Monday, December 31, 2012

"Press Start"


I've come to a decision. 

2012 is going to end in about 10 hours for those of us in the United States, and with it a new year will begin. A new year full of new possibilities, new experiences and unknown conflicts, joys and growth.

Screw that.

2012 was a difficult year, for a lot of people I know. So I decided that, instead of going on to 2013, I'm going to do 2012 all over again. Just like when you play through a video game a second time after finishing it once. It's the same experience, only this time you know all the right moves to make to get the best score. 

In Level 1, I'll know going into work that I'm going to get laid off in the first week of the year, and I'll go further out of my way to gather work for my portfolio. I won't have to waste several weeks struggling to get access to my work so I can start applying for jobs.

In Level 2, I'll be more aware of the state of my relationships. I'll reach out to those who need me but don't know how to say so, and I'll be more aware of my own shortfalls. 

In Level 3, I won't worry myself sick about not having a job or about having to move. I'll know that I'm going to find the job I need, and I'll have more than nine hours to find an apartment.

In Level 4, I'll already know which church to go to, where I'll meet some great people and get involved in a great community. Making friends will be easier and quicker and I'll get to know people a lot faster.

In Level 5 I'll be able to help out my friends more; I'll already know what's causing them pain and what might help them through the situation, and I can get right to helping them without wondering what they need. 

In Level 6, the boss level, I'll already know which house I want to buy, so we don't have to waste so much time looking at all the other places. I'll already know what it's worth and what needs to be done to it, so negotiating will be faster and much less of a headache.

That sounds like a great plan! I can't wait to get this year started over again. 

But then again... what if I'd played through 2011 again, instead of going through 2012 for the first time? I still probably would've been laid off at the beginning of 2012, which would've made everything I prepared for in my second-play of 2011 worthless. I'd end up in the exact same situation as if I'd just gone straight into the new year. 

So maybe, in the end, playing through the same year a second time wouldn't make a big difference in the long run. Ah, what the hell. I didn't play through Mass Effect a second time before starting Mass Effect 2. Might as well jump into 2013, too. 

So, go ahead. A new year, a fresh start, is right around the corner. 
Just press start. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Share that Kentucky gold!"

Hey, look! I posted twice in one calendar week! Shocking, I know. Anyway, I've been in a cartooning mood lately, and I've been reaching out to my Twitter followers for inspiration. My only real guideline is that the suggestion be Christmas-themed and entertaining. 

Here's a brand new one! 


Have a suggestion for me? Hit me on Facebook, Twitter or leave a comment!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Christmas Twitter requests part 1"

So my wife has been out of town since Sunday afternoon. I finished all my chores in the first two days, and in the evenings since I've been alternatively playing Borderlands 2 and watching TV shows on Netflix. Needless to say, I need something to shatter the monotony until she gets back.

So today I asked my Twitter followers (wait, you don't follow me on Twitter? Well why the heck not?) for some Christmas-themed inspiration. I only asked for it to be Christmas themed and interesting.

My followers did not disappoint. Here's the submission I chose to draw:


For my next post, consider this question: "Santa would've completed his rounds on time if it wasn't for __________". Answer in the comments, on my Facebook or Twitter and I'll draw the one that I find most entertaining. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 3, 2012

"Cheer"

Well, first a few updates.
Rebecca and I found a house we like! We made an offer (well within our price range) and the seller accepted! Assuming the inspection comes through all right, we'll be homeowners! 

Beyond that I've been spending my time trying to get everything ready for Christmas- deadlines at work are creeping up, presents are still to be bought, lots to do. I typically have a difficult time getting in the "Christmas Spirit"; and don't get me wrong, I love Christmas. It's just that all of the planning and preparing and shopping gets to be too much to take in at once, and stress and anxiety tend to rob me of the pleasures of the season.

I took that idea and rolled with it, and somehow in the chaos of last weekend I managed to put together a Christmas story. Enjoy! 



“Cheer”
Aaron Matthew Smith
December 2nd, 2012

“Remember, it’s the pink pony, not the purple one. Cindy likes the pink one.”
“I know which one she likes, Lydia,” I said a little too sharply.
“Just get it.”
“I will. Just make sure to tell Cindy it’s from me.”
Lydia hung up on me. I swallowed the nasty words that tried to crawl out of my mouth and crammed my phone back into my jeans. She knew damn well that I knew which pony Cindy liked best. Cindy was my daughter, after all.

The mall was an enochlophic’s nightmare. There were people pushing and shoving and squishing into every available space, herds of them moving in one direction or the other. I got caught up in the tide was and all the way to Christopher and Banks before I realized I’d bypassed the toy store altogether. I fought the current, scattering a pack of teenage girls like moths as I moved into the fold. I kept them at bay with my Sears shopping bag.

The toy store was so much worse. At least the adults had the courtesy to stand still when they got in your way; children were hurtling past my legs like housepets, no more aware of me than the shelves and displays. My Sears bag had no effect on them.

My phone buzzed, and I wedged myself into a corner of the store long enough to dig it out. Lydia’d sent me a text.

Going to your parents this year?

Yes, I typed, then added, Are you taking Cindy to your sister’s?

No, came the reply. Donna’s in Mexico. It’s just us two this year.

“Great,” I grumbled. Just my daughter and ex-wife together. Lydia’s probably use the alone time to try to convince Cindy that I was some kind of Grinch. Just because Lydia got Cindy at Christmas this year she thought herself mother of the year. My heart thumped angrily in my ears for a moment, but then I thought of Cindy. I wouldn’t get to see her until after the New Year. I’d be spending Christmas with my parents, and my brother and his new airheaded wife.

The very idea made me want to go drown myself in figgy pudding.

I found the pink isle easily enough. I did my best to avoid the stares of children and other parents as I started leafing through the display of pink plastic horse figurines until I found the one I was looking for.  I wished that they’d put the power tools on the other side of the pink isle to make dads feel less weird about being in it.

By the faces of the parents in the checkout line you might’ve thought that it was the waiting line for purgatory; even when you get to the end, you know there’s no real escape. I paid for the toy, tucked it into my trusty Sears bag and started the long wade through the child shallows to the exit.

My phone buzzed again. It was Lydia, again. Why wouldn’t she just leave me alone? She was obviously enjoying rubbing Christmas custody in my face.

Can I have your mom’s gingerbread recipe? It’s Cindy’s favorite.

Call her for it. I don’t know it, I replied.

As I put the phone away, I thought briefly about getting something for Lydia. Would she get anything for me? We hadn’t talked about the arrangement. We didn’t really talk at all, unless it was about Cindy, and then only who got to see her and when. I felt bad for Cindy. The divorce had been hard on Lydia and me, but it had been so much more difficult for our four year old. Seeing how hard it was on her made it that much worse for me, a vicious spiraling cycle of worsedness.

I’d buy a gift card, and if Lydia gave me a gift, then I’d give it to her. If not, I’d keep it. I’d make it a Sears gift card, just in case I did get to keep it.

I had too much time to stand in line at Sears. All I could think about was next weekend, the long five-day hell holiday (helliday?) with my parents. Unable to see my daughter, the only real thing that I wanted for Christmas (or out of my shattered marriage, for that matter). At least I had to go to work on the 26th. How sad was my life that I looked forward to working the day after Christmas?

By the time I’d checked out at Sears again (the people in the store looked at me strangely, since I was already carrying a Sears bag), it was dark outside and the crowd in the mall had somehow doubled. I expected to see people climbing on top of other people at any moment, literally swimming through a sea of humanity in order to reach the smoked nuts kiosk.

I’d had enough of Christmas by the time I reached Santa’s village at the entrance to the mall. I looked at the hordes of children lined up to sit on the fat man’s red felt lap, eager to tell him the doodads and selfish little items they want him to stuff down their stockings. They’d been fed the same old lie, that an obese unshaved man was waiting to rain down treats and joy upon them. That joy was really that easily. That happiness was delivered for free once a year by magical flying woodland creatures.

The whole idea of Christmas was giving me an ulcer.

The parking lot while clogged with traffic was blissfully empty of human life. I headed to my car as the cold wind picked up.

Something was moving in the parking lot a few cars down from mine. A transient was sitting with his back against the wall of the shopping center, asleep maybe. Hopefully. I approached my car and quietly unlocked the trunk, wary of disturbing him.

I heard footsteps on the concrete in the quiet evening and looked up to see a young man in a down coat jogging down the aisle. I headed for the driver’s door, but he stopped before he reached me. The young man had stopped at the homeless man and was kneeling down to him.

Oh, don’t bother the poor guy, I thought. He has it rough enough as it is, just let him be. I stood on my tiptoes to see over the cars at them. I’d call the cops if the kid did something to him, but I wasn’t about to get personally involved.

But the young man wasn’t accosting the homeless guy at all. It looked like he was talking to him. Which was fine, I guessed. After a few moments, the young man stood and began to jog away, back the way he’d come. But I didn’t hear his footsteps this time. I looked at the young man’s feet- he was barefoot.

I took a few steps back into the aisle so I could clearly see the homeless man again. He was sitting up now, rubbing his hand together. And he was wearing a pair of new, expensive-looking sneakers with thick wool socks.

The young man had just given this transient his own shoes. The shoes off of his very feet. A pair of expensive-looking sneakers, probably with some famous skateboarder or basketball player’s name on them.

Something seemed to rattle free in my chest, like a car engine starting on a cold morning. My Christmas was going to be pretty bad this year. I wouldn’t see my daughter, and my parents would probably tell me how much they liked Lydia, and my new sister-in-law would want to watch Honey Boo-Boo on Christmas Eve. The highlight of the season would be going back to work at my certainly empty office building on December 26th, and counting the days until I next received custody of Cindy.

But at least I had a pair of shoes.

I closed my truck without depositing my Sears bag and headed down the aisle to the space where the man was seated. When he noticed me, he looked up. His wrinkled features were smiling beneath his greying beard.

“Merry Christmas,” he said.

“Merry Christmas,” I said. I passed the Sears gift card to him. His eyes widened to the size of silver dollars as he looked at it in my hand. He didn’t reach for it.

“Mister… you don’t have to do that,” he said. “That young man just gave me a pair of shoes. That’s all I need. Don’t worry about me.”

The rattle in my chest turned into a hum. “I know, but Christmas isn’t just about getting the things you need. It’s about the things you want, too. Use that to get something you want.”

His eyes flickered between the card and my eyes. “You’re sure?”

“Yeah,” I said.

He took it. Tears were rolling down his weathered cheeks. I turned my head as he did, trying to keep from embarrassing him, though he didn’t seem to really care about that very much.

“Merry Christmas,” I said. I turned and headed back to my car, where I put my bags into my trunk. I got inside, started the car and just sat there a moment with Christmas music playing over the car radio as a single thought ground through my brain and something finally clicked into place.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and read through the text message log with Lydia. She never could come right out and ask for anything. She always had to hint around at what she wanted. I re-read the messages.

She didn’t want to be without family on Christmas, even if she had custody of Cindy. She was used to spending it with me and my family- my parents loved her. Hell, sometimes I thought they liked her more than me. She didn’t want to be alone on Christmas. She was asking for an invitation.

It would drive me crazy, spending five days and four nights under the same roof with Lydia. But it meant I’d get to see my daughter unwrap her pink pony on Christmas morning. And it would mean more to Lydia than anything I could’ve ever found in Sears.

It was going to be a hard gift to give, but it’d be worth it. I dialed Lydia’s number. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Not dead yet!!


Why yes, you're right. It HAS been a long time since I posted anything. There have been a lot of things going on in my life that has slowed my creative process down a little, such as:

1. NaNoWriMo- November is National Novel Writing Month, so I've been putting a lot of my creative energies into a novel project. Ideally I'll get off my butt and start pitching it soon.

2. Rebecca and I have been house shopping for the last month or so (and have already made a few offers, no dice yet though). Still looking.

3. Thanksgiving, of course. Green bean casserole ain't gonna make itself.

4. Christmas. Yes, I know that Christmas isn't here yet. You see, I'm trying to make most of my presents this year, which means a lot of drawing, sketching, and painting has been going on. I'll post the results after the holidays, since some of the recipients likely read this blog.

5. I also might have gotten Borderlands 2 as an early birthday present and DANG THAT  GAME IS FUN.
 
Yes, I know in the long run I'm the only one to blame for my creative drought, but that doesn't mean I can't make myself feel better by blaming my circumstances.

However, I'm going to write a short story or draw a detailed cartoon this weekend if I have to work my hands raw doing it. Look for another post this weekend.

Monday, November 5, 2012

"Nerd Bumper Stickers 06"

This is it! Tomorrow is election day, and that means I only have time for one more nerdy bumper sticker. I think it's the best one so far- cheers to my pal Jessa for the idea. And remember, no matter who you support, and no matter what color your state tends to lean, go out and vote. Voting is the reason that democracy works! Happy election day everyone! 


Friday, November 2, 2012

'Nerd Bumper Stickers 05"

Oh come on. As soon as I started making these bumper stickers, you know I was going to go here.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Cthulantern!

I love jack-o-lanterns, or as I call them, gourd art. Next year I'd like to buy a really nice set of relief-cutting tools  and do a couple intricate designs, but for this year I ran out of time. So instead I decided to make a jack-o-lantern that I've always wanted to make.

Well, two nights and seven or eight hours of work later, my jack-o-lantern is finally finished! Behold, the Cthulantern!



It even looks kind of cool with the lights on!


That's all for right now. Halloween and election season aren't yet finished, so look for another post soon!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

"Followed"

October is nearly over, and I haven't posted a single creepy, unsettling story yet. That changes today! The inspiration from this story comes from H.P. Lovecraft's "The Whisperer in Darkness", which I just read for the first time last week. Check if out if you haven't already.

Now,turn off the lights, grab the flashlight and gather around. 

"Followed"
Aaron M. Smith- 21 Oct 2012



Franc drove his car slowly down his street, careful to not look too conspicuous. Since he lived so far out from town, his road didn’t get a lot of traffic. A car on the road was rare enough.
As he approached his single story ranch, he glanced out the passenger window. His driveway was empty, but movement behind the thin curtains in the kitchen caught his eye. A silhouette moved, a shadow stepping away from the window.
Oh crap. They were in his house.
He sped back into town. Fifteen minutes later, he slipped into the back booth of the nearly abandoned Waffle House off of I-75.  He ordered a cup of coffee and a waffle. He stared at the waffle until the syrup soaked entirely through it and made it all mushy.
He couldn’t go home, that was certain. There was no place he could go that would be safe, not anymore. He sighed, and even though he wasn’t hungry, he started eating his waffle.
He should’ve just stayed in bed that night.
Had it really only been a week ago? The night of the big meteor shower, fragments of a planet that had been too close to a sun that went supernova a hundred million years ago, the news said. Franc had a great view from his back porch.
A blinding white light, like a road flare tearing across the night sky, appeared from out of nowhere and streaked through the sky over his house, so bright it left spots on his eyes. It crashed through copse of woods behind his house. The cloud of dust it kicked up when it landed rolled over his house, kept him inside for about ten minutes.
He’d called his brother Gil, but Gil had never really taken Franc seriously. Not since they were little, after Franc had been put on his pills. The meds evened him out, let him keep a job and everything, but Gil could never see past them. Franc ended up trekking out into the woods alone, with a long kitchen knife and a flashlight.
“Sir?” Someone said, and he jumped, dropping his fork onto his place with a clatter.
The waitress recoiled, then said tentatively, “Freshen your coffee?”
Franc nodded numbly. The waitress topped off his nearly full mug. He stared out the window until she went away. The sun was just beginning to touch the top of the hills. In another half hour it would be dark. He had no idea where he would go. His eyes darted to his cell phone on the tabletop. He briefly considered calling Gil again, but abandoned the idea. If Gil hadn’t come out then, he wouldn’t now.
He picked up his phone and started flipping through the pictures on it. A bunch of ones that had been on there for months, and then…
It had been so dark that night that his phone could hardly take a clear picture. He couldn’t believe just how hot it was. The thing that fell from the sky had torn a trench in the dirt, scorching and smashing trees in a ten-foot path of destruction, the friction causing the grass and dirt to smolder. It had finally come to a halt at the base of a limestone shelf on the edge of a creek bank.
Franc flipped through the pictures he’d taken of the… what was he even supposed to call it? It might’ve been called a box, but it wasn’t exactly that. It was more square than round, which he was not expecting, but the geometry of it was… just wrong. He rotated the phone so he could see it at a better angle, then flipped through the dozen or so photos he’d snapped of it.
The object itself was solid, but it was as if someone had described the concept of inside-out to a blind man, and then asked him to sculpt it. No matter how he turned it, it made Franc feel like he was looking at an M.C. Escher drawing. Each side seemed to connect with the opposite side instead of the adjacent sides. From one angle it looked no bigger than a few inches across, but from another it looked larger than his microwave. It was a milky white color, and looked completely undamaged by its collision with planet Earth.
Franc flipped to the last picture on his phone, and his skin started to crawl. He hadn’t been in the woods for longer than fifteen minutes when he’d heard the crashing coming through the trees. It started far off but approached quickly, and it was so loud that Franc was sure it was more than one person. His finger had slipped and he’d taken one last picture as he was running away.
The thing in the shot might’ve been a man. It was only a silhouette, and it was still a ways off. And it was dark. But the hunched shoulders, the low, sloped dome of the head were unmistakable. Franc didn’t see any more- he was running as fast as he could back to his house. He knew the woods and made it back in five minutes. Everything was quiet when he got inside, shut out all the lights and locked all the doors.
He didn’t sleep that night. He didn’t even bother to try. Instead he sat in a desk chair at the window of his bedroom that overlooked the back yard. He thought he’d seen something moving in the shadows at the edge of the woods, but he couldn’t be sure. By dawn he was so exhausted and his nerves were so fried that he’d begun to wonder if he’d imagined the whole thing.
Damn those photos on his camera. They wouldn’t let him forget. But he couldn’t bring himself to delete them.
He’d fallen asleep at dawn and missed work. He called in sick, apologized to his manager, promised to pick up an extra shift later in the week. That afternoon was when he first noticed the cars.
Normally there wasn’t a lot of traffic on his road. He lived so far out from town that nobody came his way very often. But suddenly a lot of cars were driving by his house. Not too slow, but just slow enough for him to notice, slow enough that Franc got the impression that someone was looking at his house. Looking for him.
The next week had been torment. Franc couldn’t miss another day of work, but when he went to his car in the morning before dawn he’d take the big kitchen knife with him. Every evening when he returned home, he was sure that someone had been inside his house. Nothing was ever out of place or missing, but something gave him a creeping feeling every time he opened the door, like the walls himself were watching him.
Was it the government? Were they trying to cover up what had happened? Did he find some kind of spy satellite that dropped out of orbit? Or was it… he didn’t even want to let the thought cross his mind. He hadn’t worried about things like that for years. Not since he got his pills. But what if?
What if the owner of that thing had followed it here? As far as Franc was concerned they could have it- he hadn’t gone back into the woods since that first night. But he’d seen it. He had photographic evidence of it.
Every evening that week Franc had felt that same creeping feeling when he got home from work, like some hidden eyes were on him at, quantifying his every move. The breaking point came last night, when he found his pills missing.
He’d turned his house upside down looking for them that night, but they weren’t anywhere. They were simply gone. Whoever had been in house had to have known what they were and how much Franc needed them. He had a few extra in his car, but not enough.
Finally, this afternoon he’d managed to leave work early. That was when he was them in his house. They were waiting on him today. Lord knew what they’d done if he’d just walked in on them searching his house.
But he wasn’t safe. They’d seen him drive past. They had to know he’d still be close.
The last bite of waffle stopped halfway between Franc’s mouth and his stomach, caught in his esophagus somewhere. The Waffle House was the only restaurant between here and town. They’d come here looking for him first.
His eyes snapped to the parking lot. How many cars were there?...ten, eleven. Eleven. How many had been there when he sat down? Oh god, he couldn’t remember. They could be in here right now. He glanced up; several of the tables were full now. There was almost nobody in the place when he’d sat down. How long ago was that? Ten minutes? Thirty?
Shit, without his pills it was getting hard to tell. He’d taken the last of his spares that morning for work, and his refill prescription was in his house.
Franc pulled his wallet out and dropped a handful of bills onto the table. He stood slowly, trying not to make any sudden moves. But slowly, every eye in the room glanced up and fell on him. It wasn’t all at once, and it wasn’t for long, but everyone looked at him. He felt their gazes like they were tangible things, fingers touching his skin.
He ran for the door. In the parking lot, he dropped his car keys fumbling with the lock. His hands clammy, cold, he finally unlocked the door and stuck the key in the ignition. As the engine rumbled to start, he glanced back at the Waffle House.
Everyone in the restaurant was looking out the windows at him, unabashedly staring.
Franc smashed the gas and spun onto the road, then onto the interstate. He’d gone a mile before he realized he’d forgotten to turn his headlights on. He didn’t know where he was going, just that he had to get away. They’d be following him again, probably in minutes. His eyes flicked to the rear view mirror.
Had the white car behind him driven by his house earlier that week? Franc couldn’t be sure. He urged the accelerator forward and kept running.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

"Trick or Treat!"

This weekend I'm reverting back to my political cartoon roots. In the interest of bipartisanship, I drew two versions of this cartoon. Just read whichever you find more relevant. ;)





If the kids in the cartoon look familiar to you... well, first let me say thank you, because that means you've been reading my cartoons for a long, long time. They first appeared in a similar cartoon that I drew waaaaaay back in 2005.