lost time incident 26 – [missing]

troll

lost time incident 26
Holy cats! This is our 26th installment! And if math is not a convenient fiction, that means that we’re halfway through our first year as a newsletter!

If you had told me when we set out on this newsletter project that we would reach the half year mark, I’d probably have said: “Hey, that’s great! Now I know for sure that I’m not going to meet an untimely end in the next six months! My constant, low-level death anxiety will be at perhaps its lowest ebb since before, as a child, I realized what death really means.”

And speaking of children and death, this week we’ll be revisiting our poorly managed school for wizards! Light a candle, grab your magic wand (after making sure it has fresh batteries), and let’s get ready for adventure!

the beulah candlewick school for young magicks
At the front of the classroom, Professor Pank glared out at the students from the other side of an ornate mirror, 7 feet high, ringed in gold and mounted on wheels. An experiment years back in using mirrors to travel had been interrupted, leaving Pank trapped in the reflected world behind mirrors. In order to allow him to continue his tutelage, the school had invested in a set of mirrors, easily moved, that would be placed throughout the campus for his use.

A young student, her robes on fire, crawled painfully towards the mirror.

“Well, now we’re learning,” said Pank. He twirled a magic wand and extinguished the reflected student at his feet with a jet of cool vapor. At the same time, the student in the real world was similarly affected, suddenly sodden, but safe. “Who can tell me what Elleve here did wrong?”

“She enrolled in this school,” muttered Jaymes under his breath. He sat in the back row, slouched in his seat, his asymmetrical hair dyed blue. On his shoulder, a pixie he had crafted from cafeteria carrots he didn’t want to eat muttered agreement.

“Yes yes yes yes,” it said. This was its standard response to most anything Jaymes had to say, as per Jaymes’s design.

“Shut up,” said Jaymes.

Doctor Willowblight applied a cooling salve to Elleve’s neck and back.

“My parents are going to… going to sue…” hissed Elleve. The salve did its work, guided by magic to match the tone and consistency of the surrounding skin, forming a replacement as good as the original skin. Well, except for its texture or sensitivity. It would always feel a bit damp to the touch. And would slowly soak through shirts. Also, to Elleve, it would feel like a dull area, thanks to damaged nerves. But other than that, pretty good stuff.

Willowblight arched an eyebrow at the threat of legal action. If she’d heard it once, she’d heard it a thousand times. But the school’s grounds had been buttressed by enough magical rituals in overlapping layers that any attempt by the law to penetrate it would be sure to end in disaster.

The bottom of the dark fountain near the entrance gates was lined with the bones of lawyers, mixed with briefcases, fancy pens, and the sodden remains of embossed business cards.

That said, it was still poor form to tell a student that on school grounds, they were well beyond the reach of any outsider who might want to help them.

“These scars,” said Willowblight, falling into character. “Most peculiar.”

In the handbook provided to faculty and staff at The Beulah Candlewick School for Young Magicks, an entire chapter is devoted to student injuries. In the sub-section related to scarring, disfigurement or transfiguration, the standard operating procedure was to mitigate hard feelings by inventing and sharing a “prophecy” wherein a young user of magic, thus marked, was destined for greatness.

“What’s that?” asked Elleve.

“They remind me of something,” said Willowblight. “A prophecy. But prophecies probably don’t interest you,” continued Willowblight.

“No, let’s hear it. What’s this prophecy?”

“It’s just that when they laid the keystone for this very building, the Professor of Scrying at the time had a vision of a young student who would one day surpass all of us. They would be known by a particular wound on their back. He sketched the wound from his vision, but I only sorta remember the shape. I mean, that was years ago, and I read about it in the faculty newsletter, which we used to have to print by hand with a drumroll and ink, so…”

Elleve sat up eagerly. “But you think my burn scars might match the pattern?”

“I’m fairly certain… it’s an almost perfect match. But the only way we can know for sure would be for you to continue with your studies through graduation… and if your parents are going to sue, as you say, well… they’re not going to keep paying tuition, so… you’ll probably have to drop out. Get a job somewhere. A water park maybe? That would be safe for you. No more burns.”

“Surpass everyone, it said?”

It was so easy.

“You dropped your SCROLL, nerd!” The giant, yellow-skinned creature smirked, then continued strolling down the hallway, an enormous letter jacket on its back.

Jaymes picked up the scroll that the creature, Nnghbert, had just slapped out of his hands. “I really, really hate that guy. He’s not even human! If he wasn’t so good at sports, there’s no way they’d let him keep studying here.”

The carrot pixie on his shoulder nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, yes, yes, yeah,” it murmured.

Jaymes’s classmate Akaya cast a glance at the pixie. “That’s really gross, dude. You really ought to eat your veggies.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said the pixie.

“Whatever,” said Jaymes.

Akaya patted Jaymes’s back. “I know you don’t like Nnghbert. Nobody does. But you have to understand that Nnghbert’s bad attitude isn’t his fault.”

“How do you figure?”

“Well, you know the nnghs, right? Gross little yellow creatures? Pretty much infest the whole school?”

“Sure,” said Jaymes. “Guys in my dorms hunt them and pin them to the common room wall.”

Akaya looked disgusted. “No… please tell me that’s not true.”

“It is.”

“Do you guys not know what nnghs are? Where they come from? Do none of you pay attention in Applied Magic and Sexuality? Those health courses are for your benefit, you know.” Akaya ducked briefly as a laughing pack of young witches came flying down the hallway, dressed for athletics. “They’re formed from…. hmm. Well, when young boys going through puberty have some ‘alone time’… and their ’emissions’ and magic and tissues all mix in the plumbing, then…”

“No,” said Jaymes. On his face: the expression of someone who was torn between wanting to clean every inch of his body and brain, or go back in time 5 minutes and choose any other corridor to walk down instead of this one, which lead to this conversation.

“That’s where the name came from,” said Akaya. “From the sound boys make.”

“Stop talking.”

“Like you don’t know. Nnnnnngh,” said Akaya, fluttering her eyes back and letting her mouth fall open.

“Gross,” said Jaymes.

Akaya laughed, then continued. “So the thing with Nnghbert is that he was originally just one of the biggest of the nnghs ever made. He was so much trouble, the faculty had to get him under control. From what I heard, they used the Cauldron of Itches, some puppydog tails, a magic book from Professor Whistler’s library, and a set of brass knuckles to transform him into what he is today: an enormous jock. All of his natural mischief-causing instincts are sublimated into socially acceptable sports-related violence. He’s completely under our control now.”

Jaymes frowned. “So they used magic to make Nnghbert into.. an enormous dude? A fellow student? To control him?”

“Masculinity is a prison, Jaymes,” said Akaya. “And he’s got a sentence to serve out.”

nnghbert

roth I-arrrh-Aretirementplan
The hardest part of pirate life is not procuring treasure, or burying it… it’s marking the X. The pirates will be so happy to avoid the most strenuous part of the process that this plan is sure to work.

ending theme song
When I started this newsletter, my goals were pretty simple. I wanted to get back in the habit of writing, first and foremost. The days, weeks, and months just keep passing and if I can look back and see some creative pursuits in there instead of just consuming media, it’s better for my mental health.

Secondly, I was also hoping to stumble across an idea I could expand on for a new e-book project.

So far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much fun it is to come up with ideas about the awful world of the Candlewick School and its struggling students. They’re super easy to write about and as a lazy person, I’m going to keep mining any seam of ideas that seems easy. Could this be the writing project I was looking for?

I hope you stick around and find out with me if we’re on to something!

And thanks to my wife Amanda for contributing an original illustration of Nnghbert in his varsity jacket.

See you in a week,

–Michael Van Vleet

lost time incident 25 – genuine wrestle boys

green dragon red dragon

lost time incident 25
Here in the United States, we just had our 4th of July holiday. In theory, it’s intended for demonstrations of patriotism, but we’ve so quickly followed it with horrifying acts of violence that we’re left with a nationalist hangover.

So instead of thinking about that, let’s spend a little bit of time thinking about ghosts and spies, eh? Won’t that be nice? For a little while?

 

shaking my head
smh_oil

 

ad block

Ever thought about what it might be like to be a ghost yourself? Unfinished business? Can’t pick stuff up? Just kinda hoping someone comes along that you can communicate with? And when it does happen, it’s just some reality TV pricks measuring cold spots and pretending to see stuff in corners? All the while, you’re doing your best to appear to them, screaming noiselessly in their stupid meat ears?

Just me?

Maybe there’s no such thing as ghosts. Maybe no one ever comes back with a message because when you die, that’s when you figure out that this place kinda sucks compared to the alternative. No matter how nice a life you’ve got going here, how many people you’re fond of, there’s just no contest. The next phase is a delight, time isn’t real, so everyone you love is going to be along behind you before you know it.

Maybe, maybe.

Or maybe what we think are ghosts aren’t former people. Maybe they’re advertisements. Sent from the next phase of existence with a message: “Look at me, a spooky thing that looks like you, but with out-of-date clothes. I look miserable, right? That’s you. I’m what you look like. This is the life you’re leading. Stuck in this building like I am. Wanting things. So hurry up and get life over with!”

We don’t see ghosts because they’re banner ads for suicide and the beyond and we’ve learned to tune them out, as with any advertising.

 

super double top secret
Agent Lucero reloaded his wrist-mounted crossbow as his pursuer’s body slipped off the roof of the train car. The enemy agent’s body bounced along the tracks briefly before careening into the pine forest that blurred alongside the passenger train. “I suppose that puts all my ducks in… arrow. No, that’s awful. Glad that’s over, as I was starting to get cross— bow. Ugh, even worse.”

He patted the courier bag slung over his shoulder and crept up towards the lead cars. Inside one of them, he knew he’d find his new identity, a roll of the local currency, and an experimental personal bubble-shaped crash-negating device. With the latter, he’d be able to throw himself off the train as soon as the train reached the border crossing. It would inflate around him, and protect him as he bounced his way to a safe stop.

Under the ocean, Lucero listened with the submarine crew to the groaning of the metal around them all. Their ears strained to hear any warning of coming depth charges. Lucero patted his courier bag and leaned to whisper into the oil-blackened ear of a sailor.

“Anyway, so even with the wind on top the the train, I managed to get this guy in the neck with a crossbow bolt from about half a train’s length away—”

“Shh!” hissed the sailor.

“No, yeah, I get it,” said Lucero. “But this is the best part. As he grabbed the bolt and it really sunk in that I got him, I said: ‘Well, Bathsworth, since you were determined to be a pain in my neck, it’s only fair I return the favor!'”

The sailor’s eyes darted along the rivets above. In his hands, a fire extinguisher at the ready.

“Did I mention his name was Bathsworth? Doesn’t matter.”

The soft pinging of radar.

“I guess I could have made a bath-based pun, now that I think of it.”

“Agent Lucero, you’ve made it back.” The chief, a heavy-set man with a flat-top and rumpled suit, rose as Lucero entered the room.

“I have indeed, Chief Apelbaum. It took some doing, but I got away from Bathsworth cleanly.” Lucero unslung his courier bag and sat down with the chief.

“Who’s Bathsworth?” asked Apelbaum.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Lucero.

“I never worry,” said Apelbaum. He leaned forward. “So. What have you learned?”

Lucero smiled. “So, so much.” From out of his pocket, he produced a roll of microfilm.

“You really got it,” said Apelbaum.

“I did,” said Lucero. “Photos of ladies’ underpants. A whole drawer full of them. ”

“Nice.”

“Right?”

“You’re the best agent we’ve got, Lucero. Dismissed.”

Other things Agent Lucero has learned on previous missions:

  • The Prime Minister of Belarus has a crooked dick. Three people have confirmed on three separate occasions.
  • The Queen Regent’s new wallpaper features ducks. Rows of ducks.
  • Senator Quiggs got stood up on a blind date. A bartender says the woman came in, saw him, turned right back around.
  • Doktor Nacht, inventor of the Hand-Held Face-Melt-o, can’t fall asleep unless there’s a Pixar movie playing.
  • Wellesley had a member of her secret service kidnap a kid’s rare dwarf lop rabbit during the kid’s birthday party. She’s renamed it Ruffles.
  • Agent Faszchlo wears tour t-shirts for the band Chicago under his tuxes at state functions. Including from the Peter Cetera era.

 

 

looking & listening
watchingA Very Secret Service – A French television series, a comedy set in the 60s, that follows a young agent entering a Kafka-esque new job surrounded by Mad Men-era fashions as special agents try to keep France’s colonies intact, hunt former Nazis, and be sure to wrap things up in time to turn the office into a dance party with drinks and dangling cigarettes by mid-afternoon. (Netflix)

listeningHello From the Magic Tavern – An American podcast that follows Arnie, an average citizen of Chicago who fell through a dimension rift into the magical land of Foon. Having little else to do, he’s set up camp at The Vermilion Minotaur tavern to interview inhabitants and send his weekly podcast back to us via the wifi signal from a Burger King.

reading – Mostly the news. Not recommended.

playingThe Big Book of Madness – Up to 5 players join forces in this cooperative card game. You all play young student wizards who have opened a spellbook you shouldn’t have. Players pool their spells and resources to defeat the monsters unleashed by the book while fending of the accumulation of madness. Great fun, even with only 2 players.

 

ending theme song
We’re finished early! It’s not yet noon! Great, well, uh… I quit!

See you next week at the half year mark of this project.

–Michael Van Vleet

clinging to the outside

The hands were raised and counted and before you know it, we had all voted to exit the space station. Sure, oxygen rationing sucked, and our elected representatives always seemed to end up in the fanciest space suits with the shiniest, radiation-reflecting face plates, and the most responsive booster jets, but I didn’t think that meant it was a good idea to just leave.

But that’s how the vote went, so we climbed into our patchwork suits and filed to the nearest airlocks.

From outside the station, we had a terrific view of the purple planetary expanse we orbited around. No way to get down there anymore, though.

Did you know that when otters sleep, they hold hands so they don’t drift away from each other? We had to do the same thing, lashing limbs together and tying ourselves to the station to make sure none of us drifted off into the void.

Sure. Everything we ate going forward was going to come out of an external-facing pipe from the station and was going to come in liquid form. Sure, we had no way to clean ourselves.

But we had freedom. We had the stars for company. We could do whatever we wanted.

patched_astronaut1

patched_astronaut2

education was the real magic all along

At the beginning of the semester, the dining hall was full. It was the only time during the school year when that was true. The wizards and witches who stuck it out, year after year, attempting to educate the next generation of magic users, would do their best.

They’d bring out the Book of All Flesh, each page an animated and living face of a former student, transfigured into a tome-shaped warning of the dangers of wandering off the well-lit paths of the library wing. Before the semester was over, the book would have about a dozen new pages, no matter where the staff hid the thing. From that point on, each former student would live mostly in darkness, their face flat as a page, having their cheeks tickled by the eyelashes of their cursed neighbor on the facing page. Conversation impossible in such compressed circumstances, reduced to merely feeling the vibration of speech and the wiggling of smashed lips somewhere on one’s face.

After the book, the faculty wheel out Corbyn Crowsbatten, his body a giant jagged ball of exposed bone. “Corbyn was an athlete, but he broke a bone,” a feather bedecked crone might say, gently patting what looks like an elephant’s tibia jutting out of Corbyn’s central mass. “He thought he knew enough to magically regrow the bone. How hard could it be? A hangman’s deck of cards, burned and applied with a wolf’s paw. The moonlight at the right angle in the window. A mouth full of corn. And yet. Something went wrong. Now Corbyn looks like this. Forever.”

The giant mass of living bones is then rolled back into the ward the faculty set up for Corbyn. His parents don’t know yet, because then the tuition checks would stop coming.

As the weeks go by, the student population begins to drop. Potion mishaps. Eaten by monsters, both encountered and created. Usually two or three students a year will become monsters and need to be hunted down in turn. Every student dance seems to have at least one jealousy-fueled fight that ends with someone being burned into a silhouette on a gymnasium wall.

It’s quite possible that the school is a mistake. That young minds, in a stew of hormones, struggling to figure out who they are, or who they can be, are not capable of gauging the dangers involved in applying your will to the powers drawn from the Glowing Realms.

Last year, as the final semester wound down, they thought they’d actually have a graduate this year. Charlotte Lumnack. Good marks in Boons & Hexes. Good attendance. Unfortunately, under interrogation it was determined that actually, Charlotte had fled the grounds, and left in her place a very detailed illusory version of herself to make the rounds through her classes. Regulations are quite strict about graduation requirements, and illusory copies of students don’t qualify as actual students.

Once again, a semester draws to a close. The wizards and witches sigh and walk empty corridors. Dress in formal robes to stand in an empty graduation hall. The sound of wind outside. The rustling of acceptance letters folding themselves, addressing themselves, and fluttering out into the world to find new students.

 

originally appeared in the newsletter “lost time incident”
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lost time incident 24 – the only other suspect you’ve got

yas2

lost time incident 24
It’s the 4th of July holiday here in the United States, when our country celebrates our victories over fingers and moisture by enduring hand injuries and starting fires with the aid of colorful explosives that, for safety’s sake, you have to drive 15 minutes outside of town to purchase in a tent.

A safety tent.

My wife Amanda and I have an invitation to leave our home and venture out into the weather. There’s a promise of hot dogs and friendship. Skies are blue out there in the world. I can see it through the window. We should be all right.

Time spent being social is time I can’t spend staring at this computer screen, trying to come up with new stuff, so… it’s a good thing I was busy on Twitter this week.

 

going up, getting down
jamz1

jamz2

on the shore

crashing

biologist
education was the real magic all along
At the beginning of the semester, the dining hall was full. It was the only time during the school year when that was true. The wizards and witches who stuck it out, year after year, attempting to educate the next generation of magic users would do their best.

They’d bring out the Book of All Flesh, each page an animated and living face of a former student, transfigured into a tome-shaped warning of the dangers of wandering off the well-lit paths of the library wing. Before the semester was over, the book would have about a dozen new pages, no matter where the staff hid the thing. From that point on, each former student would live mostly in darkness, their face flat as a page, having their cheeks tickled by the eyelashes of their cursed neighbor on the facing page. Conversation impossible in such compressed circumstances, reduced to merely feeling the vibration of speech and the wiggling of smashed lips somewhere on one’s face.

After the book, the faculty wheel out Corbyn Crowsbatten, his body a giant jagged ball of exposed bone. “Corbyn was an athlete, but he broke a bone,” a feather bedecked crone might say, gently patting what looks like an elephant’s tibia jutting out of Corbyn’s central mass. “He thought he knew enough to magically regrow the bone. How hard could it be? A hangman’s deck of cards, burned and applied with a wolf’s paw. The moonlight at the right angle in the window. A mouth full of corn. And yet. Something went wrong. Now Corbyn looks like this. Forever.”

The giant mass of living bones is then rolled back into the ward the faculty set up for Corbyn. His parents don’t know yet, because then the tuition checks would stop coming.

As the weeks go by, the student population begins to drop. Potion mishaps. Eaten by monsters, both encountered and created. Usually two or three students a year will become monsters and need to be hunted down in turn. Every student dance seems to have at least one jealousy-fueled fight that ends with someone being burned into a silhouette on a gymnasium wall.

It’s quite possible that the school is a mistake. That young minds, in a stew of hormones, struggling to figure out who they are, or who they can be, are not capable of gauging the dangers involved in applying your will to the powers drawn from the Glowing Realms.

Last year, as the final semester wound down, they thought they’d actually have a graduate this year. Charlotte Lumnack. Good marks in Boons & Hexes. Good attendance. Unfortunately, under interrogation it was determined that actually, Charlotte had fled the grounds, and left in her place a very detailed illusory version of herself to make the rounds through her classes. Regulations are quite strict about graduation requirements, and illusory copies of students don’t qualify as actual students.

Once again, a semester draws to a close. The wizards and witches sigh and walk empty corridors. Dress in formal robes to stand in an empty graduation hall. The sound of wind outside. The rustling of acceptance letters folding themselves, addressing themselves, and fluttering out into the world to find new students.

 

ending theme song
Tomorrow, as is American tradition, we will prowl the streets of our cities, looking for members of royal families. We’ll bait them into asking us for something, so we can deny the request. That’s where you’ll find me. Out in the streets.

We’ll see you again, before you know it.

–Michael Van Vleet

lost time incident 23 – drink your liver out

drink_your_liver_out

lost time incident 23
Greetings from the mud pits of decrepitude. Almost a week back, while simply bending over, I managed to pull a muscle in my back that, judging by the number of times it’s given me discomfort since then, must have been important in the overall function of this dumb meat ship I’m trapped inside of. But the show must go on. Must it? Actually no. I could just lay face down in bed all day.

It would be so easy.

NO.

We’re working on a newsletter! We’re finding the essence that can follow existence! (Little existentialism shout-out there.) We’re pointedly not petting the cat that settled on us as soon as we sat down to write! Focus! Accomplishment!

And if that doesn’t work out, the bed is still there.

clinging to the outside
The hands were raised and counted and before you know it, we had all voted to exit the space station. Sure, oxygen rationing sucked, and our elected representatives always seemed to end up in the fanciest space suits with the shiniest, radiation-reflecting face plates, and the most responsive booster jets, but I didn’t think that meant it was a good idea to just leave.

But that’s how the vote went, so we climbed into our patchwork suits and filed to the nearest airlocks.

From outside the station, we had a terrific view of the purple planetary expanse we orbited around. No way to get down there anymore, though.

Did you know that when otters sleep, they hold hands so they don’t drift away from each other? We had to do the same thing, lashing limbs together and tying ourselves to the station to make sure none of us drifted off into the void.

Sure. Everything we ate going forward was going to come out of an external-facing pipe from the station and was going to come in liquid form. Sure, we had no way to clean ourselves.

But we had freedom. We had the stars for company. We could do whatever we wanted.

patched_astronaut1

patched_astronaut2

who you know
The recession hit and with so many people out of work, it just made sense that people would turn to forbidden libraries, long forgotten, to research new ways of being and becoming. A self-help guru with big teeth would appear at local malls and sell tickets to enormous crowds, all eager to hear stories about how a combination of anise, cutlery that has touched the teeth of a murderer, and being bitten by three dogs under a waning moon could grant any person a handsome wolf head to replace their own. The guru with the big teeth would comb his furry face, lure a few ticketed VIPs into joining his growing pack and before you knew it, we were used to seeing wolf-headed people going door-to-door, recruiting.

It turned out to be a literal pyramid scheme. The god Anubis had returned and its home pyramid was built on a foundation of bones, mostly belonging to early recruits who weren’t successful at bringing in more wolf-heads under them.

The local grocery is run by a djinn, who has a pretty good eye for fresh produce, but is maybe a little heavy on the variety of dates provided. I’d rather we had a wider variety of fresh greens, but we take what we can get when the exchange for goods has to be either with silver, drops of blood, or a tale of a broken oath.

Djinn love hearing about people who aren’t compelled to keep oaths. It’s good for a box of granola bars, anyway.

Beats joining one of those Circle of the Unsleeping corporations where you chant for years to weaken the Walls of the World, your eyes getting drier and drier, until the Undying Chief Executive Officer can breach into our world and end the recession, plus lower all dry land beneath the sobbing oceans.

Those folks are getting a raw deal.

So yeah. You wanna be my contact on LinkedIn, then?

ending theme song
Sunday’s wrapping up. Donuts were eaten with friends and we even got in a visit to the local comic book store so I could find an old Alpha Flight in the dollar bin. It features a scene where a First Nations shaman comes face to face with a demon made from scrambled eggs. Comics, everybody.

I’m stretched out on a couch, keeping my slow-to-recover back straight. It’s recruited a few neighboring muscle groups to its protest gathering, as they’ve had to pick up the slack and are tired of it. To heck with all of them. Just tie me to the back of one of those DARPA dog robots. I’ll help it avoid banana peels and it can keep me from ever using any of my muscles, ever again. What a team we’ll make. State of the art technology combined with a droopy jellyfish man.

–Michael Van Vleet