plonq: (Creative mood)
Between my uncertain schedule, our finances, and our vacation time, we decided to make Furry Migration our con to attend this year. It is a newer, smaller convention that is also fairly close to home. For the most part, the convention had clean and well-maintained washrooms. My only complaint on that front was that the toilet in our room tended to keep running on every third or fourth flush.

As usual, I took a non-zero number of pictures during the convention, and have subsequently got around to processing only 2-3 of them.

The convention did not feature any albino squirrels that I noticed, but there was one at a park nearby.
Squirrel

While most of the convention took place on the fourth floor of the hotel, it did include the excitement of dangerous escalators that proved too much for at least one fursuiter. Fortunately the con staff had him up and out of the way before the rest of the parade piled down the escalator on top of him. He was slightly winded, but otherwise OK from what I could tell.
20160910POTD

The non-attendees took the con with varying degrees of grace. This lady dealt with the fursuit parade in her own way; by buying drinks for herself and her two phones.
One more for the road

Finally, here is a creepy mask. It has nothing to do with the convention, but I put it here anyway because I took this picture today and clicked on it by accident while writing this entry.
20160913POTD

They had an Iron Pen contest for the convention where they announced the theme of the art and stories just a day ahead of the deadline. Only two artists took up the challenge, so both won by default with what amounted to little more than stick figures on paper. I wish I was joking. I could have won the art contest if I had entered a picture, and I cannot draw to save my life.

On the other hand, there were eleven entries in the writing contest. While none of them were spectacularly good, they were all of a decent calibre of writing. [livejournal.com profile] atara finished first (to nobody's surprise but hers) with a story that you will have to wait to read, since they asked her to refrain from releasing it anywhere until they've had a chance to publish it.

I ended up finishing third after they tallied up the fan votes. The winners were actually chosen by judges (including [livejournal.com profile] ursulav), but they all ranked them in a different order. The votes cast by the con attendees confirmed the three winners, but changed the order in which they finished. I suspect they mean that it changed the order of the first and second place stories, and mine was solidly in third all along.

I am actually quite pleased to have finished third, since I did not honestly expect to finish in the top stories at all. I didn't think that I deserved to, given that I hammered this story together over breakfast in the hours ahead of the deadline.

Anyway, one more picture from the convention before I get to the story itself. The view from hour hotel room was glorious.
20160908POTD

The badger and the coyote were, according to their nametags, Skyler and Drayden, respectively. They were both hunched over a sheet of paper on the table in front of them, reading it intently and exchanging quiet comments that were not quite hushed enough to mask their tone of incredulity. Occasionally one or the other would glance up at the tawny cat who was straddling a chair across the tale from them. The badger was the first to speak.

“It says here that you have, uh, burned your passport and are seeking asylum.”

‘Yes,” said the cat. “Well, maybe burned is not quite the right word.” He patted the left breast of his windbreaker. “It’s in the inside pocket, and the zipper is stuck. I’ve been trying all morning to get the pocket open without damaging the jacket, and I just can’t do it. May as well be burnt at this point.”

“I … see,” said the badger. “It is unusual for us to get a request for asylum.”

“Unusual,” snorted the coyote. “That’s not quite the word I would use for it. Anyway, you are a bit ambiguous about where you’re seeking asylum from. I mean, as a puma you’re kind of a native species…”

“Cougar,” interrupted the feline. The badger pointed at the sheet.

“You wrote puma here”

“Well, yes, I did,” agreed the puma, “but I self-identify as a cougar. I wrote puma because I am technically Felidae Puma, but this is just the kind of CIS-genus discrimination from which I’m seeking asylum.”

“Uh huh,” said the coyote dubiously, but the puma was not done.

“Well, I admit that sometimes I feel more like a mountain lion than a cougar some days, and when I’m feeling really saucy I’ve been known to panther a bit,” he said with a wink. “I’m genusfluid.”

“Well, I’m sure you will feel at home here,” said the badger. “We’re very welcoming of all species and species-identifying.” He squinted at the sheet again and scratched his muzzle. “Where exactly are you seeking asylum from? You wrote Canada on here, then crossed it out and wrote Duluth.”

“Definitely Duluth,” said the cougar. He growled softly in the back of his throat. “They’re really not very transgenus friendly up there. A gas station attendant totally ignored me when I tried to explain why I’d taken a sharpie to my driver’s licence because it called me a puma. He totally kept asking for a different form of ID that hadn’t been defaced.” He made air quotes with his fingers as he said the last word. “I showed him my passport, but he shouldn’t have been asking for ID because that’s a violation of their credit card agreement. Anyway, that’s when the zipper stuck…”

“Ok, I think we get it,” said the coyote. “So now you’re seeking asylum here.”

“Exactly,” said the cougar. “I think this place would be welcoming to someone like me, and I want asylum. Well, for the weekend at least.”

The badger and coyote exchanged a glance again. The coyote shrugged. “I’m just saying that we’ve never had a request like this before.”

“We can let you stay here for the weekend, but I don’t think we can technically give you asylum,” explained the badger. “We’re just not set up to handle such a request.”

The cougar went silent, and his tail thrashed restlessly as he digested the information. “How about refugee status?” The other two mutely shook their heads. “Sanctuary?” Silence descended over the three, and just as it began to tickle the threshold of awkwardness the badger spoke again.

“I really think it’s time to address the elephant in the room,” he said. He turned to the elephant who had been standing behind them with his arms folded across his chest. “What do you think, Phil?”

“What I think,” said the elephant with a sigh of longsuffering, “is that we are holding up the line. Look, nobody here cares if you self-identify as a puma, cougar, mountain lion, panther, or any other variant on your genus. If you want a weekend membership, then just show us some proper ID and give us a name to put on your con badge.”
plonq: (Somewhat Pleased Mood)
I keep falling in and out of the habit of writing. This week I fell back into it again thanks to a writing contest that I decided to join on a whim. The contest is being sponsored by a subreddit where the goal is to help starting writers, and the prize is to have your story illustrated by the artists in a subreddit whose goal is to assist starting artists.

At first I felt guilty about writing something to compete against starting writers, but the other two entries I have seen so far are pretty darned good, so I don't think this is going to be a cakewalk. My subject matter is also not something that typically resonates with the fans, to wit, I tried to write something that flows more like an actual episode; no sex, no humans, no violence.

I decided to stay true to myself, even if it hurts my chances in the contest. I guess that makes me one of those narcissistic artistic types I used to make fun of before I became one.

Anyway, the contest rules only said that it had to be short (<20,000 words), complete, original, and finished before the contest deadline (which is Saturday). They did not say that it could not be shared in advance, so I'm sharing it here.

The story is called Majija, which I had written down because I would swear that I'd found a reference to it as an African storm spirit, but I can find no such reference now. Pesky little spirits. I like the name though, so I am sticking with it regardless.

Since I have a couple of days before the contest deadline, I'd love any feedback or criticism anyone feels like offering here (besides "Ponies - ick!").

In case you missed the link above, you can find the story here.
plonq: (Creative mood)
Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] atara for all the time she puts in editing and adding invaluable input. She takes my ideas and makes them readable.

And thanks to the dozen or so of you who are still on Livejournal to read these things when I post them! I love to write, but it is always more fun when I get to share it.

In keeping with my tradition of giving these things uninspired names, I call this one:

Plonqmas 2012

Date with death.

Plonq added that simple line to the bottom of his list of past Christmases. The little feline usually did not bother himself with the larger questions of the universe, but he sometimes wondered in the quieter moments if the purpose of his life was to serve as a warning to others. When bad – usually self-inflicted – things happened to him, others could experience them vicariously, wince sympathetically and say, “There but by the grace of Dog…”

It was good to have a purpose, he supposed, but he sometimes wished that he could be the model of envy for others instead.

The snow leopard set aside his list and pulled out a well-worn Moleskin book that bore the simple title Christmas Regrets. The book was singed from both heat and chemicals, and the cover was mottled with strangely disturbing stains. When he cracked the spine, the pages emitted the distinct aroma of futility and despair. He glanced down the list of entries, wincing occasionally as his eyes landed on some of them:

• Do not set yourself on fire.
• Do not get punched in the stomach by a reindeer.
• Do not get abducted by aliens.
• Do not mock the Happy Fun Ball.
• Do not underestimate the speed of an enraged rhinoceros.
• Avoid the Norovirus cookies.


Plonq felt a little silly about the last item on the list, since they had been specifically labeled as such. Still, given the quantity of alcohol he had consumed before and after the cookies, he was not completely convinced that the cookies had been the sole cause of his distress that year. He sighed, picked up his pen and carefully added a new entry to the book.

• Do not get the Grim Reaper drunk.

He closed the book, and replaced both it and the pen back on the end table for another year.

“There will be no new entries this year,” he said aloud to nobody. “I am not taking any chances. I will be doing nothing – nothing – for Christmas this year.” He swept up one of his startled cats and clutched her to his chest, gently stroking her head until she settled in. “Nothing,” he growled softly. He planted himself on the Davenport and patted the cat – an act that he considered close enough to nothing to be safe.

For the next twenty minutes, the only sounds in the apartment were the drone of the refrigerator, the soft purr of a cat, and the growingly animated thump of a snow leopard’s tail tapping on the sofa cushion next to him. His mind was racing over the best way to do nothing for Christmas. Everything that came to mind was technically something, which would send him afoul of his plan. He began to wonder if he was being too ambitious. Perhaps it would have been wiser to set his sights lower, to do very little or nothing of consequence for Christmas.

The tail thrashing stopped.

Nothing of consequence – the phrase had an achievable ring to it. In fact, Plonq considered it to be one of his fortes.

“It’s settled then,” he said, purring in time with the cat in his arms. “This year I shall do nothing of consequence.” As an added bonus, his new, less ambitious plan meant that he could leave his apartment without feeling like he had failed his goal. He gently set the cat on the cushion beside him and mewled, “I shall endeavor to leave no lasting impression on people with whom I interact.” He patted the cat on the head and then rose to his feet, tapping his fingertips together in thought.

“No gifts, no cards.” He felt a momentary twinge of regret that it also meant that he would not be sending an anthrax-laced letter bomb to Santa Claws, but he was willing to accept the other’s lifting of the restraining order as an implicit truce. “I suppose this means that I can’t do a turkey this year,” he said sadly. “Nor a ham, roast, duck, goose, or anything interesting.” He paused in thought. “I guess chicken would work, as long as I don’t get too fancy.”

The little snow leopard felt like a great weight had been lifted from his fuzzy shoulders. If he was hoping to accomplish so little before Christmas, he figured that he had best start on it as quickly as possible. The first thing was to create a list to ensure that he followed the path of least resistance and smallest accomplishment. He grabbed a sheet off the top of the laser printer out bin, and after checking to ensure that it had nothing embarrassing or incriminating on the back, he grabbed his traditional Christmas pen and toddled out to the kitchen.

Plonq poured himself a cup of coffee after giving it a quick sniff to ensure that it had not reached toxic staleness yet, and then sat at the table, cradling the coffee cup in both hands. Hoping that the coffee would inspire him, the snow leopard took a few sips of the vile brew. Almost immediately, his first list item came to mind. He placed the cup on the corner of the page, partly to hold it, and partly because no list was complete without a coffee ring. He unfolded his reading glasses, perched them on the end of his muzzle, picked up the pen and began to write.

Having established the goal that I shall endeavour to accomplish as little as possible this Christmas season, notwithstanding the minimum necessities for the maintenance of a bearable lifestyle, this shall be my roadmap to realizing the benefits – or lack thereof – predicated upon the implicit assumption that these selfsame goals must provide overriding governance for all actions taken hereafter. To this end, the following list shall create the framework of this aforementioned resolution.

1) Procure a good cup of coffee.
2) Procure a chicken of average nature and proportion.
3) Procure accoutrements with which to render the aforementioned chicken into a tasty, if uninspired, meal.
4) Although it may be required to interact with other individuals in order to accomplish these procurements, make no attempt to leave a lasting impression.
5) Avoid eye contact.
6) Pay with cash.
7) Buy lots of alcohol.
8) Floss the cats.


In truth, the last item had been on his mental to-do list for some time now, but Plonq felt that there was no harm in formalizing it in a written list. The cats seemed to feel no sense of urgency over the lack of flossing, but it was one of those unpleasant rituals he had to perform occasionally to remind them that he was much bigger.

He pondered over the list, nibbling idly on the end of the pen. He was suddenly brimming with unambitious ideas that he could include on it, but he was reluctant to add anything else lest the list become inherently self-defeating.

He rose and snatched the list from the table in a single motion; there was no time like the present to begin doing virtually nothing. The cat peered out the window while he folded up his list. The sky was the colour of brushed slate, and eddies of dry snow danced and whirled down the street in a frigid ballet. It was definitely coat and toque weather. The window rattled slightly in its casement as the wind briefly gusted; perhaps a scarf was also in order. Just because he was built for it did not mean that Plonq had to like the cold.

A few minutes later, shielded from the elements under the protective aegis of layered clothes, Plonq stepped out into the street and blinked. Almost immediately the moisture on the tip of his exposed nose began to freeze, and the snow leopard was glad that he had taken the time to don an extra sweater.

“Bleah,” he said sourly as he coaxed an extra notch out of the zipper on his tight winter coat. He took a quick stock of his surroundings before he turned left and began trudging down the icy sidewalk toward the nearest grocer. The store was one of the two anchors at a strip mall a few blocks from his house. Serendipitously, the anchor store at the other end of the strip was a liquor outlet. If he stayed true to his plan, he could buy everything he needed in a single, elegant loop without the need of doubling back and risk leaving somebody with a lasting memory.

He managed to purchase an appreciable quantity of Christmas liquor and leave the store without incident. In fact the transaction happened so smoothly that he allowed himself a single, unadvisedly smug thought of, “That went well.”

It was then that Plonq spotted the Santa Claws, and he felt an icy claw of foreshadowing run down his spine. The bull was standing by the exit doors of the grocery store, wearing an absurdly undersized fake beard and a red hat perched on one of his horns. He was placidly chewing and ringing a cowbell, pausing only to grunt a thank you to people who put money in the plastic globe suspended in the stand next to him.

“I will have to avoid him,” thought Plonq, as he unhappily noted that the bull was positioned strategically in front of the store’s only exit. He considered leaving the store through the entrance doors after he was done shopping, but that had earned him a stern look of disapproval the last time. It also only occurred to him once he was already in the store with a basket in his hand that he could have just skipped this store entirely and gone to the one a couple of blocks away. “Ack!” There was nothing for it now but to buy his groceries and deal with the Santa as the need arose.

As usual, the little snow leopard started in the vegetable section and worked his way back toward the meats. As an obligate carnivore, Plonq typically avoided most vegetables and grains, but Christmas dinner needed sides; a cat did not live by chicken alone! He inspected and rejected a number of vegetables, some because he did not know what they were, and others because he did. He especially avoided any vegetables where the internet recipe started with instructions like, “First prepare a 13-litre inverted hydraulic condenser pot and hone your kohlrabi knife…”

Fortunately, the store was kind enough to put suggestion cards at the head of many of the vegetable bins. He paused by the potatoes and read the little hand-written note. “Looking for a boring vegetable? Look no further than the Russet Potato, which technically isn’t even a vegetable. Whether you want a forgettable side dish, or bland filler for a main course, the Russet is your boy. Serve these skin-wrapped balls of flavourless starch any time you don’t want any distractions from your main course.” Plonq loaded three of them into his basket. He also grabbed three of the yams in the next bin. He knew that he would regret the yams the next day because they did horrible things to his system, but he could not imagine a Christmas dinner without orange-halibut yams with a browned-marshmallow crust.

He grabbed a bag of the “add water and shake” stuffing he had bought in previous years. Once he had learned how to avoid the chemical burns during its preparation, it had become one of his preferred side dishes when he needed something quick and innocuous.

To his surprise, the cranberry sauce posed a much tougher challenge. His mother had taught him that the mark of a true cranberry sauce was one that retained the shape of the can when removed. With the recent move toward sauces made from whole, fresh, real cranberry that was becoming a tricky criterion to meet.

His salvation was also, fortuitously, the cheapest one on the long shelf of cranberry sauces. It bore a plain white label with the simple moniker Cranberry Sauce on the front in a sixteen-point sans-serif font. Intrigued, the snow leopard picked it up from the shelf and read the fine print on the back of the tin.

A fine product Luan-Wong Chemical Company in Sauhang Province. Contain only the finest freshest ingredient. Contents: Water, Sugar, Glucose, Fructose, Sucrose, Polyethylene glycol, Sodium Alginate, Acesulfame-potassium, Methyl-p-hydroxybenzoate, Potassium Bisulphite, Sodium Ascorbate, Calcium Carbonate, Polydextrose, Red Dye #3, Red Dye #4, Artificial flavour. May contain trace amounts of nuts or food. Guarantee to retain shape when remove from can.

The dubiously-worded guarantee sealed the deal. Plonq quickly dropped the tin into his basket and walked away from the shelf, giving the ingredient list no further thought. It was better that way. All he needed now was an uninspired chicken and he would be set. The cat hefted his basket and marched purposefully toward the meat section.

Many journeys start with a firm intent, but life is fraught with side roads and distractions. The best laid plans can be waylaid by an unexpected detour; something shiny here, a vendor giving out free food there.

“Oooh,” purred Plonq, all other intentions forgotten as he turned and toddled toward a sign that read, “Free Samples.”

“Good afternoon, sir,” said the aproned chameleon standing behind the movable counter. One of her eyes flicked down to glance into his basket of food. Plonq shuddered slightly, and figured that he would never find that not disturbing. “You look like a gentleman who is gathering ingredients for a fine Christmas dinner.” She gestured to the freezer behind her sample station and continued her pitch. “Have you ever considered preparing chicken instead of turkey for the traditional dinner?” she asked. “Chicken is the moister alternative, and packs more flavour per bite than a comparable quantity of turkey. It also has less environmental impact, making it the greener choice.”

Plonq could not stop starting at her eyes while she spoke. While her left eye appeared to be giving him its full attention, her right eye was darting about as if it had a mind of its own. One moment it was peering intently from fluorescent fixture to fixture on the ceiling as if it was receiving telepathic messages from them, and the next it was staring fixedly at the electric skillet on the counter beside her. Then it slowly turned to face the snow leopard before snapping backward to stare into the freezer, and then back at the lights again. He wondered briefly if she had a disorder, or if she knew that it was weirding him out and was doing it intentionally. It suddenly occurred to him that she had stopped speaking and was apparently awaiting a response from him.

“Mmmm, chicken,” he said tentatively.

She seemed to take that as an acceptable answer and she launched back into her spiel. “Here, try it and then look me in the eye and tell me that it is not the best chicken you have tried today.” She handed the snow leopard a Dixie cup with a nibble’s worth of lukewarm roasted chicken in the bottom. Plonq tossed the chicken piece whole into his mouth and pinched the cup flat between his thumb and forefinger while he masticated. It tasted like… chicken.

“How is this chicken different from any other chicken?” he asked. “I mean, besides costing half again as much.”

“An astute question, sir,” she said. Her eyes darted about frantically when she said that, and he wondered if it was the chameleon equivalent of an eye-roll. “Tell me, do you like white meat?”

“Yes,” said Plonq, licking his muzzle and looking wistfully at the rest of the samples.

“Then you are in luck,” she said cheerily as she handed him another sample cup. “Our chickens have more breast meat than any other chicken on the market.” She waited until he had finished the sample and then asked, “Do you like dark meat?”

“Yeth,” said Plonq, who had his tongue buried in the bottom of the sample cup, licking up the last molecules of chicken juice from the bottom.

“Excellent!” said the chameleon, “then you will be pleased to know that our chickens have three-hundred percent more drumsticks than most chickens on the market. If you like white meat or dark meat, this is the bird for you!”

Plonq blinked. He slowly counted on his fingers before he slowly said, “So your chickens have six legs?”

“Six legs and three breasts,” said the chameleon. “We use a mix of gene splicing and selective breeding to produce chickens with no backs, and extra legs to support the added weight. These are all happy hens raised in a free-range environment. They bulk up quickly and consistently, and when they reach the peak of flavour and optimal size, they gently die in their sleep. Every bite tastes of happiness and love.”

“… what do they look like?” asked the snow leopard hesitantly. “That sounds pretty horrifying.”

The vendor shrugged. “Pretty much like any other chicken,” she said, “minus the features and wings, of course.” She paused. “And also the extra breast and legs.”

“So why do they cost so much?” demanded Plonq. He was staring at the samples again and trying – with mixed success – not to drool.

“Oh, silly me,” said the chameleon as she handed him another sample cup. “Their bones are denser than those of a normal chicken.” She made air quotes around the word normal. “As a result, their bones are a third of the thickness of a normal chicken bone so that you get a much higher meat to bone ratio in our birds. You aren’t paying for all that bone and wasted space like you have in conventional hens. Ours are meatier. Lots of meat. Full of meat. Meat all the way down. Meat. Meeeat.”

“I’ll take one!” said Plonq emphatically, all but drowning on his own drool by now.

“Excellent!” said the vendor, clapping her hands excitedly. As she spun to fetch a frozen chicken from the freezer behind her, Plonq considered scooping up two more of the samples to eat later, but he noticed that her spastic eye was uncharacteristically fixed on him while her back was turned. A moment later she turned back, grunting slightly with effort as she held out a sixteen-pound chicken to the little feline.

“That’s a chicken?” mewled Plonq in disbelief as he took the enormous bird in his arms. After a couple of failed attempts, he finally found that it would just fit in the basket if he positioned it with its frozen legs sticking up in the air. It looked a bit less disturbing when he overlaid it with a mental image of crispy skin and a side of potatoes.

He was in such a pleasant mood as he was paying for his purchases that the snow leopard even allowed himself to be talked into buying a couple of environmentally-friendly cloth bags for his groceries. If he had been physically capable of such, the cat would have been whistling a happy tune as he left the store. He settled for a rumbly, off-tune hum in the back of his throat and a self-satisfied swagger in his step. Surely this was going to be the best non-Christmas ever.

Invariable, the descent to hard reality always comes faster than the slow rise to the apex of happiness. The spiral began the moment he left the store and found himself nearly muzzle to muzzle with the store front Santa. He froze in mid-stride and mid-hum as the enormity of this new complication quickly sunk in.

He had forgotten Santa.

Worse, he had made eye contact.

“Ho ho ho, bro,” mooed the Santa, in a tone that the snow leopard clearly heard as mocking and derisive. The large bull rang his copper cowbell and puffed out a great cloud of steam from his rimed nostrils. “Cold one today, eh? Care to make a donation to the Benevolent Society for Headless Calf Orphans? We’re raising money to buy a furnace to keep the wee ones warm on days like this.”

A noose of panic encircled his heart and began to tighten; it was already too late to pretend that he had not noticed the Santa. If he had slunk out of the store with his head down instead of strutting like he coughed up golden hairballs, he could have brushed past the bull and joined the anonymous ranks of preoccupied shoppers. Now he had to either actively not make a donation and be remembered as a cheapskate, or make a donation. How much could he donate and be quickly forgotten though? If he gave too little, he would be a cheapskate again, but if he gave too much then he might be remembered as the generous patron of the orphans’ new furnace. Fight. Flight. Panic. The urges ran unchecked through the little snow leopard while his pulse raced and his brain froze.

“You all right, sir?” asked the Santa, waving his bell-free hand in front of the little feline’s muzzle. The response had the desired effect – that is, if Plonq had been the bull instead, and the hand had been a red blanket.

“Gah!” he said aloud, pointing frantically behind the bull. As the startled bull turned to look, the snow leopard coldcocked him and ran. He ran as only a snow leopard can run in the snow, dancing over drifts and leaping over fences as he cut a straight line toward his apartment. A bag of bottles clinked against his left flank while a mutant chicken bounced off his right as he made good his escape. The feline stopped at the threshold of his building to catch his breath and listen for pursuit, but it looked like his distraction had paid off.

Gasping in breaths of cold air and feeling the first pangs of guilt, the little cat slowly waved his access card past the reader and quietly slunk into the comparative dim of the lobby.

“So much for not making an impression,” thought the little cat wryly later. He took a mouthful of chicken – which was not nearly as moist as the girl at the store had promised – and picked up his soldering iron. Since he had already failed in his resolution of keeping a low-profile Christmas, he decided that Project Letter Bomb: North Pole was officially back on the table.

Pushed carelessly to one side of the table was the morning’s newspaper, whose cover bore the bust of a familiar, if disheveled storefront Santa and the headline, “Storefront Santa Assaulted by Mystery Cat.” In finer type below it read, “Robbery Not a Motive.” There were boxed quotes in the story from key players as well. “Every year this happens to me. Every. Year.” There was another quote from the constable who first arrived on the scene, “I’m sure we’re all guilty of wanting to slug these guys, but come on – it’s Christmas!”

The feline felt a bilious knot of guilt over the headline further down the page that read, “Orphans to spend another Christmas in the cold.”

Although he normally waited for a while before updating his journal, Plonq put down the soldering gun and fetched his book of Christmas Regrets. He had learned an important lesson this Christmas, and he wanted to put it on paper while the memory was still fresh and raw.

• Avoid the grocery store.

Prologue

Nov. 22nd, 2012 04:29 pm
plonq: (Pouting Mood)
I have the basics of another short story running through the back of my mind. I am going to toss together a quick prologue so that I don't forget it and see if this leads anywhere.

---

To: Owner, Señoras Café Grasa

Re: Gravy

Dear Madam,

Recently I had the opportunity to take advantage of your “Monster Meaty Mondays” self-service buffet. While my experience in your dining establishment was, moreover, a pleasant one, my visit was marred somewhat by the unfortunate placement of the gravy in your service line. I was delighted to finally sample your famous Sous-vide Sauce au "Andouilles de Porc", which is inarguably world-class gravy that we are all proud to find in a local establishment. Unfortunately procuring this selfsame gravy in a satisfactory manner was difficult, given its placement two spots to the left of the mashed potatoes.

Indeed, not only were the mashed potatoes to the right of the gravy, but so were the assortment of hot and cold sliced meats which, I am sorry to say, did not fare well under the harsh countenance of the heat lamps. These desiccated, chewy, inedible, leathery slabs that I shall charitably call meat hereafter were in a state that could only be redeemed by a generous dollop of delicious gravy. Gravy that was, as I have stated above, several places to the left of the meat in a line that moved from the left to the right.

The gravitas of this situation is compounded by the mushy vegetables and stale bread. Can you guess what would have nudged either of these above the minimum threshold of palatability? Whilst one might argue that a patron might load his plate with gravy first, then add other foodstuffs on top as desired, that is not the proper order of food. Gravy goes over food, not under it. Well, except at those very fancy restaurants with enormous plates and tiny portions, where sculpted potatoes au gratin and a woefully small filet mignon sit atop a grossly inadequate smear of gravy reduction. At a buffet such as yours, however, the gravy goes on top.

One hopes that you will consider my words here, and make arrangements to move the gravy to the right of the foods that require gravy. I look forward to seeing this issue rectified before my next visit to your establishment.

Yours sincerely,

Plonq.

PS: The Morue au Chocolat fritter was lovely, and stood up well on its own without gravy. I note with some irony that it was placed to the left of the gravy.

PPS: On further reflection, I do not think that it would actually have been harmed by the addition of gravy either.
plonq: (Creative mood)
This is the story that I submitted to the MFF con book. I admit that it is not one of my stronger pieces of writing, so I was not terribly surprised, nor crushed when it did not appear on the con book.

Even though it is not my best, I still think that it is a fun little story that is worth sharing here.

---

"Oh, Rainbow Splash," said Twilight Sporkle as the two snuggled afterwards, "you have made me the happiest llama alive. I just wish you had told me from the start that you are transgendered."

The End


Plonq pondered for a long while over the denouement; did the words give proper closure? Did they support the idea of a blooming relationship without the need to write a sequel? He let his thoughts dance backward through the story, carefully unweaving the web of his tale as he went. Had he included enough bedroom time, with adequate spooge without being completely over the top? Brammas loved spooge in their stories.

The snow leopard had three simple rules when it came to writing a fan story: pander, pander and pander. His philosophy was that one could mask a surprising amount of unoriginality or questionable talent with enough blatant service to the fans. This was not to say that the feline considered himself an untalented hack; not entirely. He had done a lot of research for this story, and if nothing else, the phrase, "llamas don't bend that way" was now firmly burned into his memory.

He scrolled through the story again, so engrossed in proof reading and tweaking that he did not hear the key in the door. His first inkling that he had visitors was when his roommate entered the room in mid conversation.

"...with luck he has pants on," the otter was saying to the person entering the room behind him.

"Ack!" panicked the feline. He glanced at his piles of notes and plastic reference llamas strewn around the coffee table, but he only had time to shove some note paper over a well-thumbed and bookmarked copy of Lesbians for Dummies before the two interlopers stepped into the room.

"Oh, you are home," said Giblet cheerily. He reached back and hooked his companion by the elbow, pulling him fully into the room. "This is Bruno," he said with a hint of shyness creeping into his tone. "He's an, um, friend who I met at the gym. We were gonna chill together this evening if that's OK with you."

Plonq caught the um, and he wondered if that was a clue that he might want to head out to dinner and a movie. He was not the most astute when it came to social cues, but if the otter had been blushing any deeper it would have glowed through his fur.

"Anyway, Bruno, this is my room-mate Plonq," said the little otter, gesturing toward the snow leopard on the couch.

"Charmed," said the tiger who, on closer inspection, more closely resembled a refrigerator on legs. He was a full head taller than the otter, and probably twice his mass. The giant feline was dressed in leather pants, a Harley Davidson sleeveless shirt, and had large skull earrings in both ears. When he moved, the flexing of his basketball-sized biceps called attention to the flaming heart brand on his upper arm.

"Plonq's a writer," said Giblet with a hint of possessive pride in his voice. "He's got quite a following in... some circles," he added.

"Oh ya?" said the tiger, scratching his massive, muscled cheek with an enormous set of claws. "I'm not big on reading."

Oh really? thought Plonq, fervently praying that he had only thought that and not said it aloud.

"What kind of stuff you write?" asked the tiger in a tone that suggested he was being more polite than interested.

"Oh, you know, um..." hedged Plonq as he tried to think of a description that would not sabotage his roommate's chances with his latest date. "Mostly I string together words and stuff to, uh, create a conflict-based plot wrapped in an overlying theme."

Giblet snorted. "Stop acting so humble, you're a pretty decent writer." He scrunched up his muzzle and took in the scattering of notes, and the open computer in front of the little feline. "It looks like you're working on something right now," he said. Before the snow leopard could spot the danger and react, the otter closed the two steps to the coffee table and snatched up the laptop.

"No, wait!" yelled Plonq in alarm. He launched himself from the sofa and leapt toward the otter in what would have been a marvellous display of a predator at work if he had not collided with the table, overturning it and landing face down on its underside while his notes flew in all directions. To his credit, he managed to wrap one hand around the otter's ankle as he jumped out of the way. "That one's not quite ready for public consumption yet," said the snow leopard weakly into the carpet.

The otter shook himself free of the snow leopard's grip with the casualness of one who regarded this as normal interaction. "Don't be silly," said the otter. "Your writing is pretty polished from the first draft." He held the laptop at arm's length. "Let's see…"

Muttershy flexed her wings, and it looked like she might bolt. "Why Applejock," she said timidly, "I don't even know what to say."

"Uh, you should maybe scroll up a page or two," said Plonq desperately, making another failed grab toward the otter's ankle.

Giblet danced easily out of the way and continued reading.

"You could say 'yes mistress'," said Applejock with a salacious leer as she closed on the skittish, winged llama. Moments later their tongues...

The otter's voice tapered off as his pupils simultaneously dilated in horror. "What the heck am I reading here?" he demanded. He became acutely aware that Bruno had moved up to stand behind him and was reading over his shoulder. The giant tiger was peering intently at the screen, and other than the flick of his eyes moving back and forth, his face was motionless. Giblet quickly snapped the cover shut on the laptop. "You're right, this probably isn't quite ready for public consumption," he said hurriedly. He turned quickly to his date and tried to salvage the situation. "What kind of a host am I?" he said quickly. "Let me show you around the place." He gave the other a gentle tug on the elbow, but the tiger remained rooted in place, staring at the snow leopard who was laboriously extricating himself from the overturned coffee table.

"Muttershy and Applejock," he said in a low rumble. "As in, two of the characters from that cartoon show for little girls?"

"Yes," said Plonq shortly as he hastily worked to gather up his scattered papers.

"And you've written them into a sensual, adult-themed story," continued the tiger, whiskers twitching. Giblet made another abortive attempt to move the tiger, but by now he had moved past trying to salvage his date and was looking to avoid bloodshed.

"I don't know if I would quite word it that way," said Plonq cagily, looking thoughtful over the bundle of loose papers he was holding to his chest, "but I guess essentially that kind of sums it up."

"That's awesome!" yowled the tiger, holding his beefy hands to the sides of his cheeks in glee. "I've always been in the Mutterjock camp; I think those two make an amazing pair."

All of the jaws in the floor that were not currently attached to a tiger nearly hit the floor simultaneously.

"You watch that show?" demanded Giblet and Plonq in unison, but with entirely different motivations.

"I love that show," gushed the tiger. He burst into deep baritone, "My Little Llama, My Little Llama,"

"Aaaaaaaaaah," joined in Plonq.

The tiger clapped his hands and flexed his knees in delight, then he held out a fist toward the snow leopard. The latter returned the gesture with a gentle bump of his own fist.

"Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh," said the tiger excitedly. "I've heard that there were Brammas out in the wild, but I'd never met one until now. Rainbow Splash is my favourite llama. Who's yours?"

"Twilight Sporkle," replied the snow leopard. "But it's so hard to pick a favourite. I love them all so much."

"Oh, I know!" agreed Bruno. "I keep rearranging my new vinyl set on top of my TV because I can't decide on just one."

Plonq gasped. "You've got the new vinyl set?" he demanded with an envious mewl. "I've been looking everywhere for those."

"Dude," said the tiger, grabbing the hapless snow leopard by the arm and tugging him toward the door so violently that all of Plonq's papers flew free again. "They still had a couple of sets left when I bought mine. If we go there right now, we can probably still get you some."

"Uh," said Giblet, making a furtive reach for the door as the other two brushed out of it in a flurry of fur. The otter stood silently in the living room, clutching the closed laptop in his left hand while his right remained extended toward the door. Note papers slowly fluttered to the floor all around him.

Two hours and four beers later, Giblet sat hunched over the (now righted) coffee table with the snow leopard's plastic llamas arranged on it. He did not care that he had raided the feline's room to get the toys, nor did he care that he was technically drinking the cat's beer.

"So Butterguy, or whatever your name is, how did your date go tonight?" he said in a broken alto, bouncing the blue llama to indicate who was talking.

"Oh, you know," said the yellow llama bitterly, bouncing in reply, "I brought him home and my room-mate stole him away from me."

"That sucks," said the first llama in commiseration. "Doesn't that just put a damper on your whole evening? Well, what now?"

"Now," said the otter, leaning in very close and looking back and forth between the plastic llamas in his hands with a wicked gleam in his eye, "you kiss."
plonq: (Punchy Mood)
I posted the final chapter of my story this morning. I incorporated all of the changes that [livejournal.com profile] atara suggested (I am so happy to have such a patient editor). Hopefully she does not slap my wrist for the additional changes I made at posting time. She mentioned that the denouement already dragged a bit, so I trimmed out as much as I added.

Story can be found here.

I just hope she is as patient when we start on our co-writing project in a bit. It has been quite a few years since I last co-wrote a story, so we will see how this goes.
plonq: (Kinda Smug Mood)
For those who are following it, the next chapter is up in my story.

I finished the story this morning, but when I sent the final chapter off to [livejournal.com profile] atara for editing, she noted that it was as long as any two of the previous chapters combined, and she suggested that I might want to cut it into two.

I split it at the logical breakpoint she suggested, and I will post the concluding chapter on Monday.

I have not written a lot of fanfic, at least not recently. My last attempt was a Lion King/Cthulhu crossover that rambled aimlessly for about ten chapters before I lost interest for a number of reasons that I am not going to dig up again here. One of the downsides to writing fanfics - especially parody stories like this one - is that it counts on the reader to have at least a passing familiarity with the subject and characters.

While some of the humour in this story is straight-up slapstick, a fair bit of it depends on the reader knowing the personalities of the actors involved.

Here is a little snip, in case you're not sure which story I am talking about. )
plonq: (Insane Mood)
We have the fence contractors here today (they have already torn out the old fence) so I took the day off work. I usually skip breakfast, but this morning I decided to try a grilled cheese and apple butter sandwich on rye. [livejournal.com profile] atara made one of these on the weekend and assured me that it was quite awful. I haven't actually tasted it yet, but I suspect she may have been telling a self-serving lie in order to ensure there would be more left for her.
20120924

I posted the third chapter to my FIM fan story last night. Yes, I have drunk the delicious purple Kool-Aid and started writing about ponies. On the other hand, if that's what it took to get me writing again then it's not all bad. I will probably take care of a few chores around the house while I am here today, but I think part of my day will be writing the final chapter to this story.

I shan't give away too much, other than warn that I am not above employing deus ex machina to resolve the plot.
plonq: (Creative mood)
The next chapter in my epic tale of good versus mediocre is posted for public consumption.

Well, not so much epic as satiric. I like to think that I draw inspiration from the greats (Friendship is Witchcraft, Terry Pratchett, etc) and then ruin it.

At this point I know how the story is going to end, I just need to build the bridge.

I am impressed by some of the MLP fan fiction I have read, and equally depressed by some of it. After perusing what is available, I think that I would put myself in the upper 1/3 of the writing talent out there. That sounds impressive until you start reading some of what the bottom 1/3 is producing, and suddenly it becomes more akin to beating a double-amputee in a foot race.

I would like to get a bit more involved in the writing community, by critiquing and helping some of the starting writers, but some of the stuff is so bad that I feel myself slipping into Truman Capote mode as soon as I begin reading. "That isn't writing at all, it's typing." It is hard to slog through a story where the writer seems to think that the only valid form of a verb is the gerund, and punctuation is his personal Kryptonite.

You can try to put a positive spin on it to encourage the writer, but at some point you are reduced to platitudes like, "Your story contained a lot of words. Boy howdy, I counted at least a hundred different, identifiable words in there that appeared in a variety of combinations. Yup, lots of words."

On the other hand, there are a couple of stories that I have been meaning to get back to, but I forgot to favourite them. I need to go back through my Reddit comment history and see when I responded to the author of one of them. If I remember right, that one had all the hallmarks of some wonderful MLP satire.

I like satire.
plonq: (Creative mood)

The brown mass in the pot bubbled merrily while the little snow leopard stirred. He glanced at the tablet on the counter to see if he had overlooked the instructions on how long he was supposed to keep agitating the mixture, but the last line on the page said, "Gently heat the mixture to a light boil and continue stirring until it is done."

"How the heck am I supposed to know when it’s done?" groused the feline. He continued sweeping the spoon through the boiling mixture for another minute before it occurred to him that the recipe might actually span more than one page. Keeping the spoon moving with his right hand, he reached across with his left and swiped the tip of his finger across the tablet.  The recipe page swept aside to reveal that there was another page. The lone instructions on the page were:

Don’t read; stir.

Plonq sighed and obeyed. He was used to recipes written by snobbish cooks who seemed to adhere to the philosophy that something as simple as "doneness" should be self-obvious. The snow leopard assumed that the boiling mass would let him know when it was ready to be panned, perhaps by changing colour, or bursting into flame and singeing his remaining whiskers.

Plonq babysat the mixture for several more minutes, and just as he was beginning to suspect the recipe was toying with him, the mixture suddenly thickened. The change was so abrupt that he let go of the spoon and stepped back defensively, but the gooey brown mass in the pot appeared to be more concerned with holding the spoon upright than attacking any nearby snow leopards.  He quickly shut off the gas and moved the pot to a cool burner to avoid burning the bottom. Plonq watched the spoon slowly settle toward one side of the pot while he edged carefully around the stove to the tablet on the counter. He had seen The Blob when he was a cub, and even though he was dubious over the thought that he might have created predatory alien life in his kitchen, he chose to err on the side of safety. He flipped to the next page to see if there were more instructions.

"Remove the mixture from the heat," The snow leopard did not feel particularly smug about having gotten that part right in spite of not reading the recipe, since it had been largely an act of self-preservation. "Place the mixture in a grease-lined, corrosion-resistant baking pan. The mixture may be reluctant to relinquish its hold on the spoon at this point, but you must not display any sign of weakness in front of it. Show no mercy with a spatula. Place the panned mixture into an oven preheated to three hundred and fifty degrees and bake it until it is done. May God have mercy on your soul."

Plonq hesitated for a moment before he decided not to bother flipping to the next page for more instructions, since he had a hunch it would just be a veiled insult on the next page. There was little doubt that it would let him know when it was done. With a sigh, he grabbed the spoon and lifted it experimentally. As he had expected, the pot and all of its contents came with it. He gave it a couple of shakes until the pot fell free, clanging noisily on the stove. He held the mass over the greased baking sheet and grabbed a spatula to begin the process of un-glomming it from the spoon.

Was it his imagination, or did it tighten its grip on the spoon as he moved the spatula closer?

A few minutes, and many more epithets later the sticky mess was spread in a baking pan and ready for the oven. Although Plonq managed to avoid any major injuries during the transfer, a disturbing quantity of his fur had been claimed by the mass in the pan. He shoved the pan into the oven, quickly slammed the door and set the timer for thirty-five minutes.

The little feline grabbed the dry-erase marker hanging from the refrigerator door and put a tick next to "Christmas baking [ ]" on his magnetic white board. He purred softly to himself when he saw that he was nearly through his entire list of Christmas obligations. He pondered on the last few items and debated on which one to tackle next.  Prank call Santa Claws sounded like a nice quick hit on the list. The fat old bastard would be pretty busy with his final preparations, so he could probably catch him off-guard. Plonq suppressed another purr as he remembered the previous year’s prank call.

"Ho ho ho! Who is this and how did you get my direct number? Somebody is going to get on my permanent naughty list if I ever find out who you are!"

The snow leopard decided to tackle "Drink a lot [ ]" on the list first, since drunken prank calls were always more fun. He found that he was much less nervous and more creative after a few drinks. He toddled out to the hall and fetched his favourite scotch glass. After a quick browse of his selection, he poured himself two claws worth of Dal Whinny and wandered out to the living room, taking the bottle with him. Plonq had just splashed the first taste of scotch over his tongue, and was enjoying the pleasant burn when there was a polite, but firm rap on the door.

"Now who could that be?" he mewled, putting the bottle of scotch on the end table and grunting himself out of the chair. Plonq slipped his feet into his tattered slippers and shuffled out to the front hall, scratching himself absently through his baggy sweatpants in thought. He was not expecting company, so he had not dressed for company. As he approached the door, the visitor knocked a second time.

"Who is it?" he called in a tone that he hoped conveyed the right degree of polite annoyance at being interrupted.

"It's just Death."

"Plonq's not here!" yowled the cat immediately.

"Plonq, we have a matter of urgent importance to resolve. Please be a good lad and let me in," said the voice on the other side of the door. There was something in the tone that touched Plonq at a visceral level, and he felt his fur stand up from the nape of his neck to the tip of his tail.

"I am afraid you have the wrong apartment," he called back, hoping that his voice did not carry the quaver that it felt. "I have no urgent issues to resolve this evening but to search out the bottom in this bottle of scotch."

"Nay, I fear we have an appointment," said the voice again. "I’m being polite you know. I don’t really need you to open the door for me, now stop being such a child and let me in." It was spoken with no great volume, yet the words carried such command in them that Plonq caught himself only as his hand was on the door knob in mid-turn. He whimpered and willed it to stop. To his relief, he still remained master of his own hand.

"Are you sure you’ve got the right place?" he said plaintively. "I mean, I’m feeling pretty good at the moment. Spritely even. I was thinking of going for a walk to donate some spare meat to the orphanage down the road." There was a rattling sigh from the other side of the door.

"There is no orphanage down the street," Death replied. "Look, you can make this easy or you can make this hard. This is a very busy night for me, and I’d rather not spend it all arguing with plump little snow leopard who is afraid to live up to his obligations. If you hadn’t wanted to see me then you would have used fresh tuna in your chocolate and tuna loaf."

Now Plonq did open the door. He pulled it open until the chain stopped it and peered out at his unexpected visitor. The snow leopard was surprised to discover that Death was, well, a snow leopard. It was every bit the stereotype that one associates with death; tall, skeletal, long hooded black robes and a tall scythe. Plonq could not decide whether to think of Death as "he" or "she", since neither the hollow voice nor the skeletal build lent themselves to a particular gender.

Steeling himself, Plonq yowled angrily, "The chocolate and tuna loaf is still in the oven. Here you got me all shook up over nothing. Good evening, madam… or sir, or however you prefer to be addressed!" He slammed the door and locked it again for good measure. There was a very long pause on the other side of the door, though when he pressed his ear to it the snow leopard could hear the rustling of robes, and a bony finger flipping through pages. There was another moment of silence before the voice across the threshold exploded in Death’s best approximation of a thunderous roar.

"Are you shitting me? You were supposed to have baked that thing three hours ago! What the hell is your problem, boy?"

"I didn’t have any molasses," replied Plonq, his tail trashing angrily. "Have you seen the crowds at the mall today? I’m lucky that I even made it home today, let alone three hours later than I’d planned." He suddenly noticed that he was still clutching his glass of scotch. He punctuated his last statement with a solid swig of the amber gold.

"Good grief! The molasses is in the cupboard by the sink, behind the kosher salt!" said Death in exasperation. "Seriously dude, you need a girlfriend or something to help organize your kitchen. You don’t even want to know what is growing in the back of your refrigerator!"

"Mental note: clean out the fridge," thought Plonq. Out loud he said, "Whatever! How could you know where I keep the molasses, but not know that I hadn’t even eaten the loaf yet?"

"Well, fine," said the sepulchral voice with a touch of bony petulance in its tone.  "I’ll reschedule you for now and come back in about three hours. But let’s have none of these childish antics when I return."

"Buh!" said Plonq, taking another swig of scotch. "In your dreams. You’re nuts if you think I’m going to eat that loaf now."

"You’re not even going to taste it?" demanded Death incredulously. "After all that work, I can’t imagine you would just throw it out without at least trying a nibble."

The thought had crossed Plonq’s mind, but he dismissed it with a thrash of his tail and a firm flick of his whiskers. "Not a chance," he said. "As soon as you’re out of here, it’s going straight down the garbage chute. That includes the pan it’s cooking in and the bowl and utensils I used to mix up the ingredients."

He had been expecting another retort from Death, but the entity on the other side of the door was quiet for a very long time. Plonq wondered if Death had left, but when Death finally spoke again there was a rasp of resignation in the voice.

"Can I at least come in and use your bathroom? I knew this would be an all-nighter and I hit the coffee pretty hard today. I was going to use it after I, you know, harvested your soul and stuff but it looks like you’re off the hook this time and my undead bladder is still full." Plonq cracked the door again and peered dubiously out at the tall, dark figure.

"Doesn’t it empower you or something if I invite you into my abode?" he demanded dubiously. It was hard to tell from the skeletal expression, but he was pretty sure the figure would have been grimacing if it was able.

"That’s a vampire," it said flatly. Plonq stared for several heartbeats before his sense of empathy got the better of him and he unhooked the chain.

"Fine, come in and use the toilet, but no harvesting of souls." He stepped aside to allow Death to enter his apartment. "And please put the lid down when you’re done again so that my cats don’t drink the blue water. I don’t need you harvesting them tonight either."  As Death swept by him, tattered black robes fluttering in the air, Plonq caught a faint wisp of incense, cedar and cinnamon. He had been expecting Death to smell of fetidness and rot, but Death smelled surprisingly nice.

Then he remembered a bit about ancient Egyptian mummification and he suddenly found the smell a bit less pleasant.

As soon as his guest disappeared into the bathroom, Plonq closed the front door and retired to the living room again to refill his glass. He held up the Dal Whinny and gauged how much drunk he could get from the remaining third of the bottle. It was starting to look like he might have to break out the Glennfish as well before the night was through. The little feline was just taking another sip of scotch when there arose a fearful clatter and sharp vulgarity from the bathroom. There was some more frantic cursing and shuffling before he heard the sound of the toilet flush, and a skeletal hand fumbling with the door. Death emerged looking as sheepish as Death can look.

"I’m so sorry," said Death without preamble. "I leaned my scythe up against the sink while I was doing my, uh, deathly business and when I stood up to grab it, it caught on the hem of my robe and went right over into your shower curtain." The tall figure began to fret. "Oh, this is so embarrassing. I usually take so much care in avoiding property damage when I do my thing, and here I’ve made a mess of your bathroom." In spite of the situation, Plonq felt a twinge of sympathy.

"There now," he said. He placed a reassuring hand on the tall figure’s bony shoulder and guided Death into a chair. "It’s okay, the curtain already had a few claw holes through it, and I have been meaning to replace it for some time." He pressed his half-empty scotch glass into Death’s bony hand. "You’re having a rough night. Why don’t you just sit down for minute, take a sip of Dal Whinny to soothe your nerves while you recompose yourself?"

Death turned its empty gaze to the glass as if noticing it for the first time. It looked at Plonq, then back at the glass. "I came here to harvest your soul this very night," said Death with a growing air of incredulity in its voice. "And not only do you invite me into your home, but you seat me in the very heart of your abode and present me with your finest liquor."

"Oh, that’s not my finest liquor," said Plonq with a self-effacing giggle. "Second best maybe." He paused a beat, "Third." Death stared long and hard at the glass in its bony grip.

"I shouldn’t," it said with a hollow wistfulness in its voice. "Not while I’m on duty." It chuckled, which raised the hair on Plonq’s back again. "Not that I’m ever not on duty, but I mean not on one of the busiest nights of the year for me. Do you know how many suicides there are on this night?"

"No," said Plonq.

"Well I do," said Death with a forlorn rattle. It raised the glass and drained it down its muzzle in one quick draught. The snow leopard had been half expecting to see the liquid come spilling right back out through the bones, but the scotch vanished into the robes. "I do."

The snow leopard, who had seated himself in the other chair by this point leaned across and patted Death gently on the knee. "It must be hard," he said gently. "I mean, being feared and hated everywhere you go. I just can’t imagine going through life, er, unlife like that. Well, not entirely anyway." He refilled the other’s glass.

"Oh, not everybody fears and hates me," said Death thoughtfully taking another sip of the scotch. "This is very good, and you’re right, I think I needed this. Anyway, there are those who welcome me as a friend." Another swallow of scotch disappeared down the gaunt figure’s throat. "But it can be really hard too, especially when it comes to the children, and especially tonight."

Plonq shuddered. "I can’t even imagine," he said. He glanced around for a nearby glass, then shrugged and took a slug directly from the bottle. "I hate my job too sometimes," he said, hoping that it didn’t come across sounding too lame.

Minutes turned to hours, and by midway through the bottle of Glenfish, the apartment was alive with roars of drunken laughter.

"You’re serious?" demanded Plonq. "You’re saying he talked for real jusht like in Team Americat?"

By this point Death’s cowl was thrown back carelessly, its boots were long discarded and it was sitting back splay-legged in the chair opposite the snow leopard.

"Bwa ha!" whooped Death in a drunken bray of laughter. "No, he was in a coma when I showed up to harvesht his soul and I didn’t really feel like waking him to talk to him. I really had no use for him, or his father for that matter."

Another half a bottle disappeared.

"Death roulette," slurred the snow leopard, slamming the thick phone book down on the table. "Flip to a random page, pick a random name and we show up at their door and ashk if they have any Grey Poupon or something shilly like that."

"You’re evil," said Death approvingly. "This is a total abuse of offish and wrong on every level. I love it! You pick first!"

Like a dream slipping from lucidity, the night blurred into dawn and Plonq awoke with a start. Two things immediately occurred to the little feline at that moment; he was not dead, but kind of he wished that he was. The room was spinning unpleasantly and his head felt like Santa’s gnomes had set up a workshop in his frontal lobe. Plonq sat up, groaned, and fell back in bed again. Not only did his head hurt, the rest of him hurt too. He felt like he had spent the previous evening running a marathon through brambles. Also his bed smelled of incense.

"Mental note: drink less next Christmas."

Had he remember to prank call Santa last night? Plonq struggled to remember, but his brain kept conjuring silly non-sequiturs such as trying to talk like Kim Jong-il from the movie Team Americat, and… and why were there a half-dozen jars of Grey Poupon on his end table? And why were his back and arms all scratched up like he’d been sleeping with a rose bush?

After about thirty minutes of self-pity the little cat finally managed to drag himself out of bed and got unsteadily to his feet, suffering only a couple of dry heaves in the process. It troubled him that he had no memory of the previous night because he was not normally prone to drinking himself to oblivion. He wondered if he could stomach coffee, then decided that no coffee wasn’t even an option.

Plonq stumbled his way laboriously out to the kitchen and froze on the threshold. He vaguely remembered putting a loaf in the oven the previous evening, but had no memory of removing it.

To his puzzlement and relief, the empty loaf tin was standing in the dish rack, apparently empty and washed. Of the loaf there was no sign.

Then he spied the note on the table.

It was written in a curious, unfamiliar script. It read, "Sorry to sneak out without waking you but I have a lot of work to catch up on today, and your little cat snores were really cute so I didn’t want to wake you. Coffee is ready to go if you just hit the switch. Don’t be a stranger. Merry Christmas!"

The note was simply signed with a stylized, capital D with a little heart drawn out of bones over it.

Memory of the previous night still eluded the cat, but he knew he couldn’t avoid it forever.

He stood very still in the kitchen doorway, holding the doorjamb for support and staring at the note while memories tickled at the corners of his mind like a hairball in the gullet, stirring and churning its way to an explosive release.

Plonq stood there staring at the note for a very, very long time.

plonq: (Creative mood)
I stopped digging for the earlier version of this little vignette and recreated it from scratch. It bears thematic similarities to the original, but I took it in a slightly different direction. It's a bit unpolished because I wrote it at work, and things are a little busy at the moment so I've had to squeeze this in while I wait for things to compile and run.

Without further ado, here is my little story about a coffee crisis.

----

To the casual observer, it almost appeared that the snow leopard was hard at work; he had a spreadsheet open on both of his visible screens and he was sitting forward in his chair, ears half-cocked in deep thought with his muzzle resting on his left palm while he tapped the tip of his wet nose with an index finger. The spreadsheet to his right was filled with tables and charts, and the one to his left had an indexed list. He stared at the chart-filled spreadsheet for a moment and moving nothing but his right hand, he clicked on a cell in one of the tables and changed the number. All of the graphs shifted slightly.

If one had moved in close enough to read the text on the spreadsheets, they would undoubtedly have changed their opinion of how busy the cat really was, but Plonq counted on the innate habit of his co-workers to give a wide berth to monitors that appeared to be displaying boring work. The main chart displayed a rolling thirty-one day window on its horizontal axis, and its vertical axis was labelled, "Number of Times I Have Modified This Chart". The occasional dips on that axis indicated days on which the feline was too busy with real work to update his pet project. The other charts showed month-to-date and year-to-date averages, along with median and mean deviations with predictive trend lines. Plonq shook his head slightly and sighed. If he didn't hear back from the primary stakeholder on his CLM report soon, then tomorrow looked like it could be a record day for updates.

The other worksheets in his spreadsheet were identified by such names on their tabs as "NHL Playoff Predictions", "Lottery Pool Results" and other trivial, non work-related topics. He turned his attention to the spreadsheet on the left screen and re-read the entries.

- Plonq has done no measurable work today. Possible reasons:

1) Lack of motivation
2) Lack of coffee
2a) Investigate casual relation between items 1 and 2
3) Require approval and sign-off before proceeding on 4 projects. See also #1
4) Itch in a place I'd rather not scratch in public.
5) This list. Also see #2
6) Update charts.
7) Lack of coffee

A common theme in the list drew the small cat's eyes to his coffee mug. The mug was not only empty, but gleamed in a manner that could only be achieved by having a muzzle jammed into it and a raspy tongue run repeatedly over its interior. The mug had long since passed empty into a deficit of a deficit of coffee. He lifted his head from his hand, moved the cursor down a couple of rows and began to type.

- Solutions:

1) Coffee
2)

He paused, and then quickly pulled his hands back from the keyboard again. One thing at a time; there was no point in getting ahead of himself. Plonq picked up his mug and inspected it critically to see if he had missed any molecules of residual coffee, but if even a single coffee particle remained in the cup it eluded him. He slammed the mug back into its customary coffee ring on his mouse pad, skipped down a couple of rows and began typing again.

Problem: Plonq's mug is empty.
Desired solution: Plonq purrs because he has fresh coffee.
Speed bumps:
- Plonq only has $3.14, which may be enough for coffee but not enough for a tuna-crème fritter, or a glazed coddie to go with it.
- There might not be coffee made in the north break room.
Mitigating factors:
- Plonq is fat and does not need a doughnut.
- Plonq is capable of making more coffee if the break room is out of coffee.
Aggravating factors:
- Coffee politics.
- Plonq is lazy.

He sat back again and recounted his paw full of change, then revised the figure to $3.18 when he noticed he had miscounted a nickel as a penny. Intellectually, Plonq knew that he really did not need a doughnut. His stomach and saliva glands expressed their disagreement, and he had to swallow a couple of times to avoid drowning on his own bodily fluids. The cat had been behaving himself lately; didn't he deserve to reward himself for such good behaviour?

Plonq shuddered at the seductive line of thought because he knew how it would end. Today it would be a single trout cruller, and then tomorrow he would buy himself a few coconut mackerels as a reward for his restraint today. Before long there would be naught left of him but a quivering blob of furry lard, giggling maniacally in the middle of a ring of candied eel wrappers. He quickly pocketed his change and decided to take his chances on the break room.

With a mug full of nothing but resolve clutched firmly in his hand, the little feline locked his workstation, swivelled his chair toward the break room and leapt purposefully to his feet. "Get in, get coffee, get out," he chuffed under his breath like a mantra. There was the outside danger that there was no coffee made, and if anybody saw him heading into the room with a coffee mug in his hand then it would raise unfortunate expectations that he planned to make more. It was a risk that he would have to take if he wanted to escape the siren call of doughnuts. Mmmm, doughnuts. His mouth began to water again, though his saliva tasted suspiciously of spite this time.

When he rounded the corner into the coffee room, his worst fears were not realized; sort of. Both carafes contained coffee if one was very charitable with their definition of the same. The carafe on the left had a puddle of bubbling coffee tar, and the other had a solid one-centimetre thick coffee disc on the bottom. Plonq noted sardonically that somebody had shut off the element under the solid coffee. For a very brief moment Plonq considered scraping some of the sludge into his cup, but his survival instincts quickly suppressed the thought before he could act on it.

In normal circumstances - that is, circumstances that were exclusive of the situation in this office – the natural reaction would have been something other than the triggering of one's natural fight or flight reflex. A mewl of despair escaped from the back of the feline's throat as he came to the realization that he was going to have to make fresh coffee. One might be excused for wondering at his distress, since to most normal folk the process of making coffee entailed little more than filling a basket with grounds and pouring water into the top of the machine. While that might have been true from a purely mechanical aspect, it ignored the politics of the beverage.

One of Plonq's ex-managers had once wryly observed, "If you put any dozen of the coffee drinkers in this office in a room and ask them the right way to make a pot of coffee, they will emerge with thirteen opinions because at least one them will change his mind out of spite." Plonq admitted that he had his own pretty strong opinions about how to make good coffee. First you started with a paw full of green beans – well, that wasn't really an option here, was it? There was a sign taped to the wall over the coffee machine with instructions on how to make a perfect pot of coffee.

The sheet included little pictograms showing five level scoops of coffee being added to the basket, and a full carafe of water being poured into the machine. Conspicuously missing from the pictograms was a disgruntled vixen squatting over the pot and adding her mystery ingredient. She had been voluntarily making the coffee for over a month before she was caught. Naturally she got escorted off the company property by the police and was charged with tampering. Once everybody had gotten over their disgust and betrayal though, they grudgingly lamented that it was still the best coffee that had ever come out of the break room.

That had been a couple of years ago, but people were still suspicious of any coffee that seemed "too good". Plonq had brought in fresh ground beans from home on more than one occasion, but most of it ended up sitting until it was too stale to drink because people thought it smelled too delicious to be safe. He stopped bringing fresh beans entirely when he overheard a muttered comment one day about "Plonq's special brew." The little snow leopard sighed and reached for the can of Manxwell House coffee. "Good to the last dribble," proclaimed the star-blazoned endorsement on the side of the can. In finer print it crowed that it was made from "... the husks and sweepings from the FINEST ROASTERIES of New Jersey!"

"Yum," he muttered darkly under his breath. He cracked the lid and used it to hastily fan away the dust and fumes that escaped from the can as he exposed its contents to clean air. He set it aside and pulled the basket out of its holder. To his amazement, somebody had emptied it and put in a fresh filter. Plonq speculated that a coworker must have been going through the motions of making fresh coffee before the sorry state of the carafes drove them to abandon the project. Ah well, at least it saved him a couple of steps. He plunged the coffee scoop deep into the can of ground awfulness and then paused.

The instruction sheet on the wall showed a picture of five rounded scoops lined up next to an empty basket, but somebody had drawn a black X through the fifth scoop and written, "Only use 4 or it's too strong," underneath. An arrow in a different colour pointed to that and said, "That just makes it thin and bitter like you. Use 5 and shut up." Someone else had crossed out the 5 and replaced it with a 6. "That overflows the basket, asshole," admonished another hasty scrawl, followed by, "bite me." The exchange would slowly grow over a few days until it either started becoming too personal, or somebody drew a penis. In either case, the office manager would invariably replace the instruction sheet with a fresh one when it reached that point.

Plonq wondered if she threw out the old sheets, or kept them in a drawer. In his opinion they were a worthy bit of office lore that either belonged in a shared scrap book, or even in a "Post Secrets" type of travelling exhibit. He even had a good name for the show: The Coffee Wall of Vitriol.

He sighed and acknowledged to himself that he was stalling. It really did not matter how many scoops of coffee he added, nor how much water. He could add a pinch of salt, some dried egg shells, a dusting of cardamom – really, it did not matter what he did to the coffee. Everybody would hate it and curse his name with each sip.

Of course there was always the cop-out drawer.

He left the scoop standing in the tin and carefully pulled open the drawer with his pinkie claw. There they were, lined front to back and three deep; exactly nine coffee filters with pre-measured scoops of coffee in them.

At some point a misguided perfectionist had decided to take matters into his or her own paws and had measured out what he or she considered to be the perfect number of scoops. Nobody knew how old the pre-measured filters were because nobody would admit to using them. Were they being replaced daily? Were the older ones being rotated to the front? He shuddered and pushed the drawer shut again, gently lest he disturb the evil coffee and anger it. As far as Plonq was concerned, the coffee drawer was one of those mysteries best left unanswered – sort of like how his favourite sports team could finish top in the standings year after year and bow out in the first round of the play-offs. It was a Wookie on planet Endor; it transcended rational explanation.

"Five and one-quarter scoops," he said emphatically. There, he'd made a decision and now he would just have to deal with the consequences. Before he could second-guess himself, the cat quickly measured scoops of the vile powder into the basket and slammed it home into its holder. He snatched the carafe with the baked-on coffee and topped it up with tepid tap water. He had considered rinsing out the pot with the bubbling sludge on the bottom, but his reasoning was that if he could not make good coffee, then at least he could make character coffee.

When a badger rounded the corner into the break room a couple of minutes later, drawn by the smell of fresh coffee brewing, he caught the snow leopard red-handed with his mug under the basket, with the sludgy pot dangling lazily in his other hand. "What the heck do you think you're doing?" demanded the badger angrily. "That's a clear violation of break room etiquette!" The snow leopard's eyes darted down to his coffee mug, then to the coffee pot in his other hand and back up to the badger. It was clear to the badger that he had caught the other in an inappropriate act, and he decided to press his advantage before the feline could concoct any self-serving, halfway plausible denials. "Well, speak up! What do you have to say for yourself?"

The little snow leopard was clearly panicked now. He quickly pulled his nearly-full cup out from under the basket, spilling coffee on his shit shirt in the process. In what seemed almost an afterthought he slammed the coffee carafe into place. "I…" he stammered.

"You what?" demanded the badger. He sensed his dominance in the situation and stepped forward menacingly. "I'm all ears."

"I... ack!"

"I learned an important lesson today," said Plonq later that evening as he applied a stain stick to his shirt.

"What, that you shouldn't try to game the coffee system because you might get caught?" said Giblet without glancing up from his smart phone.

"What? No!" said the feline indignantly. He waved the stain pencil for emphasis. "I made the coffee. If wanted some of the good stuff it was completely within my rights to take some off the top!"

"Well then, pray tell me what important lesson you learned today," said the otter distractedly. "By the way, my sister is a bitch. I don't know why I keep her friended on Muzzlebook. I just wanted to get that out there."

"I learned," said the snow leopard thoughtfully, "that a well-timed, projectile hairball supersedes almost any awkward situation."
plonq: (Average Mood)
I posted a teaser the other day for a story that I was working on.  As promised, here is the final work.  It didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped, but they never do.  This was supposed to be a light romp, but it seems to have descended into yucky relationship stuff.

Anyway...

Cut here and discard. )

And that's the whole story.

July 2017

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