Sunday, July 29, 2012

I've Been Looking For an Old-Fashioned, but New Watch

Have you heard of a self-winding watch? They call them "automatic" watches now, but it amounts to the same thing. They're mechanical beasts, and they don't require a battery. They operate with a little pendulum that swings with the motion of the arm through the day. The pendulum winds a spring, the spring makes a bazillion (or slightly fewer) gears move, and the gears move the hands. Cool, but old stuff.

I had a self-winding watch I loved dearly. I got it in 1973 with prize money from selling tickets to a Scout show. I wore it for years with no problems, but lost it sometime after I bought a digital watch. I'll bet it still runs, wherever it is.

The photo at left is a picture of the back of the watch I ordered the other day. The bottom portion is the pendulum that winds the spring that powers the watch. The glass center is kind of cool. I'll be able to see the watch work.

I feel a little guilty about my purchase. It's a Chinese watch. I looked for an American watch of similar construction, with a similar movement. I couldn't find one. Note that I said I couldn't find one. I mean I couldn't find one, period...not for any price.

It's a global economy. American companies, even our automobile manufacturers, use parts that come from other countries. I would prefer not to send any of my money to China, but that's not easy to do. I'm not going to comment on what could be done to stop that from happening because I have no more answers than anyone else does.

You might wonder why I want a mechanical watch. It's a valid question. Most of our watches are quartz watches. They're a lot less expensive--even the fancy ones--and they're more accurate than mechanical watches, for the most part.

Well... I like old-fashioned technology. I've written about why I like fountain pens. This is the same kind of thing. I want to hear my watch go tick-tock, and not just tick. Quartz watches operate on a steady electronic pulse through the quartz. If you look at the second hand on a quartz watch, you'll see that lurches forward one second at a time. Tick. Tick. Tick. It's not a big issue, whether the watch goes tick or tick-tock, but I miss the old ticktockticktock.

I like the idea of taking some responsibility for my watch. I want to have to do something beyond just strapping it to my wrist every morning. (Yes, I prefer a leather watch strap.) I want some control, and having to wear it or wind it to make it go is close enough to control for me. I also want to be able to start the watch if it stops...without having to go to the jeweler and wait a couple of days for him to get around to sticking a new battery in my watch.

So I decided to buy an automatic watch. I found very quickly that automatic watches are still available, but most of them are expensive. A Google search for "automatic watch" under shopping reveals prices from $70-5,000. Big range!

I found one I like on eBay, and not in an auction. I ordered it. It cost me a little under $30, and the seller is paying for the shipping. I've had to do some digging to try to find out anything about AK Homme watches. I found a couple of good reviews, most of which expressed surprise at how well the watch runs.

The "AK" stands for Alias Kim, and they have their own website in addition to selling on eBay. I wondered if I could find out more about the company that actually makes the watch, but so far I haven't. I do know this:
  • The watch movement is Chinese.
  • The Chinese have been making some very good automatic movements. Some reviews I've read say the Chinese movements are as good as the Swiss movements (and one of those sources was Swiss!), but they lack the prestige of a Swiss movement (of course), and therefore won't fetch the same price. I'm also sure the workers that make the watch aren't paid anywhere near what a Swiss watchmaker is paid. In fact, I wish the Chinese worker was paid more...and maybe someday they will be.
  • Fossil uses some Chinese movements in their watches (from what I've read). Look at their catalog someday, and you'll find they talk about the case being 100% American made, but not the movement. Timex has movements built in India, Indonesia, and some sites hinted they have some movements made in China.
At any rate, I ordered my watch, and I'm looking forward to having it show up in my mailbox in ten days or so. I'm looking forward to having my second hand sweep around the watch face. I learned that with a mechanical watch, the second hand moves five times per second (on average), which gives the appearance that it's sliding gracefully in a circle instead of ticking  once a second.

I'll have to take it to the jeweler every 5-10 years to have it cleaned on the inside and have lubricant applied, but that'll be cheaper than buying a new battery. Whether it will save me any money in the long run or not, I hesitate to say. I think it won't be long before I won't be able to find a qualified jeweler to repair the mechanism if something goes wrong. It'll be worth looking. A well-maintained mechanical watch can last for generations. Another advantage to quartz movements is that if something goes wrong, a jeweler just tosses the old movement and puts in a new one. I imagine that can be done with this watch, but the movement won't be inexpensive to replace. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. By then...I'll probably be tired of ticktockticktockticktock.

Monday, July 16, 2012

My First Foray into the Land Of eBay--a Scary land, to me

   I'm afraid of auctions. I'm afraid of eBay.
   I'm a little afraid of auctions because I won/bought something at one that I really didn't intend to buy. After a few too many beers, I started the bidding on a week long stay at a time share condo on the 9th hole at Tidewater Golf Club in Myrtle Beach. I opened the bidding with the thought that I would start the ball rolling and duck out. I bid $475...without a word to my wife, who was at home with the (at the time) delightfully happy thought that I would do no harm while I was out.
  No one else bid on the package. I spent damn near $500 without talking to my wife, who does not golf, and who has no interest in spending a week living on a golf course! The $475 didn't include the plane tickets I knew we would need.
   She took it well, I say with more than a little relief. Some friends split the cost with us and we had a nice week.

   The only eBay experience I had was through the same friend who joined us at that condo. He liked my Tommy Armor golf clubs and bought a set on eBay. I was with him when the UPS shipment came to our office. When he signed for the box of clubs, we looked at the box, then looked at each other. The box was only about three feet long. Golf clubs...three feet long.
   Apparently, my friend didn't read the description as carefully as he should have, and didn't realize the golf clubs were kids clubs! He got a great price, and his son got golf lessons to go with his new clubs.

   I need a new watch strap for my watch. My watch is a Skagen, a subsidiary company of Fossil, and I love it. The watch might last forever, but the leather won't. Trouble is, only a Skagen strap will work. The good people at Skagen will gladly sell me a new strap for $25 plus shipping and handling. I'm okay with that, almost, but I wanted to see if I could find a better deal.

My Skagen
   ...Which led me to eBay. I found a watch--not just the band--but a whole watch. My logic is that I can buy the watch and have the band from that one put on mine. Why would I do that? Well...and here's where I might get sucker punched...the opening bid on the watch with the right kind of band was $0.99.
   Ninety-nine cents. The seller is throwing in the shipping.
   I didn't fall off the potato truck yesterday, and I was pretty sure I wouldn't get a whole watch, with the rare band that will fit my watch, for under a buck.
   I bid $2.00
   In an instant, I was outbid. I mean that. In an instant!
   In my head I pictured someone in a far corner of this round world, rubbing his fingers together in cartoonish glee, waiting to see what I would bid next.
    I upped my bid to $2.50.
    I was trumped in an instant. The new bid was $2.62.
   I decided to show my opponent I was serious. After taking a few minutes to research this watch, this watch I want just for the strap, to see what price it would sell for, new, retail, I was surprised to find out that the watch we (my opponent and I) are bidding on is 5 years newer than the one I want to put the band on, and retails for $125.
   Armed with that knowledge, I upped my bid to 5x's the opening bid. That's right! I bid $5.00
   eBay informed me I was the highest bidder. I cheered. Truth is, I was starting to want the watch, and not just for the band.
   This afternoon I checked my email. My $5 bid had been topped by the same joker who was outbidding me the night before with lightning speed. I called him all sorts of names.
   Tonight I hopped on and upped my bid by another buck. In an instant, so did my opponent. Aha! There's something...something...AUTOMATED... at play! Sho-nuff. I found out I can enter my top bid, and let his computer proxy duke it out with my computer proxy.
   That's when I found out I can set my maximum bid, and if he ups his bid, this time I'll be the one upping the bid in an instant! We'll let his computer proxy duke it out with my computer proxy.
   And with one minute remaining in this bidding war, if need be, I'll bid $25 for the $125 watch (remembering this watch will arrive with the seller paying the shipping charges), get the local jeweler to put the band from the watch I'm buying on the watch I have, and toss my "prize" in the drawer.
   That is, of course, unless the mystery counter-bidder, knuckle rubbing joker from the far corner of the earth, wants the watch for more than $25. If he does, he can have it...and I'll order a new band from Skagen and be no worse off than I am now.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Master's Calling" -- An old short story, an intro to a new series

I wrote the following short story during a party in my fraternity house residence when I was in college. I haven't done much with it since then, but thought it might be a fun way to introduce Nick Galizzi, the American, the wizard who will be a central character in the new series of fantasy novels I'm going to start soon.

Master's Calling

  He knew the flash of pain would come. The flash of pain that would serve as the master's call to battle. The Peruvian sun splashed over his sunburned back. he raised the pickax over his shoulder and stuck it deep into the wall of earth before him. His body was lean and hard...but in many ways he was stronger than anyone thought. His bright green eyes radiated power over his high cheekbones.
   The pain pierced through his hand again.  He stifled a second cry, and stared into the tiger's eye in his ring. his eyes narrowed and he looked quickly at the others working with him. Ten people troweled for pottery elsewhere in the site, but everyone was too busy with their work to to notice Nick's behavior. His forehead creased deeper as he concentrated on the stone in his ring. His eyes narrowed as they flicked back and forth as if he could actually see something in the bands of brown and gold.
   He left the master in another world and hoped the time for confrontation--the time when he would be forced to destroy the man who gave him everything--would never come, but it had.
   I won't go, he thought. Nothing can make me fight him.
   A vision crossed before his eyes. A vision of Sherry, the woman he still loved, being taken by the master. He glanced again at the others. No one was watching him. He raised a hand and mumbled, then vanished in a hot flash of brilliant light.
   The other archeologists looked up from their work in time for the flash to burn their eyes. A woman screamed.
   She slammed the apartment door and kicked off her shoes before she finished walking over the five feet of Persian carpet to the couch. She flipped on the news and walked immediately to the kitchen for a drink. With her left hand she loosened her braided black hair and shook her head to fluff it. She stared over the counter at the television, trying to make sense of the flashing pictures and the newsman's blab through the fog of her headache, but it was no use. She was too tired to concentrate on anything, particularly the local news for Washington DC.
   Sherry was young and beautiful in a darkly seductive way. She was only twenty-seven and held a position of respect in the State Department. She loved her job, had everything she could want, and was healthy...but she was far from happy. She let the man she loved slip away because she couldn't understand him and now she missed the excitement he brought into her life.
   She stirred her gin and tonic--Nick's favorite drink--and crinkled her nose at the faint smell of lime. She sipped the drink, and a look of sheer exasperation crossed her face as the phone rang. As she reached to answer it, she flipped through the stack of mail.
   "Hello." Irritation shined through her voice.
   There was nothing on the other end. Nothing. No person, no dial tone, no recorded message. Nothing.
   She shrugged and put the phone down. There was a letter from Nick in the pile, and her headache, the phone, and the television were forgotten. his last letter said he was going to Peru with an archaeology expedition, and she was anxious to read about his adventures. His tales of adventure had been part of what attracted her to him when they met at a State Department party, but she tired quickly of his long absences. Often, she pleaded with him, even threatened him...but none of it worked. He said he couldn't give up his work. She broke up with him.
   For the first time that day, a smile warmed her face. She was always happy to hear from Nick--although the conflicting emotions she still felt for him always flooded to the surface when she did. She picked up her drink, lit a cigarette, and slid over to the couch in her stocking feet. She skimmed the first paragraph, smiling at the way he opened his letter. He was always so formal at if he was somehow afraid of her...but usually loosened his style after the first page.
   Before she finished skimming the first page, the phone rang again. Annoyed, she stared at it from her place on the couch. For the past few weeks, she got the nothingness on the other end too many times. The caller ID was no help. It was a different number each time. She was in no mood for fun and games.
   It didn't stop ringing like it  usually did when she let it go, and she finally got out of her seat. She kept the edge out of her voice only with difficulty. "Hello?"
   "Sharon Cook?" The voice on the other end sounded cold.
   "May I ask who's calling?" She wrapped an arm around her waist in an effort to stifle the chill that came over her.
   "I am the man who will save you from your hellbound lover."
   "Which hellbound lover?" The joke sounded stiff.
   "You are in danger, Sharon Cook, danger of the most extreme."
   "You are in danger from a demon, woman! Heed my warning or die!"
   "Who is this!"
   "Do not shout. You will arouse the attention of others in your dwelling. I do not advise that. you know the whereabouts of Niccolo Galizzi?"
   "Who is this!"
   "Never you mind who I am."
   She hung up. She wrapped a strand of hair around a shaking finger and picked up her drink with her other hand. The ice rattled in the glass. Nick's letter lay on the sofa, unread.
   The phone rang again.
   She looked at it with shock-wide eyes. Liquid sloshed out of the glass and she nearly yanked the hair out of her head when she jumped. Slowly, as if the phone was a snake, she reached out. A long tapered finger rested on the talk button. After the third ring, she slammed it against her ear. "What do you want!"
   It was a bad connection, but she recognized the voice. "Sherry? It's Nick..."
   "Nick! God am I glad to hear your voice. Where are you?"
   "Cuzco, Peru. I need you to listen to me carefully. We don't have much time. You have to get out of that apartment. Go somewhere crowded, like a bar or a restaurant. There's someone coming for you. He wants to pay me back for something he thinks I did a long time ago, and he's going to do it through you."
   This was almost too much for her. "What are you talking about? A religious fanatic just called me and told me I was in danger from a demon...and now you want me to leave my own home? Nick, what's happening? He even asked me about you!"
   "I don't have time to explain. I'm in a little Plexiglas booth with about a hundred Peruvians waiting behind me to make their own calls. Get out of the apartment."
   "Just trust me on this one. Damn it, Sherry! This could be your life."
   Nick never raised his voice to her in all the time she knew him. The fact that he was shouting now shook her to the core. She nodded vigorously at the phone. "Yes, Nick. I'll go."
   She heard a shout on the other end of the line, followed quickly by another. Shots were fired. The phone went dead in her hand. She held it in shock for several seconds, then the reality of what she heard filtered through her mind. "Nick!"
   She slammed the phone down on the counter.  Her heart pounded. She looked stupidly at the hardwood floor and realized she dropped her drink. Shattered glass had cut her nylons and little tracks of blood filled the runs in her hose. Tears stung her eyes.
   The phone rang again.
   She wanted to scream. She couldn't decide whether to answer the phone or let it ring. What if it was that fanatic again? But what if it was Nick?
   The phone seemed to ring louder the second time.
   She bit her lip.
   The phone didn't stop ringing.
   She had no choice. She picked it up and placed it against her ear as if it might bite her. Everything seemed unreal. Everything had to be a dream. She'd been dreaming since she kicked off her shoes and turned on the TV. She had to be dreaming.
   "Sharon, you hung up on me." It was the fanatic again.
   "Who is...?"
   "...When a woman terminates a conversation with me, I get angry. Doubly angry when the woman will not tell me where her demon lover is hiding. I want Niccolo Galizzi!"
   She felt the hair on the back of her neck rise. She reached behind the phone charging stand and ripped the cord from the wall. It didn't work--the phone rang in her hand. It couldn't, but it did. I won't answer it, she thought. It can't be ringing. It can't!
   Moving slowly, her mind only beginning to accept Nick's words, she picked her shoes up and slid them on her feet. She felt faint, but her eyes were determined as she walked to the bedroom to pack a bag. Nick said to leave, she thought. I have to go.
   My god! What if he's dead?
   She forced the thought from her mind, but that didn't stop tears from sliding down her face. The phone continued to ring even though it was no longer connected. She grabbed an overnight bag from the top shelf of her closet and started to fill it with whatever clothing she happened to grab. Tears coursed down her cheeks as visions of Nick lying dead in a phone booth filled her mind's eye. 
   She never heard the muffled boot steps coming down the hall.
   She never saw a shadow pass over her shoulder from the door to the bedroom.
   Nick regretted raising his voice to her. He slapped his hand against his thigh and leaned against the counter under the phone. His heart pounded. He had come close to losing his life many times, but nothing frightened him more than talking to Sherry. She was the one person in the worlds he knew, including himself, that he ever allowed himself to love.
   He told her again to get out, and once again stooped to every voice trick--mystic or mundane--at his disposal.
   He caught a strange motion out of the corner of his eye. A glance out the door gave him a bleak picture while he talked to Sherry. Somehow, the master sent soldiers after him...which meant he was only pretending not to know where he was. He didn't want Nick. He wanted Sherry!
   There was a group of soldiers standing outside the phone booth. Armed soldiers. The officer of the group shouted, "Fuego!"
   Nick's hands came up. Words flew from his lips. Light danced over his body.
   The sounds of shots reached his ears as if from a distance. Glass shattered around him, and the bullets smashed into the soundproof wall behind him, but none of the glass touched him.
   The soldiers stared at the carnage they had just created as if they had no idea they could have made such a mess. Nick stepped through the shattered door. The look of anger on his face and the power glowing in his eyes was enough to make the soldiers fear for their lives.
   He approached them slowly, pointed with a strange gesture, and and spoke in a language so old it had become basic human memory, "Felciamian!"
   The guns in their hands disappeared as if they never existed. Nick smiled as he shouldered his way past them. As he walked by the officer his smile broadened. "You lose."
   He grinned as he stepped onto the crowded street and disappeared in full view of tourists and soldiers.
    Sherry screamed when hands grabbed her from behind. The touch was cold, the hands sinewy and strong. She kicked and twisted, screamed and grunted. It was futile. She could not break the grip. The cold voice from the phone murmured in her ear.  His breath reeked of rotting meat. "Sharon Cook, the man you love is a monster from the lowest hell. He must be destroyed, even at the cost of the life of an innocent."
   "Let me go, you son of a..."
   "Silence! You will cooperate, or I shall be force to kill you."
   She grunted as the air was forced from her lungs. Sparks danced in her vision and she fought furiously. Her arms were pinned to her sides, useless. Her feet kicked in the air inches above the floor.The cold voice burned in her ear.
   "You will not attempt to raise your voice over a whisper again. I will kill you if I your lover would. If I must stoop to his level, I will do so."
   The pressure on her ribs lightened, and she sucked in air as fast and hard as she could. "He'll kill you."
   The man holding her stiffened. "We will see, little one, we will see. Now it is time to leave this place. The Evil One holds too much power here."
   He released her and spun her like a child. She found herself staring into the palest gray eyes she'd ever seen and, to her surprise, a benign old man's face. He smiled over cracked, yellow teeth. "I am a wizard, and I did he put it...after you for something he did. He will not defeat me."
   "Sure he won't."
   He slapped her face. Sherry felt her flesh burn, and a welt rise. Her eyes fogged with pain. She lashed out to slap his face, but her hand hit something hard half an inch in front of his hooked nose. She stared at her hand. Smoke rose from her palm and fingers. His laughter burned in her ears even as a chill ran down her spine.  With a push, he forced her to fall onto the bed. Her eyes widened. Was he going to rape her?
   There was no hint of lust in his eyes. He stood about six feet tall and was very road through the shoulders and chest. He wore a purple robe with a sword belt and scabbard serving as a sash around his thick waist. He stared down at her and threw his shoulders back. His hands moved in odd contortions at his side, and he murmured softly in a language she couldn't understand.
   The bed spun in lazy circles. Wind whipped through the air in the bedroom and a faint odor of ozone filtered into her nostrils. Sherry clenched her eyes shut and clutched the comforter. The winds howled over her and the bed circled faster. It was hard to breathe, and she thought she would be sick.
   The wizard's voice boomed over the wind. "Mecuricam ad esducia moritatium!"
   She was still screaming when the wind stopped. The bed stopped as well.
   "Remain here," he said. "I shall return to your home dimension to insure the Evil One follows you to his death."
   She opened her eyes, but the world still seemed to spin. She couldn't focus. Everything went black.
    Nick tapped his fingers on the armrest in the cab. It had been almost twelve hours since he spoke to Sherry on the phone, and he was anxious as hell to get to her apartment. He stared at the city lights as they floated by. Finally he looked into the tiger's eye in his ring. He concentrated every fiber of his being on finding her. It was no use. All he could see in the stone were walls of gray mist. That had never happened before. Either the master was cloaking her for some reason, he he took her to...
   "We're here, sir."
   Nick tossed him a fifty and was out of the cab before he could make change. He rushed to the glass doors to the apartment building and the attendant let him in without question. He never felt the push from Nick's mind to his.
   He took the stairs two at a time instead of waiting for the elevator. Slid his key in the lock and rushed into the apartment. Sherry was gone. He knew that in his mind, but his heart didn't want to accept it. He flipped on the light. The cigarette smoke he smelled was stale. He noticed his letter on the couch, and saw broken glass on the floor when he went into the kitchen. The phone was missing, but he saw it on the floor at the end of the hall.
   He cast a minor spell and pale green light flooded the apartment. As if he was seeing a movie backward, he saw green shadows flicker around the apartment. He saw the master walk backward out of the bedroom and into the corner of the living room where he appeared in front of the television. He saw Sherry walk from the bedroom to behind the kitchen counter. He saw the phone fly from the hall into her hand and watched her plant the phone back into the wall. He saw the drink reassemble itself and fly up from the floor. He watched her hang up the phone and answer it several times. He smiled tightly when she looked obviously relieved at one phone call, and realized it was his.
   He stopped the spell when she came in the door. He'd seen enough. It wasn't enough that the Master warped his mind in a demon summoning gone awry. The fact that he started to believe Nick--his prize pupil--was an incarnation of that demon was what undid him. Still, Nick vowed to let the master live in the hope he would repair his own mind.
   Now it had gone too far.
   "Niccolo," the master's voice called from behind him.
   He spun, a snarl and a spell on his lips, but he never cast the spell. the master's benign face filled the TV screen. His pale eyes twinkled in amusement. Nick glanced at the DVR. It was on. That meant the old wizard watched her long enough before he attacked to know what the technology did and learned to manipulate it with magic.
   The recording of the old man turned serious. "Evil One," he began, "you have noticed by now that I hold Sharon Cook. Realize, evil, that she will die unless you follow my instructions explicitly."
   Nick sat on the couch. He stared hard at the screen. The muscles in his jaw pumped against themselves as he ground his teeth.
   "Rest before you attempt to follow her." The old man smiled like a serpent. "After your flight from Peru, I am quite certain you need rest before we battle to your death."
   "Cocky bastard," Nick said to the screen.
   "...After you have rested, you will walk into your woman's bedchamber. There you will see a path of light. Follow it to her, and to me."
   "..Sure," Nick muttered, "...and walk right into one of your traps."
   "Remain on the path. You see, your woman will die--and so will you--the moment you step off that path. I will be watching."  Static snapped; the screen went black.
   He stood and took a step to turn the recorder and television off. "You don't honestly think I'll wait and give you more time to set your traps, do you?"
   There was a hiss when he touched the power button on the TV. He threw himself back on the couch. A cloud of green gas filled the room. He'd moved quickly, but it wasn't enough. The gas had already invaded his lungs.
   Consciousness seeped back to Sherry. Pain soaked through every cell in her body. The dizziness and nausea had only weakened. She tried to move, but couldn't. She couldn't feel her arms or legs.
   The old man appeared--just appeared--and his pale eyes regarded her as if she was a fly-ridden piece of meat. As far as she could tell, she was no longer on earth. She was still on her bed, but all of her other furnishings were gone. A three-legged table was next to the bed, and under it was a small stool with a threadbare cushion. On it was a crystal with white smoke circling inside.
   She turned her head slightly as the old man seated himself at the table, placed his hands on his knees, and continued to glare at her.
   Aside from the bed, the table, and the stool, there was nothing. Gray mist floated below the bed and table. Above her there was only more mist. A chill danced along her spine.
  The old man moved. He raised his hand, pointed at her, and muttered in a foreign language. She felt her body rise. Chains came out of nothing above her, and shackles appeared around her wrists. The chains yanked her arms over her head. Then, like snakes, two more heavy iron chains rose out of the mattress and clapped around her ankles. She writhed, but couldn't break loose. "Let me go!"
   The old man smiled. He reached over and grabbed the hem of her skirt. Effortlessly, as if the skirt was paper instead of cloth, he tore it from her legs. with his other hand, he ripped off her blouse.
   "You're sick!"
  His eyes flashed the hollow look of a lunatic. "You are the one who is sick! Evil! You are a rotten whore who consorts with a demon. He is a being fro the lowest hell. He cannot stop himself from being evil, but you could have stopped him when he seduced you."
  "No," she whispered. "He's a good man."
  "He is demon!"
   Her voice dropped even lower. "I love him."
  "Look into my eyes, woman.'
  She felt a compulsion to look in his pale eyes. She fought it. She didn't want to see those eyes. Those soft eyes. "No." There was a quiver in her voice.
   He spoke gently. "Look into my eyes.
   "Look into my eyes." His voice was so soft. So gentle. He meant her no harm...
   Her eyes connected with his. It made her feel good, looking into those eyes. Everything was going to be okay. She could trust him...with anything.
   "Now listen to me, child. Listen to the master. Niccolo Galizzi is an evil. Do you believe that?"
   Her voice was a husky whisper. "Yes."
   "You will help me destroy him."
   Her voice carried a vehemence of the kind she didn't know she could possess. "I will help you destroy him!"
    Nick snapped awake His eyes felt puffy; his head ached, but he felt stronger than he did before the spell took him...and madder than all hell. The master took his woman, and nothing would stop him from freeing her. She didn't love him, he knew, and maybe she never would, but he loved her. That was enough for him.
    He reached down and pulled the leg of his Levi's over his boots. he quickly slid the dagger out of the boot and threaded the scabbard through his belt. He turned and walked down the hall to the bedroom. He kicked the phone out of the way and stopped in the doorway to the bedroom. The bed was missing, but everything else: the vanity, the pictures on the wall, the ashtrays, the dresser, and the nightstands were all in place. He knew the master got to her shortly after his call by the overnight bag on the dresser. She'd been packing in a hurry, but it did her no good.
   The wall directly in front of him was no longer there. A path of light led from the center of the rectangle on the carpet where the bed had been into the wall of gray mist standing where the bedroom wall once was. He stepped through the mist on the shining path. As it enshrouded him, he looked over his shoulder. Just as he expected, the bedroom wall with the door was gone. There was only gray mist.
    He knew where he was. He had passed through this kind of limbo before in his lifelong quest for arcane knowledge. He walked slowly, fully expecting traps with every step. There were none. There was nothing but the path, the path that was in and of itself, a trap.
    She lay at the master's feet. A smile sat on her lips. She traced the length of his scabbard with lone long, tapered finger, and ran the first finger of her other hand between her breasts. "When will he arrive, Master?' she purred.
   "Soon." He burst into laughter. "The Evil One has touched the path! See the doubt on his face! He seeks a way to surprise me, but that is not possible. Ha! Come, come!"
   Nick took a deep breath as he walked down the shining path. He didn't waste his concentration looking for traps. It was obvious the master sought a personal battle, and wouldn't resort to deadly tricks...yet. He felt his anticipation turn to dread with every step, but his anger rose higher and higher too. Sherry did nothing to deserve this. She wasn't a party to this battle between teacher and pupil, and the master was as evil as he accused Nick of being when he captured her.
    In spite of his rage, he had few illusions about his chances of killing the master. He studied at his feet for ten years and had learned faster than any other apprentice in the history of Sexton. He had studied in Tibet, Mongolia, Jamaica, Peru, and India. Nick had uncovered many spells in Sexton that even his teacher didn't know, but he had no doubt the other man's experience was deeper than his. His only hope was that the master's craftiness was warped along with his mind. He had to either outwit him, or die by his hand.
   Sherry was chained in place above the bed again. her hair was unbound and flowed gracefully around her face. The chains hurt...and she liked it. She had satisfied the master, and now she would watch the evil one die.
   "He comes, my pet," he breathed as he stared in the crystal. "He comes. Remember, you will be the first thing he sees. Scream and writhe."
   "Must I seduce the demon?" She pouted.
   "No. You will only arouse his wrath against me. In his anger, he will make a mistake...and he will die."
   She fell silent, watching him with dark eyes.
   His eyebrows pinched as he looked into the glass. His mouth contorted. He slammed his fist into the table. "Damn him!"
   "What is it, Master?"
   "Silence, whore! Your demon lover is delaying for some reason. I do not know why."
   Sherry's eyes widened as Nick stepped out of the mist. He looked strong, stronger than she'd ever seen him. Her heart pounded. Nick! No! He is the Evil One! No! He isn't evil. No! He is a demon!
   The master stood and grinned at Nick as he walked toward the table. "So you have come, Evil One." 
   Nick said nothing. He raised a hand and mouthed a spell. He never finished the incantation.  With a roar, the master clapped his hands together. Blazing light flashed around Nick. There was a clap like thunder and Nick's body exploded in the light.
   The master froze. Suspicion flickered in his eyes. "That was too easy, Niccolo. What game is it you play?"
   A shadow formed on the path just behind the wall of nothing. Nick's form stepped out of the wall and grinned.
   The master bellowed. He curled his fingers and snapped them in Nick's direction. Blue lightning sizzled the air. Nick made no attempt to dodge the bolt. For an instant that burned in Sherry's mind for an eternity, Nick's body twisted in the lightning. There was a nearly overpowering odor of ozone. When it cleared, Nick's body was gone.
   "Nick!" she screamed.
   The master fixed his cold eyes on the woman. His voice rang out with power, the first spell he used to charm her. "Remember, pet, he is the Evil One!"
   Sherry's eyes glazed.
   Nick stepped out of nothingness again.
   This time the master only stared. "What trick do you play? Do you seek to tire me? Do you not wish to fight? Why is it you flee from my spells? Have I taught you nothing?"
   Nick didn't reply.
   Another Nick stepped out of the mist and stood by the first. Then another stepped out. then another. Soon there were seven Nicks standing in a line in front of the master.
   "Enough!" the master roared. He snapped his arms in the air and shouted in an ancient tongue. Red mist formed above the crowd of Nick look-alikes. Red bars floated down into the mist under their feet.
   Nick's voice hovered around Sherry and the master like the voice of a ghost. She craned her neck in an attempt to find the source, but couldn't see anything.
   "Master, you've gotten slow in your old age, and more than a little careless."
   "Do not attempt to goad me into a mistake."
   "Hell, you've been making mistakes all along. A fireball? Lightning? Concensor's cage? Pretty strong stuff considering you could have wiped out my illusions with a gesture."
   The master grunted and spun toward Sherry. He shouted and snapped his hands at her in a hurling motion. Fire formed on the ends of his fingers and arced at her. "See me destroy your love!"
   She screamed. The fire bent around her and sailed into the mist.
   The trick accomplished its purpose. nick lost concentration on his own spells when he cast a protective shell around her. The shadows of himself within the cage disappeared. Nick appeared in front of the master. His legs were spread to shoulder width, an his arms were in the air. Sweat glistened on his forehead, and his eyes were locked on Sherry's.
   The master kicked at Nick's midriff. He grunted and his hands dropped to his sides. The master hit him full in the face with one of his fists and aimed a hard kick at his groin. Nick fell back and disappeared into the mist below.
   "Where are you, Evil One? How many times did I tell you while you were still human to watch for physical attack?"
   Nick's hands shot out of the mist and wrapped around the master's ankles. "Xexicamus fuegari!"
   The master screamed as blue flames consumed his robes. his body shook in pain and an inhuman roar slipped form his lips. Then, with Herculean effort, he bent and grabbed Nick's hands. In spite of his pain and the flames, he pried Nick's hands off his ankles as if they were nothing. The flames ceased.
   The veins in the master's neck stood out. His face went red as he tugged Nick's wrists. Nick's fingers locked around the master's wrists and he pulled in the opposite direction.
   Nick was yanked from the mist. The master grunted and grabbed him around the waist from behind. Nick's face was a mask of pain. His clothes smoked where the master's hands grasped, and he screamed. His arms were pinned at his side and he bent his right arm at the elbow in an attempt to reach his dagger. The master's hand burned through his clothes and his flesh turned black where burning fingers clutched it, but Nick managed to draw the dagger. He stabbed the master's side. His grin turned to a grimace, and the grimace turned to a demented grin as he yanked Nick's dagger from his side.
   He dropped the dagger into the mist. Nick was nowhere in sight. "Show yourself, Evil."
   Nick rose out of the mist. White light shimmered around him in a protective aura. Two blackened shapes of burned flesh were visible on his stomach, but there was a cold smile on his face. "I've learned far beyond what you were able to teach me."
   The master nodded and looked hard at the man who was once his pupil. "Yes. You have become quite a challenge, but the forces of light will always defeat the darkness."
   "Which of us is which?"
   The master vanished.
   Nick blinked. He raised his arms and began to float above the mist. For the first time since the fight started, he looked at Sherry. With a gesture, the chains holding her snapped and she fell to the mattress. "Go on, Sherry. Go home. don't step off the path, and get out of the apartment as soon as you get there."
   She didn't reply. She only stared at him.
   "What's the matter? I said..."
   He grunted as lightning smashed into him. He was knocked form the air, and his lips curled back in silent agony. The master popped out of the mist with a cackle, and held the lightning on Nick's quivering body. He thrashed as he tried several times to stand, but fell with every attempt. His clothing burned and he could only raise enough power to stop the lightning from destroying his flesh. He wouldn't last long.
   "Your woman is a most excellent lover."
   "No!" Somehow, whether through his love for her, or his hate of the master, Nick called every ounce of his power. Pure emotion flooded through his mind. His agony slipped away. A spell burned itself across his mind. A spell he knew even then he had never learned. He shouted words. Power cracked the air as he spoke.
   The master screamed--a terrible cry--and slapped his hands to the sides of his head. Flames engulfed his hair. His eyes melted. The skin charred, then flaked away. It was over. The master's charred skeleton slipped silently into the nothingness below.
   Nick put his hands on his knees and panted. Slowly, he straightened and walked to the bed. Sherry slid one hand under the pillow and the other around his neck. he bent to kiss her and jerked back with a cry of pain.
   His eyes locked on hers. His hand snapped to his side and locked around her hand and the dagger in it. Rich, dark blood covered the satin sheets. "Why?"
   "You are evil!"
   He released the dagger and wrapped a strong hand around the back of her head. She struggled to break away from the grasp. He pulled her face against his. His strong lips mashed against hers. She clawed at his back, struggled fiercely to break his kiss. The strength fell from her. Tears clouded her eyes. She closed them.
   "I didn't mean to hurt you," she whispered. She stood and wrapped an arm around his waist, pressing it against his wound to stop the blood. "I'm so sorry."
   He leaned heavily against her with his eyes closed. "That's okay. I lied... I'm not really an archaeologist."
   She laughed. "Be quiet, you idiot. Just be quiet."  She kissed him on the cheek and helped him to the path. While they walked, she vowed to herself that she would never let him slip away again. "You have some explaining to do," she whispered.
    "That's what I figured." He laughed and it turned into a cough.
   The gray mist closed around them.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Seven Years Ago Today, I Slipped Into A Darkness Called Wernicke Enecephalopathy

I am very much alive, and I'm really happy about that.
   July 1, 2005 could easily have been the date on my  head stone. That isn't my name on the head stone above, obviously. What's a little eerie is that I happened to see the above photo today of all days.
   Wernicke Enecphalopthay, also called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, or Wet Brain, and a few other names, is a serious illness most often brought about by alcohol abuse. It can kill. It certainly changes lives, and almost never for the better. Wernickes is about thiamin -- vitamin B1. It's a vitamin most folks don't have to worry about, but if you don't have enough of it, your brain stops functioning properly. Sometimes it stops functioning, period.
   For whatever reason, mine didn't stop functioning.

   July 1, 2005 was a bad day for my wife. I spent all but a few minutes of it in what was probably a coma. I hadn't felt well for months before that. Not quite sick, but not well. The only memory I have of that day is the sound of my wife on the telephone in the next room. I was in bed, and she was talking to the poison control center. I thought the cats had eaten a houseplant or something...but she was talking to them about me.
   I describe the illness, from the patient's point of view, in my book called Green Goblin. If you look around this blog, you'll find a long sample of Green Goblin. It's also available from this link:
   I'm grateful I got sick. Seriously! I was on the verge of losing everything to my drinking. It's scary to think about, but can't be denied. I don't dwell on it, but I don't let myself forget about it either.
   Today I got up in time to see the sun come up. I do that a lot, regardless of time of year. The sunrise is symbolic, as well as beautiful. On this day, July 1, I always feel like the pheonix of legend. I feel like I rose from my own ashes; arose a better man.
    Sadly, not many come out of wernickes to live a normal life. Most end up needing someone to take care of them for the rest of their lives. Considering the disease usually hits in middle age and doesn't shorten lifespan, that can be a very long time. The ability to form long term memories is the biggest hurdle to living a normal life after wernickes. I don't know why I came out as well as I did. I wish I did know, because then I could help others overcome this thing.

   I'm grateful I got sick because, sadly, I think getting sick is what it took for me to quit drinking. If you're struggling with alcohol, please be smarter than I was. Get help. Don't worry. That's as close to a lecture as I'll give.

   In any case, I always reflect on the illness, what got me there, and the miracles that got me out of it, on this day. For me, July 1 is my independence day. It is the day I crossed into darkness. It is the day that by crossing into the deep darkness of that illness, I was able to make the decision that I wanted to live this second chance to the fullest. It hasn't been easy. I quit drinking. My wife and I moved to her hometown, a place where I had few roots (but many friends). I left my good, salaried job, and took a part time job cleaning bathrooms. I re-assembled my brain a piece at a time. I started writing books.
   In short -- I learned how to live, and love life and all its grins and warts.
   Make it a great day, my friend!