Saturday, November 21, 2020

An AMOK Thanksgiving


An improvised table on the set of the Wicca Horror Show seated its four principals. Sunlight streamed in from the glass balcony door, brightening a take-out feast from Cracker Barrel. Somehow an obscure topic had taken hold of the festivities.

During a lull, producer Ed plated more fried turkey, wearing shades against the balcony light. "I hear Comrade Governor outlawed the holiday, including Christmas. And here we are without face diapers."

Talent agent Bigmon set his wine down hard enough to slosh some out. "Comrade Governor can go pound it. Does he know who I am?"

"Ahem." The dwarf Hecabano lingered over the wreckage of his repast. "Master Ed and I were debating the use of punctuation in dialog. I maintain that it can't be heard. Why use the more ephemeral elements like colons and semicolons?"

"It's all in the presentation," Ed maintained. "Suppose the speaker makes that slight pause before a clarification. That implies a colon."

"Or a double dash." Wicca tossed another chocolate scotch, as undead did not eat.

"Wrong again!" Ed glared at the chuckling dwarf. "A double dash is a hard stop for emphasis." Both looked to Wicca, who grinned impishly but took sides only when it complicated things. 

Hecabano wiped gravy with a finger. "It matters naught, as no one has ever thought about it. We crave only to get on with it, and discover the tale's outcome."

"Well," Bigmon said, tossing down his napkin. "This is almost interesting. You writers just come up with a show for Saturday night. I got a date with Bunny."

That engendered a classic Wicca eye roll. Bunny Prescott had won Bigmon's Wicca lookalike contest by filling out the costume with eye-popping finesse. Never again, the upstaged diva vowed. "Have a good time, Home Pie."

"And that's another thing," Ed said as Bigmon slung his coat over a shoulder and departed. "Lose the jive. You're like Spock on The Voyage Home. He couldn't get it right either."

"True," Hecabano pointed out, "but our Mistress of Malarkey has engineered a most refreshing colloquial subgenre." 

"Ya!" Wicca's approval of the dwarf's support melted to suspicion. "What he said. I think." 

Hecabano pulled over a small wood crate filled with delicacies the diva disdained. "This was a worthy experiment, if a waste of money. You say limoncilla is flowery; amuselle is liquid candy; and gin is like juniper berry Kool-ade." 

"You see?" Ed jabbed a finger. "I can just smell your semicolons, because there was more of a pause than commas need."

"Gong," Wicca agreed. "He's got you, Imp Boy." 

"Can we get past this?" Hecabano peeled a gin. "I wonder how Team Dan is passing the holiday, or if they even remember, as it is unknown in Outworld."

Ed blinked in fond reverie. "Sure they do. They mark calendars from Earth so as to stay current. I'm sure they're thinking about us. More like wondering if the nutjobs have blown the place up yet." He reached a hand to each: Wicca's, soft yet cold; Hecabano's, rough and calloused. "What's left to be thankful for, except having a way out via the portal."

"Bring it," Wicca said. "I look forward to mounting expeditions here for some fun hell raising. If they think they have problems now, wait until my pact with you expires, Ted."

Her pact with Ed meant doing nothing without his approval as long as she had the horror show. He hoped the loonies wouldn't make it necessary to experience a real one. "To the time we have left here." All three toasted the sentiment. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Dreams That Remain


Empires rot from within according to that old adage. It's been patiently applied across a broad front by a relative minority of power-mad lunatics. Now the last stumbling block to absolute control--a place once called America--is  no more. Gone are the military and police. The Chinese control the west; Michigan is a caliphate with armed borders; and what's left is garrisoned by the UN. The latter faces the same problem experienced by occupiers 250 years earlier: it's a large territory, there's a brisk resistance, and the troops resent being so far from home. 

This is a world no longer looking outward to the stars, but obsessively looking inward to keep the lid on. Yet there are cracks in the kettle. With loss of freedom comes loss of dreams. Men are left with only a desire for revenge--in The Twilight Zone.

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Every day of Skink's seventeen years had been the same scrap for survival; only the weather ever changed. She awoke in the derelict barge shared with her mentor, Colby, and reached for a bag of Bugles. Yes, they still actually made those. The cheap plastic started a tear downward, but she remedied that by tearing it back toward the top. Now the stress was redirected in a harmless way. 

It was tempting to sleep in, listening to the gentle slosh of water outside, the occasional tink of the heater bar. These were magnetic strips designed to keep welded seams hot for a couple of days so they'd set in a stronger joint. Electricity was outlawed as an environmental hazard--except for the elites, of course--but there were ways to tap into it. On the other side, Colby's pallet was empty. He'd said something about this being a special day. 

Skink dressed as usual for utility, the same reason for keeping black hair short and out of the way, but razored for attitude. Being a poseur didn't mean much without the blocky F2000 Bullpup she slipped into a special pocket in her coat. Like others in her collection, it was courtesy of sloppy and defensive NATO troops, some of whom actively traded on the black market. Except for the Daewoo K11 grenade launcher, which was a grab of opportunity. 

Topside, she did a scan of the overcast sky for drones. Losses to ground fire had forced NATO to switch to the higher flying models equipped with infra-red. Even these were of limited use in the urban jungle, and every building they blew up only caused a blockage to UN vehicles. 

Colby lingered next to the six-foot tires of a long-abandoned cruise crane. He doled out orders to an unlikely trio: a bag lady, a grade school boy, and a man in a purloined business suit. Colby pulled a stocking cap over iron gray hair as the meeting broke up. "Skink! We're on a schedule here!" 

They skulked along back alleys, where they pushed aside a dumpster to reveal a hole in the wall, gaining entry to a ground level floor in a tenement. Skink knew it was another of Colby's lessons, but didn't waste time trying to figure it out. The boulevard outside was the province of NATO patrols, escorted by a hulking bot armed with frag rounds and missiles. Judging the time right, Colby nodded, and Skink pressed a button on her remote.

A rifle on the third floor began firing blindly. The NATO vehicle sped away, leaving the bot to pour rounds into the third floor. Its raised head exposed hydraulic lines. Skink targeted these with a fusillade of 5.56 millimeter shells. The bot's arms dangled impotently as it fell silent. It was too risky to loot the thing for ammo, because you never knew when a drone shot would take it out. "Yeah!"

Colby grinned. "You think small."

"Here it comes." Skink holstered the gun just as a chunk of plaster fell onto her shoulder and sideswiped her cheek. She brushed at it, ignoring the hurt. "Not a good day for my face. So then--what's the moral? I say we hurt them, because those bots are expensive."

"Chump change," Colby said. "Remember that gizmo I had you plant at the refinery yesterday? It's a timer." Only NATO and the elites were allowed gas-powered cars, and to enforce the edict, they kept the remaining supplies under guard for their own use. 

The ground shook with a titanic detonation, which heralded a pall of black smoke over the skyline. The blast chained others in succession. 

"Rad," Skink mused. "If I'm reading you right, this is why we keep going day after day--to make them pay a price."

"A man has to dream," Colby said, "when it's the only thing they haven't taken away."

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Restaurant Caricatures


This 16x20 poster turned out to be a huge gift idea back in the day. The old-style camera flash caused some problems because of the frame's glass. You can work from memory or a photo, the idea being to showcase--and exaggerate--the good times. 

The center figure is taking home her entire plate; the one at left frets about the hit to his wallet; the one at right is aghast at the bill. Everywhere is bounty and merriment. Not to worry if you don't draw, because you probably know someone who does. Just get them a good photo to work from and make a list of the fun things to concentrate on. I went on to do others, which always meant having to reproduce them in various sizes so everyone could have a frameable copy. There was Memorial Day with its outing on the backyard deck; Labor Day with same; and even a church restaurant outing (gotta be a little reserved with the humor there). As the ad TV pitchman says: makes a great gift idea.