Monthly Archives: November 2012

No. 248

The sun rose over the desert hideaway of the Whiskey Bandit.
Anna-Lee Hailey pulled her hat down over her eyes and rolled closer to the embers of last-night’s fire. The bright sky would not warm for several hours yet.
“Whiskey, get up,” urged Anna-Lee’s partner. “We’re on the timetable.”
“Oh, hush, Juliet. You know as well as I do that Sheriff Winston stays late in town on Thursdays,” countered a still sleepy Anna-Lee. “And Ettie? Remember what I said about calling me Whiskey.”
She stretched as she sat up slowly to survey the sparse camp. Things had been moved since last night. “You’ve been busy,” she told Juliet.
“Sure. I figured with you sleeping the day away, I’d take the opportunity to spruce this place up a little. What do you think?”
Anna-Lee rolled her eyes at Juliet’s so-called improvements. “You know, if you weren’t the fastest gun around, I’d probably have ditched you back in Tucson.”
Juliet laughed. “I thought you were the brains of this operation, and yet there you are, too slow to have made that call.”
“Uh-huh,” Anna-Lee grunted. “As the leader of this gang, it is my duty to inform you that coffee will have to be made.”
Before Juliet could reply, the third member of the crew rode up from the mouth of the canyon that sheltered the outlaws.
“Whiskey,” said Lewis Goodman, “Bad news. Winston’s changed his schedule. We’ve only got until noon if we want the make this job count.”
“Alright, Lew. Get back to the ridge and keep an eye out. Ettie and I will be along just as soon as I can find my pants. Seems she’s been housekeeping.”
Goodman quickly did as he was told. Anna-Lee sighed, and turned to Juliet. “Just what is it about ‘only call me Whiskey during the heists’ don’t you two understand?

No. 247

“I can see there’s something out there, I just can’t reach it,” Bubbles told Flash.
Both fish were swimming lazily around their bowl with little else to do but engage each other in conversation. It was an unspoken rule that whoever “won” their daily debate got to sleep in the sunken galleon that night.
“This is our world,” said Flash. “Do you ever remember being anyplace else?”
Bubbles thought for a moment. “No.”
“This is our world,” said Flash. “Do you ever remember being anyplace else?”
“You just asked me that,” said Bubbles.
“Yeah, ok. Just checking,” said Flash.
“Oh, I get it. Making sure my memory is still good. Tricky,” Bubbles said while rolling his bulbous eyes. “But all that aside, don’t you ever wonder if this is all there is?” he continued, waving his fin at the plastic plant and the small colorful beads at the bottom of their home. “And what is the blur that feeds us?”
“I dunno,” Flash admitted. “I never thought about it before. All I know is that I put my head out of the water once and I got dizzy. Maybe I’m not the best source of information about where the food comes from.”
Bubbles swam a fast lap around the perimeter of the bowl. “I win!” he declared. “I convinced you that there’s someplace else!”
“Hang on a minute,” said Flash testily. “That’s not what you said. And we never really got down to deciding what the question was.”
“I thought I was pretty clear,” Bubbles replied.
“You weren’t.”
“Fine, Mr. Grumbles, what’s the topic?”
Flash got all the way up to the glass wall and pressed his fishy lips against it while considering the problem. Finally, the topic came to him. He chose his words carefully. “Assuming there is a wider universe beyond the bowl, just what is our place in it?”

No. 246

Then
“There are dragons in the hills,” said the old man. “They’ll keep to themselves in the summer, but in the winters they come down. That’s when they’re hungry.”
Six young children sat around the man, listening to every word of his stories.  One of them, however, didn’t agree with the content. “That’s not true,” he said. “Dragon’s aren’t real.”
The old man’s face darkened. “You say that, boy, only because you’ve never seen one. They’re real, and, if you don’t believe, then they’re especially dangerous.”
At that moment, a woman arrived in the room. She’d heard the old man’s warning from around the corner. “Mr. Spero,” she said, speaking to the old man. “What are you telling these children? Dragons aren’t part of the town history. We never discussed this when you asked to speak here.”
Spero stood, defiant. “Little Miss, if a man can’t come to the museum and tell the youngsters something that will save their lives, I don’t know why you have these talks.”
The woman put her hands on her hips. “Mr. Spero, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” Then, turning to the children who were still watching every move the adults made, she continued. “Don’t listen to Mr. Spero. I’m sorry he’s been scaring you. There’s really no such thing as dragons. If you come with me, now, I can show you some very interesting rocks from the town’s mining days.”
“Watch out!” said Mr. Spero as the children all got up and filed out the door. Then he gathered his coat and hat and left out the side entrance.
Now
Donald Douglas pulled into town after a long day’s drive. He tried to remember the last time he’d been here. Once, as a kid, while on vacation, his mom had left him to listen to some crank at the local museum talk about monsters or something in the hills. He smiled at the memory. That had been a good trip. The curator had given all the children credit at the gift shop because the old coot might have frightened them.
Donald got out of his truck to check into his hotel for the night. He hoped to get to sleep soon. The next morning would be an early start as he hit the road to stay ahead of the snow that was forecast to roll in.
He looked up at the bluffs towering over Main Street. “Dragons!” he scoffed aloud. That’s what the man had said all those years ago.

No. 245

Cynthia Newquist played the last note of her performance, then without recognizing the audience, she rose and fled the stage. She did not even notice the curtains fall behind her. “Somebody get me a piece of paper!” she shouted.
She made it to a small table that was set up at the side of the stage. A fellow musician who had been waiting in the wings managed to find her the sheet she was calling for.
Cynthia snatched it from his hand and began to scribble furiously.
“What are you doing?” the provider asked.
She cut him off without looking up. “Shh! Busy!”
Fifteen minutes later, she stopped writing and collapsed against the wall, seemingly exhausted.
Other performers had started to mingle around her. One of them knelt beside Cynthia to make sure she was alright.
Some whispered words passed between Cynthia and her new acquaintance. The others began to murmur amongst themselves. Finally, somebody in the back broke the hushed atmosphere.
“What was all that about?”
The outburst seemed to startle Cynthia. Blinking heavily, she rose to her feet. She returned to the table and picked up the mysterious note. Now she took a bold tone.
“When I was out there playing, I had a wonderful idea. I realized something. I needed to rush back here to get it all down.”
“And?” was the reply from the crowd.
Cynthia held up the paper. “It’s a song, of course. It’s the perfect song.”

No. 244

Powell Shultz was a tiny, wasted figure in the middle of a king-sized bed. His voice, though, was still strong.  
“I don’t want those doughnuts. What have I told you about sprinkles? Get rid of them,” he chastised the maid who brought him breakfast.
“Yes, sir,” she nodded, removing the offending box from his sight. Just yesterday he’d informed her than nothing in the world made him happier than sprinkles. But maybe he’d changed his mind and spoken to another one of the help. He had several assistants, butlers, and maids surrounding him on any given day.
“When do the sales numbers come in?” she could hear him calling from the bedroom. Shultz was the head of TomorrowTech, and all the company decisions still crossed the hardwood floor of his bedroom before implementation. She’d heard that he’d made his fortune on some equipment that the government had immediately bought and then classified blacker than black.
She heard yet another outburst from his sanctum. “Where are my doughnuts? That girl took them.” She didn’t like the sound of that and she did something that she never thought she’d do.
She crossed Mr. Shultz. Opening one of the many anonymous doors in the great hallway, she stepped inside with her box of treats and raised the lid. Then, one by one, she ate every single doughnut, just to spite her employer. Only after she was finished did she take note of the contents of the room. She’d never been in here before.
All the walls were covered in unmarked switches, gears, and readouts. A large, rectangle platform jutted up from the middle of the floor. The surface of the strange projection seemed to shimmer, like oil on water. She reached out to touch it.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a sharp, familiar voice told her. She turned, and was shocked to see Mr. Shultz standing in the doorway. “It’s not quite finished yet, my dear,” he said as he cracked his ancient knuckles.

No. 243

The ruins had been discovered once before. In 1904 a man stumbled out of the jungle with a crude map and unintelligible stories of a city made of gold. Before he could recover enough to tell his tale or make a copy of the map, a storm swept down the river valley. A dam burst, and the small village the man had been taken to was wiped out by a wall of water.
 Only two people escaped with their lives. Their accounts of the strange man were the only proof he existed at all. He became a statistic, an anonymous casualty of the flood. His city, it seemed, had been lost with him.
But not forever. I can tell you that he was Percy Spruce, and I know this because I found the city. He’d carved his name into a golden pillar in the central square. The scale of the wealth here is unbelievable. The entire metropolis is covered in gold foil. The holiest buildings are sheathed in inches of the precious metal. The pillar is 15 feet tall, and near as I can tell, solid.
I don’t have much time to explore, though. I believe that I was followed here. In the morning, the bandits will come. I will need to be ready.

No. 242

Isaac White had, in a moment of dubious clarity, made the rash decision to open up his life to online voting. Every choice he would make was put to the faceless horde of the internet. He was in the second week of a promised one-year term and the flaws in his plan had already been mercilessly exposed.
The masses had decided, by a margin of 78 to 22 percent, that he would be eating dog food exclusively for the next two days. While wearing an inflatable sumo-suit. While watching some horrible children’s TV program on repeat with the volume cranked up. The situation had been like this since about six hours after his website had gone live.
Worse still, Isaac had wired his home with cameras, to broadcast his grand experiment to the world. He had nowhere to hide. Trying to sneak extra food, or even some unapproved water, was almost out of the question.  There was only one blind-spot—a four-square-foot area in the bathroom. It was his only measure of privacy, where viewers weren’t allowed.
As he sat, surreptitiously chewing on some petrified Halloween candy that he’d found in a drawer and transferred into his sleeve by sleight-of-hand, Isaac tried to think of a way to back out of his predicament. It would be difficult. He was currently the most famous person in the world.

No. 241

Almost a day after beginning his journey, Thomas Gallagher touched down at his final destination. He stared out the small window, drawing in every detail from the strange outside world as the plane taxied to the gate. As the final jolt of the brakes travelled through the cabin, the captain’s voice came over the PA system.
“Thank you for flying with us today. Welcome to Australia.”
Tom had never been so excited.
Although he should probably have been considered too old to believe in comic books, he’d come here on a very special mission. After studying years of back issues, he’d arrived at the conclusion that there were a huge percentage of heroes who’d received their powers after coming into contact with dangerous animals. He’d done is research and determined that Australia was home to almost nothing but dangerous animals. He was going to do everything possible to get bitten.
Day one started poorly. He was already fourteen hours into his stay, and so far he hadn’t encountered anything more venomous than a dust bunny in his room. After hotel breakfast, Tom took to the streets, looking for his golden ticket.
Several hours later, he would admit defeat. By dinner, he was reconsidering his plan.
For day two, he resolved to leave the city. Perhaps getting out into the wild country would be the key.
He woke early, and set out for a car-rental agency. Once behind the wheel, he found something almost immediately.
While pulled over at a gas station for a drink, Tom saw a snake emerge from a bush at the side of the building. He ran across the parking lot toward the serpent. It did what any snake could be expected to do when faced with a large, strange being who was rushing at it.
The snake sank its fangs into Tom’s leg. He cried out in pain and staggered to the ground. The snake slithered off, tired of the whole business.
Thomas yelled to the gas station attended for help. “A snake bit me,” he cried. “Does it look like it gave me super-strength?”
“No, mate,” said the attendant. “That snake’s got no powers. What he’s given you is an entire dose of poison. You stay still. I’m going to call the hospital.”
Tom looked at the two large, angry puncture marks on his calf and promptly passed out.
The gas station attendant watched from inside while dialing for help. “Bloody tourists,” he muttered as he waited for the phone to connect.

No. 240

“Thank you for your continuing support of the Theatre, despite the events of last night’s show,” wrote Arianna Helm. “We sincerely hope that your perception of us as a professional and community-minded entity has not changed,” she continued, her fingers flashing across the keyboard.
“Ari,” said Frank Regent from across the office. “You’re not still writing that apology letter are you? They’ll understand. You can’t expect that to ever happen again.”
Arianna sighed, and stopped typing for a moment. “It wouldn’t hurt to at least attempt some damage control. I can still see the face of that woman in row five. I doubt she’ll be coming back.”
“Alright,” said Frank. “Do whatever you want. I’m expecting a call from Mr. Iversley any minute now, anyway. I’m going to wait until he lets me know what I should be doing.”
“He’s calling you?” Arianna asked. That wasn’t a good sign. Mr. Iversley rarely made the day-to-day operations his business. No matter what Frank said about not worrying, she was going to. If Mr. Iversley had already heard about the accident, then the disgruntled patrons were going to be the least of her problems.
She deleted the apologetic words on her screen and began a new paragraph. “Dear Mr. Iversley,” it began. “I am writing to inform you of the events of November 9th.”

No. 239

It’s hard, sometimes, to be a monster that can only go out during the day. I don’t get nearly as much respect as those night-time monsters. Plus, have you ever tried to jump out of the sunlight to scare somebody? Doesn’t work.
The roughest part is that I used to be a creature of the darkness. Then one evening I tried to eat the wrong person. This guy put some sort of curse on me and there you go. Now even mild shadows start to burn my scales. Stay away from the neighborhood east of Beach Club Street and anybody you see down there wearing a trench coat. Just trust me on that one. Bad news.
And, the thing is, my life keeps getting worse. Just this morning, I was on my way down to the dorms for breakfast when this woman driving by slams on the brakes, rolls down her window, and starts screaming and pointing at my claws. She must have called the cops, too, because fifteen minutes later I’m surrounded, then getting tasered and linked to something like 50 murders. I mean, it can’t be as high as that. By my count I’m somewhere near 30 since I rolled into town.
So, currently, I’m here, in this dank cell, and thank goodness they’ve left the light on. I overheard a guard down the hall saying somebody’s coming around to run some tests on me. At this point I think that’s probably for the best. The perp here, beside me, smells a little bit like pee.