Saturday, May 27, 2017 No comments

Family Feud

While Daughter Dearest is now married, she still lives in the free-range insane asylum, in the same trailer she had rented with a roomie back before meeting Sizzle. This has been helpful; with me recovering from knee surgery (going well), wife has been taking Charlie with her… at least until today. I’m mostly being neglected in favor of the father in law, who sits on his butt and demands everyone take care of him, or the endless demands of a farm. At least I haven’t (again, until today) been expected to take care of a baby when I’m just barely out of the walker myself, and that’s supposed to be part-time.

But I digress. One evening this week, Daughter Dearest went down to visit the father in law (mine, aka her grandfather). Mr. Sunshine, who has been living there as well, came in.

“Get outta my chair,” he ordered DD. “I need to sit down.” Now Mr. Sunshine was actually pleasant to be around for about a month after recovering from his stroke, but after that he went back to his old center-of-the-universe self. Maybe even worse.

“You bought this chair?” she sneered, not budging an inch. “Do you have your name embroidered on it somewhere that I can’t see?”

Sunshine, who thinks he’s superior to everyone and especially women, decided to take more direct action—he tried pushing the chair over to tip her out. DD, who is neither tiny nor weak, dug her feet into the carpet and pushed back. At that point, he looked ready to try upping the ante.

“You touch me,” DD warned, “and you’ll have a fight on your hands.”

“You think you’d win? Or you gonna sic your husband on me?”

“Yeah, I’d win, but I’ll save him a little piece after I get through with you.”

DD inherited the axe-murderer glare from her mom, and I think he saw it. So, like any thwarted bully, Sunshine turned to Daddy. “Make her get up!” he barked.

“She was sitting there first,” he replied.

“Well I guess you’re a bitch like your momma,” Sunshine snarled and stormed out.

Now Sizzle has his dander up, of course, but DD can obviously take care of herself. I’m proud of her… and a little bit proud of myself for raising her right. As for Sunshine, he’s slowly getting it hammered into his head that he’s neither king, boss, nor particularly respected around here (or anywhere else). There has been some talk about getting an injunction to get him tossed out of the house he’s not paying any rent for, and as far as I’m concerned it can’t happen soon enough.

Stay tuned… more cRaZy FAR Manor action as it happens!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017 3 comments

Blink has launched!

Skyscraper City’s newest superhero(?) is ready to teleport into your eReaders!

You can get it from Amazon or Smashwords right now, and from Kobo, B&N, Apple, etc., as the distribution system kicks in. I’ll keep you posted.

Synopsis:

In Skyscraper City, kids often dream of getting a superpower when they grow up. Stevie Winkler never expected to "manifest" at age 13! Being able to teleport is cool, but keeping it a secret sucks. Professor Zero and some of Skyscraper City's most famous superheroes are training him, but Blink finds the line between hero and villain is often blurred… and Skyscraper City is home to other forces with their own agendas.

Blink has three goals as a teenage superhero: survive, keep Mom from finding out—and maybe get a girlfriend.

But the fun doesn’t stop there! Blink includes a collection of backstories and capers from other Skyscraper City heroes and villains. I have some longer stories in the works, both for Blink and other supers.

Here’s a quick excerpt:

As he penetrated deeper into the alley, he felt something behind him. He stole a backward glance, and saw two shadows detach themselves from the walls. This is just a drill, this is just a drill, he told himself, but his heartbeat quickened. If this was for real, there would be light at at the other end of the alley; he could pop down there, grab the entire fracking garbage can, and pop back to Professor Zero. But this is just a drill, so it would not be quite that easy.

Ahead of him, two more shadows rappelled down the walls while a third appeared to block his way. This one whirled a staff around himself. Blink almost laughed—this was a clich├ęd scene from a bad kung fu movie—but stayed in character. Professor Zero wanted to see how Blink faced off against five ninjas? Fine. He could probably “achieve his objective” (as Captain Heroic put it) without a fight. Pop past the three ahead of him, find the message, and pop back.

“Yah!” Blink and his opponents turned toward the shout. A sixth figure ran his way, from the same direction he had come. With a couple fancy handsprings, he(?) cleared the two guys behind him and came to a stop before Blink.

“A student is in need of help.” It was Ma Ling, the Masked Warrior who had trained him since last summer.

Blink gave her a quick, stiff bow, keeping an eye on the others. “I am always ready to hear, Master Ma.”

“You take those two,” she ordered, pointing to the two ninjas behind them. “I will see to the others.”

“Okay.” Blink faced off with his two opponents, wondering if this was a message from Professor Zero. You will not fight your battles alone. The black-clad figures took “ready” stances.

Blink knew he was still a beginner when it came to martial arts. If he were facing real ninjas (or Masked Warriors playing villain, in this case), he would get his butt kicked. Except for his superpower… glancing around the alley, he spotted a garbage can without a lid. Captain Heroic’s improv lessons took over, and he had a plan.

Pop. He grabbed the garbage can and turned it over, while his opponents whirled to find him. A few bags and chunks of styrofoam tumbled out, representing actual garbage.

Pop. Behind the nearest ninja. He brought the metal garbage can down over the head of his opponent with a clonk, and jumped to avoid the expected sweep kick. The extra weight of the garbage can unbalanced the ninja, and Blink pushed him into the wall, making him bounce back and fall. Blink banged on the garbage can until he heard a heavily-accented “I surrender.” Up the alley, he saw Ms. Ma had somehow taken the staff, and was holding the other two at bay. The former staff-wielder was down, but watching the battle.

But his second ninja was coming for him, fast.

So how did Stevie get a superpower at age 13, when 19 or 20 is the typical age? How did he get one at all? It’s all revealed in Blink, so get your copy now!

Saturday, May 20, 2017 2 comments

Kneecapped, 2017: Progress

Ah, to heal like Wolverine… because I never would have had to do this in the first place! But a week later, I’m making visible progress.

Stylish stripes!
Early in the week, I decided I needed to have some kind of morning routine besides sitting in the recliner and doing my therapy exercises. I’ve never been one to care about appearances much—except, ironically enough, I’m a little vain about my legs—but looking presentable is a definite mental boost. So each morning, I get dressed, shave, then sit at the desktop and do things that are more difficult to deal with on the mobile devices. I can actually get some useful stuff done that way, and that also gave my attitude a boost.

Keeping up with the three-a-day exercises is a chore, but I set alarms in my phone to remind me when to do them. The same therapist who worked with the wife, when she had her knee done, is now working with me. Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Those are painful… that deep, annoying pain that’s the equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. Fortunately, that fades to an ache (still annoying) quickly enough. He gave me some additional exercises on top of the ones I brought home from the hospital.

Sunday, I decided to explore that “as tolerated” part of the repaired leg’s weight-bearing. I found it could tolerate a lot more than I had expected, leading me to wonder why I’m plonking around with a walker. I got my answer Monday: OMG was I stiff! That made therapy extra-OUCH-special. It didn’t help that the A/C wasn’t working (turned out to be a bunch of dead rats in the fan) for a few days.

The wife helped me get a shower Tuesday night. Soon after, the dressing peeled off (which was OK according to the doc) and we put a fresh one on. Despite my taking aspirin for pain relief as well as blood thinning, when that one came off, there wasn’t even a spot of blood on it. We’ve just let it get some air since then. Somewhere in there, the tight muscles began to loosen up. A little. Getting in and out of the recliner is easier and less painful. I’m putting less weight on the walker.

Friday, the staples came out, and my new stripey-knee style came in. I like it. The therapist is still clucking about getting my knee to straighten out completely, but was encouraging that I was able to straight-leg lift my heel a quarter-inch off the bed. Seeing that the quadriceps muscle wasn’t even working on Monday, that was a step forward. Getting in and out of the van wasn’t any less painful than a week earlier, when I got out of the hospital, but I’m no longer on hospital-grade painkillers.

So I got on the bed to do my exercises this morning, and I managed to lift that leg all the way off the bed! Now that’s what I call progress. I’ve also been able to shuffle behind the walker without putting weight on it, but (given the previous experiment) I’m not doing that one so much.

Looks like I might be good for resuming work (from home, anyway) come Wednesday. Not sure how much longer it will be before I can drive myself around again. I just hope I can be a pain-free passenger soon… that would be a good step forward.

Monday, May 15, 2017 2 comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 11 (CONCLUSION)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

“Serves the louts right, tangling with a Matriarchy woman and her Northerner husband.” Reeve Kendri waited for one of her assistants to push the stone box off the trap door, then nudged the bolt away. Her assistants had already seen to the driver, who complained of a terrible headache and claimed to have no recollection of how he had ended up in the yard. “They have some means, if they can afford a juggernaut as a carriage. What were they doing?”

“We unearthed an artifact from Camac That Was while we were plowing,” Liana explained. “I don’t know how word got all the way to Queensport.”

“You should have just given the thing to the sages. It would have saved you a mickle of trouble.”

“We’re going to market tomorrow,” said Liana. “We mean to give it over then.”

“All shall be well, then.” Kendri kicked the trap open. “You are prisoners of the Crown,” she called down, “charged with assault and attempted robbery. One at a time, and leave any weapons on the floor.”

As her four assistants marched the prisoners to their wagon, Kendri followed Liana and Chakan outside. “Your ‘Misiva’ was probably using an assumed name,” she explained. “But one of her friends might turn her in for a lighter sentence. Clever idea, going out to meet them with a paring knife in your slippers. Good thing marking their carriage was unnecessary.”

“Sturdy, strong, and brave,” Chakan boasted, “everything a Matriarchy woman should be, aye?”

“That immigration program… well, I admit I was skeptical at first, but every single newcomer I’ve met has been a credit to the Matriarchy. The Queen is wiser than I gave her credit for. Well, that’s that. I’ll drive their wagon back.” Kendri stopped. “So where is this mechanism?”

“Ha!” Chakan laughed. “I wrapped it in some blankets and took it to the neighbor’s. It’s in their chicken pen.”


“I’ve not seen one so well-preserved,” Sage Datra breathed, looking over the mechanism. “We have examples others have dug up, but none like this. It still works, you say?”

“Yar,” said Liana. “We tried it out. Had an endless river of neighbors coming to consult it as well.”

“‘Tis one reason we’re glad to be shut of it,” Chakan added.

Sage Wesim chuckled, looking up from the book and the transcripts they had made. “It was a parlor toy,” he explained. “Turning the knobs, and the speed at which you crank it, creates a randomness. It’s a sophisticated version of tossing a handful of rounds into the air, and recording the patterns they make when they land. The answers it gives are vague enough that you can apply them to just about any question. These are excellent transcripts, by the way. If your crops ever fail, let us know. We’ll put you to work as scribes.”

“Gods willing, that won’t ever happen,” said Chakan. “So you say that thing really doesn’t tell the future?”

Sage Datra shook her head. “I’m sure some ancients thought it did. But what it does is let you access your inner mind. In a very real way, it tells you what you already know.”

“Well, then…” Liana trailed off. “May your studies be fruitful.”

“Wait a moment.” Sage Wesim wrote on a slip of paper, then gave it to Liana. “The Crown pays a bounty for items of interest, depending on their state of preservation. This one certainly qualifies as exceptional. Take this paper to the office, and the Provost will take care of the rest. I’m recommending she pay you the maximum of five octagons, and it’s worth every round.”

“Tell me true, Chakan,” said Liana as their plodding oxen pulled the cart homeward. “Do you believe that thing we dug up was nothing but a toy?”

“So the sages told us.” Chakan scratched his head. “But would they not tell us that in any case, so we have no regrets about turning it over?”

“Five octagons put paid to any regrets I had, my love. Even if we have to add a new room to the house, we’ll have money left over to carry us through a crop failure.”

“Aye. But let us focus on you having a healthy daughter, first.”


“Send word to the Queen,” Sage Datra told Wesim. “She needs to hear about this, and soonest.”

THE END

Saturday, May 13, 2017 4 comments

Kneecapped 2017, post-op

Chainsaw go ning-ning-ning-ning…
The deed was done Wednesday morning, and Friday afternoon I was back at the manor. I only got four hours of sleep Tuesday night, because Charlie wasn’t sleeping well and I got up with him. So I was already pretty well out of it when I got to the hospital at 6:15am, and don’t remember much of anything after shucking my clothes in the prep room, putting on the standard extra-drafty hospital gown that would be my home for the next however long, and getting stuck for the IV. When I came to (at least to myself), they had just deposited me in my room. And there I sat. Or laid, actually.

I had prepared a bag for the wife to bring, containing my iPad, Kindle, a charger, and cables. She neglected to bring it up when I first saw her, but I was still sleeping more than waking. The same foot massagers they had put on her when she did this a few years back were now buzzing and squeezing my own feet. So some hours went by quicker than expected, and soon she was back with the goodie bag. That first day was okay, except that the nurses were a little slow to get around to me. I picked at my lunch (dry turkey, some interesting potatoes, green beans, fruit), caught up on the dumpster fire that is the daily news these days, read a little, played some solitaire, and listened to all the noises that are part of a modern hospital facility (even one out in Sector 706).

Except for two bobbles that first day, where it took an hour for someone to come after I buzzed, and the day nurse didn't take me walking up the hallway, things went smoothly. But sleep, even with pain-killers, was kind of elusive. I kind of skimmed the surface of sleep, with repetitive dreams (mostly about work of all things). I finally sat up on the side of the bed to use the undignified bucket they give you to pee in, and nearly filled it, sometime around 4am.

Thursday was a little better. My appetite and the food both improved, an ombudsman asked us if we had any problems (I told them about the hour wait on Wed), a therapist came by, and I got to talk with some people on the Outside―the wife and Charlie, Mom, and the home therapist who would be coming by after I got home. Except for the two patients whose meds were maladjusted, and who could thus be heard from the other side of the hospital, of course. I kept running out the saline they kept putting in my IV, and actually did fill the 1-liter bucket once. On my third walk down the hall, I reached the nurses’ station and thus “graduated.”

So I came home Friday. Getting in and out of the minivan was harder than I hoped, but I made it into the manor and to the recliner. The first home therapy visit was this morning, and I’m left with a feeling of “I can do this.” If only I can make sure nothing gets infected…

Monday, May 08, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 10

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
“Don’t hurt me,” Liana begged. “I’m with child!”

“Indeed. Tell us where the mechanism is, and you’ll live, you and your child.”

“My husband took it to the sages two evenings ago,” Liana replied. “Not long after you left.”

The knife tip poked harder. “You had better be lying. Now tell us the truth!”

“It’s… it’s in the barn. There’s a trap door behind the compost heap. An old wine cellar. We put it down there.”

“Truly? Well then, we’ll leave you here. You’re bound—so to speak—to tell us true.” One of the men slipped around her, pulling her arms behind her back, and bound her wrists with a leather thong. Then he knelt, bound her ankles, and lowered her to the floor. “You can shout and awaken your husband, but he won’t live long afterward.” A glint of moonlight on bronze told her they each held a dagger.

The shadows retreated, and soon Liana got to her feet. She laid the paring knife, concealed in her slipper, on the table before slipping outside. She jogged across the dark yard. The danger is yours now, love, she thought. May the lesser gods watch over you.

The juggernaut had been modified to include a driver’s perch. The driver, not expecting to be called to work at such a late hour, had already worked his way through most of a jug of ale. He managed to reach their destination, but then laid back on top of the carriage to rest. Stupid louts, he grumbled to himself, listening to the noise his passengers were making in the yard, I thought they knew how to stay quiet.

He dozed atop the juggernaut, ignoring the whickering and quiet scuffing of shod hooves on the old highway. A clicking noise, and then a smoldering smell, brought him out of his stupor. He looked over the side to see a figure backing away, and small flames licking the side of the carriage.

“What—hoy!” he rasped, leaping down. He barely felt the shock of landing, drunk as he was, but the vandal rounded the juggernaut and ran through the yard.

Gotta do something, he thought, giving chase. Ahead of him, the vandal leaped and dodged, running like a frightened rabbit before a hound. Then he stopped short and staggered backward a few steps. “What’s this?” he muttered, his hand around the rake handle that had stopped him short.

Liana grabbed up a piece of firewood—one of many stumbling blocks they had laid in the yard—and brought it down on top of the driver’s head. The man gave her a sad look that said, I never asked for such treatment, then his knees buckled and he fell down snoring.


“Gods, how do they stand it?” one of the men complained, lighting a small lamp. “They must let their oxen run loose in the barn.”

“Step carefully, then,” said the other. “That must be the compost heap over there. It don’t smell much better.”

“Ah, here’s the trap door,” one said, holding up the light. “I’ll go down and fetch it, you keep an eye out.”

“Yar.” He watched as his companion descended the rickety ladder, taking the light with him. Darkness filled the barn, except for what poured up from the trap door.

“A wooden box,” the other called up from below. “They must have put it in—”

The man above yelped and jumped at the sudden stabbing pain in his backside. Unfortunately, his jump carried him over the open trap door and he plunged downward, shouting in alarm and pain.

Chakan dropped the pitchfork and reached over for the trapdoor. The first man drew his dagger and leaped for the ladder, but Chakan slammed it shut. He shot the bolt and dragged the heavy stone box on top of it. Down below, the trapped men pounded at the door and shouted empty threats.

“Done and done,” he called.

“Likewise,” Liana replied, holding a lantern at the door.

“Gods, I hated letting you put yourself in danger like that.”

“Eh, it went the way I expected. Except they had a driver. He’s snoozing in the yard, now.” She gave him a lopsided grin. Those two years I spent as a soldier were useful after all.”

They embraced in the midst of the ox dung they had spread to confound the attackers. “And like anything else you set your hand to, you performed admirably,” he said. “But let’s get this cleaned up before Mirthan brings the reeve.”

to be continued…

Monday, May 01, 2017 No comments

The Brass Mechanism, episode 9

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

Difference engine
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
“First thing,” said Liana, as darkness crept over the farm, “we should hide the mechanism.”

“Aye. But not in the barn. That’s the first place they’ll look.”

“And the second place would be under the house.” Liana thumped the wooden floor with her toe. “So where would be a good place?”

“Ah, I think I know.” Chakan fetched a blanket and wrapped up the brass mechanism, explaining his idea. “I won’t be long. Take inventory of what we can use as weapons while I’m out.”

When he returned, almost an hour later, Liana had made a long list. “One thing about farm life, love,” she said, “there’s no end of pointy things lying about.”

“Aye. And I know what bothered me about that carriage.”

“It did seem plain for such a wealthy woman.”

“The Valiant Men of the North—that’s what Reachers call their army—have them,” Chakan explained. They call ‘em juggernauts. Ya have a couple of oxen pull it up a hill, then ya unhook the entire hitch. Plenty of hills in the Reach, ya ken.”

“Your accent is getting thick, heart of my heart.”

“Aye, talkin’ about my old home will do that. So, these juggernauts. An enemy starts up the hill, you loose one o’ these things to smash into ‘em. It’ll carry a whole strike—ten soldiers, give or take—and they can steer it from inside. So they plow into the enemy, then jump out and take ‘em hand to hand. That pointed front end is thick enough to deflect a cannonball, unless it’s really close range. That’s the important thing as far as we’re concerned. Against what we have, it’s an impregnable fortress on wheels.”

“If it’s made of wood, perhaps we could set it afire?” Liana mused.

“Oh, aye, but it would take a while to do more than…” Chakan paused, then swept Liana into a twirling embrace. “I must have married the cleverest woman in all of Termag,” he grinned.

“Aye, my heart of hearts, I would agree,” Liana replied in a horrid parody of Chakan’s Northern accent. “But if it takes too long to burn one of those juggernauts down, what does it profit us?”

“Now say this Misiva sends her boys to take the mechanism. We go to the magistrate with a grievance. Misiva claims she was at some function, with a hundred witnesses, at the time. Sow confusion and doubt, and the magistrate is more disposed to the wealthy anyway. But if one of her properties is marred in a specific way…”

Liana stopped Chakan’s speech with a kiss, long and passionate. “I think it was I who married the clever one,” she murmured against his lips.

“Ah. Our girl will tie the other sages in knots, some day.”

“We’re trying to plan, here,” Liana purred. “If you keep talking like that, I’ll end up dragging you to bed instead.”

“I fail to see the problem, beautiful one.”

“Eh, you’re right. We can plan some more afterwards.”


On the night before market day, the juggernaut rolled quietly along the road that ancient maps called Sunset Coast Highway. The horses wore boots, and the wheels were wrapped in soft leather. Neither boots nor wrappings would last long, but stealth was needed only until they reached their destination.

The carriage rolled past one farm, where someone lounged on the porch with one lit candle and a jug of ale for company. They passed Liana’s farm, then turned about and stopped. Two men emerged, their clothing a darkness reflecting the surrounding darkness. Without a word, they hustled directly toward the house—

“Unh! Ah!” one of them shouted.

“Quiet, ya lout!” the other hissed. “What happened?”

“The untidy fools left a rake out here. I’ll have a bruise for sure tomorrow.”

“Nothing for it. Move a little slower, now. If they heard, they heard. Nothing they can do about it.” They continued, spotting and avoiding other hazards. “Eh, I wonder if they expected us.”

“No bloodshed, the mistress said. Unless it’s needed.”

“Yar. Maybe they’ll give us the need.” He rapped on the front door.

Liana opened the door, yawning, candle in hand. “What is it?”

Hands seized her, and she felt a knife point at her throat. The candle fell and snuffed itself before hitting the floor. “Cry out and die,” one of them whispered.

continued…

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