torchlight.

Rain began to spatter down on us as we climbed up the steep rocks and crags that supported the ancient edifice. The suits kept us from being covered in cuts and bruises by the strikingly sharp stones and continuous stumbles. When we reached the base of the wall, Graham, the stronger of us, boosted me up to grab the ledge of the window. I pulled myself in until I had a firm hold and reached down to grab his hand as he leaped for mine. 

We were in. Now we had to find her. The castle was huge, and she was clever. It wouldn't be so obvious as the cliche stories where the goal could be found at the top of the tallest tower, or down in the deepest dungeon. 

"We will search every room on each floor systematically until we find her," Graham explained. "Starting here, door by door."

And the hunt began. We took turns with one person opening the door from the behind the safety of the wall as the other stood back from the door with a wider view to the other side, and the ability to charge in at the target or dodge any traps that might be set off.

Nothing happened. Room after room, floor after floor, we could only find sitting rooms, ball rooms, living quarters, a kitchen, and all other kinds of places you would expect to find in a castle. But all were completely devoid of life. Despite the perfection of the decor and furnishings, I could feel that nothing truly lived there.

Eventually we came on a door, like many others. Heavy, polished wooden planks with a ring for a handle. As Graham positioned himself to open the door, I held back to see what he would expose. It was the kind of door that swung out into the hallway, so I guessed it was another closet.

He yanked on the door and and watched for my reaction to tell him what to do next.

I was right. It was a large, walk-in, linen closet, with towels and sheets piled on the shelves that lined the walls.

However my eyes widened almost as much as the eyes of the surprised polar bear that turned to face me.

I think it felt threatened too, as it stood on its hind legs, too tall for the confining closet.

"Close it!" I shouted, waving to emphasize the urgency as the beast released a deafening roar.

The door slammed and Graham clicked the handle closed as I slammed my shoulder against the wood to help keep the animal in if it tried to force its way out.

"What was that?" Graham asked, his breath coming almost as rapidly as mine.

"Polar bear."

"Protecting the witch?"

I shook my head as I slid down the unmoving door to sit on the floor and gather my composure. "Linen closet."

Graham laughed as he seated himself next to me. "She is probably having a good laugh." 

I chuckled weakly. "Not for long."

******

I was reminded of this dream as I looked in my closet the other day. No, there wasn't a bear in there. I am just often reminded of it. Especially when I see Tron, a polar bear, or even my cousin. It is the first dream I remember having, probably around 16 years ago or so. I know I dreamed before that, and probably remembered some of them for a time. But this one stuck with me. It was at that time that I realized how adventurous my sleeping life could be.

However, yesterday, as I stared at the clothes in my closet, remembering how exciting it was, hunting a witch in her castle, I realized that I had to brush those thoughts aside and choose what I was going to wear to the interview.

I have been unemployed for several months now, after leaving the military. Yet, despite having been job hunting for almost a year in preparation of entering civilian life again, this is the first interview I've had. And it isn't even for the kind of job I want. It is to be a customer service and sales agent at an Xfinity store. Yippie, right? That is a story I can tell my grandkids. If I ever have them, of course, but that is an issue to discuss another day.

I have a degree in creative writing. I was a copywriter for two years at an internet retail company. I held an intelligence job with the Army where I would have to write all sorts of things that equated to a technical writing job. And here I am, interviewing to get a job getting people internet and television in exchange for money.

Don't get me wrong, I did well in the interview, and am moving on to the next round of the hiring process. But the job isn't one of my dream jobs, like writing for a video game company or going on book signing tours for my novels. And it is certainly a far cry from going to do battle with an evil witch with a sense of humor. Despite all that, I am grateful for the interview. I'm even mildly excited about getting the job, and not just because it's a needed job. Getting out there to do something is something to look forward to. And it is providing people with entertainment and information. Even if I'm not the source of the entertainment, I'll accept helping provide it to people.   

Yet as I think about it, I am saddened. This is real life. This monotonous grind. This ridiculous system of employment for a society full of consumers and people who are paid to facilitate consumption. Yes, I realize that it is a necessity in how the world works today, and I don't mind being a cog in the economic wheel. And I know that many people truly enjoy doing this kind of stuff. But I envy and appreciate those who have managed to take their passion and make a profitable living out of it. And I'll get there, I'm sure of it.

Still, even when I can officially call myself a professional storyteller, my mouth will turn downward when I open a linen closet and don't find a surprised polar bear staring back at me. 

These are the kinds of things I will discuss in this blog. Comparing dreams and expectations to real life and actual results, I hope you enjoy.