Saturday, October 31, 2009

Becoming an Open Source Human

In the past, this blog has been known for the adventures of a semi-fictional version of me who lives in Barstow and obsesses about the coming Hollywood-style post-apocalyptic scenario. I have moved all that to Apocalypse A-Go-Go, so I can focus this blog on more personal and sincere endeavors.

Firstly, I have started to dump my writing, under a Creative Commons License. I'm a big believer that our current copyright strategy doesn't serve artists and creators. Be warned, as a manic creative, I almost never write second drafts of anything.

Secondly, I will be writing about my own search for a functional and healthy way of life that doesn't make creating and surviving mutually exclusive.

I'm slowly becoming allergic to corporate practices and overbearing governmental restrictions. I want to participate in a world that encourages culture and creativity, and I find myself blocked at every turn by some piece of paper that I must fill out for the government, or some license agreement that I must sign or some copyright restriction that I might be violating that the corporations have police-like powers to bully me about.

I'm trying to switch to open source software, and to free my own work from restrictive rules. Cory Doctorow has been an inspiration to me on this front. Of course, I don't have his particular focus as an advantage: My own interests and creative drive are spread out over a wide range of subjects that basically span the whole human condition.

Lastly, I will be writing about my own experiences dealing with creative mania, and with how I have dealt with my inability (and unwillingness) to function in orthodox modern society.

Friday, October 30, 2009

"I'm a Writer."

You are what you do.

A writer is someone who writes. A lot. Every day. If you don't write every chance you get, you are not a writer.

If you have never performed in a play or on a screen, you are not an actor. You are probably a barista.

I am not a writer. I am a manic creative who occasionally writes. Some of my writing appears on this and other blogs. Sometimes I get published, which surprised the hell out of me, because I never do a second draft of anything.

A lot of the people I know define themselves by something they don't do. "I'm a musician" whose guitar gathers dust in a corner. "I'm an actor" who hasn't been on stage since high school. "I'm a Christian" who doesn't recognize quotes from the bible.

I do a little of a lot of things. I'm not any of them other than manically creative.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Hitchiker, Part Un

The Hitchhiker, Part 1
(Part of the “Road to Snapplopolis” series)

Creative Commons License
This work by Jonty Kershaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States Licen

    “I may have the Schroedinger’s Clap,” The girl behind the counter announced.
    Joshua leaned on his mop and blinked like an iguana.
    “Then again, I may not.”
    She was squatting on the floor, picking up sunglasses and putting them back in the display she had knocked over. Now that Joshua could take a good look at her, he saw that she was one of those almost beautiful girls. One of those girls who looks attractive at first glance, but who upon closer inspection is a little off in any particular feature you choose to look at.
    “That’s the funny thing about the Schroedinger’s Clap. You never know until you open the box. That was a joke.”
    The girl had been chatting furiously with Joshua since he had surprised her in the tiny convenience store attached to the gas station a few minutes earlier. She had been so caught off guard by his quiet entrance that she had knocked the revolving display of sunglasses all over the place. Joshua had almost apologized to her, even though the store had closed an hour ago and he was supposed to be there mopping the floor.
    “I suppose you’re wondering what I’m doing here.” He had been wondering that for a while, but he couldn’t figure out how to get a word in edgeways. “Well, I’m on my way  to Snapplopolis and I ran out of gas money, so I figured, “Gas station. They have gas and money, right in the same building.” And so here I am.” She spread her arms and smiled warmly.
    “And so you just broke in.” These were the first words he had spoken to her. He had a look of years of neglect about him. He was built like a silverback gorilla, all shoulders and forehead, and his lank hair fell across his face as though it was used to hanging there. If she’d had any sense, she would have been afraid of him, but something about his quiet voice and the way he hunched over his mop made her see him as a giant teddy bear.
    She ignored his question. “Have you ever been to a Snapplopolis before? I missed last year, and I heard it was awesome. Utensil and The Shining Gigolo Matriarchs got up on stage together and did a cover of Van Halen’s “You’ve Got It In Your Pants”. And I’m damned if I’m going to miss it again this year just because of my job in the prison library.”
    Joshua wasn’t a traveler in any sense of the word, but he was familiar with Snapplopolis. A massive Woodstock-like gathering of tripped-out college students, musicians, fire-eaters and acrobats. Three days of pure bliss or hell, depending on your inclinations and sobriety. Sponsored by one of the largest drink manufacturers in the world. He glanced over to the fridge stocked with Plopolis brand Apple Watermelon Cooler.
    The girl stepped toward him. “My name’s Marla. You could come with me, if you like. I’m not just asking because you caught me breaking into this store. I like you. You’re cute, kind-of. You could take a few days off, forget to tell your boss about me. I think it would be a good experience for you.” Marla brushed the hair back from his pale face, and for a brief moment her fingernail touched his forehead. For him, it was instant love. He didn’t even bother to tell her that he owned the gas station.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fiction: The Happy Campers

The Happy Campers
(Part of the "Road to Snapplopolis" series)
Creative Commons License
This work by Jonty Kershaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

    Doctor Anriji stood at his third-story window and tried to breathe deeply through the fluid in his lungs. The window stretched from wall to wall and he liked to peek through the louvered blinds and watch the patients in the courtyard below, laughing and playing tag, their pasty buttocks flashing from the openings in their gowns. They looked so relaxed at their play. He stirred his coffee in resigned irritability. He could do with a little downtime himself. His coffee was black, but he liked stirring his coffee with the little spoon made of silver. It made him feel somewhere else.
    The window was mirrored on the outside, but occasionally one of the patients would stop what they were doing and look up at him, waving and yelling words that  he knew from experience would be “I love you!”
    The intercom on his shiny oak desk bipped at him, signalling the arrival of his guests. Placing his tiny coffee cup on the bookshelf, Doctor Anriji tapped the little silver spoon on the rim and laid it delicately on the edge of the saucer. He tugged the creases out of his tailored suit and hurried to the oversized leather executive chair behind his desk.
    The first hour-or-so of the meeting went as always: Formal greetings, a few mentions of spouses and children and golf, and a scripted series of agendas, goal assessments, and budgeting charts. Everyone sipped their coffee except Doctor Anriji, who gripped the handles of his chair as though he were in the front seat of a rollercoaster. Doctor Anriji was a master of appearances, but his superiors frankly scared the willies out of him. The only part of him he couldn’t control was his hands, which shook in their presence. So, no coffee for him.
    One of the superiors, whom we shall call Mr. Klein, did most of the talking. He was not a man who had ever appeared on the television, and his name had never been in the papers. People who mentioned him on the Internet found themselves missing. In certain circles, it was whispered that he reported only to the president. In deeper circles, it was known that the president reported to him.
    “We’ve been receiving some… disturbing reports, Doctor Anriji,” he mentioned smoothly after the formal part of their meeting had been dispensed with. “According to my office, you have requested a twenty percent increase in the security budget. I think you’ve got some explaining to do.” Mr. Klein smiled broadly, and the other members of the meeting laughed politely.
    Doctor Anriji’s eyes flicked momentarily toward his cup of coffee sitting on the bookshelf. He cleared his throat and sat up squarely. “If you will all turn to page seventy of your quarterly reports.”
    Page seventy was a grainy photocopy of a youngish man with a military bearing and matching haircut. “This,” said Doctor Anriji, “is Lieutenant James Watkins. We recruited him from the Airforce three years ago. He has an exemplary record, both with the Airforce and with our organization. He is twenty-five, married with two children, and likes to spend his day off picnicking with his family. One of the best security officers we have had the pleasure to work with.”
    He led the group to the picture window and opened the blinds. “Do you see the patient with the frisbee and the bushy black beard? That is Lieutenant Watkins.” He paused for a moment to let his superiors absorb the significance. Lieutenant Watkins threw the frisbee badly, missing every one of the other patients playing with him, and everyone could be seen to laugh uproariously, although nothing could be heard through the glass. Long hugs were shared, and strangers gazed into each others eyes. The words “I love you” were spoken repeatedly, he was sure.
    Doctor Anriji continued. “Three months ago, our quartermaster requisitioned six cases of class-twelve rubber gloves. Instead, he received four cases of class-three gloves and a poorly-typed requisition denial form referencing budgetary cuts.” Doctor Anriji didn’t make eye contact with any of the men or women present. He didn’t dare. “Three weeks ago, while on a routine inspection of the facilities, Lieutenant Watkins made inadvertant skin-to-skin contact with one of the patients through a tear in one of the inferior protective gloves, and it…” He took a breath.
    “It changed his mind,” finished one of his guests, an angular woman who was considered the swing vote in the Supreme Court.
    “Yes, exactly. It changed his mind. Lieutenant Watkins is now a patient in our facility, rather than an employee. He will never see his loving wife or another of his son’s baseball games ever again.”
    Mr. Klein’s eyes didn’t change. He wasn’t the sentimental sort. “That’s terrible news for the Lieutenant and his family, but these are considered normal and acceptable risks in an operation such as this. I believe we lose an employee to the… ah, what are we calling it these days? The Attitude-Shifting Bio-Memetic Infection? It’s in the report somewhere, I’m sure. Anyway, I believe we lose one about every six months or so.” He focused his gaze at Doctor Anriji and opened his hands questioningly.
    “In the last six months, Mr. Klein,” said Doctor Anriji, “We have lost three of our most valued employees. Even that, however, isn’t the most troubling part. You are all, I’m sure, aware of the disastrous consequences of this disease escaping into the populace. One infected person could wipe out the social structure of an entire city in three days. People not going to work. Smiling at each other. Not buying stuff.” They shuddered as a group. “The disturbing thing is how close we have come to an escape each time.”
    Doctor Anriji was two feet away from his coffee, and the smell made him long to stir the little silver spoon around the edge of the cup, to listen to the relaxing tinkling sound.
    “Lieutenant Watkins was in the exit area waiting for clearance when he was caught. The exit officer noticed the Lieutenant smiling at her. Apparently, she thought he was flirting and almost released him. It was the tapdancing that finally alarmed her.” He glanced around. “According to the investigation, Lieutenant Watkins was an avid tapdancer in elementary school. He gave it up when his parents sent him to military academy. Apparently the Infection released years of inhibitions and he broke out into a routine, possibly to the tune of “I Wear my Green Fedora.” Had she noticed fifteen seconds later, he would have exited the facility.”
    A hush had fallen over the group. Doctor Anriji pointed out a short redheaded woman playing hacky-sack in the courtyard below. “That’s the exit officer down there.”        One of the military men present,  a jowly man wearing a uniform with too many medals to have been earned, noticed a group of patients waving and mouthing something up at the window. “What are they all saying?” he asked in a slow Texas drawl.
    Dr. Anriji replied, “It’s almost always a variation of  “I love you.”  The truly disturbing thing is of course that they mean it.” He let that sink in.
    “Now, you see, ladies and gentlemen, why this facility cannot be subject to the normal budget cuts that other military institutions are facing. I realize that money doesn’t grow on trees,” He was sure that for several of the people present it might as well grow on trees, “but I’d like to ask you to take a moment to recall the measures we had to take in 1967. Can we afford another Haight-Ashbury?”
    Mr. Klein pursed his lips and sighed. He nodded.
    The meeting was concluded with handshakes and false promises of golf. Doctor Anriji pressed a button on his intercom. “Ms. Spencer, my guests are ready to leave now. Please unlock the doors.” He let go of the button.
    A bubbly voice flicked on through the tinny speaker. “Okay. I love you.”
    Doctor Anriji’s guests stared at each other. Doctor Anriji went for his coffee.

*    *    *

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Working Title:
Angry Boy
Creative Commons License
This work by Jonty Kershaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

    There was a honking of horns outside and Angry Boy rose to the day from dreams of sex and water. He scratched around on the floor next to his mattress and found what he was looking for; a pack of cigarettes with a lighter tucked into the cellophane.
    His morning ritual took a half-hour or so. Smoke a cigarette in bed. Find his flipflops. Shuffle outside to find somewhere private to urinate. Climb up to the roof of the squat to smoke some more, eat the cold, greasy fries from last night’s bag of dinner, and watch the city.
    He couldn’t have loved his city more. Every morning as he sat on the roof in his green-and-white plastic lawn chair, he felt like he was watching his own private parade. The whinos on the corner, and the pizza restaurants run by Israeli immigrants. The constant wail of official vehicles trying to keep up with a few hundred thousand social disasters, and the excited collection of screams and laughter from the rec center playground. The gang violence on Third and Brewer, and the window boxes full of flowers and the constant smell of Mexican food frying somewhere nearby. It all gave him a sort of peace he had never found growing up.
    It had rained the night before, and by the time he left the roof the seat of his shorts was damp. Angry boy made his way down to the fifth floor and what had once been the shower room for whatever business his warehouse had held. The water still ran at one of the sinks for some reason and he spent some time washing whichever parts he thought looked or smelled the worst. He spent some time cleaning his teeth with a finger and his own saliva, and checking the results in the least-scratched areas of the giant steel mirror above the sink.
    Saliva was something Angry Boy had always had plenty of. Saliva just poured out of his ducts faster than he could swallow it. The constant gulping and his permanently-damp collar had been a source of disgust and amusement for the other kids while he was growing up. In elementary school, they had come up with an assortment of not-so-original nicknames for him before settling on Saliva Boy. This was his official name for years, until his mostly-absent mother noticed his crooked teeth one day. With a full mouth of braces, he could no longer keep his lips together, and new names had to be chosen that properly described his new characteristics. Windex, or Car Wash, or just Spray Boy. One of the more imaginative kids had called him Nozzle, but just once.
    When he was done washing, Angry Boy headed out to the main street and sat on a bus stop bench for a few hours, waving on the buses that stopped to pick him up. He just sat there leaning against the signpost and watching the normal sights of midmorning in a depressed city. People with shopping carts but no groceries, and dinged late-model cars with no hubcaps.  He spent almost an hour watching an endless ribbon of unspooled audio tape blow by in the gutter.
    His pack of cigarettes was done, and so he fished around in his back pocket for the baggie where he kept his cash. There wasn’t much left; just enough for lunch and a few cigarettes from the bodega on the corner. Angry boy sighed and sucked saliva through his closed teeth. Much as he hated to admit it, it was time for him to go to work.

*    *    *

    Getting to work was an involved and complicated process for Angry Boy. It required a change of disguise and several bus and subway changes, but hiding was necessary for him to maintain his anonymity. He’d been followed home a few times in the past, and had had to abandon some pretty comfortable squats. He didn’t know exactly who they were – government scientists, or maybe from the private sector – but he knew what they wanted and what they were willing to do to get it.
    By the time he had made it to the clinic a few borroughs away, it was almost evening, and he had changed into a baggy old brown business suit with oversized collar and a wrinkled yellow shirt. His dreadlocked hair was tied back and pulled up under a wool hat even though it was Summer.
    The clinic was sandwiched between a diner and a laundromat. It, like the entire neighborhood, had not seen better days for a long time. The people loitering out front were filthier and more despondent than Angry Boy’s squatmates.
    “Good Lord, Lucas!” Dr. Ridley, the doctor who was cursed with the job of running the clinic, stood up from his ratty desk in the ratty lobby. “Where have you been?”
    Angry Boy shrugged and looked at the floor.
    “It’s been three months. Do you know how many people have come through here in that time?”
    Angry Boy just counted the floor tiles and sniffed, rubbing his nose.
    Dr. Ridley was a 60ish black man with a bald head and a salt-and-pepper goatee to hide his vanishing chin. He ran the clinic with the help of four part-time nurses. This was the clinic where the hardest-luck cases came, usually to die, and the stress of holding it together on its tiny budget was aging him too quickly.
    When he calmed down, he seemed genuinely pleased to see Angry Boy. Lucas wasn’t Angry Boy’s real name, just something he had made up along with a few other background details that he occasionally allowed Dr. Ridley to squeeze out of him. Dr. Ridley clapped him affectionately on the shoulder. “Never mind. I’ve got about twenty patients here for you. That’ll get you four hundred even.” He looked at the hand on Angry Boy’s shoulder and said in a thoughtful tone of voice, “Man, that shirt is pretty nasty. How about I give you a smock to wear, and I’ll have my nurse wash your clothes while you work?” He waved his other hand in the direction of a serious-looking woman in her late thirties who was sorting through paperwork. She scowled at both of them.
    Angry Boy jerked away and nervously glanced toward the exit.
    Dr. Ridley raised his hands in a placating gesture. “Or not. It’s no big deal. Come on in back.”

*    *    *

    Dr. Ridley led Angry Boy back to the main ward of the Clinic. Everything looked poorly used. The sheets, the curtains, even the walpaper had smudges and tears and patches. The small supply of genuine medical equipment clearly had been handed down from somewhere with a little more money, and could well have been manufactured in the Seventies.
    Beds lined the walls and Angry Boy was led to the one nearest the door.
    “Lucas, this is Mrs. Shapiro.” Mrs. Shapiro, a stocky 70-ish woman of Old World stock, smiled at them both. “Mrs. Shapiro has been staying with us for a week, now.”
    “I don’t want to be any bother, Doctor. I was just a little tired. I really should be getting back home now, anyway. My husband cannot cook even toast right, and anyway he won’t remember to feed the cats.”
    “Oh, you’re no bother, Mrs. Shapiro.” Dr, Ridley showed Angry Boy her chart. He didn’t recognize the name of the disease, but he knew what the red checkmark at the bottom of the page meant. A death sentence. “You’ve been a model guest. Anyway, Lucas here has come to help you with your little problem.”
    Mrs. Shapiro gleamed at Angry Boy. “Oh, let me take a look at you.” She reached out and, before he could react, placed a hand on each cheek and pulled his face closer to hers. “Oh, such pretty eyes. You look so much like my little grandson.”
    Angry Boy moved closer still until their faces were inches apart. Then his face screwed into a violent grimace.
    “Bitch!” he spat.

*    *    *

    Angry Boy was not by nature an angry person. He had taken the name to commemorate the moment he had discovered his gift.
    He had taken all the years of ridicule and abuse at the hands of the other kids and the neglect of his parents with a kind of grace. He had never spoken back when someone had called him a name. He had hardly ever harbored a grudge against kids who made a joke at his expense. Whenever someone had put him down he had just lowered his head toward the book he was reading and pretended to ignore them, or perhaps smiled weakly and good-naturedly.
    Until, that is, one day in the tenth grade.
    There was one kid in the high school of his tiny Midwestern home town that he was truly thankful not to have to be. Samuel Davenport had transferred in the year before from a city somewhere. He weighed about eighty pounds and had to move around in an electric wheelchair. None of the other kids was quite sure what disease he had, but it had wasted him to almost nothing. His head permanently tilted to the right, and he would have to struggle for breath to speak a single sentence.
    Before history class one spring day, the future Angry Boy was slouching in his chair reading a novel of high fantasy and getting into it. In fantasy novels, the invisible and the abused discover their destinies and become praised and loved as heroes. During the climactic final battle, he became so excited he pumped the air with one fist and let out an enthusiastic “Yesh!” Spittle flew from his mouth in a fine spray that settled across two desks in front of him.
    He looked around in abject horror. Everyone, even the teacher, was staring at him. He prepared himself mentally for what was to come.
    Before anyone else could say anything, however, the silence was broken by the whir of Little Sammy Davenport’s electric chair as it turned to face him. The crippled boy began to wheeze as he worked a few breaths to build up to the one word he spoke:
    From anyone else, this wouldn’t even have been funny, but from the mouth of Sammy Davenport it was divine. The popular kids cheered. The unpopular kids laughed. Even the teacher smiled a little. Little Sammy Davenport had achieved his moment in the sun, and he beamed as he turned the chair slowly around in a circle.
    The one certain comfort in his world had been stripped from the future Angry Boy, and he did something he had never done before or since. He snapped.
    Launching himself from his desk, he wrapped his hands around little Sammy Davenport’s wasted shoulders, knocking the wheelchair over, and shook him. He howled like a beast, “Shhutch upf! Shhutch upf! Don’tch laugh atch me, you.. you little cripple! You’re nothing!” The words and the shaking and the scratching went on for almost a minute before he was pulled off by a couple of teachers.
    Angry Boy was taken to sit outside the principle’s office, and was subjected to weeks of psychological testing. Samuel Davenport was taken to the County Hospital for physical and emotional trauma, and didn’t return to school for three weeks. When he did return, he weighed 140 lbs and he was walking.

*    *    *

     Angry Boy had run away a few months later. He had used his little trick at various clinics around the country for $20 a pop, only working enough to stay in food and cigarettes, and always moving on when the authorities started asking too many questions.
    He had never, not once, been angry since that defining moment of his life, but he needed the ritual to disguise the true nature of his gift. So here he was, going from bed to bed, swearing and cursing at complete strangers. “Cunt!” “Asshole!” “Degenerate!” The storm of foul language traveled around the ward. Angry Boy made certain to swear at each patient for at least half a minute. Dr. Ridley followed, allowing a faint smile to pass his guarded expression. The patients were shocked, angry, or in tears, but he knew they would all walk out of the clinic in perfect health. Half way around the ward, Angry Boy was getting hoarse, so he offered him a cup of water, which was turned down.
    When it was all over and Dr. Ridley had convinced the last patient with a cellphone not to call his lawyer, he met the boy back in the lobby.
    “Well, that was twenty-one patients, so that’s $420. Let me get my wallet.” Dr. Ridley grabbed a pack of chewing gum from his desk and popped a piece in his mouth. “Mmm. That’s better. Would you like a piece?” He held out the packet, his eyebrows raised.
    Angry Boy spoke through his teeth. “I need to use the bathroom.” The scowling nurse cocked her head and looked at him narrowly.
    “Of course. You know where it is. Ahem, the plumbing’s broken, again, so just don’t flush it when you’re done.”
    In the bathroom, Angry Boy started working the window open. He knew what was going on. The offer to wash his clothes, the water, the gum, and now the plumbing, were all attempts to collect his bodily fluids. He was halfway down the alley before he heard the banging on the bathroom door.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fiction: Fertilizer

Creative Commons License
This work by Jonty Kershaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

    They asked me to come here today to talk to you about terrorism and to tell you the story of how a middle-aged account executive could find himself on a bus filled with fertilizer and nails lodged in the side of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. Personally, I’d rather just forget the whole incident, but they tell me it’s important in these deadly times for everyone to understand their role in national security.

*   *   *

    I don’t know where to start. I first suspected my neighbor was Australian…well, I’m not sure when I really started to be suspicious. I think it started with little things tugging at my mind. Like his driving. Every morning at seven fifteen sharp he would back out of his driveway into the left lane. At the time, I thought he was just a careless driver – not unusual in the suburbs – but it bothered me on some subconscious level. Another thing that bothered me was the way he pronounced the word “Beer”. I’ve never been to Wisconsin, and for all I knew they pronounced it “beeah”, but it still bothered me in some way I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
    I think the biggest clue of all back then was the way he would always talk us out of eating lunch at the Outback Steakhouse. He always had some excuse – he wanted us to try the new Canadian restaurant in town, or he didn’t like their selection of beeah, or he had eaten there the day before. Somehow, we always ended up driving past. I should have noticed the way he and the guy taking out the trash would nod solemnly as though they knew each other.
    The day I truly began to take my suspicions seriously was a Saturday. I was sitting at home watching a documentary about the Australian-American War. There was a clip of the State of the Union Address right after we took Brisbane. Jeb was saying something about how the back of their armed forces was broken, but how the Australians were a weaselly bunch of cowards like the Iraqis, and how we should all be vigilant of more terrorist attacks and not, in his words, “Throw another shrimp on the bahbie and celebrate with a beeah just yet.” President Bush’s imitation of an Australian got a round of polite laughs from the press corps at the time.
    Somehow it stuck in my head for the rest of the afternoon. I just kept muttering to myself “Throw another shrimp on the baahbie”. I think I wanted to practice it and use it as a joke at work on Monday.
    That afternoon I was sent to the supermarket to buy some salmon. There in the seafood department I bumped into my neighbor. He was shopping for the barbecue he was throwing for the subdivision the next afternoon. I had completely forgotten and I was distractedly trying to think of what I was going to make to take over to really think about it. I decided on the potato salad.
    As I said, I was too distracted to think about it at the time, but later that night as I lay in bed trying to get to sleep, it struck me: If he was throwing a barbeque, what was he doing in the seafood department?
    All my stray suspicions slammed together in my mind. Beeah, driving on the wrong side of the road, conspiratorial nods at the Outback Steakhouse…
    My next-door neighbor was an Australian Spy!

*   *   *

    I spent the next two hours on the Homeland Security website researching terrorism and compiling a list of telltale signs of Australian terror cells. In hindsight, I should have called the authorities right then, but I… I guess I thought it was my civic duty to find out for myself. I took a sleeping pill and tried to get some sleep before the barbeque.
    My neighbor and his family were always cheery and friendly, but as I arrived at the party I saw it all in a different light. His laugh and his wave now came with their own sinister soundtrack. His wife’s hug of my wife was an opportunity to plant a tracking device, and the Slip-and-Slide could have been a frighteningly efficient way of infecting the entire neighborhood’s children with a genetically engineered virus. I felt sick. I had to brace myself before I started my mission.
    The first stop was the beer cooler. Just domestic beers and no Fosters. Damn. My second target was a success. There next to the grill – a really nice gas grill, by the way, with multiple burners and even a place to boil… anyway, there on the table next to the grill was shrimp. A mound of enormous shrimp the likes of which no American would have thought to buy for a barbecue.
    Now came the difficult part of the mission. I spent a nerve-wracking hour-and-a-half chatting with my now sinister neighbor, trying to trip him up with clever conversational tricks. If you’ve never tried it, you can’t imagine how hard it is to turn a casual conversation to topics such as the last letter of the alphabet, which I’m told they pronounce “Zed”, or the lyrics to “Waltzing Matilda”. I was about to pack it in when he asked me how I liked my steak. “Medium rare”, I said. His offhanded reply was “Fair d-d-deal”. I had him! He had almost said Fair dinkum”.
    Our eyes locked. I tried nervously to smile, but I was sure he was on to me. After the longest moment of my life, he looked away and started to prepare my steak. I made a feeble excuse about needing to use the bathroom, and he laughed and said “Fair deal, neighbor”, this time with no hint of a stutter.
    So now here I was, alone, in his house. Three more things to check before I called the cops. As I carefully searched his cabinets and closets for Vegemite and didgeridoos, I found another sign I had not thought of. A leather cowboy hat with holes around the brim. Holes that surely once held string with corks on the end. I hurried to the bathroom and locked the door.
    This was it. The final test. I flushed the toilet. I watched in horror as the water circled down the hole… in a counter-clockwise direction. An Australian commode. My family was in grave danger!
    At that moment, the door crashed open. There, standing before me, was my neighbor. The last words that I heard before the didgeridoo cracked me on the head were “Yaw steak’s ready…”

There will now be a two-hour intermission for lunch. Please return to your seats by one thirty at the latest.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fiction: River of Blood

(Working Title: River of Blood)
Creative Commons License
This work by Jonty Kershaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

    Tommy Pullaski ran. He ran as fast as he could, for as long as he could. Then he hid under a bush, curled in fetal position, sobbing. He ran some more.
    He always knew which way to run. He knew now what the rabbit knows: It’s easier to run away from something than toward it. Away is any direction but one, and he could hear that direction clearly.
    He hadn’t chosen to desert -- not exactly. The cannons had started firing, and the screams started, but it was the fife that had made him run. In all that chaos and death, the tinny notes of the fife had hooked their claws into his mind and made him start running.
    He didn’t know how long he had been running. He could remember snatches of time, and it seemed like some were night, but he couldn’t have been running that long. Besides, he could still hear the cannons. There was no sun to be seen, just a twilight glow through the mist that seemed to offer no hint of a direction.
    Tommy Pulaski had no food or water, and it was beginning to slow him down. How long can you run through a forest without finding a creek? Surely not more than an hour. The mist that hung on everything tasted of coal smoke, and his lungs burned. His steps began to falter, but he kept running.
    He kept running because he had a new certainty in his life, a new drive stronger than the religion he knew, stronger than his love for family, or loyalty to his cause. His new truth was that of not dying.
    Tommy didn’t know what happened after death. What the preachers had told him was all very well, but it had always rung falsely. Somehow he was sure that eternity consisted of the last few moments of life [] in some way. A few hours or days ago, he had watched his closest friends torn apart, screaming and twitching their last moments away. Not him. So he ran.
    Fifteen-or-so years ago, this was Cherokee country. They had called it Chickamauga, after the river of the same name. River of Blood, its name meant. He had certainly seen a river of blood today. Or yesterday. He just wanted a drink of water. “Water!” he yelled in hoarse desperation.
    He found water soon, but it was still. It was a dry creek at the bottom of a little valley he was running through, and he was standing knee deep in it before he knew it was there. You can’t drink water that doesn’t move, he knew, but maybe if he followed the creek bed, it would lead him to the river.
    He should have climbed out of the creek bed, but he found himself wading through the middle of it, enjoying the coolness of the swampy water in his boots. The water was a ruddy color from the local clay, and it stuck to his grey uniform wherever it splashed him. “River of Blood”, he laughed between gulps of air. Exhaustion was making a meal of him. He ran squarely into a tree, his legs gave out, and he knelt down in the muddy water, pressing his face against the cool bark.
    He stayed that way for some time. It was the buzzing that brought him around eventually. He pushed himself back from the tree and looked up.
    The tree he was holding on to was a dead one. Black leaves that he couldn’t quite focus on, and only two real branches to speak of, stretching out to either side like a stick figure, or a crucifix.
    As his wits returned to him, he realized that the leaves weren’t blurry. They weren’t leaves at all. The tree was surrounded by a buzzing mass of flies. A high keening noise was introduced to the buzzing, and he realized it was coming from him.
    More quickly than he could comprehend, the buzzing ceased, and the tree turned black with a coating of the flies. His own wail stopped in a cough a moment later as the tree spoke to him.
    “Queequatuk. Chugawahlodi?”
    The language was unfamiliar to him, but he knew what the words meant with certainty.
    “What is it worth? What price are you willing to pay”
    He ran from the tree, and the tree followed him. Sometimes when he looked back the tree was bare, and the moon and stars hung behind it. Sometimes the tree and its buzzing flies would loom in front of him to block his path. Sometimes the flies alone would flank him with burning sunlight and smoke. The branches of trees lashed his raised forearms to ribbons, and something – maybe sap or blood – was running into his left eye, blinding him.
    How long this nightmare went on he wasn’t sure, but as suddenly as it began he broke through the trees into a clearing. The clearing was littered with tree stumps, and in the middle of them sat a cabin. He plunged forward, swatting at the flies and the moon and the smoke that were closing in on him, and flung himself through the empty doorway.
    The cabin was dark and cool, and when he stopped swatting and cringing, he realized it was night outside. No sign of the tree or the flies.
    The cabin was one room, and as his eyes adjusted he saw two other people huddled in a different corner, staring at him. Their blue uniforms were in tatters, and their hair was matted. One of them had a smear of blood and cartillage where his nose should have been.
    They stared at each other for a long while, these three men from different sides of a war, deciding if they could trust each other, and indeed if you could be said to be on different sides when you have deserted. Finally, one of them reached forward to offer him a canteen. There wasn’t much left, but he took just a sip and handed it back. They sat there together for a while, this makeshift family, not saying anything and hardly breathing.
    “Have you made your decision yet?” Asked the soldier with no nose. Tommy Pulaski handed him a bandanna to wrap around his face.
    “How long have you two been waiting here?” he asked.
    The two Unoin soldiers looked at each other, and started laughing. Tommy didn’t know what he had said that was so funny. “What is that thing?” he asked, irritated.
    “Something old,” was the reply “Something maybe the Indians had a name for. We don’t know. We do know it only stops chasing you when you stop running and answer its question.”
    The tree was there again, just outside the door of the cabin, bathed in sunlight and stars. It asked its question again, and Tommy Pulaski knew the answer.
    “Anything. I’d be willing to pay anything.”
    The flowers grew, and the water came, and the cabin and its occupants vanished.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fiction: Dark Blue

Creative Commons License
This work by Jonty Kershaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

    On May the 19th, IBM dismantled the outer casing of their newest supercomputer Dark Blue, separated the internal components, and, on the advice of their legal counsel and marketing department, had the remains melted, separated, blessed by a member of the Vatican Inner Council, and dumped into a variety of the deepest crevasses in the Pacific Ocean.

*  *  *

    For the events that took place that day to be truly understood and appreciated, this story must begin five days earlier in the tiny town of Niwot, Colorado, at IBM’s international headquarters. IBM had recently unveiled their newest generation of supercomputer, codenamed Dark Blue. The new model, the details of which were kept a closely guarded secret, was rumored to surpass the previous supercomputers Big Blue and Deep Blue exponentially.
    As a demonstration of the power of their new technology, the IBM marketing department had arranged a publicity chess match between Dark Blue and one Vasilley Prater, the Russian/Armenian chess champion who was the only person their supercomputers had never been able to defeat.
    Recounts of the previous matches were published in the major newspapers, describing how easily and thoroughly Mr. Prater had beaten the last four supercomputers of the Deep Blue line.
The match was to take place in one of the giant, stark-white storage rooms at IBM’s world headquarters. The room had been thoroughly cleaned and sterilized. Due to the delicate nature of Dark Blue’s systems, no one but the champion was to be allowed in this room. All spectators and members of the media were to view the game on massive projector screens in another, similar room nearby.
    The day of the match, the Viewing Room was abuzz. Television equipment operators fought desperately to plug their equipment into the live feed. Reporters deployed dangerous amounts of hairspray while their assistants danced about trying to find the best angle for the camera shot. Irritable old chess experts shuffled their buttocks and jostled each other with their elbows to make room for themselves and the little pegboards they would use to follow the game. Caterers struggled in vain to please a hundred egotists of various types.
    The three big screens spat and flickered to life. The screen on the left displayed a simple electronic representation of a chessboard with the pieces in their beginning positions. The screen on the right showed an overhead shot of the actual chessboard to be played upon. The slightly larger center screen showed a wide-angle shot of the Game Room. The Game Room was white and massive. So white and massive that it was hard to tell where the floor ended and the ceiling began. Cleverly concealed lighting cast the entire room in an even, soft white light. The room was virtually empty, except for a glossy black cable that snaked toward something small and out of focus in the center of the room.
    The camera began slowly to move, following the carefully snaked cable toward the distant objects. All this had been meticulously planned by IBM’s marketing division for maximum effect, and it was working. The Viewing Room was silent. Even the people harassing the caterers about non-vegan ingredients and peanut allergens shut up to watch it. There was no music. One reporter would later describe it as reminiscent of the final scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
    The setup in the center of the room slowly became discernible. A simple chair facing a simple wooden table with a simple chessboard and a robotic arm. The cable on the floor snaked past the table and into the outer casing of the supercomputer named Dark Blue.
    Dark Blue was about seven feet high and five feet wide on the side facing the table, and stretched back fifteen feet or so. It sat on four sturdy feet and looked somewhat like a giant iron lung. The body was made of some kind of knurled metal and painted a dull, military green. The body was seamless except for some vents and a rectangular computer screen facing the chess table. The words “DARK BLUE” were painted in oblique capitals on both sides of the body with dark blue paint. It made no sound.
    The glossy black cable provided power to Dark Blue, and also relayed information back to the Viewing Room, where it was connected to another identical computer screen and a rather old-fashioned-looking printer fed with a spool of green-and-white striped paper. Two men stood guard on each side of the printer, wearing pastel blue suits and garish tropical ties in an obvious attempt to appear casual. They stood at attention with a distinctly military bearing.
    Vasilley Prater entered the camera’s field of view, and shuffled toward the chair. He was a small man, and rumpled. The suit he wore was also rumpled, and of a cut fashionable not since his youth fifty years or so before. His long overcoat was of the finest Soviet-era gray polyester. As he arrived at the table, he took it off and looked around for somewhere to hang it. Finding no hook, he began to sweat and hyperventilate, and muttered to himself in a Slavic accent. In the Viewing Room his translator, a stern, Soviet-Era bulldog of a woman cut from the same cloth as his overcoat, spoke something short and sharp into a microphone. Vasilley nodded, clearly relieved, and folded his coat over the back of the chair.
He sat down.
The printer in the Viewing Room spat out a few lines of text. One of the guards tore the page from the machine and passed it to Vasilley’s translator. She read it out loud to Vasilley in Russian and then turned to the audience. “Dark Blue has expressed h… its admiration for Mr. Vasilley Prater, and has wished him the best of luck in the game.” Vasilley Prater muttered something polite in return, and the game of chess began.
The chess codgers hunched over their pegboards expectantly. The reporters shot a few clips of themselves rubbing their chins and looking thoughtful. The caterers stole bites of food.
The opening moves of a chess game are usually quite similar, and no one was expecting innovation this early in the game, but they were mistaken. Vasilley, who had won the coin toss and was playing white, moved a knight first. A silly, pointless move. The chess codgers gasped.
Dark Blue responded with an equally bizarre move.
Not immediately, however. The robotic arm that was to move its pieces seemed to be experiencing some kind of technical foul-up. It took about fifteen seconds for the arm to move over the chess board and move the piece, and another five seconds to return to its starting position. It whirred loudly as it did so.
The codgers were in uproar. None of them could fathom what was happening. The greatest chess player ever and the smartest computer both seemed to be trying to lose.
The game continued in the same fashion; Vasilley Prater thinking for a few moments and moving a piece, and Dark Blue responding immediately but taking almost half a minute to physically respond. Teeth ground together at the whirring noise that the arm was making. The reporters tapped their toes and estimated how much editing it would take to make the game presentable.
Seven moves into the game, the second smartest chess player in the world leapt to his feet with a yell of “Aha! I see it!” The other chess experts and the reporters and the cameramen and the caterers turned to him. “It is unprecedented! They are thinking so far ahead…” He choked on his own saliva for a moment. “Twenty. Perhaps more.”
    This nearly caused a riot. No one could think that many moves ahead. No one. The number of possible combinations of moves was astronomical. Quite literally astronomical. In fact, it is greater than the estimated number of atoms in the universe. The fourth smartest chess player in the world took a swing at the second, and broke his nose. Local police were called in to break up the ensuing catfight.
    The game continued in its seemingly random way. Pieces were scattered across the board. Every piece imaginable was moved into the most poorly chosen position in an attempt to lure the opponent into an attack. People began to develop permanent nervous ticks. Chess experts looked at their pegboards and openly wept. Reporters looked confused and perhaps scared. The president of IBM made a surreptitious phone call to his PR manager.
    Forty moves into the game. The players had virtually swapped sides on the board. Each player by now had converted all their pawns into a bizarre array of queens, knights, and bishops. Only the second smartest chess player in the world had even a glimmer of what was taking place on the board. The whir of the robotic arm had been rising in pitch, and the arm itself had been slowing down. It now took more than a minute for the arm to move a piece. Blood vessels began to pop in the viewing room.
    And not one piece had been taken by either player.
    Vasilley sat in a growing pool of his own sweat. Dark Blue, who had no moving parts, began to hum and vibrate, almost enough to upset the pieces on the chessboard. The seventh smartest chess player in the world forgot to breathe so long that he passed out. The eighth was found trying to hang himself by his necktie in the women’s bathroom. Reporters continued to look confused. The caterers, responding to the hysteria around them, started methodically stuffing their faces with canap├ęs.
    The game clearly began to take its toll on both the players. Dark Blue’s vibrations took it on a journey a few feet back and forth across the floor. Vasilley was also shaking, and a wild, frenzied look took over his facial muscles. Later, one of the reporters swore she could hear the screeching and chattering noises of the jungle at night.
    On the fifty-first turn, Vasilley Prater spat out a loud “Hah!” of triumph, and moved a bishop diagonally one square over. No one, not even the second smartest chess player in the world, had the slightest clue what this move meant.
    Dark Blue began to emit squealing, groaning noises like the tearing of metal. It took an unprecedented three minutes to decide its next move.
    It took the bishop with a rook.
    Mr. Vasilley Prater raised his eyebrows in surprise, squinted at the board, and fell out of the chair. A thorough autopsy would later reveal that he had suffered not only a fatal heart attack, a stroke, and three massive aneurisms in various parts of his brain, but an impacted wisdom tooth had also severed his lingual nerve, causing him to choke on his own tongue.
    The Viewing Room was silent for half a minute. So was the Game room.
    Then the printer started up. Page upon page of nonsensical letters, numbers, and symbols spewed out. In the Game Room, Dark Blue stopped shaking. Popping noises could be heard. Smoke poured from places smoke couldn’t have poured from. After seventeen and a half pages, the printer stopped, the screens went blank, and Dark Blue shut down forever.
    The only words spoken in the Viewing Room in the next few moments came from the second smartest chess player in the world.
    “Thank God”, he said.

*  *  *

    On May the 19th, IBM dismantled the outer casing of their newest supercomputer Dark Blue, separated the internal components, and, on the advice of their legal counsel and marketing department, had the remains melted, separated, blessed by a member of the Vatican Inner Council, and dumped into a variety of the deepest crevasses in the Pacific Ocean.
    The president of IBM carefully shredded and reshredded the first seventeen pages of nonsense from the printer. Then he read the last page one last time.
    At the end of the nonsense, typed entirely in lower case letters and with no punctuation, were two lines of intelligible script:

nonononovasillev you bastard get up don’t do this to me get up and finish the game get up and play you son of a bitch play

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fiction: How I Helped my Incredibly Smart Girlfriend to Save the World

How I Helped my Incredibly Smart Girlfriend to Save the World

Creative Commons License
This work by Jonty Kershaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Part I

So it’s Saturday night, and I’m at this party in San Jose. It’s one of those intellectual parties with scientists and bookwritery people, and too many turtlenecks and goatees. Me, I don’t fit in with this kind of crowd. I’m not “a reader”. The only thing I read is the TV Guide Channel. I only wear turtlenecks when they are absolutely in fashion. And I’m definitely no rocket scientist.

I make my way through life by my looks, not my brains. I get paid to stand around in fashion magazine photographs, looking good. I get paid to stand around in crowds on MTV, looking hot. I make my money posing for Harlequin covers, looking not smart.

I come to these kinds of parties for the women. Why don’t I date my own kind? Supermodels are too busy looking easy to really have sex. They can’t afford it. Sleeping with anyone less sexy than them could ruin their career. If, say, you did manage to snag one of them, after a day of starving themselves, of four-hour makeup sessions, of prancing around in six-inch heels trying to look like a heroine junky just on the verge of an orgasm, of avocado body wraps and whateverthehellelse, good luck if they have any energy left for sex.

Now, smart women. Smart women are easy. Everything they always say about wanting to be admired for their accomplishments and not their bodies is really just a cry for help. What it boils down to is, they want to get laid, and they just don’t know how to go about it. That’s where I come in.

Phase I:

I swagger into the party wearing something really fashionable. Something none of the guys at the party would ever dare to wear. I’m talking purple silk Armani, tight leather pants, custom shirts with no buttons above my belly button.

Phase II:

I find the fireplace or something like it and lean against it with my pelvis thrust out too far and a smirk on my face. I do this until I’m sure all the women at the party have noticed me and marked me as bad news.

Phase III:

Then I pick one of them and swagger up to her. I look her in the eyes. Then I look her body up and down. Then I look her in the eyes again, and smile. I have awesome teeth, by the way. This works almost every time.

So anyway, here I am at this boring-ass party, when I see her. She is hot. I mean, smoking hot. I mean, ouch-what-kind-of-sauce-did-you-put-in-my-burrito hot. Hot, And nerdy. She looks like the star of one of those movies where they try and make a really hot chick look nerdy so they can do a makeover and turn her into a hot chick after the head football player asks her on a date to win a bet and then really falls for her after it’s almost too late.

She’s sitting on the edge of a sofa, rubbing the eraser end of a pencil up and down the side of her neck. I watched a nature documentary once. The females of most species show off their necks to get the attention of a potential mate. She’s wearing an ugly off-the-shelf business suit, sensible pumps and thick-rimmed glasses. Her hair is pulled back so tight it looks like it hurts. Like I said, hot. She had already looked at me in disgust twice, so I know she’s horny.

I swagger up behind her and looked over her shoulder. She’s doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. Oh please! 13 down, who wants to get laid, 5 letters. You do! I lean close to her ear. “Hey, gorgeous. You want some help with that?”

She laughs at me. “Oh please.” She turns around and looks me dead in the eye. I hate when they do that. “Let me ask you something. What’s your I.Q.?” Hahey! A few words from my sexy lips and she’s already asking for my email address. I tell her.

“Let me tell you about myself”, she says sarcastically. “I have an I.Q. of a hundred-and-ninety-two. I speak sixteen languages fluently. I have two degrees from M.I.T. and one from Harvard. I do contract work for both N.A.S.A. and the N.S.A. in fields so top secret that you could be shot for just hearing about them. So what could you possibly have to offer a woman like me?”

I tell her, including the measurements, which aren’t as big as her email address, but still get her attention.

This seems to get her attention. “So what you’re telling me is you know absolutely nothing about astrophysics.”

“Nope”, I tell her.

“And there is no way at all that you would ever discuss quantum allocation with me.”

I give her my best deer-in-the-headlights stare.

“And if I said to you something about “weird surges in the ionosphere”…”

I know her game. “Hey, good for Serge”, I tell her, a grin on my face. “I’m not jealous. Tell him to stop by if he gets back into town.”

This is apparently just the answer she wanted to hear, because she takes me home.

Part 2

So she takes me back to her place in the hills. I can tell from her living room that she hasn’t been getting any. Half her apartment is taken up by the kind of computery stuff that would make Admiral Akbar wet himself.

She looks nervous. “So tell me about this Serge guy you’ve been seeing”, I say as an icebreaker.

She looks me dead in the eye and says, “Look. I don’t like you at all. I just can’t stand being picked up by guys who try and impress me with their intellectual knowledge. So if you shut up about the Ionosphere, and anything else, for that matter, and fix me a big drink, we’ll get along just fine.”

I’m fixing a drink when one of her pieces of computery stuff starts howling. It’s the one in the middle of the room, the one that looks like a cross between a birdbath and one of those crane games that you can never win. She rushes over and starts pressing buttons.

It makes a big whooshing noise and a wobbly 3d picture of an octopus comes out of the top.

“I”, it announces in a big, boomy voice, “Am the Central Coordinator for this galactic quadrant. I hereby inform you that the presence of low-level sentient life forms on this planet is a violation of Galactic Patent Laws 3 through sixty-thousand-and-twelve. You have exactly six pods to remove yourselves before we are forced to transport you into the vacuum of space.”

I’m just thinking that there’s no way I’m making this thing a drink when my new girlfriend answers him. “Excuse me, but who are you calling low-level sentients?” I can tell she’s pissed. “Do you have any idea what my I.Q. is?”

Great. Now she’s giving her email address to this freak.

“Very well, if you insist, I will require a formal test of your species’ sentience. This test will consist of three questions. You will have two pods to answer each question. You must answer each question correctly in order to pass the test. The first question: Given the constant rate of quark deterioration in your atmosphere, how many of your solar cycles would it take to establish temporal reciprocity. Go.”

A counter appeared below his mouth-hole.

My new chick snickers. “That’s easy. Depending on the constant value of quark impulsion, the answer would either be twelve or six-hundred-ninety-six point four.”

The octopus thing answers. “Impressive. However, please phrase all further responses in base twenty-four. The next question: Within the limits of warp ratios, how much power input is required to establish a permanent wormhole within the corona of your sun? You have two pods. Go.”

This sucks. My new chick is racing around her computers, typing stuff and swearing. I’m left holding the drink I made her and playing with my nipples.

Just as the timer thingy is getting real small, she yells “The combined total output from nine-point-eleven helium molecules.” She really looks like she could use a drink.

The octopus thing looks a little miffed. “That is correct. Last question.” I could swear it looks smug as it says “Given the current rate of convergence between this galaxy and the galaxy CHCHChpt 19, how many Standard Galactic Time-Units will it take before their magnetic fields produce a quantum anomaly? You have two pods. Go.”

My new girlfriend looks angry. “You haven’t told me what we call that galaxy on Earth, or how long a Standard Galactic Time-Unit is.”

“That’s not my problem”, the octopus-thing says, with a sinister chuckle. “You now have one-point-twenty-three Standard Galactic Time-Units before you forfeit and are beamed directly into space.”

I’ve had enough at this point. This octopus is interfering with my sex life. I have a few tricks up my sleeve.

“None.” I say, and take a swig of my drink.

The octopus-thing looks taken-aback. “Are you sure that is your final answer?”

I say yes before my new girlfriend can interrupt. It’s for her own good anyway. She needs to get laid even more than I do.

“I’m impressed”, says the big octopus. “I can see that the males of your species are vastly more intelligent than the females. That is the correct answer. Your galaxy and the Galaxy CHCHChpt 19 are destined never to converge. I hereby formally welcome you to the Galactic Federation. Please stand by for further membership information.” The octopus thing disappears.

I do my best lopsided grin for my new girfriend. She is clearly impressed.

“Okay”, she says, “I’m impressed. How did you figure that one out?”

She must not be as smart as I thought. “Hey, it’s not like it’s rocket scientry or anything. It was a trick question”, I say. “”Anomaly” isn’t even a real word. Here’s your drink.”

Part 3

We date for another three weeks until she gets bored and leaves me for a rocket scientist.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fiction: A Scene from the Chocolate Famine

Creative Commons License
This work by Jonty Kershaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.
(Censored for Blogspot)

Scene 1

       Mack and me had been trying to score all day without much success. Since they moved the chocolate behind the pharmacy counters, we had been running this little scam together. One of us would distract the pharmacist by making a scene, and the other would reach behind the counter and score. Now the famine was getting worse, there was always a rentacop watching the counter.
       Mack's favorite trick was to show up wearing a miniskirt and fake a collapse in the pharmacy aisles. She'd be sure to open her legs when she fell, and this would hike up the miniskirt just enough. This worked great; the men couldn't look away for fascination, and the women couldn't look away in disgust. Trouble was they'd done it too many times around town already, and Mack wasn't as sexy as she used to be before the chocolate addiction got her. Hard to believe two years ago she'd been a dentist.
       Today, it was my turn to take the fall. I'd found a walking stick in a trash can nearby, and I was hobbling through the store trying not to look like a junkie, which isn't easy, let me tell you, when all you eat is candy. I made sure some of the counter-workers were watching me, then reached out a wobbly hand for some cough syrup. Then the walking stick gave way and I fell into a display of blood pressure monitors. Everyone came running.
       Everyone, that is, except the security guard. Asshole. I could be seriously hurt. He turned around just as my Mack was hanging over the counter with her ass and feet in the air. Next thing he was grabbing her by the miniskirt with one hand and yelling into his walkie-talkie with the other.
       Everyone else was leaning over me, so it took me a while to get to my feet, and that gave me time to come up with a plan. "Look!" I yelled, "He's molesting that woman." Everyone turned around and looked, and the security guard let go of Mack's skirt with a guilty look on his face. We all just stood there for a moment, and stared at him, and at Mack's ass on the counter.
       Just like that, Mack was on her feet, all kicks to the shin and fingernails, and we both made for the door. We were two blocks away before we heard the sirens.
       We had to get back to our place, and fast. At $20 an ounce, we could be mugged for our stash. Besides, it was 90 degrees out today, and we couldn't let the chocolate melt. If any of it got on the foil wrapper, we would end up eating that too in desparation, and you haven't felt pain until you've had the Glittery Sh**s. That's how often it happens to us junkies; often enough that it's got its own nickname.
       So we get back to our place without too much trouble. Our place is a storage trailer on 5th. We'd been living there since we lost our house on the East Side. I'd been a copier salesman before I was a user, and between my salary and Mack's, we could afford a $900-a-month mortgage. Now, we could afford a storage trailer.
       It was time to check what she had managed to score. Mack held up two Nestle Crunch bars and a box of truffles. "This was all I got," she pouted. It wasn't much, but I suppose it would have to do. We could last for a couple of days on that if we were careful, and then we would be hurting again.
       Mack told me she had to pee and went outside. I broke out the styrofoam plates and the razor blades, and set them up on the table.

*    *    *

       Here's how it works.
       This new drug appears on the market. Everyone talks about it. It gives you a pure high for two days. No hallucinating, no hangover, no aftereffects at all. Problem is, it only works once per person. After that, you might as well be swallowing a Tic-Tac. But it catches on. People wo usually don't do drugs hear that it isn't addictive and doesn't show up on tests, and they start doing it too. Respectable people, even. People like me and Mack.
       Then, a couple of years later, you wake up one morning and you want a chocolate donut for breakfast. You buy a cup of hot chocolate instead of a latte at the coffeeshop. It could be a few days before you realize you're not just hormonal. A week later, chocolate is the only thing you want, the only thing you think about. Everything else is somehow related back to where the next bag of Goobers is coming from. Like, if you were in a car wreck, you could be lying in the wreckage with your legs across the street, and you would be thinking about how hard it would be to get that last Twix bar out of the glove compartment.
       Next thing you know, you can't hide it anymore. For the first few months, people think you're just putting on some extra weight, and you can keep your stash hidden in your jacket pocket. Then they start to notice your teeth are going bad, because, Hey! they don't make chocolate-flavored toothpaste. Then you're living on the streets, selling your body for a butterfinger. And you only suck the chocolate off the outside of the Butterfinger.
       By the time the government realizes there's an epidemic, it's too late. No medical explanation can be found, and no one even knows where the drug came from. And because they're the government they don't try and find a cure. Instead they make it illegal to buy chocolate without a background check. Prices skyrocket, and pretty soon the only people who can afford it are the rich. Of course, the rich always could get away with drug use.

*    *    *

       So Mack didn't come back right away, and my spidey-sense kicked in. Oh, she ain't peeing.
       I ran out of our storage trailer and looked around for her. When I found her, she was crouching behind a building trying to dig a hole in the bushes. When she noticed me, she looked flustrated. Flustrated? That's a word, right? I used to have a pretty good vocabulary back when I was a businessman, but the sugar gets to you.
       "I was just…" she said, but it was too late. I had already seen the pile of Hershey's Extra Dark she was trying to bury. That's the hard stuff. Get maybe $70 a bar for it if I was a dealer.
       I called her something bad, like maybe "You bi***" or something. I don't remember. Then I hit her. I'd never hit anyone before, not especially her. I just stood there leaning over her breathing heavy and trying to figure out how to take it back, how to fix it.
       That was six months ago. I'm in a rehab program now. I have biscuits for breakfast, and I work at a Home Depot. I haven't fallen off the wagon for five weeks now.
       Mack left me after I hit her, and took up with some pimp named Larry. He turned her out the first week, and now she puts out as long as he keeps her in M&M's. I blame myself.


Friday, October 16, 2009

A New Home for the Apocalypse!

I have recently moved all of my pos-apocalyptic blog entries to a new home:

Hopefully, this will become a repository for useful information on how to prepare for the coming apocalypse, whichever form it takes.

I'm not sure about the other fellows working on the blog. Rogue and Strontium Dawg. I mean, they both lifted their names from comic strips in the venerable British sci-fi comicbook 2000AD. How cheesy can you get. (Kudos to me for knowing about British comicbooks.) Plus, they don't seem to put in as much effort as me. I hope I'm not getting the shaft.

Document 1: Further Evidence of the Now-Extinct Victorian Bread Louse

These documents were found blowing downwind of the Pentagon a few days after 9/11/01. They were quickly rounded up by the Secret Service (and all those who handled the original documents have since died mysteriously) but not before they were leaked to the internet.

Document 1: Further Evidence of the Now-Extinct Victorian Bread Louse
           The first evidence of this now-extinct louse was found in the kitchens of Victorian farmhouses all over England. All such kitchens are found to contain several unidentifiable utensils in their drawers. Early theories suggested that these devices, which often look like tools of medieval torture, were used to mercilessly boil some kind of hardy weed from the mountains, but it became clear that one of the utensils was perfectly equipped to pluck the legs from jumbo shrimp – the kind of shrimp that was certainly not found in Victorian England.
            Later evidence included strange residues found on the insides of hats and shirts from this period, and the occasional passing suggestion in literature.
            Some of the more compelling evidence came in the form of details in Victorian paintings. One excellent example would be Florence Nightingale Receiving the Wounded at Scutari — 1856 — The Mission of Mercy by Jerry Barrett, 1824-1906:

A finished oil study and several pencil studies for this painting are in the National Portrait Gallery in London. The following figures have been identified: Sir William Linton, 1801-1880 (to the left of the archway); Sir Henry Knight Storks, 1811-1874 (to his right); Florence Nightingale, 1820-1910 (to the left of the window); Alexis Benoit Soyer, 1809-1858 (in white to her left)" (Spring '84). The fascinating thing about this painting is that there are several incongruous blobs of paint on the canvas that we suspect were hastily added later. We have not received permission to remove this paint and laser analysis is financially beyond our reach. At those spots in the original pencil studies can be clearly seen what look like giant lice, crawling out from the necklines and from under the hats of the members of the crowd. The man in the window seems to have replaced an elderly matron furiously boiling one of these lice (See #9).
            All this was considered speculation at best, until a manuscript by Victorian poet Matthew Arnold was unearthed in the hayloft of his homestead. The search for this evidence was initiated because of a line in his most famous poem Dover Beach:
"The sea of faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

I suck the louse dry as I gaze from the window, my icy feet curl'd"
            The manuscript turned out to be an unpublished novel concerning the life of a church accountant in the town of Bathgate. The important section, about two-thirds of the way through the book, describes the clerk, now unemployed and almost destitute, preparing and eating these lice.
            From the description, we can suppose the following:

1) The bread louse was an important source of protein for the Victorian English. They were juicy and tasted like whole wheat bread.
2) These lice, which grew to the length of several inches, were found only in the armpits and on the heads of males.
3) It was considered socially unacceptable even to mention these lice, which explains the dearth of written evidence, so the lice were eaten surreptitiously.
4) These lice led to some of the more bizarre items of clothing common in Victorian times. All males wore cravats or neck scarves, probably to stop the armpit lice from escaping. Poor people, especially young boys, often wore ridiculously oversized floppy hats for breeding purposes. Upper-class men, who could expect to be socially shunned if they admitted to eating them, wore tophats to collect the lice.
5) No evidence has surface so far as to why the bread louse died off, or why they were native exclusively to Western Europe.
6) The bread lice grew incredibly quickly. A wealthy businessman with an adequately-sized tophat could return home at the end of the day and provide the cook enough of these creatures to feed the entire kitchen staff, thereby saving the expense of [Editor's note: the rest of this document was too charred to read properly.]

Thursday, October 15, 2009

More Fans of Blowing up the Moon

C. Van Carter has also expressed support for blowing up the moon.

See it here. He is brilliant.

Fiction: Food Rage Manifesto

Copyleft  2006
Jonty Kershaw

    Ever since I was a child, I have had a strange quirk. I have had the habit of assigning emotions to food. I think it started with my mother. She would say, "Eat that last potato, dear. Doesn't it look lonely?" I don't know about the potato, but I certainly was lonely.
    As I grew up, I started to treat my food with the kindness and attention I didn't receive myself. I would pair my asparagus with each other so they would have someone to talk to. I would place my pork chops in a soft bed of mashed potatoes if they looked tired. I would always make sure to chop the heads off all my vegetables before I boiled them. I never told anyone what I was doing.
    Later in life, after my career dried up and my marriage fell apart, I found myself alone and bitter inside the walls of a cheap basement apartment.
    Alone with my kitchen and all the food it contained.
    I began to methodically vent my anger and frustrations on my old friends. I would threaten the squash. I would boil cabbage as mercilessly as a Victorian maid. I would mash the potatoes. Sometimes I would let the cheese go bad without tasting it. I won't tell you what I did with the meat.
    As my sadism grew to new heights, something happened that I never would have expected. The food banded together. The zucchini and the beef started whispering when I wasn't paying attention. The beans unionized in secret. The meatloaf wrote a manifesto in the spaghetti sauce encouraging revolt.
One day when I was feeling particularly satisfied with my handiwork, the food rose against me as one. I fought back, but the cottage cheese was too much for me. I tried to crawl to freedom, but the fruitcake was stopping the door, and the butter had sacrificed itself to the cause by greasing the door handle.
    I became a prisoner in my own tiny basement apartment. Words cannot describe the abuse I suffered over the next weeks. The meatloaf took up its role as captain of this edible army, and no one, not even the eggs, could stand in his way. He was so sadistic that even the frozen peas began to feel sorry for me.
    My mind went. The hours and the days and the weeks became one blurry patch of sunlight on the wall. One day, when I was more lucid than usual, I realized that I was alone. The food army couldn't replenish its forces without my trips to the grocery store, and had finally succumbed to its own expiration dates.
    I was free.
    Now, you might think my experiences would have turned me off food abuse, but this is not the case. It has only strengthened my resolve. I have fled to the mountains to regain my strength, and I am writing a new manifesto so I can amass my own army of hunger and march on the Sam's club and the Publix and the Food City and take back our fine, besieged country.

    Here's chapter three of my Manifesto of Digestion. It is entitled "Rules of War":

1) Always chew each mouthful of food 32 times. It deserves no less.
2) Always put the produce and dairy items in the special compartments of the refrigerator to cut off their lines of communication.
3) Fruitcake is a foolish and terrible Christmas gift for someone you love.
4) Remember to bake the turkey for 6 hours. It would do the same to you if it had the chance.
5) Don't forget to carefully grease the pie pan before cooking to thwart escape attempts, and maintain eye contact at all times while rolling out the crust.
6) Keep your utensils spotless. Bacteria have a well-know political bias towards food.
7) Meatloaf hates you much more than you hate it.

    That's all I have managed to write so far. I will keep you updated.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Plight of the Elusive Ground Elk

Most people have never even heard of the Ground Elk. A diminutive version of its much larger cousin (rather like the Key Deer)

 , this tiny burrow-dwelling creature is almost extinct due to the size of its antlers.

Now, this poor creature is facing another threat: Consumers.

Isn't it enough that they are endangered? Why do rich people insist on eating them? I saw this in a healthfood store yesterday:

Some days, I am ashamed to be an American.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Robot Takeover Has Already Started... in Sweden.

I recently wrote about a possible robot takeover of civilization as an option for the Today, I discovered that it has already started. In Sweden?

Apparently, a giant rock-moving robot grabbed its repairman by the head and tried to snap him like a Slim Jim.

My guess is that he was heading towards the wiring mistake that was the cause of its sentience. Like in the Short Circuit movies.

That was a great movie. Perhaps I'll review it soon.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I Forgot an Apocalypse!

Oh my god, I completely forgot a whole category of apocalypses:

Robot Takeover.

It's so obvious. Thank goodness we have Keanu Reeves to save us with his lame computer kung-fu.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Verizon is Evil

Aaargh. I have mentioned the trouble I have had with Verizon in the past:
They screwed up my original account, giving me wonderful access in CANADA but charging me overseas  prices in the U.S.
They "forgot" to tell me that they would charge me an extra $40 a month for internet access on my phone that I didn't ask for.
When I got that fixed, they wouldn't let me send photos from my phone.
They charged me 5 times as much as my pay-per-use phone, for far worse service.

So a few months ago I called Verizon and cancelled my account... or so I thought.

They keep sending me bills that show they are still charging me for service, even though I canceled it months ago. They have an computer that calls my other phone several times a day. I have tried to get them to stop calling, but they ignore any requests to stop.

I'm taking legal action next. There are several groups on the internet who are forming class action suits against this horrible company.