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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dread Words

     I remember the first time rather vividly. There we were, the group of us, about six if I remember correctly, gathered together to play some D&D. We were facing off against something nasty (okay, so this part isn't vivid, but the important part is), and one of us makes an off-handed remark about something pretty much unrelated. That's when it happened. Chris, Chris of Infinite Crits, of the Blue Die, the very mover and shaker of the gods themselves, the DM, looks off into space, gets this cock-eyed smile on his face, then rubs his chin---sans goatee at the moment---and says simply those dreaded words.
     All of us as players experienced the same feeling after he spoke, and I have gone on to DM myself, and had the same experience. Some player will make an off-handed comment, probably not even related to what's going on, and I just feel myself drift rather dreamily and the words come to my lips unbidden. As far as I know it's not any kind of rite or passage where a DM bestows the secret of the words along with the secret handshake and the knowledge of offering a couple of bucks to the pizza place for pizzas that were never picked up. No, this is something primal, something fundamental to the human condition, and in just a few everyday words put together.
     Five words, to be exact, and these words cause such fear and dread in people that it must be witnessed to be believed. There are no words more fearsome that a DM can say. "Your character is dead" is nothing compared to these words. These words evoke fear and paranoia that haunt people in their sleep. Every shadow, every noise is feared as predators---real or imagined---loom ever closer.
     Along with fear is the reaction to find out the cause. I remember as a player I frantically tried to puzzle out what I said that would cause my good friend to say the words to me. And when I say it to my friends, they, too, seek to discover just what caused me to say them. However, it's often moot. Efforts to learn what caused it are an attempt to discover the meaning I have inferred from them and to prevent future utterances of this dread incantation.
     I have since learned that these words transcend the game. They apply to writing as well. A conversation with a friend, a random snippet from someone on the train, a song on the radio, a TV show, or any of a hundred other things can all cause me to utter the words. So it was last night in talking with a friend that something was said, and I was overcome by the power of the words. I knew I had that far-off look and smile on my face, and then the words came to me,
     "That gives me an idea."
     And so it did, and my mind whirls with the potential of this idea, and I will nurture it as a seedling until it is ready to bear fruit. It is clever, devious even, and will be something I truly enjoy. All that remains is for me to write it down and give it time to grow.
     Perhaps I will one day do a kind of "behind the scenes" and reveal which idea is which, and what the random source of information was, and you will see just how bizarre the mind of a writer and DM can be . . .
     That gives me an idea.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


     When I first started writing my PI, I didn't have any set place in mind. I was just winging it. I thought about setting it in a city, somewhere, but not where I lived because I just didn't find it interesting enough. I also didn't want to do a lot of research to make the setting "real," so I opted to create my own city. It's taken awhile, but I've put in some good work and come up with a map of the place, which I'll post when I've got a final version.
     I'm not exactly sure how my city evolved into being. I think it all started with the Grind. The rough and tumble, yet trendy, neighborhood where a lot of the action takes place. I knew just from coming up with the name that I wanted a city with neighborhoods with lots of character, like New York, DC, and San Francisco. It made sense to me to divvy things up that way, and I could give more character to the city by doing so.
     Something I noticed early on was that main locations were easy to deal with. I could describe them in full detail without any problem, but secondary areas were something else. I remember the city first began to pop in my mind when I created Kairos's Gyros. The Greek immigrant who made gyros really seemed to be one of these details that went beyond what was necessary, and made the place seem alive.
     With the map I have also been generating a history of the fair city, which I may end up using for story fodder---or at least background detail---in the future. My next big challenge is to come up with streets that I can reference in the future, one of which I already have made pivotal, that will further bring the city to life.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mind Games

Mind Games

     There I sat in the waiting room, not even bothering to page through the issues of Psychology Today and Highlights—I think there's a metaphor there, or at least something witty—while waiting for the guy to show up. I had a theory that anyone who holds appointments will never actually be on time for them. Doctors, lawyers, cable TV guys, and psychologists all seemed to have their own personal time zones where they existed outside of the clock. Mine was currently twenty-two minutes late.
     The waiting room was, well, a waiting room. It had warm colors and semi-comfortable chairs—I think another rule was to have furniture that wasn't too comfortable. Abstract art hung on the wall in this one like some kind of preliminary Rorschach test. I was bored. Psychology wasn't my thing, and had nothing to do with what I did, so I was bored. Unfortunately, I didn't have a choice about being here, and it wasn't the first time.
     The door opened to the inner office, and there was the guy, not looking at all like Sigmund Freud. He was young, for one thing, maybe younger than me. He had short brown hair with matching eyes and a warm smile as he showed his other patient out, a young woman in her twenties whose mascara ran a little bit at her blue eyes. Her long black hair was done in a pony tail, which bobbed as she nodded at his whispered instructions. In her hands was clutched a facial tissue with dark marks on it, no doubt from the mascara. I also noticed her ring finger. There was a patch on it that wasn't tanned, left from where a wedding band had been.
     He escorted her out, asking if she was all right to drive, to which she nodded, and then she was gone.
     "Thank you for coming Mr. . . . ?" he said to me, hand extended. I rose up from the chair and shook his hand.
     "Allen. Matt Allen. Just like the last two times I was here."
     "Of course. I apologize. It's been a busy week. Please give me a few minutes to get organized, and then we can begin."
     "Sure thing, Doc. Take your time. Are things on the rocks for her or what?"
     "Excuse me?" he said, perplexed.
     "The girl. She headed for divorce court or some other marital trouble?"
     "Recently divorced. How do you know that?"
     "Ring finger looks like it had a ring, but now it's gone. That's a shame. Well, I'll just wait here for you, Doc."
     He gave me some kind of look, then went back into his office to do his thing, so I sat back down in the chair.
     I was bored. My jaw cracked as I yawned. I'd rather be working a case, even if it was a snowjob. In my pocket, my phone went off. I pulled the vibrating thing out and answered it.
     "Matt, it's Jen. I know you're at the thing, but I wanted to tell you that Mrs. Rombova called and says she has your payment ready. I told her she could just send it in or drop it off, but she said she couldn't, so I called you." Jen was my assistant. In the old days of detectives I would have said she was my girl Friday, but somehow a lot of women thought that was sexist.
     "Yeah, angel, it's all right." Mrs. Rombova didn't have much money, but she cooked a lot and well, so I let her pay me with food. I had jars of preserves as well. I didn't keep track of just how much she owed, just let her cook for me whenever she was able. With five kids she still managed to cook for all of them and run her small shop of, what else, home made foods. She could have dropped it off, but she lived all the way into Shadow Valley and didn't have a car. The bus system wasn't that great, either, so I'd go up there to see her.
     "All right, Matt. I just wanted to check in with you. I hope this session goes better than the last."
     "Me too, kitten, but somehow I doubt it. At least this is the last one."
     "Well, good luck, Matt. I've gotten a couple of calls that might be cases for you, but I didn't want to bother you with them right now."
     "That's good work, Jen. Just put 'em on my desk and I'll take care of them. Give me something to look forward to after this. I gotta go, the Doc is coming back out."
     "Okay, Matt. Bye."
     "Am I interrupting?" The Doc asked a bit snidely. Several responses came to mind that I could shoot back, mostly about why psychologists charged hourly, but I held off. I needed this guy right now. There was no way around it.
     "No, Doc, I'm just finishing up."
     "Very well, let's go in," he gestured towards the door, and I somehow felt like I was on a game show.
     I went in, and this room was also very unlike the classical image. There was no couch or chaise lounge. There was a whiteboard on an easel with markers stuck to velcro on one side of it. There were some comfortable stuffed chairs, and the lighting was indirect. The room was overlarge, too. The guy's desk sat at one end, where his degree hung above it like some kind of halo, while the chairs were on the other. Psychology books dotted end and coffee tables around, all leather-bound and imposing.
     I sat down in the chair, and just waited. He sat down almost opposite me, as if expecting me to start, so I didn't. Finally, it became too much for him.
     "Why do you come here, Mr. Allen?"
     "That a joke, Doc? I'm not exactly here by choice."
     "Yes, that's true, and in order to expedite your required counseling, you need to at least participate in the process."
     "Don't see much point to it, Doc. You wouldn't believe me. In fact you'd probably write me up for a bigger evaluation, if you didn't send for the guys with the straight jacket."
     "Now, Mr. Allen, the field of psychology has made great strides. We recognize hundreds of different conditions, and have treatments for all of them."
     "Yeah, the thing is, I'm not crazy. You'll just think I am."
     "Well, why don't you tell me about it, and let me judge for myself."
     "Because once I do, you'll feel obligated to try and 'help' me with my problem, even if it doesn't exist."
     "Then we are coming to an impasse, Mr. Allen, and I won't be able to sign off on your evaluation."
     "All right, doc, let me see if I can put it to you another way. You psychologists really are scientists."
     "Yes, we are. We have struggled for decades to be recognized, but I don't see what that has to do with anything."
     "Simple. You guys need proof. You won't believe something until it has been replicated in front of you. But there's one big problem with that, kinda like the tree in the forest making sound thing: Michigan J. Frog."
     "I don't understand."
     "That frog in the Looney Tunes cartoon. A guy finds him and the frog sings and dances, but only for that one guy. The frog never does it around anyone else."
     "I think I remember that. Go on."
     "Here it is. Everyone thinks the guy is crazy because they never see the frog singing despite what the guy is saying. I think in one cartoon he actually does end up in the looney bin because of this. My question to you, though, is he crazy? Just because others don't see the frog singing doesn't mean the frog can't actually sing."
     "Well, I would have to say then, that he is not crazy."
     "Remember, though, you can't break the wall."
     "The wall?"
     "The drama thing. You're not part of the audience, so you've never seen the frog sing or dance. You're just like the other guys who see the guy talk about a singing frog, but the frog just croaks for you. Is the guy crazy or not?"
     "Well, based on that, I'd have to say that I believe he should have counseling."
     "Come on, Doc, don't go waffling on the fence. You're not going to offend me by saying crazy or insane. The guy is obviously nuts, wacko, a few cards short of a deck, right?"
     "Well, in my profession, we don't—"
     "Hey, you want me to open up, then you have to do the same. I'm trying to make a point here, and you're running interference."
     "Very well. For the purposes of this hypothetical, then yes, I'd say he is crazy."
     "Based on your outside observations."
     "Yes, of course."
     "But as the audience, do you think he's crazy?"
     "Well, no. I have observation that the man really does see and hear the frog. It's fact."
     "See, that's where the problem is, though. The facts change. Before you're thinking the guy is crazy, just because you can't see or hear the frog singing. Now, if I start doing the same thing, you're going to think I'm crazy because what I'm talking about is so preposterous that I have to be off my rocker. With your science and your fancy degree, you can't think that I might be telling the truth and there might be something more out there."
     "I see your point, Mr. Allen, but the court recommended that you either get some counseling or you serve some time in jail. The court already determined that you need some sort of counseling, so you see you're already at something of a disadvantage when it comes to me believing things that can't be seen or heard from you."
     "Now, I didn't say they couldn't be seen or heard, Doc. That was just an example. The thing is, I can't make them appear for you. I'm your average joe, but I've seen and worked around stuff that's, well, pretty unbelievable."
     "So, why don't you tell me what happened, and I promise to at least consider that the unbelievable is true. Will that suffice?"
     "No, but I'm not going to get a better deal than that, am I?"
     He shook his head no. Well, it was time to get to it, then.
     "All right, so here's the skinny. This kid, well, this girl, maybe nineteen, comes into my office one day, and asks me to help her sister, who's becoming mixed up in some cult or with a witch or something. The details were all fuzzy."
     "That seems little outside the normal work for a private investigator."
     "Not for me. Well, it might be a little tame for a legit case, but I've handled weirder. Anyway, so I say sure, and she gives me a deposit of a couple hundred, and I'm on the case. I get some info from her, and then I'm off. Turns out that both things were right, only not in the way I thought. The witch and the cult are real, but it turns out that the sister is in charge of the cult and is the witch. Little details like that irritate me. Now, I'm not saying the girl that hired me knew because her sister was going by another name, and it wasn't Glinda."
     "Geez, doc. Wizard of Oz? Good witch of the North? Ring any bells?"
     "Oh yes, now I get the reference. I don't watch many movies or television."
     "That explains something. You need to get your head out of those psych books, and into what people are doing. Anyway, she's the head of this cult, although it's not really a cult, more like a coven. She's training other girls to be witches."
     "Like a sort of school?"
     "Yeah, something like that, if you consider a group of women who routinely cavort about in their skins under the moon a school."
     "I wouldn't normally consider that a school."
     "Yeah, good for you, Doc, mind if I get back to this?"
     "Please, go ahead."
     "Right. So, I'm guessing you don't know much about witches or Wicca or whatever they're calling it these days. Most of them are pretty much harmless. They believe in nature and that they can cast spells that allow them to channel nature, but, and here's the thing that always cracks me up, they always insist that they only cast spells that are beneficial to people because they're some sort of karma or something that reflects selfish magic back at them three times over."
     "That sounds like a rule to enforce moral behavior. I see nothing wrong with that at all, even though the idea of spells or incantations is ridiculous."
     "Sure, Doc. Now, that's the party line, really. Or at least one of them. See, just like politics, there are splinter groups who believe something a little different. Maybe religion is a better example, but anyway. See, what I described is the everyday popular Wicca, but there's more than that. There are people who really get into it, who dig through tomes and find real incantations of spells to cast, but for the most part they toe the party line and are into goodness and nature and all that. But, like anything, there's always the extremists. This girl was one of those. And she was teaching others to be like her."
     "And just what was involved in all of that."
     "What do you want to hear, Doc? Black rituals where they fornicate with demons, make pacts with the devil, and engage in murdering men ritualistically to perform their rites?"
     "No, that would be ridiculous. I don't think any rational person would do something like that."
     "There ya go again, Doc, looking for the rational. What they do doesn't have to make sense to you, just to them. And, as it so happens, they didn't murder guys, just made them subservient to them and used them. There's a line of thought that says sex releases tremendous spiritual energy, especially under the full moon, so they go out and have fun at night a lot of the time. I've even heard some of the guys are even abducted for this, but I don't think the girls have that much trouble convincing a guy to go out and have a good time if you know what I'm saying."
     "If the consumption of drugs and alcohol are part of this, I can readily believe something happening in the woods."
     "I don't have any info on that one, Doc, but it wouldn't surprise me. That doesn't have anything to do with the story, though."
     "How can the influence of drugs and alcohol not have a bearing on the story. It explains their irrational behavior."
     "See, that's what I'm talking about. You think it's irrational. The thing is, though, you're looking at it only from your perspective. Naked people cavorting about in the woods because they want spiritual and natural energy is automatically crazy for you. Now, I'll grant you it's eccentric, but if they believe in it, then it's not crazy."
     "I think I understand your point, Mr. Allen, but from an objective point of view, they are irrational."
     "Yeah, but who decides on what's objective? You?"
     "No. Many professionals have determined what constitutes normal rational behavior."
     "Yeah, but that doesn't mean they aren't crazy. Just because the majority of people decide something doesn't necessarily mean they're on an even keel, but you're interrupting the story again."
     "Very well, Mr. Allen, I think you do have an interesting point that can be explored somewhat. Please continue."
     "Right, so I go down to talk to this girl, only I don't know what all she's involved in exactly. I start asking for the girl by name, but no one knows her by that name. It doesn't take me long to start asking for her by description, and bingo! I got her. They identify her as the one leading the coven, which automatically sets me on edge. See, I don't like dealing with witches. I had a bad experience with one a while back, and almost didn't make it out."
     "Mr. Allen, I find it hard to believe that there is anything beyond a normal experience here. Perhaps there are some imaginings or some illusions, but nothing actually dangerous."
     "Yeah, so much for the open mind. Anyway, I go talk to the girl, all of twenty-three, who's wearing these ceremonial robes of some sort. I don't know why. People like to show off for some reason. Okay, I should amend this, though. I didn't go talk to her so much as when I described her they took me to her. In fact, they wouldn't let me not see her. See, like I was saying, there's those who are involved in the not nice stuff trying to garner power for themselves. They're usually the ones who have gotten a hold of some kind of real magic. A tome, amulet, scroll or something which tells them the real deal on things. So, they take me in front of her, and she asks what I'm doing there, and I figure my only way out really is to play the sister card, so I play it. I tell her how much her sister is worried about her and that I'm just here to find her, I got no beef with anything she's doing. Really, I don't. There's so many screwed up kids out there doing these sorts of things I'm not responsible for them. I was hired to find the sister, and that's it. I'm not on a personal quest to fix everything that's wrong with the world, especially if I'm not getting paid. I don't like the idea of dying too much, either, so that's another reason not to stick my neck out."
     "I can see that, now, what happend?"
     "Right. Well, like I said, I had to play the sister card, and she gets this look on her face that's sort of sad and a little angry. She looks at me and says that those around her are her sisters, and that she didn't leave, her sister left her. Then she begins to tell me that, at first, they were both into this stuff, but when it got interesting—my words, not hers—her sister gets cold feet and backs off, saying they shouldn't be into that stuff. See, this is what I'm talking about when it comes to the details."
     "Yes, I can see where that would be problematic. Go on."
     "Well, I nod and do all the understanding stuff, but I tell her that she should at least talk to her sister, what with being family and all, since she did go through all the trouble to hire me, so that should count for something. I thought there was something pretty big going on here, but I wasn't hired to take this coven down. Not that I would take such a case. I just wanted to get the sisters talking to each other, then I felt I would have earned my day's pay. Of course, it ain't that simple. She goes on about how she has shunned the whole world and will not set foot out there again. She goes on like this for a few minutes, about how impure it is, and that behind their enchantments here they are safe. Now, I can see a wind-up well enough, and so I start to back away telling her that I'll tell that to the sister, and thanks for her time. In a perfect world, that would be it. Well, I should say that in a perfect world she would have been reasonable and gone to see her sister, but I would have settled for getting out of there. See, I've noticed that when people start talking about the impure, it can only lead to trouble.
     "Sure enough, she says that I must be purified, which I take to mean offed, and there are women coming up all around me. Now, I could have made a break for it in the middle of this remote compound in the wilderness, but I knew that I wouldn't make it to my car before they nabbed me, so I went quietly, hoping to find a good opportunity to get out of there. I didn't think they would be used to taking people prisoner, and I was right. I was kept in a room, and they didn't even bother to pat me down. They shut me in there telling me that the magic will prevent me from leaving. I try the window, and there's something keeping me from going out it. Not like a force or a barrier, but rather whenever I got close to the window, I felt like I should go back into the middle of the room. Pretty disappointing, I know. There should be a blue sparkly field like in Star Trek or something."
     "Well, it would make your story somewhat more interesting, if not any more plausible. What did you do?"
     "Well, see, I know something that they didn't: faith works both ways. They had belief in their scrolls and enchantments, but I have belief in God, and I know that nothing can bar the way of God's power."
     "You are clergy?"
     "Me? No. Clergy don't have to do this for a living. No, I'm just a guy, but I know a few tidbits. I couldn't preach my way out or nothing, but I carry holy water in my flasks, and I figure that pouring some over me, maybe like a kind of baptism, will do the trick. The water has been blessed, and can go anywhere, so I figure it should help me overcome the thing that keeps me going back into the middle of the room."
     "That sounds . . . incredible, really." The Doc frowned and pushed his glasses up on his face.
     "Yeah, the logic really isn't there, but I believed it, anyway."
     "I expected you to say that you engaged in a battle of wills until you overcame it."
     "Nope. See, that doesn't work. I know my will isn't enough. The Man Upstairs, though, he's got it. So, I douse myself with a vial, say a prayer, and then try it. There's a little bit of a pull to try and get me to stay in the room, but I can ignore it now, and I'm out."
     "That's it? I'm sure there must be more, Mr. Allen since the court sent you here."
     "Yeah, there's more. See, I slip away easy enough, drive off in my car and back into the city with no problem. The next day I meet with my client and tell her what went down. Of course she gets emotional and teary because she's lost her sister. When it's over, she tells me she wants to go see her. I recommend against it seeing as I was already a captive, and I think I manage to talk her down, but really I know she's going to go out there and she's just humoring me, so I followed her out there."
     "Why did you do that?"
     "What do you want to hear, Doc, that it was the right thing to do? That even though I claim I won't stick my neck out I will because I'm a warm and fuzzy kind of guy? It's simple; she's my client. No one else is going to stick up for her, so I do."
     "I see. What happened next?"
     "So I followed her out there, discreetly, and yeah, it's hard to be discreet in the boonies. Well, I guess it's not that bad. It's the outskirts of Shadow Valley, near Mt. Kelly. Lots of the folks in Shadow Valley seem to think that Mt. Kelly has some sort of power to it. They go back and forth on it. Some say it's good, some say it's bad. I just say it's there, and it happened to be where my client was going."
     "What did you intend to do?"
     "There are no plans, Doc. There's no telling what I would run into, so I just wing it. The only sure thing is that I know it's not going to be anything good."
     "In the movies I'm sure you're used to seeing the guy sneak in through the heavily guarded perimeter using stealthy training and such, well, this place wasn't exactly a military fortress. These were just people doing their thing, even as messed up as it was in the head."
     "I think you are hardly qualified to make that assertion, Mr. Allen."
     "Sure, Doc; you're the expert. Anyway, I just circled around to the side, hoping to get close to them so I could spy out my client. That's the easy part. I manage to get up higher than them by going up on this little ridge, which gives me a good view of their place with my spyglass. So I'm looking down there—"
     "Excuse me a moment. Did you say spyglass?"
     "Wouldn't binoculars work better?"
     "Nope. Binoculars are right out."
     "And why is that?"
     "Simple. Binoculars have mirrors. A spyglass just has a straight shot of lenses."
     "Mirrors. Are you referring to vampires, Mr. Allen?"
     "Among other things, but yeah. I don't figure any of the people in these camps is a vampire, but I don't see any reason to carry two different things that do the same job, so I stick with my spyglass."
     "You are aware how all of this sounds, aren't you?"
     "Yeah, like I'm a few cards shy of a full deck, but I told you that's what it would be like, Doc. So, I'm looking about, and I think I can sneak in there without causing a fuss, and I was sure that they'd have my client in the main building. That was where they took me, anyway. Only, before I can move down there, I see a line of them start to move out, the sister as high mucky-muck leader in front with her purple hood on. My client is a few back from the front, surrounded like they want to keep her from running. They all look like they're headed somewhere special, fourteen in all. I don't know what it is exactly, but there's a fascination with a coven having to be thirteen women. Now I figure my odds just went up."
     "Why is that?"
     "Well, like I said, there's thirteen. There's more than that in the compound, maybe another thirty."
     "If there are supposed to be thirteen in a coven then why—"
     "I don't' know, Doc. I'm guessing that others get promoted up so they can handle their own coven, and there's recruitment going on so they don't have all their numbers."
     "Yes, I suppose that makes sense."
     "So, I'm figuring that luck is turning my way and I've got a chance to grab the girl before they do something to her. I follow them from my position, moving alongside from my ridge until they come up to a clearing where there's a circle of white stones. I figure that this is the place, so I start getting closer. I lose sight of them for a bit, but when I get them back in view, my client is tied to a spike driven into the ground. She can't go more than a couple of feet from the spike because of the rope. One of the girls begins to use chalk dust to make a geogram on the ground."
     "I'm sorry. A what?"
     "A geometric pattern. The people who use magic think that certain shapes and substances produce certain results. More than a few of them are used for summonings of some sort. I got no idea what shape they're making exactly, but the curves make me think Celtic. Maybe that was just because they were witches. Just from that I start to get real nervous. I don 't like the idea of things popping in from other places to ruin my day, so I want to grab my client and get out of there on the double."
     "A reasonable desire, given your state of mind."
     "Yeah. So I get as close as I dare while they're preparing their thing for whatever, and I just wait patiently. When they're done drawing and pulling out herbs and arranging other rocks inside the geogram, they join hands and begin to chant. This ain't no girl scout campfire circle, either. I don't know what language it is, but it isn't English, and it ain't Latin; make sure you remember that, Doc. Magic spells don't use Latin! I don't know why every major book and movie out there seems to think Latin is used for magic. If that was the case, then high school and college students everywhere would shooting out fireballs and turning people into frogs or whatever."
     "Duly noted. Continue."
     "So, while they're wrapped up in that, I make my move. I head down there and up to my client. By this point she realizes I was right about her sister being off her rocker, and she wants out. So I pull out my knife and start cutting her free. Of course, one of the group sees, but it's not like they can stop their chanting."
     "Why is that?"
     "Well, bad things can happen if it's not completed like it's supposed to be. Things just kind of short circuit and there's no telling what can happen. A friend of mine told me that one time she tried to stop a spell mid-way through, and instead of what she was going for, a cloud of gas materialized in the room stinking up the place. It also worked on her like helium, making her voice high-pitched for about an hour."
     "You have a friend who is a witch?"
     Damn. I shouldn't have gone mentioning that. Well, I wasn't about to bring Janissia into this. "Yeah. Well, former witch. She's kind of hung up her hat and broomstick since the whole thing didn't pan out. So, anyway, I'm sawing away. In the movies knives can snap through rope pretty quick, but if there's no serrated edge, it can take awhile to saw through a good, thick rope like these women were using.
     "You know that while I'm doing this the women aren't exactly doing nothing. They finish their chant just before I cut through the rope, and I hear my client gasp. That was my big clue something bad was about to happen. It was too late to do anything, so I sawed and yanked on the rope, and the rest of it broke, and I told her to run. I turn around in time to catch a kick to my hip instead of a knee to the face. It wasn't the sister, just one of the others. She was just a slip of a girl so I tossed her aside. I wasn't interested in fighting them, I just needed to know if all of them were about to drop on top of me.
     "I was lucky, and they weren't, but that was just because there was light pulsing from the circle. You know, most magic doesn't have any kind of effect, but this one did, and it through me for a minute. Instead of doing the smart thing and running, I stared as a shape came into being. It was hard to tell if it came out of the light or the air. But the next thing I knew, it was there. I wasn't sure what I was looking at. It was big, had a greenish color to it and no real face that I could tell. No eyes, ears, mouth, or anything. It had a head, and it made noises from someplace. The women drop down to their knees and bow down in worship. The sister begins talking, but I'm too dumbfounded to do anything."
     "What was it?"
     "Hell if I know. I'd guess some sort of nature spirit or demon, but I didn't exactly ask the thing for ID."
     "As I recall, you said something similar to the judge."
     "Yeah, well, sometimes I've got a problem with doing stuff like that. Anyway, I didn't know what the hell it was, but I generally don't have a problem with things like this as long as they leave me alone. Some of them are pretty harmless, or at least will leave me alone, and that's all I ask. Not everything is about the end of the world. These things take place all the time, and as far as I know, the world hasn't ended. That doesn't mean these critters are nice, either. This one saw all the kneeling women, and at random it backhanded one with a paw the size of your head out of the circle. That's when hell broke loose. The women scattered except for the sister, who kept trying to talk to the thing. It turned, and I knew the thing was going to smack her next; I knew she deserved it, but I just couldn't let my client's sister get killed by this thing, and people who get hit hard enough that they fly fifteen feet through the air don't shrug it off like in the latest action flick.
     "As I understand the accepted rules of these things from literature and movies, those circles are supposed to prevent things like this from happening."
     "Well, yes and no. Most circles have it built into them, but not all. This one didn't. I have no idea why, but there it is. I'll have to ask someone about that. So, I get my gun out and I take a couple of shots at the thing, aiming high so I don't hit any fleeing women. I'm not a marksman, but the thing is the size of a barn door, so I plugged it. It roared from somewhere, which is when it noticed me, and it started racing at me. Evidently I didn't slow it down with my bullets, so I needed a new plan. The sister stared in horror at the thing, as if rooted. She wasn't going to be any help to me.
     "I had about five steps before this thing would be on top of me, so I looked for something else. In the circle, I saw that the light actually came from the objects at each of the convergence points."
     "Convergence points? What are those?"
     "Nothing special, Doc. It's just where the chalk lines meet. Fancy words for them, I guess. So I see a rock and a, and a couple of other things too small for me to make out. The old oil lamp seemed like my best shot, so I lined up and took it. I squeezed off about four rounds before I knew to stop. I don't know which of my shots hit, but it did, and the lamp went flying out of the circle with flaming oil around it. Now the thing howled and disappeared like it had come. That's pretty much it."
     "I think that there would have to be something more or my services would not be necessary, Mr. Allen."
     "Yeah, well, the cops showed up right as I took my shots. Turns out that my client had called the cops just before leaving her car as a precaution. Now I know a couple of the uniforms saw the thing, but some lieutenant wasn't having any of it, so me and the whole coven were under arrest. My client vouched for me that I wasn't part of the cult, but I still got stuck with an illegal discharge of a firearm for shooting while people were around. Not exactly great for me, but it could have been worse, I guess."
     "And the judge gave you a suspended sentence if you attended some counseling."
     "Yep, that's the size of it. So, that's pretty much the end of the story, Doc. Guess you're free to not believe me, now." I reclined back, ready to hear the inevitable.
     "I believe you saw these things, Mr. Allen." He closed his notebook and I sat up, looking at him.
     "You're kidding me."
     "I'm not. I believe you saw and heard everything you described. I believe you are suffering hallucinations and delusions. You are completely convinced about these things."
     "So much for an open mind."
     "I have listened quite openly, Mr. Allen, but there is nothing to substantiate what you say."
     "Michigan J. Frog," I mumbled.
     "Yes, your point is quite clear, yet there must be a standard of proof, or else all of the people in very serious need of help would never receive it. I can help you, Mr. Allen. Once we make a breakthrough in counseling, you'll be able to see that all of this was in your mind."
     "No thanks, Doc. I appreciate it, but I'm not going to be telling you about my mother or Randy Stevenson who beat me up in fifth grade. Just sign off that I completed that required counseling, and we'll be square."
     "I'm afraid it's not that simple, Mr. Allen. You see, as part of the required counseling, I must give my honest assessment of you, and I'm afraid that while mostly rational, you are quite deluded, and would constitute a danger to society. I'm certain that the judge would have no problem assigning your jail sentence. You may even find your gun license withdrawn. I think with help you can become a productive member of society. There are certain medications we can try to cut down on the hallucinations."
     "I don't do meds, Doc. I can't afford anything that will play with my head. I need my head."
     "Only because you believe, in paranoia, that there are people and creatures with magic that will come after you."
     "So it's a stalemate. You're convinced I'm nuts, but I know I'm right in the head. You need your Michigan J. Frog in order to realize I'm not going crazy."
     "But as you said, the frog is only visible to the audience, not those within the story, and the rules of society mandate that I act for the greater good. And this is not a stalemate since I will report to the judge. Please, Mr. Allen, let me help you. I don't want to see you have to give up your livelihood. You can still be a private investigator, probably more effective than you already are." The guy had me over a barrel. I didn't have any real choice, here. Well, maybe I did, but it meant calling in a favor, and I didn't want to do that. I did know a vampire that could come in and convince the guy that I was on the level, but that was a pretty big favor to call in, and I'd be paying for it for awhile. Still, even if it meant tying myself to her, it was better than having to visit the shrink.
     "Doc, I would just like to say that you're a class A jerk."
     "I have been called worse things, Mr. Allen. I have seen people with stories more preposterous than yours, too, and been able to help them."
     "Ye should've told th' story better, Matt'ew," a new, but familiar, voice said.
     The doc gasped and I turned to see a short man, not a little person, just a short man, wearing green with pouches around his waist. I hadn't seen him in awhile, but he had an annoying habit of popping up at odd times.
     "What are you doing here, Michaleen."
     "A favor, Matt'ew. Ye don't really want to be calling that siren to help you out, do ye?"
     "Now that's funny. I know you can't read thoughts, leprechaun."
     "No, 'course not, Matt'ew, but what else would ye be considerin'?"
     "What, what is that. Where did it come from?" The doc said, more than a little freaked out as he tried to back into his chair."
     "I'm not a what!" Michaleen said indignantly, "I'm a leprechaun, as Matt'ew has pointed out to ye. This one's not to swift, eh Matt'ew?"
     "Yeah, I noticed that. Okay, Doc, here's your proof. One genuine magical creature right before your eyes. What do you think now?"
     "I think—I think that I'm imagining things. I'm tired, and your story has put thoughts into my mind, and I'm just imagining things."
     Michaleen didn't seem to like that, so he got out of the chair, walked over, and kicked the shrink in the shin. "Can yer imagination do that?"
     "Matt'ew, I be tellin' ye that's not my name before."
     "Yeah, but you're not going to tell me your name, so I have to call you something."
     "A fair point, lad."
     "Not real, not real, not real, not real," the doc chanted.
     "For Pete's sake, Doc. Not five minutes ago you tried to get me to see the truth, and now you're acting like a kid. Snap out of it! This is real and you've got to deal with it. Believe me, Doc, you should be glad it's Michaleen instead of someone else. If you insist on treating me, it's going to get ugly as I pull out an ace. Leprechauns are generally just mild tricksters—"
     "Aye, t'is true," Michaleen interjected.
     "Believe me when I say you don't want to have an encounter with a vampire or a mystic with a perverse sense of humor."
     "Tony's a rare one, that be sure," Michaleen added.
     "So you can sign off on my counseling, telling the judge I'm sane, and you won't have to see me or Michaleen again."
     Michaleen smiled, and held up his hand with a gold coin. "Fer your trouble."
     With a shaking hand, the shrink took the coin and looked at it. "Does this mean there's a pot of gold?"
     "Of course there's a pot of gold! but only at the end of the rainbow."
     "Let it go, Doc. Just be glad of what you've got."
     The psychiatrist nodded and reached for his notebook and took out the court forms, but just before setting pen to paper, he stopped.
     "No, this doesn't make sense. You're just a person dressed as a leprechaun," he addressed Michaleen. "You came in here to convince me he doesn't need counseling."
     "Aye, I did."
     "Well, it won't work. So you snuck in here without my seeing, that's hardly proof of the supernatural."
     Michaleen held up his hands and a suddenly a rainbow arced from one to the other. One his right hand sat the image of a pot of gold, all the coins gleaming brightly.
     The doctor's breath caught, and then he started writing quickly on the form. "I–I'll send this to the court right away."
     "I appreciate it, Doc. Now, you might be tempted to start talking about this with others, but then you might end up on someone else's couch seeing your own practice in jeopardy. When you see Michigan J. Frog, keep it to yourself." I grabbed my hat and coat, and headed out. "See you in the funny papers, Doc."
     "Good day to you, Doctor," Michaleen said with a tip of his hat, then followed me out.
     The receptionist goggled at Michaleen, but didn't say anything, and it wasn't until the elevator door closed that I said something to the leprechaun.
     "You know that he'll think he can use that coin as proof."
     "Aye, lad. That be the best part. Be seeing you, Matt'ew," and the leprechaun was gone as neatly as Houdini.

Monday, February 2, 2009

January Wrap-up

     Well, another month come and gone. The good news: it looks like I've finished a draft of Vampire Shadows and I'm nearly finished with the design of my PI's city. The bad: I still need to go back and revise Blood and Stones and need to come up with a name for my city.

     Along those lines, I've decided that revising a story still counts as writing, and though I may not do any actual creating, revision still gets the work closer to a finished piece. I'm going to create a category in my daily word count that will allow me to track my progress of revision through Blood and Stones to help get my butt in gear. I've also been busy with my other life, getting accustomed to teaching and its own rigors, but still managing to stay on top of things. I'd like to get in a place where I'm at least a week ahead on my class and create a kind of buffer to keep myself from feeling as frantic as I have been the last two weeks.
     And here are the totals, in a new and improved graph from last year's model! Shiny.

1001 Nights (4) Abraham (11) Adonis (4) Aphrodite (18) Apocalypse (6) Apollo (5) Arabian (4) Ares (2) Artemis (5) Arthur (12) Athena (7) Bard (1) Ben Slater (13) Bible (88) Boxing Day (6) Celtic (2) Character File (2) Chinese (1) Christian (6) Christmas (1) Conferences (30) creation myths (15) Criminalelement (11) Dark Business (61) Dark Winds (22) Demeter (10) Diomedes (6) Don Iverson (4) Eden (5) Enchanter (16) essay (9) Exploding Storm Rider Mystery (1) F3 (632) (2) Fairhaven Club (6) Fairy Tales (20) Family (2) Flood Myth (8) Flynn (84) Greek (96) Greeks (1) Guest (1) Hades (10) Halloween Fall Formal (6) Hercules (9) Hestia (2) Hindu (2) History Prof (22) Holiday (12) Holiday Myths (6) Incan (1) Iranian (2) Jacob (13) Japanese (1) Job (21) Joseph (18) Judges (12) Knowledge Myths (3) Levite (12) Library (8) Life (123) Love Gods (4) M3 (253) (1) map (13) Matt Allen (268) Medieval (7) Metamyth (5) Misc Flash (36) Mom (1) monthly chart (21) Movies (6) Myth Law (2) Myth Media (4) NaNoWriMo (22) Noah (5) noir (9) Noir Tales (1) Norse (10) Odyssey (8) Persephone (15) Perseus (14) Persian (1) Poseidon (1) Prometheus (8) publishing (24) ramble (113) Red Riding Hood (6) Review (1) Sam Faraday (53) Samson (14) Santa's Helper (3) Scavenger Hunt (20) Sci Fi (15) science (1) Serial (84) short story (14) Spotlight (8) Storm Riders (139) Teaching (136) Tech (18) Transformation (5) Travel (27) TV (10) TV Myth (1) Underworld (6) Unhappily (2) Vacation (15) vampires (18) W3 (11) WIP (20) Writing (166) Writing Tools (16) Zeus (21)