Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Help, My Brain Vomited On My Computer!

iHola, mi amigos! I've decided to throw something a little different at you this month. This post has two sections. The first is a list of my random thoughts consisting of philosophy, religion, and silliness. The second is a collection of some memorable quotes I've jotted down from my favorite books. I don't have any real agenda here other than entertainment and thought provocation. But then again, I suppose that's always been my agenda.

Random Thoughts

An omnipotent God could have created the world 6 trillion years ago, 6 thousand years ago, or 6 seconds ago, and still make it look the same to us. The question among Christians shouldn't be when the universe was created, but why.

In writing, description shouldn't be used to fill in the gaps of the readers' imagination, but to paint a picture they can imagine.

We see youth 3 times in life: As a child, as a parent, and as a grandparent. How does this affect our outlook on life?

With obvious exceptions, most people tend to smile, laugh, and play with babies. Does this false representation of universal kindness have any affect on development?

I believe Jesus was fully man and, as such, was tempted by all of mankind’s temptations, but He could also raise the dead and cast out demons. He knew He was God. It must have been comforting for Jesus to know all of His beliefs were correct.

At His last trial, the Jews believed Jesus was a prophet, but not God. If His motives were selfish, why would He never deny His Deity when it was the only thing keeping all the Jews from believing His teachings?

Learn what the TRUE character of a person is, not the caricature you have formed in your mind for them. Then, you will cease being let down and learn to love the person for "who they are."

God says, “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. (Rev. 3:16). It’s hard to believe that God would punish sincere Atheists, who have put so much serious thought into the all-important subject. I can think of two alternatives off hand: 1) those who claim the title of Atheist do so not with true belief but with a selfish motive (i.e. revenge, power, attention, freedom from responsibility) or 2) the Christians in the said Atheist’s life have failed in their duty to properly present Christianity to a lost soul.

Vampires prefer AB+ blood.  Proof: Four different men transfused Lucy Westenra (Dracula’s favorite restaurant) without ill effect. (Dracula, p. 164)

Some Memorable Quotes:

"Just always be waiting for me, and then some night you will hear me crowing."
-Peter Pan

The trees are not tall or luxuriant, but they are somber, adding an air of severity to the scene
-Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

"My good friend, if, when we were once out of this fight, we could escape old age and death henceforward and forever, I should neither press forward myself nor bid you do so, but death in ten thousand shapes hangs ever over our heads, and no man can elude him. Therefore, let us go forward and either win glory for ourselves or yield it to another."
-Sarpedon, The Iliad

"Now you must cast aside your laziness, for he who rests on down or under covers cannot come to fame; and he who spends his life without renown leaves such a vestige of himself on earth as smoke bequeaths to air or foam to water. Therefore, get up; defeat your breathlessness with spirit that can win all battles if the body's heaviness does not deter it."
-Virgil, Dante's Inferno

"You never know what will happen next, when once you get mixed up with wizards and their friends."
-Rover, Roverandom

"I wonder what future generations will say about us. My grandparents suffered through the Depression, World War II, then came home to build the greatest middle class in human history. Lord knows they weren't perfect, but they sure came closest to the American dream. Then my parents' generation came along and [screwed] it all up--the baby boomers, the "me" generation. And then you got us. Yeah, we stopped the zombie menace, but we're the ones who let it become a menace in the first place. At least we're cleaning up our own mess, and maybe that's the best epitaph to hope for. 'Generation Z, they cleaned up their own mess.'"
-Mrs. Miller, World War Z

"You know the first step to being a successful, loving couple? Not getting in each other's way. You'd be amazed how many people don't understand that."
-Pearl, Year of the Black Rainbow

"To stay awake all night adds a day to your life."
-Stilgar, Children of Dune

"Body and brain, [White Fang's] was a more perfected mechanism. Not that he was to be praised for it. Nature had more generous to him than to the average animal, that was all."
-London, White Fang

"When you are a writer and a speaker, sometimes people think you have your crap together"
-Miller, Blue Like Jazz

"The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time."
-King, On Writing

And that started in me...the passion for the Occult. Not everyone has this disease; those who have will know what I mean...It is a spiritual lust; and like the lust of the body it has the fatal power of making everything else in the world seem uninteresting while it lasts.
-Lewis, Surprised by Joy

Rulers must somehow nerve their subjects to defend them or at least to prepare for their defense. Where sentiment of patriotism has been destroyed this can be done only by presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light. If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for "their country" they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilization, or humanity... If our country's cause is a cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation.
-Lewis, The Four Loves

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Good News and Bad News

            Disclaimer: This particular fun-filled blog post is all about my recent snags and successes as a writer. If you’re not interested in the exciting world of publication, I know a great website called “peopleofwalmart.com” that is sure to entertain you. If you’re still with me (bless you), then let’s dive in.

A quick Google search and some informal surveying makes it obvious that people like the bad news first, so here goes:

I’ve given up on my first novel…for now. Since I started writing Dei Song in January of 2008 (then titled The 144,000), I’ve grown considerably as a writer. Or, at least, I like to think so. Now, when I look at the current “final draft,” I still see so much I would like to change about it. The introduction takes too long to reveal the major conflict, the main character takes too long to become “likeable,” the resolution doesn’t resolve enough, etc., etc.

I know the writing is at least mediocre. I know this because almost everyone who has read it has commented on being sucked into the story world and enjoying their stay. Unfortunately, style alone doesn’t make for a great (or even good) novel. Like so many writers I’ve talked to, I’ve written a story afflicted with “first novel symptoms.”

These thoughts, which have been lurking in the shadows for some time, were subtly hinted at by others, and finally confirmed by an agent friend (if she will permit me to classify her as such). She loved the writing and was impressed it was my first novel, BUT, in the end, she echoed what Ialready knew to be true.

So maybe I should have actually read a craft book before I started writing a novel. Maybe I should have talked to at least ONE writer before I started penning out my grand idea. Maybe I should have written short stories first.

But what’s the fun in that? As I said, I’ve grown from the writing (and extensive editing) of Dei Song, and for that I am grateful. The best way for me to learn is by doing.

And that leads me to the good news: I’m published!

You heard it right. Splickety Magazine has graciously accepted my short story, titled “Wolf Hunt,” in its first publication. Splickety (an imprint of Written World Communications) will release its maiden issue in early December, and my story will be one of (approximately) fifteen Christian “flash fiction” stories of various genres, geared toward readers with “short attention spans.”

Wolf Hunt by Andrew James Winch (sorry, I had to) is a classic werewolf story with a twist. Sorry, I can’t tell you any more. If I do, Ben Erlichman (Executive Editor of Splickety Magazine) is likely to bust down my front door in Mad Max attire and make me regret my disclosure.

Get the free pdf file HERE. I know you’ll all want one!

Lastly, I’ll include one more juicy morsel of news (whether it’s good or bad is yet to be determined). I’ve started writing my second novel. It’s a YA (young adult) paranormal adventure that follows four extraordinary teens. The protagonist, Isaak Forrester, is adopted, Christian, and not exactly human. Join him in a world where wolves, wights, and Tuatha De rule the night, and where everyone is out for blood…
With any luck, I'll have a respectable draft completed by Independence Day, 2012.

Well, kiddos. That’s it for now. The fire’s dying down, my glass is dry, and my eyes are heavy. Thanks for stopping by. You know the way out. And drive safely now, won’t ya?

Friday, October 21, 2011

What Scares You?

The Anatomy of Horror, Haunting, and Halloween

Story #1:
David’s heart pounded against his ribcage. His breath fled in feeble gasps. The splintered wood floor in his bedroom clawed at his bare toes. Where was it coming from? Scratch…scratch…scratch… It had crawled into his dreams and pulled him out, kicking and screaming. Now that he was awake, he couldn’t rest until he found the source. Scratch…scratch…scratch. It was getting closer. John halted at his bedroom door and curled his fingers around the cold handle. A high-pitched screeech echoed through the shadows as he pulled. His curtains rustled. As the door creaked open, a flood of blinding yellow light poured in. Amid the glow, there was a shadow. A black unknown something, moving, growing, approaching…scratch, Scratch, SCRATCH!

Story #2:
The chilled night air was filled with a mixture of big city fumes and death. The sirens had ceased, but the squad cars’ pulsing red and blue lent an eerie glow to the narrow alley and the dismembered bodies hanging there. David felt his lunch crawl up his throat as he sorted through the butchery. He never got used to the smell of fresh blood.

So, which one scared you more? Story #1 about the frightened little boy’s approaching poodle, or Story #2 about the cops at the open-air meat market? (Gotcha, didn’t I?) If I’ve done my job properly, neither should have been pleasant, but they should have evoked different feelings. #1 should have felt like a classic horror film or campfire story, stimulating the imagination and making your palms sweat. This is what we (and most of the horror industry) will call “terror.” #2 should have pulled up a visceral distaste from the pit of your stomach, leaving less up to the imagination. Grosse! This is known as “horror” (in this particular scene, it could also be called “revulsion”).

Most scary books and movies utilize both “terror” and “horror” for their success, but most use one more than the other. Think of it as “Paranormal Activity” versus “Saw 3D.” Both movies evoked that psychological response to danger known as fear, but which one was more effective? Which movie sent you into cardiac arrest. Which gave you that adrenaline boost, that “fight or flight” response. Which one causes moviegoers to flee the theatre, rending their clothes and screaming their faces off? The answer is…both. Sorry. I know. Weak sauce. But it’s true. If there was a “best” scare, we would only have one horror movie, and they would make it into a book, and the book would be better.

The truth is, horror movies play on our fears, and if you Wikipedia “phobias,” you’ll get a whole smorgasbord of ‘em. Everyone is a little different. Me? I’m scared of centipedes, heights, and that creepy girl from “The Ring.” Some phobias are pretty outlandish, but there are some primary fears used commonly in the entertainment industry: the unknown, death, darkness, confined spaces, etc. You’ll see these themes used over and over because they work. Stories that successfully utilize these primal fears will be a hit. Those that don’t wind up being overproduced, under-acted flops that score a 3% on Rotten Tomatoes.

With that said, it’s important to realize that fears tend to differ by generation. Thus, the original “Frankenstein” just doesn’t have the same scream-potential it once did. The more scared people are as a nation, the more money the horror industry makes, and you can bet the industry will be acutely aware of what real-life fears their audiences hold dear. “Godzilla” was big when Japan was afraid of WMD fallout and invasion. Whatta ya know, “Cloverfield” popped up right when the U.S. was afraid of the same thing. Women are more afraid of rape and abduction than they have ever been (and rightly so, thanks to the news and a lack of moral foundation), and the “thriller” section on Netflix directly reflects that fear.

Finally, one last note on modern horror movies. To paraphrase Stephen King: “We go to movies now to see good looking men and women get naked, then get killed. There is a certain moral queasiness that comes with paying money to see monsters kill, not be killed.” “Saw” and “Hostel” come immediately to mind. Sure, people say there are underlying morals and themes, but when it comes down to it, people aren’t rooting for the victims, they’re rooting for Jigsaw…and that’s pretty messed up. In my mind, it’s only a couple steps away from throwing two slaves in a coliseum and paying to watch them hack each other to death. I’m definitely a huge proponent of the horror industry. I think it’s healthy to see good triumph over evil, to remember how small our own problems really are, and to scream until we laugh (talk about therapeutic!), but we have to be careful to preserve these true fundamentals of classic horror without stepping over into the realm of just plain horrible.

So what have we learned? What makes a good scary movie or book? In the end, it’s all about that dark, primeval reaction known as fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of death, fear of creepy music-- all those things we love to see on the big screen, but never in our own lives. So remember, the next time you curl up to a scary movie or book, remember, there’s nothing to fear but fear itself…that is, unless you’ve failed to kill that blood-soaked axe murderer hiding in your bedroom closet…

For some of my own, creepy, crawly examples of horror lit., check out my “Interview With a Vampire Victim” and “Paradise Undead.” I also have a little scary surprise waiting for you luck readers in my next blog!

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The West Virginia Blues

Hey, y'all. Here's a little piece I wrote while I was on my clinical in Princeton, WV. Enjoy!


“I don’t need this life, I’ll be fine on my own.”
Now that I’m here, I just want to be home.
I need my family.  I miss my friends.
I want my girl.  Every night that I spend
Away in this place pulls me further away
From all that I love.  Never thought I would say
“I feel so alone.  I guess that I’m not
As good on my own or as free as I thought.”

I had faith when You said You were everywhere
What’s omnipresence?  I can’t feel you here?
My God, my God, why’d You leave me?
When you can be anywhere You want to be?
How could you let me wander so far away
Into the unknown?  Now I wish I had stayed
Where I could be sure I’d see nothing new.
Who needs the world when I can have You?

I’ve done my time and now I have found
What I have lost in this uncommon ground.
They say You’re in all, and all You have made
Contains all your glory.  I wish I had prayed,
“I feel you, Lord.  Yes, even now
When I have nothing except for my doubt.”
In my deepest self-pity, I saw you there,
You said, “My son, you’re My cross to bear.”

Greetings from West Virginia

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pain and Potatoes

The Origin of Pain

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is life so fragile? Why does a bad sunburn hurt worse than a gunshot wound?

We all know what pain is, right? We’ve all stubbed our toe. We’ve all suffered a break-up. Heck. Turn on the news tonight. They’re giving away more painful stories than any sane person can handle (But who says anyone around here is exactly sane?). But what is it? Where does it come from? Here are two common ideas:
1)    Original Sin: Pain comes from sin. If there was no evil force in the world (Satan), humans wouldn’t sin and, therefore, the world wouldn’t suffer the perversion of happiness and pleasure (which is pain).
2)    Chaos and evolution: Since the big bang, things have been moving. Up and out! Naturally, when things collide, it’s not always going to be peaceful. So, when a friend stabs you in the back or when you have a snake in your boot, there’s really no one to blame, other than Einstein, Darwin, Newton, Lemaitre, and Lorenz. It’s science.

“Okay, fine. So pain either exists because of a cosmic villain or a cosmic accident. So what? I’m an educated, tax-paying American and you haven’t told me anything I can’t learn on Wikipedia (which I plan on cross-referencing after I finish this blog post). Entertain me!”

Easy, friend. We’re all on the same side here. But perhaps you’re right. Perhaps I should present you with something a little more useful. Practical knowledge, if you will. So, instead of blaming Adam, Eve, and Einstein, maybe I’ll take a look within myself (as every healthy narcissist should). So what exactly IS the source of pain?

When it comes down to it, it’s us. We’re the ones that feel pain, so why point the finger at someone, or something, else?

What I’m getting at here is that our BODY does stuff to us that just ain’t cool. It uses nociceptors, neurotransmitters, and hormones to wreak havoc on our brain and, ultimately, our consciousness. Sorry to burst your bubble, but depression doesn’t come from cloudy days or bullies at school. It comes from dopamine and cortisol.

But there is hope! Men and women can easily go through life without feeling ANY pain: physical (Google CIPA disease) or mental (Google heroine). Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be long before you died from a cut on the bottom of your foot or from “flying” off of a skyscraper.

The world is full of hot stuff. Maybe our best defense is to feel the burn.

So, the next time you blame someone else for your pain, maybe you should actually be thanking your nociceptors for the heads up.

Proving God with Potatoes

Bananas, potatoes, and clams. What do they all have in common? Potassium! (Bananas actually have the least out of these three). What do they not have in common? Everything else. They don’t look the same. They don’t taste the same. They’re not in the same food groups. They don’t even grow in the same areas of the earth.

This last point is the most significant. Why? Because humans REQUIRE potassium to survive. It’s not like saying, “I’ll die if I don’t get a cigarette soon.” It’s an essential mineral required for heart and muscle function, amongst other things.

Okay, okay. I know you read the title, so I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with God. Here it is: Potassium-rich food sources are present in EVERY region of the earth (even the oceans). So even though Ireland didn’t have bananas (until that pesky world commerce began), they still had potatoes to keep their heart pumping (until that pesky potato famine began). This is true, as far as I am aware, of every essential vitamin and mineral (some more than others). So how did these specific vitamins and minerals develop in all places needed by young man-cubs? Hmm...

Obviously there are holes in my little idea, but it's important to remember that it's just that: an idea. One that sparks interest in intelligent design and the deeper significance of seemingly insignificant occurrences. I’d love to hear the arguments against this idea (I’m sure there are many) and for it. It’s been good talking to you. Come back again real soon.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fun With Free Time: Ghent, OBX, and Missouri

Spring is a time for change. Unfortunately, change isn’t always expected, and it's seldom convenient. Sometimes it’s a lot like locking your keys in your car and trading a hot meal and an evening on the couch for a cup of cheap coffee and a park bench. In my case, it’s a lot like that.

At the moment, I happen to be sitting under the shelter of a fir tree, writing on a rain soaked pad of paper with a stolen pen, and waiting for my spare car keys to arrive. On the bright side, there’s nothing like 4 hours of unexpected free time to provoke the creative mind. At the outset of this disaster, I had two options. I could either sit in a cavernous parking garage soaking in toxic gas and self-pity, or I could give my flip-flops a workout and see the world, or at least historic Ghent. So this is a re-count of my epic trip to the hippie coffee shop and back. I left my incapacitated car bitter and downhearted (I was bitter and downhearted, not my car), but came back, well, a little better.

As I set out from the parking garage*, I had no clear objective other than distracting myself from the painfully slow deterioration of time. I turned right out of the garage, walked a while, was unimpressed with my surroundings, turned around, and decided to go left instead. Taking note of the increasingly attractive houses and shops in this direction, I remembered a phrase I had coined in undergrad: conscious extroversion. As it turns out, the idea behind the phrase was much broader than the phrase itself. It was actually closer to the Buddhist philosophy of mindfulness, or what Everett from O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? would call considering “the lilies of the [gosh darn] field.”

*my last effort to have Alaina push “unlock” on her extra set of keys through her phone had failed and the first available chance to get said keys within a proven working distance wouldn’t come for several hours

So, as I walked with an increasingly light heart across traffic and through unknown neighborhoods, I took notice of the world around me. An abandoned baby pacifier sat on the sidewalk a block from the children’s hospital. 4-story historic houses towered up on both sides as ever-watchful sentinels. Sweet smoke danced on the changing breeze and filled my nose. I followed the smoke to a Briar pipe attached to a collegiate-looking man (you remember your philosophy TA, right?) slouching over his papers outside of a hip little coffee shop. I entered the shop (and why not?) and ordered a $2 coffee from Zanzibar, or Darjeeling, or somewhere weird. It tasted like it was from 7-11.

I sat savoring my exotic, free-trade java and listening to the nearby A.A. group swap stories about their time in rehab and psyche-wards until my thoughts drifted inward (caffeine does weird things to my brain). Anyway, after a few mental adventures, I settled on the unavoidable issue in my life right now: Change.

Alaina and I are moving in a month. Correction: I’m moving in a month and Alaina is following me a month after that (It’s a long story, and my hand is already cramping from this primitive pen-to-paper method of communication, so I’ll spare the details). When I say moving, I’m not talking down the street. More like half way across the country, back home. I say that, and yet, Yorktown, VA is the only home we’ve known in our 2 years of marriage. When we moved here, it was just the two of us and 1,000 miles of adventure. Since then, we’ve built our honeymoon life at the beach. Hey, Virginia is for lovers, right?

So we made our friends, found our favorite sushi place, and joined an amazing church family. All just in time to have a violent reality check and find ourselves feeling lost and confused. In the end, we decided it was time to return to the land of our fathers: Missouri.

In anticipation of our pilgrimage, we decided to take our first real vacation in 2 years. It was to be a trip to OBX. For those of you not in the know, OBX stands for the Outer Banks, and it’s the pride of North Carolina. Secluded beaches, quaint fishing villages, and put-put golf. So we packed what we needed for a week of fun (or what a normal couple would need to survive on Gilligan’s Island) and made the 3-hour tour south. Needless to say, the trip was amazing, complete with hot sun, cold waves, pool volleyball, a lighthouse, a ferry, a beach bonfire (complete with hotdogs and local campfire tales), and general lethargy. But an unexpected addition worked its way into the lining: The adventures of one Thomas Sawyer. I brought the book with me for some light beach reading, but it turned out to be a little more than that. For those of you who don’t know, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) is from Missouri, so most of his writing embraces the culture and history of the “Show-Me State.” More than that, he nurtures the Missouri wilderness that my heart has silently longed for in my time away.

Thus, my carefree OBX vacation was tinged with a newfound longing for those things I once embraced as part of myself. Since then, my thoughts and emotions have been various, to say the least. In fact, it would take more daylight than I currently have at my disposal to fully explain my joys and anxieties over the upcoming move. In fact, I had better wrap this up. It’s getting dark and my keys will be here soon.

Back at the coffee shop, I finished my caffeine-bomb just in time to see the first raindrops fall. I promptly pushed in my chair and made my return with all the speed my flip-flops would afford me. By the time I found shelter in the garage, my notepad was soaked and my pen was lost somewhere on the streets of downtown Norfolk. Determined to record my “blog fodder,” I shamelessly entered the children’s hospital and asked the receptionist if I could have a pen.

“Here, you can use this one.”

“Um, I kind of need to steal it.” Please don’t ask why. 

“That’s alright,” she said with a smile.

I guess you have to be nice to work in a children’s hospital. Lucky for me. Outside, the rain had stopped, so I found a dry patch of grass to call home and set pen to paper.

I’ve been making a lot of decisions and feeling relatively secure in them lately. Then I locked my keys in my car. There’s nothing like 4 hours of unexpected free time to humble an overconfident mind. The last two years have been amazing. I don’t regret my time here. I’ll miss my work, my church family, my friends, the beach, and the HRBT (just kidding about that last one), but it’s time for Alaina and I to go home.

Ready or not, here we come.

Our OBX luggage
The OBX crew
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Paradise Undead: A Zombie Short Story

“Come on, Sam. Would you kill him, already?”
“I did kill him already! The second time is always harder!” The young man’s voice shook almost as violently as his left hand, which still held a death-grip on the .40 caliber at his side. The beep of the nearby heart monitor seemed weak and slow compared to the pounding in his chest.
“If you’re not going to do it, get out of my way,” the middle-aged man said, his voice level and deliberate. Sam moved to the foot of the low hospital bed and glanced down at the woman sleeping there. Well, not sleeping exactly. It’s hard to sleep when a Beretta is fired four feet from your head. She was clearly unconscious. Still, she was more alive than the thing that was slowly shuffling across the cramped hospital room. She was probably also less hungry for human brains.
            Sam did his best to focus on the beep…beep…beep of the heart monitor. He still wasn’t used to the sickly sound a nightstick made when it struck a walker’s skull. It wasn’t that he had a problem with killing the guy. He had put three bullets through the convicted murder’s chest less than 10 minutes ago. Had he put one through the head, the matter would be done with. Instead, his stomach got the best of him, leaving Ed, his battle-hardened partner, to clean up the mess.
            “Alright, Sam, you can open your eyes now,” Ed said, “The big bad walker won’t hurt you anymore.”
            Sam turned to Ed, first matching his keen, light-blue eyes, and then glancing at his gray beard. “My eyes weren’t closed. I was looking for evidence. Speaking of, you’ve got a little blood on your beard there. I hope it doesn’t stain. I don’t know if I could stand looking at you if you had to shave.”
            “I doubt you could if taking down a walker’s still too much for you.” Ed wiped off his club on the walker’s already bloodstained scrubs. “I’ve got scars under this beard from before you were born.”
            “Hey,” Sam said, taking a few cautious steps toward the body, “it’s not my fault once is never enough. You can thank the Adem for that.”
            Ed’s eyes narrowed and his tone turned fierce. “The Adem? You think they started this? They’re the only blameless ones left.” He waved his hand around the room. “Some cocky scientist tried to get famous by messing with things he didn’t understand. That’s how it started. But I wouldn’t expect you to remember. You were, what, three?”
            Sam reached instinctively into an inner pocket of his coat, pulled out a flask, and tipped it up to his mouth. His left hand stopped shaking as a familiar warmth spread through him.
“And what did I tell you about that?” Ed said, his voice retaining its fire. “If I see you drinking on duty again, I’m reporting you to the Chief. I’m serious. It runs in my family, too, but you don’t see me turning to the bottle every time things get hairy.”
Sam threw up an arm and began walking out of the cramped hospital room. “Fine. Whatever, Ed.”
He took his place next to a fidgety rent-a-cop and waited outside the door. His frustration had reached its peak, and he didn’t like being around when Ed was praying over the body. He had some respect for his partner and mentor, but some of Ed’s beliefs were childish, to say the least.
            Did he really think the Adem were blameless? And perfect? They were the source of the undying blood that had corrupted mankind. That scientist may have stolen it, but it came from them. Those perfect holier-than-thou hermits, lording over mankind from the safety of Eden Island.
            “We’re done here.”
            Ed’s gruff voice made Sam’s heart jump. The excitement of the afternoon had made him edgy. It wasn’t every day he tracked down a murderous surgeon at the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Too bad this particular maniac had been taking orders from an unidentifiable superior. Catching a lackey was one thing, but trying to take down a homicidal genius was next to impossible, even if Ed was on the case.
            “Sorry about that stuff in there.” Sam followed Ed toward the elevator. Despite their differences, Sam knew it would make everything easer to keep on Ed’s good side. “I’m getting better though, right?”
            “At killing?” Ed asked. His voice held a note of reproach.
            “God, no. C’mon, Ed. I meant at police work.” Sam punched the down button on the elevator and continued. “You know, investigation, interrogation, tracking. All that stuff.”
            “All that stuff comes with time, kid. You came in way too hot. Thankfully it was him, but what if it had been an innocent surgeon trying to perform an emergency tracheotomy?”
            “An innocent surgeon probably wouldn’t have come at my throat with the scalpel the second he saw me.”
            “You know what I mean, Sam. You got lucky.”
            The two stepped onto the elevator, followed closely by a young nurse clutching a clipboard to her chest. She looked at the blood on Ed’s beard and quickly turned away. Sam reached past her to push “Lobby,” but her sudden jump made him jerk his hand back.
“Sorry,” Sam said, “Lobby, please.”
She stepped forward, hit two buttons, and locked her eyes onto her clipboard. Sam examined the girl for a lingering moment then looked over at Ed, who seemed to be deep in thought. The elevator was as silent as a mortuary until the young nurse practically jumped out on the second floor.
The doors slid closed and Ed began again, but his tone had softened. “His reaction was interesting, though.”
            “What do you mean?” Sam asked, still somewhat distracted by the young nurse’s perfume.
            “He was smart. He had six confirmed victims before we caught up with him. There are another twelve missing that are linked to him and his gang. We’ve had men on this case for over a month and he’s managed to stay ahead of us until now.”
“With someone else’s help,” Sam added, walking out into the hospital lobby. “We both know this guy was just one part of something bigger.”
“Sure, but still, he was fairly good at being a serial killer, as far as that goes. So why did he react the way he did? Did he really think he was going to take down two armed officers with a scalpel? I’d expected him to play the part of the innocent surgeon. At least until he had a better chance of escape.”
Sam opened his mouth to reply as they approached the sliding front doors, but an officer drew his pistol and cut him short. “I’m sorry. You can’t leave the hospital.”
Sam’s heart pounded in his chest again and his hand moved to the holster at his left hip. He glanced at Ed, and then almost laughed out loud at his realization. They were in their street clothes. He flashed his badge and the officer nodded and stepped to the side.
            “Who knows, Ed? The guy was crazy.”
            “I guess you’re right, kid.”
            Police reports were the worst part of the job. Sam was only a year out of the Academy and the paperwork made it seem like he had never left.
            “Can’t we finish this up later?” he asked, looking over his computer at Ed. They were the only ones in the station, aside from the Chief and the receptionist, Carla.
            “Always the rabid dog, huh?” Ed’s voice came from behind another computer across the room. The sound of his clicking keyboard didn’t stop as he talked.
            “You’re always going full-bore. You never take a second to process. Everything is do, do, do. If you don’t stop and think every now and then, you’re going to find yourself exhausted, foaming at the mouth, and afraid of water.” For a moment, Ed’s keyboard was the only sound in the office. “Well, maybe not afraid of water, but the rest is true.”
            “Maybe I just have more passion than everyone else around here.” Sam made a sweeping motion with his arm, though it was obvious Ed couldn’t see it. “Maybe everyone gets so caught up with the walkers that real crime doesn’t interest people anymore.”
            Ed’s keyboard stopped clicking and his head popped up from behind his computer. “You’ve got a lot to learn, Sam. Every single officer in this precinct eats, sleeps, and breathes law enforcement. Yeah, walkers are a huge issue. If we don’t keep them in check, it could mean the end of the world within the month. But, if they were all we had to deal with, I’d retire right now and become a licensed bounty hunter. They make more money bashing undead brains than anyone on the force.” Ed’s head slid back down behind his computer. “When it comes down to it, the walkers are just a nuisance. One we brought on ourselves. We’re here to protect the citizens against themselves, kid. We’re our own worst enemy.”
We’ve got a 187 at 5th and Mercury. Assailant is still on the premises. All units respond.
            The police scanner stopped their conversation dead. Sam barely had time to wipe the smile off his face before Ed was out the door. He grabbed his coat and ran to catch up. As he barreled out into the parking lot, a harsh winter chill made him pull his coat tight. He almost pulled out his flask, but thought better of it.
            “Not used to Saint Louis winters yet?” Ed asked as he opened the squad car and disappeared inside.
            “How does anyone get used to this?” Sam took his place next to his partner. “Whoever said Hell was all fire and heat never spent a winter here.”
            “Hey, you coulda stayed in Florid–” Ed bit off his last word as all expression drained from his face. After a painfully long breath, he shook his head, started the car, and pulled out of the parking lot. “Sam, I didn’t realize. You told me you were from Florida, but I didn’t ever put the pieces together.”
            “Forget about it,” Sam said. He stared out the window as a wave of memories welled up. Ed was wrong. He had been 8 years old when the walker outbreak began. No one knew what was happening for nearly three days, and then a young microbiologist stepped forward. By then, it was too late. That headstrong scientist’s lab was only two blocks away from Sam’s childhood home. Sam barely escaped with his life, but not before he put a bullet through his undead dad’s head. He fled the city in terror while the Adem sat safely on their little island, laughing at the failed attempts and misfortunes of the Fallen. How could Ed stick up for them?
            The sprint to the crime scene was uncomfortably quiet, aside from wailing sirens, screeching tires, and the roar of a 340 horsepower engine. They were the second car on the scene. Sam jumped out just in time to hear two shots fired from within an old, two-story town home.
            “I’m goin’ in, Ed!” He was moving toward the front door, gun drawn, before Ed could protest.
            Sam swung open the screen door and looked inside. The inside door was standing ajar, nearly knocked off its hinges. The living room was empty. A coffee table was on its side. Sam let out a breath and quickly drew it back in. He stalked across the room toward a hallway, where yelling continued in a steady stream. He recognized two of the voices as belonging to officers Hayes and Sanchez. They were overpowering a third, intermittent scream. Sam set his feet and prepared to collide with the unseen chaos unfolding in the next room.
            “What do you think you’re doing?”
            Even at a whisper, the force in Ed’s voice nearly knocked Sam to the ground. He felt his stomach turn and his throat close, leaving him temporarily speechless.
            Some of the fire had left Ed’s eyes, but his tone was still intimidating. “You’ve got to be the stupidest genius I know.” He turned his head toward the shouting in the next room. “Is that Sanchez?”
            “And Hayes,” Sam replied, his voice still shaking. He wiped his sweaty right hand on his thigh, then almost holstered his gun to do the same with the left.
            Without warning, Ed turned the corner. “Cover me.”
            Sam only hesitated for a moment, but it was enough to leave him standing in the hall alone. He muttered a quick curse, lifted his gun to eye-level, and followed his partner into the unknown.
            He turned into the bedroom and saw three police officers, their guns pointed toward a bloody pile of man. The pile was doubled over, holding his abdomen with one hand and a 9 mm with the other. His eyes jumped to each of the officers as they shouted at him, and then locked directly on Sam. There was a moment of uncertainty, a cloud of fear across the man’s face, before he pointed his weapon at Sam and took three bullets to the head.
            Sam stood frozen, his unfired pistol still pointing at the dead man.
            The voice was faint and inconsequential.
            “Sam!” Ed shouted again.
            Sam turned his head slowly, shaken from his daze. “Two in one day,” he said weakly, almost to himself.
            “What?” Sanchez asked.
            “We took down Michael Bayes at the hospital earlier today,” Ed explained. He looked over at the twice-dead woman lying halfway off the bed. “Wait, this guy shot her in the chest?”
            “Yeah,” Sanchez replied, “She had already turned when we got here. I think he was getting ready to tie her up. What kind of sick freak keeps a walker as a hostage?”
            “I can think of a couple people,” Ed said, “This wasn’t a random homicide. Can you two finish up here?” He looked toward Sam, who was still fighting the urge to vomit. “Sam seems like he’s had enough for one day and I’ve got a hunch to follow.”
            Sam flipped on his kitchen light and sat his keys, wallet, and gun on the counter next to a glass bottle. He pulled the stopper off of the bottle and swallowed a mouthful of whisky. A comforting warmth spread through his chest and stomach, but his mind was still racing. Near-death experiences were still a relatively rare occurrence. He splashed cold water on his face and returned his pistol to the holster at his hip. He was used to holding the power.
Two in one day. He was out of resources.
            He walked through his living room without turning on the light. It was a new house, but he had come in at night enough to know its layout by heart. He stopped at the dark outline of a door and drew a key from his pocket. He slipped the key into the door handle and turned the knob. At first there was only more darkness, but as the squeaking door swung wide, a faint murmur crept up on a wave of damp air.
Sam flipped on a light, revealing a set of warped, wooden stairs leading into the basement. The murmur grew. He stepped onto the creaking stairs and the murmur turned to a chorus of groans. He ran the key along a broken brick wall as he descended, adding a dull scrape to the groaning. At the base of the stairs, the room was still shrouded in darkness. He reached up and flipped another switch. A wave of light flooded the room, revealing a small, makeshift prison cell, crowded with twelve moaning, mindless corpses.
“I missed you too,” Sam said, standing just outside the reach of the walkers’ groping hands. They were pathetic creatures, really, straining hopelessly through prison bars. One was actually gnawing at the lock. They would be perfect, but he only had twelve so far. If Michael and Gary had done their job today, that would have made fourteen. Then there were the six they killed before. Twenty walkers could have done a lot of damage in the right situation. Good help was so hard to find.
“Hands where I can see ‘em!” The power in Ed’s voice even made the walkers stop moaning for a moment. What was he doing here? Stupid question. He was here to arrest a homicidal genius. The real question was: How did he know where to look? Not as stupid as he seemed. Sam decided to play the part of the innocent partner.
“Ed,” he said, turning around to face his partner, “you scared me half to death. I guess we found the missing victims, huh.” He motioned to the walkers behind him.
“Guess so.” Ed didn’t move. His eyes and his gun were locked onto Sam, completely ignoring the horde behind him.
“How, how’d you find this place, anyway?”
“I looked up your home address at work. It’s over, kid. Come on, hands up.”
“My…what? No. No, Ed. It’s wrong. You’re wrong.” Sam made the mistake of reaching to his hip. Before his hand touched his pistol, he felt Ed’s bullet burn through his left shoulder and shatter his shoulder blade. The pain was blinding as he dropped to his knees. Only his pumping adrenaline kept him from passing out.
“Why, Sam?” Ed screamed. “Tell me why!”
“What choice did I have?” Sam clutched at his shoulder, wincing in pain. “No one else was…Do you think the Adem will stop with the walkers…Just the beginning. They won’t rest until we’re all dead.”
“What’re you talking about, Sam? You’re responsible for the deaths of twenty innocent people, and you’re still blaming the Adem?”
“I didn’t kill ‘em. Michael, Gary…they did all the work. And they were happy to. They–” A spasm of pain shot through Sam’s shoulder, dropping him all the way to the ground. He slowly regained his breath. “They knew it was the only way. I just gave them the direction. Not like any of ‘em didn’t deserve it, anyway.”
Ed took a step forward, his gun still pointing between Sam’s eyes. His voice was flat. “How does killing twenty people solve anything?”
“Look behind me…Children of the Adem. They created them, so they can have ‘em. Twelve might not do much, but fifty walkers let loose on Eden Island would–”
“Okay,” Ed’s face was beginning to blur, but the resolution in his voice was unmistakable, “I get it. Your parents were killed by the walkers, so you want to get revenge on whoever created them. But why the Adem? I tried to tell you, kid. We screwed up, not them. They just want us to be happy, but we can’t go two seconds without–”
Ed jerked his pistol to the side and fired again. Sam waited for the peace of oblivion, but was met instead with a sharp pain on the side of his neck. He instinctively jerked away, but a walker had his neck tight between its teeth. The cell door swung on its hinges. Sam was just able to make out a few broken teeth wedged into the rusted, broken lock. Ed fired again and the walker released its grip, but two more took its place. Sam tried to reach for his pistol, but he couldn’t lift his left hand and a walker had his right arm pinned against the bars.
“Ed!” Sam’s scream rose above the moans and gunfire, but his mind was already clouding.
His dad’s distorted face flashed in front of his eyes. It had been so long ago, but at the moment, it was more real than the chaos around him. Sam had found his dad’s pistol in the closet. He had thought it was a toy, so when his dad walked in, he pointed it up at him.
Whatta you think yer doin’? His dad swayed in the doorway as he spoke. I knew you were stupid, boy, but you’re gonna pay for this one. You think you can threaten me just’cause I’m drunk? Com’ere!
His dad lunged for the gun, but fell short, clutching at his bloody side and cursing. Sam’s ears rang as he stood in shock. His dad stopped cursing, and then he stopped moving. Sam stood over the body for almost ten minutes before it started twitching again. When it finally got back up, it wasn’t his dad anymore. His slurred speech was replaced with low moans, and he kept shuffling toward Sam even after he took two more bullets to the chest. Moaning seemed to fill the room as Sam suddenly became aware of a sharp pain in his shattered left shoulder.
His mind cleared and he locked eyes with Ed. "I'm not going to end up like that. I'm sorry, Ed, for everything."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Thank You Letter, a Convoluted Poem About Trees, and a Mischievous Kitty

God blesses the undeserving. I’m blessed every day. There are certain people in my life that He works through regularly, primarily my wife, family, co-workers, and church family. While I am grateful for all of them, it is of this last group that I wish to focus on, specifically my small group.
When my dad died in October, a lot of things happened emotionally and spiritually that I couldn’t have prepared for. My wife and I moved to Virginia a year and a half ago, leaving our family and friends in Missouri. When I got the phone call about my dad, the weight of our isolation seemed unbearable to me. I had to get home. It was not a question of how or when. Alaina, my wife, booked our one-way tickets that night for the following day. The next week was a blur of people, crying, and silence, but when we got back, our life was waiting. It’s impossible to describe the loathing I had for the world around me.  My job, car, money, schedule, and bills, just to name a few examples, had no meaning to me. Unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately), they still had meaning to everyone else.
By the mercy and grace of the Lord, Alaina and I have never been wanting for a meal or a roof over our head, but as reality returned to me I had to face the fact that our last minute plane tickets hadn’t been in our budget. They also weren’t cheap. When Dan and Amy Sexton (fellow “young professionals” group members) picked us up from the airport, these thoughts were beginning to arise in my mind, but before they had time to fully form, Dan handed me an envelope.
“Here. It’s from the group,” was all he said as I got out of the car, thanked him, and pulled my luggage into my apartment.
Sitting my suitcase down, I opened the envelope and stared hard in disbelief. Inside was almost the exact cost of our last-minute tickets to and from the St. Louis airport. I showed it to Alaina and read the several personal notes of condolence. Our small group is small, and though we’re the “young professionals,” more emphasis is on the “young” than on the “professional.” When I saw the sheer amount these committed Christians were willing to give on the spot to a couple they had known for, at the most, a year and a half, I was overcome with humility. I knew many of them gave more than they comfortably could, and I loved them for it. We didn’t ask for it. We didn’t expect it. But they gave it in the exact way God gives his blessings. In this way, I knew God was with me intimately during my time of heartache. They truly are authentic followers of Christ, and I’ll never forget their gift.

Where the Moon Floats on the Water

I hate the world for moving on,
And leave the house in anger.
I search for truth down by the pond.
The moon floats on the water.
I want to hurt.
How dare He pretend to care?

I search the wild.  I need to cry.
No mourning. No consolation from the trees.
Withered leaves. No ripples on the water,
Only star-paved glass with spirits from the sky.
Cold ground. No warmth in the breeze.
First freeze. Winter’s on the way.
Not yet. 
The Fall holds sway over all.

I reach down deep to pull up tears.
The bullfrogs reach down deeper.
I cry out, “why” to fight my fears.
The crickets praise their maker.
I’m ashamed.
The trees sway in the breeze.
I read the truth. It’s on my heart.            
He loves me. He captivates my soul.
Lose control. No need to shout demands.
A Father’s bond cannot be pulled apart.
All around. He walks among the wind.
Best friend. I knew he never left.
It helps.
I pray I learn to sway.

I keep my promises.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Original Sin Or Amazing Grace?

The Eternal Fate of Those Unexposed to Christianity
(A Dream Transcribed From Areli Adva While Working in the Lumber Yards*)

The day had taken its toll on me.  My calloused hands and aching back served as subtle reminders of my day in the Yards.  Four rows of trees felled with the help of Nash and his unrelenting blade.  We were getting good.  Easing into my bunk, the dark quiet of Roosevelt Lodge rang in my ears, but not loud enough to overcome my extreme fatigue.  I welcomed the encroaching oblivion.     
Moments after succumbing to the bliss of sleep, my body began shaking violently.  I quickly recognized the familiar rumble of an E-Train, but this was of a different sort than I was used to. It's extremity was blanketed with a sickly yellow gloss, and its interior with the laughs and screams of mutinous school children.  I wasn’t sure how I had managed to doze on a school train, but I wasn’t surprised that my slumber was interrupted. 
“I hate kids.”
The statement was unintentional.  I don’t really hate kids.  I hate when thirty kids are stuffed in a highly acoustic, poorly supervised school train traveling at blinding speeds.  Regardless, as the sentence left my mouth, I was sure it wasn’t me that had actually said it, but the child sitting next to me.  He returned my puzzled gaze with a fully loaded spit wad pursed between his lips.  I turned forward again, curiously embarrassed.  Why had I said that, and why was I embarrassed?  Then I remembered.  It was because Cyrus, the jerk sitting next to me, had plastered a saliva-soaked wad of paper to the side of my face only seconds before.  I made a mental note to tell Mrs. Sayers of his abuses the following morning.  Reflecting on my day, I realized that my agitation went deeper than the spit wad incident, and I meant to take the matter up personally with my mother at the first opportunity.  I spent the remainder of my ride home outlining the main points of my case.
The train lurched to a stop and the doors slid silently open.  I shouted a farewell to my friends, purposely avoiding Cyrus, and hopped out.  The clank of heavy spring rain reverberated from the alloy roof overhead as my mother ran down the terminal steps with an umbrella in hand.  Her disgruntled face immediately brightened as she looked up at me.
“How was your day, Areli?”
“It was okay.”
“Well, what happened?”
“The usual.  We got a new kid.  His name’s Didi, and he’s from Africa.”
“That’s exciting.  Do you like him?”
“I guess, but when our teacher said we have a math test next week, she told him he didn’t have to take it.  It’s not fair.”
“Well, we can talk about it when we get home.  Come on, its getting worse outside.”
            After braving the downpour, we fell through the front door of my childhood home and peeled away our soaked layers.  As I sprawled in front of our electric fireplace, still steaming over my confusion, my mother handed me a cup of hot chocolate. 
“Now tell me why you think Didi should have to take that test.”
“Because he’s in our class,” I exclaimed, “I have to take the test, why shouldn’t he?”
“Well, honey, because he doesn’t know what its about.”
“Neither do I, but Mrs. Callahan isn’t helping me.”
“Areli,” mom said with a grin, “don’t you think it’s a little different?  You’ve been in class all year and Didi just got there.  He hasn’t even had the chance to learn.  Where he comes from, they might not even teach math.”
“But he’s as old as I am,” I reasoned, “When he was out there in the jungle, or desert, or whatever, and he put one stick with another stick, he would’ve still had two sticks.  If he could see that, couldn’t he have figured out the stuff we have to know now?  I mean, he’s had just as much time to learn as me, hasn’t he?”
“Okay,” mom said after a moment of surprise, “but just because he’s had the time, that doesn’t mean he’s had the opportunity.  Maybe his tribe hunted for survival, and no one ever told him to see how many groups of sticks he would get if he put four in each group.  So, even though he could eventually reason any aspect of math, he hasn’t had any motivation to move his mind in this direction.  You live in a country where everyone has heard of math, and English, and religion, and most know a lot about them, whether they like them or not.  Maybe Didi’s never even heard of math before, so how can he be responsible for a test over it?”
“But how does he expect to live here if he doesn’t know math?”
“He will know.  It’s just like anything.  Now that he has the opportunity to learn about it, he’ll eventually take the test, and then he’ll be just as educated on the subject as everyone else.”
“But what if he doesn’t pass it.  What if it’s too late to teach him, and we get all the way through school, and its time to graduate?  Will he still get more time, or will he get kicked out?  Shouldn’t they let him start over from the beginning instead of sticking him in our grade?”
“I don’t know, Honey.  That’s a hard question.  I Thank God that I’m not the teacher that has to make that decision,” my mother replied with a half-hearted smile.  She then gave me a big hug and turned decisively toward the kitchen,  “Now why don’t you go clean your room, unless you think Didi should do that with you also.”
            I sat thinking awhile about what my mother had said.  Who could possibly make the decision to fail someone if they never had the opportunity to learn the material?  But how could someone graduate if they hadn’t earned it?  I quietly thanked God, the great Teacher, for the chance to learn, so I didn’t have to worry about where I was going to end up.  I even started thinking maybe I should help Didi with his homework, so he would have a fair chance.  If I didn’t, wouldn’t I be partially to blame if he failed? 
            I awoke with a heavy guilt hanging over me.  I remember Didi vaguely from my childhood, but I’m not sure the events in my dream ever really happened.  Even now, when the rest of the dream has all but faded from memory, the questions of my responsibility for his well-being are vivid.  I'm not sure if someone should be condemned for something they've never heard of, but I can’t shake the feeling that I don't really need to know.  The idea, itself, instills in me a sense of urgency and accountability for others.  I think I would rather just take the time to tell someone about Christ than spend the rest of my life wondering.  We never know how much time someone will have before "graduation," and the fear of a challenging conversation is no excuse for failing to give someone a chance at eternal salvation.  I can never forget that.

*For more on the story of Areli Adva, read this post.