13 September 2016

Peace, and Thought

It's been almost two months since the release party for Homes. It was a great night, one with lots of friends crammed into my house, lots of rain, and some good wine. The next day, I had a strange feeling. One that said, 'Hey, buddy. You need to rest.'


To that voice I said, 'Hey, buddy. Shut up.'

But the feeling persisted. I knew I was coming into a time requiring rest, after producing The Dig and Homes and a few other products, and managing the family, and working, and so on. And yet there was so much more to do! Too many game ideas, too many stories to write! Then the school year began and my writing time was reduced to 0.

I kept at it. The writing time did not appear and the creative frustration grew. It's still growing. It's a real pain. And yet I'm too tired to get much of anything done. I can't wake up early enough or stay up late enough. The tiny bits of time for putting finger to key aren't enough. This blog is collecting dust, as are some of the other little projects I contribute to. There are lots of feels to deal with as well. The one thing I thought I could set aside (myself) is begging for my attention.

So I'm chilling out and attempting to take care of myself. Read stuff I want to read and play games I want to play. I'm trying to be okay with not writing every day and letting the progress ticker slow to anything but naught. It's stymieing. The Homes sequel has been percolating for a year and I feel some direction for it; I have at least two PBTA games I'm ready to make; there's a language learning card game I have in mind; Good Heart is still sleeping on the cloud, waiting for a home. In short, there are lots of things I want to finish which would require, really, a patron to give me a couple years out of the classroom.

I've got one freelance gig that needs finishing, and one other game on which I am collaborating, and hope to release by the end of the year. Other than that, I must chill and make this a restorative, monastic time. I have no mountains to escape to, ala St Antony. But there are hills to rest upon; little islands of inspiration. Good books for the eyes, metal for the ears, and all the rest.

All of that is to say that you may not see too much out of me for a little while. I hope to be cranking out updates and fiction and games real soon, but we shall see what we can see.

16 August 2016

Quick Write



They were actually trying to kill each other with their bare hands! Whatever happened to polite society where you simply shot your opponents? A clear sign of the decline of western civilization; yet another bug spattered on the windshield of hedonism.

He shook his head, rose to his feet, and ignored the jeering of whoever it was whose view he'd blocked. Long legs carried him down the aisle and out of the cinema. Bright light took him until his eyes adjusted and the smell of popcorn greeted him back into waking life.

What a terrible thing that was, he thought. Never go on Stan's recommendation again.

He slung his jacket around his shoulders and up over his arms, nearly striking one of the cleaning youths with the sleeve as he went. A "Sorry" fluttered out of his mouth and he blushed and stamped again, passing posters of large creatures, desperate-looking men in suits, and blonde women surrounded by cars and men less desperate-looking. The locked door was a bit of a detriment to his departure. He tried another. Then another. None of them opened. He shook the last one by its crossbar in dramatic fashion, not unlike a character in the film he'd just escaped. With a hefty sigh he looked around for another door, thinking he'd stumbled into some staff exit or the like in his embarrassment.

The lobby was empty.

In that dim, air conditioned place he was the only breathing human. There were the posters, the bad carpeting, the horrid popcorn, the fountains of soda and worse. And that was all. Fear stepped in and he sat on the black bench nearby, almost weak from confusion. What did it all mean? What was happening? He stayed the fear and sat, blank of mind, waiting for clarity to come. When it did, it was accompanied by words like "trapped" and "forever" and, as he waited patiently for his next move to be realized, footsteps broke the silence. Chatter. Human chatter. The chatter of foolish people who would sit through a movie dedicated about people killing each other with their bare hands. Alongside the onset came young, annoyed people in vests, the cinema staff.

When their bathroom breaks and parting reviews were finished, the audience hugged and shook hands. In a single horde they departed, pushing open the apparently locked doors with ease, where he had been pulling.

08 July 2016

Simple Economics

It was a short drive back home. It was the same drive. It was the same drive made shorter by the roundabout way her brain was working. The many homes she had seen, those with immaculate yards and without, those with siding that had clearly been redone within the last year, in historic areas, with leisurely middle aged people reading their books and chatting, had given her pause somehow. Driving past the cemetery had ushered the pause into steep contemplation. The whole thing impacted her in a way it hadn't before.

For she had no frame of reference for wealth. The economics of the upper-middle and upper classes were vague mysteries her mind could not successfully grapple with. That there was enough money to sustain so many people choosing to abide in historically unprecedented abundance was baffling. Perhaps she was too well-versed in history, too much a student of the past to come to terms with the fact that everyone, seemingly everyone had more than they needed.

This was, of course, strictly not true, as there were many in this country and around the world who did have what they needed.

But today, however, today was proof positive that many had more than they needed. Each house, either perfectly groomed or neglected, meant a job. Not just any job,but job enough to pay rent or mortgage and car note and gas and utilities and trips to the (evermore expensive) supermarket and nights out at the unending, amoebically dividing restaurant hive. That job and the subsequent spending meant more jobs and more spending and so, her high school macroecnomics teacher had claimed, the economy went and the capitalist march.

The drive continued. She took the last turn onto the stream of a road that led to the tributary that was her driveway. Strange that we drive on parkways and park on driveways, she thought. And as she stopped the car before her home, she noticed a package resting on the stoop. It was, she felt, another thread in the yarn ball of a world full of money where so many had so much and so little.

She began to reckon it and thanked God her car had working air conditioning. There were more than three hundred millions of people in this country. If one, say, had a product that netted the producer $5 a pop, then they'd need to sell 10,000 or so of these gizmos a year for a comfortable living. That's a small piece of the pie, without even factoring taxes and the potential world markets and the like. And yet, she felt and had been told the same, that countless such business endeavors failed every year. Was it for lack of competence? Sheer bad luck in spite of best efforts?

Again, the scope was lost on her.

It was not that she was lacking in intellect; she was well educated, graduating from college Dean's List with a degree in philosophy. Hers was, it seemed, a mind of intuition. That of and wanderer, rather than that of an accountant. If a worthy abstraction could not be made, then the feeling failed to become thought and, so, lifted to the skies above. Supposing that was the problem, that the shape of her brain held no context for wealth and the many gears of the somewhat terrible money-machine, she slipped inside.

Philosophy was, for her, the high view of life. It was also the low view, the one that viewed the human experience from the inside out. She liked the "high" metaphor more, though, and nodded her satisfaction for the thought as she poured a glass of water. What did cold, hard numbers tell us about life on this planet or it betterment? Moreover, the endless trail of capital told no story. It was cold and mute. And with thoughts like these in her mind, she sat down, drank her water, and took a nap.

CARS, URBAN, IMPRESSIONIST CITY SCAPE OIL PAINTING - Tom Brown

30 June 2016

Homes now available for pre-order!

Well, it's happening. The cover is done and it looks brilliant. All the edits are through, the Createspace demigods are appeased and a proof copy is in the mail. The wheels are in motion. Whether I sell 10 copies or 10,000, it's all over but for the crying. In a few weeks, I'll have a big party and then the book will be public.

Why not start the party early and pre-order one today?


14 June 2016

Fat Kids

Stan heard the beeping of the checkout scanner for perhaps the first time in recent memory. It was such a commonplace thing that it had become a part of the blur of grocery shopping. There are some vague memories of seeing half-dressed women and celebrity adulterers on magazine covers; a sense of cold from, probably, the freezer aisle; that kind of thing. The beeps fell into that little speeding pit. The only reason Stan heard it is because he'd taken notice of what was being scanned: cheese puffs. Stan felt angry.

"He wants them," he muttered, jerking a thumb backwards as if in apology to the checkout girl.

And he blushed and shrugged and waved like a lamb. Stan was embarrassed.

The beeping and embarrassment was over. They sat in the car together, Stan driving of course. He couldn't do the driving, they'd end up in like a McDonald's drivethrough or something. Dinner was waiting at the house so there was no time for such shit.

"Sure you needed those cheese puffs?"

"Obviously I don't need them, I just wanted them. I had a salad for lunch, so this is okay," he said with a little defiance.

Stan sighed. "Alright, buddy," he said.

It was a boring drive through the parking lot and the intersection and the treed road home. Not much to maintain one's interest besides music. And food. Being bored was bad for him, so he took out the cheese puffs and opened them -- upside down, of course, to make sure the goodies at the bottom didn't go to waste.

Stan thought, No way he's going to...

And he did. Two cheese puffs to start. He wouldn't lick his fingers, though. He'd let the saliva work like pollen, attracting all the little cheesy particles to his fingertips, then lick it off in one glorious moment of saturated fate and ecstasy.

Two more puffs. Then two more.

For God's sake, thought Stan.

It went on like this for the 1.3 miles homeward. A few more puffs, a few more shots of shame and embarrassment for Stan. Stan thought of creamy white clouds and a skyward view and pine trees, a time when he could live free from him. It was only a temporary relief, but it was enough to survive the 1.3 miles homeward.

Seated at the dinner table, Stan's wife presented chicken, marinated and broiled and tasty. She liked to make dishes she knew Stan would appreciate for both their flavor and caloric economy. And Stan did! Here was a fine dish. Chicken, veg, a little rice but not too much. Stan tucked in and enjoyed his chicken, eating it slowly and deliberately, offering time for brain and stomach to communicate as a well-oiled unit. Last bite of fowl in mouth, he swallowed then realized he was still there. He'd downed his chicken a full three minutes before and sat expectantly, waiting for desert or the like.

For God's sake, thought Stan.

"It's alright!"

Good old Tina. She always knew how to defuse a situation.

"It's alright," she claimed. "I have desert."

But it wasn't desert. It was cantaloupe or honeydew; one of those loathsome melons that some claim to be breakfast and others hoist up to the grandstand of desert. He frowned. In his mind it was ice cream and chocolate, the only satisfactory means to achieve the end of desert.

"Just have some, alright?" said Stan.

He nodded and ate a little and frowned. It wasn't ice cream, nor was it chocolate. His disappointment filled the room and Stan caved.

"Fine! There's probably some ice cream in the freezer or something," he muttered.

"Are you sure that's okay? I mean, I feel like he's gotten worse of late," said Tina.

Stan sighed a heavy sigh. It was the kind of sigh one applies to situations in which all power is gone. "I don't really care right now," he said.

That night at bed it was awkward. He lay at the edge of the bed at least, leaving Stan and Tina to discuss the matter.

"He can't stay here," she said.

"I think I can just, you know, shove him to the edge. He'll be alright. We'll deal with it in the morning."

"No," said she.

Stan sighed again, the very same sigh he'd made at dinner time. "Wake up," he said. "Just wake up, okay?"

There was a tap on the shoulder and he muttered something incoherent.

"Get out. Get out of bed. You can sleep on the couch."

The muttering grew into coherence. "Stuck here. Stuck with you."

Stan began to see red and shame washed over him. Why couldn't he be rid of him? With all his compulsions and foolishness. Shame begat rage. Stan lifted his foot and pushed. He fell to floor with a jiggling thud. But, he just stayed there on the ground, snoring, an unwilling lump with no place else to go.

Stan and Tina went to sleep.

Upon sleeping, Stan dreamt of times unbound, when he wasn't there to clutter and annoy his every waking moment. Those would be good times, salad days in a literal and figurative sense, when the pressure was simply to be and not fight with him constantly, or his obscenely fit cousin. Such times were lofty dreams, far away on the edge of thought and reality. That glimmering, hopeful horizon faded away into a chubby, scruffy face. Words were coming out of it.

"Come on, Stan. Wake up! Wake up! I think there are some donuts donwstairs."


03 June 2016

The Underground Resistance

I'm like a lifelong metal person. In circuitous fashion, I made my way around classic rock, grunge, metal, hardcore, punk, and back to metal. I've gone through all the fads and landed on anything fast and heavy. One thing that quickly blipped on my radar and then blipped away into the cold, northern night, to feast on the cranial fluid of nuns, was black metal. I heard Emperor, I heard Dark Funeral, I heard Darkthrone, and I got it: crappy production, fast, screechy, evil. Moving on.

Every few years I'd try again, even branching into some of the more shiny and overground stuff, like Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth (whose black metal cred is, apparently, debatable). It still wasn't enough to grab me.

After stumbling upon Sam Dunn's excellent BangerTV channel, it set me on a train of thought that led me to this little, frightening documentary that a friend told me about ages ago. Which led me, in turn, to another documentary I'd overlooked: Until the Light Takes Us. It helped to provide some context to the music, especially the crap production. Varg called it a rejection of the overdone, "perfect" production of mainstream records. It's a fascinating documentary that you should watch if you are at all interested in sociology and crazy people.

Featured in this doco are a few chaps from the early, murderous, church burning days of Norwegian black metal, most importantly a man called Fenriz.


Fenriz, who's birth (and perhaps cooler) name is Gylve, is a longstanding member of the Darkthrone duo, and a foundational figure in the black metal scene.

He came off as such a cool, genuine dude, that I had to give Darkthrone another try. Their first three "black" metal albums are still hard for me to approach. Thankfully, I did not stop there. The sound of the band started to morph with the Panzerfaust album from black metal to something else. By the early 2000s, they progressed into entirely heavy speed metal, some real old school stuff, and it is just the thing I've been looking for. 

All of this brings us to the point at hand: Darkthrone are an underground band, and proudly so. They want to stay off the mainstream map and actively resist it. Fenriz is a postal worker; Nocturno is a teacher. They release their albums themselves, when they could probably be on any record label in the world and get major distribution. 

The resistance is born from passion. That passion says, "I don't give a fuck". Offensive as that may be, it is simply an angry way of saying, "I'm free (or at least I'd like to be)". Free from what others are saying, free from what the market claims is profitable, maybe even free from my own inner angst. It's, at once, anarchic and theologically profound.

I find this punk, DIY, underground mentality so endearing. It's what helped propel to publish a game and, finally, self-publish a novel.

But doing it yourself is really hard. There are moments when I am, after writing and editing a book, putting it together in InDesign, or trying to promote it online, or dealing with some other aspect of production, and I stop and think: if I could just get a book deal, they would handle all this shit. I could just write.

And that is a very appealing thought.

There are also moments when I am doing those things, the production and marketing side of things, and I think: this is really fun. I am in total control of my product. I have no master. And that is also an appealing thought.

So it seems to come down to what one really wants. Creative control, or ease? Freedom, or more money? Ease and money are things I like. I'm American, after all. But I'm also fond on the hustling, independent, DIY ethos, even if it is the rougher road.

I don't begrudge people trying to make it big, even if they kowtow to "the market" and compromise their artistic vision. It's how you make a proper job of art. I may one day, should the opportunity arise, take the dumptruck full of money and let them do what they want with my work. For now, however, I feel proud and happy to be a tiny flake, a mote of dust, a barnacle clinging to underbelly of the ship. It isn't glamorous, it isn't very profitable, but it means freedom. It means honesty.

24 May 2016

Unaduti and the Warfain

The rain whipped against Unaduti, and he took it. This was the only reply to such elements -- tolerance. He tightened his hood, all of thick hide, round his head and bent it. That was an act of submission and practicality, assurance that the worst of it dare not strike his eyes. He stopped, looking downward, soft shoe now covered in water.

"Una," bade his mother, and Unaduti began again his plod.

They walked single in file, their heads bowed and hooded. Wardings on those cloaks kept their skin dry and fit, but this walking was never pleasant. There was Unaduti and his mother, Hialeah, his elder brother Dutu, their sister Usdi. Atop a wide, brown hill of grass, those as were able to saw the low plain below, sided with forests. Within those woods was their destination.

The file continued in sullen motion. This was their yearly journey off the hilltops, down to pay tribute to the Warfain. Dutu stooped with the burden of tribute, hides and tsola and dried meats. That burden lay heavy upon his back, but the responsibility remained his as eldest. Mother commanded it so. Why the journey was to be made in the fell Spring time, when rain was worst and rustler's made their season, Unaduti could not say -- it simply was as it was.

When the hill broke and the descent began, he moved, backwards stepping, to support his brother. The treachery of the wet slope was best handled together. Dutu's soft shoes failed him, foot sliding from underneath, and Unaduti caught him, feet planted, steadying his brother. The first event behind them, it came time to resume.

The rain hid the sounds of their approach, those makers of evil. The trees were a smoke against their onset. A band of them, twelve in number, broke away from the shelter of the nearby woods, feet sliding through muddy earth, and came for the family. Dutu was setupon first, oldest and strongest. Two of the raiders strode forth as snakes, striking him with clubs, toppling him to be buried in rain. The offering pack, heavy laden, struck Unaduti who stood beside him, shoving him off into the stream.

Hialeah cried out, Usdi gasped, and arms, heavy and terrible, closed about them. So sudden was the attack that no look was given their assailants. Only Unaduti bore witness, casting a hateful gaze at them before the river swept him away. He saw twelve men in ragged cloaks and mismatched leathers, feral as the woods from which they sprang. Bold and desperate looks were in their faces. Excepting the one who had clubbed Dutu, they had no need to draw weapons. Two of them grabbed his elder brother by his ankles and dragged him into the woods, along with his mother and sister.

The river bore Unaduti away with wide, uncaring hands. Rapids drove him into rocks, the current gained speed, and he did not stop until the hill did and the river deposited him on the flat banks.

Lifting his body, will-resistant, took great effort. When he stood, he swayed. His cloak was heavy with water, his head bruised and swimming. But the forest awaited him without barrier, the forest of the Warfain.

***

Unaduti, his family, and those like them, were of peaceful temperament. Violence and war were foreign to them, their lives, and their culture. So the dealing of death fell to the Warfain when violence made itself known. The arrangement was time-worn. The folk of the mountain vales descended every thaw to the forest plains where dwelt the Warfain. Cruel men they were, but not without honor. Filthy, unlearned, god-less, and malicious, trained guard dogs fed on the hard winnings of the peaceful. And yet the proffered organization held and its practicality proved fruitful each year. Until now.

The Warfain had failed Unaduti now twiceover, and he would be the one to call them to arms, to drag them by their stinking beards to the den of those wolves as took his family, and see to it that theirs was the blood that fed the summer's planting.

He stumbled and held his side. Perhaps a broken rib was there, perhaps not; it mattered little where or when he had struck it on the river-ride that took him to the plains. Thoughts strayed into the clouds; body knew the way without them. He had paved this way with each spring, cutting down branches and blazing new trails where mud and wet had blanked out the old.

The sounds of drumming reached his ears, tree-bouncing across the forest. With it came new sounds, harsher sounds of men chanting in guttural tones. Only the fiercest and rawest of men joined the Warfain, plucked from their homes by the Sword-chooser each fall, young boys and, rarer, girls who showed no signs of obeissance and all a signs of conflict. The waves of their voices struck Unaduti like a shallow wave, tingling his nerves with power. Ferocity was in those songs and joy.

And then, as if from the very trees of the sun-kissed woods, a camp emerged. No, a very town, a city, full of fighters. Each seemed his neighbor's kin, all fur-covered and mailed, many bearing masked helms or animal skulls, beasts they had bested bare-handed. Unaduti was joyful, rather than fearful, to be among them; here were his protectors. And yet a frown covered his face. His protectors had failed.

If they took notice of him, none gave tell. The boy stepped among them, head turning this way and that, hoping for some sign of what came next. But none came. The Warfain, proud and tall, milled among him on their daily work of carousing and sparring and sharpening. Unaduti scratched his head and, without thought, shouted, "Hail, Warfain!"

The din of their songs and chatter lessened a little.

"Hail, Warfain!" he called again. "I come among you with entreatment! I call you to fulfill the alliance by which we live!"

The dogs slowed then, many turning their ears his way. The Sword-chooser was on errantry and there was no chieftain of the Warfain, no leader save the boldest of the day. This one stood forth, perhaps the only woman among them. She was Alsoome and she strode forward saying, "And who are you to call us hence?"

"I am Unaduti," he said. "Son of Hialeah. We have paid tribute all our lives to you and now we are in greatest need."

"Your mother is known to me," said Alsoome, "but who is your father?"

Anger rose in Unaduti. The story told was that he was attacked as he worked in field, and the Warfain were not fast enough to save him. "My father you failed," he said grimly. "Let not my mother and sister and brother join him on that list, short as it may be."

A collective growl rose and shook the city of high-walled tents and tree houses. The Failed were not taken lightly by the Warfain, blemishes of disgust upon a stolid reputation. And yet some carried in them hardened hearts, made so by the shame of such tales and the brashness of young men entering their camp without call. One was Naalnish, and he spoke.

"We do not hear you, boy."

"Speak for yourself!" cried Alsoome.

Before the argument could grow thicker, Unaduti, full of rage, drew a sword from its bin, there for the weapon-take, and clove a nearby pole in twain.

"My family is in need!" he shouted for all to hear. "Honor your pact and save them, or shed your names, Warfain! I shall go in the stead of cowards."

Again a chorus of growls rose as one voice. The Warfain were not pleased.

"Defend your words, boy!" bellowed Naalnish, and he struck.

The first blow pushed Unaduti backwards, his sword-arm now stiff and surprised. He quickly regained his footing. Duty drove him, rage steadied him. The clang of their blows, sword on sword, rang within the camp. None moved. Not even good Alsoome would disrupt honored battle. When Naalnish struck high, Unaduti parried, when he struck low, he moved. But a warrior of renown overmatches a boy raised to till the earth, and his blows powered Unaduti to the ground. When the final strike, meant for his heart, launched from the shoulder of Naalnish, Unaduti slid and turned. His blade, destiny-guided, found its way into the belly of the warrior, who fell to the ground cursing.

A moment of silence. Only chirping birds dared show disrespect in the wake of death. And then the Warfain came to take Naalnish away, chanting and swaying. The body gone now, Alsoome stepped forth again and spoke to Unaduti, saying, "We will go."

Crazy awesome picture by Dan Dos Santos


***

The small host of the Warfain bled between the trees of the forest. The denser woods were behind them, the river forded, and now the sparser trees of thither woods, ants crawling on the corpse of the hills, were their terrain. Oukonunaka, greatest tracker of the Warfain, said by many to be as much hunting owl or hound as man, led the van. He sniffed the air from time-to-time, ax gripped in his fists. All followed him, honoring his expertise. They would sense, and not see, signs of danger, so their heads were bowed and weapons at the ready. 

Oukonunaka halted of a sudden, squatting low. In unison the Warfain, Unaduti alongside Alsoome in the center, crouched. Fingers touching the ground and soon returning to his mouth, the tracker arose again. Passing, the rest saw what drew his eye: blood upon the leaf-covered earth.

Rocks appeared as the hills rose, root-grasped and strong. Trees showed their spring plumage and the sun, apparent after the prior day's showers, granted glory to the travelers. It was this light as spoiled the way of the bandits, those ravagers that took the family of Unaduti. That, and the screams. The sound was like fire under the feet of the Warfain. Savages though they were, their savagery was for the protection of the lesser, the unwarlike. Their gaits doubled, the incline of the hill no match. And when Unaduti saw the small camp of the raiders the Warfain were already upon them. 

Oukonunaka, swift as his namesake, swooped upon the first, poor and unwary, and clove his head from his shoulders. Then the bandits hastened to action. At the top of the camp, below the fracas, Unaduti saw his brother, strung up and bleeding. Mother and sister could not be seen. 

The raiders struck as cornered beasts, slashing wildly with blunted swords or firing with bows. But they were overmatched and outnumbered and fell like wheat to the scythes of the Warfain. One warrior, luck-failed, caught an arrow in his neck and fell. The rest came, unrelenting, attacking and setting to fire the bandit camp.

Then the leader of the bandits, a man tall and heavy-set, appeared on a large stone overlooking the fray. Under his foot was the neck of Usdi, in his one hand the hair of Hialeah, in the other a stone knife. At that, Unaduti burned with anger and his body moved of its own accord. The leader roared in defiance of the Warfain, spitting threats of pain and death. Unaduti flanked, speeding around the far edge of the camp to catch the leader unawares. From a tent sprang another bandit, and Unaduti was his end. And as the leader turned his head, he caught glimpse of a small form, no more than a boy, flying towards him. His knife turned, grazing Hialeah, but sooner was he taken from the high rock to crash down among the crowd of the Warfain, having been grappled and thrown there by Unaduti. He did not last long.

In the wake of the battle, wounds were tended. Dutu, having been left to hang and be beaten, was the most offended. The Warfain were not skilled healers, having only cruel ministrations meant to return a fighter to her feet quickly, and so it fell to his mother to see his hurts mended. She was no worse for wear, the bandits having less time to do as they would. Their focus was on loot. Hialeah and Usdi would be sold as slaves, Dutu tortured until a direction was named towards new places for pillaging. Their fate had been spared by the courage of Unaduti and the savagery of the Warfain.

Alsoome stood before the boy again, spear in hand, sword on hip. "Our failure is amended," she declared. "It is ours to pay tribute. The bounty of these bandits will serve as yours. Take what you can and return home. Know that we will come readied and not sleep again."

With no more words she turned, joining the black host of shadows that seeped back into the woods and waning light of day, silent protectors and strange neighbors.