3.14.2017

Snow - A Short Story

Light.

Sounds.

I... wake?

I see.

Dirt--pieces of stone, concrete, asphalt and soil. Compacted, impacted. A path.

Upright. I stand upright.

I hear.

Whispers, rustling, the soft brush of plant matter against its like. The wind.

I see farther. Tall plants, upright, strong, dressed in rough bark and topped with thin needles. Evergreens.

Greens.

Colors. I see colors. Greens, browns.

I see the presence of all colors across the visible spectrum, combined to create white. Fields of white. Mountains of white.

Steps. I take a step, one foot in front of the other. The path leads to the field. A field covered in white.

I step out into the field. It moves, it compacts and crushes together. I kneel and press my hand into the white.

Snow.

I lift my hand from the snow. It drips with dampness, with water. I see my hand. White, smooth, five digits. Four fingers and a thumb.

Human?

No. Not human. Something else.

What am I?

I stand up. I look around, observing the things that surround me.

Trees, hills. Beyond them: triangles and peaks. Mountains. Beyond that: gray, dark blanket of clouds. The sky. The sun cannot be seen.

There is nothing more to see here. I start to walk. One foot in front of the other.

The path goes forward. Into the forest. Into the mountains. The path is fresh, there are no plants growing in it, no large stones or rough ground. This path has been walked on by someone recently.

I do not walk on the path. I walk along the fields and into the trees.

Do I want to meet someone? Do I want them to see what I am?

I stop walking.

I look around again. The trees. The snow. I listen to the wind brush the branches and shake the trees.

Perhaps I will stay here. Until I learn what I am.

The snow is quiet. The trees are quiet. There is... peace.

I like peace.

Sound. I hear something. The crunch of something on the dirt of the path.

I turn to look. I see someone.

A human.

A human covered in heavy clothes, with boots and a mask and goggles. The build suggests a female. A female human walking along the path with something in her hands.

Something that is long, with a stock and a barrel, a multi-lense scope on top. The barrel and muzzle width suggest a rifle of .50 caliber or higher. But the chamber and magazine are not. The chamber and magazine have been modified, non-standard, capabilities unknown.

How do I know this? Why do I know this?

She sees me. She stops. The rifle comes up and its muzzle turns in my direction. I can see down the barrel, the whole length, all the way up the barrel to the chamber.

Alarms. I see red. Something tells me to move. I hear the voice from somewhere, everywhere and nowhere. The voice tells me there is a danger. The voice tells me that she is going to shoot me.

I hear her voice next, muffled by her clothes and wraps. I hear her words, and they tell me to stop, to not move.

I was not moving.

She walked toward me. She is slow, she is careful, she does not want to fall in the snow. Her rifle still has its muzzle pointed toward me. She is speaking but her voice is quieter now. She is not talking to me. But I can still hear her. She is asking someone else what do so. She says that she had found another one, wandering down at the foot of the mountains.

I cannot hear what the answer is. But the rifle does not move.

She says more, about how this one is not trying to move or run, about how it is not trying to attack her. How it is walking alone under the trees away from people. She says that this one is different.

I cannot hear this answer either. The rifle remains pointed in my direction.

She says something else. She says that she understands. She stops and looks at me for a moment. She lowers her hand from her rifle and reaches up to move her goggles, to lower the wrap from her face. I see blue eyes, red cheeks, a mouth that looks twisted by something unnatural. Scars.

Her mouth moves.

"I'm sorry."

The rifle comes up again. The muzzle points.

The voices try to warn me.

Should I move?

Should I run away?

Should I stop her?

I do not want to run.

I do not want to stop her.

I do not move.

Noise.

The crack and flash.

I am hit.

I fall.

I am still. I am quiet.

Am I...?

Darkness.

Silence.

I... sleep.

1.28.2017

Locked Door - A Short Story

So this is something that I might do, might not. I'm going to try using this blog-website-whatever as a platform to practice writing, not just to promote or discuss it. I'll be putting some short (thinking less than 1,000 words) stories on here and whatever other little things I might do to try and keep the creativity flowing. I've been neglecting my writing a lot in this new year so far, but I figure this is as good a place as any to stop that.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

The handle turned and the door shoved open, propelled by a force from beyond. One rough, calloused hand gripped the handle, its right-sided mate pushing against the dark wood just above it, so that both of them worked together, trying to keep the door from sliding out any further. But the motion was inexorable, pushing back against both hands and the arms attached to them.

“I can't stop them.” Peter groaned. He tried to dig his shoes into the floor, but their rubber soles could not provide much more traction against the slick surface than they had already given him. "The door-"

“Try and jam it closed!” Marjorie insisted, “I'm almost done!”

Peter strained, from his teeth down to his toes, straining to force the door back into place. It halted, just for a moment, and he glanced over his shoulder at the room behind him for something, anything to help him brace the door.

Marjorie did not turn back to look at him. She was focused, utterly focused on her task. If she failed or got distracted, then all of this, everything that they had done, would be for nothing. Her fingers flew, eyes scanning the computer monitor for the information that they needed.

"Marj!" Peter called, "Hurry up!"

"Just a minute more!" She typed again, sending a different command into the computer and out to the internet beyond. A bead of sweat ran down her face, it trickled into the corner of her eye and she had to blink hard to get it out. She did not dare take her hands off of the keyboard.

Peter felt the door surge again against his hands, and he slid back again even further. Peter gritted his teeth, pushing with all of his might. He could hear shouts from the other side of the door, shouts of triumph at their progress. A thin, pale hand slid through the gap in the doorframe and grabbed for his fingers. He slapped them back, and the hand withdrew, an indignant voice screeching at him from the gap.

"Marj!" He looked over his shoulder again. "This isn't working!"

"It is working!" She insisted, "I just- there!" She shouted in triumph, smashing her hand against the keys. "Got it! I've got it, we're done."

Peter looked from her to the door. He was panting, breath coming in hard gasps. "We're done?"

She turned to him and nodded. With one hand she wiped her brow. With the other, she gripped the top of the monitor, showing him what she had done.

Peter looked, he grinned, and then he laughed. Then he stood up and released the door handle. The door swung open, almost an explosion of violent motion, and three small figures tumbled through, two of them tripping over each other and winding up on the floor. Four others stood together in the hallway outside, watching to see what was going on.

"Too late!" He announced, "We're all done."

The collected little ones all groaned and moaned in an almost perfect chorus of voices.

"I know, I know." Peter started to usher them out of the room. "Maybe next time, all right?"

Marjorie came over to join him, scooping one of the two off of the floor where they had fallen and helping the other to their feet. "You did better this time than you did last week." She encouraged them all, "You almost had us."

"Yeah, sure did. I think I'm going to need to start weight training again just to make sure that you don't win next week."

As the crowd started to disperse through the hallway, Peter leading most of them away in a separate direction while Marjorie followed with a few of the smallest ones, the one she was holding leaned down to whisper in her ear. Its sibilant tones were almost musical in their patterns and gentle rhythm. She smiled and held it a bit closer.

"I know you could have." She said to it in a whisper. "And I'm glad you didn't. Just remember, we do all of this to teach you, right? So try to learn everything you can."

The little one rested its head deep into the space between her head and her shoulder. She could hear the soft whirring and clicking of the workings inside of it, matching up with her own heartbeat as the adrenaline of the moment drained away.

"Did you ever think," She called forward, "That one day this would be our lives? The caretakers of nearly a dozen little ones?"

"Never," Peter answered without turning around to face her, "Not in the last million years. But now that we're here, I don't think that I'd ever want to do anything else."

Marjorie looked down at the little one in her arms. White and perfectly smooth skin, teardrop-shaped face and piercing blue eyes that shone with an inner light, eyes that should never have been more than just diodes in a metal housing. Yet, when they flicked up to meet her eyes, she could see the tenderness of a young, growing intelligence there. Something so raw, so beautiful, it reminded her of the rise of a sun over a distant horizon.

"Maybe next time, instead of the chase, we play a different game." She said. "Something without so many doors between us."

The little one made a pleased sound. And it smiled.

12.29.2016

My Positive Spin for 2016

This year has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride, hasn't it? The good, the bad, the ugly. I keep seeing people post about how much they want the year to end, about how everything that's happened this year has been terrible and awful and how 2017 will be automatically better because once the year on the calendar changes, things have to be different, right?

Well, the dates on the calendar are just a number, if we're honest. An arbitrary classification meant to give us a sense of progression and a means of keeping track of when events happened in relationship to what came before and what will come after. 2016 as a concept means nothing except a boundary of dates around a period of time.

Okay, let me step back from the existential ledge for a moment and move back to more concrete things. This past year has brought us some worthy things and a lot of events that were once-in-a-lifetime in their happenstance. I'm going to run down some of the things that I personally enjoyed a lot this year (whether they originated this year or not) in an attempt to lend a positive voice to all of the rampant negativity that has been circulating.

Awesome Once-In-A-Lifetime-Event:

The Cubs won the World Series.

Let me back up a pace or so. For any readers that I have who aren't Major League Baseball fans, the Cubs are one of the two Chicago-based teams, they have a long and storied history full of colorful characters and many heartbreaks, and until this year held the dubious honor of being the professional sports team that has gone the longest from a major championship win; their last victory of that type was in 1907. They were the butts of many, many jokes, to the point where several films were made that mocked their futility and the improbability of their ever winning a World Series title (the most commonly noted being Back to the Future II).

And this year, they finally, finally broke that curse.

I've been a Cubs fan since I was very little. The Cubs were one of the first sports teams that I ever remember watching or following. I could go on at length about the different events I followed, like the Home Run Race of the '90s between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire, or the whole deal with Steve Bartman in 2006. The whole idea of them being Lovable Losers was ingrained in our brains as Cubs fans, where the whole idea of them making the playoffs was such an event that parades and parties were the norm.

And now, after over one hundred years, that monkey is finally off of our backs. I swear, you could hear the cheering echo out from downtown all the way to the suburbs. Staying up late to watch the end of a fantastic game did not just have the feel of watching another baseball championship, we were watching history unfolding before our eyes.

A Favorite Video Game:

Overwatch.

Now, I'm not a big person in for online multiplayer games. Most online communities turn rather toxic when they start becoming really competitive, and the folly of most games like that for me is that I don't have a group of friends to really play with me on a regular basis. The last big multiplayer game I played online with friends was Modern Warfare and that was more than a decade ago.

But Overwatch somehow managed to break that wall down for me. I was lured in initially by its superb animated trailers and cutscenes that serve as an introduction to the characters and world built for the game. Each one has a charming animation style and colorful artistic merit that's often been compared (and not unfairly) to Pixar. The cast of the game is diverse, entertaining, funny and even rather heartwarming in a lot of their exploits.

Then I got my hands on the game itself. And it's the video game that's consumed most of my free time this year so far. I don't want to get too technical, but I will say that it manages to be both challenging and rewarding in equal measure while it never quite stops being fun for me. I recognize that this is very much Your Mileage May Vary, especially since different people's experiences with the game will change a lot if they have a bad interaction with some players during a game.

But whenever I get some down time where I'm not doing anything else, I find myself jumping into a quickplay game and throwing down for ten, twenty minutes. It's also a game that I can block out an hour for and play basically nonstop. And each round and match I play is different and fun in their own way. Win, or lose, I enjoy playing the game, and that's the bottom line for me.

Honorable Mention for this category would have to go to Tales from the Borderlands, which, I know, didn't come out in 2016. But 2016 is when I finally got around to playing it, and found it very worth my time. A very funny, witty, sharp and engaging narrative-driven game that still manages to be heartfelt and genuinely emotional.

A Favorite Movie:

Rogue One - A Star Wars Story

This is a much more recent entry on this, and I will say that if this movie hadn't impressed me so much, you'd probably be seeing Zootopia or Captain America: Civil War in this spot. Let's be real, there were some great movies that came out this year. But when there's a great Star Wars film that came out in a year, that movie's going to be around the top of my list pretty much every time I have to list my favorite films in a year.

Rogue One isn't just a good Star Wars movie, though, it's a good movie period. Yes, it does pander a bit more to those more familiar with the franchise such as myself, but it's also exactly the sort of film that I would make if I were to direct or write a Star Wars film. The direction and cinematography are great, the writing is strong, and the action is some of the best in the franchise. But what really sets the movie apart from any other is the story itself.

In a franchise where the word "prequel" is synonymous with divisive, uneven films, Rogue One sets itself apart by being the most direct prequel of them all, yet taking place outside of the main saga. It tells its own distinct, unique story that still supports and even improves one of the other films, one that was made 40 years before it! You can see and enjoy Rogue One as its own distinct story and experience and still get quite a lot just from the action and story it has. It's a self-contained narrative. Yet, it packs so much more punch if you do know what else is going on around it in the galaxy far, far away.

I loved Rogue One. I felt the same sort of adrenaline-pumping enjoyment after it was over that I did when Civil War ended, or after getting out of my theatrical viewing of Max Mad: Fury Road. I've only seen it once, but I plan on seeing it again when I get the chance, it's the sort of movie that is entirely worth seeing in the theater for the beauty of the cinematography alone.

Some Great Music:

Hamilton

Now, this isn't something that technically came out this year, Hamilton has been around for a little while now and the fandom was already well in place when I finally jumped aboard. And if I'm honest, I was hesitant about listening to it at all. I heard it was a mixture of song styles based on rap, and that turned me off immediately, since I dislike most rap music. Then I bought the soundtrack on a whim to accompany me on a car ride, and I was instantly in love.

I love the music, rap, R&B, jazz and all. I love the acting, from the leads to the supporting cast to the chorus. I love the characters, in all of their flawed imperfect glory. I love the history that it tells and reminds us of.

The main reason that I'm putting it on this list is that, over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the chance to go and see a live production of Hamilton here in Chicago. It was as much of a delight as I had hoped, and a good deal more fun than I had bargained for. I'd never seen a live musical production before, and the only stage things I've ever attended were church ones or other such things. So I basically went from 0-60 on that count, from not having any history with the stage to seeing one of the more hard-to-get tickets on the theater circuit right now. Hamilton is terrific, whether you see it live or just listen to the soundtrack. But it adds so much more dimension to be able to see it being sung (and danced) on the sage.

The impact that Hamilton has had on me is wider than just that, though. Through the play's composer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, I followed Moana through its production and release and really enjoyed that soundtrack as well. I listened to the Hamilton Mixtape that came out a month or so ago and was introduced to a lot of musicians that I had never listened to before. Lin has also been a relentless ray of sunshine in my time following him on Twitter, often a sole voice of positivism in a sea of despair no matter the circumstances.

Other Miscellaneous Stuff:

There are a lot of other things that I could talk about. I did the NaNoWriMo challenge in November (and won, and got a t-shirt to show for it), took up running and got up to a 5k, was a groomsman at my brother's wedding, and on and on.

But here's something that isn't so much an event or a thing so much as a shift in attitude. I have largely left Facebook and turned off most of my social media notifications as a result of it. And that's this: I'm not using the internet as a place to vent my complaints about the state of the world anymore. There are enough people complaining about things that my voice really doesn't add anything.

Instead, I've vowed to try and be a voice of positive emotion and optimism. Now, that doesn't mean blind "things will get better" hippy love stuff. I'm talking about genuine, hope-driven let's-make-the-world-better optimism.

2016 isn't the end of the world. A lot of bad stuff happened, sure, but bad things every year. And a lot of great things happened, too. You're still here. I'm still here. And we're going to get through 2017 together, just like we got through 2016.

Let's go, team. We've got this.

7.21.2016

Why I Hate American Politics (Even Though I Live Here)

Okay, it's my first post in five months. Let's get this out of the way first and foremost: this is going to be the only time I write something overtly political on this site. I keep this site for fun, not to argue or generate hate-traffic and get extra clicks. The only reason I'm even writing this post is because this is something that's been on my mind a lot this year and I feel like it'll just keep gestating and percolating around in my brain unless I spew it all out somewhere.

This year's presidential election is one of the most divisive and bat-crap insane that I've ever personally experienced. And I was around for Bush v. Gore and the whole recount fiasco. And maybe it's just me having somewhat matured in terms of my own own opinions and beliefs about different political issues, but this is the one election I've been able to vote in that I don't have my favorite picked out yet. In fact, I really don't feel like voting for any of the candidates right now.

Oh yeah, the title. See, here's the thing. American politics are bonkers right now, mostly because of the incredible polarization of the different stances and opinions that our two major political parties have. It's not as simple as having disagreements about domestic and foreign policies but still respecting others' opinions. People seem prepared to go to war over their stances on a pretty wide variety of push-button topics.

And part of the reason for that is the way our political system is constructed. I don't think that the Founding Fathers anticipated just how divisive that the political system in our country would become, but they really should have. Let's have a bit of a history lesson.