Dec 7, 2016

The Road to Armageddon - Christy

The Last Coven - The Tome of Bill 8 - is coming. It's the end of this crazy road, so to speak. To help celebrate this grand finale, I'll be posting short stories detailing snippets from the lives of various characters from series.  We've heard from Bill, Sally, and Sheila.  Now it's time to get inside the head of some of the others, and let them take center stage for a few moments.

-The below story takes place roughly halfway between the events of Bill The Vampire and Scary Dead Things

Tom finds her ... bewitching

I step outside and spot my quarry. He’s sitting on a concrete stoop in front of a fountain, enjoying a hotdog he must have purchased for lunch. He looks so normal, so mundane, but I know he’s not. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a slave to darkness, a thrall.

I know that what I am doing is necessary for the survival of my people. If I fail in my mission then disaster could strike. Our lives, our entire history, could be erased, scorched from the face of this world in a torrent of white fire. The prophecy is quite clear on that point.

Nevertheless, I hesitate in approaching him. Though I know what must be done, a part of me resents the role I am forced to play. For over a decade I’ve studied the art under Mentor Decker. I have worked hard to perfect my craft, spent many a sleepless night invested in one form of advanced spell-crafting or another. I have been called a prodigy, a natural adept. Indeed, my master has often told me that I am his favored pupil, his trusted second in our coven.

Yet, here I am, being asked to play the part of the whore, to willingly give my body to this shell of a man who sits before me. None of my sisters have drawn such a demeaning task. Most of them sit and wait – scrying the portents, looking for signs. The master has assured me that he too is forced to suffer for this task, gathering intelligence so as to fend off our fate. Yet, I’ve seen him. He used his magic to secure a place of power within the beast’s workplace, supposedly a facade until he was ready to strike.

Despite his claims otherwise, I have caught him admiring the expensive suits he has procured for his new station, the shiny Rolexes he now wears. I asked him why not just create the illusion of such, a glamour to fool the lesser minds, but he waved me off. He told me illusions can be defeated, that the stakes were too high for such. We must make this as real as possible so as to remain undetected.

So, too, was his logic upon my suggestion to simply ensnare this human thrall. Mind magic has always been a specialty of mine. Such a thing would be child’s play.

“No!” Mentor Decker had roared. “Do you not understand what is happening here, child? The Freewill, the dreaded Night Spawn, has been reborn. Their power is reputed to be legendary. Who knows what foul compulsions he has placed upon the minds of the humans who serve him? If you are found out, it will be our undoing, for his rebirth heralds the coming of our destroyer!”

The fury in my master’s eyes convinced me to question him no further. But now, with my assigned task finally at hand, I find myself wondering whether there was something else in his eyes too. It is nearly heresy to think it. He is my mentor, my teacher, practically a second father to me. But I can’t help but wonder if he is being driven mad by the events that are transpiring.

I almost turn around and go back to the desk that has been my daytime home for the past three months. It is not nearly as prestigious a position as that which my mentor procured for himself. My job is that of a mere marketing coordinator in the firm within which my quarry bides his time. However, since day one, I have been continually surprised to find that I actually enjoy my work assignments. Not only that, but I’m good at my job too. It shouldn’t be surprising. As a Magi, I have been continually taught to think outside the realms of the box that humanity seems intent on sequestering itself in. Nevertheless, I would be lying to myself if I were to claim I wasn’t growing fond of this fa├žade of normalcy I have undertaken.

That thought stops me in my tracks. If I fail, there won’t be any normalcy – not for me, my sisters, my mentor, or any of the other Magi who live in the shadows of this world. They will all burn in the white fires of so-called faith. None of them deserve that fate.

I turn back and steel myself for what is to come. Fear grips my stomach, not only for what I must do, but what it could mean for me. This human is the thrall of the Freewill. There is no telling what dark machinations have been put in place in his mind. I will defend myself if needed, but I have no delusions. Mentor Decker has warned me of the power against which I am positioning myself.

Collecting my will around me, focused on protecting my mind against the evil influence I am about to make contact with, I step forward and offer a tentative, “Hi.”

He looks up at me mid-bite, his eyes widening in surprise. Despite knowing what he is, I can’t help but think he has a comical look about him thanks in part to the smear of mustard on the side of his mouth. “Um...”

“You’re Tom, right? From Accounting.”

An almost panicked look appears on his face. Perhaps it was a mistake to announce that I knew his name. He’s no doubt been warned against such things. I brace myself for whatever comes next. My mentor has prepared me well. Despite lacking the power of their masters, thralls will not hesitate to fight or die to protect those pulling their strings.

He stands up, facing me. I begin to gather power inside my closed fist, but remember that it’s midday in the busiest city of the country. I need to be careful. I prepare to cast a glamour around us, one that will let me deal with this fiend should the need arise.

The thrall raises his right hand and holds it out toward me. “Nice to meet you. I ... think I’ve seen you around. Marketing, right?”

“Yes. Christy, Christy Fenton.” I play along, tentatively grasping his hand with my own. I’d been dreading his touch, wondering whether it would corrupt me. I’ve never had direct contact with either a vampire or those under their spell. Despite what I’ve been taught, I don’t know what to expect. But his hand is warm, surprisingly normal feeling – if a bit clammy. Unfortunately, in my nervous haste, I forget to dismiss the power gathering in my own. He jumps back at making contact with me. My cover is blown. Combat is only moments...

“Whoa. Holy static electricity, Batman!” He laughs. “It’s nice to meet you. Shocking, too.”

Something about his voice is disarming. My paranoia insists it’s some dark thrall power I’m not aware of, but somehow I don’t think so. His tone is so ... innocent.

An awkward silence ensues between us as I try to process this.

After a moment, he steps back, and asks, quite matter of factly, “So ... would you like a bite of my hotdog?” I open my mouth to reply, but can’t think of an answer to that. “I mean, not mine. I ... could ... get you your own,” he stammers. “That is, unless you really want to bite mine.”

My mouth stretches to a grin, then to a full blown smile. Within the next second, I’m laughing. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am.

“That was lame, wasn’t it?”

“It was,” I reply, but the smile on his face tells me he’s not insulted in the least. “And you have mustard on your face.”

That sends him into a near panic of using the sleeve of his sports coat as a napkin, leaving a yellow smear on it. “Oh, fuck me sideways with Man-At-Arms!” He turns and smiles sheepishly at me. “Sorry. So much for first impressions, eh?”

The funny thing is, he’s wrong. A part of me still insists I should keep my guard up, be prepared for anything, but nevertheless I just can’t seem to summon that earlier dread I was feeling.

Next - GAN

Nov 28, 2016


Coming Soon! ... Hopefully!
THE LAST COVEN (The Tome of Bill 8) is coming.

This is it! The grand finale to The Tome of Bill series.

Bill's world is in shambles following his monumental ass-kicking at the hands of Ib. Sadly, the rest of the planet isn't exactly in great shape either.

Something needs to be done to stop it all and it looks like that something is the last Freewill and his remaining friends.

The only question is how?

From the buildings of New York City, to the woods of Canada, to the bowels of the Earth, Bill must finally master his powers so as to put an end to the evil that threatens to consume us all. No easy task.

Even if he somehow manages to do all that, though, his destiny still awaits. The final battle of good vs. evil. If he loses, he dies. But if he wins, everyone and everything he's fought for will be fucked.

Some days it really sucks to be the chosen one.

Turns out a full stomach trumped a full mind and I ended up conking out for a while anyway. One benefit of vampire physiology was needing less than half the rest I'd needed when I still had a heartbeat. So even though it had probably only been a few hours, I awoke nice and refreshed ... and thankfully without a pair of crazy green eyes staring down at me. Most importantly, the anger I'd been feeling, the same that I'd let boil over at Sheila, seemed to have receded. Amazing what a little good news and a bit of sleep could do.

I glanced over at my clock in the dark room, but the display was out. Maybe I'd kicked the cord from the socket at some point. Thinking nothing of it, I hopped out of bed and hit the light switch. Darkness remained.

Odd, considering the Apollo what-the-fuck down in the basement. Oh well, maybe it was just the shitty wiring in this place. That I hadn't woken up in a crater told me that whatever was going on was probably somewhat less than cataclysmic. Besides, what did it matter? I could see in the dark.

The living room was quiet and likewise unlit. The power was out there too. Unfortunately, it was the same in the kitchen, meaning the refrigerator was off. That was fine. I had a backup plan. I quickly moved the blood into our freezer. Thanks to years of neglecting to ever defrost it, the walls were solid ice. Not great for the appliance's lifespan, but it made a damn handy emergency icebox during outages.

The blood situation taken care of for the moment, I decided to grab a quick shower. Afterwards, I could meander down and ask Christy when she planned to plug her supernatural generator back in. I didn't smell any liquefied human remains in the air, a scent that was now burned into my olfactory bulbs, so deemed it safe that the situation didn't require immediate Freewill intervention.

Fortunately, the water heater in the building was entirely gas, so my shower wasn't ball-shriveling cold. Sadly, I wasn't quite in the mood for any me time. The presence of Sheila and Sally in the building had made for some good stress relief in days past. Angry jerking off wasn't quite the same as angry sex – or so I had to assume – but it got the job done. But with Gan back in the picture and in close proximity, no fucking way. Door locked or not, the miniature human tornado didn't seem to grasp the concept of personal space. The very last thing I wanted in this entire world – even less than ending up a slave, destined to kiss Sasquatch ass for all eternity – was to have Gan kick in the door while I had my dick in my hand. No, sir, I did not want that.

As if the thought of Gan wasn't enough to cause little Dr. Death to go hide in the shadows, I was just finishing up washing my hair when another unwanted guest reared his ugly head, or skull in this case.

You dare judge me and then perform this foul heresy?!

I see Christy decided to wake up Harry Decker for some reason or other. Just great. Lacking vocal cords, being that he was quite dead, Decker's sole means of communication was entirely psychic – meaning that walls, doors, or fingers in one's ears didn't do shit for keeping him out.

He didn't have eyes either, but at the same time appeared aware of what was going on around him. Who knew how far that extended? Yep, any happy time was definitely out of the question. Knowing my luck, he'd start in with a play by play for the entire building to hear.

Do you think the great Kala sits on her hands waiting for us? The White marches ever forward, uniting those loyal to her cause.

I so hated getting only half a conversation, especially when that half was from a fucking nutbag.

Sadly, Decker was a necessary evil. His knowledge of magical fuckery was greater than Christy's and she needed his help in order to modify the ancient spell we'd discovered into something that could not only stop the Jahabich, but potentially Calibra as well. If he could do that for us, I could deal with his presence for a while longer.

Afterwards, I could always find a convenient landfill on Staten Island to toss him into. The thought of shoveling a couple feet of garbage over him brought a smile to my lips as I turned off the water and grabbed a towel.

Despite the power outage, I was in a pretty decent mood. I figured that after I was done talking to the witches, maybe I'd stop by the downstairs apartment and check on Sally. I was hoping our new plan had snapped her out of her funk. Maybe we could shoot the shit for a while. Hell, even if she wanted to vent and spend an hour verbally eviscerating me, that would be fine. Though she would never admit it, I had a feeling she needed someone to talk to.

Of course, there was also a chance she might not be alone. That gave me pause. I never thought I'd ever consider Sheila a potential third wheel. Hell, I still had no idea where my feelings were going lately. Things, however, were definitely more complicated than ever – and not just because we were preparing for an assault against the center of the Earth.

So much for my good mood.

I got dressed and walked out, my mind full of conflicting thoughts ... thoughts I really needed to stow away for a time after the events of Armageddon had played out. Thus, I didn't immediately think anything of the familiar figure that passed me in the gloomy apartment.

"Hey, Bill."

"Hey, man," I replied idly a split second before realization hit and I came to a screeching halt.

I spun just in time to see the bathroom door close behind an impossible sight – that of my roommate.


Nov 26, 2016

Who Watches the Apple Watch?

I've mentioned this here before a few times, but this blog originally started off, at least in part, as a bit of a tech blog. So, every so often I like to put up a post that harkens back to its roots.

My family awesomely gifted me with an Apple Watch for my birthday this year. Now, I'll admit, when the Apple Watch came out last year, I was fairly lukewarm to it. Partially because, as a rule, I try to never buy any first generation devices from either Apple or Microsoft. Both seem to like to use the buyers of their new products as guinea pigs. 2nd generation, however, seems to be where it's at, though. Thus this year two things happened to make me start to rethink my initial reluctance: 1) Apple announced the series 2 watch and 2) my trusty old sports watch broke, leading to months of me looking down at my wrist to check for time that wasn't there.

Let's just get one thing out of the way upfront. At no point did I feel I needed an Apple Watch. No. This is purely a want device. For most people it will be a luxury gadget, something to splurge your hard-earned money on because, damnit, you deserve it!  Even now, having owned it for a couple of weeks, I can say that for probably a good 99% of the people out there, there really isn't going to be a need for this. The only ones I can imagine who might think otherwise might be the fitness nuts among us.

After Apple's announcement of the series 2, I started dropping some major hints to the family, specifically my oldest son who I know listens when I bullshit about technology. I'm already heavily invested in Apple's systems, with both an iPhone and iPad, so a device that paired seamlessly with them was starting to make more and more sense to me (either that or I am a sucker for Apple's marketing).

Pictured: Professionalism
I personally favored the Nike+ model, because it was one of the more reasonably priced versions and because I just liked how it looked. Over the years,  in an attempt by my family to get to me look more professional, I've owned several leather band watches. However, I have never given two shits what others think of how I accessorize. If a company was ever going to not hire me based on my watch, then that told me it wasn't a place I wanted to work. Thus, rather than going through power watch after power watch, I always ended up falling back on durable sports watches - the kind that I could walk past a brick building with and enjoy the sound of the face scraping across the facade. Yeah, I'm weird like that.

As such, I didn't see a need for one of Apple's premium leather or metal bands (I like to keep the hair on my arms where it is, thanks).  Mind you, reasonable in Apple's ecosphere is still over $300.  And that's at the low end. Prices range to over $1200 for the highest end leather band, ceramic body, with build in blowjob port models (I might be exaggerating on one of those). So, no matter what, we're talking a pretty fucking expensive timepiece here.

So how is?

Well, first off, let's get something silly out of the way. This is easily the most comfortable watch band I have ever worn. No kidding. Most of the time I don't even realize its there. I don't know how the other types of bands feel, but they knocked it out of the park with the sports model. An expensive watch that feels like a torture device this isn't.

Battery life was a big concern to me, but so far I have yet to end a day with less than half a charge left. Would I want to take this on an extended camping trip with me? Probably not, unless I planned on leaving it in in my car to charge. But I'm comfortable thinking I could probably get through a weekend and still have a little juice left.  The wireless charger is neat, but I'm probably going to want to get a spare at some point.

Usage-wise, it pairs with an iphone (or ipad) and you can control it either from the watch itself, or from the phone. Let it be known, without a phone to pair it to it's basically tits on a bull. So you're either all in with this, or don't bother.

As far as that usage goes, well, I have to say the thing I use it most for is ... wait for it ... being a watch. Yep, I know, crazy right?  But I like having the time and date handy when I look down. As an added bonus, you can add additional info, like the current weather, to the face. Super handy for when I'm about to take the dog out and haven't yet grabbed my coat.

Thanks for reminding me what a lazy shit I am
The other major usage I get out of it is entirely circumstantial, but pretty awesome nevertheless. Perhaps the neatest thing about the Apple Watch is the ability to put my phone down to charge, walk away from it, and not have to worry about coming back to a dozen text messages asking "Why are you ignoring me?!" The watch functions as phone / messaging surrogate during those times. Heck, I was carrying something heavy up the stairs a week or so back when someone called. Rather than put everything down and fish my phone out of my pocket, I booped the watch with my nose and was able to answer it ("Yes, mom, I'm still picking you up for Thanksgiving").

The fitness apps are fairly useful, offering reminders throughout the day of little things one can do to improve their health, as well as being super handy for working out ("You're heart rate currently is ... err ... dialing 911 now"). Mind you, being reminded to take a minute an breathe when I'm in the middle of a hard chapter can be an exercise in "Hey Siri, go fuck yourself!", but it is what it is. 

Speaking of Siri, she/it works just fine with the watch.  For instance, it proved to be a great help this past week for cooking, with a quick "Hey Siri, set the timer for 20 minutes".

In short, the Apple Watch is almost entirely a convenience device. A must have? Definitely not.  A nice to have? Yeah, I'm beginning to see that it is. If you're invested in Apple's devices, and can afford to blow the cash, it's a handy little thingee to have.

Can you live without it? That's for you to decide, but I'm pretty certain the answer is yes. I definitely could, but I also can't say I'm not enjoying having it strapped to my wrist. 

Nov 10, 2016

The Future is Ours - One Day at a Time

Let's get the obligatory crap out of the way. Unless you've been living under a rock, you're aware of at least a couple of things: 1) Donald Trump won the US presidential election and 2) the online world is going absolutely bugshit about it.

There's tons of analysis on how this happened. I won't link to any of it. It's easy enough to find. Go on, do a search through Google News, I'll wait.  On the extreme end you'll find some claiming that any vote for Trump is a vote for racism, homophobia, misogyny, and making sure walking out of your house without first kissing a crucifix is a crime.  Personally, the analysis I favor is that, Trump's 12th century sensibilities aside, he represented economic change to a silent but large swath of the country. That they were so desperate for a shake up of the system they felt had forgotten about them that they were willing to embrace anyone who offered the potential of change, no matter how objectionable his personal standards might be.

I prefer to believe this because I still have hope in my fellow humanity. I simply can't believe that a good half of this country are just waiting for an excuse to cut up their white sheets and start burning crosses. I don't want to live in a world where I even contemplate that being a reality.

Sadly, there is, without a doubt, at least a vocal minority who does believe this and they latched onto Trump like the last life boat off of the Titanic. In a way, they have become his unofficial poster children, eclipsing those who feel forgotten by Washington and painting the entirety of his following as mouth-breathing neanderthals.

Unfortunately, in the past day alone, I've read stories of how this small minority of fetid trash has become emboldened.  There are tales of assault - physical, verbal, and sexual - being tried to the mantra that these things are now allowed because Trump was victorious. Their team won, now they get to pretend the laws don't apply to them while they tip over cars and set buildings on fire.

If you're reading this, I probably don't need to say it, but bullshit.

We're at a crossroads today, a chance for real change in DC, the potential for the ingrained (and inbred) establishment to be shaken to its core. But there's a dark side, a slippery slope, and it resides in the hands of those who would use this shakeup to further their agendas of hate. Make no mistake, they will try.

But therein also lies opportunity. I personally hope that silent majority gets the economic change they were hoping for, but we must draw a line when it comes to the desires of the lowest common denominator. We must stand up with our neighbors, our friends, our family, and those in need, to show that we will not let this country slip into a second coming of the Dark Ages. We will accept change, but we will not tolerate hate, abuse, or inequality - not from those who push this agenda, nor from anyone.

To enact that change, that better future, however, requires action. Sitting idly by and hoping things will improve does nothing but embolden the asshole demographic. That simply won't do. The truth of the matter is, it doesn't take a lot of effort if we all try to make a difference. A little here or there will germinate and grow.

Things you can do:
- Donate to a good cause.
- Volunteer at a place that could use the help.
- Talk to your kids. Educate them to understand that this world belongs to all of us, not just a select few.

And, perhaps above all else, DO NOT STAY SILENT. If you see someone being victimized for being different, whether it's the color of their skin, their religion, their sexual preference, whatever, do something. Stand up and say something, call the police, call security, whatever it takes.

It's a time of change, and that brings with it many challenges, but together we can all be the beacon of light that sends the cockroaches scurrying back to the shadows.

Addendum: Just to clarify a bit of the above, I don't advocate bad behavior no matter who you voted for. The above "things you can do", peaceful protests, petitions, etc, are all cool in my book. But everything I said above goes just as much for those whose candidates lost the election as much as those who won. If you've decided that the rules no longer apply to you, then you're as much a part of the problem as the other side you're supposedly protesting.

Sep 14, 2016

Identity - a #HoldOnToTheLight Blog Post

Author's note: The following story is from the viewpoint of Sally Sunset, as part of the Tome of Bill series. You can read more of Sally's story in Sunset Strip (A Tale From The Tome of Bill). It takes place prior to the events of Half A Prayer (The Tome of Bill 6) and contains spoilers for Sunset Strip.

It's part of the special #HoldOnToTheLight blog event (see the bottom of this post for details).

Some days I'm really not sure of who I am, what I should be doing, or how I should act. I don't let the others see it. It wouldn't be befitting a person of my so-called station. Weakness is not tolerated among our kind. Even a momentary crack in our veneer can leave us vulnerable to the predators who are constantly watching.

As for friends to confide in, those are few and far between. Even those few I trust ... I simply can't open up to. It isn't wise to confide in another vampire, not when the elders can force us to bare our very souls with but a few whispered words of compulsion.

A part of me isn't bothered by that - the person I became after years of servitude and abuse at the hands of Night Razor. No, she's too hard for that. She has a shell that is nearly impenetrable, a rough callous formed over her very soul from decades living in a world where life is cheap and remorse isn't tolerated.

The truth of the matter is, I hate who I've become, but at the same time I admire her strength. It's so unlike how I used to be, practically a different life. A foolish young girl named Lucinda Marie Carlsbad once used to lose herself in books and dream of a life in which she'd be respected, in which she'd stand as an equal to any man, and would rise to the top by virtue of hard work and her abilities.

Her father put an end to that, constantly berating her, reminding her of her place as a woman. She should dress pretty, learn to cook, do all the things that could land her a good husband. Only then would she have any worth, and only as an extension of whatever man decided to have her. There were never any fists or hands in those days. No, those came later ... after that little girl died and was reborn, but the shell she ... I ... would later wrap myself in had its beginnings in those days from the scars the constant browbeating left behind.

One could argue those words were the cause of what came next: running away, finding employment in a place that valued only my body, and then meeting the monster who would forever change my life. Little Lucinda died at his hands, but it wasn't an easy death. No. She lingered for years, holding on, refusing to give in, but dying a little bit at a time until she was no more.

Where my father's voice cut me on the inside, Night Razor's fists did their part on the outside and soon I began to think that perhaps my father was right - I had only found my true worth at the hands of the man who would have me. It just so happened that man was an immortal monster with hands so bloody they could never come clean.

That's when Sally was born. All of those years, all of those scars, they added up over time. Little did Night Razor know, though, but the woman he molded in his own image as as if from clay would take his lessons to heart and become his downfall.

I thought then and there that I had achieved parity with my life. My scars were still present - they always would be - but they were buried deep, almost forgotten. And now my tormentor was dead and I had everything I could ever ask for.

I was wrong.

The kindness of one man, someone who dared to be my friend despite everything I did and said to him, began to awaken little Lucinda again. It turns out she wasn't as dead as I had thought. That shell I had built around her hadn't been a tomb after all, merely a cocoon for her to sleep until it was time to awaken. Sally, however, is still the driving part of me and I'm not sure I want her to leave. She's strong, sure in herself, allowing herself to bend, but never breaking.

But, where Sally is cynical, Lucinda sees hope. For the first time in decades, she can envision a future that isn't littered with bodies, where the slightest disobedience is not met with cruel punishment, and where my fate is her own.

Perhaps one day soon it will be time for these two disparate ladies to meet in the recesses of my mind and have a good long chat. Perhaps they can discuss the future and whether they can coexist together: strength and hope, existing as one being.

It might be too much to ask for, but I'm willing to try.

About the campaign:
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to The Hold On To The Light Facebook Group.

Aug 31, 2016

Rating the Rides - 2016 summer edition

So this past week I took the family down to Virginia for a little R&R. It had been a while since we got away for a few days. Besides, all work and no play make Rick less a dull boy and more a freaking nutcase.

Sanity is my middle name
Yeah yeah, I know the drill ... back to writing, author monkey!

Don't worry. I'm hard at work finishing up The Last Coven (The Tome of Bill 8). For now, though, I thought I'd take a little mental break from all the death and destruction to talk about the thrill rides at the two parks we visited - Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion.

I remember hair ... *sniff*
In between bouts of utter despair at being totally ignored as a walking / talking Bill The Vampire advertisement - all while my wife got tons of compliments about her new hair color - I spent most of my time strapped into chairs and being dropped down steep hills ... on purpose! It wasn't my first visit to either park, but it was my first chance to ride many of the rides there.

So that said, here's my mini-review of some of the rides we sampled.

Let us talk about things that go high and move fast...

Busch Gardens:

Verbolten - 5 stars - Not a super coaster like many of the others, but nevertheless probably the most fun coaster at either park. Part of it is the surprise. The ride is partially indoors, and a good deal of the rest is obscured from view from vantage points around the park. Thus I got on this having no idea what to expect.  I was expecting a kiddie coaster and instead found myself being hurtled forward via linear induction into pitch blackness and a lot of fun. I won't spoil it, but there is an awesome "Holy shit!' moment in the middle of the ride that caught me totally unaware.

Griffin - 5 stars - The best, and by that I mean scariest, super coaster of the two parks. The main attraction is a 200 foot tall 90 degree hill that you hang suspended over for several seconds before your first drop. For someone like me who has a fear of heights, this was more than enough for me to rediscover religion as well as plenty of profane names for all the various deities. 

Alpengeist - 4 stars - A taller version of the suspended hanging coasters you can find at a lot of parks. Still fun, and definitely freaky watching nothing but ground below you from that high.

Apollo's Chariot - 3 1/2 stars - A pretty basic steel coaster.  Lots of hills and quite fast. Not sure whether to dock it a point or add one, but the seat harnesses didn't fully tighten against my youngest son's somewhat thin frame. And of course this was the one ride he felt the need to put his hands in the air for during every hill. My rational mind knew he was safe, but it still freaked the fuck out of us. 

Tempesto - 4 1/2 stars - an awesome linear induction coaster that allows for both forward and backward motion. Tons of air time and inversions.  Only loses 1/2 a star because the nature of the ride allows just one car to be in operation at a time, causing load times to be a bit long.

Loch Ness Monster - 2 stars - Not the first time I've ridden this. Was easily a 4, maybe 5, star coaster when I was a kid, but nowadays feels kind of tame comparatively. Still a fun ride, but showing its age.  Also, the cars are uncomfortable as all hell. Still, not a bad ride to ease kids into the fun of inverted coasters.

Curse of Darkastle - 4 stars - Not a roller coaster, but a 3d ride, similar to the ones found down at Universal Studios. Not quite as good as the ones there, but still a fun ride and well done.

And then we visited ... Kings Dominion

Backlot Stunt Coaster - 2 stars - The linear induction acceleration doesn't make up for the fact that it's pretty much a kiddie coaster disguised as a big-boy coaster.  Also the seats were apparently designed by someone who truly hates their fellow man. It is a horrible ride? No. But not something I'd wait in line for.

Flight of Fear - 5 stars - Holy shit! This one rivals Verbolten as most fun coaster. On the outside, it looks like some shitty 4D experience, like that lame test flight thing that used to bore people at Six Flags Great Adventure. Inside, though, it is living proof that an indoor ride doesn't have to mean a crappy coaster with a prefab metal housing built around it (again, looking at you Great Adventure).  Fairly uncomfortable seats, but an intense ride made even more freaky by 1) being in the dark and 2) multiple inversions with only leg straps holding you in.

Volcano - 5 Stars - Just plain fun.  2 linear induction acceleration points, including one straight up and out of the volcano's mouth.  Wasn't sure what to expect, but it was all smiles from the moment the car started moving.

Waiter, check please
Intimidator305 - 4 1/2 stars - A huge 300 foot drop from a non-linear induction coaster.  The ride up the hill is fairly quick, but took more than enough time for me to consider all of my life's bad choices. Pulls enough g-forces on the way down that I was seeing dark spots at the corners of my vision.  Only 1 hill, though (but what a hill!). The rest is all twists and turns. Still, a pretty awesome ride.

Anaconda - 3 stars - Been on it before. Pretty standard metal looping coaster these days.  Lots of time upside down, all of it over some pretty skeevy looking water. One of the older coasters in Kings Dominion, but still worth a ride.

Dominator - 3 stars - A fun floorless coaster, but there are rides similar to it at Great Adventure and Dorney Park, so a bit of a "been there, done that" quality to it.

Grizzly - 3 stars - an older wooden coaster, but a good one. Lots of airtime spent out of your seat.

Rebel Yell - 2 1/2 stars - also a decent older coaster, but a really rough ride. If you're a full-sized adult, prepare to have the crap kicked out of you.

Richochet - 2 stars - A slightly larger version of the Wild Mouse. My youngest liked it.

Avalanche - 3 stars - not a super thrilling ride, but I always liked those old bobsled type coasters. Not too many parks still have them, so a nice piece of nostalgia. Almost wanted to dock it a point for the stupid kids waiting in front of us, but it wasn't the ride's fault the depth of their end of the gene pool was a bit lacking.

Fun and other assorted weirdness
All in all, I can't complain about any of it. We did more coasters in 2 days that I usually do in 2 years. I think we were all tired as all hell after it was done, but it was a lot fun, and that's exactly what I go to theme parks for. 

Until the next coaster quest...

Jul 13, 2016

Mock Me If You Will...

You might think by the title of this post that there's a big but coming after it.  Well there isn't (aside from my ass maybe ... I really need to put some more miles on the exercise bike).  It stands as it is.  No caveats. Feel free to mock my ethnicity, my geeky tendencies, my hairline ... all of it.  If what you say is clever, I'll laugh. If what you say isn't, I'll most likely mock you back for your lack of being able to string a coherent joke together. I can take it and if you can too then it's all good as far as I'm concerned.

But there are those who would call both of us wrong in doing so.  They'd call us bullies, haters, etc.  For how dare we put down another human being?  How dare we not care about their feelings?  How dare we make ourselves chuckle at the expense of another?

Hell, you can see a good example of this out there right now on just about any social media feed.  Unless you've been living under a rock, you're aware of Pokemon Go.  I hear it's a pretty hot game right now.  Well, first came the game. Then came the memes poking some fun at the game. And now, as anyone living in this day and age could probably predict, comes the shaming of those memes.  How dare you make fun of someone having some harmless fun?  If you do, I've lost all respect for you.  Blah blah blah.

Fuck that, I say.

Eat a sammich!
I've said it before and I'll reiterate it here again. It's all about intent as far as I'm concerned. If your intent is to harm another. If you do it day after day. If you are focused on making another person or group's life as miserable as can be.  All of these things are bullying and/or potential hate crimes.  Yet there seems to be a movement out there that says anything negative - whether it be a shared meme, a stupid twitter post, a joke shared in the school yard - is just as bad.  Bullshit I say.

Now, that's not to say that a singular instances can't make you a horrible person. I've already covered this and what a dick it takes to do such a thing.  But once again, I'd argue the intent is definitely there

There's another side of mockery, though, one those who are overly sensitive don't want to admit exists - and it's entirely harmless outside of perhaps being annoying.  Why, because that's all it's trying to be.  It's just trying to make a joke or make people (including themselves) laugh.  There might be a bit of doucheyness behind it, but there's no ill intent otherwise.

That's actually one of the most common complaints about my Tome of Bill series. People have said the main character is (insert your favorite ist, istic, or phobic here), whether it be homophobic, racist, misogynistic whatever. I'd argue you're inside the head of a character who's a flawed human being just like the rest of us, and with that comes every good thought he has, but it also means you're privy to every petty, juvenile, or uninformed thought as well. And I purposely write him that way because I think it's simple human nature to have thoughts like these. That all of us have someone(s) we secretly fear, mock, don't understand, or feel superior about.  What counts, though, is how we act or don't act upon those thoughts. Actions speak louder than words.  And thoughts are just that ... words in our head.

We give too much power to those words sometimes.  There are times when we should let those words into our soul, but there are far more times when we should just shrug them off and get on with our day.

Goddamned Pikaphiles should be locked up
And that's what I'm getting at. I'll be the first to admit that mine is a sarcastic household. I praise my kids when they do something awesome, but I'm just as quick to joke when they do something stupid. No special snowflakes under my roof, thank you. The thing is, the same holds true in the reverse. There is no punishment for hitting back with a good zinger.  Everyone who dishes it out should be able to take it and I'm no exception.

That's where I think most of this backlash comes from. As I said above, none of us are perfect. We all have not-so-nice thoughts from time to time. The difference being that some want to have their not-nice thoughts about others, but don't want others to have those same thoughts about them or their beliefs. There aren't many guarantees in life, but I'd be willing to put my money down on at least one sure bet - ANYONE who has ever said "How dare you mock XYZ?" thinks they're the exception to the rule and has some group or person that in their mind they think is A-okay to mock away at.

There's a great deal of hypocrisy there, whether or not people want to admit it.

Of course there's the big problem of who draws the line on these things. That's subjective.  Hell, even I've already drawn my personal lines in the sand with my link to a prior blog post. I'm not immune to a bit of hypocrisy myself in saying it's okay to do this, but not that. There's no easy answer to that one, but as I said I believe intent plays a big part in things like this. 

All I know is that there are some who want us to live in a world where we watch what we say for fear of what others might think.  Me, I'd sooner take the good with the bad and live in a world where we don't let the words of others have so much power over us.