The Fun with Dyslexia

So, I’m dyslexic.

And I love to write.

Sometimes I have to wonder, could I have picked a worse hobby and/or career path for someone with my handicapability?

Granted, it’s not as bad as some others I have read about, and it has helped me develop a keen eye for editing.

But still, what was I thinking?  I’ve never had anyone tell me that I couldn’t write, yet I’ve never had anyone encourage me otherwise.  I just picked up a pen and tried to translate the ideas in my mind into words on paper.

Writers write.  I suppose it’s what we do.  I suppose it’s the shadow we chase in the night, pursuing thoughts, ideas, whims into the darkness, catching it and then telling the world of our adventure.  But the things we speak of are simply reflections in broken mirrors; writers have the full view while our readers see only glimpses.

But those glimpses become the readers’ own, and they live vicariously in their own interpretations of our phantoms.  It truly is a beautiful, sublime thing.

So, find what you love and act upon it.  Some struggles are with us regardless, but will they serve as your motivation or your detriment?


Destinations vs. Interruptions, Part 2

I’ve written previously that marketing is shifting away from a one-way captive audience to more interactive forms of communication.  Audiences aren’t so captive anymore, but they are still treated as such.  For example, 15 or 30 second ads in front of a video clip.

Grrrr.

The internet is not television and I wish that more firms would get that.  Annoyances (read: interruptions) such as these are quickly becoming unacceptable in my mind.

Great, so when I have finished burning the traditional advertising models to the ground, what remains?

In a word, community.

Think about that for a moment.  I forget who, but a guest speaker in one of my classes said that social media is like the new town square.  (To which I would add: don’t say anything in public that you don’t want repeated in public.  But that is its own article.) 23 seconds later and the world can read your tweet on what you ate for breakfast, or perhaps your feelings on a presidential candidate’s latest snafu.

Community, a place where people interact.

And therein lies the power of destinations, earning people’s genuine interest as opposed to annoying them with interruptions.

One such method that has been used to great effect have been alternate reality games: ongoing, interactive narratives used to engage consumers’ awareness about a particular message, brand, product, and so on.

I know this is a bit dated, but consider The Blair Witch Project, a low budget movie that made $140 million in theaters due to the unique advertising campaign.  The team engaged consumers through multiple forms of media as opposed to running ad spots during prime time.  Through obscure newspaper clippings and websites, the audience became participants in the Blair Witch story, asking, “Did this really happen?”

So, if you’re in marketing, do yourself a favor and hire a writer who understands the value of a good narrative to tell a brand’s story while engaging the audience across multiple media platforms.

Like me.

Tee hee.

 


An Ode to a Freefall

falling, what is this feeling

gravity calls and it’s stealing

No!

burdens placed upon me and it’s killing

still it’s real and i’m still reeling

freefall while in the ground

while staring at the ceiling

but in the ceiling a mirror

i see myself drawing closer

as i fall upwards towards the sky

crash through

shards reflected in blue

as i am summoned to the clear skies

but do i fall to the waveless water

make the waves that distort the clouds

how long before the placid drowns

Is this my demise?

No!

burdens that send me tumbling

gravity that sends me fumbling

the thunders that come rumbling

I still smile despite my grumbling.

Come whatever may and wherever I stay,

Freefall in the skies or whenever I may die,

I will still smile.

I have learned to enjoy the ride.

 


Interruptions vs. Destinations in Advertising

Subtitled:  Why Some Advertisers Still Don’t Get It

“Get what?” you may ask.

The way marketing is trending, especially in regards to the internet.

Long story short, advertising was largely a one way channel, namely that of 30 or 60 second commercial spots on TV between programs.  Audiences were more or less captive to that up until the late 1990s.

Hearken the advent of recording devices such as TiVo, consumers could bypass the commercials (read: interruptions) and simply watch their favorite shows when they wanted.  Given that and the internet, the consumer has come to have a large amount of control over what he or she views.

And yet many advertisers still operate under the old assumption that the audiences are still captive.  For example, interstitial ads, pop-ups, and 15 or 30 second commercials before or interspersed throughout a video you’re trying to watch.

You’re correct if you think I am ranting right now, but I’d like you to consider this point.  We as consumers have much, much more control over the distribution over digital information than being talked at by a 30 second TV commercial.  Why are these forms of advertising still considered relevant?  They are interruptions, annoyances, and even invasions I dare say, on the intended journey to a funny cat video or insightful news story.

“Your video will begin in 15 seconds.”

“You have 28 seconds before you can read the news article you clicked on.  In the meantime, here is a word from our sponsors!”

I get it.  People have bills to pay.  And as much as I am trying not to sound like a self-entitled moaning child, why am I going to waste my time waiting through an ad spot that assumes that I am “captive?”  Nine for ten, unless it’s something I’m really interested in, I’m going to click away from that page and browse elsewhere.  Funny cat videos are plentiful in all corners of the internet.

Sure, it’s just a few seconds, half a minute at at most from what I have seen.  When you get down to it, I suppose it’s not all that bad, considering we don’t have to put up with 22 minutes of programming and 8 minutes of advertisements for a 30 minute TV sitcom spot (my numbers may be off here; it’s been a while since I’ve watched TV).

But seriously, why tolerate even that much?  From my limited outside perspective, marketers are only now waking up to the understanding that consumers have gained a great deal of control, and yet advertisements are still pumped out under the old model.  This may have been tolerated under the old one-way TV model, but not so much anymore.  I think a better terms for this new era could be “interactive” and “relationship.”

Now, why do I use those two words?  Simple:

  • Interactive:  we have the option and luxury of going elsewhere to find the same or similar information.  At the risk of repeating myself again, consumers control a great deal of the distribution of digital content.
  • Relationship:  again, the distribution control thing.  Social media is the new town square; now one Tweet, one Facebook post, one irate blog post can reach and influence thousands of consumers.   (This topic truly deserves its own article, which I may write on later.  It truly is fascinating.)  Read up on the Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines debacle a few years back for more information.

With all of this in mind, where as marketers and advertisers do we go from here?  What is the alternative to the advertisements that have become “annoying interruptions?”  (I’m working on my Master’s in Marketing and trying to get into copywriting, so bear in mind that this effects my future more than most people’s.)

I propose that we make advertisements the destination rather than a speedbump on the journey, if that image would suffice.  Why is my product worthy of a consumer’s attention?  What are my customers saying about the product, the brand, the company, the experience in their Tweets, their Facebook posts, their blogs?

Interruptions are not acceptable anymore, and to be honest, they are little more than the loud, dying moans of dinosaurs still trying to survive when consumers have gotten smarter, nimbler, and more evasive from the teeth of the old giants.

To help illustrate my point on destinations, here is a yodeling cat:

The video is simple, amusing, and something that others would share through social media.  Now, if I put an advertisement in front of the video that you were forced to watch, how many of you would have clicked away and gone elsewhere before the commercial was even done?


Innocence, Bittersweet in a Sense

If bittersweet truly had a flavor then this would surely be it, I thought as I tasted the dryness that had crept into my mouth, for tonight I was going to die.  I looked at the dull gray walls yet again, squinting my eyes.  If I blurred my vision just enough, I could almost make out the faces of my wife and children.  Well, my ex-wife at any rate.  She left me a couple of years back, found a man that treated her and the kids real good.  As long as the kids were happy, I reckoned with a smile.

Still, I think that’s what hurt the most, not being able to see my children grow up.  But let’s face it, there ain’t exactly much future for a guy on death row.  I won’t be there when Suzy loses her first tooth.  I won’t be there when Caleb kisses his first girl.  But the damndest thing about this whole mess, the thing that sticks in my throat, the one thing that would make me tear these walls down if I could, was that my kids would to grow up thinking I’m a murderer.

Thank you, society.

I sat on the edge of my bunk, leaning forward and resting my elbows on my knees.  My mouth got a little dryer as I heard a click at the door.  I looked over as it opened slowly, creaking as it went.  Maybe I should put in a last request for some WD-40, I thought with a ragged little smile.  A rather large man wearing a black shirt and white clerical collar stepped in after whispering to the guard.  The guard eyed me for a moment, probably rubbing his tazer with his free hand, daring me to try something.  Can’t be too careful with mass murderers on death row, no?

“That will be all, thank you,” the priest breathed, dabbing the sweat off his forehead with red handkerchief.  The guard paused a second, muttered something under his breath, then closed the door as he shook his head.  The priest put his rag in his pocket and looked at me, smiling as he continued to pant.

“What’s the rush, Rev?” I asked, leaning back against the wall and crossing my arms over my chest.

“Just a little out of shape,” he wheezed.  “Just give me a minute.”

“Time’s all I got left,” I said, watching him sit on the stool he had dragged in with him.  “Why are you here?  I told them I didn’t want your . . . services.”

He looked at me abruptly, his jowls shaking as he spun his head.  “That . . . ah . . . yes, well you see . . .”

“You wanted to see if I changed my mind?”

He nodded and took a deep breath.  “As the old saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes.”

I glared at him.  “Tell me something, Rev.  Do you think I did it?”

“Well, the police reports say—”

“I’m not asking what the police reports say,” I said flatly.  “I know what they say.  I’m asking if you think I did it.”

“We are all sinners in the sight of God,” he said, fidgeting with his rosary.  “We are all guilty of something.”

“So do you think I’m guilty of this?”

“It is not for me to judge.  I’m here to—”

“Do you think I’m guilty, yes or no?” I said, slowly leaning forward.  “Not like it matters, considering how I’m going to be dead soon and all.”

“It’s not my position to say such things,” he said with a fatherly smile.  “Now, Daniel, how are you feeling?”

I barked a laugh.  “I’m a dead man walking, Rev.  You tell me, you’ve seen other people in my position.  How should I feel?  I’m at a bit of a loss.”

The priest shrugged.  “Well now, that depends on the person.  Some have regrets, some were angry, some sad, and some at peace.  What about you?”

I rolled my tongue around in my dry mouth.  “I think the word would be . . . bittersweet.”

“Bittersweet?  Why is that?”

“Bitter, well, because you know,” I said slowly, leaning back against the hard, cold wall and putting my hands behind my head, “I didn’t do it.  And my kids are going to grow up thinking I did.  But there’s still that one little bit of me that’s glad that this circus will finally be over, you know?”

His patronizing little smile gave it away, even if he didn’t want to say otherwise.  “Now, Daniel, I’m not here to judge.”

Of course he thought I was guilty.  Everyone did, especially after the media got through with me, already judged and convicted me before I stepped into the courtroom.  Now they were just waiting for the good doctor to fill my veins with his medical death.

“Then why are you here?” I asked.

“Will you let me pray with you?”

“No,” I said.  He coughed, his face turning red as though he almost choked on his tongue.  “Look, Rev, it’s not that I don’t believe, but what good were my prayers when the man shot up that place?  Sure, I was the only one that made it out alive, but what good were my prayers when the media showed up and caught me with the killer’s gun in my hand, standing over his body?  Huh?”

“Look, Daniel—”

“What good were my prayers in the courtroom when I prayed for them not to find me guilty?  Where was God then?  Where was God when they locked me in solitary for nearly five years?  Where was God when I realized I would never see my children again?”

The priest just sat there, his face getting redder as I continued.

“Like I said, it’s not that I don’t believe, but if your God’s real, then I’m going to kick his ass when I get to the other side.”

“Look, I know you’re upset—”

“Do you really think I’m still upset?” I asked him, tilting my head to one side.  “Do you really think that?”

“Well, why wouldn’t—”

“I’m a dead man walking,” I said flatly.  “I’ve accepted my death.  Sure, I have my regrets, but being guilty ain’t one of them.  I just hope you all have strong stomachs when you find out you’ve killed an innocent man.”

“Let’s say you’re right,” the priest started slowly as he wiped a bit of sweat from his bald head, “that you are innocent.  What then?”

“Isn’t that something you should have asked a long time ago?  Seems a little late for that now, all things considered.”

The priest shook his head and made the sign of cross.  I rolled my eyes.  He chided, “Now, don’t be like that.  I’m just saying a quick prayer—”

“Get out,” I growled as I rolled onto my bunk and laid on my side, my back towards him.  I heard him sigh and mutter something as he knocked on the door.  With a creak and a click, the door opened and shut, and my cell was silent once again, save for the sound of my own breathing.

Bittersweet, I thought.  Perhaps that word described the situation a little too perfectly.  I let myself fall asleep, my last dreamless nap before I was put to sleep forever.  That night, perhaps a few hours before the execution, I ate my final meal.  In truth, I just wanted to see if they’d do it, but the filet mingon, baked potato and red wine were certainly one of the finer meals I had eaten.

I squinted again, imagining Caleb and Suzy there, eating cheeseburgers and chips.  They hadn’t quite developed a taste for steak yet, but a late night summer barbeque would have taken care of that.

Maybe not.  You never knew with kids.

“Something wrong?” a guard asked as he watched me eat.

“No, just got something in my eye,” I replied with what I thought was a pleasant smile.  I finished the food and leaned back, sighing.  I used to say that I could die happy after a meal like that; I guess now I could say it and mean it.

“Hey,” I called after the guard as he wheeled the table out of my cell.

“What?”

“You know why guys on death row get a last meal?  Seems a little out of place to me.”

The guard shrugged.  “Don’t know.  If it were up to me, you wouldn’t get any last requests.”

I laughed.  “Same here.”

He just eyed me as he finished his business and left.

“Same here,” I repeated, staring up at the ceiling as I laid back down on my bunk.  “Same here.”

Maybe I should call for the Reverend.  The thought of a last prayer started to sound appealing, but yeah, what good would it do?  I lifted my fist up and raised my middle finger.

“Asshole,” I muttered.  And I laughed.  And I waited.  I think that’s supposed to be the hard part though, the waiting.  You’re on your own with your thoughts crashing through your brain.  Some other guards had come for my final words, but I ignored them.  They looked at each other when I said one thing and they left shaking their heads.

“Bittersweet,” I had told them.  And I was left in silence a little longer.

“It’s time,” the guard said as the door squeaked open.  I frowned as they wheeled in a gurney.  Seriously?  They weren’t even going to let me walk to my own death?  Oh well, might as well get this done with.  I gritted my teeth as they bound me just a little too tight.  At least they couldn’t let me get too comfortable, what with me about to die and all.

The warden looked over me as they finished strapping down my head.  His gray hair and beady little eyes looked menacing in the harsh lights overhead, although I felt like laughing right now.

“Are you sure you want this to be your last statement?” he asked, pausing a second.   “Bittersweet?”

“Yeah,” I croaked.

“Very well then,” he said as he disappeared from my vision.

They transported me to Asshole-knows-where, the lights slowly passing overhead.  I just closed my eyes and tried to belch up some of the aftertaste of the meal.

It would all be over soon.  Don’t let them see you cry, Daniel.

The sound of a metal door clanged shut and I opened my eyes.  I looked up at the overhead light and stared into it, blinking away a tear.

Shadowy blurs worked to my sides, roughly scrubbing the insides of my wrists.  Sharp jabs came a second later as they inserted the IVs into my veins.  The saline solutions were room temperature and I flexed my hands, sighing as my arms cooled from the inside.  They had described the process before, but I still had to wonder, why did they feel the need to sterilize the injection sites of a condemned man?  It’s not like I was going to die from tetanus.

The smell of the alcohol swabs reached my nose.

“It stings, daddy!” Suzy had cried when I had dabbed her skinned elbow after she had fallen off her bike.

I kissed her forehead.  “Now, now, we don’t want to get an infection, do we?”

“No,” she sniffled, smiling at the pink bandage I put on her wound.

“See?  All better.  Now go play.”

It was strange.  How could I feel so light when I was strapped down so tightly?

A few moments passed, probably waiting for a stay of execution from the governor.  No chance of that happening though, no way she’d risk the political repercussions during an election year.

“Midnight,” I heard the warden say.  I didn’t hear the Reverend praying, so I suppose they had the decency to leave him out of this.  Or at least he had the decency to keep quiet.

The needle in one of my veins twitched.

My arm started going numb and a strange warmth began to spread through me.

My body grew heavy, yet I felt like floating at the same time.

The light above started to grow dim . . . dimmer . . . dark.

Black.

I closed my eyes and tried to smile.

But I knew I was crying.

The tears floated down my face, cool on my warm skin.

A few seconds later, I could not feel them.

Black.

I tried to squint, to see my children one last time.

There, smile for Daddy.

Suzy, be good to your brother.

Caleb, take care of your sister.

And someday, when you finally find out the truth, come and visit your old man, okay?

 


Chapter 1: Disjointed in the Disarray

I’d recommend starting here to get the full story.

 

The Dead Arrive on Dinner Plates, Chapter 1: Disjointed in the Disarray

It was all just a dream, she said, nothing to be worried about.  She would say that each time I asked when she woke up in a cold sweat, screaming into her pillow, crying for unseen shadows to go away.

Don’t worry about it. 

But I did. 

I loved her.  Worrying was part of the package. 

But all of the drugs, all of the doctors could not help her as she slowly began to waste away, dark rings under her eyes, her once slim body becoming emaciate, her once light blue hair losing its sheen.

And on the final night, I looked into her hollow blue eyes—eyes once so bright and lively—as she seemed to stare through  me at something only she could see.  I held her in my arms, rocking her softly as her mouth moved in silent utterances.

I had lost people in the past.  I was no stranger to such things.  I believed I could deal with her death, even if I was with her in the last moment, holding her as the last breath left her pale, fragile body.  But even today I ask what I might have done differently.  At that moment, however, I all I could do was watch as she disappeared, fading before my sight.

I do not mean this in some metaphorical sense, like someone dying in his or her sleep.  In the end, I was literally left holding empty air; her bedclothes had vanished along with her.

So I howled, a wounded, broken beast that could do nothing else.  She had saved me from myself, pulling me from the deepest places from which I dwelled.  Death I could have dealt with, having some finality to it all.  But this. . . .

This. . . .

And now I ask you, what could I have done differently?

Jat sat in the darkness of his apartment, staring at the green numbers of his alarm clock as they counted the number of minutes and hours that had passed.

4:03 AM, it reported.  Another night with no sleep.  He pulled his knees to his chest and wrapped the heavy blanket about him.  The memory would come again; it always came, mocking, tormenting.  Slowly, he laid back and stared at the ceiling, imagining pictures in the faint green light.  If he squinted just so, he could almost see her face. . . .

“Look, man,” Crist said later that morning, wiping the sweat from his brown hair with his large hand, “let’s say I believe you.  She’s real.  Okay.  Why hasn’t anyone else heard about her?  Face it, Jat, just because you say something was real, doesn’t mean she was.  Now get over here and help me with this load.”

“You’re lying,” Jat growled as he walked over, unfolding his arms and picking up a large bag of concrete mix, placing it on his shoulder.  He grunted as he hefted into the back of the beat-up white truck.  He looked at Crist, watching as the muscular man picked up two bags in each arm and easily toss them into the vehicle.

Crist paused and looked back at Jat.  “Look, man, all I’m saying is—”

“I know what you’re saying,” Jat said flatly.

“Don’t be like that, man,” Crist said.  “You been through some tough times.”  He grabbed a few more bags.  “Hell, anyone coming out of Salidor did.”  He lifted the bags into the truck, then tapped his head.  “Messes with a man’s mind, makes him think—”

“Stow it,” Jat said.  He blew a strand of his long black hair out of his face.  “I know what I saw.”

Crist shrugged and returned to his job.  “Then I ain’t got nothing more to say, Jat.  If you won’t listen to reason—”

“And what are you hiding, you furball?”

Crist looked at Jat, his yellow eyes sparkling, his grin feral.  “You can’t afford that, man.”

And on and on it went.  All of her friends, all of the people I knew, none of them claimed to know anything about her.  You’re just touched in the head, they said.  There was some truth to that, in all honesty.  Salidor had been a black, black place that should never be mentioned ever again.  No one had returned the same from that place, provided they returned at all.

 And me?  Well, I did my best to move on, but she was the one who made it all possible.  But in this instance, life had jerked the rug out from under me, and sometimes I think I was still waiting for the moment I hit the ground, perhaps hoping I would break my neck from the fall.  Instead, I received a message.

Jat sat in the darkness of his apartment, staring at the green numbers on his alarm clock.  Flicker, another minute had passed.  Flicker, another hour had gone.

3:57 AM, it reported, and he heard muffled sounds and scraping at his front door.  He peeled his eyes away from the clock and looked over.

3:59 AM, it displayed, and he was left in silence again.

“Lights,” he said in a low, hoarse voice.  He squinted as the overhead dome casted brightly, driving away the shadows.  “Dim to thirty-five percent.”

In the soft light, he looked at the door, noticing someone had slipped a envelope underneath.  It laid there, white against the beige carpet, beckoning, calling to him.  He stood slowly, letting the red blanket fall in a heap as he moved away.  He padded through his studio apartment only to stand over the missive and stare down at it.

It had a picture in it, an aerial view of the Grenmark Tower in downtown Haven.  The top of the tower was circled in red ink.  On the back of the picture, two words had been written:

She lives.

I have to ask you again; what could I have done differently?

The next night, I went to the tower and made my way to the roof.  I had posed as a courier with a package for whomever resided in the top floor, easy to do since I had actually worked as such not too long ago.  In between evading security and employees, I got to the roof with little trouble and waited there.  I hid between the large, dull gray air conditioning units, letting them sing me to sleep as I waited for whatever was coming.

Messes with a man’s mind, Crist had said.  I’m sure I would have deserved the short side of that hairy man’s temper if he had ever found out about this.

“Look, all I’m saying is—” a man’s voice said.

“I know what you’re saying,” another man cut in.

“Stow it,” a third man ordered.

Jat opened his dark eyes and looked up.  The stars twinkled hazily through Haven’s dome, blurred ever-so-slightly by the barrier that had been erected to protect the city.  He grimaced as he stretched his legs slowly, trying to work out the numbness he had gotten by staying asleep so long in an awkward position.

“We don’t even know if he got the message.  How do you know if he’ll come?”

“He’ll come.  They said he’ll come.  They’re always right.”

“Yeah, but still—”

“Listen, you’re new to this.  Trust me, they’re always right.”

“If you say so.”

“I do say so.  And you’ll say the same after you’ve been around long enough.  Just give it time.”

“Okay, did they say when he’d show up?”

There was a pause.

“He’ll come.”

Jat moved slowly, peering low around the corner of the air conditioner towards the voices.  He saw about seven people, all dressed in loose-fitting dark clothing.  One lifted his hand to inspect what he held and the red light of the exit sign nearby glinted dully off a pointed metallic object.  Jat looked at the others, noticing that they all had knives as well.

Jat could only frown as one of them pointed at him and shouted, “There!”

I came around about an hour later, sitting in middle of six bodies, all of them torn to shreds.  I looked at my hands and saw dried blood on them.  My clothes were also bloody, but I could not feel any wounds.  And try as I might, I could not recall what had happened.

I heard a sound to my left, and in the darkness between the air conditioners, I saw a glimpse of golden eyes and a grin full of sharp teeth.  It was gone a second later.  I trembled as I walked over there, my mouth dry.

But Jat saw only the place where he had slept.

Nothing else.

Nothing.

Nothing.

“Nothing,” Jat said, staring into the depths of his beer.  He ignored the pulsing music and the gathering crowd as the night went on.  A couple bumped into him, but they were gone before he could properly glare at them.

“Come on, man,” Crist said, slapping Jat hard on the back.  “I finally get you out of your woe-is-me crap and this is how you thank me?”

Jat looked at the big man, into those yellow eyes.

If I squinted enough, no . . . the teeth were all wrong.

“What’s that look for?” Crist said, no longer smiling.  “You got something in your eye?”

Nothing.

“Nothing,” Jat said, turning back and taking another drink of his beer.

But the truth could not be denied.  Do you know what it feels like to have your life spin out of control like this?

“Well I do,” Jat mumbled one night as he stared at his unshaven face in his bathroom mirror.

But do you honestly know what it feels like?

“Yes, I do,” Jat muttered to his reflection.

Do you?

“Stow it,” Jat quipped as he left the bathroom, ordering the lights off.  He sat on his bed once more, in the dark, staring at the green light of his alarm clock.  If he squinted. . . .

I swear, I could almost see the shadows moving on the wall.  That’s great . . .

“. . . I’ve lost my mind,” he said quietly.  “Crist was right.”

No, he wasn’t.  You are quite sane.

“And the rest of the world is mad?”

No.  They want you to believe that though.

“And who are “they?””

They.  They are they.  They want you to think you have lost it.

“Right,” Jat drawled.  “And who are you?”

Them.

“Them,” Jat repeated.

Yes.

“You say I’m not mad, but you’re doing a hell of a job convincing me otherwise.”

Yes.  And what do you want?

Jat looked at his alarm clock, squinting just a bit.  He laughed, a hollow and dry sound.  “I want her back.”

Who?

He threw his pillow into the darkness.  It hit the wall with a muffled thump.  He growled, “Sul, my . . . my. . . .”

He drew his knees to his chest and buried his head.

Sul Kreesu.

“Yeah,” he choked.  His head jolted up at the next words.

She lives.

“Lives. . . .”

Yes.  They took her.

“Took her where?” he growled, wiping a tear from his eye.  Silence, only silence.  “Took her where?!”

But I heard nothing in the stillness, save for the sound of my own heartbeat as I held my breath, waiting for something else.

The next day, Jat found himself sitting at a terminal in the Knowledge Repository.  He scanned through some of the local news headlines, but saw nothing about the massacre that had happened on top of the tower.  The media was usually quick to report such incidents, especially since the public seemed to have a liking for such stories.  He paused as one story caught his attention:

Art by Surrealist Salvador Dali has been recovered in the Wastelands!  An exhibit is scheduled to open at Haven’s illustrious Art Repository later this month, after everything has been properly cleaned and catalogued.  Always counterculture, the artist once said, “There is only one difference between a madman and me.  The madman thinks he is sane.  I know I am mad.”  Stay tuned for more details!

Mad, huh?  I’m not mad, am I?

Sul Sulla, he absently mused, if Sul were to marry him and take his surname.  Sul-sul-sulla-sul-sulla-la-la-la-la. . . .

He glanced up from his terminal and noticed a cute redheaded woman staring at him, her mouth open as if to say something.  He flickered a quick smile on his thin lips, then went back to his business, glancing at a picture of an open door.

Did I say that out loud?  Maybe I am losing it. . . .

Sul-sul-sulla-door. . . .

“Salidor!” he said rather loudly, and whispered an apology after the redhead shushed at him.  He stared at the screen for a moment then typed in the information.  A hazy, grayscale image of a smoking crater appeared.  The picture shifted and bled down the page, and he slowly inched his way towards the screen.

I keep asking what I could have done differently, but sometimes I wonder if anything else could have been done.

Jat sat in the darkness of his apartment, ignoring the green numbers on his alarm clock as they ticked the minutes off of the night.

The witching hour, it reported as the numbers shifted, somewhere between the dreamless sleep and when shadows danced.

What happened?

You blacked out.

What?  How?

You mind went to a place your body could not follow.

“Salidor,” Jat said, his voice hollow and flat.

Yes.

Jat looked into the darkness, squinting his eyes.  The green numbers changed and shadows crept slowly across his bedroom wall.  “Is Sul there, at Salidor?”

No.

Jat scowled.  “Then where is she?”

They took her.  They have her.  We do not know where.  But we can help you.

“Help me how?”

They are the enemy.  They must be stopped.  Help us and we help you.

Jat blinked.

“Hey, man, you alright?” Crist asked, wiping the sweat from his broad face with his large hand.  “I heard what happened at the Repository.  Heard you damn near got a concussion by trying to make out with one of the info-terminals.  What’s up with that?”

Jat blinked and shook his head a bit.  “What?”

Crist paused after loading another couple of bags onto the truck.  “Man, I’m going to call the ward on you if you don’t straighten up.  You’re starting to scare me.”

Jat slumped forward and muttered, “I already had a therapist.  She disappeared on me.  Literally.”

“Right,” Crist drawled with a slight growl.  “Look man, my girl knows a couple of people I can get you in touch with.”  He walked over and clapped Jat on the shoulder.  Jat winced, but kept staring at the ground.  “They can help you get patched up, get your head out of this funk.”

Jat looked up into Crist’s yellow eyes.  “They?”

“Yeah, “they,”” Crist quipped.  Jat stumbled back.

They are the enemy.  They must be stopped.

Crist arched a fuzzy eyebrow.  Jat thought he saw a smile whisk its way across the large man’s face.

Jat took a deep breath and straightened.  “No, no . . . I think I’ll take some time off and go on vacation, maybe clear my head a bit.”

Crist turned and went back to work, pausing to say, “All right, man, whatever.  I know we ain’t been the best of friends, but if you want to talk, you know where to find me.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Jat said as he turned and walked off.

They have her.

Where?

We do not know, but help us and we will help you.

Jat sat in the darkness of his apartment, looking into the golden eyes that stared at him from the shadows.  The alarm clock had stopped working, its green numbers no longer counting the night down.

“Time’s up,” a deep voice rumbled, the flicker of sharp white teeth grinning in the gloom.

“Lights, twenty-five percent,” Jat muttered.  He looked at the hulking beast across the room as it blinked as the lights twitched on.  “Sure, why not?  I’m already going insane, so what’s another hallucination?”

The beast put its large hand over its long muzzle and shook its head.  “You really don’t get it, do you?”

“What’s there to get?  I’m going nuts.”

The beast jumped onto the bed and towered over Jat.  “Look, man, you ain’t nuts, but I can see how you’d think that.”

Jat paused for a moment, looking at the golden eyes.  “Crist?”

Crist’s ears twitched and he smiled, his long maw showing sharp teeth.  “Took you long enough.”

“Crist?” Jat said.

“What?”

“You need a mint; your breath is rancid,” Jat quipped.  “You been eating roadkill or something?”

Crist chuckled, a deep rumbling half-growl, half-laugh.  “Sorry if I ain’t pretty enough for your majesty, but time’s up.  You need to decide.”

“Decide what?”

“They or them?” Crist said, his eyes narrowing, his pointed ears folding back onto his brown fur.

Jat glared at the beast.  “And what’s this all about?”

“Control,” Crist replied with a growl.  “I can’t give you all of the answers, but I can tell you this much.  You’re in too deep and they won’t let you go.  But with them, you’ll have a fighting chance, even to find Sul if you want.  If nothing else, do it for yourself to stay alive.  Who knows what they’ll do.”

“They, them,” Jat muttered.  “Got any names for me or am I going to be run around in circles?  I mean, you’re the one with the tail, that’s your department.”

“Ha!” Crist barked, clapping his large hand on Jat’s shoulder.  “I don’t chase my tail, and if it was anyone else that said that, I’d’ve ripped their guts open.”

Jat smiled weakly, knowing that the large hand could have swept him across the room with only an afterthought.

“Sorry, man, sorry,” Crist said, holding his hands up.  He rolled off the bed and sat against the wall.  “After hiding for so long, you kind of get used to it all.  Sometimes I take it for granted who I’m talking to, forget that you’re kind of a newbie to all this crap.”

Jat crossed his arms over his chest.

“Supes, man, supes,” Crist said, “you know, the supernaturals.  Angelkin and devilkin.  Been at war with each other for centuries.  They, the angelkin, took your Sul to god-knows-where.”

“And what about “them?””

“I’m supposed to recruit you,” Crist said, “try to get you to side with them.  The devilkin.  It’s just that after a while, you tend to use “they and “them” without much thought.”

Jat laid back on his bed and stared at the ceiling.  They took her.  If he joined with them, maybe he could get to Sul.  He had to chuckle.  “Great, I’m starting to think like them.”

Crist’s ears perked up.  “Does this mean. . . .”

Jat leaned up and looked at the beast.  “It doesn’t mean anything.  It means I’d rather have some time to think about it and have a proper conversation outside of my bedroom, you know, get some more details.”

“Can’t do that, Jat,” Crist said with a heavy sigh.  “I got to have a straight answer before I leave here, one way or another.”

“Hmmm. . . .” Jat murmured as he laid back down.  It just seemed a little rude to haunt his bedroom like this when he was wearing only a t-shirt and boxers, trying to have a proper conversation. . . .  “Okay, then, what happens if I don’t decide?”

“If you side with the angelkin, then we’ll be enemies after I leave,” Crist said softly.  “I don’t want that.  I know we ain’t been the best of friends, but I don’t want you as an enemy.”

“And is it so black and white?”

“In this?  Yeah.  There is no other way around it.”

“Why?” Jat asked.

“Water and oil, man,” Crist replied.  “Ain’t no way around it.  The two just don’t mix.”

“They do if you use soap.”

“You get what I mean,” Crist said with a growling chuckle.

“Yeah, but do you?  I asked what would happen if I didn’t decide.”

“Let’s put it like this,” Crist said.  “The devilkin have been straight honest and upfront.  You know me well enough to know that I speak true, even if you don’t trust me.  The angelkin?  Why do you think you blacked out at the Repository?  They’re hiding stuff from you, man, important stuff.”

“And the devilkin aren’t?”

“Never said that, but they are after you, and they won’t let up until they have you under their control.  At least you have a chance with them.”

“So you’re saying I’m choosing the angelkin by default then, huh?”

“More like they’ve chosen you, or that you’re a “liability” that needs to be removed.”

“And why would I be a “liability?”” Jat asked, although he did not expect an answer.

Crist shrugged his large, furry shoulders.  “Don’t know.  But I’d tell you if I did.”

“And what about you, furball?  Why’d you side with them?”

“Don’t call me furball, you hairless monkey,” Crist growled with a half-grin.  Jat shot a smirk back.  “Honestly, though, I didn’t have much of a choice.  I was always devilkin, even before I was born.  Fight or die, more or less.  The light ain’t as benevolent as it’d have people believe; it blinds just as well as the darkness, but at least with the darkness it ain’t permanent.”

Jat glanced over at his alarm clock; the green numbers had blurred.  He muttered, “The witching hour.”

“We’re taking a big risk by being here,” Crist said, “but I thought you needed to know.  You’re not crazy, despite what they’re trying to do to you.  Now, like I said, time’s up.  What’s your answer?”

Jat sat up and looked at the lupine face for a moment.  “I have conditions.”

“Yeah, so did I,” Crist said.  “We do what we can, and if we can’t, then we can go our separate ways.  It’s as easy as that.  Usually.  But with us you stand a chance.”

Jat arched an eyebrow, but said nothing.

“So, what’s up?”

“I get Sul back,” Jat said.  “After that, I’m out.”

“One,” Crist replied, ticking the points off on his long, clawed fingers, “You’re hardly in any position to negotiate that, considering how they want you gone.  Two, we don’t know where they took her.  Three, even if we did, we don’t know what it’d take to get her back.  Four, the devilkin are being straight up about this, unlike certain others.  Five, as I’ve been saying, you got a fighting chance with us.”

“Fine,” Jat said, “but tell me this: why does either side want me?”

Crist looked at him and finally shrugged, raising his massive hands into the air.  “Don’t know.  You got potential of some sort or another.”  He sniffed the air.  “I can smell it on you.  Drips off you like sweat sometimes, like now.  With us you can explore that on your own terms.  I’ll tell you this much, though.  I seen what happens when the angelkin gets a hold of one of your kind.”  He lowered his head and closed his eyes.

“And what’s that?” Jat asked.

Crist looked up slowly, his golden eyes hollow and distant, looking somewhere beyond the far bedroom wall.  “He was young, maybe fifteen or sixteen.  We had contacted him, trying to get to him before they did.  But in the end, he choose the angelkin because the light is all good and sparkly and full of fluffy critters.”

Jat held back a grimace as Crist’s muzzle drew back into a heavy snarl.  Jat asked, “What happened?”

Crist looked at the lean man.  “I found him a few months later at a transit station, laying on a bench.  He kept moving his eyes around at things only he could see.  He’d grab at the air, like he did when he was a kid, trying to catch fireflies in the field.  He was . . . hollow . . . wouldn’t respond to his own name . . . just stayed there, trying to grab those invisible bugs.  He was my brother’s kid, Jat.”

“I’m . . . I’m sorry,” Jat whispered.

Crist gave a faint smile and shook his head.  “No, ain’t nothing you could do.  But someday, I’m going to find that sonovabitch and take it out of his hide.  Kid was smart, a real genius.  Hoped to be an engineer someday.  You want to know the real kicker though?”

“Do I want to?”

“My brother was the one who turned him in.”

Jat sat in silence and looked away.

“Angelkin don’t play favorites, even with their own blood,” Crist said quietly.  He looked up at Jat.  “Think about that.  I got a chance to ask him why once and all I got was a back full of singed fur.  Devilkin ain’t no saints, but we don’t betray blood like that.  I know there ain’t much between us, but I don’t want to see you go through that.”

There was more he did not say, Jat realized.  Perhaps it was too painful, or perhaps it was something Crist did not want to say, but Jat did not press the issue.  Instead, the lean man stood up and held out his hand.

Crist looked up at him and took the offering, his large hand totally covering the other’s.

“I’m in then,” Jat said, looking Crist in the eye, “but I get Sul back.  And once I that happens, then I’m out.”

Crist smiled.  “I’ll pass along the word.”

We already know.

“But, Jat, what are you going to do if you find her like I found my nephew?”

Jat released his hand from Crist’s.  “Then I find those responsible and make them pay.  Or die trying.”

Crist grinned.  “Lights, off!”

And in the flash of darkness between that and when Jat ordered the lights back on, the werewolf had disappeared.

We already know.

Jat shook his head and went back to sleep, ignoring the alarm clock that had started working again.

In the darkness of the shadows on top of a tall building, Crist—now in his human form—leaned against the cold gray stone, watching the dawn break through the barrier.  He had to smile to himself, pleased with the results of the previous night.

“And you really don’t know, do you?”

Know what?

“What he is, where that girl is, whatever.”

He is . . . different.  Sul is . . . gone.  They have her.

“He won’t take betrayal lightly.”

We know, but you are the same.

“Ha!” Crist barked.  “Only if he sprouts fur and fangs.  But he ain’t like that.  He ain’t one of my kind.  He ain’t a feeder, is he?”

We do not know.  He is . . . different.

Crist shrugged.  “Wouldn’t that be something?”

What?

“If he turned out to be an angelkin after all?”

We doubt that.  He is . . . different, but he is not that.

“Then what is he?” Crist asked, watching the first rays of sunlight pierce over the horizon.  He laughed when he was answered with silence, a barking howl that faded into the waking city.



The Emphasis of Duality in Modern Culture

Left versus Right.

Good versus Evil.

Light versus Dark.

Us versus Them.

The One True Faith versus the Heathens.

Democrat versus Republican.

And on and on.

This is just an observation that I have made recently, but we, as the American society, seem to have placed an overwhelming emphasis on duality in today’s culture.  I suspect it has a lot to do with the influences of the Abrahamic religions, bringing notions of absolutism (read: good versus evil).  While such ideals sound good in theory, they tend to be much different in practice.

I am of the opinion that duality is a form of escapism, which can be a form of “moral high ground” people use to become and remain superior to the other side.  I used to think that human beings were creatures of extremes, flouncing between swings of the pendulum.

Ice cream is good in a bad way, but salads are bad in a good way.

It is as though we are stuck on a line, doomed between two sides that pull at us.  But what happens if you add width to the line?  What happens if you add depth?  What happens if one elevates him- or herself to see the bigger picture and notices that the two sides may not be so different at all?

Or, what happens when the individual notices the bigger picture and decides to have none of either side?

While these thoughts certainly do go beyond duality, hopefully they can server to illustrate that things go beyond us versus them, even beyond a sliding scale of gray.

Ayn Rand once said:

Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.

This statement, at least in terms of duality, can be understood by a sort of superposition that moves not only left or right, but up and down, forwards and backwards, inside and outside, and any which way a cat may go.

As the old axiom states:  the forest can be missed for the trees.  It can be easy to see the rays of sunlight filtering through the leaves when staring at the shrubbery and wondering if that little red berry will get you high if eaten.


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