Monday, January 31, 2011

Ready the Archers and Keep the Tar Hot! You'll Need Them in Castle Panic.

My sons go through streaks when they are absolutely mad about board games. Alas, their enthusiasm for pulling them off the shelf and setting them up changes suddenly into sullen disillusionment after the first move that places myself or their brother at even the slightest advantage toward eventual victory. Sometimes it's because one sent the Lego Minotaur in the other's direction and other times it's because one had their heart set on Illinois Avenue and the other is refusing to trade any of their property no matter how many railroads he is offered.

This puts quite a damper on things and everyone leaves the table holding grudges against one another. Except me. I remain at the table and put away the game, or often times, games, as well as all the pieces that end up strewn about.

Then, recently, I read Jonathan Liu's review of Castle Panic by Fireside Games on Wired magazine's Geek Dad blog.


As he notes, it isn't a new game, but the cooperative nature of it appealed to my desire to have my kids sit through a game together without either of them wanting to take the proverbial ball and go home. I figured that I would soon go online and try to purchase a copy of the game so that my sons could learn to sit at one place for more than five minutes without food being involved.

Then, on a fortuitous trip to Barnes & Noble, I discovered a copy sitting on a shelf in their game section. Within a few moments, I convinced my eldest son to ask his mother if it was okay for him to get it. When asked what I thought, I said it seemed pretty promising. With my manipulation, ahem...I mean, endorsement, my wife agreed and we took it home.

The premise is that you and your teammates occupy a castle, consisting of 6 towers contained within 6 walls and you must use your archers, knights and swordsmen to fend off attacking hoards of monsters who emerge from the surrounding forest.


The players need to work together, trading cards, predicting monster movements and solidifying their stronghold so that they can eradicate the goblins, orcs and trolls before all six of the towers are felled. The game starts inauspiciously enough with six monsters in the archer ring and as you wipe them off the board, you think it's going to be a piece of cake.

Ah, but you underestimated the panic in Castle Panic. Before you know it, instead of two new monsters leaping from the forest at the end of a turn, it becomes five. Then the trolls begin rolling giant boulders at your castle walls. The towers you were sure you could protect have been exposed and you are flanked by green-skinned beasts whose leaders push them forward and even replenish the hit points you took from them.

I certainly felt the tension in the room raise as my sons became very squirrely when an orc managed to enter our castle circle. They bounced up and down and had difficulty staying near the board. My youngest wanted to go hide under a blanket on the couch until it was his turn, forgetting that we needed him there to potentially trade weaponry with. In the end, on our first round, we managed to keep our castle intact. In fact, we've been able to do so every time we've payed thus far. It has never been easy, but it has always been fun.

This is a great game for the whole nerdy family. While the box suggests ages 10+, my sons are 8 and 6 and read well for their ages. They enjoy this game immensely. I haven't had to reduce the difficulty settings, which is very easy to do per the included instructions. I also haven't played the other optional versions of the game, one of which sees a player take control of the monster hoard lurking in the forest and dispatching them and he/she sees fit. I hope to some day when my sons are more adept at handling a little healthy competition. But for now, this game suits my family's needs quite nicely and, if you're looking for a fantasy-based, co-op game, it should suit yours as well.

Happy gaming and big thanks to Jonathan Liu of Geek Dad for his recommendation.

Same Bat-Blog, New Bat-Features

Welcome loyal readers and any stray wanderers that happen to have unfortunately fallen into the clutches of this blog. It's time again to update our weekly features.

This week's top five subject was pulled randomly from my meandering thoughts. I realized that, without including voice talents, I can only recall five different actors who have portrayed Batman, by far the greatest of DC characters (though my wife would argue on behalf of a certain Amazonian). Thus, I decided it would make a good top five list and they play out as follows:

5. Val Kilmer - I don't hate Mr. Kilmer, but after Top Secret, he should have done Tombstone and then retired in my opinion. The most vivid memory I have of his portrayal of the Caped Crusader is him saying, "Tell me, doctor. Do you like the circus?"

4. George Clooney - Meh...Perhaps I would have enjoyed the Cloon-dog more if Joel Schumacher hadn't added nipples to the exterior of the costume.

3. Michael Keaton - The first respectable representation of Batman on this list, Keaton stepped in amid a great deal of controversy and played a damn fine Batman. And you all thought a guy known for comedic roles couldn't pull it off. Don't act like you didn't criticize Tim Burton for his selection of Mr. Mom either, because I heard you.

2. Christian Bale - I know he's trying to disguise his voice for the purposes of maintaining his secret identity, and I will give full props to him for that because it's something that nobody else in the history of super heroes has thought of that I can remember, but the scratchy, growling Batman voice that Bale produces is the only thing that keeps him from the number one spot.

1. Adam West - No words. Just read the name again. Ad...am...West. Okay, one quick comment. I'd like to see any one of those other guys try to pull off the Bat-toosie.

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is a battleship. I'm sure that you have dreamed of this during your numerous rounds of playing Battleship, the classic naval combat game from Milton Bradley, or maybe even while using the battleship token while playing Monopoly, the classic property trading game from Parker Brothers, but acquiring one would be awfully difficult. Provided you maneuvered through government sanctions in controlling that much firepower, a boat slip fee for something that size has got to cost a fortune.

This week's sign you are a nerd is that you are angered by this week's top five Batmans list and plan on writing your own scathing commentary, either on your own blog or in the comments section of this post. Ah, but now you are second guessing that because I just wrote that it would be a sign you are a nerd. You've played right into my hands.

This week's nemesis is comic books. I'll be reading a perfectly wonderful book (yes, a real book) and then I get two or three issues in the mail and everything stops until they are read. Sometimes that even involves having to reference back issues to catch up on the storyline. Plus, I have a hard time sharing the enjoyment of the story with my wife without her rolling her eyes at my failed attempts to make it sound more interesting to her.

This week's lesson learned is not to assume a small snake that hasn't eaten in over a week is dead. Should you do so, you may receive quite the shock upon reaching your hand into the cage to remove things and clean it out, not expecting movement. Apparently, these things can do just fine with nothing but water for a long time.

This week's equation helps us determine our likelihood of selecting the correct Series 3 Lego Minifigure from the box at the store:


That likelihood (L) can be determined by taking the sum of your eyesight (e, rated 1-5 with 5 being the best) and the lack of attention to your packet fondling by the store clerk (a, rated 1-5 with 5 being the least attentive) multiplied by a 1-10 rating of how many accessories from this series you know (n) and the number of packets remaining in the display box (c) all divided by the full capacity of said box, 60.

And, this week's Star Wars quote is: "You just watch yourself. We're wanted men. I have the death sentence on twelve systems."

Thanks for reading. Please spread the word about this awesome blog that you have been reading. No, I meant this one. Yes, the one you are reading right now. No, not in the other window of your browser, this one. Thank you.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Writing Curse-ive

My second grader is learning handwriting. He's apparently very passionate about it. It's being taught to him slowly in school, a few letters per week. Each day, he comes home and diligently practices line after line of l and i and u and t and combines them into words like it and...well that's about it. They also have him make combinations that don't make sense on their own. He was excited by the possibility of combining l-u-i.

He's more interested in learning how to write this way than I think I ever was and certainly more than I am now. In fact, I print everything I write by hand now. At one point, during college, I became irrationally concerned that my professor was not going to be able to read what I wrote on final essay questions and I didn't want all the golden wisdom I was scrawling into the little blue composition books to be for naught. I decided then I would revert back to printing and have never looked back.

My son is so interested, in fact, in this new style of writing that two and three letter combination weren't enough to quench my budding calligrapher's thirst for new challenges. After his daily lessons, he would go rogue. He took the entire alphabet instruction sheet that was sent home and would pick out the letters he needed to spell what he wanted. Soon, he was working ahead of his prescribed daily learning regimen and writing all sorts of words he had yet to write in school.

He triumphantly showed me his creations. Words like:


and,

Next, of all things to write, he penned Chooclate shake, then inquired as to whether he had spelled it right. When I told him the o's aren't together in the word chocolate, he destroyed the paper, leaving me no photographic evidence. Then, as if angry at me for correcting his spelling he returned with a new word, spelled perfectly: Butthole. After scolding him for writing such a word, explaining to him that learning handwriting didn't give him free reign to write whatever he wanted, he destroyed that piece of paper as well.

He then returned to more tame words, writing a greeting for his grandparents who were to arrive and watch him and his brother:


But this cleaner writing wasn't destined to last long. Soon, the vulgar impulse that handwriting must bring out in my son reared its ugly head once again and he produced words like,


which is apparently supposed to say "Moon the moon," but once he gets started writing bumps on n's or m's he has trouble stopping.

Then there came,


which I was pretty impressed by and let slide and then,


whose capital K made me so proud, I allowed it.

But soon it became clear to me why my son insists on saying cursive instead of handwriting. Later on the next day, I found the same sheet of paper with more words scribbled on it, including this:


For those that have trouble reading that, it says "Crapolla." At least he made the upper-case C correctly, and I'm pretty sure he spelled it right. We will have to discuss proper transitions from o to l, however.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Take Your Stinkin' Molded Plastic Paws Off Me...

I haven't shown my Children many classic movies. We've covered the original Star Wars Trilogy, E.T. and The Princess Bride but not much else. I feel their attention spans as well as whatever gland it is that emits the chemical that drives them to patronize their old man are both a bit too underdeveloped to show them A Fist Full of Dollars, 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Great Escape.

Their dispositions are also still a bit more frail than would allow for me to show them Jaws. I hope to get them snorkeling someday and the image of a leg floating to the seabed might discourage that. Similarly, I'm trying to hold off on showing them Raiders of the Lost Ark until after I decide if we're going to make a return trip to Mammoth Cave National Park. Right now, both swimming and spelunking are activities that they see no inherent danger in and I'd hate to suggest otherwise.

Since I know for a fact they have very limited exposure to movies of the sixties, seventies, and eighties, it was to my surprise when I returned from dropping them off at school and sat at my dining room table with a cup of coffee to discover this:


As you may have read here last saturday, my sons and I have completed our set of Series 3 Lego Minifigures. Contained within the set are a guy in a gorilla suit (complete with zipper on the back of his torso and sweating, grimacing, yellow minifigure head below the gorilla mask...very clever) as well as a samurai warrior. In an attempt to create new figures by simply switching around pieces, my sons, I assume unwittingly, created a rather striking resemblance to General Ursus from Planet of the Apes, a movie which I know for a fact they have never seen.


Sure, he's missing the helmet, but if I just snag one of the myriad of extra rifles included with every Lego Star Wars set, you have a pretty impressive likeness. I makes me wonder if that gland might be developing in them after all. Maybe they will begin displaying a desire to watch old westerns or Bruce Lee films out of nowhere. I'm thinking that there is an sixties movie appreciation gene that may be making itself known in my sons.

Or, perhaps it's an inkling toward sci-fi and nerdery in general. Next thing you know, they'll be asking questions about Dungeons & Dragons or I'll catch them reading A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

I'm so proud.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Exceptional: Book 2 - Part 8 (Conclusion)

It is finally time for the final chapter of Book 2. Thank you all for your patience in sticking with me on this story. It took longer than I had expected to complete. Should you need to catch up prior to reading, check last Thursday's post.

Cornelius Caine sat at an oak table with thick, ornately detailed legs reaching down to the floor made of brick and mortar, like an old street. His hands rested on the table top, poking out from the gold lined cuff of his grey green sleeves.

Across the table sat his father and his fuehrer. Cornelius sat upright in his chair, just as his mother and father had fiercely instructed, his posture proud and perfect. He stuck out his chest and, though he had no memory of them being placed there and he dared not look down to inspect them, he was keenly aware of the litany of medals pinned upon the breast of his military dress jacket. His two heroes sat across the table form him, silently, with beaming smiles.

The bar maid with the low cut blouse bent over the table and poured brown liquid into clear glass tumblers for all three of them. She looked at Cornelius shyly and smiled in a way that made him know he could have anything he wanted from her. He was a hero.

As if this weren’t already apparent, it could not be denied when the fuehrer himself was the first to raise his glass and propose a toast. He snatched the glass as though someone was trying to take it from him and abruptly jumped to his feet, his coifed hair becoming disrupted for a moment before falling perfectly back to the place it had been.

“For the master race, for the mother land and for Cornelius, her favorite son,” he trumpeted as he held his glass aloft. He then turned around to look at the reaction of the throngs of adoring German citizens who Cornelius had not noticed gathered in the small neighborhood tavern, filling every space at and between each table and spilling out of the door and into the street.

Waiting for their cue to cheer and having now received it, they all erupted into raucous applause and shouts. Cornelius turned in his seat and it was then that he noticed even the second and third story windows of every building along the street were filled with people who waved flags and handkerchiefs and any other manner of fabric they could get their hands on.

When his eyes returned to the table, he saw that his father now stood as well, holding his glass high. Both men, both of his heroes, his only heroes, looked to him and waited. With smiles on their faces, they waited for him to stand.

As he did, the crowd cheered even louder. As he picked his glass up, the roar of the crowd stole his hearing from him and sent the world into slow motion. His senses all blurred into one muffled awareness of what was going on about him.

His father mouthed words that Cornelius could not hear. So did the fuehrer and they both clinked their glasses against his and drank the brown liquid. Cornelius tipped his glass to his lips as well, but he did not taste the drink within. He did, however, feel a burning in his chest and then a stinging in his stomach.

The two men across the table advanced toward him and each put a hand on one of his shoulders. They turned him to face the crowd.

Cornelius Caine watched the people of his country writhe and scream and twist their faces into grotesque shapes in an attempt to shout even louder than they already were. But he heard none of it. He didn’t even hear the buzzing hum in his head that comes when the noise passes the threshold of one’s hearing.

Cornelius heard nothing. Just silence.

He turned to see the still smiling faces of his father and his fuehrer on either side, presenting him to the crowd. They mouthed more words, both to him and to one another and Cornelius wished so badly that he could hear what they had to say. He wanted to hear their words of praise and the crowd’s adoration.

He strained to hear. He searched for a physical barrier between his brain and the noise that he might be able to knock down and bask in his long-deserved glory. He strained so hard he closed his eyes and focused in the blackness.

He began to hear something. So quietly at first that he wasn’t sure it was actually even there. He thought he might just be imagining it. But it was there and it slowly became louder. Even then it was barely a whisper, but he could begin to make out that it was real sound.

Cornelius tried to open his eyes then to see what it was he was hearing. Perhaps looking at it before him might make it clearer.

But his eyes would not open. He could not see the crowd. He could not see the smiling faces of his heroes. And he became aware that he could no longer feel their hands upon his shoulders, nor was he even sure that he ever could. There was, however, the burning and the stinging. That, he felt. It remained in his chest and his stomach. It even seemed to spread to other parts of his body. His shoulder, his knee, his head. And the sound started to become clearer.

It was conversation. Mumbled conversation. He could not yet make out the words, but he could tell there were people talking and he knew neither voice was his father or his fuehrer.

“…out of here,” he finally heard. “He needs help and he needs it right away.”

“No, we wait,” the other voice said. “He’ll know what to do and I know his body will have a chance to heal itself if we give him time. So for now, we wait.”

“This is too much,” the other voice returned. It was a young voice. It was the voice of a child. Not a small child, but not yet a man. The rich tenor of age had not yet established itself permanently in this voice and Cornelius strained to open his eyes and see who stood before him and what they were discussing.

“You don’t have to stay,” the other voice said. This voice, too, was one full of youth, but there was more confidence to it. There was also something that Cornelius swore he recognized. Could he just open his eyes and see a face. “You’ve already done enough. You can go home, you don’t have to see any of this. I’ll let you know when I’m home.”

“James,” said the first voice and Cornelius Caine’s pain intensified as he remembered where he was. Still, he could not open his eyes.

“…you almost got me killed, yet here I am, saving your ass, just in the nick of time, so don’t treat me like I’m an outsider here. I might be the only one in here without super powers, but at one point, I was the only one standing.”

“Okay, then stay,” James responded as they stood right in front of Cornelius, he was sure of it.

There was silence then for a while and the sound of feet shuffling around the room. Teenage feet too lazy to be picked completely up off of the floor of his hidden lab. The anger welled inside of Cornelius and he tried to open his eyes again, this time swearing that the slightest sliver of light had made its way to his pupil. He groaned. It was so muted that nobody else in the room heard it and they continued talking.

“How did you find me, anyway?” James asked the other voice. “How did you know I’d be here? How did you know Doctor Caine was evil and how the hell did you find this place?”

“Well, obviously, I was pissed at you. I didn’t want to talk to you and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be friends with you anymore. But that didn’t mean I wanted you dead. I was sitting in my room and I couldn’t think, so I pulled out a couple comics.”

Doctor Caine finally managed to open his eyes completely, after several unsuccessful tries. Even the dim light glared and hurt and he was unable to make out any detail for a few minutes, just blobs of color that ran together. And the pain was unbearable.

“The one issue of Captain America I was reading, don’t ask me which one, had a flashback to his time in the super soldier program, when Steve Rogers was being prepped to receive the serum. He was remembering Dr. Erskine and something struck me. I didn’t even realize it at first, so I just kept reading.”

“So what does that…”

“Let me finish, please! I wanted to read something else and I wanted to read issue number seven of Kick Ass because I wanted to compare just how different the movie was from the comic and so I…”

Doctor Caine moaned and both James and Dave jumped.

“Jesus Christ!” Dave exclaimed.

“He’s awake,” James said and walked toward Doctor Caine, now hanging from the wall of the small room where James had been suspended just an hour before.

“You think?”

“Let me down,” Doctor Caine groaned, his voiced filled with pain and anger, but James noticed, nothing resembling fear. “Let me down right now.”

“You’re staying right where you are you old psycho,” James growled. “When my dad wakes up, we’ll figure out what to do with you.”

Caine looked across the room and now noticed that James’ father was lying across his lab table, the tubes removed from his arms. He knew that what the boy had said earlier was true. If given enough time, he would fully recover under his own power. Since that would be bad for Cornelius, he quickly reasoned he would need to use the only advantage he had over the boy to try and escape: his intellect.

“He’s lost a lot of blood, son,” the doctor cautioned James. “If you untie me, I could perhaps help revive him.”

“I told you before not to call me son. I am not your son and you are staying there until he wakes up.”

“Please boy,” Doctor Caine laughed, “what harm could I possibly be to you now? I’m certain that I have a few broken bones. At my advanced age, and with your superior condition,” he nearly choked on those words, “you would have no problem keeping me in line, especially since I no longer have the element of surprise on my side.”

“You’re staying where you are,” James repeated and glared at the doctor.

“Well then, when your father wakes up, we shall see what he thinks. That is, if he wakes up.”

James continued to stare at him, unmoving.

Caine looked over James’ shoulder and saw Dave standing there. He instantly hated the boy, realizing this must have been the pest who fell on top of him just as he was about to have his ultimate triumph. He repressed his hatred and asked Dave, “Won’t you talk some sense into your friend, young man? His father has lost a great deal of blood and I am no longer a threat to either of them. Not in my current condition.”

“You don’t speak to him!” James said, loudly. Then he turned to Dave and said, “Don’t listen to him.”

“But James,” Dave said quietly, “your dad is…”

“I know him,” James interrupted. “He’ll be fine. He just needs time.”

Caine resolved to let the matter go for a while. He would let the boys talk. He didn’t know how much time there was before James’ father awoke, but the seed of doubt had been planted in his friend’s mind. Caine decided he would let it grow there on its own for some time before saying anything more. Hopefully he could offer more advice before James’ father awoke to offer his own.

“Finish telling me how you knew what was going on. Maybe Doctor Asshole here would like to hear the story too.”

“Oh, um, okay,” Dave stammered, which led Doctor Caine to be all the more confident that he could turn the boy into an ally in his attempt to get free. “So I’m reading Kick-Ass #7 and I’m reading it so that I can see how Big Daddy is different from in the movie, but when I see Red Mist and it gets to the part where Kick Ass realizes he’s really Chris Genovesse and…wait…”

Dave stopped and looked at Doctor Caine curiously.

“This is like a major spoiler,” Dave said. “I don’t if he’s read it or seen the movie. I don’t want to ruin it for him.” Then he asked Doctor Caine, “Where you planning on reading it?”

Before the doctor could even think of how to respond, Dave began laughing. Then he patted James on the shoulder and, with the other hand, held his middle finger up to Doctor Caine. “You’ll have plenty of time to read it in hell,” Dave said through his laughter.

Doctor Caine suddenly became much less confident in his ability to turn the boy into an ally and he pulled against his restraints and shouted as loud as he could, which was not particularly loud or convincing, “Get me down from here or you shall have hell to pay!”

Upon finishing, he coughed and tasted blood in his mouth. Without the use of his hands, it trickled over his lip and dripped to the floor below. The two young men looked at him then looked away as though Caine’s presence barely mattered anymore.

“So, I realized,” Dave continued speaking now as if nothing had happened, “that the difference between Dr. Erskine, a mentor that can be trusted and Red Mist, someone posing as a mentor who was not to be trusted, was when they come into the hero’s life. Erskine knew Cap before he was Cap. He made him Cap. Red Mist, on the other hand, got close to Kick-Ass, acting all friendly and shit, without ever having known anything about him.”

Dave then pointed across the room at Caine. “It reminded me of jackass over here. He shows up out of nowhere, trying to find out all this stuff about your family. It was apparent that he didn’t create you guys, so I kept wondering, what was his angle?”

James raised an eyebrow. “And you just knew he was evil from reading comic books? Seriously?”

“Now see, that’s the thing that didn’t sit right with me. I remember you told me that he even said that comic books held some truth. At first, that made me like him, but then I got to thinking. You know how the villain always gives you a clue that he’s a rat before you know it for sure? Then you look back and you remember he said something and you’re all like, ‘Damn, I should have known he was no good form the start.’ That’s what I think he was doing. He was telling you that there was evidence that would prove he was a bad guy. It like he gets his jollies over giving you hints.

“So I went to find you and tell you and your mom told me you left and that your dad was out of town. Then you weren’t answering your phone and I just knew something was up. I came to the only place you could have been describing where you went to meet the doctor at and when I couldn’t find anyone, I was ready to give up. Then I heard this psycho laughing through a vent and the rest just fell into place…no pun intended.” Dave looked down at the floor and smiled to himself. Then he looked up and smiled at James. “Okay, the pun was intended. You get it? Fell into place?”

Dave laughed again and James smiled. Meanwhile, Doctor Caine stared at them from across the room and thought of what great pleasure he would take in killing the both of them. Alas, murder was no longer a luxury he could afford. That ship had sailed and he would simply have to try and get down from this wall and worry about his own wellbeing. Exacting vengeance would have to wait until later.

“While I am pleased that you are able to share a laugh at my expense,” Doctor Caine said to them, “I implore you to look at me and then at your father.”

The boys both did as he instructed, looking at James’ father, still just as they had left him on the lab table. Then they turned back to the doctor. This pleased Cornelius in a strange way and gave him hope.

“I am closer to one hundred years old than either of you boys will likely ever see. I am dying of a cancer that I cannot cure and have suffered broken bones and contusions. Yet, here I am, awake and speaking to you, fluidly and there your father remains, unconscious despite having been given incredible strength and regenerative abilities.”

He paused then, hoping the boys might look at one another. They did not. They both stared straight at him. While not as telling as an exchanged glance, the doctor knew this, too, might be a sign of doubt in their selected course of action.

“The time to argue and vilify me has passed,” Caine continued. “If you want to make sure your father is well, untie me and allow me to examine him. I know more about his medical history than you or even he does. I pose no threat to you.”

He stopped talking and waited patiently. He waited and watched. Neither boy moved for a few moments. Dave was the first. He glanced back and forth between the three of them with worry on his face. But not once did he say a word, as Caine had hoped he would, to convince James to release him and allow him access to his father.

James just stared directly at Caine. He stared into his eyes so long that the doctor actually began to feel uncomfortable, though he never showed it. Just as he was about to give up hope that he would be freed, as he began to remember German curse words he could use to call out to them while keeping his dignity intact, James walked toward him.

“What are you doing?” Dave asked.

“I don’t know if he’s telling the truth or not,” James said, “but if he is and my dad doesn’t wake up, I’m going to feel like shit. If he’s just trying to get free and pulls something, I’ll smash his face in.”

Doctor Caine barely heard James’ threat as he had already begun looking around the room for a means by which to regain the upper hand. James was not an option. With his heightened strength and his unbreakable skin, any attempt to harm him would be futile.

His friend seemed a bit more open to consideration. Caine sensed a cowardice, an unwillingness to act, in him that he might be able to exploit. Still, the boy had come to find his friend and successfully freed him. Also, the cowardice he displayed seemed to have a sense to it that would cause the boy to keep a safe distance.

Samuel was his best bet, he decided. With any number of sharp instruments within his reach, in locations that James would not even have thought to look, Caine could hold one to his throat and regain control. After all, it was the threat of harm to his father that had prompted action from James. It was fear in his father’s death that was about to free him from his captivity against the cold concrete wall.

James’ hands came to rest on the handle that would release Doctor Caine. He was about to lower him to the ground despite Dave’s words of protest from across the room.

“I think you’re right,” Dave said. “Maybe we should just give him more time.” And Dave added, “You said you thought he even could heal you.” Dave continued, “I’m sure he’ll heal, you just gotta give him time.” Dave pled, “Let’s just talk about it. Just for two minutes.”

Doctor Caine only heard these words as background noise. He heard his own heart beating in his head. He watched as James gripped the handle of the crank. James would turn it and he would be free. Free to hold a surgical knife to his father’s throat and free to escape and find somewhere else to hide, perhaps to live long enough to formulate a new plan.

Doctor Caine would have been free to do all of these things, had another voice not spoken up.

“Listen to Dave,” James’ father said in a raspy, but clear, voice. “Leave him where he hangs. This is going to be the last room he ever sees.”

“Are you sure this is alright?”

“James, it’s fine. I know you don’t have your license yet, but this is cause for an exception.”

James’ father leaned his head back forcefully, taking immediate pleasure in allowing his neck to rest. He shut his eyes and hoped James would drive back to their home safely. He began to wonder how he was going to explain all this to his wife. She would be furious.

“It’s just, if we get pulled over, I’m gonna freak out and…”

“First of all,” James’ father interrupted him, “you aren’t going to get pulled over. But, let’s say you do. I’ll let the officer know that you are driving for me because you need to get me to a hospital.”

“We’re taking you to a hospital? I thought you said we shouldn’t…”

“No, no, you’re taking me home, but we’d tell the officer that. Just look at me. He’ll buy it. Then, if need be you drive me to the hospital first, then home.” He sighed. “Just stop worrying. After all that’s happened, getting pulled over is nothing.”

James stared straight ahead through the windshield. He was afraid something would dart out in front of him at any moment. Soon, he began to notice that cars were overtaking him on the left that had once been behind him. He didn’t care.

“You know,” James’ father said without opening his eyes or lifting his head from the headrest, “I ought to yell at you for telling your friend about your abilities. That’s something we talked about keeping secret.”

James pulled the car suddenly into the parking lot of a gas station and slammed the gearshift into park.

“You have got to be kidding me! You’re going to scold me right now for who I chose to trust? The doctor you took me to was harvesting your blood, dad! He was about to murder me! So let’s not talk about who trusted the wrong person.”

“That’s exactly my point,” his father said, still avoiding lifting his head. “When it comes down to it, we can’t tell anybody about how we’re different. It’s best not to take that chance. The fewer people we let in, the safer we are.”

“I get that you’ve been doing this a lot longer than I have, I really do, but you need to see that you’re way of doing things isn’t law as soon as you say it. Everything is obviously not going to go as planned, so maybe we should talk about who should and should not be trusted and maybe you could respect my decisions sometimes like I might know what I’m doing.”

“Oh, like you talked to me about going off that night when I came after you? It’s a good thing I did, too, or you wouldn’t be here right now.”

“Okay, so you saved me. Great, dad, that was over three years ago. I’ve learned a lot since then. And it was me who came to save your ass this time, wasn’t it? So I guess that makes us even.”

The two of them turned away from each other. James stared at the sky, in fury, and his father rolled his head to the side and watched an old man squint at the display screen of the gas pump as he tried to take deep breaths and calm down.

“Um, just to be clear, guys,” came Dave’s voice from the back seat, “you were both pretty much screwed and it was me who showed up and did all the ass saving.”

Neither James nor his father reacted at all. They continued to stare out their windows and ignore one another. Dave wondered momentarily if they even remembered he was sitting back there.

“I’m just saying,” he spoke up again, uncomfortable from the silence, “you know, a guy without super powers captured you both and then a guy without super powers saved you both, too. It’s kind of ironic when you really think about it. Kind of funny in a way.”

James threw his head back onto his own headrest and sighed as he stared at the interior roof of the car. “He’s got a point, you know,” he said to his father in a way that made it seem he hated to admit it.

James’ father rolled his head toward James and stared at him for a second. Then, with a great deal more effort than it should take anyone, he straightened himself in his seat and turned sideways so that he could face Dave. He sighed and blinked heavily before extending a hand back toward him.

“David,” he said, “thank you for saving our lives today. I’m glad that you know who we really are.”

Dave shook James’ father’s hand, sheepishly at first like he expected this to be some sort of practical joke, then more firmly and with a confidence he’d never quite felt before.

“My pleasure,” Dave said, and looked at James, who was now also turned and watching him, smiling. “But sometimes I wonder if I’m glad that I know any of this.”

James’ father chuckled and then fell back into his position in his seat and closed his eyes. “Sometimes I feel the same way,” he said.

James shifted back into drive and pulled out onto the main street from the gas station. The three rode in silence for a while. The tension that had previously been hanging was gone and a contented smile sat on each face instead.

James caught sight of Dave in the rearview mirror. Dave smiled, then shifted uncomfortably and grimaced a bit.

“Hey guys? I was just wondering something,” Dave said.

“If he’ll ever get out of there?” James guessed.

“He won’t,” James’ father answered. “He’ll die on that wall and with the documents he had strewn around, detailing all the people he’s killed over the years, that’s exactly what he deserves.” There was a nervous silence in the car for a moment and James’ father spoke up again. “He was dying already. I don’t imagine he would have lasted long even having received medical care.” While he wondered if the boys were feeling any sort of guilt, James’ father did not regret their actions at all. They hadn’t done anything to Doctor Caine, they just refused to release him. Furthermore, he knew releasing him and turning him over to the authorities would only compromise their secrets. They had done the right thing in leaving him in that room and he patted his son on the leg and said, “Don’t worry. He’s too dangerous. We did the right thing.”

“Um, no, that’s not it at all,” Dave said. “I was wondering if you guys think we could stop at Taco Bell. I’m starving.”

End of Book 2

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rock Like Nobody but the Digital Eye Attached to Your Console is Watching

My sons have been playing a lot of Guitar Hero lately. This is great for two major reasons. First, it keeps them in the basement and away from my Xbox. When they aren’t playing Xbox, their Madden skills atrophy so that I still have hopes of beating them head to head and I get to play Modern Warfare 2. Second, it gives me a legitimate excuse for grabbing the guitar and rocking out to a quick song without my wife thinking I’m a goofball.

Just trying to play with the kids and make them laugh a little.

But thinking about Guitar Hero and Xbox at the same time caused a crazy idea to pop into my head. Anyone with an Xbox Live membership has seen advertisements for the Kinect. This is the Xbox camera attachment that is so hot right now and involves games you play by jumping around in front of the camera like a fool, trying to hit a moving a ball or trying to copy the dance moves someone else is performing before you.

When I play Guitar Hero, I can’t hold still. I strut around the basement like I should be wearing Angus McKinnon’s schoolboy outfit. I perform spins during the parts I manage to remember the buttons for and can afford time with my back to the screen (thank God for wireless controllers). Occasionally you’ll see a leg kick in order to accent a particularly important musical burst. And the crowd definitely gets a lot of crotch thrusting in their direction, though I try to tone that down when my sons are in the room.

Now, imagine if such movement during the game got you extra points. Perhaps the Kinect camera could be combined with Guitar Hero in order to create a new challenge category. You could receive extra points for showmanship.

Rock Band’s vocal aspect already calls for a little ad lib singing. That’s how you activate the bonus star power. So why not reward the rest of the band for a little creativity.

I strongly encourage…scratch that…I implore the developers of the newest Guitar Hero and Rock Band games to incorporate this aspect of rock into their games. Moving around the stage and entertaining the crowd is, after all, a central part of being a true and successful rock performer. More importantly, not only would I have an excuse to play the occasional game, I would finally have an excuse for jumping up on to the couch or lying on my back on the floor and kicking my legs in the air during the solos.

What? I’m going for extra points.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Happy Your Birthday To Me

Every now and then, someone comes into the world who makes it a better place. Sometimes it happens on a global scale like with Abraham Lincoln or Ghandi. But more often, it's somebody who enters your life and changes the way you see the world, changes your perspective and leaves you wondering how you ever saw things the way you used to see them before that person was around.

You're lucky when you get to be around form the start of those lives. A son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a niece, a nephew. These are all people we can form incredible bonds with just because we were lucky enough to be around when they were born and related to them.

Then there are others who you never noticed when they first became. Maybe you were too young. Perhaps you hadn't been born yet. Maybe they lived in a far away place. Maybe they lived nearby but you never had the occasion to meet them. But, oh, when you do, they make your life different. They make it meaningful in a way that you hadn't realized it could be. They open your eyes, strengthen your resolve and stretch your heart just by being around you. Their mere existence becomes an inspiration once you are lucky enough to intertwine your life with theirs.

When a person like that comes into your life, a friend, a lover, a spouse, I think it's important that you celebrate their arrival into this world. You may not have been there when it happened, but the event of their birth changed your life for the better. After all, had they never been born, you would never had met.

Today, I celebrate my wife's birthday. Yes, she celebrates it and my sons and I try to make her feel special, but we are celebrating our own good fortune as well. This is great day for us and for all the people my wife has made smile or feel special throughout her life (which makes for a lot of people). So, Happy My Wife's Birthday to me, and to you to, should you have the pleasure of knowing her.

She's made me happy beyond my wildest dreams and I look forward to celebrating as many more birthdays between the two of us as we are lucky enough to see...for as long as we both shall live.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Long Week Ahead May as Well Start With New Features

As I recover from a depressing Sunday, allow me to distract myself by providing you with new weekly features.

This week's top 5 list consists of things that I will be consuming this week as a direct result of the events of Sunday:

5. Pretzels - My sons didn't eat these constantly as I expected.

4. Brats - I made more than we needed, especially considering that there was plenty of other meat products to partake of in my home for the games yesterday, even after two rounds of feasting.

3. Beer - I bought more than needed, and I can't really say that I did so unintentionally.

2. Chili - The pot always looks so much smaller when it's actually stewing.

1. Crow - I was really expecting a win and am going to have to humbly admit that, while I'm proud of the defense, the Bears did not play well enough overall to win the game. Also, Go Steelers!

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own is a mountain. Not the classic rock band who performed the smash hit Mississippi Queen, but an actual landform that rises above the surrounding area. If those greedy national parks hadn't scooped up all the decent ones out there, you could have your own camping, climbing, hunting and skiing area or somewhere to build your secret lair/lab where you could look down on all you survey and all that was about to be yours to own (by this I mean the world).

This week's sign you are a nerd is that over half of your wardrobe consists of Star Wars t-shirts. You would be infinitely cooler if you would just mix a couple other shirts in there. Super heros work well. Be forewarned, however, Star Trek shirts have the opposite effect.

This week's nemesis is the entire state of Wisconsin. You fatten me up with brats, cheese and PBR, you attract me to spend money on your state's economy via water parks and the related surrounding activities, then you have the audacity to keep my beloved Bears from the Super Bowl. Plus, that whole heavyweight belt thing Aaron Rodgers does bugs the living hell out of me. Just stop it.

This week's lesson learned is that dog poo freezes to the grass in the winter, making it nearly impossible to pick up unless you get it while it's...brace yourself...still warm (not the outside temperature, the poo). I usually just hope for a thin layer of snow, enough to cover up the little land mines, until spring arrives. But if you must, remember to lift with your legs.

This week's equation helps us figure out how quickly boogers will freeze upon stepping outside:


The time in seconds that it will take for your boogers to freeze (t) can be found by taking the sum of the outdoor temperature in degrees Celsius (T subscript o) and the temperature of the indoor location your are exiting from in degrees Celsius (T subscript i) and multiplying that sum by the viscosity of your snot (v) on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the most dry and crusty.

This week's Star Wars quote is: "If money is all you love, then that's what you'll receive."

Thanks for reading. Nope to be posting regularly this week, so please check back often.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

One Evil Team Remains and Must Be Vanquished!

Conference Championship weekend is here! I for one, could not be more excited, especially because the Bears are still alive, completely contrary to my pre-season expectations of them.

Since I have provided you with a unique perspective on which teams to root for the the NFL playoffs this year, allow me to continue this service. Let me also remind you again that these are moral high-ground picks. I am not giving you my selections by which to make bets and I most certainly do not pretend to know who will cover the spread. The teams I am selecting are the teams that stand on the side of good and righteousness. Should you want the world to be a better place, you will support the teams that I have selected below. Should you want it plunged into darkness, then be my guest and defy my picks. I, for one, shall never turn to the dark side.

I should also point out here that of the four remaining teams, three of them were my moral high-ground picks from last week's divisional round. Sadly, the one team I did not pick from last week is the most evil of them all...

Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears Sunday, 2:00 CST on Fox
Apparently, the Packers, the NFL's most evil of teams, have cashed in all of their favors in order to overcome numerous injuries and pile up road victories en route to the NFC Championship Game. I highly doubt that a single unsold soul remains on the team's roster. The unholy scheming is apparent in the fact that even the fallen angel, Brett Favre is backing the Packers, the team he left on such bad terms. The stage is set for the evilest of teams to be thwarted by the most pure of heart, the Bears. It has been 25 long years. We are ready. May Ditka protect us and lift us on our quest to a Super Bowl victory.
Moral High-Ground Pick: Bears

New York Jets @ Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, 5:30 CST on CBS
How do I choose on this game? I like Mike Tomlin and the work ethic of the Steelers. But then, there is Ben Roethisberger (Lust) and the fact that they have already won two Super Bowl titles within the last decade (Greed). The Jets also seem to work pretty hard but Rex Ryan has done an awful lot of jawing (Pride). In the end, I think the weight of the deadly sins adds up to make the Jets the chosen team. Either way, the team that reaches the Super Bowl will need to be the sacrificial lamb before the Bears or the conquering champion that defeats the evil Packers. Prepare to meet your destiny, AFC Champions.
Moral High-Ground Pick: Jets

May the powers that be create a Bears/Jets Super Bowl and further bless us with a Mark Sanchez 5 interception performance on February 6th. Amen.

It (mini)Figures

Lego is the greatest toy of all time. That’s not just how I feel, that is a fact. My fascination and awe with Lego is so massively enormous that I use redundant adverbs and adjectives when writing about it. I’m very, extremely, supremely, stoically serious.

I’m so taken with Lego, and have been since I was my sons’ age, and my love for the toy is so far above what I feel for any other (toy! any other toy, don’t worry, honey) that the Lego company could make a lot of mistakes before I would discontinue my status as a loyal customer. I recently wrote about a misplaced piece in a set my family was constructing. That was bothersome, but one piece in one 1,000+ piece set over nearly thirty years of building Lego isn’t such a bed record. Lego immediately received my forgiveness without ever having asked.

Yes, that’s the kind of unconditional love I have for Lego. I am the pet who was left behind while they went on vacation and didn’t leave enough food out for. I should be pissed and bite their leg as soon as they walk through the door, but instead they get the, “Oh my God, you’re back! I thought I’d never see you again. I love, I love you, iloveyouiloveyouiloveyou!”

One of Lego’s more recent mew developments has been the minifigures, which, if you don’t know, sell in sealed foil packs and come in sets of sixteen at a time to collect. Since the release of the first series of minfigures, I have convinced my wife that buying an entire case of sixty is an “investment” (not only do I put quotation marks around the word, I make ones in the air with my fingers immediately after typing it). But Lego is a toy that tends to attract adult nerds and if there is one thing that nerds tend to do, it’s crack codes. They love it. So, shortly after the release of series 1, there were cheat sheets online revealing which bar code on each package meant you had which minifigure hidden within. This continued to be a valid method for deciphering what was contained within the packets for series 2.

When the box of series 3 minifigures arrived at my doorstep the other day, however, I faced a new challenge. My regular routine is to sit down with my sons and separate the packets by figure. They get to then keep a complete set for themselves and I bag up two sets to hold on to and potentially sell down the road after these sets are discontinued. Yes, I am hoarding a toy meant for children with the intention of selling them at inflated prices years down the road. So sue me. If it makes you feel any better, the remaining figures (as three sets of 16 would only equal 48 out of a box of 60, you crazy math geniuses out there, don’t you love word problems?) are given to my sons’ friends, who are always very excited about getting free minifigures.

The challenge arrived in the form of a new code. Instead of unique barcodes on each packet, the Lego Company had decided to adopt a series of barely visible (and I do mean barely) raised bumps along the bottom seal of the bag. Of course, the nerds of the world had already cracked this code, but cracked as the code may have been, actually seeing the tiny bumps resulted in my sons and I bent over our dining room table, using a flashlight and constantly adjusting the angle of its beam in order to get what we thought might be a raised bump. Our normally fool-proof process had become tedious and frustrating.

Early on, I discovered that my six-year-old was somehow the most accurate bump detector. Apparently, his no-nonsense mind kept him from thinking that he saw bumps that weren’t really there. The excitement he felt over the potential of opening sixteen new figures probably also left his brain more focused than mine, which happened to be filled with rage at the time. He had a success rate of over 50% compared to my 10%. I did, however, have a 100% success rate for wanting to smash the packages into dust with a kitchen mallet.

So, the assembly line style system naturally developed. My six-year-old inspected each packet and told me what he thought was in the bag by comparing the bumps he thought he saw to this cheat sheet, then it was up to me to grope each packet in an effort to see if I could verify one of the theorized minifigure’s trademark accessories contained within. Never had I been so excited to shout out, “Ah, there’s a scorpion! I feel a scorpion!” Once I manipulated the packets enough to be certain of their contents, each was carefully placed in the bag marked with its title.

I spent most of the evening cursing the Lego Company under my breath. I was concerned about leaving unsightly creases in the packaging due to my fondling of them. My head hurt. My fingers were sore. You have no idea how difficult it is to feel the details of Lego pieces through foil.

But in the end, we had two full sets to stock away and a set for my sons to keep. Man, do I love Lego.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Return of Third Person Thursday - Exceptional: Book 2, Part 7

I thought, as many of you probably did, that this story had just disappeared and fallen into oblivion. But here is finally another chapter, nearly the last, of our continuing tale, Exceptional.

Follow this link to read Book One. Follow these links to catch up on Book Two if you don't remember where we left off: Book 2, Part1; Book 2, Part 2; Book 2, Part 3; Book 2, Part 4; Book 2, Part 5; Book 2, Part 6.

Now, without any further ado: Book 2, Part 7...

Dave knew time was of the essence. He knew he might have been the only one who suspected anything was wrong. The guilt he felt tore away at him. Still, he couldn’t run any more and had to walk the final mile.

He had been worn out before, but he had never experienced splitting in both of his sides. He had also never run to the point of throwing up, which he had already done twice during this jaunt. Just as Dave began to wonder if the two piles of vomit he’d left steaming on the asphalt had frozen by now, he saw the warehouse and stopped.

It looked far less menacing and super villain lair-like than Dave expected it to. There were no guards clad in black, leather, identity-concealing outfits. There was no electric fence. It wasn’t on a hilltop where a thunderstorm seemed to constantly swirl behind it. It was just a series of long brick buildings which looked unoccupied and left to crumble. Aside from a newer wrought iron fence around it whose gate had been left wide open, nothing would have suggested that Dave would find anyone inside.

“Please don’t be here, James,” Dave said to himself. He entered the gate and began to jog through the parking lot.

Dave tried to reach the outer wall of the nearest building as fast as possible. It occurred to him while he was in the center of the massive, wide open space that there may be surveillance cameras. Evil super villains had surveillance cameras, didn’t they? Of course they did. The fact that Dave didn’t see any only meant they must be extra small and well hidden, suggesting that they were even higher quality. They probably even had laser motion detectors that triggered some sort of trap, or at least the release of guard dogs. Most likely large, rabid guard dogs.

He began to panic, and breathe heavier. Dave tried to break back into a run. This only forced him to pause quickly and dry heave (as it seemed nothing was left in his stomach) before he was able to continue along the fence line.

Upon advancing far enough that the corner of the nearest building was a straight ninety-degree angle from the fence, Dave made a break for it. He closed his eyes and held his hands out in front of him as he sprinted, stopping only when he felt cold brick on his palms at which point he spun around quickly and flattened himself as flat as he could against the wall.

Picturing machine-gun turrets strategically positioned along the roofline, Dave inched along the brick wall, keeping as much of his back as possible in contact with it with his eyes squinted to near complete closure. At one point, Dave opened his eyes wider to look around and realized that in the daylight, should anyone happen to drive by and look over, as his position was easily visible from Third Street, he would have looked like a complete fool.

But he was a living fool whom, up to this point, had managed to avoid deadly automated machine-gun fire. This was all the consolation Dave needed to avoid deviating form his wall groping technique.

As he reached the next corner of the building, Dave poked his head around several times before spinning and gripping the adjacent wall just as he had the last one. He advanced slowly again, sidestepping to his right and feeling rough brick behind his hands until he felt nothing with his right hand.

In staring straight ahead, Dave had failed to notice that he had reached a doorway. The great metal door was open and the inside was dark. Dave ducked into the building and hid quickly behind the open metal door. He peeked through the crack, near where the massive hinges clung to the wall. In the distance, what seemed like miles away, Dave could see a light.

Dave felt a sudden urge to crouch down behind the door and remain there until somebody found him. The light in the distance seemed like it wanted him to go to it. Dave could almost hear its sinister voice beckoning him to advance and be devoured by some unholy mutant creation. He could picture it rearing onto its hind legs and ripping him limb from limb.

But then, he had also pictured machine gun turrets. And surveillance cameras. And a lava moat and highly trained ninja guards.

Yet here he stood, beyond all of those obstacles he had never encountered. He was in the same building where he was certain his best friend had met danger. And he shuddered to think that he had just considered curling up into a ball and doing nothing about it.

He almost got me killed, Dave thought, but he also took a bullet for me.

Dave stepped out form behind the large metal door and started walking, slowly toward the light. He scanned constantly all around him as he did. Then he wrapped his hands firmly around a nearby two by four and whispered to himself, “This ain’t no God damn comic book.”

James awoke violently with the stinging of his left cheek and the jerk of his head.

“You have slept long enough, boy,” Dr. Caine said as he stood before him, rubbing the palm of his own hand, apparently sore from slapping James in the face.

Before he could take in his surroundings or even think, James attempted to lunge at the Doctor. It was no use. Thick steel cables were wrapped around his wrists, leaving him attached upright to the wall behind him, suspended above the floor.

“You are strong,” the doctor said and chuckled, “but not that strong. Not one of your kind has been that strong.” He then removed his glasses and polished the lenses.

“I’m strong enough to make you sorry for whatever it is you think you’re doing,” James growled and attempted again to pull free from the wall. Even though he knew it was no use, James felt that thrashing against the restraints from time to time might at least intimidate Dr. Caine. Instead, the doctor smiled at James, shook his head and replaced the glasses on his face.

“So strong, so talented,” Caine whispered, more to himself than James, “yet so na├»ve.” Then he raised the volume of his voice and spoke to his young captive. “You could have really been something. The evolution of your kind has occurred at such an astoundingly rapid pace with you being the pinnacle…thus far.”

James broke his glare from the doctor and looked around the room. This was somewhere he had never been before, though it still smelled like the warehouse. The room was small and cramped. There were no windows, yet it was better lit than the rest of the warehouse, with long fluorescent lamps dangling from above.

“I imagine that if you had been allowed to reproduce for further generations, they may have proven to be even more skilled, more powerful.” As the doctor spoke, he seemed to look at a far off object somewhere over James’ head and then his eyes met James’ as he continued, “Alas, I seem to have run out of time.”

James continued to try and take in the details of the room. He had to remind himself to slow down. In his rage, he was looking around too quickly to be able to process anything he was seeing. Or smelling. There were rows upon rows of jars of blood. They covered an entire tabletop.

“I’ve grown tired of all of this. Of all of you. My health no longer affords me the luxury of studying you. It is time for action, as I knew one day it would be.”

The walls of the small room were covered in yellowed papers with handwritten notes and equations filling every inch of them. Attached to some of the papers were black and white photographs. Even these had notes scribbled in the corners and even over the faces of the people featured in them.

“But my patience has not gone unrewarded. You see, boy, I have waited and worked upon my assignment for longer than you could possibly imagine. And it would seem the gods have smiled upon me by sending me you and your father just when I needed to find you most.”

“What did you do to him?” James screamed. “Where’s my dad?”

Doctor Caine shook his head again and tsk-tsk-ed James. “And here I thought you had at least looked around the room enough to notice my handiwork. I thought you had at least smelled him by now.” Caine pointed to James’ left.

Twenty feet away, on the same wall, James saw his father hanging upside down with all manner of tubes running in and out of his body. From his arm ran a tube, thicker than James thought it ought to be, and the tube was filled with blood. Following the path of the tube revealed to James where all those jars of blood on the table had come from.

“Dad!” James shouted and the tears welled in his eyes. “Daaaaaaad!”

The laughter from the doctor started quietly. It even seemed as if Doctor Caine was trying to stifle it at first, trying to hold it back in order to keep from insulting James. But eventually its volume increased. He laughed louder and louder and it echoed off the windowless walls of the small room. The doctor laughed uncontrollably, coughing into a handkerchief as he did so, leaving dark red blood soaking into the white cloth.

James stared at him and wished he had the heat vision Dave had wondered about. Had James been able to free himself at that moment, there was no doubt that he would have killed Doctor Caine where he stood.

Dave reached the pool of light in the middle of the darkened warehouse. The two by four was cocked behind his head like a baseball bat and he was more than ready to hit somebody in the head with it.

But there was no head to hit.

He looked around in disbelief, certain that James must have come to meet with the Doctor and that was why he had gone off the grid. Something bad must have happened, otherwise James would have responded to his texts, at least to request to be left alone.

So why was he standing in the middle of this creepy building, ready to smash somebody’s face in, without anyone to save?

Convinced that he must have missed the obvious clues that would explain to him exactly where James was, Dave kept looking around the room. But nothing sprang out at him. There was no neon sign pointing out the direction he was to take. Dave recalled James’ stories of how the things he smelled seemed to show him a trail he could almost see.

Just for the hell of it, Dave sniffed the air around him.

“Didn’t think so,” he said aloud. “Worth a shot.”

Dave set the plank of wood down on a nearby desk and sat heavily in the chair.

“Where are you?” he asked himself, again, out loud and leaned forward, his head in his hands and his elbows on his knees. “Where the hell are you, James?”

Suddenly Dave thought he heard something. It sounded like a far away laughing. No, coughing. No, laughing. Definitely laughing. But where was it coming from?

Dave rose from the chair in a crouch and began trying to find the source of the sound. He walked around slowly, sometimes moving toward the mysterious laughter, sometimes moving further away. Eventually, it became clear that the noise was coming from somewhere lower to the ground.

Dave dropped to his hands and knees and crawled on the floor, which he had not previously realized was filthy. The sound of the laughter seemed to be coming from beneath the very chair he had been sitting in. As he got closer, he noticed a large vent, like a cool air return, and upon placing his ear next to it, it was obvious that the sound was coming from somewhere below him.

“Now where the hell does this lead?” Dave wondered as he sized up the vent.

James tensed his hands around the steel cables that wrapped around his wrists. He had never been angrier in his life and he hoped to harness that anger into Hulk-like strength. As Doctor Caine’s laughter gave way to a raspy, wheezing cough, he focused on the old man and pulled with all the energy he could muster.

Nothing.

James hung his head and asked quietly, ““Why are you doing this?”

“My reasons are beyond you. They are above you.”

“Who do you work for?” James pressed.

“Who do I work for?! You dare ask me who I work for? I answer to no one! I answer to a higher power! Higher than the power you assume to represent! This has been the problem with all of you. Generation after generation, you have all thought yourselves as chosen. You all thought yourselves better than the rest. Your abilities were not given to you by divine rite! They were given to you by man!”

Doctor Caine ripped a type written page from the wall and thrust it in James’ face. You were an experiment. Your father, his father and his father before him. You are all man made!”

“I never asked for this,” James said. “Not for any of it.”

“Nor do you deserve it. My people…MY people! We deserve it. We were the master race. We were the chosen ones. The Fuehrer promised it to us! To me!”

The doctor coughed into his handkerchief again and leaned on the table to keep himself upright. He began to speak again and choked on his own blood, which he then violently spat to the floor near James’ feet.

“Then your kind came along. You destroyed everything. The Third Reich rose. We had the world in our grasp.”

He advanced on James and held his palm to his face, pointing his finger into it. “Right in the palm of our hand. Just where it belongs. And then the scales tipped. We were the chosen race and man created a new race. A new race to counter our race. Our chosen race!

“You and all those like you are abominations. You are against nature. And for decades, it has been my pleasure to hunt you down and eradicate you. The only reason your father remains alive is because I require his services a while longer. I am in need of blood and I initially planned to harvest yours, but that hardened skin of yours has made that impractical. So you will die instead of your father.”

“You’re keeping him alive?”

“For some time, yes,” Caine responded. “Until I can replace my blood with his. My hope is that the blood will heal me. You see, the blood is where your power lies. When I have enough blood, I will kill him as well.”

“And if it doesn’t heal you?”

“Then at least I shall take the pleasure in knowing that I have rid the world of your kind. That your bloodline dies with you, son.”

“I’m not your son,” James growled. “Don’t ever call me your son.”

They met eyes again and Caine smiled. The blood from his lungs remained on his yellow teeth as he grinned at James.

“You are most certainly not my son, boy. Were you my son, you would have succeeded. You would not have shown the very same weakness that you have all shown.”

“What weakness is that?”

“Pride. Your egos have left you believing that no mere mortal can harm you, that you are above the rest of us. Better. Untouchable. I have killed dozens of you throughout my life and each and every one has come right to my doorstep. They have trusted that they are unable to be harmed. And each time, it proved to be their demise. Just as it is about to be yours.”

Caine walked to the table with the jars of James’ father’s blood and, from beside it, wheeled a tank of gas. It looked similar to the tank James had assumed he was taking oxygen from earlier, but this tank was red while the other had been green. And the skull and crossbones symbol on the side was unmistakable.

“You talk about weakness?” James shouted as he felt himself becoming very afraid. “You are weak. You kill people who are better than you because you can’t stand it. You can’t bear to have anyone out there who might be better or stronger than you. That’s why you lost. You thought you were better than everyone else.”

“WE WERE BETTER THAN EVERYONE ELSE!” Blood sprayed from Doctor Caine’s mouth as he screamed at James. “WE DESERVED THE WORLD (Cough, Cough) AND WE WERE PREPARED TO TAKE IT! (Hack-ack-ack) NOW, NONE REMAIN WHO WOULD TAKE IT (wheeeez) BUT ME AND I INTEND TO…”

At first, James had no idea what it was, but something had fallen from the ceiling on top of the doctor. When James looked up, he noticed the large grate from an overhead vent was missing. When he looked down, the grate lay atop the doctor and atop the grate lay Dave.

“Oh, crap,” Dave groaned and rolled over. “That is not at all how I planned it.”