MTG & The Broken Format

I like Magic the Gathering. I spent years playing from the very tail end of beta all the way to Mirage.

Recently, I’ve gotten myself back into it and I still enjoy the process of making decks and trying them out. However that is also where the problem with the current game meta comes in. People, as a whole, don’t like creating anything anymore. The decks I see out there are card for card copies of professional decks that have either won or placed high in the MTG Pro Tour and other tourneys and follow the exact play notes of the pro that created the deck. It’s called net-decking.

How can you possibly feel like you are doing well if you played no part in creating the deck? Has the definition of accomplishment changed so much that copying other peoples work has become the new benchmark for success?

I saw a con artist on TV play chess against 10 different master level players, simultaneously, and beat 3 and drew 2 of them. Not because he was good at, or even knew how to, play chess. He was good at remembering. He would play the players off of one another by memorizing their moves. He paired them into five groups and would move between each pair, mimicking each player’s game against the real opponent, all while everyone there thought they were playing against the con artist.

Now I can see the argument that this is skill against skill, referring to the players themselves unknowingly playing each other, but isn’t deck building a skill?

Players are referred to as “pilots” now. Pilots. Using this term creates the mindset to easily accept that something so streamlined and functional cannot be designed by a mere user, i.e., few airplane pilots actually design planes. Some do, but not many. So the majority of pilots fly a plane around following the exact operational and safety parameters as defined by the engineers who designed the planes. Some don’t but they crash.

But this is not even a good comparison, because half of the skill as a MTG player, or player of any strategic CCG, is in fact deck building. How can you feel pride when someone else is doing all the work for you?

This is a rampant problem in Modern, Legacy and Vintage. Innovations only come along when someone on the Pro Tour does it. Otherwise, the same deck float around for YEARS. These decks originated from the professional player base and trickled into the community, but creativity isn’t calculated into the formula when it comes to building a deck. It’s money and a recipe.

And that’s how it goes. Money and a recipe for every format, including the “accessible” Standard. It’s funny to watch a card go from 4 dollars to 40 dollars after some pro uses it and does well. People go out and spend hundreds of dollars to be competitive, only to have those cards cycle out (which is how Standard works) and drop to half (or more) the value they purchased them for.

This isn’t a thing about the inflated cost of cardboard, though that certainly is a thing. This is about the death of creativity in a game I love. It’s about the fact that overpriced cardboard should foster creativity, because who wants to pay $700 for a deck of cards that will be worth significantly less when the cards that make it top tier cycle out and more money has to be spent when the pros tell us what’s good in the new set?

Apparently everyone.

Card sellers (Star City Games, Channel Fireball… etc) all host and sponsor professionals with a teams of people constructing THE decks that will feature in the tournaments. They do this because they know it will drive up the cost of singles and their profits with them. They think of common players as a lesion that hemorrhages money.

Anything that rises to the surface that isn’t a already established tier deck is labeled as “rogue.” Like a homeless person trying to eat at Ruth’s Chris, these decks are subject to judgmental remarks where they point out flaws and generally make the player feel unwelcome.

Until the rogue deck wins. Then the whining starts. I’ve noticed that most net-deckers have an elevated sense of entitlement, where they believe that because they deserve to win solely because they spent so much money to do so.

So it all comes down to money. I’m not down on free enterprise or capitalism. Not at all. But I draw a comparison between card sellers and rent-to-own companies. They pray on impulse and the ultimate value of what they sell is less in the long run. Cards today don’t have the value that cards had when I started, where sheer rarity drove the collector value through the roof.

Ultimately this rant is how I feel about the state of the game. I share this opinion with others out there of course. In the end, net-decking is the wave of the future. Crowd sourced ideas that people adopt as their own is the new standard for accomplishment.

It’s sad but there it is.




A world of (not) writing…

There are times when I wonder why I’m so drawn to written communication.

I can’t say that I enjoy the act of putting my opinion out there for the world to judge. I do it, of course. Also I may be over estimating the size of the audience interested in reading stuff I like to write.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot more than writing. That’s not a good thing for me. Writing is almost like math to me (except I don’t read math related books). It’s just one of those use it or lose it skills. Not writing something-anything-daily is a lazy mistake.

After a short bout with the flu and reading the last page of the last discount bin book on the sickroom nightstand, I’ve started looking around for more inspiration. Especially in the form of writing prompts.

I headed over to Writer’s Digest and picked the current Weekly Writing Prompt.  I’ve written on several of these before and I’ve always liked the challenge presented by having to make up something on the spot, conform (somewhat) to someone else’s idea, AND keep it to 500 words or less. It’s weekly. It’s fun. I encourage people to go there and participate. They don’t, but I encourage.

Another good source of writing prompts is Reddit. There are lots of great ideas generated by lots of creative people. Some are stolen from other sources and claimed as their own, because Internet.

Stolen or original, using these prompts is a fun way to get you out of the box in respect to practicing your writing.

So go out there, get ideas, and send me links to your work. I’d love to read it!

Where Does Evil Come From?

I form the light, and create darkness, I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord that do all these things. –Isaiah 45:7

I was planning to follow up on my Another Necessary Kind of Evil post long before now. Now that I’m over a few personal hurdles, and my thoughts have returned from their wanderings, I decided to finish that today.

No discussion about evil has ever not began or ended up without a discussion of religion… Christianity specifically, because most of the people I know are in fact Christian.

The above Bible quote can be found on Depending on which version of the bible you’re reading, the text of that quote varies.

I have read the bible several times during my life. I feel like it more than anything has turned me away from religion. I’m not picking on the Bible specifically. I’ve read other religions texts and still I remain a conscientious objector. These texts existed WAY before me and will exist WAY after me. That’s not the point. The point, for me, is that the content turned me away from following something that seems to be too good to be true.

I had a thought years ago concerning the Bible and I maintained a very unpopular opinion.

That the Devil wrote the Bible.

Before the rocks and shoes start flying, let me make my case.

What is the Bible to Christians?

Simply put, the Bible is a collection of 66 (o.O) books written by around forty different authors and is the textbook, the blueprint for the Christian to pattern their life. This has moved away from Old Testament teachings to the kinder, gentler New Testament ideals. Ultimately all Christians use this book to define and give substance to their faith.

Now… Who is Satan?

The Bible says that Satan is a beautiful and powerful fallen angel, who would like to do nothing more than take away the joy of Christians through deception, and lead people into rebellion against God. Although Satan is destined for the Lake of Fire, biblical prophecy indicates that he will deceive entire nations and kingdoms before he is relegated to eternal damnation, along with the other fallen angels he led into rebellion against God.

Think about that. Take away the joy of Christians through deception. You can presume worldly joy or that heaven is joy rewarded to the faithful.  Either way, Satan’s goal is to take that away through deception.

Take a look at this wiki page. Note the hundreds of Christian denominations. All of which have a slightly different interpretation of the Bible. Sometimes those differing interpretations have led to heated debates and disagreements that divides family and friends. Still other interpretations led to some of the most devastating wars in history.

Each of these denominations believe wholeheartedly in their view of what the Bible says. Unwavering belief, save for the few denomination jumpers who are still seeking guidance.

So what we have is a religious textbook that defines the religion to its followers, but clearly not all of those followers agree with one another. In fact, the denominations adamantly disagree with each other.

If not for the Bible everyone of Christian faith would just be Christian. Then we see the introduction of a book, which is seemingly impossible to interpret in one agreeable way, drives people of faith apart when it should unite them.

Logically the perpetrator of such a subtle and deep deception would have to be Satan, if you believe such an entity exists.  But logic, as I’m told by my Christian friends, cannot be used to understand the Bible. That makes sense to me in this context. Shunning logic allows the deception to seep into the soul, so to speak.

Now it’s easy to say, “Well they all still believe in God, so they are all Christian.” That is true. To an extent. Ask a Pentecostal how many Baptists are going to heaven. Ask a Catholic how many Protestants are going to heaven. How did that go?

Maybe this is my fevered atheist mind searching for ways to justify my belief, my faith that religion is just a story. Maybe I unconsciously believe that all of this is real and that Satan has infiltrated Christianity through its most sacred text and I’m rebelling against the Dark One. I guess in that case, I would be starting a new denomination.

Just remember this.

The Bible is 66 books long…

That’s pretty close to a significant biblical number. Just saying.

The Dreameater – Three

I usually felt a sense of relief when I walked through my front door but, today, circumstances had conspired against me. Bleep, my parrot, spewed a stream of obscenities at me that would teach even the saltiest profaner something new. Normally I’d stop and let him verbally assault me and trade insults, as was tradition, but I didn’t have time. He trailed off with some horrific phrases about my mother, as I headed upstairs to my office.

I couldn’t remember if James had ever been in my office, but it didn’t seem to bother him when I gave him a silent request to stay in the living room, as I headed up the stairs. I could hear Bleep’s tinny voice as he cycled through his dirty vocabulary with James.

In my office, every available wall space supported shelves, containing various artifacts, ingredients and books used to create ties to the dimensions I frequented. Jumping involved very complicated math. The paraphernalia acts like a calculator, freeing you from the calculations and allowing you to focus on application.

One side of the cluttered room stood out from the rest. It held the only arguably modern piece of technology… My Apple IIc. The green text and audible keyboard click was soothing to me. And, oddly enough, it’s the only computer that will connect to the material and Alter planes… With more than just a little supernatural coaxing, of course.

I lit the candles scattered around the room, and sat in my marginally comfortable rolling chair. I stared at the blinking cursor. If there was one person in this realm that could help me, it had to be Stephan Randolph Mully.

In the Alter, he is known as the Scholar… and with good reason. His knowledge of every when and where was absolute. Sometimes he didn’t know he knew the answer to something until he was asked, but you could take it to the bank that he would be able to give you something. Sometimes, it was a less than helpful something, but still better than nothing.

I launched my IRC client, and began typing.

‘Mully, you there? I have a small issue…’

‘I expected as much. Welcome back,’ Mully’s text appeared on the screen, all at once. I filled him in. A googly-eyed surprise emote appeared on the screen.

‘The Dreameater isn’t a small issue. He’s one the Pantheon. They are essentially gods in the Alter.’

Oh. A god. I wish I could be atheist. At least whatever he was doing wasn’t a part of any ongoing plot against the material. In the Alter they could do whatever they wanted. They were kept in check by the other Pantheon. Sometimes they would breach into the material, but it generally didn’t amount to much. They are formidable, but the physical and supernatural laws here severely crippled their power, as it does with any Alter. The entire dimension reacts against the intruder, similar to how an oyster reacts to sand. Why it was here made no sense. By now, it had to be far too weak to return.

‘How do we kill it?’

‘Well, you can’t actually kill it, per say. You can banish it though. There is an easy way and a hard way…, but you’re not gonna like the easy way.’

‘Killing Jane is not an option,’ I slammed my hands on the desk.  I swatted back and forth at the ensuing dust cloud.

‘I said you weren’t gonna like it.’

‘So, what’s the hard way?’

‘Well,’ Mully somehow gave the impression of scratching the back of his head, ‘that’s something you’re not going to like, either.’

‘Mully!’ I was really tired of not knowing what was going on, and I’d been back for less than an hour. ‘Why does everyone think they have to tiptoe around me?’

‘Because you become wholly irrational when your friends are in danger.’

‘Alright, no need to be bring that up…,’ I sighed, and rubbed my face.

‘Someone,’ Mully’s text continued, ‘is going to have to go in there and get him out.’

‘Alright, so I need to – wait, go in where?

‘Into her head. Where else would you expect to find the Dreameater?’ There had been many times since I’d met Mully that he’d been flippant and vague with me, it was just his way. His vast knowledge of everything made him take just about everything very matter-of-factly, but it was grating on my nerves more than usual today.

‘Okay, tell me everything you know about this guy.’

’The Dreameater is a creature of significant power. He is ancient, and probably one of the original Pantheon. It exists by feeding on the energy of dreams. There are theories that material and Alter dreamers become an astral copy of themselves and actually enter a shared dreaming dimension that is just as real as either. Explains the old wives tale that if you die in your dream, your body dies in the waking world.’

’So this thing just feeds on everyone’s dreams all the time? And no one has noticed?’

He paused for a beat, then continued. ’This thing feeds from any human or other animal capable of dreaming, all the time. It always has. No one notices because, the Dreameater takes only a little of what it needs from each creature. Most living things in this realm aren’t self-aware enough to even notice when anything goes missing.’

’Wait.’ I rubbed my eyes in exhaustion, ’It actually consumes the dream itself?’

’If the theory about the dream dimension holds true, then each dreamer creates a world where they play out their dream scenarios. This ’world’ exists only briefly… Most dreams are only a few seconds long, after all.’

’What? That doesn’t seem possible.’ I said. I started the evening not knowing too much about the Dreameater, and suddenly, I felt like I knew too much. If I knew Mully, there was more to come.

’Really? You travel to another dimensions on a daily basis. Is it that much of a stretch?’

’Fair enough,’ I typed.

’Answer me this,’ there was a long pause. ’You sleep occasionally, I assume, yes? How clear is the memory of your dreams?’

’Well, I…’

’Can you remember them clearly?’

‘Yes, I can remember some.’

’Alright. It’s a complete sequence of events, or does it jump from one scene to another with no apparent connection?’

I paused for a moment, then sighed. ’Yeah. I see what you’re getting at.’

’When you dream, a world of your creation pops into existence in the dream realm. The stuff of that dimension becomes the sights and sounds that make your dream a reality for you. When that happens, energy is expended and released. Though the rules that govern things in other, but similar, dimensions are sometimes wildly different and bizarre, conservation of energy is the one, universally true constant. Think of it like a campfire. The fire has no recollection of the heat that its lost; it’s just gone. The Dreameater just warms itself by the fire, so to speak.’

I shuddered at the thought of what must be going on in Jane’s mind right now. I shook it off. I had to focus. Mully was right; I get irrational when my friends are in danger.

’There’s something else… It’s not just dreams. Dreams are tied to memories in a very intimate way. Everything we dream stems from some memory or combination of memories.’

“Wait, so you’re saying that the reason our memory fades with time is because the Dreameater can consume those as well?”

’Not directly, but yes…’  Mully’s ellipsis had me worried. ’Its actually not a bad thing. Normally, it’s beneficial. The human mind doesn’t function on a level where it can keep every little memory. Most people would be insane by twelve.’

I pinched the bridge of my nose and took a steadying breath.

’You said, normally.’

’Yes. If the Dreameater has taken residence inside Jane’s mind, it wouldn’t have access to other people’s dreams. It would still need feed in order to survive, until it found a way from the dream realm back to the Alter.’

’What happens to Jane?’

It could have been my imagination, but I got the impression that Mully was sad.

’Could be nothing. Maybe she would lose some old memories, if they were connected to the consumed dreams.’ As the type appeared, I became more anxious with each word.

I let out a curse and kicked at the desk. It hurt, but I let the pain fuel the anger I felt over how helpless I felt. ‘So my options are to violate her mind, or do nothing and let her die.’

‘She wouldn’t die. Her body will continue to live; it’s not affecting her physical self. In its quest to return to the Alter, it’ll consume everything that makes her Jane.’

‘So, I have no choice but to go inside Jane’s head, to get at this thing?’

‘Yes and no. You can’t Jump directly into her mind, but you can Jump into the dream instance she’s created. It’s probably holed up somewhere in there feeding on her memories and dreams, as it looks for a way to cross back into its home Alter.’

‘We need to figure out why it attacked Jane.’

‘Likely, it didn’t go after her for any particular reason. More likely, because of the way the material world affects it, it was simply too weak to return to the Alter through traditional means.’

‘According to James she saw it and called him because I wasn’t available. Then she got in its way.’

‘I see. So are they your personal Jumper apprentices now?’

‘No. James is stronger than most of the stuff that can cross over. If there’s anyone I want watching Jane’s back while I’m away, he’s it.’

My words must have surprised as Mully as much as it did me, but that didn’t make them any less true. James was my brother, and the most trustworthy individual I have ever met. He knew the Alter world as well as I did, and he’d saved my hide a few times. I’d never tell him that to his face. He’d never let me live it down.

“Didn’t know you cared,” James’ weighty voice carried into the attic. I looked down the ladder leading to the hall. The rectangle through which the ladder passed framed his grinning face, like some goofy family photo.

“It’s impolite to eavesdrop?”

“Never stops you,” he shot back, still grinning. “Can I come up?”

“No,” I said. “Look, can you fill Bleep’s food bowl?” James just grinned back and nodded, unfazed by my refusal. When he was gone, I reached down and pulled up the ladder before turning back to the conversation with Mully.

‘Tell James hello for me.’ Mully typed.

‘Wait,’ I typed, ‘how did you know?’

‘It’s what I do.’ Mully typed.

I leaned against my desk with both hands and hung my head, taking deep breaths to clear my thoughts. I knew what I needed to do, but charging into Jane’s dreaming mind would take finesse and subtlety; two things that were conspicuously absent from my repertoire. But if I did nothing, Jane would be lost. I took one last deep breath and made my decision.

‘Well, look at the bright side. If the Dreameater catches you, you won’t have to worry about Jane anymore.’ Mully typed.

‘That was not surprisingly unhelpful,’ I responded.

It occurred to me that I had not the foggiest of ideas about how to Jump into a dimension that was in a state of constant change. Even if I did, how would I target Jane’s dream among potentially millions of dreamers that could be present in the dream realm?

‘What do I need to do? How can I jump into a dream?’ I typed and spoke out loud. I felt helpless. I was letting Jane down.

‘Jumping is mostly about believing that you can do it,’ Mully explained. ‘Jumping is entirely possible without all the preparation. But the human mind, human-ish in your case, cannot cope with stepping into infinity. The preparation provides a small, manageable and tangible interface to leap into other dimensions. You could accomplish the same thing with a pair of ruby slippers, by clicking the heels together three times.’

‘I see.’ I didn’t see, but that was no reason to get Mully off on an instructional tangent, beyond my immediate needs at least. I think I’d keep my simple mind focused, and prepare for the Jumps.

‘My advice to you is this; get Jane over here. That house of hers could cause quite a bit of interference.’

‘I intended for it to protect her.’

‘I know, but that’s not what she needs right now.  Arbitrary protection could prevent you from helping her at all.’

‘You’ll need to focus on her entirely and intimately, when you begin. Your material link to her is the only way you’ll find her dream.’

I hurried down the ladder and found James dozing on the couch. I only had the one bedroom, and when he stays with me he sort of takes over the sofa. I shook his shoulder and he opened his eyes sharply, not a hint of grogginess in them. Half-Aether’s didn’t actually require sleep. It was a comfort. Like eating ice cream when you’re not hungry.

“I need you to go get Jane,” I told him. “I can’t do anything inside her home without an invitation, and I won’t be getting one from her any time soon.”

“What are you going to do?” James asked, shrugging on his leather jacket even as he asked.

“Something stupid and dangerous, of course” I shook my head. “Don’t come back for an hour, but don’t come looking for me. I need zero interruptions. This is going to be difficult enough without having to prepare the Jump more than once.” James nodded in understanding and walked out the door. I made sure it was locked behind him and went to my room.

To say my bedroom is small was a bit of an understatement, but it served its purpose well enough. There was a full-sized bed against one wall, a small five-drawer dresser next to it, and a rug that covered most of the floor space. The tiny closet opposite the bed held all of my jeans and tee-shirts and a three piece suit that I hadn’t worn since my father passed away.

To the right was the bathroom, and I anticipated the shower. I could always focus a little better after a warm shower.

I cleaned the room, and pulled the rug out into the living room. Once I had enough space, I maneuvered my bed and dresser until the bed was situated in the center of the room. I changed the sheets and tossed the old ones behind the couch in the living room. 

It took half an hour to clear doubt and fear from my mind. The only thing that mattered was that Jane needed me and I was the only one who could help her. That was enough for my mind to kick itself into gear.

I drew a chalk circle all the way around the bed, filling in the complex mathematical formula within the circle’s boundaries. I didn’t solve it, because I needed Jane. She was the remaining variable. I made sure the circle was visible enough so James didn’t smudge it when he brought her in.

When that was done, I pulled clean clothes out of the closet and lay them on the bathroom counter.

Preparing a Jump is the most tedious and arduous tasks a Jumper can perform. It required complete focus of will to Jump, and absolute concentration on the desired outcome. The slightest disturbance would mean a fresh start and I wasn’t sure Jane had that much time. Every movement I made was purposeful and determined.

I turned on the shower, pipes shuddered in the walls. I tested the water’s temperature before stepping under the warm spray. I felt alive, invigorated, and clear-headed when I stepped out of the shower.

I dressed in the clean clothes I’d laid out – soft cotton pajama bottoms Jane had gotten me for my birthday and my oldest t-shirt, black with a faded image of Darth Vader and some Storm Troopers being photo-bombed by Chewbacca on the front. As I slipped it over my head I felt completely relaxed.

Jane was lying on the bed when I came out. James had left the blanket folded at the foot of the bed, and I nodded a silent, unseen thank you to my brother. He understood the importance of even the smallest details in a Jump. Bringing Jane’s favorite blanket was evidence of that.

I unfolded the wool cover and draped it over my friend’s sleeping form. Her eyes were still open, empty and cold. I drew in a deep breath along with every ounce of my will. I concentrated on Jane, and drew in the solution to the formulas. The circle began to glow.

The Dreameater – Two

Nothing good,” I answered. “What aren’t you telling me? You’re not saying something; you haven’t looked me in the eye since I got back.”

“I’m driving. I’ve gotta keep my eyes on the road.”

“James.” There was a note of warning in my voice, and he shifted nervously. He may be a half-Aether, with superior strength, resilience and power over mortal minds, but I was a Jumper. The one Jumper for an entire dimension. I had my ways too…

“Listen. You need to be clear-headed for this one. I’m not sure how what good you’ll be-“

“James!” I snapped. His eyes paled sadly. My stomach suddenly dropped into my feet. I felt like I was falling.

“Jane stepped into its path.”

I cursed so harshly that it made James flinch. I felt the Scout accelerate. Something had attacked my town – my friend – while I was gone; while I could do nothing to stop it.

Jane has been one of my closest friends going on ten years now. I met her at the local library, while tracking down a particularly dangerous book that slipped in from the Alter. I’ve often wanted us to be more than just friends, but my life involves a certain degree of risk that I’ve always tried to insulate those I care for against. For all the good it’s done.

James screeched to a halt, jumping the curb outside Jane’s home, and I was out of the car before he’d stopped completely.

The protective symbols and technologies I had placed on her house resisted me presence as I opened the door and barreled through the threshold. I wouldn’t be able to do much inside the barrier until she invited me in officially, but that was the least of my concerns right now.

The house was empty. Ignoring my limp, I took long strides toward her bedroom. I opened the door and was met sharply by a dense barrier of force that checked my forward momentum. The house was guarding Jane, and my heart hammered as I realized the implications. If the house’s defense had kicked in, that meant Jane was so bad that she couldn’t protect herself, then I was in trouble. It wouldn’t know me from any other monkey descendant. 

I slowed my haphazard pace, and concentrated letting the house know I meant no harm. The potentially fatal force barrier subsided somewhat, as the house allowed me through.

I stepped eased over to the queen-sized bed that she’d inherited from her grandmother along with the rest of the house. I’d often joked that she could trade it out for a twin to give her more space for activities, and that it would probably be more her size. She usually answered with a quick elbow to my ribs and a smile. All jokes were distant memories now, as I crept closer to the prone figure.

Jane lay under the covers, and may have well been sleeping except that her green eyes were open. I stopped breathing for a moment. When I heard her take a soft breath, I shuddered and exhaled the air I was holding in anticipation. She was alive. I sank beside her and reached for her hand. It was cold.

“Jane?” I whispered. There was no answer. I guess I hadn’t really expected one, but I had to try… needed to try. I felt James’ presence as he stood in the doorway. He kept his voice low despite the unlikelihood of waking Jane.

“She hasn’t responded since the attack. I brought her here so she would be safe and comfortable.”

I nodded, letting him know I’d heard, but my eyes never left her. If it weren’t for the steady rise and fall of her chest, I wouldn’t have even known she was alive. Her blank stare was unwavering and unfocused, and even as I passed my hand in front of them there was no reaction. James moved up silently and passed me a small bottle of saline eye-drops.

“Tell me about the thing that did this to her?” I unscrewed the top, and carefully placed two drops of the solution in each of her eyes. The excess ran down her gentle face like tears.

“Gone,” James sighed. “She jumped in its way and it surrounded her… like a dark cloud. Two, maybe three-seconds later, it just vanished.”

“You get a look at it?” I asked, and James made some sort of pfft noise that I took for a no.

I stood and squeezed her cold hand with my warmer one. I hesitated a second. I leaning over and kissed her forehead.

“I’ll find out what did this, Janie. I promise.” I rose completely. It was difficult to leave her like this, but I had no choice. The house would make sure no one disturbed her, human or otherwise. “Come on, James.”

Outside, we climbed back into the Scout and he started the engine.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“My place, to find some answers.”

The Dreameater – One

I TOOK A DEEP BREATH and stepped onto the meticulously drawn circle.

I hated traveling, especially to the alter-world, but coming home feels like…well, like coming home. The terror and destruction there always makes me long for the quiet comfort of my simple, small Johnston Street apartment. It was empty now that Sharon had moved out to live with her new family. Forays into alternate dimensions are pretty difficult on relationships. At least the next few days would be peaceful. As peaceful as I generally managed, anyway.

I took a few more steadying breaths and waited for the nausea to die down. Dimensional travel didn’t always agree with me, and the jump from Alter-Lafayette to Lafayette was fairly long, relatively speaking. Still, sealing dimensional breaches and handling the nastiness that came through fell under my responsibilities as Jumper. It’s been a busy year.

I collected my things from around the Jump area I had set up in an abandoned machine shop. I picked up my walking stick with my free hand. My right leg was horribly maimed from a battle with a scourge of energy-draining vampires called Aethers.

Mind you these were not your typical high school vamps, sparkling with angst. These ones were not pretty, had no interest in dating high school girls, and were bent on the utter consumption of all living energy in the material plane.

Seems counter-productive, eating all of your food as fast as possible. Though logic doesn’t seem to resonate well with them which, coincidentally, is how I ended up with my leg mangled in the first place. 

Therapy helped me regain most of my mobility. Otherworldly technology helped more. In a few years I might not even need the cane.

I made my way through the workshop crowded with boxes and crates and retired machinery and raw materials, toward the loosely chained door where my 1977 International Scout would be waiting just outside. I expected it to be rusting right where I left it just a few moments (of this world’s time) ago.

It was severely devalued with rust, and since it didn’t make the official Car and Driver list of desirable vehicles to steal, I could probably leave it here for months. The best deterrent to car theft is owning a crappy car, after all.

“She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts…” I told my half-brother James once. I’m not sure he was convinced.

I slid under the chain and squeezed through the gap between the rusted and hole-filled sliding doors.

Out front and behind the steering wheel of the Scout, was my half-brother James. He took care of my affairs when I was “out” (more often than not) and has gotten me through some tough spots, when I got in over my head (which, also,  is more often than not). He is the definition of reliability. Being half Aether, also gives him the ability to dominate the minds of most mortals. I’ve seen the horror of his power first hand. I’m not saying the men in question didn’t deserve justice, but I still get chills thinking about what he made them do with that jigsaw.

Thankfully he has a strong moral compass and keeps that Voodoo under wraps. Even more thankfully, is the rarity of this gift among half-Aethers. Bad shit happens when less morally solid types can wield that kind of power. Hitler comes to mind.

The moment I cleared the door, James was there, frantic and fidgety. He was literally never either of these things. It made me halt in my tracks.

“Finally,” he said. “We have to go now.” He reached behind me and snatched open the passenger-side door. It squealed and popped on its hinges, filling the quiet street with noise.

“What’s the rush?” I half joked. I wanted to take a shower, unwind with my recliner and escape a little reality with my PlayStation. Dealing with another crisis, inter-dimensional or otherwise, was not on the evening agenda.

“Something happened,” he pitched his voice low, and I knew immediately it was something from my neck of the void. Being the only remaining Jumper in this time, I stayed fairly busy dealing with incidents – both good and bad. He slammed the door just as I cleared the frame and dashed around to the driver’s seat. He’d left the engine running, and I hadn’t even buckled in before he peeled out and took off.

“James, what’s going on?”

“Something came across the boundary last night,” he said. “Something bad. Jane called me because you were out of town…”

My stomach felt like it was trying to compress into a one-inch square. Things from the Never-never were hardly ever pleasant, and anything that rattled James was probably worse than most.

“Anyone hurt?” James glanced sidelong at me, and I knew he understood my question. Was Jane okay?

“No injuries,” he answered cryptically. “What do you know about the Dreameater?”


It was a battle.

Will versus body.

My eyelids grew heavy and drifted towards relaxation. Tinnitus’ high-pitched tone grew louder, a sure sign of what was coming.  The world faded into a fuzzy, distant din of sound.

Then the static-filled blackness fell into place. My head listed and lolled.

I jolted awake as my head hit the keyboard. I scanned around the room, with forced wide eyes. I wiped the drool from my chin. I pressed enter a few times on the keyboard, shaking my head to add that visual element of frustration over an obvious software malfunction.  I fortified my cover act and exhaled heavily. I closed Facebook.

I needed coffee.

I locked my desktop, stood, stretched a bit and began the long walk to the sanctity of the break room.

Natural light spilled in from a wall-sized window opposite the coffee pot and other kitchen appliances, a pleasant change from the fluorescents over the cubicles. I squinted. My body seemed to take this as its cue to sleep more. I shook the encroaching fuzziness off and made my way to the roasted-caffeine-bean-nectar dispenser.


My head fell, chin to chest, and I reached blindly for the filters on a shelf above the counter top. I had no business making coffee. I had no business making anything that would eventually be consumed by the living.

I made the usual preparations; filter in the machine, coffee grounds (likely too much), and water (definitely too much), and flicked the switch from not brewing to brew.

I leaned against the counter and stared out of the huge window. Trees swayed in the gentle breeze. The morning’s frost still stood on the grass, a bit heavier in shadowed areas, but melting as the temperature climbed as the sun came up.

In the parking lot, water streamed along the tarmac. Yellow lines dividing the lot into organized spaces glowed through the frosty window glass. I stared a moment more until the coffee machine gurgled and sputtered out the last few drops of caffeine and chicory infused water into the pot.

My mouth watered as I poured the delicious concoction into my Star Wars cup, featuring Darth Vader and the words “I am your Father!” emblazoned on the front.

I turned back to the window and sipped the hot liquid from the mug, waking up even before it could breathe life back into my struggling system. I crossed over to the break table and sat in one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs.

As I stared outside, something was unequivocally wrong. It was quiet. Too quiet, I decided.

I sipped at the coffee some more, savoring the warmth a moment before swallowing it.

I froze.

Carefully, I sat the coffee cup on the table. I leaned forward and looking out the window. I couldn’t believe it. Empty. The parking lot was empty, except for my bike chained to a rack.

I pulled my phone from its belt holster. August 29th, 2015.

Saturday.  It was Saturday.