Station 36: The Cutest Space Tale on the Market Today

Hey all, happy Thursday!

First things first, did you know that a) there’s an actual, real-life Topgun school (yes, like the Tom Cruise movie), and b) in said school, the staff can be fined $5 for referencing or quoting the movie? And here we all thought it was a men’s volleyball club (#CORNYJOKE).

Anyhoo! With that out of the way, we’re going to keep this week rolling with the original mission statement of this thang and make like an Autobot with an old piece, this particular one being near and dear to my heart (a liiiiittle unlike yesterday’s).

I think I’ve mentioned before that after taking part in one of NYC Midnight’s Short Fiction contests, I adopted a bastardized version of their system to form a short-lived writers’ club I called ‘Soapbox Writers’ (I know I went over it more in-depth in an interview with NightLight pod’s Tonia Thompson – if ya in tha mood). The gist is that you’re given a random genre, character, and object, and a 2,500-word limit. So I drafted up some lists and we gave ourselves some assignments as a sort of workshop.

Today’s is one of those.

Up at the top, the parameters for this little gem were as follows:
-Genre: Science Fiction
-Character: Floor Sweeper
-Featured Object: A Magician’s Wand

I think we did alright. But, without further adieu…

Station 36

“Gah!” shouted Mr. Lin, another gout of flame erupting beside him. The flames licked the sides of his jumpsuit and their heat singed his ears. He ducked below the spouting fire to the sound of more shrill cries behind him. The Specimen was getting close. He rounded a corner sharply and ran down the wide hallway to the Departure Bay, frantically checking the sides for any escape pod that hadn’t yet left. Amid all the blaring red lights, there was one still flashing green and so the custodian dove headlong into it, the door sealing closed moments before the Specimen came crashing against the glass. It was large and formless, an amoebic mass of green gelatin already littered with the polished bones of the other members of the station, and this was only part of it.

Breathless, Lin whispered a bit of thanks to the powers that be and pulled the escape pod’s manual release. He heard the thruster-mechanism whir and the cockpit shunted hard yet remained in place. “No, no, no,” Lin disparaged, but an encouraging beeping tone came in response from his shoulder. “What? Ah, Archie, no. I couldn’t ask you to do that.” The tone melodically beeped again and Lin sighed. “Thank you, buddy. This means…well, everything to me. Just find the command console in Maintenance, clear the jam, and get back here quick, alright?”

Archie gave a happy, affirmative beep.

*

The Automated Robotic Characterized Helper with Integrated Essentials, or Archie-unit for short. Resembling a metallic horseshoe crab with scrubbers, Archie was outfitted with an array of cleaning solutions and compounds, mobility scrubbers and stain-removal treads, a class C problem-solving matrix, as well as many other utilities to assist in his duties. Archie was Mr. Lin’s assistant and long time companion. He had known the Zora Railway-Station 36 as his only home since his manufacturing date in 2393.

The facility served many purposes. It’s position within Jupiter’s orbit made it a central stop for travelers and corporations of all walks and was thus suited to service every need from research accommodations to communications relay to munitions storage. Until recently, it had been a most fit facility to service, in Archie’s opinion. He puttered along the dark, half-collapsed passageways in search of the facility’s Maintenance command console, leaving a light trail of bubbles in his wake. The destruction of the station had been quite extensive, leaving Archie a bit at a navigational loss. That was when he heard the voice of Wand speak to him.

“Up ahead, facility diagnostics show a break in a nitrogen-duct line suitable for your traversal,” spoke Wand. The Wireless Archie-unit Navigational Device, Wand was Mr. Lin’s voice when he was not near or otherwise indisposed. Archie happily beeped, found the crevice Wand spoke of, and squeezed his way through. He made his way down the sloping duct and on the other side his audio sensors detected something. It was a sound like machinery under strain, understandable given the station’s current predicament, but Archie was drawn to it nonetheless. He exited the duct and found a WART-unit – a Warehouse Automotan and Regulation Transporter – with its left arm firmly crushed up to the shoulder in a mobile compactor.

The Wart-unit looked to Archie and the red lens of its optical sensor turned an expressive, pleading blue as it spoke. “Um, would you mind lending a hand? I seem to have gotten myself in a pickle.” Archie beeped joyfully in response, roved up onto the side of the compactor and began greasing Wart’s arm at the shoulder. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about lubrication, it’s quite thoroughly crushed. Might you simply hit the safety nodes and give the release tab a good pull? My design never did put flexibility as a foremost concern I’m afraid, else I’d have done it myself.” Archie bubbled an acquiescent tone and, extending two rubber-tipped grappling prongs, did as he was asked. A moment later, Wart’s arm came free with only a slight crunching sound.

“Ah, that’s much better,” said Wart with an electronic sigh of relief. “Thank you for your help.”

Archie gave a jubilant beep and proceeded to explain his quest.

“Hmm, your dialect is strange. Are you an 0W-1 model?”

Archie affirmed with a series of tones.

“Hmm,” nodded Wart. “Well, that all sounds…problematic. Do you think you could use a little help?”

Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of joyful acceptance as he bubbled down the passageway with Wart following closely behind him.

Wand directed the two down an old transport tunnel, normally reserved for shuttling Masters of the station between departments. The shuttle currently lied on its side, quite inoperable, and the two traversed the railway with measured caution. Archie would relay instructions and the counsel of Wand, and Wart would use his remaining good arm to clear wreckage as needed. This continued until they came to a collapsed portion of tunnel that Wart couldn’t clear and Wand advised use of a side access passage. The two did so and exited into a portion of the station designated to arcology research and development.

In the middle of the cavernous space stood an enormous structure, resembling a great pyramid, though with the intricate weaving aesthetic of a beehive. Archie searched his internal memory banks and recalled what this department had once looked like when he and Mr. Lin were called to clean a spill of synthetic amber dust. It had been as large, but vibrantly green and colorful with floura from Earth. Now, it was bare metal, all organic components of the structure thoroughly stripped by the Specimen. It had seemed to Archie this was the Specimen’s means of replication, through the consumption and conversion of organic material.

Archie relayed this thought process to Wart, who nodded. “My logic-processing matrices are limited,” he said, “but that makes sense to me. Perhaps this is why we may travel the station freely and the Masters either fled or expired.”

“Please proceed to Maintenance command,” informed Wand.

The two proceeded in the given direction, though found the room to be without a constructed exit. After minutes of searching, the droids came across a hole in the structure’s outer barrier. Examining its edges, Archie determined the damage that caused the hole was corrosion, though, according to his internal service-completion data log, nothing kept in the arcology department should be capable of such a thing. He suppressed the urge to erase the residue and informed Wart of his finding, who simply shrugged his good shoulder and said: “Curious.” Passing through the opening, they found themselves on a bridge-like platform in a space between departmental walls. Great structural support beams crisscrossed on either side and a dark void of empty space echoed below them.

Archie beeped a tone of caution and engaged his suction treads. Wart followed closely behind, the magnetic bolts in his feet thudding heavily across the metallic beam. When the two were halfway across, a creaking sound came from the platform and the two were forced to hurry. Archie puttered swiftly along and Wart attempted to run, but it was soon apparent the two wouldn’t make it before the beam broke under Wart’s heavy frame. Wart looked down to the little cleaning droid. “Thank you again for your assistance,” he simply said before picking Archie off the rail and throwing him to the other side, where he clattered to a stop and quickly turned around to see Wart fall into the darkness below.

This time Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of somber blue lines as he puttered in the direction that Wand had indicated.

As Archie explored the new room he’d been thrown into, he found a most curious sight. He’d landed in one of the station’s long-term storage spaces, loaded with crates, barred containers, canisters, and glass housings of all kinds. What he found so curious was more of the corrosion damage about the wall he’d come through as well as along the floor. Archie couldn’t help himself this time. He engaged his scrubbers, set them to [Mode: Abrasive], and began attempting to erase the copper-green residue about the floor. As he did this, he followed the trail back to its source: a rack of plasma-battery munitions. Archie’s odorant-fume detectors noted an improper seal in the battery. The utility bot calculated that the improper seal, combined with the duration of its storage, had led to the leak and thus the damages to the surrounding area. Archie continued his programmed obsessive cleaning subroutine when Wand’s voice broke over the sound of his scrubbing.

“Please continue north to Maintenance command, utilizing Exit 3A.”

Archie did as he was bid, but followed a trail of corrosion and in his inattention bumped into one of the area’s containers. He scanned the label on its side before maneuvering carefully around it: ‘Specimen Beta-F – Io sample’. Archie hummed his way through the indicated Exit3A, pondering the label’s meaning. The voice of Wand came through once more.

“Expedited task completion requested. Specimen incoming: Imminent. Operator expiration: Imminent.”

The little utility bot’s internal engine hummed as he sped down the hall toward Maintenance command. He found his way into the tiny office through the small flap made for him by Mr. Lin some years ago. He puttered up onto the console, accidentally spilling a receptacle of his Master’s caffeinated fuel, reserving to attend to the mess at a later priority level. He inserted his digi-key to the control panel and engaged the Departure Bay’s exhaust thrusters to clear the blockage. A diagnostic message displayed on the panel in return: ‘Error. Remote directive relay damaged. Unable to complete request.’

Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of angry red lines as he bubbled hastily down the way he had come, cursing loudly in binary code.

The blockage would need to be removed manually.

As Archie passed back through Arcology, having found an alternate route between departments, his memory banks returned to Wart and the selfless act of utility that had gotten him to the command console. This thought interfaced with his ethics chip and, while it was a Mark I, it was enough for Archie to determine he still felt sad for Wart’s sacrifice. As Archie processed this, a sound gave him pause. His audio receptors detected a sound coming from the service tunnel and observed it to be a mass of Specimen Beta-F blocking his entrance into the tunnel.

“Expedited task completion requested,” came Wand’s voice once more. “Outer Lifeboat Class escape pod membrane at 19%.”

Archie’s problem-solving matrix hummed and clicked. His time was short and could not afford him the opportunity to be polite. He reconfigured his internal cleaning solution compartments and generated a selection of Solution 12-B. He readied his nozzle and sprayed the Specimen blocking his way, which began sizzling immediately. It withdrew into the corner as Archie roved through the mist of solution he’d created. It was then he heard the Specimen shriek wildly. Archie turned to see its form growing aggressively erratic and sped just out of reach as it lashed a whip-like tendril out his way. It was at this moment Archie realized the compound he’d used contained micro-algae: making the solution organic in nature.

Archie raced away as quickly as his scrubbers would carry him. Wand repeated her message and directed him along as he tore through duct after duct, through tiny crevice after tiny crevice, all the while with the Specimen hotly in pursuit. Eventually, Archie came to a section of the tunnel that was completely collapsed and turned to see the Specimen closing in. His problem-solving matrix grew hot as it calculated an exit, but was ultimately fruitless. He was just preparing a farewell message and apology to Wand when a heavy crash sounded in front of him. There in front of Archie, with a compromised right knee joint that sizzled and sparked, stood the heavy frame of Wart.

The automaton collided with the Specimen as it came upon them. The pneumatic pistons in his remaining good arm whined as again and again it struck the creature. The Specimen shrieked, jittered, and lashed out at Wart, damaging his frame and severing one of his fuel pumps. He began to slow greatly as the black oil gushed from a wound in his torso. At that moment, Archie chimed and he frantically beeped an instruction to Wart.

“You want me to what?” exclaimed Wart, a confused pink color adorning his lens.

Archie repeated himself in a wild, static-riddled tone.

“I sure do hope you have a plan, chap. Here goes nothing, I suppose.” With that, Wart redirected his pressure capacitors. Fuel jetted from his chest like hose, covering the specimen entirely. Archie went to work quickly. He used his rubberized prongs to grasp one of the many exposed, sparking cables and dragged it to the ceiling above the battling droid and alien creature. He beeped an apologetic message to Wart before dropping the cable onto the two of them. The mass of Specimen Beta-F erupted into flames and withered away, shrieking and bubbling, eventually growing still.

Wart stood up, his frame creaking and spasming horribly. “That was quick thinking. How did you know we Mk. II’s had a flame retardant coating?”

Archie beeped sheepishly.

“Ah, well I suppose a hunch is good enough. You…look well.”

Archie gave an electronic huff, quickly explained the pressing time, and bubbled away a short distance before turning to see that Wart followed.

“Yes, you’re welcome, of course.”

Together, the two droids made their way back to the Departure Bay, out an exterior airlock, and around to the exhaust port that contained the blocked machinery. From the new angle, Archie could observe directly what it was that was causing the jam: a broken piece of the solar array’s wing had gotten stuck in the pod’s release, like a sliver of steel pinned between links of chain. Archie set to work. He exhausted his oiliest cleaning solutions to grease the sliver and tugged at it with his prongs but it wouldn’t budge.

“Lifeboat pod hull integrity at 7%,” reminded Wand.

Archie pulled and pulled, but his frame was too light and his micro-engine muscle strands were too thin, meant for sweeping dust not hauling debris. Archie beeped pleadingly to Wart. The sturdy warehouse automaton crawled weakly onto the space with Archie. He grasped the end of the sliver, braced his good knee joint, and pulled. The sliver grinded some, but was stuck nonetheless.

“I’m sorry, little friend,” panted Wart. “I’m afraid I’ve lost too much fuel. I’m out of gas.”

Archie’s ocular receptors went wide with an idea. He began reconfiguring the last of his cleaning solutions, converting whatever ethanol remained in his system and beeped directly at Wart.

“You are full of ideas aren’t you, little master?” He reached down and grasped Archie and set him on his shoulder. Archie detached Wart’s back panel and fit his solution release directly into Wart’s fuel injector. His pneumatic pistons whirred and hummed and fired brightly. With a mechanical strain, Wart grasped the sliver again and pulled hard, drawing it freely from the pod’s release and holding it aloft to gleam brightly in the light of stars.

Together, they watched the pod detach from the station and float away before its thrusters engaged. Wand’s voice came through, and while the words weren’t coherent through the static, Archie could feel the tone of gratitude and farewell. Slowly, he turned to Wart. The two receded back into the station, now thoroughly abandoned by Mr. Lin and the other Masters, but their mission accomplished. Archie set to repairing Wart with scrap around the station as a long term project, before remembering the coffee spill in Maintenance.

END

The Take: Alright, first off, if you were one of the clever few that caught the ‘Sword in the Stone’ homages, I salute you. For those that didn’t, totally a-okay, because I had to do a lot of homework to think I got it right. But yeah, “Archie” being short for “Archimedes,” “Mr. Lin” as a spelling stand-in for “Merlin,” and “Wart” being Arthur’s nickname, so on and so forth.
Now, you’ll also notice that for Mr. Lin and all the acronyms especially, they really only work when you read them, which is why I’ll now confess I originally made the genius move to include all those elements for what was originally an oral presentation (don’t repeat my mistakes, kids – stay in school).
Overall, I like this one. Came together in a bit of a rush, and ended a bit abruptly (finished it five minutes after that night’s meeting started), but it’s always been a little near and dear to my heart. I find it cute. Tried to make the mystery intriguing enough without bogging it down with unnecessary detail, but really, I guess that’s up to y’all to tell me whether or not that effort succeeded.

Anyway, hope ya enjoyed it, and I’ll catch you fabulous persons Tuesday.

Ciao!

Today’s FableFact source: https://www.amc.com/talk/2011/08/story-notes-trivia-top-gun
(Link may be goofy. It may be my fault. It might be your fault. Could be the work of a masked man not yet befuddled by the Mystery Gang. Can’t say)

Congratulations, You’re a Time-Traveler now…

Happy Wednesday, everybody.

If you’re a fan of double entendres, you probably noticed the title of this post. So, just pretend today is Tuesday. It’s ALSO relevant today, because we’re getting back to our roots and digging up an old treasure.

Oh! Also, did you know that Australian wallabies have been observed recently eating opium poppies and then making crop circles while stoned off their gourd? What a world, down under.

So dropping right into it, today’s is an old one that was my VERY FIRST attempt at writing the horror genre, ever. It was part of an NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest, and if you’re unfamiliar with how their contests go, you’re given a random genre, location, and item/object you have to feature in some way, all inside a word count of 1,000 or less. They’re a ton of fun and if you’re an aspiring writer in any way, I’d super recommend checking one out.

Without further adieu…

The Harvest

My nails grate against the window sill every time I hear another scream. The voices are still coming through the fog, but it isn’t really fog. At least, I don’t think so.

It was dad’s idea to come to the harvest fair. We were just supposed to “swing by” the farmers’ market here because he wanted to grab some corn to grill on the camping trip he was forcing on us. I told him I didn’t want to go, but he always thinks he knows best. He’s always babied me ever since what happened to my leg at soccer camp, then even more after mom died. Like it would fix things.

I was looking through some locally grown eggplant when the ground started to shake. We thought it was an earthquake until we looked up. If the sky was a big glass of water, it looked like someone spilled ink in it, like the night sky was webbing and bleeding across the blue. That was when we all heard this deep rumble that hurt your ears and stomach, like a fog horn in a cave. From there, people just started going nuts. They shouted about monsters, some just screamed, others started laughing. One guy had a pitchfork and was stabbing anybody who ran by and giggling about all the blood.

We tried to run with people, but we couldn’t make it to the car. With my leg, Dad picked me up and tried to make a break for it out of downtown, but there was something slithering in the road and more people screaming, so we broke into Kyoto’s.

And now we’re stuck here.

I pull out my phone and check Twitter again, but it’s all the same nonsense. There are posts of people apologizing, others filming themselves shouting “Fuck you!” at celebrities, live feeds of running away from…nothing? I scroll over another one and see a woman tied up in a chair being dragged by whoever is holding the camera. They shout “It’s you they want!” and push her out in the road. I turn it off when I see her get hit by a truck.

“You okay?” my dad asks me.

“Yeah,” I shrug. “I’m fine.”

I count twenty of us in the room. Most are hunkered down, muttering to each other and crying, but I see one in the corner by himself. He’s sitting at a booth and is hunched over something on the table. Dad must have seen my face.

“What’s wrong?” He follows my eyes to the guy then pats my shoulder and walks over to him. “Hey buddy, everything alright?” he says.

The guy doesn’t look up. “It’s funny,” he says and starts to cackle. Then I can’t tell if he’s still laughing or crying now, but he’s drooling all over the table. “We’re here selling vegetables and fruit, but we’re all made of meat. And bone! I teach science in middle school, to kids like you!” He points at me. “You see bones on skeleton models, but never think about your own!” He stands up and shows us the end of his thumb he’s cut off and squeezes the bone out of the skin. “There!” he laughs. “Just like edamame!”

My dad and another guy jump up as the man tries to tackle me. He’s shouting that it’s because I was staring. They hit him a few hard times and he stops moving, but the other guy walks away shaking his hand and shouting, “Fuck! He bit me!” He shouts about not wanting to be a zombie when the others remind him about the mist outside. We think it’s the mist that’s making people do these things. There’s almost a sense of calm after that, but not for me.

“Here,” Dad says, grabbing his pack from the bar counter. “I’ve got some disinfectant wipes.”

“That’s lucky,” says the guy.

“We were going camping before all this. Do you-”

I tug on his jacket sleeve and whisper in his ear about the hole in the window where the guy was sitting. I could see the mist slithering onto the booth where the guy was sitting.

“Tell you what,” my dad says to the guy, “I’ll trade you.” I know the tone he’s using. He always talks like that when he knows something you don’t. He’s running an angle.

“Are you serious? What the fuck am I going to-”

“You have a car? You can clean the bite for your keys.”

“You’re going out there? Don’t be insane!”

They go like that for a minute or two, and I can’t keep my eyes off the mist in the booth, but they finally wind up trading. We open the door and I hear someone shout about the window as we run out. We can hear the shouting behind us as we go, but soon it goes quiet and I start hearing singing. It’s gospel music and it sounds like my mom’s voice. I’m following my dad, but I trip and suddenly he’s gone.

“Dad?” I start shouting. “Dad, help! I don’t want to die! Dad!”

I hear his voice right next to me, but he looks different, and he’s smiling.

“’She’d still be here if you’d just let her fucking drive.’ That’s what you said about mom, wasn’t it, Casey?” I can see he has something in his hand. “Dying is the easiest thing to do, kiddo. After all, people have done it forever, it can’t be that bad.” He laughs and tries to lunge at me, but stops.

“Dad?” I ask. Then I see something with a claw sticking out of his chest. Whatever it is lifts him up into the dark and without even thinking I grab the keys he dropped and run.

It feels like forever while I’m running around clicking the remote on the keys, but eventually I find the right van. I get inside and try to start it, but a slam on the passenger window scares me. I look over and see my mom. She’s pounding on the glass and shouting something I can’t hear, so I crawl over the center console and try to unlock the door but it won’t budge. She has cuts on her face like I remember and some of her fingers are broken, but she doesn’t stop trying to get through the window. She points behind me. I look over and my dad sitting in the driver’s seat. He’s covered in blood and has a hole in his chest.

“I told you, I’m fine!” he shouts, just like last time. He sounds drunk.

I turn back to my mom and see her crying. A pair of headlights flare in the mist behind her and I hear the truck’s horn. I close my eyes, feel something slam into the van, and everything goes black.

I guess my dad was right. Dying isn’t so bad.

END

The Take: Weird, right? I remember this one was challenging for a number of reasons. First off, it was my first attempt trying to write something “scary,” and I figured one of the main components of that was to set the mood or tone of suspense, raise the stakes n’ all that; especially if you’re going for a psychological edge over straight gore porn. Pretty tough to do with that short of a word count.
The parameters I had to work with were horror (obviously), a farmers’ market for the location, and disinfectant wipes as the necessary object. And truth be told, I kind of skirted the rules a touch for the amount of time they spent in the restaurant. The way I figured it, writing in the present tense can be pretty tricky, but for the circumstance seemed like the right call if the action is happening now as opposed to a past-tense account of something. I also sort of cheated in that I included some helpful information in the following synopsis included with the submission:

“Casey’s mother died last year in a drunk driving accident that left her father Will at fault and her with a permanent limp, ruining a promising career in soccer. Now on parole, the last few months have been spent with her dad trying to reconnect while they both handle their grief, when the world suddenly becomes a cruel parody of the one they knew.”

Anyway, end of the day, I liked how it came together, but it’s not something I’m particularly proud of.

Ciao, catch you guys tomorrow.

Today’s Fable Fact source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8118257.stm
(link is being funny, apologies)

“If you look out the window to your left…”

Hey everybody, happy Tuesday.

A couple months ago, I swore to do a post every Tuesday and Thursday, and despite life’s hurdles, we’ve kept to that pretty well.

Won’t lie, though. Today is…ah, kinda comin’ up with zilch.

Nada.

Goose egg.

Nothin’.

Also, been busy as hell so I’m just now getting to it 10:00pm my time.

So this is a fly-over post. You know how you have fly-over states (here in the United States, anyway)? The places you fly over (ha-ha, like the name!), look out your window, and there’s nothing crazy to see?

I have another premise to work off of, but don’t have even thirty minutes to throw it together today, so that’s gonna be Thursday.

In lieu of that, I DID have a personal story I thought of that would fit this time slot. It’s good, quick, qwirky, and has a nice little lesson attached to it.

Problem is, I forgot it. I don’t remember which one it was.

So really, if you’ve made it this far, I guess I’m talking to you now. Yes, YOU! And just you, because I’m sure between the timing, the quality of my words thus far, and how long this has already gotten, you’re the only one who’s made it this far. So, congratulations, I guess. It’s actually sort of cool, if you think about it. You’re the only person ON THE PLANET (in all likelihood, don’t hold me to that entirely) who gets to read these specific words. So, enjoy this. You’re seeing a thing that you and only you will EVER see.

Because really, who would make it this far? In earnest, I’m surprised even I’m still going. This genuinely should have ended a few minutes ago. And boy, if you’re new, like, you’re not a follower yet (ha-ha, I said “yet”, like this is a good advertisement for what this blog is about)…I…just, sorry, I suppose. You deserve better.

So hit ‘Heed the Call’, and we’ll do better from here on out.

Damn. I really thought I would have remembered the story I’d meant to tell by now. I’ve just been shamelessly vomiting a stream of consciousness for, like, ten minutes, which should be enough time, but still – zilch, nada, etc etc.

Well. Okay. It’s time this shit comes to an end. Um, how about a preview? The prompt for Thursday: “You’re approached by a stranger on the street. He walks up to you briskly, hands you a package, and departs just as quickly. You open it to see an old fashioned pocket watch. The moment you touch it… [Must include magic.]”

Got a fun idea for this one, but like always, we’ll work on it in the moment. Again, if you’re the one person who’s actually made it, see what you can do with the prompt and come Thursday we’ll compare. And-

HOLY SHIT I JUST REMEMBERED THE STORY

Okay, so for context, I’m not generally a believer in so-called “hocus pocus” or “woo-woo” things like crystals in one’s pocket, psychic visions of the future, past, or other lives, so on and so forth. If you’re down with those things, I would also say that I’ve been wrong about a ton of shit and I wouldn’t be surprised if I was here again.

Anyway, a few years ago, Amanda and I went to a festival in San Francisco called “The How Weird Street Fair”. It was basically an outdoor rave in the city streets. That said, had a whole ton of experiences in the span of an hour or two. I:

-Saw a dude in roller skates wearing nothing but whitey-tighties, a luchador mask, and saran wrap from the neck down.
-Saw a lot of naked people, including two old dudes with light-up cock rings (that was a hell of a thing)
-Hugged a monk named “Storm” who gave me a copy of the Bhagavad Gita.
-Was given a small necklace with the word “Peace” written on it in Hindi.

The one I wanna focus on is that neckla- Oh! Also, my favorite part: We saw a turd on the sidewalk. RIGHT on the sidewalk. And the best part? Someone solved the problem by putting an orange traffic cone NEXT TO IT. Not over it. Not cleaning it up. They put a cone next to it, as if to say, “Hey, check it, but watch out, there’s a turd here.” Anyway – let’s focus on that necklace.

Have you ever had an experience wherein you remained calm despite reasons not to?

I’m gonna keep this brief because I’m getting sleepy.

When I was taking a few classes at the local junior college, I always parked in the campus garage. On this one particular day, I remember I backed into my parking spot perfectly. Like, it was flawless – perfectly straight, perfectly even. Anyway, after classes, I came back to my car real quick to change out some books and noticed something weird: my car was askew. Looking at it now, my car was diagonal in the lines, and my first thought was, “Huh, I wonder who hot-wired my car just to repark it weird.”

Then I noticed the front bumper was peeled clean off.

Long story short, my car had gotten hit by someone coming around the corner too close and too quick. They left their information and everything got sorted out. But the thing I always think back to and chuckle about is how calm I was through the whole thing. I even found it funny that my first thought was that it got hot-wired (heehee, that’s dumb). It was just so unexpected the only choice was to find it funny.

Anyway, if there’s a lesson here, it’s either: plan out your posts because otherwise you wind up with a disappointing, aimless rant, or just don’t sweat the small stuff, ie don’t cry over spilled milk, ie don’t make mountains out of molehills, etc etc.

See ya Thursday.

F*ck it, we’ll do it live!

Happy Thursday, everybody.

Normally I try to plan these out at least a little bit, but about half of them have been the result of me looking at the clock on a Tuesday or Thursday and going: “…hmm, was I- oh, shit!”

Today’s one of those, but we’re going to put a spin on it. Rather than frantically digging through files to grab a story, quotes, or whatever, we’re going to do a prompt on the fly (sort of).

A couple of weeks ago, friend and fellow blogger over at Writing up a Sanctuary and I traded writing prompts. Since then, I’ve been making empty promises to flesh it out and make something of it.

Empty…until now.

There’s no way for you to know this besides trusting me, but at the time of writing THIS line, I’m setting a clock for thirty minutes and am just going to try and get this thing out. If time runs out before I’m done, you’ll know because it will just…end. But we’ll see how it goes!

Okay, so, first things first, the prompt: An inmate is found dead in his cell. He’s covered in burns and blisters, but nothing else in the room shows damage from a fire. What happened, who dunnit?

Sweet, now that we’re all caught up, we hit the timer and start seeing what the hell to do with it, starting in…

Oh! And it should be noted I’m not going to edit this. So everything here will be as it was first written down and left like that. So if there are some typos that I sped past…I mean, c’mon.

Anyway,

3…

2…

1…

Now.

The Burned Man

“Hey, Jeff. You might wanna see this.”

The prison guard motioned to his coworker and the two stood over the body. Still in his prison orange, the corpse of inmate #2471 (known as “James” to his mom and “Pipe Wrench” to his fellow inmates) lie curled in the middle of his cell like a dead spider. His skin was bright red, peeled, and cracked. Blisters covered his neck, the back of his hands, and other exposed (former) areas of skin.

The thing that both men found strange was that while he looked badly burned, the rest of the room – even the clothes on his body – were untouched. The other thing was, neither guard mourned his loss.

Inmate #2471 Pipe Wrench was kind of a dick.

“You find him like this?”

“Yup.”

“You radioed it in yet?”

“Nope.”

“Think we should?”

“Yup.”

Ninety minutes later, Detective Alvarez was standing at the edge of the cell while the crime scene photos were taken. He was chewing on a toothpick and switched sides of his mouth every time the camera flashed. This one was new: a man covered in burns with no evidence besides.

The guards had given their two cents (each, so not even a nickel in all). Their theory was that he was beaten to death, probably burned with grease from the kitchen where he was often stationed to work as “torture or something”, then dumped back in his cell.

When Alvarez asked why his clothes were perfectly clean and untouched, the two guards just looked at each other then back to Alvarez with blank looks. “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumbass, were better off checking clocks and counting cocks, in the detectives mind, but they might have had something with the relocation aspect of their (stupid) theory.

The camera flashed, and something caught the detective’s eye. He gave the photographer the sign to take a break and stepped over Pipe Wrench’s body to his cot. The thing which had caught his eye was the reflection off the camera’s flash that came from a metallic clip under the inmate’s bed. He held it between his thumb and forefinger. “Suds n’ Buds Laundry” was decoratively engraved on the clip. He walked back to the Tweedles.

“You guys ever seen one of these?”

“Um,” said Tweedle Dee, scratching his chin. “In the laundry room, I think.”

Tweedle Dumbass just nodded in agreement.

Alvarez sighed and rubbed his temples. “Anything else you want to add? Did the inmate ever work in the laundry room?”

Both Tweedles shook their heads.

Detective Alvarez shook his head, pocketed the clip, and headed to the laundry room. As he left, Tweedle Dumbass called out, “Oh wait! He was in the laundry!”

Alvarez spun around with interest.

“He just got his jumpers cleaned. That’s all. But he WAS there.” The guard looked proud of himself.

Alvarez gave a weak spirited thumb’s up and made for the laundry room. Once there, he asked around, made his inquiries, and poked in all the corners. Nothing. He combed through the equipment to look for blood-covered murder weapons, smoking guns, confession notes – anything. Eventually, he came to the detergents and big industrial washers and noticed something off. One of the containers had a blue lid instead of white. He dug it off the shelf, sifted some through his fingers to see if the marked container had hidden contraband or evidence, but found none. He put the detergent back and inspected the washer beneath it.

“Hey,” he called to an inmate working nearby. “Any chance this washer or detergent was used to clean Pipe Wrench’s jumpers?”

“Dunno, man. Pro’ly.”

“Cool, thanks.”

And like that, Alvarez was out of luck. A mysterious case that had gone cold right as it started. A burned man with no fire damage to his cell. No smell of smoke. No fires on prison grounds around the time of the murder. The only thing he had to go on was motive, but the problem there was that most everyone had motive.

Inmate #2471 was kind of a dick, after all.

As he got back in his car, he reached for the AC. Mid-July in Georgia meant it was hot as hell. Soon, Alvarez started itching at his hand. Then started wiping it with his shirt. It went from itching to burning. Then from burning, to burning bad. He reached for a bottle of water under the passenger seat (his car was cluttered) and poured it on his hand in a panic, but that only made the pain explode. Just shy of screaming, he reached for a bottle of Muscle Milk he’d picked up that morning but hadn’t finished, and dumped it on the sizzling skin. Soon, the insane burning subsided and Alvarez’s eyes went wide.

He knew what happened.

Whoever had laundered Pipe Wrenches jumpsuit had “powdered” it with some kind of dehydrated sulfuric acid after it dried, hidden in a detergent container. After Pipe Wrench put it on and started to sweat, he burned up just like that.

Alvarez ran back into the prison to present his findings and round up a suspect list of inmates working in the laundry room, but those efforts proved fruitless. It seemed that while he knew how the deed got done, who did it- [END TIME]

FIN

The Take: Aaaaaah! Right up to the end. But you get it, basically the killer gets away because “Pipe Wrench was a dick,” but overall I think we did okay here. I was going to go for a [SPOILER ALERT TURN BACK NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN ‘MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS’] Murder on the Orient Express take wherein the whole prison was in on it, just with a suuuuper cheesey and dumb motive. The thought process in the beginning went something like this: “Type, just type. Whatever comes to mind, go with it. Fill time while we think on what happened. Fire? Nah. Relocated? Eeeeh, nah. What burns withou- ah! Chemical burns. Cool, cool. Now how’d he get them? Aaah, shit. His clothes are untouched for the mystery, so…detergent? No! Detergent gets SWAPPED! Aha!” so on and so forth until we got the weird thingy here.
So…yeah…that’s “The Burned Man”. Taaaaa-daaaaa.

Haha, I’ll see you guys Tuesday.

PS – I have NEEEEEEWS! Another story of mine, “The Scars of Eliza Gray”, is currently in the works to be featured on the NIGHT LIGHT horror podcast in a few weeks. So stayed tuned, ’cause I’ll be posting updates as I get them and blasting it out there once it’s up! Also keep an eye out and an ear open for the episode where we discuss and give our takes on Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and “Us”! Yaaaaay!

Amwren Origins IV: Tsal Maveth, Host of Bu’ul the Ravager

Happy Tuesday, everybody!

Did you know that the name for “Haagen-Dazs” ice cream was actually created by a Polish Jewish couple who immigrated to the United States in 1921 and made the name up to sound Danish-ish? The more you knooooow!

Anyway, right down to it.

Today’s is the fourth installment in the Amwren Origins series (duh, by the title) and it’s the one that I probably put the most time into. We’ll explore just why that is more fully in The Take (below), but for now, may I present:

Tsal Maveth, Host of Bu’ul the Ravager

Tsal awoke with a gasp. His head pained him terribly and his wrists ached. Turning this way and that, he saw only darkness, as he could feel the cloth of a blindfold covering his eyes. His breathing quickened as his mind searched for answers to his many questions. From what he could tell, keeping himself from panic as best he might, he was chained in some sort of prison with manacles clasped about his wrists. He felt cool, rough stone against his back, and the air was moist and gave him a chill. He noticed the pain in his shoulders and, at the same moment, realized he could move his feet freely, meaning he was suspended by the manacles the held him. Tsal strained his ears, but heard nothing more than a soft drip and his own breathing to break the silence. He tried to think through the pulses of pain and remember how he’d come to be in such a circumstance.

He’d been in his stall back home in Calypso, keeping up his work as a wheelwright, when Dabjorn, his adoptive father had called for him. He remembered setting his tools and rag aside where he’d always set them and left out the cabin’s western door. As he crossed the small homestead where the two lived, he recalled taking note of how low and full the moon was set in the sky. Crossing the threshold of he and Dabjorn’s home, he saw his father sitting by the fireplace with his back to the door.

“Father,” he had said to announce his presence, but the man by the fireplace didn’t stir. Tsal repeated himself as he crossed the room and, with a hand on the man’s shoulder, shook gently to rouse him but yelped with shock as Dabjorn’s head fell limply back to reveal blank, white eyes. Tsal’s heart raced and a hooded figure leaped quickly from the shadows behind him. After that, he awoke here.

The sound of a heavy wooden chamber door interrupted his thoughts. He heard the shuffling of several pairs of feet and, after a soft clattering of chain, collapsed to the ground as his legs suddenly took on his full weight. He opened his mouth to speak, to question his captors or saviors, but was swiftly struck and silenced. While he was dragged through what felt like winding halls and across steep stairs, he heard those that carried him speaking in a tongue he did not recognize. He could tell he was being handled by men, but the language was guttural and sounded as if to come from abyssal, nightmarish creatures. He heard the sound of another heavy door opening, this time into a chamber full of chanting voices. The air grew hot and he was forced onto his knees. His mouth was forcefully opened and stuffed with a cloth gag. There came a flash as his blindfold was gruffly removed and his eyes adjusted to what light there was.

Tsal looked around in a panic to take in his surroundings. He was encompassed on all sides by tall figures in robes of deep red and embroidered black trim. There were perhaps a dozen of them in the room and they wore tall headdresses and dark veils over their faces. Amid the many robed figures that surrounded him, there stood one dressed more elaborately than the others with a skeletal mask on its face in place of a veil like the others. It carried a scroll held tightly to its chest in one hand and a wand of darkened bone in the other, held at its side. The room Tsal was in was actually a small cave, perhaps the size of a tavern’s common room. It was dimly lit by candles of dark wax and, looking up, he saw the ceiling had been made into a mirrored surface. There also was a hole in the cavern’s ceiling that gave a ray of moonlight to a central altar, before which he had been made to kneel; however, it was what adorned the altar that dominated Tsal’s vision and would plague his dreams for years to come.

It was a man also on his knees and restrained with rope about his wrists, his arms outstretched and held wide by those tethers, and a sack over his face. It looked to Tsal as though the man had suffered lengthy torture at the hands of their captors. What rags he wore about his waist were filthy and his exposed body showed bruises, burns, and cuts both deep and shallow. As Tsal looked on in disgust and imagined what sort of methods had caused such harm, two of the robed ones stepped up to the altar and removed his hood. As the man on the altar was revealed, Tsal gave a unintended shriek into his gag. The man looked exactly like him – the same eyes, the same nose, hair color, brow, everything – a perfect likeness, as though looking at his reflection.

The two locked eyes with equal horror and Tsal’s heart began to beat faster and faster until it raced as though meaning to break from his chest. Tsal saw the other man cough in pain with him as he felt himself torn from the crown of his head to the pit of his stomach, an excruciating, ghastly pain that reached his very soul. And so the two stayed for several long moments, feeling their existence wrenched from them, before the masked one barked orders and the other robed figures assembled from the cave’s edges to a circle around the two Tsals, their chanting growing more intense.

The collective voices hummed and reverberated off the cave walls, assaulting and wracking Tsal from all sides. He looked up and the two men once again locked eyes. The pain intensified and they saw one another’s form begin to shift and leave them, each other’s outline swaying from them like a shadow cast from a flickering fire. The droning chants of the collected mages, as now Tsal could only assume they were mages of the occult, hummed steadily on and a deep red glow began to emanate from behind his other self. The figure with the wand once more barked orders in the same infernal tongue and two followers moved to the man on the altar. Together they held a long, sleek dagger which they raised high above the man’s head. One last look was shared between Tsal and his ‘other’ as a third follower approached and forced the man’s head low.

The red glow grew brighter.

The chanting ceased.

The knife found its way driven down the man’s back and into his heart. His body fell limp and lifeless, there came several red flashes that filled the room with a dreadful light, and Tsal felt a force assault his body and fill it as if with hot coals. He wailed with agony and writhed against those that held him. They loosed their grip and he fell to the floor on his back as, internally, he wrestled with this foreign, burning presence. Tsal felt the pain of claws raking him as the chanting returned and he saw his reflection in the ceiling above. Glowing runes of deep black and brilliant ruby were carving themselves onto his torso. When they’d finished and the pattern complete, they covered his body in the fashion as one might where a cross harness. The glyphs on his body soon lost their glow, but the agony remained. His mind dazed from the ritual, the next several minutes Tsal would only ever recall as a panicked blur.

The chanting abruptly halted and the door to the ritual chamber crashed open. Soldiers in decorated plate mail flooded the room, brandishing shields that depicted a golden flame and glistening swords. The skirmish between the two groups was as intense as it was terrible. Bolts of hideous arcane energy cracked the air and cries sounded from those that fell to the sword, with the splatter of gore and gnashing of bone to accompany the screams of both sides. He had no idea how he’d managed to escape the halls during that time of madness, but the next sensation Tsal would remember was the brush of soft grass about his legs and the breeze of cool, midnight air on his arms.

Days later, Tsal wandered the streets of Kolbath, unsure and with no memory of how he came to be there, so many days’ travel from his home. His only thoughts when he tried to recall the days since his capture were of tortured unrest or plaguing, nightmarish dreams. He walked amid the poor and collected himself the best he may, a crescent moon adorning the high sky, when he heard the muffled cries of a young woman. Following the sound, he came across a woman being battered by a stumbling man that stank of sour ale. A finger to his lips signaled at the maiden, he crept up being her assailant and, finding a loose brick in the wall to his right, struck him.

The drunk fell to the ground, motionless. Tsal moved to drop the brick, but found himself strangely unable to. Rather, he held it in hand and, staring at the man’s chest rise and fall with unconscious breath, felt a strange anger begin to churn in his belly. He gripped the brick tight, dropped to a knee, and began to strike the prone form again and again well after the man had stopped twitching. Tsal looked up from the fresh corpse and, looking the frightened woman in the eyes, felt the foreign rage subside as they locked gazes. The woman’s expression slowly lost its edge of shock and fear and became one of a strange softness and allure. He dropped the brick and approached her.

“And what is your name, m’lady?” His words’ sound was sweet to ear, but held an acrid taste.

“Lydia,” she replied with a coy smile.

He gripped her gently by the waist, pulled her close, and intimately they knew one another.

“It’s a late hour that finds you here, m’lord. What can I get you? Look to me like you could use a drink and a bed.”

“Stiff drink, soft bed,” Tsal replied. He tossed a pouch of coin onto the bar.

“Very good, sir. The key. And that drink’ll be with you shortly.”

Tsal found the batterer from the alleyway hadn’t much on him once he’d sent the young lass on her way, but there’d been petty coin enough for a drink and a room for the night at the Hewn Heart, a local tavern and brothel. Tsal felt he didn’t like the innkeeper very much. He didn’t quite know why, he’d known plenty a man like him back home in Calypso, but tonight the man’s features annoyed him. His balding head, pockmarked face, clammy complexion, and unkempt beard all repulsed him very much. He took his drink and key and moved to a table across the way, far from the innkeeper. At that time, a man in lavender robes entered the tavern, seeming to look around the room rather frantically. Tsal was just lifting his mug to his lips when the robed one laid eyes on him and swiftly approached.

“Are you Tsal Maveth?” he asked, breathing hard.

“And who wants to know, pretty boy?” Again, the words that came were not his own.

“My name is not for you to know,” he said, pointedly, “but I come on behalf of my master and the Order of Bokonon. I come to you on purpose of summons, as you are called for a matter of great importance.”

“Right,” sighed Tsal, intent on moving tables, “I think you have the wrong guy.”

As Tsal made to stand, the man in lavender robes waved his hand briskly through the air and Tsal felt his muscles tense, unable to move. The priest gave a sad sigh.

“I see that I was too late. I’m sorry, friend, that I could not find you before…well, before this.” He reached into a fold in his robe and produced a pendant on a thin silver chain. The jewel set in the necklace was a deep colored amethyst and when the priest laid it on Tsal it gave a soft flash. Immediately, Tsal gave a deep, desperate gasp and fell forward, clawing at the table. Other patrons, as well as the innkeeper, looked across the room at the commotion, but with a look and a hand from the lavender priest, they each went back to their own business. Tsal continued breathing hard, but this time with thanks, not struggle. He looked down at the pendant and saw it now held a soft glow, and deep within it something stirred, like a mass swimming on the bottom of a murky lake.

“Th-thank you,” Tsal stuttered. “What did you do?”

The priest seemed to give a soft sigh of relief. “It will ease your struggle, but I’m afraid it won’t remove it of you. For that, I’m sorry as I was too late. It will, however, protect you from their sight.”

“From what?”

“We have been watching you, Tsal Maveth. I’m aware of your ordeals of late. You-…we are very fortunate that you escaped, but I’m afraid so did a handful of your captors. When they finish licking their wounds, they are sure to pursue you.”

“Pursue me? Why? I haven’t done anything to them. I haven’t done anything to anybody! Why would they want me?”

“You’re a foreigner in these lands, friend, and a very valuable one at that.”

“I’ve been to Kolbath before. I know people here and my homestead’s only a few days ride-”

The lavender priest gave a soft, sad smile and a shake of the head.

“In the days to come, you will come to know my meaning. You sought a place in your world from your first steps. Now, you will feel that ever more strongly in this life.” The priest searched Tsal’s expression and his confusion before continuing. “There is much to explain, and understanding your new place takes more time than we may afford. You must come with me to my order, in Tallin. Here, for supplies,” the priest offered him a small pouch that clinked with coin. “Rest tonight, and we must leave with the rising of the sun.”

Desperately confused but with little other recourse, Tsal acted as he was bid. In the morning, the two supplied and made ready for the two day journey to Tallin. While Tsal had many questions that longed for answers, their march was a largely silent one. Though, as they walked, something changed with Tsal. As he looked at the roads they walked, the fields and people they would pass, there came a sensation that would not leave him. Everyone he passed felt like a stranger, whether he would know their face or not. The land he walked, though familiar to him from travels past, felt foreign and may as well have been the Scythian tundra. The longing for answers, he knew, would eventually drive him to madness.

After a few days of walking and meditation with the priest, the crested a hill in the road and Tallin lay before them, the City of Temples.

FIN

The Take: I always really liked this one. Life wasn’t kind enough to let it play out quite as imagined in the actual, living campaign, but it stayed a favorite anyway. Prepare yourself for some woo-woo, because the main idea at work was this:
Tsal had been kidnapped by a group of blood mages from a parallel plane, stolen from his home plane to theirs. Their goal was to abduct a vessel from another plane because that person’s substance would be…loose, in a foreign plane compared to someone who is existing on their home world – kind of like the separation from one’s home plane leaves microscopic cracks in the fabric of their being, cracks that a summoned demon could then fill (like water filling a sponge).
From there, they proceeded to take him to face his alternate self who was of that world and ritualistically sacrifice that Tsal, since the same being cannot existence twice in the same time and place, and therefore binding Tsal Our Hero to this foreign plan.
That’s why the ritual plays out as it does, as well, explains Tsal’s uncharacteristic behavior when first in Kolbath.

Anyway, I know this one was dense, and while I don’t expect it, I rigorously welcome any hardcore fantasy nerds to comment, message, or email me with questions or comments. And if you missed any of the previous chronicles of the Amwren Origins series and wanna get caught up, I encourage you to spend some time and meet Revan, Cerlina, and Aldis. We’re nearly there to having the whole gang together!

Otherwise, I catch you all Thursday. Ciao!

Interested in more? Like knee-slappers and chin-scratchers? Check out my first published work in the Third Flatiron’s “Hidden Histories” anthology here (and tell ’em Evan sent ya!): 
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PRN5ZQ1

Today’s FableFact source:  https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/haagen-dazs-fake-foreign-branding?utm_source=reddit.com

Amwren Origins III: Aldis, Hunter of the Scarlet Pact

Happy Tuesday everybody!

Did you know that the Issus coleoptratus is the only known insect on the planet that has gear-like joints? They synchronize its joints for even jumps. Neat.

…yup. Don’t have much more of a cheeky intro than that, so let’s dive on in.

Today’s is another installment of the Amwren Origins series, introducing Aldis, this time. Perhaps the group’s most somber character – though certainly well within his reasons – I always liked him for the way he kept his compass straight, if that makes sense.

Oh! And bonus points if you can spot the homage to Kurt Vonnegut running through all these.

Anyway, may I present:

Aldis, Hunter of the Scarlet Pact

Aldis spent his younger years in the small, unremarkable town of Zylast. His childhood days were passed avoiding chores brought to him by his mother and father. Instead he chased the caravans that would come through on their way to Faraday or the bands of fighting hopefuls off to the desolate lands beyond Neven. As he watched, his mind would fill with dreams of his own adventures: the monsters he would slay, the duties he might perform, the women his tales would woo. Years of these thoughts aged him restlessly, and he grew eager to make them real. A few moons after his seventeenth birthday, he stole away into the night with naught but his clothes, the spear his grandfather had gifted him, and a farewell whispered to his sleeping sister, Talia.

The road to Stettin was straight and relatively safe, but stretched far. After weeks spent connecting with caravans headed in the same direction and foraging for what food he could not barter for, he crested a small hill to see the capital city’s walls on the horizon. Making camp, he new that defining days lay upon his near future.

Through the outer villages and eventually the towering city gates, he parted from the caravan with whom he’d arrived and sought out to earn his stay within the walls. The size of the walls, crowds, and deafening noise overwhelmed him at first, but he soon grew to quite like the buzz that the city offered. Knowing his goal, he searched for the city’s recruitment office and barracks of the capital guard. When he approached, he was laughed away by what soldiers were present and waved away by the attending officer. Sullen and dejected, but no less determined, Aldis found himself in the dark, unlit streets of the Stettin Warrens.

From his left, he heard a small clatter, and as he tensed, a figure leaped out at him from his right. A club struck him in the shoulder from the right and he felt the piercing pain of a dagger to his left thigh from his flanked side. Surprised and frantic, he thrashed with his arm and caught the knife-wielding figure on the chin with his elbow as the other man made for his head once more with the club. Aldis barely deflected the strike with the butt of his spear and spun around as he had practiced back home. Now facing his assailants, he was slowly backing away down the alley. They poised to attack again. Aldis turned and ran down a side alleyway.

Dodging under beams and leaping over refuse, he ran with his pursuers hotly behind him. His foot caught the edge of a hole in the cobbled road and he was sent into a tumble. On the ground, he turned around as the knife-wielding man leaped at him. Aldis closed his eyes and screamed, expecting to feel a sharp sting to the chest. What he felt instead was a warm spatter of viscous fluid across his cheeks. He opened his eyes to see the man with the knife, mouth agape, shocked, and slowly dying on the end of his upraised spear. As the man fell to the side, Aldis saw the other man standing in the street, looking on as his friend lay there dead. Slowly, he peddled back then turned to run away, apparently determined not to meet the same fate. Aldis breathed a sigh of relief that was cut short when he heard a voice not ten paces behind him.

“Well done,” it said, the speaker behind a veil of shadow.

“What do you want?” shouted Aldis, expecting more trouble.

“Me? Nothing. The question might be, though, what is it you’re looking for?”

“Listen, I don’t want anymore trouble here.” Aldis stood up and braced his spear. The man speaking to him was dressed in scale mail that shimmered against the moonlight, but his face remained hidden.

“That kind of attitude might mean you’re in the wrong part of town.” The man stepped forward so Aldis could now see him. He was tall and may have at one time been handsome, but had clearly seen years of conflict and weathered many adventures as his visage was now marred and rough. “But, you show promise. How’d you like to learn to use that thing?”

Aldis breathed slowly and, after several long moments’ silence, gave a soft nod.

Aldis’s first days at the Fighters’ Guild in Stettin were difficult, but justly rewarding. There, he worked hard under the tutelage of the man who’d found him, whose name, Aldis learned, was Hommin. He worked for his keep, scrubbing the dishes the fighters used, assisting the guild hall servants, working to maintain the guild members’ practice gear, and polishing the warriors’ weapons and armor. In return, he was taught the rudimentary lessons in movement, placement of one’s self in a fight, sizing up one’s opponent and analyzing them for weaknesses to exploit as well as strengths to be wary of. He learned to use his spear and weapons of its like, how to fit and dress one’s self in armor, and how to attend to wounds to some degree.

After some months spent in this manner, Hommin approached Aldis and told him to gather his things, saying that his days at the Guild were over. Hommin quieted his Aldis’s protests and as the young man was stepping out the door, his mentor caught him by the shoulder with a powerful hand.

“Where am I even supposed to go?” Aldis objected, fervently still.

“Go back to the recruitment office.”

“They wouldn’t take me!”
“They will now.” Hommin handed Aldis a rolled up piece of paper with the seal of twin swords across a rook tower, of the Stettin Fighters’ Guild.

Aldis walked the streets of Stettin, now on patrol for the city’s Honor Guard as an apprentice. He accompanied two pledged members and he felt a little out of sorts as his armor was brigandine under the light robes and the badge on his chest that marked a trainee, while the armor of pledged guards was a shimmering plate mail. They walked the streets, keeping order where it was needed, and as these days wore on, Aldis became quite accustomed to the unexpected as the matters of the job presented him with all manner of strange goings on – fights, brawls, drunks, occasional small riots, missing persons reports, even reported sightings of monsters and illegal wizards.

This experience could not steel him for the arrival of his sister, however, late one evening. He sat at a table in one of the Market District’s taverns that catered to the guard, The Bronze Toad, when she came through the door.

“Talia?” Aldis exclaimed, nearly covering himself in ale he coughed out his nose.

“Hello, brother.” Her voice was soft as heather and her smile was wide upon seeing her estranged sibling.

The two sat and spoke to the late hours over what he’d done since coming to the city, what their family had done in his absence, and, of course, what she was doing there.

“I’m pregnant,” she explained, “and soon to be married to Patryck. You remember him, from the Feishod farm? Ah, no matter at all. Anyway, I’m here with father to meet with an associate of mother’s to see about a wedding dress. Can you imagine? From a tailor!”

“Let me go with you! I’ll ask to make it a part of my patrol tomorrow. Not every day you come around, after all.”

“It might be. Patryck’s pursuing an apprenticeship under a master cobbler near here in Market Square. We’ll be close again.”

With that, each smiled and agreed to meet the next day at high sun in front of the shoemaker’s building.

“What do you mean, ‘nothing to be done’?” Aldis screamed. “We have to catch the fucking whoreson that did this! We have to find him and catch him! Kill him! We can’t let him get away with this!”

Aldis knelt beside the limp, mutilated body of his sister. It was the early morn, and her body was reportedly discovered not an hour ago. Dark dried blood ran from her still eyes and the corners of her mouth. There was a deep depression in her chest, a sign of a ritualistically removed heart, as well as dark tracks along her arms and neck which indicated she’d been subjected to chemical or magical paralytics. Most horrifically grotesque of all, though, was the viscera that ran from between her legs into the street. It was apparent to the examining officer present, as he would explain to Aldis and the other guards at the scene, that the goal of her attackers was the attainment of the unborn child she had carried; towards what purpose, he couldn’t say, but the work was indicative of skilled Blood Mages.

“So we do nothing?” Aldis exclaimed, standing. “This man or group of men are a menace and they have to be dealt with!”

“That’s not your call to make, boy,” reprimanded his accompanying guard.

“He’s right,” continued the officer. “Blood Mages are a dangerous ordeal, true, but from this it seems they’re targeting pregnant women, which is a far cry from a wide set crisis. Their target group is a small, temporary minority, and a harvest like this will keep them and their work busy for some months. It’s better that we not address this immediately while we have the time to do so.”

“We do nothing,” repeated Aldis solemnly.

“I’m afraid so.”

Aldis looked down once more at Talia and knelt beside her again. He looked to her neck and saw the opal necklace he’d given her when they were children. He’d found the stone at the bottom of a small river and thought of no better purpose for it. He’d almost drowned getting her that damned stone. He took it from her now and closed her eyes. With it, he turned his back and walked away.

“Where do you think you’re going?” called one of the guards.

“Let him go,” calmed the officer. “He’ll come back when he’s ready.”

Aldis would not return to Stettin’s walls. If those blind, pig-headed fools in the guard won’t do anything about an atrocity like that, he thought, then he would.

For months, Aldis traveled the countryside. He hunted names and chased rumors that had anything, even remotely, in line with the arcane nature of what had befallen his sister. One night, while in a tavern in the town of White Tower, he drank away his frustration as his most recent trail had gone cold. The doors to the establishment opened and a man walked in, dressed in robes of light lavender. The man approached Aldis and, without so much as a word, extended a hand offering a rolled piece of parchment with a seal that held an emblazoned ‘B’. While confused, Aldis cautiously accepted the parchment and the man, giving a warm smile, turned and left the building. The parchment sat on the table for a long moment before it was opened.

The note was addressed to Aldis personally by a man named Alistair, of the Order of Bokonon in Tallin. The parchment offered him details of his own recent life, from his training in Stettin to the murder of his sister, as well as his investigations since then. It warned of a matter of great importance coming to the world and his role to play in it. As a measure of good faith, the letter bore a name and promised it meaning in his search: Morvanna.

Without hesitation, the next morning, Aldis rose with the sun and traveled due west to the city of Tallin, the City of Temples.

FIN

The Take: Looking back on this one was cool, if strange. Since it was meant as a backstory for a D&D character, it was already pretty detail-rich for what it was. Given what he has happen, though, it would have been pretty well served in a longer form; especially the confrontation with the officer towards the end. The guard has a pretty calloused reasoning for handling the situation the way they are, and while they rationalize it, Aldis doesn’t accept it. Call it naive, call it moral or emotional, it’s a revenge story at its most classic.

See ya Thursday!

Interested in more? Like knee-slappers and chin-scratchers? Check out my first published work in the Third Flatiron’s “Hidden Histories” anthology here (and tell ’em Evan sent ya!): 
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PRN5ZQ1

Today’s FableFact source: 
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/this-insect-has-the-only-mechanical-gears-ever-found-in-nature-6480908/

‘Hitchcock and Grayson’

Happy Thursday evening, all!

Did you know that a female turkey can, in the absence of any males, reproduce all on her own?

-snaps fingers “Don’t need no man” style-

That’s weirdly topical because of today’s story. It’s an excerpt from from a longer work that I wound up scrapping, but thought was really fun on its own. It might make a revival some day in one form or another, but the basic gist was about a kid sorcerer named Samson that ran a magical detective agency/law firm inside his own head called “Hitchcock and Grayson’s”.

The name came from a trip to Oakland my girlfriend I went on some years back. We went to the Morcom Rose Garden where we met a house cat with a little name tag that informed us his name was Grayson (the name tag, not the cat – though that would have been pretty cool too). As well as a (presumably wild) turkey that we named Hitchcock for the shape of its neck and jowls. Thus, ‘Hitchcock and Grayson’s’ was born! (In name, anyway.)

Without further adieu, may I present:

Virgin Mental – Hitchcock and Grayson’s

Phelp Harris stood outside a door in an alleyway as a clock somewhere struck midnight. He breathed out of his nose as he shivered and watched the cold turn his breath into wisps that danced in the air. Should be in and out in twenty, they’d said. Forty minutes ago, he’d believed the guy. Personal Protective Services usually meant a lot of standing around looking tough, but not in the freezing goddamn cold. This job was supposedly easy money, though. They didn’t expect any trouble, so They said, and just wanted some muscle with a background in brawling if the situation called for it. Maybe a shady pitch by a shady character, but for what They were paying him, Phelp felt it was easily worth it.

The soft clapping of footsteps sounded at the edge of the sidewalk by the alleyway. Phelp straightened his back and puffed out his chest as the sound came closer. Showtime, he thought. Standing in the bubble of bleak lighting offered by a single exposed light bulb, the approaching figure was smaller than he’d expected, silhouetted against the distant streetlight. “Hey, can I help you, kid? Doesn’t seem like the kinda place you ought’a be.”

Stepping into the pale light was a boy, no older than maybe twelve or thirteen with light, woody brown hair, hazel eyes that blinked more often than they should, and a space between his front teeth big enough to fit the right Lego piece if you tried. He was dressed in a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt under a puffy red vest, jeans with holes at the knees, shoes just a size or two too large for his feet, and a backpack. “Is Danny home?” he asked.

Phelp blinked his eyes in confusion. “Kid, I don’t think you heard me. You don’t belong here, understand? Now run along and find your parents, or something.”

“If they were around, you think I’d be in a back alley with some perv at midnight on a weekday?”

“What the? I ain’t no perv, kid,” said Phelp defensively.

“Just sayin’. You’re the grown up here with an unsupervised eleven year old. It’s the dead of night, no one knows where we are. Kind of fits the formula wouldn’t ya say, PedoBear?” The kid pulled out his phone and made a show of pretending to tweet about it.

Oh, a wise ass, huh? Time to turn this up a bit. “Listen kid,” Phelp said pulling back the flap of his jacket to reveal the handle of a 9mm Glock. “Like I said, you need to go. Ain’t the place for you.” Phelp gave a half guilty smirk at the kid’s startled reaction. It soon faded as the boy’s sobs became hiccups and then a full fit of the chuckles.
“Listen, Harris- can I call you Harris?” began the boy. “Whatever they’re paying you, I’ll double it.”

“Hang on a second, kid. How’d you know my name?”

“You’re wearing a name tag.”

“No I’m not.”
“Yeah, ya are.”

Phelp looked down and saw a ‘Hello, my name is’ sticker on his chest that he knew sure-as-shit wasn’t there a minute ago. “What the…?”

“You want some gum?” offered the kid, already chewing.

“What? No,” he said, inspecting the sticker with his name written on it. Looking at it more closely, he could smell it had been written with scented marker.

“Suit yourself.” The boy chewed for a moment and, after a look of eye-crossing focus, blew a gum bubble through the gap in his teeth. “So, what d’you say? Wanna make some money?”

“Look, kid,” Phelp said, discarding the sticker. “You really gotta get outta here. Not safe for you. You don’t go, I’m gonna have to make you.”

“Ooo-hoo-hoo!” sang the boy. He did a little dance in place pretending as if he was scared.

Strike two, you little prick, thought Phelp.

“You seriously don’t want to take the bribe? I thought bribes were like, like hotcakes to bouncers n’ hired goons. Seriously, I can pay.” The boy reached into a pocket in his vest and produced a roll of bills which he undid and counted out eight hundred dollars.

Phelp stood in place with eyes wide as the youngster handed him the money.

“Who the hell are you, kid?”

The boy smiled coyly and said, “Your worst nightmare.”

Before Phelp could react, there was a bright, silent explosion of color. A massive rainbow of light spouted forth from the kid’s open palm like a snow making machine, enveloping the surprised bodyguard. When the effect ended and the lonely bulb resumed its monopoly on light supply in the alley, Phelp was left dazed and stupid on the ground beside the door, froth dripping from the corner of his mouth. The kid blew another bubble through his teeth and wore a proud smile.

He stepped over the crumpled body that was Phelp and tried the knob on the, frankly, shack door to the building. It was locked. The boy gave a short huff before laughing to himself with an inspired tap to his noggin. He bent over and closely scrutinized the door’s surface. He reached out and gave it a light flick of his finger. The face of the solid door rippled like the disturbed surface of a still pond. The boy looked down at Phelp before stepping through.

“Oh, or just Samson for short.” And with a wink, a name tag appeared on the front of his vest before he disappeared through the once solid door.

FIN

The Take: This one was really fun. I think it was one of the first little doo-dad’s I wrote where I got to use magic. It was a bit of a hump getting over those jitters and realizing it was sort of okay to say something happened “because magic”. Anyway, edited a little bit because the sentences were, upon review, pretty damn run-on-y, but I left in the dumb PedoBear joke that I still think is pretty cringey. Overall, it was a fun little scene to put together with magic, character, n’ goofs.

Anyway, happy Thursday and I’ll see ya next week. Ciao, for now.

Interested in more? Like knee-slappers and chin-scratchers? Check out my first published work in the Third Flatiron’s “Hidden Histories” anthology here: 
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PRN5ZQ1

Today’s FableFact source:
https://www.cs.mcgill.ca/~rwest/wikispeedia/wpcd/wp/t/Turkey_%2528bird%2529.htm