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“Why Doesn’t Garlic Keep Vampires Away” – Writing Prompt

January 27, 2013 (10:00 am) | By: hitch

Just something I threw together yesterday to practice writing. I haven’t even really done any proofreading; but I figure part of writing is publishing, so here it is. Don’t really need any feedback on this one – mostly just something I threw down to start getting back into the habit of putting down words

I thought I was safe. Well, that’s a lie. I was scared to death, but I thought I had SOME protection. I mean, garlic, right? Everyone knows about the garlic. What a joke.

I never really believed in vampires. No more than most people, and most people thought they were just some part of a story. Lots of stories. I guess we should’ve figured out that anything that shows up that often in the world’s stories has to have something to it. So when I’m on vacation in Western Europe and we’re touring this spooky old castle and the tour guide starts going on about vampires, I laugh. You know, an polite chuckle to show him I’m listening and that I get the joke and appreciate the history and crap like that. The whole tour group does it. You’ve probably done it yourself if you’ve ever done one of those cheesy “ghost tours” where they tell you all about the spirits that haunt their old hotel rooms.

Right, ’cause when I die I’m going to want to stick around in a crappy ancient hotel.

So anyways, there we were in this castle and this creepy old dude was giving us the line about the vampires that lived there and how that’s why the whole rest of the town is abandoned now and we all laugh because, seriously, who would want to live in a godforsaken place like this anyway, and he gets all quiet and gives us this look. He gets this look like we’re all a bunch of idiots and he’s tired of giving this tour when no one ever listens to him anyway.

My laugh kinda, y’know, died right about then. I never knew what that meant before – “his laugh died in his throat”. I get it now. You can actually feel it there, the life being sucked out of it as it’s trying to claw its way out of your chest. Man that feels weird. But that look in his eyes just did it for me. It was mostly the surrender, right? Like he’d tried his best but he knew there was nothing he could do. Just plain gave me the creeps.

So we finished up the tour and headed back into town – not the abandoned one right outside the castle, the REAL town, like, ten miles away, which was practically to the moon back then, I think. And after we get there me and my friends went down to the local bar to have a good time and keep an eye out for some local girls, amiright? They have the best bars over there, you know that? They call ’em pubs and crap, but they are *awesome*. So we were drinking there and my buddies came up with this stupid idea. “Let’s go back to that castle,” they said. “It should be wicked spooky at night”. I didn’t much like the idea myself, but I was by far outnumbered. Three to one and down went my vote. Something just felt weird to me and I didn’t want to go. So I spoke up, told ’em I wasn’t going unless we brought along some protection. “Man, we can’t get any guns over here,” they said, and I said no, I didn’t mean guns. I meant, like, stakes and crosses and garlic and crap. They just looked at me like I was an idiot for a while and then they started laughing. “That,” they said, “is awesome! Can you imagine how much creepier it’ll be if we go in like they’re real?”. I still felt like this was a bad idea, but I kept my mouth shut. At least we should be ready now, right?

It was about midnight when we got back to the wrecked walls of the thing. Sounds like a cliche, I know, but that’s what time it was. It didn’t take that long – we had a rental car – but it took longer than it should’ve because two of us were drunk enough they made me pull over to let them pee.

So there we were, staring up at the walls. I think we almost chickened out. I wish we almost chickened out. Then Joe – he was always the instigator – Joe turns to us and sticks his flashlight under his chin and goes “I vant to drink your bluuuuuuud!” in this stupid accent and I don’t think any of us would’ve had the balls to back out then.

Joe went up last. I was right ahead of him. I didn’t want to be first. I didn’t want to be there, but there I was. The whole place was cold and dark and echoed in ways that kept us jumping at our own footsteps. Everyone had come in holding some weapon against the undead, at first more as a joke, but the longer we stayed the tighter we gripped the stakes, crosses and other assorted crap we’d thrown together. I had my pockets filled with garlic I’d begged from the hotel restaurant back in town and I had a pointed stick locked in a death grip. I could feel my pulse throbbing against the wood as we crept along the halls.

It wasn’t until we’d been there for half an hour that we noticed Greg was gone. He was the guy in front of me. I was coming up a flight of stairs and saw Henry – yeah, the guy in front – up ahead at the top, looking around. I joined him and a minute or so later, Joe came up behind me. It took a few minutes, even then, to realize what had happened. Somewhere in the last, empty hallway Greg had just vanished. There was nowhere for him to go. If he’d stopped I should’ve walked right past him, and he hadn’t gone past Henry. That was the point where we all sobered up, I think. It was all wrong, and we had to find Greg and get out. Or just get out. I know I’m a horrible friend, because I know that’s all I was thinking about just then. Get. Out.

Joe wanted to look for Greg. I think he felt bad for being the one to talk us all into coming in here in the first place. I agreed. That he should feel bad, not that we should look for Greg. See? Bad friend. So we argued about that for a while. Loudly. Henry kept telling us to keep it down. I think we probably should’ve listened, but I also don’t think it mattered anymore. Finally Joe agreed to come with us back to the car. We figured Greg must’ve gotten around us somehow and headed back there. It was ridiculous, of course. There was absolutely no way he could’ve gotten around us, but we just didn’t know what else to think. So we started back down the stairs, our flashlights flared through the darkness. I think we were about halfway to the car when I heard the scream. I don’t know whose scream it was, and I never will. All I know is that it was the last straw for my nerves. I ran like hell was on my heels. And it was, oh god, it was.

After a fifty yards the scream turned into sobs, by a hundred it was only a gurgle. By then I could hear fluttering behind me and a chill breeze on my neck. At the next turn, icy hands grabbed my shoulders and spun me around, pinning me to the wall. I was face to face with an emaciated, ghoulish corpse, grinning from ear to ear. Its horrible, yellow fangs were gaping and I stared back into its eyes. I could tell it was savoring the moment. I’d dropped my hunk of wood in my panic, but remembered the garlic in my pocket as it slowly made for my throat. Reaching into my pocket, I grabbed a head of the stuff and shoved it hard into the vampire’s mouth. It screamed at me – a different scream than I’d heard just before, higher, jarring. Then a noise I thought at first was coughing, and only slowly realized was wheezing laughter.

The thing spit out the bulb of garlic and turned its gaze back on me. Of course I know now that garlic doesn’t really do much to hurt a vampire. It’s just something they hate the smell of. I mean, really hate – like a garbage dump might be to you. It just won’t do anything to keep a really determined sucker back. Still, eat enough of it and the chances of getting picked off at random are almost zilch.

But hey, it ain’t so bad. I never much cared for Italian anyway.

When Brick & Mortar Loses

May 11, 2011 (2:38 pm) | By: hitch

This all started churning through my head today after I dropped by a Borders on my way to lunch (I left my book at home and I like to read at lunch. Sue me) only to discover that they didn’t have a single one of the books I wanted. They had others by the same author, but none of their new books and only half of most series. I realised upon walking away that once I left the store they’d lost my business for those books. Why? Because as soon as I have to wait I’m better off going to Amazon.

Are physical stores on their way out? Has the Internet “won”? SHOULD it?

My gut reactions to these questions are “No”, “It’s not a zero sum game”, and “No”, in that order. I like having a nice little downtown area to be in, I like to go to stores and browse and buy things. And that’s a large part of the issue. Browsing. When I know what I want and I know how much it should cost and I don’t need any help and I don’t need it right this minute I’ll shout “To the Interwebs!” and head on over to Amazon or wherever I can get something for the lowest price that I still think is a reputable store (okay, usually Amazon)

When I don’t know anything and none of my friends are knowledgeable and I don’t have a good, reliable source of information I want to go to a store to buy something. When I just want to go in and look around and see what’s up and what’s new and just take it all in…you can’t really beat a physical storefront for that.

That seems like a recipe for disaster for brick-and-mortar businesses (Hey look – it’s the inquisitive people who just want to look around!), but I don’t think it has to be. You see, for a long time the trend has been away from the little specialty shops that proprietors curated and loved and tended like a garden and towards big-box mega stores like Target, Borders, Costco, etc. The only way to compete has been to genericize and cater to the masses. Every store starts to look like every other store and God help you if you don’t give enough shelf space to the latest craze that’s sweeping the nation. You don’t really care about it, but it sells and you have to pay the bills. But the only reason anyone still comes into your store is that you’ve got those little things way in the back that Target doesn’t carry, the things you ordered a box of once because they were exactly the sort of thing that people who like that sort of thing would like, and hey! your store is for people that like that sort of thing, right? The unfortunate result is that you don’t really have a differentiator and the big-box places have two – price and selection. And so little places vanish.

But along comes the Internet and whoops, there goes Barnes & Noble. There goes Borders. And, I suspect before long, there goes Target and WalMart.
After what they did to the little guys, though, I can’t feel much sympathy for the great big box stores.

Borders and B&N crushed the little independent book stores out of existence by being bigger and more capable of carrying more and different books. You only had one store place to go to get the books for the kids’ reading list, a cookbook, the biography your dad wanted to read, a couple of space operas and a good beach read. And it was pretty great. Anything they didn’t have they could order and you’d be able to swing by and pick it up in about a week.

Maybe two. Keep checking back.

Along comes Amazon. The reason I go to Amazon first is, again, convenience. They’ve managed to make a name out of being the one-stop-shop for everything. And if they don’t stock it they probably partner with someone who does and the item will still show up on their site. Depending on your shipping options you’ll have it in a week – for free, usually – or tomorrow. They’ve even got a recommendation service for things which people who like that sort of thing will like!

And yet, I don’t do all my shopping on Amazon.

Why not? Am I one of those people who really really wants to support local businesses and will therefore give them my money even when it costs more and is less convenient * ?

Yes, to some extent. But I’m doing so in my own self interest.

I’m one of those people who, when I go into a store and ask someone to tell me about something and recommend a particular product, will probably end up
buying from that store **. If I can rely on expert advice whenever I go in, I’ll buy there. In part because I know that if I don’t, that expert advice will go away when the store closes down.

I’m one of those people who, when I find a source for something I’m interested in from someone who loves what I love, I will go there – in part because I know that if they love what they do I’m going to get the right product. When I bought my snowboard from a local store they set us up with exactly what we needed. No upsell and no BS. Because they love what they do and they want everyone to have that experience.

I’m one of those people who likes to go into a store that sells interesting stuff that I might never have been aware existed. When you’re an enthusiast who runs a store filled with your own enthusiasm you probably have things that Amazon never dreamed of – because you’ve got years of experience doing this and you know that that special piece there that everyone loves? Well, after about three years it just falls apart, but this one that’s a bit uglier never goes wrong.

What I’m trying to say is that the era of the Internet in retail appears to be the death knell for the big box and a tremendous opportunity for the entrepreneur with a storefront and a passion.

I really hope I’m right.

* Word of caution – if it’s TOO inconvenient I don’t much care how great it is that you’re a local small business. If you’re only open hours that I’m at work then you appear not to WANT to take my money.

** This assumes that I don’t get a heady whiff of fresh BS from their explanation.

Dear Winter

March 11, 2010 (9:58 pm) | By: hitch

Dear Winter,
We’ve had fun this year. Really – I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed strapping on my snowboard and giving you a good, hard run down the mountain. I could do that all day. Sometimes I did. But it’s over between us, now. You’re just not there for me like you used to be. Why, today I had my windows open and it was like you were somewhere else entirely.
And I have to be honest…there’s someone else. Spring has been by a few times and, well.
It just felt so good – what was I supposed to say? I mean…I had the sunroof open and it was just right there, so close I could taste it. She’s been hinting that if I’m good, she’ll let me put on my running shoes and…you know. I’ve been around the block a few times. Maybe I’ll get to go a few more. Maybe I’ll even get to use my BICYCLE…oh yeah…you know I do like that.
Don’t get me wrong. It was good while it lasted. I’ll never forget what we had together. And who knows.
Spring doesn’t seem like the kind to stick around forever. Maybe next year, if you’re back in town….we could get together again?

My first audio recording!

September 25, 2009 (5:18 pm) | By: hitch

Yes, just like a Fisher Price thing! I didn’t know what the hell to record, so I grabbed one of my favorite chunks of Hamlet and had fun.
I hope it’s fun for you too…though not everyone likes Shakespeare. Still, I’m just happy that the quality is good…my acting needs work, I’m sure. But now I have something to practice with! YAAAYY!!
Hamlet meets with Polonius

My 2cents on Health Insurance

September 10, 2009 (7:32 pm) | By: hitch

My primary frustration with medical insurance at the moment – because this is really an insurance argument and not a “health care” argument at all – is that it’s run like car insurance. when it is nothing like car insurance.

If someone wrecks their car you can say “okay, pay us more because you made a mistake” and if they do it again you can say “you cannot drive now because you are uninsurable”.

If someone gets sick enough to really need their insurance, the probability is high that they are in the class of people unable to pay more*. And if they do it again, do you really get to say “you cannot live because you are uninsurable“?

Add to that the fact that the free market (and I am a HUGE cheerleader for the free market) does not really apply to health insurance. Free markets rely upon two major things; choice and information. I do not really have choice with regard to my insurance. If I don’t take what my employer chooses to offer I am an idiot – because going it alone is irrational from a fiscal perspective.

By the same token, I have no idea what my employer is actually paying for my insurance because they pay a large chunk of it behind the scenes without my knowledge, and my own payments to the plan are tax-free, further serving to hide the “real cost”. Articles I have read suggest that my health insurance through my company is actually costing me more than it would to strike out on my own.

If all of this sounds like I’m angry at both sides of the aisle right now, good. Because I am. But something needs to be done, and I’d prefer sooner to later, in case one of us gets sick.

* And while preventative measures such as “clean living” and “healthy habits” are great and all, you really only get one perfect chance at this and we’re all going to get it wrong. Seriously – tell me you’re perfect and let me complain about why I don’t want you in my insurance company because you like to eat ice cream once a week.