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11.02.03 3:13 a.m.

The glorious gift of the gods is not to be cast aside.

 -Xen, misquoting Homer  

Previously in Xenology: Emily became a National Champion and then hurt her knee. Dan and Corinne broke up. Keilaina became our friend again. Dave did not have nearly as much luck with women as would suggest an orderly universe.

But Damn We Wish They Hadn't
Emily and I saw Dave. It is far too infrequent, since seeing him is always such a positive experience. We met at a restaurant in New Paltz because Emily had a fierce craving for gourmet pizza. Some people equate this craving with the deeper throes of heroin addiction. These people are idiots.
Dave looked well, casual as always. He has been trying to get more into the dating scene, which seems to involve posting his profile on-line. When he first informed me, I was a little stunned. Dave is an attractive, intelligent, witty man with a great job and a side gig as a drummer. This is the total package, ladies. He even comes with an optional moon roof and kung fu grip. He should not have to search the internet for dates. It is against cosmic law. Or osmosis.
We need new pics of Dave.
"So, I am dating this girl..." he began, but got no further before we interrupted.
"What color is her hair?" I asked urgently.
He looked a little baffled before answering, "Blonde."
"Excellent good! Continue." Dave cannot date the non-blonde. The corollary to the "Dave should be beating women off with a very sexy stick" law is that he is only reactive in the presence of blonde hair. It's all very scientific.
Dave continued, "And we got along really well. She's a little bit klutzy..."
This time Emily broke in, "We like klutzy girls. They are the very best kind."
I smirked over at M and added, "Especially klutzy blondes." To which she stuck her tongue out at me. I continued, "But you were saying?"
What he was saying, and continued to, was that he went on a first date with this blonde and they shared genuine chemistry and maybe biology. He was slightly curious about the fact that said woman have postponed the date in the past owing to her broken nose, which she refused to explain.
"Oh, don't worry about that," assured Emily, "I certainly wouldn't have explained something like that on a first date. It might make me look bad."
"But you are a ninja," I exclaimed, "broken noses are par for the course."
Emily shot me a look of mock derision while asking Dave, "Is your blonde friend a ninja?"
"Hmmm... not that she has let on so far, but we haven't had our second date yet."
"But there will be a second date?"
"Definitely. I think. After the date - which went really well - she needed to go to the gas station and so did I, so I followed her there. When we were inside and in line, I looked down at her shoes, which were cool shoes. The gas station was full of people of course and she asked, 'what are you doing?' So I looked her straight in the eyes and said, 'I am checking out your ass.' Everyone in the gas station just lost it. She thought it was hilarious. So, yeah, they'll be a second date."
"Huh," I conceded, "internet dating can work."
As the night was still young and despite the fact that Emily's knee was being to bemoan its existence, we decided to take in a movie. Ordinarily, we would stroll through the stone houses of New Paltz for a few hours and have a good talk that would put chaos into fourteen lines. However, as I now knew every moment Emily's knee was moving increased the chances that her it would never be fully functional again, I couldn't in good conscious request this to appease tradition.
The plan was not without its faults, though. "Cover with me again why we are seeing Secondhand Lions?" I importuned.
"Because you and Dave agreed we would watch the first thing playing when we got to the theater. That's Secondhand Lions. Plus, Dave paid for you, so you are only wasting your time."
I turned to Dave, "See! That's exactly what I'm saying! We are wasting our time!"
Indeed, this was one of those unadulteratedly witless movies I'd ever seen. It wasn't outright bad inasmuch as it wasn't really a creative work in the least. A computer fed cinematic clichés and marmalade could have written it. Every line and plot "twist" was obvious to anyone over the age of ten who had seen more than three movies in the past decade. We three mocked it incessantly for it was the only way to stay conscious (a gent to our left nodded off it the first half hour. How we envied him). For being annoying, the other five people in the theater laughed along with our derision. It might have wholly been a forgotten couple of hours until the last five minutes when the Cliché-Tron died of an insulin surge and some script quack was hired to tack on a Hollywood ending wherein the obnoxious boy child ages fifteen year, becomes Berkley Breathed with absolutely no foreshadowing, and the Grumpy Old Men... I mean "two characters who have nothing to do with Jack Lemon and Water Mathau" die stupidly. Don't worry, I haven't spoiled the ending, it was putrid long before Dave wasted his money. I think we can sum the movie up thusly. A character that appears for the first time one minute before the end credits (though who is evidently credited as starring in this tripe) asks Haley Joel Old-man if his uncles "really lived." I suppose the farm on which he has landed his helicopter is not proof enough, perhaps he is having an opium-induced hallucination and needs a dose of sugar to normalize his system.
I groaned and affected a suitably lobotomized tone, "yes, they really lived." This was the single stupidest response to the question Haley Joel Old-man could give, so he immediately did.
On the plus side, Haley Joel Osment might be able to meet a new agent on the internet.

Khaki Vampires
Emily had spent much of the Halloween day watching The Nightmare Before Christmas, napping, and planning our Samhain ritual for that night. She called me at the library and offered to send the ritual to me for my perusal and approval but I trusted her scholarship.
"But, wait... I need input," importuned Emily.
I was not wholly free to explain myself, obviously, as I was at the circulation desk. "What sort of input?"
"What exactly do you want to accomplish?" she asked.
"So... Miss... you say you want books on seeing ghosts? It's a good season for that sort of thing."
"I didn't say... oh. Yes, books on seeing ghosts would be good, Librarian Boy."
Whispering I reminded her, "Only I have to be covert. I welcome your overt manner."
"Right... sly. So you want to open your third eye a little more?"
"Yes, we do have Stir of Echoes."
There was a pause while she considered this. "Stir of Echoes? Really? Okay, then. I think we can manage that. You won't go crazy, right? Or turn into Kevin Bacon?"
"No, Crazy/Beautiful is out right now. Can I get you anything else?"
"I didn't say you were beautiful. Or Kirsten Dunst, thank Aphrodite. But I can work on this."
I returned home hours later, burdened with two pizzas and a few books. Emily assured me that the nap had eaten most of her time, much as I tried to make her eat much of the pizza to restore her strength before the ritual and the trick-or-treating. As we ate, I loaded her ritual into Flea and thereby made myself the biggest techno-Pagan geek ever. I'm not proud of this fact, but mystical Book of Shadows are rarely backlit and printouts are so hard to read by flickering candle flame.
I called the corners and invoked Anubis. We threw herbs into our small cauldron and read or spell and... I would love to tell you something remarkable occurred. That teal light glided over my eyes and infused me with the soul of the world. I would like to tell you that it reaffirmed my faith and made me feel a connection even to the cold ground beneath me.
Instead, I must tell you that absolutely nothing occurred. I felt irritable and disappointed. I felt self-doubt. I felt stood up. I think Anubis had probably been booked solid for months in advance to devotees more ardent than me. He is, after all, in high demand when the veil is so thin. Nonetheless, he seems to have a special fondness for Emily, I thought he might put in an appearance. I thought there would be some spark of the divine, some acknowledgement that we were doing something more profound than shouting oaths at the wind.
The Vampire Kei  
The Vampire Keilaina
We closed the circle and I pouted as we walked into the house, "I can't see anything."
"What about the girl who loves you?" Emily is well acquainted with my emotional state when I feel the divine is ignoring me.
"Yes, of course I see her," I conceded, "but she is generally visible without rituals and the burning of herbs."
"Couldn't hurt though."
Shortly thereafter, chasing away the remainder of my disappointment, Keilaina arrived to trick-or-treat with us. She was distressed because, though we had decided she was to be a vampire, her black pants had been ruined in the wash. "All I have are khaki pants," she confessed, "is that okay?"
I conferred with Emily and we told her that khaki pants were fine. I hold a pet theory that, should there actually be immortal vampires, they spend their days sipping Starbucks and thumbing through the Land's End catalogue. No vampire worth his plasma dresses like a goth. Any vampire behaving so is promptly chopped into kibble by vampires who would rather the mortal world remain ignorant. So, yes, khaki pants are distinctly vampiric.
Emily smeared her face with glowing paint to become The Reaper and Kei made do with rubber fangs that cut her gums so the rivulet of blood I drew from her lips was not wholly artificial. They cut impressive figures, though seemed incongruous standing in a room full of faux wood paneling from the seventies.
I walked out of my room to be greeted by my brother's children. These creatures are new to me and I am not wholly comfortable with them. They are the progeny of Dan's newly live-in girlfriend Becky and her still current husband. I have been told that the divorce is proceeding.
My Ghouls  
Talkin' 'bout my ghouls!
I walked up to the older of the two, though she was only three or four. She growled at me and backed away. I raised an eyebrow curiously at my mother, silently asking her if my costume was causing this reaction.
"No, they growl at pretty much everyone."
"Ah. I suppose that is a good reaction."
"You used to bite people," she reminded me.
"Yes. That got my point across pretty well as a child. Good times."
"I gave your nieces candy. That stops the growling quickly," she suggested.
I shook my head, "They may be your grandchildren, but they are not my nieces. Not yet, at least."
Trick-or-treating was hampered by the pain in Emily's knee and the lack of true interest in consuming the pounds of candy we had been given. Really, after a certain age, you begin to be capable of realizing all that a Zagnut bar truly entails and then it loses its appeal. This is not to say that we didn't trade our candy using a primitive bartering system based largely upon "demand" and only slightly upon "supply." We take what capitalist joy we can and made Zack a bag of our rejected candy because he failed to join us. May his Mary Janes and Laffy Taffy taste like ash for abandoning us to rehearse for A Chorus Line.

People Against Goodness and Normalcy
"Where are you going?" asked my mother from her computer.
"I just told you. I am going to see the godless heathens."
"Why? You don't like them."
I sighed resignedly. "No, I don't. They have scales and eat babies. But I told them I would make an appearance, so I will."
When I arrived at the restaurant, I didn't bother identifying myself to the hostess. I knew approximately where they should be and expected I could recognize any new Pagans by their ostentatious array. I was not wrong, as I slowly sidled next to the room and saw a man in a frilly white pirate shirt and a goatee down to his chest. This was not a remnant of a Halloween costume - much though I may have wished it - and I was further grateful that I had not bothered to identify myself to the maitre-de. I live in fear of guilt through association. It has kept me alive and somewhat respectable thus far.
I tried sitting in the far corner of the combined tables. I estimated there to be about twenty or so people gathered for this meeting, a fine turnout. Furthermore, I was comfortable at a back corner which immediately meant that I was called to the seat that was "saved for me" at the head of the table. I began to blush, as I really didn't feel this was necessary. Then a man with whom I am on good terms - or was prior to this - suggested they all rise to greet their "leader."
"Oh, gods no. Don't do that. Ever. Really," came my embarrassed reply. If I was not settled on sitting quietly and observing everyone - and I was - this cemented it.
The table was composed of several people who would stick out as too garish at a vampire convention, one in an outright Halloween costume (a Betty Page nurse, I discovered later), and the rest who seemed to be comfortable enough in their skin not to intimidate the waitstaff most of the time. One particular new person struck me, as she was silently observing the rest of the company and would actually meet my gaze when is glided upon her. Her eyes and mouth were familiar, as though from yellowing memories of someone else.
It is she, thus, that became my concern. Only she held any real mystery or intrigue to me, precisely because she was not trying to seem at all mysterious or intriguing. She just was. I had an idea of who she was, the ex-girlfriend of a particularly obnoxious associate of mine. We had spoken several times on-line, occasionally with some depth, but that really meant little. It was a blurry Polaroid of life.
Pagan attack  
They attack!
I watched her, without much intent or focus, for the duration of the meal. I did not eat or drink because I know the rules of the Fae. Also, I wasn't hungry. She barely spoke to anyone. One new male of the group struck up a conversation with her and I saw him give her his number. The transaction was made awkwardly and I wondered at his intent. I suspected little good, as this same man did not expect a bunch of Pagans to know what Thor's Hammer looked like and the correct pronunciation of Mjolnir. I'm not entirely sure he knew his necklace was actually called Mjolnir.
Only once the party began to disperse did my subconscious remind me that I should very likely strike up something of a conversation with this lass. I slipped into a vacated chair next to her and greeted her warmly.
Pagans lose  
I win!
She began talking as though we were friend, which was comforting though she had a strange look in her eye that I had not seen since I went on dates with Virginia. She looked at me the same hungry and nervous way Virginia did before trying to kiss me. She spoke much of writing, which was likely a very good move on her part as it is one of the few subjects I feel prepared enough to listen to at length.
"November is Novel Writing month. Did you know that?" she asked.
"No. I didn't know we got a month. It's a cold and unpleasant month, but I guess that lends to more writing indoors. What does this entail, exactly?"
"You are supposed to write two thousand words a day."
I thought about this. "No, I don't think I am supposed to do that. It would be unpleasant. I like quality over quantity and much editing."
"Well, December is unofficial Novel Editing month."
We spoke more outside the restaurant and on the adjoining dry fountain, mostly about her ex-boyfriend, who was evidently quite abusive, and her somewhat current boyfriend, who has the immense pleasure of living in Ireland. She will be returning to the latter at the end of December, and to the former only in nightmares.
She may have potential before her departure.

Soon in Xenology: More with Anne Marie. Sleepovers. Surgery.

last watched: Secondhand Lions
reading: Xenocide
listening: The Nightmare Before Christmas
wanting: theodidacticism
interesting thought: not all masks should be worn.
moment of zen: free market candy sorting
someday I must: connect with the divine.

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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