Looking for writing-related posts? Check out my new writing blog, www.larrykollar.com!

Monday, January 31, 2011 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 72


Everyone dispersed to their afternoon pursuits, leaving Charles, Tina, and Johnny at one table to discuss livestock, Cody and Kelly at another.

“I don’t understand why we can’t get water out of that creek up the road,” said Kelly, doodling on a notepad while Cody alternated looking at his hands and out the big window.

“Too much shit dumped in it for too many years,” said Cody, not looking at her. “It might be okay, but we don’t have any way to test it. Besides lettin’ someone drink it for a few months and see if they get sick. You wanna try?”

“Okay, okay.” Kelly wrote the word CREEK on the notepad then scratched through it. “You got any ideas?”

Cody just sighed.

“Fine. Maybe we could dig a well?”

“Depends. We might have to go a few hundred feet down. Diggin’ that by hand would suck. And we’d hit rock instead of water, probably.”

“Whatever. So you’re saying any water we can reach is no good, and we can’t get to the good water?”

Cody’s voice got even flatter as he looked at the table, wrapping his hands around his neck. “A spring would probably be okay. If it’s not next to some toxic factory shit.”

“Okay, hope springs eternal.” Kelly laughed and tore the top page off the notepad, wrote SPRING on a fresh page. “So we need to find a spring. Preferably by spring.” She smirked and looked at Cody.

Cody finally looked at her, and Kelly wished he hadn’t. If looks could kill… “Cut the cute. Let’s just get this over with.”

“Look — I don’t really like this either, but I’m trying to make the best of it. It would help if you came up with some ideas instead of just sitting there and shooting down mine!”

“Yeah, I’m thinking! Fine, you got a spring. How do we get the water back here?”

“I don’t… hey! I know. We could build an aqueduct!”

“Why the hell would you think that’s a good idea?” Cody yelled across the table, standing and kicking his chair back.

“Let’s see you come up with anything better!” Kelly yelled, standing in her turn.

“Hey!” Charles called across from the table he shared with Tina and Johnny. “Keep it to a dull roar, okay?”

“Whose idea was it to put you two on this water project anyway?” Tina barked.

“Yours!” Kelly snapped, turning to glare at her parents. Cody crossed his arms and alternated glaring at Kelly and Tina.

“Jesus,” Tina said, shaking her head, “why don’t you two just get a damn room or something?”

Cody turned his glare back to Kelly, arms folded across his thin chest. “Yeah right,” he said. “Your place or mine?”

“Mine,” Kelly said, returning the glare. “The memories are probably too thick at your place.” She turned and left, not looking back; Cody threw his hands up and followed.

“Hey!” Tina called, they ignored her. “I didn’t mean for you to actually —” she stood; Charles put a hand on her arm. Johnny sat watching goggle-eyed.

“Let them go,” said Charles. “They have to work this out themselves.”

“But —”

“Look. You know as well as I do, Cody is going to be leading this community when it’s time for us to have a leader. I don’t know if they’ll call him king, mayor, or what, but he’s been the one who makes things happen. Don’t you want our daughter to be the queen, or whatever? Besides, they’re not… I think there’s too much animosity for them to be horny teenagers right now. They need to work out their differences first.”

“On your head be it, then. Ever heard of angry sex?”

“I’ll take that responsibility.”

Kelly banged the door open and stormed into #202. Shady hopped down from a sunny window sill to greet her, took a reading of his owner’s current mood, and decided that hiding behind the sofa with Cheddar was the smart move. Cody was about three steps behind her; he slammed the door shut and followed her back to her bedroom.

Cody stood in the doorway as Kelly pulled off her jacket and threw it across the room. “You coming in or what?” she snarled.

“I don’t know. I might just stand right here for a minute, until I figure out what the hell you’re up to. This time.”

Kelly unzipped her fleece; it shortly joined the jacket in the corner. “What I’m up to? What does that mean?”

Cody face grew even more angry — a small part of Kelly thought that was some feat — and began yelling. “What does that mean? Shit! You’ve been doing nothing but pushing my damn buttons for God knows how long! What the fuck did I ever do to you?”

“It’s the only way I can ever get you to react, you asshole!” Kelly yelled back, wrapping her arms around herself. “You dug yourself a nice hole and pulled the dirt in over you! You might as well be dead, for all anyone can talk to you!”

“Why not? The only good thing I ever had — in my entire! fucking! life! was taken away from me by some asshole who wanted us all dead!” Cody pounded the doorframe for punctuation.

“And that’s what it always comes back to — poor little you! You act like you’re the only one in this entire subdivision who ever lost anyone! Well I got news for you — remember Tim losing his friend? He got over it! I had some great friends at school, not to mention a bunch of relatives — they’re all off driving now, and I got over it! Every single person here has lost people they cared about — people they loved — and you don’t see them doing the walking dead act!”

Cody crossed his arms. “Fuck you. You couldn’t even begin to understand… I’m surprised you didn’t drive off like your preppy friends.”

“I almost did.” Kelly shivered at the memory. “Must be nice, being so self-sufficient, not caring what other people think. Not needing anyone.”

“Yeah, well I found out I did need someone. And now… oh, fuck this shit.” He turned and walked out, picking up the pace as he got out of sight.

Cody ran down the hallway and dodged onto the stairs. He jogged downstairs, looked across the pool to the clubhouse, and shrugged. He turned and walked through the breezeway, out back. A low cairn stood waiting, like that damned truck outside the gate, but this he approached willingly — and if Kelly had looked out her window, she could have watched him.

He sat on the cairn and turned to read the inscription he’d placed just a couple weeks ago, brass letters laid into a pool of wet mortar:

B AUG 9 1993
D JAN 11 2012

He ran his fingers over the letters, then turned away and propped his arms on his knees and head on his hands. “Empty. All empty,” he muttered. “Nothing left.” Looking down, he saw something light against the rocks and dirt. He picked it up — their wedding picture, the one he’d laminated and slipped in between two of the stones. The winter winds must have dislodged it.

“Great.” He started to push the picture back into the rocks, but ended up just looking at her image. “Oh God, Sondra… what I would give to see you for real…” the tears began, as they had so often in the last month.

Cody. Stop.

“I want to,” he sobbed. “But every morning, I wake up and I have to go through another day. Without you.”

Remember… throw away the leftovers.

“What? What does that mean? You’re not the leftovers!” Cody’s right arm tingled for a moment. “I can’t just — I love you —”

I love you too. But don’t —

“Don’t what? You never told me!”

Don’t push the world away. Don’t push away people who need you. Who want to love you.

He turned a defiant face to heaven. “Fuck the world! What did it ever give me that —”


“That’s just it! It gave you to me, then it took you away!”

Don’t push the world away. For my sake.

Cody shook his right arm, not noticing. “I love you, Sondra. I wish you could have been the one… damn.”

Live. Do it for me.

Cody shook his head, stood and looked around. “I thought you didn’t like her.”

Go. And all was quiet again except for don’t push the world away still echoing in his head.

“Is that what I’ve been doing?” He ran a loving finger across Sondra’s photographed face one last time, and tucked the picture back into the rocks. “God, I miss you. But if we’re gonna make it here, I guess I got to work with… people. I won’t forget, though.”

Kelly had her fleece and jacket back on, and was about to walk back to the Laurel Room, when she heard the knock.

“Cody,” she said, opening the door. “You coming in this time?”

“Yeah.” He stepped in, looking down. “Look, Kelly, I’m —”

“Cody, wait.” Kelly raised a hand. “I need to say something. I made a mistake, back at the beginning. I just didn’t… I wasn’t thinking. You… I… I couldn’t get my head around the idea that everything had changed. I thought you and I would — I had to get used to the idea. Then Sondra came, and it was like I’d thrown my chance away. Oh God, Cody, you…” her voice caught, “Oh God, you’re gonna hate me even more now, but sometimes I wished she would die — or had never come — because she took you away. And now… oh God, I feel so bad sometimes, I feel like it’s my fault she got killed — I’m so sorry —” she shuddered then broke into long sobs, right there in front of Cody and not caring anymore.

Cody stood for a moment, uncertain, then reached over and patted her shoulder. She leaned into his chest, still sobbing. “Hey,” he said over her head. “It wasn’t your fault. I’m sorry too… I didn’t believe it, but Sondra thought you… ah, crap.” He held her and let her cry, and found he still had a few tears of his own.

Shady slipped out of his hiding place and approached the two carefully, then stretched up Cody’s leg. “Hey cat,” he said, and Shady climbed his leg. He plucked the cat off his pants and set him on his shoulder. “Yeah… I guess the war’s over.” Shady purred.


Sunday, January 30, 2011 7 comments

48 Hours in the Dark: Misery or Inconvenience?

Updated September 2017, February 2022, December 2022. Changes are preserved at archive.org.

During one of the many winter storms to hit the US this month (January 2011), one of my online friends (whom I won’t name to protect the innocent) lost power for nearly 48 hours.

Power outages in the summer are mostly inconvenient. Mostly—people with certain health issues would say different. During winter, they can be miserable and even deadly. We’ve had winter storms here on Planet Georgia that knocked our power out for over a week. The first one (The Blizzard of ’93) was horrid, because we had nothing in the way of emergency supplies. The next big one (“Ice2K” in January 2000), we rode out in relative comfort. We’ve been through others since then, the most recent in 2018. It was a hassle, but we had learned our lesson.

Both FAR Future and White Pickups are stories of survival, at their base. Indeed, Johnny Latimer made the basic needs explicit in one episode of White Pickups: food, fuel, water, shelter. For now, let’s assume shelter isn’t an issue — you’re safe in your house or apartment, but the power’s out. It’s probably cold outside. Since you’re at home, you (usually) have food… just make sure you have things you can fix without needing to cook. So now you’re down to needing two essentials, fuel (heat) and water… and hey, maybe the waterworks has backup power? Maybe the pipes aren’t frozen? Maybe not. The thing is, winter storms and tropical storms usually give you some warning, and a day or so to get ready. Don’t waste it.

Unless you live in a rural area like around FAR Manor, chances are the power won’t be out for nine days after a storm. Unless it’s a really big one. But for now, assume two or three days. Your food and shelter are intact; all you need to worry about is fuel (heat, light) and water. With a few inexpensive items, you can turn a miserable two or three days into a mere hassle.

Water is self-explanatory. You need it for drinking, washing, and cooking. Figure on a gallon (or 4 liters) per person per day for drinking, and another for washing and cooking. Either buy enough for two or three days at the grocery store, or wash out a couple of containers and fill ’em up. Change out the water every couple of weeks if you fill your own containers; water your plants with it or drink it then refill. A really good idea I heard is to fill large freezer bags with water and put them in the freezer. You can pull them out to thaw overnight, or they’ll help keep your freezer food cold. Camping stores have collapsable 5-gallon (20 l) water jugs. Fill your bathtub to use for flushing the toilets. One or two packs of wet-wipes are useful for cleaning hands and faces (and other body parts as needed).

Fuel can be a little more difficult. If you have a gas stove, no problem — open the oven and set it on low, that’s a trick the old-timers know about. You can also cook on a gas stove with or without electricity. If you have a pilotless stove, you’ll need matches or a lighter to take the place of the electric igniter. But if you have all-electric appliances, you need to break out a grill or camp stove. The unfortunate thing with those is, you don’t want to use them indoors. Cooking on a gas stove means any wasted heat warms up at least your kitchen.

Speaking of kitchens… canned food can be a godsend during an extended blackout, but only if you can open the cans. I heard a story about the 2021 Texass blackout, where a survivalist had a ton of canned goods and electric can openers. If you can work a hand-cranked can opener, spend the extra money on a good one (I have a KitchenAid, no regrets). I always rinse off my hand-cranked can openers after use, to keep them clean. Even a super-cheap one can last a long time if they stay clean. If you have trouble with hand tools, there are battery-operated openers. Just make sure you have spare batteries on hand, and make sure they’re working before you need them.

Depending on your ability to cope with the situation, you can get by with very little or require a lot. But fuel isn’t just heat, it’s light. “It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness,” and that goes double for when the power’s out. The nice thing about candles is that they’re portable and can be decorative as well — meaning you can have them out on display instead of stashing them in a closet. A candle holder with a glass chimney is good because it lets you carry it around without dripping hot wax on your hand. Just keep matches or a lighter handy. Oil lamps or kerosene lanterns are nice to have, especially for reading, since they’re brighter. To get more light in a certain direction, put a mirror or square of aluminum foil behind the candle or lamp. They all provide both light and a little heat.

You can also go with a wind-up flashlight; I bought one for $8 a couple years back and I used it for years. In these modern times, you can get electric lanterns that can charge on a USB port and even provide a USB charger. Some have a hand crank, if you don’t have any other way to charge them.

Mobile electronic gadgets are a lifeline for lots of people these days, and not just in urban or suburban locations. How do you keep your phone going, when the outlets aren’t cooperating?

Besides the USB lantern, you can get portable battery packs to keep your phone going for one more day They aren’t terribly expensive, but you do need to make sure they’re charged up before the storm hits. If you have a car, you can use its battery to charge your devices. If you have a need, drive around some to keep the car battery from wheezing.

Apartment dwellers might not have this option, or would be severely limited, but having a backup generator could be a lifesaver. A 12KW generator can run pretty much anything you need in the aftermath of a winter storm, including the water pump and hot water heater (if you start them one at a time, anyway). A 4KW generator can run a gas furnace, refrigerator, and lights. Even a tiny 1KW “camp” generator can run lights, chargers, and a small space heater.

An inexpensive camp stove can be a big help for warming soup or heating water for coffee (or for washing). It’s amazing how much better you’ll feel with a cup of hot coffee (or tea) and a clean face! Choose a model that uses sealed propane or butane canisters, they're safer and burn cleaner. Put it near a window and open the window a crack while in use, to keep a healthy level of oxygen in your dwelling. The older models that use “white gas” or “Coleman fuel” need to sit outside. If you have a sheltered porch, or (in apartments) an outside hallway, that should be fine.

When the sun is shining in your windows, open the curtains and let it in. Hang blankets over windows in shadow to keep more heat in. Wearing layers inside can keep you warm, especially if you’re active (walking around). Kerosene heaters can be used safely, but if you have curious pets or children who can knock it over… not a great idea. The fumes from a heater give the wife a headache, so they may not be for you in any case. The “Buddy” line of camping heaters run on small propane cylinders; many are rated for indoor use. Just make sure you have spare cylinders available for 2 or 3 day outages (mine would use 3 per day, if running 24/7).

If you have a bunch of snow on your balcony or porch, it can help to keep your refrigerated items from spoiling. Pack snow into a pot and put it in the fridge, or pack snow and your necessities into a cooler and let it stay out in (shaded) sub-freezing weather. You can melt snow for washing if needed; if you heat it over a stove, stir it to prevent a scorched smell.

Finally, develop a routine — it will help a lot with the psychological part of things. Adjust the curtains, get snow, read, exercise, fix meals, check on your neighbors, call friends or relatives. It gives you a feeling of control over the situation, instead of waiting for the power trucks to show up.

Additions? Corrections? Leave a comment…

Friday, January 28, 2011 5 comments

#FridayFlash: G-5’s Blast from the Past

I was surprised to find G-5 already moving, carrying sipper mugs, as I woke out of cryo. He handed me a mug.

“Up and at ’em, sleepyhead,” he grinned. “All systems are go, we’re in our decel burn, Mars O.C. has already assigned us a slot and cargo handlers. Thirsty bunch down there, huh?”

I paused a moment, parsing his archaic gabble — “all systems are go”? really? — while trying to clear my head. The coffee in the sipper mug helped.

“I’m still trying to figure out how you got out of cryo so quick,” I said. “Especially at your age.”

G-5 laughed. “The docs said I would bounce back pretty fast if I ever went popsicle again. I was in for so long, my system got used to it. That’s what they said, anyway.” As always, that’s mostly what he said. I edit out his profanity. No need for it, and it would only make a long story longer. And ruder.

Makes as much sense as anything else. Being cooped up in a tin can with someone for five years, even if it was only one year subjective, can be stressful. Especially if that someone is a throwback. On the other hand, you get to know that someone pretty well. G-5 turned out to be a good hand — well-suited for the work, quick to learn, and he had a chance to catch up on over a century of technical and social changes. He started toning down the profanity… a little. He was adjusting well overall, especially for his experiential age, and I said so.

“Eh. I made up my mind in my first life, I wouldn’t let my mind ossify. Helps you not get Alzheimer’s.”

“Another disease there’s a cure for now. But I’m not complaining.”

G-5 laughed again. “Yeah. So what now?”

I punched up the approach. “Looks like we have a week to kick back and enjoy the ride. Pull up a news capsule and catch up on what happened in the last five years, check messages, that kind of thing. It’ll take most of the week, I figure.”

“Tell me about it. You know how long it took to catch up after 135 years?”

“Yeah. You did a lot of it on this ride — hey, you have a message. Only a month old.”

“Huh. Who’d be pinging me?”

“Your grad student friend?”

“Doubt it. She’s done with me. Teaching, or more likely unemployed and married.” He punched up the message, and gasped.

The vid showed an elderly woman, well-preserved and even a little elegant in spite of her throwback dress and speech. “Hello, Warren,” she said. “Here’s a blast from your past. You didn’t think you could dodge your responsibilities that easily, could you?”

“You are not my responsibility!” G-5 screamed at the video image. He started screaming and ranting — and if I’d thought his language was rude before, he took it up at least an order of magnitude. After he used up every woman-specific insult he knew — I had to look up a few — he kept going. Of the things I feel comfortable transcribing, he called her undead (vampire, ghoul), parasite (leech, tick, maggot), and a greedy gold-digging blowfly. He was nearly incoherent by then, repeating himself and getting red-faced.

After ten minutes or so, long after the message had ended, G-5 quieted down. “Good thing you didn’t take back over, it sounds like,” I suggested.

“That won’t stop her.” He paused. “I think I need to get your gram caught up, if she hasn’t heard already.”

“Good idea. I’ll set up the vid to forward — oh. She protected it.”

“Just like her. Ah well, we used to have a saying: if you can play it, you can rip it.”



“Forget it. All the protection’s built into hardware. We can’t break it without breaking the system.”

“So we go low-tech.” G-5 kicked over to his locker and brought out his percomm. “Nice phones you got these days,” he said. “Go ahead and run that message again.”

He held his percomm up to the screen, recording the message. Clever idea — I guess you have to be a throwback to think that way. He kept his mouth clamped shut, but I could tell it took a lot of effort as she continued:

“You can imagine my surprise and utter delight to find out that you were still alive, here in the future. And even more delighted to find you’re not destitute!

“So we can do this the smart way or the stupid way. If you’re smart, you will turn over a third of your company to me. If you want to be greedy, I’ll take it all. You hear me, Warren? You don’t have the political connections here that you had back then, you know. I understand you’re in space right now, so you’ll need to get in touch with me ASAP. Good talking to you again, Warren.” The message ended.

G-5 — Warren — poked his percomm. “Yeah, that took,” he said, and docked it into the console. I helped him open a new message and attach the video he took.

“Marla, it’s Warren,” he said. “I almost feel like I should apologize, but if you haven’t heard from my ex by now, you will soon. I got a message from her already. We’re in decel, slotting into Mars orbit right now, so I guess it’ll be a few months before we get back home.

“Listen. I don’t want her getting one red cent. Don’t let her scare you about the political connections. I didn’t use them, I beat her fair and square. Offer her a job shoveling the docks in Antarctica, at most. She doesn’t deserve anything more. Anyway, let me know if she contacts you.”

It was about a standard day later when gram’s response came in. “Warren, Sal, we indeed seem to have a mutual problem here. Fortunately, our legalware indicates that she has no legal standing to claim any portion of ECF. But at the same time, why not accommodate her?”

“No!” G-5 yelled.

“It would cost very little to set her up with a trust fund, so she could live out her days comfortably and — above all — quietly. Think about it before you respond.

“Oh, by the way, a seat on the board of directors is coming open. If we can put this unpleasant woman behind us, I see no reason not to offer you the seat. If everyone wins, everyone is happy. Let me know when you two are on your way home.”

That was gram. Bribe your enemies and your friends, all at once.

Monday, January 24, 2011 6 comments

White Pickups, Episode 71

Sunday, February 12, 2012

“Frankly, I’m a little worried about Cody,” said Tina, standing in Rita’s clinic with Charles, Tim, Sara, Rita, Johnny, and Rev. Patterson. Tim brought his thermos, filled with coffee leftover from breakfast, and several of them held warm mugs.

“There’s something wrong?” Rita asked. “Are you saying we need to restart the suicide watch?”

“No, I don’t think that’s the problem anymore. But I am worried about his mental state. You’ve heard him say the trucks eat the souls of those who get in, right? The Delphinia woman put that idea in his head. She happened to be out at the gate when he went sleepwalking the other night. Good thing, or he might have driven off.”

“Assuming the presence of a soul in the first place,” said Charles, “its absence — or loss — would explain quite a few things about the trucks. For example, the behavior of the drivers. They constantly and consistently obey the rules of the road. If the soul drives the will, removing the soul would remove the will to disobey as well.”

“Not to mention ever stopping or getting out,” Johnny added. “Maybe they’re taking orders from the trucks. We can hear ’em talking to us — why wouldn’t they talk to the drivers? or passengers? Maybe the drive-offs aren’t really doing the driving.”

“Let’s stay focused,” said Tina. “This is about Cody. And Delphinia. That’s why I asked you to join us, Reverend. Can you tell us what you know about Delphinia?”

Patterson rubbed his bald head a moment. “Not that much, really,” he said. “She showed up — I think it was the first day that people started noticing the trucks. She walked into the shelter, mumbling to herself as some homeless folk do. I asked her if she needed a place to stay, and she gave me that smile of hers and said she did.”

“Where was your shelter?” Rita asked.

“The Little Five Points area. I had a storefront church there twenty, thirty years ago. We struggled, as churches that serve the poor often do, but God provided. Then one of our members died and left a large sum of money ‘to continue the ministry.’ The church itself died out, but I used that endowment to keep the shelter open.”

“So she came in, you offered her a place to stay,” said Tina. “Then what?”

“Things happened quickly after that. It may have been Delphinia who first used the term ‘Eater of Souls,’ but the others picked — took it up right away. It was also things Delphinia said in November that got us on the move, and brought us here.”

“All right. Thank you, Reverend. I’m guessing Delphinia is a blind alley here, we can talk about her later if we need to. So let’s go back to Cody,” said Tina. “Charles, you said the soul drives the will — and it’s that word, will, that worries me. Cody seems to have lost the will to be a leader. He helps with anything he’s asked to do, but where’s the idea generator? Where’s the spark?”

“Yeah,” Johnny said. “That pretty much nails it. He hasn’t been the same. I don’t know — I never really thought much about getting married until I met Rita here — but if I lost Rita, I guess I’d be devastated too.” Rita gave Johnny a smile and stroked his back for a moment. “Tina, he lost his wife. It’s only been a month, as of yesterday. Give him time to finish grieving, for gosh-sake.”

“As much as I’d like to, we can’t afford to give him much more downtime.” Tina looked grim. “He’s just too important to the survival of us all. You know we have some serious issues —”

“But if we don’t let him heal, he’ll be broken for good — and what good is that going to do him or any of us?” Johnny gave Tina an exasperated look, waving his hands. “Besides — I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t checked — but we’re doing fine with everything but water, now.”

“Really?” Tina looked surprised.

“Yeah. So he has time to heal. Let’s give it to him.”

“Hey,” said Tim, “Remember when the girls had that blow-up? Afterwards, Cody said he needed some kind of project to get his mind off things. Maybe he’s right. Give him something useful to do — on the job healing or something. Let him handle the water situation.”

“Makes sense,” Sara laughed. “Now we just have to set him up.”

“Our basic needs: food, water, fuel, and shelter,” Johnny said, standing with Charles and Tina at the whiteboard in the Laurel Room. The rest of the community looked on. The marker squeaked as he wrote the same four words on the whiteboard. “Working in order from least to most urgent, we have more shelter than we know what to do with —” he put a check mark over the word Shelter while everyone laughed — “and if we don’t mind hauling it a few miles, the ice storm has pretty much solved our fuel situation for the rest of the winter. Until next winter, the solar panels and methane digesters will do, right?” He checked off Fuel.

“As for food… I’ll admit, we’re doing better there than I thought we would. We should thank Jason and Ben for that.”

“And the deer hunter!” Max yelled over the scattered applause, bringing more laughs.

“Okay, yeah, this has been my personal best hunting season by far. Good thing Cleve there ain’t a game warden, I’d never get out of jail!” Johnny checked off Food while waiting for the laughter to fade. “But there wasn’t exactly a lot of competition out there, and this used to be a hunter no-go zone. We might not be so lucky next year.

“So we got two major issues we need to tackle. One, get out to the country and see if we can’t round us up some livestock. Buncha chickens, some cows, a horse or two if any’ll let us catch it, maybe even some goats just to keep the kudzu under control.

“Two, we gotta figure out how to get a source of clean water, enough for a growing community.”

“The rain barrels have been good enough,” Ashley said. “Do we need more?”

“It gets pretty dry in the summer. Remember that dry spell last month, just before the ice storm? We almost used up all the water we had then.”

“Wow.” Ashley looked surprised, as did some of the adults.

“Yeah. So we’ll do fine for a while longer. Spring is usually rainy. But we need to have something more reliable.”

“So those are the issues,” said Charles. “I’d like to put Johnny in charge of acquiring farm animals — he has some experience there. Anyone object?”

Nobody spoke up, and Charles continued. “As for the water project, Cody has nearly always had good — even excellent — ideas about our basic survival needs. I’d like to put him in charge of figuring out how to deal with the water issue.”

Cody rolled his eyes at the scattered applause. “I guess. But I’ll need help.”

“This is too important. You should have anything you need to get the job done,” said Tina. “I’d like to start by asking Kelly to help you.”

Cody glared at Kelly; both of them looked at Tina. “I hope that’s alright,” she continued.

Cody looked like he wanted to object, but only shrugged. “Whatever.”

“Good. I guess that’s all for the community-wide portion of this meeting,” said Tina. “Expect to be shanghaied for one project or the other.” People chuckled as they headed for the exits.

to be continued…

Sunday, January 23, 2011 6 comments

Woohoo! I think?

I’m trying not to get my hopes up, they’ve been dashed so many times before, but right now it looks good…

While I was having a mostly peaceful day at work on Friday, the drama at FAR Manor had no cease. You mean if I’m not there, it still happens?

Rewind just a little… we’re getting a Krystal in the retail district. For those of you not familiar with Krystal, Jack in the Box and White Castle are supposed to be similar: tiny little burgers. Anyway, The Boy, Snippet, and M.A.E. all applied for jobs there. The Boy knows the manager at an Alpharetta branch, so he had a kind of “in” for all three of them. With the inside track, all three of them got interviews, and all three of them got hired. But it seems that Snippet, who already works at the Calvin Klein outlet, maneuvered things so she got the last day shift position, leaving M.A.E. being offered only a night shift.

So M.A.E., who has Moptop to take care of, was rather cheesed about the situation. And so was Mrs. Fetched. If Snippet actually did anything close to the bare minimum when it came to taking care of her own baby (Mason), that might have been understandable. But this don’t cut it. Mrs. Fetched, who has put up with Snippet’s behavior for far too long, had enough and told her she had three days to pack up and go. The Boy, silly thing he is, tried to take Snippet’s side and got into one of the characteristic shouting matches that seem to be a staple on that side of the family. Anyway, he decided to follow Snippet out the door, and they both left Friday evening. What’s funny is that he posted something on his Facebook to the effect that we chose M.A.E. over “our own family.” (As if he didn’t choose his girlfriend over his own son? DUHHHH Something about rocks and glass houses should go there.)

Is Snippet finally out? Oh please oh please… but like I said, I’m trying to not get my hopes up here. The Boy going with her is expected, but not desired — he at least takes care of his son sometimes. Mrs. Fetched gives him two weeks before he misses or fails a breathalyzer test and ends up in jail. I sort of doubt it will be that long.

Then M.A.E. and Lobster both went visiting friends, so it was just us and Mason last night. Practically, this meant little change in caring for Mason from before, except I no longer have to waste time or effort trying to get Snippet to do something useful. He’s doing pretty well, eating a lot when he eats and butting heads with Moptop. One evening this week, Moptop was getting seriously exercised because he had her baby doll in one hand and was pushing the doll’s stroller with the other. After several attempts at getting Moptop to play with something else, I told her “Mason’s just getting in touch with his feminine side.” To my amused shock, Moptop said “Oh,” and went to play with something else as if she understood. M.A.E. was there as my witness, and both of us were trying not to laugh and almost hurting ourselves holding it in.

We enjoyed a week of Mason sleeping through the night almost every night. Now he’s back to waking up around 3 a.m. I wish I knew what was goobering his sleep cycles. But he’s proving himself a very clever baby… he even recognizes the Apple logo on the MacBook and iPad as an apple. Last night, he was crying, and pointed down the hall at my bedroom saying “apple, apple.” Mrs. Fetched realized he wanted me to get the iPad and play Angry Birds for a while; once I fired it up he was calm and happy. He loves watching it, and occasionally messing up a shot.

I’ve started poking at the White Pickups sequel some more. If I’d known about the Amazon contest (which opens Monday) a month ago, I’d have had time to prepare the entry. Ah well.

Friday, January 21, 2011 8 comments

#FridayFlash: Zombie Wrangler

I think I got the idea for this one last summer, from an off-the-cuff silly comment on Twitter.

Zombie Wrangler

“Have a good day, Paul.”

Paul Contera hugged his wife. “You too, Laurie. If you can.”

“It’s not so bad, mostly.”

“Yeah. I’ll be home as soon as I can. We have that Dairymen’s Association thing to finish, but maybe we’ll be done early.”

“Okay. Bye.” They ducked into the garage and Paul backed the Acura out, leaving Laurie to the day ahead.

Laurie sighed and looked over her equipment hanging on the back wall of the garage. They wouldn’t be moving much for another half hour, so she had time for her coffee and danish.

8:00. Time to get started. She put on her gear: headset video/audio, jacket, kit bag, cattle prod (which she never had to use, but got a verbal reprimand the one time she left it). She turned on the headset and faced the big QR square pasted up next to the gear hangers.

Robin’s Western accent twanged in her audio. “Laurie Contera, confirmed check-in. How’s the audio?”

“Sounds good, Robin,” she replied. “How about mine?”

“Great. You ready?”

“I guess so. Your other victims on line yet?”

“You’re the second. Swamy’s already in… whup, there’s Mike. Shirley’s always a little slow, and Marilyn called in sick. I’ll pop in to chat a little later, gotta check in Mike. But I’m watching.”

Laurie stepped outside, locking the door behind her. She stepped to the curb and looked down the street. They were already shambling this way, keeping to the yards on either side. A herd of forty, or close to it, calling to each other.

Her zombies.

Bovine Behavior Syndrome victims, said that asshole Franklin inside her head. They are Americans, suffering from a dreadful malady. Our job is to help and protect them until we can cure them.

Funny how she used to worry about Paul’s job security. A year ago, she was in line for the CFO slot at Burger DeLuxe and expected to arrive there about now, while he worked in a struggling ad firm. Then that BBS bug got loose, and nobody was eating beef anymore, no matter how organic or upscale it might be. Meanwhile, Paul’s agency was swamped by dairy and poultry associations who wanted to tout the safety of their products. Working as a zombie wrangler — BBS Victim Scanner — was a huge letdown from upper management, even in a fancy-ass regional burger chain. But it paid well enough, and beat the hell out of trying to find another finance job with a third of the population gone zombie.

The bad part was, she had to be out here with them. Not that there was any danger, unless you were a blade of grass. Or a landscaper’s income, with grass-eating zombies cleaning up lawns for free. She could see them bending over, pulling up handfuls of grass and weeds as they approached. Laurie looked through the binoculars: they were mostly tagged already, and she recognized many of them. The zombies tended to herd together, working their way around a particular territory, occasionally swapping members when two herds met. She walked up the street to meet them.

They looked healthy enough — whatever the BBS virus did to their brains, it let them metabolize plant matter as well — and it was Laurie’s job to make sure they stayed healthy. She gave the herd a quick scan for runny noses and open sores, letting her scanner ID each one as she checked them over. Two of them had minor cuts that she disinfected and bandaged. All of them got vitamin supplements, soft plant matter soaked in nutrients. The zombies, as always, let her do her job as long as she walked with them.

“Mooooooo!” Some idiot leaned out of a red pickup truck and spotted Laurie. “Hey cowgirl! Wanna give me a ride?”

Laurie turned to face the truck, touching her headset to zoom her scanner in to record the driver’s face and license number. The truck took off, but she already had the ID. Franklin would send one of his drones, accompanied by a couple cops, to deliver a lecture (first offense) or take the moron in for mandatory sensitivity training (second offense). At least Franklin’s good for something, she thought, and went back to work. Only idiots bothered BBS scanners these days.

Several zombies had no ID badges, so they needed closer scrutiny. She ran the first woman’s fingerprints, and the database returned a match for a Carolyn DeJong. She pinned a new badge to the woman’s blouse and scanned her again, assigning the badge to her. The second woman was not listed among the BBS victims, and carried no ID on her. She badged, scanned, and fingerprinted the woman; ID’ing her was the department’s problem.

She turned to the un-badged man and caught her breath. “Steve?” If this wasn’t Steve Artinian — an accountant at DeLuxe, and her boy on the side a few years ago, until he’d quit his job and left her — it was his double. She managed to badge and scan him, then fished the wallet out of his back pocket.

“Laurie?” Robin’s voice came over the headset. “Your telemetry is showing stress. Everything okay?”

“Yeah,” Laurie sighed. “I just ID’ed an old co-worker is all.”

“Ow. Can you stick with it?”

“Yeah.” Laurie scanned Steve’s driver’s license as positive ID, returned it and his wallet, and turned away. “Just need a couple minutes to get my wits together.”

“Right. You’re taking tomorrow off. I’ll schedule you a counseling session for the morning, but after that you can pamper yourself. Remember, we’re trying to cure them. Don’t give up.”

Laurie sighed again. “I won’t.”

“Good.” Robin clicked out and Laurie was on her own again. With Steve. She cleaned his face with a wet-wipe, then kissed him. He ignored her, chewing his vitamin stick.

“I won’t give up, Steve. I’ll get you back.” She took a few deep breaths and returned to work.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011 4 comments

Making a Virtue of Necessity

It’s Virtual Monday at FAR Manor, having come off a 3-day weekend. Mrs. Fetched has been working on a video (for a — wait for it — poultry convention!) and the client said they wanted widescreen after she showed them the first (standard screen) cut. Oops… we never did get around to upgrading her system (a G4 dualie “Quicksilver” that is only now showing its age after 7 years), but a copy of Final Cut Express 4 has been sitting around in an unopened box. Given the requirements, it had to go onto my MacBook. I plugged in my 1TB external drive, pulled all her stuff over, and let her get at it.

Of course, since we were starting with a standard (4:3) project, moving it to widescreen (16:9) involved more than opening the project and continuing. It isn’t much of an exaggeration to say the project fought us every step of the way, but Mrs. Fetched wanted to get it done so we did manage to wrassle it to the ground and hogtie it in the end. One of the hassles was that I had to install and run FCE as the admin user — a rather unpleasant surprise for a Mac user, especially when it’s one of Apple’s own products. We’re used to things not being so cranky. The upshot was, I was fenced off from my writing files for most of the weekend while Mrs. Fetched worked or left things for me to deal with.

Undaunted, I picked up my new replacement Kindle and finished reading Walden. Then I started on another book I transferred to the Kindle, one I hope you’re familiar with. I wanted to give it a once-over to note a few awkward passages, but then I remembered the note-taking capability…

This actually has worked pretty well so far, and I’m 2/3 of the way through the book. So not only did I make a virtue of necessity, it was a happy virtue. You don’t find many of those.

I’ve found that the AppleTV thing has been really helpful when Mason is tired but still fighting sleep. I can stream Groove Salad or Ambient Alternative, then the photos of the animals start a few minutes later. Mason watches them, gets still… and zzZZZzzzZZZzzz…

Monday, January 17, 2011 4 comments

White Pickups, Episode 70


Friday, February 10, 2012


The single word reverberated around him. Cody turned: there stood Delphinia in the pre-dawn shadows, in front of the boarded-up guardhouse. Her hood hid her face, her cloak making her little more than another grey shadow among the shadows. Beyond him was a truck, waiting in nearly the same spot where the old one sat before they pulled it up to the street. This new truck had been whispering all along — End your mourning. Find eternal peace. — but Cody now noticed it and tried to tune it out. It was harder than usual, and it pulled at him.

“What are you doing out here?” he asked her.

“I go where I am needed. But what of you? Why are you here?”

Cody heard the welcome smile in her voice, could imagine it on her face, but shrugged it and the question away. “I dunno.”

“Were you thinking of giving in?” She inclined her head toward the truck.

We give an end to sorrow.

“Hell no!” But what am I doing out here? He’d been gnawing at the riddle of the trucks while trying to sleep; it was better than thinking about Sondra. But he’d dreamed of her anyway… and now he was out here. And so was a truck. Pulling at him.

“This one is yours.”

“Huh?” Cody looked over his shoulder at the truck. Nothing different about it, except the pull. They all looked the same.

“You summoned it.” The overtones in her voice hinted at a gathering power.


We are ready to hear your call.

Delphinia slipped back her hood and stepped forward, leaving the ball cap in place — but still Cody stood transfixed in the deep blue of her eyes, even in the near-dark, as she approached. “Thus says the Oracle: Endure, Cody. For the sake of the future. This is also Sondra’s desire.”

Cody tore his gaze away from her eyes and glared, crossing his arms. “Is her desire? She’s dead!” His vision swam for a moment.

“Only the body perishes.” The fencing and trees whispered an echo. “The soul lives on, but can be devoured. By hate. By despair. By unrelenting grief. And…” She turned her gaze to the truck.

“They really eat your soul?” Cody gasped —

And sat up in his nest in front of the fireplace. He shook his head, but Delphinia’s words still echoed in his skull. Habit made him check his fire: coals glowed behind the glass doors. He wrapped his robe around himself, opened the doors enough to throw two more pieces of wood in and enjoy a wave of warmth, then closed the doors and tottered to the bathroom.

Dim light filtering through the living room blinds suggested early morning, and Cody took a peek outside. Nobody moving around out there, but the early risers would be getting dressed — maybe someone was already making coffee in the Laurel Room? He felt like he could use a cup or two; last night wasn’t restful. First there was a dream about Sondra, then the one with the weird bag lady there in front of the guardhouse… that one felt almost real. What had she said? Something about enduring. And the trucks eat your soul?

“That’s some nasty shit,” he said aloud. “Gotta get some guys to push that thing back out on the street — oh yeah.” That was just a dream. Wasn’t it? Dreams and reality had a bad habit of mixing together these days. “Coffee,” he said. “Get my head on straight, then I can go have a look.” He picked up his shoes —

They were wet and cold.

“What the…?” He sat on the hearth, letting the fire warm his back, and thought. He woke up from the dream about Sondra, threw some wood on the fire, laid back down… hadn’t he? The wet shoes seemed to stare back at him, and he propped them against the fireplace glass. Could he have sleepwalked out to the gate? He didn’t remember going out there… or coming back, either. Then again, Delphinia had a way of pulling everyone around her into her crazy world. What did the preacher say about her that day? She has a gift, and I fear it has driven her mad. But she sure didn’t act crazy out there.

A few minutes later, Cody left the Laurel Room, hands wrapped around a warm coffee mug, black hoodie snugged up against the cold and damp of early morning. It was a short walk to the gate, even with the customary pause to look at the spot where Sondra died. He trailed a hand along the side of the guardhouse, looked up for a moment, then slipped through the gate and looked at the pickup. He could feel the pull from yards away, the strongest ever.

This one is yours. You summoned it.

There it was, exactly where he’d seen it, dream or not. He glared at it, sipped his coffee, turned to look at the ground in front of the guardhouse. The depressions could have been footprints, but Cody was no tracker.

Life is too short for endless speculation. There is a better way.

Drive. Consider your questions for eternity.

“Like hell. You can fuckin’ starve to death for all I care.” He gave the truck a middle finger and pushed himself back into the subdivision, swimming against the tide, making a mental to-do list: Get some guys together. Find the hooks they used back around Hallowe’en to roll the old one out, then get this one off the place. Spread the word.

And keep an eye on Delphinia. She was more than she seemed. And she knew more than she was letting on.

to be continued…

Sunday, January 16, 2011 4 comments

Rocks vs. Sucks: a Tale of Two Helpdesks

Bottom line up top: Amazon rocks, State Farm sucks.

As I wrote earlier, my Kindle screen went Tango Uniform early this month, a couple weeks after the warranty expired. Amazon was really helpful — after going through some troubleshooting measures that didn’t work, they agreed to replace it under warranty anyway. Very cool. They overnighted me a replacement — with a bum charging circuit. Back on the phone, Michael said I already tried all the stuff they would have walked me through anyway, and said they’d send a replacement for the replacement. But with the snow, the “overnight” delivery didn’t happen until Friday. Not Amazon’s fault, obviously, or even UPS’s. But I have the new Kindle, it works wonderfully, and I’m working on trying to keep up with the growth of my reading pile.

On to some less wonderful support. I took my car in to get the bumper fixed on Friday, then called State Farm (the other guy’s insurance) to let them know the car was in the shop and I needed a rental. Now earlier chats with the claims people led me to believe that was all I needed to do. Now I learned why State Farm can be anagrammed into Fart Steam, because that’s what I got: Kristen tells me “their policy” is that they don’t do a rental until the parts are in stock and the work is ready to be done. “That’s why we don’t recommend taking your car in on Friday, unless we can confirm your garage is working through the weekend.” Well, DUH… what with the snow, that was something else I was planning to do Monday that didn’t happen until Friday. And it would have been nice to hear about this “policy” before I took the car in. I barely managed not to take it out on Kristen; after all, she’s stuck having to deal with the idiot State Farm policies with no control over any of it.

And that’s the lesson for today: give your helpdesk people a way to chuck “The Book” in the trashcan and use their heads. Amazon obviously does that; their support staff can stretch a warranty and thus I have no regrets about having a Kindle or buying my mom one. State Farm just sucks… their rigid stances on stupid things is one reason we switched our car insurance to Progressive a few years ago after 20 years with State Farm.

Friday, January 14, 2011 3 comments

#FridayFlash: Pre-emptive Claim

“Vik, would you come here a minute?” Vikram Pinto dreaded hearing that — it usually meant his wife was puzzled by one more thing he knew nothing about — but shuffled into the den where she sat at their computer.

“What?” he said, thinking It’s little early for this, especially on Saturday. He sipped his coffee and looked at the monitor, filled with BudgeTrack sprawl.

“I was catching up on the checking account,” Jaya said, “and a deposit for $250,000 came in this morning. That’s not right, is it?”

What?” Vik nearly dropped his coffee, but managed to recover with only a few drops sloshing onto his hand. “Did we win the lottery or something?”

“I don’t think so,” Jaya shook her head. “The deposit is from a ‘Saturn Ring’ — does that mean anything to you?”

Vik took a sip of his coffee. “It sounds familiar… oh! It’s insurance! Let me see if I can find a number.” He opened the file drawer in the computer desk and removed a folder — Vik was almost obsessive about organization. “Ah. Here it is.”

The agent at the local office murmured, “Um… I can’t help you. Let me put you through to Claims,” and switched before Vik had a chance to object. He turned on the speaker so Jaya could hear. After a few seconds, a recorded voice informed him that there may be a delay of up to a second during this call, please be patient.

“What does that mean?” Jaya asked.

“It might be going to an orbital station,” Vik mused. “Isn’t Saturn Ring that insurance company the Pilf bought from the government?”

The Pilf — the closest most humans could get to saying their actual name — entered the solar system a few years back, offering interplanetary travel technology in return for permission to settle into orbit around Jupiter. After they bought AIG from the US government, they renamed it Saturn Ring. Then they realized they needed company representatives at least in Earth orbit.

The rep came on the line. “My condolences, Mr. Pinto.” While one part of Vik’s mind tried to process that, another considered the Pilf’s accent — almost like his own. “As you may know, it is our practice to pay a term life claim the moment we see the lifeline associated with that policy terminated.”

“What?” Vik’s stomach fell, and kept falling. “I am to die? How? How do you know? How soon?”

“Perhaps you have heard that it is the ability of our species to see lifelines. Your species is unique, in that we are unable to see your lifelines more than an hour ahead.” Vik did remember hearing that some time ago, and remembered wondering about beings that were born knowing when and how they would die. “As for how: are you on an airliner? We have several clients’ lifelines terminating all at once — in about thirty-five minutes — and one of them is a flight attendant.”

Vik stared at his wife. “I need to leave now,” he said, handing the phone to her. “Perhaps it is too late to save myself, but I can go away. There is no reason to endanger you and the neighbors!” Jaya had no chance to protest; Vik was already heading for the door. “I love you!” He jumped in his Jetta and roared away.

There was an old farmstead a few miles from their subdivision. A developer had bought it, but had no more than laid out a few streets before the housing market collapsed. With one eye on the road, and another on the dashboard clock, Vik drove as quickly as he dared (no sense in getting pulled over and taking an innocent policeman with him) out of the subdivision and down the side road. Checking the time, he drove right past the entrance and lost another two minutes turning around and coming back. An orange construction barrel blocked the entrance; he turned the car off and flung himself out the door, not bothering to close it behind him. The streets were first unmarked, then unpaved, but Vik ran until a cramp in his side forced him to stop.

Taking long, whooping breaths, he opened his cellphone and looked at the time. Only a few minutes left. Scanning the sky, he saw his personal Shiva: a jet, low and off the normal lane, trailing black smoke instead of a white contrail. Nobody else around. Perhaps it would be far enough. He punched a familiar number.

Jaya took the call as she stepped into the back yard. “Vik, I need to tell you —”

“It is alright,” he said, “whatever it is. I am alone here. Perhaps nobody else will die on the ground.”

“Listen: remember when we filled out the benefit package? We both got policies!”


“I talked with the Pilf after you ran out the door and asked him to identify the lifeline associated with the policy,” Jaya said, standing in the back yard, watching the airliner plummet toward the ground. Toward her. “It was mine. Not yours.”

“Run, Jaya!”

“Why? It is too late now, there is nowhere to go. You were very brave to take yourself away from other people… I —” she wiped away a tear as she watched a piece of the airliner break off and tumble away. “I am proud to have been your wife. I love you, Vik.” She let her arm drop to her side, the phone dangling from her fingers and still connected.

Vik could barely hear his own scream above the scream of the airliner. It roared overhead, and the phone cut off a few seconds before he heard the explosion.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011 7 comments

All the Extras in One Shot

One thing you can say about the snow: it gave me the opportunity to get all the extra people at FAR Manor together in one shot!

From left to right: M.A.E., Moptop, The Boy, Lobster, Mason, and Snippet. If you’ve wanted to put faces next to the names, here they are.

The Boy and Snippet built the snowman. I, um, accessorized it.

Monday, January 10, 2011 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 69


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

You leave him alone!” Caitlin’s shout rang across the Laurel Room. Everyone turned to see the little redhead pushing up against Kelly, fists balled up at her chin, her face as red as her hair. “Why are you so mean all the time?” Behind her, Cody sat hunched over himself. He put his palms to his temples and sighed.

“Caitlin!” Jennifer rushed to the scene, Tim and Sara right behind. “What’s going on!”

“You just stop!” Caitlin hissed at Kelly. “I— I—” Tears finally broke through as Jennifer pulled her away.

“Okay, okay,” said Kelly, not sure if anyone heard, and stalked away.

“What was that about, Caitlin?” Jennifer asked through Caitlin’s sobs.

“It’s my fault.” Cody sighed again and turned to face them. Tim watched all three of them as best he could, while Sara reached and caressed Cody’s shoulder.

“What?” Jennifer gave Cody a dubious look.

“Kelly. She’s always runnin’ her yap at me. I just try to ignore it. Damn if I’m gonna give her any reaction. I guess Caitlin thought I needed defending.” He gave Caitlin as genuine a smile as anyone had seen since the day of the gunfight. “Hey. Just ignore her, okay? That’s what I do, ’cause she’s lookin’ for a reaction. But thanks. Thanks for caring.” Caitlin nodded. “You still workin’ on your moves?” She nodded again. “Good. We got class tomorrow.”

Caitlin gave him a thin smile and let Jennifer lead her away. Once they got some distance, Cody looked down and shook his head.

“You gonna be okay?” Tim asked him.

“Yeah. I guess. As okay as I’m ever gonna get.” He stood, still looking down. “I need a project, I guess. Somethin’ to do where I don’t have to think about stuff.”

“There’s a lot of things going on,” said Sara. “Jason’s trying to find more seeds for our gardens, Johnny and Max are clearing up all the downfall from the ice storm outside, there’s the patrols…”

“Yeah, and I help with all of that.” Cody stuck his hands in his pockets. “It ain’t enough. I still got too much time to think.”

“I’m sorry, Jenn-mom,” said Caitlin, looking at Jennifer’s feet. “But Kelly’s just so mean to Cody. She’s jealous because he married Sondra, and I —” she shook her head.

“You what?”

Caitlin grimaced and spoke in a rush. “I was jealous too, but I’m not mean to him like that.”

“I know,” Jennifer said, with an inward sigh. “But Cody’s right about this. It’s best to ignore it. He’s got a lot of stuff to work through with losing Sondra, and you don’t want him worrying about you too, do you?”


“Good.” Jennifer paused for a moment, considering. “You know Cody’s too old for you, right?”

Caitlin sighed. “I know. But that doesn’t mean I can’t care what happens to him!”

Again, Jennifer paused for a moment. “You’re right, Caitlin,” she said at last. “We all have to care about him. But don’t let caring about him get in the way — no, that’s not right. Caring and… infatuation. They’re two different things. Okay?”

Caitlin shrugged. “I guess.”

“What is your problem?” Tina asked from Kelly’s bedroom door.

“What problem?”

“With Cody! What the hell are you trying to do, make him commit suicide? Even a ten year old girl can see it!”

“Caitlin has the world’s biggest crush on him, Mom.”

“That doesn’t matter! What matters is that you’ve been doing the equivalent of picking at an open sore, ever since Sondra’s funeral! You need to just back off, young lady.”

“Fine. I won’t say a word to him from now on. Satisfied?” Kelly turned and glared at her mother, her robe tangled up in her crossed arms.

“If you can’t be civil, anyway, that might be for the best. I hope this matter is closed; I’m sure Ben is wondering what’s going on down here. Good night.” Tina stalked away.

Kelly huffed, shook out the robe, and wrapped it around herself before undressing. From the living room, she could hear low voices, Mom probably telling Ben that they had a “discussion” and it wasn’t anything to worry about. She didn’t care. This evening had been one long embarrassment: a girl half her size had come at her and backed her down, everyone asking what was going on, then Mom having to come in and give her two cents. Dad would probably want to talk about it tomorrow, so it wasn’t over yet.

She slipped on her flannel jammies, still under the robe, and pulled on her thick sleeping socks and house shoes before ducking into the bathroom. At least she’d learned how to keep exposed skin to a minimum; guys were lucky that way. She returned to the bedroom and burrowed into the nest of blankets and comforters on her bed, pulled her book out from under the pillow, cranked her flashlight. The nest would warm up soon enough, then she could ditch the robe. Ben had it easy; the living room was the warmest place in the house as long as he woke up in the night to throw a few more sticks in the fireplace, and he was pretty good about that.

She tried to think. What was it that set Caitlin off? She honestly couldn’t remember what she’d said — probably just the usual smack talk, nothing to get so crazy about. Kelly was convinced she wasn’t in the wrong — didn’t anyone else see what Cody was doing to himself? He might not kill himself like Mom thought, but he might as well be dead already, the way he just lived in his own shell.

And now she’d cut herself off. How could she help him now?


Saturday, January 08, 2011 4 comments

Just Ahead of the Storm (Kindle version)

The forecast has Winter #3 bringing us 4–6 inches of snow tomorrow night and Monday. This forecast triggered a much easier prediction: widespread panic on Planet Georgia. So the story goes, the local Mal*Wart ran out of bread, the truck brought only a small supply, and that disappeared pretty quickly as well. For whatever reason, a weather emergency means people strip the shelves of bread and milk. I made a loaf of bread this morning, and some rolls, so we’re set there at least.

Of course, this was the perfect time for my Kindle to fail (look at the top of the screen):

As you can see, the top half-inch or so of the screen is goobered. I can’t see the battery charge icon or the signal strength meter. I had a look, and called Amazon, and (even though it’s a couple weeks past the warranty) they decided to replace it. Yay!!!!

So they sent out the new one overnight, I received it yesterday… and it doesn’t charge. I tried my old cable and the one they sent with the unit, on both the wall charger and the computer, no luck. On the phone again… and they quickly agreed they’d sent me a bum replacement. The third one (which I hope is the charm) would be here Monday, except that I doubt much of anything will go anywhere on Monday.

So I get to use the iPad as an eBook reader for a couple of days. It’s not as comfortable as the Kindle for reading, but it works.

Friday, January 07, 2011 5 comments

#FridayFlash: G-5

I knew he was already onboard, but it was still jarring to see G-5 in the pilot seat, one foot on the copilot’s armrest and the other on the edge of the console, face buried in a reader. He looked up as I floated to the locker.

“About time,” he said, and turned his attention back to the reader.

“What’s got your attention there, G-5?”

“I wish you wouldn’t call me that.” That’s not exactly what he said, but close enough. Being a throwback, he uses what he calls “the F-bomb” as a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb — often more than once per sentence. We agreed to clean up our language about a century ago, but he slept right through that. I’m not going to get vulgar for the sake of accuracy here.

“It’s a little easier than great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.” I shooed him out of my seat. “You stowed?”

“Yeah yeah.” He scooted over, still reading.

G-5 is hard to describe to anyone who doesn’t have a throwback in their own family, starting with his age. Depending on which metric you use, he’s age sixty (experiential), seventy (medical), or 197 (chronological). The medics said he’s got a good thirty years of full-function left, now that they’ve overhauled him, then maybe ten or twenty of slow decline before something critical gives out. His speech is late-21st, he’ll wear suits like a teenager, and his shaven head makes him look ageless. Not long after he thawed, some of my friends made the mistake of taking him to a bar and using his F-bombs as the basis of a drinking game — we were all nearly comatose in an hour.

He looked up from his reader. “Your gram isn’t exactly a fount of data. We’re doing an ‘ice run,’ she says. What does that mean?”

“It means we’re going Out, finding and processing an iceball, and taking it to Mars orbit.” I pulled up the revised flight plan from Control, OK’ed it, and the pilot tug hooked up and took us out.

“Out. How far out?”

“All the way. Kuiper Belt, anyway.”

For the first time, he looked alarmed. “That’s gonna take a while?”

“Five years. But we’ll be in cryo for four of that.”

“Five years?” He scrambled to stand and the reader floated free. Like anything on a space freighter, it immediately used puffs of air to send it toward the nearest magclasp. “I can’t waste five more years! I’m outta here!” He kicked toward the airlock.

“Too late,” I said. “We’re already underway. They won’t let us go back unless someone needs immediate medassist.”

“That could be arranged.” He gave me a grim look. “Your gram did this to get rid of me, didn’t she?”

I shrugged. He could be right. G-5 was the founder and technically the owner of ECF, the family business he built from several bankrupt railroad and freight companies after the Crash of 2074. But so far, he was the only throwback to wake up to find his company thriving. Legal minds and computers were overheating, trying to untangle the implications. He went into cryo 135 years ago, partly because of pancreatic cancer and partly to escape an ex-wife who had left him after his first fortune evaporated, and insisted that she was entitled to a large share of the second.

He woke to find a cure and his company still around, but much changed. His great-great-grandson (gram’s dad) expanded off-planet, and that quickly became ECF’s primary business. Heedless of both technical and social changes, G-5 wanted to take up the reins and run the company again — and gram wasn’t exactly ready to let a relic from the past push her aside.

G-5 poked his head into the airlock, maybe to see if I was lying about being underway. “She could’ve told me.” He shrugged. “I could’ve gotten laid.”

“If you’d known, you wouldn’t be on board, I guess. As for the other… your grad student friend didn’t give you a send-off?”

“Eh. She got what she wanted. Dissertation written and accepted. No more need for the throwback.” He retrieved his reader from the magclasp and took the co-pilot chair.


“Yeah. Seems to be my luck in women. I run out of what they want, and bye-bye!” He laughed and stowed the reader. “At least this one won’t be back lookin’ for more later on.”

“What were you reading about?”

“The ship. Operations, troubleshooting protocols, that kind of thing. Might be good to know about.” He paused. “You know, this might not be so bad. Looks like I’ll need a prybar to get your gram out of the driver’s seat. I need some time to figure out what kind of leverage I’ll need. And how much. Besides, this trip will give me some front-line experience that I bet she don’t have herself.”

“Huh. Good luck with that. You remember what comes after the pilot turns us loose?”

“Yeah. Deploy the solar sail, slingshot maneuver, then we go popsicle for a couple years.”


“Oh, come on. Frozen treat on a stick? They don’t have those now?” He shook his head. “And they think I’m the throwback? Eh. Let’s get to work. The sooner we get under way, the sooner I can get my company back. And if that don’t work, maybe I can bring the popsicle back to you benighted heathens.”

The Epic Ancestral Power Struggle was on. And I was caught in the middle.

Thursday, January 06, 2011 No comments

Wednesday (cough cough) Wibbles

OK, that’s enough of that. The “new” Blogger editor was sitting and spinning so I gave up and went back to the old one.

So it’s after midnight, and thus technically Thursday morning. Oh well, it’s still Wednesday night somewhere.

Mason has an ear infection, brought on by his back teeth coming in. I have some unspecified virus, according to the doc, that’s been going around Sector 706. Two different causes, but we’re both feverish, congested, and we both sound like we’re about to cough up a lung on occasion. I was well for about four days between shucking the first whatever and catching this one. I’d sleep all night anyway, or most of it, if Mason wasn’t waking up miserable.

Today (that is, Wednesday) was Mrs. Fetched’s and my 26th anniversary. We had a dinner out, just the two of us. Kind of nice for a change. I bought us an AppleTV to go with the new HDTV as an anniversary present, and pulled some YouTube stuff in just to show off. The Boy has a Netflix account, and he said he’ll punch it in so we (Mrs. Fetched, really) can pull down movies to watch. Me, I’ll probably use it to stream Groove Salad or some other ambient station when I’m trying to put Mason to sleep.

With White Pickups pretty much wrapped up, I pulled it (episode by episode) into Sigil, a Free authoring tool that uses ePub as a native file format. From there, I gave it a more novel-like format, including actual chapters, and added some more story toward the beginning. There’s still a lot to go, but I pulled it into Calibre (a free ebook manager) and convert it to MOBI so I could load it onto my Kindle. I’m busy reading Thoreau’s Walden right now, but I’ll be soon marking places where the story needs more fleshing-out. I’m sure the ending (and other parts) will need a little work, but that’s what drafts are for, right? Whether I find a publisher or go indie (still trying to decide), the novel will have editing improvements and extended material.

Speaking of writing, I’ll have a #FridayFlash ready to go. It needs a little work as well, but that’s the beauty of flash fiction — it can be fixed up well enough in an evening or two.

I can’t wait to get better… I have stuff to do outside. I never did get the winter garden started, although the rain (and snow) never did let the patch dry out enough to dig up. I still need to finish clearing up the bank out by the road and hacking back the vines there. At least I managed to lose four pounds compared to June (at my last checkup), even with Eating Season. But I need to get exercising too. Maybe I’ll stay healthy for more than four days this time. :-)

Monday, January 03, 2011 5 comments

White Pickups, Episode 68


Monday, January 30, 2012

“Have you looked outside yet?”

Cody stood in the door, giving Tim a bleary look. He shook his head and pulled the thick green blanket tighter around his sweatsuit. “You wanna come in? It got cold again last night.”

Tim stepped in, holding a thermos. Cody’s place smelled of wood smoke and inadequate bathing — like every other occupied townhouse — and he had a warm-looking nest in front of the fireplace. “I brought us some coffee,” he said, “if you want some.”

“Sure. I’ll get us a couple of cups. You can have the recliner if you — holy…” Cody trailed off and went to the window overlooking the pool, dodging the bedding. The blanket slid off his thin shoulders and piled itself behind his ankles.

“Pretty, isn’t it?” Tim grinned, watching Cody watch the morning sun sparkle on the ice. Last night’s rain had turned to freezing rain, and ice covered anything it could cling to, nearly a half-inch thick. Water and ice shards dripped where the sun shone.

“Yeah. I bet the power would be out if it was on to begin with.”

Tim laughed. “Yeah. Fortunately, there’s no big trees around the townhouses. We’ll have to take a ride — or maybe a walk — through the subdivision after lunch, just to see if any trees are down.”

“And need cutting up for firewood. People will like that, anyway.”

“Yeah. And if any houses are damaged, we might as well tear them down too.”

“Yow. I didn’t think about that.”

“At least if power lines are down, we won’t have to worry about them being live.”

“Hm… what about the roads?” Cody picked up his blanket and wrapped it around himself again, then ducked into the kitchen and returned with two coffee cups. “If anything’s down out there, we need to clean up some of it just so we can get around. But anything that messes with the trucks… I don’t want to take that away.”

“I don’t think people will care about the trucks if they get easy firewood, Cody.” Tim filled the cups. “Hey, you got any creamer?”

“Just that crappy powdered stuff.”

“Better than nothing. Sugar too, if you have any.”

“Yeah.” Cody retrieved the requested items and two spoons from the kitchen, handed Tim the creamer and poured a little sugar in his own cup. “When it comes right down to it, I guess I’d rather have a warm apartment too.” He nodded at the bedding. “I sleep in front of the fireplace most nights. Me and Sondra talked about doing that when… you know.” He looked at his feet for a moment, then looked up and smiled. “But we managed to keep warm in the bedroom.”

“I’ll bet.” They traded the cream and sugar. “So — how are you doing now?”

Cody sloshed his coffee, sending a little over the side. “Dammit.” He watched the spillover drip to the carpet, and wiped a hand on his grimy sweat pants. “Okay, most of the time. During the day, anyway. At least when I’ve got something to do, then I don’t have to think about it. Nights aren’t so good.” He trailed off and looked down again, then sipped at his coffee.

“Did you give any more thought to moving in with some other people? You’d be welcome at my place, even if there’s not a lot of room.”

“Thanks, but… well, you know about Caitlin. I keep hoping she’ll get over me, sooner or later. That whole thing is awkward.”

“Heh, yeah. People have been joking all along that she could be my daughter.” Tim flicked his red hair. “Especially since we’re in the same townhouse now.”

“Hey, she’s not all bad. She’s one of my best students in skate class. She’s probably trying to impress me, but she pays attention and works on her moves outside of class. That’s impressive by itself.”

Tim laughed. “Yeah, she was showing me she could ‘ollie’ — is that what you call it? — over a shoe last week.”

“Yeah, that’s what I mean. She can ollie higher than the other kids, because she works at it. I was thinking, when it gets warmer, I’d like to take them over to the skate park. We’d probably have to spend half a day cleaning up all the leaves and junk, but maybe we could take some camping gear and spend a couple of days. I could show you a couple of stunt-bike moves if you wanted to come too.”

“Might be fun.” They sipped their coffee and watched the ice.

“Well, the bad news is that we gotta clean up this mess,” Johnny told the cutting crew he’d gathered after lunch; they stood looking at a big oak that the ice brought down into the street. The air was full of odd sounds: a near-constant whisper of dripping water, the patter and tinkle of falling ice, an occasional crack-hiss as another limb — or entire tree — succumbed to the weight of the ice. “The good news… this’ll make plenty of firewood, even if it is kinda green!” He picked up a chainsaw from one of the bike trailers. “Let’s start with the branches.”

“Looks like it’s gonna roll once we get workin’ on it,” said Cody, pointing at the boughs on the street, bent under the weight of the trunk.

“Good eye. Which way, do you think?”

“I dunno. Probably it’ll roll toward whoever’s cutting those branches underneath. Murphy’s Law.”

“Yeah, but Murphy has logic on his side for a change. Too bad we don’t have a tractor with an end-loader, we could lift it right up when the time comes and there wouldn’t be a problem. But we’ll make do with the jacks. Let’s get started — Tim said there’s at least two more like this inside the fence, and more out on the roads. We’ll be cuttin’ for a few days. Or weeks.”

The Laurel Room was well lit for supper; a day of bright sun had charged all the batteries nearly to capacity. “There’s stuff down pretty much everywhere,” said Tim, hands wrapped around a soup mug. “The trucks are getting around it, but it’s really slowing ’em down. We need to get at least some of it cut and out of the way, just so we can get around ourselves.”

“Well, at least we’re set for the rest of the winter,” said Johnny. “What we’re cutting inside the fence should get us all through March. What’s outside will give us a head start on next winter.”

“What are we gonna do about all those power lines?” asked Janet. “They’re down all over the place!”

“Not like they’re live or anything,” Palmer grinned. “We can just pull ’em off the road and outta the way. Maybe we’ll think of something to use ’em for later.”

“Yeah, whatever wood we cut up out there we can leave to dry too,” said Cody. “Maybe it’ll be a little lighter when we bring it in later.”

“If other people come around and see wood stacked up, they’ll know someone’s here. Or they could just take it themselves,” Cleve warned.

“So? Not everyone out there wants us dead. Rob knew we were here all along and he just moved in last week.”

“We can’t assume. Yeah, I know, we can’t assume the other way either.”

“Hey Palmer,” said Stefan. “What do you think we’d use those downed power lines for?”

“Hey, people used to steal phone lines just to sell for the copper. We could probably use it for wire — especially if we get more people in here and have to start running power into houses.”

“We could use the wires we got now,” said Cody. “But we already got all the solar panels from that place. If we get more people in here, we’ll have to come up with another way to make more electricity. If we decide we want it.”

“Windmills,” said Johnny. “And of course we want it. If we got enough juice that we could afford to waste some — hell, maybe we could air-condition the Laurel Room come summer!”

“Sooner or later,” Jason said, shaking his head, “we’ll have to build new homes that don’t need so much heating and cooling. I always wanted to try building a straw-bale house, but building codes around here didn’t allow it. But who’s gonna enforce those codes now?”

“The lack of straw bales?”

“Grass will be growing all over the place, especially where we don’t want it. We just have to bale it up, somehow.”



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...