Monthly Archives: April 2013

No. 360

The light gunship, Flower, was drifting in the Uncharted Zone. Its crew was gathered in the mess hall for an emergency meeting.

“We haven’t seen any trace of pirates in two weeks. We’re lost,” said the First Officer.

“Space is a big place,” replied Captain Marlow calmly.

“With our sensors, we should have had them already,” countered Charles Conrad, the technology officer. “We know they hit New Sardis. We know they fled this way. They should have left a trail but there’s nothing.”

The Captain turned to a crewmember in the corner of the room. “Roberts, what’s our status for supplies?”

Marla Roberts looked up from her datapad. “We’ve got another week of fuel and possibly a week and a half of food, if we stretch it.”

“You see,” said the Captain to the crew. “We’ve got enough to search another three days. If we haven’t found our villains by then, we’ll turn for home.”

The crew grumbled about cutting close to the wire, but to return to base empty-handed was almost equally unappealing. The bounty would only be paid upon capture.

Though the compromise was distasteful, the vote was unanimous. The Flower would continue on and then limp back to port on fumes.

 

Roberts spent an uneasy night, awake in her bunk. The figures she’d given the Captain were true, but there was a critical piece of information she’d left out, so as not to frighten the others. Any fuel the Flower spent in combat would have to be made up from the captured pirates’ stores. She had taken a gamble that the pirates would have fuel on board to be captured.

Currently, the Flower had enough to explore and to return home, but not to fight.

No. 359

 They told her that if she dug a hole straight down, she’d hit China.

Miranda turned aside the first shovelful of backyard dirt, even though her calculations showed that she’d actually end up somewhere south of Madagascar, in the middle of the ocean.

She wasn’t terribly worried about that, though. She didn’t seriously think she’d make it all the way through. She did, however, hope to strike gold sometime before spring break ended.

No. 358

 At the end of a narrow, dirt lane, far into the woods, lived a man few people had met. Whispers in the surrounding villages were that he had powers, that he was not like normal men.

Makua did nothing to silence these rumors.  They kept the curious at a respectful distance. And they were true, for the most part. Although he had no powers, Makua wasn’t like regular men. Indeed, it would be more fitting to call him a creature.

His ship had crashed on earth in 1947 in a dusty, distasteful place the humans called Roswell. He’d escaped the wreckage before the army had a chance to descend on his ship. They took it away, stranding Makua without the means to leave the planet, or communicate with his people.

And so he waited. Perhaps they would return for him. He waited for many years, and they did not come.

 

But, one day, somebody else did. A boy, too young to understand the warnings about the strange settlement, knocked on the door of Makua’s home. “I’m lost,” the boy called through the door. “Can you help me?”

Makua considered ignoring the child.

“Please,” said the boy. “I’m all by myself.”

Makua fought his instincts and opened the door. “So am I,” he told the boy.

The boy saw Makua. His eyes widened, but he stood his ground. “Are you a monster?” he asked.

Makua turned his mouth into what he knew the humans considered to be a friendly gesture. “No,” he said. “I’m just different from you.” He knelt down beside his scared visitor. “What village do you live in? I know the way to most of them.”

“I live in Sea View,” said the boy.

“That’s very far away,” said Makua. “Beyond the forest. How did you get here?”

“I’m not sure,” the boy shrugged.

Makua was quiet to collect his thoughts. The child clearly needed help, but helping would place Makua in considerable danger of being discovered. He looked at the walls of the place he’d spent the last half century, then at the small boy on his doorstep.

Perhaps it was time to take a chance.

“Give me a moment to collect my things,” he told the boy. “And then I’ll take you home.”

 

The alien and the boy left down the trail a while later, their mismatched shadows stretching out in front of them.

No. 357

Douglas bought the bird on a whim.
He’d seen the sign staked in a yard on his way home from work. The deal was quickly negotiated and now Douglas was the proud owner of a small green parrot named Willy.   
They eyed each other suspiciously on the ride to Douglas’ house. When they arrived, Douglas set Willy’s cage on the couch and opened the door. Immediately, Willy flew to the top of the highest bookshelf in the room.
“Bad man,” the bird squawked.
“Hey, I didn’t know you could talk, too,” said Douglas, neglecting the bird’s message. “Hello! Can you say ‘Doug’?”
“Bad man,” repeated the perturbed bird. “45-7-18-55. Bad man.”
“What are those numbers?” Douglas asked, speaking gently and trying to coax Willy down with a piece of bread.
“47-7-18-55,” said Willy. “47-7-18-55. 1920 Lakeside Drive.”
“Is that where you lived?” Douglas didn’t remember the exact address of the seller’s house.
Willy wasn’t interested in having a conversation. He kept repeating the three phrases.
Douglas, who was now becoming frustrated, turned to his computer to solve the riddle. He carefully typed in the address. “That’s the bank!” he said, surprised. “What do you know about the bank?” he asked the uncooperative bird.
“Bad man,” was the answer.
“Well, I’m obviously not going to find out from you,” Douglas told him. He found the bank’s phone number and called.
“Hi, my name’s Douglas Stone. I have a strange question for you,” he told the person who picked up. “Do you know anything about a green parrot, or the numbers 47-7-18-55?”
There was silence on the other end. “Hello?” Douglas asked again.
“Sir,” said the person at the bank. “Please hold for a moment.”
“Sure thing,” said Douglas. “Quiet down,” he told Willy, who had not stopped chattering during the call.
“Sir,” the line crackled with the return of the banker. “What’s your address?”
Douglas gave it, and was put on hold again immediately after.
He was still on hold when he saw the first police car outside his front window. He dropped the phone and looked at Willy.
“Bad man,” said Willy.
Several police officers stormed into the house and pinned Douglas to the floor.
“What’s happening?” he said, now pathetically outnumbered.
“Don’t play games with us,” said one of the officers. “Just tell us how you knew the alarm code for the bank that got robbed yesterday,” Her tone was very serious.
“No,” Douglas protested. “Not me, the bird! I just bought him an hour ago! He knows the code.”
Willy cocked his feathery head and looked at the officer out of one beady eye. “Bad man,” he said for what had to be the hundredth time.
“Bird says you’re a bad man,” said the officer to Douglas.
“Just go check out the place where I got him. It’s on Lakeshore, just down from the bank.”
The officer looked at her partner. “Are we buying this?”
Her partner shrugged. “It’s his word against a parrot’s. We should probably at least take a look.”
“Ok,” said the first officer. “But you’re coming with us, just in case,” she warned Douglas.

 

Two days later, the case had been cleared. Douglas was released when the true criminals were picked up at a hotel the next town over. They told the police that they’d had no idea that the parrot that they’d stolen during a prior home invasion had been capable of speech.
Willy, who turned out to be a girl named Sunny, was returned to her original owners.
Douglas went on three dates with the officer who’d arrested him, but the relationship didn’t last. From then on, he did research online before considering a new pet.

No. 356

“Ha!” said Lynne as she jabbed her unsuspecting friend in the ribs with her fingers. “Poke!”

“Ow!” said Tony, giving her a dirty look. “Stop it!”

She laughed and, ignoring his protest, tried again.

This time he had warning, and twisted out of the way. “So, you’re just going to keep doing that, then? You’re like a child.” He exaggerated an eye roll.

“Don’t worry. This’ll never get old,” she assured him.

“Great,” he said sarcastically. “Awesome.” But he was smiling, too.

No. 355

 Ralph Conner woke up with waves lapping at his feet. Upon feeling the cold water, his eyes snapped open and he rolled up to a seated position.

Another wave soaked him, this time reaching his knees. Conner scrambled back from the water’s edge, stopping halfway up the beach to consider the bizarre situation.

The last thing he could remember was leaving the pub after his 23rd birthday party. The pub was nowhere near the ocean. He rubbed his head in an attempt to clear his thoughts, but the gesture was of no use. Still having no idea where he was, or how he got here, he stood up for a better look at his surroundings.

The sandy beach stretched away, out of sight, on both sides. The angle at which is disappeared suggested that Conner was on an island. A thick band of jungle blocked the way further inland. If he jumped, he could just make out a tiny white speck on the horizon, possibly a boat. He began to collect as much wood as he could, with the intention of making a signal fire.

 

A man in the lab coat passed the binoculars to a woman wearing a black jumpsuit. “Subject 299 is adapting well to the scenario,” he remarked.

The woman steadied herself against the rocking motion of the boat and trained the binoculars on Conner. She watched as he tried desperately to light the soggy wood using a technique she knew wouldn’t work. “He appears to be more resourceful than the others,” she replied. “I’d wager he lasts a week, no more.”

There was an uncomfortably cold efficiency in her voice. The man in the lab coat had no doubt that she was correct.

Around Gray Publishes Mini-Stories, No. 301 – No. 350, Feb 4, 2013 – April 8, 2013

No. 301

February 4, 2013

When his phone rang, Lee looked down from the TV to check the caller display. It was his friend, Zach. Lee pressed the button to ignore the call. “Always during the middle of ‘World’s Most Venomous Animals’,” he said as he threw the phone to the other side of the couch.

Moments later, the phone began to buzz again. Lee grabbed it and answered abruptly.

“What?” he snapped at Zach.

The voice on the other end was shrill and panicked. “It’s chewing on my leg!” was the desperate cry for help.

Lee didn’t know how to react. “What’s that?”

Zach’s reply was louder. “It’s eating me!”

The plea was accompanied by a smashing noise. There was definitely a struggle going on.

“Call the police!” said Lee excitedly. “Why are you calling me? 911!”

Before Zach could respond, the line went dead. Lee followed his own advice and dialed for help.

“911. What’s your emergency?” said the operator.

“My friend is being attacked by something. Maybe an animal? I don’t know,” Lee told her all in one breath.

“Can you see the animal now?” asked the operator.

Lee felt helpless, and he was worried about Zach. “No. My friend is at his house. He called me and hung up.” Lee relayed the address and what few details he knew about Zach’s situation while he threw on his shoes and started his car. The operator stayed on the phone with him until he was within sight of Zach’s home.

Arriving at the scene just after the firefighters, Lee watched as they gathered their gear and ran into the house. He could hear faint screams from inside.

One of the firefighters came back out almost immediately. He was shouting at someone behind the truck that Lee couldn’t see. “All the rope! We’re going to need all of it!”

“And the axes,” he added, ominously.

 

 

 

No. 302

February 5, 2013

“It’s a wide world out there, and we’re all stuck here,” said the promoter. “But what if we could change that? What if we could experience far-away things, simply and cheaply?”

She paused, letting the audience’s expectation build.

At the height of anticipation, she spoke again. “What if we could teleport?” she asked as pulled back a large curtain to reveal a polished-metal tube. “My handsome assistant will demonstrate,” she said, welcoming the man to the stage.

The assistant waved his hand over a sensor and the tube split open. He climbed inside while the promoter closed the hatch behind him.

A screen slid down from the ceiling, then lit up with a camera feed. In the center of the shot was a tube identical to the demonstration model. “Live, from Hong Kong,” the promoter explained. “No tricks, just the technology at work.”

The audience watched in awe as the assistant got out of the tube on the screen. He smiled at the camera, then picked it up and panned it toward the window. The audience gasped and applauded. It worked.

The promoter knocked on the tube beside her. The door opened up, and the same man stepped out. The audience was perplexed. Now there were two? The promoter began to explain. “Our technology allows you to be in two, or three, or a hundred, places at once. You’ll never have to wonder what’s going on out there in the world again. Every duplicate passes their memories back to the original.”

A hand rose in the audience. The promoter jumped at the chance to connect.

“Yes?” she asked with a smile.

The woman from the audience had to shout to be heard above the excitement in the hall. “Is the process dangerous? What would happen if the doubles decided they wanted to—,” she hesitated, searching for the right phrase. “Come home?” she finished.

The promoter laughed. “Not a problem. Our system has built in fail-safes. Each duplicate can only operate within a limited range of the transporter that it came out of. We’ve made sure to space them far enough apart from one another that no duplicates will ever come into contact with an original, or another duplicate.”

“Now, let me show you some of the other amazing features of the technology,” the promoter said, bringing her presentation back on track.

“I have another question,” said another voice from the back. “Are you absolutely sure about your answer?”

The promoter’s face went white. She dropped her microphone and took a panicked step back.

Her duplicate was standing in the doorway. 

 

 

 

No. 303

February 6, 2013

The man washed ashore with the high tide. He crawled a short ways out of the water before he collapsed.

 

It was dark when he woke up. He coughed, spraying sand from his mouth. Rolling to a seated position, he tried to see where he was. In the moonlight, he could only make out a line of palm trees beyond the shoreline, bordering the edge of a black jungle.

The man was alarmed to realize that he couldn’t remember how he’d arrived at this place, or even his own name. A wave of terror gripped him.  He instinctively curled into a ball and worked his way into the sand.

Morning took a very long time to arrive.

 

Dawn brought a new visitor. A large lizard, about the size of a cat, had evidently sensed the castaway and had made its way down the beach toward the man. The reptile was about to take an exploratory bite of the sleeping human when a rock hit it in the head, ricocheting off the scavenger, and striking the man in the chest, as well.

The lizard scurried away, and the man woke up with a jolt. He squinted in the bright sunshine. There was another person on the beach. It took a moment for the man’s eyes to focus.

“You’re safe now,” said the naked woman who knelt down beside him. “I’m Wendy,” she told him matter-of-factly.

The man was elated for the company. He was still very confused, but perhaps she could help him. “What happened to me? Where am I?”

Wendy’s head tilted slightly. “You don’t remember?”

“No,” said the man. “Nothing.”

“I saw your boat,” she explained. “I was thrilled. Finally, a chance to leave! But, during the storm, it hit the reef,” she explained. “I didn’t see anybody make it off.”

“Except, I guess, you,” she concluded.

The man lay back down. “Nobody else?”

Wendy answered his question with her silence.

“Was there anybody else?” asked the man.

“I don’t know,” she told him.

“What did you mean, ‘finally, a chance to leave’?” the man asked. “And where are your clothes?”

“Oh, you noticed,” Wendy laughed. Then she sighed. “You’re on an island. It’s remote. I was shipwrecked here a little over two years ago. Your boat was the first sign of humanity I’ve seen, since.”

The man felt like he’d been punched in the gut. “Two years?”

She nodded.

“Come on,” she told him, changing the subject. “We’d better get back to my camp. That lizard will be the least of our worries if we don’t return in time.” She took his hand, and began to lead him into the forest.

He took one last look at the empty beach before following her toward the center of the island.

“I don’t even know my name,” he confided to her as they began down the path.

She didn’t turn around or slow down, but he could hear a wry smile in her voice. “Then I’ll have to call you Peter, for now.”

 

 

 

No. 304

February 7, 2013

Buzz had been in the soup for 20 minutes, and his no-good friend, Randy, wasn’t doing anything about it.

“Settle down,” Randy told him. “The waiter will pick you out after you’ve been served. I’m not getting anywhere near that stuff. Ugh. Tomato.”

“I hate you, Randy,” said Buzz. “I really do.”

“Nonsense, it’ll be fun. Think of the stories you could tell around the carcass. You’re in no danger of drowning. You’re just embarrassed right now.”

“You pull me out right now, or I’ll tell everyone about the time you got too close to the flypaper.”

 

Randy had no choice but to comply.

The meal was eaten without the hilarious cliché.

 

 

 

No. 305

February 8, 2013

The rain was especially heavy that year. I remember, because our backyard turned into a swamp. To a child, the only thing better than a cardboard box is, of course, a swamp.

I was able to enjoy that mud for all of fifteen minutes.

Marcus Hamilton fell on me and I broke my arm. After the accident, I worried that I would have to spend the rest of the summer in the house, watching the other kids have fun outside without me.

But my mom bought me a telescope and, on the clear nights, I learned how to find the North Star.

 

You know, I never did send a thank-you card to Marcus.

 

 

 

No. 306

February 9, 2013

Miranda floated on her back in the calm, warm ocean. She watched the contrails of jets passing far overheard. Slowly, she exhaled, and slipped beneath the water.

 She was suspended, all of her senses tuned to the sensation of the waves. She stayed under until her breath ran out.

Then, with a lazy paddle of her hands, she returned to the surface. Tomorrow, she was moving away. Today, she here and she would enjoy every minute of it.

 

 

 

No. 307

Frank and Molly Part 3

February 10, 2013

Frank looked at her strangely. “But you said—.”

“I said ‘you needed me’,” Molly interrupted him. “I said ‘you brought me here’.”

She drew in her breath sharply, like a disappointed teacher. “But I suppose that it would be your nature to assume that the reasons that you need me are only your own.”

Frank took in the mysterious new island, his beached ship, and the seemingly insane girl sitting in front of him. “I really don’t understand.”

Molly played with a stray curl of her hair, thinking something through. Then, apparently having made a decision, she stood and crossed the small camp to sit next to Frank.

Frank felt more alive than during any time that he could remember.  He didn’t say anything, trying not to break the spell he was under.

She put her hand on his shoulder. His eyes widened.

“Frank,” she said softly. “When was the last time you thought about dying? Be honest.”

He remembered the moment instantly. “Before I named you,” he said in a whisper.

“So, do you see? We both got what we needed,” she told him, with one finger pointed at the middle of his chest. “And how is that all about you?”

 

Frank and Molly sat next to each other, not speaking, for a long time. The embers of the fire turned red, and then black. Eventually, the first rays of the sun appeared over the long horizon of the ocean.

“It’s morning,” said Frank.

Molly smiled and nodded. Frank watched her, trying to commit her face to memory.

“I won’t see you again, will I?” he asked, the answer already clear.

She shook her head.

“Goodbye, Frank.”

He stood, and brushed himself off, ready to return to his boat. He wanted with all of his heart to hug her, but the gesture seemed so small compared to what she had done. Instead, he told her.

“Goodbye, Molly.”

 

Frank Benson leaned against the railing at the bow of his ship. He watched the waves pass by as the vessel made for port.

He was ready to begin his new life.

 

 

 

No. 308

February 11, 2013

The phone rang at 3:34am. Sean’s deep sleep shattered. He felt all the blood in his body turn cold. Rolling over, he answered immediately, bypassing a glance at the display.

“Hello?”

“It’s me,” said his sister. Sean could hear fear in her voice. “Are you ok?” she asked without a pause.

Sean felt the tightness in his body lessen slightly. She would have led with really bad news.  “I’m fine, Dana. I’m ok,” he reassured her. “Why are you calling?”

The line buzzed quietly for a moment before she responded.

“I had a bad feeling about something,” she told him eventually. “I just felt—,” she trailed off. “I can’t explain it.”

“Everything’s alright, Sis,” Sean told her.

“I’m sorry I called so late,” she said. “Sorry I woke you up.”

“No, you can always call. Anytime.”

“Goodnight, Sean,” she said, softly. He could tell she was embarrassed.

“’Night,” he told her. “Love you.”

“You too,” she said. Then she hung up.

 

Sean put the phone back on his nightstand and sat up. The shot of adrenaline from the unexpected call would make getting back to sleep difficult. He put on his robe and went downstairs to watch TV for awhile.

He made himself a snack and settled in front of the glowing screen. The news was on. Before he had a chance to change the channel, the picture changed. Sean saw a house, surrounded by crime-scene tape. As the cameras rolled, a police officer walked up the front steps.

The instant before the officer raised his hand to knock, Sean recognized the house.

 

The sound still scared him.

 

 

 

No. 309

February 12, 2013

The absurd quality of a water-balloon fight in the rain did not cross Corey’s mind as he made his move on the strategically significant field-house building. The washrooms inside would provide the means to continue the battle indefinitely.

As he drew nearer to his objective, Corey saw movement in the trees to his left. There was a shout as his opponents saw him, as well. Corey broke into a run, leaping over a low hedge and barely clearing the drainage ditch on the other side. If the others reached the faucets before he did, all would be lost.

He almost made it.

“So close,” said Joel, leader of the rival team, as he stepped out of the washroom with a full balloon in each hand and a plastic pistol tucked into his belt.

Corey skidded to a halt, trapped between the two groups. He knew his own allies were close by, on the other side of the park securing the hose by the basketball courts, but not near enough at this moment to even the odds in the standoff.

 

The rain hammered down. All parties stood still, stoic against the downpour.

 

“Put down your weapons,” ordered Joel. Corey had no choice but to obey.

He laid his single filled balloon gently on the concrete ground, then straightened. After hesitating briefly, he dropped a handful of empty balloons from his left pocket, as well.

“And the rest,” Joel told the captive, as he hefted a balloon threateningly.

Corey knelt to surrender the tiny water gun that was stuffed into his sock. If he played his cards right, perhaps they wouldn’t suspect that he had a stash of balloons in his right pocket, too.

On his way down, he glanced at Joel and the other boys who surrounded him. He was trying desperately to think his way out of the trap.

Then, as his fingers closed on the green plastic of his hold-out weapon, the idea came. It was a plan they would never see coming, and it could turn the tide of the war.

Corey drew the gun and, at the same time, started off in a dead sprint, through the downpour, for the door to the girls’ bathroom.

 

 

 

No. 310

February 13, 2013

It was Dr. Leonard Allen who invented the Time Engine in the science lab at Cedar Hills University. The device allowed me, and millions of others, to cheat death.

The system is brilliant. For a price, the Time Engine will calculate the exact moment of your passing, and then allow you to skip it.

It was such a simple concept. Scientists were amazed nobody had figured it out sooner. Dr. Allen became the richest and most influential man on Earth.

But, like most concepts that appear too simple, the Engine has flaws—deep and terrible flaws. We realized that humans are meant to die.

 The signs began to appear in the First Seven. For obvious reasons, the symptoms were kept under the strictest secrecy. Cover stories were put in place, and four of the Seven abruptly dropped out of the public eye.

Then the trial groups began to turn. That, too, was hushed up. It was easy for someone as powerful as Dr. Allen. 

By the time the regular customers began to see the effects, measures were in place to contain the anomalies.

The sickness comes on quickly. Exactly 1463 days after the Skip, the Change begins. It doesn’t happen to everyone, though. That’s what makes it so hard to tackle.

My job, right now, is containment. Although, it’s possible that I’ll be in need of some myself in the very near future.

I Skipped 1459 days ago. 

 

 

 

No. 311

February 14, 2013

Cupid stood in the airport security line, waiting his turn along with everybody else. He placed his bag on the conveyor, and walked through the metal detector.

“Excuse me, sir, could you stand aside?” a security agent asked.

Cupid did as the man instructed. Another agent, the woman who was screening the bags, gave her co-worker some sort of hand signal.

Cupid’s bags were quickly pulled from the flow and put aside onto a metal table.

The woman spoke first. “What’s this?” she said, pulling a heart-tipped arrow from the bag.

“A heart-tipped arrow,” said Cupid.

“Sir, are you aware that arrows are strictly prohibited on flights?” said the man.

“Come on. It’s just a stick with hearts at the end, really,” said Cupid. “It’s relatively harmless.”

“The government doesn’t think so,” said the woman.

“They do not,” agreed the man.

Cupid sighed. “Every year,” he muttered under his breath.

“What was that, sir?” asked the man.

Cupid didn’t reply. He checked his watch. “I’m pretty busy,” he told the agents. “Am I going to miss my flight?”

“Sir—“ started the man, but he didn’t have a chance to finish. 

Cupid leapt over the table, removing two more arrows from his bag at the same time. With both in-hand, he threw one at the woman, and stabbed the man with the other.

Cupid stood back and admired his handiwork. The rest of people in line drew back, away from the confusing scene. “Don’t worry,” Cupid assured them. “None of you are going to remember this.”

Retrieving the arrows from the impaled pair, Cupid stowed them back in his suitcase and made for his boarding gate.

“Every year,” he said to himself again, shaking his head.

 

The two agents revived quickly. Blinking hard, they stared at each other.

“What just happened?” said the woman.

“I’m not sure,” said the man. “But, hey, do you want to grab a coffee later, or something?”

 

 

 

No. 312

February 20, 2013

Carlisle, the flying frog, lived briefly on the screen.

He was killed by the backspace button.

 

 

 

No. 313

February 21, 2013

Long the domain of surgeons, human enhancements had been taken over by technicians, and had entered the mind. Now it was possible to update one’s personality as simply as changing one’s appearance.

Plastic personas were the future.

 

May 1, 20—

He’d saved secretly for months.

Usually shy and retiring, L— clicked the link and watched the program begin to download. When the computer displayed the appropriate screen, L— put on the neural helmet and prepared himself for the upgrade.

His body tensed for a moment, and then relaxed. L— had reflexively closed his eyes during the data transfer, and when he opened them he was a little surprised to see that nothing had changed. He certainly felt stronger.

 

His mother, S—, noticed immediately. L— moved differently when he came down the stairs for dinner. S—dropped the plate she’d been washing and it smashed on the floor. “Why?” was all she could manage.

L—didn’t have time for his mother’s protests. He barely spared her a glance as he stalked out the front door. 

S—sank to the ground, surrounded by the pieces of the broken plate, and cried softly.

 

 

 

No. 314

February 22, 2013

The sun blazed down on Chloe as she lay on her back on the trampoline in the backyard.

She heard her brother busying himself somewhere over by the house. She didn’t pay attention to what he was doing, and continued to read her book. She was starting chapter seven, and it was a good one.

Seven became eight, and the heroine was just about to find the treasure when Chloe was horribly surprised by a splash of cold water.

“What are you doing?” she screamed at her brother.

He laughed, and dashed for the tree in the corner of the yard. If he could make it to his fort, he would have ways to repel any assault. “You said you were hot,” he cackled as he shimmied up the ladder.

Chloe stood, fuming with anger. She looked at her soaked book, and threw it onto the grass near the deck. She watched her brother watching her from the window of his fort. She knew she had no way to get him back right away for what he’d just done.

She took a step toward the edge of the trampoline, bouncing slightly as she did. An idea occurred to her. She looked back at her brother. Then she bent her knees and began to jump. Slowly, at first, but she built the momentum quickly. In no time, she was bounding as high as she could go.

Nobody could resist for long. After only a few minutes, her brother had been lured down from his hideout and was creeping slowly toward the trampoline. Chloe continued her act, pretending that she didn’t notice him. She waited for the perfect moment to strike. As soon as he was in range, she leapt off the trampoline and hit him with a flying tackle.

“Ow!” he said.

“I win,” she told him as she dusted herself off.

“Ok, but can I jump now?” he asked, scrambling to his feet.

It was Chloe’s turn to laugh. She pushed him back down, and ran for the trampoline. “Nope, it’s still my turn!”

 

 

 

No. 315

February 23, 2013

Turret duty on a MacLehose class freighter was boring to begin with. Turret duty through Pacified Space was even more so. Nobody was ever attacked out here.

Junior Petty Officer Patten sat back in the harness and watched black nothing pass by in front of his gun barrels. He sighed. Only seven and a half more hours to go on this watch. He daydreamed of a good, old-fashioned void-pirate attack.

Of course, the pirates had been wiped out decades ago. Their flagship, the Betsy, had been destroyed off of Lamma IV. The memories were still fresh enough, however, that every transport ship in the fleet was still required to be armed. The MV Matthew Nathan had the bare minimum, the one that Patten was stuck in. He wondered idly if the guns had ever even been fired.

Lining up the sights on a distant star, he mimed blowing his target out of space. “Kaboom,” he said, amusing himself slightly. He tracked the guns toward another point of light. “Pow,” he murmured as he destroyed that imaginary threat, too. He was aiming a third phantom volley when the ship’s hourly chime sounded.

The noise startled Patten and his finger tightened reflexively on the trigger. A blast of searingly bright blue light flashed from the cannons, lancing into the darkness.

“Oh no,” whispered Patten. The captain would not take an accidental weapon’s discharge lightly.

Patten began to desperately think of an excuse. He watched the laser beams continue on their path. They’d go forever unless they hit something. He hoped they wouldn’t hit something.

Then they did.

Patten saw two fiery flashes as the deadly bolts intersected with a ship.

But that was strange. There had been no ship there a second ago. The vessel had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. That wasn’t possible.

Unless.

Something tickled at the back of Patten’s brain. What was it called?

A cloaking shield, he remembered. It was the favorite tool of the void-pirates. 

Patten quickly dialed up the image-enhancers to their maximum magnification. The ship he’d shot at came into focus. It was turning toward the Nathan. Patten could just make out a name painted on the hull.

Betsy II.

“Oh no,” he said again. He checked the power on his guns and radioed the captain. “Bridge, this is Turret. We have incoming.”

 

 

 

No. 316

February 24, 2013

Wes Conrad was walking down the street when he heard a strange conversation. Two disheveled hobos were standing on the corner, seemingly talking about another vagrant.

 

“Well. That’s it. It’s the third today. Richard is out,” said one. 

“Aw man. I always kinda thought that’d be it,” replied the other.

“Really? You had the second? Are you out, too?”

“No. I hedged my bets. I’ve got Carl, November 30, 2019.”

“Long ways off.”

“Yeah, but it pays out at 19 to one.”

“That’s a lot of money. But why does your sign say ‘near’? 2019 isn’t near at all.”

“Oh, that. You gotta give the people what they want, you know? Helps with the tips.”

 

Wes shook his head as he went past the men. The doomsday prophets are running a pool, now?

 

 

 

No. 317

The Good Dog Part 4

February 25, 2013

I’ve got a stick! I’ve got a stick! It’s my stick! It’s not your stick! I’ve got a stick! Do you see my stick? Look at my stick! Oh my gosh—a stick! It’s mine! I’ve got it! It’s a stick! See my stick? Do you see it? It’s mine! It’s my stick!

Here’s my stick!

Throw my stick! Will you throw it? Will you throw my stick? Throw the stick! Throw it! Throw the stick! That stick—that one! Throw that stick!

 

 

 

No. 318

February 26, 2013

Rick Elway began to make a list of his New Year’s resolutions. He made two orderly columns, and numbered the rows one through ten. He began filling in the spots immediately.

 

1.       I will refrain from throwing out the entire bowl of cereal after some gets soggy.

2.       I will stop referring to area south of Portland Street as “That part of town—you know”.

3.       I will feed my own iguana

4.       I will count all my golf shots. Even the “practice” ones.

5.       I will no longer answer the phone “Hey, loser” if the person is a loser.

6.       I will drive the speed limit.

7.       I will stop underlining parts of library books that I don’t agree with.

8.       I will limit karaoke nights to Fridays and Saturdays only. And Tuesdays.

9.        

10.    

 

Most of the resolutions came easily. However, Rick was two short. He studied the incomplete list intently, wracking is brain for flaws. He spent at least five minutes trying to fill out the last spaces.

With no ideas forthcoming, he put down his pen. Who was he kidding? He balled up the list and threw it in the bin.

There was no point trying to improve on perfection.

 

 

 

No. 319

February 27, 2013

The Easter Bunny checked his watch. He had 3 hours left on his shift, and he still had no idea what he was doing.

He scrounged around beneath the little girl’s pillow, feeling for the tooth he’d been told was going to be under it. After several minutes and no luck, he checked the form again.

“Is that a—,” he mumbled, squinting at the paper. “Yup. That’s a nine. Great. Awesome.”

He crept outside the house to confirm his mistake. The numbers here were clear. He was at 2671 Landers Street. He’d misread the 7.

He checked his watch again, and hopped down the road toward the right address. Only 15 more stops to make tonight.

 

The Bunny’s day had started poorly. He been roused by his ringing phone far earlier than he’d planned to rise on his day off. The voice on the other end had been exceedingly friendly.

“Hey, I’m really sorry to wake you up, but the Tooth Fairy’s called in sick. Is there any chance at all you could come in?”

Before Bunny had a chance to respond, the caller guessed what his next question was going to be and cut in quickly. “We’ve already tried Leprechaun and Cupid.”

Bunny groaned. “Yeah. I’ll be in. Give me half an hour.” He pulled himself out from under the covers and stumbled toward the shower. He’d make sure they covered his coffee. He was going to get an expensive one, with all the toppings.

 

 

 

No. 320A

March 2, 2013

“Is that a rat?” were the first words out of my mouth.

“No, ma’am. Possum,” said the disheveled man on my porch.

It was the strangest sight I’d ever seen. “Does he bite?” I asked.

The man shrugged. “Sometimes.”

I was silent for a moment, trying to process the situation. He’d knocked on the door and I hadn’t looked before opening it. That wasn’t like me at all. Now there was some sort of hobo holding a possum standing in front of me.

He looked at me, and I looked at him. Finally, I managed to find something else to say. “Can I help you?”

The man nodded, and removed a tattered ball cap while he spoke. “My name’s Michael. This is Nelson. I was wondering if I could trouble you for a bowl of water. It’s terribly hot out here, and Nelson gets thirsty.”

I watched carefully for any sign of deception. Michael waited quietly while I considered his request. I heard the same part of me that asked if he needed help say something else.

“I don’t see why not. Why don’t you come on in?”

“And Nelson, ma’am?” he asked.

“Of course, Nelson,” my other-self agreed. This was not like me at all.

I went to the kitchen and brought a dish down from the cupboard. I filled it and carried it out to the living room. “There you go,” I told the animal as I set the bowl on the floor. It seemed appreciative, and drank quickly. I turned back to its companion.

“Michael,” I said.

He seemed to understand that I had questions.

“We’ve been travelling.”

Michael told me his story while Nelson finished the water. When the possum was done, it crawled back to Michael’s lap. The man smiled, stood, and thanked me.

They left very soon after.

I stood behind the screen and watched them go down the road.

To this day, I can’t remember where he said they were going next.

 

 

 

No. 320B

March 2, 2013

“The blue lamp went out abruptly.

“I’ve got it,” said Sarah, rising from the armchair in the corner of the room. She walked to the hall closet and began to rummage through the odds and ends that covered the top shelf.

“Do we have any more bulbs?” she asked her roommate Andrea.

Andrea yawned and looked up from her computer. “Did you look under the sink? As far as I know, if we have any, they’re there.”

Sarah redirected her search to the washroom. “Nope,” she confirmed after a brief survey.

“That was my best guess,” said Andrea. “You can take the one from the light in my bedroom. I never use that thing, anyway.”

“What time is it?” asked Sarah.

Andrea checked. “Just after seven.”

Sarah nodded and returned to the closet. She put on her coat and picked up her keys from a dish by the front door. “I might as well go to the store. Do you need anything?”

“Don’t think so. You could bring back some cookies if you’re feeling adventurous.”

Sarah left.

Andrea became aware of the rain hammering the window. She didn’t think anything of it for several minutes.

When she realized, she set her computer aside and crossed the empty apartment. Opening the bathroom cupboard door, the first thing she saw was a box of light bulbs.

 

When a soaking-wet Sarah returned home, she found Andrea waiting for her on the couch. “Did you get the cookies?” Andrea asked pointedly.

Sarah held up a bag. “Right here.”

“And the lights?”

“Uh huh.”

Andrea watched Sarah for some kind of reaction. Seeing none, she took a deep breath. “Good,” she said, deciding not to press the issue. “Good. Good.”

Andrea returned to her computer and Sarah fixed the lamp and went back to her book.

The rain continued to fall.

 

 

 

No. 321

March 3, 2013

It was in the back row, halfway through ECON 340, where Aaron Andrew Alison made his discovery.

While the professor droned on about some European financial crisis, Aaron was been busy drawing aimlessly in his notebook. He had just finished a detailed study of a UFO when the inked craft began to move across the paper on its own accord.

Aaron, seeing the motion immediately, first suspected that he might have accidentally chosen the desk with the wobbly leg. When the table proved solid, he turned his attention back to the paper.

The ship was now floating just above the surface of the page and, in seconds, had risen to the level of Aaron’s nose.  He tried to swat it back down.

The professor saw Aaron’s erratic gestures from the front of the room. “Is there a problem, Mr. Alison?”

Aaron kept his eye on the renegade doodle. “No, sir. I just had a sneeze die on me, that’s all.”

The answer seemed sufficient to deflect the unwanted attention. Meanwhile, Aaron had noticed something else about the strange vessel. He’d added small windows to the picture, and now, through one of them, he thought he could make out the pilot.

It seemed that the creature noticed Aaron, as well. A tiny hand appeared in the porthole and waved casually at its creator.

The UFO dove back toward the paper on the desk, re-entering the pages like a submarine sinking beneath the surface of the water. Aaron flipped rapidly through his notebook, trying to locate the missing saucer.

He couldn’t find it and, more alarmingly, he could see that all of his other drawings were coming to life, as well.

 

 

 

No. 322

CYOA2 Part 1

March 4, 2013

Snow had been falling when Lt. Rob Martin had departed for Hawaii, but his trip was no vacation. While the jet jostled up and down from turbulence, Martin kept one foot on the bag beneath his feet at all times. The part inside was needed for a top secret project.

Upon arriving in Honolulu, Lt. Martin’s orders were to board a one-way flight to a classified location. It was sure to be one-way because, where he was going next, there was no place to land the plane. The pilot was to ditch the aircraft in the sea and Martin was told that they would then be “recovered”. The word did not fill him with confidence.

Martin was now one of the four people not at the site who were cleared into the program. Only Martin’s boss, the President, and a shadowy third party knew all the details of the scheme. Martin had been told yesterday, and he still couldn’t believe that what he had heard was true.

He was being sent to Point Nemo, the location in the Pacific Ocean that was farthest from land. There, under water, an experiment was underway that depended on the equipment that Martin was bringing with him. The outcome of the experiment could change the world.

 

 

 

No. 323

March 4, 2013

Lily caught the tiger’s tail and it turned around to bite her.

Upon seeing the small, frightened girl, the tiger relaxed. “Little girl,” it said. “Do you know where you are?”

“No,” said Lily, her lips quivering with sadness. “I’m lost.”

“You’re in the jungle, where few people go. How did you get here?” it asked her.

“I took the road,” she said. “It was very long, and I’m very tired. Do you know of a place to sleep?”

“Only my den,” the tiger told her. “And that’s for me. You’ll have to find your own bed for the night.”

“I understand,” said Lily. “I wish I knew the way home.”

The tiger sat back on its haunches and considered her statement. The tiger’s home was all around him. It did not have one place called home.

“I don’t know if I can help you, but if you climb on my back we could search together,” the cat told the child.

 

The pair walked for days and days. Sometimes Lily rode on the tiger’s broad shoulders, and sometimes she walked beside the stately animal.

It was early in the morning when they reached the edge of the forest.

“I can take you no farther,” said the tiger. “Your home is that way, and I cannot leave mine.”

Lily nodded and hugged the great beast. “Thank you, tiger. Perhaps one day we’ll meet again.”

“Maybe,” answered the tiger. But the tiger knew that it was not to be. Little girls can only meet a tiger once.

“Goodbye, Lily,” said the tiger.

 

 

 

No. 324

March 6, 2013

It was cold in the warehouse, and Murphy tried to avoid going in as much as possible. Usually, he was able to leave the onerous task to somebody else, but on weekends he was the only person at the office.

Of course, it wasn’t just the temperature that kept him away. The warehouse scared him. Murphy wasn’t worried about goblins or ghosts, though. He was terrified that something would fall off of one of the shelves and crush his skull.

Tonight, he needed something from bin 17-C. He consulted the numbering chart and discovered that 17-C was the last bin in the last row.  “Awesome,” he said, turning the word into a curse.

Arriving at the warehouse door, he paused a moment, waiting for the lights to come on. One in the back flickered, then stayed off. It was an ominous sign. Murphy took a deep breath and hurried down the aisles to reach his objective. He kept his head down, but cast a wary eye up at the looming racks.

He made it to 17-C without trouble. Still, he felt that the journey had taken too long. He resolved to make the return trip at a much higher rate of speed.

With the desired element in hand, Murphy turned and made a dash back for the glowing safety of the exit door.

At the same moment, the light that had flickered betrayed him, snapping to life to illuminate the entire corner of the building.

The flash and new shadows conspired to dazzle Murphy, and he tripped, launching heavily into a large box on a bottom shelf. The impact destabilized the entire structure, and the carefully stacked inventory began to fall to the floor.

Murphy whimpered, and crawled for cover.

With a loud crash, the last item hit the ground, after which the warehouse became oppressively silent. The only sound Murphy could hear was his own breathing. He was alive! His nightmare had come true, but he’d survived!

Glancing around at the wreckage, he spotted the part from 17-C. Retrieving his prize, he jauntily made his way back to the office.

Murphy completed his work and shut off his computer. He wrote a quick note explaining what had happened in the warehouse and left for home.

 

On Monday morning, he arrived back at work. Most of the staff had already arrived, and he walked to his desk past a gallery of strange looks. As he sat down, his phone rang. It was his boss, calling Murphy to his office.

 

Murphy was promptly fired for recklessly damaging company property. He was instructed to clear out his desk and leave the premises.

He did as he was told, and exited the building for the last time. He threw the cardboard box of his belongings onto the passenger seat of his car and drove off angrily.

He didn’t see the red truck passing as he turned out of the parking lot. It struck his car and the force of the collision catapulted Murphy’s vehicle into a tree, killing him instantly.

 

 

 

No. 325

March 7, 2013

Lex Orbis punched the keys of the calculator with a deliberate precision. Then, turning the device to face the shopkeeper, Orbis crossed his arms and waited.

The shopkeeper considered the number, then shook his head.

Orbis did not move.

The two stared at each other, fully engaged in a battle of wills.

Still, Orbis did not move.

The shopkeeper broke first, entering a new figure into the calculator. He showed it to Orbis.

Accepting with a slight nod, Orbis pulled his wallet from his pocket. After counting out the proper number of bills, he placed them respectfully on the counter.

He collected his prize, and left the store.

The shopkeeper was immediately on the phone. Speaking quickly, he gave instructions to the party on the other end of the line. Only then did he remove the cash from the countertop and put it in the till.

 

Orbis edged his way down the narrow street, mostly going straight, but having to dodge on occasion past traffic proceeding in the opposite direction. He made it perhaps two blocks before being interrupted.

Two large men stepped in front of him to block his path. “We’ll have it,” one said. The other was silent, but brandished a pipe.

Seeing a small bar to his right, Orbis smiled at the two goons. “I’m sure you have time for a drink,” he said with a smile. “Why don’t we step over here,” he continued, gesturing toward the patio of the bar.

His assailants said nothing. Pipe grunted his approval. Talky shrugged.

The group all moved toward the bar. Orbis made it close enough that a waiter asked him if he’d like a seat.

“I would,” he said, reaching out and snatching one up off the ground.

Pipe and Talky had no time to react. Pipe felt the chair hit his face while Talky, distracted by the sudden attack, was felled by a powerful kick.

Orbis placed the chair back in its proper position and thanked the astonished waiter.

 

The bell over the door rang, announcing an entering customer.

The shopkeeper didn’t look up. “We’re closed.”

Orbis crossed the store toward the shopkeeper. He placed his hand on the counter where he’d left the money.

The shopkeeper finally raised his head. His eyes grew wide and the surprised caused him to burst into a fit out coughing.

“Settle down,” said Orbis derisively. “It’s only me.”

The shopkeeper swallowed hard. “What can I do to help you?” he asked, cautiously.

Orbis studied the man for a moment before he answered. Finally, he spoke. “It was the last two hundred, wasn’t it?”

The shopkeeper, knowing the game was up, dropped his chin for “yes”.

Orbis once again found his wallet. He withdrew the amount and tucked it into the shopkeeper’s shirt pocket. “And we won’t be having any more trouble, will we?”

The shopkeeper shook his head vigorously.

“Good,” said Orbis. “That’s what I thought.” He made for the exit but, before leaving the shop, he turned back to the crooked proprietor. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to know of a good bar around here, would you?”

 

 

 

No. 326

March 8, 2013

One day a spase Ship Landed on plant nuR.

There was an alien. and The aLein was ataKeKing.

The end.

 

 

 

No. 327

CYOA2 Part 2

March 10, 2013

Martin eyed the other passenger as the small plane sped toward Point Nemo. He watched her lean down and casually adjust the laces of her boot. Martin struggled to understand how she could be concerned about something so trivial. He’d just been flown halfway around the globe on an urgent, secret mission. She seemed as cool and collected as if she was taking a trip to the corner-store.

What was also awkward was that Martin didn’t know how much she knew. He decided to play it safe, and not speak to her at all until they reached their destination.

She was having none of that. “Holly Ridgeway, NASA,” she told him, thrusting out her hand boldly.

“Hi,” said Martin. “Lt. Rob Martin. Good to meet you, Ms. Ridgeway.”

Ridgeway smiled. “You’ve got it, then?” she asked, pointing at the bag Martin had been gripping the entire flight.

“It?” said Martin, weakly deflecting the question.

“The servo,” said Ridgeway. “The one they need at Nemo. You know, you’d think that they’d keep one of two of those on hand in case of emergencies. That was all in my report.”

“Was it?” asked Martin, giving nothing away.

“Oh, yes. It’s my test,” she told him.

The pilot’s voice crackled over the intercom. “We’re setting down in one minute. As noted in the pre-flight briefing, we’ll be ditching at sea. Please follow my instructions after we set down, and brace for impact.”

“Here we go,” said Ridgeway with a wink.

Martin clutched his bag even closer, and closed his eyes.

“Brace!” called the pilot.

Then the plane hit the water with a shuddering crash.

 

 

 

No. 328A

CYOA2 Part 3

March 11, 2013

Martin lay in his seat, stunned by the impact. A red haze clouded his vision. Far in the distance, he could hear the pilot speaking, telling him how to escape the fuselage.

Something tugged at his bag. Something in the back of his mind told him to pay attention. His eyes snapped fully open and he saw Ridgeway collecting the precious part. Martin waved his arm at her, trying to drive her away.

“Stop,” he mumbled.

“Relax,” she told him. “You’re tangled in your seatbelt. Give me a second to get you out.”

Martin slumped back, and looked toward the cockpit. The pilot had made his escape from the sinking plane.

“There,” said Ridgeway. “Come with me.”

She grabbed Martin under his arms and hauled him toward the hatch. He made sure he kept a tight grip on the precious part. Water began to flow into the cabin through the open door, and Ridgeway struggled under her heavy burden.

“If you could help at all, Rob, that would be fantastic,” she grunted.

Martin found his legs and shuffled along with her. Suddenly they were both out of the wreck and under a clear, bright blue sky, floating in the cold water of the conspicuously empty South Pacific. Martin felt another hand grab his shirt just behind the neck and he was quickly hauled up into a raft.

The pilot helped Ridgeway aboard, next. And the three sat, waterlogged, in the flimsy boat.

“Everybody alright?” asked the pilot.

Ridgeway and Martin nodded.

“Won’t be long now,” said the airman. “I just need to send the signal.”

With a flourish, he produced a grenade. He pulled the pin and dropped the bomb into the ocean. Seconds later there was a muffled explosion and a geyser of frothy white spray as the sea erupted.

Soon after that, there was another sound. Martin strained to hear it, but couldn’t identify the source. It was a loud hum, or rumble that seemed to come from everywhere at once. The water under the life raft heaved up, and the gentle motion of the waves was replaced by a solid surface.

Propping himself up, Martin peered out over the side of boat. He’d been told about the craft during his briefing, but nothing had prepared him for the sight before his eyes.

Surrounded him on all sides was an enormous metal disc that had risen out of the deep.  A hatch opened up and a woman’s head popped out. “Hello,” she shouted. “Welcome to Nautilus Base. Can I have the password, please?”

 

 

 

No. 328B

CYOA2 Part 3 Alternate

March 11, 2013
Martin lay in his seat, stunned by the impact. A red haze clouded his vision. Far in the distance, he could hear the pilot speaking, telling him how to escape the fuselage.

Something tugged at his bag. Something in the back of his mind told him to pay attention. His eyes snapped fully open and he saw Ridgeway collecting the precious part. Martin waved his arm at her, trying to drive her away.

“Stop,” he mumbled.

That got her attention. Her eyes widened, and she threw a panicked glance toward the cockpit. The pilot had bailed out, into the sea. The plane was empty but for the two passengers.

Seeing they were alone, Ridgeway pulled a gun. “Sorry,” she told Martin, almost sadly. “They’ll assume you died in the wreck.”

She snatched the bag away and pulled the trigger at the same time.

Martin’s last view was of Ridgeway scrambling out of the sinking cabin as water rushed in through the hatch. He felt the ocean reach his feet, and then he died.

 

 

 

No. 329A

CYOA2 Part 4

March 12, 2013

Martin’s mind went blank. He’d been told the password during his briefing, but with the long flight and the crash, he’d somehow forgotten. “I don’t know it,” he whispered to Ridgeway. He began to search his pockets and bag frantically, hoping that he’d written it down somewhere.

Ridgeway put her hand on his arm. “It’s ok,” she said quietly. She turned to the woman at the hatch and called back. “Charybdis.”

The woman nodded, and stepped onto the wet deck. “Are you all ok?” she said as she got closer to the raft. “He seems hurt,” she said, pointing at Martin.

Martin stood up slowly. “I’m fine. Lt. Rob Martin,” he said, introducing himself. “I have a servo that you need.”

The woman shook his hand. “Captain Land,” she said in reply. “And Ridgeway, good to see you again.”

“You, too, Captain,” said Ridgeway.

The pilot was greeted, and the trio were led into the station.

“Come with me,” Land told Ridgeway and Martin. “I’ll show you your quarters, then we can get to work. Lt. Martin, I’ll take the servo, if you like.”

“Work?” asked Martin. His duty, as he was aware of it, had only been to deliver the part.

“Of course,” said Land. “You’re crew. What did you expect?”

Martin felt the hairs rise on the back of neck. His first instinct was to lie to the Captain. “No, never mind. I’ll be ready in half an hour. Sorry, it’s just the shock of the landing and all.”

 

Martin’s quarters turned out to be a small cabin, deep in the bowels of the Nautilus. He had the space to himself, and some time to think. He had the impression that Ridgeway was staying in the same part of the station, but it was difficult to tell. The corridors from the hatch to his current location all looked the same, and he had the distinct impression he had been taken on a route that was designed not to pass any sensitive areas.

Most worryingly, he’d remembered the password he’d been given. It had not been “Charybdis”.

He also found that his door was locked from the outside. It was relatively simple to pick it, though, and soon he was standing in the passageway. He moved slowly down a line of identical doors, pausing at each one and calling Ridgeway’s name softly.

She answered at the fifth. Martin made sure there was nobody else around, then carefully let himself in.

“What’s going on?” he asked harshly.

“I don’t know,” she said, and with enough fear in her voice that he believed her.

“This isn’t right,” he said.

“No,” she agreed. “Something’s wrong.”

 

 

 

No. 329B

CYOA2 Part 4 Alternate

March 12, 2013

Martin was quick to answer, having been told the code before he left Hawaii. “Scylla.”

The pilot gasped, horrified. Ridgeway seemed like she was going to be sick.

The woman at the hatch frowned. “How many of you are there?”

Martin looked at his companions. “Just the three of us,” he called back.

“That’s incorrect,” the woman announced. She disappeared and the hatch slammed shut. Nautilus Base began to sink back beneath the waves. In seconds, the raft was alone on the surface.

“Idiot!” shouted the pilot.

Martin was confused. “What’s going on?”

Ridgeway slumped against the side of the boat. “Nautilus is a massively secret project in the middle of nowhere and you gave them the wrong code.”

“No, I didn’t,” Martin protested. “’Scylla,’ that’s the one.”

“’That’s the one’ is right,” said the pilot darkly. “If there’s only one person. You’ve killed us.”

“That can’t be right,” said Martin. “Get them back. You sound like you know the right one, tell them!”

“Can’t,” said Ridgeway. “They’ll assume they’ve been compromised. The base is probably already on the move.”

“What can we do?” asked Martin.

“We drift,” said the pilot.

 

The supplies on the raft lasted a week, then the hunger set it. After two, the trio was desperate.

On the last day of the third week, Martin awoke from an exhausted sleep to see the pilot standing over him with an oar.  Martin didn’t have the time or strength to raise his arms to defend himself. The paddle hit him squarely between the eyes, killing him instantly.

 

After a month, a passing fishing vessel spotted a lonely lifeboat far from any shipping lanes. As it drew closer, the crew could see two passengers.

When the survivors were plucked from the ocean, the rescuing crew noted that they were in excellent health for having been adrift for so long.

 

 

 

No. 330A

CYOA2 Part 5

March 13, 2013

“I don’t think it will do us any good to try to escape,” said Martin. “Not right now, anyway.”

“I agree,” said Ridgeway. “But do we just sit and wait?”

 Martin quietly considered the plan before he spoke. “They may still need us. I’ve delivered their equipment, but I’m not sure if I would have been told about the experiment in as much detail as I was if they were just going to detain me. And you, It’s your experiment.”

“Unless Land’s gone rogue,” Ridgeway suggested. “Did you see how she looked at us when we arrived? I’m not certain they were expecting us, even if they needed the servo.”

“We need more information,” Martin concluded. “I’m going to go back to my cabin. It won’t do for them to know we can meet. If they threaten us in any way, we’ll make a move. Until then, we play cool.”

“’Cool’,” said Ridgeway with a nod. “Got it.”

 

Land returned after the promised thirty minutes. With her was a short, dirty looking man. “This is Albert Hodge,” Land introduced. “He’ll be your liaison with the science team. But, for the moment, would you two like to join me on the bridge?”

Martin and Ridgeway said yes and were soon led to the control center of the Nautilus.

 

“Amazing,” gasped Ridgeway. Martin, too, was impressed. At the center of the bridge was a giant holographic schematic of Nautilus Base. The scale was stunning. Near as Martin could tell, a jumbo jet could land on the top deck with room to spare. And there appeared to be seven such decks.

“Is that the core?” Ridgeway asked, pointing at a void at the center of the station.

“Indeed it is,” said Land with a smile. “Hodge will show you around there after dinner.”

Something clicked in Martin’s brain. “You didn’t need the part, did you?”

Land laughed. “Of course not, we’re completely self-sufficient. But we didn’t have you, and you’re a hard thing to find.”

Hodge began to laugh as well, a joyless, grating sound.

 

 

 

No. 330B

CYOA2 Part 5 Alternate

March 13, 2013

“I think we need to escape,” said Martin.

“Escape to where?” Ridgeway asked. “You saw what we passed over on the flight here. There’s nothing out there.”

“They’ve got to have a way to get around. Boats, or escape pods, or maybe even a seaplane hanger. This base is enormous. We just need to find something,” Martin said with more courage than he felt.

Ridgeway quietly considered the plan, sparse as it was. “I suppose, at least, a walk around couldn’t hurt.”

They left the cabin and crept back up the passageway the way they’d been brought. Martin took the lead. Coming to a blind corner, he paused and motioned Ridgeway to retreat to a discrete distance. Then he poked his head around.

It was the exact wrong moment. Captain Land was coming down the hall toward him and noticed the surreptitious movement.

“Halt!” she shouted. “Guards!”

Ridgeway, who’d been behind, managed to escape capture, but Martin wasn’t so lucky.

 

“So you want to leave our installation?” Land asked him before she had him shoved into the tube. “We can certainly accommodate that.”

A large cover was lowered into place, and Martin could hear screws being tightened. It had a tiny porthole in it, through which he could still see the Captain.

Martin watched as Land pointed to somebody. He didn’t know it was a technician who pulled a lever to open the tube to the deep.

Martin was ejected through a torpedo door. Nautilus Base was currently keeping station far below the surface, and the pressure of the water crushed the lieutenant immediately.

Inside, Land was furious. “That’s one,” she screamed at her minions. “Now find the other!”

 

 

 

No. 331A

CYOA2 Part 6

March 14, 2013

“That was an excellent meal,” said Martin. He wasn’t lying. Captain Land had prepared a feast for her guests although, throughout the dinner, she’d been elusive when questioned. Martin would have liked to have found out why she needed him, specifically. He resolved to uncover the answer.

“It was, wasn’t it?” Captain Land agreed. “We have an excellent support staff on board. They’ve been poached from the best hotels all over the world.”

Hodge and Ridgeway were having their own discussion at the table. Martin heard the words “energy” and “isolated” but couldn’t make out the rest. Turning back to Land, he asked her point-blank about his situation.

“Why me?”

Land swirled her wine glass and said nothing.

“Why do you need me?” Martin insisted.

The Captain leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. She sighed deeply and then replied. “You’re going to find out eventually, I suppose.” She waited a little longer before finally getting to the point. “We need you to calibrate the machine.”

Ridgeway and Hodge’s conversation stopped abruptly and everyone turned to stare at Martin.

“I don’t know how to do that,” said Martin. “I’m really just a delivery man.”

Land smiled. “Why do you think they told the delivery man about the entire project?” she asked him. “I should be clearer. You’re the calibration. Perhaps Mr. Hodge can explain it better.”

Hodge fixed Martin in an uncomfortable gaze.

Martin shifted in his seat.

Ridgeway’s eyes were wide, but she stayed silent.

“You’re the first one,” said Hodge. “We tried this experiment twenty-seven years ago. You were the result. Our technology then was primitive, and we didn’t know much about the time-barrier. You came through and the lab went up. Took the city with it.”

Martin swallowed hard. “A city exploded? It seems like people would remember that. You’re crazy.”

“Of course they do,” said Land. “Everybody does.”

“Chernobyl,” Ridgeway whispered. “That was us,” she said, realizing.

“That’s right,” said Land. “This time we’ve decided to conduct our business without as many neighbors.”

Martin spoke up. “But what do you mean ‘I came through’?”

“You got the briefing,” said Land. “You know what we’re doing.”

“I’m from the future?”

Land nodded. “You were a baby, then.”

“And now?”

“Now, after all this time, we’re ready to turn on the machine again,” confirmed the Captain. “Finish your dessert. Then we’ll head down to the core.”

 

 

 

No. 331B

CYOA2 Part 6 Alternate

March 14, 2013

“That really was an excellent meal,” said Martin. He wasn’t lying. Captain Land had prepared a feast for her guests although, throughout the dinner, she’d been elusive when questioned. Martin would have liked to have found out why she needed him, specifically. He resolved to attempt to get some information from the outside. “Is there any chance I could use your secure comm gear to reach my boss? Let him know I’ve arrive safely, and all that.”

The Captain fidgeted in her chair. She flashed a telling glance at Hodge before she replied. “I’m afraid we can’t have that. All of our long-range connections are down right now.”

Ridgeway interrupted. “What about the emergency beacon? That runs on a separate system from the rest. I’m sure we can send a message that way.”

Hodge pushed back from the table and stood. Land held up her hand with one finger extended. “Wait,” she told her minion.

She rose from her seat, too. “How do you know about the beacon?” she demanded. “I thought you were part of the lab team?”

“It’s the same system as on the Space Station,” replied Ridgeway. “That was my last project.”

Hodge shook his head.

“Too much,” Land agreed. “This is my project,” she told her captives. “I can’t have you interfering.” She sighed, and closed her eyes. “Hodge, deal with them.”

As Martin and Ridgeway were hustled out of the room, Land stayed behind and screamed at them. “Nautilus is mine!” she ranted “I will not allow it to be taken from me!”

 

The pair were locked in a narrow room filled with pipes.

“We’re near the core,” Ridgeway observed. “That’s not good.”

“Why?” asked Martin.

“Because, unless I’m mistaken, those are cooling ducts for the experiment,” said Ridgeway grimly. “I can only guess that Land’s taken over because the experiment is ready to go online. If she activates it, we’ll freeze.”

“How long have we got?”

“It’ll be instantaneous.”

As soon as Ridgeway said the words, a deep rumble filled the space.

“Goodbye,” she told Martin.

Their bodies turned to ice and then shattered.

By turning on the machine, Land had taken the first step towards the end of the world. 

 

 

 

No. 322A

CYOA2 Part 7

March 15, 2013

“Did you know about this?” Martin whispered to Ridgeway.

“Some,” she admitted. “But about the program. Not you.”

Martin raised his voice to address the Captain. “Was I the only one?” he asked.

“No,” said Land. “There were three children. You and another stayed here, and the other one went back before the accident. The little girl who remained died in a car accident when she was seventeen.”

Martin took a moment to process the information. “Why did we end up here?” he said. “Why us?”

Hodge answered. “We don’t know. Like I said, we didn’t know much about the barrier. The machine was on for a total of five minutes. We sent one man through, and the three children arrived on our side.”

“What happened to your man?” asked Ridgeway.

Land shook her head.

“Then we had an energy spike,” continued Hodge. “And the machine destroyed itself.”

One more thing occurred to Martin. “How far into the future am I from?”

“We don’t know,” said Land. “But if you let us, we can try to find out.”

Martin and Ridgeway exchanged glances.

“Alright,” said Martin. “Take me to the core.”

 

The team passed through an entire array of security zones. Martin observed Land using a number pad, her fingerprints, a pass-card, an iris scan, and, lastly, a key from a chain around her neck to reach the inner bay of the core.

They stepped onto a platform that hung over a vast empty space. The walls were smooth and white, and there was nothing to indicate scale. Martin got dizzy looking at it.

“It’ll take a second,” said Land, who seemed unsteady herself. “It happens every time. Hodge?”

“It’s almost two million cubic meters,” the scientist confirmed.

“There’s no machine,” observed Martin when he regained his bearings.

“The machine is built around the Core,” said Ridgeway. “The control room, if I recall correctly, should be directly below us.”

Hodge held out his hand to show the way. “Down here.”

They followed his direction and arrived in the nerve center of Nautilus Base. The room was filled with computer screens, but there was no sign of human activity at the moment.

“Where is the crew?” asked Ridgeway.

“They’ve been kept in the dark about the next step,” said Land. “The fewer people who know about Lt. Martin, the better.”

“I feel safer already,” said Martin, with his eyes locked on a metal chair in the corner of the lab. It was set on a raised platform, and there were white ceramic shackles on the arms and legs.  “That’s where the calibration happens, I’m guessing,” he said, pointing with his chin.

“It’s perfectly painless,” said Hodge.

“Think of an ultrasound,” said Land.

“Would you, please?” asked Hodge, indicating toward the chair.

“Alright,” said Martin. “Here goes nothing.”

He sat down, and Hodge drew closer to latch the restraints closed.

“No,” Martin interrupted. “If you don’t mind, Ridgeway, I’d like you to strap me in.”

Ridgeway laughed nervously, but performed the task. “All good?” she asked when she was finished.

Martin wriggled his hands and feet against the straps. “All good.”

“This is just the first part of the experiment,” said Land. “Nothing will happen in the core, and we won’t run the machine. We’re just going to get some readouts on the screen here.”

Martin realized, suddenly, that even though he was here, confined to a chair in the heart of a top secret lab that was floating as far from land as somebody could get, he didn’t have any more questions. He began to feel a measure of excitement, even.

“Let’s go,” he told the others.

Hodge pressed a button. For almost a second, nothing happened. Then a high-pitched whine began, coming from something hidden behind the bank of computers.

“Shut it down!” said Land urgently. “Cut the power!”

 

 

 

No. 322B

CYOA2 Part 7 Alternate

March 15, 2013

“No,” said Martin. “What you’re saying is insane.” He stood up and slammed his fist down on the table. “I want proof. Right now.”

“Calm down,” whispered Ridgeway.

Martin turned on her. “Did you know about this the whole time? Are you some kind of babysitter they sent along?”

“Hold on,” said Land. “Relax. I know this comes as a shock.”

“You!” Martin shouted, his attention now focused on the Nautilus crew. “You, Captain, and Hodge. What kind of sick experiments are you running here?”

He lunged at Land, but his foot caught on his overturned chair.

Ridgeway watched in horror as Martin fell forward. His head struck the corner of the table with a sickening smack and his limp body collapsed to the floor.

Hodge was the first to reach him. “He’s dead,” was the confirmation.

Captain Land put her head in her hands. “Can we still use the body for calibration?”

 

 

 

No. 333A

CYOA2 Part 8

March 19, 2013

Hodge slammed his fist down on the emergency button and all the computers in the lab went dark. The noise continued, though.

“I don’t know what else I can do,” he said through clenched teeth. “Everything should be off.”

 “I’d really like to get out of the chair now,” Martin said quietly.

Land and Ridgeway rushed to unlock the restraints.

“It’s not working,” said Ridgeway, with real fear in her voice. “They’re fused shut.”

From somewhere, out in the Core, an alarm began to sound.

Hodge’s head snapped toward the sound. “Oh no,” he said. “That’s the field-detection alert.”

Every light in the lab went out, plunging the group into complete darkness.

Land was the first to understand. “We’ve jumpstarted the reaction. The experiment’s begun.”

Martin was struggling against the restraints. “Something’s going to happen. I can feel it.”

A blinding flash of energy from the Core strobed through the windows. Everyone in the lab watched the giant space fill with light. The smooth walls intensified the reaction like a lens, and the roiling tendrils of lightning soon congealed into a stable glowing ball, bright with power.

The manacles on Martin’s chair popped open and he slumped to the floor.

“He’s exhausted,” Ridgeway reported from his side. She put her head on his chest. “There’s a strong heartbeat. I think he’s sleeping.”

“Amazing,” whispered Land, who was captivated by the time-barrier.  “It worked. After so long.”

Hodge rushed to reboot the master computer. He studied the read-outs intently. “Levels are holding. The barrier appears to be stable. I don’t know how the reaction started without the proper procedure, though.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Land, distantly. “We’ve got it now.”

“Should we send in the probe?” the swarthy scientist asked.

“Of course,” replied the Captain. “Immediately.”

Hodge punched in the command and a hatch opened in the wall of the Core. A small drone was launched into the barrier. It disappeared into the light without leaving as much as a ripple in the surface.

Data streamed back onto Hodge’s screen. “We’ll know very shortly if we’ve been successful.”

Moments later though, the drone reappeared in the Core. 

“Why did you bring it back?” Land demanded.

Hodge’s face turned a shade of ashen gray. “I didn’t,” he said. “It came out right where we sent it. Five seconds into the future.”

Then another drone emerged.

“What’s happening?” Ridgeway asked.

Hodge began to shake with fear. “That one’s not ours.”

Martin woke up with a start. “I can feel it all over,” he said from what sounded like a long ways away. “The barrier is vibrating. We haven’t got much time.”

 

 

 

No. 333B

CYOA2 Part 8 Alternate

March 19, 2013

Hodge slammed his fist down on the emergency button and all the computers in the lab went dark. The room was eerily silent.

“I’d really like to get out of the chair now,” Martin said quietly.

Land and Ridgeway rushed to unlock the restraints. As soon as Martin was loose, he jumped free and hustled to the far side of the lab.

“What was that all about?” Land asked Hodge.

The swarthy scientist was examining a print-out from a machine close to the chair. “There’s a problem with the data,” he reported.

“How big of a problem?” Land pressed.

“Martin isn’t the key,” Hodge concluded.

“Can that be right?” Land said. There was a touch of disbelief in her voice.

“It is,” said Hodge, peering at the paper. “In fact, according to this, if we use him, it will be more like putting a lock on the process.”

Martin spoke up from the corner. “Hey, guys? I don’t feel too good.”

Ridgeway was at his side immediately. “What’s wrong?”

Martin fell to his knees. “My insides feel all queasy,” he gasped, holding himself tightly around the belly.

From somewhere, out in the Core, an alarm began to sound.

Hodge’s head snapped toward the sound. “Oh no,” he said. “That’s the field-detection alert.”

Every light in the lab went out, plunging the group into complete darkness.

Martin began to scream. “It burns!”

A blinding flash of energy from the Core strobed through the windows. Land and Hodge watched in horror as the shatter-proof glass was shattered and Martin was pulled back toward the light. Ridgeway tried to grab his arm, but she was too slow.

When Martin hit the center of the blazing ball, the reaction suddenly quit, leaving the survivors unable to see, again. But they all heard the impact as the Lieutenant’s body fell to the floor of the Core, far below.

Emergency lights came on, casting a dirty yellow glow. One by one, the computers began to reboot. Hodge started to access the Core’s sensors to find out what had just happened. He soon had his answers.

“We’re finished,” he said. “The time barrier will never open again. We’d configured incorrectly. Martin wasn’t from the future. He was from the past.”

 

 

 

No. 334A

CYOA2 Part 9

March 21, 2013

“What is he talking about?” Land asked Ridgeway and Hodge.

“Not sure,” said Hodge, hurriedly. His attention was focused on the foreign drone that was approaching the lab. “That’s the more immediate threat,” he said, pointing.

Martin grabbed Hodge’s arm. “No. The barrier is. There’s something wrong with it.”

Hodge shook our of Martin’s grip. Keeping one eye on the foreign drone, he punched a command into the computer.  The original drone disappeared back into the barrier. “You’re right,” he whispered to Martin.

“What is it?” Land demanded.

“The information I’m getting back says that the drone’s gone further into the future this time,” said Hodge. “Seventy-five years.” Then his eyes widened. “Wait. Now it says forty minutes. Changing to a year. Now five. Now a month.” He turned to the others. “It’s doesn’t just go to one time.”

As he finished saying the words, the circumference of the time-barrier increased suddenly, engulfing the mysterious drone and penetrating the walls of the lab. Ridgeway, who was standing closest to the windows, disappeared into the portal.

It collapsed in on itself just as quickly, returning to its former state, floating in the middle of the Core.

The three left behind stared blankly at the empty space.

Martin recovered first. “I’m going in,” he said. Before anyone could stop him, he grabbed a pistol from the Captain’s holster, and had leapt off the observation deck into the barrier.

 

He hit the ground hard. Rolling upright, he found himself still in the massive bay. He wasn’t alone though. He was surrounded by a ring of armed troops. All of them had their guns trained on him.

“Get up,” said the leader.

Martin followed the order.  “Where am I?” he asked.

“The same place you left two years ago,” replied a familiar voice. The statement echoed through the Core.

“Hodge?” said Martin, straining to see into the lab. “Did Ridgeway make it here?”

There was a sinister laugh. “She did,” said Hodge. “About six months ago. You’ll meet her again shortly.”

“I need to get her and go back through,” Martin told him. He finally saw the scientist. He began to get a very bad feeling.

The last two years had been unkind to Hodge. Martin saw a large scar running up the man’s face, and one of his hands had been replaced by a crude metal hook. What stood out the most was Captain Land’s hat perched jauntily on Hodge’s head.

“Where’s the Captain?” Martin asked. “She’ll back me up.”

“Oh yes,” said Hodge, scratching his chin with the hook. “The Captain. Well, it seems that soon after the barrier opened, she had an accident. I command the Nautilus now.”

One of the guards nudged Martin with the barrel of a gun. The prisoner was marched back to the cabin he’d been held in when he’d arrived on Nautilus. The journey was much different now, with various parts of the base having been patched and ruined, as if a battle had taken place. Particularly gruesome were a number of man-sized scorch marks in the main passageway. Martin’s cell had seen the door replaced with crudely welded bars. Martin was thrown in, and left by himself.

 

It was three days before he saw anybody again.

Hodge appeared, whistling as he approached.

“Why?” Martin asked when Hodge stepped in front of the bars.

Hodge didn’t answer. Instead, he drew a pair of handcuffs from his belt and motioned for Martin to turn around. Once Martin was shackled, Hodge put his hook through the links on the handcuff chain and pulled the prisoner along with him.

“Where are we going?” Martin demanded.

“You’ll see,” said Hodge.

 

Martin was taken to another control room, one that was on the far side of the Core. Instead of computers, this one had more industrial machines. There were large switches and levers everywhere. Hodge sat Martin down on a bare metal bench.

“Now,” said the villain. “Now you’ll help me with my true experiment.”

“I won’t do anything until I see Ridgeway,” Martin told him defiantly.

“Very well,” said Hodge. “She’s over there.” He pointed with his hook. Ridgeway was indeed there. She was strapped to a chair very much like the one the Martin had been in when the barrier first appeared.

“Why is she in the chair?” asked Martin.

Hodge laughed his devious laugh. “She’s my calibration,” he said with a cackle. “Oh, that’s right. You still think you’re the reason the barrier opened in your time. No, sorry. That was me. Or, it will be in about ten minutes here. It didn’t start early at all. I opened it to the past.”

 “Remember when Land told you about the three people who came through the portal at Chernobyl? How one returned to their time? That was me. You, me, and the girl, we were all ripped from our homes and sent back. Thirty-six hours to be precise. They didn’t know how close the ends were, then.”

“It was only a little more than a day?” asked Martin.

“Correct,” nodded Hodge.

“And Ridgeway helps you how?” Martin pressed.

Hodge grinned. “I’m not going to use myself as a guinea pig, am I? I needed somebody else. Since there were only three people who are up to the task, my other options are clear, aren’t they?”

Martin realized what he was saying. “But she died,” he said. “Land told us the third girl died.”

“And just who do you think told Land?”

“So that whole time you worked on the experiment, you were planning this? To kidnap me and Ridgeway?”

“No,” said Hodge. “I worked here the whole time so that I could rule the world. With a functioning and properly calibrated time-machine, I have ultimate power.”

“I’ll save Ridgeway,” Martin told him, with cold resolve in his eyes. “And I’m going to stop you.”

 

 

 

No. 334B

CYOA2 Part 9 Alternate

March 21, 2013

“What is he talking about?” Land asked Ridgeway and Hodge.

“Not sure,” said Hodge, hurriedly. His attention was focused on the foreign drone that was approaching the lab. “That’s the more immediate threat,” he said, pointing.

The drone was close, now. The whine of its engines could be heard through the thick glass of the observation windows.

“It looks like ours,” said Ridgeway. “Can you stop it?”

Hodge was too busy entering commands into the computer to reply. “Ah ha!” he cried out as a screen changed color from yellow to green.

The drone’s flight path wobbled slightly.

“I think I’ve got it,” said Hodge.

They were his last words. The drone smashed through the window, the computer, and Hodge before burying itself in the bulkhead on the far side of the room. There was no explosion, but deep, black smoke began to billow out of the wreck.

The fire suppression system in the lab kicked in, flooding the chamber with inert gas.

“Come on,” Land ordered. “We’ve got to get out of here.”

Ridgeway gathered Martin to his feet and she and the Captain carried him toward the exit. None of the party noticed that behind them in the Core, without a hand on the controls, the time-barrier was expanding.

The group was just exiting the security zone around the Core when the first blast rocked the Nautilus.

Captain Land turned white. “It’s happening again,” she whispered.

Martin, who had regained his senses, grabbed her arm. “You can sound the evacuation alarm. We may lose the Base, but we’ll live.”

Ridgeway joined him in reassuring Land. “We just need to get to the bridge.”

Another detonation rocked the vessel. This one was bigger than the first.

“We need to hurry, though,” Ridgeway told the Captain. “Martin? Can you get her other arm?”

There was no reply.

“Martin?” Ridgeway repeated.

Hearing nothing, she turned around.

Martin was dead. The last explosion had driven a metal beam straight through his chest.

 

 

 

No. 335A

CYOA2 Part 10

March 22, 2013

A guard approached Hodge with a status report. Martin watched the guard carefully. There was something about the man’s demeanor that made him seem vulnerable. Martin saw Hodge give the guard an order. As the guard turned to leave the room, Martin understood what his captor’s weakness was. Hodge was a scientist, not a soldier. If he’d been commanding the rogue staff of the Nautilus for two years, their training wouldn’t be as efficient as it could be. Martin knew the advantage in a straight fight would be his.

All he needed was a distraction. Hodge seemed like a talker. Maybe that would work. “Do you remember coming through the time-barrier all those years ago?” he asked the scientist.

Hodge turned to face the prisoner. He shrugged. “I was young, then, only nine. One minute I was at home, the next I was in a strange place, like a factory. Somebody with a gun threatened me, and I tried to run, only to stumble back into a giant light. I thought I’d fallen in fire. But, instead, I was home. Unfortunately, it seemed that almost a year had passed. My mother had died in that time, and my father had started drinking.”

  “I see,” said Martin, as he struggled surreptitiously to escape from the handcuffs. “Do you know what happened to the man that was sent from the Chernobyl side?”

“Yes,” said Hodge. “I killed him. He would have been the only other person who knew that we weren’t from the distant future. If he had reported back to the people in charge of the time-barrier, they would have hunted me down and prevented me from achieving this,” he concluded with a grandiose sweep of his hook.

Martin had freed himself from the cuffs and made his move while Hodge was mid-swing. He dove at the smaller man, tackling him to the ground while at the same time trying to avoid the dangerous pointed claw. “Ridgeway,” he shouted. “Hold on.”

Ridgeway shook her arm weakly against her restraints. “No problem,” she said sarcastically.

Hodge was quickly subdued, but before Martin could free Ridgeway, the guard returned. He saw Hodge on the ground and turned his gun immediately toward Martin.

“Freeze,” was the unoriginal command.

Martin slowly raised his hands. At the same time, he was able to take an extra step toward the guard without being noticed.

Ridgeway saw martin move forward and created her own distraction.

“Look out!” she cried from the chair. The guard’s head snapped toward the sound while Martin lunged forward to grab the gun. Once the guard was disarmed, he too was tied up next to Hodge.

Martin released Ridgeway. She gave him a light kiss on the cheek.

“Thanks,” she said.

“Don’t thank me yet,” Martin told her. “We’re still not where we’re supposed to be.”

They turned back to confront Hodge, but he was missing. Martin pointed the gun at the remaining guard. “Which way did he go?”

The guard gave up the information without hesitation. “Toward the bridge. There’s a master-control for the Core that’s been installed there.”

“Can you walk?” Martin asked Ridgeway.

She took the gun off him and cocked it aggressively. “No problem,” she told him. Then she swung the butt of the rifle into the guard’s face, knocking him out. She shrugged at Martin. “They weren’t very nice,” she explained. “Let’s go finish off that maniac.”

 

The bridge was dark and silent when they approached. The giant holograph had been replaced by a hastily installed booth. Great snakes of wires flowed into the base across the previously uncluttered deck.

“I think we found him,” Martin whispered.

Ridgeway pulled the trigger and sent a hail of bullets toward the compartment. The assault seemed to do very little in the way of damage.

“Cover me,” said Martin. “I’m going to get closer.”

He made it to within an arm’s length of the target when the lights came on, catching him mid-stride.

“You’ve made a mistake,” Hodge’s voice mocked over the intercom. “Your friend just shot up the Nautilus’ guidance computer. We had some problems with the old one, so we had to make do with what we had on board. Lack of parts, and all that. I’m sure we could get some more from the mainland with a convincing enough story. But, for now, I think, we’ll be stuck on a course for the ocean bottom.”

“Where is he?” Martin called to Ridgeway.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t see him.”

Martin ran back up to Ridgeway. “We may have already won,” he told her quietly. “There’s no point chasing him all over the base.”

She understood. “If we can escape, he’ll die when the Nautilus implodes at crush-depth. We don’t have to fight him.”

Martin raised his voice again, for the benefit of their unseen observer. “Where are you, Hodge? We’re coming for you.”

A disgusting cackle echoed out of the speakers. “You won’t find me. And I’ve got full control of the barrier. Come on, Lieutenant, do your worst.”

Ridgeway and Martin made a show of leaving the bridge. “Are there escape pods?” he asked her once they were out of range.

“Better,” she told him. “Follow me.”

Together, they ran down the passageways of the sinking base. They began to hear ominous creaks and popping noises as the vessel descended. Luckily, their path didn’t take them near the Core, and so they did not have to deal with the security layers to get to their objective.

“Through here,” Ridgeway told Martin as they arrived at a seemingly nondescript hatch at the end of a corridor. They stepped inside and Martin almost lost his balance when he saw what was on the other side.

The “escape pod” on Nautilus Base was actually a full-sized submarine.

“Can we handle that?” Martin asked, still amazed by the sight.

“Yes,” Ridgeway confirmed. “It’s heavily automated, for emergencies. It only needs a crew of two, but can carry up to fifty people.”

“’Dakkar’,” Martin read the name painted in ornate letters on the side of the sleek boat. “Fits the theme,” he remarked with a grin.

“Stop wasting time,” Ridgeway told him. “Let’s go.”

They clambered up the narrow ladder to the boarding hatch and made their way inside. They strapped in, and initiated the sequence to eject.

They heard the outer doors of the Nautilus open, and water rush in.

Then they were free.

The radio began to crackle, and a familiar voice filled the Dakkar. “You’re getting away,” screamed Hodge. “Cowards! You won’t defeat me! I am the master of time!”

Martin laughed. “For about another minute, Hodge, and then you’ll be crushed.”

Ridgeway was less impressed. “’Master of Time?’” she replied with a smirk. “That’s what you’re going to go with?”

Martin pulled her toward him and shut off the radio. “Come on,” he said. “It’s poor form to taunt the condemned.”

Sure enough, a minute later, Martin and Hodge heard the Nautilus implode, destroying everything still on board.

“Do you think he made it out?” asked Martin. “Or to another time?”

“No,” said Ridgeway. “He wouldn’t be able to control the barrier without one of us to calibrate it. Or,” she said, pausing for effect. “Without this.” She pulled a peculiar-looking circuit board from her waistband. “They only had one on board. Funny, though, I specifically outlined that vulnerability in my initial report on the project.”

 

Three weeks later, Martin and Ridgeway were standing in the Oval Office.

“Thank you for sacrificing two years of your lives to save the world,” said the President as he handed them their medals.

“You’re welcome, Sir,” said Martin. “But I just have one question. Did you know that I came from the future when you sent me on the mission?”

“No, he didn’t,” said a voice from just outside the room. The speaker stepped through the door. “But I did,” he said just as Ridgeway and Martin recognized him. “Nautilus Base was my idea, too,” said another Martin.

“Where did you come from?” the first Martin demanded.

“From thirty-six hours before you were sent back,” answered the doppelganger. “And, by the way, instead of asking pointless questions, why don’t you give Holly a kiss?”

“Good idea,” said Martin, who took his own advice.

 

 

 

No. 335B

CYOA2 Part 10 Alternate

March 22, 2013

A guard approached Hodge with a status report. Martin watched the guard carefully. There was something about the man’s demeanor that made him seem vulnerable. Martin saw Hodge give the guard an order. As the guard turned to leave the room, Martin understood what his captor’s weakness was. Hodge was a scientist, not a soldier. If he’d been commanding the rogue staff of the Nautilus for two years, their training wouldn’t be as efficient as it could be. Martin knew the advantage in a straight fight would be his.

All he needed was a distraction. Hodge seemed like a talker. Maybe that would work. “Do you remember coming through the time-barrier all those years ago?” he asked the scientist.

Hodge turned to face the prisoner. He shrugged. “I was young, then, only nine. One minute I was at home, the next I was in a strange place, like a factory. Somebody with a gun threatened me, and I tried to run, only to stumble back into a giant light. I thought I’d fallen in fire. But, instead, I was home. Unfortunately, it seemed that almost a year had passed. My mother had died in that time, and my father had started drinking.”

  “I see,” said Martin, as he struggled surreptitiously to escape from the handcuffs. “Do you know what happened to the man that was sent from the Chernobyl side?”

“Yes,” said Hodge. “I killed him. He would have been the only other person who knew that we weren’t from the distant future. If he had reported back to the people in charge of the time-barrier, they would have hunted me down and prevented me from achieving this,” he concluded with a grandiose sweep of his hook.

Martin had freed himself from the cuffs and made his move while Hodge was mid-swing. He dove at the smaller man, tackling him to the ground while at the same time trying to avoid the dangerous pointed claw. “Ridgeway,” he shouted. “Hold on.”

Ridgeway shook her arm weakly against her restraints. “No problem,” she said sarcastically.

Hodge was quickly subdued. Martin ran to the door to make sure the guard wasn’t on his way back, then he released Ridgeway. She gave him a light kiss on the cheek.

“Thanks,” she said.

“Don’t thank me yet,” Martin told her. “We’re still not where we’re supposed to be.”

Hodge was screaming at them from the floor. “Cowards! You won’t defeat me! I am the master of time!”

Martin laughed. “You aren’t two years ago. I’m going back, and we’ll make sure you don’t get the chance to get close to the Core again.”

Ridgeway was less impressed. “’Master of Time?’” she said with a smirk. “That’s what you’re going to go with?”

Martin pulled her toward him. “Come on,” he said. “We can taunt him in the past.”

She didn’t disagree, but she gave Hodge a swift kick on the way out. The pair hurried down the stairs toward the shining barrier.

“Are you sure this is the way back?” she asked Martin right before the passed through it.

Martin checked his watch. “He said it would line up with the day we left in ten minutes, ten minutes ago.”

“Okay,” said Ridgeway.

They stepped forward together.

 

They arrived in the past instantly. But there was a problem.

“Where’s the Nautilus?” asked Martin, confused.

Ridgeway surveyed the dense jungle that surrounded them. “I think we’ve gone back too far.”

“How far do you think?”

Ridgeway lowered her voice abruptly before she answered. “All the way back,” she whispered. “Judging from that Tyrannosaurus,” she finished, pointing at the fearsome beast.

The Tyrannosaurus saw the pair and turned to attack.

“I hope ‘Jurassic Park’ was right about staying still,” Martin hissed out of the corner of his mouth.

But “Jurassic Park” was incorrect. The dinosaur closed the distance in no time. Ridgeway was the first to go, swallowed in one swift motion. Martin was less lucky. He felt the Tyrannosaurus’ teeth grip him around the belly and rip him in half. He watched his legs go down the monster’s throat before he bled to death, sixty-five million years before he was born. 

 

 

 

No. 336

March 23, 2013

The fire had jumped across the valley, and now formed an impenetrable wall around all four sides of the stranded group of hikers. Crews were trying desperately to reach them, but were driven away by the heat. The last option was a water-bomber dump directly on the hikers’ position in an attempt to suppress the flames long enough to reach the trapped party.

 

“Base, this is Dragon 768. We are on approach to the target. Confirm release at grid 27?”

“Roger, Dragon. Grid 27.”

Mike Harrison keyed the radio toggle again. “Copy, Base. We’re going in.” He pushed the control column forward and the enormous plane began its run.

The hot air rising off of the fire made for a bumpy ride.

“Wait until I give the call before hitting the release,” Harrison told his co-pilot, Andrew “Ace” Carol. “They don’t have time for us to go back and refill.”

“Gotcha,” said Ace in his usual laid-back manner.

Harrison often remarked that, when Ace wasn’t flying, it was hard to tell if he was alive.    

Ace claimed “energy conservation”, if he defended himself at all.

The aircraft was seconds from releasing its liquid cargo when Ace sounded the alarm. “Fire warning on the number two engine,” he called, simultaneously pulling the extinguisher handle.

Before Harrison had a chance to respond, Ace made another announcement.

“Fire in number one, too.”

“Leave it,” Harrison commanded. “We need to make the drop. Get ready.”

 

The hikers watched the plane fly toward them. One wing was trailing a cloud of dark smoke. The aircraft started to wobble as it got closer. Then the belly opened up and released the water over the fire. Several of the hikers were knocked down by the deluge.

 

“We’re empty,” Harrison shouted. “Cut the engine.”

Ace did as he was told, and the plane lurched sideways as it lost thrust on one side.

Harrison saw the problem immediately. “I can’t correct. We don’t have enough altitude. Hold on.”

 

Rescue crews reached the hikers just as the bomber hit the ground. Luckily, it crashed just ahead of the fire. 

 

Harrison lifted his head and looked at the shattered flightdeck. He couldn’t quite remember what had just happened. He felt someone pulling at his shoulder strap and looked slowly in that direction.

It was Ace, who had a nasty gash over his eye, but otherwise seemed to be in good shape.

“We need to go,” he told Harrison. “The tail’s already going up. I don’t want to get cooked.”

 

 

 

No. 337

March 24, 2013-03-24

The International Space Station had been taken over in an act of cunning treachery. The crewmember responsible, a sleeper agent, was now threatening, for reasons known only to her, to crash the space lab into a major city.

Lex Orbis had been called on to retake the ISS. He was currently stuffed into a Soyuz capsule, approaching the Station at thousands of kilometers per hour. The plan was that Orbis, once in range, would leap out into space and enter the station through the airlock.

At the appointed time, Orbis zipped up his spacesuit and turned to shake hands with the other man in the capsule. “Wish me luck, Boris,” he told the Russian, who, incidentally, knew no English. Then Orbis threw open the hatch and jumped.

Floating free across the void, Orbis had time only to wonder if, perhaps, the taser he’d brought along with him would be enough to subdue the rogue astronaut.  

Seconds later, he hit the side of the ISS and grabbed a support. He clambered over the surface, trying to avoid passing over any windows. He reached the outer door and pulled the emergency handle to let himself in. It worked, and Orbis was soon safely inside.

Now came the hard part of the mission. He’d been told that the mutineer had smuggled a gun on board, and was willing to use it, despite the risk of puncturing the hull. As soon as Orbis unlocked the inner airlock, he’d have mere moments to make his move.

Drawing the taser, he took a deep breath, then kicked the hatch open and dove through.

There was nobody there. All the lights were off and the entire capsule was lit by the glow of a single computer screen. Orbis floated slowly through the empty modules, making sure he was the only person aboard.

When he returned to the computer, the display had changed. There was a message on it.

 

MISSED ME ORBIS

WE LEFT IN THE EMERGENCY POD

ISS HAS BEEN DISABLED

YOU HAVE SEVEN MINUTES UNTIL RE-ENTRY

LOVE ALWAYS

–S

 

“Curses!” Orbis swore. They hadn’t told him his opponent’s name. It was Sabrina, Orbis’ old nemesis.

He threw the taser across the compartment angrily, and looked for a way to reboot the guidance system.

Failing to find one, he went with the only other option he could think of. Returning to the airlock, he swiftly cleared both doors and crouched on the lip of the outer hatch, watching the world spin beneath him.

“Boris,” he called over his radio. “I’m going to need a pick-up.”

Then he jumped back out into the void.

 

 

 

No. 338

March 25, 2013

Fox’s Landing wasn’t a small town, but it wasn’t a large town, either. Every resident could gather in the square with plenty of space left for visitors.

I can’t tell you what possessed me to stop there that night. I saw the glowing “Vacancy” sign in the window of the motel and pulled over.

The morning was cold. I was the only one in the street. I’d asked the man at the front desk where I might find a cup of coffee and he’d told me to head three blocks “toward the bridge” to Dana’s Coffee. Of course, I had no idea where the bridge was, so I made an assumption and walked downhill.

It was unsteady going. There was a thin layer of ice on every surface. I stopped myself from falling more than once, but I eventually found the right storefront.

The hours on the window said Dana’s was open, but the door was locked. I rubbed my hands together and knocked. After a moment’s wait, it opened. I was greeted by a girl who appeared to be no more than seventeen years old.

“Are you open?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Come on in. You must be from out of town.”

“How’d you guess?”

“All the regulars come in through the kitchen until at least ten.”

I peered over her shoulder. It must have been true. I counted at least four other people sitting at a table in the middle of the shop.

“Come in,” she told me. “What can I get started for you?”

I looked briefly at the menu above the counter, but went with my gut. “Black coffee, please. Dark roast, if there’s a choice.”

“Sit anywhere you like,” the girl told me as she went to get my drink.

One of the men at the table motioned for me to join them. “Welcome to Landing,” he told me. “Don’t worry. Dana will have your drink real soon and you won’t have to stay for too long.”

“That’s Dana?” I asked, nodding at the girl.

“Sure is,” said another man. “This is her place.”

He saw the surprise on my face.

“She’s older than she looks.”

Dana returned with my cup. She gave the men an exaggerated roll of her eyes. “Are you spreading lies about me, again?”

“No, Dana. We were just telling the visitor here that you’re ninety-five years old.”

She looked at me. “Twenty-four,” she said. “It’s a game they like to play.” She gave me the coffee and turned back to the regulars. “I don’t want to have to ban you all for the third time.”

They laughed. “Don’t worry. We’ll be good.”

She returned to the kitchen.

“She’ll do it, too,” the second man admitted to me.

“I’ll bet,” I said. I sipped my drink. The coffee was good. Maybe I had time for one more before I got back on the road.

 

 

 

No. 339

March 26, 2013

If it wasn’t the coldest day of the year, it was close. We were at Dana’s, like usual, when there was a knock at the door.

“Tourist,” said Bill Worsley.

I nodded. Nobody from Fox’s Landing comes through the front door at Dana’s. I sipped my tea and watched to see the stranger enter.

As Dana passed us to open up, she pointed and half-whispered a warning. “Be nice.”

You listen to a girl like Dana.

“Welcome to Landing,” I told our guest after he got in and shook himself off. The man had a hungry look about him. Maybe he’d been on the road too long. It’s a drive from anywhere to Landing. I suppose that’s why we like it here.

 He resisted the urge to get some kind of fancy drink, though. I think Dana respects the ones who order regular.  

The man seemed surprised to hear that Dana ran the store. Maybe we all got used to her being on her own after her parents died. It doesn’t seem like so long ago if you think about it, but time passes slower here. There’s less ways to fill it. It’s been five years since she opened the Coffee shop.

Bill started winding the man up. Like I said, there’s less ways to fill time here. Dana caught him just before he got to the punch line, like we haven’t heard it all a hundred times before. “No, Dana, We were just telling the visitor here that you’re ninety-five years old.”

So she threatened to ban us for a third time. At least this one wouldn’t be my fault.

Audrey Harris asked the man’s name.

 “James Docker,” he said as he pulled his chair a little closer to the table. It was our cue to introduce ourselves.

Bill went first, being the talkative one.

I followed. “Frank Macklin.”

Docker’s handshake was solid.

Emily Wills said her name, but so quietly that I don’t think Mr. Docker heard. In any case, he called her “Emmy” directly after.

Oddly, Dana didn’t come back from the kitchen very quickly after bringing Docker’s coffee.  Sometimes she gets like that. I have a feeling she’s embarrassed that she looks so young. But that’s my granddaughter for you.

With introductions complete, we settled back in to our conversation. I kept my eye on Docker.

You can tell the moment that somebody decides to stay in Landing. For our new friend it was just after his second cup. I think I knew it before he did.

 

 

 

No. 340

March 27, 2013

Lex Orbis is the world’s (1) bestspy. Last year he stopped (2) three attempts to take over the (3) world, and seven (4) mad-scientists with (5) doomsday devices.

His (6) greatest foe, by far, is Sabrina. Sabrina is a (7) deadlyassassin whose (8) hatred for Orbis is tempered only by her (9) twisted love.

Their first encounter was in a (10) small(11) cafe in (12) Switzerland. Lex was on a case and Sabrina was (13) planningher first (14) mission.  

Throughout their careers, their paths have crossed many times. Every meeting is more (15) violentthan the last. Most recently, Sabrina left Lex stranded on (16) the International Space Station. 

It was only with the help of a (17) Russian(18) astronaut that Orbis was able to (19) escape by the skin of his teeth.

Orbis has tracked Sabrina to her hideout. In order to get in, he must first (20) put on a (21) disguise and then (22) overpowerthe guards. The battle will not be easy. She is waiting for him, and she’s just as (23) clever as he is.

 

 

 

No. 341

March 28, 2013

“I’m sorry, I can’t help you,” said the butler who had answered the door of the stately home.

I was confused. “This isn’t 1947 Albert Crescent?” I asked one last time, to be sure. I’d been trying to get a straight answer for almost ten minutes.

The butler took the ornate card with the numbers listed on it from my hand and examined it. His inspection included turning it over and, oddly, sniffing it. “I’m afraid not,” he said. “What I can tell you is that 1944 Albert Crescent used to be directly across the way. They pulled that building down some years ago. Maybe that’s the one you’re confused about.”

I looked where he directed. There was only an overgrown lot with an old concrete foundation in the center. “Thanks,” I told him. “Maybe I’ll try to call somebody.”

The door closed, and I was left alone on the porch. I was almost certain that I had the right place. It’s true, there were no house numbers on the exterior, but it was the only structure on the street and the butler’s “across-the-road” story seemed dodgy. What was stranger still was that I hadn’t even told the man why I was looking for 1947 before he’d turned twitchy and nervous. 

I had a gold coin in my backpack, as well as written instructions on exactly when and how to deliver it. I only I had to find the location to deliver it to. The person who’d given it to me had been very, very specific.

When the phone number I’d be given connected directly with a “not in service” message, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

I’d been duped. There had never been 1947 Albert Crescent, just an elaborate ruse to lure me here.

I heard a rustle in the bushes.

The door seemed very far away, now. I broke into a run, screaming as loudly as I could and hoping that the butler would hear me.

 

 

 

No. 342

March 30, 2013

“Honey, I just got back from the post office,” said Alan Mersey. “I picked up your package, but I think they sent the wrong book.”

Kyla Mersey looked around the corner from the upstairs office. “What did we get?”

Alan checked the title one more time, just to be sure. “’Care and Feeding of the African Banded Pit-Viper’,” he told her.

“Wow,” she said. “That’s not even close.”

“Can we return it?” Alan asked as he came up the stairs.

Kyla clicked around on the sender’s website for a moment, reading the terms and conditions. “No,” she said, finding the relevant information. “Since we ordered during a sale.”

“Is there anything at all that we can do?” Alan pressed.

Kyla shrugged. “We could buy an African Banded Pit-Viper.”

Alan leaned forward, intrigued. “How much is one of those?”

 

Twelve-to-fourteen business-days later, a courier arrived at the Mersey’s front door. “I’ve got an animal here for you,” she said when Alan opened it. “Just sign here.”

Alan did so, and a medium-sized box was handed over. “Thanks,” he told the departing messenger.

“Be careful when you open it,” said Kyla, with the book in hand. “It’s highly venomous.”

Alan was, and soon had the lid ready to be opened. Slowly, he and Kyla lifted the cover up.

“Oh, come on!” exclaimed Alan. “This is ridiculous.”

Inside the container was not the expected reptile, but a small, furry creature.

“Wombat,” said Kyla, correctly identifying the Mersey’s new pet.

 

 

 

No. 343

March 31, 2013

The light in the old hangar cast a sickly yellow glow on the two occupants. Rain lashed the tin roof, the first sign of an approaching storm. All flights at the airport had been cancelled, leaving an old man and a young man to take shelter and wait.

 

“Have you heard of the ghost plane, boy?” asked the old man. “Every year, on the same night, a fog rolls in from the ocean and the runway lights dim. Then a plane comes in to land.

“We don’t see it on the radar and, when it rolls to a stop, it vanishes. We can never prove it arrived. But it comes.

“Some say it’s Amelia Earhart returning home. Others say it’s the last man back from the lost Flight 19. I can’t rightly say who, or what it could be. It makes the hairs on your neck stand up.”

“I’m not afraid,” said the young man.

“No, not now, you aren’t. But the first time you hear that engine, and every time after that, you will be.”

 

 

 

No. 344

April 1, 2013

“Tell me a story,” said little Brian Sanderson. “A good one.”

His older sister, Amy, sighed. “Again?” she asked. “I just told you one last night.”

“Yeah,” agreed Brian. “But it was crap.”

Amy nodded. He was right, but she didn’t want to have to actually say the words. “Ok,” she conceded. “Give me a second to think.”

Brian waited patiently, eyes fixed on his sister.

She began.

“Steve could hear the monster chewing, deep within the cave.”

“Cool!” Brian interrupted. “Is it eating a dude?”

“Let me get started!” Amy insisted. “You’ll find out!”

The story continued.

“And Steve knew the gruesome noises were all that were left of his friend David.”

“Gross!” said Brian.

“Steve was sure that he had only minutes to live. He struggled against the rocks that pinned him to the floor of the cavern.”

“I’d chew my leg off to escape,” added Brian.

Amy’s eyes widened. “You’re disgusting!”

“What?” said Brian. “I would. Wouldn’t you?”

“No.”

“Will Steve?”

“What did I say about listening?” Amy scolded. “Anyway. Steve was sure that he had only minutes to live.”

“You said that part already,” Brian reminded her, unhelpfully.

“That’s it. You’ll never know what happens to Steve. Story’s over.”

Amy got up and prepared to leave. Brian whined behind her. “No! I’ll be good! I promise! Just tell me the end.”

“Fine,” said Amy, rolling her eyes. “Um. So Steve defeated the horrible monster and went home and lived happily ever after.”

“That’s not fair,” complained Brian. “You skipped everything, even the part where Steve eats the monster’s eyes for revenge, and stabs all the monster’s babies!”

“Ew! Where do you even learn this stuff?”

Brian shrugged. “Better stories?” he offered.

Amy walked back to the bed, punched her brother’s arm, and then stormed out of the room.

 

 

 

No. 345

April 2, 2013

I knew that there were going to be changes in Fox’s Landing, but the change that happened was not the one I was expecting.

The day began normally, as uncommon days do. My grandfather and his group of regulars had arrived at the usual time and were now well into their third round of drinks.

I lingered in the kitchen. I was trying to work up the courage to give them the news.

Dana’s Coffee would be closing for good.

 I’d planned to tell Grandpa about that much earlier, but it was hard. I suppose I’d been worried that he’d think that I hadn’t worked hard enough.

Dana’s Coffee had been my mom’s idea, and my parents died the week before we were going to open. Closing would make Grandpa feel like he was losing her again, but the store wasn’t making money. More importantly, I wanted to leave Landing. 

I was about to take one last sip of coffee before going out to make the announcement when somebody knocked on the front door.

I set my mug down and rushed to answer. I knew it was somebody new and, even on the last day, extra business wouldn’t hurt.

I opened the door and saw man who might have been about thirty. He was a pleasant distraction from the grim task I’d been steeling myself for.

“Come in,” I told him. “What can I get started for you?”

He ordered a coffee, dark roast, not some kind of flavoured latte. That surprised me a little. Most folks from out of town liked a sweeter option.

“Sit anywhere you like,” I directed the visitor. Then I left to get his drink. I knew I’d have to hurry, or Bill would start his routine about my age.

I made it back in time for the punch line. “Dana’s ninety-five years old.” I briefly considered accidentally-on-purpose spilling the coffee on him. I settled on threatening to ban him, again. It hurt when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to follow through on the warning.

Fighting tears, I hurried back to the kitchen.

For the next hour or so, I hid, emerging only to refill enough cups that people wouldn’t get too suspicious.

My misery was interrupted by a light tapping on the wall.

It was the visitor.

“Dana?” he asked hesitantly. “I’m James. I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed my coffee.”

“Thanks,” I told him. Immediately, I knew that he knew.

 “Is something wrong?” he asked, taking a step closer.

I broke down, telling this stranger everything that I’d been afraid to tell the others.

He listened without interrupting.

When I finished, he came toward me and leaned back against the counter. “I see.”

I could tell that the gears were turning in his head.

“Maybe we could make a deal,” he proposed.

 

 

 

No. 346

April 3, 2013

Tessa Lane was wanted for robbery.

At 12:32 that afternoon, she’d walked into the Western Credit and Savings Bank on 80th Avenue and, after threatening the cashier with a pistol, escaped with $13,324.

Three other banks were hit in the next four and a half hours.

 

“Pull over here,” she told her accomplice. “I think we’re far enough out of town that we can stop for dinner,” she said, 200 kilometers into their getaway.

Her accomplice obeyed, and they got out of the car to stretch their legs before entering the roadside diner.

“Are you sure we’re ok to take a break?” asked Gabriel Sharp, her boyfriend and reluctant partner-in-crime

“Relax,” Tessa assured him. “Even if they suspect I’ve made a run for it, they’ll still be putting together the false clues I left at the scene. Those’ll lead them south. Besides, this place makes an excellent burger.”

 

But Tessa was wrong. An off-duty police officer on the way home from a fishing trip had seen the car pass by and had turned to follow. Beth Hitchcock had been trailing the fleeing criminals for the last hour. Backup was close behind.

Hitchcock walked into the restaurant and casually took a seat behind Tessa and Gabriel’s table. She ordered a coffee and leaned back to wait for the action to start. 

 

 

 

No. 347

April 4, 2013

Lucas Williams sat high-up in the tree, watching the two men search for the treasure. Though the men were careful to avoid being followed, they did not suspect that they were being observed from above. 

 

The treasure had been part of town lore for all of Lucas’ 15 years, and for many more before that. There was said to be a curse upon whoever found it, but that didn’t stop anybody from looking. Whispered rumors suggested that Farmer Ashcroft had discovered the lode shortly before his accident, although it was clear that he’d made no further attempts to retrieve the prize.

Everybody knew the cryptic directions by heart. “A fortune is buried four fathoms below the clearing west of the forked rock.”

 

Lucas saw one of the men begin to dig as the other marked the coordinates in his GPS device. Before long, the hole had been expanded into a cavity large enough for both men to stand in. Lucas heard the unmistakeable sound of a shovel striking wood and drew in his breath sharply. He strained to hear what the men were saying, but couldn’t make out their whispers.

Slowly, the men scraped away the dirt around a large, rectangular area. Then they traded their shovels for crowbars and jimmied the wooden lid off of the exposed crate. Lucas thought he saw a flash of something shiny before his view was blocked as the men shifted position in the hole.

But Lucas had a funny feeling that something about the situation wasn’t right. The pit wasn’t nearly deep enough as the legend said, and the size of the box, though impressive, didn’t seem large enough to hold the requisite amount of gold.

Lucas was trapped in the tree until nightfall, when the two men left in the direction of the town. He scrambled down the trunk and crept carefully toward the hole. Reaching the edge, he lowered himself down until he was kneeling on the ground, inches away from the mysterious chest. With one last, nervous scan of the clearing, Lucas pulled aside the hastily replaced lid.

Upon seeing what was inside, he gasped, and stumbled back into the earthen wall of the excavation. He felt small chunks of dislodged soil fall onto his shoulders as he struggled to comprehend the contents of the box.

They were certainly not a treasure.  

 

 

 

No. 348

April 5, 2013

The sound of the rain hitting the roof almost drowned out the TV. Oliver Richardson frowned and raised the volume.

During a commercial break, he peered through the curtains to evaluate the miserable conditions outside. It was black. There seemed to be a power outage in the building next-door, and Oliver struggled to see anything.

When his show returned, he left the window alone. Hopefully his power would stay on.

Several minutes later there was a blinding burst of lightning followed immediately by the loudest thunder Oliver had ever heard. The sudden noise made him flinch, almost spilling his beer. The lights flickered briefly but did not go out.

Oliver took a deep breath and re-settled himself on the couch. “Just a storm,” he muttered to himself.

Before he could get entirely comfortable, he heard a strange tapping at the window. He shrugged it off. “Windy,” he allowed.

The tapping got faster. Oliver spared a glance toward the still-closed curtains.

Another peal of thunder made Oliver jump. The tapping continued.  It seemed almost insistent. Oliver’s nerves were on edge.

He turned out the living room lamp, to cut the glare, and tried to look outside again.

The darkness and rain still conspired to obscure his vision. He waited for the lighting.

The tapping was right there, against the window.

The lightning struck, illuminating the scene in a flash.

Oliver screamed.

There was a face outside. It wasn’t human.

A clawed arm smashed through the window, and wind caught the drapes, blowing them wide open.

Oliver scrambled to the far side of the room, fleeing from the invading monster.

He could see the entire horror now, as it crawled in through the broken gap. Large, gray, covered in thick, warty skin, it crept toward him on all fours. Oliver turned his head away from the terrible yellow eyes, and tried to make for the bedroom. The bedroom door had a lock.

The creature was slow, taking each step carefully, as if on unfamiliar ground.

Oliver reached his supposed stronghold and barricaded himself inside. He realized that at some point since the attack started that he’d wet himself with fear. Then, more importantly, that he’d left his phone in the other room.

He would have to face his attacker alone.

He searched the closet frantically for something to use as a weapon.

Finding nothing, he cowered behind the bed. Thunder shook the house, and the lights went out.

Oliver heard tapping at the bedroom door.

 

 

 

No. 349

April 7, 2013

Larry Watson screamed.

The spider was tiny, but it had mere moments to live after wandering into Larry’s line of sight.

Larry lifted a magazine to strike the killing blow.

“Wait,” said the spider. “Don’t do it!”

Larry took two surprised steps backward, and considered screaming again. “It talked!” he exclaimed, instead.

“Of course I said something,” said the spider. “You were going to squash me.” It turned its many pairs of beady eyes on Larry. “For no reason whatsoever, I might add.”

“I. Uh,” stuttered Larry.

“That’s right,” said the spider, waving a fore-leg in the air. “Maybe next time you’ll consider putting on your big-boy pants and not murdering everything that walks past you.”

Larry dropped the magazine. Cautiously, he crept closer to the arachnid. He extended a finger to probe the curious specimen.

“No touching,” said the spider. “I’ll bite you good.

“I should bite you anyway,” it grumbled.

“Is this actually happening?” Larry asked.

“I’ll tell you what,” offered the spider. “You let me go, and I won’t tell anyone that you made that noise when you saw me, deal?”

Larry nodded dumbly.

“Good,” said the spider. “And now that we have this arrangement, I’ll be off. Good day, sir.”

It scurried into a hole in the wall and disappeared.

Larry spent the rest of the evening in the exact center of the room, shaking, and jumping at any sign of motion. Two days later, he moved.

 

 

 

No. 350

April 8, 2013

Somebody knocked on the kitchen door, long after Dana’s Coffee had closed.

James smiled. He knew the original owner had come back to Fox’s Landing.

“Good to see you,” he told Dana as she let herself in.

“It still feels strange to knock,” she said.

“I told you,” said James. “You don’t have to. It’s still your place.”

“Only fifty percent,” she corrected. “How’re things?”

“Oh, I’m sure you know. Your grandfather won’t stop calling me ‘New Guy’, and Bill pretends that he doesn’t know my name yet.”

“Bill might not,” said Dana. “After all—Bill.”

“How’s school?” James asked.

 “First semester’s done. I haven’t worked that hard since, well, here,” she said. “Speaking of work, how about you make me a coffee so I can see if you’re keeping up to my standards?”

“Coming up,” said James, as he reached for the proper jar of beans. He proceeded to complete the task while Dana moved into the dining room and sat down.

“And here you go,” he said a short time later, delivering the fresh cup to her table.

Dana made a show of tasting it before delivering her verdict. “You get a pass, but Miss Harris would tell you it’s too strong.”

“You’d be surprised how far I’ve come with Miss Harris,” James defended himself.

“Would I?” said Dana with a raised eyebrow.

“Sure. Now she only sends back two or three cups a day.”

Dana laughed. “Good job.”

She took another sip, holding the mug with both hands. “How do you like Landing?” she asked.

“It’s—,” James paused, searching for the right answer. “Not what I expected.”

“Better, or worse?”

“I don’t know,” said James. “Different.”

“Wait until summer,” Dana advised. “Summer, you’ll love.”

They both sat in silence for a short while.

She finished her coffee and gathered her things. “I should be getting home. Long day today.”

James nodded.

“Don’t worry,” she told him. “I’ll be back in the morning.”

“I’ll see you then,” said James. “Goodnight, Dana.”

“’Night,” she told him as she slipped out the back door.

 

No. 354

“So, in the story, the ocean’s a monster, and it’s attacking the people, and it’s all ‘Graaa! Rrrr!’, and the people are running around, and they can’t stop it, and it’s taking over everything, and the people are all ‘Ahhh! Oh no, ocean! Ahhhhh!’, and the ocean’s all ‘Sploosh!’, and everybody dies.”

“That’s certainly an interesting idea, Charles,” said Miss Freemont. “Is there any way you could tone down the killing?”

“No,” said Charlie. “You can’t fight the ocean.”

Miss Freemont considered his answer. Reluctantly, she agreed. “Ok,” she said. “I’ll allow it. But remember, it’s due on Tuesday, and I’m not going to grade it if it isn’t finished.”

No. 353

Joey was watching a movie he didn’t like to spend time with a girl that he did.

The film was brutally bad, far worse than he’d expected.

“This was a terrible plan,” he whispered to himself.

“It is?” asked the girl.

“Uh, yes,” he said. She’d heard him. Crap. “Yeah, they shouldn’t be teaching all those underprivileged kids how to play clarinet,” he covered. “They should learn trumpets, or something.”

“I see,” said the girl, who was quickly drawn back to the screen.

Joey did notice, however, that she’d moved almost imperceptivity away from him.

“Awesome,” he grumbled sarcastically at the new development.

“Really?” she said.

Joey realized that he needed to stop saying things out loud. “Oh, sure. They’re dancing now. Look at them go. I love it when they dance,” he spewed, clutching at straws.

“Me, too,” replied the girl as she snuggled up to him.

 

“You see,” Terry told his girlfriend Sara as the TV program ended. “That’s just a terrible plot device. None of that would happen in real life. That show was even worse than most of the ones you like.”

“Is that so?” asked Sara icily. “Well, maybe next time I’ll just watch at my house, and you won’t be invited.”

No. 352

 Mickey Dallas was a magician, a long-time fixture of the children’s-birthday-party circuit.

“It’s magic!” he would always insist when asked the secret behind his illusions. Of course that wasn’t true. The real secret was time spent practicing, and a devotion to his art.

But, since 10-year-old Madison Green’s pool party two weeks ago, he’d been pausing before answering those questions. There, under the close scrutiny of two dozen 4th graders, Mickey had performed an illusion that not even he fully understood.

The idea that he’d tapped into some form of actual magic frightened him immensely.

 

Now Mickey was performing in front of another crowded room full of children. He reached the penultimate movement of his act, the same one where the unknown had occurred before.  

Even as he prayed silently to himself that he was mistaken, and for the illusion to fail, Mickey was compelled to perform. He needed to know for certain if the prior episode had been a fluke.

Breathing deeply, he closed his eyes and said the magic word.

“Abracadabra!”

And, with a flash of light, Mickey’s worst fears were confirmed.