This is the story I entered into the Iron Pen
competition at Furry Migration this year. It was good enough for a third place finish - which was higher than I was expecting, given the dark tone of the story. People tend to prefer stories with a lighter, more humorous tone so I knew I was going out on a limb by entering this one.
If I'd had longer to work on this story, there are a few things I'd have changed. I'd initially given the narrator a quirk of speech, which lapsed as the story progressed. I went back after after and tried to undo the quirks, but I missed a couple here and there, which is why there are some odd turns of phrase in the story.
I also think I was too ambitious with this story, and tried to fit too much into the 1000-word limit. Also, the story had to use the "the finish line" thematically at some point, and received bonus points for including migration, and creatures native to Minnesota.
We lumbered into the wayhouse in a cloud of bovine sweat, flies and oxen farts. I’d have pushed through, given my druthers, but the beasts were fighting me every step and I knew we’d have to spend the night. It hurt to stop here, so close to my goal, like stopping to retie your shoe with one toe on the finish line, but weren’t nothing for it if the beasts wouldn’t budge further.
Before I left Washton, I bartered away a nice van for this pair of grumpy oxen and an old U-Haul trailer with yokes attached. I named the pair Steak and Chops, and I planned to eat them once I got where I was going. The low roads were no place for a fancy van; nothing here but mud and ruts and nowhere to charge. And I couldn’t take the Electroway; once you get on the Electroway and log your trip, they know who and where you are. The low roads are where bad wolves like me go to disappear. For reasons.
When I entered the wayhouse, the old badger who ran the house ran her eyes over me judgementally, but took my money and barked at me togo sit with the other guests if I wanted to eat. The other “guests” was just a young, clean-cut moose who looked awkwardly out of place. I knew I’d have to watch this one; good men don’t travel the low roads.
I sat a table away from him and pretended he didn’t exist until he broke the silence.
“Which way?” was all he said.
It was none of his business, but I didn’t want to be rude. “Minnesota,”I said.
“Coming from Washton?” he asked in a way I think he hoped made him sound casual.
“Bad stuff going down there, ya.” He said. “I come from Minnesota originally. Had family there until … you know.”
“Ya,” I replied. “That’s rough. Sorry.”
We were both quiet then until the server lass brought us bowls of watery vegetable stew and bread. I dipped my bread in the broth, and then offered the rest of the stew to the moose who gratefully took it.
“Minnesota,” he said again. “It’s a shame, you stopping the night here when you are so close to the finish line.”
“Ya,” I said. “Leastwise ‘til they move the line again, like they did in Washton.”
“You’re taking quite a load with you,” said the moose. “You moving all your stuff with you?”
“As much as I could put in that trailer, ya” I said cautiously. “I’m migrating, as it were.” It was packed with more medical tech than his life was worth, and I’d rather he glean no hint of that. I didn’t much like needless bloodshed. I took my pardon and retired to my room before he could ask any more awkward questions.
As soon as I got to my room, I slapped a topical stim pad into the bare patch under my armpit and quickly assembled my gun. As I settled into a chair by the window, I grimaced as I felt my heart begin to pound painfully in my chest. Each time you used one of these pads it took a year off your life. I should know, I’m a doctor. Mind you, every year medical science added another five, so at some point it had to balance.
The sun had just set when I saw the moose emerge from the wayhouse with another moose who was a bit shorter and rounder than him. As I feared, I saw them look around before making a beeline toward my trailer. I cracked the window and rested the muzzle of the gun in the opening so that I could get a clear bead if I needed it. I swivelled my ears to try and pick out their words, but they were talking in hushed tones, and I could only pick out key words. “…Washton…Minnesota…heathen…”
Aw fudge it, they were part of that crowd. They were probably on their way to Washton to join the crusade. “Don’t touch my trailer, boys,” I thought. I peered through the gun’s electronic sight and focused it on the back of the taller moose’s head. “Please don’t touch my trailer.”
I didn’t see what I did as wrong, and neither did the folks in Minnesota. Yet. I delivered happiness. I gave people what they want. A beaver boy wanted to be a fox. He had the desire, he had the money, I made him a fox. His folks didn’t take too kindly to that. If God had wanted their boy to be a fox, He’d have made him a fox. It’s also kind of illegal to change up species in Washton, but that just makes it more profitable. It was a don’t ask,don’t tell line of work.
The kid buckled under pressure and told, so now I’m migrating east.
“Please don’t touch my trailer!”
I couldn’t catch what the two moose were saying, but they laughed a couple of times then lit up a cigarette of some kind that they passed back and forth as they walked back to the wayhouse. I lowered the gun and slid back from the window lest they look up. It looked like a win-win night. I got to keep my trailer unmolested, and they got to keep their brains in their craniums.
I spent the rest of the night watching over my trailer and gathered up my oxen for the road again at first light. As far as I know the moose men were still sleeping when I left.
The oxen grumbled and moved with contemptuous recalcitrance when I tried to coax them up to speed. I tried to encourage the larger one with the crop, but that just elicited its first fart of the day.
“So help me, I’m going to cook you first,” I scowled. “I hope you taste better than you smell.”
Fortunately, it turned out that he did.
- Tags:mnfm2018, story
- Music:The Beatles - Within You Without You
The story I entered in this year's Iron Pen competition as MnFm is q bit of a departure from my usual work. I don't expect it to perform well, but I really can't say too much about it here until it officially loses.
I actually had an idea for a shorter, sillier one first.
Which I've written here so that the idea does not go to waste.
The Big Race
It seemed for the moment that they were at an impasse. The young moose stood with a wheel clutched in his beefy hands, holding it close to his chest while its three aluminium spokes sparkled in the sunlight. The young fox, on the other hand, was sitting in the now-hobbled go-cart with his arms crossed over his chest, a glower on his little pointy face as his eyes darted between the wheel and the big, sad moose eyes of his friend.
"Well this just great," said the fox sourly. "We not even make the start line, let alone the finish line."
"I can fix," said the moose defensively. "Wheel can be put back on!"
"Wheel shouldn't fall off! What if we was on hill? What about other wheels; they gonna fall off too?"
The wheel in question was the rear-left wheel of a wood-framed go-cart that bore the visible hallmarks of a vehicle lovingly built by two inexperienced young friends over the course of the spring in preparation for the big mid-summer race.
The self-same go-cart now sat astride three lanes where the moose had been pushing it to the start line while the fox steered. In addition to blocking three lanes, the go-cart was also sitting with its rear-left axle on the ground, it's front-right wheel in the air, and an angry young fox stubbornly sitting with little orange arms crossed and green eyes burning into his friend.
"It just cotter pin," said the moose. He waggled the selfsame pin that he had pinched between the index finger and thumb of the hand he had poked between the spokes of the wheel he was holding. The moose had been patient until now, but he was clearly starting to lose patience with the fox. "I fix wheel. You get out and hold cart!"
"Not gonna," retorted the fox. "This cart garbage. What we thinking?"
One of the racing officials who had been watching the exchange with some bemusement finally stepped forward to intervene.
"I'm afraid you two going to have to come to agreement and either fix cart, or move cart, or fix and move cart," the badger counted off options on his stubby fingers as he said then. "Or move and then fix cart. Can't leave it there. It blocking lanes between other racers and finish line."
"Agh! Fine!" scowled the fox. He uncrossed his arms and scampered out of the awkwardly-sitting cart. With the help of the badger, he managed to hold the corner of the cart up and keep it from rolling away while the moose rocked and shoved the wheel back over the tapered end of the axle. Once he had the wheel back in place, he pushed the cotter pin back through the hole and bent its ends around with a small multi-tool he pulled from his pocket.
The fox and badger lowered the corner of the cart back to the ground, and the badger held it from rolling away until the fox could climb back in and pull a brake lever. This time the wheel stayed attached while the moose pushed, and the fox steered the cart up against the starting block.
"OK, I think we good," said the moose, nodding to the racing official. He gave the wheel a kick to ensure it remained tight, then climbed up into the seat beside the fox. While the last two racers wheeled their carts into place, the fox and moose donned their racing goggles and started their pre-race check.
"Left brake lever works," said the moose. He gave it a solid tug and felt it grip.
"Steering wheel ain't fall off yet," said the fox glumly.
"Right brake lever works," said the moose, pointedly ignoring the fox's pessimistic report.
"Boys and girls, on your marks!" called the master of the race.
"We gonna die," said the fox matter-of-factly.
"We gonna win!" countered the moose. "Practically already at finish line."
"Die," said the fox plaintively.
"Go!" shouted the master of the race. The badger and his counterpart on the other end of the start line pulled their ropes to remove the start blocks and the carts began to roll.
I received an email from our Employee Services group on Friday, and it was only by dumb luck that I actually saw it. I was entering the payroill codes and hours that our Project Manager had sent me for all my project work this month, and rather than filing it in the usual "everything that lands in my inbox" PST folder, I decided to file it into a more specific folder for payroll-related things. As I was filing it, I noticed that the folder I was putting it in was flagged as having unread messages. That folder should hot have any unread email because it is literally where manually I file my pay stubs, and emails tangentially related to them after I've read them. Either I had been filing things there in my sleep, or (more likely) Outlook was auto-filing things there. Since I have no scripts set up for filing things to that folder, that struck me as odd.
When I peeked into the folder, I discovered that Outlook has been auto-filing any correspondence from Employee Services into that folder. How ... helpful.
The one that caught my eye was a note that had come in earlier in the afternoon addressed to me and my manager, asking, "Why are you still working?" They were very concerned because my retirement date is set for September 1, and at this point I should be sitting at home using up the rest of my vacation time. The fact that I was still at work was causing their system to kick errors."
I sent back a polite, slightly puzzled reply saying, "I m still at work because I agreed to extend my retirement date to January 1st at the request of my manager."
They did not take that answer with a lot of grace, sending back a panicky email that copied in Pension Services saying that I needed to advise them of such changes because both they and the pension department needed to change the dates and fill out the appropriate forms.
I sent an instant message to the author of the email saying, "You should probably talk to [senior department member] when she comes in on Monday because she is the one who handled this back in early/mid July, and both she and the pension group confirmed that everything was updated to show my last day as January 1, 2019."
He replied with an exasperated, "LOL". It turns out that she was the one who raised the alarm, and was panicking over the fact that I was still working, when I should already be on pre-retirement vacation.
If they want to kick me out early with a full pension, I am not going to argue that hard. My department would find themselves in a rough spot since they had planned on me being around until the new year, but I'll happily take money for sitting at home.
- Music:Current 93 - All the Pretty Little Horsies
I've had "update LJ/DW" on my to-do list since the start of July, but I am both busy and lazy.
I think the last time I posted about it here, the plan was for me to retire on the first of September, so by that schedule I would have been in my pre-retirement vacation time by now.
After much wheedling, negotiating and shameless begging, my director convinced me to stay until the end of the year. On the one hand it would have been nice to start my retirement while it was still summer, but there is a benefit to completing a full year. Even if I don't (and I won't) get a decent bonus this year, the pay raise I got at the start will make this my highest-paid year with the company, and will have a direct impact on my pension (which is based on best-five years).atara
's computer blew up the day before her birthday. When I say it blew up
, what I mean is that it went to sleep and never woke up. A mushroom cloud of blue smoke out the top would have been a more satisfying way for it to end, but I guess it decided it was time. That computer had a spotty start, and a bit of mid-life trouble as well, so I am surprised that it lasted for as many years as it did. When I was building it, I let some of the blue smoke out of the motherboard when I accidentally plugged her CPU cooler into one of the USB receptacles (seriously guys, why would you make the plugs the same?). Fortunately she had enough working USB plugs remaining for all external ports, and other than that one presumably no longer working, the machine seemed otherwise fine (other than smelling bad for the first week or so).
Her water pump malfunctioned a couple of weeks shy of its warranty period. Her machine had begun behaving erratically, and occasionally blue-screening for no reason. All of her fans were working, and the water cooler was clearly running, but the behaviour really gave the vibe of a CPU that was overheating. I had her install a program to display the core temperatures, and then I immediately shut off the computer because the CPU's temperature gauge was cranked up to 11. I removed the cooler, cleaned off all the old thermal grease (it looked fine to me) and reapplied a fresh layer. When we fired it back up, the water pump audibly fired up, and the computer overheated again the moment she tried to do anything that stressed it.
We took it in for repairs, and the tech immediately identified that the pump had gone bad based on the sound. Fortunately it still had a few days left on its warranty period, so he replaced it with the closest match they had in stock and it worked fine ever after.
I suspect that my questionable build job, and the overheating took their toll on the machine. The day before her birthday, it refused to wake up from sleep. The status number that the motherboard displayed suggested that it was a memory issue, but no amount of removing/replacing/rearranging the sticks had any effect. The computer simply got itself into a cycle of power-up-down-up-down, displaying the same error most of the time. A few on-line resources suggested that under powering the motherboard could cause that error as well, so we got a new power supply and tried that, but other than half-booting into Windows before blue-screening and lapsing back into the power up-down-up cycle, we saw no appreciable difference.
My suspicion is that the CPU went bad after enduring abuse over the years.
We hadn't really planned on getting atara
anything fancy for her birthday, but in the end she got a new computer for her birthday. We drove down to our favourite computer repository, ordered all of the parts, and then paid them to assemble it for us.
And then because I am not one to leave well-enough alone, I decided that I maybe it was time to break my own computer.
The first thing I did was scavenge the memory out of atara
's old computer. It won't work in her new one, but it was compatible with mine. It's not the same brand as the memory that I have, but it's the same style and clock speed, so I assumed it would probably work. It did. I figured that while I was doing that, I should probably check on a few other computer issues. I checked the state of all my drivers, removed a few pointless things from the auto-start list, and did some general clean-up. Finally I checked the version of my BIOS...
... and discovered that it was still running on the original version that came with the motherboard back in 2012. I checked with ASUS and discovered that there had been a few dozen revisions over the next couple of years to address a number of issues. I am always a bit nervous about flashing the BIOS, but I've never had it go wrong so I decided to play the odds. I downloaded the most recent stable version, copied it to a USB stick, booted up into the BIOS and followed the instructions from there.
They had repeated warnings as I went along. "Are you sure you want to do this?" "Are you REALLY
sure you want to do this?" -- Yes, it actually did that. Naturally I said "Yes" to all prompts, and then things went south from there. It spent a couple of minutes copying up the new BIOS from the USB and then restarted.
That is, it tried
to restart, but what it did was come up with a blank screen and sit there with no activity. No lights, no fans, no activity. I left it for a minute or two until I was pretty sure it was genuinely not responding and then I did a forced re-start. Again, it just sat there with no activity. I wondered if maybe it was having a problem with the default monitor, so I swapped plugs with no effect.
On a whim, I powered it down and then unplugged it from the power for a few seconds. When I plugged it back in, it started the power-up process and then finally displayed a message on the main monitor that it was now flashing the BIOS, and that I was strongly advised not to shut it off during that process. I guess a hard power cycle was what it had needed all along.
The fact that I am typing this from that computer lets you know that I got it working again. In fact, at the moment it's working like new. Maybe it's just my imagination, but between the added memory and the new BIOS, it seems more responsive than ever.
- Music:Sandbox - Curious
I set myself a reminder on my phone when I was at work today and then forgot about it because i was very busy. It was one of those, "OK Google, remind me of X when I get home" styles, so when I got out of the car and wandered back to inspect the garden, my phone gave me a polite, "Hey, you appear to be home now, and you set yourself a reminder" alarms.
I did not bother to check the reminder because as soon as it went off, I remembered that I had set one, and also that I was down to my last two coffee pods at work. That's the kind of thing I would set a reminder for. I have a new box of them at home, so I hung the grocery bag with the coffee pods over top of my backpack as a reminder in the morning.
I was just doing dishes prior to going to bed this evening, and as I was drying one of the forks, I suddenly remembered why I had set the reminder; I had forgotten to put the cutlery back in my backpack after we returned from vacation. I'd been forced to eat my salad and yoghurt with a plastic knife I'd found in our break room at the office. Initially I was going to let the dishes slide because there were only a few, but fortunately my conscience got the better of me.
And that's why you should always do your chores, kids.
That, or at least check your bloody reminders when they go off.
Crows or ravens have been wreaking havoc with my peppers this year, and to a lesser extent, atara
's sugar snaps. I had to resort to covering the pepper plants with protective covers until I could come up with a more permanent plan.
One of the covers blew off during the night on Thursday, and when I checked my plants Friday morning, I found one of them snapped clean off 1/4 above the soil.
I took some defensive action today, and stopped by Canadian Tire to pick up some marigolds, and a replacement pepper for the one that had snapped off. It was one of the bigger peppers they had snapped off, and while there was a very small chance it could have pulled a Lazarus on me, I wasn't holding out much hope.
I don't know what kind of pepper I bought as a replacement. It was in with the jalapenos, and it looked like a jalapeno, but when I got up to the till, it had no tag, and they ran it in as a Yolo. I am hoping they are wrong.
I planted the replacement pepper, and planted the marigolds in an assortment of pots that I placed in strategic protective areas. The idea of the marigolds is that the ravens seem to prefer those to the other plants, so they will pick those and leave the others alone. Marigolds produce flowers by the bunches, so it really doesn't hurt them if ravens pick their flowers.
I'd have preferred to just put up a few raven heads on spikes around the garden as a warning, but they are oily little bastards and hard to catch.
Once I had the new pepper and sentries planted, I set to weeding the existing pots. I used some of the soil that atara
had bought for her raised beds - which we later learned was riddled with grass seed, so I had grass vying with my little pepper plants for space in the pots.
As I was weeding the first pot, I was merrily ripping out grass and mulling on how it had gotten so thick, it was completely obscuring the pepper. Then I paused, and discovered the reason I could not see the pepper was because it was lying in the pile of grass I had torn out.
Most of its roots seemed to be intact, so I cleared out the rest of the grass and weeds, dug it a new hole, and jammed it back in where it belonged with a fresh helping of bone and blood meal. I shook a finger at it sternly and said, "You just think about what you did!"
Peppers have never struck me as the brights of the plants, so I figured there was nothing lost in trying to convince it that it was the master of its own misfortune rather than the victim of me murdering it through blithe incompetence.
As soon as I let go of it, it doubled over like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, burdened down by the sheer weight of its lone flower bud. I watered all of the pots, replaced the protective covers and hoped for the best.
I wandered over to check on it while I was grilling dinner, and it had fallen over completely by then. It was pressed flat to the ground with its little limbs and leaves akimbo, and if peppers had tongues, its would have been lolled dramatically to the side. It looked quite dead.
I guess to quote Monty Python, it wasn't _quite_ dead yet. I checked on it a few minutes ago as I was covering the grill for the evening, and the pepper was standing proud as if its day had never been interrupted. I guess my little lecture worked after all.
Now if the marigolds do their job, we may yet get a crop of peppers from my little garden.
- Music:Todd Hunter and The Tourists - Jumping Off The Bridge
I was not doing anything unusual this evening - in this case sitting back holding a cat on my chest with my feet resting on top of my computer case while I watched a video.
About midway through the Video, atara
began complaining that she smelled something burning, and after sniffing around the room, she declared that it smelled the strongest right by my computer. Just as she said that, the sound cut out on the video I was watching. It was pure coincidence, but to be safe, I put down the cat and leaned over to sniff by my computer. There was definitely a burning smell in the area of my tower. It smelled more like burning toast than burning components, but to be safe I decided to shut it down and have a look inside.
Everything seemed in order, though it was a little dusty inside. I last cleaned it about a year-and-a-half ago, so I figured it was probably due again anyway.
I am happy to report that my computer is much cleaner now, runs quieter again (the radiator for the water cooler was plugged up a bit with dust), and everything is working perfectly.
The smell, it turns out, was blowing in from outside. I've been meaning to clean it for awhile now, so somebody's neglect for their toast had a net positive effect.
I saw an article today a recent poll of Canada's most admired brands
, and somebody noted that Tim Hortons had fallen from 4th last year to 50th this year.
Given the steady decline of quality in their produces over time, I am surprised that they were that high as recently as last year. It took them crapping all over their employees in Ontario after the province raised the minimum wage for people to finally start waking up to the fact that it's just not a good brand any more.
I know that some claim it's trendy to hate on Tim's these days, but for me it's been a "frog in the blender" kind of thing ... or wait, maybe I'm thinking of a frog in a pot of water on the stove, or some other kind of frog abuse. Anyway, their product has been in slow decline as they've steadily shaved quality and increased prices over the years. My dislike for Tim's - aside from their cheap, leaky cups, sub-par edibles and crappy coffee - is the fact that I can still remember them when they were pretty good. Not great, but pretty good.atara
and I stopped there a couple of weeks back while were out shopping, and I decided to treat myself to one of their iced cinnamon rolls. When I was working downtown, we stopped at Tim's every morning when we commuted in together, and those were one of the things to which I would treat myself about once a week. While they were not up to the level of decadence you get from an iced, sticky bun you might find in a boutique outlet at a public market, they were nonetheless pretty good. My only complaint with them was that the icing often stuck to the paper sleeve in which they packed them for takeaway.
I tried to manage my expectations based on the substandard quality of the rest of their baked goods (they have all-but de-appled their apple fritters, removed all pretence of actual fruit from their "fruit explosion" muffins, etc). My reasoning was that it is pretty hard to screw up a cinnamon roll. But they did. As I was chewing on the disappointing little spiral of pointless calories, I said to atara
, "I used to really like these things, but if the first one I'd ordered had been like this, I don't think I'd have bought it again." And I shan't. Sadly, this rings true for most of their products these days.
Our guild beat this expansion of WoW, and I decided to celebrate by transmogrifying my gear into something a little more druid-like. That said, I'm told that I have a slightly odd perception of what other consider to be druid-like.
As you can see, I shelved my priest in favour of my druid for this go of it. Our guild is tripping over priests in this expansion, though lately we have become even more overrun by druids. That was not the case when I first swapped toons, but what can I say? Druids are a lot of fun to play this time around.
I keep promising myself that I will stop neglecting LJ/DW, and when I am out, or at work, I am constantly having those "I should post about this
when I get home" moments.
Then when I get home, I post a cryptic tweet about it, or do a tepid, watered-down FB entry about it and move on.
I guess part of the problem is that nothing particularly interesting or newsworthy has been happening lately - at least nothing noteworthy enough to warrant a long-form post here. Sometimes I forget that short posts here can work too.
In seven days I will be in a position to give six-months notice on my intent to retire. I guess I had better start doing some research into that, since there are a lot of things I need to start getting in order. Since I am in the employee share-purchase program, I need to arrange for those shares to be transferred out of the program. I need to figure out how to extend my medical insurance when I retire, and find out what packages are available and how much they cost.
Before anyone asks, our universal coverage up here does not include vision, dental or prescriptions (though it should
in my opinion). I'll still be covered under atara
's insurance, but there is a benefit to having both of us insured. We can claim against one or the other if we start approaching caps, and each covers the other's deductible. Plus, as morbid as it sounds, we need to consider our long-term coverage if something happens to the other.
Is it just my perception, or have on-line recipe sites become really crappy? I can remember when finding a recipe on-line consisted of entering your search criteria, clicking on a promising-looking result, and finding the recipe. There were often brief introductions, such as, "I modified this from my grandmother's recipe, since pickled horse bladders can be hard to buy these days. I have substituted pork bungs, but just about any unappetizing meat product would probably work for this. Hope you and your family 'enjoy' this recipe as much as mine does." Following this would be, well, the recipe.
Now when you click on the results, it takes you to a blog with 5-7 pages of preamble that includes a full biography of everybody in the author's family tree, as well as a treatise on the science and socio-economics of pickled horse bladders, and an ontological justification for using pork bungs as a substitute. We get to read about the author's childhood ambitions, the inner demons s/he are fighting every day, the origins of the dish, its history as it was passed down through the family, and his/her debilitating guilt over modifying the recipe simply because pickled horse bladders are no longer sold rather than, say, raising a horse from a foal with the end goal of harvesting its bladder.
This would not bother me as much if it was interesting reading, but in almost every case, the rambling preamble is just a way to force visitors through several pages of revenue-generating ads before they get to the recipe.
Fortunately, there is a Chrome add-on for this. Somebody posted a link to it in the Instant Pot sub-Reddit after another user bemoaned this trend in recipe sites. The add-on detects when you have visited a recipe site, and it scrapes it for the ingredients and instructions. It pops up a concise summary of the recipe in 1-2 printable pages.
It's not that I don't care about the poster's life history, and the messy side-effects of their botched operation last year, but sometimes I just want the recipe.
- Tags:beans, retirement
- Music:The Alan Parsons Project - If I Could Change Your Mind