It's finally happened, my kids have taught me how to play a video game. Ever hear of Minecraft? It's a spiffy little product that was developed by some programmers and set loose on the world. A whole community has risen up and produced hours of video and tomes of information about how to play the game. There are also many songs written about it, parody's of other songs, mostly, that we've all had a lot of fun with it.
It's great because there is no walk through or instruction guide. You've got to discover what to do. And my kids did just that. Then they showed me how to get started and how to get help.
It's now become a family passion.
The best thing about this experience for me is that it reminds me that I need to be who I am. I used to hide the fact that I am a gamer, thinking maybe that I would be perceived as immature. So, I wouldn't engage with others about it. I just pulled the blinds and huddled in a corner to play Civilization until my eyes bled. Or I'd game with a few close friends.
But I was raised a gamer myself. My Dad took me to arcades every Saturday where he would spend one quarter on Donkey Kong and I would spend many on several of my favorite games. Then we got an Odyssey system, followed by an Atari 800, followed by a Nintendo, Super Nintendo, etc. And I didn't have to ask for one of these. They were my Dad's and he was my guide through the digital playland.
And I've spent a lot of time with Doc helping the girls find their way too. And now they are showing us the way using terms like "n00b, biome, wiki." And they're good little teachers too!
As a result, our new family obsession is Minecraft. We look at the world together as a place to be chopped, picked and slashed at. We try to keep safe and watch out for zombies. We get lost then find our way. It's totally awesome...I mean epic, as the kids are saying.
Prompt: You know something, but you do nothing…ever, no matter what happens Length: Let’s do it between 500 and 1500 words Style: Noir, psychological thriller, or horror Deadline: Wednesday January 18th 9:00PM
"Micky," she gasped, "You can't say a word to no one!"
"But..." I stammered.
"Not a word," she breathed.
I watched her. The sweat on her brow shimmered in the amber light at the back of the store room. I could still smell the burnt gunpowder drifting up from the Mauser at my feet as I pressed my too-small pocket square against her gut wound.
"Miranda," I begged, "I have to tell them what happened here."
"You can't," she said. "Joey...He didn't know what he was doing..."
"What should I say?" I pleaded, "They're going to come after me, you know it!"
"I don't know, Mick," she closed her eyes and swallowed, "You'll find the way out, you always do."
Dammit all! My eyes started to fill with tears. She was too young. Too good. Goddammit all to hell! I've loved her all my life and now she was slipping away because some stupid fool didn't get that sometimes goodness could really be pure and not a ploy. He couldn't believe her heart was still golden.
"I know I can count on you, Micky...I can count on you right? Keep this quiet so Joey isn't ruined; he didn't mean it" She opened her eyes and looked into mine, "Promise to hush?"
"I Promise, Miranda," I said, choking as the doom slid down my back, "Cross my heart..."
"Hope to die..." she said, as her eyes closed and her last breath fell from her lips.
Sirens began their distant cries as the boys in blue made their way to the docks. It was an election year so the cops were on high alert and quick to respond, even in this neck of the woods. They had a point to prove to the voters, I guess. They had to show that they were worth all that tax money. On an off year, I'd have had time to get her out of this dump, ditch the gun, have her funeral, and sing at her wake before they would have known she was dead. Lucky me.
I couldn't run. I couldn't leave her here like this. Let 'em find me. I could go for a good round or too with a fresh-faced rookie with a new billy club to try out. Served me right for missing clues. For trusting.
I could hear their cars screech to a halt right outside the loading bay. Jesus Christ, Joey must have told them exactly where to go. No one else was around, I know; I staked the place out for 18 hours before Joey and Miranda showed up, his goons in tow. Not a soul around, unless you count the dearly departed souls of the dead fish that crowded up around the docks.
What the hell to say. I had to figure something out. Joey and Miranda and I all grew up together on Buckeye Street. Stick ball, kick the can, hide and seek, you name it, we played it. Thick as thieves, we were. Joey, though, he always had that something extra about him, something special. People just wanted to be around him. But Miranda and I were the only ones he wanted around him. I always knew why Miranda was in his inner circle, but not me. I suspect it was because of Miranda. She could tell we were good for each other. He would draw me out of myself and I would help him stay in check. It all worked out pretty good, until the war, of course.
I went to Germany and Joey went to the Pacific, an officer. We changed, devolved, maybe. We came back different, that's for sure. He was a war hero on the fast track to political stardom and I was trying to turn my MP experience into something worth a damn. The police force wouldn't have me. They said I'd have to go through the academy first. Turns out, my military police experience and a quarter would get me a cup of coffee in this town and that was about it. You'd think Joey would have pulled some strings, not that I asked, but still.
I ended up checking out insurance fraud cases and spying on spouses, while Joey hit the big time, first on the City Council and now as a State Senator. He was also making a play for Miranda and she was falling for him. She could see his good intentions better than anyone and she believed in him, in me. She couldn't see how war tore up a man, left him less than ideal. To her, we were both just bigger versions of our childhood selves. It was intoxicating, really, to be thought of that way, to be with someone who believed the best of you, always. She was worried about Joey, though, and hired me to watch out for him, be his "guardian angel," she said. Well, what I saw, I didn't like. But there was no convincing her...
"Freeze!" a voice heavy with authority yelled in my direction.
I looked up and saw a hulking figure outlined in moonlight pointing a gun in my baby blues.
"Hey, officer," I said, cool as a jello.
"Hands up!" he barked.
I looked down at Miranda one last time and whispered, "Thanks, sweetheart. See you in the funny papers." I kissed her forehead and slid my arms out from around her, setting her down gently. Even with the pall, her face was more beautiful then I ever remembered it being.
"I said hands up!"
"You got it, sir," I said as I put my hands above my head as instructed.
"Did you shoot that woman?" he asked. His voice shook a tiny bit and I knew I was in the presence of a gallant rookie.
"What do you think?"
"Well, I see you and a gun and a dead woman alone on the docks, I've got to believe there's a good chance you shot her."
"That figures," I smirked, "Couldn't possibly be anything else, that's what they teach you in the academy, right?"
"Evidence don't lie, punk,"
"That's your opinion, and opinions are like assholes; everyone has one."
It only took him three strides with his meaty legs to make his way from the door to me and bring the butt of his gun down on the back of my neck, knocking me to the floor and the wind out of my lungs. It was going to be a long night. A night where I had to tell the truth but not the whole story. The best I could hope for was the better angel of Joey's nature would kick him in the ass and he'd figure out a way to protect mine. I'm not holding my breath on that one though.
Maybe Joey will get scared, start thinking about the good old days and remember the blood oath the three of us took. Remember that it wasn't kids' stuff; it was real. He could remember how it was, how Miranda thought it still was. He's not going to hear about it from me though. A promise is a promise, and a deathbed one more so. It's not like I haven't had the shit beat out of me before. It's just been a long time since I've had it done professionally.
"You have the right to remain silent," he began, as the rest of his buddies crowded through the door.
I have every intention to, I thought, as the room went dark.
I haven't been blogging everyday for November, but I have been working on a creative project (see above). It all started when we went to my sister-in-law's house for Halloween. Alicia and her husband Rick are unstoppably creative. For example, they have built a spook house in their basement that they keep up all year around and change every couple of months. It is outstanding and imaginative.
While we were at their house, the kids were watching a Rankin & Bass Halloween movie, Mad Monster Party. I watched a bit of it and was entranced, as usual, with the puppetry and animation. I wandered out on the enclosed porch with my brother-in-law, Rick. He was puffing on a pipe and I started telling him about how I've always wanted to make a stop-motion animation film.
"Why don't you?" he asked.
"Well, I'd need a script," I said.
He didn't say anything. We looked out over the foggy valley beyond the Rocky Fork Creek that runs in front of their house. Then a thought occurred to me. I have a ton of material...all of the Uncle Ralph stuff I've written here! All of a sudden, the penny dropped and I suddenly knew how I could make it all happen. I also felt super-grateful for Rick's capacity for silence that gave me room to make this discovery. I moved away from all the obstacles and into the realm of the possible.
Doc and I started talking about it on the way home from their house. Then, we decided to make it happen. We are fortunate that we live in Speedy's old house. Speedy and his wife bought this house in the 50's when it was new and lived a very long and happy life together, if the love notes that are still taped to the inside of cupboard doors have anything to say about it. Speedy was a handy man and a shelf-builder extraordinaire. So, we had TONs of materials to start this project.
We began by building the set with a large piece of particle board...about 4x4. I had purchased a $30 circular saw and we angled the sides in slightly. Once that was built and suspended over two steel saw horses, Doc set the latter on top of it and climbed up into the rafters in our garage to pull down several pieces of paneling, press board and MDF that Speedy had stashed away for a rainy day. We also pulled down an ancient pair of wooden saw horses, who gave their life (and 2x4's) to support our walls.
After a few trips to Pat Catan's, or Pakistan's as my Grandma Jean used to call it, with Scotland (the Capn) and Elizabeth. We were ready to design and dress the set. And finish making Uncle Ralph, who is a drawing dummy under all that felt. I recorded Scotland doing the voice for Uncle Ralph.
The wallpaper and floor are contact paper. Doc made the wainscoting. Elizabeth covered the straw chair in felt and stuffing and doilies, and the kids decorated the tree.
We were nearly finished and ready to film, or so I thought. But Doc insisted that we build him a fireplace. I'm glad we did. It is a block of 2x4's glued together (another gift from Speedy). Doc cut out the fireplace part and painted it a shiny silver, selected from Speedy's vast collection of spray paint.
Then we broke up a piece of Speedy's slate and hot glued the pieces to the front of the fireplace. Now we were ready.
It was Doc and me in the garage on a very cold night. We set the tripod and the camera. We watched listened to short pieces of the video of Scotland and started filming. At first we tried to animate every single syllable. We were sure it would take us DAYS. We spent about three painstaking hours doing this. Doc would move the felt lips and the wooden arms and I would hold the camera in place and take the pictures. We thought we maybe had 10 seconds of material.
Then I loaded all the pictures into Movie Maker and the voice track. We set the pictures to .1 second duration and let her rip. We were confused to see that the images didn't exactly line up to the speech we thought we were animating. But we were pleasantly surprised by the fact that it didn't really matter. The movements matched the words, for the most part. And the unsteadiness of the camera gave it a Super 8 effect...totally the look I was going for. So after some careful cutting and pasting, we had a complete short film.
Now all we needed was the music. Doc and I went back and forth about what we should do. He suggested I play the piano. I wanted something better than that. So I convinced him to check out the royalty free music on iStock Photo. We found the perfect music: The First Flakes of Christmas. It was so earnest and heartfelt and very sweet, a nice counterpoint to Uncle Ralph's gruffness.
So last night, we finished up the editing and announced the birth of Uncle Ralph to Scotland and Elizabeth. They came over and we toasted our efforts and watched it together. It was a wonderful moment of the realization of a dream. Ever since Davy and Goliath and Rankin and Bass, I've always wanted to make a stop motion animation film. And since then, I've been blown away by Nick Park and Aardman Animations, who are responsible for Wallace and Grommet. I'm fascinated by the miniatures and the attention to detail on the sets.
I am so thankful to have the friends and family I have. Their creativity and willingness to pitch in humble me. And now I don't have to mail Christmas cards. Uncle Ralph will handle our message this year. So, watch the video and take the message to heart. Also, share the hell out of it, please.
I calculated all the alternatives. None of them would let me get
where I needed to go. I was going to have to batter through the asteroid belt to make it into the Dentari region in enough time. My cargo was
small but huge in importance. And this jump was more problematic than a
Centauri whore-dog during Intergalactic Chastity Month.
It all started
when I was given the launch sequence that would let me leave the space station.
Some joker in HQ thought it would be funny to encode them first. And he didn't
use any standard code. I couldn't find it in the empire's code databases, that's for sure. I had to go to the space station library, find an actual
"book," and spend my last day of leave and most of my prep time
solving the puzzle. That's OK. I got him back. He'll never look at a tube of
anti-itch gravity cream in the same way again, I made sure of that.
Once I was done
fiddling around, I barely had time to cram all my gear into my shuttle duffle
and kiss my cat goodbye. I ran from sector 17, through the dread zone, past the
barber shop and into shuttle bay 7, where I got chewed a new one by Sarge
Benson for being late. Fortunately, I'm a gifted pilot and my interns fall all
over each other to get things set up before any mission I go on. One aw shucks
and a country boy smile and I was off the hook. I made a quick sweep of the
panels as I plopped into the driver's seat. Everything seemed fine.
But I failed to
notice the tiniest of mistakes. My outstanding interns didn't factor the
subspace variable out far enough and caused my jump to land me here and not on
the other side.
So here I am, my
artificial navigator cowering under the sub-engines while I prepare myself for
the ride of my life. I had some idea of what I was getting myself into. My
buddies and I took turns showing off at the arcade playing Asteroid Belt, which
was basically a simulation of what I was about to encounter.
I said to my chicken-shit navigation computer, "Shields up!"
shuddered as the force field unraveled itself outward from the nose cone. I
cranked up the view screen and engaged the rock anthem music algorithm. I took
a quick scan with the front sensors and set the weapons array up so that it
would spread neon green static light particles over all the rocks in my path.
It was all routine, really.
seven," I commanded, "Let's go!"
My field of vision
lit up with green lumps that turned into tubes. I felt the impact of the
smaller rocks that bounced off my shields as I maneuvered my way around the big
boys. Every now and then, I'd see the shields shimmer and weaken; they were
taking a pummeling and there was nothing I could do but keep pressing
"We make it
through this, Arty," I said, hanging on tight, "I'll buy you a
We crossed in two
hours, record time, and I delivered the package to the Dentari chief ahead of
“Well, Arty,” I said, hopping back into my craft, “Want to see if
we can beat our score?”
I think he passed out. And I laughed my way all the way back to
another medal and a new crop of interns.
I love setting the clocks back an hour. It's a dream come true. I woke up at seven o'clock yesterday morning like it was the right thing to do. I'm sure after a couple of days, seven o'clock will feel too early again. But it's nice to feel like an early bird for once.
Plus, I got a bunch done yesterday. And took second place in our weekly poker match.
I wish we could set the clocks back one hour every other week. Then I'd probably feel normal most of the time.
I've decided that, in lieu of Christmas cards, I'd send my peeps a video short this year. And it's not just any short, it's going to be a stop-motion animation featuring none other than our Uncle Ralph.
Ever since Davy & Goliath and Rankin & Bass, I've had a fascination with this medium. And then Wallace and Grommet came along and took it to a whole new level. I've always wanted to watch the makers put these together...no strike that: I wanted to do one myself.
I was musing about this to my brother-in-law, Rick, over Halloween weekend. He's the right person to muse to, let me tell you. He and his wife have built a haunted house in their basement. He makes wooden toys and stilts. She makes costumes and their kids are all stilt walkers and jugglers. But Rick's got a certain quietness to him that allows room in conversations. And in this space, I told him that I wanted to make a stop motion animation short. He said that it was doable. And I said, "but I need a script..." He puffed on his pipe in response. I felt a little bit sunken...didn't want to face dreaming up a short script with one or two characters who didn't move much..."UNCLE RALPH," I exclaimed.
I started telling Rick about Uncle Ralph and we bounced ideas around. Needless to say, I am now inspired.
So far, I've made an Uncle Ralph figure and Doc has built the framework for the set. I'm hoping that the Cap'n will be able to provide the voice and that Spooky will help me do the set decorations.
The only thing in my way is momentum, of course. But it's nothing some Red Bull, an inspirational speech, and promise of pizza couldn't defeat handily. So wish me and my team luck. And look for this short coming soon.
I know not to where I go, but I knoweth certainly whence I've been
I graspesth on the promises in the ballads of yore
And in my mind's eye, I am certain
I waste time no more
Hence I journey anon, hence I journey anon.
Though I searcheth for an answer
I find and not find that for which I seeketh
Oh Lord, prithee, give me strength to carry forth
For I fathom what thou meanest
To abide along the lonely road of dreams
Hence I journey anon unaided
Wayfaring the only road of which I've henceforth had knowledge
As a vagabond, I was brought forth to walk alone
It is decided
I waste time no more
I be another heart requiring salvage
Waiting on love's sweet charity
And I shall grippeth tight for the rest of my days
For I fathom what thou meanest
To abide along the lonely road of dreams
Hence I journey anon unaided
Wayfaring the only road of which I've henceforth had knowledge
As a vagabond, I was brought forth to walk alone
It is decided
I waste time no more
"Now git in there and don't cause any more trouble!" Elroy McCrane yelled as he shoved Susannah down the stairs and into the cellar of the Old Tin Cup. "We'll take care of you later, if the fall don't kill ya!" he laughed as he slammed the door and locked it.
Susannah had been caught by Elroy, one of the Dirty Boys gang, when she was so close to Dirty Dan, she could taste the oil in his hair. Dirty Dan was playing poker at the Old Tin Cup and Susannah was posing as a barmaid. Jeb Riley had tipped her off about the game when he found out about Dirty Dan's aspirations to poker greatness.
The game was supposed to be top secret. But the owner of the Tin Cup had lost his mother to the gang and they had taken his young daughter and wife during one of their many waves of terror. He was forced to host this game but he knew Susannah was coming and let her in through the window when he went to get more whiskey from the storage room.
Suzannah had melted in with the other ladies of the evening and edged closer to the main table. She gripped the handle of her knife with the point of it angled toward her elbow along the inside of her wrist. She was going to sidle up to him, drape herself on his shoulder and then pull the knife across his hateful neck. But what light there was in the poker room had bounced off the polished blade and caught Elroy's eye. Fortunately, no one recognized her as the Susannah, who had been causing so much trouble for the Dirty Boys gang for months. She would have been killed on the spot for sure.
Ever since partnering with Jeb and coordinating George Shaw's access, the Chief's stealthy warriors, and her money, Susannah had been systematically chipping away at the Dirty Boys' sphere of influence. Not that this was saying much; the gang had become so bold that they operated out in the open now. Most of the sheriffs in these parts were Dirty Dan's men. And they started enforcing his laws. Women over 18 years of age were to be kept indoors and out of sight unless they wanted to be shot. Schools were shut down. Boys were recruited for his gang. Children were taken. Men were forced into hard labor and those who opposed were hanged.
"Ow!" a voice shouted in the darkness as Susannah landed hard at the foot of the stairs.
Susannah froze and opened her senses. She could feel someone's leg beneath her and smelled something familiar...a strange blend of chamomile and sulfur.
"Doc?" Susannah whispered.
"Susannah? Is that you?"
"It is," Susannah said. For the first time in months, tears began to form at the corners of her eyes.
"Well, bless my soul..." his voice quivered.
"I owe you an apology, Doc," Susannah spoke softly, "I told you I wouldn't leave home and chase after the gang, but I did. I'm truly sorry for breaking my word."
"No, Susannah," Doc said, "I should'a recognized that look on your face, that air you had. I've seen it before, you know...you don't get to be this old without seeing the wrath of God at least once or twice being borne out by a person. I should never have told you to stay."
"Why are you here, Doc?"
"Well sister, Dirty Dan didn't take too kindly to me refusing to treat his right hand man's right arm. The scoundrel ended up bleeding to death. I'm to be hanged in the morning."
"I can only imagine what's in store for me now," Susannah sighed.
"It seems to me that neither one of us has a thing to lose," Doc pondered, "I think that makes us dangerous, don't you?"
"What are you proposing, Doc?"
"I know where there's a trap door into the store room," He revealed, "I also know where a group of sympathetic and angry men can be found. I say, let's get out of here, get them, come back and burn this place to the ground."
"The Chief and his men are not far away either," Susannah added, "I'm game if you are, Doc."
"We'd best hurry," Doc said, standing up, "The whims of the criminal mind change quickly; we must return in haste, lest they disappear from here and go on some other fool's errand."
Susannah got to her feet and felt for Doc's hand. He led the way, feeling for obstacles.
"I'd light a match or something, but I fear we'd blow the place up prematurely," he warned, "I can smell the gunpowder down here, can't you?"
"Yes, sir," Susannah replied.
"Now if I remember correctly," Doc whispered, "The store room is about 25 paces straight back from the stairs...now we just need to find the ladder and we'll be on our way."
They made their way slowly among the crates and cartons. They tried not to call out when barking a shin here and stubbing a toe there. They were both sweating from the exertion and fear of marching through the dark to overcome their recent fate.
"Ah," Doc breathed, "Here we are."
He pulled her hand toward the ladder and she gripped it. She began to climb silently up the rungs and when she reached the top, she pressed on the panel. It gave and she lifted it slightly, checking to see if anyone was in there. The room was still and lit with moonlight. She lifted the hatch the rest of the way and climbed up. When she pulled herself onto the floor, she turned back toward the opening and signaled to Doc that all was clear.
"You go on," he said. "Leave the window open and I'll come out after you. Make sure you get well clear of the building. I'll meet you at Doc Harmon's place. We don't want to draw attention to ourselves."
Susannah nodded and closed the panel. She moved toward the window and pulled it open. The air was still and the locusts' song throbbed around her. She looked up and down the main street and didn't see anyone. So she gathered her skirts and hoisted herself up and over the window sill.
Her landing was soft and she quickly found her footing and began to run silently toward Doc Harmon's, the hawk trailing her.
O, Warrior Mother, she called out in her mind, I have done everything you have asked. Help me bring an end to this bloodshed by spilling the blood of Dirty Dan. Protect Doc Shaw and see us safely out of this...
Her prayer was interrupted by a blast and a burst of light. Susannah stopped and wheeled around toward the Old Tin Cup, which had burst into amber flames and black smoke. She fell to her knees and began to weep. Men came running out, entombed in flames; the lucky ones found troughs of water nearby and extinguished the fire. Before long, the Old Tin Cup collapsed in on itself, windows bursting and black, acrid smoke belching outward.
She guessed rightly that old Doc Shaw had sacrificed himself and ignited the powder kegs, taking the opportunity to strike at Dirty Dan. And Mother Warrior took her fee, that was for sure. Blood had been shed and Dirty Dan was done, but at a huge cost. Susannah's heart broke a little bit more, which surprised her; she had no idea there was anything left of it.
She looked up and saw Doc's spirit approach her. She was stunned.
Susannah...I'm sorry to leave you like this; I know I told you I'd follow you, and I broke my word. For that I'm truly sorry. I suppose this makes us even now, heh. Don't you waste your time crying over me. I chose my end and I'm satisfied. Now go and finish this. I'll be seeing you...