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There haven’t been a lot of movies or shows based on pen and paper role playing games. In fact, I think only Dungeons & Dragons has been made, and that was its own kind of awful. Netflix’s Bright is kind of like Shadow Run, but not really. One would think, then, that the field would be wide-open.

But why aren’t there more? I have some theories. First, they aren’t particularly well known. Everybody and their sibling knows what Dungeons & Dragons is. GURPS may be a bit less well known.

Many RPGs tend to be fantasy-based. Eventually, one fantasy world may seem similar to any other fantasy world, especially if they’ve got the same Tolkien-esque people in them (humans, elves, orcs, etc.). Even ones based on science fiction can tend to blur together.

Also, the thing with RPGs is how they work. The mechanics behind the game. Players care more about how stats are generated and manipulated throughout a game then a casual observer would be. In a film or TV show, the idea probably wouldn’t even make an appearance.

So what would be a good RPG to bring to the screen (large or small)? What would be different than all the rest?

Paranoia

 

Paranoia takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where people live in a large underground city named Alpha Complex. The city is ruled over by a computer (“The Computer”). The Computer is obsessed with the idea of being overthrown by communists. Or mutants. Or a number of things. being a communist or a mutant is treasonous. Not obeying The Computer is treasonous. Questioning The Computer is treasonous. So is being a member of a secret society.

Games of Paranoia usually revolve around a team of “troubleshooters.” These are people that go around shooting trouble for The Computer. All members of the team have a mutant power. They’re also all a member of a secret society (which may or may not be Communists).

Secret societies are generally at odds with each other.

Society in Alpha Complex is a caste society defined by colors. The colors range from Infrared (black) to Ultraviolet (white) with everything in-between following the ROY G BIV scheme. Troubleshooters must be at least Red level.

So, maybe a team of troubleshooters gets put together and handed an envelope with their orders. The envelope is marked “Top Secret: Orange clearance only.” Now, they can’t read their orders without opening the envelope (they’re all Red level) because that would be treason. They can’t really ask The Computer what the orders are because they were very clearly handed to them. The Computer doesn’t make mistakes; to imply that it does is treasonous.

Assuming they get past a snafu like that, they then have to worry about completing their mission, completing the task given to them by their secret society, stopping other members of the team from completing their secret society mission, filling out bureaucratic forms, waiting for equipment (that may or may not work), and not being accused of treason.

I think that would make for a fun and exciting show.

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Since I’m on the topic (so to speak), movie adaptations of video games hasn’t had a stellar track record. There are probably numerous reasons why this is and that could take an entire article in itself.

What games might make good movies or TV shows?

Mystic Marathon

Way back in 1984, Williams Electronics released a conversion kit for a few of their games that changed them from whatever they were (Defender, Joust, Bubbles, etc.) to Mystic Marathon.

Mystic Marathon was a game involving horned, elf-like people (possibly called Benkins) participating in a foot race across several islands and the water that separated them. While the computer controlled people have horns and a full head of hair, the player controller character is balding and probably older than the others.

The point of the game, is to win the race. Or, at least, to finish in the top three positions. In Mystic Marathon, there are no lives to lose but the game ends when you don’t finish in one of the top three spots. There are a lot of things working against the player, though, which serve as a delay while the other racers zoom ahead. There are also a lot of things that can help the player get past the other players and obstacles.

Obstacles include things like living trees that throw apples at the runners (knocking them down, causing a delay), trolls that pound the runners into the ground, whirlpools and sharks, and wizards that cast a spell that make runners small (and slower).

Helpful objects are face-like caves that can move a runner from one end of a lake to the other, a dragon that a runner can slide down the back of and fly over the intervening water obstacle to another island, holes in the ground that can be beneficial (or not!), and a water sled pulled by… some sort of water horse thing. I don’t remember.

There are bonus objects like jewels that can be grabbed for more points but can also delay the player (like the pearl in a giant oyster that can snap shut at any moment).

The whole thing is very whimsical and not having to lose ‘lives’ is a nice, non-violent way of losing.

Why this game was never made into a cartoon during the 1980s is beyond me. It contains a lot of things that, I feel, lend itself perfectly to being a cartoon. Either a series or a movie. If Pac-Man could be a cartoon series, than so could this.

As a bonus, this game had a woman, Kristina Donofrio, as the lead programmer.

Fallout

There have been a couple of amateur series made of the post-apocalyptic and stuck in an alternate 1950s inspired game, Fallout. The very first game starts out with the player needing to find a ‘water chip’ to save their underground vault. I think this would make an excellent TV-MA series on HBO or Netflix or something. As long as it stays TV-MA.

If I were in charge of such a project I wouldn’t stick strictly to the games, but pick and choose different portions of different games to cover, along with creating new stories. With monsters, mutants, ghouls, and various evil humans to contend with it would be a pretty rich field for stories.

Bioshock

Bioshock, the game, takes place in a mostly abandoned underwater city named Rapture. It’s a 1930s art deco inspired place. Instead of making a movie or series about the game, as it is, I’d do one about before the tragedy occurred that left it dilapidated.

That story probably wouldn’t work well as a game, but I think it would work very well in a different medium.

Deus Ex

A world full of people who have augmented their bodies with nano technology and the non-augmented people who dislike and distrust them. I think this could work really well, as long as things didn’t get too super-powered. This is another one that wouldn’t necessarily have to follow the games storyline, but exist in the same world.

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It seems everyone is getting in on the sci-fi/fantasy kick these days, what with Netflix and their Altered Carbon and Bright, Amazon with some weird pre-Hobbit show and Conan the Barbarian thing going on. HBO, of course, with Game of Thrones and Westworld. And probably Hulu with something.

A lot of them are based on books that I never heard of (not Tolkien and Howard, though). There’s such a huge catalog of older books, though, that are probably still ripe for the picking and I find it disappointing that they’ve never been picked up. Or, if they were, they were never finished. Or started.

I’ll list some of them even though nobody cares about what I think.

Elric of Melniboné – Michael Moorcock

Dark anti-heroes are a thing right now, and Elric has a slew of books to take material from, yet, despite some starts and stops, he’s never been on the big or small screen. There’s violence aplenty, so that should draw people.

Various – Robert Sheckley

 

Some of Sheckley’s work has been turned into movies, with The 10th Victim probably being the most known. Condorman was also his, for good or ill. Oh, and Freejack was based on his Immortality, Inc. Nobody remembers Freejack. Not even me. And I saw it in the theater.

The thing is, Sheckley was way ahead of his time and most of his stories are funny, in a dystopian kind of way. Some are rather scathing commentaries on the human condition.

He has a plethora of short stories and novels that can be used for a series like Black Mirror or Electric Dreams. It’s a shame, really, that Sheckley has been largely forgotten because, really, the man was a genius.

Even though he was writing back in the 1950s (and earlier) and 1960s, a lot of his stuff is still timely today. Stories like a kid not wanting to grow up to follow in his parents footsteps of being wizards, but dreaming to be an accountant. Or stories where people buy a lot of useless crap and pass the debt down to their children. Of drones (timely!) programmed with an AI to hunt down criminals who haven’t done anything criminal yet, just to decide to wipe out humanity and people have to design a new drone to hunt the old drones. Of two guys getting in the business of hauling wildlife on their spaceship hauler and finding out that none of them have compatible biomes.

Seriously, it’s criminal that his stories have not been used. Recently. And well. For a change.

Xanth – Piers Anthony

 

I’m going to mention this mostly because I would love to see someone try and tackle this. In a world comprised of puns (shoe trees that grow shoes and things of that nature), I think people would lose their minds trying to bring this to a visual medium.

Blue Adept — Piers Anthony

One world, two dimensions; one is all technology while the other is all fantasy. One man bops back and forth between the two working his way up the social and economic ladder on the tech side, while being a magical adept on the fantasy side. Also, there would be tons of nudity, so that should draw some viewers.

Silverlock — John Myers Myers

A rather unlikable man is cast adrift after a shipwreck and ends up in a strange land. I don’t think a movie could do this justice, but a mini-series might. It’s full of references to different legends and myths, full of songs, and is just a great read. I think it would make for a great watch if the cast were right.

Various — Alan Dean Foster

Honest to God, the man writes just about every movie novelization that exists. Hasn’t anyone tried to make a movielization (that’s a word, I’m sure) of one his books? Pip and Flinx? A boy and his mini-dragon?

The Spellsinger series where a college student/wannabe musician ends up in a fantasy land full of intelligent animals?

He’s written about a million books by now, surely somebody could find one they found interesting enough to work with.

Garrett, PI — Glen Cook

A hardboiled detective in a world with elves, humans, centaurs, faeries, trolls, and the occasional god. In a fantasy setting. Surely this is enticing to someone out there?

Of course, some folks might not want their writing turned into TV or movies, and that’s all right. I guess. I suppose it’s possible at least one of these has been made into a movie, but it obviously wasn’t good (Sheckley) or was a long time ago (Sheckley, again). I say give it another try.

Futureworld 2

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Some people don’t much care for having something like a ‘smart speaker’ in their home. Since the devices are always listening in order to recognize when they’re being spoken to, some people are afraid that their conversations are being picked up and used for some nefarious purposes.

I do not have this problem. Nothing even vaguely interesting happens in my apartment. The worst that could happen is that a computer would record two birds screeching raucously at each other.

But I don’t have something like an Amazon Echo because I don’t want to come home one day and find out that the birds ordered a bunch of stuff. I had enough problems with trying to play with the XBox and having my parrot say, “Xbox!” and bringing me back to the main menu. Besides that, I don’t know what I would use it for.

A self-driving car (sorry, I mean, Automobile), on the other hand, I would use. Mostly for going to and from work. But I don’t want any of the sissy current cars. No, I want a full-fledged drive itself vehicle so I can just sit there and read or play games. I would use my other car for fun driving.

I’m amazed at the small devices we have these days. I grew up in the era of 8-bit computers like the Apple //, Atari 400/800, Commodore VIC-20, and all of that. The highest resolution on the Atari computers was 320×192 in two stunning colors. My phone has a screen resolution of 2436 x 1125. I could fit (I’m no good at math, so work with me here) about 7 Atari screens across, and 6 down. so that’s… 42 Atari Hi-Res screens? Wow. The larger Apple Watch only has 312 pixels across, but 390 down. So, two screens cut off on one side (or both sides, if you want it centered). On a watch. In more than two colors. That’s really something.

Well, I find it interesting.

Futureworld

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Amazon opened their convenience store of the future the other day. It’s notable because there are no cashiers; you walk in, grab stuff, and walk out and whatever credit card you have attached to your Amazon account is charged.

This is interesting stuff, if it works. It’s another step forward in the sci-fi utopian vision of shopping. I’m all for pushing the future of things so I think it’s great. The downside, though, is it takes away jobs. It’s not a major job, but being a cashier is one of those things that students tend to do. Or retirees. I could go into how beneficial it is for teenagers to have jobs, learn responsibility, learn how actions have consequences from people who aren’t their parents and will fire them in a heartbeat, and learn first hand how money works. The more automated stores there are, the less opportunities there will be for young folks to learn such things. But, maybe they can earn money from writing apps. Also, some retirees rely on having an income to suppliment social security. Possibly more importantly, it gives them something to do during the day and interact with people. Maybe that, too, will become less important over time.

How will we get to these walk-in-walk-out stores? In an on-demand self-driving cars. Or auto-driving cars? I’ll just make up a new word and call them: automobiles. I think it’ll catch on. A person wants to go the store so she uses her phone, which, at this point, is like a miniature computer that’s rarely used for something as mundane as talking to someone, to call a car. It arrives, she gets in and tells it where to go and she’s off. She walks into the store, walks out of the store, calls a car, and heads to wherever she’s headed to. Perhaps at that time the roads will have embedded charging pads so electric cars can charge all day long, wherever they might be.

But why go to a store when you can just have it delivered? Now, things are brought to you by humans. In the near future the skies might be littered with drones carrying all sorts of things to be dropped off to people at home. I don’t know how that will work for people who live in condos and apartments. Probably not as well as the people with actual houses. On the other hand, big cities are full of rich lazy people who live in apartments so I guess they’ll think of something. Maybe drone to robot for the final drop off.

After years of watching science-fiction movies where a house is fully computerized, we’re finally seeing inroads there, too. There are lightbulbs that can be adjusted by voice or phone. Thermostats, too. Even blinds. Amazon, Google, and Apple are doing their best to bring us computerized companions that can control all of these things. Right now, you can even order things through Amazon’s Alexis. It’s a short hop from that to waking up in the morning, telling your home to turn on the coffee maker and open the blinds, tell it to order your lunch when eleven o’clock rolls around, and then have it delivered by drone.

It’ll be just the Star Trek utopia we’ve all dreamed of.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get ‘hyperloops’. Those are trains that travel in tubes at high speed. I lot of people don’t think they’ll ever get made because we don’t even have high speed rail yet and there’s always red tape involved with getting that done. But I maintain that hyperloops are different because the name sounds cool. If you tell someone you want to lay train tracks across their land, sure, they’ll resist. Tell them that you’re putting a hyperloop tube, though, and they might think that’s pretty awesome. But, since they’re in tubes, you might as well stick ‘em underground.

Nothing Changes On New Year’s Day

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Once again the Earth has finished its cosmic dance through space, spinning its way around the Sun. The Sun doesn’t care. The other planets don’t care. The distant stars don’t care. Neither the galaxy nor the universe care.

But we do. It’s a time when we have to re-write a check because we wrote it using last year’s date. We have to keep in mind that it’s almost time to pay our taxes. And other various mundane issues that come with a number that’s increased by 1 after 365 days of being used.

Besides that, it’s a time to look back on our lives for the year passed. A time to look at all the good times and the bad times. We might wonder where we went wrong or how we could have done things differently.

It’s also a time to look forward and wonder what the future will be like and what we can do, if anything, to shape that future. We make resolutions for the new year. Then we break them. Or forget about them.

I’m not very much different than that, although I’ve stopped looking to the future. I don’t believe things will get any better than they are so there’s no sense in being optimistic. Likewise, my life has been fairly static the last few years so whatever mistakes I made in the past will probably be repeated in the future.

That doesn’t stop me from wondering what I could change, though, if it were to matter. Let’s have a look, shall we?

1. Upgrade the computer and NAS server

My computer is kind of old. At least, it is in computer years. The NAS server is fairly young, still, but I grossly underestimated how much power I would want to use of it (it’s also a media server). Hence, both should be upgraded. Currently they’re both running on AMD processors. Last year, AMD released new processors which are way better than the ones I have so it would behoove me to finally breakdown and do some upgradin’. If you’ve read this blog at least once, you know what’ll happen: I’ll keep track of prices over the years waiting for certain prices to drop. Then I’ll change my mind and decide on a different component. Then I’ll wait to watch the prices on that. Eventually, AMD will release new processors and I’ll start the whole process over.

Chances of happening: Slim, but it is possible. Especially if I need an upgrade for virtual reality stuff.

2. Write for one hour a day

I am not a writer. I will never be a writer. I still like to write, though, so I’d like to take at least an hour each day to write something down, be it for a story or even this blog. Or a diary. Whatever. I should be able to take my lunch hour at work (which I never use) and get something down.

Chances of happening: Zero. This resolution was torpedoed on January 2nd.

3. Get that Challenger wide body Hellcat

I was at a dealership the other day. They had a Challenger wide body Hellcat on the sales room floor. It was white with a black hood. The salesperson very much wanted to sell it to me. I very much wanted to buy it. I really did. However, I am not a fan of white cars. And, while the black hood works for just about every color, I don’t think it works with white. To me, it looks like generic packaging at that point. So I said no. I cited the color as being the issue. In reality, it was only part of it and I could probably have overlooked it. No, what happened was a sudden in-rush of thoughts: What if the wheels get stolen? I live in an apartment so I can’t keep it in the garage. What if I lose my job? How much do the tires cost (not as much as I thought, it turns out)? Is it being responsible to buy it? A part of me died when I walked away without trying for it.

The truth is, though, that I could kick the bucket at any moment. Or I could eventually lose my eyesight. Or whatever. So what if I buy an expensive car? If it’s the last thing I did, at least I did it. It’s not like I’ve done anything else with my life.

Chances of happening: Near zero.

4. Meet that special person

What few people know is that I had been signed up to a couple of well known dating sites. I made it a point to attempt first contact, if you will. I tried to write my profile in upbeat and interesting ways. After a couple of years of this I got zero interaction with women. Not one woman was willing to talk to me.

Imagine, if you will, a huge football stadium. Now imagine it’s packed with people of whatever sex you’re interested in. I mean, the playfield, the stands, and the circular hallways that run around the outside so you can get hot dogs and overpriced beer, are all packed — shoulder to shoulder— with people. Now imagine that not one person in the entire stadium wants to so much as say ‘hello’ to you. That’s me.

Chances of happening: I don’t think you can have a negative chance, so let’s call this a chance of 0 Kelvin.

5. Take one day a month for photography

I would love to do this. It’s all about time, though, and mine is at a premium these days. Taking a day to photograph things means getting me out of the apartment, walking around, making a nuisance of myself. And I’m all for that. Hopefully things will align, I’ll have time, and the weather will play nicely.

Chances of happening: Fairly good, unless I get lazy.

6. Buy the damn 27” 5K iMac

I will totally do this. Right after they announce the new refresh. Unless the new Mac Pro looks compelling. Or, maybe, a new Mini. Or something.

Chances of happening: This has been going on since 2012 and I still don’t have one, so take your best guess.

Life In Upgrades

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For myself, I’ve never bought a Windows based computer. I’ve always built them, all the way back to the 386 days. I’ve even built a dual Celeron system for BeOS (using the wonky but awesome Abit BP6 motherboard). Back in those days it was usually cheaper to build your own than to buy one already made. The other advantage was that if you wanted to upgrade a part of it, you usually could keep the rest of the old pieces so you were just paying for whatever you were upgrading.

My current Windows computer is getting a bit old. I think it’s pushing five years, now. I’m thinking it might be time to upgrade. Technically, I only need to buy a motherboard, processor, and memory (I’ll call these The Core). I have a case, power supply, drives, and other things needed to complete a computer.

The problem with being me, though, is that once I start pricing components, I start pricing everything. Because, boy howdy, things have changed. For instance, I have a giant monolithic black tower case which had everything I was looking for back when I bought it. These days, I’m thinking I don’t want a giant case. After having the behemoth standing next to me for so long, and having a Mac Mini, I’m kind of longing for something smaller. Also, with USB 3 and Thunderbolt, having internal drives aren’t that important to me.

So… I would start looking for a new case. Also, when I upgraded my video card a year ago I noticed that I was running out of the power connectors for the video card. I also needed an adapter to fit them on. New power supplies have the necessary connections so maybe I should get a new power supply?

You know what? My power supply has lights where the cables fit into it. I thought it was kind of gaudy when I first got it, as I didn’t get it for the lights but because it was the right capacity and the right price. Having lived with it for so long, though, I kind of like the look. So I would want the new one to have lights.

My mouse and keyboard also have lights. It’s ridiculously gaudy. But I love it. New cases are covered in RGB lights. So many, really, that I wouldn’t even need a Christmas tree. I could just light up a computer case and all the computer internals.

So, yeah, any advantage of upgrading in pieces goes out the window when I decide to re-buy everything.

But, I’m kind of tired of building my own boxes. It’s also cheaper, now, to buy an already built system. For a little more than those ‘Core’ components, I could have a fully assembled, warrantied, operating system enabled computer. It may not look as wonko cool as super light-em-up cases going around today, but it would be a lot less of a hassle. For slightly more than that, I could have a super compact system bigger than the Mini but way smaller than The Dark Tower.

It’s a conundrum, all right. By now, you all should know what I do when hit by a conundrum of this sort. That’s right, do nothing but think about it excessively. I still don’t have that 5K iMac I’ve been wanting since it was released.

NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up 2017

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You might be wondering how I did this year. You might be thinking that I’ll be writing about how I knocked it out of the park and ended up writing way more thank fifty thousand words. Maybe you’re thinking that I wrote something really great and I’ll actually look at it again in the future and edit it and try to hae it published.

You’re reading the wrong blog, if that’s the case. No, this year I failed. Again. Sure, I started off pretty good, but it went downhill pretty fast. I always seem to do that. It’s probably why I mostly write short-short stories. I don’t think I can handle anything longer than that.

That being the case, then, next year I won’t bother with it. I’ll just sit here while it’s going on and wish that there was something in life I was even halfway good at it.

That’s fine though. Because I wrote another chapter, albeit a short one, for the Waitress. I like the Waitress. She reminds me of somebody I know.

So it wasn’t a complete failure.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Excerpt

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Louis drove down the stretch of highway. It was dark out. Really dark. He had the high beams on but it didn’t seem to penetrate very far into the void ahead of him.

He was getting tired and antsy. The miles weren’t going by fast enough and he started to think he could push a hundred miles an hour without too much of an issue. He hadn’t seen another car in quite some time.

Ahead, he saw a glow. It was kind of yellowish. He wondered what it was. He sped up, watching the white dotted line on the road flow faster. He got close enough to see that the glow was coming from a tall sign. The base had two rows of yellow lights that ran from the ground up to the circular sign that read “The Oasis Diner.”

Closer still, he could see the diner itself, bright with lights flooding out to the gravel parking lot and sitting in a bubble of night. He pulled in to the parking lot.

The front of The Oasis was mostly large glass panels running the length of the building. Louis could see a counter and booths inside with one person wiping down tables.

Louis shut the car off and walked over to the chrome and glass door, which opened easily when he pulled on the handle. Despite being November, the air outside was still quite warm. When he walked into the diner he was hit by a wintery blast of air conditioning.

The waitress looked up when she heard the door. She didn’t stop wiping down the table she was at but she did look up and smile. “Hi, welcome to The Oasis. Do you want a table or would you prefer the counter?”

Louis wasn’t good with choices. He looked at the booths, with boysenberry purple colored benches and the salmon colored tables that had what looked like hollow boomerangs in light blue and pink. Then he looked at the counter, which had the same color and design as the tables. The stools were the same boysenberry color, but with round muffin shaped cushions.

“I don’t want to get too comfortable, so I’ll sit at the counter. Thank you.”

Louis thought if he didn’t have a back to slouch against it might help keep him awake.

The waitress raised an eyebrow at that but gestured to the empty counter. “Take your pick.” She straightened up and hooked the cloth she had been using to wipe tables into the tie strings of her apron. She went behind the counter and placed a menu in front of Louis.

“Would you like something to drink while you peruse our menu?”

“Coffee.”

She smirked. “Of course. Be right back.”

Louis wondered what that was about. He read through the menu. He didn’t think he was very hungry, but after reading through the menu he realized that he could, probably should, eat something.

The waitress came back and set a cup of coffee down along with a small shallow bowl of creamer containers.

“See anything good yet?” She asked

“Yes. Just about everything. What’s a ‘Monte Cristo’?” He asked.

“Depends on where you get it. Here, it’s French Toast covered in sliced ham, sliced turkey, and Swiss cheese. Served with maple syrup.”

Louis thought about that. “And that’s good?”

“Some people swear by it.”

“All right. I’ll try that.”

“And you want fries with that?”

“Do I?”

“Here’s a tip,” said the waitress, leaning down conspiratorially, “When you’re done with Monte Cristo, run the fries through the maple syrup.” She winked.

“Okay. I’m sold. Monte Cristo with fries, please.”

She wrote it down on her pad, tore off a sheet, and stuck it to a rotating metal device which she turned so the paper disappeared in the back.

“You look beat, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“Ah, that’s because I am beat. I’m trying to write a novel in thirty days but things keep popping up. I was supposed to be writing tonight, but had to help a friend out here in the wilderness.”

“Why are you writing a novel in thirty days?” She asked.

Louis explained NaNoWriMo again.

She nodded. “And what do you win if you finish?”

“Nothing. There’s no prizes or anything.”

“So, nothing.”

“And I can tell people I did it, I guess.”

“So, bragging rights.”

“Well, also, there’s the satisfaction of having done it. Knowing that I set out to do something and actually do it, well, that’s kind of nice.”

“Okay,” she said. “That makes sense.” She looked down at his cup. “You want some more?”

“Yes, please.”

She filled his cup again.

“How far behind are you?” She asked him.

“Oh, several days. It will be hard to catch up at this point. I’d have to spend hours writing to come close.”

“What’s your book about?”

“Ah, it’s stupid.”

She tilted her head sideways a few degrees. “Then why are you writing about it?”

Louis took a sip of coffee, looking at her over the rim. The head tilt reminded him of a cat and he found it very hard to resist. He tried to read her name tag, but he couldn’t make out the letters. Rather than risking her thinking he was staring at her breasts he looked back down at his coffee.

“Okay. You know Dungeons & Dragons and other role playing games?”

She nodded.

“Well, it’s like that. A group of adventurers wandering around an underground tunnel system fighting monsters and gathering treasure. Stuff like that.”

“For what reason are they doing this?” She asked.

“Oh, fame and fortune, I guess.” He sighed. “That’s another problem I have. I go to these write-ins, you know? People gather together and write and then maybe talk. Other people talk about their stories like it’s the best thing since sliced bread. They seem so full of themselves. I can’t talk like that.”

“Because your story sucks?”

“Yeah.”

There was a ding that came from somewhere.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” said the waitress. She went to kitchen.

Louis sipped more of his coffee. She was right. His story sucked and sucked hard. What was he thinking? He was thinking that it would be fun. It would remind him of his childhood. Most importantly, it was supposed to be easy. How hard could it possibly be to write about a bunch of fantasy figures fighting monsters underground?

Pretty hard, it turns out.

The waitress came back and put a plate in front him along with a side plate of very hot fries. Then she put a container of maple syrup down.

“I’ll let you eat in peace,” she smiled as she went back to wiping down the booths.

He looked at Monte Cristo dubiously. Okay, it did look pretty good. He poured some syrup over it. Then he cut off a corner and bit it into it. Yeah, this was pretty good. He practically inhaled it.

The waitress went behind the counter again. “So, how was it?”

“Every bit as good as you said it would be.”

She nodded her head towards the fries.

He picked one up and mopped up some syrup then put it into his mouth.

“Yeah, okay, this works surprisingly well.”

“Always trust the happy waitress,” she said.

He looked up at her and gazed directly into her icy blue eyes. He saw something in those eyes, then. Something old, something painful.

“You’re not very happy, are you?” He asked.

“So are you headed into the city?” She turned away.

“Towards it, but not into it. It’s a few miles off.”

She looked wistful. “I’ve always wanted to see the city,” she said.

Louis looked up from his plate and right into her icy blue eyes. “Why don’t you go, then? We’re not far from it.”

She looked away, towards the plate glass windows. “I had my chance, a long time ago.”

“It couldn’t have been that long ago,” he said.

“Sometimes I think I’ve spent eternity here,” she said, looking at nothing. She wiped her hands on the towel at her waist. “I had the opportunity, once, you know. Some guy came in here and offered to take me there.”

“And you turned him down.”

The waitress nodded.

Louis ate another fry.

“Why?”

She shrugged. “I felt like I had a duty, here. Didn’t want to leave anybody in the lurch. A lot of it was fear. Some random stranger comes in, saying he can change my life if I just hop into his car. It doesn’t sound like a very good idea, does it?”

Louis had to agree, it didn’t sound like a safe plan.

“So, I didn’t go. I stayed here. I envy people who, you know, say they have no regrets. I have many. Too many.” She started wiping down the counter.

“So, um, what do your friends think of your writing?”

“They’re supportive, I guess, but they don’t really care.”

“Why are you doing this then?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “When I was younger I would write all the time. For a while I thought I would be an author, you know? Write stories, sell books, maybe get a movie deal or something.”

The waitress had taken her hair down and smoothed her golden hair back, putting it in a ponytail again. “Go on,” she said. “I’m listening.”

“Then life got in the way. I got older, got a job working ludicrously long hours. Moved. Got married. Got divorced. Kept working. There never seemed to be any time. Worse, when I did have time to write, ideas wouldn’t come. Once I could have thought of something and have several hundred words written down. Then it was gone. When I heard about this NaNoWriMo thing, I thought maybe if I treated it like a holiday, a special occasion, it would help me think of things again.”

“But it didn’t, did it?” The waitress asked softly.

“No. It sure didn’t.” He agreed.

She poured him another cup of coffee.

“Would you listen to a bit of advice?”

“At this point? Yeah, sure.”

“Okay. It doesn’t matter to anyone else if you succeed or not. It matters to you, and that’s okay. You don’t win anything if you finish this at the end of the month. But you also don’t lose anything if you don’t get the right amount of words. Maybe, sure, you lose the bragging rights or whatever.”

“Well, yeah, but it’s more than that.”

“Not done,” she said. She took a breath. “So, make the month yours. Treat it like a holiday. Write when you feel it. Don’t write when you don’t.  When you don’t, let your mind wander. Scribble, read, do whatever you want. Take a walk. If you don’t make your thousand words a day, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re enjoying what you’re doing.”

Louis stared at her. “Yeah.”

“And if you think your story is too stupid to talk to someone about,” she continued, “then maybe it’s not the story you should be writing.”

“Okay,” he agreed. “I will take that to heart. Listen, I need to get going. Can I have the check please.”

“Sure, here you are.” She put a slip of paper onto the counter.

Louis looked at and then took a ten dollar bill out and put it on the counter. Then he took a twenty dollar bill and put that next to the ten. He got up and headed towards the door while the waitress put his plates in one of the gray bins.

“Hey,” she called out to him.

Louis turned towards the counter.

The waitress waved the twenty dollar bill. “Is this because you feel sorry for me? I don’t need it if it is.”

“You have my sympathy,” Louis said. “But the twenty is for being one of the most important people I’ve met.”

Louis opened the door and stepped through. He stopped and turned to the waitress again. “Take a bit of advice from a stranger?”

She smiled and shrugged. “It would only be fair.”

“Sometimes we have to make our own opportunities,” said Louis. He headed towards his car.

“Drive safely,” she said.

The Oasis (original)

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The truck stop diner stood like an oasis in the hazy heat of the desert. The air conditioner hummed quietly while the woman wiped down the long counter. She did this out of habit, mostly, as visitors were infrequent at best. Occasionally a trucker would come along, or a family desperate for something other than the long stretch of desert to look at.

She breathed in the cold air, hooked her towel into the ties of her apron. The coffee maker gurgled like a happy baby while the milk shake machine dripped like some ones incontinent grandfather; everything was normal.

There was a while to go yet before she could leave. It was amazing to her that someone would actually own a place like this, so far from anything. Yet, someone did. It would be a perfect location if more people traveled the road, but very few did. And those that made the trip tried to be across the desert as soon as possible and tried not to stop. But it was a good job. She had plenty of time to herself and as long as the place was clean she had no worries.

She pushed through the glass door and stood outside, holding the door open so the hot desert air wouldn’t oppress her. The desert could be a beautiful place. Varying shades of tan beneath the washed out blue of the sky brought together by the slate purple-grey of the distant mountains. Patches of green where stumpy plants managed to live dotted the landscape along with the tall majestic cactus. Sometimes seeing an animal, a rabbit or a prairie dog, she would wonder why they still lived out here, in the searing heat of the day, nibbling on the plants to get their water. Why didn’t they move off to where the land was more green, water more plentiful, and the air cooler? Humans, after all, made their own beds and lay in them. They might complain about it, but it was their choice.

Another sweep of the landscape and she turned to go back inside. She heard a noise in the distance, faintly at first but growing in volume and pitch. The howling of a mechanical beast let free to run. Up the road an object came, screaming in pleasure that came with being harnessed and suddenly finding freedom. As it came closer the sound of gears shifting down, brakes being liberally applied, and the sudden growl of the beast that had become tethered again filled the hot air. A car pulled into the gravel parking lot. Fire red and sleeker than any she had seen before. It came to a stop, purred loudly for a minute, then became silent.

Back into the cold air she went, behind the chrome lined counter to prepare for a customer. He came in moments later. He stood in the doorway, taking in the coldness and wiping sweat from his brow. Smiling a lazy smile he went to the counter to sit on a round, red stool.

Pulling a pad and pen from her apron pocket, she asked him what he’d like.

He grinned. “Not much for small talk around these parts, are we?”

“Sorry, I just thought you’d like to get your order in. You must be hot and hungry judging by the way you were driving. The small talk comes later, when you something in front of you.”

Laughing, he said, “Ah, yes, that makes sense. And I should get in my order while you’re not busy.” He looked around the diner, at the teeming emptiness.

She smirked. “Very funny. Now what can I get you?”

“What does anyone want, when they come here?”

“A meal, a cold drink, ” she looked at him. “A hint as to when the road ends and civilization begins. Sometimes, against all odds, they want directions.”

“I see. I know where I am, I know where I’m going. I’m not all that hungry. I think I would like a cup of coffee.”

Her eyebrows went up. “Coffee? Hot? It’s well over a hundred degrees outside.”

He nodded. “True. But I still have a way to go, and not enough time to sit over a meal. And I need to be awake while I go. Iced tea just doesn’t cut it for me, but coffee does. Nice, hot, and strong.”

With a shake of her head, she turned and poured coffee into a cup. She set it in front of him. She watched him as he drank it, black, barely blowing on it too cool it enough to drink. His face, beneath nearly jet-black hair, was plain, rather average. He wasn’t especially tall or short. If he was in a group of people he probably would never be noticed. But alone he seemed… Oddly attractive, slightly dangerous but possibly not. Very strange. If his dark eyes were the windows to his soul, he either had none or too much. She put those thoughts out of her head, convincing herself that his averageness was what prompted his taste in attention grabbing cars.

He was smiling at her. She felt a blush as she realized that he knew she had been looking him over.

“Recognize me?” he asked.

She shook her head. “No, I don’t. Should I?”

“Ah, probably not. I had hoped you would, but I’m not surprised that you don’t. It’s all right though, most people don’t.” He pushed his cup towards her. “Can I have more, please? Is this the largest cup that you have?”

She took it and filled it again. “I’m afraid so. Standard restaurant-sized coffee cups are easiest to get.” She placed the white cup in front of him. His hand went out and took hers.

“You are so pale, so white,” he said. Her white skin in sharp contrast to his dark. “And so cold. You spend too much time in this canned air. You should get out more, into the sun.” He turned her hand over, looking at her palm.

Pulling her hand away, she took her towel from the apron ties and began wiping down the counter.

“I like this ‘canned air.’ It’s nice and cool. The sun is damaging to skin, if you get too much of it. Wrinkles, possibly cancer. It ages you.”

“Without the sun, there would be no life.” He grinned again. “What is life in a can, without the sun? May I have some more, please?”

She looked up, seeing the empty cup. “You’re serious about staying awake then. That’s good.” Again, she took the cup and turned to fill it.

“Why don’t you come with me?” he said.

She heard his voice close to her ear, feeling hot breath on the back of her neck.

Spinning around, she was ready to hurl the hot coffee at him but nearly spilling it when she saw that he was still behind the counter, smiling at her.

“What did you say?” she stammered.

“I asked you to come with me.”

“I couldn’t,” she said, placing the cup in front of him. “Besides, I don’t even know where you’re going.”

“To the City, of course. This road doesn’t go anywhere else. Why couldn’t you?”

Taking up her towel again she wiped the counter, noticing, again, the sandstone pink coloring patterned with red and blue stylized boomerangs. They seemed like they were dancing, sometimes interlaced, sometimes apart, all over the surface.

“I work here. This is my job, and I have a responsibility.”

“Ah, of course. Responsibility. Mustn’t let folks go hungry.” He mimed bumping elbows in a room crowded with specters. He laughed again.

“It isn’t busy now, but people do come here. And I get paid to be here, however silly it might seem. What would I do in the City, anyway?”

He cocked his head to one side, considering. “I don’t know. What do you do? Besides feed the hungry?”

“Nothing, ” she replied. “Nothing at all.”

He looked at her with disappointment and amusement.

“Come now, everyone does something. At least one thing that makes them who they are. Surely, deep inside, there’s something that you know you can do.”

Shrugging, she stopped her cleaning. “What do you do?”

He jumped up from the stool. “What do I do! I am the Magician! The Thief! I am the Miner, deep in the shaft. I am the one who knocks on doors, the one who disappears from sight. I am the one who brings the good. I do everything except nothing. Tell me, Lady, who am I?” He finished with a bow, his arms out from his side.

“An actor with a flair for the dramatic?”

He looked up at her, laughing. “Could be, could be. But not right now. Another coffee, if you please.”

Again, she turned with his cup to fill it. Again, she heard his voice but this time it seemed distant, far away. When she turned again he was in the middle booth of three, gazing out the window. She brought the coffee to him then sat on the bench across from him.

“Do you recognize me yet? No, I see that you don’t. And you probably won’t until I leave. And that I must do soon. I don’t normally do this, but I’ll ask again: Will you come with me?”

She shook her head. He sighed.

“It’s possible I’ll be by this way again, and I may stop and ask once more. But it would be better, if you change your mind, to seek me out in the City. Everyone has a better chance of finding me if they search for me.”

They rose from the table together and she followed him to the door. He got into that low slung car and started it up. Again, it purred loudly, but gently.

And she watched the car as it left the parking lot and turned onto the highway. She watched as it picked up speed, howled in joy again, until it was lost in the heat haze rising from the hot asphalt.

She stood there in the doorway, long after the sky had deepened in blue and became black sprinkled with stars. As it got darker and cooler she could see, faintly, the bright lights coming from the City, so far away. Feeling a cold trickle of sweat, she reached underneath her blonde hair and wiped the back of her neck.

She wondered if he would come back, with a mixture of hope and fear. Now, however, it was time to go. She still had time to think, and now that the seed had been planted she wondered if there was something better, something more alive, in the City.