Category Archives: Fiction

I AM MILLENIALS

People are spying on me and reporting on my actions to the Internet. The code name they have for me is “Millenials.” No sooner had I posted a blog post about my engagement lug nut than The Independent wrote “Diamonds aren’t forever: Millenials turn their backs on unethical and expensive gems.”

When I ordered another bulk purchase of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, CBS News complained of my intent to kill bar soap, and then the New York Post came to my defense, saying “it’s fun to read the rambling Dr. Bronner’s label in the shower.”

I made a kale salad for my fiance, and pretty soon I was reading in Forbes, “Healthy food makes millennials happy. They push to eat healthier, more eco-friendly foods.”

When I shopped around and got a refurbished laptop, Forbes was in on that, too. This time they even followed my dad. “One thing that makes millennials like their parents is that almost 80% are influenced by price. Even as much as they are looking for other values from their products like authenticity, local sourcing, ethical production and a great shopping experience, nothing beats a discount no matter how old you are.” It’s true, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m almost 80% influenced by price in many of my purchases.

A reporter from the Atlantic expected to see me at Earth Fare, where he was going to write about how millenials are driving demand through the roof for soymilk and moldy grapes. Unfortunately for him, I had recently decided I was tired of picking through their terrible produce and never arrived. So, the headline read, “Why Do Millennials Hate Groceries?” The reporter’s harebrained theory that I was eating exclusively at restaurants wasn’t entirely wrong – given that SAS’s food is terribly convenient to bring home and eat rather than cooking for myself.

It didn’t take long for the reporting to become sensationalist. I went to a democratic county meeting and the Atlantic jumped in again with the headline, “Can Millennials Save the Democratic Party?” The Washington Post was unimpressed with my activism and responded, “Don’t Count on Millennials to Save the West.”

I’m lazy, entitled, well educated, underemployed, drowning in college debt, and more willing to consider government regulation of the economy than previous generations. In any case, I need to go take a selfie and eat some avocado toast. Just remember that by 2030, I’ll be the one picking the president.

An Uncountably Infinite Number of Sins

I, like all of God’s children, am a sinner. In my life, I commit infinite sins against the ideal set by God. Therefore, when I go to the Pearly Gates, Saint Peter reads my page in his book, which can fit an infinite number of sins, in a second. Therefore, he will take one second to read my sins.

In fact, though, I commit an infinite number of sins in a single day. If I live to be one hundred, over the course of my lifetime I may commit as many as 36,500 times infinity sins! Saint Peter has a trick for this issue. He can fit an infinite number of sins on one page, so he just logs them all on the same page, which he still reads in a second.

But, let’s think about it some more. God is infinite in his goodness, so every infinitesimal segment of each action I take includes infinite sins against God’s ideal. Therefore, Saint Peter has to read infinity  times infinity sins against God’s ideal from his book. Impressively, Saint Peter can still do this in a second. What he in fact does is arrange a table of sins, with instants in the column header and sins in the rows header (here represented in a Google Spreadsheet). Then he reads through diagonally and finishes in a second.

Capture
By reading the infinite list of infinite lists of sins as a single infinite list, Saint Peter can still get through it in a second.

However, consider that by sinning, I affect other people. When I fail to move with divine grace, it encourages other people to be lax when they move. However indirectly, each of my sins is partly to blame for every other sin that will ever be committed in the future by anyone else. Therefore, if we assume humanity will exist on into the infinite future, each sin I commit every instant cannot be accounted for fully until the infinite number of sins resulting from it are accounted for. Each of these sins cannot be accounted for until the sins resulting from each of them are accounted for. Because he cannot account for even one sin from an infinite list without accounting for an infinite number of sins, Saint Peter cannot make any amount of progress reading my sins in any amount of time.

While Peter stands trapped at his podium reading at infinite, but not uncountably infinite, speed the first sin caused by the first sin caused by my first sin in the first instant of my life, I help myself to his keys and unlock the gate. Everyone is welcome in Heaven.

Picture credit: http://thedabbler.co.uk/2015/07/how-to-approach-the-pearly-gates/

Before I Became a Bestseller

I heard that J.K. Rowling wrote her first copy of “The Sorcerer’s Stone” on a typewriter. I heard that Chuck Palahniuk wrote “Fight Club” between screwing bolts in an assembly line. Harper Lee had a rich friend just buy her a year off from work so she could write “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It turns out there are a lot of stories about how people got their writing done before they were famous. Let me tell some stories about before I became (will become) famous.

Each line of code I would write I’d add a comment that was the next line of my story.

I fashioned crude tablets from North Carolina clay on which to write my ideas.

I would whisper my horror stories to my sleeping girlfriend at night and gauge how bad her nightmares were by how tired she was the next morning.

I was so poor I couldn’t afford paper, so I just told my stories to my dog. When I needed to remember what I’d said my dog would bark my stories back to me.

I drank and drank until I didn’t know who I was. I was drunk every day. I still drink like that. I’m drunk right now. What? A novel?

I made a rule for myself that every fifteen seconds I had to write a sentence of my story.

My wealthy uncle died and left me in his will a years’ wages. The next line in his will was that a sniper would have a gun trained at my head for the whole year and would kill me if I did not make sufficient daily progress on my novel. Thanks, Uncle!

I worked cleaning houses alongside sentient, box-headed robots for a month, inspiring me to write my story about sentient, box-headed robots who clean houses.

I listened to the stories I would hear from my Uber drivers, then passed them off as if they had happened to me.

My first novel was written entirely in Microsoft Word 2007. I was so breathtakingly impoverished I could not afford to upgrade to Microsoft Word 2010, which adds hundreds of productivity-enhancing new features.

I spent a year wandering the world, meeting people, taking in sights and having new, mind-expanding experiences. I didn’t get much writing done.

My father demanded a new novel every day before suppertime. I seldom had one ready, and he would calmly inform me what a worthless fool I was and that he didn’t love me. Now I write a bestselling novel every day and my father is dead.

I would have vivid fever dreams when my cat slept on my face, and would shave stories about them into my cat’s fur. I got my big break when I happened to bring my cat to the vet on the same day as Brandon Sanderson.

I lived among the destitute. I ate what they ate, slept where they slept. It wasn’t for a novel or anything, I just couldn’t find a job.

I would fashion stories about my psychiatry patients. The trick is to say you’ve changed the names.

When I was feeling down about my work, I would shout at my wife. When I wasn’t sure what I was doing with my life, I would write an angry email to my congressperson. When I couldn’t think of how to finish a chapter, I would kick a cardboard cutout of my dog. My wife doesn’t let me kick our real dog. I’m going to shout at her again when I get home.

My visit to heaven after a near-fatal car accident inspired me to write my book “101 Health-Food Recipes on a Budget”

My Battlestar Galactica/Big Bang Theory slash-fiction just took off.

My homemade Dungeons and Dragons Campaign just took off.

I opened my phone one day and pressed the button to autocomplete the next word in the sentence over and over again until I had a novel.

This moron just pushed a button to let me write a novel for him and thought he would get the credit. What kind of phone could possibly win the Nobel prize for literature? This kind of phone.

I was writing a shopping list for my trip to Lowe’s Foods and it just took off.

Just a Trifle

I stop cold when I see it on the dessert island. A mexican chocolate trifle. I regulate my breathing. In, out, in, out. What an opportunity. All I have to do now is pick it up and take it to the checkout. Stay calm.

I struggle to keep my face straight as I amble to the island. Keeping myself from rushing feels like I’m moving through chest-deep trifle myself. A cylinder as big as me stacked high with pastries and desserts of all kinds. I have eyes only for the trifle. I glance at the checkout counter as I reach for the dish. No one is there.

A cold sweat breaks out on my still extended arm and I try to still my shaking. “No. No, no, no.” The empty machine. I think of scanning my employee ID card and item into that automaton. Soulless, faceless, humorless. It’s no good! It would be wasted! Calm down. Calm down. Breathe. Excruciatingly, I let my hand fall down limp next to me.

Breathe.

There will be another trifle.

I see a line forming at the checkout. People scanning their items, surrounded by each other. Maybe this will do, I begin to think. Maybe this will do, but wait! The checkout staffer has returned! The young woman, Trisha. She begins scanning items at record speed! I will have only a momentary window of opportunity. In a split-second of loss of control, I fire my arm out like a harpoon at the trifle. A hit! I reel in my winnings and turn to take them to the counter.

Standing in line behind a man so large I can see nothing past him, I shiver with anticipation. What if she doesn’t ask? She must ask. She must ask. Wiping the sweat from my brow with a trembling hand, I hold my trifle just at the edge of eyeshot. This will work. I am a genius. A modern Da Vinci! This trifle. This trifle!

I shift my weight from foot to foot and struggle to see around the man ahead of me, until, suddenly, I am there. Ah- hah. I can do this. Trisha looks at me, and I can feel the energy of the line behind me. It’s now or never! Trisha continues to wait. She’s not asking the question! I need the question! Good lord, woman, ask! Ask!

Then, when it seems as if all hope is lost, Trisha’s chest compresses, bringing air up through her throat. Her mouth opens and begins to shape the outgoing vibrations into words. The words form most beautiful, melodious, mellifluous song that ever has reached my ears.

“May I scan your item?”

In a flash, all self-consciousness is gone. This is me. This is where I belong. This is going to work. My lips move on their own. No thought is necessary. “Oh, this?” I ask, lifting my dessert, “It’s just a trifle.”

Trisha’s mouth curves into the barest hint of what could be a smile. In what can only be described as a divine miracle, time slows for me to enjoy every instant of her joyous expression as my brilliant play on words registers in her mind.

“heh.”

Trisha reaches out and accepts my trifle, scanning it into the machine. She wishes me a nice day.

Now walk away. Don’t look back, just walk away. Suppressing the radiance burning in my chest, I turn and leave. I walk all the way to the tables and turn to leave the building. I force my effortless cool until I make it out and around and all the way back into my office. I close the door and let the feeling inside me escape into a broad grin, then a laugh, then a shout. YEEEESSS! I pump my fist. What a success.

After a few minutes of well-earned celebration, I sit down and place my purchase delicately in front of me. Now just what is a “trifle” anyway?

Boyfriend Insurance

“Hi Sweetie,

I accidentally hit Salar when I was in Chapel Hill the other day. I don’t remember what he said, but I assure you it was fighting words. It’s mostly cosmetic damage but Wen is going to send you a bill for repairs.

Sorry about that.”

Do you get emails like this?

“At 0500 hours last evening we caught your husband outside, Ma’am. He was wearing a shirt with holes all down the side and a ratty old farmer’s hat that was completely out of place. It was very embarrassing, so we had to issue a ticket.”

Does this sound familiar?

“Yes, criminal neglect of household chores is prosecutable in this state, Ma’am. Bail is set at $1,000”

You need boyfriend insurance. Boyfriend insurance will apply to any male partner in your life. For a simple monthly payment, you are covered when your man does something embarassing, breaks something, fails to clean up, or any number of other things men do.

Hi, I’m Sam, and I’m a boyfriend. Ever since Alice got me insured, I’m feeling much more comfortable being my careless, unfashionable, erratically violent self, and our relationship has never been stronger. Don’t try to get your man to change. Get him insured! Get Boyfriend Insurance™.

Playing fast and loose with D&D

As a new dungeon master, one who has already complained about the tabletop role playing game’s restrictive mythology and overwhelmingly combat-oriented gameplay, I like to take an open-ended approach. Here are some examples of what I have already done and how my players have reacted.

Giant spiders in a dungeon are not part of the dungeon’s evil plan, but mere inhabitants.  In fact, in my dungeon they were serving a useful purpose – eating the massive supply of zombies that the dungeon was producing.  They were so pleased with the preponderance of food that they set up their egg sack in the dungeon, which fortunately they were able to move out before the adventurers caused the dungeon to sink back into the earth from which it came.

What made this especially fun with my party was that we had a druid. Being sometimes a spider herself, she is able to understand the clicks and hisses of the giant spiders.  At first I whispered in her player’s ear what the spiders were saying to her and to each other, but then I switched to text messages. Colleen, for reasons of her own, decided not to communicate the spiders’ messages to her party.  I may get all of my players’ phone numbers so that I can give player-specific information when necessary.

Also, rather than being helpless victims of monsters and passive spectators of heroic glory, townsfolk will often take action against the dungeons that plague them.  Thus far, the townsfolk have noted the predictable pattern in which the zombie invasion occurred and set up a bonfire to burn them up before they can get into town.

Not to say I didn’t have any challenges.

One thing that surprised me when I was trying to make my own scenario was how well-versed some of the players were in D&D mythology. They gave me a lot of trouble for having a non-metallic dragon be the supposedly benevolent ruler of a small country, as it is well known that dragons of solid colors are evil and hate humanoids.  I was not surprised that they were curious, but even so they were good at getting information out of me. One of my non-player characters ended up being much more knowledgeable than he probably should’ve been, given his apparent disinterest in anything to do with the main quest.  One of the players was intent on laying bare the nonsense at the heart of what I was asking them to do, pointing out that if they were helping a pair of colossal dragons it was difficult to imagine what task they could solve that the dragons could not. At first my retired, cynical wizard character, who had actually been encouraging the party not to get involved just shrugged. Unfortunately, I then lost my cool and he suddenly launched into a pep talk about how overwhelming the odds seemed when he and his party saved the multiverse from the great necromancer thirty years ago. Not in character. Bad dungeon mastering.

When my characters were following the road to the main city, they found the bridge was out.  I had some spiders follow the river north to another crossing, and even had one of the friendly NPCs suggest north was the way to go, but my party is delightfully stubborn.  They felled a tree and we role played all the skill checks that each of them would need to make their way across.  Almost all of them fell in the water, but they had concocted a clever rope system that would prevent them from being washed away.  This is the kind of thing that I love to do in any game – find easy solutions to ostensibly tough problems. They are skipping a significant chunk of the content in that forest, but not the plot-important stuff, so it’s fine.

Cover image from: http://sandara.deviantart.com/art/White-Dragon-391820143

Mycon Clamn, King of Mars

In 2046,  tech entrepreneur Mycon Clamn established a Mars colony. It was the first time in history a western civilization established a colony without displacing or subjugating anyone, and was for that and many other reasons a cause for celebration.  Being in complete control of the space travel equipment required to access the colony, Clamn’s company StarTech dictated the laws on Mars. The first colonists knew they needed supplies, so the political will to obey was powerful in the first few decades. Unlike on Earth, if you quit your job at StarTech you had to wait for up to six months to be picked up during the next supply shipment. That was plenty of time for disgruntled colony-mates to arrange an accident for you in the dangerous early Mars environment. The same went for firing someone. These supply shipments therefore tended to coincide with sudden mass firings and quittings. It was hard to say if the quittings or firings were more awkward because management often knew when a firing was coming and could arrange for a replacement to arrive on a supply ship, but then again, looking at the number of new people on a supply ship, one could estimate how many layoffs there might be on a given shipment sol. A sol is the term for a Mars day, roughly the length of one Earth day.

Naturally, the colony was encouraged to be fertile. Within two Mars decades,  (roughly four Earth decades) the majority of the inhabitants were native Martians. Being born into a corporation was something not considered before, and native Martians were welcome to leave their home and their families and pursue whatever work they wished on Earth. The now venerable Clamn had even managed to negotiate a simple path to American citizenship for Martian immigrants over some protest. If you stayed on Mars, though, you worked for StarTech.

In 2101, with the passing of Mycon Clamn, StarTech was set to come under new management. The Martians, now mostly second-generation natives, had little sense of what America, or even Earth, was like. A few of their kind were respected in StarTech and had high positions. They thought the natural next step would be to give StarTech the first ever Martian CEO. After much clamoring and political fighting over who among them would have the honor, the Martians were astounded to learn that the successor had already been selected from StarTech headquarters on Earth. Barring radical intervention from the exclusively Earthling board of directors, no Martian would run the company for another several decades at least.

This cast a pall over the Mars StarTech colony, now a city roughly the size of 2016 Boston, Massachusetts with functioning solar farms and agriculture and just beginning to turn a profit with its tourism industry for the very wealthy. It also was just beginning to form its own history and culture. Mars was a rough climate founded on largely libertarian principles including free speech, and management was not so thin-skinned as to punish anyone for complaining about a perceived injustice on the part of the Earthling rulers. They were happy to ignore such complaints until some of the younger Martians began to act out, refusing to work for StarTech and demanding the right to live as free Martians.

In 2106 the largest ever set of firings from the StarTech corporation’s Mars branch sent over two thousand young, unskilled Martians to Earth. The firings numbered twice that, but many Martians refused to go to Earth, and hid instead until the ship had left. The Martians sent to Earth arrived in Florida and were left outside the Cape Canaveral launch station with no contacts. With the cost of space transportation automatically deducted from their meager savings, they were largely broke. Martians by this point were unusual but not rare or newsworthy, so they were alone. A few got money transfers from their on-colony parents or other more fortunate relatives and friends, others found menial work. Some happened upon other rebellious organizations and got food and shelter. Others were not so lucky.

Meanwhile on Mars, there were now Martians who did not work for StarTech. Their seeming ability to stay hidden so easily gave truth to the rumors about disguised anti-StarTech sentiment among the general Martian public.

In 2116, the Earthling head of Mars operations, the highest ranking on-planet position, died in a freak accident when the oxygen to his bedchamber became cut off in the night. His second in command, a native Martian, told the planet’s denizens that they would no longer be sending their profits to or taking orders from Earth. Instead they would rule themselves, with him as the benevolent leader, and use their resources to enrich the lives of Mars’s own inhabitants.

Now we don’t hear much from Mars. StarTech does not publish their communications with the former colony and has refused to send more ships there. Earthbound Martians living off of their loved ones are now rapidly joining the ranks of expat Martian homeless. We hear a lot about Mars. Everyone has their opinion about whether they’re a modern example of the heroic shrugging off of colonial chains or simply communist thugs claiming high morals so their leaders can snub Earth and enrich themselves, and everyone seems to have a leak to back up their side of the argument.

Maybe in 2126 another company will be able to contact Mars and open up trade. Maybe in 2136 we’ll have tourism again, or even immigration, but in some way that won’t make the Martians hate us. Wiping the sweat from my brow in the sweltering heat and looking from my hoe in the dry, cracked earth up across the withered landscape towards the sky, I can’t help but hope so. I’ve always wanted to visit Mars.