Jul 12, 2017

The Rexorcist

“May He keep you warm and well-fed,” Father Longmuzzle intoned, closing the Book of Whispers. He looked down at his pack affectionately, and his panting mixed with theirs to fill the Master’s House with a susurrus of moist breathiness.

The service officially ended by his blessing, they began to chat and sniff one another, or file out in small packs. Some of the pups, who had kept mostly quiet and still throughout the service, now sprang about with the boundless energy they had contained so well. Longmuzzle smiled to himself at their mothers’ fruitless cries of “Heel!” He gathered up the pages of his sermon and stuffed them into the low pack slung about his haunches. He straightened his collar and untangled his ceremonial leash from the microphone stand before moving down the dais to perform the usual meeting and greeting.

He was just about to sniff Sammy Whisktail hello when he noticed Mrs. Oreo standing pensively to one side, her eyes pleading for his attention, tail curled between her legs and still. Longmuzzle’s heart skipped a beat. He knew that look, so common in these days, and it was an act of pure will for him to move toward her rather than the communal hubbub of the pack.

“Mrs. Oreo,” he said quietly. “Are you alright?”

She suppressed a whine, and lowered her head in a gesture of supplication.

“Oh, Father,” she said in a trembling voice. “It … it’s Wiley. I think … I-- I think …” she burst into tears and he embraced her, licking her muzzle soothingly.

“There, there,” he cooed. “It’s all right. We’ll get you sorted out.”

Despite his words of comfort, Longmuzzle could not bring himself to wag, even as he separated from Mrs. Oreo with assurances he would visit her that evening.

His spirits revived somewhat as he greeted the other parishoners, but the prospect of another trial was daunting. When he retired to his crate, Longmuzzle found himself contemplating the Ball and unable to rest.

It wasn’t all right. Not at all, he thought, and licked the patch of bare fur on his right paw -- a memento of his last encounter with the Other.

---

When he arrived at Mrs. Oreo’s home that evening, he greeted her warmly, hiding the cold, unsettled feeling in his gut. The widow seemed both reassured and frightened by his appearance, her eyes taking in his formal priestly garb and leash. She had put out a single bowl on the table and he took a few polite laps before getting down to business.

“Where is Wiley?” he asked, holding the widow’s paw between his own.

She winced, and looked to a door near the pantry.

“In the basement,” she said quietly. “He won’t come out during the day, but he spends all night wandering around the house, knocking things off of shelves, and stalking through the garden.” She hesitated, swallowing hard. “Sometimes he brings ... things back,” she said.

Longmuzzle needed no elaboration on that.

“I will talk to the boy,” he said, stretching and padding over to the basement door. He paused before opening it. “You should probably stay,” he told her quietly, and the widow nodded and sat.

The basement was not well lit. A single hanging bulb with a chain pull seemed dim and weak, barely filling the space and leaving the corners in murky shadow. From one of these shadows, two horribly familiar yellow eyes watched him keenly.

“Ssoooo …” Wiley’s unnaturally high voice bit into the priest’s ears like a whistle, “Ssoooo mother has fetched an ass sniffer to deal with me.”

Longmuzzle gripped his leash, rubbing it silently with his paw for strength. “Your mother worries about you, Wiley,” he said. “She wants you back.”

“Wiley … Wiley … Wiley …” the voice of the boy repeated, and he stretched out on the floor, unnaturally sinuous, seeming to ooze from the shadows into the light from the hanging bulb. The priest felt his gorge rise when there arose a thrumming vibration from the child’s breast.

“Unclean beast!” Longmuzzle snapped at the creature in Wiley’s body. “I tree you, in the name of the Master, I tree you!”

Wiley hissed at him, crouching and arching his back in a painful-looking rictus, his tail bristling like he’d touched a live wire.

“Go dig your holes!” the voice snapped. “Go eat your shit!”

Wiley held up the Ball. “You will be gone from this place!” he declared. “The Master shoos you from His house!”

The boy circled at the edge of the pool of light thrown by the single bare bulb. He wore no collar. Feral. As the priest’s eyes followed him, he noticed small, furry corpses littering the floor.


Mice. And rats. Even a few birds, he noticed with increasing dismay.


“The Master is gone,” Wiley purred, eyes ever locked on Longmuzzle’s. “He’s not coming back for you.”

The priest growled in anger at the blasphemy, even though he knew it could never come out of the poor boy’s mouth without the foulness of the cat within. He began to quote scripture.

“And He shall find thee, when thou art LOST, Thy name and visage upon the telephone poles, And REWARD be his word for thy return.”

Wiley rolled on the ground, hiding his face and mewling piteously.

“And His hand shall stroke thy brow, His fingers find thy itch and scratch it.”

“STOP!” screeched the boy, rolling on his back.

Father Longmuzzle took a step toward him and held up the Ball.

“And, though He find that thou hast overturned the garbage, Or chewed upon His shoe, thou shalt be loved, for thou art His best friend.”

Wiley’s cries had died to mere whimpers.

“And he shall throw the BALL for thee, All the days it doth not rain.”

The pup’s eyes opened, then, and Longmuzzle’s heart leapt to see the jaundice yellow color and split pupils had faded. Wiley’s eyes locked on the red Ball, and the priest tossed it lightly at the far wall.

The boy rolled and unsteadily got to his feet. He hesitated at first, but then his eyes found the still-rolling Ball and he stumbled toward it. Picking it up in trembling jaws, he brought it to Father Longmuzzle, who laid a hand between the boy’s ears and scratched him affectionately.

“And He shall call thee 'Good Boy,'” he said softly.

Jul 4, 2017

Panahenoc and Mehianoc

Once there were two brothers, Panahenoc and Mehianoc by name. They were chosen by the elders of their people for a sacred duel -- ritual combat reenacting the battle between the brother gods of sun and sea. Now, Panahenoc and Mehianoc loved one another and were much pained by the fate that would pit them brother against brother. Against the wishes of their elders, they postponed the ritual for one hour and one day and one month and one year, saying to all that they would walk the earth and swearing that, should the gods still demand that brother slay brother upon their return, that each would at least know that their brother had seen the world and could die with no regrets. And in that time, Panahenoc turned west, Mehianoc east, and each strode away, to circle the world and return at the appointed hour.

The brothers had many adventures, and each grew wise in his travels. Panahenoc rode a ship to the Orient, where he met and loved Que Cho -- a woman who was also a river spirit. He walked the steppes and climbed the mountains of Tian Shan. Mehianoc crossed the great prairies and braved the cities ‘til he reached the deep Atlantic. A ship took him across the steel-grey waters and landed him on the coasts of Africa. In the bazaars of Casablanca he bested an assassin and in the windy canyons of Tunisia he looked upon ancient and forgotten writings in the stone.

The brothers nearly met one another in the heart of Arabia, where both made their way to the holy city of Mecca -- pilgrims in their hearts, if not truly of the faith. Panahenoc was found out and called infidel. He nearly died but for the kindness of an ancient cleric who could see the destiny writ large upon his brow. Mehianoc turned away from the holy city at the last minute, respecting the faith he would never embrace, and was nearly undone by hunger and thirst as he wandered the desert.

Panahenoc walked the streets of ancient Jerusalem and Damascus. He visited the Holy See and the Parthenon, and knew love again in the arms of a Portuguese fisherman’s widow before sailing across the sea to chill Nova Scotia.

Mehianoc learned the art of cobra charming from a poor street performer in Bangalore. He worked to feed himself in the great rice paddies of Thailand, and flew a kite in the shape of an eagle over the Yellow River.

Long were their paths, and many were the brothers’ adventures, but destiny drew them inexorably together again to fulfill their sacred duty. And as Mehianoc stepped into the yellow lights of the CopyCenter parking lot in Riverside, California, and spied his brother, Panahenoc, grown lean and bearded but still the strong figure he once so admired, waiting next to a FedEx drop box, he looked to the sky, a silent question posed to the silent gods. And in that moment, Panahenoc struck his brother down with a used toner cartridge, and did his duty before the gods of his people.

Jan 30, 2013

Fiction?


This little story's about four years old, and it isn't doing much other than taking up a tiny percentage of my Google Drive space. So I'm throwing it out here for you, if you haven't seen it already, and then I'm going to forget it.

So here it is. And don't worry, it's pretty short.

Speak Softly


The first time I saw the ghost was on a Sunday morning. I was trying to sleep in that morning, and even the 10 AM sun pouring through my cheap curtains had been unable to rouse me. I was having a pleasant, somewhat nebulous dream involving a nubile pop star whose music was the only thing about her I didn't like.

She wasn't even a real pop star, just some amalgam of various singers too young for me to fantasize about without feeling like a dirty old man, but she and I had just hit it off wonderfully. We were walking together on the beach in front of a beautiful sunset. She stopped and looked up at me, her deep blue eyes full of desire. As I pulled her toward me to kiss her as she desperately wanted me to, she spoke, and her voice was peculiar in that it sounded distinctly like a middle-aged man.

"The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us," she proclaimed seriously.

The voice was gruff, but it was quiet enough that it didn't immediately startle me awake. I just opened my eyes, puzzled. I lay in bed for a long moment, and while I regretted the sudden disappearance of my paramour, I found myself deeply curious as to what the hell she'd been talking about. After a moment, however, I sat up. I then blinked with some alarm at a silent figure seated near the end of my bed.

He was a stout, fifty-something man with a bushy, grayish mustache and dark hair slicked down and parted down the middle. He was dressed in a dark brown twill suit, so old-fashioned and odd that it was more a costume than an outfit.

"Who are you?" I demanded, attempting to sound more indignant than fearful.

The man peered at me with a critical eye over a ridiculous pair of pince-nez spectacles. After a long, uncomfortable moment's contemplation, he looked away, gazing around the room. He nodded at my closet, which was overflowing with a chronic backlog of dirty laundry.

"I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life," he said. "I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well."

I stared at him for several seconds. He smiled at me and chuckled, hopping off the bed with a surprising spryness.

"There is not a man of us who does not at times need a helping hand to be stretched out to him," he said, pulling my over-full laundry basket out of the closet. He began gathering various dirty socks, shirts and jockey shorts off of the floor and placing them atop the pile. "And then shame upon him who will not stretch out the helping hand to his brother."

"Seriously," I said, climbing out of bed, then picking up and pulling on a tattered bathrobe, "who in the hell are you, and why are you in my house?"

He stood up, hefting the full basket, and nodded toward the bedroom door.

"Roosevelt," he said, balancing the basket somewhat precariously on one knee and holding out a large, meaty hand, which I found myself shaking without thinking about it, "Theodore Roosevelt."

He winked at me. "Friends call me Teddy," he said with a smile, "And I've got a lot of friends." He let go of my hand and stood there holding my laundry.

"Teddy Roosevelt," I said.

He nodded.

"The president," I said.

He nodded.

"The dead president," I said.

He shrugged.

I sighed, relieved. "For a minute I thought you were some crazy person," I told him. The ghost offered no response so I opened the bedroom door. "You want some waffles?"

After hauling my laundry into the garage (I had to run it myself -- he had no idea how to work the washer), Roosevelt sat at my kitchen table and watched me as I put four Eggos in my toaster oven. He watched me as I got the syrup out of the cupboard and the butter out of the fridge. He watched me pour the orange juice. I poured us each a small glass, because I was almost out.

When I tossed the empty container into my recycling bin, Roosevelt nodded approvingly."The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem," he said. "Unless we solve that problem it will avail us little to solve all others."

"Yeah," I agreed. "Maple syrup?"

Roosevelt nodded. "Please."

We sat at the kitchen table and ate our waffles in silence. Occasionally, I would look up and meet Roosevelt's gaze. He'd smile and raise his fork in mini-salute.

I considered going out and getting the paper, but ghosts can be peculiar about current events, and the thought of the conversations that might force us to have was a bit much. It depends on the ghost, of course, but generally you don't want to open a newspaper in front of them unless you're looking for a four-hour discussion in which you explain things like American Idol and how that whole Soviet Union thing turned out.

For his part, Roosevelt seemed content to just eat. He nodded politely to me when I took his plate.

"Um… Anyway," I hemmed, "I'm supposed to go down to the park and play a little ball at noon…"

Roosevelt nodded, smiling, as I spoke. He took off his spectacles and cleaned them with a handkerchief.

"So, uh … I guess I'd better take a shower," I finished.

"To borrow a simile from the football field," Roosevelt said, "we believe that men must play fair, but that there must be no shirking, and that the success can only come to the player who hits the line hard." He smacked his hand on the table to emphasize something, but I wasn't sure what it was.

"Yeah. Well, it's basketball," I told him, "but I'm sure the sentiment is the same."

He nodded.

"Okay, well, I'll just go take a shower, then."

So I did. A long shower.


"I saw a ghost this morning," I said, as Jeff's free-throw bounced off the backboard. He caught the rebounding ball and dribbled it idly, considering."Again?" he asked.

I pointed toward Roosevelt, who now sat at a court-side bench. "That's him sitting over there." Roosevelt grinned and waved as Jeff looked over.

"Oh. I thought he was just some guy," Jeff said, waving back automatically. "So who's this one?"

"Says he's Teddy Roosevelt," I shrugged.

"Huh." Jeff pondered this for a moment. "You're moving up in the world, then, eh?" He grinned and I gave a noncommittal grunt. Jeff cocked an eyebrow. "Come on. He's better than that lawyer who was following you around in April."

"Hey, Frank helped nail Al Capone," I reminded him.

"Yeah, but he was kind of annoying with all that bitching about being left out of The Untouchables."I couldn't argue with that, it had been annoying. I still wondered how anyone could be upset that he was left out of a Kevin Costner film, particularly one I hated that much.

"He looks like he wants to play," Jeff observed.

Roosevelt was dressed in a grey, shapeless track suit or wrestling outfit. It had "HARVARD" stenciled across the chest. He also had a white towel draped over the back of his neck.

"He'll have to wait ‘til Adam gets here," I said, and Roosevelt sat patiently while Jeff and I played a little half-assed one-on-one.

Adam showed up about five minutes later.

"Who's that?" he asked

"Teddy Roosevelt," I said. "He wants to play," I added, as Roosevelt jumped up and strode over to us, a big smile under his bushy mustache.

Adam smirked. "He's on your team, ghostbuster."

I frowned, eyeing Roosevelt. He was spry but a bit thick-looking, and not particularly tall. Adam and Jeff were both taller than me, and better shots, too, so this seemed a bit unfair. The ghost of Frank Wilson had been following me through most of the previous Spring, when they had been really into playing pool, and I had perpetually been teamed with the ghost lawyer, whose skill with a cue was nearly as nonexistent as he was.

We separated, Jeff and Adam taking the ball to their end of the court. Roosevelt clapped me on the shoulder.

"It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed," he said.

I rolled my eyes and he laughed, punching me lightly on the shoulder.

Jeff and Adam laughed at some joke as they came down the court, passing the ball back and forth.

"Ready, Mr. President?" Adam said with exaggerated formality.

Roosevelt inclined his head toward Adam slightly and answered, "Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess, it becomes foolishness," prompting the other guys into polite laughter.

It was the last laugh either of them had for the next 20 minutes -- Roosevelt was dynamite.

After he had stolen the ball and scored three times in as many minutes, Jeff and Adam started double-teaming him. It didn’t help much. He was just as adept at passing it to me as he was at rebounding.

When it was starting to get pretty embarrassing, Adam made the mistake of fouling Roosevelt rather obviously. An "accidental" elbow to the solar plexus from Roosevelt forced Jeff to call a time-out while Adam sat on the court wheezing.

"We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man," Roosevelt said to me, winking.

"I couldn't agree more," I grinned in reply.

Jan 29, 2013

Game Review: The Cave

Rating: 6.5/7 Dark Secrets

The Cave is the latest game from DoubleFine, makers of Psychonauts, which is one of my favorite games, and Brutal Legend, which is not (but it's decent). It lets you delve into a mysterious sentient Cave with seven strange and darkly amusing characters.

The catch? There's more than one, actually.

For starters, you must choose three of the seven to guide through their journey, and that choice is tough considering who you are choosing from: the Knight, the Time Traveller, the Scientist, the Hillbilly, the Adventurer, the Monk, and the creepy Twins. Who you take on your journey not only determines what you can do (as each has a unique power or ability), but also determines which areas of the Cave you can access. There are both shared areas, such as the Zoo and the Gold Mine, which are experienced by all, and also character-specific areas, like the Castle, the Victorian Manor, and the Carnival.

I can probably short-circuit any qualms you might have about this choice by assuring you that the game was easily good enough to entice me to play it through three times, and thus take every character through at least once.


Every area is beautifully rendered, with an art style reminiscent of Psychonauts, albiet a bit less deranged-looking. The Voice of the Cave will also be familiar if you've played that game, as Stephen Stanton voiced Agent Sasha Nein.

My only criticism of this game is really a backhanded compliment: I wish it was longer.

There is certainly replayability -- in fact if you don't replay it at least as many times as I have, you won't even have seen all the areas -- but I would absolutely pay for some DLC if it involved new characters with their own secrets.

If you are going to judge it by a single play-through, I would highly recommend taking the tour with the Time Traveller, the Twins, and the Adventurer. Or the Scientist ... or the Knight ... The Hillbilly is fun, too. And the Monk. ... Yeah. Good luck deciding. Definitely the Time Traveller, though.

Jan 25, 2013

Improv, Revisited

So the last (and only) time I posted about improv in this space, I said:

It's a little irritating when you go into something thinking you're going to be great at it and you're just so-so.
Let me assure you that it's not a hell of a lot of fun to look back at a year and a half of working on something and feel about the same, or even feel that "so-so" might have been a generous self-assessment. 

I've done, by my very rough count, about 20-25 improv performances, and about 180 or so hours of classes, workshops, and practices in that time. A fair amount of work and, yet, generally speaking, I still wonder if I'm any good at this at all. 

I've worked with truly great coaches and teachers of the craft: Miles Stroth, Heather Campbell, Billy Merritt, Jeff Hawkins, et al. I've played with a great team of guys (Harvey Rocketship), all of whom I esteem greatly. 

And yet, after all that, I still don't know, when I'm out there, whether I'm inciting yawns or laughter. I know there are people who I think are pretty good who still strike out a lot, and I wonder uncomfortably about the math of that. I'm quite sure I'm not as good at this as X and here he is blowing it. If I blow it more often than he does in proportion to how good I think he is ... yeesh.

I think a lot of improv folks are probably reflecting on their progress over the last year and a half in the wake of Heather and Miles' unseating in the UCB Cagematch after 49 consecutive wins. It's a convenient era to measure against and, for anyone familiar with their work, it feels very significant.

Still, I did think I was going to be better at this than I feel, and I wish that feeling wasn't quite so familiar.

Hah! Made you look.

Desperate plea for attention or novelty post based on an email I happened to get from the blog traffic monitor? Who can say?

Well, thanks for looking anyway. For those of you visiting from Facebook or Twitter, this is what we used to do before technology advanced to the point that we could distill all important things down to about 40 words. I hear there was an even older technology based on some kind of crazy paper (like toilet paper? LOL) contraption, but the details are sketchy.

Anyway. Maybe I'll post here some more, since I have a vague idea that it's better to write even these little bits of nothing than to just fiddle around on the internet ... wait. Actually, this is just fiddling around on the internet. Shit.

Well. Let's say I reserve the right to write something here that isn't totally pointless. Whether or not I'm even capable of exercising that right these days is debatable. Maybe I'll just talk about improv or video games -- the two subjects I am most conversant with these days other than SQL and C#, which are not big crowd pleasers.

So, I guess it's time to think some shit up!

After coffee.

Feb 7, 2012

Five Things Wrong with Avatar that Aren't the Plot

Because I like commenting on movies I saw a couple years ago and thought were kinda "meh." Also because I forgot to post this at the time.

  1. Cameron missed the opportunity to create something more profound when Jake communes with Aywa. I would have liked to hear something, anything significant to Jake himself rather than just crowd noises signifying the spirits of Na'vi past. How about his brother's voice? I think Grace's voice would have been too cheesy.
  2. Who the hell watches their brother be cremated? Here's a hint, Jim: No one.
  3. Who the hell pitches a job to a guy while he watches his brother being cremated? For a hint, see #2.
  4. Col. Quartich could really have used a tiny shred of humanity. He was such a cartoonish villain that a twirlable mustache seemed like an omission. Contrast that with the equally violent and genocidal Lt. Coffey from The Abyss: despite everything he did you actually could feel a tiny bit of empathy for him right before he was crushed to death.
  5. I think we needed to see Jake tame the Toruk, or at least be told why it was considered such a big deal. The way it was presented made it seem a lot easier than when he tamed the Ikran (the banshee). Hell, even the Pa'li (the horse-thing) seemed more difficult to master.