FAMILY – The Four Reasons Having More Than Three Kids is Perfectly Cool.
I’m taking a break this week from the nerdy posts. I wanted to write a little bit about what happened to our family last week.
I worked really late just about every day last week and the week before to make up the hours I would be gone from work. It was pretty exhausting and I was burned out by the time I was done.
Why did I do this? I became I’m a dad again.
Giovanni Ignatius Escobar was born around 8:15 am on Dec 18th 2013. He was our tiniest kid to date at 5 pounds 8 ounces. He’s our fifth kid. Our fourth boy.
Yes, we have a lot of kids, but what do you expect? I’m Catholic. Well, at least, this SHOULD be expected from Catholics but sadly, this is not really the case anymore.
Most Catholics just want to have one or two kids and that’s it. It’s because this is what our culture deems “normal.” Three kids is still acceptable, but four is considered crazy and anything beyond that is sheer lunacy.
Don’t we know that the world is over populated and people all over the world are starving because of it?
Well, I don’t see what poor food distribution and the greed that caused it has anything to do with over population. And in many European countries births rates are pretty low so…
Besides the over population problem is mostly an issue in major world cities, there’s plenty of space in towns outside major cities. If everyone would spread out a bit, it wouldn’t be such a problem.
But I’m no expert. All I know is that the moment people find out how many kids I have they freak out. They look at me like some sort of weirdo.
They treat me like I’ve insulted them. They get angry at me or mock me. They say thing like, “You’re the one with the billion kids right? How many kids do you have now 50? Your going to stop now right?”
It starts getting old after hearing stuff like this from EVERYONE. It’s down right hostile.
There’s nothing wrong with having this many kids. So I thought I’d make a list of the reasons why it’s totally cool to have more than three kids:
1. It’s More Difficult to Have One or Two Kids Than it is to Have Four or More.
This might sound odd. It’s especially unintuitive if you’ve only had one kid. One kid is SO much work, how is it possible that having more than three is easier? That’s crazy talk!
Well, actually it’s not. Having kids is like any other job. When you first start out it’s overwhelming and it’s a lot of work. But as you get better at your job, it’s becomes a bit easier. The more you do it, the more acclimated to the work you become. The more of an expert you become.
In other words, it gets easier. On top of the that, you’re not your kid’s only friend. Once there are two or more, suddenly the kids have other playmates. They have plenty more to do, and they often need you less.
As the kids get older, they can even help with the younger kids.
2. Everything Worth Having Requires Work
Funny how we are so willing to work for a bit of money, or work to buy a car, or a house. Even spend time, energy and money to get the career we want, build the business we want, get the skills we want, or the titles, trophies, medals or championships we want. We work on our relationships and our marriage when we truly want them to last.
Anything we value, we are willing to work for. Yet when it comes to having kids, what does it say about us when our reaction to having more than a certain amount is,
“Man, that many kids it is too much work!”
It’s not the kids, it’s our mindset. The work is worth it. The joy you can bring the kids under your care, is worth it. This is work worth doing, we simply don’t value it enough.
3. It Forces You to Be Selfless
Let’s face it. This is the big one. This is really the reason we don’t have more kids. It requires an amount of self giving we are NOT willing to do.
We have to stop thinking simply about what we want and we have to sacrifice some of our more selfish desires for the sake of someone else.
The very idea terrifies us. I get it. But it’s not the end of the world. Getting rid of the selfishness actually brings wisdom. It makes you a more loving and giving person.
We ought not be afraid of becoming better people.
4. Love Doesn’t Diminish, it Spreads
You simply can’t help loving your kids to bits. If you show it, and express it to them, not only do you receive it back ten fold, but it also spreads from you to them, and from them to others.
You are contributing in the process of bringing love into the world.
No matter how much you give, you receive that much more back. The paradox is that if you try to do this artificially, it won’t happen. It has to be genuine selfless love you give.
The good news is that it’s easy to do. There’s nothing like loving your kids and having them love you back. It’s just awesome.
So there you have it. This is what I’ve concluded over the years with my kids.
I don’t regret it. I love them to death. And now that they’re old enough to start playing some of my more advanced board games, MAN is it fun to have them around.
Thanks for reading.
Free Books and Learning to Draw
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THE SIMPSONS NEWS – See How Easily you can Take a Simple Composition and make it Epic, Simpsons style.
The Simpsons quote:
Marge: Homer, we can’t take his money. Homer: Aww, I can’t take HIS money, I can’t print MY OWN money, I have to WORK for my money. Why don’t I just lay down and DIE.
Sometime, late in 2001, I was fortunate enough to have worked on one of the funniest episode of season 13, HALF-DECENT PROPOSAL.
This was director Lauren MacMullan’s second episode.
Lauren is an incredible director. The show turned out looking fantastic. This was in no small part, due to her great staging and cinematography.
She isn’t credited with storyboards on the episode and I don’t recall what they looked like but, her dynamic style comes through never the less.
The thing that really stands out to me about this episode looking back is drama and depth of many of her shots.
My personal contribution to the shots was to try to keep the horizon line low where appropriate. This was made easier by the fact that the shots had been set up with so much depth already that it made it all come together that much better.
By depth, I mean that many shots had been set up with clear foreground elements, middle ground elements and background elements.
When you go out of your way brake down compositions this way, you can’t help but to come up with some beautiful, epic shots.
The Epic Shots
Below are samples of shots from sequences I worked on that illustrate my point:
Artie in the foreground + Marge and Homer in the middle ground + Helicopter, ocean and sky in the background + low horizon = one really nice shot.
The shot above, could have been easily staged with Artie walking sideways, “comic strip style” from one side of the boat to Homer and Marge. Instead the shot is of Artie walking toward camera in perspective, stopping to talk the Homer and Marge in the foreground. It’s much more interesting and dynamic.
It’s always best to try to find ways to get character to walk in and out of the picture. It adds interest.
Centered composition with a low horizon to add interest. The low horizon makes sure that the frame isn’t split right in the middle, making the sky more dominant. Homer and Marge are in the foreground adding depth.
Once again, low horizon to give the sky dominance put not a straight on composition like before. This time with a two point perceptive to make sure elements in the shot aren’t parallel to the “picture frame” (that was my decision). Artie in the extreme foreground adding depth. I don’t think the board looked quite like this. I plussed it up a bit.
Another one of my sections. Homer in the extreme foreground, Marge in the middle ground, the rest of the room in the background. Very interesting shot.
I was really having fun with this stuff. It was all about drawing pretty pictures. Marge in the extreme foreground with Homer in the background. Angled shot makes it much more interesting to look at.
Not every shot can have a foreground element. How do you make it interesting? Two point perspective creating angle that go against the picture frame helps.
I just like this shot and I’m proud of the way it came out. I had to draw the shadows too.
I worked on two, maybe three full shots in the dance hall. I was mostly doing the scenes with Marge, Patty and Selma in this act.
I was put on revisions in this sequence, mostly to draw the crowd in the back. That said, the scene above IS one of the few I did.
Again, instead of Marge simply walking sideways “comic strip style” to the door, we see her recede in space, adding interest and depth.
I’ve written a lot about working with director Jeff Lynch. Oddly enough, working with Lauren often reminded me of working with Jeff. Just like Jeff she also storyboarded and allowed us to animate a little bit more than usual, but also just like Jeff, she wasn’t afraid to do a some crazy camera moves like the one on the right.
Mid-shot of Marge for her line, then she turns and walk out the door as the crowd parts (big pain in the neck to draw).
The camera pulls out to reveal Artie in the foreground (camera cheat). The camera “spins” around him as he put on his glasses and watches her walk away. This basically mean you animate Artie spinning in place 180 degrees with a slight camera adjust, while the background characters are panned across really fast.
I don’t actually remember drawing Artie in the scene but I think I must have. It’s possible I didn’t. I DO remember working out the technical aspects of the scene and putting the crowd in.
I also remember drawing Marge. That is definitely MY acting she’s doing. Look at that finger sticking up. Why did I do that? I don’t know but it’s was me alright.
My Act 3 work was the whole oil rig sequence beginning with the ride in the bus and the “Mount Carlmore” gag.
Lauren really assigned me a doozy of a section:
Beginning with this scene above with a hand drawn animated lens flair I had to put in. AND animated shadows on the bus.
And then there’s this crazy shot here on the left. It’s a total cheat that works. The camera moves so fast you don’t see how odd the layout actually is.
Fire in the foreground, characters in the middle ground, PLUS dutch angle. Very dramatic. The fire, was the bane of my existence. It was such a pain to draw. It took me the most time.
Aaaah! THREE POINT PERPECTIVE! Actually, the shot above was fun to draw and it looks cool. I’ve very happy with my Homer and Lenny in this shot. It’s not an angle that you draw the characters in often.
Foreground, middle ground and background elements in it as well. The fire and SMOKE made my life hell.
Another three point perspective angle. Lenny as the foreground element. The fire was awful to work on…
Did I mention the I didn’t like drawing the fire?
Less fire on this one. Very dramatic up shot. Homer and Rig are the foreground elements, helicopter is the middle ground element, sun is the background. Everything is angled to avoid being parallel with the picture frame.
And my final example:
Marge and Homer in the foreground frame Artie as he struggles to get in the Helicopter. Fun stuff to draw here. I especially like that I got to animate that quote I posted at the beginning of the post (full circle!). It makes me laugh.
This is a great episode. There are people out there that complain that later episodes of the show, stop being funny. This one is one of the many episodes that prove them wrong.
My Life with Baron Von Kiss-A-Lot.
I worked on a lot more scenes than the ones I mentioned above. Including this one:
Yup, that’s right, I drew the Baron.
Which is the subject of this week’s e-mail. I write about my thoughts and experiences with the Baron. As well as what I think about this gag.
If you want to read about this, opt in to the e-mail.
The e-mail has been sent out already, BUT if you opt in before next Wednesday, I’ll resend it just for you.
FAMILY – Poor baby Luke as the Flu
My poor one year old son has the flu. He’s miserable.
If you’re a parent you know you’d rather be sick then have you’re kids be sick. Especially when you see them feeling so bad.
It’s also, especially tough on my wife since she’s the one who has to put up with all the poopin’ and pukin’.
The baby has puked on my wife quite a few times already.
Baby Luke has had some issues with over filling his diaper, to my wife’s dismay
GRAMPA: I say we call Matlock. He’ll find the culprit. It’s probably that evil Gavin MacLeod or George “Goober” Linsay.
BART: Grampa, Matlock’s not real.
GRAMPA: Neither are my teeth, but I can still eat corn on the cob, if someone cuts it off and smushes it into a fine paste. Now that’s good eatin”!
When I first started out on The Simpsons, I was a cocky 18 year old with a big ego and crumby drawing skills.
A bad combination.
It didn’t help that I was just passable enough as a draftsman to get hired on the show. I strutted around as if I DESERVED to have gotten hired. If I could go back in time to talk to my old self, I’d smack myself upside the head.
The Second Simpsons Show I Worked On.
I literally owe my career to Director Jeff Lynch. To this day, I have no idea why put up with me.
If I had been a smarter kid, I’d of gotten his subtle hints that I really stunk and I should really not be so cocky. But, unfortunately for me, and everyone else, I wasn’t.
The second episode of The Simpsons I “officially” worked on was: LISA VERSUS MALIBU STACY directed by Jeff.
I worked on about five scenes in each Act. Mostly crowd scenes. Jeff would find scenes that I couldn’t possibly mess up or that would take me a long time to do and I’d do those scenes.
I remember drawing this scene. It’s one of my first memories working on the show.
The first scenes I worked on in this particular episode were, in fact, the opening scenes with the old people and Matlock.
These were given to me because:
It was full of crowds and
it was all secondary characters
The reason he assigned me scenes with secondary characters was because the family is so tricky to get right, that it’s much more obvious when they’re off model. The secondary characters are a little more forgiving if you don’t get them just right.
It was prudent for him to give the stuck up rookie a scene full of secondary characters. This is the only time Matlock appears on the show. No one can tell how badly off model I drew him since no one had even seen what he was SUPPOSE to look like.
Exiled to The Little Dark Room
In order not to give me anymore work than he needed to, when I turned a scene in to Jeff, he would take one look at it and give it right back,
This would send me to a little dark room, the size of a closet, where a video machine attached to a camera was set up. Here, I would sit in the dark, time out a scene, and then “shoot the scene”. In other words, put it on video, taking a picture of my drawings, one frame at a time. This was LONG before we had computers to do this in.
The Matlock scenes I remember spending the most time on were the one where you slowly see him coming up the steps with both canes, and the close up choking scene.
The choking scene in particular took me hours (or was it days?) to shoot.
I’d done the scene and turned it in, but Jeff had asked me to shoot it. So I did, and I showed it to him. It was stiff as a board and looked awful. So he sat down in that dark room and reworked the drawings. He sketched out new, better, but very rough drawings.
They had a LOT more energy and power than the ones I had made.
He then wrote some rough timing on the corner of the pages and asked me to expose the drawings accordingly. So I did.
I showed him the scene again, but it wasn’t quite right. It was MUCH better but not quite right. He added a few more drawings, took some out and changed the timing again.
I shot the scene again. I showed it to him and he adjusted the timing a little bit again. So I shot it again.
This happened for a while. I spent my day shooting the scene.
When he finally got what he wanted, I asked him if he wanted me to clean up his roughs,
“No, just touch them up a little bit. Erase some of the darker lines and rougher bits but keep most to the drawings as they are.”
So I did as I was asked. I believe that I still have one of the rough drawings that he took out of that scene. One of my many Jeff Lynch mementos.
I was a complete moron and a lousy artist and animator, BUT those days, doing what Jeff had asked me to do and working under Jeff that way, where the BEST learning moments of my career.
My current understanding of timing and animation, EVERYTHING that I know now, has it’s foundation in those hour and hour of being in that dark little room. It was my own little cave of knowledge where the wise man taught the foolish young man what to do.
Yet I was so foolish, I was hardly aware it was happening.
Thanks Jeff. Lessons learned.
In this week’s e-mail, I got a bit candid about my emotional reaction to watching LISA VS. MALIBU STACY, for the first time in YEARS.
If you missed out on this e-mail. Opt in below to join the fun.
BOOKS – Free copy of The Tower’s Alchemist Kindle book
Just a quick plug/update on my wife Alesha’s book.
I’ve been pimping this book ALL week.
If you haven’t heard, for this week and this week only, THE TOWER’S ALCHEMIST is FREE to download for the Kindle.
That means, if want to get yourself a FREE copy, you’ve got today and tomorrow to get it. Otherwise, you’ll need to*GASP!* buy it.
But seriously, most everyone reading this post will have missed this deal. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still pick up the book even though it’s now $2.99 (which is less then a Starbucks coffee and even a COMIC BOOK!).
If you don’t own a Kindle device, that’s okay. Turns out, you don’t need one. Amazon is in the business of selling books not Kindles.
As I’ve been telling people all week, if you have an iOS device, download the Kindle app for FREE. Also available for Android, Windows 7 phones and blackberry phones, FREE. Or you can download the Kindle program on your Mac or PC, FREE or you can read the book on Kindle Cloud, for FREE.
CLICK HERE for info about this from directly from Amazon.
In case you’re wondering, here’s what the book is about:
Wizard Vs. Nazi Warlock Vampires.
It’s a very different World War II.
The Nazis have unleashed occult forces throughout Europe and the Allies are forced to recruit and employ wizards to counter their attacks.
Among them is the battle weary spy, Isabella George, a Gray Tower dropout trained in Alchemy. Longing for retirement and a life of peace, she accepts one final job–extract a deadly warlock from Nazi occupied France and prevent him from unleashing an alchemical weapon that will devour the continent.
But France is crawling with the Cruenti, vampiric warlocks who feed off other wizards. When things don’t go according to plan, one Cruenti sets his deadly eyes on her.
Betrayal is everywhere. Even some of her closest allies cannot be fully trusted. Worse still, she finds, she can’t even trust herself. She becomes a woman torn between her charismatic spy lover who offers her what she desires most, and one of her closest confidants, whose soft seductive eyes hold deadly secrets about her past, and the Gray Tower itself.
Plans within plans. Plots versus counter plots. Heists gone wrong, sword-wielding Catholic priests, and the greatest manipulation of history that has ever been seen, is just a taste of what Isabella George is in for, in her final mission.
If this sounds cool to you, click the link below and pick up a copy. Also available in hard copy:
Thursday night I came home and only three of my four kids greeted me at the door. I asked where my 4 year old son Dante was and my wife informed me he was in bed. Seems he had been misbehaving and was put to bed early.
I went to see him and discovered he was still awake. I went over and kissed him good night. As I was leaving he stopped me,
“Daddy, my arm hurts right here,” and pointed as his arm. This is typical. He’s always complaining about something so I went over caressed his arm quickly and said,
“There, now go to sleep,” and walked out of the room. I didn’t think anything of it.
The next day at work, Alesha calls me from the doctor’s office. Baby Luke had an appointment that day.
“Dante has a fractured arm.”
“He was complaining about pain in his arm…”
“Yeah, I know, he did that last night.”
“Oh, he did? Well, he seemed really hurt because when he moved his arm around he would cry, so I told him we’d have the doctor take a look at it while we were there. The doctor checked him out and took x-rays. His arm is fractured.”
“HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?”
“I have NO idea. He told me he fell.”
“Maybe he through a big tantrum when you sent him to his room and hurt himself.”
“We’ll, he and Elizabeth were playing pretty rough yesterday, pulling each other’s arms. I told them to stop.”
“Yeah, I don’t know…I think he through a tantrum. You know how he is.”
Well, anyway we STILL don’t know how it happened but he had his arm in a sling for a few days before he got his cast.
He was sooo happy to walk around with that sling on his arm.
And now that he has a cast, it’s like he’s proud of it or something.
On Monday I was told that I would be going on hiatus at the end of the week. Not good news since we haven’t gotten our tax refund yet and I had to pay property tax earlier this month. We’re not doing well financially. Lucky for me, something came up on the episode I’m currently revising that postponed my hiatus.
The episode I’m revising is short, so the writers have added an extra sequence at the end of the show that’s a bit epic. This sequence may or may not be made BUT in order to find out if it will, I have to storyboard it. This has bought me, at least one more week of work.
In the meantime, I get to think up what I will do during my hiatus to perhaps make a little bit more money. I might open myself up for commissions. I’m not too sure if anyone would be interested though. Especially since I will not except any commissions asking me to draw them SIMPSONS drawings. I would get in trouble if I did that.
If I made myself open to accept commissions, would you be interested in getting a drawing from me?
Ambrose’s birthday was Sunday. He became a 2 year old We were planning on doing something small and intimate. Mostly because it would be too much work to do more and because he’s so young, ANYTHING we did for him at this point would seem very exciting for him.
We had made plans to go to our favorite park and have a picnic, just the six of us. Then we’d come back home and invite the cousins over for cake.
Things didn’t quite turn out the way we thought. So many people asked about Ambrose’s birthday and what we were going to do that it turned out a bit bigger than we thought. We had to cancel going to the park because we didn’t want anyone to come and meet us there. We weren’t prepared for a PARTY at the park. We didn’t want to bring all the food and drinks everything that would be involved to throw a party at a park. So instead we got the house ready for the people to simply come over at the last minute.
Well, Ambrose had a blast. He had so much fun with his cousins. He got a few airplane toys and a cool Batmobile toy. He was happy. Like I said, ANYTHING that was new and out of the ordinary that we did for him would be a big deal in his eyes. It was great, and in the end, Alesha and I were very happy how it all turned out.
ROLE PLAYING GAMES/FAMILY
Last week a wrote about playing a role playing game with my kids using RISUS, making it out to be more of a LARP than simply a tabletop game experience. Well, I tested out the game with them this Saturday with great successes. The kids LOVED it. I had Elizabeth and Dante go on an adventure to get back some childrens’ stolen candy from a wicked witch who lived in a scary cave. They had a blast running around and play acting out their adventure. So much fun in fact they wanted to play again immediately after it was done.
The next day we tried it out again. This time, we took it outside to the playground so we had a wider environment to play in. Unfortunately, Dante didn’t want to play once we got to the playground. He just wanted to play at the playground. Elizabeth was very disappointed. I ended up running an adventure for her alone, but without her brother to play off of, she didn’t find it as enjoyable. I’ll try again some other time in a different place and see if we can get the “magic” back from the first game.
I must admit, it’s getting more and more difficult to finish working on my project. I’m so burned out on it right now. I really want to move on to my next project, which is a webcomic. But I’m committed to seeing this through, because I think the finished product will look good. I just don’t know how to finish this any faster than I’m currently doing. It’s a LOT of work coming up with shots. I mean, that’s why it’s a paying job.
This is what I’ve done in the last two weeks:
It doesn’t help that I’m writing this section as I draw it.
I gotta get this darn thing done. I’m so close to getting to the final stages. For more comic and stories written by me, CLICK HERE.
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Show 22 is the last show of this season and it has a MAJOR rewrite. This is both good and bad. It’s bad because it leaves me with a lot of work to do. It’s good because I’ve been given as much time as I need to do it. Since I might go on hiatus once I’m done, I’m not really too much in a rush. I’m also the only revisionist on the show because my partner went on hiatus. So it’s up to me to rework the show myself.
Fortunately, some of the work has already been done by the Director and the Assistant Director, for Acts 1 and 2. I just need to complete what they didn’t get to.
I’m still doing my job and trying to be as efficient as possible, I just don’t have the crazy deadline I usually have. I hope, once I’m done, I might get to help out doing layout on a show. Otherwise, it will be hiatus time for me.
ROLE PLAYING GAMES/FAMILY
I hope you had a happy Easter. I did and my kids most definitely did. One of the reasons they had so much fun was because they got to play with their cousins at the family Easter party.
Among the many things they did and played was a game that, I think they invented there at the party. It was a story game. It went something like this: the eldest was the “Director” or “Storyteller”, and she told the story. In this case, it was many stories, mostly classic fairytales, like Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, etc, or Fables like, The Three Little Pigs. So the “Director/Storyteller” would tell the story and the little kids, would “perform” the story and everyone would have a role to play. Or in the case of Jack and the Beanstalk, all the little kids where Jack.
Well, I was only half paying attention to what they were doing because I was having a conversation at the time, but I thought it was very creative of them all. The problem is that they went through so many stories, they soon ran out of them and the game stopped.
It wasn’t until the next day, when I started thinking about what they had done, that I suddenly realized my kids where practically Live Action Role-Playing (commonly known as LARP). Then I thought, why can’t I do exactly the same thing they were doing at the party, BUT instead of them playing out a fairytale, they played out a role playing game adventure. That way, they had choices to make and we could roll dice to see what happened during certain parts of the story.
So then I started thinking about what system to use. At first I thought I’d use SAVAGE WORLDS because I really enjoy the system and it’s fairly simple. I even thought I’d make a Character sheet with icons instead of just the name of all the stats, so the sheets would be more kid friendly. I went so far as to start roughing out these icons until I realized that there was a much easier and more kid friendly system I could use: RISUS: The Anything Rpg. It’s free, simple and kid friendly. I wrote about it on this blog a few years back.
Having decided that I was going to run a game for the kids, I had to come up with what type of game to run. Fantasy seemed like the obvious choice, since I could make their adventure very much like a fairytale.
Then it was just a matter of making characters for them. RISUS is a very simple system and it didn’t really take me too long. What took the longest was that I wanted to make their character sheets visual. For each of their stats, I wanted to have a little picture representing it. Also, it would help the kids visualize what they were suppose to be pretending to be. So this is what I came up with:
The first stat was just for the basic character cliche they were suppose to be playing as. The other stats I came up with, where meant to represent some attribute that my kids actually possess that might come in handy in the game. For example, the “Fast” Stat for my son Dante is there because I didn’t want to put “Afraid”. I thought “Fast” would be better, since I think he’ll be doing a lot of running away. I don’t think my youngest son, Ambrose (he’ll be 2 years old this Sunday) is actually going to understand what’s going on or is even going to play. BUT if he does, he’ll just copy what his big sister and brother are doing, so I’ll involve him, if he joins in with his “Copier” stat. He’s also a cute kid so his cuteness might save the day. Who knows…
I’m not exactly sure if they’ll want to do it, or if they’ll like it, but I’ll give this a try and see how it goes.
I’m thinking, perhaps, their first adventure might involve a wicked witch, and candy.
And now here’s something just as nerdy, if not nerdier:
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I’ve been working on the “special project” most of the week. It was killing me. I was handed some of THE most complicated scenes in the project. They were technical nightmares. To make matters worse, I had to make Quicktime movies of the scenes to show to the director, but the scenes where so complicated that I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the program to put all the pieces of the scene together to be able to make movies out of them. On top of that, BECAUSE I couldn’t put all the elements together to test out my scenes, I didn’t even know if the pieces of the scenes where working together as intended. So even after I turned the scenes in, I wasn’t sure how good a job I did. It was nerve racking.
I was stressed and worried most of the week, including the weekend. I haven’t worked so hard on the show since I boarded show 500. I’m a bit wiped out, and a bit brain dead.
My kids like playing board games. I don’t know why…OKAY maybe I do. Anyway, they often ask to play a board game. Sometimes they ask me to play, and I do, but most of the time I don’t. If I don’t, it’s because I’ve got some other thing I need to do at the time they ask.
I enjoy spending time with my kids playing a board game, but I’ve found that I don’t have FUN playing board games with my kids. I enjoy being with them but the playing is often unsatisfying. The reason for this, is because I usually can’t be very competitive playing board games with my kids. I can’t “do my best” in the games we play. I can’t “play to win”. I can only, “play for the sake of playing”. I always have to hold back and help the kids learn and generally, try to help them have fun. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s really not the reason I like playing board games. I like the challenge, the thinking, the back and forth between everyone at the table. None of which I get when playing with my kids. I mean, they’re little kids, what do you expect?
Well, this weekend Elizabeth (5 years old) and Dante (4 years old) asked me to play a board game with them. Since I had the time, I did. We played Sorry! Sliders.
Here’s the official description of the game:
Slide, COLLIDE and SCORE TO WIN!
Grab your roller pawn and take aim – then skillfully slide it down your track onto the target board! A good slide could score big points, but watch out! An opponent’s pawn may slam your pawn onto a Sorry! space – and out of the game!
This is a new twist on the Sorry! franchise with 4 different ways to play:
Race For Home
I’ve played this game with them before. The first two times I played the game with them, I read the rules and tried to get the kids to play the game by them. It didn’t work out. The kids where too young. Almost two years younger than they are now. Ever since then, when I play this game with them, we just ignore the rules and slide the pawns around the board for no good reason other than to do it. It’s simply an activity.
Well, THIS time, if the kids wanted to play the game, I wanted to actually play the game by the rules. SO I told them I would read the rules and we would follow them. I read them, and explained the rules to the kids. They understood what I was telling them and we began to play. WE HAD A BLAST. The kids followed the rules and it was great. Not only that but I didn’t hold back (much). I was truly trying to win the game. The game is of such a chaotic nature though, that it could be anyone’s game.
The final tally after playing three games was:
Elizabeth won 2 games
Dante won 1 game
I won, no games.
I lost every game. That was awesome. I lost and I was trying to win. I had so much fun. The kids had so much fun. It was great. We cheered and laughed and just had a good time. And the kids understood the rules and played by them. That was great. I hope this is a taste of things to come. I hope we can find another game in the collection that we can do the same with.
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Merry Christmas!! It’s officially the start of Christmas season (before the 25th, it was Advent season).
THE SIMPSONS NEWS
I had the week off this week. I turned in the last of my work on Thursday and started on the Couch Gag for the episode on Friday. It’s actually really difficult. I was given til Monday of next week to finish it, so first thing Monday, I’ve got to get cracking.
BUT last week I found out, one of my co-worker, Liz Heck, has gotten on Tumbler. Her plan is to update it two times a week with her own art.
And if you leave a comment on there, you have a chance to win a $5 amazon gift certificate.
It was a very busy Christmas. Our family tends to celebrate the 24th AND the 25th. We usually stay up til midnight on the 24th but this year, with the kids, it was impossible. The thing is, even though Christmas eve was very different then the way we have been used to celebrating it, it seemed so much more Christmas-y. This year, we went out of our way to really focus on the kids having a good time. And they did.
The big focus of the Christmas Eve party, was the coming of Santa Claus to the house. The kids didn’t know he was coming, but we gave him the invite. It was all going to begin with the kids sitting around the living room as I read them a Christmas book. In this case, it was THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. That went relatively well. My nephew Paolo was his usual, over curious, excited self, and couldn’t stop moving but all the other kids were surprisingly attentive. Including my one year old, Ambrose, who had never had story time before. He sat and listened quietly. I was very surprised. I got to start reading to that little kid.
Once I was done reading, the kids where asked to sing Jingle Bells. It was going great until someone turned up the music. At first, everyone thought it was Jingle Bells and we all sang along until we realized it WASN’T Jingle Bells but something else. It threw everyone off and killed the singing. Luckily, around that time, there was a knock on the door and Santa showed up. He had his sack full of presents and all the kids got really excited. My daughter Elizabeth was jumping up and down with excitement. It was fun. They all got called up one by one to get a present and sit on Santa’s lap.
Lots of pictures and a little bit of crying. Especially from Ambrose, who was pretty sleepy by that point. That was a lot of fun. I’m glad that we did it. I think the worst part of the night, for me, was around the time Santa was going to leave. My three year old, Dante, heard my uncle say Santa had to go because his reindeer where waiting. Well, Dante REALLY wanted to go out see them. I ended up telling him that Santa didn’t really bring the deer. I told him he came by car today. He didn’t believe me, so I had to take him outside to show him there where no reindeer. He was disappointed. That really stunk. It made him sad. Which makes me want to rant about the whole Santa Claus thing, but I’ll save that til the end of this post.
We left the party around 11pm. We had eaten late and the kids had been starving. We should have thought to feed them before we left. Even so, around 8pm or so, Ambrose was an emotional mess. He was so tired, he just wanted me to carry him everywhere, which was a pain since he’s getting heavy. I also wanted to do thing, like eat, and it made it difficult when he just wanted to be on top of me being fussy. So we left early and by the time we where getting ready for bed, it was Christmas.
On Christmas morning, the kids got up and opened presents. There weren’t very many of them. In fact, most of them came from the dollar store. Only one didn’t, CARS SORRY SLIDERS. The kids really liked SORRY SLIDERS and I thought they’d get a kick out of having the Cars one because they call the SORRY SLIDERS the “racer game” anyway. Might as well give them a real “racer game”. Elizabeth was disapionted in her presents (for good reason) mostly because she didn’t get a doll. that kinda annoyed me because she has a ton of them and they just sit there because she doesn’t play with them. Why those she want another one to ignore?
We ate breakfast and tried to get ready as soon as we could. We had a few stops to make that day. We had planned to go to 9am Mass but we weren’t quite ready on time for it. I went alone and Alesha went to the 11am Mass. Around 1pm we were off to Alesha’s sister’s house. According to Alesha, we were there mostly to eat her sister’s gumbo. It was REALLY GOOD. It even had crab legs. The kids played a bit and then watched me play PLANT VS. ZOMBIES, or as they call it, “The bzombie game” (don’t know why they pronounce it with a “b”.
After that, it was off to Alesha’s grandmother’s house. We got there and visited for a while. The kids where all over me because they get bored there. On top of the fact that they were hungry. It was getting close to dinner time. After what seemed like a very long time, we left. We actually had one more stop to make. We had actually stopped off at Alesha’s sister’s house to pick up a document that she needed to take to an aunt’s house. We were going to go there only Alesha forgot to get the document. We canceled that stop and headed over to my parent’s house. We where going to celebrate Christmas there and open the rest of the kid’s presents. We ate there, opened presents and generally had a good time there. Alesha was so tired, I think she slept through most of it. She had done all the driving that day.
We left around 10pm. The kid’s where pretty tired. They had gotten some really great presents. Elizabeth got her doll so she was satisfied.
It was a busy, but fun, kid-centric Christmas and somehow, it was that much better for it.
SANTA CLAUS RANT
I’ve never really been a fan of the whole Santa Claus thing. I’ve been trying to avoid telling my kids that their presents are from Santa, but the culture makes it difficult to do that. I used to tell them Baby Jesus gave them the presents, which to me, is actually true. I suppose, it’s not a lie to say that Santa is real, if by Santa, you mean Saint Nicholas. Since he’s a Saint in heaven before the presence of God and therefore more alive than WE are. And I suppose we can say that it’s through his intercession (by which I mean his prayer for us to God) that we we give them presents. Still…it kinda bugs me, since Santa Claus and Saint Nick are often not thought to be the same person. After all, the popular image of Santa that we have in our heads, was actually made popular by Coca Cola billboards. Before that, there was no definitive Santa Claus look. It was easier to say, it’s Saint Nick back then.
Maybe I’m thinking about this too hard. What do you think?
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I managed to finish my Act on this very odd episode I’m on. I wrote about it last week but the post has been lost.
The co-worker I share an office with is doing boards on next year’s Halloween show. It’s epic. So epic in fact that there was no way he was going to get the boards done by deadline. It didn’t help that they want him to be done with it early because of the holiday this week. So production asked me to help him out. Thing is, I was also suppose to finish a very special Couch Gag for the other episode I was taken off of. It was kinda involved but I was given only given Wednesday to do it all. That was a pain. Lucky for me, they extended the deadline for that Couch Gag til Monday. That helps a lot.
So enough complaining. I will say this about working on at the studio:
Production has been nothing but supportive with my current situation at home. They sent flowers and have put up with my crazy schedules (coming in late, working half days, being out for bereavement). They’ve helped take the edge off all these events that I’ve had to deal with in the last few days, and for that, I’m very grateful.
My five year old daughter Elizabeth, had a fever for five days two weeks ago. Just as she recovered and we thought we could get on with our week, my three year old, Dante, got the fever.
The problem was, we had my mother-in-law’s wake and funeral to go to. In the end, I ended up coming home early on the day of the wake to take care of Dante so my wife could go.
We had other plans. My wife’s best friend Miriam, was going to come over to watch the kids while we both went to the wake but she has a little girl named River. We didn’t want River to get sick, so I ended up having to do it. This said, Miriam actually came by and dropped off dinner for us that night, for which I was VERY grateful since it was a bit overwhelming to take care of the sick kids and get them their food. It also helped that, not only did she bring chicken soup for the kids but she brought Pupusas, that her neighbor made. SO GOOD.
Thank you again Miriam.
In other news…
My wife and I went to my mother-in-law’s funeral. It was a very nice funeral and some VERY inspiring things were said that day. Once it got to the end though, it got real brutal for everyone. Saying good bye, “officially” was SO hard.
My ten year old laptop stopped working this weekend. It was an IBM Thinkpad laptop and it was my workhorse computer. It was still running well, and I took it everywhere. I had it backed up so I didn’t really lose anything.
There’s still a possibility that I can get it working again. The computer actually didn’t die. What died was the AC adapter. It stopped charging the computer. The computer ran out of power and so now it’s not working. I’m going to see if I can’t buy another adepter (this will be the third one I would have bought). It might wake the computer back up, IF the battery hasn’t died on me.
Why don’t I get another laptop? I can’t afford one. Finances are REAL bad right now.
Now I have to do all my home computing on my 12 year old Del.
In other news…
You can’t really tell but, as I posted this weekend, I updated WordPress on my blog. I’ve been wanting to do it for a while now but I was afraid of losing everything I’d ever written. I was using a four year old version of WordPress that didn’t have the “update” button. In the end, everything turned out okay. I lost last week’s post but I honestly think it might exist in a database on my server somewhere. I have to do some investigating but It’s possible I might be able to recover it. It’s not necessary for me to do this but I just want to, for the sake of having it.
In the mean time, I’m also considering changing the look of this blog to be more up to date. I have yet to find a theme I like but don’t be surprised if things change a bit sometime soon.
Okay, I’m re-posting the Serpent Demon design I posted in last weeks’ lost post. Too bad I completely forgot what I wrote about this and what I wanted to say about it so I’ll just write whatever I think to write now:
The demons are the source of the Sorcerer’s power. They allow themselves to be “possessed” by them in exchange for power. This is hardly an original idea. It’s a common motif in the Swords and Sorcerer genre. Especially in the Conan stories. The more powerful the Sorcerer in those stories, the less human they are. Magick in that genre is a very dangerous and corrupting force. I took that idea and did my own thing with it.
The Serpent demon below, is the demon the Lead Sorcerer made a pact with. It gives him the power to manipulate and control other peoples minds.
The rough drawing on the bottom of the page above, is an experiment on my part. I was seeing how it might look like when the demon visibly manifest, near the end of the story. Design wise, I was trying to play with the shape contrasts. If the eyes are big and far apart, perhaps the nose should be small and high up. If the head is small and squished, perhaps the neck and body should be long and thick. I also gave it no arms, just where you think it should have some, so that it was a bit more creepy to look at. It also matches the serpent motif I was going for.
Even though I was sick this week and didn’t feel like drawing at all, I forced myself to work on designing demon number two, The Entropy demon. The idea is that this demon gives it’s possessor the power to destroy things by speeding up how fast a thing decays through the ravages of time. Organic things rot and die, none organic things rust, turn to dust, or whatever. I figured, it’s a bit of a death demon. I wanted it to look like, it too, was falling apart.
The first thing I did was make a web search for animal skulls. The first two roughs at top where the first sketches I did, but they didn’t have the creepy look I was looking for:
I then made a search for insect faces, since they tend to creep me out. I found a photo of a very nasty looking fly face that had a hole in it’s front, like a nose cavity. I drew the sketch on the middle left off it, but I didn’t really like it. It reminded me of the Thumper design in Pixar’s BUG’S LIFE.
I then searched for close ups of vampire bat faces. This inspired me to draw the cloaked figure on the page. This was much closer to what I wanted. I’m not sure if it’s exactly what I want yet. It doesn’t look enough like it’s falling apart or rotting. It’s also a tad too cartoony to be creepy.
When looking at the vampire photos I saw a photo of a vampire skull. Those things are really weird and creepy looking. I tried sketching out some drawings on the bottom of the page. I was attempting to capture what I thought was creepy about them. Not sure I succeeded. I’ll try again next week.
Perhaps I should just leave out the eyes…
I posted this last week but it got lost so I’ll post again this week. for anyone who didn’t get a chance to read it. Chapter four of THE TOWER’S ALCHEMIST:
At the first rays of dawn I awoke and went to soak in a hot bath, trying to expel my bitter feelings from last night’s encounter. This was neither the first nor the last time I would run into officers like Adelbert and Gerhardt. Sometimes I wanted to shed my façade and just start hitting them with spells that would make them run back home with their tails in between their legs like the cowardly dogs they were. However, being a vigilante wizard wasn’t part of my mission, though sometimes I wished it were.
My limbs still ached from last night’s assault and my shoulders burned with soreness, but otherwise I felt fine. As I relaxed in the warm water I noticed on an adjacent shelf a display of waxy soaps, some wrapped, from different regions of France and even other countries.
These were probably small gifts left by guests who’ve come and gone, some perhaps forever. Looking at the display reminded me of my father, who’d bring my brother and me treats from the different places he had traveled to. And for my mother, he’d bring exotic flowers and a heartfelt kiss.
I laughed to myself when I remembered how he would always warn us not to stay up late eating candy, and Johnnie and I would hide our treats all over the house in the most unlikeliest of places so that we could grab them whenever we’d want—and my father found each and every one of them without fail. As a child, I never understood how he knew and anticipated every plan and move we’d make. My favorite part though was when he’d tuck us in and read me Emily Dickinson poetry until I fell asleep. Though I was only eight and didn’t completely understand it all, I had always found her poetry fascinating, and I enjoyed the fact that a girl wrote it.
After nearly an hour in my thoughts and memories, I tore myself away from the tub with lethargic movements and got dressed. I hid my supplies beneath a secret panel in the floor before heading to the kitchen. My stomach rumbled when I caught a whiff of the fresh pastries just coming out of the oven.
I greeted Renée, the woman who had admitted me last night, and sat at the table and helped myself to a cup of coffee. She looked rather pleased at my enthusiasm as she placed a couple of pastries on my plate. Though I didn’t know her, I knew of her, and that she had been with the Resistance since the beginning. I was glad that she had accepted the task of hosting me.
“My husband fought in the Free French Army until a Maquisard betrayed him and murdered him in his sleep.” She gestured toward her husband’s portrait hanging on the wall. “My son and daughter-in-law were sent off to Dachau and I’ve never heard from them since.”
I shook my head. “Our enemies knew you were hurting them…you were important.” Those Gestapo bastards often kidnapped or killed members of people’s families as retribution.
“Have you lost anyone, Emelie?”
“Yes…I mean, I hope not.” Stella, where are you?
“I once had a guest tell me that he at first thought I was a hard woman because I still fought despite everything. The truth is I’m the type of woman who would go into my son’s old room and dust off his belongings, fluff his pillow, and sometimes just sit or cry.”
“I’m very sorry for your loss.” It reminded me of Stella and how I acted as custodian over her items, though I feared the most likely outcome of her fate.
“May I ask you about Veit Heilwig? Do you know anything about him?” I breathed in the heady and aromatic scent of the coffee before taking another long sip.
“Dr. Heilwig fashions himself a man of great intellect,” Renée said as she escaped her somber mood and poured herself some coffee. The fine lines in her face softened. “He is at the university lecturing and poisoning minds.”
I broke off a piece of my pastry and ate it before speaking. “Do you know anything else about the chemical weapons being used?”
“I heard that they’ve transferred more from the south where Mussolini’s men are stationed, but no one really knows where they are coming from. They’re probably in a factory in this region, though the Maquis haven’t been able to find out which one.”
“Perhaps Mathieu could help us with that,” I said.
Mathieu Perrine had become the unofficial voice of the Maquis during occupation. His nightly radio broadcasts were a constant thorn in the Gestapo’s side. If you ever needed a message to be sent out or coded instructions to the nearest safe house, or a simple word of encouragement, Mathieu could deliver.
“I’ll try to contact him and see, but it won’t be easy.” She sipped her coffee. “We lost a safe house last week and I fear the Gestapo is becoming more ruthless.”
“I understand. I’ll most likely have to get into the university to keep an eye on Heilwig.”
“Is Penn in Paris? He can give me the papers I need.” I looked askance when she kept staring at me.
“So young,” she shook her head. “I don’t know if you just seem familiar to me or you remind me of myself. Believe it or not, I was like you once, and now I am just old and tired.”
“You were one of the first.” Though I gazed at her with pride, it was tempered by the sadness in her eyes.
“And perhaps I will be one of the last. Only God knows. Just remember to stay true to yourself, no matter what…that’s what I’ve learned.”
“Very sound advice.” I drummed my fingers on the table and stared at my Agate stone ring.
“Well, I might as well show you around, Emelie. Would you care to see the garden?”
I followed her to the back door that led to the plot of land behind the house. A picket fence enclosed the garden and I could see three small crosses peeking out from beneath the hyacinths. Inscribed on each cross were the words “Se Souvenir,” which meant “Remember.” For most of us, remembering something painful often proved to be difficult, but Renée seemed to embrace it because it was all she had left.
“Do you see the tool shed over there?” She pointed at the wooden structure with its peeling white paint. I cringed a little at the thought of me slamming the trapdoor so hard last night.
“I had one of those…at my parents’ old house.”
“Make sure that you always take the underground passageway beneath the floor that leads to the chapel down the hill. No one must know that you’re staying here.”
I gazed at her in amazement. “You made that passageway yourself?”
“I can’t take credit for it. My husband did it years ago during the Great War when we thought Paris might be taken.”
“Your husband must have been a great man.”
“And to think, when he first proposed to me I turned him down.” She chuckled. “He was very intelligent, but not always the best at showing his emotions. Even when he proposed to me it was more of a logical argument as to why we would be compatible mates. One day, he showed up with flowers and a poem he had written for me. I knew then that I wanted to marry him.”
“And the crosses are for him, and your son and his wife?”
She smoothed her hair right where a streak of gray stood out. “Three reasons to get out of bed every morning and keep doing my work. I used to hide maps, weapons, and even passports back here. So many people have come through this house, each leaving his own mark.”
“What do you hide there now?” The air was quiet—a good quiet, but a sad quiet.
“Nothing. I haven’t had a guest in eight months. Soon, SOE will forget about me.”
I raised an eyebrow. “This can’t be the same woman who I hear inspired so many SOE agents and even saved lives.”
She folded her arms. “Is that what they say about me?”
“Well, I don’t think the Gestapo has forgotten about you.” Even from here I could hear trekkers speeding up the hill, and I exchanged glances with her.
“Wait here,” she said. “If they come to the door, I’ll talk to them.” She patted me on my shoulder and headed toward the front, either apathetic to her possible fate or resigned to it.
My heart jumped at the shouting and loud knocks at the door. I listened carefully just in case Renée needed me. I heard two agents speaking with her, and then a pair of heavy shoes pounding against the floor throughout the house. Doors opened and shut, closets were ransacked, and I thought I even heard the toilet being checked. As the pounding footsteps grew louder, I placed my back against the wall and tiptoed side ways. Just as I turned the corner, the back door opened.
Not waiting to see if the Gestapo agent would explore the backyard further, I made my way toward the front but froze in place when I heard the second agent with Renée from an open window right above me.
“Adelbert caught a suspicious woman riding around last night. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that?”
“I’ve only been up a couple of hours.”
I flinched and bit my tongue when I heard a thunderous slap. “I asked you about last night, not about this morning.”
I was just about to turn the corner and make it to the front of the house when I saw the second agent coming from the other side. I ran back toward the garden, hoping he hadn’t seen me from the corner of his eye. I didn’t want to chance running into him so I stayed in the back, listening for footsteps. When I heard none, I slipped in through the back door, my bare feet tiptoeing once more. I quickly went into Renée’s son’s old room and stood against the wall, straining to keep track of the conversation and praying I could make it over in time if he decided to pull out a weapon.
“Who had breakfast with you?”
“The old man, Otto, who lives down near the chapel. He’s a friend of mine.”
“Lorenz, go see Otto.”
“Yes, sir.” Lorenz left and shut the door.
“How are your Maquis friends, Renée?”
“They cost me my family. I wouldn’t quite call them friends.”
“I might as well have some refreshments while I’m here. Got anymore coffee?”
“Of course,” she responded in a stiff voice, but I heard her go into the kitchen and return.
“Ah, looks delicious. The old man must’ve left in a hurry.” I could hear him scraping a spoon against the bottom of a coffee cup.
“Is there anything else I can get you, Agent Karsten?”
“Sounds like Lorenz is coming back up the road. Are you sure there isn’t anything you want to confess?”
“Only the guilty have something to confess, sir.”
“Well let’s see if you’re the lying whore that I think you are.”
The door opened and Lorenz’s boots scuffed the floor. “Sir, the old man said he had breakfast this morning with her…and asked if she had any more pastries left.”
A torturous silence filled the house and I stepped closer to the doorway, my heart pounding in my chest and my palms sweaty. If anything happened to Renée, I would feel responsible, and I didn’t know if I would forgive myself for that.
Karsten grunted. “Then let’s not waste any more time. Perhaps we’ll stop by later.”
As soon as I heard them depart and the loud rumble of their trekker fade in the distance, I ran into the living room toward Renée. I gently touched her left cheek and felt a burning sensation where Karsten had struck her. I delivered a cool flow of healing energy through my fingertips and shrank the swollen bruise on her face.
“Are you all right?”
“I’ll be fine,” she sighed. “They know about my husband and son, so every now and then they come and try to scare me.”
“Cowards. Thank goodness Otto went along with your story.”
“Yes, and it helps that I make only pastries for breakfast anyway.”
My hand fell to my side. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack.”
“So did I, Emelie.” Suddenly she jolted. “Emelie…I knew there was something familiar about you. This may sound strange but Otto came by a month ago and said he had a letter for you. I didn’t know what he was talking about since I hadn’t hosted anyone in months, but he was adamant that the letter be given to an Emelie.”
“Me? Are you sure?” I didn’t receive letters while undercover. This was either extremely important or terribly dangerous.
“I don’t know.” She frowned. “But he’s very loyal and discreet. You can go see him this afternoon and find out about it.”
The letter certainly piqued my curiosity, but it also made me uneasy. I ran through nearly all the people I knew as I tried to guess who would attempt to send me a note under these circumstances. I managed to put aside my worries and offered to clear the table and wash dishes for Renée. I didn’t forget to thank her for the meal, and especially for her protection. After I got rid of my milkmaid’s dress and the jumpsuit, I borrowed one of Renée’s old shift dresses and a sun hat to cover my head. She had already packed the remaining pastries and set them in a picnic basket, asking me to thank Otto once more for his aid. I headed out the back door carrying the basket and made my way to the tool shed. Using a candle Renée had given me, I made my way through the dark tunnel.
Wooden beams reinforced the ceiling and walls, and I went a little faster when I thought I felt something scurry across my toes. I exited through the trapdoor in the chapel. Otto wasn’t there, and so I walked through the front and headed toward his house, stiffening with each car that passed and refraining from making eye contact with others.
I wanted to cringe when I spied three SS officers with weapons drawn, and four young men and two women on their knees in a line, hands behind their heads. The situation startled me, and though I’ve seen death and have sent enemies to their deaths, the idea of shooting innocent and defenseless people in the streets like that filled me with a sickening dread. I started running toward them but when the first gunshot rang, I knew I was too late.
“This will be the punishment for all terrorists!” one of the officers shouted to horrified passersby and witnesses. Once again, the cowards had used murder to intimidate their foes.
I slowed my pace as each subsequent shot ripped away the façade of tranquility that the mild summer weather presented. I held back tears of anger as I slowly went up Otto’s front steps. I had made sure to look at each officer, remembering their nametags and faces, promising that they would one day get what they deserved.
Otto opened the door and ushered me through, and gladly accepted the basket of pastries I brought him. He led me to his sofa and had me take a seat, all the while asking me who had been shot in the street. I shook my head and let the matter go; I was still upset at the sight, and I didn’t know who the people were, but they certainly weren’t terrorists. The real terrorists were wearing swastikas.
“It’s a shame,” he said as he took a seat next to me. “I fought in the Battle of the Marne over fifteen years ago and thought the Germans wouldn’t dare come back after that. Now I must sit here and suffer them shooting people in the streets.”
“Do you still work with the Resistance?”
He snorted. “They say I’m too old. They’ll let boys who are barely old enough to shave carry messages back and forth, but me? No…Old Otto might break his foot coming down the steps.” He muttered a curse word in French and I reluctantly smirked.
A steaming kettle whistled from the kitchen and he excused himself. I glanced at his coffee table that was covered with newspapers and magazines, and I could hear the low humming of the radio. It seemed Otto spent much of his time trying to keep up with current events, though the Nazis filtered or censored most of the information. Mathieu Perrine’s radio broadcasts were the only trustworthy source of what really went on with the Allies and the Resistance. I grinned when I saw Otto return with a hot cup of tea for me, and I politely listened as he began telling me about his son Lucien.
“My boy fought alongside the Maquisards and eventually joined the Free French Army.” He smacked his lips when I handed him a pastry from the basket. “He’s on special assignment in Spain with some Americans. They’re trying to bolster public support for the Allied forces—secretly, of course, since General Franco would not openly have any of it. Perhaps you can meet Lucien one day as he is a fine young man, and unmarried!”
I smiled again and took a sip of tea as he showed me a picture of Lucien. I didn’t want to be rude, but elders were notorious for holding you hostage in a conversation if you let them. I needed to grab my letter and find out who tried to contact me.
“Renée told me you had a letter? May I see it?”
“Yes, yes…I will get it.” He nodded his hoary head and shuffled over to a cupboard where he had a secret compartment. At least two pictures of his son Lucien hung on every wall. There were also pictures of a beautiful young woman, probably his deceased wife when she was younger.
“Here it is, and it’s still sealed.” He handed me the letter and then sat across from me, filling his pipe.
“Who gave it to you?” My heart nearly skipped a beat when I recognized the handwriting.
“A courier. I took it and thought maybe he had intended it to go to Renée since she has people stay at her house sometimes. I brought it to her the day I received it but she insisted that I keep it. I think she was waiting to see if I was fool enough to get caught.”
I opened the letter and unfolded the sheet of paper. It had no signature or date:
Safe in their alabaster chambers,
untouched by morning and untouched by noon,
sleep the meek members of the resurrection,
rafter of satin, and roof of stone.
I should have shielded you from our friends.
We will meet again.
I re-read the note until I had committed it to memory. I promptly took it over to the stove and lit it on fire, watching the paper blacken and curl. The note confused me, and scared me. My head wagged back and forth in denial, and for a moment I thought someone was playing a cruel joke on me.
“My dear…why did you burn that letter? Was it not important?” Otto had come into the kitchen with an anxious expression.
“If you were still active, you’d know to never keep any papers or letters on you. If they were lost or if you were captured…then what?” I didn’t want to snap at him, but I had little patience to spare these days.
“You don’t need to…thanks for the letter, and I hope your son safely returns.”
I gave him a peck on the cheek and trudged toward the door, once again being faced with walking back to the chapel. The bodies of the victims had been removed, but their blood still stained the street. I felt like I would go berserk if I saw another SS officer out on the road but luckily I didn’t.
When I returned to the house, Renée saw me trembling and she pulled me to sit down at the table. I barely heard her questions and didn’t even reach for the glass of water she pushed in front of me. I kept arguing with myself in my mind about the note and how my father couldn’t have sent it. First, I knew for a fact he wasn’t in France, nor would he have been within the last month. Second, he was a very straightforward man, much like Renée’s husband. Why would he send me such a cryptic message? Renée kept rubbing my shoulder in a consoling manner and staring into my eyes, finally falling into silence because she seemed afraid of what I would say.
“I got the letter…from Otto.” A letter that was either a lie or pointing toward one.
“Wh-what did it say?”
I took a moment to clear my dry throat. “I think it’s from my father.”
“Is he in France?”
“He died sixteen years ago in Rome.” Both the U.S. Army and the Gray Tower confirmed it.
“My God…” She placed her hand on her chest as she exhaled; her shocked expression mirrored my own. “Are…are you sure he’s dead?”
“I don’t know anymore.” I felt my stomach tighten. If this note had truly been penned by him, then that meant I had been lied to about my father, and so everything I’ve believed about him…I didn’t know what I believed anymore. It was his handwriting, a reference that he knew I would recognize, and it had been addressed to my codename—eerily enough the same name as my favorite poet.
“What did the letter say?”
I repeated the lines to her and realized that the first four lines were an excerpt from an Emily Dickinson poem about time and eternity. Why this poem?
“I have that poetry collection!” Renée shot up and went into her son’s old room, leaving me to recall what I did know about my father.
He rose through the ranks of the U.S. Army and had also been trained by the Gray Tower. Both institutions readily assented to my father being a liaison between the military and the Order of Wizards, and by all accounts he served honorably. One November evening when another Elite Wizard, Serafino Pedraic, came from the Gray Tower to meet with my father in Rome, his bloodstained apartment had been ransacked and he hadn’t been seen since.
After a lengthy investigation Serafino had arrived at our house along with General Robert Cambria and delivered their final verdict—Major Carson William George was dead. Though I was ten years old, certainly old enough to understand, part of me wanted to deny it and keep believing that my father would come through the front door any day with candy for me and Jonathan, and flowers for my mother. But he never came home.
All other kinds of emotions rose inside me, and I didn’t know what to make of them. I believed my father had written the note, but where was he if he was alive, and why had he been missing all those years? I kept ruminating over his words. What exactly did he mean by shielding me from our friends? He mentioned alabaster chambers and resurrection; could it be about death? Dickinson was a bit preoccupied with it. Maybe it was a warning that someone would die.
“Here it is.” Renée nearly bumped into the table. She held a book open and started reading the poem to me, pausing after each stanza to see if I recognized any significance in them.
I shook my head, having only listened to half of her words. “I need to think about all this.”
“Sooner or later, it will come to you. You say you haven’t seen your father in years…perhaps there were things he said to you or that you’ve heard while he was still around.”
She closed the book. “Penn is with The Red Lady. Will you be going down to the nightclub later?”
I gestured toward the back where my guestroom stood. “Do you have any extra dresses in that armoire?”
“Do you like purple satin?”
“I’ll take it.”
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Bad news happened last Thursday. I’ve missed three days of work so far because of it.
My mother-in-law, Sharon Mcdade, was murdered Thursday morning. The circumstances are such that I don’t think I want to go into details. Needless to say that we’ve been hit pretty hard emotionally. I thought about maybe drawing a picture specifically, in her memory. But just thinking about it made me want to break down. I don’t think I’m capable of doing it nor do I have the time even if I was strong enough to do it.
Instead, I’m putting up this painting of a rose I did years ago. I thought it would be appropriate:
I don’t think I should really put anything else up on this blog this week. It doesn’t seem right.
I do ask you for your prayers for my wife and her family, who are devastated. My mother-in-law, was only fifty. She was so young and happy. I loved her and miss her.
Okay, that’s it from me.
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I managed to finish my job early last week. I ended up getting put on a Simpsons video game project for the day. Looks fun. That’s all I’ll say about that.
This week I started revisions on another episode. Fun show. My Act has some heavy rewrites but the theme is so fun, I don’t mind.
I was also given the Couch Gag to board. It’s short and sweet. A thankful change from the epic Couch Gags I had been assigned before.
After a year of developing the story, I FINALLY finished writing my script. It feels sooo good. By “script”, I mean, I wrote down all the dialogue…and nothing else. No description, just dialogue. It looks like this:
LS: You’re coming with us now barbarian.
R: Coming with you? Coming WITH you, really? You’re…you’re, not going to try to kill me or anything? …Where do you think you’re taking me?
LS: Stop playing games and come with us.
R: (HOLDING BACK ANGER) Look, I can probably guess why you guys are here but I haven’t got the slightest idea why you want to take me anywhere. Plus, you guys acting all hostile sure as hell doesn’t make me want to go anywhere with you, so…please, can you just leave me alone?
LS: How dare you!
R: What?! You’re bothering ME. I haven’t done anything to you!
LS: Haven’t done anything to us? You’ve hurt my friends! Do you deny that you’ve incapacitated 30 different Sorcerers that have come in contact with you in the past? People I know personally. The ruthlessness of the those attacks where completely uncalled for. Your dangerous! You should be locked up. Your a menace to society. If anyone knew how evil you were, no one let you walk around free.
R: WHAT?! Are you kidding me?! Those FRIENDS of yours ATTACKED me. I was defending myself. I asked them to stop and they kept on coming. I didn’t seek them out, they sought me out. I didn’t want ANYTHING to do with them in the first place!
LS: Oh really?
R: Yes, really!
LS: Then if what you say is true, you won’t mind coming with us so that we can sort this all out. We take you to the Sorcerer’s High Tower and you plead your case. If what you say can be proven, then you can go on your way and no one will bother you again.
LS: Are you mocking us!
R: No, no…It’s just, this is just seems a bit crazy to me. Okay so, you’ve wanted me to go with you to the Sorcerer’s High Tower from the start right?
R: Okay, I see. And you guys are going to put me on trail for defending myself?
LS: IF you where defending yourself, you will be found innocent.
R: And who’s going to judge me? Sorcerers?
R: And somehow that’s going to be fair?
LS: Of course.
R: Are you kidding me? You guys think I’m so sort of Dark Lord that’s going to take over the world. You ALL hate me. There’s NO WAY I’m getting a fair hearing.
LS: It will be fair.
R: I’m sorry but there’s nothing from experiences with you Sorcerers that I can point to that makes me believe you. What if I don’t want to go? What if I decide to stay here?
LS: Then your actions will speak louder than your words. It would prove your guilt because you’re obviously hiding something. We will KNOW that you are what the prophecy foretells you to be. Which means that we will be forced to kill you in order to save the word from your slavery.
R: (SIGH) You got to be kidding me. You realize this is catch 22? I’m damned if I do, I’m damned if I don’t. This is EXACTLY how all the other fights with the other guys started. For goodness sake, I’m NOT some evil overlord that going to take over the world. I’m just a guy who want to be left alone so I can eat my lunch in peace. So…I’m sorry, but I’m going to stay here. Okay? Please leave.
LS: I’m sorry to hear you say that. I truly am. I tried to reason with you but…you leave me no choice. (TURNING TO HIS COMPANIONS) Alright guys, lets do this…
R: WAIT! Wait. Just a sec. Just give me a second. Okay, listen, what can I do that will get you guys to give me five minutes to eat my lunch? Anything? I just want five minutes here. Then you could try to kill me all you want.
That’s pretty much what it looks like. The dialogue isn’t set in stone and if it doesn’t come across well, I’ll change it till it does.
Why no descriptions? Because I want to be able to improvise the visuals as I go. Besides, all the description was written down at the treatment phase and I didn’t want to repeat myself. It’s not like anyone is suppose to read the script but me. This is the usual way I write scripts for myself.
I also started designing the last characters for my film. The demons. Starting with the snake demon:
I’m not very good at designing monsters and none of these sketches were what I wanted. None, but the last one I drew on the bottom right corner. That on is definitely beginning to go in the right direction. I wanted something that looked scary, not heroic. I ended up looking at a picture of Christopher Walken and started to draw a caricature of it. Half way through, I began adding reptilian, features to it and it started to look a bit freaky. I’m gonna have to play around with the idea some more. Hopefully I’ll get something I like.
Like I did last week, I’m posting another chapter from my wife’s book THE TOWER’S ALCHEMIST. This week, it’s Chapter 3.
But first…I was wondering if you could do us a favor. Whether or not you’re planning to buy the book or not, I would REALLY help us out, if you can go to the Amazon page of the book and check the little boxes next to the tags near the bottom. They look like this:
You’ll have to be logged in to see the boxes.
The reason we’re asking, is that by doing so, whenever someone looks up something related to those tags, there’s a higher chance that Alesha’s book will pop up near the top of the list. This would help our visibility a lot.
To go to the Amazon page click on one of the links below:
The $2.99 Kindle copy of the book:
The hard copy of the book:
Thank you in advance.
Okay, so without further ado:
The cab driver flinched when he saw the bomb drop. It fell through the sky with a deadly grace, but I didn’t bat an eyelash. I pressed my hand against the window and reached out with my senses, making sure that a curse hadn’t been laid along with the bomb’s contents.
“Are you sure it’s safe to go to the air hangar?” he asked, slowing the car.
“It was a leaflet bomber,” I told him, as we watched a multitude of folded papers eject from the bomb and swirl through the air. The empty container would land without incident, but the propaganda leaflets would make their way into people’s hands—but hopefully not their hearts.
He wiped his brow. “Thank God. I thought it would explode.”
I shook my head at some of the Royal Air Force officers running over and collecting the leaflets. Though the Nazis dropped their leaflet bombs in city centers where they could reach the civilian population, every now and then a batch would be directed toward a military or industrial site. I didn’t know how many Air Force officers gave credence to the propaganda printed on those papers, but it probably wouldn’t galvanize them to read about how the impeccable prophet Nostradamus predicted their demise four hundred years ago and to see pictures of dead Ally soldiers littering the ground. That is, if you believed in their Black Propaganda.
“You can let me out here, thank you.” I gave him a squeeze on the shoulder and then opened my door.
“SOE isn’t paying me enough for this. One day it’ll fall out of the sky and hit me right on the head.” He let out a nervous laugh.
I smiled back at him and said goodbye. As I exited the car, I saw the sky turn a deep orange and I knew that at sunset I’d have to board the transport plane to Paris. I could hear the engine of a spitfire fighter plane pass over and wondered if it went to hunt down the bomber that had dropped the leaflets. As a couple of officers admitted me into the hangar, I spotted one of the pilots running in from the field with a few leaflets in hand.
“Good evening, Emelie.”
“Hi, Max.” I took one of the leaflets he offered and grunted when I read it. “What are you guys going to do with these?”
“Burn them…like the others.”
That sounded like a good idea, especially since the one I held in my hand made me want to toss it into a fire without looking back. It had a drawing of a dark crooked tower with a caricature of a wizard perched on top and raining his spells down on frightened people. In bolded letters it said, “The Gray Tower helps now, so it can harm later.”
I gave the leaflet back to Max. “Make sure you get rid of all of these.”
We halted when Richard approached us with my supply pack and jumpsuit in hand. He gave them to me and pointed toward a changing room. “We’re leaving in an hour.”
“Lieutenant,” Max said, “We got these—”
Richard jerked his thumb in the direction of one of the large storage bins. “We don’t need any of that bollocks here. Trash them.”
Max immediately headed for the bin to dispose of the leaflets. I was glad Richard refused to even take a look at them because sometimes I’d get odd stares or snide comments from colleagues at SOE who knew I had trained with the Gray Tower.
At first I had dismissed it as plain ignorance, or even a bit of envy on days that I needed my own confidence boosted. However as the war progressed, I realized that many of them were afraid. In the back of their minds they probably wondered if I’d turn rogue and blast them all away.
Though the Masters imposed strict rules on members of the Order while at the Gray Tower, they didn’t have much to say when it came to us being in the outside world. I could understand why people, or governments for that matter, would be wary. Still, it didn’t hurt to show a little friendliness, especially toward those of us who willingly joined the Ally cause and risked our lives each day.
As Richard turned and started barking orders at the maintenance crew that worked on a bomber, I made my way through the bustle on the hangar floor to the changing room. I felt a little guilty about making this my last assignment, but I promised myself that I’d at least make it my most successful one. The average life expectancy of an SOE agent was just a few months, and I’ve lasted over a year. So, if one really wanted to get into the mathematics of it, I’ve basically served a couple of lifetimes.
That had to count for something, right?
When night fell, I rode in a transport plane that could be shot out of the sky any second, and poised myself to leap toward the dark terrain of the northern region of France. From there I’d have to find my way to Paris. Most SOE agents came here by plane or submarine, sneaking their way toward the Maquis resistance fighters or a Nazi target.
We started off doing “small jobs” like operating anti-Nazi radio programs, bringing in food and arms to friends and stranded Ally soldiers, and relaying messages and news back to SOE headquarters. Most of us were women, from all walks of life, from both Europe and America, who wanted to do more for our countries than to stay at home and worry.
The male-dominated intelligence community treated us with disdain, but soon even they couldn’t refute our important contributions. “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” Winston Churchill once jokingly called us, although the epithet was perfectly apt. We did anything and everything to frustrate the Third Reich and set Europe ablaze, and we weren’t afraid to fight dirty.
“Looks like you’re the last one in for the week.” Richard frowned as he closed the cockpit entrance and made his way over and knelt next to me. I was already sitting in the area where the drop hole would open and I’d have to jump out with my parachute.
“You say it as if it’s a bad thing.” I glanced at my hands and clasped them together, unsure of what to say next. I knew that he had known Stella and even took a fancy to her. Though he never admitted this and would vehemently deny it if I ever brought it up, a girl could just tell about these sorts of things.
“How is it faring on your side?” His strong gaze demanded me to face him and answer. He wanted to know if there was any news about Stella, but there wasn’t any. I really didn’t want to talk about this with him, and I didn’t want to plant any nasty seeds of doubt. I wished his co-pilot had come back here to see me off.
I half smiled. “If I’m alive, then I’m faring well. I’ll let you know if I hear anything, you know…”
The signal light flashed and the metal panel beneath us slowly opened. A gust of wind encircled us and I gave a quick nod toward him. Though his facial expression revealed nothing, I felt like I needed to say something to him as a word of encouragement.
“Go, Emelie!” Richard cut me off before I could speak. He didn’t do it in a crass or dismissive manner, but perhaps in that moment he realized that he didn’t want to dwell on Stella any more than I did.
I took a deep breath and scooted myself forward. With a little effort I slipped through the drop hole and went drifting toward land. The first time I had leapt out of a Royal Air Force transport plane, I could barely keep my wits. I kept imagining the Gestapo or SS strolling along a lonely stretch of road to find me splattered all over. I may be an alchemist, but I have yet to figure out a potion or elixir to make me airborne.
My parachute had been released as soon as I jumped out of the plane, and I fell silently through the night air hoping the white umbrella above me didn’t serve as an invitation to enemy gunfire. I thought all was clear as I nearly touched the ground until I noticed a convertible-top jeep barrel down the road and then slow to a halt.
I knew the patrol officer driving the trekker spotted me, and I cursed under my breath as I skidded across the field. My adrenaline went surging through me as I grabbed my knife from my jumpsuit’s outer pocket and cut myself loose. I rolled away and scanned the area, trying to decide whether to lay low or just make a run for it. The only thing I could see was the trekker’s headlight beam; the black of night enveloped everything else, including me.
I grew up in the city, where we had streetlights and bright theater marquee signs. The one time I actually went on a trip to the forest where there weren’t convenient lights stationed to guide my path, I found out just how terrified I was of absolute darkness. I still didn’t like the dark, and I dared not move because I wanted to hear where the officer was. All I could hear though was my heavy breathing, and I was so anxious that the only thing I could do was press the back of my hand to my mouth to stifle the sound.
A shot rang out and I quickly dropped to my knees. I didn’t know what direction the bullet came from and I tried encouraging myself with the morbid thought that there have been plenty of people who survived gunshot wounds. I finally steadied my breathing and gripped my knife, waiting for him to make another move. However, I immediately bucked and dropped my weapon when a pair of arms enclosed me in a fierce grip.
I swung my head back and gave him a good head-butt, making him cry out in pain and release me. I quickly turned around and delivered a left hook and dodged his fist when he tried to reciprocate. Although we couldn’t really see each other, we could hear and feel each other’s body movements in this deadly dance. I heard him swing at me again and I blocked, but not before losing my balance and landing on my back. Fighting in a jumpsuit could be cumbersome sometimes.
“Who are you?” he asked in German, grabbing hold of me and dragging me by the scruff of my neck toward the beaming headlights. He shoved me against the front of the car and I slowly faced him with arms raised in surrender. I had to plan my next move very carefully.
“I’m from the Russian Liberation Group,” I answered in perfect Russian. “Praskovya sent me.” I thought I’d add that part since he cocked his revolver. The Russian Liberation Group had been sending in spies and other reinforcements for their Nazi allies for about a month now. Some of these operatives entered France the same way I had.
“She sent you?” He had switched over to speaking Russian. Though his tone sounded doubtful, he slightly lowered his gun.
“You know us…we do everything backward, comrade.” I prayed the codeword we intercepted last week still held.
The back of my neck began to burn and I thought of what I could say next. He saved me the trouble when he slid his gun into his holster and offered me his hand. “Leave it to the Russians to send women to do a man’s job. What does Praskovya want?”
I quickly grasped his hand, one of the easiest access points, and honed my magical senses, tracking the rhythm of his heart and the electrical currents in his brain. As his heartbeat slowed and his mind hazed, I spoke to him.
“What’s your name?”
“How many other officers are in the Paris office?”
That was a little more than I cared to handle alone. “Why don’t you go back to your headquarters and greet your comrades with a Molotov cocktail?”
He slowly nodded and let his hand slip from mine. He headed straight for his trekker and jumped inside. The jeep rumbled and slowly reversed, then made a turn in the direction of the city. By this time my hands shook from exhaustion and my head ached from the amount of concentration I had mustered to use body magic on him. It also didn’t help that I was hungry and irritated. In any case I needed to make it to my safe house even though it was apparently past curfew, and I needed as many officers off the streets as possible. Hopefully Karl would be the distraction I needed once I reached the city.
I pulled out my foldable bike from the pack attached to the parachute. After spending twenty minutes longer than I usually would setting it up, I unzipped and shed the jumpsuit to reveal a rather tight-fitting milkmaid’s uniform. I promised myself that I’d make it back to London just to shoot Ian for making me wear this.
I stuffed the jumpsuit into the pack and placed it in the little straw basket attached to the bike’s handlebars. I peddled down the road without looking back and took note of the Seine River that ran to my right. It looked like I was south of Mantes, just outside of Paris. I kept my eyes open for more trekkers, hoping that I could make it through without any trouble.
When I made it to the city proper, I took some backstreets to avoid a few SS officers on patrol and pulled my bike up to an alley and slowly walked through. I scowled when I saw an officer in the middle of the alley, against the wall with his woman, blissfully lost in a dirty and quick cuzzy. They either didn’t notice or didn’t care when I walked by and wrinkled my nose at the scent of garbage and piss.
I wondered if the woman was just another collaborator selling her body for food or gas, or an agent of the Resistance engaged in an act of seduction. Sometimes I wondered what went through women’s heads when they did this. I’ve used my red garnet lipstick twice to kiss men and enthrall them so they would do what I want, and those were the least arousing experiences I’ve ever had. If I were that woman, I’d probably be thinking about how much longer it would be before the deed was done, or why he didn’t get us a hotel room.
I grew more confident as I turned a corner and headed down another lonely street, but unfortunately fate would not have it be that easy for me. Before I was halfway down the street, two SS officers headed toward me from the opposite end and hailed me. Though I put on a stoic face, my fingers trembled and my heart raced. Our confrontation would be inevitable since they would be complete idiots not to question a milkmaid out riding her bike after curfew.
“Halt right there, mademoiselle.” The first officer, whose nametag read Adelbert, approached and grabbed hold of my bike.
The second, whose name was Gerhardt, grabbed my arm and spoke to me in French. “A little late to be delivering milk, isn’t it?”
“I…I was with my Pierre. I didn’t mean to take off so late.”
Adelbert leaned my bike against the brick wall of the closed shop we stood in front of. The menacing look in his dark eyes worried me more than the gun in his holster. “Well lucky for you that your sweetheart didn’t accompany you.”
Gerhardt forced me against the wall with my back to him. “Is it the same Pierre who lives by Le Petit bakery?” He had asked the question in English.
“I’m sorry,” I said back to him in French, “I don’t understand much English.”
He ran his hands along my body, pretending to frisk me. Hey…one more grope and you’ll get a kick to your face!
“Check her bag, Adelbert.”
My body tensed and I quickly assessed my options. I could stun Gerhardt with a blow and fight Adelbert, or even beat him to the bag so I could grab my weapons. However a bullet in the back of my head would end it all. If he opened the pack sitting in the basket, I would be the next one in front of a firing squad. Suddenly an explosion went off a few blocks down, and the sky lit up. I prayed the mind-hazed Karl Manfried had carried out my order.
“Scheisse! It’s the office!” Gerhardt, with a bewildered look on his face as if he couldn’t believe someone would dare attack his office, began running in the direction of the fire. Adelbert drew his revolver and followed.
I slid away from the wall and opened and shut my mouth. Thank goodness Gerhardt hadn’t broken my jaw. After rotating my aching shoulders I hopped on my bike and continued down the street, pedaling as hard as I could until I reached a winding road that led to the dark and quiet neighborhood near Vincennes where my safe house stood. I slowed and parked my bike at a small prayer chapel, taking my pack with me and quietly entering.
No one sat or prayed inside, but a beautiful statue of the Madonna oversaw a corner full of flickering candles. I went to the back room where the caretaker stored his cleaning supplies and extra candles, and I crawled beneath the small table where a trapdoor lay hidden beneath a rug. I lifted it and pulled on the iron handle as I carefully slipped inside. It was tricky getting the rug back over and then closing the door, but I managed to do it and began trekking through a dark underground passageway.
Though the path led me down a straight line, I wished I had at least swiped a candle. I felt like I was going to be swallowed by the darkness. I didn’t feel like going back so I just went at a steady pace and held my hands out in front of me just in case I stumbled. After walking through the underground passage for five minutes, I finally felt the false dirt wall that signaled the end of my journey.
I recalled Ian’s instructions for getting to the safe house and I felt for the hidden lever and pulled; the false wall cracked open. I pried it open further and then opened a reinforced wooden door behind it. I quickly slipped through, covering the door the way I found it. I crawled up a ladder and pushed open a trapdoor like the one in the chapel, except this one opened into a tool shed.
I supposed they really wanted to make me work to get here. I almost broke the trapdoor shutting it so hard out of irritation, and covered it with the rug that was in there. I listened for any noises—a voice, footsteps, or trekkers. When I was sure no one was nearby, I crept from the tool shed toward the back of the safe house which had an angel ornament hanging in the middle of the back door. I held my pack and slowly approached, giving a slightly urgent knock. I heard slow and hesitant footsteps and after a few seconds had elapsed, someone finally answered from the other side of the door.
“Who is it?” a woman’s muffled voice queried in French.
“Emelie.” I gave a grateful but tired grin when she opened the door.
“It’s late, Emelie.”
“Yes, but I have gifts.”
All I wanted at this hour was a hot meal and a soft bed. “From 64 Baker Street.”
The woman nodded and smiled. “Then come in, Emelie, and make yourself at home.”
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