Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Time That Has Passed

It's been ten years already. Hard to imagine it's been that long.

So much has happened since the attacks on the World Trade Center. Technology has been improving since 2001—computers have shrunk to the size of cellphones, global communication has been perfected with programs like Skype, Facebook, and I would even include Steam in this (among many others). Technology costs have plummeted, and the credo “Size matters not” is becoming even more applicable.

The economy has been plummeting since 2001. Jobs are becoming increasingly harder to come by, few people will be secure in their retirement, and the Dow Jones plummeted below 10,000, sending the global markets into a tailspin. Millions of people have suffered from the Housing market crashes, and from scumbags like Bernie Madoff who steal money from hardworking people.

Since 2001, we have become involved in several wars, mainly in the Middle East. Afghanistan has been invaded and bombed, its Taliban regime removed from power (though not shut down). Saddam Hussein and his two sons have been killed in Iraq, and almost ten years after the attacks, Osama bin Laden has reportedly been killed as well. Civil unrest has cropped up in Egypt and Libya, with US and global aid being sent to aid the rebellious forces of the people, who are sick and tired of being oppressed by tyrants like Muammar Gaddafi. God only knows if the next regime will be better or worse, as the idea of liberty and equality isn't a welcomed concept “over there.”

Life for us Americans have changed as well. Rules have become stricter, and the government could be watching our every move and we would not know it until the black helicopters swooped us up from our beds. Unconstitutional laws such as the Patriot Act keep us paranoid enough to watch what we say on the phones and Internet, and acts such as “No Child Left Behind” ensure that all schoolchildren, regardless of ethnicity or general background, have an equal opportunity to fail and become hopeless dropouts.

But this isn't a political rant. There is no single source to point fingers at, whether they be Republican or Democrat, Christian, Jew, or Muslim. I could scream myself hoarse for months, criticizing everything and everyone that has brought us to where we are today.

But what's the sense in that?

I thank my lucky charms that, despite these series of unfortunate events, I can still criticize the government, I can still exercise my right to bear arms, and I can still live my life the way I want to live it. This decade has brought about many changes, but these basic ideas have never changed. I am free, and I will always be free, no matter who tries to squelch my voice, no matter who tries to scare me into silence.

I will never forget 9/11. I will never forget the victims of this senseless act of violence, and of the heroes who lived and died trying to save lives. These attacks reverberate on a global scale—the 7/7 bombings of the Underground in England, and the commuter train bombings of Madrid all have some type of connection to the 9/11 attacks. I send my condolences to everyone who has had to suffer through these horrible acts, and to the others that I have not been able to mention.

Can terrorism be truly extinguished? Will there be a time when we may put down our arms and finally learn to tolerate everyone's cultural differences? That day might come, but I doubt any of us will live to see it. And until that day comes, we will have to keep our weapons polished and our bayonets sharp. The only way to stop others from taking away our freedom is to be ready and able to defend ourselves.

That is the only certainty.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cop-Out Weekend (COW) #2--"An Uneventful Day"

An Uneventful Day

Sean had to admit, the dull rumble off in the distance was a bit peculiar. He didn’t think the area he was hiking around lay atop a major fault-line, but the way the ground seemed to vibrate made him think otherwise. Is there an earthquake coming? he thought to himself, glancing around to see if there was any place he could take shelter. All he could see were immensely tall pine trees, and large jagged rocks strewn about the area, which didn’t comfort him much. Why the hell didn’t Mother Nature create a doorframe shaped tree?

Sean, being a man of the woods, had decided to climb the mountain that lay behind his house, next to a thick pine forest. The Mount Gargantula was gargantuan, and was built almost like an Aztec pyramid, but he didn’t plan on going up to the peak—it would take all day just to get that far, and he had other things he had to do. He settled for a short hike, one that would take only an hour or so, at the first flat spot he encountered in the naturally tiered mountain. An earthquake, at best, would probably only slow him down for a couple of minutes, but his vivid imagination pictured himself being swallowed up by the earth itself. If only he had packed a bigger lunch.

Sean, wearing a large flannel jacket and hat with obnoxious-looking ear flaps, rubbed his brown rough beard. He could’ve sworn he just heard someone yelling. Actually, make that a whole slew of people yelling. The rumbling seemed to be getting louder as well. It was hard for him to tell where the yelling was coming from, the trees deflecting the sound waves around him. The rumbling noise became more defined—it almost sounded like a bunch of wild men were charging up on Sean’s exact spot. Sean chuckled to himself, knowing that such a thought was silly—no one in fifty miles lived around here, except for himself. No large group of people would be running pell-mell at him, not here.

Sean turned around, wanting to continue on his hike, but suddenly saw a large group of people running pell-mell at him. Here. With only a brief look at the men approaching him, he noticed most of them had swords or axes raised above their heads, and that their garb consisted mostly of shaggy furs. They almost looked like Huns or Visigoths—at least if all of the movies he watched were accurate.

With a yelp, Sean threw his weight off the trail he knew so very well, just as the first of the mad dashers flew past him. The ground moved with great fervor, as did the hell-bent barbarians, while Sean laid face-first on the ground, praying to whatever god he worshiped that he remembered to unplug his coffeemaker before leaving. He had a feeling his day was going to get a lot longer, with the bloodthirsty raiders' appearance on the mountain, and if his wife came home and found burnt coffee smoking up the joint she would go apeshit on him. Damn his accursed memory!

Sean, once the thunderous roar of the barbarians dulled into a distant rumble once again, rose to feet, and brushed off the dirt and leaves that had accumulated on his flannel jacket. Standing there for a second, Sean had to admit, the dull rumble off in the distance was a bit peculiar. Is there an earthquake coming? he thought to himself, glancing around to see if there was any place he could take shelter. Peering at the ground, he noticed a large number of footprints scattered around on the trail. He found that peculiar as well—it almost seemed as if, just a moment before, a large group of people had come running pell-mell at him. Sean chuckled to himself, knowing that such a thought was silly—no one in fifty miles lived around here, except for himself. Then how the hell did all these footprints get here? They seemed to be heading in the same direction he was going—up the mountain—so he figured that maybe he'd get an answer if he resumed his walk in the woods. Brushing himself off once again for good measure, Sean hiked up his backpack, and hiked further up the trail, content in knowing the day would be uneventful and pleasant.

* * * * *

After several hours of hiking, Sean sat down by a large maple tree. He had managed to reach the first flat spot the mountain contained, and decided to take a small break. It would probably take several more hours to reach the next flat spot, so he was in no hurry. He slipped the backpack's shoulder straps off his arm, and began rummaging through it, looking for his granola bars and canteen, cursing and grumbling at his inability to locate them.

Suddenly he heard a noise. It almost sounded like an unnaturally high-pitched girl was giggling somewhere nearby. He froze, unnerved, with his hand still in his backpack. He glanced to his left and to his right and saw no one. Thinking maybe his imagination was playing tricks on him; he shook his head and continued his rummaging.

There it was again—that same high-pitched giggle. Sean slowly rose to his feet, leaning his pack up against the tree. He took a few steps away from the tree, the crunching pine needles sounding unnaturally loud beneath his feet. He looked this way and that, and called out, “Who goes there?”

The ground suddenly shook violently, and a rumble of thunder is heard in the distance. The giggle suddenly turns into a shrill scream, and a bolt of lightning crashes down into the earth just two feet away from Sean, blasting away the leaves and leaving a thick layer of smoke. Sean covered his eyes with his hands, but a bluish streak of light from the bolt illuminated his eye lids. After a brief pause, he slowly lowered his hands and looked at the spot where the lightning bolt struck. Within the ring of charred dirt and leaves, Sean noticed what appeared to be a small cricket peering up at him. The cricket rubbed its legs together, and the high-pitched giggle was heard yet again.

“Hi!” the cricket said to the wide-eyed and flabbergasted hiker. “I’m Jimbo! What’s your name?”

Sean reminded himself that breathing would prevent him from passing out, and he simply replied with, “Um…you now speak to Sean Krentin. He is—er—delighted to meet you.” He could hardly believe he was speaking with an insect that had just appeared there after a bolt of lightning nearly turned him into a charcoal briquette.

“Hi Sean! Heeheeheeheehee! Watcha doing?”

He just couldn't make sense of it. A talking cricket? Were the mushrooms on his pizza last night that strong? Did he even have pizza last night? God, he could barely even remember what he had been eating a minute ago! Sean rubbed the temples of his agonizing head and moaned. He should have just stayed in bed this morning.

“Uh...Sean was going for a hike up the mountain, but he has suddenly decided to go home.”

“Heeheeheeheehee! You talk funny!” The cricket hopped up and down excitedly.

Sean rubbed his head again. Everyone thought it was odd or funny how he always talked and thought in the third person. Some people found him arrogant; others thought he had a metal problem. He just thought it sounded cool, and it stuck with him from the very first moment he learned to talk.

“Sean supposes it does sound a little funny, but apologizes for he must make haste. He just remembered that he forgot to turn the gas off his stove, and his wife will go apeshit on him if he doesn't shut it off before she gets back.” He couldn't quite remember if it was the stove or the coffeemaker he forgot to shut off, but figured it was a good enough excuse.

“Heeheehee! No! Stay and talk!” The cricket took a few hops, closer to Sean. “I want to see how everything is going to play out, and I want you to be around for it too!”

How everything is going to play out? Huh? Sean just about had enough of this. Digging in his heels, he looked at the cricket fiercely and said, “Look, Sean has no idea what in the hell is going on here, but here he is, talking to a giggly, god damned cricket, all the while not even knowing if he left his frikkin' stove or coffeemaker on! And to make matters worse, he almost got crispified by the lightning bolt that brought you here in the first place! He's had it! He's out of here!” He spun around and reached for his backpack. The cricket started its high-pitched giggling again, but it slowly deepened into a furious roaring noise, the ground vibrating more and more as the pitch lowered. Evil laughter reverberated off the trees and the surrounding mountains, strengthening the power of it with a ceaseless echo.

The cricket exclaimed with an unnaturally deep voice, “NO! You will stay! You must stay! The power of Mishnel compels you! The power of Mishnel compels you!”

If Sean had been close to freaking out before, then no words would be able to describe what he felt now. Frozen in place, his hand hovering over the strap of his backpack, he realized that he was now well and truly fucked. He slowly leaned back into a standing position, and turned around to look at the cricket. The cricket stared back, its compound eyes—at least Sean thought they were compound eyes; insect biology was never his strong-suit—glowing red. Sean couldn't help but notice that the leaves around the puny insect were beginning to shrivel and smolder.

But suddenly, the cricket's eyes stopped glowing, and it hopped up and down once again giggling to itself. “Good boy!” the cricket said. “Good boy!” Sean could only stare, not wanting to truly test this thing's patience—or its power.

“Heeheeheeheehee! I've been a naughty Ageneotettix deorum! Heehee! I've done something very naughty!"

Sean swallowed, and managed to find his voice. "Er—Sean is most curious—what naughty thing have you done, er...Jimbo was it?"

The cricket jumped and somersaulted in place euphorically. "You wouldn't believe what I managed to pull off at the top of the mountain! Heehee! I ensured the very doom of the entire universe at the temple at the summit of the mountain! Everything will soon begin to unravel like a sweater with a loose thread—it’s happening already!” Sean looked on incredulously, not entirely sure he understood what the cricket was saying. “Time is beginning to condense and fall apart, and soon the universe will be thrown into pure chaos! And there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it!”

Sean felt like his grip on reality was slipping. He had no idea what on earth that damn insect was rambling about. “Time is falling apart and the universe will be thrown in chaos? How, why, and huh?

The cricket giggled excitedly once again. “There is a temple at the summit of the mountain—it was built by a group of mysterious cultists several millennia ago. No one knows its true name, but the cult originated from a place you humans now call Landersville, in Texas. The cultists were driven out of the area by rivals who lived nearby, and they migrated to this place, to the summit of this mountain. Upon arrival, they built a small village and a temple, and lived happy prosperous lives—as happy as their tenets would allow them to, anyway. The centuries went by, and for reasons few know of—including myself—they all disappeared, including the buildings. It was like their entire civilization had been erased off of the face of the earth.” The cricket bounced up and giggled again. “Except for the temple. It lies there still, ready for someone with the proper power to access its energy and alter the multiverse in boundless ways. One such as me. Heeheeheehee!”

Sean could barely wrap his head around what Jimbo was saying, but figured as long as he kept the thing talking, he might have a chance at survival. “So, er...Sean is curious as to why you've done this in the first place. He finds it fascinating, and wonders what possible benefits could be derived from such a...whatever you were just talking about.” Sean grinned feebly at the end, trying to look amicable, but doing a bad job of it.

The cricket twitched suddenly, and began scratching itself with its hind legs. “Wouldn't you like to know?” it responded seductively.

Before Sean could respond, he suddenly noticed a distant rumble at seemed to be getting louder. He glanced at the cricket, trying to see if maybe it was using its strange powers for some purpose, but for all he could tell it was still just scratching itself. The rumble got louder and louder, and he heard people emitting what sounded like battle cries. Suddenly, from further up the trail, Sean saw a large group of people, with axes and swords raised above their heads, running with great fervor to where the cricket was standing. They resembled Mongols or Huns, in Sean's eye, and had he not just been talking to a cricket about the unraveling of the universe, he probably would have been most intrigued—not to mention utterly confused—by their arrival. The swarm of men stopped, and one of the lead men pointed towards the cricket and yelled out, “There it is! The fiend that plucked us from our ancestral home, and brought us to this hell! Kill it!”

The cricket turned their way slowly, and began giggling. “Bring it on!” As the horde of barbarians let loose with a cacophony of battle cries, Sean had to cover his ears. The crickets eyes turned red once more and the air around it seemed to shimmer and spark with some unseen energy. The horde charged the cricket, the first men in line bringing their weapons to bear on the insect. With a sadistic laugh, the cricket suddenly spewed a blazing ball of fire from its mouth, slamming into the fore-runners, and setting them ablaze. They screamed and fell to the dirt, trying to put the fires out by rolling around. The men behind them stopped suddenly, their bravado stymied by the cricket's vulgar display of power.

Sean, seeing the cricket was focused mainly on the barbarians, quickly grabbed his pack and made a run for it up the mountain, past the horde that it seemed were quickly thinking up their next strategy. “We'll get some men behind it and we'll flank it! We'll teach that demon a lesson it so rightfully deserves!” The last thing Sean heard as he ran up the trail were screams of agony and rage and large explosions.

* * * * *

As Sean hiked further up the trail, he realized that he forgot to bring his tent and extra food for dinner. If he planned on going to the top from the start, then why didn't he remember to bring that stuff? He could always forage for food, he supposed....

Sean could hear a distant booming noise in the distance, bouncing off the mountains. Was it hunting season already? It almost seemed like yesterday he had put away his rifle.

Several more hours had gone by, and now Sean was nearing the summit. It had been a long hike, and he was starting to feel worn down from all of the walking, but he felt refreshed from it as well. He felt he had really enjoyed the simplicity of nature today, and his pleasant mood reflected this. Ah, what a glorious uneventful day!

Sean walked a few more minutes on the flat terrain, refreshing his memory on the lay of the land, trying to find a good place to call it in for the night. He had to admit, the forest seemed unusually quiet now—there were no birds chirping, no squirrels and chipmunks searching for things to eat. It almost seemed as if, the moment he reached the top of the mountain, all the noise had just disappeared suddenly. Sean found it kind of eerie.

And then he suddenly saw a large stone structure. It looked like it had been there for many years, the stone walls and columns that lay around the entrance looking weathered and cracked. Several small arches lined the structure, and a strange metal framework inside the arches indicated that it once probably held stained-glass designs. Stone stairs led up into a wide arched doorway. It was an ominous sight to Sean's eyes.

Sean scratched his head. He had no memory of this building being all the way up here. But yet again, the mountain was large, as was the summit, and he supposed he might have missed it during all of his other escapades up the mountain. His curiosity was chomping at the bit, however, and he scaled the steps and entered the building.

The interior was almost entirely made of stone. Numerous stone pews lined up the sides of what looked to be an assembly hall. Broken rocks and detritus lay scattered among the floor and the pews, indicating just how badly kept the place was. Ahead, beyond the pews lay a simple altar with a chalice on top. The chalice was black, but lined with red claw-like decorations that ran across the cup and along the bottom. Something was glowing a gold color inside the cup, which caught Sean's attention. He made a beeline for the chalice, and noticed a golden, sparkling liquid resting in the cup. As he got close, he thought he could hear the wind pick up around him, almost as if someone was whispering to him from afar. The closer he was, the more numerous the whispers he could hear. The chalice itself seemed to be humming, and the golden liquid glowed and steamed, indicating warmth in a cold day. Sean just couldn't figure out the significance of the golden liquid, or the chalice.

But then he had an epiphany—it was a chamber pot with a light bulb inside it!

Sean, his mouth agape, picked up the chalice, and marveled at the novelty of such a thing, the whispering wind intensifying, almost as if it was begging him to put it down. This would be so cool to show to my friends! he thought. No longer, in the middle of a cold night while camping out, would he have to find a flashlight and stumble over to the nearest tree in order to piddle—he could do it right in the tent, and stay warm at the same time! Sean dumped what was most obviously urine on the floor, and looked on the bottom for the on/off switch for the light bulb. The wind shrieked like a dull whistle, but Sean paid little attention to it, as he was trying to figure out what kind of batteries the thing took, and where they were stored.

But when the building suddenly shook, his focus was forced away from the chamber pot. He heard a high-pitched giggling noise, and with a sudden flash of light a cricket suddenly appeared on the table where the chalice was. Sean yelped, not expecting such an unexpected thing to occur. The cricket let out another high-pitched giggle, but it slowly turned into an agonizing wail, as if some kid had just pulled its legs off. Its eyes glowed an unnatural red color.

“You fool!” the cricket exclaimed. “Do you realize what you just did? The blood of a Shrin inside that chalice was the power that was unraveling everything, and bringing it all into chaos! This universe is a barrier that keeps my master, Mishnel of Kre'sh, from conquering the rest of the multiverse! All of the damage I have wrought will be reversed because you thought that blasted thing was a chamber pot! Damn you!”

Sean could only stare wide-eyed at the insect that had just spouted off some inane gibberish. Shrin? Mishnel of Kre'sh? The multiverse???

“You have no idea what my master will do to me now that I have been foiled—foiled by a mere mortal!” As the cricket spoke, Sean suddenly saw a large group of shaggy-furred men appear in the entry way, looking on at the conversation. The church began to shake violently, chunks of the very walls and ceiling beginning to crumble and fall to the ground. “He will remember you too, Sean Krentin, as being the one who stopped his plan for the domination of all! You will pay for this, I swear it! And now the unraveling must come to an end!”

An explosive force suddenly knocked Sean away from the altar. He landed on his backpack, which cushioned the landing, but he was nonetheless dazed. Looking up, he saw what he could only describe as a tear in the very fabric of the world itself hovering over the altar. The dark gash in space, lined with blue electrical energy, seemed to warp the air as well, as if it yearned to suck everything inside it. Pieces of the walls and ceiling began to break apart and fall—defying all laws of physics—into the gash. Sean rose to feet, watching in awe. His eyes fixated on the tear, he barely noticed the barbarians from the entrance rushing past him, jumping into the tear as well, as the temple broke before his very eyes. The ceiling was all gone, and the walls and pews were being devoured as well, as suddenly what looked to be a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex appeared over the crumbling walls, roaring and flailing its limbs while it fell into the tear. Other phantoms of the past appeared before Sean's eyes, and drifted into the void, no doubt to be sorted and returned back to their own time. Sean was inches away from fainting.

The cricket, glared at Sean for the last time. “You may want to run. When I finally get my chance to return here, I will find you, and I will kill you—in the most indecent way possible! You suck!” The cricket, screaming and wailing all the while, finally let itself get sucked into the tear as well. Sean, chalice still in hand, failed to hesitate, and he turned and ran from the temple, as the floor was starting to be devoured. He reached the bottom of the stairs, just as the final piece of the temple was claimed by the rift. Without looking back, Sean heard a final explosion, and he made a mad dash for the hiking trail down the mountain. He had no idea what the hell just happened, but he felt as if he was truly lucky to be alive. His wife would not believe her ears when he told her what happened this day!

* * * * *

“And just where the hell have you been all day!?” my wife asked, as I stumbled out of the woods, panting from exhaustion. I couldn't exactly remember why I had been in such a hurry to get down, but I believed that it had have been for a good reason. But now that I was off Mount Gargantula, and staring at my wife's infuriated countenance, I suddenly questioned whether my haste had been a good idea or not.

“Um, I went for a hike, and I guess I just got caught up in nature's splendor. I'm sorry; I thought I told you I was going for a hike?”

She gave me an odd look. “You're speaking funny. Are you feeling alright?”

I gave her a blank look in response, and I blinked once or twice. “Um...isn't this how I've always talked?” I wanted to get in the house and take a breather, not argue over how I talk. My accent couldn't have changed that quickly during the hike! “It's...uh...starting to get dark, but I find I can't quite see the house. Where is it?”

My wife reached over and smacked me in the face. “You forgot to turn off the dryer before you left! The house burnt down!”

I stared at her. “...Oh. I thought I forgot to turn something off.”

She rolled her eyes. “Of all the people I had to marry....Well, I'm glad to hear you had such a fine time on that hike! Real uneventful and all that! Do you want to hear how my day was now?” I nodded, not really having much of a choice anyway. I guess we can't all have uneventful days like me.