The earthquake was the worst they had ever been through. Their home, the great old oak, had probably seen worse in its long existence, but even some of its roots were now more visible. The entryway was partially blocked, but the Racoons have claws that can dig through almost anything, and fallen branches were no problem for them to clear away.

“Wow,” said Rachel, “I thought the world had come to an end.”

“Whatever that was,” responded Rocky, “I hope it’s over. Look at the mess.”

And mess there was, with fallen trees everywhere, and those that hadn’t completely fallen had only those trees they fell against, holding them up.

“I bet it won’t be hard finding food though,” said Rocky, “since the mice will be too busy trying to dig out to notice us – ha.”

“Well, the eagles and hawks might be thinking the same, and you know how they love raccoon,” scolded Rachel. “You be careful hunting. I’ll go look for some berries to go with whatever you manage to catch.”

So the Racoons split up and went in search of their breakfast. Rachel didn’t have to go far at all, to find berries. And it was a good thing, because she noticed a huge rift in the ground, not far from the berry bush, that seemed to go on forever in both directions. She shuddered, thinking how close this had been to their home. She made it back to the old oak and started cleaning up inside while waiting for Rocky to return.

Rocky wasn’t having the luck he thought he’d have. The mice must have been quick and fled the area, maybe even while the quake was taking place. At any rate the forest sure was quiet. “Maybe I should head the other way,” he thought when approaching where a stream had been, but the earth had apparently sucked up the water from it – fish and all.

Heading toward the mountains on the other side of the forest, he knew there was a large lake that shouldn’t (he hoped) have been affected. On the way there was an aftershock, and he thought about just heading back to the old oak. He could hear the sound of tumbling rocks and boulders from the mountains, but heard no animal life.

That changed as he neared a clearing in the woods. There, running for all he was worth, was a huge bear, coming right for Rocky. The bear jumped a rift and was almost on him before Rocky managed to duck under a heavy bush. “This isn’t going to keep that bear away.” He thought to himself, trying to figure out what to do.

The bear apparently had not been after him, as Rocky heard him thudding on past the bush. Just as he was breathing a sigh of relief though, he heard a terrible screech above. If it hadn’t been for the bush above him, he would have easily jumped ten feet into the air. As it was he managed to hit his head, but the bush was pretty soft.

Sneaking a look out, he thought: “That sure didn’t sound like any eagle I ever heard before. And that bear couldn’t possibly be scared of an eagle?” But the bear was gone, and looking up, he could see no bird of any kind flying overhead.

He did spot something in the top of the bush though. “Is that an egg,” he wondered? “Maybe the bear had stumbled upon an aerie and took it, and that’s why he was running away? Why wouldn’t he have just eaten it there, if that was the case? Or just taken it back into his cave?” Too many questions that had no answers had Rocky’s head spinning, so he just gave up on that line of thought, and turned his attention on how to get that egg.

It was easy getting to the egg, and then he was surprised by its size. “I’ve never seen an egg this big,” he sputtered. “The mommy must be one big eagle. No wonder the bear ran.” Rocky continually glanced up at the sky while untangling the egg from the bush. He didn’t want mommy eagle spotting him, if she was still up there.

He got the egg free, then thought he made a big mistake as it started rolling down the outside of the bush. He didn’t want it breaking here, as this was going to be a grand meal back in the old oak. He grabbed at it, but even his claws didn’t penetrate the shell. When it hit the ground, it didn’t even crack. “Wow,” he stated, “this is one tough egg.”

Rocky rolled the egg all the way back to the old oak, still keeping a lookout to the sky. As he neared home, he called out: “Rachel, you back? Come see what I got us.”

Rachel came out, saw the egg, and just gasped. “What is that,” she whispered (because her voice would not go higher)? “It couldn’t possibly be what it looks like. It’s too big!”

“Yep, it’s an egg,” said Rocky. He then proceeded to tell her the story, while they struggled to get the egg through the entryway into the old oak. When he was finished with his tale, Rachel told him what she had been up to.

“I got the place almost cleaned up,” she said, “when that second quake hit. I went back to where I saw the rift, and it had grown even wider. We might have to think about leaving this area. If another one hits, this old oak might even be brought down.”

“Well, we’ll worry about that later,” said Rocky. “Right now let’s eat!” And they tried, but their teeth and claws had no effect on the egg. “You sure this isn’t a rock,” asked Rachel?

“Hmm,” replied Rocky, “maybe it’ll soften up in time for breakfast tomorrow? If not, we’ll roll it down to the hot springs… if they’re still there. Meanwhile, I guess I’ll go look for some mice again.” They had a meal of berries, and Rocky set out on another hunt.

He was away for a long time, but eventually was able to nab a mouse. When he neared home, he noticed that Rachel was standing outside. “Missed me so much, you came out to greet me – ha,” he asked?

“Yeah, right,” Rachel sarcastically spat. “That egg is cracking, and it doesn’t sound like a bird.”

“Well, let’s take a gander,” said Rocky, dragging the mouse into the old oak.

Sure enough the egg was almost completely cracked open and it was definitely not a bird inside. “Mommy,” was what they could only assume the creature was squawking (since they did not understand the language), as it reached hungrily for the mouse.

Someone else heard the squawk though, and “Mommy” was there in an instant, setting the old oak ablaze with her fiery breath intent on getting to her baby.

The dragons enjoyed a nice meal of roasted raccoon, then returned to their lair, which had been deeper in the mountain than the bear’s den, and had become unsealed due to the earthquake.
Anthropomorphized Story
2
   May 10, 2017
And Now for Something Completely Different...
10
   Apr 2, 2017
The last thing Vicki wanted to see knocking on her front door was her mom. Vicki and Edna hadn’t seen eye to eye since Vicki was in junior high. Last Vicki knew, mom was on a year long bender in southeast Asia reporting on local watering holes for the Food Network and Viceland TV. So when she called announcing her arrival Vicki had been speechless.

“Mom, you look so, uhm…..good.” That was lie and they both knew it.

“Vicki, we don’t need to be that civil. I’m here for the triplets, my grandsons. Although you could explain why I had to find out I was a grandma from a general in a backwoods bar in Pakistan. Those boys are going to need a better influence than your sorry ass or I’ll be spending my golden years bailing them out and paying for lawyers.”

“Uhm”

“Never mind then, where do you keep the liquor? I need a drink, don’t bother with the glass, just hand me the bottle.”

There was good reason why Vicki liked the booze so much, she got it the old fashioned way, she inherited it.

“The general told me your name came up for a mission but they couldn’t send a nursing mom into battle. Something is going on over there, I was sent there by Viceland TV trying to find out but no one will talk about it. First the entire island of Madagascar is gone, I mean it is still there but not a soul on the island and no one talking. If you do try to find out, you are hushed. They sent me home when I asked too many questions about Uzbekistan. I think it must be the zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion.”

“Here you go mom, 30 year old single malt. Try to nurse it till I can get out and buy some cheap stuff.” Vicki knew mom must have finally killed one brain cell too many. Let’s just leave it at the evening wasn’t all that pleasant.

It did kind of warm Vicki’s heart to see mom passed out on the couch and the triplets climbing all over her. She went out to the garage, dusted off the motorcycle and rode into town. She would pick up a few bottles of Crown for Mom and stop for a beer or ten.

Vicki pulled the little Honda in next to the Harleys parked outside of “The Hawg Stop” and went in to have that beer. Usually the place would go quiet and all eyes would be on her but not this time. The past two years taking care of the little ones had taken it’s toll. Vicki couldn’t give a damn less. Quiet time and cold beer was all she desired.

The next person to walk in the door was a dark haired lass in a bright bikini and a wrap that was almost not there. The place did go quiet and all eyes were on the mysterious tanned woman. She ignored them and walked right to Vicki’s table and sat down. She said nothing until the place returned to it’s usual roar. “My name is Hula Girl. I was sent here by the president to find you. You know the intelligence agencies don’t trust him and Congress is tied in knots. But the world is set to be in crisis and he has called upon me, and you if you are willing.”

“Last time I worked for him, things didn’t turn out that well if I remember correctly.”

“It doesn’t matter, if we don’t do something there will be nothing left. Let me explain. There was this kid that went to Dagger Bay U before the controls were put in place. Even with the boosters he did nothing but study. No parties, no beach, nothing, except he dated this girl called Alice. After fours year this guy knew everything, and I mean everything about genetics and DNA. Just before he graduated he invented a drug that could cure a bunch of genetic diseases in the womb. He made a small fortune.”

“Gimme a beer”, Vicki wasn’t much for small talk and this beach bimbo was starting to bore her.

“Well Alice broke up with him and he didn’t take it well. He went to Africa, Madagascar and bought a small place and lived like a hermit.”

“Would you get to the point? I have to get back to my brood and I was hoping for a few peaceful minutes before that.”

“Okay, he calls himself Dr. T. He used fossils to create dinosaurs, not just any dinosaurs but raptors perfectly suited for hunting and eating humans. When we first saw the situation, we thought his experiments had gotten out of control but he is in charge and knows exactly what he is doing. He is now taken control of Uzbekistan and heading west toward China. The Chinese are threatening to nuke. It’s a mess.”

“And just what are we to do about it? I need to be home before the triplets get hungry.”

“I have this, uhm, friend, Cindy, and she has a shrinking ray and we were thinking maybe we could cut his herd down to size.”

“How many dinos are we talking about?”

“Thousands.”

“Are you out of your nonexistent mind? Don’t we have a military trained to be bad asses? “

“Look, the world leaders are trying to keep this hush-hush. Send in 10,000 troops armed with M16s and iPhones and the news will spread, panic will ensue and Dr. T will win without a single dino causality.”

“Find someone else. My mom’s at my house, the triplets are getting hungry and my boobs are getting swollen. I got paid well on the last job and when the kids go to school I am going to be a doctor, Dr T wasn't the only one who cashed in on Dagger Bay U.”

“I told the president you were a chicken sheet who just got lucky that one time.”

“Listen sister, there is nothing these bikers would like more than a good cat fight in here and you are fixin’ to make their dreams come true.”

“OK, OK. Go home and feed the kids. We will come with you. I will leave my friend’s sister, Mindy, to watch over the kids and your mom and you will be home in time for dinner. And just to make it worth your while, the job pays 20 million and your share would be at least 10%”

“HOME FOR DINNER?????? You are crazy. It takes at least 14 hours to fly there.”

“22 minutes, we have a flying saucer.”

Just two hours after she left, Vicki arrived back at her home just outside Denton with 4 bottles of Crown and Mindy. Mom looked at Mindy with disapproval and then let her displeasure be known. “Just who is this? Did you swear off men or take the bus to all the stops now?”

“Moma, be nice. This is Mindy and she is going to be my new nanny. Maybe we can find time for a little mother daughter bonding.” Just saying the words made Vicki throw up just a little bit.

“She is no nanny. I saw that trollop dancing on tables at the NCO club in Kabul.”

“Hush, Moma, you must be mistaken and what were you doing there?”

Mindy was noticeably blushing.

Edna was not about to let it end there. “I stopped in for a drink and met the nicest sargent. I think his name was Bob, not sure, I had downed quite a few by then.”

“And did you wake up naked?...Nevermind, I really don’t want to know.” Vicki caught herself, no need for a big fight, she needed to feed these kids and get moving.

After the triplets were fed and sleeping, Vicki walked out the backdoor and there was a shiny silver saucer with two red horned aliens piloting it and some sort of ray gun mounted on each side and a third gun on the back.

Hula and Cindy, (Hula’s “friend”), were in the back seat and waving to Vicki to get in.

Vicki climbed up and slid in the middle of the back seat and no sooner was she seated than everyone was surrounded by restraint belts, a glass dome cover appeared and the saucer was off like a shot.

Vicki was in shock, “just how fast are we going?” To which one of the red aliens replied, “Close to what you would call 33,000 MPH”.

It was strangely quiet and there was a slight red glow of the superheated air streaming past them. Hula leaned over and whispered very quietly into Vicki’s ear. “Watch out for Mr. Satan, he will try to cop a feel if he thinks Mrs. isn’t looking.” Cindy just smiled.

Mr. Satan then started talking. “I am your mission commander. Pleased to meet you and I hope you guessed my name. We will be entering the target area in exactly 19 minutes. There are fourteen hundred and thirty six dinos in a three mile squared area and moving nearly due east. There are also three targets identified as production labs. We currently have every dino tracked by satellite but clouds are moving in so I will be flying low and slow. You must hit each dino with the ray for at least one second. I will be dropping bombs on the production labs. We need to take out one dino every 10 seconds and complete the mission in less than 2 hours.”

“Will those dino’s stay shrunk?”, Vicki asked.

“Good question, goldilocks. No they won't. British Intelligence has recruited international intelligence specialist and time/space traveler Mrs. Lens to transport in exactly two hours after we start. Her job is deploy fifteen cats, all clones of the infamous “Chairman Meow” known for his extreme appetite. They will scour the area and eat all of the shrunken dinos. If one dino remains un-shrunken, or we miss a lab, the mission is doomed. Check your straps, we are going in.”

The land was barren and the dinos were easy to spot. “Ok ladies, keep your eyes peeled for birds, I am taking down the top and they hurt like hell at 80 mph. The labs are mobile and well camouflaged so let me know when you see one. Your rays won’t work on them. We have made good time so you have a couple of extra minutes. Hang on and NOW.”

Vicki was more than a bit surprised at suddenly hanging out in the open at 80mph but she could already see the dinos, this was gonna be easy. And with that she fired off her first shot and the dino instantly shrunk so small she couldn’t see it. “YeeHaa this is like shooting fish in a barrel.”

The two hours passed quickly and they saw one last full sized dino moving at full speed, the pilots, which Vicki had nicknamed the The Red Barons dove fast in the direction of the dinos. Cindy yelled, “I got it” and took her shot just as the craft banked and down went the last dino.

With the last dino down and one more lab to find, the saucer touched down. “Ladies, you are on foot, now the find that lab and destroy it. The shrink rays will be of no use so grab those baseball bats and trash the place when you find it. I’ve got to get above the cloud cover and charge up the saucer. I’ll return when it is time to deploy the Chairman Meows. If you don’t find that lab by then this will all be for nothing.”

Just as soon as the saucer took off the ladies felt pain in their feet and saw hoards of tiny raptors biting at their ankles. They quickly stomped them and hit them with the bats but they knew more would be heading their way. Hula pointed over to an outcropping in the rocks. “Look, quick over there”. Sure enough, the last lab was parked there where it was well hidden from above.

Just as they approached they heard “STOP” coming from a loudspeaker on the side of the lab.. “This is DR. T., ONE MORE STEP WILL BE YOUR LAST.”

A hatch popped open and out came two raptors. They were smaller, maybe five foot but looking hungry and eyeing Cindy. “Put down those bats and walk away slowly or my friends will eat you for lunch.” One of the raptors took a slow step toward them. “Did you hear me?” And on his words each raptor took a step closer then let out a hiss.

Vicki’s mind was going a mile a minute. Something wasn’t right, how could you train a creature with a brain the size of a pea but they were very clearly doing his bidding. Then she noticed a tiny silver speck and could tell it was an iRem device. So he implanted the devices and could control them. He could have crushed them but he was holding back. He was hiding something and Vicki was thinking that might be his last two dinos and he wasn't willing to risk them in a fight.

Cindy, Hula and Vicki held their ground until suddenly the raptors came on the attack. Vicki yelled out, ”Swing for the ears.”

Hula landed the first blow to the side of the raptors head and seconds later Vicki and Cindy hit the second one. The raptor that took the double whammy dropped to the ground and the last one standing was looking punch drunk.

The door to the lab flew open and out stepped Dr. T. and he stood between the ladies and his remaining raptor. There were tears in his eyes. “Stop, I’ll surrender. But don’t hurt Barney. He doesn’t deserve to die, He is a good boy. “ Dr, T, dropped to his knees tears streaming from his eyes.

The ladies looked on in disbelief. This was the mad scientist Dr.T? And then Barney started ripping Dr.T to shreds.

They stood there in disbelief and didn’t notice the saucer landing right beside them “Jump in ladies” All three lept into the waiting saucer, which shot straight up while unloading a bomb on the lab, Dr. T, and Barney.

Vicki doesn’t go looking for trouble but trouble always finds Vicki.
Take Me To Your BOTS
5
   Mar 14, 2017
To Blondie's, "Heart of Glass"

Once I had a Ford and it was a gas
Soon turned out a pain in the ass
Seemed like a good thing, only to find
Pile of rust, Fords, like cheap wine

Once I had a Ford and it was divine
Soon found out I was losing my mind
It seemed like the real thing but I was so blind
Pile of rust, Fords, like cheap wine

In between
What I find is displeasing and you're out of line
Ford is so abusing there's no peace of mind
If I see I'm losing you it's just no good
Breaking down like you do

Once I had a Ford and it was a junk
Soon turned out I was left in a funk
Seemed like the real thing, only to find
Pile of rust, must have been blind

Lost inside
Abhorable delusion and I cannot hide
I'm the one you're bruising, please don't push me inside
We shoulda made it cruisin', yeah

Yeah, riding high on Ford's true bluish light

In between
What I find is displeasing and you're out of line
Ford is so abusing there's no peace of mind
If I see I'm losing you it's just no good
Breaking down like you do
Song Parody
9
   Feb 20, 2017
If I get out of this alive, I’m swearing off beautiful, rich dames as clients! I’ll send them all over to Sam Spade’s office. I may not be that bad a gumshoe, but I’m not used to this type of danger. I really suppose I should have quit while I was ahead, but curiosity kills the cat, and maybe now the sleuth.

If this were a comedy, I could say “Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into.” But this isn’t a comedy, and I don’t have a partner to get me out of it. In fact even if I had a partner, I don’t know how he would ever be able to find me, in order to help me, anyway. I mean this is New York City. No one would ever believe what is hiding down here, far below the basement levels of this building, and certainly no one would believe how I got here!

One week ago:

It was a fine day out, regardless of the weather. The whole town was celebrating the Giants 31-0 victory over the Redskins yesterday. I was in such a good mood I even told Wilma to take an extra-long lunch break. “Just remember to bring me back a nice large Reuben.” After all, we had no current clients, and all I was doing was reading all the re-caps about yesterday’s game in the paper.

So when there was a knock on the door, I said “come on in” without even looking up from the paper, figuring it was just another neighbor wanting to chat about the game. Well, the door opened and closed, and no one was shouting, so I did look up, and my jaw dropped. There stood the most beautiful dame I think I had ever seen. Dressed to the nines and with mesmerizing emerald eyes, I don’t even know if I said anything.

She did address me though: “Mr. Whistler? I am in the need of your detecting services.”

Somehow I managed to get hold of myself and found my voice. “Uh, what is it that I can help you with?” I’m sure is what I whispered. It wasn’t just that she was a knockout, but that she had obviously skipped to the end of the Private Investigations list in the Yellow Pages in order to have found her way here.

“I will come straight to the point. My name is Amanda Giro, maybe you’ve heard of me? No matter, what I want done must never be made public, which is why I chose your agency. I am very wealthy, and have had many suitors that were only after my fortune. Currently I am seeing a man, Frank Linge, that I hope does not fall into that category. He has not asked for my hand in marriage yet, but I feel he should be close, if there is not something amiss.

“I don’t believe he knows I have a penthouse suite at the Waldorf, as on the few occasions I have allowed him to see me home, we have gone to a different address that I keep for entertaining. That place is fancy enough that he must realize I have money, but not to what extent.

“I will be out of town for a week, and I would like you to check him out to see if he is the real deal, or if he is in cahoots with someone, or on his own, just to get my money. Normally I can see right through the fakes, but there is just something about him. I really like him, but I must be sure.

“He says he works at Macy’s, so I suppose you could start there? At any rate, I will come back next Monday to see what you have found out. I am willing to pay $1,000 a day plus expenses.” At that she dropped a stack of bills and a photo of Frank Linge onto my desk. “Here’s $7,000. If this isn’t enough, let me know and I will cover the rest Monday.”

Well, my going rate was usually just $100 a day, but this close to Christmas… I would be able to get Janet that engagement ring that keeps getting put off because we have to pay for things like renting this luxurious one room office.

With seven grand, she might even want me to pay her for being my secretary. “That will be fine,” I managed to get out. “Should I bring you what I find to the Waldorf?”

“No, I will stop in here next Monday afternoon for it.” She said with no expression showing on her face. “Say about five?”

“Fine,” I replied. “Hopefully it will be good news.”

She flashed a smile that melted me, said goodbye, and walked out of the office.

I was looking through the White Pages when Janet came back in from lunch. Four Linges, but no Frank or F. She dropped the sack with my Reuben on my desk. “Is something wrong?” She asked. “You look a little flustered.”

I shook myself out of my stupor and smiled. “Nope, everything is just fine,” I answered while unwrapping my sandwich. “It’s just that while you were out, we received a new client.” I filled her in about everything except the money. That I planned on surprising her with for Christmas.

Looking at the photo, Janet said “Well he looks respectable enough. I don’t know what Amanda looks like, since you didn’t keep her around until I got here, but I think she might have herself a nice catch.” Her wink was the only thing keeping me from feeling bad about the lady leaving before introductions could be made.

Finishing my sandwich, I proclaimed “There’s no time like the present to get started. Care to pay a visit to Macy’s?”

“You actually want me to come with you on a case?” She asked, sounding slightly startled, but with a smile.

“Not on the case, per se,” I responded, “but since that’s such a big store, two sets of eyes have a better chance of finding him faster. Once we have located the suspect, you can return here to your office managerial duties.” I said this also with a smile, and got ready for the punch in my arm that I knew was coming.

It turned out to be a lot easier to spot Frank that we could have ever imagined. We didn’t even have to go in Macy’s. When we arrived out front, we joined an already large crowd of onlookers observing some workers in a shop window working on a Christmas display. And there he was, Frank Linge himself, putting up what looked to be a nutcracker engineer at the controls of a Lionel train station.

“Well, I guess I might as well head back to the office,” said Janet.

“Or you could just stay and enjoy the show,” I replied, “while I try to gather more information about him from other employees. Maybe I’ll even be able to get a look in his locker, if he has one. If he looks like he is going to leave the window before I get back, I’m sure you can think up something to talk to him about, to keep him occupied.” I then took off before giving her a chance to say or do anything.

It wasn’t hard finding the employees locker room, there was a big sign over a door at the rear of the cafeteria that said “Employees only.” Walking into a place like that is pretty simple. You drape your coat over your arm and have your hat in hand while holding your tie (loosened) with the other. Anyone looking just assumes you are either late coming in to work (use a sheepish smile), or are in a hurry to leave (use a nice grin).

Walking through the employee’s door, there was no one in attendance. Walking down what I assumed was the main aisle, I glanced into the side rows left and right at the lockers, but could see that they would be no help. No name tags, just numbers. Ah well, it was worth a shot anyway.

When I got to the back though, my luck changed a little. There was the employee’s entrance (I assumed from an alley behind the store), and next to it, a time clock. With no one still around, I went up to it and pulled Frank’s card. “Hmm, he’s only been working here a week?” I thought looking the card over. “Well at least I know about when he should be going home now.” I pulled a couple other cards just to make sure, and sure enough, the other cards were stamped for the whole month up to today.

When I got back to the front of Macy’s Janet was still there watching the display being built. “He’s really good,” she said when I came alongside her.

I glanced at the window and had to agree. “Maybe that’s why they hired him. It seems he’s only been working here a week. If he follows his work routine, he should be packing it in pretty soon though. I’m going to stick around, and when he finishes this window, I’m going to hurry around to the back of the store and follow him when he leaves. You can head on home, and I’ll talk to you later.”

Janet was enjoying the creation in the window too though, so she stuck around as well. And when Frank was done, we also went our separate ways. I found a niche where I could observe the employee’s entrance, but didn’t have long to wait.

Following Frank was a piece of cake. Of course why shouldn’t it be; I mean he wouldn’t be expecting a tail would he? A quick subway ride and a short walk and we arrived at a reasonably priced hotel. I stayed across the street while Frank went in. It wasn’t dark enough out yet to be able to notice lights coming on in the rooms, so I would just have to keep an eye on the lobby, and if he didn’t come back out for a while, I might be able to trick the room number out of the clerk.

Maybe they didn’t allow cooking in the rooms there, or he liked eating out, because Frank had only been in there an hour or so, before he came back out. Sure enough he led me to a little café, where he ordered his dinner. I was glad at this point that I had had that Reuben earlier.

After the meal he didn’t head back to his hotel though. “Where are you going now?” I wondered.

The Copa. Why not, even if it was a week night, that place was always swinging. But it was also expensive, and I didn’t think Macy’s paid that well. At any rate, I should be able to have something to eat there, while managing to keep an eye on him. This is where expenses really come in though.

While they prefer serving dinners at the table, you can get appetizers at the bar, which is where I preferred to stay. Frank on the other hand seemed to be expected. He went straight to a table where a stunning looking brunette allowed him to kiss her on the cheek before he sat with her. I had a beer and a few tiny tacos while I watched them talk, dance and enjoy the show.

I had persuaded a cigarette girl to get me a photo of the couple, and while usually only done for the customers themselves (to commemorate their experience), a nice tip got her to change the policy and get me one. Of course that proved nothing except that he knew another girl in this city.

I was just about to order some more appetizers when they got up from their table and started toward the door, instead of the dance floor. “Where to now, Frank?” I said to myself as I dropped some greenbacks onto the bar and started after them.

It was a disappointing tail, as he took her to her place (I assumed – I would have to check out that address later), kissed her once again on the cheek, said goodnight and led me back to his hotel. She could have been his sister for all the action that had happened that night.

His routine was consistent though, as the following three nights were almost as identical, with the exception of the club, but the same brunette was there every time, which made me think of them more as tourists. And why did he always eat at that little café first, when it was obvious he didn’t worry about the cost of the clubs?

While Frank was at Macy’s on Tuesday, I made contact with his hotel clerk and other employees, to see what else I could find out about him, and on Wednesday (when it appeared his routine would not change), I looked into the brunette. The landlord at her apartment was of no help until I greased his palm, and though that got me into her flat, there was nothing to see there, just a standard poorly-furnished one room with kitchenette and bath, that she was renting by the month. The only thing that might have been important, was that she had only been there for a little over a week and had only paid for one month so far.

I did find out that she regularly left about eight in the morning, and didn’t seem to return until the night. So, it was time for me to tail her, which I tried to do on Thursday and again on Friday, but she had a sixth-sense or something and was able to evade me. The subways aren’t the easiest places to follow someone, but I considered myself good at it, and she still just vanished.

Then on Friday it all changed. Frank took off from work early and met the brunette, waiting for him in the lobby of his hotel. She didn’t head up to his room with him though. She just waited while he went up and changed. “Maybe she IS his sister,” I told myself.

When they left the hotel, they took me on a weekend tour of, if it could be believed, toy shops. It was as though they were spying on the competition or something. It had to be one of the boringest weekends I ever spent on the job. And even though each night was spend at a different hotel, they did not share a room.

So when Monday afternoon came I was not looking forward to apologizing and telling Amanda Giro that Frank, even though spend a lot of time with another girl, she might as well be his sister. If there was a plot, I could not find it.

“Don’t worry,” said Janet, “even the Giants can’t win ‘em all. Look what happened to their game with the Bears yesterday.”

Yeah, that was one thing I didn’t really miss. The giants lost to the Bears 24-14, and their season was over. But even listening to that defeat would have been more enjoyable than touring toy shops. “Ah well,” I sighed.

When Amanda Giro walked in, she saw the photo on my desk, and before I could finish clearing my throat to give her a rundown of things, she picked it up and exclaimed “that witch! You have found the proof. Thank you. This should cover any other expenses,” and she dropped a stack of money on my desk, turned and left. Janet and I just looked at each other. “What was that?” Janet said, “Did I miss something?”

“You got me,” I replied. “I have no idea what just happened, but did you notice that her eyes seemed to turn a bright red?”

“Huh,” She came back with, “I didn’t notice that, I was too busy looking at that money she dumped on your desk, and how she politely called that girl a milder name than she might have meant. But evidently she did recognize her, so she must have had a run-in with her before?

“I guess,” I answered. “But something just doesn’t seem right. Why didn’t she even stay long enough for my report? I hope she isn’t planning on doing something regrettable?”

“Oh my,” came back Janet, “do you think so? Maybe you should warn them?” With that I grabbed up my coat and hat and left, hoping to catch Frank before his work shift ended at Macy’s.

Frank had not been at Macy’s (though he had not clocked out), or at his hotel, the Café, or the brunette’s place (and the landlord said she had not come back since she left in the morning). So I decided to go to the Waldorf, and talk to Amanda if she were there. I dropped a dime to let Janet know of my decision.

The doorman at the Waldorf told me that Madame Giro had indeed come home and he had not seen her depart. Going up to the front desk they even politely called up and informed her that she had a visitor in the lobby. “She said to go right up,” a surprised-looking clerk told me. “Have the elevator operator take you to the third penthouse.”

“Mr. Whistler,” Amanda said when she answered her door, ‘what brings you here? Our business was completed when you presented me with the evidence I needed.”

“I wanted to talk to you about that,” I said. “You didn’t stick around for me to give you my report, and I was afraid you might have taken it the wrong way y just seeing Frank in that picture, and I didn’t want you to do anything rash…”

“Rash?” she blurted. “You have no idea what you stumbled upon. At any rate, you should have not continued to stick your nose in where it does not belong, so now I have no choice. Let me take you to Frank. He will not be my guest for long, but I guess you will be suitable for later.”

Before I knew what was happening, or could even utter a “what?” I found myself here, with Frank pacing a little distance away. “What? Where?” my voice squeaked.

“Oh we are far under the city, in the White Dragon’s lair” Frank said when he noticed he was no longer alone. “Who are you, and what does she want with you? You appear to be a mere human.”

“Human?” my dazed mind responded. “You mean you aren’t? So what are you; who is this White Dragon; and what does she want with you? The last thing I remember was Amanda Giro telling me something…”

“Oh, she IS the White Dragon,” Frank exclaimed. “If one sees her in her true form, I’m afraid that is usually the last thing one sees. I know why she wants me. My race are considered a delicacy, especially tasty if eaten on Christmas Eve. I am an Elf. I was on a scouting mission to the city, and didn’t realize who she was when I first met her either. Stupid of me, but when I figured it out, I got a witch for protection in case she should try anything. I don’t understand how she got on to me. Usually it is easy for us to pass as human.”

“Well,” I started, and then explained what I had been doing the last week. “So I guess I am at least partly to blame for you being in the situation you’re in, but I thought Amanda was really hoping the two of you were meant for a long life together.”

“She blinked me out from Macy’s,” Frank said. “I didn’t realize how powerful her magic is. If I had known, Samantha, that’s my witch friend, would have been at my side twenty four hours a day.

“We’ll just have to hope Samantha can figure out where we are, and send in a rescue team.”

We walked all over the lair, and could find no way out unless we had wings. The only entryway appeared to be a hole in the ceiling, but that was too far above us to even be sure it wasn’t just a deep depression. There was not even any furniture unless one wanted to count the thrones intermingled amongst the piles of gold, jewels, weapons and armor that seemed just dumped any and everywhere.

We didn’t see Amanda, but she magically beamed in food occasionally, which is how I found out why Frank always ate at that little café. It seems elves can tolerate our beer (maybe it has to do with the alcohol content), but their diet runs different than us humans, so they only eat at places that are known to serve non-humans. I guess Frank didn’t think it would hurt telling me these things, since he assumed we were both eventually going to just be food ourselves. For a dragon. “I really need to wake up from this.” Is about the only thing that kept rattling around in my mind.

I have no idea how long we were down there before a new visitor arrived. And sure enough he came through that hole in the ceiling. “Okay, Frank,” he said, “it’s time to get you out of here. Samantha has the dragon occupied, but she won’t be able to stall for long.”

“It’s about time Santa, I thought nobody’d show up and I’d be her dinner soon,” replied Frank.

“Sooner than you knew,” came back Santa. “It’s Christmas Eve today.”

“Ouch,” was all Frank could utter. “Well blink us out of here then.”

“Hold on,” said Santa, looking at me, now. “How much does this human know about us? What all did you tell him?”

“Uh, quite a lot actually,” Frank whispered, “because I didn’t think we’d ever leave here. Alive anyway,”

“Okay then, here is what you need to do human,” and Santa explained how I could fill my pockets with enough of the dragon’s treasure to be able to start a new life far away and across at least some ocean. The dragon could not be punished or forced to leave, since she was just following her nature, and after all, she had been here since before humans ever even graced this place now called New York. She would not however seek me out as long as I never returned.

Santa would beam me to that new location, and would even allow Janet to accompany me, if she wished. It was either that, or I could remain and be the dragon’s New Year’s snack.

Janet was thrilled that we would now be living on an island in the Caribbean. At least I like to think the diamond ring that I picked out for her, from the dragon’s stash, wasn’t the only thing that persuaded her.

Who knows, some day someone may even get to read this, but then they’ll never believe it, and of course I’ll be dead by then, so it’ll never sell like those stories Sam Spade puts out. Ah well…
Urban Fiction Holiday
2
   Jan 7, 2017
All the limitations you imagine you have, are real.
Fortune Cookie
35
   Nov 18, 2016
It rained the whole first week of summer vacation, my friends were out of town or lived too far away and my only company was my baby brother, Chet. It isn’t like I had a choice since mom told me. “Brian, you are the oldest and you need to watch your little brother this summer.” I don’t have to tell you that a twelve-year-old and a nine-year-old share little in common, so I was reduced to watching kiddie shows on TV or playing his stupid video games.

On the eighth day, the sun came out with a vengeance. After mom left for work I got up and changed to go outside but before I got to the door I was caught by Chet who wanted to know where I was going. No sense in denying it, considering I was wearing my bathing suit and had a towel slung over my shoulder. “Swimming hole. I’ll be back in an hour so you go back to bed.”

Chet was having none of that, he was not allowed to go there but then again, neither was I. Mom said we could go to the town pool when she got out of work but the swimming hole was off limits. There were no lifeguards or any adult supervision of any kind, just a free flowing river and big ole rope to swing from. Chet would rat me out in a heartbeat and going to the swimming hole with Chet was better than no swimming hole at all.

At the end of our cul de sac, there is a logging road that goes deep into the McCready’s property. Duck under the chain with the no trespassing sign and go two miles till you see the big granite boulder. Chet was complaining about the walk before we even got a half mile down the road but I just let him whine till we got to the boulder, then we looked around for the little path to the river and made a beeline for the swimming hole.

So, I have never been to the swimming hole and had only heard about it from older kids. Four years ago a teenager drowned there and ever since the place had been off limits. I had heard that old man McCready would shoot you on sight if he caught you, McCready was another legend, no one had seen him in decades just the odd lumber truck rolling through the neighborhood every week or two.

The swimming hole was everything I expected. Chet and I had blast swinging on the rope into the cool refreshing river. I was already planning on us doing this every day when mom left for work. This was the life and even having Chet along wasn’t so bad, in fact, it was kind of nice. When we got home, I did the laundry to cover the evidence and even cleaned up a bit around the house. Mum would never know.

We did this everyday Mom worked for the next two weeks. I worried that the neighbors would notice us but in our little neighborhood, everyone was either working during the day or off on family vacation. On the weekend, Mom took us to a movie, grilled hamburgers outside and even took us to the town pool. I should have appreciated this more but all I could think about was Monday and the next trip to the swimming hole.

Chet had long since stopped complaining about the walk and the bugs and was as eager as I was to get to the swimming hole. After a good swim, we started back when we heard a strange whirring noise, a bright flash followed by some odd noises coming through the woods. I followed the sound with a nervous little brother in tow. We arrived at a clearing and I signaled Chet to crouch down low. In the center of the clearing was a flying saucer complete with blinking lights and beeping noises. A hatch was opening with a whoosh sound and a clunk when it hit the ground. My heart was in my throat when a small creature, about the size of Chet slowly emerge. It had two legs and two arms and a head although oddly proportioned and seemed to be dressed in some type of gray protective gear.

The creature turned toward us, tapped it’s chest and turned into old man McCready; dirty overalls, straw hat and shotgun, exactly like I had heard him described 1000 times before. He looked right through us while both of us stayed absolutely still. We wanted to run but were frozen with panic and then McCready turned and walked off down the path on the other side of the clearing.

After what seemed like an hour, we dared to move. I know any sensible person would have run for home but I just had to get a closer look. I was looking every which way but heading right for the saucer; then up the hatch and right inside. The inside was larger than it looked from the outside, with four seats and some kind of yellow glowing blinking dome in the middle. From the outside the hull was a dull tarnished silver color but from the inside it was totally transparent.

I watched as Chet slowly made his way to the hatch. I could see the fear in his face as I reached down and pulled him in. Chet stared at the glowing dome then put both hands right on it. Bang, the hatch slammed shut as Chet’s hands flew off from the dome. I reached out hoping that if I touched it again it would open back up but the minute my hands touched the glove we took off like a shot. Way faster than a speeding bullet and in less than 10 seconds we were high above the earth in space.

I kept playing with the dome until I figured out sort of how to control it. This was so fun. We made it to the moon in minutes then shot to what I think was Mars and back to near earth again, all in less than an hour. My fear was gone, this was so much fun. I just wanted to do this all day long. I looked toward Earth but could not figure out where we should be heading for. I guess I should have paid attention in geography class.

Suddenly the glowing dome went from a soft yellow to purple. The craft started hurtling toward Earth at a high rate of speed. I was sure we were crashing, The hull went from transparent to black and the only light was the dim glow of the globe. As soon as it went dark, there was no sensation of movement until I heard the whoosh of the hatch opening and the dull thud of it hitting the ground.

The hull remained black but I could see light coming in around the hatch. “Let’s get out of here” I shouted to Chet and we both ran out the hatch. Standing to greet us was old man McCready, shotgun raised and pointed right at us. “Did you boys have fun?”

My throat went dry as I tried to answer. “Uh, we didn’t mean to do, I am so sorry.”

McCready didn’t flinch, we were right square in his aim and he asked us again, “Did you boys have fun?”

I mustered up all my courage thinking I would have a big hole in my chest in short order, “Yes sir, it was fun. Real fun. The most fun I have ever had in my entire life.”

McCready lowered the shotgun and a grin came over his face. “I like when people tell me the truth. It is fun, the most fun anyone will ever have. You know my secret and what you don’t know is I can read your mind. So, I know you can be trusted to keep my secret. If you and your brother come every morning and work in my garden, I will take you places you only dream about and you can use the swimming hole whenever you like. Plus you will get $50 a week. But you must keep our little secret.”

I looked over at my baby brother who was shaking his head yes as fast as he could. “You betcha, Mr. McCready.”, the words just flew out of my mouth.

Over dinner that evening, I told mom we met Mr. McCready when he was driving by with a load of logs and that he offered us a job for the summer and maybe even some weekends once school started. I expected more questioning but I guess mom was relieved that we would not be home alone for the summer.

Every day for the rest of the summer mom dropped us off at McCready’s farm in the morning and picked us up on her way home from work. We would spend the morning filling a huge bin with the odd vegetables growing in the garden. Precisely at noon, old man McCready used the saucer to grab the bin and took off like a shot. Chet and I would cool off at the swimming hole and then the rest of the day was magical.

The saucer returned and Chet and I would get in. Inside, Old Man McCready was now the little gray creature that we now called Zon. Zon took us to places all over the world. China, Fiji, London, South Pole; the list goes on and on. Sometimes we would just fly around in space and we even went to the moon, Mars, and Venus. It never got old and every day was over way too fast.

Now that school is starting, we are going to work every other Saturday in McCready’s greenhouse. School seems so boring compared to my secret life. I can’t turn this paper in, it is a secret you know. I’ll either have to claim the dog ate my homework or make something up about my boring summer babysitting my brother.

I bet I ace geography this year.
What I Did On My Summer Vacation
3
   Sep 29, 2016
Four thousand years ago, deep within the Epsilon Aquarius star system on the planet Dolat, the Dolati’s sun had started its final expansion. While it would take another twenty thousand years before their planet would become uninhabitable, the massive increase in radiation was wreaking havoc on their DNA. The best and brightest worked on methods of repairing the DNA and they became extremely good at it. The forces of the universe are not easy to beat and eventually the Dolati realized they were facing extinction.

Their leaders gathered all the leading scientists and philosophers and decided they needed to migrate to a new world. Exploratory missions were sent deep into the galaxy in search of a planet capable of supporting carbon-based lifeforms. These brave souls left their homes knowing that they were on a one-way mission. They would have enough food and fuel to explore but the vastness of space meant they would not have the resources to return. They either found a place to settle or die trying.

The Dolati were bipedal like us humans but they rather resembled an upright alligator with decidedly silver reflective skin and large round yellow eyes. Millions of years of evolution had made them a highly evolved species.

After a few hundred years the first reports started filtering back to Dolat. The universe was loaded with planets that were capable of supporting them, something they already knew. It also seemed that nearly every planet capable of supporting life was doing so. The downside was if the life was sufficiently evolved, the Dolati were not exactly welcomed guests. In their corner of the galaxy, this was not the first time an advanced species had tried to move in. In some cases, these “invasions” had been successful and those inhabitants were even more reluctant to accept new settlers. The Dolati would have to go deeper into the galaxy and find planets with life forms incapable of fighting them off.

Two thousand years into their quest, the Dolati received a message from a solar system very far away, a small blue green planet that we know as earth. Exploratory Mission 2193D reported in. “We have found a planet with a habitable climate, breathable atmosphere, abundant resources and a stable star. The plant and animal life forms are all edible. The dominant life form is still relatively primitive and numbers less than 150 million. If you have yet to find a new host planet, we strongly recommend you start the migration to the far side of the Delta Quadrant and home in on our beacon.” Shortly after they sent this message the entire team was eaten by sharks as they were scouting a lagoon for food.

What Exploratory Mission 2193D did not know was that the situation on Dolat had become increasingly dire. Their sun had been emitting more radiation than they had initially calculated and the population was dwindling. There was no way they could gather the resources to build a spaceship to move even a small percentage of their population on an 800-year journey. Knowing they were doomed, they once again gathered the leaders and scientists to discuss how they should face their final days. It was a months-long event with hundreds of long boring speeches and ludicrous proposals.

Toward the very end, after countless diatribes about leaving monuments, committing mass suicide and possibly living in old mine shafts it was time for a speech from a little known genetic researcher named Ceax Czibly. Most assumed that it would be another long dull talk on the inevitable breakdown of their chromosomes into some kind of soupy froth and the last of the species dying horrible deaths in the street. Yes, this was the inevitable outcome and most of the attendees were spending these days in a state of intoxication rather than think about the end.

Ceax began, “Fellow Dolati, I would like to offer you hope, a way for us Dolati to continue on for another 500 millennia and beyond. I would like to share my plan with you.” Thinking this would be another plan to digitize their existence until they would be rescued or build a million year monument, most of the crowd didn’t even look up.

“I have been working all my life with our DNA. At first, I built tools to repair the radiation damage to our species but as time wore on, I too saw that this effort could not stave off the inevitable. So I changed my course and I have created the ultimate Dolati chromosomes. Each contains all of our genetic diversity, the combined knowledge of all of our libraries and the skills of our finest craftsmen.”

The crowd had heard this all before, send that DNA package in hundreds of small craft throughout the universe and hope some species somewhere would rebuild them. From what they had learned, this was not likely to happen and Ceax was losing the few he had listening until he continued, “I have embedded these chromosomes into a super virus that has the ability to find a suitable host and then systematically transform that organism into one of us.” The crowd perked up and more started listening. Ceax continued, “The organism needs to be similar to us yet sufficiently primitive to not be able to figure out how to kill the virus. I believe we have found such a place as reported to us by the brave souls of Exploratory Mission 2193D. That place is called Earth.”

She had never dealt with an alien plague before, in fact, she had never intended to become a doctor. Of course, she was completely unaware this was an alien virus. Drafted at the tender age of eighteen by the Global Healthcare Initiative, Sarah had been trained, all her life, to fight global epidemics. She had traveled the world and been at the forefront of much pain and suffering. Sure she had been financially well compensated, saved thousands of lives and received some of the highest awards but she was not one bit happy with her life.

As a little girl, she dreamed of owning a bookstore and maybe doing a little writing. She wanted a little ranch in the suburbs, white picket fence, loving husband, two kids and a dog. Now just three weeks shy of her 35th birthday, she felt as if she had been cheated out of her youth. Seven years in training followed by ten years of running around the world, fighting disease and saving lives. There was still a tiny sliver of hope. Her conscription would be fulfilled on that fateful 35th birthday and she would be free to pursue the life she still dreamed of.

The residents of Christmas Island never saw the beacon. It had long since blended into the background before mankind ever reached it. Exploratory Mission 2193D had chosen that location specifically for its remoteness. The landing pad for their probes, as well as the probes themselves, had long since eroded away.
The sound of the crashing spacecraft was noticed by the tourists staying at a nearby resort but they chalked it up to blasting at the phosphate mines. They didn’t notice the fog and they sure didn't notice the tiny invaders entering their bodies.

Three years later, the first signs of the epidemic showed up on Australia’s eastern coastline. The victim's skin would flake off and their bones became tumorous and misshapen. The medical community was baffled. Toxicologists first suspected that there was a poison in the ocean but as the number of cases rose from a few dozen to a few thousand, suspicion was turned toward an infectious agent.

Sarah was part of the first team to arrive. She dutifully took blood samples and made notes. Over the months the cases rose to the tens of thousands. It was invariably fatal with victims horribly contorted and screaming with pain. The world was starting to panic as cases began showing up all over the world. No one knew what it was or how to stop it but it was certain to cause a horrible agonizing death.

Al Bali Research Clinic in Morocco discovered the Human Al Bali Morpho (HABMV) virus, as it was now called and it was unlike any virus ever seen. HABMV was mega-sized with a huge mysterious DNA payload. It was so large so that it had been missed on early scans. Once identified, the medical researchers started looking for a way to defeat it and found that its large size made it an easy target for a modified version of an existing anti-viral medication, AH. We still had no idea how the virus worked but we did have a way to prevent it from spreading.

The Global Health Initiative was predicted that half the world’s population will succumb to HABMV within three months. They weren't wrong. The problem was, despite a worldwide effort, the supply of AH was not enough to protect everyone. If you became infected it was too late to stop it. Sarah worked triage of sorts. If you were found to be free of HABMV you were given a 90 day supply of AH but if you were found to be already infected, you were given pain killers and told to get you final business in order. This was the worst thing Sarah had had to do since starting with Global Health Initiative. She counted the days until she was out and cried herself to sleep every night.

Sarah occasionally had a patient that did not come to see her about HABMV but more normal kinds of human health complaints. Maybe a little scaly skin, some hair loss, clothes didn’t fit as well they should. Stanger still, it was always a little scaly skin, some hair loss and clothes didn’t fit as well they should. This happened more and more, eventually, nearly all of her patients had similar complaints and HABMV seemed to claiming the last of its victims. Sarah didn’t find these complaints odd at all, she was just relieved she no longer was spending her days telling people there was no hope for them.

The whole world had changed just a little. Food trends had changed, fashions had changed and we were a little more nocturnal than we had been. The analysts said this was normal after coming out of a devastating plague. People needed a change to help them forget the ordeal they had just been through.

The fateful day finally arrived and Sarah found herself being processed out of the Global Health Initiative. She could finally pursue her dream of finding a good mate and settling down to a quiet country life. Her end of service bonus would buy her both a house and the bookstore; with the population cut in half, property was inexpensive and easy to find.

Sarah wasted no time and went online and made a date right away. After all, she had been waiting for this all of her life. On the way out the door, she quickly checked her makeup, just needs a dash of powder to cover that chrome spot on her snout and quick eyeliner to bring out her big round yellow eyes.
Random Prompt 1
4
   Sep 5, 2016
As a near retirement age supervisor of a group of twenty somethings I am quite used to dealing with the issues that come with the struggles the younger generation has with adapting to having a career or just a life for that matter. Just a few weeks ago, I noticed a change in my crew. On a quiet Thursday morning I noticed my crew looking a bit worse for the wear. I smiled deep inside me as I thought, ah youth, free sex and chemical libations, who needs sleep?

At first it was amusing watching them on their smart phones bumping into the walls but after a week I was about to call them all out on the carpet. It got more concerning when I heard talk of server outages and crashed networks. No Internet equals no money around this place.

The first time I overheard one of them mentioning a victini I assumed it was some new vodka concoction and electabuzz had to be some new party drug. More and more I was hearing these odd terms and names. Absenteeism was going up and we had two personal injuries in the office. Enough is enough; I need to get to the bottom of this.

I think I was being very discrete as I looked over Chelsey’s shoulder to her phone screens. Pokémon GO? You’ve got to be kidding me. An office full of “adults” who have lost all sense over a game involving cutesy animals with badly translated names? Productivity is at an all-time low and my staff looks like extras from the cast of “The Walking Dead”.

I just don’t get it. I remember the horribly animated TV show my teens would watch and a boring Nintendo game. How my entire staff could be infected by this is beyond me. My college educated, highly motivated, paid on commission staff has turned into a flock of mindless dodo birds. I think that this is the harbinger of the end of civilization as we know it.

Needing to escape the office and those problems, I went to the café down the street for some lunch. I couldn’t help but notice the groups of young people walking around like zombies while staring into their phones. Others were sitting in groups on the park benches and on the odd monument. I overheard talk of gyms but for the life of me, none of these people seemed all that active.

Making my way to the counter, I ordered a blue cheese burger with yam fries and watched as my food was prepared by a young man with one hand and both eyes on his phone. I was fearing for my safety. As I turned around I saw this girl raise her arm and pull back. I yelled at the top of my lungs, “Hey, put away that Poké Ball.”
Rant
8
   Aug 14, 2016
"Wonder all those who enter these hallways," Peter read the inscription over the front doors of the building they were getting ready to demolish. "Lady had a lofty view of herself, didn't she?

"She was ahead of her time, or a total nutcase, it depends on who you talk to," Dave replied. "There is no question Cassandra Ponswaddle was an odd duck. There is also no question she advanced the art world, some of her paintings are truly fantastic.

"Yeah, I saw the exhibit of them in the new museum. Anyway, it's time to take the old one down. The crew should be here shortly."

The two men walked through the now-deserted building as the demolition crew arrived. Everything of worth had been removed; most of Ponswaddle's work and papers were in the new museum downtown. This building she had commissioned herself, it had stood for 150 years, but needed to make way for a city revitalization project. The artist herself had died 100 years ago, almost to the day.

As they reached Poncewaddle's old studio, Dave shook his head. "Seems a real shame to disturb this, Poncewaddle was a genius, and this was her inner sanctum."

"I heard she went nuts toward the end," Peter remarked.

"Cassandra became convinced she could see the future, and that her paintings depicted future events," Dave explained.

"Yeah, and my understanding is that they got pretty bleak, and that none of them came true," replied Peter.

"Her explanation was that all of them were depictions of the far future, and that one painting would prove the rest of them were authentic visions."

"Did she happen to mention where that one painting was?"

"No, but she did hint it would not be discovered until the destruction of this building."

"Nice foreshadowing, so anyway, what kind of bleak future did she think we would have?" asked Peter

"Violent storms, sea levels rising, droughts and floods, sort of wrath of God stuff."

"Or wrath of global warming, which scientists are predicting anyway," Peter pointed out.

"Yeah, but she was paining more than 100 years ago."

"Were there any details in it that could pinpoint specific locations?" asked Peter.

"Well she did have some coastal cities with flooding, and some of them resembled known cities, but some of the buildings were wrong, even wrong for today. Of course since we don't know what year she is supposedly predicting, we can't know what the skyline would be. Some of the buildings are correct, but generally those are buildings that were around when she did the painting so it doesn't prove anything."

"No newer ones?"

"They are paintings not photographs, so they wouldn't be exact. Yes, there do appear to be some buildings in some of the paintings that look like existing buildings that were erected in the last 100 years, but it depends on who you ask as to how much value they put on that. The paintings are missing some buildings that are there, and have others that do not exist."

"But still," Peter said.

Dave shrugged "But still nobody is convinced. On her death bed she did mention the one painting that would erase all doubt, but she refused to give any details about it."

Peter looked around at the barren studio. "I take it none of the stuff from here fit the description, the place is pretty cleaned out at this point."

"They found a bunch of personal papers nobody knew about, and some paintings and sketches, but nothing anybody would consider as a smoking gun, no."

They walked back to the main hall where the work crew was setting up to do the demolition work.

"Any last directions before we start boss?" one of the workers asked Dave.

"Just be careful you don't destroy anything valuable. We think everything was removed, but keep an eye out for a secret compartment or box in the walls. We're hoping there might be some kind of time capsule buried somewhere."

The building demolition went smoothly; it was pretty much complete when one of the workers came to get Dave.

"I think we found something sir, the cornerstone of the building contained a box."
"Did you open it?"

"No sir, we figured you would want to do it."

Dave called Peter to tell him to come to the site, then followed the worker. The box was rather large, and had an inscription: 'Do not open until July 24, 2016'.

Peter arrived. "Looks big enough to be a painting", he said.

"Yeah, that's what I thought too. And the inscription is bothering me."

"Why is that," asked Peter.

"She knew, almost to the day, when the building was coming down. Assuming Casandra wrote this anyway, I'm not an expert on her."

"I think we should get somebody that is here for the opening," Peter suggested.

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking too, and some publicity. I'll contact a news organization."

The next day quite a large crowd was present for the opening of the time capsule. Along with the representatives of the new museum and the local news organizations, a group of interested parties, most likely tipped off by the museum, were present for the opening.
Two of the museum curators were looking over the time capsule.

"What do you think Bernard?"

"I need to get dating for the ink, but the handwriting appears very much to be Casandra's."

"The seal appears to be intact too; we need to get pictures of the entire outside of the box before it is opened. If this really is the picture that proves Poncewaddle's predictions, we need to be fully documented before we open it," Henry Smith, a leading expert on Casandra Ponswaddle said.

Several hours later after the box was measured, poked, prodded, and photographed, Peter and Dave were given the go-ahead to open the box.

"Are you sure you don't want to do it?" Dave asked Henry.

"No, you two gentlemen were in charge of the building demolition, I think you should do it," Henry replied.

"OK then, but I think you folks should stand with us," Dave agreed.

The staff of the museum who were present got into a semi-circle around Dave and Peter, while the news photographers got ready to take pictures of whatever came out of the box.

Dave broke the seal on the box carefully, and looked inside. "It's a painting all right!" he exclaimed.

"What is a painting of?" someone in the crowd asked."

"I don't know, I can't see it well," Dave said.

"Hold it up facing us, so we can get a good shot of it coming out of the box," one of the photographers said.

Peter helped Dave pull the picture out of the box, and the two of them stood holding it facing the photographers. There was an audible gasp from the crowd, and several photographers looked puzzled as they clicked away taking photos.

When the response died down, the museum staff came around in front to get a look at the picture, as well as Peter, leaving Dave to hold it. They immediately became somber. Dave couldn't stand it, and tilted the picture so he could see it to.

It was a portrait of he and Dave holding a picture of he and Dave holding a picture trailing into infinity, with the entire staff of the museum standing behind them, all accurately portrayed.

"What do you plan to do now?" asked Peter.

"Buy some land well above sea level, and build a house," Dave replied.

"Better make sure it's sturdy, she predicted violent storms too," Peter concluded glumly.
Demolition Premonition
2
   Jul 26, 2016
I’m writing this to collect my thoughts before I call the police. Or perhaps a priest – I don’t think the police could do much in this situation. Perhaps by the end of this writing, I will know who to call. Perhaps by the end, I will have decided that I’m hallucinating or dreaming and shred this entire thing…we’ll see.

***

My next-door neighbor, James, likes to play the lottery. He buys a Powerball ticket every Saturday morning and watches them draw the numbers that evening. Every week, for years, the same thing without him ever winning a dime. I tried to convince him that he should save his money. Saving two dollars a week for that long would leave you with a nice chunk of change…he just laughed at me, though. Said that it would all pay off in the end. I decided not to argue with him. It’s his money; he can do what he wants with it.

About a month ago, late on a Friday evening, I heard strange noises coming from his house. I looked out the window, but didn’t see anything unusual. One window was flickering with light, as though it were lit with candles, but nothing stranger than that. I decided he was watching a movie with the volume up a bit too high and went back to my book, putting it out of my mind. I didn’t see him the next day, but on Sunday morning he told me cheerfully that he matched four numbers on the Powerball the night before and won a hundred dollars. Privately, I thought that it was still a waste, as he had spent a good three hundred dollars or so on tickets over the past few years, but I congratulated him. He certainly seemed happy about it.

The next week, I had friends over Friday night when the noises began again. We all went to the windows. This time, the noises were loud enough that we could tell they were voices. It sounded like singing. No, like some sort of chant. The window flickered again, but this time it looked less like a candle sputtering. It seemed more like somebody moving back and forth between the window and a light source. We decided that James must have people over dancing, although we all agreed that the chanting music seemed like an odd choice to dance too. The beat was slow and somber, nothing very exciting. We turned up our own music to drown out the sound and continued with the party.

That Saturday afternoon, I went over to James's house to ask if I could borrow a computer microphone. I explained that mine didn’t seem to be working and I wanted to see if it was the microphone or the jack before I went out and bought a new one. He led me into his office and while he rummaged around in some cabinets, searching, I looked at the items on his desk. I noticed a new Powerball ticket and, right next to it, a slip of paper with the same numbers written on it, weighed down by some sort of strange paperweight. The paperweight was in the shape of a human hand cut off at the wrist, which was wrapped in fabric. Curious, I reached out and touched it. The surface was smooth, cool, and firm, almost like plastic but not quite. It made me think of how my father’s hand had felt when I touched it at his funeral. It was like embalmed skin. I shuddered and pushed my hands into my pockets.

“Is this paperweight supposed to be Thing from the Addams Family?” I asked. James jumped and spun around?

“Huh?” he looked confused. I gestured to the hand. He glanced at it and paled. “I…uh…yes,” he stammered. He was holding the microphone in his hand, the cord a tangled mess that he had apparently been trying to straighten out. He looked at it, then shoved it at me. “Here,” he said shortly, shepherding me towards the door. “Keep it; I don’t use it.”

“Oh, thanks! Let me know if that Powerball ticket wins anything,” I said. He nodded mutely and closed the door behind me. I shrugged and walked back to my own house. The next morning, I looked at the winning numbers, thinking about the ticket I had seen. Four of the numbers plus the powerball matched – a ten thousand dollar win. What were the chances of that? Two wins in two weeks, especially after all those years of nothing? I wondered if James was somehow cheating, but I couldn’t think of a way it could be done.

I went next door to congratulate him and was shocked to see him pull into the driveway in a brand new Aston Martin. Even before taxes, the lottery money wouldn’t have been enough for a down payment. James just had a normal office job; there was no way he could afford that car. James smiled at me as he stepped out of the car.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” he asked. “I’ve had a string of good luck and feel more coming my way, so I decided to splurge a bit.”

“It’s…certainly something,” I conceded. “You thinking that you’re gonna win another Powerball?” I decided James was definitely cheating. I still didn’t know how, though. Maybe he knew somebody inside who was rigging the balls? It might be hard – that’s why only four or five of the six balls were coming up properly. Maybe they would keep doing it until he won the jackpot. James grinned at me.

“I’m getting luckier,” he said. “In fact, you should come over Friday night when I’m getting the numbers. Two people thinking are better than one.” I hesitated, not really wanting to be a part of whatever con was going on. Then I decided that if James showed me what he was doing, I could tell the police exactly what was happening.

“Sure,” I told him. “See you Friday night.” As I walked back home, I noticed him caressing the side of his new car lovingly.

That Friday, I walked over to James’s house and knocked on the front door. He answered immediately, as though he had been waiting on the other side for me to arrive. I followed him to his office. The first thing I noticed was that the weird paperweight was right in the middle of the desk, on top of a blank sheet of paper. James had slipped a pen between its fingers, as though it were about to write something down. It made the thing even more off-putting than it had been before.

“Where did you get that thing?” I asked, unable to take my eyes off of it.

“That? It was my father’s before he died.” James sounded somehow amused, maybe because I was so clearly repulsed by it. I finally tore my eyes away and looked at him.

“So how do you come up with the numbers?” I asked, trying to sound at ease. He glanced at the clock – it was nearly midnight already.

“Stand right there,” he ordered, pointing to a spot in front of the desk. I complied, wondering what sort of ridiculous show I had agreed to. James walked around to the other side of the desk so he was standing directly opposite me, the hand between us. He grabbed my hands and held them over the desk, then began to chant. I yanked my hands away.
“What are you doing?” I hissed. James frowned at me.

“Getting numbers,” he replied. “Don’t worry; you don’t have to do anything. Just stand there and keep quiet.” He took my hands again and started up his chant a second time. I was about to step back and demand to leave when the lights went out. James gripped my hands harder and chanted more loudly. I tried to protest, but my mouth seemed glued shut and my feet glued to the ground.

The room lightened until it was almost as bright as day, but the bulbs around the room remained dark. James’s voice sped up and rose in volume and shadows appeared on the wall – human shapes dancing in circles. James was chanting impossibly loudly now, as though dozens of voices were chanting with him. In the flickering light, I saw the paperweight on the desk move. It reared itself up to balance on the stump of the wrist, fingers flexing until the tip of the pen touched the paper. My vision blurred and I thought I might faint.

“Father,” James shouted over the sound of the chanting that continued without him, “speak to me from beyond your grave. Give me the numbers I need. Make me rich so I can take care of Mother and myself in your absence.” There was a long moment as James and the hand were still, as the shadows continued to dance around the walls madly and the chanting rose to a deafening level. Then the pen began to move, scratching six numbers onto the paper. As the last number was finished, the light went out, the chanting stopped, and the hand sank back down onto the paper, leaving us in darkness and silence. James let go of my hands, which were clammy with sweat, and I fainted.

***

I woke the next morning in my own bed, convinced that I had had a terrible nightmare the night before. I convinced myself of it even after James matched five numbers that day, winning a million dollars. I convinced myself all week…but today is Friday and I have been hiding in my basement all afternoon as James has pounded on my front door, telling me to come over because this week will be the week. This time, he will get every number. God, save me.
Jackpot!
3
   Jul 5, 2016
My, the web has a lot of cake recipes! (Marie Antoinette)
What a Tweet!
14
   Jun 20, 2016
The Writing Deck Quartermaster looked at his staff gathered in the conference room. The situation was dismal, participation was dropping off, and they really needed a strong contest theme to draw people in. This crew, regrettably, was not going to be much help. The dwarf was bickering with the elf as usual, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were swapping war stories, and the Tooth Fairy was listening in, because some of her best customers were clients of those two. Meanwhile the invisible pink unicorn was making a rainbow with its horn as usual.

The Quartermaster sighed. “You know, somehow I think this would work better if all of you weren’t imaginary creatures.”

The Tooth Fairy snickered. “Well boss, most of your writers are too, so it’s fitting.”

The Quartermaster scowled at her; regrettably she had a point, which is why he had called this meeting.

“Enough of that, we need ideas. We have a contest to post, and we need to drum up some interest. Anybody have any good ideas for topics?”

“How about one on Christmas?” Santa Claus suggested.

The Easter Bunny snickered, “In June O rotund one?”

Santa scowled at the rabbit. “You have heard of ‘Christmas in July’ haven’t you?”

Everybody in the room groaned.

“What?” Santa said, annoyed.

“It’s bad enough the stores start getting ready for normal Christmas in September, now you want to push Christmas in July to June? Why don’t you just take over Easter and be done with it!” the Easter Bunny complained.

“Wouldn’t be a bad idea for a contest,” the unicorn said thoughtfully.

“What, Santa running Easter?” the Quartermaster asked.

“I was thinking something more generalized. Holidays run by a character that usually handles another holiday. The Easter Bunny taking the 4th of July, Santa taking St Patrick’s Day, The ground hog taking Easter, that type of thing.”

“Hmmm…” the Quartermaster said taking notes. It’s original enough to be worth a look, I don’t think for this one though. Anybody else have any ideas?”

“How about a mining theme with dwarves?” the dwarf asked.

“Oh now THAT’s original,” snickered the elf.

“I suppose you can think of something better?” the dwarf snapped.

A grin appeared over the chair next to him, “Enraged dwarves are elegant, particularly the way their veins pop out in their necks. The Elf is fortunate your condition is not permanent. You're lucky, too. Red eyes suit so few.” the Cheshire cat said.

The Quartermaster chuckled. “Good to see you again, at least the part that shows. And that is a lovely line; I remember it from the movie. So to what do we owe the honor of this visit?”

“Every adventure requires a first step. But what if the last step is the same as the first?”

“I don’t get it,” the Tooth Fairy said, scratching her head with her tooth brush.

“Do you also brush your teeth with a hair brush?” the Cheshire cat inquired.

“If you don’t mind, can we get back on topic?” the Quartermaster requested. “The first step is the same as the last. What did you mean by that?”

“Everything I said, and not a word more or less,” the Cheshire cat replied.

“Perhaps if we asked that drugged caterpillar instead,” the Unicorn suggested.

“Are you never satisfied with what you have, and only with what you haven’t?” the Cheshire cat inquired.

“You know, having a contest where everybody has to write a story in the style of Alice in Wonderland would be a neat contest,” the elf mused.

“And since it is all in public domain, there would be no copyright issues,” the dwarf said in rare agreement.

The Quartermaster was busy scribbling again. “It does have its possibilities, but I think we need more writers present before we try it, it will be a tough contest. Now cat, about your idea…”

“A story that ends where it starts; or visa-versa, the end is the beginning,” the Cheshire cat explained.

“That could work,” Santa said, stroking his beard.

“Oh bother! That’s an impossible theme!” the Easter Bunny said, disagreeing.

“I don’t see what the problem is, after all I’ve believed at as many as eight impossible things before brushing my teeth in the morning,” the Cheshire cat said as his grin started fading away.

“I imagine that cat spends a lot of time brushing his teeth too – it’s about all of him there is,” the Tooth Fairy muttered.

“So boss, are we going with it?” the unicorn asked.

“Unless anybody has any better ideas…” the Quartermaster said, looking around the room, and by the way everybody quickly lowered their heads to avoid eye contact, he quickly got the idea nobody did.

“OK then, Santa and Rabbit, you take care of posting the contest; Tooth Fairy and Unicorn, you come up with some artwork, and you guys,” he said pointing to the elf and the dwarf, “come up with a forum post. We’ll meet back here in two days to discuss how things are going.

Two days later the group reconvened.

“Any entries yet?” the dwarf asked.

“Sure, we gave them two weeks because they could do a 1,500-3,000 word story in two days,” the Elf sniffed.

“OK, but it doesn’t take two weeks to read the post in the forum, how are we doing there?” the Easter Bunny asked.

“Not so hot,” the Elf admitted. “We only have 17 views.”

“Well that’s a bit disappointing, but if we get 17 entries that would be great,” the Quartermaster said.

“Erm, 15 of those were from me checking the post to see if anybody liked it.”

The Quartermaster did a face-palm. “Any good news?”

“Yeah, the two people who read it ‘hearted’ it.”

“OK, so are either of them regular writers?”

“One is”

“One, so we may be looking at one entry then.”

“They could go for a trifecta,” the Easter Bunny suggested helpfully.

“In a 1,500 word contest? Um, yeah,” Santa said. “Sharpen your pencil.”

“Well one of us has to. We don’t want a no-entry contest. Any volunteers?” the Quartermaster asked.

The unicorn raised its… hoof. “I’ll do it.”

“How are you supposed to be able to write?” the Quartermaster asked.

“I’ll take dictation,” offered the Tooth Fairy.

“Sounds like a plan,” the Quartermaster said. “We will meet back in a week to catch up on how the contest is going.”

A week later the group reconvened. From the glum look on everybody’s face the Quartermaster could tell how things were going without asking, but there was the formality to uphold.

“Any entries yet?” he asked Santa.

“No. I told you it should be a contest about Christmas. Everybody loves Christmas” Santa replied.

“Oh put a stocking in it lardo,” the Easter Bunny snapped.

“I think someone is just cranky because they can only give out candy instead of real presents,” Santa sniffed.

“At least I don’t pig out on all the chocolate like someone else I could name,” the Easter Bunny retorted.

“Can it guys, arguing is the dwarf and elf’s department; speaking of which, any more interest in that post on the forum?”

“No. On the bright side, there isn’t any less either,” the dwarf said.

“Perhaps we should extend the contest to give people more time…” the elf suggested.

“Oh sure, the masses will flock to the contest if we just give it an extra week…” the dwarf replied.

“I was thinking of extending it until Christmas,” replied the elf.

“Hey let’s run it once a year and call it NaNoWriMo” the Easter Bunny said.

“If you don’t mind guys…” the Quartermaster said tiredly. “So, Unicorn, how’s our story coming?”

“It’s coming: about two thirds done.”

“So how does it end?” Santa asked.

“The same way it begins. You did read the contest prompt you wrote, right?” the unicorn snapped.

“OK, OK guys; I understand we are all frustrated; just cool off a bit. We’ll meet back here tomorrow, hopefully things will be a little brighter,” the Quartermaster said.

When the Quartermaster returned to the meeting room the next day he heard the sound of general laughter, and came across his entire staff, arms linked in a circle dancing, the only exception being the unicorn.

“I can’t dance, I’m sort of, and you should excuse the expression, ‘a one trick pony’”.
“So what’s the celebration about?”

“We got an entry.”

“Not yours I assume?”

“No, I still haven’t finished it.”

“You’re running out of time you know.”

“It will be done on time.”

“How do you know?”

“It’s the minutes of our meetings.”

“But isn’t it supposed to end the same way it… ouch. Er, surprise me”

“No problem.”

“Hey guys, time to get serious here,” the Quartermaster said, addressing the group.

They stopped dancing, and took their places around the table.

“Sorry boss, we got carried away,” the elf said. “Hey, did you notice the new digs?”

“Yeah, Devil Moon did quite a job on the place. Now about participation levels…”

“Hey, we got an entry didn’t we?” the Easter Bunny pointed out.

“It isn’t a dream sequence I hope,” Santa said.

“I don’t care if it’s a dream sequence where the subject wakes up on Ground Hog Day, we aren’t going to DQ the only entry,” the Tooth Fairy huffed.

The Quartermaster chuckled. “I haven’t reviewed it yet, I wanted to wait until the unicorn’s story is submitted.”

“Are you going to be finished on time?” the dwarf asked the unicorn.

“Yeah, I can reliably guarantee I will be. Don’t ask how, because you don’t want to know,” the unicorn replied.

“Amen to that,” the Quartermaster mumbled under his breath. “OK, so anyway we have one entry, there’s going to be at least two, and it’s on to the voting. Let’s meet back one day before the voting ends.”

Three days later they reconvened. “So how is our story doing?” the Quartermaster asked. “You did get it in on time right?”

“As always,” the unicorn said. “And we are in second place.”

“Great, so how many entries were there total?” the Quartermaster asked.

“Two, of course,” the unicorn responded.

“Wait a minute, you’re writing this story before the contest ends, how did you know that?” the Quartermaster asked, suddenly confused.

“I am the Invisible Pink Unicorn, I do have predictive powers you know,” the unicorn replied haughtily.

“That and unicorns can’t proof read so there are undoubtedly a suitable number of grammar mistakes included,” Santa added helpfully.

“Hey, watch it tubby, or I’ll turn you into a turnip,” the unicorn growled.

“OK, let’s not get started again. Tomorrow the contest ends, and we need to come up with the next one; until then. Oh, do you have enough words now?” he asked, turning to the unicorn.

“I must have, since it was already submitted,” the unicorn replied.

“I think I’m getting a head ache thinking about it. Let’s get back together tomorrow,” the Quartermaster said, rubbing his forehead.

The Writing Deck Quartermaster looked at his staff gathered in the conference room. The situation was dismal, participation was dropping off, and they really needed a strong contest theme to draw people in. This crew, regrettably, was not going to be much help. The dwarf was bickering with the elf as usual, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were swapping war stories, and the Tooth Fairy was listening in, because some of her best customers were clients of those two. Meanwhile the invisible pink unicorn was making a rainbow with its horn as usual.

The Cheshire cat grinned in the corner.
Full Circle
2
   Jun 5, 2016
“You aren’t seriously thinking of going down there?”

“Shh,” muttered Hans, giving a hand signal to his brother Franz to get down. If it had been possible to jump from a laying position, that outburst would have sent Hans airborne.

“What are you doing here, and how did you find me?” whispered Hans.

“Well, you really are easy to track,” answered Franz. “Of course I saw you starting the climb up here when you first left the forest floor.”

Now that Franz was lying next to his brother, he could look down and see what he considered the only thing of interest in the ravine was a small waterfall-fed pool. “Hey, that looks like a cool little hide-away. How deep do you think it is?”

“How deep?” asked Hans, not realizing they were not looking at the same thing. “Well it goes into the mountain, but how should I know how far?”

Then Franz noticed that Hans was not looking at the pool, but rather a cave farther down the cliff face. “Wow, cool,” he blurted, and Hans had to issue a “shh” once more.

“Why do we need to be quiet?” whispered Franz. “I don’t see any animals around. In fact I don’t even hear any birds.”

About then, both boys would have become airborne if possible when “Hey, what are you guys doing here?” was shouted out by their sister Lea, who had just come up behind them.

“Shh,” both boys issued at the same time, as they both also gave the hand signal to get down. Looking at each other they almost broke out laughing, but Hans controlled himself enough to continue: “What are you doing here? And how did you… oh never mind, you always were the tracker in the family.”

“What are you guys doing here,” lea scolded. “You should be back home, if you finished your chores. Mom will be calling us to supper real soon, because she and Pa and are going to the schoolhouse tonight.”

“That’s just it,” Hans started. “When I was finishing up my chores out near the fence, I saw the new teacher and her niece heading into the woods. I thought it curious and decided to follow them. I lost their track back a ways, and thought maybe I might spot them if I went to higher ground.”

“So, are they down there?” asked Lea. “I don’t see anyone in that pool.” Then her eyes got big: “Ooh if you were watching them skinny-dipping, Pa is going to whip you good…”

“No, it’s nothing like that,” Hans quickly shot back. “I don’t know where they went. I haven’t seen anyone since I got here.”

He was blushing, but Lea took his word for it. “Well when I tracked you here, I saw there were other prints on the forest floor as well. Franz’ because his are so easy to spot because of his limp, but two others as well, and they were small enough to be the teacher and her niece. Those prints continued on into the forest where yours turned to climb up.”

“Well, now that you’re here, we can go down and track them,” Blurted Franz. “Hopefully they didn’t spot this place, and we can have it all to ourselves.”

“Wherever they went to will have to wait,” said Lea. “we need to be getting home, just as they are probably already back at the schoolhouse by now, anyway, because of the older folks going there tonight. We can always come back tomorrow and follow their tracks, to see where they went if you are that curious. They probably just spotted a nice berry patch.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Pouted Franz at the same time Hans said “Sure, fine. Let’s go.”

Their timing couldn’t have been better. Just as they were nearing their house, their mother leaned out the door to call them in for supper.

Over the evening meal the conversation did not veer to the children’s recent activities, but rather to what the parents would learn that night. They were looking forward to this new experience.
. . . . .
The new King was determined that his people would not remain illiterate as they were under his father’s rule. There would be no more illegal taxing or confiscations as had been done in the past, when the people could not read the papers that were used by those in power to take away their goods.

The first thing Harold did as new King was to imprison the then sheriff along with a number of others that had done the sheriff’s bidding. The next thing was to arrange for a teacher to come to his lands and instruct all in reading and writing as a minimum. Children would spend five hours a day two days a week in new schoolhouses he had built. Parents and other adults could attend night classes once a week, to learn reading and writing, and if the teacher were inclined, could receive further learning at their homes for the cost of a meal and bed a lesson.

The teacher would indeed need to be diligent, travelling between the three schoolhouses, with only Sunday for herself. It was an arduous search to find one suitable and willing to fill the position. Nazeer had agreed to the undertaking, as long as she were permitted to bring her niece along with her. The King gladly accepted that condition, and Nazeer and Bethany became new residents of Harold’s Kingdom.
. . . . .
After supper Hans was placed in charge, as he was the oldest, and the folks headed out to school. “Lea, you wash and Franz will dry the dishes,” He ordered.

The comeback was obvious, and from both at the same time: “And what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to bring in more wood for the fire, so we will be able to see to read of course.” He said through a smile, as he lifted a new book in his hand and walked away.

“Ooh,” yelped Lea, “let’s get these dishes done.” Franz just chuckled.

A few hours later, all three were happily exhausted from studying the new book, and Hans decided it was time for bed. “No, we will not wait up for Ma and Pa. Who knows how long they will be.”

Though in bed, Hans was still awake when his parents returned. He had been too busy trying to figure out what had happened that afternoon. The giggling of his parents, about how much fun they had had, was enough to distract his thoughts, and finally allow him to fall asleep.
. . . . .
When he woke in the morning, Hans could smell two things: that it had rained during the night, and that breakfast was ready. He wasted no time getting to the table. The rest of his family were already there, discussing what the parents had learned the night before.

“Nazeer told us all about the different kinds of dragons, and how most are beneficial to mankind,” related his mother.

“I must have missed something,” broke in Hans, as he was piling a plate with eggs and bacon. “What have dragons got to do with reading and writing?”

“Oh,” replied his mother, “maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned it, if she hasn’t taught you children about it yet. Maybe you’ll learn it in school today.”

“Go ahead and tell them Ma,” said their dad. “Maybe that’ll give ‘em a reason to look smart, if Nazeer asks anyone if they know.”

“Yeah, tell us!” chimed in all three kids in unison.

“Oh, all right,” conceded their mother. “You see, it turns out that dragons were the ones that actually introduced writing, in the first place. It’s the way they have always conducted business with rulers. When they agree to keep a land safe from predators, or outlaws or whatever, they want to make sure they will get paid when there is nothing left for the ruler to worry about. It seems long ago, some rulers weren’t inclined to pay their dues. And the dragons had no recourse but violence, which if they used, would make ordinary folk fear them, and consider them their enemy, even though they were responsible for removing the folk’s actual enemies.”

“So that’s why we always hear that dragons are bad?” piped in Lea.

“That’s why,” continued her mother. “But once they created writing, and had signed documents, they had the proof they needed that they did what they did under contract, and if they were not paid for their services, they had the right to resort to violence. The big problem they had then, was that most ordinary folk, like us, were illiterate, so didn’t know what the papers really said.

“They still try to educate the world, so there are no misunderstandings, but many rulers still prefer to keep their people in ignorance. Just like our old King. Did you know the reason we have no wild animals around to bother our stock, is because of a deal he made with a dragon when he was but a lad himself?” Watching the kids shaking their heads, she continued: “Well, he did. At least according to Nazeer. And he never did pay that dragon. We’re just lucky that nothing bad came of it, and Nazeer says that is because there was no one in this Kingdom that could read the contract. Anyway, I’m sure she will tell you the whole story in school. Now finish your breakfast. You don’t want to be late, do you?”

Three heads simultaneously shook their heads while gobbling down the rest of the meal. After that, it was off to school with big grins on their faces. No one had actually ever seen a dragon of course, but it sure was a good tale for their amusement. Hans had even forgotten about trying to track where the teacher and her niece had gone the day before. Of course his mind might have realized that the rain would have destroyed their chances of that anyway.
. . . . .
Sure enough, in the coming weeks, the children learned that story as well as many other interesting facts. It seemed everyone in the kingdom was enjoying life more while illiteracy declined.

Hans was especially happy, since they had the teacher and her niece for dinner a few times, and it was obvious that he was smitten with Bethany.

King Harold could not have been happier as well, until one day a dragon named Razer appeared with a contract. It was the contract that his father had made for the removal of predatory wolves, at a cost of 10 gold pieces per wolf. At the time of the contract there were so many wolves in the Kingdom that getting rid of them all would cost the King a small fortune.

Of course once the wolves had been vanquished, the King immediately lost all knowledge that he had made a deal with anyone. Razer was not happy at all with this, but left, giving a warning that one day the debt would be paid. The King just laughed it off, and continued with his strict rule until his demise. He had never even shown his son and heir the paper he had signed.

“It is time for this debt to be paid,” said Razer. “I will agree to settle for the sum of 10,000 gold pieces.”

“But that would bankrupt my Kingdom,” stuttered King Harold.

“I am patient, and will give you until the summer solstice to raise that amount. If you require more time after that, I will require the services of your daughter as my servant until you have my gold. You may read that in the contract, the King will forfeit his oldest child if he reneges on his debt. And now your citizenry can also read this contract. So I would say I am being lenient.”

After Razer had departed, King Harold brooded with the knowledge of what his father had done, and tried thinking of a way to raise the gold. He finally summoned the most knowledgeable people in his Kingdom for their advice. Among those present was Nazeer, who suggested he hide the Princess until he could raise the gold, just to be on the safe side.

“But how could I be sure the dragon would not find her?” questioned the King.

“In my travels,” answered Nazeer, “I have seen some places that might work. Let me take her to one. I won’t even tell you where, so the dragon can’t find out from you.”

Her argument was so persuasive, that King Harold readily agreed, and bit farewell to his daughter as she and the teacher made their leave.
. . . . .
The King, still ashamed of his father’s actions, posted proclamations around the Kingdom, explaining his need, and asking the citizenry to pitch in and help put an end to his dilemma. He did not mention the Princess though, as he did not want anyone trying to find her, even just out of curiosity.

The people were glad to help their King and worked harder than ever in hopes to raise enough gold to pacify the dragon. Apart from that extra labor though, life continued as normally as possible.

After one night that the teacher and her niece had been quests at their home though, Bethany managed to slip Hans a note while saying goodbye, without Nazeer noticing. After they were out of sight, Hans went to his room, looking forward to what he assumed would be a love letter from Bethany. Was he in for a shock!

“Hans,
I know I should not write this, because if Razer finds out, I’m sure I will be her dinner. Yes, Nazeer is Razer the dragon. I have been her ‘servant’ for over a year now. Ever since my father did not pay her for a deal he made. My real name is Mary, and my father is King Brian. I don’t know if he is even looking for me anymore.
What I needed to say though, is that Razer is keeping King Harold’s daughter prisoner in a cave in the mountains. We go there whenever she needs to go out alone, and leaves me there. She doesn’t tie me up or anything, because she knows I’d never try to escape, even if I knew the way out of there, because my father didn’t make good on his deal with her.
But now with the Princess, I don’t know what her plans are. There are human bones in the cave, so I think she must really eat her prisoners at some point.
You need to warn the King. Maybe he can follow us on one of our trips to the cave, and rescue his daughter. I don’t know how you beat a dragon, but I’m really scared. Love
Mary”

Hans rushed to show the letter to his father, and they agreed that they must show it to the King.

In a larger Kingdom, it might be hard to gain audience with a King, but not in their small Kingdom, at least not now that Harold was King. They showed the King the letter, and Hans told him of the long ago day he had tried following them through the forest. “I lost their trail, but from the top of that mountain, I did see a cave in a ravine, and at least that was in the general direction I think they went.”

King Harold thanked them and sent them on their way, saying he would find a way to make that rescue happen.
. . . . .
The King did come up with a plan, and set it in motion. He had Nazeer sent for from the school when he knew Bethany would be with her. When they arrived, he asked Bethany to leave the throne room while he discussed an adult matter with her niece.

“Enough now with the games,” he said when the door closed behind Bethany. “You have deceived me, and that breaks any contract my father made with you. Will you now return my daughter to me now, or must I take action against you?”

“I know not how you figured out who I really am,” laughed Nazeer, “but you dare to threaten me? Your daughter will be my dinner!”

“I take that as a no,” said the King, which was the phrase to let everyone come out of hiding. The room was now swarming with angry citizens. “I’ll be returning Mary to her father as well. I now banish you from my Kingdom, never to return. You know the penalty of breaking that proclamation!”
. . . . .
While that confrontation had been taking place, Hans once again found himself in a prone position atop that mountain, looking down into the ravine.

“You aren’t seriously thinking of going down there?”

“Shh” answered a jumpy Hans, as he motioned Franz down. “No, we’ll wait until I’m sure it is safe, and the dragon is gone. Look there are the King’s guard helping the Princess out of the cave.”

“How’d they find the place?” asked Franz. “And why do we still need to whisper?”

“Lea was their guide,” answered Hans. “She really is a great tracker. Oh, and we aren’t supposed to be here. No one was sure what might happen when the King confronted Nazeer.

“Anyway, Lea knows the way, and we won’t need to worry about climbing down steep cliffs to get to our new hide-away, once it’s been cleared out.”

“Yay,” shouted Franz, and clasped his hand over his mouth, hoping he had not been heard.

The only one below that seemed to look up at the outburst, was the Princess, and she had a smile on her face.
Full Circle
2
   Jun 5, 2016
Basically, Jack Fromp had been just an ordinary kid. He was actually a little dimmer than a night light, and could barely walk and chew gum at the same time, but he made up for his shortcomings with his caring attitude toward everyone.

He had no idea his powers were unique to himself. His first realization that he even had these was by accident. His mother had offered him a treat because a visit to the dentist had resulted in no cavities. On their way home, she said he could have a piece of penny candy.

This was Jack’s first time in the general store, and though he was overwhelmed by the amount of goodies on show, he spotted something right off that determined what he would get. There in front of him was something with the same initials that he had on all his clothes: J.F. It was a stick of Juicy Fruit gum!

His mother thought it a good choice, because chewing gum was supposed to be good for one’s teeth, so she gladly handed over the penny to the clerk.

Once outside, Jack unwrapped the gum, but because he didn’t know how it would taste, and also because he wanted this treat to last as long as possible, he tore the stick in half, put half in his mouth and the other half back in the wrapper and into his pocket.

“How’s it taste?” asked his mother.

“Wow, this is good,” he exclaimed, and they continued on toward home with smiles on their faces.

Nearing their house, Jack’s mother told him to go ahead and stay outside and play for a while. “I’ll call you when it is time for lunch,” she said.

“Alright,” Jack said, and headed to where he saw a couple other kids hanging out around a tree. “What ya all doing?” he asked when he reached them.

A little girl named Sally said “My cats done gone and got himself stuck up there in the tree. He doesn’t want to move from that branch.”

A boy named Frank stated “I’d go get him, but my Ma says to stay out of trees, as they’re dangerous.”

“Yeah,” said Jack. “My Ma says the same.” Looking around Jack noticed something: “Hey, that branch doesn’t look too far from that garage roof. I bet if I went up there, I could shoo him down. And my Ma didn’t say nothin’ about climbing onto garages.”

So Jack climbed onto the garage roof, but when he started to wave his arms to shoo the cat out of the tree, something happened: he started moving toward the branch right through thin air.

Jack arrived on the branch, not knowing he had floated over there, even though the branch was a good five feet away from the roof (it hadn’t looked that far away from the ground). When he reached for the cat, it hissed and scratched out at him. Jack was startled that the cat took a swipe at him, and gasped, causing the gum he was chewing to be expelled from his mouth.

Down Jack fell, and it was just lucky for him that he struck every branch on the way down, or he might have broken something.

“Hey, you scared my cat,” shouted Sally. “How’d you jump onto the tree like that anyway? And why didn’t you bring him down with ya?”

“Uh, Sally,” remarked Frank, “Jack didn’t exactly climb down the tree ya know? Are you okay Jack?”

Jack looked himself over, and was surprised when he couldn’t find claw marks from the cat. “Yeah, I guess,” he stuttered. “Just a bit bruised from hitting them branches, I bet. I thought sure Sally’s cat scratched me though.”

Not sure of how he had gotten out to the tree from the garage, he climbed back up and looked over at the tree. “How’d I do that?” he wondered. The cat was still over there looking at him, probably thinking the same thing (if cats can think).

Jack remembered he had lost his gum after the cat had struck, so he checked his pocket to make sure he still had the other half. When he felt it, he thought “Well, that other piece was tending to lose it’s flavor anyway.” Jack unwrapped the other half and tossed it into his mouth, but put the wrapper back in his pocket: “It’s got my initials, can’t be throwin’ somethin’ good like that away.”

Chewing the gum and enjoying the flavor, he didn’t realize he had floated over to the tree again. This time he didn’t flinch when the cat swiped at him, picked up the cat and floated down to where Sally and Frank were standing, with their mouths hung open.

That was the start of Jack’s super hero “Juicy Fruit Kid” series of good deeds. He saved a lot of cats, and even a few kids, from trees. As long as he was chewing Juicy Fruit gum, he was invulnerable.

The problem was, that Jack didn’t like chewing the gum after the flavor had gone, and had a tendency to spit it out, thus causing his powers to leave him as well.

On one rescue attempt, the kid at the top of the tree asked him a question as he was lifting them off: “what’s with the note pinned to your shirt?”

“Oh, that’s a reminder for me to pick up some more gum.” Jack said, accidently spitting out the piece he had in his mouth at the time.

Down they fell, and Jack was credited with saving the kid’s life, because the kid did land on top of him, breaking the fall a little. The kid weighed too much and Jack, sandwiched between the kid and the ground, did not survive. Thus ending the short career of the Juicy Fruit Kid.
Not So Great Superpowers
3
   May 20, 2016
Your perfect life is so complete,
All other moms just can't compete.
The rest raise social invalids,
But you reared healthy, happy kids.

An answer for each need I feel,
As mothers go, you are ideal.
A reputation none can taint.
They should acclaim you as a saint.
Mother's Day! Again?
3
   May 7, 2016
“Another night wishing I were single,” I thought as I checked out all the ladies while walking around the club, looking for someone that nobody knew. I was supposed to be keeping my eyes peeled for a master pick-up artist that left his trophies dead.

We were now sure that we were looking for a serial killer, only because the autopsies found the same DNA inside several victims. All of these appeared to have had sex before their deaths, but that did not necessarily mean they had been raped as well as murdered.

In fact, the perpetrator had not murdered all his victims, as a rape test performed on a comatose patient had also been a match. Hopefully she would come out of the coma, and be able to give a description of the man.

That was the true puzzle. Witnesses that had seen the women leave the clubs had all given different descriptions of who they thought they saw them leaving with. A girlfriend of the comatose woman said she had left with a heavyset man that must have had a smooth tongue, because in the looks department, she couldn’t see him ever getting a date. “But then Sally was more of a bookworm than a partier, so he might have been a librarian or something,” she had said.

And a witness to the latest casualty said “I would have jumped his bones right there in the club, if Mary hadn’t drug him off.” From her description though, all we knew was that he was tall, good-looking, with dark hair, and a style of dress that didn’t seem quite right. “He was well-dressed, ya know? Like goin’ to the opera or somethin’ not clubbin’,” was how one witness described his appearance.

So here I was, definitely looking out of place myself, the same as another dozen undercover cops in another dozen clubs. We figured that if nothing else, our surveillance, as well as that of an increased uniformed police presence in the district, would at least stop his activities long enough for us to gain more information to help nab him.

. . . . .

From Doctor Herbert’s diary - 12 Jan 15

I can’t believe those fools. Fire me! Me! After showing them how my work had transformed the rats in just days. And all because I wanted to start testing on humans. The results so far have shown no adverse effects, well not since the first few deaths, but that’s what lab rats were for – testing. None had shown any signs of sickness since then, and the weight loss was significant. If my formula worked in proportion to human bodies, we could expect weight loss on the average of five pounds a week, and that’s without all the rigmarole that current weight-loss programs required(as shown on tv – pfft).

I think they realize too well how my invention would work, and know that would affect the bottom dollar. The company is too invested in all the fraudulent versions going around, and if my formula works, they would lose all that juicy income. After all, who needs special diet food and exercise equipment, when just one pill before bed would melt the fat away.

Well, they have the rights to my formula, because I developed it while working for them; and they may bury it in some vault underground, but they can’t erase it from my head. No Sir!

I have recreated my formula; well at least if I remember right. I might be off in a measurement or two, but I’ll see soon enough as I’m going to take a pill myself tonight.

. . . . .

I know I must be mistaken, but that guy over at the end of the bar sure resembles Herb from back in my high school days. It couldn’t be him though, as Herb weighed at least fifty pounds more. “Man that would be something,” I thought. “Old lab rat Herb looking twenty years younger than the rest of the class.” At least the “Herb” at the bar was able to get a girl. Could I be looking at our suspect? “Right,” I said to myself, “just because a guy has a better-looking date than I’ve had since my youth, he is automatically suspicious.”

Continuing my walk through the club, I spotted at least another score of these “suspicious” individuals. “Remember you’re a happily married man,” my thoughts reminded me.

. . . . .

From Doctor Herbert’s diary – 13 Jan 15

Wow, I woke up this morning feeling exhausted, like I’d run a marathon or something, but also invigorated. I climbed on the scale, and sure enough, my formula works even better than I imagined. I lost five pounds last night in my sleep!

I wondered why, if I had lost all that weight through sweat, the linen showed no signs of it. I do remember parts of a weird dream I had (more of a nightmare, really), and if the activity I had there were any indication, the sheets should have been soaked. I know my metabolism must have really been working overtime though; five pounds in one night is much better than I anticipated.

After breakfast I went to a local pet shop and purchased a few rats. I remember wondering how much of a price difference there was between these and lab rats. I thought about purchasing another pair of pants on the way home, but decided I should wait to see if my weight loss remained.

This afternoon I mixed in a quarter pill of my formula in one of the rats feed. I am curious how much difference there will be compared to the version I made at the company.

. . . . .

A guy was helping a girl put on her coat near the front bar, and I assumed they were preparing to leave. “Hey Sam,” I spoke into my wristwatch, “we have what looks like another pick-up about to leave. Make sure you get a shot when they exit.” This was another idea the Chief had; take pictures of couples leaving the clubs. If anything happened to one of those ladies, we might have our perpetrator.

. . . . .

From Doctor Herbert’s Diary – 19 Jan 15

I have regained no weight in the week following my first pill, and have developed no side effects (at least none that I am aware of). The rat I tested has shown too much weight loss to be healthy though, so I know not to give this as a daily supplement.

I intend to take another pill tonight, and will give an appropriate sized version to another rat. If there is no apparent danger, I will give the rat a second dose mid-week.

. . . . .

“All right Frank,” came Sam’s voice in my earpiece, “I’ve got them. It’s getting pretty late. Reckon the pace is about to pick up?”

“I was just about to say that,” I answered him. “It looks like a few more are on their way now. Get ready.”

. . . . .

From Doctor Herbert’s Diary – 20 Jan 15

When I woke this morning, I could clearly remember most of the nightmare. I had not had a bad dream since the night of my first trial, so I have to assume this might be a side effect caused by the rapid increase in metabolism. I felt exhausted again, as if I had actually done everything that I remembered of the dream.

On weighing myself, I had lost another five pounds. I wonder if I should cut the dose by half, and see if that eliminates the dreaming at least. I will have to think about this. And see how the rat fairs. Wouldn’t it be something if I could see if rats dream?

. . . . .

As I was walking past “Herb” and his girl again, I overheard something that did startle me. The girl actually called him Herb. I stopped in my tracks, and turned toward them, thinking to ask if he was who I thought he was, when a commotion farther down the bar caught my attention.

A lady apparently was not taking kindly to a guy that seemed to be trying to lead her out, as she was trying to get him to get his hand off her arm. When the guy saw me approaching he decided it might not be a good idea to stick around, he removed his hand from the lady and made a beeline toward the exit.

“I’m after a guy coming out on his own, Sam,” I yelled into my watch, “but he’ll be out the door before I can get to him. Start shooting every guy coming out.”

“Gotcha covered Frank,” came back Sam’s voice.

. . . . .

From Doctor Herbert’s Diary – 26 Jan 15

Once again I have gone a week from taking the pill and have shown no side effects, and have not regained any weight.

Though I was thinking of cutting the dosage, the rat has showed no signs of distress even after giving him another dose mid-week. In fact his weight loss has increased with no apparent detriment to his health.

I bought some new pants today, and am now wondering if I should have gotten an even smaller size, since I will be taking another pill tonight. Ha. If this continues, and I try upping my dosage to twice a week, I could go broke buying new clothes.

. . . . .

Sam had done more than just take pictures. He had also alerted a uniformed officer that was nearby, and that officer was able to apprehend the guy running out of the club. “Why’d you run fella?” I asked as I got to where the officer was holding him. “I, I, I thought you might have been the broad’s boyfriend or somethin’ the way ya looked at me,” answered the guy. “And I didn’t want to be gettin’ no beatin’.”

We had a car pick up the guy to take to the station for questioning, just to be on the safe side, then I returned to the club.

. . . . .

From Doctor Herbert’s Diary – 27 Jan 15

Another nightmare! They seem so real. I think I must decrease the dose, rather than going to bi-weekly. My mind might not be able to handle it. I will definitely have to document this phenomenon though, as it could possibly lead to other breakthroughs.

At least it is consistent with another five pound decrease. I think I will try another mid-week, if the rat still shows no ill effects, but I will cut my dosage in half. Maybe that will stop the nightmares.

. . . . .

A lot of people were looking at me as I re-entered the club. “Of course, that’s to be expected,” I thought, “when they see me chase a guy outta here.” Two people did not seem interest though: “Herb” and his girl, who were occupied with themselves.
I decided it was time to see if he was the guy I remembered from high school. Even if he was a lot slimmer. “Excuse me,” I said by way of introduction, “but you look familiar. Did you go to Proviso High School in the late ‘80s?”
“Are you kidding me, man?” He answered, giving a nasty sneer. “Do I look that old to you?” His girl giggled while I excused myself. Something didn’t seem right though. Something about his voice, maybe?

. . . . .

From Doctor Herbert’s Diary – 26 Feb 15

I don’t know how I remain sane. Even after cutting my dose to half, the nightmares continue. Tonight will be it though, after this I should be down to the recommended weight for my height, and I certainly look and feel younger.
I made the mistake of putting the second test rat in with the third after the last supplement though, and in the morning I found only one alive. So did the test rat have a nightmare and kill the other rat in it’s sleep? I will have to pick up some more rats, to continue experimenting. This might lead to a way to eliminate the dreams. Maybe just slight variations of the ingredients.

I know I can’t market my formula if it would give everyone nightmares, after all.

. . . . .

“Sam. Make sure you get some good shots of the couple now leaving,” I spoke into my watch. “I don’t know what it is, but I just have a bad feeling…”

. . . . .

That couple was “Herb” and his girl. And my gut had been right. Something had been wrong. The girl was found murdered, and contained the same DNA as the serial killer we were looking for.

It didn’t take long to find the address for “Herb”, if he was the same guy I remembered from school, and we were on our way to see.

When we got to the address, it was “Herb” that answered the door, but he looked at me like he had not even seen me the night before. “Can I help you?” he asked.

“We’re here about the girl you left “Cliff’s Club” with last night,” I answered, showing him one of Sam’s pictures.

“I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you are talking about. I have been here at home all night,” he replied. “I have to admit this does look a lot like me, but I have never had any luck with the ladies, either.”

“The act won’t fly,” I told him. “I talked to you myself at the bar. Asked if you had attended Proviso High School.”

“Well. I did attend that high school, but I did not talk to you last night,” he responded. “Like I said, I was here all night. I took a pill and was in bed by ten o’clock. Of course if I need an alibi, I can not provide one, since I sleep alone.”

He said that, while looking at the photo, and his face seemed to change. “This young lady… she… she looks like the girl that was in my dream last night…”

. . . . .

Afterword

Doctor Herbert Stantion was found guilty of multiple murders. The defense tried to claim insanity, as he had not been aware of the crimes, except in his dreams. His diaries, records and equipment (including the remaining amount of physical formula) were all turned over to a State research institute, where a special study is now being conducted. It is likely his execution will take place long before the results of that study are complete.
A Re-imagined Classic
2
   Apr 28, 2016
We come on the Dagger B
My Mac mini and me
Around that Worth city we did roam
Choppin' all night
Shoeboxing's my plight
Well I feel so bokeh
I wanna go down

So hoist up the Dag B's sails
See how the main page fails
Call for the Devil once more
I’d rather just drown
Let me go down
Just gimme some bling, yeah yeah
Well I feel so bokeh
I wanna to go down

Well Squiddles he got drunk
And climbed into Sarges's bunk
Morporkian had to come and boof 'em all day
Pirate Boof Head
Why don't you leave Scrib's bed, yeah yeah
Well I feel so bokeh, I wish I was dead

So hoist up the Dag B's sails
See how the main page fails
Call for the Devil once more
And just let me drown
Please let me drown
I wanna go down
Let me go down
Why don't you let me just drown
(Hoist up the Dag B's sails)
Hoist up the Dag B
I feel so bokeh
I wanna go drown
Let me go drown

Namestolen he shot Bajazet
And blew away Shorra’s pet
BSA cranked his plank when the rum was done
Just let me drown
Why don't they let me just drown
Still not the worst ship I've ever been on

So hoist up the Dag B's sails
See how the main page fails
Call for the Devil once more
I’d rather drown
Please let me drown
I wanna go down
Let me go down
The Next Lyrics
13
   Apr 22, 2016
My name is John Meyer, and this is a warning. My will is explicit, so if you are reading this, you have already gone beyond my wishes, and have been looking for hidden treasures on what was once my estate. The enclosed key is no doubt unlike any you have ever seen, because it is my own creation. I will not tell you the location of the lock it opens, and hope that after reading this, you will just place both manuscript and key somewhere that will likely never be found.

I realize how strange that must sound, but believe me when I say that you will be better off not looking for the lock that key opens. I will try to explain, and likely you will think it is just the ravings of a man gone mad.

You are of course aware that this world is filled with evil; but the god (or more likely devil) responsible for creating the item I locked away, outdid himself in a sadistic way. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a magic lamp. The story of Aladdin may have actually been based on true events. However the true lamp does not inspire happy endings.

I suppose I should start from the beginning though. I was once married to a sweet, beautiful, pack rat. Her main reason for living, it seemed, was to visit every garage sale known to man. I didn’t mind, because this left me alone at home on weekend afternoons to enjoy sports on the television.

There came a time though that was different. I noticed she was looking up information about someone on the computer. When I asked what she was doing, she replied “Oh, this man died, and there is going to be an estate auction. I want to see if he was really as well off as the paper says, and if it would be worth going to the auction. It seems he was a big collector, so there might be some good deals to be had.”

“And probably expensive deals,” I sarcastically answered back.
“Oh, no,” she explained. “You see you have to look for the obscure, rather than the obvious. If this guy was anything like I think from reading about him, he was a hoarder, and the really good stuff will be hidden. You’ve heard of famous works of art being found under ordinary or drab paintings? Well, some people go to extremes to hide their goodies.”

At that point, I have to admit, my thoughts were drifting to the tons of “goodies” my wife had stockpiled in our attic, basement and garage. But my curiosity had been piqued, and I told her that I would like to accompany her to the auction, to see exactly what gave her such a thrill. Her response to that led to a very pleasant evening indeed.

That weekend we were off on my first pack rat adventure. I had never been to an auction before, and this was nothing like what I expected. There was everything under the sun actually out under the sun, as well as much more indoors. Everything had tags attached, but the only thing on the tags were numbers. These numbers corresponded to their items that were listed in a catalog. The whole place was open for viewing for about five hours, before we were directed to the bidding area. This was a separate set-up area like an amphitheater. With only an auctioneer and recorder at on stage.

All bidding was done by number, and if you didn’t remember the item, you just referred to your catalog. I have to admit I was hooked. This was a very enjoyable experience, even though we left empty-handed. My wife bid on only a few numbers, but would not go high enough to really be taken seriously.

As we were heading back to our car to leave, I thumbed through the catalog to the things she had bid on, and asked her why, for each one. Her response got me to wondering how many others thought like her. For a painting, for example: “Did you notice the frame? It was an antique in its own right, though not a very valuable one. It could easily fetch a hundred pounds. So even if there isn’t a painting under the visible one, if I could get it for fifty pounds, then we would have made a killing. I never go over what I think is about half price on anything though.” My pack rat; sensible and cheap!

Anyway this continued on happily for about three more years, until my wife died in a car crash. I was in mourning for quite a while, but it was an obituary notice of someone else that finally brought me out of my shell. An eccentric millionaire had passed away penniless, and there would be an estate auction to recuperate what could be gotten, to pay off his unpaid debts. It was estimated his mansion alone would go for upward of ten million pounds.

“What kind of millionaire dies penniless?” was my thought that got me looking into the man. William Fordsmith, dead at the ripe old age of thirty-five. Pretty young to die from a stroke, but there was no indication of foul play. He first came into the public eye at the age of twenty-five when he had purchased the current location of his estate. I found references to his finding a king’s ransom in treasure and, after giving the Queen her due, was still then the richest man in England.

Nothing much was heard about him since that initial news, as he turned out to be a recluse. I could find no reason for his ending up penniless. It was reported that one day his accounts had been flush, and the next day were empty. Rumors were that he had seriously flipped, and decided to withdraw all his money and keep it in his mattress. “I’ll bet they go for a lot at auction,” I laughed.

The day of the auction came, and there were a lot of people looking to make a killing. I found it shocking that he had hoarded so much “trash.” Either he had very bad taste, or there might actually be a lot of treasures hidden here. I bid on quite a few paintings, keeping in mind my late-wife’s advice about the cost of the frame. There were a lot of like-thinkers there though, and I got none.

There was one item that I did score though. It was an old trunk that had been found in the basement, back in a nook behind his (now depleted) wine cellar. The catalog listed it as “old trunk without a key.” It was so dusty and covered in cobwebs when found, that it might have belonged to a previous owner of the estate, had Fordsmith not built the place himself.

The trunk looked like it was made of teak wood, which in itself would make it a good buy, but only if it could be opened. It seemed most of the bidders considered it too much of a burden to take something like this to a locksmith, and so I got it at a very reasonable price. I figured if I could manage to open the lock myself, then I could remove it’s innards and replace them with a new lock and key mechanism, and then I could make a nice profit selling it.

It took me a while, but I finally got the trunk open, and was surprised to notice a key laying on top of the clothes. I tried it on the trunk lock, and sure enough, it worked. “So William accidentally closed the trunk with the key in it,” I thought, “and figured it wasn’t worth the trouble to get it open again, and just tossed it down in the basement. Being a hoarder, he would never think of just throwing it away.” Any idea I had of something valuable being inside, instantly vaporized.

But then I noticed a diary also on top of the clothes. I flipped through it to the last day’s entry, and what I read there was astounding (from attached diary pages): “I can not understand what is happening. My wealth just disappeared, as if it had never existed. It must have something to do with the lamp. I don’t really want to rub it again, as I don’t know if I am limited to three wishes like in the stories. My first wish was stupefying, to say the least. I asked to be the richest man on this earth, and the Genie said ‘as you wish’, and there in front of me appeared a pile of gold and jewels like I would only expect to see (maybe) in the Tower of London. But then I made the mistake of thinking out loud that maybe the Genie should go back into the lamp while I thought of what to do next. ‘As you wish’, I heard, and he dissolved back into the lamp. Whoa, was all I could think. Did that count as my second wish? How many wishes do I get? I decided I needed to do more research before chancing to call him out again. I was rich now, so I had no worries.

“One thing I noticed after giving the government their share of the “treasure” I had found, was that I was not the richest man on Earth, but I WAS the richest man in England. Apparently everything said to the Genie was taken literally.

“Of all the research I have done, I have been unable to find out anything but rumors. Even the biblical writings I found were vague, and had authors labeled either mad or playing with sorcery. Since the Genie really had seemed to be nothing but a spirit, tethered by a trail of smoke to the lamp, I could see how superstitions could apply, about trying to raise demons.

“But there was also no mention anywhere of there being a duration on how long a wish should last. At any rate, I intend to find out. I am going to rub the lamp again, and ask for wishes, whenever and wherever I want them. That way I shouldn’t need to worry if there are supposed to be only three, and I can continue to press for answers to all my questions.”

That was the end of the last entry. I had no idea what happened next, but after pulling out the clothes from the trunk, I did find a magnificent-looking ancient vessel carelessly wrapped in a shirt. If it were indeed magic, and William had summoned the Genie, and something had gone wrong, I could see the trunk accidentally being closed, but how would the lamp have gotten down into the tangle of clothes?

I did pick up the vessel, and noted ornate writing covering it almost completely, even on the stopper that was in the flute where a flame would burn in a true lamp, or a Genie would emerge in a magical one. At the time, I didn’t believe in Genies, but I was not going to take a chance of removing the stopper and rubbing the vessel. Call be superstitious.

I moved the vessel to a desk in my study, and proceeded to copy the text. It was nothing but a mass of symbols at first, but after many weeks of research, it turned out to be a form of ancient Aramaic, though not exactly like any text I could find. I was therefore not able to decipher the true meaning of it all, but enough to get the gist of what it said (from my translation): “I Xoralth cast upon this chamber my will to be held intact until eternity. Genni hath done me wrong and I will forgive him, and allow him rest, only should another soul willingly take his place herein. Any that take Genni’s place within, shall suffer the same fate. Genni shall be servant to any that may summon from this place of containment any desire that person may wish, but only for a period of (I think ten years, but translation is unclear, so I am going on the assumption that William Fordsmith had reached the end of a time period). “

I could not see anything limiting the number of wishes any single person could make, so I wondered what had obviously gone wrong. I was not about to summon Genni and have him kill me in my sleep. So I spent a long time deciding on my plan of action.

The first thing I did was to create a safe with a special lock, the key of which you now have. Hopefully you will never be able to determine where I placed the safe!

I was worried you see, after reading Fordsmith’s diary, that one wish would have to be wasted, in order to put Genni back in the lamp after making a wish. I thought I had that rectified by the way I worded my wish. I informed my friends and fellow workers that I was going overseas on holiday, went to where I had secreted the safe, took out the stopper and rubbed the lamp.

The shock at what happened next almost had me too flustered to continue. The spirit that arose out of the lamp had an uncanny resemblance that I realized matched a portrait painting that I had seen in Fordsmith’s mansion. It was a portrait of William himself.

Somehow, he must have said something wrong on his last wish, and his spirit had replaced that of Genni, or maybe someone else? Who knew how many souls had been replaced in the centuries that this vessel had been around?

William’s spirit did not show any emotion, as though he were resigned to his fate. He also said nothing, just floating there with a smoky trail leading into the lamp. Apparently it was up to me to start the conversation, so I composed myself, and read my wish exactly as I had written it. When I had finished, he responded with “as you wish,” said nothing more, and dissolved back in through the lamp flute.

I almost didn’t think to put in the stopper, but my hands stopped shaking and I managed it. I still sat there a long while before returning the lamp to the safe, locking it, and concealing it again.

My treasure was located exactly where I had wished it to be, and I knew I had (probably) ten years to enjoy it, though no one else would ever see it, and I would never attempt fate again by returning to that lamp. How wrong could I have been! Yes my wife was returned, it was not really her though, but a soulless shell. Even the god/demon that had created the lamp, did not have the power to return souls.

So we remained in seclusion, hidden from the public for years. When the time finally came, she simply turned to dust, as though she had never been. I was actually relived that it was finally over with, and thought to return to public life.

I have since remarried, am raising a couple children, and basically live a “normal” life. Why I have written this and enclosed the key to the safe is beyond me. I simply can not help myself. I assume it is the will of the lamp forcing me to leave a clue at least, for others to find it. I just pray no one finds this.
A Bad Genie
3
   Apr 12, 2016
Save thousands on this slightly used casket. Gail's loss is your gain as we had to repossess this unit for nonpayment. Needs light retouching and cleaning. In the ground less than 45 days. Originally over $7500 now just $1800. Call Hollerbach's Funeral home for details. Evening calls preferred.
Gar(b)age Sale
23
   Apr 12, 2016
I am sure you have a winner here. Your shot is spectacular. The sliver of focus on the subject surrounded by acres of beautiful bokeh is breathtaking. Add in the wonderful underexposure and it is a visual cacophony of jpeg artifacts. Dare I suggest a hint of HDR toning to assure the total obfuscation of the subject. I looked for what seemed like hours trying identify the glowing red abstraction peeking through the smoke and mirrors, is it a rose or perhaps a tree frog? In the end, it was the awkwardly placed tiny Christmas tree lights that pushed this creation to the top for me.
Diplomatic Criticism of a Bad Entry
18
   Apr 5, 2016
When I came back to work after my vacation, I found most of the regulars in the break room (sounds better than hanging around the water cooler, which is in the Break room). Luckily, Fred was not one of those present. Almost in unison, they all asked how it had been.

“For the most part,” I started off, “it was pretty good. We did everything we had planned, saw all the sights, took a ton of pictures…”

“I’ll bet it was expensive though, huh?” Blurted Jim, whereupon everybody looked at him and groaned. You see Jim never went anywhere on his vacations, and his wife was happy to just stay home, rather than listen to him grumble all the time about how much everything cost.

“I have to admit,” I said, “that the most expensive thing on the whole trip, was the restaurant recommended by Fred.” The looks they all gave, told me I better relate the whole story:
. . . .

Remember that I asked if anyone knew of any good places to eat? Especially for steak? And Fred almost shouted out how great this Simone’s was? Fantastic food and entertainment, and not that expensive? Well…

Our plane got in early, and there was hardly any traffic on the way to the hotel, so we were finished unpacking in time for lunch, so we decided to go ahead and try out this Simone’s. We got in a taxi outside the hotel and told the driver (his name was Tom) where we wanted to go. “Do you have reservations?” he asked, looking us up and down.

“No. A friend just told us that when we got here we should try it out,” I told him, and he laughed. “You need reservations to get in Simone’s, and they have a coat and tie dress code. I can take you there and wait outside while you make reservations, but it would be a lot cheaper for you just to call them.”

We thanked the driver and went back into the hotel, figuring to call and see if we could get reservations for dinner that night, and if we could, we’d just grab a light lunch while shopping for dress clothes that we had not packed – thank you Fred.

Well, the earliest we could get reservations for was dinner on Thursday. At least that gave us plenty of time, so we had a bite to eat at the hotel and started on the other things we wanted to do. We didn’t even look for dress clothes until Thursday morning. If we had given it any thought as to how expensive that would turn out to be, we would have probably said ‘forget it’ and canceled our reservation.

Like I said, it was very expensive, getting dinner clothes there. Most of the shops were for basic necessities, or tourism; you know, those cheap nick-knacks you bring back and wind up gathering dust in the attic, if you don’t just toss them out. But for formal wear, you’d think we had gone back to ‘Rodeo Drive.’ They were the type place that if you looked for a price tag, you didn’t belong.

It would have been nice if they had a rental place, but no such luck. Our clothes cost us almost as much as our plane tickets. Oh and I haven’t finished with them either; but let me get back to our “adventure.”

After shopping, we returned to our hotel, and showered and changed. When we got down to the taxi line, Tom was there. “Ah ha, I bet you got reservations for Simone’s, yes?”

“That’s right,” I answered him. “Ready to take us there?”

“You bet,” he said, smiling like the proverbial cat that ate the fish, as he opened the door to let us in his cab.

He continued to talk all the way to the restaurant, but the only thing that I remember sticking in my mind, was something about how reservations only got you in the door, and there was no honored time for being seated.

Sure enough when he dropped us off at Simone’s, we could see people mulling about outside, and when we entered and the maitre d’ asked if we had reservations, and I said yes and gave our names, he seemed to take forever looking over the guest book.

Sally finally whispered in my ear: “I believe he is waiting for you to tip him.”

“Forget that,” I said back. “I’m not paying for nothing.”

Well the maitre d’ must have good hearing or something, because he said: “Yes your name is here. If you would just wait outside, we will seat you when your table is ready.”

So it turns out that all those people mulling around outside where of a like mind as me, and all were waiting for ‘their tables’ to be cleared as well. The maitre d’ did however come out and ask for people by name to enter, though he sure didn’t seem happy about it.

We waited outside for over an hour, with people finally entering and more arriving, before he finally asked for us to enter. “Finally,” I said.

I spoke too soon. “You’re table will be ready shortly,” he said, “and would we wait in the lounge, where we could have a drink while waiting?”

Sure enough there were some of the familiar faces from outside, sitting at tiny tables or the bar, nursing drinks that were not complimentary. The bartender said that if we were eating dinner, the price would just be added to the bill. If we were not eating, we must pay him. I didn’t want to think of how much more it would cost to have them added to our bill (maybe with an overly high tip included for the bartender?), so I ordered us a couple martinis and told him I would pay now. Another person in this establishment that seemed to lose their friendly demeanor.

That might have been for the better though, because maybe the bartender didn’t want people that payed up front around. Maybe because they couldn’t pad the bill? At any rate, we were told our table was ready before many that had come in before us.

The maitre d’ asked if I would like the wine list, as soon as he had helped Sally with her seat (the first sign of politeness he had shown). I said sure, and he handed it to me, and stood back as if to wait for my selection.

I looked over the list, noticing right off that there were no prices listed with the wines. I could recognize only a few of the brands, and those I knew were way out of my budget. You should have seen his face, when I told the maitre d’ that we would just settle for the house red! And believe me, that turned out to be extremely over-priced as well.

Anyway, he left us with menus while saying he would return with our wine. Sally found it hard to keep from laughing out loud. When I opened the menu, all I could say was: “What next?” And Sally understood as soon as she opened hers. The menus were not in English. That is except for the prices, which were astronomical. So we just sat there looking at each other, shaking our heads and groaning, until the maitre d’ returned with our wine.

“Are you ready to order?” He asked.

“Yes,” I said. “We’d like English menus.”

“Oh, I am so sorry,” he said. “I just assumed you understood our language.” He went and got us new menus, and said he would give us a little time to look them over and then return.

“Looking over the menus in English wasn’t much help, but at least they spelled enough of the words so that it was understandable (I thought). Thanks to Fred, we already knew what we wanted though. Remember he said they had the best filet mignon in the world? Well there is was, right on the top of the menu, and also with the largest price. “Oh well,” I told Sally, “in for a pound…”

The maitre d’ returned, and when I placed our order, he finally gave a rare smile. Maybe too many customers thought the price too exorbitant and went with cheaper items.

We got around to tasting the wine then, and knew we would just be drinking water with our meal. That stuff was unpalatable, and I was not about to shell out more money for some brand name wine that I did not know.

When the maitre d’ returned with two waiters carrying our food, I thought, “Well I guess this is more like it.” The waiters placed covered dishes in front of us, and then with a “viola.” The maitre d’ uncovered them with great flourish.

There in front of us was the smallest helpings of food I had ever seen. The filet must have been at least two inches in diameter and an inch high. The garnishing was pretty, but looked no more than an additional mouthful. “Enjoy,” boasted the maitre d’ as he turned and walked away.

Sally and I looked at each other, shaking our heads again. There really wasn’t enough to warrant it, but I used my knife and fork to cut a piece of the meat. I do have to admit that it was very tasty, but for the price, one should get more than two bites.

When the maitre d’ returned and asked if we would like desert, it took all my willpower to say no thanks and ask for the check. Remember how expensive I said the clothes were? Well… At least I think I tried to keep my jaw from dropping as I read the bill, but I did make sure to get a copy of it, because no one would believe it otherwise.

Oh, and remember how I said I wasn’t finished with our clothes yet? Well when he returned with my receipt, the maitre d’ accidentally knocked over the untouched wine glass near Sally, and it splashed all over her nice new dress.

He apologized of course, but said “if madam had finished her drink this surely would not have happened.” It took everything I had to keep from hitting the jerk. I could just imagine our next stop being to the local jail, rather than the fast food joint we needed to hit to ease our grumbling stomachs.
. . . .

“Here’s the receipt I saved,” I said as I pulled it out of my wallet to show them.

Just then Fred happened to arrive…
Food Fight!
4
   Mar 27, 2016
From an ancient clay tablet:

And so it was told, of an extremely rare plant. It is called the “Dark Ghost Orchid.” This plant waves it’s petals about like a dancing seductress, gives off an aroma that entices all, and is carnivorous. It is almost never seen, because it usually only comes out of the ground to feed, and only does that during full moons.

The plant is located in the lushest areas in the forest, as it supports the other vegetation surrounding it. Any creature noticing the dance of the plant (which is enhanced when the moon shines upon it’s velvet black petals) and venturing near, will then be aware of a slight scent; just enough to make it even more curious. As it approaches the plant it will notice two shiny bits in the center funnel. Only when it is too close to realize the danger, the petals will caress it toward that funnel, and those shining bits will reach out and pierce the creature. The venom from those ‘fangs’ acts instantaneously to paralyze the creature, and the plant eats.

After devouring its meal, the only visible remains of the creature act as mulch, which adds to the benefit the flower gives to nearby foliage. If one had not seen the feeding, they would have no idea a plant could be responsible for the carcass at the scene.

While these attributes make it fascinating indeed, what makes the “Dark Ghost Orchid” unique, is that after feeding during a blood moon, the plant will give back to any creature that puts an appendage into the funnel.

Upon feeding during a blood moon, the plant’s petals change to purple. When one puts a hand into the flower immediately following this meal, the ‘fangs’ emit a rejuvenator rather than a poison. This elixir continues to flow as the petals of the plant turn from purple, back to black, and then to gray and finally white.

Should the hand be pulled out prior to the petals turning white, the flower will survive and resume feeding during the next full moon. The chief will have been healed of any and all ailments, and will surely have gained longevity.

If the chief is greedy though, and leaves his hand in the flower until the petals turn white, the flower will no longer possess it's unique qualities, and will only continue on as a “Ghost Orchid” until such time as it perishes.

While a greedy male gains longevity, he loses his seed and his bloodline will end with him. A greedy female will suffer even worse. If she becomes pregnant, her child will seem lively in the womb, but upon contact with air immediately upon birth, the infant will shrivel to a husk and crumble to dust, whereupon the woman will surely go mad.

Search out the “Dark Ghost Orchid” at your own peril. You may lose more than you could ever gain. Thus it has been told.
Create a New Myth/Legend
10
   Mar 23, 2016
“Here’s just the thing for a broke freelance UI designer,” John thought as he read the ad, though he wondered a bit about the last line in the qualifications section.
Human-Interface Designer needed. As the UI Designer on a multi-species team, you will be creating the human interface design for a totally new user experience.
Qualifications:
Must be knowledgeable with mobile and smart devices of present day and the near future. i.e. Smart Phones, Tablets, Touch/Gesture technology, virtual reality.
Must be able to accept new concepts and challenges.
Must be organized and dependable
Must be human.
Apply at Cosmos technologies, 123 Mockingbird Lane, ask for Mr. Otto Shrenk. Salary 250k/year.


“Heck for 250K I’ll be whatever they want,” he thought as he finished his coffee and headed out the door.

The address ended up to be a medium sized building in an industrial park behind a small airport. John went in and was ushered into Otto’s office. Otto was middle-aged, somewhat pudgy, and, well sat oddly it seemed.

He waved John into a chair, and started reading the resume John handed him.

“Splendid, I think you’ll do just fine. We’ll pay you the first month in advance, you can start right away. You are human, right?”

“Well what else would I be?” John thought. “Can I ask a couple of questions about the job?” John asked. “For instance, what other species are involved in this project: Dogs, dolphins?”

“Something more exotic, it’s really going to be quite exciting work!” Otto replied, getting up. "Let’s go down to the lab so you can see what it’s all about.”

John noticed if Otto sat funny, he walked even funnier, almost as if his knees were bent the wrong way. He figured asking personal questions this early in the game was probably not the best way to start the job, so he followed silently. He was starting to get a bad feeling about this, but $250K was $250K

“Did you get a lot of applicants for this job?” he finally asked as Otto approached a metal door.

“A few, “ Otto said, “Here we are!”

He opened the door and John stepped in. As he did the door slammed shut behind him.
The room was dimly lit, with a lot of electronic equipment, some of which John was familiar with, others…

Then the door at the other end of the room slid open, and…

“THEY AREN’T HUMAN!” John screamed.

“Of course not,” said Otto’s voice through a speaker. “You’re the human part of the interface. We need to figure out how to interact well with you. I hope you enjoy your new job.”

John shuddered as tentacles began to attach him to the equipment.
Misunderstood Job Ad
4
   Mar 14, 2016
Everything you can imagine is real. Imagine we care.
New Slogan for the DesignCrowd 'Community Section'
18
   Mar 8, 2016
“Arr. So ye and yer troop be seekin' passage in me ship, eh?”

“Yes, Captain. I was told you're the only one with a ship large enough for us all. We're refugees, you see. When we first started out it was just my wife and I plus a few friends, but as we traveled others joined us and our group kept growing. So then, now that our common experience has united us, we'd like to stay together until we make it to a new home.”

“Ah, a large mug of ale. Most kind; I thank ye. Aye, the Lady Dagger is configured to carry a large contingent of passengers. So, just how many are ye?”

“About two hundred, I think.”

(Cough, sputter) “Two hundred! (Ahem) Preparations fer that many takes quite a bit of plannin'. But I'm sure we can be ready by next season.”

“When will that be?”

“About three months.”

“Months?!”

“Aye. Tis already the end of fair weather fer the crossing. Soon foul weather will make it too dangerous to sail.”

“But we were hoping to make the trip now.”

“Arr. Tis always the case. Well it might kin be done. But to get everything in a rush will cost extra.”

“I'll go around to the others and collect as much as I can. But we're not rich people, you know.”

“Nay, of course not. I feared as much. Then ye'd best make sure they understand this will be a bargain passage, not a luxury cruise. So it's simple rations fer the lot of ye. And ye all will have to help with the work when called on.”

“Yes sir, Captain Cyrus. Anything you say. Thank you, thank you so much.”

“Good day, to ye.”

Jonathan rushed back to where his fellow travelers were staying and relayed the news. Then once everyone had hurried away to prepare for the voyage, he found a secluded spot overlooking the harbor and thought back on how he had reached this point.

His homeland once was a virtual utopia. In his prime, their ruler had been a benevolent leader who encouraged free thinking and promoted a progressive society. But with age he grew tired, and his ministers began giving bad advice. Thus the society declined.

Then outside powers began campaigning to seize control. Two or three major forays were repulsed; but each attack left the homeland weakened further. At last the end came. A crowd of invaders, with designs on the destruction of everything good, succeeded in capturing the Capital and stripping power from the ruler and his council.

Despite the new dictator's assurances that everything would continue as before, it was soon clear this wouldn't be the case. His true interest was to despoil every asset and leave only a barren wasteland.

Jonathan recalled the day he rushed home and called for his wife. “Honey! Where are you?”

“We're in the parlor,” came her voice from the other end of the house.

“Mindy, we have to leave in a hurry,” he blurted as he ran down the hallway. He came to an abrupt halt at the door. “Oh, hello. Nice to see you all. Pardon my interruption, but we must get packed.”

“Packed?” asked Mindy. “Where are we going?”

“We have to leave the country while we still can. The dictator is already showing his hand, and it may not be long before people get trapped here.”

The three ladies visiting Mindy looked alarmed as well, but Mindy spoke first. “What's he done?”

“He's shut down Craftsman Square; he's closed the theater, the galleries, and even the college; and he's forbidden any more assemblies in the public auditorium. The only places left open are the mines and the mills. It seems he wants to turn us all into nothing more than menial drudges.”

“Oh, no! What can we do?”

“We're going to pack as much as we can gather overnight, then head out first thing in the morning. And I suggest you other ladies talk to your families and consider doing the same.”

“In the morning?!” wailed Mindy. “But we'll have to leave almost everything behind! Besides, where will we go?”

“It can't be helped,” said Jonathan. “If we wait too long we may not be able to leave at all. We just have to make a new home somewhere else.”

“Okay. Girls, I guess this is goodbye. I'll write you once we find a place.”

Mindy's three guests were eager to leave by this time, so she and Jonathan immediately began packing what each felt was most essential. It didn't take long to fill the wagon plus form a large pile beside it. They then sorted still further till they were down to only two large trunks each.

Late in the evening they were finally finished. Jonathan blinked back his tears as Mindy cried aloud. “We're leaving behind so much. So many treasures, so many memories.”

Jonathan's eye was drawn to a glint in the heap of discarded items so he picked it up. It was a trophy from his first art contest. His lips tightened as his arm lowered and the award dropped from his fingers.

The next morning the two of them closed the front door for the last time then turned bravely to their departure. Jonathan's expression changed to surprise as he spotted a half-dozen families waiting on the roadway, each with their own heavily laded wagon or cart. Mindy waved excitedly at her friends. Apparently they'd be traveling en masse to a new home.

They had scarcely begun the trip when other dispossessed citizens observed their flight and rushed to join them. Word quickly spread and soon they had grown to a large host -- artisans, skilled craftsmen, philosophers, educators, and entertainers of all types.

At length they arrived at this port town, eager to start the final leg of their trek. A quick negotiation with the captain of an outdated ship and much hectic rushing for outfitting found them finally ready to leave for a new world.

The first month at sea was uneventful apart from a bit of seasickness as people grew accustomed to the motion, followed by several cases of cabin fever due to tight quarters and limited activity. Then one evening just at sunset the lookout spotted two items of concern on opposite horizons.

Far to the west was a line of dark clouds foretelling heavy weather. The captain grew apprehensive and directed the helmsman to change course and steer wide of it. But approaching from the east was a ship whose flag and banners troubled the captain nearly as much as the storm. He spoke under his breath as he addressed his first mate, Elias, but Jonathan felt sure he heard the word “pirates”.

Thus it was that as darkness fell there also came an oppressiveness which pervaded the ship. The fear on the faces of the sailors was quickly transmitted to the passengers. What little talking there was, was carried out in hurried whispers and hushed tones.

Dawn didn't arrive. Only the bell for morning watch indicated it was daytime. So thick was the overcast that lanterns were kept lit throughout the decks. The dimness and increasing roll of the ship told they had been overtaken by the storm. Even so, the gloomy light was sufficient to see that the tracking ship was less than a mile astern, its Jolly Roger grinning aloft.

Captain Cyrus took the gamble of ordering more sails, and Elias rushed to carry it out despite the risk of running fully rigged in heavy winds. For a short time they pulled away from their pursuers, but this ceased once the pirate captain also hoisted more sail.

The stalking continued throughout the day, the winds growing stronger and the pirates drawing closer. By mid-afternoon the ship was near enough for the cutthroats on board to wave threatening gestures at the fleeing sailors.

Jonathan was watching from the rear deck when he heard Captain Cyrus say to Elias, “If only we could do something to make them break off. But I've heard tales of that captain, and he never relents once he sets his sights on a target.” These remarks sparked a memory in Jonathan and he turned to the captain with a proposal.

“Captain Cyrus, I overheard what you just said and I think I can help. One of the men in my group is an excellent shot with a long rifle. We could ask him to come up for a look, and see if he can pick off their captain. Without a leader, maybe they'll give up.”

A short time later the marksman had his rifle braced against the taffrail and was sighting the figure on the opposing ship. He carefully allowed for the rolling of the ship and the force of the wind. Jonathan, the captain and the first mate all held their breath as the marksman pulled the trigger. They saw the pirate captain straighten for a moment, then fall sideways over the railing and into the sea.

The pirates who had been beside their captain ran to the rail and gazed down. A moment later one of them took a long look at the fleeing ship, then began shouting orders. It seemed he was the first mate. The hearts of the men on the Lady Dagger fell as the pirates hoisted a cannon from below decks and wheeled it forward. It was soon followed by cannon balls and kegs of gunpowder.

Once the pirates appeared ready to fire, Elias asked, “Shouldn't you move to a safer location, Cap'n?”

“Nay, t'won't be necessary,” answered Captain Cyrus. “Both ships be rollin' too much. They'll never be able to hit ...”

Jonathan and Elias watched in horror as the captain's body flew off the deck and followed a cannonball into the waves. Their shock was broken by the sound of faint cheering from the tailing ship. Elias ran to give directions to the helmsman while Jonathan called to the marksman to fire again.

The rifleman aimed toward the cluster of pirates around the cannon, but his focus shifted to the kegs of gunpowder behind them. Then praying that the impact of the slug would be sufficient, he let loose a round. Almost instantly a tremendous explosion erupted on the forward deck of the pirate ship.

The ship's momentum drove the gaping hole at her prow deep into a swell and flooded her lower decks with seawater. Tension from the abrupt stop that followed snapped the mainmast, bringing down its rigging to finish the wreck.

Moments later the Lady Dagger shuddered sharply as she crested a swell then dropped into the trough behind it.

“Strike the main sails!” called out Elias, who was acting as captain. “There's no need to tear ourselves apart now that we're not being chased.”

The ship slowed as the sails were furled, and Elias looked back toward the pirates. A number of men were still alive and struggling to stay afloat as the sea rapidly broke apart their ship. He looked toward Jonathan and their eyes met. Jonathan nodded.

“Come about,” bellowed Elias to the crew. “And prepare to take up survivors.”

The faces of the men clinging to flotsam brightened as the Lady Dagger came abreast. Elias leaned over the railing and called down to them.

“Avast! Ye dogs. Afore we bring you aboard, you'll be giving your weapons to the sea. All of them! And you'll be giving us your oath to raise no hand against any of us.”

The rescue went quickly despite the churning waves and intensifying wind gusts. Then although they were again under way, Elias knew they were still in great danger. The gale broke on them in full fury.

The ship pitched and rolled with such violence that the passengers were compelled to sit on the floor and brace their backs against the walls. Some used lengths of rope and tied themselves to bulkheads. Even the sailors who occasionally came below could scarcely keep from falling as they walked.

Sometime after midnight Elias came to Jonathan with a plea for help. “Jonathan, your landlubbers need to take turns manning the bilge pumps. The ship's seams are leaking so badly the only way we'll stay afloat is to work the pumps constantly. But I need all my experienced sailors on deck and in the riggings. Even the pirates are doing their share to keep us alive. Every able hand must pitch in.”

Fortunately, by daybreak the worst of the storm had passed. The wind and rain had lessened, and the clouds were breaking up enough to see bits of clear sky between them.

“Land ho!” called the helmsman. “Cap'n Elias, an island dead ahead.”

Elias ran to the upper deck and gazed forward. “Steer for it and put in wherever you find a place. Run us onto a beach if there's no other choice. The ship can't stay afloat much longer.”

In short order a natural bay was discovered and the ship was run aground and debarked. Every man, woman and child gave thanks, each to their own deity and in their own way. Soon enough came talk of how to set up a village and begin building homes.

The helmsman who had steered them to safety spoke first. “We need someone to organize our efforts so we don't work at cross purposes.”

He was answered by the marksman. “What about Jonathan? He's been a good leader ever since we started out.”

“Thank you,” said Jonathan, blushing slightly. “But perhaps Elias should be considered. He is the acting captain, after all.”

Elias stood up and shook his head. “No. I may have filled that role in the regular captain's absence, but whatever authority I had ended once we all came ashore. I agree with the others, it should be you, Jonathan.”

Before Jonathan could speak again the entire company erupted in applause and cheers. Seeing he couldn't fight it he relented. He then called for a banquet with a large share of their remaining stores. Eventually they were all well fed, overflowing with rum and beer, and regaling each other with songs.

Jonathan looked across the crowd at Elias and called out, “Just where are we anyway?”

“I don't know,” Elias answered with a bit of concern. “It's not on the maps. But then this part of the sea isn't well charted. The nearest I can figure is we're somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle. And you know, if'n it hasn't been discovered before, we're free to name it. So what say you, Jonathan?”

“Me? Well, I'm not ready to name the entire island just yet, but I think we can at least name this place we've landed.” Jonathan stood up and raised his mug. “I christen it after the noble lady which gave her all to bring us safely to land. From henceforth this place shall be called Dagger Bay.”
A Dagger Bay History
5
   Feb 29, 2016