10/14/10: Way to shame me into updating again by commenting, people who comment! (Seriously, though, hi, welcome, and pull up one of the splintery old orange crates that we use for seating 'round these parts seein' as we can't afford no fancy chairs.)

The rules from
here still apply.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Not Hip

The old man turned off the radio
Said, "Where did all of the old songs go?
Kids sure play funny music these days --
They play it in the strangest ways."
Said, "It looks to me like they've all gone wild.
It was peaceful back when I was a child."
Well, man, could it be that the girls and boys
Are trying to be heard above your noise?
And the lonely voice of youth cries, "What is truth?"
-- Johnny Cash, 1970

Come on, Reed. The Man In Black told you what-for forty years ago. Yes, the world is a complex, changing, and often scary place, but if you're willing to see good things among all that scary newness, you'll actually find a surprising lot of them! Even in the music that young people listen to these days! For instance, one of my favorites over the last few years, Iron and Wine, is a fella singing softly alongside little more than an acoustic guitar. Sometimes his music feels as though it is coming from a sort of sweet and gentle world that never actually existed but that I think would be comforting to live in, at least for a while. I think you would like it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Obituary Page

That morning Charlene Whitcomb sat down after breakfast to peruse the obituaries, just as she did every day.

"Hmm, hmm, let's see," she muttered to herself, pulling her chair up to the old card table that her computer sat on. She set her mug of coffee down beside the keyboard long enough to sign on, then had a drink as the modem issued its regular set of beeps and screeches. At last it finished, and she was online.

"Let's see," she said again. "'Ilsa D. Jackman, age 83, of Beetown, died peacefully surrounded by her loving family...' ah, that's good, that's good..." She scrolled down a bit. "'Leonard E Brouillette, age 60, of Fitchburg, crossed over to his eternal world'... how sweet!"

She reached out for her coffee mug with one hand, and continued scrolling with the other. Her eyes flitted back and forth over the top of the mug as she drank, reading one obituary after another... and then pausing.

"'Charlene Whitcomb,' she read aloud. "'Age 58, passed away at her apartment home in Black Earth on Tuesday, October... nineteenth...'" Abruptly she lowered her coffee mug back to the table. Some of the coffee slopped over the edge onto her hand, but she paid this no particular mind. "But... that's today," she whispered.

Charlene looked blankly around the room for a week, as though expecting to see some sort of explanation there. "This must be a joke," she muttered to herself. "I'm obviously not dead, so..."

She turned back to the computer, except it wasn't there. Neither was the card table; she was standing in the middle of what should have been her living room, except there wasn't a stick of furniture in it. Her curtains were gone, too, which meant any old lookie-loo could see through the windows, and... was that new paint on the walls...?

The front door opened suddenly, admitting the landlord and a young couple Charlene didn't recognize. "...since last month," the landlord was saying, "ever since the last occupant passed away."

"Mr. Ewers?" Charlene called to him. "I don't -- "

"This is a nice living room," the strange woman interrupted. "I love these huge windows -- they let in so much light."

"I'm -- " Charlene started again.

"Oh, and check out the skylights," the strange man said, pointing up.

"Nice!" replied the woman.

"Excuse me -- "

"You said the last tenant died, though?" the strange man asked Mr. Ewers. Charlene was right in front of him, waving her hands wildly before his eyes, but it was like he didn't even see her -- just looked right past her at the landlord.

"Y... es," Ewers replied hesitantly, "that's true." Charlene whirled about and stalked up to him, repeating the hand-waving experiment on him. "She was an older lady," Ewers went on, "and, well. She just passed away one night in October."

Charlene hauled off and slapped him.

And her hand passed right through his face.

"Oh," she said softly. "I see." She looked over at the young couple -- who were talking together now, obviously discussing the apartment -- and sighed. "Well, I do hope they'll at least put up some nice curtains in here. I don't want to have to haunt a place that looks slutty."

I pulled most of the obit text from what was on my local paper's website between the day this comic was published (October 19) and the day I got around to writing the fic (October 22). Scrambled the names, but not the locations, because seriously, "Beetown"? Awesome.

Friday, October 15, 2010


What, seriously, Brookins? Seriously? You're just taunting me now, aren't you? Fine:

"Y-yep! Pistachios! Boy, I sure do love 'em!"

He could feel the sweat beading on his forehead, hear the roaring starting in his ears, and she still wasn't letting go of his hands -- his hands that were still stained, he'd scrubbed and scrubbed but still the stain was there...

She let go. "Well, don't spoil your dinner," she replied with a little smile, before walking away.

His eyes narrowed. He knew he'd been sloppy, worn out after his work out in the woodshed; he should have kept scrubbing, should have cleaned his hands until no trace of blood remained. But there was so much work to do, and he was just so tired...

But that smile. That smile she had given him, as she released his hands.

Had she been out there to the woodshed? Had she seen his work, or the signs it left behind -- the remains that had to be disposed of, the bodies dumped in the woods, or burned and scattered out by the old gravel pit? Had she seen something there? Or had he left other signs for her to discover?

Did she suspect?

His red hands flexed.

Did she know?

There you go, Gary. I took the bait and addressed the obvious, and, frankly, only interpretation of that dog-man's expression given the situation. I hope you're happy.

Also, I should figure out a way to distinguish italic me-comments from italic fic-text. Let's try a different font and color, see if that works. Any color-deficient folks out there? I wanna make sure this dark reddish is clear enough for everyone.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I Used To

Of course, I knew that wasn't the right thing to say as soon as it was out of my mouth; and if I hadn't already realized it, then Danny's reaction would've clued me in pretty quick. All the happy went out of his face, so fast that it was like I'd slapped it off of him. He bowed his head low as if something very interesting had just sprung out of the mossy ground between his bluejeaned knees. His knobby little eight-year-old shoulders slumped. I've never been what you'd call good with words, but this was downright apocalyptic.

I waited a few seconds before clearing my throat. "I'm sorry, Danny. I know how much you must be missing him." Then I reached out and laid a tentative hand on his shoulder. "If you want to quit fishing and go back up to the house..."

"Nuh uh," he muttered. He swiped at his eyes with one hand, then looked up at me. He'd been doing a lot of crying these last few months -- which was good, because if an eight-year-old loses his father and doesn't cry about it, then there's something pretty wrong with him -- but he wasn't crying now. Misting a bit, maybe, but not crying. "Grandpa, was he good at fishing? My dad?"

That threw me for a loop briefly; Danny had been living with his grandma and me since the accident, and in all that time he'd never actually started a conversation about his dad. "Well, now," I said in a thoughtful tone, stalling for time until my brain could kick into gear. "Well, now, let's see... what do you think it would mean to be good at fishing?"

"Like if he caught a big fish," Danny answered promptly. He dropped his fishing rod to the grass and stretched his arms apart. "Like thiiiiis big."

"Nope, can't say I ever remember him catching a big fish here. Lot of smaller ones, sure, but none as big as you're asking for!" Of course, I had my doubts that this stream could even handle a fish like Danny was asking for -- he'd measured out a span big enough to fit a deep-sea tuna, while as far as I knew all that'd ever been caught here were minnows, perch, and the occasional bad-tempered catfish. Not that generations of boys hadn't tried otherwise, of course.

Danny was looking out at the stream, and I wondered whether he was still thinking long thoughts. A second later he unknowingly answered me. "Was he better at fishing than me?" he asked softly.

Which, of course, was a question about more than just fishing. "Danny, your grandma and I loved your dad, because he was our son." He looked back down at the ground, and I went on in as firm a voice as I could manage. "And we love you, because you are our grandson. Nothing will ever change that."

We were both quiet for a moment, him likely thinking about his dad, and me trying to think what to say next. Finally I decided to try to bring back some enjoyment into his day, so I picked up his fishing pole and handed it gently back to him.

"Now, come on, how's about you show your ol' grandpa up?" I smiled at him, not expecting him to smile back, though I thought I saw his mouth twitch ever so slightly. "After all, those big fish aren't going to catch themselves."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Even A Lady

It would never have worked back home, of course; not for long, not for real. Everyone knew the O'Connells back in Dillimore. Charlie O'Connell had lived there his whole life, the only son of a one-time mayor, and when he came home from a stint in the army with a Puerto Rican wife, he'd stirred up probably three years' worth of talk amongst the whitebread community. They'd raised up five kids in that heartland-of-America town, and if any of those kids wasn't one hundred percent normal? Why, that'd make the gossip rounds too. Whispered comments whenever Mama went by; cheap jokes at Dad's expense. Hell, the younger kids would never see the end of it from the playground bullies, and they wouldn't even have any idea why.

So Maria Inez waited until she was good and shut of that town before she started living as Alex.

Thing about Fort Carson was, it wasn't much bigger than Dillimore. But the army base and the highway between San Fierro and Las Venturas meant that a lot of people passed through, for a few hours or days or even weeks; and it was close enough to Greenglass College for the commute to not be too painful. So a short-haired woman with a penchant for wearing men's clothes left Dillimore, and a small, somewhat delicate guy showed up the next day in Fort Carson. Simple enough. And no one in Carson had ever known Maria Inez, so she just... went away. There was only Alex here. He'd let a couple of friends in on the secret over the last three years, but for the most part it was easier to just let Maria die.

Of course, now Maria's mom -- Alex's mom, even if she wasn't aware that her second-born had been a son underneath all those pesky double-X chromosomes -- had run through Alex's entire stock of excuses, and was finally coming up for a long-overdue visit.

"So you're gonna tell her, right?" his friend Richie had asked. Alex had replied in the affirmative then, but now that he could see Mama's car pulling up in the parking lot outside his apartment building, he was wondering how quickly he could work up a disguise. He had to have an old blouse or bra or something at the back of his closet, didn't he? Or maybe he could just escape through the bathroom window or something, there was always that option.

The doorbell rang, and Alex opened the door, and exclamations and hugs were exchanged as Mama stepped inside. The disguise option was out, then, and the bathroom window even moreso. Which left...

"Um. Mama? There's something I should probably tell you..."

Frickin' continuity. I couldn't even come up with something particularly good for this one, but it was pretty much required, given the groundwork I'd already laid.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Merv turned on her then, one hand clamping down on her bony shoulder, the other rooting itself in the thin hair on top of her head. Her endless carping turned into screams, beautiful screams as the muscles in his wrists and arms and back flexed; and when her head tore loose from her neck, it did so with a glorious meaty rending sound and a fierce spatter of hot blood.

"Well?" she added, in her finest buzzsaw screech -- the woman was old and frail, but still had a pair of lungs on her. Merv sighed inwardly as his fondest daydreams once more made way for reality. Not that Julia wasn't a hell of a woman, better than a man like him deserved, but goddamn, her mother...

"No ma'am, Mrs. Feldman," he replied -- seven years he and Julia had been married, but God forbid he refer to his mother-in-law by her good Christian name; nossir, that was one liberty that Mervin J. Kincade was not in a position to take. "I most definitely am going to do that first thing tomorrow -- just as soon as the boss comes back from vacation, y'see."

"Hmph," the old bat replied. She craned her neck forward, glaring up at him as though expecting to skewer him with just that look in her eye... that haughty you-never-deserved-my-daughter look that he didn't know how he had managed to put up with this long. That, in fact, he couldn't put up with anymore. And wouldn't. The force of his clenched hand smashing into her face was enough to slam her back against the wall; he pinned her there with the other hand, and kept punching, and punching, and punching. She wasn't giving him any look, now, not through the welter of blood that had previously been her face.

Merv blinked. "Are you even listening to me, Mervin?" she snapped, hands on hips, practically sneering at him. "You'd best get your act together, young man, or my Julia may just start realizing just what a mistake she made in marrying you -- "

"Yes ma'am," Merv interrupted, speaking quickly so he could maybe get out of this conversation before she could get on his case for that, too. "I'm real sorry, ma'am, but I promised I'd help Julia set up for dinner, and you know how I hate to disappoint her."

He hurried out of the room, though not quite quickly enough to avoid hearing her mutter something about how it was already too late for that.

The story about promising to help Julia was, of course, a lie; but she was pleased enough when he showed up to help carry things to the dining room table. They all managed to sit down and start eating with a minimum of snark... and then the smoke detector in the kitchen went off.

Julia jumped up from the table. "Oh, my pie!" she exclaimed, and rushed back through the kitchen door. They could hear her in there, pulling open the oven door and muttering over its contents.

A flicker of movement caught at the corner of Merv's eye, and he felt another of those stifled sighs coming on. Mrs. Feldman was taking in a deep breath, no doubt to fuel her latest nagfest at his expense. He started to turn toward her --

-- and froze.

She was choking.

The old bat hadn't bothered to actually finish chewing before starting in on him again, and now she was actually choking on something.

For a moment he sat there, listening to his wife's movements in the next room, and watching the weak struggles of his mother-in-law across the table.

Finally he rose from his chair, set his napkin down carefully beside his plate, and headed into the kitchen to see what he could do to help.

Are mothers-in-law really that shrill in real life? I realize that in the wacky wacky sitcoms and whatnot they are awful harridans that exist only to torment and humiliate their put-upon sons-in-law (assuming we're talking about the wife's mother, which is the case in the comic). But does that actually bear out in reality? I can't really speak from experience, seeing as I don't have a wife; but, I mean, people aren't nearly as simple as TV tends to make them out to be, so I'm thinking that this relationship is probably generally more nuanced.

Also: every character name in this one is lifted from a webcomic which, in its original incarnation, was one of my favorite Keenspot titles back in the early days of that particular collective. This is because I randomly decided to name the husband Merv and then found it amusing to go with the theme. A delicious ham sandwich to anyone who spots the ref! (Void in the state of Idaho.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


"...and they say that to this day, you can still hear his footsteps in the night when the moon is full... The Phantom Fence-Stringer!"

For a moment, there was silence.

"That's it?" The fire had died down considerably, casting those gathered on the other side of it more in shadow than in light; Evan's laid-back drawl was recognizable enough, though, especially as strained by abject terror as it currently wasn't. "No. That's just dumb, Bran."

Brandon slouched back and crossed his arms. "Oh, like you could tell one better?" He glared around the circle at everyone he could see. Liz was visible enough on his right, with Ken sitting primly on a square of blanket beside her; Camellia was sitting with her back propped up against a stump on his left. Patty on Ken's other side, and Mara and Evan across the circle, were almost invisible. Everyone else looked bored, though. Except Cam, who mainly looked embarrassed for Brandon.

"Of course I could tell one better," Evan replied. He reached out to throw another log on the fire, and the flames kicked up enough to illuminate his grinning face. "Hell, Patty could probably tell a scarier campfire story than you can, and she can't even tell a knock-knock joke without messing it up."

"I know a good one where it's a rabbit," Patty chimed in helpfully.


"Look," Brandon replied, glaring across the circle at Evan. "It was my idea to go camping, and my idea to go camping here in what is, like, the spookiest forest in the world. So if none of you have big enough imaginations to be the least bit scared when I tell a totally awesome ghost story? Hey, that's not my problem."

Mara shifted uneasily. "Look, I think maybe we're all getting a little too involved in this whole 'scary story' thing, so why don't we -- "

"I've got one."

Ken had been pretty quiet all day, so when he spoke up now, everyone looked toward him. He was still sitting on his blanket, shoes removed and set carefully by on the grass. He was staring straight ahead, whether into the fire or beyond it, Brandon couldn't tell.

"I've got a story I could tell," Ken went on evenly. "It is a tale of sorrow and vengeance, of horror and loss. It is not -- " His eyes narrowed. " -- for the faint of heart."

"Showoff," Brandon muttered.

"It begins on a night much like this one..." Ken began...

"...and the heads were still there," he finished up some time later. He rose from his seat, calmly slipped on his shoes, and nodded to the rest of the group. "It's pretty late, so I think I'm going to turn in now. Good night, everyone." A flashlight clicked to life in his hand, the circle of light dancing ahead of him as he made his way across the campsite and into his tent.

For a moment, silence.

"So," Evan said finally, in an almost unrecognizable voice. "I'm never sleeping again. How about you guys?"

The opening bit came to me when I first saw this rerun come up yet again; the rest was written after a night spent watching about four episodes of the anime series I'm currently working my way through on Hulu. All the character names and personalities in the story are at least partially based on characters from this particular series, although I had to take some liberties since I'm not *actually* writing about, say, the hilariously neurotic son of the Grim Reaper.

At least I'm not taking the liberty of putting up a rerun without even admitting it's a rerun, though.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


That was Arthur, though -- he didn't wear all black and hang around in graveyards or anything, but he still had a few peculiar hobbies. One of those hobbies was reading the obituaries. Any time he was out somewhere like a restaurant or a coffee house, chances were good that he'd round up all the abandoned newspapers and page through them till he found what he was looking for, sandwiched in right before the classifieds or on its own page at the end of the Lifestyles section (a placement that Jim always found hilarious). Right now he was looking at last Thursday's New York Times. Any set of obits provided the potential for some interesting entries, but major papers also gave Arthur the chance to do some celebrity-spotting as well.

"Oh, hey, sweet!" he added, around a sip of the double-mocha-whatever that Lindy had foolishly left behind when she got up to use the restroom. "Here's someone famous... Austrian opera singer. 'Peter Johann Martin Franz Kiesl died blah blah, former Lieutenant blah...' oh, a Nazi opera singer, nice, I bet he got all the chicks... 'buried at Zen... Zensomething Cemetary in Vienna.'"

"Zentralfriedhof," Emma provided. She actually did enjoy graveyards, or at least reading about them on Wikipedia. The biggest one locally was Valhalla Gardens, which was one of the modern ones that looked like a golf course when you drove by, and therefore bored Emma to tears.

"Yeah. That thing. In Vienna." Arthur took a swig of coffee... his own, this time. "Well, one less Nazi left in the world, I guess. And a famous musician! I'd say that counts as my dead celebrity for the day."

"Oooh, dead celebrities? Who croaked?" Lindy asked, coming up from behind Arthur and slipping back into her seat next to Jim. "Was it Glenn Beck? Please tell me it was Glenn Beck."

"Nazi opera dude," Emma replied. "Peter Johann Maria Something Something."

Arthur picked the paper up again. ""Martin Franz Kiesl. Died in his bed, aged eighty-six." He paused. "Oh. Didn't have any family, apparently. I guess Nazi opera singers don't get all the chicks after all."

Lindy frowned. "Peter Kiesl? He's not dead."

"He wha?"

She leaned forward. "Arthur, my parents are opera nerds, remember? Kiesl's not dead. Dad was going on about this at dinner the other night... they got mixed up and buried some other guy in his grave, or something. 'A minor industrialist', whatever that means."

Arthur looked disappointed. "Hell. An industrialist? That doesn't count as a celebrity at all."

Yes, that's right. I just wrote a crossover between Pluggers and 9 Chickweed Lane. And I am not one bit sorry about it either.

I think I managed to do it slightly less wall-of-text-fully than McEldowney, too.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


"But Mr. Phillips?" Stevie held up his own compass, a birthday present from his parents. "I think -- "

"Bob," the scoutmaster replied, still wearing the little smile he'd had on for almost this entire trip. "Call me Bob, sport, remember?"

"Um. Bob." Stevie looked again at his compass. "I think actually camp is south of here."

"What, sport?" the scoutmaster smiled. "Let me see that." He snatched the compass away and glanced at it briefly. "Nope, you're mistaken." The compass disappeared into his pocket.

"Hey -- " Stevie cried.

"Your compass must be broken, sport," Phillips replied cheerily. "Come on, boys! We've got maybe an hour before we get back to camp, so let's keep at it!"

"He said that an hour ago," Jed muttered, and several of the other boys nodded. None of them had any idea where they were, though -- especially now that Stevie's compass was gone -- so they pushed on.

Their usual scoutmaster was Kevin Lee's dad, a wisecracking used-car salesman who they all deeply admired for his ready willingness to use the word "fuck". Mr. Lee had gotten sick right before the camping trip, but rather than calling the whole thing off (thereby crushing the months-long dreams of a dozen ten-year-old boys), somehow a substitute scoutmaster had been procured. Nobody was sure how that had worked -- Kevin said he thought maybe his dad had asked around some of the other troops in the area -- but they did know that when they'd arrived at the state park Saturday morning, a cheerfully smiling stranger had been waiting for them. The smiling stranger had greeted them all, introduced himself as "Bob Phillips -- just call me Bob", chatted with their parents; then he had gathered up the boys and led them all into the woods. They'd quickly set up their tents at the campsite, and then "Bob" had announced that it was time for a hike.

Now it was Saturday night coming on, and they had been walking in what felt like circles for a couple of hours.

"'Just a little farther, boys,'" Matt said from his place near the back of the troop, mocking the scoutmaster's voice and constant smile. "'I got no idea where I am, but I figure you're too stupid to know that, so I'll just keep saying that it's -- '"

"Just a bit more now, boys," the scoutmaster's voice floated back to them. "The place we're going is just... over... this hill."

Kevin and Matt looked at each other. "The place we're going?" Kevin asked. "Weren't we heading back to the campsite?" Matt shrugged uneasily, looking up at the sky. It was nearly dark in the forest by now.

By the time "Bob" led them into a clearing and announced that they had reached their destination, most of the boys were too exhausted to argue. They all set to work putting down their sleeping bags, except for Wally, who had left his in his tent back at the campsite; Wally limped over to the scoutmaster, explaining the problem and trying his tired ten-year-old best not to cry.

The scoutmaster's calm little smile never faltered as he put a heavy arm around the boy's shoulders. "That's all right, sport," he replied cheerfully. "You can bunk with me."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Thanks, Mom

The old woman's eyes brightened, and she clasped her hands together. "Oh, how nice to see you! Why, it's been so long since you came to visit --" Then the smile slipped from her face. "You... are here to visit with me, aren't you, dear?"

The younger woman shrugged, not actually making eye contact. "Let's go on a trip, ma."

The old woman sagged. "Oh, Megan..."

"C'mon, ma, it'll be fun." The younger woman -- Megan -- reached into her purse and pulled something out. A roadmap and a magnifying glass. "You know how I hate tryin' ta navigate while I'm drivin'."

"Oh, but Megan." The old woman resettled her glasses on her face. "Why don't we have a nice evening here at the Home? They're serving meatloaf tonight, and -- and there's a new jigsaw puzzle I haven't done yet, and..." She trailed off, only looking at her daughter, who was still looking at nothing in particular. "Please, dear, it's been so long since we've visited together."

Megan rolled her eyes and glanced at her watch. "You done, ma?" She finally looked at the other woman long enough to shove the map into her hands. "Come on, I gotta be in Roca Escalante by nine or I lose my deposit." She looked around, nose wrinkling. "And I wanna get outta here. This place smells like a damn diaper."

"You did pick it for me, dear," the old woman murmured; but she was already being overruled, Megan's strong grip on her arm propelling her toward the door.

"Now let's get goin', huh ma? You get me where I'm goin', an' I'll drop ya back off on th' way back. Teamwork, right?"

"I suppose," the old woman answered quietly, beginning to actually follow her daughter instead of just being dragged along. "Although... I don't suppose we could at least eat something this time?"

Megan snorted. "Christ, ma, I'm not made of money."

Ordinarily I don't do the Sundays -- in fact, I think I never have before, ever -- but this one just spoke to me. Who says the mom actually wants to be in that car?