Monthly Archives: December 2012

No. 267

The invasion began at 12:22 AM. Olivia Fielder had just finished her homework, and had been heading to bed. Her father was shouting from downstairs. “Everybody get in the basement!”
Olivia had never heard her dad sound so afraid. She ran down the stairs, taking them two steps at a time. As she crossed the living room, she caught a glimpse through the window of what was happening outside.
Strange, colored lights flashed in all directions. Everything they touched melted instantly. Olivia could just make out a giant, shadowy shape that was moving slowly towards her. She stood, frozen in place, until her dad grabbed her and dragged her back to the relative safety of the basement.
“Stay down!” he warned her.
She could see the panic in his eyes. Her mother and little sister were already in the corner, shaking, but silent.
The entire house rumbled as something huge rolled by. The Fielder family huddled closer together and followed the sound as it passed. Olivia could feel the hairs on her arms stand up.
“What about Brooke?” asked Olivia’s sister. Brooke was a friend from down the block.
Mr. Fielder delivered grim news. “We can’t worry about Brooke right now.”
Something in her sister’s question rallied Olivia. Before anyone could stop her, she got up and dashed toward the exit. “I’m going to find out,” she told her astonished family. She rushed up the stairs and darted out across the lawn toward Brooke’s house.
“Stuff you, if you thought that the last thing that I was ever going to do was study!” she yelled at the attacking armada.

No. 266 – No. 238 Part 2

Protagonist was still unconvinced. “Ok, say that we did do that. How do we make up a story, especially an original story? The machine is never wrong. There’s nothing left!”
A grin began to spread across Antagonist’s face. “But we’re not human, are we?”
“No,” said Protagonist, now beginning to understand. “We’re not.”
Antagonist leaned in close. “It’s up to us.”
Protagonist nodded. He watched the flat line continue to display on the machine’s printout. “How do we begin?” he asked.
Antagonist was very still for a moment. Then he answered. “First, we need a hero.”
As he said the words, the line on the machine jumped slightly.

No. 265

Alan Conner deviated from his regular routine and turned left into the coffee shop, instead of crossing the street.
The barista behind the counter greeted him cheerfully, but he ignored her for the moment and concentrated on taking in his surroundings. His phone beeped at him quietly to remind him of an important appointment, but he ignored that, too.
“Sir, can I help you?” the barista asked again, mistaking Conner’s silence for indecision.
“Yes, thank you,” he replied. “Coffee, please.”
She looked at him strangely. “What kind of coffee?”
“I was just thinking about how I’ve never been in here before,” said Conner.
“We have light, or dark roast on, or we can make you any kind of latte that you want,” said the barista helpfully.
Conner’s phone began to ring. He fumbled to silence it.
“Busy day?” asked the barista.
Conner smiled. “No, not really.”
A line was beginning to form behind him, but he didn’t see it.
“I’ll tell you what,” said the barista. “I’ll get them to make you a latte. You’ll like it. It’ll be on me, today.” She directed Conner to the other side of the counter.
“Really nice place you’ve got here,” he said as he made his way over. Then he collapsed.
Somebody in line screamed. The barista ran around the bar to Conner’s side. “Call 911,” she yelled at her colleague who was near the phone.
“Hold still,” she told Conner. “Are you ok?”
“I’m awfully glad I came in,” replied Conner dreamily. “It’s not what I usually do.” Another alarm on his phone began to ring, and he managed to summon the strength to throw the device towards a trash can. It didn’t make the distance, and it shattered as it landed on the tile floor short of the target.
“What’s your name?” he asked the barista. “I’ll have to come by here again, sometime.” Then he passed out.
The barista continued to kneel beside him, and watched the slow rise and fall of his chest.
The paramedics arrived and Conner was soon on a stretcher and out the door to a waiting ambulance.
“They forgot his briefcase,” said the barista to nobody.

No. 264

Bees are typically assumed to be industrious and hardworking. Not Apis. Apis was a lazy bee. He accomplished this mostly by blending in. Looking exactly like everybody else made it fairly simple, and all Apis had to do was wander from one part of the hive to another, looking like he’d just arrived from someplace important.
None of the other bees ever noticed. Most were too busy going about their own business. Apis lived well. Better than the Queen, maybe. It was the perfect strategy.
Except that Apis was lonely. Living like a phantom meant that having friends was impossible. Too many questions would have to be answered, and Apis’ entire system would crumble the minute somebody talked. And if anybody found out how he’d been living, Apis would face the wrath of the entire colony.
So he kept up the deceit. Every day, he watched the other bees, beginning to wonder just what it might be like to join in. Every day, falling just a little bit farther away, until one morning another bee stopped him.
“Hey, you! You aren’t from around here, are you?”
Apis froze, and then turned slowly to face the inquisitor. He had a choice. He could answer falsely, and remain safe, or truthfully, and take his chances. He thought about it quickly, and then took a deep breath before he replied.

No. 263 – The Neighborhood Submarine Part 2

“First things first,” said Randy. “I’m in charge. You’re a year older, but it’s my submarine, so I’m the boss.”
“Ok,” Marnie agreed. “What do we do to start?”
Randy was surprised. He hadn’t expected her to be so agreeable. Maybe his idea would work, after all. “How much can you lift?” he asked her.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. A lot.”
“Good,” said Randy. “Me, too. We need to pull it from my back yard, to the pond.” He looked at his watch. “But we have to hurry. I need to be home for dinner soon.”
Both children tried their hardest to budge the submarine. Randy’s construction had skewed towards the durable, and the craft proved highly resistant to moving. They sat down together, and leaned on the smooth black hull.
“We’re having spaghetti tonight,” said Randy.
“You should probably go,” said Marnie.
They parted ways with promises to return to the problem before lunchtime the next day.
Randy went inside and washed up.
“What were you and Marnie up to?” his mom asked him while they sat down at the table.
Randy didn’t look at his mom, instead he watched Mr. Fluffy carefully select the spot on the floor that would allow the most efficient path to any food that might fall from the table. “We were trying to get my submarine to the pond. Nobody else would help.”
“I see,” said his mom. “I suppose it’s nice that you had one friend, though.”
“She’s not my friend, Mom. I told you. She’s the only one who showed up.”
“Is there a plan for tomorrow?” asked his mom, changing the subject slightly.
Randy took a bite of his spaghetti and chewed slowly before he answered.
“I don’t know yet. I have to call Marnie after dinner and see if we can think of anything.”  

No. 262

“Hey, come look at this,” said Charlie.
“What is it?” I asked him. I’d been reading my book on the couch and I didn’t want to get up for nothing.
He was somewhere on the other side of the house. I could hear him knocking on something. The noise intrigued me, so I put aside my blanket and tea, and got up to see what he was yelling about.
“What?” I said again as I rounded the corner into the back bedroom. Actually, it wasn’t a bedroom. We’d always used it for an office because it was so small.
Charlie was tapping the wall on the far side of the room. “I think this is hollow.”
“Of course it’s hollow. It should be, unless there’s a beam behind it,” I told him.
“No,” he said. “No, this is different.” He thumped on the opposite wall. “Hear that?”
I did. It wasn’t the same sound. “Do the first one, again.”
He hit them both, one after the other.
“You’re right,” I admitted. “What do you think it is?”
He didn’t answer me. Instead, he pulled a hammer out of his toolbox and drove it through the “hollow” wall. The tool left an enormous gouge in the otherwise flat surface. Charlie grabbed the edge of the smashed drywall and pulled. It sloughed off in an entire sheet, as if it hadn’t been properly anchored in the first place.
I craned my neck to see what, if anything, it revealed.
“I might have made a mistake,” Charlie admitted when we didn’t detect anything out of the ordinary. There was just the usual pink insulation and framing boards.
“Wait,” I told him. “What’s this?” There was something just behind the edge of the new hole. I peeled back a portion of the wall that was still standing.
“It’s a doorknob,” said Charlie. “What’s a doorknob doing back there?”
I tugged the rest of that piece of drywall. It, too, came away easily.
“What’s an entire door doing back here?” I asked him.
We both stood for a minute and looked at it. Charlie was the first to speak.
“Do you think we should open it?”

No. 261

“You won’t remember for seven days,” was the last thing Henry remembered the hypnotist saying. At the time, Harry had told his wife that taking part in the show was a bad plan, but she’d insisted that they were on vacation and that “it would be fun.”
According to the newspaper that had been slid under his hotel door, it was indeed seven days later. Henry didn’t know where his wife was, but it didn’t seem like anybody had slept on her side of the bed. He pulled back the curtains of the large window in the tiny room, and saw something that worried him greatly.
Instead of the bright lights of Las Vegas, all that filled the view were scrubby cacti and sand.
Then he found the package in the bathroom.
Wrapped in plain brown paper and twine, it was heavy when Henry picked it up. He pulled the covering off carefully. Inside was a single solid-gold brick. The side facing Henry did not have any markings, so he turned it over. It was stamped “1862”. Underneath that inscription was another date, carved much more recently with some crude tool. That date was last week, the day after they hypnotizing.
Henry composed himself and left the room. He found his way to the front desk and asked the girl on duty where he was. She looked at him oddly. “Mr. Peterson, you’re in Arizona. You were quite specific about confirming that yesterday when you checked in.”
Henry stumbled back into a chair in the middle of the lobby.
“Mr. Peterson, are you alright?” asked the girl.
“Yes. Yes, thank you. I’m fine,” murmured Henry Cobb. “I just forgot something, that’s all.”

No. 260

It was eleven o’clock on Saturday night as Lewis Halliday looked out the window of the Mississippi steamboat he captained. The sunset was long behind him, and he guided his ship deftly down the river in the dark, taking care to avoid the dangerous sandbars he knew to be lurking just below the surface of the water.
Halliday kept his practiced hand on the wheel, every vibration and shudder of the boat travelling up through his arms. At this speed, they’d reach Memphis by morning. His hopes for an easy journey were dashed, however, when he felt, more than heard, the engine go silent.
“Silas!” Halliday called for his first mate. He knew he could trust the brawny man to help him sort out any problems. “Get to the engine-room! Make her right!”
“Yes, Sir!” Silas acknowledged from somewhere on the deck outside the bridge.
The engine-room was a Dickensian nightmare of steam pipes and fittings. Silas inspected each one for a flaw that might have slowed the mighty vessel. If he didn’t repair the engine soon, the Dixie Princess would be uncontrollable with no way to steer clear of the river’s obstacles. Silas hoped that the fix would be easy. There was no way to fabricate a part in time, if that’s what was needed.
Before he could finish his survey, the pistons began to move again as the steam built up. Control was restored to the helm.
“Well done, man!” Silas head the Captain’s voice from the speaking-tube. “She’s mine, again!”
But Silas scratched his head. What had just happened shouldn’t have been possible. After all, he hadn’t even seen the cause of the problem. He climbed a steep ladder back up to the open-air balcony at the stern of the boat. From his new vantage point, he watched the huge paddle sweep the water, driving the boat forward. He couldn’t detect any hint that moments before, the wheel had been solidly stopped.
Captain Halliday watched Silas duck back through the door to the bridge. “She feels good. You did a fine job.”
Silas took off his hat, and walked closer to Halliday. In a hushed voice, so that other crew members could not hear, he explained a recommendation to the Captain.
“What?” said Halliday loudly. “We have a schedule to keep. I can’t allow us to stop for a moment, especially now, as we’ve already been delayed. We can’t miss our target.”
“Sir,” said Silas. “I beg you to reconsider. We need to tie up and shut down the engine to find out why it cut out.” Then he caught himself, and began to whisper again. “I know we have precious cargo, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that tonight is the first time the Dixie’s engine has ever failed.”
Halliday closed his eyes. He realized his mate was right. He replied, matching Silas’ low tones. “You’re correct again, old friend. But we can’t stop. Not for anything. I need to you go to stateroom three and stand guard. Perkins will relieve you in two hours. Don’t move for anyone but him.” Halliday turned his eyes back to the river before he spoke again. “If the engine goes quiet again, ignore it. Enter the room and shield the girl at all costs.”
Silas nodded, and left the Captain without another word.
Stateroom three was on the top deck of the boat. Silas looked down at the black water, four stories below. He pulled a three-legged stool beside the door of the cabin, and sat down. His hand fell to the smooth butt of the pistol he’d strapped on after leaving the bridge. They’d reach their destination in a little less than six hours. He needed to protect Miss Emma Becker until then.
Captain Halliday examined his pocket watch intently. Then he bent over the wheel and spoke to the Dixie. “Hang together, Grand Lady. We’ve got a deadline to make.”

No. 259

Al Munsen wandered through the grocery store, trying to remember what was on his list, and failing to keep the canned background music out of his head. He walked up and down each aisle, grimly searching for something to eat for dinner.
He passed the fresh fish, and then took several steps back to see something that had caught the corner of his eye.
“What’s that?” he asked the man behind the counter. Al pointed at a large, colorful, slightly spiny fish that was laid out at the edge of the case.
“Oh, that?” said the man. “That’s a triggerfish. Nobody ever buys that.”
“Really?”
“Haven’t ever sold one. Not in the whole chain of stores. That’s all I know. Maybe people think it’s too exotic.”
“Why do you have one in, then?”
The man behind the counter became shifty. His nervous eyes darted back and forth, watching alertly for other customers. He motioned for Al to get closer. “Come here. Watch this.”
The man lifted the tail of the triggerfish and, to Al’s surprise, underneath was a small red button, half-buried in the ice. The man took one final check to make sure he and Al were alone, and then pressed it.
Al heard a hollow sound of something falling away, and then the whole ice-filled counter dropped slightly and rolled aside to reveal a narrow trapdoor.
“Come on,” the man beckoned as he began to climb down a ladder. “Check this out.”
Al was intrigued. He placed his basket on the floor, and, with a shrug, followed the man through the hole.
They arrived in a small room. There was a large, metal door in front of them. The man took the handle and slid it open to reveal a gigantic freezer. Frost had built up around the edges of doorframe, and Al couldn’t see inside because of the cold fog that condensed into the warmer landing area.
The man said nothing, but held out his arm, inviting Al to enter the cooler.
The change in temperature was abrupt and significant as Al walked in. He started shivering almost immediately. He didn’t notice the man stay behind as he crept slowly forward into the gloom. As he entered the heart of the ice box, the fog dropped away.
Al gasped. He was not the only being inside. He turned to reach for the exit but the man slammed the heavy door shut. Al spun around to face his new companion.
The huge white creature roared and stumbled toward Al, loping forward on its squat back legs and long, powerful arms. In seconds, the yeti was on Al, howling and tearing at him.
The man at the fish counter whistled while he prepared an odd, red meat. He labeled it “Tuna” as he placed it in the display beside the striking triggerfish.

No. 258

“Guys, you have to see this.”
Brad Somersby pressed “Play” and the video started.
“Hi. It’s me. Brad Somersby. If you’re watching this, I’m dead,” he said on the tape.
The three people in the room studied the image with shocked attention.
The Brad on the screen kept talking. “In the event that something unfortunate has happened to me, I have some things to say.”
The real Brad cut off the rest of morbid speech before it could get going. He looked at the two others. They both stared back at him, confused about the purpose of the viewing.
His friend Sarah Hollander sat in the corner uncomfortably, finding the whole scenario distasteful. She said nothing, and tried to hunch further down into her seat.
Grant Martins spoke first. “You’re very clearly not dead, buddy. Why are you showing that to us?”
 “That’s the thing,” said Brad. “I didn’t leave that message.”