Sunday, November 30, 2014

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Where the Night Finds You, Part 3

Beginning of story
Previous part

"So, what did you do for fun in the suburbs, Toby?"

"You know, the usual stuff -- played video games, watched TV, played ball when it was nice out."

"Was your yard nice and big for playing ball in?"

"I suppose, but Dad would have killed us if we played there."

"Really?  Why?"

"Too many windows to break, and we couldn't mess up Mom's flower beds."

"So where did you play ball?"

"There was a nice park just down the block.  All the kids would hang out there on nice days."

"That's cool, Toby."

They had been walking a little while, and Satchel noticed Toby sweating a little in the late summer sun.  Up ahead a little bit was a double-wide, 3-foot tall brick wall along the sidewalk, with a row of trees providing some deep shade.  When they reached it, Satchel asked, "You want to sit down for a minute?"


Satchel reached into his bag.  Toby expected he might pull out another small loaf, but instead he brought out two small bottles.  Toby cocked his head with a puzzled look.  The bottles were made out of glass, with metal lids - a bit uncommon, but not too unusual - but surrounding them was a cocoon of knitted yarn, obviously knitted by hand.  That was something Toby had never seen before.

"You thirsty, Toby?" Satchel asked as he held out one of the bottles.  Toby twisted off the lid and was a bit startled when it popped.  He remembered drinks doing that when he lived in the suburbs, but it seemed like that was ages ago.  Satchel noted with pleasure that unlike the bread earlier Toby didn't hesitate and wait to follow Satchel's lead but instead started drinking immediately.  Toby's eyes grew wide when the drink hit his tongue.  The first thing he noticed was how cool it was, which was very surprising in the middle of the afternoon.  When he thought about it a bit later, he figured that must have been what the knitted things were for, to keep them cool.  But after the coolness, he was reveling in the freshness of the water.  Since coming to the city, thirst had driven Toby to drink just about anything that was less than putrid.  He had learned to live with all kinds of off-tastes.  Toby then realized this water too had a subtle flavor... but it was pleasant.  It was a little sour, a little sweet, even a little salty.  He decided as he finished off the bottle that it was kind of lemony.  That definitely was a new experience, when he was living in the suburbs, the flavors of drinks would be very strong.

A bird with bright blue wings and a white belly flew up to where the pair was sitting and for a second it looked like it was going to land in Toby's lap.  Suddenly after some mad squaking and confused pounding of wings the bird circled round and landed five feet away on the other side of Satchel.  "Hello, Pennington.  How is my favorite blue jay today?"

"Jay Jay!" it cried.

"I know what you want."  Satchel reached into his bag and pulled out what looked like an over-sized wallet.  When he unfolded it, though, inside were a number of pockets of all different sizes, some open, some closed with a flap, some buttoned up, and some tied or cinched with string.  He uncinched one of the larger pocket and pulled out an acorn.  Satchel placed the acorn in the palm of his hand and placed his hand flat on the brick wall.  The jay looked around suspiciously at Toby for a few seconds, then hopped over to Satchel's hand, snatched the acorn in its beak and flew off.

Satchel cinched the pocket back up, folded up the wallet, and put it in his bag.  "You ready to go, Toby?"


Satchel reached out his hand and said "I'll take your bottle."  Toby handed his over and Satchel put both empty containers back in his bag.

I Confess....

Friday, November 28, 2014

Where the Night Finds You, Part 2

Beginning of story

Satchel asked, "I need to pick up some stuff, you wanna come along?"

"I guess," Toby answered.

"It's just a couple blocks to the first stop."

The pair walked in silence at a fairly brisk pace.  This gave Toby a better chance to observe Satchel, which was part of the point of the silence, as well as not making Toby feel like he was being interrogated.  Why he was called Satchel was obvious, the big bag under his arm was so well-worn it almost looked like it was a part of him; he must have carried it with him wherever he went.  It was what he had pulled the miniature loaf of bread from.

Satchel was a fairly young man, too: not a single white hair showed on his head or his beard, and while his beard was obviously kept trim, it was not very full to begin with; had he been so inclined, he probably would have only started shaving a couple years earlier.

Despite this, Satchel's face still had a weathered look, and even without many wrinkles he didn't have a youthful expression or exuberance.  He was quite short and wiry, too; despite their difference in age, Toby found he could almost match Satchel's stride.

"Okay, we're here," Satchel announced.  Toby was confused.  They were at a vacant, sunny, weed-filled lot.

"I need to harvest some pigweed."  Satchel pulled out a two-foot tall plant -- one of the smaller specimens -- and handed it to Toby.  It looked vaguely familiar to Toby; he had seen it around before, but he had never paid any attention to it.

"See how the root is red? And the stalks of the leaves?  That's one of the defining characteristics.  And look at how the leaves near the bottom are diamond-shaped, but they get narrower near the top.  Check out how the leaves are attached, alternating back and forth.  And feel how hairy the top of the stem is."  Toby followed along as Satchel pointed out the plant's features.

"This big spiky seed head at the top is what we're interested in today.  We want the ones that have started to ripen and are no longer green.  You can grab some of the smaller ones and I'll grab some bigger ones.  Just grab whatever you feel comfortable carrying."

They spent the next 15 minutes each gathering up an armful of the pigweed.  Satchel noticed Toby struggling after 5 minutes and let him know it was okay if he couldn't pull up the plant to just break it off.

When his bundle got big enough he could barely get his arms around it, Toby came over to Satchel and asked "Is this good?"

"That's great, Toby!  I wasn't expecting you to pick that much.  And it looks like you did a good job of picking out the ripe ones, too."  Toby smiled.

"What do we do with these now?," Toby asked.

"We need to dry them out.  I've got a place about five blocks away for that."

They walked for a minute before Satchel asked, "Have you gone to school?"

"A couple years."

"Did you like it?"

"Well, the first one I went, yeah, I kind of enjoyed, but I hated the second one."

"You seem pretty smart, Toby.  What was the problem?"

"We didn't really do anything at my second school, except occasionally some stupid boring drills and tests.  They taught us fun stuff at my first school."

"That's too bad you couldn't stay at your first school."

"Yeah, they made me move after... well...."  A tear started to well up in Toby's eye.

"That's okay, you don't have to talk about it."

After walking another minute, Satchel announced, "This is the place."  Again, Toby was a little confused, though not as much as last time.  The house was obviously vacant and looked like the kind of places Toby had been staying in.  He was a little disappointed, he had expected Satchel to have a little nicer place.  What really confused him, though, was how to get in; all the first story windows and doors were well boarded-up.

Satchel took him to the side of the house, in fairly narrow passage with the next house over.  They stopped at a basement window between two large evergreen bushes which pretty well hid them from the street.  Strangely enough, there was a combination lock on the window.  Satchel set down his bundle, dialed the combination, opened up the window, and slid himself in.  He motioned for Toby to follow as he grabbed his bundle and pulled it through.

Toby set down his bundle and followed.  There was a platform under the window to ease onto.  When he pulled his bundle inside and turned around, he got scared.  It was quite dark in that basement.  Satchel sensed Toby's anxiety.  "It's okay Toby.  Here, sit down and close your eyes.  Now breathe in deeply.  For 10 seconds. 1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8...9...10.  Now exhale slowly, again for 10 seconds. 1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8...9...10.  Okay now open your eyes."

His eyes had begun to adjust to the light, so he even though the only light came from the window behind him and another on the opposite wall, he could see that the basement was empty except for a set of stairs.

As they both headed up the set of stairs, Satchel let Toby know they were headed for the second floor.  When they opened the door at the top of the stairs, they walked in to what must have been the kitchen.  The main sign were the holes for the pipes and a couple broken cabinets and kitchen utensils; all the appliances and just about everything metal had been taken.

They headed around the corner into the living room, and Toby headed for the stairs going up.  Satchel yelled "Stop!  Those aren't safe."  He opened a closet door to reveal a makeshift ladder that had been nailed to the wall.

It was a little awkward climbing the ladder with the bundles of pigweed.  Satchel had Toby go first, since he had never done it before, and he did almost slip, but Satchel was right there to catch him.

Turning around at the top of the ladder, they were in a fairly large room -- perhaps a master bedroom originally.  The room was quite bright, because the sun was streaming in through the windows, which were intact but not boarded up.  There was something strange about them, however, and Toby went to take a closer look.  He walked around several blankets spread out on the floor which were covered with a number of different plants, most of which he didn't recognize.  Some looked like they had been picked yesterday and others were complete dry.  As Toby got closer to the window, he saw that a heavy green mesh had been put up in outside the windows, a little distance away from them.

While Toby was checking out the windows, Satchel pulled another thin cloth out of his bag and spread it on an empty spot on the floor.  He carefully placed the plants in his bundle on the cloth, giving them as much space as he could in between.  "Toby, could you hand me your bundle?," he asked.  Toby did, and Satchel finished filling up the space on the cloth.

Satchel then moved over to one of the cloths that was filled with dry plants.  "Could you help me push these towards the center?," he asked Toby.  In a couple minutes they had freed up about 6 inches on the top and bottom and a foot on the sides.  Satchel then folded the top and bottom down over the dried plants and asked Toby to hold them.  Satchel proceeded to fold the one side over and started to roll it into a bundle.  Satchel pulled two pieces of twine out of his bag, tied up the bundle, and stuck the whole thing back in.

"Thanks, Toby, you were a big help.  That is so much harder to do by myself."  Toby smiled.  Adults thanking him for anything was something he wasn't used to, but it felt natural coming from Satchel.

"The next thing I have to do is drop this off to be threshed.  You okay with meeting someone else, Toby?"

Toby shrugged and said, "Yeah, sure."

"Great!"  Satchel smiled.

Next part

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Where the Night Finds You, Part I

"Hey kid, you hungry?"

The question was almost rhetorical.  The hunger in his eyes was unmistakeable, as was the fear.  It was bad enough that a stranger was talking to him, but a stranger acting kind?  That was something he had hardly ever experienced in his short life.

The man took something out of his pocket and held it out to the boy.  The boy cocked his head with a puzzled expression on his face. It looked something like the loaves of bread he vaguely remembered eating as a younger child, except this was much smaller and not sliced.  It was also much rougher, like the biscuits he would occasionally find in dumpsters behind restaurants.

"It's okay, kid, it's really quite good."  The man broke off a piece and popped it in his mouth.  He waited ten seconds, held it out again, and said "Try it."

Hunger finally overpowered the boy's fears, and he took the small loaf.  He gave it a sniff.  The smell surprised him.  It was nothing like anything he had experienced before.  It was very rich but subtle, a blend of scents he mostly couldn't identify.  He inhaled deeply and puzzled it out for a few seconds before giving up and taking a bite.  It was surprisingly dense, and he was torn between savoring the flavor and filling his stomach.

"You from the suburbs?"  The man knew this was the most critical part.  If he didn't engage the kid before he had finished eating, he was likely to bolt.  But he had to ask simple "yes-or-no" questions the boy could answer with a nod or shake of his head so the boy didn't have to interrupt his meal to answer.

The boy nodded his head yes, but the man already knew that would be the answer.  He was obviously too healthy to have grown up in the city.  He was lacking the obvious signs of being malnourished as a baby.  "I've lived in the city all my life," the man added.

"This your first time in the city?"  Again the boy nodded his head yes.  This also was a pretty easy question, it had been a long time since people from the suburbs came in to the city unless they absolutely had to, and the kid didn't look that old.

"You lose your parents?"  This was trickier.  The boy didn't have any obvious scars on him, so he probably wasn't running away from abuse, so the man knew that this was the other likely reason he came.  The answer came not as a nod but as a glare as the boy stopped in mid-chew.  "It's alright, we won't talk about that," the man said.

"You just get here recently?"  The man didn't really need to ask that question, he knew everyone in the neighborhood, so when a new face shows up, he noticed.  Again, the boy nodded.

The boy was almost finished.  As he put the last bite in his mouth, the man introduced himself.  "My name is Jake, but everyone calls me Satchel.  What's your name?"  

The boy paused to finished chewing his food, then replied "Toby."

"Nice to meet you, Toby. You busy?"  Satchel knew the answer to that question too; it was the reason he waited and observed Toby for a couple weeks before approaching him, so he could catch him when he had some down time -- and was hungry, of course.  Satchel had asked the question very nonchalantly, but this was the critical question.  If Toby left now, there was a good chance he would move on and Satchel would never see him again.  But if Satchel seemed too desperate, Toby would get creeped out and would leave.

Toby shrugged his shoulders and answered, "Not really."

"Good."  Satchel smiled.

Next part

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Future Story: Alas Zion Part 3

Beginning of Story
Previous Part

"Israel was the homeland of the Jews."

"Don't you mean Zion?"

"No, Israel was completely different.  To begin with, it was on the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean, not in the Caucasus Mountains.  The Israelis believed it was their ancestral homeland, given to them by God.  And maybe most importantly, Jews went to live there of their own free will."

"Wow, yeah, that is quite different."

"Not only that, they had to constantly fight the people who had been living there before, the Palestinians. Both men and women served in the army."

"Wait!  Are you telling me that Jews were allowed to carry guns?"

"Hang on, an Overseer is coming."

The boy works quickly down the row to put a little distance between himself and the old man.  A nine-foot tall robot rolls into view over the crops.  One arm is a machine gun, the other a claw large enough to wrap around a man's throat.  Both arms have swastikas by the shoulders.  The robot stops at the old man for a minute, looking him over carefully before moving on to the boy.

"Arbeit macht frei" it bellows at each of them in turn before rolling away.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Pulling Water Out Of Thin Air

Pulling water out of thin air sounds like something that requires a lot of energy and high-tech gadgets.  While such things are available, Robert A. Nelson shows in Air Wells, Fog Fences & Dew Ponds: Methods for Recovery of Atmospheric Humidity focuses more on solutions that are equally sophisticated but have lower energy requirements.