Thomm Quackenbush, author

Crushed | 2009 | Little Everyday Miracles

06.14.09 12:47 p.m.

Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.  

-Annette Funicello

 


The Tale of Mr. Morton

Fire bad, tree pretty

Jess slides her hands around me in the dark. Our faces are so close that I can see her clearly, the light of the kitchen behind us glimmering off her glasses. She touches the chain around my neck and then slides the clasp to the back. "Melanie's thinking of you!" she says brightly.

I breathe again. "Actually, I hope she isn't right now. She has a seventeen hour flight ahead of her to Kyoto, so I hope she is passed out. She is welcome to be dreaming of me."

She smirks. "Then she is dreaming of you."

We return to the kitchen, where Rachel and her friend Dylan are hashing out exactly how they will indicate a vampire biting someone in future Buffy live action role playing game. There was a time, though I would prefer not to indicate how recently, that I would have given a dismissive grunt to all of this talk. My few experiences with LARPing backed up pejorative stereotypes, but I am hardly one to cast stones at the geekery of others, especially when they are enjoying themselves more in an hour of role playing than I do in a week of living normally. Jess and Rachel

Simultaneously, Jess and I state that lipstick would be an ideal way to indicate biting without involving teeth (though still with the drawback of close contact) and Finn tries to encourage his idea that a vampire able to touch its chin to a major artery has put you in a thrall and killed you. I wonder aloud if we can put lipstick on the vampires' chins as a compromise.

I came over to play a game called Morton's List, which Jess introduced me to by calling it "like truth or dare". I gently indicated that, while she is welcomed to my every truth, I might wish to sit out dares involving her. The lion's share of my crush on her is back to friendly affection, but I didn't care to be confronted with the typical dares one gets. Fortunately, truth or dare is only the vaguest corollary to Morton's List. Morton's is more like role playing, only you are the character and you actually are bound to do the quests. There could be suggestions that well transcended being risqué, but there is a Morality Clause one can exercise for quests to which one might legitimately refrain; a vegan's quest to eat bacon can be nullified or modified so as to keep their morals in tact. From what I could discover beforehand - and shame on any game that does not have a Wikipedia entry - there are 360 quests one can go on, though some (despite logic and statistics) are harder to get. The quests are assigned by two rolls of a thirty sided die, so getting a 30-30 should be as likely as any other. Given that I am capable of multiplying numbers, I'm honestly a little fuzzy on why there are not 900 potential quests, but there aren't. The other members of the Inner Circle - which the players become upon taking the oath - and the discretion of the randomly selected game master can further sway the quests, as I discovered. Heartburn

After a meal of cranberry chicken which Jess smoked up the whole house to make and a conversation where Finn tried to convince us he was a Republican until Rachel systematically deconstructed his belief system ending in, "So you are saying you are a Republican not because you remotely share a single value with them, but you believe this is how you will take over the world?" (to which Jess teased, "He always finds a way to be the center of attention"), we got to the game. Jess read out the rules, varying her accent throughout the English speaking world depending on the sentence, which I will summarize as follows: "You are bored or you wouldn't be playing. This is the end to boredom, but you have to promise to do what the book tells you. Perhaps it is destiny, perhaps it is just fun. Now promise or I will hit you."

"How does the Morality Clause work?" Finn asks.

"That's easy, you don't have morality," I reply, smiling. "Don't worry about it."

Turning back to Jess, she grins and says, "See, it is like you were always here!"

Finn fakes a pout and says he does, but doesn't expand.

We put our hands together in the center of the table, taking the oath and becoming the Inner Circle for the next hour, no matter what foolishness the book commands.

After all touching the die to imbue it with our energy, Finn rubbing it against his head for luck and me whispering to it that it had best not do Finn's bidding, Jess - our game master - rolls it twice and begins reading, describing explosions in the sky.

"Morton's wants fireworks?" Dylan asks.

"But we live in New York. There are no legal fireworks within the border," I argue. It isn't that I have any issue with fireworks, but I am morally opposed to driving to Pennsylvania without more preparation.

"Are you thinking Anarchists' Cookbook?" Finn suggests to Dylan, a wolf's grin on his face. I know that I am not thinking this as all. "It's easy enough to mix up some chemicals…"

"Or sparklers?" Jess says quickly. "I think we have some sparklers in the house, maybe."

Jess and I search through her basement, her chanting, "If I were sparklers, where would I be?" We return empty handed. Dylan and Finn are discussing what they remember from the Anarchists' Cookbook as Jess suggests we start a fire in the nice, safe fire pit on her back porch. Then, to spite us, the rain starts.

"Does rain nullify our quest?" I ask our game master.

"Absolutely not. It just modifies it." I see a glint in Jess's eyes that could spell trouble. She returns to the basement to find lighter fluid and Dylan begins searching the kitchen for a grocery bag. Not a bad day to be Jess

Wordlessly, because I am bound to this quest and I couldn't prod Jess to call it on account of rain, I pull a plastic bag from my messenger bag and hand it over. I don't really want to know how it is about to be used and can only laugh a little when I hear the word "torch".

Jess is already drawing a heart in lighter fluid on the concrete of the garage when I get down there. She flicks her barbecue lighter and blue flame dances around the perimeter of it and die down.

Dylan lights the plastic bag wrapped around the end of a stick off the dying flame. It ignites, which isn't surprising. However, tendrils of flame drip from it, making a vvvvvvppppt sound as they fall to the ground. Kids, please do not try this at home.

A car containing Loren appears. I dart into the rain and stand outside her window until she rolls it down. "We're playing with fire!" I exclaim.

"I see that. Good for you."

After drawing another flaming heart and utterly failing to set the outline of a crow on fire like in the eponymous movie, we label this quest accomplished and spend five minutes finding moral objections to anything we felt the rain or our coziness prohibited (the best being hanging out at an emergency room and making friends with the nurses). Rachel repeatedly suggests that we go out and play in the rain, up to and including mud wrestling, but the List would not accommodate her whims, nor would we until the hour was up.

Eventually, Jess interpreted a quest to mean they had to do a Firefly live action role play, led by Finn. I get out the Tiny Beast to take notes on them for my book.

"You aren't playing?" Finn asks.

"No, I thought I would just watch..."

"You are still bound by your oath for another fifteen minutes," Jess reminds me.

End to boredom indeed. "Then I guess I am playing."

Finn is dressed in leather and zippers, the kind of outfit that I would dress one of my fictional vampires in only to have them killed because it constrains movement. When he later claims that he has been known to be playing videogames while hanging upside down from the rafter in his home, I consider it equivalent, style other comfort or utility. But, the moment he starts his game, he is transformed and the outfit seems perfect for him to be a captain and the storyteller. The time passes quickly and, even as my character - the protagonist from a future sequel titled Always Darkest - erodes from how she began, I end up having quite a bit of fun.

Rachel and Dylan head home, because he only just graduated from high school and has a curfew that must be enforced on such a stormy night. Jess says she has to be in bed by midnight, but Jess, Loren, Finn, and I are still talking half an hour later. Jess invites us all to spend the night - something the other two take as a given. It is more concern for how early she intends to leave than propriety that drives me out into the rain, though I send her a message when I get home, telling her that it is her right to insist I stay over should I ever be acting too bullheaded about the weather. It wouldn't do to lose the game when I've just discovered how fun it is to commit to playing.

Soon in Xenology: La Familia

last watched: Pushing Daisies
reading: Fables
listening: Garfunkel and Oates

Crushed | 2009 | Little Everyday Miracles

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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