Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What to do with a Ghostly Dragon, Earli in the Mornin.

Sometimes, quick thinkin is gonna save your butt. Like if you get yourself into a contest with a one-eyed, bearded fella that shows up at your door and challenges ya to a thinkin quick contest in which he wants to wager a rump roast, but you don't have a rump roast, so you think he's likely to take your actual rump, because this guy looks like serious business and you think he might be cheatin ya because his two crows is outside cawin away and sayin crazy things like, "Nevermore!" On the other hand, there are prolly times quick thinkin could actually hurt you, like if you just decide to bake yourself a cake but you don't have any milk, so you decide you can prolly use whiskey instead and you don't wanna be bothered to slow down and consider how that's gonna work out (not well, if the first, and last, angel food cake I made was any indication). On the third hand, there's times you don't get the opportunity to do any thinkin whatsoever, like when you use a phrase like "on the third hand," or maybe when you're under so much stress it feels like your head's gonna crack open and butterflies are gonna fly out and have knife fights with one another. That's the kinda situation I found myself in.

I was backed up against the cliffs, my exo-suit had given out, the Deus Ex Machina turned out to be no help and, to top it all off, I realized Frank's birthday was comin right up and I didn't even know what she wanted. I'd tried to wing it the previous few years, but, on her last birthday, she made it pretty clear that if I bought her any more socks, I would leave her house with the socks in a place that would likely require medical intervention to remove. Even though I don't require much doctorin, I still like to think of myself as a patient man. But there, against them cliffs, I guess I'd had enough.

The dragon was comin straight at us, like an arrow fired from the bow of an Olympic champion and I just started yellin. "Hey! Hey! HEY!" I shouted. "Stop it! Just stop it! Just knock it off! I've had it up to here," I pointed at my eyebrows, "with you! You been flyin around here, roarin away like it was nobody's business, just cryin out at eatin people and I've had enough, buster!"

Shockingly, this worked. The dragon stopped in mid-roar, slumped a bit in the middle and hung it's head. Then it started cryin. It wasn't no single-teardrop-rollin-slowly-down-the-cheek kinda cryin, neither. This was full on, I'm-eight-and-I-just-fell-down-playin-and-skinned-my-knee-and-tore-my-brand-new-pants-that-I-was-fixin-on-wearin-the-next-day-at-school-and-I-think-pa's-gonna-whip-me, heavin, bawlin, givin-yourself-the-hiccups kinda cryin.

Alistair, wide eyed, looked at me and cocked his head towards the dragon. I sposed he was suggestin I go over there and do somethin. So I did.

I waled right up to that dragon, patted it a couple times on the back and said, "There, there." Mind you, this technique has never, ever worked for me. When I'd done it before, the people recievin the comfortin pat on the back and heartfelt "There, there," would look at me with a combination of disgust and hate in there eyes, shrug off my hand, and go back to their cryin, but at least I could tell myself I tried and feel ok about slippin out for a sandwich or a block of cheese. But this here dragon was full of surprises. My pattin seemed to calm it down a bit. The sobs dropped off, the wailin reduced from a fevered pitch to a low whinin sound, like Barry White tryin to imitate a puppy, and the hiccups came fewer and farther between.

When the sobbin was nearly gone, the dragon reached into a tiny pocket on its abdomen which I hadn't noticed, pulled out a small kleenex, blew its nose with enough force to knock over several beach bungalows, had there been any there.

Then it spoke. "Thank you," it said in a thousand voices at once, "for giving us a little comfort. That's all we really needed."

"You're welcome," I replied, not wantin to be rude. "You feelin better now, big guy?"

"Yes, thank you. You've done much to ease our suffering, Pat O'Neil. We will now allow you an audience with us. You may ask three questions and three questions only. Then, we shall disincorporate and journey to the land of the dead."

"I been there," I informed the dragon, "it ain't all it's made out to be."

"Is that so?" it asked.

"It is so," I confirmed. "Just a bunch of whiners down there. I'd suggest gettin yourself reincarnated pretty quickly, if y'all want to avoid hearin a lot of long, borin stories about people what has been dead a couple thousand years."

"We appreciate the advise."

"Ain't no thing."

"Now," non-sequitorized the dragon, "we shall show you our true form. Then, we shall hold court with you."

"All right," I drawled.

And that's just what happened. The dragon slowly disolved, breakin pieces of itself off left and right, like a twinkie in a glass of warm milk. Soon, we was surrounded by a semi circle of ghosts. They was a sorta translucent blue, glowin from an unknown source. Every single one of em was skinny as an Italian model gettin ready for Fashion Week. All of em was wearin trucker hats with slogans like "Git 'Er Done" on 'em, worn out jeans and t shirts with the arms cut off. The lady ghosts also had cut off the bottom half of their shirts, revealin sunken bellies and an assortment of tattoos featurin a great deal of roses and butterflies. I'd also estimate there wasn't but three teeth in the whole bunch. I guess I'd have to say that I wasn't ready for that. From the ghosts I seen on the teevee and in the movies and whatnot, I thought ghosts was supposed to be classy, or at least scary, these ghosts just made me a little sad. That wasn't the worst, though. The worst was that they stunk. I guess you never think about ghosts havin a smell, what with seein em in movies and all. But these here ghosts smelled like poo chili what has been left in the sun and covered in battery acid. I could hardly keep my eyes open from all the waterin they was doin.

I knew I had to act fast, before I rudely threw up all over the place. I'd already done it in my mouth a little bit, but I managed to cover it with a fake cough and then swallow that bile back down. Lookin behind me, I spotted the pile of silk what used to be my exo-suit. I slyly reached back there, grabbed a handful of the stuff and, pretendin like I was sneezin, jammed it up my nose.

"Subtle," said Alistair.

"But effective," I retorted.

"Now," announced the group of ghosts, "you may ask us three questions, and three questions only."

Alistair leaned over to whisper, "Make them good."

"OK," I said, takin a deep breath through my mouth, "here goes."

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Cliffs

I reckon I became aware of the cliffs quite a bit before I saw them. It was like when I awkwardly met someone I went to high school with in the middle of the Wal-Mart and we got to talkin about that girl that was always mean to everyone and I knew exactly what he's talkin about, but I couldn't remember her name. I could even remember when she laughed while her boyfriend shoved me into a locker which, and I don't think they knew this, had a broken lock, makin me think I was gonna be trapped in there till judgement day. But then I found that the back of the locker wasn't actually made of metal, but of plastic wrap loosely taped over a firey portal that led directly to the land of the dead which, all things considered, is better than a locker if you're trapped. So there I was, wanderin around the land of the dead, meetin the great heroes of old and they all kept tellin me how their accomplishments was greatly exaggerated and how all they really wanted was to set the record straight. The biggest whiner of all was this guy named Paris, but not named after the city because he was older than that. What he told me, and asked me to tell others if'n it ever came up, that he didn't actually want nothin to do with that Helen girl, but she kept goin on about how her husband was always with his concubines and she was so lonely and she was also a good knitter, so maybe she could go with him back to Ilium and maybe hang out for a bit and maybe make her husband appreciate how much she really meant to him. He also said to tell people that the whole thing with the golden apple and whatnot was a bunch of drivel. Honestly, I couldn't make heads or tails of what he was sayin, but I said I'd say somethin if I got the chance, and it looks like this here's my chance.

Course, that happened to me a whole bunch down in the land of the dead. All them poor people down there told me all about how their stories got all twisted up and how they really happened. If I get a little downtime some day here, maybe I'll tell ya one or two of them tales. What I really learned down there, though, is that dead people seriously need someone new to talk to. A lot of them old guys have been down there three or four thousand years. I guess they've got the option to leave any time they want and come on back to a body on Earth, but they've got to forget everything in order to do that and, this is just my opinion here, I don't think a lot of them guys spend so much time thinkin about themselves that they just wouldn't know how to forget. So, they just sit down there and wait for someone to talk to, to try and clear things up, as it were. When I finally got back to the locker, the door was open, but I'd seen horrible, horrible things. I was forever changed by my trip down there. Also, I'd missed math, and we had a quiz that day, which I failed due to an unexcused absence. If only I could remember to hold responsible for that...

Oh well, I guess I'll remember it sometime. It don't matter much right now, anyway, since I was tellin ya how I came up on them cliffs. They took up a place in my brain like that girl took up. I could sorta feel them there, but not know how big and terrible of a presence they would soon be in my life. I guess you never really stop to think about cliffs. What I meant to say there is, "I guess I never really stop to think about cliffs." For all I know, you could be one of them cliffologists, spendin your whole life researchin cliffs. If that's the case, and you've ever come up with a good way to confront a dragon with cliffs at your back, it'd be great if you could go back in time a little and let me know what that is, because apparently screaming is not the ideal solution. Mostly because it doesn't make the dragon stop, but also because it makes your throat hurt, and who wants to be eaten when they have a sore throat?

And then bad turned to worse. It started with a poppin. The poppin turned into a buzzin. Then, the whole thing up and turned into a cracklin. Finally, everything went silent, there was the slightest whiff of ozone, and my whole suit went to pieces. I ain't certain if the battery gave out, if there was a wirin problem, or if I'd just overloaded everything with all the activity I'd been doin. All I knew at that point that I was standin at the base of a line of black cliffs that would have been at home in Mordor in a pile of moon spider silk waitin for a ghost dragon to come and eat me.

In my most desperate moment, when all odds seemed against me and it looked like there was no way out, down came the Deus Ex Machina. The dragon seemed afraid of the space ship, because he pulled up short and started circlin like a shark tryin to look nonchalant. And I can't say I blame him. That there ship descended with such a clatter that I thought I may have to head up to the roof to see what was the matter. I can't say exactly what sound it was makin, but it was a lot like the time I washed and dried my overalls before checkin em and I realized during the spin cycle that I'd left a whole set of socket wrenches and scrap metal in the pocket.

The Deus was shootin flame here and there like an angry god, and looked like it was havin trouble stayin steady, like a drunk angry god. And then, it fell. That thing plummeted to the ground like a metal stone covered in lights and smoke. In the second before it became forever a part of the landscape, one last gout of flame shot out the bottom, slowing its decent enough that nothin shattered on impact.

Once it was settled and I'd got the dust wiped out of my eyes, I looked up to see Alistair comin out of the ship, coughin and flappin his wings.

He spotted me, too. "Pat!" he yelled. "We came to help."

"Oh yeah?" I shouted, "and how's that goin for ya?"

He came closer, so we didn't have to yell at each other. "As you can see, not well. Something's gone wrong with the Deus Ex Machina."

This was surprisin to me. "Didn't you guys build it so it would always work."

"We thought so," he admitted, "but I guess the Deus Ex Machina doesn't always work."

"What went wrong?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe it's been over used."

I raised an eyebrow. "You fellas ain't used it that much, as far as I know. How could it break down so fast. Did you get the parts from Pontiac or somethin?"

"Nothing like that," he said. "We've been loaning it out. I guess we shouldn't have done that."

"Loanin? Really? To who?"

"Well," he eyed the dragon, which was still circlin out over the plains, "tv and film producers, mostly."


"Oh yeah, they love the Deus Ex Machina. But I guess they've used it so much that it's become ineffective."

"That's a shame," I told him.

"It sure is," he agreed. "It's really a convenient way of solving things, maybe too convenient. It's just too bad that we've become so reliant on it that we expect it to always work."

"I guess you're right," I told him, not really knowin how much they really used the Deus Ex Machina. I figured, for it to have the problems it had, they prolly had to let every producer and writer in the world use it at some point or another. "But, if the Deus Ex Machina isn't workin, it's lookin like we're gonna have to find another way out of this whole dragon situation."

And I had to think of it fast, because that dragon had stopped his circlin and started roarin again.

Betty Millner! That was her name!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What's the Blue Light?

After eating Tom Cruise, that dragon rose into the sky, let out a roar like Thor farting and curled up. For a minute there, it looked like a question mark just hangin in the sky. It was a little like the bat-signal, but more like if The Riddler were bein called. I can't say I rightly know why anyone would be signalin the Riddler to come. Maybe they were stuck on a crossword clue or were bein terrorized by Will Shortz and the only one who could help them defeat the Puzzle Master is the Master of Puzzles. I guess it don't really matter much why someone would be callin the Riddler, just as long as you accept the possibility that a Riddler signal could exist and that this dragon looked like it would if it did.

The dragon didn't keep that shape too terribly long. It turned its red, hateful eyes on me and came bearin down. I ain't sure what normally goes through a person's mind when they're lookin down the business end of a dragon, but I would imagine the word "Oh" comes up as the first word in a lot of two word sentences one could think of in that situation. Me, I don't take much with the cursin and the foulmouthin that seems to be all the rage amongst the young people these days, so I ended my "Oh" sentence with "heckbucket!"

I think my mind must have gone totally blank then. Not to say that it takes a whole lot to make my mind totally blank. I imagine that, most of the time, I'm 99 percent there. If you want to get a picture of it, go ahead and pull yourself out a piece of printer paper. Now, put the tiniest x you possibly can in the center of the paper. That, right there, is what's goin on in my head at any given time. Now go ahead and erase that x. That's what was goin on in my mind as the dragon came down on me again. Now put the paper back in the copier before the boss comes by and fires you for wastin office supplies. It's got nothin to do with what was goin on in my mind, but I would sure hate to get you fired. Course, if you was worried about that, you would prolly not be readin this at work in the first place.

I'm just sayin that my mind musta went totally blank because, instead of teleportin outta there, as I really shoulda done, I dove to the ground, like I did back in the war when the Kaiser's biplanes was hurlin hot fire on us in the field. Unlike that time, though, I didn't wet myself. I musta dropped just in time, because, as I was layin there in the dirt, I felt a cold wind blow across my back, and heard tortured cried where my head used to be. When it was over, I looked up to see the dragon barrelin away, trailin somethin blue in its mouth. I traced that blue light down to the source and was more than a little surprised to find that it was me.

I felt around my clothes and body, but couldn't feel nothin super different. I mean, my heart hadn't stopped, I didn't feel suddenly cold, and I didn't find myself becomin a brainless servant of the ninjas. All in all, I thought I'd gotten away pretty clean. That is, until that there dragon turned in the sky again and came back on me.

That little x in the center of the printer paper came back, and I got some action goin on in my head. That action told me, "Pat, ol buddy, you better get your hide on outta here if you want to keep all your skin and bones together." My mind's led me wrong sometimes, like in the dark when I thought a rope was a snake and got scared by it, only to lose my ability to muster up the proper amount of scared when I discovered the snake was hidin behind the rope the whole time, resultin in an extended hospital stay. But this time, my mind was leadin me right. So, before the dragon could get up the momentum, I closed my eyes and thought of home.

On opening my eyes, I thought I might go into the kitchen and fix myself up a tuna melt, maybe have some ice tea to wash it down with. That would have been a lot better than fightin a dragon. Sadly, it was not to be. Something had gone terribly wrong. Instead of bein in my own livin room, I was still on that scorched plain with a ghost dragon tryin to kill me. Comparatively, I'd say havin a tuna melt is a much, much more desirable position than that which I found myself in. Say what you will about tuna melts, I'm confident any one of you would take one over bein eaten by a dragon. Admit it.

On the good side, I figured out that blue light drawn out of me was somethin related to my teleportin ability. But on the bad side, that blue light was my teleportin ability. Still thinkin I needed to get outta there, I did it the old fashioned way, I hoofed it.

I musta run a hundred miles, my lungs cursin me for my years installin fiberglass in the early 80s. I ran through plains and cities, rivers and deserts. Then I came up against the cliffs.