lost time incident 12
In less than a week, I’m turning 40. Big round numbers hold a special appeal. And yet, I couldn’t think of anything I particularly wanted to do along the lines of a “big event” to celebrate. At a minimum, it’d be a good excuse for a party of some sort, but it seems like most everyone I know anymore I know more from whatever version of them appears on the internet. You can’t invite the internet over for dinner.
So I think the celebration is mostly going to be online. I’m celebrating by writing this and being happy about how this newsletter/writing project has so far lasted 12 weeks and included a good amount of new, original work. I’ll also celebrate by streaming some video games online and inviting folks to come watch and chat. I’ve been having fun editing highlight clips to share some of my favorite moments.
That’s what I’m up to, anyway. I’ve spent plenty of previous birthdays laying low, contemplating mortality, etc. and mostly waiting for the flood of messages on Facebook from people I only hear from once a year to abate. This year, I’m hoping that by focusing on personal projects, and living the sort of creative life I prefer, I can avoid some of that.
Not all of it. I’ve still been thinking about how much time I may have yet, and about recent deep loss, and about whether or not it’s crazy to think of one’s own childhood self as dead, in all practicality, what with all the changes one undergoes when one becomes an adult… or am I kidding myself when I think that my younger self was such a different creature from me? Some days it feels like I just share some memories with a small creature who shared some of my habits, but isn’t it strange to pretend we’re the same person? Me and this acorn-headed blonde kid?
The police met with all the parents, in small groups, and at the end of the week it was decided that the juvenile delinquency problem could only be solved in one way. All the teens were told to pack their bags because they were going to spend three weeks this summer at camp.
The teens, of course, argued and wept. Clothes were thrown. Doors were slammed. Meals cooled on kitchen table tops and were later fished out of refrigerators by sulking teens under cover of darkness, muttering darkly to themselves in the kitchen as cold chicken is finally, resentfully, eaten.
The trees were green and the cabins were drafty. All was in readiness for the town’s teens and here they came, bangs covering their eyes, feet dragging, hands gripping crime paperbacks or romances, cellular phones playing music or pinging with the sounds of video game success, one teen in the back already on the ground, stabbed with a switchblade for showing too much enthusiasm for the wonders the camp had on offer.
The camp counselors have one job: to so encourage delinquency during the weeks at camp so as to brand any such activities permanently un-hip.
Sign-up stations collect names. Every morning, we’re going to get up and pick a free-standing building to burn down as part of Arson Club. Merit badges are available for those who prove their facility with gasoline. Lunch is either fast food or cigarettes and then we’re off to carve our names in things (for those who sign up for Graffiti Team) or sleep the afternoon away with the Recreational Drug Squad. Merit badges are available for those who can forget the most of their personal troubles. Finally, don’t forget to gather at nightfall at the camp’s bonfire, where we’ll be distributing flick knives to those unfortunates who didn’t bring their own, or have already have them stolen. We’ll give a few craft lessons for how to customize one’s hilt, how to select a lighter that reflects one’s “true self,” how to roll cigarette boxes into one’s shirt sleeve, and then we’ll break so that teens can disappear into the woods and thin the ranks. The morning’s decreasing headcount will let us know what sort of progress we’re making.
Every Saturday is a dance party in the rec center. The nurse’s poison cabinet will be unlocked all night for those couples whose parents would never agree to their union. We’ve got Romeo and Juliet costumes in limited supply for those interested, purchased secondhand from the town’s theater troupe, but still in great shape for dancing or for burial.
All teens will be provided with flyers outlining the virtues of unprotected sex. The sooner they get knocked up, the sooner they can move on to the next phase in their life, taking over vacant job roles in town. We still need two new gas station attendants to replace those two boys who got beaten up by a gang in a dispute over the pricing of dried meat sticks. The postal service is hoping to get some new hires from our pool of dangerous teens as well. Since there’s nothing like the need to keep a new baby in diapers to motivate a teen to go straight, we hope that no one at the dance will show any interest in the uncool prophylactics that we keep locked in the Head Administrator’s office.
And as a final note, Camp Counselor Ken would like to remind you teens that the merit badge offered in previous years for “sick burns” has been discontinued, so remarks about Ken’s weird pear-shaped body, his book-centric hobbies, or his fictional girlfriend who lives far away are no longer welcome or rewarded.
Too bad there’s no merit badge for Crying in Public, huh, Ken?
Maybe next year.
beach body season
It’s that time of year. Time to get your body into beach body shape. Time to wrap your head in seaweed and lay face down by the encroaching tide to ask Poseidon to swap every part of your body with sand so you can be pulled back and forth by the moon’s gravity the waves’ motion forever.
It’s that time of year. Time to get a beach body. Carve yourself a body out of the beach, fashioned like a human, your first true friend, true because it owes its existence to you. Seashell teeth and a hermit crab living in each eye. Its hair, a mess of starfish.
It’s that time. The years keep coming and the beach keeps calling. You know what’s waiting down there. That’s right. The beach body. You can forget about it for most of the year, but you’ll never truly be free of it. Look down there. In the moonlight. Do you see it? Looking back at you? The beach body you left behind?
Bodies on the beach. Bring all the bodies down to the beach. It’s the season. The only way you’re going to avoid returning to the sea is if you can somehow, some way, become a being of pure energy and mind, your consciousness floating out into the universe, pausing for just a second to short out all the laptops at every women’s magazine everywhere. Sparks flying.
Still reading Charles Stross’ short stories from last week, but have added a book about railroad hobo lore to the reading rotation.
Also listening to: Bird song. Distant traffic.
ending theme song
That’s gonna do it for this week. The juvie camp above was expanded from a pair of tweets I came up with this year. The concept of revoked merit badges for terrible behavior is one I’m glad I circled back to. And how amazing are those JD merit badges? They’re courtesy of my wife, Amanda. They really look like they have stitches! Feel free to adapt them for your own arson, drug use, or defacing of property badge needs.
I had a lot of fun this morning trying to pick out highlights from my recorded video game streams, so I’m kinda eager to get back to it and record some new stuff… see if I can’t manage a better video quality as well. It may sound odd, but one of the most fun parts was using YouTube’s tools to add closed captioning subtitles to my clips. The interface is very intuitive and I enjoy trying to figure out how best to punctuate my ambling speaking style.
Time to go cook up some ravioli and refuel the tank so I can drop back into computer-generated prehistoric times. See if I can friends with some bite-y animals. See if any real friends want to drop in virtually.
See you sometime in the future… or the digital distant past. I’m easy either way.
–Michael Van Vleet
lost time incident 11
Hey folks. Thank you for opening the ol’ mailbag to lose some time with me. I slept plenty last night but still feel like I could sleep another 5-12 hours and the caffeine isn’t helping. It’s just painting the back of my eyes with a mild throbbing that’s going to have to pass for alertness. I just watched the movie SCANNERS for the first time last night. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a film by Canadian body-horror auteur David Cronenberg and it’s about a war between rival psychic factions that includes some of the best intense head-shaking, locked jaw, eye-rolling acting the world has ever known.
The upshot being: now for every morning when I’m not feeling 100%, I can grimace and pretend that it’s not just that I’m just getting old, and it’s not just that I’ve spent decades making poor health choices… oh no. I can pretend I’m under attack by a hostile psychic who’s trying to glean my very important thoughts from a distance.
space station 11 arts & crafts
PARENTS: It’s that time of year again. All around the station, children are building their first alternate reality overlays. We wish to take this opportunity to remind parents that creativity is a fragile flower, so be supportive. Nobody is an expert their first try for any endeavor.
All of us with standard Eye-C-brand optic plugins are accustomed making use of such standard public overlays as the navigational system that places floating arrows in your field of vision to guide you to your destination. Additionally, many of us use shopping overlays that highlight products of interest to us as well as sales.
Well, every designer of Eye-C overlays had to start somewhere, and our jobs program is currently teaching young students how to navigate and build in the standard alternate reality building software suites. As a reminder, student projects are tuned on public channels, to make it easier for teachers to monitor progress. This won’t affect any overlay views you use in your day to day life, as we keep all alternate reality filters separated by logical firewalls.
But if you’re curious, you can add the student overlay filters at the following channels, but be aware, there may not be much there yet, as these are all works in progress by our young students.
0331 – Not for the easily nauseated. Large public spaces like the gardens or the low-grav playground, when approached, are slowly inverted. Once you’re inside the space, everything appears upside-down.
0443 – So far, this student project seems to have added decorative arrows to various corners of our shared station space with a floating bit of text that says “I PEED HERE”. Some locations have quiet music as well.
0448 – This student project identifies the ages of individuals within view and, should anyone be older than 12, it doubles their buttocks in width.
0562 – Perhaps the most promising of this year’s efforts, this overlay adds shivering blurred figures in the corner of your vision, inducing an ongoing sense of paranoia and of being watched. Especially effective since this space station was found and not built by us, there’s a certain frisson in imagining that the figures, which disappear when you turn to look at them, are in fact the original inhabitants of this station. Very interested in seeing how this overlay evolves.
These four channels will be rotating to new programmers as the overlay creators declare them complete and ready for grading, so note that the descriptions above are currently accurate, but subject to change.
Sometimes, to keep our creative muscles limber, my wife Amanda and I like to take a pack of postcards with us somewhere and draw and/or write on them, using the visuals as prompts. This newsletter started with a drawing Amanda did of a shoe on one such postcard, which I defaced with a weird lookin’ doof.
Below is another such postcard. To be honest, I can’t remember if I’ve mailed this one yet or if it’s on the desk in the home office… which is… all of five paces away. So there’s no way to know for sure. This blanket I’ve got on my legs, plus the laptop… so heavy. Can’t possibly.
eyes and ears elsewhere
A round-up of what’s catching my attention elsewhere
Wireless – Charles Stross – a short story collection that has already featured amazing high concepts: What if aliens made a copy of everyone on Earth during the early Cold War and put them on a giant flat disc? Can young Carl Sagan figure out what’s going on? (Plus aboriginal termite colonies, Yuri Gagarin as a planetary explorer, a Mt. Rushmore modified to include an insect head… and that’s just story no. 1).
Viral Radio #3 on Resonance Extra – Recommended by Warren Ellis via his newsletter Orbital Operations, which always contains at least one great book/music recommendation or story. This music mix is full of odd, ethereal stuff that makes it perfect to write to, which is what I’m doing right this second.
Kool A.D. – ALL LOVE – Thanks to a profile piece in the last month, I’ve been listening to a fair amount of music from Young Thug, an interesting hip hop artist out of Atlanta. While I like how he plays with rhythm, Autotune, inserting melody into rap lines, etc…. the content of his work is thuggish, as his name implies. So every time I actually make out his lyrics– not always easy, with his accent and tendency to elide consonants– I’m put off. Lucky for me, Kool A.D., one of my favorite stream-of-conscious-style rappers (formerly of Das Racist) knocked out an E.P. in half a day where he uses the exact same Atlanta sound, but is instead just rapping a word salad: “Young historical cowboy Mafia magic man, the clown style triple-double alert gambling rambler, the check canceler… heh.” A lot more fun. And it’s pay-however-much-you-want to download it.
ending theme song
That seems to be that. I am ready for another nap. Drinking water is important, kids, and you can’t let something like your refrigerator dying throw you off, as I did this weekend. Didn’t drink enough water because mentally tap water does not have the same perceived value as chilled water, I guess. Then I spent a few hours preparing for the arrival of a new, working fridge by realizing that we own too many damn magnets, putting produce, condiment jars and thawed bags of formerly frozen veggies into bags, and eventually facing down the horror that was living underneath the old fridge.
There was a coin glued to the floor down there. The substance it was encased in was at a height equal to that of the coin. Never look under a fridge.
Thanks as ever to my wife Amanda for the custom artwork. She contributed the shivering blurred figure on Space Station 11.
— Michael Van Vleet
lost time incident 10
Welcome, welcome, welcome. Another week has come and gone and so I’m sitting in front of a computer screen, typing away, not sure what is even going to go into this here newsletter. I hope there are words appearing underneath these words, from your perspective in the future.
What have we been up to. Ran into an old friend yesterday who’s sporting an Alfred E. Neuman look these days. When asked what happened to the missing Upper Left Central tooth that had vacated its traditional spot in his smile, he said “Entropy.”
We spent a bit of time thinking up interesting replacement. A transparent tooth, to leave the gap but stand as mute witness to the original loss, a ghost tooth haunting his upper gum plate. A tooth with an LED light inside. Blinking, rotating. A mood tooth. Is this smile sincere or not? Check the tooth color.
A tooth made of diamond. In case of a vehicular emergency, he could carve his way out through a sealed window, tooth first. A pneumatic tooth that, when activated, would handle all chewing duties on its own. It pays for itself with the effort saved.
We have the ideas. What we don’t have is a dental surgeon who shares our sense of adventure.
Also, I went through a dollar bin and picked up some old comics. You’ll see a couple of them below, as part of some weird selfies, serving as writing prompts.
once upon a time
“The one thing you must keep in mind, children,” said the old crone, “is that you must never go into the Woods of Eldermire after dark.” But they did anyway and it was fine.
There were two of them, the children, a boy and a girl. The girl found a magic stick that was quite good for hitting things with, and the woods were full of things to be hit. Spiders. Warlocks. A prince who was on an unrelated quest but had some antiquated thoughts about gender roles that he was entirely too free with during a conversation around a campfire.
The boy found a magic ticket that let him enter the Faery Realm whenever he wanted, allowing him to disappear from one place and come back in another. Unfortunately, each trek took six subjective months for him, and it only took a few encounters with danger before he ended up more closely resembling the girl’s father than her brother.
The old woman went into those woods all the time. She’s one to talk. She’s got a tent out there where she keeps her, uh, adult etchings. And dried herbs festoon lines strung between trees, but not a lot of cooking gets done, is what I’ve heard.
The real threat in the woods is the guy who owns them. He’s got the sort of contacts in local government that can help you avoid the sort of property taxes that ought to be levied on parcels like the Woods of Eldermire. When it rains out, this guy pays villagers to lay in the puddles that form in front of his house so he can keep his feet dry, walking on their backs, jingling a bag of coins. He once paid a shopkeeper he didn’t like to punch her own nose for him. That’s what I heard.
Anyway, one day, the boy– err, the magically-aged man and his sister exited the woods and came across the home of this rich forest owner. “Those woods weren’t a big deal at all,” said the sister, knocking the flowers off of plants with her stick. It hummed with every swing.
“Not sure why we were warned not to go in there,” said her brother, rubbing at his arthritic left elbow. It was going to rain soon, he thought. That elbow can always tell when the weather’s changing.
Oh, now I remember why they weren’t supposed to go in those woods. It’s because the old woman would sometimes become a dragon and she used to hide in the woods when that was happening. I should have mentioned that near the beginning of the story.
But you get it, right? You see where this is going.
The rich guy gets hit with a stick really hard at some point. The brother has to face off with an opossum that’s also an assassin? That the rich guy had on staff? And he drags the killer raccoon into the Faery Realm and their fight goes so long that the brother is effectively lost forever.
I should have mentioned that opossum assassin earlier, too. It’s great. Has a lot of attitude. Says things like, “Yeah, and I’m not a opossum that has learned the dark arts of murder!” Lot of sarcasm, that critter had.
Girl takes over the rich guy’s home. Villagers don’t have to lie in puddles anymore, save for once a year, because they go and create a holiday to celebrate their emancipation. And this is celebrated by recreating the whole “laying in puddles” activity. They could have made their holiday anything. Eaten cakes, run a race. Decorate trees, chase foreigners out of town. But nope. Laying in puddles to celebrate that they don’t have to lay in puddles anymore.
You can’t fight tradition.
going my way
We pulled over to pick up the hitchhiker because it was a lady and we were feeling generous. “You’re not a murderer, are you?” we asked as she climbed into the back seat.
“It’s difficult to say that having committed the act of murder makes you a murderer,” she said. “You don’t want to confuse an individual’s actions with a statement of primary identity. You probably mean to ask me: Have I murdered anyone?”
“Okay,” my wife said from the passenger seat. “Have you–”
“And even then, a more relevant question than ‘Have you murdered anyone?’ is ‘Do you intend to kill again?’ Or ‘Are you currently under any compulsion to murder?’ Or ‘Do you intend to murder us?'”
“These are all great points,” I said. “So do you–”
“How far are you going?” our hitchhiker asked.
“Not too much further, because who’s this, now?” I said, pulling over to pick up another hitchhiker. This one was a young man holding two signs. One of them said “Heading West” and the other said “I do not intend to murder you.”
As he slipped into the back seat, my wife turned around to face the back. “I wonder if we’re making too big a deal out of the concept of ‘intent.’ While you may not intend to murder someone, that still leaves a variety of unplanned violences, including manslaughters and whatnot that could even be accidental.”
We pulled over to pick up a hitchhiking police officer. She climbed into the back seat, her hand on her pistol.
We pulled over to pick up a hitchhiking trailer salesman, who convinced us on the spot that we ought to invest in a trailer. The trailer had sleep areas for five, a weak shower that ran off the car battery, a USB plug and inlaid speakers to play music, a shallow sink, and a restroom that we’d have to pump every few weeks. He explained all the features to us while we picked up a hitchhiking blues musician, a hitchhiking family of five who were fleeing religious persecution and a hitchhiking journalist who was covering the hitchhiking scene for a national magazine.
“Been hitchhiking long?” we asked the journalist and he gave a weary nod.
“There’s plenty of source material available,” he said, “don’t get me wrong. But it can be hard to get people to open up to being interviewed until you’ve gone through the whole ‘Are you going to murder me?’ song and dance. It gets tiring.”
“Sure,” said the police officer, “but the one time you forget to check: Bam. Murdered.”
“They can’t murder you if you ask ahead of time,” a gas station attendant told us while we refueled. Then he climbed into the trailer and was still in the shower when we crossed the state line.
By the time we hit the coast, there were thousands of us in a linked together train of vehicles, ropes and pulleys allowing hitchhikers to navigate from one vehicle to another down the line, swaying in baskets suspended above the asphalt. We had two kites trailing behind and a hitchhiking monkey that would run supplies up to the fliers, who otherwise earned their keep letting us know about speed traps.
Nobody got murdered. We all asked the right questions.
But nobody thought to ask us what we were going to do when we hit the sea.
ending theme song
Last week’s Daredevil giveaway must have worked. I checked the link yesterday and it was claimed. So that’s a success. If you grabbed it and you like it, let me know.
Amanda and I have got a pile of postcards we’ve been drawing/writing on that are going to need new homes in the near future and I’d like to turn that into a benefit of membership. Friends of ours have received mail from us for years, but there are a few of you subscribers that I know for a fact I don’t have mailing addresses for. So if you want to be guaranteed of getting something in the mail every once in awhile as a side benefit for signing up for this nonsense, not to mention giving me the motivation to keep writing something, then please reply to this email with your current address.
Speaking of Amanda, she drew the missing tooth replacement illustrations. Pretty sweet, right?
What else. I think I’m going to put this newsletter down and hop on the Xbox. I’ve been spending time recently embodying some quasi-military oddball who’s been tasked with walking around a plague-ridden New York City in THE DIVISION recently. In this game, a highly infectious disease has swept through NYC, killing thousands– or millions– and everything’s in free fall. It’s post-Christmas, so the streets have decorations up, but not enough to maintain cheer in the face of mountains of garbage, abandoned vehicles, subways converted to body storage, and the sight of guys in hazmat suits trying to burn alive anyone they think might still be infected.
But it’s beautiful. I spend a lot of my time just walking the streets, admiring the play of light on snow, or the feeling of being lost in fog. I look around abandoned apartments and imagine the lives that were lived there. I’m basically a tourist, converting a game that’s supposed to be run-and-gun into a walking simulator, enjoying having the streets mostly to myself.
Or occasionally handing an energy bar or a bottled water to a civilian in need. Santa Claus with a virus-protection mask.
That’s where you’ll find me.
At least until next week.
–Michael Van Vleet
lost time incident 09
Hello hello hello. I have found my way into your inbox again. The door was unlocked. Couldn’t find the light switch, so I’m glad you’re here, as I’ve just been imagining that every shadowed shape in your inbox was something menacing.
You ever think about those teleporters on Star Trek? I find myself thinking about them every once in awhile and this last week, I was at it again. In Star Trek, a body on a star ship is taken apart into atoms. Then, miles away, a body just like it is created. We were meant to believe that there’s a continuity of experience for the away team members, but it’s a trick, isn’t it?
Those atoms don’t actually make the journey. They can’t. So the machine must be using molecules on the planet’s surface to make an exact copy of everyone, right down to the electrical pattern in their mind at the moment they were shipped down. Then, as if the human body and its systems were simply clockwork, we’re to grant that those space explorers carried on as before.
Is a human being a collection of molecules? Or is a human being a pattern?
Our molecules change over time. Cells die. We eat, we excrete. We’re much closer to patterns.
That being the case: If you have a machine that can make a perfect copy of you, what’s the value in destroying the original you? Why not just send a copy of you down to the planet and ask it to report back?
And once you’ve done that, why ever pick that copy back up again? Do you need it?
Could you be the sort of space traveler who could knowingly condemn a copy of yourself to death on a planet? “Hey, while you’re down there, can you accomplish this mission of ours?” Do you know yourself well enough to trust that an exact copy of you, down the gravity well, wouldn’t be so resentful of drawing the short straw and finding itself a copy– despite having all the memories of being you, the original– that it wouldn’t do you any favors? That you wouldn’t be creating your perfect arch-nemesis? A betrayed-at-birth copy of you that can’t come home because you used a machine to create it somewhere you couldn’t be bothered to go?
The more I think about this, I guess I’m seeing why you have to disintegrate the original. Otherwise, what’s to stop anyone from creating an army of themselves somewhere? And wouldn’t a just society declare that stranding a copy of yourself on a planet is some form of self-hate crime?
But you and I know. If you step into a transporter and it’s going to disintegrate you, it doesn’t matter what happens after that point. You’re standing in a suicide box. You’re going to experience death. Your pattern may pick up somewhere else with no memory of dying… but the space traveler who stood on that glittering pad and let a computer pick it apart… it’s gone.
Just take a shuttle. I guess that’s the advice I’m giving.
The aliens made contact and they seemed nice enough, so we got used to them hanging around. For the most part, we just wanted to learn about their technology. We were so nice to them during our cultural and technological exchanges that they reached the point where they felt comfortable telling us that we tasted great, if they were being honest. In years gone by, they said, they had eaten some humans, yes, but they were much more humane these days. No more snatching up people in rural areas.
These days, the aliens offered tech and currency for the right to remove a single leg from a human for consumption back home. And they replaced the leg with one that was lighter, more flexible, plus it could store data. It didn’t seem like a fair trade for the aliens, but they said they had these leg replacement things just taking up room on their ships, like 1 gig thumb drives or spindles stacked with CD-Rs were for us.
This exchange, meat leg for data-storing leg, created a new class of wealthy, limping people. You would see them shopping for luxury goods, their legs blinking in sync with their ear pieces, either on phone calls or listening to music. Some social climbers who were too scared to lose a limb would affect the limp and never be seen without pants, just to keep the illusion up.
And I could get used to it, except that condiment companies are now courting the alien demographic that watches our television, whether for entertainment or for study, trying to sell them sauces that improve the taste of our legs through slick ad campaigns and catchy jingles that appeal to the alien’s set of musical aesthetics. The jingles sound like logging saws flapping in the wind, snapping like flags in a hurricane.
I just can’t watch that.
Call me old fashioned.
jeebs and woobster
Woobster was a rich man, but never a bright one, and so when Jeebs volunteered his services as a manservant, Woobster just said “Sure, whatever, here’s where I keep my money, so take a decent wage” and went back to hard-boiling eggs… well, actually, he was boiling half dozens of them, pulling the eggs out of the water at different times, and trying to see if he could catch one at the very moment it became hard-boiled with a well-timed shell-cracking ambush.
His fingers were prune-y from the water and the blisters, as the eggs came out quite hot.
Woobster had a dreadful fear of his Aunt Agnes and came to Jeebs with the problem: a visit was imminent. How could the social call be avoided?
“Not to worry,” said Jeebs, who took a clean spade out of the closet where it rested by the ironing board. He led Woobster out to a nearby park where, is it happened, he had already taken the liberty of digging a grave-sized hole and supplying a comfortable casket. “If you’ll please do me the kindness of reclining…”
Woobster lowered himself in, pushing his manicured fingers into the padded casket’s sides. “Quite well cushioned, Jeebs, well done. But I say… once you’ve shoveled the dirt on top of me, won’t there be— and I’m not trying to impugn your planning or expertise, you understand, and I’m quite grateful for this hiding place where Aunt Agnes is quite unlikely to find me, but— air quality will be an issue, won’t it?”
“I’ve already taken that into consideration,” said Jeebs, tossing an air freshener in the shape of a pine tree onto Woobster’s chest. It fluttered down, end over end, and Woobster had just enough time to remove its plastic sleeve and catch his first scent of chemical pine when Jeebs kicked shut the casket’s lid and the first skittering sounds of pitched dirt started clattering across its surface.
oh no teens
There was nowhere left to go. Every movement was co-opted. The only way to go was back into the mouth of the beast and so the kids in our town started wearing polos with company logos on them and loitered in the aisles of those stores. Staying underfoot.
“Do you know where I can find office chairs?”
A contemptuously curled lip. “Sure, man. I’ll show you.” And they’d lead the customer around the store until they found it, like a real employee, the irony so understated that the only way you’d be able to tell is when the teen never drew a paycheck.
A prom full of young men wearing bright vests, pins on them declaring sales, all the girls with nametags and magnetic keys.
Gang graffiti at the commuter train station. Groups like The 401Ks. The Weekend Crew. Shipping and Receiving. A gang hideout decorated with the clipped neckties of rival crews and pamphlets about retirement communities. The teens filling binders with cut out pictures of toddlers, calling them The Grandkids, comparing them like trading card collections, like statements from a diversified portfolio.
We asked the teens why.
“I’m always happy to help a member of the media,” they said.
“Is there any chance I could get back to you after my shift,” they said, straightening shelves of product.
“I will live in any suburb,” they said, “and drive any vehicle that can hold an entire soccer team. I have sliced oranges in the back. For a snack at half-time.”
Teens teens teens. Why do we ever talk to them. Why do they do anything. When we were teens, it was different. And what are we now? At some point, we changed.
“Can we help you?” asked the teens, but they don’t mean it. They’ll grow out of it.
May I suggest joining Warren Ellis’s mailing list, Orbital Operations? He’s a comic book writer, but also a novelist and avid reader of interesting things. His most recent issue, which came out today, had an interesting stretch about how we’re not, as a species, doing that good a job at recognizing how science is proceeding so rapidly as to make science fiction unnecessary. It’s hard enough keeping up with how weird the world really is.
Here’s an excerpt:
When I rattle around Europe talking about the future, I like to try and refocus people’s vision.
We’ve fired a camera at Pluto that’s travelling at fifty eight thousand kilometers an hour this week. We can now see thirteen billion years into the universe’s past. There’s now a 2D material that appears to decompose within a couple of days but actually remains solid – it just becomes almost completely invisible. Researchers in Paris can stop and store light. A space drive is being tested that appears to break the laws of physics. The PH of a geyser plume on the moon of Enceladus has been identified. Dolphins have social networks. There are six people living in space today, and we have five space robots around Mars right now. At least six new species have been discovered in the last few days. Artificial muscles have been constructed from gold-plated onion cells.
This is all in the last WEEK. This is just the FUN stuff. That’s more serious, important, charged newness than happened in entire years, a millennium ago. Perhaps even ten years.
So if you want to see the creator of TRANSMETROPOLITAN continue to absorb the future, head on over and sign up for that mailing list as well.
ending theme song
Imagine: A rainy night. A mayor sheepishly asks a locksmith to open up the whole town again because he lost the oversized novelty key to the city. Just… patting his pockets, checking the cushions in his car seat. That’s kinda funny, right? Oh man. I bet the people locked inside the city would be preeeeetty ticked.
Oh, wait, I’m supposed to be wrapping this thing up.
It almost never happens, but I’ve got social engagements this week that are going to force me out into view of the oppressive sky, out of my writer’s hidey-hole where I’m safe to craft this nonsense without interference from my enemies like The Sun, and Talking To People Having a Good Time. As such, this installment includes some old stuff from the recycling bin, but you woulda had to be on G+ to have seen it, and I’m pretty sure you weren’t. It’s new to you!
Anyway. I also have to go watch more Daredevil on Netflix. Related: as a thank you for subscribing, I’m giving away a digital collection of Daredevil comics on Comixology that covers the first 6 issues of Mark Waid’s amazing run. There’s not many of you subscribers, and even fewer who care about comics, or have a Comixology account, so I figure it’s safe to just include a link here and say the first person who wants to redeem this code is welcome to a free Daredevil book. (Actually, I think if you have an Amazon account you can redeem it as well, because Amazon now owns Comixology. Eh. You’ll find out.) So if you want it, click through first and it’s yours.
Let me know if you got it. If this works, then I’ll feel more confident about giving away more digital stuff as the mood strikes, so long as I know it won’t go unclaimed.
See you folks in a week.
–Michael Van Vleet
lost time incident 08
The view outside the window is a rainy one again. Even though it’s mid-afternoon, I’m the only one awake in the house, so that means it’s time to knuckle down and figure out what’s going to go into this week’s installment. I have pushed the procrastination envelope as far as it’s going to go.
I spent yesterday wandering a digital wasteland, playing Fallout 4, and got back to playing the main story mission… which is just getting exciting. For the entire game, I had a world map that showed me the locations I had visited and the extent of the game world, so all of my meanderings and monster shootings were in context.
And then yesterday, a mission took me right to the edge of the map… and then off it. It’s a brilliant bit of game design. For weeks and weeks, I thought I knew where I was, but as I enter the most desolate areas of the map, the ground burnt black, the skies a sickly yellow with radioactive storm clouds, and suddenly I’m as lost as the protagonist. I have no idea how far out this world goes.
One of the genre labels for this type of game is “open world” because you can wander anywhere and do things in whatever order. It was a name meant to differentiate this new form of game storytelling from earlier games, where the technology wasn’t there yet to let you just pick a direction and walk in it. Games had obvious paths they wanted you to go down, to control your experience.
But even an open world has limits. In GTA V, you could walk for over 2 hours to get from one side of the map to another. (Not that you would. The game has cars.) But at some point, you’re going to hit a wall. This far, and no further. Nobody has built a globe-sized game yet. Unless we’re living in it (see: theories about universe as a hologram, multiverse theory, the fact that building a simulation of a universe is something that can be done multiple times while presumably the really-real world is only created once, thus ensuring that statistically the odds of being in a simulation is greater than the odds of being in the original universe etc. etc.).
Subconsciously, in a game, you feel like you know how far you can go. More or less. Which is why I was so tickled when Fallout 4 yanked out the rug and sent me off the map. Suddenly, the virtual world wasn’t so predictable. It was suddenly closer to real life, where I also don’t know what’s going to happen.
I don’t even know what I’m going to type next.
Let’s see where the invisible walls are.
random number generation
Last week, we announced a drawing for original Detective Yeti artwork. Thanks to an online number generator, the Fates have conspired to bless Shoshanah as our winner. If she’s still on County Road, then we’re all set. If not… let us know a preferred mailing address, please.
We have condolence postcards lined up for all participants, so everyone’s a winner, except those who didn’t take the time to enter.
For those folks: They’ll just have to haunt flea markets and country boutiques for knock-off versions of our intellectual property, like air-brushed t-shirts of Doctor Bigfoot in hip hop gear, hair in dreads, crossing his arms and looking hard, or needle-point pillows with Detective Yeti dressed in a nightgown and cap, shouting “I AM A VERY LOVING GRANNY”
Finally got my TED Whispers speech approved so I’ll be giving a PPT presentation at low volume, under covers, in the dark, adrift at sea.
Lot of good topics at this year’s TED Whispers gathering. Some must-sees:
- How to Be a Quiet Boy the Girls Won’t Pick On
- A Survey of the Noises of House Shoes
- I Know Who Has a Crush On You
- Let’s All Sleep Right Now
Q: So as the world’s foremost photographer of paranorm–
A: Oh, come on. I specifically said I was only going to come on this program to talk about my landscape photography and recent exhibits.
Q: We’ll get to that, of course, but I think our viewers are most interested in–
A: Do I have to squeeze it in? Really quick, uh, influences: Ansel Adams, obviously. But also the works of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Architecture can be just–
Q: Of course, of course, no, we’ll get to that. But your ghost photos…
A: Uh huh.
Q: You’ve been quoted as saying “Ghosts are a pain in the a–…”– well, we can’t say that at this hour, but you continued, “They’re so desperate for attention. It’s pathetic.”
A: I stand by that quote. I mean, it was said in anger, obviously.
Q: Uh huh.
A: With the benefit of some time passing, my opinion is a bit more nuanced now. That quote was something I posted to social media after the first time I had several rolls of film ruined because supernatural elements forced their way into the foreground… entirely unknown to me at the time I was shooting, or I could have worked around it.
Q: And were you able find out anything about these spirits, or what they were trying to communicate?
A: Oh, no. I never try to find anything out. I think it would just encourage them.
badge ‘n gun
The rogue cop storms into the chief’s office, sets down his badge and gun. As he exits, a clown comes in, just as angry, giant shoes flapping with fury, sets down her giant horn and seltzer bottle, storms out.
A vampire hunter comes in and sets down a carved stake and a crucifix, glares at the chief, then storms out, shoulder banging into a knight in armor who’s here to drop off a sword and the one true grail. The chief doesn’t back down. They’ve gone too far.
A tree spirit comes in. Sets down a dream of a mansion in the clouds and a shimmering necklace made of spider’s tears. As it leaves, the ficus in the corner of the chief’s office wilts. And that thing’s plastic. Shouldn’t even be possible.
“This is a nation of laws,” says the chief. “I got the mayor breathing down my neck.”
The mayor is in a playful mood. The mayor is sitting on the back of the chief’s chair, breathing down his neck, ruffling his hair, writing on a Trapper Keeper the words “Mrs. Chief Mayor.”
A yeti barges in. It slams down a hunk of yak fat and a mostly melted snowball. It storms out.
The chief’s desk is piled high. Weapons, plates of food, decorative items, uniforms, badges, three flags, the weight of expectations from a public that fears him and needs him. It cracks in half, everything sliding out into the hall. An amulet ends up under the evidence lockers. An ant farm shatters, the ants scattering, putting on uniforms, answering phones, filling in paperwork, antennae twitching as civilians come in looking for answers.
And still, the chief isn’t happy. It’s chaos out there, beyond the walls of his office. Rules haven’t been followed. Buildings have exploded. Cars have flipped. Cupcakes have had their frosting tops mushed by the very lids that were designed to protect them.
“You’re finished in this town,” mutters the chief, to no one in particular.
ending theme music
Hoo boy. Barely made it. Just have enough time to get this thing formatted and eat some dinner before it’s time to check in with work. Here’s hoping I’ve learned a lesson about procrastination. (I probably haven’t.)
Thanks again to my wife Amanda, who this week supplied a leaning ghost drawing she did last night to see if it would make a good writing prompt. It worked!
A list of things I thought about but didn’t write about:
) having a conversation with an A.I. that thinks so much faster than you that it has to set up a multi-generational project to keep track of the conversation
) biographies of more criminal elements from the city of Pagoda, WI.
) something about the continuity of consciousness
) anti-hippy music
Maybe next time. Thanks for sticking around!
–Michael Van Vleet
I was promised a rain-soaked weekend that would allow me to indulge in my natural cave troll behavior of not journeying outside. Instead, there is now sun streaming through the window, dredging up childhood echoes: “It’s a beautiful day, you should get outside.”
No nice weather can sway me from my entirely unnecessary commitment to send out an email newsletter every week. There’s nothing at all that depends on my ability to meet this commitment that I never explicitly made, and as such, it must come first above any other adult responsibility.
So here we go. Indoor activity.
the promised contest
A few issues back, longtime subscribers may remember that we showcased original artwork from AJ Summers featuring Detective Yeti, that popular franchise character born of this project. It was a modified postcard that originally was a reprint of an EC Comics cover. I said that we’d come up with a contest to determine who would get that postcard mailed to them.
Well, contest time is now!
If you would like to be in the lottery to receive an original Detective Yeti postcard, just reply to this email and, somewhere in the body text, include the words: I AM A VERY GOOD DETECTIVE
You can put other words in the email, in any order, but those particular all-caps words really ought to be in that recommended order. You can even copy & paste.
Deadline for entry is Saturday, March 12th, and we’ll announce the winner in the next newsletter.
A bit of recycling, in case you missed it. From my Twitter account this week:
Sad to think that Capt. Ahab could have avoided his fate, but someone wrote “don’t ever change” in his yearbook… makes you think.
Later the same day I posted that joke, I unsubscribed from a mailing list, which gave me a new audience to share the joke with: Whatever low-level intern was charged with reading through the reasons people gave for unsubscribing. A captive audience. The best kind.
I figured I would just paste a few sentences in, then come up against a character limit. But nope! Every time I added more text, the box kept expanding. So I grabbed the entire first chapter of Moby Dick from Project Gutenberg.
movie trailer [creepy music plays]
[the camera pans up and through bare tree branches, black against a night sky, then approach the lit windows of a hospital as the creepy music intensifies]
VOX: This summer… pray you don’t get sick…
[a nurse screams and from off screen, red syrup is sprayed at her as if squirted out of two hand-held condiment squeeze bottles]
A SERIOUS LOOKING MAN: This hospital, I gotta tell you. I don’t like working here.
[in an empty room, unoccupied hospital beds vibrate and jump as if manipulated by unseen forces]
VOX: HOSPITAL OF BAD THINGS… the movie that dares to ask the question: Why are you still watching movies? Oh my gosh, there are so many better things you could be doing. Pet a dog. Doesn’t even have to be your dog. Wash a dish. Even one. Movies are terrible.
A SERIOUS LOOKING WOMAN: I’ve never liked movies. And that was true even before all the murders and hauntings started happening at this hospital.
A DOCTOR: Okay, open your mouth and say “aaaah”…
[a voice responds with an “aaaah” that increases in pitch and volume until the doctor’s ears bleed and from off screen, he’s sprayed with clear syrup as if the budget ran out and there was no more red food coloring]
A DOCTOR: I thought you were a patient, but you’re something scary! Ah! Oh no!
VOX: HOSPITAL OF BAD THINGS. You’ll never visit another hospital… again. Well, I mean… you probably will. Statistically, somewhere in your future is a terrible accident or health problem that’s going to require you to–
[a tornado of clipboards and thermometers and stethoscopes whirls in the air around a small girl whose intense stare is directed into the camera and, by extension, you, the audience]
VOX: –visit a medical establishment, if not a hospital. I mean, if you think big picture, we’re healthy for just this brief, brief window. In a geological scale, we–
[a medical intern runs down a hallway, looking back over his shoulder as if pursued as wind rushes past him… he trips and crawls and regains his footing and… ]
VOX: — don’t exist for so much longer than we DO exist. HOSPITAL OF BAD THINGS. March 25th at select theatres. Be sure to stay in good HELL-th… that’s “health” but with the word “hell” inserted into it, which you might not be able to tell if you’re just listening to this trailer.
TITLE: MARCH 25th.
TITLE: HOSPITAL OF BAD THINGS
TITLE: We should have spent our time petting dogs instead of making this film, sorry.
ending theme song
Dang it. The weather still looks nice outside. I don’t think I can ignore my inner Mom voice for much longer. I’m going to have to go outside.
Thanks for sticking around for another week. If I don’t make it back, please send a squad out to look for my bones, drying out there in the unfamiliar sunlight. Keep any bone that strikes your fancy as a souvenir, if you like.
Michael Van Vleet
lost time incident 06
As I write these words you’re now reading, it’s quarter to midnight and my eyes don’t want to stay open. But sleep and I don’t get along. I’ve had worse spells in my life, but sometimes I get really resentful of how much time sleep takes up, considering all the interesting things I could be doing with that time. There’s so much to read, listen to, or discover. Even sitting around doing nothing is better when you’re conscious for it.
So for now, I’m typing and trying to stave off sleep. It’s not going to work.
But while we’re here, let’s answer some fan mail:
[a hand rips open an envelope]
[from inside, the soft whirring of an electric engine, the susurrus of a mild breeze]
Thanks, fan! All we can say to that is [the sound of a switch being turned off].
A few days back, I watched a Republican debate, mostly so that I could leave a Twitter window open and have context for the jokes being made by the comedians I follow. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain an ironic distance when it comes to Donald Trump, though. Every time he attacked a candidate, I laughed, muttered “You complete dick,” and then had the thought that this playground bully might actually think he could lead the free world the same way. That took the fun out of it.
In the last few weeks, I’ve written a few unusual Trump endorsement announcements on social media:
BREAKING: Dark Malevolent Shadow In Corner of Child’s Room Endorses Trump
BREAKING: [feeling of shaking a cold, damp hand] has endorsed Trump!
And then, probably because YouTube has been showing me trailers for THE WITCH all week:
BREAKING: Leaf-eating Bog Witch Pledges Use of Her Kidnapped/Murdered Child Victims to Trump Campaign
“I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do with them,” a Trump volunteer was quoted as saying. “I don’t see how this is helpful. It’s horrifying. Are there– are there parents we need to contact, or— the police?”
I also recently shared my habit of filling in comment boxes on email unsubscribe forms. After all, I work in tech support myself. I know that some poor bastard actually has to scroll through whatever bramble of angry how-dare-you-email-me ranting and boring “nothing to add” messages are collected by these forms. So I like doing them a favor and putting something odd in there, just to catch their eye.
The economic downturn hit the tiny town of Pagoda, Wisconsin especially hard. The big factory that built electric razors moved to Sweden as part of the facial hair industry boom that was going on there.
The U-Store-It factory that at one time manufactured 70% of the country’s storage garages had burned down. The garages they built used to be shipped fully constructed (and if desired, already filled with cardboard boxes full of old clothes, tacky garbage and regrets). After the fire, the factory’s ashes were pushed into piles by the local volunteer fire department, then shoved into a garden shed. To date, no one has claimed those ashes.
Considering the dearth of employment opportunities, it just made sense when the town’s population decided, individually or in groups, to turn to crime. Within a few months, there wasn’t a single honest industry in town. In order to send a letter, you had to hand it off to the postal mafia, who would “kidnap” the letter on your behalf and contact the recipient for a stamp’s-worth of ransom money. The volunteer fire department would go door-to-door selling insurance, flicking lighters (though none of them smoked), and carrying open buckets of gasoline that sloshed around as they strolled the neighborhood.
There were still a few police officers. Officer Tom. Officer Pradesh. Officer Udom. Captain Jess. With no tax revenue being collected, they self-funded through search and seizure operations. Every Saturday, in the parking lot behind the police station, citizens would turn up to bid on their seized belongings, displayed on blankets, flea market style. Insultingly low bids were sometimes answered with a non-verbal refusal in the form of pepper spray, liberally applied.
The town had been founded by a 19th century naval officer who had been stationed in China for many years. Upon returning to the States to retire with his fortune, he found a considerable plot of arable land in Wisconsin. Dressed in a silk costume of his own design, he paid gold, and after bowing to the state clerk who drafted the receipt of funds, the naval hero immediately set about building a Chinese palace for his home.
To this day, the McCombe Castle and Catacombs (though unfinished) are open to the public. In the basement is a museum with displays about the history of the town. On the first through fourth floors are a criminal gang, dressed in kung fu outfits looted from the martial arts studio that used to be by the minimart. They call themselves the McCombe Clan and say that they are in supernatural communication with the town founder’s undying spirit, who they’ve sworn to resurrect using black magic and (judging by the evidence) awkward kicks and chopping motions. To date, these magics and motions have had no effect, save to ensure that very few people visit the museum.
Yosha “Duffle” Baggs – Baggs was born with unusually forgiving cartilage, which he discovered at an early age when his angry parents would ball him up like a discarded phone bill and throw him, with no discernible ill effect. His talent for contortion would serve him well during Pagoda’s post-law era as he and a partner would regularly burgle houses using one of two methods.
In the first, Baggs would fold himself into a duffle bag and his partner would leave the bag on the porch of a targeted home. The homeowner, on finding a bag with no owner, would usually take the bag inside, intent on selling its contents. Upon opening the bag and seeing human limbs, however, the homeowner would usually assume that they’d found evidence of a murder, presumably one being pinned on them, or else why would the bag be on their porch, and so they would stash the bag somewhere while they figured out how to flee town. After nightfall, Baggs could unzip himself out of the bag, help himself to valuables, then slip out undetected.
In the second burgling method, Baggs would make himself comfortable inside a gym bag and then have his partner fling the bag onto the roof of a targeted house. Few people look at their own roof, and even if they did and saw a gym bag, odds are they wouldn’t assume the bag has anything of value. “Probably just thrown up there by a school bully,” they might think. Once night falls, the roof-bound bag would extrude Baggs and from there, he’d gain entry.
Caroline Watts – Watts has claimed that she’s lost all feeling in both of her hands, which has made them terrifying weapons in a scrap. Previous unarmed opponents of hers have ended up with facial features that have been described as “soup like”, “Picassoed”, and “worse than they used to be, though not by much— I’m saying they were ugly! Get it?” When Watts is asked how, if she has no feeling in her hands, she can do such daily activities as tie her own shoes or open doors, she’s been known to smile and say “Other people can do that sort of stuff for me.”
In the post-law-abiding era in Pagoda, Watts built a reputation as a standover artist, known for pummeling a fellow criminal and kidnapping them, then ransoming them back to their gang associates. The local police department strongly advises against greeting her with any variation on “Watt’s up” or “Watt’s happening.”
the best medicine
Two young doctors stood next to an operating table. One of them, Doctor Singh, monitored vital signs while the other, Doctor Lopez, updated the patient’s chart.
“As soon as the surgeon arrives, this should go fairly smoothly,” said Singh.
“Oh yeah?” asked Lopez.
“Based on the tests run earlier today, blood levels, the patient’s symptoms… all signs point to a gallbladder attack. Very painful, but removing the gallbladder is pretty much an outpatient procedure these days.”
“Sure,” said Lopez.
“Unless— and this is statistically unlikely— this particular patient proves resistant to the anesthesia or their gall bladder has an unusually thick nest of connective tissue fusing it to nearby organs or muscle groups. So far, the patient shows no signs of resistance to anesthesia, so… we’re probably pretty good.”
The door to the operating theater opened and the doctors found themselves enveloped in a pungent cloud, as if a pack of microscopic wet dogs had just found their way into their nostrils and started rolling around, or as if a swamp’s worth of damp organic matter had belched into an uncooked bowl of falafel.
Through the door, dressed in surgeon’s kit, came a seven foot tall creature, fur erupting around the face mask stretched across its muzzle.
“Doctor Bigfoot,” said Singh.
“Gentlemen, thank you for the prep work. Which case is this again?” Doctor Bigfoot’s enormous clawed hand trailed across a tray of surgical instruments.
Lopez flipped through the chart. “Gallbladder removal. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy.”
“Right, right,” said Bigfoot. “So here’s what we’ll do. We’re going to drag this body out behind the building until we reach that stand of pine trees. Then we’ll use our front limbs to scoop dirt over it until it’s covered. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not even hungry yet, so… yeah. Quick burial and we’ll circle back in a few days, see how the patient’s doing. Should be ready to eat then.”
“Uh,” said Lopez.
“I think that’s a terrible idea,” said Singh. “For one thing… we’re doctors. We heal people. We don’t … you’re proposing eating a patient. Am I understanding that correctly?”
“YOU THINK I DON’T KNOW THAT? I am a magnificent doctor! I studied under the greatest healers the redwood coastal regions have ever known! I once cured a deer’s depression using moss! I once replaced a bear’s entire skull with bark!”
“We’re familiar with your achievements,” said Lopez. “We have this conversation every time.”
Singh pressed his fingers to his eyes. “No, we know. It’s just… sometimes it seems like your background leads you to make… unconventional suggestions.”
Bigfoot’s pupils dilated. The room and Singh seemed like distant distractions.
Years ago, in medical college, a surgeon yelling: “Who dressed these raccoons up in nurse’s scrubs?”
Years ago, in a lecture hall, a lecturer yelling; “Whose large dog is that in the back row taking notes?”
Years ago, in an ER, as Bigfoot leans over a small child: “How many limbs did you come in here with? And you’re sure none of them were tree limbs? Even though tree limbs are demonstrably better?”
ending theme song
I’m glad I’m doing these and I’m glad you have been coming along for the ride. It’s been good to get the ol’ fiction writing muscles back into shape. Rediscovering what sort of writing I enjoy, as opposed to the sort of writing I’ve oftentimes thought I should be doing, but didn’t particularly want to.
Thanks as always to my wife Amanda for supplying an original illustration in the form of Dr. Bigfoot.
And special thanks to those of you who have shared my infomercials on social media. They don’t work— like, at all— but isn’t it nice that we all tried? They’re fun to write, anyway.
Most of this week’s installment was written in a neighborhood noodle house / tea shop. I’m gonna call it now: coffee shops are played out. Get somewhere that has almond cookies and oolong, man. Times are changing.
The completely changed
Michael Van Vleet