Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The biblical justification for Left Behind

Will everyone please stop being so gosh darn shocked about the Truths that saint La Haye and his right holiness Jenkins have given us. It's nothing more nor less than a literal reading of the scripture, people! I forget the exact verse number, but it's the bit that reads:

And Jesus spoke unto the multitude, and he did say "all you who follow me shall go to heaven, so long as you say the sinner's prayer, and say it in at least a heart felt-ish sort of way. After that it's easy street. Sin all you like, it doesn't matter, I've got your back, and it's you and me in paradise forever baby. The exact text of this 'sinner's Prayer' will be made up later, but trust me, you'll recognize it when it comes.

Now I want to be perfectly clear about this here, so nobody can ever say I didn't lay it out literally and clearly: Say the words and it's heaven forever, and the right to start feeling pretty darn smug about all these ninnies here who aren't buying this stuff. I get this wonderfully heart warming feeling of condescending pity whenever I think about them, tortured for all eternity, just wishing they could change what they had said all those millions of years ago when they were still alive, and hadn't yet got to see with their own eyes that Satan is oh so real a person. Look at them all, standing around here, not even breaking a sweat. Well we'll show them, eh. Oh yes, by the love of daddy. You and me, we're way awesomer than that load of imbeciles. 'Course, we'll forgive them if they join up, but they better get with that pronto, because... well, I'm not telling you exactly when the hammer will fall, but trust me, it could come at any time. Like the Spanish Inquisition - heh, that's a joke, people will understand later, trust me on that, too.

But anyway, you the faithful! Oy vey, the rewards I have in stock for you! In fact here's a teeny preview: Three words: 'Steaming', 'piles', 'vegetables'. Except picture those bad boys just dreeenched in butter. Drenched, I'm not even kidding."

And the multitude were pleased. Well, some of it. The only worthwhile bits, lets say.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Doctor in the House: Touchdown at Boeing Field

Michelle found the landing uneventful, if nerve wracking. Her patient didn't crash on her, and the family seemed to be holding up, but she fretted over the fact that she couldn't get an EKG or an accurate blood pressure, and didn't have any of the usual drugs for treatment. There was also the question of whether there would be any more disappearances. Also, she didn't know what to expect on the ground. Would there be transport available? How busy were they likely to be?
To her dismay, she found out almost as soon as they got off the plane. This was  a real chore since Boeing Field wasn't equipped to handle disembarking passengers. Fortunately, the ground crews did have loading platforms for freight that could be co-opted to get the passengers off the plane. They worked although for a sick man, they did not work well. Once they were on the tarmac, she was greeted by one of the on-duty paramedics.
"Um, Dr. Ravenswing? I'm  paramedic Matt Brogan. I understand that you had a medical emergency in flight." He looked exhausted.
Michelle took in the bags under his eyes  and the exaggerated care with which  he moved, then answered, "Yes, we did. And if you'll pardon my saying so, you look like you've been dealing with some  emergencies of your own."
Brogan nodded. "Yeah, that happens when random people disappear, especially if they're operating heavy machinery at the the time." He waved at one of the cargo planes on the apron. Looking carefully, Michelle observed that  a loading platform like the one they used to get the passengers off  her flight had apparently crashed into the landing gear and still had rescue personnel clustered around it. "That's not the only accident, but it's the easiest to point at." He turned his attention to the family  clumped around her. "So, what have you got? Please, let it be simple."
Michelle nodded. "This is John Stasievitch. He's 54 years old with a history of angina...," and she went through the report starting with  the history of his current illness and ending with what she'd done. She added, "If I can borrow some of your equipment, I'd like to get a more detailed exam and maybe start him on some meds."
Brogan told her, "You can't have my primary cuff; I'm using it, but the multi-cuff should do, and the heart monitor is available. As far as drugs go, unless you need lidocaine, I'm out of IV fluids. You can put in a hep lock and run small dose stuff in though, and we can spare one O2 cylinder and mask."
"It'll have to do."  Michelle busied herself with re-examining her patient with assistance from  the paramedic.
In the meantime, Mrs. Stasievitch and and their daughter, Tiffany, plied  a rather bewildered cargo handler with questions about what was going on. Tiffany seemed especially frantic about finding out if anyone had any theories about the disappearances. The cargo handler had no idea, but she did confirm that anyone she'd heard from who had kids was having hysterics. If there was a pattern to the disappearances of  anyone over the age of about 12, nobody she knew had figured it out. She ended up explaining that she was putting in extra work today because nobody she cared for had vanished.
"Heck, only disappearance I care about is an annoying male chauvinist oink of a supervisor. I'm getting a lot more work done without him waving a Bible in my face all the  time. Speaking of work, I really should be getting this luggage to the terminal. Your stuff's tagged properly?" On getting this confirmed, she informed them that airport would hold their luggage for them until they had a chance to come back for it. "You worry about people, not things, 'kay?"
Michelle and Brogan finished up with the patient and turned to the problem of transport. "Unless Mr. Stasievitch looks like he's about to code, you're gonna have to take a civilian chopper to the hospital," Brogan told her. "Medevac's only being used for category one patients, and ground transport just isn't going anywhere."
"No ground transport? Why not?"
"Multi-car pile ups on all the major highways and most of the primary and secondary streets, plus if they can get through, they're being used for local emergencies, like those multi-car pile ups. You have no idea what a mess it is out there."
Michelle sighed. Well, at least a helicopter had the advantage of speed. They loaded everyone onto one of those golf cart like vehicles found at airports everywhere, and Brogan drove them over to the flight school where one of the training helicopters was standing by. Then Michelle and the family all got on board. Just before the helicopter took off, Brogan told her that he'd retrieve the borrowed equipment from the hospital later.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

L.B. in Newport 7: Work

The world was still going crazy over the Event, but that didn't mean I could stay home from work. I'm the overnight desk clerk at a local hotel, and good boy that I am, I reported for work at 11:00 PM, same as usual, in spite of the fact that I had only gotten a couple hours of sleep during the day. According to Maryann, a fellow desk clerk that I was relieving, nine of the people staying with us had their children disappear on them. As you can imagine, they all decided to check out early. The General Manager, a good guy, said that any guests who've lost children won't be charged for their stays.

Maryann also said that the Rooms Division Manager didn't come to work, because his wife (they've been married for about six months) was one of the women who miscarried.

According to Maryann, she spent most of her day contacting all the guests, or leaving them messages asking them to check in with the front desk. She left me a list of seven rooms whose occupants hadn't been heard from, and who thus might (or might not) be among the disappeared. If they were in fact disappearees, we wouldn't know for certain until it was time for them to check out. If their baggage was still in their rooms, then we could be pretty certain they were among the vanished.

There was also a much larger list of people who were due to check in, but hadn't, or hadn't yet. They might be among the disappeared, or they might have died or been injured in traffic accidents, or they might have gone down in one of the pilotless planes, or they might have been left stranded when the government shut down all the airports, or they might have decided to cancel their trips to Newport but not bothered to call and let us know (and who could blame them?).

I spent the first couple of hours the way I usually do, assembling the day's paperwork, going over the receipts from the hotel's restaurant, and entering figures into the computer. None of the people on my long list of no-shows checked in; there were thirty-five altogether. By two in the morning, I had finished all the usual tasks I had to finish. There was a war being waged in my brain between thoughts about the day's horrors and the need to sleep. In theory, of course, I was supposed to stay awake all night, but nobody at the hotel seemed to mind if I caught the occasional cat nap behind the half-closed door to my office. As long as I didn't try to sneak off to one of the hotel rooms and sack out there (as one of my predecessor had once done), I should be all right. I grabbed one of the towels from the hotel laundry, rested my head on it, closed my eyes, and let my mind drift off.

I came out of my cat nap around four in the morning, when the man from the Providence Journal showed up to leave papers for the guests. He had a lot of extras, of course, because a lot of people with reservations hadn't checked in. I was up-to-date on most of the stuff taking place around the world, but I still pounced on the newspaper.

Although Rhode Island is one of the most liberal states in the country, the state's major newspaper is owned by the same people who own the Dallas Morning News, and it shows. (Back when Congress was debating Bush's torture-legalization bill, the Providence Journal ran a revolting editorial in favor of the bill.) Below the headline BILLIONS VANISH was a brief story headlined "Left Behind series coming true?" with somebody from the series' publisher raising the possibility that the Event was actually the Rapture. The story noted that neither of the series' authors had disappeared during the Event. Perhaps not surprisingly, neither one had been willing to comment on anything.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

L.B. in Newport 6: Family

My phone rang while I was reading the paper. I answered it before it could ring again.

It was my mother. She was calling to tell me that she had spent the day visiting my siblings and that yes, one nephew and one niece, both in elementary school, had disappeared. Both families seemed to be coping as well as could be expected. My other brother, a childless Navy lifer stationed in San Diego, was all right, as was his wife. My other sister, the mother of the Coast Guard Academy cadet, hadn't been answering her phone. My mother had driven to her house, and neither she nor her husband were there. My sister's car was in the driveway. My mother had searched the house, and finally found a pile of her clothes draped over a chair facing a computer. She had waited for her son-in-law to come home from work, but he never had. I hadn't shared my Alien Rapture Con Game theory with my mother, but if the Squire of Gothos (or God) had hoovered up all the Left Behind fans, my sister and her husband would have been prime targets.

I got off the phone with my mother, and had returned to the paper, when it rang again. Once again, I answered it before it had a chance to ring again. This time, it was my nephew from the Coast Guard Academy. He had just spent the last half hour trying to call his parents. I passed on what my mother told me. His reaction was, "I think God took them."

"You think it was the Rapture, then?"

"Yeah, I think I do. And I know why I was left behind. It's because I've been so busy here at the Academy. I let myself get caught up, and lost touch with Jesus."

I couldn't really think of an appropriate response to that, so I asked him if any of his fellow cadets had "been Raptured".

"No. After the Rapture, they had a special roll call, and everybody was present and accounted for."

"Well, if you're right, then it sounds like all the other cadets there let themselves get caught up, too."

"Yeah, I guess so." He didn't sound like someone who was overjoyed that God had personally escorted his parents up to heaven. He sounded like a young man who had just lost both parents. He also sounded upset that God hadn't taken him. I couldn't think of anything to say to that, so the conversation stumbled to a close.

So: out of two parents, four siblings, four siblings-in-law, three nephews, and two nieces, one nephew and one niece were definitely gone, and one sibling and one sibling-in-law were probably gone, leaving an orphaned son who was convinced he had earned himself damnation. If I ever got to meet the Squire of Gothos, or God, I'd like to punch his lights out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

L.B. in Newport 5: News

The Newport Daily News was late. Normally, it showed up on our front door around three in the afternoon, but today it didn't appear until six. As soon as I saw the front page, I understood why.

Normally, they put the Daily News to bed around nine in the morning. The Event would have occurred while they were in the process of printing it out and getting ready to ship it to the various newsstands and convenience stores. The Managing Editor had evidently decided to shut down the original print run, gather up as much news of the Event as she could, and put out a delayed edition of the paper. I like to imagine that she ran into the press room and shouted, "Stop the presses!"

So here, in my hands, was the first solid news I had of what had happened here in Newport. I read about the four thousand estimated missing children and the thousand estimated missing adults. I read about the seven crashed vehicles, and the seven vehicles whose passengers had taken control of them when the drivers vanished. I found out that all seven members of the City Council were present and accounted for, along with our state representative, state senator, and all the statewide elected officials. There had also been two crashes by driverless cars in the neighboring town of Middletown, and another one in the town of Portsmouth. There were no official figures for the number of people who had disappeared in the state, but it was estimated that out of about a million people, 150,000 children under twelve had vanished, along with about 40,000 people twelve and above. The accidents on Interstate 95 had been worse than here in Newport, because so many cars had been traveling above 50 mph when their drivers vanished. Nevertheless, the interstates had remained open, though sometimes reduced to one or two lanes.

There was an editorial that basically said that nobody knows what's going on yet, but there was still hope that somebody would figure out a way to get all the missing people back, or that whatever made them vanish might cause them to reappear.

Probably the saddest part of the paper, ironically, was the comics. A lot of the strips had main characters under twelve: "For Better or For Worse", "Baby Blues", "Family Circus", "Sally Forth". Would they be discontinued? Would they pretend the Event hadn't happened and keep all the under-twelve characters? Would they write the Event into their storylines? I could imagine Lynn Johnston, at least, doing the latter.

And if it was true for the comics, it was also true for the rest of popular culture. The Event, I was starting to realize, was going to leave a permanent psychic scar on the human race, even if nothing else bad happened to us. A hundred thousand years from now, assuming humanity survived that long, the Event would still haunt us.

Tales of Woe

Those who are familiar with the discussion threads over at Slacktivist have probably run in to Scott. For those who intend to become familiar or do so accidentally one day after drinking a bit too much scotch and spasmoidically clicking on weblinks, he could use a bit of introduction.

Over on the L.B. Friday threads Scott generally seems like an agreeable sort. He even contributed an entry for Left Behind: The Musical which worked pretty well (I must confess to being overly fond of any song that makes use of the word "regurgitation." And, of course, there's the matter of his stressing the need to use the Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka). Were that Scott's persona on L.B. Fridays the only version we get of him. Alas, 'tis not to be.

The vast majority of the rest of Scott's posts on Slacktivist take the shape of ad hominem attacks against Fred because our dear host seems to like 1.) government and 2.) the idea of helping people. These things don't seem to match up at all with Scott's way of seeing things, so he will often rant about the evils of Compassion(TM) and offer his view of a Libertarian Utopia (Libertopia(R), for those who like portmandeaus or are aware of the new Libertarian-themed amusement park opening in the Azores next year. I wouldn't recommend the roller coaster, though. Or, really, any of the rides that are fast enough to cause permanent damage to a person catapulted out of their seat).

Either way, the attacks are generally vicious and not really attached to anything Fred said by any system of logic with which I am familiar. So I found it necessary to offer a primer on Fred's early relationship with Scott and post it on the latest thread. I have been urged to re-post it here for the sake of posterity and, since I'm a slave to the Compassionate Liberal(TM) Government as proposed by Fred, I can do no other...

Okay, okay. I've got it.

Scott and Fred went to high school together. Fred was the head of the Yearbook committee, class president and coolest guy in the local youth group, which Scott also attended. Cindy Stapleton, the stereotypical girl next door and head cheerleader -- whose nose was just a little too big and who was just a little bit clumsy and ccasionally snorted when she laughed so as to make her seem accessible to even the nerdiest guy -- also attended the same youth group.

Scott grew up two doors down from Cindy and they'd always been friends, but he was afraid to tell her that he'd been in love with her ever since grade school. The idea would occasionally come up in an oblique hint, but she'd always say something like, "But I don't want to ruin our special friendship. It would hurt too much," and gently push him off topic. One night, though, Scott watched every single John Hughes '80s teen angst movie and decided that he just needed some grand, romantic gesture to win her heart for all time.

He spent $430 on D Cell batteries, then walked over to her house with his giant boombox and snuck in to her backyard. It was dark and the light in her room was on. Through the semi-translucent curtain he saw Cindy silhouetted and knew it was now or never. He pressed play and lifted the boombox over his head as Culture Club's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" began playing.

The silhouette moved, startled. Then a second form appeared in the window and threw back the curtains. It was Fred. He laughed at Scott, then told him to leave, Cindy was all his. By Monday morning everyone in the school had learned what happened. Scott was humiliated. Then, to add insult to injury, Fred stole Scott's lunch money and used it to pay some of the school bullies to give him a swirlie.

None of the girls in the school or youth group talked to Scott again. When he graduated he went to a school on the other side of the country, hoping to escape horrible Fred's derisive laughter and mockery forever.

Scott's first semester at college made him quite homesick and he found himself excited at the prospect of returning home. He managed to get his plane tickets moved up a few hours so he could surprise everyone. He was, instead, surprised when he got home and found the house empty. Strange noises were coming from upstairs, so he investigated.

He found Fred and his mother getting it on. In his old bedroom.

Rather than jump and cover herself in shame and alarm, Scott's mom grabbed the first thing she could find and threw it at him, screaming for him to get out (and, I suppose, some other things...). That object was a copy of The Fountainhead. Scott had never bothered to even read the book before, but after that day he read it with passion and fury, seeing the same anger he felt in the words Ayn Rand had left for the world.

Then, upon finishing the book, Scott swore in the name of the sainted Rand to take
his vengeance out on Fred any way he could. And that is what we see before us every time Scott posts on Fred's blog.

Except Left Behind Fridays, when he usually has something funny and interesting to say. I assume this means that Tim LaHaye once killed his dog and Jerry Jenkins regularly breaks in to his house just to poop in his Cheerios, so Scott sees Fred as a common enemy of those who continue to wrong him.

So there you have it. You're now prepared to handle any problems that arise on the Slacktivist threads. Well, except the Thursday Flame Wars. You're on your own there...

The Vigil

Sam had arrived in Green Park not long after midnight, and already there had been hundreds of people there, waiting. Now, nearly five hours later, people were saying that the crowd had spilled out onto the Mall, and into Hyde Park. Apparently, the bods from the BBC had had to send for more speakers, so that the people at the edges would be able to follow what was going on. Five rows from the front, Sam had spent the time watching the camera crews set up and talking to the others around her. She'd had a thermos of hot chocolate, but that was long gone now, and the candle she'd collected at the park's entrance wasn't doing anything to keep her warm.

Similar ceremonies had been taking place all over the world since The Event, and more were being planned, but most of the big ones were planned for right now - exactly seven days after The Event. Of course, pretty much everywhere else in the world it had been a far more civilised hour. Today had been declared a National Day of Mourning, and almost every business had closed down, or was operating on a skeleton staff, so almost everyone here would be able to get some sleep afterwards, at least.

A wave of hush passed over the crowd as the Archbishop of Canterbury stepped onto the stage, flanked by the King and the Prime Minister, their suits sombre and their heads bowed. Sam checked her watch. 5:07. Almost time to begin. The Archbishop opened his mouth and closed it again, and Sam suddenly felt so very sorry for him. The poor man had to say something that would comfort millions of grieving parents; he had to make sense of the most horrible thing that had ever happened. She wanted to cry, not for her own daughter, Zoë, for a change, but for the poor man finding himself in such an impossible position.

"Dear friends, it's been exactly a week since our children vanished," (There had been a handful of adults that disappeared, too, and their friends and communities would have their own vigils, but this ceremony, it had been quietly and tacitly agreed, was to commemorate the loss they all shared.) "And in that week, I've been asked many times 'why would God do this?', and I think the answer to that is clear.

"God is a being of pure love; it is inconceivable to me that He would be so monstrous bring so much pain and misery to so many people by separating all the world's parents from their children. As to why it happened at all, I think all anyone can say is 'we don't know'. Scientists and detectives the world over are searching for an answer to that question, and we can only pray that they can find one. I urge that everyone pray that God finds a way to reunite us with our children; if not in this world, then at least in Heaven."

Sam had never thought of herself as being particularly religious, but being here was a great comfort for her. Being surrounded by so many people in the same position as her, it was just so much more real than it had been. Being told that people cared about her loss, the government, the church, the tens of thousands of people who'd turned out at this miserable hour...

It was a few minutes before she realised that she was crying.

Sam decided to walk home from the train station. It wasn't that far, and after the crowds in London, she wanted a little time alone. Like everyone else, she'd probably spend the day watching TV coverage of the various vigils that had happened around the world, along with analysis and wild speculation of The Event itself - all kinds of explanations had been proposed, from vengeful gods to aliens to something incoherent about electromagnets. Sam just hoped that someone came up with something soon that she could believe. She needed something she could believe.

After a while, she found herself in her local newsagents just as they were opening. Amongst all the magazines with pictures of crying parents, empty schools, CGI embryos, the flags of all nations at half mast, candles... amongst all of these, Global Weekly stood out. The guy on the cover was cute, in a young George Clooney kind of way, and the lead was "Nicolae Carpethescu: The kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being we've ever known". The newsagent caught the look on her face and said "It just got delivered yesterday, miss" - it was obviously a question he'd been asked too many times already.

"GW's an American mag, isn't it?" she asked. "Didn't I hear that The Event was even worse over there?"

"I just sell them, dear," he told her. "But if the monthlies can put out a special edition in a few days, I don't know why they didn't bump a puff-piece about some Bulgarian politician off the cover..."

Sam had started flicking through it. "It says here he's Romanian. Hey, maybe all their staff disappeared, and this was just what was already lined up."

He chuckled. It had been an inappropriate joke, and not a very funny one, but it felt good to laugh about it. "You might just have something there. You know, most people have put that back on the shelf by now."

"You know what?" Sam said, "I think I'll take it. I might need some time away from The Event today." She dropped a Mars Bar on top of it, and fished some change out of her pocket.

As she headed out and turned the corner onto her street, she realised she was smiling. This morning had been good for her, after all.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Story Rules Question

I got to wondering recently, just how closely do writers have to adhere to the sequence of events (I hesitate to call it a plot) of the LB novels? I mean does the Anti-Christ have to be Nicky Poconos? Or can we invent someone vaguely plausible? My wondering came to a head with the time line questions on the Newport narrative. I mean, I can fudge "Doctor in the House" in that regard, but some of the other writers have locked themselves into other times for the Event.

I also want to start another narrative centered around a different viewpoint character. She was originally intended to be a secondary character in Michelle's story, but discussions of alternative meanings of the Rapture plus the question of how do the Catholics react made me think that maybe she deserves her own story.

L.B. in Newport 4: The Gothos Game

The dogs and I returned to the house after an hour's walk. I'd been thinking, and I'd decided that the lizard tail hypothesis actually made more sense than the war hypothesis. If somebody wanted to exterminate humanity, they could have done it easily enough by making the other two-thirds of the human race disappear too. I checked my answering machine, but none of my family had returned my calls.

In the bedroom, the television was still on with the sound low. They were mixing footage of traffic accidents, downed aircraft, the schoolroom in Baltimore, and crying women in doctors' offices. My wife asked me what I thought was going on, and I told her about my lizard tail theory: someone was running an experiment on the human race, to see how we would react to having a segment of our population eliminated.

"Do you really believe that?" she asked.

I shrugged. "It fits the facts as well as anything else. I can't think of any better explanation."

"Someone on the TV just now said he thought it was the Rapture."

I had to think for a moment to realize what she was talking about. "You mean like those fundies believe? Like that movie with the disappearing people in the airplane?" My wife was a Wiccan, but I knew she had seen the movie, though I was pretty sure she hadn't read any of the books it was based on.

"He was saying that this was just what they were predicting. Do you think it could be true?"

The God hypothesis, huh? Of course, there was no way to prove or disprove it, which has always been the case with the God hypothesis. But that gave rise to another thought.

Arthur C. Clarke famously said that a sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic (or, in this case, divine intervention). This made me remember an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called "Devil's Due", about an alien named Ardra who showed up on a planet claiming to be the Devil. Ardra had come to collect on a Faustian bargain the planet's inhabitants had allegedly made a thousand years earlier, using a bag of technological tricks to convince the planet's inhabitants that she was the real thing.

Was that happening to the earth? Was some powerful alien trying to convince us that it was God, and that the fundy End Times were here? If that was true, then depending on how powerful the alien's bag of tricks was, the result might be indistinguishable from the actual Rapture, except that instead of being sorted out into Saved and Damned, the human race would simply be screwed over. Of course, Ardra had only been a con artist seeking wealth and power on the planet she was gaming. We might just as easily be facing a real sadistic bastard like Trelane from "The Squire of Gothos" who was running an End Times game and tormenting us just for shits and giggles.

I mentioned all this to my wife, and ended by pointing out that, as far as the human race was concerned, there was no difference between God and a Sufficiently Advanced Alien. The human race wasn't going to be any better off in the hands of a God who would pull something like the Event than we would be in the hands of the Squire of Gothos.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

L.B. in Newport 3: Dogs

You can only watch so much televised chaos before it starts to wear on you, and after a couple hours of watching shell-shocked people trying to cope with an unfathomable tragedy, I decided I'd had enough. I needed to do something besides watch television and listen to my wife talk on the phone, so I put the dogs in their harnesses and leashes, and took them out for a walk.

Spring was already well in advance. The last of the snow had melted a month before, and leaves were growing thick on the trees. The temperature had climbed up into the 50s, so I put on a jacket and took the dogs outside. As is usually the case with dogs, they had their own priorities, and the walk took the form of a compromise between where they wanted to go and where I wanted to go. As we walked down the sidewalk, they would stop to investigate various objects that seemed to hold more meaning for them than for me. We crossed side streets and the dogs sniffed their way down the sidewalk. There was music coming from St. Joseph's, a Catholic church sitting across the street from the 7-Eleven. Hardly any Catholics had been disappeared, with the peculiar exception of Pope John Paul III himself. One of the news reports had mentioned that the Church hierarchy had declared him dead, and the College of Cardinals was coming to Rome to elect his successor, once air travel had been restored.

The dogs led me past Thompson Middle School, and it was odd not to see half a dozen of them hanging around in front of the school the way they usually did. At first I thought it must be because they had all disappeared, but a moment's thought showed me that that wasn't it. Thompson's student body were teenagers, above the cutoff age, and whatever entity had culled the world's people would have left them alone. One of my wife's friends here in Newport had called to say that all the schools had let out early. After the Event, it would be a long time before any parent let any child out of their sight.

After watching scenes of chaos, destruction, and despair on the television, it felt odd to be out on the street, seeing cars driving past and people walking, as though the most mind-numbing event in human history hadn't just taken place. It looked perfectly normal, just like any other day, as long as you didn't pay close attention. Once you did, though, you could tell that it wasn't quite as normal as it looked. A man sat on a bench, staring blindly down at his feet. A woman sat at the bus stop, looking quite normal except for the tears running down her face. A young couple went by, hissing angrily at each other.

Watching the dogs stop and sniff at an empty paper bag lying on the sidewalk, I remembered the pictures I had seen of abandoned dogs standing forlornly on rooftops in New Orleans after Katrina. Millions of adults, at least, had vanished along with all the children. There were thousands of families across the country and the world who had disappeared, leaving behind dogs, cats, and other pets. There would be farm families, too, with abandoned livestock. It would be up to the Humane Society and the S.P.C.A. and similar organizations to try and locate and rescue as many of the abandoned animals as possible, and find new homes for them. I didn't envy them the task. I found myself wondering if we could make room in our house for another dog. I decided I'd ask my wife what she thought of the idea when I got back home.

My musing abruptly ended when I found the dogs staring across the street. There was another man there, walking his own dog, a big black one whose breed I wasn't sure about. His own dog had also stopped to stare across the street at mine. He looked over, and our eyes met, and I could tell he was wondering what my story was, just as I was wondering about his. Then the moment passed, and he called his dog to his side and continued his walk, and I did the same with mine.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

L.B. in Newport 2: The Lizard's Tail

The car had been in motion less than twenty seconds when my wife's cell phone rang. The caller was a friend of hers from Ohio who worked as an elementary school teacher. Her children, too, had all vanished, leaving behind clothing, glasses, braces, and hair clips. She and my wife traded stories of frantic teachers, and my wife learned from her that other schools around the country were reporting that all their children had vanished, and that there had been a sudden spike in traffic accidents. A minute into their conversation, my wife got another call from a friend in upstate New York. She added her to the call from the teacher in Ohio and continued her conversation.

I had just finished parking the car in front of our house, at a point about ten or fifteen minutes after the Event, when aircraft whose pilots had vanished started crashing around the world. My wife now had four friends taking part in a conference call, and three of them were watching news reports of the missing children on television, when the first reported plane crashes started coming in. My wife ran up to the bedroom, followed by me and the dogs, and turned on the television, tuning it to one of the cable news channels.

At that point, our household joined the great worldwide community of shocked disbelief. Over the next hour, the vast, terrible scope of the Event became apparent: every child under twelve on earth was gone, and so was an apparently random group of adults, mostly in Europe, North America, and Australia. Over a third, at least, of the world's population had all disappeared at 10:32 AM Eastern Time.

I suddenly remembered my nieces and nephews. Three of them were over the cutoff age, and two of them were under it. I was on the phone to my brother, but got no answer. One of his sons was under twelve. I got no answer from my sister, either. One of her daughters was under twelve. I called the oldest of my nephews, a cadet at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, and left him a message. I finally decided to check in with my family's central information collector: my mother.

Again, nothing. All I got was an answering machine that told me (in my own voice) to leave a message. I left one, then went back to the bedroom.

When I got back to the TV set, I found that I had missed two developments. First, somebody had been videotaping a third grade classroom in Baltimore during the Event, and had captured footage of the children vanishing. The news channel was now running that footage over and over again while various baffled people commented on it. Second, reports were now coming in from hospitals and prenatal care clinics all over the world: every pregnant woman on earth had suffered a miscarriage during the Event.

It was hard to think over the babble of the television, and my wife was still on her cellphone with a floating population of her friends, but hearing about the miscarriages made me realize that whoever was responsible for all this was playing for keeps. The children and adults might eventually be returned by whatever mechanism had caused their disappearance, but there was no way to reverse all those miscarriages. The vanished fetuses wouldn't be coming back, and that implied that the children and adults wouldn't be, either. By this time, two explanations were forcing themselves to the front of my mind. One: this was the opening act of a war against the human race. Someone Out There had just struck a staggering blow against humanity, by some means that we could barely comprehend. Over two billion people, and countless fetuses, had been teleported off the earth, including every child under the age of twelve. If Whoever It Was kept inducing miscarriages in pregnant women, the human race would be extinct in a century or so.

The precision with which the Event had been executed led to a second possible explanation: this wasn't a war, it was an experiment. Just like cutting off a lizard's tail to watch it grow back, only they were cutting off a segment of our population. What do you do with a lizard's tail after you've cut it off? You don't try to sew it back onto the lizard, that's for sure. You just throw it away.

I had the sick feeling that whoever had taken all those people had done just that with them. They were gone. They weren't coming back. The only silver lining I could see on that particular cloud was the thought that, like the lizard in the experiment, Whoever It Was might leave us alone now and let us grow our missing tail back.

Friday, November 16, 2007

L.B.: Buck & Hattie & Ray & Chloe, pp. 361-364

Suzie smiled her professional smile as a middle-aged man stepped up to the counter. He was accompanied by a girl Suzie's age.

"I'd like to leave a message for Miss Hattie Durham," the man said. "She's a flight attendant with Pan-Con."

"Hattie Durham?" said Suzie. "That's a funny coincidence, we just got another message for her. A secretary for a Cameron Williams said Mr. Williams would catch up with her here if she would call him when she got in."

"When did that message come?" the man asked.

"Just after one," Suzie told him.

"Maybe we'll wait a few more minutes," said the man, and he and the girl walked off.

Behind the man was a woman in her mid-thirties. "I'd like to leave a message for my husband, Dennis Carpenter," she said to Suzie. "He's supposed to meet me here in half an hour."

"Dennis Carpenter?" said Suzie. "That's a funny coincidence, we just got another message for him. A woman named Bethany Jackson said she was free tonight, and if he wanted to meet her at the Hollywood Motel he should give her a call on her cell phone."

L.B. in Newport 1: School's Out

As it happens, Rhode Island is the only American state where Catholics make up a majority of the population, so the first thing we noticed was the missing children. One minute everything was as normal as things get here, and the next every elementary school classroom had no children, only piles of clothing. Later on, it was calculated that between three and five percent of the adults also disappeared, but that was later. When it happened, it was the children everybody noticed.

My wife and I are childless, so ordinarily it would have taken a while for us to notice, but my wife works for a children's literacy group, and she happened to be in an elementary school handing out books and prizes. She was looking at a little red-headed girl with glasses, and in the blink of an eye, the girl was gone, leaving behind her clothes, her glasses, and a couple of plastic hair clips. There was a momentary breath of wind that scattered some papers around the room, and a dozen sets of small clothing whirled around and down to the floor, then nothing. Later on, after I heard her story, I decided the wind was caused by the air in the room rushing in to fill a dozen child-shaped pockets of vacuum.

It being a Tuesday morning, I was asleep, with our two pet basenjis lying next to me in bed. I was awakened by a ringing telephone. I disentangled myself from the blanket and the two dogs and answered the phone. It was my wife, and she was frantic. The teachers and administrators at the school were in a state of panic. Every child in the school had vanished at the same time, leaving their clothes behind. My wife had seen one disappear, so she knew they hadn't suddenly all stripped down to the buff and run off. They had vanished into thin air. I told my wife I was driving to the school to pick her up, and she should meet me at the front door. I got dressed in record time, and since I didn't want to leave the dogs alone in the house, I put their leashes on and brought them with me.

I've heard that in some parts of the country, the roads were rendered practically impassable by cars and trucks that had become driverless during the Event and had crashed, but that's not the way it was in Newport. It's been established that at the time of the Event, Newport had a total population of about thirty thousand people, of whom maybe 5000 disappeared. Four-fifths of them were children, and of the remaining thousand, only fourteen were driving vehicles when the Event occurred at 10:32 AM. Seven of the suddenly driverless vehicles had passengers remaining who were able to take control of them without suffering any accident, three had passengers who were unable to do anything before the vehicles crashed, and the other four were empty when they crashed. None of the seven crashed vehicles were going over thirty miles an hour, five of them were going under twenty, and all of them hit either parked vehicles, guard rails, or decorative shrubs. One road was closed to traffic for an hour while a crashed car was towed away; in the other six cases, traffic was able to get by the crashed cars.

Driving from my house to the elementary school, I didn't come across any of the crashed cars, though I did have to pull over to let a paramedic truck go past. It took me five minutes to reach the school, and my wife was waiting on the sidewalk. The dogs were very pleased to see her (as they always are), and she was still busy greeting and petting them when I pulled away from the school. When the dogs had settled down, she reached over and took my hand in hers.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

LW07 - Results

Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You have voted on the entries. Now prepare to read the results.

At 3rd place ex aequo, we have Entry no. 1 ("Tuna Fish") penned by Spalanzani and Entry no. 4 ("Leftover Turkey") authored by Bugmaster with 5 votes each.

2nd place (7 votes) goes to Entry no. 3 ("Peanut butter and jelly") written by Jesurgislac.

And the WINNER of the Legendary Write-Off of 2007 with incredible 22 votes - i.e. 56% of the vote - is Entry no. 2 ("Sandwich making for omnipotent beings") written by hapax.

As for the bonus round, the author of the mystery piece was Bugmaster. Only 30% of those voting in this round got it right.


ST Note: I'm taking down the polls, so here's the official record of the results. Entry 1 got 12% of the vote, Entry 2 got 56%, Entry 3 got 17%, and Entry 12%. 10% of voters (3 people) thought that Spalanzani wrote the mystery piece, 40% (12 people) thought that hapax wrote it, 20% (6 people) thought jesurgislac wrote it, 30% (9 people) thought that bugmaster (who actually did write it) wrote it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

LW07 - voting

Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You have seen all four entries. Now prepare to vote.

As for the bonus round, this entry was written by one of the four contestants. Your task in this round is to identify who - that is, to match the bonus round entry with one of the regular entries.

Good luck!


Vote using the widgets in the left column of this page. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE ENTRIES BELOW ARE POSTED IN REVERSE ORDER! Number 1 is at the bottom , number 4 at the top. It's a little Floridaesque, we admit, but be not confused! muck up not your voting!

Comments on this post may be used to discuss the merits of the entries. Do not read until you have voted!

LW07 - Bonus round

Hidden Sandwich: The Tool of Victory

As every Gearsmith worth his salt knows, an unexpected advantage, no matter how minute, may mean the difference between victory and defeatin combat. The mighty Hidden Sandwich, when constructed and used properly, can become that advantage.

1. Forging the Sandwich.

1a. Collect any remains of lesser sandwiches that you can find around your lab. You will need 5 to 6 such remains in order to forge the Hidden Sandwich. If you find more than 6 sandwiches, pick the 6 oldest, crustiest ones, and discard the rest. If you do not have enough sandwich remains, take some from your research assistant's lunch. He won't mind.
1b. Fire up your Runic Forge. Place the remains in the forge until they glow red-hot. When the remains are hot, divide them into two approximately equal piles, and place each pile onto the anvil.
1c. If you happen to have any quick-setting runic alloy, apply it to the remains now.
1d. While the remains are still hot, strike them repeatedly with the Runic Hammer; alternate your strikes between each pile. Flatten the remains into two thin, solid sheets (about 0.5 cm in thickness). Re-heat, fold, and re-forge the sheets as desired, as though making a
damascus blade. Then, allow the sheets to cool naturally (do not quench !).
1e. Place some tomato slices on top of one of the sheets. Cover them with a titanium armor plate, then place the other sheet on top. Using an electric arc welder, weld the edges of your sandwich together.
1f. Paint the sandwich in aesthetically pleasing colors.

2. Wielding the Sandwich.

2a. Hide the sandwich in the front pocket of your greatcoat. Then, challenge the meanest, dumbest looking warrior that you can find. 2b. Your enemy will draw his gun and aim it at you, expecting you to fall on your knees and beg for mercy. Do not do this. Instead, strike a dramatic pose and taunt him.
2c. The enemy will now attempt to shoot you. At the last moment, pull out your sandwich and place it between yourself and the bullet. The sandwich will safely absorb the lethal impact.
2d. Your enemy, dumbfounded by your skill, will be temporarily paralyzed with fear. Do not allow him to recover. Instead, draw your Runic Cannon, and shoot him in the face.
2e. Gloat over your fallen opponent.

3. Cautionary Notes.

3a. Do not attempt to block beam weaponry with the sandwich. It won't work.
3b. Store the sandwich in a cool, dry place.
3c. Use goggles when operating Runic machinery.

LW07 - Entry no. 4

How to Make a Turkey Leftover Sandwich

In its original state, leftover turkey can be unappetizing and boring.
However, with a little preparation, and two pieces of bread, you can
transform even the dullest leftovers into a tasty snack, known as a
sandwich. To make the sandwich, you'll need the following items:

* Leftover turkey. Look for it in your refrigerator.
* Bread. Look for it in your kitchen cupboards.
* A cutting board. Look for it in your kitchen, near the sink.
* A plate. Look for it in your kitchen cabinets.
* A sharp knife. Look for it in your silverware drawer.
* (optional) Vegetables, such as lettuce or tomato. Look for them in
your refrigerator's crisper compartment.
* (optional) Condiments, such as mustard, ketchup, or mayonnaise. Look
for them in your refrigerator door, or in your kitchen cabinets.

Once you have all the supplies assembled, proceed as follows:

1. Prepare the bread.

Examine the bread that you have found. Pick the least stale loaf of
bread that you can find. If your bread is pre-sliced, pick two of the
freshest pieces. Otherwise, use the knife and the cutting board to
slice off two flat, thin pieces of bread from the loaf. The pieces
should be no thicker than approximately 1.5cm. Pick one of the pieces
to serve as the Base of the sandwich; the other piece will function as
the Roof. It doesn't matter which piece you pick, as long as you keep
them consistent. Place both pieces onto the plate.

2. (optional) Apply condiments.

If you have not found any condiments, such as mustard, mayonnaise, or
ketchup, skip this step. Otherwise, pick your favorite condiment.
Then, extract approximately 1cc of the condiment out of the bottle
onto one of the pieces of bread, and, using the knife, spread it out
evenly across the surface of the Base. Repeat this process with the
Roof. When placing the Base and the Roof back onto the plate, make
sure the side with the condiments on it faces upwards.

3. (optional) Apply vegetables.

If you have not found any vegetables, such as lettuce or tomato, skip
this step. Otherwise, using the knife and the cutting board, cut your
vegetables into thin slices. Then, place the vegetables onto the Base.

4. Apply leftovers.

Using the knife and the cutting board, carve out some thin, wide
pieces of meat from the turkey; these pieces should be no thicker than
1cm. Place the pieces onto the Base in such a way that they cover most
of its surface; if you have performed step 3, place the meat on top of
the vegetables.

5. Seal the sandwich.

Pick up the Roof, and carefully cover your sandwich with it. If you
have performed step 2, make sure the side with the condiments on it
faces inwards.

That's it ! The sandwich is complete. Enjoy your snack.


Attachment 01: Supplementary diagram

Sandwich, side view:

//////////////// Roof
~~~~~~~~~~~~ Condiments (optional)
************ Meat
- - - - - - - Vegetables (optional)
~~~~~~~~~~~~ Condiments (optional)
\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ Base

========================== Plate

LW07 - Entry no. 3

“How To Make A Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich”

You are a guest from Narnia, visiting with an American friend. Your friend is ill, and isn’t allowed to get out of bed. Your friend asks you to make a peanut butter and jelly (PB&J) sandwich.

A sandwich is food between two slices of bread: what you call a slather in Narnia.

You will need to ask your friend some questions. You can get them all asked in two sets.

The first set of questions:

“Where in your kitchen will I find:
  • peanut butter; jelly; bread;

  • plates, knives;

  • a breadboard and breadknife?”

Your friend may respond “I use sliced bread.” This means bread bought already sliced: you will not need breadboard or breadknife.
  • Peanut butter is made in America with three important variations: crunchy/smooth, sweetened/unsweetened, salted/unsalted.

  • Jelly is what Americans call fruit jam.

  • Both peanut butter and jelly will be kept in glass jars with screw-top lids.

  • A screw-top jar opens by twisting right-to-left (widdershins).

Locate the bread, peanut butter, and jelly. If there is more than one option for any of these three, take note of which options exist for each one for the second set of questions.

Find a plate large enough for two slices of bread lying next to each other, and two knives, blunt ones for spreading, not cutting.

The second set of questions:

Go back to your friend and ask, as necessary:

  • Which bread shall I use?

  • Which peanut butter shall I use?

  • Which jelly shall I use?

  • What would you like to drink with your sandwich?

If making a PB&J sandwich on sliced bread:

A loaf of sliced bread will be in a clear bag sealed with a coloured twist. Do not take the slice at the end of the loaf. Put the slices on the plate. Close the bag and reseal it with the twist.

If making a PB&J sandwich using unsliced bread:

The loaf will probably be less robust than the bread you are used to, so you may have to cut a thicker slice and spread more gently than you would at home.


Take some peanut butter and spread it on one slice of bread, right out to the crust. If you make it too thick, the peanut butter will squidge out when your friend bites into the sandwich. Try for slightly thicker than the blade of the knife when you look at both edgeways.

Repeat for the other slice.

Using a different knife from the one you used for the peanut butter, take some jelly and spread this out on the peanut butter on one slice, covering the surface completely with a thin layer.

When you replace the lids on the jars, twist them left-to-right (sunwise) until each is tight enough on that you can pick up the jar by the lid.

Put the slices of bread together as you would for a slather. Cut the bread diagonally from one corner to the other.

Make your friend a drink. (See “What They Drink On The Other Side of the Wardrobe”.)

LW07 - Entry no. 2


1. Create a material universe. Include all inherent processes to form such physical particles and fundamental forces as will eventually result in the development of sentient life on a medium-sized planet in an insignificant quadrant of an undistinguished galaxy. (The precise details are left as an exercise for the creativity and technical skills of individual sandwich makers.)

2. Wait fourteen billion years.

3. Select an extant species exhibiting both opposable digits and the capacity for abstract thought. Endow with free will, moral discrimination, aesthetic judgment, and a multitude of tasty, tasty spreads. Choose an individual representative of species to serve as Person Receiving Optimal Physical Hunger Eradication Treatment (PROPHET).


4. Assemble sandwich in the same manner as described under Procedure 289712B, “TO TEST THOSE WEAK IN FAITH”, with the following emendations:

a) Substitute sliced bread for sandstone strata;

b) Substitute assorted condiments for datable volcanic deposits;

c) Substitute various fillings for hominid fossils;

d) Substitute sprinkled seasonings for stone tools

in accordance with the omnisciently-determined needs and desires of PROPHET, except as noted in Step Five.

5. Special conditions:

a) For PROPHET SubClass Muslim, avoid PORK products.

b) For PROPHET SubClass Hindu, avoid BEEF products.

c) For PROPHET SubClass Vegan, avoid ALL ANIMAL products.

d) For PROPHET SubClass Pythagorean, avoid BEAN products

d) For PROPHET SubClass Southern Baptist, add extra MAYONNAISE.

e) For PROPHET Subclass Jew, consult Appendix K.

6. Any incorporation of Olive Loaf into Procedure will be grounds for immediate damnation.

7. Always conclude Procedure with ritual dismissal, “You want fries with that?”

LW07 - Entry no. 1

Tuna Fish Sandwich Assembly Manual

Before getting started, you will need the following:


  • bread
  • tuna, canned or otherwise
  • mayonnaise
  • Anything else you want to add. You’re the one making this damn sandwich

Utensils and what-not

  • a cutting board
  • a sharp knife
  • a dull knife
  • a medium-sized bowl
  • a large spoon or something equivalent
  • a can-opener (if you use canned tuna)
  • a plate

I will assume you know where to find these; this is your kitchen after all. If you do not have these things, then you are probably not the sort of person who would make their own sandwich anyway. This manual is not for you. Go out and get Chinese food or something.

Step 1

First, place your tuna in the bowl. If you’re using canned tuna, make sure to first take the tuna out of the can using your can-opener. If your tuna is not canned, why the hell are you using it to make a tuna fish sandwich? Make something classy.

Step 2

Next, add the mayonnaise to the bowl. I’m going to leave the proportions of all this to you, so add as much or as little as you want. You’re the one who’s going to be eating this thing. At this point you can also add any extra ingredients you want to the mix.

Step 3

Now take your large spoon and stir the contents of the bowl until they are well mixed.

Step 4

Take two slices of bread and place them on your cutting board. Use your large spoon to scoop some of your sandwich+mayonnaise+whatever mix unto one of your two slices of bread. Don’t put too much on, or you’ll end up spilling your sandwich’s contents all over your lap when you try to eat it.

Step 5

Take your dull knife and use it to spread your tuna mix evenly over the slice of bread. Once you’re satisfied, take the second slice of bread and place it on top of the first. There, an actual sandwich!

Step 6

Now take your sharp knife and use it to cut your newly formed sandwich in half diagonally. Next, take your sandwich and put in on your plate.

Step 7

And…that’s pretty much it. If you don’t know what to do from here, then a manual isn’t going to help you.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Legendary Write-off of 2007

Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You have accepted the challenge. Now prepare to receive instructions.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to write a manual or guide of no more than 500 and no less than 300 words describing the procedures involved in preparing a sandwich of your choice. You are to restrict your entry to the task of preparing the aforementioned sandwich from assembling the ingredients to serving the final product on a plate or other equivalent vessel. Submit your entries to no later than Monday November 12th noon Eastern Standard Time / 5pm Greenwich Mean Time. Your entries will then be published anonymously and voted on by the Slacktivite community. Voting will close on Wednesday November 14th 3pm EST / 8pm GMT and the winner will be announced shortly afterwards.

Good luck!