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08.16.03 10:32 p.m.

The wages of sin are death, but the benefits include dental, major medical, two week paid vacation, pension fund, and stock options. Actually, taken as a package, it's a rather attractive deal.

 -Tim Mefford  

Previously in Xenology: My family - and therefore their vacations - were a bit odd. Bryan had bad taste in young girls, by which I mean "any taste."

Now Leaving Lake George
My family left for our annual vacation in Lake George only half an hour late. To us, this is early, though Emily was antsy to leave the world of work and responsibility. The rest of us were more concerned that we had left something behind, though I do not think this has ever been the case.
candy apple  
Apples are soothing
Emily and I packed into the back of Corinne's car. Though it is the modernist equivalent of a station wagon, it was so glutted with luggage that M and I had to assume awkward positions to achieve any comfort. It was almost worth it, as the surrounding detritus was so charged with potential. True, the canoe may not come to much use, but the hope that inspired its inclusion was almost enough to make up for the oars whapping me on the head twice an hour.
The interim within Corinne's car was spent in quiet reflection about my family. Or not. "So, you're parents know full well that your little brother has done unholy things with his underage girlfriends and they've done nothing?" asked Corinne in disgust.
I pulled out my earbuds, which had been lilting Jill Sobule's voice from Flea. "Yes. I believe this is the case. We can be grateful Bryan is currently bereft of any Tiny Hitlers." Bryan's last beau had earned the title both in inheriting both near dwarfism and an attraction to uxorious men from her mother. Bryan, being easily cowed in the presence of girls espousing attraction to him, fit the bill. Said Tiny Hitler thought that the rest of my family were equally as invertebrate and could not quite accept that we wanted to drop a rather hefty boot on her.
"But, that's illegal," demurred Corinne.
Emily roused herself from a sunbathing torpor to add, "And quite annoying."
"And gross. Don't tell me contemplating the logistics of how Bryan the Hirsute and Tiny Hitler could even manage to kiss doesn't haunt anyone else's nightmares."
Corinne was silent for a moment before conceding, "It hadn't before."
Our first day there consisted of nothing more mentally taxing than some light shopping and reacquainting with the landscape. The latter is hardly necessary, as you know. Lake George has long since lost any element of mystery and now fits itself to our bodies like an old suit. A bit frayed in places, but comfortable enough to be worn without any thought.
Hotdog hats are soothing
Emily and I revisited the Jitter's Café, home of the barista I called Sharon owing to a more than passing resemblance to Mrs. Osbourne. Her name, however, is Geena (certainly not spelled with an "I;" she is not the sort) and our interaction now with her was not quite as strong. She affected remembrance after the dropping of a handful of keywords, smiling happily once we had identified and contextualized our previous interaction, but I could not disabuse myself of the notion that she was placating us so we would buy another peanut butter smoothie. We did, of course. That is just proper manners in the presence of peanut butter. The smoothie, too, was less than satisfying, possessing an aftertaste of oil. I could be selling both Geena and the smoothie short, however. Perhaps both were immensely pleasant (they seemed so to Emily) and my sense of taste leaves something lacking.
We also stopped by a store called Bell, Book, and Candle hoping to quickly give away some more money. The proprietress definitely and quickly remembered us, to our relative shock. I'm not certain what she found so memorable about us but, given my disappointment at being forgotten by a women with whom Emily spoke for nearly an hour, I cannot express anything less than pleasure that a person from whom we quietly bought rings should have secreted away a few brain cells upon which we were imprinted.
Emily and she conversed on various matters as I tentatively poked statues of Hindu gods until I found Kali. I expected even a statue of Kali would try to bite my finger off, but it just wobbled slowly and tried to avoid making Shiva drop his other foot to steady himself.
When I returned to the two of them, they were in a discussion of magick. I stood kneeled attentively as the proprietress, evidently finishing a thought said, in reference to yours truly, "...Oh, I don't think he is the type to be into dark magick."
Emily defended that I certainly was not such a type. I'm not? I suppose not, I am definitely into the righteous path and not tazering annoying people as a rule, but I am not certain how a stranger would so quickly pick this up. I went over and asked Kali what she thought, but I think she was still mad that I nudged her and was giving me the silent treatment.
I returned and said that I could be dark and just happened not to be. Kali would confirm this, except she was irked. Usually Kali kills demons when irked.
"Yes, that's what I said," she assured me.
Xen as Kali  
Kali is soothing
This assuaged me, surprisingly, and we began to discuss tarot decks while Emily poked idols. Or maybe she just looked through books quietly.
"The prize of my collection is a deck designed by Dali. Weird as all get out, but gorgeous. Gold edges and everything. There is only one deck over there that I hide. I love tarot decks, but I just hate that one," proclaimed the proprietress.
Emily uncovered the deck and tossed it to me. As I expected, it was the Vampire Deck. "Gah, I have this deck. It's totally useless. It is all, blood, death, vampire, dead girl, blood spray, mug of plasma. How can you read a blessed omen from that? Other than that one is going to get a paper cut?"
Emily looked over my shoulder as I railed and gasped, "Is that Tibetan Prayer Wheel for sale?"
The woman's eyes lit up as though Emily had given the password that released endorphins in the owner's brain. "Yes. Yes it is. I just keep it behind here because I had so many people banging it against the countertops and I just couldn't deal with that." She picked the wheel up and handed it to Emily reverently. "It's been waiting here for you for years, I think. I really believe that some objects just call out to their rightful owners. Ordinarily, I'd sell it for fifty but... how about $35? Since it really should be yours and I can't legitimately keep it from you."
Emily quickly agreed, since it was destined for her. One really shouldn't pass up such objects. As a side note, I hope you all realize that this is precisely how all transactions should occur in vaguely occult shops. To do otherwise deprives the universe of some much needed sense of purpose.
Our destiny temporarily fulfilled, we sought to lose some money at the arcade. It should be noted that this arcade fostered in us a gambling addiction that further solidified that Emily and I are only allowed $20 each to gamble with when in Vegas.
Within the establishment, there was a shooting range. For a dollar, I only got 25 shots from converted toy rifles that shot beams of light. If one "shot" the bull's-eye of objects in the range, they would light up, dance, play piano, or fall over. It took me a few dollars before I realized that Emily very rarely missed.
Getting my butt kicked in billiards is soothing
"Wait, how many did you just get?"
She looked chagrinned. "I don't want to tell you." I think this was an attempt to sooth my fragile male ego, but I want to know just how lethal my guardian is. Eventually I wheedled out of her.
"I got... twenty-four out of twenty-five."
I was understandably shocked at her marksmanship. "But how? Guns aren't exactly standard ninja gear."
"When I went away to camp, they taught us shooting."
"Damn, all they ever taught me at camp was to make ceramics and Popsicle stick houses. The proper use of a light-emitting gun is a valuable life skill. Are there any weapons at which you aren't great?"
She thought for a moment before answering, "I'm not very good with a bow, it is too tall. And I am just learning sais."
I filed this away just in case she needs to be destroyed because she is infected with an evil alien symbiote. It happens more than people would like you to believe.
Incidentally, Emily and I later discovered a quarter game called "Salsa" at which I had inordinately good luck. I could regularly get 100 tickets with one quarter and we had traded in 1500 tickets by the end, enough to buy a real Leatherman tool. Nonetheless, we did spend about $25 earning enough tickets for a $13 item, cool as it may be.
I awoke one morning to find my bed empty. Emily's luggage was still tacked neatly in a corner of the alcove - and she loves me - so I felt it safe to assume she had not hitched a ride back to her house with Amish tourists. My suspicions of fidelity were confirmed when she reappeared as I ordered breakfast in the bar and grill (and I mean that in the sparest and most literal sense) that adjoin the cabins.
"Where were you, Emeleth?"
Our feet  
Our feet in the tide is soothing
She looked over the menu of various combinations of a toasted bread product, a pig subsidiary, and an egg before responding, "Corinne and I took a boat out on the lake. Had girl talk." Turning toward the young boy behind the counter, she ordered the BLT without any eggs.
I raised my eyebrow, "'Girl talk'? With Corinne?"
"It was actually really good. We mostly talked about your family and how she deals with them. You know, how your mom really doesn't like her and how everyone is crazy. And how your mother babies you. I don't agree with that, of course. There's a big difference between living at home during grad school and being coddled."
"Damn tooting there is!" I smiled, masking my slight insecurity. We all see things from the perspective that most benefits us, even if it is twisted to validate unhealthy and incorrect images. Corinne has dated my older brother longer than I did Jen, Kate, and Emily combined; any privilege that she perceives I am receiving that makes Dan exhibit negative emotions is going to be inappropriate in her eyes. Identically, Emily generally feels the dispensations I require to not drive myself crazy paying for an apartment, insurance of the car and health variety, and various other real world concerns that have flayed better men than I, Gunga Din.
"You know, M," I realized, "most people consider 'girl talk' to involve make-up tips and other such insular advice from Cosmo."
"You have met Corrine, right?"
"Point," I capitulated.
Big American Disco Party  
Riding bears is soothing
Day and nights drifted together on the lake. It feels as though we only really existed once the moon rose, as that is the only time Emily and I were really together. This is not to fault my family in the least, but vacations give Emily and me the unique chance to become one soul sharing two bodies for while. The days fragmented us into our component parts.
One such unifying night, Emily and I indulged our vacation tradition. We must have our portrait done, as it pins down in the eyes of a stranger that we have grown and progressed. Or perhaps it is because we just really like to see people draw pictures of us.
We chose the best artist in Lake George this year. He is a small Asian man set up at the bottom of the stairs in the open-air mall. He seems like that sort that is cast in Hollywood productions to connote Eastern wisdom, save for one fact. He wears a tan boating cap. Somehow the tan boating cap could hide the Dalai Lama himself.
He drew me first. I sat as still and calmly as I could, meditating on a bit of tape the Boating Lama had placed on the adjacent wall. This went on for twenty minutes, I only casting my eyes left to see Emily sitting stunned at the art. I wished I could borrow her eyes for a second to see what the Boating Lama was doing but the look on her face was nearly enough and I was anxious to switch places. I felt as though something significant and beautiful was occurring as though the winds were sculpting The David in front of me. It tingled.
Being art is soothing
Fifteen minutes into my twenty, Emily asked the Boating Lama how long this typically took. He smiled at the paper, "Sometimes it takes five minutes, sometimes ten. Once it took twelve hours. I have to get it right." This awed me, as he said it without a hint of ego or bragging. This man felt the imperative not only to draw for a living, but to actually honor his gift and his patrons. Nonetheless, I was hoping it would take less than an hour, as I wanted to get dinner soon.
As Emily sat for him he sighed, "If you will let me, I would like to color both of your eyes. They are the eyes of artists. And her lips. If you will let me. For free." There was absolutely no question to us. I could tell that Emily adored this, as it made her feel ancient beyond her years. I wondered silently if Emily had particularly artistic lips and decided they were probably the same sort of lips Sylvia Plath had.
That night, as Emily and I cooed over our experience with this artist and watched the TV quietly, we heard Bryan grumbling beneath his pillows that we should die of painful deaths and burn in hell. By this he meant, "The TV is still slightly too loud and, though I am just clutching onto the sound of The Family Guy as a means to be annoyed, I would appreciate very much if you would turn it down so I can feel as though I am in control in some way." Most likely one of the girls with whom he had been speaking long distance from his cell phone for the duration of this trip had told him something that displeased him and this was he chose to act out. Certainly there was no logical reason to behave as such at 11:35 at night when Adult Swim is on.
I lowered the television more so, but he stage whispered more curses toward Emily and me. Finally I just told him, "Your complaining isn't doing you any good. The TV is as low as it can go and still be audible. You are not bothered by its presence; you can't even hear it with two pillows over your head. You are causing your own annoyance, not us or the TV."
At this, he lunged at me from the bed and made a damned good effort at strangling me. This wasn't an effort to physically lash out, he was really trying to crush my windpipe. I elbowed him back onto the bed and told him to calm down. I shaking and turned to Emily, who was cowering on the bed. Despite her profession and skill, she is unused to seeing violence and does not know what to do unless it is directed at her.
She whispered, a small whine betraying her fright, "What are we going to do?"
"Hmm? What do you mean?" I was still in shock and watching Bryan's back for signs of movement that could be countered before he attacked again.
"We can't sleep here. Not with him so close."
I tried to rally up objections, like that he is my brother and we were really safe. "Okay, what do you want to do? I don't think we can make him leave the room and sleep in my parents' room."
By way of answering, she handed me a pillow and a corner of the quilt and we left. The door to my parents room was locked and - rather than knocking and disturbing someone - I called her cell phone.
On the fifth ring, a sleepy voice answered, "Hullo... who is this?"
"It's me. And M. We need to sleep in your room tonight. Please open the door."
"Why do yo... okay, one second."
The door opened and my mother asked for the brief version of the story. "Bryan tried to strangle Xen. We... we can't sleep there."
My mother nodded and assured us that he meant no harm. She did not send us back.
Emily and I were still bothered the next day and made no real effort to acknowledge Bryan. We didn't know what to say, but did know that we could sleep in the same room as him ever again.
He approached me and muttered that he was sorry for his actions the night before. His eyes were sad and confused, like he had no idea how any of this happened. They spoke of his deep need for things to be normal between us. He didn't want there to be lasting actions for what had occurred. He didn't want me to actually be hurt.
Oh no! Sand crabs!  
Being buried in sand is soothing
"It's... okay," I sighed, looking at the sun glinting off the lake. It wasn't okay. A few sentences, much as we both wanted them to be, could never be enough to smooth over this tear. He is kin, though, and I couldn't bear to look at him for hours.
My whole family walked up to town later in the day, hoping to get some shopping done before our annual meal at the Lobster Pot. We ended up only walking to the nearby park and relaxing on pillars and benches. Emily and I sat far from Bryan.
Then, mysteriously, all of the power in Lake George ceased. I did not realize this until we arrived back at the Lobster Pot (home of the happily homicidal Homaridae quisling chef, mirthfully boiling is brothers) and the surly waitstaff lounging on the stoop. They told us that they didn't have power in the same way they would have informed us that we sullied their grandmother with dog feces. Thus we embarked on our adventure to the next town over. It was not so much that we were yet hungry as that we had been denied food. This was not allowable.
I sat in the back of Corinne's car, silently sowing the seeds of my own paranoia. Mentally, I was certain that something disastrous had occurred to cause all of the power to blow in a major resort town. This shouldn't ever occur. My faith in the power of capitalism should prevent this. My American currency keeps electricity flowing, as long at there isn't a big storm. I looked at the clouds and noted their fluffy whiteness. Perhaps one was ecru, but it knew better than to become a storm cloud.
The further we drove, the more sure I was that we were on the brink of an apocalypse. I poked my stomach experimentally and decided I would not fit in with this post-apocalyptic society. I needed a few hours on the Ab Blaster. Perhaps a Mohawk, too. I already had a big knife, but it didn't have a blood groove and would be hard to use against the mutants, even if it did go "SHHTNK!" when unsheathed. Sound effects only impress Hollywood monsters.
We stopped in the midst of a quiet terror involving claiming out hotel as a fort. Bolton Landing, the next town over, was equally bereft of power. I bet it was terrorists. Or PeTA. Only here did we decide to turn on the radio because... we are dumb. The radio informed us that Lake George to Albany was without power... make that Albany to Buffalo... Buffalo to the City. And surrounding areas... like Ohio. And Canada. The disappointment and shock stunned us into a quiet acceptance and we returned to our rooms without a question.
There we sat for hours. Emily and I had exhausted our tolerance for the small bits of junk food that had dwelt within our room. Our minds quickly rebelled and we took to making hemp macramé and reading bad fantasy novels, respectively.
Glowy M  
Glowing in the dark is soothing (and convenient)
"We should find a restaurant with a generator," offered Dan eventually.
I looked over my book at him. "It seems unlikely..." I casually began, "unless you've heard something on the streets?? You have, haven't you? There is power somewhere?"
"People outside were talking about it. They said there is power on one side of town. I guess there are restaurants."
Emily threw down the beginnings of a choker she was making for me and demanded that these claims be investigated post haste. At the very least, we would get out of our steadily darkening hotel room and my increasingly paranoid mind. I shall cut to the chase and tell you that we found this fabled land of electricity on the other end of the strip. The restaurant we selected did not offer us much of a choice. There seemed to be but one option and it was understandably packed. However, the porch overlooked the cruise ship Dan, Corinne, Emily and I were to take in a few hours, soothing my concern that we would lose sight of it by the lack of artificial light.
Midway through the meal, Corinne got up and left. She said not a word, but invisible spirals of sickly green moaned, "I am in pain, follow and help me." We turned to Dan, waiting for him to get up and heed her tantrum.
"Don't worry, she'll come back," he assured without conviction. I tried to formulate the argument whereby Dan should have immediately walked after her, as is convention, and explain to her that everything would be fine. Once, of course, anyone could figure out what provoked her ire. Emily assured me in a burst of nonverbal communication that - while this is a strange and stressful situation - we had no right to interfere and Dan would commit to action eventually. Until such a time, I should try to enjoy my slightly dry scallops. She is loquacious when she is not speaking.
Tens of minutes later, the air going increasingly thick for every second that Corinne was missing (she did have the tickets to the cruise), Dan got up enough genuine concern to search for her. As he stood, my mother called the waitress over to prepare Corinne's salad "to go." I do hope this was largely a gesture, as salad does not go well once has sat in the setting sun for half an hour.
Corinne returned ten minutes before the ship was to leave shore, but concertedly spoke to no one. She handed me Emily and my tickets and turned back to have further nonverbal words with Dan for being Dan.
Corinne mellowed once on the ship and being served flavorless samples of a new form of semi-frozen alcohol. Once you got past the complete lack of flavor it... was actually quite bad. However, it calmed Corrine down, and for this alone I was willing to call it ambrosia.
We sat on the deck in cracking plastic lawn chairs, watching the shores and waiting. I watched for the lights on shore to spring to life and glow like stars. The hordes of strangers to either side of me waited for fireworks to begin. The chairs are facing both shores, meaning that half of these people are going to be sorely disappointed when the explosions begin. Though I am facing equally as incorrectly as any of them, ostensibly, I know that my lights can come from any direction and explosions will not be the harbingers of my attention. At least I sincerely hope not...
The lights came on before I could begin to formulate a proper action movie plan should the boat sink owing to lack of ambient electricity. (Shhh, it made sense at the time.) Only Emily and I seemed to notice that the shore could now be sighted. Still looking at the shore with relief, I asked M where Dan and Corinne were so they could witness the return of civilization.
Being an alien is soothing
"I'm an alien!" came the response.
Indeed she was, with glow sticks in her mouth and a halo of them above her head. "Klaatu barata nikto?" she asked.
"Yes, my darling sirenian."
"Hey, watch it, buddy!" she exclaimed with malice. "I'm an alien, not no stinking sea cow. Klautu. Barata. Nikto!"
This may surprise you, but this effulgent alien had charmed me. As she sang and slowly danced the Manatee Macarena next to me, I realized that, of all the people on this boat, I would have immediately gravitated to her company (and tried to ply her with kisses). The pronouncement of this decision was met with a hearty, "Hey, Macarena!"
The morning we were to leave, I awoke at five AM. This was no concerted plan to be interesting and poetic, I just happened to wake up and decided that watching the sunrise from over the mountains would be rather nice.
Same apple  
Apples are still soothing
I silently left the room and strolled onto the beach with no sandals. Two younger men approached me. I smiled and nodded to them.
"Yo, dude, are you stoned?"
"Hmm? What? Oh no. No. I am sleepy. I just woke up. It is five AM. You know that, right?"
They didn't seem to, so they walked away.
I sat on a beach chair, letting the frigid tide lap at my naked feet. I had expected more to this vacation. I don't know that it was anything particularly tangible, though I do wish we could have rode horses. Everything was just a bit too stressful, with Bryan attacking me and the power going out. I still felt the need for several more days of unwinding. I don't feel like any of this actually touched me, it just floated over my skin. I wanted to be infused with this place, to have a bit of it to carry with me when I need momentary escape from the travails of mediocre existence bearing down on me.
The sun rose, unremarkably. I decided that it was foolish to be both melancholic and sleep deprived and headed back to my M containing bed.
A police car oozed down Scotty's hill and coalesced in my path.
"You see two boys?" asked the youthful officer.
"No... Yes! Yes I did," I began. He looked up at me, transmitting the idea that it was too early to put up with this. I continued, "About fifteen minutes ago. One was Hispanic with a moustache and a white shirt."
"And the other?"
"I didn't look. I had just woken up."
The officer seemed to accept that I was not exactly a font of knowledge and slither back up the hill in search of these boys and a cup of strong coffee.
Such did not seem like a bad idea after this vacation.

Soon in Xenology: Things, matters.

last watched: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
reading: Canticle for Liebowitz
listening: "I Want to Marry a Lighthouse Keeper"
wanting: A vacation from this vacation.
interesting thought: I am a product of my family.
moment of zen: the world not ending.
someday I must: relax.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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