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Day One Hundred and Seventy: StoryBreakers

November 7, 2011 2 comments

Alan looked over at the director, who was standing next to the cameraman. “We ready?” The director nodded and gave a thumbs-up, and Alan took a deep breath.

“Today on STORYBREAKERS!” he shouted at the lens. “We answer the question: if the human body was converted entirely into C4, how big an explosion would it make?” He pulled a face and leaned in closer. “I’m hoping for huge, I don’t know about you!” He grinned widely and madly, and then gestured out to the desolate California bomb range where they had set up their test for that episode. “Say goodbye to all this!” he yelled, and the director called, “Cut!”

The crew immediately started breaking down equipment to set up for the next sequence of shots, and Alan ran madly for the explosion site. He was a special challenge for directors, as the short redhead hated to stay in one place for too long. If you took your eyes off him for a minute, he’d be gone, probably to make-and-or-destroy something. After seven seasons, though, a system had emerged where they would do their Alan sequences in short bursts and try to keep him occupied when they had to go film something else. What made it all worthwhile, of course, was that no one could make-and-or-destroy things quite as well as he did.

His equal and opposite number was Johnny, a man he’d worked with for nearly twenty years. Where Alan was small and full of unstoppable, restless energy, Johnny looked like a huge, sleepy bear. Whether on camera or off, he would stare out from under the knit cap he always wore, and his face betrayed nothing. The big bushy beard certainly helped with that.

No one who worked on the show, aside from Alan, really knew much about Johnny’s background – where he came from or what he did before starting StoryBreakers. He didn’t talk about his personal life, didn’t offer opinions on politics or social issues. He just worked quietly in the build-room, putting together intricate models and mechanisms of wondrous complexity and imagination.

The fact that most of what he made tended to get blown up, smashed or otherwise rendered obliterated didn’t seem to bother him much.

When Alan arrived at the test site, Johnny was busy doing a last minute check of the wiring for the rig. A small remote detonator was to be hooked up to a series of wires, which would then feed into blasting caps that were jammed into a life-size model of a human. To be specific, it was a life-cast of Gary, one of their co-hosts, mainly because he was about as big as they could get while staying under the legal limit for purchasing C4. Any bigger and they’d have to start tapping into the underworld contacts that Johnny was reputed to have.

“We ready to go?” Alan asked when he arrived. “Oh, man, this is gonna look so good. How big a crater you think we’ll get? Twenty feet? Thirty? Fifty?” He did a little shuffle-dance around the model. “I think we ought to set up another camera, maybe one of those little crappy ones, and put it right on this poor guy’s head!” He slapped the model and grinned. “What do you think?”

Johnny twisted a couple of wires together. “Nope.”

“Aww, you’re such a killjoy.” Alan slapped his hands together and started rubbing them vigorously. “Where’s B team? They ought to see this.” Johnny just pointed over the ridge to where the other cast members, Gary, Tom and Karen, were setting up their own section of the show. “All right,” Alan said. “Their loss if they don’t make it.” He looked down at the detonator. “So when’re we setting this bad boy off, huh?”

Johnny looked up at him, and his eyes under the edge of the cap hinted at tightly-restrained joy. “Soon,” he said, and white teeth flashed out from the beard. Alan hopped into the air and then dashed off for the detonation bunker a few hundred yards away.

He bantered with the camera crew for a few minute while they waited for Johnny. When the big man arrived and gave them a thumbs-up, the crew jumped into action. In moments, they were ready to capture the waves of gleeful anticipation that were positively rolling off of Alan.

“Okay,” Alan whispered loudly into the camera. “We’ve got our detonator. We’ve got our C4 dummy out there. We’re all ready to go!” His face went serious all of a sudden. “And remember: don’t try this at home. Okay?” The serious expression broke into a million pieces. “Okay! Let’s go!”

He and Johnny looked out the small window to the blast site far away, and Alan positioned his thumb over the big red button that had become a trademark of their show. “Life-sized C4 dummy in three! Two! One! GO!”

He jammed his thumb down on the button, and the world went white around them. A moment later, the shockwave shook the bunker, knocking everyone back a few steps, and a terrible roar filled the air. It seemed to go on forever, and when the silence came, it was almost as terrible.

Alan was positively vibrating as he stood up and looked out the window. A strange, white-violet light was pulsing outside, something he’d never seen before, and from this distance he couldn’t make out what caused it. “The hell?” he said. He looked around and helped a cameraman up. “You okay?” he asked.

The cameraman checked his gear and then nodded. “Good,” Alan said. “Follow me. Let’s see what we have out there.”

When they left the bunker, the light was almost palpable. It flowed out from where they had set off the explosion, and Alan was almost sure he could feel it sliding across his skin, like oiled silk. Despite its brightness they could just about see through it to its source. Alan looked over to Johnny, who had joined them outside, and the big man seemed just as transfixed as he was.

Hanging in the air, seeming to rotate while at the same time remaining perfectly still, there was a hole in the air. It shimmered in colors that hurt Alan’s eyes and moved in ways that things weren’t supposed to move. “Holy. Cow,” he said in an awed whisper. He gestured for the cameraman to follow him.

“Umm, Alan?” The producer followed at a short distance. “Alan, are you really sure this is a good idea?”

Alan didn’t even look back when he responded. “Nope,” he said. “Not at all.”

When they got close to the glowing rift, they started to feel strange and uncomfortable. Alan thought the feeling was like having his skin covered in tiny electric shocks. Not so bad that they hurt, but not great. The cameraman didn’t look so good either, but he followed as they got closer, and the rift filled their vision.

It must have been a good twenty feet high, a shimmering curtain of energy and force. Nothing they had ever done in their show had prepared them for this. Alan waved at the cameraman, but he already had his camera up and ready. The sound would be terrible, but they’d live with it.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Alan said, “welcome to a real first in StoryBreakers history. I’m not sure what we’ve done here, but -”

He was cut off as the curtain of light began to pulse and hum. He and Johnny looked at each other and started to back up. The cameraman stood his ground, trying to get a better shot of what was going on, which is why the great chitinous leg that emerged from the portal was able to stab him cleanly through the chest, pinning him to the ground.

Alan and Johnny screamed, something they would have sworn up and down they never did. The giant leg that had killed the cameraman lifted, letting the limp body slide to the ground. It tried to move through the field, to come further out, but it looked like it was struggling, like it was trying to push through something tough and resilient. Slowly, though, more was coming out. Soon, whatever was attached to that leg would emerge, and Alan didn’t want to be there when it did.

“What do we do?” he asked, his eyes jumping between the cameraman on the ground and the thing that had killed him.

Johnny stepped up next to him and put a large hand on his shoulder. “I think I have an idea,” he rumbled.

***************

“Today on STORYBREAKERS, we’re going to test a fan favorite!” Tom stepped back from the camera to reveal the test setup that they’d created. Gary and Karen were standing next to each other in front of a large metal box that had a heavy glass door in front. They both had flamethrowers strapped to their backs, and Tom was wearing the third. “Can we cook an apple pie using only flamethrowers?!”

Despite his on-camera persona – a young man full of energy and the unbridled desire to break stuff – he was really angry. A few minutes ago, they’d heard the fantastic ka-WHUMP of the test that Alan and Johnny were doing, and he’d really wanted to see that. He’d been able to feel the explosion through his boots, and at that distance he thought it must have been absolutely amazing.

Now he was going to cook a pie. With flamethrowers. Fun in its own way, but not nearly as cool.

The unit director called “Cut!” and their professional staff gave the flamethrowers one last check. Tom endured this as best he could. An intern put the uncooked pie in the metal box and gave them an OK sign.

“Gonna make us a pie!” Gary said, hefting the nozzle of his flamethrower.

Katie was a little less cheerful. “Man, I wish I could have seen that explosion back there. It really sounded sweet.”

“No kidding,” Tom said, and he sighed. “At least we get some pie when all this is done.” He pushed his goggles down and signaled to the filming crew, who were all in position. “Pilot!” he called. He, Katie and Gary flicked on the pilot lights of their flamethrowers, which were shining even in daylight. “Ready!” he yelled.

He was about to give the order to fire when he heard the frantic beeping of a truck horn. Moments later, the official StoryBreakers pickup truck launched its way into view, Alan at the wheel and Johnny hanging off the side. Tom put out the pilot on his thrower and the other two did the same. That truck was coming in at a speed that would be dangerous even for their show, and as it came closer he could hear Johnny bellowing at them.

“THROWERS IN THE TRUCK!” he yelled. “NOW!”

The truck skidded to a halt in front of them, and Tom put his goggles up. “Johnny, what the hell? We were just -”

Johnny’s giant, hairy face was suddenly right up to his. “If you don’t get in that goddamn truck right now, I will personally see to it that you don’t live to see sundown! Got it!?”

It wasn’t so much the threat that convinced Tom. It was hearing Johnny say that many words at once. There was no way that meant anything but bad things ahead. Tom nodded, and he jumped into the bed of the truck with Gary and Katie. “Any idea what’s going on?” he yelled as the truck backed up and started speeding to the area where the A team had set off their explosion. They shrugged, and Katie stared to say something when she looked out at where they were going. Her jaw dropped and she pointed wordlessly.

The portal towered over the barren ground, and three long, shiny legs were working their way out of it. “What the hell is that?” Gary yelled. Tom started to feel sick as they got closer. The light from the portal seemed to enter his brain without using his eyes, and it made a sound that was laced in with the ever-changing color and which made his thoughts spin and dance.

The truck stopped some ways away from the seeking, stabbing legs. Alan and Johnny jumped out and dropped the gate on the pickup. “Here’s what we know, ” Alan said as they helped them down. “We blew up the C4 dummy, this… thing opened up,and now something wants out.” He lifted the nozzle of Tom’s flamethrower. “Your job: keep it in until we can shut that thing down.”

Tom shook his head to clear it, flicked on his pilot light and heard the familiar click-hiss of Gary and Katie doing the same. “How’re you planning to do that?” he yelled.

Alan pointed over to Johnny, who was off to the side, talking into his cell phone. “Meet the man with the plan!” he yelled.

“Okay, then,” Tom said. “THROWERS!” he hollared to the others. Katie and Gary lined up next to him with their flamethrowers at the ready. Tom brought his goggles down again and yelled, “Let’s hold the line!”

Three great tongues of flame shot out at the long, black legs, and where the fire touched, its shell cracked and bubbled. The legs pulled back and forced themselves forward, lifting up and coming down again in an attempt to find whatever was tormenting it.

Alan ran over to Johnny and whispered into his free ear. “We gotta do this soon, because if that thing gets through, it’s gonna be pissed!”

Johnny took the phone down and covered it with one giant hand. “Soon,” he said.

***************

Alan took a few more deep breaths and tried not to look over the cameraman’s shoulder at the thing that was trying to make its way into their world. The flamethrowers had been pulled out half an hour ago, and it was trying to make up for lost time. If Johnny’s plan worked, it would have to work right now. “We ready?” he asked the cameraman. The guy didn’t look ready – he looked sick. But he held up a thumb, and Alan counted to five in his head.

“Okay,” he said, focusing all of his nervous terror into his performance. “Here’s what we have so far – there’s a giant, spidery thing trying to enter our world from some shadowy dimension of pure evil!” He started to walk in a slow circle, and the cameraman followed him. “Now we may or may not have caused this to happen.” He leaned in closely. “Though, to be fair, we probably did. But whatever happened, we figure that there’s no problem so big that it can’t be solved with explosives!” In his mind, he could see the shot – the camera focused tightly on his face as he stepped in front of the portal.

“How many explosives, you may ask?” He took a couple of steps back so that the cameraman could go wide and see what they had put together. Alan stretched his arms out and spun in a tiny circle. “All of them!!”

The portal was surrounded by every kind of explosive they could get their hands on in short notice. Nobody knew how Johnny did it, but soon after his call, trucks started to arrive with large, serious-looking men in them. They piled up dynamite and TNT and C4, large drums of fuel oil and gasoline and fertilizer mixes. There was semtex and HMX and black powder galore. There were homebrew compounds that their makers swore could take the top off a mountain and even some plain-looking briefcases that were simply placed in front of the glowing curtain of light and then very ostentatiously left alone. The men worked with a measured haste making sure to keep everything out of reach of the legs – of which there were now five, with a sixth poking its way through – and carefully wiring everything together into a massive cable that stretched half a mile away to the explosives bunker. When everything was ready, the large and serious men were told to get as far away as possible, and Alan, Johnny and the cameraman went to the bunker with the rest of the crew.

The atmosphere inside was tense. Katie handed a pair of binoculars to Alan when he came in, with a worried look on her face. “The sixth leg is through,” she said. “I don’t want to know what’s coming next.”

Alan nodded and looked over at Johnny. “We’re good?” he said.

Johnny nodded, his hands in his pockets. “We’re good,” he said, and then his eyes dropped down to the big red button.

“Wait,” Gary said, and everyone turned to him. “Are we sure this is a good idea?”

Alan looked through the binoculars again. There was something new pushing its way through. He couldn’t tell what it was, and he made sure to put the binoculars down before he could. “We don’t have a lot of ideas left,” he said. He positioned his hand over the button. “Get ready to -”

“But wait,” Gary said again. “One giant explosion caused the rift – how do we know this won’t make it worse?”

“We don’t,” Johnny said, not taking his eyes from the tiny window.

“But what do we do if -”

“Enough talk!” Alan yelled. “Banishing an elder god in ThreeTwoOneGO!”

His hand dropped.

***************

The explosion was detected by seismometers as far away as Wisconsin. A great column of flame rose up in the sky that was visible over the Sierra Nevadas and lit up the evening sky for hundreds of miles in every direction. The fire that started there burned away hundreds of thousands of acres of brush and forest, and became one of the biggest wildfires in California’s history. The shock wave blew down trees in a way that hadn’t been seen since the eruption of Mount St. Helens more than thirty years before, and on the site of the explosion itself, a vast crater was dug into the ground, ejecting soil down to the bedrock.

No trace of the StoryBreakers themselves was ever found. All that was found in the twisted wreckage of their bunker was a video camera, battered and broken. The digital information in its memory was extracted and restored, and only then did the world know how close it had come to true horror and despair. Alan, Johnny, Gary, Katie, Tom, and all the crew were given state funerals for their sacrifices, and awarded the highest honors that civilians could earn. A monument was planned, to one day be erected on the site of the place where they saved the world. By all accounts, they died as heroes.

But some believe that the StoryBreakers are not, in fact, dead. That in that brief moment, when the portal was blown shut, the energies that were released were enough to draw them in to the hell-dimension on the other side.

Where they remain to this day. Fighting to find their way back to the world they so desperately wanted to save. Some believe they will return, when they are needed once again.

*****

Alan and Johnny’s page on 30characters.com

Day One Hundred and Fifty-eight: NapNow™

October 26, 2011 2 comments

This is an entry for the Worth1000 contest, Everyday Instruction Manual. The mission: “Write a simple set of instructions for completing a simple everyday task.” I figured I could make a little money on the side. Enjoy.

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Welcome, weary traveler, to the wonderful world of Napping™! Thank you for purchasing volume one of NapNow™ System, a five-volume set that will bring you napping pleasure and fulfillment. Remember that official NapNow™ merchandise can be purchased on our website, napnow-dot-com.

Napping is an art that has been practiced by people around the world for centuries, from the ancient Mayans to the mysterious Far East, and now its secrets can finally be shared with you. By following these careful, time-tested instructions, the wide world of napping will reveal itself to you!

First, it is vitally important that you keep safety in mind at all times. So, step one: check your surroundings. Are there other people in the room? Are you immersed in water or other fluids or fluid-like substances? Is there a risk of fire? Would napping cause sudden injury, death, or long-term unemployment? If so, please avoid napping until the danger has passed.

If you have determined that napping is safe, then please proceed to the next step: finding a napping environment. Many amateur nappers prefer to use a sofa, hammock, or bed. For the ultimate in napping satisfaction, however, we recommend investing in a NapNow Total Sleep System™, which can be purchased for only $4,999, shipping and installation included.

Once you have established your napping environment, prepare yourself for the ultimate in consciousness-obliviating experiences!

Be sure to lie down in your napping environment. Standing up may seem like a good idea, but NapNow™ laboratory tests have shown that standing while napping can lead to such health hazards as concussions, broken limbs, and death. In addition, falling may cause damage to your valuable bedroom décor.

If you have purchased a NapNow Future Perfect Pillow™, be sure to place it under your head. This is the ideal orientation of a pillow, as has been proven by over twenty years of the most rigorous laboratory testing.

WARNING: Do not place the Pillow™ on your face, as involuntary asphyxiation may result.

Now that you are lying down in your sleep environment, with a Pillow™ under your head, you may want to make use of our patented NapNow Millennial Blanket™ thermal regulation package. Be sure to check the Blanket™-compatible digital thermometer (available on our website for only $29.99) to determine the amount of Blanket™ coverage and density you will need. Apply the Blankets™ until you have reached the desired level of warmth. If you feel that you have become too warm, carefully remove Blankets™ until you have reached the desired level of coolness.

It is at this point that you should be prepared to close your eyes. If you close your eyes prior to this step, serious injury may occur. Gently allow your eyelids to cover your eyes, without squeezing or fluttering. If you are uncertain as to how much eyelid pressure you should exert, our patented Blink Monitor™ will assist you to find the ideal level of eyelid tension as you prepare to fall asleep.

Be sure to take deep breaths, using the NapNow Pneumo-Plastic Breath Regulator™ to accurately judge both the rate of breathing and the breath pressure involved. Use the Integrated Metronomic Music-Assisted Breathing System™ (patent pending) to time your breaths at exactly eight breaths per minute, a rate discovered by NapNow™ scientists to produce the optimum napping experience.

In a few minutes, you should begin to notice a loss of consciousness. Congratulations! You have successfully joined the millions of people who are happy and successful Nappers™!

Day Thirty-two: Mea Culpa

June 22, 2011 1 comment

Senator McLaughlin blinked against the onslaught of camera flashes as he entered the press briefing room. The sound of shutters was like a swarm of insects – locusts, probably – that was about to descend on him in a cloud and eat him alive. He held a hand up against the brilliance so that he wouldn’t bump into the lectern that had been set up in front of the hastily-erected navy blue curtains.

When the noise had fallen to only a few clicks per second, he leaned in over the microphone and cleared his throat. Silence slammed into the room, and after a couple of final, desultory clicks, he began to speak.

“My fellow Americans. It is with a heavy heart that I stand before you today. Five years ago, my constituents, the hardworking, honest and decent citizens of Connecticut, elected me to serve in the nation’s most revered deliberative body. I was humbled to have been chosen, and honored to serve. They exercised the right that their ancestors had fought and died for, the one right that is fundamental to any citizen of a democracy – the right to vote – and gave me the awesome responsibility of being their voice in the U.S. Senate. It is only right and fitting, then, that I apologize to them first.

“People of Connecticut: I am sorry. Your faith in me… was misplaced.” The cameras erupted again, and reporters texted that quote to their editors en masse. It would be the headline of the hour, to be sure, superimposed over the tortured expression the Senator was wearing. That picture would be on magazine covers before the week was out.

“While the physical damage is indeed high, the economic effects long-lasting, and of course the human cost impossible to calculate, know that it is the betrayal of your trust that weighs most heavily on me.

“To the exiles of Waterbury. It was not my intention to have your city miniaturized. The discussions with Galactic Overlord P’thn’aar were going well, but I fear that a slight misapprehension on my part may have led to your lovely and historic city being reduced to the size of a snow globe. I assure you, the nation’s top scientists are working round the clock to find a solution that involves the least loss of life possible.

“To the soldiers of George Washington’s Virginia Militia – my most sincere apologies. I was unaware that the New London Supercollider would tear open a hole in the fabric of space and time, that it would happen during my ribbon-cutting ceremony, or that it would be you who had the misfortune of falling through. I wish we could send you back, but I am told that would result in a collapse of causality. Please take solace in the knowledge that you alone of all your brothers in arms can see the fruit of your sacrifices, made so long ago.

“And to the people of New London, who cannot hear my voice, I hope that, once we have figured out how to restart the flow of local time and you are able to listen to this announcement, you will forgive me. If all goes well, you will not have been in stasis for more than a few months. If, on the other hand, civilization has collapsed and all those you ever knew and loved are dead – my heart goes out to you.

“And finally, to the people…” He paused, cleared his throat, and took a drink of water. “To the former people of Farmington. I feel truly terrible about this, and I hope that, if you are still able to comprehend such things as ‘sympathy’ and ‘sorrow,’ or even human speech, that you will accept my apologies. We only intended the virus to be used in the event of war with the Soviet Union, and in all honesty, I thought that canister was empty. I mean, really – who the hell leaves a bottle of zombie supervirus in Farmington of all places? New Britain, sure, but Farmington? Am I right?” The Senator looked around, incredulous, but all he saw were camera lenses, flashes, and the hard, hungry eyes of reporters.

“In any event,” he continued, “it has been made very clear that the misfortunes that have been visited upon my state all have one common element – me. Therefore, the only honorable thing to do at this time is to resign so that perhaps no further damage will be done. I will be leaving with my family, and we’ll be moving back to my wife’s family home in Waterford, just a few miles from the former Millstone Nuclear Power Station number one, which I have been assured is perfectly safe.

“Thank you, no questions, and god have mer-bless the people of Connecticut and the United States.”