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Category Archives: Writing

(Friday Fiction) A Birthday of Legend

Writing 150A dear friend of mine celebrated his birthday a week or two ago, and I offered him a quick short story as an impromptu present. As usual, it took me a little longer than I would have liked to finish it up, but here it is! 

Crux is preparing for a nice, quiet birthday celebration; however, one of his friends has different plans in motion and he doesn’t really take no for an answer.

The knock on Crux’s door threatened to bounce it off its hinges. The blue-furred labrador startled on the couch he was sitting in, nearly dropping his phone. It had taken him longer than expected to respond to all of his birthday wishes. He must have lost track of the time.

He shut down his texting app and checked the time — 7:00 PM. It was about the right time for dinner, but he wasn’t expecting anyone to show up at his apartment; everyone knew the restaurant the quiet party had been reserved at. He chose it because it was nice and open and quiet, a relaxed spot where his…variable-sized friends could lounge and would be encouraged to behave reasonably well. After all the…excitement of the last few months, Crux could use a break.

The door rattled in its frame more violently this time. Crux could feel the entire apartment tremble from the force of the knocking. He frowned; anyone big enough to do that would probably have a hard time fitting in the narrow halls of his apartment building. It’d be best to answer the door and walk to the restaurant as soon as possible. He didn’t want to cause any more of a scene with the neighbors, after all.

“Hold on!” he called out, slipping off the couch and jogging over to the door. He opened it…and saw the entire frame blocked by a wall of a man.

“There you are!” A voice boomed way too loudly. “I was worried I might haveta kick the door in and drag you out.”

A great, shaggy head lowered from where it had loomed above the door frame. Hux gave him a big, toothy grin from under that mop of headfur.

Crux’s heart skipped a beat and his stomach sank. As happy as he was to see the giant, he also realized in that moment his plans for a quiet birthday were completely shot.

“You should know by now that you wouldn’t have to do anything that drastic to get me to let you in.” Crux felt himself blushing already, his mind racing with all that he would need to do to change his plans.

“I’m not comin’ in, pipsqueak. We’re goin’ out!” With surprising speed for his size, Hux slipped an arm around the back of the smaller blue dog and gathered him in against his bulk. “You know how cramped these little shoeboxes you like to live in make me feel.”

Crux squirmed as he was lifted off his feet and hugged against Hux’s broad chest, but it was no use. The forearm against his back was a steel beam wrapped in velvet; that chest might as well be a moving brick wall. He wasn’t going anywhere. “Well, the apartment’s only rated for citizens eight feet tall and smaller. It’s not meant to handle someone of your size.”

The giant snorted and rose as much as he could before his head crunched the ceiling. The cheap material dented easily, dusting a small shower of plaster and paint over Hux’s shoulders and Crux’s head. “Humph. ‘S discrimination if ya ask me. Can’t help it if I’m studly. Don’t you worry none, though. I know the perfect place ta go — you can get one of them sweet drinks you like and I’ll have room to really stretch out.”

Crux could have sworn he felt that massive chest stretch a little wider, saw the giant’s broad shoulders push towards either wall in the hallway. The whole apartment rattled as he stomped his way towards the front door. “I…actually have reservations at another restaurant, 30 minutes from now.”

“Awww, and ya didn’t invite me, little man? I’m hurt!” Hux squeezed the smaller male against him and slowly, carefully hunched down low. One shoulder pushed out of the front door, and then the other. Even still, it was a tight squeeze. Crux was almost buried against the much larger torso, unable to respond for several heart-stopping moments.

Even being as ginger as he was with the door, the frame still warped around the giant’s body. He ground his rear and package before slipping out onto the street with a grunt, rising to his full height with a satisfied groan. “There. Much better!”

Crux squirmed more as soon as he was able to. Hux had grown in the short jaunt from his apartment to the street; the canine had to be at least 15 feet tall now, maybe more. “I tried to reach you! You’re not an easy guy to get a hold of.”

Hux chuckled good naturedly as he stomped his way down the block. He took up the entire sidewalk now; other animals were brushed aside even as they scurried to flatten themselves against buildings or parked cars. “I guess that’s true. You don’t mind me tagging along, do ya? I’ll be your plus one!”

“Of course not.” Crux allowed himself to nuzzle Hux’s chest as he was carried along. “You’re going to have to scrunch down a bit though.”

Hux glanced down, an incredulous eye visible through that shaggy headfur. “Awww c’mon, pipsqueak! Yer killing me here! Don’t they have rooftop service or something? Can’t ye help a little old pup celebrate your birthday?”

“I’ll….see what I can do.” Crux wriggled in Hux’s grip to see if he could grab his phone.

“That’s the spirit!” Hux boomed, almost immediately surging up another five feet in height. “You’re the best, little dude.”

“You’re quite a handful, you know.” Crux was texting his friends, letting them know that there would be a very large change of plans.

“Nothin’ you can’t handle, lil blue. You know you love it.”

Crux’s cheeks warmed at the realization he couldn’t argue. “Yeah. I guess I do.”

“Heh. Damn right!” Hux rumbled as he leapt over a car to move into the street. Much more room there. “We’ll go to your little dinner party, and then I’ll take you someplace where we can have some REAL fun!”

The two canines walked to the restaurant together, one growing larger all the while. The rhythmic tremors took that much longer to diminish; car alarms blared in their wake.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2017 in Furries, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Personal) Accountability Report, January 2017

Self Improvement 150At the beginning of last month, I made three resolutions: I wanted to meditate and write every day, and I wanted to avoid added sugars if at all possible. Well, the first month of the year has come and gone, so I thought I’d take a look back on the last 31 days to see how I did. I realize that it’s really hard to be actually perfect with these things, especially just starting out — it takes a while to build a practice into a habit and obstacles are going to come up. Still, all things considered, I think I did pretty well for myself.

I didn’t meditate every day in January. I missed one day during Further Confusion 2017 because I got distracted with Twitter, and I missed another day near the end of the month for much the same reason — I go to open the meditation app on my phone and ended up getting sucked into something else. The smartphone is a life-changing invention that gives us the power to do so much in our lives whenever we need to, but it also offers an endless tide of distraction. When I’m just waking up, without coffee or medication, I’m especially susceptible to that.

This month, I’ll renew my intention to meditate every day this month. I think the best way to avoid potential distraction is perhaps to put my phone in airplane mode before I go to bed; that way, when I get up it’s easier for me to use my meditation app than it is to turn off airplane mode and dive into Twitter or games. I realize this likely won’t be a permanent solution, but hopefully it will buy me enough time to get into that perfect habit territory. Even still, missing two days out of 31 isn’t bad, and I’ve definitely been a lot more even emotionally through regular meditation.

I didn’t write every day in January. I mean, I sort of did — between my History of Rock and Roll class, The Writing Desk and other things there were plenty of things to work on. However, when I made that resolution I specifically meant a fiction project that I wanted to release through the Jackalope Serial Company, submit to a publication or post online, or play through with friends. Making sure I’m regular with my Patreon is my top priority here; people have had my back since the beginning of last year, and I want to make sure I’m holding up my end of the bargain. Once I’m on a more stable footing there, I can move on to other short stories, serials or role-playing game stuff.

I’m renewing my intention to write every day this month, with the specific stipulation that it will be writing for Jackalope Serial Company stories. That means finishing up “Gift Exchange” (my January serial) in the next day or two, editing/rewriting “Stable Love (the February serial) after that, and working on the serial for March and April. The goal is to be at least two weeks ahead on serial posts so I can have a nice buffer for those weeks when work or school gets to be too heavy. Since I’m prioritizing the JSC, I may not be able to keep up my three times a week schedule for The Writing Desk. I’ll try my hardest, though. Maybe writing posts on the weekend for the next week is the best move here.

I avoided added sugars this month, with a few exceptions. Alcoholic drinks are a bit of a gray area, there — mixed drinks tend to use simple syrup (which is basically just sugar dissolved in water) or really sweet fruit juices, and I had one or two of those. During the Australian Open final, I did have a mug of hot chocolate because how could you say no to that? Overall I’ve severely limited my sugar intake, and my palate has shifted because of that. While sugar definitely makes fireworks go off in my brain, it takes a lot less to reach satiety. Still, it’s not a habit I’m interested in falling back into.

This month, I resolve to count my calories every day and exercise at least three times a week. My routine of choice involves a lot of running, but I’ll need to supplement that with stretches and body-weight exercises. I’m WAY too stiff in general, and it would be nice to work more on my core and arms. The calorie counting app I use is MyFitnessPal, so if you use it too feel free to add me as a friend! My name is “JakebeRabbit”.

There are a few other things I’d like to do this month — read more regularly, be more disciplined with my budget and to-do list, finally get my act together with activism and volunteer work. But meditation, writing, and diet accountability will be my main focus. What about all of you lovely folks? How have you been doing with your New Year’s Resolutions so far? What changes will you make to stick to your goals?

 

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(Monday Fiction) A Letter to Puxineathas Goodfellow (2)

Writing 150I’m not going to lie — the only thing more fun than writing that letter from Pux was researching more about gnomes as they’re settled in Pathfinder. The more I learn about gnomes, the more I feel like I should play them more. This will probably upset My Husband, The Dragon to hear. But the section in the core rulebook on gnomish humor? That is *totally* my jam. I incorporated a little bit of exaggeration in the letter, but I also thought it would be a good idea to have Pux come across as friendly and encouraging through at least the first exchange. As he and Malcolm warm to each other (and I learn more about them), they should let out more of their distinctive personalities in the writing.

Here is Malcolm’s second letter to Puxineathas Goodfellow.

Dear Mr. Puxineathas,

Yo, thanks for the rose quartz! You cut that yourself? I’m really impressed, dude. It looks freaking dope! I brought it in to show my friends at the last RPG Club meeting in school. They liked it, but they said it didn’t come from no gnome and it was probably made in China somewhere. They might be right, but I don’t really care. I love it, and China’s all the way on the other side of the world, so it still came a long, long way.

Thanks for telling me about your Burrow and what you do and everything. It’s pretty cool that you have this job you really like, and that you’re really good at. I bet if I had like, 80 years to study one thing I’d be really good at it too! But we don’t live that long. Some of us don’t even make it out of high school; my friend’s sister got shot last year crossing the street, and about six months ago somebody pointed a gun in my face and tried to rob me. I didn’t get shot, but they beat me up a little bit. I was a little crazy after that. I got real jumpy about loud noises for a while, and I wasn’t sleeping good so I got mad at people really easy. I talked to a counselor at school and she taught me about breathing when I feel upset or scared and sometimes it helps, but not really though.

I don’t know why I’m writing that in this letter, to be honest. I guess it’s just…nobody’s ever given me anything like that before. You were really cool about it, and your letter made me feel a lot better than I felt in a long time. I’m sorry it took me so long to write you back, but I was kind of stressing that mine wasn’t going to be as good as yours and had to build up to it. But then I thought I should just…sit down and write what comes out, you know? So that’s what I’m doing.

Oh! So…I had to do a little research on Baltimore because you asked about it and to be honest I didn’t know that much about it. It was founded in 1729, which is 287 years ago, so like…it’s about as old as a pretty old gnome. What’s weird is that it’s one of the oldest cities in our country, but the United States is a pretty young country in the grand scheme of things, so.
We don’t live underground like you guys do or anything. We have a lot of buildings in different neighborhoods, which are like, little sections where the same kind of people live. It’d be like if all the poor people lived in one part of your Burrow, and rich people in a nicer part, but then you had like, I don’t know, gnomes of all one color living in an entirely different part and sometimes they spoke a different language. Baltimore’s like that. We each have our own little territories, and sometimes we go outside of them but most of the time we don’t.

I really like going to different places, though. One of my favorite places to go is downtown, especially the library. It’s this big, big building that you could just get lost in. Whenever I can, I try to spend the whole day there from the time it opens at 10 to when it closes at 5. I can only do that in the summer, because it gets dark too early otherwise and walking to the bus stop is kind of scary. But man, there are so many books there. I like reading a book and thinking about something else that sounds like it’d be cool to read about and finding whatever other book looks fun. I read a lot. I’m pretty sure I know the library by heart. It’d be cool to get a job there, but I don’t even know how that would happen. Maybe something in the summer.

Anyway, do you have any favorite books? How many do you have? I’ve got 37 books under my bed. They’re mostly role-playing books, but I’m getting a few novels now too. I’m saving up for a copy of Lord of the Rings, which is like, this big story about a bunch of people who have to throw a cursed ring into this volcano or else this bad guy is going to end the world or something. I saw the movies when they came out, and they were pretty tight, so I guess the book has to be better, right?

When I get some more money, I can send you my favorite book right now. It’s about this unicorn who finds out she’s the last one in the world, but she thinks it can’t be true so she goes out of her forest to find others and has all kinds of adventures along the way. She finds them in the end and they’re all free and stuff, but for some reason the ending is still really sad. I guess it’s because she found all these people who helped her and stuff, and now she has to go back to being alone. That sucks, going out and seeing all this stuff, and then coming back to your own little corner knowing that this is all there is for you forever. I don’t want to be like that.

But it sounds like you’re good where you’re at, and that’s cool. I’d really like to come visit where you live, but I don’t think that would work out too good. The ceiling is probably really low, and I’m pretty sure I can’t get to your Burrow anyway. But hey, maybe I can be a gnome in my next game or something, and you can give me pointers on how to act.

I hope you’re making awesome jewelry. I can’t wait for your next letter!

Sincerely,
Malcolm Williams

 

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(Friday Fiction) A Letter to Malcolm Williams

Writing 150I didn’t manage to put together a letter in time last week, so we’ll have to miss one missive unfortunately.

The previous letter was…something I wasn’t quite happy with. I wanted to write it in the voice of someone who just wasn’t used to long, written correspondence but I wanted to make it engaging at the same time. In hindsight, it really would have been a good idea to do some pre-writing instead of coming up with stuff off the cuff. When I get a better handle on writing these ahead of time, I’d like to maybe hit a first draft a month before the scheduled post and *then* do an editing pass a week before to make sure things are as good as they can be. But that day is not today, my friends.

Here is the first response of Puxineathas Goodfellow.

Dear Master Williams of Baltimore,

I am delighted to meet you! Please, do not worry about the “proper” way to write a letter — there are as many ways to communicate through quill as there are through speech. What’s important is finding your way. Well, and making sure you’re understood. Words do us know good if they don’t serve their one purpose, after all!

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Mister Puxineathas of the family Goodfellow, seventh of his name in the Burrow of Stone’s Gate. Our clan has lived in these tunnels for over a thousand years, and in that time we have expanded them to reach from the Golden Mist Valley to the east; the borough of Strahdell to the west; from the Stone Kingdom in the north; and the eastern edge of Rexpanse in the south. A thousand years may sound like a long time to you, human, but in reality it is a mere four generations of gnomish time — the equivalent of eighty years, I believe, in your span. We are a young burrow, but in such a short time we’ve grown to become one of the largest in the known lands. I say this, of course, with all due pride and humility before my elders.

Is Baltimore an old town? I am afraid I don’t know much about the realms beyond my burrow. It is one of the reasons I thought it would be nice to correspond with someone so far beyond my experience. I’m sure you have much to teach me, even if you are quite young! Humans fascinate me; they grow so quickly and learn so fast. My grandfather says that you can teach a man anything but patience — your lives are so short that you never have the time to learn it!

I hope that sentiment doesn’t offend you, friend — this is my first time speaking so openly with a man, so you may find me a bit too exciteable to remember my manners! Please, if I speak too coarsely, kindly correct me and I shall not make that mistake again. Others may happen, though, from time to time.

Anyway, as it seems we are equally curious about one another, I shall now tell you what I look like. I am a reasonably young gnome, aged 80 years. If Ferrakus wills it, I shall live to over 300 years. The oldest gnome in my burrow, Rundtitia, has aged 472 years; it is quite possible she has been taken by Ferrakus already and no one knows it, because she hasn’t moved from her chair in around 25 years. We got the idea that it would be rude to disturb her, so generally we let her be.

I have been told by many that I am the color of an autumn tree, with good, rich, brown skin with a healthy hint of slate and a fine head of red and orange hair. Of course, it is styled to the latest fashions and has caught the eye of many lovely ladies; I would woo them, but my apprenticeship must take the entirety of my focus at the moment, so having my pick of potential wives will have to wait until I’ve made my fortune.

You see, I am one of five apprentices under the Master Gemcutter of Stone’s Gate, Abilion Jax; if I prove my worth by the time he has decided to retire, then I will assume the title. That means kings and queens, perhaps even the great dragons, will come from far and wide and beseech me to make them the finest jewelry in the known lands! If he picks another, I will still become Accomplished Gemcutter under one of my fellow apprentices, which won’t be such a terrible life. I, however, know that I am meant for worldly renown and excellence in my profession.

Before Abilion, my grandfather was Master Gemcutter; before that, my great-grandfather. My father had no interest in the family business and left to make his fortune as an adventurer, which is all well and good — he has brought home the most incredible stories! As for myself, I cannot imagine leaving my Burrow. It is the only home I’ve ever known, and the only home I will ever need.

I am sorry to hear, dear Master Williams, that you do not enjoy your life at home. I have heard that the world of man can be cruel, especially to the unfortunate. Perhaps that is why humans are often so driven — they’ve wasted so much of their lives being unhappy, and are looking to make up for that lost time. I truly hope you find the adventure and knowledge you seek in your college, though I don’t understand why you would need to go to one to learn how to care for animals. Are there no farms in Baltimore that will have you as a hand? That is an excellent way to learn all there is to know!

I am running out of parchment, so I should bring this letter to an end…but I very much look forward to your response! As a token of my esteem, I have enclosed a small sampling of my trade — a rose quartz cut to the shape of a rose. I am quite proud of it, and I hope it will remind you of the many places you have yet to visit!

Warmly,
Puxineathas of the family Goodfellow

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2017 in Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Personal) The Semester That Was: Fall 2016

Reading 150Earlier this year — with some encouragement from My Husband, The Dragon — I decided to go back to school to pursue a degree in Psychology. I’ve gotten to a very good place with my mental health, but there are so many people who grew up the way I did without access to mental health services or education, who suffer in silence and ignorance about their issues. The goal with my degree is to do something to address these gaps in coverage and tailor treatments that speak to the particular manifestations of mental illness in communities of color. No one exists in a vacuum, after all — depression, anxiety, and social issues intersect to present unique challenges to people of color.

This first semester back in school was definitely an adjustment. I’m working a full-time job in the tech sector, which means that I’m generally putting in a few more than forty hours a week not including the commute, which adds roughly eight hours. Making time to read assignments, write essays and/or participate in online forum discussions was a process that I had to learn. Time management is more important than ever, and over the course of the semester I learned that it wasn’t so much the quantity of time I put in, but the quality.

Anyway, the plan is to go to Mission College for three more semesters with additional classes during the Winter and Summer sessions until Fall 2018, where I should complete my Associate’s Degree and be eligible for transfer to any California state university. Obviously, my target is San Jose State; they have a pretty good Psychology department and I should be able to get very good rates on my tuition. I’ll need 60 credits to complete the program, and with the credits from this semester and all other classes from my previous transcript I should have about 30 or so.

This semester I took two classes, Clear Thinking in Writing and Social Psychology. I would absolutely love to have one English or Psychology class a semester, but I don’t think it’ll work out that way, alas! Both of these classes were ones that I enjoyed quite a bit, even with the work. Clear Thinking in Writing really helped me to refine and organize my thoughts for my Social Psychology class, and I was able to use concepts from my Social Psychology class to strengthen arguments I wrote in Clear Thinking. I loved the synergy I lucked into this semester!

For Clear Thinking in Writing, we learned the basic elements of argumentation for three different debate models — Aristotilean, Rogerian, and Toulmin. Aristotle relied on three kinds of support — logos, or logical reasoning; pathos, or emotional appeals; and ethos, or reputation and expertise — to bolster his arguments. Rogers works well when you’re trying to find a common ground and some compromise between two opposing viewpoints; the benefit of using this model is learning how to understand an argument objectively and writing it out succinctly, without bias. Toulmin is the main model we used to understand the framework of a persuasive essay; the claim is essentially your thesis, or whatever it is you’re trying to prove, and you make your claim by providing support for it. All of your support, of course, is held up by underlying warrants that are understood and agreed upon by the writer and their audience. For example, if I claim that black lives matter, the warrant beneath that is that there is some disparity in the general perception of how black lives are treated when weighed against, say, white lives.

This class was a TON of reading and writing, which is to be expected for an English class I suppose. Our professor was relatively new, and she focused heavily on making sure we stuck to a basic, repeatable structure for our essays. I chafed just a little under the restriction, but it was quite useful to learn how arguments are templated and write to that style. My typical writing style is “exploratory”, to be charitable. I often don’t find the topic sentence of my paragraph until I’ve written it — so my my paragraphs tend to end with a sentence that crystallizes what’s come before it into a coherent thought, that I then use to springboard into the next paragraph.

However, that’s not a great way to write a coherent, well-structured argument. By opening your paragraph with your topic sentence, you make sure that you’ve signalled to your reader what your paragraph will cover and anchor it towards the service of your thesis. Every sentence after it must build support for the topic sentence, which in turn supports your claim. Organizing your writing from the top down gives every sentence a job to do and encourages your essays to be leaner and more efficient. And in this day and age, making sure your writing is crisp and lean is an invaluable skill to have!

In Social Psychology, I learned how the presence of other people affect the way we think, which in turn affects how we perceive and interact with the world around us. I shouldn’t have been so surprised to discover how much our environment and relationship with others affects our individual psychology, but I was! The class illuminated influences I never even considered and introduced implications that I had never connected. We underestimate how much we are influenced by our social situations, and simply knowing that has changed the way I think about my actions. We have far more power to change our environment than we believed, but the nature of that change is more complicated than we would expect.

Social Psych was my first online class, which was another adjustment. Sessions were usually reading a chapter or two of the textbook, watching a documentary video about the subject of the week, and then participating in a forum discussion about it. We also had three major tests over the course of the semester and signed up for various experiments in the Stanford Research Program. Stanford has a legendary experimental psychology program, and it was really interesting to participate in various lab experiments in some small way.

The knowledge I’ve gained in Social Psychology, while not all-encompassing, has definitely illuminated previously puzzling behavior for me and allows me to react more compassionately to actions I might have found unacceptable just six months ago. For example, we really don’t do well with uncertainty, so in situations that may or may not be an emergency we will tend to look to others for cues on how to respond without even realizing it. Because other people are just as in the dark as we are, they freeze as well, hoping for someone to respond in a way they can emulate. And when no one responds, we end up thinking that a potentially serious situation might not be that serious after all. People have been observed to sit in a room with smoke billowing out of a vent for these reasons, or take much longer to help someone in distress. Our ability to filter out our environment develops as a defensive mechanism against sensory overload, but it can also cause us to miss someone in dire need of help. So, if someone is having a health crisis or being attacked in a city and no one helps, it isn’t necessarily because people are bastards. Well, not necessarily. It’s because most of us are just trying not to be overwhelmed by everything around us, we are uncertain what’s happening in an emergency situation, and the people around us are as well — so no one does anything.

In both of these courses, knowledge becomes power to direct my actions more efficiently and with greater understanding. It’s exciting to know the basics about how people tend to think in groups, and how to make a case for influencing people within those groups. By being aware of societal pressures, how they affect our mental and emotional processes, and the best ways to tweak those processes, it’s possible to write to the undiscovered root of a problem. That’s almost like magic to me!

Now that my classes are over for the semester, it’s time to look to a little bit of rest and relaxation before a four-week Winter session. In January, I will be learning about the history of rock and roll music, which should be tremendously rad. My education continues, and I’m one semester closer towards an Associate’s Degree.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2016 in Uncategorized, Writing

 

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(Friday Fiction) Changeling: The Talk

Writing 150Our protagonist gets a name! I’m still feeling out how being a Changeling would feel in inner-city Baltimore. I think there’s something distinctive about the idea and I’d love to try and capture it. Here, Mr. Foster takes our narrator to McDonald’s for an explanation of what’s going on. Or not.

I don’t know if I’ve ever really SEEN the McDonald’s at Walbrook Junction before. I’ve walked past it all the time, and it’s always been the same place since I was a kid. The outside is the same fake stucco that covers the entire crumbling strip mall, and the inside is this big, open space that is way cleaner than it should be for the neighborhood but still choked with the smell of a generation’s worth of fryer grease and industrial cleaners. The tile is old, the walls are peeling but scrubbed clean, and the chairs are so worn you wouldn’t know foam was in the seat. I had always thought it was a dump, like everything there, even if the owner gave a shit about it being clean.

That was until I went in there with Mr. Foster. When he picked me up at my house, it was in a car that was twice the size I had remembered it being. The dashboard was covered with weird knobs and words in another language, but he drove it just fine. We cruised through my neighborhood, and it was like I was seeing everything for the first time. The trees were bigger and greener. The abandoned house looked like it was alive, sitting back from the street with its mouth wide open like it wanted to eat you. There were rats and cockroaches playing double-dutch on the sidewalk.

Walbrook Junction looked mostly normal, except for that McDonald’s. It was a castle with — I shit you not — an actual moat around it and banners flying and everything. When Mr. Foster walked up to it, a drawbridge just appeared. When he opened the door, one of the old mascots — the bird with the yarn hair — curtseyed and greeted him like he was a visiting noble. “Good afternoon, Sir Baobab,” is what I think she said.

Everybody seemed to know him. He walked up to the counter and the worker there stared up at him. Mr. Foster is a tall dude, but…he was really tall here. His Afro scrunched against the ceiling, and you could hear the horns coming out of his forehead scraping against it. His skin was unnaturally black but kinda brown, like molasses. And his hair was white with little flecks of black in it. That’s not how Mr. Foster looked before. And I had known him for like, five years now.

He ordered two quarter pounders with cheese, two Big Macs, a 20 piece Chicken McNuggets, and the biggest Coke they had. I got a double cheeseburger and a McChicken, then some fries and a milkshake. I don’t know why, but it felt like I had to keep up with him. The way everybody was acting around him, it made me want to live up to something.

We got our food, and he wasn’t charged for it. He told the cashier where we were going to sit (at a table in the corner) and he said “I’ll make sure you aren’t disturbed.” Before we sat down, he took a lima bean out of his pocket and put it on the chair. It sprouted immediately, and a new chair made of vines formed over it, sized up for him. He caught me staring, but he just pointed at me to sit down.

Mr. Foster tore up his food immediately. I couldn’t stop looking around. There was a five-foot squirrel dude mopping the floor and wiping down tables. Every once in a while, a rat walking on its hind legs would walk up to him and he would chitter at it or something, and then it would go off and pick up trash or put balls back in the ball pit.

I’ve been seeing shit like this ever since I got mugged. It’s still straight-up crazy to me, but with Mr. Foster it was the first time it felt like it was a kind of crazy I could live with.

“What do you want to do with your life?” When he spoke, he demanded you listen. He had that kind of voice.

“Uhm, what?” I was distracted by the squirrel-dude, and caught off guard by the question. What did that have to do with anything?

Mr. Foster leaned in and rounded his shoulders. There was a table between us, but I still felt trapped. “I said, what do you want to do with your life?”

I stared at him for a long minute. My mind went blank. Was I supposed to know what I wanted to do with my life when I was just in high school? Wasn’t that what college was for? I reached for anything I could think of, the first thing that came to mind.

“I want to cut hair.” I felt so stupid right after I said it. Mr. Foster lifted his eyebrows, but otherwise he didn’t react.

“Why?”

I shrugged. “It’s cool to just be able to talk to people all day while doing something nice for them.”

Mr. Foster nodded. “You know how to cut hair?”

Oh shit, I didn’t even think of that! I shook my head quickly. “Naw, but I can learn. It looks like something I can get pretty good at.”

“Yeah, you think so, huh?” Now he seemed amused. But not in a way that made me feel bad. “You just need some clippers and a YouTube video, right?”

“Maybe a head to practice on or something, I don’t know.” I returned his smile without knowing why. None of this made sense. Weren’t we supposed to be talking about the fact that all kinds of impossible shit was happening all around us right now? That we were in a McDonald’s that suddenly looked like a castle? That he was some giant unnaturally-colored dude that seemed to pull a lot of respect here? Why were we talking about hair all of a sudden?

“Listen, I got a few friends who could use a haircut.” He shifted in his seat, and the whole thing groaned, vines and all. “I’m going to bring a clipper set over to school tomorrow. It’s yours. And in two weeks’ time, you’re going to come to my house and cut hair. That’s how you’re gonna pay me back. Deal?”

“Uhm. Deal.” I glanced at a small group of rats that seemed to be arguing about a mess on the floor. They were squeaking at each other in these high voices that made it hard to make out what they were saying. “But shouldn’t we be—?”

Mr. Foster put up a big hand to stop me from talking. “You’ll get to talk all you want in a couple of weeks. But if you have questions, you write them down one at a time on this.”

He made a motion like he was sliding something to me across the table. It didn’t look like anything at first, but when I looked down there was a piece of paper there. It was thick, like a page out of an expensive journal or something, colored yellow-brown with all kinds of spots in it. It looked awesome. Too good to write on, even. I gathered it up and slipped it in my backpack, not really sure what to say. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. You write the question, and I’ll see it. I’ll write a response, and you’ll see it on that slip of paper.”

“How?”

“Magic, that’s how.” The look on his face let me know he was giving me a big secret. “It’s like untraceable email, right?”

“Yeah, I guess.” I still felt weird about all of this, but kind of comfortable. “But what if my parents find it or my sister starts snooping in my room?”

Mr. Foster shook his head. “They won’t see it. Only folks like you and me can. If you want to know what I mean by that, that’s your first question.”

He got up all of a sudden, and it looked like he was going to smash right through the ceiling. But he didn’t. “I’ve got to go, but I want you to know two things. First, you’re not crazy. You’re special. Second, if you ever feel like you’re in danger or this is too much to handle, you come here and ask a cashier to get me. I’ll come as soon as I can, OK?”

I nodded. I didn’t really like it, but I nodded.

“Good.” Mr. Foster grabbed my shoulder when I stood up and squeezed it. “You’re a good kid, Marvin. It’s going to be OK.” He stared at me with those weird blue eyes of his until I believed it.

And then he drove me home.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2016 in RPGs, Sleepwalkers, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Friday Fiction) Changeling: Emergent

Writing 150It was my first day back in school after the mugging, and people were treating me surprisingly well. I guess word had spread about what happened, which was cool, but what was most interesting was how the story changed based on who told it. The teachers talked about how I nearly got away by telling a story about this little Br’er Rabbit figure I had, which is true — I made it up on the spot because I didn’t know what else to do, and all that fear and anger and desperation just came out of me in this huge rush. It felt great. It made me dizzy, and sick, like I was high af. I couldn’t remember what the story was if I wanted to.

If you talk to my classmates, though, they’ll tell you how I started “acting crazy” after the first punch was thrown, speaking in tongues and all that. I was pointing to things that weren’t there, and having conversations with myself, and got in a fight with thin air. The people who attacked me were so confused that they were about to run off until I clocked one of them real good upside the ear. Then they jumped up and beat me down.

That’s true, too, but I don’t like to talk about it.

I’m adopted, and my mother was institutionalized for being a paranoid schizophrenic. When I was in the hospital, there were a lot of doctors who told me that I “had taken a pretty good blow to the head” and to let them know if I started seeing things that weren’t there. I couldn’t tell them that my room was filled with balloons of all sizes and shapes, that somehow managed to change color right in front of my eyes. I couldn’t tell them that these had been brought to me by a bunch of creatures that couldn’t exist — rats in waistcoats, or CPR dummies that told me where all the good drugs were, or an elephant that liked to be the size that would be most disorienting for you. I knew where that road lead, and that was one I wasn’t going to take.

So I pretended everything was fine, and I got pretty good at living a double life. In one of them, I was the victim of a violent crime recuperating from a possible concussion. In the other, I was this storyteller that every imaginary friend in the hospital would come to for advice or jokes they could take back to kids in other wings. I have no idea where these stories came from; it was like there was some doorway inside of me I could access now, and it all came spilling out. I really liked that feeling, and that disturbed me. I knew that I was getting whatever my mother had, and it was only a matter of time before things went bad.

I really did think that would be my first day back in school. There was so much going on I could barely keep it together. I saw a dragon on the roof, casually muttering to itself how these “insects couldn’t appreciate” the value of its own personal “hoard of knowledge”. I think it might have been the mascot for our football team. I saw trees gossiping to each other about who did what and when. There was a tiny bus that my mother nearly ran over, taking rats and squirrels right up to the building. The sky was made of rainbows, a feverish ripple of color that never stayed the same thing. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, but it was also terrifying.

My aunt thought that I was nervous about being back in school after my whole “incident”, and I was fine with letting her believe that. The walk from the car to the front door was the longest walk of my life.

How do you tell someone that your mind is broken forever? I knew, deep down, that whatever this was wasn’t going away. If I sat down and closed my eyes and told myself that none of it was real, the colors would fade and all of this madness would get harder to see. But it made me feel sick. I was pushing that door of stories further and further away every time I did that, and there was some different part of me that fought against that hard. When the visions came back, they were more intense than ever.

So I was sitting in homeroom, trying to ignore the squirrel seated next to me in a little desk, chattering away about how excited she was to learn about American history from the tree out in the quad. The other students either came up to me to ask if I was all right, or snickered at me for being crazy. I was just getting calmed down when Mr. Foster walked into the room.

Mr. Foster is one of those guys that everybody in your neighborhood knows. He’s been at Highland Park High School forever and taught Social Studies to an entire generation of people around the block. He lived alone, and hung out with a bunch of people way younger than he was, and he had this thing about swords. We started calling him “Ghost Dog” a few years ago, and the name just stuck. He was a tall dude with an Afro and a 70s moustache. He wore a trenchcoat like he was Shaft, even in the summer. He was an awesome guy, but he was easy to make fun of.

At least, until now. He ducked under the doorway and pushed himself into the room. At first, he looked like he always did, but then there was this weird snap, like electricity popping. Then he was eight feet tall and blue, with these little horns and ridges coming out of his forehead. The coffee mug in his hand was this this hammer as big around as my chest. His trenchcoat was this steel suit of armor that shined like lavender when the light hit it.

I startled, and Mr. Foster looked at me. He sputtered, and then stared. He flickered a couple of times, back and forth between the old teacher and this monster dude. But then he stayed there. A rat on his desk asked him who the new kid was, and Mr. Foster flicked his hand like he heard it.

When all of the imaginary rodents at the edges of the room piped up with a “Good morning, Mr. Foster!” and he grunted in acknowledgement, I knew that he was seeing and hearing the same things I was. And I have no idea how that’s true.

But if I was crazy, then so was he. We shared the same visions. And if he could somehow live his life outside of an insanitarium then he had to teach me how.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2016 in RPGs, Sleepwalkers, Writing

 

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