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Big things have small beginnings

Last year I constructed a pair of trellises, strategically placed to prevent my roommate from making eye contact with the Filipino neighbor when she goes outside to consume whiskey and cigarettes - thereby preventing them both from having psychotic screaming episodes which degenerate into a racist tirade about being an immigrant "slant-eyes" who doesn't belong in her country. I'm not super into those, so I've been trying to plant some fast-growing vine to take over the view. However, the strategy hasn't been working. Months of psychotic freeze-scorching flood-drought weather have thoroughly murdered the Christ out of the solanum, clematis, morning glory, and passion flower that I've tried planting there, and I just don't have the budget for this.

It's time for the nuclear option.



Polygonum aubertii, aka fallopia aubertii, is a cousin of the infamous (and delicious?) Japanese knotweed - better known as Russian Vine, deceitfully distributed under the name "silver lace vine" like it is this delicate, elegant thing. In the UK, you cannot legally sell your house if this stuff is anywhere on your property. It grows nearly 2 feet per month, can tear the roofs off of buildings and sprout through the walls, shatters concrete pots, drills roots 6 feet into the earth, and regenerates whole new plants from the tiniest root and stem fragments and gives no fucks about what it's growing in, rendering it virtually unkillable. And as you can see, the seeds are also incredibly small and probably very difficult to intercept once formed. Most gardening sites tell you STOP and never to plant it, you moron.

So I'm gonna!

If I can't even grow this, I will know the land is simply a blighted deathscape under some necromantic curse and maybe I should just string a tarp between our apartments and paint a background on it a la Wile E. Coyote. I'll have to cut it every month, burn the cuttings, and trap it in a metal pot - possibly repotting it if it somehow breaks through, or just dust off and nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

WHAT CAN GO WRONG

Congratulations on your 'MURRICAN citizenship. Here is your complimentary firearm and your FREEDOM SNAKE and a list of subjects to have little understanding of but intensely combative feelings about.

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That's pretty 'murrican, but it needs to be about 20% 'murricaner.


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'MURRICA FUKK YEAUGH

Incidentally, while browsing Amazon for equipment, multiple engraved slide plates came up. The majority of which are:
-Skulls
-Bible quotes
-Pieces of the constitution
-Video game references

Also the Confederate flag, "COME AND TAKE IT," and variations on the Arabic word for "infidel."

Still... I confess to being tempted by Boba Fett.

Trikotomy is a real 'murrican now

So yeah, I went and bought a gun.

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Inspired by yet another coworker's story of getting chased through the woods at midnight by yet another creepy truck, I remembered that was a thing I was going to do. Also THREE gun stores have opened on my street alone and we can't allow a missile gap, Mr. President. Fortunately the newer ones are only sorta nutty, instead of full-on, "let me tell you about my bitch ex-wife ARE YOU A NARC?!" paranoid nutty, as the one directly neighboring my apt.

This is the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield in .40 caliber. I spent many days researching a reliable manufacturer and model, and am now SUCH AN ELITE SNIPER AT GUN-FU it took me only 20 minutes of fiddling with it and several bruised fingers to unlock the slide for the first time. I also marked it with red nail polish to indicate when the safety is off, because I won't possibly tell otherwise. I don't actually own any ammo yet (a subject for many more days of research), nor have I tried shooting it, nor is there a place to legally do so within less than an hour's drive from here. That spent shell casing came with the box in a signed envelope, to prove that it can fire at least one round I suppose.

I also can't legally carry it anywhere in California as of 2012 (after the local Open Carry Movement decided to show up as an armed mob everywhere and freak people out, thanks guys), since permits are tied to the county in which you live and I am told my county does not approve them. So it basically has to stay inside, where it doesn't really help much for the scenario for which I bought it. Then again my residence is neighbored on all sides by tweakers, the violently insane, and people under questioning by detectives in relation to murder (also I don't know what's going on with the newer neighbors but squad cars sure like pulling up their door over and over) so, y'know, that's good. I'd probably feel a lot better if my roommate would stop zeroing in on these people to invite inside like the worst judge of character in human history since Eva Braun, but that's a topic for another day!

Who remembers these books?

So, a loooong time ago when I was a kid (back when Waldenbooks was still a company in the local mall) I read a couple of colorful Halloween pop-up books (although they only actually popped-up on the final page). And it's such a small thing, but it's driving me crazy trying to find any reference to their existence on the internet. I'm sure they're long out of print, since they were kind of hardcore by today's standards. (Seeing as we've "updated" the classic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series by taking out all the awesomely terrifying art of Stephen Gammell - lest children reading scary stories feel... scared.)

They're hard to remember... In the first, the reader is narrated at (in rhyme?) through several pages traveling a generic spooky countryside (with a spooky forest and I think a pumpkin patch, a river, and probably a graveyard and all that jazz). There's a black cat wandering around somewhere in every scene... slowly becoming obvious that you're actually following the cat, until finally arriving at a decrepit windmill. The next page is inside the windmill, and then in a room at the top of the stairs featuring a skeleton cloaked in rags sitting in a chair (the windmill keeper), welcoming the cat jumping into its lap with narration saying he will "thank you for bringing..." (next page) "HIS PUSSYCAT HOME!" And the ending is a full-page pop up of the cat ferociously leaping at the reader stomach-first, which has been ripped open; its organs hanging out of its exposed belly drawn in incredibly gory detail - because it was really a zombie cat the whole time.

The second book follows a teenage boy and girl through various scenes in a haunted house. I can't describe the boy - but the girl has straight blond hair and is wearing a pink (?) striped sweater and a poof-ball cap. In the last four pages she notices her skin turning green, but the boy continues walking infront of her, oblivious. On the next page she is shivering and staring worriedly at her finger growing into long, green claws while her body is lengthening and stretching past her clothes. On the third she is now a lanky, green, hunched over goblin-like monster, tapping the now shorter boy on the shoulder from behind. And on the final pop-up page, she spreads her massive clawed hands to either side of the book with a huge, fanged, open-mouthed grin (still wearing the hat and sweater and all), bearing down on his terrified body.

Ring any bells for anyone?

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I'm playing an excessively friendly tiefling bard in Pathfinder. And one of the things she does is sing lullabies to the party to help them drift off to sleep in the wilderness. So here's a collection of fun-filled rhymes and alliterations to share with the kids!



*Cannibal Charlie the Camper Carver

*Emily the Curious Earwig

*Sammy Snips, the Spider What Sneaks in Your Shoes As You Sleep

*Seamstress Sally, Who Sews Shut Sleeper's Snoring Slits

*The parable of the Popping Gourmet Who Ate Troll
(We had a regenerating troll attack.)


*Old Dead Bailey the Hovering Hound's Head

Young Dog Bailey, Young Dog Bailey, runs and barks and jumps so gaily
Plays with the baker, plays with the tailor, plays with the sausage of the sausage maker
Angry maker, makes a treat - glass and nails and mixed up with meat
Young Dog Bailey, Young Dog Bailey, no more runs nor jumps so gaily
Sausage maker, stray-dog taker, takes him to corner of his sausage chamber
No more tail! No more paws, no more heart or legs or claws
Old Dead Bailey, Old Dead Bailey, just a head no legs or tail-y
Where is your body? Where did it go? Fly to the belly of the one who knows
Bite his neck and bite his chin, bite every part that belongs to him
Old Dead Bailey, Old Dead Bailey, opens every belly he chases daily
Looks in the baker, looks in the tailor, looks for his parts in every sausage-taker
Bites their necks and bites their chins, bites until he's whole again.



*Night Shrike the Snatcher Bird

Grandmother Night Shrike, winging on a black night
winging by the light of the moon
Gifts for her children, held in her claws tight
weaving up a nest for them soon
Do you like tinder? Do you like thread? Do you like things that the plants have shed?
No we hate tinder! No we hate thread! Bring us much softer things for our bed!

Grandmother Night Shrike, wants to weave her nest right
Asks of a lone maiden fair,
"What is the softest?" Answers vainly (not bright,)
"Nothing is so soft as my hair!
"Isn't it lovely? Isn't it a sight? Can you see it wave in moon's pale light?"
Yes it is lovely! Yes it's a sight! Yes it fits in the claws of a shrike!

Grandmother Night Shrike, winging on a red night
winging by the shrieks of a loon
Gifts for her children, held in her claws tight
weaving up a nest for them soon
Do you like hair? Do you like skin? Do you like the scalps of women and men?
Yes we like hair! Yes we like skin! Snatch them all off their heads for our den!



*Mister Morlien

In the alley, in the streets
Watching you through bedroom sheets
In the square, in the park
Fingers slide out of the dark
In the tunnels, do not play
Faster, children, run away!
In your dreams 'neath moonless skies
Morlien comes to take your eyes



*Empty Eddy the Skin-Sack Man

Run run children, fast as you can
Don't be caught by the Skin-Sack Man
Empty Eddie, that's his name
Empty eyes and empty frame
He wraps you in his skin so loose
And tightens 'round you like a noose
Inside you'll never feel alone
With dried-up old ones, you'll be home
You'll meet again family and friends
Next time Eddie feels empty again!



*Horrible Horin the Halfling Headtaker
(Horin is the party rogue. He has thusfar decapitated two tatzlwyrms and a giant boar, and preyed on countless bandits.)

O young scofflaw, why do you run?
Why do you hide from the face of the sun?
Don't you know that Horin is there
Waiting for you in the moonlight so fair

For in the dark when no one's there
secret eyes of halfling's stare
Hide your wyrms and hide your boars
Horin hides behind your door!

O young scofflaw, his size makes you laugh?
And do you say that his pony's a gaff?
Though shortened legs cause not much dread
you'll be the shorter without any head!

Of jagged iron cold as night
horrid shortblade slips from sight
By knife so sharp and knife so quick
Off your head pops, snickety-snick!

O young scofflaw, leaving so soon?
Why do you hide from the face of the moon?
Don't you know too late to run
By headtaker's blade you're already done!



*The parable of the Gambling Unicorn
(About our investigation into the cause of death of a random, hornless unicorn corpse in the woods - in which Kimber accuses Tei, the smelly rude wizard who asked us to find one.)

There was once a noble unicorn
who owned a gleaming pearl horn
But the only thing that he loved more
was poker chips and cards adorned
with jokers, aces, jacks and kings
to afford un-unicornly things
For even they find virtue damp
without the scattered drink and tramp!

And once there was a boorish mage
unwashed of skin but young of age
And the only thing that she desired
was magic strength of beasts acquired
She strolled near to the bar and claimed
"Play me just one dealer's game,
"I'll bet fortunes jealous kings would mourn!
"The only thing I ask? Your horn."

The beast first blanched and shook with fear
to risk that piece he held so dear
'Til visions filled his princely head:
narcotics, maidens, hotel beds
He answered, smirking like a shark
"I'll play your game - t'will be lark!"
For long adept, he had to win
so ordered for them both a gin

But vicious mage was cruel and wise
and "accidentally" splashed his eyes!
One second blind, he did not see
illusioned cards slip from her sleeve
His poor, pale horsey jaw went slack
when she played her hand: four kings, a jack
He begged her take his "other" horn
but off his head, his prize was shorn

In panic he tried more to bet
tumbling ever worse in debt
To pay, he chose ironic course
His profession now? A race track horse
But unicorns were made to prance
not be fleet of hoof in games of chance
So angry fairy mobsters led
him to this swamp, where he lies dead.

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So, I dreamt I was in a franchise of Freddy Fazbear's Pizza (because that's what I was doing on YouTube just before falling asleep). And I was carrying a cheap, pastel-colored revolver on me because I was expecting to get murdered, buuuut it was daytime so I mostly just passed the time eating pizza and helping deformed, squealing, limbless children cheat at Liquid Skeeball to win tickets and receive horrible animatronic plushies. As well as a showing a girl dressed in a Chica chicken costume how to shoot pastel revolvers in the middle of the lobby for no good reason.

Suddenly the dream finds itself a plot, so I stop existing and am playing the girl instead. She sneaks out the back door of the kitchen to see that Freddy's is being used as the cafeteria for a disheveled SCP Foundation monitoring site (because that is ALSO what I was doing on YouTube just before falling asleep) built around an equally disheveled block of semi-rural town. The dying town is a hotbed of anomalous activity of which little Chica - and all the other freakish children - are apparently a part and not permitted to leave. The site is built onto a slope overlooking The Wasteland; a decaying part of town and the wilds beyond, strewn with discarded haunted objects and ruins cordoned off by terraces and layers of security fences to keep some things in and... other things out. The bottom section of the compound itself now sits within The Wasteland and is no longer safe to occupy.

Little Chica decides to escape this place. She finds a little blue key and uses it on a restroom door... and out of the resulting extradimensional space strolls SCP-860-2 - the big purple wolf/cat/pony/lizard thing. She wants to get out, and it wants the key removed from SCP custody, so they pair up together to escape the compound. They sneak around the guard barracks and climb down the terrace levels, held in place by a mazelike cluster of rotting wooden pylons hiding deadfalls and other hazards. Vintage armoires and other pieces of broken furniture lie in piles around them, which leak a thick black liquid when disturbed, and it is deemed unsafe to investigate them.

Dusk approaches, and the pair creeps past the old barracks, which were converted from a gothic tenement building and surrounded by excessively stabbby-looking black iron gates. They were abandoned by personnel when The Wasteland overtook them, and other things live there now. On a balcony over the dreary yard of cracked concrete sits an old chair, and 860-2 tells little Chica that an invisible, dead old man is sitting there watching them, and they have to move faster before nightfall. Surely enough, as the last rays on sunlight fall behind the building its shutters and doors spread open and the people of The Wasteland scramble after them as they dash for the fence line. 860-2 tells little Chica to hang on tightly to its back, and it parkours between the walls of an alleyway and leaps over the first two fences, then climbs to the top of the last and tallest and flips over its razorwire barrier. They cross through the copse of trees and over the train tracks on the other side, temporarily safe.

However, they are still caught in the unreality of The Wasteland, which stretches off over barren fields in every visible direction - and at night which is worse. They encounter a distraught mother wandering up the tracks and searching for her missing boys, and little Chica wants to help her look. But 860-2 asks the mother questions about her sons and her answers are repetitive and nonsensical, her movements becoming increasingly jerky and more bizarre as they go on, and it is decided that she is some sort of cannibal goblin-hag and not to be followed. They walk the train tracks in the opposite direction, occasionally interrupted by passing freight cars. After awhile the tracks become nonsensical - crossing and weaving in on each other, finally ceasing to be parallel pairs and spiraling off independently until the characters find themselves crossing a field of tangled iron. Train cars appear from all directions now, derailing and crashing into each other but continuing to come from somewhere in the night. Little Chica thanks 860-2 for having helped her but recognizes that there is probably no escaping The Wasteland - and its not as if she has any home outside anyway. 860-2 thanks her for helping it in return, and tells her to use the blue key on one of the abandoned cabinets. It opens to the extradimensional forest of its home, and it tells her they can go and live there together. The end.

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The terrible secret of the egg

So, I dreamt there was a tribe of rabbits a la Watership Down. And Easter Sunday was a really dark time for them because they lived in a place where rabbits were habitually trapped and hunted. Every year one of them was chosen to sacrifice themselves by distributing eggs and candy to the humans who would inevitably kill them. They had based this tradition on a tragically false myth that the humans were angry because once on this day, long ago, a rabbit had stolen a precious (presumably egg-based) treasure from them. So the rabbits try and fail every Easter to appease them with gifts, but no sacrifice has ever been good enough to match the splendor of what was stolen. The dream followed a rabbit named Elijah, who was this year's Easter Bunny, who instead of giving gifts went off on a DnD-style quest into the farthest reaches of the burrows in search of the humans' lost treasure to end their curse. But unfortunately the dream didn't get any further before waking up. End...?

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So, I dreamt that I was fending off the Horsemen of the Apocalypse and their minions trying to break into my childhood house. Famine (some sort of scarecrow) was kind of a pushover, easily defeated by flailing a butcher knife from the kitchen - which quickly becomes my go-to response to everything. Pestilence proved to be a greater problem... he was literally a horse-man, or a huge insect-infested skeleton of one wrapped in tight, mummified skin blotted with patches of coarse, mangy, disease-ridden horse hair. Chopping off the whole front half of his face hardly seemed to bother him at all, and I'm pretty sure I accrued multiple strains of ebola in the attempt.

I should pause to note that I say I "dreamt" this rather than "I had a nightmare" since this is actually the good part of this dream. Because it started out by having some senseless, unsolvable family argument which typifies 100% of my actual nightmares, sometimes swapping out for customers, roommates or whoever, and typically in conjunction with some insurmountable IRL crisis involving money, employment, and/or housing. So I will HAPPILY switch gears to being stalked in the night by a 7-foot tall rotting animal carcass that wants to jam my eye sockets with tunneling parasitic beetles, because that is a problem I actually understand and feel mentally and emotionally equipped to respond to.

So I'm pretty much boned here, but Death admires my my stick-to-it-iveness regarding chopping at things and has me promoted to War. Thanks? Now I'm some sort of big red demon thing, and it's my job to do Apocalypse stuff. I travel to some ancient village in the desert wherein there is a ring of winged statues standing in the dark of a great domed temple. Plaques at their feet claim to honor varied fallen angels who, like Prometheus, are eternally punished for bestowing divine gifts upon humankind- in this case being turned to stone. I set about the task of awakening them one by one - for which they are at first grateful... and then horrified as I continue, because waking ALL the fallen angels is what triggers the Apocalypse.

Sure enough a big scary black dragon-deity appears, which is the form this particular end of the world takes- hello. I introduce myself and ask how best to help apocalize stuff. But it laughs, as I and all the Horsemen are now redundant, and it eats all my powers thereby demoting me to some kind of little chibi cartoon goat-thing. Poop. It turns into a billowing, dragon-faced black cloud of annihilation roughly the size of the entire sky and proceeds rolling across the planet erasing everything in its path. The understandably miffed angels fly off to battle it over the desert with great futility, as Death and I look at each other and agree this isn't really the way things were supposed to go. So we decide to look around for other gods buried in the city to wake up and fight this thing.

Somewhere along the battlements overlooking the chaotic sky-battle out in the desert is a collection of figurines depicting various pagan deities which have fallen out of worship in modern times. Any of them can be woken up, but there are also little creature modifier tiles which can be appended to them for odd results (lizard-Athena?), or the gods themselves can be combined with each other (spider-Loki-Anubis?). I get distracted by all the available combinations and sit down trying to figure out the best one. I'm just a cartoon goat paralyzed with indecision while playing with toys at the foot of the apocalypse; story of my life? Unfortunately I wake up before coming to any interesting conclusions. The end.

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(Starting with the last part first because they're fairly long and if you only watch one, it's the greatest.)

Sporange rhymes with orange

So I went and got Spore while was on sale on Steam, a game I was interested in when it first came out...  6 years ago, Christ. I am old, kill me. ANYWAY, at the time I was turned off by EA and the SecuRom secret rootkit malware that came bundled with it, so I just accepted I would probably never play it. BUT now the Steam platform resolves that, so what the hell, let's do it. Join me on a journey of discovery as I try very hard not to create alien pornography!

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Behold! The Hook Leech, the noblest of animals.

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Dragons and otters and fops, oh my

So, I dreamt that I was in a sneaky stealing Thief game, wherein I was robbing a castle filled with wealthy aristocracy (laid out a lot like my house growing up - the furthest thing from that description). Specifically, my mission was to steal a skeleton - a dragon's skeleton - an entire dragon's skeleton - which was walled up in a secret chamber somewhere in the castle. To do this I needed to spend the next several days undercover mingling amongst the decadent nobility while determining the best route of entry and exit, all under the eyes of the castle guard and obnoxiously chatty wandering fops.

By nightfall, when I'm able to sneak about unseen, I discover where the skeleton is hidden. And there's already a problem; it's directly on the other side of the wall of a noble kids' bedroom - a pair of twin girls. I can carve out the loose bricks one at a time to get through the wall, which is between their two beds, but that's probably gonna go fubar. I'll have to come back another night.

The next morning the twins report having heard strange noises in their room at night. Oops? But it wasn't me... the sounds they heard were more like scratches and growls. Hmmmm... Later at night I sneak up into the rafters and discover that the wall above their door is hollow, leading to an attic that spans over their bedroom and the secret chamber. I can drop through the ceiling and hoist up the bones, easy peasy. Too bad there's not enough time left tonight and the guards are starting to snoop around the entrance. I'll come back tomorrow.

On the 3rd day the girls report louder, scarier noises, and other people in the castle have started to hear them too. But the twins have been working on a play to present to everyone later and get their minds off it - which would be the perfect distraction. Would be. Unfortunately, the king has called a special session of the aristocracy, and everyone must attend. He declares that, due to certain recent behaviors by certain individuals, (glaring over the crowd) it is hereby an offense to the crown for anyone to be found unclothed in the ocean whilst in the presence of a sea otter, unless it can be reasonably shown to be an accident of ill-fortune stemming from inclement weather. He trusts from now on that there will also be a reduction in incidences of dolphin-related unseemliness and other cetacean shenanigans.

OKAY DREAM THANKS FOR THAT.

I fast forward straight through the 4th day to get to nightfall, and now I'm finally ready to break into the attic and steal that dragon... but I've taken too long. A disaster rings out in the castle - the dragon skeleton has come to unlife, slowly gathering a layer of shriveled flesh from the slain aristocracy, and is tearing the place apart from inside. ABORT MISSION. The game now becomes about escaping the collapsing castle through the rafters without being seen by the dragon, which is searching and saying Smaugy stuff at me. Apparently it is the incarnation of some sleeping death-god and would like very much for me to join it. But, being that I am alive and invested in remaining so, and similarly dependent on a living environment, won't that relationship be incompatible to my interests? "I adore life," roars the thing while whipping spinal tendrils everywhere, "especially freshly-born - the most delicious of all!!" NOT HELPING YOUR CASE THERE. Speaking of which, weren't there kids in this kids' bedroom? I reload an earlier save point and save the twins before the wall collapses this time, who conveniently manifest as talking objects in my inventory. Kay. We get outside the castle walls onto the ledge of the 2nd story, only to look below and see there are death cultists gathered all outside, doing their evil rituals with fire and banners of human skin inscribed with blood and all that shit, so climbing down here is suboptimal. Reload an earlier save. Also there is a bonus mission which involves retrieving the twins' play script before leaving. Reload save. Eventually I reload saves so often that the dream just kind of stops happening, but I think we get out climbing over the arbor by the sea or something, probably. I dunno, whatevs. End.

Otters.

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Misuse of company resources

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The holiday season is coming. FOR YOU.

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DESK OF DOOM

I would like to say I set this up for Halloween. I would like to say that.

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At least a lot of it comes from the next-morning sales.

Seems like the decorative agenda is to make a Castlevania level out of my room (although I'm also working on Indian/Indonesian and East Asian sections - also spooky). In keeping with that influence, I have an affection for collecting things that are eerie but also have some class or are at least artistic. The best of which are monster-themed antiques, often unintentionally spooky, with the bonus of being made from metal/glass/ceramic/wood instead of plastic or resin. There's more to work with, including a small collection of Balinese masks, however my best possessions are not presently in my possession.

The pictures are the Triptych of Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation by Hans Memling (which is impossible to find a printable resolution of online so it only looks good if you aren't staring too closely.) Other contenders were The Garden of Earthly Delights, The Triumph of Death, The Temptation of St. Anthony, or some more obscure classical work here.

Modern superstitions

I watch a guy buying the last box of Sour Skittles. And I know the company is discontinuing that box size for just the Sour variety and nothing else, so it won't be available here anymore. According to people who enjoy sugar more than I do, there are 12 fewer Skittles per box in the new size, despite labeling to the contrary.

"Enjoy that one; it's the last of its kind," I uncharacteristically say to the stranger for no adequate reason, explaining the imminent changes.

He sighs dramatically in reply. "Gotta love OBAMA!"

Yeah, I- what?

"Everything's gotta be small portions now, right? Shoving his health care down our throats! Pff!"

I... I really don't think Barack Obama signed off on this one. Buuuut I guess for some people Democrats have replaced "Satan" as the source of all unexplained evil in the world. The president causes the rain and spiders and is the reason you can't find your keys in the morning. OBAMAAAAAA!!!!
Wake up halfway from a nap... eyes shut, still drifting in and out. I wonder to myself, how much time do I have left before I have to get up for work?

"About 19 minutes," responds the character in my dream.

Okay good, there's still time.

Waaaaaait. Slowly it dawns on me that maybe I shouldn't rely on that information. I turn over, pull up the eye mask, and stare into the glare of the clock... there's 20 minutes left.

Dayum. I owe her an apology.

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Evidently, there's a leech growing in my fridge.

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Feelin' fine.

All moving and no play makes Trik a dull boy.
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Running themes

So, I dreamt there was an alternate timeline in which an undefined, Asian medieval fantasy empire had conquered and subsumed its regional neighbors and survived to the modern day as a kind of indistinct cultural mishmash (aka Default Asia for Americans) - possibly reflecting my great deal of time spent playing Civilization 5. Its emperor is ruthless and militaristic (possibly reflecting my time playing Civ 5), and while entertaining foreign emissaries he executes one of his commanders along with his entire escort for interrupting them with news of a recent victory at sea. Because of course we were victorious - ALL MY PERFECT STRATEGIES ARE VICTORIOUS - how dare you waste my time with such trivialities?! The emissaries are then lead away by a smarmier, slick-haired commander to the trophy hall, where works of art and heirlooms looted from local conquests are displayed. Which is upsetting to them because some of the emissaries were from the conquests involved, to the amusement of said commander.

So: empire is full of jerks, noted.

The dream then pans to streets of the capitol, where the Hell Festival is going on: costumed demons and damned souls acting out scenes of torment... a reminder of the fate that awaits those that disobey the law of their divine emperor. Meanwhile, the palace's not-so-secret Witch-Police patrol the streets to root out disloyalty, clad in black leather uniforms and oni masks fitted with weird, beady, jeweler's loupe goggles - and as rumor has it, supernaturally empowered through demonic pacts. Enter the main character of this dream: an actual demon, a "costumed" fox spirit, newly arrived in the city to see the festival from parts unknown. The Witch-Police immediately identify her as a troublemaker, and their captain confronts her to make smugly veiled threats. But she is too naive to take their meaning - or is simply unimpressed - and dismisses them facetiously. She carelessly traipses through the city as if on holiday, snapping pictures with the watchful captain in tow. She shows no deference to imperial law, and her frivolous demeanor makes a mockery of the festival and begins garnering seditious attention from the public. Infuriated, the police move to arrest her, only to find their abilities do not work - she photographs their attempts for her travel dairy. The captain's eyepiece finally discerns the problem; she's not wearing a fox costume at all and, even worse, she's not a simple fox spirit either - a darker alien chaos sleeping beneath a trickster's mask. The emperor of men has no power over the empress of spirits.

Frustrated, the captain devises an alternate plan: why don't you join the police? *blinkblink* "What a funny idea. How exciting! I accept." Horrified, the people scurry away to their homes at the prospect of even more powerful Witch-Police overseeing their lives. The captain leads her through a maze of secret alleyways to a walled-in garden where they ritualistically induct new members. The high walls let in little sun, and are decorated with enormous gargoyle spouts that channel water to a shaded row of strange, saw-leafed plants with their branches weighed down by thorny, bright red cactus fruits. Consuming the dangerous fruit gives the Witch-Police their abilities, but in her case is redundant. Another inductee suffers paranoid hallucinations as he takes the fruit and shivers half-naked on the pavement, but she seems to do fine. Welcome aboard.

Now clad in the leather uniform of the Witch-Police (minus the mask), the Fox patrols the city pestering crime. She takes her duties as a game, refusing dumb boring loyalty-enforcement and mostly screwing around with the leery citizenry and spoiling the department's reputation and internal discipline - the captain lacking the power to reign her in, but it beats having her roam the capitol loose and blundering into the palace. But then, an actual investigation comes up: a child has strangely been murdered in public on a busy bridge in the market district, and the event is surrounded by unexplainable details. Fox and her unluckily appointed, raven-haired female partner are on the case, following the evidence to a poor cottage housing an old peasant woman and her daughters making soup in a dirty kitchen. She denies knowledge of the events, but they see through the illusion: the old woman is a flesh-eating spirit, and the cottage is a haunted castle. Found out, the old woman wrenches back from them shrieking, the castle revealing itself and rapidly expanding beyond their reach across a blackened misty lake joined by a collapsing bridge. With a smirk, Fox manifests a spectral red chariot pulled by a train of flying horses which carries the pair across the ever-lengthening bridge as it attempts to drown them. On reaching the other side, puppet spearmen arise from the mists to encircle them, but Fox draws a burning red cord from the air and cuts them down. The pair enter the castle to be met by another curtain of illusions portraying an imperial banquet, but the dream is interrupted by me waking before the mystery is solved. The end.

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