I Need Your Opinion On Something…

Calling All Readers!

 

There’s a particular story that has haunted me for over a year now, and I’ve been dying to get it out. The problem is that my time is at a premium right now, so I have to prioritize everything, and I need to be sure that most of what I’m writing holds the highest value. As much as I love this story, it spans across a huge amount of time, and is actually two different series that combine into one big plot, so once I get started on this one I’m going to have to roll with it pretty steadily.

I’ve taken a moment to write the prologue, which explains the time period and generally sets the scene, but the story itself expands away from that significantly over time, so much so that it becomes almost unrecognizable in comparison. Because this story has my dream character in it I’ve drawn up big plans for it, and currently it’s looking to be my Harry Potter series (I’m not saying my books will do that well, just that it’s an intricate, highly detailed line that’s going to take me years to complete).

So, if you could take a quick moment to read the prologue and let me know what you think of it I would be eternally grateful. Every bit of feedback I get helps me immensely. Even if you only have enough time to say “your story sucks” it’ll still help me in the end. If you want me to scratch your back in return for your review and check out some of your samples/excerpts/early drafts I’d be happy to do so. If that’s the case then drop me a line either through email or the comments and I’ll get on it.

 

The Variformer Series

Book One: First the Crash

Prologue

 

In the second half of the 21st century it became painfully clear that humankind had outgrown its birthplace. The population continued to grow with gaining speed as the number of newborn babies per day increased every week. Though some had anticipated the looming trouble ahead of time they were unable to convince others of the imminent issues our immense population would create. When the problem was finally acknowledged by enough people for it to be actively combated it was too late; the snowball effect of our compulsive expansion had quickly stretched beyond our control. The peaceful, democratic nature of the Centralized World Government meant that any solution that involved innocent deaths was off the table, and regulations preventing couples from having as many children as they wanted also didn’t sit with them very well, either. The best course of action was obvious: colonization. It was unanimously voted by the world’s leaders and scientists to boost the current space program and seed new planets as soon as possible.

Once our fate was decided, the immediacy of mankind’s plight spurred the greatest minds on Earth to action. Just as the threat of complete societal and ecological collapse crescendoed, a small group of intellectuals discovered a method that allowed them to construct ship engines that were efficient enough to power vessels large enough for mass migrations. Since other task forces had already pinpointed potential planets for colonization, it was only a matter of building the impressively huge ships and loading them with the supplies and people needed for their voyages. As the construction crews scrambled to build the ships a selection process was initiated to determine who would be lucky enough to escape the decaying Earth.

Dozens of colony ships were dispatched, spreading out in every direction conceivable, but only a small fraction of them were able to reach and successfully establish themselves at new planets. Many colonists lived their entire lives, from birth to an old-aged death, on their ship because of the relatively slow progression, but the knowledge needed for surviving on a planet was passed from generation to generation so the venture wouldn’t fail during its final step. There were no guarantees that every colonist would thrive on their new planet, but the ones who did were sufficient to perpetuate the human species.

Centuries later, people have both regained and surpassed the previous glory they had enjoyed on Earth, and the flourishing technological and scientific understanding of those who survived the emigration into space has inspired a sophisticated, advanced civilization that spans the vast stretches of the Milky Way. In the midst of such a changed society, some traditions and cultural aspects from the ‘old world’ were retained and adapted. It was just such a practice that resulted in Variformers: performers who are skilled in a wide range of traditional and contemporary arts, such as dancing, singing, acrobatics, gymnastics, and other physical forms of expression. Only the most skilled of performers can aspire to become a Variformer, which requires a wide knowledge of various types of entertainment and an extreme level of physical prowess. They must be strong and adaptable enough to handle complex motions and vocalizations. Variformers have become the superstars of the modern world, and are more revered than most planetary officials.

In the process of obtaining the abilities needed to keep up with the ever-increasing difficulty involved, many Variformers have turned to medical science for help. Among the popular adaptations are joint supports, stabilizers and assists for heart and lungs, pain reduction procedures, skeletal reinforcements, sight enhancements, vocal augmentations, and cosmetic adjustments. The popularity of appealing to surgeons has grown so much that just about everyone who earns the status of Variformer had to seek their help to do so. Bodily upgrades have become so common that most view them as inconsequential, but some, a select few of the Variformers, don’t feel the need to partake in the practice. When one such ‘purist’ arises their unusual status always causes them to become a major focus for the public, which typically causes consternation for the enhanced humans and creates tense working relationships between them.

Jaidelyn Costin is considered a purist Variformer, and our story starts with her.

 

So, What Do You Think?

 

Please keep in mind that this is a very early draft (the first, actually). Does this sound like a story that would intrigue you, or does it seem like a snooze fest? If you’d like a quicker method for speaking your mind then please feel free to use the poll below.

Thank you!

 

 

 

The Devil’s Advocate – The Transit Feud of Portland

Where Walking Can Be A Health Hazard

 

Those who live in the Pacific Northwest or have visited Portland before are probably aware that there’s a rift between commuters, particularly those who drive and those who use alternative means (biking, walking, public transit, or a combination of the three). Portland has worked hard to be a ‘walking city’, where those who chose to walk or bike have clear paths and safe routes, but there’s still a lot to be done, and I sometimes get the feeling that some drivers feel slighted by the lack of attention they get because of the focus on other means. Yes, it’s a little unfair, but it’s hardly like pedestrians have ‘the good life’ considering the complete lack of actual sidewalks in many areas, and the narrow roads that create problems for drivers also affect bikers, who are unofficially required to share the street when possible so they don’t cause accidents with walkers and joggers. Long story short, everyone’s getting the short end of the stick here, but the issue goes a lot deeper, and the danger here is higher than a lot of other cities.

 

Time for Some Numbers

 

Because of the ‘work in progress’ state the Portland Metro area has found itself in and other considerations (which I’ll talk about soon), this area has become one of America’s most dangerous cities for pedestrians according to Smart Growth America, an organization dedicated to researching and improving the nation’s transportation systems. Now, we aren’t the big numero uno (that dishonor goes to Orlando), but we have been rated 45 out of 51 major cities, and have even somehow become worse than New York, San Francisco, and Boston. So despite the City Council’s enthusiasm for safety measures and cleaner forms of  travel, Portland isn’t doing nearly as well as we’d like (or as our leaders would prefer the rest of the country to think).

I stopped watching the news quite some time ago, but I still hear about major pedestrian accidents all the time, a lot of them taking place downtown, and many of them involving someone on a bike. I even remember an accident that involved a TriMet bus driver mowing down several people on foot who happened to be in a crosswalk, and at least one of the people who were hit died. Most of the time, the driver is clearly being reckless when these kinds of accidents happen, but they aren’t the only ones that deserves some of the blame.

 

I’m Almost 30 and I’ve Never Owned a Driver’s License

 

In the secluded woods and mountains of eastern Washington and northern Idaho, where I spent the majority of my youth, it can become embarrassing if your license is suspended (if you’re old enough to have one, that is), and it can be even worse if you never get one, like I did. When I was 16 and everyone around me was either already driving or gearing up for it, all I did was watch. I wanted to drive just as much as everyone else, and it made me stick out like a sore thumb that I didn’t (everyone thought there was something wrong with me, like I couldn’t handle the simple motions required to steer a vehicle), but fear, laziness, and distraction kept me from fulfilling the one right of passage teens still follow. It hasn’t been fun, I’ll say that much, especially when you live in an area that doesn’t have a single bus or light rail train.

Living in Portland is a lot easier for a non-driver like me, and at least here I’m not alone, but it can still be tricky to get around. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be a driver (I’ve driven before and I’m going to lie; I suck at it), and even if I did become one at some later date I’m still a pedestrian now. In the underlying antagonism between drivers and pedestrians, I usually side with my fellow walkers, but that isn’t the point of this series. Now, it’s time for me to ‘turn on my own kind’. I call ’em as I see ’em, after all.

 

Pedestrians are at Fault, Too

 

The drivers here are nuts. They cut me off when I’m in the crosswalk (and the light tells me to go), they come close to grazing me, they give me dirty looks, and sometimes they even throw stuff out of their windows at me (like an almost full can of beer). They are straight-up rude, and despise pedestrians. Sometimes it gets to me because I’m a very conscientious walker. I stop and let cars go first when they’re pulling into driveways because I don’t want them to get rear-ended; I only cross the street when the lights tell me to, and at the smaller crossings that only have signs I always look for oncoming traffic; when someone’s trying to turn onto another street I walk behind their car so they won’t miss one of the few windows they might have to dart into the thick, constant traffic; and if I absolutely have to cross a street in between crosswalks or blocks I wait patiently and don’t dart out in front of them like some sort of retarded deer. Unfortunately, I’m a rare breed and most people aren’t so considerate or aware of their surroundings. And despite my strict personal rules (which no one can convince me to break) I’ve still been hit by a car while crossing the street. But there’s a reason why drivers here don’t care about the fate of pedestrians, and honestly, it’s a pretty valid grievance.

Over the past several years I have observed some downright idiotic behavior from pedestrians, particularly walkers. Bikers can live dangerously, too, when they’re both on the sidewalk or in the bike lane, but they tend to be a little more circumspect than some of the people who pound the pavement around here. Sure, I’ve seen stubborn bikers take risks (I think a sense of entitlement contributes to this kind of thing), like when they’re in the bike lane and end up right next to a bus when they stop at a light. The problem here is that the bus will be pulling over just beyond the intersection, which means cutting across the very path the biker needs to take, but some bikers won’t hang back and let the bus go first. They just keep pace with the bus as if they’re playing chicken or something. Yes, bikers have just as much right to be on the road as cars, but that bus could squash them in a second, so I don’t think that’s the right time to make a statement. Besides, it’s just common courtesy to let the bus go. They have tight schedules to maintain, and the people riding those buses have places to go and people to see. Anyway, I’m getting a little off-topic here.

Recently, I saw a woman slowly walk into the middle of a very busy street (5 lanes wide, including the turn lane), looking like she was just taking a leisurely stroll, and she wasn’t even near an intersection. Normally this wouldn’t be notable since tons of people, including myself when it’s safe, do that all the time, but that nut job chose to cross just as a huge fire truck was speeding along. They had their sirens on and I’d started hearing them several minutes before, so there’s no possible way she didn’t know they were coming. She showed no indicators of blindness, deafness, or mental defects, yet she timed her progression just right so that the truck barely missed hitting her. To make matters worse, as she started to draw near the other side of the street she cut off a car that had pulled over for the fire truck just as they were pulling back into their lane. So she almost made two vehicles hit her.

I see pedestrians cutting off and disrupting traffic all the time, especially downtown, and the worst part about it is these people do this during the height of rush hour, making it even more difficult for drivers to get where they’re going. I’ve even seen a mob of people completely halt traffic because they decided to walk in the middle of the street. These same people show a similar disrespect to other walkers by taking up the entire sidewalk and forcing others to detour around them, sometimes making people walk out into the street just to get clear. They block driveways, they ignore others, they act as if they have the right-of-way in every situation, even if they legally don’t, and as soon as an angry driver cuts them off they get all offended and violent. It seems that some pedestrians think they’re the king of the road even though the smallest of cars could easily kill them. It’s no wonder drivers are so disgruntled here.

 

 As Aaliyah Once Sang, We Need a Resolution

 

Alright, alright. Aaliyah was talking about the difficulties of love in that song, but it still applies. The only way we can reduce this problem and remove Portland from Smart Growth America’s hit list is to deal with this in a more direct fashion. Just pretending the issue doesn’t exist or downplaying it is only going to cause this discord to grow. And this is where I turn on my fellow pedestrians.

Honestly, I think those on foot are more responsible for this problem than the drivers. Every time one of us forces a driver to heed to an untimely, inconvenient crossing it only adds fuel to their fire. Now, the idea is ‘share the road’, not ‘hog the road’ or ‘relinquish the road to those who are bigger than us’, so I don’t think pedestrians should be expected to just give cars priority at all times, but if we simply abide by the rules and laws that we’re already supposed to follow it could do a lot to calm some tempers. All you have to do is be a little patient and display some manners. Really, pedestrians should be the ones to offer an olive branch to drivers, too. We should publicly acknowledge the issue and pledge to make changes, to be more considerate, because when you get to the bottom of everything, this whole crazy little war is mostly sustained by our actions, and we need to own up to them. If we don’t the only thing we can look forward to is more accidents, more deaths, and more animosity.

It may take a while to see a solid change, but I think it’s worth a shot.

 

Are you a driver? A biker? What kind of transportation issues have you observed in your own community?

A Combination of Flaws

NOTE: Just to be clear, most of the retaliations I talk about below are things I wouldn’t actually do. I daydream of extravagant, semi-violent reactions all the time, but I rarely commit them in reality. I’m not an arsonist, and unlike most people, I typically think everything through and consider the effect something might have on those around me before I proceed. So I’d appreciate your understanding in this. Thank you.

I’m A Human Contradiction

I couldn’t resist responding to today’s Daily Prompt. Restraining myself publicly has become a huge part of my personality, to the detriment of my mental health, but it goes beyond that. I have a lot of anger, and I direct it indiscriminately, but even though I understand how unhealthy it is to bottle up emotions it seems I do that all the time, at least when strangers are involved. Anyway, before I get any further into this, here’s the topic of the day:

Today’s Daily Prompt is:

Break the Silence When was the last time you really wanted (or needed) to say something, but kept quiet? Write a post about what you should’ve said.

 

Calm on the Outside, Seething on the Inside

I run into people who get on my nerves every single day, and, to be honest, it doesn’t take much to set me off in the first place. All it takes is some sort of rude, thoughtless, or stupid action (or a combination of the three) to make me start losing my mind. The Bi-Polar in me begs to be set loose, itching to at least verbally tear the offender a new one, if not escalate the confrontation to physical blows. Sometimes I don’t even want to say a single word to them, I just want to jump up and down on them (literally). If you could see into my mind when these thoughts start rolling the ferocity and graphic nature of them would probably make them cringe. This is why some say living with BPD is like being stuck in a horror movie. There’s a few things that hold me back from acting on my sinister urges, but the biggest one is the Social Anxiety Disorder I’ve had since childhood. Anyone with a strong case of BPD can tell you that losing control is all-too-easy when we’re provoked, and it usually leads to screaming at the very least, but my shyness and inability to establish meaningful conversations with strangers just won’t let me make an ass of myself. Instead, I usually end up bowing my head and walking away, but sometimes I do get to flash them an evil stink-eye stare to let the offenders know that their poor behavior didn’t go unnoticed. That’s it. In extremely rare cases (maybe every 10 years or so) I get pushed far enough to override my reticence, but it takes so much to get me to that point that most would feel my ‘victim’ had it coming anyway. You have no idea how badly I want to at least call some of these idiots out, especially when they’re blatantly rude, like not helping an elderly woman on the bus by freeing a seat for her, or when some moron actually tries to hit a pedestrian in the crosswalk (it’s happened to me several times). But unless they do something physical to me (like hitting me with a car or pushing me to the ground), are being the biggest jerk possible, or I’ve become at least a little familiar with them (I’ve seen them around because they live down the street or something) it’s not gonna happen. I think part of it also falls back to what my mother taught me as a child about manners, as well. Anyway, that’s enough explanation, I think.

Letters to Strangers

What I’m going to do here is craft imaginary letters to people who commit deplorable acts.  I’m only going to create two of them, but if the vengeful feel isn’t your cup of tea, and you want to read something a little more sentimental then hang with me for a bit. The first letter is centered around frustration and anger, but the second taps into something deeper, something that has caused myself and my family a lot of sorrow for over a year now.

 To the Morons Who Drive By My House Going 70 MPH

My house sits on the corner of a residential street (which I’ve called Garben Road in other posts) and a wide, busy numbered street that handles tons of traffic every day. For the most part, living on this corner provides a good balance of being in the suburbs while also having access to the businesses you find in more commercial areas. There are a few problems with the area, not the least of which is the gang activity, but one recurring issue really steams my clams: speeding. The speed limit on the large numbered street is never more than 45 MPH, but there’s a long, straight stretch of road for about 1/4 of a mile after the last light, and people love to race down that stretch. By the time they get near my house they’re usually going at least 65 MPH, and I’ve seen some of them exceed 75 MPH. This road is nothing like a highway, and the situation is beyond dangerous for the numerous kids and pets that live in this neighborhood, so it really gets under my skin when I see these careless idiots behaving in such a way. This letter is for them.
 

If you think no one notices your reckless behavior, and that you’ll never see any consequences for it, you’re dead wrong. I spend a lot of time outside every day and I’m watching you. I understand the urge, and I know how thrilling it can be to fly along in a car like that, but this isn’t the place for that! Do you have any idea what kind of havoc your actions could cause? Or do you just not care that you could end up killing someone? Every time I see one of you blast by I have to fight against the desire to scoop up a handful of rocks and chuck them into your windows. A wake-up call like that is exactly what you need, but I just can’t risk innocent people getting hurt in the process (which is highly possible since you’d probably lose control of your car and crash into one of the many houses around here). But I’ll tell you now, I’m done with standing idly by while you endanger the lives of dozens of children, pedestrians, and pets. The police may fail in catching people like you around here, but I won’t. You obviously need a lesson in safety, and I’m not afraid to give it to you. So, if speeders like you don’t stop this nonsense here’s some of the actions I’m willing to take:

  • I will take a lawn chair, my laptop, and a camera, and I’ll set up shop on the side of the road every day (as an author, I stay home all day, so I have the time for it). Along with posting cautionary signs up the road (which will warn you of not only the dangers of your actions, but also of the fact that I’m taking a stand), I’ll sit there documenting every car that passes. If I catch anyone excessively speeding I’ll take note of your license plate number, call the police, and hand over all the evidence to them so they can track you down (which will also include a video of your infraction).
  • Despite the possibility of getting into legal trouble myself, I am prepared to escalate this if my first technique fails. In that case, I’ll be creating picket signs that display my complaints and will protest on the side of the road. Any time I hear a speeder approaching (I can hear you guys a mile away, figuratively) I’ll walk out into the middle of the street and block you. And I swear, if you hit me I will slam you with a law suit that will strip the very pants off you. If it comes to this, I’ll also begin scouting for others in the area who are fed up with inconsiderate drivers so that we can create a human chain that blocks the entire street. It may sound stupid on my part, but if it makes this crap stop it’s worth it (and, just to be clear, I won’t mess with responsible drivers unless I absolutely have to).
  • My final line of defense applies more to the weekend drunk drivers that blast through here after several hours of partying at the local bars. I really don’t want to resort to this method, but I will if I have to. It only works at night, but I’ve done it before, and it has a pretty strong effect on drivers. If I keep seeing poor decisions rolling down the road I’ll simply light the road on fire. By pouring a flammable liquid (like rubbing alcohol) in a line across the road, I can wait for the right moment to ignite it and have it burning in just a few seconds. It will also continue to burn for a decent amount of time, and will be controlled enough to not set anything else on fire. Everyone, especially motorcyclists (which can be even worse than speeders in cars here), tends to think twice before driving across a line of fire.

I’m tired of seeing such selfish disregard day after day, so please stop being so stupid. Thank you.

To the Careless Woman Who Killed Barry

Barry is the person my next letter, which will be published at a later time, will be addressed to. He was my future father-in-law, but my relationship with him had transcended the typical interactions most people have with their in-laws. He passed away about a year and a half ago, and the circumstances of his death were upsetting, to say the least. I’ll present the precise details soon, but there were two responsible parties for his early passing: incompetent doctors and a selfish woman with a cold. This letter is what I would say to that woman if I could ever track her down.
 

We’ve never met, but I already dislike you. You took someone from me, from my family, and I don’t know if I can ever forgive you for that. Do you recall how you were a passenger on a flight to Los Angeles during the holiday season of 2012? You had caught some sort of virus that had spread like wildfire, one that was particularly nasty and tenacious. But rather than doing the right thing and staying home, you pushed on and exposed who knows how many people to your illness just for the sake of fulfilling your Christmas obligations to your friends and family. I can understand that situation, I know you’d have lost the money you’d paid for the ticket, but was it really worth causing a good person to die? Was it worth taking someone from us several decades before he should have passed on?

There were several precautions you could have taken to protect others, but you didn’t even try them. Barry’s widow was with him, and she remembers everything you did. She remembers you constantly coughing through the entire flight, and she remembers you never attempting to cover your mouth. You were sitting less than a yard from Barry! What did you expect would happen? That the crap you were spewing into the air would just float in the other direction? He tried everything possible to stave off the infection of your nastiness, but you were pumping out the pathogen at such an alarming rate it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d been on the other side of the plane from you. His wife also recalls your poor hygiene, how you’d wipe your nose with your bare hand, then touched everything around you. Do you even want to know what happened to him, or are you so apathetic and cold that you just don’t care?

A few days after the flight, Barry started showing signs of the cold he’d caught from you. It wasn’t hard for him to figure out where he’d come into contact with it, either. He was visiting his family for Christmas because his father was about to pass away, and he had to do this all while fighting the horrid symptoms of your little gift. He thought it was just like any other cold, and that he’d get over it soon, but by the time he and his wife made it to Portland to spend some time with my fiancé and I it was obvious that he was in bad shape. You see, he had asthma, and usually it didn’t affect him, but somehow that particular cold activated it, complicating his body’s response to the invasion. He was so sick when he got here that he could barely function. I’d known him a decade and I’d never seen him so ill before. He was one of the strongest people I’ve ever known, so him catching something was shocking to begin with, even for his wife.

He spent a few days here, and we tried to convince him to go to a hospital, but he refused. He said he wanted to wait until they got home so he could see his regular doctor, but we all knew there was more to it than that. I think, deep down, he knew he was in peril. He knew his life was about to end, and he didn’t want his wife to be so far from home while he was laid up in the hospital. So he soldiered on for her sake, displaying his devotion and affection for her just like he did any other day. He was selfless and giving like that, especially when his wife was involved. He suffered for days, rarely leaving their hotel room and barely eating. By the time they got home he had to be taken to the emergency room because he couldn’t breathe.

He spent several days in the dinky little hospital near their home, which worried me since they lacked the proper equipment and doctors to treat him thoroughly. With every day his condition worsened, and by the time the idiots at the hospital finally figured out that they should air-lift him to a better facility it was too late. Less than an hour after the helicopter landed he stopped breathing, and they couldn’t resuscitate him anymore (it wasn’t the first time they’d had to bring him back). He’d ended up in a drug-induced coma and a ventilator a few days before the trip, so he didn’t have to feel the pain for a short while, but he shouldn’t have died.

If you had only covered your damn mouth we might still have him with us today. Because of you, Barry ended up dying before his own father. You have no idea how much pain you’ve caused my family, and you have no idea how badly I wish I could somehow give you a taste of what we had to go through. You better hope I never meet you in person.

Rant – Disillusionment in Portland

Just a quick note: If you haven’t heard of this kind of post before and you’d like to read a short explanation then please check out this page

Rumors are Rarely True

 

When I was young I used to think that Portland, Oregon was the perfect city, and I know I’m not the only one. People in other cities seem to think the same thing, but just like my initial experience with the ‘progressive, accepting population of a truly Green metropolis’, they haven’t seen the underlying filth and grime that Portland tries so hard to hide. It seems the longer I live here to more I hate this place, and after a long, hard fight in trying to retain my affection for it I just don’t have the energy to deal with its flaws anymore. For over six months now I’ve been developing plans to move back to my real home (where people can really experience ‘the organic lifestyle’ because you’re in the middle of the woods), but there are certain aspects that have restrained my retreat, so here I stay, at least for now. There are still several advantages to living in Portland, but there used to be several more, so much so that I didn’t even notice the downsides. Slowly, over the last few years, those pros have eroded away, and I’m stuck watching what used to be a great mass community become just like any other large city.

 

My Buttons are Breaking

 

My discontent has had a long time to develop, but it was one recent public scare that finally pushed me to write my frustrations out. Some of you may have heard news reports about the boil water alert that was issued to everyone in Portland yesterday, but if you don’t live here there’s a good chance that you didn’t hear the whole story on the matter. There’s an interesting chain of events leading up to the alert that is too coincidental for my taste, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time politicians had pulled a fast one on the people they’re supposed to serve. Some people might just write off my suspicions, claiming I’m some sort of conspiracy chaser, but that isn’t the case with me. Typically, most of the conspiracy theories I hear sound ridiculous to me, though I will grant that some of them are quite logical, and even probable. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that I tend to be an objective sort of person, only basing my conclusions on pure, unadulterated, indisputable facts. I have the mind of a scientist, that’s for certain, and I’ve always enjoyed the process of researching a topic, going beyond Googling something and only reading the first result. It takes a lot of evidence, and it has to be from reliable sources, to convince me of something.

Here’s a brief timeline to give you an idea of what my suspicions are based on:

Public Distrust Steadily Grows

Over the past few years, the City Council of Portland has continually pissed off the residents in their jurisdiction by squandering the money they’ve received from the ubiquitous water utility fees that everyone must pay. And, of course, the backlash of their poor decisions and misappropriations fall back onto the communities in the form of steep rate hikes, instigated by those same ‘leaders’ in an attempt to make up their loses. Because they’ve continued the same pattern for so long, and the people they work for, the citizens they’re supposed to listen to, haven’t taken a strong stand against their frivolous actions, this ridiculous predicament has snowballed into a real problem.

As of last Thursday, May 22nd, 2014, the City Council authorized yet another increase in water fees, set to take effect July 1st and bring the average cost for water and sewer services to $94.79, which soars over the typical bill people pay in Phoenix, AZ ($37.75 for water, $20.71 for sewer). That calculates to a 64% increase compared to the rates from just 10 years ago. Granted, the water in Phoenix tastes horrible (at least, it used to when I lived there in the 90’s), but all it takes to fix that is a good filter. Some like to claim that the City Council’s haphazard projects and alleged slush funds aren’t the cause of the rate increases, that they’re simply the result of updating our systems to comply with federal regulations, but I don’t think that’s wholly true. Sure, we’ve caught the City Council behaving badly, and we’ve made them pay for it, but I’m certain there’s more problems out there that we never realized. I mean, what are the odds that we’ve discovered every disaster they’ve committed under the Water Bureau? It’s never that simple or easy, and I’m fairly positive that there’s plenty more where the revealed mishaps came from.

One Man Takes a Stand, But His Major Supporters Make People Nervous

Generally, it seems most people have too much to worry about in their daily lives to have the time to call out our leaders on their poor decisions, but one man, Kent Craford, has fought for reform, off and on, for several years. When he felt that the cooperation offered from the current City Council to be lacking, he and other like-minded individuals decided to take a stand. Eventually, they created Measure 26-156 and rallied support for it through petition signatures, which called for major changes and would have withdrawn all administration responsibilities over water, sewer, and wastewater from the City Council, transferring everything to a new, independent board. Unfortunately, there were inexcusable flaws in the measure, and on top of that, the three largest financial supporters behind Craford’s campaign caused most voters to question their altruism since they all happened to be related to corporations that required huge amounts of water. Of course, the financial backers that opposed the bill were just as suspicious, but that uncertainty, the large risk involved, eventually dissuaded so many people who the measure failed in a ratio of almost 3-to-1 against it.

One thing that Craford and some of his proponents stood for rubbed me the wrong way, which involved the continued use of the open-air reservoirs (which we just had a big problem with) Portland has drawn its water from for over a hundred years, and they also didn’t want to build any protective covers over them. This is a problem, not only because of the high risk from contamination (a few months a ago some kid urinated in one of the reservoirs, causing it to be shut down entirely), but also because of the federal regulations against it, which were put in place as a defense again cryptosporidium (a nasty little parasite similar to E. coli, but more dangerous at times). Refusing to comply with those regulations brings federal displeasure down on all of us, and their law makes complete sense. All we have to do is secure the water source; we don’t need to build new reservoirs as long as we take common-sense approach to the problem. So, if planned properly, this issue could be resolved efficiently without costing a ton of cash. It seemed to me that I wasn’t the only person who disagreed with Craford’s views, and I think some of them probably felt that if Measure 26-156 had passed that it would somehow give him enough power to complete his goal, but I that would have been unlikely.

One of the best, and worst, parts of the measure was that it restricted candidates who could be elected to the board. This is good because it would have prevented anyone with a conflict of interest to take power and later bend the board for personal or corporate gain, but the writers of the measure didn’t stop there. They proposed that board members not be paid any sort of salary or wage, thus ensuring that only people who really wanted to benefit the system would try for a spot. That idea is a solid one, but it could easily backfire. That aspect I could deal with, but they took it too far by insisting that anyone who actually did get appointed to the board not hold down any other job. So, basically, they would’ve been expected to work for free and wouldn’t be able to seek a stable income from another career. I understand that they were only trying to ensure that the most dedicated are granted responsibilities, but that kind of requirement only ensures that very rich people, with large amounts of money stored away already, can hold the position, and I really don’t like the sound of that.

If they’d only thought the wording of the measure through a little more I think it could have been successful, but now we’re still stuck with the same old song and dance from the City Council. And yesterday, only two days after the elections ended, the plot intensified.

Crap! No, really, crap!

As I said before, a boil water alert was issued yesterday morning because four samples taken from a few different reservoirs came back positive for signs of E. coli, but it isn’t very cut and dry. First off, some experts were saying that the suggestions broadcast to the public were overkill, which included boiling any and all tap water intended for ingestion for at least 2 minutes and dumping any and all food or drinks made with tap water on or after last Tuesday. With the Rose Festival set to kick off at Waterfront Park that very day, the contamination scare couldn’t have come at a worse time, and food vendors were required to throw away masses of food because they’d prepared it with tap water. Health officials had commented to reporters that it was unlikely anyone would actually get sick from the water in its cold state since the amount of chlorine discovered during testing should have been sufficient to kill off the bacteria before it reached consumers, but administrators weren’t taking any risks, and the alert ended up being the largest boil notice in Portland’s history, affecting about 670,000 people.

People rushed to stores as soon as they found out, buying as much bottled water as they could get their hands on, their panic causing just about every store to sell out by the afternoon. Because of this ordeal, two huge reservoirs have to be drained completely in an attempt to discover the source of the contamination, but just like the previous two boil alerts in 2009 and 2012, it’s doubtful that they’ll actually find any evidence. Businesses like coffee shops and restaurants had to shut down completely, costing them a good deal of revenue, and the cost of the work to be done on our water sources will be high.

But here’s the kicker: this whole crappy situation actually supports and discounts both sides of the Measure 26-156 debate. Here’s how each group has lost face because of this mess:

 Measure Supporters

It is a fact that open-air reservoirs benefit from the exposure to sunlight, which assists in the purification process, but leaving a water source that supports over half a million people isn’t the brightest idea. Sure, E. coli is only a severe threat to young children, elderly people, and those with compromised immune systems (it can actually kill people in those categories through dehydration alone), and most people get a few stomach cramps, a small bout of diarrhea, then move on if they catch it, but there’s a lot worse threats out there than simple bacteria and mild parasites. The federal government is also concerned about the vulnerability to terrorist attacks that open reservoirs offer, and a whole slew of other substances could easily end up in the water. Yes, birds and other animals have defecated in that water ever since the system was built, and the likely hood of something really serious entering the water is small, but I still don’t think it’s worth the risk, all things considered.

City Council

A lot of angry question have been tossed around ever since the public found out a shocking bit of information: the city first detected signs of E. coli Wednesday morning, but didn’t even attempt to notify the public about it. In stead, they waited until more testing was completed because the regulations didn’t require them to say anything until Friday. By Friday morning, three different reservoirs had tested positive for the bacteria, and the Oregon Health Authority finally told the water bureau to write a press release and activate the reverse 911 system (which is very unreliable and not very expedient anyway). By the time they let us know what was going on people had injested the tap water long enough to begin getting sick. It’s not like the emergency rooms got slammed or anything, but people are beginning to come forward and admit that they had experienced symptoms long before the alert was broadcast.

I get that E. coli isn’t a crazy, extremely life-threatening contagion, but I think people deserve to be informed, as soon as possible, when signs of fecal mater have been detected in the water they pay so much for. To be blunt, it isn’t the marginal health risks that irked me, but the fact that the government held back on us, and so soon after a vote that helped them. What’s interesting is that I could have absolutely sworn I’d read an article yesterday on a local news website that said they’d known about the problem on Tuesday, but now it’s mysteriously missing. I know I read that somewhere, and the source was trustworthy. I’m not the only one, either, because several people have hinted at suspecting a cover-up and some have openly declared that they wish they could have changed their vote on Measure 26-156. The backlash from this really isn’t helping the City Council in any way.

 

Nothing But Disappointment

 

No matter which way I look at it, this whole business with the water supply disappoints me, and both sides are to blame. That’s all there is to it. But, in comparison, I think the City Council has come out of this looking a lot worse than Craford and his partners.

 

 Anyway…

 

This is only one of the irritants that have caused me to adopt my Little Miss Rant’n’Raver persona lately. I’ll probably end up writing plenty of articles about this area. If you’ve actually read all the way through this, thank you for your patience. I don’t really expect anyone to love this kind of work, and I’m only making it for me, so I won’t feel bad if you didn’t care for it. I certainly feel a lot better after getting that off my chest.

Thanks!

An Introduction To The Critters Of Garben Road

It’s Time to Meet the Furry Stars

 

If you love fuzzy little animals then you’re bound to enjoy this series. A few weeks ago I created a page that explained the ongoing categories I plan to write about over the next several months, and this is the beginning of one of them, which I’ve decided to call The Critters of Garben Road (for more info check out the Ongoing Topics page).

On the street where I live (which I’ve changed the name of for safety reasons, as well as privacy) there are feral and stray cats up the ying yang, not to mention opossums, raccoons, coyotes, rats, and other various wild animals. Both myself and my fiancé are very well acquainted with many of the animals that inhabit the area, which was a result of leash-training out own cat and walking him every night, and we’ve made some sweet little friends. The creatures roaming around here are always up to trouble, getting into places they’d best stay away from and generally being mischievous. It isn’t always fun and games, and sometimes our hearts get broken, but for the most part hanging out with the various residents of Garben Road is quite rewarding, and worth the occasional pain.

Hoping others might enjoy recounts of the lighter moments with out little friends, I’ve decided to record the good times (and maybe some of the bad ones). But before I get started with that I think it would be a good idea to explain who’s who so it’s easier to follow everything. I wish I had pictures of all of them, but my phone doesn’t work well in the dark. I plan to get a better camera soon, but until then I’ll be sure to describe them as best as I can.

 

The Sectors

 

The area I’ll be talking about is pretty large, so I’ve decided to break them up into different sectors just to simplify everything a little. Garben road is dissected by a major numbered street that runs north and south, so that will be the boundary I’ll use. There’s also another street to the north that I sometimes run into critters on, which I’ll call Garnet Street, but I probably won’t be writing about that area very often since the main personalities I used to see there have been gone for a while now. The two main areas will be called East Side and West Side.

 

East Side Critters

 

The East Side sector is where my house is located, and it’s also an area that I frequently walk around in since I tend to stroll around while I take smoke breaks. Here’s a list of the animals that live here:

  • Octo (short for October): Octo is the only cat I can get a clear picture of because he happens to be my kitty. I gave him the nickname Lightning Paws because he’s amazingly fast, surpassing the speed of any other cat I’ve ever known (and I’ve known a lot of cats over the years). Turd comes from the fact that he’s a spoiled rotten brat, and The Eternal Kitten references the fact that we waited until he was almost 2 years old to get him neutered, causing him to retain the energy levels that a kitten would exhibit. Despite his temper and occasionally naughty behavior, he’s still my little baby, and I love him immensely.
Octo (aka Lightning Paws, Turd, and The Eternal Kitten)

Octo (aka Lightning Paws, Turd, and The Eternal Kitten)

  • Sweetie (aka Ginger): Called Ginger by his true owner (a young girl who lives in the area), Sweetie is a gorgeous tabby with tawny, brown, and black patterns, and has at least a little Maine Coon blood in him. He was the first cat to start following us around, and for a long time I thought he was a stray. He’s mad several attempts to sneak into our apartment, including darting through the door when we open it and trying to claw through the screen on the window. He hangs out by our front door, waiting for us to come out, and absolutely loves attention. He tends to be fairly mild-mannered, but has moments when he challenges other cats. We typically see him on a daily basis, though he does disappear for long periods of time every now and then.
  • Licorice: Though I’m not sure if he has the same owners, I’m positive that Licorice is related to Sweetie in some way (probably brother or son). Licorice looks a lot like Octo, even down to the orange eyes and white patch on his chest, but he has the long fur associated with Maine Coons, and is a good deal larger than my scrawny little brat. He’s a lot like Sweetie in that he loves attention and follows us any chance he gets, but he tends to be more aggressive, and tends to get jealous if we pet other cats in front of him. He’s smart enough to know that I won’t tolerate him chasing off the ‘competition’, so he’s started to chill out lately.
  • Marble: Marble is the most recent addition to our growing family, and is sweet as could be. He’s not even a year old by my estimation and is also a tabby. His coloring ranges from black to a light brown, which creates intricate, swooping swirls on his sides and thick black lines that run down his back. He’s quite the talker, and is well-behaved and sociable with other cats. He’s on the small side, but has the potential to grow a lot now that we’re feeding him some decent food.
  • Big Boy: Big Boy is just that: a big boy! He’s a buff, bulky kitty, and definitely has a tom cat personality. He’s one of those tuxedo cats (black on the top, white on the belly, with white paws and a mustache), which I have a huge weakness for. He’s pretty shy, and a little unpredictable, but when he does allow us to pet him he’s a complete lover. Up until recently, I thought he had a family, but it turns out he was recently abandoned by some people who were renting a house down the street. They left him here when they moved, and he still sits in front of that same house, waiting for his family to return. He’s quite the fighter, which is made obvious by his mangled right ear, but he doesn’t get angry very often.
  • Ramses: With a beautiful dusky grey coat that’s soft as silk and a long face that reminds me of ancient Egyptians, Ramses is regal in every way. He’s also associated with Big Boy, and was previously owned by the same people in the past. He’s never instigated any fights and is always happy to receive a little attention, as well as a snack. The way he carries himself suggests that he’s an older cat, but he seems to be pretty healthy considering the circumstances.
  • Wiggles: Yet another tabby, Wiggles’ fur is bright orange and red, with a brilliant pattern. He has a bobbed tail that looks more like a birth defect than the result of an accident, and he really does sort of wiggle when he walks. He belongs to a women’s group home down the street, and tends to act a little odd. If he sees us walking down the street he always follows us, keeping watch like a little guardian, and makes sure we return home safely. The interesting part is that he protects us even on days when he won’t let us pet him. Every now and then, especially if we haven’t seen him for a while (he’s an indoor/outdoor cat) he gets a little excited to see us and allows us to actually touch him. Out of all the cats, I’d say he’s the most striking, and when he allows me to touch him I always feel honored for some reason.
  • Zorro: The only non-feline character with an actual name in this sector, Zorro is an eccentric raccoon that absolutely loves cat food and has scared the pants off me a few times. Despite his fearless behavior I do find him interesting, and it always bothers me if I have to chase him off to protect the kitties. Lately he’s been very mild, and has convinced me to allow him to get close, so hopefully he won’t give me any reasons to scare him anymore. You’ll see what I mean soon.

 

West Side Critters

 

The West Side has less cats, but a larger variety of animals. After a few blocks the street meets a small park and diverts to the left, so we often take Octo down there late at night so he can have some fun hunting bugs and worms. Even with the lower density of critters, it’s rare for us to not encounter a familiar tail.

  • Squeakers: When we first met Squeakers about a year ago I instantly loved her, but she was distant and nervous. She was fascinated by Octo, but wouldn’t come near us at all. It took months of patience and food, but one day she finally trusted us and rubbed up against my leg. She’d been my baby ever since. She’s another of the tuxedo kitties, though she’s a lot smaller than Big Boy, and she has a distinctive white line running up her nose. She purrs a lot, gets ultra excited the moment she sees us, and does a little happy dance in anticipation of attention and snacks. I choose the name Squeakers for her after long deliberation because she squeaks every time she meows, and she’s always a big talker. She’s the only other cat Octo has gotten along with entirely, and she’s super sweet to any other cat.
  • Shadow (aka Doppelganger): Shadow is Squeakers’ brother, and looks almost identical to her except that he’s grey instead of black. Just like Squeakers, it took time to get him comfortable with us, but once he did he became completely trusting. He’s very high-energy, and can’t sit still when we pet him. We don’t see him as often as I’d like, but when he does show up it’s always fun.
  • Octa: Octa is the shorter, chubbier, female version of Octo. They look so identical that we sometimes confuse them for each other. She’s as sweet as can be, but doesn’t care for other cats and tends to lash out when they get too close. I’m fairly sure that she has owners, but I could be wrong about that. Octa is one of the most adorable cats I’ve ever known.
  • Shya (deceased): Shya was a Siamese feral that never got close to us, but was starting to slowly warm up our presence. She was absolutely gorgeous, and very emaciated. Unfortunately, she passed away about two weeks ago when someone ran her over with their car. I named her Shya because she was so reclusive, and even though she’s passed I intend to write about her whenever I can. She deserves no less.
  • Wile and E: There’s a pair of coyotes that like to run through the park in the middle of the night, and I’ve even seen them right outside our front door. They’re almost always together, and usually try to stay away from us.

 

And Many More

 

This list only covers the animals I see around a lot. There’s still many more that pop out now and then, but I’ll explain them as I talk about them. So, now that we’re beyond the major descriptions we can move on to some of the interesting things the fuzzy little brats in my area do.

Boundless Sarcasm – Pharming, Animal Dumping, and Stereotyping

Free at Last (Sort of)

 

Honestly, no one is every truly free, but my stint of jury duty is over and I finally have the time needed to pick up the pace here. And I have a lot of catching up to do. I know it’s a big ‘no no’ to post more than two articles in one day, but I’m just bursting with built up ideas, so today I’m gonna go against my nature and break the rules a little. I plan to finish up the series that started from the last Daily Prompt I participated in, but before I do that I’d like to go ahead and pound out the new one posted this morning.

 

Today’s Daily Prompt is:

Game of Groans

Think about an object, an activity, or a cultural phenomenon you really don’t like. Now write a post (tongue in cheek or not – your call!) about why it’s the best thing ever.

 

A Little History

 

Before I get started I’d like to point out that I’m frequently sarcastic, as well as a pessimist, so I have a lot of grievances with the world. There’s so many things I could write about on this topic that I could actually create a series that lasted months (and I might, at that). That’s why I’ve chosen to use three actions that anger me, rather than one. Now, those of you that have read some of my previous posts know that when I expand beyond a single point it tends to backfire on me, causing  the discussion to stretch into way too many installments rather than the single article it should be, but I’m working on training myself against that habit, and today is my first attempt in controlling myself. Wish me luck!

 

Awesomeness!

 

Alright, first I’ll detail the ‘cons’ for each topic:

Pharming

Pharming is a euphemism used by teens in reference to abusing prescription drugs in an attempt to get high, and usually the practice involves drinking alcohol or combining more than one drug. ‘Pharming Parties‘ are secretive gatherings of teens where each attendee brings pills they’ve either stolen from family and/or friends, purchased from dealers, or obtained from doctors after skillfully faking symptoms. In some cases, they trade with each other directly, but there have been occasions where a large salad bowl or container will be placed in the middle of the room so that everyone can deposit their contributions into it. The dangerous larder is then mixed thoroughly so that everyone can randomly select a few pills to take, usually having no clue exactly what they’ve grabbed or what kind of interactions they might experience.

Some claim that the media coverage on this issue have blown the threat out of proportion, saying that these parties aren’t the epidemic some might think they are, but, regardless of their frequency, they are still extremely perilous, and they still take place from time to time. However, there is an upside to all of this:

  • If you’re a geek, nerd, or outcast attending Pharming Parties could boost you up the social ladder, especially if you’re amusing when you’re high. It’s a great way to make real friends.
  • If you have ADD or ADHD chances are you’ll end up grabbing some Ritalin or Adderall, which are frequently used at the parties, and are the best medications for Attention Deficit. So you’ll actually be doing yourself some good.
  • Most of the people who show up know more about the pills they have than the doctors that prescribe them, and if something bad happens you can be sure that they’ll know how to save your life. They’ve spent hours studying the medical field online, after all. You can always partake in confidence.
  • If the cops show up you’ll be so high that you won’t care at all when they handcuff you, toss you into the uncomfortable back seat of their cruiser, and take you to jail. Popping pills is totally worth destroying your future, and since you’re under 18 the judge and prosecuting attorney will probably go easy on you, especially if you blame peer pressure.
  • If you do die at least you won’t have to worry about turning in your math homework on Monday.
  • Pills are harmless, and using them is a lot safer than taking street drugs, like heroine and meth.

Animal Dumping

The term ‘Animal Dumping’ is pretty self-explanatory, but it can take many forms. Some people end up in a dire situation where they have no choice but move to a new home that doesn’t allow pets, so they leave them behind at their previous residence. Others don’t consider the responsibility when adopting pets, find out their in way over their head, and release them some place far from home so they can’t find their way home. An unplanned pregnancy can put a lot of strain on a family, and most turn to abandoning the babies as soon as they’re done weaning. Everyone has their own reasons for doing this, but a lot of the time it comes down to avoiding the perceived shame and embarrassment associated with turning the animals over to shelter staff. Some are so desperate to end ‘the problem’ quietly that they even gather the kittens, puppies, whatever, into a sack and throw them out the window of their car as they drive down the road. Dumping a pet is unnecessary and cruel, but there are major advantages to both humans and animals when they are let loose to fend for themselves:

  • Finding a new owner for your pets can take months. Throwing your pet outside only takes moments.
  • Studies show that cats who have owners are more likely to be obese and develop other diseases as a result of the imbalance between exercise and readily available food, which humans cause through pampering and protection. Living ‘in the wild’ ensures that they don’t eat too much, and the high amounts of energy required to catch their own sustenance keeps them in shape and at the proper weight.
  • When a cat or dog lives past the age that they’d normally die around if they were feral they usually end up in a lot of pain from diseases like arthritis, organ failure, and dental decay. The constant danger they face on their own ensures that they’re unlikely to live long enough to suffer. It’s more humane, if you really think about it.

Stereotyping

Being stereotyped or discriminated against simply because of your personal attributes is one of the worst experiences a person could have, and it’s certainly unacceptable behavior in some cases, but it has its uses and it’s not as evil as some make it seem.

  • Let’s face it: most stereotypes have been proven to be true most of the time. If you’re in a bad neighborhood and you see someone dressed like a gang member chances are they are one. They probably have a gun, too, or at the least a can of spray paint. If you see a bunch of cars parked on someone’s lawn they probably drink a lot, and there’s a good chance they live on welfare or have a very low-paying job. If someone says they’re Mormon they probably have 10 kids at home. If you see a teen dressed in nothing but black clothes, with their hair all spiked up and crazy, their face covered in piercings and weird makeup, they’re probably suicidal and hate everyone.
  • Using stereotypes to judge people at first glance is a major time-saver. Before they say a single word you’ll already know if they’re the kind of person you want to associate with. This cuts down on the wasteful conversations you’d have to go through just to get to know someone. Why bother when the clothes they’re wearing say everything already. Am I right?
  • Stereotyping allows law officials to pick out potential criminals and trouble makers from crowds efficiently. It assists them in protecting good, law-abiding citizens and makes paying taxes more tolerable since you know they’re doing everything possible to actually earn the money we pay them. So when you see a cop ‘harassing’ someone because of preconceived notions you should thank him, not shun him.

 

In Reality

 

If I do turn this into a series of articles this will be the time when I reveal any relevant facts against my fake arguments, as well as how I really feel about what I’ve previously said. I’m not going to do this today because this post is already too long. But if you plan on leaving a comment please, please, please keep in mind that everything I’ve said is the exact opposite of my own views (well, except the opening paragraphs for each topic). While a few of the facts I’ve stated are true that doesn’t mean I actually support the actions those points are defending. I just wanted to make that perfectly clear.

 

Thank you for stopping by!

In The Judicial Waiting Room

Since I used my phone to write this post (while I was hanging out in the Juror Assembly Room) something went wrong and everything I typed magically disappeared. It’s always a bummer when one spends time thinking up clear sentences and achieves a wonderful balance of vocabulary without sounding pretentious just to have it die en route between electronic device and blog, but there’s not much one can do to restore what was lost, so oh, well. To get the gist of what I’d originally posted take a look at my comment below. I’ll come back and fill in the blanks with more details later.

A Ghostly Family Reunion

NOTE: This post is a continuation of a previous fiction article I wrote in response to a Daily Prompt. If you haven’t already done so, please take a moment to read the opening of the story here. Thanks!
 

Dinner With The Dead – Part Two

 

As promised, here’s the second part of my response to today’s Daily Prompt.

 

A Ghostly Family Reunion

 

An unidentifiable sensation on my face demanded attention, effectively drawing me back to the present. The damp daubing on my forehead felt almost like a tongue swiping my skin. The ludicrous mental image that raised was enough to grant my mind some control over my body once again. As I fought to open my eyes my mind forced my mouth to function.

“Wha… hapen?” I slurred, my tongue still lethargic. My sight cleared enough to find Daniella hovering above me, a small towel in her hand. It was then that I finally realized I was laying on my back, the underside of my dining table before me. A sharp pain suddenly flared to life in my head as Daniella gently brushed the cloth along a tender spot at my temple, causing me to hiss in reaction.

With a sigh, Daniella detailed the incident. “You fainted. It’s a pretty common reaction, really. I take great precautions so no one gets hurt, which is why we always perform summonings while sitting down, but usually my clients slump forward, so the table saves them. Unfortunately, you fell sideways, which also made it impossible for me to catch you in time. You also hit your head on the edge of the table on your way down. It’s pretty bad, so I think I should take you to the hospital.”

I closed my eyes for a moment, hoping it would not only help them focus, but also help me sort out the details floating throughout my muddled thoughts. Little bits of recent memory were easy to recall, but the whole picture eluded me. The babbling of several different voices finally penetrated my mind, delivering a jarring reminder of the strange task we’d performed just before I’d reacted so strongly. “No!” I exclaimed, denying the idea of getting professional treatment. I attempted to sit up, but my movements were too hasty, and a distressing dizziness assailed me. Resisting the combination of my disorientation and Daniella gently pushing me back to the floor was futile, so I conceded and settled back into a prone position. “You told me we could only keep them here for a few hours. I’ll see a doctor after we’re done here.”

Daniella considered my face for a moment, an expression of indecision that I’d never seen her wear before pulling her eyebrows together. She looked as though she might protest my foolish decision, but she knew better than anyone that I probably wouldn’t get the chance to repeat tonight’s event. Our success was practically a miracle to begin with. Grudgingly, she nodded her assent, and gently assisted me in getting back into my chair.

“Here,” Daniella said in a bland, commanding tone as she handed me the wet cloth she’d been using on my wound. “Keep that on you left temple, and be sure to moisten it every so often from that ice water.” She indicated a mixing bowl on the table in front of me, then took her seat.

The vocalizing that had droned on during my interaction with the floor abruptly ceased, and every person in the room, both dead and alive, granted me their full attention. It was disconcerting, to say the least. “So.” I said weakly, unsure of where to start in such a strange situation. Before I could begin to voice the dozens of questions swirling through my mind a man siting on the other side of the table seized control.

“Have you got anything decent to eat?” The man demanded, his thick Scottish accent in keeping with the kilt he wore and the bristling beard he wore, which happened to be a similar shade to my own hair. His voice, which was the type that carried well, reverberated as if the room couldn’t contain the cacophony as he continued. “I’m starving. I haven’t eaten in about 600 years, y’ know.”

I turned to Daniella, the question of whether the reanimated dead could digest food or not on my lips, but a snort of derision preempted me. “Bloody Scots! Always more concerned with trifles.” The male tone was rife with disdain, the inflection blatantly English. I turned my attention to the speaker, finding a young man who looked to be barely out of his teens. His accouterments suggested he’d lived sometime in the 16th century. The Scotsman glared at the Englishman in silence, the tension between them growing to uncomfortable heights. Everyone present could sense the waves of hostility circulating between the two men. A young woman I hadn’t noticed before, who was wearing an elaborate dress and had cowered in the corner, hunkered down into her protective stance even more. The fear on her face was painful to behold.

Before I could circumvent the imminent violence brewing around us I was interrupted yet again. I ground my teeth, my anger burning every part of me from my most hated of slights, as the altercation escalated. The Scotsman rose to his full height, his figure imposing, and drew a large sword for the scabbard on his back, pointing the tip directly at the Englishman’s eye. “I should do everyone a favor and take of your head here and now.”

My ‘bull shit cup’ finally ran over at that threat, causing me to leap onto the table, my balance still shaky. My ire pushed me beyond normal concerns, assisting me in climbing into position. Once I was looming above the antagonistic males I released my own brand of fury. “Enough!”

My bellow took everyone by surprise, causing the girl in the corner to whimper. I pushed away the guilt from frightening her and concentrated on appearing as imposing as impossible, which wasn’t an easy feat considering my size. I pinned the men back with my most aggressive of glares. “I didn’t ask you guys here so you could bicker, and we’re a tad short on time. A lot’s changed since you were alive, and your behavior is no longer acceptable. So I want to you sit down, shut up, and be civilized. Understood?!”

The Englishman gave me a bland stare before taking on a bored appearance, but the Scotsman was a little more stubborn, meeting my eye directly in a challenge of superiority. “And since when do women give commands?” His eyes narrowed, his posture hinting at how dangerous he could truly be. Unfortunately for him, I was made of sterner stuff than the generally submissive women he was used to.

I cranked up my ‘evil eye’ stare, then quickly scooped up the little bronze statue Daniella had brought for the ceremony. It depicted an attractive woman, but beyond that I had no clue what the figure symbolized. The meaning behind the hefty object had no bearing on my use for it, however, so I set my grip around the slimmest section of it and wielded it like a baton. The man’s shock at being openly contested by the opposite sex froze him in place, giving me plenty of time to pull back and swing my makeshift weapon at his head. The fact that he was already dead meant I didn’t have to worry about doing severe damage to his thick skull, so I happily packed a good deal of force behind the wallop, aiming for the very top of his head. The contact between metal and empty head caused a curious noise, part thud and part metallic ching. He swayed on his feet for a moment, taken aback from the attack, but he retained consciousness. Without another word, he complied with my demands for decency and took his seat.

“Now,” I said with authority and I tried to step down from the table with dignity. Once I was back in my seat I continued in a business-like manner. “I haven’t called all of you here just so we could hang out. I’d like to ask you some questions-”

“Who are you?” A new voice asked, which was smooth and deep. It belonged to an older man, one of the four Native Americans that sat clustered together. His eyes were bright with intelligence and curiosity.

“I’m sorry, that was rude of me.” I said, somehow not offended by him interrupting me. “My name is Anna and all of you are related to me in some way. You’re my family.”

I’ve never met you before,” another of the Native Americans stated in a suspicious tone. She was a rotund, substantial woman, and until that moment she’d spent every second granting glares to the light-skinned compliment of the gatherers, myself included. “I know all of my family.”

“Well, I can assure you that I am a member of your family,” I said slowly, my irritation at her stubborn behavior irrepressible. “You don’t know me because all of you have been dead for quite some time.” The woman grunted in response and turned her attention back to starring balefully at anyone who fit the classic description of the ‘white man’.

DEAD?! What do you mean, dead!? I can’t be dead!” A strident female voice, filled with hysteria, sprang out from the corner of the room. With a sigh of resignation, I turned toward the girl who had forced herself into the corner. I expected her to have the same frazzled expression as before, but the wild look in her eyes, like she was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown, caused a stab of worry to run through my chest.

“It’s alright,” Daniella said, forestalling the appeal of help I was about to voice. She rose from her chair and began to slowly pace toward the girl in the corner, her hands held out in front of her body as if she were warding off an angry animal. As she walked past me she gave me a look that suggested that very bad things were about to happen, and that those horrid happenings would be entirely my fault. My apprehension grew by leaps and bounds. “It’s alright”

“No! IT’S NOT!” The girl suddenly screamed at the top of her lungs, just as Daniella had drawn near her. Before anyone could react to the overt hostility the girl was projecting through voice and body language she attacked, moving so fast that my eyes couldn’t follow her. Before I could comprehend just what had happened a blurry version of Daniella flew past me, not a single inch of her touching the floor. Now that I knew the truth behind people like Daniella I was aware that they couldn’t, in fact, fly, or float, or levitate, so I knew it wasn’t some parlor trick on the practitioner’s part. The speed of her passing generated a wind that caressed my face, causing tendrils of my hair to follow in her wake.

I watched in stunned silence as the strong, self-assured woman flew across the yards of open space and connected with the opposite wall, the force strong enough to knock her out entirely, her body slumping to the floor with an appearance that I devoutly hoped didn’t signal death. As one, the living complement, and a few of the ‘others’, in the room turned to regard the ghostly assailant. Silence reigned supreme once again. What had once been a pitiful looking girl, scared out of her own mind, now stood tall and large as an antagonist, a fierce expression a testament to her inner darkness. The girl slowly scanned the occupants of the room, finally settling her attention on one lone figure: me. Before I could react she was on me, her attack indefensible.

 

To Be Continued (Again)

 

I know this is going to get annoying, but this story is becoming a lot of fun and I think one more installment will make it just the right length. So keep a look out for Dinner with the Dead Part 3! I’ll be sure to post a link here. Thanks!

Dinner With The Dead

I’m Back in the Saddle Again

 

I know it’s unlikely that everyone was biting their nails in anticipation of my next post, but it’s still no bueno for me to just disappear for extended periods of time. With several birthdays, Mother’s Day, and urgent obligations I had no choice but to abandon my digital refuge for a while, but I plan to rectify the situation and make up for lost time. I have so many things to write about, so I almost don’t know where to start. Luckily, today’s Daily Prompt is quite interesting (as was yesterday’s), so I think I’ll start there. Let’s take a look.

 

 Today’s Daily Prompt is:

Modern Families

If one of your late ancestors were to come back from the dead and join you for dinner, what things about your family would this person find the most shocking?

 

This question delights me since I’ve always had a strong interest in my bloodlines (and that of others), and anyone who knows me is aware of my ability to seize any moment possible to discuss such matters. When most people first meet me and take notice of my strawberry blond hair, blue eyes, fair skin, short stature, and slim build they usually think one of two things: This girl is really Irish! and/or Is this girl an albino or something? (I’ve actually had people flat-out ask me that question). Those speculations amuse me to no end because my lineage is unexpectedly convoluted, so when I reveal the truth of the matter most people end up on the verge of shock. Some people even think I’m lying when I tell them ‘the whole story’ behind my family.

Because of my family’s link to a handful of different cultures, I’ve decided to approach today’s Daily Prompt with a broader method. Instead of meeting just one of my ancestors I’ll present one from each of the major ethnic groups, thus provided a sort of ghostly family reunion. I had thought to write this out as an article, but I think it would be more entertaining if I just use fiction to tell the tale. Keep in mind that the characters themselves will be entirely fictional (for sanity’s sake, since it would take forever for me to track down the records of my actual relatives), so don’t expect to find historical stories about these people. Alright, time for the fun part.

 

Dinner with the Dead

 

“Are you ready?” A delicate, smooth voice asked me. I directed my glance to the woman standing to my right, meeting her gaze steadily. I hadn’t known Daniella long, but the confidence and professionalism she projected had caused me to trust her rather quickly. A calm quirk of her lips did wonders with settling my nerves, bolstering my own certainty of success in the strange ritual we were about to perform. I gave her a short nod in response and silently moved with her to take our seats, she at the head of my dining table and myself directly to her left. The four other people, who were quietly conversing in a corner, followed our cue and took their places, their positions spread out around the substantial oak surface.

As Daniella assembled the tools she required for the task we were about to undertake I examined the appearances of the other so-called shamans, still skeptical of their prowess. They all looked entirely ordinary, one of the men even dressed like an investment banker, every element of his impressive business suit well made and stylish. Daniella herself looked like a typical suburban housewife, like she belonged in a mini-van full of kids bound for a soccer game. If it hadn’t been for the assurances of several of my trusted friends and family members I never would have considered handing over the thousands of dollars she required as a fee for her services. Daniella’s efficient completion of her preparations curtailed any further speculations I might have had, her voice demanding I heed my attention to her and nothing else.

“Have you the sacrifice, Anna?” Daniella asked me, referring to the object we’d discussed a week before. She’d explained that our ambitious goal required a good deal of power, saying that I’d have to prove my willingness to the Great Power by relinquishing an object that I deeply loved. It had been a tough decision for me, but I’d eventually found the perfect sacrifice. I retrieved the baby blanket I’d owned since the day I was born from under my chair and reluctantly handed it to her. She reverently caressed the soft fabric, her eyes expressing her empathy with my loss. She then placed my tattered childhood treasure on the table and examined her peers. “You all remember the steps I emailed you, right?”

The nods of affirmation from Daniella’s comrades held no hesitancy. Clearing her throat and closing her eyes, she drew in a deep breath and the others followed suit. I remembered from our previous conversations that their acts were meant to clear their minds, allowing them to gather their inner power. Their slightly odd behavior only lasted a short moment, and once they opened their eyes Daniella picked up my baby blanket and swiftly ripped a strip of fabric from it. She placed the strip to her right, laying it flat on the table’s wooden surface, then proceeded to tear another shred from my most beloved possession. Her face was filled with concentration, a testament to the incantation I knew she was reciting in her head. Once she placed the second piece of blanket to her left, in the empty space between us, she passed the remainder of the blanket to the woman who sat to her right.

The process continued with the rest of the spiritual practitioners, each one violating my memory-laden blanket to produce the two strips, each one arranging the fruits of their labor in the empty spaces along the table. When the last man was done with his part he situated the remaining portion of the abused blanket on the exact center of the table, thus bypassing my participation in the routine. I let out the breath I’d unwittingly held during the entire process.

“Alright, Anna,” Daniella broke the silence, addressing me directly. “I need you to focus as intently as possible on our goal for tonight. You can use any kind of meditation techniques you know, even close your eyes if you have to, but you must clear your mind of everything but our intent.”

“I understand,” I assured her gravely. She had explained numerous times just how important this step of the process was, so I mentally conjured the best methods I’d researched over the previous weeks and began to calm my thoughts.

Once Daniella was satisfied with my acquiescence she stretched her arm across the space between us and clasped my hand to hers. She repeated the process with the woman on her right and the others along the table’s edge completed the circle. Complete silence descended as we all did our part to accomplish the impossible. As time lapsed I began to lose heart, but my tenacity pushed me on. Just as a nasty headache was beginning to settle in the back of my head a hazy figured appeared, perched in the chair across from me. My sharp intake of breath caused Daniella’s eyes to snap in my direction, their strict message clear: Don’t stop!

I forced myself to continue, watching as the blurry form coalesced into the unmistakable shapes of a young woman. Before she fully formed several other indistinct images appeared around the table, each positioned in front of a corresponding shred of fabric. Once achievement was in sight everything seemed to happen quickly, the simultaneous appearance of our ethereal guests too fast to entirely follow. Before the full weight of my shock could settle in eight new bodies had joined us, looking as real as any other living human. Each one wore the clothing typical of the times they’d lived in, varying from roughly constructed bits of hide and leather to the elaborate dress expected of more ‘civilized’ cultures. When Daniella released my hand, folding her own in her lap, I couldn’t resist the urge to slowly reach out to the gruff-looking man on my left, my finger quivering as they made contact with solid, warm flesh. An excited giggle built in my chest, escaping my lips despite my attempt to retain my composure. But it wasn’t every day that one was able to meet their long-dead ancestors in the flesh, so to speak!

As my eyes traveled around the table, voraciously recording every detail of my kin to permanent memory, a strange sensation washed over me, faint but undeniable. I tried to shake the weakness away, but it only intensified. The pounding of my heart extending into my extremities, its reach growing until it resided in my head. A few deafening thumps later, a startling darkness overwhelmed my vision, the sensation unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I didn’t have long to ponder the curious ailment or its onset since a minuscule moment later I collapsed into nothing, awareness eluding me entirely.

 

To Be Continued

 

I know this is annoying for readers, but it’s far worse to publish an article that runs on and on in my opinion. This post was beginning to get quite unruly, so I’ve decided to split it into multiple parts. Don’t worry, the continuation will be posted shortly, so you won’t have to wait a week for the conclusion or anything like that. I’ll post the link here as soon as it’s published, which will include a rather strange conversation and a minor bludgeoning. See you there!

Reason to Believe: Part Two

This article is a continuation to a previous discussion for a Daily Prompt. While it isn’t required to read the first part I would appreciate it if you did. The first part can be found here.

 

Today’s Daily Prompt:

Reason to Believe

In Reason to Believe, Bruce Springsteen sings, “At the end of every hard-earned day, people find some reason to believe. What’s your reason to believe?

 

Verse by Verse

As I said before, I think the best way to present my answers is by going through each verse. Remember, these are just my own interpretations of these lyrics. The beauty of music is that everyone hears something different.

Verse One

Seen a man standin’ over a dead dog lyin’ by the highway in a ditch 
He’s lookin’ down kinda puzzled pokin’ that dog with a stick 
Got his car door flung open he’s standin’ out on highway 31 
Like if he stood there long enough that dog’d get up and run 
Struck me kinda funny seem kinda funny sir to me 
Still at the end of every hard day people find some reason to believe 

This verse demonstrates how some can have faith in the impossible being accomplished, or hoping for a miracle even when observing death. We know, without a doubt, that death is final, but there’s always that lurking anticipation that maybe a higher power could negate it. This verse makes me think of something in my life that isn’t entirely impossible, but the odds are stacked against me. I’ve dedicated a huge amount of time and energy to growing my career, so much so that I work seven days a week, and sometimes spend 16 hours of the day on my computer. My goals are high, eventually culminating in a company I’ve dreamed of establishing that will take a stand against the dirty business practices so many giant corporations have used to make an extra buck.

In my current situation it will take several more years of near-constant struggle to get there, and there’s no certainty that I’ll see a return on my efforts. I own nothing of value and can’t even get a micro-loan, so there’s a lot of factors against me. The same goes for my writing career. I’d love to someday attain the type of prestige authors like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling have achieved, but the chances are slim. Every day I face failures and discouraging results as the ‘fruit of my labors’, but I still keep trying. However, it isn’t any sort of faith that urges me to open my laptop every morning, especially not in myself.

I’ve dealt with poverty since my earliest memories. I know that the only way I can dig myself out of this hole is to work, work, work, so that’s what I do. But it isn’t just myself that I want to help. Because of my direct experience with many of the darker aspects of life I’ve always wanted to help others to overcome their past. If my only concern was bettering my life I’m sure I’d never reach my goals, but thinking of the thousand, even millions, of people and animals that also yearn for a brighter future pushes me to carry on more than any enticement or daydream of glory every could.

Verse Two

Now Mary Lou loved Johnny with a love mean and true 
She said baby I’ll work for you everyday and bring my money home to you 
One day he up and left her and ever since that 
She waits down at the end of that dirt road for young Johnny to come back 
Struck me kinda funny funny yea indeed how at the end of every hard earned day you can find some reason to believe 

This verse shows how love can be blind, how affection can hide the truth from you despite the clear evidence that you’ve been used and abandoned. I’ve been in a similar situation, but with a different ending. I feel in love with my third boyfriend very quickly, partly because I was young and naïve, but after a few months a mutual friend delivered some distressing news: another girl that he’d shown interest in for some time had moved back into town and he was trying to convince her to start a relationship with him. He didn’t even have enough respect for me to tell me to my face, and avoided me for the two weeks that this took place. All he told me was that he needed time to think and he’d let me know.

Over the time that we were apart I never got angry; I only fell into a depression at the thought of losing him. When he later returned to me he insinuated through a vague explanation that he’d chosen me over the other girl, but I soon found out from another source that that had been a lie. The reason he stayed with me was actually because the other girl had turned him down, telling him that she had no interest in him, but even after hearing that I still wanted to be with him.

With the assistance of a previous ex-boyfriend, I later realized that I deserved better than someone who could leave me so easily, so I ended the relationship, but at the time of our discourse my love-induced delusions about him made me willing to do anything to get him back. That’s what made me believe that he would choose me and be faithful once we resumed our relationship. I was wrong, of course, since he cheated on me after that, but perceived love can be very strong. My proof is the scar that runs down my arm, a result of my broken mind turning to pain in an attempt to distract itself from the emotional anguish I was going through.

 Verse Three

Take a baby to the river Kyle William they called him 
Wash the baby in the water take away little Kyle’s sin 
In a whitewash shotgun shack an old man passes away take the body to the graveyard and over him they pray Lord won’t you tell us, 
Tell us what does it mean 
At the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe 

I found this verse very interesting since, to me, it talks about people keeping their faith in their god even after said god has taken someone they love from them. It’s also a fantastic description of the cycle we must all follow and how people can continue living their lives even thought they realize death will come for them some day. I’ve actually struggled with this one a bit, but eventually the will of someone I cared about helped me soldier on.

The bond I had with my mother was so strong that even as a child I couldn’t imagine my life without her. Psychiatrists call it enmeshment and say it’s unhealthy (which I can understand now), but there were a lot of upsides to such a relationship. She was my best friend and greatest confidant. She happened to be a heavy smoker and was diagnosed with emphysema when she was in her 40’s. As she came into her 50’s the disease tore her apart, and smoking two packs a day certainly didn’t help. I knew her death was imminent, but I had no clue how I was going to live without her, so suicide became even more appealing than it already had been (see The Value of Stupidity). I couldn’t lie to her, so I never hid my intentions, and it was my blatant behavior that stopped me.

Any time I hurt my mom it destroyed me, even if it was an accident, so when she responded exactly as a loving mother would by telling me how much she didn’t want me to die with her it penetrated my fear of being without her. I’d always held her needs above my own, even to the point of stalling my career so I could care for her and spend time with her, so her resistance to my plan is what prevented me from following her the day she died. It was her belief in me, that I could function, even thrive, without her that kept me alive.

Verse Four

Congregation gathers down by the riverside 
Preacher stands with his bible, groom stands waitin’ for his bride 
Congregation gone and the sun sets behind a weepin’ willow tree 
Groom stands alone and watches the river rush on so effortlessly 
Wonderin’ where can his baby be still at the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe

Ah, love. Once again, another clear example of how love makes you ignore what could emotionally crush you. Really, it’s more of a survival instinct than anything else. This verse is a little different, though, since there’s no suggestion that the groom has been hurt by his bride before. His devotion to her is so strong that he believes something bad would have happened before the chance that she got cold feet and ran. I’ve never been stranded at the altar (knock on wood), but I have experienced an unexpected break (who hasn’t?)

When I was 15 my family moved to a small town where everyone knew each other and shortly after I started dating my second boyfriend. He had a very bad reputation for breaking hearts and only staying with any one girl for a few weeks at most, but we’d clicked really well (or so I thought). We’d built a friendship beforehand and he’s still one of my friends to this day, so I know we get along well. Everything was progressing nicely and I was deliriously happy, but one day he wouldn’t say a single word to me. Before that he’d always seemed eager to see me, but later that day he broke up with me by handing me a note (why I always ended up with guys that didn’t respect me enough to deliver bad news in person I’ll never know).

Despite my thorough understanding of his distant, promiscuous habits (stories abounded about his exploits, and every one of them had the ring of truth to them) that note was the last thing I’d expected from him.

 

What do you see when you read these lyrics?

Lyrics found at AZLyrics.com.