Friday, August 18, 2017

Meet the Deplorables, Eight Months in

Pointless Venture thought we would check back in with all of those humble souls who voted Donald Trump President of the United States. What do the deplorables have to say?

Bret Adkins, 27 years old, formerly employed at Borg Warner, favorite hobby was jerking it to big diesel engines.

Current Whereabouts: County jail after arrested for selling heroin.

Evaluation of Trump's Performance: "Big D's sure is fucking over a lot of those Washington homos, ain't he? Heard he rustled a few feathers for not criticizing white people when Black Lives Matter terrorists ran over a white girl in Charlotte. White people should have the ability to protest just like all those whiny minorities. Met a solid bro who was jailed for speaking German and cosplaying in a Stormtrooper uniform. When I get out, I might meet with his gang and burn some crosses and shit. Trump will protect our rights! Go big D!"

Candice Lawrence, 35 years old, professional house wife, favorite hobby was gradually letting herself go.

Current Whereabouts: Parents' house after husband left with secretary.

Evaluation of Trump's Performance: "I'm a little disappointed, to be honest. I thought Ivanka would have a bigger role in President Trump's White House, but her Jewish husband is hogging the spotlight with all his Russian meetings. Really think Ivanka could've done better--if she had to marry a Jew, then why not one that looked more like Paul Rudd than Jessie Eisenberg? Oh my, that's the wine talking. Please don't print that."

Anita Dooger, 40 years old, employed at In His Holy Fire church, favorite hobby was producing offspring.

Current Whereabouts: Walmart, loading up on toilet paper and paper plates.

Evaluation of Trump's Performance: "I think President Trump has done a wonderful, blessed job. God's wisdom has influenced his hand! Trannies are no longer allowed in the military, and Muslims better watch their backs! I have felt liberated to express my support in public for the crucifixion of homosexuals, which is a wonderful thing to share, let me tell you. President Trump will turn this nation back into a haven for Christian values!"

Bretfart1942, 22 years old, formerly employed at community college dining hall, favorite hobby was trolling for the lols.

Current Whereabouts: Mom's house, taking a break from the crushing pressure of two classes a semester.

Evaluation of Trump's Performance: "Honestly, I was hoping the whole system would just crash, and all the bitcoins I've mined would make me king of the wasteland, but things haven't quite proceeded as planned. The feminists are still working hard to undermine my masculinity, and President Trump hasn't done as much to rein them in as I would have hoped. Still, I've gotten plenty of lols from his presidency so far (have you watched a White House press conference? It's like a masterclass in internet doublespeak), and I only imagine they'll continue. Trump 2020! Pepe forever!"

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Diary of Mitch R. Singer

Somewhere over the rainbow, where skies are blue
Gangs of nazis drag people down the street, fat, fetid man-boys clad in sweat pants and army surplus camouflage. Spittle flies from their lips; when they speak, nothing comes out but haggard squeaks, mice-like squeals of discontent and fury. I sit around the table, nestled indoors, while my family sings for my thirty-second year. Thirty-two years seems too long--I feel as though I have crawled through sewers for eons and wandered dead woods for eternities--but I wear the sad face of acquiescence, smiling the toothy-smile for fate. One of the gangs has decided to beat a man in my front yard. Everyone keeps singing, even though his screams pierce through the thin glass and reverberate in these long halls. "Happy birthday to you," they say. Indeed. Happy birthday to me.

In the orchard, the smell of rotten apples in the air
One hand rises up while another comes down. Into the sack it goes, a fecund piece of fruit. After a while the weight of the picking bag hangs around your neck like a yoke. Around I go, a busy beast, my labors quiet and mechanized like the efficient piece of heavy equipment I have become. When the bag is full, it is emptied with great care, its contents as beautiful as any painting in a museum. I stare and become mesmerized by the red stripes, the splattering of color across pale, white flesh. Sometimes I can't help myself and eat as many as I can. Under my boots the failed droppings of the harvest melt into the earth, releasing an odor of vinegar that seems to linger for months, far after the memory of picking has faded. It is a pleasure being a tool, a senseless, yet useful, thing.

Outside my house, looking at the night stars
I come outside with a piece of birthday cake. It has white frosting and red and blue sprinkles. My neighbor has a huge American flag strung up on a pole in his yard. A night breeze rustles it, sending waves through the stars and stripes. I spot a hole in a white stripe the size of a bullet. There is shouting and chortling, and the gang that was out earlier walks down my street. There are about five of them, ugly boys, gangling or overweight. One of them sees me watching with my birthday cake and shouts something crude about my mother. It is strange; nights like these feel limitless, as though I could be any person if I only reached down into the depths of my history and pulled out a face to wear. A smile cracks my visage. The fork in my hands has ragged prongs, as though someone has taken the time to pull each of them into twisted metal teeth. "Happy birthday," I say as they stop and watch me approach. Happy birthday to each of us.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Weightlifting: Hypertrophy Macrocycle Conclusion

I've been working with block periodization for four months now and have just concluded my hypertrophy macrocycle, during which I focused on multiple sets of eight reps with variations of the competition lifts. Working with lighter loads and higher reps has been more of a challenge than I predicted, but I'm confident that all this work will pay off in the coming months as I transition to a strength macrocycle and then finally to a peaking block. Let's go over how my training progressed, reviewing how I succeeded and what I could have done differently.

For my two squat days, I started off (as I did with all of my lifts) with 60 percent of my 1 rep max for 4 sets of 8. My first squat day was low bar squats, and my second was high bar. I probably should have started with front squats and high bar squats, which was the change I made after two months. The loads for the back squat variations are too similar, which made recovery difficult. I didn't do any assistance for my squat in the end, though I started off doing weighted step ups and pistol squats. I train in a basement, and I don't have access to a leg press or any other machines, so other than lunges or hack squats, my assistance options were limited, and honestly I didn't feel that I need them. 5 sets of 8 reps on the back squat pretty much drains me for the rest of the day. I went from doing 245 for 5 sets of 8 to doing 265 for 5 sets of 8 in the high bar squat--62 percent of my high bar max (390) to 68 percent. Looking at my record log, 275 is my 8 rep max in the high bar squat. Approaching your 8 rep max for 5 sets is good progression.

On deadlift day, I started with just 3 sets of 8 reps, using 295 lbs. Four months later, I was using 330 lbs for 4 sets of 8. So I went from 58 percent of my 1 rep max (510) to 65 percent. You can probably get away with using lower percentages with the deadlift because it is such a taxing lift. I plan on starting out with 70 percent in my strength block, just like everything else. We'll see how I progress. Had I more time and a less physical job, I would've added straight leg deadlifts as an assistance exercise.

The bench press had the most variation of all of my lifts. I cycled through incline benches, dumbbell presses, military presses, and paused bench presses. The close grip bench press was my only constant. I went from doing 185 lbs for 4 sets of 8 (70 percent of my best close grip, 260) to doing 4 sets of 8 with 210 lbs (80 percent). I felt like my bench form improved a lot and that I gain muscle in my pectorals from doing close grips. Looking at the percentage I ended up with, it's obvious that my max close grip bench press is greater than 260 lbs, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to do 4 sets of 8 with 80 percent. My best wide grip bench is 290, so hopefully that has went up.

I'm pretty content with my progression during my hypertrophy macrocycle. I added weight, volume, and improved my work capacity. Although my weight didn't seem to increase (hovering somewhere around 195, 196 lbs), my body composition changed for the better. The next three months will be devoted to a strength macrocycle, with the fourth month changing to a peaking block, after which I will start the whole thing again, provided I see some decent results. I'll post my strength program some time next week.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Detroit Rock Stars I'd Rather Have in Congress Besides Kid Rock

Yes, Kid Rock is your fat redneck uncle. He'd be great in the Senate, right?

Kid Rock is thinking of running for Senate. This is the world we live in now, a world where the writer of "Bawitdaba" can say he's considering a political career, and we all have to take it seriously, because Donald Trump is President, and there is no God. Here's a list of rock stars from Detroit that I'd prefer to Robert Richie.

 Don't eat the mic, Iggy.

1) Iggy Pop.

I have no idea what Mr. Pop's political affiliations are, but I have to imagine he's something of an idiot-anarchist. I can see it now--the Godfather of Punk enters the Senate chambers clad only in a pair of ripped jeans. He has a jar of peanut butter in one hand and some shards of broken glass in the other. He stares at Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and asks "What the fuck happened to that guy's chin?" Then he starts gyrating and smearing the peanut butter over his torso as he dances on broken glass.

Winners: Anarchists and gutter-punks who need a hip replacement and Uncle Sam's support.

Losers: Anyone expecting any sort of coherent position on any issue whatsoever.


2) Jack White.

Professional musician and professional weirdo Jack White has always been something of a prickly character. He looks like Tim Burton and Jonny Depp's love child, and he has a fondness for taxidermy and beating up other rockers. Like Kid Rock, he is also something of a musical chameleon, switching from garage rock to alt-country to juke-joint blues. Unlike the Kid, he can actually play the guitar, although his voice sometimes sounds like a goddamn cat in heat.

Winners: Indie rockers, dead-animal enthusiasts.

Losers: Lovers of bananas and haters of guacamole.

Looks like he's about to rob a convenience store for a Mountain Dew and a carton of Menthols.
3) Eminem.
I mean, if you're going to pick a white-trash dude from Detroit to serve in the upper chamber of Congress, why not Eminem instead of Kid Rock? He's a bigger star, better rapper, and far greater innovator than the guy who wrote a whole fucking song over Sweet Home Alabama and Werewolves of London like that was okay or some shit. I'm sure Marshall Mathers has some perspective on the opioid crisis and low-class living, and despite his many beefs and crises over the years, he always seemed pretty intelligent to me, at least compared to Kid Rock.

Winners: Dr. Dre, trailer-parks, your teenage self.

Losers: Insane Clown Posse, your mom, maybe your children's children.

Looking good, ghost of Sonny Bono.

4) Ghost of Sonny Bono.

Flesh and blood Sonny Bono was a member of Congress, serving in the House of Representatives. Now that he's dead, why not shoot for the Senate? Sure, he might not get anything done, being dead and all, but if you're going to elect a Republican, why not a dead Republican? That's a compromise that I can live with.

Winners: The American People.

Losers: Kid Rock fans.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Shit Paul Ryan Has Been Dreaming of Since Drinking out of Kegs in College

Never forget.

Paul Ryan has been dreaming of cutting Medicaid since he was "drinking out of kegs in college." Here's some other shit the third man in line for the Presidency has been dreaming about since he was enjoying a college education paid in part by a federal aid program (Oh the hypocrisy!).

Mr. Speaker has been dreaming of a threesome with Ayn Rand, Ronald Regan, and Barry Goldwater since that one time he got really drunk in college and almost fucked a trash can.

Paul Ryan has been dreaming of internment camps for poor people since he read Atlas Shrugged and concluded that the world is divided into makers, takers, and candlestick bakers.

One of the leaders of the Republican Party has been dreaming of a lithe black man clad only in a pink thong named Shamoose every third Wednesday of the month for three years and is considering visiting a witch doctor to figure out what the fuck is up.

Mr. Ryan sometimes dreams of a 200 lbs bench press but he knows he will never possess the strength of a fourteen year-old boy, let alone a strapping sixteen year-old.

Sometimes, late at night, Paul Ryan dreams that he cannot hear all the suffering he has wrought. On nights like these, only a drink concocted with copies of the Fountainhead and the Holy Bible blended together with animal fat and virgin's blood can ease his troubled mind. Afterwards, he sleeps like a baby, though he'll awake early in the morning to vomit out a cud of half-digested paper.

Paul Ryan dreams of a version of Harry Potter where Voldemort wins, and all of Hogwarts is put to work building a magical version of Auschwitz that is powered on centaur blood.

Paul Ryan dreams of sleeping an entire night without letting out any bed farts.

Paul Ryan dreams of sitting on Donald Trump's face until he suffocates. This dream is usually followed by another where the President takes a huge crap on the Speaker's chest and then makes him eat it.

Paul Ryan will occasionally have a dream where he is a Batman villain. He always starts the dream as either the Joker or Bane, but by the end, he's turned into Calendar Man or the Mad-Hatter, and Batman always beats the shit out of him, quite literally.

Paul Ryan dreams that someday, he will be a real boy, but then he remember that he has no soul and Pinocchio was just a fable.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Theme Park Mistress: Vintage Park Mistress

A mean, lean collection of vintage songs from Theme Park Mistress. Marinated in cheap guitar pyrotechnics and cases of Miller High Life. Shake but do not disturb. Play loud on a broken stereo with all the lights off. You're welcome.

Writer's Block: The Key to Happiness

The key to happiness

is to not be a philosopher.

Philosophers dwell in

Dead dark depths

of infinite despair

Where time is but a way

to measure motion

in the vast meaninglessness

of space.

If happiness is key

then think of nothing.

Do not see the strings

which pull you to and fro.

Live in ignorant bliss.

Amor fati.

If God is omniscient and omnipotent

then time is a joke

Had at our expense.

I hope he had a good laugh.

I fail to see the humor

In playing a puppet's part.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Writer's Block: Villains

We are villains, all of us

Shuffling around our lairs

Loading the gun again and again

Spinning the cylinder like a child's toy

We aim it any direction

We shoot when we feel like it

If anyone dies, we shrug our shoulders

And spin the cylinder again.

Violence is all we know

A practiced indifference to pain

To its sources and its purpose

A body is something we kick from the streets

A corpse is a piece of meat

Everyone is doomed, after all

We cannot imagine anything better.

Fear is the cloud that hangs from our skies

If we shoot at it, we can keep it away

I am scared as you are scared

We will always be scared

That's why we will all die.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Why Are So Many Babies Full of Snark?

I've noticed a troubling trend. Babies are all full of snark now. It didn't used to be like this. Used to be you could look at a baby and not be worried about what that baby was thinking about you. Those halcyon days are gone, buddy. Welcome to planet Earth.

Babies have had it with your stupid baby talk. They don't like peekaboo; that's so 1960. If a baby is going to wear a onesie, it's going to say something sardonic. "I had boobs for breakfast." "I own you." "Future smartass: just like my daddy." I've seen these statements on baby clothes. There are far worse, but we won't talk about those babies. We might as well reserve a place in federal prison for them. I'm talking about the babies we can still save. I'm talking about the babies that are just following a trend.

Let's face it, babies can't spend money until they're like two or three. So we have to blame the parents somewhat for all the snark. They are the ones buying the snarky clothes. They are the ones putting the 'tude in attitude. I understand, parents, that it can be scary to have a baby. It's a life changing, disruptive event. All of a sudden you have to worry about paint chips and rocky mountain fever and stray tacks. You might want to react and let everyone know that you're not one of those parents, those fools growing fat and slow-witting as they degenerate into middle aged. Your baby is going to share the same cynical view of the world you've had since you turned 13. So you start him or her off early with a snappy t-shirt. Pretty soon baby's entire wardrobe is composed of teenage, shit-head angst. It's like you're trying to raise the next Bevis or Butthead. Who are you helping here, mom and dad? Bevis and Butthead died twenty years ago. The world doesn't need anymore Bevis and Butthead.

Let's go back to dressing babies in sailor outfits or dinosaur suits. Let's save the 'tude for later times, when you have to worry about whether or not your teenage is listening to murdercore/deathhop/grindsaw music. Let them decide to wear snarky clothes. Then there will be plenty of snark remaining for the future cyberpunk-dystopia we seem to be aiming for. Maybe then your grown-ass baby will think twice before buying a Female Body Inspector t-shirt.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Batman and Robin at Dinner

Robin sits down to dinner. The table is huge, and it spans most of the similarly-gigantic room, which is full of suits of armor and gargoyles and other gothic crap that Batman collects. On all four walls enormous televisions blare Fox News. The monstrous visage of Sean Hannity looms above Batman, who glowers fifty feet away. Steak again, thinks Robin, as he watches Batman skewer a piece of rare meat and chew it loudly with his mouth open.

"You're late," says Batman. Robin wonders how Alfred has never said anything about Batman's ridiculously audible mastication.

"I was out," said Robin, picking at the side of beef on his plate. You could feed a lion this steak and it wouldn't be hungry for a week, he thinks.

"You were at one of those goddamn rallies again, weren't you?" says Batman, his voice rising.

"Yes," admits Robin. He doesn't want to have it out again, but he can tell from the empty bottle of Chardonnay that Batman has been drinking, and so a row is inevitable.

"See if Gotham University gets any of my money next year," he says, stuffing a huge chunk of steak into his mouth. "It's become a goddamn liberal haven for commie pinkos and theater majors." Batman does a little gesture with his arms when he says theater majors that Robin interprets as a homosexual stereotype.

"You don't think there's anything wrong with the direction our country is heading?" asks Robin tentatively.

"There's nothing wrong with the United States of America. Name one thing. One goddamn thing," says Batman, spitting some meat on the table.

"The President, for one," says Robin, almost under his breath.

"He was elected by the American people!" screams Batman, pounding his fist on the table.

"He lost the popular vote.." begins Robin.

"If all the goddamn Mexicans hadn't illegally voted, then it wouldn't have been close!" says Batman, throwing the empty bottle of wine across the room. It shatters against a gargoyle statue, breaking off a tip of the wing. "Fuck!" screams Batman. "Alfred! Get in here and sweep this shit up!"

"Congress is about to take healthcare away from 23 million people," says Robin, still level-headed.

"Welfare queens and lazy fuckers who don't want to work!"

"I don't even know how to respond to that," says Robin. "You're a billionaire. An heir to a fortune. You were set for life the second you were born."

"Are you fucking kidding me?" screams Batman, jumping up on the table. He whips out a batarang and hurls it at a suit of armor, causing it to tumble apart. "You think I've had it easy? My parents were murdered in front of my goddamn eyes."

"You really need to see somebody about that," says Robin. "Like a psychiatrist."

"Shrinks are for lesbians and fat kids who masturbate to pterodactyl porn!" babbles Batman. He jumps down from the table and tries to flip it, but it's just too long and heavy.

"I think I'm going to go upstairs," says Robin, getting up from his seat.

"Don't you dare, don't you goddamn dare! Alfred hasn't even brought the fourth course. Where the hell is that old man? Jesus, I need to get myself a Spanish maid."

"Maybe if you offered him a better health plan he'd get that hip fixed," suggests Robin, already leaving the room.

"It's not my responsibility!" yells Batman, who has succeeded in breaking off a piece of the table. He throws it at Robin, but he has vanished, and the projectile bounces harmlessly off the open door. Batman then falls down on the floor in a drunken stupor, where he will remain till morning. Alfred will clean up the mess, as he does every night. He thinks of moving in with his brother in Metropolis, but he doesn't know what Batman will do without him, and he doesn't want that on his conscience.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Republican Excuses for the Coming Nuclear Armageddon

Unable to weather the increasing calls for his impeachment for being involved in an Illuminati/Reptilian/Moonpeople ponzi scheme, President Trump decides that he is a Big Man with a Big Gun, and that gun is nuclear. As a multitude of mushroom clouds blossom over the world's horizon, the GOP's bigwigs step up to the plate to cover for their President. After all, who is going to cut taxes for the Rat King or deprive the wasteland's mutants of affordable health care?

House Speaker Paul Ryan: "You have to remember, the President is new at this. He's new at being President. I think we should all give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps total nuclear annihilation is the right direction for America. I think we should all trust the President."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: "The President was elected by the American people, and no matter how many lives are lost in the coming months from radioactive fallout, I think we have to keep that in mind."

Senator John McCain: "This President is a fucking... (unintelligible).. must support Party at all costs... dignity, I left you in a Vietnamese prison camp... Goddamn it, we must support the President. Nothing, I mean, nothing else matters."

Congressman Devin Nunes: "The alleged reports of nuclear sunrises are not corroborated by Fox News, so we must assume that they are pure liberal dishonesty. Trust the Whitehouse, not your eyeballs. Anyone who says otherwise is a partisan hack."

Congressman Lamar Smith: "Americans should get their news directly from the President. If the President himself or a Whitehouse surrogate hasn't told you something in person, then don't believe it."

Senator Lindsey Graham: "Well, I can't say that I support the President's decision to turn the country into a radioactive hellscape, but how are we going to tackle tax reform without the cooperation of President Trump? People forget that there's an agenda we have to push here."

Senator Susan Collins: "Nuclear warfare is absolute unacceptable. This President is not making decisions that are good for the American people. Am I going to do anything about it? That's not a fair question. No comment."

Congressman Jason Chaffetz: "(Fart noise)... (rolling belch)... cannot forget about Hillary's emails... (wet, sloppy fart). Let me ask you something: Where was Obama during all of this? I don't think we can let him off the hook. It is possible that he left the Oval Office in such a condition that the President was forced to nuke America. There will be a congressional investigation, I promise you. They won't get away with this."

Senator Rand Paul: "I think we have to blame poor people, particularly people of color, for the President's decision. If they weren't so poor and so prone to getting themselves thrown in jail, then maybe the President wouldn't have been forced to push the nuclear button. Doesn't that make any sense to anybody? I know it does to me."

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Beware the Rat People

Watch out, people. There's a new danger lurking in our streets. Forget about the opioid epidemic. Washington sure has. Bigfoot isn't real, and neither are voodoo economics. But the rat people are. Christ almighty, they are.

There are a lot of stories floating around about the origins of this humanoid-rodent hybrid race. Some say they are a product of government research. Others claim that they come from beyond the stars. I heard an old lady at Walmart ranting about how the rat people rose up out of the earth, bringing with them their rat-dogs and their rat-rats. She was obviously high and probably suffering from years of mental and physical neglect, but I think her hypothesis is worth considering. After all, there are a lot of weird things in the earth.

I went to school with a rat/human hybrid. He was of a generally gregarious disposition, which compensated somewhat for his off-putting appearance. He wasn't terribly intelligent, but that's no mark against him, not in this world. Really, the biggest thing wrong with him was that he was an ardent supporter of the Kentucky Wildcats, despite being from Indiana. That's like being a fucking Yankees fan in Boston. Some sins are forgivable. Others are not.

The rat people are no longer content to lurk in the shadows, however. They have been emboldened by the sea change. A zeitgeist has come to shake our very foundations. There are allegations that the President of the United States himself may be of the rat-human race. Maybe that's the dirt that Russia has on him. I don't know. All I know for sure is that my eyes do not lie. The sons of the father cannot hide their heritage behind executive privilege and ancient malaise. Search your heart. Do these look like human faces?

Congratulations, you killed a leopard, you pieces of shit.

We must not let the proliferation of the rat people continue. Please stop supporting the rat people at the ballot box. Call your congressman, even if he/she is a rat person, and voice your displeasure at the power the rat people have amassed. Let us place them back in the shadows where they belong. There certainly is no place in my America for them.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What is the Best Kind of Monkey?

There's a question that has befuddled your brain for quite some time. You try to sleep, but you just can't stop thinking about it. You can't get anything done at work. Your wife complains about your thousand yard stare. You're forgetting the names of your children, Peter and what's-her-name. Well, it's high time that you found an answer to that question. What is the best kind of monkey? Surely there is a definitive answer.

I mean, we have our basic types of monkey. Big monkeys with long arms and sloping heads. Little monkeys with long tails and round faces. Scary monkeys with sharp teeth and red asses. Then there are the monkeys that speak sign language. Don't forget the monkeys that smell like rotten eggs and baby farts. I don't want to get too scientific here. Those are the basic types of monkeys as I understand it, in layman's terms. We won't get into the mythical monkeys like sasquatches and king kongs. There is no place for them in our discussion, unless we hear something new on the internet, in which case we'll have to reevaluate our argument.

Pros and cons of various types of monkey:

Big monkeys with long arms and sloping heads--There's a lot of hearsay about this kind of monkey. Some says that they don't have what it takes to hang with the big dogs. Others claim that they're too dumb to be the best type of monkey. Supposedly they hide all of their bananas in garbage bags, which is really stupid because everybody knows that bananas spoil quickly when encased in black plastic. Personally, I don't like the looks of them. They are probably the strongest kind of monkey, though, so that's a point in their favor.

Little monkeys with long tails and round faces--These are the type of monkeys that throw poop at you at the zoo. Some would say that's a point against them, but I think it shows personality, which is always prized in an animal. Their tails are prehensile, and they use them to grab beers. You can't have this kind of monkey with a dog, though, for they are mortal enemies. That's a deal breaker for me.

Scary monkeys with sharp teeth and red asses--For all the horror fans out there, these are the scariest monkeys in the world. They will mess you up and use your skull for a cup like Doctor Doom. Their asses are probably the scariest part of them, because you never know if a little head or another monkey might pop out. I like scary movies as much as the next guy, but these guys are too much.

Monkeys that speak sign language--I can't abide a monkey that speaks with its hands. Call me old fashioned, call me what you will. It ain't right. I guess some people like this kind of monkey. Those people are wrong.

Monkeys that smell like rotten eggs and baby farts--You are not supposed to keep this monkey in your house because it will tear up all of your shit and drink your coffee. They are really funny, however. They can also open doors and smoke cigarettes. Mixed on this one.

And the best type of monkey is...

Goddamn it. It's a trick question. Every type of monkey is the worst type of monkey.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Weightlifting: Tweaks to My Hypertrophy Program

The Rock was always awesome, even when he looked like (quote) "A buff lesbian," (end quote).

Now that I've finished my second cycle of the muscle-building program I posted last month (link), I'd like to list the changes I made between the initial and current versions of the program. First, let's post the new version of the program followed by explanations regarding the changes.

Note: Percentages are set to starting value--I lifted heavier than 60 percent during this last cycle. Add an extra set to the following exercises starting on the second week: Close grip bench presses, high bar squat, deadlift, all assistance work. Deload to starting weight on fourth week, utilizing 3 sets of 5-6 reps.

Sunday: Dumbbell bench press 5 sets of 12. Dumbbell rows 4 sets of 10. Dumbbell shoulder presses 4 sets of 8.

Monday: Off.

Tuesday: Deadlift 3 sets of 8. (60 percent of 1 rep max).

Wednesday: Belted low bar squats for 4 sets of 10 (60 percent of 1 rep max). Close grip bench presses (70 percent of 1 rep max) for 4 sets of 8. Curls and pressdowns for 4 sets of 8.

Thursday: Off.

Friday: High incline press 4 sets of 8 (60 percent of 1 rep max). Superset of pulldowns, side laterals, curls, and pressdowns 4 sets of 8.

Saturday: High bar squat 4 sets of 8 (60 percent of 1 rep max).

Change number one: Ditch the heavy bench presses in favor of dumbbell pressing. My program initially had you doing a heavy bench press day with 4 sets of 6 reps using 77 percent of your max. That sort of volume with that high intensity would be fine for a strength program, but during the hypertrophy phase we want to focus on building muscle. I replaced those bench presses with 5 sets 12 reps in the dumbbell bench press. Using dumbbells allows you more freedom in your movements than a barbell, and the lighter weights let you crank up the volume without the corresponding soreness. During my last cycle, I reduced the reps from 12 to 10 to 8 each week, adding ten lbs before deloading.

Change number two: Get rid of lower body assistance work. In the original program, I had you doing pistol squats, dumbbell stiff leg deadlifts, and weighted step ups as assistance work on lower body days. I cut that fluff on my second cycle, mostly because of time constraints, and I continued to progress just fine. The lower body doesn't need the variation that the upper body does. Two squat variations and deadlifts are plenty. If you work out in a nice gym, you could add some sets of leg pressing or hamstring curls. I work out in my dirty basement, so that's not an option.

Change number three: Switch out wide grip bench pressing for the high incline. I hadn't messed around with the incline press since I was a kid, and now I think that was a mistake. The high incline has the benefits of the military press while working the pectorals and being entirely an upper body exercise. I don't bring the bar all the way down to my chest because doing so results in shoulder pain.

In less than two months, my weight has went from 195 to 200 lbs, with most of that being muscle. I think I'll run at least one more hypertrophy microcycle before switching to a strength program, and of course I'll share the results.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Conan Brothers Q&A

OnDaJuize asks "What is the best set/rep scheme for getting huge, bros?"

Dave: 100 sets of 100 reps per bodypart.

Arnold: With 90 percent of your 1 rep max, right?

Dave: Of course.

Arnold: Is there a hard consensus regarding sets and reps for hypertrophy? Well, not really. Greg Nuckols thinks that we should think about volume as total number of hard sets per bodypart rather than sets x reps x intensity (link). That makes sense; a lot of guys get big doing multiple sets of 3 to 6 reps. I've certainly gained size focusing on rep ranges traditionally associated with strength, not hypertrophy. However, what you have to remember is that the heavier you go, the more you limit how many sets you can perform. For example, let's say we have a 400 lbs squatter. Our hypothetical squatter starts a program where he squats five sets of five with 80 percent of his one rep max. So he's doing 320 lbs for five sets of five, and he's increasing his weights every week. Let's say he does a deload around the fourth week (takes 10 percent off the bar) and then starts the cycle again. Maybe he makes good gains for a while, but after a time he stalls, and then where does he go? Using this program, is he going to ever reach five sets of five with 400 lbs? Maybe, but it isn't likely. Eventually his body becomes used to the stimulus, in this case, heavy reps, and then it stops growing. Fatigue increases, and soon he finds it that his weights are actually going down rather than up. I've experienced this myself. After the body becomes used to a stimulus, you need to change things up for a bit. Training with a lower percentage of your 1 rep max means you can perform a lot more volume, and more volume means bigger muscles, and bigger muscles means that, when you change to a strength focus, you'll be stronger.

Dave: That was quite the wall of text.

Arnold: In short, train some of the year with high reps and more moderate weights, then switch gears to lower reps and heavier weights. You'll progress better this way, and you'll stay healthy and engaged with training.

Dave: But lifting heavy is fun, Arnold. And only bodybuilders care about being big. I just want to be strong.

Arnold: That's a crock of shit, Dave. Everyone wants to be big. And virtually nobody can be strong without gaining a significant amount of muscle. Who is stronger: the internet "powerlifter" that's 5' 9 and 165 lbs, or the "bodybuilder" that's the same height but 200 lbs of lean muscle?

Dave: The second one.

Arnold: Damn right.


NutCracker3000 asks "What are some good tv shows that I might have missed?"

Dave: Fortitude on Amazon Prime.

Arnold: Fortitude is binge-worthy. Part X-Files, part The Thing, part small town murder mystery, I find myself watching episode after episode like a grossly-obese man grown into his couch.

Dave: First season is dope. Haven't gotten to season 2. Stanley Tucci is the man. Not sure Dennis "A poor-man's Harrison Ford" Quaid can fill his shoes.

Arnold: Also, the Expanse is pretty cool. Big-budget sci-fi rarely looks so good while being so captivating. Though maybe watch it with subtitles. Everybody mumbles on that show.

Dave: Your hearing is shit from riding around the neighborhood with your ghetto blasters blaring.

Arnold: I just can't believe that SyFy put out a good show instead of the usual crap it has been spewing for the last decade.


GrungyBob asks "So Chris Cornell died. My heart is broken."

Dave: So is Arnold's.

Arnold: Badmotorfinger is one of the greatest albums of all time. Used to lift while rocking out to it. I even dug some early Audioslave. The man will be missed.

Dave: Jesus Christ Pose has a sick guitar riff.

Arnold: Soundgarden was the most technically proficient of all the big grunge bands. They drew from psychedelia, punk, and heavy metal, and Cornell's awesome vocals held everything together. Now I'm going to go break my rusty cage.

Dave: Be gentle with that cage, Arnold. I want to make sure it holds a bear if we ever catch one.

Arnold: Man versus Bear in a Cincinnati Street Fight. I'm sure the WWE will finally come calling.

Dave: Damn better. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Hanging with the Goon

Tahts waht Im askin'.

Howdy folks, its yur favorit internet hellbilly deluxe here, teh world-famous Goon, of internet fame and general renown. Im back to tell you all a little 'bout wahts goin' on in my life, as well as to share seome of my contemplation of world events and stuff. Im plaesed to report taht teh orchard has set a full crop, an ol' Hernando and I are a gearin' up for a huge harvest. Sam is already countin' teh money in his poeckts, as though it were already thair an' burnin' a hole in 'em. Wit all teh cash I'm a gonna make, I think I'll buy a hot tub to put ourside teh trailer. I'll fill it wit crick water an throw fire in it to get it all warm so I wont have to pay money to teh electric man in teh sky. Wit my hot tub fully functionin', all teh neighborhood ladies will flock to my place an' I will be absolutely drownin' in teh puss, taht is, long as I can hide Slack somewhere so he don't abduct anyone, so maybe back in jail wud be a nice place fer him in teh futures.

Speakin of teh futures, waht is goin' on wit Supreme Leader Drumpf? Ever morn, he is up on teh tree tweeting liek a bird 'bout Fake News an' teh enemies of teh state. Teh cokecane taht tehy have in teh Opal Office must be mighty good, 'cause I can't understand nothin' he says, and not much gets past teh Goon, you know. Tehy say he fired teh FBI Director an' made 'em plege loyalty to teh Supreme Leader so taht he couldn't testify in court taht Drumpf pooped on a prostitute in MOscow while Putin an Red Skull were watchin, or somethin' to taht effect. I worry 'bout tah Supreme Leader. I think he might be playin' golf too hard, or somethin'.

Evertime I try to bring up Polik wit Sam, he always tells me to shut up an watch teh Foxy News 'cuz they always tell teh truth faeire an balanced. Tehy do has some perty ladies on teh Foxy News thoughh I herd taht BIll O'Riley tried to eat 'em all an tahts why they had to put his head in a box an' throw 'em outta his limo liek a bum on teh rocks. Its all right, Bill: teh ol' Goon has been thrown outta a movin' car or two in his day. U just pick yerself up, dust yerself off, an go rob a licour store. Tahts waht my daddy taught me anyways.

Sometiems I wunder waht good all dis modern tecnoology is good fer. People can get trapped in tehre echo boxes and all tehy hear is teh sound of thair own voices, well, taht an a dull ringin' that I can't not never unhear. Maybe we will has a J-Had an all teh robots will be destroyed like IN Dune and taht Kaswhats Hederatz will set us on teh GOlden Path liek in teh movies. Ever night tahts what I pray fer. I sure hope somebody is listen. Hopefully he is a giant Sandwurm.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Rejected Provisions from the AHCA

Jesus Christ, he's a douchebag.

You may have heard that Republicans pushed a repeal and replace of Obamacare through the House recently called the American Health Care Act (secretly known in Republican circles as "the fuckening"). That's not good news for a lot of people, particularly if you're a woman or not a rich person. It could've been worse, though. Pointless Venture has the scoop on rejected provisions from the AHCA:

Originally, if you were a woman asking your insurer about maternal benefits, a giant fist would've materialized out of the phone and punched you in the face.

In the first version of the AHCA, anyone making 30,000 a year or less would have had to serve as the personal butler of the closest WASP, given a fifty mile radius, for three months or more in order to receive health insurance premiums under 300 dollars a month.

Anyone currently on Obamacare would've had to report to the courthouse to be branded as a communist and/or failure for life.

You would have received a tax credit for being sterilized, provided your net earnings were under 25,000 a year.

Upon denying coverage, insurers would've been required to bring up either god, guns, or abortion.

All claims could be rejected, provided the claimant was a woman/transgender/liberal/fan of the tv series Girls.

Paul Ryan would've gotten a kick back from every P90X package sold.

Ted Nugent fans would've been rewarded with a venereal disease of their choice upon every doctor's visit (they consider this a reward).

Before picking up medicine at your local pharmacy, the customer would've had to pledge loyalty to Supreme Leader Donald Trump.

Any woman seeking abortion was captured and processed by a private police force, where she would be forced to carry the child to term so that said child could serve as an indentured servant to Trump supporters making over 100,000 a year.

People could chip away at their gigantic medical debt by volunteering to build Trump's wall.

Preexisting conditions included not voting Republican, being under an 8 on the classic 1 to 10 hotness scale (females only), and spreading atheism. Essential benefits can suck it!

Before committing euthanasia, people suffering with expensive conditions would have been able to pick an heir to receive a tax credit for their suicide.

You would've gotten a tax credit for being white, male, and possessing an IQ under 90.

You would've gotten a tax credit for having insurance.

You would've gotten a tax credit for not having insurance. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Weightlifting: Hypertrophy for Powerlifting

Some good-ol' fashioned man-porn.

Training with low reps constantly gets tiring. Endless sets of 3s and 5s might boost your strength for some time; yet after a while, the body becomes adapted to the same stress, and you find yourself stuck on a plateau. What's the answer? Why, some good-ol' fashioned bodybuilding, bro! By which I mean, multiple sets of 6 to 10 reps, training each muscle group twice a week, minimum. Ideally, you should do a two month hypertrophy program, then switch to two months of strength-building, then finally peak for a month to discover your new maxes, according to bodybuilder/strength coach Mike Isratel (link). Powerlifter Greg Nuckols (link) also recommends this sort of approach. After all, the more muscle mass you have, the more strength potential you'll develop. Just check out some of the top raw powerlifters, Dan Green for instance:

Damn-near as jacked as Arnold in his prime.

So how should you structure a bodybuilding program with a powerlifting focus? Obviously you want to still use the squat, deadlift, and bench press for much of your training. However, instead of working on increasing your one rep max (and ego), you'll focus on developing the primary movers of those respective lifts (so the quads, hamstrings, glutes, pectorals, shoulders, triceps, and spinal erectors, namely), though during this time, you can also work building supporting muscles groups like your biceps and lats. Variation is key, since you'll want to expose your muscles to different stressors (the ol' muscle confusion bro-science, which has a little merit). Below is a sample program designed for someone with the following maxes: 300 lbs bench press, 400 lbs squat, and 500 lbs deadlift.

Sunday: Bench press 225 for 4 sets of 6 (75 percent of 1 rep max). This is your heavy bench day. Also do 4 sets of 10 dumbbell flies, followed by dumbbell rows for 4 sets of 8 and dumbbell shoulder presses for 4 sets of 8. Add five lbs to your bench weights each week, while adding one rep to your assistance exercises.

Monday: Deadlift 3 sets of 10-8 reps with 295 lbs (just under 60 percent of 1 rep max). Why only three sets? Well, it's because the deadlift sucks! Honestly, this workout is harder than it looks. You're going to be doing a lot of squatting, which will affect how much you pull. Just add ten lbs each week. Also do 3 sets of 10 dumbbell stiff-legged deadlifts. Keep those legs stiff and work on the hammy stretch. The weight doesn't matter that much, just add sets each week.

Tuesday: Off.

Wednesday: Low bar squat with belt 250 lbs for 4 sets of 10 (a little over 60 percent of max). Practicing your competition form with high reps will pay off in the long run. Try to keep rest times down for added challenge. Do 4 sets of 10 pistol squats afterwards. Once again, the weight doesn't matter, you're just trying to fatigue your squatting muscles. Follow with close grip bench press 185 lbs (60 percent of max) for 4 sets of 10, followed by biceps curls/triceps extension superset for 4 sets of ten. Add ten lbs to the squats each week, and five lbs to the bench press.

Thursday: off.

Friday: Bench press 4 sets of 8 with 205 lbs (just under 70 percent of max). Follow with 5 sets of 8-12 reps of the following exercises, supersetted if you wish: dumbbell curls, pressdowns, pulldowns, and side laterals. Add five lbs each week to bench press.

Saturday: High bar squat, no belt. 225*8, 235*8, 245*8, 250*8. Keep pushing that top set each week, by ten lbs: increase warm up sets if you feel like it. For assistance, do weighted step ups 4 sets of 10, followed by side leg raises.

After four weeks, do a deload on the fifth, and then start again. After eight weeks, you should transition to a strength program. I'll post one in the future.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Esteemed Critic Reviews Dishonored 2

No sir, I do not require any assistance pillaging your wares.

The sequel to one of the Critic's favorite games of 2012, Dishonored 2 has big shoes to fill. The Critic is overjoyed that, for the most part, this is a sequel that delivers on what made the original such a breath of fresh air. There are, however, problems, though they are not significant enough to ruin the experience, that is, unless you have a low-end PC or you require a constant sixty frames per second. Dishonored 2 has moved on from the Unreal 3 engine to the Void engine, a redesigned successor to ID Tech 5, the technology that powered Rage and the latest Wolfenstein game. The Void engine delivers graphics that are much sharper and more detailed than Dishonored, yet frame drops are common, especially when one is moving into a large, open areas. Since the Critic is a relic from times when one played at 640 by 480 resolution at 25 frames per second, a few drops from 50 to 30 frames do not bother him much. His modest rig, featuring a dated i52500 and a R9 380 was capable of running Dishonored 2 at an average of 50 fps at 1080p at medium graphics quality, which is just fine, really. As you can tell from the screenshots, the game certainly looks good.

The clockwork mansion, seen from a distance.

Gameplay is very similar to Dishonored, except you can choose to play as either Corvo, the silent (now voiced) assassin from the original, or Emily, his daughter, who is now the Empress. The Critic chose Emily, who has a different power set than Corvo, including Domino, which lets you link up to four enemies together to a shared fate (you headshot one, all die, for example) and far reach, a supernatural arm that materializes to pull you toward your destination, a different spin on Corvo's blink power from the first game. Emily's powers are built more around stealth than frontal assault like Corvo's, so of course the Critic decided to play the Empress as a homicidal maniac. Dishonored 2 lets you switch between playstyles, leaving it up to your discretion whether you wish to sneak by without murdering any guards, or come at them with all guns blazing.

A dead body deposited in a refreshing pool.

Plotwise, Dishonored 2 is a rehash of the first game. Emily is deposed by cabal of nobles, including her lost aunt Delilah, a witch with supernatural powers stolen from the Outsider, a dark-clad god representing primal forces. It's not compelling stuff, but the world created in the environment and lore is very good and reminiscent of Looking Glass Studios' Thief series. There's the same dichotomy between technology and primitivism, the same contrast between a developing industrial world and the raw forces of nature. The best writing in the game is often found in a sea shanty or a tragic tale rather than the main plot.

It's hard to play pool without your head.

For fans of compelling first person action games, Dishonored 2 is a must-by. The level design is perhaps the best the Critic's ever seen; in particular, the Clockwork Mansion and A Crack in the Slab missions come to mind. The former features a revolving maze of rooms that can be switched with pull of a lever, though the real challenge is utilizing the hidden workings of the place to surprise guards and stay out of sight. The latter gives you a device called the Timepiece which lets you navigate a ruined mansion, switching between its vibrant past and its dilapidated future, with your actions in the past changing what happens in the future. Dishonored 2's levels always feel organic, like real places. There isn't the contrived conveniently-placed ventshaft for one to find like in other games (Deus Ex comes to mind). The gameworld is the real star, and how you navigate it will determine your level of entertainment. Now the Critic must get back to doing fancy Critic-stuff that you wouldn't understand. Until next time, gentle reader.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Writer's Block: Heart of the Thief Chapter Nine

I haven't posted anything from The Heart of the Thief in a long while (here are some previous chapters), so I thought I'd share Chapter Nine, which might not make it past the editing process, if that day ever comes. I do think it functions well as a stand alone story. Excuse any formatting errors: blogger hates preserving pasted formatting. Without further ado:

Chapter Nine
They reached the town of Dunfermline in a week’s time. Built around the ruins of an old fortress constructed ages ago on a hillside overlooking the veldt, the village was otherwise composed of shoddy dwellings pieced together with mud, thatch, and what little timber one could find in the Agmarian Plain. The inhabitants were pale-skinned, filthy people who appeared gaunt and malnourished, and who seemed to lack industry; indeed, Fergal theorized that their only occupation was huddling in alcoves to stare menacingly at newcomers. “I know something about this town, but for the life of me, I cannot remember it,” he said as they walked the thoroughfare searching for a tavern to rest their wearied feet. “It’s like something out of dream, though I admit that I have trouble separating delusion from reality.” No one replied to his admission, for they had all been in a sombre mood since the encounter with the wraith. Josun had spoken but a handful of words after regaining conscience, his experience having caused his withdrawal into himself. Fergal had attempted to engage the taciturn barbarian in conversation many times only to be rebuffed again and again. Josun had no desire to ask for help with the psychological scars of whatever it was he was dealing with, unlike the Aiv, who had broken down in tears after sharing his horror with Cassilda, who lent a surprising sympathetic ear. The Thief remained much the same, his temperament cynical and ugly, though he had kept his remarks to a minimum as of late. The fragility of their company was obvious to all, yet the sorceress prodded them along, and they followed, quietly feeding off of the presence of one another, unaware of their silent dependence.

They finally found a poorly-marked tavern, the only indication of its function as a bar a crudely illustrated sign featuring an amorphous wench balancing a tankard on her deformed bosom. Through the windows one could see a faint yellow glow and hear the mixed chatter of men, and despite the general unease they felt, by all appearances the place seemed normal, so they entered. Immediately, all conversation ceased; they were greeted by leering eyes and contorted expressions plain in their unfriendliness. Alongside the far wall sat several disheveled men, their hairy hands on their mugs, which were half-full of a dark, blood-colored liquid. “Howdy,” said the Thief as they moved together to the bar. The patrons collectively grimaced; all were ugly, their faces pockmarked, noses bulbous and red like swelled ticks. Fergal kicked the Thief in the shin as Josun waved toward the barkeep, a tall, skeletal man with only a few long strands of hair hanging from the center of his bald head. “A round of ale, sir,” said the barbarian, removing a few sovereigns from his coin purse and placing them on the bar. Cassilda shook her head but Josun did not remove any money. The barkeep swept up their gold in one large mitt and stared at it for some time, as though he didn’t recognize its purpose, before finally placing the money in an empty jar. Coming to life, he placed four tankards filled with claret-colored fluid before them and then shuffled toward the other end of the bar, where he began polishing glasses with an obsessive fervor. The company examined their drinks suspiciously. Fergal gave his a good sniff before picking up the mug with two hands and quaffing half of it down. The others stared at him, waiting to see if he would turn green or keel over clutching his stomach, but the Aiv took another hearty gulp to no discernible ill-effect, which gave them enough courage to partake from their own glasses.

“This is not ale,” said Josun, sipping his tankard.

“It is likely poison or some foul concoction,” whispered the sorceress. “There is something queer about these locals. I do not trust them.”

“And we do not trust you,” said the Thief. “This is not ale but a peculiar type of wine, similar in some respects to Cabernet Sauvignon from the Okanagan Valley. High tannins and notable acidity. Pretty good, actually.”

“To think he gave me a pint of it. I should be quite drunk in a minute,” said Fergal.

“Who serves wine in a tankard? Why give us wine when we asked for ale?” asked Cassilda.

“Perhaps they do not speak the common tongue,” said Josun.

“That’s it. Surely this place provides food and lodging. I will sleep in a bed tonight, mark my words,” said the Thief.

“How can you suggest such a thing while they glower at us?” whispered Cassilda. “We should move on and put distance between ourselves and this place before nightfall.”

“And you chide me for my supposed suspicions. We need rest and sleep, witch, peaceful sleep without the fear of beast or phantom rudely interrupting our slumbers. So these people are not friendly. Look at us: a scarred black man; a hulking, armed brute; a dwarf with a giant head and bug-eyes; and an impossibly beautiful woman. We’re a motley crew, to be sure, and these people, with their limited notions and prejudiced views regarding outsiders, likely see us as a carnival troupe. They can stare as long as they want if it means I get a bed and a decent night’s sleep,” said the Thief. “If they want to throw us out of town, so be it, but I’ll wait till they ask rather than assuming I’m not wanted. They served us wine when we asked for ale. How is that a bad thing?”

“It’s not what we asked for,” said Cassilda.

“The wine really is quite delicious. You should try it” said Fergal, pointing to her glass. The sorceress grimaced and sat down on a stool. She was tired, as they all were. At a certain point, protest became impossible, even when the circumstance demanded it, and Cassilda consoled herself with the thought that if anything malicious were to occur, she at least had her powers to defend them. The wine, however, did not look appetizing, and as a general rule, she never imbibed anything from a place where she was not wanted. When Fergal’s hand reached up and seized her tankard, she said nothing. Let the little fool drink himself senseless she thought. Perhaps drunkenness will lead to solemnity and silence.

Drunkenness did not lead to solemnity and silence.

The loosening of inhibitions happened rather quickly and all at once, which didn’t make much sense, since Fergal was much smaller than the Thief, who had an alcoholic’s tolerance, and Josun was larger than both of them, and he was no teetotaler, barbarians being overly fond of intoxicating beverages. Together they became quite boisterous, Fergal talking a mile a minute, the Thief interrupting to tell stories of conquests both amorous and material, Josun grunting, slapping their backs heartily, and even cracking a smile from time to time. They were in stark contrast to the rest of the room, which began thinning out as the denizens of Dunfermline skulked off to their homes. Through their revelry, Cassilda sat silent, watching the villagers watch the company, observing the way they carried themselves, how they dragged their feet, how they craned their necks and scowled their faces as they walked out the door. There was something hiding under their exterior, something strange and shy and suspicious, something more than just provincial mistrust of outsiders. Not one of the locals had approached the company to engage them in conversation; not one had even asked them to keep their voices down, despite the shrill, piercing laughter of Fergal or the loud ramblings of the Thief. Certainly not one of them had ever seen anything like Fergal before—so why were they not curious? She knew from experience that entering a bar was always a hazard, for men propositioned her without fail, no matter how many enchantments or wards she cast to prevent them from doing so. Where were her suitors? Was Dunfermline a town of eunuchs? She then realized that she had not seen a woman in the village. Perhaps they shut their women away like prisoners in a dungeon. The practice was not altogether uncommon in rural villages. Let us see what the bartender knows. Telepathy was always a risk in a new environment—to read someone’s mind without them being aware of it, you had to know them well, or at least be familiar with their personality—but she was bothered enough by the villagers’ behavior to take that risk. She gave the bartender as sideways glance and noticed that he was scowling at her companions, hands dangling at his sides like meat hooks. Focusing her energy, she sent a single, concentrated thought-wave at his skull as a sort of echo-request packet, a low-intensity probe to communicate with his subconscious mind. Ideally, his subconscious would return the thought-wave, opening the doors to a telepathic exchange. She would ask questions and the subconscious would provide answers in the form of words, images, perhaps even memories, although the more one requested, the greater the chance of the subject becoming aware that something was not quiet right in their head. On occasion, the subconscious mind was not communicative, either due to protective barriers enacted by a fellow magic user, or a natural resistance to mental probing. In any case, it was unlikely that a simple thought-wave would be detected even by a wizard, since the subconscious was just that—subconscious.

Out of the corner of her eye, Cassilda watched as the bartender turned his scowl her way. Immediately she felt the intensity of his gaze—an uncomfortable feeling, as though she knew something terrible was hovering over her shoulder, caused her flesh to crawl—and she had to struggle to not leap from her seat and leave the horrid bar. She glanced at her companions, who were still laughing and drinking from never-ending cups, and wondered how they could be so oblivious. They’ve drugged the wine she realized. Something had to be done, quickly, before whatever the villagers were planning could come to pass. She could attempt to take control of the minds of her companions, yet four minds were too many, and they would never trust her again, and she would have to take the Heart by force. A spell of persuasion, then. Subtle, delicate magics had never been her strong suit—she preferred hard-hitting displays of raw power, as any electrician would—but there was no other option, other than to electrocute the bartender and his denizens, and that was a step she was not yet ready to take.

“Josun,” she said, placing her hand on the barbarian’s shoulder. “Let us leave this place.”

“But you haven’t had a drop!” said Fergal, spilling wine all over himself in the process of offering his glass.

“I think they’ve put something in the wine. There is a camaraderie between you all that did not exist an hour ago, and I think it strange that you all are so blind to the malevolent feelings directed at us.”

“Again with your suspicions! Are you jealous of us, witch? Drink with us, and I will forgive you,” said the Thief.

It’s not working. Either the effects of the wine are too strong, or someone is opposing my efforts thought Cassilda.

“She is right. The time for revelry has passed. We should find a place to sleep,” said Josun, putting down his tankard.

“Barkeep! Are there rooms upstairs? What is your rate for a night?” yelled the Thief down the bar.

The man, who had never taken his eyes off of Cassilda since she had tried to read his mind, approached at a dead man’s pace. He’s like a walking corpse realized the sorceress. The lank strand of hair, the unhealthy pallor, the rigor mortis step—he was like something out a necromancer’s laboratory, yet the eyes were vivid and alive. They did not blink, however, as he stared at the Thief, who repeated his questions at the same loud volume. For a moment Cassilda thought he would actually answer; the hairs on the back of her neck bristled in horrible anticipation of seeing those purple, worm-colored lips move. Yet instead of speaking, the bartender pointed behind him toward a doorway where a set of stairs was visible.

“The rate?” asked the Thief, impatience clear in his voice. The barkeep kept glowering at Cassilda, who returned his stare calmly, despite the waves churning in her stomach.

“Perhaps after four drinks, room and board are free?” suggested Fergal. “Is that a human custom?”

“Not anywhere that I know of,” said the Thief. “Let’s go check it out.”

They walked up the stairs to find a common room furnished with eight beds that looked ancient and dust-covered, their sheets yellowed with age and neglect. A simple nightstand sat by the wall in between the middle beds, a single candle casting a weak, flickering light. The air was stale, so Cassilda opened a window, which let in the humidity along with the faintest of breezes. No one complained; everyone but the sorceress claimed a bed and laid down immediately, weariness and drunkenness overtaking them. I’ll cast a circle of protection thought Cassilda, leaning against the window and staring at the doorway. She could hear nothing downstairs. For all she knew, everything and everyone down there had ceased to exist as soon as they had left the bar. She found no comfort in this thought.

When Fergal awoke, he knew he was in a dream. There was a black film covering everything, and an orange, sun-lit glow came from the window, while the smell of ambergris inexplicably floated in the air. He breathed out and watched as bits of gray ash rose to the ceiling. His companions were still sleeping in their beds, yet Cassilda was missing, though he could hear someone walking about, their invisible feet creaking floorboards. The sense of something watching came over him suddenly like a cold breeze on the back of the neck. Dread swelled up in his throat; he turned behind him to see a shadow standing against the wall, human-sized, its face a churning vortex of darkness. A thought came from the ether, freezing, blind, and barren. He didn’t know what it meant; he wasn’t even sure if the shadow was trying to communicate with him. Stumbling out of the bed, he ran to Josun and tried shaking the barbarian awake to no avail. “Thief!” he called out, the word sounding weak and strange. As soon as he spoke, he felt the shadow’s attention, felt it call out in its prehensile manner. A thought, this one almost intelligible, reverberated through his mind. It wanted them to leave, that much was plain. Detaching itself from the wall, the shadow extended an impossibly long arm toward Fergal, a low drone emitting from the swirling vortex. Another thought came into his head. It wanted him to run. It wanted him to run so that it could have the pleasure of chasing him.

Fergal ran.

The stairs he descended were not the stairs he climbed earlier. They were dark and twisting and covered in a strange black vine that expanded and contracted in a respiratory manner. He barely touched them as he flew down the tunnel, moving as fast as his feet would carry him. This is not real he told himself, yet he wasn’t certain that he believed his own words. He could feel the steps beneath his feet; he could smell the saccharine scent of the place, taste the ash on his tongue. Perception was often preserved to some degree in dreams, but he’d never had a nightmare quite like this, in which his senses confirmed every image he witnessed. He could recall nothing relevant from his memory that might aid his present circumstances, though it was possible that he’d stumbled into a similar situation in the past and simply forgotten about it. His recollection had never been that great, and it hadn’t helped that he’d lived for so long in the Great Woods instead of wandering as he had in his youth. The world has changed and so it had, but just how, exactly, Fergal had trouble articulating. For so long his world had been composed of giant oaks and green thicket. All the years meant nothing when so many of them were the same.

What had been the bar was now a dark cavern of writhing black vines and giant mushroom-like growths. White toadstools sprouted from the cave floor, billowing in an invisible wind. He took cover beneath one of the massive fungi and waited. Behind him was presumably the exit—a doorway glowing with bright orange light. Yet Fergal did not rush through the portal, for instinct made him wary. He decided to do what he had always done in dangerous circumstances, which was to become quiet, observant, and infinitely patient. Soon the shadow appeared at the bottom of the stairs. As it glided through the cavern, he saw that it seemed to have a corporeal body beneath the immaterial coating that swirled around it like a swarm of insects. On his belt was his blade. Would a dream knife kill a dream monster? He did not yearn to find out. The shadow moved slowly as though it were listening for any movement, though its head stayed static. Little black puddles like droplets of oil were left in its wake. With much care and dexterity, Fergal turned his body toward the closest fungus and waited till the shadow passed. It can’t see he realized suddenly. What brought about this epiphany, he did not know, but he trusted it implicitly, for he’d had such instantaneous insights before. Moving silently, he made his way back towards the stairs. If the orange doorway was the way out, he couldn’t leave his comrades. Cassilda had been right—there was some element to the wine that facilitated their being in this dream world, if it really was that. Perhaps they had crossed dimensional barriers and emerged in another universe, one with its own elements and sentient inhabitants. If they brought us here, they want to use us for some purpose. Maybe they want to use our bodies to traverse our world he concluded. Up the stairs he went, ignoring the breathing black vines that slithered along the walls, his mind bent on its purpose, fear buried in his chest along with any shreds of doubt. The wraith had been a failure of control, and Fergal was not one to forget such a lapse. You don’t live several hundred years without learning to empty yourself of anxiety he mused. Though he did not understand what had happened to them, he knew that dwelling on the horror of the situation would not be beneficial. He hoped his companions would view circumstances in a similar light.

Josun and the Thief were lying in bed just as he had left them. He went to the barbarian first, gathered the man’s giant hand in his own and gave it several squeezes, to no discernible effect. After several pulls of his arm and multiple blows to the face, Fergal acquiesced to the realization that there was no waking Josun. He then devoted his efforts to aiding the Thief in regaining consciousness, but met with the same results. Why did I awake while they remain sleeping he wondered. Differences between the physiology of my people and humans? He didn’t have much time to contemplate, for the shadow appeared once again, the swirling vortex pointed in his direction, a buzzing drone cutting through the air like the hum of an angry hive. A thought coursed through his head, its message like a hammer to his head. It wanted him to give up now; the chase had been monotonous, and it really would like to get on with its business. Fergal did not know what to do. He could try to sneak past it again, but he would be abandoning his companions, and though he did not particularly hold them in high regard, common decency and etiquette prevented his fleeing without them. The Heart suddenly appeared in his mind’s eye. He reached into the Thief’s jacket and found it. It was warm like a small animal in his hands; its pulsating beat as comforting as the ticking of an old timepiece. Ok Fergal, now what? It was obvious that the thing had powers beyond its cultural significance, but he was no sorcerer and consequently had no idea how to use it. Holding it before him like a fetish, Fergal was about to start mumbling gibberish and praying to Rankar when he saw that the shadow had taken notice of the Heart and was now heading straight for him. “I want this to end,” he said, staring down at the twitching organ. “I want us to leave this place.” How had he learned nothing of magic during all of his years? It did not seem possible. The shadow stretched out its hooks and sent another thought his way, the emotion behind it recognizable as greed. A cloud of insectile noise filled the air; Fergal had the sense that other shadow creatures had been alerted to his presence and were now coming to give assistance. Yet clutching the Heart and staring at it like the lost possession of a lover, he found that his fear vanished. It wanted to help him, he could feel it, he could sense the reflection of his own desires in its every throb, in its every binary beat. Automatically, he placed the Heart in his shirt and reached for his companions. As soon as he grasped their hands, he felt the world falling away, as though someone were dragging him out of semi-consciousness and back to the land of the living. Every dream is a death he heard someone say. It was the only thing he did not remember.

Cassilda was very grateful for having cast a protective ward around the room, for when she awakened, having nodded off while standing guard (finer control over one’s subconscious being a perk of sorcery), she found a crowd huddled in the doorway, staring at her with dead eyes and sagging faces. Surely they are reanimated corpses she concluded, for they continued to try to enter the room even after she disintegrated four of their number with a volley of lightning. More and more of them pushed into the doorway; she felt the strength of the ward sag beneath the sheer weight of bodies pressed against it. She yelled at her companions, but they did not stir, confirming her worst fears regarding the wine. I can’t keep this up forever the sorceress thought after casting another million volts at the seething mob. Every discharge took something from her, exhausting future reserves, and unless the sleeping trio leapt to her defense soon, she would either lose consciousness or be reduced to shooting sparks from her fingertips like a petty conjuror performing for a street crowd. Racking her brain for sleeping curse remedies, she came up with nothing that she could put together without a laboratory and an alchemist. She was just beginning to feel lightheaded when Fergal flung himself out of bed like a man on fire.

“Thank heavens! I thought it had me! Why does it smell like something is burning?” he asked. She pointed him in the direction of the doorway and the Aiv was taken aback.

“It’s the Heart,” he explained, reaching into his shirt and bringing forth the relic, much to the surprise of both of them. “They know we have it and they want it, for Rankar knows what reason.”

“Why don’t you try waking the more martial members of our company before I collapse with a bloody nose and the world’s worst headache?” asked Cassilda.

“Barbarian, awake! It is time to do battle!” yelled Fergal, who felt as though he were experiencing deja vu as he prodded the sleeping man.

“Why is the whore’s spawn talking so loud?” complained the Thief, rubbing his eyes. “Hangovers must be slept off and not rudely interrupted.”

“Arm yourself, we are being attacked!” shouted Fergal hysterically.

“Attacked by what?” asked the Thief, blinking and turning toward the direction of the doorway.
“The possessed people of the town! They wish to take our bodies and steal the Heart!”

Josun suddenly sat up in bed and clutched his head. He let out a moan before collapsing back down like a felled tree.

“Come and help me wake the barbarian, Thief! He can likely deal with the lot of them if he’s anything like the rest of his kinsmen,” said Fergal.

“The ward won’t hold them for much longer, and I’m spent,” said Cassilda, falling to the floor. She was breathing heavily with her eyes closed, and a trickle of blood dripped from her nostrils. The horde congregating in the doorway had begun a terrible moaning, their vocal chords dry and guttural from disuse.

“Get up, you bastard,” said the Thief to Josun, seizing his shoulder and rolling him out of bed. The barbarian landed on his face and immediately began to yell obscenities, including several choice slurs regarding the Thief’s mother, a few of which he had never heard before. Fergal tried to aid his getting to his feet, but Josun shoved him away and swayed back and forth on his hands and knees for a moment, as though he were trying to summon up the will to stand. Suddenly they heard a deafening explosion, and the townspeople streamed through the doorway, stumbling over one another, feet dragging on the floor. One took Fergal by the arm and tried to tear the shirt from his back, but the Aiv twisted out of its grasp and scurried beneath a bed. The Thief had his knife out and soon stabbed a man clutching a rolling pin in the throat, but the former baker kept coming, even after suffering further lacerations. Cassilda managed to knock several of the townspeople off their feet with telekinetic blasts before her eyes rolled up toward her skull and she lost consciousness. It wasn’t until Josun obtained his ax that the company’s fortunes reversed. Drawling the prized weapon from beneath his bed, the barbarian began his assault by screaming incoherently, his eyes wide, wild, and streaked with red, spittle flying from his lips like rain pouring from a storm. He took the closest man’s head off with one fell swoop, and soon extremities were soaring through the air as though they possessed a life of their own. Fergal had an entire arm land right in front of his hiding place with a sicking thud, blood squirting out of the shoulder joint, painting his face red. Two strapping farmhands held the Thief down until Josun’s blade cleaved through their necks and sent both heads tumbling like stones across the uneven floor. The townspeople realized their tactical error too late; they might have had a chance to overwhelm the barbarian before he had reduced their number by half. Ten unarmed men, no matter their dispositions, stood no chance against Josun in the midst of a berserker frenzy. Fergal and the Thief watched in amazement as he dispatched the remaining townspeople with a series of florid movements. “It’s sort of like a dance,” said Fergal, having crawled out from his hiding place. The Thief nodded numbly. He had not imagined Josun of being capable of moving with such speed, nor had he thought him capable of sowing such carnage in such a small amount of time. It was disconcerting, to say the least.

They approached him like a wild beast, giving a wide berth, hands held up to show no arms. He lay in the center of the room, surrounded by the dismembered bodies of the slain, panting hard and covered in blood, his ax surrendered and resting a few feet away. The rage, they could see, was subsiding. They didn’t know what to say, so he spoke first.

“It is all right. I am myself again,” he said, picking up his ax and wiping the blood from its blade on a dispatched villager.

“You’re an animal,” said the Thief.

“We’re all animals,” responded the barbarian. He pointed to Cassilda lying in the corner. “How is the witch?”

“Unconscious, but still breathing,” said Fergal, who had hobbled over to Cassilda and was checking her pulse. “I do not think she is well. She feels feverish, and blood still leaks from her nose. She must have overexerted herself in our defense.”

The Thief snorted at Fergal’s comment, but remained silent.

“Well one of you must carry her. I am not able, and we cannot tarry here much longer. The whole of Dunfermline is most certainly under the control of these creatures. There are likely more lying in wait, and they will not take kindly to the slaughter of their kin,” said Fergal.

“I will carry her,” volunteered Josun.

“No, it must be the Thief, for you can defend us,” said Fergal. The Thief had a remark on his tongue, but he lost it suddenly as he walked over to the sorceress. Even with blood dripping from her nose, she was beautiful, her hair auburn, her oval face perfectly symmetrical. He had seen her wear many faces, but this was his favorite, the face of the courtesan, mad and shimmering with beauty like a sea-blown sky threatening to darken. It’s an illusion he thought as he bent down to take her in his arms. She was lighter than he expected, and he found himself wondered odd things, such as whether sorceresses had hollow bones like birds. The resentment, the jealousy, the fear, it all vanished as he carried her down the stairs. I wanted to murder her a week ago he thought. It had to be enchantment—perhaps any man who touched her became so bewildered—but the thought was banished in an instant, for he found that he didn’t care.

They left Dunfermline a lifeless place. The creatures that had possessed its inhabitants fled after Josun’s massacre, for they found freshly abandoned corpses in the street. Fergal wondered out loud how the possessions had started, hypothesizing that a portal had been opened by some naive sorcerer, inadvertently giving the shadow things access to another world. The Thief suggested that maybe Dunfermline had always been possessed and had always existed as an illusion on the outskirts of the wilderness, sustained by weary travelers such as themselves. Josun thought that it didn’t matter. The world was chaotic and nonsensical, and the strange fate of the townspeople did not demand an answer. No one asked the sorceress what she thought, for she remained sleeping, and they let her rest, making camp some distance from the village. They slept in the cold air, open to the elements, with the noises of the night echoing all around them. It was the best sleep they ever had.