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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Theophany

The Theophany, by myself. December 2018, Acrylic on Wood
I made the underdrawing for this icon about two years ago. I was very excited when I made it. Something about this drawing sums up all the longings in my soul, and indeed all souls, for God. The wish to be clear of the interior garbage and to just look at someone in pure love. And that was what I attempted to communicate. But I sat on it, as there were other projects to work on. I finally got around to doing it.I couldn't be happier with it! I'll be making some of my other undersketches soon!

The Spiders' Web: Chapter Four


It was a hot and humid night, even for July in Queens. It didn’t help that the apartment’s air conditioning unit had broken, making it a hellacious night on the fifth floor of the apartment building. It was the type of night that it truly impossible to sleep through; heat stuck to skin, making anything less than a full-blast fan torture. But some people have needs that make such problems irrelevant. A different type of heat is needed, welcomed. And the heat and humidity of a hot summer’s night is not going to stop that search.

It was found.

This particular time it was a man with a military cut and a redhead with long, luscious locks. The man was muscular and the girl was on the right side of almost too much weight. She was a type of appealing that most men do not think about until it’s right in front of them. The two of them found their heat together. The man passed out, spent. The girl, however, was still awake. Sometimes it was enough for her, sometimes not. This was definitely one of the nights where she didn’t get what she wanted. Army men were always ready to go sleep with anything not from the Army, and something about her smile always seemed to make men practically beg to get into bed with her.
The girl got up, put on her clothes, grabbed her purse (along with fake ID) and walked, softly, out the apartment door. She felt like she was swimming in the air outside; her jeans stuck to her and her bare arms felt clammy in the late night (or early morning, depending on how one looked at it) air. Maybe there was someone else who would give her what she was looking for; it wouldn’t be the first time she had multiple partners in the same night. But some nights just weren’t sufficient, and she knew there was nothing to really be done about that. Sometimes one had to wait out the sunrise.
There was a man, walking toward her down the block. He short and thin, and was wearing some weird leotard that, when he got closer, showed to be a black and red leotard, with black webbing all over the red parts. A spider emblem sat in the middle of the mess of webs, right in the middle of his chest. He wore a full face mask, with gigantic bug eye pieces that glowed from the street lamps. Under his arms was a weird mesh. Something about the way he walked made her stop and look at him, really look at him. She walked up to him and, as he looked up, she gently took one of his gloved hands and said “Hi, I’m MJ. You need to sit down.”

MJ was surprised when he sat down on a nearby bench. She sat down next to him. Neither one of them spoke for a little while. “My uncle is dead. And I killed him. I keep trying to take this mask off and I can’t, because if I do I’ll see my face and I really don’t want that right now.”

“You… you killed your uncle?”

“Yeah.”

MJ stared at the masked man. “Why? How?”

“I… was selfish. I had gotten the ability to make a whole lot of money really quickly and so I did it. And it was… it was so much money! So much! Hundreds of thousands of dollars! And I paid off my uncle and aunt’s bills. All of them. They had no idea who did it. But it was me.” MJ was about to say something but the man kept going. “I didn’t want them to look at me differently. I wanted to stay as I was. And so I did. I rejoiced with them and went back to that ring and did it again, and again, and again. I stopped looking at it as helping my Aunt and Uncle, because we already had enough money! I could have returned to my work! I should have, I would have…” he stared down at the pavement.

“How much money?” MJ asked.

“Four million dollars in two days. In cash.”

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah. And there was more coming. I opened a fund for my aunt and uncle and put it all there.  They’ve no idea. And I wanted to stop but… I wanted a space for my own, a place where I could work and not have to worry about money. So I kept doing it. And just… I guess I got caught up in it all. And not too long after… after…” he put his face in his hands. “I let him go.”

MJ put her arm around him. “Let who go?”

“The robber. He was running away as I came out of the office, and I let him run by. I… I did that. I saw that I could stop him. I had a choice. And I knew it. And I chose not to. He got away. He bumped into my uncle and… and…” his voice caught a second, but he continued. “He … I put the suit on. It couldn’t be me that caught him. I’d no idea it was…” For a very long time he sat next to MJ, rubbing his great bug-eyes, not saying anything. And she held him. Something in her told her this was the man who could make her feel whole tonight, and she snuggled in closer. But something wiser, yet younger, told her to hold off. After a few minutes, the man spoke again. “I killed him. By accident. I took his mask off and threw him out the window before I could even think. I tried to catch him with my webs, but he… he hit the ground first.”

After awhile MJ spoke. “I was there when you KO’d Crusher Hogan and they named you Spider-Man”.

Spider-Man looked up, clearly startled, but he laughed. “Oh, you were?? What’d you think?”

“I was wondering how someone with your stick arms and legs was gonna make it out of the ring alive! You were awesome!”

“Oh, uh, thanks.”

“No, seriously. You were awesome. I was so pumped when you came back and brought down Ringo Bingo. Those webs were amazing!”

Spider-Man broke out laughing, almost falling off his seat. “That name! Oh goodness that name! I almost forgot! I couldn’t stop laughing as I handily trounced him!”

“Hahahaha! You said TROUNCED!”

“I did!!!”

“You’re such a nerd!”

“You’ve no idea!!”

They laughed so hard that the tears came to MJ’s eyes. Spider-Man was sitting on the ground, holding his ribs. After a few more chuckles MJ got off the bench and sat next to him. He flinched a bit, but she reached out and gently took his hand. “No no, it’s OK, listen: my dad is a drunk. Like, the worst. He’s a professor but can’t seem to keep a job, right? Well, he thinks that’s because he’s supposed to be a writer. And every time he fails, he beats my mom and my little sister.”

“Um, um…”

“It’s OK, how would you know?”

“I didn’t mean it that way. I feel sorrow. Part of the root of the word. Sorry. Sorrow.”

“Wow. OK then. Anyway, he’s never hit me. Not even once. You wanna know why? Because I run like hell every time. The older I get the longer I stay out. I’ve not been home in a week yet and they’ve not called the cops on me. No one comes to look for me.” MJ got back up on the bench, awkwardly. “It’s… weird. It’s like they’ll know I’ll come home. I mean, I guess I have to. Nobody else seems to know about what he does. Either that or they don’t care. I just run off. Right as he’s beating into... into Gail.” MJ stood up. “So! Does that make me a bad person?”

He sat there for a second. “I certainly don’t think so. What else could you do? Fight back?”

“(Don’t tell that to Gail) I know, right??” Like, what the hell could I have done? I can’t fight Dad, he’s stronger than the rest of us put together, even when sober! But could I at least run, or do something or… or not go and just fuck the daylights out of every guy I run into? It doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand. I’ve been doing this for over six months now and I still don’t know why I keep doing it.”

They both sat down, looking nowhere in particular. “What has that story got to do with me?” Spider-Man asked, in a whisper.

“I know what I’m doing and it doesn’t make me bad. You didn’t know what you were doing, or what it would go to. Does that make you bad?”

“I- I’m not sure it works that way.”

“Bullshit.”

They heard laughter, along with crying. Both of them were up and running toward the nearby basketball court. There was a kid, probably around five, who was being beaten up by what was probably two twelve year olds. MJ ran forward, shouting, but Spider-Man’s web was faster. The two boys were on the ground in a moment, feet cocooned. MJ ran up to them “What the hell? Seriously??”

Spider-Man picked them up and held them upside down. They screamed in terror “SPIDER-MAN! YOU’RE REAL!”

“What, you thought all that was special effects? How effective-y does it seem to you now?? Or did yout think the truck that flips in the Dark Knight were CGI too? Huh?” MJ was the only one who laughed. “Well, at least someone watches the special features.” Spider-Man then tore the webbing off. “So, what did we learn today?” The kids shook in their shoes. “SPIDER-MAN IS REAL. Get out of here! Ooga booga!”

MJ laughed as the older kids ran off. She turned to the five year old. “What are you doing out here? It’s late!” The child (Matias) wouldn’t talk to them, he was so terrified. After a few minutes of looking from Spider-Man to MJ and back to Spider-Man again he sat down and looked at the ground.

Spider-Man knelt down next to the boy. “Matias, I’ll be right back. Looks like I need to bring those kids back so we can figure out what's going on. I can still see them running. I’ve never really tried this. I rode on a bus to get to where I last went.” He shot a webline at a building. It caught, held, and all of a sudden Spider-Man was flying through the air, screaming at the top of his lungs: “CRAPCRAPCRAPCRAPCRAPTHISISAMAZIIIIIIIIIIIING!!!” He flew over the building, out of sight.

MJ and Matias were left together. “It’s going to be OK” MJ said, smiling at the kid. He ran in and hugged her. He burrowed his face into her and MJ felt safe. “Hey, hey there. We’re going to get this all figured out.” She felt his soldiers rise and fall as he sobbed. They stood like that for a while. Eventually Matias looked up, smiled and wiped his eyes. “Yeah, see? It’s going to be OK!” MJ said, and the smile on Matias’ face said he believed her.

Spider-Man came swinging back, the two twelve year olds in tow. “These wackos are part of a gang. They were under orders to beat up kids so they would go to the gang for help.” MJ wrinkled her nose at the thought and the twelve year olds looked tried to look anywhere else.  “C’mon guys, what the heck is this all about? Why do this?” The boys refused to answer. Spider-Man looked at them a moment. “Call the cops” Spider-Man told MJ. “I don’t want to look at them anymore”.

MJ dialed 911. The cops showed up a half hour later. Spider-Man still tried to talk to the twelve year olds from time to time, but they wouldn’t say a word. They were carted off by the police. Matias got into the cop car, in the front. He peered out the window and waved at MJ, who giggled and waved back. Matias didn’t stop looking at her until the cop car went around the corner. After waving at Matias Spider-Man and MJ walked off, high-fiving and laughing. They found a nearby McDonald’s, grabbed some burgers (where the workers stared at the local celebrity Spider-Man, taking pictures with their phones), and came back to their bench. They chuckled and laughed… and then Spider-Man’s mask was up, past his nose, and his mouth was on MJ’s. For a moment MJ froze, but then she lurched forward, wrapping her arms around him in an embrace that startled even her.

Something woke up in her. It was that youth, that drive to be alive, that joy, that she remembered so- it was immediately squashed. She pulled away from him and began to run. Spider-Man grabbed her, MJ jerked, and he let go gently, so she wouldn’t fall. “I know you can catch me. Please… please… don’t.” The last she saw of Spider-Man he was holding a burger in a hand, with the other one scratching the back of his head. She didn’t look back after that.


The Army soldier had no idea why the hot little redhead needed to be let back inside, but he found himself not caring as her clothes hit the floor.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Spiders' Web: Chapter Three



Uncle Ben and Aunt May did not think Peter could hear them talk. They thought he didn’t know about their money issues, or about how his hospitalization (which they didn’t press charges on) had wiped out their savings, or how Uncle Ben couldn’t take out any more loans and their credit cards were maxed out.  They also thought Peter couldn’t hear Aunt May cry softly about Flash and Peter and Liz.

They were wrong on all counts.

Peter didn’t notice much as he walked through Queens’ streets. He bumped into people and was sworn at, but he didn’t hear. He handed his whole backpack to the cops with hardly a grimace. He pushed through the crowd as much as he could, but was slower than he normally was at getting through. He was late to first period, for the first time ever. Nor did he answer any questions. Peter was scribbling in his notebook; he didn’t even notice the bell.

By the time Peter walked up to Dr. Allan at the end of Advanced Physics he had filled up an empty notebook.  Without saying anything Peter thrust the notebook into Dr. Allan’s hands and sat down in a front row desk. Dr. Allan opened the notebook gingerly. He stared at the front page. And then began to flip through it, hurriedly.  Dr. Allan flipped through an entire 70 page notebook in three minutes. Dr. Allan sat down on his desk and stared. He got up and walked down the hall, and came back a minute later. “Mr. Elvarez knows you will not be in his class. You are excused from English. Because this is revolutionary.” He sat down and took a deep breath. “Peter, this is a 70 page equation about how to make an impenetrable force field that can be powered by AAA battery. This…. This is beyond amazing. I cannot begin to tell you how amazing this is. It’s revolutionary. This could change everything. I can’t overstate this.”

“Good. How do I sell this?”

Dr. Allan laughed. “Slow down there! There’s a lot more to go before we patent this. Like building an archetype and proving that your math checks out.”

“It checks out.”

“I know it does. But Peter, not everyone will be able to follow this. You literally invented three different symbols to make the math work. PhDs wouldn’t be able to read this. The only reason I’m able to follow this is because I’ve graded your homework and I’ve seen you make up symbols before. We need more than just a key of symbols. We need a working prototype.”

“But-“

“Peter, without a prototype to prove that this isn’t gibberish nothing can be done.”

Peter sat there, looking at the desk. “I can build it. Cheaply.”

“Peter, how? How are you going to find an object that can reliably produce an atomic threat that the force field can deflect, consistently?”

“I can get one. That’s all you need to know.”

“Alright, I’ll help you build it if you can get something.”

The rest of the day was a blur. Peter grabbed another notebook and continued to fill it. By the end of the day Peter had filled another notebook with schematics. The instant the bell rang Peter was out of his seat and out the school doors. He didn’t even stop at his locker. He ran down the street, dodging between people and light poles and cars and all the other random nonsense that was in his way. It wasn’t until he got to Inglesia that he realized he needed his inhaler… and then he needed to puff on it twice and wanted to do more.

Manny was just coming out of the bathroom when Peter came into the restaurant. He beamed at Peter and patted him on the back, almost knocking him over with each pat. “Manny, I need a really big favor from you. It’s huge.”

Manny laughed and said “Sure, Peter, sure, let’s go into the office in the back and we can talk.” They headed back, past the smelly kitchens and dirty people, and they turned his stomach. Just the sight of the dishes in the sink made Peter want to throw up. When Peter went into the office, which was strewn about with file folders and chewing tobacco tins, the enclosed space made Manny’s pungent smell unbearable.

Peter couldn’t stand. Fortunately there was a chair, which he grabbed. Out came the inhaler. Manny delicately helped Peter down. He took a fan and put it in front of Peter (“To help with breathing!”), who found the gesture helpful, if not sentimental. Manny sat down opposite of him (and away from the fan), and waited. “Uncle Ben needs help and I can help him.”

“What does Ben need?”

“Money. And I can get it.”

“How?”

“I can make a small force-field generator that will stop anything, on a molecular level. It can make billions, ending my Aunt and Uncle’s financial troubles, forever. I can do this.”
Manny nodded. He got up and turned to the safe behind him (12-00-68, as Peter saw it) and got the adamantium knife out. “Adamantium cuts on a molecular level. Count me in.”

Peter looked down at the knife. “Um, I hadn’t even asked yet. You sure? I’m not sure what my force field may do to this knife. And I know it’s important to you.”

“Pete, you and your family will never go hungry because of what your Uncle did for the Morales family. I would do anything for you. The knife is nice. It reminds me a time when I needed strength and I found it. But this is huge. It’ll work.”

Peter shook Manny’s hand. “I really, really appreciate this, Manny.”

Manny smiled and nodded. “What’s family for?”

Flash was sitting in Peter’s living room when he got back, sitting with Uncle Ben and Aunt May.  Flash stood up and Peter took a step back. “Parker, where were you at the end of class?”

“I had gone to see Manny. What the… I mean… what are you doing in our house?”

“It’s Liz, Parker. She’s gone.”

Peter tried to hear the rest, but he couldn’t. Not on the first go around, anyway. After he was sat down and given a glass of milk by Aunt May (“His poor nerves!”) he heard it: Flash had tried to meet up with Liz at their usual spot during lunch… and Liz wasn’t there. Flash went to look for Liz but couldn’t find her anywhere. Flash cleared the whole school before talking to anyone. And, when the cops said they wouldn’t look for Liz without twenty four hours of absence, Flash went to the only place he thought he could turn… to Peter. When asked why Flash thought Peter could help, Flash said that he couldn’t think of anyone smart enough to figure it out.

Peter gripped the adamantium pocket knife in his pocket and walked out the door with Flash. The first place they checked was her house (“So good to see the two of you together again!”), but that was a dead end: Liz’s mom and step-dad had assumed that she was with Flash. The pair went back to the highschool and Peter broke into Liz’s locker. And, there on the top shelf, was a spray canister. It was an unmarked grey. Peter picked it up and examined it. “It’s got a refrigerant system built into it, high-tech stuff.”

Flash took it from Peter. “Liz would never have something that was this boring.”

They looked at each other a moment.

Peter had keys to the science lab, courtesy of Dr. Allan. He wasn’t in. Peter ran up to one of the microscopes, sprayed a bit of the stuff in the canister on the slide, and ran it under the microscope. Flash stood next to him for a few minutes, tapping his foot. “What’s the hold-up?” Peter held up a finger. “The clock’s ticking, Parker. We need to find Liz!” Peter flipped his hand around into a rude gesture and Flash chuckled. “There’s the old Pete.”

Peter didn’t seem to hear that last comment. “This has got to be a mistake.”

“What is?”

“This stuff, if sprayed in your face, would change your DNA.” Peter pulled back from the microscope. “How the hell would you package a DNA resequencer in an aerosol can?”

“Well, I mean, you see crap like this TV shows all the time, right?”

“That’s my point, Flash. This shouldn’t be possible, not even by my standards.”

“You have standards?” Peter glared at Flash. “What? You either laugh or your cry or you kill someone. I need you around right now, so I’m doing the first.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “How about none of them right now? I’ve no idea what the resequencer does. All I know is that, if they used this on Liz, they’d need a place to stash her. Somewhere quiet and out of the way.”

“You mean like an abandoned warehouse? Would it need to be nearby?”

“Her DNA is being re-written. If I was going to do something that ridiculous I’d want to move her as little as possible. Not even out of the building, if at all possible!”

Flash started for the door. “I know exactly where. C’mon!”

Peter rolled his eyes when he saw the place. “Oh, you got to be kidding. Of all places?”

Flash bristled. “Look, how were we supposed to know that behind the bleachers had a secret door?”

“Dare I ask how you found it?”

“Um, no.”

One of the bricks was slightly off-shade of the rest of the wall. Flash walked over to it and leaned on it, putting all his weight on that brick. It slid in with a “click”, and the ground next to them opened up, slowly, with hardly a sound. Something small and dark skittered out, but it moved so fast that Peter and Flash barely even registered it was there. After a minute of waiting, nothing happened, so both Peter and Flash started to go down.

The door closed behind them, blocking out all the light. Peter screamed. “AH! IT BURNS IT BURNS! MY NECK! GOD! HELP ME! HELP ME!” His screams reverberated down the walls. Flash tried to shut him up, but it was too late. Peter had rolled onto his back, spasming and foaming at the mouth. A small object fell out of his pocket: it was a pocket knife. Flash picked it up on reflex as he tried to help Peter. Down the hall Flash heard another scream; it was Liz. A small light appeared at the end of the tunnel, flickering. Flash flipped the pocket knife out and hurried down the cramped tunnel.

Liz was naked. Liz was on fire. Liz’s hair was a flaming mane that went down her back. She looked at Flash. Flash looked at Liz. Liz screamed, the flames reared up, and Flash was knocked over. When Flash came to, he was alone, in darkness.

Peter had started to regain consciousness when Flash found his way back to him. Peter wasn’t able to speak; he seemed to have lost his voice. Flash looked around for a locking mechanism near where he thought the door was and couldn’t find one. Peter kept trying to say something, over and over again, but he was so quiet that Flash couldn’t hear, so he put his ear right next to Peter’s mouth.

“Knife. Adamantium.”

A small pocket knife cut through a foot thick wall of concrete in about fifteen minutes, with not even one scratch on the knife. Flash had never seen anything like it. Once he was out of the building he had cell service and called 911 for Peter, who had a huge welt on his neck. Peter did not let the inhaler leave his mouth once until the ambulance arrived. The cops investigated the area under the school and found several labs and an operating table. But the place was clean; no prints, no nothing. The whole place had been cleaned meticulously… aside from the burn marks that they found, walking out a rear entrance from the lab… which all of a sudden stopped. The cops were baffled. Flash was in shock.

Peter, for his part, didn’t get out of hospital for another week.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Spiders' Web: Chapter Two



He smelled her perfume before he opened his eyes; for one second he was happy. But then he took a breath and his whole world hurt, and he remembered he should be surprised. And he was: Liz was sitting next to him. They were in a drab room. His inhaler was next to him on an end table. Peter was hooked up to various machines, including a heart rate monitor. Somehow they were in a room with a window. The sun hit her hair and created a golden halo around her face. Peter couldn’t help himself; he grinned. He’d forgotten how to do that and it felt good to remember.

But she didn’t smile back and Peter found he couldn’t remember how to anymore. “Peter, we need to talk.” He wanted to have something snide to tell her, he wanted to tell her to go away. But he couldn’t. “What happened yesterday was serious. I mean, look at what you did!”

“What I did?? I’m in a hospital bed! What do you mean, what I did? You mean what your precious brick wall of a boyfriend did.”

Liz stood up and walked over to the bed. “Peter: Flash is from a broken home, from a broken family. His father’s an asshole. He beats him, but not his face, so that way Flash can go to school without people asking questions. He is under the thumb of some of the worst people I’ve ever met. But he cares! He still wants to be good! I know, because, despite all the awful things he’s said and done, he does what he can. But you…? Your Aunt and Uncle are awesome. And you’ve turned into something evil.”

Peter gingerly leaned forward and touched Liz’s hand, who flinched and pulled it back. “But this is because of what Flash and his cronies like Kong keep doing to me! Liz, they swirlied me every day for a year, right after they were done using the toilet! I had to go home, every day, for a year, to wash fecal matter out of my hair! The school did nothing. My aunt and uncle did nothing. And you sure didn’t do anything about it either. Flash is pulling a fast one on you, Liz. He just wants to ruin you and then laugh about it to his friends.”

“How often have you been picked on in the last six months, since I’ve been talking to Flash?”

“He broke my Weather-Man just the other day! It’s why I did what I did! What you’re doing didn’t work!”

“Wait, what? When?”

“Around fourth period, just the day before yesterday.”
Liz blushed. “Um, that’s impossible.”

“What does that mean?” Peter clutched her hand again but Liz yanked it away.

 “Why don’t you figure it out, genius?” She stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

It wasn’t much more than a minute until Uncle Ben and Aunt May came in. Uncle Ben took one look at Peter’s face and motioned for Aunt May to leave. She came up and gave Peter a quick kiss and left. “This isn’t a moment for a lady to witness”, Uncle Ben said. “Some things just can’t be said in front of anyone but another man.”

Peter nodded. “I destroyed a necklace that Flash was going to give Liz. I took peroxide, vinegar, and threw in some table salt packets I had from our lunch room, put it in a bucket, and instantly rusted out the necklace. Flash put me in the hospital over that.”

Uncle Ben nodded throughout, holding eye contact with Peter. But, when Peter finished, he didn’t say anything for a few more minutes. “Peter, you’re not malicious.” Peter opened his mouth to protest but Uncle Ben held up a hand “I’m not saying what you did wasn’t bad. It was. We’ll have to talk about that in a minute. But there are many things you are not, and an aggressor is not one of them. So what did Flash do to provoke you?”

“Uncle Ben, how do you know I haven’t changed? How do you know I didn’t just pick that fight with Flash?”

“Peter, you do know what you do every day, right? You go downstairs, into that basement, and you work. I’ve seen the things that are on your desk down there. They’re not weapons. You just make things. The concept of breaking things is not natural to you.”

Peter looked down at his hands. He took a deep breath. “Flash destroyed my Weather-Man machine. I had made it to be able to alter the weather, but on a very small scale. I was so… I was so… it’s gone now. And Flash had broken it. That’s what matters.”

“Ah, this makes more sense. It’s a bit of a relief, too!” Uncle Ben and Peter laughed; Peter winced.

“I miss how simple things used to be, Uncle Ben. Well, not that life isn’t simple now! It is… way too simple. I miss things being good. I miss people besides you and Aunt May being better than… well... what they are.”

“They are already, Peter. You just need to have some more faith in people. And I know that’s hard” Uncle Ben said hurriedly as Peter opened his mouth. “But there’s a lot more going on with people than you give them credit for. I know it’s hard to imagine someone being that warped by what happened to them, but look at what you just did! You destroyed something meant for Liz, of all people! I know you didn’t win out on that triangle, Peter, and I know that must hurt, particularly since you used to be such good friends with Flash. But c’mon, what you did was pretty awful. Why did you do it?”

Peter couldn’t answer.

“You’re not a bad person, Peter, but what you did was pretty awful. Are they bad people just because they’ve done something bad?”

“I… I don’t know. About them or me.”

“Exactly. And don’t you have a responsibility to give them the benefit of the doubt? Not to mention yourself.”

“I… I…” Peter couldn’t look at Uncle Ben. He kept trying to, but his neck muscles wouldn’t budge.

“You have that power, Peter. You have the power to give people the benefit of the doubt they need to be better. And that means you have a responsibility to use that power, wisely, like I’m giving you, right now. Can you give that to Flash? What if he wasn’t the one who destroyed your Weather-Man?”
“Flash has broken into my locker before, Uncle Ben. He’s admitted to it! Of course it was him.”

“Did you ask this time?”

“Well…”

“You talk about the past not being indicative of the present all the time and you go and accuse someone of something based off of past behavior?? How dumb is that? I mean, what do you need, a flowchart??”

“Wouldn’t a flowchart be kind of against the point??” Uncle Ben shrugged, and then his face screwed up as he got it, and he started to laugh. And then Peter started laughing. Peter and Uncle Ben laughed until the tears flowed down their cheeks. Peter was holding his ribs, groaning in pain. “You alright there, buddy?” Uncle Ben asked.

Peter winced, but smiled “Yeah! Yeah, just fine… I’m just fine.” He said in surprise.

“Good. Cause Flash is waiting outside, and he’s been wanting to talk to you this whole time. He got here earlier this morning.” Peter blanched. “Don’t worry, buddy, you got this! Just remember: you have a responsibility. See it through, OK?” Peter nodded. “You got this, alright buddy? I’ll be right out there with your Aunt. You can do it.” Peter nodded and Uncle Ben left.

The next few minutes were spent looking up at the ceiling. And sweating.  Peter grabbed his inhaler and puffed, which only made him feel light-headed. And then the door slammed open. Peter jumped. Flash stalked into the room, grabbed a seat, and threw himself into it, next to Peter. They didn’t make eye contact for a few minutes. Peter still had his hand on his inhaler. After a few minutes Flash shook his head. “I didn’t break your weather thing.”

“Weather-Man.”

“Whatever.”

“No, it’s not whatever!” Peter yelled. “That machine was going to put me on the map! I was going to use it to get me a scholarship out of this hellhole! Away from you! Away from Liz! Away from all of it!”

Flash backed up a bit. “Whoa- one second-“

“NO! FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE YOU’RE GOING TO LISTEN TO ME!” Peter lurched forward and Flash fell out of his chair. “SHE LOVED ME, YOU IDIOT! NOT LIKE, LOVED! YOU HAD NO RIGHT TO TAKE LIZ! NONE! I’LL NEVER FORGIVE THAT! SWIRLY ME A THOUSAND-“
Flash slapped Peter in the face. Gently. Peter- still - fell back onto the bed. “Parker, listen up: I didn’t destroy your weather-thing.  I know I did a lot of things to you and I know that makes me your fall guy. But, in case you forgot, I haven’t swirlied you for years now. If you miss it I can drag you to a nearby toilet and we can do it again for old time’s sake. Not my thing, not anymore, but if it makes your day? I’m down. But it is what it is: I did not touch your weather-thing. Sorry about the broken ribs. You really should stay out of my locker. Dweeb.”

Liz walked past as Flash walked out. “No right to take Liz?”

To liken Peter to a deer in the head lights was an understatement. “What?”

Take Liz?”

“Um…”

“Seriously? Take? What, you think I can be bought and sold?”

“I-“

“Shut up, Peter. Flash didn’t break your Weather-Man. Not only do I not think he would do that but I know he didn’t. He was with me, Peter. Take. I don’t know what happened to make you like this, Peter, but I don’t want to find out.”

Peter winced as the door slammed.

Fifteen minutes went by. A soft knock could be heard, and Aunt May peeked her head in. “Peter?” He didn’t look up from gazing into his lap. Aunt May walked in, softly, and stood next to Peter. He didn’t look up. Aunt May stroked his shoulder. Peter stiffened, but Aunt May didn’t seem to take notice and continued to stroke his shoulder. She ran her hand down Peter’s arm, to his hand. He relaxed.

Peter held her hand.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Spider's Web: Chapter One



Dirty, loud, incandescent signs. Loud, rude, people, with far too many colors and smells and everything else that made Peter want to be in his basement, most of the lights off, alone, with his work.  Peter grabbed his inhaler and heaved, fighting the tightness in his chest. He was late to school, but Peter didn’t care. School was worthless. If anything, he felt dumber leaving the building than when he went in.

Every day was the same. Peter walked into Hillcrest High School, past the metal detectors, past the cops, trying to hold his breath over the smell of other people who clearly had been smoking pot, to his locker, which he had locked with a padlock, right along with the standard lock built into the door. But the standard locks were stupid and were very easy to get into. Not that Peter had ever broken into a locker to vandalize them; he was curious as to how to figure them out. Locks were easier than people and much quieter.

Today, Peter had brought a small device in his backpack. Of course that meant checking it in with the cops, but he clutched the inhaler in his pocket as he produced the paperwork Dr. Allan had given him. Peter had built a machine that could alter the weather on a small scale. The cops fingered it, handled it, sniffed it (what the hell were they doing sniffing it??), and then handed it back. Peter sneered at them as he walked past. The cops ignored him. They had seen that look before.
The day went by far too slowly until chemistry class with Dr. Allan. And even that was slow. Dr. Allan would only go at the rate of someone like Flash, who sat in the back, on his phone. He was probably looking at nudes, knowing him. Half the girls in the school had been with him, by his account. Flash had been benefited by puberty, unlike Peter; he was six feet tall, built like a mountain, and had a rogue-ish red curl on his forehead that never seemed to move. It made the girls wet to look at him.  As Peter glowered at him he found himself touching his own, scrawny, leg. He flinched. 

Dr. Allan looked at the machine at the end of class and smiled. “Good work, Peter, good work! But it’s a little flawed. But if I give you this…” and he fished out a metal out of a desk. “But this will make sure that it doesn’t break down. Replace the copper flakes with this.”

“How… how did you get vibranium?” Peter stared down at the tiny bit of metal in his hands. “This isn’t… this isn’t legal, is it, Dr. Allan?”

“Peter, sometimes in order to progress towards your ultimate goal, you have to break some rules here and there. And please, like I said before, when we’re not in class, call me Charles.”

“Oh… OK, Charles. But how will I get the shaved bits off of a metal that redistributes all force put upon it?”

“You figure that out, and you will have a seat at any institution you’d like by the end of the year.”
When Peter went home he ran straight into his basement, locking the door behind him, not even acknowledging the calls of “Peter!” He’d been thinking about the problem all day. Vibranium would need to be rendered less reactive. He didn’t need much, just to whittle this piece of it down enough to place it in his machine. He knew that, in order to do that, he would have to slow it down on a molecular level… which meant cooling… of some sort.

He was back out the front door, vibranium in its protective case. He hopped on his bike, clearing a few blocks before stopping for his inhaler. He biked on until he came to Inglesia, a restaurant that Uncle Ben had donated his last cent to keep open. Their flautas were perfect, or so Uncle Ben said. Peter hated flautas. Well, Peter hated most friend food in particular, it just smelled horrific. But Peter was welcome into this stinky hell-hole anytime, and so he went there.

“Peter! How’s your uncle?” asked Manny, the head cook, who was currently waiting on tables too. Peter gave out the niceties. Manny smelled bad. Always. Peter had no idea how on earth the place stayed open; the Health Board should have shut this hellhole down years ago. But Uncle Ben saw value in this place…

“Hey, Manny! Do you, uh, have a second?” Peter looked around. He’d no idea where the money Uncle Ben had given this fool had gone, but it certainly hadn’t gone towards a shower. But Manny seemed friendly enough, regardless of… whatever. “Do you still have that… that knife?”

Manny laughed. “The knife from ‘Nam? Of course! What else would I do with an adamantium knife? Why?”

Peter pulled out the package from his backpack. “I’ve got something that only adamantium can cut.”
“Sure, Peter, sure! C’mon in, I can get that done for you!” Peter walked into the steaming kitchen with Manny. Perspiration spawned on Peter as they walked through. Peter hated kitchens. Too much going on. Manny went into his office, all the way in the back of his grungry hell-hole, and pulled a small knife out of a drawer. It was no bigger than a Swiss Army Pocket-Knife’s blade, but Manny was gingerly holding it. Peter handed the bit of vibranium to Manny, reluctantly. He indicated where to cut, and Manny gave a few quick slices. “There ya go, bud! Want a flauta on your way out?”

Peter refused, flat.

The next day was much the same, except it wasn’t. Peter didn’t mind the noise as much as he normally did, and he proudly placed his device (the “Weather-Man!”) into the cop’s hand. He saw Flash and even found himself smiling at the jock. Even he had heard the news within a few minutes of coming into the school: Flash Thompson, the lady’s man extraordinaire, was dating good girl, straw-colored haired Liz Allan! Apparently something about that hot blonde had turned Flash’s head enough to put up with her conservative nonsense. Whatever. Maybe she would rub off enough on Flash to make him not an asshole. After his English class with Mrs. Lapell he ran back to his locker.

But Peter knew who had broken into his locker before he looked inside. Only one idiot would be resourceful enough to get the proper tools necessary to break the lock and yet still flunk all the tests he took. And there was one spot that Flash dumped all his dirty work, regardless of whether it involved sex or not: behind the bleachers. He ran down the hallway, ignoring the warnings of his teachers, pushing past people, causing his chest to heave against his collared shirt. He got to the edge of the bleachers, and loosened his tie a little.

He stopped when he saw what was left of Weather-Man: just the vibranium. Flash was too stupid to see the value of it, of course.

Peter didn’t stop to talk to… Miles… after class. He went straight home, ignoring the greetings, and went downstairs. He didn’t turn the light on, he just sat. And sat. And sat. Eventually the door creaked and he could hear the groaning of the stairs.

Uncle Ben always smelled of cigars. He had quit years ago (Aunt May had made him), but the smell stuck, somehow. And his voice was a deep, calm, smoky sort of a voice. “Peter. I hate to bother you in your super-science lab, but your Aunt… well… she’s a worrier. And she’s worried about you. You came in upset. Is everything alright?”

Peter shook his head. “It’s all right, Uncle Ben, I just… I… Flash Thompson destroyed something I had made. It was a weather machine. It… took… it took a lot of work. An absurd amount, Uncle Ben. I even had to go to Manny for help, but Flash… He destroyed it.”

“And what are you going to do about it?”

Silence.

“Peter, what do you plan to do about it?”

More silence.

“Peter, what are you going to do about it? Cause there’s a few ways you can go about this. You could let it be. Flash has his own issues. I know it doesn’t excuse what he did, but are you really going to add to whatever may be going on with him, just because he hurt you? I know that’s not the nice answer. If you want to we can report this to the school, if you’d like.”

Peter sat there in silence for another minute. “No, Uncle Ben, you’re right. I wouldn’t want us adding to it. I think I can forgive him.”

Uncle Ben clapped him on the shoulder.  “You’re a good man, Pete. You’re going to change the world someday.” He left Peter in the basement. The sun would come down before Peter follow him back up the stairs. Peter laughed and joked with Uncle Ben and listened attentively to Aunt May's insistence that he was far too fragile a person for those kinds of jokes. Peter washed the dishes for her, much to her protests. He played Scrabble with Uncle Ben and Aunt May (and let Aunt May win every time) and then went to bed. But Peter didn't sleep. Peter hadn't slept more than a few hours a night for years. His mind would never calm, not without absolute exhaustion. He would have gone out to do basketball for the exercise, but Aunt May protested about how fragile he was. Peter almost believed her.

So the next day Peter didn't confront Flash. No, Peter waited for Flash to rush into class, five minutes late, before he asked to go to the bathroom. He got up, walked down the hall, stopped and a locker, opened it, and looked into it for a few minutes. After a few minutes he walked away, spring in his step, to the janitor's closet, for which he produced a home-made skeleton key. He pulled a few fluids out of it and then went back to the locker. A few minutes later he put everything back and went to the bathroom. It took less than a few minutes.

Peter was on his way to gym when he was grabbed by his sweater collar by a familiar hand and dragged outside. As Peter looked back he saw Liz, that straw colored hair in a bun, running after them, yelling at the top of her lungs. Of course they went to behind the bleachers. But that was the way the world worked, wasn't it?

Flash was so red in the face that something... unexpected... happened. Peter laughed. He couldn't help it, Flash looked so ridiculous! His red, curly, hair, his red, angry face... Peter didn't give a shit anymore. He was going to be beaten within an inch of his life, he knew it. But Peter had done it. He had hurt Flash in a way far more powerful than anything Flash was about to do to him.

Flash had stopped yelling and was looking at Peter, expectantly. Liz was screaming? Crying? Peter already had a bloody nose. It felt good. The blood tasted good in his mouth, tangy and sour. "Oh, you wanted me to say something?" Flash stared, dumbstruck. He even let go of Peter and stepped back a half step. "You want me to apologize for taking your pweicous widduh neckwace for goody two shoes Whizzy and-"

He felt his nose break and he laughed. His ribs popped and Peter yelped in pain, but the look he shot Flash made Liz freeze as she ran to pull Flash off him.  She grabbed the top of her head with both hands, and that bun came undone. Golden hair cascaded down her shoulders. Her face was framed in gold. Peter chuckled. "See, Whizzy? Poor widduh Fwash hasn't change much, has he?"

The last impressions Peter had was Liz's scream and the bottom of Flash's shoe.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Giggling Dark: Session 1


Xellous, his big sister Genevieve, and his sweetheart Kora went out into the woods in the middle of the night to hunt for deer. While doing this they bumped into a firey little demon boy.

Everyone froze.

The flaming demon jumped at Kora, but Xellous, whose bow was already out, shot the demon boy in the neck. Screaming, the demon boy ran away, leaking burning liquid and burning the grass around him. Genevieve started to run after the little demon, telling Xellous and Kora to get home, that she'll go it alone. Xellous and Kora argue that they'll need her and that she shouldn't do it. Genevieve gripes about it but she concedes that taking on a demon on her own is a dumb idea. Tracking the thing is easy enough... but it turns back, towards Kora's farm. Both Genevieve and Kora go quiet, but Xellous tries to assure them that everything will be OK.

When they get to the farm they see that the little demon is attacking Altus, Kora's father. Threen, Kora's mother, sneaks up behind Altus and hit him on the back of the head with a shovel. Kora then shot him in the arm with her bow. The demon stared, transfixed, at Threen. Xellous shot the fire demon in the torso, confused. Genevieve held Xellous back, telling him to let Kora kill her father. And so Altus died.

Threen and Kora hugged each other, crying in relief. Xellous, overwhelmed, tries to process. But another fire demon came out of the house, attacking Threen. Xellous put an arrow in the demon's head and knelt beside it. Examining the corpse, Xellous realized that these demons were called Flammeous Lads: demonic little boys, summoned to do a task. They're utterly obedient to that assignment and are rather rare. Xellous, being an amateur enchanter, wanted the heart for... reasons.  So he cut out the heart of the demon's chest. He burned his hands to do it, but he did it.

Kora screamed: her brother, Michael, was not in the house! Xellous stashed the burning heart away, longingly, and since he was the better tracker between him and Kora, found Michael's footprints. He had left sometime before they had gone out to hunt, judging by the marks, and he had gone into the woods as well! Xellous, Kora, Geneveive, and Threen set out. As they followed the tracks Genevieve talked with Xellous, quietly, about Kora killing Altus. She explained that it was necessary, but that Xellous would have to talk with Kora about it, because it was not for Genevieve to talk about further.

Kora would not say one word about it.

The tracks led to an abandoned cabin, in the middle of the woods. There was a warm glow coming out of the windows. Standing outside the cabin the four began to consider their options, but then they heard Michael scream inside the cabin.  Xellous runs straight in, far in front of the others. Michael was up to his shoulders in blood, kneeling next to a small human corpse, with an ashen-looking Flammeous Lad standing nearby. Michael fell backwards, staring at his hands. Xellous froze, as did everyone else who ran in behind him. But the Flammeous Lad didn't. He jumped at Genevieve, grabbed her by the hair, and smashed her head into a nearby wall, setting her body alight. Snapping out of his fear Xellous shot the Lad in the head, who fell over, but continued to twitch. Xellous fired another arrow into the Lad's head. Xellous smothered the fire that was eating at Genevieve's body, and grabbed some bandages. But Genevieve didn't move, no matter what Xellous did. He cried, he screamed, he wrapped her in as many bandages as he could muster, but it did not matter. Genevieve would not move. Kora ran out of the room. Threen ran for her screaming son. Xellous  took all this in, took a deep breath and, setting Genevieve down gently, ran after Kora.

Xellous found Kora in a nearby clearing, fletching arrows. Xellous stood there with her for a few minutes, not saying anything. Kora explained that she was pregnant. Xellous said nothing. Genevieve had known about it, but had told Kora not to tell Xellous about it, because she didn't want Xellous to be distracted from his enchanting work. Kora told Xellous about how kind Genevieve had been to her, how she had promised that they would find a way to get her away from her father. And now Altus was dead, but so is Genevieve! After a few minutes of silence Kora asked if Michael had been the one to summon the Lads. Xellous was stupid enough to say it probably was, and Kora began to sob. Xellous tried to hug her but is pushed away. So Xellous sat next to Kora as she sobbed. After awhile she grabbed some more branches and continued her fletching. Xellous also grabbed a branch, with his burned fingers, and starts to fletch as well; he'd never fletched before. Kora smiled at him, and told him that he wasn't doing a half bad job. Xellous smiled.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Giggling Dark, Session 0

"Dark Grin" by eyeoftheredking
I've known Ryan since I was 16 years old and have gamed with him ever since. He's a fantastic roleplayer and has an eye for chaos, good plots, and utterly intense characters. And, honestly, he's got a level of emotional honesty in all of his RP that makes him one of the funnest people I've ever gamed with. Every time I don't game with him I feel like I'm missing something. So, when I decided I wanted to do solo campaigns, I realized very quickly that I wanted to game with Ryan again. I had this pitch, an idea I got from reading Fire on the Velvet Horizon in the form of  The Flammeous Lads:

Obviously this isn't all there is when it comes to my Flammeous Lads. And that's what stuck with me. I couldn't unsee what I saw when I read about them. Over the months this idea grew and blossomed into a horrific picture of depravity, something so horrific that I couldn't not say it. I wanted to throw it at a player and see what they did with that level of darkness. And Ryan was that player. And I instinctively wanted Burning Wheel to be the engine that pulled the carriage.

Ryan, in turn, wanted to make a character unlike anything I'd run before: a two life path character, mere child, in Burning Wheel. He wanted to play a child prodigy enchanter. So we sat down and tried to figure out how to do that in the system.

First off, there's the setting: it's based in a setting called Stardust, where there are rot zones: areas where the dead rise and become undead. A few hundreds years ago a star fell and sanctified the ground. Other stars, noticing the positive impact their sister had on the world, joined suit, and the overwhelming presence of Rot Zones retreated into regional territories. The campaign happens in a place relatively far from one of these zones, but it still impacts the world and burial rituals and all that.

Second off, there's the problem of the cost of the trait Child Prodigy, which made it unworkable to make Ryan's character Xellous an enchanter and a Child Prodigy. After spending an hour trying to get the math to work in the lifepaths (it didn't), we decided that magic would not require being Gifted. But that means that magic is ubiquitous. We had to get around that, as I imagined this as a very dirty, very miserable, thoroughly umagical place. So we settled on what's called Practical Magic; everyone has a little bit of magic, but it's generally for enhancing stuff they already know how to do, and it's certainly not very powerful. Nor is it easy to learn. So, while everyone can learn Uncle Chuck's mending spell, not everyone can learn how to smooth their words in a way that makes them almost impossible to resist. Enchanting is an art taught to almost no one, and few stumble upon it. Xellous' exceptionality would come in the fact that he started the game Grey-shaded. After removing that requirement it was a breeze to make the character.

After figuring out what we wanted to do we made a few relationships for Xellous: his girlfriend, the tomboyish Kora, and Genevieve, the older sister. All three of them liked to hunt, especially at night when their parents were asleep. The opening situation would be that, while they were out one night, they bumped into a Flammeous Lad. Xellous' Beliefs were all about becoming a great enchanter, coming out from under his sister's shadow, and making sure that Kora didn't try kill the Flammeous Lad by herself, which she definitely wanted to do.

Character and situation presented, we were good to go!