The Short Story

Posted in Uncategorized on August 21, 2013 by xerjester

Yikes- need to stop letting my blog languish, eh? I’ve been in the midst of finishing commission work, trying (unsuccessfully, but pressing on nonetheless) to quit smoking, put up a new Irreverent Inspirational (check my YouTube channel), and ramping up for work on Book 2 of the archetype Trilogy. Whew.

But, I’ve also started taking some time to write out short stories, and I’d like to share one with you today. This was intended to be sent on to TOR for their consideration and possible inclusion in the short fiction portion of their site, but upon further investigation (read: ruthless self doubt) I decided that it wasn’t something that fell into their usual faire, and would probably be rejected. Still, I think it’s a fun little story, so I’m sharing it here for you. enjoy!

MEDIAN EATS

The first thing John noticed was the absence; the great invisible internal hole left behind by something being taken away. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but as he stood in front of the dingy glass door that lead into the diner, he knew that there was something important about what he was not feeling.

For instance, he couldn’t feel any pain, and the last thing he remembered was an overabundance of searing agony. Then? Glass door.

For another thing, he couldn’t hear anything besides the listless breeze, and the last thing he recalled was a cacophony of shouting. Now? Glass door.

Stranger still was his lack of disorientation. Shouldn’t he be a bit more surprised, or even remotely curious, as to how he had come to be standing here on this street facing the door of a nondescript greasy spoon? Somehow, it didn’t seem to matter, and the thoughts concerning puzzling it out slipped out of focus almost as soon as John thought them up. Even as he glanced to his left and right to take in the surroundings, and became aware that this diner was apparently the only structure on this road for miles in either direction, the idea that such a revelation should frighten him wafted away on the wind and into the featureless night. There was nothing of importance beyond the glass door that bore a crooked sign that read:

“MEDIAN EATS – PROUDLY SERVING AFTER.”

John blinked at the sign.

After what?

There were no times listed, but John suddenly had the feeling that this was one of those “always open” kind of dives that catered to travelers at all points on the clock. The empty feeling took John again, and seemed to be magnified by the barren night behind, so he pushed on the door and strolled inside. Maybe they had a phone, or at the very least some information to make sense of this tableau. Wasn’t there something that he needed to be doing right now? Well, it could wait until he figured out where he was. Couldn’t it?

The interior was a riot of nostalgia. Chrome-trimmed rounded furniture, checkered tile floor, neon light-framed signs and clock, a tall soda fountain with waiting metal flutes for your choice of floats; it was like walking into a postcard from the hey-day of Americana highway road trips. There was even an honest-to-goodness rockabilly number piping out of a coin-hungry jukebox. Patrons lounged in the window side cavernous booths, and sank into the faux red leather padding. They were all in their Sunday best for seeing the sights, and each cut and line of their attire was circa Eisenhower administration. Behind the long curving bar, complete with soda-shop stools, was a thin man who was also a spot-on reproduction of bygone era servers: the kind with the paper hats who would sling a mean skillet steak right alongside an excited commentary on last night’s boxing match.

Nostalgic cornucopia or not, it wasn’t like the diner was just for show. Like the glass door that lead inside, the place felt like it was used, and in need of a mop-up. Not filthy, but hardly pristine. The patina of a day’s working made the diner feel real and whole, like John had somehow blundered back in time. Yet, like John, it felt… hollow. It felt like a very ornate, expensive, convoluted, and ultimately deceptive façade. John thought that he should be shaken by this, but could not figure out why that was the appropriate response, if there even was such a thing.

The other thing that tipped John off as to the less-than-concrete nature of the diner was the fact that not a single one of the patrons had so much as glanced his way when the hanging door chime announced his arrival, yet the man behind the bar was watching him closely, and patiently. The man seemed to wait for John to take in the scenery, and then responded to some unheard cue by smiling at John and gesturing toward one of the empty stools.

So, John did the only reasonable thing: he forgot what he was initially thinking about, and sat at the bar.

The server nodded as if that was the correct choice, and began wiping down the bar in front of John will a well-worn rag. As he worked, he spoke in a mellow voice John swore he had heard before, but couldn’t place.

“Here’s where you would ask me for a menu,” the thin man said, “and how is it that I know your name is John. Don’t bother with the self once-over. You’re not wearing a nametag.”

John’s mouth fell open, but even the sudden shock passed with preternatural swiftness. It was as though there was something in the air that was determined to convince John that everything about this entire scenario was on the level. It was all right. John should just play along. John closed his mouth, and gave the room another round of scrutiny.

“Mm hmm,” the thin man chuckled. “You get used to that, too. They’re going for as mellow a vibe as they can manage here, so you’ll find that the more extreme emotions just sort of fizzle. Same with curiosity, after a stretch. It’s easier to do business when people aren’t asking so many questions.”

“Well, I guess my curiosity’s still intact,” replied John. “Who’s ‘they’? Who are you? What is all this?”

The thin man tossed the rag over his shoulder, and turned to the shoulder-high opening in the wall behind him that served as the kitchen’s slot to pass food through. He hefted a few plates laden with food up, shifted them onto his arms with the ease of long practice, and carried them out into the dining room. He called out to John as he delivered the meals to the customers.

“Hungry, John? We’ve got a little something for everyone here. It’s kind of our niche.”

The food did smell wonderful, but John found that he wasn’t hungry. In point of fact, he couldn’t remember what that felt like. The thin man finished serving up, and took his place back behind the bar.

“I thought as much,” sighed the thin man. “You’re the third one this week.”

John was becoming agitated in spite of the sedative effect the diner seemed to radiate. “Third what? You haven’t even answered the questions I’ve already asked! Is this some kind of put-on, or am I just having a very lucid- and annoying- dream? Can you not give a straight answer?”

The thin man raised his hands. “Calm down, Sport. It’s very simple, and since you’ve a mind to do so, you can work it out. Let me guess,” the thin man turned to tack a couple of new order slips onto the steel rotunda before turning back to John. “You’re feeling a kind of emptiness that you can’t quite explain? An emptiness that seems to come as much from within you as it does from everything else around you?”

John nodded, and leaned forward. Finally, some clarification.

“Well, that’s life,” the thin man finished.

John groaned and leaned back onto his stool. “I said straight answers, not bullshit platitudes. What’s next? ‘Keep your eye on the ball’?”

“No no,” the thin man pressed. “I mean, what’s missing. That emptiness you’re feeling? That’s life. Or, where life should be.” The thin man spread his hands. “You’re dead, friend.”

John swallowed, and gave the room another perusal. He hadn’t noticed it before, but aside from the song on the jukebox, the friendly sound of the door chime, and the conversation he was having, there was absolutely no sound. The patrons ate, talked, and even laughed all in complete silence. Maybe it was all an elaborate mime show? No. It was probably just an extraordinarily odd dream; a weird bit of slumber theater brought on by something he ate.

“Well, yeah it was something you ate, but you’re not asleep,” offered the thin man in response to John’s thoughts. “And don’t bother freaking out or anything. Even though you’re a wrong order, the overall effect of this place will gentle you down before you can really explore any fear you’re feeling over being dead, or, well, mind-reading.” The thin man tilted his head to the side, and added, as though it were an afterthought, “I’d apologize about it- the mind-reading thing and all- but you’re thinking loud enough to wake the dead. Ha! C’mon, Tiger. Laugh. It’s funny.”

John didn’t feel like laughing. Too many things abruptly clicked into place that gave the server’s declaration a ring of truth.

“So,” John paused, gaining his wits and hoping that nifty calming effect would kick in a bit more quickly, “this is the afterlife?”

The thin man sucked in air over his teeth and shrugged. “Well, yes and no, Champ.”

John growled, and couldn’t keep his hands from balling into fists. The thin man made a shushing motion, and leaned over the bar in a conspiratorial manner.

“Look, kiddo. The afterlife’s got to do with faith, and faith’s a lot like scrambled eggs. We serve those here, by the way. Anyway, everyone knows how scrambled eggs should be done, except that everyone’s wrong if they don’t make them exactly the way you like them. Follow me?”

John shook his head. “I don’t do eggs. I’m vegan.”

“See? You’re a wrong order, so I’m using the wrong metaphor. Wacky, isn’t it?”

John threw up his hands as the thin man laughed. “This is ridiculous. What do you mean ‘wrong order’? What is this place supposed to be if not the afterlife?”

Taking off his apron, the thin man favored John with an amused grin before coming around the bar to sit on a stool next to him. “You’re right, and I’m sorry. It’s just that when a mistake gets made in this job, you can either laugh or cry. I choose to make merry.”

“Death’s forever, pal,” John snarled. “I don’t see the humor.”

“Death’s no more eternal than birth, Sour Patch. It’s an event. You go through it, and it’s done. Now, what comes after is on this side of forever, sure, but don’t get me started. Now, this is the afterlife. It’s just not yours. John Smith, right?”

John nodded.

“See. That right there. Save me from Anglo-Saxon working surnames and their popularity. I take it that my voice sounds familiar to you, right? How about my face?”

John rolled his eyes and looked at the other man. Come to think of it, he did look familiar, but it was in an oddly neutral sort of way; like the man’s features were such that nothing stood out. It was the kind of face that everyone had seen, and known, and could never pick out of a crowd if their lives depended on it. It was a comforting ordinary face to match the comforting ordinary voice.

“My point,” said the thin man. “And the fact that you keep fighting against acceptance here means you’re not supposed to be here. Not yet, anyway. You’re what we call a ‘wrong order’ in this trade. John Smith was ordered up, but the John Smith we got wasn’t quite right. It’s also why you keep feeling like there’s something you have to get to. Something you have to do, like an important date on your day planner, Sparky.”

John nodded, then grinned in spite of himself. “You’re real fond of the nicknames, aren’t you?”

The thin man shrugged. “I wouldn’t know, honestly. What do you see, anyway?” The thin man waved a hand around. “All this, I mean.”

“It’s a diner straight out of the 1950’s. Like, one of those roadside mom and pop places you’d hit before seeing the ‘world’s biggest ball of twine’ exhibits.” John answered.

The thin man looked around, and squinted. “Okay, yeah. I see it now. That explains my weird euphemisms and use of nicknames. The John Smith we were expecting knew this kind of place as a kid, so it’s set up to match his needs.”

John propped his elbows on the bar and put his head in his hands. “Calming vibe or not, this is giving me a headache. I still don’t understand what this place is.”

The thin man patted John on the back, then spun his stool seat around to allow him to lean back against the bar in a cavalier sort of way. “You had the right of it, if not the whole picture. This is a rest stop of sorts. Some come in and see a pub. Some wander in and see a bistro. Others pop in when they shouldn’t, and see someone’s memory of the soda shop they loved as a kid. In any case, they always see a place to relax, talk with friendly faces, and maybe grab a bite to eat or a drink before they get on their way. The only thing that remains the same, other than the basic set up, is the name: Median Eats. Of course, it’s also translated into whatever language or phrasing best suits the intended customer.”

“Proudly Serving After,” intoned John.

The thin man laughed, and spun back around. “Catchy, isn’t it? I’m really proud of that one. It’s a real corker, Pally.”

“If this is a rest stop, where do the people go when they leave?”

The thin man tapped John on the shoulder and pointed at the customers, who still enjoyed their meals in silence. “You can’t hear them, because you’re not supposed to. You’re not hungry for any of the food, because you’re not supposed to be. And I take it you noticed the street-to-nowhere outside that had no other buildings?”

John looked through this windows and nodded.

“You’ve no idea where it is, or where it goes, because you’re not supposed to be here.  There’s not even stars in the sky for Pete’s sake. Are you noticing a theme here, mister?” the thin man smiled.

John grimaced. “Yeah, I get it. So those people are just waiting to go on to what comes next?”

“Some, sure,” the thin man nodded. “Some of them are something else. Emphasis on the ‘thing’. Not human, if that makes it clearer.”

“Angels?”

“Whatever makes you happy, Slappy.”

John wanted to scream.

The thin man laughed again, and placed a hand on John’s shoulder. “Sorry, Buddy. I’m afraid that no matter how the menu changes here, ‘cryptic’ is always the house special. Absolute knowledge is doled out at kiosks down the road a ways. As far as what they are, I already explained it: we’ve got a little something for everyone here. It’s kind of our niche. I guess that also means the supernatural oddities, doesn’t it?”

John snarled, and slipped off of his stool. He whirled around on the patrons. He wanted to rail at them. He wanted to scream. How was it that he could be dead, and yet even that was messed up? What? Was the Hereafter as much of an inefficient bureaucracy as what the living had to put up with?

“Well, yeah, Buzz,” called the thin man. “But hey, at least we’re not the DMV, right? Now settle yourself and have a seat before they get wise.”

John was about to asked what he meant, when he noticed that some of the patrons were now openly staring at him. Some looked insulted. Others, with eyes that seemed to waver like the blurred lines of a mirage, seemed to look at him with intense hunger. Their attention on him was like a physical caress, and the room seemed to shrink in order to bring John within reach. John decided to exercise the better part of valor and promptly returned to his seat.

The thin man shook his head, and turned John around to face the bar with him. “You do not want to mix it up with those types, buddy-boy. As far as I know, you’re not on their cab schedule, but they will gladly take you on board if you make a scene. The others, well. They won’t react kindly to a tourist being here, either. So head down and button up until I can get this sorted out.”

John nodded, and decided to do everything he could to not do anything else that would attract attention. There was a particularly interesting coffee stain on the countertop. Sure. He’d just make like he was checking that out intently, and then… what was he keeping his head down for, again?

“That’s the ticket, Chief,” the thin man complimented. “Now then. This has been fun, but I’ve got an establishment to run here, so it’s high time we see to you.”

John looked up from his reverie, and couldn’t remember what it was that he was supposed to be doing. All he knew was that he had something he really needed to get on with, and that the thin man was absolutely right. John suddenly felt a lot better about things, overall. “Oh, right. So, what happens to wrong orders around here, anyway?”

The thin man smiled in a wolfish kind of way. “What happens to any wrong order at a diner? It gets sent back.”

Outside, a car honked twice, and John could hear the throaty purr of a powerful old engine.

John stood up, and traded grips with the thin man. “You know,” John smiled, “I never got an answer for who you are.”

“What’s it say on my nametag?”

John glanced down at the man’s chest. There was a cheap plastic badge clipped onto the white cotton shirt he wore.

“It says ‘Donny’.” John replied, obviously skeptical.

The thin man barked a laugh, and nodded. “I suppose that’s fitting. The John Smith we were expecting comes from Irish ancestry. It’s the first Celtic pun I’ve heard of, though. We’ll go with Donny, then. Besides, you’ve got a cab to catch, and my name’s hardly the most important bit here, eh?”

“Donny” walked John to the glass door, and held it open. Outside, an old model New York taxi was idling. John looked at the thin man.

“What’s the most important thing, then? Secret of life? Why are we here?”

Donny gave John a gentle push toward the cab, and grinned. “Good questions, and above my pay grade. No, Sport, the only important thing you need to know is that of this moment, you’ve already opened a tab at Median Eats.” The thin man’s voice dropped in pitch; still warm, yet with an undercurrent of warning. “Make sure you’re ready to pay up when your reservation hits, huh?”

“Tab for what? I didn’t order anything!” John cried.

“No? We serve a bit of everything here, Skipper.” Donny shrugged and began to close the glass door. “From BLT’s to second chances.”

Before John could reply, he found himself inside the cab. The engine revved, and suddenly John was blinded by brilliant light, and his lungs quaked under the force of his vicious coughing fit. He was laying on his back on the thin carpet of the restaurant, and there was a circle of frightened people around him, and a particularly relieved EMT hovering over his chest. Snatched phrases of “choked” and “thought he was dead for sure” threaded throughout the excited jabbering. John could see the restaurant manager wringing his hands, and loudly proclaiming to all gathered that his restaurant apologized profusely for the scene, and would gladly reimburse the diners for their meals in order to keep their patronage.

John laughed weakly, and the pain in his throat was a strange blessing. He didn’t know why, but he felt like he wouldn’t want to eat out again anytime soon. The crowds would leave eventually, and the restaurant would dim its lights to end the working day. John Smith would wander back into the flow of life, such as he could make it. Or, at the very least, such as he could order up with the hope that it was done right.

Elsewhere, at a diner that never bothered to close because business was always good, a man walked in with an appetite, and the thin server at the counter was ready with a smile.

“Welcome to Median Eats,”  the thin man said. “It’s about time, Cowboy. How about a menu while you wait?”

The Vacation³

Posted in Humor, Personal with tags , , on July 6, 2013 by xerjester

If the title seems confusing, don’t panic. You’re not going senile. Unless you are, to which I can only offer my deepest sympathies right before I call for the orderly. No, the title is derived from the nature of our week-long vacation playing host to my mother-in-law and her boyfriend. Before you start, I actually lucked out and got a mother-in-law that loves and tolerates me and my silliness as much as her daughter, so it’s always a pleasure to have them around.

Rather, the nature of the vacation was so jam-packed with stuff that it felt like an entire vacation, housed within a vacation, that I will need a vacation from. I won’t detail all of it, but I thought I’d share the humorous highlights with you. You’ll laugh. You’ll point. You’ll think things that are akin to “there but for the grace of God…” etc. etc. In short, you’ll follow along as life decides it’s high time to get whimsical on my ass yet again.

We start off by the mother-in-law and her boyfriend somehow magically bringing the finest of Texas thunderstorms with them. I mean that. They did it. I blame them solely. They are shamans, and they somehow did something to really piss off the elements. We don’t get thunderstorms by and large here, as we live in a microclimate that I’m sure is the result of an ongoing experiment that Tesla forgot to turn off. Yet, barely a few hours after they arrived, the weather went from this:

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Pictured: Ahh what a lovely day for a picnic

To this:

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Pictured: Fuck you and your picnic.

Trees and limbs down. Flooding. Hail that decided to “do the Dew” and fly horizontally. Funnel clouds. In short, a compressed hurricane. Jan de Bont and Bill Paxton are both squealing with delight.

Two days on, we set forth from our home in the rental car to visit South Dakota’s Black Hills region. Normally, this would be problematic, as anyone who knows me on a personal level knows what can happen on long car trips when I inevitably become bored.

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I’m bringing friends. Hope you packed juice boxes and travel games.

Thankfully, I was so sleep-deprived that I napped for a good deal of it. Before I knew it, we were in the Black Hills. Small aside here: I’ve been all over the country, and now I live at the foothills of the Rockies themselves, and I’m here to speak plainly: for my money, there is no other place I’ve seen in America that is as gorgeous and inspiring to me as the Black Hills of South Dakota. The words “beautiful”, “gorgeous”, and “amazing” were used frequently, and yet they never lost their meaning.

Our first destination was Mount Rushmore, which my wife and I had never seen in person before. It’s a thrill to me, since I love history, and this monument is chock full of it; the good and the bad. Given some views on history lately-

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Historically Accurate. 

I was stoked to take it all in, learn some new things, and finally lay eyes on such a magnificent edifice. Unfortunately for me, there were ambassadors from the internet who were also visiting. What follows is an accurate representation of what happened:

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My, what a fantastic piece of American-

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Oh for the love of-

This went on as some length. I was ready to add their bones to the debris pile at the base of the mountain. An awe-inspiring monument, and a chance to engage in the fabric of your country’s past, and they elect to recreate the greatest hits from the B-reel of Jackass. Priceless.

Aside from that, it was truly fantastic, and I was rearing to go to our next locale: the Crazy Horse monument. We would be arriving just at dusk, so we would get to see the monument lit up against the gorgeously star-dappled South Dakota sky just before they turned on their nightly laser show.

If you’ve only seen pictures of this place, then you’ve not truly seen it. It is MASSIVE. As I described it on our way out of the museum to see the laser show: “This is the Argonath of North America.” The entirety of Mount Rushmore’s carved presidential faces could fit into the section they will be carving just for Crazy Horse’s HAIR. That’s insane. That’s the killer from Se7en level of dedication and scale. It’s awesome and full of rad, and it’s writ large.

So we have this wondrous monument, at night, which will play the canvas to a laser spectacular. I have mild hemeralopia, which basically means I’ve got great night vision, and am practically blind at times during the day, or when I get hit with bright lights. But this set-up was perfect for me, and I was looking forward to it. Sadly, the entire concept of a darkened setting for viewing a laser light show is lost on some people.

Here’s what one SHOULD see at the monument at dusk:

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It lifts the spirit, and inspires your heart to great-

Here’s how I saw it:

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OH, FUCK YOU!

Cellphones acting as lighthouses. Camera flashes searing my retinas. Ipads glaring out into the twilight. Car headlights and even a car alarm. I hate to bitch, but I have to wonder what the right fuck is wrong with some people. It was enough at that point to make me want to build a shack out in the wilderness (Black Hills, of course) and contemplate explosive party-favors.

I retreated back to the car and missed most of the show. That was at least made up for by the fact that we returned the next day to tour more of the museum and see local Sioux artisans and performers, who were all gracious and wonderful. But the others from Rushmore and the night before? Fuck those people with something coated in razor-wire.

I moan, but at least we never encountered some of the people I had expected to meet while traversing the far-flung and remote vistas of the mountains…

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Pictured: The off-season tourist attraction. Also, nightmare fuel.

We returned home by the end of that next day, and prepped for our 4th of July plans later in the week. This consisted of a trip up the river canyon nearby into the Rockies and a picnic. This was only spoiled by seeing the nightmarish damage from the High Park wildfire of last summer combined with flies that thought I was just too damned delish to pass up. Of course I would forget bug-spray. Why? Because, dear reader, I am an idiot. Pay heed to the cautionary tale. After this, we returned to our home. I had time, so, yes, I spent the latter half of our nation’s birthday engaging in one of our most traditional pasttimes: lawn work.

We had damage from the aforementioned storm, and I needed to repair it, ok? Lay off me. It beats what they were doing in a town nearby, wherein they decided to celebrate our freedom by LIGHTING THEMSELVES ON FIRE.

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No trickery in Photoshop. This is a thing that they did, and they are doing it wrong.

The next day, aside from the mundane shopping errands that plague any adult life, we took it easy. We remarked how it felt that we shoved many days of vacation into one, (I’m leaving out a LOT here. Trust me. We blitzkrieged the tourist experience and never slowed down) and how even after that we seemed to pack in as much fun and activities as we possibly could into the smallest space. What one might normally engage in over the course of two or three weeks we crammed into the space of five days, with only a couple spent here at home.

Now, as I sit here typing this, preparing myself for the work I’ve yet to do this week whilst working on the second novel of the Archetype trilogy, I’m almost in a state of shell-shock. We bid our tearful goodbyes to family earlier, and once they pulled out of our driveway, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with myself.

I turned to my wife, my friend, my battle-companion, and uttered the ultimate words of wisdom to encapsulate the experience we had just shared:

“Love? What the fuck just happened?”

——–

My book is out! The first installment of the Archetype Trilogy, “The Rhyme of the Golden Aegis”, is available in multiple e-reader and digital formats at Smashwords! Check it out, and read a free preview, here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/322404

The Domestic Horror

Posted in Humor, Personal with tags , , , on June 24, 2013 by xerjester

Yes, I know, I know. “Another entry about the homelife/chores/what have you?” Yes. I promise I’ll have something up next time concerning creative pursuits. This little slice of real life was simply too good not to share with all and sundry- another piece of self-effacing fact that keeps me honest, if you will.

To preface this, there are a few key things that you need to understand about my general makeup. None of these are really faults or bragging on my part; they’re just facts. Each is an important widget in the overall story to come:

1. Arachnophobia. I have it. I’m not ashamed to admit it. this mostly stems from my childhood, where I was terrified by a daddy long-legs crawling onto my shoulder WHILE I was reading a story about a character named “Timmy the Tarantula”. Yes, you can argue all you want that it wasn’t an actual spider that decided to pull a Treasure Island parrot impersonation, but facts will hardly comfort that younger version of me. Ever since then, Arachnids have freaked me right out.

2. Claustrophobia. I do well inside, generally. It’s closed, tight spaces that really set my heart to pounding. Closets, crawlspaces- you name it. My muscles go electric-current stiff and my body decides it’s time for a good cold sweat.

3. Allergies. This seems like a trite thing to mention after phobia doors one and two, but it plays a factor. Trust me. Specifically, I have pollen allergies, and apparently every single form of flora around here just happens to produce pollen that reduces my sinus cavity to a swollen, throbbing HR Geiger masterpiece.

4. Sense of smell. Again, not bragging, but pointing out a key fact. My sense of smell and taste is outrageous. This has been witnessed and qualified by those that know me. I’ve routinely picked out separate ingredients in a dish, types of mixed scents in perfume and body wash, pointed out where deer are at distance, and can smell snow on the wind from a snowstorm that’s fifty miles away from us, when the breeze is in the right direction. If it’s a mutant power, I’m obviously third string on any X-men team.

Got all that? Arachnophobia, Claustrophobia, Allergies, and over-active sense of smell and taste. Good. Moving on.

This brings us to my utter loathing for whatever- and I use the term loosely- “architect” designed the house we’re renting. Now, I’m fairly accustomed to basements now that we live in an area where they’re viable. I’ve no issues with being below ground level. But what exists beneath our house- and the house that adjoins ours- doesn’t fit the definition of  basement for anyone, save for those that might think a fine Sunday best spent sewing a new woman-suit out of real human skin.

For whatever reason, and I can only theorize it was due to said designer being a big fan of the Marquis De Sade and  the film “The People under the Stairs” in equal measure, our AC system works by delivering the airflow from vents set into the floor. Therefore, the construct that houses the filters for both houses rest in a space beneath the house that runs almost the entirety of the building’s footprint.

Now, the space itself is only about three feet and ten inches high, give or take a rafter beam. the only way for a grown man of my stature to move about is to crawl, or crouch along in a bizarre crustacean maneuver. The floor is comprised of rock, dirt, sand, and the leavings of discarded building materials, old bits of wrappings from the construction, and even a few old air filters from previous denizens who decided that trucking them back up to the surface to dispose of was too much of a hassle.

The space, which I call “Hellspace Fuckthis Alpha”, is lit on either end near the main duct units for the houses by a single 40 watt bulb, which only barely manages to push back the miasma of absolute darkness. To reach one unit and replace the filter, and traverse to the other, you can expect a crawl of about 40 feet. Because of the nature of Hellspace Fuckthis Alpha, one can find mice, roaches, silverfish, and centipedes hiding down there. Oh, and yes, spiders. So, you can be rest assured that the entirety of the crawl will also find your face passing through not only cobwebs, but honest-to-goodness working spiderwebs that still contain their eight-legged foremen. They are union. They are not to be trifled with.

Now, due to a burst pipe last year, Hellspace Fuckthis Alpha is now host to a culture of mold and mildew, whose aromatic presence permeates the realm, and whose progenitor event has left the sand and dirt moist and clingy. As such, once you pry up the boards that give you access to this realm of eternal suck, you will be slapped in the face by what I can only imagine an episode of Hoarders must smell like. This is, naturally, augmented by the years of old pollen that has managed to flit into the space from the world that knows that the word “sun” means.

Let’s recap, shall we?

For me to replace both air filters and do a good deed, I must descend into a confined, dark space where I will be coated in spider webbing, be forced to scramble along in a folded up position for a good distance, and be subject to allergens and the cloying pervasive tang of mildew and mold. I must do all of this while finagling new filters into slots that were poorly designed and thus adding on an extra layer of complexity while I am having a panic attack, and I must complete the trip, in essence, twice before I can make good my escape from a place where I am fully expecting evil whispers to come issuing out of the darkened corners any second.

Once I come into the light, I am covered in mud, webbing, sweat that poured out of me regardless of the cool environment, my heart is pounding, and my sinuses are under such assault that the phrase “May I have a glass of water” comes out as “Mah Ah Hab ah Glath ah Waddah”.

THAT WAS MY SUNDAY.

In retrospect, I probably looked like an early failed concept for an NPC in the latest Tomb Raider game. In reality, I know I resembled a dirty, sweaty, quaking thing with an adorable cold-and-flu-season accent.

I lead a glamorous life.

——–

My book is out! The first installment of the Archetype Trilogy, “The Rhyme of the Golden Aegis”, is available in multiple e-reader and digital formats at Smashwords! Check it out, and read a free preview, here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/322404

The Reality

Posted in Personal with tags , , on June 17, 2013 by xerjester

Getting going in the self-publishing world is a slow grind in any medium, and I’ve experienced it in multiple avenues; Webcomics, illustration, design work, music, and now writing. It can be grueling, and it can be more than a bit depressing. In fact, I still have an un-cashed check from the run of my first ever comic in print. A year and change worth of work, conventions and self-promotion amounted to a meal at Mc Donald’s. After a year of work on my first novel, I’ve earned enough to pay a single utility bill. Them’s the breaks.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, and can even be a great deal of fun if you, like me, are into collecting great experiences. I’d never ever trade off the time I’ve spent at conventions, or give away the genuinely wonderful conversations with the people I’ve met- a great many of whom I proudly call friend. I can go on at length with a bevy of stories that seem ripped straight out of the oddest selections of marvel’s “What if?” line, and they are all true, and truly mad in the most wondrous of ways.

The problem for me comes in as a freelancer creative type when I can’t do more; when my chosen career path keeps falling flat in the “make enough to sustain living conditions” department. Like I’ve said, I’ve been down this road before. You’d think I’d learn what to expect by now and be at peace with it. But the sad truth of the matter is I’m very slow to adapt and take in external information when it comes to hard times. Why? Because I, like any other creative-minded person out there, simply want to be able to live off of what I love, and be able to provide based off my talent. But the reality is that it’s never that simple. Talent and hard work do not, in essence, automatically mean success. It’s something I wish I learned early on in my formative lets-draw-on-the-white-walls years. But, it’s something I’m at least aware of now, even if I don’t always react to it in the most healthy of manners.

So, what can one do? In short? rely on your friends- the supportive, the honest (sometimes brutally so) and the loyal. I don’t mean rely on them for praise of the work, but rather for the heartfelt cheering squad they have elected themselves to be. Rely on that. It won’t wipe away the gnawing self-doubt completely, or even absolve you of the mistakes you will make along the way, but it can prove a wonderful hole card for when the hand your showing against life looks pretty weak.

I may never actually succeed in my ongoing quest to entertain, delight, and keep the lights on all at the same time. But thanks to that hardcore group of cheerleaders, it makes it easier to face the reality and press on.

Even on the days when I’d rather fold.

The Lawn-ening.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 7, 2013 by xerjester

I write. I draw. I make music. You would think that would be quite enough to get along with, but the sad truth of the matter is that my creative pursuits must be balanced against the ever-conspiring rogues gallery of The League of Mundane Chores. Their leader is a wily, insidious culprit with a rap sheet longer than… well… everything.

He’s called… THE LAWN.

Here’s the thing: I’ve not had to deal with doing consistent lawn work since around the year 2000. I’m an apartment kind of guy. I thrive in compartmentalized living spaces. I am the egg that’s happy with it’s styrofoam cubby-hole in the greater carton. So imagine my surprise when we move into this place last year, and I am once again  beset with the task of battling my old nemesis after over a decade of not having to gain the battlefield. And we’re talking the full gamut, here. I have to employ every mystic and martial art of landscaping against this nemesis; weeding, trimming, mowing, watering, fertilizing, and even a fair amount of pruning.

Ye Gods and little fishes… it’s enough to drive a legend-in-his-own-mind insane.

And, well, it did. Or rather, it accentuated a madness that was already present. Such is the malevolence of my old foe. But, if one muse go mad, then one should at least have fun with it. what follows are some helpful tips to give your own burgeoning psychoses room to play while doing lawn work:

XERO’S METHODS FOR HAVING FUN WITH A HORRIBLE CHORE*

*note: not approved by any legitimate psychiatrist.

1. Weed-eaters: Seriously. Stop for a moment when you’re wielding one of these, be they gas or electric. Raise it above your head, and let out a galloping series of throaty whoops. Instant Sand-person from Star Wars. Or, if you prefer, Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Whatever tickles your fancy.

2. Leaf blowers: You too can be an Air-bender.

3. Mowers: Aside from the artistic possibilities that you can inflict upon the lawn, consider pretending for a few moments that you are Unicron, or even Galactus. You may feel free to spout ominous and ancient-sounding threats of doom to your lawn, or simply letting loose with deep, cruel laughter.

4. Watering: Ok, this one has so many possibilities for loopy fun that I won’t list them all here. I’m just going to give you two words, and walk away. Ready? Okay.

Vengeful. God.

You’re welcome.

Tune in next time, when I discuss why my neighbors may or may not be actively avoiding me.

——–

My book is out! The first installment of the Archetype Trilogy, “The Rhyme of the Golden Aegis”, is available in multiple e-reader and digital formats at Smashwords! Check it out, and read a free preview, here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/322404

The Book, the End, the Beginning

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 5, 2013 by xerjester

First off, let me just get this little piece of news out of the way, shall I?

*ahem*

MY FIRST BOOK IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR YOUR EYE-PARTS OH SWEET LORD YOU HAVE TO GO READ IT! https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/322404

There. In all seriousness, I’m really excited to finally unleash this thing out into the wild. It was a labor of exacting sleep-deprivation, and I sincerely hope you enjoy it. I’m already hard at work crafting the second book in this trilogy, and I will certainly keep you up to date about new regarding that. For now, though, this initial journey is complete, which brings us to the end.

The end? But didn’t I just say that I was hard at work? Well, yes. What I mean is that it’s the end of that first foray. The months spent agonizing over the first books minutiae; the end of hundreds of cups of coffee and tea and my droning voice reading it off to my wife; the end of saying “I’m working on a book” and supplementing that in conversation with “I’ve published a book”.

Feels good, man.

But in that end comes an entirely new beginning. Not for the second novel, but for the life of the first. Now we must throw ourselves unto the breach of promoting the first book. To that end, my tested wisdom can be distilled and given out in the simplest of parcels:

“What?”

I’ll admit it. I’m not precisely a marketing genius. My current means of getting the book out there is my social media stomping grounds, and a reliance upon Vox Populi, which is not exactly a sure-fire method. (note: seriously… if you could just pass that link to the book along to others, I’d be grateful, and owe you a drink of your choosing. Fair? Fair.) I’m already coming upon the exhaustion of where and when I can promote the book, because that particular Venn diagram’s overlap is crossing over into paid advertising, which simply isn’t in the cards.

So what’s a freelance creative type to do?

Well, the answer is simple, if sometimes frustrating: patience. For now, I have to market where I can without becoming annoying, and slowly build that base. Hopefully that base will lead to enough capital where I can print out actual tangible versions of the book, and from there it’s the convention circuit of late hours, bad food, and worse travel. All things I’ve done before, and in a weird way, all things that can be exciting.

I liken it to guerrilla warfare. Stay with me. I never claimed to be sane. But it’s really about having limited means, limited resources, and limited personnel set against an overwhelming force. Instead of fighting for freedom or the like, my attacks are all about trying to get people involved in my work, and entertained by it. It’s scary. The conditions are usually unfavorable. The hours are long. The dress code is lax. The last Metroid is in captivity. The Galaxy is at-

Ok, maybe my mind wandered on that last bit. It happens.

So, even as I traipse through the poppy-field of distracting ideas and concepts for book two, I also have to stay on top of the fight of getting my first book out there and into the hands of the very people that I want to entertain. For those playing along at home, that means YOU.

So, I’ve ended one journey, and I’m beginning another. Who’s with me?

The Bug Prison

Posted in Humor, Personal on May 28, 2013 by xerjester

The following story is true, insofar as to me it’s truly horrifying, and truly hilarious to pretty much everyone else around me, whom are all ghoulish and twisted things that delight in my torment. The collection of neurochemicals that provoke a terrified response are a cocktail that sustains them, as they are too steeped in darkness to ever gain nourishment from wholesome human foods ever again.

Ok, maybe that was a bit much, but they’re all still jerks for laughing like they did.

My wife and I decided, since we’re remaining in the house we’re renting for another year, to tackle the front end of our lawn this past Memorial day weekend. The planets and accompanying circumstances were in total alignment: she had three days off, and our landlord was more than happy to take the cost of materials off of our rent. More importantly, it would give us the chance to finally terraform the hostile planet that the original planter bed had turned into over years of disuse. Seriously. New bushes aside, it was downright LV-426 with more grass. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was still an engineer ship under the sod with a compliment of face-hugger eggs. Stick with the Alien reference. It’ll make more sense later.

And lo, we set out upon the field on a bright Saturday morning to reclaim the area. It became readily apparent that the only way we could do this was to completely rip out the old edging and anti-grass tarp (that had long since failed on both fronts before a patient tide of green lawn) and start anew. I began removing sections of the original failed landscaping accouterments.

Now, let me preface what happens next with a small aside. To use the parlance: this ain’t my first rodeo. I’ve done landscaping before. I know what can lurk under things on the lawn. I was already mentally prepared by this stage for whatever creepy-crawlie denizen that might come forth once I was rude enough to expose their lair. Got that? Cool. Moving on.

The first larger section removed revealed that there was a radically different landscape beneath; a new planet that was foreign and fae and aggressively against us. From this slice of new land, we watched as dozens- DOZENS- of pill bugs tumbled out and into the gutter. It was a full-blown the-Berlin-Wall-is-down-at-last pill bug jailbreak. We watched for a couple of minutes until we were able to shake off the spell, and moved on to the neighboring section to pop its top.

If the first section was the pill bug gulag, then this section was the barracks that housed the jailers. Specifically, the hundred of fire-ant jail guards. Problematic, yes, but as anyone from Texas could tell you, you learn very quickly how to deal with or work around fire ants. I left the guards, who were obviously angry at the pill-bug exodus, to their meandering swarming. If measures required it, I would bring in the shovel to deal with them directly when it came time to work int he area again. Next section.

Discovery, by its very nature, is the ultimate flipped coin of the cosmos. If you don’t expect anything, you can get anything in return. If you are expecting what you got before, then chances are still pretty good that you will be surprised, both pleasantly and unpleasantly.

On this day, the Universe decided to punish me for looking to see what was behind door number three.

I’m arachnophobic. My friends know this. So does the Universe. Naturally, if the first reveal was pill bugs, and the second was the fireants, then the third would be spiders. But not just a few. Not just a handful. Not even just a small colony. No- this new section of ground revealed Spideropolis: the grand city of the Arachnid, whose denizens lord over all others that dwell beneath the tarp. Look upon the works of our eight legs, ye Xero, and despair!

Now, my mind tried for a rational response. I mean that. In the instant I pulled back the tarp, and my shared nightmares with Peter Jackson came skittering out like a damned voracious living carpet of arachnids, my mind scrambled for purchase upon the alabaster cliffs of reasonable response.

It failed its saving throw. The first words out of my mouth, other than the less-than-masculine shriek, were as follows:

“Oh fuck this! NUKE IT FROM ORBIT!”

…it really is the only way to be sure. So I vacated the area, and had a fine time of getting my heart rate back under control, and convincing my lungs to stop “marathon mode alpha” so I could breathe normally again. Over the next two days, we completed thr project, and the yard certainly looks better for it, even as I walk around with a noticeable limp from muscles that are more used to sitting at my computer or biking than they are for repeated squat-thrusts while wielding a rubber mallet.

Yet, I know Spideropolis is still there… waiting. Growing. Thriving. Plotting new conquests. The cheerful redwood mulch is merely the obfuscating veneer for a grand realm that harbors an instinctive dogma; a litany that is learned at birth by every new spider; a dogma that is hard-coded into every extra limb and shines brightly in every extra eye. It is the communion of loathing and ultimate sanction: If you see Xero again, freak his shit right the fuck out. It’s awesome.

…this is why I’m not a landscaper anymore.

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