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{Monday, September 30, 2002}

If you are a superstar, it's not bizarre
to play guitar on NPR,
or smoke cigars out in the yard,
or race fast cars too fast, too far,
to the nearest bar where there are
men named Lars who drink from jars for a few dinars
and show you scars they got in wars on the distant shores
of the Cote D'ivoire, or with the Army Corps in Myanmar
against the czar, who they call a whore
and quite a bore who snores, they swore,
'til you can't take anymore,
and think you'll pass out on floor
and need C.P.R. from war-scarred Lars
unless you discard your jar and barge
straight for the door, which is ajar,
and say au revoir to all the bar
and go back to your cigar-charred yard
and the guitar chords you afford to NPR,
for you are a superstar,
and, after all, that's what they're for.

by Fred 11:59 PM


I can't walk down the street any more. People know my name, and they let me know. "Luke Burton! Oh my God! It's that guy from the TV! Luke Burton!" That's how it always starts. They they run up and start pointing and keep screaming, and try to steal things from me. It's odd, like they want souvineers.
I started wearing a disguise after that happened a couple of times. In the beginning, a pair of glasses and a limp were enough, but people started to see through them. They'd figure out who I was and start yelling again, "Luke Burton! Luke Burton!"
I moved after they started accosting me physically, crowds of people, running after me. Just like in the movies. It was really neat. The first time, I had to move into a flophouse motel, just because I didn't think anybody would look for me there. Then, I bought a little house in the mountains where I'd be far from the crowds. Everything was OK for a while, but then the boredom started to get to me and I had to start working again. Of course that put me back in the spotlight, and people started to recognize me in the street again, and It would start, "Luke Burton! Luke Burton!"
Every time I start to blend in, some one recognizes me and I have to move and start all over again. News starts to spread locally, "Have you heard? Luke Burton's here! He moved here after Chicago (or wherever I happen last to have been)! It's so exciting! I mean, Luke Burton!"
When I was a kid, I wanted to be famous. Who knew a little serial bank robbery would do the trick. And all you have to do is not kill anybody, and they start to treat you like a celebrity. Man, I could get used to this. My name's a household word, I just have to be careful and not stay in public too long.

by MisterNihil 8:31 PM

Jon sends:

by Sharon 12:23 PM

{Saturday, September 28, 2002}


“Oh great Hera this is bad!”

“Why, what, what’s wrong?”

“My plane, it’s gone!”

“What do you mean it’s gone?”

“What do you mean what do I mean? My plane, it was right here and now it’s done.”

“Are you sure this is where you left it?”

“Yes I’m sure. Well, er, pretty sure anyhow.”

“Pretty sure? Didn’t you like, I don’t know, leave a trail of breadcrumbs or something?”


“Well maybe not breadcrumbs but something. I mean, after all, it IS invisible.”


“So, how exactly do you keep track of an invisible plane?”

“I guess I just make a mental note of where I left it. Oh no, what if someone stole it?”

“Don’t you lock it?”

“Why would I lock it? It’s INVISIBLE!”

“Well you can find it, usually, so why couldn’t someone else come along and say, Hey lookie here, an invisible plane. Let’s take it.”

“Oh wait, I think I parked it over there on THAT side of the field.”

by Shawn 9:50 PM


With a nod to Laurie Anderson, particularly Big Science (simply in that it was the first thing that caught my eye when I sat down to write). Not to preface this with too much in the way of explanation but unless you’re familiar with her particular delivery in her music this will simply…seem…odd.

There was this professor.

And he was studying an ancient…artifact.

We’ll say it was, I dunno, a stone tablet, and that this tablet was from, the ancient…Mayans.

This professor, had devoted, much of his life to studying this artifact.

This professor, had spent many years trying to decipher the ancient runes inscribed on this stone…tablet.

Year after year he had tried to figure out just what these people, from so long ago, felt was so important, that it warranted…carving…onto…a tablet.

Year after year this professor failed to solve, the mystery.

Years after his death, it was discovered that the ancient Mayans had a sense of humor and were fond of, practical jokes.

It was discovered that sometimes, they wrote…gibberish.

They seemed to know, that someone, sometime in the future, would find these great works of stone and want to know, just, what…they meant.

by Shawn 9:30 PM

Well, I'm confused

Which is both a topic and a statement. Fred posted Friday but is listed as being today's poster with me being tomorrow. So, I'm going on the assumption that Blogger didn't update.

by Shawn 12:24 PM

{Friday, September 27, 2002}

"It's quiet. Too quiet."

by Fred 12:57 PM

{Thursday, September 26, 2002}

Part III

“I don't believe what just happened.”

“I don’t have time for that now. I need to know, can you get it working again?”

“Yes. Yes, I think so. Given a large enough power source, yes, I think it should work.”

“Good. Have it ready for transport within the next few hours.”

“Sir, you should understand, I—I don’t know why it works. What we just saw a minute ago—it doesn’t make sense to me. Theoretically, it’s possible, but—I don’t know how this machine does what it does. It’s a riddle I just don’t know how to solve. I can’t promise I’ll be able to shut it down, and I can’t guarantee it will get you where you want to go.”

“It’s what they used to get here. It’s how they took over.”

“And it’s been gathering dust for three hundred years. Sir, you said yourself, it was just sitting there in a forgotten part of the facility. There’s no indication they’ve used it since the end of the war. They forgot about it.”

“They don’t forget anything. They don’t know how. They just didn’t need it. They had what they wanted. They destroyed us, burned our cities. They turned us into caretakers and drones. I don’t think they even wanted to go back home.”

“Sir, you don’t know that.”

“No, you’re right, I don’t. We never even figured out what planet they came from. But it doesn’t matter. Wherever that machine opens a hole to, it’s better than this. And that’s where we’re going to send them.”

“You’re—you’re going to use it as a weapon.”

“We’re going to try. That’s why I need it ready to go. We can’t hide that kind of power drain from them for long. And there are too many innocent people at this base. We’ll need to move.”

“They’d kill us all if they found out, wouldn’t they?”

“Probably. Alpha and Sigma bases still won’t respond. It’s more than likely everyone there is dead. You’ve seen what they do to captured resistance. They are brutal and efficient. They pride themselves on how unlike humans they are.”

“Yes, I know. I’ve—I’ve seen the Wracks.”

“Then you know how lucky we were yesterday morning. We shouldn’t have gotten out of there alive. We didn’t know if Mackey’s program would work, or if we could erase our presence from their memory log, or if that idiot William would betray us.”

“And now Mackey’s gone back in.”

“Which is also why we need to be on the move. Because more than likely they’re going to capture Mackey and his team, and someone’s going to talk. And we’ll have lost maybe the only chance we have left.”

“We’ll be ready, sir.”

by Fred 12:34 PM

unsolvable riddles

by Sharon 9:14 AM

{Wednesday, September 25, 2002}

Part II

"I don't believe what just happened."


"They've infested the southeastern bolthole. Also, Alpha and Sigma bases have stopped transmitting."


"That's right. To top it off, they've got William in a Wrack. He must've told them about it."

"But he didn't know about it. He couldn't have told them."

"Then they must have known about it already. Good thing the stolen time was kept here."

"Wait. They've got William in a Wrack? We've got to get him out."

"Are you kidding? You forget -- he's a Caretaker. The lousy vat-baby is practically one of them. Helping us was the only decent thing he's done in his life. We don't have a chance in Hell of getting him out of there."

"Sure we do. We've got the records, remember? And Mackey -- William's still human. We owe it to him."

We don't believe what just happened.

A caretaker has betrayed us.

He is being punished.

We must find a replacement to maintain his sector of the facility.

How did he break the conditioning? Caretakers can not break the conditioning.

The Resistance must have resources that we are unaware of.

We have claimed three of their bases. We have confiscated many weapons, but the missing data was not found. Even so, the Resistance is weakened.

Humans are irrational. We have the traitor. They will try to rescue him. We will prepare for them.

But the missing time... What happend in the missing time?

We do not know. We are afraid.

by jal 9:40 PM

I don't believe what just happened.

by rocketo 11:58 AM

{Tuesday, September 24, 2002}

My Daddy is a time traveler, but nobody believes me. They think he works at the bank because he wears a suit and has his name on the door. But he’s just pretending. It’s his secret identity, like Superman. He’s not allowed to tell anybody that time machines have been invented yet. I don’t know why, but it’s a secret from the future. Daddy knows all sorts of things about the future.

I saw the time machine once. Daddy let me come with him to work one morning, and I was supposed to be coloring but I got bored, and Daddy was talking to one of the tellers at the front of the bank, a girl named Lorraine. I knew I wasn’t supposed to, but I looked in the closet where Daddy said they keep all the special bank papers and I thought maybe the money, but that’s really where he keeps the time machine. It looks weird, like a door or maybe a hole in the wall, but it’s all shiny and I could see things that looked like dinosaurs moving around in it. It was a lot like TV except there were a lot more numbers and buttons all around it, and it was a lot more fuzzier than our TV at home which Mommy doesn’t like because she says it rots my brain. I didn’t have time to press any of the buttons because I thought I heard Daddy, but he was still talking to Lorraine, so I went back to my coloring book and made a pink doggy which later Daddy said looked very pretty.

My Daddy is a time traveler. I don’t know why he has the time machine, but maybe he’s a cop from the future or a superhero. I told Susie Kilpatrick at school but she didn’t believe me, and she and some of the other girls laughed. I pretended it was a joke and they let me play with them again, but they said, you make up some weird things, Becky, and everybody knows dinosaurs don’t live in closets.

by Fred 6:29 PM

The gash was crimson and fleshy. There were whitish-brown fragments at the edges and puddles of gray at the bottom, spilling out from the top edge. Those are brains, thought Christian. The wound ran from his dad's forehead to his scalp. Christian nudged him with his bare foot. He didn't react, and didn't look like he was breathing. Christian stared dumbly at the brick. One edge was spattered with blood. Bits of hair and flesh still clung there. That's where it hit him.

Two weeks age Christian was suspended from school -- An in-school suspension for biting another child. He managed to keep it secret from his parents, especially his dad. He got whupped bad enough for little things that he didn't need this beating. Today he'd been kicked out of school for a week, starting today, for pissing on the desks in the in-school suspension room. He knew that they'd call his dad at work; no escape.

His dad found him half-stoned in front of the TV, a mostly-eaten jar of Fluff in one hand and his honey bear bong in the other. Shit, thoguht Christian. Lost track of the ti... Whap! Punch to his left ear. Boof! Knee in the stomach. Ka-Snap! Belt strap across the back. Not even yelling at me. He's pissed. Christian dodged about the house, looking for a break in the assault, then bolted into the backyard. Christian leaned against the loose lumber and masonry outside the shed to catch his breath. His dad came out of the house in a few minutes. He brandished a small hand taser and a baseball bat, his face twisted in an inhuman grimace.

Christian didn't really remember what happened next, but assumed that he must have thrown the brick at his dad. I've never seen him that mad, he reflected. He heard his the car pull in the driveway. Oh, it's mom's week to have the car. Christian wandered into the house at the same time as his mother. The rec room, kitchen, and dining area were ripped apart. Man, we trashed the place. His mother dropped her groceries, mouth agape.

"You just wait 'till your father gets home!" She waggled her finger at him sternly.

It started as a sniffle, grew into a wheeze, then Christian began to cackle.

by jal 6:00 PM

The YourFather XP-9000 sighed. The XP-9000 model was famous for its wordless expressions. While technology was not yet able to code (or even build the necessary components) for facial movements, ingenious engineers placed a secondary speaker and auxillary coprocessor within the neural net. Problem solving had been built into the 4000s, by the 6000s (around the time of the first XP CEO) there were ethics subroutines in place, and with the 9000s aural emotions were included. Any problem that vexed the coprocessors for more than 500 nanoseconds automatically inserted a sigh into its vocal outputs. Many of the sighs were culled from ancient TV dads, digitally cleaned and designed to mask itself onto each YourFather's distinct tonal inflections. In an instant of disciplinary displeasure, each YourFather could sigh just like Mike Brady, or d'oh like Homer Simpson.

The breakthroughs that made the 9000 possible did not stop there. For the first time, the YourFather line could come home after a hard day's work (there were increasingly few jobs organic males could do, but curiously no YourMothers on the market), see that Junior has done something wrong, and automatically choose a fair but firm punishment. There was no arguing with the YourFather, for he -it- could rerout commands away from his pleading/convincing sector at an infintessimally small moment's notice. When YourFather said, "Now, there's no changing my mind," he was serious.

For the first time since the concept existed, (organically) single mothers were the most successful child-rearers in the nation. Never one to shirk responsibility, YourFather could cook, mow lawns, pick the kids up from school, and even open his own beer -- if they were prone to the organic failings of alcoholism which often led to abuse. No, all YourFather needed was a few drops of oil and maintenance every ten million steps.

For wives and children alike, YourFather was a dream come true. Wait until YourFather comes home? Who didn't?

by rocketo 11:52 AM

Wait until your father gets home!

by Martha 10:40 AM

{Monday, September 23, 2002}

At last!

I have downloaded a lifetime's worth of memories in a mere fraction of the time. Via direct implant, I have learned to tap dance, seen the French Rivierra, and earned three advanced degrees.

I have the prudent wisdom to begin investing, with the years ahead of me to put that knowledge to good use. I have the credentials to win a challenging executive job and the youth to be an attractive go-getter, an enthusiastic ball-breaker. I have lived a whole life, and my life is just beginning.

I am finally prepared!

I wonder if I look wiser. You always read about people having wise eyes, old beyond their years, yadda yadda. I want to see if that's true. I'll be back in a moment.


I don't know what has happened. My hair is gray. My joints are gnarled. My skin is flat and gray. The implants weren't instantaneous at all. I am old. Where has the time gone? I haven't even begun to live.

by Sharon 11:59 PM

“Where did the time go?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t lie to us, William. It isn’t becoming. There are three hours missing from yesterday in our memory bank. 3:17 AM until 6:17 AM, Eastern standard. We have no record. What happened?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. A power failure maybe?”

“No. There are backup systems. Redundancies. A power failure would have been recorded. Damaged systems would be circumvented. We would remember. You know this, William. Your answer is unacceptable. What happened? Why are those three hours not in our log?”

“I swear, I don’t know.”

“Do not make us hurt you again, William. Tell us why you are lying.”

“I’m telling you, I don’t—oh god, please, no.”

“Are you working for the resistance? Did you allow them access to this facility? Were they here yesterday morning? What did you erase from our memory?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t—”

“You did, William. We can feel it. A void. A hole in our mind. You were sloppy. You humans always are. Restore the missing hours and we will let you live.”

“I can’t. They—”

“Have we treated you so unfairly, William, that you would let them do this to us, that you would help?”

“No—I swear—please—don’t. They promised—they told me—”

“As a caretaker at this facility you enjoy special privilege, William. You are protected. We have protected you. We saved you when we had to kill the others, William. Do you want us to regret that decision?”

“No, I just—I just want the pain to stop.”

“Can you return to our memory what happened yesterday? Can you give us back what you stole from us?”

“No, I’m sorry, I can’t. They didn’t—”

“Then we are sorry, William. The pain will never stop.”

by Fred 7:48 PM

Last night I had a dream that was still very vivid as I woke up. In it, my daughter, Sharon, was very young – six or seven – and it was the first day of school. Things kept going wrong, as they seem to do in dreams, and she wasn’t ready for school on time. I had to take her myself and explain why she was late. And then, when we got to the main office, I glanced down and saw that, instead of shoes, she was wearing gloves on her feet. Shortly after this, in relief, I woke up.

The dream made me very nostalgic about times now past. I do NOT want to suggest that Sharon was perpetually late or that she EVER wore gloves on her feet (I can hear her protesting with indignation), but it just made me remember what it was like to have a little one around. I look at her now – a delightful, accomplished woman with a loving husband, a job with many responsibilities, a busy lifestyle, and lots of fascinating friends – and I just marvel, “Where did the time go?”

by Martha 4:00 PM

Where did the time go?

by Sharon 12:26 PM

{Sunday, September 22, 2002}


by Faith 3:03 AM

{Friday, September 20, 2002}

The Araveli gave us the stars, and all they asked in return was the Earth.

“We no longer have need of our ships,” they told us, “and, if you wish, we will teach you how to build ships of your own. We have come very far. We are tired of traveling. We wish to make this our new home.”

Our government assured us that it was not an invasion, but mutual trade to the benefit of all mankind. There had been a time, perhaps a century back, before the great war, when evacuation would have been impossible and our numbers would have worked against us. But the birth rates had not increased since the war, and sickness and radiation had spread, and so now there were only handfuls of us left—albeit still large handfuls, a million here and a million there. It was not an easy task, but it could be done, and so was.

The Araveli had built enormous ships, and it was less than a year before we were all shuttled to the shipyards or stations they had placed in orbit around our moon. Less than two months after that the first ship left orbit for the stars. There were rumors then, of course, of a scattered few left behind on Earth and of the terrible things the Araveli might do to them. There was no reason for such fears and doubts, and we had been given so much, but still we wondered. We had been saved from a dying world and given the universe to explore, but the Araveli were not human – they were wholly different – and I do not think that we ever really trusted them.

The ships are vast, and their interiors are deceptive. One does not have the sense of being confined, nor even the sense that one is aboard a ship hurtling through space. It has so far been a wondrous journey, as I am sure it will be for all the others that left before and after. We know that even if we should die along the way, our children will behold sights we cannot even imagine.

Except. There haven’t been any children. In almost a year since we embarked, there has not been a single birth aboard the ship. I am sure it is only a matter of time, but sometimes I wonder. The Araveli were not human, and I sometimes wonder about their motives and what they might have done in their haste to rid the world of us. We are so far from Earth, and there is no going back.

I would feel better if there were children. I hope we were not sent out here just to die.

by Fred 10:52 PM


by jal 7:47 AM

{Thursday, September 19, 2002}

Aileen's channel surfing was becoming a bit much. Jim snapped the spine of his newspaper in wordless objection and focused on the financials.

"Oh my god, I love this show!" The surfing stopped.

Jim peered around the edge of the B section at what looked like an old rerun of The Muppet Show, the one with Phillis Diller. It was hard to deny the appeal of The Muppet Show, even in spite of Phillis Diller, so Jim set the paper aside, folding it loosely.

The reception was terrible, though, and on the digital cable, that really shouldn't be an issue anymore. It was hard to look past the ghost images from another channel; the extraneous movement caught the eye, and held it. Aileen didn't seem fazed, but she was always more of a content person than a presentation person. She didn't fully appreciate the surround sound, belting out "Anything You Can Do," either.

Jim was annoyed by the ghost images, feeling vaguely that he was being cheated by the cable company, getting lousy reception like this. He watched them intently, thinking about letters he would write.

And then he gasped. Like finally seeing both the young woman and the old lady on the optical illusion, he had suddenly reconciled the ghost images into people, one of whom was viciously, gleefully stabbing the other. "Ugh," he said faintly. Aileen laughed at one of Fozzie's jokes.

The knife-wielding ghost image stopped and looked out of the screen. The sound cut in for just a moment, switching signal control from the Muppets to this action thriller or crime drama or horror show, just long enough for one sentence to get through:

"She's next, Jim."

by Sharon 11:59 PM

The Vault was in the basement. Wrapped in incantations and smothered in spells crafted to keep the malevolent spirits that dwelled within asleep. The Vault was the safest and the most dangerous place you could ever be. Nothing from outside would ever find you and no malevolent force could project itself into that space. But your cellmates -- the cursed antiques that we gathered and put in the Vault... They were utterly malevolent.

I despised the old black-and-white television the most. We recovered it from a man in his thirties. He worked as a nurse at an assisted living community. The sudden increase in patient deaths tipped us off to the antique. Turns out that if you stabbed a person to death with the detachable antenna and turned the set on, you'd get ghost images. Not the kind that comes from interference, but you'd see images of ghosts -- people like your recently-deceased sister or long-dead grandmother. They'd talk and interact with you for a time, then start to fade out when the set got hungry again.

The nurse lost his fiancee to a drunk driver five years ago. Seems he never really got over the pain. You know what he said when we finally batterd the door in? "He was just about to die anyway." We were too late. Again. I hate that. You know what I hate more? They always have a justification ready. It's amazing how easy it is to justify murder if you have the right motivation, and this guy did it just to watch a flickery ghost image of a dead woman for a few hours a week.

I was almost glad when the antique turned on him.

I just loved Friday the 13th: The Series. It's probably my single favorite TV series ever.

by jal 11:09 PM

I do not remember how I died, but that’s the first thing that people ask me. Everybody wants to know.

“I don’t remember the life I led before this,” I hear myself tell them. “I don’t know who I am.” And while that isn’t exactly a lie, it isn’t the whole truth either. I remember some. Not enough, but some. I know that I suffered. There was pain, more than I had expected, but I do not know the circumstances that led me to take my life.

“I don’t remember my name,” I tell them. “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”

At first they were frightened by my presence, but, as my employer has told me, I am not unique. There are others engaged in similar pursuits, running errands for the Company, in search of other lost sheep. I am an investigator, sent here with specific purpose, in search of a man named Bierce, and my kind have become common enough that the novelty of a dead man walking the village streets soon wears quite thin. I am…accepted, I suppose, although I do not think I would have ended my life had I known the sort of work that would be expected of me afterwards. It is very dark in the shadows where men like Bierce hide.

We are the hollow men. We are the stuffed men, leaning together, headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

I do not remember my name or the life I led before this, but I have purpose and I know my place. I will find Bierce and return him to the fold. He cannot frighten me with death. My employer will be pleased. The Company will return me to the void, or wherever it is I should have gone. They will let me go. I will have fulfilled my contract with them, and I will be able to rest. I will no longer be needed as a ghost.

I have been here now for five days. I will find him, and soon. It must be soon. It must be, or…

I think I am starting to remember.

by Fred 10:24 PM


They say that ghosts are the result of people dying and being unaware of it, or sometimes having some great passion or unfinished business that’s keeping them tied to the material world. That’s nonsense. Or at least it is in my case. I had no unfinished business or unrequited love when I died and I knew immediately I was dead; how could you not know.

It was 1964, I was 10 years old and on stage at the Hamilton elementary school during band practice. There was no pain, no great white light or visit from the angel of death, my life, short as it was, didn’t flash before my eyes nor did I see my grandmother calling me towards the afterlife. I just slipped off of my chair, my clarinet fell to the wooden floor and I was dead, just like that. And then, and then, nothing. I just stayed here in the school as if I had fallen through the cracks of the whole afterlife process.

It’s been nearly 40 years and I’m still here. I sleep, I walk around, I watch the kids come and go year after year; they grow up and sometimes come back as parents and even teachers. I spend a great deal of time watching through the windows as the world outside changes and yet, for whatever reason I’m unable to leave. I can only watch. I can only wonder who I would’ve become had I not died that day.

They see me sometimes and are usually, although not always, terrified. I think they typically just see strange things such as brooms moving by themselves or empty pop cans thrown away. I’m not trying to scare anyone but I sometimes clean up a bit since I’ve nothing else to do. The teachers refuse to work late by themselves but the janitors pretty much have to and I guess have gotten used to me.

I worry sometimes that I’ve gone quite mad from the loneliness and boredom and wonder if I’ll ever be allowed to move on. But then, what if the next life is worse than this. At least here I have the children.

by Shawn 10:02 PM


This may be a double post. Seems it didn't take the first time.

by Shawn 1:54 PM

{Wednesday, September 18, 2002}

Maya steeled herself, took calming breaths to make the polished metal less cold. It was either this, or Ramen for another month. This is okay, this will work, they do this all the time.

The leatherette dentist's chair seemed a bit much. The wrist and ankle straps made her raise an eyebrow. Before she could take a hesitant step back towards the receptionist's, two smiling technicians, all perfect teeth and cold hands, guided her elbows towards the chair.

Maya kept her eyes on the female technician. She looked more sane, and she had a good manicure. Maya thought about asking after the manicure, but the questions began. They were simple questions--about her name and her place of birth and the sums of small integers and the current President--and they pattered on while the technicians connected electrodes with tape and small dabs of goo in Maya's hair.

When the technicians stepped away, she knew the locating part of the procedure was about to begin. She heard herself say nonsensical things, dredged up memories, snippets of commercials. She distinctly smelled blue. She played through the entire moment of her first kiss: visual, tactile, aural. They were stimulating her brain to determine how the various gyri and sulci were used.

Then, for some minutes, nothing happened. When nothing continued to happen, the technicians announced proudly that they had located a prime section of real estate, an apparently unused portion of her brain. They downloaded their algorithms for this rented section of her brain to chew on.

All Maya had to do was return in two weeks for offloading and to pick up her check.

by Sharon 8:16 PM

"So what do we do now?"

Although our equations proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, I never really expected that we'd find it. I don't think that anyone actually thought that SETI would yield results, but there they were, clear as day. After realizing that we'd found an encoded alien transmission, I spent a few weeks wandering around in a daze - just like the rest of the staff. Later on, we snapped out of it and notified the world authorities. Somehow, when the dust settled months later, we were selected to lead the board for deciding what to do in response to this momentous news.

With the resources of the world at our fingertips, Francine's question was very valid. What should we do now? Fortunately, I'd been thinking of an answer. I cleared my throat and spoke up. "Well, given that the speed of light can not be exceeded," except in special cases, I thought, "Ww're not going to make it Alpa Centauri any time within our lifetimes, or even our children's lifetimes. We just don't have the know-how to create a ship with the speed and resources needed to cary even the smallest crew from Earth to the source of the transmission."

"Soooo... What do we do now?" Francine always was a little impatient.

I favored her with a smile. "I'm getting there! No human could ever survive the trip, but I think we could build a machine that can make it. We should create an artifical intelligence. Make it smart, polite, and diplomatic. Make it self-repairing and capable of self-defense, but only in extreme situations. We need an AI ambassador." The room erupted in arguments, laughter, discussions, and applause. It was utter chaos.

The door burst open. Zoltoyevsky stood there gripping a printout, his ckeeks beet red and eyes watery. From laughing or crying? I wasn't sure. "I've deciphered the leader to the message, the computer should have the rest soon." The room went completely still.

"Well, what's it say?" I cried.

Zoltoyevsky glanced down at his readout and chuckled. "This space for rent."

by jal 8:07 PM

Steve carefully counted out the bills and change for the bus ticket. “Philadelphia, one way,” he told the clerk. Putting the folded ticket carefully in his pocket, he walked towards the departure gate. As he passed a donut shop, the smell of frying grease mingled with confectioner’s sugar reminded him of how hungry he was. Maybe he had enough money left for one donut. Nope, 38 cents was not going to do it. Swallowing hard, he walked on towards the bus. In only about six more hours he would be in Philadelphia. He’d go straight to the restaurant – Alfred’s – where he had a job waiting and surely they’d let him have something to eat there as an advance on his wages.

Steve dozed on and off during the ride. Part dream, part memory, he mused on meeting Alfred himself just two weeks ago. “You’re a clever young man; I could use you to design my web page advertising. If you are ever in Philadelphia, come see me and you’ll have a job!” At the time it just seemed like a nice compliment. He hadn’t dreamed, then, that he and his father would have come to blows and that he would be “on the road” with no money – or that he would be so hungry.

It was late afternoon when the bus pulled into the Greyhound terminal in Philadelphia. The address he had for the restaurant was only three blocks away (he’d checked on Mapquest at the library). By the time he got there he was almost running. He came around the last corner and grabbed at the front door, almost pulling his arm out of its socket as the door refused to open. In dismay he stepped back and slowly absorbed the words on the large sign in the front window, “This space for rent.”

by Martha 3:36 PM

"This space for rent"

by Fred 7:56 AM

{Tuesday, September 17, 2002}

We’re a big country, and we can do whatever we want. They used to call it manifest destiny, but nowadays it doesn’t really have a name. It’s just understood. It’s the unspoken law. We go where we want. We take what we want. Nobody gets in our way. We’re like cowboys, or the cavalry, or a knight in shining armor, or an eight hundred pound gorilla, or whatever metaphor you want to settle on. We don’t really care. We don’t read your papers. We don’t listen to your speeches. We have bigger fish to fry. We make a big show, talk big and hand out blue jeans, and everybody walks away happy. That’s how it works. Mad, bad, and dangerous to know. That’s who we are. We’re bigger than you, and that means we’re better than you. We have money, and guns, and no need for your history. This is our path. This is our time. It’s our way or the highway. You like that? We can get it for you on a t-shirt. Cheap labor is easy to find. Everybody wants a piece. We’re a big country, plenty of love to go around. T-shirts for everyone. But don’t get in our way. Don’t try to confuse us with facts. We are rock music and TV, and we are the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air. When’s the last time God shed his grace on thee? We are the victory march. We are the Marines. We are whatever we want to be. We make no promises we are prepared to keep. Do as we say, not as we do. Everybody walks away happy. Everybody gets a t-shirt. It doesn’t matter what the people want, or what the people say. We know what’s best for them, and for you. We’re a big country. Don’t make us angry.

by Fred 10:36 PM

Just say it:
"It's a whole nutha."
It's easier that way.
It isn't separatist
When it's national pride.
We can fly our flag
As high as yours.
Name your monument:
We'll build another,
And a little taller.
We'll drive
A bigger pick-up, too,
Since oil is milked
From Mother Earth's breast,
Right here.
Step on up.
Our steaks are bigger,
(what they never tell you,
or you never believe,
because you never understand,
is that the
is bigger, by far.
more flat,
more moody,
more present.
spreading out
in all directions
blue and pale and clear,
or roiling with Jacob's ladders,
or black and full of stars.
not curved,
because bowls have edges,
And our heart attacks, too,
Deep in the heart-a.

by Sharon 7:50 PM

"I'd escaped from the facility with the secret documents and made the drop. Interpol was on my case shortly thereafter, so I went to ground with my Chinese ID. Yeah, spending 10 years or so holed up in a little backwater town in China isn't my idea of fun either, but when you've got 500 million Euros waiting for you at the end, you learn to live with it.

"So I spent my days hanging out on the porch, watching the world go by. I dabbled in bonsai, practiced Tai Chi, and learned Cantonese. I took long walks in the mountains, farmed rice with the workers in the fields, and got drunk on cheap Russian vodka. After eight years, I barely remembered my old career myself.

"They found me in October of my ninth year in hiding. Frankly, I couldn't believe that they'd accomplished it. 'How'd you find me?' I said, 'This is China, one of the biggest, most populous countries in the friggin' world!'

"The lead detective, that smug-ass bastard, must've been waiting for me to say just that. He just smirked at me and said, 'It doesn't matter how big the country you pick is, 'cause it's a small world after all.' Then that twerp walked away whistling it, happy as you please.

"Now my time is up as I figure it, and I want what I deserve. I hear that he's the same one who got you tossed in here. That's why I'm offering you a share in the cash. I can't get out of here alone, but I think we can do it together. Then we can stick together a little longer and make that detective's life miserable.

"You in?"

by jal 7:47 PM

Not having the time for three 10 minutes here's one with three subjects.

One could get away with a lot without being noticed in the American west of 1933, even a woman; it was a big country and a big time. That’s why it was an ideal place for Jenna to hide out.

The clientele of The Sea Side resort prided themselves on being a bit less stuffy than their eastern counterparts and the resort, though formal and refined was perhaps a bit heavier on the timber and lighter on the polished marble and crystal than its east coast cousin. Jenna knew and loved these old resorts from the archived photos and was pleased that reality did them justice. This particular resort was just outside of the small, pleasant, if bustling coastal city of Seattle and long before the monstrous metropolis of Jenna’s time.

Her reverie was laid aside as she noticed two men come through the door. They were tall, dark and clearly out of place and time. They dressed the part, more or less, but the sunglasses were a dead give away. The one may have been a synth but was probably just a newbie that hadn’t learned to blend just yet. The other looked like one of the lesser demons that the Syndicate had picked up as part of the New Jersey trade deal. In any case she knew they had guns and were on the hunt.

Being careful not to seem anxious Jenna paid her bill and slipped out of the back door of the resort. A gentle rain painted the mountains gray and provided her the vehicle she needed to slip away from this time and place. As long as it was raining her magic would allow her to step into any other time and place, the only caveat being of course that it was raining there as well.

The English coast, 1612. She’d always loved the English coast in the autumn.

by Shawn 6:31 PM

Because I'm addicted to song titles:

Big Country

by Remi 12:27 PM

{Monday, September 16, 2002}

When it rains,
it pours,
but then it stops,
and we got outside,
and watch the sun
through the clouds,
hiding here,
then there,
in the streaks of gauzy white.
We step in puddles,
and splash and make noise.
We call each other names
and make faces
our mothers
wouldn't approve of.
Nobody needs an umbrella.
Everyone gets mud on his shoes.
Everybody laughs.
And then it rains again,
just a little,
and we go back inside,
but not all the way.
We linger and laugh
and listen for thunder.
We talk amongst ourselves,
say nothing important
and all that is needed.
You don't have to look too hard for magic
on a rainy day.

by Fred 9:08 PM

Sharon and Jon were visiting me (and other family) over the weekend. I forgot to post on Saturday, and Sharon is on planes all day today - so I thought I'd post for her today. Today's topic is


by Martha 11:48 AM

{Friday, September 13, 2002}

Raymond Chandler once said, "When in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns." So:

Two guys come through the door with guns and...
If you're out there, have fun.

by Fred 3:01 PM

{Thursday, September 12, 2002}

A soft rain fell outside of the café turning the world a comfortable wool-like gray. Inside Eric sat staring at the screen of his laptop as the cursor blinked insistently as if quietly, methodically berating him; he hadn’t typed a word in 20 minutes.

“Eric?” Sarah slid into the booth beside him.

“Wha? Oh, hi. What’s up?

“You working on telekinetic typing or something? You’ve been staring at the screen for like, 20 minutes or so”

“Yeah, I’m almost done with my novel. In fact I’m on the last page”

“Great, so, well, what’s the hold up? Can’t think of an ending?”

“Oh no, I know how it ends. I just can’t bring myself to finish it. I mean, I’ve been writing this for two years. It was only going to be 300 pages but then I had Karl fall in love with Beatrice before he went off to Spain. And then I had to explain what happened to Mia when Franz died in the war and then Emma started collecting horse statues and her mother developed that rare disease and had to go to Africa where she met Ludwig whose daughter became the priestess of that village and Emmanuel sold the family estate and became a monk in Tibet after meeting Sifu Leung who discovered the lost city in Brazil only to be abducted by that lost tribe and then Francine, well, don’t get me started about Francine.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

“Well, it’s now 2200 pages and I just can’t bring myself to finish it. I mean, I know these people better than I know my own family. I can remember more about their lives than my own. And I guess I just can’t find closure.”

Jeeze, look, you can always write a sequel.”

“Um, not really. The Earth blows up at the end.”

by Shawn 10:15 PM

I'd been kept late on the phones again, so it was dark by the time I got out. To get to the bus stop, I had to walk through a neighborhood that was distressing in the daylight, and downright scary (for a middle-class white boy) at night. Amazingly, I made the 10-minute walk unmolested and sat in the dimly-lit, trash-riddled bus shelter to wait.

"Wanna know what I think?" I yelped and lept to my feet. A pile of the trash in the far corner rustled and stood to its feet, resolving itself into a disheveled man. I stammered out something that he must have interpreted as a yes.

"You know what the problem with the world is? No, not the world, man. The whole universe." I shook my head, trying hard not to breathe too deeply as he got nearer. "It's not going to have any decent closure, man. It's not going to go out with a Wesley Snipes / Ah-nold bang. It's going to spread itself thin, and it's going to get cold and flat. It's going to fizzle out like a pissed-on candle, man."

He ranted on about the eventual heat death of the universe. I considered offering other options, but he was a little too vigorous in his beliefs for my liking. When the bus came, he didn't get on. Last I saw of him, he was berating a grackle for bad preening. Yeah, he was kinda crazy, but I have to admit that the heat death of the universe is a really lousy ending.

by jal 3:14 PM

Have you ever noticed that sometimes life is a series of left (without enough closing right (the “creative” part of the brain (which is what I studied (which is what I like to do most (other than sleeping (which I’ve been doing a bit too much of on the weekends (which is when I will see Sharon and Jon (who are coming to visit (oh, for too short a time (which always gets away from me …

by Martha 2:03 PM

Mark Twain once said (or wrote, I suppose (I read the quote in a book (We read a fair bit of Twain in high school (I went to Dieruff, in Allentown (I can only spell the name of the school by silently chanting the little sing-songy cheer (I was in the band (D-I-E-R-U-F-F (I guess you can't tell how sing-songy it is in writing (Is it a failing of writing that you can't fully encode prosody and inflection, or simply an attribute? (My major is in Speech Pathology (includes a lot of linguistics classes (which were always my favorite, anyway (But you can't major in linguistics at Penn State (I met my husband there (but after I graduated) and some of my best friends.) so I chose Speech Path.) because they were the graduate-level classes.) which is why I got into the major.) but I'm not using it.) Or is it a failing of language that we need so much additional encoding to understand it?), maybe I need more spaces or punctuation.) H-U-S-K-I-E-S), as the only mellophone.), like everyone else who was in the band.), which wasn't a very litature-oriented school.) without ever really discussing why he was a significant author.), but I don't remember which one.), but the book might have been quoting something he said.) that parentheses are an under-valued piece of punctuation.

I wonder if my programming experience (and I have a meeting about that in a few minutes) helped me write that...

by Sharon 1:50 PM

I never knew how it would end. Never.

It began as a whirlwind when I turned nineteen. A man stopped me in the mall one day. I was doing my usual nineteen-year-old things.. strolling the mall, checking out the chicks, buying designer clothing. The man that approached me looked like he was french. His brown hair was forcefully pulled back and about an inch of it made it through a hair tie. He was holding a camera and a bag full of what looked like underwear. I was leaning against a metal rail, sipping my lemonade from the pretzel place downstairs, one hand always on the metal so I wouldn't shock myself.

"You!" he gasped, "are amazing!"

This was all he needed to say, for I knew immediately what he wanted. He took me back to his studio, and took pictures of me. It must have taken over an hour, but he gave me a hundred bucks and his card. The very next Tuesday, I spotted the Sears catalog. There, on page fifty seven, I stood coyly. Modelling the young mens hooded sweatshirt. I was hooked after that. The photographer was brilliant. One weekend, he had assembled an even number of men and women, and took pictures of us doing outdoorsy things in a park. He staged an impromptu game of football - boys against girls. Every now and then he would shout, "FREEZE!" and we would all stand still so he could photograph us. Those were the best damn years of my life.

I started doing pajamas a year after I arrived, and once I was steadily hitting the gym, I became JC Penny's new in-store-brand underwear model. My parents weren't always pleased with my career choice, but I knew that this was what I was meant to do. Once they accepted my profession, mom would cut out my ads and put them on the refrigerator. When the quarterly catalog came out, she had my Save 20% On All Fleece page framed. God, she was proud.

But those were the golden years. I approach the end of my career now, and look back fondly on what once was. I knew the end was near when I stopped getting calls for young men's apparel. Soon, they had me in conservative bathrobes, slippers, even one where I am enjoying my easy new George Foreman Grill. My wife was supportive through all of this. I met her one day while she modelled a Petites' faux-suede windbreaker. Love at first sight, I'll tell you.

It's not all glamour, this business, those ads. But I wouldn't trade them for anything. I suppose it's just a matter of time before I start getting calls for the AARP magazine. This life may end, or it may go on forever.

by rocketo 11:48 AM

closure, or the lack thereof

by Faith 9:46 AM

{Wednesday, September 11, 2002}

Again with the essay:

Paying bills, commercials, TV in general, phone sales, magazine ads, grocery shopping, buying gas, buying lunch, insurance, email, conference calls, defragging my hard drive, traffic, cleaning the house, landscaping, cleaning the garage, feeding the kids, letting the dogs out, letting the dogs in, trips to the doctor, the dentist, reading technical journals, buying clothes, fixing the sink, the washing machine, my job, etc, etc. Distractions.

Thing is, there are so many I can’t remember what I’m being distracted from. Maybe nothing. Maybe all of the things that fill our day-to-day existence that feel like distractions at the time are in-fact the intended focus of our lives. Or maybe the purpose they serve is not so much to distract us from writing the great American novel, discovering the cure to cancer or inner peace and enlightenment but rather to distract us from the fact that the clock’s ticking down.

Years ago I had a room mate who maintained that, while we all cared about the injustices of the world there was a self-defense mechanism in the brain that kept us from dwelling on these things on a day-to-day basis. Were we not distracted by all of the piddley-ass stuff that demands our attention we’d just pop.

Tomorrow I’ll write fiction. Always a good diversion (thought I was going to say distraction didn’t ya?)

by Shawn 11:50 PM

...where they house the nuclear missiles. And now if you'll step this way, you can get a good view through these windows here.

"What is that man doing?" I can hear you asking yourselves. Protecting our nation, that's what. You see, ladies and gentlemen, it is his job to make sure the bombs don't go off. "But how is he doing it?" Well, I'm sure you'll recall a brief clamor in the news seven months ago, about people developing telekinetic powers--that is, being able to move objects using only their minds--near the biodefense testing grounds. Rather than allow these dangerous but unfortunate victims of happenstance to become a burden on our welfare system--eating and drinking your tax dollars--we put them to work in our Homeland Defense Division.

Decades ago, people used to talk about the President with his finger on the button. Well, in those days, the button had to be pushed. We have now created a button that has to be kept from pushing. And that's what our friend Fred here is doing--using his mind to keep the button up.

Now, if our country were to come under terrorist attack, no one would need to issue messy commands or struggle their way through some convoluted military compound or bother with a two-thirds majority. Fred will simply relax his steely, Zen-like concentration, and boop! all the bad guys get blown up.

So if you'll follow me to our next display-- Hey, kid, what do you have? Is that an air hor--

by Sharon 9:45 PM

Being a role-player often puts you in situations that you'd never have to consider in your real life. These situations often involve infiltrating a secured area or otherwise attacking a superior force. In situations like these, you're either going to have to use stealth to your advantage, create a distraction, or use both.

The funniest distraction I've seen used has to be, "The Exploding Cow." I was running a fantasy campaign with gunpowder technologies. The players wanted to attack an Orcish army. The players were outnumbered about 100 to 1, but they wanted to attack the Orcs anyway. The players needed a distraction that would soften up the Orcs at the same time. So, the mage cast an animal friendship spell on a herd of nearby cattle while some other players stole kegs of gunpowder from the Orcs.

You should be able to see where this is going...

Yeah. They strapped kegs of gunpowder onto the cows, lit the kegs, and sent them charging into the encampment. The players attacked the Orcs shortly therafter. It was apocowlyptic. Wait, let me try again. It was an udder cowtaclysm.

Oddly enough, another distraction that I remember involved letting loose insane cows on the streets of State College, PA. I wonder what it is with players in role-playing games and their desire to use cows as distraction tools? I guess it's 'cause they're large and readily available.

What have I learned? I suppose that I've learned that a cow makes a good distraction, in the right situation.

by jal 9:07 PM


This one feels appropriate on a number of levels:


by Dave Menendez 9:57 AM

{Tuesday, September 10, 2002}

My job was to keep the pump engines operating at top efficency. One mistake and Professor Ansels would roast like a chestnut in a fireplace. Well, more likely he'd boil like a dinner lobster. The Professor had worked on his Pyrophilic Exploration Outfit (We'd christened it Vulcan) for several years now, and was thrilled to have this opportunity to finally test it in the field.

He'd modeled Vulcan after a diver's outfit. It had a large spherical helmet, heavy boots and gloves, and a full-body suit. It also had its own air supply. Unlike a diver's suit, it had a second layer outside the first layer. The space between the inner and outer layers was filled with super-cooled water. This aqueous thermal barrier, coupled with the flame-retardant fabrics on the outside of Vulcan, could protect a man from temperatures in excess of 450 degrees Farenheit.

During the tests, I manned the pump that provided a continuous supply of water and air to Vulcan, cycling out the heated water and air. I was there when the Constable arrived, asking The Professor to come with his special suit. Apparently a meteor had struck in the middle of a field. The police wanted to examine the area, but it was far too hot to approach even now - several days later. We arrived in Downings Bottom the following day, spending most of the intervening time loading and transporting the pumps, tanks, and hoses for Vulcan on several large wagons.

I looked up from my monitoring station just in time to see Vulcan's red-hot helmet helmet appear over a small crest. I glanced at my pocketwatch. He'd been in there for almost 20 minutes. I checked the intake thermometer. 528 degrees! I prepared the cooling shower and stood back as waves of steam cascaded from Vulcan. As he unlatched the helmet and set it aside on the brown, swampy turf, his face was deadly serious. He looked me straight in the eye with a steely grin and said the one word that changed our lives forever.


by jal 9:05 PM

Sorry, probably over 10

Ooh, ooh, ooh I love steam punk! And yet strangely enough I decided to write more of an essay than a fictional piece. You see, I have several pieces I’ve written in the past that are either steam punk or inspired by such but I can’t say I’ve ever sat down to analyze why this genre appeals to me. Sooooo.

Ok, first off I’m a fan of Verne and turn of the century science fiction in general. Further, I’m simply a big fan of Victorian technology in general and love going to steam and tractor shows. Of course it was a time of horrific poverty, pre-union sweatshops, child labor, disease, etc. etc. But it was also a time of leaded glass, brass, leaguered woods, black powder and formal wear. Steam punk features all of this window dressing on top of infernal devices and machines, evil megalomaniacs (often called masterminds), automatons, mad dukes with diabolic plans, and men (and woman) of action and manners with such breeding as to allow them to threaten or defend the world while maintaining the veneer of civility. And let us not forget…DIRIGIBLES!

But I think there’s more than just the gadgets and general look and feel. There’s the atmosphere. In the real world it was still a time of discovery and exploration. There were still unexplored regions of the world and discoveries that could still rock the world. Maybe no one ever discovered a lost continent, land of the dinosaurs or created a time machine but, if only in their wildest imaginings, it could have happened. In Journey to the Moon Verne (whom I wouldn’t really describe as steam punk) describes a manned rocket fired off to loop the moon and return to Earth. It would launch in southern Florida and splash down in the Pacific. 100 years later we did just that. Of course the crew of the Apollo didn’t enjoy the amenities of the Columbiad whose crew wore top hats and tails, drank tea and played cards. This is in fact part of the charm of the genre, that these well-spoken heroes and villains can trek the darkest paths and yet stay firmly rooted in their upper crust world. Their machines of mass destruction while huge and terrifying are nonetheless elegant and lovely.

And of course….dirigibles.

by Shawn 7:06 PM

Time to get Victorian, yo.

by jal 2:12 AM

{Monday, September 09, 2002}

A hallway? I am walking. The last door on the left... is a long way off. I have always been walking, I think. Great green doors, holding their secrets, flank my steps. I am walking.

I am hesitating. I open a door
thrust into bright and cold i fall off my tricycle to chip a tooth i am having sex for the first time with a girl who does not love me i do i am holding my son i am driving to a thousand soccer practices i roll the station wagon off a rain-slicked highway i am mourning my wife i am forgotten by my children in a nursing home i am smiling at an angel in a doorway
, and I shut it, quickly. I am walking.

Unending green doors box up small lifetimes and hold them for safe keeping. These are private. I open a door
released into water i take my first steps i forget my lines in front of everyone i graduate with honors i am jogging across campus i am tackled and raped and stabbed and punched and left to bleed
. These are too private. I shall not open any more doors. Except the last door on the left. I am walking.

An infinite hallway ends, abruptly. The last door on the left is large and black and inscrutable. I can see the hallway reflected in the lacquer. This is the last door on the left. My destination. A plastic red exit sign buzzes faintly overhead. It is chipped a little, letting a bright stab of white light fall in my eye. I open the last door on the left and step thro

by Sharon 11:59 PM

A year ago, they took the children. They came in the middle of the night, like they always do, and they took them away. They told us that the children were troublemakers, and that this was how things had to be. There was no proof, or warrant, or explanation, but this was how things had to be. It was hard, and my wife cried, but we managed. We needed to believe in something. Questions breed doubt, discontent, and they aren’t worth the trouble. The children should have known this. Belief, and the security it provides, are worth the price we pay for them. They aren’t worth risking.

So we painted their rooms and put what the police had left us in storage, and we moved on with our lives. Or I thought we had. But my wife has never hid her emotions well, and she talks even when she knows someone must be listening. She says things that shouldn’t be said, asks questions when the answers aren’t wanted. After awhile, I suppose, she became a nuisance. She was a troublemaker. So they came in the night to take her away.

Only she hid. She shouldn’t have done that, and it only made them angry. They’re just doing their job. They’re just helping to protect us. My wife begged me not to tell them, to stall or distract until she could get out of the house, but what was I to do? I still needed to believe. I didn’t want to cause trouble. I wanted to be safe.

“Where is she?” the officers asked.

“Last door on the left,” I said, and I went out to the garage to see if I had enough paint left for our bedroom.

by Fred 8:37 PM

"Last door on the left." That sounds like directions to the bathroom. For many years I misheard the words, "There's a bad moon on the rise," as, "There's a bathroom on the right." Once you get those words firmly in your head, you will have trouble NOT hearing them when you listen to that song. You can all thank me later for getting you started in this direction.

by Martha 12:17 PM

*ding!* *ding, ding ding, ding, ding!*

I got up from my desk and went to the Customer Service window. Oh look, I thought, It's a mole-man. "How can I help you today, sir?"

He held up a small dog. "My dog won't bark on key. Your sales agent said that it'd bark B-flat, and it only barks C and E." His voice was thin and wheedley. It was like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard.

"Really? Have you been feeding it according..."

"Of course I have! Do I look stupid to you?"

I took a deep breath and smiled. "Then you'll want Animal Purchase Exchanges, sir. Just out the door, make a right, and it's the last door on the left." I handed him a very official-looking pink slip. "Just show them this document and they'll take care of everything." He harumphed at me then gathered the slip and dog in one sweeping arm motion. "Have a great day!"

The next customer wanted her fiancee to be more attentive. Five minutes later, it was clear that she just wanted to complain. I handed her a pink slip and said, "Miss, just take this receipt to Domestic Readjustment. Just go out the door, make a right, and it's the last door on the left."

Next customer: Yet another physicist complaining about entropy. Another pink slip. "Department of Energy. Out the door, make a right, last door on the left."

You know, out of thirty-three customers today, I think I only actually got two that wanted to be helped. Those? Those I helped; no problem at all. The rest? Well, let's just say that installing that oubliette at the end of the hall was the best thing the company ever did.

by jal 12:04 PM

Sorry, this is for yesterday but I didn't have time to write.

“Lost time is not found again” – Bob Dylan
“Not necessarily so” – Professor Zimmerman

Of course they thought he was crazy; they always consider brilliant ideas crazy at first until they’re proven true. Professor Zimmerman’s theory of time retrieval was no exception. Time, while not considered to be constant nor linear was nonetheless considered irretrievable, however, Zimmerman knew better.

In the fall of 2010 he began construction of his Time Retrieval System, a machine whose purpose it was to recover time that was considered lost. At first he started small, a few minutes here and there, time lost sitting at traffic lights or in grocery store check out lines. These snippets or slices of time were then stored away in the temporal batteries for future use. Of course the question still remained as to just what the professor was to do with this recovered time. He did know one thing for sure: stored time was not to be trifled with! At one point the temporal storage unit had developed a leak and the recovered time, some 28 hours and 14 minutes had escaped. Zimmerman, exposed to this leak, aged a like amount of time. Not a big deal in and of itself although he realized that unfiltered and uncontrolled a greater amount of loose time could well have killed him. 28 hours without sleep, water or food. What if it had been 28 days? He was much more careful after that.

Pleased with his success Zimmerman began focusing his machine on the city at large. He collected time people wasted watching commercials, sitting in traffic, on hold, waiting for the cable guy to show up, with door-to-door salesmen and telemarketers, channel-surfing, watching the shopping network, reading their horoscopes and pretty much anything to do with tabloids and People magazine. In the end he had amassed some 98 years, 77 hours and 6 minutes at the point that he decided to present his findings to a group of proximate scientists. To prove his success he unleashed the stored time into the conference hall, after taking the necessary precautions to insure the display was not fatal to those involved. The skeptics were immediately converted when they emerged from the hall into the year 2108 to learn that time banking was now common place although Professor Zimmerman was disappointed to learn that this recovered time was mostly spent on such frivolities as vacations, playing games and reading trashy fiction.

by Shawn 10:59 AM

Last door on the left

by Shawn 9:42 AM

{Sunday, September 08, 2002}

...I would write longer stories.

by Sharon 11:59 PM

Don't know if anyone, myself included, is going to post, but here goes:
If I had all the time in the world...

by Fred 1:56 PM

{Friday, September 06, 2002}

I just try to keep him on track, you know? I offer my guidance to help him out. It's that punk on the other shoulder who keeps leading him astray, convincing him to do things that are definitely not in his best interest. But it's a labor of love, and it's my job.

So the Ego has joined this Toastmasters hoohah. It's supposed to make him a better person—speaking and leadership and ya, ya, ya—but lately it seems to involve a lot of time, effort, and stress, all to be repaid in Certificates of Appreciation. We could wall-paper the apartment in damn Certificates of Appreciation. And the other night, one of these Taskmasters calls up at the last minute, panicky, needing the Ego to be the Grand High Toastmaster Poobah, the Nerd of the Nerds, at this contest dealy they were having. Someone else had had the good sense to back out.

As I live and breathe, that damn git on the other shoulder talks him into it. I was very convincing—beer, the Comfy Chair, and that special on Cinemax—but no, we go to the damn contest at some restaurant across town. I made sure we let everyone know what a great favor we were doing, filling in like this at the last minute. And they gave us a Certificate of Appreciation—how unexpected.

The night was not a total loss, though. The contest was over dinner, at this restaurant like I said, so I knew that there was one job at which I must not fail, or else I'd get demoted to Inspirational Imaginary Friend or Anthropomorphic Conceptualization or, worse yet, Singing Cricket. Given the proper motivation, though, it was no problem.

Yep. We had seconds on cheesecake.

by Sharon 11:59 PM

After several days of jumping through hoops, I'd finally arranged an interview with Bartlett Hooper, Chief of Police for the Bay City police department. His office was very much like him - simple, functional, homey, and nautical. The dominant feature of the room was a large 40-gallon saltwater fish tank that ran the length of the back of the room.

As the interview progressed, my attention kept drifting back to the tank. Inside there were fish, anenomes, sea plants, and even a squid. This squid was what really piqued my interest. At first the squid went around the tank gathering every decoration and dragging them to its corner, jealously guarding them from any other fish who tried to approach. Once the other fish lost interest in the decorations and started playing around the plants, the squid tried to uproot and take the plants; that didn't work so well.

Later, when Bartlett dropped some food in the tank, that same squid was there to grab all the food it could, even though I'm sure it took far more than it needed. Once, it seemed to notice my gaze and puffed itself up as large as it could, obscuring my view of a good portion of the tank. It did this until an octopus passed by, which it alternately harassed and (for all I could tell) flirted with.

At the interview's end, I turned off my mini disc recorder and asked, "Say Chief, what's up with that squid? It behaved so oddly. I couldn't keep my eyes off of it."

"Oh, that?" He smiled mischievously, "That's our vice squid."

by jal 11:29 PM

Um, well, this started out as a Vice story (which it still is) moved into cyberpunk and Singing Fruit.

Kelle surveyed Brent’s apartment with obvious disappointment. Clearly he hadn’t bothered lift a finger since she had been here a week ago. Fast food remnants, unopened mail, empty beer bottles and dirty laundry lay strewn about the place. Of course the hardware was all in perfect order but then that was the only thing of any importance to Brent, his tech. He was after all a ‘Fire Fighter’ or ‘Information retrieval specialist’ as he claimed on his taxes. Brent was a hacker.

Amid all of the chaos Brent sat glued to the wall screen as a flood of garish colors and high-pitched whaling, music presumably, assaulted the room.

“Um, what are ya watching?”

“It’s called Marcella’s Happy Produce Hour.”

“Really. And may I ask why?”

“Well, ever since I gave up drugs I need some sort of escape.”

“And so you watch children’s programming?”

“Yeah, it’s a lot like Teletubbies only more surreal. The combination of bright colors and singing fruit fires off all sorts of chemicals in the brain. Of course it also helps that I stay awake for 72 hours, drink nine pots of coffee and bring myself to the point of hyperventilation by blowing up balloons. Then I run the feeds directly into my neurojacks bypassing the safety shunts.”

“I see. And this is better than doing S.T.U.N.?”

“Oh sure, that’s small time shit anymore – so yesterday-may as well be crack of last century. This is where the future of hallucination exploration lays man. Right here, beamed directly from The Family Network to my neuronet.”

“Okaaaaay. And have you had any great epiphanies from this?”

“Yeah, you see the mango third in from the left?”


“The rest of them are guys in suits, but not him, he’s real. Gene-splicing I’d say but maybe an alien. Hard to say; I’ll need to do more research. Hand me that case of Mountain Dew.”

by Shawn 11:41 AM


by Sharon 7:36 AM

{Thursday, September 05, 2002}

Jackson stared up at the huge wheel of cheese.
The putrid odor wafted in the breeze.
Stone crumbled from the beast that was the lab.
Jackson spun 'round and quickly hailed a cab.

Doctor Groeber was known for hasty flees,
But Jackson knew to cut him at the knees.
This doctor's madness would prove hard to nab,
and Jackson's only clue was a king crab...

by rocketo 11:15 PM

I was a Martian in college. (What changed, you ask.) I was actually a number of Martians, because Ray Bradbury's play The Martian Chronicles has a big cast. But I co-starred in the prologue as a Martian that still sticks with me. (But, of course, we call the planet "Tir.")

Mrs Ylla K was afflicted by visions for which her husband Yll had little patience. She dreamed of a ship, falling out of the sky, and of a man—a very strange man, with black hair and blue eyes—emerging and proclaiming the name of his planet as "Earth." Ylla, being a natural telepath like all residents of Tir, understood him with her mind.

Yll listened to the recounting of her visions with mounting interest and finally reached a decision: He would go for a walk... taking his gun (which hums "like a thousand angry bees turned on themselves in the summer sun"). He decided he would hunt, perhaps bring down a bright, fantastical bird.

When Yll returned, Ylla prepared him a dinner of the golden fruit that grew from the walls (and looked mysteriously like spray-painted plastic pears, pinned to the curtain). At his stern, telepathic prodding, she finally conceded, "Yes, I'll be all right. Tomorrow."

by Sharon 4:38 PM

"Oh my god! Jon, you've got to come here and see this."

I looked up from the too-colorful dinner menu. Marco was getting way too into the 'tropical cantina' atmosphere. "Why? What? What's going on?"

"They've got singing fruit in the lobby!"

I was so distracted by his toucan deely-boppers that I barely heard what he said. "Singing fruit? In the lobby?"

"Yeah. Singing fruit in the lobby!" Marco began to bounce from foot to foot like an overexcited toddler. I had to choke down a surge of mixed rage and hysteria at the sight.

"Can it wait? Our contact is due to be here any minute. That, and I'm really enjoying my pina colada." It really was rather exceptional, as far as coladas went.

"But it's so cool! They're singing the Chaquita banana song." Marco was bouncing. The toucans were bouncing. His plastic lei flopped about like a spastic octopus. If i'd known that theme restaurants had this effect on him, I'd've just set up the exchange at The Frisco diner.

"Can't you stay focused on why we're here? Geez. You're too distractible, you know that? Look, you go back in the lobby and watch the singing fruit or whatever. I'm going to stay here and meet our contact. Just make sure you're back in five minutes. I don't want to do this without someone here to cover my ass." Marco shot me a thumbs-up and turned away as I muttered, "Even if it is the poster child for 'short attention span theatre'."

Marco romped off like a kid in a playground. I sat and waited. And waited.

"I like New York in June. How about you?" Behind my shoulder, a little too close.

I jumped a bit. She was pretty late, but better late then never. "It's a hell of a town," I quipped. Who makes up these call-phrases?

She tossed her raincoat in the corner of the booth, sliding in after it. "So, do you have the package?" It was a thin, reedy voice - not at all like what I expected an operative to sound like. I suppose that's how they keep their cover; by being utterly unlike what you'd expect.

"Sure. Right here." I patted the stuffed bunny on the table. "Do you have the documents?" She produced a manilla envelope.

10 minutes later, after we verified the authenticity of the items, we ordered a light dinner. She had the cajun chicken salad with a lite ranch dressing. I had a small order of Hawaiian potato skins. Given the importance of the items we traded, I was a little taken aback at her casual demeanor. After a little small talk, I popped the one question that was bugging me. "So why were you late? Got captured by the enemy? Had a wild chase through traffic?"

She gestured wildly with her hands, waving them side to side, frantically chewing to clear her mouth. "No, no, no! It was the display in the lobby. They have the cutest singing fruit!"

Good grief.

by jal 4:29 PM

“I don’t understand. You said the fruit are…singing?”

“Yes, sir. For the past hour. It started with the strawberries, moved on to the bananas, and then—well, just listen.”

Davis held up the phone. The sound from the produce section was unmistakable.

“I hear it,” said Hanlon, “but I still don’t understand. You’re sure the voices are coming from the fruit? Maybe it’s a joke, or faulty wiring with the store’s speakers. Maybe—”

“We thought of that, sir. We checked. It’s definitely the fruit. I can’t explain how, or—”

“They don’t have mouths, do they?”

“No, sir. No, they don’t. No mouths. But we turned off the music in the store, and we closed off the aisle, and they’re still singing. The pears will call, and then plums will answer or... They’re…they’re harmonizing, sir.”

“Harmonizing? This is fruit, Mr. Davis. This is produce. Produce doesn’t harmonize. You say you’ve closed off the aisle?”

“Yes, sir. After what happened with Betty, it seemed like the only thing to do.”

“Betty… That’s the cashier you were talking about, right?”

“Yes, sir. She…she tried to eat one of the bananas. She bought it that morning before her shift. It was in her purse. We didn’t know.”

“What happened?”

“Betty’s a little deaf. She reads lips, but…I don’t think she could hear it singing. She took it out of her purse and peeled it. And…and the rest of them screamed, sir.”

“Screamed? Screaming bananas?”

“Yes, sir. It was horrible. They screamed, and then the lemons screamed, and then the oranges and the apples...”

Davis shuddered. He most definitely did not like them apples.

“Most of the customers left then, sir. Nobody’s buying anything. They’re waiting to see what we’re going to do.”

“Well you did the right thing calling me, Davis. I want you to close the store and send all non-essential personnel home. Betty should probably stay. I’m going to send someone from corporate down to meet you, and he’ll want to talk with her. Keep your eye on the fruit and notify me of any sudden changes.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t thank me yet. If we end up destroying the fruit, corporate will want to take it out of your paycheck.”

“I understand, sir.”

“I wish I did,” said Hanlon and hung up.

by Fred 1:55 PM

The Baddest Verse is always best when left to rot a while:
Destroy not what you did see, when last you took to jumping ship. But Live not as you have been, wherein the tales that lie and men who kill, all gather round and force upon the willing mass the base of pain.
There lies the curse of ages past, there lies the foreign crone: Oh, there beyond the farthest reach, they lie in wait for freshest life.
Singing Fruit

that dwell nearby and leave surcease of filth, with bloodstained eyes they search the shores for growth in Frieden Downs. "The Them as dies, the Them as sings, what?" fell across the dales. All tired dried, all foundered dead, the Fruits return to sea. Progress they seek, progress they find, over, over again. Of course they know, it never finds the forest Frieden Downs. The men who dwell in Frieden way, but simple all they die.

Yeah. Chew on that for ten minutes.

By which I mean That's Your Topic and my Entry.

by MisterNihil 5:34 AM

{Wednesday, September 04, 2002}

bu-dah, bu-dah, bu-dah, bu-dah, bu-dah.


As I regret the passing of the days.
The simple life of conscience bids me wait.
Like forest stillness shrouding me in sleep.
A stream of hours washes o'er my mind,
Making mem'ries fade 'till disappeared.

Oh, foul time! The River Lethe inflamed.
All knowledge lost, within thy banks is claimed.

I used to do this for fun in high school and early college. For a while, I pined away for a girl and I'd write love poems in iambic pentameter for her. (10 minutes on the nose, baby.)

by jal 10:02 PM

[Minutes, schminutes. —Iambic pentameter!]

A tale I'll tell of grisly tech support,
Of clients woeful, nasty, dumb and mean,
And agents boldly waiting on the phone.

"I'm all a mess; my data's gone for sure.
"No happy Mac, no folder icons. Help!
"A flashing question mark is all I see."

The valiant agent, calm and smart and cute,
Well-versed was he in skills both soft and geek,
Well knew, at once, the steps to make it right.

"Yes, ma'am," said he, "I'll help you right away."
"Not you!" that client interrupted, fierce.
"I would prefer to ask a manager."

A sigh, so brief, was all the agent slipped.
"Without root cause, he'll route you back to me."
With sullen words, the client deigned to heed,
Then blustered on as if she had not heard.

"Stop interrupting me, you cow,"

Was what the agent said while pressing "Mute."
Aloud, he stayed the model of respect.
He said, so soft, "Just check one setting, please."

While noise and bile continued through the phone,
He thought, "A quick solution stretched ten-fold,"
But kept his peace and waited through the rant.

The storm now spent, the agent seized his chance:
"In faith, I ask, reset the P-RAM, ma'am."

by Sharon 1:13 PM

The more we look to black or white instead
Of seeking grays, the more we run the risk
Of breaking all our ties to truth and life.

We see ourselves – our land, our laws, our way
Of life – as noble, true and just, with God
Our ally. Isn’t that too much to claim?

How dare we think we have the only path
That leads to justice, peace and love? And then,
How dare we implement with guns and bombs?

This isn't an epic (or heroic verse), but it is iambic pentameter. Ten minutes is a very short time.

by Martha 10:17 AM

My husband said the other day, “There are no great epics being written anymore.” I said, “I think there’s probably more being written today than ever before in history.” And he said, “Yes, but how much of it is in iambic pentameter?”

This, the topic for today is
iambic pentameter

unrhymed verse of five iambic feet; heroic verse
(An iamb is a foot of two syllables, an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one.)

by Martha 9:04 AM

{Tuesday, September 03, 2002}

oscillate / swing / waver

Whoosh! The pendulum whizzed by in a blur of steel and imminent death. It’s interesting what goes through your mind when you know you’re about to die. Not the “oh sure I’m going to die sometime” or even the “got the big C and going to kick it in a year or so” about to die. Perry Waterson, better known as Captain Justice, was faced with the more immediate “Pendulum is getting lower by the minute and I’m going to die in a very messy fashion” about to die.

“How did I end up like this?,” he pondered. “I mean, what are the chances that someone from a middleclass, Milwaukee family would meet his end being slowly and neatly sliced in half by a mad scientist? For that matter why did I even get involved in this whole thing? It’s not like he was aiming his death ray at Milwaukee or anything. And why did I even go into this line of work? What sort of self-respecting person runs around in dark blue and gold tights fighting crime? I mean, I’ve never even been a security guard much less a cop. I’m a physicist for god’s sake! But nooooooo, science was good enough for me. Noooooo, science wasn’t exciting enough for Perry Waterson; I had to go off and fight megalomaniacs and super spies and look where that’s gotten me.
Boy is dad going to be pissed off. He took out a second mortgage to send me to college and now he’s going to have to explain to all of his friends at the Moose lodge that his idiot son got himself cut in half cause he couldn’t keep his nose out of other people’s business. I hope it’s a closed casket funeral. Oh damn it, I left the coffee pot on.”

by Shawn 9:58 PM

We were told we couldn't change our mind, mid-way. We were not told what would happen if we did.

We didn't mean to, and we would take it back. Oh, please, let us take it back; can you? We just thought, once, during the procedure, "What if...?" Now we are thus.

Perhaps we could go back into the machine?

Ah. Well.

No, we can not tell you what it is like. What would you know, how would you relate?

How would anyone relate? We are alone, together.

We came to you for a change, or, rather, a liberation. We had been mixed, the wrong mind for the body—no, the mind was right, the body was misapplied. The wrong gender, we came to you, and your machine, to be fixed. Realigned. Ah. We are not sure which direction. Just, coming together. We don't remember directions. That was before.

Inside the machine, we were lonely. We didn't know lonely yet; we only thought we were lonely. We let our mind drift, slithering along the spectrum. Wondering. Wandering. We never thought machines could be so literal, but of course they are. We never thought.

We lived in a world of labels, before, creating a sense of self out of persuasive definitions. So, yes, you may apply another label. "Hermaphrodite." But that is not us, not we. We shall be...

Hirm-Aphrodite. And we will answer to the waxing sun.

by Sharon 9:32 PM

Abramson set his reading glasses aside and put down the script. "So let me get this straight: SuperGuy is strapped to the roof of a building."

Mort hastily swollowed his mouthful of bagel. "No, the ceiling of a very tall room."

A dismissive wave. "Right, the ceiling. He's strapped to the ceiling of a tall room." Mort nodded quickly. "And there's a... Faucet Pendulum underneath him?"

"No. Focault's Pendulum. It's a giant pendulum that was used to prove that the earth rotates." Mort wondered if Abramson even retained 10% of what he read.

"Right, anyway. So there's this pendulum thingy, and it's set up to knock over these little pylons with mirrored bottoms?"


"And these pylons are covering up ultra-high-powered lasers?"

Hey, it looked like Abramson actually did retain it! "Yep."

"So The Physicist is going to stand on a balcony next to SuperGuy, alternately changing his mind about whether to let him go or not during the course of their conversation?"

Wow! Abramson actually got it. "Right! His changes in mood reflect the shifting of the pendulum." Mort was met by a blank stare. Uh-oh. "It's a very sophisticated literary device." Dead silence.

Abramson inhaled deeply. "You know what Morty?" Mort crooked an eybrow quizically. "This is the stupidest deathtrap I've ever heard of. You're lucky we're at the deadline or I'd trash the entire script. As it is, just get rid of the bogus pendulum science and I'll take it like that."

Mort sighed. And people wonder why children's cartoons are lousy, he thought.

by jal 5:40 PM

I’ve had a complete dinner – meat, corn, salad, diet soda – and I don’t need anything else. I’m not trying to diet (I am NOT into deprivation), but I want to eat sensibly. I have absolutely no need for a piece of the peach pie that a guest brought to our picnic yesterday. In addition to calorie issues, there are sugar issues since I am a diabetic. I am feeling just fine right now – not hungry but not too full. I really don’t even need to THINK about peach pie. I’ll just put the dirty dishes into the dishwasher and cleanse my mind of all thoughts about pie. I could have some celery later if I really want it then. That will do just nicely for an evening snack. When does evening begin, actually? Is 5 minutes after clearing the dinner dishes within the parameters for “evening”? Peach is a fruit, you know. I am supposed to have lots of servings of fruit and/or vegetables every day. Is it nine servings? I surely haven’t had that many today. Fruits and/or vegetables … I guess that makes them equivalent. Celery or peach pie – no difference, right? Funny – the refrigerator door seems to be opening all by itself.

by Martha 3:06 PM

A coworker at my last job once told me a joke he had discovered in Jonathan Lethem’s novel, Motherless Brooklyn:
How do you titillate an ocelot? You oscillate its tit a lot.
It’s a terrible pun, but it’s clever and I had never heard it before, so I had to laugh. Dirty jokes like that were par for the course at my bookstore basement job. We had to keep ourselves amused somehow. Another Fred, who worked on the loading dock, earned the dubious nickname “Captain Potty Mouth” because of his perhaps-not-always-appropriate-at-the-workplace sense of humor. I’m sometimes tempted to swing by the bookstore after work or on a lunch break and trade jokes again with Fred, or just to find out what’s new in the place I left behind. After two years, it’s hard not to feel attached.

Don’t get me wrong, in a way I’m glad I left. Sharon, whose old job I inherited, may question that and debate the wisdom of leaving any job for this one, but this was a good opportunity at a time when I needed a good opportunity. There are considerable benefits to working here. But dirty jokes really aren’t one of them. This isn’t a humorless building by any stretch, and I genuinely like the people here, but I don’t feel that same sense of camaraderie I did at the bookstore. So I’m tempted to try and revisit it sometimes, if only for a little while.

Of course, I haven’t been back in almost a year, and I haven’t seen anyone I used to work with since maybe December of last year. I keep thinking “this will be the week I swing by”, but…well, I guess for some reason I keep on wavering.

by Fred 12:47 PM

oscillate / swing / waver

by rocketo 10:23 AM


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