February 24, 2006

This Just In

There's been a cherry added atop the heap o' prizes for the winners of this year's Team America Rocketry Challenge (I'm quoting the entire press release below):

Raytheon to send TARC Winners to Farnborough International Air Show

Arlington, Va. – A trip to the Farnborough International Air Show near London in July 2006 awaits the Fourth Annual Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) winners courtesy of AIA member Raytheon Company.

The trip, which will be in addition to the winner’s share of the TARC purse of more than $60,000 in savings bonds and cash, will give the victorious students a hands-on look at applied aerospace engineering, the skill the contest is promoting, AIA President and CEO John Douglass said.

“TARC is a great way to introduce these kids to aerospace through the challenges of engineering a model rocket,” Douglass said. “Taking the winners to Farnborough will show them what these lessons lead to in the real world.”

TARC, the world’s largest rocket contest, pits teams of between three and 15 middle and high school students in a challenge to build and successfully launch a model without breaking a raw-egg payload. The final round of competition is scheduled for May 20 at Great Meadow in The Plains,Va. The goal is to launch the rockets as close as possible to 800 feet in altitude and 45 seconds in flight duration.

“Rewarding the TARC winners with a trip to Farnborough is right in line with Raytheon’s emphasis on promoting math and science education among young people through our MathMovesU initiative,” said Raytheon Executive Vice President for Business Development Thomas M. Culligan. “We hope that this will help motivate the winners and all the competitors to stick with science and math and ultimately pursue a career in aerospace.”

The Farnborough International Air Show is one of the largest and most prestigious aerospace events in the world. It includes flying demonstrations of both civil and military aircraft from around the world as well as static displays from thousands of aerospace companies. Raytheon’s sponsorship will pay for four students and one adult chaperone, including air fare, lodging, a company tour, and a TARC champion recognition dinner.

The winning team will attend the air show on Farnborough’s International Youth Day, a program for 1,000 invited students between ages 15 and 23 aimed at attracting youths who show promise in areas that could lead to aerospace careers. Activities include presentations from test pilots, scientists, and journalists; a build-a-plane project; and test spins in aircraft simulators. In addition to commercial jetliners, business aircraft, and fighter jets, the air show includes special displays on space products and unmanned aerial vehicles.

TARC is sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association and the National Association of Rocketry, the nation's oldest and largest non-profit organization dedicated to sport rocketry. The contest is co-sponsored in part by 39 AIA member companies, NASA, the Defense Department, and the Civil Air Patrol.

I'll be volunteering to assist again this year, as I have every year since this started. Read about previous events here and here and here.

Posted by Ted at 04:19 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Category: Rocketry

February 20, 2006

Happy Long Weekend

Hello all, I hope you had a nice weekend. My wife and I travelled south to visit Rachael and see her first college production, Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. It seems that people either love or loath Gilbert and Sullivan, and I'm firmly in the love camp. Naughty humor and moral dilemmas, served up with a heaping helping of satire and sarcasm.

Rachael's kimonos were beautiful.

Liz had to work today, so I built a larger set of shelves for my DVD collection (outgrew the last set) and putzed around the house doing laundry and such. I also watched a couple of movies that I may review later. You know my attitude is "zombies forever", but after the latest mummy jones I've been slaking my thirst for vampire flicks and boy howdy, do I have some doozies to tell you about!

I also have a new banner in mind. Everyone I've told thinks that it's funny, so now I must stretch my photoshop skills to do it justice.

As a designated cronie of the Ministry of Minor Perfidy, I would be remiss not to mention that they're hosting this week's Carnival of the Recipes (apocolyptic aftermath edition).

I now have a Rocket Jones frapper map. Stop by and stick a pin in it. Do the ol' virtual voodoo.

Posting will remain irregular while I continue to deal with some ongoing matters, but I'm still around and occasionally do get a chance to visit my friends on the blogroll.

Take care and have fun. Hope to be back soon.

Posted by Ted at 08:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Category: Square Pegs

February 17, 2006

This is probably interesting to only one other person

Nic, I found a review of Snakehead Terror.

Posted by Ted at 06:10 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Category: Cult Flicks

February 15, 2006

NaNoWriMo - next chapters

Sorry it's a couple of days late, been busy. Previous chapters are here. And in the extended entry are chapters 11 and 12.

Enjoy. Leave feedback. Thanks.

Chapter 11.

I was actually looking forward to going back to school in the morning, right up until the point where I opened the door and found, parked at the curb, the police patrol car with my friend Officer Ossie at the wheel. He was waiting for me, and when he signaled for me to get in there wasn’t much I could do except comply.

I settled in, and he pulled away and headed in the general direction of the school. I stared out the front window, trying to remain disinterested like Mom wanted. That lasted until he asked me just what the heck had happened last night. I looked directly at him for the first time and saw the mouse that Mr. Brown had hung under one eye, it looked painful. In comparison, I’d gotten off lightly, even though my jaw still ached and there was a good sized bruise showing. I started by trying to explain what my Mom had said and what her reasons were, and why I thought they made sense and so I should just shut up and not discuss it any more. He didn’t say anything, just kept driving, and my words just petered out and we drove along in silence. I hated that.

When he dropped me off at the school – a block away would’ve been better, but the rumor mill would be chugging away at full speed this morning anyway – I told Officer Ossie thank you, and I’m pretty sure he understood that I meant thank you for his trying to help last night, and for his not pressing the subject this morning. Before he left, I started to tell him that Mr. Brown was the man who clocked him, but he interupted me before I could finish and said he already knew. With a simple “see you later�, he was gone.

I’d been looking forward to being back at school, and apparently I wasn’t the only one. During first period, a note was slipped under the door and Miss Beverly absently scooped it up, glanced at the name at the top, and dropped it on my desk as she walked by, intent on her lecture. I had to reread the paper twice, because it was asking me to report to the “Zombie Lab�. After class, I showed it to Miss Beverly, who apologized and crumpled it up before tossing it into the trash can.

There was another note during second period, but this time the teacher caught the “joke� and threw it away immediately.

Third period, and the note under the door requested my presence at the bottom of the lumber pile in woodshop. This was cruel enough to cause the teacher to send me, with the note, down to the office. I handed the note to the principal’s secretary, and she immediately sent me in to see him. When I told him about the other two notes, he sent a runner to each class to retrieve those notes from their respective trash cans. He told me that I shouldn’t worry about these notes, and that he’d make sure that whoever was responsible would by caught and punished severely. As I walked back to class, the PA system clicked on and, to my chagrin, the Principal made that same announcement.

Great, so now I was officially a stool pigeon and the whole school knew it. This just wasn’t turning into the triumphant return to school that I’d pictured in my mind. On top of that, for the rest of the day, in the hallways fellow students would walk by and randomly tap me on the yellowish remnants of the bruise in the middle of my forehead. That is, those who didn’t lightly and playfully slap me on the much more prominent bruise on my jaw. By lunchtime I had a pounding headache and didn’t feel like eating at all. I was so miserable that it wasn’t until after lunch that I realized that I hadn’t seen Autumn all day. None of my “friends� would’ve given me a straight answer, the office wouldn’t have given me any kind of answer, and I was no longer allowed to go to her house to check on her to make things were ok, so I resigned myself to waiting until school again tomorrow, or hopefully she’d come visit my house today after school.

Mondays. School sucked. At least nobody tried to kill me, but hey, the day wasn’t over yet.

I walked alone in the cold morning air the following morning. I was half-expecting to see the patrol car parked out front again, and was relieved to not find Officer Ossie waiting for me. The previous day had been so bad that I considered this a high point, which goes to show how just low my spirits had sunk. I had resigned myself to another day of head tapping, jaw slapping mischief from my peers (merry pranksters that they were, I could have happily strangled each and every one of them by the end of the day yesterday), and had armed myself with a bottle of extra strength aspirin to deal with the consequences.

I was at my locker before the first bell when Autumn came up to me. She asked how I was doing, and then noticed the bruise where I’d been punched. I quickly filled her in on my walk home from her place Sunday night, and she couldn’t believe all that had happened. She’d missed school yesterday at her mom’s insistence, although she never got a solid reason as to why.

I didn’t say anything, but I wondered if I hadn’t been the reason.

Since I couldn’t go to her house any more, we made plans for her to accompany me to my house after school, and we separated to head to our classes.

The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me that Mrs. Crisp had kept Autumn out of school on the day after I’d been beaten up. Mr. Brown was part of ZAPT, we already knew that, and Mrs. Crisp had several members of ZAPT staying at their place, hence Mrs. Crisp may have known ahead of time that I was going to be ambushed on the way home that night. It didn’t completely add up, but it wasn’t an impossible thing to believe either. I say I was bothered, but angry would be a better word.

The anger must have shown in my eyes, because very few people played tap or slap with me during the day. I was even relieved when, in a display of immature normality that I’d missed more than I realized, William and the rest of the gang waylaid me during gym class and, shouting “timber!�, buried me under a pile of laughing bodies. Whatever else, I guessed that it was their way of saying that everything was ok between us.

On our way home, Autumn sensed my mood and gently tried to coax me into talking about it with her. I was still trying to frame it all in my mind, because I knew that we’d have to discuss it, but I didn’t want to come right out and accuse Autumn’s mom of being involved in my recent, ah… mishaps. Even though that’s exactly what I was thinking had happened.

Five minutes after we’d gotten to my house, we were in the kitchen raiding the icebox when Ms. Halliday said goodbye and headed for the front door. Autumn immediately wanted to follow her, and despite what my Mom asked of me, I agreed because I too wanted to see one of Ms. Halliday’s mysterious disappearances. We watched through the front windows until she was almost to the corner, and then quietly slipped out the back door and began to trail Ms. Halliday.

Within a block, Autumn grew excited as she recognized the route that Ms. Halliday always took when walking to that field. I think she was showing off a little when she led me down two smaller side streets in a bit of a shortcut, and was proud of herself when Ms. Halliday appeared a short while later, right on schedule.

After Ms. Halliday had passed and we resumed our discrete trailing, Autumn pressed me again about my mood. I thought that I’d figured out a logical and gentle way of saying what was on my mind, but really, I was fooling myself. Face it, there’s no good way to tell your girlfriend that her mom knew I was going to get beat up and did nothing to stop it. Autumn listened to what I was saying and, to her credit, took it about as well as could be expected. In other words, she didn’t immediately try to murder me (and I had some recent experience in that, so I thought I could recognize it when I saw it), although I’d bet it was in the top two or three on her list of considered reactions. Autumn was a quiet sort of angry, which worked well since we were trying to follow someone without being too noticeable, and we argued in low voices as we walked along. There was no real denying my main points; that we knew for a fact that Mr. Brown was part of ZAPT, that Mrs. Crisp had friends in ZAPT who were in town, and that Mr. Brown and his friends were the ones who had assaulted me and then dumped me in a heap on my front porch, bearing a threatening note, as if my unconscious body wasn’t warning enough.

Even though Autumn insisted that Mr. Brown had never come to their house, nor had she seen the “drunk� guy who seemed to be Mr. Brown’s accomplice, that didn’t change my basic facts. I believed Autumn with all my heart, I knew she was telling the truth, but it was also true that people in an organization that her mom was involved with were dangerous and violent.

I had been caught tailing Mr. Brown. Then I’d been seen hanging around the Crisp house. Someone had decided that it was time to intimidate me into leaving well enough alone. I repeated that again, and again there was nothing Autumn could do to refute it.

Could ZAPT have done the vandalism at the research lab? I didn’t even bother to point that out. I didn’t have to, because it was obvious that ZAPT was capable of such an act, and just because everything added up like two plus two equals five, that just meant that we didn’t have all the facts yet.

Autumn stopped suddenly, and I thought she’d had enough and was about to turn around and go home, but she grabbed my arm and together we watched as Ms. Halliday turned off of the roadway and headed straight out into a meadow.

Chapter 12.

There was no way to follow more closely, the area was too open. I watched intently as Mr. Halliday, without a glance to either side, strode through the autumn-browned waist high grass. At the far end of the field, well, almost to the far end, she seemed to bend or stoop for the briefest of moments and then disappeared from view. Autumn immediately wanted to head out in pursuit now that I was here, but I wanted to wait and observe for a few minutes, just in case. Autumn waited with barely concealed impatience, reminding me that she’d seen this same performance several times, and that she had yet to see Ms. Halliday reappear from wherever it was she had gone. Just the same, I thought that caution was appropriate, especially considering my recent encounters with Mr. Brown and his associates (and I hadn’t for a second forgotten that Ms. Halliday and Mr. Brown appeared to be buddies). So I watched carefully while Autumn continued her quiet argument with me. She was still very angry about my allegations, and by now my temper had flared as well and the words were getting sharp and it wouldn’t be long before someone said something that we’d regret. At this point I didn’t know what to do to prevent it, nor did I want to let it distract me from what we were there to accomplish.

After several minutes of observation, we headed out into the field, following the trail of bent grass stalks left in Ms. Halliday’s wake. I walked in the lead with Autumn several feet behind me. I would have rather she’d stayed behind, but she was having none of that, and once again I had to bite off a pointed retort when she angrily insisted that she was coming along whether I liked it or not.

The walk across that field was absolutely brutal. Not because of the terrain, but because we were still in the midst of our first real fight. We’d gotten to the point where both of us were ready to say the heck with everything and turn back around when we found what we were looking for.

The ground at the back of the field sloped sharply down towards a rocky streambed, which was dry at this time of year. Ms. Halliday’s disappearing act made sense now, since what she actually did was walk down a steep little path that slanted across the slope. I grabbed Autumn’s arm and pulled her down into a crouch beside me, signalling to her to be quiet while we checked out this hidden bit of terrain. There was nobody in sight. It looked like we’d been lucky, for we could have easily walked right up on Ms. Halliday and any number of others without realizing it, and we hadn’t been particularly quiet nor careful during our approach.

Autumn tapped my arm and pointed down the streambed, and there, set back on a rocky shelf, was the opening to a cave. I didn’t think it likely that Ms. Halliday had gone inside, and Autumn and I got into another angry, albeit whispered exchange over the possibility. Finally, I’d had enough and started down the sloping path. Autumn scrambled after me.

She seemed surprised when I started to enter the cave, but the way I saw it was that I’d made the promise to find out where Ms. Halliday had disappeared to, so I was going to follow through, at least this far. Once I’d checked things out inside though, I was headed home.

It wasn’t much of a cave. Once past the entrance, I stepped aside to let the light shine in. I wished for a flashlight or even a candle, but we hadn’t counted on finding a cavern, so for now I’d check what I could without being stupid.

To my left, the cave ended not six feet from the edge of the opening. The floor was dusty and littered with small rocks and pebbles, which made me think that the ceiling probably wasn’t about to fall on me. I didn’t have to crouch, but I found myself doing so anyway since the ceiling was very low in spots. The back wall was only about ten feet inside and looked solid. Looking over to the right, I saw a crevice in the wall, an opening that might lead to deeper chambers.

Making my way over there, I squinted into the gloom and tilted my head, trying to see beyond the immediate opening. Deciding that I could squeeze in a little farther without losing all the light, I shifted sideways and pressed myself into the crevice.

I peered into a small dim chamber, and the very walls moved as if alive. I felt something against my hand and looked down to see something, no, several… oh god, several hundred… somethings crawling up my arm.

With a inarticulate cry I threw myself back out of the crevice and scrambled for the cave entrance in a blind panic. When I stumbled out into open air, I threw myself on the ground and began to flail my arms to get them off of me. I could feel them in my hair and on my face and neck, and I would’ve screamed if they hadn’t been on my face, forcing me to keep my eyes and mouth tightly shut.

Autumn was actually laughing out loud as she sat down on me. I could hear her close to my ear, whispering my name and telling me that things were all right, that I would be ok, and that she would help get them off of me. I barely registered her hands as they carefully slid along my arms and neck, scooping handfuls of ladybugs away and then shaking them towards the cave entrance to dislodge them.

Shut up.

Ladybugs are ravenous and ferocious predators, eating up to fifty aphids (their favorite prey) every day. They set upon the soft bodied aphids and rip them to shreds with their mandibles, swallowing great chunks of still-struggling victim. As cute and lovable as people believe them to be, ladybugs are among the most fearsome killers on our planet, and it’s a good thing that they’re so small, otherwise we’d be fighting them for our survival.

Ever since learning that in biology class, I’ve been creeped out by ladybugs. I know it’s silly but I can’t help it. The thought of their tiny armored body crawling along my skin, and knowing that if they were larger, or I were smaller, that I’d be prey is enough to keep me awake at night.

I was still shuddering and picking ladybugs out of my hair when Autumn went into the cave. She wanted to make sure that the crevice was really a dead end, since I couldn’t be sure because I had been in the process of freaking out. I almost threw up when she emerged a few minutes later with her hair alive with ladybugs, thousands of them crawling across her clothes and skin. We had found their hibernation spot for the winter. After helping her get rid of most of them (and being very careful about where I put my hands, not just because of the ladybugs, but for Autumn herself underneath), we watched as the last small cloud of them disappeared back inside the entrance. Autumn confirmed that we’d seen everything in the cave. This wasn’t good news, because we now had no explanation for where Ms. Halliday had disappeared to, other than somewhere other than the cave. I wasn’t at all sure there would be a safe way to observe her once she reached the streambed, short of laying in wait for her in the field. Even then, it would be hit or miss as to which day she might come, and because of the tall grass, if we weren’t very careful crossing the field, our presence would show like the wake behind a boat in the water.

As we walked back home and discussed the mysterious Ms. Halliday, no mention was made of our argument before. Nor of the ladybugs. I guess they’re good for something after all.

Posted by Ted at 11:55 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Category: Zombies of Autumn

February 14, 2006

Two thoughts after watching a Japanese Monster movie

First, I would've loved to have been one of the special effects guys on those old movies. Models and miniature sets, explosions and fire everywhere. Too much fun to be called work!

Secondly, every Japanese movie monster got pissed off at something humans did, whether it was intentional or not. The monster's reaction was to immediately begin to destroy everything in its path, and kept the tantrum going until he got his way or someone stronger came along and kicked his ass. I never realized that Godzilla was a muslim.

Posted by Ted at 09:11 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Category: Square Pegs

February 11, 2006

Another new banner found while organizing my hard drive files

I half-expect to find virtual Hoffa buried deep in some forgotten directory.

Posted by Ted at 02:50 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Category: Square Pegs

Must be the Winter Olympics

It was rather surreal. Ladies hockey, the arena music starts in and it's La Bamba. So I'm watching Sweden vs. Russia, playing in Italy, and a Mexican folk song sung by an American teenager gets the crowd fired up.

Later they played the Banana Boat song made famous by Belefonte (Deyyyy-oh!).

Even later, I watched the USA ladies dominate the Swiss.

Posted by Ted at 02:37 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Category: Square Pegs

February 10, 2006

Two posts in one day? To what do we attribute this largesse?

This bug, whatever it is, has officially kicked my ass. I've been dueling with it for more than a week, and even took last Friday off in the hopes of getting over it once and for all. No joy. I left work early yesterday, came home and napped, then slept 13 hours last night (not uninterupted, as there were two nocturnal dashes made to the loo), and still felt rotten this morning, so I called in. Bah.

Not that I'll use the "free" time to catch up on blogging, mind you. Unless you want to see the ugly and venomous side of me, 'cuz I'm not in a good mood.


Posted by Ted at 10:47 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Category: Square Pegs

Hockey Whoopass Jamboree

Gir's Calgary Flames outscored my beloved San Jose Sharks last week, and so I will display her cool logo on my page for most of forever (considering how often I've posted lately).


Congrats, Gir!

PS. Your oral surgeon went to clown college. :P

Posted by Ted at 10:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Category: Balls and Ice

February 06, 2006

NaNoWriMo, it's serialriffic!

I humbly present Chapters 9 and 10, in the extended entry.

Thanks once again for all the feedback, every bit is appreciated.

I haven't forgotten the "name this story" contest, it'll be posted in the next few days when I get a chance.

Previous chapters:

Chapters 1 and 2.
Chapters 3 and 4.
Chapters 5 and 6.
Chapters 7 and 8.

Chapter 9.

Horrified, Mrs. Crisp had called the police, and when they arrived accompanied them to try to identify the former owner of the hand. It definitely didn’t belong to Granddad, and the research center looked it over and said that it didn’t belong to the second kidnapped zombie either. That meant that someone somewhere had access to another zombie and they weren’t afraid to use that barely-sentient creature to make a point.

As bad as the severed hand was, the flyer was probably even more disturbing. Claiming to be from a group calling themselves the “Righteous Army of the Living�, the flyer stated that hunting season on zombies and those who protect them would be open soon. Nobody local had ever heard of the group before, so they’d sent it, hand and all to the regional authorities. So far, the regional cops had drawn a blank too. Normally, something like this would be treated as a crank, but the exclamation point of the hand made it very clear that the cops had better get on the ball and take this seriously or someone not a zombie could get hurt.

Mrs. Crisp was demanding police protection for her and her daughter since it was obvious that the flyer and hand were meant to be seen from their house. I was glad to see the police take the threat seriously, even if they continued to insist that my mishap was an accident. I had never told Officer Ossie about my last encounter with Mr. Brown, and Officer Ossie had never brought up Mr. Brown again after the first time that I’d mentioned seeing him sneaking down the alleyway. I tried to obliquely bring it up by saying that it sounded as if two competing groups, one pro-zombie and one anti-zombie, were squaring off in our town. Officer Ossie admitted that the authorities were concerned about just such a situation, and were quietly planning ways to counter anticipated actions by either or both groups. That was the end of our visit, and after reminding me to be careful (be really careful), he said goodbye and left.

As expected, by the following day most of the town knew about the RAL and their threat against Mrs. Crisp and anyone else who sympathized with her. A few more posters had been hung up in various locations, although no more hands (or any other body part) had been included. In addition, ZAPT had gone on a flyer binge in retaliation, posting as many overnight as had been seen over the entire previous week. Ms. Halliday had spent the morning in town and was passing along the latest gossip over a game of Chinese Checkers. Mom seemed not to care overly much, having complete faith in her “live and let live� philosophy. As for my “accident�, she sided with the police on the matter, and when she brought it up at all it was only to remind me to be more careful in the future.

Autumn stopped by after school, but she seemed distracted. I had noticed that she’d grown more and more distant in recent days, and was resigned to the fact that I was going to lose my first girlfriend, and probably sooner rather than later. When she sat down to talk, Ms. Halliday and Mom made their excuses and retreated to another part of the house. As soon as they’d left, Autumn leaned in and gave me a big hug and followed it up with a warm kiss that left me tingling.

I’m pretty sure it was the kiss.

Somewhat reassured that our boyfriend/girlfriend status was reasonably secure, I encouraged Autumn to tell me about what had been going on. After first making me swear that what she was about to say would stay between us alone, she confided that her mom had called in some favors and that “old friends�, as Mrs. Crisp called them, had come visiting, talking earnestly late into the night over cups of strong tea. Moreso, Autumn had caught glimpses of a few of these people around her neighborhood, as if they were watching over the Crisp house. She was certain that they were members of ZAPT, and was very worried that her mom seemed to be falling back into their sphere.

Autumn then asked me what I had heard from Ms. Halliday. I relayed the gossip and rumors that she’d told me, which mostly consisted of who was accusing who of various transgressions, real and imagined. It looked as if the current atmosphere in town was providing the perfect excuse for people to air grudges against their neighbors, and things were rapidly growing ugly in a few places. No, Mr. Brown had not been mentioned at all, and I couldn’t think of a way to bring him up without sounding out of place and possibly arousing suspicions.

Only then did Autumn and I talk about what happened to me. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, but we needed to exchange information on the sensitive things going on before we were interupted again. In fact, Autumn was telling me about how inspectors had been going over every inch of all of the industrial arts shops, looking for similar dangerous deficiencies. I didn’t think they’d find any, because Mr. Franks and his colleagues were very good teachers and were always meticulous when it came to safety. Autumn didn’t know what, if anything, had been found during the inspections, but she did say that Mr. Franks didn’t appear to be concerned about the possibility of finding other problems. She also hadn’t heard either way about the missing note I had carried in, and other than myself and Mr. Button, nobody else had read the note, although most of the students in that class remembered him handing it to me and me leaving the room.

Mom came in to ask if we’d like some tea and cookies, but Autumn said that she needed to run. After the zombie hand incident, Mrs. Crisp wanted her home in time to have the animals fed and taken care of before dusk. I couldn’t disagree with her reasons. Autumn hesitated before leaving, and I stared at Mom until she got the hint and left the room again. I was left tingling again (it was the kiss, I was sure of it now), and Autumn promised to stop by again the following morning.

Ms. Halliday stayed in for dinner that evening, which was unusual. She professed to being concerned about the latest happenings and talked about possibly going to visit her sister in another town until things calmed down here. I tried not to perk up too much at hearing this, because it sounded like the perfect alibi if she wanted to “disappear� for a period of time as she and Mr. Brown did whatever it was they were conspiring to. I made a mental note to tell Autumn about this possibility, but reminded myself that we had no real evidence that Ms. Halliday was connected in any way to ZAPT.

On Saturday morning I woke up for the first time in days without a headache nor slightly blurred vision. In fact, I felt good enough to get dressed and go for a walk, because I was sick of being cooped up in the house. Walking through the neighborhood in the still morning air, I breathed deep and just let my mind go. I’d been doing nothing but brooding for long enough, and the fresh air was doing me a world of good.

When I got home, Mom was still sleeping, so I put the teakettle on and grabbed a pear. Thinking that I’d heard the newspaper smack on the front porch - which would be a first, considering we have the world’s worst paperboy when it comes to accuracy – I opened the front door and almost had my head knocked upon.

I made a suitably startled noise to see the small crowd standing there, whereas they made four, no – five suitably startled noises (I didn’t see Mrs. Grover in the back, and she’s rather short). The lady in front, who had had her hand raised to knock on the door, and almost my forehead with the opening of said door, was none other than Mrs. Partridge, the Parson’s wife.

Now the Reverend Partridge was a genuine blessing to our town. He always had a smile for everyone, he was known for his kind words, and you could count on him for a fair and just opinion if his wisdom was called upon. Everyone loved him, even those who didn’t attend his church.

Mrs. Partridge, on the other hand, was a hateful, judgmental harpy whose sole delight was lording (pun intended) it over all that she was the beloved Reverend’s wife, as if that good man’s reputation somehow bestowed itself automatically upon her. She had exactly four friends in town (three and a half if you count Mrs. Grover, who’s rather short), and here they were, standing on our front porch.

Recovering from their start, Mrs. Partridge asked to see my Mom. I apologized for my Mom not being available at the moment, but I’d be happy to take a message and let her know that they had visited.

Thinking to bluster her way past the boy before them, Mrs. Partridge sniffed that they would wait for my mother to become available, and she made as if to sweep past me.

We wound up nose to nose, because I didn’t move a muscle. You learn not to be bullied in your own home when you run a boarding house. I grew up dealing with people like Mrs. Partridge, who believed that not only were they better than you, but assumed that you believed it too.

She waited a good ten seconds – count it out: one alligator, two alligator… it’s quite a stretch when you’re face to face with someone who expects you to back down – before she huffed and took a step backwards.

I almost managed to not smile as her entourage tried to back up a step as well, about a half second too late, causing them some awkward fumbling as they got themselves straightened out again in front of our door.

With a gleam as cold and sharp as steel in her eye, Mrs. Partridge opened her mouth to say something, something that would surely put me into my place once and for all. Something devastating and scathing, something to put aright again her universe.

Mrs. Partridge stood there, ramrod straight, with her finger extended into the air to put the exclamation point on her words. Her lips formed the opening sound.

What came out was a loud, high pitched whistle.

She sounded like a teakettle.

I couldn’t help it. I burst into laughter, and so did two of the ladies behind Mrs. Partridge. The timing could not have been more perfect, and at any other time I believe even someone as sour as her could have appreciated it. Instead, with a quick glance to the left and to the right, she silenced her two comrades (I wondered what sort of punishment they would be forced to do for their treasonous laughter), Mrs. Partridge silently extracted a long envelope from her bag and handed it to me. I thanked her, and after seeing them make their way off the porch and down the steps, I went back inside for a cup of hot chocolate. I giggled all over again with every delicious sip.

I found the newspaper later, in the hedge.

Chapter 10.

The envelope was sealed, and officially stamped with the church markings. I knew that Mom would ignore it, and I also knew that it wasn’t an official letter from the church. Mrs. Partridge had been chastised several times before about involving the church in her personal crusades, usually for just such an act. More often than not, she would attempt to intimidate someone by implying that the power of the church was being brought to bear, when no such thing had occurred. It wasn’t even an abuse of her authority, for she had none whatsoever. Still, she would try yet again, and somewhere down the line her long-suffering husband would apologize for her and try to make amends.

Mom surprised me and actually opened the envelope and read the letter inside. I expected her to just toss it into the trash. I should’ve realized that she was more than a little worried about this whole zombie situation, especially since it was beginning to affect our little corner of the world. I watched her read the letter without any change in her expression, and then she handed me the letter without a word and left the room. I could hear Mom puttering about the kitchen, rattling the dishes in her normal fashion. She was good at hiding her emotions, but I was good at reading her moods. This time, though, I had no idea whether or not the letter had had any effect on her, nor if she might be on the verge of tears, laughter or even rage.

I read the letter through quickly once, then reread it slowly and carefully, to make sure I understood all the various pokes and jabs and assumptions and prejudices in there. What it all amounted to was that we were being notified that, because of our involvement with Mrs. Crisp and Autumn, that we would be “watched to make sure that we caused no more trouble in our fair town�. Of course, it was Mrs. Partridge and her gaggle that were “notifying� us, and if it really bothered me I supposed I could go see the Reverend. All I’d get for the effort though, would be an apology (sincere), and another arrow stuck through Reverend Partridge’s long-suffering soul.

Later that day, Autumn stopped by again. We sat on the front porch and drank big cups of steaming hot tea and talked (ok, yes, there was tingling involved, but that’s all I’m going to say about that).

Autumn was still doing her best to follow Ms. Halliday whenever she left our house. Usually the trips were uneventful, but occasionally Autumn would find herself retracing her steps of the walk out of town. On these journeys, Ms. Halliday would always head for the same field, begin to cross the field, and then disappear, as if from plain sight. Not having seen it myself, I couldn’t begin to guess what was happening in those situations. We agreed that as soon as I was given the ok to go back to school – and allowed to do other activities – that I’d accompany Autumn as we trailed Ms. Halliday and figure out this mystery once and for all.

Autumn had seen Mr. Brown once, but Ms. Halliday and Mr. Brown passed each other on the sidewalk as if they had never met each other. Very odd.

She also told me that despite the proximity of her ZAPT friends, Mrs. Crisp was beside herself with worry for the kidnapped zombies now that the RAL had announced it’s presence in the area. Considering that the RAL believed in euthanizing zombies as a matter of policy, I think I’d have been climbing the walls too, wondering if those murdering fools had somehow gotten hold of Granddad. Nobody thought that Granddad and the other zombie was dead, but if RAL got their hands on Granddad, his remaining life (such as it was) would be measured in fractions of an hour rather than days.

Granddad hung there like a physical presence for the rest of the day. When the afternoon shadows started to get long Autumn said she needed to get going. I ran inside and managed to convince Mom that I was well enough to go for another walk. So, arm in arm, I walked Autumn home for the first time in almost a week. Just being together in this familiar way seemed to lift both our spirits, and we enjoyed ourselves right up until the moment we turned onto her street. There, leaning against a picket fence, a man I didn’t recognize stared holes through me as we walked by. Autumn softly sighed, and I caught a barely perceptible nod of greeting from the man out of the corner of my eye. He was, I’d already guessed, one of the ZAPT people that Mrs. Crisp had called in to keep an eye on her house and street.

For the first time ever, I felt less than welcomed in the Crisp household. The lady sitting in the front room never stopped staring at me, even as Mrs. Crisp smiled warmly and thanked me for walking Autumn home. I should say that her mouth smiled warmly, because the smile never reached her eyes. Her grey eyes stayed cold, and I was surprised to see the change that recent events had brought on in her. She seemed tense and perpetually ready to uncoil, as if a spring had been too long compressed and strained to release. Even her face had noticeably aged, her mouth drawn tight and her skin taking on a papery look. There was no offer of tea or root beer, and when her eyes darted to the window and then the clock for the third time as we chatted, I told Autumn that I would see her in the morning at school and left, headed for home. Somehow, a goodbye kiss just didn’t seem like a good idea. Dang.

The guy at the corner annoyed me just by being there, so I made sure to smile and wave as I passed. He scowled at me, which meant that I annoyed him, so we were even as far as I was concerned. All I really cared about was that he did his job well enough to keep Autumn (and Mrs. Crisp too I suppose) safe from harm.

I walked through the deepening gloom of the evening, passing houses where porch lights cast welcoming pools of light in front of their doorways. It was dinner time, and through windows I could see families gathering together around tables. Outside, it was as if I were all alone in the world. My feet knew the way home, and my mind wandered as I idly watched the dragon plumes playfully dance away from my face as I exhaled into the cold night.

Becoming more aware of my surroundings, I noticed two figures on the sidewalk up ahead. I couldn’t make out who they were, mainly because they were standing in the darkest stretch in between two street lights. They were talking, one rather loudly and sounding at least a little drunk. I briefly considered crossing the street, but rejected that notion since I was within a few minutes of my house, and while drunk and disorderly wasn’t unknown in our town, it wasn’t common either. I felt safe enough to walk on by without a word passing between us.

That is, right until I saw that one of the two was the “drunk� guy that Mr. Brown used to distract me that day in the alley. I started a little bit when I recognized him, but tried to cover as best I could and kept right on walking. Sensing their movement to follow, I sped up my steps and was about to break into a full on sprint for home when another shadowy, yet familiar shape stepped out from behind a dark tree ahead. Mr. Brown had made an appearance, and things were not looking good for the home team.

Just then, the cavalry arrived in the form of a patrol car pulling up to the curb adjacent to me. Looking through the side window, I saw Officer Ossie and breathed a huge sigh of relief. He saw the alarm on my face and immediately climbed out of the car. I figured at this that my three assailants would have already retreated, so I was very surprised to feel strong hands grab me around both arms. As I twisted in their grasp, I shook loose just enough from one to take a wild swing at the other who still held me. He dodged my punch and held on tight, and before I could recock my arm for another go the other fellow jumped on my back, driving me to my knees.

Looking up as I struggled, I was stunned to see Mr. Brown stride up to my policeman friend and with one mighty swing, knock him flat backwards and out of the fight. I still twisted and squirmed against my attackers, who nonetheless managed to reattach themselves to my arms and drag me to my feet. Standing there, the last thing I remember seeing was Mr. Brown’s face, wearing a curious look as if measuring me, followed by a sudden explosion of pain from my jaw and then darkness.

As I opened my eyes, the first thought I had was that this was turning out to be a truly rotten November. My eyes came into focus, and I found myself laying on the sofa in our front parlor. I had no idea about how I’d gotten there, and as I lay there wondering Mom walked in with a cold, wet cloth which she pressed (ow!!! lightly!!!) against my jaw. She looked down at me with concern in her eyes, and over her shoulder I could see Ms. Halliday as well.

It turned out that my little misadventure had happened less than an hour before. Ms. Halliday came home from one of her evening outtings and found me lying in a heap on the front porch. Stuffed into the front of my coat was a single sheet of paper with the words “no more� scribbled across it.

My jaw wasn’t broken, I could tell that much after wriggling my face around a little bit. I would definitely feel that punch for a few days though, and I was already sure that the bruise would be a lovely match for the one still fading on my forehead.

Mom held up the paper that I’d been wearing, and said that she’d called the police since this was obviously a threat. As soon as she said that, I jumped up and dashed outside. Ms. Halliday and Mom followed me, calling wildly, but I paid no attention to them as I sped back up the street to where the assault had taken place. The last I’d seen, Officer Ossie had been knocked out cold next to his cruiser, the recipient of a punch from the same fist that had sent me into la-la land.

Approaching the place, I could see that the Officer Ossie was gone, as was the patrol car. Apparently he’d recovered enough to drive away, hopefully back to the station to raise the alarm. As I stood there, Mom and Ms. Halliday caught up to me and, breathless, asked me just what in the world I’d been thinking. I explained that this is where I’d been attacked, and that a policeman had pulled up and then he’d been brutally subdued as well. Now I wanted to hurry back to the house because I could positively identify the men who not only assaulted me, but also an on duty policeman.

Mom looked shocked, and then held up her hand which still grasped the paper with “no more� written on it. She asked me if I was crazy or just stupid, and hadn’t I already had enough of this? Whoever did this was obviously violent and had no compunction about using force to make their point. As far as Mom was concerned, as of now this had never happened and there was nothing more to be said. The matter was closed and we weren’t involved any longer.

I wanted to argue, but Mom seldom put her foot down like this. I might be able to convince her to change her mind, but not by challenging her while standing in the street. My best bet was to wait until everyone had calmed down, and then try to quietly reason with her.

Now that Mom was sure that I was physically all right, when we got back to the house she sat me down to a reheated dinner and, when the cops finally showed up, answered the door herself and apologized for the uneccessary response. I could hear her talking to them for a few minutes, apparently the police already knew that something had happened and were trying to persuade Mom to cooperate. She was having none of it though. Finally, she said goodnight to the police and closed the door, coming back into the kitchen and starting to make tea.

I always enjoyed watching Mom make tea. There was something comforting about the process, almost ceremonial in the steps that she always did in her own particular order. I knew that Mom used the comfortable routine of making tea as a way to collect her thoughts and to calm down. I could see that she was going over something in her mind, so I sat quietly and waited.

When the tea was ready, Mom brought two cups to the table. Handing one to me, she sat down and asked me which group was responsible for tonight. I was surprised that she even knew that there was more than one faction, and realized that I’d underestimated my Mom. She never talked about local gossip, but because of her many lovers, she was certain to hear plenty. Prominent men probably told her important and private information, at least in part to try to impress her with their importance and probably also to boost their own egos. The fact that Mom never, ever repeated the pillow talk would make these men even more comfortable about sharing secrets, knowing that Mom held her confidences closely. Thinking about it, Mom undoubtedly knew more about the inner workings of our town than most.

I told Mom that tonight’s beating was courtesy of ZAPT. She nodded, took a contemplative sip from her cup, and asked if Autumn was involved with the group. I told her honestly that I didn’t think so, but that there were several members of that group staying as guests at the Crisp household. Mom nodded again, and then told me that I was no longer allowed to visit Autumn at her house. For the present, it was ok if she wanted to visit here, but under no circumstances was I to go near her street. I couldn’t think of a single point to argue.

Posted by Ted at 12:14 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Category: Zombies of Autumn

February 05, 2006

Daniel Boone goes to the Blogmeet

Last night was the latest Washington DC blogmeet, and as usual the evening was highlighted by excellend company, conversation and plenty of excellent beer.

Princess Cat sent out the details after doing a test-run at the chosen meeting place. We gathered together at the Castle and Elephant Pub, on Pennsylvania Avenue just a couple of blocks down from the Capitol building.

Over time, it appears that our requirements for an acceptable gathering spot has evolved into:

1. Good Beer
2. Casual Dress
3. Metro Access

Now the walkabout portion of the evening happened when my wife and oldest daughter Robyn and I walked out of the metro station and found ourselves in the Woodrow Wilson Plaza smack dab in front of the Ronald Reagan building. Making our way to Pennsylvania Avenue, I confidently led us off in the wrong direction, and after making a grand circle, we found the pub when the ladies noticed the name etched into the windows of the building we were passing. We could see the entrance to the plaza from the front door. In my defense, there was no lighted sign for the pub.

We walked in (fashionably late) and immediately found the group busy trying to arrange tables and seating. Turns out that the pub lost our reservations, so we wound up rearranging tables for additional seats no less than three times during the evening.

Like I said, the highlights are always the company and conversation. The food was ok. Nothing special, although the appetizer platters were heaped with tasty bits. I did notice Robert the LlamaButcher looking a bit green in the gills as I feasted, but he was kind enough not to get sick at or on me while we talked.

The guest list included:

Princess Cat and blogless wonder stealth-blogger Matt
Victor and Nic
Blogoline and her husband Jerry
Dawn (who's having hosting issues, link to be added when her home is settled)
Yours truly with Wife and daughter

There were several no-shows, and you were all missed and talked about behind your back. Neener neener.

We left somewhat early because Liz had been up early for work, and daughter Robyn still had some personal business to take care of (oh yes, she did).

Once again, another excellent evening. Thanks to everyone, and it was great seeing you again, or meeting you for the first time, and I'm looking forward to the next one.

Posted by Ted at 02:07 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Category: Links

February 03, 2006

Stretching your cinematic budget

If you enjoy B-films, then you probably know the name Roger Corman. Even if you don't recognize the name, you've probably enjoyed some of his films. He's responsible for movies like Attack of the Giant Leeches, the Wasp Woman, Little Shop of Horrors, a terrific series of films based on Poe stories, Boxcar Bertha, Death Race 2000, Humanoids from the Deep, and over 350 more.

After last weekend's Mummy jag, I started watching a series of prehistoric women flicks. I'll post a review later of classics like Wild Women of Wongo and Mesa of Lost Women.

So last night I started watching a movie and things seemed *very* familiar. About halfway through I started laughing when I realized that I'd already seen much of the movie under a different title, but there were serious differences in the plotlines.

It was time to do a little research. VideoHound's Cult Flicks & Trash Pics gave up this gem:

Communism met a most ignominious humiliation at the hands of Yankee capitalist pig Roger Corman when the latter purchased the 1962 Soviet feature Planeta Burg (Planet of Storms), a serious-minded feature (with groundbreaking and costly special effects) about a collection of brave, bland cosmonauts exploring a hostile planet.

What Corman did was to use the acquired Russian film as the basis of two different movies. By adding english dialogue and extensive editing, the original film was rearranged into 1965's Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet. Scenes were added starring Basil Rathbone as an Earthbound professor and Faith Demergue as Marsha, the lady astronaut who stays in orbit as the mission doormat while the commander patronizes the hell out of her. The basic plot involves a rescue mission for two explorers and a robot on the surface of Venus. I've seen it mentioned in more than one place that the film credits were invented to disguise the fact that it was a Russian movie.

In 1968 Corman did it again, again re-editing and rearranging the original movie to create Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. This time, Mamie Van Doren stars as the leader of a telepathic group of mermaid Venusians who can control volcanos and the weather. When the exploring astronauts kill their pteradactyl "god", the women get pissed and try to destroy the alien invaders.

About 70% of the two movies duplicate each other, and I was greatly amused when, in the second movie, it's explained that "Marsha" is the code-word that everyone uses to refer to Earth. Silly, but it saved money by letting them share more of the dialogue between the flicks.

Both movies suck, and I highly recommend them.

Posted by Ted at 10:07 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Category: Cult Flicks

I thought it was 42

A couple of months ago I got an email from someone looking for information on how to get into blogging. BK mentioned that he'd started at Blather Review and from there was just kind of randomly clicking blog links.

I suggested that he head over to Blogspot and fire up something for free and give it a test drive, see how he likes it.

Go say hello to BK over at The Meaning of Life... Or Something Like That. He's interested in philosophy, gaming and science, and looks to have some controversial views on religion.

Hint: Turn on anonymous comments, many of us don't have blogger accounts.

Posted by Ted at 03:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Category: Links
Site Meter