Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Experiencing "H(is) E(xcellent) L(ingering) L(ove)": These Last Eleven Months

"Small things make all things,
and tiny things make tall things; 
Be faithful in little things every day!"
-"Faithful in Little Things" by Ron Hamilton (aka "Patch the Pirate")

Imagine for a moment that you're sitting in church on Easter Sunday, dressed to the nines, ready to worship God while the sunlight streams through stained glass and the music echoes in the vaulted ceilings. You hear a thumping in the back, and see a father and son carrying in another son—in a wheelchair. The invalid is dressed in a suit jacket, dress shirt, and golf shorts, because both legs end garishly at the knee in long stumps swathed in white cloth. He slumps in the chair, as if the act of sitting up straight is too much of an effort for him. A wide foam strap and a thick plastic valve protrude from his throat; one can only imagine the gaping hole that leads right to his windpipe behind the contraption. His glasses frame his deep-set eyes for an unintentionally chilling effect—but by far the most disturbing feature is the undeniable lack of hair on his head. Featherweight wisps of downy fuzz bear testament to the hair-that-once-was, but the effect is really rather garish. The church isn't exactly "handicap accessible", but that evidently didn't stop this man of indeterminate age (the lack of hair makes him look older than he probably is) from wanting to go through the ordeal it no doubt took to get him to this place.

Consider how you would respond: how would you feel, seeing that man sitting across the aisle from you the whole time? Would you avoid looking in his direction, or would you be worried he might catch you staring? Is it "worth it" for handicapped people to come into buildings that aren't really equipped to facilitate them? Would you wonder if it had been easier for him to just have stayed home and watched the service online? Are you uncomfortable or encouraged to see handicapped people (not necessarily amputees or invalids, but disabled people in general) in your church?

The man in this story is my brother Joe, who came to church on Easter Sunday, the day after being released from the hospital--and yes, undoubtedly, I was extremely encouraged to see him there that morning.
He's been home for a week now, and I can say with reasonable certainty that this whole ordeal has taught me the most about faithfulness and gratefulness in the little things.

The devil may taunt and say, "Where was God when Joe lay unconscious or psychotic in the bed, so swollen they couldn't close his chest and so immuno-suppressed that the attempts to restore circulation and alleviate pressure caused the muscles in his legs to die?"
I can face that devil and tell him, "God was there protecting the new heart from infection and rejection. God was there keeping his brain from being one of the organs to shut down die to the traumatic operation. God was there keeping his kidney tissues alive and healthy while they weren't working, so that eventually there would still be a chance that they would resume function and not require a surgery among all others."

These things might be big things, but in the course of his recovery, Joe has taught me to appreciate little things such as:

-eye contact; Back when he had tubes down his throat, when we couldn't tell if he was having a psychotic break or not, he would make eye contact in lucid moments, and respond with slight movements of his head, and we would celebrate as if he had delivered a formal address.

-joints; from being bedridden and swollen for so long, Joe had difficulty bending his legs or straightening his arms. He has to exercise and stretch every day just to be able to fully extend his arms.

-taste; When Joe first regained consciousness, and they said he could start eating, he discovered that going six months without eating and all the drugs he was taking really did a number on his taste buds. My buddy Joe has a sensitive palate (that's what makes him such an amazing cook), so even though he could eat, he didn't want to.

-seeing the sun/fresh air; While Joe was in the ICU, the first time leaving his room was about two months after he'd first gone to the hospital. And even then, he was too fragile to start going outside for another two months or so. His room in the ICU had a view of the city, but Joe couldn't see it all the time; he would just get annoyed when the light prevented him from napping.

-quiet; In the ICU there are alarms sounding literally every ten seconds. If they're not from Joe's own equipment, they are sounding out in the hallway or from one of the adjoining rooms. Add to that the noise of other infant patients... It's no wonder the guy went half-crazy. We take silence for granted in our day-to-day life. We get so fired up in our minds that we turn to electronic distractions to try and compensate for it, not considering the incredible gift that quiet resting can actually be.

-family; The house was devoid of family more in the last eleven months than it has ever been since the day it was built. As an introvert, you would think that I would never notice when people were or weren't there--but let me tell you a secret about introverts:

We notice when people aren't there more often than we interact with people who are. So even though I might not be the one participating and hanging out with my family when they are home, I can say for sure it was boring and often lonely when they aren't. An introvert is happy just knowing that the people they love are in the next room; when they aren't there, we notice.

It was hard, knowing, too, that they were up in Seattle spending time with Joe, who was separated from his family for the longest time ever. Not including Jamie... who wasn't really all that "separate" from at least community when she lived in Oaxaca, Mexico for a year. Other than the nurses and Mom and Dad, Joe never really had consistent "community" beyond periodic (albeit frequent) visits from friends and such. He was essentially "in exile"... and out of everybody, I made the least number of trips up to visit him. It just felt like every time I could have had the chance, there was always something in the way... something preventing me from seeing my brother, or that essential part of my family that I'd missed for far too long. Even trips back home for my mom and dad were full of plans and preparations for the return trip, no time for relaxing or just being together. So... even though the sound of the ventilator keeps me up at night... I am happy that it's Joe's ventilator, and he can sleep at home without the necessary hospital noises.

-health; I have learned that there are pills and machines to get the human body to do almost anything... and they are mere shadows and mimics of hormones and chemicals and functions that a healthy, whole body naturally produces. The fact that my body is keeping the bad germs and filth and bacteria in the very air I breathe from killing me is no small miracle. The fact that I don't even know how many muscles it is taking me to sit up straight and hold my head up even when I'm almost too tired to think straight is something to be grateful for. Just the amount of breath it takes to talk and make my voice work is something I never considered before now.

This list is only a general reference, and it only scratches the surface of the multitude of things I have discovered to be grateful for in this time. It was a long and painful process, but I have learned to keep progressing and moving forward from where I am, instead of wishing things were different from the way they are.

Catch you further upstream...

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 9

The next morning, Karthey began to realize that Cramwell Fornberg had as much of a routine at home as he did in town. She could practically organize her movements around the house in much the same way the citizens of Precinct organized their movements around town. He would text her at eight o’clock, giving her permission to have breakfast in the kitchen, then again at nine, when he had finished his breakfast and sent his dishes down the dumbwaiter, at which time Karthey discovered he was no longer in the dining room. Based on the evidence of movement she had discovered in the sunroom the day before, he most likely spent time there before getting dressed and going out to Precinct at nine-thirty.
            After she finished washing the dishes and putting them away, Karthey Mavis went back upstairs to retrieve the housekeeping trolley with as many cleaning supplies and tools as she could think of, and then went to the dining room, where she knew she was safe because Cramwell would be in the sunroom, his bedroom, and then he would leave the house. Karthey began by vacuuming the thick, dark carpet, almost enjoying the sight of a canister full of the dust and cobwebs of bygone years. She polished the wood wainscoting and mantel with a clean cloth and some wood polish she had found, removed the hurricane covers of the many lamps and cleaned those till they shone, and finally, washed and opened the windows, shaking the dust and heaviness from the velour floor-length curtains as the fresh autumn wind blew through the windows. Karthey glanced back at the table when she saw movement. The wind had blown the pages of a newspaper Cramwell had left on the table. Karthey seized this shred of the existence of a world she once knew, outside the house that had become her world lately, and eagerly inspected it for news of what went on down in town.


            Karthey read the article with a growing sense of horror, dread, tinged with not a little helplessness. This one hit closer to home than any of the others: the victim was none other than her best friend Cherry. “Seventeen-year-old Cherry was last seen browsing library shelves for an upcoming research paper. She was wearing faded jeans, a white blouse, brown corduroy jacket, and red cherry necklace and earrings.” Karthey smiled at the mention of the jewelry; Cherry had received those from Karthey herself, for her birthday five years ago. Cherry had been so pleased with them that she promised Karthey she would never remove them. Karthey read on.
            “Taylor Nahum was the first to discover evidence of Cherry’s disappearance: a single cherry earring on one of the shelves in the library. The investigation is underway, but police seem left in the dark more and more with each new victim under less-than-predictable circumstances.”

            Karthey peered closely at the photos accompanying the article. One was Cherry’s school photo, taken near the end of the previous year. She still wore the earrings. Also included in the article was a photo of where the earring had been placed—it had to have been placed, Karthey insisted to herself, because Cherry would never take even one earring off, not even under duress. Karthey noticed that the earring was on the third shelf from the bottom, so it wasn’t as if the earring had fallen out in some sort of struggle, either. The titles of the books on either side of the earring caught Karthey’s eye. What with the angle of the photo, most of the titles were cut off, but what she read was Death of and The Girl.
            Karthey’s mind spun: Death of The Girl. How awful! Death of The Girl. Was it some sort of message left behind by the sadistic kidnapper?
            “Come on, Karthey Hendra Mavis!” she chided herself out loud, “You’re being extreme; they’re just two books: Death of A Salesman, perhaps, and The Girl With The Pearl Earring.” Yet the fact that the earring would be placed just so that when the photographer—with eyes only for the trinket—snapped a picture at the best angle to see the location of the earring with respect to its context and unwittingly created a complete sentence was just too—disquieting.
            Karthey gasped a deep breath, but even the wind coming through the open dining room windows was not enough for her. She glanced at her cell phone: 10:43. It was almost time to meet Derrik! A walk was just the thing for her!

            Karthey put on a jacket, scarf, and hat and went out into the grey blustery, wet, dismal autumn to try to realign her thoughts with rationality. It didn’t work; all she could think about was Cherry, lying dead in some ditch, with the last cherry earring trampled in the mud next to her while—Karthey couldn’t stand all the horrible images of the various wounds Cherry might receive that flooded into her head at the same moment. She reached the gate early; Derrik wasn’t there. Karthey’s vision clouded over, and she burst out crying before she could help herself. The wind stung her eyes, making them water worse, and the sobs made her shake and shiver worse than the cold did. Suddenly, amid the blur, Derrik materialized. He held his hand through the gate for Karthey. She grabbed it with vehemence.
            “Is Cherry going to die, Derrik?” she choked, “Would the kidnapper really kill her? He hasn’t killed any of the other victims yet—has he?”
            Derrik sighed, “There’s no way to know unless we can get more information on who the kidnapper might be! Till now I don’t think he’s ever left any clues behind.”
            “Except the umbrella at the diner,” Karthey remarked, sniffing and trying to dry her face.
            “Oh yeah, and yesterday we just found Colby McKee’s jacket tossed over the fence in the alleyway beside the grocery store where he disappeared.”
            “And didn’t they find out that the waitress was missing because she left her scarf behind?” Karthey seemed to remember reading something of the sort in that first article.
            Derrik shook his head, “I guess he has been leaving clues: the things each victim were most identified for!” He gazed earnestly at his sister and dropped her hand, “I wish you could be out here helping us investigate, Karth! We could use your keen eyes.”
            “Dad has keen eyes, he always said I got it from him,” Karthey said, “and isn’t the entire Precinct police force working on this, too?”
            Derrik shrugged, “We’ve been over every inch of the locations where the abductions most likely occurred, but nobody can come up with a definitive link that would clue us in to the perpetrator’s MO. They’re all random places: the diner, the library, the grocery store—random people, too. There has to be a link, and I just know you would be the one to find it!”
            Karthey sighed sadly, “But I can’t leave, Derrik! Whatever I discover has to be uncovered here at Fornberg House.”
            “So what have you found out?”
            Karthey thought over the various discoveries she had made during her stay at Fornberg House. “Well, he has a lot of statues and busts and paintings of this one woman; I have no idea who it is, I’m thinking it might be his wife. He seems pretty obsessed with her. The statues are everywhere he goes in the house: the dining room, the library, the sunroom, he probably has some statues in his bedroom—I don’t know for sure because I haven’t been there. I just found the paper about Cherry today in the dining room, but I wonder if he doesn’t have the other papers somewhere else. He has a lot of books on cryptology and codes—“
            “Oh yeah, Cecil says he has checked out pretty much every book from the library, and they can’t collect them from him because nobody wants to go near the house.”
            Karthey frowned in puzzlement, “What could a single, lonely guy want with so many codebooks?”
            Derrik raised an eyebrow, “Remember, this is Cramwell Fornberg we’re talking about, here.”
            Karthey shrugged, “Good point; anyway, I saw a lot of papers with some weird languages on it, and he’s got a bunch of notebooks with a lot of codes. Oh! I even saw one that had a bunch of random words and letters, and then it said SOMEONE WILL DISAPPEAR AT EIGHT TONIGHT. It was creepy.”
            “Eight?” Derrik echoed, looking alert all of a sudden, “That’s the exact time the first victim disappeared! You say there was a bunch of random letters and words on it, too?”
            “Yeah,” Karthey wondered what her brother might be insinuating. “You don’t think that he—“
            Derrik cast a furtive glance up at the house, as if it was spying in the absence of its master, and shook his head, “Oh no; we’ve completely ruled that out. It has to be someone else. That’s weird that he would name the exact time of the abduction, though.”
            “Cramwell Fornberg is so weird it’s freaking me out, Derrik!” Karthey clutched the bars of the gate.
            “Why not just run away, then?” Derrik said. “You can climb the hedge and get out of Precinct before he gets home today. I would help you, and I would never tell where you had gone, even if The Cram tortured me to death.”
            “It’s not just about you, Derrik,” Karthey chided her brother, “Every time I think about running away, I think about Dad: if I ran away from Cram, I’d be safe, yes, but what would he do to Dad? What would my running away do to Dad? At least if I am here Dad knows that the kidnapper would never come up to a lonely house with a lonely man. Cramwell Fornberg is untouchable, and as long as I am with him, I can be, too.”
            Derrik huffed and chewed his lip, a sure sign that he was uncertain about the whole situation. Karthey extended her hand to him.
            “Am I doing a good job being brave, big brother?” she asked softly.
            He looked and saw the fear in her eyes, but saw the firm resolution in her face as well. “You are, little sister,” he admitted genuinely, “You are. Keep using those eyes of yours; maybe with our daily meetings, you can help make your confinement shorter by bringing us closer. See if Cramwell is more involved in this case than people might think. It could be that he knows something that will bring us closer than we’ve ever been before.”
            “Right,” Karthey agreed, “I just need to find it.”
            “Maybe it’s in some of the codes you found, the ones he studies all the time,” Derrik suggested.
            Karthey hesitated. To study the codes meant spending a lot of time in the spooky library, because she couldn’t risk bringing any of the books to her room. Cramwell’s warning of “everything must remain as you find it,” coupled with the fact that he had cameras all over the place and was watching her when she least expected it, all lent themselves to the conclusion that if even one title was faced the wrong way around, Cramwell Fornberg would notice it.
            “I’ll do it,” she promised her brother before her fears could get the best of her, “I’ll go right now, and see how much I can find before he gets back.”
            “You are so brave, little sister,” Derrik praised her, “I hope you won’t have to be locked away here much longer.”
            “Your visits certainly help,” Karthey returned with a smile, “I love you, Derrik.”
            “I love you too, Karthey, and Dad sends his love.”
            “Hug him for me,” Karthey begged, “and Mom, too.”
            “I will; goodbye, Karthey.”
            “Goodbye, Derrik.”

            Karthey trudged back up the hill with a heavy heart, but a mind full of determination. She returned to the dining room and picked up the paper. The horrible headline threatened to send her into the depths of despair all over again, but then she saw her father’s name at the top of the article. He knew Cherry as well; she could only imagine how he must have felt writing that article, knowing—or perhaps only hoping—that his daughter would be one to read it, but without his arms to allay her fears for her friend.
            Karthey resolved to be courageous, for Cherry and for her father. She screwed up what resolution she had to the absolute sticking point, and marched straight for the library in time to the great grandfather clock striking twelve.
            Karthey turned on the lights and was pleased to find that there were so few shadows now with the new light bulbs, but she still found herself waiting several minutes before she had the confidence to walk into the room. Once inside, the rest was remarkably easy. Karthey found the basket containing all the newspapers from the previous week. She sifted through them to find the ones that featured all the kidnapping victims. She picked up a blank notebook from the pile next to the armchair, but thought better of it and merely tore out a page, taking care not to leave any shreds of paper behind, just in case. She laid the four papers out in front of her and first folded the paper in half, then on one side she wrote “CLARISSA FORQUIST” at the top, and “COLBY MCKEE” just under the crease. Then she turned the paper over and again wrote “ALIVIA ROGNER” at the top, and “CHERRY MACINTOSH” just below the crease.
            Under each victim’s name, she began listing personal details as mentioned in the newspaper articles. Clarissa worked at the café, she left behind a red-and-white-striped wool scarf, she was last seen at the corner of the block on which the café stood, and the estimated time of abduction was about eight o’clock PM. Colby McKee was a young boy last seen at about twelve o’clock wearing a red jacket, which was recently discovered in the alleyway beside the grocery store where his mother lost him, and she never found him again. Witnesses claim to have spotted him at the corner of the curb that bent around the Square, less than a block away from the grocery store, still wearing the jacket, at about 4 o’clock PM. Alivia Rogner’s last errand was lunch at one-thirty at the diner, and someone reported to have seen her last just before two o’clock, where she just got up and walked away from the table, leaving her red umbrella where Mrs. Preston, the article said, discovered it more than two hours later. Finally, Cherry Macintosh was last seen at the library around three o’clock, wearing her iconic red cherry earrings and necklace, searching for books for a research project for school, and her disappearance went unnoticed until Taylor discovered her earring on the shelf while re-stocking the books after the library closed at six.
            Karthey sat up and surveyed her list. A waitress, a boy, a woman, and a student; what could these people have in common? The grandfather clock struck half-past-one, and she still had not come up with a reasonable explanation beyond the fact that they all disappeared under excessively mysterious circumstances.
            Karthey folded the paper and tucked it in her jeans pocket as she meandered out to the courtyard and swept all the cobwebs, leaves, and dirt from around the various statues and stone urns of dying, bedraggled plants, and quaint benches arranged around a bone-dry fountain. Everything was the same color, the same grey stone. Not even cleanliness could cheer the atmosphere up. Karthey reentered the house through a door that led into the kitchen just as the clock began to strike half-past-four. Cramwell would be returning any second.
            Karthey hastily replaced the gardening tools in their closet in the kitchen and ran upstairs just as the front door creaked open. She landed safely behind her closed door as she heard the front door slam shut behind Cramwell Fornberg. She began to relax as she reached into her pocket for the paper she had been writing on.
            Karthey Hendra Mavis nearly melted on the spot: the paper was gone.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hit List: Why Must The Good Die Young?

There comes a time in every show's life where the writing just doesn't keep up with the viewership... or it's the acting.... or it's the time-slot.... or....

It could be a combination of factors. It could be the fact that so many viewers are preferring their shows online, instead of on-air. It could be the fact that some of us... ahem... might even prefer "commercial-free viewing"....


The bottom line is, some shows deserve to die, and they get picked up for another raunchy, angst-ridden, bloody, or otherwise cringe-inducing season. Others, for reasons known only to the soulless impersonal, detached network powers-that-be get the axe before they've been given a chance to make it through their first season.

Here is a list of my Top 5 Shows That Ended Too Soon. Ut requiescant in pace.

Obligatory Reference: Firefly

Because every list ever made on the subject includes this one. (Thank you Nathan, for demonstrating so perfectly everyone's reaction to the mention of the odious cancellation by FOX Network).

It had everything going for it: heart, soul, character, action--this is Joss Whedon GOLD, we're talking about, here! Citizens of Earth heading out into space to "terraform" other planets and colonize them, set far enough in the future that Earth itself is a distant memory to all characters involved, and furthermore, the freshly-colonized universe has just undergone a civil war. A former captain and soldier who wasn't supposed to survive, his first mate, a pilot, a priest, a mechanic, a mercenary, a doctor and his crazy, unstable super-genius sister all embark in a raggedy old ship called the Serenity to evade capture by the evil Alliance that considers itself the supreme governmental authority, and have rousing adventures along the way.
Unfortunately, viewers in the 90's weren't as invested in their shows, so the Serenity's crew didn't stand a chance. They tried; all of the actors from this show went on to have extraordinary success in other ventures. (Unlike another famous space franchise we all know, which was basically the kiss-of-death for most of the participants, some of whom never quite recovered from the infamy...)
You know what didn't help things? The movie that was meant as a heartfelt apology to all the more devoted fans, which attempted to fill in some of the larger plot-holes (though not in a very satisfactory manner), and (SPOILER ALERT!) ended up killing off the show's more favored characters... Yeeeeeaaaaahhhh, not so much.

5. Once Upon A Time in Wonderland (ABC)

(Run Time: 13 episodes)
Okay, it's been about a month since the finale... I think I'm over it now.

After the angst-ridden drag-out that the parent show, Once Upon A Time is creeping through, you'd think I'd be happy that this one decided to keep it short and sweet.
But no... The difference being that I absolutely fell in love with the characters on this show. They just seemed so much more real and so much less melodramatic and deliberately confused about what's happening in front of their faces (Ahem! Here's looking at you, Emma Swann!) and a lot more engaging than the characters--and even the cast--of Once Upon A Time.

What drives me crazy about this is I could see immediately all of the potential this show had to go on considerably longer than it did. In all the plethora of back-story episodes centered on the villains, they missed the key question of "What was the Knave doing in Storybrooke and how did he get there?" We can guess (sort of) when-abouts in the Once Upon A Time continuity he might have been there, so how might an outsider have reacted to all the shenanigans the writers so love to pull on the inhabitants of Storybrooke? And when it did finally cross over, near the end--how can it be possible that two people and a talking rabbit can just show up in a crater in the middle of a town in Storybrooke--and no other characters show up or seem to notice? The Storybrooke portrayed in Once Upon A Time in Wonderland is well-nigh a ghost town. Not fair, indeed!

But, given their track record... I suppose I would rather ABC cut a series short than keep it going beyond the bounds of creativity and propriety and make a mess of things. So yes, I'm miffed... but I have a crossover fanfiction in the works, I'm reviewing the series on a friend's blog... so:

4. No Ordinary Family (ABC)

(Run Time: 20 episodes)
It's been so long since I've seen this show that I can't even remember when or where I first heard about it. (Maybe as a promo on an episode of Once Upon A Time or something, because it's the same network)
Anyway, it looked like a live-action remake of the Incredibles--but loaded with a lot more drama and intrigue than your average family film! I mean, a family who wants to get back together, so they decide to take a vacation in Brazil, and on the flight back to civilization, while they're crossing the Amazon, a storm hits and the plane goes down--but the family survives. And "something in the water" gave them all unique superpowers. And those unique superpowers, as they're used together, draw the family closer and help them find the purposefulness and unity they so badly needed. Meawhile, things get complicated, there's enemies, the mom happens to be a scientist at a chemical research facility who manages to replicate the "super serum" that was in the Amazon water, and so the villain can both take away the family's powers and leave them vulnerable, while giving others superpowers and making them invincible and immortal--there is comedy, heart-warming family stuff, action, stunts... the list goes on!

As with Once Upon A Time in Wonderland, this show was also intended as a short "break filler" so it wasn't like they cut it off before they'd used up all the episodes... and there wasn't a gut-wrenching full-stop at the end... just, you know, the big-bad villain infecting a whole plane full of criminals with the chemical and letting it crash in an undisclosed location so that the NSA has to contact the Parrs--excuse me, the Powells--to help them recover the now-super-criminals...
Seriously, what is it with ABC and coming up with perfectly good ideas in time to ditch them in favor of rehashing the "same-old, same-old"?

3. King & Maxwell (TNT)
(Run Time: 10 episodes)
In lieu of a promo/trailer (because I couldn't find one...) the above GIF accurately depicts my feelings concerning this show.
For starters, I didn't even know it was a show! Earlier this year, my sister introduced me to the awesomeness that is David Baldacci and his famous couple, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, former Secret Service agents who got scapegoated by their superiors and turned their highly-specified skills to the world of private investigating.
So a couple months later, I am surfing the web and I find a reference to "TNT's King & Maxwell" and I'm like "Hot Jambalaya!" So I look it up, and there are only 10 episodes... and the last one aired in August of last year.... and it was officially cancelled a month later.... A mere five months before I even knew how wonderful Baldacci really was... he was just one of those authors whose books showed up everywhere... usually in public school break rooms alongside Jodi Piccoult and Danielle Steele novels... I mean, that's a lot of paperback novels, know what I'm saying? But... I know differently now... so can we just, you know, revisit the past... or something.... maybe...

Aw, nuts.

Having viewed not only the show in its entirety, but I am very close to finishing the book series as well, I can say that:

A) as far as adaptations go, the TNT writers nailed it with the casting choices and the scripting. From my impressions of Baldacci's original presentation, the characters on the screen are extensions and expansions, absolutely faithful to the book portrayals. (Which also means that not once do we see the main characters ramp their relationship to the physical level ever at all; they don't even share a room! Say WHAAAT?)
B) As far as show quality goes, I can see no reason whatsoever to justify it's cancellation. At least for some shows you can see where the writing goes weak and ending the show is almost akin to a mercy killing... but from the pilot to Episode 10 the show maintained an admirable energy level. The official reasons given (that I could find) was a comparison to the shows that preceded this one, namely The Closer and its spin-off, Major Crimes which both starred power women (who no doubt find themselves in complicit circumstances all over the place, hence the drug-like draw) and a conclusion (however biased) that King & Maxwell just wasn't hitting the same numbers as those other shows. And so....

Anybody interested in a mint-condition, never-before-used conspiracy theory centered around a well-balanced crime-solving couple with a perfect record of inter-partner banter?

2. Alphas (Syfy)

 (Run Time: 24 episodes)
Count 'em, people! That's two whole seasons!
Okay, now we're into the territory of shows that should not have been cancelled but got the axe anyway for no intelligent reason whatsoever.
I kid you not... an internet search yields only the official releases shortly before everyone was expecting Season 3 to begin, along the lines of "So long and thanks for all the fish!" and really no other reason. Not a phony "evaluation of numbers", there was no indication that the writers were running out of material at all... And for crying out loud, the cliffhanger was one of the cruelest, most despicable, heart-wrenching, mind-blowing, bad-guy-wins cliffhanger in the history of cliffhangers!!

I have always held the position of "Like attracts like": you want to attract a certain kind of person, you start acting like that kind of person; shows with a particular caliber tend to attract and receive guest appearances from actors who appreciate that kind of caliber. So when a show like Alphas gets appearances by Hollywood heavy-hitters like Summer Glau and Sean Astin--it means it's a really great show, people! Big-ticket actors are not shy about turning down roles they don't want.... so their acceptance really does mean something.
But apparently the Network didn't get the memo. And so, unfortunate collateral citizens of New York who were unwittingly trapped in a war between "specials" not unlike (but far more real-world-ish) those of the X-Men....
We're sorry you died. And we did so badly want Gary Bell (The inimitable Ryan Cartwright... he is awesome!) to be the one who figured out how to save you all...

1. A Gifted Man (CBS)

(Run Time: 16 episodes)
And... oh great... now I'm going to end this post really ticked off. 
I don't typically watch medical dramas. They're usually light on the medical and heavy on the drama... and the melodrama... and the romantic angst....
Yeah, that's because they didn't have the fabulous Margo Martindale in the front office, taking names and not putting up with shenanigans. Some other things that kept me watching:

-The focus on neurosurgery. For obvious reasons I have always had a lingering interest in the neurological field. So to have a show where the main character is a neurosurgeon (who, in fact, really did remind me a lot of the neuro-docs I've encountered and dealt with in recent years) who deals a lot with neurological disabilities and emergencies... it really struck a chord with me. (So much so that I actually incorporated my story into yet another fanfiction... and it actually worked...)
-Holla! Jennifer Ehle for the WIN! She plays the medical director of a free clinic in a poor neighborhood, who has to convince her ex-husband to volunteer there, even though he has his own prestigious practice with high-end clients in the center of town. (This was the role I learned that she wasn't really British... something I never would have guessed with her top-notch performance as Elizabeth Bennet!)
-The free clinic thing was a "real-world connection" factor that worked out well. Apparently, the cases seen in this clinic (as portrayed on the show) were based on real-life cases from real walk-in clinics around the world. Some pretty awesome writing done there.
-Oh, and did we mention that Jennifer Ehle's character is a ghost? She can only interact with her ex-husband (who, by the way, does not go with that old "a ghost shows up in my life" trope--which means freaking out and inviting horrified looks from bystanders whenever she appears--but he keeps his cool and finds clever ways of covering it from people around him!) and just when he's reconciling with having her back in his life in this form... he finds a young woman who just received her heart in a transplant... and then the same woman promptly experiences a car crash... her life, and potentially the existence of Anna-the-ghost hangs in the balance...


Annnd.... this was basically my reaction... (thanks, Jennifer)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 8

             Karthey was so disoriented from her dreams and nightmares that when she awoke, she almost fell out of bed as she tried to figure out where she was. The buzz of the vibrating cell phone—which by now she had accepted as Cramwell’s voice—reminded her of all the events of the previous two days. How quickly her whole life had changed! Only three days ago, she was attending school like a normal person, then her dad was arrested, and she volunteered to take his place, and now she was living like a prisoner in a giant mansion with a man who refused to be seen by or to speak with her—and this last part had been her own doing!
            Karthey picked up the cell phone and read the latest text.

Take your breakfast in the kitchen at this time, Miss Mavis.

            She smirked at the commanding tone of the text. He never asked any questions; while it was true that on occasion he tacked on “if you please” or something like that, it was always directions he gave. Karthey wondered how on earth the woman in all the pictures could have stood living with him. Or perhaps he had been different then. The redheaded girl shook her head. How could she even fathom him being “different then” when she was not certain of the man’s identity now? And why did she care what he was like? She was only staying in the house, under his neurotic supervision, until her dad could solve the case of the abductions and apprehend the real culprit.

            Karthey went down the left-hand stairs and prepared to cross through the dining room to get to the kitchen. The large double doors to the dining room were closed. Karthey almost opened them, but she heard a soft sound, like someone speaking. Was that Cramwell Fornberg’s voice? Karthey pressed her ear to the thin crack between the doors and listened. He seemed to be talking to someone, but she knew that they both were the only two living people in the house; weren’t they? He mentioned “jelly” a few times; Karthey wondered what he could mean by that. She backed away from the door and swiftly scampered across the entryway to reach the kitchen through the sitting room, on the other side. The longer she stayed around Cramwell Fornberg, the more he scared her.

            Just when Karthey finished breakfast, she heard a strange creaking sound coming from a wooden door in the wall of the kitchen. What could that be? She cautiously approached the door. The creaking stopped. Karthey grabbed the small handle and pulled.
            Inside the small compartment was a stack of dirty dishes. Karthey’s cell phone received another text.

Please wash the dishes, Miss Mavis.

            The compartment was a dumbwaiter. So! Cramwell Fornberg expected her to serve him now, did he? Karthey contemplated ignoring him, but her more industrious side—the part of herself most like her mother—surfaced at the request and she was more inclined to comply.
            “After all,” she reasoned as she carried his and her dishes together to the sink, “he did say please. And I might as well work while I’m here, instead of doing nothing all day long!”

            Karthey finished the dishes and left the kitchen at about a quarter-past-nine. She actually entered the dining room before she thought to check for Cramwell Fornberg. He was not there. Karthey returned to the entryway, wondering where the lord of the house might be. Just then, she saw his gnarled hand appear, gripping his cane, at the entrance to the hall across the way. Desperately, Karthey dove for the safety of the shadows and waited till she heard his slow, creaking step travel up the stairs and fade away as he proceeded further down the opposite hall. The redhead let out a sigh of relief; she had almost come face to face with disaster. She knew, from his appearances in town every day, that he hated being looked in the eye. Who knew what he would do to her if she dared catch his sight right here in his own house?
            Karthey hastily scampered up the stairs and scuttled to her own room, waiting there behind the closed door till she heard Cramwell Fornberg shut the front door behind him as he left the house for the day.
            Once he left, she relaxed. Karthey decided that today she would explore the rest of the house. She began at the library, with all its spooky art pieces, and continued toward the back of the house.
            The next set of double doors after the library led to a smaller room with a large desk and lots of papers on it. Karthey surveyed the disorganized mess; many of the papers seemed to be random strings of letters and numbers, or written in another language entirely. She wondered what a man like Cramwell could be doing, with papers like this.

            “This must be the study,” Karthey remarked, and a gust blowing through the open door behind her sent up a cloud of dust and shook out some cobwebs. Karthey knew she would clean there eventually; there weren’t so many portraits or statues in here, as there were in the library. Further down the hall, Karthey encountered a door with panes of glass in it. Opening this, she gasped in surprise to see a room with walls of glass, open to the fog-shrouded sun overhead. A sunroom! This one had a few stone statues, and a stack of novels by a small couch. Dust covered everything but the statue, the couch, and the novels. Karthey deduced that Cramwell Fornberg must spend time here every day, sitting on the couch, brushing dust off the statue, and reading the novels. His footprints showed in the dust on the floor. A fine layer of dirt covered everything else. Karthey moved on.
          The hallway she had been following bent a left corner at the door to the sunroom, and Karthey followed the wall till she came to another door along the back wall. This one was locked. Karthey pulled out the key ring, pausing first and looking up at the CCTV staring down at her, as if to verify that she had Mr. Fornberg’s permission (or at least she was not inviting anther scolding for her curiosity) and began trying the keys from the South key ring, since this door was on the south side of the house. One of them fit, but the handle was stiff and it took a good deal of pushing to get it open. Here was a room Cramwell probably hadn’t been in since the last decade! It was completely dark, and Karthey could only barely distinguish a few shapes in the room. She felt the wall for a light switch. It took a few minutes of careful searching, but at last she found a protrusion on the wall that wiggled a bit at her touch. Karthey carefully pushed it.
            A single lamp flickered dimly on. Karthey could better make out the shapes in the room. Musical instruments, covered by dust-laden sheets! There was a piano in one corner, a harp in another, and various lutes, whistles, and horns leaned carefully along the walls. Karthey stepped into the room and gazed around in amazement. Stacks of music as high as her waist stood on the floor, with shelves full of records and more music.

            A colossal crash made Karthey jump out of her skin. It happened again, and Karthey clapped her hands over her ears as she frantically searched the room for what on earth could be making that noise. At the third stroke, she turned to face the largest grandfather clock she had ever seen. The disc on the pendulum was bigger than her face. So this was the clock that broadcasted the time all over the house! Karthey backed out of the room and—between strokes—hastily shut the door again. She moved on with her self-led tour.
            Another left-hand corner just after the door to the music room, and Karthey found herself walking through a small door into the dining room. As with so many of the other rooms (she was discovering), this too was poorly lit. All the squinting she had to do, and the shadows in every room were beginning to work on Karthey’s nerves. She refused to stand for it any longer.
            She marched straight upstairs to the storage closet and filled the housekeeping trolley with as many boxes of light bulbs as she could fit on there. This done, Karthey Mavis went around to every room in the house and replaced every single bulb. When changing the bulbs in the music room, Karthey made sure that she only went in immediately after the clock struck, and every fifteen minutes, she would have to leave the room while it struck, returning afterwards to finish the job.
            Eleven o’clock came before she realized it. Karthey flew down the hill to the gate, but Derrik wasn’t there that morning. He had left her a note tucked between the bars.

            I love you, dearest sister, he wrote, and I am sorry I did not have time to meet you today. Dad and I are hot on a lead! We found that all of the victims had been taken from street corners. Dad mapped out the locations, and we’re trying to find out more about the places nearby, to see if any of them are connected.
            Dad says that Cramwell also seemed to be investigating the abductions also. Is there a way you can find out how much he knows? I know it might be dangerous; if there’s no way you can do it, we understand. See how much you can uncover without him knowing.
            I’ll be here to meet you tomorrow. I love you! Stay brave! –Derrik

            Karthey trudged sadly back up the hill. True, he had left a note, so she wasn’t entirely left out of the loop; but not seeing her brother’s face, not being able to hold his hand—how much the sociable girl longed for human contact! And not just any human contact, either; Karthey shuddered as she recalled the near run-in with Cramwell Fornberg that morning. She would rather die than have any sort of contact with him.

            She mulled over the second half of Derrik’s note as she finished changing the bulbs in the dining hall. So Cramwell was conducting his own investigation? How would she be able to find out how much he knew, and particularly without the man knowing? Karthey recalled the study; could the papers with the letters and numbers and the strange languages have something to do with Cramwell’s investigation?
            Karthey changed the bulbs in the library last of all. While she circumnavigated the room, she intentionally avoided looking at the paintings, where the woman—not just any woman in Karthey’s mind, but The Woman, the mistress of Fornberg House—stared at her in the garb of a Greek goddess in one corner, a regal queen in another, and on the far side of the room, alternately a spring fairy and an angel. When at last she was finished, she flicked on the switch and surveyed the room. If nothing else, replacing the light bulbs only made it even more evident how dirty, dusty, and cobwebby the house was! Karthey looked at the lone armchair set before the fireplace, with a statue of The Woman on one side, a record-player on the other, and stacks of notebooks and library books all around it. Karthey peeked at the titles.
            Every single publication had to do with codes, ciphers, and cryptology. Karthey wondered why a man like Cramwell Fornberg would keep so many library books, when he had shelves full already. She glanced over one of the notebooks. It had a string of seemingly random letters and anagrams on it, then in clear, straight capitals, SOMEONE WILL DISAPPEAR AT EIGHT TONIGHT. What could it mean?
            Karthey heard the front door open and close. Was it four-thirty already? Cramwell had returned! She hurriedly snuck out of the library and traveled around the back of the house and through the dining room to get to the stairs, knowing that Cramwell would be coming to the library from the other direction. Heart pounding madly, she returned the housekeeping trolley to its closet and went into her room to await further instructions from her captor.
            As Karthey waited, she heard the wailing sound, but it struck her now that it was not an animal wail, nor a human one. She recalled the music room. Could the sound she heard proceed from a musical instrument? Karthey was not very well versed in music. She could not identify what instrument made the sounds she heard, but at least she knew the wailing was not something to necessarily fear, though the music itself sounded like it came from an acutely tortured soul. Was Cramwell a musician? It would make sense for a musician to have a music room in his house; what did not make sense was the fact that the said music room appeared completely untouched and undisturbed.
            Once the wailing stopped, Karthey glanced at her cell phone, which she had laid on the little table by her bed. She fully expected it to ring soon, to give her permission to come and eat dinner.
            The text finally came just after the clock struck six.

Dinner is served in the kitchen, Miss Mavis.
Use the left-hand stairs this time.
Please wash the dishes when you are finished.
Do not disturb me; I will be in the library.

            Karthey fairly flew out of the room and down the stairs, pausing briefly to frown at the state of the dining room, which she now noticed in the brand-new lighting from the lamps.
            Dinner was indeed served to her in the kitchen: a plate of steak, potatoes, and green beans, all cold. Karthey frowned as she looked around. There was not even a microwave in this house to reheat her food. She would just have to eat it as it was. The steak was stiff, but it was food, and it satisfied her hunger.
            After she finished the meal, Karthey opened the door of the dumbwaiter and found Cramwell’s dishes waiting for her. She washed all the dishes, enjoying the feel of the warm, sudsy water in her hands. Karthey wondered what Cramwell thought of the new lighting in his home. Surely he would have noticed that she also changed the bulbs in the chandelier. Of course, she could not expect a response from him, though; she chided herself. Cramwell Fornberg only told her what he wanted her to know. She would only hear about the light bulbs if he did not appreciate them. In that respect, then, perhaps the fact that he said nothing about them meant that he did not mind them. This fact heartened Karthey.
            Karthey finished the dishes and exited the kitchen, heading back for the hallway with the music room, but before she got there, another text arrived.

You may retire now, Miss Mavis.

            Karthey softly sneered to herself; she did not need his permission for that! Regardless, she realized that Cramwell wasn’t going to let her do anything else or go anywhere else tonight. She grudgingly ascended the steps to her room. She showered, read from the purloined novels until she felt tired, and dropped off to sleep. That night was the soundest sleep Karthey Mavis had experienced since first coming to Fornberg House.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reader's Review: "The Way" by Mary E. Twomey

Synopsis from Amazon:
How far would you go to save the people you love?

In a world not divided by race, creed or color, but by blood type, Blue Anders finds herself on the wrong end of fortune’s mercy. Born with a lesser blood type, Blue is raised in The Way, a work camp for A-bloods.

Now Blue must fight against and alongside her violent brother to free their people and end the slavery forced upon her family by the blood drinkers. Standing up to her sociopath brother will be difficult, but admitting what she wants when she meets an intriguing man from the ruling class just might be impossible.

My Review:

At first glance, the premise sounds bizarre. We've heard of division by personality type, by production, by the willingness to be controlled by the government—
But... Blood type? Seems kind of strange; what makes one type of blood better than another? Answer: the Fountain of Youth. Discovered decades earlier, this Fountain does everything as promised: slows aging, increases bone density, enhances the perception of smell, since taste for food is not really a requirement for survival. But there's a catch: it only works on people with type-B blood. Those with type-A become the lower class, the Wayward ones, existing only to serve the "superior" type-B Vemreaux.
From there, Mary Twomey delves deep into a driving mystery, an oblivious people, and their reluctant savior. Colorful characters splash vividly over the mind, from the bubbly Elle to the firm, gruff Baird; his intriguing sister Blue and the painfully shy Grettel.

Mary Twomey displays a no-holds-barred, bare-fisted approach to establishing characters, plot, setting, and conflict from the very first scene: Baird and Blue discussing her future as they shovel cow muck. Baird seems a very cold and distant brother, alternately berating and using his sister, honing her unique abilities as a deadly killer with all the emotional investment of a drill sergeant, while Blue only ever wants to be loved and sought like the woman everyone else acknowledges her to be. But it's important to Baird for Blue to be ready to fulfill her destiny, even if he's so controlling that he does everything he can to prevent anyone else from finding out Blue's "secret" till he can be the one to initiate the action.

Things get complicated when Blue inadvertently catches the eye of the visiting European dignitary and his entourage. Blue encounters feelings she cannot suppress, and Baird must realize that his secret cannot stay hidden forever. But can Prince Liam and Sam and the other Vemreaux be trusted? Is Blue ready to face the predator that has been killing off the type-O-blooded outcasts and their Vemreaux "masters"? Why would she want to free them from tyranny--when it feels like the Vemreaux are themselves the tyrants?

The world she creates is unmistakably our own (divided into the three major political powers: American, European, and Chinese), and yet so fascinatingly foreign. The issues raised, of racism and class-ism, of poverty and purpose—Mary Twomey confronts them deftly and I was reminded how easily even the most progressive First-World country can still succumb to the same old prejudices, even in a completely original context.

A thrilling beginning to an adventure I'm dying to finish!

Further Reading: (Dystopian/Sci-Fi/Alternate History/Strong Female Lead)
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way *(This book)
       -The Truth 
       -The Lie 
The Jill Andersen Series--J. D. Cunegan
       -Blood Ties 
       -Behind the Badge 
       -Behind The Mask
The Untamed Series--Madeline Dyer
The Red Dog Conspiracy--Patricia Loofbourrow
       -The Alcatraz Coup 
       -Jacq of Spades 
       -Queen of Diamonds 
       -Ace of Clubs 
-Finding Pandora: World--E. Rachael Hardcastle 
-The Tannis Project--Daryl J. Ball 
-AmsterDamned--Nils Visser
The Bhinian Empire--Miriam Forster
     -City of A Thousand Dolls 
     -Empire of Shadows 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Musings: The Evil Within

"Why are you a Christian?"

I grew up in a Christian family, so it stands to reason that I might think I was a Christian without ever having to address the topic of salvation.
I remember that day; I remember knowing that there was a difference. I knew that I liked doing mean things, and I didn't care about being punished—and I knew this was no way to live my life. I saw my older siblings, who seemed to enjoy good things that were helpful to other people, and they seemed happier and more responsible and more privileged.
I became a Christian because I wanted to understand more about living a better life; I wanted it to hurt when I did things to hurt others. I wanted the strength to say "No" when the ideas came—I wanted to be trustworthy, responsible, dependable, and according to everything my family believed, Christianity was the way to get that strength.
As I got older, I learned the strength and the grace I now had. I also learned the depth of the darkness I had turned to Christianity to escape from. I learned more about this Hell that was the place I would have ended up if I had not received the Gospel. I learned that the Devil was a roaring lion who never gave up, and was committed to making the world more evil and Christians' lives miserable, but as long as I was sure I was a Christian, I was not in any danger of going to Hell.

But was I sure?

Bad things were happening in the world; bad people rose to power in the government—even churches were compromising the Basic Principles that would have ensured their success and vitality! There was so much that suggested that surely the End was coming, because how could we as Christians survive when so much conspired against us?
When I was fourteen I'd had enough. I expressed a tear-laden prayer that was more sincere than the prayer I'd said six years prior at the start of my acquaintance with Jesus, and I recorded that date and clung to its memory as my assurance that YES I was saved and YES I was certain I would go to Heaven.

Turns out that was the easy part.

After that it was a confusing whirlwind of learning and knowledge acquisition. I needed to put certain practices and safeguards and "principles" in my life that would enhance my Christian walk and open the door to perhaps sharing the Gospel with the people around me. But even then, there wasn't much time for going out and seeking, and I wasn't naturally the type to strike up a conversation with someone next to me. So I kept "training." I learned inspiring truths about the nature of true success and the power I now possessed because I was a Christian, and the purpose God had for me, and I was given things to consider doing, whenever God presented me with the opportunity. Till then, I just had to be ready. Soon, God was going to put me into play, with this amazing plan that was His plan that He had equipped me for. The more I kept coming to church, the more I realized how vital church was in making sure that I wasn't the dreaded "savor-less salt" that no Christian should be, but that so many of the "compromised churches of our day" had become.
For years I sat with my notebook and pen in hand, scribbling notes from the power-point slide as the pastor rattled off profound Scriptural truths that would aid me in my eventual quest in the world--even as the world became darker and more dangerous as time went on. "We" the church stood firm in a world of compromise, a cloister of light on an indomitable hill that only the ones who were like us--mature, committed, pure, and unspoiled, well-versed in all things "Christian-ese"--could surmount. We weren't "hidden under a bushel" as the saying goes... but we might as well have been unavailable, for all the effect we had.

It's one thing to be rendered "savor-less" by compromise... but what is the flavor of salt that does not leave the mine? Is it any more useful than the tasteless white dust?

I struggled with this doubt until I started attending another church. Suddenly, I felt conviction--and I saw conviction happening. Leaders repenting, honesty between members, new faces every week, and Biblical teaching that not only taught me to consider things about the Christian life that I had always taken for granted, but still managed to be relevant to my every-day life. For the first time in a very long time, I felt more connected to my community, to other believers in other churches, and I think it occurred to me that the crowd of "sanctified saints" who were "qualified" to worship in Spirit and in truth was a lot bigger than I'd ever thought possible.

The other day, I came across this quote in the status of a friend on Facebook:

"Whenever you believe that the evil outside you is greater than the evil inside you, a heartfelt pursuit of Christ will be replaced by a zealous fight of the 'evil' around you. A celebration of the grace that rescues you from your own sin will be replaced by a crusade to rescue the church from the ills of the surrounding culture. Christian maturity becomes defined as a willingness to defend right from wrong." -Dr. Paul Tripp, How People Change

In light of my experience, the quote made a lot of sense upon reflection.

I realized that a lot of the ideas that I had ascribed to in my early years were indeed devoted to "fighting the evilness of the world." Sometimes, it wasn't even about very much of the fighting, but about building my defenses and "walls" so that I would not be "overcome" or be tempted to "compromise" the beliefs I already had. I was too focused on making sure that I wasn't going to be "led astray" by things I knew to be wrong, that I never bothered to affirm or confirm the things I took for granted to be right.
In recent years, however, the church community I joined encouraged me in the 'heartfelt pursuit of Christ', instead of getting wrapped up in "proving how wrong and evil the ways of the world are." It is a practical application of all the "head knowledge" I'd amassed. The key to being "successful" in living for Christ was not "entrenching" myself against whatever anyone on "the outside" might say; it is considering and pursuing what Christ says. The evil that I hear about other people doing is no worse than something I am capable of doing, myself, if I allow my sin nature to flourish unchecked. I cannot get so wrapped up in proving that everyone else is wrong that I convince myself that I am wholly in the right.

The key to reconciling all this is recognizing that God is sovereign. It is not that I am advocating ignorance of world events. But if God is sovereign, I don't have to "batten down any hatches" or dig my feet in to be able to "withstand in the evil day" that I am certain is coming. No matter how horrible things are on the other side of the country, as long as I recognize God is sovereign, these events will not worry me. I am free to focus on pursuing Christ because He has done the work of fending off evil by His death on the Cross. I am salt, free to be mined and scattered and spread out and used to benefit other people because I have already been sifted and "purified" by the sanctification of salvation. I don't need to get caught up with everyone else's faults and I should not let the prejudice over the "compromise" of another Christian prevent me from being willing to praise Christ with them, because we are ONE Body, under ONE Head, by ONE Baptism into ONE Faith. Any follower of Christ is a brother or sister of mine. We are all members of the Church under the Pastor Jesus Christ.

So what is a right perspective in all this? Are we not called to be "wise as serpents, gentle as doves"?

At a Bible study I attend, someone made this distinction: "There is a difference between wisdom and judgment." Wisdom looks at the behaviors and the outside and makes decisions in the present based on these. Judgment assigns motives and extrapolates the future based on assumed intentions. Wisdom has the moral security to be a friend to nonbelievers, to gain that trust before using that influence to turn the person to a deeper relationship with Christ; judgment "won't even go there" because of a deep-seated, insecure fear of "all appearance of evil." When we are caught up in judging others, it's usually evident by the way we convince ourselves that others are judging us. 

We might also "take up a cause" as it says in the quote, to create for ourselves the sensation of "suffering for Christ." Why do homeschooling families get up in arms about public school curriculum? In a country with a higher overall standard of living and more freedom granted to its citizens than any other nation in the world--why are there Christians with their big, angry signs and the big, angry crowds, posting big angry articles about legislation in other states that have little to do with actually hindering Christ-centered activity, and almost no effect on their own state's legislation whatsoever? Can it be true that we inflate and trump up the issues to a scandalous degree so that, in picketing our local state leaders, we can "relate" to the Christians meeting in dank basements and flipping hastily through patched-up Bible pamphlets in whispered voices, looking over their shoulders in case of police?

In reality, we have a lot to be grateful for. As Christians in America, we can carry our Bibles in the open; we can talk to our friends about Jesus--out loud and in public. We can meet in large buildings in full view of the street that proclaim "THIS IS A CHURCH WHERE PEOPLE TALK ABOUT AND PRAY TO GOD!!" 
So why doesn't this happen more often?
The issue is not whether modern government is killing Christianity; Christians are dying from self-inflicted malnutrition, like the child who starves himself because of the hungry children in Africa--but he does nothing to affect change in the African children. When we as Christians stop fretting about how "our rights are being taken away" or "the Church is being compromised", would we realize that the legislators made those calls to remove Christian practices from public circles because we made our faith a private thing? How easy would it be to make a law against praying in schools if everybody did it anyway? Everyone knows that the best way to learn something for certain is to teach others; how much "compromising" do you suppose would happen if we took the time to discuss the Gospel with fellow believers on a regular basis? Perhaps we might find theories and beliefs where we ourselves have gone astray. And once we realize and identify these misapplications, then we have the opportunity to practice the grace that Jesus showed us in His death on the cross, and repent of our own sins, while extending forgiveness to fellow sinners. Does this not sound like the purpose and the goal of the Gospel? To transform lives and renew relationships?

I'm still working through some of the thoughts prompted by this quote, trying to figure out some answers to the questions that come up. What I have written above should be accompanied by a great big "THUS FAR." Thanks for "reading" my heart. I'd love to hear other thoughts on the matter; what was your impression from the quote?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 7

             Karthey hardly knew what to think. This Cramwell Fornberg was certainly a queer man! She cautiously climbed the stairs on the left. The hallway was completely dark, but Karthey saw a switch on the right-hand wall. Dare she switch it?
            “If I’m going to be here,” she reasoned with herself in a low voice, “I might as well get used to the idea!” She reached out and flicked the switch.

            The lights burst on, immediately as dim as the rest of the ones she’d seen so far. Karthey wondered how old the bulbs were. She found the third room on the right and went inside. She turned on the light (dim again, though brighter than any of the others) and surveyed the place she would call home for who knew how long.
Second floor
            The closet held many cleaning implements, but there was still plenty of room, as if she had several dresses. The bed looked like it had been made a long time ago, and never touched again for a very long time. The colors were light pastels, and the carpet was white—glowing eerily in the moonlight. The window at the back of the room looked out into the wide, fog-shrouded fields behind the house. There was a wide window seat with plenty of cushions just below it. Karthey was mildly surprised to find a room with such feminine furnishings in a house where only a man had lived for over a decade. Karthey set her suitcase on the window seat. She quickly checked the corners of the room. No CC cameras in here; she breathed a sigh of relief.
            On the small dressing table next to the head of her bed was a ring of keys. She imagined that there were many doors in this house she would need to go through, and each of those doors had a lock. She wondered if he intended to text her with directions as to which key led where when she began work in the morning.
            Karthey pulled her nightgown out of her suitcase and put it on, placing her clothes neatly in the suitcase when she was done. She looked down at her wrist. She was still wearing her lucky coral bracelet. Frowning, she removed the bracelet and stuffed it in the bottom of her jewelry box. Some luck it had brought her! She resolved not to wear it for as long as she had to stay in this house. Having done this, Karthey sighed and surveyed the room. She noticed a small door on the other side of the bed. This led to a small bathroom with a shower, toilet, and sink. Her eccentric host had certainly seen that she was well provided for.
            Karthey brushed her teeth and flopped onto the bed. It was soft, not at all uncomfortable, and the covers were warm. Karthey Mavis closed her eyes and fell asleep right away, but it was far from a pleasant slumber.
            All night, she dreamed of the awful things that might happen while she was there: supposing Cramwell might actually be a beast during the hours he spent at home, or supposing she broke something—what exactly would he do to her if that happened? Supposing he kept a most appalling secret in the forbidden room; supposing he was a mad scientist, and his laboratory was behind that door, and her curiosity got too much for her, and she went there, and he conducted all manner of bizarre experiments on her, as punishment? Supposing he wasn’t a man at all, but a ghost who could make himself look like a man; supposing it was a punishment for killing his wife, and he needed to find the kidnapper who was stealing people from Precinct before his soul could finally have rest?

            Before Karthey realized it, morning came.

            At eight-thirty the next morning, Karthey awoke to the sound of the cell phone vibrating on the table. She opened it.
You will notice the key rings I gave you are four interconnected rings. These correspond with the four sides of the house. The keys are engraved with the corresponding doors they unlock; the doors are numbered left to right facing north in both the front and the back, and from the back to the front of the house on the sides. I will be leaving the house at nine-thirty. Don’t try anything I have told you not to do, because even when I am not at the house, I will have a monitor with me to continue watching the cameras, and none of the keys I gave you will unlock the gate, which I will lock behind me. Do not cause trouble for me, Miss Mavis, and there will be no consequences. I will return at five o’clock.

First Floor
            Karthey shuddered; she knew what she heard at five o’clock. Now she was actually in the house, she wondered if she would be forced to witness it; part of her entertained a morbid curiosity: did he really sing, or was it something else that wailed for half of that hour?
            Karthey got out of bed and dressed herself. As soon as she left the room, the cell phone vibrated again.

By now I should not have to remind you to have this cell on your person at all times.
You may take your breakfast in the kitchen at this time, Miss Mavis.

            “Where is the kitchen?” Karthey wondered aloud. Mr. Fornberg must have heard her, because instantly a reply came over the cell phone.

The kitchen is down the right-hand stairs, down the left-hand hallway, through the door to your left and down the stairs, the room on your right.
You will find a variety of foods there; choose at your leisure.
            Karthey blushed and made her way down the stairs, following the directions given. As she walked, she noted that, true to what he had told her, every corner held a camera, so that there was no angle where she could not be seen. She found the kitchen, and next to that a small pantry with various foodstuffs (in small amounts) in it. She chose a box of cereal, poured it into a bowl, poured milk over that, and ate it. When she finished, Karthey washed her bowl and headed back upstairs.           
The hallway was dark and musty-smelling. Cramwell had probably not been back there in years. “If I’m going to live here,” Karthey whispered to herself again, “I might as well make this place habitable!”
Karthey returned to her room and pulled the cleaning tools out of the closet. She picked up the key ring. N1, N2, N3… The keys were engraved, just as he had said. Karthey decided to explore the rooms in the same hallway as the one she was staying in, the west wing of the house. Immediately to the right of her room, she found shelves of cleaning solutions, supplies, and extra items like toilet paper and light bulbs, all covered in dust and unused. She also found a housekeeping trolley. She filled this with as many things as she could and set about cleaning the big, dark hallway.

Karthey vacuumed the thick, dull-green carpet first, sucking up cobwebs and dust alike, then moved to polishing the wainscoting with a cloth and some wood cleaner she found. Halfway down the hall, Karthey heard Cramwell leave the house and close the door behind him. Immediately, she stopped what she was doing and entered the large room at the front of the second floor to watch and make certain he was gone. Out of one of the front bay windows, she saw him trotting his merry way down the lane. Karthey fingered the key ring on her belt, and swiftly snuck downstairs toward the library, in the east wing of the house. She only peeked in to see what was in there (books—what else would she expect?), then moved to the door on the right of it: the cloister Cramwell Fornberg had mentioned. He should have known she’d be curious. Karthey grabbed the east-wing key ring and began trying out the likeliest keys.
            She jumped guiltily when the cell phone in her pocket vibrated.

I warned you to stay out of that room, Miss Mavis.
You are in my house to stay, not to meddle.
Leave the vicinity immediately, if you please.

            Karthey raised her eyes to the corner; she had forgotten about the cameras. She bent her head down to obscure her face from view as she stuck out her tongue in defiance. With nothing else to do, she returned to the hallway and resumed cleaning it.
            Karthey finished at about the time the large grandfather clock somewhere in the house (she could tell it was large by the way the sound filled the whole house, but she hadn’t yet been in the room where it stood) chimed the first of eleven times. Karthey quickly put on her coat and scarf and ran down the lane.

            Derrik was waiting for her, just as he promised. Karthey could not open the gate, and it reached up as tall as the hedges, but brother and sister reached between the cast iron bars and clasped hands.
            “Derrik! I’ve missed you!” Karthey gasped, feeling the tears begin to itch the backs of her eyes, in spite of her efforts to stem them.
            “Karthey, you promised me you wouldn’t go on my account, remember? Just say the word, and I’ll climb over those hedges myself to get you out!” Derrik set his mouth as if he intended to enact his plan right away.
            Karthey forestalled him with a shake of her head. “This is not for you, Derrik; it’s for Dad. How’s he doing?”
            Derrik sighed and hung his head. “He misses you, Karthey. Every day when he gets home from work, he always brings that little stool you always sat on next to his chair, and rubs the spot on the armrest where you always put your hand when you leaned against him.” Karthey watched as her brother’s expression turned grim, “But he’s working hard. He’s collected all the police reports, the witness statements, the victim profiles, and he pores over them every day. Today we are going with a detective to investigate everywhere someone has been taken.” Derrik looked over his sister with not a little concern. “How are you doing? Has he tried—have you seen The Cram yet?”
            Karthey shook her head. “It’s really weird; I have a cell phone,” she pulled it from her pocket and showed Derrik, “and he communicates by text, but I have no idea where he is in the house, and he never talks to me.”
            “So does he have you, like, quarantined to one room or something?”
            Karthey shrugged, “Well, so far he has given me free rein around the house and the grounds—except one room. I really haven’t been everywhere yet. But I am not bored; he lets me clean around here, and there seems to be a lot to explore.” She pressed her lips, “I just really miss you like crazy. It’s like I’m living in this house all by myself,” she shook her head and laughed softly at herself, “And I’ve only been here sixteen hours!”
            “I’m just glad you’re safe,” Derrik said, “The paper just ran the story of Alivia’s disappearance,” Derrik hesitated, “I need to go; I promised Dad I’d meet him at the café at noon. Stay brave, little sister!”
            “Tell Dad I love him, and I wish him the best of luck!”
            Derrik looked into his sister’s eyes and saw that she really meant, “I wish Dad would solve this thing and I could come back home tomorrow!”
            “I will, Karthey,” Derrik said. “Goodbye.”
            “Goodbye, Derrik.”

            Karthey returned to the house, nosed around the kitchen for lunch, and afterwards decided to explore Cramwell’s library.
            The first thing she noticed was the profusion of paintings, statues, figurines, and busts, all of the same woman. They were not so prevalent in any of the places in the house she had been yet, but she counted no less than four marble statues in various poses, three busts, and two paintings on each wall. Karthey wondered who it was; could it have been Cramwell’s wife? She shuddered at the ghostly faces that seemed to be staring at her. She knew she would never clean this room. She scanned the dimly-lit shelves for some familiar titles and brought them upstairs to her room. She had just reached the hallway in front of her room when the clock struck half-past-four and Cramwell returned from town.
            She read until her cell phone vibrated.

You may take your supper in the kitchen, Miss Mavis.
Please use the left-hand stairs and proceed to your right, through the dining hall, down the north hall, and to your right to reach the stairwell to the kitchen, which will now be on your right.
You will find freshly-purchased produce in the larder.
I will be in the library until eight o’clock. I wish to remain undisturbed.

            Karthey sighed and rolled off her bed. This Cramwell Fornberg certainly was an exacting fellow! She left her books and went to the stairs, but on a whim, she deliberately headed for the right-hand flight of stairs instead of the left one. Her cell phone buzzed before she reached the second step.

Your insubordination is tiresome.
Please use the left-hand stairs as I have asked.

            Karthey meekly crossed to the opposite stairwell and entered the kitchen via the dining room. She found everything as specified, and cooked herself a solitary meal of chicken, beans, and rice, and a salad to go with it. She was so accustomed to the silence of the house that she almost jumped out of her skin when the wailing began.
            She had never considered how loud it would be in the house, if she could still hear it echoing all the way at the bottom of the hill. Here, even in the kitchen, it filled the house in much the same way as the ponderous chimes of the grandfather clock. The horrible caterwauling twisted Karthey’s gut so much to hear it that she could not eat as long as the sound lasted. At last, as the clock struck the half-hour, Cramwell—or whatever it had been—ceased wailing and Karthey could resume her meal in peace. Once she was finished, she washed and dried her dishes, and decided to retire for the night.

            As she crept past the library on the way upstairs, Karthey was surprised to hear lively music coming from behind the door. Why would a man like Cramwell Fornberg be listening to music like that, especially just after the awful wailing he had just subjected them both to? She held her breath until she reached the top of the stairs, then went straight for her room and closed the door firmly behind her.

            Karthey’s second night in Fornberg House was no better than the first. In her dreams, Cramwell kept an enormous cat that wailed every night, and all night it chased her around the myriad halls of Fornberg House, upstairs and downstairs. Karthey awoke the next morning sweaty, even more tired than when she had gone to bed, and firmly convinced that if she spent too much longer in this mansion, she would end up like its owner.