Monthly Archives: July 2012

No. 164 – Fangy Part 2

Fangy dislodged a severed finger from between his teeth. It fell to the floor and the dinosaur nudged it toward Nicholas.
Nicholas looked at the grisly appendage and at his sometimes-loyal pal. He shook his head. “I don’t eat people.”
Now he thought ahead to show-and-tell day on Thursday. Could Fangy be trusted not to violently murder any more classmates?
“You’d better be on your best behavior or no treats for a week!” Nicholas warned his friend.
Fangy put his tail between his legs and skulked off to hide behind the couch.
Miss Cope watched the lizard enter her classroom with some apprehension. It stalked forward, massive claws clicking on the hard floor. Although Nicholas had assured her there would be no problems, she didn’t like the shifty look in the predator’s eyes. The thing seemed awfully jumpy.
“No killing,” whispered Nicholas. Then he clarified. “No hurting, either.”
Fangy was led to the front. Nicholas had him run through his repertoire of tricks and Fangy enthralled the class.
Fangy enjoyed the attention. He was determined to do his best. But he was still a reptile with a brain the size of a peanut and some things can’t be helped.
A girl in the back row moved suddenly. Fangy’s instincts kicked in and he launched himself towards her, bowling desks and other students out of the way.
This time Nicholas was ready.
“No!” he shouted.
Fangy heard the command and froze, jaws gaping wide and arms outstretched.  He turned his head very slowly, without moving the rest of his body, to face his owner.
“You come here,” said Nicholas, pointing emphatically at his side.
Fangy obeyed, slinking back with his head low.
“Sorry,” Nicholas told the class.
“Nicholas,” said Miss Cope. “Go to the principal’s office.”
He nodded and patted the velociraptor on the nose. “Come on, buddy.”
Fangy snuffled.
“It’s not all your fault,” the boy told him.
Miss Cope waited until the troublesome pair had left the room and then addressed the rest of the children.
“If anybody else brings a pet for show-and-tell, make sure it’s on a leash.”

No. 163

“Yep. You’ve got freezer demons,” said the pest-control man.
I had never heard this term before.
“What are those?” I asked him. I wanted to see where this went.
“Demons, girl, weren’t you listening? Set up in your freezer. Cause the burning.”
“Freezer burn is caused by demons?”
I suspected this fellow had no idea what he was talking about.
“A-yep,” he repeated, adjusting a tool belt and clearing his throat.
“And how much will it cost me to get rid of them?”
Now I was just toying with him.
He scratched his special area before he replied. “Reckon about seven thousand dollars, to be safe. Six, if you pay cash.”
“Why wouldn’t I just buy a new fridge? Surely that would be less.”
“You could do that. Or call the refridgetrician man out. I guarantee they’d be back, though. Got a spray in my van, -‘ll get ‘em real good.”
“I’ll consider it.”
“You might not last the night!” he warned ominously.
I rolled my eyes, making sure that he didn’t see.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’ve kept them at bay this long.”
 I escorted him to the door and watched as he got into his battered pick-up truck and drove away. I picked up the phone and dialed my friend.
He didn’t answer, so I left a message.
“Reg, thanks for the referral. I had your cousin come by about the termites, but I think I’m going to go with somebody else.”

No. 162

Cal Rogers was sixteen. All his life he’d heard voices.
As soon as he’d been old enough, he asked his dad if everyone did.
“No, son, you’re special,” his father had told him. “When you were very little, a scientist asked us to help him. He had an idea that, one day, everyone would be able to hear voices all the time. He asked your mom and me if we would let you be the first person to try it out.”
“I need to get to 1292 Trenton Avenue,” said Cal.
“Turn left,” said the voice.
Cal smiled. He liked it when the girl went first.
“What’s your name?” he asked. His daily game.
“After three blocks, turn right on Candlestick Street,” said the voice. “And you know I can’t answer that.”
Cal followed the directions.
“What’s this place again?” he said.
The voice was different this time, one of the men. “It’s for your checkup.”
The man leaned back from the microphone. “It is for his checkup, right?”
Another figure, indistinct in the dark at the back of the room, answered. “That is correct.”
Cal ‘s voice crackled over ceiling-mounted speakers.
“You know, we should probably replace those. They’re almost twenty years old,” said the woman at the front of the room. Then she keyed her button and replied to him.
A hollow rumble filled the hall. A coffee mug vibrated off of a table and smashed on the floor.
Cal could be heard throughout the center.
“Hey, is this an earthquake?”
But nobody could get to their station to answer him. The shaking ended with a heavy hush. Every light flickered and then shut off.
The woman was the first to speak.
“Do we have signal?”
The man hauled himself back into his chair and checked his readouts.
“No,” he told her. “Everything’s cut off. Even emergency power.”
She put her hand over her mouth.
Cal stood up from the sidewalk where he’d fallen.
“Was that an earthquake?” he asked.
There was no answer.
“Guys? Hello? Anybody?”
He tapped the spot behind his ear.
“Are you there?”
Cal started to sweat. He felt goose bumps rise on his arms. He listened to the screams of the people around him, and the snap of the nearby flames, but all he heard was a terrible silence.

No. 161

The sun glistened off the slight ripples of the brilliant blue as he ducked his head underneath and pushed off from the pool’s edge. He glided effortlessly just beneath the surface until he reached the halfway mark.
Once, as a boy, Martin McKinley had decided that there must be a portal to another world somewhere on the premises.
It had been a child’s fancy, but between the water and the vast painting that covered an entire side of the deck, he couldn’t be blamed.
Perhaps it was the mural that lent the place such an otherworldly air.
Henri Rousseau’s “The Dream” dominated the senses. Vibrant greens and yellows jumped off of the wall, with splashes of bright blue and red. It was worn, now. The colors were not as sharp as they’d been, the facade flaking in places, but McKinley could not remember a day he’d visited and not spent time studying it.
He had a print in his home, but the sheer scale here captivated him. He wondered why, of all the pictures in the world, the owners had chosen this one to reproduce.
The lifeguard had been watching a trio of girls sunbathe on the far side of the property. He was late to blow the whistle when McKinley failed to resurface.
“Heart attack,” said the woman from the ambulance. “There was nothing you could have done.”
The lifeguard felt sorry for McKinley. He couldn’t remember the swimmer’s first name although they’d shared many greetings. It was a terrible thing to have happened, but he found that he couldn’t look away from the dead man’s expression of supreme satisfaction.

No. 160 – The Book

“I’m never going to read that book again,” said Parker with a shudder.
Dino, his roommate, looked over at him. “What are you on about now?”
“This book,” said Parker, showing it to Dino but shaking it more than was necessary. “It’s—.”
He searched for a word.
“It’s creepy.”
Dino set down his coffee mug and tilted his head. “The book is ‘creepy’?”
Parker threw the book to the far corner of the room. It landed with its cover bent and its pages splayed out. “The whole time, I felt like it was watching me.”
“Uh huh,” said Dino. “Have you considered the possibility that it’s a book and it can’t watch you?”
Parker was starting to get defensive. “Look. If you think I’m lame, then you read it.”
“Does it have pictures?” asked Dino.
Parker glared at him.
“Alright, fine,” said Dino. “Bring it here.”
Parker rose from the recliner and retrieved the book. He handed it to Dino as if it was some sort of dead animal.
Without speaking, he returned to his chair and sat down. He crossed his arms and stared at Dino.
“Ok. Now you’re being creepy,” Dino told him.
Dino smoothed the cover and unfolded some of the damaged pages. He made a show of opening the book to page one. He made eye-contact with Parker, then deliberately focused on the first line.
Several hours later, and now late into the night, Dino finished. He snapped the book shut with an uncontrollable shudder.
“It’s not right,” he told Parker. “There’s something not right.”
He looked over at his friend. During the time Dino had been reading, he hadn’t been paying attention to Parker. He was scared by what he saw now.
Parker had drawn himself into a ball, and was hunkered down as far as he could into the cushions of the chair. His eyes were wide, but unfocused. More worryingly, though, was that he was holding a baseball bat in one hand, and a knife in the other.
“Park?” Dino whispered.
There was no indication Parker had heard him.
Dino looked at the book in his lap with terror. He swept it onto the floor while simultaneously propelling himself over the back of the couch. He peered over the edge at the offending volume.
The book lay in the middle of the floor, pages once again askew. Dino was overcome with a terrible realization.
The book knew. It had been reading him as thoroughly as he had been reading it. He didn’t know how it would use what it had learned, but he swore to himself that he would be ready.
He slowly walked to the hall closed. He opened the door and removed a golf club from the bag inside. Then he went to the storage room and retrieved a hatchet from a box marked “Camping”.
When he was done gathering supplies, he returned to the living room, from where Parker had not yet moved.
 Dino sat back down the couch and waited.  

No. 159

“You’re a gopher.”
“Yeah.”
“Gophers aren’t meant to fly.”
“Why not? I’ve built these wings and everything!”
“Alright, I guess you can try. Don’t come crying to me when it doesn’t work.”
And so the gopher gathered up his contraption and scampered up to the top of the hill. Then he wriggled his way into the harness and leapt out into space.
For a few magical seconds it seemed he was truly lighter than air. Then gravity took hold with its usual predictability and the gopher began to plummet towards the lake.
He landed with a mighty gopher-sized splash. He quickly gnawed his way free of the wings and bobbed to the surface, where he struggled to stay afloat with his tiny legs.
“You’re a gopher!” called his friend from the shore.
“So?”
“Gophers aren’t meant to swim, either!”
“I’ve begun to realize that. Throw me a rope or something.”
So a rope was thrown and the gopher was hauled ashore. He stood on the bank and shook himself off.
“So what are gophers really good at?” he asked.
“Digging,” answered his friend.
“Excellent. Let’s go dig some holes. I’ve had enough adventure for today.”
And so they did.
 For a little while.
Until the gopher started to get bored again. This time he started thinking about jetpacks.

No. 158

Douglas Platt seldom went on vacation. Instead, he’d choose a hotel not more than fifteen minutes from his home (he’d decided that hotels look the same wherever you go), walk through the lobby past the large plant or waterwall (there was always one or both), and choose a couch.
Once settled, he would open his computer and scroll through pictures his friends had posted of their travels. Oftentimes he would bring along a relevant guidebook so as better to live vicariously. Sometimes, if he’d been feeling very extravagant, he would have stopped at a coffee shop on the way and bring along a medium-sized latte (iced or warm, depending on destination).
He didn’t consider it strange or creepy. If asked, he would say that it was an experience unmarred by sunburn, insects, or lost luggage. Most of his friends knew of his habit and felt rather sorry for him.
“Look at Doug,” they’d say. “He never goes anywhere.”
Then, one day, Douglas Platt didn’t show up for work. When nothing was found at his house, either, search parties were organized.
“Check the hotels,” said Randal Credworth. “I just got back from the West Indies.”
Mr. Platt was not to be found at any of his usual haunts.
“Do you think he’s finally done it?” somebody asked.
“Maybe we should expand the search to all the hotels within twenty minutes of here before we start making outlandish suggestions,” answered Credworth. “After all, we all know him.”
But they didn’t. Not really. Because one of the other things that is easy to do in hotel lobbies is pick pockets. And Douglas Platt was now very far away.

No. 157

“Take it,” said Gillian, holding out her hand.
“Take what?” asked Dave.
“The Biggest Idiot Award. You earned it.”
She kept the arm extended.
“You know there’s nothing in your hand right?” Dave questioned.
“It’s a made up award. You get it for being an ass in public.”
She thrust the hand at him again.
“Take it!”
Dave reluctantly pretended to take something from her palm.
“Now put it in your pocket, and next time don’t be so dumb,” Gillian instructed.
 “What did I do?” said Dave.
“You know exactly what you did. Quit whining and let’s go get our tickets.”

No. 156

“And here’s your employee number – 1479377. Your uniform is in the room right down the hall. Good to have you, 1479377. I think you’ll do well here,” said the hiring manager.
Richard Clarkson rose, shook the manager’s hand, and thanked him. Then he was shuffled out of the room and towards the uniform pick-up rather abruptly.
He found it without any problems. It was right where they’d said it would be. There was a girl at the front desk. “Hi, I’m new. I’m here to pick up my uniform,” he said. “Is this the right place?”
The girl didn’t look up at him. “Name?” she asked, robotically.
“Richard Clarkson.”
Now she looked at him. “No. What’s your name?” she repeated.
“Um, Clarkson. Richard Clarkson,” he said again.
The girl looked around the corner nervously. “Didn’t you read the papers?”
Richard was puzzled. “The newspaper?”
“Your contract. Paragraph 85.2,” she told him. “You signed it right before they gave you your number.”
“What about it?”
The girl seemed agitated. Her eyes darted to the door. “You gave them the rights to that name. You can’t use it.”
Richard was worried now. “I have to change my name?”
Her response was grim.
“You already have.”
Unable to speak, Richard stood with his mouth open, trying to get the words out.
The girl understood. “What number did they give you?”
Richard couldn’t remember. The memory of last several minutes evaporated with shock. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the card they’d given him. He took a deep breath and read the numbers off one at a time. “One-four-seven-nine-three-seven-seven,” he managed.
Now the girl was happy. “Excellent, 1479377! I’m 1486864.”
Then she leaned forward over the desk and whispered conspiratorially.
“But my real name is Judy.”

No 155 – No. 154 Part 2

Jezebel Wesley returned home after her ride.
Henrik Wesley met her at the door.
“I saw on the monitor that you used a box,” he said, with a pride that only the inventor of the system that just saved his daughter could manage. “Are you alright?”
“Yes,” she told him.
“Which one did you choose? The gravity suit?”
“No. Flames.”
“That’s good, too,” said Wesley.
But he saw that Jezebel was distracted.  
“What’re you thinking, Jez?” he asked.
“Why did they come after me? Do you think they knew who I was?”
Henrik considered the questions.
“I don’t know. You were the only one out there. Maybe they were desperate enough to try robbing you before you got to a suit,” he said. “Maybe they thought just one person was still vulnerable. They know they can’t compete with the system.”
This seemed to calm her. She nodded.
“Just in case, though, I don’t want you out by yourself after dark anymore,” he suggested.
“Dad, don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine.”
Earl Exeter sat in an abandoned warehouse and picked at the scar on his wrist. He looked at the other members of his gang, all spread out on the bottom floor of the factory, trying to sleep. Exeter shivered and ignored the hunger pangs in his belly. He missed the old days, when cons were sent to prison instead of being tagged and released.
He examined the scar. The situation was his fault, too. That was the worst of it. Exeter had been the man who’d sold the city on Henrik Wesley’s wonderful idea. “A brilliant idea,” he’d told the masses. “If everyone has the power to stop crime, there won’t be any.”
Of course, his motives had been slightly different. He didn’t tell them that if everyone had access, then the criminals would, too, and he’d been the first one. He’d caused havoc for a week. People not used to their new toys couldn’t stop him. He’d been invincible.
But Wesley had reacted and instituted the chip-block. Exeter had been the last powered criminal, too.
His current followers had been told that the plan was to use the girl to open the box so they could use the suits. Again, Exeter had left out critical information. He knew that even with the box open, the chips would disable the suits. But with the inventor’s daughter as a hostage, they would have almost unlimited power to change the status quo.