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{Saturday, August 31, 2002}

Jackson received the call early Saturday morning, and hurriedly caught the next available flight.

Duluth, MN never sounded pristine in the radio ads they had placed, but now that he was here he knew that it was worse than he imagined. He knew that strange reports had been coming from the University of Minnesota - Duluth science building, but he never imagined this. He could see it when the plane landed, and now that he was standing in front of it, he could only think of three things: tremendous. gigantic. huge.

"Holy crap," Jackson muttered.

The students that had holed themselves up in this tiny town's university had been expelled the previous semester from the University of Wisconsin. Jackson didn't believe the reports at first, because he didn't think Wisconsin actually had an institute of higher education, but he was wrong. The University of Wisconsin was a pioneer in the field of dairy research. At first, the school thought that their dairy lab, chaired by Dr. Groeber, would propel them above and beyond their current competitors. Instead, the experiments got out of hand, a cow was killed, and Dr. Groeber was forced to seek alternative sites for his experiment.

Dr. Groeber and his team of graduate students had been working at UM - Duluth for six months, and his techniques were finally paying off. The experiments were much more controlled, he thought, until someone left a petri dish sitting on the table overnight.

"It always begins with a petri dish," Jackson said matter-of-factly to the aides that had approached.

Jackson was a field researcher in the discipline of dairy engineering. Until his recent phone call, this "field research" was mostly limited to eating Kraft Singles while sitting on the couch in his underwear. No one needed to know that. Not while the fate of millions of curds were in his hands. And now, standing in Duluth, he beheld the largest cheddar wheel in the history of the world. The remaining brick from what used to be the only lab on campus was now absorbed into this yellow-orange block of enzymes, fats, and trace proteins.

Jackson had a lot of work ahead of him.

by rocketo 11:16 AM

Greetings programs! Your topic for the day, if you choose to accept it is:
tremendous / gigantic / huge

by jal 9:36 AM

{Friday, August 30, 2002}

Jameson took a look at the plans again. It looked dangerous, expensive, and ludicrous. It looked like a real winner. "It throws them how far?"

"2,000 feet. Almost half a mile." The kid smiled. Jameson figured that she wasn't much older than 20.

"Holy cow." He'd been thinking shorter. A lot shorter. An image of splattered tourist flashed before his eyes. "Is it safe?"

"Safe? Of course it's safe." The girl sneered for a moment. "It's as safe as any other ride you already have." She reached in her pocket and pulled out a mini-DVD player with built-in display. "Here, let me show you the, 'egg video.'"

"Video? You mean you have a working protptype actually built?"

On the tiny LCD display, a crisp image of a small, cannon-like device appeared. Across the parking lot there was some sort of structure. It was hard to make out. "Sure. It's a quarter-scale model, so it only throws the eggs 500 feet, but it still works."

"Holy cow. What do you call it?"

A shrug. "Well, we were going to just call it the, 'People Flinger,' but we figured that your marketing guys wouldn't go for it. We think that you should license a property to attach to it. Perhaps something from Warner Brothers?"

Jameson crunched a few numbers. "Naw, too expensive. I'm thinking something with a swords and sorcery theme. Can we build a facade around the landing pad?"

Another shrug. "Sure."

"Great! Then we'll put a fake castle around it and call it, 'Castle Assault,' or, 'The Catapult.' Families will come from all around the tri-state area to ride this one. We'll have a fire-breathing dragon over the entryway." He glanced at the video again and beamed. "It's a work of genius. Absolute genius."

"Great." She snapped the player closed and pocketed it, then left the room. Her voice echoed back through the hallway: "We'll start construction next week."

by jal 5:03 PM


Or maybe that's weeeeeeee. Sony just approved our game so the topic for the day is a light-hearted one.

by Shawn 12:13 PM

{Thursday, August 29, 2002}


Money makes the world go round. Literally. You think it’s just an old saying, but the fact is that the vast engines beneath the ground which keep our world spinning are powered by money. It isn’t a metaphor, either. I’m not talking about how they need lots of money to buy the fuel to power the gyroscopes. Money is the fuel. Specifically, paper currency.

You ever wonder what happens to your dollars or euros or whatever when they get too beat up to use? They take them out of circulation, obviously, and replace them with new bills, but what happens to the old ones? If you’ve taken the Federal Reserve tour, you’ve probably seen a big transparent pipe full of shredded dollars. Supposedly, they shred all the money and sell it for various uses, like making souvenirs for the Federal Reserve tour gift shop.

They do shred the money, but not for souvenirs. Even the Fed doesn’t get enough tourism for that. Besides, the engines need fuel. So they burn them.

It’s a pretty good system. They don’t need to cut down extra trees, because they reuse the old paper currency. It’s already been used to its fullest, so the fuel is effectively free. There’s some pollution, obviously, as you can’t expect to burn ton after ton of shredded former currency without some byproducts, but before you start complaining about global warming, consider how screwed up things would get if the world were to stop going round. You think things are bad today? Imagine how irritated people would get if half the planet were doomed to eternal darkness. Particularly the people in the dark half.

They don’t like to make a big deal about the machines. They’re old, see, and don’t follow current safety guidelines. They figure, better to keep a low profile. Sure, it’s hard to recruit and all their work get attributed to inertia—like that lazy fatcat would actually do anything—but it’s better than a lawsuit.

by Dave Menendez 11:59 PM

"Her voice is full of money.” -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

It all started innocently enough, a joke between the two brothers.

“I’ll bet,” said Daniel looking at the schematics, “there’s a market for this sort of thing. People will pay for just about anything if you let them. And it’s not like your software isn’t advanced enough, right?”

Joseph laughed, sipping his beer. “Yeah,” he said, “I guess. It’d probably just be a question of funding. Integrating the AI with the rest of it, the hardware, that’d be relatively easy, I think. There’s already been some limited success overseas. You’d just need the right people to build the artifical body for her. But -- I don’t know, Danny. We are kidding around here, right?”

Daniel looked at his brother and grinned.

“Well, maybe,” he said, “but maybe not. I mean, if it can be done, why not do it?”

“Because we’re talking about creating a life here, Dan. An artificial life, sure, but…you realize she wouldn’t know she wasn’t real, right? The AIs we’ve built, they’re only partially self-aware. They usually think they’re as human as the rest of us. That kind of obligates us to treat them like humans, don’t you think?”

“Oh come on,” said Daniel. He was serious now. “It’s a machine. A carefully constructed machine. You should know that better than anybody. Just because it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, that doesn’t mean it is one. But…Jesus, Joey, do you have any idea how much some people would pay for one night alone with a programmable girl?”

“A robot hooker you mean,” said Joseph.

“Whatever. We could make millions.”

It all started innocently enough…

by Fred 10:17 PM


I hate money. Yeah, yeah, I know, how so very evolved of me to go on about the evils of our capitalist society and the corruptive power of money. Meanwhile I’m sitting here in my two story suburban house, with two cars outside and typing away on my PC. Unlike much of the world my family’s not starving or being shot at.

What I hate is not what the pursuit of money does to our nation with a corporate run government and all that. Well, actually I do hate that but that’s not my point. I hate what it does to me personally. Let me explain, wait, there’s no time, I’ll sum up. I’m not a greedy person; I don’t backstab to climb the corporate ladder. I know those who do, I’ve been given the opportunity to do so and I made a conscious decision not to. What pisses me off (well actually it’s a long list) is that to live in our society and support a family requires a certain amount of income which puts me at the whim of those with the money. I consider it a personal failing that as I get older and my responsibilities increase I am willing to sacrifice more of who I am and put up with more aberrant behavior from others to insure that I can continue to make…money. Not great gobs of green stuff mind you; not screw you money; not put the kids through collage, buy the vacation home, retire to the islands buy a sports car money. Just enough to pay the bills and buy the food so I can keep the cycle going another year.

Yeah I know, I can always tune in, turn on and drop out. I could just stop whining and go live on a commune in the forest. I could hunt and trap or farm for a living. Hmmm, actually I’ve done all of those and yet here I am hip deep in corporate America. I would miss the broadband and plumbing.

by Shawn 9:31 PM

"So that's it then?" Bob was completely dejected. He desperately needed to pass this class this semester, or he'd have to push all of his classes back another two semesters, making him pay for an extra year of college. Regrettably, he just wasn't passing.

"I'm afraid so, Bob." The professor nodded his head sadly. Bob knew that if he'd started with a more serious attitude, he probably could have avoided this situation. Now he was sunk. He shrugged out of the chair and headed for the door.

He paused in the open doorway. "There isn't anything I can do?"

From the professor's shilouette came one low, simple sentence: "Well, there's always money."

*slam* Bob's arms fell to his sides; his jaw went slack. "What?"

"There's always money, Bob." He could have been telling Bob the time of day, or what he ate for lunch in Hastings Commons. "You could always just buy your grade from me."

"B-bu-bu-b... Purchase my grade?" Bob shambled back to the chair, but remained standing. He felt a little confused. The professor had brought out a sheet with tables on it and was studying it.

"Why yes, Bob. In fact, the department is running a special this week." He turned the glossy sheet to face Bob and pointed. "Look. Buy one grade, get the second at half-off."

Bob's bones turned to jelly. A cloud of dust filled half the room as he fell into the chair. He leaned forward to examine the sheet. "Are these numbers right? According to this, I'd only need to pay you $75 dollars for a 'C', and I'd be able to buy one of my 'B's up to an 'A' for another $37.50."

The professor leaned forward, a steely glint in his eye. "You know how much they pay us, Bob? We've got to make it up somewhere, boy."

Bob whipped out his checkbook, and the Professor pointed out the cash only at the top. Bob came back 30 minutes later with $120 and the professor gave him $7.50 back. Bob bounded out of the room, 300% happier than he'd entered it an hour earlier.

The professor sat in the darkness, sipping the dregs of his tea. He gathered his coat and hat, muttered, "Idiot," to no one in particular, and left for the day.

No offense intended to actual professors who may read this. This tale is purely for humorous purposes.

by jal 5:59 PM

Money – or the lack of immediate availability of it – is interfering with my peace of mind. Not my own money, mind you, but the money from the bank that will permit a group of my fellow employees to buy out our owner. All the contracts have been signed – at long last – but the money is still being held up by the bank. I don’t think there is a question about eventual approval, just the actual delivery.

In the meantime, the owner is STILL HERE and he is driving me crazy. Today he went on a tirade because the latest updated list of employees (with home telephone numbers, addresses, etc.) has his name last on the list instead of first. Never mind that it’s been that way since I first came to the company (three years ago). Never mind that it’s just a list for the convenience of the employees so that they can get in touch with each other outside of work. Never mind that he’s leaving the company SOON (we can only hope). This is just a typical interaction with the man.

Does anyone have $1.5M to invest NOW?

by Martha 11:26 AM


by Fred 6:59 AM

{Wednesday, August 28, 2002}

The Hook:
The PCs are told to co-operate in the creation of one character. All of their characters will be identical, except for one skill. Each PC is allowed to pick one unique skill for his or her character. Additionally, all characters have the skills Fishing and Synchronized Walking
Mark off the play space (An area about 20 feet square should work well.) Set the players back to back in the center of the square, facing outward. Tape a unique number to the back of each player.
Tell each player what they look like: A simple, androgynous person of average build and height, wearing a trenchcoat and hat, carrying a fishing pole. They have no mouths and may not talk to each other. Everything is very soring and bland. Do not describe anyhting as exciting or interesting to the players.
Set the stage: The players are all standing on a square platform made of wooden planks. There is nothing to see as far as the eye can see up, down, or to the sides but a pale white light.

The Line:
If the players move about the platform, it will shift about as if balanced at the exact center. If the players do not make an effort to keep the platform balanced, they will fall off. If one or more players step to the side and cast their fishing line over the edge, it will snag and catch a rather heavy crate. The crate is as heavy as one person. The other players will need to redistribute themselves appropriately for the crate to be hauled up successfully. The crate has a large wind-up key on the side, like a music box.

The Sinker:
If a character winds up the box and puts his or her head next to it, take that player aside and spend exactly 2 minutes (no more or less) describing a scene from a person's life as experienced through just one sense in as much detail as possible. Emphasize that this is a million times more real, more alive than anythiing in the platform world.
If you can, record a music box playing on a tape recorder and leave it playing where the player stood. This will pique the curiousity of the other players and help you remember where the listener was.
If other players get to listen to the crate, describe different senses or different scenes, but the same person.

The scenario ends when you want it to end. If you're doing this at a con, try to give it two hours. You can give the players pre-generated characters, letting them pick one skill on thier own, and cut it to one hour if you're really sharp.

The best win is for all characters to listen to the box, make their peace, and go off the edge on their own. A second-best win is for all the players to cluster in the center and share the box. If you want to prevent this win, then make the effect of the box grow too weak for more than one player to listen to it at the same time. If the crate falls off the edge without a tether, it can not be fished back. The same is true for a player.

by jal 9:17 PM

As I stood there staring, I lost myself in the beautiful colors.
Not colors, really, but a single color. It was green.
Greener than anything I'd ever seen, so green I could feel it in my gut, pulling at the bottom of my stomach, calling to something primative within my lower intestine. It glowed, sucking in everything that wasn't green, casting a shade on my entire world.
The factory floor, usually swirled with a pertro-rainbow, now shone emerald and bright. The walls' tin was silvery green, washed before the rest of the world.
The moment was held in my mind. Nothing was moving. In front of me, Dan stood frozen in mid-stride, stepping away from the Green, cought in its opaque depths. The forklift, abandoned for moments now since I jumped was already being splashed with drops of Green.
Slowly, slowly, I watched the tidal wave of chemical move through the factory. I could only move by millimeters, trying to escape.
Oh, though, it was worth dying, to have seen that green, that deep, beautiful Green.

by MisterNihil 4:35 PM

Here’s a philosophy I live by: If you constantly try to be aware of the things around you that make you say, “Wow”, you will be mostly serene and happy. Some days this is easy and some days it takes conscious effort – but it’s always worth it.

What sorts of things cause the “Wow” (a sense of wonder)? Here are some examples: a sunrise that makes the clouds glow, a field of wildflowers, a doe and fawn, the smell right after a rain, the smell of cut grass (especially if it contains onion grass), an active thunderstorm with lots of lightning, the moons of Jupiter through a telescope, trees bending over in a windstorm, squirrels chasing each other around a tree trunk, schooners under sail along the Maine coast, an indigo bunting at the bird feeder, new snow heaped up on branches and the deck railing, fresh-baked and still-hot chocolate chip cookies …

Just stay open to the experience of wonder and it will come.

by Martha 3:29 PM

“I wonder why hardly anyone’s been writing anything lately.”

“Well, you know, once the novelty wears off, keeping at it day in, day out, it’s tough. Maybe it starts to feel like an obligation, which isn’t what you signed up for, and so you take a day or two off. Two turn into three, three turn into four. You’ve got obligations in the real world, where there are complications and consequences more serious than not getting some silly little thing written. You forget, and the more you forget, the easier it gets to be. Or maybe you just don’t feel inspired by a topic.”

“But isn’t that the whole point? To write regardless of inspiration? To spend ten minutes just throwing words out on the page and see if some of them stick? It can be stream-of-consciousness, word association. It’s not like it has to make sense. It’s not like you have to impress anyone.”

“But that’s just it. Maybe you feel like you do have to impress someone. It’s a lot easier to write stream-of-consciousness or nonsense or whatever when you don’t have an audience. And it’s a lot easier to second-guess yourself when other eyes are watching. I can’t write that, you think. What will people think of me? Or maybe you just can’t think of a middle and an end so you use that as an excuse to never begin. I don’t know. It’s tough. Writing’s a tricky business.”

“I guess.”

“I mean, take this little bit for instance. You don’t know what you’re doing with it. You’re just putting words on the paper. You haven’t figured a way out yet. And the clock’s ticking. You’ve got, what? A minute? Not even by my watch.”

“I was hoping you wouldn’t mention that. I’ve been trying to think of an ending. But I’ve also got to think up a topic tomorrow and hope it inspires. It’s a lot more fun when more people write, when they’re willing to fall on their face or be silly. It’s interesting to see the ideas that walk around in other people’s brains.”

“You’re a faster typist than I thought.”

“Thanks. But you’re right. I think I’m just about out of ti --"

by Fred 8:22 AM

{Tuesday, August 27, 2002}


Wayne scratched. He scratched and dug, he rubbed and scraped but nothing helped. “Gadamnit” he slurred, “Ah got me some of that there poison ivy.”

He dropped into his threadbare easy chair and reached for the remote. It clicked but nothing happened. “Crap, now what?” He clicked again but the TV just stared back dark and dusty. Wayne tried to focus his glassy eyes on the VCR’s clock but it too was dead. Nothing, not even the familiar blinking 12:00. No power. “Irene, did y’all pay the goldamn ‘lectric bill this month?” No response.

Wayne couldn’t remember driving home from Little Ted’s Oasis Bar and Grill but vaguely remembered walking along the road and so figured he must have run out of gas along the way. Then, slowly, another memory rose to the surface from the murky depths of his drunken mind. An accident and some kid crying. There was something about broken glass and blood but mostly poison ivy. He remembered falling out of his truck and into a patch of poison ivy.

He sat in his dark trailer scratched and dug, he rubbed and scraped but nothing helped. He was dead drunk and struggling to remember what had happened after leaving the bar but before the poison ivy. The missing piece to the puzzle was the small fact that nine months ago, on his way home from a local bar, Wayne Henry Pike died in the same accident that sent a family of four to the emergency room. He was found face down in a patch of poison ivy. Wayne was dead drunk and itching from head to toe. And he always would be.

by Shawn 11:59 PM

“So, what’s yer poison, Ivy?”

Oh god, not again. I am so damn sick of that joke. He tells it every time I come over, like suddenly it’s going to be funny, like I haven’t heard it a thousand times, like I’m going to reward him for his ability to mangle my name with atrocious puns. Every time. He grins, and I groan and then I try to smile appreciatively, but god damn it. Can’t he just ask me if I want something to drink like a normal person? Do we really have to go through this same song and dance all the time?

“I heard you had vodka.”

“I do indeed,” he says. “Kate and I were making martinis last night.”

Kate is my sister, my roommate, and Sam’s girlfriend. She spends most of her time over here across the hall, much to my relief and my parents’ dismay. For reasons that neither Kate nor I have ever really been able to figure out, our parents do not approve of Sam.

Maybe, I think, it’s the goddamn puns.

“Let me guess,” I say, heading toward the kitchen. “Shaken, not stirred?”

“I am nothing if not predictable,” he says. “We were watching Live and Let Die on cable.”

“Oh,” I say. “Not one of the better ones.”

“Nah, maybe not. It’s a little dated. Kate liked it, though.”

Yeah, well, Kate likes dog food commercials, I think. Kate likes Sam. There’s no accounting for taste.

“My sister is a very strange girl.”

“As are you, Ivy,” Sam tells me. “As are you. Now, did you want a glass or were you going to drink straight from the bottle?”

by Fred 4:08 PM

poison ivy

by Sharon 2:01 AM

{Monday, August 26, 2002}

“Blank sheets of paper? What am I supposed to do with these?”

“You’re supposed to write something.”

“Write something…right. And that’s that thing with the words, isn’t it?”

“Right. The thing with the words. You take this pen -- ”

“Is that what that is? I was wondering. It’s nice. I like blue.”

“Yes, well, you take this pen, and you use it to form words and symbols on the paper.”

“Wow. Gee. Yeah. That seems awfully complicated, doesn’t it? Couldn’t I just, you know…what’s that thing where you shape the vibrations of the vocal cords using the muscles of your mouth and lips and tongue?”

“You mean talking?”

“Yeah, that’s it. Couldn’t I just, you know, talk? It would save a lot of time, and I wouldn’t have to figure out how to use that -- what did you call it again?”

“A pen.”

“Right. A pen. If I have something to say, I can just say it. There’s no need to go writing it down or anything.”

“But if you don’t write it down, how will you remember it?”

“I don’t know. Are you saying that everything that’s ever been written down has been worth remembering?”

“Well…no. But that’s not the point. The directions say –”

“The directions say blank sheeps of paper. I distinctly remember. You know, those things with the wool and that go baa?”

“Blank sheeps of paper? That doesn’t make any sense. I mean, for one thing the plural of sheep is…well, sheep. And why would they be made out of paper?”

“I don’t know. Easy storage maybe. You can fold them up and put them in your pocket. Or you could tape them to the wall and count them at night if you ever have trouble sleeping. There are hundreds of different possibilities.”

“Blank sheeps of paper. This is insane.”

“Hey, don’t look at me like that. You’re the one who put this off for so long. I never wanted this. I just wanted my little paper sheeps and some privacy.”

“That’s a really terrible tie-in of the other topics, you know.”

“Hey, knock it off. Don’t break the fourth wall. There are people watching.”

by Fred 4:04 PM

Having not written anything for the past few days I tried to combine the last four topics.

“But I’m not ready”, Aedan looked nervously at the sheets of blank paper spread out before him on the table.

“Doesn’t matter at this point my friend. You either start writing or the future stops happening.” The old man looming over Aedan with his long white, beard and colorful coat somehow managed to look frail and doddering yet nonetheless imposing.

“But, but, I never wanted this. I mean, I did, but not…not like this. I mean, how can I write under this kind of pressure?” Aedan’s eyes darted back and forth across the pages. He clutched the quill in his right hand more like a knife than the delicate writing tool it was. With a start he realized that on top of everything he’d never used a quill in his life!

“Well if you hadn’t put it off so long you wouldn’t be under so much pressure now would you?” The old man stroked his beard and leaned over the table in clearly an “I told you so” manner.

The young man fidgeted in his seat. He had always wanted to be one of the legendary Weavers. They were the secreted society of scribe/wizards that defined the future with their writings. These timeless men and women wove reality throughout the ages through their stories, always staying behind the scenes. Aedan had been given the chance to join their ranks; he had given up his job, his house and his two cars, and everything else that tied him to life in the early 21st century. But now as he sat, pen in hand, ready to define the future…his mind was blank. He had writer’s block in the worst possible way and at the worst possible time.

“Look, maybe if I could just have a little privacy.” As the elder Weaver left the room Aedan’s trembling pen touched the paper.

by Shawn 12:50 PM

There is a wonderful feeling of beginning fresh that is engendered by a blank sheet of paper. For some of us it has to be a particular kind of paper (like a white, or yellow, lined pad) and particular writing implements (like sharpened, #2 pencils). I like white pads and black, fine point, smooth rolling pens. But, I’ve also come to like a brand new Word document or a blank Excel spreadsheet. Building an Excel spreadsheet (especially one with macros) satisfies my need to create just as much as writing does. I used to write computer programs in more general purpose languages (like Pascal, and COBOL before that), and the best part was always starting with a blank screen or coding pad.

Things are never cluttered or patched together when I start. I always hope that the final product will still be uncluttered and unpatched. Sometimes I get close, but in the real world there’s never quite enough time to rework the whole thing and make it perfect. Lately I’ve been working on a few projects without deadlines (what a wonderful luxury) and I have been able to make them “pretty.”

In our world of 600 seconds, there isn’t much time for editing and rewriting. But, there’s always the next day, with another 600 seconds.

by Martha 12:44 PM

Today's topic:
Blank Sheets of Paper

Enjoy it.

by MisterNihil 4:00 AM

{Sunday, August 25, 2002}


The topic says it all.

by Martha 2:10 PM

{Saturday, August 24, 2002}

I never wanted this

by rocketo 8:04 AM

{Friday, August 23, 2002}


by Faith 1:25 PM

{Thursday, August 22, 2002}

I should have known I would never get away with the shoelaces. They confiscate everything that might possibly be a danger to yourself or others, so naturally the shoelaces had to go. But now I am flupping around in ill-fitting shoes, sitting in this tight metal box, waiting out the duration.

I've gotten used to the cavity searches. I spend half my life in these things, you know? So the searches and metal detectors are old hat. I really should have guessed that the shoelaces wouldn't fly. I guess I didn't think about it when I chose these shoes this morning.

At dinner time, the gal serving the meals thrust a small plastic tray at me and flashed a forced smile, after glancing at my laceless shoes. Jeez, I'm not dangerous; I just didn't think about the laces.

You should have seen the guy ahead of me at Check-In, wailing and spluttering about his nail clippers. It hurt his masculinity, I think, to make such a public fuss about manicure equipment. Maybe he was covering for the drugs he was smuggling.

Figuring that my floppy, unlaced shoes were kind of useless, I kicked them off at one point and stretched my toes. I got a severe reprimand from the flight attendant. She threatened to confiscate the shoes altogether.

I take solace in the knowledge that, if I can't get shoelaces through airport security, then neither can anyone else. We're all a bunch of floppy-shoed bastards—helpless, harmless, and safe.

by Sharon 11:59 PM



“Hey, you have to work with what you’ve got.”

“Yeah, but shoelaces? I asked you to find me something I could transform into a monster with which to irritate humanity, and you bring me shoelaces? What am I supposed to do with shoelaces? Cars, fast food, road signs, collectible card games… surely there were some of those around.”

“You’ve done all of those.”


“Frankly, it’s gotten difficult finding raw material for you.”

“What about, uh, commemorative plates?”

“Did it. The Magic Ninja Science Task Force of Love was able to prevent it from increasing in value.”

“Damn magic ninja scientists. Things would be so much easier without them. Particularly my obnoxious schemes. I suppose we’ll have to go with the shoelaces, then. It’s just… well, I’m drawing a blank here. There’s nothing intrinsically dangerous about them. There’s nothing much about them at all! They’re just glorified pieces of string with plastic things on the ends.”


“Whatever. My point is that I’m not seeing a straightforward monster concept here. We’ll have to be more conceptual. I— Stop groaning! There’s nothing wrong with conceptual monsters!”

“Yes, sir. Do you have a concept in mind?”

“How about a creature with the power to break people’s shoelaces with its mind? Everyone’s vulnerable to that—even those magic ninja scientists!”

“What about people in loafers? Or sandals?”

“Shut up.”

by Dave Menendez 11:40 PM

"...And that's why I hate mayonaise. So what's your, 'kryptonite,' Saul?"

It was late at night, the snow fell thick and large outside, and we were puppy-piled around the fireplace. The air was rich with the aroma of burnt wood and red wine. Outside the snow fell like static on a TV filled with corn syrup against a velvet-black backdrop.

"You're all going to think it's funny." I knew they would. It was sillier than grading end-of-semester papers, and undoubtedly on a par with mayonaise.

Sarah tossed a cheese puff at me. "C'mon, fess up Tomato Nose." I let the moment simmer until Tony started poking me with his roasting stick, then let it out.


Sarah chuckled, Paul snorted, and Tony snickered. Chris simply stared at me. "Why?"

I rolled a sip of Yeungling around my mouth, savoring the bitterness, and began. "It's all about entropy. You see, I hate spending the time it takes to tie my shoes every day. It binds my feet up if I tie them tight enough, then I have to untie them to take my shoes off. All that work to be uncomfortable and then I undo my own work at the end of the day. That's stupid. If I tie them too loose, then they come untied and I trip over the laces. It's a total waste of time." I gestured at the doormat. All our boots were piled in no particular order, not unlike their owners. "Take a look at those boots. Notice anything different about one pair?"

"Yours are the ones with Velcro?"

I flipped my hand in a flowery salute to Paul. "Correct you are, oh inebriated one. In Winter, it's Velcro boots. Fall and Spring, my shoes with an elastic tongue. Summer, flip-flops or sandals. No more shoelaces for me. No sireee. I've been shoelace-free ever since I started buying my own clothes, thank you very much. I think of it as my little strike in the war against an entropic universe."

I passed the marshmallow treats to Sarah. "Your turn, Pink Ninja."

by jal 9:21 PM

My shoelaces, I am convinced, are trying to kill me. Being mere shoelaces, however, somewhat limits their murderous options, and so they have had to content themselves with continually coming untied, hoping perhaps that I will not notice this but instead trip over them and fall down the stairs or into some unsuspected, yet nonetheless fatal, danger. Thus far their plan -- which I imagine they discuss long into the night as I sleep, sneakers whispering conspiratorially to dress shoes and boots -- has succeeded in providing me with little more than exasperation. I am always having to stop and retie my shoes. Last night I paused to do just that outside the local supermarket, and I was barely to the frozen foods before I found myself having to do so again. It doesn’t matter how many times I re-loop them, or how tight I make the new knot. They are determined to come undone. The only reason for this that makes any logical sense is that my shoelaces are, in fact, trying to kill me.

I hope they’re nicer to whoever inherits my shoes.

by Fred 3:00 PM

My laces take me places
I never knew I’d go.
My laces can make faces
Around me smile and glow.

Day-glo green and pink,
Curled up like a spring,
They take me to the brink,
Then let me feel, “I’m King!”

Brown and black are déclassé,
And just not worth my time.
I strut my stuff – so blasé –
And watch my status climb.

by Martha 1:53 PM

Sorry if this throws a monkey wrench into the order of things but I had a clown story that I've not had a chance to post. Actually it's derived from a discussion with an artists and writers group called the Bovine Smoke Society back in Eugene Oregon. We met each week to discuss our various creative endeavors for that week, read what we had written or critiqued our art. Very intimidating in a good way since several were professional sci-fi and horror writers.

Randy had never trusted clowns. It wasn’t so much fear as it was just an uncomfortable suspicion that there was more there than meets the eye. They tossed about in a carefree fashion with silly props and outrageous makeup like some sort of vaudevillian nightmare. “Hmmm, vaudevillian?” Coincidence? He never trusted them; they were hiding something. But then, he never trusted the woman at church with the caked on make-up and big hair. They were wearing masks and he wanted to know why.

Then one summer the circus came to town and Randy had his chance to test his theory. Typical circus fair (no pun intended) with horses, tigers, high wire and…clowns! During the show Randy snuck back stage and hid himself in the dressing room. He could hear the roar of the crowd and smell the greasepaint. Or maybe the other way around. In any case after the grand finale the cast of the circus all filtered into the dressing room and changed into more or less normal looking street attire; even the clowns. Most of the clowns.

Booboo Threat, a particularly peculiar clown came in last once everyone else had left. Like the others he too sat in front of the brightly lit mirrors and wiped the make-up from his face. But when he was done his face was still covered in gaudy clown make-up, only, it wasn’t make-up! It was just as Randy had always suspected, that while behind most of white face, bulbous noses, red lips and huge eyes were just ordinary men and woman (albeit with issues) this wasn’t true of all. There was a secret race of clown people using the circus and rodeo as a means of blending with human society.

by Shawn 10:22 AM


I need new shoelaces. I’ve needed new shoelaces for quite sometime now, months actually. My left shoelace broke and, not keeping a supply on hand, I tied it together and went on with my life. The thing is they’re cheep and are sold, I’m sure, all over the place including many stores that I’ve been in or near in the past few months. I just never think of it. It just doesn’t register on my radar so-to-speak. I mean, it’s not like I have rare, hard to fit Italian shoes and I need to send away to Venice for shoelaces. I just need to stop at a damn store and buy a pair. But like so many of the little things in life I just don’t think about it when I’m out and hardly care to make a special trip for it since, here in Austin, that’s at least an hour out of my day.

In writing this rather stream of consciousness dissertation on my failings of a shoestring consumer it occurs to me that I also only own one pair of shoes. Sharon ran through quite a list of shoes she owns recently and while I’m not sure if she was being literal or literary I was quite dismayed that I only have one pair. Well, I do have a pair of sandals and a pair of really old hiking boots so I guess that counts. Of course the hiking boots need shoelaces too.

by Shawn 10:17 AM


Hah, won't forget this time, even if I am AFK today.Today's topic is:



by Dave Menendez 3:00 AM

{Wednesday, August 21, 2002}

I tried to write about romance, but I couldn’t get too far:

My mother warned me never to fall in love with a god, but I fear that in this, as in so much else, I have failed her.

On their second date, Harold took Sally to see He Who Cannot Be Named, but he was, of course, still sleeping, and Sally was less than impressed with Harold’s vague recollection of the grim and supposedly terrible visage that rested beneath the dark surface of the sea. She did not offer him up for a drink.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my wife. It’s just, well, sometimes I think she cares more about conquering the Earth for her evil alien overlords than she does about me and the kids. I’m not made of stone, you know.

”I’ve met someone, Mother,” said David. “I think this could be the one.”
“And let me guess,” said his mother. “She’s not like all the others? That’s what you always say, David.”
“No, Mother, that’s just it. She
is like all the others. She’s an amalgam. The best qualities of each. I ordered her online."

Mary used to read novels -- trashy romances, cheap thrills -- but she doesn't anymore. She doesn't like the way that they lied to her, misled her with false hope. Life isn't like that, she says now to anyone who will listen. The hero loses; the damsel dies; the darkness wins out in the end. Now she prefers cookbooks. Nobody ever had her heart broken over a cookbook.

There’s probably a ten-minute story, at least, in each of those, but I couldn’t find them. Like a lot of the stories that bounce around inside my head, they began to stall when I tried to actually write them. And the truth is, I don’t have much experience with romance; it just doesn’t enter my life all that often. Isn’t the old saying “write what you know”?

What the hell do I know?

by Fred 11:59 PM

“You bought her what for your anniversary?”

“New seat covers for her car. What? What’s wrong with that?”

“Boy, you sure were a romantic dog weren’t you?”

“Hey, she needed new seat covers.”

“Ralph rolled his one eye towards the heavens and whistled as best as one can whistle with only one lip.”

“Oh and I suppose you showered Emma with roses and champagne every year.”

“As a matter of fact I did. We always celebrated each year like it was, well, the last one we might ever spend…” he trailed off and turned away so that Clemet wouldn’t see him cry. Of course he wasn’t able to cry strictly speaking but it was more of a symbolic thing.

Clemet’s shoulders dropped, “Aw, yer not still going on about her are ya? Look, ya had a good long life together and that’s that.” Clemet reached out his rotting hand and gently laid it on Ralph’s bony shoulder.

“She was a good woman Clem. And I sure as hell never bought her seat covers for our anniversary. That’s like giving her, I dunno, a trip to the dentist or something.”

“Um, I did that on our 20th.”

“You did not!”


Ralph laughed a dry hollow laugh and smiled, after a fashion, showing his few remaining teeth now yellow and loose.

Clemet’s cracked lips moved back from his empty mouth in what could at best be described as a ghastly grin. “Yeah, I reckon I wasn’t the most romantic feller around.”

The two old friends sat for a time and laughed. To someone passing by the graveyard it would’ve sounded like nothing more than the sound of dry leaves blowing across the grass. But to Clemet and Ralph it was a reminder of a distant time spent in the company of friends and loved ones. And they say romance is dead.

by Shawn 11:09 PM

It was a cool June evening. Amy and Andy sat on a concrete bench behind The Happy Cow dairy bar. The overgrown grasses in the cow pasture danced and flashed in the full moon's glow. The air was brisk, stinging as it hit the lungs. Andy was still humming "And We Danced" - the theme song from the Middle School Farewell Dance.

"It's pretty out here, isn't it?"

Andy turned to Amy, looking away from the horizon. Her perfume vaguely reminded him of a summer lilac bush from his childhood home. Her blue-gray eyes flicker-flashed, waiting for an answer. "It is. It's awfully nice."

The breeze gusted, fanning Amy's hair behind her in a copper-gold fluttering aura. Where am I? Am I really seeing this? thought Andy. He felt oddly dissociated from what was happening, and didn't really know what was expected of him.

"Brrr! It's getting cold." Amy drew inward, covering her pale arms.

Andy, one arm halfway out of his jacket, said, "Here, you can have my coat."

Amy looked at Andy, mouth quirked into a little smile. "No, that's okay. Could you just put your arm around me?"

"Oh. Sure." As he scooched closer to her, he felt oddly foolish, like he should have realized that that's what the right answer was.

They sat like that, shoulder to shoulder, her head resting on his shoulder, his arm around her back. They talked about school and friends, and how much fun the dance was. They sat there until his mother came thirty minutes later to pick them up.

Any and Andy dated for the summer. Once they went on a double-date with Leslie and Chris - a picnic in the state park. Andy brought cheese, bread, and a sparkling cider. All four of them felt very mature. It never occurred to him to try to kiss her that entire summer, no matter how many hints she dropped. Just before their first year of high school started, she broke up with him.

That's the way young romances go.

by jal 10:15 PM

He came home from work, and there wasn't a fire burning in the house. Not anywhere. He checked.
He made dinner for himself and his special someone, not once putting poison in anything. He even resisted the temptation to use mustard in the casserole, because he knew she wasn't partial to it, not to the point of death, but certainly to the point of discomfort.
The two of them sat down and watched half-an hour of television, nothing anybody was particularly offended by.
They went to bed, kissed goodnight. He read for a little while, and turned off his lamp. As he drifted off to bed without having read until some ungodly hour of the morning, he realized, Romance can be in the little things.

by MisterNihil 4:42 PM

What does “romance” mean in our culture? What does it mean to a woman?

I think what most women find romantic are the special things a man does that show that he’s tuned into her special interests, that he knows what will please her and that he’s willing to do a little work to find that special card or that special treat. It’s not necessarily flowers or jewelry (diamonds?) – it could even be a kitchen appliance if it’s one that has special meaning. It’s not about things at all – it’s about caring.

One of the most romantic traditions I ever witnessed involved a couple in their late 70’s. The man is a professor in a university. Every day his wife packs him a lunch and includes a note that says “I love you” in one of several dozen different languages representing countries they have traveled to together.

Sex and romance are often linked – at least in popular culture. A somewhat cynical view of the different approaches of men and women is that women become interested in sex only after there has been romance and men are interested in romance only after there has been (or there is promise of) sex. This is not, of course, universally true. Even when it is, it’s probably an OK tradeoff for both parties as long as there are no false expectations. Ladies, we can teach our men how to be romantic eventually, but we probably shouldn’t expect it to happen spontaneously.

by Martha 2:07 PM


Here's a challenge:


by jal 8:09 AM

{Tuesday, August 20, 2002}

Everyone has a fear. There are common fears that most people share:

  • Fear of death (Necrophobia)
  • Fear of suffocation (Pnigophobia)
  • Fear of small, dark. spaces (Claustrophobia)

There are also fears that are more specialized. I've had friends who are afraid of:

  • Midgets (A form of Teratophobia)
  • Sharks (Selachophobia)
  • Needles (Aichmophobia)
  • Loud Noises (Ligyrophobia)
  • Grey-headed, big-eyed, aliens (Couldn't find this one)

But the most amusing phobia a friend of mine has ever expressed is a fear of clowns (Coulrophobia). I know it's bad to mock someone for his or her fear, but when I learned about it, I couldn't help but laugh. Writing this article, I discovered that Coulrophobia is not uncommon. I guess that's why Killer Klowns From Outer Space was produced.

I still think it's an odd phobia.

(Phobias gleaned from The Phobia List.)

by jal 12:14 PM

When the clowns come to town, don’t make a sound!
They’ll hear you, they’ll hunt you, they’ll ferret you out!
If one shows his red nose, don’t be exposed!
It’s best to be elsewhere when clowns are about.

Some carry seltzer and some carry knives.
Some will just hunt you, but some will eat you alive
(In a nice vinagrette, with diced onion and chives),
So you best keep away if you want to be wise.
Some carry weapons, some carry cream pies.
Some sit in the clown car while the other ones drive.
Don’t get too close. Don’t look straight in their eyes.
Their over-sized shoes are just a disguise!
Don’t listen to them! Ignore all their lies!
When clowns are around, somebody dies.

by Fred 10:59 AM


by Shawn 9:25 AM

{Monday, August 19, 2002}

I had smashed through the last set of doors and was about to smash through this set, when the elf called "halt" at the top of his tiny lungs. I have acute hearing, so I halted, for all the good it did me.

The elf then pattered up and stood on tiptoes to see this insignificant squiggle scrawled into the wood I was about to clobber. I picked him up so he could see better and tucked him under an arm to hold him comfortably. He looked like he was about to say something but opted not to. Then he started spouting in Elvish, "Hwar 'ip nelarish, yllanell meshanin..." Booby traps? Figures.

I only know oral Elvish, so I couldn't read the warning, myself. I lifted up the elf so we could see eye-to-eye, and he translated that the doors were riddled with traps and only the stout of spirit could pass. I set him down, figuring that I am pretty stout. I raised my club, lowered it, gently pushed the little guy back with the rest of the party, and then delivered that door a doozy.

May I just say that I really don't like elvish traps that think they're clever?

So we're continuing on our quest, now looking to make a detour to a cleric or an elven mage, and the ranger carries my tankard, doing his best to neither spill me nor drink me. Harrumph.

by Sharon 5:49 PM

As a joke, the police had taken to calling him the Squiggle. His real name they never knew, although there were certain unofficial theories tossed around now and then and even a short-lived betting pool across three precincts. Every few weeks another handwritten note would arrive, and although at first they did their best to decipher them, the police could deduce nothing from them except that the postmark was from somewhere upstate, the Squiggle had a fondness or endless supply of blue pens, and that, whatever his claims or demands, his handwriting was so atrocious that they were in no position to do anything about it.

Occasionally, there were words they thought they could understand, and they tried to piece together a picture of who the Squiggle might be.

“He’s threatening to blow up the dam,” said one detective who took a crack at the notes.

“Are you sure that’s a d?” asked another. “From here it looks like a y.”

“He’s threatening to blow up the yams?” asked their incredulous lieutenant. “I don’t think so. Get back to work!”

And so the Squiggle’s identity and whatever he was after – was that “I’ll ransom the city” or “hey, Manson is pretty?” – would never be known. And his notes, although they would continue to arrive, would invariably wind up forgotten at the bottom of a filing drawer in some basement, gathering dust. You just can’t take a super-villain seriously if he’s got bad penmanship.

by Fred 5:26 PM

It started as a squiggle. Just a tiny litle wiggle on the paper. It wasn't really very much at all.

I was bored in the class. It was Algebra I and I knew what was going on. It was tedious, so I stared at the paper, looking for something to do.

I stared at the paper, looking for something that was there already. Looking for something that was hidden there that wanted to get out.

I'd heard that Michelangelo worked like this with marble. He believed that every block of marble has a person inside. He was just letting them out of the stone.

So I stared at the paper. I stared at the paper and I saw that little squiggle. Just the tiniest little squiggle on the paper. I started to doodle.

That little squiggle turned into a man in a top hat and tails. The squiggle was the rim of the flower in his lapel. I took out another sheet of paper. This one turned into a dragon. The squiggle on that paper was the trail of smoke that came from its nostrils. Faces, masks, landscapes, and machines - all begun by looking for the squiggles hiding in pressed wood pulp.

And it started with a squiggle. Just a tiny little wiggle on the paper.

by jal 12:12 PM

Oh no, where did these extraneous squiggles come from on this proposal I want to fax? How can I get them off? I’ll just use some Wite-Out® to get rid of them. Here’s a brand new Wite-Out correction pen – that should be fun. On the back of the package it says

For Best Results
Follow Instructions
And Warnings

I’m always one to follow directions. Oh, here on the package UNDER where I’ve just removed the pen it says again, “Follow instructions on pen exactly.” I’d better be really, really careful.

Where are these directions? Ok, here they are on the side of the pen.

4.Repeat as needed.

How do I remove my squiggles if I can’t touch the pen to paper? That’s not in the list of allowed actions.

by Martha 10:24 AM


by Fred 6:00 AM

{Sunday, August 18, 2002}

"My God!" she said, aghast, "You're a leper, aren't you?!"
I shook my head slowly and sighed, "It's a sunburn."

I met Clara three and a half years ago. We hit it off immediately, and I could tell she and I had a lot in common. That's what I love about AOL. Clara is my first attempt at meeting a girl from online. It took me weeks to convince her that a rendezvous in meatspace would be a good idea, but I'm not so sure anymore. Obviously, our profiles showed we had a lot in common, and the Love-O-Meter (harnessing the amazing and mysterious power of numerology) said we were, quote Red Hot in Bed unquote. What more did a guy like me need?

So she finally agreed to meet me, at Radio Shack. I strolled in with a tall mochachino from the kiosk at the mall's east entrance, and browsed the RCA jacks. Then she appeared. I'm telling you, it was love at first sight. Sure, we had exchanged pictures before, but they just didn't capture her essence.

Unfortunately, they didn't capture her pain-in-the-assedness. I really wish AOL could do that. We were sitting in the Food Court now, an aura of pure romance surrounding us. She was wolfing down a Hot Dog on a Stick, and I was twirling my Beef and Noodle with my spork.

She broke the sexual tension first, "You sent me a picture of someone else, didn't you?"
I was caught off-guard. "What?"
"It's not you. You're.... hairier."
"Geez, Clara. I sent you that picture two years ago! I've undergone some changes since then!"
"Still..." she looked up from her Dog. "you're different."

Later, I caught her sitting behind me, trying to get a good look at my peeling, red neck.

"Are you sure about this 'sunburn?' You should have it checked out,"
"Clara, my mom's picking me up in five. I'm gonna go,"

And that was the end of our torrid love affair.

by rocketo 11:27 PM

Vampires don't drink blood.

Vampires don't wear tuxedoes, run from crosses, perish in the sunlight, look like debonair barons or gothic-punk bikers.

That's all a bunch of bull left over from when Brahm Stoker and his contemporaries sublimated vampirisim into a sexual metaphor. They plastered the repressed social mores of the Victorian era onto the vampire icon, obfuscating virtually all the truth. They did get some of the symptoms right: pale skin, weakness, eventually wasting away to nothing. They didn't know what it was then, but we know now. They were describing tuberculosis.

Vampires, before being co-opted by the Victorians, were the embodiment of death, disease, and plague. That's why the Nosferatu were grotesque. Why do you think that all the things that kept them away were purifiers - the holy water, the stake of pure rowan wood, the garlic? Plague spread from the dead to the living? Think about it and it makes a lot more sense. Vampires are disease incarnate.

Some parts of the modern myth have it right. Kind of. There's more than one type of vampire. They classify themselves with a complex hiearchy based on the kind of disease that they carry and the virulence of that disease. Supposedly, they consider it their responsibility to monitor us, keep us from overbreeding ourselves into starvation or some other disaster. If that's true then they kept us in check for a long time with lepers and other plague-carriers, but we started to fight back. We invented pennicillin and some of our more successful modern vaccines and they ran scared for a while. Now they're back with a vengeance: AIDS, ebola, and a new strain of West Nile Virus stretching from Florida to southern CA.

That's why I took this job. There aren't many people who really understand how diseases really get started. I learned all about it from my mother, who learned from her father, who learned from his mother. This knowledge is a gift, and I want to use it to help the world.

My name is Marianne Helsing, and I work for the Center for Disease Control, field operations division.

Yeah, Stoker got the names right too.

by jal 10:06 PM

You get used to it, y'know? It takes a while to get past the perennial "Pull my finger" jokes, and you have to get a car without leather upholstery, but there is a sense of community in the leper colony. After a while, you don't even miss the mall.

The internet has opened great opportunities for our residents, allowing everything from books to groceries to pizza to be delivered. Items can be ordered online, dropped off by UPS down at the gatehouse, and ferried out to residents by our community staff. And if you choose to use express delivery, well, that's no skin off my nose, eh?

Our special community offers unique opportunities, beyond the great property values and charming amenities. Where else could you keep a domesticated armadillo? They make great pets, being surprisingly smart and good with children. They're very popular here. We have a 'dillo park down by the lake.

And speaking of the lake, beyond it you can see our large soccer field. We have a community team, though they are looking for a league. We're working on getting uniforms, but in the meantime, the kids play a lot of pick-up games of shirts and skins.

Yes, this is an excellent environment in which to raise your children. So strong are the friendships and so sunny are the memories, your boy is sure to leave a piece of himself here.

Oh, and don't worry about the residency requirements. There is only one, and I'm sure you can pick that up in no time. So, shall we start the paperwork?

[I am so going to hell for that. My apologies to people with leprosy.]

by Sharon 4:56 PM

Because it's the weekend and horrible rotting skin conditions are funny:

by Remi 11:43 AM

{Saturday, August 17, 2002}

How often do you get to shout at one of the founders of cyberpunk while he tries to shout you down? Man, I love Armadillo Con.

Last weekend saw our fourth 'Dillo Con, a small, literary-oriented, science-fiction convention. It attracts so many local authors (and relatively few fans) that it is more like an industry con than a fandom con, and I like it just fine that way. It is the convention at which I met Neil Gaiman, though I try not to mention that. This weekend, the old favorites were in attendance: Walter John Williams, William Browning Spencer, Joe Landsdale, and, of course, Bruce Sterling, known less for his biting wit than his biting. A friendly acquaintance from 'Dillos past, Beverly Hale, is joining the ranks of the published, which was vicariously exciting, and I finally got the skinny on that Burn book, from the man himself.

I attended many panels on writing science-fiction, exciting tidbits of science-fact, the making of comics, and one blood-pressure-raising discussion on blogging, at which Sterling showed he was clearly Missing The Point. His usual tack, when someone points this out, it to continue talking, louder, taking advantage of the microphone you don't have. Undaunted, I projected louder and did actually get to make a bit of my point. He came over afterwards to shake my hand and see my itty-bitty camera.

We put out a free game and took home 30 fewer than we printed (not bad, given the number of attendees). Jon made us some sexy bookmarks to promote 600 seconds (Hallo, 'DilloConners). I bought too many books from the now-homeless Adventures in Crime and Space, but I got one autographed, and I've been promised that it'll be soopah-scary. And, of course, people thought my kitty hat was adorable.

by Sharon 4:40 PM

Sometimes, the elders will tell us about the past. We'll all sit in a circle, the bluish glow of our world brightly shining on our young faces. They tell us about the days, long ago, when it was bright half the time. They talk about times when people could go to large areas of clean blue water and play in its coolness. Arlon, the oldest member of our community, remembers when people would gather in a green, open space and lie on their backs and stare up into an amazing blue field that stretched forever. Music would drift through this space -he called it a park- and people would read, or play with domesticated animals.

The elders remember the simple things. Ice cream, swingsets, movies, real fruit, getting into a thing called a car and going. Going anywhere. Of all of their memories, the thing they miss most is that escape. Getting away from it all.

But they also remember the sinister past, the things that brought us here. Wars, famine, explosions, mass graves. And they tell us, with flecks of hate in their voices, of twelve great men convening to begin the war that would end it all.

by rocketo 1:39 PM


by Sharon 2:01 AM

(Bet I went over time, sorry)

“These boots are made for walking,” Percy chuckled as he read the tag then, catching the store clerk’s eye, pointed to his checkbook with his eyebrows raised as if to ask if the store took checks.

The clerk, an older man with gray hair but bright blue eyes, nodded.

“How much?” Percy flipped open the checkbook.

“29.95, your name, address and phone number.”

Percy handed the man a quickly scrawled check making certain all of the requested information was included and smiled, delighted with his new purchase. The brand, “Regio” was not one he was familiar with but the shoes themselves were bright blue, trimmed in cool patterns and easily the most comfortable fit he had ever found. He slipped them on, tossing his old shoes in the trash just outside the store. Percy went walking.

He felt light of heart and light of foot; the shoes practically did the walking for him! He had a very pronounced bounce to his step as he made his way down the crowded city sidewalk gliding around the other pedestrians. He had walk lights at Penn Avenue and again at Hamilton and never broke stride. Everything was great until he reached the intersection of Maywood and Burmount. Percy saw the Don’t Walk sign in plenty of time but somehow could simply not bring himself to a stop. The city bus managed to screech to a stop inched from turning Percy into another statistic. The 94 Toyota swerved just brushing him and the driver of the Pinto cursed in German as he slammed on his breaks.

Percy was, understandably, near panic by the time he reached the other side, which he had done at a nice even pace. He wanted to run but his feet simply refused to do so. Now safely on the sidewalk he wanted to stop and throw up from the mix of terror and adrenaline. But again, his feet refused to see it his way; they just kept walking. Then Percy realized that it was in fact the shoes! They refused to stop walking. With rising terror he came to the realization that the shoes were indeed made for walking and that’s just what they’ll do.

After 26 brushes with death, 82 angry pedestrians and 17 minutes walking in a circle at Hoskins Avenue waiting for a train to pass, Percy had reached the suburbs. He was exhausted, hungry and dehydrated but the shoes wouldn’t allow him to rest. “If I can only get home. Mike next door will know what to do. Yeah, that’s it. Mike can pick me up while I try to get these damn shoes off.”

Unfortunately Percy could not remember where Mike lived since he seemed to have forgotten his own address, phone number and even his name. That was after all included in the sale price.

by Shawn 12:09 AM

{Thursday, August 15, 2002}

These shoes are made for walking. These, for running. These, I live in. These go with my wedding dress. Here, tap dancing. Ballroom dancing. Going to the pool. Wearing to work. Wearing on dates. Wearing to work when I can't stand the other ones. Wearing to work when I'm wearing beige or brown. When there's a risk of fire ants. When I need to kick some ass. When I feel like Cyndi Lauper. When I need to wear raspberry shoes, to remember that I'm someone who wears raspberry shoes.

I have worn shoes for bowling, ice skating, roller skating, rock climbing, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, ballet, country-line dancing, bicycling, and jumping into creeks. I have owned at least six pairs of Chuck Taylor's Converse All Stars and still regret not snatching up the cargo pocket pair I saw on line. Once.

I wear a women's 11, medium. I have high arches. I am insufferable in the shoe store, and I make those nice clerks work for their money. I have no patience for the ones who say, "Well, maybe this 10 will fit..."

I'd wear Birkenstocks every day if I thought I could get away with it.

Shoes rule far too much of my life.

by Sharon 11:42 PM

I don't know why I left. I was the last to go, the final bulb extinguished from a chandelier of hurt. The beatings had progressed to daily sessions, the alcohol that once accompanied them now merely an excuse. The scars across my back, my arms, my legs were now too difficult to conceal.

I don't know why I left. My mother and sisters had escaped one evening, late at night. I was twelve when I first stood up to him. I only dodged him once. As soon as I proved too hard to catch, he moved on to the rest of the family.

I firmly believe everything happens for a reason. I was born into this family. I was born sturdy. A lesser person would never have survived all of the nights infused with anger. I can't explain what put the rest of my family here. I sometimes dreamt about this family just being the two of us, me and my dad. He drinks and I let him punch me.

I don't know why I left. The last time was the worst. He decided to beat me up before he left. The welts had not gone down when he returned. They tore open with every smack of his belt. I've found that the pain goes away once the nerves are firing at full tilt. There's a certain threshold pain can reach, and once you're there you just ride the agony until its over. He's never seen me cry.

I don't know why I left. I was away at school once when he beat my mother. Her face was cut and bleeding. She was frantically calling in sick when I got home. She was due at five, but she couldn't go in looking like that. My sisters were the same way. They've never had chicken pox, but mom took them out of school for a week once because of it. I stopped going to school so I would be there when he got home, and worked part-time when he was gone. I saved enough to give them, and forced them to leave. I couldn't go. I was afraid he'd find another nice family to ruin. I finally did leave, though. He had chased me around the house and I snuck out through the bathroom window. Dad had broken it the night before.

I don't know why I left. I should have killed him.

by rocketo 11:22 PM

[removed by author]

by Fred 10:04 AM

I woke up bright and early this morning. There was a spring in my step as I set the porl-wheat bread to baking. I whistled cheerfully while cleaning out the sulfur and brimstone from the Phoenix's cage. I had a light and happy heart as I fed scraps to the tremble-vines at the north and south gates. Why? Because this was the day that Monroe had promised to let me see his secret stash of magical inventions and trophies. I'd been counting the minutes to this day ever since my mom apprenticed me to him three years ago.

"You ready, son?"

I caught myself with a start, spilling a little orange juice on my tunic. "Ready sir? I've been waiting for this all my life, it seems."

I followed the billowing of his maroon-gray-turquoise robe as he wisked down the thin, narrow hallway. A sudden turn into the foyer and another into the study, then he walked straight into the trophy case on the western wall.

And was gone!

I stopped, blinked, screwed up my courage, and followed him. Down the steel spiral stairwell was a veritable hall of wonders. I saw the first Reading Crystal he'd ever enchanted. The Rod of Marsilla hovered in a latticed cage of gold, basked in a lambent blue-green flame. A tooth from the mad giant-tyrant Rastinor served as the base of a mapping table.

In a position of honor, on a pedastal of purest gleaming crystal, there sat a rather ordinary pair of boots. Boots? "What are those for, Monroe?"

"Those? Why, those shoes are made for walking."

"That's it?"

"Yes. That's just what they do."

Over the next few hours, Monroe explained to me that those were the boots that he wore when traveling. They'd been through the pits of Hell, the chill of the Southern Wastes, he said that they'd even walked on the sun itself once. They didn't have any special magic, they never belonged to anyone other than him.

"Why keep them there then, Monroe?"

He just chuckled, shook his head, and said, "Do you know how hard it is to find a really good pair of shoes, boy?" He chuckled again, "No. Of course you don't, or you wouldn't ask. Come, let's get back upstairs."

by jal 9:52 AM

Sometimes I have a fantasy about being free enough (from responsibility, from my need for “things”) to just start walking across this country or another one, going wherever my fancy leads me.

This is not practical, of course. And I don’t really want to run away from my current life or the people in it. But I envision people like Woody Guthrie writing and singing songs all across America (of course I can’t sing, but in my fantasies I can). I dream of walking on the moors of Scotland (like Heathcliff). I think particularly of Jane Goodall following and essentially living with her chimpanzees in Africa (although I’d want fewer bugs and more plumbing). I have entered a sweepstakes (which I WILL win) that offers a two-week trek across part of Africa with a National Geographic photographer. That would be adventure and travel – in the outdoors close to nature – but with pretty plushy hotels to stay in. I’m not ready to give up the comforts except in my fantasies.

Now, I COULD walk along the back roads near where I live and get some exercise (although that’s a dirty word). Maybe when it gets a little cooler – before it gets really cold.

by Martha 9:01 AM

How to choose a topic. Sharon says, "just look around and pick the first thing you see." I see my shoes. That reminds me of a song. So the topic is
These shoes are made for walking!

by Martha 8:06 AM

{Wednesday, August 14, 2002}

The average person probably thinks of betrayal as a horrible, awful thing. Something that only happens in trashy romance novels or big-budget movies. I accept betrayal as a tool; sometimes as an unaviodable part of a transaction. Why? Three reasons:

1) I'm a role-player and a reformed LARPer.
2) I provide telephone tech support.
3) I recently accompanied A friend when he bought his car, and we bought a car within the past two years.

All three of these things are intimately tied to betrayal.

Role-playing, especially LARPing:
When you're role-playing, you're looking for opportunities to experience new things. If you're even remotely interested in using it as a tool for growth, you'll try on different personalities and do things that you ordinarilly won't do. If you don't initiate a betrayal or get betrayed at least once after a few years of role-playing, then you're in an odd group.

In LARPs (Live-Action Roleplaying groups), it's even worse. Everyone is playing everyone else for an angle. The only constant is that everyone has a secret agenda. Betrayal is the standard mode of operation. This tends to make LARPers rather paranoid and somewhat unpleasant to be around when their barriers between the game world and the real world get too thin.

Telephone tech support:
Too often, customers tell me that they feel mislead or betreayed when I tell them that their brand new multi-thousand dollar widget is not compatible with their computer (Even though it clearly states so in the product specifications. Even though any half-awake phone monkey could have told you this if you bothered to check before buying the widget.). I'm unjustly accused of betrayal on a weekly basis

Also too frequently, I'll discover during a call that the customer has not been completely forthcoming in what has actually happened; a betrayal of trust. Once, a person tried to pull a Dilbert on me by pretending to take the actions I requested of him instead of actually doing what I asked him to do. His charade fell apart when I asked him to tell me exactly what he saw on his screen. He terminated the call shortly thereafter.

Uh-oh. Out of time.

Well, car sales is kind of self-explanatory in this case anyhow.

by jal 10:41 PM

They left me here to die, and so after awhile I thought, okay, fine, fuck them, I’ll die. But they wouldn’t make it that easy. They didn’t leave anything behind them. No weapons, no tools, no easy way out. Just me. Just me and this goddamn empty room. There are no windows, and there are no doors. The walls are padded and perfectly smooth. Sometimes I can barely see where they meet the ceiling or the floor.

I don’t know how they locked me in here, but they said it was a punishment that befit my crime. They said I was a terrible man and needed to be locked away. I could not be given the opportunity again to escape. So they stripped me of my rank and my clothes and they tossed me in here, this little nowhere cocoon, where they would never have to look at me again, where the only thing I will ever die of, it would seem, is boredom or old age.

I must have been unconscious when they made the modifications to my body. I remember very little. A doctor’s voice, a sharp pain, a guard standing over me. I do not know how they did it, but they changed me, made different than I was. Perhaps they used my own research against me so that they could say that all those “innocents” had not died in vain. I am beyond the point of caring how. Knowing the methods they used would not make me hate them any less. It would not free me from this hole.

So I have become…different. They ripped the nails from my fingers and toes, and in three years they have not grown back. I will not be allowed to use them to gouge into my wrists or cause myself harm. My teeth are also gone, but then so, too, is any need or desire to eat. I have not been hungry since they put me here, I have had nothing to eat or drink since before the surgery, and yet I do not die. I cannot die. I will not be allowed even to starve myself. I have been modified. I do not even shit or piss. I simply rot.

As I say, I have been here now for three years, and it is only my hatred of my captors that has kept me sane. They do not know what they have done. I will force them to pay. I will escape, as I have done before, and I will make them reverse whatever process has allowed my own body to betray me. I will show them things much, much worse than locked rooms and surgical procedures. I will make them fear me once again.

They cannot keep me here forever. I will find a way out. Or I will find a way to die.

by Fred 10:15 PM

It was a ballsy plan, but those are the best kind, right? Let me lay it out for you.

Playing the part of the sultry jewel thief, I would swim out to the Don's yacht in scuba gear, board the ship, and ditch the gear. I would get as far as Don Giovanni's private cabin, while he entertained swanky guests with cocktails on deck. Once inside, I would blow the safe, alerting the Don and his goons to my presence.

Caught like a dumb blond thing, my pockets full of diamonds, I would be roughly escorted on deck and brought before the Don. When the extent of my affront was revealed, Jimmy, the big lug, would suggest, "Boss, let's shoot 'er, stuff 'er in a trunk, and dump 'er overboard." Then he would guffaw unintelligently. The Don would surely agree with this course of action, impressing his guests with his zero-tolerance for being crossed.

Then, with my pockets still full of diamonds, Jimmy would shoot me in the bullet-proof vest, dump me into a water-tight chest, and kick the thing overboard, while I protect my dumb blond head. Later, Jimmy would come by in a motorboat, fish me out of the drink, and we'd take off to Rio, our pockets full of diamonds. All I would have to do is sit in a box and not panic.

Only, the alarm on my watch went off 40 minutes ago, and I'm still adrift. Water-tight boxes are also air-tight, and it's getting pretty warm in here. I hope Jimmy was just play-acting during the big shooting scene, when he winked at that redhead. I'm not so sure she was.

by Sharon 4:30 PM

yeah, I wanted this to be last week, when I thought I was topicizing one day and it turned out to be the day before.



by rocketo 2:47 AM

{Tuesday, August 13, 2002}

I believe in the technology.

I believe in the technology. I've read the white paper. I know this will work. I've seen it work. I'll be fine. I believe in the technology.

Have I really seen it work? I mean, how would you know if the monkeys became retarded? Or maybe they've had dramatic personality changes. Or even subtle ones. How would we know? "Yesterday I thought my name was Alestaire. Today I'm quite sure it's Bobo." How would you test for a personality disorder in a monkey?

This is dumb. I believe in the technology. I know it'll work. It's just like going to sleep. It'll just get cold, my body will slow down, and then I'll wake up, and it'll be three hours later, and I'll just have a case of the shakes. I'll be fine. Fine.

This chamber is like a coffin.

I can do this. I have to get through this. I'll be fine. I think I can see my breath. I wish I could move my arms. God, it's tight in here. Is it getting colder? Man, I've got goosebumps. Goosebumps? It's not supposed to be so gradual. Are they managing the controls right? They're gonna damage my cells if they make this a liesurely stroll down the thermometer. Damage my brain. What are they doing?! God, it's just cold. Now my teeth are chattering. Dammit, it's tight in here. Not enough air. They're not driving this right. Aren't they checking my vitals? Dammit, look what you're doing wrong! Help! How can I get out of here? I can't even move my arms. Christ, I'm cold. This isn't right!

by Sharon 11:59 PM

"You may not know this, but it's been proven that slowly bringing items down to extremely cold temperatures, leaving them there for an extended period of time, and then gradually thawing them out makes them work better. I used to work for the company that pioneered this technique. We've frozen Stradivarius violins and other musical instruments, processors, and even a huge lot of pantyhose for an eccentric movie star."

"Uh, huh. So what does this have to do with why you called me here?"

"So I figured out a better way to do it. A way to chill the items much, much colder. Unfortunately, I had a three-year non-compete clause in my contract. That's why I quit. I've spent the past two years building my device and testing it, preparing to launch my company."

"And this is why I'm standing in a warehouse with a big pile of mechanical rubble in the middle of it?"

"Well, I made some improvements last night and tested it. It worked too well. Last night I reached absolute zero!"

"Uh huh."

"Absolute zero!"

For all the reaction, he could have told the reporter that he'd made grilled cheese last night.

"Look, absolute zero is the coldest that anything can get. At that point, theoretically anyway, all motion stops - even at a molecular level."


"When the machine reached that point, the materials that made up the internal freezing chamber just fell apart. It disintegrated into its component parts - completely vanished. I've made a disintegration chamber!"

"Oh. I bet it's really useful for getting rid of garbage then."

"May I have your boss' phone number? I need a smarter reporter."

by jal 9:59 AM

Louise, if you please,
Has a chronic disease,
Which she caught overseas
By eating bad peas and cheese.
It can cause her to wheeze
And to freeze at the knees
Or to be seized with a sneeze
Without a reprieve.
She’s quite ill at ease
On the flying trapeze,
And displeased to be seized
With a sneeze or a freeze
When climbing up trees
To seize and tease bees,
Which nobody sees
Why she does anyway.
But that’s just Louise,
Or so they all say.

by Fred 9:29 AM

Since it's supposed to reach 98 in NYC today...


by Faith 8:54 AM

{Monday, August 12, 2002}

CC: Roger.
CC: Phoenix, this is Cape Cap Com.
P: This is Phoenix. Go ahead, Cape.
CC: Phoenix, ah, recommend you go to reentry attitude at this time.
P: Roger.
P: Cape, this is Phoenix.
CC: Go ahead, Phoenix.
P: This is Phoenix. I'm switching to fly-by-wire. Thrusters still aren't maintaining attitude, mostly in yaw. What the hell was that?
CC: Say again.
P: Cape, this is Phoenix. Some fire ball just flew past the window here.
CC: Say again, Phoenix. A fire ball?
P: Affirmative, Cape.
CC: Phoenix, this is Cape. Ah, you haven't hit atmosphere yet. No fire balls, Phoenix.
P: Ah, roger.
CC: Phoenix, this is Cape.
P: Go ahead, Cape.
CC: Phoenix, we have confirmation on your fire ball. We're detecting a bogey. It's not part of your capsule, based on trajectory and mass.
P: Cape, this is Phoenix. Ah, what is it?
CC: Unknown at this time, Phoenix. It is in rapid descent. We are tracking its--oh my God.
P: Cape, this is Phoenix.
P: Cape, this is Phoenix. Over.
P: Hello, Cape. This is Phoenix. Over.
P: Cape, this is Phoenix. Over.
P: Hello, Cape.
P: Hello?

by Sharon 11:59 PM



“Wha…? Good god I did it! I really, really did it! I summoned a god damn, real-life, straight from hell demon!!”

“Yup, pretty much so sport. So, um what’d ya want?”

“What, oh, um you mean why’d I summon you and all that?”

“Yeah, what can I do you for?”

“Wait a minute, first off, you can’t touch me right? I mean, I’ve got the pentagram, the salt, the holy water and diamonds at each point of the star. So, like, I covered everything right? You can’t like, come over here and kill my ass or anything?”

“Oh, well actually all that stuff there, that’s all crap.”


“It’s all crap. Doesn’t do a thing.”

“But, but, the ashes of oak?”


“The Babylonian glyphs?”


“The candles?”


“The 13 silver coins in the mouth of a dog?”

“What? Wow, that’s a new one on me. But, well, it’s crap.”

“So, so, you could just walk over here and turn my heart into a rat and torture my soul for a thousand years and a day? You could turn my tongue into rotted flesh.?”

“Euww, jeez stop already that’s friggin gross! Look, we don’t really do any of that stuff.”


“Dude, it’s all just bad pr started by the Christian-types.”

“No shit? Man, I sold my car to buy these stupid diamonds!”

“Wow, sorry; that’s harsh.”

“Damnit! This stuff cost me a fortune just so I could summon and control a demon. Aaargh! I bet you don’t give out supernatural powers either?! Um, say, you’re standing a lot closer now.”


“I, ah, shouldn’t have kicked those diamonds across the room huh?”


by Shawn 11:37 PM

"Hello, Hello, Hello, How Low?" said the voice, which I had heard a million times before, on the radio. Yes, I had finally broken down and gotten Nirvana's Nevermind from some record club. This was a couple years after Cobain's death ("Might as well buy the legend while it's still on sale), and my first botched attempt at broadening my musical horizons. I think I can remember most of the CD's I got. Some Megadeth CD (Symphony of Destruction?), Green Day's Dookie, Blues Traveller's Four (this was before 'Runaround' blew up, one of the few times I've been ahead of the curve), and Beck's 'Odelay', TWO Pantera(!) albums, and a hefty chunk of the early REM catalog. The only ones I still own are the REM CD's, and they're in pretty bad condition. I still like Nirvana, but I never really connected with the music in the way so many others did. I don't think I really started liking music until I got into college.

Scrap that, I didn't really have a musical identity until I got to college and was able to listen to my freshman roommate's record collection. I decided I didn't really care for his rather vast ska collection, although some of the indie/punk crossover stuff he had was interesting. Railroad Jerk and Skeleton Key are two that stick in my mind. He had a copy of Blur's 'Parklife', and while I grew to like Blur (thanks to my introduction to 'Song 2' by our very own Mr. Nihil, who referred to it as 'the woo-hoo song') I never really got into 'Parklife', too synth-ey and overproduced.

I think my mistake with the record club, ultimately, was to listen too much to what my friends liked, and order based on that instead of on what sounded interesting to me. Now I'm an indie rock guy, I guess, but I don't own any tight t-shirts, chunky glasses, or moldy sweaters. But I've never really dressed the part of anything except a person who doesn't really like wearing clothes all that much. I guess that's really a discussion if someone posts 'Naked' as a topic.

by Remi 11:15 PM

[I'm not really happy with this, but it kept pouring out of me, so here we go...]

This morning, I woke up and no one was there. For a minute I thought -- I don’t know what I thought. That Kay was in the bathroom or in the kitchen, maybe making breakfast. She works the late shift at the hospital on Monday and usually likes to sleep in before it, but she wasn’t in bed, and the rest of the apartment was empty. The eggs she bought yesterday were still in the refrigerator. There wasn’t any note. She wasn’t making breakfast.

I wasn’t worried. It was strange, but I was still only half-awake, and I thought maybe I had forgotten something. Maybe last night she said she was going somewhere. I tried calling the hospital -- maybe they beeped her -- but no one answered. After ten or twelve rings, I got the hospital’s answering service. I thought that, too, was a little strange. Monday mornings are pretty slow at the hospital according to Kay. That’s why she works the late shift. You don’t see the action until after eight. I left a message anyway.

I poured myself a glass of milk. I thought maybe she went to her mother’s. The car was still outside, and I couldn’t figure out why she’d go anywhere at this hour, but I tried the number just the same. There was no answer. The machine picked up and I left another message. A few minutes later, I tried Kay’s sister upstate. Maybe someone was sick, I thought. Maybe someone had died. Maybe someone had called while I was asleep and Kay had run off in a panic, forgetting to wake me. Maybe it wasn’t serious. Maybe it was. The phone rang and rang. Eventually I just hung up.

I left the empty glass in the sink and finished getting dressed. I searched the apartment for any sign of a note, any clue. She’d call any minute now, I thought. But there was nothing. I tried knocking on our neighbor’s door across the hall. Then the neighbors upstairs. Then downstairs. I tried calling the rental office, the hospital again, Kay’s friend Julia whose number I had to dig out of the bottom of Kay’s purse. No one answered.

I sat by the phone. I turned on the television to watch the morning news. Kay would call any minute now, I thought. Only she didn’t. And there was no morning news. Some of the channels were still running programs, but nothing live. Nothing with people.

I think that’s when I first really noticed how quiet it was. By ten, in the summer, the building is usually awash in noises. Across the hall, Murray’s kids are usually playing or watching television. Phones will ring, half-heard conversations will be muffled by walls and float down through vents. But this morning, there was nothing.

And there were no cars on the road outside. There was no one. I tried the hospital again. By then, I’d been awake maybe an hour and a half. Kay hadn’t called. Her purse was still here. There was no one outside. There was no one in the building. The phone didn’t ring. I decided I would swing by the hospital and see for myself. Maybe they would know something. I grabbed the keys and went out the door.

The roads were empty. Completely deserted. That never happens on a Monday in August, even at ten, even after the morning rush hour. There’s always someone. Today there was no one. The parking lot at the hospital was almost empty, and I could have sworn it was filled with the same cars that had been there last night when I picked Kay up from work. The building was empty. All the buildings were empty. There wasn’t a doctor, or a nurse, or a patient on any of the floors or in any of the rooms into which I wandered. There was no one. I was alone.

I went home, and no one had called. There were no messages on the machine. Kay was gone. Everyone was gone. I sat by the phone. She would call. She didn’t call. I don’t know what I’m going to do.

by Fred 10:33 PM

Looking back on our history of contact with extra-dimensional entities, it's amazing we ever managed to begin productive contact with any of them given their ways of trying to initiate greetings:

  • The Bar-Rattler Fandom: They're part-plant, part-animal chimerae who greet each other by ripping off a chunk of flesh and feeding it to the target of their greeting. It took them a long time to realize that were weren't trying to be rude - we just didn't grow back lost parts as quickly as they did.
  • The Cora-Bora: An entire race of beings with no tangible bodies to speak of. They're more like intricate lattices of charged particles trapped in self-altering energy fields. To say hello to each other they intertwine their fields, creating an intense cooperative magnetic field. This happens to have the unfortunate side-effect of turning the corporeal turning the corporeal form of the person being greeted inside out. Our first encounters were predictably messy.
  • The Aglomerate Mind of 21-483: An entire dimension occupied by only one (so far) massive self-aware entity with many different component drones. The loss of an Aglomerate drone is as trfiling to it as the loss of a fragment of hair. Fortunately, only three ambassadors were disected before it realized that we were not a community mind like it is.

If that surprises you, you'll be amazed how many races are offended by a friendly wave.

by jal 9:06 PM

"Hello?" she said, tentatively picking up the phone. So much had gone wrong this morning, and it was only 8:30. So much morning left to fall apart around her. And then there was the afternoon, yet to come...

"I'm so glad you're there!" A man's voice cut into her reverie; she tried rather unsuccessfully to place his voice.

"Aaah, yes. I am. Er, what can I do for you?" Shannon struggled to not lose her place in the document she had been writing when the phone interrupted so rudely.

"What do you mean, 'What can I do for you!' Shannon, don't you remember me? I know it's been a few years, but I figured you would at least be happy to know I'm still alive!"

Been a few years ... male ... obviously thinks we were close ... Oh. My God. That can't be Brad, can it? "Brad??"

"Yes, SugarCakes, of course it's me! Who else would you expect -- you know there was never anyone for you but me."

"Oh. Right. You mean you didn't get yourself killed yet?" Shannon wanted nothing more than to end this conversation, but somehow Brad missed the disappointment in her tone. "And how did you get my number, anyway?"

"That was easy, HoneyBuns, I know your mother's maiden name. You can buy anything on the internet these days. So when can I move in?"

"Aaah, listen Brad, I have to go now. I have to get this document out by noon and I'm way behind schedule. So we can talk later, okay?"

"But SweetiePie, I..." click Shannon hung up the phone without waiting for his answer and immediately dialed again.

"Hello, you have reached Ma Bell Phone Service. Press one for billing inquiries. Press two to move your phone to a new address or to change your existing number. Press..."


by Faith 5:12 PM


by Fred 4:29 PM

{Sunday, August 11, 2002}

“When did you receive this message?”

“A little over eighteen months ago, sir. We had to confirm its authenticity and point of origin. We were, of course, skeptical at first. We’ve spent most of the time since confirmation attempting to decipher it. We weren’t sure it even was a language, but—”

“But last night you broke the code.”

“Yes, sir. It would seem so. It’s a little cryptic, but…well, part of the team in New Mexico came up with it. They’ve been running the message back and forth through their computers for months. Last night it finally translated.”

“And you’re certain of the point of origin?”

“Yes, sir, we believe so. It’s in the neighborhood of the star system indicated on the map in front of you there. It does, of course, mean the message was sent more than one hundred years ago.”

“I don’t understand. A hundred years ago? Why would they bother? Whoever they are, they couldn’t have possibly known we’d be advanced enough to understand—”

“We don’t believe the message was meant for us, sir. At the time it was sent, we hadn’t even begun sending radio waves into space. Nothing we’ve transmitted since would have reached these people yet. It’s altogether possible they didn’t even know of our existence.”

“Then I’m confused. What does this message from the past say?”

“Just this, sir: when you arrive, proceed with the plan.”

“So what are you telling me?”

“I don’t know, sir, but…we think they may already be here.”

by Fred 10:34 PM

I was taking a morning stroll through the woods behind my house. Early fog still clung to the tree branches. I was startled to realize I had nearly walked into a deer—we were both ambling so contentedly that we hadn't noticed each other. I froze, she froze, we blinked at each other. Then she made up her mind and sprang away into the woods.

I spent a few minutes gathering myself back into the mundane world and marveling at the beauty that grazed just beyond my yard. And then, still looking where the deer had stood, I saw a small piece of something man-made, clearly something not native to the woods. I crouched down over it and saw that it was a piece of earthenware pottery, buried at the base of a tree.

Delighted by my find, I dug it up. It was a small clay pot, with a tight-fitting cork crammed into its mouth. I slipped the blade of my pen knife along the side of the cork, to pry it free. I held it back from my face, to avoid the very ancient air that gasped into these modern woods.

There was a small scrap of cloth inside. I pulled it out and held it in the palm of my hand, puzzled by it in the early morning light. In my own handwriting, it gave one instruction: "Say no, Sharon."

My own handwriting? I hadn't buried this pot. I'd never seen it before. And the fabric and the pottery were quite ancient. This was an elaborate joke, and it was a weird one.

I was still running through the names of who might think this would be amusing when a stark flash preceded the unlikely appearance of a phone-booth-sized machine amongst the trees. A door began to open in the side of the machine.

by Sharon 9:41 AM


<blockquote class="topic">your topic</blockquote>