A Bad Wrap

How would you like to date my daughter?  Interested?
 
Don’t bother answering the question.  I already know how you would reply.  If you’re a red blooded male you would ask, “Well, what does she look like?” 
 
There’s no reason to feel guilty about your answer.  I spent years in college waiting for the right bells and whistles.  Unfortunately, many of the women in my college sphere showed off things like kindness, chastity, and godliness.  There was no chance of them catching my juvenile eyes!
 
Here’s an arch-typical conversation on the dating subject with some of my college dorm mates.  I have omitted the names.  In their place, I have written their most dominant trait in parenthesis. 
 
(Freshman who can’t wake up for a 10 AM class) asks, “Matt, why don’t you just pick a girl to date?  I mean they’re around just date one?”
 
I responded, “You’re kidding right?  Why would I spend time and money on a girl who doesn’t turn my crank?  I’d get more excited putting money into that rare penny I’ve been wanting.  And guess what, the coin wouldn’t become angry when I make a date with a different date.  Get it?”
 
Without warning, (Lets his cereal sit until it’s soggy because he likes it that way) said, “Girls don’t like me.”
 
(Half his student loan check is paying for his expensive car) chimes in, “Well, what are you looking for then?”
 
“I’m looking for a pretty package first then I’ll worry about what’s inside.  Picture a Christmas tree loaded with tinsel, ornaments, and lights. Underneath is a jumbled pile of gifts that have you and your brothers jumping up and down with excitement.” 
 
I spread my arms and raised my voice bringing their imaginations to life.  “Mother finally relents and tells everyone they can open only one.  How do little boys chose? 
 
(Stinks the bathroom so bad you can’t breath) responds, “Which one looks the best!”
 
(Uses other people’s deodorant) says, “I look at the tag.  Reputation is important.”
 
I continued.  “Pretend each gift is like a woman, some wrapped in high gloss, pink foil with silk ribbons.  A few are clapped together with pages from the funny papers.  A few are disguised with paper grocery bags, twine, and heavy wax stars drawn with jumbo crayons. 
 
Most of the time there’s no telling what’s on the inside but that’s what’s important!  It’s not the wrapping paper that will make you happy.  Heck, eventually that’s thrown away anyway.”
 
(So stupid he can’t write in cursive) yells, “But I like the wrapping paper!”
 
“I like wrapping paper too.  And when you’re meeting girls for the first time that’s all you have to appraise them.  It takes time to shake them and weigh them and find out who brought it and everything else a guy can use to estimate what’s inside.”
 
“I get it!”  Blurts (Works out and wears tank tops to class so everyone knows it).  “And gifts get angry when you shake them then just put them back!”
 
(Calls his mom too often to be normal) adds, “Yea, and if you do open the gift and try to return it, it becomes a huge ordeal!”
 
I cringed a bit.  “Wait, you’re taking this metaphor a little too far.  All I’m saying is that it’s not shallow for a guy to look at a woman’s exterior first because that’s the first and by far the easiest way to estimate a woman before he gets to know her.”
 
As if summoned by the power of our collective testosterone, a female walks by the boy’s lounge on her way to the dorm. 

“Hey, watch this,”  (Hasn’t eaten anything but fast food for three weeks) says as he jumps up and opens the door.  “Hey baby, what’s your tag?”
 

Diet Profanity

Quoth the bard, “The eyes are a mirror to the soul opening the emotions to the outside world.  The nose is a scribe writing memories in indelible ink and painting flavor to our mind.  From the mouth issues the soul’s finished product; the spirit’s end result.”

I was serving my morning duty in the lunchroom.  The kids had come in from the bus and filled the seats around the cafeteria tables.  If the early hour subdued them, it isn’t by much.  They were loud, really loud. 

“All this noise and they really have nothing important to say.”

I walked by a table and decided to eavesdrop.  One boy in a gray hood was turned in his seat so that his back was to me.  “So then this #$@ says to me, ‘What up ^#^$$#!’  So I says, You know ‘%^&#@.”

The boys he was talking to saw me and realized I was listening.  They all leaned back as one and waited to see what I was going to do.  I was hooked now.  I took a deep breath and walked toward them. 

The office wasn’t interested in me sending a kid just for foul language.  Office violations were required to be of a much harder nature like pilfering medications from the nurses office or urinating in the bathroom soap dispencers.  The bar has been raised. 

There was really nothing I could say to keep this kid from using profanity again two minutes after I left, but decided to try.  “You know, you shouldn’t use profanity.”

“Why?” 

(Note: “Why?” and its near cousins, “What for?” and “I don’t care.” are the most common responses to correction.  It’s in the student orientation manual somewhere.)

I squelched my annoyance and gave it my best shot.  “There are lower class people and there are upper class people.  The lower classes have to use that kind of language because of a limited vocabulary and a terrible lack of good manners.”

He tries to bait me.  “My dad cusses.”

“Then your dad has chosen lower class behavior when better options are available.”

He shrugged and I returned to wandering the cafeteria.

Incidents like this create a stark contrast to my own attitude in middle school.  My conscious weighed too heavily on me.  I even went through the trouble of creating “diet profanity.” 

The comic strips used punctuation and symbols to represent swearing.  I decided to try this but it somehow didn’t sound right to stub a toe and yell, “Exclamation point!” or “Swirly mark!” 

I adjusted by trying a few of the lesser known members of the punctuation family. Forgetting to bring a pencil to class I mumbled, “Tilde!” ( ~ )  Then looked around to see any of the other kids heard my mild profanity. When I incorrectly answered an English question I used, “Ampersand!” ( & )  The expression only earned a few odd looks.

My version of profanity never really caught fire.  However,  liberal use of, “Asterisk!” ( * ) did almost get me in trouble at home.

Frozen Pies

The frozen pleasures of Dakota Territory are not easy for a common man to detect. The long horizons sandwiched between white snow and the slate gray cloud cover of mid winter fail to sell postcards. What makes the forgotten corners of America’s prairie so special are the hidden delights that only the locals know about. (And I’m not talking about drinking. That is a portable activity; you can do it anywhere.)

I experienced one of these thrills while visiting Sam at his father’s ranch on South Dakota’s western side.

The wind blew into our faces as we zipped across the fallow fields on the back of his 4-wheeler. The temperature or lack thereof made my eyes water. My fingers and toes ached from the bitter extremes. I had sneezed as we tore out of Sam’s yard. The remnants of my snot and saliva were flash frozen into a permanent mosaic on my sleeve.

Sam was forced to yell over the engine’s unhindered roar. “Everything looks new, huh Matt!”

It had snowed only a little the previous evening but it was enough to give the previous snowdrifts a new coat of paint. Snow doesn’t melt in Dakota it only accumulates. I glanced down and the ground was a blur of sold white.

“Where are we going?”

I couldn’t be sure but it sounded like Sam laughed. “There’s a shed out here in the north pasture with a rope and a large inner tube. You’ve gone sledding without hills before right?”

I yelled back, “How is that supposed to work?”

“C’mon Matt, figure it out! We’re going to tie the rope between the inner tube and the 4-wheeler. A little gas and three or four misused laws of physics and we’ll have more fun than we know what to do with!”

We found the shed and after breaking the icy patch over the door handles we found what we needed.

“This inner tube looks like a big rubber donut. What do I do if you’re about to sling me into a fence post or something? Haven’t people died in accidents from doing this sort of thing?”

Sam stopped tying the rope to the 4-wheelers hitch. “Did you know that deaths related to the combined use of inner tubes and 4-wheelers is one of our nation’s rarest forms of death. It’s just below dying of boredom.”

“Very funny, but if I’m headed for something that won’t move for me, what do I do?”

“For pete’s sake Matt, if you want to, just try dragging you butt.” He checked the knots on the both ends of the rope. “Now hop in or I’m giving one of the cows a ride.”

I jumped into the inner tube and a second later was speeding only inches above the snow’s surface. Sam looked back to make sure I was still attached before giving the handlebars a wicked turn to the right and punching the gas.

My body approached the speed of light as the inner tube’s pendulum rotation tired to match the ATV’s quick turns. A grin of involuntary proportions broke across my face despite the bits of dirty ice and rock.

I had a blast until…Whump!

“Oooowww!”

Something hard had displaced my rear end. I knew right away that I had earned a bruise.

When Sam tried a turn too close to the water trough, I knew I was in big trouble. As instructed, I tried to slow my approach by dragging my rear.

Whump! Whump! Whump!

If I didn’t abort the inner tube right then, I was going to the hospital. I threw my body to the ground in an effort to lessen the damage my body was already taking.

Sam drove up and shut off the engine. “Sorry about that but it was fun right?”

“My butt feels like ground beef! I tried dragging it to slow down but it kept hitting rocks or something!”

“Rocks? There aren’t any rocks big enough…wait. Oh, I drove too close to where we feed the cattle! Yea, we have a different definition for Eskimo pies around here, frozen cow dung. Gee, they get pretty hard once their frozen, huh?”

He hopped off the 4-wheeler. “Now you drive, it’s my turn.”

Angelo

There’s a dent in the left, rear quarter panel of my car.  It’s about one and a half inches long running vertical not far from the lid to my gas tank.  The paint has held up a pretty strong shine considering I wipe it over with a fresh coat of resentment everyday.

My car hasn’t really complained.  In fact, it’s been paid off for so long it takes dents for the team.  I bothered to carry full coverage on it until the day after a hailstorm came through and “massaged” it a bit.  I live with, almost smile at those dents. 

But that singular dent on my rear panel vexes me like a broken splinter. 

A man named Angelo put it there.  This man has an advantage over me for I am sure he has forgotten about me.  And yet, he poisons my attitude a bit each time I see his ugly mug reflected from the crease he put into my car.

After college, I minded tables at the restaurant of two brothers and a sister.  The establishment was a starched shirt, mind your posture, underwear too tight restaurant in the Memphis area.  Those who ate there had either had too much money or no sense on how to spend it.  Drinks, entrée, desert, and tip for one person would take a fifty dollar bill.  There was no kiddy menu and if you asked for a high chair the toddler sat on a stack of menus instead. 

Angelo had married the sister and was considered one of the owners.  He was smart enough to marry money and he knew the best way to work out those infantile calluses was to take as many vacations as possible.  His vision was cast as a scowl; frozen into place from the three backbreaking days he worked each week.

I was setting my tables before lunch one morning when Angelo’s expensive luxury vehicle pulled in next to my small, blue car.  He walked around to his rear passenger door and tossed it open to retrieve his briefcase.  His door flew into my car leaving the dent that speaks to me almost everyday.

I watched Angelo stare at my car for a moment then dismissthe matter.  He turned and strolled inside the restaurant.  I couldn’t see from the restaurant window if there was any damage.  I don’t know if I would have said anything even if I knew.

A few minutes later he appeared in the dinning room to grace us with one of his “inspecting the mules” looks.  Based wholly on the way he treated us, the wait staff were simple animals pulling his chuck-wagon to the bank.  He continually barked orders and lashed at the reigns. 

When I run my fingers over the dent, it’s jealousy that sticks to them.  I try to rub it off on my soul where it intensifies into resentment.

With a shrug and a deep breath, I reach for the car door. 

Angelo still distracts me from the many blessings I enjoy.  I realize that it’s gratitude that should be the most powerful force in my heart.  Especially when you consider that I no longer work for the man.

Staff Memo – Looking At 2010

Innovation, development, accuracy, hallucinations…these are the words that drive the mission at DodoEggs.com. It is our relentless pursuit of more pretentious letterhead that make us the industry’s memorandum standard bearers! Better letterhead for a brighter tomorrow!

Dear Employees,

It has come to my attention that our main rival ChickenPoop.com is in development of a super advanced predictions list for 2009. Who saw this coming!?

I have contacted our research department about creating such a list for 2010 and have been given notification that they only work with past information.

Folks, the past is the past. Let’s put is this way…do you want day old doughnuts or tomorrow’s cookie dough? Nine out ten people can’t remember what they wore yesterday. I rest my case.

In a rush of executive power, I have sold the entire research department to the Japanese. If you work in offices 207 to 215, Casual Day has been changed to Komono Friday. Sayonara.

The maintenance department has approached me regarding our needs and has come through with a list we can use. However, he have had problems beta testing as the toilet paper the lists are printed on have not proven to be very durable.

DodoEggs.com’s potent predictions for 2010…

5. Thanks to the possibility of Global Warming, North Dakota retailers sell their first bikini! The governor proposes three days of bikini training titled, “Two pieces = One bathing suit!”

North Dakota’s beach development team will look into leasing beach property from coast-wealthy states but transporting the coast back to Dakota will remain an issue.

4. Nostradummy’s (second cousin of famous prophet) work is discovered in a desert cave in the Middle East. Visionary predicts color television, horseless buggies, and flavored tortilla chips.

Archaeologists find unused corner of the Smithsonian’s maintenance closet to display scrolls.

3. The credit industry will create another advance that provides the debt laden American consumer with additional purchasing power. Generational financing! Now you can leave the worn out, coffee stained couch to your children along with the bill stuffed between the cushions.

2. A great earthquake will temporarily change the direction the water in our toilets rotates. Plumbers across the world are called in to make necessary adjustments on all existing toilets.  In a startling revelation, it will be discovered that water’s opposite rotation helps prevent clogs.

Leaders of plumbers unions are called before Congress to explain the huge cover up and kick-backs received from the plunger industry.

1. Scientists in Chile discover a way to combine the two most potent power sources on earth. This hybrid fuel, a volatile mixture of caffeine and sarcasm, is able to power every vehicle on earth for more than three weeks on one tank!

Love’s Long Odds

What miraculous event brought you and your spouse together? Where did fate steer you toward the love of your life when the chances of it going the other way were much greater?  Love is a fragile creation when you consider everything that could have gone wrong. 
 
During the spring of 1994, I was preparing to move from my beloved Dakota Territory and follow my family to the South.  I requested information from nearly a dozen private colleges from East Texas to North Carolina.  Each time one responded, the pamphlets, brochures, and propaganda spilt across my kitchen table like a glass of milk.
 
Most schools leaped off my list with just a glance.  Some were strictly theological seminaries, some were historically black, and a couple printed, Are you made of money? as their letterhead.
 
One institutes’s materials finally caught my eye.  It was a Christian liberal arts college in Memphis that boasted a deluxe workout center with a pool.  I gave the inserted picture of the pool another scrutinizing look.  There were girls lounging around the pool in modest one-piece bathing suits!  Perfect!
 
As amazing as it may sound, I chose the establishment for my higher education because of a two inch by two inch picture of women in their brochure. 
 
I completed my application and threw it in a bulging manila envelope.  I was so confident that fate was directing me to the girls in the photo that I didn’t fill out another application.  Not once did I consider rejection or that something unforeseen could happen to the paperwork.
 
Fate toyed with catastrophe.  During my application’s trip through the Bismarck post office, it burst open.  The loose contents littered the floor and conveyor belts of the  post office’s busy sorting center. 
 
One postal worker spotted the mess and ran his eyes over the forms spying my name he uttered, “Hey, I know his guy.”
 
My uncle had come across the application and took the time to assemble the paperwork again.  He then resealed the envelope (or put it in a new one, how should I know) and sent the rescued submission on to Memphis.  Without his fortuitous placement, I may never have darkened the same classroom thresholds Melissa did.  History would have become irrevocably altered.

Postscript #1: Years later, I still have that brochure.  When I look at it, I realize I still don’t have any idea who those girls are. 

Postscript #2:  Nineteen year olds have no judgment.  When I tried to quantify a teenagers judgement, the readout on the calcualtor kept displaying Err

Postscript #3:  I swam at that pool many times during my three and a half years at that school.  The only moderately attractive female I ever met was the lifeguard.  We dated a couple of times. 
 
Postscript #4: For the record, that’s one of three girls I dated in college.  It’s number that has frat guy’s heads spinning.  I’m not kidding; I would have had an easier time hunting dodos.

Male Studies (Letter 6)

From the Desk of Norm dePlume
Professor of Equestrian Cosmetology
Faculty Winner, Office-to-Clubhouse Award for most humorless comics on office door.
 

To my peers in the field,

Remarkable news!  Our study of the sadly typical college male has uncovered an incredible new species!  Latin has no proper words to describe these dime sized single celled organisms.  We are forced to name them MASCULUM PATHETICUSor koodies for short.

For years, these spontaneously generated organisms have eluded scientists.  Their transparent organelles and cellular membranes make them nearly impossible to see with the unaided eye.  But we all knew they were there!

Glands in the human body generate the right conditions for koodies which are a by-product of testosterone and estrogen production.  The hormone then dissolves these organisms unless the hormone is created in too small amounts (kids ages 6 to 12) or the sex hormone is not being used to influence behavior and/or appearance (Binko and Zits).

Masculum Patheticus seem to concentrate in undergarments, toothbrushes, book bags, and lunch boxes.  However, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that koodies can be translated by sharing something as innocuous as a pencil or sitting too close at lunch.

Our research staff discovered them due to the outstandingly high concentrations in Binko and Zits room.  Colonies of Masculum Patheticus were so outstandingly thick they were sticking to the camera lenses and using their flagella to make rude gestures.

We don’t believe that becoming infected with koodies leads to any long-term health effects.  However, social peers seem unconsciously alerted to any infestation and make a decision to avoid the infected person.  This can lead the victim to feelings of self-loathing and social avoidance. 

These are reasonable responses.  After all, they have koodies.

We are working on a permenant cure but thus far the only treatments that have proven effective are good looks, standing on one foot, a nice car, having your fingers crossed, and lots and lots of money. 

    We’ll keep you abreast,
 

 

  Norm dePlume
 

The Rift Tonic (Part 3)

Solomon stepped slowly toward the opposite archway and the pedestal.  With the exception of Grim and Gesper’s weak mumbling, there was no noise.  The palentite portions of the ceiling were lit providing more than enough light for Solomon to focus on the silver flask.

 He had a confidence forged from a smooth blend of arrogance and accomplishment.  It was for this trial he was bred and nothing would keep him from it.  The room was obviously a trap but one that needed to be sprung.  He kept his hammer just above his head ready to bring it down quickly.  On the opposite end of the thick iron shaft, was a deadly wedge.

Scattered around the cavern were dry remains of Atakaskin explorers those who had perished trying to reach the Rift Tonic.  It’s magic was said to make one from his race fast, strong, even invincible.

His thoughts suddenly scattered when his eyes caught movement from the walls.  Slices of the cavern’s sides seemed to shutter a bit then break away.  Each layer was replaced by another thin sheet of rock all of it moving toward him in a wave. 

“Rockshells?”  Solomon recognized the insects now but could not believe the number.

Solomon had never seen the predatory insects so large or in such quantities.  He was a bit disappointed, he was hoping for something more. 

“Eeeaaa!”  His hammer sank into the first rockshell, breaking the large bug in to a shuddering mass of legs and primitive organs. 

Long pinchers appeared coinciding with the high squeal of their breathing. The haunting noise filled the hall as the swarm came for Solomon.  They were too heavy to fly but had no difficulty climbing over one another in their frenzy.

The Atakaskin warrior laughed then spewed flames in a circle about him.  The insect’s advance stopped but only for a moment.  It was enough time for Solomon to leap to one side bringing the hammer down on three at a time.  Their exoskeletons splitting like eggshells.

Solomon swung his hammer in wide circles along with breathing fire.  When the insects began sticking to the hammer’s head, Solomon lowered the wedge end of his weapon and barreled through to one corner.  There he could fight with his back to the wall and be at a greater advantage.

He stuck the giant insects down mercilessly.  Occasionally, one would make it to his legs or snatch his forearm.  Their sharp pincers caught his plating and flesh with crushing force.

But Solomon was too massive and much too savage.  His hammer didn’t slow a bit as he dropped his knees into attacker that made it to close.   The bodies piled up becoming an even greater bearer to the swarm’s advance.  Solomon began laughing uncontrollably.  He had been prepared for much worse!   Was this a joke?

With a heave, he threw his hammer to the other side of the chamber and began seizing the insects with his bare hands some he had already killed.  He tore off heads and pincers with little more than a vicious twist.  Then he lowered his shoulder and somersaulted into the heaving rockshells crushing many under the weight of his rolling body. 

Only minutes later, Solomon’s hammer crushed the last of his attackers.  His blazing eyes glancing about still hungry for another challenger but there was nothing but slight twitching from broken limbs.

The warrior straightened and took stock of his body.  There was bleeding up and across his arms but nothing too deep.  Around his legs, several of his plates were cracked or pulled away.  Solomon wouldn’t admit it but he had taken some wounds.

Then he remembered the hodges.  The swarm would surly have come for them as well.  He looked to the entrance but didn’t see any movement.  He called but there was no answer.

“I have no time to waste on servants.”  He turned and caught sight of his prize.  The silver flask still sat on its pedestal undisturbed.  He dismissed Grim and Gesper. “They were probably chased back into the sanctuary.  What value does a hodge have now?”

Solomon took the flask and opened it.  Luminance seemed to push the plug out as much as Solomon had pulled it.  It was the same light that burned in his body.  He smelled the fluid to be sure it was not part of anther trap but it offered nothing to raise his suspicions. He took a small drink from the elixir.

The change took Solomon by complete surprise.  He felt power like magma flow into each limb.  Bleeding stopped and his body expanded.  Gaps were created between his mineral plates but Solomon didn’t care.  He took in the rest of the flask and the changes became even greater.  A heft of his hammer revealed he had grown almost a span wider and taller!  The magic and power of the Rift Tonic was real! 

The Atakaskin turned and looked into the next archway.  It was larger than the last and he would be able to walk through with his shoulders a bit bent just as he had done with the last tunnel.

Darkness claimed the next chamber.  Just like the other rooms, portions of the walls were set with palentite.  Solomon spit at the stone and its energy spread up the walls and along the cavern’s roof. 

This chamber was as large as the last with anther tunnel on the other side.  Resting on another pedestal was a second flask waiting to be claimed. 

Solomon vowed not to keep it waiting long.  He flexed his body and it responded with a flood of light and heat.  The plates on his skin couldn’t cover his larger body and the heat scorched the stone around him.  His steps were longer and faster covering ground with alacrity.  The Atakaskin didn’t care what would try to stop him.  There was nothing short of a god that could stand in his way.

When he reached the middle of the room, Solomon slowed and brought his hammer up.  If something was going to try him, it would do it now.  As if summoned, a breeze wound its way through the shrine and past Solomon’s body.  It disturbed the dust creating a small whirlwind that grew as it blew around the chamber.  It weaved its way near the pedestal.

It stopped and a long gray robe with gold embroidery along the edges was picked up and hung in the air.  The robe slowed its spinning and filled out as if it surrounded flesh.  It bent and an invisible grasp picked up a broadsword. 

“I have no fear of illusions and the weapon you hold is little more than a toy.”  Solomon voice was had taken on greater volume to match his body.

The phantom brought the sword up and rushed the Atakaskin.  Solomon saw the blow coming.  Its path was intended for his neck.  The hammer’s iron shaft was raised and it blocked the sword with a short explosion of sparks.

Solomon threw his attacker back then brought the hammer down on the wraith.  The weapon’s head snagged the robe and sunk an inch into the ground.  The blow dissolved the robe’s shape and pinned it to the rock floor.  The sword’s blade fell away contacting the rock with an earsplitting smack.

“Too easy.  Far too easy.” 

Solomon lifted the hammer and stepped back.  The robe retook its shape and came for him again.  This time it was far quicker.  It brought the sword high again then suddenly went low.  The sword sunk into the glowing flesh between Solomon’s protective plates and into the lower abdomen. 

With the Rift Tonic still flowing through him, Solomon forced through the pain.  He took his left hand off the hammer and snatched the robe.  He then dropped the hammer and took the robe with both hands ripping it into shreds.  Each fragment drifted to the ground like a fallen leaf.

Solomon reached down removing the sword from his body.  He had been too slow.  It was a wound that could be life threatening.  The clear fluid that transported the heat, strength, and light throughout his body was draining.  He would be fine if the next portion of Rift Tonic healed him as the other had.

The broadsword was dropped with a clatter.  He slung his war hammer across his back shoulder and cupped his wound with his free hand.  Solomon only managed another three steps before the wind picked up again. 

He turned and the bits of robe became swept up into another whirlwind.  Each piece began reassembling, knitting together until it was whole again.  Gripped in the phantom’s transparent hand the sword dripped with Solomon’s lifeblood.

It drifted to Solomon’s wounded side and came for him again.

The Rift Tonic (Part 4)

“Enough!”  The Atakaskin forgot the split in his side.  He brought the hammer across his body aiming for the wraith’s broadsword.  In an explosion of sparks, the sword shattered. 

The wraith flew back.  For more than a minute, it simply hovered facing Solomon as if it was studying him.

The Atakaskin warrior returned its death stare.  “Well, you worthless bit of spell craft!?  Shall you flee or will you dissipate into the cursed speech that brought you into existence?”

The robe opened and flew at Solomon.  The warrior brought the wedge part of his hammer into the robe and it tore cleanly through.  Solomon’s counter didn’t seem to bother the phantom.  Invisible hands, more than two, began pummeling Solomon.  They were powerful blows some striking his open side with other forces closing around his neck.  It felt like a vice.

“Aaakkk, no, I will not die!” 

Solomon dropped his hammer and tried to protect his side and free his neck.  The robe’s hood wrapped about his face taking his sight.  The magical weave too tight for even air to penetrate.  The Atakaskin went to one knee then two.

“I-will-not-die!”

With the last of his breath, Solomon blew a palentite plume into the robe around his face.  There was a screech and the spirit withdrew.  The flames from Solomon’s attack ate away at the robe.  It fell to the ground in an attempt to put itself out.  Solomon chuckled and spit another several times.  Each small fireball turned the enchanted robe further into ash.

The liquid palentite in the flask acted just as the other.  Solomon felt his body grow and burn hotter.  The gap in his side closed.  He was able to ingest the palentite and release even more of the mineral’s locked powers.  He would be a giant even amongst his own people!

The next tunnel seemed smaller than the others.  Solomon almost needed to bend completely over the make it through.  When he reached the other side, the Atakaskin flexed his body releasing enough heat and light to ignite the palentite in the walls.

On the far side of the cavern sat two stone posts, one upheld another silver flask on the other sat a hodge in a green forest robe.  Its head was bowed and it took no notice of the giant warrior. 

Solomon squinted and looked at the hodge in surprise.  It looked only half as large as Grim and Gesper and yet Solomon knew it was his new size that caused the hodge to appear so small.  It was surprising. 

“Little friend, I have come for additional Rift Tonic, the treasure of my people.  You will fetch the flask for me and take me to Rift Well where I will make myself invincible.”

The hodge looked up.  He had been cradling a silver bow.  “Such arrogance!  It is the scourge of your race.  You are indeed stronger than any who have come before but your fate will be the same.”

With that, the hodge came to its feet and shot three arrows that flew across the cavern like darts.  Each buried its tip into Solomon’s body.

Solomon looked down and saw the imbedded arrows.  They looked like slivers.  He could barely feel them!

“If deadly creatures and magic beings cannot stop me, a hodge stands no chance.”

The warrior took a massive breath and spewed flames throughout the far half of the chamber.  Any living thing left on the ground would be completely consumed.

When Solomon looked for the hodge’s charred remains, he found the miserable being clinging to a cleft in the cavern wall.  Its green robe singed.  It was struggling to breath.

Solomon walked over and plucked the hodge off the wall with one hand and took the third flask with the other.  He drank while the hodge launched a second volley of arrows into the Atakaskin’s neck.

The shafts burned way from Solomon’s body as he expanded again.  He was now almost three times his original size.  If he so desired, he could leap and touch the chamber’s high vaulted ceiling. 

The hodge shouldered his bow but did not relent.  “I may be undone but you will not succeed!”

Solomon laughed again shaking the very bedrock with its strength.  “Why forfeit your life little one?  Show me the well that filled these flasks and I will reward your courage and good sense.”

The hodge pointed a quartz claw at Solomon’s face.  “My name is Riven.  Set me down and we can negotiate.” 

Solomon waited for all the palentite flames to die back before setting the hodge on the stone floor.  The smaller creature yelped and jumped because the floor was still extremely hot.  Riven leaped away from the pedestals and back to the tunnel from which Solomon had emerged. 

“Will you promise me money and servants of my own?”

The Atakaskin couldn’t help but laugh.  “Whatever your desire is I will grant but only if I gaze upon the Well’s liquid light before I loose my patience.”
 
Riven motioned for Solomon to follow before scampering into the tunnel. 

Solomon had crouch completely to move back through the third tunnel.  His shoulders were so wide they left streaks of charred stone.  Once through, he straightened and looked around for Riven.  He found the hodge standing in the next tunnel’s entryway waving to him.

The hodge gave Solomon another defiant look.  “Thank you for returning Grim and Gesper to us.  They never belonged in the servitude of Atakaskin barbarians anyway.  They are actually at Rift’s Well now.  By the way, it isn’t in this temple at all.”

“What!  Those miserable slaves have reached the Well before me?!”  Solomon’s body flared with anger.  “You should not think to taunt me!  Your position to bargain is fragile.”

Without another word, Riven disappeared into the tunnel.

Solomon bent toward the tunnel and realized immediately that he could barely fit through.  Riven appeared briefly on the other side then the hodge disappeared to one side.  He was playing a game; one Solomon would end at the next opportunity.

The warrior went to his hands and knees and pulled his body through.  His size had indeed become too large to be reasonable.  Water could quench the palentite and was normally a poison to an Atakaskin.  In this case, he would need it to bring his power to a more manageable size.

Riven was already gone when Solomon squeezed into the first chamber.  The rockshells were still flung about only they now appeared small and completely harmless.  Solomon had finally stopped growing but he was too wide to fit through the original archway.

Solomon went to his knees.  “Riven, fetch me water so that I may quench the Tonic a bit.”

From somewhere in the shrine, he heard the hodge respond.  “I think not!  Die like the rest of your headstrong race!  I leave you now to the trap and the magic of the temple.”

Solomon let a roar escape.  He was trapped but his would not be the fate of those who had come before him.  He reared up and smashed his fists into the rock around the tunnel.  Huge boulders were broken away in handfuls.

“The fools will not escape!  No amount of stone can contain me!  I will drop their bodies into the flaming pit of my open maw!”

With another cry that could be heard throughout the underworld, Solomon pushed both fists through the chamber’s wall and into the shrine proper.  Fueled by the magic of Rift’s Tonic, Solomon leapt to his feet his burning eyes scanning for the hodges. 

He failed to see or avoid the baseless pillar he had earlier marked as a trap.  Solomon marched through the magic column, smashed it, and brought down a cascade of twelve-foot long iron spikes.

Days later, Riven would return.  He was the trap’s keeper and grudge-holder.  The curse that cleaned the Utapan of life would also repair the stone.  The greatest tribute to Atakaskin might and their most sought after treasure forever used against them. 

The hodge’s dim, opal eyes were framed with delight.

The Rift Tonic (Part 1)

The cave passage twisted deeper into the dark recesses.  Water seeped from the walls coating the rocks with minerals and collecting in shallow crevices.  These pools provided the only smooth surfaces in the forsaken caves known as the Utapan.

Nothing grew here.  Six legged cave darters and dangerous rockshells found no prey. Even the stubborn dispora moss could not be found.  The tunnels were cursed and abandoned to all visible forms of life. 

The echo of Solomon’s footfalls traveled though the jagged halls with the speed of a frightened spirit.  It was the noise made when rocks grind and groan under tremendous weight, a noise to match the Atakaskin miner’s monolithic body. 

Solomon stood eight feet tall with mountains for shoulders and legs like the stone columns that supported his home’s Grand Hall.  Smooth, blue hued plates covered his thick flesh.  Each plate overlapped another acting like a flexible coat of armor. 

As his limbs stretched and moved, bits of light escaped from between the scales.  He radiated heat and light.  Illumination issued readily from his eyes and mouth hiding his pupils and giving his eyes the look of hot coals.  An Atakaskin’s body burnt palentite, the same bright material that glowed unwaveringly from the tips of the iron torches Solomon’s two companions carried.

“Solomon, we’ve been traveling for more than five days.  The Utapan is a complete maze.  Even more so now that we’ve outpaced even the oldest maps.”

The miner barely turned his head his eyes lighting the path before them.  “Gesper, you did not expect the maps to take us directly to our goal, did you?”

Gesper held his torch close to his copy of the cave maps looking for anything he had missed.  With a huff, the hodge rolled the map and stuffed it into his satchel.  The guide slumped a bit.  His quartz quills were laid down flat along the lean three-foot height common of hodges.  

“Well, no.”  Gesper shrugged.  “But now that we’re actually here…  I must admit I’m having second thoughts.”

“Second thoughts and a little hesitation produce only cowards!”  A second hodge called Grim called from his perch on Solomon’s shoulder.

“That’s easy for you to say.”  Gesper replied.  “You’re riding on the pride of the Atakaskin race.  Solomon hasn’t let his war hammer drop from his steel grip since we entered the Utapan!  Yes, a brave hodge you are indeed.”

Solomon interrupted them his voice low and serious.  “You are too loud.  We do not know what lies between the Rift Well and us.  What we do know is no one has made it back from this far.”

Solomon leaned back then lurched forward spewing a palentite fireball further into the cave.  Rock spires and reflective collections of water were all that could be seen.  It was a disheartening sight for those so far from their homes.  The Utapan looked like a long walk to the grave.
 
They marched for another day with the party’s pathfinder leading.  Grim’s ferret-like body moved fluidly around rock outcroppings.    He used his sense of magnetism and smell to maintain their steady decent.  Hodges were mineral creatures like the Atakaskins but their bodies did not make use of the immense strength of the palentite.  They more closely resembled the animals of the surface world and were treated little better by the powerful Atakaskin race.

They walked mile after mile with nothing changing.  Powered by the palentite, Solomon walked unceasingly covering miles in a slow, deliberate march.  His strength never wavered.  Grim and Gesper took turns sleeping on the miner’s shoulders or searching the path in front of them.

At first, the hodges spoke often.  Gesper and Grim would bicker a bit about each other’s importance, even who was selected for the trip first.  But as they journeyed from the Rog Forge, the topics wore thin.

Solomon had chosen to be sent to find the Rift Well.  The only place in the underworld where palentite issued from bedrock liquefied to release its full power.  It was a magic draught said to give Atakaskins unlimited abilities.

Now two weeks from their home at Rog Forge and a full week into the Utapan, Grim finally returned from the darkness in front of Solomon and Gesper with something more than a dower expression.  He looked as if he carried freighting news. 

The steady cadence of Solomon’s steps ceased.  The massive Atakaskin lowered his form and tipped his hammer back.  Gesper twisted into a knot with his quills raised in all directions.

“Fear not friends.  I have returned to inform you that the journey has ended.  I guess.  This is the lowest tunnel and it has come to a dead end.”

“That’s impossible.”  Solomon straightened.  “The Rift Shrine is somewhere near here.  It has to be.”

“It’s possible that there’s been a cave in.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the cave has widened quite a bit and I’m guessing the height has as well.”  Grim paused to pick a pebble from his quartz claws.  “I’ve made no mistake. This is the Utapan’s lowest level.”

Solomon heaved and spit into the air above them.  The scope of the cave’s cavity became immediately apparent.  The cavern they were in was over a hundred feet tall and at least as wide.  A smooth rock wall closed the entire expanse like a dam.

“Well, that’s unnatural.”  Gesper stepped forward.  “I thought I saw some script on the wall.  Solomon would you light it again?”

Another fireball arched through the cave.  Gesper leaped onto Solomon’s shoulder and stretched toward the wall.

“Ok, yes, it says, ‘The door is closed.’  That’s it.”

Grim began poking around the wall.  “This cannot be right!  The Rift Well or Tonic is supposed to be protected by the most devious of traps not sealed off.”

“Well, the others couldn’t have been stopped here.  Where are their remains?  The entire cavern is clean of everything but rocks and dampness.”

Solomon stepped forward bringing the iron shaft of his hammer parallel with the floor.  “If the door is closed, we’d better knock.”

The hodges took in Solomon’s meaning immediately and scampered away from the wall. 

The warrior’s arms seemed to swell as he strained his arms into a gigantic swinging motion.  With an earsplitting smash, the hammer’s head struck the wall.  Solomon’s form disappeared in a small explosion of earth and dust.  Only a portion of the wall fell but it was enough to hide Solomon.

Minutes later Grim and Gesper crept forward.  “That was dangerous Solomon.  You would think an underworlder would know better than to try and bring the entire cave wall down onto oneself.”

“It’s not over yet.  Step back.”   Solomon brought his arms up and shook sending small boulders everywhere.  With surprisingly little effort, the Atakaskin was free of the debris.

Grim had circled around and was already inside the Rift Temple.  “Amazing!  If anything this place gets larger.”