The Final Performance

“Ladies and gentleman, I give you…the Great Santini!”

Applause as the magician popped onto the stage in a burst of smoke. His tailed coat was of the finest quality, but his face was long, pale, with a foolish chin not quite covered by an attempted Mephistophelian goatee. He wave with an affected air to the audience, then turned to his assistant.

“Thank you, Sandra, for that lovely introduction. But, if you’ll forgive me, I don’t think you are quite dressed for the occasion.”

Sandra looked down at her own tailed coat and tie.

“What is wrong with it?”

“It is not quite…what is the word? Chic. If you will…”

He raised his cape before her, hiding her from view of the audience. With the deftness of long practice, she stripped off her fake formal wear and gave the knot at the back of her head a quick tug. The whole thing took less than five seconds, and as Santini swept away the cape, she stood in the exact same pose, but now dressed in the sleek, form-fitting silvery costume, her dark hair flowing free.

More applause. Sandra gave her required smile.

At least this is the last time, she thought.

Sandra – that was not her given name, but she had been going under it for a while now and she rather liked it – was thoroughly fed up with the ‘Great Santini’. At times she wondered whether the man was quite in his wits; he seemed to think of nothing but his act, of which he was ridiculously proud. Off stage, he went about as though in a perpetual daze, his eyes lifted to the ceiling, humming to himself. He was a little like a child that way. Except, of course, when they were together. She’d been obliged to put on a somewhat different performance then.

I really am a talented actress, she reflected as she assisted him with the tired ‘dove’ trick. The idiot actually thinks I like him.

“My sweet dove,” he always called her. When he remember her existence at all.

The bird flapped limpidly in his hands as he held it up to the applause of the audience.

She’d not taken up with him out of choice, or not exactly. She’d gotten herself into a bit of trouble with her previous boyfriend and had needed a new job – and a new name – quickly. No one would look for someone like her with someone like Santini, and for good reason.

But that was a long time ago now, and the hunt had died down. Besides, they’d cycled back to that very same town, which appealed to her artistic tastes. Back where it’d begun, and now it was time to move on. She meant to get out of the magic trade and back into more lucrative business.

Her last boyfriend had combined the two. The Amazing Mantoli (funny how so many of them went for Italian names). That had been fun, not to mention profitable. She wondered whatever became of him; probably still in jail, unless he’d managed an escape trick. He might even be in the audience tonight. The thought gave a genuine tone to her smile as she assisted in the disappearing box trick. It would do him good to see that she’d gotten the better end of the deal after all.

Sandra had been making her plans quietly for a while now. There wasn’t much she needed to take with her, and it all fit in a purse. As soon as the performance was over, she would hurry back to her dressing room, change, take the money out of the safe – Santini had actually been stupid enough to give her the combination – and she could be at the train station in ten minutes. After that, well, she had contacts in other cities. It wouldn’t be hard to find her way into another, more interesting job.

It wasn’t as though anyone could find her either. She doubted whether Santini even knew her real name, and she’d been living outside the law for so long and changed her own appearance so often that there wouldn’t be even a trace of her for him to follow. That fact had probably saved her life more than once when she came to think of it.

Again, her thoughts went to Mantoli – his actual name was Greg – possibly in the audience, or else sitting in jail. He probably wouldn’t be very happy with her either.

The Great Santini selected a volunteer from the audience for his ‘teapot’ trick. Sandra led the blushing youth up onto the stage, smiling at him as though she thought him an enticing specimen. Really, she was laughing at the thought of Santini’s stupid face when he came back to the trailer tonight after his usual meet and greet with the audience, only to find his little dove had gone and flown. She could just picture him, like a lost child, bewildered and alone.

Santini finished the teapot trick, to the wonder of the young man and the applause of the audience. He beamed proudly on them.

To her own surprise, Sandra felt a slight pang. Her smile even flickered a little. All of a sudden it wasn’t so funny. Was she really so mean as that, to take joy in the mere thought of hurting a silly little idiot like that?

I guess I am, she thought.

Maybe she wouldn’t take all his money after all. Just enough. After all, he couldn’t help being a fool.

The sword-box trick was next, with her laying inside a box, her smiling face showing out of one end while he stuck blades in it. It was a simple matter of being flexible enough to slide into the correct position so that they passed her by (and it helped that they weren’t as sharp as they appeared). Momentarily, she wondered whether he suspected anything. Surely not. She’d been careful in making her arrangements, and anyway he wasn’t the noticing type.

Still, she reflected, some people might wonder whether it was really wise to come up and perform these kinds of tricks with a man she was planning to jilt and rob. But Sandra knew there was no danger. Even if Santini knew all that she was planning and all she thought of him, there could hardly be a safer place for her to be than here on stage. Because a magician could survive being robbed and humiliated, but a trick gone wrong would be the final disaster. It would ruin him completely. The only way he’d do something like would be if he knew for a fact that she meant to kill him. And probably not even then.

No, there was no danger here on stage. She almost wished there were. That might be a bit of a rush. The danger, if there was any, would be afterwards.

But, alas, there really wouldn’t be any. Santini wasn’t the violent type. That was one of the reasons she found him so boring. And with that thought her heart hardened again and she forgot her momentary regrets.

The performance wore on, as dull as ever, and Sandra did her part all the way to the grand finale. This was the water trap illusion. It was a pretty simple trick, but it went down well with audiences. First a huge glass water tank – about the size of a small swimming pool – was wheeled on stage. Then she would be shackled hand and foot, gagged, and sealed inside a steel drum, which was set on ta trap door over the top of the tank. It was played as an escape act, where she had only one minute to escape from the drum before being dropped into the water. Only, she never did escape, and the barrel would drop into the water. Whereupon Santini would say something about having to use magic to rescue her, and he would wave his cape in front of the tank and hey presto! Sandra would appear high, dry, and unbound right in front of the tank.

The trick was, of course, that the barrel was not as solid as it appeared. There was a small entryway concealed between two ridges on the back end, facing away from the audience. It was a simple matter for Sandra to slip her manacles – she had a key hidden in her costume – and slide out and behind the tank, ready to pop out again at the climax of the trick. The door was, of course, very narrow, and only someone like her, slender, flexible, and extremely skilled, could manage to slip through.

They’d done it a thousand times, and Sandra went through the motions of climbing to the top of the tank, flashing a brave smile to the audience, then letting herself be shackled and gagged almost without thinking, still contemplating the real moment of escape that would follow.

Santini lifted her up, cried his familiar line of “Good luck, and Godspeed!”, and set her carefully inside the barrel. She waved cheekily to the audience as she dropped into the narrow space.

That’s all, folks! She thought. And good riddance….

Then, as Santini was lowering the lid over her head, Sandra happened to glance over the rim into the wings. And there she saw something. Something the meaning of which didn’t fully register until the lid had snapped shut over her head.

It was a girl. A girl waiting out of sight of both the other stage hands and the audience. A girl who had been dressed and made up to look just like her.

How I Would Have Written ‘Captain Marvel’

So, if you read my Marvel recap, you remember that I had certain issues with ‘Captain Marvel‘. Said issues largely amount to ‘It’s an incredibly stupid film with a hateful protagonist’.

Naturally, as with Black Panther, I thought about how I might have tackled the character, and the results are presented below (fair warning, this one’s a lot more lore-heavy than my BP take, so if you’re not familiar with the Marvel universe – cinematic or otherwise – you might get a little lost).

Summary:
Carol Danvers is a newly-formed captain the US Air Force joining her first active-duty squadron at a Florida base. She’s always dreamt of flying in the Air Force, following the military footsteps of her father and brothers and following a life-long love of aviation.

The squad, however, is cold to her, especially after a preliminary exercise where she makes a crucial mistake and nearly causes a crash. However, her wingman gets blamed for it instead of her.

At a bar that night, the rest of the squad keeps their distance from her, and when she tries to get friendly with the only other female pilot – Monica Rambeau – the woman lays it out for her. Carol had been used in a lot of promotional material during training, and they’ve all heard rumors that she was given special treatment and lowered standards to make her look good for the papers. Basically, as far as they’re concerned she’s a publicity stunt designed to get girls interested in the military, not a real pilot.

Stung by this, Carol reviews her training records and realizes that she ought to have failed at several points, or at least received far greater pushback than she received. She goes to the base commander to request to be returned to training, and he responds by publicly rebuking the team for failing to ‘make her feel welcome.’ Monica fesses up and takes the heat to spare the rest of the squad from being punished, and Carol becomes even less popular as a result.

Taking out her frustrations by swimming laps (wearing a black bathing suit very like her classic costume), she meets Phil Lawson, a scientific liaison attached to the base. He has a gallant, old-world charm and they strike up a friendship, helped by the fact that he’s the only one who isn’t either hostile or patronizing toward her. He advises her that, if she wasn’t given the right preparation then, she’ll just have to make up for it now and try twice as hard. “That’s the way of the warrior.”

Not long after, the squad is assigned to a training exercise with an experimental jet that Lawson developed. Carol is assigned to pilot the jet, against her protests that any one of the others would be better qualified.

They fly out over the Bermuda Triangle, with Lawson riding in the cockpit behind Carol to study the plane’s performance. Suddenly, they lose contact with the base and a UFO appears. Lawson gasps in surprise on seeing it – “No…not here…” – and the UFO shoots down the squad commander. It then targets the others in the squad, specifically Monica, but Carol fires on it, then drives the jet across its path to draws its attention (“Let’s hope this damn thing is as good as you say it is”). She tells the others to retreat while she tries to lead the UFO off. It pursues her, but instead of shooting them down it catches the plane in a tractor beam, drawing them inside itself before departing for space.

The blue-skinned aliens – the Kree – capture Carol and Lawson and put them through a very painful scanning process. Carol is put in first, over Lawson’s protest that it might kill her. It causes intense pain, and she’s unable to stand at the end of it. Then when Lawson goes through, it strips him of his human disguise and reveals the blue skin beneath. Carol lasts just long enough to see this before passing out.

She wakes up in a cell, with Lawson waiting outside of it. He expresses relief that she’s alive, she, however, doesn’t trust him anymore, accusing him of setting the whole thing up. He assures her that he had nothing to do with it, but says the truth is a long story, and he doesn’t have time. But he is going to try to get her released.

Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Yon-Rogg, the ship’s commander. He says that he’s given Lawson – or Mar-Vel as he calls him – enough time to worry over his “pet” and now they need to talk. Also on board is Quin-Ra, a servant of Mar-Vel’s family.

Yon-Rogg takes Mar-Vel to his chambers, where they share drinks. Y comments that he was difficult to find: the Nova Corps couldn’t say where he’d gone. Mar-Vel mutters something evasive about continuing his research. Yon-Rogg then drops the information that Mar-Vel’s father and his entire family is dead, which is why he was sent to find him, since he is now the sole remaining member of that line.

Shocked and pained, Mar-Vel asks who killed his family, and Yon-Rogg is oddly evasive. M suggests Thanos, but Y scornfully comments that, thanks to the Nova Corps, the Kree are already ‘balanced’ enough for the Mad Titan’s tastes (this prompts an angry retort from M about “forgetting politics for once”). He then asks Mar-Vel why he supposes he put them through the scan when they were brought on board.

Putting the pieces together, Mar-Vel nearly drops his glass. He protests in horror that “they’re extinct.” Yon-Rogg shakes his head. Mar-Vel asks how ‘they’ could be so strong, since surely people would know if there were many of them. To which Yon-Rogg answers “Would they?”

Mar-Vel asks what the other major powers in the galaxy – the Nova Corps, Asgard – are doing about it. Yon-Rogg answers that, as far as the Kree are aware, the other civilizations don’t know about it yet. The Kree are content to let ‘them’ weaken the others if possible while they take steps to protect their own Empire.

Realizing the danger, Mar-Vel understands that he has to come back to Hala to help protect his people. But he insists on letting Carol go first. Yon-Rogg refuses, revealing that he means to take her back as a scientific specimen, since they’ve had so little opportunity to study Terran physiognomy.

Following this conversation, Mar-Vel manages to trick the guards and get Carol out of her cell, and the two make their way to an escape pod. During the escape, some guards fire at Carol, but Mar-Vel places himself between them and her, taking the shots and then returning them from his hand, revealing his power to absorb and re-direct energy. He sends a message to Yon-Rogg as they fly away, telling him to inform the Supreme Intelligence that he’ll return as soon as he can.

The damaged pod crashes back on Earth and Carol emerges mortally wounded. With no other choice, Mar-Vel gives her a blood transfusion. She then directs him to her father’s house before collapsing. When she wakes up, she finds he’s been anxiously watching over her. After expressing relief at her recovery, he begs her to explain to her father that he hadn’t abducted her.

M: “He keeps threatening to shoot me and sell my body to the tabloids.”
C: “Cut it out, Dad! At least tell him it’ll be the National Geographic!”

Upon rising, she discovers that the blood transfusion has given her similar powers to his, only more volatile.

They recuperate with her father, and Mar-Vel explains his history. He is the son of a noble Kree family, but preferred scholarship to warfare, marking him out as an anomaly among his people. Following Ronan’s attack, he was sent as an ambassador to Xandar to try to repair relations (and, he suspects, because he was something of an embarrassment at home). There he gained enough respect from Nova Prime that he was permitted to study the Power Stone.

In his studies, he realized that it was the core of an ancient Kree artifact that their first Emperor used to unite Hala, back when their civilization was more peaceful and cultured and less pre-occupied with war. It was said that the first Emperor had god-like powers. Unable to resist, he made an attempt to replicate it with the stone and found himself able to absorb and generate energy.

Realizing that if it were discovered what he’d done than the Kree would never rest until they could exploit it, he decided to leave Xandar and hide out on Earth while he studied his new abilities. Now Carol has the same powers he does. Feeling responsible, he says he can’t leave until he teaches her to safely control them.

C: “Wait. Does that mean I can fly?”
M: “Ah…it might. Eventually. It took me a while to learn, but…”
C: “But I can fly? Really fly?”
M: “Yes.”
C: “Then what are we waiting for?”

At the same time, the squad have returned to the base and been debriefed. This incident is being put down as a training accident, since, as the commander explains, after so many recent disasters the government doesn’t want to worry people unnecessarily. Monica, who feels guilty about how she treated Carol, requests to be the one to take the news to her family, noting that Carol saved her life.

She goes to Col. Danvers’s house to inform him of his daughter’s ‘death’. She admits that they weren’t very close, and confesses that she had underestimated her. While she’s speaking, Carol comes in behind her.

R: “She was…more than any of us expected.”
C: “Would you say she was a real pilot?”

Monica is stunned that she’s alive, and Carol says that it’s a ‘long story’ and indicates Mar-Vel, fully revealed in his blue-skinned form.

M: “Captain Rambeau. You’re looking well.”

Carol explains what happened and why she needs to stay ‘dead’, at least for the time being. Now that she has powers, she’d be subject to the Sokovia Accords and considering how volatile her abilities currently are, it would be dangerous for Secretary Ross to know about her.

Monica apologizes for what she said in the bar, but Carol says that it was only too true and not to worry about it.

Mar-Vel then gives her her first lesson and Monica watches.

M: “Thanks to the Power Stone, you body now generates enough energy to power New York City. It absorbs impacts, reinforces your muscles, and speeds up your perception. Effectively, you’re stronger, faster, and more durable than just about anyone on your planet or mine.”
C: “Even the Hulk?”
M: “Eh, let’s make an exception for the Avengers for now. You can push your body to generate more energy and you can absorb it from your environment. The sun, cosmic rays in space, plasma fire, kinetic energy, and so on. But it’s not unlimited. Try to absorb too much, you’ll risk overloading.”
C: “What happens then?”
M: “I’ve never tried it, and I wouldn’t recommend doing so. Also, remember it takes time for your body to generate energy. It’s not an infinite supply. If you try to channel too much, you could deplete yourself, and then you’ll be just an ordinary human…Kree…beautiful woman.”

Carol gives him a bemused look at the description.

C: “We wouldn’t want that, would we?”

The lesson does not go well. Carol has a very hard time controlling her powers, uses too much at once, and generally struggles to keep it under control. But though frustrated, she keeps working hard. When Mar-Vel tries to sugar-coat how badly she did, she angrily insist that he not coddle her, but give it to her straight.

This leads into a montage of her training and slowly mastering her abilities. All the while she’s borne up by the idea that, if she learns to control it, she’ll be able to fly.

During this time, they begin to fall deeply in love, though Mar-Vel knows that he’ll soon have to leave. At one point there is a discussion about the human practice of taking your husband’s name.

Carol: “It’s an old-fashioned custom.”
Mar-Vel: “Sometimes the old ways are best. Would that we Kree had continued our traditions instead of hungering for more and more power.”

(They also comment on how ‘Marvel’ in English means ‘great wonder’).

She asks why he has to go back, and he says that his people need him. They are facing a deadly enemy and he must do what he can to stop them. She asks who the enemy is.

Mar-Vel: “They are called the Skrulls.”

He explains that the Skrulls can change their appearance and even their DNA structure to imitate anyone. They’ve developed techniques for stealing memories. They are like a virus: when they target a planet, the quietly copy and replace its most important people and their families, or else integrate themselves among the population and seek out key positions of power. They then use a combination of chemicals and mass hypnosis to discourage breeding and slowly phase the original population out while they themselves continue to reproduce until they are the majority of the population. The are cunning and deadly patient. Only when they are exposed do they break out their weaponry, which is at least on a par with that of the Kree. Now it seems that, from being thought extinct, they’ve been quietly building an empire for over a thousand years and are at last ready to begin declaring themselves openly.

Meanwhile, back on the ship, Yon-Rogg has seen Mar-Vel’s power and realizes what it means. He’s determined to take it for himself, and so sends a message to the Supreme Intelligence saying that they’ve discovered that Mar-Vel was killed by the Earth natives. He then seeks permission to seize the planet as a strategic point. The Supreme Intelligence takes time to consider his arguments, then gives permission. Quin-Ra observes all this and, the first chance he gets, slips away in a smaller ship.

Carol final masters her powers enough to fly. Mar-Vel teaches her by carrying her into the sky and ‘casting her off’. He’s done this several times in the montage and had to catch her each time. But this time she really “let’s herself go” and flies for real. It’s a joyous, almost dream-like sequence as she zooms through the air, testing her abilities, reveling the sheer ecstasy of flight. Mar-Vel flies alongside her, and the scene soon turns romantic, ending in a mid-air kiss in front of the moon.

When they land, however, Mar-Vel tells her that, now she’s learned to control her powers, he has to go. He promises to return some day if he can.

As he is about to leave, however, Quin-Ra flies down in his ship, having finally tracked them down. Mar-Vel says that he’s ready to return, but Quin-Ra reveals that Yon-Rogg has already reported his death and intends to steal his powers, and that he has received permission to seize the Earth.

Yon-Rogg arrives shortly after and Mar-Vel confronts him.

M: “Traitor!”
Y: “That’s rich, coming from you!”

Yon-Rogg says that the power of the Kree hero does not belong in one who would betray the Empire.

Y also makes a crack about “studying the local wildlife.”

Mar-Vel counters that Y is involving the Empire in a disastrous course, saying that attacking Earth will mean war with Asgard just when they’re also fighting the Skrulls. Yon-Rogg counters that Asgard will not intervene. The Dark Elves’ attack showed that they had become weak, and now Odin is dying and his sons bicker over the throne. They will not have the capacity or attention to interfere. He also cites Ronan’s attack on Xandar as showing what the Kree can still accomplish if someone is only wiling to act.

Carol sneers that the Chitauri already tried to take the Earth, but the Avengers stopped them.

C: “You don’t know what you’re getting into.”

Yon-Rogg answers that he knows all about the Avengers, which is why he doesn’t intend to invade the Earth. He’s going to bombard the planet from orbit until nothing survives.

Y: “We only want it as a strategic outpost. If, in the future, we decide to set up a permanent settlement here, we can always re-terraform it.”

Mar-Vel declares that he will not allow Yon-Rogg to stain their people with more innocent blood, and a battle breaks out, first on the ground (Carol’s Dad joins in with a rifle) then in the skies as Yon-Rogg scrambles his fighters to try to capture Mar-Vel. Carol and Mar-Vel fight back, and soon the rest of her squad join in, having been scrambled in response to reports of explosions. During this, Carol ends up flying alongside Monica’s jet and snaps a salute at her.

Monica: (whistling) “Well, shazam!”

Yon-Rogg finally orders a retreat and, abandoning the idea of taking Mar-Vel’s body, resolves to start the bombardment right away. He charges up a massive beam, and Mar-Vel, over Carol’s pleas, flies up to block it. He succeeds, but the effort overloads his body. There’s a massive explosion that damages the ship and he falls back to earth.

Carol catches his body as it falls and lands in the field where they practiced. He says good-bye, then calls Quin-Ra to witness that she is now the heir to his family line and Qui-Ra’s rightful mistress, effectively claiming her as his wife.

M: “The Vel blood flows in her veins.”

He begs her to help save the Kree, both from the Skrulls and from themselves. She says she’ll do her best, and he dies in her arms.

Meanwhile, Yon-Rogg starts to prepare another shot, the explosion having damaged his ship, but not disabled it. Carol flies up to space to continue the fight, but her blasts can’t penetrate the shields of the huge capital ship. In a final gambit, she summons all her stored energy and unleashes it in a single powerful beam that overwhelms the shields and blasts right through the middle of the ship. On the bridge, Yon-Rogg can only futilely deny that this is happening before he’s consumed in the explosion.

Completely spent, Carol falls back to Earth and passes out on the way down.

She wakes up at home, learning that Quin-Ra caught her with his ship’s tractor beam. We also learn that Monica Rambeau and her squadron are getting most of the credit, and Carol’s existence remains a secret for now, though the government will soon be looking for her.

They bury Mar-Vel in the field, not wanting his body to fall into the hands of the government. Carol then says that she has to go soon to try to carry on his work. She means to go to Xandar first to warn them of the Skrull threat.

Carol’s preparing to leave when her father says she has another visitor. Natasha Romanov walks in.

Carol is amazed to see the Black Widow in her house.

C: “I thought you were on the run.”
N: “I am. This is me running, so I’ll get to the point. We know what you did and what you can do. Since most people can’t tell you this, let me say that we’re grateful. And frankly, we could use someone like you on the team.”
C: “You…you want me to be an Avenger?”
N: “I’ll be honest, it would mean going on the run, but since you’re already dead that shouldn’t be too much of a problem for you. And you could do some real good.”

Carol considers it, but then shakes her head.

C: “I’m sorry. I appreciate the offer, I really do. Serving under Captain America, that…that’d be another dream come true! But I’ve got a promise to keep.”

Natasha nods.

N: “I’ll level with you, we think that something big is coming. Something that might take everything we’ve got and more. So, I hope you hurry back.”

Carol thinks a moment, then takes a communication device from the table.

C: “Here. I’m told this works even across interstellar distances. Something about wormholes, my new butler isn’t really sure, but supposedly it works. If you really need me, give me a call and I’ll be here as soon as I can.”
N: “Thanks. Good luck, Captain Danvers.”
C: “Actually, it’s not Danvers anymore. I’m a bit old fashioned that way. It’s Captain Marvel.”

Mid-Credits Scene:
We see pieces of the destroyed Kree ships being loaded up into a warehouse somewhere not far from the Air Force Base. The base commander is overseeing it.

Then Secretary Ross walks in. He says something about how this is a potential gold mine of information, with the chance to ‘give then an edge’.

The commander asks if he’s going to bring Stark in on it.

Ross: “Stark? Stark’s old news. I’ve got someone better. Someone more reliable.”

He indicates a thirty-something year old man who hasn’t been paying the slightest attention to them, instead studying the machinery with avidity, exclaiming over its composition.

Ross: “Doctor?”

The man comes out of his reverie and greets the commander. Ross: “Meet the future, commander.”

Man: “Sorry to be rude. Ah, it’s all rather exciting. Do you realize that the circuitry in these crafts already confirms the theory of…Oh, sorry, there I go again. How do you do? My name is Reed Richards.”

End Credits Scene:
We see a man in a darkened room talking into a small communication device. A shadowy figure is visible on the other end.

“War is coming and much is changing. We must study these developments and see how to turn them to our advantage. In the meantime, you will hold your positions and take no further actions for the time being.”

Man: “Understood. Long live the Skrull Empire!”

He ends the communication. A moment later, there is a knock at the door.

“Sir? They’re ready for you.”

The Skrull gets up and leaves the room. In the Oval Office, Monica Rambeau is waiting to be decorated. The Skrull is the President of the United States.

President: “Captain Rambeau. Our people owe you a great debt.”

A Quick Short

Once upon a time there was an old farmer named Zechariah Flint. He grew all kinds of things, but his specialty was cabbages. He won prizes at all the fairs for his beautiful cabbages, and they were his pride and joy.

Well, one year, just a few days before he was due to harvest the cabbages to take to the fair, Old Zechariah notices that something’s been eating them. Obviously he was pretty darn upset about that, so he set out some traps in the hope of catching whatever it was. But no matter how many snares he set, more and more of the cabbages were getting eaten.

With only three days left before the fair, he was getting furious. At this rate, his next door neighbor, Joe Sloman might beat him out for the blue ribbon, and he just couldn’t stand Joe Sloman! So that night he got out his gun and sat up by the garden to see if he could catch the thief.

Right about the first crack of dawn, a big fat rabbit comes hopping along right into his garden and goes straight for the cabbages. Zechariah smiled triumphantly, raised his gun, and said “Say your prayers, varmint!”

The rabbit saw him, and realizing it couldn’t get away it sat back on its haunches and put its paws in the air in surrender.

“Spare me, sir!” cried the rabbit. “What have I done that you want to go and murder me?”

“’T’ain’t murder,” said Zechariah. “You’re a thief! You’re the one that’s been eatin’ my cabbages.”

“Oh, are these your cabbages?” asked the rabbit. “I’m sorry, I had no idea! I thought they were abandoned, see, and free to all hungry creatures. I apologize sincerely for my mistake.”

“You ‘spect me to believe that?” sneered Zechariah, aiming down the gun.

“Perhaps I could offer you something in payment for the cabbages?” said the rabbit. “I can, you know, if you will but spare my life.”

Now, Zechariah didn’t really think the rabbit had anything to offer, but he was curious and lowered his gun a little.

“That so?” he said. “Now, what can you offer?”

“I know that you men love gold, yes?” said the rabbit.

“Aye, that we do,” said Zechariah

“Well, as you know, we rabbits live in holes in the ground. My own burrow is some ways away, beyond that field. I happened to be digging a nice new den not two days back when I hit into a big wooden chest. I peeked inside, and what do I find but piles and piles of shiny gold coins! I think someone must have buried it there long ago and forgotten all about it. If you won’t shoot me, I’ll tell you exactly where to find it.”

Now the old farmer was interested. He had a decent living, but not so decent that he’d care to pass up a whole chest of gold if it were really there for the taking. He lowered his gun even further.

“You telling the truth, varmint?” he said.

“As I live and breathe,” said the rabbit. “And as I hope to go on doing so.”

Zechariah thought a moment, then said, “All right, varmint. If you tell me where this here treasure is, and swear to me that you’ll never touch my cabbages again, then I’ll let you go.”

“Oh, thank you good sir, thank you!” said the rabbit. “I will tell you what to do. On the other side of yonder hill is a field. In the field there is a chestnut tree. If you dig about the roots on the west side of that tree, you will find that treasure. Though I warn you, it is down fairly deep.”

“All right,” said the farmer. “But remember, treasure or no treasure, I’ll shoot you down if I catch you prowling around here again!”

“After today, I swear to you sir that you will never see me again!” said the rabbit.

So Zechariah saw the thief off of his land, then went and fetched his spade and set off to follow the rabbit’s direction. He climbed the hill, found the meadow, and saw the chestnut tree, just as the rabbit had said. Now very excited, he set to work digging about the west side of the tree. It was hard work, since the tree had large and extensive roots. More than once his old heart gave a leap as he thought he’d found it at last, only to discover that it was only yet another tree root that had to be cleared.

He dug all morning and on into afternoon, fearful to leave the spot now that he’d begun. Joe Sloman might happen by, see what was up, and get the gold before him after he’d gone and done all that work.

But finally, as the sun was going down and he’d dug a hole near ten feet deep and almost as wide and fair uprooted the whole tree, the old farmer had to face the fact that he’d been tricked. There was nothing here but tree roots and the remnant of an abandoned rabbit burrow.

Fuming and swearing to get even with the rabbit, he limped back over the hill to his farm. Only then, as he came in sight of his garden, he realized that the rabbit had at least been telling the truth about one thing: after today, neither he nor any other rabbits would be coming by.

For, while Zechariah had been off digging all day, the rabbit had gone and fetched all his brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles and cousins down to the fourth degree – rabbits have large families, as you know – and they’d descended on old Zechariah’s garden and carried off not only every head of his prized cabbage, but every single vegetable he possessed, down to the last string bean.

So, just as the old liar had promised, Zechariah never saw him again. And obviously he wasn’t able to bring any of his prized cabbages to the fair that year. But what rankled him most of all was the fact that Joe Sloman took home a blue ribbon with a freshly-caught brace of the fattest rabbits anyone had ever seen.

The Walk Home

Background: A week or two ago I ended up in a discussion with Caroline Furlong on how to create tension in a story. Later I tried to come up with a simple ‘example’ scenario to illustrate my ideas. I ended up liking it enough that I turned it into a quick short, which I now present below. Enjoy!

Shit!

Kathy turned slowly on the spot, shining her flashlight along the three diverging paths in the night-shrouded woods. Overhead the sky was a solid black roof, and the air was thick with the threat of rain.

How long was it since she’d left the roadhouse? An hour? Probably less than that, but certainly much longer than it should have been. And much too long to try to go back now.

Damn you, Cheryl, you stupid idiot! She thought.

The night out had been Cheryl’s idea. She was the ‘friendly’ one of the two sisters, and despite being three years older than Kathy, most people pegged her as the younger. She got carded everywhere she went, while Kathy never did. That wasn’t because Kathy looked so much older – she was twenty-five and knew herself to be attractive – but rather because something about her face and the way she carried herself made her appear mature and reliable.

And Kathy was mature. She had a good job and was already rising through the corporate ranks. She was confident, athletic, knew her own mind, and didn’t take crap from anyone.

A night out at the roadhouse wasn’t usually her thing, but Cheryl had wanted to go and had talked her into coming.

“After all that work, you need a night off!” she’d said. “Come on, we’ll go out, have some drinks, maybe meet a couple guys, it’ll be fun!”

She’d pressed her so insistently that, in the end, Kathy had given in. Truth was, she had been overworking herself lately and she did need a night off.

And it had been fun for a while. They’d had a few drinks (Cheryl had a few more), danced a little, chatted up the boys, and generally had a good time. A good time, that is, until Cheryl slipped off with one of her new temporary beaus. By then Kathy was getting tired, and since she always strictly moderated her drinking (she didn’t like to lose control of anything, least of all herself) she had just about reached her limit as far as alcoholic entertainment was concerned. She waited idly at the bar, chewing peanuts and dividing her time between half-heartedly watching the muted TV and talking disinterestedly with one of the men present.

Finally, when Cheryl had been away what seemed more than long enough, Kathy had gone in search of her.

It was then that one of the more alert of her recent acquaintances had told her that Cheryl had left with her new boy-toy a half an hour ago. Left not only without telling her, but more importantly without giving Kathy the keys to her car.

Since Kathy always drank less than Cheryl, the deal had been that Cheryl would drive them there – since she knew the way – and Kathy would drive back. But Cheryl had neglected to give her sister the keys when they first arrived, and had apparently been too drunk and too in love to remember to give them to her before she left.

Muttering curses against her older sister, Kathy had tried to call her cell phone. This had only yielded a flashing light and the muffled notes of an obnoxious ringtone from the front-seat of the car.

Left stranded, Kathy’s options had been to either wait for Cheryl to return – which she probably wouldn’t do until morning – or call her father to come pick her up. Her skin crawled at the idea. Her father didn’t approve of fun nights out, or his daughters flirting and drinking with strangers, or living on their own and chasing a good career, or really anything they did, it seemed. He was always on to her to ‘find someone who could take care of her’ and ‘settle down’. As if she weren’t an adult who could take care of herself! If he had to come and pick her up in the middle of the night from a bar, she’d never hear the end of it.

The man who’d informed her of Cheryl’s departure offered to give her a ride home, but Kathy liked the idea of accepting help from a strange man – even if he seemed decent enough – even less than calling her father. ‘White knight syndrome,’ she called it contemptuously. She could look after herself without depending on the kindness of strangers.

The bar wasn’t really that far from her apartment, say three or four miles in a straight line, and Kathy was an experienced hiker in good condition. She had decided she’d simply walk, taking a path that, she’d thought, led through the state park back to town, cutting off the better part of the journey by road.

Only, she was relatively certain that there ought not to be this three-way split in the path. And she wasn’t even sure what direction she was going anymore. Leaving the bar, she’d neglected to consider that she had no compass or map and only a vague idea of what direction town lay.

Shit!

Kathy pushed a slightly-damp lock of chestnut-brown hair out of her face as she considered the three ways. It would help if she had some stars to guide her at the very least, but the stars were lost in the clouds. Clouds that promised rain.

She took out her phone and tried to bring up a map to give herself some idea of where she was. For what felt like several minutes, she watched the GPS app spin its loading wheel before showing the little orange arrow indicating her position…in the middle of a completely featureless blob of grey. The paths, apparently weren’t even marked on the app. Frustrated, she tried to zoom out and was met with the loading wheel again. At the same time, a roll of thunder sounded overhead.

“Damn it!” she shouted aloud, shoving the phone back into her pocket. “Cheryl, I swear I will kill you for this!”

On an impulse, Kathy decided on the left path. That way, at least, went roughly in the direction of the road (she was almost sure), so if the worst came to the worst she could at least find her way there and take the longer, but surer route. She thanked her stars that she’d never developed a taste for heels and had worn comfortable, high-top boots for her ‘fun night out’.

She hurried along the path as fast as the darkness and rough terrain would allow, for the path dipped and rose frequently, and tree roots cast jagged traps for her feet. Now and again she looked up at the sky to check if the weather had changed. A few minutes after taking the path, Kathy saw the woods about her lit up with harsh white light as lightning flashed in the distance. But it was some seconds before the thunder reached her, so the main storm was still some way off at least. Perhaps she’d get lucky for once that night and it wouldn’t come this way at all.

As she walked, Kathy thought back, trying to recall if the TV in the bar had said anything about a storm that night. She dimly recalled absent-mindedly watching a weather report during one of the idle moments….

Suddenly, she froze. For she had remembered something else: another scarcely-noticed television report seen that very night. She’d noted it, commented on it even, and then forgotten it in the light of subsequent events that had seemed so much more immediately important.

The pallid, thickly-spectacled face of a middle-aged man. The affectedly concerned expression on the muted anchoress’s face as she read the report, shown in black-and-white closed captioning along the bottom the screen that nearly, but not quite obscured the banner headline:

ESCAPED SERIAL KILLER AT LARGE.

Shit, shit, Shit, SHIT!

Kathy swung the light around the woods with a new urgency while her heart jumped in her chest. The oncoming storm ceased to be a factor in her mind as a darker anxiety rose to cast its shadow. How could she have been so stupid? A walk home at night, through the woods, alone…what was she thinking?

For a moment, she stood very still, trying to control her breathing as she swept the woods with her flashlight. The wind was rising, and the trees around her waved and clashed together. That was on top of the many scufflings and scratchings and similar sounds from the underbrush.

Like most people of her age and upbringing, Kathy had very rarely felt experienced genuine fear. Her chief references for being scared were things like watching a scary movie, or having a bad nightmare. Real, honest-to-God threats to her own life and safety had rarely, if ever come her way. The possibility she might meet someone or something in the darkness that would mean she would never see the dawn was completely alien to her experience, and the sick clenching of her stomach as this idea took hold made her almost too frightened to move.

Get a grip, Kathy, she told herself firmly. Escaped serial killer doesn’t mean he’s here, in this park tonight. He probably isn’t. He’s probably a hundred miles away heading for the border. That’s what escaped criminals do; they don’t hang out in the woods like Bigfoot. Besides, you can take care of yourself, whatever happens!

With such sensible reassurances, Kathy successfully reasoned herself into going on. The beam of her flashlight cast a narrow, yellowish glow over the path ahead, sending livid shadows up from every tree, rock, and root, shadows that wavered and moved unsettlingly as she walked. Every so often, she saw a yellow or green or red pair of eyes flash out at her from the darkness on either side, making her jump.

Squirrels and rabbits, she told herself. Keep it together!

The thunder rumbled again overhead. The first cold drops landed on her head.

Damnit.

Things had gone far enough. She didn’t know what help he could bring at this point, but she wanted to call her father. It would help to hear a familiar voice at least! And perhaps that way, when she did find the road, he’d be able to come pick her up. Kathy would almost welcome a lecture at this point, if only it meant she didn’t have to spend a moment longer than she had to out in this damned night.

She reached for her phone. Then stopped and began feeling frantically in all her pockets, the cold clenching in her stomach growing tighter. Her phone was gone. When she’d put it away at the crossroads, it must have caught and slipped out of her pocket, and she’d been too agitated to notice.

Kathy looked behind her at the long tunnel of rain-swept night. Should she go back and look for it? She could hardly stand the mere idea of it. Besides, it was already at least a quarter mile back.

And were those footsteps she heard behind her? Was that a shadowy figure she saw among the trees at the very edge of her flashlight beam?

Rationally, Kathy knew she was being foolish. There was nothing there, no footsteps, no shadowy figure. Escaped serial killers didn’t lurk in rain-swept woods waiting for unsuspecting victims to pass.

Rationally, she knew there was probably nothing to fear. But she ran for it nonetheless.

Heedless of the rain, her flashlight swinging wildly, Kathy fled along the path. Every waving shadow and flashing tree seemed to her disturbed mind to herald that nightmare figure with his pallid, evil face and thick glasses stepping out of the night to grab her. Her own breath sounded loud in her ears, and the rain pounded down harder, soaking her and seeming to drag her down, as if even the weather wished to make her sluggish and prevent her escape.

The path dipped and her pace increased. She felt herself losing control of her own feet as they tried to compensate for the rapid descent. Mentally, she yelled at herself to slow down, but too late. Her foot caught suddenly on a root and with a scream she pitched forward, trying to brace herself with her hands as she tumbled the rest of the way down the short slope.

She fetch up on the bottom in absolute darkness, having dropped her flashlight in the fall. Hands stinging, a twinge of sharp pain in her leg, Kathy rose to her hands and knees, an inarticulate sound of frustration on her lips. The pain was almost irrelevant: it was the fear and sense of urgency that gnawed at her and filled her mind as she frantically felt about for the flashlight with trembling hands.

“Come on, come on, where are you?” she muttered furiously.

Finally her searching fingers brushed against the smooth plastic handle and she seized it with an exclamation of thanks and flicked it on.

Nothing happened.

“No. No, no, no, no….”

Again and again she turned the switch from off to on, on to off. She tightened the cap and tried again. Nothing. It was broken.

With a furious, incoherent scream of despair, she threw the useless thing into the night. For a moment, she knelt in the pouring rain, hugging herself and shivering violently as she turned her head this way and that, scanning the solid night. It was almost completely dark, with nothing but the faint hint of deeper shadows to mark the trees. The steady tinnitus of the driving rain made her nearly as deaf as she was blind. If anyone was in the woods tonight, she would neither see nor hear them….

That means they won’t see or hear you either, she told herself. And why would anyone be out there tonight, unless they’re as stupid as you are? Get a grip, Kathy! The road can’t be too far off.

But for a while she stayed where she was, trying to muster the courage to press on into the darkness. Each breath seemed to catch in her throat, and every sound above the pattering of the rain made her jump.

Lightning flashed across the forest once again, sending coal-black shadows chasing behind trees. Kathy saw that she was still on the path, still going – she hoped – the right way.

With a burst of effort, she rose to her feet and began walking blind, hands outstretched, sweeping the ground before her with her feet. Every passing branch, every tree trunk that met her searching fingers made her flinch, but she kept going. There was nothing else to do.

Then, after what felt like hours, she saw light through the trees. Abandoning the path, she plunged through the trees, making straight for it, pushing her way though the wet branches. Cold water splashed up past the top of her boots from puddles that had formed from hollows between trees, and more than once she found herself caught up on bushes and branches and had to find another way through.

At last, though, the trees abruptly thinned on either side and Kathy found herself struggling up a steep bank beneath the faded glow of a street light veiled by the rain. She paused at the top, breathing hard and feeling relief flooding through her. She had found the road!

She set off walking as quick as she could with her hurt leg, but with more control now than when she had fled through the forest. No sense wearing herself out if she had to do this all the way home. Intermittent streetlights cast a ghostly sheen over the road, glittering against the infinity of raindrops that continued to pound down around her and glistening against the asphalt as if it were newly laid with tar..

After a few minutes, Kathy rounded a curve and with an exclamation of thanks beheld the neon glare of a gas station. The light in the little store was still on, harsh against the darkness and she fairly ran the rest of the way.

There were no cars at the pumps, and no one inside but the clerk, who was bending over a magazine on the counter. He looked up and started as she came in, dripping wet, covered in mud, and breathing hard, her face red with exertion.

“Jesus, are you okay?” he exclaimed.

Kathy almost laughed.

“I’ve had a rough night,” she said. “Do you have a phone I can use?”

He pointed silently to the public telephone that stood in a corner before the front window. Heart still hammering, but feeling the first pangs of relaxing nerves, Kathy dialed the listed number for a cab company with trembling fingers.

A half-hour later, Kathy stumbled into her apartment, exhausted, drenched, and filthy. Her hands were scrapped and raw, and her knee hurt rather badly from when she had fallen and from having walked on it for so longer after, but that didn’t seem to matter much compared with the relief of being home at last. She immediately went into the bathroom and took a long, hot shower. As she stepped out of it and into her pajamas, part of her wanted to go to bed immediately. Another part wanted to get the really stinging email that she meant to send to Cheryl off right now before she had a chance to cool off.

She wavered a moment, but in the end she decided that she would sleep better once she’d vented some of the anger that was searing in her chest. Now that she was through and her fears were over, Kathy felt a proportional degree of fury, made all the stronger for being mingled with shame at her panic of earlier. Really, how childish she’d been to lose her head like that.

She sat down at her desk, booted up her computer, and opened her email, her mind sifting through the many possibilities for verbally punishing her sister for this debacle.

But when she opened her email, she found a new message waiting for her. A message sent from her own account. Without thinking, she clicked it.

The email showed a large photo, somewhat blurry from the rain. A photo shot looking in through the gas station window. It showed herself on the pay phone leaning against the wall, looking absently out the window at the darkness while she waited for an answer, her soaking wet brown hair hanging limp about her flushed, tired face. Beneath the photo was a message.

See you soon, Kathy.

Friday Flotsam: Fan-Art with Commentary

I started doing some more substantial entries, but I was tired after a long week and didn’t have the energy for it. So, since I don’t feel like talking about religion, philosophy, and such today, the next logical subject is My Little Pony fan-art.

I made these a long time ago and have been meaning to share them. The idea was to Gimp up images of what the mane cast and a few others might look like in live action (and as humans). Presented with commentary.

(I didn’t try to do Spike or the CMC because I was kind of uncomfortable searching for child or adolescent models. Thought it might put me on a watchlist of some kind)

1. Twilight Sparkle

Still pretty pleased with this one, though in retrospect it might have been better to give her glasses. But on the other hand, I think the model captures the reserved, intelligent, slightly-awkward look well enough that she doesn’t really need them.

Biggest problem was that she was wearing a necklace in the original photo, which would have been a disaster to try to remove, so I made it into an Equestrian Crest medallion. Not something I can recall Twilight ever wearing in the show, but it fits her character. Beyond that, it was just a matter of changing some colors, adding in the cutie mark (which I made custom and didn’t pull from a screenshot) and putting her in a library setting. I think I might have also added in the bangs. Owlowicious fills out the scene.

Really, in terms of the style of face and expression, this is pretty much exactly how I picture Twilight.

2. Fluttershy

Fluttershy was actually the first one I did and this photo was the inspiration for the series. Something about the model’s face, pose, and environment made me think ‘Fluttershy!’ So I did a few tweaks to make her fit more and the whole thing snowballed.

Still pretty pleased with this. It helps that she was one of the easier ones, since she’s the only one who didn’t need to be pasted into a new environment. All that was really necessary was to change her hair and dress color, make the hair longer (not that it was short to begin with, just that Fluttershy’s hair is very long), and add in the cutie mark. Then I decided to stick Angel Bunny in there with her, just to add more interest to the scene.

By the way, it’s surprisingly easy to extend hair in Gimp / photoshop. Though it doesn’t always turn out this well as we’ll see in a little bit….

3. Rarity

I think Rarity turned out one of the best of the bunch overall (which is good, since she’s my favorite character). The model had pretty much the exact pose, look, and expression that I wanted, and, of course Rarity’s one of the few whose coat color is likely to be already being worn, so no need to change the dress at all. Again, I changed the hair color and added some length (Rarity’s hair is even longer than Fluttershy’s), added the Cutie Mark and stuck Opal in (with a nice reflection to boot).

Only thing is that I kind of wish I had her in a more opulent environment. This one’s a little bare. Oh, well.

4. Applejack

Applejack was another fairly easy one, once I found a suitable model (“Cowgirl model” was at least a meaningful search term). She mercifully has an actually natural hair color! Changing her shirt color was a pain, however, as was positioning her against the fence. As I remember, the model was originally leaning on something else: I think maybe a metal gate leading into a barn. I wanted her in an apple orchard, of course, so first I had to put the fence in, then the model, and then there was a good deal of shifting and adjusting to make them both sit naturally in the scene, then drawing in the shadows (which, now that I look at it, are still off: I didn’t take good account of the direction of the light).

On second thought, I take back what I said about her being an easy one.

Still, all in all, I think she turned out pretty well.

5. Pinkie Pie

Hoo boy, Pinkie was a nightmare!

She’s the only one who’s a composite figure. After a lot of searching, I finally found an excellent image of a laughing redhead…except that it was a portrait and I needed the whole body (and why do so many models pose with that same blank, neutral expression? And if they are smiling, it’s usually an arch, knowing smile of the kind that Pinkie would never use in her life!). So I found another picture of a model sitting on a counter (which worked with the pastry shop background) and stuck the head of the one on the body of the other.

Blending the hair in was extremely difficult, especially since the body model had locks running down her front, and very loose locks too, with a lot of stray individual hairs. It took a lot of work and I eventually gave up trying to color correct those and just covered them up by making the head model’s hair extra long and bushy. The result looks pretty flat and smudged, and you can still see some of the body model’s hairs sticking out.

And to top it all off, Gummy looks really awkward and I forgot to give him a shadow.

(She then caused more trouble just now by stubbornly refusing to upload for a long time).

Oh, well, at least the face is still good.

6. Rainbow Dash

I have mixed feelings about this one. I think the model was a good choice: she’s got a nicely focused, confident look to her that fits Rainbow Dash. But I don’t like the environment. My thought was that her setting was the sky, so I should have as big a sky as possible, but in hindsight I should have put her in a stadium or on an athletic field. It looks too empty and bare like this. Also, Tank is pretty wonky here; he looks like he’s about to fly into her.

Though I think her hair turned out remarkably well, considering how complicated it is. And her cutie mark looks pretty good too, despite having to be assembled almost from scratch.

7. Starlight Glimmer

This is another one that I think turned out almost perfectly. The model’s expression, pose, and whole look seems just right to me! Though I could have done a better job on her stripe….

Still, really pleased with this one.

8. Sunset Shimmer

This is the one I’m least satisfied with. The model’s got a suitable look, and I like the leather jacket, and the fact that I put her Cutie Mark on her chest rather than her hip (reflecting the fact that she’s the only one who spends most of her screen time as a human).

But her shirt looks awful (changing the color when there’s a big dark shadow on part of it is a nightmare) and the image resolution on the model is much too low: I should have found a bigger picture to work with. Oh, and the environment is hideous, and while that fits for a public high school, I don’t like it in my pictures. Should have tried to find one that was at least moderately photogenic.

9. Trixie

So, with Trixie I learned that making hair actually white is all-but impossible. Or at least, it requires a more advanced technique than the ‘desaturate and fill’ one I was using. I remember being really unsatisfied with her when I was done, but looking at her now I don’t think so anymore. Her hair is still off, but it’s got a decently silvery look (though it’s really ugly at the tip), and the model has an excellently smug and mischievous expression. Call this one better than I remember.

10. Derpy

Last but not least, we have darling Derpy. She’s the only one I actually looked for a specific actress for: Rose McIver from I Zombie, whom I’d seen screenshots of and thought to have exactly the right faded-blonde, slightly ditzy look that Derpy needed. So I hunted up a suitably bewildered-looking photo of her (from a Lifetime movie called ‘Petals on the Wind‘ of all things), then I greyed down her clothes, crossed her eyes, and put her in a post office. Presto! Everyone’s favorite animation-error-turned-running-gag!

Batman: The Terror pt 3. The Final Night

The final installment of The Terror is now up at fanfiction.net!

Terror lays thick over Gotham. As another night falls, Batman vows that the killings will end before dawn. But who among the dwindling population of supervillains is the murderer? Is it perhaps the Riddler, who claims to know all? Or the Joker, orchestrating events from the shadows? Or is it someone else: someone Batman is loathe to even suspect?

Read the thrilling final chapter here!

Read Part Two here

And Read Part One here

Batman: The Terror pt. 2: The Second Night

Part Two of The Terror is now up at Fanfiction.net! And just in time for Halloween, too.

Night falls again over Gotham and the Terror continues. One by one, the rogues of Gotham fall, each death more brutal than the last, yet each suited to their crimes. Meanwhile, Batman races to try to uncover the truth behind the killings before it’s too late. But as the body count rises, the mystery only deepens.

Read the startling second installment here.

And if you missed it, Part One can be read here.

Stay tuned next week for the conclusion.

Batman: The Terror pt. 1: The First Night

Just up at Fanfiction.net:

It seemed a night like any other in Gotham City, when word reached Batman of a death: one of the city’s rogues found brutally murdered. Then comes word of another. And another. A new terror is stalking Gotham, preying upon the city’s supervillains. But who is it? And what do they want?

Read the thrilling first installment here.

Parts Two and Three to follow.

Adventure Stories for Young Readers or I Have Been Negligent

Alas, in the hurry and burry of moving I missed that another anthology was published with me in it!

Please help rectify my mistake and immediately go purchase a copy of Adventure Stories for Young Readers

Quoth the Blurb: These tales of family, discovery, and virtue bring the thrills back to reading. Derring-do, hope, and excitement all come together in each author’s take on what it means to have an adventure. From science fiction to fantasy, explore worlds with stories!

My own story, Fate of a Rider serves as the final entry, telling the tale of a boy whose only dream was to be one of the chosen few who ride upon great monstrous beasts to defend their island home. But when he comes to receive his mount, he finds it is a small, underpowered, and seemingly useless creature. Is he doomed to a life of obscurity and menial toil? Or does fate hold something greater in store for him and his companion?

But that’s just one of eleven stories of excitement and adventure by talented authors. Pick it up today and see what adventures are in store!

Kaiju Appreciations; Dagahra

Managed to get another appreciation video up. This one is for Dagahra, the villainous sea dragon of Rebirth of Mothra II, the second film of the Mothra trilogy from the late 1990s.

Dagahra’s story is that he was created by an ancient civilization called Nilai Kinai to clean up the pollution they had put into the oceans. But instead Dagahra went mad and began producing ‘Barems’, toxic starfish-like creatures that consumed the oceans in an effort to destroy everything that polluted the seas. He was subdued, but is awakened in the modern day by human pollution, where he clashes with Leo, the son of Mothra (who is the main star of the three films).

(As a side note, in my head I like to imagine that the Mothra trilogy is in fact in continuity with the Heisei Godzilla films, so that Leo’s mother is the same Mothra that fought Godzilla in Godzilla vs. Mothra. Consequently, I like to imagine that Battra is his father)

Now, when I did my Kamacuras appreciation I said that I didn’t think there was such a thing as a Toho kaiju without personality, but…well, Dagahra might just be an exception. He’s really not very interesting, despite a cool design; just another rampaging monster for Leo to fight in a series of extremely repetitive and largely dull battles that mostly consist of them shooting animated beams at each other with little effect. The idea of him having gone mad in the past from being corrupted by the very task he was created to perform is sort of interesting (and served as the basis for my song choice), but nothing is really done with it. It’s just an excuse for him to be there.

Honestly, the second Mothra film is pretty bad: possibly the worst kaiju film Toho produced in the 90s (the first one isn’t very good either, but at least has some emotional charge with the death of Mothra as she gives her life for her son and has a pretty cool villain in Death Ghidorah: a twisted clone of King Ghidorah). The child stars are extremely annoying (though I found out the girl actually went on to a pretty successful career) and the anti-pollution message is as subtle and artfully done as a meteor. The pseudo-Indiana Jones action that fills out the non-monster scenes is pretty awful, and it doesn’t help that Dagahra’s backstory is an almost exact copy of the Gyaos from Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, which is one of the better kaiju films of that era, not to mention being simultaneously very similar to Battra’s from Godzilla vs. Mothra, both of whom are much more interesting characters (hence why Battra has become a staple of the Godzilla roster while most people forget Dagahra even exists).

For the song I went with The Hate in Me, initially just because I’d been meaning to use that for someone and I figured it was fitting enough to work (I really just wanted to get Dagahra over with; his video was a real chore due to how repetitive the monster scenes in that film tend to be). But in retrospect I’m pretty pleased with it: taking his backstory into account it feels like he’s calling out both Leo and the Nilai Kinai people for creating him and then not letting him do his job as he understands it. The line “There’s no apology for your hypocrisy” feels to me as though he’s calling Leo out for simultaneously pretending to defend the Earth while protecting the very people who destroy it. Likewise “You made me what I am.”

Overall, despite the struggles, I’m pretty pleased with how this one turned out. Enjoy!