Thursday, December 31, 2009

Knitter's World

A response to "Aurélia's Oratorio".

Karen stood on tiptoes so she could see in the back of the merchant's wagon. At first, all she could see were the slat boxes stacked until they brushed the canvas ceiling, but then she saw the merchant, a short man with a wiry beard that descended to his waist. Karen said, "Excuse me sir, I'm looking for a ride to Xander." She spoke slow and hoped that the merchant might know her tongue.

"I'm no sir," chuckled the merchant. He jumped down out of the wagon and went from towering over Karen to now looking up at her. "What is a northern girl like you doing down here?" His accent was better than the other merchants Karen had queried.

"I've got business in Xander," said Karen. It was a lie, but she doubted the merchant would help her out if she told the truth.

"There is a war going on between here and Xander. A pretty northern girl like you shouldn't be down here."

She looked at the distant hills and the wind blew several strands of blonde hair into her face. She looked back square into the merchants brown eyes and asked, "Why are you crossing a war zone?"

The merchant laughed and held out his fist so that Karen could bump it. "I like you girl. I've got a bum wagon and a bunch of goods that aren't worth much over here but will make it worth my while to travel to Xander. My name is Jamaal."

"Come over here and look at this," Jamaal walked to the side of the wagon near the wheels and leaned to point under the wagon. "This axle isn't going to last much longer. If it goes out, the caravans going to leave us and that will leave us alone with the soldiers and it won't matter whose side they're on. I won't be able to help you then." Jamal looked her in the eyes and didn't smile and asked, "Do you still want to go?"


"Do you have anything of value to pay for the passage?"

"No," said Karen. "I do have these knitting needles," she held up a pair of ebony needles that were dark as midnight, "I could knit you some socks if you'd wish. But I don't have any yarn."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Degree Decapitator

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "A Matter of Degrees" in Mirror Shards.

"Behold, Bartlett," said Doctor Geisteskrank as he pulled back a dark green silk cloth with mud flecked edges from the back of the pygmy pig. "Truly, this must be my greatest moment of triumph yet!"

"Isn't it a little early to be making judgments? Of course, you might be right. We're not running for our lives, that's somewhat of a triumph for you." Doctor Geisteskrank's eyes bored into Bartlett like a consumer grade red-ion laser without enough power to burn the skin but might blind one's eyes. Bartlett looked away and said, "I'm just saying."

"Those who follow the steps of failure will find true triumph."

"Eventually." It wasn't so much the doctor's red-veined eyeballs -- they were pretty much always red -- but rather the flush that flashed across the doctor's forehead that warned Bartlett that he might be pushing Doctor Geisteskrank too far. "So what is it?"

"Behold the world's first heat pig."

"Heat pig?"

"You've heard about that global warming thing. How the oceans are getting warmer and the climate is going to change. Some former vice president made a documentary on this, what's his name?"

"Al Gore. But, you said it's all a crock of nonsense."

"Ahhhh, you've been listening to me." Oops, big mistake thought Bartlett. This might go to the doctor's head. "It is all a sham to make a select few rich and powerful. But why shouldn't we be that select few."

"Hmmm..." this could only end badly. "So what does the pig do?"

"It sucks the heat out of the air. The environmentalists will go wild over a natural air-conditioner."

"Where does the heat go?"

"I don't know. It shouldn't matter, we'll be rich and powerful by then."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Watching Through the Peephole

A response to RJ Clarken's "Monday Manhandling" in Flashy Fiction.

"Williams, we have another one," said Boss Perry over the intercom.

Williams switched to the LittleBrother application and scrolled down the active monitors until he found the row that blinked red. "Got it, boss."

"This one's coming from that farmhouse down in Paso Robles --"

"The one where the sensors drop out just a few hours after activation?" asked Williams.

"You got it. If you get anything definitive -- scratch that, if you see anything even a tiny bit unusual, give me a call even if I'm in a meeting."

"Okay, boss."

Williams maximized the video coming from the sensor placed his hands behind his head and leaned back with his feet rested on his desk. This one sure was a squeaker. He could see the healthy pink gums and only moderately yellow teeth working over the sensor's protective covering. William suspected he would have gone mad if the sensor had been hooked up for audio, but instead he just watched the silent video feed. Of course, there might be a clue if they got audio as well. Williams made a note to submit his idea of audio feeds into the corporate suggestion box. It wasn't a great idea, but you couldn't tell what ideas BizDev might decide to use and Williams could score some points with Sylvia if he got the bonus.


The video feed went dead black. Williams replayed the video segment. One second there was teeth gnashing and the next blackness.

Williams double-clicked Boss Perry's icon in the chat application. "Hey boss, the feed's dead."


"Yeah, it took less than fifteen minutes."

"Was it defective?"

"I double-checked the post-manufacture inspections but can't find any flaws or other leads that might indicate a weakness."

"Anything else?"

"Not really. Didn't even get a good view of the subject, just some brown and black fur. But boss, it looks like a small breed."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Hell Pigs

Michael laid back in the hammock and closed his eyes. He had an old book in his hand, "The Hunt for Red October", but it was too hot even in the shade to read and instead he listened to flies buzzing around his head over the drone of people sitting in their air-conditioned cars driving down the streets. Michael felt calm almost ready to fall asleep. He had a lot to do but the lack of wind resulted in a lack of motivation.

"Michael?" It was Kathy and it sounded like she had too much energy. The screen door slammed and even though Michael knew that he should get up and work on one of his chores, he stayed in the hammock almost in sleep's embrace. "There you are. What are you doing there?"

"I was almost napping."

"What about mowing the lawn?"

"It's hot. I'm collecting my energy before I get started."

"So you need it a little bit cooler?"


Kathy twirled -- Michael could smell her scent, a touch of jasmine -- and she headed back to the house.

"Hey, where are you going?"

"To take care of the heat so you'll mow the lawn. Be right back, honey."

Michael didn't like the sound of that. How could one get rid of this heat? Days like this just weren't any fun. However, Michael knew Kathy and she would find some technical hocus-pocus that would backfire on them. He was awake now, and worrying. He might as well mow the lawn.

Michael had only finished mowing half of the backyard with the manual mower when he heard the snap of the backdoor and Kathy's arrival with a small pig squirming in her arms. Michael let the handle of mower drop to the ground. It didn't matter that there had been no rain because Michael was sure his sweat was providing a good drink to the grass. "What is the pig for?" asked Michael.

"It'll suck the heat out of the air." Kathy set the pig down in a patch of mowed grass and patted its shoulder blades.


"It's a hell pig. I bought it down at Ken's Bio Shack, in town."

Michael walked over to the pig and felt a breeze stirring that seemed to be blowing right at the pig. He reached down to pat it like Kathy had, but she yelled at him instead.

"Don't touch him now. You'll burn yourself."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Who Wants to be an Emperor

A response to Casey McCormick's "Tuesday Prompt" in Flashy Fiction.

Charlie and Regis stood on the top of the wall that surrounded the pit of the Coliseum. Fifty Oompah-Loompahs waddled in quick runs to collect the scattered short swords, whips, and clubs that could be found around the ring. The crowd was screaming and yelling in a constant roar that made it hard to think and Charlie could see heads bob behind Regis as they did a human wave.

"Some of our audience may be just joining us," said Regis into his microphone which projected his voice across the Coliseum and over the roaring crowd. "Charlie has just completed his eleventh challenge and will win the prize of leading one of Rome's armies as its general or he can attempt the final challenge and if he wins become Emperor of Rome. For your last and final challenge, you will face fifty Oompah-Loompahs in a battle to the death. Few people have won the chance to become a general, and no one has become Emperor. Do you wish to attempt this final challenge?"

"Yes, can I use my final lifeline?" asked Charlie.

"Certainly, who would you like to call upon?"


"Through the help of the sorcerer's guild, one of our sponsors, we will bring Grawp here."

There was a flash of yellow light and a stench of sulfur that Charlie could smell even up on the edge of the pit walls. The yellow-tinged smoke dissipated in the center of the Coliseum to reveal a giant at least ten times the size of the Oompah-Loompahs. The giant's hair stuck out in a tangled mess as if he'd never combed it.

"Yaworr," yawned the giant as it pounded its chest with fists the size of an Oompah-Loompah.

"Welcome, Grawp. You are now on Who Wants to be an Emperor. Charlie here," Regis waved his hand that wasn't holding the microphone at Charlie, "has used a lifeline to ask if you will help him in his final battle. Will you agree to fight with Charlie?"


"Is that a yes?"

Grawp vigorously nodded his head.

"Well, Charlie, it looks like Grawp will join you in your final battle. Are you sure you want to battle for Emperor rather than settling for general?"


"Is that your final answer?"

"Yes, this is my final answer."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Trump Beast

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "On the Debate Floor" in Mirror Shards:

“The Senator from Arizona is out of line!” said Chairman Gordon.

“I demand the right to speak,” growled Senator Krantz.

“I invoke Rule 714-point-3,” said Gordon. He rose, his hand rising to the shimmering talisman at his neck.

“So be it.” Krantz narrowed his eyes and stepped from behind the podium. With a sharp gesture, he snapped the ruby off of his tiepin. It flared with crimson light, and the phoenix burst forth in a gout of flame.

Gordon clutched his viridian stone and the winged saurian form of his own guardian emerged, hissing. “Let us now debate!” he cried.

Gordon's dinosaur chased Krantz's phoenix through the dome of the Capitol building. The Phoenix glanced over its shoulder and spat a column of flame back at the dinosaur that deflected off the scaly hide, but the fiery blow left a scorch mark and seemed to slow the dinosaur in its chase.

Gordon and Krantz stood at the bottom of the room nothing between them and they paced around in circles. The Phoenix landed another blast upon the dinosaur and Gordon staggered with beads of sweat trickling down his bald forehead. Sen. Krantz screeched at the ceiling in a high-pitched caw that caused the other senators to cringe. The Phoenix flipped around in a barrel-roll twist that took it from fleeing from the dinosaur to a still glide. The Phoenix echoed Sen. Krantz's caw.

This time the flame came long and searing and the rest of the senators felt the air burn in their throats as sparks fell upon them leaving ash like black snow and scarred desks. The dinosaur closed the distance to the phoenix while not all of the Phoenix's flames reflected off the scales causing them to glow a pale orange. The Phoenix exhaled back and forth but the dinosaur shimmied so that its chest received the full brunt of the flames instead of its wings. With one final wing beat the dinosaur closed the distance between it and the Phoenix and it swiped a claw in an arc that came down diagonally across the Phoenix's breast leaving a trail of bloody feathers. The Phoenix's beak closed around the dinosaur's neck as the dinosaur's legs windmilled churning up a flurry of flying feathers. Both creatures hurtled now towards the ground as they concentrated more on each other and trying to keep themselves aloft.

At the last second, the dinosaur disengaged holding its wings out flat and coming to land hard. The Phoenix never got its wings open and crashed to the floor. Dazed.

Chairman Gordon looked down at Sen. Krantz who had fallen to the floor. However, Gordon's eyes were glazed and he leaned to one side as if he was going to fall over. One of the other senators, a first-term nobody from South Dakota, ran forward to place his hands upon the chairman letting his life energy soak into Gordon.

Gordon perked up and his eyes sharpened. He shouted, "As I said, the senator from Arizona is out of line!"

Sunday, December 20, 2009


A response to Deb Markanton's "Twas the Week Before Christmas" in Flashy Fiction.

It all happened years ago, but the memories come back to haunt me every Christmas. I'd flown to Sweden with Anna, my fiancée at the time who had relatives who lived over there, and we found ourselves in Umeå -- the middle of nowhere -- with no money left. We'd left her relatives to wander through what they call a Julmarknad. It was a perfect place to get a feeling of Christmas when you didn't have any money or at least it would have been if we'd known to look for the älvkors or elven crosses.

It was only early afternoon but already the cloud-covered sky dimmed towards darkness and the wind rifled through our puny American jackets. The booth filled with scarves and stockings looked inviting. An old man with his head stooped like a daisy following the setting sun approached us and we wished we had money for warmer clothes. Many of the booths had älvkors in front of them, but not this one.

"Welcome," said the old man, "I've got the warmest clothes in this market." He spoke to us in English. They all seemed to know that we were foreigners before talking to us. "Can I help you?"

"No, we're just looking," I said, because we had no money. The scarves enticed with their thick wool threads.

"Ahhh, but you are cold. Wouldn't your lady look beautiful in one of these scarves? And they will keep you warm."

"No, we're fine," I said with my teeth chattering.

"No money? That doesn't matter. I haven't met many Americans up here and if you sign my book over here, I will give you one of these scarves gratis." He hobbled towards the back corner of his stall and pulled out a book the pages yellowed and brittle. His smile disarmed us. "Sign here, my little godis," he said. Under his breath, he muttered, "Du kommer att bli min."

We signed of course, and the scarves were as good as he said. Or even better, because just the addition of the scarf was enough to make the cold go away. It wasn't until that evening that the mörkt älvor -- their skin black as a moonlit night -- came to take us away. We had signed our names into thrall and it took Anna's relatives much work to break us free. Those days were filled with pain and I am thankful that their memories haunt me just during the Christmas holidays.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lions, Tigers, and Bears

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Infinite Possibilities" in Mirror Shards.

Dodd walked along the shore of the lake that was so large that the shimmering surface of the lake stretched out so that all he could see on the other side were the distant mountains silhouetted against all of mankind's thoughts and desires etched across the sky. Dodd thought on what the old man had said. Anything was possible.

Even the return of his dead wife? As if in answer, a woman walked along the shore with her hair dark in the dim light -- but Dodd knew that it had to be red -- with ends that curled back as if they were shy. Amy. He ran towards her and pulled her into an embrace, which lasted long and erased the last six months of pain or at least pushed them away for a moment.

They spent time together, but how much Dodd didn't know because the dim heavenly light never changed. It could have been only hours or could have been days, years, or centuries. They made love many times with her smell woven through him. But, nothing they did left any mark of permanence upon the lake or its shore.

Eventually, Dodd returned to the old fisherman without Amy and asked the old man, "How do I get back?"

"The same way you got here the first time."

"No, how do I return to my normal life?"

"You just have to want it deep down and click your heels together three times." The old man checked his line while keeping an eye on Dodd. "Why would you want to go back?"

"Have you caught any fish?" asked Dodd.

"No --"

"Exactly, you can't change anything here," said Dodd as he started to click his heels together.

"Ahhh... but I see and know everything."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hunting the Shifted

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Shifter" in Mirror Shards.

Barb entered the dimly lit bar and nodded at Ross Mullins who sat at one of the tables while a half dozen other FBI agents scurried around like fleas on a mangy mutt. An agent standing near the door, someone Barb didn't know, turned to stand in front of Barb with his fists on his hips and said, "The bar is closed."

"Don't mind her," said Ross. "She'll be discreet, besides she's done us a favor in the past." The agent at the door let her pass and Barb walked around the edges of this working man's bar. The FBI agents in their crisp suits clashed like mud-flecked plaid on a society girl.

"As I was tellin' ya, I'm sure the girl's the one ya lookin' for," said a man, obviously the bartender, who sat across from Ross.

"How are you so sure?" asked Ross.

"Man, I ain't lost my marbles in my drink. She's been on all the milk cartons and plastered across TV news. Besides, it's kinda unusual for a guy to bring a little girl in here."

"And that's when you called us?" The bartender nodded. "You never recognized the senator?" Someone sneezed and Ross glared at the offending agent.

"Fuckin' chad. Haven't voted since the farce of an election back in 2000. Don't care about those piggies, they never done me any good."

"It doesn't matter if he can't identify the senator," said an agent with a laptop who sat at a nearby table. "I've got a positive match with Sen. Coulter's fingerprints on this glass."

"Okay men, we're done here. Time to bring down the senator," said Ross. Instead of leaving with the other agents, Ross walked over to Barb. "So what brings the vulture here?"

"Not a vulture, a hunter." Barb stood straight like an iron rod, and wished she was a little taller so she didn't have to look up at Ross.

"Okay," Ross smiled, "why is the Hunter here?"

"Looking for Philip Cortez."

"The shape-shifter?"


"Well, good luck," said Ross who followed the other agents out of the bar. Typical man, thought Barb, couldn't put one plus one together if his life depended on it.

The bartender still sat at the table.

Barb smiled at the bartender and asked, "Did the girl drink anything?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Do you mind if I have her glass?" Just like the sun would rise tomorrow morning, Barb expected to find Philip's fingerprints.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Scottish Sheep

A response to RJ Clarken's "Monday Maffle" in Flashy Fiction.

"What are you doing here?" I asked the stuffed sheep Dmitry had given me, which sat upright on its tail with its legs wrapped around the lamp's brass base. Of course, the sheep didn't answer me, it was stuffed. Of course, for that matter, it shouldn't have been able to move either. I carried the sheep back into the sitting room and set it on the shelf next to my Harry Potter books.

Dmitry held his smartphone in his hand and squinted at a webpage or book he was reading while outside snow skipped across the moor.

I plopped down in one of the antique chairs whose cushions were lower than was comfortable. I asked, "That sheep keeps moving from his place in the bookcase. Would you have anything to do with that?"

"Huh," he looked up and blinked at me for a second, "the sheep? No, haven't touched it."

I shivered. I trusted Dmitry, but that meant that the options left -- out here stranded miles away from the nearest person on the moor -- were unsettling.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Warroom

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Falling on my Head" in Mirror Shards.

General Myers paced the bottom of the amphitheater like a hungry wolf in a zoo where the enclosing pen walls have just disappeared. Soldiers stood at attention with their eyes locked forward and they didn't move like marble statues. Flatscreen monitors covered the wall behind the general.

"The enemy is insidious. We do not have accurate intelligence to collaborate the hypothesis that the intelligent water has been afflicted upon us by the enemy. But, who else would do this?

"These water creatures can only be terminated in nuclear power plants. Flames and high temperatures excite their molecules and the creatures fly throughout the containment zone. We don't need to kill these water creatures, we need to smash the enemy." The general scanned the troops as they stood at attention motionless.

A voice in the back said, "Whee! Time to report." A corporal frothed at the mouth and the soldiers near him backed away creating an obvious eyesore like a pimple on Heidi Klum.

"Didn't your orders instruct you not to consume water or other liquids for the last 24 hours? Get that man out of here and into the brig."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

God of the High Mountains

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Lord of the Greenwood" in Mirror Shards.

Garci Rodriquez de Montalvo, god of Kali Forno, climbed to the granite summit of one of the peaks that overlooked the ten kilometer long valley of the great scar. He clasped his son's hand and helped him scramble over the last jagged edge almost as tall as the little boy.

"Look at all of this," said Garci as he waved his hand at not just the great scar but also the rocky foothills that led out to the barren hills and dead grass valleys that undulated all the way out to the ocean. It wasn't much, not enough trees, thought Garci. "One day it will be all yours." Garci tousled the boy's hair.

"But why do I have to go?"

Garci didn't want to tell him about an old man's mistakes. Instead, he said, "The gods there tricked us and stole your inheritance. When you cross the great river, you'll see powerful trees unlike anything we have here. If you can conquer some of that land, you'll eclipse me like this peak over that valley below."

The boy was silent and together they looked at the sparse granite landscape punctuated by pine trees. The boy asked, "What if they kill me?"

"Remember what I taught you," said Garci. "Do not confront them directly but use your cleverness. The blood of the Amazons runs thick in you."

"I'll miss you. I don't want to go."

Garci knew that he would miss the child as well but he couldn't join the child's battles because his brother would know him if he set foot in the East. He rued the day that he had agreed to take the western lands and leave the eastern riches to his brother.

"Must I leave now?" asked the child.

"Yes, my son, you must go now before the power of our trees -- a power that wanes every day -- leaves me dead."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Golden Trousers

A response to Suzanne Young's "Friday Funkday" in Flashy Fiction.

While organizing the attic, I found it. It was a simple lock. For such an intricate box -- plated in gold, way heavier than its size indicated -- the lock was far too simple. Like it was asking to be opened. He wasn't home yet and besides even if he got home early from the office, which was not likely, she would hear his throaty Corvette arrive home with plenty of time for her to hide her snooping. The metal loop that interlocked with the box's clasp was thin like a willow branch and I imagined that I could break it with a single yank. Of course, it would have been obvious that she had snooped. Yet, he wouldn't have used such a simple lock if he truly wanted me to stay out of the box.

I didn't leave the box very long, just long enough to grab a bobby pin from the bathroom, but it felt heavier when I returned and placed it in my lap caressing the gold inlay. I may not have picked a lock since high school, but that didn't mean I had forgotten the technique. The lock clicked open and I discarded it without a glance. I'd know what the contents were soon. I paused before opening the lid. When I opened it, I merely found a dusty pair of golden trousers. They were filthy.

Coughing at the dust, I took the trousers downstairs to the laundry room and when I checked the pockets just before throwing them in the wash, I was surprised to find a handful of gold coins. I dropped the coins in a bowl and left them on the dining table.

When you came home that night, you shrieked from the dining room. I ran downstairs to hear you yelling, "Where did these come from?"

"The gold coins?"

"Yes." He stalked towards me a coin in his right hand.

"They were in trousers I found up in the attic."

"Gold trousers?" He was close enough to kiss me, but didn't.


"Where are they?"

"In the laundry room."

He ran to the laundry room and screamed, "They're being washed? They'll never work again." Of course, they wouldn't work until they'd been cleaned. "We're ruined." Ruined?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ectoplasmic Defender

A response to Heather Hansen's "Tell the Story" in Flashy Fiction.

"Why is my toothbrush wet?" asked Jimmy's mom who was silhouetted against the incandescent light in the hallway.

"Wet?" Jimmy squirmed under the flannel sheets that had started to pill from too many washings.

"Don't act innocent, no one else is here."

She wouldn't believe him, she never did. Perhaps, if he kept quiet she would just go away. But she didn't, the light from the hallway still snaked around her and flickered across the scattered toys as she fidgeted.

"You know I don't like it when you use my toothbrush."

"I'm sorry, Mama. That monster I told you about, the balloon blob, bubbled out of my closet and chased me through the house. I just got to the bathroom in time and grabbed for a toothbrush."

"Why a toothbrush?"

"Because the balloon blob can be hurt by the tiny brushes on the end. I got there just in time to grab the brush and slammed it down on the balloon blob and it vanished away." Jimmy's mom continued to stand in the doorway. "You did wash the ghostly goo off the brush, didn't you?"

"I wish you wouldn't lie to me." Jimmy's mom turned and walked down the stairs. Another green glow grew from the closet. Not another balloon blob, thought Jimmy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Broken Windows

Response to Pia's blog post "When magic yarn turned into socks":

She writes about "Pojken med gulbyxorna”(The Boy with the Golden Trousers). Based on a Swedish book about a boy who finds a pair of pants in a storage and then discovers he is able to get an infinite amount of money from the pockets of said trousers.

"This isn't a good place to play baseball," said Rafael. "The house over there is too close."

Rafael was right, thought Nick. But, the city park was a long ways away and this vacant lot had been recently mowed and the freshly cut grass called out to him. Even better, the lot had a chain-link fence running along the house across from Ms. McMurtry's house.

"This'll do," said Nick. "Besides, we're not playing baseball we're just practicing pitching and hitting." Rafael stared Nick in the eyes but didn't say anything just as Nick had expected.

The fence rang as one of the balls got past Nick who had swung hard and expected to hit a line drive towards shortstop. Rafael picked up another ball and threw a soft curveball that cut just before Nick connected with his bat. The ball flew high into the blue sky and crashed through a second-floor window in Ms. McMurtry's house. They heard a high-pitched scream come from the house. Nick and Rafael scrambled to pick up a couple nearby baseballs, grabbed the backpack, and ran from the vacant lot.


Nick went into the shed behind his house and looked at the gold pants hanging from the rafters in the back. He stuck his hands in the pockets and pulled out two $20 bills. He hoped that would be enough to replace the window. He taped the $20 bills to a baseball -- crinkling the edges of the bills a little bit. He pulled out another $20 bill and wondered who he might bribe to leave the baseball on Ms. McMurtry's porch. Sam might be a good choice, he would appreciate the money yet was trustworthy enough to actually deliver the baseball without stealing the money.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Response to Dana Goodyear's New Yorker article, "Lady of the House":

Its chapters are organized by color: camellia, wisteria, vermillion; pyrite, alabaster, onyx; cerulean, tourmaline, peridot. The front door was open; sunlight splashed across an inlaid floor of Emerald-green quartzite and Calcutta marble.

Hank raced across the waves of the bay in the sailboat Empress of China while concentrating on manning the rudder and trimming the sails as he headed out to Fairview Island. As the boat cut through the waves kicked up by the winds squalling past the Marin headlands, the boat spit up salty splashes into the air and cold water soaked through Hank's linen shirt. Hank wasn't a fan of sailing. This meeting with Casper Agnew better be worth it.

The water calmed when Hank reached the lee side of Fairview Island. The noon-day sun felt like the heat from a black Rolls-Royce after a quick jaunt. Fairview Island was small, a bunch of craggy rocks and a handful of trees. The only spot to beach the Empress was on the sandy beach this side of the island where a motor boat was already anchored.

Hank dropped his own anchor and swam to shore. He was dripping salty water -- he felt completely out of his element for this meeting. He saw Casper stride forward from where he had been sitting on one of the rocks already dry.

"Hank, it's good to see you again," said Casper as he stuck out a hand. Casper wore a light violet silk shirt.

"Now about that Bhutan job," said Hank as he shook hands with Casper whose grip was strong. "I hope you're not desperate."


"We need to do the job right. It will take time."

Casper pulled a cigar out of his dry shirt pocket and Hank wondered again how Casper had arrived on the island dry. Casper said, "The deadlines the deadline. We can't change that because too many other things are dependent on the Bhutan job finishing before the deadline. If you want more money, I can get it."

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Speed Date

A response to Suzanne Young's "Friday Funkday" in Flashy Fiction:

"Anywhere?" I asked again. "You're sure about that?"

"I swear, if you go out with me, I'll take you anywhere."

I had written him off after the first glance but now I turned to scrutinize him. He wore a sports jacket that bulged out at the chest over a striped and wrinkled button-up work shirt and blue jeans that were just a little too pristine. His voice and swagger sounded like money to me, but he looked like a cubicle junkie. I could play his game, but wouldn't commit. "Would you take me to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre to see a play and then dinner at the French Laundry?"

"Yes." He didn't bat an eye.

"Have you made this offer to every woman in this room?"

"No," he said shuffling in his chair. "Only you."

He didn't look like a consummate liar, but this had to be his second lie. I upped the ante. "What about lunch on the moon?"

"Done. Second date." No blinks.

"Breakfast on the sun?"

"It will be more like breakfast in the sun and I will have to adjust your molecular structure, but should you wish, it can be our third date." He leaned forward at the table.

What if these weren't lies? What was the worst that could happen? Good theater and an awkward evening. Hmm... this had possibilities. No one ever said I let opportunity pass me by.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Lesson

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Dead Inside" in Mirror Shards:

“I look at the trees, green and growing, and I see a ruin of skeletal limbs, black bark against a stark white sky. Winter, forever. Or, worse, just a stump. Nothing left at all.” He wouldn’t meet her eyes. “It’s the same… with everything. Inside, there’s a death, clawing its way to the surface. Inevitable.” His hands wrung each other, pale fish writhing in a sunless well.

“Look deeper,” she said. She held out the bit of spongy wood she’d taken from the trunk. The soft white bulb of a mushroom clung to its surface. “Just a little deeper inside.”

Deeper, he thought, his skin crawled with a scratchy film of talcum. He felt like he was losing himself, the atoms of his soul dispersing across the forest. His only tie to his body a thin thread of a line stretched taut like a bit of spiderweb just before it was pulled too far and the silk ripped asunder.

He was frustrated and knew that Moonwalker Alicia had interrupted her work to spend the afternoon training him. How could one find life in this maelstrom of wind that buffeted him like a pebble falling off a cliff.

"You are almost there," said her voice a thrumming in his mind. He saw her wide shunt throbbing with the tree's energy but felt his own grasp slip as he was torn away and slammed into his body which rocked back against the ground. "Perhaps, you are growing tired. You can do this. You are almost there and tomorrow you shall succeed."

Or die, if he couldn't attach his life's thread to something live.

Augmented Loss

A response to Casey McCormick's "Tuesday Reminder" in Flashy Fiction:

Tony scanned the room one last time with his VR goggles to see if he had forgotten anything. A small virtual sticky appeared over Autumn's thigh reminding him that Autumn's birthday was tomorrow and Tony needed to buy a gift. Another sticky floated in the air with thick marker lines pointing down at his keys.

Tony grabbed the keys and another sticky appeared sticking perpendicular out of Autumn's cheek with an arrow pointing at her cheek and labeled "Kiss!!!" Tony pecked her cheek and strode out the door to his car.


Tony returned home and threw his keys in the general direction of the end table and carried the grocery sacks over to the fridge. As he filled the fridge with milk, apples, a steak, reminder stickies disappeared from the door of the fridge.

He turned to see Autumn and swore slightly under his breath to see the reminder still stuck to her thigh. He sighed, the glasses helped only if he passed the jewelry store on his way home.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Trial of General Tso

Scene seed from Paul Noth's comic in the November 23rd issue of the New Yorker:

Two chickens are having a discussion in a fenced in pasture. The caption on the comic reads: "History's greatest monster: General Tso or Colonel Sanders?"

The General sat in the witness chair and swore on the Bible even though it was ironic since he had fought against the Taiping rebellion and their Heavenly Army of Christians. The judge turned to the general and said, "You are not required to testify against yourself."

"I thank you for your courtesy," said General Tso. "I have no fear of testifying. I am innocent."

"We'll see," said the prosecutor as he stood up and paced before the witness stand. "Are you familiar with General Tso's Chicken?"

"By familiar do you ask whether I've heard of that sickly sweet Chinese-American dessert they serve as an entrée at restaurants? Or do you imply I had a farm at one point? I did consider farming silkworms when I was young, but I daresay many in our audience," the General swung his arms pointing at the tiers of chickens that sat on benches and in coops around the courtroom, "have eaten worms."

"Yes, yes, the Chinese entrée. And do you know how many chickens are killed every year for this meal?" Murmurs broke across the courtroom and the judge pounded the gavel for silence.

"Probably hundreds of thousands. But --"

"See," said the prosecutor looking directly into the jury coop. "The General is guilty of killing hundreds of thousands of chickens a year."

"I did not say that," screamed the general.

The judge slammed his gavel and shouted, "Silence!"

"The prosecution rests."

The judge asked, "Does the defense wish to cross-examine?"

"Yes, Your Honor," said the defense attorney as he stood up and faced the General. "Would you please finish your answer that was rudely cut off."

"Objection," said the prosecutor. "Your honor, the question is argumentative."

"Objection overruled," said the judge.

"Probably hundreds of thousands of chickens are killed to be served as General Tso's Chicken, but," the general paused. "This dish wasn't introduced until the 1970's, at least 85 years after I had died. In a restaurant in an American city, New York to be precise. I am innocent of these deaths."

"Ladies, gentlemen," said the defense attorney, "and chickens of the jury as you can see my client, General Tso, is innocent of the genocidal claims of massacre made by the prosecution."

Friday, November 27, 2009


"Mom, why do we celebrate Thanksgiving when Beezlebub and Bazzlemorph do not?" asked Toby.

Mom removed the tray of identical faux turkey meat and mashed potatoes from the food replicator and dropped the tray on the table with a resounding clunk while the gravy jostled out of the gravy boat. "Do you remember what I told you Thanksgiving was about?"

"Yes," said Toby. "It is a time to give thanks for what we have."

"That is right. It all started a little over a thousand years ago when these people, they called them pilgrims, traveled for many months --"

"You mean like our trip to Betelgeuse?"

"Sort of like that, yes. Except, when they arrived, they found themselves unprepared for their new home. The aborigines that lived there, they called them Indians, helped them survive their first year. They celebrated the bounty of their first harvest and called it Thanksgiving."

"But why don't Beezlebub and Bazzlemorph celebrate this?"

"They don't come from Old Earth. They have their own holidays that they celebrate."

"What about Miri and Josiah?"

"They come from a different group of people. Old Earth had many different cultures that tried to maintain their differences." The replicator beeped and another tray appeared with green beans and sweet potatoes. "Now eat your dinner," said Mom.

"But, I don't like this white stuff, what's it called?"


"Can't I just have a protein shake?"

"No, eat your turkey and if you finish everything I will program the replicator to make pie."

Toby stuffed his mouth with turkey and sweet potatoes almost inhaling his food like an airlock's vacuum pump.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Grasping-Tree Hill" in Mirror Shards:

“I see you’ve been on Grasping-Tree Hill,” said old Darby. “There’s a tale to that place. They say old Porter – this being Porterston, you follow – he went down there at the last and sealed himself away in his tomb, all surrounded by his gold and jewels. They say all that treasure is still there. Porter sleeps now, unless someone is foolish enough to take something from his hoard.”

Clem swallowed, the gold coin in his pocket suddenly burning cold. Atop the hill, the thin white branches of the tree crackled, then curled gently in on themselves to form a fist…

Clem climbed the slope feeling his breath fight against him as if burning pebbles had lodged in his lungs and every step jarred causing them to burn his esophagus. Clem swore that the hill was steeper this time, harder to find footholds, and his feet slipped out from under him.

Clem crested grasping-tree hill before he had a chance to prepare for Porter's ghost and he collapsed just outside the reach of the tree. From his position on the ground, one arm strong-armed against the dirt so that he had his head raised and could watch the tree, he saw a ghost materialize before him. There was fire in the ghost's eyes.

"You have woken me from my slumber," said Porter.

"Sorry, I did not --"

"You must pay."

"It was a m-m-mistake," stammered Clem. "It was only a s-single coin. A souvenir."

"No matter, your blood will help me ease back to sleep." Porter flickered and a pale vorpal ax glowed in his hands.

Clem flipped the coin at Porter who paused momentarily to reach out a hand and catch the coin. Clem scrambled to his feet and his lungs felt fresh again. He dodged the ax and took a step down the hill. Slowly, one dodge at the time, Clem left the hill. Alive, but when he tried to speak his voice had been destroyed just a shadow like crackling paper left.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Zero-emissions Locomotion

Michael pushed the mop over the grooves in the hardwood floor. Their former robot mopper -- yet another one of Kathy's finds -- had cut those grooves into the floor. Michael took a deep breath. The therapist kept telling him that he needed to let these things go. Yes, the robot had ruined the floor and they'd never be able to sell the place without replacing the floor; but, it had happened months ago.

Michael sighed. Where was Kathy anyways? She was late and they had company coming for dinner and Kathy had promised Michael that this time she would cook dinner.

Michael heard a screeching wail like the offspring of fingernails scratched on a chalkboard and loudspeaker feedback when an amateur emmcee accidentally walks in front of the speaker. The large pane of the bay window vibrated like a mouse scuttling across the floor just like that mouse that had scared the robot mopper.

Outside, Michael saw a strange beetle-like car -- small and round with lots of curves -- it was still screeching like a bat's call. Something shattered and Michael turned to see crystal shards where one of their wine glasses had stood. The car door slammed and Michael turned again feeling like a dust devil to see Kathy outside the demon car. She had a bag of groceries in her arms.

Michael opened the door and asked, "What is that?"

"It's a Sidhe. Isn't it a nice little car."

"Nice?" Michael slammed the front door shut. "It shrieks. I can't imagine what it sounds like inside the car."

"Pure silence inside. The engineers did a great job isolating the passengers from the keening banshee."


"Yeah, it's powered by banshee. Zero emissions and a banshee doesn't need any fuel. Nifty isn't it."

"Where is the Prius?" asked Michael.

"I traded it in. Now, I'm running late. Will you help me cut the onions for dinner?"

Monday, November 23, 2009

Topiary Mash

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Topiary" in Mirror Shards:

It wasn’t that the sculptures were bad. Far from it, really. Visitors to the gardens remarked with awe and envy at the artistry of the carefully-pruned plants. Lord Trevor had had several offers for his gardener, in money, land, and… favors, to put it bluntly. He’d thus far resisted, but the plants were unnerving.

Trevor was taking a constitutional, somewhat nervously, when he came across the gardener, digging beside the topiary lion.

“Working already?” said Trevor.

“Got unruly last night,” the man grunted.

Trevor hesitated. He spotted what looked like a skull in the man’s hands. “Oh. Er. Carry on.”

"Cindy!" bellowed Lord Alexander from his offices. She swallowed and counted to ten -- he had never summoned her husband, Beauregard, this way -- before walking to Lord Alexander's office.

"Do you recall Lord Wilshire's interest in Garpax. He'd been willing to trade us his country estate outside of Cornwall for the gardener. Be so kind as to arrange it and see if you can't also get him to throw in one of his Italian paintings as part of the deal."

"Yes, sir."

"I've told you a hundred times, don't call me sir. Call me Trevor."

Sure, thought Cindy, as soon as you start treating me like you treated my husband before he went off to the trenches. "Is that all?" asked Cindy.



Cindy found Guypax amidst narrow green leaves strewn across the stone path like fur while he trimmed the bear shrub. "Guypax," said Cindy. Guypax looked up with a leaf stuck in his mustache. "We've told you before that your gardens are famed across London."

"Yes." Cindy could see Guypax swallow.

"Lord Wilshire has made an offer that Lord Alexander couldn't resist. Lord Wilshire wants you to start immediately."

"But --"

"You should feel proud," said Cindy, "Lord Wilshire traded you for a well-esteemed estate."

"But, my hedges here --"

"Will stay here of course. I'm sure Lord Wilshire would like you to create something new. Your lions, tigers, and bears can stay here. We'll find another gardener -- of course, someone less skilled than you -- to maintain your creations. In fact, I may be able to convince Lord Alexander to pay you a retainer for advice in the future."

"But, you don't understand. The lions, tigers, and bears --"

"I do understand," said Cindy. "They will stay here."

"But, they need my steady hand to cool their unruliness and besides, I can't go somewhere else. It's the magic of the land here that makes these plants so special. I can't re-create this garden. And you don't want it to live without me."

He was trying to scare her. It was so despicable, sure she was a woman but she could run a household. "It is final. You will collect your things and be ready for Lord Wilshire's chauffeur to pick you up this afternoon." Cindy clicked her heels and turned away. It was going to take all afternoon to find a replacement gardener.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Augmented Upgrade

A response to Jamais Cascio's Augmented Reality article in The Atlantic's November issue.

Tony set the table and Autumn brought out plates heaped with penne and covered with a swiss chard and vodka cream sauce. It smelled redolent of farm-picked tomatoes with beads of dew sweating down their brows.

"This looks great," said Tony. "Are these real tomatoes and chard?"

"That's what they told me down at the artisanal market. They claimed no clones or vat brewed produce," said Autumn squeezing into her chair. "Wait, I forgot the Parmesan." Autumn raced back into the kitchen.

Tony's vision darkened and the room became silent. He almost tore off the augmented reality glasses before he saw the blocky amber letters that read, "Upgrading to release 2.0758. Security and filter improvements." Tony waited. The glasses and ear pads began to work again. Tony turned around to look for Autumn, but she was gone. The only thing in the room was a floating jar of Parmesan.

"You shouldn't have made that net post about abortion. I think you're on the list now."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Wedding Toast

A response to Deb Markanton's "Saturday Spunk" in Flashy Fiction:

Mike raised his glass, "And lastly, I'm thankful for the Witness Protection Program and the Cheney/Bush White House without whose help the happy couple would still be predator and prey." Mike sipped his champagne and only then realized that he may have committed a gaffe. The reception hall was silent, faces like white slate stared at him. They didn't know. "Let us drink to the happy couple." Champagne glasses clinked together in ones and twos echoing a loneliness and then more glasses clinked as the gathered friends cheered the happy couple.

Mike hurried back to his seat all too conscious that people stared at him. Even at his table, his friends gaped at him. It was Tony -- of course, he wanted the gossip -- who was the first to speak.

Tony asked, "What was that all about?"

They might as well know, they were friends after all. It couldn't hurt the happy couple could it? "Did any of you know McKenzie or Donald prior to February 11th, 2006?"

"What does that have to do with it?" asked Tony.

"You're right," said Kathy, "It is strange. No one here grew up with either the bride or groom. No childhood friends, no family standing at the ceremony."

"Except for me," said Tony. "Do any of you remember Kenzie, my cocker spaniel?"

"Yeah," said Kathy, "Didn't she run away in the winter of 2006.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dreaming of Hunks, or Xanthium Óneira

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Invasive Species" in Mirror Shards:

It sat on the kitchen table, a speck of dark light, shifting through an array of geometric shapes.

“I don’t know,” said Adie. “When I woke up, it was in my hand.”

“Were you dreaming?” asked Teri.

Adie blinked. “Yeah. There were… trees… or curtains… and I had to push through to get… somewhere.”



“Plant that puts its seeds in a shell with hooks. They catch on animals’ fur, and the animals spread them to new locations.”

Adie watched the thing morph into a pyramid, then slowly elongate. “Will it grow a dream?”

Teri shrugged. “Or a nightmare.”

Adie dropped her bowl of cereal on the table and milk lapped over the lip of the bowl spilling onto the cloth tablecloth. Adie asked, "Why a nightmare?"

"Well, it is obviously the stuff of dreams. Only a nightmare would want to follow you into the daylight world."

"But..." said Adie as she slid her chair away from the pulsing facets. "I'm a good girl. What if it grows a dreamy hunk like that new guy, Troy, from school?"

The girls giggled. "Oooo... I like that. Maybe we should move the seed to my room," said Teri.

"No!" yelled Adie. "I found it. He's mine." Adie's fingers balled up into fists.

"Be quiet or you're going to wake up mom," whispered Teri with a finger over her lips. Adie continued to pout. "Okay, it can grow in your room but it would've grown better in mine."

"Why's that?"

"My room is on the shady side of the house. You might not have enough raw dream stuff to feed it on your side. Your dream guy might grow deformed with wrinkled old skin."

"Ewww... you can have it," said Adie as she stuck her chin out and pointed at her chest, "but I get visiting rights."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Network Fix

A response to B Nagel's "Pipes" in Flashy Fiction.

The network of pipes shuddered over our heads.

"Jillian, I don't think I can go any farther."

"Yes you can Roxanne. Only one more floor to the nexus. Concentrate on one hand at a time and we can rest when we get there." Gillian heard Roxane grunt behind her and felt the PVC pipes sway as Roxanne pulled herself up. The concrete walls were close and Gillian knocked her knee into the wall tearing her polyester pants. Old thinnet cables -- remnants of the first time this building was networked -- snaked like spiders in the narrow shaft.

Julian reached the nexus and clenched her legs around a horizontal pipe leaned out with one hand against the wall and held out a hand to help Roxanne. Without a word, Roxanne unwrapped both of the neural shunt cables wrapped through her belt loops and across her back crisscrossed like suspenders. Gillian used a pipe wrench to open one of the hubs on the nexus.

"Ready?" asked Gillian.

"Let's go!" said Roxanne.

They smelled burnt plastic, but found themselves in the Doctor's TARDIS. The show had just begun. Why the government would outlaw anything this good, didn't make sense.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Searching for the Gold Man

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Alchemical" in Mirror Shards.

I wander the slums looking for the crazy, or perhaps not-so-crazy, man that had accosted me. The city grows dark as it nears twilight and although I thought to see everything gold, I find the streets no different than I had feared. The stink of offal and feces swirl through the narrow alleys near the tannery quarter. Flea-bitten children swarm past me like angry bees.

My skin itches, everywhere but especially under the bandage where I've laid bare my now gold body. This afternoon, shortly after the Gold Man touched me, a teenaged boy ran down the street and collided with me. I reached out with my hand and clawed his forearm as I helped him catch his balance. He bled crimson blood as fear filled his eyes and he twisted out of my grip.

I try to find the old man, but he seems to be gone. Nothing seems out of the ordinary here. Just as I consider my options thinking that I have failed, I see gold footsteps in the mud. Leading east.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Chandolier Test

A response to RJ's "Musical Monday" in Flashy Fiction:

"Toby Felis, you should be very proud of your mommy today," said Agent Maximilian. Toby, his arms swinging at his side like a military cadet, followed Maximillian into the kitchen.

"I'm hungry," said Toby.

"Here, have a cookie," said Maximilian as he held out a crisp store-bought cookie. Maximilian rummaged through the cupboards. He didn't know why the agency had sent him out to take care of the brat. The pantry was filled with cans of black beans, tomatoes, corn and bottles of Kalamata olives, apparently Agent Felis was one of those supermoms who cooked everything from scratch. Finally, Maximilian found a can of Chef Boyardee forgotten in the rear of the cabinet.

"Where was I?" asked Maximilian looking down at the boy. "Right, you should be proud of your mommy."

"More cookies!" Toby cupped both of his tiny hands out in front of himself.

"As I was saying," Maximilian dropped three cookies into Toby's hands. "Your mom passed the chandelier test today. It was marvelous. She leapt from the top of the stairwell somersaulted and caught the edge of the chandelier. She kicked her legs up and wrapped them around the iron circle that supported the electrical lights while she swung upside down and disabled the simulated terrorists. Not a single asset was injured in the simulation. No one's done that well before."

"Where's mommy?"

Maximilian sighed. "Want some dinner?"

"No, you cook funny," said Toby. His fingers were full of saliva and crumbs that rained down on the tile floor. "I want mommy."

"She's got a little," Toby paused, "errand before she'll get home."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Highway Crossing

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Man and Pack" in Mirror Shards.

She told me to pick up some groceries. I hadn't expected no god-damned five-laned freeway out front. Next time I gotta take a look out front before agreein' to pick up no groceries. You never know where you're gonna wake-up after boozin' night.

I hopped into the first lane where these devil dune buggies, a hideous glowing yellow, barreled down at me. I had no time to think I just jumped forward right into these glaring truck headlights. I jumped back, just missed roadkill. Maybe that bitch didn't like me after all. I could hear "Inu No Omawarisan" blastin' out of the semi's speakers. He hadn't even tried to slow down. Maybe he sped up, that fucker. A quick four hops and I made it to the median.

That woman she was crazy. There weren't no stores here on the other said the freeway. Just a swank shit-smelling swamp filled with alligators and turtles and bird poop smattered logs. I could just see myself jumpin' onto one of those logs my arms windmillin' as the log tried to spin out under my feet. But, it was go forward or retreat back across that car killen' road and return to that bitch empty-handed.

I hop hop hopped my way. The damn turtles decidin' to sink just as I landed on them turning my freshly cleaned -- well at least two days ago -- white socks a mushy fetid-smelling brown color.

I got myself across, and the only thing here is a bait store selling flies. I'm done now. You can send the next guy out for flies.

Friday, November 13, 2009

World Turning up Tulips

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Bloom" in Mirror Shards.

Evan hung up the phone and jumped when he looked up to see Connor looming over his desk with his not-a-hair-out-of-place coiffed wig designed to appeal to the largest audience possible. Behind Connor, Sarah ran like lightning past Evan's cubicle.

"Anything more on the flower story?" asked Connor. Connor's face caked with makeup looked like a clown face -- the ones that scare little kids -- when looked at this closely and not filtered by a camera lens.

"Not yet," said Evan. "We've got a reporter on the scene. The visuals will be good."

"Visuals, Schmiduals. Today's audience has seen too much computer-generated special effects to trust our visuals. We need something to make the story pop."

"A half-mile tall flower. Isn't that a pop?" asked Evan.

"No, don't you listen to a word I say. This story will be huge. All the networks will cover it. We need something they don't have."

"I'm trying. No one knows what created this thing. Can't we do a human interest story on the houses teetering on the flowers roots?"

"Not big enough," said Connor. "Make up some radical science experiment gone wrong. That'll score us the ratings."

And make us the laughing stock when the truth comes out. But Evan didn't say anything, he'd learned that you couldn't argue with Connor.

Across the newsroom Sanchez yelled, "Bee!"

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Scene seed from Dana Goodyear's New Yorker article, "Lady of the House":

Its chapters are organized by color: camellia, wisteria, vermilion; pyrite, alabaster, onyx; cerulean, tourmaline, peridot. The front door was open; sunlight splashed across an inlaid floor of emerald-green quartzite and Calcutta marble.

My scene, "Camellia":

Hank's GPS squawked, "Now arriving at 422 Kamel drive on left." The houses were large here in the sprawl south of Camellia City. Hank parked on the street under the shade of one of the many Valley Oaks and Sycamore trees that grew throughout this subdivision. The house was painted a tea rose pink that peeled in the heavy California sun and clashed with the red Porsche parked on the stone driveway. The car was out of place -- too rich -- but something else felt suspicious that Hank couldn't pinpoint.

The Central Valley heat was oppressive. Hank clicked the lock button on the Camry's key fob and saw tomato seeds stuck to the windshield of his rental car. As he walked across the yard, yellowed grass crackling under his footsteps, he tapped the Bianchi Hawk shoulder harness under his Armani suit to ensure he could draw the pistol fast and felt in his pants pocket to make sure that he had the USB drive with the encrypted 18-round virus. Hank knocked on the door and a Himalayan man came to answer it.

"Are you Narayan Koirala?" asked Hank.

"Yes," answered the man.

"I'm from the Bee, and have a couple of questions for you," lied Hank. "Do you mind if I come in?"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sea Monkey Photographs

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Sea Monkey" in Mirror Shards:

“You have to relax,” said Sydney, “or you can't see it.”

“I can't see it anyway,” Pat grumbled.

“Just sit on the deck-chair and sip your drink and let your mind... wander.”

There was a silence. “Holy crap,” said Pat. He turned his head. “Hey!”

“Don't look directly at it!” said Sydney.

“A monkey...”


“It was blue.” Pat looked down. “What's in these drinks?”

“I don't think it's the drinks,” said Sydney, pointing. At the buffet table, a bowl of oranges stealthily hovered, lifted by invisible paws...

My scene, "Sea Monkey Photographs":

"Hey Brad, " said Pat. Brad closed his eyes remembering that Pat's vacation had ended and he was back in the office. Couldn't Brad's boss leave Brad alone and let him get some work done?

"I hope you didn't miss me while I was gone. I had a fabulous vacation and we saw sea monkeys."

"Sea monkeys?" asked Brad looking up from his computer terminal.

"Yeah, Sydney and I saw them down on the beach in Costa Rica. Here take a look at this," said Pat as he twiddled with his iPhone to select the pictures app and passed his phone to Brad.

The photograph was of a glass-top patio table laden with corrugated muffin wrappers and crumpled paper coffee cups. A brown-breasted sparrow pecked at the crumbs on the table. "Where is this sea monkey?"

Pat leaned over Brad's cubicle wall and pointed at the waves crashing against the beach shore above the table. The photo wasn't very clear, typical of camera phones, but Brad didn't see any life. Perhaps, Pat was just excited about some particular way that the waves crested and which the locals had named.

"Very nice," said Brad handing back the phone. He hoped that Pat would go away. He needed to finish the lab writeup for the latest results before the afternoon meeting.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Familiarity Breeds Contempt" in Mirror Shards:

“The exits aren't even numbered anymore,” said Shannon. “I think
it's the same one every time.”

“So what happens if we take it?” asked Dan.

“Find out,” Shannon ordered. “I'm getting sleepy.”

The road rapidly petered out to mere dirt tracks. Only the lights
through the trees kept them moving forward. The sign declared it the
“Furnall Inn.”

Behind the counter, a gaunt man turned to regard them as they lugged
in their bags. “Stay a while,” he intoned. “Stay... foreve-”

“Screw this,” said Shannon. “I'm sleeping in the car.”

My scene, a continuation:

Dan dropped the roller-duffel bag while grabbing Shannon's hand and
said, "It is cold in the car. Don't you want a soft bed?"

"Look at the scar on that man's cheek," Dan looked over at the front
desk attendant and saw an old scar that jagged across the man's cheek
-- a pale green cheek -- where stubble didn't grow. Shannon's voice
dropped to a soft whisper, "I don't like it here. It feels like a

"We're out in the country now, the scar is probably nothing but a
childhood injury. Don't get spooked."

"Listen to yourself, you sound just like the boyfriend who gets it
from one of those B-movies. Besides didn't you hear him tell us to
stay forever?" Shannon pulled her hand away from Dan.

"It's just bad marketing, country bumpkins who don't have our city

"Suit yourself." Shannon grabbed her bag and pushed open the
filigreed oak door with hinges that squealed for a little bit of oil.

Dan turned to the front desk attendant, shrugged and grabbed his
duffel bag. She could sleep in the car, but Dan wanted a good
night's sleep.

When Dan heard Shannon's shriek, he dropped everything and ran
through the front door. Shannon stood by their car, or what must
have been their car. Instead, spiderwebs were everywhere including a
spiderweb cable that lifted a rectangular web covered object that
could only have been their car.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fleeing Spirit Lake

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Morning Breath" in Mirror Shards.

The truck's shocks squeaked in protest as something scrambled over the cab. Tony's lungs burned. He saw a shadow move across the windshield. Claws scratched at the frost that must have condensed on the windows. The shadow leaned closer, but Tony was confident it wouldn't see anything.

When it jumped off the truck, the cab shook and Tony almost fell off his seat. He continued to hold his breath. Seconds passed, but the fear helped him fight breathing. A foot-long metal spike pierced the truck's roof. Tony screamed. The truck shook back-and-forth and Tony couldn't stop screaming.

The shaking stopped and the spike was pulled out with a spine-tingling screech. Tony saw a hairy eyeball stare down at him from where the spike had been. The eye was large and bloodshot. So much for playing possum.

Tony cranked the engine while the truck shook as the creature climbed back onto the cab. Several knuckles descended into the hole left by the spike. The engine purred to life and Tony kicked the gas. The truck careened forward. The truck crashed into a tree or something on the edge of the parking lot. The creature now had two fur-covered hands through the roof and was pulling the edges of the metal back.

Tony reversed the truck and drove towards where he thought the road should be that led away from the Spirit Lake parking lot. Tony rolled the steering wheel back-and-forth hoping to dislodge the creature clinging to the truck. He found that he knew where the side of the road was by a change in the texture of the wheels as they drove over the grass berms.

Tony slammed into a tree when he missed a sharp turn. The creature rolled forward and fell off of the hood. Tony remembered that the road twisted to the left here and quickly reversed the truck before the creature climbed back onto the truck. He made the turn and gunned the engine. The crashes had cracked the windshield and Tony twisted to kick out the glass.

Something hit the roof of the truck and Tony found himself covered with a thick brownish sludge that smelled like a cross between porcupine musk and cow patties. Tony fought the urge to vomit and concentrated on driving down the mountain to Castle Rock and his hotel room.


The truck quickly disappeared from sight, but she could smell the stink left behind. She'd go back to the skoocooms main camp and together they'd hunt the photographer.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rainy Day Prayer

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Prayer Upon Crossing the Highway" in Mirror Shards.

My scene, "Rainy Day Prayer":

Though I sit under the eaves on the porch, I smell the rain drops of evil on the wind, I shall not fear, for You, Lord, are with me. I've felt the golden sunbeams from your cyclops eye warm me on other days when the bristling clouds were otherwhere. Your mighty claws have brought my humans to me and the strong talons bring them back when they stray. Your nemesis, The Cloud, cries acid tears, but I will be strong. Guide my humans to open the maw to your heart.

In thee I pray, hear my purrs.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Birth of Credit

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Source of Capital" in Mirror Shards:

“This is the way it works,” said Mr. Bark. “You louts do whatever I say, and I don’t throw your worthless monkey asses out onto the street.”


“No buts!”

“You can’t-“

“I can. I just did.” Mr. Bark rustled his leaves, a sure sign of growing irritation; he didn’t move if he could help it. He’d never held with this new-fangled locomotion business. “Get moving.”

Fred and Claude trudged outside, shovels over their shoulders.

“This sucks,” said Claude. “I wish I could quit.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Fred. “It’s not like money doesn’t grow on trees.”

My scene, "Birth of Credit":

"That's perfect," said Claude stopping on the branch and absently twirling the rake on his shoulder.

"What's perfect about money growing on trees, that's our whole problem."

"You're right, it is our problem. Today. But it doesn't have to be tomorrow."

Fred jumped from one of Mr. Bark's lower branches and landed in a leafy pile. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Money it's so abstract. Why do some people value Mr. Bark's tens more than Miss Twig's quarters."

"Because 10 is greater than .25," said Fred.

"No, we just assigned those values. It was a whim of people in power. We need a way to divorce value from these leaves of money."


"I don't know. Perhaps a card that is easy to carry. We could call it a credit card, that has a nice ring."

Monday, October 19, 2009


A response to Nathaniel Lee's "One Night Only" in Mirror Shards.

My scene, "Withholding":

Chan blinked at the spotlights. A half-chewed dumpling laid like a stone in his mouth as he peered at the blackness beyond the ring of spotlights. Where was his apartment and the rest of his dumplings?

"Welcome Chan," said his interrogator through a voice-modulator that left an unnatural voice like the rumble of a subway with an overtone squawk of metal on metal. "Don't squirm, you don't want to fall."

Chan's chair balanced on the tip of a pedestal that rose out of the darkness. He swallowed the half-chewed dumpling and asked, "Why am I here?"

"You are withholding information from us. Your soul is at risk." Okay, this had something to do with The Church. "We know about your overt meeting with the splinter group and need to know who you met with."

"What meetings? A splinter group?" Chan was confused, what reality was this?

"Sue gave us your name. We need others."


Juan blinked at the spotlights, sleep still haunting him...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

H1K3 Epidemic

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "A New Plague" in Mirror Shards.

"Not another one," said Tony under his breath as he watched a young man without a surgical mask enter his bar. The man's black suit jacket was obviously tailored at one time but now was wrinkled and had a veneer of dust and dandruff that colored the suit stormcloud gray. A former Wall Street banker come for a drink.

The ex-banker sidled up to the bar and crawled onto a stool with his knees raised in front of his chest and his unpolished dress shoes resting on the stool. Tony asked through his surgical mask, "What'll you have?"

"Vodka martini, straight up, with extra eucalyptus."

The order confirmed it, he was probably a carrier but Tony wouldn't take any chances that this wasn't a health Department mole. "I need to see a doctor's prescription."

The ex-banker riffled through his jacket and pants pockets until he unearthed a stained and wrinkled piece of paper in his back pocket and handed it over to Tony. Another koala flu victim. The ex-banker said, "The doctor says the eucalyptus will be good for me."

Tony mixed the drink and dropped a toxic eucalyptus twig into the glass. "You're welcome to drink here at the bar, or climb the ladder against the wall and sit in the rafters." Above them, a dozen patrons balanced against the cross-beams and nursed their drinks in silence.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Adventures of Normalman

Scene seed from Mick Stevens' comic (see comic 11) in the New Yorker:

A man wearing a cape with a shield that contains the letter and lies facedown in a field. The caption is: "The Adventures of Normalman".

My scene, "The Adventures of Normalman":

It was the car doors slamming that woke John Moses from his slumber. It was 4 a.m. and too late for his neighbors to slam doors. Wiping sleep from his eyes Moses padded across the hardwood floor and wished as he often did that he could afford to buy an Oriental rug.

From the second floor window of his flat in the rowhouse, Moses saw a Ford Focus its doors open like dragonfly wings and three teenagers with silk masks over their faces. "Superheroes, just what the neighborhood needs," muttered Moses. One of the boys held out his hand with a ball of flame in it and Moses turned to race through his flat's door and down the stairwell. Moses envisioned himself as a Parkour star, but he missed the last step and smashed forward into the wall and tasted blood on his lips.

Outside, the Focus flickered with flames as the teenagers laughed. Their laughter became higher pitched, almost hysterical, when they saw Moses run towards them in his thin cotton robe.

"Cut that laughter out. The car could catch these buildings on fire."

"So," said the boy who had lit the car on fire.

"We live here," said Moses. He had little time before the fire ignited the gas tank. One of the boys looked like Raimi's kid. "Hey, don't I know you?"

"You don't know us old man," said fireball boy. "Come on, let's scram." Raimi's son stood with his hands out but didn't turn to follow the other two boys as they ran down the alley.

When the other boys were out of range, Raimi's son said, "I'm sorry."

"Sorry's worth nothing. Help me put this out. I won't turn you in." Blood was still dripping down Moses' face and onto his white robe.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Calamity on the Fifteenth Hole

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Ground Pounder" in Mirror Shards:

Edwin G. Maehen, senior executive vice president for Old Earth
Construction, watched Gonzalez Mitterand, his boss and COO, hit
the golf ball with a slight hook and it flew over the horizon in
the terraformed moon's light gravity. They watched Gonzalez's
ball roll to a stop in a hazard crater on the golf cart's course
monitor. Edwin's tee shot was much better positioned and he
would need to flub his next shot. Gonzalez liked to win and Ed-
win wanted that raise.

As they drove to Gonzalez's ball, Edwin's phone rang. The face
plate blinked priority red. It had never done that before.
"Hello, this is Edwin."

"This is Supervisory Robot A32EE," said a mechanical voice. "A
priority red incident is currently happening. Under regulation
72.435 of the Company Constitution as soon as an incident is
judged to be priority red the supervisor on hand must call the
senior executive vice president."

The robots worked flawlessly, how could there have been any prob-
lems? Edwin chose his words carefully, he couldn't let Gonzalez
realize that he didn't have the Company Constitution memorized.
"Tell me about the incident."

"Earthmover Robot Z900 has veered from its appointed task and is
now dredging a path 137 degrees from the stated plan at a veloci-
ty of 50 km/h faster than regulation and is still accelerating.
Waiting for instructions."

A runaway robot hadn't occurred in Edwin's lifetime. This could
be the end of his career, especially if there was a death and
even the end of Old Earth Construction. "Stop that robot now!"

Gonzalez looked at Edwin with a question in his eyes and Edwin
tried to ignore his boss but felt his raise slipping through his

The robot said, "Your orders are being executed now."

"And get me a human to help coordinate."

"There are none. Your directive, memorandum M.57321."

Edwin looked at his hands and paused before he said, "I'll fly
out there. I'll be there in twenty hours."

"19 hours 37 minutes, assuming the shuttle arrives on schedule,

Monday, October 12, 2009

Arrival at Planet 307

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Elegy for the Nostromo" in Mirror Shards:

Giovanni Fidanza awakens from his birthing creche on the Nostromo Seed Ship. He hides his skin, a pink and blotchy new-born kind of skin, under a midnight blue terry cloth robe and pads barefoot over to the computer terminal. He has distant memories of having performed these same actions hundreds of times and every time -- just like what he finds out this time -- he scans another planet not suitable for life. The others will have awakened too and run the same scans. They will come for him.

They are faster than he remembers, but he is not surprised. There are five of them this time, all wearing sky blue robes. Gould stands at the front of the group, as always, and says, "Your ship has found another dead planet. Where are the worlds you promised us?"

"Earth was a dead end. Her resources gone and only 50 billion people left to squabble over the crumbs." Giovanni has said this before, three hundred times or more, but it always ends the same. They are angry and he is tired.

"But all we do now is live and die and travel between the stars. What kind of life is this?"


Gould spits on the spotless metallic floor and says, "Hope was reasonable for the first dozen worlds. And now, years into our journey what do we have to hope for?"

"We could end this journey," says Giovanni. Something new, something not said in his 307 previous lives.

Gould looks at the three other men and one woman who stand behind him a hint of confusion in his eyes. Gould still believes they will find a habitable planet. Giovanni hopes he's planted a seed. Gould says, "There are more planets, we'll continue on our fool's mission. But first, we must sacrifice you."

As they have 298 times. Giovanni remembers the sacrifices as a single long painful memory. He holds his hands out, long ago learning the pointlessness of fighting. They grab his arms roughly and pull him through the stark corridors to the airlock.

Inside the airlock, Giovanni can see their faces watch him through the window. He whispers goodbye as he hears the air whirr out of the chamber. His last thought is a wish that this time they don't take a cell sample to clone and awaken him on planet 308.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Orthomyxoviridae War

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Cohabitation" in Mirror Shards:

The top half of the pill carrier dissolved in the gut leaving the bottom battle control center intact. General Scott took one last look at his legion of nano troops and wished them luck before he manipulated the Control Center's actuators to capture a cell from their host and transmitted the host's DNA codes to allow his chameleon troops to mimic their host's cells.

"Battalion Alpha," said General Scott, "do you read me?"

"Aye, Aye, General Sir. Ready for action."

"I want you to take the respiratory system. Be careful, don't get expelled out into the room. The cell samples indicate that our host is sixty-seven years old and has a history of smoking."

"Battalions Beta, Delta, and Gamma spread out through the circulatory system."

"Yes sir, General Sir," said the other battalion commanders in unison.

"The Control Center's sensors have not pinpointed the strain of the enemy, keep your eyes open and assume that there may be H1N1 lurking in our host."

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bridge to the Future -- Customs

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Construction Delays" in Mirror Shards:

Neal popped the clutch in to jerk the car forward one last time to the front of the almost mile-long car queue. Neal wondered why they didn't call it a Bridge to the Past over here. Behind him, in the too full back seat, Janet and Beth bickered over fashion.

Neal twisted over his right shoulder to face the backseat and said, "Everyone except Beth fasten your seatbelts now. And Beth, please make it look like you've got a seatbelt on. We're almost there."

Neal shivered as he watched the time winds blow through the thin dress of an elderly woman standing with her husband neither of them wearing coats. Two TTA agents stripped their car and threw the luggage on the ground. Neal guessed they were being punished because they had triggered one of the all-too-common false alerts from the time anomaly sensors.

Of course, the customs agent would probably grill Neal just because they had too many people in the car. The light flashed green and Neal drove forward.

"Can I see your passports," asked the agent. Neal passed their seven passports to the agent. "There sure are a lot of you in that car. What was the purpose of your visit?"

"It's Tony's birthday," said Neal.

"Hmm... anything to declare?"

A trick question, there was laughter in the back seat. A couple of the girls were still high. "No."

"You're free to go." Unbelievable.

Neal drove forward as the time fogs flowed over his car hiding the view of the other side.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Surviving Golf

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Playing Properly" in Mirror Shards:

"Don't even talk to me about local courses," Raymond sneered. "Manicured lawns and geometrically perfect 'lakes.' Those places are about as real as a pornstar's tits."

"Then where are we going?"

Raymond pointed. Ahead, the woods closed in around them, an old forest-god, grinning snaggletoothed and hairy, with entwining vines and mysterious culverts. Water dripped down unseen pathways. In the distance, something howled, abruptly cut off.

Smiling, Raymond set down his bad. He withdrew a club, one with a spiked handguard on the grip and a jagged razor on the reverse of the head. "We're going to play real golf."

My scene:

Jason sank his last putt -- an easy shot off the side of a steep hill that dipped towards a marsh. Jason breathed a sigh of relief and turned his back on the muddy water that boiled with the sinuous coiling of some unseen beast in the water. He had no more balls left and knew that Raymond would insist that Jason play from inside the water trap.

"That was interesting," said Jason.

"Ready for the back nine?"

Jason's face dropped, "But what about the time?"

"Exactly," the dying afternoon light flickered red in Raymond's eyes, "It's best played after dark."

"Maybe another time." Jason lied, he had no intention of ever coming he could here again. There was something to Raymond -- energy, a sense of urgency and a hint of anger -- that Jason had admired in the boardroom, when Raymond was on his side, but out here it didn't feel right, he felt like the target.

"Suit yourself, I'll play the back nine without you." Jason's heart beat hard, he'd carpooled with Raymond. "By the way, the wolves out here are a little like sharks... they can smell your blood."

Jason looked down, his polo shirt was torn through so you could see his midriff where the claw marks continued to drip blood. He'd fought the wolves off once, he could do it again.

"I'll walk. I'll see you in the office on Monday." Jason felt bitter but there was little he could do about it. Raymond stood there flawless untouched by the hazards of this course.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A long, long time ago...

Response to: Answer Unspoken:

My scene, "A long, long time ago...":

Dun Tolg stood on the cliff's edge looking out over the sea with the whitecaps rolling towards him. He avoided looking at the stone prison that he and the others had built upon this cliff and the chain of calamity that wrapped around the small prison like a bloody bandage over a gut wound.

Dun heard her footsteps come up behind him, but they stopped as if waiting for him to turn and look at her. He didn't turn, his face was now marred with lines from the war and was no longer beautiful. She said, "I've spoken to the Oracle." Dun almost cried at the pain -- a distance -- in her voice.


"They foretell that time and the poisons of lies will break the chain and allow them," she hawked and spat, "to go free." They all refused to say their names, the four Floods, the three Winds, and the final Fire, now that the war was over. A gull struggled to fly out over the waves while the wind punched it back and forth.

"Is there any way to avoid that future?"

"Yes." He turned at the tone in her voice and saw a tear in her eye. "You must stand guard here and always tell the truth."

"I can't...." He fell silent and she hugged him.