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Friday, December 29, 2017

Christmas Storytelling

Instead of a flash fiction, I have collected my Matt Allen serial from the past year to put them in one convenient post (albeit an extremely long one).

Christmas Storytelling
A Matt Allen Serial
The Wait

            “Come in, Nikki,” I said. It didn’t freak me out to invite her into the office, anymore. The fact that I didn’t freak out was beginning to freak me out, but that was another matter.
            My invitation popped the invisible bubble of the consecration, and Nikki walked in. She took off her sable coat, hanging it on my tree in the corner with my hats. She wore a dark green blouse and pencil skirt over hose and heels. She looked like she was there for business. She sat down in one of the two chairs in front of my desk, and looked at me.
            “Nothing,” she said.
            “Do you have a case for me? Want me to break out the chess board?” Business was slow; it always was around Christmas. The supernatural waned at this time. Belief in Christmas tended to dampen their powers, which was another reason it was odd to see Nikki out and about.
            “No case, Matthew. And I’m not in the mood for chess at the moment.”
            “So why are you here?”
            “For your company.”
            “You want to talk? About what?”
            “No conversation.”
            “You’re just going to sit there.” It wasn’t a question.
            “For now, yes.” She gave me an amused smile.
            She wants to sit. Fine. I have to finish up the report for Collins, anyway.
            I went back to my laptop, typing up the narrative of the report from my end, careful to avoid any direct references to the supernatural. Though Collins did head up his own task force specifically for these kinds of cases, the higher-ups didn’t like to see it in reports as it wouldn’t stand up well in court.
            As I typed, I could feel Nikki’s eyes on me, and I would occasionally glance up at her. She still sat with that amused expression as she relaxed in the chair. Finally, the pressure was too much for me. “Why are you staring at me like that?” I said.
            “I’m waiting,”
            “Yeah, I got that part. Waiting for what?”
            “I’m not sure.”
            “Nikki, you’ve been hanging around me for a week, now. You’ve brought me to work, several days, taken me home, we’ve gone out every night this week. Even gone with me to investigate crime scenes with the cops. I thought this morning you were finally done with it, but here you are. What is it?”
            Like we’re married or something.
            I have noticed a pattern, Matthew?”
            “What pattern?” I closed the laptop, curious.
            “For the past few years, something odd happens to you around Christmas.”
            “What? I don’t start acting weird. Well, weirder than normal. I like Christmas is all.”
            “I didn’t say it was your behavior. I said something odd happens to you.”
            “She’s right, Boss,” Jessie said from my door, coffee in her hands.
            “Like what?”
            Jessie set down a mug for Nikki, then myself. “Well, like me.”
            “Let us also not forget the department store with your niece,” Nikki said.
            “Or last year on the street where I received a letter from medieval Germany.”
            “She’s right, Boss. Jen would agree with us, too, if she hadn’t gone back to South Dakota this year.” Jessie grinned, then looked back toward the outer office, frowning, and she left.
            “Okay, yes, things may happen around me, but it’s not me. I’m not doing it.”
            “Nevertheless, you are a focal point.” Nikki said, suddenly serious.
            “So, what, you’re just hanging around to see what happens this year?”
            “Precisely. Two times may be coincidence, but three is the beginning of a pattern, and these are only the instances of which I am aware.”
            “I don’t know what to tell you, Nikki, but if you want to waste your time, then—What’s that?” I asked, looking at Jessie.
            “It was a little boy,” she said. “He just came in and handed me this box. It’s addressed to you. No return address.”
            “A boy. Perhaps eight to ten years of age? Sandy hair with a big smile?” Nikki asked.
            “Yeah, that’s him.”
            Kid, you’re going to have to start aging or people will catch on there’s something about you.
            I motioned for Jessie to bring it over. It was an average-sized package, but it wasn’t taped up. Instead, it was wrapped in plain brown paper, tied with twine. The only marking was the label on the front with my name in neat script. I recognized that script.
            I used my knife to cut the twine, then neatly sliced the paper, butting the box free. Instead of a box with folding flaps, it had a lid. The lid was white, but the box itself was fire-engine red. Nikki leaned forward, intent. Jessie was grinning, almost bouncing on her toes.
            Underneath the lid was a folded paper and some tissue paper wrapping something else. I picked up the paper, reading it.

Dear Matt,

            I told you this might be coming. You’ve been really good. So I officially name you as a Helper.


            My eyes bulged, and I read it three times. The note was short, but the implications were huge. I set the note down, and saw Nikki’s hand hovering over the tissue paper.
            “I cannot get closer to it,” she said.
            “Huh?” Jessie’s grin fell in confusion.
            I just nodded. I opened up the tissue paper to reveal a Santa hat.
            “That is not some cheap prop found at a drugstore,” Nikki said. “Do you still deny?”
            “I can explain,” I said.
            Nikki leaned back, folding her hands in her lap. “I look forward to it.”
            “Me, too,” Jessie said.
            Oh, boy.

Where to Begin

            Nikki leaned back in her chair, regarding me with the lazy eyes of a cat. She crossed her legs, spent a moment arranging the skirt of her dress, and then folder he hands in her lap expectantly.
            Jessie had pulled up a chair to the side of my desk, practically bouncing with excitement.
            I still stood with the red and white Santa hat in my hands. I sat down and rubbed my chin.
            “Do not try and weasel out of this one, Matthew,” Nikki said tersely. “You promised an explanation.”

Monday, December 25, 2017

M³ Mismatched Cultures

            We’re done with Samson! We’re done with Hercules! Mostly. Yeah, I can’t just let them go with what they’ve got. See, there’s an inherent problem with both of these characters. They don’t fit in. We’ll start with a direct comparison of the two
            Hercules and Samson share many things with their respective myths. They are both: strong, warriors, have women trouble, fond of clubs (a jawbone in Samson’s case) and defeat a lion. This is a significant number of similarities, especially in ancient times.
            What gives?
            There are distinct possibilities. 1) One side copied the story from the other. We had something like that with Odysseus and Sinbad, so it’s not really a surprise. Ancient plagiarism happens (wonder if I can get that made into a bumper sticker). 2) These stories are about a common figure, and they each put their own spin on the story.
            But there’s a problem with this, even. With Odysseus and Sinbad, the Muslims rewrote the hero so he fit into their culture. Sinbad had to be pious, humble, and an ordinary man instead of an arrogant warrior king worshipping pagan gods. The rewrite makes sense. It fits. Samson and Hercules don’t.
            We’ll start with Samson, since he’s freshest in our minds. He’s arrogant, a warrior, doesn’t follow any of the rules, immoral, stupid, and selfish. This does not sound like a Hebrew hero. He doesn’t have any of the usual earmarks with, say, Abraham or Moses. He also doesn’t have a real connection with God. He’s strong, and he flaunts it about.
            Hercules, on the other hand, is repentant, humble, follows the rules, is intelligent, and very moral. He actually doesn’t fit in much with the Greeks. Odysseus doesn’t hesitate to show off and proclaim himself a total badass. He also won’t be subject to anyone else’s rules, but Hercules has to work for a total jerk, and just takes it.
            So what gives? What’s going on here? The stories don’t appear to belong to either of their respective cultures, which rules out theory 1. Stay tuned and we’ll dive into theory 2 next week to see if we can make sense of this.


Friday, December 22, 2017

F³ Home-Cooked Meal

            I peeled off from the dwarven caravan as they approached Roderick’s kingdom, saying my goodbyes and thanks for the kegs of beer in the cart Ranger pulled. Along with the beer was a last gift from Redscale, a thanks for brokering the deal with the dwarves.
            Once home, I did all the things that needed doing, currying Ranger, unloading the cart, rolling the barrels of beer into my cellar where they’d stay nice and cool during the warm summer months, but wouldn’t freeze in the harsh winter of the Realms. Everything was done except for Redscale’s gift. I used metal tongs to extract the hot scale that was the dragon’s namesake. I slid it into the oven’s firebox, and closed the heavy iron door, sealing it in. It would take time, now, but I had preparations to make.
            I went back inside, and busied myself. When finished, I had four dough balls. I slid them into the oven above the scale to rise, and set about the rest of the work. Along the way back from the Dwarves’ mountains, we had stopped in several villages for supplies and to drink ourselves silly. I had taken the opportunity to purchase sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes, and milk. Now I set about preparing all of these.
            The cheese was just starting to take shape when I retrieved the dough balls, risen beyond what I had expected. From there I spun them out, topped them, and slid them into the now blistering oven. It was as hot as Giuseppi’s, but I didn’t have to add coal to the fire every few minutes. I was rewarded with fresh, hot pizza and cool beer, the best meal I had ever had in the Realms.
            I leaned back in my chair looking at the oven, smiling as I ate. The beginnings of a new idea were beginning to take shape. I had a 24/7 heat source. There was no reason I couldn’t put it to more use.
            Wonder if the blacksmith can make me a metal barrel.

Monday, December 18, 2017

M³ Not a Hero

            I know I already answered the question as to whether Samson is a hero (he’s not), but it bears more explanation as to why. Mostly it comes down to how he goes about things. Yes he killed a mighty number of Philistines, who were enemies of the Israelites, but he hardly dented them. It’s not until much, much later when King David is around that they finally rout the Philistines completely.
The absolute best that can be said of Samson is that he would have made the Philistines think twice about going into Israel for fear that there were more like him. But at the same time, they had never before encountered a single one like Samson, so there was no reason to fear there would be more.
And we also have to examine Samson’s qualities as a hero. Abraham and Moses are our two templates, and they both tick off the same boxes. They are humble. They’re respectful to God. They’re family men. They pray and communicate with God often. They make a lasting difference to all of Israel. They were pretty selfless, thinking of serving God first, never themselves.
Samson, though, is all about himself. I’m sure he would fit in well on Facebook, posting his riddle about honey (though he’d probably kill the riddle with a selfie of him eating the honey out of the lion’s corpse). He has womanized, murdered, stolen, murdered some more, sought revenge, slept with prostitutes, and just been an absolute jerk overall. Oh, and he’s complete and total dumbass. Seriously, I think only Siegfried shows less intelligence than Samson, but it would be a photo-finish.
This story should never be looked at as one where Samson is a role model. He’s not! He’s breaking commandments and acting more like a savage than an Israelite. In fact, Samson is probably a message of what not to be. The warrior hero of the Greeks may work for them, but it’s a poor fit for an Israelite. Samson can hurt the Philistines, but he can’t do anything good for the Israelites, nor does he care about anyone other than himself.
            Israelite heroes have always followed a specific pattern, which is conspicuously absent from Samson’s character. He just is ineffective because he doesn’t have those traits. Moses, Abraham, Joseph, and Joshua are all phenomenal Israelite heroes who don’t abuse the power they have, but use it to help their people.
            Samson, if anything, is a message of how physical strength corrupts. The strongest warrior is nothing more than a bully who doesn’t even respect God.

Friday, December 15, 2017

F³ Boxing Day

            The knock on my door was mildly insistent. Each knock loud enough to be heard, and quickly repeated, but not hard enough to be urgent. I staggered towards the door in my pajamas, barely having any presence of mind because the sun hadn’t even come up.
            I had the presence of mind to look through the peephole and stare into darkness. Then I flipped on the front light and saw Nikki out there, parasol folded, but ready to deploy to shield her from the sun on the off-chance the earth would suddenly speed up its rotation. It was raining, as usual, but Nikki would never risk her parasol in the rain.
            I threw open the door. “Nikki?” I wanted to say something biting or witty, but that part of my brain was still asleep.
            “Happy Boxing Day, Matthew.”
            “Wha?” I managed.  “You want me to go shopping?”
            She gave me a slight shake of her head and amused smile as she pushed past me. The consecration on the house was still gone from last night. She sat on the couch and patted the cushion next to her while I stood like an idiot with the door open.
            I shut the door and joined her, yawning into the back of my hand.
            She pushed a small box at me.
            I looked at her questioningly, and then popped off the lid of the box to see a stack of bills staring back at me.
            My questioning look deepened.
            “The old custom was to give a small amount of money to those who perform services for us.”
            “This isn’t a small amount of money. It’s gotta be at least two Gs.”
            She smiled and gave a toss of her hand. “A pittance, really. But if it helps to think about it as a down payment for services you are about to perform.”
            “Like what?”
            “I know you have more stories about how you got that hat.”
            I sighed. “You know, it’s not like Nick gave me a list of the ones that made his decision.”
            “Nonetheless, I believe you have something more in-depth than what you have let on.”
            “I can’t think without coffee.”
            “I can wait.”
            I sighed again.

Monday, December 11, 2017

M³ Samson's Downfall

            So this is Samson’s last chapter. He will not have a sequel. There will be no final redemption for him. Yep, I said it. Instead we have the illusion of redemption. Post-haircut, Samson is shackled and working at the mill. But the Philistines were not thinking because they didn’t keep cutting his hair. For reasons passing understanding, this man that they had taken such great pains and expense to capture was not closely monitored.

Friday, December 8, 2017

F³ Let's Make a Deal

            Behind me, the party of dwarves looked nervous, but I was cool as the rink at Rockefeller Center. I nodded to Pyreus, who pulled on the door with four of the dwarves. The rock wall swung open slowly, the mechanism allowed it to swing open, but it was still a few tons of solid rock to move, reminding me of the door from Tron. The first one, not the second one.
            When open, I started through, but Pyreus put a hand on arm. “Hmm, are you sure, Friend Sam?”
            “I’m sure, Friend Pyreus. Close it up after I go in.”
            The dwarf didn’t look sure behind his beard, but he nodded and gave a kind of musical grunt.
            When through, the wall slid closed with barely any noise. Keeping the secret entrance silent into the dragon’s lair was a prudent move. I had no interest in being prudent, though.
            “Redscale! It’s Sam Faraday!”
            Flame erupted into the cavernous lair, providing light enough to make my way around the passage until it opened up.
            “It is curious,” the dragon boomed, “to welcome someone to my lair instead of eat them. It is a good thing I do not bear a grudge for the last meeting.” Giant eyes narrowed to malice-filled slits.
            “Hey, you arranged the last meeting. And this one! So, what can I do for you? It’s the raids, isn’t it?”
            He snorted smoke, which curled into impossible shapes, kind of like the Caterpillar’s hookah from Alice in Wonderland.

            “All right. Let’s make a deal.”

Monday, December 4, 2017

M³ Little Covenant, Big Covenant

            Samson is sans hair. This is a clear violation of his covenant, and we have confirmation that he no longer has strength. It was unobtrusively slipped into verse 20 that “the Lord had left [Samson].” This reinforces that the strength was a gift directly tied to the covenant regarding Samson’s hair. No other force governs it. Certainly, Samson was never beholden to following other commandments.
This is interesting as it shows a departure from the Abrahamic Covenant. That one, as we’ve already gone over, stipulates that Israel needs to follow God’s path, which is actually a very broad range of commands, but the payoff is that the Lord is with them always.
Samson’s covenant is a micro-scale version of this with only one requirement, don’t get a haircut, and you’ll be strong. If you get head lice, you have to live with it. No hair = no strength. This is a highly specific covenant, but what is interesting is that Samson, in holding to this covenant, does not hold to the Abrahamic Covenant at all. He’s breaking commandments left and right with murder and theft, he’s had a Philistine wife, been with a prostitute, and Delilah.
Could it be that the adherence to the lesser covenant gave him power to get what he wanted, so he saw no reason to follow the larger covenant? Samson doesn’t appear to have any regard for anyone but himself. He even caused suffering to his fellow Israelites, but it didn’t appear to bother him that they were angry with him.
So after all the people who have been hurt by him, has he done any good? Has he been a hero? If so, to whom? Yes, he will kill thousands of Philistines in the end (sorry, spoilers), but does that change anything for his people? Was he a good example for them to emulate?
(Answers: No, no, no one, no change, not a good role model)

Friday, December 1, 2017

F³ The Power to Cloud Minds

            The doorbell rang, and I frowned, getting up.
             It’s not Nikki because she just left. It might be Ivan’s goons.
            I looked through the peephole to see Brian holding two red cups.
            I opened the door and smiled.
            “Lemonades, Mr. Allen? It’s a hot day.”
            “It is.” I took the cups. “Cassie, lemonade.”
            Brian wore shorts and a video game tee shirt, what most kids would be wearing on a summer day. Tommy, though was not normal. He stood off to the side of the front step, halfway behind the bushes in front the house. He had a dark blanket wrapped around his shoulder, safety pinned together at his throat. A red, knit scarf covered his mouth and nose, and he wore a broad brimmed dark hat. Likely all three belonged to Tommy's mom Andrea.
            Cassie took one of the cups from my hand. “Hi, Brian.”
            “H-hi, Cassie.”
            "What's with Tommy?" she asked.
            "There is no Tommy!" Tommy proclaimed. "For I," he flourished the makeshift cloak for effect, wrapping it around him, "am The Shadow!"
            I couldn't stop my chuckle. Cassie looked questioningly at all three of us. “Anyone want to clue me in?”
            "My fault," Brian admitted.
            "How so?"
            "I dug up the old Shadow serials on the internet."
            "Who knows what bad stuff—" Tommy began.
            "Evil," Brian and I corrected.
            "Lurks in the hearts of men. The Shadow knows!" Tommy finished.
            I chuckled. "Any evil nearby, Tom—I mean, Shadow?"
            "The Shadow knows!" And with that he swooped his cape and ran off, ducking behind hedges and trees to stay hidden.

. . .

            "What's done is done. Besides, that was too much power. It would go to my head, then I'd be in real trouble. Brains over brawn. You know that."
            Brian nodded.
            Tommy approached, giving his best Shadow laugh. "Mom wants you to take the trash out." Tommy said behind his scarf.
            "How do you know?" Tommy replied.
            "The Shadow knows!"
            "Uh huh."
            "She said so."
            "You're old enough to take it out. Why didn't she ask you?"
            "I have the power to cloud mom's mind."
            I snorted into a laugh. "He's got you there."
            "Come on, Shadow. Let's go take out the trash." Brian turned.
            "Villains beware!" Tommy flourished again.

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