Sunday, January 24, 2016

" Roll for Initiative"

Four weeks, four new blog posts? Am I actually sticking with a New Year's Resolution?

Last week's new post, "Mister Know-It-All", OR "It's Time to Move!" , can be found on my Running/Real-Life Musings blog, Runner Confidential

Enjoy some fiction this week, from a gentile giant who seeks justice be done.


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She needed a hero.

Not that she looked completely helpless, like one of those princesses in old cartoon movies that sits content in the top of a tower and waits for a man to come to her rescue. I'm actually fairly certain that type of woman doesn't exist anymore, although I say that with nothing to back up the claim. Considering the cartoon movies that portray women as objects to be claimed instead of human beings only postdate Women's Suffrage by a few decades, however, I feel my assumption that women who wait idly for men to rescue them are endangered, if not completely extinct.

She definitely wasn't one.

Her table in the coffee shop was piled with graduate-level engineering textbooks, proving that she was self-reliant and career-oriented. I only knew that her textbooks were graduate level because I was currently enrolled in my last year of undergraduate engineering courses, and I had never seen textbooks as large, with such small print, or with names as complicated as the ones piled atop her half of the table.

No, this wasn't a vapid princess inside an ivory tower. But the guy who had taken up residence at the other end of her table didn't seem to care.

He was the kind of guy who looked for the kind of girl she wasn't, every chance he got. He had come into the coffee shop without a single textbook, proving he wasn't there to get anything done. He'd purchased a small cup of black coffee but hadn't taken a single drink from it in the twenty minutes he'd been sitting at her table. And he hadn't tipped the barista. Which proved not only that he'd solely come to hit on girls, but that he was also cheap.

If I hadn't been watching the whole situation, I would have assumed that they were a couple, sitting at the table together. He, a tall, handsome, well-put-together vision of masculine perfection. She, strong and independent and beautiful. They actually looked like they belonged together. He was the kind of guy who would have been picked on me in high school, and she was the kind of girl who never would have given me a second glance. To an outsider, they were perfect for each other.

But I wasn't fooled.

I noticed the growing look of irritation on his face that she continued to spurn his advances, and the growing look of apprehension on her face as he continued to ignore her requests to leave her alone.

When I had made camp at the coffee shop two hours earlier, I'd had three goals, and no particular order of importance to govern them. One: to finally try one of the coffee shop's new razzelberry scones (mission accomplished). Two: finish my Advanced Topics in Civil Engineering homework. Three: plan next Thursday's adventure for my Dungeons and Dragons group. I'd been alternating between goals two and three for the last hour, so as not to get board. I'd just written another paragraph on beam structures and added a Gibbering Mouther to the dungeon (with appropriate treasure and experience points) when he'd annexed his place at her table.

I hadn't been able to get anything done since he'd arrived.

Why hadn't she flipped out on him yet? I'd seen girls successful cast the 'crazy chick' spell when guys tried to harass them, and it made the offenders back away as if the girls had been on fire. Maybe it simply wasn't her style.

The expression on her face told of her growing discomfort. Like me, she simply wanted a quiet place to get her work done. But this guy wanted more. Much more. He wasn't getting it, and that fact was becoming apparent to him, and he was trying to cling even tighter to that which was never his.

It was so elementally, brutally wrong. And I couldn't sit by and do nothing.

But this adversary definitely had a challenge rating higher than mine. Oh, I was no pushover; I'd been six-one, two-hundred-and-fifty pounds since eighth grade. The football coach had always said I was linebacker material, but my favorite games were on video game consoles and table tops, not on grassy fields. But this guy looked, and acted, like an athlete who'd had everything handed to him for his entire life just on virtue of being who he was.

But not this time.

Let the encounter begin. Roll for initiative.

I stood and made my way to the counter, where I ordered a refill for my current coffee, plus a second coffee. After a few seconds, the barista set the cups on the counter. I was sure to leave a dollar in the tip jar (that's how it's done, jerk).

Carrying the cups across the store as if they were vials of alchemist fire (which, considering the temperature at which the store kept their coffee, wasn't an unfair comparison), I formulated the battle plan in my head as I made my way to the graduate student's table.

Roll for attack.

In my left hand, I squeezed the cup until the plastic lid popped off the top, slopping a little coffee over the side, making sure not to burn my fingers. Just as it hit the tile floor, I squeezed the top off the other cup in my right hand.

When I faked the fall, it was fairly dramatic.

The cup in my left hand spilled its contents on the floor, which made faking the fall incredibly believable. The cup in my right hand, I made sure to pour into the lap of the person on my immediate right: namely, the Gibbering Mouther who had taken residence in front of the graduate student.

Critical hit.

He screamed a long string of obscenities and leapt from his seat, but I couldn't hear many of them because I had taken up a posture of lying on the floor, moaning in pain and holding my back as if I'd just dislocated a disk in my spine (I hadn't). I fully expected him to yank me from the floor and try to kick my butt then and there, but I was quickly surrounded by a crowd a people.

No one asks questions when a big person falls. They never assume I'd do it on purpose, because everyone assumes I'm clumsy and can't stand up straight because of my weight (I can).  People started asking if I was okay, if I wanted someone to call an ambulance (I didn't). Someone from management even approached and asked if there was anything they could do, probably trying to make sure I wasn't going to sue the company (I wasn't).

From the floor, I opened one eye and spied the graduate student. Her assailant was nowhere to be found. Her eyes were on me. She didn't wear the pitying look of the crowd of gawkers who wanted to see the wreck the fat guy had made of himself on the floor of the coffee shop. She'd just seen me throw a full cup of alchemist fire onto the creature with which she'd been combating for twenty minutes.

She smiled, and mouthed the words, 'Thank you'.

I gave her a wink, and finally allowed someone to help me up from the floor, amid more fairly convincing moans and groans.

All in a day's work, ma'am.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Wool: For Strength!

At the end of 2015, I realized that, for as much as I reportedly love writing, I certainly wasn't doing much of it. At least, I wasn't posting on the places where my writing was supposed to exist, which was Cut and Dry, my creative blog, and Runner Confidential, my running/real-life thoughts blog.

2015 New Year's resolution? One new blog post every week. This is week 2, and so far I'm keeping up. I've decided to post in my two blogs on rotation. Since last week I wrote my first new Runner Confidential post in three months, this week it's Cut and Dry.

This story is a continuation of a story I posted way back in April of 2014, called, 'The Evils of Polka Dots'. You might want to check out the original before reading this one.

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“Okay. I changed my mind. I officially don’t want to do this anymore. I’m ready to go home, and I promise I will never, ever say that my life is boring for as long as I live.” 

My arms trembled around the baseball bat I gripped, white-knuckled, in my hands. The fingerless, cable-knit mittens I wore made gripping the instrument difficult.  

“Don’t be silly!” Great-Aunt Cathrine told me, waving her hand dismissively. “You’ll be fine. Now go ahead and open the door.” 

Aunt Cathrine spoke as casually as if she was discussing the weather. She didn’t sound concerned at all of the snarling, spitting, and howling that was coming from behind the rickety wooden door. 

When she had asked if I was ready to actually try out the magic I'd been creating in my Weaver Apprenticeship, I'd jumped at the opportunity. But then she'd driven me to a run-down side of the city, to an old, brick apartment building that looked like it hadn't been lived in since I'd been born. I didn't know the old woman could pick locks so expertly, until she'd led me inside the ramshackle building and to the third floor. 

“I don’t know, Aunt Cathrine,” I replied, barely keeping my voice from quaking. “Are you sure I can do this?” 

“Of course I’m sure! You’ve already progressed well with your Weaving. It’s time you saw what the magic can do.” With visible effort, she dropped the backpack she was wearing to the floor and started rummaging around inside. “If you don’t want the bat, I still have the crowbar if you want to trade.” 

I'd tried the crowbar earlier, but it had been too heavy for me, so I’d settled on the bat. “It’s not the bat I’m worried about,” I fretted. I didn't want to say, It's whatever's behind that door, so I said, “It’s the mittens.” I flexed my fingers nervously, as if making sure the mittens were still there. 

Aunt Cathrine looked appalled. “Why’re you worried about those? I watched you knit them myself! They’re perfectly adequate, for a first attempt.” 

Perfectly adequate didn’t seem like the best adjective for something that was supposed to protect me from certain death. “Are you sure I shouldn’t have made them with fingers? It feels like they’d be better with fingers.” 

“Bah! Fingers!” Scoffed Aunt Cathrine. “Fingers would make gripping the bat too difficult. And, like I told you, the real power lies in the fists and wrists! Fists for fighting prowess, wrists for willpower!” She poked the gloves with her long, boney fingers. “Wool, for strength! Blue, for confidence!” With her other hand, she tugged on the flannel shirt I wore over my t-shirt, which she and I had sewn ourselves. “Plaid, for protection. Wool, for even more strength. And red, for courage.” 

“You never explained why the magic only works in colors, patterns, and fabrics,” I said. 

"You're stalling," Aunt Cathrine said. I gulped; she was right, but I had been hoping she wouldn't notice. "And as for why magic needs a color, needs a mood, I have no idea. My mother didn't know, so she couldn't teach me when I was a Weaver Apprentice. It just works the way it works." 

I trembled, and the bat in my hands shook harder. "Why didn't Mom or someone else learn to be the Weaver Apprentice? Why did it have to be me?" 

"It has to be passed from a Weaver to a female relative, at least one generation younger," Aunt Cathrine replied. "I never had a daughter. And your mother was always too interested in boys and basketball to bother learning the family secret." 

The snarling behind the door grew louder. "But I'm twelve! I can't do this!" 

"You and I Wove those mittens and that shirt together," Aunt Cathrine said, a little softer than before. She knelt beside me, wincing. Her knees were hurting again. "You know the magic that's in them. They won't let you down. And, more importantly, I won't let you down. I wouldn't let you try this if I didn't think you could handle it." She smiled, still looking young and energetic, despite being in her seventies. "I remember when you were just a little thing. You've grown into such a brave, capable young woman. You can do this, Maggie." 

Tears had appeared at the corners of Aunt Cathrine's eyes. I blinked, and found tears in my eyes, too. 

I bit my lower lip and tightened my grip on the bat. "Okay, Aunt Cathrine. I'm ready." 

Aunt Cathrine stood, wincing again. "Okay. Creatures from The Darkness can sense Woven magic, and they're scared of it. You need to draw on the blue, for confidence. So when you run in, give it your best battle cry, okay?" 

I took a deep breath. "Okay." 

She gripped the knob. "Ready?" 

I stared at the door, gripping the bat tighter. The gloves suddenly started to feel warm on my hands, and my fear started melting away. By the time I opened my mouth, I almost believed what Aunt Cathrine said about me actually being able to do this. "Ready," I said. 

Aunt Cathrine threw the door open, and I ran into the room before I could talk myself out of it. I screamed as ferociously as I could, holding the bat like a sword. 

The room was dusty and dingy, full of overturned furniture and boxes of junk. Evening light created a haze in the air through the grimy windows. At first, I didn't see anything, and my battle cry ebbed away. The I saw some movement in the corner of my eye, behind a moth-eaten couch. I moved around it, holding the bat high, ready to bash. 

At first I thought it was a cat, because it was hairy, and not much bigger than a cat. Then it opened its eyes. All of its eyes. There were, like, twelve of them, each one bulging and bloodshot. And I was so busy counting its eyes that I didn't notice its teeth until it opened its mouth and growled at me. 

Boy, were there a lot of teeth. 

The bat suddenly felt very heavy in my hands. It began to droop. My gloves started to cool. 

"Don't lose your confidence!" Aunt Cathrine yelled form outside the room. 

I tried to reply, but it came out as a tiny whimper. The furry, bug-eyed Darkness creature hurled itself at me. 

My battle cry changed into a scream of terror. But the creature never touched me; instead, it slammed into a invisible wall inches from my face and ricocheted against the busted couch. My flannel shirt heated so quickly that it felt like I'd stepped into a sauna. 

"That's the plaid!" Aunt Cathrine called. "It's protection is only good for one hit that fierce!" 

I looked down, and found that Aunt Cathrine was right. What had before been a plaid shirt was now simply a red, wool shirt. The protection had been used up; the plaid was gone. 

The creature lay dazed on the floor, but it was starting to stir. I screamed again, and this time it was a battle cry. My gloves warmed again. I charged across the room. The bat suddenly felt lighter as I lifted it over my head. The temperature of my shirt matched my gloves. 

The creature looked up at me with those eye again, and it snarled through a mouthful of fangs. My confidence wavered, but I simply screamed louder and brought the bat down on the creature with all my strength. 

The thing exploded in a wave of cold, black smoke. The bat struck the floor, and with an ear-splitting crack, broke in half. 

I stood, stunned, for a moment, until I felt Aunt Cathrine's arms around me and heard her cries of excitement. "You did it, Maggie, you did it!" I blinked for a few seconds, and then I finally was able to understand what had happened. 

Where the creature had been, the carpet and walls were stained with ash and soot. The bat lay splintered at my feet. And my fingerless mittens were gone; they were now only a pile of shredded blue wool on the floor. The shirt Aunt Cathrine and I had made was gone, too. There were only a few shreds of red cloth on the ground and clinging to my t-shirt, but even they were crumbling away to nothing. 

"Oh, looks like you burned through the magic pretty quickly," Aunt Cathrine said, dusting the remains off my shoulders. "The more you need it, the more quickly it gets burned up. And it looks like you needed it. Or, at least you thought you needed it." She picked up the broken piece of the Louisville Slugger from the carpet. "Looks like you put all of that Woolen Strength into one swing, grasshopper!" 

I was still breathing heavy. Now that the Woven magic was wearing off, I was feeling sore all over. And cold, since all I was wearing was a t-shirt in the chilly building. "Aunt Cathrine," I said, unable to take my eyes from the bat's broken handle in my hand. "I'm ready to go home now." 

She put her arm around my shoulder and guided me from the room and down the old building's stairs. "Of course, kiddo. Hot chocolate from Starbucks on the way home, on me." She squeezed me tightly. "None of the other seventh-graders would believe them if you told them what you did this weekend, would they?" 

I numbly shook my head, but smiled anyway. 

We stepped from the building into the wintery January air. Aunt Cathrine took off her own coat and wrapped it around my shoulders. "You going to keep that promise, kiddo?" She  asked.  

I looked up to her, puzzled. "What promise?" 

"That you're never going to say you're life is boring, for as long as you live." 

I actually laughed, and leaned close to her so she could hug me tighter. She did. "For as long as I live."