Tag Archives: humor

Down With the Thickness 2: Stay at Home Dad Boogaloo Part 1

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I know this site has been really quiet these past few months. I’ve got a very good reason for that: on April 1st I got married to the most wonderful woman on the planet. Yes, that’s right. My wedding day was on April Fools.  We eloped, so the responses when we announced the good news on social media and through phone calls was about as entertaining as you’d expect. Every anniversary from here on out will be a ton of fun as well, I’m sure.

My wife has a four year old son. We’ve been dating for three years so I’ve been around since he was a year and a half, so this isn’t an entirely new experience for any of us. There isn’t a time in his life that he can remember where I wasn’t a part of the picture. The only real difference is I’m around all the time now as opposed to just a few times a week. I didn’t think that the difference would be that huge of an adjustment. Boy was I wrong. I worked as a youth director for close to a decade. I’ve designed and run after school programs, summer camps, and various other types of youth programs. I’ve been around kids, taught kids, practically helped raise other people’s kids my entire adult life. Again, I figured helping to raise a step-son wouldn’t be that much harder. I moved in like I was the new sheriff in town, completely confident in my ability to be a stay-at-home dad.

Boy, was I REALLY wrong there, too.

Let me tell you, there is a huge difference between taking care of someone else’s kids and taking care of your own. For one thing, when it’s someone else’s bundle of joy you get to send their little whiny butts home at the end of the day. I’ve always been a pretty solitary person but I enjoy being with the people that I love. My wife is my best friend and I enjoy her company most of all, even if it’s just sitting on a couch together doing absolutely nothing. That said, when you’re married with a young kid very seldom do you have ANY time alone. At all. Not even in the bathroom when you’re taking the browns to the super bowl. No, I’m not kidding, single folk.

Not. Even. Then.

That’s been a huge adjustment for me. I didn’t realize just how alone I was and how much I’d gotten used to it until I got married and moved in with my new family. Now from the moment I get up until the moment my son goes to bed I have a tiny hyperactive person, often literally, all over me. My only breaks are when I can get him to play in the bathtub (hooray bubble bath and toys!) or to take a nap (prepare for war). Before my idea of relaxation was to spend an entire day reading the new Dresden book or playing a video game. Now my idea of a relaxing vacation is parking in the Dairy Queen parking lot and eating a chicken strip basket while listening to an audiobook for half an hour.

That’s not to say that the experience thus far has been bad. Far from it. It’s just been…tiring. More tiring than I was expecting. Like I said, there has been a period of adjustment for us all, along with all the other fun trials and tribulations of everyday life that crop up. Trying to get student loans taken care of and all the fun red tape that comes with it. My wife has switched jobs. I’ve gotten hurt a few times in the last few months- my knee and my back- reminders that I’m not as young or spry as I used to be, which is made even more difficult and frustrating when it keeps me from being the dad that I want to be. I’ve also had to get to know my kid all over again under a different paradigm. He’s just now developing a little personality and learning to communicate and I’m used to working with slightly older kids, so it’s been difficult to adjust my expectations from him. I don’t want to be too hard on him, but at the same time I don’t want to be a push over either. He is a super smart kid. I mean, REALLY smart. With that comes the ability to know how to get your way and he is not above using emotional manipulation to his extreme advantage. He’s also so smart that it’s hard not to get frustrated with him quickly when he has difficulty with “simple” things that you’d think he’d catch on to right away. That’s not his fault, it’s mine, and it’s something I’ve had to try and avoid doing. Patience is definitely something that I’m working on.

A lot.

My experiences with kids has certainly helped, but this new sheriff isn’t exactly Buford Pusser. It’s been a learning curve, and one I’m still riding. I’m going to make an effort to update here more often about my experiences as a new dad. As for the writing, I finished my latest novel and am in the process of working up query letters to send out to agents. It’s slow going, for obvious reasons. That said, I really think that this book is “the one”. It is I think, by far, my best work to date, and responses from test readers has been really positive. Hopefully I’ll find an agent, and shortly after that a publisher that feels the same way.

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All Kindle Editions $0.99!

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We’ve decided to keep our sale prices as the permanent prices for the Kindle Editions for all our books, so from now on all Kindle e-books will be $0.99. We’re hoping this helps encourage people to pick them up and spread the word. The paperback prices will remain the same simply because of the cost of production- they’re already about as cheap as I can make them. If you’d like to visit our book page where you can find descriptions and samples of all our novels click here or on the picture of the book covers just above.

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Independance Day Sale: All Kindle Editions of Books $0.99!

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From Tuesday 7/02/13 until Monday 7/08/13 all of the Kindle editions of our novels will be just $0.99! Now is the time to pick up any that you might have missed!Just click on the covers or links below to purchase!

1. Down With The Thickness: Viewing The World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective

Genre: Non-Fiction Autobiography

Description: Regardless of body type, there are experiences that we all, as human beings, share and sometimes the key to overcoming the more difficult of those experiences is to look at things from a fresh point of view, with humor, or even to realize that there are other people out there that have been there and survived. I’ve dealt with depression, suicide, and being a morbidly obese guy living in a world about two or three sizes smaller than me. The following book is my perspective and opinions on things like life, relationships, and religion. I don’t profess to have all the answers, I just hope that someone somewhere out there might read this and be touched in some way.

Preview: Sample Chapter

Purchase: Click here for Paperback, Click here for Kindle.

2. You Only Die Twice (An Authentic Clay Colt Adventure#1)

Genre: Urban Sci-Fi/Detective

Description: Clay Colt and his partner Evelyn Wood are private investigators that sometimes have to do less-than-legal things to make ends meet. All that changes the day they see Clay’s dead Kharta’an friend tearing apart downtown Buenos Aries on the news. That dead friend was the son of the Executor of the Kharta’an Empire, the greatest warriors in the galaxy, and to the Kharta’an desecration of the dead is considered an act of war. Someone is using technology to reanimate the dead and Clay, as the the Kharta’an’s chosen agent, has just 48 hours to uncover the truth and find those responsible in order to prevent an intergalactic war where Earth will be ground zero.

Preview: Sample Chapter

Purchase: Click here for Paperback; Click here for Kindle

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3. The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1 (The Chronicles of Enoch #1)

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Description: There has been a war raging between Heaven and Hell for the fate of all creation, and the forces of Heaven are losing ground. The Enemy has discovered something that may tip the balance of the war in their favor, and now it’s up to Jude, the absentee leader of the warrior-priesthood known as the Chosen, and his new trainee Paul, to rally the disjointed forces of Heaven on Earth and find the source of this new threat. If they fail, it will mean that the forces of Hell will be free to run rampant across the Earth, ultimately leading to Armageddon and the end of all things. In the war between Heaven and Hell heroes are not made… they’re Chosen.

Preview: Sample Chapters

Purchase: Click here for a Kindle; Click here for Paperback

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4. The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 2 (The Chronicles of Enoch #2)

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

There is a traitor in the ranks, and unless Jude, leader of the Chosen, can find and stop them, they could tear the already-fractured forces of Heaven apart from the inside. Meanwhile, Paul has accepted Jude’s training but he quickly comes to question whether he’ll survive it. His concern is only magnified by Mary’s prophetic dreams, which are growing more intense and seem to focus on Paul, but could they hold the key to stopping the cultists? Armageddon is at hand, and if Jude and Paul don’t learn to work together and stop the cultist rituals from taking place it could mean the end for us all. In the war between Heaven and Hell heroes are not made…they’re Chosen.

Purchase: Click here for Kindle; Click here for Paperback

justsuperfont4. Just Super

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Description: There is something very different and very special about Keith Green- he has “super powers.” Keith Green also has only six months to live because those powers are slowly killing him. This is the story that reporter Sam Daylin is hired to chronicle, as Keith spends the last six months of his life trying to use his powers to help people and change the world as the its first “superhero”. However, the more that  his illness begins to affect him, the more erratic Keith begins to act. The world’s first superhero could become the world’s greatest threat, and Sam Daylin may be the only person who is in a position to stop him.

Preview: Sample: Chapter 1, Sample: Chapter 5

Purchase: Click here for Kindle;  Click here for a paperback.

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Moving On: Chapter Six

 

Moving On

“Dude! Dave, snap out of it!”             

Riley shakes my shoulder and I completely spaz. With a scream I flail and end up falling out of the chair. I’m still flailing and screaming when Robin bends down, lays a hand on my chest, and speaks in a soothing, calm tone of voice. “David, listen to me. You need to calm down. It’s okay. Relax. You’re safe, David. You’re with friends now. It’s over.”

Eventually the screams die out and my throat feels raw. I’m beginning to hyperventilate, my whole body is shaking, and I feel almost as bad as I had after being sling-shotted. What the hell was that?

Now that I’m not freaking out nearly as bad, Robin is trying to sooth the others. As I fight to steady my breathing my eyes drift over to where the kids had been sitting. They’re all huddled together in a corner, holding their hands over each other’s ears. They look terrified and I feel like an ass for scaring them, even though it wasn’t intentional. It’s not like they haven’t been through enough already. The rest of the group looks equally wigged out. Some stood up to get a better view of the show. The young couple is over by the kids, trying to calm them down and get them back into their chairs. The rest are still in their seats with various expressions of “what the hell?!” on their faces as they stare down at me. I guess what just happened to me isn’t exactly common.

Figures.

Robin holds up his hands in a placating gesture, as though he’s trying to calm a frightened animal. “It’s okay, everyone. David will be okay. He just had a flashback of his death, is all. That happens sometimes. It’s very intense, but he’ll be fine. Everyone, please, just take a seat and we’ll get started again in a few minutes.”

He turns his attention back to me. “David, are you all right?”

I was a damn sight short of “all right” but I manage to nod and mutter, “Yeah.”

He and Riley each offer me a hand and pull me up. I’m still shaky but they manage to get me back into my chair. My body feels like jello, and it takes effort to keep myself upright and resist sliding back down to the floor. I’m supposed to be a freaking ghost! Why is my body acting like I’m drunk?

Robin waits until I’m not squirming any more before asking sincerely, “Are you okay, David? I know the first time that happens can be pretty traumatic.”

The only thing I can manage is, “What the hell?”

He nods, understanding. “I know. It’s upsetting, just as much after the experience as it is during. We don’t have physical bodies anymore, but we still remember what it’s like to have them.” He points to his head and taps his temple a few times with his finger. “This makes it real. It still reacts as though you’re still alive and in your body. It’s why you’re still breathing heavy right now, even though you really don’t need air…or even technically even still have lungs. It’s what you think you should be doing, so you are.”

That’s ridiculous.

He must see the disbelief in my expression because he smiles and shrugs. “You’re skeptical, I can tell. Try me. Really think about why you’re reacting the way you are. Think about why you’re breathing heavy. Really concentrate on it.”

I want to tell him to shove it. I’m reacting this way because I’m scared out of my mind! How else am I supposed to act?

But I guess that’s his point, isn’t it? I’m only reacting how I think I should be.

I focus on my heavy breathing. It feels like all those times I’d tried to go for runs like all the other good yuppies. I’ve never been very athletic, and after about five minutes of jogging I’d end up breathing like an asthmatic. My chest would burn and I’d struggle to try and breathe normally… just like I’m doing now.

That’s really stupid. I’m a ghost. I don’t have lungs. I don’t need to breathe. Why am I doing this?

To my complete surprise, all at once, my chest stops burning and I’m not breathing at all. Then I start to panic because I’m not breathing at all! Then I realize just how stupid that is, and I’m fine again.

Jeebus, at this rate I’ll end up in a ghost nuthouse.

Robin smiles and pats me on the back. “Good! You picked up on that pretty quick. Usually it takes people a lot longer.”

My throat still feels hoarse, and now I wonder how much of that is in my head and how much is real. Does this body really “feel” anything? Can I be hurt?

I don’t know, but thinking about it is giving me a headache…which is another thing to think about.

Dammit!

“Yeah, I’m special that way. What the hell was that?”

Robin blinks for a second, confused. “Uh, like I just said, you had a flashback to your death. Death is traumatic, and for spirits, when we remember our deaths, it’s like we’re reliving it. Kind of like a ghost version of PTSD.”

I wave a hand and shake my head. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get that. I mean the things at the end. The shadow people.”

Robin’s expression darkens and suddenly Mr. Rodgers isn’t having such a great day in the neighborhood anymore. His voice drops to barely a whisper and he leans down closer to me. “You saw them?”

The intensity in his stare makes me flinch back a little, but I nod. “Yeah, what hell are they?”

He glances around nervously at the others before leaning back in and whispering in my ear, “See me after the meeting and we’ll talk about it. I don’t want to frighten the others.”

Frustration flares but I manage to keep myself in check. No sense in pissing off the one guy who might have answers. Besides, as freaked out as he looks right now, I know arguing won’t do anything but make things worse. “Fine.”

Robin straightens and closes his eyes for just a moment, calming himself, and then he takes his place back at the head of the group. He tries to put on a front that says everything is fine, but I can tell that my mentioning of the shadow people is really flipping his wig. Whatever they are, they’re obviously not good, which is freaking me out even more.

If I was really reliving my death, does that mean that those…things were there when I died? If so, why? They didn’t exactly look friendly…

Son of a bitch, ever since I died my life has just gone straight to hell.

Robin claps his hands to get everyone’s attention again and he forces himself to chuckle. “Well, that was a little bit of excitement, huh? David is going to be okay, everyone. That kind of thing does tend to happen every once in a while, so if it happens to you, please, just give yourself a little time to recover. It can be very upsetting, but I promise you’ll be fine.” He looks back at me. He’s smiling, but there’s a new intensity behind his expression. “David, how are you doing now?”

I’m freaking the hell out, that’s how I’m doing!

“I’m fine.”

“You feel up to giving it another go?” He holds up a hand before I can respond. “If not, it’s totally understandable.”

To be honest, I’m nervous as hell about trying making myself “appear” again. What if the flashback hits and those things are there? But I can’t keep running if I want to get the hell out of this…plane of existence or whatever the damn term is. I know that being able to make myself be seen is a necessary step in that direction. “No, I want to try again.”

Robin genuinely smiles this time, a little bit of sunlight breaking back through the clouds. “That’s great, David; very brave of you. Okay, I want you to close your eyes again and think about what you looked like, and then keep that image in your mind. Focus on it and believe that it’s still how you look. Concentrate on that thought alone- ‘this is who I am.’”

I nod and close my eyes again. I picture myself, how I’ve always seen myself when I look in the mirror. I don’t focus on any particular memory, because that’s how I got into trouble the last time. Instead, I imagine that I’m standing in front of a full length mirror and looking at myself. I’m 5’10. I weight about 180 pounds with a broad build, but thin. My brown hair is trimmed short and well groomed. I’m clean shaven, with brown eyes, a slightly angular face. Jenna always said that she thought I looked like a younger John Hamm. I thought she was nuts, but I wasn’t about to argue with her. Who would? John Hamm is like masculine sexuality personified and if my hot girlfriend wanted to see me that way who was I to disillusion her?

I start to imagine I’m in one of my suits, but that’s not really me. That was a role I had to play. I was always more comfortable in jeans or khakis and a t-shirt. I decide to go with my favorite pair of jeans and the navy blue sweater that Jenna had gotten me for Christmas. She liked the way it looked on me. Satisfied, I hold that image of myself in my mind, focus on it, and then I open my eyes.

Everyone around the circle is smiling at me. The kids all start to enthusiastically clap and cheer, which encourages the rest to do the same. I look down at my hands and see, well, my hands. I’m wearing the jeans and the blue sweater.

I’m me.

I start to laugh again, but this time with relief and pride, and for a few precious moments I’m not worried about anything. For the first time in a long time I’m ecstatic just being me.

Robin is practically beaming. “Great job, David! You just took a big step.”   

Yep, me and Neil Armstrong. I thank everyone and once the cheering dies down Robin stands up and addresses the group again. “Okay, guys, I think we’ve had a pretty eventful night already, so let’s just call it a bit early. We’ll meet back here at the same time tomorrow. Remember to practice what you’ve learned, and I want you to keep working on your lists of things that you think you may need to address in order to move on, okay? Great. Good night, everyone.”

Everyone comes by to shake my hand and officially introduce themselves, but Robin comes to my rescue. “Hey folks? David has had a rough night. Why don’t we give him a chance to recover a bit, huh? I’m sure he wants to meet you all, but let’s save it for tomorrow, okay?”

I smile and give everyone a little wave as they disperse. Some just sort of fade away, others fly through the ceiling or walls and after a few seconds it’s just Riley, Robin, and me. Robin looks really nervous as he gestures back towards the chairs. “We better sit down.”

As soon as my spirit butt hits the chair Robin is leaning in and looking deadly serious. “I want you to tell me exactly what you saw and felt, as best as you can. I know how painful that might be for you, but it’s important.”

I feel Riley pat me on my shoulder. “It’s okay, man.”

I nod and relay what I saw and felt as best as I can, though I’m sure to not concentrate on anything in particular for too long. That’s a really fun balancing act to try and manage, but I sure as hell don’t want to trigger another flashback. The entire time I’m speaking Robin’s expression is growing increasingly sour, and when I finally finish and describe the three shadow people he looks like he’s seen, well, a ghost.

“This isn’t good. No, not good at all.”

“Gee, Robin. You really know how to reassure a guy.”

His head snaps up and he looks like he might be sick. “This isn’t funny.”

Anger flares again, but I don’t bother holding back this time. I stand up so quickly that my chair flies backward. “No shit! I’m fucking terrified right now, so how about one of you give me a straight answer as to what the hell is going on! What were those things?”

“Vampires.”

I spin and look down at Riley. I expect to see him smiling but he looks almost as scared as I feel. “Vampires?! Give me a break, Riley.”

Robin stands up and shakes his head. “That’s just what we’ve come to call them. They aren’t vampires in the way that you’re thinking. They used to be spirits just like us, but now they’re…something else.”

Riley chimes in, “They’re really old spirits that have hung around long after they should have faded. Their tethers are gone, but they stick around by feeding on other spirits.” He suddenly gets a really distant look on his face that creeps me out. “Mike told me all about them after a couple tried to do it to me, right after I died.” His voice drops to barely a whisper. “Mike stopped them.”

“Mike stopped them? How?”

Riley shakes his head and jumps up from his chair. “I- I’m sorry, I just can’t talk about this right now. I’ve gotta get back to Becca.”

Before I can protest, Riley takes off faster than my old cat when the vacuum came on.

Damn.

“He has a reason to be afraid, and so do you, David.” Robin gestures for us to sit again and I reluctantly take the chair that Riley had vacated. “Those spirits are bad news.  They roam in packs, and when they feed, they completely drain their victims. It dissipates them.”

“Dissipates?”

Robin nods solemnly, holds up both fists, and then dramatically snaps them open, like a child describing an explosion.

“Poof. Gone. Spiritual death.”

Spiritual death? Well, things just keep getting better and better.

Main Archive Page   Chapter 7 ->

Copyright © J.R. Broadwater 2013

All rights reserved

All of the characters are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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Moving On: Chapter Five

Moving On

The awesome thing about being a spirit is that being stuck in a bathroom all day wasn’t nearly as horrible as I was expecting due to the weird way time passes for me now. It also didn’t hurt that Riley left pretty early on to go back to Becca, promising that he’d be back at sundown. I don’t care how fast the time passing thing is for ghosts; when Riley is around, time slows to a crawl.

Thanks to Michael-the-maybe-angel I had plenty to think about to keep me occupied. The basic gist I’m getting is that I need to find a way to resolve whatever crap I’m still holding on to in order to “move on” to whatever comes next. Turns out, when I decided to try and be honest with myself and really think about what that might entail, it became a pretty long list.

Mike was right, I have issues.

At the top of the list is my relationship with Jenna. She’s pretty much the last person I want to think about right now, and I could act like a complete child and just deny it until I’m forced to face it, but what’s the point? After the emotional butt kicking I received last night when Michael basically called me on all my bullshit, I realized that I spent an entire lifetime running away from stuff that made me uncomfortable or that I didn’t want to face. All that’s earned me is a one way ticket to bathroom purgatory. Mike was right, as hard as it may be to admit, it’s time I sucked it up and dealt with it. He could have been less of a jerk about it, but a spade’s a spade.

That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, and it doesn’t mean it’s at the top of my to-do list. I didn’t become the witty, neurotic, narcissist I am overnight, and a paradigm shift certainly isn’t going to change me that quickly either. It’s going to take progression, and as the popular saying goes: admittance is the first step. The next step is coming up with a game plan.

So it looks like I’m going to have to pull a Scrooge and face my past demons. I’m hoping I’m able to learn some stuff from the more experienced ghosts that might help in that regard, as I’m sure just figuring this crap out for myself isn’t going to give me all the closure I’ll need, or they’ll need, or however the hell this is supposed to work. Being able to interact with the living will be a big help.

Knowing that confronting Jenna is probably the biggest hurdle I’m going to have to face somehow makes the whole thing seem more manageable. I know where I need to go; I can see the mountain top, so now I just have to build myself up by tackling the little stuff, the little hills, until I feel ready to face Everest. Not that there’s really a lack of “little stuff”. While the tragic death of the only relationship I was ever capable of making work for any length of time was certainly a big factor in my decision throw in the towel in the game of life, it was hardly the only one. It really did feel like the whole world was out to get me. Trust me; there be hills a-plenty for me to climb.

But before any climbing can happen I need to get out of this damn bathroom.

The little Mickey Mouse clock mounted on the wall opposite the toilet tells me it’s six in the evening, which means that any minute now I should be good to go. I’m hesitant to test that theory by way of the doorway. Unmanly as that may sound, that shit hurt. Still, I’m not getting anywhere just sitting here being scared.

I walk over to the doorway and cautiously reach out my left hand… it goes through. No donkey-kick to the chest. Free at last, free at last! Still, I can’t help but wince as I step through the doorway, half expecting to get knocked on my butt anyway as some sort of spirit world practical joke. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen. I never thought I’d be so happy to see my Ikea-furnished living room.

I’d kill for a Frappuccino right now.

Just because I’m dead and don’t need to eat anymore doesn’t mean that those human cravings have gone. Thank God I never picked up smoking; otherwise I’d really be twitchy. I take a seat on my couch, twiddling my thumbs, and silently wish I could turn on the television. I’ve spent all day being introspective and it’d be nice to have something to take my mind off of things while I wait.

“Well, looks who’s finally out of the bathroom! How ya feeling, Dave?”

I glance up to see Riley’s head staring down at me from the ceiling. His right hand appears and gives me a little wave.

I stand up, anxious to get moving. “Much better, and itching to get out of here.”

“Well alrighty! Follow me.”

The head and hand disappear back into the ceiling above me and I leap after them. I catch up to Riley outside and fly alongside him, close enough so we can hear each other over the roar of the wind. “So where are we headed?”

“You know that YMCA downtown?”

I have to think for a second. “The one they closed a few years ago?”

“That’s the one. We meet in the basement. No one is likely to bother us down there.”

“So how many other spirits are we talking?”

“Hard to say. Depends on how many people in our area died without moving on, and how many of us spirits have moved on since last night.”

Makes sense. “How big is our area?”

“Just a few miles, man, otherwise it’d be nutso. Mike has a network of little hubs spread out in every city.”

I want to whistle, but flying at high speeds isn’t exactly conducive for that kind of thing. Now that Riley has pointed it out it seems obvious, but until now I never really thought about the logistics of how something like this would run. Especially when you consider Mike is doing it in every city in the world. At least, I assume he is. I guess if I were him I’d be a little crabby too if I had to stop managing a worldwide network of the wayward dead just to talk with one asshole.

The city whips by in a blur and it only takes us a few minutes to reach the YMCA. Without preamble we dip straight into the building and head for the basement, and I feel a little beam of pride in myself for not flinching this time as we ghost through the floors and walls. As we pass I can make out several homeless people who have taken up residence in the abandoned building. One enterprising couple has pulled in an old steel drum and has lit a fire for warmth. The bright orange sparks of ash dance dangerously close to flammable debris and walls. I guess someone shut off the sprinkler system in the building, or it just doesn’t work due to lack of maintenance.

It looks as though the entire first floor of the multi-storied building has been used as a large canvas for graffiti art, and I catch a glimpse of a particularly impressive looking dragon breathing fire before we dip below into the basement. Given the hobo-fire above, I fervently hope that wasn’t an omen. If so, we may have a few new members to our little support group tomorrow.

The basement is filled with broken chairs, old gym mats, and various other bits of dilapidated equipment that no one wanted to loot or bother burning. Unfortunately, being dead hasn’t dulled my senses much, so I get to enjoy the full bouquet of stale sweat, human feces, and broken dreams that permeates the very foundation of the building.

Fun fact: ghosts still have a gag reflex. When the full impact of the smell hits me I retch, and I hear Riley chuckling behind me.

“Yeah man, that smell is something else. Believe it or not, you get used to it.”

Huelk…Thanks for the warning, buddy.”

“Hey man, we’ve got to have some fun. Think of it as a newbie rite of passage.”  

Laughter echoes all around us as ten other spirits mist into view. They’re all the same blue-white luminescent glow as Riley and I, but there is a definite difference in body type and stature among them. It’s like I’m watching the Smurfs while tripping on LSD.

I smirk at the one leading the pack, who I assume is the one who just spoke. He’s a bit taller than the others and appears to have a thin frame that matches mine. “You must be Frat Boy Smurf. Nice to meet you.”

He chuckles and offers me a hand. “I’m Robin.”

I take the hand and give it a firm shake. I’m still amazed at how that works given we’re technically incorporeal. “And these are your merry men?”

He laughs as he lets me have my hand back. “Given that a few of them are women, no. We’re living in a politically correct society now. The proper phrase is ‘merry persons.’”

“My mistake. I’m David.”

He laughs again and gestures for me to follow. “C’mon, David, the smell isn’t so bad in here.”

He leads the charge as the others fall in line behind him, and we head into a side room that I assume used to be for extra storage. It’s since been converted into a ghost’s anonymous meeting room, complete with a circle of chairs. The only thing that’s missing is a table with refreshments in the back.

Robin takes a seat and we all follow suit. “All right everyone, let’s get this party started. We’ve already been introduced to David, but David hasn’t been introduced to us, so let’s do that now. Everyone concentrate just like we’ve been practicing.”

Everyone closes their eyes and, to my astonishment, one by one the group goes from smurf-o-vision to real life. Robin looks like a younger Mr. Rodgers, complete with yellow sweater and khakis. He’s flanked by an elderly lady in a yellow flower-print dress and an overweight, middle-aged, bald guy in a plumber’s uniform. His name tag says Robert. The others in the room are a nice mix of ages, races, and gender. There’s an African American guy, mid-late twenties, in a business suit; a young Hispanic couple in matching polos and jeans; and an elderly oriental man. My heart completely breaks when my eyes come to the last three. They’re kids- two boys and a little girl. They’re maybe eight years old and are all wearing t-shirts that read “Wilmington Elementary!” with a picture of a rainbow and multicultural stick figures with smiles on their faces holding hands under it.

I get a much-needed laugh when I get to Riley. In fact, I almost fall out of my chair because I’m laughing so hard. Riley is sporting dirty-blonde dreads, hemp khakis, and a “Jesus Saves After Every Level” t-shirt. He is a walking, talking cliché, and I love him for it.

“Dude, what is it?”

When I can manage to speak between gasps for air I manage, “I bet myself that you’d have dreads;” which sends me into a new fit of giggles that I just can’t stop. Then the kids join in and a few moments later everyone is having a good belly laugh, even Riley.

Eventually I try to apologize through wheezing breaths, but Riley just laughs along with the rest of us and pats me on the back. “It’s all good, man. I know I got style.”

When everyone sobers Robin nods at me. “Now it’s your turn, David. Close your eyes and think about who you are. Try and picture yourself in your mind as though you’re looking in a mirror.”

I tend to make jokes and be sarcastic when I’m nervous. It’s a defense mechanism and sometimes it makes me come off as kind of a douchebag, especially when the people I’m around are being serious or sincere.  That’s what happening now, with everyone’s eyes on me, but I fight the urge to make a comment and I do as he instructed.

I try to think of what I saw the last time I looked at myself in the mirror. It was yesterday morning, just before I took the razor to my wrists in my bathroom. I was about to get in the shower and prepare myself for another day at an office full of people I hate and who despise me right back…

I reach for the shaving cream on the counter and my hand pauses there, hovering just over where my Gillette razor is resting in its little holster. That’s when the idea hits me: What am I doing? Why am I even bothering? I hate my life. I hate my job. The one good thing I had, that had made me feel at least a little content, walked out on me, and I don’t blame her one bit.

I am a pathetic, unhappy man who is far too smart for his own good and has never made anything of himself with it. I’ve wasted my time. I’ve wasted my life. I’ve never really been happy. Why not just let it all go? What do I really have to live for?

I look up at the mirror. I stare into eyes like two chips of ice. They’re sad eyes, almost dead. I’m already almost dead.

Time to finish the job.

I flip the razor holster over to where the spare razors are held. I pull one out and look at it. No, this’ll be a pain in the ass to use. It won’t work. I open my drawer and I shove stuff around. I know it’s in here somewhere…there. I pull out an old straight razor. It used to be my grandfather’s. My father had given it to me on my sixteenth birthday. He’d told me I was a man now and it was time to start acting like one. He made me shave with it and I cut the hell out of myself that first time. He just laughed at me. He laughed as I bled and cried…

I open the razor and stare at the blade. It glints in the fluorescent light of my bathroom, mesmerizing me. I’d never realized just how beautiful the thing was. I feel a hunger growing inside me. My eyes are drawn down from the blade to my wrists. It’s like a siren’s call, and I know I’m doing the right thing.

The blade bites, red runs. I quickly switch hands while I still have feeling and do the other side. The blade falls from hands unable to hold it any longer. My knees go weak and drop me to the cold linoleum floor. I feel sticky warmth where the blood is pooling around my body, and I start to drift as my life drains away. The last thing I see before the darkness takes me are three men, all in shadow, smiling down at me with predatory grins…

Main Archive Page   Chapter 6 ->

Copyright © J.R. Broadwater 2013

All rights reserved

All of the characters are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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Moving On: Chapter Four

Moving On

The candles go out as he disappears, leaving me sitting in the dark. When I was a kid and my mom used to drag me to church, our cranky pastor used to do that to the church lights when he was ready to get home to his fried chicken and football but his “flock” was hanging around gossiping for too long after service.

You know, subtle.

“Wow, Mike. Thanks for that.”

I know I should get going, but I just don’t have the energy to get up and move yet. Instead, I find myself thinking long and hard about some of the things Mike said. I think about Riley and how I treated him today. I think about how he died and what he left behind. I find I’m ashamed to admit that I wouldn’t have done what he did to save that woman. I’d like to think I would have been one of those people that would go back in the store and at least call the police, but I know I would never have directly tried to intervene myself.

That line of thinking leads me to Mike’s rather blunt assessment of the kind of man I was, and I guess still am. I never really thought of myself as a bad guy. Then again, I guess most narcissists wouldn’t, would they? I did always see myself as the smartest person in the room. I’d get frustrated when I saw people who were walking disasters get promoted ahead of me. I’d feel left out because I wouldn’t be invited out after work. I felt like my world fell out from underneath my feet when Jenna walked out the d-

No.

No, I’m not going to think about that. Not now. I’ve got enough to deal with as it is. Right now, I need to get my not-quite-solid butt back to my “tether” before sunrise. I don’t know what Mike’s definition of “unpleasant” is, but I sure as hell don’t want to find out.

Of course, as soon as I have that thought, a beam of muted sunlight breaks through the grime on the church windows and hits me right in the eye. Very funny, Michael, God, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or whoever the hell is running things.

Very.

Funny.

“Well, shi-“

 It feels as though my entire body is being pulled inside out. My stomach does flip flops like I’m on the worst rollercoaster in the history of bad theme park rides, and just when I feel like I can’t stand it any longer I find myself back on the floor of the bathroom in my apartment- a mirror image of my position the day before. I also feel like I got hit by a semi-truck, backed over, and then run over again for good measure. It hurts to move. Hell, it even hurts to blink.

“Well, looks like someone got sling-shotted. Sucks, don’t it?”

Against my better judgment I force my eyes to open and instantly regret it as the slow, persistent pounding in my head suddenly becomes a death metal drummer. Once my eyes focus I see Riley staring down at me from his perch on my bathroom sink. He shakes his head in sympathy. “Harsh, man. Same thing happened to me my first night.”

I grunt in affirmation. It’s all I can manage. He nods in understanding and hops down from the sink. “Well bro, good news is the crappy feeling will pass in a few minutes.” He casually looks around the room. “Wow, your landlord was quick on the trigger to get this place cleaned up. It looks much nicer without all the blood and unhappy people everywhere.”

I grunt again and try to sit up. Big mistake. The room spins and my head drops back to the floor.

Riley helpfully chimes in, “Yeah bro, don’t rush it. Only makes it worse.”

Thanks, Riley. You’re a veritable fount of helpful information.

I lay on the floor for a few minutes, first wishing for death, then realizing that I’m already dead, followed closely by wondering if this might be hell and if the devil is just screwing with me. Meanwhile, Riley has been rambling the entire time, but I’ve been too focused on feeling like hammered dog crap to pay any attention. After about five minutes of this routine I finally feel like I can sit up and manage to do so.

Riley, pleasant and cheery as ever, waves at me excitedly. “Look who’s finally up!”

I try to remember the harrowing tale of Riley’s death and home life that Michael told me last night, but instead all I see are images of me beating him like a piñata and wondering if candy might come out. That mental image makes me smile, an expression that Riley takes as encouragement.  

“There we go, buddy! Feeling better?”

The smile dies a horrible, messy death, as I groan and try to stand up. I’m a little wobbly, but manage to make it without falling back on my butt. “This. Sucks.”

Riley nods emphatically. “Yeah, man. You better believe I’m home long before sunup every day after that first night. Once was more than enough for this guy. You should be right as rain in a few. You have a nice place here, by the way. I didn’t really get a chance to look around last time.”

I use the sink for support as I mutter, “Yeah, thanks.”

I’m feeling a little guilty about the piñata thing now that the pain isn’t wracking my body. As I watch Riley look around like a yokel during his first trip to a real city I feel a pang of sympathy for him. “Hey Riley, I’m glad you came by today. I wanted to tell you I’m sorry if I was kind of a jerk yesterday.”

He waves the comment away like he’s shooing a fly. “Naw man. It’s cool. You had a lot to process. I understand.”

I manage a smile for him. “Thanks. How’s your wife doing, by the way?”

I didn’t think it was possible for Riley to get any perkier than he already was, but I’m wrong. He starts to beam. “She’s doing great, man! Won’t be long now! I’m so excited I can hardly stand it! I’m going to be a father!”

I nod. “Yeah, congratulations. Michael told me all about it last night.” I study the floor for a few moments, my own shame suddenly overcoming me. Here I was, a man who took his own life, standing with another who had his taken from him. I hadn’t really thought of it that way until this moment. “I’m sorry, about what happened to you. It’s not fair.”

The sunshine dims just a bit, but he still manages a wan smile. “Yeah, that sucked pretty hard, man.” He shrugs. “But crap happens, ya know? That lady ended up okay, and I’m still able to be there for Becca. So, it’s all good.”

I shake my head. “I don’t think I’d be taking it half as well as you. I mean, you still get to see her, but it’s got to be hard not being able to talk to her, or for her to see you back, right?”

He frowns. “What are you talking about man? She can see and talk to me.”

He starts to laugh again as he points at me and what I’m sure is a comical expression of dumbstruck confusion. “Oh! You got me! You’re just messin’ with me!”

Maybe the slingshot trip messed me up more than I thought. I try to stand up straight and shake my head. “Wait, are you saying Becca can see and hear you?”

“Sure, man! I mean, it takes some real concentration, and it can be draining so I can’t do it for long periods, but she’s my tether, so it’s not too bad.”

Unbelievable. Michael had mentioned it was a possibility last night but I’d not really paid much attention to it. “So, does it work for other people too, or just Becca?”

He stops pacing around the room and scratches at his head. The action kicks up little wisps of spirit-smoke. “You know, I’m not sure! I haven’t really tried it with anyone else.”

“So how does it work?”

He leans against the doorway and I half expect him to fall right through like out of a slapstick cartoon. “Well, it takes a lot of practice. I think I scared Becca half to death the first few times. It’s like, you gotta really concentrate on what you’re doing.” To demonstrate he walks back over to the sink and grunts as he picks up my toothbrush that’s resting on the counter. He’s obviously straining with concentration and effort, but sure enough he’s lifting it. In the mirror’s reflection it looks like the toothbrush is floating on its own. “You have to focus on each word, and have really clear in your head what you want them to see and hear… or in this case, what you want to move.”

He sets the toothbrush back down and falls against the counter for support, breathing heavily, like it weighed a ton. “Whew!”

He has to catch his “breath” for a second before continuing, “It’s almost like when you’re all bound up from not eating enough of that nasty bran cereal, so you’re trying real hard to take a-“

I hold up a hand. “Yeah, I’m picking up what you’re throwing down, Riley. Thanks.”

He gives me a thumbs up as he pushes off the counter and stands up straight. “No problem, man. It’s actually kinda why I came by this morning. I was thinking you might want to meet a few of the other locals, you know? We try to meet once a day and talk. Help each other out.”

  I can’t help but chuckle. “What, like a spirit support group?”

He laughs with me but nods. “Yeah, something like that. They might be able to tell you stuff I can’t. A lot of them have more experience with this ghosting thing than I’ve got. They’re the ones that taught me how to do my little magic trick there. If anyone can teach you about how to make yourself be seen and heard, it’s these folks.”

I nod and take a few test steps. When I manage to walk a straight line without falling over I figure I’ll be okay to leave. “That’s a good idea man. Thanks. Let’s head out.”

He starts to warn me but I’m not listening as I try to step through the bathroom doorway and into my living room. The next thing I know I’m back on the floor and the death metal drummer is getting to his solo in my head. “What. The. Hell!?”

I look up and see Riley wincing in sympathy. “Ooohhh, sorry. I tried to warn you but wasn’t fast enough. I think you’re still on the energy mend, bro. You probably won’t be able to leave for a little while. It’s all good though, cuz the meeting isn’t until sundown anyway.”

The dizziness fades quickly, thank God for small favors, and I’m able to stand back up. “Wait, so I’m stuck in here until I recharge? How long is that going to take?”

 “Well, since you got sling-shotted, it’ll probably take most of the day.” He shrugs. “At least it did for me.”

“So I have to spend the day stuck here in my bathroom?!”

He nods, and then sticks his head through the doorway to admire my living room. “Yeah, that sucks man. You should have killed yourself in here! You’ve got a sweet setup!”

Anger and visions of piñatas are back with a vengeance, and I growl through gritted teeth, “Hey Riley? You like candy?”

Main Archive Page   Chapter 5 ->

Copyright © J.R. Broadwater 2013

All rights reserved

All of the characters are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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Moving On: Chapter Three

Moving On

If ghosts had bladders I’d be peeing right now. Just as suddenly as it appeared, the light blinks out and a man with short blonde hair wearing a white t-shirt and jeans is in its place. With a bemused smile he winks at me and says, “Boo!”

I lower my hands and grimace as he laughs. When he sobers he waves his hands around the room and says, “I’m sorry about the theatrics, but it’s just too much fun to pass up.”

I fold my arms over my chest. I’m still extremely nervous, but I’m also more than fed up with being screwed around with. I put up with that crap all the time when I was still alive, and I’ll be damned if I’ll put up with it while I’m dead. “I didn’t realize that angels had a sense of humor.”

He grins as he leans back on the alter. “Who said I was an angel?”

I mimic his previous gesture and indicate the building and all the candles. “You saying you’re not? What with the church, the candles, the blinding light, and the big booming voice?”

His grin becomes lopsided, like Harrison Ford about to deliver a one-liner. “Well, maybe I just really dig the Wizard of Oz.”

And this is where I finally lose it.

“Can someone please just give me a damned straight answer! I slit my wrists to get away from bullshit like this! So I could finally find some kind of peace! What do I get instead? A bad LSD trip, a brain dead hippy, and a smart assed angel! Is that all life is?! Am I doomed to just be eternally miserable surrounded by morons and assholes?! God!”

Now that I’ve spent all that pent up frustration I feel like a total idiot. Michael hasn’t so much as blinked since I started my little tirade and he’s still just staring at me with that smug grin on his face. We stand like that for a few minutes before he finally pushes off of the alter and arches an eyebrow at me. “You done throwing your little temper tantrum?”

Anger, hot and fierce, blooms in my chest again, but I bite back my response. As if Michael could tell, he nods and takes a few steps towards me. “Good. Now we can get started.”

My voice is strained, and I’m suddenly very tired as I float down to the floor. “Started with what?”

“What you came here for. Answers.” He shrugs. “Well, some of them anyway. There are some things you’re going to have to figure out for yourself.”

Before I can say anything he holds up a hand to forestall comment. “Not my rules, David. There are some things you’re going to have to work through on your own. It’s a part of the process.” He levels a finger at my chest. “And it’s your own fault.”

Exasperated, I point to myself. “My fault?”

He sighs. “You took your own life, David. You left a lot of things unresolved. You basically just made the process a whole lot more complicated for yourself.”

I rub my face with my hands, surprised that they feel solid but too tired to care why at this point. “More complicated. Just freaking great. And you send Riley the village idiot to explain things to me. Thanks for that.”

For the first time Michael actually looks angry. In the blink of an eye he’s nose to nose with me and jabbing me in the chest with a rather large finger. “You stow that crap right now, you hear me? Riley may be a bit eccentric, but he’s a good man and he volunteered to help you when nobody else really wanted the job.”

Ouch. So I’m a pariah even in the afterlife. Sucks to be me.

I wince but still can’t help but retort, “If Riley is such a good man, then why is he still here in limbo? Why didn’t he just get a free pass to the other side or whatever?”

Michael’s hard expression goes soft, and he suddenly looks as tired as I feel. He nods over at a pew next to us and takes a seat. Reluctantly, I join him. Once I’m seated he leans forward on the pew in front of us, like it’s Sunday School and all he wants to do is go back to sleep. “He should have, but Riley chose to stay.”

I snort. “He chose to stay?”

Idiot.

As if he can hear my unspoken thought Michael stares daggers at me and repeats, “He’s a good man; a good man who doesn’t want to leave his wife alone on this world while she’s still pregnant with their unborn child.”

Aaand my smug balloon is popped. “Oh.”

Michael sits up and continues heaping the coals on my head. “He was at a grocery store about a month ago, picking up some things for his wife when, as he was leaving, he heard a woman scream. She was being attacked by a man in a side alley. Most people would have just kept walking, afraid to get involved. Maybe they would have run back in the store and called the police, knowing that by the time they responded it’d be too late to help. Not Riley. He didn’t hesitate for a second. He ran to help her, and he was stabbed in the chest while trying to pull the man off of that poor woman. Riley was a hero, and saved that woman from being raped and probably killed. He gave his life for a total stranger, and now he refuses to leave his pregnant wife alone until his child is born. But, he still volunteered to take a day away and go to help you through your transition.”

Wow.

Who has two corporeal thumbs and feels like a total ass?

This guy.

He lets it sink in for a moment before adding, “Just something to think about the next time you see him…if he decides to see you again.”

I nod, unable to speak past the foot in my mouth.

“So!” Michael’s voice brightens as he slaps me lightly on the back. “Here’s what you need to know for now. Riley already told you about the most important thing.”

I mutter, “Moving on?”

“Yep! You may not have cared for his description of it, but believe it or not it was fairly apt. You need to resolve whatever crap it is you’re still carrying around with you that’s holding you on this plane of existence. Until you do, you can’t go on to what’s next.”

I glance up at him. “What is next?”

He smiles and shakes his head. “No spoilers. Right now what you need to focus on is you. Whatever comes next is entirely dependent on that.”

I sigh in frustration, wanting to protest but knowing it’s pointless, and nod my head instead. “Okay, so what do I need to do?”

“That’s entirely up to you.”

I glare at him but he’s unphased. “Hey man, it’s not my life. I can’t tell you about you and what you need. You’re the only one that knows that, whether you realize it or not. This isn’t a paint by numbers kind of thing. Riley wasn’t wrong, though. It’s important that you don’t throw a pity party for yourself and just hang out at your tether for too long. You do that and you’ll start to lose yourself. All that’ll remain is a shade that’s entirely fueled by those unresolved feelings.”

“Thanks, Doctor Phil.”

 He chuckles.

“So, what’s a tether?”

“It’s your emotional anchor to this world. For someone like Riley, it’s a person that he deeply loves. For someone like you, it’s usually where you died.”

I snap, “What’s that supposed to mean? ‘Someone like me?’”

His demeanor darkens and his blue eyes become tiny ice crystals. “A suicide.”

“Oh.”

“And one of the first things you might want to work on is that huge chip on your shoulder. The world was never really out to get you, you know.”

I grunt. “Coulda fooled me.”

He stands up and shakes his head. “David, did you ever stop to consider that maybe the reason you felt so alone all the time, and why you were always so miserable, is because you were a selfish, smug, self-important, jerk?”

I sit back, stunned. “Wow, Mike. Don’t hold back. Say what you really feel.”

He sits on the back of the pew in front of us so he can face me. “Hey, the truth hurts kiddo. Now’s the time to suck it up and accept it.” He shrugs. “Or not. The choice, like everything in life, is yours. So are the consequences. Just because you decided to take the easy way out means you get to shurk the responsibility for your choices when you were alive.”

Emotions are rolling around inside of me like a washing machine. I’m angry and more than a little hurt by what he’s saying, but I also know there’s some truth to it too, which stings even more. And to think, this morning I thought I was actually ending it all. Instead it looks like I just made things infinitely worse.

Go me.

While I sulk he continues, “Your tether is important. It’s where you go to recharge, for lack of a better term. You’re probably already feeling pretty tired just from the flight over here. As you get used to your new spiritual body you’ll realize there’s a lot of stuff you can do. When you concentrate and learn to focus enough you’ll be able to turn yourself solid and manipulate stuff in the real world. Maybe even have people hear you. But doing anything like that burns a lot of energy, and when you boil everything down, that’s pretty much what you are right now- energy. So every day you’ll need to recharge. Your tether is where you’ll be drawn back to when you’re too low on energy, or at the dawn of a new day.”

I glance up, momentarily torn from my pity party. “What do you mean?”

He rubs at some stubble on his jaw. “Think of it this way: whenever you leave your tether you’ve got a big spiritual elastic band tied around you connecting you to it. When you run out of juice, or when dawn hits, the band will snap you back there to keep you from just winking out of existence. How long you’ll be stuck there recharging depends on how much energy you drained. But here’s a nickel’s worth of free advice: go back on your own. Don’t let the clock run out. I hear being snapped back is…unpleasant.”

Great, so it’s like just about everything else so far. Death sucks.

“Okay, the energy thing makes a kind of sense, I guess, but why do we get snapped back at dawn?”

“Dawn is a new day. A time of renewal. It just works that way. It’s a universal rule, I guess you could say.”

He stands up and stretches. “Speaking of which, that’s enough to get you started. Dawn is coming and you’ll want to get a move on.”

I hold up a hand, afraid to actually try touching him. “Wait! Please, just one more question?”

He pauses mid step and looks over his shoulder. “Sure.”

“What are you, really? Are you an angel?”

He turns back to me, smiles, and places a hand on my shoulder. It’s warm, the first kind of heat I’ve felt since I “woke up” this morning. “What I am or am not doesn’t really matter right now. All that matters is that you think about what I said and decide for yourself where to go from there.” He straightens. “And maybe I’ll see you around.”

“Maybe?”

His smile fades, and the pained look on his face shakes me more than anything else he’s said. “Maybe. Good luck, David.”

And then he’s gone.

Main Archive Page   Chapter 4 ->

Copyright © J.R. Broadwater 2013

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All of the characters are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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Rant Alert: Randy & Sarah’s Bogus Journey

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So my girlfriend, Sarah, and I thought it might be fun to take a day trip down to Sikeston, MO and visit Lambert’s Cafe. For the uninitiated, as I am, Lambert’s Cafe is a pretty famous restaurant that serves Cracker-Barrel esq. food in ridiculous amounts, but is best known for their fun atmosphere and a staff that throws fresh rolls at tables when the patrons request it. Sarah loves the food there and I’d never been, so it sounded like fun. But Sarah and I were both a bit nervous about it, because my truck, in the last year, has been known to spontaneously develop some issue whenever I go out of town. As long as I’m in-town it’s fine. But as soon as I take a trip, every time, something happens…

Well, I was determined we’d be fine this time. Sikeston is only about an hour and a half drive from where we are, and it’s a very scenic and pretty trip, but it’s not anything really far. I checked everything out before we left. Everything looked good. We get about half way to our destination when we start hearing a grinding sound every once in a while, like we were weaving into the road div-its on the sides of the roads that are put there to help wake up drivers that are falling asleep. After the third time hearing such a noise, and this time not being anywhere near either side of the road, we both mentioned it didn’t sound right, so I pulled off at the next available exit into Ozora, a little town where the only real thing off the highway is one large lot with an Exxon station, a cafe, a small motel, and, lucky for us, a large truck tire place.

So I get out of my truck and start checking the tires to see if we might have a flat. I get to the front, passenger-side tire and I notice my grease cap is missing and the center where it should be is smoking like Satan’s butthole, complete with  nasty tar-like substances leaking from it. Satan apparently had Taco Bell for lunch.

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So I see a Firestone sign on the building next to the Exxon with a garage attached so I think we might be in luck and that they had a tire place right there. I pull the truck over to their lot and at this point the tire is starting to screech. Now, I know nothing about cars at all- I was always a tech-geek, not a car guy- but I know enough to know that a screech like someone is trying to give a pterodactyl a prostate exam is not a good sign. It looked like the tire place might be closed, but one og the garage doors was open so I walked inside and yelled like an idiot. We got lucky and a mechanic was in- Mike.

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Mike is a tall guy. I’m a smidgen over 6’2, but Mike was a good two inches or better taller than me. I stammered out what had happened and couldn’t think how to explain what I had seen because I’m a moron when it comes to car stuff and had never seen a tire do a Satan’s butthole impression before. Mike humors me and follows me out to my truck. By the time we got there the smoking had stopped a bit, but there was still plenty of wheel diarrhea everywhere. Mike knew what the problem was right away and spelled it out using small words so I could understand. Basically, we weren’t going anywhere without at least another grease cap and some new grease. Unfortunately, Mike didn’t have any parts on-hand, but he told me he’d make a few calls to some part shops in a nearby town and see if they could run what he needed out to us. Sure enough, there was a place that had a cap that might fit, and they agreed to bring it right down. Mike told us we could pull the truck into the garage and he’d get the wheel off and get everything set. He said by the time the part guy got there he’d have everything ready, and he’d charge us the garage minimum of $50 to get us taken care of and on our way.

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I pull into the garage and the screech is even worse- as if the doctor giving the pterodactyl the prostate exam forgot to use lube. Mike winced the entire time I was moving and said, “Has it always made that noise? Sounds like we need to check your bearings too.”  At this point I took comfort in the fact that he’d already told me that he had grease, so I knew that at least lube would be available for me when the reaming began.

This is the point where Mike ran into his first problem with my truck. Apparently the mechanical genius that owned the truck before me put the wrong size tires on the truck all the way around. This didn’t really come as a surprise to me since we were talking about the same genius that decided to not replace a bad distributor cap and instead just installed a second, high-power ignition sparker (don’t remember the technical name) so the two arcs would connect and start the truck. As a result, over time, it burned the crap out of everything in between. Found that fun little fact out during Christmas, and spent almost half of what I’d made working my seasonal job getting it fixed.

So, Mike spent a good ten minutes with a sledge hammer just trying to get the tire off. When he finally did we discovered that my tire had been about to explode…probably literally. It had been ground down to the wire in several places- by what, I have no idea since the other tires were fine. The bearings, too, were trashed. Mike made another call to the parts place to add to the order.

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But the truck wasn’t done…not by a long shot. When Mike started taking things apart  to get to the bearings (found out the brakes were shot to hell too), he ran into his next major problem- not only were things locked up, the bearings had fused from the heat.

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Sarah and I walked around for about an hour as Mike tried increasingly larger hammers and chisels, trying to beat my truck into submission and let him inside. Sarah, God bless her, spent most of the time keeping me hydrated and being supportive. What she feared would happen, had, and her plans were all ruined. Not to mention the fact that I’m broker than M.C. Hammer and whatever money it was going to cost to get us out of there she’d end up having to lend me. But she never complained. She just loved on me and wanted to make sure I was okay. I love this woman.

Well, eventually Mike gave up and told us that the only other option he had was he could take a torch to it and try and cut stuff out and replace everything.

 

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It wasn’t worth it. So now we were stuck with a few really sucky choices. Mike offered to tow the truck back to Granite City for us for $200, which was a lot cheaper than we’d get anywhere else. He also said I could leave it there for the weekend until I could scrounge enough money to have it fixed. But with my truck dead, and me with no money to fix it, there wasn’t much reason to have it towed, and Mike was going to have to close his shop in about an hour. I sighed and asked if he knew anyone that might want to buy a truck. I had the title in my glove compartment and I really didn’t see much else I could do. Ends up he had a friend that needed a truck for work. Mike made a few phone calls to his friend and wife while I called my grandparents to mount a rescue mission.  We eventually made a deal for what Mike and his friend could afford.  It wasn’t as much as the truck was worth, problems and all, and we both knew it, but it was what he had and, like I said, something was better than nothing. So I signed over the title.

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You never really know just how much crap you have in your car until you find yourself having to clean it all out and then carry it. It took us about ten minutes, and Mike donated a heavy duty trash bag to the cause, but we eventually had all our stuff out and were ready to go. We looked like hobo refugees as we made our way to the diner next door to wait for our ride.

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After drowning our sorrows with sweet tea, and stuffing ourselves with truck-stop burgers and pie, our ride showed up and we headed back home. We still managed to have a lot of fun after getting back, and I at least have a little money to help me get by for the next few months, but the whole thing was not exactly what we’d hoped for. But still, it could have been a lot worse. The tire could have blown and caused us to have an accident going 70 on the highway. We could have stopped someplace where there wasn’t a mechanic at all. I could have been completely hosed and stuck with a truck, and the bill to tow it as opposed to finding someone that could just buy it from me outright. So things worked out in the end. But just remember…

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Rant Alert: My Star Trek Into Darkness Spoiler Counter-F.A.Q.

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Star Trek Into Darkness has been a very polarizing film, more so than probably any other movie in the franchise. While critics and general audiences tend to enjoy it, fans are split down the middle. I have a close friend that is one such fan, who had a whole list of plot holes and things that kept her from enjoying the movie. I was surprised by this, because while I thought the film certainly had issues, a lot of the things she mentioned were things that didn’t bother me in the slightest and I found to be easily explainable. Then io9 did a spoiler F.A.Q. on Monday where, in a snarky attempt to be funny, he addressed many of the same issues. Well, I thought it would be fun to do a counter-F.A.Q. and give my perspective on them. I’m not saying I’m right and they’re wrong, because honestly a lot of the “issues” being talked about are things that are never fully explained in the movie. I assume for pacing reasons. However, they are things that I found to be fairly easy to explain in a reasonable way. It won’t change the mind of the people who already hate the movie, but I’m not trying to. So, needless to say, spoilers ahead! So if you haven’t seen the movie yet, avoid thine eyes!

Okay, explain to me why we’re doing this in this format again?

Because this is how the guy at io9 did it, and I thought it’d be fun.

You spelled “schizophrenic” wrong.

Just get on with it!

Okay, so at the beginning Kirk and Bones steal a scroll to lead the aliens away from the volcano. Why? Wouldn’t the volcano wipe everyone out if it erupts anyway?

They weren’t leading them away for their safety. They were leading them away so they wouldn’t see the shuttle carrying Spock to the volcano.

That makes sense, but why were they using a shuttle again? Why not just beam the bomb down?

It’s explained in the movie that the volcano was screwing up sensors and the only way they could use a transporter is if they had direct line of sight. The shuttles don’t have transporters so they were lowering Spock into the volcano to set the bomb manually.

Why not just use the ship…and why the hell was it underwater?

Starfleet has certain rules that officers are required to follow. the most important is the Prime Directive. Basically they’re forbidden from interfering with  pre-warp civilizations. Technically, the Enterprise crew was breaking the PD by saving the aliens, but they felt that they were exploiting a loophole in the directive- as long as they weren’t seen and the aliens thought the volcano just naturally stopped erupting (or their gods did it, or whatever) then it’d be fine. If they had used the Enterprise for line of sight transporter use, they’d be seen.
The Enterprise was underwater, as opposed to in orbit, because at night its possible that the ship would be seen. Just because the aliens were a “primitive” culture by our standards doesn’t mean they didn’t study/worship the heavens. The ancient Mayans and Egyptians did, and had a very detailed idea of exactly what was in the sky. A new bright satellite suddenly appearing in the sky, then disappearing hours or days later, would definitely be noticed. That’s assuming they don’t have some form of telescope. First Contact demonstrated that the Enterprise could be pretty clearly seen in orbit with one. Plus, lets be honest, it’s a popcorn movie, and if they’d just been able to stay in orbit and beam the bomb down it’d be pretty boring.

Can the Enterprise even work under water?

I’m not one of those fans with intimate knowledge of ship design, etc. but I’m willing to suspend my disbelief. As far as I’m concerned, if the ship can survive the vacuum of space and the pressures of flying at warp speed it could probably handle being under water to the depth that they were. Yes, there are physics issues with how it would work, blah, blah, but it’s a sci-fi movie, not a documentary. If you can handle Borg Queens, telepathic rape scenes, red matter, and any number of other Trek plot devices and holes, then you can handle the Enterprise being underwater just deep enough where the crew can freaking swim there.

Okay, so lets get to the big stuff- Admiral Marcus, his daughter, and Khan.

Yeehaw.

So in this version of history Khan and his crew is found by someone else, not the Enterprise crew, right? Are they still from the 90’s?

Yes, they were discovered by someone else in this version of history. The movie doesn’t ever say (smartly), but I would assume no, they aren’t from the 90’s- that is probably something different in this timeline and the Eugenics Wars happened at a different point in our future.

So what, exactly, is the Admiral’s deal, anyway? Why thaw out Khan and go all militant?

You have to remember that not more than a year or so has gone by since Nero wiped out most of the fleet, killed Vulcan, and almost killed Earth. With one ship. Tensions with the Klingons are getting dangerous and it’s believed that war is only one incident away from breaking out. Marcus  feels that Starfleet needs to have a more militaristic focus if they’re to survive; and while the movie doesn’t specifically state how many others in Starfleet are working for him, I find it hard to believe that there isn’t at least a core group in the leadership that feels as he does. Khan was known as being a tactical genius, had an unparalleled military mind, etc. So Marcus de-thawed him to get him to help design new weapons tech for Starfleet, using the lives of his 72 crew members as incentive to cooperate.

How Could Marcus pull this off without anyone noticing? 

He already has a secret development department, Section 31. He’s also the head of Starfleet, a Starfleet that’s working hard to rebuild their fleet. I don’t think it would be too hard for him to get the “hidden shipyard by Jupiter” stocked with his people and develop the Vengence.   Materials for it could be diverted there when it’s believed that it’s for, say, two ships being built elsewhere. Sensors only work if you’re actively scanning for something, assuming he doesn’t have some sort of tech in the shipyard or something to do with where the shipyard is to block or scramble sensors. Once war is started secrecy wouldn’t be needed. He’d be hailed as a hero with the forethought to save them all with the new tech, at least that’s what he believes.

So what’s Khan’s deal?

Khan wants to escape with his people so they can pick up where they left off before being made into jerkcicles. The cryotubes are kind of hard to hide, so he hid his crew in the proton torpedo prototypes with the intention of smuggling them out, but he was caught. Khan escaped but he believed his crew was killed by Marcus, so in retaliation he attempts to take out all of the remaining high ranking officers in Starfleet. Then he uses Scotties magical transporter formula from the first movie and beams himself to the Klingon homeworld where Starfleet can’t get him.

What’s the deal with Kirk, Marcus, his daughter, and the mission? Aren’t they explorers, not assassins?

That’s the core of the movie and is intended to be a metaphor for the U.S. mindset after 9/11. Kirk is a hot head and wants vengeance for the death of Pike. Marcus sees an opportunity to use Kirk to get what he wants- take out Khan and his crew to get rid of the evidence they were connected to him, and kick off the war with the Klingons so he wouldn’t have to hide his military-focused build up anymore and they could get things cranked out in earnest. Carol Marcus knows about section 31 and knows something is up with the new torpedoes, so she gets herself assigned to the Enterprise to check it out. Scotty resigns in protest to the whole thing because he didn’t sign on to be a soldier, he’s an explorer. Spock is being Spock, disagrees with the mission and killing a man without trial, but ultimately follows orders. Kirk screws up Marcus’ plan by being swayed by Scotty and Spock’s argument and decides to take Khan alive.

Why does Khan save Kirk and Co. from the Klingons?

Sulu already sent the message to Khan that he was to surrender or he’d be bombed from space. Khan suspects that said torpedoes may be the ones that have his crew in them, because that’d be something Marcus would do. His suspicions are confirmed by Kirk when he’s told that there are 72, and he surrenders.

How is Scotty able to get on the Vengeance without being seen? Wouldn’t a secret military deal have better security?

A valid point, but there are a few things to consider: Taking the Vengeance out after the Enterprise was not a planned operation. The Enterprise was supposed to bomb Kronos, have a warp drive failure and be stuck in Klingon space, and then get decimated by the Klingons. When Kirk sent a message to Marcus that he’d captured Khan, Marcus had to quickly get out there and wipe them all out before they could fix their warp core. Scotty joins the flotilla of shuttles going to prep the ship. It’s a massive ship and they’re working with a skeleton crew made up of hired security/merc types, not Starfleet personnel. It’s Scotty. It wouldn’t be hard for him to hack his way in and stay hidden while everyone ran around like chickens with their heads cut off. Does it take some suspension of disbelief? Absolutely. But so did Kirk just happening to find the same cave old-Spock was haunting in the first one.

Let’s address the mirror to Wrath of Khan ending and the magic blood.

Here, for me, is the biggest problem with the movie. Not that the blood could heal Kirk. They established from the very beginning that Khan’s blood could do that kind of stuff. It’s a huge convenient plot device, but it was needed for the movie because there’s no way they could get away with killing Kirk and leaving him dead until the next one like they did Spock in WoK. Which is exactly why they shouldn’t have done this storyline in the second movie. The biggest problem with Into Darkness wasn’t the plot, though the plot could have used tightening, obviously, it was the lack of emotional connection and impact that the story had. The ending, with Spock going all pissed off Batman on Khan, just came off as silly because they’ve been friends for what? Two years? Barely? Had they saved this kind of story for the third movie and used this movie to further establish the bond between the crew it would have been much more effective. Wrath of Khan had three seasons of a TV show and another movie to establish those relationships. This had one movie where Kirk and Spock spent 90% of the time at each other’s throats. I understand the appeal of using Khan, and Cumberbatch was freaking awesome in the role, regardless of what else you may have thought about the movie, but it just wasn’t the right time for this story.

Why are fans upset that they lied about Harrison being Khan?

Because in this modern internet world where spoilers leak immediately and movies are completely ruined months before they’re released, fans have developed a false sense of entitlement that they are owed answers about movies in development. The crew lied about Khan, even though everyone knew it was probably Khan, because they didn’t want to completely spoil the movie they’d been working two years on before it was even finished being developed. If fans are pissed about that I think they need a reality check.

So there you go. That’s my take on things with the movie. Again, I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind here, I’m just explaining things in the way that I saw them as I watched the movie. STID isn’t a perfect movie, it has issues. Some fans are just not going to be happy with it regardless of what they did. Others do have legit complaints and just can’t turn off their brain or suspend disbelief enough to enjoy it for what it is. The fact of the matter is this isn’t the old Star Trek and it will never be. Yes, it has less of a scientific, intellectual focus, and is more focused on action and being fun. You can either just accept it for what it is and enjoy it, or not. Either way, it doesn’t change or take away the ten other movies and 5 TV series that came before it. You can always go back and revisit them whenever you want.

J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1-, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here.  Check back each Sunday for a new chapter in the ongoing serial Moving On!

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Rant Alert: Anonymity Does Not Equal Blameless

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I spend a lot of my day on the internet. As I write, I take frequent breaks to mull stuff over or just to get away from what I’m working on for a few minutes to come at it a little fresher later. (Read: I goof off.) Because I spend so much time online it’s hard to not let the crushing weight of negativity that permeates things start to get you down after a while.  I try to avoid comments sections on fan sites in particular because nothing of substance generally comes from them, and they generally only end up ticking me off. Still, like a sickness, I find myself drawn to looking at them anyway.

Trolling is nothing new. For longer than there has been an internet there’s always been “that guy” or “that girl” that just can’t wait to pee in someones Cheerios, or just generally be a total jackass to people because they get a kick out of getting a reaction. But now that the internet has become such a staple of everyone’s lives, trolls are no longer the little jerks you’d run into every once in a while, and silently (or sometimes not so silently) you wish someone would just come along and beat the stupid out of them. Now you can find entire swarms, like locusts, that invade message boards and comments sections and feed off of each other. Online bullying has become a real serious thing. Kids have committed suicide over it. It’s becoming ridiculous.

Why?

I think a large part of the problem is because of the anonymity that the internet brings. You can say anything you want and, outside of the online environment, you don’t have to pay any consequences for it or see the real world affect it may have on people. I think to a lot of these negative people it’s become an escape from their normal lives. They’re able to say and do things they just can’t in the “real world”. Additionally, because it’s online it feels less real. The other people commenting don’t feel like real people. They’re screen names. They’re digital voices in the internet ether. It’s all a game and it’s no big deal.

Until it is.

Those are real people behind those screen names, and many of these people have no separation between “reality” and “online”. For many of those who have grown up with the internet their online persona and their real life persona are one and the same. When people say nasty and hurtful things, it has a real world impact. it goes beyond just making some random person explode on the internet. It could have serious ramifications, depending on what was said and the subject matter. Ask any of the families who have suffered through the loss of a family member because of online bullying.

For any of you who are into gaming at all or are big on watching YouTube videos you’ll probably at least recognize Francis. He’s known for being “the fat guy that freaks out about stuff.” As an example, here is a video he posted today giving his reaction to Microsoft’s reveal of the new X-Box console. The ending made me laugh out loud.

What many people may not realize is that “Francis” is actually a character that the guy plays on his YouTube videos. He does this for his job. He gets paid to act like spaz for a few minutes at a time. Living the dream. But earlier this year Francis made a different kind of video in which he talks about his real life, the stuff he’s gone through, and where he is now. It’s a sad story, but it’s not played for sympathy. He tells us this story to let his audience know how much he appreciates them, so that people who watch his videos can see that just by watching him act silly for a few minutes at a time it’s completely changed, and in this case it’s helped to save, his life. He wanted to say thank you, and he wanted everyone to know just how serious he was and what it means when he says it. I don’t normally watch his videos too often, but I admit this hit me where I live a bit.

So I watch this video and come away from it feeling all the feels that I’m sure if you watched it you are feeling right now too. Against my better judgement I scroll down into the Kotaku comments section and this is what I find:

Yeah, it seemed more like “I am pretty good at html, but as times changed, I didn’t keep up. Now I can’t make any money!” Well, hate to be this much of an ass, but dude, get some literature on modern web design, stop being so lazy, and also, lose some weight killer, it is very bad for your health to be that heavy.

No I am one of those people who think that you should take good care of yourself and never end up at that weight. Which of course, would put me in the small minority of this overweight, obese, “it’s not my fault!!” country.

And I don’t see how this relates to starving children in Africa, their plights can be traced back to European colonization, not some lazy white guy sitting at his computer and taking down a whole case of Mountain Dew and Fritos.

That’s fine, but I just don’t feel bad for people who make their own problems and refuse to deal with them.

Depression is a hell of a thing, I know from first hand experience, mostly because I was one of those people who made my own problems, refused to deal with them, and sulked and whined that the world had it out for me, that is what this video screamed of to me. Sorry to be so blunt, but I am tired of the bleeding hearts when a little bit of “shut the fuck up and get on the damned exercise bike” would do the trick.

I win the “Not Obese Award” it comes with a lifetime free of diabetes.

Too Soon?

It gets progressively worse from there from this commenter and a couple of others. For those of you who did not watch the videos, the guy in question is a really big dude. He came from an abusive home and was constantly sick as a kid and ended up with a few medical conditions that only added to his not being able to exercise/eat right, including depression. As a result he ended up getting bigger, and then more depressed, and eventually became a shut-in for 7 years and almost committed suicide. This guy has opened up, stepped away from his online persona, and talked about what I’m sure are things that were extremely hard to speak about, not only as a thank you, but also as a means to help others. As a result he gets crap like the above back. While yes, it’s just a vocal minority, and some people are just know-it-all jackholes, crap like this can seriously do harm, especially to someone with a history of serious depression and suicidal tendencies. Sure, you could argue that when he put himself out there he knew that would happen, but that’s not the point. The point is these are real people, and anonymity does not mean you get to be blameless for the crap you say or do. It doesn’t mean there are no consequences for your actions. It isn’t harmless.

The commenter above is obviously a jackass that makes a lot of assumptions and knows nothing about what clinical depression, or this man’s life, is really like. He’s just one example, and it’s not just the internet. There are a lot of people like this jerk in the “real world” too. I’ve had to suffer them for 32 years, and assumptions are a large reason why I’m in the medical position I’m in right now.

I know there’s nothing I can really say that’ll make a difference to these hurtful people. I know I can’t change the internet. I guess the whole point of this is to hope that someone might read it and it might make them stop and think before they respond the next time, both online and in real life. Just remember that it is human beings (most of them) on the other end of these digital devices, and those people have feelings just like you do. And if you realize that and just don’t care, and continue to be hurtful to people just because it’s fun and you have nothing better to do with your time or your life…well, that just makes me feel really sorry for you.

J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1-, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here. Digital copies on sale for a limited time for $0.99. Check back each Sunday for a new chapter in the ongoing serial Moving On!

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