Tag Archives: Comedy

Bonfire of the Inanities

It is not often that I have had the chance to put out a man on fire in my previous occupations. When I worked for a neighbor in Tennessee, acting as the ditch-digger assistant to his backhoe service, there were no chances at all for life-saving. I did get to play with jackhammers and dynamite. He taught me the frightful synergy of tamping a blast hole with diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate long before Oklahoma City.

Subsequent jobs had few chances for heroics, though I did learn concrete-forming, burger-flipping, photo-processing, and waste water lab testing. The one time a rack of super-heated test tubes full of  grey water and sulfuric acid exploded all over my lab manager, he pretty much saved himself by diving into the safety shower. He sustained no serious injuries, but we all learned a valuable lesson about saying the phrase “things can’t get any worse” out loud.

Now, when I worked as a balloon delivery driver, that was my biggest opportunity to be a hero.  Along with wrangling a dozen helium balloons at a time in high winds, I got to make deliveries to birthday parties, massage parlors, and gross anatomy classes.  One time, I even got a chance to put out a flaming handyman.

The balloon service was preparing to move from its quaint but cramped quarters in German Village to Main St. in Bexley, the Beverly Hills of Columbus. (Say that to yourself a couple of times: the Beverly Hills of Columbus. Savor the cognitive dissonance.)  A few of us twenty-somethings were painting and prepping the walls while the owner’s handyman was stripping the old wooden desks.

Now, this handyman was a curmudgeon and a proud graduate of the School of Hard Knocks. It sounded like he had been the keynote speaker and valedictorian of the class of ’32 as he shared the highlights of his speech. The theme was Common Sense and how “you college boys” don’t know anything about the real world and surviving in it. It wasn’t an overly complicated topic, but he expanded upon it with anecdotes and examples to make it clearer for those of us that were reality-impaired.

We really didn’t engage with him, but he just kept talking as he slapped the noxious chemicals on the varnished wood, scraped it off, and discarded the flammable gel on the canvas drop cloth. A fairly even coat got spattered on the legs of his jumpsuit, too.

Eventually, he took a break.

A smoking break.

He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a book of matches. Right there, in the middle of the furniture stripping project, he did this. With a cigarette in his mouth, he lit one of the matches. I reconstruct the next few steps from the explanations he had to give to several people afterwards.

He struck the match.

He realized that he was in the midst of a large amount of open and flammable chemicals. Being a worldly man, he knew that this was a dangerous situation and he should really take this outside.

Because he wasn’t some snot-nosed college kid, he was smart enough to not set himself on fire. He stood there silently congratulating himself on his exceptional Common Sense. I don’t know how he did this, but it was a fraction of a second too long.

The match singed his fingers and he dropped it. It set the gel on the drop cloth around him to a small but steady flame. The legs of his grey-pinstripe coveralls caught fire in less than a second.

A good deal of shouting, flailing, and stomping ensued. I don’t know if it was just good planning or I had seriously expected this to happen, but I knew exactly where the fire extinguisher was. I hurried the ten to twenty  feet to the big red cylinder on the floor. I popped the cotter key off that sucker and dowsed everything that was burning with a thick cloud of fire suppressants.

The handyman looked crestfallen, but no longer aflame. The atmosphere, previously tainted with blather and contempt, was now filling up with smoke, toxic fumes, and the bitter taste of the extinguisher. Formic acid settled onto the back of my tongue and stuck. My coworkers rushed to throw open both the front and back doors. It was a short contest between the evening breeze blowing through and the steady cloud rising from the smoldering goo on the floor. Eventually, clean air tipped the balance.

That’s about the time the fire alarms went off.

This was a new building to us. No-one had mentioned a built-in alarm system or how to turn it off. We rushed to the circuit box and started throwing switches until the noise finally stopped.  We chuckled among ourselves, relieved that we were all alive and hadn’t burned down the building. I said something along the lines of: “Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if the lines were still connected to the fire department?”

That’s when we heard the approaching sirens.

Four or five firefighters in full gear came in the front door. The owner returned from his errands through the back door.  It was a very uncomfortable fifteen minutes for the handyman.

When asked, I gave a fairly neutral version of the facts, even though the “stupid college kid” in me wanted to rub his nose in smoldering furniture stripping gel. I had done plenty of stupid things before. I have done a few stupid things since. I’ve been lucky that after the flames were out, nobody ever threw me under the bus.

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Adulting on the Weekend

I am in an uncomfortable place for an indie author. My previous publisher pulled my Arcanum Faire books upon reversion of rights on February 1st. (It was an amicable separation, just like me and my first wife). My new publisher is still securing an editor for my upcoming tale of the Squirrel Apocalypse. I am only waiting on a really cool cover from excellent comic artist Seth Lyons to self-publish Camp Arcanum. Unfortunately, I don’t have the narcissism and unmedicated gall to ask him to put the cover ahead of his ant-related injuries to his hands and the repairs of his parent’s home from the Memorial Day tornadoes. That only proves I don’t have what it takes to be a small press publisher. (Did I tell you it was a really, really amicable separation? I signed a paper.)

This all leaves me with no reason to scream “BUY MY BOOK!” There is nothing out there to buy. I guess I’ll just have to be an adult, even on the weekend. This is how it looks:

6:20 am. Cats and bladder go off. Don robe and slippers.

6:25 am. Feed rodents and cats. Do NOT feed rodents to cats. Secure first cup of coffee and first pill.

6:35 am. Fiddle on computer until brain engages.

7:20 am. Brain still not engaged; will have to go on like every other day of my life. Avoid waste by eating last Apple Fritter for breakfast and taking the rest of my pills with even more coffee.

8:00 am. Wife, being a reasonable human being, sleeps until absolutely necessary to awaken. I don jeans and tee-shirt as she prepares for the day. (dressing much earlier than usual for the weekend)

8:20 am. Wife leaves to care for friends’ cats before opening our store. I open garage door for her and The Broom.

8:25 am. Since I am outdoors and not wearing bathrobe, I till herb and vegetable gardens.

8:45 am. Transplant invasive comfrey from last season into the shame corner of the herb garden, just below the gas meter. Give them a stern talking to while doing so.

9:00 am.  Run a load of laundry and calculate the logistics of hanging damp clothes around the house if the dryer malfunctions again. More harsh language.

9:15 am. Replace old whiteboard with new preformatted project whiteboard. Transfer data and magickal glyphs. Rough out this week’s blog post and about a quarter page of my steampunk WIP. I feel the power of the dry erase flowing through my veins.

10:30 am. Leave cats in charge of house and stop by the credit union drive-thru to deposit check from bookstore. (Yes, people actually pay me for my books, some times.) Bank is usually closed by the time I get free of the day job, so I am actually conducting business when I should be home watching cartoons and wolfing down Lucky Charms.

11:08 Meet Sheldon at theater to catch John Wick 3. Last instance of adult thought for the weekend.

 

 

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Joust

This weekend was the second annual Treaty City Joust, an acknowledged tournament for international league standing in Darke County Ohio. It is something of a big deal if you follow sports where people on horseback whack each other with sticks.

I had been there last year, tucked between the food trucks to sell  my books. It had been a very good sales day for a variety of reasons. 1.) The Arcanum Faire books are set in Arcanum in Darke County and many locals can’t believe somebody actually wrote a book about their boring little town.  2.) I was tucked between the food trucks where potential readers were already clutching money in their fists. 3.) The heroes were ren faire performers and jousters just like the competitors on the list who valiantly fought to hold off the end of the world. 4.) I was between the food trucks.

I was not exactly engaged and enthusiastic Saturday morning. After my bout with pneumonia a few years, seasonal allergies easily escalated up to asthma and fatigue. My recently increased levels of antidepressants weren’t picking up the slack yet, either. Promises had been made to unknown fans on the Internet, so there was an obligation to attend even if there had been minimal contact with organizersI slowly assembled my books, tent, and other accoutrements and pointed my car towards the nearest gas station that excepted my fuel rewards card.

That is where I received my first sign that the Universe wasn’t in support of my quest. At the gas station, the card reader declined all of the debit cards in my wallet. Only someone who has ninety-nine per cent of their assets existing only as data in financial data banks can appreciate the fleeting terror of that moment. I did finally register a hand-written sign on building’s door which read: NO DEBIT/CREDIT. Through some glitch of technology, all of their card readers, inside and out, were useless. The ATM outside the building worked just fine. I was able to buy my gas the way my nineteenth century ancestors did, with cold hard cash.

Trusting that to be the worst thing to happen to me that morning, I fired up Google Maps to guide me around the streets closed for maintenance between me and the freeway. Thus commenced a leisurely tour of the neighborhoods around the OSU campus as my phone demanded multiple U-turns and normal turns onto paths that were blocked to me.  Resetting the device, enhanced with vigorous bouts of harsh language, did no good until I noticed the projected time for an eighty-six mile trip would take nine hours and forty-seven minutes. For reasons unknown to Goddess and Science, my phone and Google believed I was on a bicycle.

At nearly the time I had been hoping to arrive, Kreatur and I left Columbus. The trip had all the minor annoyances common to a road trip in Central Ohio, but nothing as irredeemably odd as my earlier difficulties. The high point was my bird of omen. For the longest time I had felt a strong affinity for hawks and eagles, even before a sparrowhawk flew down my chimney for me to capture. (it was released, no need to track me down ODNR)

Off to my right was a red-tail hawk in flight with a snake in its beak. I thought the sign augured well for my day at the Darke County Fairgrounds. Either that, or I was destined to found an Aztec empire in a new Tenochtilan.

The torrential rains from the night before must have frightened off many of the attendees. Some of the arena was still a mud pit, and the junior jousters set to run through their paces a nine a.m. were just getting started in the afternoon as I arrived. The crowd was only a third of the previous year’s size. They looked to be families that had spent almost all of their money on horses, armor, and jousting lessons.

There were no food trucks.

I stuck around until the wind folded up my tent for me, but it proved to be a very disappointing sales. I hold my chin up and keep chugging. There is still a good chance of my building a stone pyramid in the jungle and cutting out the hearts of my enemies at its summit.

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The Squirrel Apocalypse is Nigh!

I know you folks have been waiting for a while, but the time is here. I have signed a contract with Hydra Publishing for my next book: Squirrel Apocalypse. It is a profound rumination on how a shattered man cannot return to his idyllic childhood retreat, and when he tries, it winds up being overrun by killer GMO squirrels.

Set in the halcyon days before marijuana went legal in Northern California, it is a maniacal romp with geriatric pot farmers, drug cartels, dairy cows, a radio voice like sex on buttered toast, and squirrels. Lots and lots of squirrels.

I have no definite publication date yet, but it should be some time this summer. Catch it upon its release and finally learn the answer to the question: “How is karma like a squirrel in a blender?”

And now for a slightly related musical interlude:

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Dead Rabbits on Imbolc

Merry Imbolc, or Candlemas, or Groundhog’s Day. Whatever floats your metaphysical boat upon your noumenal reservoir. It is a time to contemplate renewal amidst the cold and dark of winter, a time to take stock of your resolutions in the second month of the new year. Or a time for dead black magicians to return from the grave. Your choice.

This is an excerpt from “The Ren Faire at the End of the World” which happens in Arcanum on Imbolc. This explains a little why Arcanum Ohio is the scariest town in the world:

 

Marc followed the trail through the slush left by yellow-suited crime scene technicians. In one of the older quarters of the Arcanum cemetery, yellow police tape was strung from yew tree to yew tree to cordon off the ruins of the Stone family mausoleum. Photographers and deputies slipped under the tape going back and forth.

Brenwyn stood at the outskirts of the activity, wrapped in a gray woolen cloak. She was poised as if listening carefully to something no one else could hear. As Marc came up beside her, he could see that her eyes were closed.

“I should have known that we’d wind up in a graveyard at some point,” he said.

“We all do,” she replied, her eyes still closed.

“Cheery.” He sighed. A graveyard is a tough room for comedy. “Picking up anything on your radar? Besides the police calls, that is?”

Brenwyn opened her eyes. They were a flat grey today that nearly matched her cloak. The three vertical scars on her cheek seemed even darker against her olive skin for some reason. She drew closer to Marc.

“There is something behind this, something that goes back before Jeremiah’s death,” the young witch said. “It is vast and dark and hidden.”

“Isn’t that pretty much what ‘Arcanum’ means?”

He at least got a lopsided smile out of her for his efforts.

“Do you know what today is?” she asked.

Marc did some quick calculations in his head.

“Our three-and-a-half-month anniversary?”

“Possibly.” She acknowledged that with a nod. “It is also Imbolc today.”

“And that is?”

“One of the eight Great Sabbats, it is a time of renewal after Midwinter,” she said. “You would know it as Groundhog’s Day.”

“So, there’s a chance that we’ll go through this morning over and over again?”

“Not likely. But Jeremiah did say something about the groundhog seeing his shadow this year.”

Marc knew that the last message from Brenwyn’s ex was just a trick of modern phone technology, recorded as he stood with the noose around his neck and left on her answering machine two weeks later, but the thought of that little goth weasel coming back from the dead still made his skin crawl. There was only one rational response:

“Rat’s ass.”

“Rat’s ass, indeed.”

Brenwyn leaned in closer and Marc wrapped a protective arm around her. As they settled into each other for warmth, a low, cultured voice boomed out from behind them.

“Aw, how touching: The conspirators share an intimate moment.”

Marc and Brenwyn turned towards the sound, separating as they did. Lieutennant Throckmorton of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation stood there, smiling, a tall black man in a cheap black suit. Marc put a hand on Brenwyn’s shoulder and pulled her back beneath his arm.

“Good morning, Lt. Throckmorton,” Brenwyn purred with false cheer. “Did Sheriff Latchke call you also?”

“Maybe to help string yellow police tape?” Marc added.

“I am engaged in an ongoing investigation, if you don’t mind.” The long-standing animosity between him and Brenwyn over his investigation of Jeremiah Stone was evident in his voice.

“Oh no, do go ahead. Detect or do whatever you do,” she said.

“You’re too kind, Ms. Czarnecky. Would you two care to join me at the crime scene?” He gestured as if showing them to their seats in the theater.

Marc looked anxiously at Brenwyn. She gave him the slightest of nods.

“I was, actually, hoping to get a look,” he said.

“Perhaps, you could share some thoughts,” Throckmorton replied.

Throckmorton turned and headed for what was left of the miniature Gothic cathedral that housed generations of the Stone family dead. Marc and Brenwyn followed him at a distance.

“Careful, dear…” Brenwyn murmured.

“I know,” Marc replied. “As always, I’m the prime suspect.”

#

A single whoop of the siren shattered the morning peace as the sheriff arrived last on the crime scene. Marc could see, even from outside the perimeter, that the Stone family mausoleum was simply shattered.

One side of the ornate structure had collapsed, scattering its rough-cut red granite stones over the dead grass and crushed foliage. The interiors of two of the crypts were visible through the breach in the nearest wall. There was one coffin missing.

A leafless magnolia leaned away from the building. The tree’s roots raised into the air along with a mat of turf and soil. Patchy snow around the grounds was trampled to slush by a myriad of what looked to be animal footprints.

The sheriff and a half-dozen of his deputies gathered around his SUV on the far side of the building to go over the situation within the cordon of yellow police tape. None of them seemed interested in a visiting contractor and witch.

Lt. Throckmorton stood waiting for Marc and Brenwyn at the edge of the crime scene.

“Thank you for coming down,” he said. “I’d appreciate any insight you might have.”

As they drew closer, Marc started to make his usual assessment of another male:

Could I take him in a fair fight?

Then, Marc remembered this was the same state cop that had stood by without complaint as Jeremiah’s father threatened to blow Marc’s brains out. He decided it best to cooperate and make no sudden moves.

Brenwyn looked quietly horrified at the desecration of the tomb. Marc was honestly impressed by the sheer scale of the damage.

“My God, what a mess,” Marc said. “Any idea who did this?”

What did this,” Brenwyn corrected. “Do you remember the Samhain bonfire? The second one?”

She could be referring to any number of horrors that gathered around the illegal bonfire Jeremiah had set on the faire grounds, from protean demons from before the time of Creation to the flock of skinned rabbits and squirrels possessed by those spirits. From the clues, Marc was guessing something compact and skinless.

“Looks bad, smells bad, about the size of a shoe box?”

“That would sum it up.”

Throckmorton lifted up the tape to allow Marc and Brenwyn to pass underneath it.

“What are you two talking about?” the lieutenant asked irritably.

“Nothing,” Marc chirped. “Nothing at all.”

Marc moved closer to the mausoleum and hunkered down, squatting to avoid putting the knees of his black BDUs in the mud.

“Please don’t touch anything, Mr. Sindri,” Throckmorton warned.

“I’ve seen enough cop shows to know that.” Marc pointed at mud and stone of the shattered foundation. “Have you taken a look at these marks?”

Throckmorton crouched down beside him.

“I haven’t had a chance yet.”

“These aren’t tool marks, at least not any kind of tool I would have used. It looks more like this area was dug up by animals.”

The lieutenant eyed him dubiously.

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Any more ridiculous than digging with a blade a quarter-inch wide?” Marc asked. “What would have that—a bonsai yard rake?”

“We have people in the state lab who can work that out.”

That sounded like the classic lie: We’re from the government, we’re here to help. Marc looked up at Brenwyn, who only shrugged sadly in response.

“Yeah, right,” Marc said.

Marc stood and slowly surveyed the ground around him. He focused his attention on a large stone angel toppled from the mausoleum. It seemed to be making a pained mewling sound.

“Hey, there’s something under this.” Marc started over to the statue as he spoke.

“Why do you say that?”

“Statues don’t make noise on their own—normally.”

Throckmorton slipped on a pair of black rubber gloves and handed Marc a pair.

“Let me call one of the photographers,” the lieutenant said.

“You might wish to wait on that,” Brenwyn advised.

“Sure, this might be nothing.” Marc backed up her point. “Whatever it is, I’m sure it won’t run away.”

Throckmorton shrugged.

“Whatever you think best.”

Marc and Throckmorton rolled the stone angel onto its side with a good deal of straining and grunting. An undead, skinless rabbit was underneath, all brownish-green and smelling as bad as it looked. The creature’s feet and tail were still fluffy though filthy. The falling angel had pushed it into the soft soil, splaying out its limbs like an “x.”

“What the Hell is that?” the policeman asked.

“We do not really have a precise definition,” Brenwyn replied.

The bunny pulled its head out of the earth and screamed, a sound like fingernails on a chalkboard.

All the other investigators on-scene stopped to crane their heads to locate the sound.

Marc and Brenwyn took a step back and both tried to look innocent.

Throckmorton levelled his gun it at the creature that continued to pull itself out of the earth with agonizing slowness.

“You don’t want to do that,” Marc said.

“Your reason being…” There was quite an edge in the cop’s normally smooth voice,

“It’s already dead,” Marc said. “How are you going to write that up in your gunfire report?”

Throckmorton kept his gun trained on the zombie rabbit as it shook off the dirt and limped off into the bushes. Its hindquarters angled away from the rest of its body where its back was broken.

Only after it had disappeared into the bushes did a gangly crime tech with his Darke County windbreaker thrown over a “Cthulhu for President” tee-shirt show up on the scene. He quickly took in Marc holding Brenwyn and Throckmorton pointing his gun at a breach in the bushes.

“What the Hell was that?”

“An injured rabbit,” Brenwyn said somewhat honestly.

“Was it hurt bad?” For a man who spent his workdays at scenes of death and mayhem, he sounded awfully concerned.

“I can guarantee you that rabbit is never getting any better,” Marc said.

“Sadly true.” Brenwyn nodded in agreement.

“And the gun, Lieutenant? Was the rabbit under arrest?” No amount of compassion, it seemed, could prevent a little bit of inter-departmental snark.

“I was—um—intending to, uh, put it out of its misery.”

Embarrassed, Throckmorton re-holstered his gun.

“Unfortunately, he got away.”

“I could go find him.” The crime tech made one step towards the bushes.

Marc, Brenwyn, and Throckmorton all shouted at once:

“No!”

“Okay, whatever.” He shrugged and obviously chose not to argue with the man with the sidearm. “Let me know if you need me.” The tech went back to work at the far side of the tomb. The others all remained pretty much motionless until he was gone.

“What the Hell is going on here?” Throckmorton asked through gritted teeth.

“Appropriate choice of words.” Marc turned to Brenwyn. “Do demons actually come from Hell?”

Brenwyn easily slipped into the pedantic mode that Michael seemed to live in:

“There is no such thing as Hell. That is a Judeo-Christian fiction to maintain hegemony over the under-educated masses.”

“What?” snapped the Lieutenant.

“So if there is no Hell, those aren’t really demons reanimating the bodies of dead rodents and lagomorphs?”

“What!?”

“They are amorphous primeval remnants of Creation,” Brenwyn replied, “but if it make you more comfortable to call them ‘demons,’ feel free, dear.”

Throckmorton put his hand on the hilt of his pistol.

“I swear, I am going to shoot someone if you two don’t stop talking gibberish.”

“He seems a bit unhinged,” Marc observed.

“It happens quite a bit here, lately,” the young witch responded.

“You still haven’t answered my question.”

“There are some things in this universe,” Brenwyn told Throckmorton, “that cannot be explained in simple terms.”

“And they all live here in Arcanum!” Marc added cheerily.

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“Daddy’s Home. Gin Every Night.”

What happens when you watch four episodes of Marie Kondo and the American Godzilla (the good one with Heisenberg, Kickass, and Scarlet Witch)? You go through the kitchen like Sherman marching through Georgia. Ten bags of trash later, the kitchen was tidy and the liquor closet  was in our sights.

Many quaint, but undrinkable, bottles were discarded and three half bottles of gin were uncovered. Those were remnants of my last mother’s visits. She died in 2010. The mix of hours of dust inhalation and bittersweet memories inspired me to drink. The mash-up of the welcome home scene of the younger Brody returning from deployment and a tidying hangover was born.

“Daddy’s Home. Gin Every Night.”

I’m sure we’re not the first couple driven to drink by that Japanese tidiness leprechaun.

- ELLE: Daddy's home. - Cake every night.

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What I’d like to see in the apocalypse

Dystopian apocalyptic fiction has been the rage for quite some time now, especially since it started playing out on CSPAN. The End of the World seems to be running in a bit of a rut, so here are a few new things I’d like to see:

In the last few moments of civilization, all the hipsters rent those little electric scooters to flee the city centers. They zip between the gridlocked vehicles and make wide arcs around the stampedes of panicked pedestrians. True to form, they maintain that complacent, perfectly erect posture all scooter riders affect. Their ennui-filled gaze is fixed straight ahead as they either escape the blast radius or are swallowed up in roiling clouds of toxic debris and fallout.

Authors have depicted the rebuilding of society by everything from rogue militias to the Society of Creative Anachronism. I’m figuring one abuela with a flip-flop could whip everyone into shape for a radius of a mile or two.

Most apocalyptic landscapes are littered with abandoned cars. Why hasn’t anyone gotten a bunch of Bubbas to push them into a ring around their sanctuary? Once they’re in place, remove tires, fill the carcasses with earth one bushel basket at a time, and build an earthworks ramp up to the next level. Repeat as necessary. Sharpened stakes and the crucified bodies of telemarketers should dissuade invaders.

I just once want to see the guys mowing the lawns after the zombie apocalypse.

You would think there would be some enterprising person who would take over a bunch of construction equipment and bury a Walmart under six to twelve feet of reinforced dirt or concrete. A Dollar Tree if time and resources are tight. Everything needed to rebuild Suburban America would be right there, safe from alien invaders and fallout.

If you are the type that likes to see a new and entertaining End Times adventure, you could pick up my latest book “The Ren Faire at the End of the World.” I set up the ultimate battle of Good and Evil, as fought by renaissance faire performers and reanimated roadkill. If you’ve seen that already, or you break out at the sound of “Huzzah”, you could keep an eye out for my latest project “Squirrel Apocalypse”. I’ll let you know who bites on that one.

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Thanksgiving in Arcanum

Gratitude is not a strictly Christian virtue, and even the vegan Wiccans of Arcanum like to gather their loved ones for a Thanksgiving feast. This is an excerpt from my second novel “Power Tools in the Sacred Grove” that shows Brenwyn’s Thanksgiving while Marc recuperates after being trounced by a invisible tentacle demon.

MARC LOOKED ON WITH ADMIRATION as Brenwyn laid out the complete Thanksgiving dinner across the range and counters. It totaled a dozen courses and appetizers in glittering cut glass serving dishes. He couldn’t remember all of the proposed items, but he recognized the vegetable trays, cream of pumpkin soup and vegan stuffing made with oyster mushrooms. Brenwyn even made a few vegan Mexican dishes he never heard of before, including something made of peppers and prickly pears.

It wasn’t just her prodigious cooking achievements he admired. For the last week and a half, Brenwyn had been wearing incredibly modest clothing: high neck sweaters, loose pants, and flannel PJs at night. Tonight, she was wearing a more characteristic bohemian skirt along with a tight bodice and a low-cut top worthy of a serving wench. The sight was definitely something to make him feel thankful.

Michael and Eleazar upheld their end of Thanksgiving tradition by sitting in the living room and playing cards. Brenwyn didn’t seem to mind. She did a final mop-up around the sink and looked up at Marc.

“Tell me again that you are not horribly disappointed with a vegetarian Thanksgiving?”

She had promised him red meat, but he hadn’t delivered on his end of the bargain. He still walked with a cane, if only for the moments that his strength suddenly gave out.

“As long as it’s home-cooking,” he reassured her, “I’m thrilled.”

Eleazar called out from the living room:

“And some hapless bird is alive because of your humane actions.”

“The corporate farms set their kill quotas on projected demand.” Michael carefully studied his cards, not looking up as he popped Eleazar’s balloon. “No matter what, that turkey’s going to die.”

“At least we will not have their bad karma to bear,” Brenwyn said with a smile and a nod. She carried the first of the serving trays over to the dining room table.

“A little bad karma is good for you,” Eleazar said. “Nothing like a hint of damnation to add spice to life.”

“Then your love life must be like Szechuan cooking.” Michael looked at Eleazar with an expression that was either disgust or exasperation. “If you were shot by an angry husband today, would you go to Heaven? Or would your soul just take the express elevator to Hell?”

“Don’t talk to me about damned for your love life,” Eleazar countered. “According to the Old Testament, decent people should be throwing rocks at you.”

Brenwyn returned to the kitchen for a second trip. She raised her eyebrows in amusement as she passed Marc. He merely shook his head, having heard this argument a dozen times before.

“Good thing for me there are no decent people here,” Michael said.

“Michael,” Marc growled in a low warning tone.

Michael looked first at Marc, then at Brenwyn, and he cringed.

“At the card table,” Michael said. “Sorry, Brenwyn.”

“No need for apologies, Michael.” Brenwyn was being especially gracious today.

“Could you cut out the Judeo-Christian dogma?” Marc asked with a shudder. “Makes my skin crawl.”

“Fear not, milord,” Eleazar declaimed. “Brenwyn’s karma will run over our dogma. It was a just a stray dogma anyway.”

Brenwyn shook her head as she ferried more plates to the dining room.

“Perhaps you could finish your game and wash up?” she said. “I shall be setting out the main course shortly.”

“Excellent!” Michael said. “Oh, I almost forgot.” Michael picked up a card and laid down his hand. “Gin! I’m going to the bathroom, now.”

Michael stood and turned to leave.

“You’ve done me in again, you varlet!” Eleazar slapped down his cards in frustration. “What do I owe you now?”

“A week’s laundry,” Michael said as he turned the corner into the hall. “No reds with lights this time.”

“I told you that was an accident,” Eleazar called after him. “Besides, you look good in pink, milord.”

Brenwyn came over to Marc and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Thank you.”

“What for?” Marc didn’t think he’d done anything worthy of her gratitude, though he would take it.

“Protecting my sensibilities. Defending my honor,” she said. “It is very sweet.”

“Chivalry is not dead—it just feels that way.” Standing for several minutes, even with his cane, had his legs and back complaining. “You’re sure I can’t help with anything?”

“You can go sit down and wait for dinner.”

“I feel so useless.” Though it sounded like a great idea to his legs, he couldn’t just surrender.

“You are not useless,” she said, stroking his cheek. “You are decorative.”

“I love you too, but—”

Brenwyn cut him off short: “But your self-worth and male ego are dependent on what you can do, not who you are. Forget about it, beloved.”

“I can’t just forget.”

“Then suppress and sublimate,” she said, “as you do with your other manly impulses.”

“I’ll try.”

“Good,” she said as she scooped up the vegan antipasto platter. “Now, sit down before I take away your cane.”

#

Brenwyn glided in with the last two trays of vegetables and set them in front of Eleazar. As she returned to the kitchen, he squeezed a black olive from the tray onto his pinkie. He waved that at Michael like a finger puppet and then sucked it off his finger with a pop. Michael looked to the heavens for guidance.

With the two ‘children’ seated to his left, it felt like a real family to Marc, with all its bad and good. Brenwyn had gone all out, decorating the table and the dining room with wheat, corn, pomegranates, and apples. Stars and Brigid’s crosses made of the wheat straw took the place of the construction paper turkeys he grew up with.

“Prepare yourselves for the guest of honor,” Brenwyn called from the kitchen.

She returned with the vegan turkey breast on a garnished tray. Six drumsticks, also synthetic, stuck out of the turkey-like object. Brenwyn set the tray down to polite applause and seated herself at Marc’s right.

“Wow, six legs,” Michael said. “You don’t get that with a farm-raised turkey.”

“Maybe a Chernobyl chicken,” Eleazar quipped.

Brenwyn pointed to the large fork and carving knife set beside Marc’s place at the table.

“Would you care to do the honors?” she asked.

“Certainly.” Marc stood to perform his Thanksgiving duties. “Dark tofu or light?”

The others started passing around serving platters and filling their plates as Marc carved.

“I hope you all like this,” Brenwyn said. “It is my own concoction. The commercial turkey replacements all taste too—artificial.”

“I’m sure it will all be most appetizing,” said Eleazar. “Pass the simulated gravy, please.”

Michael looked awkwardly around the table.

“Excuse me,” he said. “This may sound really uncool, but isn’t somebody going to say grace?”

Eleazar looked as uncomfortable as Marc felt. Brenwyn smiled, looking just the slightest bit amused.

“I don’t think I’m—” Marc started to say.

“Well, I’m not either,” Eleazar blurted.

“Well, it just seems wrong not to give thanks,” Michael said. “At least, for this terrific meal. And I’m agnostic.”

“Thank you,” Brenwyn said with a nod. “I could say a few words. If you could endure a Wiccan blessing over a vegan turkey?”

“Sounds just about right to me,” Marc said.

“Let me think for a moment.” Brenwyn put a finger to her lips in silent thought. “How about this?

We thank you Goddess for your world’s gifts:

the beasts, the plants, the sea.

For all dear friends and all we are

and the strength to be what we must be.’”

“You made that up just now?” Michael was openly impressed.

“Not my best work,” she said with a self-effacing shrug. “But poetry and casting spells, they are the same thing: stringing together words to get the desired effect.”

“Cooking. Poetry,” Michael said. “I never realized you had so many hidden talents.”

Marc started carving the main course rather than attend to another man’s unbridled founts of love for Brenwyn.

“You’d better keep an eye on her, milord,” Eleazar said with a wink and a verbal nudge, “or I might try to steal her away from you.”

Marc’s hand tightened unconsciously on the knife handle. He slipped the blade under a slice of faux turkey and flipped the tofu and sprout amalgam across the table to land on Eleazar’s plate.

“Here, eat up,” Marc grumbled, “so you can compliment her cooking, too.”

Marc lofted another slice farther down the table to land on Michael’s plate. Brenwyn held up her plate to discourage any more aerobatics. Marc placed the six drumsticks on a platter and offered it to her. Brenwyn nodded her approval.

“You’ve got to try the cranberries,” Eleazar said through half a mouth full. “They’re most delectable, milord.”

Eleazar quickly brought a hand up to catch the food falling from his mouth.

“No more sincere compliment than that, I guess,” Marc said.

“Is everything all right, Marc?” Michael asked after a long sideways glance at Marc. “You seem tense.”

“No,” Marc grunted. “No, I’m fine.”

“You were about to splinter that knife handle,” Eleazar pointed out. “That’s either tension, milord, or lockjaw’s setting in.”

“It’s just the holidays,” Marc replied. “Don’t worry about me.”

Brenwyn looked knowingly at Marc.

“Marc comes from a family,” Brenwyn explained, “whose every gathering starts with petty bickering and escalates to a drunken row over the pumpkin pie.”

“We must be related. I have the same family.” Michael visibly twitched, probably thinking about his own last family Thanksgiving dinner.

“Mine, too.” Eleazar seemed paler, too.

“I am surprised that you are not with your family today, Eleazar,” Brenwyn said.

“I didn’t know you could be surprised,” Eleazar said.

“Disappointed, then,” Brenwyn said. “Do you not think that Alice misses you?”

“Not in the least,” Eleazar replied. “As long as a significant portion of my paycheck appears in her accounts, she is satisfied.”

“You see,” Michael said with undisguised glee, “he gets to pay alimony without the messy paperwork of a divorce.”

“You could be free to find happiness with someone else,” Brenwyn told Eleazar. “Are you frightened by that?”

“I’m afraid of Alice,” Eleazar said. “She’s this unpleasant to me now; imagine what a divorce could be like.”

Marc could tell that all three men played out that scenario in their heads. A dreadful silence fell over the room.

“Well, don’t let your food get cold,” Brenwyn said to break the silence. “As my grandmother would say: ‘Eat, you look skinny!’”

The three men laid into the feast without another word.

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Sex, Magick & … WTF CBS?

Good thing I started doubling up on my antidepressants this week.

I was on Twitter, as I am often wont to do when there are more productive things to do in the morning, when I came across an advert for the latest project appearing on CBS All Access. It was “Strange Angel”, the partially true story of the founder of JPL and follower of Aleister Crowley (just as Jeremiah Stone is in Arcanum Faire). Okay, sounds frothy and fun and things will most likely blow up good in the end.

But the tag line they used in the trailer…

“Sex, Magick, and Rocket Science”?

For my dozens of fans out there, this is a recognizable phrase. I have been describing the Arcanum Faire books as “A comedy of Sex, Magick, and Power Tools” for five years, now. And it’s not like it is only written on the underside of a rock in a sugar beet field in Elk Grove CA. You can find it here:

https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/122949

and here:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25217904-power-tools-in-the-sacred-grove

and even here:

It’s quite possible that the bright young person responsible, because they’re all bright and young in Hollywood PR, came across my tagline and said “Hey, what a great idea! I’m sure that Matlick guy will be flattered if we copy it!” Consider the ten-thousand variations of “Where’s the Beef?”

Well, I’m irritated, but realistic about it. You can’t really copyright a tagline, though with some effort and cash you can trademark it. And even if there was legal recourse, CBS has enough lawyers to beat a Mastadon to death with teaspoons. There’s not much I can do but fill the cybersphere with my own hashtags to slipstream the wake of this well-funded vessel. So here we go:

#SexMagick&PowerTools

#ArcanumFaire

Care to join me?

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Floor Show, No Extra Charge.

My blog was taken over by a stranger, a crazy man, who thought that this might be a place for serious social intercourse without lubrication. That individual has been captured and locked away in a basement room in Omelas.

You won’t be hearing from him soon.

#

The Matulich clan, like most families, has its own series of family in-jokes and schtick. When two or more of us spend time together, it’s the return of vaudeville.

#

An inanimate object falls to the floor, for whatever reason:

“It was depressed.”

Since every member of the family is under treatment for depression, or should be, this shouldn’t be a recurring gag. But, Hell, we all take our meds or engage in art therapy, it can take care of itself, too. Besides, we’re always there to pick the object back up.

#

“C’est la vie.”

“LA VEE.”

“Thank you.”

#

The ultimate press conference gotcha moment, usually performed by two to amplify the weirdness:

“Senator, how long have you been ripping the nipples off baby ducks?”

“Baby ducks don’t have nipples.”

“YOU GOT THEM ALL?”

#

Thank you, thank you! We’ll be here all week. Remember to tip your wait staff, and then return them to their original upright position.

 

 

 

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