Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Meme Breaker: Guns in Schools

I realized my meme breaker was getting too wordy, so I boarded up the text slot.  Let's see how it does on an image-only meme.


And the result...


Nope, still too wordy.  Back to the drawing board.

Monday, April 29, 2013

HOE!

There’s a new sport sweeping the nation.  It’s not athletic like most sports, but it’s practiced by a majority of Americans because it gets your heart pounding and it feels oh, so good.  I’m talking about “hoe shaming!”  Sometimes called “slut shaming,” all you have to do is humiliate a woman or girl for not being ashamed of sex.

How do you play?
It depends on what “the setup” is.  Let’s say you’re the principal of a high school, and one of your students complains you booked an abstinence-only speaker.  Perhaps you’re a radio talk-show host and a young woman testifies before congress that birth control should be free.

What do you do?
Then, all you have to do is make fun of her publicly, on TV or in the newspapers.  Call her a slut!  Tell her parents!  Threaten to expose her for the rampant whore she obviously is!

It’s fun, it’s good for society, and nobody gets hurt.  Well, except for your victim, but she’ll feel better once she realizes that sex is bad for women.

With the advent of the internet, the game has gone viral.  It’s hard to read your Facebook wall without seeing someone participating in this sport.  That’s why I’ve created this new image you can use to tag hoe shaming posts:

Feel free to use it any time someone is hoe shaming so we all know what’s going on and can join in on the fun!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dinosaurs: The Genesis and the Gospel

If you have an internet connection (and, if you don’t, thanks for subscribing to my print edition), you’ve seen these images before.  They are from a “science” quiz from a religious school in South Carolina.

I let this controversy pass by when it first erupted because, well, it’s from a religious school in South Carolina.  I’m sure they teach all kinds of wacky stuff like the Five Points of Calvin and Hobbesism or going on a Diet of Fried Worms.  However, Snopes had a quote from the parent of the kid who took the test:
She commented [about the time the dinosaurs went extinct] it was only four thousand years ago.  When I corrected her, she snapped back, “Were you there?”
Nobody should worry about uncomfortable questions from a ten year old.  If you can’t answer, you don’t deserve to be a parent.  I mean, you all remember this commercial, right?

If you are a devout religious person, you know when your child challenges your faith you sit that child down calmly and say:
Listen here, you little monster.  I’m your parent and we believe in Adam and Eve.  If I ever hear another blasphemous word out of you, I’ll follow the Bible and stone you to death in the center of town.  Got it?  Good.  Now, would you like to watch Veggie Tales or Davey and Goliath tonight?
At least, I assume that’s what the devout do.  We aren’t a religious household; I had to think about a calm and reasoned way to explain evolution if I found he was being taught creationism.  Here’s what I imagine I’d say:
Son?  I want to talk to you a moment.  Could you turn Minecraft off?  No, I understand you’re about to go into the Nether, but it can wait.  No, I don’t care how much blaze powder you need.  I don’t even know what blaze powder is.

Huh?  Yeah, I-  No, I-  Yes.  Fine.  Okay.  Now I know what blaze powder is.  Can you turn Minecraft off?  Okay, fine, mine some more netherrack and THEN save.  Okay?  Thanks.

I wanted to talk about what you said about dinosaurs.  I said they died out sixty five million years ago and you said “were you there?”

I wasn’t there.  I also wasn’t at the Battle of Hastings or when the sun formed, but I know they happened because there is evidence for them.  In some cases we have written or photographic evidence.  In other cases, we have physical evidence.  You can’t accept anything as true without some kind of evidence.

With dinosaurs, we have fossils and we know how long fossils take to form.  We see them buried and figure out how long they were down there based on how deep they are.  But you know what?  We can go look up the evidence in books and online and you can judge yourself.  If you don’t trust those sources, we can go out and test the science ourselves.  I’m happy to go learn with you.

What?  No, I don’t think there are any dinosaurs in Minecraft.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Fun With Freecycle: Comic Bags and Boards


My name is Matthew and I am a recovering addict.

I was addicted to “collecting” things: fast cars, beautiful women, piles of cash…  No, wait, I’m thinking of Larry Ellison.  I was a geek with coke-bottle glasses and a bad haircut living in a farming community in Illinois.  I collected comic books.

Yes, comics, that scourge of youth and good manners.  That evil only rivaled (in Pat Robertson’s mind) by video games, Dungeons and Dragons, atheism, chocolate, holding hands, and abortion.

I started with just a few miniseries and first issues.  The set where Martian Manhunter got rebooted to look like a real alien.  The Dr. Fate miniseries where he dies and becomes two new people.  The Dark Knight Returns.

Then, one day, Captain America quit.  The Punisher had two new comics simultaneously.

I couldn’t stop.  Joe Straczynski took over Spider Man and Aunt May discovered his secret identity.  I was sucked into the comic book lifestyle: insisting they were “graphic novels,” assuring everyone I’d make money reselling them someday.  As if I could ever bear to part with them.

I had six file boxes filled with comics I couldn’t sell.  I couldn’t even read them (What?  And wrinkle the covers?!).  My pushers at the local comic book store laughed when I went to buy cardboard backings and poly-bags to keep them all in.

That’s when I hit rock bottom.  I looked at all my bags and boards and realized I had more than I had comics.  I would have to buy more comics.  Then more bags and boards to keep them in.  It would never end.

That’s when I stopped.  I locked all my comics away, but still have a giant pile of bags and boards left over.  It’s a painful reminder of my shame.

You want them?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

My Aspiration As an Author


As I check for the millionth time to see how many people have bought my book Pinhole (I’m only nine away from having sold five hundred this month), I’m struck with one, overriding desire:

I really want Hollywood to make a movie of it and fuck it up.

I want Cassandra to be rescued by a talking dog.  I want Lionel to tell children how important faith is.  I want a rampaging mob to break into every lab in the world and break the wormhole machines, saving us from the evil of technology.  I want Lon to really be Jesus.

For a hundred years, Hollywood has taken books and completely changed them into something different.  There’s a movie of Moby Dick where Ahab kills the white whale and goes home to get the girl.  There’s a movie of The Scarlet Letter, where Hester does a nude scene and Native Americans kill off the evil Puritans.  There are at least two versions of Animal Farm where the animals kick the pigs out and end up happy animals.

The list goes on and on, but you know what one element connects them all?  They were all classic books to start with.  Classics scare Hollywood because they’re scary.  Movie makers don’t want to challenge traditional beliefs.  Audiences don’t want to be pushed out of their comfort zones.

So, I want someone to take Pinhole and totally fuck it up.  Why?  Because that means my book is a classic.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Meme Breaker With a Side of Text

I noticed there were a lot of memes out there with large blocks of text next to them.  I wanted to ridic-  I mean, analyze these memes, too.  So, I cut a big hole in the side of the box.  You put the meme's text in this new slot here:
A man came home from work and found his three children outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard. The door of his wife's car was open, as was the front door to the house and there was no sign of the dog.  
Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall. In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing. In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, the fridge door was open wide, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door. 
He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened. He was met with a small trickle of water as it made its way out the bathroom door. As he peered inside he found wet towels, scummy soap and more toys strewn over the floor. Miles of toilet paper lay in a heap and toothpaste had been smeared over the mirror and walls. 
As he rushed to the bedroom, he found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel. She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went. He looked at her bewildered and asked, 'What happened here today?' She again smiled and answered, 'You know every day when you come home from work and you ask me what in the world I do all day?' 'Yes,' was his incredulous reply. She answered, 'Well, today I didn't do it.'
And put the picture in here:


The new text comes out here:
The next day, her husband decided to do the same thing.
And the new picture is here:


Simple!  You wonder why "professional" inventors take so much time to come up with things.

Monday, April 22, 2013

43rd Birthday Preparations: Progress

Since all none of all both of my readers have asked, I’ll update you on my birthday plans.  As you already know, this year I was hoping to go on a quest.  In short:  ask me to do anything you want or need done the week of the 16th of May, and I’ll do it.  In exchange, you pay me anything you choose (preferably something I can be photographed with).  I’ll show up dressed as a knight with a sword and a shield and will do anything at all so long as it won’t get me arrested.

To pull this feat off, I need four things: a shield, a sword, a costume, and volunteers to give me tasks to accomplish.  Here’s how I’m doing so far.

Shield
I bought a shield and have an artist designing my coat of arms.  She should have a final design as soon as I stop being a nit-picky bastard.

Sword
I already own a katana I bought in Walt Disney World during a choir tour in college (long story) and a sword cane given to me after I sprained my ankle in college (also a long story).  Neither is really “knight in shining armor material.”  Either I’m going to have to be a “samurai in shining armor” or “a knight in shining dentures” or I have to buy a new one.

A few weeks ago, I went to the San Jose Fantasy Faire and checked out a wooden gladius and an iron seax.  I fell in love with both, but man they’re expensive.  Shining dentures here I come.
 
But you got to admit.  Daaaayum!
 

Costume
I talked about this a while ago.  I was trying to choose between renting and buying.  I think I’ll go with buying since I might ruin the costume, depending on how dangerous or disgusting my quest is.

Tasks
If you total up all the requests for my help, I have….  None.  So, you better get in your requests for help soon!  I mean, I’m offering free help to do anything (walk your dog, deliver a subpoena, teach your child to tie shoes) in exchange for anything (a piece of paper with a smiley face sticker, a handshake, a bent penny).  There must be millions out there desperate for that kind of help, they’re just… Waiting…  Until…  Later. 

If you’re one of those people waiting: stop!  Don’t wait until I don’t have time for you anymore.  You don’t want to be left alone… On your birthday… In a stupid costume…  Doing nothing…

*sniff*

Friday, April 19, 2013

Our Post Gun Control America


On Wednesday, Congress voted down the big gun control law created in the aftermath of Newtown.  So where do we go next?  Since gun-control advocates have no chance of pushing any effective law through, we have no choice but to embrace the philosophy of gun-rights advocates:
  • It’s impossible to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals.
  • The more guns we have, the better.
  • Gun-free zones only create targets for the criminally insane.
There is one gun-free area that we have to deal with first: airplanes.  For too long, the government has kept weapons out of our skies.  In our post-gun control America, we’ll have to change that.

Everyone on domestic and international flights will be required to have a firearm at all times.  Maybe we can put AR-15 rifles under every seat.  Imagine a terrorist tries to hijack a plane and, suddenly, everyone on board points a gun at him!  Of course there will be problems, namely: explosive decompression.  Airplanes are incredibly fragile and tend to fall out of the sky when punctured.  In other words, if a single bullet misses its target…
 
Or passes through its target and keeps going…
 
 
Or if a gun fires by accident…
 

 
Or if someone wants to kill himself and take everyone on the plane with him…
 

 
Or if anyone wants to murder someone and doesn’t care if other people get hurt…
 
Well, a whole lot of people will die.  Come to think of it, that’s not all that different from the way things are in America, right now with our current gun laws.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My Baby Is All Growed Up

This is my book on the shelf of the Books Inc. bookstore in Mountain View, California.

 


Until a month ago, the only people who ever saw my writing bought Oracle Power Objects or Star Trek: Bridge Commander.  Now they’re buying it online and in real, brick and mortar stores.

Well, not really.  There’s no brick in California.  Earthquakes make brick buildings into deathtraps.

The point is, my book is in my local store (and yours isn’t).  Turns out it’s pretty easy to get your book into a bookstore.  You just ask and go in.  If that’s what publishers do, I might take up a career in publishing.

Earlier this week, I spoke with a librarian about getting it in my local library.  It seems it’s harder to get your book into a library than to get it into a bookstore.  The librarian is actually going to read it.  Go figure.  If he likes it, they’ll put it on the shelf, so I guess that’s the end of that.

Anyway, forget work accomplishments.  Forget marriage and babies.  Forget your bucket list.  Forget serving your country.  This is where you get a real sense of accomplishment.

Note: A friend went to the bookstore to buy a copy.  They told her they were sold out.  In a euphoric adrenaline rush, I called the store.  Did I have a hit on my hands?  Was the cover so dazzling it had been snatched up?

Nope.  Computer glitch.  All three copies are still there.

*sigh*

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Fun With Freecycle: Ungrammatical Underlayment


 

When we decided to redo our laundry room, my contractor sent me off to buy some underlayment.  My contractor speaks with a thick, Polish accent, so I asked him to repeat himself three times.  I heard him right the first time, though.  He really wanted me to buy something called underlayment.

Still unable to process this information, I went to Home Depot and asked for “That stuff you put under the floor to protect it from water and stuff.”

“Oh! You mean underlayment?”

Finally, the horrible truth dawned on me.  Someone had created a product and called it “underlayment.”  Underlayment is not a word!  I’m not just saying that as a guy with three English degrees.  I’m saying that as a guy with three English degrees!

Look, the root of the word is “lay,” right?  It comes from the Old English for “put on the ground.”  Now, I can understand if you’re going to make something new you don’t want to call it a “lay.”  That would cause all kinds of problems.  I mean, imagine my contractor said “go get me a lay.”

So you add the prefix “under-,” which comes from Proto-German for...  Well, under.  Makes sense, you lay this thing under the flooring.  Now you’ve got a good name: “underlay.”

But no, you had to go ruin it by adding the suffix “-ment”  Ment is from the Latin for “I’m a stupid inventor who doesn’t know how to make a new word for my invention.”

Underlayment.  Sheesh.  It’s a crappy word, but I suppose it’s too late to change it.  I mean, Microsoft Word isn’t warning me to fix the spelling.  Underlayment should have a red underline beneath it.  Or, should I say, “underlinement.”

Anyway, I have half an underollment of underlayment if you want it.  It’s the good kind that protects against underwaterment.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fiction Stand

My son, concerned about how well my novel was selling, wanted to help out.  Here's his idea.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Twilight





We’ve all heard about the Twilight novels and movies.  More specifically, we’ve all heard how bad they are.  They’re icky.  They have sparkling vampires.  The main character has no character.  Still, I thought: I love Harry Potter and that got a lot of criticism.  I figured I should give it a try.  Millions of rabid fans can’t be wrong, can they?

Yes.  Yes, they can.

I got to page 347 before I gave up.  I would have given up earlier, but I was reading it to my wife at night, and it was doing a better job of putting her to sleep than a whole bottle of Tylenol PM washed down by a bottle of Jack Daniels.
Note to self: stop by liquor store and pharmacy on the way home from work.
So, why didn’t I like it?  Well, it wasn’t for the usual reasons.  It wasn’t:

The characters.
Okay, yeah, they’re pretty bad.  They’re all two-dimensional.  Bella pines after Edward and does nothing else.  Edward makes intense looks and smiles, but does nothing else.

The abuse
Okay, yeah, that’s pretty bad.  Edward fits all the characteristics of an abusive boyfriend.  And a quick message to all my friends: I don’t care if you’ve been married and in love for fifty years, if someone tells you he thinks about killing you, you get the fuck out.

The plot
Okay, yeah, that’s pretty bad.  Nothing really happens.  Let me give you an example, in one scene, Bella is introduced to his vampire family who disapproves of Edward taking up with a human.  Aaaaand?  Nothing happens.  They’re all very nice.

No, it wasn’t any of that that made me throw the book down in disgust.  It was the piano.

On page 326, Edward plays the piano for Bella.  He’s an incredible pianist (he’s perfect at everything; see “characters,” above), and he plays something “unbearably sweet” he composed.  She’s overwhelmed.  Then he says:

“You inspired this one.”

If, like me, you threw up into your mouth a bit as you read that, Twilight isn’t for you either.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Future of Newspapers

Print media is dying and that's no clearer than with the daily newspapers.  Grasping at anything to keep them afloat in this new era of digital media and ignorant bloggers, newspapers have been changing their formats to entice readers.
 
Once proud papers are trying to make their newspapers more relevant to you, instead of trying to make you more informed about the world.  Soon, I expect, we'll see something like this:
 
 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Free Razor!

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to the Gilette ProGlide.  Costco, ever concerned about my privacy, noticed I was buying Gilette Mach 3 razor blades: those three-bladed razors invented by the Phonecians. They let Gilette know and sent me a free ProGlide, concerned I would…  Well, I don’t know what was wrong with my old razor, but the new one is much better.

I mean, look at this!

You’re probably thinking “Why are you showing me the grille of a 97 Mack Truck?”  That is, in fact, the razor blade.  It has something like five blades on it. 
 
 
I say “something like” because it’s hard to count them.  The blades are so narrow and so close together, they kind of warp your mind while you look at them like an Escher painting.
In any case, I had just run out of blades for my razor (wow, Gilette, how did you know?) so I started using the ProGlide instead.  The result?  It works okay, but it feels like shaving with a tennis racket.
Yesterday, I went to Costco and, armed with my newfound knowledge of the ProGlide I bought some Mach 3 blades. Yeah, no way I’m buying the ProGlide.  Sorry Costco!  I'm sure you can look into my private life and find something else to send me that fits my lifestyle.
 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Useless Lego


Before Star Wars, before Technic and Duplo, I had Lego.  My family is what you would now call an “early adopter.”  There were only a few types of blocks, some funny wheels and lights, and very basic railroad pieces.  That was it.

You want a Lego person?  You figured out how to make one.  Or, you got one of these: 

Don’t like it?  Too scary?  Okay, we’ll take the arms off!
If you wanted to play with Lego you had to learn how to use it.  Over the years they added a few pieces here and there: roofs for houses, bases that looked like they were on the moon, and so on.  It wasn’t until the nineties that they started adding what I call the “dumbass pieces.”

Don’t feel like making a lion’s head?

Don’t feel like making a staircase?
I can understand why they did it; the dumbass pieces were cheaper than the smaller ones that kids would need to make them.  However, the ingenuity and imagination needed to make something slowly vanished.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love Lego.  We go to “Free Lego Day” every month and buy our kids lots of sets.  The problem is, they mostly just build the sets.  They rarely make things up themselves.

Then, one day, I found these pieces in a set.

These have got to be the dumbassiest of dumbass pieces.  What are they?  They’re rocks.  Not special rocks.  Not rocks that would be difficult to make on your own.  They’re just rocks. Seriously, who needs a Lego rock?  What can you even do with a rock?  I mean, it’s …

Okay, while I was writing this blog entry, my son picked up those pieces I just photographed and made this.

Imagination survives.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fun With Freecycle: Under-the-Bed Box

 
I know what you’re thinking.
 
Free box!  Free plastic box!  Free plastic box I can slide under my bed!
 
I have to bring you back down to Earth.  Because this box fits under your bed, it has to be shallow.  I don’t mean “Kim Kardashian shopping for wedding gowns while pregnant” shallow.  I mean it isn’t very tall.
 
So, no, you can’t fit a body in there.  I mean, you can try.  You can use a radial arm saw to thin out the thicker parts of their bodies (torso and skull), but it’s a big, messy job.  Also, this box has hinges on the lid, so liquids and odors will leak out through the cracks.  If anyone is with you on top of the bed, they’ll probably notice, and you’ll need to get another box for your collection.
 
In the end, you’d be better off if you got a different tub.  This one is better for your other hobbyist materials: knives, axes, piano wire, dismembered hands, or your copy of Atlas Shrugged (although that last one is going to be a tight fit).
 
If you have a need to keep any of those under your bed, this box is for you.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Meme Breaker

A while back, I spent some time building a machine that would translate trite memes into the true state of mind of the meme's writers.  I've spent some time working on it and created a new Meme Breaker (also called the Trite Translator Trwo).  Here's how it works.

You put the meme in one side:
Wait a minute...

*BING*

And the new meme comes out the other side:

Hm.  Looks like I might need to adjust some of the screws in the back...

Friday, April 5, 2013

43rd Birthday Preparations: The Armor

My birthday is just over a month away and, as always, I plan on doing something wacky.  This year Iplan to go on a quest.  I want to dress up as a knight and perform services for anyone who asks me to help.  So far, my total number of requests for help (if you include everyone in the SF Bay Area) is… zero.  So, I may just end up wandering around San Jose in a funny costume.

Or, as we call it in my household: Friday night.

I’ve spent most of my efforts so far working on a shield, but I thought I’d take a moment to talk about the rest of the ensemble.  Specifically, the armor itself.  You can’t be a knight in shining armor if you don’t have armor!  The problem is, there aren’t a lot of stores that sell plate mail.  Those that sell armor have this flak jacket stuff that looks silly on a scrawny guy like me.
Kinda like this.
So I stopped by my local party store.  Most of the costumes were for women (and incredibly trampy ones, at that).  I did find three options.  This one, which is just a shirt:

The advantage is that I would have more freedom of movement.  There’s also this one, which is the whole shebang:
The advantage of that one is I don’t have a dorky lion on my chest.  Finally, there’s this one:

It’s not very knightly, but might get me invited to sexy parties.

Then I went by the Assistance League Costume Bank, a rental place that donates its profits to charities.  I’m a bit nervous about renting from them, as I’d have to be really careful with the outfit.  They only had one knight costume:

I thought it was kinda lame at first, then I noticed what the links in the chain mail were made of:

Beer can rings!  This would be the best choice if anyone sent me on a beer run or to talk to their drunk neighbors.

So, what do you think?  Which one do you like best?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Fun With Freecycle: Swing for Infant or Elephinfant

This is our Little Tikes (or, as the label says, “little tikes”) swing for infants.  We bought it years ago for our first child, who loved to swing outside.  However, there was a problem.  You can’t just tie it to a tree or a wall.  You have to put it on a hook built into a swing set.  Our son was very disappointed.
 
Years later, we got a house, and a swing set, and another child (the old one was getting, well, old).  We took out the swing, hooked it in, and pushed our new baby in it for an hour.  His older brother, whom we now kept in the garage with the other old things we’d replaced, was jealous.
 
I tried to explain it was no longer “his swing” in the same way that we were no longer “his parents.”  However, when I looked at the warning label, it said you can safely have any child in it up to fifty pounds!
You might need to zoom in, but it's there.
Fifty pounds?  If you add to that the “margin of error” most engineers put on their creations to protect against the idiots who own them, you could stack fifteen Indian elephants on it!
 
I shot an elephant in my swing.  How he got there, I'll never know.
“Go on, son!” I said.  “There’s room for you.”
 
Then, I realized, there was room for him.  Just because I’d had a second child, it didn’t mean I had to abandon him.  That night, I took all of his things from the garage and moved him into his own room, which used to be our backyard shed.  He’s so happy.
 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Midnight Confederacy – Part 2

Matheson’s mouth sprouted a pincushion of teeth as he reached forward to grab her, but his fingers stopped inches from her face.  He froze for no reason she could imagine.  Then, in a sudden, fluid motion, he turned away from her, sank to his knees, and bowed his head.  Izzie was surprised to see the other vampires in the courtyard doing the same.

A woman walked out of the darkness, her footsteps completely silent against the hard cobblestones. She wore a top hat and held a parasol above her head, which was odd in the complete darkness.  She stopped where Matheson was kneeling and put her free hand on his head, caressing his hair.

“Forgive me, Lady,” he said, his voice shaking.

“I forgive you,” she said, her voice deep and rich. 

He looked up at her relieved.  Then, with a quick motion, she pulled his head off.

There was no blood.  Izzie had just a moment before his body toppled over to see the gaping wound of his neck.  It was grey and dry, like old newspapers.  Lady Rice dropped his head and turned to face her.  The vampire’s face was angular, with a long nose and a single, thick eyebrow over both eyes.  Her features seemed Latina, but it was hard to tell with her pallid skin.

“I’m sorry for the unpleasantness, Miss Meyer,” she said.  “There are bad elements in both our countries, no?”

“Yes, of course, Lady Rice,” she said, when she found her voice.

“Is that bag your only things?  Yes?  Then, come with me.  I will find you a place to wash off before you meet the Daughters.”

Izzie realized she had wet herself, either during the slaughter or when Matheson nearly grabbed her. 

She followed the vampire deep into the city, following her graceful walk, watching as everyone they passed knelt before them.  The streets were lit from windows in the buildings here, and she was struck by how much the Midnight Confederacy looked like the Union at night.  The sight calmed her, and she found the courage to talk.

“Lady Rice, none of the people on the train with me were accepted.”

“No, Miss Meyer, I suppose they weren’t.”

“Would it be impertinent for me to ask why not?”

“Would you have accepted them?  Yes?  Every day, the old and infirm come to our country in droves, hoping to stave off death.  Would you grant immortality to someone who spits at you, who calls you a monster, then runs to you for help in their twilight years?  No.  We pick those we accept very carefully.  Everyone else, well, we take what they give us.”

They stopped in front of a large, windowless building with columns in front.  The words “Longstreet Theatre” were painted over the entrance in gold leaf.  The giant, oak doors swung open as they approached, and candlelight shone warmly from within.

“You may change and wash in there,” Lady Rice said, gesturing to a door with a star on it.  “The Daughters and I will meet you on the stage.”

Izzie stared after her as she walked off, then went through the door.  Inside was an empty changing room lit by gas light.  It was eerily quiet as she stripped off her clothes, cleaned up with a towel and washbasin someone had left, and pulled on her leotard.  She was walking to the door to the stage, when she remembered the gold medallion with a shock of adrenaline.  She ran back, clipped it on quickly, then took several moments to stop hyperventilating.

The stage was like others she had performed on: paint lines -- actors marks from old shows -- dotted the floor, thick curtains and lights hung from the ceiling.  She wondered if humans had built and run the theater before the War of Northern Aggression, and then were chased out when the vampires took over.  Standing upstage in a semicircle were ten, pale women in black.  Lady Rice stood with them.  Her parasol and hat were gone, revealing black hair tied in knots.

“Miss Meyer,” she said in a formal tone, “may I present to you the midnight flowers of my country: the Daughters of the Confederacy.  Daughters, I present Isabella Meyer, one of the most accomplished dancers in the Union.”

Lady Rice introduced them one at a time, and they each curtsied as they were named.  When they were finished, Izzie smiled and sank into a ballet curtsey.

“Please, call me ‘Izzie.’  I’m really looking forward to working with you all,” she said, turning to Lady Rice.  “However, your invitation didn’t specify the kind of dance you wanted to learn, and I’m not sure how much I can teach you in just one day.”

Some of the Daughters tittered and smiled, embarrassed.  Others flushed, the first color she had seen on a vampire face other than the thick makeup they all seemed to wear.  Lady Rice said nothing, as if the question was beneath her to answer.  After a moment, Jane Polidori, a blonde with bobbed hair, stepped forward.

“Please, Miss Meyer.  Izzie.  We would like you to teach us…” she turned to look at the other women, some of whom nodded encouragingly.  “Teach us the sexy dances.”

“The… Sexy dances?”

“It is one of the curses of eternal life,” Lady Rice said.  “We are true to our marriages, every one of us, but those marriages have lasted centuries.  Even with the blessing of vampirism, our husbands are still men.”

“We can’t compete,” Jane said.  “They lust after the newly accepted.  Some even go north and dally with human women.”

“So, you want me to teach you to dance so you can…”

“Get our husbands back.  ‘A wandering eye weakens the Confederacy.’”

Izzie took a deep breath and tried to think.  What was a “sexy” dance?  The Tango?  Sabar?  Lambada?  The problem was no dance was sexy by itself, and any dance could be made sexy by the dancer.

“Well, let’s see what we have to work with.  Watch me and do what I do.”

She did the basic step from the Tango and stopped to watch them.  None of them were able to follow her example.  Even Lady Rice tripped on her own feet.

“Okay, good.  Let’s try again.  Watch.  Step.  One, two.  Turn.  One, two.  Step.”

They tried again and again, but none of them got it.  Some had tears in their eyes from frustration and effort.  Izzie told them to take a break and reconsidered her methods.

“How about we try this one at a time,” she said, and gestured at a tiny redhead who seemed the most graceful.  “Tell me your name, again?”

“Sherrie Le Fanu.”

“Sherrie, hold my hand and we’ll do it together.”

The vampire’s fingers were cold, and Izzie thought she felt a tingle as their fingers intertwined.  They took a shaky step forward together, and it worked.  Sherrie seemed to instantly understand how to do the steps and she gave a little shriek of joy when she was done.

“Dance feels good, doesn’t it?  Now, who’s next?”

Izzie did the steps with each of them, holding their cold, tingling hands one by one.  Then she paired them up and watched as they danced gracefully around the stage.  However, when she showed them more advanced steps, they tripped and stumbled again. 

She went back to hand-holding, and they mastered everything.  In a few hours, they learned six dances were improvising new moves.  She became dizzy with the effort of keeping up with them, and had to sit down, flushed and sweating in a theater chair.

The Daughters continued to dance on the stage.  It was the loveliest performance she had ever seen.  They leapt and twirled, moving sinuously.  Their movements were lithe and sensuous in a way even Izzie found erotic.

She climbed back on the stage and clapped her hands to get their attention.

“All right, ladies.  That’s amazing work.  We have time for just one more lesson.  How would you like to learn the…”

She hesitated.  She had spent her life studying dance.  Ever since she had been a little girl, she had snuck into the theaters and practiced their movements.  She had studied in Europe and travelled with the most prestigious troupes in the Union.  Why couldn’t she remember anything more.  Cold fear gripped her chest.  She couldn’t remember any dances at all.

“What,” she said, choking the words out, “what did you do to me?”

They Daughters all had the same look on their faces.  She was nothing to them: an empty food wrapper, a piece of garbage left on the ground.

“We’ve taken your instruction,” Lady Rice said.  “Your contract with us is fulfilled.  You may go home now.  The money will be wired into your account tonight.”

“Give it back!”

“You may sleep on a bench at the station until the next train arrives to take you back,” she said, taking Izzie by the elbow and guiding her outside.  The door shut with a thud and she was left in the cold darkness of the city.

She had nothing, now.  The art she had devoted her life to, was gone.  It would take her years to re-learn a fraction of it, and she was nearly too old to be performing, already.

Dozens of flickering eyes watched her from every alleyway and street.  Inadvertently, she clutched the gold medallion on her leotard.  Then, with a sudden movement, she ripped it off and threw it on the ground defiantly.

The eyes disappeared into the darkness and she was truly alone.  The vampires didn’t want to feed on her life’s blood.  The Daughters of the Confederacy had already done that.  If they ripped her open now, they’d find her as dry and empty as Matheson.

With an empty sob, she walked slowly into the eternal night.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Midnight Confederacy - Part 1

Izzie Meyer was glad she wore black.  Even miles from the black clouds over the border, ash fell from the sky like black snow and covered everything.  She stood in line to board the train, the only young woman in a long queue of elderly passengers.  Priests waved crosses on long poles at the passengers from beyond the fence, calling out to everyone to repent, to turn back, to stay out of that heathen land.

A conductor with a moustache over his sneer and a heavily-polished, gold medallion stopped and stared at her.  She looked away, pretending to be fascinated by the dirty, black steam train she was waiting to board.  He didn’t take the hint, and approached her.

“Miss, may I see your ticket?”

She turned and gave him her coldest stare.  She had always found the look useful when dealing with uppity servants.

“Miss, you don’t belong here; this is the train to the Midnight Confederacy.”

“I know.”

Another conductor announced the boarding had started.  The line moved and the conductor, thankfully, became too busy to bother her.  She climbed on board the tenth car, relieved to find an empty compartment.  While she placed her single bag above her seat, a stooped, balding man entered and sat across from her.  She sighed with annoyance but smiled at him as she sat down.  He tried to smile back but was wracked with coughing.  He brought a handkerchief to his mouth until he calmed himself.  When he brought the cloth away from his face, it was red.  Izze considered moving cars, but the train was already pulling away from the station, so she decided to stay.

“Don’t worry, it’s not consumption,” the man said.

“Oh,” she said, hoping he wouldn’t tell her his life’s story.  She looked out the window, but all she could see were smokestacks filling the sky with black clouds.  It would be dark as night soon.

“It’s a tumor.  I’ve got them in both lungs.  The doctors gave me two years.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, not looking away from the window.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?  Then why are you going?”

“I was invited.”

She reached into her purse and held up a golden medallion like the kind worn by the railroad employees.  The man reached out to touch it, but she snatched it back.

“Sorry,” he said.  “I’ve just never seen one with those engravings before.”

She glanced at the marks around the outside of the medallion then shrugged and put it away.

They sat in silence for a few miles before he tried talking to her again.

“So, why did they invite-”

He fell into another spasm of coughing and was too out of breath to bother her again until the train pulled to a stop.  Outside it was pitch black, except for the glow of the gaslights.  She got her bag down and carefully unlatched the door to the frigid world outside.

Smoke and freezing cold air poured into the cabin, and she, too, coughed as uncontrollably as her companion.  It took several minutes before she got used to the feel of the soot in her lungs and could step outside.  By then, the conductors were pushing the crowd towards a narrow, fenced-in area.  An official wearing a long wool coat adorned with a gold medallion stood by a table at the head of the line.

“I am Officer Harris of the Customs Division,” he said in rasping voice.  “Before you are allowed to enter the Midnight Confederacy, you must leave all your religious artifacts and submit to a search for prohibited items.”

One by one, they walked past the table, some dropping crosses or stars onto the table.  A man with a limp was patted down and they made him give up a glass bottle filled with water they found.  Izzie’s companion from the train held up a cross when he came to the table.

“I’ve had this my whole life,” he said to Harris.  “It was my father’s.  Will I get it back?”

The official gave him a funny look.

“If they accept you, you can’t have it.  If they don’t, you won’t need it.  Now drop it on the table, or go home to die.”

The man stared at him for a moment, then threw his cross on the pile with the others.  Izzie was next, but the officer barely looked at her papers.

“Let me guess” he said, sizing her up with a strange leer.  “Lover’s quarrel?  Or do you fancy going out in a blaze of glory like the famous Miss Summers?”

“I’m just a dancer,” she said, using the cold look that dispatched the conductor, earlier.  It didn’t work.

“I’m going to have to hand-search you,” he said, standing up eagerly.  “Might take a while.”

She pulled the medallion out.  He stopped and took it from her, staring at the inscription carefully.

“From Lady Rice herself!  Where did you get this?”

“I was invited.”

He stared at it for a moment longer and then took a clasp from his pocket.  With practiced hands, he hooked it to the medallion and pinned it to her overcoat.

“You must wear this at all times; do you understand?  In bed.  In the bath.  All times.  Understand me?”

She nodded, and he waved her on.  She walked through the gate into a large, cobbled courtyard lit by a circle of lamps where the others were waiting.  There were buildings outside the circle of light, but she could barely make out their silhouettes.  The travelers from the train all clustered together in the center, looking outward.

“Good luck to you,” Officer Harris said as he swung the gate shut with a clang.  Then he turned his back to them and walked off into the gloom.

The night was silent except for the nervous breathing of the group.  Izzie felt warm despite the chill, they were pressed together so tightly.  Someone coughed and the sound echoed.  Another person gasped and everyone turned to look.

Lights were appearing in the alleys between the shadowy buildings.  There were just a few twinklings, but more and more appeared like fireflies.  As she stared at them, she realized the lights were grouped into sets of two, as if the people were carrying tiny, two-taper candleholders.  Eyes.  They were glowing eyes.

Figures walked out of the darkness.  Men and women, tall and cold.  They made no sound as the came forward.  A woman on the outside of the group spoke.

“My name is Cynthia Bram.  I teach college.  I could teach you about science.  I wrote a thesis on elementary parti-”

The man closest to her bounded forward, his mouth opening wide, impossibly wide, like a snake unhinging its jaw.  Huge, white fangs sprouted out of his face and he grabbed her by the shoulders.  He bit down on her whole head, cracking her skull open so a giant gout of blood showered into his throat.

The other vampires were bounding at them now, some running on all fours like wolves.  The crowd screamed and cried.  Some broke from the group and ran.  Most stood their ground and shouted about their accomplishments.

“I can cook!” someone shouted as he was pulled off.

“I can make engines.  I’m the foremost authority on combustion!”

“I know how to care for children!”

“I travelled all over the world.  You won’t believe what I’ve seen!”

“I’m a good person!  Everyone says so!”

The vampires didn’t seem to care.  They ate them all: ripping them apart, dragging them off into the darkness, chasing them around the courtyard until they collapsed.  Soon, Izzie was the only one left alive.  She couldn’t see colors in the darkness, but she knew blood ran in rivers between the cobblestones beneath her feet.  One by one, the vampires stood from their prey and slowly, as if in a daze, turned back to the alleys.  Izzie reached up to touch the medallion pinned to her coat with trembling fingers.

A man burst into the courtyard as the last vampires were leaving.  He stopped and stared at the corpses all around him.

“What?  Already?  It’s only half past four!”

One of the vampires, a man with a bowler hat, shrugged.

“What did you expect, Matheson?”

Matheson turned and looked at Izzie with a disturbingly intense stare.  The other vampire put a hand on his shoulder.

“She’s Rice’s,” he said.

Matheson shrugged the hand off.

“Accidents happen,” he said, and reached for her.