2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Life Redux

The gloved hand pressed a button; a mechanical female voice spoke.

You have –two– new messages and –one– old message. To listen to your messages press ‘1’.

**beep**

First – new message. Received December 26th at 11:30a.m.

Hello, Steven? It’s Mom. We missed you at the party yesterday. Charlie invited the whole family; I don’t know why you didn’t come. Merry Christmas! Call me when you get this. Love, Mom.

**beep**

Second – new message. Received December 29th at 9:14a.m.

Steven? You there? It’s Ann from work. Mr. Johnson is on a rampage about you not showing up for work this morning. He wanted the Cabersat report. Give me a call when you get this.

**beep**

End of – new messages. First old message. Received December 22nd at 4:35p.m.

Hey Steve, it’s Charlie. Sorry I can’t make your party, something’s come up at the last minute. Merry Christmas, bro. Stacy and the kids say ‘hi’.

**beep**

End of – messages. Press ‘6’ to replay…

The gloved hand pressed the ‘disconnect’ button and picked up the note. It was written in block letters and neatly folded.

To whom it may concern.

They were all at Charlie’s for a big party on Christmas. Apparently May’s out-of-town trip was cancelled, Bert was feeling better, and Mom’s surgery got postponed or something. Typical.

I stopped by the office on the way home. The Cabersat report is in the upper right-hand drawer of my desk; the key is in the usual place. Tell Mr. Johnson Merry Christmas: I had nothing else to do on the 25th.

I’d ask you to notify all my friends, but the list dropped from one to zero in November.

I’m told that painkillers and alcohol together will do the job. The other chemicals were just to make sure. I’m in the bathtub because that’s the easiest to clean; sorry in advance about the smell, and for any inconvenience.

Steven Aldcroft

May 8, 1965 – December 25, 2014

Detective Simmons set the note down and turned to the officer at the door. He shook his head and thought to himself, “There won’t be much paperwork to file on this one. I hate Christmas.”

Elf on the Shelf Report

To: Reginald Lucife <lucife_r@celebritypost.com>
From: EOTS Sandy <consultant835@celebritypost.com>
Subject: Weekly Report

Dear Mister Lucife;

Please find attached my first and last report on host family X. I dare you to print any of this. I assure you that it is all true, and thus not libellous, but these people guard their privacy sufficiently well that you will not find any evidence should the matter be raised in court.

I have been an Elf on the Shelf for seven years now, and have NEVER before been assigned a family that is in this much need of psychiatric and/or legal intervention. However, I was able to maintain a professional demeanour throughout the process and will eventually recover. You will be receiving a bill from my therapist.

I draw your attention to a few specifics.

1. Every member of the family performed the unusual act noted in item 1, with the sole exception of daughter E, who said she wouldn’t even touch me until I had been washed. Twice.

2. My hat was permanently damaged by item 4. You will also be receiving a bill for that.

3. After item 7, I never want to see that part of the human anatomy from that distance again, especially son J.

4. My plastic nose left a permanent mark in the living room wall (item 9).

5. I still smell of melted chocolate, which is not so bad, actually.

6. The object inserted into my torso in item 21 is still there. Considering how painful it was to put in, I may simply leave it there. On the other hand, I dread what will happen when the batteries need to be changed.

7. I was only buried in the back yard for half a day.

8. After item 27, I am not certain why daughter E was so picky about my being washed.

9. It does indeed hurt to have all your stuffing removed and your head squished (see items 21, 29 and 43), and being dried in a warm oven is uncomfortable to say the least.

In summary you should find this report interesting reading, but I doubt you will find more than the most superficial items printable. I still expect partial payment for my week of service, as you hired me without agreement that the material found would or could be printed (see clause 17.03.2(a) of our contract). I can be reached care of daughter E.

Now kindly pay me and get out of my life,

 

Sandy.

Dasher's New Job

The man in the sleigh pointed at Jack and then turned his finger aggressively downward. Heave to, that was the message. And the blinking red light from the nose of the lead reindeer sent a second message, one known to criminals everywhere: you’re nicked.

Jack called to the creature harnessed to the bowsprit. “AHOY, MISTER DASHER, BRACE ABOX!”

Every able-bodied sailor aboard grabbed something sturdy as the reindeer came to a complete and sudden halt. Smilin’ Pete flew off his position on the wheel mount and rolled forward until he was stopped by the mainmast.

The sleigh touched down amidships and the jolly old man climbed off. He picked up Smilin’ Pete, giving the skull a quick buff as he approached the captain. The captain nervously shifted from foot to peg and back as the old fellow approached.

“Jack, what did I say?”

“Ahrr, Mister Santa, it’s like this…”

“Did I not specifically tell you when I let Dasher serve an internship here that he was not to be used to pull the boat?”

“Well, Sur, it was like’n this. Mister Dancer was boastin’ to the boys that he could haul just about anythin’ and then Tortuga Zeke and Gutbuster Gavin started makin’ fun of ‘im. Finally Busty Bob dared him, and said he’d dress up like a girl if’n he did it. Even Smilin’ Pete wanted ta see if ol' Dash could do it!”

“That excuse would have worked the first time and maybe the second, but this is more like the tenth! I should have you keel-hauled for this!”

Jack Bastord glowered, his face slowly turning redder than Saint Nick’s suit. Even the warning look from Smilin’ Pete wasn’t calming him down. “Nobody threatens to keel-haul me on me own ship! That’s mutiny! That’s lunacy! That’s…”

“Piracy, Jack?” The old man’s wry smile would have disarmed the Spanish Armada. Or made them open fire.

“Right!” Jack thought for a second (about three-quarters of a second longer than usual) and then burst out laughing. “Arr, that it is, Old Man. Yer always was one o’the best.”

As if waiting for the moment, one of the crew approached. “Uh, Santa?”

“Yes, Jennif… er, Busty Bob?”

The pirate handed him a small book. “Could you give this to Mrs. Claus, sir? I know she likes my stories of adventure on the high seas.”

"Thank you dear. I'm sure it will be fascinating reading."

“Mrs. Claus? Arr, Nick, I didn’t know the Church let ye keep a bit on the side!”

“She’s my housekeeper, Jack. There’s no hanky-panky; I am a bishop, you know.” But Santa knew from the gleam in Jack’s eye that this wouldn’t be the end of it.

“Boss!”

Santa turned and looked down at the elf standing behind him.

“What is it, Edwin?”

“Well sir, Dasher’s been talking with the other reindeer about what a chore it was to pull the ship, sir.”

Santa smiled. ‘Good,’ he thought, ‘a lesson hard-learned is more often shared.’

“Now they all want a try.”

The Interview

It was three weeks before the big night and Saint Nicholas was going over The List again. Much of the work was done by computer these days, but he reserved this part to himself. Finalizing moves from naughty to nice was satisfying and heartening work.

There was a distinctive knock at the door; centuries of knowing his staff told him who it was.

“Come in, Vixen.”

The young reindeer came in and stood before the desk, shuffling her hooves and clicking her knees nervously. Finally Santa broke the awkward silence.

“Is something bothering you, dear?”

Words gushed out. “Well sir, it’s about the job opening. I know nobody wanted the accident, and losing Rudolph is a blow, but the work must continue. That’s what you tell us every year. I like the new Dasher and Comet, they’re both great, but I noticed you haven’t placed the new Rudolph yet.”

Santa knew what was coming, but Vixen would have to say it herself. “And…”

“Uh, I’d like to apply, sir.”

“You know the job of Rudolph is traditionally held by a male reindeer.”

“Yes sir, but I think I could do better. For one thing, we won’t repeat the debacle of 2007 when we had to go back and do the deliveries a day late in Prague because Rudolph wouldn’t ask for directions. And working with him gives all of us a reputation as his herd, which can be a bit awkward around mating time given his uh, inclinations.”

“Well, my dear deer, I…”

“I know the risks, sir. The noseglow lichen is specifically enchanted to work on male reindeer, but the elves could develop a new strain. It shouldn’t take more than a year or two, and even if it takes longer I’m willing to take one for the team. I don’t really want to be butch, but if it means I can get the lead job…”

“And the fame?”

“Oooh, trample the fame. I just want to show that I can do the job as well as any male. I’d even take the name Rudolph if I had to, though I’d prefer Ruby.”

“Ho ho ho! Now girl, I’ve been…”

“Please sir, try it for just one year! You have to give me a chance!”

“Calm down girl, let me speak. I’m going to grant your request. Frankly, the current candidates for Rudolph have all been a bit too eager for the glory. I need someone whose first focus is on the job and it sounds like you’re it. I’ll give you a try this year –just this year, mind you– and if it works out, there’s an option for continuing. And I’ll call you Rudy, not Ruby. Do you understand?”

“Yes sir. Thank you sir. I won’t let you down sir.”

“See that you don’t. Now, do you have any suggestions for the girl who’s going to be Vixen this year?”

“Well sir, I’ve been making a list and checking it twice…”

Reapers

I remember the day of my heart attack very well. I was working from home on account of the utterly miserable weather, sitting at the kitchen table half-heartedly plugging away at the budget spreadsheet on my laptop. It was sudden: one moment I was working, the next I was lying on the floor with no heartbeat.

But the story doesn’t end there. I thought I’d fallen off my chair so I tried to get up. That’s when I noticed my body wasn’t coming with the rest of me. My first thought was, “that’s strange.” You were probably hoping for something more witty; so was I.

The sound of the front door opening and closing was weird and echoey, like a badly done dream sequence on a TV show. Two pairs of hard-soled shoes made castanet sounds on the floor.

They came into the room while was getting my bearings. It was the Grim Reaper. I’d seen enough horror movies to know that black cloak, skeletal visage and scythe anywhere. What I didn’t expect was the other one. It was a head shorter and didn’t have a scythe, but otherwise looked like a carbon copy of the first one. Also, as much as a featureless skeleton could, it looked bored.

The one with the scythe spoke. “Now child, this is a human in the moment of death. This man has about seventeen heartbeats left.”

“Whatever.”

“Whatever? Where did you learn to talk like that? You’re supposed to be admiring the grand majesty and futility of life!”

“Yeah, sure. Grand majesty. Just reap him so we can go.”

“That’s not how it’s done. We have to wait for the last heartbeat. And in any case, remember what the Guidance Counsellor said: I can’t show you actual death on school time.”

“Then why are we even doing this?”

I raised my spectral hand. “Uh, excuse me…”

Death turned his head to look at me. “What is it, mortal?”

“Am I dead?”

“Yes. Well, technically no, not for a few more seconds. Your heart’s got a few beats left before it fully stops.”

“Would it help to say I don’t want to die?”

“No, but feel free. Now if you don’t mind, I have to discuss something with my offspring here.”

Death turned back to the other skeleton.

“We are doing this because it will somehow help your adolescent mind understand how the workplace operates. So pay attention while I reap this man’s soul; there’s a technique to it.”

“But if he can’t actually die while I’m here, how are you going to reap his soul?”

If death had any skin I’m sure he would have furrowed his brow. He let out a long exhausted growl. Then he swung the blunt end of his scythe and knocked me down, back into my body. As my physical eyes opened I heard him grumbling.

“Bah! This is why I hate ‘Bring Your Child to Work Day.’”

Baby

I wake up Saturday morning after the Apocalypse. I’m fairly sure I put down at least a dozen zombies personally, and the six of us together used up most of the rum in the bar. I’m wearing clothes and alone in bed (thank the gods), but beyond that I could be anywhere.

My body feels awkward and out of proportion. My vision is blurry and sounds are distorted. Wherever this is smells nice, like pine trees in the fall, and the warmth of the soft blanket is heavenly. I could just lie here all day.

Something slowly comes into focus above me. It’s a mobile, like people put in little kids' bedrooms. There are stars and planets and a woman on a broomstick, all bouncing around and drawing little circles in the air to the accompaniment of faint bells.

I try to laugh but it comes out more like a burbling noise. I raise my hand and it’s puffy like – well, like it’s never been. I’ve always been a long and lanky girl, more of an athlete than a fashion plate. I wiggle my fingers and they move okay so they’re not swollen, just weird.

Giant hands reach down from the fuzzy distance and pick me up. A moment later I’m staring into my own face: big green almond-shaped eyes (too big), a pointy little nose (too little), bright pink lips around a too-small mouth and cheekbones so high they need buttressing.

Somehow it all clicks. I’m a baby! Weirder, I’m my own baby! I’ve never been pregnant, or even... you know, so this is all totally new. Big me kisses me on the forehead; I try to touch it but my arms don’t reach. Definitely a baby.

She lowers me down and presents me with a bare breast as big as my head. She makes a really inappropriate gesture with her finger, then touches my tongue with it. The sweet-tasting warm milk tells me exactly why I’m here. It seems really weird to my twenty-year old mind, but I start to suck.

I can feel her heartbeat and the gentle vibration of her humming. It feels like home.

After my breakfast she gently bounces me up and down until I let out a hiccup. Then she holds me against her snuggly-warm chest, now covered with soft green velvet. It’s too easy to get lost in the simple sensuality of it.

My reverie is broken by a voice. The language is foreign, but somehow I understand it.

“Lady Umbriel. It is time.”

“Must it be, Therion? I want to hold her longer.”

“The convergence will not wait. If we do not send her to Midgard soon she will perish with the rest of us.”

“Forgive a mother’s selfishness. Take good care of her.”

She hands me over and the last thing I see is the love on her face and the tears in her eyes.

 

I wake up to the sunlight coming into my dorm room. Jenna is still out cold. I look in the mirror and I’m me again, still in my rumpled clothes from last night. My pounding head tells me the zombies eventually won.

I wonder if that weird dream means anything, or if it’s just my subconscious trying to tell me a story. I trace my pointed ear and smile; I like me, but it’s obvious I’m not like everyone else here. I pick up the phone and call. Mom answers and we catch up, but then it’s time for the big question.

“Mom, have you ever heard the name Lady Umbriel?”

Her pause speaks volumes. “I think we need to talk.”

In Hora Mortis Nostrae

The hands of the clock, carefully and diligently wound all these years, read 4:00 am. The end of my story is approaching rapidly. I consider a rosary, but there isn’t enough time.

“Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Ie...” I choke for a moment “...sus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.”

I rise from my knees. Seven years of praying and meditation have led to this. Seven years; one year for each of my victims. Today Father Abelard and Abbot Mirken will pray for my soul and then condemn it to Hell. Some sins cannot be remitted.

I emerge from my cell as my “brothers” are beginning to make the sounds of waking. I am forbidden from praying with them. I understand: the temptation to add to my toll of victims would be too great.

As I approach the chapel I see a wavering amber glow dancing in the corridor. This will be done by candlelight. It’s somehow fitting. There is a formless robe standing in the hallway; from the aroma of Italian food and the obvious girth I can guess it’s Brother Thomas. He confirms it as I approach.

“Brother Kataramenos, I am glad you’re here.” There’s relief in his voice; he knows what he would have had to do if I hadn’t come.

He’s holding a tray with two objects on it. One is a stout hammer with a golden head and a wooden haft. The other is a jeweled chalice. Trust the Church to make a simple choice ostentatious and ritualized. I point to the chalice, as I have every day for the last seven years.

Brother Thomas nods. But this time, he does something different. He steps aside and nods toward the door of the chapel.

“Enter freely, and of your own will.”

I push open the doors and step into the nave. I feel as if spikes have been driven into my wrists and ankles and a yawning gash opened in my side. The pain is nigh-unbearable, but I bear it anyway. It is what Our Lord did, and perhaps this is a sign that I may meet Him today.

Abbot Mirken calls from the sanctuary. “Come forward, Brother.”

I do. I can feel liquid running along the edge of my eyebrow. I don’t need to see it to know it is blood. I resist the urge to take some of it on my finger.

I stop at the altar rail. Once I would have been on the other side, but my days as a priest ended the night I was attacked and left for dead. Like Our Lord I descended into Hell for three days; unlike Our Lord I did not emerge unscathed. Seven people paid the price for my resurrection. I remember each and every face as its colour drained away, and the life with it.

I pray with the priests through the Liturgy of the Word, and of the Eucharist, each ‘Amen’ driving nails into my chest. I am not sure how I can go on, but I do. I offer the pain to God; there is no surcease, but the tiny reminders of His presence tell me that even now I am not totally beyond hope.

“Hic est enim Calix Sanguinis mei,”

I fight not to scream as my fangs emerge. Blood! I will tear out their throats and feast! My claws dig into the rail as I fight not to rise, even as fire burns at me. Eternities of torment rip at my soul as I struggle, my will against the beast. It is somehow enough, yet somehow not my will alone.

“Corpus Christi.”

They place a wafer on my tongue that tastes like ashes. I swallow it anyway, though it catches in my throat.

“Sanguis Christi.”

I tear the chalice from Father Abelard’s hand and down it, letting the wine flow over and past my fangs and down my throat. I can feel the flames consuming my body from the inside, but I don’t care. This will either cure me or kill me; I know that whichever it does the choice will be that of the Lord.

 

Three days later.

I stare up at the setting sun, that brilliant fire which has been my nemesis these past seven years. Three days. I spent three days lying in the ground before rising as undead; now I spend three days in the sun before dying again. It is enough.

I thank the Lord for each of these days. May he watch over you and bless you always.

Father Justin Depardieux, Brother Kataramenos, damned no more.

The Choices We Make

I was brushing my teeth when I noticed them. There was a little gold hammer, about the size of a peanut brittle hammer, and a 6-oz gold cup with a tiny bit of water in it. Both were carved with intricate runes like some ancient Norse totems of grave protent.

In the mirror I could see an ancient scrap of parchment stuck to the opposite wall with a dagger. It read “Are you ready? Make your choice” in mirror writing.

I sloshed the water and spit it out just as I realized that I’d been rinsing my mouth from the little cup. Ah, well. I hope I chose wisely.

The Job

The first thing I notice when I wake up is someone’s knee against my face. The leg attached, both parts, runs down my chest; the groin pressed into my hip is female. It’s pitch black and it’s cramped, and my body is twisted in directions it hasn’t bent in years. The clothes I’m wearing don’t quite fit. I can feel the rumble and shake of a moving car.

“You’re awake, Kat? Good, take this.” The handle of a large gun is pressed into my hand.

“What’s going on?”

Last night is kind of a blur. One, maybe three, too many Mai Tai’s and a sexual marathon with a gorgeous and very flexible girl. My mouth feels like I accidentally ate my lipstick and the headache’s so bad I can’t think straight. I was very upset about something, but what?

“You said you wanted to work with me. We’re on the way to a job.”

“A job?” That was it! I lost my job yesterday!

“Yeah. You said  you needed work. When we stop I’ll pull the release and the trunk will open. We’ll be surrounded by cops, so you have to come out shooting.”

Shooting? What have I gotten myself into? We hang a hard left and her leg squishes my breast for a moment. She kisses my shoulder. I wish I could remember her name.

“We’re nearly there. Two more turns, about ten seconds. Remember, once we’re out we’re silent. No talking whatsoever until we’re done. We do this right and nobody gets hurt.”

“Uh...” Nobody gets hurt? But we’ve got guns!

The car slams to a stop and suddenly the trunk opens. Except the trunk is on the front and the stopping motion throws us both out onto sawdust in a shower of oversized greenbacks. I sit up and pull the trigger.

There’s no boom, only a loud ‘thwut’. A white splat appears on the hood of the old-style VW bug we were riding in. People are closing in around us. Grossly distorted police officers.

As I jump to my feet my head screams for Advil, but I keep firing anyway. Anything in blue is a target. The first guy I shoot does a full backflip as the white glob stains his chest. The next guy takes a splat to the knee and drops.

The whole place smells of stockyard and whipped cream and grease. Roars of surprise and agitation and laughter nearly make my head explode while nightmare images of ghost-white faces fill my vision. I get a few more, but eventually the police subdue me with rubber clubs. Giant, but surprisingly light, handcuffs are placed on my wrists.

I’m hauled to my feet beside Sophie –that’s her name– and the cop in the big hat with the brass badge on it faces us. Out comes Charlie Brown adult speech.

“Wha-wha-wha-WHA wha-wha-wha-WHA-wha.”

We’re pushed into the back of an old-style paddy wagon. Sophie sticks her face out between the bars as we start moving.

The noise is starting to die down when she turns back to me.

“Great job, Kat! I told you everything would be okay.”

Her lips find mine and I carefully tilt my head so she doesn’t knock my nose off. She’s right; my attempt at ‘normal’ life was a total failure, but now I’m home. Once a clown, always a clown.

Awakening

Nothing wakes you up like realizing you’re behind the wheel of a speeding car. Especially when you’re a thirteen-year-old girl and don’t know how to drive. And you glance around and realize that your right arm is metal and there’s a sports bag beside you with a bunch of cash in it and you’re wearing a hospital gown that’s not done up right so it keeps sliding down. And you somehow know you’re not dreaming. That’s the kind of day I’m having.

No time for WTF; did I mention the speeding car? We sail out of the parking lot into traffic. Dodging cars at 60 is kind of like one of those racing video games, except there’s no reset if you hit something. I lean on what I hope is the brake and the car speeds up.

Adrenaline level spiking.

“Who said that?” I dodge past an SUV and some cars. Horns are honking.

Pursuit detected.

A siren sounds and red-and-blue lights start flashing behind me. I barely avoid some guy on a motorcycle and then rip through a busy intersection. The car is still speeding up.

Probability of vehicular impact eighty-four percent and rising.

“Aaaugh! What do I do!?”

Remove foot from accelerator and turn left at the next intersection.

Only one foot is on a pedal so I move it. I turn left and the car goes up on two wheels for a moment, then comes back down. There’s honking and screeching and a car-crash bump behind me, but the traffic thins out.

And then there’s the steady stream people crossing the street in front of me. I hope the other pedal is the brake. It is.

The car spins to the right and flips over and a pillow explodes in my face.

Vehicle inoperable. Suggestion: continue on foot.

“Duh!” I push on the car door and it crumples like tinfoil. Okay, my metal arm is very strong. I manage to slide out as the siren gets louder.

Remember the bag.

“Yes, mother!” I grab it and stagger to my feet. My legs are metal too! I run. At like twenty miles an hour.

Jump this fence.

I jump the fence and plunge twenty feet into a metal container. I’m in some kind of freight car and the train is moving. Now it’s time for WTF.

“Okay, voice. Why am I half-metal? What’s going on?”

Personality of cadaver Rebecca Forsythe has awakened during reconstruction. Mission parameters are being recalibrated.

“Cadaver? I’m dead?”

Correct.

“How?”

Extensive heat-related tissue damage indicates combustion.

“I burned to death? So why am I still here?”

Doctor Vortex has reassembled you to acquire the STAG.

“You know that’s totally meaningless, right?”

Incorrect. Doctor Vortex desires the Space-Time Anomaly Generator, the STAG, for his own purposes.

“Isn’t he a super-villain?”

Correct.

“What if I refuse to do this?”

Mission will be completed while biological unit is dormant.

“You’ll do it in my sleep?”

Correct.

 

Sigh. And that’s how my new life begins.

The Sketch

A couple of dozen lines, that’s all she was. I’d stared across the desk at Muriel Trent when she drew the image, gasping in awe at the sheer artistic talent. And at the fact that she, like me, was a slightly overweight, slightly underdressed, slightly nerdy nobody. I’d wanted to ask her out, but never could work up the courage. If I could be said to have one great regret in life, that was it.

That was thirty years ago. The only change is that I had the picture laminated when the corners started to fray. She watches me at the computer when I play video games; when I get a high score, which isn’t very often, I turn the screen to show her. When I have to scrap another abortive attempt at a novel, I cry to her.

It was my birthday. The rest of my family was on a cruise in the Caribbean; they said we’d get together when they get home. My friends, both of them, were busy: Carl was in Muncie Indiana for some work thing and Andy was at his sister’s wedding reception. It was a quiet night, like so many before it.

I looked up at the drawing; I’d never named her, since that would tie down her personality to a real life. A part of me said if I named her she would find someone and leave me. I know it’s stupid, but when was the last time your mind played fair?

I stared for a moment and my wistful expression turned to confusion. I know that drawing intimately: every line, every contour, even the tiny point of blood in the corner from when I sneezed at her after the operation. But something was different. Her eyes, barely a shadow on the paper, were looking at me.

I stared, gaping. The image was changing, shifting images like some art nouveau animated ad on the TV. Her mouth, normally a tiny slit, was opening. When the voice came it was barely audible, more the memory of a voice than real speech.

“Daniel, help me.”

I hyperventilated, trying but failing to gasp out a response. A few disjointed syllables were all I could manage before she spoke again.

“The Montrose, Apartment 3C.”

I’d heard of the place; it was a run-down four-storey walk-up about ten blocks away. I was sure I was hallucinating, but that tiny black inverted comma on the drawing’s cheek was all it took to put me in motion. I was out the door in less than two minutes.

I rushed down the street at a fast walk, which was about as energetic as I could get with one foot half-gone. The Montrose stood at the corner of eighth and fifteenth, where it had for as far back as I could remember. I stepped over the place where somebody had vomited on the sidewalk and tugged on the ‘security’ door. It opened.

I’m not too horribly out of shape, but the three half-flights of stairs up to the third floor nearly killed me. I’ve never been good with stairs. When I reached the landing I looked down the hall in both directions. There were three closed doors with black letters on bilious green frames: A, B, and D. The empty doorway must be apartment C.

I walked into an apartment that could have been mine. The furniture was aging and worn, a few old science magazines begged to be thrown out. There was a dirty glass on the kitchen counter and one of the knives was missing from the rack.

I heard a rasping gasp from the bedroom. I hobbled there at maximum speed and stared in.

It was Muriel; even after all those years I knew her. What I couldn’t get my mind around was seeing her with her jeans around her ankles and blouse hiked up, her hands tied to the bedpost and a knife sticking out of her chest. The blank stare in her eyes told me she was dead.

Her faint gasp told me I was an idiot. I snapped several pictures with my phone (no, I’m not sick like that – it was evidence), then called 911. I found a blanket and put it over her, then tried to wake her.

It must have been a slow night because the paramedics were there in less than five minutes. The police were only seconds behind. When I told the police my story I got an all-expense paid ride to the station and some nice chrome bracelets.

It took several hours to sort everything out, especially when they saw the pictures on my phone. At the time I didn’t know why they finally let me go, but later I found out it was because Muriel had woken up and given them a partial description of her attacker. For once I was glad not to be a muscular man in my mid-twenties.

The police actually took me to the hospital where she was staying, mostly because she’d asked to see me. By name, even. An officer stood in the room as I went in to see her.

Her voice was deeper and a bit hoarser than I remembered, though that could just have been the rejuvenating effect of a bad memory. “Daniel? Is it really you?”

“Yeah, most of me. Are you okay?”

“Not really. I was stabbed and...”

“I know. You don’t have to say it. I was the one who called 911.”

“That’s what they said. What caused you to be there?”

I thought of giving some flip line about being in the neighbourhood but decided to do better. I told her the truth, all the way back to the talking picture. She made me repeat that part two or three times.

 

That’s really the end of the story. They never caught the bastard that attacked her, but I was there to help her through recovery and counselling. The drawing hasn’t done anything else weird ever since. Not even when Muriel moved in.

The Crystal Ball

A crystal ball? Does this medium really have a crystal ball? And the name, the ‘Oracles Den’? Don’t they get that it should be in the possessive? It’s not like they have more than one: the only oracle is the scarecrow in the 1970’s era pimp shirt that looks like his girlfriend went mad with a Bedazzler.

It is kind of cool that we can both see the smoke and fuzzy TV in the crystal ball. That’s actually a good trick. I wonder what movie we’re going to see edited clips from? This should be interesting, in a sick way.

Nice close up. That always was my favourite part of you. And the way you’re working me is pretty impressive. Good to see that five years in the future you’re still just as athletic.

Wait a second! Where’s my tattoo? From that distance you should be able to read the writing on the little heart! That’s not me!

OMG! Oh! Emm! Gee! Is that Tara? What are you doing with the girl they just hired in the mailroom? Well, it’s obvious what you’re doing with her; she’s actually pretty hot. I never knew she was the type that would make that horrible squeaking noise, though. And I just love the way she’s bobbing in time with you. But where am I? Why am I even watching this? Oh, there I am, over in the chair, tied up. Why do I seem to be enjoying it so much? I never realized I was THAT kinky.

There, you’re done now.  I wonder what happens next. I guess she’s going to go wash up... no, she’s going over to me. And what’s that she’s saying? He IS nice, but I like you better. What’s that supposed to mean? Oh, right, I get it.

“NO! Why did the video stop? You were just getting to the good part!”

Nera

The tent was lit by patio lanterns, packed with mystical tchotchke, and filled with enough fragrant smoke to gag a bylaw officer. My eyes and mouth started watering immediately under the assault of the overpowering aroma of spiced coffee.

“Ah, welcome young lovers!” said the wizened hag that emerged from the haze. “Would you like Mistress Emilia to read your future?”

Karen squinted a bit. “Mistress Emilia? Aren’t you just Emily from the Crafty Carafe?”

“No, no, I am far more ancient and learned than she. I just happen to have her good looks.” She cackled maniacally to punctuate the statement; one of her wrinkles peeled loose and she smoothed it back down. “Now, shall I read your future Karen, or young Tom?”

“Do Tom. I’m sure his future will be more exciting than mine.”

Emily turned an oversized eye on me and pulled out a wand with a blue LED on the tip.  She swirled it around so it drew light patterns in the air while she chanted nonsense syllables. Finally she produced a small paper cup half-full of the sort of spiced coffee that Crafty Carafe was becoming famous for.

I downed the coffee in one gulp; it tasted vaguely of cinnamon. My head immediately began to feel a bit light.

“I was going to say inhale the aroma and let it transport you; hopefully you didn’t get too much.”

The room started swirling and rocking from side to side. I found myself seated on a folding chair as she guided my hands to the surface of a crystal ball.

An image came into view; I was out on the beach at Morris Point with a girl I’ve never seen before. She was everything I’ve dreamed of, including some of the nightmares. Her body was obsidian black down the left side – skin, hair, eyes and everything – and pearlescent white down the right side. Her proportions were... imagine a renaissance sculptor’s idea of Venus and you’d be just a bit on the dowdy side. And what was happening? Well, Morris Point doesn’t have the nickname Make-Out Point for nothing.

Karen’s voice interrupted the vision. “NERA! You little HUSSY!”

Mistress E and I both looked at her.

“Karen? You know this girl?”

“I know her all right. But she shouldn’t be able to know you because she’s NOT REAL!”

“What do you mean?”

“She’s a fantasy! An illusion! Nera K. is the imaginary personification of my sense of sexual inadequacy and natural bi-cu-ri-” She trailed off and turned beet red. In a tiny voice she continued. “That’s what my therapist says.”

In the half-light and the smoke, now that I’d been primed to notice, I could see that Nera K. looked exactly like Karen, except for the colouration. I lightly clasped her shoulders and she trembled.

“Karen, how long have you been seeing Nera?”

“A couple of months. Ever since we, you know...”

“Is that why you’ve been trying to avoid being alone with me?”

She gulped. “Yeah. Kind of silly, huh?”

“No. But she’s something we can work through – together.”

Mistress Emilia chose that moment to break the mood. “And if you want to work on that repressed bicuriosity, I know a girl who can help.” She handed Karen a card.

Karen blushed even deeper, moreso on the left than the right.

St. Valentine's Day, and Reaper

Today, both parts of a two-part story.

Last Friday, the eve of Valentine’s Day, it happened again. Normally Ferguson House is a quiet old mansion on the edge of downtown, but very occasionally the place acts up. The last time it ended with the police cutting up my best slippers to examine a bloodstain. The donor was apparently a lunatic who’d died over a century before, so there were no further complications.

This time a scream woke me up. I was out my room door in an instant, rushing to Vicky’s room. Vicky is a grad student searching for records from the mid-1700’s; her room is just down the hall from mine.

I tripped over something and face-planted on the hardwood floor. When I looked back there was nothing there, of course.

Vicky’s door pulled open and she looked out, waving a flashlight. “What was that?”

“I think the ghosts are awake. Did you hear a scream?”

“Yeah, it sounded like it came from my neighbour.”

I stood, limping a bit from my barked knee, and we checked the bedroom next to hers. I stepped in the door and shone the flashlight around. Nothing but a bed, nightstand and wardrobe.

Something tugged at the edge of my mind. Something about the light…

“Vicky, turn off your flashlight.”

“Why?”

“Just do it, okay. Please?”

She switched off her light and I shone mine at her. She had two shadows.

The next scream was hers, as she was pulled forcibly out of the doorway. I burst out into the hall and shone my flashlight. She fell to the floor, breathing heavily and holding her throat.

“What the hell?”

“It was a ghost.”

“There’s no such thing as ghosts.”

“Tell them that. Where’s your flashlight?”

“I dropped it. It should be… on… the… floor… Pat, what’s that behind you?”

I looked over my shoulder. There was a glint of metal at about shoulder height and the shadow of a woman backed against the corridor wall. I swung the flashlight around and the tableau vanished, leaving behind only an echo of whimpering.

“Paws off, creep!”

I swung the light back around and Vicky dropped to the floor again.

“Something tried to grab me!”

“Just stay in the beam; you’ll be safe.” I hope.

I dropped the flashlight and turned; the glint of light was back, only closer to the other shadow. This had gone far enough! I grabbed for the space behind the glint and got hold of a wrist. It turned toward me and I fought. An invisible hand grabbed at my throat. I grabbed its wrist and tried to force it back. The ghost was strong; I was pushed back to the wall. The glint moved slowly toward my chest.

There was a sudden “crack” and the sound of shattering glass. My attacker evaporated, causing me to lunge forward. I heard the heavy sound of running feet. I hoped that meant the evening’s festivities were over.

Small invisible hands touched my chest. After a bit of exploring a set of lips found mine. One hand held the back of my neck while the other fussed with the waistband of my pyjama bottoms.

Vicky looked at me with vague disgust. “Get a room.”

It was a while before I returned to my room.

 

The next day we searched the bedroom where the scream had originated and found a hidden compartment in the wardrobe. In it was the diary of one Virginia May, lady of pleasure; it was saucy reading, especially the entry for Valentine’s Day 1789.

Last eve Billy Kellen and Stefen Miller came calling with bad intent. Poor Sady was kilt. I was faved by the action of a haint who held Billy until Elsbet ftruck him with a vase. I could not fee his visag, but thanked him after the way of my trade. He was of a pleasant size and firmness, and fair gentle; not affrighting at all.

–  –  –

A month later

I spent yesterday repairing leaks on the roof and cursing Vicky. She said that my lighting a candle for St. Paddy and one for St. Simeon was silly superstition, but I figured I was going up on a slanted roof on a rainy Friday the Thirteenth, so I needed all the help I could get. And just to prove I was right, nothing untoward or strange happened all day.

I had a good laugh at Vicky’s expense when I got in. She’d said that two dates were enough that we should keep an eye open; after all, both previous hauntings of Ferguson House had occurred on Friday the Thirteenth and this was one as well. I told her two dates don’t make a pattern any more than two beers make you drunk.

I ate my words when I heard the thump in the hall. I picked up my flashlight and put the cardboard shield in front of it. For some reason, you couldn’t see the shadows of the haunts in a direct beam. I pushed open the door and shone my indirect flashlight down.

“Sorry, Pat.” Vicky was standing by the side table with a wee candle from a birthday cake. “I bumped the table while setting up my light source.”

“What’re you doing with that? A child could blow it out.”

“I wanted to see if candlelight worked where a flashlight doesn’t.” She dripped a bit of wax onto a coaster (at least that) and stuck the candle to it so it would stand on its own.

“There is no way that’s going to work, girl. A candle isn’t…”

A shadowy form rounded the corner into the hall. It was broad and hooded, carrying a long staff. It started moving inexorably down the hall accompanied by the sound of heavy bootsteps.

I gulped as it drew nearer. I fumbled with the cardboard over the end of the flashlight; certain things deserve to be unseen. I turned the flashlight off, but the shadow could still be seen in the flickering glow of the tiny candle. It strode past me, effortlessly pushing me out of the way.

Vicky picked up her candle and we followed the ghost down the hall into my room. It came to a stop beside the bed, which was depressed as though someone was lying in it. Someone very small and fairly light: a child.

Now I’ve put a bit of the Irish in a number of ladies, but never had a child of my own. Even so I couldn’t stand by when the Reaper took one. Some might say I’m brave, others would say stubborn, and more stupid. And that would be my excuse before St. Peter when I pushed that cloaked monster out of the way and grabbed the invisible child.

It was cold, but that could be because it was a spook. I didn’t care. I held the child close to me, deliberately shielding it from the Reaper with my body. Any moment I expected the blow of a scythe to slice my soul away. Which is why I was totally surprised by the small cough from my arms.

The arms of a child of eight to ten years wrapped around me and squeezed. The Reaper backed off and another figure came forward. This second figure was the type I was more used to, with curves in the right places. A little hand held mine as its mother took the child from me.

Vicky blew out the candle, returning the room to darkness. “I guess it was you then.”

“What was me?”

“You made another appearance in Victoria’s diary. March 14, 1801.” Vicky held the book out to me.

Young Angel was nigh taken by the fever last even. The prieft came to perform last rites, but was pushed away by a haint. I scarcely believed, but she was held up from the bed before our eyes and the fever broke. She came to me slowly and told me it was her daddy faved her. Had I not seen her floating in the air I would scarce believe it. Father says it was the work of God, but methinks it was he who blessed me with my girl in the first place.

 

Ferguson House

Ferguson House is a thirty-room gothic mansion on the edge of the downtown core, built back when that was the edge of town. In its three-century existence it has been a home, an inn, a mental hospital, a medical laboratory and a house of ill repute. It was deemed a State Historical Site in the forties; now it’s called White Elephant House because the city doesn’t want to spend a cent of their own funds keeping it up and the state only provides enough money for one caretaker.

That’s where I come in. My job is to keep this heap of bricks and masonry from collapsing under its own weight. I get paid the equivalent of a junior city clerk’s wage plus free room and board – in the house. Most of the job is handyman-type repairs and trying to find a way to sleep through creaks, pops, animals crawling in the walls, flapping shutters and the occasional moaning breeze.

Last Friday night, the thirteenth, I was awakened in the middle of the night by a door slamming. It was most likely kids sneaking in on some stupid dare again, not realizing I was living here. It wouldn’t be the first time. I got up, threw on my bathrobe and slippers, and switched on the lantern.

The lantern threw its pale light down the empty hallway, casting long shadows along the walls and over the ancient portraits. I heard a gasp, but I couldn’t tell if it was me or someone else.

“Is anybody there?” I stepped slowly into the hall.

A door creaked. I stepped forward to where I thought it was, but the door looked untouched. I tested it anyway; the handle turned stiffly and the swelled wood resisted opening. The room inside was dark, dusty and undisturbed. I pulled the door closed, which took some force, and heard a double slam.

Looking back down the hallway I saw that my bedroom door had shut too. This old place could be like that sometimes, but I had to be sure. I walked down and flung it open. The room was just as I’d left it.

I decided the first sound must have been a dream and was just closing my door when I heard the sound of a metal plate or tray hitting the floor, followed by the jangling of about a dozen flying utensils.

The door was open in a flash, but the hall was still empty. I moved toward the sound and found nothing. As usual.

The door beside me shook under a hammering blow. Then another. The handle started rattling. I turned it and shouldered the door open, barging into the room.

It was empty. I checked under the bed, in the closet, behind the door. Nothing. Then I went to leave the room and saw the shadow on the far wall. It was tall and looming, male and threatening. I thrust the lantern into the hall to see what was casting it and the shadow vanished.

An upward arc of blood appeared on the corridor wall and started slowly dripping from several spots along its length. I backed off quickly as another arc appeared on the opposite wall.

As I backed toward my own door drops of blood began appearing on the hardwood floor from no discernable source. Drip. Drip. One of them landed on my slipper. At that point I turned and bolted to my room. As I went through my door I felt something brush past me, then the door slammed. I heard the sound of a key in the door, even though there was no lock.

When a small bloody handprint appeared on my side of the door I fainted.

 

When I awoke Saturday morning there were no signs of the prior night's events in the hallway or on my door. In the afternoon I checked out the newspaper archives in the library. On Saturday June 14, 1879, it was reported that one of the patients at Ferguson House Sanitarium had escaped from his cell the previous night and been stabbed to death by a nurse. The plucky woman was startled but in good spirits.

Things have been quiet since then, but I still can’t get that dark red stain out of my slipper.

Jumping and Flying

“It’s perfectly safe, Holly.”

“Perfectly safe? I’ll tell you what’s perfectly safe! NOT jumping out of a moving aircraft! That’s perfectly safe!”

“Come on! It’s a team-building exercise. Everyone else from the office is doing it.”

“Okay, if I have to.” I look out at the ground two kilometers below me; four parachutes are already out and now it’s my turn. Everything looks so small and far away. Maybe I could...

“Off you go, Holly. Don’t forget your parachute!” A firm hand pushes into my back, thrusting me out the aircraft door.

“Zeke you asshole!” But it’s too late. I fly out the door, narrowly missing the tail wing on the way by, and then I’m being blown in a hurricane wind. I’m blowing upward, I guess due to the plane’s wake or something.

After a few seconds and about a forty vertical meters it dawns on me that something’s wrong. I’m not falling down, I’m falling up. This wasn’t covered in our preparation.

“HAAALP!”

A radio clicks to life in my ear. “Miss Brellin? What’s wrong?”

“Gravity is broken! I’m falling up!”

“A feeling like you’re floating upward is perfectly normal. You are in fact falling downward.”

“Then why is the ground getting farther away?”

“That’s just an illusion. What does your altimeter say?”

I eventually find the little cluster of readouts on my arm. “It says 3400... 3450... 3500... If that’s falling I’m wearing this stupid thing upside-down!”

“Don’t panic. Maybe you’re caught in an updraft. Try shifting your weight.”

“Updraft!? I wouldn’t rise this fast if I were sitting on a wind machine!” I try to shift position, but it has about as much effect as I thought it would. “It’s not working. And it’s... getting... hard to... breathe!”

“Is there any way to slow your rise? Have you tried opening your chute?”

It takes some fumbling to find the rip cord. Things are starting to go red and dark patches are coming and going in my vision. I start giggling when a little tiny parachute comes out. Then the big one opens and just about pulls my arms off while at the same time giving me the ultimate wedgie.

It doesn’t take long to realize that the parachute’s upside-down; the ground is hanging above me and the clouds below. Everything is getting fuzzier and dimmer. The voice is shouting but I can’t really tell what it’s saying. It sounds like it’s getting farther and farther away...

 

When I wake up it takes me a moment to actually realize that I have. It’s dark and it’s cold; all I can see is a dim glow on my frozen-over goggles. I try to stretch, but everything crinkles and resists. With some effort I manage to raise my hand and pull the goggles off. Stupid idea, I know, but if this environment wants to kill me it’s already had plenty of chances.

It’s nighttime and the stars look awesome! The Milky Way is glowing brightly, clearly visible for the first time in my life. I recognize some of the constellations, but not all of them. I start to look for old favourites from when Dad and I used to go sky watching, but the tableau is broken up by a large object. It’s the Earth, floating against the stellar backdrop like a gargantuan pearl sheathed in blue radiance. It seems close enough that I could just reach out and touch it...

The illusion breaks and I realize it really is the Earth and it’s actually several thousand kilometers away. I’m floating in space in my parachuting rig, completely coated in frost but somehow not dying from lack of air.

I pull off one glove and my hand immediately feels warmer. It’s glowing too, with a faint white light like some heavenly aura. If I concentrate I can see the stars through it. I immediately pull the other glove off, with the same effect.

The boots are next, followed by the bulky skydiving coverall; if real physics were operating here I’d be signing my own death warrant by doing this. Instead it’s warming me up. I look around nervously, then realize if anyone’s watching me they’d have to be using a high-powered telescope. Off come the sweater and then the tee. I’m glowing all over, or I guess all under, and my exposed flesh feels warm, dry, and soft.

I stretch my back. I hadn’t realized it had felt constricted, but now I’m free. A ten meter triangle of diaphanous wing stretches to my left, and the same amount to my right. A warm breeze takes hold of them and I can feel myself blowing away from the Earth. It takes practice, and maybe a few hundred kilometers, but I figure out how to adjust things so I’m floating freely and not moving too much.

The rest of my clothes come away quickly. I’m a little self-conscious, but I’d rather be embarrassed than frozen to death. I find that I can fly around just by wanting to, but moving toward the Earth is like climbing a steep hill. Not that I really need to go there.

What have I got back on Earth? I’m not close to my family and I only have a few friends. Most of them are busy starting families of their own; if I have to go to one more baby shower I’ll be the one throwing a tantrum. Even ‘team building’ events from work like the one that got me here are more of a torture than a treat.

But there is something. About a hundred kilometers in I can see another faintly glowing shape like me. Another person. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try to help.

I manage to get to him, though I’m winded when I get there. It’s a man in a frozen business suit, looking totally confused.

“Are you an angel?”

“If I am then you are too. Help me get you out of those clothes; they’re what’s making you cold.”

It takes some effort, but his clothes come free. As happened to me, the air (or lack thereof) catches his wings and drags us a ways before he gets control.

“Who are you? What’s going on?”

“My name’s Holly and I have no idea. I’ve only been here a few minutes myself. Skydiving accident.”

“Oh. I’m Carl. I was admiring the view from the roof of my company’s building. Well, not my company, I work in the Accounting Division, but you know what I mean.”

“And you got sucked up into the air like you were falling?”

“I guess. More like the Earth rejected me. I jumped, but rather than falling down I fell up.”

“So you were trying to end it all. And now instead of the end you’ve found a new beginning. I mean, look around you at all this beauty. There’s a whole universe to explore.”

He stares at me. “You’re right; there is beauty here. But I’ll still be alone.”

I have no answer to that. I feel the same way myself.

“Come on; I can see a couple more people like us over there.”

 

The next person we get to is a man, another guy who decided to leap off a building. After that it’s a woman who ‘fell’ out a fifteenth-story window. A teenager who jumped off a water tower, a woman who did a high dive off a bridge, and so on. Every one but me is a suicide, somebody who decided jumping was their chosen way to make peace with an empty and unforgiving world.

No matter how many people occupy my life, I’m always alone. And now here I am in outer space, which is really no different from where I was on Earth. Suddenly I’m struck by how much I just want to have someone around.

Maybe a few people at work will mourn my absence, light a candle for me or some such. I kind of wish I could call and tell them I’m all right. In fact, I’m better than all right. I’m a butterfly in outer space, free to fly and free to be free. And with the thousands of others that have emerged from their earthly cocoons this day, at least I won’t have to fly alone.

Special Delivery

I stare at the pop-up ad in disbelief. “Click now to receive three million dollars! Just press the link! ... You have thirty seconds.” I haven’t seen one of these in years!

The background fades to black, throwing a minor shroud of dimness over the room. A countdown timer has started on the window. Man, this is an absolute classic. There can NOT be a hacker out there who thinks people would be dumb enough to click the link.

Except for me. I check again to ensure this machine is totally isolated from my home network and activate the virus trap. Collecting new computer viruses is a hobby of mine, and I’m hoping this one will be interesting. I don’t hold out a lot of hope: the last ‘new’ virus was 1990’s-era and half the code didn’t work.

I click the link. Rather than “You’re punked!” or some other cruel message, all that pops up is a box that says “Thank you. You will be contacted shortly.”

I slide the USB with VirusGrab into the machine and it starts analyzing my PC. This will take a little while, so I head to the kitchen to get a drink and something to munch. The knock on my door is a total surprise.

Putting aside visions of fatty food and sugary drink I change course to the door. I check the peep-hole and it’s a workman of some kind.

“Who is it?”

“Delivery for Brian Vanderweil.”

At this time of night? But I don’t have any enemies, not even online ones, and there’s nothing unusual except the time. I open the door and he immediately starts talking.

“Mister Vanderweil? May I see some ID please?”

“I don’t remember ordering...”

“Some ID please, Mister Vanderweil. I have instructions that this has to be delivered to you personally.”

I grumble and show him my driver’s license. He looks at it, then at me. Finally he nods and hands it back.

“What is this all about, anyway?”

“I have a delivery for you. But since you need to sign for it, we have to be certain everything is proper. Chase!”

A woman walks up with a large briefcase, then holds it flat in front of him. He pops it open and it’s full of money. Hundred dollar bills. He picks up a stack and turns to me.

“Three million dollars, Mister Vanderweil. That will be thirty thousand of these. One... Two... Three... Four...” Each number is punctuated by him handing me a hundred dollar bill.

 

Eight hours later...

 

“...Twenty-nine thousand nine hundred ninety-nine... Thirty thousand. Sign here please.”

He hands me a clipboard which I can barely see. The sun is up but I am in desperate need of sleep. I scrawl on the line (I hope). He hands me a copy.

“Thank you, sir. You should go rest, then start thinking of ways to enjoy your riches.” He looks at his watch. “We’ll be back for your soul in one year, starting... now.”

Somebody Else's Pants

There’s something about a Luger. It’s not the biggest handgun in the world, or the most powerful. But when you’re staring down the barrel at somebody you know won’t hesitate to shoot you with it, you definitely get the feeling that you’re in the presence of evil. I guess it’s the evilest handgun, if that’s really a word.

Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m a girl and he’s not, and that I’m wearing his pants around my ankles and nothing else. Stupid time travel lets you bring stuff forward but not backward. The pants would be around my waist if his beltline wasn’t like triple mine. Instead he gets an eyeful.

“Wer bist du?”

That’s another thing about time travel, you don’t get free translation. I respond using all the German I know. “Gootin-tog Volkswagen gestalt?”

“Wachen!”

“Farfignoogin?”

Two guys in uniform come in with submachine guns. I have to get out of here, but I don’t want to appear back in the present with bullet holes in me. That defeats the purpose of going places.

Luger man waves the gun at me. “Nehmen sie!”

The guards shoulder their guns and come forward. One grabs each arm, though they’re both checking me out. The man with the Luger turns and leaves. Now’s my chance.

I concentrate, which is tricky when the one guy grabs my breast, but I’ve time-travelled enough to do it when people are being rude. A moment later I’m back in my room with the prize.

 

I just barely make it to class on time. I find an open spot in the circle and sit down. When my turn comes I proudly announce, “My name is Winnifred, and I’m wearing Hitler’s pants.”

My Lucky Dockers

I awaken to the glorious sunshine of a brand new day. It’s the first morning in my dorm room, the first day of classes at college, and the start of my brand new life. I deliberately chose Ollson College because central Wisconsin is over five hundred miles from where I grew up. My High School nerd rep is not going to find me here.

Derek, my roomie, is still asleep with the covers pulled over his head. I let him sleep while I set out my clothes. My ‘Hello World’ tee is there, but my lucky Dockers aren’t. I check the closet, the dresser, the suitcase, even under the bed. How the heck am I going to start academic life without my lucky Dockers? I know I brought them.

There’s a knock at the door. I cinch up the housecoat and open it to see a girl standing there. She’s a bit shorter than me, with fair skin and chocolate brown hair pulled back into a pony tail. The large round lenses of her glasses make her green eyes look even bigger than they are. She’s wearing a white mesh tee with an “Intel Inside” sticker on it and a dark bra beneath. Below the waist, her long legs are adorned by… MY LUCKY DOCKERS!

A black leather belt holds my pants to her left hip; on the right side they droop a good six inches, revealing black lace panties. The end of the right leg is folded back to stop it dragging on the floor, incidentally revealing a strappy sandal. Part of me wants to scream at her to take off my pants; the other part wants to admire them in situ.

“You’re Matt, right? Thanks for the loan of the pants.”

“Uh… who are you?”

“I’m Chaz, Derek’s sister. The airline lost my luggage and Derek said take any pair of pants. These ones looked the most comfortable. You don’t mind, do you?”

“Uh… no?”

“Thanks!” She kisses me on the cheek. A college girl. Kisses me. I miss what she says next as my mind turns somersaults.

“P-pardon?”

“Can I wait in your room? Derek is supposed to go to breakfast with me.”

“Sure. Or I could shower and eat you… er, go to breakfast with you.”

“Sure. I know Derek hates getting up early. But we have to get done quickly because my first class is Math, at 8.”

“Okay.” I tear off to the showers, then run back for my towel and soap and stuff. Ten minutes later I’m damp and back in the room.

Getting dressed is a bit interesting logistically, but I avoid exposure by dressing under my bathrobe. The whole issue of my pants is forgotten. I’m going to breakfast with my lucky Dockers, I just won’t be wearing them.

And if all goes well I’ll sit next to them in Math class, and every other class where I get the chance.

O   O   O

Epilogue: One month later.

Chaz sits on my lap, facing me with her knees on either side of my hips. In the past few weeks we’ve both done a lot of learning, both in and out of class. She gives me a kiss on the tip of my nose. That means she’s going to ask me for something.

“Matt, you know how I said I’d return your lucky pants after a month?”

“Yes…” I’d like to think those Dockers have been lucky for both of us.

“Well…” she bites her lower lip, “my roommate Nancy would like to borrow them for a week. They’re kind of getting a reputation.”

I smile up at the girl of my dreams. “I suppose. As long as I get to keep you.”

“Of course!” She laughs and falls against me. Our lips meet, and I’m still the luckiest guy on campus.

Sharing Circle

I didn’t expect College to be like this. I’m seated in a circle on the floor in a classroom where the desks have all been pushed back to the wall. Sadie, our professor who is really only a Teaching Assistant, has told each of us to introduce ourselves and tell everyone something interesting we do as part of our daily routine. She begins.

“Hi, I’m Sadie; I start my day by giving myself a sponge-wash with coffee.”

“I’d like to see that,” says one of the guys.

“For that, you go next. After him, we go around clockwise.”

He smiles mischievously. “My name’s Roy and I end my day by sending a text to a random phone number.”

Sadie asks, “Does anyone respond?”

“Occasionally. I’ve made several friends that way.” He looks at the girl to his left.

“I’m Quinn; I change my tattoo every morning.” She shows us the ornate smiley-face on the front of her left shoulder.

“How do you do that?”

“It’s a programmable tattoo; kind of like a surgically-implanted e-book reader.”

“I’m Paul; I read a chapter of classic literature every morning. Right now it’s Wuthering Heights. Quinn, can I borrow your e-reader?”

That gets a laugh, even from Quinn. And so it goes.

“My name’s Olivia and I kiss and greet each of my stuffed animals by name every day.”

“I’m Nate and I make origami swans when I’m nervous.” The little flock in front of him says everything.

“I’m Mary and I make coffee creamer explosions in the vacant lot behind the dorm.”

“My name is Lincoln; each night I sing a mantra to ward off monsters from outer space.”

“Call me Kylie; each morning I write a short story based on a random word in the OED. Today’s was ‘blunderbuss.’”

“I’m John. I plug myself in each night to keep my batteries topped up, even though I can technically go three days on a full charge.”

Now it’s my turn.

“Hi, my name is Iridia. Every day I like to dress up in purple and yellow tights and play human fly on the outside of the dorm tower.”

Sadie raises an eyebrow. “Human fly? You crawl on the outside of the building?”

“Yup. And if I see an open window I sneak in and write ‘I love you’ somewhere on the occupant’s body.”

“Isn’t that very dangerous?”

“No, they’re usually asleep.”

Before she can grill me further, Henry steps in and announces proudly that every weeknight he practices for his weekend pole dancing job. Several girls take careful notes.

 

We eventually end at the twenty-fifth student, Thomas, who sleeps in his closet hanging by his ankles.

Sadie sums up by telling us to look for patterns, because nothing happens by chance. Our project for the semester is to figure out what course we’re in and write an essay justifying our answer.

Sadie asks me to stay after class. She’s probably curious how somebody wrote ‘I love you’ on her left hand. During class.