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Neil Gaiman Told Me Not To Do NaNoWriMo

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Categories: Gaming, Writing, Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It takes place every November, with the goal of inducing authors to produce a 50,000-word novel (from scratch) in thirty days. While I agree with NaNo’s underlying idea of promoting writing and authorship, I will not be participating this year. Why? Neil Gaiman told me not to.

Specifically, I’m referring to Neil’s advice in the Guardian newspaper. “Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.” Neil advises. I have tremendous esteem for Neil Gaiman. He’s very much the kind of writer I want to be: not bound by genre or format, writing comic books, screenplays, novels, poetry, etc. His admonishment speaks directly to one of my greatest struggles as a writer. I have close to a dozen works-in-progress, all in various stages of completion. But none are complete.

Several months ago, I resolved (based on Neil’s advice) to finish a project I’ve been working on for years. It’s a gaming project, so it’s not writing in the strictest sense, but I chose it as my first “finish at all costs” project because I think the gaming community will enjoy it. It will be free to the world once I’m done. The first part of the project will be available by year’s end.

With my full-time work schedule, brutal commute, full college course load, and a family, any time I would dedicate to NaNoWriMo would have to come out of the meagre time I’m spending on this gaming project. I’m not prepared to make that sacrifice. I’ve committed to finishing Phase One of Super-Secret Gaming Project A by the end of 2010. It will happen. In order to make it happen, I must stay focused. So no NaNo.

I don’t begrudge any of my writerly friends who are participating; quite the contrary, I wish you all the best of luck. I won’t be joining you, because Neil Gaiman told me not to.

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New Essay: “ZOMGWTFBBQ!@#”

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Categories: Essays, Geek Stuff, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

History may record the late 20th century as the beginning of the end of western civilization. The Computer Age gave way to the Internet Age, which is giving way in the 21st century to the Social Networking Age. Technology continues to progress at a blistering rate. The current generation of consumer-level microprocessors are one thousand times faster than the most advanced supercomputers of just twenty years ago. Connection speeds have improved at a similar exponential rate. The internet is everywhere. The current crop of mobile devices would look like technology from “Star Trek” to someone from the 1990s. Our society is wired (or wireless) and constantly connected to the internet. There’s a price to be paid for being “always on,” however. The brief, random, and artificial nature of the internet has made us confused, distracted, and superficial.

If brevity is the soul of wit, our wired society is at least witty. Internet shorthand, whether it’s the character limit imposed by services such as Twitter, overly simplistic Facebook “Likes,” or IM acronyms, creates confusion through lack of clarity. On Twitter, for example, users are limited to 140-character updates. These stunted messages force adoption of abbreviation. Common phrases such as “OK. Thanks. Goodbye.” become “Kthnxbai.” To the uninitiated, this string of characters is meaningless gibberish. Sorting out the meaning of these truncated phrases leads to confusion and misunderstanding. It’s just as easy to misunderstand systems that are overly simplistic, like Facebook’s “Likes.” A system that’s too simple fails to accurately capture the nuances of real-life thoughts, beliefs, and preferences. A Facebook user might “Like” the Republican party based on a belief in fiscal conservatism. If the same user is a social liberal, however, they may also “Like” the Democratic party. Based on their “Likes,” one would be at a loss to explain their political views. This would lead to confusion at best, and outright misinterpretation at worst. The same is true of instant messaging jargon. The sheer number of acronyms employed by users is confusing: deciphering their meaning, more so. Woe be to the sender of a “LOL” IM in response to news of a breakup or death in the family. Experienced IM users know, of course, that “LOL” means “Laughing Out Loud,” but newer users could just as easily think it to mean “Lots Of Love” or “Lonely OnLine.” By embracing the brevity and simplification of our lives, the internet causes chaos and confusion, leading to social breakdown.

Another element contributing to the decline of our society is the random nature of the internet. Email spam, online ads, and search engine results bombard us with information: some relevant, some not. Our email inboxes are a prime example of this distracting randomness. Nigerian princes promising unfathomable riches – if only we share our name, address, bank account and Social Security numbers – distract us from the bill notifications sent from our cable company. Links to porn pictures compete with the pictures Grandma sent from her latest cruise. Males and females alike are spammed by ads for cheap Viagra. Thankfully, there are spam filters in most popular email programs. They are not always effective, however. Oftentimes, spam filters fail to catch every junk message; other times, they catch too much, forcing users to sift through a mountain of bogus, distracting messages anyway. The random garbage that piles up in our email distracts us from the truly important communication we receive. Even run-of-the-mill websites are an exercise in distracting randomness. Nearly every site on the Web has advertising on it. These flashing words and videos naturally distract the eye, leading users away from the actual content of the page. Trying to read a newspaper article online becomes an exercise in futility when ads for techno-gadgets, concert tickets, and a thousand other random products distract us from the box score of the latest football game. If we run a search to find a “better” site, we’ll likely end up just as distracted. Googling a common term may return hundreds of thousands of results. While most may be relevant to our search, many of the results may have nothing to do with what we’re looking for thanks to SEO (Search Engine Optimization: tricks website owners use to make their page appear higher in a search engine’s results). Trial and error is the only process available for determining if a link is germane to one’s search. Sifting the virtual wheat from the digital chaff distracts us from whatever our original reason for being online was.

Some go online to make a social connection, but the artificiality of the internet makes that nearly impossible. Online dating sites, massively multiplayer online games, and social networking sites claim to offer genuine interaction, but instead promote superficiality because of their artificial nature. Dating sites like Match.com allow users to create a profile or browse other profiles to connect romantically. These profiles are sales pitches, designed to portray the user in the best possible light. By answering a few simple personality questions and uploading a picture, the user says, in essence, “Look at me! Don’t you want to be with me?” The desperation and artificial sense of competition created by online dating sites leads users to present an inauthentic version of themselves. With a glut of superficial profiles to sort through, users make snap, superficial judgments based on how cute a user’s picture or how riské their profile is. In MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games, like World of Warcraft), the game itself creates an artificial ranking system. Based on the in-game items a player has collected, the player’s character is assigned a “gear score.” For many players, this gear score is all that matters when deciding to ally with another player. Instead of deciding to forge a relationship based on personality or playing skill, these players rely on an artificial number. This superficial ranking prevents many enjoyable connections from ever being forged. Numbers are important in social networking as well. Sites like MySpace and Facebook list the number of “friends” a user has. This friend count becomes a kind of prestige in the online community. The more friends one has, the more popular and desirable a connection with them becomes. This artificiality leads users to collect online friends like people used to collect baseball cards. There’s little real attachment to individual friends (cards), save a few rare and important ones (Babe Ruth’s rookie card). This superficial treatment of real people cheapens the online experience and contributes to our communal decline.

The internet – glorious arcade, shopping mall, reference library, and cocktail lounge rolled into one – is confusing and distracting us while simultaneously making us superficial. We’re perpetually connected, but we pay a terrible price for connectivity beyond our monthly broadband bills. We gather hundreds of online friends to improve our superficial online status. We’re bombarded by random offers of riches and all-natural male enhancement. In that barrage, we fail to notice the message from a potential employer or old college buddy. Perhaps it’s better we missed the past friend’s message: we may be completely confused when he or she writes “ZOMGWTFBBQ!@#”

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October Means Win

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Categories: Poetry, Writing, Tags: , , , , ,

I’m very pleased to announce acceptance of my poem “Dragonfly” as a featured piece by Writer’s News Weekly. Writer’s News Weekly is dedicated to “writing something worth reading; doing something worth writing about.” I’m honored and humbled the WNW team considers my work worthy of that lofty aspiration. The poem they chose, “Dragonfly,” was inspired by one of those wonderfully random moments that remind me the world is full of beauty despite its ugliness. To read the poem, click the banner below.

 

I am also featured in this month’s issue of From A Writer’s POV magazine. The article includes my poem “Dagger In The Sky.” My favorite quote from the piece is the very first sentence: “Darius McCaskey sees the world in a vastly different manner than most people…” That’s probably one of the most flattering things anyone has ever said about me. If you’d like to read the complete article, and my poem, “Dagger In The Sky,” click here.

Of course, if you like those poems, you should pick up a copy of my debut poetry book, Angst & Wrath. It’s available in print and electronic versions from all major online outlets, including the iBookstore, Amazon, and Smashwords. You can also add the book to your lists on Goodreads by clicking the nifty widget over there —————————>

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New Essay: “For Those About To Roll…”

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Categories: Essays, Gaming, Geek Stuff, RPG, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This essay is an edited version of my first required essay this semester in my Composition 1 class at Rock Valley College. It is the first essay I’m making available online. I hope to add more as coursework and time allows.

Some of my real-world friends may recognize themselves in the essay. Be advised, I’ve fictionalized you where needed. Names have been changed to protect the innocent (or guilty). Enjoy!
 

For Those About To Roll, We Salute You

Eli walked down the stairs into the basement. His hands were full: a case of Coca-Cola in his left hand, a grocery bag full of snacks in his right. On his back, a burgeoning, grey knapsack threatened to burst its seams. As he made his way down the stairs, the small, gold crucifix around his neck bounced out from under his T-shirt. The shirt itself was black, a gaming-inspired riff on a classic rock band design: an isosahedron (the twenty-sided die ubiquitous in fantasy role-playing games) appeared with the phrase “AC/HP” in a heavy-metal font.

Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, Eli set down the soda and tossed the bag of chips on the octagonal, faux-wood table dominating the room. Eli took his seat at the table after unloading his backpack. Though the sack was heavy with books, pencils, and dice, Eli seemed happy to haul it. An easy smile came to his boyish face as he considered his cohorts in turn: Rob, Josh, Jenny, TJ, Carlton, John, and Tom.

Rob leaned back in his chair. His shaved head glistened under the track lighting in the basement. Tan skin belied Rob’s mixed Haitian and Mexican heritage. Rob flipped through some pages in a legal pad, the handwritten notes printed in meticulous, all-capital letters.

Josh was a tall, broad man with a booming laugh. His hands were as large as oven mitts, dwarfing the mechanical pencil he held. On his finger, a size 15 ring emblazoned with a pentacle proclaimed his pagan spirituality. Josh reached over to turn the volume down on his laptop. A Megadeth song had been playing.

Jenny was the picture of soccer-mom suburbia. Her brunette hair hung to her shoulders, and she dressed in casually conservative style with jeans and a sweater. A tasteful diamond ring shimmered on her left hand. Her pale, blue eyes flitted to and fro, following whomever was speaking like a hawk tracking prey in the underbrush.

TJ was pure gothic-punk. Two rings intersected her lip, and countless hoops and studs lined her ears. The lacy, black tank top she wore revealed no fewer than a dozen tattoos decorating her arms and shoulders. A purple, velvet skirt covered TJ’s snow white legs.

Carlton (like Josh) was tall, but his frame was loose and lanky. His ebony skin stretched over ripcord muscles. Unlike his fellow males, Carlton did not wear jeans. Instead, he had on neatly pressed khakis. A proper broadcloth shirt completed his simple – yet classy – ensemble.

John, a slight man of Korean descent, was quiet and unassuming. His soft voice and gentle laugh made his small body seem even smaller. A faint odor patchouli (or something else?) clung closely to John’s skin. The Fu Manchu mustache he kept was, perhaps, the only thing about him designed to draw attention.

Conversely, Tom went out of his way to get attention, at least from the fairer sex. His hands worked the keys on his cell phone as though possessed. When not absorbed in texting, tweeting, and Facebooking, Tom’s gaze bounced between Jenny and TJ (and not exactly their faces, either). He barely acknowledged Eli’s entrance.

After greetings and pleasantries were exchanged; snacks and sodas situated; books and dice readied; Rob brought the game to order: “You find yourselves in a dark and dank dungeon…”

In the 1970s, when the first fantasy role-playing games appeared, gamers were almost without exception white, teenage males. This homogenous group was perceived as isolated, insular, and immature. Poor hygiene and poor social skills went hand-in-hand with those early gamers. As the hobby has grown, however, the base of players has likewise expanded and old trends no longer apply. Just as the games have changed, so too have the players.

Contemporary gamers are a diverse bunch. Blacks and whites, Asians and Hispanics, males and females all engage in the benign escapism that is role-playing. Catholics join forces with pagans in vanquishing dragons. Democrats and Republicans plot together to overthrow the evil sorcerer-king. High school dropouts ponder ancient glyphs with graduate students.

Most gamers now are adults: parents and workers. They have active lives outside of the hubby. They own cars and homes, with the bills that accompany them. They have real-world responsibilities. Gaming provides these adult players with a safe, inexpensive way to escape the stresses of daily life. Many other role-players are young: middle- and high school students. These younger gamers have new ideas to challenge older players. The only factor common to modern gamers is that they are gamers. Shared love of the hobby binds these disparate people into a common clan.

Diversity is crucial to the continued health and vibrancy of the hobby. Without new and flesh perspectives, the stories told in role-playing games will become as stagnant and cloying as the musty basements many gamers still congregate in.

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Dear LubePro’s

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Categories: Rockford, Uncategorized, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The following is a copy of the letter I’m sending to LubePro’s President & CEO Ray Keating regarding an unfortunate customer service experience. My personal information has been redacted. Even if you don’t live in an area with a LubePro’s location, it’s worth a read in my opinion. Read it and weep (for the state of our civilization):

Ray Keating

President & CEO

LubePro’s International

1740 S Bell School Road

Cherry Valley, IL 61016

Dear Mr. Keating:

I write you today to inform you of the most appalling example of customer service and professionalism at your company’s location in Rockford, Illinois at 1701 E Riverside Blvd. Before I do, allow me to provide some background on my vehicle and me.

I purchased my 1999 Chevrolet Malibu used, with 35,000 miles on the odometer. In the years I’ve owned it, my oil change and minor maintenance needs have been met by various LubePro’s facilities in and around the Rockford area. With very few exceptions, LubePro’s have been my only provider of oil and lube services. I’m certain a quick scan of your records under my license plate number (redacted) will confirm this. Today, my vehicle has over 184,000 miles. In the near-decade I’ve owned my car, I’ve spent thousands of dollars with your company.

On Saturday, 28 August 2010 I was prepared to spend more money with your company. The serpentine belt on the aforementioned Malibu had slipped. Remembering serpentine belts are one of the items LubePro’s services, I called the location nearest my home to verify they could do the work. I was told only some vehicles could be serviced. Desperate to have my car working before my 70-mile commute on Monday, I gave the make, model and year for my car and was reassured that my vehicle could be serviced by LubePro’s. I then contacted my auto club to arrange to have my car towed.

Upon arrival at the LubePro’s on Riverside, one of the technicians climbed on the tow truck’s bed to look under the Malibu’s hood. After an examination that lasted less than thirty seconds, he returned to tell me that LubePro’s would not be able to replace the belt after all. I was irritated. I questioned the technician, telling him that I had called a half hour earlier to see if the work could be done. He gave the pre-packaged line “we can only service some vehicles.” I confronted the technician, now rather upset, with the fact that I had provided the year, make and model of my car and was told it wouldn’t be a problem to work on. His response was flippant and uninterested. I had, by this time, decided that LubePro’s obviously didn’t care to retain me as a customer, and I told the tech the company would lose my business. His response was a dismissive wave and the word “Peace.” The only person in a white shirt (the manager-on-duty, I presume) was well within earshot of our exchange.

While your employee’s callous disregard for me as a customer was frustrating and disappointing, it was routine lack of professionalism. What happened next, however, went beyond poor customer service by degrees I can’t even measure.

I was fortunate a general mechanic with a shop in the same strip mall as your LubePro’s facility happened to be working that Saturday. As I arranged to have the work done on my car by this other mechanic, my wife waited in her car nearby. I finalized the arrangements and my wife and I prepared to leave. It was then she informed me the technician from before had cast menacing glares at us from within the LubePro’s building while he worked. My wife told me she didn’t feel comfortable with my car so close to your company’s facility and the hostile employees therein. I reassured her that everything would be fine.

We left the strip mall and were stopped at the intersection of Alpine Road and Riverside Boulevard, heading northbound, a short distance away from the LubePro’s location. My wife glanced over and saw the same technician outside the building, still in uniform, apparently on a cigarette break. He noticed us too, and clearly raised his middle finger at us.

I was, and still am, shocked and appalled. This employee’s callous disregard for my wife and me, not only as customers, but as human beings, is astounding. Words fail to express how offended, stupefied and angry I am over this incident. Furthermore, this technician’s conduct calls into question the quality and safety of LubePro’s previous work on my vehicle. The lack of intercession by the manager-on-duty is an indictment of the organization as a whole. I would have returned to confront the employee and manager in question, except I truly felt doing so would have put my safety in jeopardy. The hateful look and behavior of the technician lead me to believe he was a person not above resorting to violence when confronted.

Not once was I offered a satisfactory explanation as to why I was given incorrect information over the phone, if indeed I was. I suspect, based on the behavior of the LubePro’s employees, that they simply did not wish to perform the requested service on my vehicle. Not once was I offered an apology by management for the rude and discourteous treatment I received from the technician who “examined” my car. I wish I could provide you with the names of the employees in question, but I cannot. I can tell you the incident occurred around 2:30 PM.

Your website says, “We are well known for our professional, well-trained, friendly staff, and our efficient operation. Customers appreciate our professionalism, which is why they keep coming back for our renowned 10-minute oil change and our thorough 21-point inspection.” I do appreciate professionalism and that is one of the reasons I have been a repeat customer of your company over the years. However, this incident has made me question if LubePro’s truly believes in professional, courteous service.

If I am mistaken, you are free to contact me via postal or electronic mail; I’ve included my addresses below. Thank you for your time. Sincerely,

Darius McCaskey

redacted 

CC: Better Business Bureau

CC: Insider Pages

CC: Yelp

CC: Facebook

CC: Twitter

CC: Blog

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Straight Eye for the Proposition 8 Guy

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Categories: Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I, for one, hope that the ban on gay marriage in California remains overturned. I’m really looking forward to getting gay married. I’ve been straight married for almost six years now, and it’s been great, but I bet Tiffanie and I would be even happier if we were gay married.

In all seriousness, Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision should be celebrated by all Americans. As the judge noted, the Constitution of the United States of America indicates

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

I’m no lawyer or scholar of Constitutional law, but I’m pretty sure that means that if one group of people has a right to do something, all groups of people have that same right.

Social conservatives may not like it, but gay Americans are still Americans, and are thus entitled to equal protection. It doesn’t matter if homosexuality is a choice or biologically preordained. It doesn’t matter if one’s religion views it as abhorrent or not. It doesn’t even matter if it’s called marriage or civil union.

What matters is that a tyranny of the majority was struck down. The Federalist papers foresaw something like this happening over two-hundred years ago and railed against it. Yet today Maggie Gallagher, chairwoman of the National Organization for Marriage, thinks “our Founding Fathers… would be shocked by courts that imagine they have the right to put gay marriage in our Constitution.” Really, Maggie? First, California’s Supreme Court ruled that the original ban on same-sex marriage violated California’sConstitution. Second, because Prop 8 revoked a right homosexuals already had, it became a federal matter under the proviso of Amendment XIV. I think the Founders would have been thrilled to see the system they cobbled together work exactly the way it was supposed to. You forget, Mags; the Framers were notorious libertarians and state’s-righters.

I had to laugh this morning when a spokesperson for the Proposition 8 supporters encouraged people to read the Constitution, where they would find nothing about same-sex marriage rights. Interestingly enough, there’s also nothing in there about hetero marriage either, probably because it’s not the federal government’s fucking [pun intended] problem.

I applaud the Governator for not sending California’s Attorney General to defend Prop 8 in court. You know you’re on the wrong side of history when a conservative, lame-duck, Republican governor with nothing to lose won’t back you up on banning marriage between consenting adults.

Remember, kiddies, it’s supposed to be by, of, and for the people. Especially the “for” part. Here’s to one little victory.

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New Poem: “Genocide City Zone”

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Categories: Angst & Wrath, Poetry, Writing, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It occurs to me that I’ve not posted a new poem in quite some time. As I’ve started running Google ads to promote my poetry writing, it seems prudent to put some fresh poems online. This post does just that.

This poem, “Genocide City Zone,” was originally published in the Voices literary magazine of Rock Valley College. In fact, it was written specifically for inclusion in that journal. I reprinted “Genocide City Zone” in my chapbook, Angst & Wrath.

The name “Genocide City Zone” was rejected as a level name in one of the original Sonic the Hedgehog games on the Sega Genesis. When I read about the name being cut from the game, it stuck with me. Several months later, this poem was produced. The title and theme is very reminiscent of a Rush song (Red Sector A, anyone?).

So, without further ado, I present you “Genocide City Zone.”
 

Genocide City Zone

Welcome to the genocide city zone

I’m sure you’ll enjoy your stay

We’ve been killing folks here

All the live-long day

If you want to join us

You’ll have to pay the price

Your soul’s the cost, so ante up

C’mon and shoot the dice

 
Welcome to the genocide city zone

Everyone’s dying to get in

Ignore your guilty conscience

Though Jesus says it’s sin

If you do not join us

You’ll have to pay the price

Sacrifice your life tonight

To our deadly new device

 
Welcome to the genocide city zone

Check out time is soon

We only stop once a day

To eat our lunch at noon

If you want to join them

We’re happy to grant your request

Just remember this one thing:

We kill ’em with the best

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The Shadow

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Categories: Randomness

Did I have a dream, or did the dream have me?

– Rush, “Nocturne”

Last night I had a nightmare. I realized I was dreaming and forced myself back to consciousness.

As I began to slide back to wakefulness, the dream-demon tried to swallow my mind. Refusing to let me awaken without a fight, he attacked me with a claw of burnt midnight sky. His ebon hands fumbled about my head and face. I fled his ferocious assault.

Blackened flesh and sooty sinew melted away and the demon’s hands became rivers of inky darkness. The Shadow tried to drown me beneath waves of undulating, liquid hate. I tried to paddle away, but the crests were too high, and I’m a poor swimmer. Icy, coal-black water began pouring down my throat and ears. As my lungs filled, I began to panic. The terror of drowning erased rationality and sense, my most prized possessions. Perhaps the dream-demon would finally have me.

I coughed and spat as the waves crashed about my head. Suddenly, I caught sight of a tiny island – barely big enough for a single person to stand on – nearby. I struggled to reach it before the waters of demonic rage could claim me.

Spending the last of my strength on reaching the island, I collapsed on the white sands of the miniscule beach. I became aware of a thin, sharp sound in the distance. It grew stronger with each wave lapping against my knees. I turned to see a tsunami of unearthly proportions rushing toward me.

Seconds before I was to be consumed completely by the hateful sea, a face appeared in the colossal tide. The demon’s face – my face – laughed a loathsome, taunting laugh at me. Then the wave crashed down, and I was enveloped in the frigid, numbing waters.

I awoke with a start, clutching my black-and-grey blanket to my face.

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