Sunday, May 27, 2018

Status Update

This blog, like all of the ones I have written before, has experienced a period of silence recently. Just like those old blogs, the reason I have not posted anything new is that I have been preoccupied with living life. I will say it is very hard to write about a life when all you are doing is writing. Those quiet pauses (hopefully) are filled with inspiring experiences which fuel my inner narrator and makes it easier to put my fingers to the keys.
When I wrote Emotional Integrity I was thinking about how much had changed for me emotionally. I kept that post so very vague and generalized in order to broadcast something that I was hoping a few people would pick up on to prevent hurt feelings. This failed FANTASTICALLY as my secret evil plans are want to do.
Let me speak to this specifically. I know, for a fact, that I am going to hurt some feelings here. It is what it is.
I was very, very wrong about Ashley. If you are reading through my old posts after she left me there are some unkind things I have said about her. I made the choice to post those blogs here (for the most part. There are a few that I have edited or even opted not to post) because I like the legacy of my writing. My older work is a bit like traveling back in time through the filter of my mind to a angrier and less grammatically polished David. (Who am I kidding? Grammatically polished isn’t even accurate with poetic license) The subject of my pain since 2014 has been the absence of Ashley. It fueled an entire novel concept (which I am still developing).
During all of those posts Ashley and I weren’t in contact. I didn’t know both sides of the story because of this. I didn’t have a way to know that her choice to leave me caused her as much, if not more, pain than it caused me. In my ignorance, I didn’t even stop to consider this fact. All of my hypothesizing about the why behind her choices were completely wrong. I will go so far as to say if she had talked to me honestly about what was in her head and heart at that time we would have made it all work out.
Ashley came back into my life when I really needed people to be there for me. She did it knowing that she hurt me and my family in her leaving. It takes a very brave and strong person with incredible integrity and heart to put themselves aside to be there for someone. Ashley and my in laws (and that is what they are. She may have divorced me, but those will ALWAYS be my family) have been amazing with all that we are going through. Seeing my posts dogging her makes me feel very ashamed. That is why this confession matters.
On a related note, as Ashley and I have gotten to be close again, I have found out a bunch of folks were telling lies about us. The situation may be 4 years old, but my anger there is daisy fresh. Quite a bit of pain and frustration needs to be answered for. The good news is I am a grown adult and know the proper way to handle things like this. Hehehe
That situation has certainly made me think carefully before I talk about people on here. Elizabeth may never speak to me again. Her leaving, to me, is even less understandable than I thought Ashley’s was in 2014. My Mom hadn’t just died then. I wasn’t having to carefully jump through hoops to try and get my daughter back home. Perhaps my stress could be excused given circumstances. Still, Elizabeth has her reasons so I don’t want to blast her too much. The day may come that we try to be friends again. It sucks having to account for saying things that you only mean temporarily because of the situation. It is better to be a mature adult and not lay out too much garbage online.
I don’t really talk much about my job for a similar reason. I don’t get paid to write about what I do for a living. I keep my blog free of work related information. I will say this much. I am doing a really cool internship that MAY result in a good promotion. It certainly is a chance to learn about the company, the position, and grow in my career.
Oddly enough this means spending less time at work rather than more. I am going to be filling some of my extra hours with a second job (once I find a good one), but I also am trying to get back to putting in time with family and friends. I am going to write more. I am going to pursue things that interest me.
My biggest interest lately has been riding a motorcycle. On my birthday I bought a new-to-me Honda CBR250R from Honda of Knoxville. It is a beautiful and oddly patriotic little bike.
I have not had much of a chance to get out and ride Sharon because she had a mechanical problem the night I bought her. Before I get deeper into my early thoughts on the bike let us talk about that experience!
I will be buying bikes (whenever possible) from Honda of Knoxville from this point forward. My poor little CBR250R started knocking the night I bought her. I was certain that she had some major trouble. I texted my salesman and let him know.
Travis couldn’t have been better about it. He asked me to bring the bike back and let service check her over. I carefully rode her back to the dealership the next day. She remained there 24 days.
That is no bad thing! Honda of Knoxville stripped the CBR250R apart and kept digging until they found the issue. They had parts shipped and then rebuilt the bike. None of this cost me a dime. The bike ended up with a complete new high side, and all I had to do was be patient.
Travis kept me up to date on the issues during the entire experience. He was informative, kind, and kept promising that everything would be made right. Most of all he delivered exactly what he promised. I really plan to do (most) of my business there for motorcycles.The only reason I say most is I want a Kawasaki KLR650.
I have ridden Sharon Carter twice. Yes, I named my motorcycle after the Marvel comic book character. She is both a S.H.I.E.L.D agent and Captain America’s girlfriend. With my helmet and the patriotic paint scheme, it makes sense to me.
Sharon and Irene and just very different girls despite being the same size and shape. The Kawasaki (Irene Law- named after Ryu Hyabusa’s girlfriend from the Ninja Gaiden video game series) seems to have a higher top end speed. It will pull 95 mph. So far I have only gotten Sharon up to about 85 mph.
Let me be 100% clear here. I have no practical need to go either of these speeds. For purposes of my commute or even for my weekend day trips, I normally never need to do 75 mph. Both bikes meet my need for speed on the practical end. One of the reasons I chose the 250 (Irene is a Ninja 250r) is that it is a good size for a beginning rider. The engine limits my upper end and is effectively smarter than me. One day I would love to have a Ducati Monster level of bike, but I am not that rider yet.
I learned to ride on Irene. Innately, I struggle with change. Just the fact that Sharon holds my attention speaks highly of her. There is plans for a nice long ride this weekend. I will post a true initial review of her once I get back.
My gaming life is in shambles. I haven’t played a board game in a month…maybe two. I no longer have a gaming group. Role playing is a fantasy (ha!) for the future. There is little hope of this improving without a change in cast of my life. All my old gamer friends have become Facebook casual friends. I don’t think they hate me (mostly), but they aren’t beating down my door to play any games or even just to hang out. I have even considered starting to get back into Magic the Gathering and play competitively at FNM, but that is one addiction I am probably better off without.
I spend most of my free time that isn’t on the back of a motorcycle with my nose in a book or a comic book. I do need to update my pull list on the website. There are several titles I have added. I also need to go back to regularly reading Previews.
On the recording front, I have decided to delay my entrance back into the podcasting world. I have a concept (which is what prompted me to post this site). I have several episode ideas. I also have a really nice new microphone that my daughter bought me for my birthday.
I have decided to delay for two reasons. First, I have a strong belief that to be a good writer you need to be a great reader. By that logic, if I want to create great podcasts I should be listening to podcasts. Currently, I don’t listen to any. I am going to change that.
Secondly, I want to upgrade my equipment. I want to buy a newer laptop. I want to buy a couple of different cameras. If I am going to have a multi format web presence, I want to do it up right.

I also question if I am spreading myself too thin. Is it better to do many things well or do a couple with excellence? I haven’t been developing my fiction nearly as much. I have all but stopped video gaming (I don’t mind this). I suspect that board gaming and role play may start to slide toward a cessation due to lack of exposure. All of this weighs on my mind. Eventually, I will figure it out. There are only so many hours in the day and only so many days in a life. I am trying to spend all of mine wisely.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Emotional Integrity

I really enjoy fleshing out my website. Posting content here feels like building something. I like the creative process. I also like looking at the “legacy” of my writing.
I have been blogging since 2005. Much has changed in that time. My blog has had 5 or 6 different titles. I have been single, married, divorced, remarried, estranged, and in limbo. I have had good jobs with a full bank account and been unemployed and broke.
As for things happening during the last 13 years, I have written a lot more about the losses than the gains. When I read through posts from 2014 and 2015 I am ashamed of myself. I used my blog as an emotional dumping ground without knowing the whole situation. I will say that if you read those posts remember there are two sides to every story.
The other thing to remember is that reality is based on perception. Perception often changes. Reality is dragged right on behind it. You can find yourself in a very personal Hell when your perception is suddenly corrected.
Why, then, would I want to post up old blogs that I have written? Things have changed so much. Wouldn’t it be better to only show one side of the story?
No. I believe in integrity. Own it when you are right, but also own it when you are wrong.
Here are a couple of examples:
Elizabeth, who I have written about often, is no longer my friend. More accurately, she won’t speak to me. I am blocked on all social media, via phone, and email. I have no way to repair the situation. There are tons of pictures and blog posts where she is central to the story. Now, she has put herself out of my life and the life of my family. I find it so cruel and cold-hearted that I have trouble considering her any kind of loss. She wasn’t the first person to make it clear it was her way or the highway, but most people lack the capacity for cutting away other people so completely.
Ashley, the ex-wife I complained about dumping me so suddenly, is back in my life. The reason behind her leaving was nothing close to the rumors I was hearing at the time. We are reconciled and she is my best friend. The harm I believed she did me is certainly silly now that I know the whole story. I was more at fault than I knew at the time. My own immaturity in response to her leaving caused both of us tons of hurt. Still, when Mom died, Ashley (and her family) put aside the past and showed up for me and mine. There have been days (like Elizabeth losing her mind on me) I wouldn’t have processed without Ashley to help.
I think the moral take away here is that I can easily misjudge people and their motivations. It is certainly possible that Elizabeth could message me tomorrow and we could reconcile (I have major doubts that this will ever happen). I hesitate to count anyone out or judge people too harshly. I don’t like people assuming the worst of me. I have made my share of mistakes.
I will continue to post up my old blog posts. Just keep in mind that my feelings at that time may not be my feelings now. Hopefully, there is a growing understanding and maturity that shows from 2005 to 2018. I like the idea that my flaws are getting better with time.
As another example, I gave up Magic the Gathering in the wake of leaving the gaming world. Tons of my old posts talk about Magic. As I write them up I miss playing. I don’t miss it quite enough to undertake the investment of time and money to get back in the game, but there is a fondness there none the less.
Could I end up playing Magic again? Sure. Am I going to add content to my website with decklists for Magic and Arkham Horror? Absolutely. That is probably my project for the day. Will I regret that eventually? Probably.
I guess, to sum this rambling mess up, that I change. My interests and feelings change with me. That doesn’t make anything I have felt in the past wrong, necessarily. I just didn’t know better at the time. God knows, I could write 100,000 words just updating and correcting things I have said before now.

I hope you all are enjoying the blog.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Soul Crushing Path to Freedom

Many people were shocked when my Mom died suddenly in January. A lot of those same people were even more shocked when my Dad bought a motorcycle. I think I blew everyone’s mind when I started riding with him and he bought a second motorcycle.  
The truth is, I have wanted to try out riding a motorcycle for years. As far back as 2001, I was shopping for a way to get into the motorcycle world. Every single time I started talking things over with my family Mom was the major factor in me choosing not to try and learn to ride.  
Even Dad got in on the act. He pointed out what a lonely lifestyle it can be. You rarely see a couple riding on two motorcycles side by side. Sure, there are times when there is a girl on the back of a bike, but you cannot exactly have meaningful conversation whipping along as 60 miles an hour with your butt in the breeze. Better, then, to stick to what you know.  
I started riding in March. Dad gave me pointers. I like to think I took to it like a fish to water. I love the road. I love driving. I think a motorcycle is a much more intimate connection with those things. Pardon the analogy, but it is a bit like the difference between safe and unsafe sex. A car can be very responsible, but the motorcycle just feels so much better. The risk is very likely part of the reward. 
I started out riding in the yard. The day Dad first let me ride the Ninja I laid it down on the grass in the backyard (street bike, new rider, loose soil, wet grass). I wasn’t hurt. I don’t think I would have slowed down much if I was.  
Rides around the yard and driveway found their way to the school parking lot down the road. I spent about fifteen minutes there before I knew I wanted to ride on the road. Gosh, was that a pleasant upgrade. Paved roads feel much better under smooth tires than a beat up old gravel driveway.  
Dad and I started making short tandem trips. I took the lead. That is where you put weaker riders. Dad gave me lots of tips and tricks. I really started falling in love with riding. After a couple of months, and a trip up the Dragon, I knew I was going to need to get street legal. I wasn’t willing to risk a ticket anymore.  
It was time to get both serious and responsible. I decided to buy my own bike (there will be another post explaining that experience soon). Dad had bought me a helmet. I decided I wanted a full-face helmet instead. I invested in a new lid.  
Most importantly I decided to take a basic riding class. I can keep the bike on the road, but the class served a couple of very practical purposes. Trained motorcycle instructors could teach me the fundamentals (many of which I was doing wrong) and then assess my ability to ride. Also, the class waived the necessity of taking both the written and practical riding test from the state of Tennessee. I couldn’t sign up fast enough. You can find links to the class I signed up for here. 
The class took place on the weekend from 8 am to 5 pm. It was an absolute blast. I spent the weekend riding a 200cc Suzuki Dual Sport. I learned better clutch control. I showed off how well I ride curves (giggity). I passed the riding test. My U-Turn game is super strong. I passed my written test. I really feel I did quite well. I came out feeling like a much stronger rider.  
Then everything fell directly apart.  
I couldn’t get to the DMV Monday because I had to take an early shift at work. No big deal. I can be patient at times. 
Tuesday, I got up at 730 and hurried to the DMV. Knoxville only has one testing center anymore. It is located, perhaps ironically, in Strawberry Plains and not Knoxville. I wasn’t the first person to get there, but I was the first person to get out of my car and get in line.  
As soon as they unlocked the door at 830 I hurried inside. There is no longer an employee waiting to make sure you get the appropriate forms. You go to a kiosk, take a number, and then wait in line to see someone at a desk. The kiosk sorts applicants into categories that determine which line you are waiting in.  
I ended up second in line when I negotiated the kiosk. Most of the time was lost waiting for the kiosk to scan my license. When I realized the laser wasn’t working, I quickly punched in the information it wanted manually. Having my driver’s license number memorized has come in handy more than once.  
I was at a desk by 830. The “nice” lady behind the counter quickly demanded my birth certificate go along with my driver’s license. I hadn’t seen it on the list of necessary documents and logic hadn’t said it would be necessary so it was at home.  
Sadly, I had 2 more appointments stacked up for Tuesday. I didn’t have time to wait. I exited the DMV defeated and confused. I presented a state-issued photo ID. I look a little different now than when it was originally issued (better beard, neater hair, better glasses, 100 pounds lighter) but the photo is undoubtedly me. What does my birth certificate bring to the mix?  
I know I presented my birth certificate and social security card way back in 1994 when I got my first license. My birth certificate isn’t a photo ID. Even if it were it would be about 38 years out of date. I seriously don’t get why, if I have an existing license, the DMV needs this particular document. Still, you can’t argue with mindless, thoughtless, and meaningless bureaucracy. I lost a few hours’ sleep. I drove out a little bit of extra gas. I missed a day of legal riding. All of these are sacrifices I can tolerate on the path to following the rules.  
Wednesday (today as I am writing this, but this saga will continue… sorry spoilers) I again got up. This time I didn’t aim to be first in line. I got up. I found my birth certificate. I made the drive back over. This doubles the gas spend on trips to the DMV, but I can ALMOST believe that I should have predicted the silly demands of a place that labels itself a part of the Department of Homeland Security.  
I expected a crowd. I budgeted an hour and a half of time to obtain this license endorsement. I brought everything from the day before plus my birth certificate (feeling your pain, Obama). I once again negotiated the kiosk. As best as I could figure by the cryptic alphabetical system I was about 13th in line overall but sixth in the initial line.  
Forty-Eight minutes of waiting later I was once again staring into the soulless eyes of a DMV employee across a blue counter. She was happy that I had the demanded birth certificate. She then handed me an application to fill out for my license (I already have a class D license) and told me to go sit down, fill out the form, and wait for my number to be called again.  
Wait, What? Why on earth would I need to apply for a license when I only need an endorsement? I didn’t ask. This demand is brought to us by the same people who think I need to prove my already documented lineage to add an M to the D already on my license.  
I sat down broken hearted and filled out a form that is nearly identical to the form I filled out in 1994. That is when I looked at my place in the new line. I was eighteenth in line. My time hadn’t quite run out, but there was no chance that I could wait through that monstrous queue. Defeated I took my filled-out application and retreated back toward home with little time to finish my errands and make my way to work.  
My plan for Thursday is simple. I have the form. I have all the requisite attachments. I should be able to walk up to the kiosk, get my number, go to the counter, and be done with this saga. I have very little faith that it will happen. I know I have spent three times the gas on this I have intended. Someone really should pay. No one will though. I will get up early sacrificing sleep and see if I cannot make this work.  
(For the record, I know that the above is really an ending and it could easily have been posted to the blog.  My readers get some new content. I could then go let the events of Thursday unfold and make a second post as a follow-up. I don’t do that for a couple of reasons. One, I had to be continued type of stories unless they have a good length. Hopefully, this saga ends tomorrow.  Second writing this gives the reader a bit of an insight into my process.  
I write most of my posts in Microsoft Word before copying them into my website software to post. I reread and edit them for content, grammar, and syntax.  I didn’t always do this. In fact, part of the “charm” of my early work was how grammatically poor and unedited it was. I say this facetiously. There is no charm in appearing ignorant when you want to improve your skill and be known for something. 
These parentheticals are a part of my writing process as well. When I first started writing fiction I would write almost complete stream of consciousness without much of an outline. If I had a subject I would just allow my brain to weave a tale. Stray thoughts then went in brackets on the page. This allowed me to pick up threads of other ideas when going through the editing process. Good or bad this is my habit and it remains to this day. I believe I stole this concept from the afterward of a Piers Anthony novel. I could be wrong though.  
I think leaving these parentheticals mostly intact is fun on non-fictional blog posts. It is a deeper peek into my brain. Even though all writing is a form of telepathy {See Stephen King’s On Writing} these little asides are special. They take us off course. Granted this one is a rather silly example of the form.  
More on the main subject of the blog, and hopefully success, will follow) 
I got up Thursday morning around 730. I debated hurrying to get first in line at the DMV and decided to go back to bed. My brain had other ideas. I left the house at 8. 
I didn’t make it to the DMV to watch the doors be opened. I did roll in about 840. It wasn’t crazy crowded. I no sooner dealt with the kiosk than my number was called. Really, I was pulling my ticket out of the machine when the robot voice called me to the counter.  
I hurried to the counter with my license, my birth certificate, and my form. I felt genuine hope. The girl behind the counter looked at my paperwork, handed it back to me, and told me to go wait in line. I have NO idea why this stop was necessary. I waited in line to make sure I was sorted into the right line. This is simply stupid. 
I spend the second wait hypothesizing all the things that they could do to not allow me to get my license. About fifteen minutes later, I was back at the line. From here the story is pretty much downhill. I watched the robot behind the counter do her robotic paperwork. I paid. I got my little paper license and left.  

Christ, what an ordeal. It seems I just needed to abandon all hope before my plan came together. Thanks for sucking away a piece of my soul for the majority of my week TDMV. I need to take a nap. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Ground Game

I hate the idea that I have pulled a metaphor from football. It isn’t that I dislike sports exactly. It is more that I don’t feel anything for that world since I stopped playing sports years ago. To improve this, I am going to use ground game metaphorically in the sense of combat. When a guy in a fight drops a guy to the floor and proceeds to beat the shine out of him, that is a really strong ground game. Also, if an offensive line of a football team is great at running the ball (as opposed to passing) they have a great ground game.  
Lately, I have been saying that I have a solid ground game to mean that I have the basics in my life sorted out. The job is solid. The house is clean. I have good transportation. I can afford my bills. I eat well enough. I have clothes on my back. The grass is mowed. The kids are cared for. I am feeling well physically. I am feeling balanced emotionally. Spiritually my house is in order. 
In life strategy, I would say having a really good ground game is the building block on which everything else is built. There are really three pieces of the puzzle here: Physical, Mental/Emotional, and Spiritual. If any of the ground game is out of whack it blows the others off their axis. We live on a spinning world. Coming off your axis is not a good look.  
Physical needs are a huge part of the puzzle. Obviously, food, water, and shelter cover the basics. That isn’t always easy to accomplish. Most of us live from paycheck to paycheck. Any slight disruption in the delicate balance of our finances can throw us completely off. Because of that I will qualify a job and secure finances as a physical need. Sure, it can be argued that this is an emotional need- security-, but in this case you cannot satisfy the emotional need without making the physical (fiscal) happen.  
To this end, I present Rule #3: 
Live significantly below your means. 
I have yet to get into Dave Ramsey, but I often hear the man is a genius. I will check him out eventually. I believe that he gives the exact advice. Ideas of significance though vary from person to person. I want to explain what I mean by this.  
Affording your bills is great. Keeping your bills, your daily expenses, and your fun under 50% of your total income is living significantly below your means. Having the ability to earn double what you need doesn’t come easy. I found it much easier to start cutting away at my needs than to double the amount of work I do. 
This also means that I don’t miss any chances to honestly earn. When the door opens for me to work overtime, I run through it. This is a decision I have made on a high level. The only thing I have to figure out week to week is exactly what my schedule will allow me to work. I take the maximum.  
This also means I really heavily control my budget. I don’t do everything I can do. I once wrote about Spartan Thinking. I have been applying that more and more to money and to emotions. Cutting down has been one of the best decisions of my life. Cutting away needs both physically and emotionally has been beautiful as well.  
Physical needs go beyond money. We all yearn for being healthy and free. While I work a ton of hours, I really enjoy the rewards of my job and it doesn’t tax me emotionally. Keeping the cars running, the house clean, and the yard mowed give me a similar sense of satisfaction. The hard work I put in comes with a sense of physical well-being. This bolsters the emotional.  
Physically it is also important to take care of yourself. You don’t have to have defined abs, but most of all you need to really be happy with your own physical appearance. This goes down to keeping your hair cut in a style you enjoy, doing your nails, and dressing yourself so that you feel attractive. Beware of anyone who wants to control how good you look. They are insecure and toxic. Run.  
Emotional and Mental needs are a lot trickier. Even though we are all one species of animal, the human brain is a complicated mass of tissue. I am grouping Emotions and Mental needs together although many people see these as very different. I don’t believe they are. I believe they are two sides of the exact same coin.  
Personally, I have a need not to be idle or bored. I made the mistake of praying for an interesting life. God really answered that prayer with gusto. I never get a chance to get bored. I keep myself engaged by pursuing hobbies when life is calm. Mental stimulation is not a problem.  
Emotionally, I have a serious need to feel in control of myself. I mentally and emotionally meditate on possible outcomes of situations so that when they come to pass, I don’t have to process. I know my feelings. I know how I want to react. This is how I maintain my composure through even the most stressful of events. 
Some people mistake my cool, calm, and collected demeanor for a lack of passion. Frankly, one of the very first things I realized in life is that there are very few people that have opinions worth caring about. This ability to dismiss my detractors and ignore the shade they throw keeps me mentally healthy and emotionally happy. It takes a lot of practice. Sometimes I have to talk myself through my own reality.  
Perception is reality. I am absolutely certain that there are people out there who believe I have genuinely wronged them. From their perspective, I am a horrible person.  From my point of view, I go out of my way to be fair and kind to everybody with rare exception. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. I have never been in a position that someone has brought me proof of how I have wronged them that I have not attempted to make right. Metaphorically, I sleep very well at night. (The truth is my insomnia has nothing to do with a guilty conscience.)  

All of this basically adds up to the fact I am at peace with myself. I like who I am. I believe in my motivations. I work to keep my heart and mind set on the right path- as I see it anyway. Mentally and Emotionally my ground game is very strong.  

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Wizard’s Task: Conclusion

It had been a few years since I had been behind the wheel. I was probably enjoying the experience much more than I should have when I glanced down and noticed I had run the 4×4 up to 75 mph. I hadn’t noticed a speed limit sign in a while, but I imagined that these little mountain roads did not top 45. Slowing down didn’t ruin the excitement, but I decided to turn the radio up to enhance my enjoyment. I tuned in the Classic Rock station and enjoyed the last half of Brown Eyed Girl. 
Traffic was incredibly light. Cades Cove offers bike riders the right of way to the park by not opening their gates to cars until 10 am on Saturdays. Once upon a time, I had been an avid biker. Perhaps when this errand was behind me I would buy myself a mountain bike and get back into it. I was feeling good enough that I might actually consider getting back into the real world.  
As I turned onto the main road into the Cove my radio cut out as neatly as if I had pushed the power button. I glanced at the radio and was surprised to see the display still lit. Out of the corner of my eye, I realized I was not alone in the cab of the truck. I swerved in surprise and had to fight the tires back onto the asphalt.  
Sitting in the passenger’s seat looking extremely calm was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. He had chocolate-hued skin and caramel colored eyes. His head was bald and his face was shaved clean. There was an odd shape to his eyes and ears that made him look exotic. I couldn’t place his ethnicity. He smiled at me and in an oddly musical voice said,” I’m sorry to frighten you, friend. I rarely see an opportunity to intervene in events that won’t lead to calamity. It was imperative that I speak to you before you enter the enchantment the druids have laid around the Cove. Pull the vehicle over please.”
His accent made me think of warmly baked desert sands. 
I quickly decided that anyone that could simply appear in the truck with me had power enough to be cautious. I found the next pull off and slid the truck to a stop. The man got out quickly and quietly and beckoned me to follow with a motion of his hand. As he slid out of the truck I noticed he was wearing loose fitting clothes that I did not know the proper names for. They were made of a white material that looked a bit like a shiny linen.  
I quit staring and jumped out of the truck. The man was lowering the tailgate. I made sure that my largest knife was still in its sheath at my belt and then walked back to join him. With one long-fingered hand, he motioned for me to sit. I declined with a shake of my head. “Very well. I mean you no harm traveler. In fact, I have watched over you for some time. I am Montu. It would seem your travels have brought you to a crossroads…” 
The name tickled at my memory, but I was too frustrated and feeling the after-effects of the shock of his sudden appearance to think about it. “Let me guess, Montu, you want me to give you the book. You want me not to make the delivery. You want to save me from some dark destiny. Blah, blah, blah. At this point this narrative is boring.” For a moment Montu’s face seemed to sharpen in anger. Something seemed to shimmer at his hip. As soon as he schooled his emotions the shimmer vanished.  
“Quite the contrary, Ethan. I do not fear the conflict that is to come. The Wizard has vouchsafed your survival by giving you the boon of his amulet. You arrive as a messenger, but I notice that you are also lightly armed for battle,” he said with a motion toward the knife I had mostly concealed under my shirt tail.  Confused, I asked,” If you aren’t here to stop me, does this mean you want Andris’s package delivered?”  
He nodded and said,”The old wolf has planned well. His enemies may be right in their resistance, but I do not judge such things. I look to the coming battle with hope for the future. Where there is a conflict there will be heroes and warriors. You could become one of those. I would offer you my blessing.” 
“Aw, Gosh. Your blessing. That gives me a tingle in my coin purse, Monty, but I think I can handle dropping off a book without your bye or leave,” I said with enough venom I was surprised. Montu’s eyes narrowed and his form flickered. As if I were seeing a Mirage his head became that of a Falcon. A crown rested on his feathered brow. The weight of his gaze drove me to my knees. 
A growl rumbled in my chest but was drowned out by a booming laugh from Montu. Surprised I looked up at his face which was completely human once again. He was smiling down at me with a look of genuine amusement. “The wolf has left a deep impression on you. Because of that, I will ignore the anger that is not your own. I also see that I cannot arm you further until your delivery is complete.” He offered me a hand up. I took it and leaned on the truck for a moment overcome with the rush of anger inside me. 
Montu smiled and said,” Once you have completed your chosen task come to the home you have forsaken and you will find me there. I will arm you for the upcoming war no matter which side you shall take.” Shocked I simply nodded. He bowed his head toward me and vanished. From above me in the trees, his voice called,” Another would be savior comes to you swiftly. Be careful in your dealings, my friend, this one has allies even more terrible than your wolf.” 
I sighed and sagged back against the truck. I had just closed my eyes when I felt an arm snake beneath my chin and a voice hiss,” Make the slightest move other than what I tell you to do and I will cut your throat.” I started to nod and thought better of it. The arm was tight against my windpipe and I had to croak out,” Whatever you want.” 
The voice hissed out again,”I have a very large pistol aimed at the back of your head. I am going to release you. You are to come around away from the road. Keep your eyes down as you walk. Do as I say and you will not be harmed.” I agreed quickly. The arm withdrew with lightning speed. I watched the road and walked around the truck. It struck me that cars were passing by, but no one seemed to be paying me any attention.  
I stopped and waited. The springs of the truck creaked and something flew over my head and landed on the far side of me. I closed my eyes. The voice came again. This time it was less of a hiss, but still muffled and strange. It said,” You can face me now.” I turned and was surprised to be looking down at a crouched figure. It had a mask covering its face that was a sort of likeness of a human face that had been stretched and flattened and the nose removed. It was either made of a dark blue stone or very convincingly painted. A pair of deep green and very human eyes stared out of the eye holes of the make. The mask was surrounded by a deep and heavy hood that met with a sort of poncho that covered the figure almost completely. One heavy gloved hand pointed a huge revolver at my face. The other held a huge wicked looking blade at the ready.  
“Give me the book,” the figure said. The cloak or poncho was too thick and voluminous for me to decide if it was a man or a woman. Something about the voice put me in mind of a woman trying to make her voice deeper and huskier. I couldn’t be sure. Apparently, the person didn’t appreciate my musings. It thumbed back the trigger on the revolver and said again,” Give me the book. I won’t ask you again.”  
I smiled. This was a situation I was used to. It wasn’t the first time I had a gun or a knife waved in my face. Living on the streets teaches you to be an apt student of psychology. This was a mugging. This person doesn’t want to fight with me. It just wants to get the book and go. The gun and the knife are props to scare me into complying. It also told me that there was a chance that I scared whoever was under that mask.  
I took a calculated risk. I simply turned and began walking around the truck. “Get back here! I will shoot you,” the voice called. I grinned and said,” No, you won’t. I am leaving. You are wasting my time.” I kept walking. There was a scrabble of gravel and the figure vaulted across the truck to land in front of me. It was an impressive jump. It was also completely stupid.  
I shoulder checked the figure hard before it could plant its feet firmly. The gun hit the ground and slid under the truck. The knife landed at my feet. I kicked it behind me quickly. The figure hit the truck hard enough to dent my door. It let out a very feminine sounding exhalation of breath and then moaned grabbing for its, her, midsection.  
A gloved hand shot out to ward me off. A moment of doubt stayed my advance and I said,” I don’t like being mugged or threatened. Get out of my way or I will hurt you.” The other hand came up in a placating gesture. After several deep breaths, a much higher octave voice said,” I am trying to stop you from hurting a lot of people. Please do not deliver your package to the ArchDruid.” 
I pushed her toward the front of the truck hard enough that she had to work at keeping her balance. I scrambled down and grabbed the revolver. It a big framed Taurus Judge. The heavy draw on the trigger was probably all that had kept it from firing when she had dropped it. I carefully thumbed down the hammer and stood back up.  
She was running toward the knife in the road racing against oncoming traffic. I was certain the Prius bearing down on her had won when she launched into a roll, somersaulted out of it, and landed on her feet facing toward me from across two lanes of traffic. She had even managed to come up with the big knife in a throwing position.  
I calmly stuffed the big revolver into my belt at the small of my back. A few cars passed as we watched one another. Finally, she put the knife away. I shrugged my shoulders. I got into the truck. I drove away calmly. I watched in the rearview mirror as she stood watching me drive away.  
As the road became more steep traffic began to slow to a crawl. People on bicycles that I hadn’t particularly noticed before started to pass me. I locked the doors of the truck and began to enjoy the scenery. There had been enough drama in the last two days that I felt I had more than earned the money Andris Wolfe had paid me.  
I began to see rhododendron blossoms in beautiful shades of purple and white. To my right, the stream burbled happily over rocks. I spotted the occasional inner tube enthusiast trying to get early access to the deepest floating spots. Other than one very scantily clad and buxom young woman in a bikini that was essentially just a few thin neon yellow strings it could easily have been a scene from my childhood. It made me think of picnic lunches with the family. Easter dinner had been spent in Cades Cove more than a few years when I was young.  
I couldn’t reconcile those memories with the idea of delivering some druidic grimoire. It was unearthly and felt wrong. I had hiked trails in these mountains and it had given me the love of traveling on foot that made it much easier for me to adapt to a life lived on the road. I loved to eat food cooked over a campfire. I liked having everything I needed in a backpack hanging between my shoulders. When my life had turned to shit, the road had been a simple transition to a more primal and happier life. Returning to Cades Cove after being gone so many years felt like coming home. It felt very good. It had been a long time since anything had felt good.  
I spotted the sign for the picnic area and hit my blinker. It took several minutes to get through the cyclists and hikers streaming out to the loop road. I managed to slide the big 4×4 into a parking spot near the horse stables. I sat for a minute considering my situation.  
I had been attacked more times in the last couple of days then I had in the past two years living homeless. I knew now that there were wizards, druids, goblins, giants, and I suspected that Montu might pass for a god or at least a demigod. Living on the streets had taught me things too. You don’t carry a knife or gun unless you are willing to use them to kill. More often than not they just gave the authorities something to charge you with when you were searched for the crime of being homeless.  
State Parks should actually be called Federal Parks. Carrying a firearm into a park could have major legal repercussions. The chances of me shooting my way out of trouble were very slim compared to the chance of getting arrested for simply having the guns on me.  
Knives present a much lesser punishment, but I would be better off with something that would fit in my pocket rather than a big blade hanging on my hip. I suspected that I looked more like a hiker than a homeless guy today. I didn’t think that it would do any good to test it with Park Rangers who might find my presence objectionable.  
I also didn’t want to look insane walking into the meeting with nothing but my hands wrapped around an ancient book. I couldn’t play things off as if I were planning to set up a picnic and spend the day reading. I decided instead to take a few things to look normal. I fished out my weather resistant messenger bag and made sure the big book fit inside. It did but did not leave much room to spare. I added my utility knife which I knew was of a legal length to keep me out of trouble, my smallest cast iron skillet which had made a fairly decent club on occasion, my real ID and personal papers, and the truck keys. I stowed everything else into my backpack and stuffed that behind the driver’s seat.  
The walk to the picnic area was a great way to stretch my legs. I fell into an easy pace. As soon as I crossed the road into the picnic area I felt a subtle change in the atmosphere. It felt familiar. I realized I had always sensed the peace and quiet of the place even when my cousins and I had been hooting and hollering children. This morning it felt sacred. Holy.  
I knew immediately when I began being followed. Several people were moving on the banks of the creek opposite me. They were keeping pace but also keeping their distance. Through the exodus of tourists, there were also a few hikers that were moving against the crowd in the same way I was. When I looked around I realized their eyes were all locked on me. Their gazes did not feel friendly or welcoming.  
At the trailhead at the back of the picnic area figures were standing together. One was standing slightly back from the other two. For some reason seeing them made my mouth go dry. I clutched the strap of my bag tighter and made myself put one foot in front of the other.  
The three figures all studied me intently as I approached. They had the uniform that I identified with young Mormons. Each of them was wearing dark slacks, a white dress shirt, and a tie. Most Mormons I had met did not wear hiking boots or sandals as footwear. None of them had ever been barefoot.  
The tallest figure was also the closest to me. He was a few inches over 7 feet tall. He looked like some Frank Frazetta painting of a Viking, all muscles, blue eyes, and pale blonde hair. He had a terrible scowl on his face and was staring daggers at me. He held out a huge callused palm toward me and grunted,” Stop traveler. We have heard of your coming. We want nothing that Andris Wolfe can offer. Turn around and go back from whence you came with all speed.” 
I frowned and said,” I wasn’t paid to negotiate anything. I am supposed to give some Archdruid a book. Once I have done that, I will be happy to leave. Are you the Archdruid?” The big man shook his head and started to speak. Behind him, a whispered conversation erupted. He held up his index finger in my general direction and turned his head slightly to listen.  
I reached into my bag to pull out the book and he growled,”Do not move” without bothering to look fully at me. From behind him stepped a man that would have been huge if I were not comparing him to the Master Race specimen standing in my way. He was 60 if he was a day with a heavily lined face covered in a dusting of short cropped snowy beard. Laugh lines around his blue eyes and at the corners of his mouth gave me the idea that he was a happy man. His buzz cut steel colored hair gave me the odd impression of a military man.  
He smiled at me showing his teeth and said,” Pardon Valken. He takes himself far too seriously, but he is good at his job. I am Darius. What have you brought for the Archdruid?” I reached into my bag with exaggerated care and brought out the book. Valken watched me as if at any moment he would spring at me. Darius made a little noise that sounded a lot like something my fifth-grade teacher did when I turned in my homework late.  
He smiled and said, “Excuse me a moment, sir. I will speak with our companions. While I do so may Valken examine the book magically?” I didn’t see a problem with that and said so. Darius stepped away from us. I moved to hand the book to Valken. He sneered and said,” It is not necessary that I touch. Please hold.” He closed his eyes and breathed a deep breath. He looked as if he were meditating. 
After several minutes of this, I began to feel stupid. Nothing was happening that I could see. I started to sit down and Valken said,” No.” I started to speak and he snarled like a dog. I suddenly was gripped with the fantasy of punching him hard, directly in the balls. I giggled at the thought before I could stop myself. He opened one eye and gave me a glare both curious and somehow angry. It set me off with a laughing fit that I had to fight to control. 
Darius returned. He eyed Valken and then me fighting to keep a straight face. He grinned immediately and said,” As big as he is, it is surprisingly easy to hurt his feelings.” Valken grunted at this. I laughed and said,” He is ridiculous. I want him to put on a white tuxedo and say ‘No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die” Darius nodded and turned to Valken. They had a discussion in a language I could not even recognize. I got no clue as to even the direction the conversation took.  
When they finished Darius said,” I am the Archdruid. I will be happy to receive this book from you.” My bullshit detector went off immediately. I said,” No you aren’t.” I wasn’t sure why I knew it to be true, but I was absolutely certain. Darius looked offended and started to say something else. I cut him off and said,” This little job I have been asked to complete will be done the minute the Archdruid takes this book from me. Until then I am just going to have to wait. Save us both some time and go fetch him.” 
“Her,” said a voice from behind me. I turned and found a short woman looking not a day over 20 walking toward me. She had jaw-length brown hair, brown eyes, and was pretty in a girl next door kind of way. I would have described her as cute rather than beautiful. Still, something about the way she carried herself suggested that there was much more to her than met the eye.  
She was dressed in blue jeans, hiking sandals, and a green flannel shirt which was tied up exposing a very pleasant midriff. She stopped about 4 feet shy of me and said,” The Archdruid is a woman. I am she. You may call me Felicity. What is your name?” 
I stared for a moment. She felt like the Archdruid to me. It felt right. “Ethan,” I answered. 
“Why do you work for the fiend Andris Wolfe, Ethan,” she asked. 
I hadn’t thought too deeply about it. It seemed an easy answer to a very complicated problem. I was curious about his power. I was afraid of him, but I started to like him. It had been a long time since I had a friend.  
All of those answers rattled through my brain, and then I answered honestly,” I don’t know.” 
“Do you know why Andris Wolfe wants me to have this book, Ethan?” 
“He said that he wants the forgiveness of the Druids, but no I don’t know,” I answered. 
“You have taken on a foolish and dangerous burden,” she said.  
All I could answer is,”I know.” 
I slowly lifted the book and held it out to her. Behind me, Valken let out a sound of objection. Darius stepped up beside me. Felicity reached out and took the book from me. She smiled and said,” Thank you. Safe travels, Ethan. You have completed your work admirably.” 
I frowned and said,” That is it?” The Archdruid nodded. I said,” Um… Thank you.” She nodded again and said,” Goodbye, Ethan.” I sighed and started walking. I had taken ten steps when a man’s voice bellowed out, “Take it from her!” I turned in time to see a giant blast of fire spreading out from the group of Druids. Trees sizzled and burst into flames. Cars caught in the blast began to melt and then gave off secondary explosions as their fuel tanks caught. People around me including the druids vanished as the heat simply vaporized them.  
The wall of flame passed over me in flash of light and a roar of sound. I felt absolutely no discomfort. Wolfe’s amulet suddenly was a noticeable weight against my chest. I watched helplessly as the fire spread another 100 feet past me. It consumed everything in its path and left behind only ash. I fell to the ground and was surprised to find the asphalt soft to the touch but cool under my body.  
The flames ended as quickly as they began. In the distance screams and sirens began to fill the void of silence left by the fire. I stood up and looked around me. The once beautiful vegetation of the cover had been burned away along with the picnic tables, grills, and even some of the rocks seemed to have been slagged by the intense heat.  
As I spun in place a blue vortex of light began to swirl from near where the druids had stood only moments before. I rushed forward hoping to find that they had survived through some magical means. Instead, Andris Wolfe stepped from the light followed closely by Githix the Goblin. Wolfe surveyed the devastation with a look of smug satisfaction. Githix spoke toward the portal and goblins began streaming out of it. All of them were armed to the teeth and looked hungry. 
Wolfe spotted me and said,” Very good work, lad. It seems that you completed your task quite admirably. Give me a moment.” He turned to Githix and asked,” What do you think?” The Goblin King sneered and said,” All of the wards were destroyed by your blast. We can invade. The troll warrens may slow us down a bit, but if you unleash your wolves at nightfall they shouldn’t prove much of a problem.” Andris smiled and said,” Wonderful. Tell your boys that I will pay a bounty for the head of each Druid they can kill.” Githix bowed low, gave a horrible call, and raced off into the trees followed by the rest of the Goblins. 

I watched in horror unable to move or speak at the sheer bloodlust coming from the demonic looking creatures. They seemed all the fouler to be in this once peaceful and majestic setting. “Thank you, Ethan,” Wolfe said as he bent down to pick up his book,” I simply could not have done any of this without you.”  

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