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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