Sunday, October 30, 2005

Weird Science: Deep Ones


So who is king of the deep, most ferocious predator of the depths, terror of the silent dark sea bottoms? A shark - wimp. A giant Squid - all tentacles. Sponge Bob - Pssst, he’s not real . . .

Nope, the king of the deep waters are the Deep Ones.

But by Deep Ones, I don’t mean H. P. Lovecraft’s creations, but rather a species of extreme deep water predator called, layman-term - Dragonfish. And for the non-layman they are called Stomiiformes. Stabs terror straight into your heart, no?

Okay, so the name may not be too horrific, but let’s go on to a description of these relentless monsters and see if we can’t conjure up some nightmares.

Or, if you like, just stare at the image long enough and picture yourself out swimming at the cottage - maybe that tickling on your feet isn’t just the weeds . . .

Anyhow, Dragonfish tend to be dark in color with elongated bodies. They have hinged teeth and specialized jaws able to expand dramatically. They eat anything, are fearless, and often feed on others larger than themselves.

I’ve either just described "Aliens", local politicians, or the Dragonfish family. Actually all apply, but Aliens and politicians don’t have numerous brilliant photophores along the sides of their bodies with which to communicate and confuse prey. Um, well not most politicians or Aliens anyhow.

Other unique characteristics include teeth which look like shards of glass. The bottom teeth can often reach over the top of the head, but don’t get in the fish’s way. They have a lure, called a barbel, under their lower jaw to lure in unsuspecting prey.

And the coolest feature of all is their probing and suspected communication system. Just under their eyes are red-light emitters (something straight out of science fiction) which they use to see in the dark waters of the deep. Their emissions are so far into the red spectrum that special equipment is needed to notice it - perfect for hunting and communicating Dragonfish.

So the title of Deep Ones really belongs to the Dragonfish.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Horror Book Review: The Cold One

The Cold One
Written by prolific author Christopher Pike, this book (not one of his numerous young adult offerings) is a true to the genre horror book.

It comes complete with those familiar situations where you just know the victims are toast (slang for they will be killed), an almost unbeatable evil that is so, for lack of a better word, "cold" you just know trouble is on the brew and all of mankind could be in peril.

A fairly long and convoluted plot including mystic Eastern philosophies and prophecies too. Not what I would call a real page turner, but by the mid point of the book I was wondering how it was all going to end.

And well, it doesn’t, really.

It is only the first book in at least a two book set and, quite frankly, I’m not going to bother with the next one. Pike is a competent author, but this set of circumstances and this "evil" just don’t’ hold enough attention for me to spend any more time getting to know them or what they are going to do.

I don’t’ really know what to make of this book exactly. I mean this author has sold millions of books - oh, maybe I hit on something there. Anyway, my overall impression of the book left me kind of - you guessed it - cold.

I can’t say I wouldn’t recommend it, it’s just that this type of book is not for me. Then again, I can’t really say I like many Stephen King books either (I see you giving me the sign) so what do I know.

For me a good horror comes from minds of Lovecraft, Blackwood or Bloch.

Read if you want, but remember, this is only the beginning.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Musings: I Got A Rock


Well, you most likely had one of two reactions to today’s post title. One would be, huh? - Oh, another for the collection in your head - I see.

The other would be visions of Charlie Brown comparing candy acquisitions on the traditional door to door Halloween hunt.

Tis the season once again. And, if you have never seen "It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" what the hell are you waiting for? You are excused if you don’t have a full set of your first teeth yet - you others - shame on you.

All of the Peanuts Specials come prepackaged now on DVD and you might even be able to find some copies on VHS. That stands for "Video . . .something, something" for you youngsters. Not all things spring to North America’s TV sets via satellites and discs. Which reminds me, my eight track needs cleaning again . . . But I digress.

Anyhow, there is nothing which gets me in the seasonal special occasion spirit, (I see those who know me going, huh?), like a Peanuts special, and the Great Pumpkin is no exception.

We get to see Snoopy take on the Red Baron atop his doghouse, Linus waiting with conviction for the Great Pumpkin and Sally reluctantly waiting too, and yes, we see Charlie Brown getting rocks. And how hard can it be to cut two holes in a ghost costume I ask you? All part of the great humor hidden in this American gem.

And if you are a regular watcher of "How I Met Your Mother" you got the reference to this great classic on last week’s episode with Ted waiting for the "Slutty Pumpkin" to return at the Halloween party. I think he even had a blue blanket on the rooftop. I know, two reactions to that reference as well.

My daughter is the perfect age now to enjoy this special and she laughs as hard as I do when Charlie Brown gets a rock. Are we just cruel animals to do so, or do we know this is all a wonderful, comical, familiar (for some of us) wondering down a path of inspirational joy.

Well it is for me, I say with a waiter’s towel around my arm, and (Insert scene from "The Meaning of Life") if you don’t see it my way.

Get it, see it, treasure it. And if you have kids you gotta get them indoctrinated - screw the reality shows and see the Peanuts specials instead. They don’t give a rat’s ass who wins the damn race, they will just want to know if Snoopy wins the fight and what Charlie gets for Halloween . . .

Or whether he gets a Valentine . . .

Or the right Christmas tree . . .

Huh - Where am I?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Short Story: Clear Signals

Signals from space but not from space. Always a fascination of mine, plus the twisted story ideas always just came easy to me. Here is my short story of discovery, illusion and, yup, signals from space.



Clear Signals
by Paul Darcy


What really happened remains unknown. How it could have happened is a matter of conjecture. The facts are few, the findings at the scene even fewer. The device used was one designed to eradicate all traces of itself and the equipment around it. As far as could be determined no such device existed. Yet the devastation was undeniable.

Douglas Harting had been up for too many hours and felt as though he had even less idea of what had happened than the day before. His friend Charles had left hours ago after they had discussed every conceivable explanation for what had happened again. Organizing his discs and papers, Douglas took a quick shower and went to bed. What Charles had ultimately proposed was as absurd as their findings. Douglas, and open minded individual could not and did not want to accept what Charles had proposed. That truth, if such it was, lead to insanity.

Sleep did not come easily, but when it overtook him he was completely in its grasp. He had to file his report the next day with local authorities, but organizing it and making sense of it was still eluding him, despite Charles’s ultimate explanation. He wasn’t exactly sure any more what really happened anyway.

His mind would not let it go of events...

***

...Thunderstorms raged across the tropic land. Great sheets of water cascaded from the skies. It was almost like being under a waterfall. Douglas turned the Hummer’s windshield wipers on high and squinted to see through the downpour. He was trying desperately to make out the road before him. Dawn was approaching, but the heavy grey sky cloaked the sun’s attempt to illuminate it. For all intents and purposes it was still the dead of night. This rain and dark were making a fast ascend difficult if not dangerous. Douglas, impatient and half asleep, drove the Hummer less carefully than normal. Douglas was reacting to a frantic call from his good friend Charles Prigham, director of the Choupan Observatory in Venezuela. He had said he had discoverd something unbelievable and needed Douglas’s opinion on the matter immediately. He had sounded extremely agitated and on edge. Something this important, Charles urged, could not wait.

After several near accidents and minutes which seemed like hours, Douglas finally pulled in beside his friends truck outside the Choupan Observatory. Not long before he had passed through the cloud layer and the storm was left behind. Strange. It was like climbing through cloudy skies in a plane and breaking through into sunshine. Leaving the keys in the ignition, Douglas bolted from the truck and made for the Observatory’s entrance. Though it did not rain at this altitude, a steady moist wind blew strongly, buffeting him.

Douglas was looking forward to returning to dry Arizona and doing without rain for a while. Douglas creaked open the door which, once he had stepped inside, slammed behind him blocking but not completely stopping the winds insistent thrashing. Hastily tossing his coat on a hook, Douglas ascended the stairs leading to the Observatory’s control room. Charles should be there waiting for him.

"Charles," Douglas called reaching the top of the stairs. Computer monitors shed the only light in the control room casting an eerie glow. Projected stretched shadows of equipment decorated the walls. Douglas was reminded of the X-Files. Silly really, but that’s what came to mind. He could see the huge telescope dimly through a large pain of glass. It was a thirty two inch refractor build decades ago but still in perfect operating condition. They eyepiece for the telescope was still available, but nobody looked directly through it anymore. The human eye had been replaced by CCDs, infinitely more capable of detecting minor fluctuations in radiation. Douglas moved clear of the stair landing and into the control room proper. All of the chairs were empty.

"Charles," Douglas tried again louder this time. Still there was no reply. He must be in the washroom. Douglas sat down in one of the control chairs and viewed the terminal’s display. It was a fluid graph repeating waves on a scale. The computers speakers were turned down low and he could hear some sound accompanying the images. A series of sky coordinates were displayed in the upper right of the screen; it would indicate where the telescope was pointing. Douglas turned the computer’s volume up. Clicking, squealing noises increased in volume and corresponded to the rising and falling of the wave patterns on the graph.

"Something’s out there, Douglas." Charles voice boomed from directly behind.

"For Christ’s sakes, Charles," Douglas jumped. "You trying to give me heart attack?"

Charles slapped Douglas on the shoulder. "Sorry, but I couldn’t resist. Doesn’t really matter anyhow. Any idea what you are looking at here?" Charles pointed to the screen.

"It’s a pretty strong clear signal. Repeating. Satellite?" Douglas guessed.

"Right you are, Douglas. Only one problem."

"What’s that?"

"No satellite’s in that part of the sky. Actually, nothing at all in that part of the sky. A totally black zone. Should pick up only background radiation from the big bang." Charles smiled. "The big bang. But, this signal is coming from there, I have no doubt about it." Charles’s smile broadened. Douglas thought he looked deranged.

"Maybe a weird bouncing signal from high level clouds? The storms pretty bad out there." Douglas tried another explanation.

"Douglas, I thought of that. I thought of every conceivable explanation and there isn’t one. There just plain isn’t one. I thought I was going insane out here alone. So, I called you. I want you to verify what I have already checked. Because if I am wrong, I will be a happy man. If I am not, well. I would say the world will change. But it won’t. Not in the least"

"Okay, you’ve got my interest. What the hell is going on? If this is some kind of joke? I’ve known you for a long time, Charles, and quite frankly, this is not your stile. So come clean. What’s going on here?"

Charles tapped his finger to his chin as if in deep thought. "What if what I was about to tell you would negate everything you have ever believed your whole life? What if I could convince you of the simplicity of everything you see around you. What if I told you all this was not real?" Charles had a strange look on his place. It was haunted, angered, disturbed. Douglas looked at the computer screen, then back at Charles again.

"Well if you were to tell me all those things, Charles, I would expect a great deal of proof. A computer malfunction or a ghost signal is not really going to cut it, if you know what I mean."

"Oh, I know what you mean. And I don’t really have undeniable proof. The clear signal is coming from a location of space where there should not be any such signal. Have you checked the location for yourself yet?" Charles leaned forward as if to peer at the coordinates displayed on the screen again.

Douglas looked to. "Yes, and I confirm what you are saying. However, it is not the first time signals have been misinterpreted. Charles, you sounded frantic on the phone, like your life was in danger or something. Yet you seem much more composed now, even if you are acting strange. Okay, lay it on me. I have always thought of myself as having an open mind. Whatever it is you have to tell me can’t be that shocking."

Charles sat down in a free control chair and grinned again. "You know, we really have been fooled. You and I and all the others. All the others that really exist I mean."

Douglas held up a hand, "Wait a minute. What do you mean the others that really exist at all?"

"Well, quite plainly what I mean is our whole life is a lie. A carefully crafted, almost impossible to penetrate lie. You see, it finally dawned on me when I was desperately searching for a reason why a clear signal should come from someplace it could not come from."
"And the reason is?" Douglas prodded.

"The reason is, it is coming from outside our reality, or the reality constructed for us. Absolutely simple really and it took me a lot of thinking before you arrived to piece together why it should be so."

"Charles, if you are trying to tell me we are in some Hollywood production of the Matrix or Vanilla Sky, count me out. This is stretching things too far into the realm of science fiction. I mean, sure, we can’t absolutely prove anything because you can always ask the question why one more time until eventually you reach a non-determinable answer. But, come on Charles, do you actually believe we are in a simulation of some sort? This sounds too close to religion to me. God out there turning the dials, tweaking our lives or at the very least setting the program in motion and letting it run its course. Actually, now that I think about it it sounds more like Douglas Adams to me."

"I understand your reaction. We are both scientists. We should both be rational, but I have changed this night, Douglas. The things which always struck me as not quite right fell into place after I picked up and analyzed the clear signals. We have been guided into areas of science, not through our own ingenuity, but through a sense of purpose and I think I know why. How long I will be allowed to talk to you about this is not certain so I’ll try to explain as briefly as possible. What I truly believe now is that the reality we know is a construct. Its purpose is either for amusement, or to solve problems. I think it’s for the latter."

"You know, Charles, this is really getting far fetched. Intellectually interesting, but outside the realm of possibility surely."

"Can you be so certain, Douglas. Consider. How long have you been alive? Forty years. What were you doing before then? Nothing, right. You didn’t exist, conscienceness came when the complexity of your cellular structures reached a certain concentration. Well is it not as easy to say you were placed here, inside this grand illusion, to live a life. To live for a reason, a possible purpose? Do you really know the dinosaurs roamed the earth millions of years ago? Were you there first hand to witness it. I know, I’m sounding like a nutcase, but hear me out. Our experiences are mostly learned from others or what we have been told. Sure there is plenty of hands on, but that is so easy to program into a simulation. Consider the advances in electronics and computers we all know about. We are being manipulated into understanding how things work. A thought like this a hundred years ago would not even have occurred except for philosophers perhaps, if there even was a hundred years ago at all."

Douglas rubbed his eyes trying to keep an open mind but almost ready to laugh out loud. "So, Charles. If you are correct, all of the existence we know is not real, but created. To solve a problem or as amusement you said. Like the Truman show. That would be a grand joke wouldn’t it?"

"The joke depends on what the purpose is, Douglas. I think we are entities placed into this simulation to collectively solve problems and possibly generate amusement at the same time. We are being taught about computers, artificial intelligence and many other advanced concepts in preparation for extraction. We are so close to a unified field theorum and I believe that is one of the things we are here to discover. We are advancing, or are being shown advances, in computers everyday. Think of the realistic computer simulations already available. Extrapolate that into a hundred years from now, a thousand. I think it’s already happened, and we are in the product of the future. A simulation like the life we lead today is easily obtainable with that kind of technology. Consider our minds don’t really process direct stimulus from outside. Only the brain interprets input from the senses. Senses we already know can be altered through any number of means. I say we are inside that simulation to solve the great problems for those outside. Once all the superstring theories are combined, I think the plug is going to be pulled and we will be going home, wherever that is."

"Uh, Charles. Have you ever considered that you have been spending too many late nights alone here at the Observatory?"

"May be, Douglas. But for whatever bizarre reason I feel absolutely compelled that this is the truth. This clear signal from nowhere, I believe is a leak or a flaw in the system. If, as we are lead to believe, computers are as fast at calculating then this entire concept of time we perceive may be a construct as well. For all we know we may have only been in this created world for seconds in a vastly fast complex program. That hole will be plugged or programmed out soon. I know, call the men in white coats."

The door to the observatory slammed downstairs. The wind was not strong enough to have caused it. Both me jumped. "Who the hell could that be?" Douglas asked.

"Whoever it is has traveled a long way on a bad night to get here. You were the only one I called and nobody else is expected today. Any guesses?"

The signal abruptly stopped. The computer monitors displayed blank screens. Both men waited nervously. Douglas silently cursed Charles for filling his head with wild nonsense. It wasn’t making this situation any easier to take.

Douglas was suddenly blinded by a bright flash of light. He stood up, held his arms to shield his head. The chair tumbled behind him. His eyes adjusted somewhat and he could make out a sphere of light. Ball lightning. He knew all about it just never experienced it first hand. It was one of the leading culprits for alien abduction theories. Christ what was he thinking. The ball came closer. Douglas blacked out.

***

When Douglas came to he was in a hospital room. Charles was in the bed next to him. A doctor strode in at that precise moment. "Ah, good." The doctor consulted a chart at the end of Douglas’s bed. "You are actually free to go. We thought it best if you stayed the night here, just for surveillance purposes. If you will just sign here."

Douglas received the clipboard from the doctor and signed under his name. He got up, dressed at the same time as Charles.

"Charles?"

"Yeh, Douglas."

"We were at the Observatory last night, weren’t we?"

Charles gave Douglas the weirdest look Douglas had ever seen. "You okay Douglas? We were in a car wreck on are way to a sky trip in the Himalayas."

"What the..."

"Just shitten ya, Douglas. Of course we were at the Observatory, where else would we be listening to a clear signal from an empty sky."

Douglas had a sudden urge to strangle Charles. "I think I liked you before this simulation theory. Damn will you stop trying to give me a heart attack."

Douglas and Charles went immediately back to the Observatory. The computer memories were wiped. The magnetic recording tapes were clear. When the telescope was trained to the same place in the sky where the night before it had captured a clear signal, all it picked up was background radiation.

They went back to Douglas’s place and talked long into the night. They needed to make a report of the damaged and wiped equipment. It didn’t make sense. In fact it made as much sense as being in a simulation to begin with. Damn, this was totally silly. Charles left. Douglas had a shower and went to bed...

***

The alarm went off at ten. Douglas slapped at the clock in irritation. It never seemed that he got enough sleep. He got out of bed, dressed and shaved and headed into work. Once there he stepped up to the counter. The smell of pepperoni hung in the air. "Hey Charles, any deliveries yet?

"Ah, not yet. Might as well grab a coffee."

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Musings: Out Of The Minds Of Babes


The Opportunity (sounds corporate and creepy doesn’t it? - it is getting close to Halloween after all): Come up with a craft that 5 and 6 year old girls can do in about 15 minutes. Now, this may sound like an easy task, but it is not. Should it be coloring - boring. Construction paper things - boring. Finger painting - you have got to be kidding. Hey, how about making a spider! Cool - but how?

The How: Take some black yarn wrap it around a square of cardboard cut the ends, tie it up, glue on eyes and - holy crap this is hard, even for an ambidextrous origami master adult to do, so - ditch that design. Um, prepacked spider kits from the Dollar store. There we go - how hard can they be?

The Trial: Prepacked spider kit open - okay, glue this red fuzzball to that black fuzzball - next, hey wait - how in hell can you glue a straw to a ball of fuzz? Oops, now the fuzz balls have unglued. How, what the, crap, - this is some insane torture toy developed by China to shave years off North American’s lives. It’s not really possible to do without extensive Zen training and crazy glue. Yeah, crazy glue and 5 to 6 year old girls - see a problem here? Medic!

The "Easy" Version: Okay, here is my solution. Get a small white Styrofoam ball, color it with a crayon, stick in pipe cleaners, glue on eyes and lastly glue on cute little fuzzy pompom feet. Voila, cute colorful spider that is easy to make even if you aren’t 7 yet - right?

The Reality: Craft time arrives, balls are being colored, some pipe cleaners are being inserted, some eyes make it to the Styrofoam ball glued in place. Many hands and voices raised for help, but that is always expected for any craft with a large group of young children. This is fun, no? All is going sort of smoothly until - (Insert Psycho theme here!) - fuzzy feet time.

The Disaster: Pipe cleaners ends and fuzzy pompoms do not easily attach. Well maybe for me, but I am 41, not 5 or 6. Trouble in little paradise. Many pleas for help, not many spider feet being attached that don’t immediately come unglued. Alone, sits one girl, thinking so far outside the box as to not even notice a box at all. Dad, Mom, no other girl in the place finds the solution but one. And it is just so simple. Once seen it is amazing that it wasn’t thought of before.

The Solution: All you need to do is twist the pipe cleaner end around the fuzzy pompom and it is attached. How hard can it be, Dad? This elegant solution escaped twenty other kids and eluded six adults, but not my daughter. Sorry for the proud daddy rambling, but it was so sweetly and innocently and elegantly done that I had to retell it here in cyber-space.

Out of the minds of babes.

Sometimes you have to just sit back and admire it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Musings: Khaaaaaaaaaaaaan!

Captain Kirk
One picture is all it takes.

Cracks me up every time.

Good for a Monday.

Perm, wig or real?

Musings: Sometimes You Gotta Stay Home


Fatigue.

Burnout.

Depression.

We’ve all come face to face with them once in a while - no?

If not, you are a either a cyborg, not of this world or lying. I’m blogging about this because, well, even though I am possibly able to go to work today after being sick the last couple, I am not willing to push it - any more.

I am reminded of what a boss of mine from years ago told me about being sick and staying home. He said, "the work will always be here". I was young then and not thinking too much about staying home from work, even if I was not at my best. So dripping nose, sour throat, aching bones I would carry myself to my cubicle and carry on like it really made a difference.

It didn’t.

Not

One

Damn

Bit!

Boy has my attitude changed these days. You see "the work will always be there" is so absolutely true. I have found that I could spend ten hours a day, eight days a week up to my eyeballs in work, slaving as fast as I could to get results - but you know what - after all of that . . .

The work will always be there.

And the faster you work, the more you are given and pretty soon you look around to other cubicles and see that the people there have slowed down, and when you are young you ask yourself why. But when you get older you suddenly realize the answer -

The work will always be there.

So why then would I put my health on the line, not to mention spread my illness to others, for work? Why does anyone? Do I have some delusional programming telling me that my contribution to corporate North America is really that important? Do I keel over and believe the threats of sending my job overseas, or getting fired or paid less?

Maybe I did - once.

But the sad truth is the CEOs and Board members (millionaires all) decide where the work will go and how it will be done and there is not a damn thing you can do to change it. Even if you work ten hours a day, eight days a week. If it’s cheaper in India - India is where it will go.

Sometimes you gotta stay home and get better.

Sometimes you gotta stay home and work on a better plan for "your" future.

But no matter what you do,

The work will always be there.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Weird Science: Leyden Jars

Leyden jar and generator
No, not a new age band or a container for grandma’s preserves. Leyden jars are early forms (actually the first recorded in the entire history of the universe as we know it . . . um,) of capacitors which store an electrical charge and were, and are, still used in classrooms to demonstrate the same.

Around the year 1745 the Leyden jar was first described by E. Geog van Kleist (1700-1748). The Leyden Jar was also used by physics professor Pieter van Musschenbroek (1692-1761) while teaching at the University of Leyden, and hence the name of the jar came from that association.

So, it’s a capacitor. But what is a capacitor you say and what is the Leyden jar made of?

First, let’s quickly explain what a capacitor is. We all know the one from "Back To The Future", the flux version (purely technobabble if ever there was one, but a cool story mechanism . . .)

And now back to reality - A capacitor is something which contains two pieces of material that conduct electricity separated by a piece of material which is an insulator, or does not conduct electricity (at least not very well). This capacitor can temporarily store electrical charges.

The Leyden jar happens to be the first capacitor that could store large amounts of electrical charge. So let’s see just what the jar was. Maybe granny Kleist was short a few glass ones for jam while junior Kleist made off with them to play?

The first Leyden jars, made of glass, contained inside them an inner wire electrode which was touching either water, mercury (you know that fun wacky poisonous liquid metal - danger, danger!), or wire. The outer electrode was the human hand holding the glass container.

Updated versions of the original jars used separate metal foils (like tinfoil not the "en garde" type) with the inner foil connected to a conducting rod (electrical conduction, not Phil Harmonic . . . do you really need these clarifications? - I wonder) which terminated in a conducting sphere. This newer design eliminated the need for poisonous liquid metals or water.

To demonstrate their use they were charged up with an electrostatic generator, to the delight of startled and keen young minds in school.

I recall my very own experience in electrical class when our crazy teacher charged one from an electrical outlet then unleashed it at a small metal garbage can effectively blowing it off his desk to crash onto the floor. It was his way of showing us electricity is nothing to play with - all I was assured of was this guy was dangerous and should not be allowed around children . . . I wonder where he is today?

Capacitors have come a long way since the Leyden jar and have many uses in computers, televisions, automobile ignition systems, recoding devices, radio receivers and transmitters, time traveling DeLoreans . . . er, ignore that last one.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Science Fiction Book Review: Psychohistorical Crisis

Psychohistorical Crisis
First off, I would like to note that my book reviews, at least the titles, are being narrowed down with the hopes that search robots will categorize my site a little better so that people looking for specifics in cyber-space may find what they are actually looking for.

Book review is too vague, so from now on, and retroactively, I will have categories before each book review. They will be; science fiction, horror, fantasy and mystery - the four types of books I most commonly read.

Now, on to this particular science fiction book review.

Psychohistorical Crisis, written by Donald Kingsbury, is indeed, as you probably guessed by the title, set in Asimov’s Foundation universe. It is another piece of a magnificent puzzle of Foundation, in this case the Second Foundation, where we explore all those great Psychohistorical ideas.

Most of the action of this book takes place on Splendid Wisdom, (aka - Trantor), where everybody from birth has a "fam" installed to work in tandem with their brain. Sounds horrid, but actually it is a powerful computer which is accessed directly from the mind with almost unlimited information, unique to each individual and installed at birth. The protagonist of the book, Eron Osa, has had his removed, but he doesn’t know why. You must do something very very bad to have that happen.

The book deals with greater ideas, but mostly how Eron finds out why it was done and what he can do about it and how to survive without one - not as easy as you might think. A vast picture is painted in an already vast universe created by Asimov, and the combination leaves you satisfied, if you are into the Foundation saga in the first place.

Even if you have never read Asimov’s Foundation books, (where have you been the last four decades?), it is still a good read with enough action and mystery and science to keep you going.

And worth reading if you have already invested the time in Asimov’s Foundation universe.

Donald Kingsbury, with Psychohistorical Crisis, creates a nice fitting piece in a larger work.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Musings: Mind-Grain


It all starts in the mind. Sex, drugs, even rock and roll – oh, and migraines too.

Which I seem to have,

at the moment,

can you tell.

One thought, that’s all it takes. First there is a spark, then flame, then smoke – then my head pounding like a kettle drum wielded by a Mordor Troll Drummer.

But I will survive because survival is key to, umm, surviving.

So, is there something other outside our squishy grey (or is that gray) matter’s complexity which creates the mind? Or do I just pop another Tylenol and call it a day?

I thought, but found I wasn’t yesterday.

So am I or am I not?

This twisted mind may not hold the answer, maybe even Deep Thought would have trouble with that one.

And I have found that those who appear to hold the answers merely obfuscate the truth with nested confabulations, like a badly coiffed 18th century female’s wig – complete with mice.

And those that admit they know nothing hold more answers than most.

Life is what you Matrix – oh, was that a Freudian slip? I can’t tell from the drumming – Doom, Doom, Doom.

Iodine and vitamin C deficiencies. Do they hold the key, or are they simply symptoms. Only the wealthy pharmaceutical companies know for sure – and you can bet they will never tell – only dispense – more drugs.

So, alone, I sit and ponder while I wonder at the cobwebs on my ceiling. Did I put them there? Where is my Tylenol?

Rest now for my crinkled lobes, nestled gently in a sea of salty water, caught this moment in a vicious riptide.

And dream – of tomorrow,

when this farking migraine is gone!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Short Story: Randal's Place


Sometimes a past event can haunt you.

Sometimes it can drive you crazy.

Sometimes helping others is not what they want, but what you want.

Sometimes things, and people, are better left alone.


Randal's Place
by Paul Darcy

Jillian’s eyes were stunning, beautiful and blue-green. Eyes which consumed Randal’s life. Each time, before Jillian’s car hit the pot hole, she and Randal exchanged glances. Each time it is exactly the same.

If possible, Randal would freeze that moment.

If possible, Randal would not let Jillian die . . .

Stopping this memory, Randal turned off the water, and stepped out of the shower. This particular memory, far too vivid, far too real, always left him dislocated. While dressing, he could still smell the mountain air, hear the faint echos of the crash. There were six small pebbles before the lip of the pothole. That horrible accident occurred ten years ago, but the images, smells, textures and sensations, once recalled, never faded in his mind, every minutia retained in exact detail. Whenever he wished to recall that memory Randal would think about it, and it would come.

The year following the accident, Randal spent months trying to draw the images from his mind. He was left with a collection of illustrations distorted by his inexperienced hand, a child’s scribbles. Having little skill as an artist, Randal stopped. Why bother when he could view the detail any time? And his recall would be perfect, better than any artist’s rendering. Those eyes. Those terrified, beautiful blue-green eyes.

Randal’s search for the truth about his unusual condition was futile. Nobody offered a satisfactory explanation. He listened to many theories, harebrained ones, about eidetic memory or post traumatic stress syndrome. But they were textbook psychologists’ dogma. If the psychologist’s interpretations of his condition were true, why did Randal share no uncanny intimacy with other events from his life? Randal’s other memories came to him in the proper distorted perspective, dreamlike, indistinct. They were normal memories.

Except Jillian’s death.

Randal’s friends thought him crazy, and he wondered himself. The only doctor to take him seriously gave Randal an MRI. But nothing unexpected registered on the instruments throughout the scan. Even during the height of recall, when Randal glimpsed Jillian’s beautiful and fear filled eyes, her white knuckles on the wheel, when he could smell the mountain air, feel the wind on his skin, hear the sounds of squealing tires and . . .

But the MRI scan revealed normal brain activity. How could this one event torment his mind with excruciating detail without any physiological trace? It was like a recurring visit from hell, agonizing reality without substance. But as vivid and unsettling as the event was, Randal was drawn to it, and viewed his ability as a kind of power. Always it was the beautiful features of Jillian, especially those stunning eyes, which drew him back like a drug. Why did Jillian have to die? Randal should have done something besides watch.

Licence plate number ten-o-four-six-three. The owner was Jillian Buell, five foot six inches tall, one hundred and twenty pounds. Eyes: blue-green, beautiful, those of an angel. Jillian was twenty-three. It was midsummer and Jillian, recently graduated from University, was taking a road trip across Canada before starting a permanent job in Vancouver. How did Randal know this? After ten years of research, Randal accumulated all the facts. Randal even spoke with Jillian’s parents once, though that experience was painful and pointless. There was nothing he could do to ease their pain. How could he? What could Randal say or do to console them? All he could offer was an impeccable account of how Jillian died . . .

Randal, hitchhiking in the rocky mountains, heard the sound of squealing tires a long distance off. Someone was traveling too fast down the winding mountain road. Randal stood still, unable to do anything except listen to the screeching tires, feel the mountain wind blowing cold on his skin. The damp air and heavy gray clouds promised rain. Randal began to breathe rapidly, waiting, tense. The pothole, one foot in diameter, was easy to spot. Six pebbles sat around its rim. It is the spot where the blue nineteen-ninety-nine Pontiac Grand Prix’s front tire will hit and blow. The tire, a Goodyear Eagle P185/75R15, is polished. The wear knobs, still intact around the tires’ circumference, stick out like black needles. The polished five spoke rim will bite the pavement and hurl the speeding car into a rolling crash. Jillian’s car will rotate precisely four times before he loses sight of it as it smashes into the guardrail and through. Randal will see Jillian behind the wheel, panic frozen on her beautiful face, her eyes wide, her hands gripping the wheel, knuckles white, hair streaming . . .

Make it stop, Randal thought, grabbing his head. And before the car came around the fated turn again, he was clear of the vision. The painful memory passed as rapidly as a cough. If Jillian didn’t hit that pothole she would survive. Randal thought that every time. And every time he did nothing, nothing but watch.

Cold salmon straight from the can and a half loaf of bread. It was Friday night and Randal’s friends wanted him to go out, but he decided to watch a movie at home. Randal retreated to his apartment, sat in the darkness, searching for a resolution. His friends were trying to get him out of his shell. Damn them, they had no idea of his torment.

After twenty minutes, Randal turned off the pale images on the television. They were nothing like . . .

Far off squealing tires, roaring engine. Randal stood still like a statue, the deer in the headlights. The pothole, the damp wind, the clouds, the weight of the pack pressing on his back, were immediate and real. He must prevent it. Out of a perverse need to follow through with that thought, Randal tries a hopeless act; to turn his head and look toward the mountains.

Randal gasps. His eyes focus on another part of the terrain: the mountains, the majestic mountains. Randal is seeing them for the first time: dark and light grays, patches of black, boulders, gullies, crags. God, he thinks, I have gone mad. Or have I altered this hellish memory? But the damp wind, squealing tires and roaring engine remained . . .

Randal snapped out of the memory and stared at his dark television, mind racing, like Jillian’s car, wild and out of control.

Sleep eluded Randal that night, his mind was consumed with the thought of altering his perfect memory. Randal left the warm comfort of his bed and sat on the couch. Belial be damned, he thought, and began to recall the event again . . .

This time, with greater effort, Randal managed to look down at his left arm hooked under his pack strap. He tried wiggling his fingers and they moved . . .

He snapped himself out of the memory, and jumped. It was real, vivid, but it was ten years ago. It couldn’t change. Randal didn’t looked down. Randal didn’t looked at the mountains. Randal didn’t wiggle his fingers. Running his hands through his hair, Randal hovered near panic in his apartment. What was wrong with him now?

The tepid water from the tap smelled of sulphur, but Randal splashed his face with it and drank some. It tasted like copper pipe. Light brightened the sky. The sun would soon crest the horizon.

Randal sat staring out his window. What was a constant memory for ten years was now liquid, mutable and frightening. Jillian’s beautiful eyes. What if?

Something in Randal’s will twisted. His mind, perhaps strained by a lack of sleep, compelled him to try the impossible. Sitting down again on his couch, Randal leaned back and entered his personal nightmare . . .

The second he was in, Randal tried with all his will to drop his pack. He succeeded. Randal moved as quickly as he could out onto the road, forced himself to run.

The sound of squealing tires grew louder. Randal could see the next turn in the road. Passing the pothole, Randal kicked aside the six pebbles at its lip. Damp air blew through his hair and Randal yelled as loud as he could, reveling in his new found power. Randal’s heart hammered. Then the blue Grand Prix rounded the corner. Randal saw Jillian behind the wheel. It was a new image. Jillian looked at him running up the road, her eyes opened up like twin orbs of sheer beauty.

Randal, intent upon altering this constant recall, suddenly realized his mistake. Jillian’s eyes projected primal, insane fear. Her knuckles curled over the wheel, white like the skeletal hands of the Reaper. The car tires screeched like wailing banshees. She was traveling too fast.

Jillian’s car, traveling at sixty three miles per hour, struck Randal. He could feel his ribs crushed in, his body snapped into a position it was never meant to be in. And then Randal was in the air: tumbling, pain, blurring images.

Something stopped Randal’s wild motion. To his left Randal saw a row of white posts crossed by gray horizontal wires. He couldn’t breathe properly. The screeching of the car tires continued a moment, then ceased. The sound of an opening car door was followed by the clacking of uneven footsteps on asphalt. A girl’s voice, Jillian’s voice, was yelling over and over, "oh-my-god, oh-my-god." Randal couldn’t turn his head to see, couldn’t move at all. His body was numb.

Then Jillian moved into Randal’s field of view, screaming, "oh my god," hands to her face, eyes wide with terror.

"Don’t worry," Randal tried to speak, but his broken body failed him and no sound escapes his lips. "I saved you."

Randal couldn’t hear Jillian’s voice anymore. But she was still screaming, holding her head, yelling, "oh-my-god," over and over. Those beautiful blue-green eyes, wide and full of panic, were the last things Randal saw before the darkness.

***

A tall man in a tweed suit approached the desk. A nurse, busy with paperwork, looked up and asked, "Can I help you?"

"Ah, yes," replied the tall man adjusting his thin tie, "I am Dr. Sorenston."

The nurse put down her pen, then tapped a few keys on her computer keyboard. "Can I see your identification, please?" she asked.

"Certainly," he said. And from an inside pocket, Dr. Sorenston retrieved his identification card and handed it to her.

"Thanks," she said, taking the card and swiping it through a reader. "This should only take a second." A moment later the machine beeped. The nurse returned the card to Dr. Sorenston.

"Dr. Adams is expecting you, though you’re twenty minutes early," the nurse said. "Second door on your right." The nurse picked up her pen, put her head down, and returned to her paperwork, ignoring Dr. Sorenston who seemed about to speak.

Dr. Sorenston hurried down the clean white hallway until he came to the second door on his right. In clinical silver letters the name, Dr. Adams, stood out on the otherwise featureless white door. He knocked.

"Come in," a tired sounding voice said from behind the door.

Opening the door, Dr. Sorenston walked in briskly, leaving the door to close by itself. The inside of the office was white and stark. A short, dark haired man sat behind a metal desk, a laptop the only embellishment before him. The small office seemed prison-like. One hard wooden chair was positioned in front of the desk. Looking up from his laptop, the dark haired gestured toward the empty seat.

"I am Dr. Sorenston," said the tall man approaching the seated figure. "And you must be Dr. Adams?"

"That’s right," replied Dr. Adams, looking Dr. Sorenston in the eyes. "Look, I know you’re keen on this case—"

"Oh, yes," said Dr. Sorenston interrupting. "I have read everything about it. Perfect recall in every detail. Unusual. I have some theories and have been working on special treatments—"

"I know," Dr. Adams cut him off. "You aren’t the first, believe me." Since Dr. Sorenston didn’t sit down, Dr. Adams got up instead. "Look, why don’t we go see the patient first. You can read all you want about this case, but first hand exposure may be best."

Dr. Sorenston’s face lit up like it was Christmas morning. "That would be excellent."

"Follow me," said Dr. Adams in a deadpan voice.

The two doctors traveled down several long white hallways in the facility and past two guarded doors before they arrived at the room holding the extraordinary patient. The smell of antiseptic and the sounds of wailing and cursing behind closed unmarked white doors lent a sense of helplessness to the poor souls locked away. Two years of working with the insane had not squashed his enthusiasm, but Dr. Sorenston was always a little disturbed by these places. If he could save this patient, or at least help, he would try.

The two doctors stood outside the patient’s door.

From behind the door, Dr. Sorenston could hear sobbing. Mixed with this he could make out the words, "oh-my-god," over and over from a voice nearly scratched away to nothing. Dr. Sorenston peered through the door’s small glass observation window.

"Ten years," Dr. Adams said from behind him. "Hard to believe isn’t it? Nothing we’ve tried works."

"She does have the most beautiful eyes, poor girl," Dr. Sorenston said observing her pretty features. "No treatment has helped her?"

"Nothing," stated Dr. Adams. "She relates details which check out to the most minute detail from her case. But her mind is gone. Snapped. She remains unchanged, ever since she killed that boy ten years ago."

"She’s been here ever since?" Dr. Sorenston asked.

"Yes," Dr. Adams said. "She is unable to function in the real world." His voice was hopeless, resigned.

"The poor girl. I do hope she can be saved," Dr. Sorenston said, looking into her beautiful blue-green eyes again. "What a terrible life."

"It’s not a life," Dr. Adams commented. "Sometimes I think she would be better off dead."

THE END

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Weird Science: Origin of Taxicab


I’m pretty sure that most have ridden in one, or watched the show "Taxi", or could recognize New York’s famous yellow ones. But, ever wonder where they originated, and who operated the first ones?

Sorry, the mighty US was not the first to employ taxicabs - not by a long shot.

Let’s start with the word itself - Taxicab. So familiar to us today, but a word which never existed before 1897.

The word taxicab is actually a combination of two words.

The first word is taximeter; an instrument created by German inventor Wilhelm Bruhn in 1891 to automatically record distance traveled or time consumed.

The second word is cabriolet; this is a two wheeled, one horse drawn carriage which was often rented.

Combine these two words and uses and we get the word taxicab, a short form of taximeter-cabriolet.

The very fist employed were two Benz-Kraftdroschkes operated by "Drosch-kenbesitzer" Dutz in Stuttgart, Germany. This was in 1896.

One year later, in May of 1897, Friedrich Greiner started up a service as well in the same city. He used motorized vehicles fitted with taximeters and his vehicles could be considered the first "true" taxicabs.

Those crafty, crafty Germans. And most think the only thing they ever came up with were Volkswagens.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Fantasy Book Review: The Runes Of The Earth

The Runes Of The Earth
Stephen R. Donaldson.

You either know this author’s works, or you should. And yes I am totally bias. He is second on my list of all time epic fantasy authors, right after only Tolkien himself. So, take this review, if you will, with a pinch of hurtloam.

The Runes Of The Earth is the first book in his "Last" Chronicles of Thomas Covenant which will comprise four volumes when complete. And, though seemingly a slow read, is packed with classic Donaldson wonders, inner turmoil, outer conflict and insidious underpinnings. A fantastic start.

To get you up to speed on what is what, Donaldson gives wonderful account of all major events which took place in the first and second chronicles. Suffice it to say you should experience them in full and not rely on the synopsis provided, but if you don’t you will soon get the gist of what has transpired in the past. Basically Thomas Covenant is dead, but the Land is in more trouble than ever before.

The main character is Linden Avery, whom we are familiar with in the second chronicles or the synopsis as having been in and had a huge part in saving the Land in the past. Strange things begin to happen to her in the real world which leads her to believe there is once again trouble in the Land, and that Lord Foul and now even fouler things are stirring again. I don’t want to give anything away really since it is so well worth the read.

So - general impressions. Hella good read, very imaginative with ample mystery and familiarity wrapped into the appropriate Donaldson package. And, the author did it to me again, after the last chapter I was shaking my head and cursing his name - in a good way - then immediately scouring the internet to find out when volume two was coming out.

My only hint, if you haven’t yet read it - is, why do you think this series is called the "Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant"?

Are you still hear reading this - run, run now and buy, then consume this book. You will not be sorry you did.

End of bias ravings - much more and I may create a caesure . . .

Friday, October 14, 2005

Musings: My Top Ten Gotta Have DVD Sets


Since I don’t’ have cable or satellite TV, I gotta have DVDs. So, for no particular reason and in no particular order I give you what I think are the top ten TV show DVD sets you just gotta have - if you are me that is.

1) Bewitched - (Never a more funny, classic and good for the whole family show there ever was. And the only TV person cuter than Elizabeth Montgomery is Alyson Hannigan, and not by too much. Go out and get this in color, what a treat.)

2) Space 1999 - (cheese in every variety. The eagles are coming, err, am I mistaking a line from Lord of the Rings? Anyhow this show, dumb at times, great at others, has a mix of cheese, corn and sci-fi to satisfy anyone’s hunger and make a decent cheese corn chowder too.)

3) Babylon 5 - (what a real TV Sci-Fi show should be. Great, long story arcs, great ships, great show, great acting and great aliens. Seemed like the first attempt to break Science Fiction television away from bottle episodes and bumpy foreheads. Done very well.)

4) Buffy The Vampire Slayer - (Do I even need to comment? Just get it and watch it. Best writing on TV, I mean DVD, I’ve ever watched. There can be only one, err, or two depending. Get it, you won’t be sorry you did.)

5) Star Trek The Next Generation - (I see you cringing, but this, aside from the original, is the best Science fiction Trek series created so far . . . God help us if they try another one. Intense atmosphere, great actors and some near perfect episodes make this series a keeper. Oh, and that blog dude is in it too - what more can you want?)

6) X-Files - (Government coverups, puking aliens out your eyes, colonization, and for the guys a cute girl and for the girls a cute guy. Plenty to like in this series, yes even through the last two - cough - years. The DVDs are out there.)

7) Battlestar Galactica - (The new series, not the old cheesy one. The new series is very well written and extremely dramatic and intense in the extreme. Did I mention extreme. Get it and watch it and you will be hooked. Great job, oh, and shot in Canada too.)

8) The Prisoner - (Giant white beach balls, "I am not a number", yada yada. Odd, but spectacular show. See it an you will see why. Very cool)

9) Firefly - (I see you are sensing a pattern. Sci-Fi. Well again all you need do is watch this show to know great writing and character. No punches pulled in this show. Great fun, but not necessarily for the whole family.)

10) Star Trek - (Kirk, Bones and Spock. Need I say more.)

Now before you run out and buy all these DVD sets (and you should) make sure you have about 5000 dollars burning a hole in your pocket. And yes, I’ve missed some great shows.

Still with the list above you can’t go too far wrong.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Musings: Workplace Coffee Sucks


You see this picture. This is real coffee - not workplace coffee.

You know, as I put in long days at work, the least my office building could do is supply drinkable coffee.

I mean, is it so hard to ask for something that tastes like coffee and less like hot water mixed with lawn fertilizer and brown food coloring?

As the company I work for declines further into degradation, I try to find solace in the little things, like a decent cup of coffee – cause the big things are just screwed.

Coffee, fresh ground drip coffee is all I ask. Is it any wonder the morale around here is rock bottom?

I sometimes think it is a ploy by my employer to stop workers from going to the cafeteria and wasting time precious corporate time. It’s not working. Sort of like the stop smoking campaigns. Java has a powerful draw – even if it is god awful swill not fit for man nor beast.

So, caught in a web of crap coffee, I will carry on down the road knowing that if a company can’t even get the little things right, is it any wonder the big picture is such a mess.

Workplace coffee sucks!

Well, unless you work at Starbucks or Tim Hortons - then you can complain about the food instead.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Short Story: If At First


Okay, this one I wrote in thirty minutes. You see, as part of a writing group I'm in we usually need to have new material for our once a month gatherings. Ummm, and a half hour before a particular night I had nada. So, it's not very long this time.

What can I say about it except.

Modern man.

Master of his domain - sometimes . . .


If At First
by Paul Darcy

Three hours and twenty minutes later, Melvin was hyperventilating and trying his best to not put his foot through the picture tube.

And it wasn’t even a bloody tube, it was one of those plasma screens. What would happen, should he loose it and actually puncture the screen? Maybe the unit would vent like an Enterprise nacelle when it needed to break loose from some hostile galactic entity, or make contact with a hyper-spacial race who could only communicate through exchanging crude physics via sub space.

And this inner discussion was not solving his bloody dilemma.

There was a book, perhaps eight by six inches filled with directions for the hookup he was trying to master with logic. Piss on it, he thought, it will not defeat me. Resorting to that manual was for the weak, the uneducated, the inferior. No electronic device had made him search for the answers in some horribly laid out manual.

They were all the same anyhow.

Filled with schematics depicting everything you needed to know and on the opposite page words in English, or rather garbled quasi-Japanese-Korea-Chinese bastardization English like: red plug electrocute ground force, or Join socket plug initial set unit master three plug connect. And the brainless warning; No water unit, like he was going to take the whole thing into the tub with him and watch movies.

So, several deep breaths later, Melvin tried again. He unplugged all the wires and cables and laid them out on the couch. He started with the cable box which he routed into the plasma unit, out again to surround sound amp, to sub.

So far, so good.

Next, old VCR in/outs to the amp back into the plasma unit. Check. Dvd player in/outs to amp to tv. Check. Now, satellite feed into descrambler, to amp to tv to vcr back to amp. Now all power cords into the octopus plugin. Breaker on. Check.

He pushed in a DVD and turned everything on. The DVD player spun up to speed and... blue plasma screen like a goddamn backdrop for a horror movie where the man in a rubber monster suit had the special model effects put in later. The timer on the DVD was working fine so the disc was spinning, but no frickin picture again.

Melvin tried Video 1, Video 2, every one of the 999 channels and selections and still no bloody picture. And, hey, shouldn’t there be some sound?

He cranked up the amp and got only static then one massive thump from the sub as some random power shock made it activate violently.

Calm, gotta stay calm.

Melvin looked over at the abomination sitting, almost smirking at him from the coffee table. You can laugh all you want you ground up tree scrap, but I’ll not flip you open and give you any pleasure.

Four hours and thirty two minutes later and he had sound but now the blue screen had turned to white fuzz. Only the satellite feed was coming through on audio. Sounded like an old Bob Hope movie and his wise cracking voice was grating on his already frazzled nerves.

Twice he had hit the manual will all his might, but it deflected his fury like a shield, mocking him, daring him to succumb. Piss off you pile of crap, Melvin swore at the manual, the tv, the converter box and the next door neighbor who was watching the game on his big screen. From across the street he could read the numbers on the team player’s backs.

Manual reading wuss, Melvin thought. Bob connected another line bringing a clear chorus of laughter through his surround system... all but the center speaker. But it was progress by damn, and without that infernal manual.

Melvin, after so many futile rearrangements of the wires began to play a dangerous game. Live cable jockeying. He knew it was wrong. He knew it was dangerous, but by crap, this pile of electronic junk was going to know who was the bloody boss.

After nearly blowing his eardrums the first time, he decided that Russian roulette with the amp cranked up hpeing for a chance correct hookup, was not a good idea. But after a while, despite the manuals ever present mocking presence, he could toggle, with several quick cable changes sound from satellite and blue screen, or sound from cable box and white fuzz. He even figure out how to get video, on channel 73 from the VCR, but no sound.

Soon, bloody soon this crap would be under his control and he would be master of his electronic domain.

Five hours twenty seven minutes and Melvin was down to his pants only, sweating, swearing, raging until the veins were pulsing on his head ready to burst. He had hit the plasma screen once, hard, but it didn’t make him feel any better and because of it he couldn’t get the proper shade of blue screen anymore. Two cables, he was not sure how important they really were, he had bitten in half. He could still taste metal in his mouth but wasn’t sure if it was blood or the copper innards of the fricken cables he snapped.

He stopped for a break. The sub was making a droning hum like a guitar amp cranked up about to blast out feedback. The plasma tv was flickering from white fuzz to grey lines and back again. It had started that shortly after he had jammed in a composite video cable into the optical connector.

"You are mine," he swore hurling the beer bottle across his living room.

He strode to the manual, picked it up... No, no he would not succumb, he would not. He took it in his teeth and shredded the repulsive manual to bits actually matriculating some of it and swallowing with the last of his beer. "You bastard equipment" he yelled, wild anger flashing in his eyes. Never before, never, never.

Picking up the plasm tv, it weighed a good hundred pounds, he let it drop from the stand to the floor. Next he ripped some cables from the amp and threw them onto the couch.

And as if in complete mockery, video and audio feed from the DVD suddenly jumped onto the screen. He dropped to his knees, kissing the plasma screen full on. He knew it couldn’t defeat him, it... went to white fuzz again. No... No! You son of a--

Picking up the octopus power cord Melvin sank his teeth into it for all he was worth.

***

"Deranged, and an obvious suicide," was constable Tenants comments for the local paper. "We could find now cause as to why he would electrocute himself, especially that way. Maybe, once we do some more investigation, we can find the cause."

Monday, October 10, 2005

Musings: Sweet Serenity

Mal
I finally got to go and see it yesterday, and was impressed.

The movie - Serenity.

Sweet! And I’m not talking Sorbital. I'm talking 100% pure refined cane. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

I went with my best friend who had already seen it, but was keen to see it again. He didn’t spoil any of the movie for me by telling me who died or who lived etc, and we sat in an almost empty theater (a bloody shame) and soaked it up.

I don’t go to see many movies in a year at the theater (maybe two or three), but having enjoyed Buffy immensely and Firefly, which this movie is a direct extension of, I made the effort, paid my cash and took the ride. And was duly rewarded for doing so.

Spoilers ensue later, but right now I’ll give you my overall impression, in case you haven’t seen it yet. Having been working on my own script for the past several months, I really enjoyed the structure and could see the necessary elements of it ticking by right on cue, and packed with the appropriate emotional impact. Joss is a true master of structure, and Serenity plays out almost perfectly in that regard.

If you don’t believe me watch a Buffy episode he wrote, or study this movie or Toy Story and you will see why. A true movie goers joy to watch, but that is only the bare bones of the screenplay. The rest lies in the genius of Joss Whedon’s humor and directing - both fine tuned from years of love and practice.

Spoilers - The opening sequence is just great with the part falling off of Serenity. Mixing in the humor in the opening sequence sets the tone of the movie nicely, and leads into a scene which I thought was nothing short of absolute perfection.

Joss is the master of character interaction and creation as well - The interior set-up shot of the captain walking through his ship engaging in all the crew was a scene I actually stopped breathing in to make sure I didn’t miss anything. It was damn hard too to not make any noise while laughing during it and catch it all. This DVD will be purchased the second it is released.

And there is death in the movie as well. You can’t expect a Whedon production to not off a few good characters, and this is no exception. When Wash bit it, I was shocked - watch Zoe’s reaction to mirror my own, except for the baby part . . . The preacher buying it without us seeing him in a fight left me wanting to know his back story, but that was nicely summed up in an exchange between Mal and he on Haven when the preacher tells Mal he won’t tell him anything.

You can’t cover every detail of every character in two hours. It is a real shame the show was cancelled as much more fun and mayhem could have been explored in say two or three more seasons. Still, this movie wraps up the biggest mystery of River and the Reavers. I was left satisfied, happy but ultimately saddened. Now I wonder what Joss will create from his own mind next. But rest assured, I’ll be along for the ride.

Thank you Joss for the years of hard work - it really shows and is an inspiration to me in my own endeavors.

Hard work and dedication really do pay off. I’ve always said of my own creations that if even one person smiles or is touched or is amused, my work is a success. Well, yours, Mr. Whedon, is a success millions of times over.

What more can I say - well except please hire me to write for one of your creations in future . . .

Yeah, I’m the guy being pushed off and grabbed by Reavers - but maybe Mal missed, and "that guy" will be back . . .

And by the end of the movie is Mal content? - Maybe, just maybe.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Weird Science: Doppler Radar

Doppler Radar Image
Ever wonder how the weatherman (or woman) can tell you the speed of a storm or how much precipitation is forecasted for it?

Is it voodoo? Is it guesswork? Do they just look out the window, as a lot of us suspect, or do they employ more scientific, analytical methods?

Well, they do in fact employ something called Doppler Radar to get those readings. At least in the reputable weather offices - there are some of those, aren’t there? Others, I suspect, still rely on voodoo and windows.

So, how does Doppler Radar work, and just what is it anyhow?

First let’s understand what the Doppler effect is. The effect was named after Austrian physicist, Christian Johann Doppler, who first described the effect in 1842 to explain the coloration of stars.

Stated scientifically, the Doppler effect is: the apparent change in the observed frequency of sound, light, and other waves that result from the relative motion of the wave source and an observer.

So, Doppler Radar tracking stations today employ the Doppler effect to track the relative frequency shift between the radiation emitted by the radar system and the radiation that is reflected from the particulates in the storm system being tracked.

Putting the data together, the weather offices can get accurate readings of speed and concentration of storm fronts and precipitation and make pretty decent predictions about the future of the weather systems without the need for voodoo.

Doppler Radar can track rain, snow, ice crystals and yes, even insects. Year fo the locust anyone?

So the next time you hear or see the local weather person talking about the Doppler Radar report, you can look smug and know exactly what he, or she, is talking about.

The people you may see in the background, looking out the window and rolling bones, are just there for effect.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Science Fiction Book Review: The Gods Of Mars

The Gods Of Mars
Edgar

Rice

Burroughs

One of the most enduring authors ever, and a name most any reader recognizes immediately.

This book , "The Gods Of Mars’, is the second (of eleven) in his Mars series, published back in 1913. And it is certainly quite the book. Fast paced, break neck speed, unending action, fast paced and - oh, and then there is the pace of the book which is - fast - crazy fast - where are my socks fast.

This novel takes buckle swashing to the extreme, and not one chapter is a rest from the action. It’s one hundred and ninety pages of continuous battles, escapes, escapades and derring-do. John Carter, the protagonist, catapults from one extreme action situation to the next and a lot of the time wearing only a smile and a sword.

Yes, the cover art is accurate. The four armed insectoid dude is Tars Tarkas - Carters almost equal in battle and friend from Book one - which means double the downed enemies and double action. I felt like, while reading this book, that I was on a roller coaster that only ever went down the steepest drop. Hard to hang onto my hair and read at the same time.

After half of the book this gets, at least to me, a bit tedious. No enemy is too vast in numbers, but John Carter is there to tear through them until the bodies must be piled hundreds high.

But, despite the overuse of action and adventure, the novel somehow captures your imagination and makes you read on to the end which, I found to my surprise, was pretty darn good. The plot twisted in the final chapter, and after I had been lulled into a secure sense of what was to come.

I have all the rest of the series, but will need a rest before tackling the third. For nostalgia it is definitely worth the read to find out what all the buzz about Burroughs is about, but if you are looking for a modern style adventure novel with appropriate down time - forget it.

It’s like one huge James Bond action sequence.

Carter, James Carter . . . Err, I mean John.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Musings: Who Dah

Alyson Hannigan - Like you didn't know
Doesn’t’ this smile just melt some of your arctic ice caps? But in a good way I mean. Not like crazy sea levels rising twenty feet and flooding forty percent of all land masses killing millions kind of way, but in the uplifting, happy to be alive and human . . .

. . . Okay, I’ll just shut up and get on with it.

I see you dancing in the hall, but don’t throw out your back just yet. Friday Musings have not returned - this is but a brief interlude to update you on what is up and where this blog is heading in the near future.

Hope ya like.

As my short stories draw to an end (nearly 50 now and haven’t written any new ones in a while - see later in post) and my mind travels over many exotic imaginary lands in search of the golden tight angora sweater, I find myself needing to vent (like a deep sea volcanic tube) some info, and hey, aren’t blogs jus da thang?

Isn’t Battlestar Galactica one of the most dramatic series on TV in the last good while? I picked up the DVD set of Season 1 and have nearly finished it now. I always thought Star Trek: TNG was intense, but damn, Battlestar is much more and really good to boot. Strong actresses and actors make that show great, and the writing is decent too. So, I join the choir and add my voice (off key and cracking) to those singing its praise. The music kicks too!

But what is with the releasing of half of season 2 in December? Different - but wise? If they release the whole season next year in one set, many will be pissed. If they release the other half they will be double dipping us for cash. Two hits of 50 bucks instead of one hit of 60 to 80. Gee, I almost forgot - it’s all about the acquisition of cash, abundant quantities.

And the show is shot in Canada too - eh, just like X-Files used to be. So who dah, Canada rules in tv show productions, it just rules, and the beer is so way better . . . (paid for in part by the Canadian Writer’s Guild and Brewers of Canada - not!)

And I don’t have any cable, satellite or other to pipe in new shows, but there are ways - DVD and such (I won't elaborate on the such part - please move away, nothing to see here), to catch up on them. I’ve heard House is great too, and Veronica Mars. Hey, what’s that in my wallet, why it’s, it’s . . . dust . . . huh.

My favorite actress is doing very well too. And since my wife is my much better stabilizing half, my daughter is my source of infinite energy, it’s good to know my favorite actress is gaining speed and ready for orbit, so I can continue to draw on her persistence and hard work to inspire my own creations . . . So, if you have cable hookup, you need to check out "How I Met Your Mother" - Monday night at 8:30 on CBS . . .

Oh, and I’m not referring to Cobie - though it is a very good cheese . . .

And why the tapering off of my own short story posts on Wednesdays - well I’m well on my way to writing my first screenplay so have been concentrating my time on that project. It’s a whole different kettle of wax, or is that ball of fish - never mind.

Suffice it to say that a script is not a short story, but it is creative and fun to do. Pulling it off well is the key and the hardest part. Getting somebody important to read it, then selling it, are the impossible parts - but hey, Rome was not built in a day. Of course anybody waiting for Rome to be built would have long died waiting for it - Call that a Catch 22 BC.

Which brings me to Serenity. Go see it yet? I haven’t. Bad me, bad, bad me. Just haven’t had the time between work, family, work, family and more family. I will be one of the lazy buggers who just gets the DVD when it comes out and be happy with that. Sorry Joss - I did buy the tv show on DVD though, hope that helps. And yes it is great fun to watch.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog . . .

until my next unscheduled Musings . . .

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Short Story: Snap Shut


A demon.

A digital camera.

Teenage angst.

Nuff said.


Snap Shut
by Paul Darcy

"Get out of my face with that thing, you freak!" Sally gave Henry a blistering look and her body language radiated impending bodily harm for Henry. He was about to snap a close up photograph of Sally with his new digital camera, thinking that doing so would be a harmless exercise for the school yearbook. But after gauging her hostile reaction his flight or fight instincts informed him that flight was the best option in this situation. Getting beat up in the schoolyard by the big male bullies was natural. Getting beat up in the schoolyard by a girl was another. It would be catastrophic not to mention a world shaking major humiliation.

"Sorry," he said, backing away incase she decided to throw a punch at him. "It was only for the school paper. I took over from Jena after she came back from Bali and qui—"

"Look, moron," continued Sally taking one step toward Henry. Henry took two hurried steps back. "I don’t care if you are the world’s most famous photographer, or something. Go play with your toy someplace else and leave me alone." Sally turned away and walked to join some of her cool friends by the school steps. She was part of the in crowd, that elite social clique Henry would never be part of unless he woke up one morning as somebody else.

Henry went away and took some photographs of less threatening subjects; trees, benches and the lawn. They couldn’t call him a moron or beat the crap out of him, so as photographic subjects, they were what he needed to calm down after Sally’s vitriolic reaction.

That night at home, Henry popped the flash card out of his camera and plugged it into his card reader. He downloaded the image collection, resized some of them and added them into the appropriate folders all neat and orderly. He really was a geek, he knew, but this new hobby of his was something he really enjoyed. After years of reading books and sitting indoors, this pursuit was much better for him he rationalized. It got him out of the house and moving around, something all the years of his mother’s coaxing had not achieved. Henry was becoming much less of a risk for heart attack and stroke later in life. Now if only his subjects for the school yearbook would be a little kinder . . . But years of being bullied had trained him not to take it too seriously. They all had issues. They had to fit into there respective groups. One day some of them would grow up.

Smiling, Henry looked at two pictures he had taken of Sally before she got close enough to physically threaten him. They weren’t great, being distant shots, but he liked them anyhow. Well, he liked Sally actually. The pictures themselves kind of sucked. But a few tree pictures had turned out well, and the bench with all the shadows looked . . . Henry sat back. Henry, the outcast from pubescent society. How could anyone get excited about this stuff at his age? Shouldn’t he be going to parties, drinking with buddies, chasing, catching and then doing things with girls? Isn’t that what the cool crowd did? He closed down his computer system and went to bed. Tomorrow was Saturday so at least he got a break from the torments of school for two days.

Henry woke to the sounds of birdsong outside his window and clanking pots from downstairs in the kitchen. His mom was up making breakfast. It was a bright sunny day. Hastily dressing and then taking up his camera, Henry shot a few pictures out his window at the birds in the tree branches. After reviewing the pictures on the camera’s viewer and deleting a couple which didn’t turn out right, he went downstairs.

"Good morning, Henry," his mother said pleasantly. "How did you sleep?"

"Like a log, one of those double clean burn ones." Henry joked. Saturdays were his favorite.

"Well, Im glad," said his mother. "But please don’t start on fire at the table, okay?" she joked.

"Deal." Henry sat and ate a muffin. That was followed by a bowl of cereal then a couple scrambled eggs. His mother sat down to eat her breakfast too.

"So, any girlfriends I should know about?" his mother asked innocently, like any conscientious probing mother would of her teenage boy.

Henry answered, "Only three. Two are pregnant, but the last one has a steady night job . . . on the corner of sixth and avenue road. I’m going to pick her up tonight, so can I borrow a hundred bucks?" Henry loved to tease his mother like this. And she was a good sport about it, though he actually thought she was somewhat sad that he hadn’t yet brought home some wholesome, pure sweet innocent girl she could fuss over. Actually he had yet to bring home any girl, though he did almost try two years ago to ask Jena out. But in his mind then, and still now, Jena’s probable rejection would have lead to terror and excruciating psychological pain.

"Henry," his mother faked true horror, "how could you possibly do such things to your poor mother. I raised you to be a good boy, and well, asking for a hundred dollars. You are not supposed to ask your mother for money . . . Well!" Both of them broke into smiles but his mother’s didn’t last as long. I won again, thought Henry finishing the last of his breakfast.

Along the sidewalk to the library, Henry took a few good pictures of automobiles. One, a vintage firebird formula 500, was restored to its factory look. Bright red paint shining against the brown and green background of suburban bliss looked especially picturesque. He took several pictures from different angles then proceeded on down the street.

The library was only a couple of blocks away. It was a grand old building and Henry snapped a few long distance pictures capturing the entire structure and the two ancient oak trees out front. The library had been built at the turn of the century and sported extremely interesting architecture, to Henry anyway. To most kids at school it was just a big building to meet at before heading off to do cool things on week nights. And shouldn’t he be more interested in girls than ancient buildings? Teen thoughts. Push them down. I am a photographer, Henry thought, snapping another closer library picture as he casually moved down the street looking for neat photo opportunities.

Using the small camera image to frame up another picture of the columns at the library’s entrance, Henry paused when a lovely figure of a girl entered his cameras viewer and began to climb the library’s steps. Lowering the camera, Henry stood transfixed by the girl. He couldn’t tell who it was from this angle and so far away but the way she moved, the shape of her legs quite exposed with a mini skirt hiding very little, and the sway of her hips . . . Maybe girl thoughts were okay after all, and well, she was going to the same place he was.

She entered the library door and Henry jogged down the street to catch up, though he didn’t know what he would do once he did. Probably be some awkward moment of him coming around a stack of books finding her right there and then . . .

Henry arrived at the entrance to the library. The massive height and a half doors were solid wood and had no windows in them. He slung his camera around his neck and grabbed the massive portal and gave it a tug and stepped inside the building.

In the entrance of the library all was quiet, as it should be and always was. He really didn’t expect any wild parties to be going on, but his heart was racing as though one was. Who was that girl anyhow? Looking around, he could not see where she was. In fact the only occupants of the library consisted of the librarian, himself and one old man he recognized but didn’t know the name of in a comfortable chair by a side window. Other than that, the library appeared empty. He needed a plan to scour the facility without appearing to be searching for the girl.

Walking slowly past the first row of bookshelves trying to appear nonchalant, Henry didn’t look down the aisle trusting his peripheral vision to forewarn him of the girl’s presence instead. Six aisles later he detected her. He feigned interest in the books at the end of the aisle she was in. Oh great cover, he thought. They were knitting and needlepoint craft books. Henry pulled one out and started leafing through it while all the time looking down the stacks of books at this enchanting girl he still couldn’t identify.

The girl, exuding sexuality and revealing very little, was holding a large leather bound book and facing away from Henry. He couldn’t see very clearly what section she was in or what the book may be. He was strangely interested in what book had held her attention so completely. She was too far away and he was petrified of being caught spying on her by walking closer. Then he had an idea. He very quietly and carefully replaced the knitting book, upside down in the shelf, and took out his digital camera. It had a twelve times optical zoom. Maybe with that he could get a closer look at her . . . book. A slight flush of color came to Henry’s face. This was all so not right, but he couldn’t help himself. She was bewitching.

Palms beginning to sweat, Henry raised the camera to his face and pressed the zoom in controls. The tiny servo motor sounded loud as a jet engine to Henry, but the girl didn’t seem to notice. At full zoom the girl’s entire body fit into the three inch digital view panel and Henry stared like a deer in the headlights.

Without thinking he pushed the button on the camera and took a picture. The flash was like lightening in the dark aisle of books. Henry couldn’t have announced his presence more clearly if he had yelled at the top of his lungs and started pitching books at her. His flushed face turned cherry red and the girl slowly turned to face him.

It took Henry a moment to recognize who it was, and when he did his eyes nearly dropped out of his head. Henry stared into the face of Jena, but not the Jena he remembered. The Jena he remembered was always fully dressed in corduroy pants and sweater and from what he could remember worn little if no makeup. This Jena was dressed in cleavage exposing, mini skirt thigh exposing provocative skin tight alluring man-eating ensemble ever stretched skin-tight across a female form. And her face was painted up like a fashion model. She admired him with such a sexy and seductive look, Henry could feel his body temperature rising beyond safe levels and his cheek color had now passed beyond infrared.

Jena reached up and took a clip from her hair. Her brown locks fell out beautifully framing her face perfectly and Henry’s body struggled to regain a bit of involuntary muscle control, particularly his heart which seemed to have forgotten how to beat properly and under one hundred beats per minute. Jena lay the clip in the large book she had been reading, closed it and returned it to the bookshelf. She licked her lips making them moist and brighter red, then began to walk, though it was more like a erotic saunter, up to Henry fixing him with bedroom, no more like den of iniquity, eyes. "Henry," she said moistening her lips again and running a hand up the side of her tight blouse to gently rest on her right breast. In the most allure voice he could ever have imagined Jena said, "Come here, Henry. I want you . . . right now." Jena began slowly unbuttoning her blouse.

"Yeah, me." Henry managed to gasp out nearly tripping backward over nothing. Jena’s eyes had fastened him like a pin through a butterfly in a display case. They were radiant boring points of hypnotic comeliness and Henry felt utterly helpless staring into them. But her eyes were not normal and it wasn’t just the makeup and the way she was coming over to him, though at this moment he couldn’t be sure of too much, like what day it was, his name or which planet he was standing on. But Henry recalled Jena’s eyes as he remembered them. They were not like this, not glowing with some inner light. He couldn’t look away. She was only three feet from him now and he could feel heat radiating off her body as she began to undress and lick her lips moaning softly to him with desire smoldering in her eyes. Henry almost fell, his legs like wet clay, his heart racing like he had just finished a marathon. Henry lost the ability to speak and he may have stopped breathing altogether.

His hands, still clutching the camera, moved upward involuntarily to reach out for Jena and while doing so he inadvertently pushed down on the camera’s button. A flash of light from the camera startled Henry out of his trance. He had just taken a picture of Jena close up. And she had only one more button to go.

Jena stopped moving and licking her lips. She looked at Henry with a stunned expression. "Henry?" she asked in a demure voice, much more like the Jena he knew. She sounded frightened. Looking down at her clothes, shock registered in Jena’s eyes and she defensively brought both hands up to cover her almost exposed bosom. She looked at Henry imploringly, then at his camera. Gone was the seductive temptress and in her place the bashful girl he knew, in clothes she would never where, at least not in public. Here eyes had lost the glowing quality.

"Jena, you okay?" Henry managed to croak out. His vital organs and systems were slowly returning to normal and he was once again able to speak.

"What am I doing here like this?" Again Jena looked at her cloths. She hastily buttoned up her blouse. "Why are you taking pictures of me? Henry, what are you doing?" she was beginning to panic.

"I . . . We . . . I," Henry babbled, bewildered. He tried to begin explaining, but Jena bolted down the aisle and out of the library before he could regain full use of his mind and body. Standing in the aisle for a few minutes, Henry couldn’t understand what had transpired between he and Jena. Was this some kind of prank? If it was there was nobody around to laugh at him and Jena was not part of the cool school in crowd, so this incident would not be relayed to them so they could torment him at school next week. Then what? Why had she behaved like that at all? It was so not like her in any way he knew. It was like she was possessed. Come to think of it she had been acting quite strange since she came back from her family trip to Bali. Maybe something happened to her when she was there. It really wasn’t like her to quite the yearbook committee. After all she had been part of it for the last two years and had always seemed to enjoy it.

Henry took some deep breaths trying to calm down and spotted the large leather bound book Jena had been reading protruding from the bookshelf at the end of the aisle. What could Jena have be looking at? Walking over and taking the book down, Henry couldn’t see any markings on its cover anywhere. He cracked open the old leather casing to find out what it was. When he did, he was a little mystified. It was titled, Witchcraft and Demonology; writings and incantations throughout time. What a strange book for Jena to be looking into, and what a strange book in general. Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble making this book as the detail inside was uncanny. Henry could see Jena’s hair clip jutting up from a marked place, presumably the place she had been reading when Henry found her. Gently parting the book at that spot, Henry could see the chapter title. It read, Demonic Transference and Host Permanence. Now that, thought Henry, is pretty damn odd.

After spending the next hour reading over that section it occurred to Henry that something may indeed have happened to Jena when she was in Bali, for the book mentioned ancient island rituals from that part of the world indicating a suffusion of a demon into the host of a living girl. But this was surely ridiculous. How could this be? It held no more validity than the zombies of Haiti or the Loch Ness Monster. Still, that unnatural light in Jena’s eyes, referred to in this text as, the cool fires of hell reflected. He couldn’t have described them much more accurately himself. Placing the book back in its place, Henry rushed home.

It seemed that his computer was taking an extra long time to boot up, but Henry realized it was only his anticipation of reviewing his library pictures on the monitor which made the machine appear to be taking extra time. Henry popped the flash card out of his camera and inserted it into the card reader. A few seconds later the computer was ready and Henry eagerly downloaded all the images onto his hard drive into the temp folder he used before sorting and filing his pictures. This process too seemed far to long as well, but finally ended with a little pop up box indicating all files successfully transferred.

Henry clicked on his image viewer program and used the browse function to enter the temp folder. He had taken thirteen pictures and he viewed them from the first. The antique car shots, then the library from far away, then Jena climbing the steps of the library. There was only two pictures left to view.

The second last picture was the one he had involuntarily taken of Jena’s back in the library aisle as she casually read the large leather bound book. Henry stared at the picture a while. He still couldn’t believe it was really her. He had known Jena since she was seven but in the library she looked and acted and dressed so completely different from anything he could ever recall he had to wonder it that old leather bound book was actually touching on the truth. Looking at Jena in those clothes made Henry desirous of her, something he had never seriously thought about before. He never realized that hiding under all those loose sweaters and bulky corduroy pants was this lovely figure of a girl. Funny how it took a demonic possession, if he could accept that reasoning, to make him see it.

Clicking on the final image, Henry sat back and waited for the couple seconds it would take to load. He wondered if that unnatural light he had seen in Jena’s eyes would show up in the image, or would the camera’s flash have erased all traces of it? And she had been almost undressed. And it was an extreme closeup. And by taking the picture her personality had completely changed as well. That was the strangest part of this little play, one he still was trying to deal with at an intellectual level. What the book suggested . . .

Suddenly the final picture sprang to life on his computer screen. What he saw, for a split second before his computer crashed, was a vision straight out of hell. Jena, or what he thought the image of Jena, one button to go, should have looked like, was not Jena at all but some vulture headed creature with luminescent blue eyes and serpent like tongue. The body was certainly the almost exposed Jena’s body, but the face and head were most certainly not. He sat stunned as his machine began a re-boot process. What the hell had happened? A virus maybe? His machine had never done this before. And how could his picture have been altered? This was insane, he thought looking at the camera’s flash card secured in the flash card reader. He had cut and pasted the pictures so they were no longer on his flash card but only in his computer. If that image was corrupted in the copying he would not be able to retrieve the original now. Damn, he shouldn’t have done that.

Henry could hear from downstairs the front door slam. A moment later he heard voices. His mother was obviously not alone. Maybe she was having a friend over for supper as she sometimes did. A few seconds later he could hear multiple footsteps on the stairs then down the hall outside his room. His computer was still going through the process of booting up.

"Henry," his mother’s voice called at his bedroom door. "I’d like you to meet Francesca, and her daughter Neva." Henry swivelled around in his computer chair to see his mother enter his room followed by another lady he didn’t know and then a girl, about his age.

"Ah, hi." He was feeling a little trapped and crowded in his room with the three women. His mother was trying to play matchmaker again, and it would most likely end badly though the girl looked as embarrassed and awkward as he did. She was quite pretty though.

"They just moved to town last week," his mother continued, "and Neva will be going to your school in the same class too." His mother smiled.

"I’m Francesca," his mother’s friend said. "Your mother was so kind to us and invited us for dinner. Glad to meet you, Henry."

"Hi," He responded even though he had already said hi. This was going about as well as Henry predicted.

"Hi," Neva said looking over at him from beside her mother. Her face was a little flushed and they broke eye contact after the initial millisecond stare.

"Ah, hi Neva. Nice name," Henry blurted out. He too was turning into a bright red tomato head. Could this get any worse?

"Well, now that we are all acquainted, Francesca and I will go downstairs and make supper." Henry’s mother said. "Henry, you can tell Neva all about school. We’ll call you down when supper is ready, okay?" His mother left his room with Francesca close behind. Neva stood still, not sure what to do and Henry sat looking at the wall beside Neva wondering how this could have happened.

"Um," Henry began, "where are you from? I mean before you moved here, cause now you are from here. I already know that." If a rock had suddenly appeared in Henry’s room he wasn’t sure if he could beat Neva under it.

"Oh," Neva began, "ha, ha." she laughed. "Yeah, I’m from here now, but we moved from Baltimore last week, and . . ."

A beep from behind Henry alerted him to his computer’s final loading. "Are you okay, Neva," Henry asked. Her face, a moment ago quite red, was suddenly ashen and her eyes stared over his shoulder at . . . At his computer monitor. He looked more closely at her eyes, they were, oh no, slightly glowing. Swivelling around more quickly than was safe, Henry saw on the monitor the picture of Jena nearly undressed, only this time it was just Jena and nothing more. Which meant, if the old tome in the library was spouting truth not fables Neva may . . .

The light touch of fingers caressed Henry’s neck. He was so absorbed in Jena’s image that he hadn’t even heard Neva walk across his room. He could feel her breath on his neck and a second later the lick of her tongue. He bolted up from his chair which caromed across his room and into his bed. He turned to face Neva, and the transformation of her personality was obvious. She ran her hands down her front and licked her lips, very much like Jena’s behavior at the library.

"Oh, you again," said Neva, who was not Neva. "You are not getting away from me this time. I will have you right here, and you will love it." Neva stepped back from Henry and lifted off her sweater revealing her bra and shapely body underneath.
"Are you two doing okay up there?" his mother yelled from the top of the stairs at that moment.

Neva was at his bedroom door quick as a cat, "We are getting along great," Not Neva answered. "Henry was just going to show me how his equipment works." Not Neva was purposefully sounding a lot more like the shy girl than the sultry demon within. Henry had to think fast. The camera had somehow trapped the demon inside it. He had to take her picture, but only of her eyes because that’s where the energy or demon or whatever emanated from. The pictures Henry took of Jena didn’t change anything until it was a picture of her eyes. So that was it, the way to trap this thing. While Neva was answering his mother Henry snapped the flash card out of the reader and frantically searched the room with his camera. It was sitting on the bed. He was about to make a go for it when Neva closed his door and locked it. She turned toward him once again.

"Now my rescuer, it’s time for a little reward." Not Neva walked slowly and began to peel off the rest of her cloths and Henry walked backward, transfixed but struggling to concentrate on the task at hand; getting the flash card into the camera. Henry bumped into his bed and fell backward onto it. Not Neva had crossed the distance to him and was now down to wearing only her underwear. She crawled onto the bed overtop of Henry. Her luminescent eyes penetrated his mind, and he was nearly overcome with desire for her right there but his raised hand bumped into his camera which jolted him back into some form or resistance, however feeble, against the demon’s powers, or maybe it was the close proximity of an almost nude girl which was overpowering his will.

Not Neva giggled a little girl giggle and began to unbutton Henry’s shirt. She tickled his flesh with each undone button, and Henry trying desperately to open the flash port on his camera was nearly undone with each touch. He only managed to keep trying by recalling the vulture headed creature he had briefly seen on his computer. That was what was in control of this girl, he desperately reasoned as she tickled him once more and licked her lips.

Henry felt overwhelming and conflicting emotions. For one he felt like a helpless prey held fast in the claws of a lion waiting for the lion to strike its killing blow while at the same time he felt such desire for this girl’s flesh he didn’t know how he had managed to retain any control over himself at all.

The camera flash card port popped open at the same time his last shirt button did. "Oohhh," Not Neva moaned lowering her full body onto his. Henry, if he hadn’t just taken a breath, would not have been able to. Her head rested on his revealed chest and her tongue darted out to tickle his skin. No teenager should ever have to endure such sweet torture and Henry felt the shields on his will peeling back like the sheets of a book in an inferno.

Picturing that vulture head and making the supreme effort and sacrifice, Henry used both hands to force the flash card into the camera and snap it shut. All the while Not Neva had moved farther down his body tickling and licking all the time until she moved down to his pants which she was now working on. My unholy god, mother of all things pure, jumping Jesus on the parallel bars, give me strength, Henry moaned as Not Neva nearly had his pants down.

It was now or never. Henry raised the camera, pushed the start button and the tiny servos readied the camera for action. "Neva," he croaked out using the little breath that could manage to stay in his body during this ordeal. He pushed the camera’s button not sure if he wanted this to work or not.

Not Neva stopped working on Henry’s pants and looked up licking her lips. The camera’s flash caught her straight in the face. She was not quick enough to avoid the picture. Neva’s horrific expression indicated that he had trapped the demon once again. Neva leaped back off the bed looking at Henry then down at herself. How could he ever explain this?

Both of them silently scrambled to get dressed again. It was a tie. Henry did up his last button as Neva finished struggled back into her sweater. They stood for a moment looking at each other, faces red, not having the slightest clue what to say. Henry looked at the camera on the bed and knew what he had to do. He picked it up, snapped the flash card out of the slot, and grasped it hard in his hand. Neva watched stunned, unable to comprehend. "I need to do something," Henry said unlocking his door. Neva did not answer as Henry exited the room and went down the stairs two at a time.

"Where is Neva?" his mother asked as he dashed past for the front door. "Where are you going? What are you doing?" But Henry was out the door and onto the sidewalk. His mother stood in the doorway watching in amazement. Henry had no time to explain as he grabbed a fist sized rock from the rock garden and threw the flash card down on the sidewalk. Smashing the card was the only way he could think of to ensure this demon would not escape again, if it really was in there and this had not all been some horrible dream. On his twentieth swing he heard jibing laughter. He looked up to see three of the cool girls from school staring at him like he was a three headed antelope.

"What a weirdo," said one as she walked across the lawn to avoid him. "Yeah," said another, "totally psycho." They giggled. "Should we call the police," said the third. "Naw, I think the asylum," answered the first again and the three walked away giving Henry a few backward glances and lots of laughter. Oh great, he though and to take out his frustration gave the flash card four more solid whacks. When he was done, Henry tossed the mashed card down the sewer drain and headed back to the house. Neva and her mother had gotten ready to go.

Henry approached, wondering what on earth he was going to say when Neva approached him. "Um, thanks Henry." Henry looked like she had just kicked him in the privates.

"What?" Henry said, stunned.

"I think I know what happened. At least I could feel my mind taken over, and well, you stopped it. So thanks." Neva gave Henry a genuine smile with no licking of the lips.

Henry smiled back, "um, you are welcome. I think." The awkward moment ended as Neva’s mom took Neva by the arm.

"Let’s go Neva. Thanks for having us over. When we are more settled in we will invite you over as well. Goodbye." Neva stopped her mom for a second and turned back to Henry.

"See you in school, Henry." she smiled again and Henry got the distinct impression that she maybe liked him.

"Yeah, see you in school. I’d like that." Henry said and waved goodbye to Neva and her mother as they got in their car and drove away.

"Nice girl isn’t she?" Henry’s mom asked putting a hand on his shoulder.

Henry recalled her body fully pressed onto his. "Very nice," he replied smiling. "Very nice indeed."

***

A large brown rat scurried along a dark sewer tunnel in search of scraps to eat. Its nose twitching in all directions, it was sniffing for a meal or a mate. It scurried some more until it came upon a mangled piece of metal. It sniffed the piece with its pointy nose and took a jolt of static electricity for its curiosity. The rat teetered for a moment, then stabilized. It stood on its hind legs and surveyed its surroundings. As it turned around, its two luminescent eyes seemed to hold terror and surprise. It began to squeal as loudly as its little rodent body could squeal. The echos of its tiny voice reflected off damp walls, insects, other rodents and floating sewage.