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Le Jeu Continuez Partie II



 

It was beautiful. Radiant, it cast light upon the street. Jacques stood in front of the portal, studying it; admiring its beauty.

            It’s too bad the locals aren’t able to see it. He thought, as the passersby continued on their way, walking straight through the portal, unaffected and unaware. He shook his head in amazement. After all this time, of all the things he’d seen, that something like this should still give him pause.

            “Aiyah!” A battlecry pieced the night behind him, and he whirled in time to be struck in the face by some kind of energy mace.

            Looks like I was right to wait for the other players here. He thought, even as he fell to the ground in pain. But as his opponent leaned over him for the final strike, he scissored his legs beneath the other players, bringing him down. In a second he’s rolled to his feet, snatching the energy mace as he does so. Jacques recognized the man as the one he'd tied up earlier. Evidently he was far more resourceful than the swordsman had given him credit for.The warrior brought the mace down on his opponent, just long enough to render the man unconscious.

            A crack of gunfire, and a bullet lodged in whatever material the streets are made of here, right next to Jacques foot.

            The Shadow normally doesn’t allow firearms in the game… Perhaps he picked it up around here. Jacques pondered, dodging to his left and hurling the mace, still charged, at the gunman. Caught by surprise, the other player dodged unsuccessfully and was still caught in the shoulder by the point of the mace. He vibrated wildly, firing into the ground before losing his balance. Jacques was on him in a second, knocking the player out with a swift kick to the side of the head.

            “You’re good.” Said a voice behind him. “But you’re not killing them. The portal will only allow one of us out.”

            “There’s always another way.” Jacques replied as he turned. A woman, with long dark hair stood by the portal, holding out her sword in challenge.

            “If only.” She said with a sigh, before charging.

            Jacques rolled to avoid the first thrust, and had his blade from its scabbard the second he was on his feet. He met her slash from the left with his guard and twisted his hilt, allowing her blade to slide away as he lunged with his own. But his opponent was a better fencer than he believed, and she quickly riposted, grabbed at his sword point with her own and driving it away again and again. He couldn’t help but grin just a bit. He’d met so few accomplished fencers in his time in the game; it was pure joy to contest with another equal to his skill.

            They withdrew slightly, each taking a moment to catch their energy back. Circling, they regarded each other, feinting this way and that, testing the other player. Driving to the right, he switched to overhand and dealt a succession of strikes toward his opponents head, forcing her to bring her blade up in a horizontal block. With each strike, he stepped closer, and just as she blocked the third, he reached with his other hand and grabbed her sword arm, bringing her in close and immediately punching her in the face with the guard of his sword. Falling backward, she dropped her sword and he kicked it away.

            “You’ll see. We’ll all escape this.” He assured her, as he turned back to the portal. It still shone like the sun, shining, inviting.

            “I have defeated the other players. I have won.”

He stepped forward, holding his palm up to the light, touching it.

One unit only may pass.

            The voice that came from the glimmering surface was calm and quiet, so unlike The Shadows sarcastic and prattling echoes. It was glorious, alluring, an aural manifestation of the visual beauty of the portal. And that made it all the more disgusting. This wonderful voice, telling him to end the lives of four other players; people trapped far from home just as he was, all for the amusement of the accursed creature that engineered all this. He stepped back and turned away from the light, anger coursing through him. He was a soldier, and he had killed. Doubtless he would again. But he hated it. Hated it with everything he was. In those dark places, the only way he kept his sanity was by analyzing the situation and knowing that there was no other way out. This was the truth that allowed him to do the things he did. The Shadow, as far as he knew, was omnipotent, without weakness. His control over the players in this game was total. When faced with such an absolute power, such absolute lines drawn across a battlefield created by something that wanted you to kill, you had no choice. He had been wrong when he told the other player that there was always another way out, he saw that now.

            I have no choice. He thought, gripping the hilt of his sword tight. Marching resolutely toward his female opponent, he brought his sword to her neck, imagining what would happen, as he so effortlessly sliced through her jugular vein.  It made him sick. He fought with the logic of the situation; he could do nothing else. But still, he hesitated. The woman looked up at him, her eyes a window to her thoughts. She understood. She knew what had to be done. She was afraid, she certainly would take any opportunity to stop him, to turn the tables, but she understood. And he found that his hand was shaking. He glanced back at the portal.

            She grabbed at his blade, trying to knock it away. He instantly swiped it back, cutting her across the palm and returning the point of his sword to her neck, pressing it painfully against her skin. He was focused for a few seconds, angry at the attempt. But his blade began to vibrate once more as he tried to do what had to be done. With his other hand, he brushed his forehead clear of the sweat that had collected. He looked at the portal again, and let out a cry of despair.

            In its shining depths, the light held an image of Earth, his home. It flashed closer, and suddenly he could see the village; his students, the buildings.

            He clenched his jaw, brought his gaze to his opponent once more, steadying his hand.

            I must do this. I must do this.

            Those eyes, full of understanding, certainty. They knew exactly what he felt. They pitied him the burden he would carry.

            He tossed the sword away and leapt back with a cry of anguish. He shot a look back at the portal. It no longer showed his home. He couldn’t see his village anymore.

            “I don’t care!” He shouted to the Shadow, listening, somewhere up there. “I won’t do it! You won’t get any more amusement from me Shadow!” But even as he declared his intentions to the heavens, he brought his gaze down to the sight of a sword pointed at his chest. There were those eyes again. Filled with the same conflict, but… more certainty than his had held. More will to escape. Yet, her hand shook as well. He considered using that, disarming her. But it didn’t matter anymore. He wouldn’t play the Shadows game any longer. If she didn’t kill him, the creature would do it. So he accepted his fate, matched her stare, forgave her with his eyes.

            And she stared back, tears welling up as she fought with the same feelings he had. They understood each other. They felt the same. They were one.

            Jacques dropped to the ground in the moment that she stabbed at him, cutting a line in his vest as he fell. He surged to his feet and grabbed her hand, wresting the blade from it.

            “Wait! Wait!” He said, as she fought against him.

            “I have to do it! You know I have to! It said there has to be just one!” She cried.

            “We are one!” He said, grabbing her face and turning it towards his. “It said a unit of one! We must all be together, united!”

            Hope spread across her face as understanding dawned. Cautiously, she relaxed; daring to believe that what he told her was true. And he let go of her, and held out her sword. She took it, and sheathed it without hesitation. He bent to retrieve his own, and a shot rang out. He whirled to see the player with the firearm, having just shot the player with the mace as he lay unconscious on the ground.

            “I’m getting out of here.” He yelled, firing now at Jacques. The swordsman felt a bullet rip through the fabric of his shirt, next to his armpit, even as he ducked, looking for cover. He ran for an alleyway, heard another shot and saw his new partner clutch her arm as she fell to the ground. Reaching cover, he peeked out to see that the gunman had given up on him momentarily and was advancing on his ally. Abandoning the alley, he sprinted for the player’s turned back, as the man aimed at the woman’s head. Tackling the gunman before he could pull the trigger, he disengaged and rolled to absorb the impact, springing to his feet as his opponent did the same. Batting at the man’s gun, he saw in a split second that the player was reacting, lunging for his falling gun. Jacques tried to get his sword out of the way, but the man was determined to retrieve his weapon, and impaled himself on the blade.

            “You fool…” Jacque said, “We could have escaped together…”

            The man continued to look on him with hatred, even as he slid to the pavement.

            Helping his friend to her feet, he sheathed his sword with a sigh. Together, the approached the portal, pausing in front of it. They looked at each other, saying nothing, as together they reached out to the light.

           

You may pass.

In the blinding wave that engulfed him and the sense of astonishing speed as he left this place, he looked over, to see that his friend was gone. Where she went, whether she’d actually left or not, he couldn’t know for sure. But he silenced his doubts. She’d escaped with him. And perhaps, one day… they’d meet again.

          

Le Jeu Continuez

            “What’ll it be?”

            “Anything but pineapple juice.”

            The bartender nodded, if he was put off by the lack of specificity, he didn’t show it.

            Jacques hunched his shoulders closer to the bar, mimicking those around him, as he waited for his drink. It came, and he made a show of eagerness, before setting the drink back down just as it was. His eyes searched the room carefully, darting back to stare at his drink the instant someone looked in his direction. Briefly, he wondered if the people here had any idea that their home was being used as a playground by a very malevolent being. Sadly, it wasn’t very likely. L’Ombre was far too clever, far too intelligent.

            “Something wrong with the drink?” The bartender asked; he hadn’t wandered very far evidently.

            “No no, just… thinking. I’m looking for a place to stay tonight. Do you have any suggestions?” Jacques replied quickly, trying to smile cordially.

            “There’s a decent hotel up the street. Not too expensive. But… you’ll have to pay your tab here first.” The man said with a smile.

            Jacques’s smile wavered momentarily, before he nodded and reached into his vest pocket. Withdrawing a slip of gold from the supply he’d stockpiled a few worlds back, he hoped it would be a worthwhile currency here. The bartender took it with a confused, but interested look.

            “You’re not from around here are you?” He said as he inspected the gold.

            “No. But I assure you, that’s good gold currency.” Jacques said.

            “Relax,” The man said, pocketing the money, “It’s good enough for me. Where’s it from?”

            “It’s ah… SansValeur…ian.”

            “Never heard of it, but they don’t seem to have a gold shortage there.”

            Jacques chuckled accommodatingly and thanked the barkeep, leaving his drink as he navigated his way out of the bar.

            A city of rain. Bon.

            Just in case, Jacques tucked the broach, fashioned in the shape of his coat of arms, further into his coat.

            I’m lost; I don’t need to be speaking gibberish.

            Luckily, the hotel the bartender had mentioned was easy to find. Garishly outfitted with bright laserlight signs, he longed for his own environment, or at least one closer to it. But the downpour kept him from reminiscing too long, and he strode inside.

            “Good evening. I require a room. Will this be sufficient payment?” He asked, holding out three wafers of gold. By the way the attendants eyes widened, he didn’t really need to hear her response. In short order, he was being shown into a suite complete with its own balcony. As soon as the attendant had left, that was where he headed first.

            Ah, three moons. As much as I miss home, I do enjoy views like this. He thought, leaning on the railing as he gazed out at the city and sky. After surveying the metropolis for a minute, he went back inside and activated the intercom panel by the door.

            “Yes sir, is there anything I can get you?” came the voice on the other end.

            “A map of the city please. And any information on the local attractions, local history… that sort of thing.”

            “Certainly sir. Planning on checking out some sites while you’re in Senka?”

            “Indeed.”

            “I’ll get those brochures up to you right away, sir.”

            “Thank you.” He drifted into the bedroom, taking the moment to lie down and rest until the door chimed. Getting up, he retrieved the information from the attendant, thanking her and closing the door before she could ask him if he needed anything more.  Lowering himself to the floor, he spread the brochures out in front of him, opened the map, and began assimilating data about this world. He had finished learning about nearby landmarks and was placing them on the map when that old familiar shiver went down his spine. He didn’t bother to stand or even look around.

            Now this isn’t very fun at all. Sitting in a safe place, with a wealth of data about your surroundings? You’re trying to kill me with boredom, aren’t you?” The voice, the ever present, haunting yet melodious chatter; seemed to come from everywhere, as it always did.

            “When and if I discern how to kill you; it will be done.” Jacques replied, still reading the map. If anything, his pace increased, as he feared he wouldn’t get the chance to for much longer.

            The voice laughed.

            “I like you. You say what you think, you don’t care about being polite, pretending to be something you’re not. Except for your little secret of course. But maybe all that matter of fact honesty makes it easier to hide away that one little detail… mmm?”

            “Think what you will.”

            “You know what I want Jacques. And you’re not providing it.”

            Suddenly, he was ripped from the hotel room, and in an instant, he fell to the ground on wet pavement, rain pouring down upon him.

            Keep me interested Jackie, or I won’t be so kind.” The voice laughed again, and seemed to leave. At least, as much as it ever left.

            Jacques picked himself up, immediately casting about for recognizable landmarks. In the distance he saw the Tower of Aurayis, one of the landmarks at the edge of the city. He was now a good distance from the hotel. He knew better than to try and go back and reclaim his room. The Shadow didn’t want him there. Sighing, he set off toward a main street. This area of the city had far more traffic. He kept his head down, but his eyes scanned every person who passed him.

            He’d found a main avenue, but all too soon, he sensed he was being followed. Ducking into an alleyway, he narrowly avoided a throwing knife as his pursuer gave up on stealth. Running in place for a few seconds, he then plastered himself against the wall just inside the opening to the alley, relying on the shadows to hide him. Sure enough, his opponent raced into the alley, expecting him to have been running away. Extending his foot at the right moment, Jacques tripped the large man and was immediately upon him, grabbing his wrists and yanking them around the man’s back.

            “No! I must kill you if I am to leave! I have to get back!” shouted the prostrate form.

            Obviously, the man was new to the Game. He probably believed he could leave if he just completed the task of killing everyone else in the match.

            “There is another way to leave. There always is.” Jacques said quietly, as he tied his opponents hands together with some rope from his sack.

            “No! No! It said I must be the only one to leave.”

            “Where is the portal?” Jacques asked as he stood.

            “I will not tell you!”

            Sighing, he dealt the man a blow to the back of the head, and after making sure he was unconscious, he turned around and left the alley, resuming his walk along the main thoroughfare.

            So there is a portal this time. I just have to find it…

Batman Mask of the Phantasm; Some Musings

            You know what one of my biggest regrets is?
            Having been alive and fully capable of seeing Batman: Mask of the Phantasm in theaters, and not having done so. There are plenty of people out there who wish they’d been around to see great films when they were on the big screen. Star Wars, Casablanca, Apocalypse Now, there are tons; and this I actually could have seen!

            Think of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm as the peak of The Animated Series creative and artistic capabilities. It had everything that made the series great, and pushed it to new heights for a theatrical run. While I didn’t get to see it in theaters, I did own the VHS (still do actually) and I watched it over and over again; I still do. And that is one of the biggest reasons this movie is so very good. It is captivating and engrossing for kids as well as adults. Let me show you why.

            When you’re a kid, Batman is awesome… because he’s awesome. He is a hero cloaked in darkness; in that way making many a child less afraid of the dark, because it’s a friend of the Dark Knight. He is a detective, capable of solving seemingly any crime. He can track down the most elusive of villains and beat them, no matter what they’re using to fight him.

            Now for those of you who haven’t seen it, Mask of the Phantasm tells two stories simultaneously; a tale of Bruce Wayne before Batman, when he was still learning and trying to figure it out what to do with all the anger and will power unleashed by his parents death, as well as a ‘present day’ tale of Batman trying to solve a series of mob murders going on in Gotham. In the past, we see him meet a beautiful young woman, the perfect person for him. He struggles with his growing feelings for her, and the responsibility he feels to his parents. He falls in love, and abandons his plans for vigilante justice.

            Of course, for a young kid, all that stuff doesn’t matter. Pretty lady, whatever. The little kid me is just waiting for him to put on the mask, or at least for the movie to get back to present day, where we can see Batman in action.

            But now, when I watch the film as an adult, it brings out an entirely different set of feelings for this character. As adults, we can watch Bruce fall in love and desperately want him to be happy. Because we know how good a man he is, we’ve seen the lengths he’ll go to for justice and doing what’s right, and despite that desire for action we’ve retained from childhood, I watch him fall in love and wish so very much that he could stay with Andrea forever.

            It’s this dual ability to both delight us with everything that makes Batman great, and simultaneously exposes us as adults to a new side of him that didn’t think about as kids that makes the movie great. We go from viewing him as a role model and an idol, to understanding him as a man, and wishing him the best life he can have. In a way, this is the kind of journey every child has to make as they grow, graduating from viewing characters in their ‘good’ or ‘bad’ roles to understanding them as people.

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Pitchin' Again

            Thanksgiving is a time for appreciating what you have. But it’s also a time for throwing out the old stuff you just can’t appreciate anymore! The new Thanksgiving tradition is celebrating our freedom to shop and get amazing deals! And in that spirit of consumerism, Broodings Inc. brings you just a small sampling of our amazing Thanksgiving and Black Friday products!

Stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey is a family tradition for many. Part of what makes the holiday. But it’s gross! And slippery! So this year, get the Automatic Turkey Stuffer! Just attach the turkey with the steel clamps, and place the bowl of stuffing underneath our patented automated-hand! Now you can have the flavor, and the tradition of a stuffed turkey, without having to put your hands inside a dead animal!        

Everyone’s heard of Doorbuster deals on Black Friday and every other major shopping holiday. But never before has anyone busted down a door quite like this! Behold The Doorbuster, a patent pending personal battering ram capable of demolishing even the sturdiest of department store entrances! Why wait until 8 or 9pm Thursday night for those amazing deals when you can get in early!? The Doorbuster is made completely from five inch thick welded steel and is collapsible so it can be fit into a large purse or tote bag! So get the gift that lets you get even more gifts!

Are you someone who always has too much to do for Thanksgiving? Do you have a full time job and just can’t take a full day off to make all of those home-made dishes? Don’t you sometimes wish that your oven was as fast as your microwave? Then the Oven-Microwave is the product for you! A microwave built to look just like an oven, your family will never know you didn’t bake that pie yourself! Re-heat anything in just a few minutes, but pull it out of a realistic looking oven!

Face it; you’re just not that good a cook. Your turkey comes out burnt; your vegetables have been steamed so long there’s no flavor left. But no-one needs to know that your culinary skills aren’t up to snuff, because now there’s RestoraFlavor brand seasonings! Using a combination of sugar, salt and the liquefied version of any dish, you can put the flavor back into that crusted Thanksgiving turkey, or those watery greens! Just sprinkle an even, light coating of the RestoraFlavor you need and your friends and family will be begging for the recipe!

13 Signs of the Apocalypse!

13 Signs of the Apocalypse!

          As the dreaded (or laughable, depending on who you ask) date of December 21st 2012 approaches, many are cashing in on the projected End of the World. Far be it from me to neglect my doomsaying. Here are 13 signs of the Apocalypse relevant to those I know read this blog. Should more than three of them occur; start hoarding canned goods, as it’s a safe bet that the end is nigh!

  1. The US Supreme Court revisits the ruling that ‘corporations are people’; ruling instead that corporations are slaves to their employees.

  1. Karen Miller walks out to her lawn one day and proclaims; “It’s perfect. Nothing more needs done.”

  1. George Lucas comes out of retirement and buys back Star Wars from Disney, claiming; “There are still things needing to be edited.” In surprising twist, he returns Anakin’s force ghost to the way it was and labels the prequel trilogy ‘non-canon’.

  1. Justin Bieber realizes mid-concert that his songs aren’t very good; he publicly apologizes. The star goes back to school, determined to improve his lyrics.

  1. Dave Matsui purchases and watches the intervening episodes of Burn Notice, deems the show “Very good”.

  1. Apple renounces its sweatshop manufacturing methods and converts to a full time religion (instead of just a part time cult).

  1. WB releases Justice League, with the perfect cast. It becomes the ultimate superhero film and grosses so much money it knocks Avatar and Titanic out of their respective places in the list of all time highest grossing films.

  1. Donald Trump decides to live as a middle-class American; donates his entire fortune toward the National Debt, eliminating just under half of it.

  1. Bubba the Buddha develops a drinking problem and becomes a regular fixture at AA meetings.

  1.  Fox begs Joss Whedon to re-start the Firefly television show. After several million, he agrees. The show continues on into seven seasons.

  1.  David Lovelace-Macon admits that Darkseid is unequivocally better than Thanos.

  1.   Computer Concepts becomes hugely successful, goes global and    Robert Geer is named the head of the new HR department.

  1.  EA Games finally announces the release of Dungeon Keeper III.

Stanley's Least Favorite Holiday

            Consider yourself lucky I recognized you Waallter… Stanley mutters in his head as he is posed by Shellee on the front porch.

            When the owner’s friend had emerged from the house in his black garb, Stanley had almost pounced, despite the fact that Shellee would have seen. If he were completely honest with himself, Stanley would have to admit that he’d been quite terrified by the sight of this gigantic black winged creature, seemingly taller and more menacing than any human he’d ever seen; and in a courageous split second decision, he’d been ready to sacrifice himself and the illusion that he was merely a stuffed animal to protect Odo and the others.

            But of course, Stanley would never admit these things, even to himself, so he instead pretends as though he’d been about to massacre Waallter straight in the face, before his keen eyes had recognized the mouth portion of the human’s face and Stanley had – with great skill, stopped his deadly pounce in mid-flight.

            I hate Halohweene. All these humans trying to scare each other, wearing things that make them look like demons. Real demons could walk amongst them tonight and they’d never know… the fools. He thinks, as he stiffens against the strong wind. Shellee is busy taking pictures of the monkeys on the porch in their costumes, and he obediently keeps himself still; so as not to ruin her shot. Next to him, he can feel Odo vibrating with excitement at his new wizard costume that Shellee had created. He smiles at that, knowing that no-one can see his facial expression under his ghost costume. After a few more minutes, Shellee is done with her photo shoot and she gathers up the monkeys, placing them on the couch together as the owners get ready to leave.

            “Stanley! We should play hide and seek in our costumes!” Odo whisperes.

            “Mmm okay.” Stanley replies, having expected this. He’d already picked out a hiding place by the front window so he could still keep an eye out for demons.

            “Allright monkeys, be good!” Shellee says as the two owners head for the door. As soon as they hear the lock finish turning, Odo hops off the couch.

            “Ok everybody! Hide and seek in your costumes! Who wants to look?

            “I will seek this first round.” Mr. Monkey volunteers.

\           The group scatters, while Mr. Monkey obediently covers his eyes and begins counting. Stanley heads for his hiding spot behind the lounge, in front of the tall front window. Looking out at the humans walking up and down the street, he shakes his head. Ghoulish masks, strange outfits, it is all so strange.

            He hears Mr. Monkey finish counting and begin searching. Confident that he won’t be found for at least a little while, Stanley flicks his gaze back and forth between passing trick or treaters. He is amused when he sees a baby human being carried by its parents wearing a little monkey costume.

            Mmm, that’s not so bad.

            But then he see’s a pair of humans who are far too tall to be wearing costumes, at least not unless they are parents. And they have no children accompanying them.

            Mmm, even worse… teenagers He thinks, shaking his head again.

            He becomes even more unhappy with those he’s watching when they tromp off the street and onto the grass in front of the apartment. Then his frustration turns to suspicion when the teenagers continue toward the apartment, and step in close to peek through the window, before heading around the corner, out of his sight.

            “I found you!” Mr. Monkey exclaims, leaning over the edge of the lounge’s arm to see him.

            “Never mind that…” Stanley says, but stops speaking when he hears footsteps on the front porch. Now Mr. Monkey is wondering what is going on, and the two of them listen intently as some bizarre clicking sounds begin emanating from the door.
            On instinct, Stanley leaps up and sprints for the bedroom, running right past Odo, who is hiding under the couch.

            “Stanley, you are not very good at this game…

            But Stanley’s instincts are proven correct when he hears the lock click and the door open. More importantly, he hears unfamiliar footsteps enter the house, footsteps that don’t belong to anyone with a key.

            “Hey man, I told you. Nobodies around on Halloween. I saw these people leave half an hour ago.” Came a whispered voice from the living room.

            “Yah, look a Ps3!” The other stranger, with a higher pitched voice.

            “Take it, and let’s grab that laptop too.”

            “Close the blinds TJ.”

            Stanley pawed the carpet angrily.

            How dare these fools besmirch even so bizarre a holiday as this by stealing from others. And worse for them, how dare they enter this house…

            Glancing about, he starts coming up with a plan of attack. Shelley left her phone behind… It could be used as a distraction, or something else. The other animals must remain hidden and in plush form, or they will be discovered for what they are by these teenage burglars. And he too must somehow confront the enemy without revealing himself to them… He looks around for a projectile weapon of some sort, finds only the strange metal throwing objects Waallter keeps around for his costume. But his gaze lands on the strange box with the black switches that stop the magic devices from operating…

            “This place is dope man! So much good stuff. Way better than the other place.” TJ says to his accomplice as he rifles through the DVD collection.

            “Check out this dude’s games man.”

            The lights go out.

            “What the fu— ” TJ starts to say, but is cut off when something sharp slices through the air next to his ear.

            “Holy sh—”

            The teenagers duck for cover and pull out their cellphones to see by. As they approach the place they thought the knives or whatever came from, the light from their phones lands upon a miniature slingshot, lying on the carpet.

            “What the hell is this?!” TJ asks, picking it up while his accomplice tries to look search the room with his small light source.

            Suddenly, the sound of growling begins to emanate from all around them, and even though they can’t see it, they can hear movement in the darkness.

            “Oh man…”

            The teenagers run screaming from the apartment, their faces clawed and one holding up his sagging pants, as the belt had been sliced from around his waist. They charge into the street, hoping to be lost amongst the other trick or treaters, but to their dismay, some police are pulling into a neighboring apartment building. The teenagers are spotted, and several cameras, watches and DVD’s are found on their person from their previous victims. Their claims that rabid animals attacked them in a house are ignored.

            “Ooh, this is heavy…” Odo says as he tries to help Mr. Monkey and Stanley carry the big black gaming device across the living room.

            “Well done Stanley. The call to the police mentioning the address next door was particularly inspired.” Mr. Monkey comments, to which Stanley only grunts. Scrabbling with the thick power cords, the combined group of animals manage to plug in the last of the electronics before collapsing in a heap on the couch. Just in time, as the footsteps of their owners on the porch galvanizes everyone into changing back into their disguises. Stanley wriggles underneath his ghost sheet just as the door opens, and he permits himself a small smile of satisfaction.

            Maybe this Halohweene isn’t so bad. I get to scare people. More fun that I’d thought.

And We Brood On...

            It’s been three years. What a chunk of time. Every time I think about it, I can’t believe it. I keep thinking of how few posts I’ve written; it can’t be all that many. And how it has to have only been like… a year, tops that I’ve been doing this. But I’m wrong. Time has a way of slipping by you when you’re not looking.

            And since I missed my last anniversary (because I didn’t stop to realize it had been another year already), I conveniently dodged the dilemma of what to do with an anniversary post. Sure there’s the congratulatory pat on the back and the thanks you’s. Pat on the back for three years, check. Thank you’s…
Well, thanks again to Dave for getting me into this. Thanks to Shelley for reading. My mother too, though I can’t thank her in person anymore. Which in a way makes it even more important. Thanks to anyone else who reads these.

            This blog has done some great things for me. It’s allowed me to keep in touch with my craft in time when I surely would have ignored it. It’s forced me to hone my skills, not stick with what I’ve done before but always be moving forward, a skill I value greatly. And it’s given me the chance to produce work that actually is worthy of publishing; and has thusly been published.

            I’ve missed a lot of posts recently, some for good reason, others not. And my commitment to missing as few as possible still stands. But however many I make or don’t, it’s here and it still gets me thinking about writing, which is important to me. I don’t know how long I’ll keep this up, but I’ll try to make it work as long as I can.

And there it is. That’s all I’ve got for an anniversary post. Now I’ve just got to get back to the serious writing and come up with something for next week.

Thanks all,

Walter

A Legend

            I should have just written it off as a crazy old man doing what crazy old men do. He thought. But that voice, the one he didn’t like, replied instantly.

            You’re too intelligent to do that. What he did was too different, too radical, for you to just forget. It’s why you’re here. You knew you could never go back to the way things were. You couldn’t just live that life again. It’s not yours anymore.

           

            The cliff face was buffeted by wind. Afir braced his feet and held out his arms for balance; before shaking his head in disbelief. Slowly, he let his arms down to his sides, and leaned forward. The drop was… inviting. He didn’t feel anything negative toward it, certainly not fear.

            Maybe this won’t be so bad.

            Or maybe it’ll be worse…

            He felt the dirt beneath his shoes slip a little, fought his natural instinct to step back…

            “Lovely view.” Said a voice from behind him.

            He leapt back, whirling as he did so.

            “Who are you!?” He yelled, still reeling from what he’d almost done.

            The owner of the voice, the idiot who’d been so ridiculous as to interrupt a man about to leap off a cliff; was a ragged, middle aged traveler.

            “Just an old traveler, interested in the view from this cliff.” Said the man, taking a few more steps and peering over the edge.

            “I am a Captain of the Corvalian army, and I am within the law to throw you over that cliff for not identifying yourself.” Afir snarled, his fists curled.

            The older man took his time looking out over the trees before he replied.

            “Ah, but you won’t.”

            “And why not?” Afir growled as he stepped forward, grabbing the front of the interloper’s coat.

            “Because a man who’s thinking about throwing himself off a cliff isn’t looking to take anyone with him.” The traveler said calmly, his gaze locked onto Afir’s.

            The Captain let go immediately, as if he held something filthy, and the anger vanished from his face. In fact, he began to feel tears well up in his eyes. He struggled with the conflicting emotions, and turned away. When he looked back, the traveler had seated himself at the cliff edge, dangling his feet over the side. The man motioned for him to do the same.

            Hesitantly, Afir sat, feeling the point where the ground gave way just beneath his knees. He looked over at his strange companion, and his eyes narrowed as he examined the other man’s face and hair.

            “Are you… wearing a disguise?”  He asked, suddenly intensely curious.

            The other man glanced over at him in confusion, before bringing a hand up to feel his cheek.

            “Oh that! Forgot I was wearing it.”  And before Afir’s eyes the man began to strip away wrinkles and brush a silvery dust out of his hair. Instantly, the Captain could see that this traveler wasn’t quite as middle aged as he’d thought. Still not a young man, probably of thirty years, but not the fifty the disguise had fooled him into thinking.

            The traveler finished scrubbing his appearance and looked back at Afir, as though he’d just been doing something insignificant, like brushing a speck of dust from his pant leg.

            When it became clear that the man wasn’t going to explain, Afir asked why he’d been wearing the odd features.

            “Oh just… passing as someone. It’s… a long story.”

            I can’t believe this. Here I am again, with another crazy old man.

            “But, we’re not here to hear my stories. At least… not that one.” Said the man, slapping the dirt between them. “What about you? Why are you so keen to make like a bird and…” He pantomimed something flapping wildly as it fell with his hands.

            “Why does it matter to you?” It wouldn’t matter to anyone else…

            “You’re young, have a long life ahead of you. You’re a man of station, a Captain no less. It’s… a lot to throw away.” The traveler replied.

            Afir shook his head immediately. He’d spent the last few days thinking and rethinking the same arguments. It all ended the same.

            “No it’s not. Not the way I’ve used it.” He said sorrowfully.

            This at least seemed to give the older man pause.

            “You know; that forest down there. It reminds me of a tale I’ve heard a few times…” The gentleman started.

            “Wait, what are you…” Afir sputtered, “We were just talking about…”

            “Hey, I’m not the one contemplating suicide here. If you want company, you’ll just have to sit through a story.” The traveler interrupted.

            But I never wanted company! That’s the whole point!

            But there was that voice again…

            Are you sure?

            “So as I was saying… I’ve heard this story a few times, usually around a campfire. Don’t ask me why, but this story seems to work better told in the dark.” He stopped to glance around at the overcast sky with scattered spots of sun. “Pity.”
            “The Legend of the Ranger. Ever heard it?” He turned expectantly.

            “No.”

            “Well, I can’t say I’m surprised, the kind of crowd you hang around with.”

            Afir’s eyebrows shot up, and he couldn’t help but shake his head vigorously at this strange man who had gone from talking him down from suicide, to insulting him.

            The traveler had noticed and threw up his hands as if to say, “What can I say, it’s the truth?”

            “Anyway, this story will be very different depending on who you hear it from. So if anyone else ever offers to tell it to you, turn them down. It’ll just muddy the whole thing up.”

            “The Legend goes that nearly a hundred years ago, a man lost everything. His farm, his wife, his purpose in life. Sometimes people say it was a roving band of bandits, some say he was caught in the middle of a war, but either way, his house was burned to the ground, all his belongings lost, everything he held dear gone. And this man wandered into the forest nearby, not even sure if he wanted to live anymore. He just kept walking, not stopping to eat, drink or sleep. After a couple days, he was stumbling through the woods at night when he saw a light in the distance. And as he got closer, he heard sounds of a fight. Curious for the first time since the destruction of his house, he crept closer and found that a merchant was trying to beat off a group of thugs’ intent on killing him and stealing his cart of goods. Some say that the man recognized these thugs as part of the gang that killed his wife, others prefer to think that the merchant cried out, “Please, it’s all I have!” and that set the man off. Whichever way you prefer it, the man jumped out of the forest at one of the bandits and he was so emaciated and pale that the thug immediately thought he was a ghoul of some sort and took off. His partner turned around to see the man in the torchlight and came to the same conclusion. The merchant was grateful, and wanted to reward the man. But; with his burst of fervor spent, the man was hollow again, devoid of feeling, and started to wander off again. Still, the merchant followed him, refusing to ignore the good deed. He eventually convinced the man to sit on his cart, and the merchant took him to his home, a small cabin hidden deep in the forest. After a lot of coaxing and some bullying, the trader managed to get the wanderer inside, freshly clothed and even managed to get some food in the man. And as they sat at the table, he said to the man; ‘I’ve seen your type before. Empty men, who’ve lost everything, and are waiting to die. And even if you don’t care about anything, if everything has lost its meaning to you, there are others who haven’t. There are people who desperately need things to be fixed, wrongs to be righted, bad people stopped. And for all the people who want these things with all the passion that you no longer have, I say to you, why waste a body with nothing else to do. If you can be of no more use to yourself, to a family, to anything in your own life, be of use to others. Because other people have desperate need of what you no longer value. Even if just every once in a while you do what you did tonight, you can keep someone else from becoming what you are.’ The trader got up and headed off to bed, leaving the man to think. And when he came down the next morning, the wanderer was still there. From then on, the wanderer went with the merchant to whatever towns he visited, and took lessons from the captains of the guard they met. After a year or so of this, when they returned to the cabin for the winter, the wanderer, equipped with a dark green cloak tailored to blend with the forest and unique weapons tailored to his skill set, he bid goodbye to the merchant and went off to be of use.”

            The traveler paused, taking out a water skin from a pocket. After a sip, he glanced over at Afir, probably checking to see if he was still interested.

            “No one knows where the name ‘The Ranger’ came from. Some say the merchant made it up, spreading it around to help his friend in his quest. Others say it was spread amongst the bandits of the area so they’d have something to call this menace that they all tried to avoid. But it suited him well, and spread about the continent, inspiring fear in those who made their living robbing others; and to some it was spread as a glimpse of hope. That the world was not so bleak. That somewhere out there, there was someone protecting those who needed it. And it’s continued on ever since.

            They say that every generation has one. It’s a fact that it hasn’t been the same one this whole time. But… according to legend, it’s not as if the Ranger takes on an apprentice or anything, passing on the mantle. It’s almost more like… fate. As if, just when a Ranger is needed, someone will be in the position to take up the job. Some religions have even pointed to that being proof for their gods’ existence. Personally I think it might be a little more hands on, but you’re not really here for my interpretation.” He looked over at the soldier once more, waiting to see if Afir had any questions. But he remained silent. The older man put his water skin back in his pocket and got to his feet. He paused, cocking his head up, in that way people do when they’re trying to remember something.

            “Come to think of it, I haven’t heard an account of a Ranger actually being seen in a little while.” He shrugged, and with a wave, walked away.

I should have just written it off as a crazy old man doing what crazy old men do. He thought.

But I didn’t.

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Roslyn Lutsch

One of my readers. An avid horseback rider, in her youth. An artist. A professional. A romantic. My mother.

            She was a moral woman, a wonderful teacher, and a person who sought the better, higher, most beautiful aspects of life. Adventure and romance, elegance in thought and action, heroes and magical journeys.

            And while she was convinced that with age she had lost her beauty; it was mostly a humble nature talking, with a slight desire for reassurance that this was not the case. But most beautiful of all, were the things I had the immense fortune to be influenced by as I grew up. A spirit that firmly believed in the good of the world, the purity of people, and the noble beauty of nature and the universe.

            She was someone who believed in just a little hint beyond the physical, beyond science. Magic, the kind you grow up with as a child at Christmas. And whether she brought it, or merely enhanced it; the thing I will miss most is the unique brand of Christmas magic that thrilled me every year. The kind that pulls you back from the rigors and upsetting realities of our world; delights you with unexpected wonder and belief in genuine, pure good.

            I hope that the magic I knew as a child hasn’t been lost with the passing of my mother. I hope that it still exists, somewhere out there, waiting to be invited into a living room. Maybe yet another gift my mother has given me, is the ability to usher that magic into my life and the lives of my family. Or maybe she’ll send it from wherever she is now, another Christmas gift every year.

            I hope it’s true. I hope I’ll feel it again.

            I love you Momma. I didn’t say it enough when you could hear it, at least not the way we hear it. But I hope you hear it now.

Missed Posts while on the Trip

Two more to add to the wall of shame.