What are monsters made of?

“Sarah!”

The thing in front of him did not like Pete yelling. “Thing” was the only word he could use to describe the muscular human body wearing a tattered pair of jeans and topped with a wolf’s head. It lunged forward, reaching out like a man would to grab him while it’s muzzle split open in a snarl. The teeth this revealed would shred him in an instant if he didn’t do something.

He did something. It moved like a man, but it seemed to have the mind of a wolf. Pete was able to dodge it, and as it passed, he slammed the crowbar in his hand into the back of it’s head. The thing went down, and howled like a dog as Pete brought the crowbar down again and again until it fell silent.

It wasn’t the first horror Pete had seen. Another thing, much like this one but smaller, lay in the front room of his house. A woman’s body with a cat’s head and claws lay on the steps to his house. Pete had beaten them to death too.

Now that wolf-head was dead, there was nothing between him and his daughter’s room. He stepped over the still form and advanced on the familiar door. Blood had spattered everywhere in the hall, including a thin line of drops marred the childish sunflower that decorated Sarah’s door. Pete reached out to grab the door knob, and the house shook. It wasn’t hard to understand why it was shaking. Not a block away, a giant lizard was methodically reducing Plainview Grade School to a pile of rubble.

Fuck it, Pete, be honest, that’s fucking Godzilla stomping the school to pieces.

Pete remembered staring at the giant beast through his front windshield, wondering how many kids had escaped before the walking nightmare had begun its work. Even if the kids had all escaped, he had to do something, and quick. His fingers closed around the familiar doorknob, and it opened as it always had when he twisted his wrist.

“Sarah?”

The inside of his daughter’s room was all shadows and half-light. Like him, she had trouble sleeping if there was too much light in the room. So the room’s only illumination came from a tiny strip of sunlight that leaked around the edges of a set of heavy ‘black-out’ curtains. As it often was, there was a minefield of toys and discarded cloths between Pete and the bed where Sarah lay. She gave no hint she’d heard him.

“Sarah?”

He spoke louder, hoping she’d wake, but beyond a quick toss of her head, Sarah gave no sign of having heard. Again, like him, once his daughter was asleep, waking her could be near-impossible.

“Sarah!”

Louder still, but as he spoke, a thunderous roar tore the air outside. Sounding like a cross between tearing metal and low-flying jet, it shook not just the air, it rattled the room’s windows and throbbed through Pete’s body.

And still Sarah did nothing more than toss fitfully in her sleep.

Pete threaded his way through the object on the floor to reach his daughter’s bed. Bending down, he touched her shoulder. “Sarah, it’s Daddy. Wake up honey.”

His daughter rolled away from him with an inarticulate moan, and the temperature around him drop. His next breath came out as a cloud of fog, and across the bed from him, Pete saw a dark shape forming. If the thing with a wolf’s head had been a terror, to huge blob gathering before him would be a nightmare incarnate. It towered over him, topping out just beneath the eight foot ceiling, and half as wide as Sarah’s bed was long.

Pete had seen the darkness take shape before. His daughter had been a scared three year old, and he had gone to her bedroom to check on her. Like now, he’d found her asleep already. But as he stood beside her bed, he’d watched as the shadows coalesced into a teddy bear…a teddy bear in armor, carrying a sword and shield…a teddy bear that rose and moved between Pete and his daughter like a sentry.

“Sarah, you have to wake up now!”

The guardian teddy hadn’t done anything, but the way it positioned itself between them told Pete he would not be allowed to touch his daughter. It was gone the next morning, and Sarah had no memory of it.

But a few weeks later, another child had pushed Sarah down at the playground. The child and its parent had apologized, and Sarah had seemed to accept it with no hard feelings. But that night, Pete had witnessed a black outline of something that looked like himself stalk out of the house and vanish into the night. The next day, the town was abuzz with stories of a family murdered in their sleep, each member beaten to death in their beds. It wasn’t until the local paper printed their obituaries that Pete realized the family had been that of the child who’d pushed Sarah. And no one was ever brought to trial for the crime.

The dark shape became more defined. A rounded head, a long muzzle, broad shoulders…it began to look like one of the polar bears that had so fascinated Sarah at the zoo. Another screech, like the world itself were being ripped apart, tore the air outside.

People were dying outside, just as his wife had died after telling Sarah she shouldn’t be angry all the time. A black something had ripped her to shreds as she took a bag out to the garbage, leaving no trace the police could find. After that, things had gotten worse, and Sarah seemed angry all the time, just as she had been this afternoon when she’d come home from her first day at school. And now the school was being destroyed.

Pete had to act, now, before the monstrous shape across the bed could solidify and kill him. He had to act, or more people would die.

“Please, Sarah, wake up for Daddy. Please stop this.”

Sarah didn’t wake, but the giant shape became more defined. It’s thick arms made a few tentative swings, and from deep in its broad chest, he heard a rumbling growl like a dozen angry mastiffs.

Pete’s daughter was becoming a monster. He knew that. He’d hoped she’d grow out of it. But she ‘d just become angrier.

“I love you, Sarah. Daddy will protect you from the monsters.”

His arm rose, the crowbar came down, he swung it again and again, until the monster in his daughter’s bed was dead, and he wished himself dead beside her.

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Container gardening update.

A few weeks back, I wrote about my decision to experiment with container gardening, and I thought a quick update was in order.

Not being around any bee hives, I didn’t expect my plants to get pollinated. Initially, I tried using a bit of a weed to spread the pollen. Unfortunately, all that happened was that the flowers withered and died. So suspecting that something about the weed was interfering with what I was doing, I invested a buck to buy some ultra-cheap ‘craft brushes’ (think plastic-handled miniature paint brushes). Now I go out every day to ‘pollinate’ any open flowers by hand.

Results? Well, the pepper plant hasn’t flowered since that first, failed attempt, but the tomato plant has been almost covered in flowers, As you can see from the photo below, I’ve got one tomato that’s about an inch across, plus a couple of bb-sized tomatoes that have just formed.

There are a couple of flower buds on the pepper plant, and I’m hoping that they will open in the next week or so, but until they do, I don’t have any clue whether or not I’ll be able to duplicate my success with the tomato plant.

tomato

The nature (and portrayal) of evil.

Is evil relative?

I ask that question after engaging in a debate of the subject with a couple of fellow writers. They insisted that, yes, evil is relative, and writings that portray certain subjects in a positive light should not be censored.

One writer insisted that, at least at first, the Nazi’s weren’t evil. Another insisted that, because many surviving Nazi’s still view what they did in a positive light, then the actions of that regime were not evil.

Personally, I thought both of them were insane.

The first, who styled themselves as a historian, insisted that the German government didn’t really ‘go bad’ until after the war started. They also said that, because the other European powers failed to intervene, they were either complicit in what happened, of at least initially, agreed with what happened.

I remembered history differently.

I remember the violence the Nazi’s used to gain power, and the swift expansion and increasing brutality of that violence once they had achieved power. I know that they moved swiftly to crush any and all opposition parties. I remember how they rounded up those who opposed them. I also remember that they imprisoned people in existing prisons long before the first purpose-built concentration camps opened in 1933. In short, I remember that the Nazi’s were born evil, and were never anything but evil.

The other person, who insisted that because surviving Nazi’s remember their actions in a positive light, they could not have been evil I found to be laughably naive. Mass murderers, from the ‘Son of Sam’ to John Wayne Gacy, rarely if ever speak of what they did as evil. They also pulled out the “Star Wars” card, quoting Obi-Wan Kenobi’s famous ‘from a certain point of view’ line as proof that evil is all in the eyes of the beholder. This person, btw, was a woman, and I was strongly tempted to ask her how she react to a story that portrayed a woman being raped in a positive light.

Perhaps I am old, but I think there are some things that are simply evil, and that they should never, ever be portrayed as anything else. What subject I feel should be regarded that way is a long list. Mass executions. Genocide. The rounding up of large numbers of people for no other reason than to silence opposition/please a fanatical leader’s ego. Torture for any reason. Sexual violence against anyone. There are a few others, but I write this to ask all of you, the readers, what you think?

How do you feel?

Are there subjects that should not be portrayed in a positive light, or is it ‘anything goes’ and be damned to what happens after?

When they came for….

I had a big glass of cold sun tea to my lips when both the front and back doors slammed open. Oh well, you knew this day was coming. The thought flickered through my mind as booted feet thundered through my house, closing on where I sat at my desk. I took a long sip, letting the chill liquid slide down my throat as a group of men in dark coveralls and full tactical equipment pushed into the small space with me. One, a man a little shorter and a lot thicker around the waist than the rest, stepped forward.

“Allen Tanner, I am here to arrest you on the charge of treason. I would advise you to come peacefully.”

A few of the men behind him stared at me, and I saw nothing but hate in the eyes that met mine. A few grinned openly, like they were hoping for an excuse to shoot me. I refused to give them one. I pushed back from the desk slowly, raising my hands as I did so.

“So, you’re here to arrest me for treason. Will you tell me the details of my supposed high crime?”

One of the smiling ones lost his grin. Stepping forward and lowering his automatic weapon to point at my chest, he snarled. “We don’t have to tell a traitor anything, Captain. Let’s drag his ass out of here, and if he keeps delaying us, let’s just shoot him and spare the taxpayers the cost of his trial.”

Fat Man (for that was how I thought of him now) put a hand in front of the angry young man. He gave me a smile that went nowhere near his eyes as he answered. “No, Corporal Renton, he’s right. Someone facing a charge of treason is entitled to know the details of the crime they’re being charged with. Very well, Mr. Tanner. You are charged with communicating with an enemy nation. You are also charged with sending information to, and receiving information from, said nation. You are also accused of, by undertaking these communications, offering aid and comfort to said enemy. Does that make the nature of the charges you face sufficiently clear to you, Mr. Tanner?”

I favored him with a smile. “Actually, no, it doesn’t. You accuse me of sending information to an enemy nation. Would you tell me precisely what information I am supposed to have sent?”

The smile disappeared. “I have to tell you what you did, not the details of the prosecution’s case. Now, I advise you to stand up, so we can properly restrain you.”

“So I can’t know what information I supposedly sent. Can I at least know how I supposedly sent it? Am I accused of sending it in an email to someone? Did I drop a folded piece of paper with the information on it in an inconspicuous corner of my local park? Am I accuse of sending it via smoke signals when I burned my leaves?”

Fat Man’s jaw clenched. “You know perfectly well how you sent the information!” He didn’t quite bellow, but he came as close as his fat body allowed. “You communicated the information in the comments section of a web site run by and from the foreign government in question.”

So either they’ve managed to get the NSA to sic their supercomputers on my VPN communications, or they’ve got someone monitoring the comments section of that site. Neither possibility was impossible. It made no difference how they knew, because they clearly did. Hell, I’m dead anyway, might as well make this clown squirm as much as I can. “So, Captain….”

“MacMurray, James MacMurray, if it’s any of your business.”

I gave him a smile. “I’d think it’s the business of any American to know the name of the men who’re helping crush freedom.”

MacMurry flushed. “I am not crushing freedom, I’m defending it! Don’t try to push your sins off on me, sir!”

I let myself laugh, and the change clearly upset MacMurray. He sputtered and in that moment of inarticulate near silence, I drove my point home. “But you are. I know the communications you speak of. I posted a reply to a story on the BBC’s web site, correcting some facts they got wrong about the protest march in DC, the one that was fired upon by private security forces working for the President.”

“That wasn’t a ‘protest’, it was a riot by traitors, and they got what they deserved!”

“No, Captain MacMurray, there was no riot. If he wants to push that lie, your boss should have jammed cell coverage. He didn’t, and plenty of folks streamed what happened live. He did manage to keep those live streams from getting out of the US, but plenty of folks here saw what happened. Those people were peacefully marching to protest the suspension of elections, and the private security contractors opened fire on them without provocation.”

MacMurray’s anger so overcame him, his words came out in a storm of spittle. “They were traitors! The President suspended elections because he couldn’t be sure the vote would be secure.”

“He suspended elections three years ago. What’s he done to secure the process? When, precisely, does he intend to let Americans vote?”

I caught a blur of motion just before something slammed into my head. Pain exploded, then was amplified as my back caromed off the desk. I hit the floor, and a boot came down in my right hand hard enough that I felt bones break. I didn’t try to keep the scream of pain in. Then I felt something cold pressing against the back of my head.

“Those fuckin’ socialist bastards got what they deserved, and you’re gonna get what you deserve too, you worthless traitor!”

It didn’t surprise me that the voice was Renton’s, and I knew without looking that what I felt was the barrel of his gun pressed against my skull, ready to fire. I swallowed my cries of pain and forced myself to lie still. MacMurray spoke into the silence I made, and I could almost hear the smile in his voice.

“Now, Corporal Renton, don’t shoot him. If we drag him out of here dead, his neighbors might think him some sort of martyr. We’re likely to have to come back here as it is, what with none of them reporting his traitorous behavior. No, let them see him come out as he is, a battered and beaten traitor being taken to his trial. Let them watch as he’s given a fair trial, then given a fair sentence of death for his crimes. After that, any of them who might think to speak ill of our glorious President will think twice.”

The barrel pressed harder on my skull for a moment, then the pressure vanished. I rolled over, looking into the eyes of the young man who’d struck me and smiled. “He’s right, I’ll get a ‘fair’ show trial, then I’ll be executed by someone just like you. You just need to wonder how long it will be before your beloved President sends someone like you for you. After all, a good dictator never leaves witnesses around to talk about the crimes he’s committed.”

Renton’s mouth hardened, and the rifle centered on my face…then I saw his eyes dart about, taking in the men around him. I knew I’d made my point, that he couldn’t trust them. Another man came forward to roll me over before handcuffing me. It wasn’t a lot, but if I could spread doubt to a man like him, my death wouldn’t be for nothing.

On the 4th of July

Since seeing the French parade their military during the 2017 Bastille Day celebration, Donald Trump has talked of doing the same thing. Initially, he wanted to recreate the same pageantry on a larger scale in Washington, DC, complete with tanks rolling down the streets, while soldiers marched behind and military aircraft flew past overhead.

Those plans came to a screeching halt when the city government pointed out that tanks would render the roads they drove over unusable for days, and that they would expect the full cost of repairing said roads to be borne by the federal government. Even Trump’s own military advisers advised against such a parade, saying it would not be the best use of precious military resources. Most important, nobody seemed to know where the money to cover such a display would come from.

This year, however, it seems all the restraining voices have been silenced, and Mr. Trump intends to have his pageant. Things have been scaled back. No longer does he expect Abrahams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles to pass in review. No, now they are to be ‘parked’ in ‘prominent spots’. And while no surging mass of service members will be required to parade past him, a large contingent of service members will be taking part. And he will get his military fly-over, courtesy of the Navy’s Blue Angels.

Mr. Trump calls this a ‘Salute to America’. Yet those attending will be separated, with ‘VIP’ tickets being issued by the Republican Party. And while funding to pay for the review stands, podium and all the other associated work to stage this event is still largely kept from the taxpayers who are paying for it, the Park Service has already admitted that over two million dollars of it’s funds will go towards paying for this. That money, by the way, came from admission fees charged to enter national parks, and was originally intended to cover maintenance and upkeep of our national parks.

What is most disturbing about this ‘Salute to America’ is the fact that it does nothing to actually salute this nation. Unlike France and many other European nations, America has no history of parading our military services through the street. We honor not the various services, but the brave men and women who step forward to serve in them. And while I have not read, nor heard, what Mr. Trump will say in front of the Lincoln Memorial, I will stake a fair amount of money that much of it will be not about the courage of those who volunteer to service, nor will it be about this nation as a whole. No, it will mostly be about Donald Trump.

And if that happens, it means this expenditure of our tax dollars is paying for nothing less than a publicly-funded campaign rally…and that should worry every American.

The Occasional Okatu recommends: “Carole & Tuesday”

It’s been a while since I wrote anything about anime, but that’s mainly been because most of what’s being released right now is either continuing episodes, or just not that good.

There is one except to that, unfortunately, it’s an anime that’s not easy to find in the US. That exception is “Carole and Tuesday”. The story is set on a terraformed Mars at some indeterminate point in a future where most creative work is done by AI’s. It starts with a chance meeting between two very different people.

Carole is a child of poverty and hardship, a young woman who’s earliest memories are of being in a refugee camp without her parents. From there, she is shipped off to Mars, where she grows up in group homes with other orphans. She lives in an attic over a shop, working odd jobs and busking for what she can make.

Tuesday, on the other hand, is a child of wealth. Her family is so rich and powerful that she has no clue how to survive in the outside world. She wants for nothing material, but her family treats her as a failure due to her poor performance in school. Desiring to make a life of her own, she runs away from home. Her destination is Alba City, the biggest city on Mars.

It is there that she hears Carole playing a melody she composed, and is so struck by it that she begin writing lyrics. It is the thing these two different young women share, a love of music. It draws them together, and when Carole offers Tuesday a place to sleep in her attic, she accepts.

They flesh out their first song that night, and on an impulse, sneak into a concert hall the next day to play it on a grand piano. Only a few people are in the hall: a security guard who Carole knows and bluffs her way past, some people giving the hall a final cleaning before a performance that night….and the roadie for the performer who will be doing the gig. What they sing is this, an example of the music composed and performed for this anime:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5R2ldnfCPUo

The roadie, who had started shooting a video when the girls went on stage, along with every person in the hall, stops in amazement. They get interrupted by another security guard who chases the girls off, but when the roadie posts his recording of their performance to social media, it become popular, and the young women begin the voyage to becoming professional musicians.

The most recent episode is #10, and so far, I am quietly amazed by both the music this anime features and the story it tells. It’s listed as a co-production with Netflix, but they aren’t currently offering it in the US. You can find it online, such as at:

http://www.anime1.com/watch/carole-tuesday

Or you could try this link:

https://animekisa.tv/carole–amp–tuesday

Where ever you find it, watch it, because this one is a good one.

Ring tone

I hear the tinny, almost comical rendition of “The Ride of the Valkyries”. After so many times hearing that same string of notes, I know what it is: someone’s idea of a ‘cute’ ring tone. By this point, if I could find the person who put that ring tone online, they’d be dead, as dead as I’m about to be.

The first time I heard it, I was kicking back, reading a book as the Metra West commuter train took me to the Ogilvie and the hope of a sunny day to stroll downtown Chicago. The sound came from overhead, just the first dozen notes, then in a wave of compressed air and a flash of flames, my life ended.

The next thing I knew, there I was, reading my book again. The crappy PA blared Berkley will be the next stop, but nobody moves. Sitting in the middle of a massive rail yard, nobody gets off at Berkley on the weekends. The stop is brief, and as we start rolling again, I hear the same music. I die realizing I’m stuck in a macabre version of “Groundhog Day” where I relive my death over and over.

The third time, and I get out of my seat, and everyone stares at me. Like me, most of them know nobody will get off or on at Berkley, and they wonder why I am out of my seat. But I will only have a moment to find out where the tone comes from, and with it, the bomb connected to the phone. My ears told me the last time that it was in front of me, so I charge away from the doors towards the front of the car. Again, the announcement comes forth and the train slows to a stop. I should get off. Even as the cowardly part of my mind thinks the thought, my heart rebels against the idea. The train starts to move, and the ring tone begins. It’s behind me now, and I turn towards it. I see five bags vanish in a flash, and I die again.

The fourth time and I am out of my seat even as I realize I am back again. Without thinking, I grab the red shopping bag with the C-Span logo on it which is nearest to me down from the overhead rack. A woman just behind me shouts protests. It holds a list of events at a literary event dated to occur today, but nothing more. I drop it and grab another shopping bag, this one black with the logo of a local grocery chain. I have time to look in it and see a single book before the ring tone starts and everything disappears in a flaming blast.

Everything is as it was. I am holding my book again, but I drop it as I jump to my feet. Only three bags left. One of them is mine, the black backpack I carry when I go into the city, so that can’t be the bag. I ignore it and the two I remember looking into to grab another backpack. It’s a dark-blue pack with a battered leather bottom, and I notice it’s heavy. Both zippers are together on one end of their track, and as I pull the upper one around, it snags on the nylon overlying it. The PA blares out “Berkley. The next stop will be Berkley.” and I force the zipper back away from the fabric stopping it before pulling it open enough to reveal…an old laptop that is consumed with me by the blast from above.

I drop my book the moment I return. I stand and reach for the last backpack, a pink kid’s pack with a rainbow in the lower corner. It too is heavy, like the last one I looked into. I try to be calm so I can open it without jamming the zipper, and it works. But inside it are coloring books and crayons, not explosives. I stare at them as the PA repeats it’s announcement and the same stupid notes come down from over my head before my world disappears in flames again.

I am back again, and I remember my wife handing me my backpack as I left. How it felt heavier than it normally did. The strange way she smiled at me after I kissed her cheek and told her my usual “See you when I get back.” As the PA comes to life again, it dawns on me. She knows what I really do in Chicago. I walk around, but in Chinatown, and what I’m looking for is massage parlors that offer not massages, but sex. Could my wife build something like a pipe bomb hooked to a phone? As I disappear again, I know that she could, and that the ringtone is her message to me. The Valkyries didn’t just collect the valiant dead, they also brought vengeance. And this is her revenge on me.