Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lessons From the Other End

Things I learned over my recent five-day vacation in Singapore:

1. The end of a year brings about a huge number of stock-clearing sales. In a nation where half the business district is taken up by shopping centers, this translates into a scenario where any random store that you enter is likely having a sale at that point.

2. Most hotels underrate the concept of "personal space". Any hotel that knows its value should be recommended. (Yes, the Pan Pacific Singapore was quite good.)

3. If you must bring a single pair of shoes to wear over five consecutive days, they'd better be comfortable — especially if you must walk long distances on a daily basis.

4. Spending more than thirty minutes on a succession of subway trains can lead to disorientation, loss of balance, and the strange desire to go surfing.

5. Whenever the largest bookstore in the world offers a twenty-percent discount on everything, about half the population of Singapore will most likely be browsing there at any one time.

6. Never eat at a foodcourt that Western tourists frequent. The locals will most likely have already realized that same fact.

7. If you must create a sexy female mascot in order to promote a new product or service, make sure that that service does not involve Brazilian waxes.

8. Mobile phone services don't seem to place a great deal of vigilance with regards to their roaming services, if only because anyone who wants to complain will most likely be unable to contact them from a foreign country.

9. Do not post signs that tell people that their destination can be reached by a roundabout route, especially when said destination is right around the corner.

10. A nation that penalizes you for consuming food and drink in public places is not conducive to the notion of take-out food.

11. If you are looking for a certain book, you will be the only one searching for that specific book in a specific bookstore at a specific time — at which point you will find out that it's out of stock.

12. Never toss a wrapped package into your suitcase unless you know exactly what it is, what it's made of, and what you're likely to tell the security men when they bring you into the small white room behind the airport offices.

13. Although the malls will be open till about nine or ten in the evening, most of the shoppers will already be home by seven.

14. Young adults love it whenever you demonstrate your facility with hand puppets. Kids, however, will just stare at you as though you committed some international atrocity.

15. The state of a nation can be inferred by the "Letters to the Editor" section of the local news publications. If all of the letters express outrage or strong reaction over the political establishment, then there is a major issue with the mode of government. If the most grave correspondence on a given day involves leash laws in a public park, then it's usually safe to say that the status quo is tolerable.

16. Never expect to find an indie establishment in a place where there are no new local literary publications in the bookstores.

17. To ensure that people will pay you far more than the usual amount for sushi, you merely have to lower the price of said sushi. (You can push this further by giving these customers little or no reason to leave their table.)

18. You know that you've brought too much stuff when the lady at the counter asks that your handcarried baggage be weighed. You know that you've bought too much stuff when it's double that weight coming home.

19. It takes about twenty-four hours before you start channeling the local English accent, lah.

20. Twenty new books will ensure that one has enough reading material for a long time — about four or five days, I think.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Phat Lewtz

I'm headed to Singapore in a few hours, so this will probably be my last post for a couple of days. Seeing that the Christmas presents that I receive each year always make for a wonderful, wild and woolly assortment, I feel compelled to describe the madness that was waiting under the tree earlier this evening.

I'll ignore the usual stuff this year; every year there's usually somebody who gives me a shirt of some sort, and maybe a Parker ballpen (the last resort of the uncreative). This year, however, I got off easy — while I did get the expected shirt, it was of a color and design that was entirely wearable. Apart from that, there was a Scrabble dice game waiting for me, a pair of pajamas, some soap, a supply of chili-flavored sardines, and a belt with a copper crocodile etched on the buckle.

Those, in case you were wondering, were the mundane gifts. I've saved the most remarkable ones for your reading pleasure:

The Good: One of my best friends decided to give me a chess set. That alone should have been cause for celebration... but on top of that, it's a chess set made of hand-carved glass. With individually-stored pieces. In its own styrofoam packaging.

I'm extremely giddy about the possibility of displaying it on a coffee table somewhere, and actually playing a few games. I do have a couple of other chess sets around the house, but this is the first time I've owned something that implies a certain level of classiness and luxury with regards to my gaming hobbies. Do I need any other excuse to feel happy about owning one?

The Bad: I received a nice little office set from an acquaintance, which includes a little pencil holder, a handy refillable sheet of post-it notes, and a storage bin for paper clips. It also comes with a printed calendar, which would have been nice if it weren't for the fact that the dates are completely wrong. Yes, I do appreciate the gift — but it is kind of a downer that somebody would design a calendar that doesn't work.

The Weird: My siblings game me a cow. Unfortunately, no, it's not a stuffed toy... rather, it's a plastic cow bank where I can store my loose change.

Did I mention that it's about two feet wide, one foot square, and scares the living daylights out of my beanbag pikachu? I hate to imagine how I'm supposed to cart it around once it's full.

Oh, and did I mention that it moos whenever I put a coin into the slot?

Yes, that's right — it moos whenever I put a coin into the slot. We tried it out mere minutes after I opened the box. My sister took pictures. I will post them once I get my grubby little hands on her camera.

An hour after we finished opening our presents, I brought mine upstairs and started emptying my container of coins into the massive bovine. And for one moment just before midnight, the hills came alive with the sound of moosic.

I like the gift, mind you... it caters perfectly to my sense of humor, and I can show it around to people just so that they can get a good laugh. But for goodness' sakes, where am I supposed to put it? How many coins am I likely to feed it before I get completely sick of its audio mechanism? And how long will it be before the neighbors become quite unsettled with the incessant cow sounds?

Ah, well. It's Christmas anyway; they can afford to be generous.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Traveling Without Moving

In case somebody out there hasn't heard yet, I'm going to be in Singapore for a few days later this month. Thankfully, it's for leisure purposes, and seeing the hours I've been working lately, I look forward to scouring the bookstores over there for collectibles, rarities, and Things That Man Was Not Meant To Know™.

What that also means is that I've been busy for the last few days. Apart from organizing a good part of the vacation itself, there's also the matter of making sure that all obligations are completed and tied down so that the world can survive without me for about four days. That means talking to my backups, putting any and all emergency measures in place, and running a disproportionate number of errands that suddenly seem to be popping out of the woodwork this week. (Murphy has never been so accurate.)

For starters, I've had to pay the bills. Make no mistake about it — December is a really confusing time for bill payments. Most collectors will give you until the 20th of the month (or so) in order to make your obligations, but with my vacation and the strange holiday schema this year, I felt that it would be best to make sure that everything was squared away before my departure. Just to be certain that none of the utility services would be calling me while I was away, I threw in their payments for January as well... which was a decision that cost me something in the realm of the mid-thousands this month. (Yowtch!)

There was also the matter of making sure that the travel bags were filled, so I went on a supply run this weekend. This involved looking for the little itty-bitty necessities that we would need to bring along; Toothpaste being one example, razor blades another. This resulted in my spending the better part of an hour looking for a single toothbrush in the bowels of one of the local malls (a story for another time), as well as having to skulk around in various deodorant sections like an embarrassed criminal.

Then, there was the matter of my mileage program. Despite the fact that I applied for it three years ago, Philippine Airlines has not seen fit to acknowledge my presence (nor the existence of tons of miles earned from a previous trip to the United States), so I'm being forced to reactivate it all over again. What's even more absurd is that some indifferent encoder out there decided to enter my name as "Jean" instead of the correct "Sean", so the airline is now asking me to prove that I'm exactly who I say I am... which somehow involves dropping by their main offices a good hour's ride away. *Sigh*

I'd also describe my experience with the bank with regards to my travel funds, but the less said about those, the better.

My sister and I also spent the afternoon looking for canned goods and other gifts for our bakeshop's Christmas basket. If you haven't gone canvassing like this yet, then you haven't realized what an exercise in patience it is. In this case, we ended up lucky — we only had to run through the entire supermarket three times (one to check the prices, one to load the stuff, and one to fish around for missing items). The end result, of course, involved an overweighted shopping cart, an sizeable dent in our credit account (yowtch again), and the knowledge that we were going to spend the next couple of hours picking off a few hundred price tags. At least the end result was worthwhile, I suppose.

The interesting part, of course, is that I haven't even started packing yet — although I plan to do that tomorrow. I will need to pencil that in among a few other errands, though. For starters, I still have to give Philippine Airlines a piece of my mind. Then I have to visit my barber for a haircut that matches my passport photo better. (There was this little incident the last time I visited China, you see... and, well... ah, let's just leave it at that, shall we?)

For my first four days off work, I have yet to experience circumstances that even so much as make me feel like I'm taking a break. It's not nice, of course, and it's a little funny in the right light. But now... well, it's not so nice at the moment.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Stuffed Up

The all-powerful committee handling the office Christmas party this year decided that they would go along with a "slumber party" theme, so tonight was a rather strange affair. About a third of the office came in "formal" sleepwear: various pajama tops and bottoms, bathrobes, and smoking jackets. Another third came in the house clothes that they normally slept in: old shirts, old shorts, baby tees, and a couple of sweatpants.

I was of the last third of the audience, and we were those people who were either so stiff or so embarrassed that we came to the office in full semi-formal attire, and then barely made a dint of effort at the spirit of sleepwear. I brought along a pair of bedroom slippers — albeit slippers that looked like giant monster feet — and spent the evening looking as though I had just stepped out of the lunatic asylum. (My feet got a few compliments, though.)

Three days ago, however, I found out that we were permitted to bring accessories. So I dug through my collection of stuffed toys and brought four rather familiar figures along for the ride. You probably know three of them as the Lion, the Raccoon, and the little yellow pocket monster; The fourth was a tiny green plush turtle that I received as a gift earlier this year.

To be honest, they weren't my first choice, if only because they're so small that they probably can't be taken seriously as plushies that you bring to bed with you. My first choice was actually the giant gray penguin that you see as my icon; unfortunately, my sister was adamantly against the idea for some reason.

As a result, the merry trio (and their turtle companion) spent about twelve hours inside my little office. Just for kicks, I took them out of my traveling case a few minutes after I arrived, and posed them around my desk to see what kind of reception they would get. Pretty much everybody noticed (as most of my officemates know about my small collection), although a few of them did ask me why they were sitting there.

The lion and the raccoon didn't get as much attention as I expected. A few people did recognize them from their earlier appearance on my blog, but they were left alone for the most part. Everybody seemed to point out the bean-bag Pikachu in one way or another, though, and I suspect that his namesake's fame had something to do with it. A couple of them even asked if they could borrow Pikachu to pose at their desks; I imagine that he made for an excellent stress toy today. The green turtle was a little more nondescript; it sat on top of my empty inbox like some sort of eager young paperweight.

As the day wore on, more people began borrowing the toys. Someone made the observation that the raccoon looked a bit intelligent and dignified (which matched my recent thoughts), and it was more interesting to pose on one's desk. The lion got some comments about his mane (which constantly gets tangled and matted), which eventually led into some conversation about alternate hairstyles. Nevertheless, the lion spent most of the day cradled in the arms of female officemates, which wasn't too bad a situation for him.

The Pikachu went from hand to hand as a definite stress toy; It was as though everybody wanted to squeeze him at least once. I don't know if there was a lot of pent-up frustration running around the office today, or if it's something about bean stuffing. I finally got hold of him near the end of the day, however, after which I set him aside to prevent any further squeezing.

The little green turtle was stuck looking over my shoulder for the entire day, so much that I contemplated naming it right then and there. (But no, I haven't thought of a name yet.)

At around six in the evening, I finally managed to gather all four of them back together for the Christmas party. I didn't have any plans for them beyond, say, mere accessories, but I figured that they would probably be right at home. The three-hour sleepwear-themed event turned out to be an extremely busy one, however, so they did stay put throughout the whole thing — I eventually lined them up along a single table so that they could just watch the action. We had a little bit of time once the proceedings were over, though, so while I searched for leftover pizza, Mr. Lion demonstrated to the others whatever thing he did that attracted the ladies so much.

All four stuffed toys arrived home completely safe and sound (except maybe for the Pikachu), and they're now back in their original places around the bedrooms. It's been a while since any of them has actually been outside the house, I suppose, so this was probably an interesting experience.

I have a couple of other plushies that I'd like to take on a field trip one of these days. There's the neon-blue teddy bear, for example, who sits on top of a DVD player all day and doesn't say a word. There's the husband-and-wife-pygmy-hippo duo as well, who definitely need a break from reading newspapers and seeing their marriage counselor. Then there's the Mogwai (who comes with stern instructions warning me to keep him dry at all times, and never to feed him after midnight). And of course, there's Trevor, who still sits at the edge of my bed, waiting for the day when he will kill me in my sleep.

Then again, maybe there's a good reason why I only brought those aforementioned four toys out of the house...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Teetotaller's Nightmare

Sometime during dinner tonight, my brother raised the fact that he was looking for something to get his godparents this Christmas. Wine was his current choice; it was formal, it was classy, and it would make a good statement for a godchild who was now a manager in the insurance industry. The only question involved what kind of wine was best for the occasion, and where he could pick it up.

"Why look for wine outside?" my mother asked. "We have a lot of it here."

Fifteen minutes' rooting around one of the cabinets revealed an unlikely trove. It seemed that other people had been similarly generous with us in the past, enough to have gifted us with various bottles of wine over the years. The irony, however, was that we were a non-drinking family: My mother avoids the stuff for her health, I swear off the alcohol because I hate the taste (and because of a delicate liver condition), my brother just plain refuses it, and while my sister tries the odd drink every now and then, those are more along the lines of commercial shandy and wine coolers than anything else. Simply put, we're not a family that drinks.

Nevertheless, it turned out that we'd amassed a small collection of eleven or twelve wine bottles over the years, all as gifts, raffle prizes, and/or tokens of appreciation in some form. And these were the proceeds from a single cabinet — I'm not quite sure what else was in any of the others.

Some of the labels, in fact, were actually peeling off by the time we got to them. My mother was the first to get hold of a bottle partially wrapped in silver foil and ask me how the word "chardonnay" was pronounced, after which she asked me if wine had an expiry date. (I rolled my eyes.)

The small collection was mostly comprised of red wine, a sample of white wine (the aforementioned chardonnay), a bottle of cider, something in a foreign language that none of us could read, and a lone container of soy sauce that looked completely out of place. I was surprised at the lack of sparkling grape juice (which was an obvious alternative for a non-drinking family), only to find that we had apparently set aside a different cabinet for those. I'm afraid to find out just how many samples we have of that.

This sparked a discussion of whether or not it was okay to re-gift wine. It could be some sort of social faux pas, I think, if we wrapped up a couple of other peoples' bottles to give to a few friends. We've done it for other things, I admit — toys and small appliances for the most part — but there may be an etiquettal restriction against wine. I'm just not sure.

Complicating things further was the fact that we didn't know where any of the wine came from. I mean, this isn't the kind of thing that comes with gift tags attached.

We were certain that none of the wine had come from my brother's godparents, though, and he was quite willing to set aside a couple of bottles for the re-gifting. We were highly unlikely to use it at all, we were even less likely to have house guests for which it could be served, and we didn't exactly looking forward to setting aside the needed space for the next few years.

So now my brother's doing some research as to exactly what the best method is for re-gifting gifted wine. I mean, we're not certain if we can just drop the stuff into a plastic bag, or if we need to tuck it into a small wooden crate stuffed with straw, or if we should just tie a brightly-colored ribbon around it and present it to a lucky recipient who'd be absolutely thrilled at our good taste.

Now if they only knew the truth. And if they only wouldn't get others to give us the same gifts in return...

Friday, December 12, 2008

...Feels Rushed

The title phrase seems to be the most common bit of literary criticism that I've been receiving lately: "The story is good, but the execution feels rushed." "The setup is unique and the characters are very original, but it feels rushed as a whole." "It looks like the author wrote this in all of thirty minutes or less."

There's a deep, dark, dirty secret to that, of course, and it's the fact that my stories have been quite rushed lately.

I work a rather tough job, to start with, and I've taken on a couple of new roles in recent months. Unfortunately, my predecessors and colleagues are almost all located in North America, which means that I've had to stay up late at night for a lot of meetings. That, coupled with a spate of real-life deadlines, has left me with precious little time to conceptualize, plot, and lay out a story. It's really been a question of spending more time at the office and less time playing with my mind. (Yes, the two of them are mutually exclusive at times.)

In addition, most of my writing has taken place here on this blog. I write my "serious" stories — the ones geared towards printed publications and worthwhile contests — on Microsoft Word 2003, usually after two or three days' worth of agony and rewritten drafts. In contrast to those, my blog stories are more "throwaway": I write them up with considerably less effort, with no obligation to follow a word limit or any setting constraints.

This is not to say that the stuff I write on this blog is of lower quality, of course. I am merely admitting that I use this blog as a perpetual "free-mind" exercise. As a result, you will see far more stories on this web site than you will see under my name in various publications... with the trade-off being that I make no guarantees with regards to their quality of execution here. You will find a diamond in the rough every now and then, but the works on this site obviously can't all be gems.

However, that means that I need to take a step back and take a critical look at the situation. I know that I've spent a lot of time recently coming up with short stories on the fly — I mean, I have ten examples from last month alone — and I think that I might need to regain some "serious" writing time. Fortunately I have some vacation leave coming up as a result of our glorious end-of-year holidays, so I might spend some portion of that trying to catch up on my old habits.

My recent "by-the-seat-of-my-pants" phase hasn't been a total loss, though. I suppose that I now know that I can wing it when the deadlines come knocking at my door. However, it's easy to fall into the trap of waiting till the last minute in order to write, and I suspect that I've been pushing that limit for a while now. It's literally time for me to sit staring at the computer screen for long hours again, knowing what it's like to agonize over the perfect phrase. And hey, I'm cool with that. Anything for me to improve, really.

And with a little luck, I'll get better reviews and see print in more venues next year. Like that's going to happen anytime soon. :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Sean is standing in line at the Mongolian buffet table. He has a bowl of rice in one hand, and a pair of chopsticks in the other. In front of him is a woman of advanced age, who's navigating the meat section. The following conversation ensues.

Old Lady: Excuse me.

Sean: Yes?

O: (Points towards a tray of raw meat.) What's this?

S: (Glances.) Oh, that's the beef.

O: Thank you.




O: Excuse me, but what's this?

S: (Glances.) It's beef.

O: Thank you.



O: What's this?

S: (Glances, gives a curious look.) That's the beef.

O: Thank you.



O: What's this?

S: (Stares.) Beef.

O: Thank you.



O: Excuse me, but what's this?

S: (Completely exasperated by now.) It's the b... you know what? That's chicken.

O: Are you sure? It looks like beef.

says nothing, and just walks away.)


Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Author's Notes

First, I present a few statistics about the Ten/Thirty Project, because everybody loves statistics:

Total number of short stories: 10
Total number of short stories written during November: 8
Total number of short stories pulled from archives: 2 (one of which was rewritten)

Total number of words: 17,227 (About 34% of the expected NaNoWriMo output, which implies that I'd need to write the equivalent of 30 short stories — about one per day — in order to match the novelists.)
Average number of words per story: 1,722

Shortest story: Progenitor (807 words)
Longest story: Dinner for Two (3,375 words)

First named character introduced: Priscilla, from Just Think of the Children. (Yes, I wrote four stories before I got around to actually naming a character.)
Largest cast of main and supporting characters: Forecast. (Five total — Ben Waller, and each of the four elementals.)

And now, some individual notes on each of the works. I was taking on a couple of new roles at work during November, so I spent a good portion of my time in the office taking training from my contacts in the United States. This meant that I usually arrived home rather late on weekdays (close to midnight more often than not), which translated into some late writing time for these stories. As a result, you'll notice that the post times are usually set for the wee hours of the morning.

The late writing sessions also meant that I didn't have much time to establish plots beforehand, or even to resolve a good number of loose threads. I spent many hours writing in white heat this way, and often had to wrap up a story at three or four in the morning without benefit of a truly satisfactory conclusion. Sometimes I would read through a work the next day and be surprised at what turned out.

Ground Floor, Please
This piece was directly inspired by the bank of elevators resident in my office building, all of whom display odd facets of behavior. The resident elevator company is real as well; the only major deviation that I made up (apart from the guy who talks to elevators) was the nature of those elevators to served different floors... which was taken from another office building that I've visited.

This is also the first time I've written a short story from the given point of view. It feels a lot like a written letter, to be honest — in fact, with a bit of tweaking, it can easily become an honest letter to a building administrator. I felt that it would be best to include some (unseen) interaction into the story, however, because this would reflect audience disbelief. Assuming that I wrote this correctly, the readers' level of disbelief should move from incredulity to amusement to acceptance as it goes on.

I was surprised to find that this base plot had been considered before, because I certainly haven't read anything that even looks vaguely like this one. On the other hand, it's not exactly the sort of story idea that gets taken seriously.

I can't for the life of me remember why I chose to shelve this story. I know that I liked it a couple of days after I first wrote it (despite the somewhat indifferent reader reaction), but I don't remember why I never had this published in some form. Maybe I was busy at the time.

I think that I wrote this story in the middle of my "dating" phase, and that it came about as a result of the observation that most of the women I went out with had some sort of affinity for chocolate. I have no great love for chocolate myself, but I did give quite a bit of the stuff away. Ironically, this request for affection never seemed to work as well as expected — I could only assume that every single one of those nice young women was associated or fixated on a presumably more handsome young man at the time. Eventually I equated the prospect of chocolate with these invisible young men who were always beating me out of a potential relationship... and thus the story was born.

The Monk and the Tiger
I always wanted to try my hand at writing a fable-type story. The problem was that all the good moral lessons are taken, and it shows here.

I suspect that one of the primary inspirations for the story involved a South Asian project team that I was handling at the time; over the course of a week's worth of meetings, I became amazed at how truly unflappable they were — I could demand changes that would threaten their project schedule, and they would make them quickly without even so much as a word of complaint. (The fact that these were important security changes may have had something to do with it.) I'm fairly certain that the master's character in this story reflects how truly calm they were as a group.

Just Think of the Children
I once mentioned that one way to create stories was to take two elements that were completely unrelated to each other, and build a plotline based on their unlikely combination. In this case, the two disparate ideas just happened to be "Sushi restaurant", and "Santa Claus".

The immediate problem, however, was that while I could conceive of Santa Claus sitting at a misono table munching on a plate of unagi sashimi, I didn't think that that would constitute a story by itself. Eventually I concluded that the story didn't lie in the fact that Kris Kringle was eating sushi; it was in the fact that he was going to a Japanese restaurant for some reason. Maybe he was meeting up with a couple of friends. Maybe they were professional colleagues in the industry. Maybe they had some serious matters to discuss...

Ultimately, this gave rise to the characters of Leon the Boogeyman and Priscilla the Tooth Fairy, two characters unconnected to the traditional holidays because I wanted Santa's appearance to provide the twist at the end. I imagine that they would fight like that in real life, although I wouldn't expect Santa Claus to be an arbiter of sorts. No, that role would probably go to the Valentines' Day Cupid, who just happened to be on vacation leave at the time.

Suicidal Tendencies
I wouldn't be surprised if this was judged my worst work of the month, because I don't think of it as really story-worthy.

Some years ago, I attempted a NaNoWriMo-type experiment where I would write installments of a fifty-thousand word novel via blog posts. The result was Self-Termination Protocol, a work that went as far as 3,714 words before I got too busy to continue writing it further. I haven't touched it for a while, but I still read through the chapters every now and then and wonder if I can pull it off in the future. On a recent read, I found myself fixated on the following excerpt:

There was a knock at the door.

Serge ignored it, concentrating on his reflection and wondering if it was even worth the effort to pick up a toothbrush and clean his enamel whites. Nobody ever called on him this early in the morning, and if it was a business matter, the Force would probably have buzzed him over the neural-net instead.

There was another knock at the door.

Serge held the toothbrush between two dirty fingers, long enough to chuck it into the automatic waste dispenser. The flat steel cylinder made a humming sound as it chewed up what was left of his dental hygiene.

The idea of destroying your own toothbrush tickled me (I mean, what significance would dental hygiene have to a dying man?), and I wanted to see if I could pull off that same style again. This story for the Ten/Thirty project reflects that sentiment as a result. Unfortunately, I didn't have much material left by the time I hit three in the morning, so I just closed up the sutures and published it as it was. Maybe I'll find a way to fix it up later on.

I wanted a flash fiction entry for Ten/Thirty month, and I really wanted to see what I could do with a one-hundred-word limit. Unfortunately, the stories have a tendency to get away from me quite easily nowadays, and while this work ended up shorter than the others, it's still far longer than the one hundred words that I had planned for it.

If there's anything that I'm proud of for this story, it's the fact that it never names the identity of the speaker despite leaving some very obvious clues. Ironically, it uses the stereotype rather than the actual literary reference in order to identify him... which sometimes makes me wonder if I should have written about Igor instead.

This is the oldest of any short story that I've posted on this blog, and as I mentioned in the post itself, it was originally written as a script for a short comic that never got made. I was originally asked to contribute such a thing to a publication that never materialized, and in my search for ideas, I found myself trapped in a car under heavy rain in the middle of traffic one day. This got me wondering how a man would try to manipulate the weather, which gave me the first part of the story. Then I got to wondering what kind of man would want to manipulate the weather, and what kind of purpose it would fulfill. The obvious answers, of course, were "a weatherman", and "accurate weather reports".

As a comic script would have been too long to fit on this blog, I set about reformatting the work as a "proper" short story. I expected the process to take me about thirty minutes; it instead took me over two hours to do so, which meant that I might as well have rewritten the silly thing from scratch.

The Temporal Connection
This started as a second attempt at flash fiction, only for me to abandon the idea once it became evident that this would need a huge degree of subtlety in order to work. I could have brought in any number of strange changes that would indicate the shift in reality, but I only chose to show two of them: the sudden metamorphosis of each of the two characters. I suspected that putting in too many details would have ruined the surprise; part of this story's charm probably lies in Morgan's sudden temporal sex-change operation, which gave me a laugh at the end.

This is one of the few stories I write that has its inspiration in another creative work. In this case, it's The Wager, from Winston Rowntree's dark-humored "Subnormality" webcomic. I doff my hat to Rowntree's creativity here, and can only assume that he's as half-mad as the rest of us.

Observer's Sight
I wrote this story with a rather unique approach: I used a random six-card pull from the standard Talecraft deck, and cobbled together a plotlike scenario from there. I found myself forced to write something that would fulfill the conditions of both the Fantasy and the Mystery genre, with characters that would reflect a Reclusive Genius and a Competent Man, involving Blood and a Lock of Hair. (The hair ended up being a bit of a stretch.)

Fortunately, these elements were rather easy to combine, particularly Keldar and Bruni's comprehensive dual approach. The only problem I encountered was that it was difficult to compress a full-blown mystery into less than three thousand words; I'm actually happy that I didn't go overboard with this one.

Dinner for Two
Two of my rejected ideas from the month involved a minotaur and a gorgon, for some reason. I first wanted to write a story about Astarion (the original minotaur from Greek mythology), in which we learn the nature of his life in the labyrinth and his hatred of humanity (as well as his deep-seated mommy issues). Afterwards, I considered doing a similar approach from Medusa's point of view, in which we learn her sensual affinity towards stone and her mute desire for acceptance among the living world.

After spending a bit of time with both, I shelved both ideas because their stories would inevitably involve a lot of whining and self-pity. I wanted to make them sympathetic, but I didn't want to risk people hating them even more than was necessary. This, however, brought about the curious idea of giving them some sort of happy ending. And the first thing that came to mind was, "what if they went out on a date or something?" (Yes, my mind really does work this way.)

The best part, of course, involved all the little details about how a minotaur and a gorgon would interact with the modern world. A minotaur would be considered well-hung, for example, and a gorgon would have to wear a mask to prevent her from turning everything else to stone. I could work in all the little textual in-jokes that I could imagine, and on top of that, I could intersperse this with our mundane surroundings and have the audience just stare at the unlikely pair for the duration of their date. When the text started reading as though it had a good flow to it, I knew that I had something interesting on my hands.

My only regret, of course, is that I didn't have enough time to work their respective natures of existence into the ending; you expect it to have something to do with the fact that he's a minotaur and she's a gorgon, after all. That said, I have a hard enough time trying to imagine what the remainder of their evening will be like, and I leave that as an exercise to the reader.


Thus ends the Ten/Thirty project, and thus begins my return to "normal" blogging. This was a very interesting exercise (regardless of how late the nights got, or how bad the stories turned out), and I'll actually consider doing this again next year. I don't know how or why I would do it again, but ten more stories is too interesting a prospect to miss...

The Ten/Thirty Project

The Ten/Thirty Project was an effort that I performed last November 2008 in response to NaNoWriMo month. Because of the nature of my work and my writing experience, I am unable to find the time nor the inclination to plan and write a fifty-thousand-word novel. However, as I am in the perfect position to plot short stories, I instead decided to produce at least ten of them within a thirty-day period.

If you've read this before, then you're probably feeling a sense of déja vu right now. That's because I'm writing this post to act as a convenient index for these short stories. I'm glad to say that the original works and the lost pieces brought out of my archives allowed me to be successful at this endeavor.

I will be posting further notes and other interesting tidbits in a later blog entry, but for now, I leave the links for each of these ten short stories below:

Ground Floor, Please
The Monk and the Tiger
Just Think of the Children
Suicidal Tendencies
The Temporal Connection
Observer's Sight
Dinner for Two

If you liked or disliked any story out of these ten, please feel free to leave a note in the comments below. I'm curious as to which styles worked well, and which styles could stand a bit of improvement.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Disclaimer: December 2008

It's past two in the morning, and I'm tired.

One month ago, I promised in a disclaimer post that I would spend the whole of November trying to write at least ten short stories — original, unpublished short stories — in response to an inability to churn out fifty thousand words for a novel that my schedule cannot accommodate. Ten short stories is itself a challenge for someone who spends whole weekday evenings at the office talking to people from halfway across the world... but I felt that it was a more reasonable challenge that I could accomplish.

Now, many sleepless hours later, I've placed the finishing touches on the tenth one. Yay.

And yes, I've got notes coming on each of them. Just watch for this in a future post.

The mere fact that I've literally slaved over each and every one of these stories is basis for my disclaimers and pseudo-legal text. Moreover, the fact that I worked against an artificial deadline has no bearing on the legality of my demands: I worked hard on each and every one of these pieces, I put them together completely from scratch, and anyone who decides to take them from me and use them under their own names will be the recipient of a well-deserved and righteous beating.

But that isn't the essence of these disclaimers. No, the point of this constant feature is to remind people that there are original minds out there who can come up with these sorts of things. The fact they they choose to share these with you on the Internet does not mean that you can immediately do with them as you will. You must follow the guidelines set forth by their creators in order to ensure that they are used in the correct and proper context, with the right attributions. If these creators (and me) would come down harshly on any trespassers, it is because they represent a threat to our existence — the base realization that when anyone can steal our work, then it leaves us with no further motivation to keep creating new works.

And on top of all that, there is the constant question: As opposed to taking other peoples' works, why not come up with your own? You never know just how good you are until you try.

Now I go through the motions again, in case they are not familiar to you yet:

1. Everything written on this weblog is an original work as created by Sean, its owner and maintainer. The only exceptions are those items that belong to other creators, for which I am always careful to provide acknowledgments (often relating to footnotes or links to their online sites).

2. If you do not agree with the manner by which your material is presented on this weblog, you may simply contact me and cordially discuss how to resolve the situation. I neither want anything to do with the Varsitarian approach, nor do I want anonymous trolls pestering me — these moves will only succeed in irritating me more than I normally feel. I am a perfectly reasonable (and perhaps even generous) man, and I can adjust, remove or even provide compensation for articles as required. You just have to ask.

3. Similarly, you can also contact me if you want to use anything from this blog for any purpose. I will need to know the reason for which you need the work, and I will need to make certain that it is not used in a threatening, harmful, or out-of-context manner. I reserve the right to ask for compensation, but this is unlikely — I'll probably just request for acknowledgment and a link to this web site. As above, you just have to ask.

4. In case my above statement was not clear, I will note it again: Do not take anything from this site with the intent of using it under your own name. Do not take excerpts from this site with the intention of quoting them for malicious purposes. Do not quote any article here out of its original context. Contrary to popular opinion, altering or rephrasing select parts of a given work does not automatically make it your own; do not do this.

5. I support the Creative Commons License, which allows for free use of my material across the Internet under the stipulations that I have given both above and below. There is a link to my reserved tenets at the bottom of my right-hand sidebar on this site, which offers me a form of legal protection in exchange for my adherence.

Now I'm really tired, and if you'll excuse me, it's time that I got some sleep.

As this will be my last disclaimer for the year, I wish you all a Merry Christmas. Hopefully we don't do anything that will eventually give us coal in our stocking this year.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fiction: Dinner for Two

Alphonse stared at the menu. He couldn't remember being this nervous before.

It wasn't the fact that the restaurant was the swanky type, and it wasn't the fact that the minotaur was dressed head-to-hoof in the requisite tuxedo. It wasn't even the possibility that he was new to this "blind date" thing — Alphonse had, after all, met up with plenty of female strangers in restaurants that were just as expensive. There was just... something else in the air this time.

He wolfed down the single glass of water that the waiter had left for him. At the rate he was going, he was going to empty his wallet on the ice cubes alone.

She was late, of course. It was a constant quality in all the women he had ever known — they seemed to like making him wait. In truth, Alphonse didn't mind this all that much; he liked to think that they were taking their time for something special (and Alphonse had certainly seen a lot of special things). Of course, it also went the other way around — the minotaur could never see a breakup coming if it walked right up to him and took him by... well, the horns, so to speak.

And there he was, as a result: single, nervous, and a little impatient.

A waiter refilled his glass from a filigreed pitcher. Alphonse snapped it up from the moment it was out of the man's hands. He was starting to feel a little better now. A little better, a little less nervous, and...

...Well, he had to go to the bathroom. But she wasn't likely to arrive something during the next five minutes, was she?


Odessa thought that the maitre'd had probably been a handsome man in his youth, the way he smiled as he ushered her to her table. Old age had given him a sort of distinguished look; she wondered if he was married.

Her date had reserved a nice table. It wasn't shunted off into one corner of the room, like many of her other dates had preferred, but neither was it thrust into the center under the glare of the chandelier lights. There was only one thing it was missing, though, and that was the presence of a dinner companion.

There was an open menu on one of the place settings, as well as a glass of ice water that had been messily finished. Odessa swept back her ophidian hair, and curled up in her golden coils a bit; she always did that whenever she needed to think.

Was he already here? Did he just walk off to check on something? Did he make a quick exit because he somehow spotted her approach and didn't like what he saw? Odessa was the kind of gorgon whose mind filled with questions so easily that they left room for little else. Times like these, she wished that she had a paper bag to breathe with.

Eventually she sat down as best as she could. She was going to have to hope that he didn't run out on her. A waiter with a filigreed pitcher was kind enough to bring her a menu; she skimmed its contents while the faceless man poured ice and water into her glass.

She wondered if he was as handsome as the maitre'd had been in his youth. Her friend had mentioned that he was about twentyish, in bull years; Odessa didn't notice the subtle hint at first. She put the menu down for an instant, adjusted the straps of her dress for a while, and then returned to the selections. Nothing, however, could distract her from the sensation of butterflies in her stomach... or the incessant hissing of her hair.


Alphonse emerged from the recesses of the restaurant feeling a lot better. He had spent a good five minutes staring at his own face in the mirror, polishing what looked like a dirt smudge on his right horn. His hair had also looked slightly mussed from the time he had arrived (he needed to adjust some of his cowlicks, ha ha), but otherwise he saw nothing that wouldn't convince any sensible young lady that he was anything but a charming young minotaur. It had been a very satisfying talk, and he was still telling himself this as he returned to his table.

There was a lady there.

Even at this distance, she was remarkably good-looking. Pale white skin revealed itself under the trappings of a royal blue dress held only by a couple of flimsy-looking shoulder straps and a lot of imagination. Her hair undulated softly under the muted lights, and her skinlike mask shone slightly as she perused a menu that some waiter had given her. Alphonse could practically feel his self-resolve dribble out of his ears and onto the carpet.

After a while, he asked himself why he was still standing there. After a few deep breaths (and some rigorous adjustment of his bow-tie), he crossed over to the table.

She looked up just as he arrived at his seat. The way her eyes widened, Alphonse would have thought that she had never seen a seven-foot-tall minotaur before.

"Hi," Alphonse said, completely invalidating the original greeting that he had in mind. "Odessa?"

"Yes," the gorgon said. "Are you Alphonse?"

"Yes," Alphonse said. He made no move to sit down at first, as though this was a breach of etiquette that he hadn't considered. "I'm sorry," he said, "have you been waiting long?"

"No, no," Odessa said. "Not at all. Ah..."


"You might like to sit down, Alphonse."

Now, this was far more direct than he had expected. Alphonse liked that in a woman. "Why is that?" the minotaur asked.

Odessa smiled. "Because your fly is open," she said.


She watched, amused, as he fumbled with his own clothes just before sitting down. Her mind was screaming that she shouldn't have embarrassed him like that. If she had only just kept completely quiet, and if she had only just acted nonchalant about the whole thing, well... well... well... he would have had that zipper open for the rest of the evening.

Odessa didn't like thinking about that zipper. It was bad enough that she caught herself staring at his crotch the moment he walked up, but there were some things that she had heard about minotaurs, and those were things that her Carrie-Bradshaw-like group of girlfriends would gossip about in private and never discuss in public. She was glad that his embarrassment had covered things up rather nicely.

She opened her mouth to speak, saw that he was opening his mouth to speak, and stopped abruptly. He stopped at exactly the same time.

She opened her mouth to speak again, only to run into the exact same gesture from him, and both of them graciously remained silent so that the other could speak.

This was silly, Odessa thought, and decided to push forward.

"Well, I..." she said.

"I must..." he said at the same time.

Both of them began laughing. Alphonse's laugh was warm and rich, although the tall man kept it low enough to as not to bother any of the other guests. Odessa swallowed carefully, as though to calm herself after such a strange introduction, and sipped from her glass.

"So," Alphonse said, placing two muscular arms on the table. "Shall we order first?"

"Yes," she said, amazed at how easily he had recovered from the zipper debacle.

The waiter with the filigreed pitcher was just waiting nearby for such an occasion; the restaurant was a careful choice, and prized for its service. Odessa gazed at the selections on her menu; she was certain that she already had one of the dishes in mind, but she suddenly could not remember what it was that she wanted.

"Would you like to order first?" she asked Alphonse.

"You can go ahead," Alphonse said, smiling.

"Mmm... I... well, I just don't know."

"Do you have anything special today?" Alphonse asked the waiter.

There was a short, pregnant pause as their servitor brought up a few suggestions. The fillet of sea bass was excellent that evening, having been flown in direct from Chile. There was a famed concoction of pasta, capers, and goat cheese in a special sauce, and an excellent shrimp salad which Odessa remembered as having been mentioned in the local newspapers. She noted with great impression that the waiter completely avoided any mention of beef, much less steak or spare ribs; they were sensitive to their customers that way.

She asked for the sea bass. Alphonse eagerly ordered the shrimp salad, and she wondered what that implied about his own personality.

"So, Alphonse," she began, "how do you know Medea?"

"Your friend?" Alphonse asked. "Well... one of my college friends, Jason, used to go out with her."

"Ah, so you knew Jason in college?"

"He was my roommate, actually. Did they ever get together?"

"Who?" Odessa asked. "Jason and Medea?"

"Yeah," Alphonse said. "You know... Jason and Medea? I mean... the old myths?"

"Oh," Odessa said, as the light came on in her mind. Now that he mentioned it, that was an odd coincidence. She was going to have to ask Medea sometime.

"So," Alphonse said, in the manner of every other blind date that Odessa had met, "tell me about yourself, Odessa."

She smiled her most winsome smile at him. "You first," she said.


"Well... I grew up around here," Alphonse said. "You know the old story. Local kid gets off the city streets, goes to university on scholarship, comes back for a high-paying job in a high-paying industry. My parents weren't well off, but they gave me the best they had."

As far as Alphonse could tell, she looked interested in more details. For the minotaur, that was a good sign.

"I've been a stockbroker for the last four years, I think — in JP Meyer and Associates; we made it to the Fortune 500 last year. We take up four floors at the east Stock Exchange building downtown, although I'm not sure if you pass by there all that often."

"That's the one with the gargoyles, isn't it?" Odessa asked.


"The one with the four gargoyles on the seventh-floor cornerpieces. I've met the eagle-headed one, you know. He's quite talkative."

"Oh. Ah, well," Alphonse said, searching for the words. "I didn't really think they'd be interested in talking. I mean, they've been there since the building went up."

Odessa laughed. "You can get a lot of things from people around here," she said. "How long have you been in stocks again?"

Alphonse suddenly felt as though he was under an interrogation lamp. "Well... ah... four years," he said. "It's a rough ride sometimes."

"Oh, I know what you mean," his gorgon companion said. "My friend Charyn, one of her aunts sunk her life's savings into a charter house two years ago. Just last month, she found out that the investments went bad and the company was so deep in debt that they couldn't dig themselves out with a spoon. You can imagine how that turned out."

Alphonse glanced at her snakelike locks, wondering what happened whenever things didn't turn out well with Odessa.

"Do you have any brothers? Sisters?" Odessa asked.

"Just one brother," Alphonse said, laughing. "He's in Greenland."

"Greenland? That's a strange place."

"Yeah, I know. He's part of a scientific team over there — they're studying the native seal population. He's been there six months now, and we're not expecting him back until July."

"July?" Odessa asked. "That's a long time."

"He wanted it to be nice and warm over here by the time he got back," Alphonse laughed. He hoped that he wasn't putting her off with the story.

"I suppose that that's sensible," Odessa admitted.

They were interrupted by the arrival of their food by this time. The sea bass turned out to be a finely-crafted gourmet affair, with white sauce amid a generous bed of parsley. Alphonse's salad was a little more mundane in terms of appearances, but the restaurant had graciously served a larger-than0usual bowl in clear anticipation of the minotaur's appetite.

"Looks good," Odessa said. Alphonse immediately got the impression that she wasn't much of a food person.

"That's enough about me, though," the minotaur said. "What about you, Odessa? What's your story?"


She was certain that the butterflies in her stomach had reached their breaking point by now. This was the moment that she dreaded.

Some people had this utter talent for telling their life's stories to random strangers at the restaurant table, and Alphonse was apparently one of those people. Odessa was a private person at heart; she couldn't imagine how anyone could possibly find her background interesting in any way, much less ask about it without falling asleep in the process. It was enough to spoil the sea bass, at least.

"I, ah... it's hard for me to say," Odessa said.

Across the table, Alphonse picked up a fork. "I'll be patient," he said, smiling.

Odessa concluded that she would never be able to resist that smile of his. "Well... I'm not from around here, really. I flew in from the old country back when I was little more than a hatchling."

"And that's..."

"Nikos," Odessa said. "It's a little island off the coast of Cyprus. I don't remember anything about the place, except for the fact that it had a lot of grapevines."

"Okay," the minotaur said, with a bit of lettuce already halfway to his mouth. "My mother had some experience with grapevines."

"She was from the old country?"

"No," Alphonse said. "But her mother was, and I think that some of the old learnings just passed on, even though we don't have anything to do with grapevines and wineries nowadays."

"I think that the old country still shows up, even though a lot of us have scattered around the world already. I mean, I've met a couple of chimera on tour in Egypt, and I've even seen a district set aside for the harpies in Calcutta."

"And there's Yennera, too."


"The pop singer," Alphonse said. "She's a siren."

"Oh, oh... now I remember," Odessa said. "Yes, that's right. Medea knows her, too... she has an autographed photo on her workdesk."

"Egypt, India... you seem to travel a lot."

"Oh," Odessa said, swallowing a slice of her sea bass. "I'm, ah... an architectural consultant."

Alphonse raised an eyebrow. "That's interesting," he said.

"Is it?" Odessa asked, wondering if he really understood what she just said. She leaned across the table. "Tell me, then... what does an architectural consultant do?"

Alphonse paused, a bit of lettuce sticking out of the corner of his mouth. He swallowed. "I assumed that you work with architects. Maybe... you give them suggestions on their designs, and help organize the construction?"

Odessa sighed. He was as good as she thought he was.

"Something like that, yes. I specialize in nouveau design — you know, buildings that don't look like normal buildings."

"Like that bird's-nest stadium in Beijing," Alphonse said.

"Exactly," Odessa smiled. "That was one of mine."

"Did you come up with the design for it?"

"No," Odessa said, "so you can insult it as much as you want, if you don't like it." She winked at him.

Alphonse laughed. "I don't like it," the minotaur said, "but then again, I don't know what good architecture is supposed to look like from the outside. Just give me a set of blueprints, a way to get through a structure from beginning to end, and I'm fine with that."

"Oh, and while I was in the region," Odessa said, "that was where I got my mask."

"Your mask?"

The gorgon demurely pointed to the white skinlike mask that was bonded to her face. "I bought it in a souvenir shop in Singapore a couple of weeks afterward," she said. "The material is new, so it doesn't have the same glare that a lot of the old metal masks used to have. And it's plastic-based, so it won't break like the ceramic ones do. What's more, it molds itself to your skin, so you get to see me smile."

"Well, it looks great on you."

"Thank you," Odessa said, flashing the same winsome smile that she had mentioned.

"I confess that sometimes I wonder what you look like underneath," Alphonse said. "I mean, I see gorgons every now and then, and they're all wearing masks of a sort."

"We have to wear them, of course. I mean, otherwise..."

"Oh, I'm not saying that you shouldn't wear them," Alphonse said, "I'm just saying that I wonder what you look like underneath."

Odessa laughed. "You'd be taking a lot of risk," she said.

"Not as risky as my stocks," Alphonse said, and they both laughed.


They lingered at the end of the meal, Alphonse with his coffee and Odessa with her Earl Grey tea. The bill was covered and paid for, and both now eyed each other gamely.

"So," Alphonse said, "do you have a ride home, Odessa?"

"I live just three blocks away," she said. "I was just thinking of making my way back directly."

"I can walk you if you'd like," Alphonse said. "I'm parked nearby anyway, and I know the garage manager, so he won't get me towed."

"That would be nice," Odessa smiled.

Ten minutes later, she was on the minotaur's arm as they exited the restaurant and onto the city streets. He was certainly seven feet tall (or somewhere in that area), but Odessa was used to having largish companions and merely adjusted her coils in order to compensate. The two of them walked down the evening, one taking step by step with cloven hooves and the other slithering down the concrete and asphalt.

They laughed about more than a few things, about how absurd it was that Alphonse's brother would go halfway around the world to study baby seals, or about the strangest designs that Odessa had ever seen for habitable structures. They laughed about stone, and they laughed about passages. They laughed about the zipper debacle earlier that evening (for even Alphonse had to admit that this was funny), and they laughed about how nervous they were that the evening was going to turn out anything but good.

Finally they reached Odessa's apartments, which turned out to be a two-story building of significant size divided into a series of quarters, each with their own entrance. The gorgon slithered up to one of the wrought-iron gates, reached over and unlocked it from the inside, and then returned to place her hand on the minotaur's arm.

"Just walk me to the steps," she said, and Alphonse obliged.

When they had reached the front porch, Odessa felt around in her purse for a key, then unlocked her front door. With the date finally at an end, she turned back to her companion.

"I had a nice evening," she said, smiling at him.

He smiled back, doing the best that he could with his dark countenance. "So did I."

"Okay," she said, wondering what else to say. Odessa knew that she wasn't very good at these sorts of things. After a while, she finally gave up trying to figure out the next thing to do, and just moved closer.

"What are you doing?" Alphonse asked, curious.

Odessa flexed the lower half of her body, enough to allow her to reach the minotaur's height. "This," she said, and kissed him.

He held one hand to his cheek, surprised at what had just transpired, and then grinned.

She passed through the doorway, enough so that he could spot nothing except for the outline of her shadow on the pastel wallpaper inside. Then, just as he was about to leave, she gently reached one arm out, and beckoned him to come in.

By this point, Alphonse had nothing more than a goofy smirk on his bovine face. This was turning out to be a more interesting night than expected. He had a feeling that he was definitely going to enjoy this.

He stepped through the doorway, and closed the heavy wooden door behind him.

Above, the night sky glistened with stars.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fiction: Observer's Sight

There was a corpse sprawled in the center of the courtyard, its skin pale with the dust of snow, its dark black hair tangled in a terrible mass underneath its head. Rivulets of red ran ragged from the corners of its eyes and mouth, long frozen into a dirty patch of blood beneath the body. Were it not for the lightless eyes, the exsanguinated skin, or the unlikelihood of the scene, Keldar would have thought that the victim merely wished to enjoy the splendors of winter.

"She's dead," Bruni observed.

Keldar knelt next to the body, his boots rasping against the new-fallen snow at his feet. "Really, now," he said. "How could you tell?"

It would have been a humored response under more pleasant circumstances, but these were rather far from pleasant circumstances. Here was a dead noblewoman — and not just any noblewoman, but a cousin of the crown prince — lying in the courtyard of the royal estate, staring up at the sky as though it gave some clue to her murderer.

Bruni pulled her robes a little tighter around herself. "Your sarcasm is lost upon me," she said.

"It was a mere trifle," Keldar said. The big man pulled a dagger from its oiled sheath, making a whistling sound as it cut through the air. He prodded the body once or twice on the shoulder, pressed the blade against the skin of the dead woman's neck, and then held its mirrored edge against the side of her nostrils. When he received no response, he stuck the weapon into the dirt beside him.

"She's dead," he concluded.

"I just said that, did I not?" Bruni asked.

"Yes, but now we're sure. You can't very well go fishing in people's heads if they haven't departed this mortal coil just yet."

She laid one surprisingly firm hand on his shoulder then, and he immediately got the message. Bruni was subtle that way; it was almost as though she was brushing him aside, and he dutifully moved out of the way.

Bruni knelt, not minding her robes as they brushed upon the snow, and gently placed both hands on the sides of the corpse's head. She shook her hair free of her white hood, and closed her eyes. There was a short pause, then a long pause, and then a strange celestial music that filled the air. Keldar could feel the hairs rising on the back of his neck.

Finally, she opened her eyes. She shook her head once, as though to free it from the mind of the woman who had so recently become deceased.

Keldar helped her stand up. "See anything interesting?" he asked.

"Not much," Bruni said. "She has not been dead long, perhaps an hour or less. I could not glean much from her eyes. She never saw her attacker, Keldar — I only saw the same courtyard of white that she saw, then felt the sharpest of pains across her back. Afterwards it seemed as though she simply lost the strength to stand, and fell forward onto the snow."

Keldar leaned over the body. "Which means that someone rolled her over," he said. "Probably to make sure she was dead."

The magistrate took hold of one cold arm, then heaved the unresponsive mass of flesh onto a face-down position. From there, the two investigators could clearly see the stab wounds on the back of her dress. As Bruni demurely stepped out of the way, Keldar counted four such entrance wounds.

"That explains all the blood," Keldar mused. "Whoever did this had a grudge, but not to the point where he was willing to keep hacking at a corpse. Most likely our lady here went down with far less stabs than was expected, after which the perpetrator had to check and see if she was really dead."

Bruni only pulled her hood back over her face. "Perhaps," she said.

Keldar raised an eyebrow. "It's called 'logic'," he said. "You might want to try that sometime."

"You are the magistrate, Keldar. I am merely a Searcher, one who tells you what the dead see."

Keldar sighed. "While I do appreciate what assistance the dead can give me, Bruni," he said, "there's a lot more to the task than just reading the situation."

"Then tell me, Keldar... what is next for us?"

"I'm told that the lady had a daughter," Keldar said, scratching the side of his head. "I'm sure that she would have some interesting information for us."


"I know nothing, Lord Keldar," she said.

Keldar frowned. Here she was, a girl of about seventeen or eighteen harvests, with long blonde hair that contrasted sharply against her mother's raven-black locks. He remembered the tangles of dark hair against the white blanket of snow in the courtyard, and tried to place her there.

"You didn't see or hear anything?" Keldar asked.

"No," the daughter said. "I was inside for the whole morning, dusting the bedchambers as she had ordered me to do."

Keldar glanced at Bruni, who hovered near the door. She looked peaceful there, with her long white gown and the hood that she drew up just short of her eyes. The daughter knew perfectly well that she was a Searcher, one of many who was assigned to the city magistrates, for he had mentioned it to her in no uncertain terms.

That was exactly why he found her suspicious. She was constantly looking over his shoulder and glancing at his white-clad companion, far more often than any other ordinary person would do.

The daughter was conducting herself remarkably well for a suspect under Keldar's scrutiny. She answered his questions in a calm and clear voice, she had a convenient reason to be somewhere else for the entire morning, and she was in a position where the servants were certain that she was at least somewhere within the manor house.

"I know that you can't do that," the daughter said.

Keldar turned his attention back to the girl. "Do what?" he asked.

"Get her to read my mind."

Keldar gave her a puzzled look, and then sighed after a while. It was a remarkably peasant superstition, the way they thought that the Searchers could do such things. Some of the people he had interviewed had assumed that Bruni could fly, grow claws, or do other things that only existed within the realms of the fantastic. Keldar was more than a little surprised to see this sort of opinion in the daughter of a noblewoman, least of all a niece of the crown prince.

"I assure you, good lady," Bruni said quietly, "that I will not do such a thing."

"Well, then, how do I know that you're not reading my thoughts right now?" the daughter asked, angrily pointing at her.

"Such an act requires a ritual," Bruni said. "And under these circumstances, the ritual is altogether against the teachings of my goddess."

Keldar groaned inside. He had been counting on the intimidation factor to pry a few more words out of the obstinate daughter. Now that plan had been torn to shreds by his partner's honesty.

"You swear?" the daughter asked.

"By my heart, my mind, and my soul," Bruni answered.

"Good," Keldar said, taking the girl's arm and pulling it aside. "Now I—"

He stopped all of a sudden, seeing the pained expression on her face.

"Are you all right?" he asked her.

"Yes," she hissed. "Yes," she said again, after a few moments.

Keldar gently took the girl's arm, then slowly pulled back the sleeve to reveal a short series of bruises there, most along the edges of her wrist. For another moment, nobody could speak.

"That's interesting," Keldar said. The short period of silence afterwards was punctuated by the sound of his sword being drawn.

The girl staggered back at the sight of the naked blade. "What?" she asked.

"My dear," Keldar said, "I am sorry to tell you that you are under arrest."

"Me? Why me?" the daughter asked.

"Because you killed your mother," Keldar said, as though that was the most obvious thing in the world. Behind him, Bruni cleared her throat calmly, and began walking around the room.

"But... you have no proof!"

"The bruises make for good motive," Keldar said. "You mother wasn't an overly nice woman, as I'm certain the servants will be able to tell. She was pulling you around, forcing you to do things that you didn't want to do. I'm not certain about the details there, but I'm certain that the story will check out."

"So?" the girl asked. "Everybody knew that my mother wasn't a good person! She was a saintly one whenever she went to the temple quarter, but she was a shrill witch in the privacy of our house! But that's no proof!"

"No," Keldar said, "although I find myself wondering how you could have been dusting the bedchambers with those bruises around your good hand."

And suddenly there was silence. By now, Bruni had crossed the room to remain behind the noblewoman's daughter, cutting off her escape there.

"I assumed that your mother collapsed from either the third or the fourth time that you stabbed her in the back," Keldar explained, "and that was why she bled herself dry in the courtyard outside. But then I realized that you could have just as easily stopped your assault once she was face-down in the snow, because your arm would have probably been hurting like the devil by then."

"You don't know that!" the daughter cried out.

"I expect that we will, eventually," Keldar said. "The murder weapon would be more than useful at this point, but I'm certain that you didn't have much time to hide it in the last hour. A careful search of the grounds should turn it up."

"You don't even know if I was outside!"

At that, Keldar pointed at the hem of the unfortunate girl's dress. It was of the long and folded sort, the kind which brushed against the floor as she moved... and it was wet.

"There's a lot of snow outside," Keldar said, in response to the horrified expression on her face.

The girl turned, expecting to find a convenient exit behind her, only to realize that Bruni was already there. The Searcher had one hand outstretched, palm splayed towards her, and the noblewoman's daughter almost comically walked into the surface of her pale skin.

There was a slight period of silence, a moment where the hairs on the back of Keldar's neck suddenly stood on end once again... and the daughter slumped unconscious to the floor of the room.

Keldar sheathed his sword, at which Bruni gave him a critical look.

"You did not have to use your weapon," she said.

"It worked, though," he admitted.

"And," Bruni added, "you did not have to be so dramatic."

"Look at it this way," Keldar said. "At least she now knows that not all of the things they say about you are mere superstition."


Keldar stepped out of the gates of the royal estates and sniffed at the air. It was going to snow again, he was sure, and it was going to happen within the next few hours or so.

Beside him, Bruni pulled her robes a little tighter around herself. Keldar glanced at her.

"Aren't you ever warm?" he asked.

"Are you never quiet?" she asked back.

He opened his mouth to answer her, snapped it shut, and then opened it again without saying anything. Then he laughed.

Bruni gave him a curious look. "Was that funny?" she asked.

"No, no... it was just..." Keldar laughed, and shook his head.

"I fear that I shall never understand you, Keldar. You may not serve the goddess as my sisters and I do, but you seem to have more than a few of her natural gifts."

"I just have a task to do, Bruni. It teaches me everything that I need to learn."

"And shall I learn these lessons as well?" Bruni asked.

Keldar smiled. "As long as you know how to observe, and how to listen well, then I can teach you what you learn."

They walked on for a bit. Suddenly Bruni laughed, and although it was a gleeful, honest laugh, it surprised the magistrate enough for his hair to stand on end even without benefit of magic.

"What was that for?" he asked.

"I thought I would try it out," Bruni said. "It is... quite exhilarating, is it not?"

Keldar smiled. "You learn fast," he said.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fiction: The Temporal Connection

Evanston signed his name with a flourish. "That's all, Mr. Morgan," he said.

"That's 'Jason'," Morgan replied. "There's no need for formalities here, Daniel. I ask that of each and every one of my partners."

Evanston sighed nevertheless, remembering all of the previous failed attempts. "I'm sorry, Mr. Mor... Jason," he said. "Sometimes the pressure just gets to me."

"I assure you that I don't squeeze too hard," Morgan laughed. "Ten years is plenty of time, especially considering the advances that you have already made. You've passed all of my conditions with sterling results."

"Usually I don't even get past the first interview," Evanston admitted.

"Well... you don't exactly bring the most serious of studies to the table."

"You mean my temporal manipulation theories?" Evanston asked. "I always thought that it was an interesting science... a hard science, given what I've developed so far."

Morgan sat back. "You can blame the media," he said. "You can blame the fundamentalists, and you can blame the science fiction writers. Regardless of what you call it, they'll see it as 'time travel' and push you down to street level. It's difficult for people to take the subject seriously."

"Yes, well... this is a very generous grant, sir."

"Please," Morgan said, holding up a hand. "I can spare the money. If your experiments succeed the way I expect of them, then the effort will be absolutely priceless."

"I'm glad that you see it that way, sir."

"Good," Morgan said. "Of course, I must also insist that your research be kept a carefully-guarded secret. If the technology does exist that will allow us to travel in time, then the knowledge must be controlled."

"Oh, indeed. There's no telling what might happen if someone were to use it for... less than noble... purposes."

Morgan smiled. "I was thinking more of the possible financial loss, Evanston. All that effort expended, just to have my own rivals crawling over it."

"Ah. Well... I suppose that the financial impact would be considerable."

"But you do make an excellent point," Morgan said, brushing well-manicured nails against the rim of a nearby drinking glass. "You mentioned it yourself during one of your presentations. The first impression that I have is that time travel seems to be the scientific equivalent of a late-night drunken binge."

"That's a rather... graphic way of putting it, I think. But yes, I mentioned a hypothesis of temporal fluidity."

"You have me at a disadvantage."

"Imagine that you had access to time travel in the present," the scientist described. "And now imagine that you travel a hundred years in the past, only to kill the first person you see. What happens then?"

"I would imagine that he would be dead."

"But with this person dead, then his children would hypothetically never exist! And those childrens' children would never exist. And so on, so forth, down to the third and the fourth generations. You would be wiping out an entire family tree!"

"And you mentioned that this was a theory of..."

"Temporal fluidity," Mizuichi answered. "Change something in the past, and you return to find the present irrevocably altered. There will be quite a few pundits who will contest the notion of changing what we know as a 'fixed' timeline."

"We can always set rules," Morgan said. "I find restrictions to be rather refreshing. Governing bodies can be set up, perhaps by-laws concerning the use of any of your developments once they come about."

"But that won't solve the problem. Sooner or later, somebody's going to do it."

Morgan gave him a skeptical look. "So what would you propose that we do?"

"That is why I fully agree with your security recommendations. The research — and eventually, the technology — must be kept fully hidden from the world. We can attain the capability, but it must be used carefully, not floated around like some child's toy."

"Much like a nuclear missile," Morgan observed quietly.

"A nuclear missile," Mizuichi corrected, "that will eradicate certain elements of our world as surely and as swiftly as the very force of creation itself. We wouldn't even realize that these elements wouldn't exist anymore."


Mizuichi looked up. "You don't seem to be perturbed."

"Oh, I am, Mizuichi-san. I just learned that I granted two billion dollars in credit to fund an entity that I can never show to the rest of the world," Morgan laughed.

"But the results of the effort will be priceless."

"Yes," Morgan said, behind folded hands. "Priceless to the point of worthlessness."

"I am sorry if you see it that way," Mizuichi said. "But the truth is there. There are powerful hypotheses in the mixture, forces of which the unscrupulous could easily take advantage."


Mizuichi hesitated, watching the expression on his sponsor's face. "If you wish," he finally said, "we may rescind the contract right now. I am sorry that you had to learn the risks of my proposal in this way."

"No," Morgan said, gently placing one slim hand on the topmost sheet of paper.

"But I thought..."

"There are dangers involved, yes. You've made the risks perfectly clear. And I am certainly disappointed at the lack of obvious financial gains," Morgan said, crossing her legs. "However, I must admit that I am curious to see if you would be successful, Mizuichi-san. I place the greatest of trust in your consortium."

"I do not have much at my disposal, unfortunately. A small mechanics laboratory, perhaps some slight security precautions..."

"Two billion dollars will buy what you need, Mizuichi-san. And if even that does not turn out to be enough, you may ask for a check."

"That is... quite generous."

"I like to indulge my curiosity sometimes."

Mizuichi stood, giving a formal bow just before taking up his coat and hat to leave. "I promise you that I shall do my best to succeed. You won't regret your decision, Miss Morgan."

"That's 'Jacqueline'," Morgan smiled. "There's no need for formalities here, Mizuichi-san. I ask that of each and every one of my partners."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fiction: Forecast

Author's Note: While not technically a lost story, this is an extremely old work dating all the way back to 2001. It was originally written as a script for a short comic, but it remained readable as a short story for the longest time while I experimented with other plotlines. I spent two hours editing this into some semblance of a "normal" short fiction layout just for this occasion, however, and I hope that the result still has some of the impact of the original piece.

Fifteen minutes later, the sudden shower of rain finally wears itself out. It is now little more than a light drizzle, and pedestrians and commuters begin to populate the sidewalks again.

A medium-sized man trudges through the growing crowds on the street. He wears a heavy coat, complemented by a battered old hat and small, circular spectacles. The overcast sky obscures most of his face, bathing it in the shadows of the clouds.

The man’s destination — a nearby alleyway — looms ahead. He enters it carefully, looking around to see if anyone notices his entrance. No one does.

He walks further into the alleyway, stopping only to make sure that the narrow path between buildings is completely deserted. He squints up into the overcast sky.

He's always hated doing this.

He looks around one more time, then walks towards the middle of the alley. A large puddle of water waits there for him; the naked soil around it has congealed into its muddy consistency.

He smiles, showing a perfect set of gleaming white teeth. In a word, this is perfect.

The man leans over into a crouching position. He maneuvers himself to a large patch of mud just beside the puddle of water and sticks a finger into the dirty mess. There is an expression of determination on his shadowed face.

Slowly, he traces a four-pointed star-like figure in the mud. After a while, the words form, unbidden, in his mind.

"Izshek Ramah Tenaam," he says. He finishes drawing the sigil and leans back slightly to a more comfortable position. "Sar’e Saakam Narit’ak," he whispers, completing the chant.

Then he waits, but only for a few seconds.

There is a sudden deep-throated rumbling sound, and for a moment the ground trembles. Then a three-dimensional face slowly rises out of the mud and the four-pointed star. It groans and quivers as the mud molds itself to its form. Then its eyes shoot open, reflecting tears of dry water and caked filth... and it speaks.

"Who summons me?"

The man removes his hat. "My old friend Earth," he says. "How are you?"

"Get to the point," Earth says, in characteristic bluntness.

"I come to bring you tidings from my small circle," the man says, "and I wish to ask for news of the elements."

"I have little time for your tidings," Earth says impatiently, its face-form threatening to move back into the sparse soil. "What is it that you want?"

The man takes a deep breath. The question was formed in the deepest recesses of the morning, and it has remained in his mind ever since.

"I ask about our most recent clime," he says, "and why the elements have so twisted their acts against their own word."

"The elements do what they want to do," Earth rumbles. "It is not for you to command us, old man."

The man sighs. Earth is the easiest among the elements to contact, but it is stern and unbending. Now it refuses to be of any help at all. But perhaps...

"I ask, then," the man says, "if your brethren are open to discussion."

There is a short pause before Earth speaks. "You know the rules, human," Earth says. "Send them your tidings, and your damned wishes."

"I shall, then."

The man watches as the face-form sinks back into the mud, leaving only a reasonably flat surface with the four-pointed star etched in grooves. He wipes it away.

The man shifts position, turning towards the puddle of water itself. He stares at at his reflection for a moment, watching the mirror image gaze back at him with a patience borne of convex glass. Then he dips both hands in the dirty rainwater and begins drawing a four-pointed star at the bottom of the puddle.

"Let Water rise," he says, "and heed my words. Izshek Rabahm Ut’a. Eramai Ashatem Rionyi."

The surface of the water begins to ripple. The man pulls his dirty hands out, tucks one into his right coat pocket, pulls out a white handkerchief, and wipes.

In seconds, the ripple has stopped. The man's reflection in the water is gone. He smiles.

"I bid you greeting," he says, "and I offer admiration for your recent work."

Water ripples slightly. The man knows that it does not speak, but that it listens well instead.

"I purchased a request seven turnings ago," he says. "I asked that Fire and Earth be given free sway over this area for a few days."

Water ceases its rippling and becomes perfectly still. There is a pause, and then an image appears in the puddle. The image shows the man, in the same coat and hat, bending over a bucket of water on top of a building. He inspects it critically, as though making certain that not one detail is out of place.

"You remember, then," he says, "but not my request. I gave by Cae-Won’s law, and by law you must return my favor."

Water ripples once again. The rippling is more pronounced this time, perhaps even violent.

"You know the rules," the man says.

Water froths and churns for a while. Eventually, however, it finds itself unable to meet the man’s fixed gaze. It pauses, and then holds still.

The reflection in the surface of the puddle shifts. Now an image of the city cloaked in warm sunlight appears. The man smiles.

"So we do understand each other," he says.

Water ripples again. Then the ripples begin to slowly even out, drawing themselves one after the other, until the man can see his own reflection in the water once again.

He stands up and stretches, working out the atrophy in his legs. The rituals are complete, and the elements satisfied. The man straightens his hat and coat, perhaps takes a few steps with the intention of walking away.

And then he stops, suspicion plainly written on his face. This was certainly too easy.

He considers this for a moment, weighing equal measures of time and influence against each other. Then he comes to a decision, and brushes the lost minutes aside.

There is a collection of empty wooden crates leaning against a forgotten dumpster a few meters away from the puddle. Their presence is quite convenient, and he reaches their repository with a small number of steps.

With effort, he tears one of the crates apart into small, narrow pieces of wood. Sweat tumbles down his brow. His hat falls off, and we can see that he is almost bald, with only a few gray hairs remaining upon a face that is creased with wrinkles.

He deliberately scatters the pieces of wood along the alley floor. The shape of the four-pointed star is a familiar sight.

For the first time, he hesitates. Then he shakes his head, reaches into his coat, and pulls out a small silver flask — a gift from some old friends who have long since departed. With an expression of distaste, he begins pouring the contents of the bottle over the sigil marked in wooden scraps.

Finally, the man tucks the bottle away, and pulls out a cigarette lighter. The flame catches easily, and he jumps back a moment before the flames can sear his hand.

The sigil now burns warm and white, and he waits. And as he waits, he picks up his hat from where it has fallen, and clamps it back onto his bald head.

"Arak’or Ghakkar Kerob’bas," he says, almost as an afterthought. "Kharesh Shirak Nor."

The flames rise for a moment, turning various shades of red and yellow-green. Then the entire patch of earth — sigil and all — bursts into flame. The man is unfazed.

"What the hell do you want?" a harsh voice suddenly asks, echoing through the man's mind.

"I need to speak with you," the man says.

"Don’t waste your spit," Fire says. "You already are."

The man straightens himself again, staring deep into the heart of the flame. "I have a request," he says.

"Don’t come begging to me for help," Fire says. "I’m not your slave."

There is a pause as the man considers his situation. A single thought comes to his mind.

"A sacrifice," he says.


"A sacrifice."

For a moment, he can feel the flames smile.

"You catch on quickly," Fire says.

"Not much," the man says. This was... unexpected.

There is a short pause as he feels something in his right coat pocket, and then he smiles. His hand emerges, pulling out the sodden handkerchief; on it, bits of mud and dirt still hang askew.

"I have cloth," the man says.

"Cloth is good."

"It’s still a little wet."

A sound comes out of the flames, as though it licks its lips in anticipation.

"Give it here," Fire says.

In one smooth motion, the man throws the handkerchief into the flames. There is a sizzling sound as the cloth dries quickly. Then there is a slow and subtle crackling sound, as it is slowly consumed.

There is a short pause.

"So what do you want, old man?"

The man hesitates only for a moment before answering. "I come only to tell you that you must take the place that Water has vacated."

Fire lowers its flames, as if considering his words.

"That I gain dominance for the next turnings?" Fire asks.


The flames rise up in a gesture of contemplation.

"If you had told me that earlier," Fire finally says, "I wouldn’t have asked for the sacrifice."

There is another short pause.

"Yes?" the man asks.

Fire waits expectantly.

After a long silence, the man relents. "All right," he says, "It’s on the house."

"You’re one of the good ones, old man."

Slowly, the flames die down. Soon there is nothing left but the man and a number of chunks of blackened and smoldering wood.

He bends over and picks one up. It crumbles slightly, leaving a sooty residue on his hands. He wipes this on a fold of his trousers, remembering to buy another handkerchief on his way back.

Now he reaches into his other pocket. There is something else there, a scrap of paper from the local laundry, folded and forgotten since the last time the coat was cleaned.

With a small scrap of blackened wood, he begins writing on the torn piece of paper. The four-pointed star is a familiar sight, as he raises the tiny drawing into the air.

"Saimet Tei’sho Olyah," he says. "Geshinon Sanam’et To’ri."

For a moment, nothing happens.

"I know you're there," the man whispers.

He waits another minute. There is no response.

"All right," the man says, lowering his hand slightly, "the game is over. I guess I’ll keep this after all."

A sudden gust of wind obscures the smile blossoming on his face. The wind begins to gather around him, pulling his long gray coat every which way. He clamps his other hand tightly on top of his hat, determined not to lose it like so many others long ago.

"You didn't have to do that," Wind says. "Really now we haven’t seen you in ages not for a long time we always liked your gifts when did you get so old why haven't you called us lately why doesn't anybody else talk to us why?"

The man lets go of the slip of paper. It tumbles through the air and disappears into the distance.

"A toy!" Wind shrills. "We like toys it's mine I saw it first go get your own toy we like paper so much paper paper so much watch me do this—"

The man clears his throat. There is a pause as Wind gathers around him once again.

"What?" Wind asks. "Did we do something wrong did we do something right do you need help we like playing we can call up a nice gale or maybe a hurricane did you like the rain we like the rain fun fun fun rain wish it could rain every day so we have lots of toys and play and dance and smile and secrets and laugh have you watc—"

"Quiet!" the man says, firmly.

There is a short pause.

"We don't like you," Wind says. "You have a temper today people always have tempers they never wait till we finish what we have to say but we never finish what we have to say but you just need to wait for us you never know when we say something important but everything we say is important sometimes you don't listen why do you want to speak with us anyway never trust a human why did—"

Amid the constant chatter of Wind, the man finally speaks.

"I only come to ask a favor," he says.

"Name it," Wind says, a gaggle of voices at once.

"I ask that you concede to Fire and Earth for the next turnings," the man says, and waits for the reaction.

Wind suddenly grows silent.

"What?" Wind eventually asks. "Why how could you ask such a thing we were having so much fun you know we and Water have such good times together except he doesn’t talk much or she because we don't know whichever the case may be but maybe—"

"You can always go somewhere else," the man points out.

"Away? Are you serious it would mean starting over or a new beginning or a change of pace—"

"That’s it," the man interrupts. "A change of pace. You need a change of pace. I mean... you've been here for a few days already. I'm sure that you're bored now. If you stay here, you’ll just get even more get bored."

"Ooooh," Wind says. "You're right of course you're right you're the most sensible human we've ever met we only say that because you bribed us with a toy it was a nice toy some paper nice paper more paper do you have any more paper please please?"

"No," the man says.


"But I bet you could find some wherever you go."

Wind considers this for a while. "That is a good point. a very good point an indubitable point we can move now we should move now change of pace and place you were very convincing we like you more you should give us more paper we must be going we can find paper somewhere like you said so ciao sayonara bye bye bye bye bye..."

The voices of Wind begin to fade, and the strong breezes surrounding the alley slowly return to calm. The man sighs.

He pauses for a moment, looking at everything. Nothing has seen him. No one has seen him. Now he turns, and walks back to the mouth of the alley.

He joins the crowds there as dusk begins to fall. No one notices as he walks faceless among them.


The man walks through a door marked “Stage” on the sixteenth floor of a downtown building. The room within is filled with a flurry of human activity.

"Step up the lights," a voice says. "We go to segment four in five."

"Cut in t-minus five, then. Where’s Waller? Waller?"

"Loose switch on Camera three… watch your step. Camera two in position."

"Green screen A-OK. Camera one ready."

The man walks over to a nearby coat rack and removes his hat and coat. There is a formal gray suit underneath, and a black tie that belies his distinguished appearance. He adjusts the tiny glasses on the bridge of his nose.

"Four minutes," a voice says. "Four minutes."

"Where’s make-up? Well, get them over here now!"

"Ben Waller? Ben Waller?"

"Here," the man calls, in response to his own name. Almost immediately, he is surrounded by a flurry of voices.

"Thank God! Where the hell were you? You go…"

"Three minutes, people! Three minutes!"

"Make-up! Where in God’s sake is make-up?"

He feels someone straighten his suit. Another pair of hands pushes him into a seat, starts combs his hair. Another someone begins to apply make-up with a soft brush.

"Where have you been? Did you get the report?"

"Yes," the man says.

"From the bureau?"

"You could say that," the man says, deliberately elusive.

"Two minutes!" a voice calls.

"Look, Ben, we don’t have much time. Where is it?"

"In my head," the man says.

"You memorized it?"

"You could say that," the man says, smiling.

A convenient pair of hands helps him stand up. The man adjusts his spectacles again, watches as another helper dusts his suit free of lint. He begins walking towards a small stage with a green background.

"It had better be more accurate than the report we got last week," a voice complains.

"I know," the man says, completely and implacably serious.

"One minute!"

The man stands in front of the green screen, making final adjustments to his suit and glasses. He glances at a bank of TV screens to the right of the stage, and a similar bank of screens to the left of the stage, both hovering just outside the camera’s view.

"Quiet on the set!" a voice calls, and silence blankets the studio.

"Counting… six… five… four… three…"

The last few seconds emerge against the same backdrop of silence. A light on one of the cameras comes on.

The man smiles his friendliest expression, staring into the lens before him. Glancing left and glancing right, with the voices of the supernatural in his mind, he speaks.

"Thank you, Bob. Now, despite a battery of rain from the elements this week, tomorrow’s forecast is bright and sunny…"