2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Bucks

I awaken from my boredom-induced coma to the click of the hammer locking open and the feel of the gun barrel on the back of my head. I freeze.

“All right, William, give me a good one-liner and I just may let you live.” Her whisper in my ear is soft and velvety. I consider taking her down, but the gun argues against it.

“A one liner? Girls are like chameleons because they change colours and eat bugs!”

“Not good enough.” There’s a deafening bang from behind my head and she jumps away. The cap gun lands in front of me.

I whirl around and it’s Patricia, or Lizard as I like to call her. She’s wearing a white dress and she's armed: not with a cap gun but a Turbo-Boost Pump Action Ultra Soaker Mark 3. A tiny drop of water dangles from the business end of the barrel. She’s just been upgraded from 10-year old tomboy to femme fatale, with an emphasis on ‘fatale’. I raise my hands.

“Now give me a one-liner, William. It’s worth five dollars to you. But it has to be a good one; one Bobby can use in his best man speech.”

I think about that. If Bobby’s going to say it, it has to be naughty. And if he’s going to pay five bucks for it, it has to be good.

“Okay, how about this. Andrea’s monthly ‘friend’ visits so often she has her own room.”

“What’s that mean?”

“I don’t know, but my brother got a laugh from his friends when he said it.”

“Try again.”

“My asthmatic sister got an obscene phone call, but he hung up because she was better at heavy breathing than he was.”

“Huh?”

“I dunno. Eve wore a fig leaf and Adam wore a hole in it?”

“I don’t get it.”

“You either? Okay, this one I think I get.” I hold up my fingers like I’m grasping the corners of a piece of paper. “The Emperor’s tailor wants you to wear these panties on your wedding night.”

“But there’s nothing there...”

“Right!”

She scrunches her eyebrows for a second or two, then starts giggling. “That’s perfect! Let’s go!”

We run from tent to tent looking for Bobby. We’d have found him faster if we’d started in the wine tent. Lizard tells him the joke; he thinks about it and laughs, then holds out a ten-dollar bill. She asks for two fives.

Once we leave the tent she hands me my share. As I’m taking it I nudge her finger on the water gun trigger and she takes a quick shot to the face. She dives on me and starts drying her face on my dress shirt. As she does I notice that her cooties have somehow vanished and her arms are warm and her back is soft and her hair smells really nice – for a girl.

I wonder if she’ll let me call her Patricia.

Through The Glass

The aloe aroma of the fog surrounds and fills me, wrapping me in its warm cocoon of moist comfort. I know I should shower with the bathroom door open; after all, it’s only me in the apartment and the vent fan doesn’t work, but sometimes that fog is a blessing. The mirror is a sheet of white vapour and my reflection doesn’t stare back at me pityingly.

I pull the door open and the chill air of my room wafts in. I stop; something is very wrong. The lights are off and the old laptop I use for a TV is on. And somebody is sitting on my sofa bed staring at it.

Panic strikes. I’m dripping from head to foot and the towel is on the sofa. I want to slam the bathroom door. I want to jump for the towel. I want to curl up and whimper. Instead I just stare as she turns her head.

I start hyperventilating. The face I see is mine. She stares at me with wide eyes and a slack jaw; her chest is pumping rapidly with each tiny breath. Her hair is slicked down against her head and tiny beads of water trickly slowly down her face.

My hand fumbles and finds the bathroom light switch. Darkness envelops me in its velvety comfort. She’s still there, but it’s much harder for her to see me. I hope.

“Selena?” Her voice is soft and tentative.

I fight down the urge to turn and hug the wall. “Who are you?”

“I’m you Selena, from the other side.”

“You’re... dead?”

“No. I’m the one who looks back at you through the glass every morning.”

The shadowy form walks toward me, holding something bulky in her hand. I shrink back, but she reaches forward and it touches my arm. I sense the prickly soft tingle of terrycloth against my skin as she brushes the towel against me. She starts stroking my skin with it in a soft kneading motion. The comfortable feel of it causes me to relax just a tiny bit.

“You’re my reflection, aren’t you? From the mirror?”

“Uh-huh. I got out.” She sounds as nervous as I feel as she rubs the towel across my back. I feel her back and it’s drying as she dries me. Her skin is warm and soft.

“B-but that’s im-impossible.”

“No it’s not. It’s just very difficult. Like looking into your eyes every morning and not being able to hold you.”

The towel drops and her hands caress my lower back. Nobody’s ever done that before and it sends a shiver of raw anticipation through me. My breathing gets shallow and ragged again, but this time it’s not entirely fear.

 

I wake up lying on the carpet in the apartment’s chill morning air. It was all a dream. Figures.

A whisper kisses my ear. “Good morning, Selena.” She snuggles in tighter and her warm hand touching my stomach makes me gasp.

G. F. A.

“Hi Jess! Welcome home!”

I whipped back around the corner. The legwork for the Arsenault case was done and the depositions had been delivered to the court. I was beat. The last thing I’d expected was to hear someone call out to me from my own living room.

It was me, or rather someone who looked like me. She was wearing the Versace dress I like for club nights, a stark counterpoint to the Armani suit I’d been wearing to drive the interns. Her hair was pulled back into a tight pony tail with my Gurnani ponette, showing off my favourite Maria Black earrings.

“What’s the deal, girl? Who are you and why are you raiding my closet?”

“Just helping out. Tonight is a night to party!”

“No thanks. It’s going to be me and the hot tub tonight.”

“Well, you, the hot tub and the guy who breaks in and rapes you at gunpoint. I’m your GFA, here to offer you another choice.”

“What are you talking about? What guy? What’s a GFA? I have a security system, you know.”

“The guy who breaks in lives three floors down. He’s been watching you for weeks and he’s inside the perimeter. If you’re in tonight he rapes you.”

“How do you know? Are you working with him?”

“No, I’m working against him. I’m your GFA: Guardian Fallen Angel.”

“I don’t believe in guardian angels.”

“So what? Anyway, I’m not an angel, I’m a fallen angel. I don’t work directly for the Big Guy, I freelance.”

“How do I know you’re not just crazy?”

“Look at your mirror wall.”

I looked; she had no reflection, so if anyone was crazy it was me.

“Okay, assuming you really are an angel, why me?”

“I’ve been contracted to make sure you get pregnant tonight.”

“No way! That is not going to happen!”

“Yes it is. The Big Guy wants you to have a child; I’m here to make sure she’s born. That means no abortions, too. Everyone knows how He feels about abortions.”

“Uh-huh. So what, my kid is the new Christ?”

“Nothing so grandiose. He just needs your daughter for His plan.”

“Why didn’t he send a regular angel?”

“I don’t know! He didn’t tell me why, He just sent me.”

“So what’s your plan?”

“You go out and get stinking drunk, then sleep with the guy I steer at you. He’ll be a good father, I promise.”

“That’s a horrible plan! There has to be another option!”

“Rape?”

“No! Find another way!”

She glowered at me. “Fine! I’m going to have to do it myself. You do realize that’s what got me kicked out of Heaven in the first place.”

“But you’re a…”

“Woman? That’s negotiable.” The dress vanished like smoke on a breeze, then she poofed into a definitely male Adonis in all his unclad glory.

Every smart comeback evaporated at the sight of him. All I could say was, “Wow.”

“Now, you said something about a hot tub?”

Mail Order...

Edward looked down at the parcel illuminated by the jaundiced yellow porch light. He looked at sign next to the door, “All deliveries to the rear,” and cursed the stupidity of couriers everywhere. It was already dark and he hoped whatever idiotic piece of kitsch that Nancy had ordered wasn’t fragile.

He unlocked the door and picked up the parcel. When he got it inside he made out his name on the package. Guess the Shopping bloody Channel knew who was paying the bills.

“Well, if it’s got my name on it I might as well open it.”

He tore the paper off the package and looked at the box. It was about six inches square by a foot long and a couple of pounds weight. It was covered in splashes of bright colour and bore a huge label reading “Spatio-Temporal Anomaly”.

Nancy!” he bellowed, “What’s a Spatula Tempura Agronomy?

There was no answer other than the noise of the TV.  Damn wife spent all day watching the boob tube rather than making him supper. Figures. He stomped into the den, ready to shout at closer range.

And stopped.

There, in his favourite TV watching chair, was another man.

“Nancy you blasted two-timer! First I’m gonna take this guy out, then it’s your turn.”

Edward stomped toward the man with a growl; the intruder turned and looked back at him. The guy looked just like him; could have been his twin. But that didn’t matter. A fist hardened by use on Nancy and anybody else who pissed him off landed on the intruder’s jaw.

There was a flash of light; when it cleared the intruder and the parcel were gone. Edward blinked a few times, then noticed the sports bloopers were coming on. He sat down in his chair.

Edward had just watched an idiot jump his motorcycle into an open septic pit when he heard a noise behind him. He turned to see a big guy coming at him with a box under one arm and a raised fist. The guy looked familiar…

 

Nancy came up from the laundry room and looked around. The TV was playing those stupid sports bloopers that Edward loved for some reason, but nobody was there. In the front hallway was the wrapping from the parcel she’d left by the front door. Edward’s keys were still in the lock; she pulled them out and pushed the door shut.

“Well,” she said to no-one in particular, “it worked as promised. Seven thousand dollars is a lot of money, but it’s cheaper than a divorce.”

My Twin

This follows "Emergence" below.

I hate double shifts. Don’t get me wrong; I love my job, but something about being on my feet for sixteen hours straight rubs me the wrong way. It’s nearly midnight before I get home, and I have to be back in the shop at seven.

As I walk up the seven flights of stairs to my apartment I notice that somebody has the TV on too loud. Hopefully they’ll shut it off soon; I need a bit of sleep at least. I don’t want to knock on the door because it could be as easily answered by a shotgun as by a neighbour.

When I reach my door I realize to my horror that it’s my TV blaring away. And I smell fresh coffee. This is bad: very bad. In my neighbourhood break-ins are common and the intruders are the type that would really ‘enjoy’ the sudden arrival of a young woman.

I’d call the police but they don’t come to this part of town. Instead I use my library card to open the latch. It’s quieter than the key. I step into the entry and take out the tire iron I keep in the umbrella stand, then creep toward the living room.

When I get a glimpse of the intruder my jaw drops. It’s me. She’s curled up in my favourite chair watching late-night porn wearing nothing but a cup of coffee. She looks up at me.

“Hi Emily. How was work?”

“Uh…”

“Could you close the door? I don’t want anyone sneaking in.”

“But…”

“Sheesh.” She walks past me and closes the door, setting two of the chains afterward. I can’t help but admire her –my– body. “How was work today, Emily? Anything I need to know?”

“Who… how…?”

“Come on, Emily. I have to go to work in a few hours. Is there anything I need to know?”

I wasn’t sure about this, but if she was taking my shift for me I’d give her the scoop. Never turn down help. “Ted finally confessed that he relived a fantasy about me and a bathtub full of whipped cream. Bob has some new pics of Sarah and little Natalie on his iPhone, and Mary is still looking at me like I broke into her car.”

“What about Jack?”

“Still in jail, the sick bastard. The cops have found two bodies and a dozen skeletons in his back yard so far.”

“And Spicy Memory?”

“Sold two pots at ten bucks a demi. That’s four hundred bucks below the till after Jerry’s cut. Um, Emily, what’s going on here? Why are there two of me?”

“Because you’re a duplicate, Emily, formed from Cappuccino and Twin Blend spices. Another of my gran’s special coffees.” She kisses me, and as she licks her lips I disappear like the foam that I’m made from.

High School Revolution

Three days ago...

“All right class, can anyone tell me the primary causes of the French Revolution?” A hand shot up. “Other than Travis?” Mrs. Ontermeyer stared at thirty deer-in-the-headlight students. “All right Travis, go ahead.”

The tenth-grade stick-figure rose. “It was a combination of a bankrupt school board, a failure to provide decent food for the students, and a general atmosphere of discontent.”

“Travis, that isn’t…”

The first eraser hit her forehead. She dodged the ruler. A second later she was under her desk listening to the patter of impromptu projectiles against her desk.

 

Two days ago...

Principal Tartarus looked at the short skinny teenaged girl. “What’s the situation, Rebecca?”

“No luck with the doors or windows yet. The students control nearly everything except Administration, but they’ve broken into factions. The jocks hold the Gym and Cafeteria, and the drama students have the Auditorium. The WMM’s are holed up in the Library and the nerds are centered in the Science Labs.”

“WMM's?”

“Where's My Mommy. The kids, mostly juniors, who just want out.”

“And the fighting?”

“Still going strong, still no casualties. Something’s got everyone’s aggression ramped up, but they’re too stupid to use any real weapons. The jocks are attacking with basketballs but ignoring the baseball bats. Nobody has picked up even a pair of scissors. I have some thoughts about that...”

“I’m sure you do. For now you’d best get out scouting again.”

“But...”

“You heard me, Rebecca. You’re doing a great job, but leave the thinking to the adults.”

 

Yesterday...

Rebecca hunched up on the toilet seat. Someone was coming in, which made no sense since nobody had used the bathrooms for two days now. They’d been too busy playing war games with rulers and erasers and wadded paper and the like. She’d mentioned it to a couple of people, but nobody was listening.

She sort-of recognized the voices: Mrs. Gabriel and Mrs. Thurston, the muddle-aged matrons of Social Studies. But they sounded funny somehow. There was a rustle of voluminous fabrics dropping to the floor.

“I am glad to get out of that.”

“Me too. Angel, could you help me with this clip? Thanks.”

More fabric fell.

“Now let’s take a look at you. God, Nadine, you look great!”

“You too, Angel. Being a teenager wears you well. But speaking of wearing, what are we going to wear? Nothing fits any more.”

“My blouse would make a serviceable dress.”

“Your blouse would make a serviceable tent, dear. We should have gone down to the Home Ec room; they have sewing supplies there.”

“There is no Home Ec room, Angel; hasn’t been since the nineties.”

 

Today...

Rebecca looked down the dark staircase; she’d been all over the school several times in the past few days, but somehow missed the maintenance tunnels. Whatever was happening must be controlled from down there.

She couldn’t tell whether she should laugh or just be quietly weirded out. Nobody was eating or sleeping, but nobody was sick or injured; even the Roller Boys were out of their wheelchairs. Everyone was sixteen years old, even the teachers. Everyone was physically fit. And everyone except her was play-fighting with school supplies.

The light switch didn’t work; the tunnels were pitch black. Rebecca crept through them anyway, navigating by the feel of the rough concrete bricks and checking each smooth metal door as she passed it.

The light was almost blinding when she saw it. It was coming under the door of the boiler room. She cracked open the door and, seeing no-one, stepped in. In addition to the boiler, there was a huge machine with dozens of unlabelled indicators and progress lights. A loud hum vibrated everything in the room including her to its core. A single display screen caught her attention.

 

Edward;

All is going to plan. The secret tunnels in the basement are fully stocked with survival gear so you can build New Earth. Everyone in the building except you should be playing a game I designed to keep them occupied while their minds and bodies are regressed to sixteen years. Only one mind will be unaffected, and there is a 96% chance that it’s you. Good luck.

If by some fluke you’re not Edward, a more complete colonization manual can be found on the Principal’s laptop. His password is ‘heLL10n$’. The basement lights will activate when you reach your destination. I’m sure you’ll love starting over on a new planet.

Nikola.

 

As Rebecca sat and gaped, the overhead lights came on.

The Potion

"Let me see your hand, Billy Mitchell."

"How do you know my name?"

"Would Mistress Ruth be a Romani wise woman if she didn't?" The gypsy took his hand in hers and blew herbal-scented breath across it. Her finger traced lines across his palm, then did an elegant motion that Billy could have sworn left faint glowing lines in the air. "Now, tell madame what you are looking for." She smiled, the candlelight of the shop glinting off her gold tooth.

Billy blushed and looked down. "Um, I have this problem. Women don't notice me; I haven't had a date in three years."

"Yes, your romance lines have been severed. That can be fixed with a simple potion."

He suddenly looked dubious. "How much is it going to cost?"

"We will discuss that later. It will not be money." She curtseyed and spun, her arms drawing sinuous shapes in the air to the music of rippling bracelets.

"Well, what…"

She placed a sparkling finger on his lips to shush him. "Come over here. I will mix it in this basin, but you must watch." As she sashayed over she tossed her raven hair, looked back and winked.

Billy watched her work. First she mixed a small amount of three different powders, then added a few drops of oil, carefully mixing with her finger. After that three more powders were rubbed into the paste, then a tear from her left eye. Finally she scooped the mixture into a tiny bottle of clear liquid, which turned black as the two joined. The distinctive scent of nail polish remover drifted up, making Billy's eyes water.

"What do I do with this?" Billy dreaded the answer, and got it.

"You drink it. Just a drop on your tongue."

Billy steeled himself, plugged his nose, closed his eyes, and sipped.

His vision went blurry; he had to reach out and stabilize himself. His hands found the only support present: the young gypsy woman. He could have sworn he'd grown a third arm, but that was okay since that gave him two to wrap around her and a third to hold the potion for another sip.

Billy lost track of time after that, lost in a daze of arms, wings, legs, and lips. Mostly lips. When he regained his senses he was sitting naked under a blanket in the back of a police car with his hands cuffed behind him. An officer in the driver's seat was reading out loud.

"Mister William Mitchell, you're in custody in a police car at 34th and Vine. You are under arrest for indecent exposure, creating a disturbance, resisting arrest, public intoxication, and obstructing a police officer in the performance of his duties. You have the right to remain silent…"

Billy stopped listening; he was more interested in the police woman seated in the front passenger seat, who was looking back and mouthing "Call me".

Emergence

The coffee was a special blend of Arabica with some spices that I'd gotten as part of the settlement of my gran's estate. When I first tried it I had a warm feeling all over and a vivid dream of my last… you know.

In order to explore the effect, I put a small pot on at work and gave espresso cups of it to some of my best customers. Mary was a bit upset for some reason and Ted turned beet red, but the others just sort of quietly smiled.

Then there was Jack. When he sipped it a hand reached out of his chest and started fiddling with the buttons on his shirt. A second sip brought a second hand. The female hands, small and delicate, were kneading and tugging to reach through his shirt. Finally they splayed themselves on his chest and started pulling, as though the person behind them were climbing.

Jack started shaking and staring down at himself. He reached out to push the coffee cup away but instead somehow picked it up and drank it. He tried to spit the coffee out but ended up choking and then swallowing most of it. The hands on his chest kept pulling and a set of feathery white wings began emerging from his torso. After that came the crown of a head with long brown hair.

By then everyone was staring. Jack fell backwards from his chair and started trying to push the apparition back into himself. It wasn't working. Inch by struggling inch the creature dragged itself out of him. Jack was still grabbing at it, sobbing 'No' repeatedly in a low voice.

It was a girl with wings. She was about ten years old with freshly-scrubbed skin and wearing just a tee-shirt. There were finger-mark bruises around her neck. A thin trail of blood trickled down her leg. She looked around the room with soulless, measuring eyes. When I got a good look at her face I blanched. I'd been seeing that same face on the side of milk cartons for the past week.

Jack lay on the floor whimpering. She floated above him staring down, all traces of little-girl innocence long banished.

"Mister Jack, you were right when you said last night that I’d come back as an angel. But angels aren't all sweetness and light."

He screamed.

"Don't be afraid of me, Mister Jack. I'm not here to hurt you. I'm just here to talk. I just want to tell these nice people that me and all the others are under the big flagstone in your back yard. You know, the one that looks heavy but actually moves."

As the girl faded away, two of the regulars, guys who'd often shown me pictures of their little girls, moved toward Jack.

Becalmed

The sequel to "Where's the Captain?" below.

 

“Well lads, there we was, three days becalmed an’ that great tentacled beast off’n the port bow. I was at me wit’s end.”

“That’s no’ a long distance away, Cap’n Jack.”

“Shut up, Mad Steven! D’ye want the rest o’ me story or not?”

“You said there’d be rum!”

“Shut up, Bill Hook! Ye’ll get yer rum when I’m finished.”

“Never, then.”

Jack Bastord glowered. He had a good glower; several ships had surrendered upon seeing his glower. But these pirates were a tougher sort; he’d hired most of them himself. Finally he gave in.

“Busty Bob, pass out the rum rations!”

Busty Bob sighed. Just because he’d been born without family jewels (he told everyone he’d lost them in a fight) and had impressive breasts (his da said that was a ‘tea chest’, like a beer gut but caused by too much not drinking) and couldn’t grow even the thinnest moustache, that were no reason to treat him like a serving wench. But he’d seen the dark side of Jack’s temper, so he did as he was told. Someday people like Bob would be liberated, but not today.

“Now where was I?”

“Becalmed!” rang the pirate chorus.

“Right. There we was, becalmed. We tried everythin’: talkin’ about good weather, lettin’ up red smoke in the mornin’, whistlin’. But nunnat worked. Even Gutbuster Gavin fartin’ inta the mainsail wouldn’t move us. All that did was make the yardarm sag.”

Busty Bob brought drinks to the front row, taking a quick sip of each as he handed them out.

“We hadda come up with sommat. I was takin’ me morning exercise fightin’ off boarders...”

“We never had no boarders! Ye was just staggerin’ around an’ wavin’ yer sword!”

“Shut up, Tortuga Zeke! Ye may ha’ been there, but ye wasn’t there. Ye was too busy swabbin’ the deck an’ duckin’ yer head ta see anythin’.”

Tortuga Zeke lowered his head. “Aye Cap’n.” He knew better than to contradict Jack; after all, he wasn’t the first Tortuga Zeke.

“So while I was fightin’, I says ta meself, Jack, the reason we’re stuck is ‘cause we got no Cap’n. A ship without a Cap’n goes noplace. An’ we was definitely noplace.”

“Dint you frow the old Cap’n overboard, Cap’n?”

“No Mister Gavin, Cap’n Greenbeard walked over the side of his own accord. Four times. All that screaming about murder an’ mutiny was just ‘is way.”

Busty Bob handed Gavin his drink, taking a good swig before doing so.

“So I decided we needed a new Cap’n, an’ we was gonna vote. I passed around the hat ta’ take in names meself. When we was done there was only one name in the hat – mine. An’ that’s how I came ta be the Cap’n o’ the Bloody Shrike.”

Busty Bob downed a mug of rum, then used the dregs to polish Smilin’ Pete. When Bob passed out on top of him, the gleaming skull ended up buried in cleavage.

And Pete? He just grinned.

Where's the Captain?

The Bloody Shrike sat becalmed two hundred miles off the coast of Tortuga. First Mate Jack Bastord stood at the wheel, swinging it lightly back and forth. He bellowed up to the crow’s nest.

“Ho Gutbuster Gavin! D’yer see anywot?”

“Nary a thing, Mister Jack!”

“Any signs o’ the Cap’n?”

“Nary a... wait Mister Jack, I sees him off the port bow!”

“Aye then!” Jack picked up a skull and set it on the wheel mount. “You watch the wheel, Smilin’ Pete. I’ll go see to the Cap’n.”

Jack tromped forward with his distinctive thump-kloc. Most pirates went thump-clomp as they walked, but Jack had specially carved his wooden leg for the acoustics. The vessel was still as if it sat on solid stone; Jack hated when the deck didn’t sway.

Busty Bob was standing by the forecastle. Jack counted Busty Bob among many people he hated, but the man had been useful. Thing is, you couldn’t trust a man whose mainmast had been lost in an accident, and especially one with no facial hair or Adam’s apple, and with man-boobs bigger than most o’ the girls in port.

“Ahoy, Mister Jack!” Bob said in his light contralto voice.

“Ahoy yerself, Bob! The captain’s stuck to the side of the ship; get yer bill hook!”

“Bill Hook’s sleeping off his rum ration, Mister Jack.”

“No, ye lubber! Get that pole wit’ the metal thing on the end what we uses for unfouling the rigging! It should be able to reach far enough!”

When they reached the bow they saw that Gutbuster Gavin had held the telescope up to his eyepatch again. The captain wasn’t on the side of the ship, he was being held in a giant tentacle.

Captain Greenbeard bellowed incoherently at the top of his lungs. Busty Bob swung the hook and gave the tentacle a resounding thwack. The second time he swung the unfouling hook dug in and a spray of green ichor shot forth.

The tentacle dropped the incoherently-shouting Captain onto the foredeck. After a few swipes that Busty Bob deftly deflected with the hook, the tentacle finally backed off.

“See to the Cap’n, Bob.”

While Busty Bob helped the Captain stand and gently ushered him off the side of the ship, Jack strode-kloc’ed to the bow and brandished his hook hand.

“And you,” shouted Jack at the tentacled horror, “stop throwing him back!”

Site Launch

Gareth looked at the timer on his screen. Twenty seconds left. This new horror website had been trending for the past week. A couple of leaks said it was so frightening it would make your dreams afraid to fall asleep, and that the new 3-D technology would be absolutely wicked!

As the timer zeroed the site opened. A black screen. That’s it? There must be a trick of some sort, maybe a secondary window. He minimized the screen and there it was. A golden-eyed, droopy-armed monster looking out of his Excel spreadsheet. One of its clawed arms was holding the status bar. As he shifted his head the face moved against the perspective of the spreadsheet. This was freakin’ awesome!

But it didn’t stop. The creature was moving, watching him. One of its hands gave the illusion of reaching right out of the screen, trying to touch his face...

 

In the offices of DarkSoft, Enderby’s phone rang. Hopefully the damned server hadn’t crashed. In this industry it was possible to be too successful, like when thirty million kids hit your sight like a voyeuristic hurricane and blew the server switch. He braced himself for the bad news.

“Enderby here.”

“Boss, it’s Andy down in the server room.”

“How long is it going to take to bring them back up?”

“The servers are okay, sir. We have another problem.”

“What, have angry mothers developed first-strike capability?”

“No sir. We’re getting plenty of eyeballs here; like thousands or even millions.”

“So lots of people are looking at the site? Isn't that good?”

“No, we’re getting eyeballs. They’re almost two feet deep on the server room floor. And some of them are still looking around and blinking.”

Foothold

This is a sequel to The Window below.

The lights of Calgary shine like incandescent jewels below, while the other stars –the ‘real’ stars– glisten above. The cool breeze makes the drapes billow inwards, one side wrapping seductively around the post of the elegant lamp. I wish I could be out on the balcony feeling the caress of the night air, but I believe my guardian would kill me herself if I tried a fool stunt like that.

She puts her hand on my shoulder and I feel her soft flesh as she glides silently by me. This year I’m following her lead and forgoing the clothing. Nothing lasts when the hurricane starts anyway. I glance over at the clock when it buzzes and clicks. The red LED’s show eleven twenty-three P.M. If that’s accurate the show begins in less than a minute.

Fylax begins her song soft and low. The words are similar to Ancient Greek, but a form which has not been made by any lips but hers in eons. Her skin begins to shine and the brass of her spear reflects an otherworldly light.

The window frame begins to emit a phosphorescent glow. Normally I would never spend a night like this beside a window this large, but tonight we need it. It has been seventeen years, to the minute, since my mother brought the Seed of Atlantis into the modern world, and it is time for that Seed to fully germinate.

The lights of the Stampede City fade, washed out by the silvery-white glow of the Moonlight City. The gateway is open: the zephyrs of ten thousand years gallop into the room like wild horses, whipping and tearing at everything present. Electrical devices scream, flare, and go dark.

The demons can figure time just as well as we can; two of them dash for the window as soon as it opens, baring their flesh-stained teeth as they race toward us. Fylax flicks her slender arms and the spear describes a deadly arc, separating two heads from bodies. The heads hit the carpet with a dull thud and explode into foul vapour.

Fylax turns to me; her song continues even without her to sing it.

“Are you certain of this, Mistress Elfida?”

“I am. It is time to start reclaiming the city.”

“As you will.”

She raises the spear to let me pass, though not before dispatching another fell shadow. I step forward onto the balcony, knowing that if I fail the spear will find me before I’m allowed back into the modern world.

A dragon-shadow rises before me, its huge eyes glowing yellow like the sun and claws as long as my forearm dripping blood. While I am unclothed it is not until this moment that I feel naked.

It speaks to me in the old tongue. “A mortal Atlantean. This is a wonder not seen in ages. How did you come to be, mortal?”

I answer in English. “None of your damn business, lizard. I’m here to reclaim what’s mine.” They’re not exactly the formal Words of Challenge, but the message is clear enough.

It blinks. Twice. I begin shaping the spell.

“What do you offer for the return of the Foundered Continent, Mortal? How do you plan to bargain with us for this land?”

“I offer you nothing. I’m here to take.”

“Ho ho! It shall be sport, then!”

He rises up so I can see his full shadowy glory. A hundred feet of winged serpent, six legs bristling with claws, plates so heavily armoured that no weapon of Atlantis can penetrate them. I feel a tiny shred of doubt but push it down. I have to do this or I’m dead; it’s as simple as that.

He actually waits while I finish forming my weapon. His eyes narrow as he stares at it, then he bursts out in laughter to shake the world.

“That is your weapon? It’s so tiny! How do you expect to hurt one such as me with it?”

“Like this.” I raise it and pull the trigger. There is a thunderous boom and his chestplate is starred, cracked, and holed. His eyes widen.

“What manner of sorcery?”

“This is a Smith and Wesson Model 500 revolver. It has a muzzle energy of over three thousand foot-pounds. I broke my arm the first time I fired one. Guess what’s going to break this time.”

My arm jolts again as the second 50-caliber armour-piercing round penetrates his chest. The dragon roars and swirls into motion. He’s already hurting, but this is going way too slow. Only three rounds left, and I don’t think he’ll pause while I conjure up more. I wait while he flies a tight circle to bring himself back into attack position.

The next shot goes wide and I duck as his claws bisect the air where my head had been a fraction of a second before. He coils on himself and dives straight at me.

Bad move. My fourth shot nails him right between the eyes, and the fifth follows a second later. His body feels like a wash of thin dust as it strikes me in mid-disintegration. His soul crystal, the egg-sized diamond that’s my real goal, drops neatly into my sore hand.

I whisper my name into the crystal. It means ‘hope’ in Atlantean, you know? In a flash of silver light this part of the city is mine. I smile as I watched the puffs of smoke from demons who hadn’t been quick enough about fleeing.

I look back at Fylax in the hotel room.

“That’s one.”

“That’s enough, Mistress. You will be able to expand your work at the next conjunction.”

She smiles and holds out a hand as I step back through the hotel window.

Monsters and the City

Warning: Suggestive content.
(though not enough so to preclude it being shown on network TV)

 

“Becky, you look like death warmed over. I’ve never seen you this tired. Was that your date with Steve?”

“Yeah, sort of. It wasn’t quite what I expected.”

“Tell me, girl.”

“Well, you know how he likes practical jokes and stuff. About eight o’clock I was just finishing getting ready. I wore that little black dress, you know, the one with the hemline about to here?”

“Daring.”

“Yeah. Well, I was choosing which heels would go best with it when I saw something move in the window. It looked like Steve had got some silly demon-monster suit on and was climbing in.  It was good, I have to admit. He had scales and hair and glowing yellow eyes and everything. And I do mean everything: the suit was anatomically correct.”

“OMG! Really?”

“Really. And a lot better hung than he normally is. The pump was primed, too.”

“What did you do?”

“Well, I figured he went to all that trouble, you know. And I was kind of curious about the animatronic jewels. So I tossed the shoes and the panties and called his bluff.”

“You didn’t!”

“I did. And let me tell you, Cass, he surprised me. When I pushed him to the floor he got this look on his face like he’d just won the lotto. He grinned from ear to ear and then came at me with his forked tongue.”

“Forked tongue? He went all out, didn’t he?”

“Definitely. We Frenched for a while and then he did oral on me.”

“Steve? He never did that with me; said he wasn’t into it.”

“Well, this time he was. And afterwards he put that prosthetic to use. I rode him, he rode me, front and back and some positions I’d never even thought of. It lasted for hours and he never let down once. It was like he’d OD’ed on Viagra. By the time three a.m. rolled around I was nothing but sweat and quivering and limp muscles and he was still ready for more. I finally had to stop him, which took another half hour. You know what he did then?”

“What?”

“He told me he had no idea who Steve was, but that Steve was a lucky guy. As he got up he asked if it was okay if he came back tonight for more.”

“Really? What did you say?”

“Well, there’s no way I could take another night of that, at least not so soon, so I did the only thing I could. I gave him your address.”

The Window

After much searching I’d found a place to stay on Besserer Street, a three-story house dating from the 1700’s that normally boarded students from the University of Ottawa. It was when that special measures bill was being debated on the Hill and every place in every hotel was booked. I was lucky to get even that.

Mme Delacroix, the housemistress, introduced me to the students at dinner. There were Claude, Edward, and Gaston on the second floor, and Chantal on the third. As another female, I would also be on the third floor. Gaston and Edward shared a room; from the looks they gave each other it wasn’t platonic, but it also wasn’t my business.

Chantal was a bare wisp of a girl, studying vocal music for her Master’s. Since she barely spoke any English and I barely any French there was no real conversation. Mme. Delacroix told me Chantal often practiced late into the night, but that I should just roll over and pay no mind to it. She even offered earplugs should I need them.

I had just gotten to sleep that first night when the sound of singing caused me to awaken. It was so soft I should not have noticed, but somehow the foreign melody pierced my soul. What struck me most though was the language. It sounded nothing like any French I had ever heard. It was more an echo of a faraway and ancient tongue, casting images in my mind of lost histories and forgotten lore. I lay awake listening, unable to coax even a moment of sleep for the entire night.

I asked Madame about it in the morning and she told me I must have been dreaming. But the song haunted me throughout the day, and since I was only staying two nights I resolved to get to the bottom of the mystery that very night.

It was just nigh half-past eleven when the song started; I studied the hallway until certain that none were watching, then crept to her door. With exaggerated care I turned the handle and looked in.

It should have been the darkness of night, but the room was bathed in a silver glow emanating from the open window. The curtains billowed and flared in otherworldly light and a scent not totally unlike apple blossoms filled the room and my senses. Beyond the window I could see a broad city lit in that ethereal light, its golden spires and broad streets flooded like some otherworldly Venice. By some unknown agency I knew I was gazing beyond the Pillars of Heracles into the kingdom forever lost.

But it was not unoccupied. Monsters flew beyond that portal, swooping down and striking at creatures unseen in the light. Creatures unseen, but where each of these horrors struck its claws returned dripping blood.

A gale blew through the room save for a single stillpoint: Chantal. She stood naked, bearing only a silver spear which she held defiantly against the window. When a demon came too near the spear would flash out and impale it, its corpse dropping beyond the luminescent door.

And her voice filled the room; her silver voice in a song not heard by others in countless aeons. Yet somehow it was burned into my soul. She was Fylax, the Watchdog, standing at the door of Atlantis. None may pass.

Yet I was drawn to the window, enraptured by that radiant glow. I stepped forward, felt resistance, threw it off. Soon I stood before the window, naked in the gale. I placed my hands upon either side the window, climbed up and through.

He was silver and transparent, barely a shadow formed of the light of that place. Yet in that instant he came to me. His touch was ecstasy and rapture; I screamed for joy as his body came to mine in the way that man has come into woman since the dawn of time.

All went dark. “What have you done?”

I leaned against the now-sealed window and looked at her. This young girl, yet somehow ancient, stood glaring at me, light and spear and song now vanished. Her shoulders slumped. She spoke in a tongue I did not know, yet somehow understood.

“You have doomed the human race with your curiosity, woman. You have breached the portal, loosed the Seed of Atlantis. In time the demons will return.”

I fled her room and returned to mine. I could already feel the seed growing in me, though it would be months before it came to fruition.

 

And that, my little Elfida, is how you came to be conceived. I have carried you from first spark to birth; you will never know your father, for he is lost to the depths of time. Your alabaster skin and silver hair will set you apart from others, but you shall bring an age of glory to the world. Let the demons come, we will be ready this time.

Atlantis xanagenniétai!

A Visit to City Hall

I caught up to them two houses down.

“Okay George, spill it.” Not the best of openings for a guy riding a garbage truck, but I was getting fed up. “This is the fourth week now, why aren’t you taking my garbage?”

He looked nervous. “Uh, sorry Andrea, but I have instructions not to.”

“Instructions not to? Why? I pay my taxes and my trash collection fees. Don’t I have the right to a lawn uncluttered by refuse?”

“It’s... more complicated than that, Andrea. I’m not really the guy you should talk to. Mr. Akers at City Hall knows more.”

 

City Hall is a large modern office building laid out across two full blocks of downtown real estate. As for organization, I swear there’s a minotaur in there somewhere. It took over an hour of listening to ‘helpful’ attendants and following coloured lines on the floor to find Mr. Akers’s office. The fact that I’d already met Ms. Acres and Mr. Eichers today didn’t help my mood any.

“Are you in charge of garbage collection?”

“I am the city’s Chief Sanitation Architect, yes.”

I resisted the urge to grab him by his lapels. “Then why aren’t you picking up my garbage?”

“We have staff to do that.”

“Your staff say they’ve been ordered not to. Ring any bells, Quasimodo?”

“Hmm. What is your address, Madam?”

I could have reached down his throat and pulled his stomach lining out. I hate being called 'Madam'. Instead I answered civilly.

“Number 17 Morningshaw Crescent.”

He turned a very interesting shade of gray – somewhere between old pavement and cigarette ash.

“You’re Ms. Nelson?”

“Andrea Nelson, yes. What is this all about?”

“I’m very sorry, Ms. Nelson. But I have orders to suspend refuse pickup at your residence.”

“Orders from WHOM?”

“The Atomic Energy Commission.” He picked up a folder from his desk and opened it. “According to their instructions, your waste is emitting low-level gamma radiation and they have to send a special truck for it. The first pickup was supposed to be two weeks ago. Has that not happened?”

“No it hasn't! I now have four weeks’ worth of trash piled up at the foot of my driveway and the neighbourhood stinks like a dump! When are they going to get their collective bureaucratic asses in gear and DO SOMETHING?”

To his credit, he didn’t flinch under my verbal assault. Instead he picked up the phone and dialed a twelve-digit number that I didn’t quite catch.

“Hello, Steven. Gerald here. Ms. Nelson is in my office asking about her waste collection. ... Ah. ... Ah. ... Look Steven, I know it’s hard to get an appropriately-shielded truck, but garbage is piling up here. When do you expect to be able to pick up? ... Ah. ... Do you have any advice until then? ... Ah. Talk to you later then.”

“Well, it seems they’ve been having trouble...”

“... getting a shielded truck, yeah yeah. When do I get my garbage picked up?”

“Next Tuesday. And they had one other piece of advice.”

“What is it?”

“Don’t stack more than six bags together; otherwise you might achieve critical mass and irradiate the whole city, killing up to a quarter-million people.”

“I see.”

As I worked my way out of the maze I thought to myself, I’d better get the shielding guy in to check the reactors. It sounds like one is leaking again.

An RV Story

Kevin was frustrated. The dilapidated RV in front of him apparently hadn’t seen maintenance in over a decade and would occasionally belch a blot of smoke from its worn exhaust pipe. The other drivers on the freeway, ironically, had him blocked in behind the thing. All he could do was whisper to himself, “Please don’t take exit 437”.

It did. The RV shuddered and nearly tipped as it started up the off-ramp. Kevin slammed his fist on the steering wheel; just his luck. He considered leaning on the horn to make it go faster, but that wasn’t likely to work with an RV driver. In fact it would probably slow the guy down.

Somewhere along Range Road 44 the RV threw a rock which put a huge star in his windshield right on the driver’s side. Now on top of following this slowpoke he could barely see at all. That was it: the final straw. He would have to give this old geezer a piece of his mind.

When the RV pulled into a rest area he followed it. He pulled to a stop behind the RV and stormed out of his car. As he approached, the side door opened and a border collie jumped down. It was followed almost immediately by a couple of yorkies and a pomeranian. A German Shepherd looked at him and barked, but continued out. Over several minutes, Keven watched as three dozen dogs of different breeds exited the RV. The last was an old Saint Bernard that turned and carefully nosed the door closed, then headed off into the woods after the others.

Kevin whipped the door open. Time to confront the driver. But there was nobody there to confront. He searched the vehicle end to end; there was no trace of any people. Even the driver’s seat had nothing but shaggy dog hair on it, and the steering wheel had teeth marks and looked like it had been drooled on.

Kevin scratched his head and went back to his car. As he pulled away he decided to tell the insurance company that the rock had come off the tire of a semi.

Wakemare

I hear the slow scrape of the window sliding open. I’ve been in a writing trance for a while, but that only leaves me susceptible to that sort of thing. I glance over, then do a double-take. The window is open and it’s sitting on the ledge.

I instinctively freeze. Any sudden movement could cause it to spring. I’ve been seeing this thing in my dreams for a while now, but this is the first wakemare it’s been in.

I shouldn’t really say ‘it’; after all, it’s a her. Exaggeratedly so. I’m sure if I told a shrink about her they’d say it was unrequited lust or something like that. She’s staring at me with her eyes wide and her mouth in a slightly-open pout, revealing needle-sharp fangs. Her fur is ruffled a bit, standing up on her hackles as she looks at me. Her claws are out and ready to dig into any flesh that gets too near. Her tail is swishing gently back and forth over entirely too anatomically-correct parts.

We stare at each other for a silent moment. I mouth her name and she squints. This could go either way, and we both know it.

I inch closer to the window, never breaking eye contact. In this sort of situation you never break eye contact. I reach out blindly and locate the stick I normally use to lock the sliding window shut. I don’t know how it came out, but it has to go back in. That protective sheet of glass is absolutely necessary.

She leans toward me, tongue darting out between her teeth. She sniffs, oversized nostrils tasting the air of the room. She bats at the stick half-heartedly, but I still touch the window slider with it. A quick flick and the window closes.

She stares at me as though I’ve somehow betrayed her, but when I reach out my arms and pick her up she doesn’t resist. By the time I hold her to my chest she’s grown to nearly my height, standing on two legs and purring.

I stroke her soft fur and make wordless comforting noises, then slowly push her back into my chest. Her claws touch my heart, which jumps just a bit when she does, and then she slides the rest of the way into my soul. That beast is tamed again; I hope none of the others got out.

All's Fair

‘Pasha’ arched her back and made sure Gunther got a good view. He was totally naked and she had on about eighty-seven square centimeters of silk. She’d measured. She handed him a glass and he downed the last of it. She massaged his cheeks, letting her long fingernails tease his lips.

He took a firm grip on her chest, then slumped back and went limp. About bloody time, she thought, I thought a Mickey Finn was supposed to work quickly. This guy nearly got all the money. She put on the annoying undergarments and then the silk dress, making sure she looked like a proper Turkish courtesan (read: streetwalker) again.

The key was in his pocket where she thought it would be. She took it over to the footlocker and opened the padlock. The heavy lid resisted, but in vain. And inside... jackpot!

She pulled out the large map, carefully memorizing how it was folded. A half-dozen snapshots and she had the entire battle plan. After folding it back up perfectly she studied the rest of the contents. Nothing unexpected, but she took a few snaps anyway for good measure. Finally she put everything back exactly as she found it and re-locked the chest. The key went back in Gunther’s pocket. Just before leaving she took one more photo.

She thought for a moment. Why am I here? I have to make it look reasonable. She took out Gunther’s wallet and lifted all the cash, then wiped it down to ruin any fingerprints. A few moments later she was out the door and headed for street level.

Askaray is an ancient and beautiful part of Istanbul. According to the brochure it’s within walking distance of the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, and more. Pasha didn’t care; it was also close to the Grand Bazaar, which was enough. She felt the eyes of a number of Turkish and foreign men checking her out, but her goal was already set. She got to her hotel a few blocks from where the job had gone down and went to her modest room.

In moments the black wig was off and the shower and special soap were sluicing away her dark complexion. She was glad she’d taken the time to go full body, and that those last eighty-seven square centimeters had stayed covered. Bright red hair ‘down under’ would have been hard to explain. Once dressed in something more sensible she called the special phone number she’d been given.

“Hello?” She confirmed that she knew his voice.

“David, it’s Janet. I have the plans, plus a few extra photos. I’m e-mailing them over.”

“Thanks. You’re the greatest, sis.”

Five minutes later Janet’s cell phone rang. The call display said David.

“Hi David. Did everything come out okay?”

“Great. But why do I have a picture of some guy’s... you know?”

“So you can see how close you came to an international incident. Now transfer the rest of the money and go win your toy soldiers tournament. I’ve got shopping to do.”

Oromagra's Revelation

This is the sequel to "Letters From the Front" below.

The sonic attack caught me completely off-guard. Every nerve cluster in my body vibrated in agony; I was unable to move or even to think. I couldn’t even rotate an eye around to see the source.

It lasted perhaps ten seconds then stopped. A few seconds later I was able to move voluntarily again. I rotated an eye toward the source and reached toward my weapon.

The human (that’s what it was) spoke. “Don’t move or I’ll scream again.”

It didn’t take a Chief Scientist to figure that one out. I stopped, but kept one eye on the gun and the other on the human.

It was slightly smaller than average and thin, like it had been deprived of fluid. Even with the skin I could infer where certain portions of its endoskeleton were. It was wrapped in distressed fabric with many holes.

“You can understand me, then. Can you talk, Blobby?”

“My name is Oromagra.”

“Maggy, then. I’m called Jane. What are you doing here?”

“Exterminating humans.”

“No, I mean here. In this hotel room.”

I thought about this. We had been warned about how dangerous humans were, and I’d felt it myself. But this one seemed more interested in communication than in splitting my membranes and absorbing my vital fluids. I took the risk.

“I seek to understand your people.”

“You have a funny way of showing it. What are these?”

“Communication records. All appear to be about war and friendship.”

“You can read these?”

“My translator can. Can you not decipher them? Are they in code?”

“No, I just don’t read German, or Greek, or whatever this one is.”

“Would you like me to translate them for you?” It was an odd gesture, but perhaps this human could be a source of insight.

It paused. “All right, but if you try anything I’ll scream.”

Warning taken. I read several of the letters to it; from its nods and vocalizations it clearly understood them better than I. It stopped me partway through number 1c.

“Maggy, do you feel fear?”

“I know the emotion. It is unpleasant.”

“That’s what these are; the writers are afraid, so they communicate with people they care for. That’s what these letters are about.”

“Does it help?”

“Sometimes. The thing about these letters is that the senders died before the letters got sent. Otherwise we wouldn’t have them.”

“So by killing humans I have made some of these letters.” Maybe humans weren’t that different from people after all. I wanted to crawl into a pool of mud and dissociate.

Then the strangest thing happened. The human started producing a sonic attack, but this one was soft and low, and the words reminded me of distant Garrida.

There’ll be bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow, just you wait and see…

Perhaps it is not an attack at all, or maybe it is an attack on the desire to go to war. If so, it is working.

Letters From The Front

Friend Oromissa;

 

In my recent work on Earth I have encountered some documents which I must share with you, knowing our common interest in alien life forms. First of all, Humans are very different from us; they possess internal skeletons, defined muscles and an encasing organ called ‘skin’. Also, their internal organs are stationary within their form. All of this would indicate they are lower animals, but they also possess technological and intellectual abilities almost as great as our own.

I have been assigned to a team cleaning out a human hive called ‘Istanbul’. Yesterday (Earth’s days are of similar length to Garrida’s), I found a small enclave of humans inside a structure formed of cleverly dried mud. After exterminating them I checked into this structure to search for cultural information that might help us understand them. On the third level I found wealth.

It was a box, unadorned and placed under a cloth cover in one of the sleeping rooms. The box had been chemically sealed with iron oxides, so I knew it must be valuable information that they wished to keep from our people. Even so, a disruption beam made short work of the seal.

Inside were hundreds of pieces of human correspondence, neatly filed according to some alien system. Many were from Istanbul; others were from places called ‘Constantinople’ and ‘Byzantium’, which are presumably nearby. They were recorded on thin-pressed wood, using pigments in various colours. I have scanned and attached images of all the contents.

One such item, number 1915, was from ‘Ronny’ to ‘Lizzy’; it expresses hope that ‘Turks’ will give up quickly so the writer might return home and see the ‘baby’. Attached is an image of two humans, one of which is severely bloated in the midsection.

Number 1907, from ‘Kiraz’ to ‘Ayberk’ expresses fear of ‘Russians’ and a desire to travel south. There is much discussion of lips. Given the purpose of the human mouth, I assume this involves exchange of food.

The lowest pure number is 1204, a letter from ‘Theophilus’ to ‘Elena’ expressing worry about ‘Europeans’ and a ‘Crusade’. There is much discussion of wrapping arms and twining legs. I assume this refers to wrestling practice.

More letters have interrogative marks on the numbers, or sometimes a ‘c’ or ‘BC’. They all share the same tone (according to the translation software), including fear of some enemy or other and discussions of human interaction. A word which translates to ‘friendship (intense)’ is included in all of them.

I draw your attention especially to the letter numbered ‘1c’. It appears to describe, in great detail, a ritual in which human bodies are fitted together like puzzle globs. Humans apparently find this activity pleasant. After studying this account in detail, I may have to reappraise the function of human lips.

My friend, I ask that you forward a copy of this information to Doctor Ostrom; as our foremost expert on the humans, he may be able to glean information that my ignorant self has missed.

 

Oromagra.