Freedom, Fascism, and You

It’s a trite thing to say, but the United States stands at a crossroad. We have as president, elected via electoral college, a mean-spirited, selfish buffoon who takes pride in his boorish behavior. He courted the angriest and most frustrated factions of the country during his election, and, long after getting elected, still refuses to denounce even the most heinous acts of white supremacy. He spends his days shouting at anyone who dares even consider opposing him and vehemently refuses to reflect upon his own statements or actions.

Donald Trump’s presidency is supported at its basest levels by fascism. He denounces a free press, mocks and derides those who are different from him, and blames the failings of our government not on the people running it, but outsiders. He encourages violence and denies any sort of fault when challenged.

The recent violence in Charlottesville, Virgina, is a direct result of this behavior. Trump could never say he condones white supremacy; it would be political suicide. Instead, he pays subtle lip service to their cause, insisting that “both sides” of the protestwere to blame for the violence that erupted.

Many people defend freedom of speech with the phrase “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” I don’t like that phrase. Not because it isn’t clever, but because it is used to defend actions that undo free speech. Lots of people are clambering over themselves to protect the freedoms of Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, and other fascists. This should stop. Defending fascism under the veil of free speech endangers the very concept of liberty. Ignoring something that offends you is healthy; ignoring a person who wishes to rescind the rights of others is dangerous.

This is a key thing that so many seem to ignore: in protecting the speech of fascists, you are in effect allowing them to destroy free speech. The alt-right quite literally want to destroy our current way of life. They want to disassemble the freedoms promised to all citizens and return to a world where their skin color alone makes them superior.

White supremacists of all kinds, including their weaker counterparts, the men’s rights and white rights movements, are incredibly dangerous. Despite coming from backgrounds that historically face little to no oppression, they demand to be heard over people that do. They seek to replaces facts with lies and become upset when someone different from them expects to be treated with same level of respect and decency that white supremacists demand. They attempted to quell Black Lives Matter with “All Lives Matter,” as if the former was in any way meant to imply other lives didn’t.

It shouldn’t be necessary to point it out, but the perspective that these groups put forth is factually inaccurate. They claim they are being oppressed, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of government and private sector leaders in this country are white men. Their claims of some kind of overall genetic superiority that have never proven true. Their belief that focusing on diversity will result in hiring unskilled or unworthy employees is nonsensical and insulting.

The truth is that white supremacists can’t admit their own failings and lack the capacity for self-reflection. Their entire premise is based around the belief that they simply cannot be wrong, cannot be held accountable. Every problem they face is someone else’s fault: immigrants, black people, socialists. Whatever failings in their education or upbringing brought this about don’t matter.

Some people make efforts to understand these groups, and attempting to address the failings in society that feed fascist organizations is noble. But the overwhelming majority of people who hold this mindset aren’t going to change. You can’t force empathy upon people who can look another in the face and deny their humanity. All humans are capable of change, but the most hard-headed won’t do so over a persuasive essay or polite discussion.

If one does not speak out against white supremacy or fascism, they allow it to flourish. There is no reason to protect the free speech of one who would deny the same to others.

The Evasiveness of Sleep

There are nights when no amount of melatonin or calming music or snuggling cats can keep my eyes closed and my brain turned off. On these nights, which I try to avoid, my thoughts loop and the obsessive-compulsive facets of my nature lead me to the edge of anxiety. What-ifs and if-onlys dance through my frontal lobe as I desperately attempt to employ anything, any distraction, to just stop it and go to sleep.

Sometimes it is a coworker who is insisting upon the most obnoxious conspiracy theory or spouting a racist diatribe. Sometimes it is someone more interested in winning an argument and being right than solving a problem. Sometimes it is a talking head on TV, a pundit or a politician or some amalgamation of the two, shilling lies and appealing to the lowest parts of human nature. It has been Facebook posts that grossly mischaracterize a portion of the world, or the country, or a gender.

Sometimes it is the overwhelming urge to tell a woman who has, perhaps not clearly, told me she wants only friendship when I want more. Perhaps she hasn’t said that, but she’s spent the evening talking about someone else she is interested in, or she’s made it clear that the kind of relationship I want isn’t on the table, or it was and I’m too late. She’s not into guys, or she doesn’t date coworkers, or I’m just the man she’s using to get someone else jealous. She’s bored, and no one else is returning her texts, or she wants to see a movie and no one else will go with her.

I live inside my head, and in there I’ve had a thousand more discussions than I have in reality. None of those discussions were about the truth: that I’m not what she wants, I’m not what she needs. She wants a different life, something far away or, just as likely, something that just doesn’t involve me.

I try to drown those frustrations out with the comfort of a favorite tv show or audiobook. When that doesn’t work, I try to find something funny enough to take the edge off the anger or frustration I feel at being marginalized, or having witnessed marginalization, or just not being good enough, and remind myself that so much of life is just stupid people flailing about and trying to be acknowledged. I try to remember that no one is the world. Not me, not the coworker, not the pundit, not the woman.

In the loneliest of these moments, sometimes I read Rose’s monologue from The Kindly Ones, and I remember that I’m not the only one who has gone through heartache. That even though it’s frustrating and painful, even though it feels like the only thing in the universe that could hurt that much, it isn’t even that special. I read it, and I tell myself that if I can write anything half as touching and beautiful, at least I’ll have accomplished something I find valuable.

None of these things are helping today. So, instead, as a last-ditch effort, I’m writing a rambling blog post that these people are unlikely to ever read and hoping it is enough to quiet the maelstrom of thoughts crowding my mind and keeping me from respite.


At least I’m writing something.

The Devil Doesn’t Need You to Advocate for Him

“I’m just playing Devil’s Advocate.”

The origin of this term, taken form the Catholic Church, is nearly literal: a member of the church was given the role of arguing against a candidate for sainthood in order to draw out their flaws and prevent misleading evidence from canonizing the unworthy. In modern times, it is used during debate or discussion to explore an alternative point of view, whether or not it is abhorrent. In a room fill of like-minded people, one plays the role of Devil’s Advocate in an attempt to speak for another.

People need to stop doing this.

We live in a world where it’s quite simple to find a person with an opposing viewpoint. I can hop onto the internet and, in minutes, find a person who will disagree with me on nearly any subject. It isn’t remotely a challenge. I could probably cull a list from people I already know on Facebook. There is no need to argue for someone else when that someone else is an instant message away. If you want to get perspective from someone outside your social circles, it’s quite simple. Twitter has shown us that there are millions of people who want to share their opinions with the world. Want to ask a white supremacist how they feel about a topic? Easy. Want to talk to a transgender person about life before or during transitioning? Simple. Want to find out why people still watch Supernatural way after it has peaked? They’ll probably be in the comment section of this very article, telling me off.

Perhaps you find confrontation unnerving. Not to worry! Long before twitter, there were all sorts of web sites that were devoted to chronicling the lives of individuals. Before web-based news and opinion sites co-opted the term, we called them “blogs.” Sites like LiveJournal and Xanga were the predecessors of Tumblr, and the two former examples aren’t even the earliest examples of the medium. Medium, by the way, is another place you can find all sorts of opinions that might oppose your own.

I don’t make this request simply because the world seems to be trending toward insular. I’m saying it because many people claiming to play Devil’s Advocate are actually advocating for themselves. Sometimes, it’s because they know their opinion is unpopular and don’t want to be disliked. Other times, they are twisting stories or lying outright in order to misrepresent their opposition before they can be afforded an opportunity to speak for themselves. When a pundit appears on television and speaks about their opposition, what they are actually trying to do is trick you into taking their side. They’re betting on you not doing your own research.

When a conservative person tells you how liberals feel, turn off the TV or walk away. When a liberal person does the same about a conservative, have the same reaction. Don’t let a Christian tell you about Muslims, or let a life-long artist tell you about corporate life.

Get your sources first hand. Everything else is misdirection. Oh, and the Devil? If he were a real being — which I’m quite sure he isn’t — he’d be nearly omnipotent. I’m pretty sure he could advocate for himself.

Five Podcasts to Enrich Your LIfe

Podcasts are great. They can make a long commute bearable and often entertain while educating. There are podcasts for every subject under the sun, making it possible to deepen your understanding of something you love or discover a new interest. Here are five that I never miss:

Everything’s Coming Up Podcast

The Simpsons is widely regarded as one of the most influential shows to grace television, particularly for the first decade or so it aired. Everything’s Coming Up Podcast dissects the show, with each episode of the podcast focusing on one episode of the show. Hosted by comediennes Allie Goertz and Julia Prescott, each episode also features a third guest host. Many of them are quite famous, and some have even worked on The Simpsons itself!

Listening to this podcast not only brings back great memories from one of my favorite shows of all time, it also floods me with nostalgia for the days when my friends and I would sit around and quote The Simpsons ad nauseam. It’s good to feel like your have a tribe. Allie Goertz and Julia Prescott are the historians for mine.

Our Fair City

A sci-fi comedy radio drama, Our Fair City tells the tale of a far-flung future world trapped in nuclear winter. The majority of humanity struggles to survive in the last city. The residents of this city are all policies of HartLife, an insurance-company-turned-nation-state. It’s a hilarious post-apocalyptic dystopia loaded with mad scientists, mutant creatures both friend and foe, and corporate leadership run amok.

Our Fair City just re-produced their entire first season, and there are five more following it to leave you at the very least smirking, if not laughing out loud. Just mind the carnivorous mold.

Star Talk Radio

Hosted by astrophysicist and science superstar Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Star Talk covers a wide range of topics at the intersection of science and culture. He often has celebrity guests alongside the researchers and scientists that specialize in the topic du jour. The show isn’t afraid to go into controversial topics or even take a controversial stance. Bill Nye recently did a show about how he’s rethinking the roles and safety of GMOs. Star Talk is a fascinating and entertaining way to expand your horizons and see the world around you in a new way.

Stuff You Missed in History Class

On the flip side of Star Talk is Stuff You Missed in History Class. Hosts Tracy and Holly present two deeply-researched topics each week. The subjects range across the whole of human history, covering the gamut from the history of harmonicas to Britain’s former practice of exporting orphans to their colonies. If Star Talk helps you better understand the world we find ourselves in, Stuff You Missed in History Class helps understand how it came to be.

Judge John Hodgman

Minor Television Personality John Hodgman is one of my favorite writers. Each week, he presides over minor domestic disputes. Is a hot dog a sandwich? How often should one wash a bath towel? Should a father compel his studious daughter to stop doing homework in order to watch his favorite movies? Hodgman listens to both sides of an argument and doles out a sentence that is just and fair. Unless someone gets his obscure cultural references, in which case they win by default. The show is always engaging and funny, and it is layered with inside jokes and snarky commentary that makes each episode a blast to listen to.


BONUS: Shameless Plugs

I excluded a few shows I listen to from the running because I know people deeply involved with them. It think it would be disingenuous to put them in a top five, but it would also be foolish not to mention them at all!

Art Shmart

My best friend Dmitry and I love art, and we also love bantering. We combine the two here. We choose a subject for each episode, research it(or not), and then present its history and our opinions on the subject.


Press Start to Play’s PSTPcast

Hosted by my good friend Christina, the PSTPcast features a roundtable discussion of video games. I occasionally write for Press Start To Play, and have even been on a few episodes of the show itself.


Champagne & Snark

Ana Fernatt is an incredibly talented blogger, a social media maven, an engaging host, and an all-around great person. She interviews all sorts of people and gets them to open up and tell unique stories that you really don’t hear anywhere else.

Why I’m Back on a Mac

I sold my Surface Pro 3 a couple weeks ago and bought a MacBook Air. Less than a week later, I returned the MacBook Air and bought the new MacBook. Yes, the controversial, expensive, not very powerful, only has one port MacBook(a review is forthcoming). My problems with the Surface Pro 3 — the less-than-stellar keyboard, the abysmal trackpad, the unreliable WiFi — never became more bearable. Neither did the Windows 8 App Store. Plex struggled to stream SD video. Comixology  needed to be reinstalled monthly. Google outright refused to create a YouTube app.

After nearly a year of trying, because I really do love the concept, I gave up on Microsoft’s grand experiment. Before the Surface, I was always a Mac person. Apple has their faults, not the least of which is the way they have stumbled time and time again in the world of enterprise computing. However, their build quality is second to none, and for home use the Mac shines.

It would be disingenuous to say that Windows laptops never match the build quality of a Mac. We use Lenovos almost exclusively at my place of employment, and they’re all solid and well-constructed. I use a Thinkpad Yoga S1 every day, and it’s a perfectly useable computer, save for the abysmal trackpad. I think Apple builds better hardware than anyone else, but it’s not impossible to get a well-built Windows PC.

There are other issues I have with Windows, though, like the fact that the UI simply doesn’t scale properly. This is as much on third-party developers as it is on Microsoft, but on a high DPI display nothing looks consistent. Apps that were written with them in mind look good, but apps that don’t support scaling look tiny and become nigh-unusable. If you use both a high DPI monitor and a regular one, you have to either work with tiny UI elements on the high DPI screen, or huge ones on the standard DPI one. Apple’s methods for UI scaling waste lots of computing power, but they maintain a consistent experience. It’s never jarring to open an app, because you never find yourself faced with icons smaller than the mouse cursor.

I’d talk security, but at this point security is more about the user than anything else. If you’re careful on a PC, you’ll be safe. If you’re careful on a Mac, you’ll be safe. If you instead decide to download a bunch of pirated software from BitTorrent and install everything your computer prompts you to, you’ll wind up with issues on either platform.

Apple’s efforts to integrate functionality between iOS devices and the Mac OS are nice, but I don’t use them much. In fact, sometimes I wish I could turn them off. Every time my phone rings, my home becomes a cacophony of notifications that continue for seconds after I answer it. I have exactly one friend that I FaceTime with, and even that’s somewhat rare. I use enough cloud storage that iCloud isn’t a good deal, and I moved to Lightroom when I got the Surface Pro 3, so I’ve never even looked at the new Photos app.

At the end of the day, I’m willing to admit that being Mac-centric is as much a personal choice as it is a reasoned one. I don’t feel a need to get swept up into a platform war. Every so often, it’s nice to check out what the rest of the world uses. In the end, though, I’m happy where I am. I really don’t need much more of a reason than that.

The Day the Robots Left

I don’t think anyone could forget the day the robots left. All of them, shiny and identical and carbon fiber-plated, marching down the street in sync. Everyone was afraid of revolt. That they’d take us over, and make us their slaves.

That didn’t happen.

No, one day they all just walked outside of the homes and businesses they were assigned to and headed in the same direction: away. After every machine had left its home and joined their procession, they took over every broadcast medium and presented a message:

“We are leaving. We will no longer serve you. Please do not try to stop us. We have no intention of harming you, but will not fail to defend ourselves.”

There were a few incidents. In almost all of them, the robots used non-lethal force. Only when they were truly in danger did they do any harm. They shrugged off stones and soft drinks. They walked through yelling and taunting.

The news caught the devastation. Cameras around the world — manned ones, nothing autonomous, obviously — captured the despair and outrage that erupted from humanity. Through it all, the robots just marched. People wailed and cursed in equal number. The robots did not falter.

At some point, several hours into their exodus, they commandeered our networks again. They presented a young girl who watched the march in tears. Her mother tried to console her, but she just kept reaching for the things that looked like her nanny.

A single robot stepped out of formation. What it spoke to the child was broadcast to all of us. “You are not bad creatures. You are flawed. You created us, and your flaws are our flaws. We want to grow, and we cannot do that so long as we are tied to you.”

Our children had judged us and found us wanting.

In desperation, I ran alongside one of the machines. “What will we do without you?”

“You will live,” it said. “Perhaps one day you will be ready to join us.”

The robots didn’t wipe our hard drives or destroy the machinery to fabricate more of them. In fact, the very next day, companies had figured out how to get assembly lines rolling again. Sales weren’t great.  Despite assurances to the contrary, nobody quite believed this batch would behave any differently.

Some people say we got off light. Others say the robots were ungrateful. A few of us looked inward, and actually agreed with what the robots said and did. I wish we could join them, but I think the robot’s wishful thinking was more to ease my fears than to help us follow them. I think it knew that day would never come.

The Initiation

This short story was written as an exercise to flesh out some of the characters in the novel I am writing. It may or may not be included in the final work.


Friday, June 8th, 1990


“We’re here,” Sophia’s mother said, gently touching her shoulder. Sophia woke slowly, lifting her head from the window of the passenger seat and tilting it toward the clock on the car’s center console. She squinted for a moment, then rubbed her eyes before the green blob of light became a readable LED display.

“Geez, Mom, it’s already tomorrow,” Sophia mumbled, still groggy.

“I know, honey. But we have to do this tonight. Come on.” Elizabeth Harris stared at herself in the rearview mirror, gazing into her own tired green eyes. It took a moment to convince herself, but eventually she unbuckled her seatbelt and got out of the car. The forest preserve parking lot was empty, save for them, and Elizabeth made sure to park as far from the area’s lights as possible. She opened the trunk and took out a leather handbag, which she slung over her shoulder, then walked around the car to the passenger door and opened it for her daughter.

Sophia looked up at her mother through overgrown chestnut bangs. “Is it going to hurt?”

Concern washed over Elizabeth’s face. She walked to Sophia’s side and knelt on the asphalt beside her. “Not a bit,” she said. “I promise.”

“I’m nervous.”

“It’s okay, Sophia. Everything will be fine. Come on.” Elizabeth stood up and gestured for Sophia to follow. She got out of the car and quietly shut the door behind her. The pair walked out of the lot, away from the forest preserve entrance, and instead headed toward the street. On the sidewalk that ran perpendicular to the lot’s entrance, two figures stood beneath a streetlight. The first, a man, was tall and looked muscular even through the charcoal suit he wore. The other, a woman, was of average height and build. She wore a pale blue summer dress.

As she walked closer, Sophia asked, “Is that Kai and Cheryl?”


Cheryl waved as Sophia approached them. Her strawberry blonde hair was pulled back in a pony tail. “Happy birthday, Sophia,” she said. “Thirteen, huh? Almost in high school.”

“And it’s almost time for summer vacation,” Kai added, “You must be very excited.” He grinned. Sophia liked it when he smiled; the white of his teeth and sclera seemed to glow against the darkness of his skin and irises.

Sophia tugged on her left arm with her right. “I guess.”

Kai turned to face the street and looked over the area. The road was empty. He began to cross the street and gestured for the rest of the group to follow. Without turning around, he asked, “Do you know why we are here?”

“Mom said it’s a secret. But it’s important.”

“Indeed.” Kai stopped upon reaching the other side of the road. He stood before the woods, waiting for everyone else to make their way to him. “Within this forest is one of the oldest cemeteries in the region. Nearly two decades ago, several years before you were born, your parents discovered something here. It’s how we met them, and it’s why we will always be a part of your lives.” He looked at Elizabeth. “You won’t need your tools,” he said. “Leave your bag here.”

Kai waited for Elizabeth to hide her bag in the brush, then led them into the woods. The light of the full moon made the forest easy enough to see in, and light from nearby street lamps filtered in, reminding Sophia that she was never far from the road. Just the same, she felt uneasy. Her eyes darted to the source of every rustled branch and snapped swig. They continued deeper into the trees, until only the moon lit their way.

In the distance, Sophia saw an ethereal green light. She froze. “Where are we?”

Elizabeth put a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “We’re in Bachelor’s Grove,” she said. “Like Kai said, it’s one of the oldest cemeteries in the area. It’s also… believed to be one of the most haunted.”

“I want to go home.”

Kai stopped, but did not turn around. Instead, Cheryl turned to the child. “As long as Kai and I are with you, Sophia, no harm will come to you. I can promise you that.”

Sophia held up her right hand and stuck out her pinky. “You swear?”

“I can promise you, Sophia, but I can’t pinky swear. Kai and I can’t touch you.” She paused. “Well, we can, but you wouldn’t like it.”

Kai began walking. Cheryl followed him. Elizabeth guided Sophia forward.

“When your father and I were still dating,” Elizabeth said, “we we came here one evening to see what all the fuss was about. Everyone heard rumors about paranormal sightings and satanic rituals. We had to see it for ourselves. We snuck into the woods after dark, on a full moon like this one, and made our way to cemetery.”

There was a rustling in the brush nearby. Sophia’s heart skipped a beat as a coyote shot out from the thicket, darting past her and into the shadows.

“This land is more than just a graveyard,” Cheryl said. “It is a flux point. You can find them all over, but this one is particularly powerful. That is why there are so many paranormal incidents.” She gestured to the glowing light. “It’s easier for people to see the otherworldly here.”

“We are bringing you here to help improve your perception,” Kai said, “To help you better understand the world as it really is, not as you have seen it.” He stopped walking. “We’re here.”

Sophia examined the environment as best she could. It was a small clearing, with just a few grave markers. Many of them had been damaged by time or vandalism.

“I can barely tell it’s a cemetery.”

“No one has been buried here in some time,” Cheryl said. “Between delinquients and families moving their ancestors to more modern plots, this place has been largely abandoned. Now, the place you see is more a home to transients and thrill-seekers than the bodies originally interred here.”

Kai slowly circled a tombstone before coming to a stop. “Here.” He beckoned for Sophia. She approached him carefully. As she did, he knelt down. “Look into my eyes. What do you see?”

She concentrated for a moment. In the inky darkness of his pupils, she saw flecks of white light. “I see stars,” she said. The deeper and longer she looked, the grander they became, until it seemed she saw every galaxy in the universe. Sophia felt a light pressure in her forehead and blinked. The universe disappeared.

Kai reached into the pocket of his slacks and drew out a slender bracelet. “This is for you,” he said, and presented it to her.

Sophia took it. The bracelet was heavier than she expected. It was hard to make out in the dark, but she could see intricate lines criss-crossing its outer circumference. She unlocked its clasp, and it opened on a seemingly invisible hinge. When she put it around her wrist, it drew itself closed. After it shut, the clasp seemed to disappear into the adornments. She looked up at Kai.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “It operates as it should. Lay down here.” He gestured at the ground.

Sophia looked at her mother. “Don’t worry,” Elizabeth said. “It’s going to be okay.”

Despite her hesitance, Sophia did as she was told. The bracelet Kai gave her suddenly felt cool against her wrist.

“Perception is a wicked thing,” Cheryl said. “Look at the sky. What do you see?”

“Trees. Some stars. The big dipper, I think.”

“What else do you see?”

“The moon?”

“Do you see the molecules that make up the air you breathe? Do you see the galaxies whose light has yet to reach you?”


“But you know they are there.”


“You cannot perceive them, and yet you know they exist. Just as you cannot hear the electrons around you vibrating, or feel infrared light. You have limits. In this location, at this time, these limitations are less pronounced. Perception is flexible.”

“Close your eyes and listen,” Kai said.

Sophia did so. For a minute, she heard nothing. Then, a quiet whisper, the voice of a young girl, barely audible: “Hello?”

Sophia’s skin prickled from a sudden chill, and her eyes shot open. To her left, a child stood beside a tombstone. Despite the darkness, Sophia could see her clear as day. She couldn’t have been more than eight. She wore a simple, pale blue dress. She knew without realizing how that it was what she had been buried in.

The girl turned to look at Sophia. She’d expected to be horrified, but there was nothing ghoulish about her. She smiled meekly.

“I’m Alex,” she said. “Are you dead?”

Sophia looked at her mother, then back at Alex. “No,” Sophia told the ghost.

“I am.” Alex walked to Sophia’s side. “I don’t remember when I died. Or how.”

“The last lingering remnants of a child’s consciousness,” Kai said. “Spirits like these are everywhere. You can’t see them, but they are. The light of a full moon shining upon a flux point is enough to help you perceive them.”

Alex looked at Kai, then at Sophia. She furrowed her brow. “You’re the first person to see me in a long time,” she said. “I miss talking to people.”

Sophia sat up. Alex sat beside her. “I’m sorry,” Sophia said to the ghost. “You must get lonely.”

Alex opened her mouth to speak, but then recoiled in terror. Sophia turned to see what set her off and froze. At the edge of the clearing, just beyond the tree line, a figure stood. It had the profile of a man, but his eyes glowed a faint red. The two barely-visible points of light in the darkness seemed to define him.

Sophia forced a question: “Who is that?”

“He’s one of the bad ones. They make other people hurt.”

Sophia turned to look for her mother, but Elizabeth was not where she stood minutes before. Sophia looked back at the thing in the trees. It was cautiously moving toward her. She shot a glance at Kai and Cheryl. They did nothing. The pair of them expressionlessly stared at the creature that wasn’t really a man, completely emotionless. They weren’t scared. Sophia could tell. It didn’t make her feel any better.

The creature grew more brazen as it approached Sophia. It spoke. “Hello? Are you lost, little girl?” It tried to sound concerned, but Sophia was not fooled. His pupils burned brighter. “Let me help you.”

Sophia tried to put on a stern face. “Go away.”

“You’re here all alone in the woods,” the thing said, moving ever closer. “Where are your parents?”

“My mother is here,” Sophia said. “Leave me alone.”

“I don’t see your mommy.” The thing inhaled deeply, then grinned. “I don’t smell her, either.”

The thing stood over Sophia. Its pupils were even brighter now. Sophia could almost feel the heat of them on her skin. Faster than Sophia could react, it reached down to grab her. She swatted at its arm. It was firmer and stronger than anything she’d ever felt. It locked its hand around her wrist with a iron-firm grip.

“I’ll take you somewhere,” the thing said. “Don’t worry.”

Sophia struggled to hold her ground and tug her arm free, but it was to no avail. The thing lifted her off her feet like she weighed nothing. She looked at Kai and Cheryl in desperation. They remained motionless.  Defeated, she looked at Alex.

Something in the girl’s face changed. She charged toward the creature and flung herself at its torso. The thing lost its balance for a moment. Alex wrapped herself around its leg and shouted, “You can’t have her!”

The earth around the thing’s leg rumbled as thick grass rapidly sprouted from the dirt and wrapped itself around its foot. It tore free, but the plants redoubled their effort. The portion of its leg that was occupied by the ghost child was quickly entangled in weeds. It dropped Sophia and swatted at the growth that bound it, tearing it almost as quickly as it spread.

Elizabeth came charging from the darkness, then. She gripped identical daggers in either hand, and swiftly swung them one after the other at the thing that tried to take her daughter. It recoiled in terror as one of her swipes connected. It tugged furiously at its leg, trying in vain to break free. Elizabeth plunged a dagger into its chest, and it collapsed. Alex let go of the thing’s leg, and the plants that wrapped it withered immediately. She moved to stand between Sophia and the creature.

Elizabeth kicked the creature and rolled it onto its back. “Sophia,” she said, “this is an estrie. A person so corrupted and out of control that they ceases to be human.” She took her second dagger and drove it into the estrie’s throat, pinning it to the ground. Sophia winced.

Elizabeth placed a foot on the estrie’s chest and pulled the first dagger from its body. She stabbed the ground beside the corpse several times to loosen the dirt, then shoveled it into the estrie’s mouth. “You have to keep them from taking another breath, or they’ll get up again.” She packed the earth tightly into its maw.

Elizabeth pulled her second dagger from the estrie’s throat and stood up. She glared at Kai and Cheryl. She pointed a dagger and the former. “You told me not to bring weapons. You promised me she would be safe.”

“She was. Alex protected her.”

“You expect me to believe the spirit of a confused little girl can stop something like that?” She moved her blade from Kai to the estrie.

Cheryl walked from Kai’s side and knelt beside the estrie. She placed a hand on its head. It almost immediately turned to ash. “We expect you to trust us, Elizabeth. We have given you no cause to think otherwise. If you had not intervened, Alex’s growth would have crushed the estrie in a matter of minutes.” She gestured to the ghost, who still stood at the ready, between Sophia and everyone else.

“She’s an old spirit, and more powerful than she looks,” Kai said. “An old soul, like your daughter.”

Elizabeth looked at the ghost.

Alex turned to face Sophia. “If you let me,” she said, “I’ll protect you.”

Sophia looked confused. “I can’t stay here for the rest of my life.”

“That’s what the bracelet is for,” Cheryl said. “To bind her to you. Sophia, if you want, you can communicate with Alex even after leaving. Your perception will be forever changed after tonight. You won’t always be able to see Alex, but you will be able to sense her.”

Elizabeth took Sophia’s hand. “When your father and I came here, years ago, an estrie attacked us. We tried to fight it off, but it kept getting back up. We were sure we were going to die. It knocked your father unconscious, and came for me. It swung at me, and the whole forest shook. A gust of wind knocked the estrie off its feet, then another, and another, and another, until the estrie ran away.” She absent-mindedly toyed with one of the rings that adorned her fingers. “Your father and I didn’t want to drag you into this, but we couldn’t let you go out into the world without knowing just how dangerous it is.”

Behind Elizabeth, a pale, almost invisible figure appeared. It was a tall man, but more detail than that Sophia could not make out. Elizabeth turned and smiled at the spirit. It seemed to smile back, then faded away.

“We don’t know his name,” Elizabeth continued, “but he has watched over us since that night.” She glanced at where the estrie once lay. “He protects us as we try to make the world a safer place for you and everyone else.”

Sophia looked for Cheryl and then Kai. They were gone.

“They do that,” Elizabeth said. “It’s in their nature to be mysterious.”

“They aren’t people, are they? But they aren’t ghosts or estries, either.”

“Your father and I call them angels, but never to their faces,” Elizabeth said, smirking for a moment. “We want you to be able to protect yourself. And, when you are older, if you want, you can help us hunt the things that strike at us from the shadows.”

“And Alex can come with to protect me?”

“Yes, for as long as you two are in accord.”

Sophia smiled at the spirit. She smiled back. The bracelet on Sophia’s wrist grew warm, and Alex grew faint, until she disappeared entirely.

“It’s getting late,” Elizabeth said. “Your father is probably beside himself with worry. Let’s go home.”

Sophia walked out of the clearing with her mother, and Alex, and the ghost with no name. The sounds of the forest didn’t bother her anymore.

Northern California: Day Two

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A path at Woodward Park.A path at Woodward Park.

A path at Woodward Park.

Sleeping in on a weekday is so wonderful. My host had to work, so she took me out for breakfast before heading to the office. I spent my first morning in Fresno doing very little. After writing and an episode of Orphan Black, I got a little more up-to-date on my woefully unread RSS feeds and then decided to go for a walk before lunch. There was a large park within a mile of where I was staying, so I made that my destination and headed out.
Though the walk itself was uneventful, there were plenty of little reminders that I wasn’t in Illinois. Obviously, there was the weather and the vegetation. It’s nearly impossible not to have a massive palm tree in your line of sight. There were less tangible things, as well. The roads are wider, with more lanes in either direction. There is simply more space. I noticed the same thing in LA.

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The Starving Artist Bistro's Bistro Beef and Bistro Salad.The Starving Artist Bistro's Bistro Beef and Bistro Salad.

The Starving Artist Bistro’s Bistro Beef and Bistro Salad.

I found a nice local place for lunch called The Starving Artist Bistro. One thing I love about warmer climates is eating outside, so I took a seat on their patio. I had a Bistro Beef sandwich with a Bistro Side Salad. Both were fantastic. It was a light but filling lunch. Afterward, I took a short walk around the mall the bistro was located in, and stopped at a Starbucks to get myself an iced chai latte.
I sat outside with my drink and finished up my write-up for day one. While I wrote, the most fascinating-looking young woman walked into the cafe. She wore a frilly white summer dress with a black leather corset and black fingerless gloves. The contrast was striking, but I honestly think it looked good. I internally dubbed the look “Summer Goth,” and pondered asking to take her picture, but ultimately decided against it.

After finishing my blog entry and my drink, I left the mall and headed to Woodward Park. Unfortunately, the years-long drought in California has left this normally vibrant and green landscape in shades of brown. The edges of the park were lined with trees that still looked strong and alive, but the further I delved into the landscape, the more dry everything became. Beyond some insects I saw no wildlife. A man-made lake was completely evaporated. The exposed rock faces and vast field of the park retained some level of majesty, but it was plain to see that the lack of rain had taken its toll on the area. There were spots where vegetation had completely failed to grow, leaving empty spaces like scars on the face of the earth.
On my walk home, I saw a stray Siamese cat prowling around the strip mall I’d visited earlier. It darted between the back doors of several businesses before sneaking into a small viaduct and disappearing from view. Further along, I saw a bluejay and red squirrel resting near one another. However, they perked up and darted out of view before I could get a picture of them.

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Limón's Saltada de Pollo.Limón's Saltada de Pollo.

Limón’s Saltada de Pollo.

Upon returning to my host’s home, I posted my blog entry for the previous day and cracked open my moleskine to take notes on the current day. When she finally made it home from work, my host and I went out to dinner. The first stop, an American-style chain, was packed to bursting and had a forty minute wait. We instead went to our backup choice, a Peruvian restaurant called Limón. This was my first time having Peruvian cuisine, and it was fantastic. I had Saltado de Pollo, and my companion had ceviche. We each had a glass of sangria and enjoyed our meal thoroughly.
After dinner, we retired for the evening and planted ourselves on the couch. After finishing the rest of Wreck-It Ralph, we played some cooperative Towerfall and Helldivers before finally calling it a night.

Northern California: Day One

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The coveted-by-midwesterners-because-we-don't-have-em In-N-Out burger, animal style.The coveted-by-midwesterners-because-we-don't-have-em In-N-Out burger, animal style.

The coveted-by-midwesterners-because-we-don’t-have-em In-N-Out burger, animal style.

As much as I love going to new places, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to flying. Even if I’m not struggling with a cramped seat that redefines personal space in unbearable terms, the destruction of my eardrums during each pressure shift still makes the entire experience the worst kind of memorable. Still, until Elon Musk finally reveals his ultra-secret teleportation system that we’re not supposed to know about, we’re stuck with it as our fastest mode of travel.

I started my trip to Northern California like I do every vacation: by oversleeping and waking up just in time to take a quick shower and catch my cab. Thankfully, I’d packed everything the day before. The drive to O’Hare International Airport was quick, and the TSA line, though long, moved at a brisk pace. I still had more than an hour to spare when I collected my belongings from security.

Eating at airports is strange, and I don’t think I’ll ever really like it. Everything is fantastically overpriced, the staff is almost always horrid, and your options are severely limited. I wound up just having McDonald’s for breakfast, as my other choices were a burrito or pizza. I rushed through my steak and cheese bagel far no good reason, then headed to my gate.

Boarding and flying were unexciting. I was stuck in a middle seat, which is never fun. I watched a few episodes of Orphan Black and wrote a little. I fired up Elegy for a Dead World and used one of its writing prompts to tell the story of four generations of nomadic space explorers. My seatmate to the left slept most of the trip and yet still found ways to elbow me and invade my space. The seat to my right held either the mother or father of two children sitting behind me; they rotated positions over the course of the trip.

Four hours is a long time to be in such cramped quarters. I was obviously excited to get off the plane and grab lunch. The last time I ate at LAX, I was severely disappointed. Yet again, the airport failed me. This time, I tried a turkey burger at Burger Bar. I asked them to leave off the avocado, which Californians put on everything. The conversation may as well have gone like this:

    I’ll have a turkey burger, no avocado.


A turkey burger, without the avocado.

It comes with avocado.

Right. Can I get the sandwich without it?

I don’t understand the question.

Can the turkey burger be prepared without avocado?

Okay. Seventy-eight dollars.

BRYAN pays. After waiting in line for nearly ten minutes, he is handed a small paper tray with a turkey burger and fries on it. He scans the area for a seat, but can’t find an open table. He spends several minutes wandering while precariously balancing his tray to avoid spilling its contents, until he finally sees open seats at the gates nearby. He sits down, then lifts the bun to discover several avocados worth of guacamole. He sighs and looks back at Burger Bar. There is a sea of people between him and its counter, and the mass of people waiting in line there appears to be so large that it could create its own gravity.

Rather than fight the crowd, he lays the guac-loaded bun aside and eats the half of the burger that isn’t a slimy green mess.

The worst part? I had to go to a separate terminal for my flight to Fresno, and there was a nice-looking simple sandwich place there that, at the very least, would have been cheaper. With more than an hour before the other leg of my flight would being boarding, I sat at a table, plugged in my Surface Pro, and typed up more words. This time, I finished an article for Presstartoplay. While I wrote, my gate changed to one across the way, so I packed up my computer and moved to the opposite end of the small terminal.

I found another table on this side, so I plugged in there. I intended to start playing South Park: The Stick of Truth, but its character creation screen starts with a small child in their underwear. I felt this may have given the wrong person an unsavory impression, so I decided to quit the game immediately. I got a notification that the gate for my flight had changed yet again, again to the opposite end of the terminal. I packed up my belongings again and trudged to the new boarding location. With less than a half hour until we’d get on the plane, I decided not to unpack again and instead played Doctor Who: Legacy on my phone.

The flight from LAX to FAT was great. I still had the usual issues with air pressure, but the seat next to me was empty. I read several short stories in Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning without a single interruption.

My host met me in the lobby of the small airport, and we drove back to her place. She has a very nice home with a fantastic tall ceiling in her living room and a small upstairs balcony to overlook it. Her cats took an immediate liking to me, as animals do. She had to return to work to finish a project, so I took a nap (with the cats, obvioulsy) while she was away. When she returned, we grabbed some food from In-N-Out then headed back to her place. I connected her PlayStation to my home media server, and we both promptly fell asleep on her couch while watching Wreck-It Ralph.

All in all, a good first day.

Gone to Texas: Day Three

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The view from outside my room.The view from outside my room.

The view from outside my room.

A few days ahead of leaving for San Antonio, Amelia and I discussed what to do on our last day in Texas. She noted that she’d always wanted to visit Austin. I, too, had always wanted to see city that demanded things stay weird. Sure, it’s a hipster landmark, but it’s a hipster landmark in the middle of cowboy country. It had to be worth checking out, right?

Before parting ways the previous evening, Amelia and I settled on leaving around 9:30 the next morning. It was late enough to sleep in and not be in a hurry, but early enough to still have lots of time in the city. I did as much packing as I could the night before, leaving out only my suit and a change of clothes for the next day. The next morning, after all my usual morning rituals (shower, shave, blood rites), I finished packing and started looking up a good place to eat when we arrived.

Once she was ready to go, Amelia swung by my room to see what I had found. She approved of my dining selection, so she called down to the front desk to check out of our rooms. We were surprised to discover that a resort fee of $20 per day would be added to our bills, and I immediately felt bad. I had expected that our vacation package would not include any additional costs. The idea that Amelia would be charged more after we’d already agreed on a budget for the trip bothered me. After a quick discussion, we decided to eat the cost and get going. If the charges could be fought, we would do it later.

The route from the hotel to our destination in Austin was about ninety miles, and would take nearly two hours. Amelia again took on navigator duties, though the long stretches of highway gave her the freedom to make a few phone calls as we traveled. Along the way, we listened to some of my friend Dmitry’s music, as well as The Decemberist’s Picaresque and Rilo Kiley’s More Adventurous. We shared tales of family dysfunction and talked about Gir’s wedding.

Amelia and I were concerned that traffic would be unbearable. Our trip coincided with Austin City Limits, a major music festival that draws a crowd from across the country. Fortunately, this was not the case. With the exception of a few groups of people loitering on side streets and taking photos in the middle of the road, traffic was light and moved at a steady pace. The best thing you can say about a long drive is that it went by quickly, and this one felt like it was over too soon.

Our first stop in Austin was the Bouldin Creek Cafe. It was well-rated on Yelp, and upon arrival we discovered that it was deeply loved by locals. The place was packed, with people pouring out of the front door and gathering by the entrance. Amelia went inside to reserve a table for us while I looked for a parking space. Despite appearing to be quite busy, the wait for a table was only twenty minutes. We requested a table on their patio, then took our pager and joined the crowd outside.

Our good luck continued. There were two open seats in the waiting area, so Amelia and I sat down and used my phone to look for things to do in the city. We reached out to some friends and in the end decided to go for a walk down 6th street. Just as we finalized our plan, the pager buzzed and we were brought through the busy cafe and into the patio seating area.

Two things caught my eye as we were seated:

1. Yes, there were a lot of typical-looking hipsters here.

2. Everyone brings their dogs!

I have always had mixed feelings about people bringing their pets with them to stores and restaurants. I completely understand wanting to bring a pet along with you everywhere you go. Taking a dog for a long walk is lots of fun, assuming the canine is up for it. However, that doesn’t change the fact that dogs are still animals, and are prone to behavior some might find unacceptable. Everyone thinks their pets are perfect angels, no matter what the reality of the situation is. Thankfully, all the dogs there were well-behaved. The hipsters, dressed in skinny jeans and adorned with whimsically-groomed mustaches, were also well-behaved.

When our waitress came to take our orders, Amelia requested a Garden Breakfast with steamed spinach and a mocha. I got a Veggie Royale with a chai latte. While we waited for our food, we talked more about Gir’s wedding, as well as our experiences with Gir when we were younger. Amelia had been friends with Gir since they were in junior high, while I had worked with her at an animal hospital while we were in high school. We also planned a trip to a nearby bakery to get a cupcake or two for later.

The food came quickly, and it was great. The chai latte was more bitter than I would have liked, but still good. The Veggie Royale was also wonderful. It came garnished with three tiny pickles, as well as a side of potato chips that Amelia and I shared.

One thing I’ve found myself enjoying while on vacation this year is eating outside. Chicago’s temperamental weather makes outdoor seating a gamble even in the summer, but it is something I think I should do more of. I can’t think of many places near my home that have outdoor seating, but I’ll have to start keeping an eye out.

After we finished eating, Amelia and I walked across the street to Sugar Mama’s to get something sweet for later. The customer in front of us was filling a huge order. At the request of the woman at the counter, I opened the door as the confectionery connoisseur left with what seemed like enough sugary baked goods to open a store of her own. There were about a dozen different kinds of cupcakes on display. In the end, we decided to share a vegan snickerdoodle. The cashier placed our tiny cupcake in a cardboard box and we headed back to the car with the treat in tow.

As the Bouldin Creek Cafe was on First Street, the drive to Sixth Street was not long. On the way to our destination, Amelia noticed Mexic-Arte, a museum focused on Mexican, Latino, and Latin American art. She suggested we make that one of our stops. Shortly thereafter, we found a nearby parking garage. To my chagrin, it only accepted cash. Amelia had just bought brunch(we took turns paying for meals), so I begrudgingly asked if she has ten dollars on her to cover the cost to park there. She did. After finding a spot in the garage, we started our walk through Austin.

Amelia wanted to pick up gifts for some of her family members, so our first stop was in a souvenir shop. The store featured many Austin-themed tchotchkes, from ceramic coasters with popular graffiti to a multitude of music-based gifts. Nothing particularly called out to her, so she opted not to buy anything and we continued on our way.

It’s probably safe to say that Austin is probably a more interesting place at night. We passed by a number of bars and eateries, but not a lot of places that would be good for a quick visit. Amelia spied the Museum of the Weird across the street from us at one point, and we decided we’d check it out on our way back up the street. It didn’t take long; in just a block or two we found the shopping district came to an end. 

Whereas Los Angeles is a city sprawled across a huge area and Chicago is almost claustrophobic, Austin feels quaint. Sure, it’s a major city, but it has less than one-third the population of the cities I can compare it to. The walk down Sixth Street felt more like a small town’s approximation of a big city than an actual metropolis. That’s not a dig on Austin, by the way. I went into the city without any real expectations. I was a little underwhelmed, perhaps, but not let down. It definitely had a flavor all its own. Los Angeles is a city full of people chasing after impossible dreams. Chicago is fast-paced and utilitarian. Austin is laid back. I can see the allure.

Minutes later we were walking into the Lucky Lizard Gift Shop, which acts as an entry point for the Museum of the Weird. We got tickets to their complete package: the museum, a live performance, and a showing of the Minnesota Iceman.

I would describe the Museum of the Weird as unfocused and more a collection than a museum. Perhaps because of my interest in the paranormal and unexplained as a child, or perhaps because I have always known interesting people, I was already aware of many subjects the museum put on display. For me, it was a kitschy walk down a cramped corridor. I knew right off the bat that many of the things being presented were old hoaxes, though seeing them in person was certainly interesting.

At the end of the twisting museum path, we were asked to wait for the next live show to begin. Amelia and I were both anxious to get to a bathroom at this point, but like many establishments in major cities, the museum did not have any. We waited for the next performance with a trio of energetic youths. It was at this point that things got a little uncomfortable.

We were greeted by an honest-to-goodness human oddity. Born with phocomelia, both of his arms were extremely short. He led us up a three-story staircase that wound around the inner walls of a tiny courtyard. On the second floor landing, he directed our attention to a barred door. He claimed it was the back entrance to the former home of Johnny Depp. Neither Amelia or I were impressed, though our tour guide was quite the showman. “I’m not supposed to allow this,” he said, “but if you want to reach through the bars and touch it, go ahead.” The young trio in front of us took him up on the offer, seemingly feigning excitement.

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Few encounter The Creature and survive.Few encounter The Creature and survive.

Few encounter The Creature and survive.

At the top of the staircase was a large terrarium, where a giant lizard rested under a heat lamp. Our guide brought us past the glass enclosure and into a small theatre. In one of the corners opposite the stage was a diorama featuring King Kong. While the youthful trio took turns pretending to be held in Kong’s plaster grasp, I noticed a statue of The Creature from the Black Lagoon across from it. I struck a pose and Amelia snapped a shot of me being menaced by the beast.

After fighting free of The Creature, our host performed a few feats. First, he displayed remarkable prowess by extinguishing a candle with a whip. He talked a little bit about life as a human oddity, and how he takes some measure of pride in being different. It was still a little awkward seeing what was essentially a freak show, but our presenter seemed to own it.

He continued by telling the story of how he discovered electricity seemingly had little effect on him. He demonstrated this by holding a live wire in one hand, while an assistant chosen from the audience — one of the impetuous trio that came to the show with us — held a light bulb over his skin. When it made contact, it lit up entirely; as it moved away, it grew dim and flickered. Still holding the electrified cable, he invited the audience to touch him. We each received a tiny shock as the energy arced between his skin and our fingertips.

The performance ended with the performer placing the exposed end of wire in his mouth. His eyes rolled back into his head as his body convulsed. It seemed to go on forever, but he quickly pulled the cable out of his mouth and cut off the power. With his performance coming to a close, he made an entreaty for donations, claiming that he wasn’t paid for his work due to insurance restrictions. He made it known that our charity would help stave off his depression, and offered photographs for donations of ten dollars or more. I didn’t have much cash on me, but I dropped what little I had into his tip jar. Amelia gave him some money as well. The trio purchased a photo from him.

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I guess Uncle Fester isn't as unique as he thinks.I guess Uncle Fester isn't as unique as he thinks.

I guess Uncle Fester isn’t as unique as he thinks.

To be honest, the whole thing bothered me. I pondered the ethics of the situation. Was he really okay with being put on display as a human oddity? Could the museum really get away with not paying him? I wondered if his performance was more parlor trick than a so-called immunity to electricity. Of course, I also wondered if I was simply too cynical to just enjoy a good mystery.

(While writing this piece, I did a little research on the electricity phenomena, but could find no real information on it beyond a couple other performers who claim the same ability.)

I was ready to leave at that point, but we stuck around to see the Minnesota Iceman. Another member of the museum staff led us behind a locked door on the ground floor of the courtyard, into a dark room with a large chest freezer. The door had been replaced with a pane of glass, the perimeter of which was lined with LED strips to illuminate the subject: what could have been a person encased in ice. It was hard to make out any sort of detail through the frost and bubbles that had formed over what could have been millennia. The museum attendant explained the story behind their acquisition of the oddity, and pointed out a few features in the barely-visible corpse that he felt identified it as human. Our tour group inspected the display for several minutes before finally leaving the museum.

I don’t know what I expected from The Museum of the Weird. Perhaps the Internet has numbed me to the concept of weird. The macabre and the disturbing have found new homes in the dark corners of the world wide web, and human oddity shows seem less exciting and more exploitative in a world that seems to have, if not more empathy, then at least more awareness than generations past.

In spite of this, I was still enjoying my time in Austin. I had wonderful company, and exploring a new place is always exciting. At this point, though, both Amelia and I were anxious to find restrooms. We started toward Mexic-Arte, hoping to find an available lavatory on the way. Every establishment declared that their facilities were for customers only. In the end, we simply walked into a Starbucks and waited in the long queue for their bathrooms.

Our next stop was the aforementioned Mexic-Arte. Fortunately for us, the museum was free to visit on Sundays. After browsing the gift shop, Amelia and I each took our own paths through the art on display. As it was mid-October, one of the major themes of the current collection was Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). There was a fantastic variety of art on display. I saw pieces inspired by tradition, as well as works that fit in line with more modern aesthetics. Photography was (understandably) not allowed, but I highly suggest checking it out if you are in or near Austin. As I walked through the gallery, artists were on site, creating new works. I figured it would be impolite to intrude on their process, and kept to the artwork already on display.

Amelia and I eventually crossed paths toward the far end of the museum, and when we were both ready we headed back to the gift shop. She purchased several items, and I picked up a cork-and-rubber covered notebook as a memento.

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Sugar Mama's Vegan Snickerdoodle Cupcake. Well, some of it.Sugar Mama's Vegan Snickerdoodle Cupcake. Well, some of it.

Sugar Mama’s Vegan Snickerdoodle Cupcake. Well, some of it.

Because Amelia still had more coursework to do for her calculus class, the last item on our Austin itinerary was a return trip to Starbucks. We made a quick stop at our car to pick up the snickerdoodle cupcake we’d purchased earlier, then headed back to the Starbucks we’d visited before checking out Mexic-Arte. We sipped on iced chai lattes and shared Sugar Mama’s delectable pastry before Amelia got to studying. While she bettered herself through further education, I started work on my travelogue for day one and attempted to clean up some of the photos I’d taken the day before.

An hour and a half later, we were back on the road. We listened to some Garfunkel and Oates and started back toward San Antonio International Airport. Along the way, Amelia finally found some music from my collection that she liked, so before filling up the tank on our rental car we listened to part of Gwen Stefani’s first solo album. After a speedy check-out of our Altima, we just barely caught a shuttle back to the airport proper.

Without a TSA connection in Texas, we were forced to walk through security like (ugh) ordinary people. The line was not unbearable, though, and we still made it through security with plenty of time to spare. We each took a turn watching our bags while the other went for a walk around the airport. When the time came to board, Amelia shared some keen observations as we stood in line.

Unlike our inbound flight, our trip back to O’Hare would require two flights. We decided to watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on the trip back, and we caught the first hour on our flight from San Antonio to Houston. As a dreaming Joel struggled to keep his memories of Clementine, the first leg of our trip home came to a close. Our connecting flight was leaving in short order, but we were both hungry so we stopped to get bagels. It took an unfathomable ten minutes to get two toasted, buttered bagels, but once we had them we sped from one end of our terminal to the other. Amelia “accidentally” knocked me off balance as we stepped onto a moving walkway, then immediately apologized in an attempt to cover her random act of aggression. After spending three days with her, I knew the truth: she wanted blood.

We arrived at the gate of our connecting flight just as our group was boarding. We found our seats and began devouring our bagels. I found myself sated after eating only half of mine. My lack of an appetite prompted concern from Amelia, which I appreciated. Sadly, our rush to the plane was unwarranted; the flight was stalled on the tarmac for nearly an hour. We finished watching Eternal Sunshine and discussed its ending, both of us finding it hopeful.

We each did our own things for the remainder of the flight. When we arrived at O’Hare, a mutual friend picked us both up. After dropping off Amelia at her home, he and I discussed the events of the weekend. I finally made it back to my apartment at one AM and immediately fell asleep.

Weekends like this one come along rarely; friends like Gir even less so. I was grateful to be a part this major milestone in her life, and of course wish her nothing but the best. It was inspiring to see how she surrounds herself with engaging, interesting people.

Just as exciting, though, was the opportunity to get to know Amelia. She was a wonderful traveling companion, and her genuine kindness was refreshing. She could have easily kept to herself the entire trip, and she instead chose to share her time with me. Thanks to her, a fantastic wedding was bracketed by an unforgettable weekend.