Just an ordinary businessman

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“He’s been locked in that room for days,” my wife said to someone. I continued pushing pins into the wall, faster and faster. I had to finish before she opened the door. I had to get done. “I can’t even get him to speak to me. The only reason I know he’s alive is he’s come out from time to time after we’ve all gone to bed to eat.”

It’s true. There were times where I was too weak to go on with my task, so I’d slip into the kitchen and grab something quickly before I was seen. I pricked my finger on one of the pins. I ignored the moment of pain. How many times had that happened in the past…how long had I been in here? I shook my head. It didn’t matter. Only my purpose mattered.

“You say he’s been acting strange for a while now?” a deep gravelly voice answered her. I didn’t recognize it so I moved on. “Explain that, please.”

“He went to this antiquities auction and purchased several items,” my wife said. “It’s part of his job. Or it was, until he got fired for stealing three books from what he’d gotten for his client. My husband isn’t a thief. He told me someone else made him take those books. I believed him. This was about two weeks ago. Ten days ago he started rambling about his ‘mission’, locked himself in the spare bedroom, and hasn’t emerged since. I think he has those books in there with him.”

“I see. Thank you, ma’am,” the gravelly voice replied.”Okay boys, we’ve probably got a class two field up over the door, so bring the splitter. Then we’ll need a plasma torch and the coolant gel.”

I scowled. A splitter would disrupt the frequency of my force field and a plasma torch would cut through the door with little effort. I glanced down at what I held in my hands. I was almost done. If I hurried, I’d finish just as they broke in. I pushed onward.

I heard the crackle of electricity as the generator shorted out. Then I felt the heat as the door was destroyed by the plasma torch. I pinned the last page up just as the metal hit the floor with a clunk. I turned to see a security officer in full riot gear smear coolant gel on the opening before stepping through.

“Clear,” he shouted. “No visible sign of weapons.”

“Of course I don’t have any weapons,” I said calmly. “I don’t believe in them.”

Another man, this one dressed in a more streamlined set of armor, entered the room. “Mr. Ross, I’m Captain Daniels of the Old District New York security office.” It was the gravelly voice.

“Pleased to meet you, Captain Daniels,” I said with a pleasant smile.

“Your aberrant behavior requires us to take you in for psychiatric evaluation,” Captain Daniels said.

“Certainly,” I said. “May I wash my hands first? I’m afraid I’m covered in dust and ink.”

“Mr. Ross, what have you been doing in here?” Captain Daniels asked.

“I’m not entirely sure,” I said, shrugging. “The voices finally stopped without telling me why it was so important the pages go up in this particular order. I’m sure I’ve gone mad, but at least my mind is quiet now.”

“You two,” Captain Daniels barked, gesturing to the first officer through and a second who’d joined him. “Escort Mr. Ross to the bathroom so he can wash up. Then take him to the transport.” He unlocked and opened the door. “Mrs. Ross, your husband is non-combative at this time, but I suggest you and your children still stand back.”

I heard her muffled sob. I felt nothing. She’d been an adequate spouse, nothing special, but very good at executing her duties. Well, all but one. My children were spoiled, overindulged little monsters thanks to her, and no matter how much I tried to discipline them she would countermand everything I tried to do. All of them needed to be punished.

I glanced at the wall. Thin bands of red light were starting to show between the pages. I let them lead me out of the room. I washed quickly and then got in the van when I was taken to it. I stayed very docile, not wanting to draw attention to anything. As the door started to slide shut, I heard the first of the screams. I started laughing as the security officers ran inside. I let myself out of the van and started walking down the street. No one paid any attention to me. I was, after all, just an ordinary businessman.

A bridge to nowhere

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Coralie and Sera were tired, but exhilarated. They were nearing the midway point of the forty kilometer trek they’d started the previous day. Their guide smiled at them as she led them to the edge of the cliff. “Here is what you seek,” she said, gesturing.

Both women gazed out in awe. The chasm opened in front of them, spanning sixteen kilometers across and nearly fifty kilometers deep. It was the largest natural wonder on a planet full of beautiful places such as the one they now bore witness to.

A waterfall plunged from a hidden river down the opposite side of the canyon in four different streams, sending mist all through the area. The light of the sun reflected off of the water, creating a mass of rainbows. A light breeze swirled the mist, causing the rainbows to flicker and dance.

As Coralie and Sera drank in the sight, Sera turned slightly and noticed something incongruous. “What is that?” she asked, gesturing to a narrow gray band that stretched between the two sides of the canyon.

“A bridge to nowhere,” the guide said tersely. There was a tremor in her voice and Coralie noticed the fear reflected in the way her feathers were slicked down and the wings pressed tightly against her back. “We dare not approach it.”

“What do you mean a bridge to nowhere?” Sera asked. “It obviously goes to the other side. I want to see what’s over there.” She turned to Coralie. “Come on. Let’s go check it out.”

“I don’t know,” Coralie said. “Xochtil is really frightened. I think we should listen to her.”

The Avia nodded. “Listen to your friend. Much darkness will come of your venturing there.”

Sera’s chin jutted out and her lips compressed. “We came here to see everything this site had to offer. I’m not turning back until I see what’s over the bridge.”

“Sera,” Coralie began, putting a hand on her friend’s shoulder.

Sera shook hit off. “Stay here with Xochtil if you want. I’m going.” The burly blond started towards the bridge. Xochtil and Coralie followed after her.

It took nearly an hour to reach it. Sera frowned as she took in the level of disrepair. “I really don’t think this is a good idea, Sera. The bridge doesn’t look that safe,” Coralie said.

“You’re just scared because you buy into the superstitious nonsense the Avia feed to us,” Sera said. “I’m crossing.” Sera started across. The strange substance creaked under her feet but held firm. She reached the other side. Turning around, she waved to her friend and their guide. “See? The bridge is perfectly safe. Come join me.”

“You have crossed. Now return,” Xochtil said. “Do not enter the forest. It leads to nowhere.”

Sera turned her back to the two on the other side of the canyon. The sun was heating things up. The forest was shaded and looked very cool. Sera walked in, ignoring the calls from her friend and their guide. The shadows grew darker the farther in she went. Soon she could barely see anything. She decided to go back to the bridge.

She turned around but the darkness was just as thick behind her. She frowned. She should have been able to see the light from the edge of the forest. She started back in what she thought was the direction she came from. Nothing changed.

It was then that she noticed she was walking in silence. There were no sounds whatsoever. No animals, no trees, and she couldn’t even hear her own footsteps. She tried snapping her fingers. The motions were there but the noise wasn’t. She couldn’t even feel her fingers as they struck against each other. Fear gripped her.

She thought back to the legends of the Avia. Then she remembered. “Nowhere” to the Avia was the Void, an endless dimension of total sensory deprivation that no one had ever escaped from. She shuddered and started running. She had to get back to the bridge, to the sun, to Coralie and Xochtil. She had to get back to her life. Heaviness entered her limbs and she slowed to a walk and then stopped. Something sapped her energy and she sank to what she thought was the ground. The dark, soundless, touchless void entered her soul and she lost herself in its madness.

Do the stars gaze back?

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Photo via Visual Hunt

Ethian sat ramrod straight in his seat. He didn’t have much of a choice. His tutor had tied a board to his back to prevent him from assuming his usual slouch. His spine ached and he had a headache but he knew it wouldn’t matter to the man droning on in front of him. Percival’s duty was to instruct the young prince in the matters of law, science, mathematics, and history. He took that responsibility very seriously and refused to acknowledge that his methods were detrimental to his charge’s health.

“Your Highness, have you heard anything I’ve said?” Percival asked, breaking into Ethian’s thoughts.

Ethian sighed. “Yes Percival, I have. You were just discussing about how our world is the center of the universe and there is no other greater than us.”

Percival harrumphed and resumed his lecture. Ethian went back to daydreaming. His ability to ignore his tutor and yet repeat back everything he said was something of a boon to the adolescent prince as it meant he was able to amuse himself in spite of how uncomfortable he was.

His current pondering was a challenge issued in a book of philosophy he’d been reading the night before: “Do we gaze at the stars to search their meaning? That is a foolish supposition. The real question is do the stars gaze back, and what to they think when they see the enigma that is man?”

“Your Highness, would you please answer my question?” Percival snapped, once again breaking into Ethian’s musings.

Ethian glared at the man. “You just asked me a totally unanswerable question in the hopes of tripping me up to prove I wasn’t paying attention.”

Percival blinked, then scowled. “You are far too pert, young man. I ought to take a rod to your hands for such rudeness.”

“Yes, but if you do that my father will take your head,” Ethian said. “He holds no love for those who abuse his sons, or their positions.”

Percival quickly unbound him and sent him on his way. Ethian left the classroom and climbed to the top of the highest tower. It was already dark. His lessons came at night, when he was free from his duties. He preferred it that way. Escaping into the darkness, staring up at the moons and the starlit sky, that was his favorite method of relaxing.

He looked up at the twinkling lights and once again considered the question he’d read the night before. Do the stars gaze back at us? What do they see? What do they think of us?

He heard a tinkling laugh. He turned around quickly but saw no one. A sparkling beam of light settled to the ground in front of him. “Of course we see you, silly human. Your kind are foolish, cruel, and violent. Yet you have the capacity for greatness, love, and humility. You are a source of great confusion and amusement to us.”

“I didn’t know I spoke those words out loud,” he said.

“You didn’t,” the star said. “We hear all thoughts, witness all dreams. It is a cacophony of sound and a dance of madness, yet it is bliss. You are wise for your age, young prince. We will watch you closely.” The light faded and the prince was left alone. Yet he knew he wasn’t. The stars watched him always.

Many tails

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Naoki slipped through the shadows, his bow in hand. His hunt had so far been unsuccessful and he knew if he didn’t find food soon his parents would go to bed hungry for the third night in a row. He cursed the daimyo for taking so much in taxes that the peasants could no longer afford to purchase food from the merchants in town. Snow covered the ground so there was no hope for anything from the garden. Even those few plants his mother grew inside were failing as the bitter cold seeped in through cracked windows and poorly maintained walls.

He heard a soft rustling and froze. He scanned the area, looking for the animal that had made the noise. He crept forward, arrow on the string but not yet drawn back. There was another sound and he stepped out into a clear area.

There, huddled on the snow covered ground, was a fox. He quickly put the arrow back in his quiver and hooked his bow over his shoulder. “Greetings, kitsune,” he said, bowing deeply. “Forgive me for disturbing you. I did not know these were your hunting grounds. I will take my search elsewhere.” He hurried away, a feeling of dread settling in his stomach. It was getting dark and he would have to return home shortly with no meat.

He started on the path back to his family’s farm. Halfway there he heard the call of a copper pheasant. He pulled his bow off his shoulder and set an arrow to the string. He moved softly through the snow. There, beneath a group of bushes, were three fat birds. He drew back the string and fired. The first fell to the ground. The other two flapped their wings but did not leave. He took them down as well. He collected them and his arrows and rushed home.

His parents greeted him with weary smiles. “What luck did you have this day, Naoki?” his father asked.

“Look,” Naoki said, setting the birds on the table.

“Such fine birds,” his mother said. “And look at those feathers. You will be able to take them into town and sell them to the merchants.” Her smile brightened. “Your luck has changed, my son.”

“It was the kitsune,” Naoki said. “It had to be.”

“You saw a kitsune?” his father asked. Naoki nodded. He told his parents of the encounter with the fox spirit. “A zenko granted you favor. You are blessed indeed.”

“Come, we will feast this night,” his mother said. “But first we must offer our thanks to the kitsune for giving us this gift.” The three of them heard the call of a fox. They hurried to the door and looked out.

Standing on the path to their house was the same fox Naoki had seen. As it stretched, five tails spread out. The three humans bowed to the kitsune. It bobbed its head before leaping off into the darkness.

Magic enhances science

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Sophie glanced at the clock. She sighed and closed her book. It was almost time for her lesson. Just as she put the book on the shelf, she heard her mother’s voice. “Sophie, the Master is here.”

“Coming.” Sophie dragged herself off her bed and headed downstairs. She walked into the study. The Master – he’d never given either of them his true name – was a tall, gaunt man who appeared both young and old at the same time. His eyes shifted colors depending on his mood. They were the calm pale blue of a summer sky at the moment. That could – and probably would – change during the lesson.

“You seem reluctant,” the Master said, his voice sounding as if it were coming from the bottom of a well.

“I don’t understand why I need to know this. There’s no need for magic in this world. Science handles everything that magic can.”

“Can science put the  unquiet dead to rest? Can scientists read minds and know the thoughts and emotions of others? There is much that the logical side of nature can do, but there are still things that can only be done by those of us with the gift.”

“So what do you want me to do today?” Sophie asked.

“I want you to practice what we started during your last session,” the Master said.

Sophie scowled. “The last time I tried I ended up covered in rainbow colored slime that took me two days to wash off. I had to skip school so I wouldn’t draw attention to myself.”

“That is why I selected a Friday this time,” the Master said. “I anticipated you would need the time again.”

Sophie sighed and took the proper stance. Her mother hastily left the room. The Master moved back to lean up against the wall. Sophie began moving her hands in the proper pattern, summoning a multi-colored mist. It swirled around her. The mist was supposed to help identify invisible creatures and passive spells, something that Sophie had yet to encounter.

As she expected, she only managed to hold the spell for a few seconds before it exploded. She could feel the impact of the slime on her skin. “Yuck,” she muttered.

“Try again,” the Master said, his face impassive. Sophie did as he told. Again the spell failed to last more than a few seconds. “You aren’t concentrating, Sophie. You must focus your will, channel your mind into your spell. That is the only way you’re going to succeed.”

Sophie shook her head. “I don’t want to do this. I think it’s ridiculous. I’m going to be an astrophysicist. I don’t need magic.”

The Master gestured and Sophie screamed as pain wracked her body. She dropped to the floor, writhing in agony. He held her there for several minutes. When he released her, he moved to stand over her. “You will do as you are told. Regardless if you wish to follow a path into science, your magic will be trained. There will come a day when you must use it and you’ll be glad you have the knowledge.” He turned away. “I will return in one month. I expect you to practice every weekend until you have this spell right.” He swept out of the room.

Sophie stayed on the floor, drawing in ragged breaths. Her mother reentered the room a short while later. “Sophie, what happened?”

“I made him angry again,” Sophie said, her voice weak.

“You need to stop doing that. He killed me for my disobedience. Do you want to die as well? He’ll bind you to this plane of existence. You won’t be able to pass on until one of his students releases you, if he even allows it.”

Sophie slowly hauled herself to her feet. “I know. But I don’t want to do this.”

“You have to. You’re my only hope.”

Sophie looked at her mother’s pale form. There were terrible burns all over her body, where the Master had set her on fire with an eldritch flame that nothing Sophie had done could put out. “I know, mother. I’ll do better. I promise.”

Her mother smiled. “Thank you, Sophie. Now, you’d better go clean yourself up.” Sophie nodded and made her way painfully out of the study and up the stairs towards her bathroom.

My new journey

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I’ve been absent for a while because I’ve had some changes to make in my life, not the least of which was removing a roommate from our house due to the fact she was a major cause of stress and anxiety for us. We got a puppy specifically to train to hunt and kill moles and it’s my responsibility to help get him trained. I also hit a bad bout of depression and didn’t want to do anything. So I’ve let the dust gather here and kept telling myself “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Well I’ve started something new and with that, I’ve discovered that “I’ll do it tomorrow” doesn’t cut it anymore in some things. One of which is this blog. Another? My physical health.

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve seen my pictures. You know what I’m working with. My goal is to change that. For those who haven’t seen the pictures (and you won’t unless we’re friends on FB), I am overweight. I don’t like how lethargic it makes me. So last week I started poking around with fitness apps and doing some walking and half-assing yoga in an attempt to figure out how I wanted to do things.

This week I posted front and side view pictures of myself on FB showing my current physical state. After that, I made a commitment to myself and to every one of my friends that I would see this through. I would achieve my goal. And I intend to follow up on that.

Tims is the main spur behind this. He’s been working on himself for over a year and has trimmed down. He says he feels better and I realized part of my depression was probably because I sit in a corner all day on my computer. With the addition of Whiskey, our terrier mix puppy (I’ll share a picture of him at the end, along with Blackheart, our new New Zealand rabbit), I don’t have any choice. I have to be up and moving part of the day.

So I decided to make Whiskey part of my motivation as well as my husband. Tims pushes me to get out of bed, do my yoga/stretches, and encourages me to keep up the good work even when I feel like I’m faltering. Whiskey gets me outside multiple times a day and I end up taking at least 2 walks with him (barring heavy rain since neither of us likes walking in that) to exercise us both. Add to that access to a stationary bike and now you have my entire fitness regime. Along with watching my diet, the caloric intake, what types of calories I’m taking in, etc., my health goals are on their way to success.

I’m aiming to drop 90 lbs. To get to my “ideal” weight as per the BMI, that would require 130 lbs coming off. Also, I’d look like a skeleton with skin stretched over it if I got that thin. Honestly, BMI is bullshit. What’s “normal” for some is far from “normal” for others. Tims, me, and the one of our roommates who is actively charting his fitness goals and endeavors with us, all prefer our personal goals and are working hard to achieve them.

My successes today: I made 2 miles total in my two walks, did 10 minutes on the stationary bike at a low resistance level (when I couldn’t even make it 5 at 0 resistance level before), and managed 20 minutes of yoga/stretching in two separate bouts. My hope is by May I’ll be up to walking 3+ miles a day and can handle a higher resistance level on the stationary bike. I also want to be more flexible.

If you’re starting something new, take it in small steps. Set easy goals at first, and then increase their difficulty as you get better at it. Keep working and, if you can, work with someone else. It makes the journey so much easier.

(No, I’m not going to fill my blog with health posts…this is just a “hi, I’m not dead, here’s what’s going on” post. I’ll get back to the stories shortly.

And as promised…