Author Archives: Ryan Dugaro

No. 605

 

“There’s not much I can do for you,” said the young man at the reception desk. “All I have here is a note suggesting that your book isn’t publishable.”

“There isn’t anything else to the message?” said Donna Harden. “I can’t talk to your boss?”

“I’m sorry,” said the man. “You have to understand that we see a lot of submissions.”

“We?” Donna asked. “Did you see my story?”

“’We’ is this office,” said the man. “I really am sorry.”

“I have a copy here,” said Donna as she rummaged through her bag. “What’s your name? Maybe if you had a chance to look at it?” She placed a short stack of papers on the desk.

“My name is Andrew,” said Andrew. He looked around Donna to make sure there wasn’t anybody else waiting in the lobby. “Normally, we don’t do this, but it’s slow today.” He picked up the papers and began to flip through.

“Well,” he hedged, “I understand the note, now.”

“What do you mean?” said Donna.

“This isn’t publishable. It’s just pictures. There are no words.”

“But there’s a story,” said Donna.

“They’re very good pictures,” said Andrew. “But we’re not that kind of company.”

“So, you would…,” Donna prompted.

“I would add some words,” said Andrew.

“Right.” said Donna. She gathered up her story and began to walk toward the exit. She made it about halfway to the door before she turned back to Andrew. “I’m an illustrator,” she said. “Do you want to add the words?”

Andrew smiled, and shook his head. “It’s your story. You’re the only one who can tell it.”

“Thank you,” said Donna.

“I look forward to reading it,” said Andrew.

No. 604

Sophie Fraser was covering the overnight security shift at the library. Although she was making overtime pay, and was now owed a favor by her co-worker, Don, Sophie couldn’t figure out why a library needed security. As such, securing was not her highest priority for the evening. There was a couch in the children’s reading room, and Sophie decided to investigate further.

She woke up 45 minutes later. She swung her leg down onto the floor and almost slipped on a book. She read the title as she picked it up. “The Living Garden”.

Feeling that it belonged a long way from the children’s section, she looked around for its proper place. The Dewey Decimal System proved impenetrable, so Sophie left the book on a cart next to the animal section. She made another cursory loop of the stacks, for security purposes, and, finding nothing suspicious, returned to the couch.

After another brief nap later, she awoke feeling groggy. She sat up and her foot hit something on the floor.

“’The Living Garden’,” she gasped. Sophie reached for her pepper spray and shouted into the cavernous building. “Who’s there?”

There was no reply. Sophie threw the book across the room and curled into a nervous ball on the couch. Don had better not be messing with her. He’d claimed to have concert tickets. “Don, if that’s you, I’m going to stab you,” she yelled.

Then, there was a noise. Sophie couldn’t tell if it was a book hitting the ground, or muffled thunder from outside. It did nothing to improve her mood. “If I can get the check-out desk, there’s an office with a lock,” she told herself. “I’ll just stay there until morning.”

She carefully stepped down off the couch, and slowly crept toward the front of the building, keeping one hand on her pepper spray the entire time. Nothing jumped out at her, and as she approached the sanctuary of the locking office, she recognized that the strange noise had, in fact, been thunder. Still, she took no chances, and locked both the button on the door handle, and the chain at the top.

Breathing hard, Sophie checked her watch. In just over two hours, the librarians would arrive and she could go home. She pulled a rolling chair out from under a desk and sat down, in an attempt to relax. She began to think that perhaps Don owed her more than one favor.

An hour passed without incident. The dark, warm room, and comfortable chair began to have almost the same effect as the couch. Sophie, despite the nerves from earlier, began to grow sleepy. When her chin hit her chest, her eyes snapped wide open, as she fought the sensation. She sat up and yawned. Just as she finished, she noticed that there was something on the previously-clear floor. She leaned forward, afraid of what she knew the object was.

“The Living Garden”.

Sophie screamed and screamed.

No. 603

“I can’t pee here,” whispered Amber.

“Why not?” asked Lynn, who was squatting behind a tree stump.

“There might be a bear watching.” Amber gestured at the surrounding foliage. “You never know.”

“It’s a long way back to the car. Even longer to a toilet,” Lynn cautioned.

Amber shivered. “I just can’t go.”

 

Becky sighed and stole a glance at her watch. She leaned over the armrest to address her friend, Cindy. “This is the worst play ever,” she said, just loud enough for everyone around her to hear. The lack of “shushes” seemed to confirm that her opinion was a legitimate one.

Becky rolled her eyes. “You’re the one who said we needed more culture. Let me remind you that I suggested we see ‘Terror in the Sky 2’ in IMAX.”

“’Terror in the Sky 1’ wasn’t my favorite,” said Becky.

“I thought the original ‘Terror in the Sky’ was amazing,” said someone from behind them.

 

“Oh, look, it’s the Pope!” shouted Lynn.

 

“Oh my gosh.” said Cindy. “This is so bad.”

Becky had already turned around to face the conversation hijacker. ’Terror in the Sky’ is so overrated,” she insisted. “Now everyone is on the Terror-in-the-Sky train. It’s just a knock-off of ‘Deadly Visitors’.”

 

Tankorp laughed to himself and tapped his ventral tentacle lightly on the containment field separating him from the humans.

“Are they adapting well?” asked Velbu, as he approached his colleague from the Captain’s pod.

“They suspect nothing. The environmental replication filters are working perfectly,” said Tankorp. “With any luck we will have this batch back to Bartron 9 for the opening of the exhibit.”

Velbu leaned closer to the containment field. “That’s good. Very good. Verisimilitude in the behavior of the specimens is of the highest priority to the patrons. Do you have any other concerns?”

Tankorp placed his dorsal tentacle on Velbu’s headfin, a traditional gesture of honesty. “I am worried about the one called Amber. It does not seem able to vent its waste. That could lead to internal complications.”

 

 

No. 602

“I’ll do it tomorrow,” said Aurora, fully intending to not do it tomorrow. She slammed her bedroom door, and pulled back the sheet covering an oddly-shaped lump on the floor. Putting her arms carefully through each strap, she lifted a small jetpack onto her back.

She tugged her goggles down and pushed open the window. She was more than halfway out before her mom grabbed her and dragged her back inside.

“Trying to run away, again?” Mom asked. “You won’t get very far with that pack. It’s only got fuel for three minutes. Give it here.”

Aurora sighed and shrugged off her means of escape. The jetpack fell to the ground with a thump. Aurora pushed it toward her mom with her foot. “Fine,” she muttered.

“Now do your homework,” said Mom. “If you apply as much effort as you do into your attempts to skip school, maybe this semester you can get your mark up in Advanced Superheroics.” Mom took the pack and closed the door as she left.

Aurora sat down on the edge of her bed and sprawled across to grab her textbook. “Maybe I’d try harder if we learned about death rays,” she told nobody in particular.

No. 601

The White Knight staggered back, clutching at the sword transfixed through his chest.

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” he gasped, as blood trickled down his otherwise pristine armor. “I was meant to win.”

No. 600

Tom was the only one at the hotel bar, yet he still couldn’t make out the song that was playing on the ancient speakers. “Is that even English?” he asked the bartender.

The bartender shrugged. “I think it’s The Police. Are they?”

“What happens when it gets busy in here? Do you turn it up?”

The bartender shrugged again, and turned to wipe nothing off of the back counter.

Tom sighed. He sipped at his warming beer, and typed out a message on his phone. “I hate drinking alone. I start to notice things like ‘there’s no such thing as a liver emoji’”. He finished the text with a grinning-face and pressed “send”. He was hoping to get cry-laughing back, but he’d accept clapping-hands, or even plain-old smiley.

As the minutes passed with no text-alerts, Tom began to worry that she wouldn’t reply at all.

He was about to order another round when the phone buzzed twice. He almost knocked over his almost-empty glass in his haste to check.

“Beer-mug, winky-face”, it said.

Tom inhaled deeply. He hadn’t expected that. He scrolled through the options, looking for the perfect reply. At last, he found it. “Blue-heart”.

He didn’t feel quite so alone.

 

No. 599

Modifications Branch had designed a sophisticated laser, one small enough to fit into a watch. However, the specialised systems took up the entire volume of the watch’s case, leaving no room for timekeeping parts. Agent Huntwood was left unable to use the device for its intended purpose, which was a concern when others noticed the ostentatious brand name and started asking questions.

“Say,” they’d say, “that watch looks pretty fancy. Do you happen to have the time?”, and Agent Huntwood would have to begin improvising. Typically, he would look at his wrist, while simultaneously analysing the angle of the sun, or searching desperately for any microwaves or VCRs in the room. He didn’t have the option of surreptitiously checking his phone, because his phone was a grenade.

More often than not, he would answer with “cough-thirty-cough-cough”, and hope for the best.

His luck ran out one fateful day in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

“Ah ha!” said the international smuggler that Huntwood has been tasked to defeat. “I’ve seen one of these before, in a film, I think!” He examined the watch from every angle. “It is a most impressive piece of craftsmanship.”

Then the smuggler placed the watch on a table and picked up his gun. “Unfortunately, Michael, it has let you down, and the current time is ‘to die’!”

Huntwood waited until the last possible second and then threw his phone at the smuggler. “Call someone who cares!”

No. 598

“After you woke up, what happened?”

“I looked up and saw daffodils.”

“I’m sorry?”

“The vase of daffodils. My wife’s flowers. They were in a vase, right under the mirror. I remember thinking that it looked like there was a thousand of them, because of the shards.”

“You say that the intruder broke the mirror, when you struggled, is that correct?”

“Yes,” said Nicholas Hoop. He hesitated, then corrected himself. “Maybe. I’m sorry. I don’t remember exactly what happened before I was hit.”

Detective Jonquil flipped through his notes. “Mr. Hoop, the police report says that when they arrived, you told them that you fought the intruder. He was thrown into the mirror, and broke it with his shoulder. Then he hit you with an object, and you blacked out. You did not witness or participate in the murder of your wife.”

“Yes. That’s what happened.”

“Alright, we’re almost done for today. I appreciate that this has been very hard for you. Thank you again for your cooperation. Please wait here just a little while longer and we’ll get you on your way.”

“Ok.”

Jonquil left the interview room, and entered the observation room. “What do you think?” he asked his partner.

“He says that he looked up and saw the daffodils,” she said. “He looked up.”

“So?”

“How could that be? The first responders said that the flowers were smashed on the ground beside him when they arrived.”

Jonquil realized what his partner was saying. “He’s lying.”

She nodded. “He never blacked out.”

No. 597

“Mom, I’m way too old to get my picture taken with Santa. This is the stupidest thing ever,” complained Austin Giblin.

“Just go,” said his mother. “Your grandmother will enjoy it.”

They arrived at the front of the line a few minutes later. Austin’s mood had not improved. “Look at him,” he said, loud enough for Santa to hear. “The beard doesn’t even fit right. Jackass. I bet this guy makes minimum wage.”

His mother pushed him toward the display. “It will be over quickly.”

Austin stalked toward Santa and sat gingerly on the arm of Santa’s chair.

“Ho, ho, ho,” said Santa through gritted teeth. “Who do we have here?”

“Shut up, and give me Slasher 3,” Austin demanded. “It’s on Playstation. You fight dinosaurs.”

“You say you like dinosaurs?” Santa replied, working hard to make the interaction appear positive.

“Say ‘cheese’,” said the photographer.

Austin and Santa both faced the camera with intensely fake smiles.

There was a blinding flash.

Austin blinked the stars out of his eyes and looked around. Santa was still sitting in the chair beside him, but the mall concourse had been replaced with a very thick, very green forest.

Santa shoved Austin onto the ground.

“What the hell?” said Austin. “What are you doing, you idiot?”

Santa laughed, full and heartily. “I thought you said you liked fighting dinosaurs?”

Austin noticed that one of the green trees was not, in fact, a tree, at all. “Those are teeth!” he yelled at Santa.

“You’re a dick,” said Santa. “Merry Christmas!”

Santa and the chair disappeared with another flash, leaving Austin in the clearing, alone.

He did not last long.

No. 596

The last business in the Gantry Building closed in 2002. Because the Gantry had been completed in 1886 and was classified as an historic site, it was prohibitively expensive to redevelop. The building sat empty and decaying until 2007, when it burned. Most local residents were secretly pleased to see the eyesore gone. The single, eternal resident of the Gantry was less thrilled.

Jack Newman had died at his desk, January 3rd, 1901, and had haunted the Gantry ever since. When the new, shiny office tower went in, he found himself still on the fourth floor. Except now instead of a window-view, he was trapped in a break room. Just him, a microwave, and a coffee-pod machine.

“I hate this,” he said, watching the fourth intern of the day arrive for their coffee. “Look at them,” he muttered to himself. “They’re not even wearing ties, anymore. Not dignified at all.”

“What was that?” said Lewis Canmore. He turned to face the door, but saw no one. “Hello?” he called down the hall. There was still no sign of life, so he shrugged and returned to his drink. It was still early.

Jack was shocked. Did the intern just hear him? If so, this could be his chance to escape! “Hello, boy!” he shouted at the top of his spectral lungs.

Lewis jumped straight up.

“You can hear me!” said Jack.

Lewis was terrified now. “Who’s there?” he asked the seemingly-empty room.

“Calm down,” said Jack with an authoritative tone. “In my day we just assumed the building was haunted, what with the construction deaths.”

Lewis swallowed hard, and tried to catch his breath. “Are you a ghost?” he asked the ceiling vent.

“I’m over here,” said Jack, from beside the microwave.

Lewis’ head turned quickly. He looked closely, but did not focus on Jack.

“Strange,” said Jack. “Most can see, but not hear. In any case, we can work with this.”

“Yah huh,” agreed Lewis.

“Now that we’re agreed that I exist,” said Jack, “the first thing you must do for me is turn off the wifi. It causes a terrible itch.”