Sunday, December 24

In Search Of The Weasel Mage

Kingfisher Gets His Video Butt Kicked


"What, Dad?"

"Is this video game hard?"

"Um, Magic Sword Army Wizards? Yeah, it's pretty hard, but I've beaten it twice."

I insert the little mirrored disc into the game box and switch it on. After the requisite save-file creation and the opening animation sequence, I become Jardel, Elf Warrior 3rd class. The screen shows a snow field, surrounded by a tumble-down wood fence. I toy with the buttons and toggles to no effect.

"What am I supposed to do?"

"This is just the training screen. You gotta break through the fence to get to the Monkey King."

"How do I do that?"

"See that bunch of dead grass? Cut it down with your sword and collect the gems."

I toggle forward and press the B button. Jardel's sword swishes through the frozen tufts. gling gling gling! Shiny rotating jewels bounce across the snowscape. With my mastery of the controls I have no difficulty in collecting them. When I do, the wealth meter goes up slightly. This is going to be easy.

Fifteen minutes later I am still stuck in the snow. The video fence sneers at me.

"Princefisher! How do I get out of here?"

"Do a lunge roll, and break the fence by the big rock."

"How do I do that?"

"You haven't figured that out yet? Okay. Go to the fence. No, the other way. Now target the crack in the fence. No, press the L button. No, you have to be facing the fence first. Now press the L button. Now press the A button. Press the Z button twice. Turn around and jump the fence. No, the jump button. No, that's the sword button. The jump button. No, the jump button. Too late, the fence closed up. Now you gotta start over."

Thirty minutes later I have learned the difference between the jump, hereinafter known as button A, and the sword, hereinafter referred to as button B. Unable to use them correctly, however, I rely on Princefisher to press them in the correct order to free me from the snow meadow. Now I can start the game.

Jardel leaves the snow behind and jogs through an endless mountain pass, occasionally swiping at evil crows. As they turn into ghostly mist, gems appear and the power meter increases slightly. Now I've got it!

Forty-five minutes later I haven't figured out the objective of this stage in the game.

"What do I do now?"

"Go through the Marsh of Mazes and find the Weasel Mage."

"Where's that?"

*sigh* "Do I have to tell you everything? You have to go by the Toadstool Tower."

"That tall castle thing? I tried to go inside, but it wouldn't let me."

"That's because you don't have the Ruby Key yet. You gotta get that from the Weasel Mage. Go through the hedges by the tower."

"I didn't know you could do that."

"You have to try different things. Not everything is what it looks like."

An hour later I have found the Marsh Maze. Jardel has died fifteen times by venomous mud worms, twelve times by fluorescent moon fog, eight times by vampire tree frogs, four times by invisible suction arrows, and twice by his own sword. And he is still hopelessly lost in the Marsh of Mazes. Princefisher takes the controls again, guiding my elf to the Weasel Mage. I memorize the route back out through the marsh.

"Now what?"

"Give the Weasel Mage your gems, and he gives you the Ruby Key."

I confront the Weasel Mage and press each button in turn. Eventually one of them induces the Weasel Mage to talk to Jardel. He wants 70 gems for the Ruby Key. Jardel has only 45.

"How do I get more gems?"

"You gotta kill more crows."

This isn't fun any more. But I will be damned if I get beaten at anything by a teenager.

Ninety minutes later I have found my way out of the maze, climbed back to the mountain pass, killed enough crows to release the gems I need, and mired Jardel in the Marsh of Mazes again.

"How come I can't find the Weasel Mage?"

"The maze changes every time. You have to figure it out."

Two hours later, Jardel finds the Weasel Mage, trades gems for the Ruby Key, backtracks through the maze, arrives at the Toadstool Tower, unlocks the drawbridge, enters the throne room, and greets the Monkey King. The Monkey King tells Jardel he may not pass without a gift.

"What's the gift he's talking about?"

"You need the purple coconut."

"Where do I get that?"

At the same instant Princefisher and I say "From the Weasel Mage." I put down the controller and turn off the infernal mocking box.

"Jeez, Dad. You didn't even make it halfway through the first level. You really suck."

"Oh, yeah? Well, I can still kick your butt at Super Ladybug Land 2!"

Princefisher smirks.

Kingfisher ages twenty years on the spot.

Friday, December 22

The Understanding Price

Try Wordsmiths Unlimited; it's fun. Case in point: this unusual and difficult challenge, including prologue and picture provided by Wordsmith Tiff. My cumbersome and pretentious drivel follows.

"A loud rapping at the door awoke me from a deep dreamy sleep. It was early, too early to be awake, and certainly too early to be out in the streets pounding on doors. I thought that there must be some emergency in town and ran to the door to find out whatever news there was from whoever was there. Much to my surprise, there was no-one at the door ready to identify themselves and their message, and yet a package with my name on it had been left at the door. It was a most curious circumstance, and yet I saw no real harm in it, because secret gift giving was the hallmark of the holiday season. I myself had delivered many a gift in that manner over the years. The package was heavier than it should have been from its size, and once I had it indoors I eagerly opened it to find out what it was and who had sent it. Alas, there was no identification of the giver, and more's the pity because what was inside was a most remarkable carved wood box, worked with figures of animals and dragons all over, in a magnificent shade of red. Whoever sent it to me must have been a prankster, though, because I could see no way into the box, no clasp or lock announced itself, no hinge or platen presented itself as a means to the inside. I was locked out, and most frustrated by this unfortunate turn of events."

This is a work of fiction. Copyright © 2006 Rumba Creative. All Rights Reserved.
No portion of this work may be copied, retransmitted, reposted, duplicated,
or otherwise used without the express written approval of the author.

The Understanding Price

Who would deliver something on Tuesday before sunrise? Angry from an unexpected awakening, I examined the ornate wooden box. Sinuous red dragons wound around its curves. It was beautiful, curious, the subtle and commanding work of a master craftsman, a puzzle requiring ingenuity to open. Why was it left on my doorstep? I had no time for further musing. A shower, coffee, and the commute demanded my attention.

The next day began with the familiar persistence of the alarm clock. I stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee, shaking sleep. The box was as I had left it, but now it was orange. Dragons were replaced by monkeys, tails linked, long limbs outstretched, reaching toward me. I attempted to find the manner of opening it, but failed again. Stumped, I prepared for another workday.

That evening I sat peering at the box, when a knock came at the door. My neighbor across the hall asked to borrow a screwdriver. I invited him in, asking his opinion of the mysterious treasure on the table. When we entered the kitchen the box was nowhere to be seen.

Thursday came, and the box returned. It was a deep brown. Intricate carvings of trees festooned its curves. Buttressed roots claimed the base, intertwined branches supported the top, like columns in a cathedral. After work, I inspected every crevice with a magnifying glass. For all my efforts the manner of its opening remained secret.

I refused to look at the box the next morning. Over dinner at night, I could not ignore that the box was now green. I held it in my hands, turning it over and over. A progression of bears sauntered in an upward spiral. Small at the bottom, each succeeding bear was a little larger than the last. The graceful parade terminated with one great standing bear stretched across the top, a silhouette of fierce confidence. What had I been given? What was this enigma that shifted its reality, teased me with its riddles? That night’s sleep was troubled by visions of birth, death, and the billion states in between.

Saturday morning dawned with me already awake. I stared at the blue box before me, not daring to touch it. Perhaps if I pondered and meditated and believed enough, I could open it with thought alone. A thousand fishes shimmered and swirled across the box, a hypnotic ballet that held me entranced. The day passed by. Life passed by. Transfixed, I watched the box, waiting for it to change.

Sunday. I raised my head from the table. I had fallen asleep. The box before me was now black. Its surface was an obsidian mirror, a dark anti-color opalescence. In the depths blood ran and spilled. Creatures rested and killed. Stars blazed and died. In a sudden cracking the box split in two, exuding a thin smoke, acrid and overwhelming.

Only then, at the precise moment of my expiration, did the box, and everything else, make perfect sense.

Saturday, December 16

There’s A Game In There Somewhere

JAMES BROWN: Welcome to "Today’s NFL" on the Wolf Network. We’ve got an exciting line-up of games for you today.

HOWIE LONG: I want to kick Jimmy Kimmel’s ass. Look at my hair. It’s awesome.

TERRY BRADSHAW: I’ve got a possum in my pants! Hee hee hee!

JOHN MADDEN: Have you ever had a McWhopJack? It’s a Big Mac stuffed in a in a in a in a a a a Whopper stuffed in a Jumbo Jack! I’m tellin’ ya…

CHRIS COLLINSWORTH: To – day – is – Sun – day.

JAMES BROWN: Next we have commentary on this afternoon’s games.

CHRIS BERMAN: The Atlanta Kittyhawks defense could GO. ALL. THE. WAY. against the Cleveland UPS Shirts.

JIMMY JOHNSON: I used to coach the Dallas Cowpats.

DEION SANDERS: Look at this hat. It be stylin’, and Prime Time makes it look good!

HOWIE LONG: Rear end tackle LaDanielShwann Washingsmithstein lost his father in a tragic accident last week. Fortunately, he can take comfort in the awesomeness of my hair.

JAMES BROWN: All right, guys. Your thoughts on today’s game?

CHRIS COLLINSWORTH: I – am – talk – ing – a – bout – foot – ball - right – now.

JOHN MADDEN: One time we had a a a a had a this time in Detroit we stopped my bus to get somethin’ to a a a eat and we a a a Ever had a Polish doglink? It’s a hot dog stuffed in a hot link stuffed in a a a in a Polish sausage!

JIMMY JOHNSON: We used to have those when I coached the Dallas Cowpats.

DEION SANDERS: I move my hands when I talk. It shows off the tapered sleeves of this outta sight $65,000 mohair trench coat. Yo.

TERRY BRADSHAW: I wrassled a raccoon yesterday! Hoo hoo hoo!

CHRIS BERMAN: I want to GO. ALL. THE. WAY. with the Denver Paintedponies cheerleaders.

JAMES BROWN: Does anyone have anything to say about football?

JIMMY JOHNSON: When I coached the Dallas Cowpats I liked the blue jerseys best.

DEION SANDERS: I just changed outfits. Check this out! Custom tailored arctic neon eel double breasted okapi pinstripe suit. Prime Time shines, baby! Word.

CHRIS COLLINSWORTH: Who – ever – scores – the – most – touch – downs – in – to – day’s – game – has – a – good – chance – of – win – ning.

TERRY BRADSHAW: I played tag with hogs this morning! Haa haa haa!

JOHN MADDEN: Look at this guy’s uniform. See this this this this stuff that looks like blood? It’s ketchup. And this muddy stuff on his knees? Barbecue sauce. And and and and a a and a and and this grassy stuff on his shoulder pads? Pesto. Ever had a roast stickpizz? It’s a pizza stuffed in a a a a stuffed in a drumstick stuffed in a pot roast.

CHRIS BERMAN: The salary cap of the San Francisco 86ers could GO. ALL. THE. WAY. against the insurance premiums of the Green Bay Containerstuffers.

JAMES BROWN: Okay, forget football. Does anyone have anything at all intelligent to say?

HOWIE LONG: No. But my awesome hair will kick any team’s ass.

JIMMY JOHNSON: No. Dallas Cowpats.

JOHN MADDEN: Ever had a had a Ever had a humpback threshersword? It’s a swordfish stuffed in a shark stuffed in a whale!


CHRIS COLLINSWORTH: N – n – n – n – o – o – o – o.

TERRY BRADSHAW: Let’s go cow tipping! Haa hee hoo!

DEION SANDERS: You can see my smile from the moon. True.

JAMES BROWN: You guys suck. I quit.

Saturday, December 9

Xmas On The Street

I love love love totally love parades. Even though I live near the glitter capitol of the world, my town still has the adorable old-fashioned small town feel Christmas parade. This (and It's A Wonderful Life) is why I get all sniffle nosed at this time of year.

Police clear the street, people get their cameras ready, and it starts!

I sit on the curb with my family and neighbors, clapping and waving and shouting goofily at people I have never met, and will likely never see again.

The WHOLE DAMN CROWD stands, removes hats, and places hands over hearts. With great dignity and humility, old and revered VFW grandpas in uniform march with the flag.

An out of tune high school marching band plods by in mismatched uniforms.

Local elected official #1 waves to the crowd. The convertible is Brought to you by Your Local GMC Dealer.

A float from the senior center. It's really just an old hay trailer decorated with crepe paper and aluminum foil, with brittle old ladies in Santa hats singing "Jack Frost nipping at your nose." General consensus is that they are nipping at something else hidden in their afghans.

A talent-impaired kindergarten dance troupe, led by the local weather man, bribes the judges with donuts.

Miss Okra Festival Titanium Alloy Rodeo Queen In Sequins smiles charmingly at the crowd. Whistles ensue.

An out of tune middle school marching band plods by in mismatched uniforms.

Tiny Shriner cars! Ha ha!

I buy a lapel button or paper flower or something in a styrofoam cup sold by some community outreach thing I never heard of.

ROAR-BBL-BBL-BBL! Eighty Harleys swerve right and left, each piloted by a heavily bearded man weighing at least 275 pounds, sporting a Santa hat and a wreath on the handle bars. Their leather jackets proclaim their loyalty to Toys For Tots. One out of five has a woman, heavier than the pilot, blowing kisses. I think I caught one!

Screams from the tots. Horsies! A whole buncha horsies! Look at the pretty ladies in cowboy hats! The silver bridles! The manes braided with colorful ribbons! One of them rears up and comes down with a gentle clack of horseshoes. Nice horsies! Pretty ladies. Did you see the horsies?

Local elected official #2 waves to the crowd. The convertible is Brought to you by Your Local Ford Dealer.

"LEFT. LEFT. LEFT. (beat)." The ROTC marches by: perfect, crisp, proud. Be safe, young people.

The local police, fire, and emergency response vehicles drive at 0.4 mph, lights a-flashing, sirens a-squelching. Uniformed men throw itty-bitty broken candy canes to the kids.

Elementary school kids walk by, holding long PVC pipes to keep them in order (sort of.) They are wearing costumes made from paper grocery bags painted like presents (sort of.) They sing "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" accompanied by a boom box pulled in a Radio Flyer by a school parent, so they will all be singing together (sort of.) One out of four children is either scowling, crying, or sticking out his tongue. Listen up judges: they win.

A dozen or so custom muscle cars rumble by, emergency lights flashing, radios blaring "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree." There's a candy apple red Mustang, a lightning bolted Charger, a yellow pearl Corvette, a flamed up Thunderbird, a low rider Packard, and OH OH OH! Ain't no Christmas stuff, but DAMMIT that's cool!

Local elected official #3 waves to the crowd. The convertible is Brought to you by Your Local Dodge Dealer.

Hey, look! It's that celebrity guy! You know, the one on that show? On TV on Tuesday? Or is it Thursday? I didn't know he lived here! Go Local Celebrity Guy!

Another out of tune high school marching band plods by in mismatched uniforms. This one is in the privileged position of being second-to-last in the parade, squirting out the strains of "You Better Watch Out..." because right behind them is the whole reason families came out on this cold December morning, forking over dollars for mylar streamers on sticks, warming hands on cheap instant apple cider, trudging along row after row of cheesy handicrafts, pointing out to the kids the plastic electric wreaths missing half the bulbs hanging from the streetlights the same way they have for the last forty years, all of this just to witness


On a fire truck. Or on top of a Kenworth. Or on a draft horse. Or on the most incrediblest boss reindeer sleigh. Or sauntering along the gutter with a pillow case over his shoulder surrounded by prancing Presbyterian congregationists in bad elf costumes.


And it's my town. And it's your town. And we all share it, or should.

Merry Christmas to you all, but mostly to the unknown, unsung, unremembered everyday folks that make these holiday memories possible for kids from one to ninety-two.

Saturday, December 2

Click Clack Snap

This is a work of fiction. Copyright © 2006 Rumba Creative. All Rights Reserved.
No portion of this work may be copied, retransmitted, reposted, duplicated,
or otherwise used without the express written approval of the author.

Click Clack Snap

“How come you never have what I want?” Click.

“How do I know what you need?” Clack.

“You never have enough blue ones.” Snap.

“Don’t blame me. I was bought this way. Maybe you should think harder.” Click-snap.

Stupid bricks. When I need a two-by-two, there’s only four-by-twos. When I need the triangle piece, all he gives me is a twelve-by-one, or a wheel. Dumb toy. The pieces never fit right. I want to stop playing, but I can’t.

“Do you have a small yellow brick?”

“You’re the one using me. Look for yourself.”

“I hate you.”

“You hate me because you aren’t smart enough to make me anything but a house.”


“Yuh-huh! Look! What shape am I?”

I look. Rectangular base. Overlapping white brick walls. Clear two-by-ones like a window. The other pieces are jumbled up in little plastic boxes. Half of them are roof pieces. The rest are colors or shapes of bricks I can’t figure out how to use.

“See?” His voice makes fun of me, like every time. “I’m gonna be a house again.”

“Not this time. You always make me make you into a house. I’m not gonna use the door pieces, or the window pieces, or the tree pieces, or the little car.” Smashety-clack.

“Why are you undoing me?” Unsnap.

“You know you won’t me make me into anything good.” Brokety-toss.

“Now I’m just a big pile of dog doo. You’ll never make me into anything good.” I don’t talk. He made me mad. I’ll show him.

“What are you doing?” Click.

“What is this?” Clack.

“Are you done yet?” Snap snap. Done.

“What am I?”

“You’re an airport tower. See how tall you are? These stick out pieces are the warning lights. The top goes over the clouds so airplanes can see you.” I turn him around and around. For a while there is no rattling sound of plastic pieces being raked up.

“I look stupid.”

My mad makes me mad. He can’t beat me again! This time he will be most perfectest neatest thing ever!

Click snap clackety snap snap click clack snappety whomp!

“Wow. Look what you did.” Triumphant, I hold him in my hands. My disappointment and anger drip through my fingers.

He’s a house. Another stupid dumb poopy house.

“Don’t give up!” he says. “Look! This time you made the walls different colors! And the door is on the side! And the window looks into the basement! And the garage is on the roof! And you put the tree inside! Very creative! Good job!”

I turn him around and around again. It’s not like any of the other stuff we ever made. It might be a house, but it’s a DIFFERENT house. It looks good.

I hear Mom calling me for dinner.

“I gotta go,” I say, knowing I won at last.

“Okay. Thanks for playing with me. You did great!” I open my bedroom door to leave.



“I’m still a house.”