Running Lessons

I’ve been running the last while. Well, walking a lot and occasionally violently heaving my mass at speeds ill-advised for people with my sort of wispy writer stamina. It’s the same circuitous path around my suburbian jungle block every day. Facebook saw the first herking attempts documented thusly:

My spit has the consistency of spoiled milk. My tongue feels as swollen as a 16 oz steak. Dizziness assails me, I’m short of breath, and my throat feels drier than the Mojave while I believe my armpits could be deemed wetter than the Great Salt Lake.

I can feel my leg and arm muscles becoming as rigid and brittle as Styrofoam, forcing me into an awkward parody of an exhausted mannequin. Water doesn’t seem to help at the start, I hate how this feels, and I feel my peripheral blacken. Even as I flop on the couch, I imagine my soon-to-be-written epitaph will read “This Guy Thought He Could Run”.

And yet…the emotions settle. My thoughts drift to how bright the sky was, how my suburbia smelled of cut grass and Spring-blooming flowers, I remark to nobody how the birds and bugs sounded as they lived their own lives. My head pulses and with it, life seems sharper; brighter.

I laugh. It sounds like a hoarse lawnmower choking on pebbles. Weariness seeps into my bones and yet I smile. I feel like I outran death instead of sitting, waiting for it for once.

We’ll do it again. Not now. But we’ll do it again.

Super-adorbs-lawl, I’m sure. I started in spurts, sometimes having a week or two in between runs. It was painful and icky.

But despite the difficulty of first mustering the motivation to get my lazy ass out the door and then pushing myself to jog or run a fraction of the block, I’ve been doing it fairly consistently for about the last couple months, keeping to an almost daily schedule these last several weeks. And I’ve begun to notice something.

It’s helping.

Physically I feel better after running and with the routine I’ve been feeling better overall. Good things, yay.

More to the point, it’s been helping my mental state. I find I can focus on things when I’m running and by proxy, NOT focusing on running helps me run further. Sometimes I’ll have made it almost half the length before my brain remembers YOU’VEBEENRUNNINGOWSTOOOOOPP and I slow to take a breather. I can pick at things that need looking at like my book or short stories or people in my life or contemplating the last thoughts of the decayed rat corpse to the side of the road.

And in my time of running I’ve stumbled on a couple life lessons. Now to be fair, these are my lessons that my brain whipped up to relate to myself and my own personal progress…but the selfish, conceited Hutt inside me would like to think others might be able to relate all the same.

THE RUNNING PARABLE (Or how a plastic bag defeated me daily)

For the better part of a week, a Wal-mart shopping bag was caught in a neighbor’s tree about a third of the way through my run. On the first day, I looked at it and my inner boy scout thought to grab it. Then the nervous, socially-conscious adult in me worried about people seeing me digging for trash up in a tree like a balls-tripping homeless person. I told myself ‘If it’s there tomorrow, I’ll get it then.’ Procrastination at its finest. Laziness can happen even in the middle of exercise.

The next day I ran again to find the plastic bag still caught. The wind hadn’t saved it and I’m sure anyone else who saw it up in the tree thought what I had the day before. The bag was too high for me to grab and so I tried to climb the tree. The tree wasn’t too tall or old; just big enough to keep the bag away from me like a dick. As I gripped the thin arms of the tree, I instantly regretted it as my supple infant-skin palms shredded on contact. I steeled myself though, remembering how I climbed trees as a kid and attempted to lift my near 240lb ass up the tiny tree. The branches bent and I knew that I wouldn’t want to be the guy to explain how my six foot tall girth snapped a neighbor’s branch. So I let go before the tree snapped. My hands looked like velcro that had sat in the rain for ten years and my arms ached like I’d just tried to pick up a me-size corpse. Beaten, I figured I’d try again tomorrow. Maybe TOMORROW the tree would be shorter or I would be in better shape.

Next day comes, I stand at the bottom of the tree. The bag is in the exact same spot, mocking me. My hands STILL sting from yesterday but at this point I’m committed. I try my hand at climbing again and get the same split skin and aching arms. With that failing once more, I gauge the bag’s height. I might be able to reach it if I jump. And so, taking a few steps back I prepare for a hippity-skip hop to get me the bag. I jump, reach, stretch, and fall, landing on ankles that have just now stretched about twice as hard than they have in YEARS. The muscles in my legs now feel like a single pair of puppet strings stretching from my hips to my toes, slackened from years of abuse. The walk’s harder this time around the block…and the bag’s still up in the tree.

Each time after I try and fail my brain would find little ways of making this seemingly impossible struggle vital to my life. I thought about my novel and how no matter what I did I couldn’t edit more than a few sentences at a time. The plans I’ve made for short stories and stand-up comedy have always fallen short because in my mind, I lacked the ability in the first place to get anywhere with it. This bag represented everything about my failures. Because I’m a headcase like that.

Day four, this bag is getting to me. It’s almost staring at me every time I get to it. I almost talked myself out of running today because of this bag. I try climbing AGAIN, confident that the system has changed overnight. My hands have visible lines of red; blood trying to push through the scrapes of my thin skin. I jump again and it hurts just as bad. I swear and cuss at this thing; this bag that’s exactly where it needs to be to keep me away. I start to walk away once more, defeated again, when I notice out of my peripheral that the neighbor who has been hosting this bag recently threw out their old mop. Sticking out of their garbage can, the green, plastic, All-A-Dollar mop waits. I take it, it seemed so simple, and within seconds fish the bag out of the tree and dispose it along with the mop back into the trash. And I finished my run, feeling accomplished for something so small.

As a parable of sorts, whatever lesson the reader draws from it is their own. Mine is that I’m slightly batshit and obsessive and that life’s problems are solved by dumpster diving…but also that the solution to my problem may be off to my peripheral. Keep looking around. Use your brain, Stupid. Also, stretch more so you don’t go home feeling like a brittle candy cane after jumping ONCE.

The Trip Down (In which I tumble like an epileptic spider)

My brain’s an odd one; odder still that it’s self-aware of that fact. Sometimes it surprises me, like the idea that came to me shortly after a slanted sidewalk slab had me toppling over myself. It felt like an 80’s montage that conveyed post-modern failure rather than determined success. I scraped my everything and I got home feeling like I’d wrestled a honey badger but the thought that occurred to me stuck longer than the pain:

By running, I increase my chance of tripping over myself like an idiot while running. By not running, I reduce that chance 100%…but so too lose out on the benefits (breathing heavy and smelling like a gym sock…and also exercise). By not writing, I eliminate the chance of rejection 100%. NO ONE WILL HATE MY WRITINGS. EVER. My story remains perfect in my head and no one can tell me otherwise. But I then lose out on being a writer at all. By not trying, I never risk failure…and continue being the inactive person I am today. RISK is what gets us bruises. RISK is what makes us a better person.

The Lonely Runs (No, not diarrhea in solitary confinement)

Oftentimes, my wife will accompany me on these walks. She wants to get the exercise in too. But I can’t force that. I remember my dad forcing me to run in the early mornings every day with a baseball bat because he felt I was too pudgy as a kid. And I hated him for it. I hated running. And whenever I push someone to do something, anything really, I see that in their eyes. No, this isn’t that encouraging ‘You Can Do The Thing’ speech. This is that ‘QUITCHERBITCHINANDDOTHETHING’ effort I find myself doing when someone starts whining.  Lots of times my wife won’t go on the run…and when I started running, sometimes I’d not run either…internally blaming her for not running with me as the reason I wasn’t getting exercise.

That’s not the answer. I am as capable of making you do anything as that tree-hiding asshole of a bag is of forcing you to go get it.

In the end, it’s your choice of how you spend your time. My choice of running is my own. And often it is done by myself, for myself. The notion that I am doing something in which no one has joined me in is no longer a burden. Running alone is perfect for me at times. So is thinking alone, writing alone, and living in those isolated moments with no one else. I need it. And I’m getting better at letting others live alone in their lives too.

Anyway, those are the three lessons I’ve gained from running since I started. Maybe I’ll have more (and maybe I’ve forgotten some already). If I do, I’ll let you know.

At the very least, thanks for reading.

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On-week Netflix Nut 7/29-8/4

Gah! My first proposed, regularly scheduled blog post and I’m a day late on the second go-around. Fantastic.

This time I didn’t get to many movies. Only one but boy, it’s a doozy. The rest, I’ll just touch on what I’ve been rewatching.

13 Sins – Intense. Netflix suggested it and it was a May As Well moment for me. Didn’t regret it in the least. A secret society pitches the opportunity of a lifetime to random people (in our case, the moral and slightly spineless Elliot Brindle) for their own amusement. This life-game consists of thirteen challenges. Completing them gets you more money than you can probably spend and clemency for your actions. Fail any of them and you lose it all…and are probably now pursued by the police. It’s a delicious romp through a man’s willingness to take just one step more. Watching his journey, his transformation, and his choices are engaging and the ending is satisfying…though admittedly in retrospect if I wasn’t so intrigued at the hoops Brindle has to hop I could have probably guessed the movie about halfway through. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Dexter – I’m no doubt one of the last few internet-bound people to say this, but Dexter is awesome. Again, moral quandary that keeps me interested each episode. I dig on his finding the bad guys but honestly the more intriguing spots for me are when he tries to reconcile himself and his dark passenger. Regardless of whether he decides they’re two separate identities at the time or admits that there might be no difference between the two always has me hooked. I have yet to finish the series and I know several interwebs worth of people didn’t care for the finale but I’ll enjoy the ride while it’s here.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic – Most of my friends know this about me, but I’m in love with this show. Now this might seem like a radical change of pace and in many ways it is, but I guess the theme this time around is morality and virtues. The later seasons of this delightful cartoon begin to pitch each pony into situations that really blur the lines. Friendship demands kindness but how far should that go? Take Fluttershy’s It’s Not Easy Being Breezies episode where her hospitality to a gaggle of mystical fairy-sized ponies causes them to almost miss getting home. She wants to treat them well but also wants what’s best for them…she has to make a choice and eventually steps out of her comfort zone and tells them in less-than-friendly terms to get out and do their thing. Or Pinkie Pie’s Pinkie Pride episode (featuring Weird Al as a guest voice) where she learns that making her friends laugh can’t be her one goal…because when it is she gets competitive and soon it stops being funny. They learn. We learn. Friendship is magic.

So there’s that! Lots of moral/amoral choices being made. Fascinating, all of it. I recommend checking them all out!

At the very least, thanks for reading.

May as well.

(I’ve got nothing but the vast chaos that lives between my ears to source this line of logic. Just a heads up.)

I’ve noticed something. People can justify far more when something’s chalked up to nostalgia. I’m speaking specifically of movies.

I’m the last one to point it out but this last decade of movies has been, for the most part, a slew of reboots. Each person has their own opinion of said reboots. Many nerds foam at the mouth like a coked-up wombat at the notion of one of their precious canons being tinkered with by new talent. And I get that for the most part. There are some who look at it with excitement; hope that it’ll be just as good as the last one.

Sometimes that happens. Most times not, in my experience.

We need these remakes. I think it’s going to lead to something better in the future. When a studio looks at a nostalgic IP and thinks it’ll make them a quick buck, that’s when you run into Transformers. When you get a studio that wants to reimagine the world or explore deeper into the setting and they put their best effort into it, you end up with things like Dredd or 3:10 To Yuma or True Grit.

There’s a lesson in here.

What we DON’T need is a posse of sequels following the terrible remakes…like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

I’m sort of harping on that, aren’t I?

Well…thing is, as you all probably know, Michael Bay’s remaking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s got lots of Bay’s tropes in it. Snazzy graphics, epic action, shaky cameras, terrible dialogue.

Most people I’ve talked to about it are not amused. Some are outraged as if Bay hired a howler monkey to pee in their cereal while the trailer was playing. Others are more hopeful. It’s the normal crowd I see with these sorts of remakes.

But those people who are not amused? The folks who don’t think the movie is going to be all that great? I hear something from the majority of them:

“May as well. Could be good.”

May as well is a fascinating phrase. It’s what keeps us humans going, I think (until I change my opinion of course). When you’ve got a new experience that you’re hesitant about, that ‘May As Well’ mindset is what opens your horizons, gets you going farther, helps you understand yourself. It’s neat. Never tried fish before? Think it’s icky? Tried it? Liked it? BOOM, fish is on the menu.

But in regard to movies? When the skeptics all join the excited people on opening weekend, Hollywood takes a look at the numbers. All they see is a big opening weekend. They say “The world loves this movie!”. And what I hear a lot from those people who saw it is “Eh, it’s was ok.”

Hollywood doesn’t hear that. They see the high numbers and they slate a sequel right away.

And that sequel? Never better than the first remake. More often than not, worse. One of my favorite reviewers, MovieBob, actually recommends the fourth transformers more than the rest because it doesn’t suck as bad. I would hope after three movies it would.

I’d also hope we didn’t let a director spend just under a billion dollars on four movies to prove he can make one that’s better than three terrible ones.

But that’s just me.

Oh, and they’ve also greenlit a fifth and sixth movie.

These are starting to compete with the Rocky movies and the Land Before Time grindhouse…soon we’ll be watching Transformers IX: Dirty Underside of the Kitchen Cupboard’s Vengeance.

If we give them a good showing for TMNT we can expect to see more of it.

If we don’t, we will ALL STILL GET TO SEE IT.

For realsies. You don’t think if TMNT gets a bad reception they won’t try to squeeze what money they can by offering it to Netflix and the other distributors?

I don’t mind that they made Transformers. I DO mind that we’ve been incentivizing them so much that they’ve made more of the same crap three more times. I feel we haven’t gained anything really.

“But it’s just dumb fun! How can you hate dumb fun, Micah?”

I don’t hate dumb fun. I watch those movies all the time. Take Jonah Hex. I’m a fan of it. I put it on when I’m painting. It’s positively a lark. But if they made a Jonah Hex 2, I’d be just as mad. It’s not worth a sequel.

“This is just your opinion. I liked the Transformers and I’m interested in watching TMNT.”

Fantastic! You’re that other group I was talking about: the excited crowd. Good for you. Watch what you please. But I’m not talking to you.

I’m talking to the skeptics. The ones who are sure it’s a dumb movie but ‘may as well see it’. Stop there. Vote with your dollar. If you want to see better movies than are being made right now, you’ve got to stop paying the people who are making the bad ones.

You. Will. See. It. Anyway. Hell, go to the dollar showing. But when you go and spend $8-$12 on an opening night, that’s eight to twelve more reasons they should make another one of these.

Even as I’ve written this I’ve sort of changed my mind. Getting your thoughts on paper’ll do that. If you do try the fish (in this case the first movie in a potential series) and it doesn’t turn out good, stop trying it. If Hollywood sees enough sales from the first movie because a lot of people gave it a chance, they might make a second movie. I suppose it’s in their best interest after all. But when that sequel comes out? You can bet it’s more of the same. If the first movie leaves a bad taste in your mouth or gives you runny shits or makes you smell like cod for the rest of the day, then don’t try it again. Don’t see that second movie.

I think I lost the reins on that analogy for a second…

At this point, I’m rambling. Any questions, just ask. And hey, it might be good. I’m hopeful that TMNT 2014 isn’t the entertainment equivalent of a garbage fire full of zombies.

At the very least, thanks for reading.

P.S. The new line of turtles toys terrifies me. The sort of nightmare fodder that sits on my shelf until I’m asleep before coming down and skinning my eyelids to make little shoulder pauldrons for their next encounter versus Shredder.

On-week Netflix Nut 6/15-6/21

Let’s start something new! It’ll be exciting. The universe will applaud your reading it as much as it does anything else you do.

Not sure what that was supposed to mean.

*checks watch* How long have I been up?

*stares at Twitter corgi pics*

*notices the setting sun*

Balls.

Anyways. Doing things! Blog posts. Hooray.

I work sevens. To those who don’t know what that means, I work seven ten-hour shifts in a row for seven days off in a row. It’s a nice gig on paper but it requires a bit of priority juggling. All too easily life sweeps into a terrifying seesaw of humdrum drudgery and frantic relaxing and parties if I don’t keep up on it.

Last blog I posted about organizing.

And with that, I’ve been spending the couple hours prior to the drive to work either writing or watching movies I haven’t seen. It’s been fun. Enlightening when you try watching them from a writer’s perspective.

So. Plan time. Each week I’ll try and cover the 1-7 movies I checked out during the work slog. Nothing lengthy, no trademarked rating system, just…impressions? These movies are most likely a few to several dozen years old.

If it doesn’t work, I’ll figure another way.

Aaand.

go.

Starship Troopers: Invasion – Nifty 3D modeling. Only a little bit of the Uncanny Valley. Predictable characterization but the military banter was a hailback to the original Starship Troopers. All in all, good fun. My one hangup, as with most of the Starship spinoffs, is that Johnny Rico, Carmen, and Carl all have to be in the film in some way or another. I don’t mind it, really, but it really downplays the whole massive space scope when the same three people are everywhere.

Dredd – Saw this before. Watched it again. Repeated delight. Despite many people’s discontent with the remake I think it’s the perfect portrayal of a Mega City One slum. Sure it doesn’t involve the Hall of Justice or anything of Dredd’s past. That’s all right though. Here we get a glimpse of the reality and Dredd gets to be a badass. Also, the Slo-mo segments are a kick.

The Last Stand – Arnold Schwarzeneger and Johnny Knoxville in a modern Western. Went in with low expectations. Came out happily wrong. Now stop. It’s a bad movie. Simple plot. Took a while to get going. But once it gets into its groove; once every hope that this little town’s going to get backup from…anything…has been squelched through a lawnmower, the movie takes off and detaches from reality in that fun, excellent, bad movie way.

Solomon Kane – First thought: These costumes are incredible. I really want Kane’s getup. Had a good 1600s grim fantasy feel. Tale of a violent man’s redemption through even more violence, how could that go wrong? One of the things I noticed is that many of the characters with bit parts were portrayed in a clever way as having more backstory than many movies attempt. I got the feeling the Solomon was living his story around other people living theirs. Quickly ended up in my list of HISTORIMYTHIC MOVIES TO WATCH WHILE STARING INTO THE MIDDLE DISTANCE. Though unlike Wild Wild West, Pirates of the Carribean, Three Musketeers, and Django Unchained, it lacked many memorable one-liners.

Sooo…yeah. Four movies. Not too bad. Definitely looked through the action section this last week. We’ll see what next on-week holds.

Anyways. Till next time.

At the very least, thanks for reading.

Well, it’s been a while.

Remember how I said I’d be posting a lot more? Posting snazzy flash fictions from Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds? Yeah, me too.

Surprise, I haven’t.

But! Hopefully that changes. I’ve been thinking.

Thinking a lot. About a lot.

That’s vague I know but it’d take a week’s worth of blog posts to really cover them all and I’m pretty sure it would all be circuitous and boring to anyone reading it.

But I hit a small slump of depression. No, I don’t think I’m depressed. But a couple other people thought that I was severely depressed and at the time I was feeling pretty down. Had me worried. I’m probably the last one to really know/admit anything like that. And I’m the only one to really solve it (mental quagmires are funny that way). And I talked my way through it thankfully. Put to rest a bunch of worries. Reset a few priorities. Good times.

In the meantime I’ve been reorganizing myself. Getting a handle on my time. I’ve found in recent months I’ve found my time more important than my money…which in the middle of a mundane shift of work tends to easily swing into the extreme THISPLACEISNOTFORMEIDON’TLIKEITHEREBOOOO thought process.

But quitting’s not the answer. Not yet. I’ve got to use the time I have wisely, always. Sure, having a day off is good but I’d rather plan it. Not have it crash in the middle of something, like last night, derailing my projects and thoughts.

What was I talking about? Right. Organizationables.

I’ve been derping around with old sprites. Final Fantasy 1 to be precise. I draw them up on a grid, fill in the squares like a color-by-number, and color in pixels when I keep to my schedule. This ranges from physical activity like walking around the block and posture training to words written per day and writing blog posts (This fills one orange brick on Black Mage’s hat!).

Anyways. Sounds dumb, but much like my novel I found keeping track and color-coding my success kept me on board. If I don’t do ANYTHING to fill in the pixels on any of my little party of sprites I need to write down what I did that day. It had better be good. If I was slacking had it been a while of constant routine? Or did I slack the day before. It’s not a perfect system yet but I’m working out the kinks. Redesigning it each week.

I think it was helping but again it put into contrast just how much my work represents a lack of progress; a lack of creation. I hit an Atlas-heavy weight on my shoulders every time I stepped into the building. And I get to do it tonight again. But I’ve taken some time, written my feelings out, and come to several helpful conclusions as well as some sobering ones.

I’m ranting at this point so I’ll leave you all to your days. Enjoy!

At the very least, thanks for reading.

(And that’s just about 500 words. A blue pixel on Black Mage’s robes! How twee of me.)

D&D: Next (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Hack)

Wizards of the Coast just released a sneak preview of a page from the 5th edition Gear section and Spells section. Each time they mention D&D Next, there’s a small part of me that wonders if I’m missing something for not getting into it. So I thought I’d compare a bit with my new High Fantasy setting: Hackmaster.

Here’s what they’ve got on these pages. I won’t be listing name-for-name for brevity’s sake (also copyright jargon):

Mounts and Other Animals:
3 Options

Tack and Harness:
4 Entries, 6 Options (i.e. different kinds of saddlebags)

Food, Drink, and Lodging
4 Entries, 16 Options (i.e. what sort of opulence are you paying for?)

Not bad, not bad. Seems on par with what you’ve usually put out, WoTC. Looks like you’ve expanded the conditions of lodging. Give yourself a gold star.

How about the spells?

Cleric spells: five 0-Level, nine 1st level, eight 2nd level, and six 3rd level= 28 in total.
Wizard spells: six 0-level, ten 1st level, nine 2nd level, and five 3rd level= 30 in total.
58 in total.

Quite the cut from your last editions, WotC.

Then I cracked open my Hackmaster Player’s Handbook. And here’s what they have. To keep it fair, I’ve only listed what they’ve got in the same, related categories:

Daily Food and Lodging:
16 Entries, 23 options (several different foods and luxury levels)

Alcohol/Beverages (because it’s a different table entirely separate from Food and Lodging):
27 Entries (all different types of ales, lagers, and liquors)

Livestock (Including Mounts and Beasts of Burden):
41 Entries, 48 Options (several horse types, dog types, and ELEPHANT types)

Tack and Harness:
11 Entries, 19 Options (Various horse armors, saddles, saddle bags, and yokes)

Whew…all right. That’s a bit of a difference. But maybe the spells might look equal?

Unfortunately this will take some explaining. See, in D&D a Wizard/Cleric gains levels of spells at a different rate than his actual levels. So a level 6 wizard/cleric is probably capable of casting at most 3rd level spells. Where experience levels cap out at 20th, spell levels cap out around 9th level. A little wonky to be honest.

Hackmaster, however, levels their spells on par with experience levels. So a 2nd level wizard/cleric knows 1st and 2nd level spells. A 5th level wizard/cleric knows 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th level spells. And so on and so forth.

In the long run, what that means is that Hackmaster wizards and clerics know six tiers of spells at 6th level where 6th level D&D wizards and clerics would only know up to 3rd level.

So let’s make this fair. I’ll only count Hackmaster’s spells for wizards and clerics (a single faith’s list, that is) levels 1-3.

Wizards: twelve 1st level, twelve 2nd level, twelve 3rd level= 36 in total.
Clerics: twelve 1st level, twelve 2nd level, twelve 3rd level= 36 in total.
72 in total.

Now again, there’s a disparity in levels here. These Hackmaster numbers are based on a 3rd level character. If I were to have a Hackmaster wizard at a ‘D&D appropriate’ level for 3rd level spells, he would have access to six levels (not counting Journeyman and Apprentice level spells, of course)

Twelve 1st level, twelve 2nd level, twelve 3rd level, twelve 4th level, ten 5th level, ten sixth level.
68 spells in total.

A single class in Hackmaster has more spells in their repertoire than the two classes in D&D at an equivalent level.

I think that explains a lot.

What’s the matter, Wizards? Can’t use your vast influence and money to put a little more effort into one of the greatest and long-lastingest role-playing systems of all time? Bet that bottom line looks nice but your product is lacking. There are people out there who care about this stuff and are willing to make the effort to REALLY flesh out their setting and system. I think I’ll go hang out with them.

And as I close my Hackmaster book, those doubts about not getting into the mainstream disappear like a Level 1 Cleric of the Cathedral of Light in a horde of brain-eating zombies.

(Now I recognize these picture leaks are for the D&D Next starter set. Perhaps they’ll have many more spells in the future. But for now, I’m not sold on this new iteration.)

I hope this has been enlightening, enjoyable, etc, etc.

At the very least, thanks for reading.

A Taste of π

A Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge. Pie-flavored mixed drinks and Ancient Math Mummies! I hope it’s amusing. Random critiques/comments welcome.

This story is based on a homebrewed cocktail. Goes by the same name.

One part Raspberry Vodka

Two parts Mountain Dew Voltage

.14159265 part Blackberry Merlot (just a dash, really)

Anyway…

A Taste of π

Derek sits in his booth. The smell of stale cigarettes and the sounds of distant, foreign conversation fill the tiny dive. No one looks familiar around him, no one knows him, and yet he can’t shake the feeling that someone’s eyeing him.

He slaps his face. Maybe to keep the mosquitos that never stopped harrying him since the tomb. Maybe it’s to keep himself in reality; out of his thoughts.

“Hanamathra?”

“Yeah. Never heard of it?”

“No, it sounds stupid. Like one of those mystical places you hear about in a Mummy rip-off.”

“Hear me out. You can go ahead and not believe it just like everyone else after I’m finished. You’re safer for it at the very least.”

“What do you mean safer?”

“What do you think I mean? I mean it’s a real place you’re better off not exploring. In it lie buried the artifacts of ages long gone. And anyone willing can take them if they’re brave enough.”

An eager bartender. Cute too. Derek can admit the second trait of hers contributed more to his interest in what she said. Brown hair like woven oak framing her perfect, desert-kissed face, a body that earns more tips and compliments than any fancy shot-pouring can, and the way the hex-shaped piercing in her nose caught the low-swinging lamps of the stateside bar had him glued to her the entire night.

Eight months with her on his mind. Eight months of hunting down the Rod of Eck’kroner.

“I can’t help you find it, of course.”

“Why not? You’re the one with the map after all.”

“True enough, but that’s not why I can’t go.”

“No, it’s just why you should go.”

“My interest isn’t in ancient bric-a-brac. Mine is in the someone who’s willing to get it.”

“Oh?”

“My life goes beyond this bar. I don’t have time to fling myself into the nearest burial ground for dusty treasures like you do.”

“You think I have that kind of time?”

“I think you could make that kind of time.”

He should have been insulted. In retrospect it reeked of verbal footsie; conversation coitus; a set-up any anti-social person could evade with the word whatever.

But he fell for it.

He spins the last coin he has, watching it dance around the carved jade tumbler that accompanied him since he left her bar. As it makes another rotation, he raises his hand for another drink.

“Just one thing before you go.”

“You dun even know that I’m going.”

“I know you’re thinking about it.”

“And jess wut makes you think that I’m thi-…thinking about thinking about it?”

“Shut-up and have another shot. This is the one that saves you.”

“Hmm?”

“Two parts Mountain Dew. One part Raspberry Vodka. Schmirnoff’s your easiest bet. And a point-one-four-one-five-nine-two-six-five part of blackberry Merlot. The cheap stuff. Don’t go screwing up your good wine with this.”

“.14159265. 3.1415 parts in all? Oh wait, pi. Math. Cute.”

“Ah, so you did graduate Junior High.”

No more coin. Just the tumbler glass now. He still hasn’t cleaned it out. The faded rust-shaded flakes along the rim remind him to check the bandages on his hand. Still need to be cleaned too. As soon as he finds a First-Aid kit in this rugged dugout of a bar…or around this town at all.

A hand sets a poorly washed glass rather than a shot glass and Derek’s initial confusion turns to shock as he knows the drink’s color. Not the amber of whiskey like he ordered; a strong drunking drink to pass out and drift away, but the deep, viscous blue of π.

“So a shotta some fruity drink’s gonna get me through these Eck’kroner ruins?”

“Poetic in a way, don’t you think?”

“Coincidence seems like a better term.”

“Fine, don’t get excited about it. Just know it’ll save you.”

“Whatever you say, Milan.”

She sits across from him and Derek’s palms sweat like his newest task is trying to shove an elephant out of his booth. Their booth. He expects a thank you, a hello, even a noise. No words, just a smile, and her eyes staring at his drink. Insisting. A long moment passes and Derek wonders if anyone notices their silence before he swills back the fruity drink that tastes like the syrupy-sweet pie filling from the grocery store. His olfactory senses though send him reeling; bitter memories of dusty glyphs marking him for death that make stomaching the mix a trial in its own right.

“I knew you would do it.”

“You didn’t know a thing. Just with the map and everything you said, it sounds pretty brainless not to try.”

“That’s why you’re my favorite.”

“I…I am? Wait, what do you even mean by that?”

“Just look for me when you’re done with it all, Champ.”

“Sure…whatever.”

Her hand turns up to the ceiling and two perfectly manicured fingers extend and curl, extend and curl; beckoning their prize. Derek reaches into the ragged leather satchel representing the last of his possessions. The rod holds a strange magnetism about it. A fuzzy sensation that he had noticed since leaving Eck’kroner’s grave site like he might break a computer if he waved the shiny stick around it. The gilded omega symbol tipping the platinum-plaited item pokes from the bag and Miss Mathers’s eyes light up. While the sight melts Derek’s spine from his neck down to his pants, he reminds himself he’s not her puppet. Not after the crap he’s been through. It disappears into the re-stitched bag and her face sinks.

“Hey, how’d you get my number?”

“You left it at the bar with me, remember?”

“N…I mean. Yeah. Right. At the bar.”

“Just wanted to give you one more bit of advice.”

“How kind. Look I’ve got to get going, the flight’s taking off.”

“Then listen quick. Your blood is not all he’ll need.”

“What?”

He looks at Milan, insisting in his own way. He’s at least earned her interest. The affection promised eight months ago. He leaves the other questions to the side. How she got here. How she found him. How, that when in the very depths of the tomb, did he find more and more her words saved him. The thought reminds him of the others. The corpses long past or sickeningly fresh that held various instruments, notes, and pamphlets all designed to overcome the various trials all solved by that stupid glass and that stupid number.

“AND IN ITS INFINITUM CAN THERE BE NO SUCCESS WITHOUT FAILURE. GAIN WITHOUT LOSS. LOVE WITHOUT HATE. IN ITS INFINITUM NO MAN NOR EARTH IS SAFE. SAVE ONE.”

She smiles and moves the two glasses to the side, gripping Derek’s shirt and yanking him forward. Her lips are like two slick, silken pillows; clouds puckered just for him. The air around her smells of sweet spices and vanilla and the man clings to his senses just to remain functioning as he weakly returns what favor he can.

The kiss abates and Derek gulps in air he didn’t realize he needed. She only smiles. No words still. Her hand upraised and waiting for her prize. Derek practically rips the bag open in his rush to give her Eck’kroner’s rod. The gleaming artifact matches everything about her.

He shifts in his seat, the injuries that dot his body fade to a distant memory in the wake of Miss Mather’s intoxicating presence. Her hand clutches it tight and her smile widens and her finger beckons once more. Derek wastes no moment in lurching over the table like a starved dog. They kiss again and he breathes in the delicate smell of her near him again.

“MAY THESE WARDS SAFEGUARD THE WORLD.”

The kiss lasts ages, eons, and Derek lives in each moment. He hears nothing of the world around him. Feels nothing but her soft hair through his fingers and her flawless skin. Smells nothing but the exotic woman she is.

And dust. The scent of forgotten stone.

He recoils but Milan’s hand grips his scalp. Her long fingernails feel like icepicks in his mind and his once-probing tongue finds nothing but the hollow, dessicated tendons of preserved muscle; like kissing up on dried jerky. She releases him and he springs away. Her hair lies limp on her head and in two sunken sockets sit suppurating, half-deflated orbs for her eyes. He wants to scream. For a moment he thinks he is.

“I’m not the one.” He croaks. His cotton dry throat keeps his voice faltered and weak.

She taps an on the nose gesture on the still gleaming piercing that bites into her leathery nostril, confirming his suspicion.

“Not yet.” Her words groan from a useless voice box and dribble out over her rancid teeth. She blows through lips that look like week-old spaghetti noodles and a wetness with the peculiar scent of that disgusting drink sprays out. She grips his head in her hands once more and kisses him before the deep dark of the world consumes him…

Derek slips into the bar with an introductory wink to some uninterested hottie. The bar lights bathe the room in a low glow and the music is slow and quiet. Just the way he likes it. A long day deserves a long, easy drink.

The girl’s reflective gem piercing catches his eye first, affixed to the most gorgeous face he’s seen. Her brown hair and her sun-kissed skin stand out exotic in this stateside dive. He sidles up on a bar seat, giving a perfunctory nod to the booze-addled trucker next to him, and offers a hand. She seems impressed…or amused. She leaves his hand lonely.

“What can I get you?” She asks. Her lips frame the words with an elegance that staggers the man. His nose catches the brief scent of Vanilla.

“What would you recommend?”

She smiles and turns to the liquor shelf, dressing up a glittering green tumbler with blue soda and darker wine. Derek’s eyes wander the shelf, looking at the strange brands of foreign alcohol stacked on the top shelf. Above them, a glittering, platinum rod with an omega symbol stamped on the end lays affixed across the wall.

“Interesting trophy up there.” He says, taking the fruity drink and downing its contents in one masculine chug. The sweet aroma of pie filling sends his mind spinning like a broth of buried memory. It lasts only a moment before retreating into his mind. Maybe the drink is hitting harder than he thought.

“Oh it’s just a trinket. A gift from an old friend. The same who gave me this.” She tapped her piercing.

“Looks like the guy spoils you.”

“He did, yes. But these are nothing compared to some. Not like the ones you can find in Hanamathra.”

“Hanamathra?”