“Faux-Ever’ Lets Blacktip Island Churchgoers Sample The Afterlife

Faux-Ever

A member of the Blacktip Island Ecumenical Community Church, under the guidance of a church elder, gets a taste of the afterlife with the church’s new Faux-Ever headset. (photo courtesy of Justraveling.com)

The Blacktip Island Ecumenical Community Church Thursday unveiled ‘Faux-Ever,’ a virtual reality headset that allows churchgoers of any religious tradition to experience the afterlife of their particular faith.

“Users input information about their personal belief systems,” the former Reverend Jerrod Ephesians said. “It’s like a Buzzfeed quiz, only with a religious focus, and draws on the teachings of classic theologians as well as popular novels and cinema.

“We tried to be as inclusive as possible,” Ephesians said. “The headset provides more than 128 different versions of the afterlife,” Ephesians said. “You can get anything from sitting on lotus pads to hunting buffalo on the Great Plains to being at one with an expanding universe. We even have a Cthulu option, but that didn’t end well for the congregant.”

Church officials hope the devices will strengthen users’ faith.

“We see it as sort of a trainer, like what pilots use before they get in an actual airplane,” church elder Harry ‘Scratcher’ Wrasse said. “There’s no telling what the afterlife will be like. You want to get a hint of what to expect, maybe even a nudge to change your ways.

“A lot of times people’re surprised what they see after programing the headset,” Wrasse said. “One person expected milk and honey and instead got a wasteland and his mouth stuffed with clay.”

The program is not without its critics.

“Jerrod and his cohorts are making a mockery of religious faith,” said the Reverend Pierre Grunt of the Our Lady of Blacktip cathedral. “There is no way that gizmo can provide a glimpse of anything like Heaven. They’re turning religion into a video game.”

Faux-Ever has proved popular with early testers

“I filled out the survey, slipped on the visor, and the next thing I knew I was floating around the reef,” said divemaster Marina DeLow. “The reef’s pretty much my church, so that made sense. And was kinda comforting.”

Others were underwhelmed.

“I expected something nice, the whole 100 virgins sort of thing,” Lee Helm said. “Instead, I wound up sitting on a cloud, playing a harp, surrounded by chubby little angels wearing diapers. I just felt . . . depressed.

“James Conlee, he got eternity at the Sand Spit bar with unlimited beer,” Helm said. “It’s not fair.”

Ephesians is encouraged by Faux-Ever’s successes.

“We’re working on adding more options,” he said. “Going forward, atheists will see a black, blank screen. And for a small donation to the widows and orphans’ fund, we can throw in a séance so you can talk to dead relatives.”

**

Ask Dermott:

Hey, Dermott,

First there was Jefferson Airplane. Then there was Jefferson Starship. Then there was just Starship. Then they were all gone. My question is, who was Jefferson? – Slick With Worry

Slick,

Jefferson was Jefferson Beaumont. Beaumont, Texas’s named after him, too.

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Blacktip Island Native To Pen Weekly Advice Column

ask dermott
The Blacktip Times will feature a new weekly advice column in its Lifestyles section.

In response to a growing number of letters to the editor sent to The Blacktip Times regarding lifestyle questions, the paper’s editor-in-chief announced Wednesday the creation of ‘Ask Dermott,’ a man-on-the-street oriented advice column.

“Dermott Bottoms is one of the few people born on Blacktip Island. He’s lived his whole life here,” editor Samson Post said. “He’s uniquely qualified to offer insight into how to live happily and peacefully on this little rock.

“His advice is succinct and to the point,” Post said. “Dermott will be a great addition to the Blacktip Times team.”

Bottoms said the move was a no-brainer.

“Offer advice at the Sand Spit every evening, might as well get paid for it,” he said.

The Times is offering a sample of the new column prior to its official release:

Dear Dermott,

When I’m drinking tea, should I hold my pinkie out, or is that a pretentious holdover from the old days? – Tea Bone

Dear Tea Bone,

‘Pinkie?’ Ought to have your butt kicked just for that. Drink beer. Do whatever you want with your fingers.

**

Yo, Dermott,

I was out for a day of fishing when my outboard died. I got out and swam the skiff back to shore. When I got home, I found my wife in bed with our neighbor. She was wearing a Batman hood and cape. He was wearing a Hello Kitty mask. What should I do? – All Wet

Dear Wet,

Check your fuel can for water, your fuel line for clogs and maybe clean the air filter.

**

Hey, Dermott,

Every time I give a dive briefing, Bananarama’s ‘Cruel Summer’ plays from my dental fillings. Guests are spooked. Am I out of a job? – Music Man

Dear Music,

Tell them it used to be show tunes, so it could be worse.

**

Dermott,

Two people asked me to the same Christmas party. I like them both, but for different reasons. Who should I pick? – In A Bind

Dear Bind,

Flip a coin. This is Blacktip Island – you don’t lose your partner, you just lose your turn.

**

Hi, Dermott,

This holiday season I’m searching for the perfect wine pairing for land crab. Any suggestions? – Thirsty Diner

Dear Thirsty,

Chilled Heineken accentuates the flavor of land crab without overpowering it. For whelk stew, try a warm Amstel. Or skip the food and go straight to rum.

**

OK, Dermott,

In a Dungeons and Dragons scenario where my group is trapped by a giant cave troll, should I cast a spell of invisibility and sneak away, or a spell of ogre strength and maybe save everyone? – Draggin’ Behind

Dear Draggin’,

Get the hell out of my column.

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‘Larry Otter’ Lands Blacktip Island Author In Legal Trouble

Larry Otter

An illustration from the first of local author Corrie Anders’ ‘Larry Otter’ series of young adult novels, now subject of a lawsuit claiming copyright infringement. (illustration by A. E. Brehm)

A Blacktip Island author Wednesday was ordered to pay $1 million and stop all sales of her popular ‘Larry Otter’ fantasy novels for young adults due to alleged copyright infringement.

“They’re bagging on it for being a Harry Potter rip off, but it’s totally different,” author Corrie Anders said. “Larry’s a young, orphaned sea otter trying to fit in with a school of fish on Snogmorts Reef, not some sorcerer-in-training.

“Sure, Larry has a zig-zag scar on his rear flipper, but it’s from a shark attack. That’s where the similarity ends,” Anders said. “And the only magic is in the hearts of my readers.”

The series, which includes ‘Larry Otter and the Sea Urchin Stone,’ ‘Larry Otter and the Chamber of Smelt,’ ‘Larry Otter and the Prisoner of Lorenzini,’ and ‘Larry Otter and the Goblet of Kelp,’ were popular sellers in Caribbean book stores until the lawsuit stopped all sales.

“We’re fighting this nonsense tooth and nail,” said Anders’ attorney Bob Skulkin. “There’s also a cease-and-desist order on any in-progress novels. We’ve filed a counter-suit to shut that crap down.

“And $1 million? Good luck with that,” Skulkin said. “Corrie’s day job’s bartending. They’re asking for blood from a stone.”

Local ‘Larry’ fans were shocked by the news.

“The kids love Larry’s adventures,” Sally Port said. “We read a chapter before bed every night. Our youngest got the reading bug with the series.

“I don’t see what some big publishing house has to gain, taking these stories away from little children,” Port added.

Others echoed that sentiment.

“These books are a much more positive influence than those horrible Harry Potter books,” Christa Goby said. “Larry’s adventures have the kiddos out learning to swim and hunting sea urchins. Harry had them waving sticks at each other and believing in witches and magic spells and I don’t know what all.”

The Blacktip Island Writer’s Guild is backing Anders.

“All proceeds from Guild members books are going to Corrie’s legal defense fund,” Guild chairperson Quinn Blenny said. “Less expenses, of course. So far we’ve raised $13.54.

Anders, meanwhile, has vowed to keep writing.

“Until someone physically takes away my laptop, I’ll keep telling Larry’s story,” she said. “My readers believe in me, and that’s all that matters. ‘Larry Otter and the Order of the Lionfish’ll be out by Christmas.”

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Doping Scandal Shocks Blacktip Island Iguana Racers

doping scandal

Dermott Bottoms’ Chee-Chuck is one of the iguanas to test positive for performance-enhancing substances Thursday at the Blacktip Island iguana racetrack. (photo courtesy of Kitty Terwolbeck)

Blacktip Island’s iguana racing community was rocked Thursday afternoon by allegations of iguanas testing positive for performance-enhancing substances.

“We got suspicious when slow iguanas that had never won anything suddenly started winning races with record times,” said Blacktip Iguana Racing Club president Clete Horn. “We did random blood draws after the latest race and discovered significant levels of white rum in several iguanas.

“Turns out, rum’s a stimulant for iguanas,” Horn said. “It’s not just for dive staff anymore. We’re hoping it’s a few isolated cases by a few over-competitive trainers, but we don’t know yet.”

The trainer at the heart of the controversy downplayed the allegations.

“I always give Chee-Chuck a taste rum before the race. No big deal,” iguana trainer Dermott Bottoms said. “Calms her down. I drink some, too, for my nerves. It’s a stressful sport.”

Others in the racing community were not so dismissive.

“Big money ruined the sport, made it way more cutthroat over the past year,” iguana hostler Molly Miller said. “All the sponsorships and TV contracts, they have people cutting corners wherever they can.

“Trackside violence is on the upswing, too,” Miller said. “First there was the drunkenness, then the fights among bettors, now this. It’s not the family-friendly racecourse it used to be.”

Authorities are focused on the influence of organized crime in the sport.

“Criminal organizations are active in iguana racing across the Caribbean,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “On-track betting’s legal, since government gets half the take, but all the off-track side betting isn’t, and that’s been a magnet for bookmaking and racketeering.

“The biggest player is Cal Amari’s outfit on Tiperon,” Marquette said. “He’s got his tentacles in every aspect of racing. With him and his Ink Stain gang so close, our concern is this race-fixing may be just the tip of the iceberg, crime-wise.”

Race fans were shaken by the news.

“If you can’t trust the outcome of the iguana races, what can you trust?” resident Ginger Bass said. “We used to bring the kiddos and make a day of it, but no more. We can’t expose them to that sort of blatant dishonesty.

“Racing fans island-wide feel like we’ve lost our innocence this week,” Bass said. “And not in a good way. It just hurts. I’m keeping the money I won on Chee-Chuck, though. To help ease the pain.”

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Fisherman Discovers Sunken Pyramids Off Blacktip Island

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Antonio Fletcher’s photo of what he claims are ancient pyramids atop a remote seamount off Blacktip Island’s northwest coast. (photo courtesy of Antonio Fletcher)

Local fisherman Antonio Fletcher says he discovered underwater pyramids on a seamount off Blacktip Island’s west coast Wednesday morning while searching for a new fishing spot.

“Went out to Robber’s Bank, where folks don’t usually go,” Fletcher said. “Had my camera on a weighted line to see where the fish were and BAM! There were these big bumps on top of the bank.

“Looked to be stair-stepped. Like Mayan and Aztec pyramids. Or maybe Egyptian,” Fletcher said. “Makes sense, you know – that was high ground before sea levels rose, and Central America’s right close by.”

Local archeologists are asking fishermen and scuba divers to avoid the seamount until they can investigate Fletcher’s claim.

“This could be the find of the century, but we can’t get to it because of ripping currents the last few days,” Tiperon University-Blacktip professor Catalina Luxfer said. “There’s no known man-made structures in this part of the Caribbean, though, so it may just be a big coral head. But if it is something, we don’t want it looted.

“That seamount’s remote, but it’s not unknown. If there’s structures like that on it, I’m not sure why someone hadn’t seen them, though,” Luxfer said. “As for Mayans and Aztecs, those are two completely different civilizations separated by thousands of years. And I’m not touching the Egyptian angle.”

The island’s non-scientists are eager to explore the site as well.

“I don’t care what Catalina wants, we’re gonna drop divemasters out there once the currents die down, see exactly what we’ve got,” said Eagle Ray Cove resort owner Rich Skerritt. “If ‘Tonio’s right, this is a major find.

“We can charge guests double for diving on Mayan pyramids, and folks’ll be lined up out the door begging to pay,” Skerritt said. “Pyramid diving could make Blacktip the premier scuba destination in the western hemisphere. Catalina can study the site all she wants while our divers are there.”

Many locals are dubious about the find.

“It’s probably just a couple of big rocks. Or sleeping turtles,” fisherman Rocky Shore said. “I mean, what kind of camera does ‘Tonio have that he can just lower it down and get reliable photos? And where’d he even get a camera? He can barely afford gas for his outboard.

“End of the day, this is ‘Tonio,” Shore said. “He thinks he’s Fletcher Christian reincarnated. It’s a wonder he didn’t claim he found Atlantis.”

Fletcher remained optimistic.

“Not saying it’s Atlantis,” he said. “But it could be part of it.”

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Blacktip Island Church Demands Ban On Split Fins

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Use of paddle-style scuba fins may become mandatory on Blacktip Island dive sites if a local religious leader’s anti-split fin campaign is successful. (photo courtesy of Steve Dingledein)

The Blacktip Island scuba diving community was polarized this week by an island religious leader’s demand that split scuba fins be banned in favor of paddle-style fins.

“These cloven-hooved fins are the devil’s work, plain and simple,” said the Rev. Pierre Grunt, head of the Blacktip Island Temperance League. “They may seem innocent, but that’s how Satan fools the unwary.”

“They’re symptomatic of the evils overwhelming our island,” Grunt said. “It’s no coincidence the reefs started dying the same time these fins showed up. To save our reefs, we have to return to the paddle fins of our forefathers.”

Grunt’s claim struck a chord among some local divers.

“I never realized how bad these fins were until Rev. Grunt opened my eyes to what’s really going on,” said island resident Edwin Chub. “That was a jaw dropper, all right. I went straight out and threw my split fins away. Lots of us did. I’m not gonna be a part of something like that.”

Local scuba operators denounced the grassroots campaign.

“Pierre scares away any resort guests with this crap, I’ll split more than his fins,” Eagle Ray Cove Resort owner Rich Skerritt said. “That goes for his rants about no diving on Sundays, too. Why would the preacher care about scuba fins? Or even notice them?”

Some Blacktip residents questioned Grunt’s motives.

“The only non-coincidence is Pierre’s part-owner in Bamboo You, and sales have tanked on their bamboo paddle-style fins,” local Clete Horn said. “Last month his schtick was an alcohol ban, and that fell flat on its face.

“He’s just switched to fins, telling a bigger whopper and hoping more folks’ll buy in,” Horn said. “Big picture, Pierre wants to fill his church. And his offering plates.”

Some in the island’s religious community worry the campaign will be detrimental long term.

“We’re being demonized over these fins,” High Druid Joey Pompano said. “People are blaming us for bringing them to the island. For encouraging people to use them.

“We don’t care what fins people use, or if they don’t use fins at all,” Pompano said. “Rev. Grunt and his BITS can go to hell. Why don’t they pick on the Unitarians once in a while?”

The Rev. Grunt remains unapologetic.

“Deuteronomy 23:13 is quite clear,” he said. “ It reads, ‘Thou shalt have a paddle upon thy person . . .’ You can’t get more straightforward than that.”

Grunt declined to comment on his ties to Bamboo You. Company officials did not return several Times phone calls.

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Underwater Headphones Let Blacktip Island Divemasters Narrate Dives

underwater commentary

Eagle Ray Divers divemaster Lee Helm, in a full-face mask, narrates a dive on Blacktip Island’s Jawfish reef Thursday. The resort’s new program allows in-water divemasters to talk directly to resort guests throughout their dives. (photo courtesy of NOAA)

In an effort to stay one step ahead in the competitive world of recreational scuba, one Blacktip Island resort Monday began offering reef tours led by in-water dive guides giving running commentaries to snorkel and scuba guests outfitted with waterproof headphones.

“We kit our divers out with underwater headsets, and our divemasters have full-face masks so they can talk through the entire dive,” Eagle Ray Divers manager Ger Latner said. “Before, the best a dive guide could do was point to something and maybe write a quick note on a slate. Now our DMs can give full explanations.

“We’re the only dive op on Blacktip that offers this service,” Latner said. “All the extra gear costs, but it’s worth it.”

Resort guests guests agreed

“I never know what the divemaster’s pointing at, and I can never ask,” guest Jackie Wrasse said. “I usually just signal ‘OK’ and move on. Sometimes I think they point at nothing just to mess with me.

“With this, though, I know exactly what they’re showing me,” Wrasse said. “I had no idea there were so many things down there that’re supposed to be interesting.”

Other island dive operators were critical of the tours.

“With one or two divers it can be OK,” said Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick. “But you get 20 divers all trying to get up close to one tiny sea slug, it turns into a real Charlie Foxtrot.

“Already, you can tell where an Eagle Ray divemaster’s been,” Kiick said. “Just look for the broken sea fans and kicked-to-hell coral. No way we’re doing that to the reef.”

Some Eagle Ray Divers staff had reservations as well.

“It’s not fair, having to talk through the entire dive,” divemaster Lee Helm said. “Some people are good at it, but I like to zone out when I lead a dive. And it’s pure hell when there’s nothing to show people, but they still expect a nonstop monologue.”

Others have embraced the narration.

“It’s great being able to explain what I’m showing and why it’s cool,” said divemaster Alison Diesel. “It’s also great the guests can’t talk back. We tried that at first. It didn’t end well.”

“It’s also fun, when a diver hand-signals a question, to answer wrong just to see the look on their face,” Diesel said. “I’m playing with doing tours in rhyme, too. I started with couplets yesterday. I’m working my way up to rap.”

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