August 2014

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look more miserable among more joy,” said the barkeep. “And that means a lot, coming from someone in a casino.”

The man looked up from his drink. “What’s the usual sort of misery you get in here?” he asked quietly.

The barkeep nodded thoughtfully. “Compulsives upset at losing more than they could afford and taking a dive on a few drinks on op of it, just when they could stand a little more judgement, not a little less. Older folks on lonely daytrips from the home, hoping the sights and sounds will make them feel a little less used-up and a lot more alive. Horny weirdoes so starved for someone to flirt with they’ll lose three figures and up, plus tab and tip, for the privilege.”

A nod. “What would you peg me as?”

“Well, you’re too young to be retired and you haven’t tried to flirt with me, so I’d guess that you’ve lost a fair bit.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” laughed the man ruefully. “Suffice it to say that I don’t do well under bright lights and bright sounds at the best of times, and this isn’t the best of times. I haven’t gambled a cent or paid for anything but this drink, and I still feel like I’ve lost more than I’ve ever had.”

“I suppose that begs the question of why you’re here, then,” said the barkeep. “Most people that don’t go in for flashing lights or beeps normally give a casino a wide berth.”

“It’s a distraction,” the man said. “Being annoyed and terrified and shy…at least it’s something to spice the sadness up a bit.”

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In their idle moments, many wondered what old man Cummings saw in Deerton to justify his largesse. Certainly, no one begrudged him his investments in the town; the new town hall and modest civic auditorium bore his name, as did the new high school and middle school. The roads were better, and many of the grand old lumber baron houses that had been quietly going to seed were now maintained and rented by Cummings’ stand-ins.

The old man rarely granted interviews and rarer still were his visits; he preferred to have himself represented by an associate whenever something new bearing his name opened. Some people blamed the time he had been mobbed by reporters coming out of Deerton First United Methodist Church for his personal divestiture in the town (even as his monetary investiture increased).

But, in one of the final interviews recorded before his death, Cummings had the following to say from his summer home in Hopewell:

“I gave that my old hometown might have a future,” he said, “and I never returned because I knew, in my heart of hearts, that to have that future, the rosy past which still ties me to that place heart and soul would have to perish forever. I’m glad to have arrested its decline, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t recognize it anymore.”

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Advanced stages of infection with the opheliadis ague are known as opheliads, and they are the most dangerous to those who have not yet contracted said ague. The madness that follows the advanced infection manifests as a craving for water and a singsong quality and tone of voice, with the victims often drowning (with a feeling of ecstasy). Attempts at rescue only serve to spread the ague, as all body fluids and secretions are highly infectious. This infectiousness starts much earlier, before the onset of symptoms, meaning that opheliads often infect loved ones and lovers before the true extent of their ague is known.

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“They call ’em Matchlock.” Giles spat out the name like it was a mouthful of bitter tobacco smoke. “Because they use an old homemade matchlock rifle when hunting.”

“Not exactly much of a match for anyone who goes in armed with anything better than a bow and arrow,” I said.

“Tell that to the last six men who tried to collect on that bounty,” said Giles.

“Still, I like my chances,” I said. “Anything else you can tell me about this mountain man of yours?”

“Woman,” said Giles. “Matchlock is a woman. That’s just about the only thing we do know.”

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Ammunition could go bad, of course. Cases could tarnish, moisture could get in the cartridge through condensation, or one of a dozen other things. Near the end of the war they’d gotten a lot more lax with quality control and even fielded some blackpowder cartridges instead of cordite, which didn’t keep nearly as long. But it was surprising how many rounds were still good after 60 years, and even the ones that were bad usually could be cleared with a quick cycling of the bolt.

Even better were the rations near the back of the crew compartment. The label warned against eating after 11 months, but most of the compartments would contain edible food for far, far longer. As long as it was boiled over a fire to prevent the Bad Choke, everything but the packets labeled “applesauce” and “cheese” was good to eat if the wrapping was intact, and even the vile contents of those packets could be used as a fertilizer.

Altogether, the tank had enough supplies to trade for months’ worth of more perishable supplies–assuming Lena didn’t keep any for herself. A lot of scavengers did, but it quickly became impractical to carry too much ammunition, food, and scrap, and stashing it somewhere was an invitation for someone to steal it.

The war had been over since the combatants had fought each other into oblivion in 1959, yet in their selfishness was the generosity that allowed them, even in death, to feed scavengers like Lena who braved their minefields to feed what was left of the world.

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SACRAMENTO – Meetings of the state board of higher education ended in disarray today after a resolution to ban sweets in campus dining rooms became the source of an acrimonious split among the delegates and trustees. The resolution, which had been unilaterally enacted by the state legislature, was the subject of a motion declaring such interference beyond the scope of the legislature’s oversight and supervisory functions.

California State University Chico was joined in the motion by California State University Harpo, California State University Groucho, and California State University Zeppo. They were opposed by UC Curley, UCLF and UC San Diegmoe, the so-called “Big Three Stooges” of the UC system.

Tensions reached a boiling point when a group of pies, on hand as displays of the sort of processed sugar-rich foods the resolution would ban, were taken up by both sides and used as improvised melee and missile weapons. Reports indicate that the delegates assaulted one another with improvised weapons and in multiple cases by jabbing one another with their fingers.

No further details are available at press time, but early and unconfirmed reports indicate that the melee spilled into the street where a group of police officers from the nearby suburb of Keystone, despite outnumbering the combatants two to one and moving with “astonishing speed”, were unable to regain control of the situation.

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Young Adult Novel
Prep Time: 6-8 months
Total Time: 12-18 months
Allergy Information: Unsuitable for cliché, formula, fanfic, or movie adaptation allergies
Serves: 500,000-1,000,000 copies

1 15-18 year-old heroine. 1 hero may be substituted at the expense of smaller serving size.

2-3 16-19 year-old love interests. For best results, include at least one smouldering but dumb hunk and one smarter but less attractive dweeb.

4-6 cups special powers as a metaphor for teenagerhood and spoiled exceptionalism. Powers may be magical, the result of accident or alien origin, or Mary Sue prefection, but must be innate.

2-3 cups destiny. Minced archetypes are the traditional form, but passive characters inserted into conspiracies or over whom rivals fight may be substituted to taste.

1-2 hard-boiled antagonists. Add more antagonists to increase serving size; one 16-19 year-old antagonist and one adult to represent clueless grownups who just don’t get teen angst are traditional. Be sure to not include garnishes of character development or motivation, as these will spoil the flavor.

3-5 cups sacrificial quirky sidekicks. Sacrifice may be in the form of death, disfigurement, or simply disappearing, but in all cases must be seasoned heavily with unearned adoration of main heroine.

15-20 ounces new terms for old ideas. The more transparent or obfuscatory, the stronger the flavor.

20-25 hooks for future stories. Endings will spoil the flavor, so use them in the most sparing manner possible. Where practicable, prevent self-contained plot from precipitating during preparation. Hooks should allow for trilogy of subsequent servings, but pentology or septology are increasingly popular options at discretion.

1-2 cups chaste teen love. Precise measurement is essential, as too much or too little will drastically limit serving size. Superficiality and wish-fulfillment are popular garnishes and should be added to taste.

Stale ingredients work best, especially if sourced from organic or free-range young adult novels by other authors. Stir well with limp descriptions and over-abundance of world-building exposition. Book deals and movie contract are popular desserts. Can be made from leftovers of fanfic as a base and emulsifier with the addition of 1-2 cups Name Changes. Ideally served alongside PG-13 Summer Blockbuster souffle, Bad Emo Autotuned Pop Music, and/or First World Problems. Serve cold or lukewarm; allowing to cool and reheating is often preferred.

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The dread doors of the Administration Building opened and a single figure rode out to meet with the protestors.

“I am the Mouth of the Chancellor of the University of Northern Mississippi.” The creature that stood before them was a man, not an administrator; he had served the Chancellor nearly all of his long life and had learned a great many things about higher education, though he could no longer remember his own name. His raiment was a formal suit, midnight black (down to his shirt and socks), with blood-red lines of the University Code in the Eldertongue etched upon it in place of pinstripes. A dark cummerbund was drapes across his head, obscuring all his features save for his mouth and jowls.

“Speak, then,” said Dawn.

“I bring tidings from the great and powerful Chancellor who, in his wisdom and mercy, has heard your lamentations,” croaked the Mouth. “He bids you return to your dormitories in peace while he considers your grievances.”

“And what assurance do we have that he’ll actually do something?” Dawn said warily.

“Assurances? The great and powerful Chancellor of the University of Northern Mississippi offers none. You must trust in his magnanimity and wisdom, as I do.”

The protestors began to grumble, and several on the wings of the group began to move forward menacingly.

“I am an ambassador and messenger, and as such I may not be assaulted!” cried the Mouth.

“Yes, though where such laws are held, it’s a custom for ambassadors to behave with less bullshittery,” observed Dawn pointedly. “And nobody’s assaulted you. In fact, I think they’re about to skip straight to battery.”

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They Saved Einstein’s Brain! (1969)
Director: Tim Sleeper (as Alan Smithee)
Producer: Miles Athena
Writer: Tim Sleeper & Leith Seaman and Miles Athena
Elis Mathena
Leah Amstein
Hasan Leitem
Neil Eastham
Music: Marcus Geraldstein
Editing: Miles Athena
Distributor: Liberty Pictures

First-time director Tim Sleeper had an idea for combining the schlocky production values of 1950s and 1960s sci-fi cheapies with an inward-looking philosophizing more common in the New Wave films coming out of Europe, at the time. “A movie you’ll go to for a good time, only to find yourself thinking about some real issues” was how he put it at the time. Sleeper has been evasive about his original vision over the years, claiming that it was everything from before-its-time postmodern ironic to Neil Blomkamp-style visceral mashup. All that’s clear is that the final product didn’t meet his expectations in the least.

Miles Althea (born Miloš Althszeghy) was a Hungarian-American businessman who had taken over ownership of Liberty Pictures after a stream of bankruptcies and mergers. He, acting as producer, actively courted young (cheap) talent like Tim Sleeper with an eye toward competing with American International Pictures as the low-budget sleazy grindhouse king of Hollywood. Acting as producer, Althea clashed with Sleeper from the beginning, eventually rewriting large portions of the script and filming the actors delivering alternate lines after Sleeper had left the set. In some cases, film wasn’t even put into the cameras while Sleeper was “filming.”

The result was that Althea completely altered the tone of Sleeper’s original works, even reediting and redubbing the scenes that the director had shot, so much so that Sleeper demanded his name be removed from the movie. The DGA agreed, and the film became the second to be released under the “Alan Smithee” pseudonym (after Death of a Gunfighter released earlier that year). The completed picture, with mad scientist Mathena attempting to resurrect Albert Einstein’s preserved brain, only to have said brain turn violent and homicidal, enjoyed only a brief run at the box office before a lawsuit by Einstein’s surviving family pulled it from distribution.

Badly edited and redubbed to tiptoe around legal issues, the film eventually became a staple of late-night schlock blocks and found an audience of a sort in the 1990s as fodder for parodies and bad movie marathons.

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Every Friday at noon, the great civil defense klaxon–an old but still potent Federal Thunderbolt in bright schoolbus yellow–would sound as part of a test. It had done so since the siren was installed in 1955, and the test was punctual enough that old-timers used to joke that you could set your watch to it.

In August of 1989, the siren rang at 11:58–two minutes early. Most people disregarded it, believing their watches or nearby clocks to be faulty. Seven minutes later, an intense thunderstorm swept over the town, almost out of the blue, spawning an F3 tornado that cut a swath through the center of town. 13 people died, 27 were injured, and damage from the twister and hail during the 25-minute storm was estimated in the millions of dollars.

Ever since, people have referred to the “False Alarm Storm” in hushed tones, and the siren has never been rung again.

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