Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Captain's Log, Day 148: More Updates from the Midway Family

          As promised, here is the Midway Family's Annual Newsletter!

          Merry Christmas from the Midway Family                                                                          2015

 Quill writing about Radar:
          This year Radar and Higher Education parted ways on the most amicable of terms. South Dakota State University conferred upon him a Master’s degree in Engineering; in return, he left a legacy consisting of an erudite thesis and the lingering smell of charred laboratory ceiling tiles. He can now be found gainfully employed by a South Dakota company, where he does mathy things all day. He has attempted to explain the mathy stuff to his female relations, who have stopped pretending to be interested. Radar spends his days waterskiing with friends, swing-dancing, reading, and periodically attempting to learn the fine of bachelor cooking. His specialty is takeout pizza.

Radar writing about Quill:
When not engaged in the academic pursuits of an upperclassman, you can find Quill at the North Mankato Public Library assisting patrons in their book selections and trying to steer the innocent away from Fifty Shades of Gray.  In addition to school, work and social life, she manages to indulge in her twin loves of reading and cooking, and the occasional intense game of Scrabble with her mother (did you know that serious Scrabble enthusiasts trash-talk?).  She attends the same college as her sister Squirrel where they amaze and astound their classmates with their fashion sense and witty banter.

Squirrel writing about Nemesis:
This hat-sporting member of society has kept himself ever busy this past year. As a sassy sophomore, Nemesis manages to balance his classes with many extracurricular activities and jobs, including but not limited to secretary for the English Club (if you happen to have a spare gavel, please do send it his way); sacristan in charge of overseeing the proper training of all the other little baby sacristans, and of course, member of staff for Benedict’s Brittle (the monks at BC make peanut brittle and enlist the hungry college students to assist them). Unfortunately, he is not allowed to bring back free samples and it is hard to talk about this without crying a little.

Nemesis writing about Squirrel:
                It’s a bit tricky writing for my little sister, since I’m normally 700 miles away; however, according to my covert sources, Squirrel is almost done with her PSEO classes at Bethany Lutheran College and is going to graduate from high school this year. She plans to attend college afterwards and we hear she’s being bribed heavily from most of them, especially on account of her art. She sold one of her paintings last spring for actual money, and also recently won an Inkwell magazine contest (BLC’s student-run arts publication). When Squirrel’s not employed making potential masterpieces, she also visits the local elementary school to teach first graders the alphabet, numbers, and (most likely) how to give her marshmallows.

Everyone writing about the parental unit:
          Our parents still won’t let us do drugs, juggle knives, or launder money, concealing their fiendish scheme to make us responsible adults by claiming that this heartlessly enforced respectability will provide greater health and happiness in the long run. Their predictions are correct thus far, but you didn’t hear that from us. In other news, they have acquired a little friend for our Shih-poo, Bo. Said friend is an energetic Shi-Tzu puppy named Skipper, whose adorable shaggy body conceals a burning need to chew up the linoleum. Mom trains him patiently, while Dad suggests the same parenting technique that he favored for us: locking him in a closet until he turns 21.

           We all wish you a blessed Christmas and great 2016!  

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Captain's Log, Day 147: Stubbornness. It Ain't Just For Donkeys.

"Muugh," I moaned, fumbling around for my phone and managing to slap it off after one or two tries. The difficulty was enhanced by the fact that it was hiding somewhere in the bag hanging off the edge of my bed. It's too early for this crap!
"Morning," TD said blearily from the other side of the room. Naturally, he was already up. The ROTC apparently required waking up at ungodly hours as part of their training regimen, which was one of the many excellent reasons I'd never bothered to sign up. You may note, however, that being "cheerful" at said hours was completely optional.
Anyway, I didn't bother to reply. TD knew quite well that I never really fully woke up until after I'd showered. I rolled over to get up--
--and fell out of bed.
I was halfway down before I remembered that I slept in a lofted bed—the knowledge doing little good to slow my descent. However, my body was already on top of things, twisting to get my feet under me--
"OW!" I yelled.
TD paid little attention. My morning routine involved some version of this fall. He did, however, notice when I tried to stand and promptly collapsed again. "You okay?"
"I caught my foot on the edge of my chair," I gritted out, trying my weight on my right foot again. It held, albeit shakily. Something felt really weird, though.
Now he was mildly concerned. "You need to go see a nurse or something? I can drive you..."
"Heck no," I said indignantly, grabbing my shower supplies and limping out the door.
"This is a one-time offer!" TD yelled after me. "I'm not carrying your butt anywhere later!"
I rolled my eyes. "I'm fine," I growled back, making a mental note to come up with some way to get my bunk back down to the floor.
The next morning, it was immediately evident that I wasn't fine. My foot hurt enough to remind me to go down the ladder, but my ankle gave way about halfway down and dumped me on my butt regardless. I was too tired to even say ow, crawling over to the computer to look up the nearest chiropracter.
Go figure, it was a mile away. I memorized the location and resolved to visit him as soon as classes were over.
The walk there was lovely—the late September still warm enough for me to wear shorts. I probably would have, regardless; my backpack weighed about a thousand pounds. My computer, JARVIS wasn't exactly a lightweight. It didn't take me terribly long to get there; only about as long as it took me to fill out all the freaking paperwork the secretary gave me. What is it about medical professions and paperwork, anyway?
Doc greeted me with an enthusiastic handshake when I finally finished. "What's up? Need an adjustment?"
"Probably," I admitted. "I fell out of my loft and caught the edge of my foot on my chair when I was trying to land. It bent it pretty hard and it feels weird."
Doc shrugged. "Probably a sprain."
I gave him a slightly indignant look. "I know exactly what a sprain feels like, thank you! This is different."
He laughed. "Well, let’s take a look. College kid?"
"Yepp. First semester here," I told him. "I'm going for mechanical engineering."
He gestured me to sit on the table. "Ever been to a chiropractor before?"
"Pretty much my whole life," I told him. "I was always wrecking stuff."
"Somehow, that doesn't surprise me," Doc snickered as I started removing my shoe. "Which dorm are you in?"
"Matthews," I answered. "I walked from the library, though."
"If you can walk that far, it's probably not ba—oh, good Lord!"
I cocked an eyebrow at him. "What?"
"When did you injure this?" he demanded.
"Yesterday morning. Why?"
"And you walked all the way here..." Doc shook his head in disbelief. "Are you insane?"
"You stumbled upon that conclusion faster than most people," I remarked. "So, what's wrong with it?"
He took a breath. "You know how you have a few bones in your ankle?"
"I've always suspected as much. I was never terribly good at anatomy."
He rolled his eyes. "Well, long story short, none of them are where they're supposed to be."
I took a moment to contemplate that. "You mean I've dislocated my ankle."
"That's a mild way of putting it, but essentially, yes." He sighed. "Okay, here's what's going to happen. I'm going to reset it, then you are going to call a friend to come pick you up, and—hold on a second." He disappeared down the hall for a few moments. "Dang it, I don't have any. Here, you're gonna have your buddy drive you to Walmart, where he's going to get you this brace here." He showed me a picture of it on his phone.
I studied it with interest. "Seems simple enough."
"And you're going to ice it and stay off of it as much as possible for two weeks," he instructed me sternly.
I grinned. "Of course."
"Not two hours, two weeks," he ordered, eyeing me. "No running, skipping, parkour..."
I wrinkled my nose. "You're fast."
"I was your age once, too," he admitted. "Okay, this might hurt..."
I watched the resetting operation with a maximum of interest and a minimum of actual swearing, learning a lot about how that general region worked in the process. Fleetingly and irreverently, I wished I would be able to reset an ankle sometime. It really didn't look that hard.
Doc helped me down off the table and escorted me to the door. I thought he was actually gonna wait for me to call someone, but another patient came in and he got distracted. I took the opportunity to quickly pay and sneak out.
I did take a moment to think if anyone was available, but the only person I could think of who wasn't in class at the moment was Courtney, and I was fairly positive she didn't have a car. Besides, my foot felt a lot better, so I shouldered my backpack and started walking. Walmart was a mile away from my the opposite direction.
My phone rang right as I was dropping off my backpack in my room. I answered it automatically. "Yo."
I winced and turned down the volume. "Hi, Ma. Thinking about...I'm sorry, what are you talking about?"
"Why were you at a doctor's office?" Mom demanded. "They called to verify some of your information! Why didn't you tell me you were hurt? What happened?"
"I just torqued my ankle out a little," I reassured her. "No big deal, just a little uncomfortable. Doc set me up with a brace and everything. I'm fine." (I didn't tell her that I had to go pick up the brace yet. No point in freaking her out...more.)
"Okay," Mom said, sounding marginally calmer. "Just make sure you tell me when you get hurt, got it?"
I grinned. "I thought the rule was 'no blood, no notification.'"
"That's for when you're home," Mom said, sounding a little put out. "It's different when you're at college and going to the doctor."
"Technically, it was a chiropracter," I couldn't help interjecting.
"Whatever. Be careful!"
"Got it. Bye."
I hung up, a little guiltily. Didn't know they were going to CALL her. I sighed and headed out for Walmart. Halfway there, I got a call from Kyle, reminding me of the flag football game scheduled for tonight. I told him I'd be there and hung up.
To be fair, I'd been planning to show up and support the team. As it turned out, we had just enough guys to play—if I played. I decided not to tell anyone about my foot and relied on the brace to keep my ankle together. Since no one ever threw the ball to me anyway, I figured it wouldn't be a problem.
We scored pretty quickly. I started having fun, completely forgetting about previous injuries. When it was our turn for defense, I volunteered for the line, a decision my teammates heartily supported. Being skinny and fairly quick, I was a major annoyance to the other teams we'd faced in the past. I'd perfected a plant-twist move that usually got me past the opposing line and in the quarterback's face. Sometimes, I'd even get a sack.
Our team lined up, me on the right side of the line. The center snapped the ball; as soon as he moved, I exploded sideways, planting hard on my right foot and shoving off around the end.
Well, that's what was supposed to happen, anyway. What actually happened was that my foot stopped, but my ankle kept going. I yelped and wiped out. Fortunately, it didn't matter—Ben smacked down the quarterback's pass.
Kyle came over. "Hey, you okay?"
I glared at my ankle. "This brace doesn't do crap." I yanked it off, followed by my shoe.
Kyle turned a little green. This time, it was immediately evident that there was something wrong. "Come on, let's get you off the field!"
"No!" I snapped. "We'll lose by forfeit. Just—call a time-out for a moment."
Kyle called a time-out. I studied my foot. Let's see, if I remember right...this would go here, and this goes here, so...
I positioned my hands, took a deep breath, and yanked sharply. There was an audible crunch, followed by several distinct pops as I rotated my foot to finish the job. I looked up to see Kyle visibly trying to not be sick. "See? All good?" I put the brace back on, cinching it as tight as I could. " may want to put me on the left side of the line."
"You're crazy," Kyle announced, shaking his head and waving for time-in.
"Boy, everyone's figuring that out today," I muttered under my breath, lining up. The opposing team had seen the whole thing and clearly didn't see me as a threat anymore, a notion I promptly squashed by immediately sacking the quarterback (I used my left leg to plant that time).
Needless to say, we won.
I'm just kidding, we lost to a Hail Mary pass in the fourth quarter. But at least we didn't lose by forfeit. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Captain's Log, Day 146: Experiments in Buoyancy

          "You're gonna get in trouble," Nemesis warned me.
          "Relax. I'll put the tools back. Here, get ready to catch...umm...oof," I grunted.
          Quill wandered in. "I thought Mom said to wait until Dad got it down."
          "No, she said--mmph--that we had to wait until Dad got home," I clarified, yanking as hard as I could on the rolled-up swimming pool, trying to dislodge it from the shelf above Dad's workbench. Needless to say, I was standing on the workbench in order to reach it, since I didn't hit my serious growth spurt until I was fourteen (at ten, I was still pretty short).
          Quill winced. "Be careful!"
          I huffed. "Oh, please--yikes!"
          The pool suddenly yielded, and I almost toppled over backwards. I managed a brilliant recovery, moments before the pool slid the rest of the way off the shelf and swatted me off the workbench anyway.
          "You got it!" Nemesis cheered, as always focused on the prize.
          I rose, rubbing my now-tender kiester with one hand and sucking on a skinned knuckle on the other. "Yeah. Told you, Quill!"
          "Let's unroll it!" Nemesis exclaimed eagerly.
          "Let's get it into the backyard first," I proposed. "Grab that end."
          "Oof," my brother grunted. "This is heavy."
          "Glad it didn't land on me," I snickered. "I'd be a pancake."
          We were, of course, then obliged to drop the pool and roll around on the ground for a while at that mental image. Chuckle fit over and now appropriately dirty, we lugged the pool out to the grass and started trying to figure out how Dad had folded and rolled it. We succeeded in somehow tying a knot in it. Fortunately, about that time Dad came out and helped us unroll it and set it up. Nemesis quickly grabbed the hose and dragged it over to the pool. I turned it on, and soon both of us were staring down at the small puddle forming in the bottom of the pool.
          "When will it be ready?" Nemesis inquired of Dad.
          He shrugged. "Oh, probably sometime after dinner it will be full. Tomorrow, you'll be able to play in it."
          "Why not tonight?" I complained.
          "Because it will be cold," Dad explained. "I'm not going to deal with your bellyaching. Come on—don't you have your bedroom to clean anyway?"
          True to prediction, the pool was nearly full after dinner. I verified the frigidness of it by "accidentally" throwing our dog Barney's tennis ball into the pool, and, when he refused to retrieve it, "accidentally" falling in while trying to get it. Since no one could prove otherwise, I was let off the hook, although I was extremely cold regardless...not as much of a win as I'd been anticipating.
          The next day dawned bright and sunny. Mom, anticipating my excitement, was sure to get up nice and early in order to arrest my progress towards the pool, banning me from even looking at it until after lunch. While being sound policy regards health, it was terrible for my mental well-being. Instead of frolicking in the water and preoccupying myself with splashing siblings, I was forced to wait...and conjure up pranks. This was, of course, when I hit upon my most brilliant idea ever (or so I was convinced).
          I would make a boat.
          But not just any boat. Oh, no. This would be a motorcycle boat. Naturally, I took Nemesis into my confidence.
          "You want to build a what?"
          "A motorcycle boat!"
          Nemesis frowned. "Where are you going to get an engine?"
          Crap. I'd forgotten about that part. "You're no fun," I complained. "Fine, let's build a bicycle boat instead."
          "How?" Nemesis inquired.
          "Simple," I informed him, basking in the glow of my own brilliance. "Air is lighter than water, right?"
          "Yeahhh..." Nemesis replied uncertainly, trying to figure out where I was going with this.
          "And bike tires are full of air, right?" I continued.
          "Yeah...oh, YEAH!!!" Nemesis answered, eyes lighting up.
          "So we just pedal around on the bike like we normally would!" I concluded.
          Nemesis's happy glow suddenly faded. "Would it work on my tricycle?"
          I frowned. "The green one, yes. The red one, no. The red tires don't have air in them."
          "Yay!" Nemesis cheered. "I can't wait until after lunch!"
          "Me either!" I yelped, and clobbered him with a pillow as the only way to express my impatience. He shrieked and dove for one of his own. Our war waged on with unspeakable carnage until a higher power *cough*Mom*cough* intervened to save Nemesis from annihilation and ordered us both out to the front yard to draw on the sidewalk or something. Instead, we took our rubber band rifles and hunted grasshoppers and moths until lunch. (No wars were started because A) I had built the guns well, with multiple power settings for various rubber bands, and they could leave some decent welts when properly loaded and B) my brother was a wuss and would start crying if he got shot.)
          A quick lunch later, Mom once again arrested my beeline for the back door to tell me to put on a swimsuit first, for crying out loud—oh, and sunscreen, and don't mess with your siblings, and remember to—uh, do something or other...I wasn't really listening at that point. After hurling myself headlong into the pool and reminding myself that it was only a couple feet deep and not really suitable for diving, Nemesis and I dragged out the bike and the tricycle, respectively. The girls watched, concerned.
          "What are you doing?" Squirrel asked, slapping the water.
          "Watch," I told her, and heaved my bike into the pool.
          Both Quill and Squirrel shrieked. "Don't splash me!" they chorused, a wee bit higher on the audible spectrum than I was comfortable with.
          I sighed. "Girls," I snorted scornfully and climbed in after my bike; the bike was inverted, with the wheels floating. I righted it and jumped on.
          The bike promptly dropped to the bottom of the pool. I frowned. "Hmm. It's not floating."
          "Let me try the trike," Nemesis proposed. I shrugged and tried pedaling mine forward. Unable to get any speed going, I promptly fell off.
          The trike fared little better than the bike did. In desperation, I put in our little wagon, which approximated a shipwreck with a rapidity that astonished one of my tender years, and the "Cozy Coupe," which bobbed around with a promise that led to near-elation on my part. That elation was effectively quenched when I tried climbing on the roof of the plastic car; it turned turtle fast enough to nearly send me out of the pool. Upon resurfacing, I gazed sadly around at the array of submerged and partially-submerged vehicles in the water.
          Time to put a bright face on the spectacle. "Let's play Shipwreck Explorers!" I proposed, already planning my next pool-related endeavor. The next time we set it up, I would drag it over to the swingset and slide to build...
          ...a waterslide. After all, what could possibly go wrong with that?

          (To answer your question, dear reader: two concussions, a sprained wrist, three bruised tailbones, several hundred minor cuts, a broken pool, and a resoundingly good time resulted from the Waterslide Debacle. However, the court has ordered me to withhold the details. Sorry.)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Captain's Log, Day 145: My Copilot Can't Shoot

      "It's FINALLY ready!" Nemesis yelled at me from across the house.
          "About time!" I hollered back, falling down the stairs as the quickest way to get to the basement. (I was not the most coordinated person at 14.)
          Nemesis was installed in my spot, busily sorting through weapons. I elbowed him. "Move it. I drive, remember?"
          "I don't have a chair," Nemesis shot back, ignoring me.
          "Then go get one," I suggested, pushing him off. Nemesis muttered something uncomplimentary about my looks and snagged a chair from across the room.
          I quickly made sure my controls were in order. "Now where are we?"
          "Lower level of the city," my brother reminded me.
          "Ah. Right." I quickly spun, surveying the landscape. A Stridicus was charging us, but it was far enough out that I figured we had some time. I quickly picked up a zorch propulsor for Nemesis. "I'd hold off on using that."
          "Figured we'd go with the large zorcher," my brother agreed, punching the appropriate buttons. "If you'd turn around..."
          I snickered and spun. Nemesis opened fire, spraying the Stridicus. After about ten shots, it gave a surprised Burr-hurr-hurr and vanished.
          "It sounds like a chicken," I commented, charging out the door and turning around so Nemesis could strafe the two Flemoids hiding on either side of the door. He took them out with two precise shots.
          "Lot of Bipedicuses heading our way," I warned, examining the the doors on the side of the street. One appeared unlocked, so I headed that direction.
          "Isn't it Bipedici?" Nemesis asked, airing his fresh Latin knowledge as well as succumbing to his inner naturalist. "Also, there's no one out here."
          "Whatever," I snorted, popping the door. "And I was referring to in here!"
          "RAPID ZORCHER!" Nemesis yelled, diving frantically for his controls and spitting fire at the room. One mayhem-filled moment later, and the room was clear. I gave my copilot a look. He looked a bit sheepish. "I forgot about those guys."
          I sighed. "You're going to get us slimed."
          "Unlikely," Nemesis informed me. "Those were Flemoids, not Bipedici."
          "And this one?" I asked, popping the door and gesturing to the alien bearing down on us.
          "That is a Bipedicus," Nemesis confirmed, switching back to the large zorcher and frying the lumbering alien.
          "Do you happen to remember what's behind this door?" I asked.
          Nemesis frowned, rapidly switching through all available guns. "Uh...wasn't this where we got slimed by that Cycloptis last time?"
          I wrinkled my nose. "Oh. Right. Which gun are you gonna--"
          "The zorch propulsor," Nemesis cut me off, searching his cheat sheet. "Button...5. Ready."
          I popped the door and charged inside. Nemesis dropped the Cycloptis with two quick shots. Celebratory cheering was abruptly cut off by the splorch of slime hitting our collective back. I spun around as Nemesis switched to the rapid zorcher so we could down the group of Flemoids that we'd both forgotten about.
          "Oops," my brother snickered.
          I sighed. "Where's the nearest water?"
          "There's a supercharge breakfast up the stairs and to the left," Nemesis remembered.
          I glared at him. "You remember that, but not the squad we just zorched??"
          "Hey, guys, what are you doing?" Quill asked, wandering into the craft room.
          I looked up. "Oh, hi. We're playing ChexQuest. Nemesis just got us slimed."
          "It wasn't that bad, and YOU forgot too!" Nemesis protested.
          Quill ignored the parenthetical comments, having learned that getting in an argument with us was about as rewarding as watching paint dry, with the added bonus of being as efficient as running on a treadmill was for getting places. "Slimed? What's that?"
          "Eh, it's supposed to be a kid-friendly game, so you can't die, you just get slimed," I explained. "You get too much slime, and you get stuck and can't go anywhere. That's how you lose."
          Quill peered over our shoulders. "How do you win?"
          "By completing the levels and zorching all the aliens back to their own dimension," Nemesis explained.
          "Aliens? Like that?" Quill asked, pointing.
          "ARMORED BIPEDICUS RUUUNNN!!!!" Nemesis yelled.
          "Shootitshootitshootit!!!!!" I screeched back.
          "Uhhh..." Quill hesitated, backing slowly away. "What--"
          Nemesis dropped the Armored Bipedicus with the zorch propulsor, but we sustained two slimeballs to the face. "Nemesis shoots, and I move," I explained, my fingers busy on the arrow keys. "He also has the map--Nemesis, where are we?"
          Nemesis pushed the tab key, displaying the map. "We need to go right at the next hallway."
          "No, the key is down the left turn," I argued. "The blue door is where we need to go, but we don't have the key. Also, we need to supercharge breakfast. Our health is down to 52%."
          My copilot minimized the map. "And we need armor. See any slime repellent?"
          "Zoombinis is better," Quill muttered, leaving the room. "You guys are weird."
          "It's called being cooperative," I shot back, eyes never leaving the screen. "Besides, it's the only way I could sell Mom on this. Wanna play Oregon Trail with us tomorrow?"
          "Only if I get to write the diary!" Quill returned excitedly.
          "Fine. But I'm doing the hunt--NEMESIS SHOOT THE SUPER CYCLOPTIS ALREADY!!" I interrupted myself to yell.
          "WHAT DO YOU THINK I'M DOING???" Nemesis yelled back.
          We dropped the massive floating tank and charged through the final door to complete the level. Predictably, Mom walked in. "Okay boys, that's enough computer time for today. Go outside."
          "Okay. Nemesis, wanna play ChexQuest?" I asked.
          Mom gave me the look. "I said, no more computer games today."
          "We're playing ChexQuest in real life," I tried to explain.
          Nemesis bolted. "I'll get my zorcher!"
          Mom sighed. "Fine. No firing darts at your sisters, though."
          "They're just wusses," I muttered.
A Flemoid, contemplating our impeccable teamwork.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Captain's Log, Day 144: Time Bomb to Kashyyyk

          I sneezed violently, making a mental note (the fifth of such) to dust my next bedroom occasionally. While no one ever entered my bedroom typically--it being a haven for all the clothes I couldn't be bothered to throw into the hamper, as well as housing my impressive collection of Nerf paraphernalia--and the dust normally didn't bother me, it got to be a bit of a pain when I began packing.
          It was common, of course, for me to get distracted during my attempts at packing. Inevitable, actually, given my squirrel-like tendencies towards getting sidetracked. However, it was one thing to get absorbed by the random pieces of garbage I was discovering...and it was entirely another to take a completely unexpected side trip.
          Maybe I should back up. The reason I was packing (actually, still am--like I said, I get distracted) was because I had finally graduated with my Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering (and yet I still write...why?) and I was in the process of finalizing which company I wanted to work for. Since the end was definitely in sight, as far as current living quarters went, I decided to consolidate my junk, pack it up, and pitch as much of it as I could to making moving easier.
          It was definitely a work in progress.
          I cleared off my endtable fairly quickly, following that up with the junk collecting in the drawers themselves. Most of that went into the trash. I straightened up and, without looking, reached over to my dresser to sweep everything off the top and into the trash bin.
          My right hand settled on a cylindrical object...and automatically closed around it. I picked it up involuntarily, my left hand settling into the familiar-yet-long-forgotten grip below my right hand...
          ...and I found myself back on Kashyyyk, staring out through the dense forest. Ten years previously.

          A sudden crackling sent me spinning around, back towards the downed spaceship. It was just my brother, who was descending the ladder. "Any sign of them?" he called.
          I turned back towards the creek. "Not yet. But they should be following up on us pretty shortly. How's the ship?"
          "Pretty bad," Nemesis informed me grimly. "We should be able to get it fixed, but we need time. Oh, and a new hyperdrive."
          "Maybe we can pick one up from the Neimoidians," I suggested. "Y'know, since they were the ones who shot us down in the first place. Got your electrobinoculars?"
          Nemesis brightened, pressing the 'nocs to his eyes. "Seems fair. Hey, there's a base on the hill, other side of this valley. And--droids coming!"
          "Where?" I snapped, dropping into a defensive crouch.
          Nemesis gestured, crouching next to me. "Just across the creek. They'll see us--"
          "They saw us," I cut him off, listening to the distant shout of discovery.
          Nemesis grinned. "Let's take them out before they can call their base!"
          I grinned back. "I'm on the comm guy."
          We exploded out of the undergrowth. I located their communications droid and thrust my hand out, force-punching him straight off his tank. The other droids snapped their blasters up, tracking us...
          Almost in unison, my brother and I punched the our respective buttons. With a snap-hiss, our lightsabers sprang to life.
          The first two ranks of droids opened fire--and promptly died as Nemesis and I batted their bolts right back at them. We jumped the creek together, slashing and stabbing at the metal ranks closing to meet us. Nemesis and I got separated; I was okay with that, though. If we were separated, there was no confusion as to who killed what.
          I force-pushed another droid straight into his commander's tank, sending him, sparking, to the ground. I ducked and rolled under the tank, slashing through its repulsor unit and diving out the back. The tank crashed to the ground and exploded, decimating the rest of the squad I was taking on. The last few droids made the mistake of firing, so I deflected their shots right back at them again.
          Nemesis had apparently just finished as well. I closed down my lightsaber. "I got my tank first."
          "Yeah, well, I jumped inside my tank, killed the droids, and then slashed my way out the back," Nemesis retorted, a bit  competitively.
          I shrugged. "Let's recon the base. Quietly--silenced blasters only." I drew the blaster strapped to my thigh.
          Nemesis followed me up the hill. "I take it we don't want to let them know there are Jedi on the planet?"
          "Yepp," I nodded.
          "What about the squads we just took out?" Nemesis persisted.
          I shrugged. "By the time they find those guys, we'll be off-planet."
          Quickly and efficiently, we sniped the lookouts off their perches. I sneaked over to the door and put two shots into the lock, blasting it open. We shot inside and slammed straight into--
          "Oh, hi, boys," Mom greeted us. "I was just about to call you; it's time for lunch. Radar, change your shirt--were you rolling in mud?"
          "I had to take out a tank," I informed her indignantly.
          Mom couldn't help smiling. "Well, put your laser sword--"
          "Lightsaber," Nemesis and I chorused.
          "--lightsaber away and get yourselves into the kitchen," Mom laughed.
          "Duel you!" I yelled and flicked my lightsaber back on, charging Nemesis and backing him towards the stairs.
          Mom sighed. "Don't hit the pictures!" she called after us.

          I tossed my lightsaber from hand to hand before flipping the blade out. The batteries were long since dead, of course, and the hilt was scarred from long use. It looked like something that should have been thrown out long ago with my childhood, as I grew up and moved on.
          However, I had apparently only been faking it.
          I couldn't help grinning as I pretended to turn the lightsaber on, vowing to hunt down some batteries. I might physically be twenty-two and a productive member of society, but--and I spun, batting some imaginary blaster shots away--I would never, could never, give up my imagination or my admittedly childish love of pretend games.
          Still grinning, I closed down the lightsaber and carefully packed it before continuing my hunt for actual junk to throw away. After all...a Jedi should never throw away his signature weapon. After all...
's an elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Captain's Log, Day 143: Of Mice and Men

          The Midway siblings had been living on the farm for about a year, now--just short of a year, actually, since it was summer and they had moved in during the fall. Their dad, hoping one day to have some kind of farm animals ("USEFUL!" he clarified later--too late--when the horses, llama, and alpaca had been introduced), had seeded a large portion of the front yard with prairie grass, which took root and flourished with surprising degree of alacrity. It was, then, further astonishing that the Midway kids in general, and Radar in particular, had found no uses for the tall grass other than futile games of hide-and-seek.
          Well, right up until the day Radar wandered into the grass, bored out of his mind, and noticed that it was considerable taller than he was. Nothing clicked, save for the vague notion that he should probably not fire his cork gun in there, since he would never be able to retrieve the cork later. He slung the gun across his back and moved on, forcing his way through the thick pasture. 
          "Can't believe a cow would eat all this," he muttered to himself, looking down. "Maybe I can find a snake or somethi--hey! MOUSE!"
          Disregarding undergrowth, Radar hurled himself in pursuit of the mouse. The mouse led him on a merry dance through the grass, finally escaping when the boy, as was inevitable, tripped. At eleven, Radar was not exactly a model of grace.
          The boy groaned and rolled over on his back...and kept rolling when he landed on his gun. "Ow," he grunted, trying to decide if the stars he saw in his vision were made up of similar constellations as the ones he'd created earlier in the day with his header out of the tree. He quickly gave up mental astronomy as a useless pursuit and sat up. "Wait, where...?"
          Radar was not terrible with directions, but as he took a look around, he realized that he was decidedly lost. He dug around in carrying bag that he had belted to his waist (it was made out of his old jeans and sewed on his mom's sewing machine, much to her displeasure on both counts), but could't locate his compass. He did find the multitool that he'd swiped from his dad and took a few moments to try to make a reed whistle, but the grass wasn't hollow enough for that. 
          He wrinkled his nose and stood up. Nope, the grass was way too tall to see over, even jumping. The grass underneath him was surprisingly bouncy, though, so he started folding some more down into his landing zone and bouncing on it, just for fun.
          A few moments later, he spotted the trail that he had come through--the grass had stayed parted, marking the place he had run through. Glancing down, he took in the nest he'd made. Then he was crashing though his tunnel back to the outside world. 
          Nemesis was playing with Legos in the basement when Radar crashed into the house. Literally, in this case--he'd missed his grab for the door handle and slammed into the door at full speed. (Again, not exactly a model of grace here.) Nemesis, being a bit more reserved than his older brother and used to his rambunctious ways, didn't look up until the yelling started.
          "Radar!" Mom scolded from the kitchen. "Slow down, stop shouting and go find them! Quietly!"
          Radar gave her a look of long-suffering. "I stepped in dog doo. I don't think I should do that. NEMESIS! QUILL!! SQUIRREL!"
          "Then go wash your feet off and put your sandals on!" Mom ordered. 
          "It's summer," Radar pointed out, as befitted one to whom footgear was only to be worn during the winter, and then only when his mother caught him. 
          Mom sighed. "Go wash your feet off--GET OFF MY RUG!!"
          "But I just mopped!" Radar protested. "I don't want to stand on the floor!"
          The budding argument brought his siblings to the main floor to enjoy the scene. Radar quickly switched tracks. "Hey guys, come outside, you gotta see something!" He popped back out before his mother could catch him. 
          Curiosity won the day. His siblings joined him a few moments later. "What is it?" Quill demanded impatiently. 
          "Want to play Mice?" Radar asked.
          His siblings exchanged dubious looks. "Radar, Mom said we couldn't do that anymore after we tore her blanket making the fort last time," Nemesis pointed out.
          Squirrel shrugged. "Do you have snacks?"
          The oldest grinned. "I found a better place to play, and no," he responded. "Come on!"
          They trailed after him to the start of the prairie grass. After a quick hunt, Radar found his tunnel and led them through it to his nest. "This is my house," he announced proudly. 
          "How'd you find it?" Nemesis asked.
          Radar grinned. "I made it. Like this." On his hands and knees, he tromped out another tunnel that ran about ten feet before folding down and stomping out the grass to make another nest. "See? What do you think?"
          He was talking to thin air. The others had scattered to start tunneling out passageways and nests. Radar grinned and began adding rooms to his mansion. 
          That defined a great deal of the summer. By its end, the two acres of prairie had been riddled with passageways and houses--sometimes because the kids couldn't remember where their original work sites were and would restart elsewhere and build until they hit their old stomping grounds. This added an almost archaeological element to it, as they would re-explore the old paths and houses and try to figure out what belonged to who. Also, because he was the only one who insisted on running through the passageways, Radar used most of the Band-Aids in the house due to grass cuts and skinned knees. 
          Then Dad mowed it down in the fall...which was okay, because by that point Radar noticed that the resident mosquito population of the woods had decreased and dragged everyone out that direction at every opportunity to play Robin Hood. The Little Houses on the Prairie were never reestablished--the advent of the horses the next year kept the pasture short.
          However, Mom quickly curtailed Radar's replacement game, a reenactment of medieval jousting. Something about being too Radar invented Bike Tag.
          Apparently, he couldn't have fun without helping fund the medical industry. Go figure.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Captain's Log, Day 142: URCARU, or How to Kill a Romance Novel

          Nemesis is also a writer, like me. Unlike me, it's closer to being his life--he's going for an English major (which is a waste of a good math brain, but he punches me every time I point that out). The following story was written by him for a contest, which he won, surprising no one but himself. I decided to publish it on here, too, because it's hysterical.

Or, How to Kill a Romance Novel

            “Jonah…we need to talk.”
            Jonah sat across the cafĂ© table, feeling an ominous sense of dread welling up inside him. Only a few days ago had they met at this public hiding place, and his sweetheart had borne upon her face an expression of matchless joy far more powerful than any of the gloomy clouds of care. But today she sat in a winter of silence, and Jonah could feel the cold from where he sat. It terrified him immeasurably, like he was on the edge of a fog-obscured clifftop. “Hannah,” he ventured to ask, “is something the matter?”
            Hannah avoided his eyes, afraid her confidant’s soul was now an abyss of deceit. “It’s nothing,” she lied, afraid to confront her fears. “I…I don’t know if this is working out, that’s all.”
            The cliff had been found – Jonah felt the whole world vanish from under his feet. “Not working out?” he asked in panicked disbelief. “Why? Is it something I did?”
            “No, no,” she said, trying desperately to preserve his heart. “I’m just not sure…I don’t know how much I really mean to you anymore.”
            “But why? I’m always with you! I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else!”
            “Could you?” Hannah looked up at Jonah, the corners of her eyes ready to flood. “How can I trust you?”
            Finally the potted plant on the table had heard enough.
            The couple’s argument was unexpectedly cut off by a loud beep. Their gazes leaped to the small flowerpot next to the water pitcher – its flowers had suddenly been sucked back into the soil. What followed was a medley of clicks and whirring noises as the table decoration split into segments, reconfiguring into an odd little machine with tiny blue eyes and the figure of a squat sitting owl.
            “[URCARU-Bot #55783 Online: Situation detected. Scanning subjects for grievances and recent histories.]”
            Jonah, being an ordinary human male, was speechless at the robotic transformation of the tabletop ornament (and was secretly wondering if any other of his everyday items were capable of this feat), so it fell to Hannah to ask the Question. “Um…what are you?” she warily asked the little machination.
            In response, the bot projected an image onto the table: a heart, cracked down the middle but being held together with a padlock. The ex-decoration began his explanation in a fuzzy little voice. “[I am an operative of the Unnecessary Romantic Complication Assessment and Rectification Unit, URCARU. It has come to our unit’s attention that a significant percentage of interpersonal complications have come about due to a proliferation of mishandled situations that, under normal treatment, can be defused without major damage to the relationship. However, in these modern times (particularly in the cinematic arts), people have seemingly lost the ability to repair these occurrences on their own, leading to an increase in average social isolation and depression. URCARU-Bots are here to help, mediating any uncomfortable scenarios until a beneficial result is achieved.]”
            His tiny eyes blinked twice. “[Scan completed. Structure of recent history compiled and sent to the Mainframe.]”
            “Wait!” Jonah interjected. “Did you just –“
            “[Good news!]” URCARU-Bot interrupted him. “[Mainframe has determined that your relationship with each other is healthy enough to continue existing. Before your lives can continue, however, the current complication must be rectified. Fortunately, the problem appears to have a greater amount of miscommunication as a causal factor than outright egotism. Solution: conversation.]” The robot stuck a stubby hand towards Hannah. “[The lady shall commence. Party One: Please state in clear, concise terms the nature of your grievance.]”
            After an awkward pause, Hannah decided that compliance would be the only path of escape. “Well…I saw Jonah in school yesterday with Bethany Simkins. They’d taken one of the private study rooms, just the two of them. I didn’t know what to think – I was too afraid to ask what had happened, if Jonah was maybe getting tired of me…” she trailed off.
            “[Grievance noted.]” The little hand shifted to Jonah. “[Party Two: Please explain your perspective of the distressing event.]”
            Jonah stared at his girlfriend in disbelief. “What? You mean you got worked up over that? I – ouch!”
            In danger of losing control of the situation, the robot zapped Jonah mid-exclamation. “[Protocol error. Please keep vocal levels normal, and state your view in a civilized manner.]”
            “Sorry.” Jonah ran a hand through his hair. “Just…Bethany wanted help with her calculus notes, and I thought it would be rude to say no. We just studied, that’s all that happened.”
            The bot gave him a quick scan. “[Party Two’s account is valid,]” it concluded. “[Party One, do you require clarification?]”
            “She asked you for help, though?” Hannah burst out, no longer speaking to the robot. “Why not Horton, that nerdy kid in the back row who’s always pulling off perfect grades? He’d be a much better person to ask for help on that subject!”
            “Excuse me?”
            “[Party Two’s current calculus grades support the objection,]” URCARU-Bot sided with Hannah. “[Do you have a defense?]”
            Justin wrung his hands for a few seconds, trying to hold back what he knew, but Hannah’s stare combined with the robot’s unmoving blue lights cracked him. “Okay, I’ll admit it,” he spoke. “Bethany did try to flirt with me in there. She stormed out after I told her she was crazy – everybody knows I’m already in a relationship. With you.”
            Hannah kept staring, but…with a different intensity.
            URCARU-Bot performed another scan. “[Party Two’s phone data indicates four deleted calls from this ‘Bethany Simkins’, with no replies on record. Evidence suggests that Party Two’s affections have not wavered. Party One, do you have any further objections?]”
            She couldn’t make a sound. Jonah’s eyes weren’t as empty to her anymore.
            “[Party Two, do you have any comments?]”
            Jonah was also lost for words.
            “[Excellent,]” the robot nodded. “[Situation rectified. Closing Advice: Party One, before any relationship termination strategies are employed, I recommend first discovering the nature of the event with an objective perspective, considering all factors – including the testimony of the other party. Party Two, in order to avoid such a precarious situation to be misinterpreted, employ strategies to negate the social pressure. Perhaps Bethany could have been recommended by you to a more astute student, or you could have invited more people to join the study. Now,]” a daisy grew out of the bot’s hand, “[offer this to her as a token for reparation.]”
            Like a clumsy child, Jonah plucked the flower from the machine and sheepishly held it out to his sweetheart. The next action nearly destroyed both gift and giver – Hannah lunged across the table to envelop her boyfriend in a crushing hug. Her smile was back; the gloomy clouds began scudding away once more.
            URCARU-Bot’s eyes dimmed. “[#55783 to Mainframe: Relationship rectification has reached the Much Uncomfortable Social Hugging (MUSH) Stage. Requesting immediate deactivation.]”
            The robot shrank back into a common flowerpot, but the couple barely noticed his departure. The storm was past, the cliff averted. The sun was out again.

            Remember your friendly URCARU-Bot!

          *Notes: This account was for advertisement purposes only: Mainframe is aware of multiple scenarios with varying complexities – heck, he’s not even done compiling all possible relationship factors. URCARU services are not yet worldwide. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

Published in Loomings 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Captain's Log, Day 141: Picture Perfect

          "It's picture time!" Mom announced in that annoying fake-enthusiasm voice moms master to try to talk their kids into doing something they don't like. The Midway siblings were pretty unanimous in agreement that it didn't work.
          It failed to rouse any eagerness this time, either. Radar wrinkled his nose. "Again? Can't we just use the pictures from last year?"
          "Of course not!" Mom informed him indignantly. "Everyone we send the Christmas cards to will want to see how you've grown!"
          "He hasn't grown," Nemesis pointed out.
          "At least, no one will be able to see the difference," Radar added parenthetically. "No one looks at those cards anyway."
          Mom ignored them. "Go get your picture clothes on. Look, the girls are already ready to go!"
          Radar cocked his eyebrow at Quill and Squirrel. "Yeah, but it took them an hour to get ready."
          "Then let's make it a race," Mom suggested, taking them on their competitive side. "What's your best--"
          Radar and Nemesis hurled themselves down the stairs headlong before Mom could finish. "--time? Oh, never mind; at least they're--"
          Multiple thuds and crashes cut her off yet again as Radar and Nemesis fought their way back up the stairs to come sprawling into the entryway. "DONE!" Radar yelled, a little out of breath and rubbing a red mark on his forehead where he'd clearly collided with something rather unyielding. Possibly Nemesis's head.
          Mom gave them a disbelieving look. "You cannot possibly think that you're presentable."
          Nemesis and Radar exchanged a wary look. "Why not? These are the clothes you picked out," Nemesis protested.
          "Please tell me she didn't change her mind again," Radar muttered under his breath.
          "Your hair is a mess!" Mom exclaimed.
          Radar reflexively and futilely glanced up. "It's always a mess."
          "And dirty," Nemesis snickered.
          "You should talk," Radar shot back, laughing as well.
          Quill sighed. "Guys, come on. You're making this last longer than it should."
          "Joy to the world!" Squirrel warbled.
          "Go comb your hair," Mom ordered.
          Radar and Nemesis tore up the second flight of stairs to the upstairs bathroom (the downstairs bathroom, which was theirs, did not possess much in the way of combs). About five seconds later, they came flying down the stairs, almost taking out Quill and Squirrel. "Done!"
          Mom sighed. "Back upstairs. I'll do it."
          The boys groaned and raced each other back up the stairs. "It's a waste of time!" Radar yelled over his shoulder.
          It took Mom about five minutes to get their hair wrestled into a state of partial submission, at which point she threw in the towel and declared it to be good enough. The family recongregated back in the entryway. Dad joined them as well.
          "Are we going to take the picture on the stairs again?" Squirrel asked.
          Quill grinned. "Oh! I know! In front of the fireplace!"
          "We're going to take the picture on the bench in front of the campfire," Mom announced.
          Silence for a second. Then Radar spoke up. "Uh, outside?"
          "You do realize that we live in one of the coldest states in the US?" Radar inquired.
          "And it's November," Squirrel added helpfully.
          Nemesis joined in. "And it's, like, zero out."
          "Our coats don't match!" Quill protested.
          Her siblings stared at her incredulously. "Really? That's your concern? Not the fact that our kiesters are going to freeze off?" Radar demanded.
          "Well, maybe that means you'll behave," Mom suggested, a little smugly. "You're not going to be wearing coats, just your nice sweaters."
          There was a chorus of groans. Mom turned to her husband. "Dear, talk to them!"
          "Kids, do what your mother says," Dad ordered absently, trying to figure out which coat he would be wearing (since Mom and Dad never joined us for the pictures, they could afford to bundle up for the Arctic-chilly weather they were facing).
          "This makes me feel like singing!" Squirrel threatened.
          "NO!" her brothers yelled and made a dash for the door.
          Everyone assembled at the bench with a rapidity made possible by a -20 degree wind chill. Radar couldn't help laughing as his hair quickly succumbed to the elements. "Told you it was a waste of time!"
          Squirrel plopped down on the bench. "This is COLD!"
          Quill danced in place. "Let's hurry! Where do you want us?"
          "Well, let's see--uh, dear, my camera isn't turning on." Mom beckoned Dad over.
          Radar flipped the hood of his good sweatshirt up and turned to Nemesis. "Join me, and together we will rule the galaxy!" he intoned in his best Darth Vader voice.
          Nemesis flipped his hood up and stuck his hands in his sleeves, monk-like. "I'm joining a monastery. They don't make you freeze outside for pictures!"
          Radar stuck his hands in his armpits in an attempt to stave of frostbite. His hood fell off. "Fair point. I might join you. Quill, what are you doing?"
          "Trying to stay warm!" Quill replied, in the middle of a rather complicated and convoluted jigging session.
          "JOY TO THE WORLD!" Squirrel warbled, throwing her arms out for dramatic effect.
          This was, of course, the exact moment Mom's camera decided to work. She snapped a picture to test it and convulsed with laughter at the ensuing image.
          The kids stopped their dancing, impressions, and singing to crowd around the tiny screen on Mom's camera. One by one, they doubled over laughing.
          "We should use that!" Radar gasped out.
          Dad chuckled. "It definitely conveys how we normally are."
          Quill dissented. No, I think we should take a normal picture."
          "Better get lined up then," Dad suggested.
          With a maximum of confusion and a minimum of time (and frostbite), they managed to get the Christmas picture taken. However, the first picture remained their favorite, and ended up on the front cover of a book Radar wrote and presented to his mother the following Christmas.
          Joy to the world, indeed!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Captain's Log, Day 140: Brief Barn Battles

          "Hey, Dad wants us outside!"
          I looked up from the cork gun that I was busily modifying, much to Mom's regret. It was just a simple pop gun; a quick tug on the barrel would send the cork flying to the end of its attached string. Unfortunately for Mom, it didn't take a genius to figure out that removing the string would allow the cork to fly considerably further. It might have taken at least a little mechanical aptitude to figure out the internal seal was rather crappy, which is where my attention was currently focused. At least, it was until Nemesis came to get me.
          "What's up?" I asked, beginning to reassemble the barrel with its new piston head installed.
          Nemesis shrugged. "I think he wants us to help him unload hay."
          I wrinkled my nose. "How are we gonna help? They're a bit big for us, aren't they?" Admittedly, Nemesis and I were rather strong--as Nemesis found out moments later, as I shot him with an energetic motion of my arm--but at 9 and 13 years old, respectively, we were nowhere near strong enough to deal with the massive rolls of hay that had, to date, been only interacted with in the form of jumping. On top. Or falling off, I suppose.
          "OW!" Nemesis yelled. "Stoppit!"
          I loaded another cork and cocked the gun, grinning. "You are not a Jedi yet!"
          "One moment," Nemesis requested before bolting off in the direction of our room. He returned a moment later with one of his rubber band guns, promptly shooting me in the face with it.
          "OW!" I yelled and fired back.
          "BOYS!" Dad hollered at us, about ten minutes later. "GET UP HERE!"
          "Oh, right, he wanted us outside," Nemesis remembered.
          I shot him again as he quit his bunker (I wisely elected to remain in mine). "You forgot?"
          "OW! So did you!" Nemesis screeched. "Should we put the couch cushions back?"
          "BOYS!" Dad yelled again, tonal pattern sliding rapidly from "annoyed" to "angry."
          "Nope," I decided, slinging my gun across my back and snatching my corks up on the way to the stairs. "COMING!"
          We raced up the stairs, sprawling at the feet of Dad as we both wiped out on the last step. He glared down at us. "You were supposed to come outside ten minutes ago!"
          "He shot me!" Nemesis and I chorused, immediately throwing each other under the proverbial bus.
          Dad rolled his eyes. "Get your boots on and come on," he ordered. "We're going to unload hay bales."
          "Aren't they too big for us?" I asked before brightening suddenly. "Unless you're letting me drive the ATV!"
          "The four-wheeler stays where it is," Dad informed me. "These are square bales. You can handle it."
          "Oh," Nemesis'c face fell at the prospect of actual manual labor looming in front of him. I decided to make the best of it by privately deciding to shoot the old, cranky rooster with my cork gun, as long as I was going down to the barn anyway.
          The bales were almost as big as Nemesis was; however, true to Dad's prediction, both Nemesis and I could lift and carry them with a minimum of awkwardness and a maximum of argument.
          "Take this!"
          "No, I'm taking this one!"
          "That one's smaller!"
          "No it's not!"
          "Cheater! It's my turn for the small bales!"
          "You're older! You take the big ones!"
          "You're younger! You need the practice!"
          "Why? Are you a wuss?"
          "No, you are!"
          "Am not!"
          "Are too!"
          "You're Johnny Cash!" (Growing up, it was common to insult each other with singers we didn't like.)
          "You're Elvis!"
          "You're the Beatles!"
          I dropped my bale and dove for my cork gun. "Shut up!"
          "Hey, we don't talk like that!" Dad informed me sternly. "Put that away and help stack these!"
          "He called me the Beatles!" I protested.
          The corner of his mouth twitched, but he managed to keep himself from laughing. "Nemesis, don't insult your brother."
          "He started it!" Nemesis complained.
          "No, you did!" I snapped back, heaving a bale towards Dad.
          Dad ignored our squabbling, having heard some version of this argument about four thousand times a day. He took the bale and stacked it expertly with the others. My eyes followed the bale...
          It was a good thing we didn't live in a cartoon world, because a light bulb would have flashed into existence above my head...and since my parents weren't even remotely close to ignorant, that probably would have been grounds for an immediate house arrest (the Noodle Incident and the Cannon Incident coming promptly to mind). Unfortunately, I also had a terrible poker face; fortunately, Dad wasn't paying attention to me at the time.
          "Hey Nemesis, want to help me collect eggs?" I asked casually (or what I imagined casually to be like).
          "No," Nemesis shot back grumpily.
          "Please?" I begged. "We can mug the rooster!"
          "Mugging" the rooster involved placing a seven-gallon bucket over the enraged bird and sitting on it while collecting eggs. I have no idea why we called it mugging; probably because we thought it sounded funny. It was certainly funny listening to the rooster peck the inside of the bucket--on the other hand, if the stupid bird hadn't made it a habit to try to claw us up every time we stepped foot in the coop, we probably wouldn't have come up with the concept or necessity of mugging him in the first place.
          That won the day. Nemesis snickered. "Sure!"
          We fell to work with a will. Before too long, we'd handed the last bale to Dad, who stacked it and thanked us for our help. I immediately volunteered to collect the eggs; Dad promptly accepted, as he wasn't a huge fan of the rooster either and fending the bird off with a shovel one-handed while trying to juggle eggs and dodge pecking hens in the other was mildly annoying. He quickly left the barn before I could change my mind.
          Being the expert, it fell to me to grab the bucket and perform the honors. Actually, since I had invented the idea, I would have chosen to face the bird regardless. The rooster was quickly mugged, and Nemesis sat on the bucket, both of us roaring with laughter as the bucket bucked and pranced, enraged clucking emerging from underneath.
          "Get the eggs!" Nemesis finally exclaimed when he caught his breath.
          I'd invented a sort of chicken headlock that prevented the nesting birds from pecking innocent hands; however, it required a certain dexterity and quickness of fingers that none of my siblings possessed. I quickly and efficiently headlocked each roosting chicken, removed the eggs, and retreated almost before the chicken realized it had been had. They contented themselves with a beady-eyed glare before settling back down comfortably to smooth slightly ruffled feathers.
          I deposited the eggs outside the coop and joined Nemesis on the bucket. "Ready?"
          I braced myself. "Go!"
          Nemesis tore out the door. I snatched the bucket and ran after him. He slammed the screen door as I screeched through; there was a comical-sounding boing as the rooster--in hot pursuit--neglected to realize that the door of opportunity was now closed to him and bounced off. Nemesis latched the door before joined me on the ground rolling with laughter. The rooster gave us the evil eye before deciding that he hadn't really wanted to catch us anyway and strolling casually off.
          "Okay, let's build a fort now," I suggested when we had recovered.
          Nemesis gave me a look. "How? The thicket's gone and it hasn't snowed yet."
          I gestured triumphantly. "Hay bales!"
          "Ohh, no," Nemesis backed up quickly. "Dad wanted those stacked!"
          "They'll still be stacked," I pointed out. "They'll just be stacked in a different formation!"
          My logic was unassailable (growing up, Mom often remarked that I would have made an excellent lawyer). Nemesis caved. We quickly disassembled the pile and built a fort, complete with a lean-to on the west wall and a keep in the northeast corner. The hay bales stacked nicely, the brick-like shape adding to the illusion of a castle. A brief battle was had that proved the ramparts held up against missiles and full-on assault from corks and rubber bands. Content, we provisioned it with wooden swords and ammunition for our respective guns and vowed to keep this our secret.
          "Suppose I'll have to get up earlier for chores," I sighed. "Otherwise Dad might beat me down here and see this."
          "What should we call it?" Nemesis asked.
          "Fort Homework," I told him.
          Nemesis frowned. "Homework?"
          "Yeah. That way, when we want to sneak off, we can tell Mom we're going to do Homework and she won't think we're sneaking off to work on the fort," I explained. "See? Then we're not lying."
          Nemesis's frown cleared. "Ohh. Hey, that's a great name."
          "Thanks," I smirked, and shot him.
          "OW!" Nemesis yelled and smacked me.
          I was about to tackle him when I heard the bell at the house ringing; Mom, probably, summoning us to dinner. "Come on, let's go!" I called as I leapt over the wall and raced him to the house.
          Surprisingly, it took Dad almost five days to discover the demolishing of his haystack. When he did, though, he quickly ordered us to strip it down and restack everything. Naturally, Nemesis and I stacked it in the shape of a Sherman tank (I was going through a World War II phase at the time), complete with turret, gunner and driver viewports, straw treads, and a spacious interior. It took Dad two days to check up on his haystack; unfortunately, he did not admire the artistry and ordered us to do it again, and do it right this time. (He was obviously struggling not to laugh, however.) Nemesis and I obeyed this time.
          Well, sort of. We left cracks and a small cave that we used for meetings and a base for our games of Adventurers versus Aliens for the rest of the winter, eventually desisting when Dad used up enough of the hay to render the cave useless. We made a smaller one, which was used exactly twice and then ceded to a pregnant cat, who promptly had kittens.
          Gotta love farm life.