Burning Oak

Ap looked taken aback, but rallied quickly.  “It matters not!  You still consort with demons!”

Gobstab stopped kicking his feet against the side of the stove.  “He’s kinda got you there, boss.”

“Ha!  Your foul servant admits it!”

David cleared his throat.  “Bit of a story there, actually.”

I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead.  “I didn’t summon him.  I won him playing cards.”

“Playing.  Cards.”  The disbelief was thick in Ap’s voice.

I opened my eyes.  “Yes, I know.  It sounds ridiculous.  He was in the service of some idiot…”

“Raz’hal’al the Mad,” said Gobstab, wistfully.

“Right. Raz the Idiot.  We got him drunker than a skunk, challenged him to a game with marked cards, and cheated like all hell to get Gobby here out of his hands.”

At his nickname, Gobstab stuck out his tongue at me.  It was not a pretty sight.  He pulled it back in and shrugged.  “Gotta admire a man like that, even if he is a pain to work for.”

“You admit you desired his service!” shouted Ap.

“Not really,” I said.  “Raz was, as I mentioned, an idiot.  Leaving Gobby here in his service would be like giving the town bully a siege engine.  No way that was turning out well.  So we stole him, fair and square.”

“So he could serve you!” said Ap triumphantly. “Were you concerned, you could dismiss him!”

“Ain’t happening,” said Gobstab happily.  “I’m bound to this plane until my summoner dies.  That’s Raz the Idiot.”  He stopped and spat on the floor.  “Gah!  Now you’ve got me doing it.”

“Well, he was an idiot.” I looked knowingly at Ap while I said that, just to get the point across.  “So, yes, I could dismiss Gobstab.  All I would have to do is kill someone.  Not willing to do that.”

“Wuss.”  Gobstab’s accusation lacked oomph.  “He’s more interesting than Raz, in any case.  Man’s teaching me more than I ever thought I could learn about torture.”

“Ah-ha!  EVIL!”

I looked at Ap wearily.  “You really haven’t learned, have you?  Gobby, tell him how I torture you.”

“Oh, man.  Where to start?  I’ve lost track of the number of little old ladies I’ve had to help across the street.  He makes me do children’s shows at orphanages.  And the ‘scared straight outta hell’ messages he’s had me deliver to troubled youth?” Gobstab shuddered.  “It’s crazy, I tell you.  The man’s demented.”

Ap looked at me, confused.  I shrugged.  “Entirely different value systems,” I explained.  “I’m just keeping him busy for the next few decades until Raz the Idiot manages to get his ticket punched.”


I watched as Ap stumbled off into the twilight, headed in the general direction of Wolthaven.  I looked at David and held out my hand.

He grumbled, but fished out a couple of copper pins from his pocket and passed them over.  “The way he came at you with that sword, I honestly didn’t think you’d convince him.”

“And he did it telling nothing but the truth,” said Gobstab.  The sense of disbelief in the little demon’s voice was matched by the confused expression on his gnarled face.

I coughed.  “Most of the truth, at least.”

David chuckled.  “You did leave out the bit about needing to preserve the Carrasone forests so Karl could build you an invasion fleet to take against Yarvan.”

I shrugged.  “He never asked.”  I looked at Gobstab suspiciously.  “However, I am surprised that you didn’t mention anything.”

Gobstab chuckled, low and dark and evil.  “Say anything?  Are you kidding?”  He rubbed his hands together gleefully.  “Boss, his fate line and yours are tangled up every which way.  Since you let him live, you’re going to be running into this guy over and over and over…” The demon stopped and looked up at me, grinning.  “And you gave him money to buy a new sword!  Tell him?  Oh, no.  This is going to be absolutely hilarious.”

I sighed.  “Great.  Fine.  Whatever.  We’ll deal with that when the days comes.”  I looked at David.  “Cup of tea, then we get back to burning the forest, and get the hell out of here so we can invade Yarvan.”  I turned to walk back inside, and David fell into step next to me.

“You know, you really aren’t a very good dark lord.”

I stopped at looked at him.  “Navy blue at best,” we said together, giving each other a half smile.  I laughed and threw an arm around his shoulder.

“You, on the other hand, make an excellent minion.  Come on.  Let’s have a cup of tea before we get on with taking over the world.”

On Zombies and Clowns


Jake’s voice was soft, and scared.  I popped the magazine out of my M&P Shield and pocketed it before I pulled one from my holster and slid in into the mag well of my pistol.  I’d already burned through one magazine.  After this one, I would have to start looking for reloads… or a hand-to-hand weapon,

The later was not an appealing thought.  Hand-to-hand meant “within bite range”, which is not where you generally want to be with zombies.

I slid the magazine home and pulled back the slide to chamber a shell.  “What?”  I tried to sound concerned.  What can I say?  Customer service training kicks in at the oddest moments.  Even though we weren’t anywhere near the AT&T store that paid my bills, and we had random former mall patrons trying to eat my face, my first inclination was to treat Jake like a customer. Go figure.

“Why… why aren’t they… interested in us?”

I looked at Jake.  In all honesty, he looked ridiculous.  We were both made up for a night of lessons at Madame Trudeau’s School of Clowns and Japery.  That was the official name, at least.  Most of us students just called it, “The Clown School” and left it at that.

I took in his big, red, bulbous nose, his wild hair, his makeup-white skin.  Even with his furrowed brow and concerned eyes, Jake looked ridiculous.

“No idea,” I said shortly, as I turned back to look out the entrance to the Nature’s Way store we had ducked into.  It was full of Himalayan Sea Salt lamps, incense burners and…

… crappy knock-off, Japanese swords.

“Jake!” I barked.  Jake straightened up, his neon blue hair bouncing amusingly.  “Head towards the back, will you?  They have swords back there.”  Crappy, useless swords, I thought.  “Sharp enough to stab, if we need to,” I continued.  “Go grab a couple of ‘em?”

Jake looked around.  He wasn’t the bravest guy in the world, nor the brightest.  He was a clown, for crying out loud.  Not even a clown - a clown trainee.  I closed my eyes and shook my head.  In a different world, I was hanging out with the Marines at the recruiting station down the hall.

In a different world, I was dead.

I opened my eyes and looked at Jake as I chambered a round in my pistol. “Go get the swords.  We may need them.”

“Right. Yeah. Ok.” Jake sounded like he was trying to convince himself as he headed towards the back to the store.  He pulled up to a stop next to the stand of rain forest sound makers.

“Um.  Bob?  There’s…”

He didn’t even get to finish the sentence before the zombie lunged up and around the display case at him.  I recognized him.  Gary had worked at Nature’s Way for the past three years, working himself up from clerk to manager to store manager.    We’d spent more than a coupe of nights together, talking politics and hashing out the solutions to every ill of the world.  Even though he was liberal as the day is long, the poor bastard deserved better than this.

So did Jake, really.  I had to admit that.  It was a grudging admission, though.  If you offered me the choice between Gary and Jake a few days ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated,  Gary was a hardcore liberal, true, but he was at least fun to argue with and made me stop and think once in a while.

Jake… Jake thought I was some sort of fascist wannabe because I had my concealed carry license and studied hapkido.

Jake also had a pussy hat.  Enough said.

Faced with a marauding, brainless Gary, Jake froze.  For some reason, though, Gary also pulled up and stopped as well.  That gave me a second to look at him, which didn’t really contribute to the “Bob keeping the contents of hi stomach down” fund.  Gary’s head was half gone, and from the looks of it, something had clawed his head open looking for brains before it got terminally distracted.  The back half of Gary’s skull was open, oozing, and extremely unappealing.

I gagged, and brought the Shield up as Gary - well, what was once Gary - sniffed at Jake and looked confused.  I sighted in on the remains on Gary’s skull, and paused before I pulled the trigger. 

“Goodnight, man,” was all I could muster before I squeezed once, twice, three times.  Gary’s head exploded in a fountain of gore, splashing Jake with various and sundry unappealing bits of grey matter before Gary’s body finally flopped over and collapsed to the ground.

“Gah…gah…” Jake made some gagging sounds, then suddenly and violently turned to his left and puked.  He retched for a good couple of minutes, emptying his stomach completely.  Just the I though he was done, he would turn his head towards me, hold up and hand, then go back to retching.

I guess getting somebody else’s brains in your mouth will do that to you.

I kept a look out while Jake retched.  “What’s going on?” he finally spit out.  He finished retching, and stood up to look at me, then asked the question I had been wondering about myself. 

“Why aren’t they attacking us?”

I looked at him and shook my head. “I don’t know, man.  I just don’t know.”   The two of us were a sight, I knew.  White face paint.  Scare wigs. Fake rubber noses. Big clown pants and big clown shoes.  I looked left then right, then over my shoulder, just as I had been trained in the hapkido dojoang.  Aside from Gary, I didn’t see any unholy, marauding undead.

“Come on.” I gestured at the row next to him. “Grab those swords”.

“Right, right.” There was a pause as Jake looked around.  “Anything else?”

I hesitated.  We were in a mall, after all - the perfect place to stock up in the event of a zombie apocalypse.  However I was also low on ammunition.  We could get that for sure at the sporting good store on the other side of the mall, if we really wanted to.  Trying to fight our way through would probably mean disaster, though.

I looked at Jake and what remained of Gary, and a thought came into my head.  It was significant
enough that I paused for a moment to consider it’s implications.

I suddenly realized Jake was looking at me, his hands gently pushing the Shield away from his person.

“Bob?  Come on back, man…. Bob?”

I squeezed my eyes shut, tight, then opened them again.

“I’m here, I’m here. Jake.”


 I looked at my fellow clown.  “We need to get to the sporting goods store.  Arm ourselves.  Pick up ammo.  After that….” I looked at Jake.  “I’m thinking our best bet might be the library.”

Jake frowned.  It made him look ridiculous in his clown makeup.  “The library?”

“Yeah.”  I hesitated a bit. “Used to work there years ago, in high school.  The place was built to serve as a bomb shelter.  It can definitely keep zombies out.”  I took a deep breath.  “Couple of friends of mine that worked there, we talked about how it was the prefect place to hole up if the zombie apocalypse ever came.”  I looked around at the shop, then out towards the main concourse in the mall where various individuals were shambling about in distinctly non-living poses, and nodded, half to Jake, half to myself.

“Seems like that’s where we are now.”  I looked at Jake.  “So.  Sporting goods store, then the library.  That’s my plan.  You in?”

Skynet n'at

We have Google and Uber here in Pittsburgh, and now Argo is coming. Then there's the CMU Robotics Lab, and a number of other robotics startups in the region.

The thought that Skynet might be a yinzer has never crossed my mind before... but it is starting to look more and more likely.

I Amuse Myself

A random comment I made yesterday.  I giggled over this for a good minute after I posted it.
My ancestors are good Irish and Polish stock. I am optimized for a temperature of 40-50F, a nice light rain, and potato-based alcoholic beverages served in screw-top bottles.

On The Subject Of Nemesii

On another forum today, I kind of indicated that I'd like to be Captain Canuck's nemesis.

I was joking, but the more I thought about it...

Well, you've got to start somewhere, right? All the big-time superheroes have a waiting list, and just getting on the list is brutal. I mean, sure, I'd love to be Superman's nemesis, but dear sweet merciful heaven above - you've got to deal with Brainiac, Doomsday and that little creep Mxyzptlk just to get a shot at it!

So I said to myself, "Self, you need to set your sights appropriately. Grow into threatening the Earth and the multiverse." (I talk to myself like that a lot. It's one of the reasons I know that I truly am cut out to be a nemesis.) As I thought about it, I realized that threatening Canada is actually a pretty good gig. I mean... just take a look at all the perks. There's Tim Hortons, for one. If I'm going to be terrorizing a country, it might as well be a place where I can get a kicking good cup of coffee and a donut to start the day. Poutine, back bacon, beer...

OK, yeah, I know. A little food oriented. It happens. I'm just rolling with it.

Anyways. Where was I? Oh, yeah. Plusses. Great place for a lair - you've got all that scenic north to hide in. Cute girls. Not that I'm interested - married man, after all - but it makes it a whole lot easier to recruit minions, let me tell you. I know one guy getting started off in the nemesis rackets, he's down in DC. Has a heck of a hard time getting good help. "Yes, you'd have to move to Washington. No, DC. Yeah... no, not all the women are screaming feminists wearing pussy hats... hello? Hello?"

Finally, let's be honest - Canadians are just so stinkin' polite. I'm pushing 50, and it is hard finding a superhero who'll let you stop and take a breather when you're in the middle of a tussle. Captain Canuck? "Hey, man. You're looking a little winded. How's aboot we take a break, eh? Maybe grab a coffee at Tim's?" That, right there, is quality superheroing, man. You just don't find that anymore these days, I'm telling you.

What I'm saying is that all adds up to HELLS YEAH, count me in as Captain Canuck's nemesis! 

Remember, Dilbert is a Documentary

I am sure that, somewhere, someone read this article on what office design says about your employees' happiness, and is currently drafting a memo similar to the following...
Per Business Instruction 3.5.17q, all employees are now required to greet the receptionist (Edit: What's her name again? We have it written down somewhere, right?) warmly in passing, but ONLY if a non-employee is in the vicinity. You are responsible for differentiating between a non-employee and current employees. Failure to warmly greet the receptionist in passing (or to greet without noticeable warmth) in the presence of a non-employee is grounds for reprimand, and possible termination of employment. 
Wasting company time greeting the secretary in any fashion when a non-employee is NOT present shall be construed as a frivolous waste of company resources, and will be dealt with in accordance with the relevant regulations from the Innitech Employee Handbook, Chapters 9 through 14, inclusive. 
Have a nice day.

It Runs In The Family

Texting with my youngest brother about whether or not the new executive in his office is the rightful ruler of Gondor, or merely a steward. Evidence so far is inconclusive. He's going to bring up rumors of a ranger in the north during casual conversation, and see what kind of reaction that elicits.

Teaching != Learning

Yesterday, I learned that if I insult my boss in a humorous fashion, he will reward me by giving me interesting problems to solve!

I'm pretty sure that is not the lesson that he wanted to teach me, but it absolutely is the lesson I learned.