part 1 of a short story?

On Friday night I stayed at the river house with my parents and drank a lot. Here’s what was on my computer when I woke up:
(Oh, and I have no idea where the title came from. Thats just what the document was titled)

Cold Pizza

Raymond was unhappy and frustrated. Well, he was only frustrated because he had no idea why he was so unhappy. He had a fine job, a few good friends from high school, and a decent apartment. If he had been asked what would make him happy back in college, he probably would have only mentioned those three things. But still, Raymond was unhappy.

He lay awake so many nights, not sure as to how he could be happy again. “What happened?” he would ask himself, not even close to the verge of sleep. “Should I watch sports? Do I need to exercise more? Go back to school? Join a religion? Get into philosophy?” Raymond tried all of these and felt the same. He still found baseball boring, running still made him feel tired, math still didn’t make sense to him, he still didn’t have faith, and existentialism still just seemed depressing.

For two months, Raymond was, as his friends said, in a rut. He thought to himself, “Its not that I’m in a rut, I’ve just realized that life is a rut.” That was probably the existentialism talking, but Raymond felt that he was in need of a dramatic change. Its living in the big city, he thought, “I need to get away”. The next day, he told his boss that he was taking a week vacation with his girlfriend, and told his girlfriend that he was going on a work trip for a week.

Raymond loaded up a backpack with a toothbrush, a pair of jeans, a few shirts, and a few socks and jumped into his car. He had no idea where he wanted to go, or what he wanted to do. He wasn’t even sure if he would come back after the week. He stopped at the bank and took out a thousand dollars. “This should be enough”, he thought. “this can buy a lot of gas.” Raymond filled up his tank and headed south, excited about the possibilities in front of him.

The giddiness of exploration soon left him, and Raymond simply felt relaxed and free. For the first few days, he drove from dusk till dawn, stopping at noon for a cheap sandwich at nondescript truck stops. He’d make polite conversation with the waitresses, talk about her kids, but she’d soon realize that he preferred to be on his lonesome. After his quick lunch, he would fill up his car and buy his upcoming dinner and breakfast. He liked it on the road, with long stretches of potential to either side of him. But mostly, he liked sleeping in the backseat of the car, all the stars laid out in the sky for him to see.

One afternoon in a diner, Raymond looked into his wallet and saw that he was down to his last two hundred dollars. Realizing that gas was more expensive than he reckoned, he decided that he’d like working at a quiet place like this to refresh his funds. He asked the waitress if she could help him out.

“Well dear, theres no open positions here, but you could check ’round Buxton. Its a nice town ’bout 10 miles west of here. I’m sure theres some business there that needs a young guy like you.” she said helpfully. He thanked her and hurriedly finished his meal.

Raymond instantly liked Buxton. Population: 253, the sign read while he entered the town. There was one main street, with buildings that hadn’t been remodeled since the 50’s, he figured. Raymond parked his car in the town’s single gas station and introduced himself to the elderly attendant inside.

“Hi there Ray” bellowed the jovial man. “The name’s Bo. What can I do you for?”

“I’m looking for work somewhere in town. Do you know anyone thats hiring?”

“Well, you just may be in luck. My friend Bill, his son just went off to college last month and he’s been telling me he needs another hand on the farm. Would that interest you?”

“Oh really?” Raymond’s eyes lit up in excitement. He had never done real outdoor work before; just waiting tables in college and his desk job back in the city. He’d always secretly wanted to do some sort of labor for a living. Always in the back of his head, he had figured that that would be so much more satisfying than working with needy customers all day.

Less than a half hour later, Raymond was speaking to Bill at the farm. He was a pleasant enough man, but stern.

“I’m looking for someone who can put in an honest days work for an honest days pay. Can you manage that?”

“Yes sir, of course” Raymond said. “But um… what is it that you need me to do?”

“We’re doubling our beef cattle next year, and we need to fence their grazing area so they can’t wander off. Thats two weeks of pounding in fenceposts, and then a week of throwing up the barbed wire. I’ll need you from 7 in the morning till 7 at night. A hundred dollars a day plus lunch and dinner. Well, and the sabbath off, of course. Does that sound alright?”

It sounded more than alright to Raymond. He gladly accepted the job and drove back into town. After a trip to the local laundromat and then the general store to pick up an alarm clock, Raymond parked his car in the woods outside the farm. He finished off the last of his beef jerky and lay on the roof of his car, glad that the mosquitos didn’t seem to want to bother him. Raymond was one relaxed breath away from from sleep when he heard a voice.

“Hey kid, you still awake?”

“Huh? Yeah. Where are you?” Raymond asked the darkness surrounding him. He heard a soft patter on the ground to his left.

“Right here kid. Don’t freak out, but I should let you know: I am a talking squirrel.”

Raymond looked around in disbelief. Sure enough, a squirrel walked slowly into the moonlight beside the car. Raymond lay there dumbstruck and the squirrel opened its mouth.

“Sorry, its got to be pretty startling for you.” the squirrel shrugged its shoulders and said with mock excitement, “Here I am. Look, talking and stuff.”

Raymond was unsure how to react. “Oh, hello there.”

“Alright, you’re with me now. I just stopped by to offer you a place to crash for the night.” The squirrel continued to speak and Raymond suddenly realized that it spoke with a Boston accent.

“There’s a cabin just a quarter mile deep into the woods where I’ve been staying for a while. Want to come along?” Raymond shrugged his shoulders and leapt off the car.

The squirrel bounded off into the woods and Raymond did his best to follow the voice which belted out “this way” every minute or so. Soon enough, Raymond saw a small wooden cabin with smoke billowing from its chimney. The squirrel jumped through the open window and Raymond walked through the door.

Hey, I’m going to start knitting again.

I’ve got a few days to relax at home before school starts up again, so I reckon its about time to start knitting season again. I usually get pretty into it by October and by February I’m burnt out. I thought I should probably write out a game plan this time so I can have various projects to work on instead of just making hats when I’m bored (like I usually do). Heres a quick list of things I’d like to make this year:

  • Fingerless mittens with a flap
  • A vertically striped hat
  • A camouflage canteen holder
  • Doctor Who style scarf
  • Socks
  • Hat with earflaps
  • Some attempt at a pattern involving at least 3 colors
  • A sweater 

Realistically, I’ll be able to crank out all these except the sweater (I’ve tried the last two years and I think that a sweater is actually a multidimensional fold in space-time that cannot be understood by anyone[1]). So yeah, if you want to contribute some yarn, let me know[2]. I’ll happily give away this stuff so long as I have the yarn with which to make it.

1 Probably just me. I refuse to learn any knitting theory or patterns
2 I would link to my email here but I don’t know how [3]
3 But I did just learn how to use footnotes

A Summertime Carol: A Novella

It was a dark and unpleasant night. Rain had begun to fall and Michael burst through the door of the apartment, reasonably intoxicated.
“Guess who’s…” his voice trailed off into the obviously empty place.
“drunk.” he sighed softly to no one in particular. It was his second night here, and he noticed that it unfortunately still smelled strongly of cat fur, and even more unfortunately, there were no cats in this apartment. Michael sat on the edge of the couch, thinking of putting in that Spiderman 2 dvd, but on second thought, he needed the sleep.
“Bah.” He said again to himself. This was kind of odd, Michael didn’t normally speak to himself, but he supposed that it was a valuable narrative tool.
Michael latched the deadbolt shut, turned off the lamp, and laid down on the couch for what was to become a very troubling night.

“Why is she not in her room? That better be her on the couch.” a quiet female voice whispered a few hours later.
“Well go wake her up then. We’ve only got so long.” responded another.
“HAILEY! WE HAVE COME WITH A WARNING!” the first voice suddenly boomed accompanied by what sounded like metal chains being dropped into a frying pan. Michael awoke with a start, absolutely sure that he had probably 30 seconds before he was violently murdered.
He ripped the blanket from his body and yelled to the seemingly empty room, “She’s not here! She’s st-st-staying with a friend”
A silence spread across the room as all three voices realized they were all extremely confused.
“Oh… shit. Sorry dude.” one of the female voices began meekly.
Michael, head full of both curiosity and aches, reached up and turned on the light. Standing near bathroom stood two ghostly figures; he assumed they were ghosts. One of them held a large handful of ghostly chains over a ghostly frying pan. They both looked shocked.
“Woah, ghosts huh?” Michael said, instantly realizing he should have said something cooler to the attractive apparitions.
“Yeah. Ghosts… This is really embarrassing. We totally screwed up.” said the ghost with the red hair as Michael threw his shoes at the girls, watching his sneakers sail harmlessly through the couple. She followed up, “Are you sure Hailey isn’t here?”
“Yup” said Michael “She said that she was going to crash at her friends house. Dylan? Doug? I don’t remember.”
“Who are you?” asked the other ghost, a brunette who wore a large triangular hat.
“Oh me? I’m Michael. I had to move out of my apartment yesterday and I need a place to crash so I’m staying here. And like, I don’t know what beef you have with Hailey, but I don’t really know her. I’m just friends with her roommate.” Michael paused and tried to remember if he’d ingested any hallucinogens that night. “Who are you guys? Should I go?”
“We used to be friends with Hailey back in the day. I’m Jessica and thats Jen.” said the ghost in the hat. “And we’re supposed to be here to give her a warning about the three spirits that come to visit her tonight. Ya know? Kinda like that thing from that Dickens’ book.”
“Kinda? Thats exactly the plot from ‘A Christmas Carol’.” noted Michael aggressively. “Thats either really pretentious or really lazy. I can’t decide which”
“Listen asshole” said the suddenly-not-so-kind Jen. “We have this whole life-changing night planned out. The wheels are already in motion. There’s nothing any of us can do to stop this. So don’t whine and just go with the flow.”
Michael shrugged and Jessica continued, “It’s not a big deal, kid. You’ll just have to wait out the night and hang out with some spirits. Even if you don’t learn anything, you’ll have a really kickass ghost story to tell.” She thought for a moment. “I mean, no one will believe you, so you probably won’t bother telling it. But still, its a once in a lifetime opportunity. Okay?”
“Yeah alright” he mumbled while the girls walked around the room.
The ghosts gave him some space and looked through the dvd collection next to the television.
Michael continued after a moment. “Fine… Wait, aren’t you a little young to be dead? Not that like, young people don’t die, but…” Michael decided he wouldn’t ask anymore questions.
Jessica laughed and smiled. “No, don’t worry. People usually open conversations in the afterlife by asking how you died. I ate some bad pizza. Make sure you always check the expiration date!” she said with a grin.
Jen poked her head up from a magazine she was flipping through. “I was hit by a train.” Michael wondered how she was holding a magazine.
“Oh!” said Michael. “Thats horrible”
“Nah, Its way more common than you think. Trust me, thats how you’ll probably kick the bucket too”. Jessica said with some gloom in her tone.
“Thanks, I guess.” Michael felt awkward and hoped that the ghosts would leave. “Well, I’m guess that I’m all set for the rest of these spirits…”
“Sure thing, seeya Michael.” said Jessica as Jen gave a noncommittal nod.
“Bye guys, have a good night or whatever.” Michael coughed as the pair disappeared in a very dramatic puff of smoke. Michael drank a glass of water as the rain lightly plinked on the roof.
“This night is going to suck” sighed Michael to himself. And lo, the night did suck.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: A Guide

With Orlando a mere three hours to the north, it sometimes surprises me that my family doesn’t go more frequently. Every time we end up going though, I remember why we don’t. It’s hot. It’s really crowded. The food is pretty expensive. I get sunburn every time or some other comparable injury. What drew us was the relatively recent opening of HARRY POTTER WORLD. Everyone I know has given it positive reviews, and this was my parents’ and sister’s second visit because they liked it so much, so I trusted them.

The day started off pretty shaky. My dad is a fan of leaving AEAP (as early as possible), regardless of family opinion. His target time was “no later than six AM, gang!” My mom though, easily counters this by sunscreening everyone, filling up 5 or 6 water bottles, and calling the kennel to check on the dog, all before we depart the house. Anyway, we hit the road at 7:30 and got there three hours later, failing to beat the crowds. The park takes up a pretty sizeable section of Islands of Adventure and is adjacent to Universal Studios. (The palm trees encircling the neighboring Jurassic Park section really framed the Hogwarts Castle nicely.) After riding The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman (my old favorite!), we headed to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! No one calls it that. In fact, today was the first I heard of it. It’s Harry Potter World.

So, if you decide to go – which you should if you like theme parks at all and find yourself in the central Florida area – here are a few notes about the park.

Orlando? But it’s so hot! That’s an astute observation. And yeah, it was weird to see a snowy castle in heat that easily exceeded 90 degrees. But the streets were curvy and narrow and had a bunch of stores mentioned in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. It was sort of a mixture of the two, so I didn’t totally know what they were going for, but it definitely had ambience. Some of the storefronts were just exhibits (really good exhibits, at that), but many of the stores had replications for sale of items mentioned in the books, like robes, wands, and owls (they were puppets). It was all ridiculously overpriced, as you would expect, but there were still lines just to get into the stores.

The rides were also really well done, in terms of effects. The main attraction of this section of the park is a simulation ride that takes place inside the castle. The line begins far outside of the castle and snakes its way through what felt like a 5-minute walk to the actual ride (with no line) – that is to say, it’s massive and appropriately so. We were fortunate enough to only wait 45 minutes, but there must’ve been hellishly long lines on opening day. We rode it twice because it was so cool, even though the ride is apparently notorious for its technical difficulties. The line itself takes you through a very ill-lit tour of the castle, complete with talking portraits, Dumbledore’s office (!), and the dungeon classrooms. So cool. I heard actual British people in line behind us talking in their British accents. I wondered if they were fake. I wouldn’t have put it past them.

Anyway, the ride simulated some kind of mission to watch a quidditch match. If you’ve been on the Spiderman ride, you’ll know what I mean when I say they are very similar. It’s not like a roller coaster, but it sort of feels like one anyway because of the decent effects and jolting around. There were dementors and a lot of scenery from Hogwarts and all. I think they tried to blend elements from several of the books, because the Triwizard Tournament was going on, but there were also dementors at the quidditch game, and a lot of stuff from the second book and the Forbidden Forest. It doesn’t matter though, because it was so cool! Also there was a random spritz of water that sprayed onto my shirt that I wasn’t too happy about, but I let it slide.

After riding that, we went on what used to be Dueling Dragons, but what is now a Harry Potter/dragon-themed ride. It was pretty much the same – that is to say, really shaky and curvy. I felt really sick afterwards, so of course we headed to the type of restaurant that served huge chicken drumsticks (and other massive platters of meat). But I got the fish and chips. Anyway, quaint as this all sounds, it was really, really expensive. The food was decent and everything, and the atmosphere was interesting, but part of me still can’t believe how expensive theme parks have become. I guess it didn’t really matter since there were huge crowds and people from all over the country (and world) coming to hang out in Orlando (the crown gem of central Florida).

So, after hitting a few of the rides some more times, we just sort of walked around and went into the stores. After buying nothing, we left the park and drove back in torrential rain. Overall, a great day.

Thoughts on being at home

This is my second trip home since winter break. I’m really glad to be here, but a few things have changed since I left almost exactly a year ago for college. Some things worth mentioning:

1. Florida has a lot of hurricanes.
There was an impromptu tropical storm when I made the 10-minute drive to my mom’s office. Seriously. I was stuck inside the car for 20 minutes while really violent wind and rain threatened to further dilapidate the Jeep I drive.  Anyway, when it finally cleared up, the humidity had climbed to 90 or 95%. That’s Florida.

2. I don’t have a meal plan at home.
This was a pleasant realization.

3. My sister has taken over the car.
That was my car! Now she has the keys on a totally different key ring! Ugh.

4. Was my room always so dusty?
Also, I have a lot of stuffed animals that I just didn’t remember. My room looks exactly like it did when we moved into the house nine years ago.

5. The TV stations are different than I remember.
BET and LifeTime have totally switched it up! Game changer.

6. Florida is boring.
Sometimes in a good way, like where I want to just hang around at home and read with my puppy nearby. But other times, living in a gated community is really detached from anything I want to do in the area.

7. New Publix by my house!
That’s the good supermarket here. And they make really excellent sub sandwiches. So much better than Winn-Dixie. The employees at Winn-Dixie must know this. At Publix, the employees aren’t even allowed to have tattoos or something.

8. I like being home.
My bed is really cozy. I like my parents and my sister and my puppy.

Mike’s Travel Diaries: Part 3

Day 5: The day when I was pretty hungover, and we walked around Bruges a lot, and I met Alyssa’s friend, and our trip took and unexpected turn
I woke up at about 8:30 and noticed everyone in the hostel was still sleeping so I had to be quiet, which is something that I am absolutely awful at. I slipped on my running gear and headed out the door to run the countryside. I soon realized that we were quite far from the countryside, so I jogged along the canals and some of the windmills that the crazy guy had told me about. I did more walking than running, but I really appreciated the great scenery and the oldness of the city. It reminds me a lot of Prague. When Alyssa woke up (or more accurately, when I woke her up), we walked around town forever trying to find a cheap waffle shop. After the waffle (worth the walk) we hit the streets and enjoyed some serious walking around. We found an H and M but it turned out to be a women’s only branch. Alyssa looked for her stuff while I took to the main street to find a reasonable place to find a jacket. I completely failed in that; every shop was selling t shirts in the 15 euro range, which is to say, too much. Alyssa bought quite a bit at H and M, but who can blame her, that store is cheap. A loud British lady in a wheelchair yelled at me why I didn’t “buy my girlfriend some lingerie”. So, that happened. We made it back to the hostel to meet Alyssa’s cool Dutch friend, Niels. They met in China and apparently dated at some point? Well, he turned out to be a cool guy. We stopped at a cafe to grab lunch and mine did not taste good. It was my first experience with curry, maybe it was just because I had it with pasta. During lunch, I grilled him about why the Dutch love mayonnaise so much (seriously, he had never heard of ranch dressing. I think it would have blown his mind) and what they call jumping rope with two ropes at the same time (apparently “Double Dutch” to them is a sex move). Also, a pigeon got ran over a car and the whole street pretty much shut down while everybody freaked out. We finished eating and took to the city to walk around for the rest of the day. The best part was walking through a convent; it was so peaceful and green. As we passed through the convent, we heard the sounds of a drum circle and decided to investigate. We crossed a canal and found our way through a small school and into its backyard, where a bunch of hippies were having a drum circle. It didn’t take us long to realize that we were very much not welcome. A girl with peace signs painted on her face talked to us for a bit. Niels explained to her probably 3 times that I didn’t speak Dutch, but she continued to try to talk to me in Dutch. So we enjoyed the party for about 5 minutes before deciding we should probably leave. Once out, Niels dropped an info bomb on us. Our plan had been that he’d stay with us at the hostel for 2 days and then he’d drive us up to Amsterdam. But, he had to drive up to France in two days, so he offered to let us stay at his house in the south of Holland for those two nights, then we could take a train to Amsterdam. Sure that we had experienced every facet of Bruges in just over 24 hours, we decided to drive home with him that night. We drove, ridiculously fast, to his house, which was probably the coolest thing ever. Niels family is loaded. As Alyssa told me, she hears his family owns half of Amsterdam. So, we go to enjoy his perfectly decorated house, with the nicest garden I’ve ever seen, and he’d casually refer to his housekeeper and gardener, and I’d pretend it was totally normal. Anyways, we got to his place, enjoyed some beers, and he made us fries in a really weird cooking device that looked a lot like a giant centrifuge. However it cooked it, it tasted great to me. We headed over to the guest room and slept.

(untitled) (guest post)

To close my eyes and fall into that empty silent well
No guarantee or promise I’ll return from whence I fell
There and then, powerless to pray
Once consciousness has slipped away
Perhaps returning with the day
I’d rather my eyes open stay
-Anonymous