Chapter 5 – Voyage To Hell (I mean the Mall)

The Kingdom’s only shopping mall, the BudgetMasher, sat above a vast stagnant swamp.  The entire complex loomed like a village built on stilts over brackish waters.  Normally having your prime retail area positioned over a fetid marsh would be a problem, but the fact was, the unwelcomed presence of snakes and mosquitos motivated shoppers to stay indoors, spending coin. That is until pesticide carriages swept through and dumped toxic quantities of insect and reptile repellent on the streets and sidewalks.  While that may seem extreme, it also provides a natural defense against other malignant pests of society, namely lawyers and politicians.

Despite this rather unusual setup, the mall did a brisk business, and most anything that folks wanted (but did not necessarily need) could be found in the multi-storey shops.  Rachel’s carriage rolled to a stop in front of Diana’s Dresses and Corsets.

Carleen led the way.  “Rachel Dahlin’, we must get you some decent formal wear, and a corset.”

Rachel’s skin prickled, and her hands grew clammy.  OMG!  A corset?  “You are joking, aren’t you?”

With a toothy but cold smile, Carleen replied, “My dear, I don’t joke.”

Why do I believe that?

Drek slid out of the carriage and straightened her back.  “Oi, I need a stiff drink.  Is there a pub nearby?”

Carleen frowned at her.  “Certainly not.  A lady never finds herself in such a den of inequity.”

Shrugging her shoulders, Drek looked around.  “Oh my, there’s Mike’s Dry Cleaning.  I’ll see you later.”  With a wink at the girl, she slipped toward the store, eyes gleaming.

Rachel eyed Carleen, who smiled thinly. Ugh, now it’s just you and me.  The woman held open the door to Diana’s, and in she marched. Rachel followed like a convict being led to the executioner’s block.  The next couple hours reinforced that impression and gave the girl enough subliminal nightmares to never again set foot inside a high fashion store.  On the other hand, Carleen beamed with malicious delight as Rachel squeezed her pre-pubescent body into form-fitting dresses, and narrowly avoided having her internal organs strangulated by a corset.

Then, of course, came the shoes, foot born terror and torture devices designed to tip Rachel up on the balls of her feet, and make it impossible to walk without stumbling into walls, and fracturing a pelvis.  At the point where she quite literally wanted to jump out a window, Carleen declared victory, hauled the detritus of the shopping massacre to the clerk. There the damage was calculated and added the Kingdom’s budget deficit.

As Rachel stumbled out of the storefront, she looked around but did not see Drek.

Carleen whizzed past and started for the carriage.

“Have you seen Drek?” Rachel asked.

“No, and I suspect we won’t.  She probably fell into the swamp trying to find something to drink.  For our part, I hope so, as I don’t wish to share a coach with that dreadful mess of a woman.”

She pulled the door open and was immediately greeted by a loud snort.  Inside sat Drek, pitched over to one side, a blissful smile on her face, and a puddle of drool running down the front of her frock.

“Oh my,” Carleen said, recoiling in horror.  What is this?”

“I would say Mike has some pretty serious dry cleaning chemicals,” Rachel replied, trying desperately to conceal her grin.

They climbed in, and Carleen sought to squeeze into the furthest corner from Drek.  Unfortunately for Rachel, she had to sit next to Carleen, because as the coach started to move, Drek slid further and further down in her seat until she lay sprawled across it.  Her loud snores rattled the windows and door, and breath carried on it the scent of several types of liquors, none of which Rachel was familiar with. Still, watching the gag reflex on her “handler” was quite entertaining.

“How long before we get to Summer Camp?” Rachel asked.

Carleen sighed, giving Drek the stink eye.  “Probably another three hours, by which that point, maybe that …” she pointed at the Drek “… will be awake, and be convinced to eat a breath mint.”


Time passed slowly, as one can imagine when stuck in a carriage with a snoring witch and an arrogant fashion diva.  Rachel tried to keep things light.  “So, how long have you been a Princess preparation specialist?”

“That’s Specialist in Princess Preparation And Matchmaking,” Carleen corrected. “You forgot the matchmaking part.”

I was trying too.

“But to answer your question, seven years.”

“And before that?”

“Real estate, I flipped castles on the market, which was fine till the bottom fell out.”

“Was the market that bad?”

“No, the bottom fell out of the castle I was selling, and it sank into a swamp. After losing my fortune on that one, I quit my career and instead focused on the two things that I’m excellent at.”

“Which are?”

“Fashion and marital incarceration.” She giggled with a surprised look on her face. “Oops, I meant marriage.  Speaking of which, who are you betrothed to?”

“Excuse me? Betrothed?”

“Certainly. Haven’t your parents arranged your marriage?”

“I’m twelve. Boys are smelly and stupid.”

Carleen waved her hand dismissively. “Believe me, they don’t get much better on that as they age.  The same can’t be said for their earning potential.”

“Wow, you’re absolutely mercenary.”

“Why thank you, dahlin’.”

To Backup Or Not To Backup — not really a question

With my twenty-plus years of experience in IT (information technology), it is not surprising that I exploit technology to help my writing. I have used many software programs, setups and configurations to help myself gain control and traction with my writing projects. That said, any venture into technology can result in an all-consuming task of trying to convince HAL (or Bill Gates) not to pull the plug on all my digital treasures. On that score, I thought it might be interesting to discuss some of the software I use daily for writing. For this first article, I am going to focus on doing backups. That might seem to be an odd jumping off point, but without some assurance that what you write is recoverable, loading a system with your precious literary masterpieces may be nothing more than sticking all your digital eggs in one basket, and hoping the gods of fate don’t decide to sit on it.

Now, if you are doing writing on a computer, keeping track of your files and backing them up is a high priority. One can create files ad-nauseum in your “Document” folder and hope and pray that the digital demons don’t squat and defecate on your hard drive. Not a good plan. At the very least you need to copy your files somewhere else—presumably (physically) outside of your computer. Why?

We all would like to believe that our beloved (or at least tolerated) computer system will run forever, but they don’t. The classic bathtub curve of failure (or reliability), states that systems fail either right out of the box or shortly thereafter. After that, system tend to run as they should (if used properly). At least until after some amount of time (usually a few days beyond the expiration date of the extended service plan or warranty) the device will start misbehaving, gyrate wildly, make strange noises, and then become totally useless (like the average American teenager). The gist of this is, enjoy the brief moment computing technology works because at some point it won’t.

Consider this, my rule of thumb based on my experience is that most electronics fail after about 10,000 hours of use. That is roughly 5 years. Many people, and IT companies, will say that is way too conservative. Perhaps, but I’m a unreformed Irish cynic who expects the worst and hopes for the best. If I’m wrong, your system continues to run. If the other people are wrong, you lose your data. So there ;-P

So, if your electronics are that old, you’re on borrowed time. You have even less time if you live with children, have pets, or the unfortunate tendency to spill coffee on your system. Then there is the occasional electronic surge (such as static electricity) which can fry sensitive electronics. Lastly, computers are not monolithic, they are a hodge-podge of interconnected hardware, not usually from the same source (unless you own Apple products) and since not all equipment lasts the same, all it takes is for one part to fail to take down your system.

In short, there are many ways your formerly reliable PC can expire. In the time I’ve owned, built, configured and managed systems, hard drives have crashed, video cards went bad, memory crapped out, power supplies fizzled. I even had a motherboard crack and melt. Like a toddler on vacation, computers will usually soil themselves without warning, and usually at the worst possible time.

If you want to get detailed on this subject, particularly in regards to hard drives, consider the following:

Regardless of which device you are entrusting your information to, consider using an alternative location to store it. Removable storage comes to mind (external hard drives, USB flash/thumb drives), and more recently, so does exporting your information to the “cloud.” Both approaches have their pros and cons, but they will, at least, give you a chance to get your information back if your computer goes belly up. Beyond having a backup location, however, remains the need and discipline to backup information on a regular basis. I find it best to look for tools that support automated functions for things that I tend to forget. Still looking for one that exercises for me, but oh well.

There are many ways to do file backups, and Windows (at least Windows 10) does this well. That said, I will admit that I tend to be leery of using Windows provided tools, as it is sometimes like trying to swat flies with a sledgehammer. However, if you’re looking for a readily available (and free) means of doing a file backup, consider giving Windows “File History Backup” a try. The process is not (as one might suspect) entirely intuitive, but rarely is anything in the world of IT, where programmers design software and users must deal with their Red Bull inspired design whims.

However, rather than me repeating what has already been said about using “File History Backup”, see the following articles on the subject:

One of the nice aspects of using Windows built in backup is that it is automatic, so once you set it, you can forget it. Just remember that as you add new folders to your system, you should consider adding the location to the list of the ones “File History” backs up.

Having to restore an entire system, or file system resource is beyond the scope of one blog post, and certainly beyond the scope of what I’m attempting to do here, which is to inform and enlighten, not necessarily to educate and indoctrinate. There are many other blogs and out there that discuss such issues in greater detail (and depth) than I do.

For day to day use, however, one can easily see the inevitable question – what if I simply need to restore a previous version of a file. What do I do? If the document was backed up using “File History” then right clicking on the file, and selecting “properties” will give you the option to select a tab called “Previous versions.” Doing so will list all the different versions of the file that were backed up. Pick the one you want and restore.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the whole issue of backing up information, if you could follow any of this, my hope is that you should have some ability to backup information.

Other considerations (more advanced concepts)

Some experts even recommend a “rule of 3” when it comes to backups (3 copies, 2 different formats, and 1 different location). This gets very involved, but if you’re interested consider looking at the following:

Well, I hope this helps. If you have any suggestions for other topics you’d like me to cover be sure to drop a note in the comments section. Thanks for reading.


If this is your first time here, then welcome. For those of you who came from my previous blog (poisonedcheetos), welcome back.

This blog is my “author presence” on the internet, a way for me to share my writing and to communicate with those I know, and don’t know. As always, feedback is appreciated, as long as it is constructive. I look forward to sharing ideas and writing samples with everyone.


Capitalia Bloom (part 4)

Sobs drifted into Larah’s bedroom. She put down her book and walked toward Melinda’s study. The Head Mistress sat looking out the window, her hands caressing the curled form of Passion, their sixteen-year-old cat.

Larah approached her desk. “Mother, is something wrong?”

Melinda turned and looked at her. Tear tracks glistened on her face. “Passion is dying.”

Larah had noticed her getting slower over the last few days, and that she had lost a lot of weight over the last year, yet the words still made her chest tighten. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Melinda confirmed. “She’s too weak to move; nothing more can be done.” Her hands slowly stroked its long golden fur. She stared at the floor before speaking, “Do you know how I got her?”

Larah shook her head. “No, you’ve always had her.”

“Passion was originally Anya’s cat, who came to be mine when Anya passed away. That happened on the same night you came to me, and I became Head Mistress.” She paused as her eyes became unfocused. “I gained and lost much that night.” Shaking her head, she continued. “Anya was my mentor and my best friend. Other than my memories, all I have left are Passion – and you.” She looked at Larah, lips trembling. “And I love you both so much,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Yet, it’s so painful to lose another piece of Anya, once again.”

Hurriedly wiping her eyes, Larah rushed over. Oh, how she wished to take the pain away. The older woman shook with sorrow, as Larah embraced her tightly, wishing the distance between them could disappear.

Finally, Melinda took a breath, cupped Larah’s chin and kissed on the nose. “It’s okay.” Together they looked at the cat.

Melinda scooped Passion up and laid her on the window sill. “I am going to let her watch the sunset as she often liked to do, one last time.” Leaning over, Melinda kissed the feline on the head and gave her a last petting. “Goodbye, my dear. You will always have a place in my heart.” With that, she left the study.

Larah walked over and stroked Passion’s soft fur, and felt the weak, but still noticeable purring. Sniffling back tears, she recalled Passion’s antics, and how Melinda had always appreciated the cat’s soft, quiet presence. Glancing up, she watched the sun setting over the waters of the Gulf.

Later that night, as Larah lay in bed, the image of the Thrush chick flashed into her mind. She sat up, considering it, and then raced into the study, and sat next to Passion. Gently, she touched the cat’s feeble body, and still felt a slow, hesitant pulse. She closed her eyes, placed both hands on the animal, and mouthed the words of the mending spell. A blue glow surrounded her hands, her fingertips grew cold, heat raced through her bones as a scream ripped out of her lungs.

* * *

Wringing her hands, Melinda stared at the unconscious form on the bed. Why did Larah do it? She’d been told never to try a mend spell on an animal. The infirmary nurse laid a hand on Melinda’s shoulder.

“Will she survive?” Melinda asked, holding her tears back.

“If she wakes up, I believe so,” the nurse said. “But she should be dead.”

Melinda blinked. “Why do you say that?”

The nurse fixed her with a serious expression. “No one has ever survived what she did.”

“What do you mean?” Melinda asked.

“She almost brought your cat back from death. The animal would be alive if it were able to survive being called back.”

“That is not possible,” Melinda replied as a chill raced down her spine. Such capabilities belonged only to the immortal Caretakers, or the practitioners of the darkest magic.

“Under other circumstances, I would agree. Regardless, Larah survived because she had passed out before the pull of death reached her. Otherwise, she might have died too.” A groan rose from the bed. Melinda turned from the nurse and leaned close.

The young girl opened her eyes, “Mother, what am I doing here?” She noticed Melinda’s tears. “Please don’t cry.”

Melinda smiled, “These are tears of joy, my dear.” But even as she squeezed Larah’s hand, a shudder ran through her. She had almost lost Passion and Larah on the same night.