Bo’ub

Prompt: You meet a monster straight out of a Lovecraftian horror novel. Except it isn’t Cthulu or any of the more well-known ones. Instead, you meet Bob! The happy-go-lucky tentacled horror that loves going on adventures and havong a nice cup of tea! (source)

Behold a floating obelisk, and its spirit, dread! The vantablack pillar descended from the heavens towards the frozen wasteland beneath it. Miranda held her breath, her fingers grasping the locket around her neck. The obelisk continued its decent towards the icy ground.

She closed her eyes and clutched the locket firmly, had it all come to this? Not two hours ago she had lost her entire team within the frozen ruins, she had only been so lucky to have outlived them. Anthony, Migan, and Henry, they had met swift deaths, or so she hoped.

Anthony had been the first to go after opening the chamber door to the frozen cathedral, a formless abomination of what she could only describe as a whirlwind of teeth, tusk, and eyeballs charged him. The team did not stick around long enough to see what had become of Anthony.

Migan went next, after the formless beast had bested them they had been pushed into the unexplored depths of the ruins, into the catacombs. With only a flashlight among the three remaining crew members, the catacombs were far from the ideal place to be. Henry had taken the lead, Miranda held onto his shoulders and Migan onto Miranda’s. It had happened so swiftly. Migan’s grasp left Miranda’s shoulders, she heard a loud thudding sound right behind her. Reflexively Miranda turned around towards the void behind her. Migan’s voice shrieked from the darkness, it grew deeper and further in tone, until her voice was no more. By the time Henry had pointed the light towards the void Migan was no more.

Miranda and Henry ventured deep into the catacombs for what felt like hours before they had seen any natural light. With miraculous luck, the tunnel had ended at a wooden ladder, illuminated by the sunlight above. Henry went up first, once she had been given the okay she followed suit. When Miranda surfaced Henry was nowhere to be found.

The ladder had brought her to a frozen wasteland, behind her stood the impossibly tall mountains that had housed the frozen city. The sky above her was whited out, without the sun she had no way of telling which way was north. Would it even matter at this point?

She closed her eyes and sat in the snow, and began to cry, grasping the locket of her mother she had worn for protection.

A low rumble came from above. Had the research center sent out scouts? She opened her eyes and looked towards the sky. Instead of a helicopter a giant pitch black pillar slowly descended from above. She clutched the locket tighter, accepting her fate that her expedition was no more than another mysterious antarctic disappearance.

The obelisk ceased it decent a meter above the ground. Miranda sat still with the pillar, her anxieties were no more, she had accepted her fate. She stood up and touched the dark pile. As terrified as she was her first and foremost mission was that of a scientist, and with that she had an an obligation to understand what had descended before her.

Visions had shot into her mind’s eye. She saw an enormous beast like an octopus, except it had no body, its entire mass had been composed of nothing but tentacles. She saw herself with the creature across space and time. In one the beast chased her across the barren wasteland, but instead of terror she saw herself laughing and smiling as the monster pursued her. In another vision she and the tentacles beast had strolled the streets of Manhattan together, laughing and smiling as she showed it memorable sights like the Empire State Building, and The Statue of Liberty. In another vision she and the beast enjoyed a nice quaint cup of tea on the English country side.

The visions ceased, and the pillar was no more. In its place the giant tentacles beast stood. Its tendrils twisted and turned, a low purring noise came from within its tangled mess.

“What do you want?” She asked.

~Hey there!~ The beast, answered? She wasn’t sure, the response appeared to have both come from within the abomination, and within her own head at once. ~I’m so sorry about your friends, I wanted to save them but my vessel has been banned from the city limits for a millennia. My name’s Bo’ub, and you are?~

“M-M-Miranda,” Miranda answered.

~Happy to meet you M-M-Miranda,~ the thing called Bo’ub said.

“What do you want?”

~It’s been a while since I’ve been to Earth, last time I was here humans had just invented the wheel.~ the tangled mess called Bob rolled towards her ~As you could tell from the visions I presented to you I’m looking for an easy going human to be my tour guide. Can you be that guide for me M-M-Miranda?~

A harsh wind picked up, Miranda shivered, her teeth clenched.

~You look cold, let me help you.~

Miranda blinked, when she opened her eyes she was back at base camp, in her hands she held a warm cup of hot chocolate.

“Welcome back Miranda,” she heard a voice behind her. She turned around, it was Victor her commanding officer. “Did the rest of the crew make it?”

She shook her head, and looked at the steam as it drifted upwards gently from the hot cup of coco. She took a sip. A wave of warm pulsed through her body, she took a sigh of relief.

“That’s a shame,” Victor said. He sat next to her. “Well good news for you, you’re tour here is over. We’ve already packed your things and loaded it on the helicopter, you’ll be back on the mainland in no time.”

“Thank you sir,” she said taking another sip of the coffee. The warmth flowed through her again, this time stronger and heavier, like a weighted blanket.

“You’ll be joining Bob back to the mainland, he’s already at the helipad,” Victor said, “common, let’s go.” He stood up and gestured towards Miranda. She followed him, hugging the cup of hot chocolate like a precious gem.

They rounded the base camp and arrived at the helipad.

“Who’s Bob?” She asked, she did not recall any fellow researchers with that name.

“The intern,” he said, “he’s been helping you with your research since you arrived. Are you okay Miranda?”

She took one final sip of the hot chocolate embracing the warmth as it filled her once more. Sitting on a chair besides the helicopter sat a young man she did not recognize. She approached the man.

“How do you do M-M-Miranda?” He asked, extending his hand towards her. She shook it. Despite his hand being covered with a glove, she swore she felt something limp and slimy on contact. “I am very excited about our adventures to come.”

Let the World Hurry By

Writing Prompt: As long as you are inside your house, time doesn’t pass in the outside world. As long as you are in the outside world, time doesn’t pass in your house. (source)

 

It had been three months before she returned to the outside world. She checked her her pocketbook which sat on the counter besides the front door, and flipped to the latest entry. “You left the party to ‘check on Philip’ everybody knows why you really left, but they’ll play along with you anyways.” She placed her hand on the doorknob, closed her eyes and filled her lungs with air.

She forced herself to remember what had happened, the gap between her exit and now had been filled with books and movies, with a few stories of her own she had created herself, but never written more than a page or two before she returned to the couch to watch another Harry Potter movie for the thousandth time. She liked staying indoor and she loved her house.

The house had been her grandmother’s, it had been a place that no matter how much she and the outside world changed it had remained the same. The sleepy country town became consumed with the urban sprawl. The farmers cut their last harvest of corn and planted a new crop of cement and rebar. The old water tower dismantlement and in its place a beaming new twelve floor building. Her childhood school razed and replaced with a brand new shopping mall. The town had moved on, and yet her grandmother refused to.

Stephanie would spend her summers at the house, she would swing on the tire swing in the day, at night she’d read by the fireplace with Philip in her lap. When she felt adventurous she’d play in the farmer’s field just down the road until the farmer had noticed and chased her off. She even had her first kiss on the porch swing, to Anthony, the son to the farmer who had chased her away many times. She would not see Anthony again when she returned to her grandmother’s the next summer. The crops all had been reaped and in their places sat strange raised lumps of dirt with wooden frames and white pipes sticking through them.

When it was time for her grandmother to move on, the house had been bequeath to Stephanie. “May you enjoy the timeless treasure of the house,” the note read, “and may it comfort you in times of need.”

The house had become a safe haven for her whenever she felt her lungs grow tight and needed a break from it all. Awkward dates, parties with too many people she didn’t know, a hard day at work, no matter what it was she knew she could always come home and take as much time as she needed before returning to the outside world. She didn’t have to work about food, the pantry and fridge were always well stocked. She’d return home, watch a movie or two, sleep through the night, write in her journal. She’d stay as long as she needed before she returned back to the outside world, sometimes it was minutes, other times it was years. Once she felt the time was right she’d return to the restaurant, bar, movie, theater, office, or wherever she was last, and they’d always ask her the same question, “How’s Phillip?”

She made she to keep her pocketbook with her at all times, and jot down the last thing that happened before she left. A habit she had learned after she had returned to a meeting that had go awry. Her boss had blown up at a client and she had felt the same tight sensation within her chest, she had asked to leave, and when she returned four months later her boss was still yelling at the client. Her boss had blown up at her that evening for going home and changing clothes. She never wanted that to happen again so she bought a little magenta pocketbook that she kept notes of what she had worn the day she had left, and later filled it with details of the moments before leaving. She returned home that night and didn’t leave for a whole year.

This time she had returned home because the party had grown too big, too many people she didn’t know. It was supposed to be a friend’s surprise party, but Stephanie had been the one most surprised with the shear number of new faces. The crowd had grown overwhelming, so she told her friend that she had to go check on Philip. And so she left.

Stephanie exhaled and opened her eyes, a soft soothing sensation of delicate fur rubbed against her feet. She leaned down and gave Philip a nice pet behind his ears, the cat purred. “I’ll be back,” she said and opened the door, and returned to the party.

The Subtle Silhouette

Writing Prompt: Working for an up-and-coming tyrannical overlord is hard, thankless, morally troubling work, but at least you get dental. (source)

 

It ain’t easy being a henchman, especially a being a henchman for a start up super villain. The world of villainy isn’t an easy one to get into either, with so many established villains having everything from death rays to super computers available to them all the while we gotta make due with a handful of puny stun shockers and a twenty sixteen MacBook as our most powerful computer.

But being a top tier villain isn’t about how many fancy shooters you have, nor how quickly you can computer the best way to pull a meteor into the Earth’s gravitational pull in order to hold the world ransom. No sir. Being a villain is all about being clever, having finesse, and a drive to work day in and day out to make sure that the world is bent a little closer to your making than it was the day before.

I’m what you could call a professional henchman. I’ve worked with many villains, some you’ve heard of like The Savage Beast or Dr Hammer, others not so well known. The problem with folks like Dr Hammer is yeah, they’re pretty damn good at what they do, it takes a lot a lot of grit to build an army in secret and unleash terror upon a small Scandinavian nation with subliminal hypnosis so that way once you march your highly trained and well outfitted army in they would rather raise the white flag than fight you. That sir takes a lot of work and I admire it. Hell, I was there when it happened, I marched straight into the front lines, my armor brandishing the big ol’ DH on front, my lighting spear armed and ready to strike the first solider to look me in the eyes. I didn’t get half a mile in before I had been informed that the invasion had ended with a swift surrender.

Now every villain wants their own little nation for their own, and it’s annoying. I’m like guys, can you stop being such copy cats? What Dr Hammer did was an enormous feat that was accomplished after decades of planning and hard work, you can’t just walk into a capital and demand to be the ruler of their nation. You’ll be laughed out by the parliament and promptly punched in the face by a local hero or two. Pfft, I hate trendy villains. I like the new things, the new kids on the block with the fresh ideas. After my invasion with Dr Hammer I’ve been on the prowl for that kid on the block, somebody with earth shattering ideas that have never been done before.

I delved into a few other small time villains since that invasion, but none of them stuck. Most either got crushed by heroes, or eventually got absorbed into larger operations. Nobody had the grit and tenacity that Dr Hammer had. Not until I joined forces with her.

She calls herself the Subtle Silhouette, now not the most original name, but don’t let that fool ya. She’s got a bright mind. The Silhouette’s is a genius in nanotech that’s light years beyond Dr Hammer’s military might. You’ve probably never seen her before because she doesn’t like the spotlight that much. The real villains in my opinion are not about the flair. Flair looks good on TV but you’ll never get past ruling a city block if all what you focus is on flair.

She’s got this grand idea, she sees a future of where all she can do whatever she wants whenever she wants. How you ask? Through them nanobots. You see, with the right bots planted into somebody’s bloodstream they can silently influence somebody to behave however she want them to by adjusting their hormone levels and whatnot. No hypnosis needed!

She doesn’t want to take over the world like good ol’ DH, at least not in the classical sense. If you get these nanomachines in enough folks bloodstreams you can have complete control of the world any nobody would be none the wiser.

The tech’s still in its early phases, and we’re in a dire need of more resources, so the lady’s got me running b&e missions to steal more materials and better equipment. But we got a grand plan ahead of us, and with her drive I believe, nae, I know she’ll make Dr Hammer look like a first grader compared to her genius.

D’heet Z’hin

Writing Prompt: You were the chosen one as your parents only child. You have trained for years, sacrificed your childhood and accepted your fate to destroy the evil of the land. One day your brother is born and it is discovered he is the true chosen one not you. (source)

 

My birth had been rather eventful for a small village like ours. The planets had aligned themselves with our tiny minuscule village the day I was born, nay the hour I was born. It was foretold that the child born when the planets aligned in such a way that he shall be granted the power of the D’heet Z’hin, and he shall finally free our little fishing hamlet of the Carnot Empire.

The night had been festive, full of prayer, love, and booze. Or so I had been told. My life had been far from joyful and festive. Czendra, the village patriarch prescribed my mother and father with a strict developmental plan, for the powers of the D’heet Z’hin was merely one piece of the prophecy, in order for it to flourish the person born with the gift must undergo many trials and tribulations. So my parents, reluctant as they were, began forcing me down a life of discipline.

Before I could even crawl my parents taught me how to swing to sword. With a stick in one hand, Nimon, the village sword smith, would be over every night drilling me with how to properly wield it. By the time I could speak I had a firm grasp of the basics of sword fighting.

Once I could walk my father began teaching me how to run, and from there climbing. From climbing sneaking and breaking and entering.

Tenimen, who served as our village ambassador to the Carnots taught me their language, their culture, and their tactics. In essence, it had been as if I were born into two cultures at once as I understood both my own and the Carnots with an uncanny ability to shift between our languages with ease.

I trained with Hinzor, the best hunter in the village on how to lay traps and capture food at age six. Thanks to him I had become an expert at the bow in just a few short months. I could snipe a hawk a hundred meters in the air with ease. Hinzor himself had begun calling me the best hunter in the village.

Because of my unusual status I had become well versed in anything and everything they wanted me to do. But I had enough of it. The sleepless nights, the aches and pains from my strength training. No child should have gone through that. I wanted to just be a kid. When I other children my age ran past Nimon’s training ground all I could imagine was running around with such freedom. And when I did have a chance to play with the other kids I could outrun them easily, or hide in the toughest of places that I could never be found during hide-n-seek.

After I turned seven my mom became pregnant with my brother-to-be. By that time I had mastered the Carnotian language and could even imitate their accents, my palms were as calloused as a horse’s hoof from the countless hours I spent sword training and climbing. None of this I wanted for myself. I was an expert in nothing I wanted to be.

The day before my brother was born my parents had been visited by Czendra. It wasn’t unusual for her to come by and check in on my progress, but the air had been different this time. She spoke with them in private, and when they returned my parents came to me with a look of sorrow. After Czendra left my father told me to sit down at the table. I did so, he sat down next to me, my mother stood by his side.

In most stories being the chosen one is what everyone wants to be. When you’re the chosen one you’re special, nobody else is like you, you get to call the shots. So you could believe how I felt when my father told me that the prophecy had been wrong, it was not I who would eventually overthrow the Carnots’ imperialist forces, but my brother-to-be.

My brother was born the next day with no unusual fan fair, probably to save the elders of any further embarrassment. But they did tell the village, and he had been crowned the D’heet Z’hin while my training had been sidelines.

At first it had been hard. I didn’t want to train in sword fighting from sunrise to sunset, but I did like how being the D’hett Z’hin felt. Over time the villagers began changing their behaviors. No longer did they smile at me the way the used to, strangers stopped pointing and waving at me, and despite my time with Hinzor, Tenimen, and Nimon they no longer wanted to train me. My brother had become their pet project, and thanks to their years with me they had grown as teachers. My brother had become a better swordsman than me by the time he could walk.

I took up painting instead. It reminded me a lot of swordplay, but instead of destroying I could create. My works became renowned throughout my village and further into our region. The Carnotian governor who presided over our region had taken notice and invited me to the capital city.

Despite the pleas of my fellow villagers, the ones who had abandoned their belief in me over a decade ago, I had taken the governor’s invitation and traveled to the capitol. There I had been treated well, the governor himself granted me a scholarship to the best art academy in the entire empire. I took the offer immediately and left without ever saying goodbye to my village. I had already broke their hearts by taking the offer, I could not break them again if they had heard the news.

I graduated with honors and moved back to the regional capitol. I had missed the beauty of the ocean, the mountainous region in which the academy resided had not been inspiring enough for my works.

Every once in a while I considered going back to my home, for all I know they had thought me to have been killed at the capitol. My brother planning his march against to the capitol city. By now he would have been the same age I had been when I left for the capitol. But I refused to go, what had happened to me would be far worse than death, I had come to love the Carnotians and even asked one for her hand in marriage.

Every morning I would begin my day sitting on our ocean side patio, sketching the sunrise over the coast, wondering if this will be the day I will finally see the D’heet Z’hin march towards the capitol.

Rain

Writing Prompt: (character) has telepathic abilities. Trouble is they can’t turn it off so have to hear people’s thoughts all the time. Good detective though.  (source)

 

…. this coffee’s a little bitter, I should add some cream….

…. I’m getting tired of my beat; I need to speak to the captain… . …the psycho’s back I see…

…where did I leave my keys….

Thoughts echoed across the precinct, coming and going, phasing in and out of third ear shot. By this point I had become a mainstay at the forty-sixth, I had been given my own special little badge as well.

Another day, another case as a consulting mentalist. Mentalist being a very loose term for my gift, but it was more believable than what I really was.

“Hey Rain,” Sargent Holzer said walking up to me. * I should really ask her out today. No, no, that’s not professional, keep the case.* Sargent Holzer thought. Every time I was near him, he thought that, and to this date he hadn’t offered me anything more than a cup of coffee.

“Norman called me in today,” I asked the Sargent.

He scratched his neck, professional, he thought. “Could I get you some coffee?”

“Thanks, but no thanks. I already had a cup before I arrived. Can you point me to where I can find Norman?”

“He’s in integration room B,” he pointed down the hall towards where the carpet turned to dark lifeless concrete. “Can I get you anything else?”

“Water’s fine. Will you be joining us today?” I asked.

She asked if I was joining her today. She wants me with her! Sometimes he could be so naive.

“I will be. The Detective asked for me to be your escort. Do you want to wait here, or should I meet you at the gate?”

“I’ll meet you at the gate,” I said.

“One water coming right up, I’ll see you at the gate,” he said. Damn he thought.

The Sargent took off towards the breakroom, his thoughts fading into the distance like an an ambulance passing by. You did the right thing Cooper, you kept it pro-.

I continued down the hallways towards the holding interrogation rooms, the usual spot for my summons. In the dozens of times I had been at the precinct I think I’ve only sat in Norman’s office no more than three times. Thoughts of the officers faded into an out of my head while I strolled through the office.

Thoughts were thoughts in my head, there were no voices associated with them like you’d hear in TV shows or movies where the psychic character heard people’s inner monologues as if they were their own narrators. Some people don’t even have an inner narrator, but I could still read their minds loud and clear. Instead thoughts were always like intuitions, feelings of those around me. They echoed in and out of existence depending on the thinker’s proximity and the emotional strength behind them.

…was it at 7745 Chattanooga, or 7747 Chattanooga….

…gotta go take a piss…

…Rain’s hair looks nice today….

…man, my back hurts like a bitch… A thought faded into my head. Must be Charlie, the poor soul had been having back issues since he had gotten himself into a shoot out a few years before I started consulting. He had been ridden to desk work. That I knew because he had told me. I also knew that he had a dependency on prescription pain medication, that he kept silent about. That he did not tell me. “Hey Charlie,” I said when I rounded the corner.

“Rain!” Charlie said, he stood up off the metal chair, behind Charlie and the chair iron bars hung down from the ceiling all the way to the floor. He waddled over to me; his arms outstretched. I reciprocated with a hug. Charlie, ever the hugger. “Detective Sherwood told me you’d be in today. He says he finally got his guy. Needed you to help with the clean up.”

…. fuck this hurts …. Charlie thought. Another thing about Charlie, if he wasn’t on meds, he liked to hide is pain.

“How about you take a seat,” I said.

“Nonsense, I’m fine,” Charlie retaliated.

“Charlie…”

She’s right, I’m gonna keel over if I don’t get some support. Charlie thought.

I guided the wounded man back to the chair he had been at.

“There, that’s better,” I said as he took a seat. “They got you on guard duty today?”

“Yes mam,” Charlie said. “I needed the break; my eyes were getting tired of looking at the screens all day. Do you have an escort today?”

“Yeah, Sargent Holzer is my escort. He’ll be here soon.”

“While we wait how about we play one of your games?” Charlie asked. He loved doing this.

“Sure, what’s the challenge today?”

I should ask her to pick a number I’m thinking about. Nah, I did that last week. I’ll ask he if she can name the last three things I ate. Now let’s see, I had a turkey burger for lunch, a ham and cheese croissant for breakfast, and what was for dinner last night? Lasagna? No that was earlier this week. Oh yeah, Chicken Parmesan.

“Oh right, I got it!” Charlie snapped his fingers. “Here’s a challenge for you. I want you to name the last three things I ate.” I lightly snorted. You get used to pretending to be surprised when you’ve lived like this as long as you could remember. “Well that’s a new one. Alright,” I said squatting down to Charlie’s level.

“Should I exhale for you?” he asked.

“No,” I shook my head, “you can breathe normally. I don’t want your stinky breath on me.”

“Hey, I brushed my teeth after lunch,” he said.

“Did you really?” I looked him in the eyes.

No, I didn’t. He thought.

“No, I didn’t,” he admitted. “Alright, do your best.”

I sat in silence for a moment. I didn’t search for answers, I searched for explanations. The hardest part of this job was looking for visible clues to explain away everything I had already known. Retro-mentalism I called it. Charlie’s amusement over my gift had become a routine exercise to sharpen my observation skills.

Charlie wore a white button down tucked into black khakis. The creases of his collar were stained a light yellow. He must have worn that shirt yesterday as well. I spotted a small red stain sitting on the flap of his collar. Alright that’s the chicken parmesan I thought, or a fry with his burger. It didn’t matter, I had an explanation. I continued looking around his torso for other clues.

I must have really stumped her, Charlie thought. She never takes this long.

Report, check. Coffee. Check Water bottle. Check. A thought faded into my head, distracting me for a moment.

“Hey Charlie, hey Rain,” Sargent Holzer’s voice said. “What’s going on here?”

I held out a finger in the direction of the Sargent’s voice.

“Is this one of your games Charlie?” The Sargent asked.

“Shhh….” Charlie said.

Here I am trying to be all professional, and Charlie’s off lollygagging again with Rain, again. the Sargent thought.

I kept looking for other clues, crumbs or flakes or something. I shifted my gaze to his face. He had a little stubble today, might find some clues in there. Nothing. I carried on, shifting my gaze lower to his khakis.

Within the fibers of his khakis sat a few flecks of something, could be anything, but it was enough for me to go with. Two out of three down.

“You know the detective doesn’t like it when you two this,” Sargent Holzer said.

I sighed and stood up.

“Man, you really got me this time,” I said.

“Take a guess,” Charlie said.

“Let’s see,” I closed my eyes pretending to think. “You had a croissant for breakfast, a hamburger for lunch, and I’m stumped on last night’s dinner. Am I right?”

Wow she’s good, Charlie thought.

The detective is going to murder me, the Sargent thought.

“Common guess, I’ll tell you once you guess.”

I opened my eyes and sighed. “I don’t know, Lasagna.” I lied.

“Oh, so close!” Charlie snapped. “It was chicken parmesan.”

“Hey, you gotta give me points for guessing Italian!” I said.

“Alright, how did you know?”

“You have a small red stain near your collar, typical of eating fries with ketchup, so you had to have had a burger. And your pants have small croissant flakes on them. Making me guess three was unfair, I can’t guess your dinner last night if there aren’t any stains your clothes,” I said.

“Ready to go?” Holzer asked.

“I am,” I faced the Sargent. He held out the bottle of water, I took it. “Would you do us the honor and let us through?” I asked Charlie.

“Sure, thing mam,” he produced a key from his pocket and opened the gates. The chair and him were close enough to the gate so that the poor man wouldn’t have to stand up. The Sargent went through first, I followed behind.

“Rain,” Charlie said through the bars. “I had lasagna earlier this week.”

“I know,” I winked at him. I followed the Sargent down the hallway towards the interrogation rooms.

How does she do it? I heard Charlie think to himself.

Perfectly Reasonable

Writing Prompt: You are a ghost, who’ve been haunting a house for years. Most people left after a few days, some can last few weeks. You’ve been a mighty ghost, until a scientist moved in. He had stayed for 2 years and keeps coming up with scientific explanations for all your tricks. (source)

 

The Haunting. Demon. Poltergeist. Beelzebub. These were names given to me decades by the guests who so dare trespass on the resting place of an old soul like myself. This had been my home long before the country side had been consumed by what folks these days called “the suburbs.” As the world changed, I stayed within the confines of my house, working tirelessly to shoo out the unwanted guests like chasing rats out of the pantry with a broom. Why didn’t anyone let me just rest in peace?

I had spent many such decades perfecting the craft of a good scare. It helped that in part that the story of my untimely demise had become a local legend. A good beheading is bound to make people terrified of what still remains within the walls. For the first few years that story was all I needed, only to disturbed by a flying rock through the window or two teenagers sneaking into my house to make out or get high. But that all changed once an eager young woman and her husband decided to “flip” my house. I wanted nothing to do with that, so I did a little work of my own.

Tape measures would extend on their own. Saws would turn on by themselves. Hammers banged on the walls when nobody was in the room. But despite this the construction still persisted. I thought I had lost until the night the young couple moved in. The woman was different this time, a baby bump sat upon her belly a few months from delivery I suspected.

They dressed up a room with a cradle with mobile dangling delicately above it, stuffed bunnies and bears, a paint bucket and nails sat upon a blue tarp in the corner for the final touch ups of the house. I decided to give the room a make over.

The next morning the young trespassers minded their own business for most of the day. I patiently waited within the nursery, eager to see the look on their faces at my art. It was the early afternoon when the soon to be mother ventured into the nursery. Her face morphed from the cool and calmness to a mouth gaping eyes wide open scream. Loud footsteps banged across the floor as the husband dashed down the hallway. He stopped at the doorway and let out a loud “what the fuck?”

Inside the room was my first masterpiece. The bodies of the stuffed animals were nailed to the walls without order. Hanging by the pull string of the light fixture was the body of one stuffed rabbit, the light strobed, a little flair I added at last minute. On the wall across from the door I had written in blue paint “get out.”

The couple left that night to never return. But people kept trespassing.

I got pretty good at my hauntings over the years. From the obvious tricks such as floating knives and rooms being completely rearranged after a family had returned for their Sunday church, to the more subtle nightmares I would project into people’s dreams. Most people wouldn’t last a whole month in my house before they hightailed it out of there, leaving me with a few weeks of peace and quiet until another family moved in. But then she came.

At first I thought she would be easy. You see, she moved into my house all alone, and I’ve had my share of single people throughout the years and single people were easy. Their loneliness only amplified the effects of my hauntings. Whereas couples and families would lean on each other for a while before things got too weird, single people had nobody to share their experience with and often times worried about going mad. But she was different.

No matter what I did, from shadows moving on their own, to flipping tables she always had an explanation for everything happening. When I banged on the walls at night she’d say it was the pipes. If she watched TV alone late at night and I started interfering with the signals she called it interference. Whenever I gave her a few nightmares she’s call it anxiety and take pills that made my tricks futile. If the furniture seemed out of place after she had returned from work it was because the wooden floors were too slippery. Everything had an explanation, and you know what? For the first two months it was kinda cute, but two years later it’s tiring.

No longer was I the demon, I was a pipe banging against the wall. Long were the days of being called a poltergeist, now I was just slippery floors. Beelzebub was no more, instead I was just another broken light bulb. It was no longer a haunting, just “perfectly reasonable” things happening around the house.

Back to the Basics, Over and Over Again

I’ve been teaching myself Python for the better part of the year. Being the mathematically and systems oriented person I am it was only a matter of time I delved into programming again. This isn’t the first time I’ve been down this road, just the furthest.

A long while ago, during the summer between my junior and senior years of college I took up learning Python since I heard plenty of things about its use and accessibility for non-comp-sci majors like myself. My journey ended as quickly as it began with only completing a handful of lessons from Learn Python the Hard Way and a few problems on Project Euler.

project euler
Project Euler’s Problem Page

My time with Python was short, but sweet.

Two years passed and I hadn’t touched a line of code since then, until one afternoon when a friend called me with an idea.

Listeners of my productivity podcast know that I’m the sort of person who gets really excited about new projects, so when my friend called me up with an idea for an app I jumped on that wagon fast. What the app was supposed to do doesn’t matter here, what does is that it brought me back into the world of programming. Neither him nor I had any formal training in programming, so I picked up a Java course off of Udemy so I could begin my path of becoming a successful app developer.

That project never got past the learning Java phase. Between the two of us I ended up being drawn to the world of programming more than him, and thus the project died. Around the same time I began my first podcast with another friend, which did end up taking off, and with that, it was back into a codeless world for me.

My programming life began a familiar pattern. I’d pick up the basics of a language for a bit, then drop it for something else. The same self fulfilling prophecy continued with other languages, like learning just enough HTML & CSS to customize a WordPress theme, or learning the basics of AutoLISP for my job as an engineer. Nothing really stuck, and it took a while for me to figure out why.

I picked up learning these languages and the basics of code because I saw them as fun before it got too hard. I never challenged myself because I didn’t understand how a computer thought or was structured. Plus most of my practice problems involved math problems from Project Euler. Coding felt like some fancy way to solve math problems, and nothing else.

I picked up Python again this time around, due to its accessibility and use in data science. I am not a data scientist by any means, but I do love data. I started again with Learn Python the Hard Way, then found out shortly afterwards from the Learn Python subreddit that, well, that course sucks. So I followed their lead and started with Automate the Boring Stuff with Python.

automate_2e_cover

And wow did this lesson make a huge difference in my programming journey. No longer did I see coding as a fancy way to solve math problems, it could be used that way, but I now knew how to do other things with it. I could manipulate files, write Excel documents, and move my cursor! I finally felt like this was it. What really opened my eyes to this brave new world of programming was the API.

Another hobby of mine is fiction writing. I don’t share it that often since I’m self conscious of it (but that should change soon), and like coding is only a skill I’ve gone back to the basics and no further for many cycles now. One problem with writing fiction for me is that I always feel like I either have too many ideas I want to work on, or none at all. So I decided to pick up going to /r/WritingPrompts every so often to explore ideas. But that got overwhelming. I just wanted one topic to write from and no more. So I turned to Python.

2020-04-23 18_00_32-Prompts and motivation to create something out of nothing
So many great ideas, where do you being?

Using my knowledge of Python and knowing that API’s exist, I looked into the reddit API for python and began automating my decisions. I created a very simple program that picked a random post from the entire history of the subreddit and printed the prompt and the direct link to the prompt. I never know what I’m going to get, and I like it that way. This was what I wanted Python and Java for years ago.

Learning about the API changed everything once again. I could now interact with websites and app in ways I only ever dreamed of. Since then I’ve created a simple Discord bot, and have experimented with a Slack bot.

This time it will be different, I finally feel like it’s time I continue down this path I’ve been drawn to on and off again for over six years. It’ll be back to the basics over and over again no more.

The Productive Podcaster: Hindenburg First Impressions

I’m gong to be honest with you, when it comes to podcasting (and most things in general) I like to cut corners on my expenses. As mentioned in my previous Productive Podcaster post, I spent hours of my time working on subpar graphics for my old show just to save on money. Once I realized that my time was more than my money, I decided it was time to delegate that work to a friend of mine who’s a professional graphic designer. This corner-cutting behavior is true with my editing tools as well, until this year when I switched from Audacity to Hindenburg.

Audacity is the de facto editing and recording program for amateur and new podcasters, if you’re on Windows. It is a free, open source audio editing program with a great community built around it. However the thing with free is that it means what you save in money, you make up in time. Audcacit’s UI for example is very menu based and has limited keyboard shortcuts.

 A look into Audacity

It’s not a bad system, and the UI has improved significantly since I first started using it. Audacity has all the features you need to start podcasting: multi-track editing, label tracks for keeping tabs on every section, hundreds of custom plug-ins for features you’re missing and so on. But it also lacks many other important features you will have to get around by installing plugins and using other programs, such as the most important one: a native MP3 export (you will have to install LAME in order to export to MP3), and a built in auto leveling function (I used Levelator for leveling all my tracks, it’s great but no longer supported). Finally Audacity also lacks in fun optional features as well as exporting podcast chapters. There are solutions to all these issues with Audacity, but if you’re willing to invest a $100 to make your podcast production process smoother and much more enjoyable, I would recommend Hindenburg Journalist.

Hindenburg Journalist is an audio editing program mostly geared towards audio journalist, which means you will be getting everything you need pre-installed. There are two tiers, the Journalist, and the Journalist Pro, but when it comes for home production the Journalist edition has everything you need, for starters Journalist has a native MP3 export function, and auto leveling, not to mention the UI is just great looking (UI aesthetics are very important for me, if you haven’t noticed).

There are so useful many features Hindenburg Journalist has that Audacity lacks that make it worth it, from:

  • Labeling each track individually, instead of having a separate label track in Audactiy you can split each track and label each section.

  • Muting audio, instead of deleting it. In Audacity whenever you mute a section it automatically replaces it with a silent track, making that old audio irrecoverable. In Hindenburg you can simply select your audio then hitting Ctrl+M, which will tell the program to not play that portion. The effects can be undone at any time.

  • Non-destructive editing. In audacity whenever you delete a portion of a track it is gone forever, not in Hindenburg.

  • Audio chapters. This is a feature I haven’t used just yet, but I plan to once Mark and I begin rolling out The Productivity Lab. Chapters make it super simple for your listeners to know what topic you’re covering and makes it simple to navigate between each one so they can easily relisten to what you discussed.

  • Syncing tracks. The ability to sync tracks is so important that I had no idea how much I needed it until I swapped to Hindenburg. With synced tracks it makes it way more easier to delete and rearrange portions of a track since you know that other tracks synced to it will alter with it. This was an issue with multi-track editing in Audacity that would cost me minutes of time whenever I forgot delete a portion of another to keep it lined up, or moving the tracks around to line up with the music.

Just having the peace of mind that everything I need is within one program has made the editing of my new show so much more relaxing. No more juggling between programs. And if I’m every curious about how to use or find a feature Hindenburg has a very helpful and searchable help section on their website.

Since I’ve only used Hindenburg for editing two episodes this post only covers my first impressions. Audacity is a terrific starting program, but if you have $100 to spend I would recommend Hindenburg any day over Audacity.

The Productive Podcaster: Time Tracking and Your Podcast

As I’ve posted about before, I am avid (some would even say chronic) time tracker. I track everything useful to me from time spent on individual projects at work, all the way to break and non-productive time at work. This habit extends out of the office as well to keep myself in check for how much time I’ve put into different side projects and even some chores around the apartment. To me time tracking is an excellent tool for learning what part of the process needs to change, making an accurate prediction on how to go about your projects, how productive you really are. Today I want to talk to you about time tracking in the context of your podcast production.

Presently I am working on a new show that will be premiered sometime in June called The Productivity Lab. In that show my cohost, Mark Askew, and I test out different methods, tools and apps in our daily lives for two weeks to see how they affect us. The show is still early in production, but we will use it as an example in this post.

There are many tools for time tracking, but the best by far I’ve used is Toggl. It is a manual time tracker, meaning that you will have to click start and stop every time you begin a task or work on a project, but its manual features allow it to be easily to be modified.

Toggl’s set up is based on a Client -> Project -> Tags system. Ever project has a client, and each project can be designated whatever works best for you. The tags are universal between all clients and projects, which makes them great for tracking more general things like admin work, email, or meetings. Below is a report showing my time on The Productivity Lab since we officially kicked off the project in late April.

As you can see, my “client” is The Productivity Lab. If we compare the time spent with The Productivity Lab with my other active side projects within that same time frame we can get a better picture on how I’m splitting my hours. This view is great for figuring out what projects you’ve spent a lot of time on and which ones you’ve neglected. If you’re struggling to juggle so many projects at once, taking a look at the actual data for time spent on each project is extremely valuable. According to this chart, if I feel over whelmed I should just ax the blog. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Next we’ll take a deeper look into my time on The Productivity Lab and how I spend it across different “projects.” Let’s take a look.

I’ve broken my time tracking down into four major categories: audio editing, show prep, recording, and The Productivity Lab itself. You can go more granular than this if you choose too, especially if you’re working on music, graphics or blog posts, but I prefer to keep it somewhat simple. The first three “projects” are pretty self explanatory, but what does the final tautological one mean? In my workflow anything that goes towards working on the back end, administrative side, or misc tasks that don’t quite fit into the other categories gets tossed into this meta category that is then sub divided into different tags. Depending on what you need to focus on for your show I recommend adding or subtracting more categories.

So what can we learn from this data? Well a good start would be the ratio of editing to recording. If I want to sit down and edit a new episode I should account for how long the recording is to know how much time to block off. Since I have a ratio of 1.55 I should at least plan for each editing session to be 1.55 times longer than the file I’m sitting down to record. Or I can change my editing process to speed it up (for example I am a huge stickler for removing “umms” and other filler words when they don’t work, this can be a very tedious process usually taking the most time).

Show prep is a very important category as well. If you want to keep yourself accountable of how much research goes into each episode then I recommend keeping a timer for this. At this moment we’ve recorded two episodes and I’ve spent roughly two and a half hours of prep in total, so I should at least expect each episode to take an hour of prep time or more (notice: prep time doesn’t mean the actual experiment we’re doing, as it can be nebulous, but the research into the methods and writing up the show notes).

Additionally if you are co-producing a show like Mark and myself, then time tracking is great for figuring out if somebody needs a little help in off loading tasks and processes on the project. If you feel like you’re not doing enough editing you can check your timer against your co-producer’s and take the load off of their work schedule.

Finally time tracking can help with general out sourcing. In a previous podcasting project of mine, Everyday Superhumans, I could have used a time tracker in its early days. At the inception of the project I was working on the show as a produce, host and graphic designer. And truth be told my graphic design skills are far from good. I was spending hours trying to get logos and graphics together for the show before we kicked off, to a point where I was spending more time on graphic design than actual podcast production (or so I think, I was unaware of the existence of Toggl at the time). Not only was I spending so much time working on the show’s graphics, but each graphic I made ended up being far below sub-par and wasn’t a good face for the show. We eventually handed off the design process to a friend of mine who we more than happily compensated for his work, and subsequently cleared up my schedule to work on the work that matters: the audio content. If I had been time tracking then I would have had a better understand on where my time was going, and how valuable it really was to me. You can see the difference between the rough design of my original idea (on the left) compared to the clean and simple design our graphic designer did (on the right). Off loading the work made a huge difference and built a better brand because of that.

Time tracking is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal of apps and methods when it comes to podcasting. When used properly you can use the data as a feedback loop to help you evolve your production methods, develop a production schedule that matches your workflow, and finding tasks that need to be off-loaded (or on-boarded). Trust me if you begin time tracking today I guarantee you that you will find yourself being more productive and spending time on what matters most for your show.

Three Tools for Balancing Work, Life, and Side Projects

If you’re like me, you can get easily excited by new and novel projects. It can feel like there’s so much to do, and if you only had a few more hours a day you can fit a new project into it. If your day job is also full of projects you have to take on, then that’s just more head space that will get filled. On one hand, having so much to do can feel great, it means you have tons of ideas and energy, but on the other hand you risk a major trade off: you are at risk of burnout, a sensation of being overwhelmed and unable to prioritize properly, neglecting other important aspects of life such as loved ones, your health, and your sleep, and finally spreading yourself too thin can lead to mediocre performance on all tasks.

These are all problems that people with busy work lives, or side-project-a-holics like myself will encounter. There are no one sized fit all solutions, but I will be covering a few techniques that can be used to help you manage your time and projects better.

Tool #1: Cutting the Nonessential

In his book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown argues that it is not what you say yes to that matters, but what you say no too that can make the biggest difference of all in work and life. The ability to say no and cutting out nonessential tasks and projects clears up your calendar, and head space to fit more room and energy towards things that matter.

Essentialism is all about your goals and priorities. If a project seems fun, like say starting a movie review podcast, but you’re working over forty hours a week on other projects that you have to do for work, and you have a relationship you want to maintain, then starting that podcast might not be the best option.

Tool #2: Prioritizing & Scheduling

Ranking and scheduling ahead of time is another great way to work on that project balance. On your list of projects, especially ones you can eliminate, rank them on their importance. How you weight that importance is up to you. Next setting premeditated time aside ahead of time for only the tasks associated with it a la time blocking will allow you to “bucket” up those tasks to dedicated hours. Time blocking is a powerful tool, especially for busy people with many projects to focus on.

Tool #3: Offloading

Some projects might be accomplished through offloading tasks to others, especially remedial tasks. Perhaps you can afford to have somebody come by and clean your place while you’re at work, sign up for grocery services like InstaCart or Blue Apron. For side projects hiring small freelancers will take the load off the most stressful parts of the project. As fun as it is to be the creator, it is just as important to know when to step back and become a manager.

Conclusion

There is no one size fit all solution to project management, however there are proven techniques when it comes to knowing what to do and what to cut (or hand off). Using tools like knowing when to say no, time and task management, and task delegation will help you manage yourself better and free up that head space to work on what matters.

What techniques do you use to manage your projects and your time?