Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 156: Parenthetical Wolves

          The Midway kids had a great deal of imagination. Occasionally (usually), it got away from them, to the great enjoyment of anyone who happened to be in the immediate vicinity and the periodic horror of their parents.
          Bible study night is one such example.
          Radar was nine, Quill was seven, Nemesis was five, and Squirrel was three when the parental unit of the Midway family became involved in a Bible study at their parish with a few other families. It seemed like a great idea, conceptually: every so often, the adults would meet to learn more about their faith, and the kids--
          ...ah yes, that's what they (kinda) forgot about.
          The ingenious solution that parents implemented was this. The meetings would be held at the Midway house, upstairs, while the kids would play quietly and safely downstairs. This way, they would know at all times where their young ones were and what they were doing.
          All of the young ones of the Midway family had friends in the other families. Radar's and Nemesis's best friends were Cam and Jay, who were almost as boisterous as they were. Squirrel's friends preferred to play dress-up with her, while Quill and her friends vibrated between Squirrel's group and Radar's group. It was about a fifty-fifty split, unless the boys were playing Spies, in which case the girls stuck together (because the boys were trying to spy on them).
          One fateful night, Radar became bored with the usual fare. Inspired by their game of Indians in which Jay had claimed to have shot a "wolf" (pillow) with a "bow and arrow" (hanger) to eat in their "tepee" (mess of blankets draped over every-freaking-thing), he suggested playing a new game. He called it "Wolf Puppies." (He may have also been inspired by the jumping-off-the-plastic-playhouse-roof competition that he was having with Cam.)
          One of Quill's friends was cooking the meat over an imaginary fire when the natural question occurred to her; where was the den to be? All wolves had a den. Radar pointed out that, between the tepees and the playhouse, they had three dens. The girls could have one of the tepees, while the boys could have the other one, plus the playhouse. Quill pointed out that it was her playhouse and that she was telling on him if he took it. After some deliberation, the boys agreed to generously allow them the inside of the playhouse if they got to have the roof. Quill pointed out that their dads--ALL of them--had told them to stay off the playhouse. Cam and Radar were already wrestling around on all fours growling at each other, so it fell to Jay to point out that it was no longer a playhouse, but the top of a cave, and thus untouched by parental edict. Besides, wolves didn't understand humans anyway.
          Only mildly convinced, Quill and her friends relocated to the inside of the playhouse and began to act out a story full of woe and nobility, in which their wolf parents had died in a tragic accident and they were left to care for their even younger wolf siblings (Squirrel and her posse having been convinced to join). Days went by in a matter of minutes, time in wolf land being considerably different than the time measured by the real live adults upstairs.
          The story of the boys was considerably different. Their parents were gone too, of course (out of necessity--everyone knew that they couldn't have any fun if parents were involved), but their days revolved around learning how to fight and beating the tar out of each other and learning how to catch chickens (small pillows) and rabbits (larger pillows). In a stunning display of teamwork, thanks partly to Radar's extensive wolf knowledge, all the boys ganged up at one point to take down a deer (sofa cushion). All of their prey was brought back to Quill's wolfpack. The female wolf puppies, while grateful for the food, pointed out that their parents would be mad if they caught Radar chewing on the sofa cushions again and made them put it back.
          It was Cam, though, who noticed the moon outside the windows of the basement and remarked that wolf puppies should really be howling. Radar pointed out that wolves liked howling from mountain peaks; so, with a considerable amount of group effort, they installed themselves on the roof of the playhouse, crouched down on all fours, and howled at the moon.
          They may or may not have completely forgotten about the Bible study going on upstairs, whose discussion on the creation of the animals in Genesis was interrupted by wolf howls from downstairs.
          Needless to say, the Midway children's father was the one who drew the short straw. He appeared at the base of the stairs, arms crossed and glaring at the errant puppies perched on the playhouse roof.
          Howls stopped mid-warble and a mass exodus from the forbidden perch occurred. Sudden quiet notwithstanding, their father demanded to know why a) they were on the roof and b) what the ungodly racket was about. It fell to Radar to explain the new game (parenthetically adding that wolf puppies couldn't understand human orders anyway), to which the parent sternly ordered them to have less fun (okay, he said "keep it down," but the meaning was clear) and departed for the boring adult gathering upstairs with his mouth twitching suspiciously.
          New rules were promptly instated. By decree of Radar, all howling must be kept to ordinary vocal levels (as opposed to "jet taking off" levels), and the picnic table was to be pushed over next to the cave (playhouse) to make it easier to climb on top. When Quill and Nemesis protested, Jay and Cam pointed out that Radar's dad had never told them to stay off, he'd only asked why they were up there and told them to keep quiet. Such logic was unassailable. Quill and a few of her braver friends made the trip to the top.
          None of them were caught up there when the grownups came down later to collect their respective charges, mostly because the girls were trying to make a more comfortable den in the playhouse and the boys were crawling around on all fours with pillows in their mouths (they'd just caught some more rabbits). Radar probably would have gotten yelled at if someone hadn't pointed out that, with their mouths occupied, they were technically quieter than before. Despite that, Radar did get in a little hot water later for chewing on the pillows (again), but the game quickly became a staple of the Bible nights.
          At least until Radar introduced a new game: Obstacle Courses.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 155: It's Not TECHNICALLY Cheating...

          "Left! Right! Left! Ri--dangit."
          "What on earth are you doing?"
          I jumped. Headphones on and music blasting at full volume, I hadn't heard Cat come in. Somehow managing to spin, yank the headphones off, and land in a combat stance, I blinked in surprise. "Oh. Hi. When did you get here?"
          Cat put her hands on her hips. "About a minute ago. Not very observant."
          I shrugged. "No one usually comes in here." I patted down my shorts before walking over to my bag and pulling out my phone. "And in my defense, you're late."
          "I got held up at the music library," Cat explained. "You still didn't answer my question."
          "Which was?" The echo was killer in here, so I dropped my voice a bit.
          "What are you doing?"
          I held up the two rackets and grinned. "Playing racquetball against myself--left hand versus right. My left hand is winning, for some reason. I think it's because it's not as accurate--and weaker--than my right, so the ball's unpredictable and kinda just dribbles off the wall." Flipping the left racket in the air, I caught the business end of it and offered the handle to Cat.
          "Showoff," Cat smiled wryly, shrugging off her coat.
          "Talent!" I declaimed, trying to scoop the ball off the floor with the other racket. It worked--on the third or fourth try.
          Cat accepted the proffered racket and took up her position in the racquetball court. "How was your day?"
          "Okay, I suppose. I didn't tick off too many people, your sister still wants to kill me, and good Lord in heaven, did you see anything edible in the caf?" I served with a little more violence than strictly necessary.
          "I know, right?" Cat returned the shot. High right corner. "The vegetables were all limp!"
          "I can't believe you eat caf veggies," I muttered, spinning for the heck of it and smacking the ball back to the back wall. It was a little higher than I wanted, but given that I'd taken that shot behind my back, it was pretty dang good. "I was referring to the doughnuts. How can you ruin a doughnut?"
          "By doing whatever they did to it." Cat returned the ball to the middle of the wall. Perfect. I lined up and whacked it straight into the corner, where it dribbled out onto the floor and bounced like four or five times. Since it could only bounce once before it had to be returned, Cat lost that round.
          "Point!" I said triumphantly. "Wow, I'm getting good at this."
          Cat waved her racket at me. "Go get the ball. I need to whack something."
          I let my eyes widen in mock horror. "Yes, ma'am! Why, was your day sucky too?"
          Cat shrugged. "It was long."
          "You miss Jimmy?" I suggested. Jimmy was her fiance; I'd met him a few times--actually, he still owed me two beers for fixing Cat's computer for their nightly Skype sessions. (I'd have to collect after I turned 21, though.) He was off somewhere getting his masters.
          "That too," Cat said ruefully as I served. "I really hate having him so far away." She smoked the ball with a lot more force than I thought she was going to. It rebounded off the wall way faster than I was expecting. Since I couldn't get my racket up in time, I opted for the path of least resistance and ducked. The ball parted my hair as it missed me (fine, I'll say it) by a hair.
          "Geez, remind me not to bring that up," I remarked casually, picking myself up off the ground. "Point to you. How's he doing these days?"
          Cat winced. "Sorry about that."
          I waved it off and retrieved the ball. "You know me--I'm never happy unless I'm in danger of losing valuable body parts." I gave it a moment's thought. "Although, it is debatable whether or not my head is a valuable body part."
          "Well, I didn't want to break your nose," Cat huffed. "And I keep telling you, you should be more careful!"
          "Careful is my middle name. Not is my first," I snickered, pointing to my face. "Besides, there's no way this thing could get worse!"
          "It would if you broke your nose!" Cat protested.
          I shrugged and served. "My nose is already flat. Worst case scenario is that the docs fix it since my nose would be in pieces already."
          "Well, I would feel bad," Cat said emphatically, whacking the ball back at the wall.
          I spun the racket around in my hand and backhanded the ball away. "So how is Master Jimmy, anyway?"
          Cat grinned and completely missed the ball with her next swing. "Oh, he's doing great!"
          I retrieved the ball as she waxed eloquent on Jimmy and his virtues, a regular occurrence that I found both amusing and edifying. If I ever got into a relationship--in doubt, as always--I figured I'd have some very impressive role models.
          My next three serves went completely unreturned by Cat. She seriously missed every single one. I tossed her the ball, (after five serves, we switched) and asked, "So, when is the next time you'll be able to see Jimmy?"
          Cat tossed the ball up, swung, and missed. "Ugh! Why can't I hit this?"
          Now, I might not my the sharpest knife in the chandelier (yes, that was deliberate), but I wasn't bad at noticing patterns. I tried not to laugh; Cat may have been a foot (or a foot and a half) shorter than me, but I was convinced that my martial arts skills would not save me should she decide to shred me like her namesake. I kept a straight face. "I really don't know. Maybe you're tired. So, when are you going to see--"
          Cat tossed the ball up.
          "--Jimmy?" I finished.
          Timed it perfectly. She missed the serve again, giving me a free point by our rules. "Dang it! I don't know--what is wrong with you?"
          I'd completely lost it, collapsing to the ground and laughing my head off. She stomped over and threatened me with her racket. "Stop it! Just because I can't serve--"
          "It's not that," I gasped out. "You miss every time you think of Jimmy!"
          Cat narrowed her eyes. "No I don't!"
          I wiped my eyes and stood up. "I'll prove it. Go serve!"
          Cat gave me the evil eye and resumed her place. She tossed the ball up--
          "Oh, come on!" Cat yelped, turning red.
          I doubled over laughing again. "Talk about being smitten!"
          Cat scooped up the ball and tried to throw it at me. I yelped "Jimmy!" and she...missed me completely. I fell down anyway, roaring with laughter. Cat didn't help much by poking me with her racket. "Dang it, that's cheating!!"
          "How can I help if it if you can't daydream of your fiance and play at the same time?" I demanded, snickering.
          "I'm not daydreaming!" Cat protested.
          I laughed. "Fantasizing?"
          "Am not!"
          I swatted her racket away. "I thought girls were supposed to be able to multitask!"
          "We can, better than men," Cat retorted.
          "Fine, then. Serve," I suggested mischievously.
          Cat narrowed her eyes at me again. "Don't you dare say anything."
          "Wouldn't dream of it," I said innocently. "I must say, though; this psychology experiment is intensely interesting."
          "I am not a psychology experiment," Cat declared, serving.
          I bounced to my feet and returned the serve, running straight into the wall afterwards because a) I was laughing and b) I was pretty focused on the ball. "Wait until I tell Jimmy about this!"
          "RADAR!" Cat tried her hardest to look mad, but broke down laughing as well.
          Needless to say, I won by a very large margin. Cat graciously allowed me to live, though.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 154: Survival of the Fittest

                              Official rules for Humans versus Zombies:
          Two zombies are chosen as the starters. One of them is given a green bandana; this zombie is the “Tank” and requires three shots to stop. Once stopped, a zombie must collapse and remain still for one minute (two minutes for the Tank). A zombie cannot kill anyone during that period. Swords can be used to stun zombies as well; only one touch is required for all zombie types.
          The humans may go armed with Nerf gear. If a human is tagged by a zombie, he or she must drop their guns and gear at the "weapons station" and join the zombie ranks. Tagged humans cannot turn other humans until their guns are put into the weapons station. 
          The goal of the zombies is to kill all the humans and turn them. The humans must survive and find three ID cards, hidden by the game moderators or original zombies at the beginning, and make it back to the safe zone (zombies cannot enter) to retrieve a “cure” (usually a spray bottle filled with water). Humans can't enter the safe zone until all cards are retrieved. They may then spray the zombies and turn them back into humans; this includes the Tank and the original zombie.
          Game starts with the two original zombies released into a designated area. Teams penetrate the area at different points and attempt to find the cards. The game ends with either all zombies or all humans. 

          "In there."
          "We already checked in there!"
          "No, hide in there! I think I hear them on the stairs!"
          Rach, Brad, and I ducked into the deserted classroom and hid behind some of the tables in the front. A group clattered past the open door, but their hissing whispers weren't quite audible.
          "Think they were human?" Rach asked in a whisper.
          I could sense Brad shrugging. "I dunno."
          "That's because you're not an expert," I whispered back, snickering. "I heard no clicking, creaking, or other noises that would indicate the presence of Nerf guns. No, those were definitely zombies."
          Rach slid over to get closer to us. "Can we make it to the stairs?"
          "Probably, but we still need to check the other rooms up here for the cure," I pointed out.
          Brad pointed to Rach. "We could sacrifice her, right?"
          She threatened him with her fist. "No, we couldn't!"
          I sighed and reached over my shoulder for my sword, holding my rifle loosely in one hand. "Get ready to go out the other door. I got this covered."
          The other two started easing towards the side door. I walked to the first one, listened carefully, then dropped my rifle with a noisy clatter and yelled, "CRAP!"
          The zombies were on me in a moment, expecting easy prey. I danced through their midst, the dim light in the hallway allowing me just enough light to bat their grasping hands away with my sword before they could touch me. I got a little fancy on the last one, ducking under his tackle and drawing my sword across his stomach with a little spin for a finishing flourish.
          "Aww, come on!" he yelled, and collapsed. There was probably a good half dozen in the group I'd just dropped.
          Rach and Brad came running around the corner. "Did you get tagged?" Rach demanded.
          "Nope," I bragged, stepping over the stunned zombies and retrieving my rifle. I slung my sword back over my back. "Rach, can you search the other rooms over here? Be quick, though--if another group comes up the other doors when this group recovers, we're toast."
          "Got it," she acknowledged, and vanished.
          Brad and I took up defensive positions, guns at the ready. "Really think it's on this floor?" he asked.
          "What, the cure? No, but we should probably be thorough," I replied, glancing at the weapons station down the hall. Two more game members suddenly rounded the corner, dropped off their guns, and charged. Brad and I dropped them quickly, then started firing into the ranks of stunned zombies that were now waking up and trying to get us. We lost a few feet of hall to a minor retreat, but safely dropped all of them.
          "Rach, hurry UP!" Brad yelped.
          She reappeared after a few moments. "It's not in he--look out!"
          One more zombie was charging us. I hit him in the face, while Brad's shot hit his body. He threw himself into a dive. I jumped over his arm, evading him, and landed in a combat stance, spinning to put another shot into him. Apparently, this was Nick, the chosen Tank for the night.
          I fired, right as he threw his arm out and grabbed Brad's leg firmly.
          "Dammit!" Brad yelled, then sighed in resignation. "Sorry, guys. My gun jammed."
          "Don't worry. We'll cure you," Rach said reassuringly.
          Brad clutched his chest. "I'm...I'm changing...RUN!"
          I snickered at the melodrama. "Later, Brad." Spinning around, I bolted for the stairs with Rach as he ran to the weapons station to drop off his gun.
          Fourth floor of Westerman was pretty much deserted. Rach and I performed a cursory search, made quick by the fact that Brad knew what our strategy was, and settled down to ambush him. However, a few minutes passed with no sign of the new zombie.
          "He should be up here by now," I finally muttered, standing up.
          Rach shrugged. "Maybe he was cured!"
          "Yeah...maybe we won," I said eagerly. "I betcha Betsy and Shorty's team found the cure downstairs!"
          "See, I told you we should have searched the back side on first floor," Rach teased me.
          I shrugged. "So I'm not always right. Sue me. Let's see if we can find the cure-carrier and help with the escort."
          We walked across the the far stairwell, chatting animatedly. As we were descending past third floor, we saw everyone--all fifty-some people that had showed up tonight--clustered around the weapons table. I turned so hard I slipped. Rach laughed at me and pushed open the double doors that separated the stairwell from the third floor.
          "Hey guys. Is the game over?" I asked.
          "Yeah," Ben said.
          I grinned. "Sweet. Who found the cure?"
          A few people frowned. "Wait, aren't you zombies?" one guy asked.
          It was my turn to frown. "No."
          There was silence for exactly one second as everyone turned to look at us...then yelled simultaneously, "GET THEM!"
          Rach and I spun in perfect coordination, yanking the doors shut behind us as the horde thundered forward. "SHIIIIIIIII--"
          "Upstairs!" Rach yelped, cutting off my unnecessary expletive.
          We took the stairs two at a time, making it to forth floor well ahead of the zombies. As we ran down the halls, the doors behind us burst open and the throng poured in. We turned, firing into the mass and dropping a few, but hardly enough to make a difference. A sudden thud in my gun told me that I was out of ammo, so I dropped the rifle and drew my sidearm. Six more shots, and my Maverick was drained as well.
          By this time, we'd reached the stairs on the other end of the hall. I drew my sword as Rach opened the door, smacking a particularly fast zombie (Zach--a regular terror as a zombie and doubly so whenever he was picked to be the Tank) and following my wingmate into the stairwell.
          Unfortunately, the zombies were a bit more coordinated than we'd been expecting. A group of four was charging up the stairs towards us. Rach shot one before her gun ran out of ammo. I tried to smack another zombie's hands away, but she ducked and wrapped her arms around Rach's legs.
          Well, crap. I poked the offending zombie with the sword, stunning her as the mob behind us poured into the stairway. Putting a hand on the stair rail, I vaulted it to land on the stairs going down to third floor, putting me neatly behind the remaining two zombies charging up. I didn't bother stunning them, but took off down the stairs towards first floor. (Second floor was off-limits since that was the biological/chemical floor, and there were a lot of containers that we didn't want to bump into.)
          First floor was, of course, deserted. I ducked into the large lecture hall, since it had something like six exits, and started searching frantically. The search ended a few minutes later with my discovery, so I bolted out the back door into the engineering areas after tagging Zach again. Bugger.
          No cure here either, or, if it was here, it was hidden too well for me to find it in the thirty seconds before another pincer hit me. I took out the two on one side and dodged their stunned forms to run to the wraparound.
          The wraparound, of course, was full of zombies, forcing me to take the stairwell to the south. I took the stairs two at a time until I ran into yet another group. I swung at the first guy, who tried to dodge. I gazed his ribs anyway--
          --which was apparently what he was going for.
          His arm slammed tightly against his side as he collapsed dramatically, trapping my sword. I didn't even have time to think oh crap before I was tackled from both sides.
          "Game's over now!" Zach announced triumphantly.
          I groaned. "Get off me."
          "You left me behind!" Rach said accusingly, jabbing a finger at me as the dogpile began removing itself.
          "You're the one who forgot about your sword," I pointed out. "Survival of the fittest!"
          She stuck her tongue out at me.
          "Your faces were priceless!" Betsy laughed, then imitated her earlier call. "Get them!"
          We all doubled over laughing. "Good chase though, guys," I wheezed.
          "Collect darts and guns, meet back on third!" Ben yelled from somewhere off in the wraparound downstairs. Word had apparently just reached him about my gruesome murder-by-zombie-dogpile. "It's only 9:30--we have time for another game!"
          "Only I'm the Tank this time!" Zach volunteered.
          "NO!" everyone within earshot yelled in unison.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 153: How to Meet Girls

          It was my fault. I mean, of course was was my fault, because I had the maturity of a five-year-old with the world experience of the nineteen years I'd spent on this planet. That combination always leads to trouble.
          Of course, one could argue that it was technically Ben's fault, since he was the one who brought up modifying ordinary objects to make them deadly. Or perhaps an argument could be made for it being the professor's fault, since we were supposed to be taking a Machine Component Design class and he was late.
          Alternatively, you could just say it was God's fault for designing my brain the way it is and leave it at that.
          "I'm just saying, you could get a lot of damage out of a pocket knife with a catapult attachment," Ben was arguing. There were seven of us engineering students in the room, the other five listening to Ben and me debating with a moderate amount of amusement.
          I was dismissive. "Meh, you could get a lot of damage out of anything when you give it enough speed. I knew an Army guy who modded a Nerf dart gun so that the freaking foam dart could leave bruises." I thought for a moment. "I mean, it's probably broken by now--he had four bungie cords and something like five internal springs in it. You'd need metal components to avoid inevitable rupture."
          ...and then came the seven words that started it all.
          "Kinda like I did with my Longshot."
          Ben perked up. "You modded a Nerf Longshot?"
          "For range and stability, yeah. Not knockdown power," I admitted, silently cursing my big mouth. Now, of course, would come the inevitable teasing that always followed when I accidentally admitted to doing something that childish, like playing with toy dart guns--
          I'd forgotten my audience. "Seriously? Did you bring it to campus?" Ben demanded.
          "Yepp," I admitted.
          Ben grinned. "Man, you should see my Nerf gun. I painted it to look like one of those old mobster tommy guns."
          My jaw dropped--partly because that sounded cool, and partly because he'd just publicly admitted to modding Nerf guns.
          Mike chimed in. "I didn't do anything that cool. I just removed the air restrictors."
          One by one, the other engineers admitted to at least owning, if not modding, Nerf guns. Ben bemoaned the stigma of playing with said guns, which is when I got my Big Idea.
          "We should come back here tonight and have a war!"
          "Here, where--here, Westerman?" Grant inquired, a little disbelievingly.
          Westerman Hall was four stories tall, set into a hill so there were entrances on the first and third floors. A half-circle wraparound knocked off one corner of the building, and the inside was a maze of classrooms, hallways, and stairs. It was perfect for war, and I knew it.
          "Darn straight, Westerman," I confirmed. "We have four floors of this--" I waved my hand at the oddly-shaped classroom, "--and no one's ever here on Friday nights."
          "We should probably stay off of the second floor, though," Nate offered.
          I frowned. "Why?"
          "That's the biology and chemistry floor," he explained.
          "What's that mean?"
          "Biology is the study of life, and chemistry--" Ben started mischievously.
          I rolled my eyes. "Shut up, I know what they are. I just figured all the labs would be locked up. It's not like we'll be releasing viruses or acid or something." I grinned. "Although that would give Humans versus Zombies a whole new level..."
          "Have you ever been on second floor?" Mike demanded.
          I shrugged. "Nope. Why?"
          "Snake, lizard, and fish tanks that we definitely shouldn't break," Ben explained emphatically.
          "Ah. So, three floors of awesome, then. Unless fourth floor has a nuclear lab that I don't know about?" I asked, a little sarcastically.
          Chris sighed wistfully. "I wish."
          "Me too. We could make glow-in-the-dark darts!" Mike wisecracked.
          All of us were laughing when Professor finally bustled through the door. "Sorry I'm late. What did I miss?"
          "We need a nuclear lab," Ben offered.
          "Ah. Yes. I wish. Unfortunately...ah, the department doesn't have that kind of budget," Professor chuckled. "Now, let's get down to business..."
          The rest of the day passed awfully slowly. Finally, however, it was 8pm, the agreed-upon meeting time. I lugged a few choice Nerf guns up the hill to Westerman, including my Longshot in the mix. Surprisingly, Ben had beaten me up there and was already laying out his gear. To my amusement, he was also wearing a trenchcoat.
          "I figured I would be fashionable," he explained when I gave him a quizzical look. Snapping open a saxophone case, he began putting together his tommy gun. "What do you think?"
          "Very mafia," I complimented him. "Especially the music case."
          "I wanted to do violin, but it wouldn't fit," Ben said regretfully.
          I eyed my bandanna (I was going to use it as one of the Humans versus Zombies, or HvZ, games), and decided what the heck. I tied it around my forehead. "There, now I feel ready."
          The hallway was quite dim, which it probably why Mike was able to sneak up on us. "Boo!"
          We both shot him. "How's it going?" I asked, slinging my foam sword across my back and dropping my six-shot Maverick into the thigh holster on my right leg.
          "Great," he said. "Sorry I'm late. Were we supposed to dress up?"
          Ben grinned. "Encouraged, but not mandatory. Wonder how many people are going to show?"
          The answer was ten. The engineers had managed to convince a few friends to come, and one of them brought his sister. So nine guys, and one (reluctant) girl. Needless to say, Ben couldn't resist.
          "Okay, rule number one!" he said loudly, getting everyone's attention. He paused, for dramatic effect. "We can, under no circumstances...tell anyone we've been doing this or we'll never get any dates."
          Everyone burst out laughing. Darts were loaded, and the war began.
          It was a rousing success. Even Anna enjoyed it. We played for hours, mixing up teams, running free-for-alls, and stopping about every fifteen minutes to collect darts and count the dead. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough people for a round of HvZ. Ben was impressed with my Longshot modifications; I could put a dart between someone's eyes from almost seventy feet away (and for something that started with a range of 20 feet and an accuracy that was barely good enough to hit the broad side of the barn, it was an impressive improvement). When we stopped, Ben insisted on taking pictures--overruling my protests and my subsequent offers to "be the photographer"--and leaving everyone with the admonition to, once again, not tell anyone.
          Also, we were going to do the same thing next Friday.
          The next week went by quickly; until Friday, anyway, which dragged like a cow in a mud patch. Despite Ben's orders, word apparently got out of what we were doing--I only found out when Betsy accosted me in the caf with a request to join us. Given that Betsy was about as normal as the rest of the gang, I said sure. I figured she'd invite a few of her friends to come, and maybe we'd have fifteen or so.
          My estimate was way off. I arrived to find OVER FORTY PEOPLE gathered in Westerman.
          "Whaaa--?" I squeaked, sounding not unlike Shorty (who was also present--I didn't know her very well at the time, though).
          "Word got out!" Mike said gleefully. Judging by his face, it wasn't hard to tell by whose mouth the word got out.
          I did a quick head count. Definitely had something like forty-three people, but it was hard to keep track. To my continued astonishment, over half were girls.
          "This might make Nerf wars hard," Ben muttered. "How are we supposed to divide up the teams?"
          "We could play Humans versus Zombies," I suggested. "That's easier."
          "Good idea. LISTEN UP, EVERYONE!" Ben yelled. "MIDWAY'S GONNA EXPLAIN THE RULES!"
          Everyone shut up and turned to me expectantly, promptly giving me a heart attack. Stage fright NOW?? What to do, what to do...I needed some thinking time. A distraction.
          Got one.
          "So, Ben, how's it feel to actually be doing something with girls?" I demanded, teasing him (and kinda throwing his declaration last week back at him).
          He took it in stride. "I'm an engineer. What are girls?" he asked innocently.
          That went over well. While everyone was laughing (and Ben was offering to collect telephone numbers), I took a moment, composed myself, and got ready. After explaining the rules, we all tore off in small groups; three "starter" zombies, and the rest of us humans.
          The zombies won, hands down.
          As did Ben.
          I wish I'd been around to see this, but I was off hunting zombies with Brad and Rach and missed the whole thing. As he was walking back to the "gun drop off" (he'd been tagged by a zombie and now had to be one), he found himself walking down with Ginny, one of the new girls there. After making a little awkward small talk, he found himself casting around for ways to carry on the conversation when someone popped out of hiding and shot him. He casually and subtly flicked his glasses off his face, as if the dart had knocked them off, and requested Ginny's aid in their retrieval. Apparently that was enough to break the ice.
          ...must have been, anyway, 'cuz they're married now...
          Humans versus Zombies with Nerf guns, bringing people together since 2011. And Ma wonders why I refuse to chuck my Longshot.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 152: Ninja Master

          "You totally could not!"
          "Could too!"
          "Do it then!"
          I grinned. "Very well, stand back!"
          The bet that I'd just accepted involved a dome-like swing set near my college and Dave's refusal to believe in my gymnastics abilities. To be fair, he had recently seen me trip over my own feet during the Footloose line dance at a Newman Center Country Night and knock down twenty people like a row of dominoes, but I kept pointing out that a) I was never coordinated at 10pm at night and b) "you try dancing when your feet are as big as mine!"
          Anyway, I figured if I swung high enough, I could jump out of the seat at the apex of my swing and hook my feet over the nearest rail at the top of the dome in order to hang upside-down without doing all the work of climbing up there. I made the mistake of wondering this out loud in the presence of Dave and Courtney, Dave heard and challenged me, and Courtney was now eyeing me in a manner suggestive of the contemplation of a future hospital trip.
          Dave took out his phone, ostentatiously opening the camera app. I glared at him. "Put that thing away before I break it."
          "Come on! This will be epic!" Dave pleaded.
          "Don't jinx me. And if my face breaks your camera, don't expect me to buy you a new one." I wrinkled my nose and pushed off.
          Dave thought for a moment. "I don't think you're that bad-looking--"
          "I will pummel you, so help me--hold on a sec," I cut myself off as I got nearer my target. Gauging the distance carefully on the upswing, I convulsively straightened my legs and hurled myself off the swing.
          It...sorta worked. I mean, I hooked the bar with my legs, but I was going so fast in the forward direction that I actually unhooked myself and fell eight feet back to the ground to land on my front with a loud thud.
          Dave doubled over laughing. I groaned, trying to get some air back in my lungs. "Shuddup. I never said I could stay on..."
          "Are you okay?" Courtney asked, sounding like she was trying to hold in some pretty impressive laughter.
          I rolled over onto my back. As a matter of fact, that had felt like my ribs had been driven straight out my backside, but I had a bit of a crush on this girl and my eighteen-year-old self was not going to admit to pureeing his ribs, so I gave her a thumbs-up. "Oh, yeah, just fine!"
          She laughed too as Dave snapped a picture. I threw myself sideways to hide my face--I really didn't like getting my picture taken. (Still don't, actually.) "Dude, really?"
          "That was hysterical!" Dave laughed. "Going to try again?"
          I got up, dusting sand off my kiester. "Eh, I'm good for now." I threw him a slightly wicked grin. "You want a turn?"
          "No!" Dave yelped. "I don't have nine lives like you do!"
          "Too bad. You'd have way more fun," I remarked.
          Courtney shivered and changed the subject out of necessity. "It's freezing."
          "Want to come back to my place?" Dave offered.
          Courtney and I looked at each other and shrugged. "I don't have any homework or anything," I offered. "Courtney?"
          She smiled a little. "I do, but I'm ignoring it. Sure, let's go!"
          We piled into Dave's car and headed off to his apartment. Once there, I installed myself on the nearest couch while he and Courtney took the other one. We talked school for a while, during which time Dave tried to tick me off by taking pictures of me at inopportune times. His favorite was one where he caught my hand in the act of coming down after brushing my hair off my forehead. The angle and timing made it look like I was picking my nose. He promptly posted it to Facebook.
          I was still cold, and now I was mildly annoyed. Time to kill two birds with one stone. "That does it. I challenge you to Ninja," I announced.
          Dave sprang up eagerly. "Deal!"
          "I'm in," Courtney announced unexpectedly.
          We formed a triangle, bowed, and assumed ridiculous fighting poses. "And...go!" I yelled, swinging for Dave's hand.
          For those unlucky souls who have never played Ninja, it works like this. You must remain perfectly still until it's your turn, at which point you can make one quick strike at an opponent's hand, moving your feet if necessary. Your opponent can't move his or her feet, but they can try to use one motion to get their hand(s) out of the way. You basically just go around the circle like that, alternating turns. When someone's hand is tagged, they're out.
          Anyway, Dave evaded my hand by leaning back. I froze, arm outstretched: a perfect target. Dave knew it, too. He sliced down; I yanked my hand back to safety. Courtney tried to capitalize on my dodge by jumping behind me and trying to tag my other hand. I snatched that one back too, then, before she could recover, tapped the back of her hand quickly.
          "Out!" I announced.
          "Crap," Courtney said good-naturedly and retired to the couch.
          Dave narrowed his eyes at me and wasted his turn by jumping into a more suitable ninja stance. "I'm gonna getcha!"
          I cocked an eyebrow at him and used my turn to rearrange myself as well--into an actual Taekwondo combat stance. "You do realize I'm a martial artist, right?"
          He lunged. I moved my front hand just inches, causing him to miss. "Dang, you're quick," he complained.
          My hand flashed down. Luckily for him, he overbalanced at that precise moment and fell over. I missed. "Hey, cheating!"
          "Not my fault!" Dave protested, rolling to his feet.
          I waited for his attack.
          He frowned. "Um, it's your turn, isn't it?"
          "I just went, remember?"
          "Yeah, but I used my turn getting up."
          I grinned. "Oh, right." I shuffled forward, snapping my left hand down to stomach height, straight out in front of me. My right hand I held back, cocked at my shoulder. It was a beautiful target for Dave, as well as a trap--if he went for my outstretched hand, I could yank it back and get him with my other hand.I'd used several forms of this trick before, much to several disgruntled people's dismay.
          Unfortunately, Dave had been one of those people. He gave me the stink-eye. "Guess what, Taekwondo Boy? I got moves too!"
          "Let's see them, then," I said smugly.
          To my astonishment, Dave jumped straight up and spun around backwards in midair. As he came down, he flung his back arm out towards me. Being the cocky bugger that I was, I gauged his hand and saw that, even if I didn't move, it would slide underneath my "bait" arm and miss. So, naturally, I decided to show off a little by not moving.
          I completely forgot about the rest of my body...that could, conceivably, be in the path of his wildly flailing hand.
          Thud. THUD.
          Dave missed my hand spectacularly, all right. He did, however, manage to hit me...err, down south. Rather hard. That was the first thud. The second was caused by my inevitable collapse. I don't care what girl you're trying to impress--you're not gonna stay on your feet after a low blow like that.
          "Did I get you?" Dave asked eagerly, rising from his crouch.
          "Dude...that...wasn'," I gasped out from my fetal position.
          Courtney burst out laughing so hard, I thought she was going to fall off the couch. Dave's mouth dropped open. "Oh my gosh--I'm sorry--wait, I really hit you?"
          I nodded as best I could.
          The humor of the situation suddenly struck Dave. He started roaring with laughter too, to the point where he had to sit down. I managed a few chuckles as I started recovering, slowly pushing myself towards a kneeling position. "I supposed I should be grateful it wasn't your foot, with how much you were flailing around," I said dryly.
          The other two were in more need of recovery than I was at this point. "And thank goodness you weren't in the kitchen, or he'd have hit you with a blender!" Courtney gasped out.
          "At least I didn't headbutt him," Dave wheezed.
          We were all laughing uproariously now. A thought suddenly came to me; I reached out at smacked Dave's hand as he lay on the ground. "Ninja Master for the win!"
          It was a full five minutes before we were in any shape to talk, much less stand up. Finally, Dave heaved himself to his feet and demanded a rematch. Courtney and I agreed, standing up to join him. Right as we were about to start, I couldn't help saying...
          "Credit where it's due, Dave--you do have some moves!"

Monday, January 11, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 151: Doggie Plop

          "Who's up first?" Dad asked. It was a mere formality, kinda like playing the National Anthem before a sporting event (and if any of them were good at singing, they might have done that too). Everyone already knew who was going first, of course.
          All of them.
          With much shouting, pushing, and crowding, the four kids piled on. Radar sat up front; the thirteen-year-old had as much concern for his safety as your average inebriated adult--which is to say, not much. His younger siblings didn't mind, of course; with him up front, they were less likely to catch a facefull of snow. He was crouched on his knees, gloved hands gripping the chain, eyes squinting into the brightness. His eyes, incidentally enough, where the only uncovered part of him. (Not a novice, this one.)
          His brother, Nemesis, sat right behind him. Four years Radar's younger, he had long since learned that the safest place was either three miles away or right behind his over-eager, accident-prone elder. Hat on but face exposed to the elements, he was mimicking Radar's posture but had his hands threaded through the ropes by his knees instead; he was slightly less competitive, but just as determined to stay on.
          Quill was second to last, and was opting for the path of comfort; grasping the ropes, she sat cross-legged behind Nemesis and was attired similarly. She didn't mind bailing out, but was certainly not a coward about the whole affair.
          The youngest, Squirrel, was perched on the back, the rationale being that when she fell off (as she inevitably did), she a) wouldn't take everyone with her and b) could hold on to Quill's shoulders, so her departure would be noticed and relayed up the line. (Quill cared a bit more about sudden losses of siblings than did her brothers.)
          It was time.
          Dad half-turned. "All set?" he yelled.
          "Ready!" everyone chorused.
          "Here we go, then!" he yelled, firing up the ATV and slowly starting to drive down the snow-covered drive.
          Everyone cheered as he started accelerating into the turn--until Quill started yelling. "Squirrel down! Squirrel down!"
          "Already?" Radar complained, dutifully relaying the message to their driver.
          It was an undisputed fact that he had the strongest set of lungs.
          Squirrel hopped back on the toboggan and they started off again. Everyone managed to stay on until turn two, down by the front pasture, at which point Squirrel fell off again.
          "Why don't you sit behind her?" Dad suggested to Quill. "Maybe help hold her on?"
          "Okay," Quill said agreeably. The new positions were quickly taken up, and the party took off again. They made it almost through one lap around the farm before their dad took a corner a little wide and sent the toboggan side-on into a drift. Radar and Nemesis each ended up with a lapfull of snow, which they hurled at each other while waiting for the girls to catch up. (They hadn't even noticed their siblings' departure--it was their wise father who caught on to the fact that there was 50% less shrieking post-drift than pre-drift).
          Squirrel, by this point, was cold and tired, so she retired to the house to change and raid the marshmallows set aside for post-sledding hot chocolate. That meant it was time for the real fun to begin. Radar and Nemesis had an argument about who would be up first, almost coming to blows before their dad intervened and let Quill go. She graciously invited Nemesis on board; he accepted with grace and took the front position. Radar climbed on the back of the four-wheeler in "lookout" position and prepared to heckle. (He wasn't put out about Quill choosing Nemesis over him--it was a widely known fact that he preferred to ride solo. More fun--or injuries--could result.)
          Dad set off, this time at a much higher rate of speed and deliberately swerving back and forth over the path to let the toboggan ride up the sides of the drifts. Quill and Nemesis hung on, cheering and yelling, while Radar tried to get them to fall off by snagging handfulls of snow of the tops of drifts and hurling it at them. Their dog, Max, even tried to get on the action by running alongside the toboggan and making playful snaps at the tassels on Quill's hat. It took two laps around the farm before Dad managed to swing the toboggan through a drift, instead of over it, and dumped the two riders.
          "My turn! My turn!" Radar yelled, pulling out his secret weapon as he ran towards the sled. An inventor even at such a tender age, his ideas usually convulsed his family--and this time was no exception.
          "What are you doing?" his dad demanded.
          Radar grinned. "I cut the toes off of these socks!" Sliding them over his gloves and coat sleeves, he held out his hands for inspection. "See? Now I won't get snow shoved up my wrists!"
          Dad and Quill both broke out laughing. Nemesis, who was in fact trying to shake snow out of his coat sleeves, tried to join in, but the strange wisdom of his brother was too overwhelming for him to get out more than a few chuckles. Enviously, he climbed on the back of the ATV with his sister.
          Radar stretched out on his stomach on the toboggan, hands clutching the chains and head just high enough to see over the curved front. It was his preferred position--from here, he could see oncoming obstacles and twist his body to (occasionally) avoid them, and if a drift came up, he could duck his head and let the spray go over him instead of into him. This also let him maintain a death grip on the chains without losing his balance.
          Dad set off, even faster than he had with Quill and Nemesis. Radar was not expecting that and was thus not prepared to adjust his weight to the first drift. The toboggan raced up the side and flipped, Radar getting dragged along underneath. He refused to let go of the chains, though, doggedly hanging on and trying to wiggle his body enough to flip the sled. Without other large drifts, though, it proved futile. He only spared a few moments to wonder why the ride wasn't stopping; but after almost a full quarter turn, it finally did. Crawling out, he found his siblings crying with laughter, Dad laughing uproariously as well. "Radar, you're supposed to ride the toboggan, not let the toboggan ride you!" he teased.
          Radar stuck his tongue out. "At least I stayed with it," he pointed out. "It's still my turn!"
          "I don't think they're in any shape to go again anyway," he affirmed, glancing at the still-guffawing siblings. "Hey, guys, next time--tell me he's upside-down, huh?"
          The command only made Nemesis and Quill laugh harder. Radar giggled too, threw a few handfuls of snow at them, and resumed his original position on top of the sled. "I'm ready!"
          With a roar from the ATV, they were off again. Radar almost flipped twice, but managed to stick the landing both times. Suddenly, he felt an odd tug on his head as the second lap started. Twisting, he found himself looking at a long, furry nose.
          "Maxie! Quit it!" Radar yelled.
          "Get him, Maxie!" Nemesis called out.
          Quill laughed. "Pull his hat off!"
          "Don't you dare, you--YAAH! OOF!"
          Not paying attention to the path, Radar received a facefull of snow, courtesy of the latest drift collision. Max, attention full on the hat, slipped in the sudden change in elevation, fell sideways, and landed on Radar's back.
          One hundred pounds of flailing dog was not something easily ignored. Radar decided that, between being blind and now sat on, bailing was probably the smarter option. He let go--
          And continued traveling. Apparently, his wet gloves were currently frozen to the chains.
          Maxie was flailing around on his back (on top of Radar), trying to get his feet back under him. Radar gauged the dog's weight shifts and suddenly threw his body sideways. That did the trick--Max fell off the boy's back, off the toboggan and into the nearest drift just as the sled began slowing down.
          Needless to say, Dad had finally looked back to find out why Nemesis and Quill were practically choking and had seen the dog's little dance on top of Radar. Now he, too, was no longer fit to do his job and hung over the handlebars, roaring with laughter again. Radar ripped his gloves free, sat up, and tried to glare at them before the hilarity of the situation struck him too and he fell over, laughing as well. It was a full two minutes before anybody could speak.
          "Still going?" Dad finally wheezed.
          Radar gasped for air. "Sure, I didn't--hahahaha!--didn't get all the way around twice yet!"
          "Should we put Max inside?" Quill asked, enjoyment over her brother's fate not completely blinding her to the predicaments he kept finding himself in.
          "Nah. He's all wet, and I'm guessing he learned his lesson," Dad chuckled, looking over at the golden retriever. Maxie gave an open-mouthed smile as if he understood and enjoyed the joke. "Ready, Radar?"
          "Sure," Radar said eagerly, resuming his position.
          One lap later, Max stole his hat.

Captain's Log, Day 150: Red in Red Lobster

          "So what did you think of the movie?"
          The query broke into my uncharacteristic silence. However, I was still trying to process the movie, and, as such, was wildly unprepared for such a question. "Ah...ugh...I...AAAAAA!!!!"
          My venting buddy, well used to my ways by this point, dodged my flailing arms and nodded, as if I'd said something coherent. "I agree. It was pretty good!"
          I tried to push open the door to the parking lot and misjudged which side the hinges were on, slamming face-first into the glass. It was enough to jar me out of my incoherence. "Ow! Yeah, I was afraid it was going to be another Eragon fiasco."
          "I think a thousand angry nerds would have destroyed the theater if that was the case," Shorty said, snickering. "Need help?"
          I rubbed my nose, pushing the door open savagely. "Professional psychiatric help, maybe. Last I checked, though, you don't qualify. You're just a math major."
          "And you're an engineer. Isn't that a little hypocritical?"
          "Nah, I can get computers to do math for me," I pointed out. "Your major can easily be replaced with a good graphing calculator."
          She took a swing at me, which I dodged with very little effort. "NOT!"
          "Where do you want to eat?" I asked, ignoring her frustration at her inability to come up with a good retort.
          "'s Friday," Shorty reminded me.
          I sighed. "I am acutely aware. We shall be good Catholics, so meat is out--which is a shame, because I really felt like steak. That limits our options to Long John Silvers, Red Lobster, or some veggie crap."
          Shorty made a face as I unlocked the car. "Eew. Are there even vegetarian restaurants?"
          "You've clearly never made a trip to the Twin Cities in Minnesota," I remarked, pointing a finger towards my mouth and pretending to gag. "Mom has a thing for them. I vote Red Lobster by default. I've been eating Long John Silvers for the last three weeks, since the caf doesn't have crap for Fridays."
          Shorty nodded, reaching for my iPod as I grabbed the GPS. "Sounds good. They have biscuits."
          "BISCUITS!!!" I yelled, sticking the GPS in the cupholder. "Okay, it's about two songs away. Thoughts?"
          "Want to vent first?" Shorty inquired.
          I grinned. "Ah, we can do that over dinner. I'm still processing." I spared a moment to wonder what was causing her to snicker as she dug through my iPod tunes. During the one-hour drive to the theater, we'd managed to get through a good portion of the Doctor Who-inspired band "Chameleon Circuit" songs, so I was wondering where she was going.
          She smiled, a little wickedly. "Then 'Trigger Happy' it is!"
          I whooped my appreciation of the Weird Al Yankovic song and turned up the volume to drown out our off-key singing. It was a brief drive.
          "Welcome to Red Lobster! How many?"
          "Just us," Shorty replied.
          The waitress nodded. "Excellent! Booth or table?"
          "Booth, please. And could we get a booster seat?" I asked mischievously.
          Shorty kicked my shin. "NO! We do NOT need a booster seat!"
          "Ow! Maybe a children's menu?" I suggested, hopping out of range.
          "Midway, I'm gonna kill you," Shorty growled.
          The waitress's mouth was twitching, but she made the choice to ignore me (probably the wisest course of action). "If you'll follow me, please?"
          "Lead the way, Short Stuff." I gestured after the waitress. Shorty shot me a look that would have melted steel before biting her bottom lip to keep from laughing and following the kind restaurant employee to our designated seats.
          Once we were seated, we quickly placed our drink orders and before deciding what we wanted. I ordered the same thing I always got at Red Lobster, managing to complete my pondering of the movie while Shorty figured out what she wanted.
          "Okay, good movie, but Ender was too old," I started off the rant.
          Shorty nodded. "I could see why they went that direction, though."
          "Yeah, casting Ender's Game with actual eight-year-olds might have been hard," I admitted.
          She shrugged. "But he wasn't supposed to lose any of the matches! What was up with that?"
          I frowned. "Agreed! He was the tactical genius--that was a crappy move!"
          "Also, what was with the romantic subplot between him and Petra?" Shorty demanded.
          I cocked my head. "I think I missed that."
          "You would have. It wasn't blatantly obvious, but it was there," she teased me.
          "I guess I can kinda see it," I admitted. "Still shouldn't have been there. That wasn't in the books! Of course, neither was Bean coming up on the same shuttle as Ender!"
          Shorty nodded. "I guess they had to condense this, but this could have easily been a two-part movie."
          "Maybe even a three-parter. Thanks," I directed that last at the waitress as she delivered our food.
          "That would be awesome," Shorty breathed as she received her plate. "Thank you! That book is way more deserving of a three-part movie than the Hobbit is."
          "Don't get me started on the Hobbit," I mumbled through a mouthful of shrimp. "This is Ender's Game venting time. So what did you think of the simulations?"
          Fifteen minutes later, we were arguing the logistics of the movie spending more time in the battle room when the waitress returned. Since we'd stopped eating for a moment so that I could use the biscuits and shrimp to make a point about the battle room's layout, she must have thought we were done. "Would you two like a box to take home?" she asked politely.
          I grinned. "Thanks, but we're still working on it." I took a bite of my biscuit battle room obstacle. "We'll probably know in about ten minutes, though."
          Shorty suddenly turned bright red. Since she was part Japanese, the effect was hysterical. I almost choked. The waitress missed both occurrences, though. "Well, let me know if you need anything!" She walked away.
          I eyed my venting buddy. "Did I miss something?"
          Shorty buried her face in her hands. "Radar, she asked if we wanted a box."
          I took another bite of biscuit. "So?"
          "A box. As in, one box. To take home," she whispered, shaking with suppressed laughter.
          Still confused, I gave her a blank look. "And...that is funny...why?"
          "She thinks we're married!" Shorty hissed at me.
          My jaw dropped as the point hit me before I doubled over, laughing so hard I thought I was going to hurt something. "Well...that...explains...your face!" I gasped out. "I've never seen you get that red before!"
          "Shut up, Midway!" Shorty ordered, turning red again--this time from suppressed laughter.
          I wiped my eyes, several excellent schemes coming to mind. "I feel like we should see how long we can keep this going..."
          "Don't you dare," she snickered.
          I grinned. "We can start with one check!"
          "NO! NOT HAPPENING!"
          "Totally happening!" I announced. "Let's see, what else can we do?"
          Shorty tried to give me her patented look of death, but the glare was blunted by the facts that 1) she was turning red again, and 2) she was biting her lip again to keep from laughing.
          "Yes! That!" I grinned, pointing to her face. "Perfect! Can you do that when the waitress comes back?"
          "Do what?" Shorty asked, confused.
          "You're blushing," I teased her.
          "What? No I'm not! Ugh, am I? Because you're embarrassing me!" she sputtered.
          "Like she can tell the difference," I said dismissively, waving my hand airily and glancing around the room casually. "I wonder how many other people we can get to believe that?"
          Shorty's eyes widened and she buried her face in her hands. "No, no, no--look, I'm paying for my own food and you're going to shut up!"
          "Since when have I ever done that?" I asked, laughing. "Wait until your roommates hear about this!"
          "That might be difficult. You might have to start by punching my ankle," I suggested, straight-faced.
          She tried to kick me under the table. "Will you--oh, no!"
          "What?" I asked as she turned beet red again.
          "That old lady at the table three down and one across just winked at me!!" Shorty complained. "Come on!"
          I doubled over laughing again. "Oh, that's good!"
          "I guess it was inevitable," she muttered. "We come in here together, get dinner and get into conversations that are clearly too intense for a first date...dangit, I wish Brad or Betsy had been able to come!"
          "Or both?" I suggested. "Then it would have been a double date!"
          She groaned. "I didn't think of that! I can't win, can I?"
          "Nope," I said innocently.
          The waitress returned. "How are you doing?"
          "Just fine, thanks," I returned, shooting a sly glance at Shorty. She promptly turned red. "May we get our check now?"
          "Of course! I'll be right back," she replied.
          "Dangit, Radar, what did I just say?" Shorty demanded.
          "Pay for your food so we can trick all these people into thinking that we're either dating or married?" I asked innocently. "You know my memory isn't that good."
          Shorty tried to kick me again. "I hate you." She thought for a second. "Although, that was pretty smooth. 'May we get our check now?'" she mimicked me.
          It was difficult to bow while sitting, but I gave it my best shot. "I aim to please!"
          "My roommates will never let me live this down," Shorty muttered before fixing me with a glare. "And I am totally paying you back, because this is not a date!"
          "That's not what everyone else in this restaurant thinks!" I teased her mischievously.
          She turned red. "You're just trying to get me to blush! It's not going to work!"
          "You should tell that to your face, then," I suggested.
          The waitress returned to give me the check. I paid it and we left, listening to Weird Al the whole drive home. When we returned to campus, I parked the car and walked with Shorty up to her apartment. To my delight and her horror, her roommates--good friends of mine--were home. Even better, Brad was visiting too.
          "How was the movie?" Betsy asked.
          "Forget the movie, guys! You gotta hear this!" I started.
          It's difficult to tell a story while being chased around a living room by a midget bent on homicide, but I did my best. Rachel and Mary actually managed to hold Shorty off for a few moments so I could finish in peace before they dissolved into laughter. Betsy, though, held the award for the best commentary on the tale for that night.
          "To be fair, Shorty, you two do act like an old married couple," she remarked.
          That pretty much finished all of us. At least three people in the room wound up with hiccups.
          A few hours later, I was ready to call it a night. On my way out, I suddenly remembered something. "Hey, I did manage to go on a date with Shorty, though!"
          "What?" Mary demanded, looking from me to a dumbfounded Shorty.
          "Yeah, Shorty never paid me back!" I announced.
          "NO!!! Let me get my wallet!" Shorty screeched and dove off the couch as I made my escape. By the time she'd emerged into the breezeway, I was already in the parking lot--and, as it was early winter, she was not prepared to pursue me.
          "I am totally paying you back tomorrow!" she yelled after me.
          I laughed. "Sure you are!"
          She still owes me $27.84.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 149: A Log of 2015

          Once again, I'd say 'tis time to reflect upon 2016. I'd like to say it's because future generations would like a timeline of my accomplishments, but it had more to do with my personal curiosity as to the reliability of my memory. For crying out loud, I can't remember what I had for breakfast this morning.
          ...after looking at the mess in the kitchen, the blast marks leading out into the living room, and the way my head is spinning, I'd guess I tried to cook pancakes. Hmm. Maybe that's why I can't remember. Anyway, here goes...

          January: After recapping 2014, I decided that my time would be best spent working on my thesis. That got mildly sidetracked when I was informed by the parental unit that the car I was currently leasing from them would have to be returned soon, as Quill was moving back to their place and would need a form of transportation. I pointed out that, since I was job-hunting in anticipation of my graduation in May, I still needed a vehicle. I'd been looking around for a truck somewhat informally for about nine months, but I was unable to find anything that I liked. (To be fair, I was kinda in love with the Dodge Dakota, but a) Dodge didn't make them anymore, and b) all the used vehicles were very used.) Jokingly, I suggested that they help me find a Dodge Dakota with less than 300,000 miles on it and went back to my car search with much greater intensity than before.

          February: Dad actually did find me a used 2010 Dodge Dakota with only 67,000 miles on it; barely broken in as far as trucks go. (Actually, when I saw it on the lot, I thought it was new, it was in such good shape!) Despite being red (never thought I'd get a colorful vehicle before), I promptly fell in love with it and ended up buying it on February 16th. After Mom threatened to name it herself, I christened it the Artful Dodger as a tribute to my wit and love of puns. Skipper and Dale suggested Little Red Riding Hood, but I told them that my truck was CLEARLY male and to shut up. I ended up driving back to Minnesota with it a few weeks later in its first real long-range trip with me, where I was promptly insulted for reasons having nothing to do with my truck. (As the twins pointed out--several times--it really is a good-looking truck.)

          March: I took the opportunity of spring break to write my entire thesis. All one hundred and seven pages of it. Granted, I was missing five or so bio-oil tests that were currently aging, but I extrapolated from other aging tests what it would probably do and tentatively wrote it in. (It gets grosser.) I was also kinda competing with Dale and Skipper to see who could get their thesis done first. Definitely winning so far...

          April: Started going on more and more job interviews as my search for work kicked into high gear. Also got a call from SpaceX--yes, that friggin' SpaceX--and had the opportunity of having my chemical rocket knowledge spontaneously tested. I passed with flying colors, despite having not taken any chemistry since...what, four or five years ago? I was so excited by the interview that I ran around my room in circles for a few minutes afterwards. (Even though I knew I had next to no chance to get hired, it was still cool to get scouted by them!) Around that time, I also completed my tests for my thesis, wrapped it up, and turned it in to the college, beating Skipper by a month or two and beating Dale by a full four months. After successfully defending my thesis, I was deemed ready for graduation...and since I was once again helping my professors teach all the classes I was currently in, I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. I performed some more culinary experiments and decided to write about certain discussions I had with the parental unit regarding proper stacking of hay and taking of pictures. (Okay, I say discussions, you say sabotage--whatever.) I also passed the time by hanging out with some friends on their farm, where they taught me how to care for sheep, milk a cow, clean beehives, and where a bee landed on my face and I responded by punching it. (Not my smartest move--I gave myself a black eye and got stung. I have a great left hook, apparently.)

          May: Aced my final finals (heh heh, see what I did there?) with flying colors--although, with the amount of help I'd given my professors that semester, I probably could have just skipped the stupid things and still gotten A's. I actually DID skip the first half of my HVAC final to field a call from SpaceX--they were still interested!!!--which my professor was fine with because I still aced the test and was the first person to complete it anyway. The graduation ceremony was fine but boring, but I put up with it since Mom and Dad really wanted to see me in a cap and gown for once. (I didn't have a ceremony for either of my undergrad degrees.) I also started packing; I wasn't sure where I was going, but I definitely wasn't staying there. Packing was difficult since I kept getting distracted by random objects and old memories, and Nemesis sure didn't help by sending me his award-winning short story.

          June: I wound up accepting a job with an HVAC firm and moved about an hour south. The Artful Dodger proved himself by towing a trailer that was as large as he was and loaded with all my crap down the interstate at 80 miles an hour without breaking a sweat. Truck's got snort, y'all. Unloading, unpacking, and settling in didn't take too long, at which point I got down to work. Got to actually make and keep money for once! I also ended up getting my own phone and my own phone plan, which was a huge milestone for me.

          July: As of July, I was officially off the parental unit's list of responsibilities. That felt awesome. I did question my sanity when I realized that I enjoyed paying bills, but I figured that would wear off eventually. Work was going quite well, and I also rediscovered a few computer games that reminded me of some of the matches that Nemesis and I used to play.

          August: For the first time, I was starting to get a little bored--work slowed down somewhat, and Dale and Skipper were busy with their jobs up north. Not much happened this month, other than random experiments in my apartment and a recording of experiments that I used to perform.

          September: I didn't write anything on here for the next few months, because here's where life started getting a little crazy. I was summoned for my three-month review with the HVAC firm I worked for, where I was told that I'd been a little over-industrious, they'd run out of things for me to do, and they were letting me go. Definitely a shock, although it did explain the slowness of the last month. I promptly dusted off the old resume, updated it, and started putting my name back out on the job market. A manufacturing plant two hours north interviewed me a week and a half later and picked me up two days after that for an engineering position. I started packing. Again.

          October: I moved all my crap two hours north, the Dodger not complaining about having to lug all my crap back the other direction (and twice as far!). I got set up in my new apartment quickly and started work in the middle of the month, this time checking to see how much work they had for me to do and timing my progress accordingly. Fortunately, this company had more than enough for me to do, so I went to it. I got to work (read: play) with the big machines too! They put me on the production floor for a few weeks so I could rotate through the machines and learn everything there was to know about how they worked. Quite fun.

          November: I was in the middle of designing a prototype for one of the endforming machines in my apartment one night when I suddenly had an idea for a novel. (As many people have since pointed out, November is apparently National Novel Writing Month, but I had no idea at the time. It was a weird coincidence.) The rest of the month's evenings were spent on the novel, which wound up being an even 64,000 words before I started editing it and adding to it. Oh, and I got the front of the Dodger's bumper sheared off when a semi ran me off the road. The Dodger wasn't seriously hurt, but he was in the shop for a few weeks getting his bumper replaced.

          December: Spent the month shopping and waiting for Mom to get the family newsletter mailed so I could post it on Maximum Effect--okay, that's not even remotely true. I spent the first part of the month freaking out about the upcoming Star Wars movie and the latter half hitting every single screening I could manage...and yes, I did totally dress up for the premier. My Dark Jedi costume was a hit, possibly (probably) because of my awesome capes. Capes need to come back in style. Anyway, anyone wanna discuss the movie in great detail? (Don't take me up on that--I'll talk your ear off!) After wiping out on some ice and almost dislocating my ankle, I remembered that I hadn't written any decent stories for a while and decided to post one about my freshman year of college. Well, a specific part of it. You know how I operate by now.

          Well, that's about all I have for this year. I'm hoping to get my book published this year, so I'll keep y'all posted. Have a happy 2016, and thanks for sticking with me and my crazy adventures!