'Dinner Party' makes me think of martini glasses and monocles, and that ain't what I had in mind.

See, I was at work yesterday and, for whatever reason, I noticed that people my age eat horrifically badly, myself included. I mean, let's face it - good food (not even HEALTHY food) is expensive and we're all lazy mofos. It occurred to me that I can actually do something about that, at least every once in awhile.

What I'm thinking is, every few weeks on an off night, like a monday or tuesday, I'll open my doors and cook for whoever wants to eat. Dinner could be anything and entirely subject to whim. I can positively guarantee it'll be tasty, though I have no idea how I'd deal with dietary requirements apart from promising that I won't kill anybody. It'll be, at least to start, traditional american food with a suitable twist - beanless marinated steak burritos with homemade salsa, or parmesian-encrusted burgers with charred red bell peppers and garlic herbed mayo, or, hell, BLTs with a good salad and potatoes.

The point is, it'll be real meals that didn't come in a cardboard box.

Yeah, and we can play games and watch movies and chill out, too. It's supposed to be fun, after all.

I've got some questions, though, so feedback would help.

  1. What'd it be worth to you? I need to stress that I'm NOT trying to make a profit off of this, but would you be willing to throw a couple of bucks in the pot to cover my costs? How much? Or would you rather chip in beer or wine or, hell, ingredients? That could be an interesting twist - bring me ingredients and I'll turn 'em into something. I'd love to be generous and buy but, at least at the moment, I really can't.
  2. Pick a day. I'd really prefer to do it on Monday or Tuesday because those're my days off, but if this works (and because of the flexibility of my schedule) I can really do any weeknight, Monday to Thursday, starting in October. I just figured Mondays were the best for all concerned, as Mondays are generally pretty clear for everybody.
  3. How open ARE you, really? I really don't think I can do vegetarian meals as I'm an enthusiastic carnivore, and, well, I like meat. LOTS of it. I can try to make things vege-friendly, the exact meaning of which is hidden even to me. Like I said, I can promise you won't die, but that's pretty much it.

Get in touch. I'd really like to pull this off, but I need some input.

(yeah, and for those of you not in New York and the surrounding environs, well, you damn well should be.)


Stablish the thing, O God, that thou hast wrought in me; permit me not to return to my vomit, nor ever to rebuild the Jericho I have destroyed.
- Peter of Blois, ca. 1185 AD

It's always worst when it rains all night. Then there's no question of curling up illicitly next to a radiator somewhere, drying up slowly like an alcoholic in the Kalahari; when it rains all night, fungus creeps into every dusty moist cavity. It creates a scent impossible to dislodge without dropping precious rubles on a drycleaner, and then I have to stand naked waiting while grim blonde women pick up their pantsuits. (Just because I'm naked doesn't mean they can't elbow past me). The cold is not so bad. The sneers aren't either; mostly, it's the shabbily dressed ones that are the most resentful. I suspect it's because they know that poverty, like a kiss or a beating, ought to be earned.

I did not earn mine. I chose it. I have not found myself an amphora, like Diogenes, but then I don't need one. I have always lacked spirit enough to turn my house into a home, but my home was always elsewhere (The apparition of wet, black boughs; faces in a crowd). Now I live inside the hyphen between A and B, a tramp on a tramp, and I don't take charity unless it's cigarettes or eyes from a pretty girl who thinks I am drunk and scary, she would be wounded in her heart if she discovered I wouldn't follow her home for a million cash. No cockeyed Cockney would mistake me for a guv'nor, but no one blames me for oppressing them either. They think I am to be pitied; I've yet to figure that one out.

I suspect no one here thinks me a sympathetic figure, though I don't know what I look like anymore. My brown suit has grown baggy from repeated tearing; I like to think that each additional stain adds a layer of protection against powers elemental and sentient. In a sea of faded Chinese knockoffs, it is reassuring to own it. I am probably the last bearer of its long-forgotten luxury brand, which makes me feel like Roland in the country of the Moors.

Moors they may as well be. I have returned to a cold and uninviting womb, but I do not regret it.


Every day my alarm clock goes off at 5:55 a.m. I squint at it and it looks like 'SSS'. Like a snake's hiss. It reminds me to be a snake.

I get out of bed and I go to the bathroom. In the light of dawn and of the streetlight outside my apartment window, I see my face in the mirror. My lip rings glint in my lower lip like two fangs. Sss.

I'm not crazy. I just have my totem animal, everybody needs something to get them through the day, right? It's not like I actually think I'm a snake. It's a frame of mind. Snake imagery, cool, cunning, calculating, a bit cold-blooded. Aloof, which spoils the alliteration.

So I dress in green and black and I hit the road. Snake colors? Nah, just the uni. Fifteen minutes walking to the train station. On the train I'm a small snake inside a big one. (OK, so snakes don't bear live young or anything. It's just an image to think about instead of getting all clostro.) I look around at the people on the train. I turn my head slowly and scan around, giving them the snake look. They're mammals, mostly, rabbits and mice, meekly waiting for their stops. Sometimes someone gives me the snake look back. We nod. (I wish I had nictitating membranes to flick at them.)

I like to give snake eyes to shapely women, or to really muscular men, not that you see many of those on the train. Not because I'm a perv. The snake just likes the curves.

Some people are visibly creeped out by the tattoo or the piercings, or the big scar down my right arm. But I'm straight, they don't need to flinch from me. Maybe their mammal brains sense the snake within.

At work they call me Snake, except for Betty the World's Oldest Cashier who calls me 'green snake' or 'garter snake'. My buds sometimes say "Snake! We heard you was dead!" Hell of a movie. Always good for a laugh. My first manager at the store made me wear my Actual Name on my shirt. When the next guy came everyone was already calling me Snake. That's how the badge reads now.

When a new manager starts, he'll say "Now, uhm, ... Snake. You're pretty well paid." by which he means "overpaid". So I say "Look, I'm never late, I'm never drunk, I'm never high, I'm never sick. I don't take smoke break. I know where everything is, where everything goes, what's in stock, out of stock, new stock, old stock, on order, on special, discontinued. I know how to do every job in the store and there's no job I won't do." Pretty much true too, if the train's on time.

I won't work the Deli counter since my accident. That's how I got the scar, looks a lot like hesitation marks. Gets me a certain street cred some places. But it was just an accident. Got a few months off on insurance to recuperate and do physio. I read a lot.

I like to read. I'm a lot smarter than I look to the mammals. At the store they all know I can fix or figure anything. And I can do any job, even cash, when they let me work the graveyard shift. Maybe they figure the snake'll scare away trouble, though the most trouble we get is raccoons in the dumpsters.

I'm always in the store correcting the signs. Can't anybody spell, or use an apostrophe? "Bean's" it'll say. For God's sake! The greengrocer's apostrophe is alive and well in our store. One former manager used to say "Boy" (ever work for someone who called you 'boy'?) "Boy, look at the clientele. Do you think they give a rat's ass about the punk-chew-ay-shun?" I think he'd mess it up just to piss me off. He didn't last too long. Good riddance.

I get employee discount. I like to bring home a box of those little meatballs covered in gravy, like IKEA makes, and 'wave 'em. Then the snake can pretend they're little mammals and swallow them up whole. Can't do that with too many though, they sit in your gut like little rocks.

Then a bit of light reading and set the alarm, off to bed, ready for another day in the life of Snake.

There's already a user snake but s/he doesn't write. It's OK. I can easily don another mask here.

So on Monday, August 21, 2006 we found out my wife was pregnant again. It was a very happy day, and a happy week. We told everybody, Yay, we're having our second child! Told 'em in the catbox. Jubilation! Another rugrat around April 22!

What a difference two weeks makes.

On Friday, September 1, we had our first ultrasound. I had thought it was awfully quick to get in for the first one. When we found out we were pregnant with Ryan we didn't get our first OBGYN appointment for about a month. Well, the ultrasound showed the gestational sac but that was it. That's a normal one for 4 weeks and five days, not six weeks and five days which is where they thought we should have been. All of a sudden the Doc is talking to us about miscarriage. Huh? What?

He said nothing was for sure but they wanted to do some tests, check her HCG and progesterone levels. Fine. He said to do one after the appointment and do one on Saturday to see if it would go up in between the two. He said we'd be able to get the results on Sunday or Monday. What a pipe dream. What? People actually work on Labor Day Weekend? It was an extremely frustrating weekend not knowing, our seventh anniversary was yesterday. We didn't enjoy it much. We went up to Hannibal, Missouri, place where Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain grew up. It wasn't all that far away and we had to be back this afternoon for another appointment where we'd FINALLY get some damn answers.

After getting the runaround on the phone this morning while packing our stuff together again ("I'm sorry, we can't find the results," "We can't get them out of the computer") she got another runaround at the doctor's office when we finally got home, unpacked the van and headed over there. Doc was doing a birthing so instead of one of the useless nurses just taking two seconds and telling her the goddamn results they kept telling us to wait for the doctor, wait for the doctor... well about two hours later, while trying to control a 2-year-old who was getting more unruly by the minute and waiting for two friggin numbers on pins and needles... FINALLY she couldn't take it anymore and looked at her chart as I opened the door. Well there was an increase in the levels from one day to the next, which is good. But they were very low, which is bad.

After an empty promise that a nurse practitioner was on the way - after about a half hour of waiting for this phantom person - Doc FINALLY arrived. The numbers went from 5.2 to 6.2. He said that normal range started at at least 11. And the levels should've doubled from one day to the next. He also said that a failed pregnancy is a level of 4.9 or lower. We were just above that. But since it did increase, both the HCG hormone and the progesterone, there was still hope and reason to do another ultrasound in a few weeks. The fat lady hasn't sung yet.

We were left with a vexing philosophical dilemma, though. He said he could prescribe progesterone, bring the levels up. BUT. Why was her body not producing enough? Would bringing up the levels just prolong a pregnancy that's doomed anyway, or help give birth to a baby that's severely deformed (too many chromosomes) that would have a terrible life and make ours a living hell? He said a small percentage of women with this problem eventually give birth to healthy, normal babies. Would we be one of them?

So what would, should we do? Take the progesterone and give our baby every chance we can? Or would it be better to let nature do its job? She asked me what I thought. I DON'T KNOW. What do you do? I am not equipped for this, I didn't major in philosophy in college. Why do we now have to make decisions like this? Why us?! How do we decide something like this?

We went back and forth. We want our baby to be OK. But part of us just wants it to be over so we can focus on starting over again on kid #2. We feel like we're being jerked around. She decided to take it, though, finally. She took the first one before going to sleep tonight. We're going to do that and see what happens in that ultrasound on 9/21. Maybe it'll be fine. Maybe some test down the road will show that the fetus is horribly wrong and we stop taking the drug and see what nature does. Maybe that ultrasound will show a healthy, wonderful tiny baby.

Or maybe it will...

Or maybe....

Ladies and gentlemen, we are filled to the brim with maybes. I've had it with them.

They tell you that everything changes after you have children, and in your mind, you know that it’s true. But that lesson is only transferred from your head to your heart one little bit at a time. Every day brings some new revelation to remind you that yes, you are now a parent, and you’ll never be the child you were again.

This past weekend, I had another such revelation. There’s a sushi restaurant in downtown Washington, D.C. that my wife and I had been meaning to go to for months, in part because it’s in the Woodley Park section of town. Now, unless you live here, just telling you the location of a restaurant is pretty meaningless. But the restaurants in Woodley Park –- and there are a lot of them -– are always nice to visit when the weather is decent because they all have outdoor seating. Lots of it. You see, for some reason, the sidewalks in Woodley Park are huge. A good forty to fifty feet wide, which is more than enough to fit three rows of restaurant seats and still have pedestrians walking nearby.

Well, my wife had never eaten sushi outdoors. I, on the other hand, had been to this restaurant a lot when I actually lived in the city. Now that I’m out in the suburbs -- with child no less -- I don’t get into town for dinner as often as I’d like. So we finally went to this restaurant last weekend, ate our sushi outside, and had a pretty good time doing it.

Unfortunately, we also got food poisoning. I was just a little queasy, but my wife was violently ill. Now I have a personal rule I’ve managed to follow through most of my life. When I have an SO, or even just a date, who gets sick, I try to stay nearby to comfort them, hold their hair back, and generally make things a little easier to take. I know I’d like it if someone treated me that way when I’m sick, so I’ve always tried to make the effort.

I couldn’t do it this time. And it wasn’t because I didn’t want to, or because I felt a little sick myself. It was because my 13-month old son was terrified by my wife’s getting sick. It just totally freaked him out. So I really didn’t have a choice –- I had to take care of my son. That’s what being a parent means. Fortunately my wife understood, but that didn’t make it easier. I could tell she was feeling terrible, and my heart was just sick at the thought of her sitting on the bathroom floor alone. But if I had left my son to help my wife, he would have been traumatized.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is a fairly minor incident. No major injury, no permanent damage. But I learned that, when you’re a parent, you give up the right to act on your immediate impulses, and that at any moment you might be forced to do something -– or to not do something -– that’s just really difficult to bear.

Pearls that were

The Virgin of Guadalupe stares down at us from the wall with painted-on eyes. Her gaze is demure and pious, half-hidden by lowered eyelids, but I suspect a certain shrewdness there. Her near-goddess status can't all be just good luck. If you go back far enough all goddesses have blood beneath their fingernails. We're at a tiny greyhound station in the valley. It's a crossroads of sorts, a major intersection is nearby and the buses load and unload passengers travelling in different directions. I wasn't expecting religious iconography. I think to myself that we'd have been better off choosing someplace else for this meeting. I don't say anything because Mari will only laugh and say I'm superstitious. Mari paces in that self-possessed way she has and lights up a camel. She blows smoke out in perfect rings. I look at my watch: five minutes left until midnight. Mari plays with her lighter; flames flicker in and out, in and out, casting weird shadows on cherub beneath the Virgin's feet. I hate it when she gets like this. Bad things happen when Mari's impatient. She's likely to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing and that's something we can't afford tonight. Mari scowls at me and says, "Why the fuck do we have to meet here at midnight? Couldn't this have been done over dinner?"

I shake my head, "there are rules to these things. There's an order that still must be followed."

"I don't remember following all this bullshit when I hooked up with you."

I smile ruefully, "You were very lucky and you had just enough talent. But you can't always count on luck to save you, and sometimes talent isn't enough."

A long black sedan pulls into the parking lot. I don't recognize the make or model, but it looks pricey and sleek. I can hear churchbells peal the hour as the sedan's rear passenger door opens. A man steps out. He's a handsome black man. He's tall. His skin is very dark and smooth and I can't tell what his age is. Maybe he's as young as thirty, maybe as old as sixty. His hair is cropped close to his skull; the tight curls glisten in the light from the streetlamps. he's very neatly dressed in a charcoal-color suit that was tailored to fit him. He bows to Mari without any trace of irony or foppishness. He nods his head towards me. Mari walks brazenly towards him and thrusts her tits out. She always does this when talking to strange men. He smiles enigmatically and says, "You must be Marisol. I am --"

"I know who you are. We're not here to play kissyface and nice."

The man keeps that same expression. It is impossible to tell whether he feels amusement or contempt. He says softly, "No. We are not. But since our business is mutually beneficial, I thought it preferable if we at least managed pleasantries."

Mari spits on the ground, then looks up to see if the man is at all taken aback by her unladylike gesture. He is not. She growls, "I wouldn't have put up with all this midnight hocus pocus shit, but Ari insisted. If we can avoid it, I'd like to just get our business over with without any invocation to the dark goddess who dwells beyond the moon or any six-armed queen of whores who wears a necklace out of human skulls."

"There is no real ritual to this beyond the time and place. However it is customary --"

"Screw custom, I don't have forever."

The man looks at Mari quizzically and says, "Is not the purpose of our transaction so that you will, indeed, have forever?"

Mari snorts and says, "Doesn't mean I want to waste it with some old school mumbo jumbo."

"Very well. The meat of our bargain," he produces a small, nacre-encrusted bronze figurine from his lapel pocket, "as long as this amulet remains in your possession you will not age, nor will the signs of gluttony manifest upon your frame, nor shall your cheek be flushed by liquor, teeth be dulled by smoke. You shall live in beauty and without physical corruption for as long as you retain this."

Mari grasps for the amulet with greedy hands but the man pulls it just out of reach, "Tsk, Marisol. You will receive the amulet after you sign the contract, not before."

With a flourish he produces a piece of vellum illuminated with bizarre and cryptic sigils, hieroglyphs and runes. Mari pulls a ballpoint pen out out of her purse but the man only shakes his head, "Marisol! This sort of thing can only be valid in blood."

She frowns, rummages in her purse, pulls out a safety pin and jabs her finger. She swears softly and writes her name on the dotted (and glowing) line. The man smiles indulgently, "Very good. One formality is left, though. You must say it for the transfer to be complete."

"Pass me the amulet first."

He lobs the amulet underhanded to Mari who clutches it against her breast and squeals with delight. She looks at me coldly and says, "Go with Desmond, Ari. I renounce all claim as your mistress."

She walks away from us without looking back once, cradling her newfound immortality like an infant. Desmond slides into the backseat of his long, black sedan and gestures for me to sit next to him. When the door closes he turns to me and says softly, "She has no idea what she traded for that trinket, does she?"

I shake my head, "She suffers from a lack of imagination, sadly."

"But you are a treasure worth more than that silly toy. All that she craved and more could have been fulfilled with just a little more work."

"She only ever saw me as a means to an end," I say drily.

"And you never told her?"


"I see, 'for thou wast a spirit too delicate to act her earthy, abhorr'd commands'?" He takes my silence as an answer and flashes that enigmatic smile, "Welcome to my service. Imagination is not a quality I lack."

part of the wordmongers' masque

The Dead-End Diarist:
Adventures With A Nepotist Bomb Squad

Wednesday, May 15
Got offered a job by one of the companies I sent my resume to before graduation. I have a final interview with one of the partners, Steve Weston, this afternoon. Totally stoked!

Friday, May 17
I officially met everyone here at my new job at a lunch they held to welcome me. So many names to remember. Everyone has been so nice, though! Another guy my age works here, Andy - my cubicle is across from his. We talked at lunch; he seemed to know a lot about Bob Marley. I think he might be a good source if I ever need some medicinal help relaxing, if you know what I mean.

Wednesday, May 22
On Monday David, one of the architects, had me draw some details, I was sure that I completely screwed them up. He told me that I did an okay job, though, and he gave me a lot of pointers. Now I am working with a different architect, Don. He has me working with Andy on some building sections. Got an IM from Weston651978 asking me some "?s bout the bldg sects".

Thursday, May 23
I woke up late today. It's my first day late to work; I hope they don't mind too much. No one has said anything. Andy came in around noon today; he is taking a bowling course at the local university over the summer. I asked him about his IM name, turns out Weston is his last name. He is the son of the partner I interviewed with.

Saturday, May 25
They asked me to come in today to do some tutorials with the drafting program so that I can become productive faster. They actually have all the Windows games on these computers, so I have been playing Free Cell most of the morning.

Monday, May 27
Andy came in at noon again today, as I guess he does every day, with a greasy bag from Carls Jr. Perhaps he has a kinship with favored sons. After a quick lunch he sat down for a long four hours of - well, I'm not sure what his job is exactly.

Tuesday, May 28
I asked around to see if anyone actually knows what Andy’s job is, there was no consensus. In other news, Andy bought an iPod last night (face: standard white), and one of those Bose speaker cradles. He has been playing Creed all day (further reinforcing my suspensions of the hash smokage). Well, that isn't entirely true; he hasn't been listening to Creed all day - just since he got here at noon. I can't even afford an iPod, and I work full time!

Wednesday, May 29
Andy has been wearing a different Bob Marley shirt every day this week. Today he asked me if I knew how to make Minesweeper easier than the beginner level. I told him that with Custom he could make the field whatever size he wants and put as many mines as he wants in – I guess he discovered the games on these computers too.

Friday, May 31
Yesterday I asked Andy if he could help me with a drawing. I went to see how he was coming when he got here at noon today, he was playing Minesweeper. His high score so far is 512 seconds on Custom, I didn't bother to find out what his settings were. The field was pretty big, though. He didn't have the drawing done.

Monday, June 2
Don asked how Andy was coming. I told him that he has been in the trenches for almost a week now. Casualties are high but Andy seems undeterred and in good spirits. I finished the drawing myself.

Tuesday, June 3
One of the incredible talents that Andy has demonstrated is an uncanny ability to reach the back door precisely when the bells of the church across the street start to ring five o'clock. You might think to yourself, "What is he doing? It's too early to leave." But do not doubt his abilities, by the time his hand reaches to turn that knob, the bells will begin to ring.

Friday, June 7
Laura told me today that Andy is actually still in college; he is just working here until he graduates. He has been in college for nine years. She said that he takes about nine hours a semester, but then ends up dropping one or two classes after realizing he can't handle such a demanding load. "Next thing you are going to tell me is he still lives with his parents," I said, jokingly. "Yep."

Tuesday, June 11
Every time I walk by Andy's computer he is playing Minesweeper, with the same drawing behind it as there was last week. He came to talk to me today and he said he is on to something (and he sat on my sketch for the meeting this afternoon that was on my desk). I think the next few days might hold major breakthroughs for the battle.

Wednesday, June 12
It's all Pat Green all the time. Pat Green this week, but some other loser Texas Country singer last week. Who was it that was popular last week? Andy says that Texas Country is more like old country because he doesn't like this new popular country crap. Whatever!

Friday, June 14
Andy told me today that he thinks he is ready to try out the Intermediate level on Minesweeper, skipping the Beginner level all together. I thought about telling him that I think that might be dangerous, just skipping levels paying no attention to the system set-up for him, instead I told him to keep me updated on the fight. Maybe I should buy him some war paint, or camouflage cargo pants?

Monday, June 17
In case anyone was wondering, four. Andy has four different Bob Marley shirts. He is actually listening to Bob Marley today, for the first time that I have heard. He just asked me if I knew anything about roofies - "for a school project," of course. I told him it was construction slang for roof-layers.

Thursday, June 19
Andy just informed me that he just beat his high score on Intermediate level with a time of 562 seconds. He said that if you slow down you can actually try to figure out where the bombs are based on the numbers instead of just randomly clicking on squares until you run into a bomb.

Friday, June 20
Andy skipped class this morning, but still came in at noon because he needed to play some golf. I need to play some fucking golf, too!

Friday, June 27
33 days in the trenches. Somehow, after a quick advancement in the beginning, Andy's detection skills have shown little improvement.

Tuesday, July 1
It reassures me to know that Andy is not fighting this war alone. All over the world, at any given moment, he is but one in the innumerable army of Sweepers in the Great Minewars.

Wednesday, July 2
I guess Creed has come out with a new album, we haven't listened to any country - oh, I am sorry - Texas Country in over a week.

Thursday, July 17
Andy told me today that he thinks he has reached the highest score he is going to reach on Intermediate level and is going to be giving Expert a try. I wished him Godspeed, it is not an easy road down which he will be traveling.

Monday, July 21
Today a friend visited Andy and informed him that if you right-click on a spot you can flag it as a possible mine – which was a complete bombshell to Andy. He has informed me that with this new development he is confident he can break his previous high score of 1024 seconds on Expert – oh you should have heard the excitement he was trying to hide in his voice.

Wednesday, July 23
758 seconds. "A 26% increase!" This is the first evidence he is aware of other, non-Minesweeper programs on his computer.

Tuesday, July 29
Today I walked into my boss' office and casually offered my services in the war against the evil empire that plants mines in grids on our computers. He gave me a weird look - I walked out, satisfied.

Wednesday, July 30
Although my boss didn't agree to my offer, I have decided to join the battle. It is my duty to this place to rid our computers of all unsafe quadrants. (I can't even tell if I am joking anymore.)

Thursday, August 21
I have been having dreams. I try to work on my drawings, but soon find that my desktop has been littered with mines by the enemy. I asked Andy if he ever has dreams about this. "All the time," he said. War is a stressful time.

Wednesday, August 27
My boss has made it clear that my skills are not needed in the Great Minewars, he has suggested that maybe I should focus on the job I was hired for. Maybe he is right.

Wordmongers' Masque

Ten people dead.

I tell myself that it means sixty people alive, but it doesn't seem to help.

The others are giving me space and talking in low voices, occasionally glancing over to where I sit, draped in my work clothes and borderline despair. Even in this gnawing pit of "I could have done more", I appreciate their tact; brooding is a solitary activity. I know this happens, but it never gets any easier.

I guess a bit of background is needed here.

My name is Harbinger. Or, that's what they call me, I guess. I'm not even sure what my name was, before. You see, I can more or less foresee disaster - so it was that or an equally weighty Damocles for a codename. I don't know if it's the loss of life, or a change in the cosmic balance or some crap, but I just get these strong premonitions of bad things about to happen. Bad ... that's a laugh. It could be a car accident tomorrow, or an earthquake ten years down the line. Whatever force or power gave me this ability did not bother with an instruction manual - but I guess that's life. Or death. Something. Anyway, these feelings aren't defined very well, so I'm never sure when things will happen or what form they will take - but they're inevitable. You know those times the Auxiliaries get there almost before it happens? That's me. I'm a human suffering early warning system.

It's not an easy gig, as you might imagine.

It took me years to figure out what was happening. Have you ever tried to wiggle your ears, or raise just one eyebrow, or curl your tongue (well, if you're not one of those naturals anyway)? It takes figuring out what the muscles actually do, one by one, then putting them together in ways you didn't know were possible, and ending up with your face screwed up in a very weird configuration... It was just like that, only completely different. I used to have nightmares, horrible nighttime screaming fits, over the things I could have prevented if I was only a faster learner. I'm a little better these days.

This all started about three months ago; I was doing my rounds. I usually pick an area and just walk for a few hours. We experimented with flightpacks for a while to see if I could cover more ground, but it didn't work at all. The high speed meant I couldn't focus on any particular spot, and just got vague feelings of dread from all over. Or maybe it was just air sickness and my own dread, heh. Anyway, it seems that I have to give my abilities some time to soak in the ambiance, as it were. Besides, I would have had to land to further pinpoint the event, and it's far less conspicuous if I start out on foot. Some places I go, too much attention is a very bad thing.

I chose Uptown that night, for no particular reason. I think I had a vague hankering for a noodle bowl with some of that spicy alien stuff that the slips make. As I was sauntering along, thinking of nothing in particular, my talent blindsided me. There was no warning as there is sometimes, a faint gradual build-up of dread. No, this was more like running into a brick wall. In a hotrod. I suddenly knew that something nearby was going to be the focus of much destruction and suffering. The sensation was so sudden and so strong I dropped to my knees, disoriented. I was staring straight ahead, still seeing the street but not making any sense of it. When I could focus again I stayed where I was, resting and trying not to look at anything to avoid another assault. In a few minutes I got up, ignoring the stares - you get used to them after a while - and sat down on the curbside, waiting for my talent to get used to the intensity so I could get a better fix. I felt the sense of urgency, but it wouldn't do any good to evacuate the neighbourhood only to find out I was getting potential echoes of the firefight between cops and the looters drawn to the now empty area. Temporal line noise sucks, but it's part of the job.

After a while it subsided, and I started triangulating. This mainly consists of walking around the area and getting snapshots of what my talent is telling me - a sort of 4 dimensional radar that takes into account time as well as space. It would be almost as boring as it is to tell about it, if lives weren't on the line. Walk a bit, stop, teeter about like a rabbit ear antenna being tweaked to optimal reception, repeat. I look like an old crazy when I do this, muttering to myself, shaking my head nervously ... let's just say people give me a wide berth. Explaining to each and every one would just take too much effort and time away from my task. As for authorities, the transponder I carry sends a quiet signal of notification if they get within a few hundred yards. No worries.

It takes several hours into the night; I've long since forgotten the noodles and munch absent-mindedly on a NutriBar I brought along just for this kind of situation. One of the better habits I took away from TCA training, that's for sure. The image finally clears and I straighten out, my spine crackling, and take a first lucid look around the area. It's cooled down and traffic is sparse, cars and pedestrians alike heading indoors. Some college kids drive by, music booming from cheap oversized speakers, flushed faces turning to look at the local weirdo. I have a brief irrational urge to stick my tongue at them and yell something obscene, but I resist; I am here in official capacity after all.

I reach into my pocket and take out my phone - well, it's a bit more advanced than that but it can call other phones as well. I contact headquarters planning to leave a message as usual, but Sentry picks up; I'm not the only one working late. She's bored on overwatch, so we chat briefly about nothing much - I feel relaxed now that I have a better temporal fix on the event, and exchanging pleasantries with another Auxiliary further reduces the stress. Sentry's always been easy to talk to, which is why I suspect she gets the late night assignments. I can certainly think of others that would do more harm than good if they picked up the phone on a stressed-out field operative. I probably shouldn't go there in this record though, so I'll stop while I'm behind.

Sentry takes my report and does the necessary magics to get it where it needs to be and I relax even more with that task done. Nothing left to do now except head home and get some sleep - tomorrow's gonna be a long day.

--> Next

The Man in White- Pt. 4

I intend to pay a visit to the office but I have a doctor appointment first.

You might be expecting me to make some cynical remark about doctors, express some ill feeling towards them. But truthfully my doctor is great. He is a rarity among these parts- someone who actually cares and is willing to act upon that care.

Hell the only thing I dislike is that smell you get in the clinic. That sort of anesthetised, sterile smell as if everything is has become blunted and artificial.

I nod to the secretary and walk in. Dr Kassa is sitting there with a look of concern. Normally this would be a sign, but with Kassa you can't really tell.

"Give it to me doctor. What's the deal?"
He tells me straight because he knows I can handle it.
"I'm sorry but the tests indicate you’re getting worse. The hallucinations are going to get more vivid as time passes. Eventually you will..." He leaves the point hanging in the air, because the idea is disturbing to think about. "The most I can do is offer you stronger medicine in the hopes that it'll give you a little more time." He says these words as if he's acting them, not really believing what it is he's saying. It's as if he's gone numb.

"Take these." he says passing me a canister of pills "Take them at the times indicated on the canister."

I get up to leave and as I touch the door, the emotional reservoir inside Kassa snaps. He clears his throat as if to speak. I turn round. I'm still shocked at how my future has been decided. Kassa turns his gaze towards my eyes.

"Sorry Tom." He says the words as if in someway he failed me. He did nothing of the sort.

I exit and choking down the feeling get on with the job I have to do.

I tell none of this to John as we drive to the civil servant's work place. I'm not entirely sure how he'll react. Moving in absolute silence we drive into the car park of the building. We can see the office from here. We can also see the heavy police presence.

I smile. I decide, I may as well have some fun if my time is limited.

"John you can see what the police doing correct? Even in the poor light?"
"Yes. Two of them are reading through the ledgers. One is searching through the drawers."
"Then stay here. I need you to remember everything that they do, till I return."

Striding down the corridor, the two police men waiting outside the office start walking towards me. They have no chance.

"Excuse me sir, you need clear-"
"Actually you'll let me in right now." I say, showing him the warrant from the Governor. "I have permission to search any place that I see fit without police jurisdiction."
"Sir you cannot-"
"I cannot what? Search this office? Are you arguing with the Governor?"

Dropping that name does wonders. I swear the policemen have just shat themselves.
"Very well sir. You'll give us a few minutes before I can let you-"
"So you can what? Hide the evidence you've found? Clear up after yourselves? Move stuff away you don't want me to see? Are you being bribed? I want to know what your number is-"
"Sir I assure you was not hiding anything!"
"Then you'll open that door and let me continue my investigation! Right now!" The officers give in.
"Let me go talk to my supervisor" one of them says, practically sprinting through the door.

In less then a moment a burly angry looking man, steps out. A change of tact is in order.

"What is it you want?" he says in, gruff undertones.
"I need to examine this office. I believe it to be connected to the murder I am investigating."
"Which murder is that?"
"The murder of Mark Freeman. I really don't have time to discuss the details-"
"I don't see how the two cases are connected."
"Really? I heard the police weren't good at solving crimes, but I just thought that was a rumour."
The supervisor goes red. Getting angry now.
"I'm entitled to investigate any area I see fit. You can phone the governor and ask him if you like." The man walks back into the office. A few minutes later I hear muffled. frantic talking. I obviously haven't lost my talent to annoy people. Suddenly a beetroot face pops out the door and tells me I can enter.

I step inside and look around. It's obvious that anything remotely useful has been hidden. I breathe in slightly and then announce:
"Hmm. Nothing obvious. No clues. Sorry to have wasted your time." I then ran out the door. A frustrated bellow follows me.

"Why did we do that?" asks John, as I climb back into the car.
"I'll answer your question but first tell me what you saw.
"The policemen continued to read. However one of the men got up to go outside. When he returned he spoke some words and everyone started moving about. They hid several books away. They took out the tape out of the answering machine. They put all this in a desk drawer and then locked it."
"Would you be able to recognise the books if you saw them?"
"Of course" he says this certainty and I don't doubt him. Like I said he has amazing eyesight.
"Then you stepped in, looked around and left."

"So why did we do that? You've said before that the police would try to interfere even with a warrant so what was the point?"
"Your right- I knew that they'd hide evidence. But now we know what evidence is important and what they want to protect. Basically, instead of having to search through a mountain of books, we know which ones to grab."
"So were paying a visit here later?"
"Yes. A night time visit."

It's one in the morning. I haven't slept at all. The thought of plunging into madness is keeping me awake.

By about two o'clock I thought "bugger it" and went and sat outside on the fire escape of my apartment. Looking up and staring into the night sky.

What terrifies me is not that I'll die mad. Or that'll go insane.

What terrifies me is that it'll happen slowly. That I'll be aware of what is happening and not be able to do a thing about it. That there will come a point were I cannot recognise friends, family- anything that I actually care about. All will be washed away in visions and hallucinations.

Wasting away. Just a crowded shell of a man.

I stare down at my watch. Quarter to three. Time for my night time visit.

Oh bugger. Me and John just arrived. What greeted us was vile. One police officer murdered. Face bashed in.

Our intention was to just walk in, distract the police and take what we needed. No chance of that now.

We're running now. Trying to reach the office before the murderer. We skid round the corner and I can smell it. Burning gasoline and paper.

Oh shit. I tell John through the smoke to look for the police officer. I'm gonna try and get into the office.

The whole floor is up in flames now. I head towards the door and slam my shoulder against it hard. The door falls down. The whole office is aflame. The desk remains unburnt fortunately.

No time for grace now. Taking out the crowbar I save for occasions such as these I smash the lock off the desk. There's only one book in there as well as the answering machine tape. There's no time to find the other books.

I look up out the doorway. Standing at the other end of the corridor, shrouded by smoke and with the flames casting silhouettes against the ceiling is the man in white.

He is standing on top of a police office. I see him swing his lead pipe in a simple arcing motion. There is a sickening crunch.


For the Wordmongers' Masque

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