Chapter One, part 2

June 14, 2026, 00:00

Miles looked down. The tiles below him formed a checkerboard pattern, alternating black and white, littered with broken glass, mostly-empty crumpled beer cans and scuffed with black streaks of shoe rubber. His feet weren’t touching any of it. The ground slid by beneath him as he stood in one spot, staring forward in a daze. There was a voice up ahead, quickly cut out by a powerful and robust bout of laughter that shook the air around him.

The table was a ruddy red square, worn down in many places to reveal the rough plywood beneath and decorated with scattered playing cards. On the left side sat a thin, pale boy with crystal blue eyes set in a narrow face you could hardly see past the fine black hair that fell over it. Miles found it strange that the boy wasn’t wearing a shirt; the strangeness was made even more so by the large, raw burn across his chest, which still had wisps of smoke curling off of it. The boy’s focus was elsewhere and his face was angled upward, brilliant eyes shining in deep thought.

The next face at the table belonged to a man who looked like he was in his late teens or early twenties, broad shouldered with thick brown hair. The boy-man’s skin was slightly tanned, but his face was sickly pale and coated with small droplets of perspiration. In his right hand he tightly gripped a glass of whiskey, making an obvious effort to avoid meeting it with his cold green eyes.

At the right side of the table, Miles spotted a pair of long, slender legs, wrapped in thin black tights. He followed them up past a black silk skirt and over a matchedly slender waist and torso, clothed in a tight-fitting, white cotton tank top. Her left arm held a tall glass filled with blood-red liquid, a stalk of celery poking out of the top. The arm and glass slowly rose and Miles’ eyes tracked them up to a dark red mouth that was twisted to one side in a devious smile. His gaze quickly traced over her upper lip, across her nose and up to a breathtaking pair of violet eyes, which met his in a knowing stare; yet there was laughter in it as well, and a dangerous intelligence. Thick, jet black hair fell across her forehead, the last two inches of it dyed the same color as her irises. The rest of her head looked as though it were wreathed in violet and onyx flames, coming to a narrow ring of jagged points at the back.

The last patron’s back was facing Miles, but even from behind, his generous girth was obvious. He seemed to be shaking, and every couple seconds a sputtering sound escaped the man’s lips as he attempted to subdue his laughter. As he came to a stop at the table, Miles noticed for the first time the pair of eyes sitting in the middle of it. No eyelids, no skull, no face, just a pair of bloodshot eyeballs aimed right at the man in front of him. The eyes spun, aiming right at his own. They were full of anger, full of fear, full of hunger and knowledge, and they seemed to be trying to say something to him. Apparently giving up, the eyes flicked back to the portly man. The message seemed to hit home there, as the man suddenly lost all control of his laughter. It came erupting from deep in his chest, exiting his mouth in a deep, throaty roar, intermittent with choking gasps and the sounds of his monstrous fists pounding on the table. Five, Miles noted.

None of the other people at the table even seemed to notice the racket. The boy on the left was still gazing ponderously at the endless sky, the man in the middle was still not looking at his whiskey, and the beautiful girl on the right still had that smile, watching Miles’ every move intently.

Without warning, the laughing man stood up and turned around, grabbing Miles by the shoulders he wasn’t aware he had until that moment. The man was still laughing; in fact, his entire face looked as though it were made for the act, though to call it a face would be inaccurate. The man’s mouth was beyond enormous, lips stretching from one ear to the other, splitting his skull in two as it flew open in his raucous fit of merriment. As it did, Miles could see straight down the man’s throat, to the muscles contracting with each violent gasp.

The laughter stopped and the voice that followed made Miles’ ears ache.

“THAT WAS A GOOD ONE, WOULDN’T YOU SAY, MILES?!”

All he could do was stare…

 

Miles’ torso shot up off the bed like a piston, panting and dripping with sweat. He placed his hands on the bed behind him for support and began taking deep, gasping breaths as he surveyed his surroundings. It was dark, but the room appeared to be white… completely white. He heard the sound of soft breathing to his left and turned quickly to see the source. Hair as black as onyx all-but covered a pale white face, the violet tips showing brilliantly against the overpowering whiteness of the bed sheets.

He smiled as he began to remember the events of the previous night. “Well there’s one,” he said softly, feeling his racing heart begin to slow. He let his body fall back onto the soft hotel bed, running a hand through his hair and looking over at the clock on his right. 5:00 am, he mused, closing his eyes, God, I love Phoenix.

Miles’ eyes popped back open three hours later, refusing to drift back closed despite how heavy and achy they felt. He practically fell out of bed, then stumbled across the dark, carpeted hotel room to where he thought the bathroom was and shoved the door open. His right hand crawled up the wall to the light switch panel, stopping just short of turning it on as his wits began to return to him. The walls around him were white. The now tiled floor below him was white. To top it all off, directly in front of him and above the bright marble sinks was a large mirror. On second thought, I’ll shower in the dark, Miles decided, wincing at the image of his eyes melting out of their sockets.

Stripping down quickly, he turned the water up almost as hot as it would go and stepped under the stream. As the scalding water cascaded over his head and shoulders, he thought back to the girl, still asleep in his bed. How exactly had they met? Miles remembered her sitting at a bar somewhere, looking bored. No, he thought, never bored, not this one. He had walked into the club with one of his clients, a quiet — no, silent — man… Despite the temperature of the shower, Miles began to shiver.

Miles stepped out of the bathroom, still toweling his hair and was greeted by a soft yawn and then a groan as the woman in the hotel bed stretched herself awake, sprawling across the sheets like a cat. Her eyes opened and for half a second Miles thought she looked surprised, but it was gone as soon as it had come and that same easy smile crept back across her lips.

“You’re still here,” she observed, “I was worried I might find myself alone this morning.” She stepped out from under the covers, walking naked across the room to one of the windows and began drawing back the curtains. Miles raised a hand to shield his eyes as the stunning rays of light began reflecting off every surface in the room. When the curtains were fully drawn, he lowered his hand slightly and sucked in a breath, staring dumbfounded.

She stood tall in front of the window with her chin raised, pale skin glowing warmly as it drank the Arizona sunlight that flowed in. Her hair was disheveled, but the tangle of violet and black seemed to be aflame as the sunlight caught it. Miles had never seen anything half as stunning.

Veronica, he recalled with a lazy grin. This is the woman from my dream.

* * *

He had picked up the client at precisely 10:30 pm, Friday night. In the thirteen minutes it took to reach the club, not a word was spoken, in fact Miles found it uncanny just how soundless the man in his backseat was. If the man breathed, he was talented at hiding it, and he certainly didn’t fidget. It was right about the point when Miles began hearing white noise in his ears from the silence that he acknowledged just how uncomfortable his client made him. Miles had been told that the client’s name was Jeremiah Dawson, a name he found far too civilian, and quite frankly too human for the creature in his car. Mr. Dawson was five-foot-ten by Miles’ guess, with pale grey skin pulled taut against his bones. In the brief moment of light before the client had switched off the lamps in the back seat, Miles was able to make out that the man’s suit was expensive, but then so were all of those worn by Miles’ clients, however never had Miles seen a suit so match its owner. His three button wool jacket and pants were the grey of storm clouds, while the dress shirt beneath appeared to be a much lighter shade, just distant enough from white to remain dull, even under light. Breaking the monochromatic theme was his necktie, which was black. No, Miles thought, that doesn’t do it justice. Truthfully it appeared as though the tie was woven from shadow, as though a tie-shaped hole hung from Mr. Dawson’s neck.

Miles’ brief look at the client’s face was enough to determine just how extraordinarily unremarkable it was. Jeremiah Dawson had a Roman nose, two eyes, and a thin, clean shaven mouth. It was face that said, “I’m a human. Probably.”

As Miles pulled his white Bentley Continental up alongside the Diamond Club, he noted the time on his watch. 10:43, the night had barely started.

The client let Miles lead him to the bouncer, Paul, a physically intimidating but overall pleasant man who Miles knew to be terrible at bowling. As they approached, Paul gave a nod and unhooked the chain in front of the door, smacking Miles on the back with a grin as he made his way in. His ears relished the return of sound and he inhaled the smell of liquor, perfumes, and body odor that filled the building. Dawson moved past him and immediately began scanning the mass of thrashing people for a specific face. Miles turned away from the surging sea of bodies and flashing lights to survey the bar.

He wasn’t exactly sure what he was looking for, after all it wasn’t like he expected to be drinking tonight. And I’m definitely not picking up a date while I’m he-… Miles’ thought was cut short as he noticed the pair of eyes watching him from the edge of the bar. At first he wasn’t entirely sure it was him and not something in his direction the eyes were fixed on, but as he watched one of them collapsed into a sly wink. Miles followed the outside edge of the closed eye down to the upwardly turned corner of a mouth painted dark red, set crooked in a cool, playful smile. His gaze drew out to take the rest of her in, and that’s when he noticed her hair. How had he missed it? Like a vortex of black flame. With a smile of his own he began to take a step forwards, only to be yanked back to reality by a sharp grip on his shoulder. Miles spun, following Mr. Dawson’s skeletal arm to see that his head was turned towards the dance floor still. That’s quite a grip, Miles thought, moving towards Dawson to follow his gaze. Up until that point, he wasn’t sure what his client had been looking for, just that he wasn’t expecting the spectacle he was staring at now. The man could only have been as old as Miles, perhaps even younger, and dressed in an all black, likely custom suit. The jacket was unbuttoned and underneath was a scarlet button-up silk shirt and a gold necklace of some sort that danced about his neck as he moved. The man currently had one arm wrapped around the waist of an attractive blonde in a very short silvery dress, which clung tightly to her slim figure and glimmered brilliantly under the flashing lights. The man’s face was against the girl’s neck as their bodies twisted and ground to the pounding music.

Miles took a quick glance over his shoulder to verify what he already feared. Noting that the corner seat at the bar was now vacant, he took what he assumed was his cue from Dawson and began moving towards the dancing man. Again he felt the surprisingly firm and biting grip of Dawson’s hand on his shoulder. Man, do that again and I don’t care how scary you are, that hand is coming home with me. Miles calmly turned and met Dawson’s gaze, looking for some sort of explanation. Instead, his client took three steps towards the dance floor before stopping again. Miles confusion lasted only seconds as the dancing man almost instantly seemed to take notice of Dawson’s presence and straighten up. He leaned down and whispered into his date’s ear before unwrapping his arm from her waist and walking towards a staircase that led to the lounge above. Wordlessly, Dawson began walking in the same direction, and Miles could only assume he was meant to follow as well.

Miles hadn’t previously noticed the way his client carried himself, the way he moved, but now it was all he could stare at. Every step was immaculate; left knee rose, extended the calf, heel touched the floor, left toe fell as the right knee rose, calf extended, and no sooner or later did the right heel contact the floor than the left rolled its weight forwards onto the toe. Meanwhile Dawson’s hands rested in his jacket pockets, his elbows pointing out and back, his shoulders back, and his back as straight as a sword. Yet he seemed to flow forward, like snake. Miles was so intrigued that he couldn’t decide whether it made Dawson more or less unsettling.

As he followed Dawson up the staircase, Miles examined the people above and below. There were multiple couples leaning against the balcony rail talking, arguing, or sharing drinks in silence. The nearest stood right at the edge of the staircase and could be heard over the music, though not quite well enough to understand what they were arguing about. The man had a short, square glass of clear liquid in his hands that sloshed occasionally as he waved his arms about, and the woman held a martini glass perched between her fingers, using her free hand to point at the man as she yelled. Next down the line were two men, one dressed in a blue suit jacket, slacks, and a black or dark blue cotton shirt while the other wore a white tank top under a brown leather jacket, and what appeared to be black Adidas track pants. Miles guessed they had met at the club. Both were holding green beer bottles and seemed to be shouting a pleasant conversation at each other, though theirs was not loud enough to be heard at all past the music. The man in the leather jacket must have said something funny because both men burst into laughter suddenly, and the man in the suit clapped him on the shoulder playfully. Looking down Miles examined the multi-colored heads of the dancing patrons. Like looking into a bowl of M&Ms, he thought with a smirk. Shining gold spikes, silver curls, a green ponytail, all bounced hypnotically to the throbbing beat. He knew what, or who, he was looking for, but he and Dawson had reached the top of the stairs, and his time was up.

Eyes back on his client, Miles noticed something else strange. Is his hair dyed grey? This close to the man, he could now see straight to the scalp, and right at the edge were jet black roots. Why would somebody do that? How old is this guy, really? They had reached a table where the dancing man and two others sat, a very fat man with a nervous smile that might have been wider than any mouth Miles had seen, and a tall businesswoman in an expensive looking pants suit with her red hair in a ponytail, sitting with her legs and arms crossed impatiently. It was easily the oddest gathering of people Miles had ever seen, only offset by the apparent normalcy of the dancing man. As Dawson took his seat, the businesswoman cleared her throat and gestured towards Miles. Does anyone here talk? Miles thought just as the dancing man stood up and turned to face him.
“It’s Mr. Kendrick, right?” He had such a cool, strong voice. It felt exceptionally out of place tonight.

“Miles, please,” Miles responded with a light nod and smile.
The dancing man’s hand reached out, and Miles met it for a firm handshake, “Thank you so much for seeing Mr. Dawson here safely, we all greatly appreciate it.”
Really? Maybe you should tell them that. Miles smiled, “Of course.”
“However my colleagues and I have work to attend to tonight and tomorrow, so Mr. Dawson will be staying with us for the remainder of the evening.” This resulted in Dawson’s head pivoting to face the dancing man, though his expression remained cool and emotionless. Their eyes met and held for a moment before Dawson slowly turned his head forwards again, looking past both the heavy man and the businesswoman. Dancing man’s hand returned to his pocket and removed a clasp of bills, folding out four hundred-

You’re a few hundred ligh-

-before handing the rest of the clip to Miles, who stood, dumbfounded as he looked at what must have been three-thousand dollars.

“Enjoy your night, Mr. Kendrick. We’ll be in touch soon.” The dancing man then returned to his seat, and Miles turned back towards the staircase, feeling like he was in some some surreal dream.

Miles put the clip of cash into his jacket pocket, and turned to walk down the stairs. The combination of sounds, smells, flashing lights, and what had just transpired had him in a trance, like he was sitting in the back of his skull and going for a ride in his own body, just watching through two portals in his face. His fingers absently counted the cash in his pocket as he descended the staircase. Twenty-eight hundred for a twenty minute escort job, Miles inwardly remarked, I can deal with weird for that. Reaching the bottom of the staircase, Miles placed his hand on the railing and spun around the corner on his heel, coming face to face with a stunning pair of violet eyes.

“Oh shit! I’m sorry!” She exclaimed as Miles felt and smelled the gin spreading across the middle of his shirt, noting the now empty martini glass in her left hand.
“I’m the one who should be sorry, I wasn’t…” Miles head cocked to the side as he recognized the vortex of onyx. He now noticed how it flared out into a crown of purple points at the end. She was wearing a long sleeved black leather vest over her tank top now, the collar of which was worn high and open, which put off a sort of gothic royalty vibe. How about that? He thought with a smile, “I’m Miles.”

“Veronica. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up so you can buy me a new drink.” As she turned he couldn’t help but let out a chuckle. Veronica spun back around, one eyebrow raised, “Oh?” she said, placing her free hand on her hip.

Miles felt his face growing red and very warm, “No, no, it’s not that! It’s just… I’ve had a really weird night,” he said chuckling again.

Veronica’s right hand reached out and grabbed Miles’ left, “Well it’s not quite over yet.” And with a devious grin she turned back around and led him towards the restroom.

Martian Paradise: Part 2

I have a lot of inner conflict when it comes to the topic of humans on Mars. There are some amazing, really terrific plans being laid out to begin setting up human colonies on or below the surface by as early as the 2030s, chiefly this one recently announced by our very own space administration. This, directly after the release of Ridley Scott’s wonderful film The Martian, which has been called NASA’s best advertisement in decades, as well as the very recent discovery of water brines on Mars’ surface, something I talked about a couple posts ago.
However, the excitement I get when thinking about these announcements and plans comes in stark contrast with a series of ideas I began exploring a little over a month ago when Elon Musk joked around about nuking Mars’ poles on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Ever since that interview I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the prospect of making Mars hospitable in the near future. Forget living in domes, or below the surface, what would it take to give Mars an atmosphere that plants, animals, and even human beings could breathe? What steps do we need to take to terraform our red neighbor?
One of the main points Musk makes in his interview is that Mars needs to be warmed up if life of any sort is ever going to survive on it. At present, the average temperature on the surface of Mars is around -55° C, about 6° colder than Antarctica in the winter and well below the threshold for even microbial life (well, sort of). That, coupled with the near lack of any atmospheric pressure whatsoever, means no complex lifeforms can survive there. So, how do we warm it up and raise the atmospheric pressure at the same time? Well, that’s actually not as complex as it sounds.
While Elon Musk was half joking with his “nuke it!” plan, there is a lot of merit in that concept. The initial increase in temperature above these ice caps would vaporize them, releasing an amount of CO2 directly into the atmosphere. Not much in the grand scheme, mind you, but enough to raise the temperature maybe by a degree or two. This would start a chain reaction, slowly melting and vaporizing the various pockets of ice and permafrost scattered over the planet’s surface and in its rocks. The more CO2 you release, the more the atmospheric pressure increases, making the planet warm up gradually. The radioactive waste would play perhaps the most important role, spreading its toxic heat throughout the atmosphere and greatly increasing the rate at which the temperature rises. Other steps would certainly need to be taken, but with time the idea is that this process would lead to a livable Mars.
“But Fulton,” You’re thinking, “Nuclear fallout contains cesium-137 which has a half-life of 30 years! How will we live on the surface when the very air will cook us?” Well said! There’s a reason I said, “with time…” Aside from the 30 years it would take for the atmosphere to lose its toxicity, we’re looking at a much, much longer period of time before the atmosphere is breathable at all. By heating up the surface and melting all the ice, we would be creating an atmosphere almost completely composed of carbon-dioxide, which is scientifically classified under, “Stuff not to breathe.” However, while humans and animals are biologically useless in this whole equation, plant life is far from it. As you may already know, assuming you’re knowledge of chemistry isn’t limited to the half-life of radioactive wastes, plants love CO2, they can’t live without it. Whereas we suck in oxygen and pump out CO2, plants do the exact opposite of that, and it is believed that they are the very reason our own planet isn’t in the same shape as Mars.
Before you go getting all excited and envisioning our red neighbor turning green, there are some major hurdles to get over before any of this can be done. For starters, this will require large amounts of water, and I don’t mean poisonously salty Martian brines, I mean heavy, clean irrigation. Another issue is breeding a plant that can thrive off a thin atmosphere and incredibly harsh conditions, including greatly reduced gravity. Perhaps the greatest issue however is the time involved in this endeavor. We’re potentially talking about decades of planning followed by more than a century of solid work, and that worries me. Are people going to get behind a program that will not come to fruition until well after their deaths? The dilemma that started this article, this idea that we need to start a temporary colony on Mars now versus the potential to make a livable planet over the course of multiple generations is one of my greatest vexations right now. I’m deeply vexed. I’m worried that with all the hype around The Martian and these latest announcements by NASA, we’re putting the cart before the horse. Wasting an opportunity to become a truly interplanetary species!
Luckily, I have some neat ideas on how to speed this process up as well as get over a couple of those hurdles, and while I know nearly nothing about plants and botany, I do know a thing or two about water in space, and I also have a very active imagination (plus, NASA’s already working on that whole plants-in-space thing.) I need to pace myself though, so all will be revealed in a later post. Later being tomorrow. I’ll see you tomorrow.

Martian Paradise

In the days leading up to NASA’s much anticipated announcement this past Monday concerning a recent discovery on Mars, I saw many theories pop up. Would it be microbial life? Fossilized remains? Lizard men? The prevailing theory quickly became that NASA would announce the discovery of liquid water on Mars’ surface, and as many of you already know wound up being correct. I’ll admit, prior to the announcement I was highly doubtful that this was possible. See, the temperature and pressure maintained by Mars’ atmosphere is extremely low in comparison to Earth’s (about 0.6%); causing water to undergo a phenomena known as sublimation. This means that rather than melting, the atmospheric pressure on Mars is so low that H2O goes straight from solid to gas, vaporizing the instant it goes above 0°C. You can witness sublimation first-hand any time you freeze-dry food, or more commonly any time you see a block of dry ice (frozen carbon-dioxide).
However, you probably have guessed by now that all of this is a bit irrelevant at this point because NASA did in fact announce the discovery of flowing Martian water. So how is this possible? Well, as it turns out everything stated above is technically correct (the best kind of correct.) While Mars’ atmosphere does not allow the existence of pure liquid H2O on the surface, water that has been saturated so heavily by perchlorate salts (ClO4) that the freezing temperature has been lowered from 0°C (32°F) to -70°C (-94°F) apparently is allowed.
So! What does this mean? Well, the quantity of water observed is very small so far, but so is the quantity of Mars’ surface that has been observed up close. Since 2006, only around 3% of Mars’ surface has been photographed at a resolution high enough to observe these brines. Still, life as we know it would not be able to exist in water activity as low as we are currently observing, let alone at this level of salinity. That being sad, this has greatly increased the odds of life existing at one point on Mars. While perchlorate salts have the ability to absorb water molecules from the surrounding air, as well as from the ice captured in Martian soil, as mentioned earlier the atmosphere on Mars is .6% the density of that on Earth, making it a very unlikely source. I personally believe it is far more likely that these brines will further our knowledge about the existence and eventual fate of Mars’ long extinct oceans, though whether or not they are remnants of said oceans remains to be seen (and is unlikely given the near 4 billion year time frame.)
Regardless, this is all very exciting news, and I can’t wait until more information is released!

LSST (Large Synoptic Survey Telescope)

The LSST is a planned observatory currently under development and construction on the El Peñón peak of Cerro Pachon in Chile (alongside the Gemini South telescope). Construction began in mid October, 2014 and is set to finish up around 2019, with first scientific observations to be made in 2021 and full operations to begin in January, 2022. The LSST will feature an 8.4-meter mirror and a 3200 megapixel camera (three-point-two-billion pixels! That’s… *ahem* that’s, uh, pretty neat.) Though the primary mirror is one of the smallest to be featured in the many upcoming mainsail telescopes (the Giant Magellan Telescope will have a 30-meter mirror, and the European Extremely Large Telescope will feature both a 42-meter mirror as well as the most boring name for an observatory), its main selling point is its massive field of view, which is achieved with the assistance of two additional 3.4-meter mirrors and will allow it to capture wider, undistorted images of the cosmos than any telescope before it.

Coolest concept image of LSST’s exterior:

Another major selling point for the LSST, and my personal favorite, is that it’s data gathering will be open to the public. Though perhaps ambitious, this will be the first time a telescope anywhere near this size or power has been built for the purpose of research by students and the public primarily. The concept behind this is somewhat similar to Foldit (a puzzle game that allows the user to make legitimate contributions to science by folding proteins as efficiently as possible, it has led to many breakthroughs in disease eradication and the understanding of biological structures), wherein a larger pool of observers — even amateur — could easily lead to a greater number of game-changing observations and research opportunities.

Among LSST’s primary scientific goals are scanning the deep sky for signatures of dark energy and/or dark matter through gravitational lensing. This is a phenomena whose observation has been met with varying degrees of success, mostly little, and could finally shed light on many of the biggest questions about our universe, and with luck even some we haven’t thought to ask yet. Another of its goals, and perhaps the most ambitious, is coming up with the first, fully detailed map of the Milky Way galaxy. This is part of a ten year assignment that will begin in early 2022, and will involve mapping out small objects in the Kuiper belt as well as events such as supernovae.

To me this is probably the most exciting project currently being worked on by the scientific community (unless you count that pseudo-immortality thing, I’m down with living to observe all of human history) with one of the main reasons being its usability by anyone and everyone with the aptitude to do so. Projects like this one could very well begin a new age of science as a facet of our very culture, or at the least something that the public takes a far more active interest in. As loathe as I am to use the word “ambitious” a third time while writing this, that’s the most accurate term I can think of to describe this project, outside of “ballsy” and “kickass” perhaps. My only issue is that the world has to wait eight years to see it come to fruition.

 You can learn more about the LSST project here and here.

To Be a Bachelor in the Promised Land

I haven’t written in some time, and though my excuses are many, my reasons are few. Now that we have that out of the way, college has been something spectacular. I would say it has been everything I ever hoped it could be, but that would indicate I had any concept of how absolutely crazy life at a university could be, and I’m quickly learning that my scope was pretty narrow going in. It’s sort of similar to the way people in the ’60s thought the turn of the century would bring with it hover-cars and robot-maids (I watched The Jetsons once) but instead we shoot birds at pigs and poorly built structures (poorly structured buildings? I seriously re-wrote this sentence a dozen times and I still hate it) and land remote-controlled science labs on comets — that last one happened in real life. I’m not saying I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants through a world of equal parts debauchery and cold-hard-science, but I could, and it would make for an interesting story.

To be honest, not much about me has changed, and I doubt it ever will. Everyone grows up and gets better at suppressing their urge to act like Huck Finn in public, interests broaden or narrow, but I’m still pretty confused about everything. I had this idea going into college of how wise I would become, how it was this wealth of knowledge just waiting for me to plunder it; and once I got my hands on that knowledge, hot damn look out. This isn’t entirely untrue, but as with anywhere there is as much misinformation as there is information, and I tend to fall in love with all of it regardless. I’m a boy who loves stories, fiction as much as fact, and I’ll weep bitterly on the day that changes.

Anyway, it at least feels good to exercise my fingers again, perhaps I’ll do it more often.

A Superhuman History of Violence

Since the earliest records of history, humans have loved a good edge-of-your-seat violent action spectacle. The Romans had their gladiatorial games, 16th century Parisians had their infamous “cat burnings” or simply threw animals into fighting pits for entertainment, and war has inarguably been an honored part of human culture for centuries. However, this trend seems to be dying as our society becomes more empathetic and our persuasion towards violence becomes one of disapproval rather than glorification. So what has taken the place of sating our up-until-recently blatant blood-lust? The surprising answer appears to be multimillion-dollar superhero blockbusters.

The turn of the century was evidently the perfect time for comic book heroes to finally take over the big screen. Since then, superhero movies have displayed considerable endurance and prevalence in the film industry, perhaps more so than any genre to come before them, with more than a dozen top grossing box office hits under their utility belts. In fact, superheroes have thrilled the world since National Allied Publications was founded in 1934 and Timely Comics followed in 1939 — both now known as DC Comics and Marvel Comics respectively — and have continued to see popularity since, but their transition to the screen both in theaters and at home has been a rocky one to say the least; well, until recently.

You might be thinking, “Isn’t it possible this success is simply a result of the complex subject matter speaking to the audience in a profound way?” It’s possible, my well spoken friend, but if you look at the primary subject matter in each of these superhero movies you will find that they offer very little in common.

It can certainly be argued that Bryan Singer’s revolutionary X-Men film in 2000 opened the door for the flood of silver-screen comic book adaptations that followed. However the X-Men have always stood as a not-so-subtle metaphor for various Civil Rights movements, most recently the LGBT rights movements. This theme is strongest in Singer’s much loved sequel, X2, in which one mutant’s parent (upon his “coming out”) poses the desperate question, “Have you tried… not to be a mutant?” Soon after the success of X-Men came Sam Raimi’s modern interpretation of Spider-Man in 2002, and while the wall crawler remains a symbol for kind-hearted justice, his story is a rather obvious allegory for puberty, complete with Uncle Ben’s ever quoted line, “With great power comes great responsibility,” a representation of the influx of new powers and abilities we have as adults and our responsibility to use them for good.

Following these movies were Christopher Nolan’s refreshing (and much needed) reboot of the Caped Crusader, Batman Begins, and his Marvel counterpart Iron Man. Two fairly interchangeable heroes who operate as a one-man judge, jury, and executioner — or imprisoner in the case of Batman. These heroes have no problem violating the privacy of the everyman to protect us from the villains among us, and in fact do so on a regular basis. In the end, the lesson these two teach is that we cannot be trusted with our own freedom. Lastly we come to one of America’s newest — and incidentally oldest — favorites, Captain America. The First Avenger fights Nazis, oppressive new world orders, and in his latest movie, his/our own government. Upon the discovery of their schemes to remove personal privacy and freedoms in a revolutionary threat-prevention system, Cap poses the challenge to his superiors, “I thought the punishment usually came after the crime.” The rest of the movie sees Captain America risking life, limb, and reputation fighting to ensure that the citizens of the world retain the freedom to choose their own fate.

This is why I find it hard to believe any one person can love all of these movies on the reasoning that the subject matter appeals to them. On the rare occasion that the underlying lessons do connect, they do so seemingly only to contradict one another.

In spite of this, superhero films today rake in billions of dollars at the box office, attracting millions of audience members, most of whom will find as much enjoyment in the latest addition to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series as they will when viewing Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I would argue that this is because humans have a deeply embedded violence fetish. Recently, although it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when, society decided it is no longer acceptable to glorify and exploit the violent acts of simple men. This could have presented a problem, because as Livescience’s Jeanna Bryner points out in her article “Humans Crave Violence Just Like Sex,” the brain draws a distinct feeling of reward from actions and observations of violence. The study Bryner’s article concerns discovered that, “… the same clusters of brain cells involved in other rewards are also behind the craving for violence.” With the end of the study seeing this statement from study member Craig Kennedy: “We learned from these experiments that an individual will intentionally seek out an aggressive encounter solely because they experience a rewarding sensation from it.”

So how do you make your escape into a violent world when the world around you no longer accepts violence at the ordinary human level? This brings us to one of the many great things about superhero movies, which is that they provide their own sense of justification for the violence they deliver. We can eat popcorn through our eerily enthusiastic grins as our wide eyes take in the combined force of the Avengers and a massive army of aliens leveling Manhattan, and still feel superb at the end of the movie. It’s okay for Christian Bale to use his unfathomable funds to dress as a bat and beat the pulp out of an army of thugs because we can rest assured that he is doing it for all the right reasons; because his sense of justice is absolute.

In the end, humans have made the semi-subconscious discovery that the same trust we have always placed in superheroes, as impartial leaders with only our best interests at heart, now allows our consciences to shrug off the considerable body counts that pile up around them. While our society has evolved into one far more empathetic and accepting than that of our barbaric ancestors, we humans have retained our inherent fascination and love of violent spectacles, simply moulding it to fit in with our modern sensibilities. Presently it takes on the guise of the exciting superhero flick, and while it’s okay to tell yourself that you took the kids to see The Avengers because heroes teach valuable lessons, you can also rest easy knowing that it was probably because somewhere you heard there were as many explosions as there were lines of dialogue and it contained a fight scene so big it made Manhattan disappear. So as long as comic book heroes continue to deliver our favorite pastime in an easy to stomach package, I look forward to a long future of cinematic dominance for them still to come.

 

Why Bill Nye Won the Debate Against Ken Ham, and Why that Didn’t Need to Be the Case

 

“Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” This

was the question in the debate between Bill Nye and creationist Ken Ham last week.

I’ll admit, while I tried to go at this with a neutral view, I had a pretty clear idea of who

I expected would come out ahead; that being said, I learned a lot.

Ken Ham opened the debate — a decision made by a backstage coin toss

won by Ham before the debate (something to be said for divine intervention?) — by

listing off reputable scientists who were also creationists. His purpose was clearly

to demonstrate that, “secularists [are] hijacking the word ‘science’,” and that the

majority of people tend to draw a line in their minds between religion and science.

Ham went on to argue that public schools are teaching evolution in a way that

cannot be fully verified, yet simultaneously treating it as fact. He offered up a model

that he claimed was far more readily agreeable in the scientific community: that the

millions of different animals known to exist today all developed from a few thousand

“kinds” that were all on Noah’s Ark during the great flood, which would take the

number of animals on the Ark down to a somewhat reasonable level. This argument,

of course, is greatly weakened by his insistence on a 6,000-year-old Earth — a time

period during which no significant diversification of species could occur.

Still, Ham introduces some compelling points for his belief system, as well as

bringing up the perhaps unequal treatment received by the naturalistic origin model.

In my opinion, this portion of his argument should have lasted far longer than it did,

as it made even non-religious scientific viewers perk up, even if only for a moment.

Instead, however, he went on to bring up several moral issues (such as proper

marriage, the origin of sin, and the degradation of our moral foundations) in what

was intended to have been a scientific debate. For awhile, he seemed to lose sight

of the debate topic, spending a lot of time focusing on the foundation of Christianity,

as laid down in the book of Genesis, and the testaments of those who share his

beliefs.

When Bill Nye took the stage, it became an entirely different sight. He began

by showing a fossil in limestone that he had picked up on the side of the road while

heading into Kentucky. He used the fossil to lead into the statement that, “We are

all standing on millions of layers of ancient life.” This begged the question, “How

could those animals have lived their entire lives, and formed these layers in just

6,000 years?” He went on to point out that some of his colleagues work in labs

that drill deep into the ice in places like Greenland and Antarctica where they have

found 680,000 layers of snow-ice (snow that has been compacted until it forms ice),

indicating 680,000 winter-summer cycles in those areas.

This is indicative of how the rest of Bill Nye’s presentation went. He didn’t

make excuses or apologies; he utilized his vast knowledge of the scientific process

to assert that Ken Ham’s creation model flat-out doesn’t work, and that failure is

mainly due to one reason: his insistence on a young Earth.

As many reading this will already know, the scientific process consists of: 1.

Making an observation; 2. Asking a question; 3. Suggesting a hypothesis; 4. Making

a prediction; and 5. Performing a test. If your test does not support your hypothesis

then you make a new hypothesis. If it does, then you make more predictions and

do more tests. Ken Ham frequently claimed throughout the debate that despite

scientists predictions about the past, one cannot know what went on because, “You

weren’t there” — In which case I suppose you would simply stop at stage 3 of the

scientific process?

It’s not so much a matter of proving, here and now, that Ken Ham and his

model are wrong (although some would certainly argue that we can); rather, it is a

matter of his model not being a viable scientific origin model because it ignores the

scientific process. XKCD, a favorite webcomic of mine, once said something that has

really stuck with me, and I doubt I could say it more eloquently: “The wonderful thing

about science is that it doesn’t ask for your faith, it just asks for your eyes.” There is

absolutely no necessity for a separation between religion and science, as long as

science doesn’t become a belief system.

One question really sums this debate up well in my mind, and that was,

“What, if anything, would change your mind?”

Ken Ham responded, “Well, the answer to that question is, I’m a Christian.

And, as a Christian, I can’t prove it to you that God has definitely shown me very

clearly through his word and shown himself in the person of Jesus Christ that the

Bible is the word of God. I admit that that’s where I start from… So, as far as the

Word of God is concerned, no. No one’s ever going to convince me that the Word of

God is not true.”

Bill Nye, however, answered, “We would just need one piece of evidence. We

would need the fossil that swam from one layer to another. We would need evidence

that the universe is not expanding… that the stars appear to be far away but are

not… that somehow you can reset atomic clocks and keep neutrons from becoming

protons. Bring on any of those things and you would change me immediately.”

A scientist should keep an open mind, and I think these responses say a lot about the

mindsets of the two men who gave them.

Book: Chapter 1

(Read the Prologue here:  http://fultonmiller.com/?p=116)

CHAPTER ONE

June 14, 2036, 5:32 pm

It’s a long way down. Brandon shifted his drink back over to his left hand nervously, struggling to keep his hands from shaking. Stop looking out the window, he thought to himself, doing his best to keep his gaze fixed on the alcoholic beverage, though he seldom lifted it to his lips for a swallow. It wasn’t that the drink wasn’t good; in fact, it would have been some of the best scotch he’d ever tasted, but he always got nauseous when airborne. He hadn’t really wanted the drink, but the smiley Japanese businessman who had seen them off from the HanedaAirport in Tokyo had insisted the stewardess bring it to him, despite the fact that he was only eighteen. He swirled the liquid distastefully, watching the three remaining ice cubes tumble over one another.

The initial wave of awe that had struck him as he first walked onto the expensively furnished plane had long since passed, and he was already tired of sitting in the too-soft leather seats, staring at the gleam of the polished wood decor. He took a glance away from his glass to peer down the fuselage towards where Luke was sitting, deftly using chopsticks to pick up a piece of sushi with his right hand while keeping his eyes riveted on the light display of the tablet in his left. On land, Brandon would have been more than happy to devour all the sushi his stomach could hold – and then some – but in the air… It’s not natural, Brandon thought with a shudder.

He watched with somewhat morbid fascination as his friend’s hand moved like a construction crane forward, then straight down, dipping the piece of sushi into the small dish of soy sauce directly below. The morsel reemerged as quickly as it had gone down, the brown stain still spreading across the bed of rice. His arm acted almost as a separate creature, mechanically shaking two droplets of soy sauce back into the dish and swinging the sushi around to its owner’s mouth.

Brandon let out a chuckle despite his current demeanor. “Jesus, Luke. What are you, a robot?”

Luke stopped and looked up, eyes wide as if he had forgotten where he was. Half the piece of sushi was still comically perched in front of his face, and his eyes darted down to it and back to his friend sitting down the aisle. A smile twisted the side of his mouth upward as he made the connection. “My apologies for being a distraction. Would you like me to order you another glass of scotch to stare at?”

Brandon grimaced; he was hoping Luke hadn’t noticed. “You’re right. I’m sure reading the same research data hundreds of times is far more stimulating.” The words tumbled out of his mouth even as he tried to stop them. Too late, he watched the look on Luke’s face melt back to one of worry and mild frustration.

“I need to be sure,” Luke said in a strained and desperate voice. He absently began twirling one of the chopsticks between his fingers, his cold blue eyes swirling in thought and focused on something near his feet. “This meeting could go any number of ways, and I would rather it be the right one.”

“Luke, relax,” Brandon said, raising the glass and downing about half its contents, wincing as his throat caught fire. “The research is sound,” he managed to choke out. “Everything will go just fine.” He caught a glimpse out the window and his face immediately paled, “That is, if we make it to the damned meeting.”

Luke looked back up, “What are you afraid of?”

“You mean other than the fact that we’re in an enclosed steel tube, hurtling through open air at an altitude and speed nature couldn’t possibly have prepared us for? Nothing. Why do you ask?” Brandon responded with a nervous grin.

Luke smiled, “Hey, it’s only three times more dangerous than driving. By the way, how many car crashes have you been in now?”

Brandon looked back down sullenly at what was left of his whisky, “You’re a goddamn comedian.”

* * *

Miles looked down. The tiles below him formed a checkerboard pattern, alternating black and white, littered with mostly-empty crumpled beer cans and scuffed with black streaks of shoe rubber. His feet weren’t touching any of it. The ground slid by beneath him as he stood in one spot, staring forward in a daze. There was a voice up ahead, quickly cut out by a powerful and robust bout of laughter that shook the air around him.

The square table was the color severely oxidized iron, worn down in many places to reveal the rough plywood beneath and decorated with scattered playing cards. On the left side sat a thin, pale boy with crystal blue eyes set in a face so narrow you could hardly see past the fine black hair that fell over it. Miles found it strange that the boy wasn’t wearing a shirt; the strangeness was made even more so by the large, raw burn across his chest, which still had wisps of smoke curling off of it. The boy’s focus was elsewhere and his face was angled upward, brilliant eyes shining in deep thought.

On the next face at the table he saw a man who looked like he was in his late teens or early twenties, broad shouldered with thick brown hair. The boy/man’s skin was slightly tanned, but his face was sickly pale and coated with small droplets of perspiration. In his right hand he tightly gripped a glass of whiskey, making an obvious effort to avoid meeting it with his cold green eyes.

At the right side of the table, Miles spotted a pair of long, slender legs, wrapped in thin black tights. He followed them up past a dark silk skirt and over a matchedly slender waist and body, clothed in a tight-fitting, white cotton tank top. Her left arm held a tall glass filled with blood-red liquid, a stalk of celery poking out of the top. The arm and glass slowly rose and Miles’ eyes tracked them up to a dark red mouth that was twisted to one side in a devious smile. His gaze quickly traced over her upper lip, across her nose and up to a breathtaking pair of violet eyes, which met his in a knowing stare; yet there was laughter in it as well, and a dangerous intelligence. Thick, jet black hair fell across her forehead, the last two inches of it dyed the same color as her irises. The rest of her head looked as though it were wreathed in violet and onyx flames, coming to a jagged point near the back.

The last patron’s back was facing Miles, but even from behind, his generous girth was obvious. He seemed to be shaking, and every couple seconds a sputtering sound escaped the man’s lips as he attempted to subdue his laughter. As he came to a stop at the table, Miles noticed for the first time the pair of eyes sitting in the middle of it. No eyelids, no skull, no face, just a pair of bloodshot eyeballs aimed right at the man in front of him. The eyes spun, aiming right at his own. They were full of anger, full of fear, full of hunger, and they seemed to be trying to say something to him. Apparently giving up, the eyes flicked back to the portly man. The message seemed to hit home there, as the man suddenly lost all control of his laughter. It came erupting from deep in his chest, exiting his mouth in a deep, throaty roar, intermittent with choking gasps and the sounds of his monstrous fists pounding on the table.

None of the other people at the table even seemed to notice. The boy on the left was still gazing ponderously at the endless sky, the man in the middle was still not looking at his whiskey, and the beautiful girl on the right still had that smile, intently watching Miles’ every move.

Without warning, the laughing man stood up and turned around, grabbing Miles by the shoulders he wasn’t aware he had until that moment. The man was still laughing; in fact, his entire face looked as though it were made for the act, though to call it a face would be inaccurate. The man’s mouth was beyond enormous, lips stretching from one ear to the other, opening his skull in two as it flew open in his raucous fit of merriment. As it did, Miles could see straight down the man’s throat, to the muscles contracting with each violent gasp.

The laughter stopped and the voice that followed made Miles’ ears ache.

“THAT WAS A GOOD ONE, WOULDN’T YOU SAY, MILES?!” 

All he could do was stare…

Miles’ torso shot up off the bed like a piston, panting and dripping with sweat. He placed his hands on the bed behind him for support and began taking deep, gasping breaths as he surveyed the room around him. It was dark, but the room appeared to be white… completely white. He heard the sound of soft breathing to his left and turned quickly to see the source. Messy hair as black as onyx and tipped with violet fell across a large white pillow, narrow neck spreading down to a pale, bare chest.

He smiled as he began to remember the events of the previous night. “Well there’s one,” he said softly, feeling his racing heart begin to slow. He let his body fall back onto the soft hotel bed, running a hand through his hair and looking over at the clock on his right. 5:00 am, he mused, closing his eyes. God, I love Phoenix.

Miles’ eyes reopened three hours later, refusing to drift back closed despite how heavy and achy they felt. He practically fell out of bed, then stumbled across the dark, carpeted hotel room to where he thought the bathroom was and shoved the door open. His right hand crawled up the wall to the light switch panel, stopping just short of turning it on as his wits began to return to him. The walls around him were white. The now tiled floor below him was white. To top it all off, directly in front of him and above the bright marble sinks was a large mirror. On second thought, I’ll shower in the dark, Miles decided, wincing at the image of his eyes melting out of their sockets.

Stripping down quickly, he turned the water up almost as hot as it would go and stepped under the stream. As the scalding water cascaded over his head and shoulders, he thought back to the girl, still asleep in his bed. How exactly had they met? Miles remembered her sitting at a bar somewhere, looking bored. He had walked into the club with one of his clients, a jolly fat man who had laughed like a lion roare-

He stopped, the sound of hearty laughter and the image of a faceless mouth in his head. Despite the temperature of the shower, Miles began to shiver.

Miles stepped out of the bathroom, still toweling his hair and was greeted by a soft yawn and then a groan as the woman in the hotel bed stretched herself awake. Her eyes opened and for half a second Miles thought she looked surprised, but it was gone as soon as it had come and that same easy smile crept back across her lips.

“You’re still here,” she observed, “I was worried I might find myself alone this morning.” She stepped out from under the covers, walking naked across the room to one of the windows and began drawing back the curtains. Miles raised a hand to shield his eyes as the stunning rays of light began reflecting off every surface in the room. When the curtains were fully drawn, he lowered his hand slightly and sucked in a breath, staring dumbfounded.

As she stood in front of the window, her once pale skin glowed warmly as it drank the sunlight from outside the window. Her hair was disheveled, but the tangle of violet and black seemed to be aflame as the sunlight caught it. Miles had never seen anything half as stunning.

Veronica, he recalled with a lazy grin. This is the woman from my dream.

 

 

Book

It has been quite awhile since my last post, and for that I apologize, but this has been in part due to the fact that I’ve been working on a new, long term project. Earlier this year I got the idea to start writing a novel, and have recently found the time and motivation to begin writing it. I will be posting its progress on this page, often in lieu of my usual material, but hopefully it will be no less entertaining. Without further ado, here is the prologue:

LUKE

The springs of the bed creaked audibly as the the boy rolled over again, coming to rest on his elbow. Luke lay his chin in the palm of his hand and looked up at the dark window on the wall, watching as streams of water raced to the bottom, pooling up for a moment, then vanishing from view. Luke shivered, pulling the blankets up to his shoulders. The chill seemed to radiate from the cool glass, crawling across the floor and over the edges of the bed with the express purpose of making him miserably cold. He shifted and lay on his side adopting the fetal position, hugging the covers closer. From here he could clearly hear the rain rhythmically drumming on the roof above. It was like a metronome, relentlessly pounding its way into his skull, each drop tapping and reverberating through his bones.

Luke pressed his eyelids together, willing sleep to take him, though deep down he knew his heart wasn’t in it. He reopened his eyes and looked at the alarm clock by his bed. The light display seemed to yell, “It’s 2:30 am! Go to bed, man!” He frowned at it and stuck out his tongue, shifting his weight and throwing his legs over the edge of the bed; he wasn’t sure why, but he really wanted to see this storm.

As he stood up, Luke let the blankets fall away, feeling them brush from his shoulders down his back, raising goose-bumps on already cold skin. In three quick steps he stood at the small window, trying to focus on the images that swirled and distorted with every trailing drop of rain. A strong gust of wind rattled the house, and he watched as the downpour was suddenly ripped to the left, giving the impression that the sky itself had fallen on its side.

Luke cupped his hands around his face, pressed up against the windowpane, and peered into the distance. Across the street, beyond two lines of houses, and down a hill was a high, rippling sea of pines. The forest looked alive tonight, flowing and churning with the wind, painted black with the rest of the night world. So similar, Luke marveled. Every one of them. He grinned widely, I wonder if they look at us and think the same thing. He thought for a moment, then stood perfectly still and listened. Through the carpet and floorboards, eyes tightly shut, focusing intently. His smile grew as he found what he was searching for: the soft one-two snore of his parents from downstairs.

Without wasting a moment, Luke began making his way out of the bedroom and down the hallway, walking on the pads of his feet and stepping carefully around the places on the floor where he knew the boards squeaked loudest. It was a short walk from the hallway to the living-room, and from there to the front door, and he made it just as easily and stealthily as he had a million times before.

The door was at the far end, and his hand reached it before the rest of his body, quickly but carefully applying downward pressure on the “J” shaped bronze handle. The mechanism clicked softly as the latch receded back into the door, and Luke slowly pulled backwards until it was open about one-eighth of the way, then he slipped through the opening like a ghost, pulling the door just to the point when it hadn’t quite latched.

Immediately the automatic porch light popped on, bathing him in a warm yellow glow; it almost made him forget how cold the wind and rain was making him. Almost. Luke felt a chill go down his back that continued right on to his bare feet, inducing a violent shiver. By the time the spasm ended, Luke’s jaw hurt, and he realized he had been clenching his teeth.

He stood on the soggy wooden planks that made up his porch and watched the millions of drops of water explode into mist as they hit the earth. The world’s coldest blanket. After a moment of standing there, Luke breathed deeply, puffing up his chest, then he took two big steps away from the porch, and into the wall of water in front of him.

BRANDON

It just kept coming down! Brandon groaned, he hated storms, always had. Always will! Brandon growled inwardly. He reached his arm across his chest and grabbed the end of the blankets, ripping them off and sitting up in his bed. Frustrated, he picked up his alarm clock in one hand and looked at the glowing blue numbers. 2:35 am. Brandon’s eyebrows moved together as his ever present frown deepened. He tossed the clock aside and got up, kicking aside the dirty clothes and random toys that decorated the floor of his room. His bedroom door was always open and he moved from there into the kitchen to root through the cupboards for a glass that didn’t have smudges all over it. He didn’t find one.

It amazed Brandon how loud and incessant the hum of the refrigerator was, even compared to the heavy rainfall. He spun towards it on his heel and loudly walked forward, taking full advantage of the fact that his parents wouldn’t be home for another hour or so.
With the glass in one hand, Brandon reached over and grabbed the aluminum handle of the fridge, tugging the door open and grabbing a half empty jug of milk. Half walking, half stomping, he made his way to the small table in the living room and filled the glass, spilling some but not really enough for him to be bothered with it. He popped the red cap back on the plastic container and carried it back to its home, slamming the fridge door and walking out the way he had come.

Instead of heading back to his room, Brandon turned right and walked back into the living room, grabbing a chair from around the table and setting it in front of the broad glass pane at the front of the room. Maybe I’ll get to see a tree fall on someone’s house or something, Brandon thought sourly as he turned on the light and plopped himself down.

And then he saw him. Brandon squinted and blinked his eyes a couple of times to make sure it wasn’t just his imagination or the glare of the glass making him see the half-naked boy standing in the rain across the street. The boy’s hair was plastered to his head, and he looked as pale as a ghost. As far as his head went, Brandon could only really see his neck and chin, since the boy seemed to be staring straight up into the sky. Brandon moved closer to the window and craned his neck to try and see what was so interesting in the clouds, but there was nothing… just clouds and rain. What a wierdo, Brandon thought, rolling his eyes.

Brandon took a heavy gulp of his milk and was about to turn the light back off when the boy’s face lowered and looked right at him. Brandon stopped, halfway off the seat with his glass of milk raised. The ghost-kid seemed to be frozen as well, obviously not expecting anyone to be watching, and Brandon definitely knew how this must look. Creepy, very creepy, he figured.

The two of them stood like that for what felt like minutes, until Brandon realized his legs were aching from the half crouched way he was posed. He quickly stood up and fumbled with the light switch, plunging the room back into darkness.

LUKE

Luke’s heart was pounding in his chest and his face was so warm he thought the rain might evaporate off of it. Oh god! Luke thought, horrified. He knew the kid in the window, his name was Brandon Tucker, and if Brandon had recognized him he would never hear the end of it at school. Luke lowered his chin to his chest and began to turn back towards the house.

Suddenly the world split in two and there was a blinding flash of light accompanied by a deafening explosion. Luke didn’t feel himself leave the ground, or the jarring impact as he came back to it, nor did he feel or smell the skin on his chest and forearms scorching. Luke was a million miles away.

BRANDON

No sooner had Brandon turned off the living room light that it seemed to turn itself back on, except a thousand times brighter! Brandon covered his eyes and felt the house shake with the exceptionally loud crack and roar left by the blast. When he looked back, the pavement where the boy had been standing was scorched black in the shape of a star, the boy lay some five feet back, smoke curling off of his torso.

Brandon’s heart was speeding from the adrenaline. He took a deep breath, and that was when it hit him. He’s not getting up. What do I do?! Every muscle in his body screamed run, and he had a sudden strong urge to go to the bathroom. His mind was blank, if only for a second. The next one he was sprinting across the room for the phone. His fingers were shaking and sweating as he dialed. He recited the numbers mentally as he typed them in. 9-1-1.

The dial-tone only hit once before the line was picked up on the other end by the Emergency Operator. “911, what’s your emergency?”

Brandon’s voice caught in his throat and he was worried he wouldn’t be able to speak. When he answered his voice cracked out a panicked, “Hello! The-there’s this boy across the street and he, um, he’s hurt!”

“What’s your location?” the operator responded calmly. How the hell are you so calm?! Brandon wanted to scream. Instead he gave her his information and the phone on the ground where he had been standing, running to the front door, and throwing it open. It didn’t even register to Brandon that he, too, was barefoot as he dashed into the storm and over to the stranger lying face up on the concrete.

He could hear the sirens off in the distance, and the smell of burnt hair and flesh still hung in the air. The rain began coming down harder, and pretty soon it overwhelmed his senses. “They’ll be here soon! Don’t die!” Brandon half yelled, half screamed in a voice that even he couldn’t hear past the rain. He crouched down next to the frighteningly pale boy and wiped the rain from his own face. He brushed some of the hair from the boy’s face to try and get a better look. The boy didn’t look familiar, Brandon wondered if they went to the same school…

 

© 2012, Fulton Miller
Self publishing

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Each installment of this book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from Fulton Miller.

Slender Man

As you all know, the day before yesterday was Halloween. Previous years for me have always consisted of either dressing up in ridiculous costumes and asking strangers for candy, or attending socially awkward parties. Don’t get me wrong, these timeless traditions hold a fond place in my memories, but this year a couple of my friends and I decided to make Halloween scary again.

We all met up at one of the two’s houses and played Halo (Combat Evolved of course) until it was dark out. It was at this point that the idea was brought up that we all download an indie horror game called Slender. This idea wasn’t novel (we had all become involved in another indie horror game called Amnesia: The Dark Descent a little under a year earlier) but it certainly appealed to the three of us at the time. Once the download was complete, the lights were turned off, headsets were donned, and the game was started up. I’m not going to go into specifics, but if you want to you can check it out here (it doesn’t look nearly as scary as it actually is.) Within minutes our veins were coursing with adrenaline and our minds and psyches were all but broken.

But why? Looking back, it’s nearly impossible to explain why this game was so scary, it just was. I can’t remember being this frightened by anything… ever! But beyond the question of, “Why did this scare me?” I have to ask, what is it about the horror genre that scares everyone? Anyone can startle someone else by jumping out from behind a corner, but there is something else that made this game, and every game or movie like it absolutely terrifying.

After sitting, thinking, and addressing the internet for awhile, I have come to the following conclusions as to what makes things scary.

1. What people find scary will vary depending on culture, but the one thing that seems to be a consistent trait is being alone.
Almost every horror movie, book, or game features some form of being all by yourself. Whether the character is a child whose parents own or bought a house far away from the rest of civilization (Hide and Seek, The Orphan, The Shining, The Haunting in Connecticut) or someone who goes out on a hike/vacation/drive through the middle of nowhere (Gerald’s Game, Misery, The Blair Witch Project, Dead Space) it always has the theme that you or the protagonist are in a foreign environment and something isn’t right.

2. It’s in a location we cannot control.
Another thing that almost every horror story has in common is the setting. What do seemingly abandoned castles/space stations (Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Dead Space, Alien) and inescapable forests (Gerald’s Game, Slender, Blair Witch) have in common? We have no control over them. We don’t know our way through or around them, and we have no idea what horrors they may hold. On camping trips, we sit in the middle of the eerily quiet and dark woods, around a crackling fire that we believe will keep us safe (Frankenstein, Werewolves, Zombies, and Bigfoot {among others} are all afraid of fire) and tell scary stories.

3. We are afraid of our own inhumanity.
When it comes to monsters and horrifying creatures, we seem to have a broad and colorful list. However, looking closely one may notice a theme: the scariest part of them is that they are everything we like to pretend we moved past long ago. All the aforementioned monsters who are afraid of fire, also display all the traits we attribute to our darker, primitive side. They are violent, incapable of reasoning, cruel, animalistic, and uneducated. The very fact that they are afraid of fire only shows where we seem to habitually draw the line between our primitive and more civilized selves.
To be fair, we do move away from this generality occasionally, though it’s only to focus on the exact opposite. Once you move on from the ghosts and ghouls the only things left to scare us are alien abductions and mad science experiments. Unmatched technology and intelligence at the hands of malevolent beings who don’t feel remorse or regret. We fear technology because of its cold detachment and inability to feel: its inhumanity. 

Perhaps the reason I was most afraid of the Slender Man is because he (it) contains all of these aspects. You don’t know what he is, only that you and he are alone in a forest, he dresses well, is unarmed, and doesn’t have the common courtesy to let you know he’s right behind you. Through all of this, he’s also the last thing you see before you die, and you don’t have any idea why. To top it off, he doesn’t have a face – the ultimate attribute of humankind.