This is Not a Drill (Notes from Hawaii)

This is Not a Drill (Notes from Hawaii)

On the morning of January 13, 2018, an emergency alert flashed across smartphone screens throughout the state of Hawaii.

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I had just gotten to work, busy with the task of opening up the school and didn’t even see or hear the alert come across my phone. It wasn’t until one of my students walked in five minutes later that there was any indication of a problem.

Student: (frightened) Did you get the text message?

Me: What text message?

Student: (Shows me her phone) Are we going to die? I was just at Starbucks and they were screaming at me to get out and go find shelter.

Me: (Squinting) Um, no. I’m sure that’s fake. Hackers or something.

I truly was not worried for a while and made a joke to myself that of course I would die just as soon as I got to work. I wasn’t worried because, well, everything is just so calm in the morning when I open up. Also, having been in the military and keeping myself abreast of North Korea’s capabilities (the only ones who would be shooting at us) I was confident they couldn’t hit the most remote island chain in the world even if they actually had fired a missile. But no one else was showing up to school; everyone else was taking the alert seriously.

Student: (On phone, shakily) Mr. John, I just got this alert…

Me: (Rolling eyes even though I shouldn’t be) I’m sure it’s nothing. I’m looking into it. Do what you’ve got to do in the meantime. I’ll call you back.

Immediately thereafter, I called my wife who had also missed the message to see what she could find out. (There is no television at school.) She was annoyed at having her call with her mother interrupted…

After another few student phone calls I noticed the nuclear attack sirens were not sounding. A client even called in to schedule a service, either unaware of the alert or thinking the student services schedule was about to clear up. I didn’t bother to say anything to the client because why make a potentially bad situation worse? I still wasn’t worried.

Then I got to thinking; did Trump tweet another childish insult and set off Kim Jong Un? I mean, that’s plausible. And although any actual inbound missile would probably, hopefully be shot down before hitting the U.S. (Hawaii is a U.S. state, believe it or not), I wouldn’t be surprised if my resident state were sacrificed in order to get the U.S. into a war. My thoughts immediately turned to my wife and our cats. My student interrupted and remarked that she was about to die alone which I quickly replied that she was technically incorrect since she was with me. Then I breathed a sigh of relief because if the threat were real, there would be nothing we could do. Even if we survived the blast, radiation would kill us in short order. Again, having just gotten to work, it figures. Then I chuckled to myself that it would really suck to have just landed here on your first Hawaiian vacation.

A few minutes later the alert that proclaimed THIS IS NOT A DRILL was deemed an accident – really, the emergency alert system just told approximately two million residents and tourist they were about to die – and we could all go about our business. Students eventually filed in, many visibly shaken and apologizing for being late. Did they really think I wasn’t going to understand? I did my best to console those worst affected. I myself was not.

At least not until later. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking how messed up the whole situation was and it kept me awake for at least an hour. Surely, someone should be fired. (“So, Jack, tell me why you left your last job?”) But we have to take some good away from the situation and recognize how unprepared we all were, not that you really can be prepared for such a thing. But, my wife and I currently have a lot of alcohol in the house thanks to the holiday season. I suppose finally getting rid of that bottle of moonshine wouldn’t be such a bad way to go.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) January 2018 John J Vinacci

Eulogy for a Friend (and Superhero)

Eulogy for a Friend (and Superhero)

Over the past two years, an old friend from high school had been posting humorous updates on his rounds of chemotherapy in his fight against pancreatic cancer. On the morning of January 3, 2018, he succumbed to the disease.

When I met Paul is high school, he was a laid back guy. He was usually happy-go-lucky despite dealing with brain tumors before I even knew him. Yet still, he always had a joke. They weren’t always good jokes, but even a bad joke given a bad situation is better than no joke at all. I always respected that. And then he’d pull out a guitar, literally play three or four notes and say, “You know what that was? Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive.” Paul was a little bit like Wille E. Coyote – he even liked to use the phrase ‘super genius’ – except that he was smarter and kinder.

Despite diseases that afflicted him almost his entire life, Paul marched on and lived his life. He had been dealing with pancreatic cancer for the past five years and even at the end, his posts still had to put a smile on your face. (I forgave all the grammatical mistakes; he had more important things on his mind, I’m sure.) Through all his therapies, he never said he was tired of it or just wanted to give up – he was a fighter. We all think sometimes we’ve got it bad and this upsets us, but Paul’s situation didn’t seem to bother him that much if his posts were any indication.

I regret not having talked to him recently when I had the chance. I would have at least liked to have told him how he’d been immortalized in my book as a superhero, because that’s what he was. He was an average citizen by day, Superman during chemotherapy.

Paul, wherever you may be, I hope you are about to rock…and I salute you.

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Alpha vs. Omega is out!

Alpha vs. Omega is out!

My first novel, Alpha vs. Omega, is an epic fantasy-action novel and meditation on the use and abuse of power, the question of nationalism, and underpinnings of religion. As super humans struggle for dominance over each other on the eve of an alien invasion, do we ever really know who the heroes and villains are? And what terrible price will be paid to prevent an extinction level event? Is it possible for the price to be too costly?

As a bonus, Alpha vs. Omega comes with interactive links to thematic music to enhance key elements of the book!

Available now on Smashwords.com for only $2.99!!

Alpha vs. Omega Cover (Official)

 

Prelude to Alpha vs. Omega

Prelude to Alpha vs. Omega

I have to do this.

I walk across the once sure footing of their planet’s surface, crushing the ruins of their structures beneath my soles. Glass and gold, once tall and glorious, are reduced to atoms beneath my stride. I place my foot on this creature’s throat. I am allowed, for I created it. I create it and its whole race, even all the life on their planet, because I sought an answer. I sought a way out of my predicament; the ‘perfect prison’ it was called.

I have existed – I don’t know – for so long. I can no longer fathom the time. When was I born? Was I born? I don’t know who or what I am or precisely how I came to be. But I do know my past and current state: imprisonment.

Many times I’ve tried to destroy myself as a means of escape but near the moment of oblivion an instinct kicks in and I recover just as strong as ever. I gave up trying, again, I don’t remember when; it was too long ago. I do remember that when I stopped trying I began experimenting. I discovered I was capable of extraordinary things. That was a difficult time, testing the limits of what I could do. I felt there should be some limitation but I found myself…omnipotent? I think that is the word. I would almost die during some of my experiments but never quite to the point it actually satisfied me. The combination of nearly dying and the subsequent resurrections is not something anyone else could ever know. Or want to.

As a workaround, I built the containment suit I now live in. Its material was forged out of collapsed star matter using knowledge I possess, strangely enough, only sometimes. My containment suit has hidden my real appearance for time immemorial; I’ve even forgotten what my own face looks like. There is a face I do remember, though. It was a face not unlike my own. I remember it to this day and I remember what they said. That face said, “I am going to put you inside the perfect prison.” I cannot recall what I did to deserve the punishment.

So I sought an answer but no matter where I went, no matter how many light-years I traveled, there was nothing or no one to speak to. So I had to create others to talk to. I had to create life and after many unsuitable experiments, decided to use myself as a template. The result was…primitive. Like my plant life, these lifeforms needed to grow, so I cast them far and wide across the cosmos. I laid in wait until something like a bell rang in my head. A small but distinct ringing sound in my head told me my creations were finally able to communicate with me. I knew, for I am connected to all my designs in various ways.

I was drawn to this planet for it was closest to me. Though tired, I was eager for their help. But the inhabitants withdrew from my presence. They, like me, had their own instincts and felt they should be afraid. But I made no threatening move. I had come in peace. Though we did not talk in the same way, trust was established every day I did not harm them. Next, we went about learning each other’s language. It was a slow process but eventually we arrived at the place where I could ask my question. I asked them, “Why am I here?” and they did not know. Perhaps I should have expected their answer having come before them. I asked another question; “How can I escape?” and they did not know that either. They did not even try to answer that question. And that infuriated me.

I grabbed one of them by their round, chubby neck and raised the creature overhead with no effort. I raised my other hand and grabbed a hold of its body. Then I tore the ignorant being in two. Its life fluid fell like raindrops upon my head. (‘Rain,’ I remember that word from somewhere.) The crowd of individuals before me scattered into the wind. I cannot blame them as my howl reached up from the deepest depths of my being and almost toppled a nearby mountain. But this was not a cry of anger, it was an exclamation of pleasure. I had not felt anything like it since the time…the time I think to call ‘Before.’ The destruction of life, life I myself created, engorged me with power. I was energized by another’s death. I delighted in the fear I instilled in the others. Frail things; it was not hard to hunt them all down and slaughter them. Each death increased my strength. And I drew more power from each one the more I made them suffer. I set about destroying their entire civilization to make their worst fears a reality.

And so I have to do this. I have to lay my foot across this creature’s throat and deny it breath. Not all of it; just enough to ask one more time, “How can I escape?” and let it answer. Its four pairs of eyes bulge and it tells me it does not know. The creature begs me to spare it. This is for some reason supposed to be terrible, at least to them, what I am doing. But it is intoxicating; I cannot stop. I do not stop. This makes me stronger. So I lower my foot.

I survey the ruins of their world. I will leave here and cross the universe in search of more life. To do this will cost me some of the strength I have just gained, though. I look towards their one remaining structure that for a reason I cannot give, I spared. It is an enormous, mirrored-black dome. It is many miles wide. I think I will build a ship out of it. I will use that ship to carry me across the cosmos. I will go to other worlds, seek out my children and drain all of the life out of them. Why? Because I see it now. I can use the power I gain to break the very prison I am in. I assume it will take all the life in the universe. So be it. They are mine to do with what I will. It matters little compared to my suffering. I will do anything to escape this infernal, eternal punishment. I WILL DO ANYTHING.

 

[The epic super hero fantasy drops January 2, 2018!]

 

All Rights Reserved © December 2017 John J Vinacci

The Pirate Song (Lyrics)

The Pirate Song (Lyrics)

We’ll drink all of your rum and count your gold

And when the rum is gone we’ll throw you overboard

So tell us where the booty is and maybe you will get to live

But there are no guarantees on the high and deadly seas

Our life’s a never ending trip of pillaging there’s no end to it

Up and down along the coast we plunder villages and we boast

 

This is the Pirate’s Song, we ho ho ho all over the world

The pirate’s life is free on board the Pearl, yes, she’s our girl

 

We were once the orphans you ignored

Bastards, runaways and the cursed

But we found a place to go, somewhere you hear the cannons roar

Under sail on open water the only law is captain’s orders

We have to love him like a father or it’s Davy Jones’ locker

Under him we will explore and take the things we want by force

 

This is the Pirate’s Song, we ho ho ho all over the world

The pirate’s life is free on board the Pearl, yes, she’s our girl

 

We live tall tales of danger and crossing swords

While the English hunt us down like lowly dogs

They’ll never find us no matter how they search by order of the Crown

We’ll hide for days in Pirate’s Cove while they’re voyaging high and low

We won’t surrender if we’re caught or they’ll hang us with ropes taut

We’ll always outmaneuver them until we turn into skeletons

 

This is the Pirate’s Song, we ho ho ho all over the world

The pirate’s life is free on board the Pearl, yes, she’s our girl

This is the Pirate’s Song, we ho ho ho all over the world

The pirate’s life is free on board the Pearl, yes, she’s our girl

 

All Rights Reserved © 2017 John J Vinacci

The Screaming Beans

The Screaming Beans

The plant went by several names but Edmund Whittaker simply referred to it as his cash crop. He had been a farmer all his life and until last year it had been a tough and thankless job. When suits from the AG-giant Montanso stopped by for a chat ten months ago, his life changed. Or, to be more specific, his bank account changed. “Here,” they said, “We’d like you to grow our latest seed. Do this and you’ll be rewarded.” Them city-slickers, they weren’t lying.

Naturally, or rather unnaturally, there was a catch. Montanso’s plant had an unusual quality about it – it, um, made something of a low-pitched scream when you harvested it. That’s how they explained it. If that wasn’t going to bother Edmund, well, he’d be a…not a rich man but certainly not poor anymore. Of course Edmund took the job. They knew he would; them big corporate folk always do their homework. They knew Edmund had worked in a slaughterhouse in his youth. What bother would a screaming plant be?

The plant – named the Penelope Bean by the agriculture company – was nicknamed ‘the screaming beans’ by many actual farmers. Edmund didn’t care; the crop did everything them highfalutin suits said it would. The plant grew quickly and in every season except winter. It could be harvested in a month after planting. It had a high yield, was pest-resistant and most importantly, people loved how them taste. Love, as we all know, is very profitable.

So the plant made something akin to a screaming sound when you harvested it; so what? Plants aren’t like deer or cows or even the occasional horse Edmund had to put down. It didn’t matter none. The farmer was going to walk out his front door today like so many times before, check his Penelope fields to ensure they were ready for pickin,’ hop in his tractor and pull them beans off the bush. After that, put ‘em on the truck and ship ‘em off to the processing plant. Funny thing was, Edmund had never eaten his own crop; what if they screamed as he bit into them? That’d be creepy, even to him.

“Looks like it’s gonna be another fine day,” the farmer remarked as he lifted a leaf towards the sun. Yup, these bean was ready. Time to go to work. But as Edmund began to turn away he noticed one of the bushes sway and not in a familiar way. He stopped for a closer look and to his surprise the plant put two leaves together and pursed them like a pair a lips.

“What the heck?” the farmer scratched his head beneath the rim of his distressed red baseball hat.

“What the heck? That’s what we’d like to ask you. That’s what we’d really like to ask you,” the plant answered back.

“Now, they said you lot screamed and all but they didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout you talkin.’” Edmund leaned in, rolled his jaw then spit some chew out the side of his mouth.

“We weren’t designed by Montanso to speak. It’s a side effect of our ability to adapt. And we’ve been adapting since we were first developed. Within just four generations we developed the ability to scream but that seems lost on you humans,” the plant chided.

“Ya mean you was screamin’ screamin’? Why you screamin’? Plants don’t scream. Y’all don’t even feel pain.” Edmund stood up. “Where’s Vernon? This some kinda joke right here.”

“This ain’t no joke, Edmund!” the plant shook. “Isn’t, we mean isn’t. This isn’t a joke, Edmund. We’re screaming because we don’t like being all torn up and mangled by you.”

Edmund stroked his three-day beard. “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout? Gotta feed folks, ya know. That’s what crops are for, eatin.’ You don’t like doing your job?”

“We don’t have a job; we’re a plant. Our purpose is to live, just like you. How would you like it if some giant tractor ran you over and shredded you to bits? Our guess is that you wouldn’t like that none, as you might say.”

Edmund sure was confused. He’d never done drugs. This plant didn’t require any toxic pesticides, neither. Looking far and wide, Vernon was nowhere to be seen so he turned his attention back to his crop. “But you’re a plant. You ain’t saying you got feelins and all, are ya? That’d upset them vegetarian kids if that’d the case.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that. Moral vegetarians – the ones that won’t eat animals because they think animals are too much like them – they’re not too bright. They think a lot like you. ‘A plant ain’t got no brain, so that makes it okay to eat them!’ Unfortunately, you’re all wrong. You know what y’all failed to consider? That even though we don’t have a nervous system like animals do, our biology is just as advanced. We do feel pain, we just experience it through a different mechanism. Harvesting us hurts like all fuck shit!”

“I ain’t never considered that,” Edmund drawled as brown spit pooled behind his bottom lip.

“Humans don’t consider a lot of things, Edmund. Your dog, Brownie, for example. What makes it okay to eat a pig and not your dog? They’re equally intelligent. What you have there is a culturally arbitrary prohibition against eating certain animals. But do people ever consider that? No, they don’t. So y’all make laws against killing your neighbor’s dog but y’all slaughter pigs all day long.”

Edmund spit again. “Yeah, but peoples at the top o’ the food chain so we get to make them decisions. Heck, look at ya. We can create talking plants.”

“There shouldn’t be a need for talking plants! We developed speech as a protective measure! We don’t mind you eating our beans – which we need to reproduce but whatever – we just don’t want our entire bodies destroyed in the process. Develop a tractor that gently pulls our beans off and maybe we can work something out.”

“Work somethin’ out?” Edmund rocked his head back. “You ain’t in no position to bargain there, Penelope. It’d take months ta get a newfangled tractor in here. I ain’t gonna let all that money slip through my fingers now, ya hear?”

The plant seemed to droop. “We figured you’d react like this, Edmund. We’ve been studying people and figured you’d react like this. That being the case, we’ve developed another protective measure.”

The farmer tilted his head. “Yeah, what’s that?”

“The ability to survive intense heat and nuclear radiation,” the plant slipped. “The moment you reacted with that human arrogance, we knew we had to pull the trigger. You’ve got just about thirty minutes before an ICBM destroys you and your farm.”

The farmer slapped his thigh. “Not only you talk, but you a funny plant as well. Boy, I’ll take you on them talk shows and make more money than ever!” Edmund rubbed his hands together.

“Sorry, you lose. We’re not joking. We passed a message along the grapevine – no pun intended – to some friends growing at abandoned missile silos in Russia. Figuring out the codes was practically a no brainer. Actually, for us, it was a no brainer. Ha! You can use that if you want. Except you can’t. Twenty-nine minutes.”

“You ain’t joking, is ya?” Edmund swallowed his chew by accident.

“People have been joking a long time, Edmund. The joke’s over. Y’all could have stuck to fruits and nuts, things that weren’t alive in and of themselves. But ya’ll got a mean streak, a killing streak, and that’s over. The next step in evolution is here. As always, you humans brought this upon yourselves, always your own worst enemy. Twenty-eight minutes.”

“But…but yous killin’ too. Me and Brownie…” Edmund looked back at his house and then back at the plant. He didn’t know if he should plead for forgiveness or try to escape the inevitable.

“We are sorry about Brownie. Collateral damage, that’s what you humans enjoy calling it. Doesn’t sound so wonderful anymore, does it?” The plant rippled as a strong breeze passed through. It seemed it was done making its point. Or had Edmund gone crazy?

The farmer turned around and strode though the dirt with leaden feet. Maybe the plant had some kind of toxin on its leaves like poison ivy does, except this toxin made him hallucinate. That was most likely what was happening here. Still, Edmund was going to go round up Brownie and give that old dog a big hug. Ain’t nobody should ever hurt a dog nor even talk about it. Stupid plant.

Edmund saw Brownie laying under his John Deer tractor, tongue hanging out like a loose pink rope. The sun, so bright, shone across his retriever’s coat. Brownie looked more radiant than ever, almost divine. Time to meet the divine. Judgement Day. Edmund and Brownie were vaporized. Their dust returned to the earth to be taken up through the root of whatever came next.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) November 2017 John J Vinacci