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Deal 1023: Nightmare

Spiral on my Mind 31:
hobo, Free Will, Cat, Strength, Loyalty, stick, The Unknown, fowl, and Plurality

I woke suddenly in the night, drenched in sweat, shaking. At first, I wasn’t sure what had awakened me, or even quite where I was.

I looked around, and slowly realized that the room was familiar. The TV was still on, but the station had gone off-air, leaving just the test pattern showing. It flickered, then suddenly went to just snow and hissing sound. I was alone, but that wasn’t unusual as I lived alone. The window was open, the curtain pulled back to let the cool air move through the room.

Except it wasn’t. The night air was hotter than I remembered, and perhaps that woke me.

I settled back down, determined to go back to sleep.

Then I remembered something.

My room doesn’t have curtains. And TV stations don’t go off air and broadcast the Indian head test pattern. They haven’t done that regularly in at least fifty years.

I look closer. The bedspread is not mine. The lamp is not mine. The body I’m wearing is not mine.

Who am I?

What is going on here?

There are noises outside the window, and I sit up and peer out. In the yard beyond the bushes, I can just see a hobo picking through his bindle.

With some effort, I pull back from the window at look around at the room again. Elvis posters on the walls are definitely not mine. The cat sitting on the dresser glaring at me in reproach, well, actually that is mine. I’ve always known cats are a little out of phase with reality. Maybe I’m sharing a dream of hers?

If so, this might be a place where I’m going to need all my strength to stay alive, given the amount of disdain most cats have for people. A glance outside the window shows a number of cats gathering in the darkness, watching the hobo, waiting for their chance. I suddenly wonder what he had done to deserve his fate.

I was always good to my cats. None of mine would wish too much ill on me, even if I had done things they hadn’t liked for their own good.

I heard a muffled scream. I knew I didn’t want to look, but somehow I knew I had to.

Where the hobo had been, there was just a roiling carpet of strays, his stick cocked out with his bindle still tied on.

I tried not to scream when Snowflake jumped on to the bed. Surely she was not going to call them up here to feed on me?

She stared at me, then seemed to be saying “I think you have seen enough” and turned away. She picked a spot on the bed and curled up.

As usual, her motives were inscrutable. But she was the cat, and we were clearly on her turf for now.

I laid back down, and closed my eyes for only a moment. Then the scream shattered my peace. A sound like a thousand strangled cats rent the air. Then there was silence. Then wings, as a large bird came through the open window and landed on the bed and screamed again.

A peacock.

Then a second.

Then my cat sat up.

The birds froze. One of them put up his tale in an absurd mockery of a threat display. Of course, with his tail up he was hardly able to move. The tableaux froze for a long moment as everything living held their breath.

The cat turned back to me, and in a clear voice said “you don’t want to see this.”

I fell back to my pillow, suddenly asleep.

A moment of blackness passed, then I shivered and rolled over.

It was cold. So cold. I pulled my covers up, groped for the window and closed it. My cat was at my feet in her preferred spot, and I settled back in and drifted into a peaceful sleep.

Several hours later, I awoke in my own bed. In my own body. In my own room.

Snowflake was there, but there was no sign of birds. Outside my window was the usual 20 story drop to a concrete sidewalk, not a grassy yard where something had happened to a hobo. Or had it?

Snowflake turned to me and said “you dreamed the whole thing.”

Smartest thing that cat had ever said to me.

Then I woke up.

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Deal 1002: Bears, Armed, Right.

The army was on the march again, kicking up clouds of dust as they moved. They made a flowing brown and black river across the landscape, with occasional glints of copper seen in the bright sun. And, of course, occasional flashes of tooth and claw as well. The eerie thing was that they were very nearly silent as they moved. The did not march in step, or engage in fancy pageantry. And yet, it was clear to any observer that they were highly disciplined and efficient.

Efficient killers too, when it came to that.

But no one who saw the army wanted it to come to that.

They were fully armed and armored, of course. But even if your stripped them of their armor, their natural weapons would overmatch many foes. Add to that layered copper and leather scale vests to protect their just barely more vulnerable areas, and there were few weapons in the five countries that could put a bear in danger.

Count their spear throwers, and there were few armies that would dare face them across a battlefield. Their skilled casters, standing on their hind legs for freedom of motion and using a thrower for leverage could accurately place a spear in a gourd at nearly a half mile’s distance, or with less accuracy but more terror, drop spears indiscriminately well over a mile away. A spear falling silently out of a clear blue sky doesn’t have to be aimed to cause terror, after all.

Their new trick is the work of alchemists. Some of their spears would explode beyond all reason when struck against a hard surface. Only rumors of this had been heard so far, no one outside of their secretive research clan had seen one in action. The rumors themselves could have been the work of a propaganda team, certainly. But true or not, their effect was the same.

Oddly, the Armed Bears did not seem inclined to conquer territory as they moved. And they weren’t foraging as widely as some other armies had either, so the local villagers were swift to recover from their shock and simply watch the wave after wave of bears move by. When they did camp, advance scouts arranged for the use of fallow fields and haybarns, paying in generously in copper, silver, and a little gold as warranted.

But even those who dealt with the scouts were unable to learn where the bears marched towards.

The easy assumption was that they were heading straight to their target, but beyond this land lay a vast desert, and then, or so it was said, the very edge of the world. Surely they weren’t marching off the edge. It was also said that at the far side of the desert was an endless sea, but that reaching it would involve dealing with creatures of dark magic and formidable will. The tales get more strange from there, with most claiming that the sea itself is inhabited by beautiful mermaids who lure any adventurers to their deaths, and by fish larger than any known to exist. But surely those are just stories.

The truth may not be heard until the bears reach their goal, unless their leaders choose to speak.

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Deal 1000: Matchups

The “greatest contest of all time!!!!!” they billed it. With enough exclamation marks to fill the page, to boot. Enough to fill the arena in any case. Poor typography aside, people from all walks of life had realized that something unusual was up, and rationally or not decided to attend.

The warm up bouts were clearly designed to disguise the true purpose. Sure, they were amusing, but that was all they were.

Moose vs. Squirrel could only end one way, and the bout was indeed predictably short. Squirrel won it decisively and swiftly, flying in all directions at once, and leaving Moose in a confused heap at the center changing quietly “this time for sure…”

The Stooges needed no help at all to tie themselves in knots, and then end the bout in a draw. At least that one was fun. Nosed got painted. Sticks were used vigorously on everything except heads. At one point they were moving so fast and rhythmically it was almost a Morris dance of silliness.

Finally they could put it off no longer.

The main bout was all that was left, and the crowd was wild with anticipation.

After the spectacle so far, what could possibly be waiting in the wings for the top billing?

It was announced as Mac vs. PC.

The crowd was stunned. Even more so when the two beige boxes rolled into their corners. Sure the Mac had its following, and its crisp style spoke of decades of efforts to make its design fresh and appealing. And the PC, no amount of voodoo in the world could make its lumpy beige box become interesting. Then the transformation happened before our eyes, and it became clear that this was all a proxy war between Jobs and Gates, seeking to resolve some kind of personal vendetta. The crowd was on the edge of its seats. Not just with excitement, but also with some sort of let-down feelings. After the long build-up, there was no possible match that would have satisfied their blood lust.

Possibly save for Coyote vs. the Acme Company’s R&D department.

Oh, who one the big bout you ask?

Well I’m certainly not telling. You’ll have to buy the pay per view and watch it yourself to see the answer!