Chapter Six: Our Fortress Is Burning…

18 Mar

One Second: Lightning cracks and bodies roll—a shock that bursts forth from man to man to beast to man. Death is instantaneous as the brain’s wiring is reset. Bodies are already making their way to the ground.

“Whadda’ya think of this map, Steve?”

“Hard to say. Whether the Xs denote something already in place or something yet to come, we cannot know.”

“Why the hell are none of their goddamn plans written in English?!”

One Minute: I’m having fun. Just warming up—getting into the groove of these newly realized powers. Every turn of my body—every moment is the birth of a corpse. Attacks don’t have time to reach me. All are dead before they can guess that they’re in danger.

“Okay, well this X is definitely San Fransisco, and this one’s Washington D.C.; I think that one’s Houston. I don’t know the others for sure, but I’m betting they’re all major cities.”

“Their plans must involve each landmark of United States civilization. But how?”

Five Minutes: My will becomes more and more visceral, my heart colder and colder. The killing has started to feel natural—almost too easy. My enemies are no longer attacking in waves, and now carefully and tactically plot their movements. But their nerves are weak at the sight of my blood-soaked body and the carcases of their former comrades, while I am overwhelmed with confident power.

“This is why you should’ve left someone alive to interrogate.”

“It’ll be fine, don’t worry. I know a girl who knows a guy that might know something about this.”

“Wow, that sounds completely reliable.”

Thirty Minutes: I am a god of death. The survivors have lost all morale. They attack in frenzied panic and I don’t even move. I destroy them. I can’t tell which ones are pleading for mercy or trying to escape—my mounting bloodlust has reddened my eyes and all I see are targets.

“That’s it then, right? We can leave this creepy place?”

“I suppose so. I do wish that we knew what was going on out here.”

“Like I said, it’s totally a cult. I’ve seen this kinda shit on TV.”

One Hour: I stand alone over a mountain of gore. Black clouds roll on the horizon, water rushing away with the ocean of blood, lightning erupting in the sky as the gods congratulate my victory. I yell with all my might, my entire being now that of a beast who knows only how to kill.

“Jesus man, there are guts everywhere. You really overdid it, Cirno.”

“I was caught up in the moment—it couldn’t be helped. Besides, you were a big part of this.”

“Whatever. You need a shower.”

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Chapter Five: Bad Trails

15 Mar

The beastly red creature approached with fury, his face a clear statement of, “yes, I’m going to kill you,” his hands clenched into bulging fists. Many thoughts raced through my head—mostly a long train of swear words and frenzied panic.

“Cirno, I think we should run or something.”

Steve was probably right, except my brain had already calculated my speed against the demon’s and determined how far I’d make it before I was snatched up and broken in half.

“Do something, Cirno!”

‘Do something’ indeed had to be done.

…or would’ve, were it not for a fierce rumbling in the upper atmosphere. Myself and the demon and presumably Steve all looked up to see an object in the sky, too high to identify.

Its obscurity was soon remedied by its speed and the fact that it was heading straight for us.

It looked like a meteorite or a huge hunk of metal. There wasn’t enough time to fully analyze it, because seconds later it collided with the camp site with and pulverized the earth beneath us, throwing the demon and myself (and Steve by proxy) to the ground painfully. Tremors continued to quake underfoot as I tried to stand and get a look at what happened.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. “A huge hunk of metal” indeed described what was apparently an alien space shuttle. A hatch opened atop the ship and a figure crawled from it.

“G’khrol belrfe snajgus!” The being called out with a deep and husky voice in a tongue so incomprehensible as to occupy all of the senses in effort to process it.

The demon who’d been ready to throttle me moments before rose to its feet with a stagger. The instant it turned to face the space anomaly, a green laser beam shot from the ship and melted a hole through the demon’s brain. Blood blasted from the newborn crevice and the body collapsed in a heap.

If I didn’t shit myself, I surely thought I was going to. I focused on the alien being, trying to ascribe meaning to its form, but my powers of conceptualization weren’t strong enough. I could only see another flash of green light fire in my direction, and then there was a hole in my chest.

I looked down through it curiously for the last moment that I was alive to do so.

I’m just fuckin’ with ya, none of that actually happened.

The beastly red creature did approach with fury, his face a clear statement of, “yes, I’m going to kill you,” his hands clenched into bulging fists. Many thoughts did race through my head—mostly a long train of swear words and frenzied panic. But what Steve said next was:

“Cirno, have you ever used a chainsaw before?”

“What?!”

“Pretend I’m a chainsaw!”

The demon was getting close. I clenched Steve’s handle with all my might. Even with his length, the demon’s arms were a lot longer than mine, so I was going to need to get in close for the attack.

Except it’s not like I knew how to fight, and in the time I spent thinking about what to do, the demon had already closed the gap between us, his enormous red fist thundering towards me in dramatic slow-motion. Instinct took over and I raised Steve in front of my face for defense.

Had Steve just been a pole, he would’ve been pummeled clean through my skull. To understand what happened instead, imagine trying to punch a chainsaw.

Having attacked with all of its strength in such an exaggerated way, the demon couldn’t cancel its momentum and found its entire arm carved down the middle. The blood which shot out was instantly evaporated in the air by the super-heated Steve, resulting in a cut so clean that when the demon and I turned to face one-another in the next moment, it looked as though his arm had always been grotesquely halved.

Unless demons just didn’t feel any pain, it was possible that Steve had fried the nerves in its arm so quickly that it didn’t feel a thing, since it went through the emotions of “bewilderment” and “anger” without taking a rest for “anguish.”

I don’t think the beast gave significant consideration to what had just occurred, since it next proceeded to attack me with its other arm, losing it in the exact same way.

Now I was facing off against a demon with disproportionately thin arms so asymmetrical that I couldn’t take them seriously. Maybe that’s what gave me the confidence to spring into action and attack the demon head-on.

Quite literally, I might add: I hoisted Steve above my head, then smashed him down on the demon’s skull. Grinding sounds reverberated from the cut as I slowly forced Steve through the full length of the demon’s body until it’d been completely split in half.

I breathed heavily with exasperation as I stood over the demon’s mercilessly butchered corpse.

“Hey, Cirno… you realize you just killed that thing, right?”

“Don’t give me that shit, Mr. ‘ever used a chainsaw.'”

“I’m just saying, we don’t even know what that guy was all about.”

“I’m at least eighty percent sure he was gonna grind my bones to make his bread.”

“Whatever, existential racism quandaries aside, I think we’re pretty much fucked now.”

“Wha..?” I looked up at the camp site that was no longer a considerable distance across the horizon.

Approximately five-hundred eyes were looking back at me.

A thought crossed my mind about how when movie characters murder castle guards, there’s always a wall between them and the rest of the castle so that no one sees what’s going on. I wondered, “why don’t they put the guards on the inside of the wall? It would make it harder to figure out where they’re stationed, harder to sneak by them, and a lot harder to kill them without anyone noticing.”

“Cirno. Being as my existence is largely intangible, I have no concerns about my own safety. If you need to drop me and run, I’ll be fine.”

“…run? Who said anything about running?”

A crazy idea was worming its way into my head.

“Surely you don’t intend to fight all those people? They’ll completely gang-rape you.”

No.

That’s not right.

That’s not the real truth.

“You aren’t thinking creatively enough, Steve.”

“Meaning?”

You’re the one who’s going to kill all of those people and demons. I’m just going to guide you towards them.”

“That’s very philosophical Cirno, but—”

“You don’t understand. Electricity is a force to be reckoned with, Steve. Did you know that if a human is struck by lightning, they’re pretty much dead? Or that electricity easily travels at… well, lightning speed between objects? I used you to cut Tape Man in half because your shape naturally made me think of a sword; but in truth, I can think of a million ways to use your power.”

“That sounds great and all, but in this situation, the numbers are simply overwhelming. Plus, they’re already walking creepily towards us—we don’t have time to plan out all of these—”

“Shut up, Steve.”

Steve was silent.

“Let me tell you a little story. When I was in tenth grade, I was failing most of my classes. My teachers thought I should be taking lower-level courses, and other kids made fun of me because they thought I was stupid. But I didn’t care. To me, the drawings that I spent my class time on were far more important than any of those people or any of that schoolwork.

One day, my dad was giving me the usual speech about his disappointment in my grades, because he refused to believe that even if I was really passionate about drawing, it was worth failing out of school for. I understood the way he felt—after all, his thinking was totally different from mine. But then he said that if my grades didn’t pick up, he was going to pull me out of school and make me start working to pay rent.”

The demon/human army was getting closer.

“And let me tell ya, that pissed me off. That wasn’t a part of the plan. Suddenly, I didn’t have a choice—I’d be thrown into the real world, and I didn’t want that. So I got angry.”

My grip tightened.

“I decided that if I was gonna do it, I was gonna completely destroy it! I was gonna rock the system down to its foundation and beat it at its own game! I’d outdo everyone’s expectations and reset the definition of their existence! I made a complete turn-around. I abandoned sleep altogether and joined as many classes and clubs and special projects as humanly possible. I graduated with above a four-point-O GPA and was class valedictorian. I had scholarships to every college you can think of. They even had me give the speech at my class graduation. Do you know what I said?”

The front line was no more than three meters away.

“I said, ‘can I go back to drawing pictures, now?'”

Chapter Four: The Home

11 Mar

(background music:)

I’d never been all that attached to my way of life. It’s not that I disliked it or anything—I was quite happy before Purple Steve landed in my hands. I just didn’t care so much about it that I’d fight to protect it or choose it over better options.

Leaving that life behind was an easy decision; there wasn’t much to tie me back. I felt a little bad about leaving the yard project half-finished, but I hadn’t wanted to start it to begin with, so it wasn’t a big deal. The prospective life of adventure awaiting me was far more appealing.

I loaded up a backpack with snacks and drinks and a couple changes of clothes. Nathaniel was strapped over my shoulder, and I’d made a belt holster out of shoestrings for Purple Steve. I stuffed my pockets with a wallet, a Game Boy, and Pokemon Red, Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Castlevania II, Kirby’s Dream Land 2, and Super Mario Land. I was all set for a journey through the desert.

Soon, Steve and I were roaring down Route 95, blasting Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones from the stereo.

“I’m starting to sense the space-time anomalies even more powerfully out here.”

I had the windows down and wore aviator sunglasses while smoking a cigarette.

“How’ll we know if we pass the spot?”

“My readings are very accurate. I should easily be able to pinpoint the location of the incident. That said, it’s becoming apparent that there’s a lot more anomalous activity going on in this area.”

“Rrre-he-he-heally, now~”

I tossed my cigarette out the window and gunned the engine, hauling ass like an angry woman.

“Holy shit, Cirno—this is a lot bigger than I expected. There must be a large gathering of Furrow Dubs nearby.”

“Call ’em demons. It seriously sounds much better.”

“Fine, whatever.”

Only a few minutes passed before Purple Steve spoke up again.

“Okay, turn off the road on the right side and head in a straight line, and we should get there before long.”

“Cool shit.”

I rolled off the road and made it a good ten yards before I had to stop again.

“Why’d you stop?”

” ‘Cause this Geo Metro won’t last five minutes in the desert.”

I geared myself up and stepped from the tiny car to trek the barren sands.

“Agh… no! Shit! God damn it, Bowser, you fat fucking bastard…”

“Cirno, we’re getting close.”

“Hold on one minute, I’ve almost… GOD DAMN IT!”

I turned off the Game Boy with fury and looked ahead. In the far-off distance, I could make out what looked like a huge campsite.

“What’s all that now?”

“The readings are definitely coming from that camp. That’s where we need to head.”

“What should I be expecting when we get there?”

“Who knows? Trouble, I’d wager.”

I withdrew Purple Steve from his belt holster and gripped his handle tightly.

“Alright Steve, let’s do this.”

The closer we got, the larger the camp appeared to be. There were tents upon tents in a huge group, like people camping out at a rock festival. When we were close enough to make out the people walking around, our first big surprise came.

We saw humans and demons walking together.

“The plot thickens…”

“Cirno, come to think of it, there’s not a whole lot to keep them from noticing our approa—”

“HEY!!!”

A demon pointed a big red finger our way.

“Ohhh… shit.”

Chapter Three: A Furrow Dub

8 Mar

Truly, television has raped our culture.

They call us the “TV generation,” and for good reason. TV raised us—it brought us up to accept it as a way of life. And where’s it lead us?

Lately, it seems like half the young people I know are taking medication for ADHD. It’s everyone’s fault they developed ADHD, because we decided as a culture to move in a direction that requires people to think faster; and then we mistakenly tried to make those whom we trained to think fast slow their brains down to handle something like schoolwork.

If you don’t understand why TV created this problem, then here’s an experiment you can run. Stare at your TV for twenty minutes and count how many times the image changes, how many times the camera cuts during a commercial, and how often the subject matter changes. Now, stare at a wall and see how often the image changes. Can you understand why a child wouldn’t be able to handle glaring at a chalkboard for hours on end when he’s used to staring at a TV?

It’s up to us as a culture to decide what’s right and wrong. We made ourselves ADHD, and only we can decide if that’s a good or bad thing. With the advent of the internet on our hands, society will only become faster and more complicated. Cell phones have become widespread, so now people can communicate ideas all the time without wait. There’s no coming back from ADHD—what should be modified is culture so that no aspect of it requires us to pay attention for too long.

But personality problems aren’t the only thing TV burdened us with. We’re infected with the convenience of being told everything we think we need to know. The “news,” as it has a nerve to call itself, is, in the great words of Perry Farrell, “just another show.” Reporters and newscasters have the power to select what they want to talk about, and can put their own spins on the story, using their wording to gear things in the direction they want.

There’s more than one truth. Each of us perceives the truth differently. By watching the news and accepting what we see, we accept one person’s truth as our own, not taking into account that such a truth may not be our truth, nor that we could harm ourselves with such a truth.

Nonetheless, humans are fickle creatures. Hypocrisy is an instinctual function that allows our beliefs not to interfere with our survival. No matter if we think that murder is wrong, we invariably do things in our lives that ultimately weaken and eventually kill other humans. Likewise, we can take pleasure in things that we feel strongly against if it happens to be convenient for us at the time, because ultimately, our comfort takes precedent over our beliefs.

Accordingly, at 6 P.M. on a Thursday, the day after my meeting with Purple Steve, the two of us sat on the couch watching the Channel Ten news, myself snacking on pork rinds and Mountain Dew. It’s not as if we’d sat down to watch the news—they’d been playing re-runs of Seinfeld from five to six—but the remote was over there, and I was really comfortable.

<<“Our top story tonight comes from Route 95 outside Las Vegas, where a man’s car suddenly exploded this afternoon after a supposed alien sighting.”>>

“The hell? Aliens?” It sounded like the usual kind of loony story you might get from people hauling ass down Route 95. I wondered if he’d been in “bat country.” Then I remembered a reliable source on space hijinks sitting right beside me.

“Hey Steve, what do you think about this? Do you think it could’ve been aliens?”

“Hold on, pay attention—they’re saying there’s a tape.”

“A tape?” I returned to the TV. A cliché-looking hillbilly appeared.

<<“Ah dun’ seen it mahself! Thar wers a big-ol’ alien! ‘e wers red n’ wers flyin’ about with ‘m’ big-ol’ wings a’his. Ah couldn’ berlieve it, so ah grabbed uhp mah camera n’ started filmin’ it!”>> As he said “camera,” he presented an astonishingly nice-looking camcorder that entirely opposed his appearance.

<<“We will now play the footage that Mr. Farmerstein provided.”>>

What followed was a video poorly shot through a truck’s windshield, capturing a strange-looking flying object in the distant sky.

<<“Whut, ‘n, tha’, hell?“>> Farmerstein narrated as he zoomed in on the object. What came into focus was so unrealistic, yet so grounded in reality itself, that it would warrant uproarious laughter if it showed up in a movie, but was strangely surreal as supposed reality.

The best way to describe the object would be as a big red demon in as classic a sense as you can imagine one. If you’ve ever read the Hellboy comics, then imagine Hellboy with giant wings and you have our “alien.”

As the clip continued, it looked as though the alien realized it was being filmed and turned to the camera. Then something totally irrational happened: red laser beams shot out of its eyes, and an explosion could be heard before the camera cut off.

I stared at the screen, dumfounded, and then turned off the TV.

“Steve… do you know what that was?”

“As a matter of fact, I have an idea. I didn’t imagine that I’d encounter it in such a way, but being as I’m here at this time, the possibility may exist.”

“Please, cut the foreshadowy lead-in bullshit and tell me what the hell I just saw.”

“Right. I’m not certain, but I believe that the supposed ‘alien creature’ from that clip was a Furrow Dub. You could call it an alien or demon or whatever you like—”

“Demon. Definitely demon.”

“…Sure. Anyway, Furrow Dubs are creatures that travel between dimensions with the purpose of destroying and conquering worlds. What dimension and world they originate from remains unknown, but they have spread their influence across many.”

“So what, they’ve come to conquer the Earth? If they’re here already, then why haven’t they started?”

“When it comes to the Furrow Dub culture, conquest is treated as a sport. Their society revolves around a class system wherein class is determined by the accomplishments one has made in taking over worlds. However, because of their power, they could easily take over any world if that was their real goal. Rather, what they do is more like a competition to see who can pull off the most unique and intricate take-over. They judge on things like how much one was able to accomplish without the dominant race of that planet realizing their existence, or how much they can goad that race into helping to bring about its own demise. It’s likely that the Furrow Dubs have existed here for centuries without anyone noticing.”

I sat and stroked my chin for a moment, considering everything Steve had said.

“Definitely demons.”

“What’s more, the appearance of Furrow Dubs creates an anomaly in space-time within a dimension. It’s likely that the anomaly I was sent here to investigate is related to what we’ve just seen.”

I rose to my feet with a start, suddenly full of resolve.

“I guess that pretty much decides it, then.”

“Erm… decides what?”

I smiled. “You and I have to go on an adventure.”

Chapter Two: Destiny

3 Mar

I’ve always been interested in the concept of popularity.

It started when I visited a friend’s house and saw Nickelodeon on his TV—I’d only ever watched Cartoon Network, so I asked if he watched that as well. To my exaggerated shock, he didn’t. At school the next day, I ran around asking everyone in my class what channel they watched, and overwhelmingly met with the answer “Nickelodeon.” Fascinated, I tried watching Nickelodeon to see what the fuss was about and discovered that it was a huge sack of shit. Right then, I knew it was my fate to have obscure tastes for the rest of my life.

Nevertheless, I started reading magazines that ran popularity polls on topics ranging from movies to foods. One such poll determined that Cheerios were the most popular breakfast cereal in America, and my friends confirmed that they, too, ate Cheerios every morning. And here I’d thought my Frosted Flakes were “GR-R-R-REAT!” but in reality, most moms wouldn’t let their kids near the sugary corn. Therefore, not having learned my lesson before, I decided to try Cheerios—and to my surprise, I’ve eaten them every day since.

I was pouring a bowl of the delicious o’s, enjoying the cacophony of waterfalls crashing on my roof, while Purple Steve lay upon my kitchen table. You can’t possibly understand the surreality of pouring a bowl of Cheerios right in front of someone and not being able to say, “you want a bowl?” because you’re pretty sure they can’t eat. I convinced myself that I wasn’t being a dick and filled the bowl with milk.

“So,” I began, while pulling a spoon from a nearby drawer, “Steve—mind if I call you Steve?”

“No.”

“Okay then—Steve. Are you the kind of guy who hates it when people ask too many questions?” I shoveled the succulent golden greatness into my mouth.

“I’m used to it.”

“Mm,” I swallowed. “Good, ’cause I’ve got about three and a half metric shit-tons of questions for you. You want me to wait, or I can start now?”

“Go ahead. I’m not going anywhere. Rather, I can’t.”

I made a sour face, “oh man, don’t say that. If you put it like that, it means you’d leave if you could.”

“Alright then, allow me to rephrase. I am a magical entity beyond description, sent to this dimension seven-thousand years ago to travel the universe in search of space-time abnormalities. I am only capable of communicating with non-transient life forms by way of electrical frequencies, hence my current state as a beam of purple lightning encircling a pole. I’ve been asked at least nine-hundred metric shit-tons of questions.”

I chewed down another spoonful. “That’s pretty boss.”

Steve didn’t reply, so I started contemplating my first question.

“Okay, so if you communicate through electrical frequencies, how come you don’t possess something like a TV—or a beeper if you want to be portable?”

Steve let out a long, heavy sigh that I hoped had nothing to do with my question. “Because of my nature as what is essentially a sentient energy cloud, I lack any control over my physical self. I follow the flow of the universe wherever it carries me.”

“So the flow of the universe took you to earth, and you became a lightning bolt, destined to strike this very pole?”

“In essence, yes. Technically, my physical self exists in every place it’s ever been at the same time, and I can choose to experience any part of it. Thus, I exist in many places, but currently, I am experiencing myself as an electric current running through… whatever this is exactly.”

“Some kind of garden-hose attachment.”

“Why were you holding a garden-hose attachment that wasn’t connected to a hose?”

“It’s a long story, with roots in childhood trauma. I don’t feel like telling it again, so I suggest you refer to Chapter One.”

“That’s fine, I’m not honestly that curious.”

“It’s a good story.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

I shrugged, “suit yourself.”

There was a bit of awkward silence as I turned my attention to finishing the Cheerios and placing the bowl in the sink. As I returned to the table, I found myself deep in contemplation.

“Okay, let me summarize a bit. You’re Steve, an incomprehensible enigma of sentient energy existing in many places, but currently experiencing yourself as a purple lightning bolt circling a pole. Correct?”

“So far, basically, yes.”

“Question one: Why are you choosing to experience yourself here right now instead of elsewhere?”

“This is the only place I currently exist that I can communicate with a sentient life form, i.e. you. Frankly, being a cloud or floating space energy is completely fucking boring.”

“Okay, that makes sense. Makes me feel kinda special. Now, question two: as a lightning bolt attached to a pole, what can you do?”

Steve was silent for a moment. “In terms of…?”

“Like, do you make the pole super-strong, like a lightsaber or something?”

“I can’t say for sure, except that I’d probably have melted through your table if that were the case.”

“If I touch you, will I get electrocuted?”

“That I can say will definitely happen.”

“So, okay, you’re still a powerful electrical current. Is it possible for you to intensify yourself? Like, speed up your molecules and get super-hot?”

“Pshhh, I dunno, I hadn’t thought about it. I can try, but you might want to get me off the table first.”

“Right.” I gripped Purple Steve by the handle and stood up, exhaling heavily and taking a pose like I fully intended to fence someone in three seconds.

“Okay, here I go.”

Disappointingly, there was no sound of electrical popping or ringing to signify what Steve was doing, but the lightning around the pole seemed to shine brighter and jump around more.

“Alright, I am now as intense as I can be without melting the pole.”

“Nice! Do you mind if I test you on something?”

“No; really, you don’t have to ask about stuff like this, I am way beyond being upset over little things.”

“Okay, cool.”

“What are you going to test me on?”

“I’ve got just the thing, hold on.” After saying that, I realized how completely pointless it was telling him to “hold on.” We proceeded down the hall and into my bedroom.

Four years ago, my older brother (twenty-three at the time) got together with a bunch of friends to film a “b-horror indie movie.” It was an extremely violent affair about a samurai fighting hordes of zombies. Literal tanks of fake blood were taken to the shoots, and my brother was a master at home-brewing slightly convincing body parts and cast molds that could be turned into dead zombies.

I played one of the nameless stock zombies, and, with probably a bit of sadistic intent, my brother decided to cut my character in half vertically. To accomplish that, he created a cast mold of my body by wrapping me from neck to toe in tape. The sticky shell was then dressed in the clothes I’d been wearing during my performance, so that with the camera positioned behind it, viewers wouldn’t be able to tell that it wasn’t me. We completely filled the tape body with fake blood and foodstuffs that looked like organs, and then capped it with a hollowed-out foam mannequin head with a lump of uncooked ground beef inside of it.

For reasons that had nothing to do with my brother’s intent, the shot was amazing.

After filming was complete, I taped the shell’s parts back together, restoring it to a very deformed version of myself, and held onto it. I named it “Tape Man.”

For the first time in at least two years, Tape Man emerged from my closet and posed in the middle of the living room. Then, in a surreal reprisal of its role from Samurai Bill vs. The Zombies, it was cut in half—Purple Steve having melted through its body as if it were made of ice.

For a moment, I stood, silent, over the former Tape Man’s corpse, letting the phantasmagoric situation wash over me.

“…I just killed myself.”

Purple Steve let out another heavy sigh.

Chapter One: Conductor

1 Mar

I’ve always thought mowing the lawn was stupid.

You spend two hours of an otherwise perfect Saturday mowing the lawn, only to find yourself doing the same thing on the next otherwise perfect Saturday. The lawn is always back by next week because it doesn’t care about your schedule. It’s not like you can blame the lawn for wanting to grow. It’s your own fault that you waste your Saturdays mowing the damn thing, since you’re the one who’s so concerned about it.

When I was fourteen years old, my dad made me mow the lawn one day, and I asked him, “why do we mow the lawn every week when it’s just gonna grow back anyway?”

The truth of the matter, I suspected, was that my dad would be embarrassed if his house was the only one without a mowed lawn; but he was far too proud to admit something like that. His dignity demanded an intellectual and rational-sounding answer.

“Because if the grass gets too long, it attracts bugs.”

I was young enough then that I didn’t know how to think before speaking, so I blurted out the first refute that came to mind—it’s not a bad one, mind you, but I could’ve done better if I’d given it a moment.

“If the bugs all go and live in the yard, won’t that mean there’ll be less in the house?”

My dad’s response was to smack me upside the head. That was his response whenever I asked a question that was too smart for him to prove wrong, but too dumb for him to acknowledge. Luckily, I had plenty of Saturdays ahead of me to get the truth.

“You know, it takes a few weeks for the lawn to get really bad, so why do we mow it every week?”

He smacked me upside the head again. Since my question seemed perfectly logical that time, I figured I wasn’t going to win this one and resigned to my Saturday-destroying fate for the next four years until I was old enough to move out and get a place of my own.

The place I moved into was about one rung up from an apartment, meaning a tiny house on the far side of town. The cost of gas for my work commute equalized my incredibly low rent, but it was worth it not to have neighbors on all sides. A living situation in which I couldn’t blast the new Blind Guardian album (Nightfall in Middle Earth) at two in the morning was one I didn’t want to deal with.

Atop my long list of “things that I [wouldn’t] pass on to the next generation of the Excalibur family” was the outdated practice of mowing the lawn, and in the whole first year that I lived on my own, I never mowed it once.

It didn’t take long for weeds to overrun the whole thing, and it grew rapidly until stabilizing at gut height. Things I’d never seen before started appearing in it—usually trash and lost baseballs from children I suspected didn’t exist, but also more obscure items like a computer motherboard, an enormous totem pole, and, my favorite, a hollowed-out moose skull, which I turned into an acoustic instrument.

I got a little worried that people were mistaking my home for a trash house and considered finally mowing the lawn, but it was kinda fun to see what unexpected objects might turn up, so I decided against it.

Unfortunately, personal freedom only goes so far in America, and there’s always someone holding power over you. When I was a kid, my dad ruled over me with age and strength. In the adult world, they use more twisted methods, like waving a contract around, threatening to evict someone if they don’t cut their grass before another neighbor complains about it.

After one year on my own, my abuse of power was at an end and The Man had me under his thumb. It was time to mow the lawn.

Of course, once I started at the task, it became readily apparent why people normally do it so often—when things got this bad, they weren’t the inconvenience of a couple hours, but of an entire day. It would’ve taken an industrial lawnmower to tackle the chest-high weeds, and before I could even reach that step, I’d need to clean all the trash out.

Thankfully, five years earlier I’d inherited my grandfather’s trusty machete, “Nathaniel.” Supposedly, he’d cut through brush and flesh with it during the Vietnam War. The engraving on the blade read, “Made in the U.S.A. 1979,” though, so that claim was disputable. Nevertheless, my grandfather had believed in Nathaniel and taken great care of it over the past twenty years, so it easily cut a grassy swath through my yard. I didn’t know where to start and I couldn’t see very well, so it looked like the only solution was to hack away until everything was down to knee-level.

Just as expected, there were some interesting objects hiding in the brush. I found a Game Boy in working condition, which posed a dangerous distraction when I’d already kicked Gary Oak’s ass before remembering why I was outside. Later, I found a Buddha statuette no larger than my thumb—I put it in the pocket of my purple Hawaiian shirt for good luck.

After about an hour, sweat was bleeding through my shirt, and I could feel the humidity picking up. At the precise moment that I realized mosquitoes were going to eat me alive, I became aware of several bites on my chest and stomach.

“God damn it, why the hell didn’t I close my shirt?” Of course, by then I figured it was too late and didn’t bother doing so.

I’d only gotten halfway through the front yard when I noticed dark clouds rolling over the horizon. The situation was reaching an apex of discomfort. My body started going into “let’s get this over with” mode and I took less interest in the trash lying around, focusing intently on chopping as much grass as I could before the rain arrived. Every few minutes, I’d hear thunder off in the distance, growing closer and closer like impending doom.

While cutting through the edge of the yard, I found the pole.

Actually, calling it a “pole” gives the wrong image. The metal shaft was only about three feet long, and it had a purple rubber handle at the bottom with what looked like a hand-guard attached to it. Only after picking it up and studying it did I recognize it as a hose attachment, and the “hand-guard” as a lever, most likely to control water pressure from the nozzle.

Besides it looking like something I would’ve called a “sword” and killed imaginary “bad guys” with when I was a kid, I had little interest in the garden tool. Just as I went to toss it aside, the sky roared in anger and a bright purple lightning-bolt came crashing down… directly on the pole.

The blast knocked me off my feet, and had it not been for the rubber handle, I suspect I would’ve been quite brain-dead. I got up slowly, still reeling from the literal shock, and met with a proverbial one.

The pole in my hand was now glowing, with sparks of purple lightning dancing about the shaft. It looked like a malfunctioning light-saber, or like one of those stun-batons that policemen carry, the way they look in cartoons.

“What the hell…?” I stared at it, thinking at first that it was just electrical residue, but after a few moments, it looked like the sparkly effect wasn’t going anywhere. I tried rubbing it on the ground to cancel the electric current, but the glow didn’t weaken at all.

“Boy.”

“…who said that?” It hadn’t been me, but looking around, I didn’t see anyone else. A strange voice seemed to be speaking directly into my mind. It had a British accent.

“What is your name, boy?”

“Like I said, who is this?” I was flabbergasted. The voice let out something like a sigh.

“I’m the lightning-rod in your right hand.”

I looked again at the sparkly purple pole. Words escaped me.

“Again, I ask—what is your name, boy?”

“Uh… my name’s Cirno Excalibur. What’s yours?” I stared at it, equal parts dumbfounded and expectant.

“I am known as Steven.”

Thus, I met Purple Steve.