FLASH FICTION INDEX 1 - May 2007-Nov. 2011


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Post October 18, 2008, 02:12:45 PM

08/'07 - The Absurd Flaw

- Co-Winner -


Altered Ego

By:
David Alan Jones



Dr. Bernard Willison’s three o’clock shuffled into the office. He was a large, powerfully built man who contrived to seem smaller by hunching his shoulders. He limped along on a shabby cane and moved like an ungainly child in overlarge shoes.

“So good to meet you, Dr. Willison, I’m Hector Diaz,” said the big man, pumping Willison’s hand vigorously.

“The pleasure is mine. Won’t you have a seat, Mr. Diaz?” said the doctor, sighing inwardly. This one probably still lived with his mother.

Diaz glanced at the closed office door behind him. He made no move to sit.

“Are you expecting someone, Mr. Diaz?”

Diaz turned back to the psychiatrist, and all at once seemed to be standing at his full height, chest out, stomach in, dark hair crowning his head like a black halo.

“Let’s get some things out of the way shall we?” said Diaz in voice full of command.

“What things?” asked Dr. Willison, feeling suddenly uneasy. In fifteen years dealing with the psychologically injured, underdeveloped, and even maimed, Dr. Willison had never felt so instantly threatened. There was something powerful about this man.

“I’m Spectacle,” said Diaz.

“As in the superhero? That Spectacle?”

“You don’t believe me and I don’t blame you.”

We had a teenage Jesus Christ in here last week, Dr. Willison almost said, but elected to hold his tongue. Instead he said, “I’ve heard hundreds of stories. And I want to hear yours.”

“Lucky for both of us, I can prove it.”

Diaz lifted Willison’s coffee table – thirty-five hundred dollars and imported from Spain - by an exposed edge. With no apparent effort, he held it at head height with one hand. Not one magazine moved.

“Wow.” It was all Dr. Willison could think to say. Of course, he had seen exceptionally strong, psychotic patients before. . .

Diaz replaced the coffee table. He smiled and began to rise towards the twelve-foot ceiling.

“The fan’s a bit dusty,” he said from above.

“I’ll – I’ll have the service clean it.”

Diaz landed next to Willison. Red beams of light issued from his eyes, setting the doctor’s apple – Willison’s lunch – aflame. Then frigid air poured from his lips to freeze it in place. The scent of roasted apples filled the office.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Spectacle?”

“First, keep my secret.”

“I’ll never tell.”

“Second, help me destroy my nemesis.”

“Whu-?”

“I’ll try to explain this in a breath.”

Willison retrieved a pen and legal pad from his huge desk. “I’m listening,” he said.

“Okay, remember when you were a kid, there’s a point where you decide what you will become?”

“A fulcrum point.”

“Yeah, so, for a kid who can fly and lift a tractor, well, that point generally involves choosing to be either a superhero or a villain. You smile, but it’s true. True as life.”

“You chose hero.”

“I never chose. I couldn’t.”

“And I take it your non-choice somehow has brought you here?”

“I became Spectacle in college, but I also became El Catceps.”

“Should I know that name?”

“Probably not. He was always a petty criminal – I never used my powers as El Catceps. He was a joy thief. He never hurt anyone - not really. He stole and he cheated and he lied. He was my outlet.”

“What happened?”

“A few months back I started losing track of time.”

“Blacking out?”

“Yes.”

“El Catceps?”

“I think so. And I think he has discovered our super powers.”

“Why do you think that?”

“He’s a petty hood, but with super powers he can steal a lot of petty crap. My apartment is filled with jet skies and skateboards and Spectacle comics.”

“Mr. Diaz, what you’re describing is serious mental illness. I may not be the best –“

“You’re all I’ve got, sir. All I’ve got. Please help me stop him.”

“There’s no quick fix. You can’t just rip your alter ego out of your body and choke him to death.”

“Then what can I do?”

Something niggled at the back of Dr. Willison’s brain. What had Diaz said about the junk El Catceps stole?

“Did you say El Catceps took Spectacle comics?”

“Oh yes. He’s always covering our bedroom with posters and 3-D lithographs. It’s embarrassing really.”

“He’s a fan,” said Willison in a whisper, more to himself than to Diaz.

“Yeah, I guess you could say that.”

“Bring him here. Now.”

“I don’t know, Doctor. He might be dangerous. I can’t control him.”

“Do it.”

Diaz cocked his head to the side, his eyes narrowed and his posture relaxed.

“Who’re you?” he said in a thick Spanish accent.

“The doctor.”

“What’choo want?” said El Catceps, lifting his chin.

“To introduce you to someone.”

“Who?”

“Spectacle.”

Diaz’s eyes grew wide. He looked around the room. “No one here, but us, Doc.”

“Spectacle, I know you’re there. Come out and meet your biggest fan.”

Diaz stood taller and his body seemed to expand.

“Did you defeat El Catceps?” he asked in a deep, manly voice.

“Better. El Catceps, meet Spectacle.”

For a moment Diaz stood still, his eyes glazed. Then he drew breath and El Catceps said, “Madre de Dios, it IS you!”

“El Catceps,” said the voice of Spectacle.

“Si how you know my name? You’re famous. I read all your comics.”

“We need to talk, El Catceps. And we better bring Hector along too.”

“I’m here,” said the ineffectual voice of Hector Diaz.

“Does that window open?” asked Spectacle.

“Oh, ah, yes, yes it does,” said Willison.

Diaz opened it, tossed his cane aside, and then turned to look at the doctor.

“Thanks, gracias, your help is much appreciated,” said the thief-cum-everyday-joe-cum-superhero in each of his ego voices. “I’ll make certain you’re bill gets paid.”

“Thanks,” said Willison, shocked out of his wits.

The tri-souled hero flew up and away.


[align=center]The End[/align]
Last edited by kailhofer on July 31, 2010, 12:19:19 PM, edited 2 times in total.
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:13:47 PM

09/'07 - Finish What You've Started

The challenge was to search though long-abandoned story ideas and find one that could be turned into a flash piece. Authors had to submit the new story and the original idea.



Example story:


The Eyes of the Killer Robot

By:
N.J. Kailhofer



The invisible voice called, “Klaatu barada nikto!”

The eyes did not move.

No part of the Killer Robot had moved in twenty-six years, two months, three days, one hour and thirteen minutes.

Databanks cataloged the words, time and date stamping them for future reference. Visual sensors swept the area, searching the park lawn without result. Secondary infrared imagers detailed the figure’s height and general appearance. Terahertz scanners saw through the man’s outer costume, highlighting the contents of his pockets, the structure of his bones, and the functioning of his internal organs. Processors gauged the operational frequency of his cloaking suit, calculated his mass, and pinpointed twenty-five target locations on his body. Long-term memory storage retrieved all known Enemy profiles for comparison. Logic subroutines predicted his actions and intent.

“That should have worked,” the man whispered.

Olfactory sensors detected three different types of alcohol on his breath.

“Robot!” the man insisted, coming closer. “Klaatu barada nikto!”

The eyes of the Killer Robot did not waiver.

“Damn,” the man muttered. “It worked on the robot in that vid I saw at the museum.”

***

“Harold the Horrible!” the Creator screamed at Mighty Man.

Mighty Man sighed, his hands on the light blue spandex covering his muscular frame. “Mr. Finklestein, you are not a supervillain. You are a harmless, crackpot inventor. Besides creating a public nuisance of yourself with this Killer Robot business, you’ve never broken any law.”

“I am a supervillain.” the Creator insisted. “You’ll see! My Robot is perfect--able to adapt and predict Enemy moves, equipped with micro-repair tools capable of extracting any atoms it needs to repair itself out of the air around it, and an advanced array of sensors and weapons the likes of which the Earth has never seen!”

The Creator threw the oversized switch on the wall. Electricity arced, coursing through the jumble of mad scientist's equipment lining the walls into what looked like a perfectly smooth, golden statue, over six feet tall.

The eyes of the Killer Robot illuminated briefly, cycling through their startup routine.

Mighty Man spun and braced himself for impact, waiting to see what would happen. "Mr. Finklestein, if that robot does anything hostile, you are going to jail."

The Creator smiled, "I'm Harold The Horrible, and the whole world will soon know my name. I'm tired of you superheroes and villains and your smug superiority, telling me I'm not one of you. We'll show them all. Robot, destroy every superhero that gets within a mile of this house."

White-hot disintegrator beams lashed out from the eyes of the Killer Robot. An instant later, the ashes of Mighty Man began to rain onto the floor.

The Creator cackled. "Yes!"

The window smashed in and three figures dressed in the black uniforms of the Exceptional League burst into the suburban garage of Harold Finklestein. Their ashes filled the air before the last one's foot touched the cement floor.

Outside, the roar of the League's jet transport shook the ground, covering the approach of two high-explosive missiles. The Creator saw them through the garage window.

"Robot," he said, "Number Two on those missiles and the jet."

The eyes of the Killer Robot glowed again. Around the incoming rockets and the aircraft, space folded in on itself and everything within the effect abruptly ceased to exist.

The Creator laughed maniacally. "Now, destroy every superhero and supervillan on this planet--other than me."

The Killer Robot launched into the air, through the roof of the garage.

***

Eight hours later, it landed in the same spot.

"Excellent!" The Creator shouted, watching simultaneously the six televisions set up on the shelves along the wall of his garage laboratory. "They've been evacuating the city almost since you left. By tomorrow, we'll have the entire place to ourselves! We'll live like kings, in a penthouse downtown."

"Wait," he said, staring at the graphics on the screens. "There's something not right. It looks like they're going to--"

***

The invisible man read the plaque next to him.

On this spot, more than ten centuries ago, the nations of the world detonated a nuclear device in an attempt to destroy the Killer Robot. While its unknown creator was terminated, the Robot was unharmed. Unfortunately, they did not realize that they were in no danger. The Robot only hunts persons with the A3339 gene mutation, commonly known as superheroes. Normal humans face no threat from it.

The last known appearance of the superhero gene was over three hundred years ago. The Robot has waited in this spot, never decaying in any way, since that fateful day.

This park is dedicated to the memory of those fallen heroes.


The invisible man gave a drunken snort. "Oh, yeah, Robot? You've been waiting for me. They call me The Magician because I can make things happen like magic. I am a superhero--"

The Killer Robot sampled the genetic material in the ash that fell to its feet. The A3339 factor was only 37%. It increased the strength of its mutagenic ray aimed at the nearest population center by .09%. Computational analysis indicated any higher would produce levels of birth defects and premature deaths high enough to cause the population to move out of range. Subroutines predicted no appearances of the gene for 137.657 years.

As the Robot prepared to wait the 4,344,124,543,000 milliseconds until it could be useful again, a micro seal failure warning reported in the Robot's right ocular display unit. Nanoserver motors lost containment of .0517 units of material. The glistening bead of lubrication escaped the outer seal and ran down its seamless gold cheek before tumbling to the ground where the last few atoms of its Creator remained.

The eyes of the Killer Robot cried.

It was a very long time to wait.


[align=center]The End[/align]

Idea
The invisible voice called, “Klaatu barada nikto!”
The Killer Robot did not move.
It had not moved in thirty-seven years, two months, three days, one hour and thirteen minutes.
Databanks cataloged the words, time and date stamping them for future reference. Visual sensors swept the area, searching the dark park lawn without result. Secondary infrared imagers detailed the figure’s height and general appearance. Terahertz scanners saw through the man’s outer costume, highlighting the contents of his pockets, the structure of his bones, and the functioning of his internal organs. Processors gauged the operational frequency of his cloaking suit, estimated his mass, and pinpointed twenty-five target locations on his body. Long-term memory storage retrieved all known Enemy profiles for comparison. Logic subroutines predicted his actions and intent.
“That should have worked,” the man whispered.
Olfactory sensors detected three different types of alcohol on his breath.
“Robot!” the man insisted, coming closer. “Klaatu barada nikto!”
The eyes of the Killer Robot did not waiver.
“Damn,” the man muttered. “It worked on that old movie.”
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:14:28 PM

09/'07 - Finish What You've Started

Corina, Corina

By:
G.C. Dillon



I had to go to her funeral. It wasn't just to honor her and the fact that she had lived to the age of one hundred, but because I'd known her for all of that century.

Tuesday had been like any other day going to the safe house. That is until I saw the police car, the ambulance and the EMTs roll out a sheet-covered form from her huge Victorian. It was just across the street from my hideaway. I'd gotten off the bus and looked around the town. The bus followed the old trolley line, and the pharmacist and coffee shop had changed into a CVS and a Starbucks across the years. The local bakery had become a Tim Hortons. Change is natural, I guess. And its my job to make sure that when things change in time, they do, in fact, change naturally. I turned and began my short walk to the safe house, a bolt-hole safe from the Time War.

I had a few bottles of Louis Koch Lager from Missouri 1934 to do a taste test with his great-great-grandson's take on the recipe. I needed some fun as I was returning from a wild assignment to a time-line in which Ben Franklin had been treated fairly by Parliament when he first voiced nascent American grievances. He never radicalized and became the voice of change in England. He was eventually rewarded with being the first Royal Governor of the United Colonies of America. The small button for the doorbell measured out the curls and swirls in my fingerprint and hidden cameras struggled to recognize my face. The lock clicked open loudly, as I stood staring at the scene at her house. Neighbors and some of her children stood around anxiously. Her daughter looked to be crying. I knew I had to go to her funeral.

    ---- “Sir, there's a turtle trapped under Mr. Sumner's fence. Please, we have to save it.” I looked down to see a young girl dressed in a plain brown dress. Her black hair hung down in twin pigtails. Her hands had mud on them and the dress was streaked with dirt – much to her mother's coming distress in this age of washing boards and clothes lines. I believe I still had some of Troy's soil under my fingernails.

    “Do I know you, young lady?” She was maybe five years old.

    “I'm Corina,” she said, “from over there.” She pointed to her house. “But there's a turtle trapped in the fence by the stream.”

    “Okay, let's go. We have a rescue to do.”

    ---- “There's a zaftig, even in that shape,” Perreault said

    I looked up from my book to see our new neighbor arrive. A pregnant woman exited the Model A. Her fastidiously dressed husband held the door. A horse drawn dray, piled precariously with furniture, followed it. “I think that term's about twenty years too early. The haberdasher and his wife are going to have a child, and they need a bigger home.”

    “They could fill that house with an entire brood.”

    “The child's name will be Corina.”

    “Was that in the briefing?” He smiled and rubbed his newly grown hand beneath the bio-glove he wore to protect the injured body part. His old hand was blasted off at Second Bull Run.

    “No, I've met her. Or I will in time.”

    “Do tell!” He smiled salaciously.

    “It's not like that,” I said.

    ---- “Do you think electing Mr. Roosevelt will help out the working people? My John is only on half wages at the mill, and we are lucky he has that.” I'd met her on the street and offered to walk her home. After all we lived on the same block. She mumbled something about being a married woman, but handed me her groceries to carry. I think her smile was coy, too.

    “I think he'll do fine.” That is if FDR survives Zangara's assassination attempt. He didn't in all time-lines.

    “My father says he's a Bolshevik.” She laughed, freely and sweetly. I laughed, too.

    “And here, I take my leave of you.” I tipped my fedora to her.

    ---- She was surrounded by a group of kids on primitive bikes. She wore her hair long and carried her “high school” books close to her chest. She looked scared.

    “Boys. Is there a problem?” There were four of them, ten years younger than I was, and probably faster. But untrained, I thought, my feet facilely stepping into the Crane stance, my hands becoming ready. The biggest one looked strong from work on his family's farm. I'd bloody his nose first. Hopefully worse. Farmboy tossed down a hand-rolled cigarette, and they rode away.

    “Thank you,” she said. We talked about her education a bit. “I'm going to the Normal School.” I smiled. That institution would become a teachers college, state college, and then state university. But she would never graduate. Both a young beau and the Great Depression would see to that. Then children, then the exigencies of life.


My remembrances at the funeral stopped when a young woman approached me. “Excuse me. You're the nice man aren't you?”

“What?”

“You know: I only half believed her stories. Thought they were senile dementia or Alzheimer's. I mean how could she know a 'nice man' who never ages all through her life. You know: an old woman's fantasy. But here you are. I can't believe it.”

“You must have me confused with someone else,” I stuttered.

“No, I don't. I'm Corey. Really Corina on my birth certificate, but everyone calls me Corey.” She did look the same: the face the same oval, the eyes the same brown, the figure curvy but svelte, though the hair was dyed blonde and her fingernails were a jet black.

“Hello, Corey. Would you like some coffee?”

“I'd prefer a drink. And I do need to get away from the loving embrace of my family. At least the embrace without Grams.”

We left.

[align=center]THE END[/align]


Idea

Sci-fi romance story. A time traveler stays in a contemporary house between assignments.
Across the way he keeps meeting a girl - as a child, a teenager, a married woman, an old woman. At one point he saves her from bullies.
They meet in his chronological order, not hers, and develop a platonic romance/relationship.
He goes to her funeral and meets her great-granddaughter.
They talk with the suggestion of a non-platonic relationship to come.
Use alternate history time-lines to pepper the time traveler's time away from the house.
e.g. Franklin does well before Parliament Council and becomes voice of reason between Sons of Liberty and Parliament, eventually becoming King's charge d'affairs in America.
Start with time traveler getting off bus seeing changes to town: no pharmacy - CVS, no coffee shop - Starbucks, no bakery - Dunkin Donuts or Tim Hortons. He has the beer Sam Adams came from, wants a taste test. He sees the EMTs take her out, and begins remembering.
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:14:57 PM

09/'07 - Finish What You've Started

Operation Make Ronald Reagan a Star

By:
McCamy Taylor



2032. Two spies infiltrated the federal forbidden technologies storage facility in Ottumwa, Iowa disguised as maintenance workers. They dispatched the night watchman. Then, using a stolen map, the quantum physics graduate student from Turkey and his accomplice, a young woman from Spain, located a device whose function had never been determined, though its builder, Dr. Simon Loud was known to be a proponent of the theory that time travel was possible. As a precaution, the US government had impounded Loud’s laboratory and all his research materials, labeling his work “dangerous to the moral fiber of America and heresy in the eyes of God.”

It took Abdul twenty minutes to get Dr. Loud’s devise up and running. During that time, Sophia changed into a knee length red dress with a plunging neckline and shoulder pads. She slipped on seamed stockings and shoes with stacked heels. Her dark hair was already piled high atop her head. She added crimson lipstick.

“How do I look?”

Abdul glanced up from the circuit board. “Like Ida Lupino?”

Sophie glanced out the window. “The god squad is here. Are we ready?”

“Almost.”

Three blond men wearing black suits with clerical collars burst into the room, their weapons drawn, just in time to see Sophie disappear, though not all at once. Her image seemed to stutter, now here, now gone, now here for a split second more, then vanished forever.

As one, the three turned their weapons on Abdul. “Where did she go?”

The graduate student began readjusting dials at random.

“Stop that!” the most senior of the three ordered. He advanced on Abdul menacingly, his weapon aimed at the student’s chest.

The young Turk raised his chin defiantly. “Shoot me. It won’t matter. Once she’s done, none of this--” he waved his arm “---will exist.”

The squad leader lowered his rifle. He shot the Turk in the knee.

“This isn’t real, this isn’t real,” the wounded student muttered over and over again.

[align=center]***[/align]

1942. Jack Warner had fallen hard this time. If he was not careful, his second wife was going to divorce him, and that would cost a pretty penny.

Oh, but baby, that Sophie had some moves. And all the right curves. No one filled out a corset and garter belt like that sweet little Spanish senorita.

And talk about smart. That girl must have grown up watching the picture shows. She knew every one of his movies backwards and forwards, could tell whose star was rising and whose was falling. She had predicted which films were going to bring in the gross during their opening weeks and which would flop.

Now, she was telling him to go with Dutch Reagan for the film version of Everyone Comes to Rick’s. They had talked about using Reagan for the lead. But then Dutch got called up for service, and they decided to go with Humphrey Bogart. Sure, he was shorter than his costar, but that was what boxes were for.

Jack leaned out the window to get a better looked at Sophie, who was sunning herself beside the pool. She wore a swimsuit that was positively indecent. A woman like that could be raking in the dough, and yet she would not take a cent from him. She was only interested in his work. Brains and beauty. What a combination!

His hand hovered over the phone. He hesitated. Through the window, he caught a glimpse of Sophie’s creamy thighs as she rolled over on her chaise lounge.

He picked up the phone. “Gimme Hal Wallis. Hal, it’s me, Jack. I want to use Dutch Reagan for the new picture. Yeah, I know we agreed on Bogart, but he’s shorter than his co-star. We need someone the GIs can identify with. Yeah, I know they called up Reagan, but the Army’s only using him for training films. I’ll get the military on the phone, tell them Casablanca is going to be worth a hundred training films for sheer propaganda value. ‘American saves European refugees from Nazis in Northern Africa.’ They’ll love it”

[align=center]***[/align]
1943. Lately, Sophia’s feet hardly seemed to touch the ground when she walked. And her reflection in mirrors had grown dim. Abdul had warned her Victory means suicide. If you change the past---your own past---there is no guarantee that you will even be born in the new future.

It was a chance she had to take. Operation Make Ronald Reagan a Star was too important. Too many people had sacrificed to make this possible. They had studied the history of the American Theocracy, and they had decided that the one pivotal moment was the 1980 presidential election, when Reagan beat Carter, and the Federalists began stacking the courts with judges who would later begin dismantling the US Constitution. If Ronald Reagan could be steered away from politics and back towards acting, then the future might change for the better. And so, Sophia had been chosen to go back in time to make sure that Reagan got the role of a lifetime, the role that was almost his, Rick in Casablanca.

Now, she could only wait and see if the substitution of actors had worked. Last night, the film had made its nationwide premiere. She smoothed her blouse and joined Jack in the breakfast nook of his Hollywood bungalow, where he was reading the morning papers.

“How are the reviews?” She poured herself a glass of juice.

“Variety ‘splendid anti-Axis propaganda’. Oh, and you were right about Dutch. ‘Lives up to the promise shown in King’s Row. Performance should be considered for an Oscar.’”

The tingling in Sophia’s feet began to rise. Now her legs were numb. She held out her hand. The tips of her fingers were transparent.

“I’m going to have them fix him up another star vehicle. A fly boy film, army will love ---what’s that?” He lowered his paper.

The glass of juice lay shattered on the floor. Sophia was gone.

[align=center]THE END[/align]


Idea

Back in time to give Ronald Reagan the lead in Casablanca->megastar, stays in movies, never goes into politics.
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:15:23 PM

09/'07 - Finish What You've Started

Job Interview

By:
John Kendon



"Okay, well, I think you've answered all my questions."

The interviewer, who had introduced himself as 'H, just plain H, my friend', shuffled the papers on his desk, then glanced up at the candidate with a quick grin.

"Let me just expand a little on what I've already told you about our operation here," he said. "I want to make quite sure that you're familiar with our enterprise and happy about your - uh - potential role within the organization. Although the successful applicant will be working by himself for most of the time, we do feel it's vitally important that he's as totally committed to the House of the Hart as the rest of us." He spread his arms wide. "We want you to feel part of a team."

The candidate nodded eagerly, shifting forward in his chair to convey his enthusiasm.

"Right. Well, as you know, the Hart is an entirely new concept. It's larger than anything that's ever been seen before, and part of our problem is going to be attracting enough people of the right sort." H ran a hand through his fashionably greying hair and smiled encouragingly at the candidate. "That's where you come in. As you're aware, we're a little off the beaten track, although we are of course taking steps to create the necessary infrastructure in the immediate locality - new roads, that kind of thing.

"But what we really need is publicity. We have to put the Hart on the map, get it talked about. Obviously, we don't expect this to happen overnight - " he chuckled merrily at the thought " - which is why we're proposing a twelve year contract. We want to attract some big names, make the Hart the place to be seen.

"Incidentally, we're talking serious luxury here. Good food, good drink, graceful surroundings, and really high class entertainment. Quality, that's the keynote. We'll have poetry recitals, we'll have some of the best musicians in the business performing regularly…

"All of which is fine. But you know as well as I do, my friend, that in this day and age that isn't enough.

"What we need is a hook, a gimmick, a peg on which to hang the whole enterprise. And what people want these days is a whiff of danger, a hint of the horrors lurking in the darkness beyond the campfires of civilization.

"And for that I do most strongly feel you could be our man."

He leafed through the papers on his desk until he found the relevant sheet.

"Now, I'm empowered to offer the successful candidate a choice of remuneration. Either, a flat salary plus five percent of the take, or - and this one is a bit of a gamble that could just pay off very nicely indeed - fifteen, yes fifteen, percent of the take. Whichever you choose, you also get three meals a day provided by the company kitchen - though naturally you won't be eating in the staff canteen! That wouldn't do at all now, would it?"

The candidate smiled at the incongruity of the suggestion.

"Yeah," said H, consulting the sheet of paper again. "Three meals a day, and living accommodation. A rather nice apartment by the sea, running water, central heating, all the usual offices… The only snag is the isolation, but of course in this instance that'll probably prove an advantage. It means a bit of a journey to work, but nothing you won't be able to cope with."

He beamed at the candidate. "We leave the number of hours you put in pretty much up to you, though we do expect you to be on call in the event of an emergency."

The candidate raised an eyebrow. "What kind of emergencies do you envisage?"

H shrugged. "That's not something I would feel ready to commit myself on at this stage of the game. Frankly, until the show is up and running we just can't tell what kind of eventualities may occur. But I suppose at the moment I'm thinking in terms of the unexpected arrival. You know the kind of thing I mean, the youngster with a reputation to make suddenly turning up out of nowhere." He frowned, his face suddenly serious, dropping his voice as he leant across the desk. "Let's just say there may be occasions when we need you to remove disruptive elements at short notice, and leave at that, shall we?"

The candidate nodded. "Fine by me."

"Well, that's great, just great." H rose from behind the desk and took the candidate by the arm, ushering him towards the door. "Now, I expect you'd like to have a look around the area, maybe check out your apartment, because I can tell you, my friend, that the post is yours when you give the word."

The candidate sighed with relief, then paused.

"Oh, there is just one last thing," he said hesitantly.

"Yeah?" said H when it was obvious he would not continue without encouragement.

"Can I bring my mum?" asked Grendel.

[align=center]THE END[/align]



Idea

Grendel was a marketing ploy to make Hrothgar's new hall the talk of the North. Hrothgar a company executive in a smart suit. PR man? Grendel the spice of danger - big brooding bouncer at the nightclub. All got out of hand. Mum taught him all he knows. Loves his mum, and his mum loves him. Interview for the job with the PR man? H?

[In the epic poem, Beowulf kills Grendel the scourge of Heorot, but just when they all think it's safe to go back in the hall, Grendel's Mum arrives seeking vengeance.]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:15:49 PM

09/'07 - Finish What You've Started

Emergence

By:
Robert Moriyama



The hatch was locked. But after the long climb up the maintenance shaft, Hume Umbral couldn't face returning to the city below.

He studied his hands in the dim, bluish light of the LED lamps lining the shaft, bruised and cut from pointless scuffles with Enforcers and others who had simply had the bad luck to be in his way. If they had just let me have more light... But light, at least the kind he needed, was out of reach, here at the top of the ladder, and there at the bottom.

He opened his right hand, flexing it, wincing as blisters stretched and broke and clear fluid trickled down his wrist, then replaced that hand on the rung and repeated the exercise with his left hand. The pain brought a kind of feverish clarity to his thoughts, and he contemplated the chain of circumstances that had brought him to this point.

The Great Ice Age had been the ironic result of "Global Warming", as ocean currents that carried equatorial heat toward the poles faltered and died. Over time, the cities had burrowed into the earth, so when the snow and ice covered most of the northern hemisphere, they were ready. Cities like subVegas had to become self-contained and self-sufficient, small nations in their own right.

Topside was uninhabitable. Ice and snow still covered even this part of the Nevada desert to a depth of tens of meters, leaving no vegetation and only a few animals alive.

"There is no sunshine to be had on the surface -- only cold, and starvation, and death," the textbooks said.

Which meant that Hume, and everyone else in subVegas, had to depend on the government-operated Sunlight Parlors to stave off the effects of LTSDS -- Long Term Sunlight Deprivation Syndrome. Vitamin D supplements took care of most of the physical effects of living without the sun, but the psychological effects could only be cured by exposure to sunlight, or its artificial equivalent.

Energy was scarce in subVegas, so this sanity-saving technology was limited to government-controlled facilities. And time and space in the Parlors was limited, so...

People "whose jobs require clear thinking" got priority in the Sunlight Parlors, more time allocated, the right to "bump" people -- like Hume -- whose jobs were deemed to be less dependent on mood and mental state. It was "purely coincidental" that the privileged ones were precisely those with the most wealth and power in subVegas -- after all, the government could be trusted to allocate resources belonging to all the people in the fairest possible way.

Not believing the government line -- and saying so, loudly and publicly -- had been the worst mistake of Hume's life. subVegas had no the space or resources for jails, but they did have a simple and effective means of punishment: they cut his Sunlight rations to zero.

Shortly thereafter, he had lost his job, and had to depend on rations that, like the Sunlight he had once been granted, were never quite enough. But he did have time, then, to study materials not in the textbooks. He had learned that at the latitude where subVegas festered like a blind pimple under the ice-covered desert, there should be sunlight for more than half of each day at this time of year, and even through heavy cloud, much of it would still reach the ground.

And he had learned that subVegas was not self-contained -- fresh air was drawn in through shafts that penetrated all the way to the surface, kept clear of ice and snow by heating elements and automated sweepers. A maintenance shaft ran parallel to each air intake to allow for repairs to the great turbines and fans that moved and warmed the air on its long descent, so there was a clear route all the way up and out.

Finding one of the shafts, breaking in, had taken days. Climbing the seemingly-endless ladder had taken hours, and almost all of Hume's diminished strength.

I'll never make the climb back down, he thought. And if I do, what then? More weeks without Sunlight?

He shook his head. He would break through the hatch, see the real Sun, or die.

He still had the small screwdriver he had used to open the keypad at the bottom of the shaft. But this keypad was different -- the screws securing its cover had star-shaped holes that made his one and only tool useless.

Useless as a screwdriver, he realized suddenly. And useless as a prybar to muscle his way through the hatch. But as a miniature prybar to break open the keypad cover --

He worked the thin, flat end of the screwdriver blade into the seam on the side of the case, pushing hard and twisting to penetrate as far as possible. His wounded hand oozed blood and clear fluids and sent dazzling spikes of pain up his arm, but he could feel the blade working its way deeper.

Finally, the screwdriver refused to move even a millimeter further. He loosened his grip on the handle, ready to close his hand if the tool started to fall, but the blood-streaked plastic stayed in place.

Please let this work...

He pushed on the screwdriver handle with all his strength, clinging tightly to the ladder with his other hand. With a loud crack, the keypad cover popped off, and tumbled down the maintenance shaft, leaving only irregularly-timed ticks and clacks in its wake as it caromed off the walls.

For more than a minute, Hume hung there, exhausted by the combination of fear and exertion. Then he looked back at the exposed circuitry of the keypad. After a moment, he placed the tip of the screwdriver so it bridged two coppery lines and --

The lock on the hatch disengaged with a creak and a snap.

Hume pushed the hatch open, coughing as frigid air slashed its way into his lungs, and climbed out into the light.

[align=center]THE END[/align]


Idea

The original note that inspired this just-written story (long since lost) was just a few words about Seasonal Affective Disorder (depression more common in people living in northern latitudes, especially above the Arctic Circle, where they receive unusually low levels of sunlight.
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:16:18 PM

09/'07 - Finish What You've Started

- Winner -


Spawn of Osk

By:
Jaimie L. Elliott



Osk did not compare himself to other mages, with their pretentious intonations and melodramatic finger twitches.

No, he did not compare. And could not, in reality. He had found it difficult to excel when there existed a hundred other aspiring wannabes, each with the vague hope that one day they too would be archmages, sporting their own white beards and pointy hats as they discussed inane theories in hazy dens and musty libraries.

Instead, Osk found it worthwhile to evaluate himself against the common peasant, for which the comparison favored him for once, albeit only slightly.

To them, his smattering of arcane learning made him seem like fucking Merlin. Let the other aspirants struggle in the cities and courts. Let them stab each other in the back and throw former allies under the proverbial cart. He found his niche as a simple hedge wizard, where he flowered as Someone Important.

Life was good. What he lacked in money he made up for in potatoes and other root vegetables.

Osk sat before his new table, his hand gliding over the smooth, warm wood. Sometimes he accepted payment other than coin for his services, and this particular item he considered his grand prize. He had a particular dislike of the cold stone benches the students were forced to use. They seem to suck the warmth, like some insatiable succubus. He almost cried in happiness at his upgrade in furniture.

He sighed. He did have to work, from time to time. He cracked his knuckles. Pulling a clean sheet of cheap parchment from a stack, he focused on the spell he reasoned would drive out vermin from someone’s abode.

Well, it worked on the cat.

The trick to writing spells lies not with the ink, but with the etching, pressing down hard enough to imprint. The ink only guided, making the indentations easier to see. In nature, arcane symbols abounded by accident, found with the chaos of tree bark or the weathered fissures on rocks. It made the world a magical place. Osk, though, preferred to create his own magic in his majestic hut. Silly, chaotic nature.

His writing covered a quarter of the page when a blast of late autumn wind came in through the window, causing the papers to swirl around the room. He shivered and cursed. He hated wearing robes yet everyone expected it, even the peasants. One could, if defending his masculinity, argue a robe quite different from a dress. That brought little comfort to Osk who felt the breeze in certain places he would rather not.

He marched over and shuttered the window. Still grumbling, he began gathering the sheets of paper littering the floor.

Something behind him squeaked.

Spinning around, he saw only the table, chair, cot, and fireplace in the small room. Shaking his head, he returned to his task.

Another squeak, this time louder.

Osk turned again, his eyes narrowing on the table. He grabbed the broom and crept over. He squatted down to peer underneath.

The table rattled, startling him. He fell on his ass and gaped at his beloved furniture.

The table shuddered again, twisting, its legs spastic and alive. Then, to his amazement, it began to walk. It took a couple tentative steps toward Osk and, with the grace of a dancer, delivered a nasty kick to his forehead.

The mage tumbled backward, head over heels. He found himself with his feet high against the wall, the weight of his body resting on his neck and shoulder. As blood poured out of his wound into his right eye, he pondered his situation for a moment before gravity toppled his body over in an unceremonious thump onto the dirt floor.

He staggered to his feet just as the table charged again. He ducked sideways and received a glancing blow to his ribs. He sucked his breath from the sharp pain. He backed away until he found himself in the corner. Between him and any egress stood the table, bucking and quaking, shattering what few possessions he had.

Osk did not understand. Had some rival mage bewitched his table? Had some jealous other discovered his formula for happiness?

Then he saw something glowing on top of the table: arcane glyphs. Right where the page had rested.

Oh. So that is why they used expensive, heavy vellum on hard, stone tables. It all made sense now.

His short-lived enlightenment evaporated, replaced by terror. The table lurched forward. It reared on two back legs like a horse, its front legs pawing at the air. He saw its back legs tense, readying for a final leap.

Osk grasped a wooden spoon lying nearby. With trembling hands, he brandished it like a katana and waited for table’s charge.

The door crashed open. In a blur, thunderous blows from axes rained down upon the table. In the mayhem, Osk dimly recognized a couple of the local woodcutters, their faces grimy and determined.

In the shower of splinters and woodchips, a sadness filled Osk. His table, his creation, shuddered one last time.

He dropped the spoon.

[align=center]THE END[/align]


Idea

September 20th, 1999

Image of a drawing from another page.
Imprint of a drawing from a previous page.
Imprint of a drawing from an early page.
~earlier
Footsteps of a drawing from an earlier page.
Whispers of sketch from a previous page.
Whispers of sketch from an ancestor page.
Legacy of sketch from an ancestor page.



September 21st, 1999

There are whispers of sketch from an ancestor page –
Hard to imagine such thin-crafted paper.
One wonders the pencil and applied pressure
Upon that margined legacy page,
The indentations of artistic intentions
Still evident on descendant leaves.
The hand, so solitary its endeavor,
Behave in a manner so typical in
Touching more than its allotted universe.

This failed as a poem, but it may make a good story.


December 29th, 1999

Idea for a story. Based upon that failed poem I wrote. Wizard is writing a spell and uses cheap paper. Leaves indentation on paper underneath. Gives the spell a soul.
Last edited by kailhofer on October 19, 2008, 03:17:18 PM, edited 1 time in total.
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:17:29 PM

10/'07 - There Are Things That Go Bump in the Night

[area]What follows is intended for Mature Audiences only.[/area]


The challenge was to create a horror story with a speculative fiction element. Entrants had to include in their stories a death, a hotel/motel room, and a helmet.



Example story:


For the Love of Art

By:
N.J. Kailhofer



Alex’s eyes lurched around the stone bedroom, searching his surroundings. The dim lamp gave just enough light to show the far wall of the cheap hotel chamber.

Probably just the air kicking in.

The lids of his eyes were heavy, forced down by the exertions of a nightmare that refused to release him, and he lay in his own sweat, trying to come alive. Stretching, he heard the tequila bottle slip through the webbing of the bed toward the unyielding stone.

It didn’t hit the floor.

He stabbed an eye open.

The bottle was in the arm of a black-haired woman--a beautiful naked Latina. Her body crouched at the foot of his bed, curled into a catlike pose. Her eyes burned into his as her left hand slowly slid the clear bottle up her thigh, rolled it over the tight roundness of her belly, and pulled it between her teardrop breasts before holding it out to get a look at its lack of contents. The motion undulated her breasts in a way that focused his attention to the exclusion of all else.

"Swallow the worm?" She casually flicked the bottle and watched it tumble gently across the open space of the room towards the wastebasket. Drops trailed from its mouth in slow motion, creating a cascading galaxy of cactus juice, doomed by the unhurried pull of lunar gravity.

Alex’s brain failed to operate on several levels.

"W-What are you doing here?" he stammered, unable to look away from her body.

She purred at him. "You knew I come someday, lover."

From behind her, a streak of silver flashed up and over as she swung her arm. Too slow to react, he saw the aluminum bat. He saw his body lurch and heard the crunch of his bones breaking, but felt no pain as his body toppled to the rough-hewn, stone floor.

***

Alinda.

Alinda, Isabel, Sofia, and P--What was her name?


Alex’s head throbbed as he tried to remember their faces, hair color, dimples, scars... anything. They were just notches in his belt.

"Whassamatter, Gringo?" She mocked him through the bars. "Angry that I wasn’t so easy for you?"

The hiss of the metal door silenced her laughter, leaving him alone in the holding cell again. His leg ached. The guard, Faron, hadn’t set the bone--just gave him a painkiller to stop his screams.

He should have been able to remember. He learned every inch of them... Every curve, every ounce of muscle tone or softness. He used to know the nape of the neck, how to trace her flow to the breast, how to move his fingers in to accentuate the curve and the reaction. He knew how to make the skin flush with color, capturing it in his mind.

But now every image was erased.

His pallet covered all the hues of flesh, of shame and defiance, but it was gone now, too.

Did any of them survive?

He could remember how he felt when he had grabbed them, laid them flat upon the frame, and then stretched them until they were about to tear apart. He loved the tension of that moment. He knew it was then they would yield to his will, when he would make them his.

The hiss of the door brought Faron.

"Hey!" The guard laughed so hard the rolls of his gut jiggled in a wild rhythm over his duty belt. "You still pining over your long-lost paintings? Or does your poor little leg still hurt?"

Alex shouted, "What kind of place is this, where art has no meaning? Are you barbarians?"

The nightstick crashed into the bars by his head. "You Earthers always think we’re stupid. You come for our tequila, best in the universe, and to laugh at our backward ways. You think that just because the girls don’t wear clothes in our hot little dome, you artistas can just come and paint them up, eh?"

"It’s not like that, Gringo. Marianna is the hija of the Premier."

He smiled. "Law says she can do anything she wants to you, and she’s the meanest one. She's gonna tie you down outside with only a helmet on. All that zero pressure’s gonna swell your testículos to the size of baseballs."

Faron laughed so hard his face began to redden. "That hurt you so bad, you’ll wish you was never born, artista."

***

Marianna leaned her helmet down until it touched Alex’s in the lunar dust, so the contact could carry her voice. His helmet was barely better than a fishbowl, with no air tank--just a gasket around the bare skin of his neck to keep what little bad air he had from escaping.

"I tell you a secret, Alex. You paint one of my friends. Her name was Pilar. You remember her?"

Every inch of his body burned. "No! Please!"

"I saw the way you paint her. You use her own blood to paint the lips."

His body convulsed. "Y-yes."

She smiled. "You cover her whole body with blood. All red."

Her hand pressed gently on his shoulder and then gestured to his left. "You missed something."

Through his agony, he saw at least six helmeted figures in an arc away from him, staked just as he was. He looked back at Marianna. Sunlight glinted off the long steel blade in her other hand.

She paused. "You have so many colors within you besides red. I show you."

The blade plunged into him. Alex choked and convulsed, helpless to watch while his insides sprayed out into the low gravity.

"See? None of you Earthers make art as good as mine. You are spoke number nine, in my piece. You like it? I call it ‘Wheel of Hope.’"

"No?" She frowned. "Ah, well. New turistas come every week. Maybe one of them will make it great."


Even as he died, Alex was consoled. After all, it took one artist to truly appreciate the work of another.


[align=center]The End[/align]
Last edited by kailhofer on July 31, 2010, 12:20:06 PM, edited 5 times in total.
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:18:04 PM

10/'07 - There Are Things That Go Bump in the Night

[area]What follows is intended for Mature Audiences only.[/area]


Flashage to India

By:
G.C. Dillon



Desi stood in the foyer to the nursing home. She stared at the plush leather chairs and settee. She glanced at the small coffee and tea service on a corner table. She read the large print message board relaying the date, the weather, the next holiday and the names and ages of residents who had birthdays this week. She returned her attention to the sign-in sheet that requested DATE and TIME, VISITOR'S and RESIDENT”S NAME. But there was no pen. Not even a pencil. How did they expect you to fill this out without a pen? She began to rummage in the green canvas bag she used as a pocketbook.

“Nervous?” Daniel Percy stood before her, holding a pen. Not a cheap Bic, but a metal cased job like you'd get for graduation or your own special birthday.

“A little,” she replied.

“Thank you for coming. Would you like to sit? I need to speak with you before you see my father,” he blurted out in a rush, before she even had time to complete the form.

Desi handed him the pen. “Sure.”

“Desdemona...” he started.

“Call me Desi.” She dressed in black, with a crescent moon belt about her middle. Straight black hair hung down about her shoulders, and matching polish colored her nails.

“Desi. My father, Regis, has Alzheimer's. That's him today, not the father I recall. Or even,” he paused, “the man he was. My father was a quartermaster at an Army Air Corps base in India. You know, World War II?”

I saw the Ken Burns' documentary, she thought sarcastically. “Go on.”

“When I talk to him, he thinks I'm still in college. He doesn't recognize his grandchildren. But when he speaks of his time in India – it's so vivid, so real. I can't grasp what he feels, but I want him to have it again. To relive it. To go to India again!”

“Have you seen a psychotherapist or a hypnotist?”

“I wanted to try something a little unorthodox. Jared tells me you're into Wicca.”

I'll kill him, she thinks. He tells his boss! Did he take out an ad in the free weekly paper? “It's a religion. Not superpowers.”

“If you could try something, anything.”

“Maybe a guided meditation.”

A tall and skinny black man came into the foyer. A stethoscope perched upon his neck. He glanced about the room nervously, then waved someone closer. Two EMTs rolled by a body with its head carefully covered. How many residents here were just waiting out the Grim Reaper? pondered Desi.

They had to be buzzed into Daniel's father's ward. A nurse opened the door for them. Regis was in one of the family lounges. He had his head bowed, but he was speaking to someone. Desi could see no one else in the room. A Yankees cap covered the man's head.

“They sent us supplies by pack mule. One of them kicked me. The doctors wired my shoulder. The wire's still there. One of those docs works here in the kitchen. Kicked by a gov't mule I was.” Regis laughed.

Desi smiled.

“You know I got a metal, too. They gave one to everyone at the base because of the missions the pilots flew. They gave everyone one 'cause the brass didn't want the mechanics to get jealous and sabotage the planes. Don't you know!”

“Dad. Father, we're here to see you.”

“Oh, oh. Nice to see you again.” He held out his hand to shake. “I'll say I'm tolerable today. And how is this nice lady doing this lovely day?”

Desi took his offered palm. “Very well,” she said.

Desi began her meditation, asking Regis to breathe with her, to visualize calming things. She didn't think he payed her much heed. She pushed forward, hoping something would work. And then she was no longer in the rest home. She felt naked, vulnerable. She searched about her surroundings.

Desi saw her reflection in the cracked mirror of the armoire. She had coffee and cream skin, like a latte at work. Dark eyes, unlike her own, stared back at her. Grey bed linens were wrapped about her bosom. A large key-chain with a number printed on it sat on the wardrobe's top. And she was smoking, though she didn't. Unfiltered, or was that before filtering, Camels. The smoke drifted visibly to the ceiling and the bare light bulb that burned there. Desi shivered: the hotel room was a bedbug's playground.

Regis stood by the window. He was younger, younger than his son, Daniel. He also had a cigarette between his lips. Twin streams of white smoke blew from his nostrils like a train on the Punjab rails.

“Oh Christ! It's the Military Police.”

Desi's image moved at quick speed, like a DVD on fast forward. She gathered up her clothes. “You must pay me now.”

Regis came to her, grabbed her shoulders. “No, you can't leave. They can't see you. They can't know you're, you're, I'm --” He pushed her down. “Please.” Desi struggled, trying to push him away. His hands were about her. Here, there, everywhere. The pillow was upon her face. She tasted the stale cloth in her mouth. She struggled for air. She struggled for air; she struggled for life.

Suddenly and confusingly, Desi was at the window. The M.P.s walked down the street below her. White helmets graced their heads and they carried billy clubs as well as their Government issue Colt .45s. She glanced back to see Regis holding the pillow on her face. She saw herself struggle. Then her arms fail. Her body fall limp. She pounded silently on the glass, attempting to grab the soldiers' attention. One M.P. in a white helmet filled the window, filled her vision, filled – for just an instant, it was Daniel's face.

“Are you alright?” asked Daniel.

Desi looked up to see a dusky woman in a sari standing behind Regis. She felt he would be haunted by India for some time.

[align=center]THE END[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:18:33 PM

10/'07 - There Are Things That Go Bump in the Night

Live Boldly

By:
TaoPhoenix



Patty Cranston stumbled toward the door of the room she rented weekly at the Rockland Inn. Its generous size was made affordable by the squalid condition the owner left it when she took out the lease. Unfortunately, its grounds condition was matched by the habits of the lessee. Patty was born of fair enough genetic stock, but thirty years of Ecclesiastes Chapter Nine had withered her spirts. The knocks of life had not left her much time or energy to care for herself, or her room.

As she passed through the hallway to her room, she absently took off the sweater which had protected her from the hailstorm churning outside. What little energy she had left was focused on whether to drive or take the bus after her overtime shift the following day. She rattled her key clumsily in the lock, and then ... she clutched her sweater *that she had taken off* in stark terror. Her hallway was ... warm! It had no such right to be so toasty, not when her struggling landlord couldn't afford more than to defrost the ailing motel.

Rushing now, she rattled the key clumsily in her lock, and swung the door open, only to be greeted with *devastating* cleanliness.

"Oh my god, NO," she wailed to herself. "Have they evicted me at last? Dammit, my check is good if they let the direct deposit go through tonight."

In no condition to take any action, she lurched through the foyer to look for any kind of notice describing what should transpire next. On the now immaculate kitchen counter was indeed a notice of wondrous qualities.

Yet - the current owner of the Rockland Inn would have cobbled some ugly photocopy together, should she have truly overstepped the bounds of the lease. This notice was something else entirely, on gorgeous 24lb Stationary stock. The message itself was done in old-world calligraphy with the snakeskin-green Parker fountain pen a few centimeters away at the edge of the counter. Her bewilderment grew as the most fantastic message unfolded. When she finished, she knew she would never be the same woman again. It read:

------------
Good Evening, my dear Patricia.

Nice room you have here. I exercised the liberty of sprucing it up for you. Do not put that Taco Bell supreme melt in the microwave while wrapped, because its foil-laced paper will catch fire. Now, on to the serious topics.

I fully realize how deeply I have disturbed your notions of propriety. Worry not how I have come to know who you are. I have a proposal for you. It is time for you, and for us all, to cease living in fear. The best way to do so is to step completely outside the bounds of the assumptions which bind us all to the slavery of reacting to externalities.

Do I frighten you? Only temporarily - breathe deeply. I command powerful worldly resources - only to use them to euthanize the gentlest woman I have yet observed? Fear me not, and with that leap of faith, let your cares drop from you, like a hermit crab discarding a confining shell in search of a larger worldly view.

In case your faculties are clouded by financial worries, allow me to address them now. Next to the television is a green envelope with the number of a Swiss bank trust timed to dispense periodic funds into your checking account for three years. Your first deposit occurred this morning so I could cancel the repossession of your car. Your Landlord has canceled your rent for the same period in exchange for assistance with his heating machinery.

Does Death frighten you? I understand. But know this - because all fears collapse into a proxy for the fear of Death, sometimes Death is necessary at the highest levels to liberate the rest of the race. Bin Laden will do. By the time you read this, he will have breathed his last after receiving a curare dart to the neck.

Evil is the more difficult topic. It is the harnessing of the full strength of Raw Intellect for local gain. Evil always has the tactical initative, because the forces of Good must perceive a threat before it can be neutralized. Therefore, you can explore ways to minimize risk, but the dynamic will remain latent forever.

I must rest now. Startle not at my processor helmet. It is necessary to correct fatal neuro-electric wavelength imbalances. Even with all the magnificant resources of every kind at my disposal, you still enjoy the simple gifts of life that I shall never know. A sine wave of sunlight lancing through a sunset, a robust laugh at a well constructed jest - these and many more are denied me. So, at the opposite peaks of the spectrum, we are dynamic equals.

Here then, is my proposal restated: If I have earned your trust through the shock of dissolving illusion, I would welcome your company for the rest of our days.

---------

Clutching the document in shaking hands, she glanced into the next room. The exhausted author of the document was stretched prone on the left side of her bed next to the wall, clad in a midnight blue jumpsuit with black trim. The headgear of which he wrote was exotic indeed - it merged some designer's breathtaking gift of style with electronics of the highest prototype caliber that only someone beyond money could acquire. Sleek blues, greys, and gold mixed with softly blinking lights and a blended series of controls behind a translucent amber casing.

The man underneath it all projected his own sense of Potential Awaiting Fulfillment. At a modest 6' 0" - 200 lbs he was of mortal enough stock, but there were seeds of improvement waiting about him ... waiting for her? Patty - no, Patricia Cranston brushed some of the wrinkles out of her hair as best she could, tacitly accepting the challenge proffered.

Climbing into their bed next to him and putting an arm around his chest, she whispered, "I do."

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:18:58 PM

10/'07 - There Are Things That Go Bump in the Night

[area]What follows is intended for Mature Audiences only.[/area]


When Daddy Fights the Monster

By:
Bill Wolfe



Daddy fought the monster, today, and he won. He came back to the hotel room smelly from sweat and French fries, but not like medicine. We went to the park and ate cold hamburgers with lots of lettuce and tomatoes and pickles. I giggled when he told me mine was just like a big old salad sandwich. Mommy says salad is good for me. Daddy always smiles when he wins his fight with the monster. He looks almost just like he did in the videos Mommy used to watch. Like he looked before he went off to fight the aliens when I was just a baby.

Today he was happy and he pushed me on the swing and caught me when I went down the big slide. He brought supper from the dive. That's what Daddy told the hotel man. He said that he was working in some dive down the street and so he would be able to pay him the money and we won't have to leave the hotel. I like dive food, but it's all we eat and sometimes I wish I had some oatmeal or corn like Mommy fixes. I would eat it all up and she would be proud.

I miss Mommy a lot. The monster got her and hurt her real bad. It hurt Aunt Cindy, too. Her head looked funny but she stopped making that whistley noise before we left, so Daddy said she would be okay. I hope they'll be back with us, soon. I think maybe the monster hurt them because they talked about it. Daddy says not to talk to anyone when he's at work. I just stay in the room, don't answer the door, and watch TV with the sound real low.

I feel better now that I know that the monster is a space alien. I'm five now, and I'm not as scared as I was. Someday Daddy will beat it up real bad and maybe kill it, like the army men did on TV. I'm glad I watched that show today, it helped me to understand some things.


Aunt Cindy told Mommy that the monster is called a Peety—Essdee, and Daddy brought it home from the war. But I think it probably followed him. Daddy must have been in the same war with the alien monsters from the show. He even still has his army helmet. It was in the back of the van when we ran away after the monster hurt Mommy. Today after the show, when Daddy was working, I put it on and pretended to fight aliens. It smells funny, like sand and smoke and that time the toilet burped all over the bathroom.

In the show the army men killed all the alien monsters when they wanted to destroy the world and maybe eat us. I know it's the same monsters Daddy fought because the army soldiers on TV were wearing the same kind of helmet that Daddy has. The monsters were scary looking and I think I understand why Daddy can't always fight the one that followed him home.

A Peety—Essdee might even be scarier. I saw it once, but I didn't tell Mommy or Daddy. I was only four, then, and didn't know. I heard Aunt Cindy tell Mommy that there was a monster in the house, and that she wasn't safe until it went away. Mommy said that Daddy could fight it, and that he wouldn't let it hurt her any more.

That night, at story time, I asked Daddy about the monster. He told me that there were no such things as monsters. Then he asked me who said there was one in the house and I told him what Aunt Cindy and Mommy said. He finished the story and patted my head and kissed me goodnight. And that night he didn't fight the monster, and it got in the house. Daddy drank his medicine from his secret place behind the garage, and the monster came inside and hurt mommy again.

Daddy didn't know that I wasn't asleep. On TV the alien monster had squirmy worm things on its face and big sharp teeth. They eat people but they don't take their clothes off and try to squish them like Daddy's monster does. They just scratch them with their claws to hurt them. The Peety—Essdee that Daddy tries to fight uses its fists and its feet.

And the really scary part is that it looks a lot like him.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:19:29 PM

10/'07 - There Are Things That Go Bump in the Night

[area]What follows is intended for Mature Audiences only.[/area]


The Tattooed Bed

By:
McCamy Taylor



…jackass says he got no rooms, even though the Vacancy sign’s flashing through the glass, so I flash the wad of cash that I just lifted from Mr. Helmet. All this time, Personality Crisis is going through my head like a freight train can’t stop for nothing I need a fix bad and for that I need four walls and Mr. No Tattoo’s giving me the evil eye like he ain’t never seen a junkie in his life in this rent by the hour flea bag LOVE HOTEL.

Sheeeiiit. Love by the hour. Ain’t it a bitch?

His old lady, wife or mother, gives him the evil eye and grabs a couple of bills, slides me a key, says “Out by seven. Don’t take nuffin’.” And I’m outta there, music still pumping through my veins way it does when I need the junk bad. Number on the key is nine. All the way at the end of the hall on the first floor, behind the stairwell, my hands sweating so bad I fumble the key in the lock, throw open the door, collapse against it.

Fucking Taj Mahal, it ain’t. Fucking tourist, I’m not. I make a beeline for the sink. Sitting on the edge of the tub, I cook up some sweet relief. As the smack hits my vein, the New York Dolls fly out of my head and go back to my chest where they’re supposed to be. I got that tattoo twenty years ago. Marilyn Monroe’s head, red pouting lips, heavy lidded eyes, crown of golden hair the words “NEW YORK DOLLS” in a banner flying over my heart. Now that was a great band. Not like the new age posers that came later and the techno punk and lip synchers. Helmet. What kind of loser tattoos that kind of shit on his body? I did him a favor killing him. Lucky for me, he was loaded. Didn’t look it. Rich people nowadays will fool you. Dress like they live in their cars, but check their pockets and you find an iPhone and a titanium fucking Visa.

I’m starting to unwind, so I make myself at home, empty my pockets. Mr. Helmet’s wallet, credit cards, the keys to his Prius---man, I wish I knew where it was parked---my knife, still covered with his blood. Reminder to self. Self, wash off his god damned blood and ditch his cards and car keys.

The old lady at the front desk’s words still bug me. Don’t take nuffin. Now that I'm getting more relaxed, I look around the room for something to take.

Man, this place gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ugly as sin. The wallpaper is so old it's worn through in spots and some of those spots have worn through, so there are three or four different kinds of faded, nasty, peeling paper visible. The bathtub is brown on the inside, and it ain’t the red rust kind of brown. Floor’s mostly covered with some kind of puke green carpet used to be shag before it caught mange and lost half its fibers. Table by the bed is covered with graffiti. Celine. Kay + Julio 4 Ever. Jesus Saves. Don’t Sleep On The Bed.

What the fuck?

A bass beat starts up right about then. The walls of most love hotels are extra thick. That’s why I pay more to stay at hotels with hourly rates. Must be someone in the stairwell. He’ll go away soon.

Don’t Sleep On The Bed. The words catch my eye again. I’m still sober enough to focus, so I look at the bed. Seems ordinary enough. Queen sized, with a headboard. I look under the bed. No monsters.

I lift my head back up. Suddenly, I’m dizzy. I lay my face down on the mattress. Is that leather? I run my hand up and down along the bed spread. Sure feels like leather, soft and supple, finely stitched. I chuckle. Now, I know what I’ll take with me when I leave room number nine. I stretch out on the bed and sigh---

But what’s this? The music’s getting louder. Damn synthesized pseudo punk heavy metal. Is some head banger camped out in the stairwell? I struggle to sit up. I paid good money for this room. Not gonna let some asshole spoil it---

The bed is like jelly under me. A water bed? No, even softer than that. It bubbles up around me like lava. By the light from the bare bulb overhead I make out patterns in the leather. Words. Pictures. Virgin of Guadalupe. Dragon. Another dragon. “Mom.” Celtic Cross. Tiger. Tattoos. They look familiar. Why can’t I move my arms and legs?

The music is pounding in my skull. The bed has me cocooned all except my head. I scream. As my lungs empty of air, the cocoon tightens. I can’t breathe. The leather bedspread moves to cover my face. Oh, shit! This part is freshly stitched, the edges still raw and bloody, decorated with the image of a bird cage looking piece of headgear on a chain with the word “HELMET”.

I try to scream again. It’s the tattoo from the man I just killed and robbed and it's smothering me. There’s no air left. The bed and the music are eating me alive and the junk doesn’t ease the terror----

Next morning, the hotel owner found room nine empty. The tenant from the night before had left behind several thousand dollars in cash, credit cards, car keys and a blood stained knife. Oh, and one other thing. There was a new panel on the patchwork leather bedspread which had been handed down from the owner’s wife’s great grandmother, a voodoo priestess in New Orleans. Near the top, there was now a vivid full color image of Marilyn Monroe with the words NEW YORK DOLLS.


[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:20:09 PM

10/'07 - There Are Things That Go Bump in the Night

[area]What follows is intended for Mature Audiences only.[/area]


Hellmet

By:
Robert Moriyama



Is anybody there?

Ah, shit, I might as well assume you're there, and that you can hear me, even if I'm not sure I'm saying any of this out loud. You probably want an explanation about why I broke the terms of our arrangement.

A little before midnight, I penetrated the so-called state-of-the-art biometric security systems at Psychtronics using the firmware back door codes your people supplied. The vault responded nicely to the hack that spoofed the time lock, and I was able to grab the whatsis -- the Virtual Therapy Helmet -- right on schedule. But on my way out of the place, I ran into some workaholic geek and I had to ice him. Stuffed the body down the disposal chute -- made quite a racket going down, but there was nobody but me to hear it. And a geek like that won't be missed until Monday anyway…

So I had a couple hours to kill in this half-credit hotel room. I tried the TV -- nothing good on the few free channels, and I'd paid cash, so charging some pay-per-view porn was not an easy option. Nothing to read except the good old Gideon Bible, and the Tourist Board guide to what passes for attractions here in downtown Podunk.

I had nothing to do but stare at the butt-ugly walls. I mean, look at those walls. I don't know where they got that wallpaper, but I hope they got a good price, because that beige-with-faint-green-splotches looks like somebody upchucked a gutful of cream of broccoli soup. Come to think of it, the room even smells like somebody vomited in here a while ago…

I wasn't supposed to screw around with the helmet, I know. Your guy told me it was "delicate", "a prototype", "too complicated for anybody but an expert to handle". But I was bored, you know. Really bored. And I figured, what could it hurt?

So I unpacked the thing, and took another look at it. Not too impressive -- a flexible skeleton of pearlescent gray plastic, like some designer's idea of combination earphones and eyephones, with a couple dozen coppery contacts over the inner surface; a slot in the back for interface cables or maybe memory cards; and a single button.

I put it on. It molded itself to my skull as if it had been made just for me, the pressure so evenly distributed that I hardly felt it at all. The metal contacts felt cool against the skin of my forehead and neck.

I pressed the button.

And I screamed.

I've tried virtual reality hardware before. This was different. It wasn't just sight and sound, it was everything. One second I was lying on the lumpy hotel bed in my working clothes, feeling a little sticky from the day's exertions, that faint vomit smell snaking its way through my nostrils, the next I was standing stark naked on a rough stone ledge, the stone so hot that I could feel blisters forming on the soles of my feet, smell the hairs on my legs crisping and burning to ash, hear the cries of a billion damned souls, and see an endless plain where other naked forms writhed in agony.

I tried to move, to shift my feet, to tear the damned helmet off my head, but I was paralyzed, unable to move except to squirm like a stripper in a phone booth. My feet seemed to be welded to the stone like cheap steaks seared to a rusty grill.

Just my luck -- the program loaded into the helmet when I snatched it was some sicko programmer's idea of a simulated Hell.

It has to be a simulation, right? Unless the helmet killed me, and this is where I'm gonna spend eternity.
Just kidding. At least I hope I'm kidding.

After a while, the heat stopped hurting me so much. I guess all the nerve endings would be dead after a while if you really got roasted like that, or the brain would stop accepting the input.

Then it started to get cold.

Still paralyzed, but my eyes were frozen open. I could feel my skin freezing layer by layer, cracking and splitting as the moisture turned into clusters of needle-sharp ice crystals.

I took comfort in the knowledge that you would be arriving at any moment. You would get into the room somehow, deactivate the helmet, and take it off me. You'd be pissed at me for trying it on, maybe knock a little -- or a lot, at this point I didn't care -- off my "finder's fee". Hell, maybe you'd kill me.

Anyway, one way or another, I figured that this torture had to end soon. I decided that I would find the programming team who had built this simulation and I'd pay them back in kind -- except their burns and wounds wouldn't vanish at the press of a button.

It started to get hot again. Thawing flesh hurt more than freezing flesh. And my sensitivity to heat was miraculously restored.

Which brings us up to the present moment. I don't know how long I've been in virtual Hell. Maybe only a few seconds, although it feels like hours or days…

I had almost two full hours to wait before the buyer was due to arrive when I put the helmet on. But two
hours of real-world time could be a lot longer in virtuality.

I can hold on. This Revelations by way of Hieronymous Bosch crap is not going to break me. I mean, I've already been through the worst of it, the heat and the cold, and I can take it again, ten times, a hundred times, however much virtual time two real-world hours turns out to be.

I can take -- oh, Jesus, Jesus, there's something crawling up my legs. Something is EATING MEEEEEEEE

[align=center]THE END[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:20:42 PM

10/'07 - There Are Things That Go Bump in the Night

[area]What follows is intended for Mature Audiences only.[/area]


Changeover

By:
N.J. Kailhofer



I have boobs.

I didn't used to have boobs.

This is not my bed. It smells like sex in here.

"Aaah!" I gotta get out of this bed!

I am lying in the bed next to me. That is, my own body is next to… me.

What is going on...?

Whoa. I'm a chick. No franks and beans down there.

But I'm also that man in the bed. Is this a dream?

I'm not moving. I mean, the real me, over there.

"Hey!" I don't want to touch him.

He's cold.

"No!" There's no pulse at his neck. Nothing. The arm is stiff. No pulse at the wrist.

"Oh, shit." That sounds so weird in someone else's voice. "I gotta call 911."

No, I can't call. I don't know who I am, or where I am. How am I going to explain this? I'll sound nuts.

What's under the covers? Damn! We're both naked.

Oh… My body must have been excited about it when it died.

Ew. I never saw myself from that angle. No wonder.

Get a grip! What do I do?

911! That's still the best answer. Maybe I'm not all the way dead yet.

It's a guy on the line. "911 dispatch. What is your emergency."

"I-I" My tongue feels thick. No! My teeth are different, that's it. "T-there's a dead man in my bed. But maybe he's not dead! I mean, he looks dead, but he can't be dead! He has to not be dead!"

"Is he breathing? Ma'am?"

"Huh?" Ma'am? Oh, right. "No, I don't think so."

"We're dispatching units. I show you at the Darling Rest motel on Lexington Avenue, room 13. Is that right?"

I'm in a motel? I guess it looks like a motel room. "Uh, maybe. I don't know where I am. I've never been here before."

"Ma'am? Are you ok?"

"I… I don't know. No, I guess. I-I don't feel like myself."

Understatement of the year!

"Ma'am? Are you injured? What is your name?"

"Bill--" I better not tell him that. "I don't know."

"Ma'am? You can't remember your own name? Is Bill the name of the man on the bed?"

"Yes. That's my--his name. Bill Ratherford. He's 42 years old. He has a wife and 2 kids and lives in Evanston."

"Ma'am, is Bill your husband?"

"I don't think so. Where's a mirror?"

Doh! I bet that sounded stupid. Where the hell is a mirror, anyway?

"Whoa." I am not my wife.

I'm hot. Skinny, big tits, blond… long legs.

I'm getting turned on looking at myself. What the hell? That's just wrong, somehow.

"No! I'm not married to him! I've never seen me before! I mean, I mean… I don't know what I mean! Just get here!"

Slamming down that phone felt good.

"Purse!" Chicks always have purses. There will be an ID in it. I'll know who she was. Is?

There's no purse. There's no clothes. How did I--she--get here? Was she naked when she walked in? Why can't I remember any of this? And if I'm dead, what happened to the woman I'm inside? Is she in my dead body, or do we share? This is too fucking weird.

"Hello? Woman inside me?"

Maybe if I slap my old body. "Are you in there? Lady?"

Man, do I feel stupid asking that. Ew. I touched a dead body… but it’s my body.

It's MY body!

I tried shaking it. "C'mon! Let me back in there! That's my life, goddamn you!"

We must have died having sex. Do we need to have sex to switch back?

EW! EW! EW! That's not happening!

"Police! Open up!"

I think the door's breaking.

[align=center]***[/align]

Ow. Those zip-tie things hurt your wrists.

"Get off of me. It's hard to breathe." This dude is heavy. This crap carpeting isn't much cushion. I think he has his knee in my back.

He's got swat gear on. Shit! His shotgun is pointed at the back of my head. I can see that much.

"Hello, Lila," he says through the visor of his helmet. "We meet at last."

I hope the truth works. "My name is Bill. I don't know what's going on. This morning, I was the guy who's on the bed. Now, I'm inside this body. I don't know who this person is or how I got inside her."

He's laughing at me!

"Oh, sure you are." That patronizing tone can't be good. "Let me guess, Lila finally sucked in one that was too strong for her, and now you're trapped in her body."

"Yes!" Huh? "What?"

He paused. "Hell, maybe you are. But you won't be for long. Pretty soon, she'll start taking back over. You'll lose yourself, and everything you are. Everything you know and everything you've done will be erased. It'll just be her."

"What the fuck are you saying, I'm gonna die?"

"You're already dead, buddy. She's feasting on your soul."

"Mister, I'm Bill Ratherford. My wife is Claire. We've been married for fourteen years. My kids are Bobby and Kelly. I'm a good guy. I write children's stories, for Pete's sake. I love my wife. I don't sleep around!"

Why did he grunt?

"No wonder. They always have trouble with creative types. You just bought yourself an extra minute or two, Bill."

"Could you get off, then? You're heavy."

Why did he sigh?

"Sorry, Bill. When she takes over, she's going to try to kill me, and I need backup to get here. Vampires aren't like people think. There's no bloodsucking, there's no stakes through the heart to kill 'em. Just a dead guy with his pants down with some hot body, losing all he's got. We usually call it a heart attack. Leading cause of death in America."

This asshole is crazy! How do I get out of this?

Wait.

My toes are moving. I'm not doing that.

I want out of here. I want to see my wife.


What's her name, again?

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:21:09 PM

10/'07 - There Are Things That Go Bump in the Night

[area]What follows is intended for Mature Audiences only.[/area]


- Winner -


He Must Kill the Children Before he Dies

By:
Mark Edgemon



Edley Barrows was born into this world on February 8, 1968 to middle income parents and lived a normal life for the most part, or at least as far as everyone could see. He was a loner, who often would sit in darkness and only went out into the real world when he absolutely had to. But it was his first encounter with the blood of innocence that christened his departure from society and transformed him into the monstrous servant of evil that he would become.

As he was driving home from work one day he passed by an injured dog, wounded and bleeding by the side of the road. He quickly got out of his car and hovered over the dog witnessing for himself the pain that was in his eyes. He pulled out his pocketknife as he placed his hand over the dog’s mouth. Then without an ounce of humanity, he slit the dog’s stomach open, while he watched the terror in the dog’s eyes. The dog’s eyes grew wide with immense pain, while Edley absorbed the torment of this innocent soul now slipping into darkness.

He stood up, wiping the blood from the blade onto the dog’s fur and went home leaving the dog in agony.

There was no remorse. No horror over what he had done, only an interest now in the killing of innocence.

Within a few months, he began to watch elementary schools, waiting for a chance to kidnap an innocent child, so he could watch their agony as his knife anguished them.

One day, he saw an eight-year-old boy walking home by the side of the road. Edley drove slowly behind him until there was no sign of traffic. He then drove up to the boy and without a word spoken, opened his car door and pulled the boy inside, holding his face down hard against the seat as he drove off.

What happened after that was unbelievably horrid. The monster sliced off layers of the boy’s skin, so he could watch the excruciating pain in his young face, while all the time feeding his need to see innocence afflicted.

He buried the boy’s remains in the woods behind his apartment and immediately began looking for another victim at an elementary school on the far side of town.

It wasn’t long before he eyed a young girl of six, who was walking out of the school building, her blonde hair blowing in her face by the heavy winds that had recently started to kick up. When Edley saw her, he knew she was the one, no matter what the risk. He drove up beside her, got out of his car and scooped her up into his arms. About that time, her teacher walked out of the school and seeing the little girl with him, waved and said, “Good afternoon Mr. Blasley”. She had mistaken the man holding the girl for her father. He waved back, got into his car with the little girl and drove off.

He went straight home and took the little girl to his backyard. There he tied her little hands behind her back, while she was crying and then picked her up and placed her into a coffin that he had built for this occasion. The girl’s screams were muffled as the coffin was lowered into the ground. He quickly covered the grave with dirt until the ground was level and then ran into his basement, turning on his surveillance monitors.

He had planted two small cameras and a light inside the coffin, so he could watch her suffocate. He zoomed in on the little girl’s eyes, but the video was slightly blurred. The death of the girl took less than three minutes. He felt nothing afterwards, except for the feeling that he didn’t get his moneys worth. He went back to the grave and dug up the coffin, so he could retrieve his cameras and the light in case he might want to use them again.

Searches for the two missing children were on the news and a police sketch with a fairly good likeness of Edley was being shown on every newscast.

He packed his belongings and moved into a motel room about fifty miles out of town. The next day he was on the hunt once again for his next victim. He was obsessed now and careless.

Within a few days he drove past a vacant lot that was being used for a game of touch football by a group of boys who were already out of school for the day. He watched them play for about an hour, but couldn’t figure out how to kidnap one of the boys without being noticed. With his obsession getting the best of him, he started his car and drove onto the lot heading directly for the group of boys. He stopped, ran over to the first boy he came to and pushed him into his car. The boy offered no resistance.

He drove for several miles until he found a junkyard filled with abandoned cars. He parked his car behind some rusted out vehicles, then fumbled while trying to pull out his pocketknife, which he dropped onto the seat.

As he removed the boy’s football helmet, he felt a searing pain in his stomach. He looked down to find the knife sticking out of him. The boy had rammed Edley’s own knife into his stomach.

He looked at the boy’s face only to find that the boy was leaning forward looking into his face as he suffered in agonizing pain. Unlike him, the boy did feel something as he watched the life drain from Edley Barrows. The boy was excited, because he believed he had found his purpose in life. He felt alive.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:22:00 PM

11/'07 - The Sequel

The challenge was to create the best possible sequel to an author's own story published in either Aphelion or a previous flash challenge. Entrants had to include a piece of glass prominently in the story.



Example story:


Art of Intrigue

By:
N.J. Kailhofer



Sequel to: Business Unusual


"We must find The Etcher."

Althea looked up from her homework to see Delbert Lunt's bald head leaning over the shop's counter.

At least he's not wearing that plunger on his head today, she thought. "Why?"

Lunt straightened his tie and then pulled something from the jacket of his gray suit. "I got this in the mail at the bank."

He held up a business card-sized piece of glass. Etched into it was a picture of Althea's Mother, screaming in terror.

"Where is Madame Oberlin?"

"Mom!" Althea went white. "She was going to talk to someone about redoing the windows."

"Who?"

She bit her lip. "I don't know. It was somebody she heard about, who wasn't in the yellow pages."

A sound, like water freezing across a lake, crackled from the front of the store. Lunt pointed at the shop's front windows. A driving rain flooded across them, pouring the outside gloom into the shop, so at first she didn't notice white frost spreading across the glass to the left of the door. Clear voids were left as it spread, forming a picture. It was a gravestone, with her mother's name on it. Above, words read in reverse, 'The Journey's End'.

Lunt shivered. "I hope you have more fortune-telling cards."

She reached under the counter. "Let's go."

Just outside the shop, she fanned the cards in front of her, written side away from Lunt. "Ask your question."

"Where is Madame Oberlin?" He drew the card, then grabbed the entire pack and stuffed it inside his coat.

"What are you doing?!"

"The water made the ink run! I can't read a blasted thing."

He looked into her eyes. "You're going to have to use your gift. Think! Or better yet, feel it, Althea. You can save your mother. Where do we find her?"

Althea's mouth gaped open and closed. She felt small. She felt desperate. She felt a heavy weight pushing down on her. She felt--

"I'd kill for a hotdog right now," she muttered to herself.

"What?"

Althea's head hung low. Rain ran down her face, hiding the tears from her eyes, then dripping from her nose and chin. "I'm such a bad daughter. My mom is missing and all I can think about is food."

Lunt brightened. "Did your mother have a favorite hotdog stand?"

"The Shake Shack. Why?"

He hailed a taxi. "I have an idea."

[align=center]***[/align]

Her eyes scanned the patrons around the outdoor stand. "I don't see her."

"I'll check the park," Lunt said. "You stay here and keep watch. Perhaps we'll get lucky."

The rain had slowed to a slow drizzle, but the crowd was still small. Althea felt hollow, drained emotionally, and slumped into one of the wire chairs furthest away from the stand.

"Oh!" On the table in front of her was a rain-soaked sketch of the front of their shop. In the other window of the drawing, the word 'Defeat' taunted her.

Every inch of Althea's body ached. Her mother was all she had.

"Althea?"

She jumped. "Mom?"

Her mother stood by the next table, her face a mask of pain. A strange man had his arms around her, pulling her forward. He was thin but muscular, in jeans and a sleeveless t-shirt that was spattered with something that looked like blood. His face was gaunt, elongated by a pointed goatee on his chin. His eyes were sunken in dark circles.

Althea jumped at him. "Get away from my mother!"

"Althea!" her mother shouted.

His eyes locked with hers.

Althea felt herself freeze in place, her spirit leaving her like sugar melting in rain. Every ounce of strength she had struggled against it, but the pull was unrelenting.

Mom!

She collapsed into her chair, unable to stand.

Her mother sat down next to her. The Etcher perched in the seat across from Althea, his gaze still locked with hers. She felt herself about to lose all that she was.

Lunt's hand clamped down on The Etcher's shoulder. "Marcus! Good to see you."

The spell broken, Althea gasped. "What's going on? Why did you kidnap my mother?"

Her mother looked at her. "He did no such thing. He's been redesigning the windows. We're going for something more edgy. See? 'Defeat Your Journey's End' with a gravestone. That should pick up our séance business, don't you think?"

Althea sputtered. "The windows really changed."

Her mom frowned. "You're not the only one with talents, dear. He's outstanding with any glass or metal."

"Why is he covered in blood?"

Madame Oberlin laughed. "That's ketchup. When the rain came, we ran for cover. I twisted my ankle and smeared my hotdog all over him when I fell."

The Etcher's deep voice said, "You were right, banker."

Lunt sat down in the other chair. "That was a hypothetical discussion and you knew it. I certainly didn't want you to frighten anyone. What was the point of this card, then?"

Madame Oberlin spoke up. "That was my idea, I sent them to all my friends. I hoped it might boost his business. It got your attention, didn't it?"

Lunt tugged at his tie. "That it did."

Althea blinked. "You mean no one was ever in any danger? I was frantic for nothing?"

The Etcher shook his head. "Not for nothing. I now know your gift is not limited to cards. I pride myself on knowing the entire community, and their abilities. We'll meet again."

Something about the way he said it chilled Althea.

He turned to Lunt. "Debts must be paid. I'll make your new lobby centerpiece. Something out of Greek mythology, so it has a classical 'rich' feeling. Perhaps the banishment of Phineas, the seer."

He smiled at Althea.

Lunt shrugged. "The board should like that. Since you won't give out your address, you'll call to set up a time?"

[align=center]***[/align]

On the way home, the way The Etcher smiled at her stuck in Althea's mind. She couldn't help thinking that her life had just become more complicated.


[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:22:46 PM

11/'07 - The Sequel

Phil Marlowe, He Ain't

By:
Bill Wolfe



Sequel to: Sam Spade Ain't Nearly Dead Enough


On day three, the first two recruits dropped, puss-down in the sand. If they're lucky, their clocks'll stop before the siphons find 'em. It's been twenty years by my Stream and I still got scars. Soon as Tail-End Charlie passed 'em by without more'n an eyeball twitch, two Tenders phased-in and snatched 'em. The Kid's still goin' strong. He don't even look thirsty. I'm keepin' peepers on him, sure. He's gettin' the thin part of a B&B. No doubt about it, but danged if I can tell how. With my fine-tuned detectivatin, I'm seein' he takes a whiz or two every day. The rest of these newbies ain't pissed since day one.

I'm takin' notes on this Kid. Lot's of notes. He might think he's slick but he won't pull nothin' over on me. I'm writin' down what he says, what he does, where he stops to rest, to pee, to sleep. Everything.

All's I know is that you could'a knocked me over with an electron when I hear that his letter of reference is from good old Timmy Sputnik, my mentor in the Program.

He's a legend in the Corps, you know. Figured-out this test halfway through day one, busted a rock to get a sharp frag and slit his wrists. Genius, that one. Tried to teach me how to think like a true Temporal Detective. Some of it musta' stuck, I'm still kickin'. Field work didn't work-out too good, for me, though, so I'm running the death march for Basic Training. Recruits think it's a survival test, but the real object is to teach 'em what it's like to die. 'Course, we bring 'em back and revive 'em once they kick. Half drop-out after this little exercise, which is why we do it early.

[align=center]#[/align]

Day six, the Kid's still goin'. Hell, he ain't even hungry! We got ten full-time Time Dicks keepin' an eyeball on him and we're gettin' diddly. At this rate he'll be out of the temporal blocking field by nightfall, tomorrow. This field's special, only instructors can time-phase in it, it negates all known tech and magic. It's some of the highest tech the Corps' got and somehow the Kid's beatin' it like slippin' on ice. Commandant's gonna have my balls if I don't figure this out, pronto. And one more thing, there ain't no damn water within a thousand klicks. This planet is dryer than Arrakis in its heyday and makes Mars look like a swamp.

[align=center]#[/align]

Damn that Sputnik! He's bustin' my chops without even showin' up. The Kid made it out of the field and then this Downstream version shows up and jaws with him for a minute. At which point the Kid just sits down and waits. I'm licked and I know it. You know, the Kid reminds me a little of old Sputnik. He always seemed to be just a little too good at what he did. Sputnik beat this test by offin' himself early. It just occurred to me that the Kid has gone and done it, too. Only he done it by survivin' the unsurvivable. Damn.


[align=center]#[/align]

"Once again, young man, and this is an order: How did you survive for almost a week without food or water?" The Commandant was tryin' hard not to sound like he was pleading. He wasn't quite makin' it. The sawbones had already confirmed that the Kid hadn't suffered much more'n a sunburn.

"Sir, once again, my Downstream self showed-up at the end of the test and told me that it wasn't a survival test at all, it was a test to see how we faced death. And he told me that I never tell anyone what happened." The Kid didn't even blink. "If I tell you, won't it trigger a causality loop?"

"Maybe yes, maybe no. I've checked Downstream as far as I'm cleared, and the records show that you never do. They also showed that I asked. You're free to go, young man. Dismissed."

But after the Kid leaves, I hadda ask. I just hadda. Timmy Sputnik had screwed me bad, but he was still the best Time Dick I ever met. Maybe he knew something that I didn't. Maybe he knew lots more.

"Commandant?"

"Yes, Chief Instructor."

"Sir, you're cleared for a lot farther Downstream than I am. This Kid. He's gonna make it big, ain't he? He's gonna really do somethin'!"

"You know, Chief Instructor, you might just have saved your job."

"Sir?"

"After this fiasco, I was thinking of transferring you to a Quartermaster position, but perhaps you've got a knack for spotting promising young recruits after all."

"Sir?"

"You're dismissed, Chief Instructor."

"Yes Sir. Thank you, Sir." As I skedattled, I was more'n a little bent that he hadn't answered my question. Then I wondered. . .maybe he did.

[align=center]#[/align]

In due time the Kid did his stint as an Instructor. Just about every agent with some down time—usually for injuries—pulled the duty.

He'd get the chip to allow his Temporal Manipulator to work in the blocking field, and then he'd have a little hiking to do. Fortunately, somebody back then had kept scrupulous notes concerning his daily activities. Max had sent him the sixpack of Bloodguard nutrient solution he'd asked for, and now all he had to do was to phase fifty years back, bury one edible bottle at each location where he decided to sleep and leave it for his younger self to lie down upon.

He knew full-well that his Upstream self would find the first glass bottle as he tried to figure out what that lump was, under his back. After that, it was easy. He only had to write the note for the first one. Low tech time travel was always the best.

The note read: Head north. Sleep where you want. Five more like this. Keep quiet till we talk.

And, of course, it was his own signature that convinced him.

Larrye


[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:23:44 PM

11/'07 - The Sequel

The Tribulation: Blood Moon Rising

by
Mark Edgemon



Sequel to: Christville


“I can hardly see past my windshield cause of this damn rain,” the trucker said to himself while trying to keep awake. “When I tricked out my rig, I should have installed bulletproof glass. Well, at least I’ll be pulling into Christville, Tennessee in about 5 minutes.

Hey John Atkins, You’re talking to yourself again,” he said as he pulled into Clancy’s Diner, a favorite eatery among truckers entering and leaving Christville.

While sitting in his truck waiting for the rain to let up, he tuned his radio to the national weather service for an update. “Violent thunderstorms with increased lightning, are wreaking havoc across our nation, blocking the sun for the third week in a row,” the weather forecaster said. “Temperatures will reach 115 degrees throughout much of this first week of December.”

“Damn infernal heat,” the trucker exclaimed!

The forecaster continued, “To determine the cause of these storms, we have asked Dr. Simon Foxworth of the Danforth Observatory in Nottingham, England to explain what is behind the turbulent weather.”

“Our sun acts much like a giant nuclear reactor,” Dr. Foxworth answered. “The sun’s nuclear fusion creates solar flares, which are violent discharges of mass from the Sun's outer atmosphere. When solar flares are powerful enough, they pummel the magnetic field, which surrounds the earth, creating violent thunderstorms and electrical blackouts. They can also cause disruptions in phone service, television reception and orbiting satellites.

But there is an even greater cause for concern.

When an aging massive star ceases to generate energy through nuclear fusion, it undergoes a sudden gravitational collapse, which heats and expels the star's outer layers. This could cause an explosion on the sun’s surface, driving a shock wave to sweep up an expanding shell of gas called a supernova remnant. It would only take 8 minutes for the remnant to reach the earth. The earth’s surface would become a furnace with temperatures reaching in excess of 2,000 degrees.”

All of a sudden, the lights went out in Christville, due to a cascading power failure sweeping across the nation. Power-transmission components were burning out throughout the nation’s electric grids, due to a surge overload, brought about by intense solar disturbances.

The Mayor of Christville, Mack Edmond, a devoutly religious man, was admittedly frightened for the first time in his self-absorbed life. As he gazed skyward, he trembled to see the moon’s bright yellow light metamorphosed into a dark blood red color. He remembered a passage of scripture in revelation, which had mentioned that this would be a sign of the end time.

He called for an emergency prayer meeting to be held at the church later that night. With the power and phones out, the mayor walked over to Clancy’s Diner and asked the truck drivers, if they would be willing to drive up and down the streets of Christville, using their loudspeaker systems to announce the meeting.

Later that night, John Atkins showed up at the meeting to find the townspeople of Christville frightened and huddled together, waiting for some word of encouragement. As the mayor walked up to the podium, the room became deathly silent. Fumbling for a moment, he addressed the congregation and said, “I’m going to let the good pastor do what he’s been paid to do and provide a little comfort to you folks”.

Reverend Sinaught had been the pastor of The Church of Christville for over twenty years. He would often use big intellectual words and long-winded elaborations on religious doctrine, so the congregation would admire his religious knowledge and keep him on salary.

“My dear children, do not fear,” he said with a condescending tone. “The good Lord will not allow anything to happen to the righteous”.

Suddenly, as he spoke, the earth shook with a powerful earthquake, which rocked the foundation of the entire planet. The sun’s helium had just ignited with an explosive flash, sending a large fragment of the star’s mass hurtling toward earth.

The force of the blast shattered the large neoclassic stained glass window, located directly behind the pulpit, which showed Michael the Archangel throwing Lucifer out of heaven. The stained glass had been reduced to thousands of glass specks, which reflected the frequent lightning bursts, as they cascaded downward, causing a multi-color light show effect.

However, a shard of glass, showing the menacing face of Satan, the only piece of glass that was not completely shattered, fell with the sharp side pointing down and lodged in the skull of Pastor Sinaught as he was standing behind the pulpit. He fell as if in slow motion, to the left of the podium hitting the stage hard with his face toward the congregation. The smiling face of Satan in the stained glass remnant, was illuminated every few seconds, back lighted by the flickering lightning bursts, now pouring through the hole in the window where the stained glass used to be.

The horror-stricken mayor cried out in fear as he fell to his knees beside the dead pastor. Immediately, the people of Christville ran forward to the front of the church and joined him in prayer. They prayed louder and more fervently than they had ever prayed before.

Over the last several minutes, John Atkins had been thinking about his sister, who had mysteriously disappeared a month earlier. She had walked into her bedroom followed by her husband only a couple of seconds later to discover she had vanished. It was now beginning to make sense to him. Revelations…the end of time…people missing! Well…John was comforted by the thought that his sister was in a better place and safe. That was all he could ask for, not being a spiritual man himself.

As the people of Christville prayed …they worried whether or not God would hear their prayers…if they would actually get through to Him…with only 3 minutes remaining.


[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:24:51 PM

11/'07 - The Sequel

Windows Into Hell

By:
Dan L. Hollifield



Sequel to: Saucerful of Secrets
Appeared as a serial in issues 19, 20, and 21.



The breeze through the shattered windows was warm, with the smell of honeysuckle and wisteria blossoms mingling with the smoke from my cigarette and the cordite tang from my pistol. I could see the plume of smoke twisting up from my hand, to snake through the air and slowly disperse on the wind. I holstered the Mauser, still warm from the twin shots I'd fired through the door's window panes, as I walked to the door and looked out on the shards and splinters of broken glass that now littered the warped floorboards on the wide porch outside. The fragments of glass glowed eerily for a few seconds as the spirits of long dead slaves escaped their silicon prison. Something rather like fog gathered around the broken glass, then faded from view. The curse was lifted, its victims free, and the ruins of this old antebellum mansion could now rot in peace. I grunted vaguely, lost in thought, then sighed aloud.

"What am I," I said, disgust plain in my voice as I crushed the fire from my cigarette against the sole of my left shoe, "a weirdness magnet?" Without another word, I walked out of the formerly haunted house and made my way through the tall weeds and briers that separated me from my car.

My name is Douglas Simon Daley, my friends call me D-Day. I'm a private investigator. I used to be a regular Joe, but over the last decade or so I seem to have become a nexus for the paranormal. I don't like it much, but it pays the bills.

As I drove home, I wondered how I was going to write this one up for my files. The case had started normally enough, but then, all of them do. I'd gotten a call from a farmer who'd bought some land that used to be part of a Civil War-era plantation. He'd hired a crew to demolish the old house there, so that he could clear the land for planting. They quit the first day, claiming that they'd been run off by ghosts. So had the next crew he'd hired, and the next, then he'd tried to tear the place down himself. He saw the ghosts too, and ran away. No one else would take him seriously. But I could hear the fear in his voice. I believed him. I had to believe in ghosts. After all, I'd been hired by one once. But that's another story.

After the phone call I'd looked up newspaper accounts about the house. My computer had found loads of references about the haunted house in the local paper's online morgue. A few hour's reading gave me a pretty good history of the place. It'd been built about seventy years before the war. The plantation owner had been known for whipping his slaves. A lot. He'd killed several of them that way. There was even a write-up about the curse laid down by one of the elderly victims. Evidently he'd been a tribal witch-doctor before being taken into slavery. With his dieing breath, he'd declared that the plantation owner would always remember his victims, that the house would bear witness, that the owner's torment would only end with his death. The slaver had died, driven insane, decades later in a madhouse. The family heirs sold the place and moved out West. After that, the house never stayed occupied for long. Every buyer left soon after moving in, declaring the place to be haunted. There was also a lot of detail about the construction of the house. One article noted that the window glass had come over on the same ship as the plantation's first slaves. That writer had waxed poetic about how those windows had witnessed the whole sorry spectacle of the plantation's history. Another linked article detailed a theory that stone temples and tombs could soak up psychic energy from the people who used them, then play back ancient events like a recording...

I drove out to the house the next afternoon. After threading my way through the briers that surrounded the place, I finally stood on the front porch. The warped and sun-baked wood of the railings was rough under my hand. The weed-choked yard was silent. No birds sang, no squirrels chattered. No breeze cooled the chill sweat from my skin as I shivered in spite of the sun's heat. The smoke from the cigarette dangling from my lips tasted like crap as the bile rose in my throat. I turned the cold brass doorknob and went inside. The whole house shook with echoes as the door creaked shut behind me.

I looked around. The years hadn't been kind to this place. Wallpaper peeled in strips from the moldy plaster walls. The staircase had fallen down. The floor sagged and had rotted away in spots. Dead leaves littered what was left of the floor. Only the front doors still had glass in their frames. The rest of the windows gaped like empty eye sockets in a skull. I turned to go back outside. That's when I saw the ghosts.

I could hear screams and the crack of a whip. I could smell sweat and blood, woodsmoke and pigpens. I saw an old black man, gray-bearded and bloody, screaming hateful words as he struggled to stand upright, then choking as he fell to the ground, dead. More screams, more visions, more pain and hate and misery. The whole thing played out before my eyes like a scene from hell itself.

I don't remember drawing my old Mauser, or firing two shots through the wrinkled antique glass panes of the front doors. But I saw the glass explode outwards as the 7.63 millimeter bullets struck... Then there was silence, and a feeling of peace settled over me.

Outside, I could hear whippoorwills begin to call out their plaintive song. I lit another cigarette, one-handed, as I slowly stopped shaking.

[align=center]*****[/align]


[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:25:18 PM

11/'07 - The Sequel

Steampunk Willie

By:
David Alan Jones



Sequel to:Rococo by the Bay


New York New was falling. Gunfire echoed in the streets, barking out death and change.

“It’s our time, Tom,” said my partner. Reese had grown lean and hungry over months of fear and boredom. He leaned across the back of my couch like a pedigreed hound eager to hunt.

I raised my eyes from a newscast of Armageddon on the courthouse steps. Twelve riddled bodies, The Governing Council, littered its white marble.

“They brought that stone up from Earth,” I said.

“It’s Steampunk, Tom. Steampunk did this - his grand scheme . . . we thought he was a crazy saw junk, and look at him now.”

I looked and remembered.

Willie Wills, Steampunk to his old friends and enemies, appeared in the air before us, simulcasting on all streams to every part of the city-state. His sallow face looked as simple and mean as when I had first met him beneath the streets of NYN.

“My people. I am your new president. Discontinue all armed rebellion and I will –“

Reese drew, fired, and destroyed my TV in one easy motion. Little rings of blue smoke rose from his Colt.

“He wasn’t worth saving,” he said. He handed me an empty glass vial – a tiny, insignificant thing really.

“His last shot of sawdust,” I whispered.

“His oath to us.”

“How will we get him?” I asked.

“The worm leaves a hole. We’ll crawl up the way he did.”


# # #


The under bowels of New York New ran hot. Steam kissed our cheeks and made heavy our clothes as Reese and I plumbed the engineered depths.

“Stairs,” said Reese, pointing through the gloom, his Colt in one hand, the glass vial in the other. Flickering florescence showed double doors blazoned with this single graffito: DESCENT.

We climbed down twenty-seven floors through gloom and dripping echoes and then trudged east until our spelunking brought us beneath Capitol House.

The carnage began five floors up. Cops and Lunar Guard alike lay in droves, cold bodies splayed upon pools of gore.

Reese spit and said, “We’re the Shield now, partner.”

Willie’s men caught us three floors from the top. Twenty-five of them closed in, net-like, as we stood back to back, hearts pumping acute awareness into our senses.

“Not these. Don’t kill these,” said a voice from behind the wall of armed brutes.

Rutgers emerged, bald head gleaming in the sticky dark.

“Reese the Poet and Turn-Around-Tom. My stars and heavens,” he said with an ivory white smile.

“We want Willie, not you, peon,” said Reese.

Rutgers’s face pinched the way it always had even before he turned coat and disgraced the Shield. But in a flash the smile returned and he said, “You’d be dead already if Steam hadn’t asked for you by name. You’s VIPs.”


# # #


Capitol House wore splendor in rich red carpets, rare wood banisters, and wavy stained glass imported from Earth. No building on the moon bore such prestige as the seat of our city-state.

The Governor-General’s office – large, book-lined, and regal – sat beneath a dome whose windows shown on a distant blue and white Earth, floating as if by magic in the depths of space.

“No help coming from there,” said Willie when he saw my eyes drift that way. He smoked a cigar behind the High Desk while ham-fisted grunts flanked him with charge rifles. Reese’s ancient Colt and my Tearlock pistol lay before the ostensible ruler like pitiful offerings.

“They’ll come,” spat Reese.

“And what? Nuke us? You think the libs will stand for that? Joint Globe will be in committee about this for the next twenty years.”

“Damn the day we saved you,” I said through teeth clenched so tight my fillings creaked.

“You made me, Tom, and you Reese. I owe you both. You got me off the sawdust, rehab’d and fit. And here I sit, able to pay you at last. Look at the love I show you, standing there with your hands free. I could have had you killed, but instead I’ll make you kings in this city.”

Reese’s eyes went narrow. “You have no honor, man. We’re men of the Shield. We ARE kings in this city. You can’t buy us.” He tossed the vial onto the desk. Willie stopped it spinning with his stubby fingers.

He eyed it and grinned.

“I bought Rutgers,” he said.

The bald man smiled all smarmy and white. “And for a reasonable price, too,” he said.

“You bought a snake, not a man,” I said and Rutgers punched my mouth.

The time between Rutgers’s knuckles connecting with my cheek and Reese’s extended index and middle fingers puncturing his left eye was miniscule. I hadn’t even hit the floor before his screaming filled the office.

Whump-whump-whump. One of Willie’s heavies fired three charges in Reese’s direction, but my partner had already dove and rolled so that the desk was between him and the rifle. Rutgers’s head had exploded on the second shot. For an instant his body stood, trembling, and then it fell, disgorging blood and smoke from the whole of its neck onto the expensive rug.

I hurled a wainscot chair, catching the shooter in the chest. In the confusion, Reese barreled into the two guards behind the desk. He came up with a rifle aiming down.

Whump-Whump.

I grabbed my Tearlock, but Willie had the Colt. He zeroed on my face. Up close I could see his finger beginning to squeeze. I closed my eyes, expecting to face the black equinox, and heard a terrific - CRACK!

Willie slumped on the desk, his forehead atop the empty vial that had once ruled his life. It was cracked.

Reese stood over him, rifle still raised butt downward.

Like a machine he took the Colt from limp fingers and put a bulleted end to Steampunk Willie’s wild ride.

I dropped the glass vial onto the rug and ground it to powder under my heel.


The End
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:25:59 PM

11/'07 - The Sequel

Samsara

By:
McCamy Taylor



Sequel to: Sister Death


My body is riddled with disease, but I have to hang on. Jerry needs me. And the kids. They’re grown, but you never stop needing your mom. Mother relies on me, too. I was the oldest of six, so I grew up fast, making sure my brothers and sisters had breakfast in the morning and clean clothes and massaging my mother’s shoulders at night when she came home from a long day at the factory, nodding my head while she told me about the boss who kept making passes at her even though he was married with three kids, a note of pride in her voice that men still sought her company at thirty-five. Now, she’s seventy and lonely, and she calls everyday to tell me her problems and I nod my head out of habit, though she can’t see me on the other end of the phone.

My breath catches in my chest. God, how it hurts to breathe, but I have to hang on. Just two more hours until my next pain shot. Then, I can sleep for a bit and forget. Get Well Soon cards lined up on the table beside the bed. Two of them hand lettered, from the grandkids. My babies are all grown up. Thank the Lord. I couldn’t bear to leave them all alone with no mother to look after them.

But what about Jerry? What’s he gonna do? When I try to talk to him about dying, big tears well up in his eyes, and I have to change the subject fast. He never could stand to hear me talk about sad things. Plenty’s the time I’ve asked him “What’s on your mind, honey?” and we would sit and talk, and he would tell me what he was scared of. I would hold his head or pat his back, and together we would work it out. But every once in a while, when I forget and let him see me cry, his shoulders get all squared up and his face turns red like a child fixing to bawl and he hunkers down in his chair or mutters something like “I can’t take this *** anymore!” and then I remember that I am the strong one. God put me here to listen and love and nothing good comes from tears.

Is it day or night? The lights are always on inside this hospital room, and there’s no window. Feels like night to me. The nurses are quiet. Haven’t seen a janitor in I don’t know when. And that angel dressed in black is over there in the corner again. Pretty thing. Dark haired, face as white as Dresden porcelain, soft black wings. An angel like that would only come out at night. The sun would burn her fair skin---

***! It hurts so bad! There’s no way I can wait an hour and fifty minutes. I call for the nurse. They aren’t stingy here, on the hospice unit. I’m the one who’s been stingy. Trying not to take too much pain medicine, so I’ll always be awake for my family. The nurse comes in with a syringe in hand. I am so used to the stuff by now that it only dulls the pain, but my breathing feels heavier, and so do my eyelids. I blink.

The dark angel is standing right beside me now. Her smile is so sweet. All the love I ever wanted is there in her face.

I blink again, and on the other side of the bed, to the right stands a knight dressed in black armor carrying a scythe. He pushes back his helmet, revealing auburn hair.

I look back at the angel. “Are you here to take me to Heaven?” I croak. It’s very hard to speak, with morphine and tumor robbing me of my breath.

“It’s your choice,” the knight answers. “You’ll live like this for another month unless you do something to end it now.”

“What can I do?” I ask helplessly, tears trickling down my cheeks. “It’s a sin to take my own life.”

“Are you still in pain?”

I nod my head mutely.

“Then call for more pain medication,” he says.

“I just got more---“

“Do it!”

His face is so dark and scary, that I obey.

A different nurse walks in. That means it’s break time. She is standing right in front of the black knight, but she doesn’t see him. The nurse is carrying my chart and a syringe. “Let’s see. Your last medication was four hours and fifteen minutes ago.” My nurse must have gone on break without charting the last shot. How did the dark knight know?

The medication burns slightly as it flows through my IV. I close my eyes. When I open them again, I am standing beside the bed, where my body lies, looking deathly pale and still. The dark angel holds my left hand, the dark knight has his hand on my right shoulder.

My own nurse ducks her head into the room. She walks past the three of us and calls my name. She checks my pulse. She listens with a stethoscope. Last of all, she takes out a mirror and holds it beneath my corpse’s nostrils for a full three minutes, watching for any sign of breath. The glass remains clear.

As she is tidying up my deathbed, she accidentally drops the mirror. It shatters on the floor, slivers of glass flying everywhere.

“Damn it,” she mutters. “Seven years bad luck. Just what I need.”

My two companions are not reflected in the broken mirror glass. I deliberately step on a shard. I feel no pain, nor do I leave a bloody foot print. I wave my hand in front of the nurse’s face. She stares straight through me. I really am dead.

As the angel of death unfurls her wings, I wonder why it seemed so important a few minutes ago for me to hang on. Mother and Jerry and the kids will live their lives. Now, I have to live my death.


[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:27:39 PM

11/'07 - The Sequel

- Winner -


Mr. Megrim

by
G.C. Dillon



Sequel to: The Lost Days


Being a bartender was a good gig for me, at least until my anticipated sheepskin buys me a better job. Career!

I came in that afternoon with some low mein Chinese take-out and a few textbooks for tomorrow morning's classes. I planned to catch up on my reading during the slow time. You meet a lot of people behind the bar. I could cliché it up with the happy drunks, the sad ones crying in their brew, or the tough punks whose testosterone level matches their breathalyser score. There were amateurs and there were professionals. Mr. Megrim was a pro.

Smiling, he walked into the bar. Mr. Megrim was somewhere between sixty and dead. Longish white hair covered his aged head, and a close cropped beard graced his face. Crisp blue eyes stared out at you. A glib tongue spoke most of his words. He was not a big man, maybe even slightly under the average.

“I'll take a pint, my good man.” The old man wagged a finger at me. “And none of that steamed out malt beverage you pour me ofttimes. I quaffed my quota in '28.” I should explain that last comment. You see, Mr. Megrim lived in the retirement home around the block. It had been converted from the old Hummel Hotel in the city, a local landmark. Mr. Megrim would leave the establishment sometimes signing out and sometimes not through an unlocked door. He had a knack for finding them. My boss set a policy to give him a non-alcoholic beer, then check to see if he was AWOL. Only if he was legit, could we get him a real beer. I poured him a Kaliber instead of an O'Doul's into a clean wide-mouthed glass mug, hoping the more hoppy taste would fool him.

“Two bits, four bits, pieces of eight.” He spread out a varied collection of coins onto the bar top. I picked out a Thomas Jefferson dollar. And a few other presidents. I did not recognize a lot of the money. Must be some far-fling foreign places they came from. Many were not even round, just a rough blunt edged sorta-circle. “I'm as legal as a two dollar bill,” he said. “Or is that three? There was a three dollar coin if memory serves me correct.” He slammed his fist upon the bar. “And a three cent piece, by gum.”

I had to serve a business-suited man with a narrow tie a gin and tonic. When I came back, Mr. Megrim had untwisted the cap from the salt shaker we keep to sprinkle on the pub grub at Happy Hour. He had the salt spread all over the counter. Oh well, I've had to clean up worse! He was dredging his finger in the pile, shifting the white powder into swirls and curlicues.

“What'a doing Mr. Megrim?”

“These were the signs of the road on the Linclon Highway. No, on the rails. This was the sign for a 'Nice Woman' – she'd give you food – and this was a 'mean man'. Skip that house.”

“That one looks like the crossed-out 'P' Fr. Kawiecki wears on his Sunday getup.”

“Vestments,” the old man corrected.

|) /
|
/ |

“The Chi Ro. The first two letters in the Greek word for Christ. And this one....” He started with a large five-pointed star and then made lines that must have been taught only in a non-Euclidean geometry class. “Cannot draw that one!” Mr. Megrim cried, and wiped the symbol away with his palm.

“Always make friends with the Snake. He ran the rail switches; he was a family man. You just avoided the Bulls.”

One ear was trained on Mr. Megrim, but I heard a commotion at the other end of the bar, by the front door and the register. It was the one thing I feared more than a bar-fight. A robbery was going on. Two men stood, guns in hands, wearing hockey jerseys: N.Y. Rangers and Carolina Hurricane. Good move. Just dump the big garments and no one could identify the rest of your clothes.

Mr. Megrim patted down his pants pockets. “Missing. Not here. Lost.” He grabbed my arm. “Have you a length of wood? A pencil, perhaps.”

“Mister, calm down. You don't want to upset these guys,” I chastised him. “Pencil? No, only a pen.”

“No, it must be wood grown in the Earth's green soil.” He looked about, then his sharp eyes settled on my lunch in its white carton. “Your chopsticks! Give them to me,” he commanded. I handed him the utensils. He stood up immediately and turned to face the robbers. I tried to stop him, to settle him down, to give him a brief time-out on his barstool. The gunmen swung about, raising their automatics.

“I am no fey changeling to fear iron or its stepson steel. Your bullets are hoary even to Atlas.” The old man muttered. He rubbed one chopstick along the rim of the glass.

I can only say my eyes lied because what I saw could not have happened. The beer mug seemed to grow out like a Rudy Valley megaphone. Waves of glass spun out before Megrim. The robbers fired. Their .38 slugs flew through the air. The bullets spun into the glass funnel. The bullets slowed so anyone could see. The lead slugs stopped dead in the air, hung in the glass trapped. Then they dropped to the ground loudly.

I am the snarling wolf in the night. I am the bad shadows in the dark. I am the grey wizard in the moonlight. Dare you stand before me?

The gunmen stood there, their guns smoking a wispy white fog. They turned their heads to each other. Then they fled through the front door.

“Now a drink, my good fellow,” Mr. Megrim said, reclaiming his seat in the manner I imagine Lancelot sat at the Round Table.

I poured him a Guinness.


[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:28:38 PM

12/'07 - Holiday Spirit

The challenge was to create the best possible holiday-themed, speculative fiction story. Entrants had to include a wig.



Example story:


Under the Mistletoe

By:
N.J. Kailhofer



The giant leaned against the cliff wall at the mouth of the canyon. Over her head was a bough of mistletoe bigger than I was. She acted like she didn't know it was up there, but she held it with her own arm.

She sighed.

Meager the sprite muttered under his breath. "Here comes the sighin'. It'll be like last year, mark my words."

I leaned back on the branch. "You don't know that for sure."

He spat. "First it's the sighin', then the blubberin', then next you know, she's on a rampage. Tearin' out our trees by the roots, and then there'll be killin'. You know there will."

I scratched my ear. "Yeah, but we can't do anything about it. Nobody can kiss her. She's too big."

Meager stopped. "A ranger like you could, Davie."

"What?"

Meager whistled. "Hey, lads. Davie here is goin' to kiss the giant, so she don't kill us all!"

The clan came, shouting, "Hurray for Davie!"

"I'm not kissing that! You're crazy!"

"Davie, you’re bigger than the rest of us by far. It's gotta be you."

"No!" I shook my head. "I'm not going near her!"

Meager smiled. "You could if she thinks you're one of them. Wear your Halloween costume."

Meager's wife, Moxie, stole some fabric. To the giant, it was just scraps, but for me, it made a coat with tails, and a top hat. When I added a white fluff wig, Moxie said I looked like a right fancy gentleman. They made me King of the Halloween Ball.

"I don't come up past her ankle. She'll squash me dead!"

Moxie smiled at me from the crowd. "Nonsense, Davie. All you need is a little makeup. We can do that, can't we girls?"

The womenfolk in the crowd rushed forward and grabbed me from all sides. They pulled me over to Meager & Moxie's, where they puffed me with powder and brushed me with combs, despite my protests. In no time flat I was dandified, whether I liked it or not.

I stood at the edge of the forest in my coat, wig, and top hat, covered in more powder than you'd put on a dozen babies, and smeared with more makeup than Meager's oldest daughter when she wanted a date. I was miserable. Those feet were going to stomp the life out of me. She'd been killing us ever since she moved here, and we were all afraid to move about unless it was dark.

There wasn't much cover. There was our forest, a table plateau in the middle, and then some ledges on the far cliff wall. You could squeeze into caves, but nowhere she couldn't find you. The only escape was past the opening where she was.

I looked at her. She was a killing machine: Enormous feet for stomping stuck out below her clothes, which were probably stuffed with implements of death. Her arms were twice as thick as my whole body, and they ended with those hideous hands. One of them held a huge, open cask of wine, probably to wash us down. Above that was her mouth, with those gigantic teeth. The thought of those chewing me up made me shake. Her nose was long and sharp, most likely to sniff us out. I knew her hearing wasn't as good as ours, but her eyes...

Her eyes were sad.

Small tears welled at the corners of them, and they were red.

"Merciful heavens," I said, "she's been crying. She really is lonely."

Maybe she did just want someone to kiss her.

She sighed again, louder.

I thought fast. If I could get to those ledges on the far canyon wall, I could get up close to her head. She couldn't stomp me then, and if she could hear me before she saw me... I might just be able to do it.

She glanced away, and I ran for the plateau in the center of the canyon. It felt like it took forever, but I made it. In no time, I was to the far cliff. Climbing is easy for a ranger, and I was up to the ledge fast. Skirting the odd-shaped boulders up there, I got up close to her head, and hid behind a tall, thin column.

Her breathing was ragged. Tears were stronger now, so I stuck my head out around the back of the stone.

"Kiss!" I was so nervous it came out like a squeak.

"What?" She stood up straight, looking around.

"Don't squish me!" I yelled. "I've come to kiss you!"

Without warning, the brightly-colored column behind me disappeared, sent tumbling across the valley. My exposed back was to her.

My knees knocked together, but I looked.

She peered at me. "Are you talking to me?"

I turned and tipped my hat like a gentleman. "I'm Davie. You're standing under the mistletoe. I've come to kiss you so you don't kill us."

She blinked. "Us?"

"Yeah, me and all the sprites who live in the forest over there. Last year, no one kissed you and you ripped out most of the trees."

Her mouth flopped open, surprised. She thought about it for a long time, then leaned her head close to me. Her eyes were suspicious, but she offered her cheek.

I smooched her as loud as I could, with every hope for life I had. Across the valley, I heard cheering. Meager and his whole clan stood at the edge of the forest, screaming with joy.

The giant looked at them oddly.

I asked, "You aren't going to kill us, are you?"

She looked back at me. Eventually, she said, "No, I don't think so."

"Thanks," I said, and tipped my hat again. "Merry Christmas."

[align=center]#[/align]

As she watched the group disappear into their forest, she began to make plans to move. Christmas didn't seem lonely anymore, but roaches and a talking rat living in her apartment window box creeped her out.

No one would believe it, anyway.


[align=center]The End[/align]


This is a link to a Reading of this story.
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:29:52 PM

12/'07 - Holiday Spirit

Resolution

By:
Joseph Nichols



The night was dancing white upon black, swirls of heavy flakes that eddied languidly. As the runways glistened, David found it hard not to be swept up in some magic moment designed purely for his viewing. He stood there, his hand against the tall, cold glass of the window. Outside the terminal, the world seemed to be full of promise.

Sighing, he slipped his briefcase over his shoulder, falling into line with the crowd of passengers filing away from the gate. The unapologetic attendant had spent the last hour explaining to them that their flight had been canceled. Ice on the runway. That was the truth behind the fantasy outside the terminal. A metaphor for life. Reality stole what might seem spectacular, entwined it with the mundane, drowned the might-have-beens beneath actually-ares. In this case, it meant David was stuck there for the weekend. He walked, aimlessly, realizing he’d been stuck where he was for the past 7 years.

What he needed was an escape. Fifty feet further along, he found one. Blue and green neon spelled out “Ye Olde Sports Bar”. He entered, ordered himself a white russian, and sat. As a writer, he’d once heard someone say “There’s never enough whiskey or rain.” Screw that. He’d take his rainy parade with a shot of vodka.

On the television behind the bar, Dick Clark’s tradition continued despite his absence, and beside David, someone slipped onto the barstool, their coat whipping up an almost imperceptible breeze. David didn’t feel the shiver dance his spine until she spoke.

“Need a resolution?” The voice was airy with a hint of playfulness. When he turned, he found her smirk matched the tone.

“Pardon me?” She was slight and feminine, elegantly lined. Auburn hair framed an ivory face with soft angles and a slightly upturned nose. She turned to glance at the TV with its masses standing in what looked to be a frigid Time Square. The bartender stepped in front of the girl and she nodded toward David’s drink. As the man began pouring her a white russian, she spoke again, her eyes glued to the television.

“You look a little melancholy. I figured you either needed some closure to your travels or a nice resolution to give hope to the coming year.” Her eyes returned to his, searching.

“Not bad. Though I have to ask, do you always start your conversations with random guys at the bar this way?” Something seemed interesting about her eyes, but before he could decide what it was, she was replying.

“No. Only the ones who are truly seeking an answer.” She was an odd one. Intriguing, but odd.

“An answer?”

“To the question.” She had started stirring her drink absently, fingernails tipped with white.

“Okay, I’ll take the bait. What question?”

“The only one that matters. What do I need?”

“I don’t know, what do you need?” He regretted the joke instantly, but when she glanced back up at him her smile seemed bemused.

“I realized what that was long ago. For now, let’s focus on your answer.”

“I’m not sure I understand.” He honestly didn’t. Something about the way her hand moved in tiny circles was almost hypnotic. He couldn’t think clearly.

“Things aren’t exactly going your way this evening, am I wrong?” She looked to him and he simply tossed back his drink in answer. “The airlines gave you somewhere to stay for the weekend, vouchers for your meals, but I somehow doubt they make up for the inconvenience of your flight. Likewise, I would be willing to wager there are other things that weigh on your mind, besides.” Had he told her about his flight? “I would like to offer you a holiday present unlike anything another could ever give you... I want to give you another chance.”

“What did you say?” He frowned; she turned her body to face him.

“A do-over. A mulligan. Have you ever made a decision that you regretted? Is there any moment in your life that you wish you could go back and make end differently?” David laughed but the steel in her eyes stopped him short. She was dead serious.

Suddenly, he knew what was unique about her eyes. They were a soft violet. He felt her cool hand close over his where it rested on his knee, and in a rush, he was falling into those eyes.

He knew her. He’d met her before. 1999. The University library. He’d been typing when she had entered, flowing rather than walking. She had snow white hair, iridescent so that it shimmered as she walked. Like ice, he’d thought. He’d caught her looking at him several times but he’d sat frozen in indecision, afraid to go talk to her. Finally, one time he’d looked and she was gone. Until this moment, he’d forgotten it had ever happened. Now, his heart ached for her, emptiness filling him like a dead weight. Then he remembered she was sitting beside him, holding his hand. He was back in the bar, her voice enveloping him like velvet. He could see white just underneath the edges of her auburn hair. She’d worn a wig. To hide herself from him? Could others even see what she truly looked like?

“So, what will it be, David? Will you go back and speak with me now?”

In that moment, he knew what he had been missing, the reason for his discontent with life, the fantasy stories he wrote. His answer surprised even him.

“I am the sum of my experiences, both good and bad. Without them, I wouldn’t know now what I need so desperately.” The ball dropped on the television to thousands of cheers. “So my question is as before. What do you need? Rather than go back, will you start over with me now?”

Her eyes showed confusion, then warmth, melting into her smile. As one, the two travelers turned to watch the New Year burst into light.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:30:21 PM

12/'07 - Holiday Spirit

Twas the Night Before Christmas (On Mars)

By:
G.C. Dillon



Slyszmam strode the espanade with long, lanky strides from her three-taloned claws. The boardwalk gave a beautiful view of the Martian desert and the distant, small green line marked the boundary of the atmosphere plants. The raw sea of sand that was the Chryse rested beyond.

Slyszmam was an officer in the famed Nike Apteros brigade of the Stellar Marines. Her rank translated, or mistranslated, as 'Colonel-General' into Human languages. Her unit was stationed on the red planet, and she was an adviser to the Planetary Security Agency in the Martian Capitol. She liked her time on Mars. She only wished the humans knew more about her avian people. She was tired of explaining that the bright feathery plumes so famous to the Earthly Martians were worn by males of her species only, in order to attract females like herself. She had a silky black crown of down instead.

It was 24 December according to Universal Time, as the humans so anthropocentricly called it. It was the local time of a North Atlantic seacoast town, the home of the Green Witch. The symbols of the holiday season were all around her. Snowmen and candy canes, reindeer and dreidels, menorahs and creches were strewn about the boardwalk. Slyszmam had been invited to several coworker's homes for the holidays – from Christmas, to Hanukkah to Kwanzaa parties. But she missed her nestworld and her hatchlings. She turned and returned to her apartment to quietly spend the night.

[align=center]* * *[/align]

The intruder used ELFS to enter the home. That is ELectromagnetic Fluctuation and Syncopation teleportation. He carefully put down his large bags of items. He looked about the spartan main room.

“What are you doing here? Looking for cookies?” The intruder jumped back at the sound of the voice. His belly rolled like jelly and his red checks glowed a more scarlet. Santa Claus stroked his snow white beard. “I could ask the same of you. Father Christmas.”

They were twins of a sort. The two men wore thick coats of red. Father Christmas's was long and brushed upon the floor. His beard was also much longer and sank deep upon his chest. A tasseled hat rested on both their heads. “In believe this area is mine in which to deliver toys. Shouldn't you be on the Moon.” A crisp British accent spoke the words.

“I was. Do you realize how easy it is for flying reindeer to reach escape velocity in lunar gravity? I am here because the Synod of 2007 clearly stated...” Santa began.

“That gathering set the boundaries for the expected Lunar colony and any L5 space stations.”

“The Kris Kringle Proposal -” Santa held up his index finger.

“That proposal was tabled by the committee.”

“I am the one to bring presents here,” Santa Claus shouted.

“You two are behaving like children. I believe coal will be in both your stockings!” A newcomer spoke. Saint Nickolaus carried a shepherd's crux and wore the miter of an archbishop as he strode into the room. The saint was thinner than the others, and his skin darker, as he hailed from Anatolia, not the North Pole.

“You're in trouble now,” Santa whispered.

“Freeze. Planetary Security. What are you doing her?" Slyszmam stood there, the luminescent sword of her people in one foreclaw and an ol' style Earth blaster in the other. The red dot of her RATS (ranging and targeting scope) danced upon Santa's white beard.

“Why, I'm Santa Claus. And these are other gift-givers who arrive with presents on this most holy eve.”

Father Christmas added: “By the by. Where the dickens is Sydney Liu Hu?”

“I'm subletting from her.” She lowered the sword, but not the blaster.

“I need a database update,” lamented Santa. “I functioned better with letters than e-mails.” Santa stroked his beard and laughed loudly. “Ho, ho, ho.” His convex belly shook.

“When he does that, he's just a showing off.” Father Christmas said.

“There are religious and folkloric meanings to this season on Earth --” began Santa.

“Jesus is the reason for the season,” Saint Nickolaus stated.

“The hatching of your human god,” replied Slyszmam.

“Yes, of course,” continued the red-suited man. “Freedom from religious persecution in an eight day miracle of lamp oil for the Temple, the celebration of the virtues of the 'first fruits' of harvest.”

“Even a winter harvest,” Father Christmas added in a voice that was either sarcastic or just singularly British.

“There are even traditions of fallen-away pagan solstice holidays involved. Yule logs, lit trees in the home, be they Christmas trees or 'Hanukkah bushes', wreaths. Any evergreen. Holly or --”

“Hey-ho! Balder, Norse God of Light, at your service.” A tall blonde man stood in the doorway. He was dressed in a white fur-lined outfit with thick boots that looked to be made out of Yeti hide – or maybe it was storm giant.

Santa's finger pointed upwards. Balder raised his head to see oval, green leaves and red berries. “Ai-yie! Mistletoe!” He scurried away.

“I died and came back from Hel, too. You know.”

“Like Demeter!” Slyszmam said.

“Oh, don't mention her! She was a Queen down under.”

Santa Claus coughed loudly, too many years of pipe smoking one must assume. “If I may continue... A savior's birth, a miracle of lights, cultural virtues, a prosperous New Year. Abstracts all. To give a gift to abstracts? Even I wouldn't attempt that!”

A solid “humbug!” came from Father Christmas.

“No, we pass along our warmer wishes, a toy or two, to family, neighbors. Even strangers.”

“Wassel!” cried Father Christmas.

“Ah! Speaking of which -- isn't that pub on 42nd street still open?” Balder asked.

Santa Claus rummaged in his large bag. “I always carry an extra gift ...” He brought forth a headpiece of colorful, beautiful feathers. “For you, dear. Wear it in good health.”

Slyszmam took the wig in her foreclaws. It was a perfect replica of a strutting males' plumes for her to wear amongst the humans.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:30:54 PM

12/'07 - Holiday Spirit

EXCHANGING GIFTS

By:
Mark Edgemon



“She’s your mother, you tell her,” Dan said with frustration, while packing the car for a holiday visit to the in-laws.

It was the same thing every Christmas, packing more luggage and presents into his mid-size Nissan Sentra than could possibly fit and preparing to make nice at his wife’s parents home. Last year, he got a pair of socks and a pair of gloves and a sweater that didn’t fit and comments about his go no where job and his need to take off some weight and other types of belittling attacks on his less than perfect life.

“I wish they were dead,” he said to himself, while trying to figure out where to put the baby seat.

“Aren’t you through yet?” his wife Alice asked as she was coming out of the house, holding their 2-year-old baby.

“If I was through, would I still be cursing?” he growled.

“Where’s the baby seat?” she asked.

“If we take the baby seat, something will have to be left behind. He can sit up front between us,” he said as he waved her into the car.

“Shouldn’t I drive? You’ve had way too much to drink!” she said a little concerned.

“One more word and I’ll ram this car into the garage wall. Now, are we ready…fine,” he said determined to get the show on the road.

Dan took off and in minutes pulled onto the main highway as the weather began to make it more difficult to see. Icy streets or not, he was determined to get to her parents house on time. The one thing he did enjoy was the Christmas feast. Afterwards, it was all down hill.

It was snowing hard and the visibility was poor. He looked over at his wife who was asleep, tired from all the aggravation.

As he glanced back to the road, he was stunned to see that the car directly in front of him had come to a complete stop. He had no time to avert a collision due to the accumulating snow and ice patches along the highway. He plowed his car directly into the rear of the car ahead, causing both cars to spin off the embankment.

Minutes later, he came to and tried to wake his wife, who was still drowsy and possibly had a concussion. When she awoke, she began to feel around in the front seat for a few seconds and then cried, “My baby!” now frantically searching for their child. She opened the door beside her and started throwing things outside, trying desperately to find him. When she got out of the car, she saw his crumbled body in the floorboard, bleeding out of his eyes and ears.

She held his lifeless body to her and cried with the most bitter despair Dan had ever heard. He got out of the car and ran over to her, while calling 911 on his cell phone.

The police arrived along with the paramedics and began assisting them as they began to assess the situation.

“The woman in the other car is dead,” one of the paramedics said flatly. Dan had been in shock and forgot about the people in the other car.

As the paramedics removed the dead woman from the other car, they found a baby in the seat underneath her body. They began to examine the baby who seemed to be just fine. “The woman’s body must have protected the baby during the impact,” one of the paramedics said out loud.

While they loaded her body into one of the ambulances, the paramedics noticed the woman was wearing a wig, obviously to conceal her identity. The police officer making out the report said to Dan, “Well, we know the name of the woman in the other car. Her name is Helen Drier. She was a homeless woman living on the streets in the downtown district near the precinct where I work. She was reported to have stolen a car at a shopping mall several hours ago.”

The paramedics asked Dan’s wife if she would mind holding the dead woman’s baby as they drove to the hospital. Alice was still in shock, but nodded her head in agreement.

When they got to the hospital, the doctor on duty pronounced Dan and his wife’s baby dead from severe internal injuries. She was still holding the dead woman’s baby when the doctor gave them the news. The policeman on duty told them the woman had no relatives that they knew of and the state would send someone out soon to take the dead woman’s baby.

Dan’s wife clutched the baby and said, “No! You can’t have him! This baby is mine!”

The officer said to her, “If you want to file for adoption, that will be fine, but you’ll have to follow procedure.”

She replied, “Fine, but the baby has to stay somewhere while the paperwork is being filled out and I now apply as his foster mother.”

The policeman looked at her, as she was holding the baby close to her and said, “Fine.”

The officer called the station to have them wake up the sitting judge. He wanted to help this woman, who obviously was in distress and probably needed this baby over the holidays to help her cope with the loss of her own child. She looked up at Dan and said to him with tears streaming down her face, “God exchanged gifts with us.”

Dan couldn’t accept that. What he could accept was if he had loved her the way she deserved, none of this would ever have happened. He did love her and he wouldn’t deny her this baby. He sat down next to her pulling her close to him, as she held the baby tightly.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:31:26 PM

12/'07 - Holiday Spirit

The Big Lie

By:
Jaimie L. Elliott



It was 11 AM on a Saturday morning and the sky as gray and drab as the asphalt at the Boulevard at Sunset. I wanted to case the area earlier in the week but Jefferson Elementary hadn’t let out until Friday. I had to deal with teeming masses, the scrambling Christmas Eve shoppers, as I tailed the fat man in red through a deluge of faceless adults and sniffling kids.

He took a turn down a narrow hallway past mall security that led to an unmarked door. He took off his red hat and glanced around with beady eyes. The white carcass of a wig atop his head slightly askew, he pushed through with a grunt. I removed the stale bubblegum from my mouth and flicked into the black abyss of a nearby receptacle. I followed.

The sparseness of the backside of the mall contrasted with the decorated façade out front. I scanned the area for the fat man, but all I saw were the dirty snow piles that towered over me. Everything seemed as dull as my third grade teacher.

I cursed as I reached into my jacket to pull out a bottle of chocolate milk. It was too early for the hard stuff but I didn’t care anymore. As I made ready to take a healthy swig, a white blur at the corner of my eye caused me to duck, the plastic bottle clattering to the ground in a geyser of milky brown. A snowball exploded against the wall where my head had just been. I pulled out my slingshot, the bullet nestled in the pocket.

I saw nothing but the piles of snow, no sign of the fat man.

It didn’t matter. He was just a little lie to the big lie. The message would get to the real Santa. He would come tonight. Just like I wanted.

* * * * *

I sat in the recliner before the crackling fireplace. My pellet gun, black and shiny and loaded, waited on the end table next to me. The place had all the accoutrements of the Christmas Conspiracy: the stockings, the tree, the baubles and little baby Jesus in the manger. It never enticed him to drop by the past, but now he knew I was on to him.

“Whatcha doin’?” asked a high-pitched nasally voice.

My younger brother Ritchie, his nose running and pajamas frumpy, stood there looking as bright as a burnt out streetlight in a lonely cul-de-sac. “Go to bed, Ritchie,” I said.

“Mommy’s gonna wake up,” he said.

I laughed a short, harsh bark. The old dame had traded sugarplums for sleeping pills a long time ago. She’d be out cold until the morning. “Go to bed, Ritchie,” I repeated. “Else the fat man won’t show. And it’ll be your fault.”

“What about you?” he pestered.

“Listen, kid. Me and him, we got an understanding.” I cracked my knuckles. “Now, do you and I have an understanding?” He knew better than to push his luck. He sulked back toward his bedroom. Poor kid would soon find out that life isn’t all kindergarten. I just didn’t want him to find out tonight. Some hurts needed their proper time, the spiritual equivalent of wine and cheese.

I waited for hours. The hands struck midnight and then rudely kept going. I started to have my doubts as my head turned fuzzy with the lack of sleep and too much chocolate milk. The fat man should have paid a visit by now.

“Merry Christmas,” boomed a voice behind.

I jumped out of my chair, my hand on the gun. I swung around and saw a large, rotund man dressed in red. He touched the side of his nose just before I squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened.

“I’ve disabled your gun,” he said with a wink. “You don’t know how many times someone’s pulled a piece on me, even though I’ve been invited.”

I sized him up. Besides outweighing me by a linebacker, the fat man moved with a grace of a puma. “Nice of you to show,” I said.

“You wanted the truth, so that’s why I’m here.”

“The big lie,” I said.

“Not a lie,” he replied. He hadn’t moved, but I had the strangest feeling of him crowding in on me. It was his eyes, blue like the Pacific. “Rather, misconceptions perpetuated.” He grabbed a cookie from the plate set aside for him. “Listen, there are no Illuminati. There is no conspiracy to instill mind control on future generations.”

“So it isn’t a lie that you visit each house in one night, something that’s physically impossible?” I asked.

“The original concept, my young friend,” he said, “is that I visit those truly in need. And you happen to be one of them.”

“Too easy,” I said. “My greatest desire is to learn the truth. Even Ritchie could figure that one out. If you know so much, what’s my second most desired thing?”

“Let’s not play games,” he said.

I smiled, a thin, sharp line. “You scared, fat man?”

His eyes darkened. “You want a Nurse Barbie doll,” he replied.

I felt like a mule had kicked me in the gut. “I have a thing for blondes and long legs,” I muttered. “What about the snowball?”

“Oh, that was the Santa at the mall,” he said. “He thought you were going to snitch on him for taking a drink while on break. He’s not affiliated with me.”

I’m not one to argue with logic. It all made sense. He wasn’t a bad egg after all. “I guess I owe you a Merry Christmas,” I said, my smile genuine this time.

He laughed deep and loud. He did seem like a bowl full of jelly. I couldn’t help but laugh with him.

“Goodnight, Mr. Marlowe,” he said. He touched the side of his nose once more and, just like that, he vanished.

“Goodnight, Santa,” I said as I turned out the lights.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:32:01 PM

12/'07 - Holiday Spirit

Professional Courtesy

By:
Robert Moriyama



The wig did not look white in the yellowish glow of the old incandescent bulb that barely lit Harry McGillicuddy's attic. But Harry knew that it was white, as a polar bear's fur is white: the polywhatever artificial hairs were almost perfectly transparent, so any light that struck them was reflected back, softened, but unchanged in color.

A few more minutes of searching unearthed the beard and the red-velvet hat and suit, both trimmed with fake fur of the same colorless color as the wig. Harry suppressed a sneeze as tiny filaments of the "fur" found their way up his cavernous nostrils and took up ballroom dancing with the mold spores and the microscopic flakes of skin that (he'd heard) made up most household dust.

"I -- ah -- found the Santa suit -- ah -- chwmmf," he gasped. "It's kinda dusty..."

"Well, bring it on down, Harry," Maude McGillicuddy said. "I'll run the Hoover over it before Harry Junior comes to pick it up."

Harry stuffed the whole rig back into the ancient plastic bag (the logo of a long-defunct dry cleaner still visible on one side) and carefully lowered himself down the creaking ladder.

"Here it is," he wheezed, digging a threadbare handkerchief from his hip pocket as he passed the bag to his wife. He blew his nose, made his usual detailed examination of the result, then wadded the hanky up and replaced it in his pocket.

Maude rolled her eyes. "I wish you'd use tissues like civilized people do now," she said. "You must be raising a fine crop of microbes there in your pocket."

Harry laughed. "Well, I always did want to be a farmer ..."

[align=center]####[/align]

As predicted, Harry Jr. arrived just as Maude finished running the upholstery brush of the venerable Hoover upright over the Santa suit.

"Mom! Dad! I'm home!"

The two Harrys and one Maude exchanged rib-bending hugs while Harry Jr. recounted his adventures on the snow-covered roads from downtown to "the 'Burbs".

"People are crazy," he said, shaking his head. "Some have winter tires and anti-lock brakes and figure they can drive like it's summer. Some have neither, and insist on going five klicks an hour on the highway --"

"And some have neither, but still figure they can drive like it's summer," Harry Senior said. "Cars get smarter, people stay the same -- or maybe get worse."

"Well, as long as you drive carefully," Maude said, "you should be all right."

Harry Jr. stayed just long enough to deliver gifts from Janet and the grandkids, then headed out again. "The kids are waiting up for Santa to arrive, and Santa's gonna take a while to make the trip back," he said.

"Can't disappoint the little ones," Maude said cheerfully. But her smile faded as soon as Harry Jr. climbed back into his car.

"A two-hour drive, he said, and he stayed all of ten minutes," she murmured.

"We'll see the whole crew in a few days," Harry said. "Christmas is more for the young children than for old relics like us."

Then Maude looked down and shrieked, "The Santa suit! He forgot the Santa suit!" Sure enough, the new bag she had used to pack the freshly-vacuumed suit was still by the door.

Harry Jr.'s taillights were faint red dots disappearing around the corner. "I'll call him before he gets too far," Harry said. But his attempts to call Harry Jr.'s cell phone yielded only the "subscriber not available" message.

"We have to go after him," Maude said. "The poor children -- if he gets halfway home before he realizes he doesn't have the suit, they won't get their visit from Santa at all -- or not until the wee hours of the morning!"

Harry nodded. After a moment's thought, he said, "I'll wear the suit -- that'll save time at the other end. And you -- " He looked at Maude and laughed. "All you need is to throw on your coat and boots!"

Maude was wearing a red pullover with appliquéd reindeer and candycanes over red slacks. "If I wear my red toque, I guess I'll look enough like Mrs. Claus," she admitted.

They were on the road within minutes, Maude clutching the passenger door handle as the car ploughed its way through axle-deep snow the consistency of brown sugar. "I think you're going too fast, Harry," she said. "We'll do no the grandkids no good if we wind up in the ditch -- or the hospital."

"Hush, Maude, don't distract me now," Harry grunted as he spun the wheel madly to pull out of a skid. He was, fortunately, a veteran of winters in Northern Ontario, and his car was equipped with ... snow tires and anti-lock brakes.

Unfortunately, the car that clipped his rear end just before the bridge over the Humber had neither a skilled driver nor appropriate equipment for the weather. Harry's front bumper slammed through the guardrail and they were airborne.

Maude screamed, and Harry cursed, and both waited for the terrible impact to come.

And waited. And waited.

"Are we hung up on something, Harry?" Maude asked, her voice trembling. "Is that why we aren't in the river?"

"Errr -- actually, Maude, I think we're flying!"

"And are those sleigh-bells I hear?" she asked.

"I don't think I want to know," Harry replied. "Shouldn't look a gift reindeer in the mouth."

A few minutes later, the car settled down on another snow-covered road with a soft whumph and continued forward. "We're back where we should be -- ahead of the game, in fact, only a couple miles from Harry Jr.'s house," Harry said.

They arrived without further incident, just before Harry Jr. pulled up.

"Should we tell them what happened?" Maude asked.

"What, that the real Santa rescued us?"

"And why, Harry? Why did -- he -- do that?"

Harry looked down at the old red suit and shrugged. "Professional courtesy?"

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:32:34 PM

12/'07 - Holiday Spirit

Making History

By:
Bill Wolfe



The six aspiring starlets were lined-up according to height, just the way The Chief wanted it. He sat behind his monstrously-oversized, ornate island of a desk, intensely puffing on an almost equally huge Cubana and stared at them, one-at-a-time, as if they were bugs on a dissecting plate. Behind him, three toadies with sophisticated Datapads stood like statues, afraid to break the silence. One had the misfortune to find himself completely surrounded by the noxious blue cloud of smoke as it made its way lazily toward the room's intake grille. He looked a little green, but knew better than to even fidget.

"Number three," he growled to Toady2. He spoke low—compared to usual—but anyone standing outside the closed door would have heard him, clearly. "She the one from Thursday?"

"Yes CG," the only way any successful Toady ever answered. "But she was Tuesday."

"Tuesday, huh?" He eyed her up-and-down like a Master Chef examined a choice cut for the King's table. "Thought she was taller. Maybe if we put a wig and heels on her she would. . ."

He was interrupted—unusual, but not unheard of—by the buzz of a large vintage speaker on his aircraft carrier of a desk. Sorry to bash the party, Chief, but Sal is on the phone.

"I'll take it, Blanche." He held his hand out and one of the Toadies handed him a phone. Blanche had been with him for years. She knew what his priorities were. "These stay," he pointed his cigar vaguely in the direction of the girls. "I ain't decided, yet." Nobody moved, nobody so much as breathed loud, especially poor Toady1, still immersed in a cloud of what could be the world's most expensive smog.

"Sal Baby!" His voice boomed. "I got great news!"

"What? Yeah, she's fine. And your wife. . ." He snapped his fingers and Toady2 quickly flashed him his Datapad screen. ". . .Genevieve. . .She doing okay?"

"Good. Good. State Finals, eh? Good."

"Hey listen, Sal. Your idea with What's-her-name and the Senator. We're gonna run with it but I need you to make it the President, instead."

"No, the Science Boys found her in the alternate world but hey, listen. You ain't gonna believe what the Senator's doin' there! Right! Over there, he's the President!"

"Nanocams in the Oval Office! Bedroom scenes in the West Wing! This is gonna be huge! I tell 'ya Sal. HUGE! HBO is droolin' over the first rights."

"Yeah, she's almost as big a star there as she was here, but listen Sal-old-buddy-old-Pal. . .you're gonna hafta' rewrite her whole life to make this work. Maybe a too-friendly uncle or a bad first marriage, or something. Our boys say she's too stable and too committed to DiMaggio in that timeline."

"Him? Naw, the Senator is perfect over there. You know how them Irish Jews are. You won't need to write him nothin'. Doing it like a bunny. Though I guess we should call him the President, instead?"

"Scandal? With the press corps they got? What I wouldn't give for that kind of wink-and-nod, look the other way press. Geeze-Louise but that imaginary mook's got it easy."

"Say what, Sal? Yeah-yeah-yeah. I know they ain't really imaginary. I guess they're as real to themselves as we are."

"When can you get me the re-write, Sally-Boy? What? You wanna pitch me one now? Another historical?"

"Sal, you're killin' me! After that Anthony and Cleopatra fiasco you sure you wanna go ancient history? We only sold it to ABC because the murder scene with Caesar and Brutus was decent. Everything else was barely R-Rated. What can you do for me, Sal?"

"Rape and murder, huh? Torture and ethnic cleansing on a worldwide scale? You're speakin' my language, Sal. Go on.”

“ Centuries of it? Centuries? How?"

"Really? What makes you think. . .?"

“Sal. Bubbke! Another World Religion? You gotta’
be kiddin’ me?!”

But Sal, Baby. We’re. . .uh. . .They’re still gonna’ have the gentle Muslims to counter the Jewish Conversion of Europe, right?”

“What Sal?”

“They’re gonna persecute both?”

“You gotta’ be kiddin’ me?

“And you’re gonna’ do all this from one Jew kid in the time of Caesar Augusts?”

“Wait, you tellin’ me they’re gonna buy a virgin birth?”

“Again, Sal, you’re killin’ me!”

“I get it, Sally, an old guy and a knocked-up teenager. The kid is really the son of God. I get it.”

“And Everybody. And I mean Everybody is gonna’ buy into this?”

“Look Sal, I know you’re the best writer in Hollywood, but you really tellin’ me that they’re gonna fall for this?”

“I hear you, Sal. I believe in you, Sal.”

“What?”

“Marketing for the Twentieth Century?”

“Guy in a red suit?”

“Saint What?”

“Sal! You’re a genius!”

“This sounds too big for TV!’

“Yeah!”

“Me too!”

“You got it Sal. I’m pitchin’ this as a miniseries on Pay-Per-View!”

“We’re gonna make a mint off this one!”

“You got it, Sal. I’m takin’ it to the networks first thing in the morning.”

“What you want to call it, Sal?”

“Nazarene?”

“It just don’t sing for me, Sal.”

“What was this mook’s name, again?”

“What would that be in English, Sal?”

“Hmmmm. Still ain’t doin’ it for me.”

“Your're the educated one, Sal. What’s the Greek for ‘Savior’?”

“Perfect, Sal!”

“Christos!”

“We’ll call it Christ Mas!”

“The marketing boys will love it!”


[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:33:10 PM

12/'07 - Holiday Spirit

Class Struggle

By:
McCamy Taylor



Make up. Check. Wig. Check. Gloves. Check. Dark hose free of snags and holes. Double check. Tiny cloisonné green and red ivy pin in honor of the season. Getting dressed for work was like getting suited for an outer space walk. Not an inch of the real me in sight. To the world, I was Christy Clarke, accountant, which made me as big a cipher as the strings of zeros that I worked with every day at Marchand Shipping.

I had more reason than usual to dread going to work that day. It was December 24, the corporate Christmas Party. Sure enough, my employer, Monsier Marchand was draped over the punch bowl, regaling the secretarial pool with his theory of why the French Revolution resorted to the guillotine.

“What most people don’t know,” he murmured. “Is that the aristocracy of Europe was riddled with vampirism.” When he drank, his French accent got heavier, and his hands began to roam. Idly, he caressed the nape of one of the newly hired keyboardists. “Beheading was one of the few reliable ways to dispatch a Lord of the Undead.”

Jenny Fowler, the object of his attention, gazed up at his pale face and slightly blood shot eyes with a rapt expression.

Monsier Marchand smiled at her, revealing unusually sharp canines. “Come back to my office, and I will tell you more.”

I inserted myself between my employer and his Christmas eve snack. “Jenny,” I said coldly, breaking the spell Monsier Marchand had woven. “The Peterson accounts need to be reconciled before the close of the day. Hop to it.”

She jumped like a startled deer. “Yes, ma’am!”

Monsiuer Marchand snarled at me. “Bloody bourgeoisie!”

My face felt stiff behind all its makeup, as I forced myself to smile back. “Blood sucking predatory aristocratic leech!”

His eyes narrowed. With exaggerated care, he straightened the cuffs of his custom tailored suit “Have you given the factory workers their Christmas bonuses yet?”

I ground my teeth. I hated visiting the factory, and he knew it. “Let me get something to drink first.”

“Don’t make them wait too long. We wouldn’t want to have a worker uprising on our hands.”

Nasty man! I turned and found myself staring face to face with one of my colleagues in the accounts receivable department, Justin… what was his name? He was one of those oh so forgettable men. Except at times like these. Was it really a full moon again?

Justin’s breath was quick and shallow. His normally smooth cheeks bristled with coarse fur. Tufts of hair even sprouted from his nostrils and ears. I didn’t want to think about what was under his clothes. I had seen him naked once, swinging from the chandeliers. Usually, he stayed home when he was going through his werewolf transformation. However, Justin seldom got invited to parties, so I guess he could not resist the company Christmas bash.

His odor was sharp and musky. Under other circumstances, I might have found it pleasant, but not here, not at work, with the eyes of my colleagues fixed upon me. When Justin made a lunge for me, I whipped out a silver ball point pen that I kept especially for him and jabbed him in the back of the hand

He howled and nursed his hand.

“Bad boy!” I scolded. “Bad! Sit!”

Time to take care of the Christmas bonuses for the factory then get out of here. I found the push cart with the brightly colored packages beside the service elevator. After donning protective gear----a leather butchers apron, latex gloves and a plexiglass mask---I boarded the elevator with the gifts and pushed the B button. The lurch as the elevator started its downward journey always made my stomach roll over.

On the bottom floor of the building the twenty four hour shipping operation was in disarray. Someone had either neglected to feed the staff or else they had turned their noses up at their usual slop of pig and cow offal, knowing that today was the company Christmas Party, and they were due a special treat.

“Brains!” the foreman groaned. He shuffled in my direction. A few of the fresher, brighter workers followed him. Their clothes were filthy. It went without saying that the workers never bathed. They never slept either. All they did was pack crates and load them onto trucks. Since their food costs were minimal, they kept company overhead low and corporate profits high. The main difficulty was procuring human brains four times a year, which was the minimum nutritional requirement to keep them---not alive. Animated.

“Here you go, Mr. Jenkins. There is one for everyone. No need to be greedy,” I added as he tore into one of the brightly wrapped packages and began to devour the grisly pink contents. As the workers converged on their Christmas goodies, I fled back to the elevator. I was not sure which was more frightening. Pampered French aristo vampires who thought they could do whatever they liked to young girls, because they were rich and powerful, or mobs of mindless worker zombies demanding the food they needed to survive.

Thank God I was middle class! Plain old boring nothing to write home about middle class.

I abandoned the office Christmas nightmare and made my way home. There, I scrubbed off my make up and slipped out of my clothes. It felt great to curl up in front of the fire in a warm, fuzzy robe. Some eggnog would be perfect. Did I have time before the stores closed? I slipped on my wig and a long trench coat whose collar I turned up to hide my face and went out.

The streets were dark and deserted. I was only half way to the store when I heard footsteps following me. I hurried my pace. The footsteps accelerated to match mine. I began to run. A hand reached out to grab my shoulder. I saw the glint of a knife.

Thinking fast, I slipped out of my coat and tossed my wig into the gutter. My would be assailant stood there, looking like a fool, holding my coat. “Where did you go?” he demanded. He could not see me of course. Without my coat and wig, I was quite invisible. Carefully, I tiptoed away. It is so good to be middle class and unremarkable.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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