Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Word from the Management

I will fly to Sweden for work for the next week. I hope to write some flash fiction (and work on my longer pieces), but don't be surprised if my schedule is unusual for the next week and I post less frequently than usual.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Watcher

A response to CDominiqueG's challenge on #storycraft to write from the point of view of an inanimate object.

I'm not a Hindu, and I don't get around so if you hope I'll answer your questions about reincarnation, forget it. All I know is one day I had cancer, and the next day I'm dead and reborn as a rock. Can you believe it? I know, weren't all rocks created millions of years ago. All those igneous, sedentary, and metamorphic rocks couldn't compete with Jesse back in seventh grade geology. What? Sedentary -- sedimentary. What's the difference, I'm a rock. Don't expect intelligence from me.

Anyway, you're sidetracking me, don't do that. Jesse, the one I married and who gave birth to little Minnie and Mav. One day, cancer eating me up, I closed my eyes and the next moment Jesse mourns in a black dress carrying Mav and tripped over me while walking to the porch. It doesn't hurt or anything, I like to be noticed. I missed her, I wished she knew I was embedded in our front yard.

Summer became fall. And then winter's frozen fingers covered my eyes. That first winter took forever, and it made me look inside. And when spring came, the snow melted from my face, I knew what I wanted. I wanted Jesse to find someone. Someone to hold her in his arms unlike me who was only good for tripping.

Summer, fall, winter, spring, summer, winter, winter. The years sped by, Minnie and Mav grew like weeds. It felt good to trip Derek the first time he walked Jesse home, but I saw her laugh and knew that jealousy was from my old life, inappropriate in the new me, the rock me.

Beside me, the real estate agent pounded a for sale sign, the white garish post and squeaking -- incessant, can't they hear it -- sign. She's going to leave me. I don't want to part. If you find this, help me speak to Jesse. She must bring me with her, Derek, and the kids. I don't want anyone else.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Taste for Natural 3D

Response to Karl Taro Greenfeld's "Howard Stringer's Vision", an article published in Wired magazine about Sony's gamble on 3-D televisions.

Hideki could handle a 2-D world. Even natural 3-D was fine. Virtual 3-D brought the shakes on, the harrowing stomach seizures and bone chills that rattled his skull and induced pain that started in the temples and slid back along his skull like skin drying crackling tight until his spine spewed pain like a monkey hammering mallets upon a xylophone but no sound coming out just the throbbing pain that caused Hideki to roll up into a ball.

Hideki waited in Doctor Kabuki's lounge with his black glasses that hid his eyes and more importantly blocked his view of the three 3-D televisions each blaring a different channel with the audio shaping so patients could choose which program they wanted to watch by where they sat in the room. Perhaps, there were even more, but Hideki didn't dare doff his glasses. In the early days, it would take a quarter hour or longer before he'd react to the sets, but now it just took a glimpse and he didn't even need the 3-D stereoscopic goggles.

"Mr. Mitami."

Hideki shuffled towards the nurse looking underneath the bottom edge of his glasses where he watched the chair legs. The nurse bumped her arm against his and he grasped it has she led him back to one of the patient rooms. He heard the electric hum of the video display and knew that even here it wasn't safe to remove his spectacles.

"How long have you been blind?" asked the nurse.

If only it had been as simple as blindness, not this debilitating affliction. "Not blind, I'm allergic to virtual 3-D."

"I've heard the virtual 3-D displays caused some subjects to have feelings of vertigo, but the research showed that with time the effects went away."

"Ten years." And all of his friends, even his family. Virtual 3-D was a drug and withdrawal symptoms set in when the display didn't hover somewhere on the edge of their vision.

"I'm sorry. Well, Doctor Kabuki is an expert ophthalmologist and I'm sure he'll have you cured."


Six weeks passed and everyday Hideki woke up hoping to hear a reply from Doctor Kabuki, but no messages came.

A knock at his door.

No one visited him, the knock repeated itself and a muffled voice shouting his name. Hideki opened the door and stared at the white slacks over faux-alligator leather boots.

"Hideki, why didn't you answer my e-mails?" Concern laced Dr. Kabuki's voice as he shuffled on the flat's black mat in the hallway.

"Can't." Hadn't Doctor Kabuki listened to him. "They don't make 2-D displays anymore."

"Well, no matter. Do you mind if I come in?"

"No... no." He watched the doctor's legs walk into the apartment and then he closed the door. "Did you find a cure?"

"We looked at the blood work, it was amazing. We have never come across a specimen quite like you and the genes consist of the perfect collection of combinations to result in an adverse concoction that creates that effect that you feel when you see the 3-D displays."

"There is nothing you can do." Hideki wanted to swallow a finger of scotch.

"No, but I had an idea. If you just read your e-mail, it would have been a lot faster. But never mind. Have you ever thought about being one of the astronauts to Mars? So far, they haven't found anyone fit enough for the journey."

"They get sick from sensory deprivation?"

"Yes, how did you know?"

Hideki didn't need to think about it, he realized he'd be a perfect specimen. He needed that sensory deprivation. "I'll do it."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Writing London's Savior

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

Playing hooky from his classes so he could finish the story, he had lost track of the day. The Catholic school tower's bell rang six times. Bastian ran to the window to look out on the empty schoolyard. On the horizon, he saw six dots growing larger as they approached until they became more than dots growing wings to become heavy wide-bodied planes.

Bastian's back itched as he wondered about the coincidence. Returning to the book, he looked at the last paragraph. Six Russian bombers coming to bomb London at 6 p.m. as the streets were filled with workers heading to the subway anxious to get home to their families. Bastian turned the page. It was blank. Right in the middle of the story, it just stopped. Bastian looked out the window and the bombers grew larger, he couldn't let them drop their bombs. His parents would be one of those commuters making their way home, even Sister Mara who chided him for missing class didn't deserve to die.

Bastian searched through the chairs and desks, stacked one upon the other, that lined the attic walls until he found a stubby pencil and raced back to the open book. He wrote, "A boy hiding in St. Mary's attic watched the bombers approach. Behind him, his jet fighter -- a red bloodthirsty mouth painted on its nose -- waited hungrily as Bastian pressed the button that dropped the attic wall."

Bastian looked up from the book and discovered that he was standing at the edge of the attic as wind blew against his face smelling like rain. He turned back and there was the jet fighter just as he had imagined it. He climbed in the pilot seat and played with the controls. His heart beat fast as the fighter leaped into the air towards the Russian bombers. They'd already dropped their first set of bombs and Bastian chased a bomb through the air firing on the whistling bomb that dropped towards the London rooftops. His bullets hit the bomb exploding it in a brilliant flash of light that receded behind him. Over and over he repeated this catching all of the bombs before they hit the ground. He turned his jet fighter around and chased the bombers away from flying over London. Once, they were over farmland, he shot them down. However, it took two passes and at the end the Russian ace arrived. Too late to save his countrymen from Bastian's guns.

Their battle lasted all night bullets and missiles flying over the Thames and lighting the sky up like firecrackers. Until as the first light of dawn scratched the skies, Bastian, sweat stinging his eyes, pulled the trigger and managed to strafe the fuselage of the Russian ace's plane. Fuel spilled out as the Russian ace fled British airspace.

Bastian wanted to chase the Russian ace but glanced at his watch realizing that he would be late for Sister Mara's class. With a last longing look, he watched the Russian fade into the distance.

He landed the jet in the attic, and instead of closing the wall he flipped off his helmet and leaped out the hangar door catching the flagpole below him turning in a flip and landing before Michaela.

He smiled at her ready to regale her with tales of how he had saved London. Thinking about all these months that he'd had a crush on her and not once spoken to her, it would change now.

Looking at her green eyes and knowing that once he had told her his story she would take his hand in hers and they would walk to class together, he tripped over the sidewalk and blinked to find himself lying on the attic floor with a beat up pencil in his hands, the tip irrevocably broken. The bell rang to start Sister Mara's class.

Next time he'd be prepared with a backup pencil.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Response to Berkeley Rep's "Girlfriend", an awkward boy-meets-boy rock musical romance.

"Good day, my lady," said Sir Edward with turkey grease matted into his beard as he plopped onto Sorcerer Belfrin's recently vacated stool. "What is a lady like you doing with pretty boy Belfrin."

"I ain't a lady," said Squire Will wondering whether Sir Edward had had too much ale. Sir Edward had staggered across the Stompen Hen Tavern as he grasped at patron's shoulders and the knife-notched corners of tables to keep himself on his feet, but the rumors said he had a bad knee and Will judged that Edward's eyes weren't bloodshot enough.

"Well, you're too good a wench for him. You deserve a real man. I have a pitcher of Stompen's best ale in the booth over in the corner -- "

A pitcher of ale levitated down to the table settling with a thump that shook the table. Belfrin's pointy jade hat bobbed behind Edward and the sorcerer's immaculate finger poked a dimple into Edward's shoulder. "I believe you're in my chair and unless you'd like to return to your booth the same way your former pitcher of ale came to our table, you'll leave the happy couple alone."

Edwards stumbled away as Belfrin reclaimed his seat and refilled the two mugs on the table. Belfrin said, "Don't mind him."

"He called me a lady." Belfrin's eyes dilated for just a moment. Will had a sinking feeling that Belfrin had cast a glamour upon Will. The king's renowned sorcerer was a striped snake, too scared of rumors.

"Too much drink." When Will didn't respond, Belfrin continued, "You don't think --"

"That you're too ashamed to be seen with me in public. I don't have to think it, you're obvious."

"I didn't do anything." Belfrin crossed his hands over his chest as the table bobbled with his leg uncharacteristically shaking with a nervous twitch.

"No? I could ask the patrons in the tavern. One of them must be sober."

Belfrin fidgeted, running a finger along one of the notches in the table. "Okay, you're right. But, I see the real you with your thin arms, long like a spider's legs, and your hair flopping over your kissable ears."

"Look," Will leaned forward blowing that flopping hair out of his eyes, "don't try to flatter me. It's wrong. You can't hide who you are."

"But you're the best squire at court, and the rumors about you almost cost you your sponsor."

"I get to be myself. Look at you hiding it. Someone will find out your --"

"No, don't say it. Someone will overhear."

"So, the king won't care. He needs you."

"But they'll talk."

Will stood up. "I guess they won't," said Will. "Sir Edward was right, I could use a real man."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Story Winds

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

The paper box under Esther's wingarm pulsed as the story wind buffeted the Maller box's insides and it's edges drummed with the pressure of the captured wind searching for an escape. Flock leader, Laila, balanced on the furthest branch of their flock's village tree where all of the fledglings could see her. Esther fidgeted on her branch, hoping her story might win her a compliment from Laila.

"And that is enough about plot for today. Who would like to share their story first?"

Bora raised a wingarm and waved it so vigorously that he shook the branch he was on and Tia slipped forward scrambling with her legs and hands to catch a finger hold in the bark to avoid being blown out over the canyon beyond the village tree. Esther bit her lip, it would feel good to get her story out there. She would be able to relax, but maybe it would be easier after someone else went. The down of her arm feathers rustled in the breeze.

"Yes, Bora, you are always ready to volunteer. Anyone else?" Esther looked away at the colored sands that swirled in clouds over the canyon. "Esther, your story looks anxious to get out."

"Yes, Laila." Esther lifted the box to her ear and heard the echoes of her voice caught in the story wind. She prayed that the class wouldn't laugh or jeer at her story and she wondered who her wind would choose as the speaker. She flicked the paper latch that held the Maller box closed and out swished her wind racing through the tree limbs in long loopy arcs. The class watched the story wind, grains of purplish sandstone making it easy to see the wind. The class hushed as they waited to see who the story wind would select as speaker. The story wind blew another lap through the outstretched leaves of the tree and around the students before it streaked into the canyon to merge with the other winds.

"'Tis an ill wind that blows no mind," said Bora. The other students chittered and Esther hung her head in shame. They said that when the winds chose not to tell the story that the Azaleas had taught to the wind, that even the wind had judged the story unworthy.

"No. You all are still learning, Esther don't listen to Bora. You must capture another wind and bring your story to us. Telling is the only way to improve your craft."

"Yes, Laila." Esther wasn't sure that she could return with a new wind tomorrow. What if it fled like the story wind had today?

Tia jumped to her feet and flapped her wings to keep her balance as she chattered about something down in the canyon. Maybe, Tia or Bora could tell their story now. The class would stop looking at her.

Elder Palta banked beside the branch that Laila stood upon and landed on his bare feet, the long toes grasping the branch. A purple wind swirled around Palta and at first Esther wondered whether it was her story wind, but story winds didn't corral Azaleas, especially not elders. The wind climbed into the air and then fell to engulf Palta and his voice boomed, shaking the leaves of the tree, as he voiced Esther's story.

Esther smiled, her story hadn't been unworthy. It just needed the proper voice.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Where Babies Come From

Response to Ruthanna Emrys' story, "Brief Candle", published in episode #157 of the Drabblecast.

Maranda stalked the fields the night she discovered what kept the storks away. Of course, a full moon lit the fields in dull grays, corn tassels blowing in a bathwater warm wind creating jerky shadows on the dried earth. The storks didn't come any other nights. Maranda paid scant attention to the shadows as she mulled over the old wives words. She scandalized them, she knew they believed that she scared the storks away when she didn't stay home waiting for them.

Moonlight reflected in the pond outside the village and Maranda stopped to look at the reflection. The wind calmed so the lake became a single smooth pane that was still enough to reflect the stars. Years ago, before she'd been married, her mother told stories about how babies are young stars that are flown to us by the storks. Looking at the stars reflected in the water, Maranda doubted that could be true. The stars flickered in the water. They were still here. What cruel punishment was this that the storks no longer visited them with babies swaddled in their beaks. But where did babies come from?

On the other side of the pond, a loon surfaced -- Maranda imagined it was hungry like her husband, sleepwalking for a midnight snack -- and the ripples spread across the pond. Something dark flew through the moon's shadow and Maranda looked up to see a large wide-billed bird carrying a blanket with the four corners twisted to tie into it a harness that dropped from the bird's mouth. It had to be a stork.

Maranda crept along the edge of the field in the shadows of the oak trees. The stork flew as a darkness against the moonlit fields and she hoped she wouldn't spook the stork. Whose baby did it bring? If it got to her house before she got there, would it leave and never deliver the baby?

Up ahead, the stork dropped towards a tree. Maranda slowed in her pace, making sure she kept to the shadows, and careful to step in the tilled field where she wouldn't rustle the grasses. Dark bumps filled the tree, and as she neared, she heard squalling of what must be babies. A whole tree full of babies. She wondered which one might be hers.

A net, made out of dark rope that didn't reflect in the moonlight, fell over the tree so that it covered every inch and draped down to the ground. The storks flapped their wings in agitation, but couldn't escape the net. Maranda hid in the trees, she hoped her footsteps in the dry leaves would be masked by the tussle of the net.

Men stuck poles through the net to stab at the storks until they dropped their bundles. The baby's screeching at the base of the tree enticed a stork to descend but a man was under the net and wielded a club. He batted at the stork knocking it against the netting until the stork flew up to land on a branch out of reach of the man. One of the pole-wielders looked up and the moon shone on his face. Maranda recognized him, her sister had married into Oakthorn Village and married him. What was Philip doing here? Maranda slid back into the shadows, she didn't need to see any more. She had to get home and tell the others.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Synaesthete Spy

Response to Radiolab's show, "Limits", where they described a Russian man referred to as Mr. S. who can remember anything.

The goon from Cheka, Beria, one of the up-and-coming Bolshevik secret policemen, slammed Luria's office door shut. Beria tilted the wooden chair in front of Luria's desk so that it dumped Luria's latest experimental notes on Zasetsky's curious inability to see the right side of his body. Beria was typical of these self-important Chekans.

"Dr. Luria, have you completed your assessment of Solomon?"

"Yes." Luria sat up in his chair so that Beria had to look up at him. It was typical for the Georgian to think the world revolved around him and his needs.

"Well, what did you find."

Luria shuffled through the manila folders that overlapped on his desk like layers of paint. There it was, the folder with an old name crossed off and Solomon Shereshevskii's name in thick curved letters. Luria slid it across the desk to Beria who picked it up and flipped through the handwritten pages. "His memory is perfect."

"Perfect?" Beria raised an eyebrow.

"Yes, he can remember pages of numbers, memorize Italian operas even though he can't speak Italian. There is no way that he could have fooled me."

"It must be some kind of trick. You've been gamed."

Luria stood to lean across his desk and extracted a page full of dozens of numbers from the folder. "Even now, if you ask Solomon, he can recite every number on that page without looking at it."


Luria taps his temple. "Solomon is a Synaesthete. That means that all of his senses are triggered. You look at that sheet of paper, and see a set of numbers. He sees it as filled with people dancing across the paper. For example, at the top he sees a woman in a sack smelling of lemons and holding the hands of a man who twirls his mustache with his other hand. The images are sharp, impossible for him to forget."

Beria leaned back in the wooden chair. "Then why does his editor tell me he made a poor reporter?"

"Every image, every letter on the page, reminds Solomon of every other time he has seen that letter, typed that word. When he types the word dog, he remembers the Irish wolfhound that he's writing about, but he'll also see the great Dane he passed two weeks ago, and the stale egg sandwich he ate the time two months ago when he wrote about Sashavilli's bloodhound. His condition impairs his ability to get words on paper."

"But he'll remember anything?"


"A perfect spy. You have done your country a service so I trust you will keep our conversation confidential. I'd hate to hear rumors and regret that I was generous." As Beria stood up, he opened the manila folder and curled the notes to stick them into his coat's inner pocket.

"My notes, can I have a copy for science."

"No. It is better to forget that you ever met Solomon."

After Beria left, Luria crouched to pick up the scattered notes about Zasetsky. Just as Solomon couldn't forget a number, Luria would not forget Solomon and the boon he could have been to understand how the mind works.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dermatobia Cerebrus

This scene seed is a mutt coming from Heather Hansen's prompt on Flashy Fiction, Nathaniel Lee's "Inspiration", Radiolab's episode on parasites, and the character of John Fortune from the Wildcards shared universe.

Tony burrowed under the host's flesh while it slept. Nightmares would haunt the host but it wouldn't wake as it twisted and turned as Tony crept just under the epidermal layer leaving an itchy trail laced with drugs to keep the host asleep. It took time. Finally, Tony hunkered beneath the host's forehead and lowered the drill to cut through the skull. Through the hole, he deployed the knotted nerve endings, anticlotting agents dripping from the woven tendrils. The nerves were part of him and he unwove the ends into dozens of strands that sought the important nerve centers of his host so that he could integrate himself. Each of the parts of the brain, occipital lobe, parietal lobe, hypothalamus, cerebellum, pituitary gland, had a different taste and Tony sought out each of the desired endpoints. It took time, Tony must be certain before locking the hair-like ends of his nerves into place with the host.

Tony connected with the host's ears and aural circuits first. Tony felt the host's dizziness as it stood. More than just the wooziness imparted from the drugs he had secreted. The host moved too fast, fearful. He heard running water and felt the host scratching at its forehead trying to rip Tony out. Tony hunkered down, plastering himself against the skull and concentrated on getting the other nerve endings attached.

"... look at that thing. It's as big around as my thumb. That hurts, I can't get rid of it, I can't pop it like a pimple, I wonder. I should call the doctor. No, I must get rid of it. A knife. Yes, a knife, I'll cut it out..."

Tony had linked with the hosts memories. The host was frightened, they always are, it was difficult to follow the host's thoughts as they chattered in the background. Tony felt the host sway.

Patched into the host's eyes, Tony cringed as he watched the host paw through a drawer and grab a knife, the eight inch blade catching the bluish white light from the hallway. It stumbled back toward the bathroom.

"Cut it out, but it will hurt. Don't matter. Must, cut it out must get rid of the thing, must do something now, must..."

"Stop, slow down." said Tony. He used his nerve to introduce his own thoughts.

"What, I must be going crazy, who's that..." The host's thoughts careened through its head and Tony struggled to follow a coherent thread. He needed to complete the parasitic connection so that he had full control over the host's motor functions. He watched the host stumble into the bathroom. He needed to teach the host tolerance, before the host spitted Tony upon its blade. Didn't the host realize that it would kill itself with Tony's death?

The host's head reflected in the bathroom's mirror and it tilted its head to lean the forehead forward where it could see the red welted bump with bloody scratches etched in the penumbra underneath the hosts black hair. The knifetip set against the skin. The pressure of the knife pushed on Tony's carapace.


The host paused and the knife lifted off the skin for a moment. "Why? Who are you? What are you?"

Toby's last nerve strand settled into place and he lowered the host's arms. "My name is Toby, and I'll be with you for a while."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Last Resort: Corporate Ninja

A response to the Economist's March 27th-April 2nd article, "Taking the challenge, Pepsi gets a makeover".

Indra Kendall and Donald Bradham watched the stock numbers on the Bloomberg 3-D display as the green line indicating FrazzleCo stock price dived towards the red plane at the bottom of the display representing the stock price where Amsterdam Consulting, and everything else these days, would acquire FrazzleCo. The line's trajectory trended down.

"We have less than fifteen minutes. Are you ready to initiate Plan C?" asked Indra.

"Is it really necessary?" Donald's voice cracked and Indra wondered if he was afraid. Caleb and Herman had both been successful in implementing Plans A and B. At least if success was measured in the extra twenty years FrazzleCo had managed to survive.

"Yes." Indra slid aside the gold hued curtains at the edge of the conference room to reveal a shadow-filled room with a metal box and wires leading to a control panel.

"Even if Amsterdam Consulting's takeover bid succeeds, we should have some time after it ends to initiate our plan."

"No, Amsterdam's security forces will descend the minute the stock swap is triggered. We must begin. You remember your tasks?"

Donald grumbled, but Indra was relieved to see that he climbed into the machine's compartment. "Yes. I'll introduce the lawsuits against the computer industry companies and the entertainment companies for encouraging sedentary lifestyles that lead to weight gain." She dialed the year 2010 and flipped the initiation switch.


The shockwave tumbled Indra to the floor. This hadn't happened when they sent Caleb back to plant false research showing that smoking caused cancer, or Herman to infiltrate Coca-Cola and introduce new Coke. As her eyes adjusted, Indra realized that it was more an implosion then an explosion. The time machine had disappeared.

The Bloomberg display was also gone, just a room with the mahogany executive table and leather chairs around it. Indra wondered whether Donald had been successful.

She walked out of the conference room and the cubicles surrounding the area were empty, a few papers scattered across the desks. There were no flatscreen monitors or telephones. Donald must've failed. It looked like FrazzleCo had gone out of business and some chopshop had come in and taken everything worth selling. The tables and papers might not have been valuable, but the leather chairs would have been worth something.

Indra needed to leave the building to find out what had happened. Potted plants lined the hallway turning the place into a veritable jungle. Someone must water the plants or they would dry into brittle dead things. She passed Caleb's legal office. That was wrong, she must've passed the elevators. Indra retraced her steps to discover the open area with large palms and a flowering cactus covered the area where the elevators had been. Someone had gutted the building. Why would you remodel the place and remove the elevators on a forty-story building? Perhaps, that was why they hadn't been able to find any new tenants after FrazzleCo had gone out of business.

Instead of dust-covered concrete stairs, Indra descended down carpeted stairs with brass faux candle fixtures hanging on the walls. The stairs were wider than she remembered and other workers passed her as she wheezed down the stairs. They paused as they descended past her to say, "Good evening Ms. Kendall."

On the ground floor, a man opened the door for Indra. She looked out at the street and saw hundreds of bikes blurring past the doorway where there should have been cars. She turned to the doorman, and asked, "What happened to FrazzleCo?"

"You must be joking Ms. Kendall." Even the doorman knew her.

"What about the stock market --"

"Are you okay Ms. Kendall? There hasn't been a stock market since China annexed the Americas."

Indra wondered where Plan C had gone wrong.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Bird Sacrifice

A response to Loren Eaton and B. Nagel's "Shared Storytelling: Six Birds".

I waited in the police interrogation room with a black one-way mirror and the steel-legged faux wood table. I wished I hadn't left my kindle in the car. I thought it would be simple, a quick report to let them know that the mystery was solved, everything was fine, and I could go back to the library and life would continue. But no, the desk sergeant said I had to talk to one of the officers. I'd waited thirty-seven minutes, I was bored stiff. I'd already tried the door and it was locked. Look, I worked in a library couldn't they see I wasn't a menace.

The door opened and two officers entered, I didn't recognize either of them. "There must be a mistake," I said rising to my feet. They towered over my five foot seven, 115 pound frame.

"You reported the birds?" asked the officer with a mustache.

"Yeah." A lump stuck in my throat. The library wouldn't open on time today.

"No mistake," said the other one. "I'm Mario, with the FBI, and this is Derek, my department liaison. Please, sit down." At least there wasn't a spotlight shining in my eyes. "Tell us about the birds."

"It's nothing," I said. "The mystery has been solved. It --"

"No," said Mario. "Start at the beginning." Didn't they have my damn notes on this case? I had updated them every day. "Come on, we don't have all day."

I rolled my eyes. What more could they do to me? "It started April 1st. I didn't think much of it at the time, a single dead bird by the library door. No big deal."

"Why?" asked Mario.

"I was short on sleep. My advisor gave me an ultimatum to finish my dissertation next month. I've worked nights on it. That's why I never noticed Ebenezer --"

"Derek, make a note of that." Mario shifted in his chair. "This Ebenezer, he was there on the first day."

"No, well yes. This is a miscommunication. Ebenezer --"

"Stop!" Mario's jowls puffed full of air. "Tell it from the start, no jumping around. Otherwise, Derek will jail you."

Ebenezer was a cat. This was ridiculous. I sighed, I would try it their way. "At the end of the day, the bird carcass disappeared. A single yellow-tipped gray feather blew in a whirlwind trapped by the cement canyons near the library.

"The second day, two carcasses, almost identical birds, laid on the cement near the door. I shoved them to the side and didn't give them much thought. At the end of the day, the bodies disappeared. I'd see one feather floating in the air. This continued with three birds on the third day, four birds on the fourth day, five birds on the fifth day."

"And you didn't suspect anything?" asked Mario.

"No, not until the sixth day. There were six little dead birds ranged along the base of the wall. Not evenly spaced or staged, but looking like they all took a concrete dive from three stories up. It was then that I called the campus police. By the time they arrived, the birds had disappeared again. On the seventh day, I took a picture of the birds and showed it to the campus police. This continued, getting more frightening every day as one more bird waited on the cement for me."

"Were these all the same birds, just one more added every day?"

"Well, now that I know about Ebenezer --"

"Not yet. Answer the question we asked."


"How did you know, did you do a biopsy?"

These questions continued. It was all pointless. Why wouldn't they let me get to the end. They didn't need to know every little detail. I looked at the clock hanging above the mirrored window. I should have opened the library two hours ago.

"Did you tell anyone else about this?" asked Mario, he paced as I became recalcitrant.


He stopped, placed two fists on the table and leaned forward. "What kind of answer is maybe? We're doing our job and you think this is a game."

I met his gaze, but couldn't keep it long. I'd laugh and I didn't want Mario to hit me again. "Look, who cares?"

"Just answer our questions," said Mario.


"Derek confines you in a cell until you talk."

I rolled my eyes. Who cared if a cat killed a few birds. It must happen every day.

Mario kicked his chair back from the table until the top over-balanced and it smashed to the floor. "Derek, lock him up."

"Wait --"

"Too late. We'll talk later."

Derek placed cuffs on my hands, the metal heavier than I expected. He pushed me down the hallway.

"Why are you doing this?"

He didn't answer, just pushed me ahead of him. I'd never been locked in jail before. I'd read Shawshank Redemption, but this was a county jail, it couldn't be that bad.

"Look, you should talk. It will go better for you."

"What do you suspect I've done?" He didn't answer me. That confirmed it. There had to be something.

He opened the gray bars of my cell. I stumbled and fell against the blue-striped thin mattress. His keys jangled in the lock. I reclined on the mattress. I wished I had my kindle. I wondered what would happen to my car when the parking meter expired.

They brought in another guy, he weaved, I guessed he was drunk. After the officers left, he grasped the bars between our cells and looked at me. "What'd you do?"

I sighed. Hours ago it would have been laughable. "Dead birds."

"Like those six birds on the White House lawn? It's all over TV."

I groaned. How long would it take them to discover the president's cat was leaving sacrifices.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Magic Envelope

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

I opened the mailbox. Flipping through my mail, I trudged back up to my apartment on the third floor. I'd received a PG&E bill, a Pyramid Collection catalog, a shiny advert for the local tire shop, both of them trash since I was squeezing by as it was and couldn't pay the PG&E bill until I got my paycheck in two weeks. Odd, underneath the PG&E bill was a lumpy envelope. I threw the junk mail on the pile of papers on the dining table and chewed on the PG&E bill -- I needed to find some place where I wouldn't lose it until I had the money -- as I looked at the lumpy envelope. The corner was stamped airmail. After the phone call last Sunday, Monday afternoon for Jezebel, she'd promised to help. I had scoffed at the time, how could she help me clean up the place before mom came to visit next weekend.

Yet, I now had a little package from Jezebel. I shook it, two soft bumps rattled as they slid in the envelope.

"Hey, we're trying to sleep in here."

In my surprise, I dropped the envelope. I backed away from the airmail envelope and absently dropped the PG&E bill on the floor with the scattered popcorn crumbs.

"What did you do that for?"

Jezebel had sent me a talking greeting card? She was odd, but even she wouldn't think that would help clean up this dump. I picked the envelope up by a corner, the lumps seemed to move of their own accord.

"You gonna let us out or what?"

I opened the letter. Two doll-like figures, sparkling wings sticking out of their backs, tumbled onto the stack of mail and papers to read for class strewn across the table. They reminded me of little Tinkerbells except unlike Tinkerbell's flawless skin and ageless eyes, they were wizened creatures, the tiny wrinkles on their faces had mini-wrinkles inside them.

"You must be Chris," said the male Tinkerbell. "You look just like your sister." He walked out on the edge of an envelope.

"Watch out," I yelled as I tried to catch the envelope as it slid off the pile causing him to slide down the stack of paper and fall on the floor.

He fluttered his wings and flew back up to the table. "Well, we must be at the right place. Jezebel said you needed our help."

I must be dreaming. These things couldn't be real. "Who are you?"

"This is my wife Mary, and I'm Braun." He bowed.

"That wasn't what I meant. You can't be real." All the pressure of mom's visit during finals must be testing my sanity.

"We're domestic fairies. At your service for the next week."

Mary flew to the window and looked outside. "Braun, it looks the same down under as it does back home."

"Down under? Jezebel lives down under."

Braun shook his head. "We've been here for tens of thousands of years, civilized long before you hairy apes walked on two feet. You've got that down under thing upside down."

I felt lightheaded. Maybe if I took a nap, I'd wake up sane again. "I must be dreaming you two. I'm going to nap now."

"Enjoy your beauty sleep," said Mary. "We'll get this place presentable."

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Changing Crystal

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

Who did he think he was, wondered Crystal. She shivered as she walked beneath the building's wooden beams that decayed into splinters that loomed over the sidewalks. Not a great part of town, she gritted her teeth as rats scurried down the alley and she hugged her arms tight. Her sweater was still in his car. She should've negotiated at least until she was in a better neighborhood. She still couldn't believe that he had abandoned her here. Perhaps, her friends' whispers had been right. Her pumps echoed on the concrete as the yellowish glow of the streetlights reflected off puddles on the street barren of cars.

The red light of a cigarette butt caught her eye and she saw four men standing outside a dark doorway. She shouldn't be walking out here by herself. She felt for the locket on its chain around her neck. It was there with the Phoenix pill that her mom had given her. She could hear her voice saying, "Only take the pill as a last resort." It was the popular thing to get your child, she wondered if it even worked. No one she knew had ever taken the Phoenix pill.

The men's conversation stopped as she neared and they watched her while puffing smoke over the street to swirl in the streetlights and the low hanging fog. Crystal thought about crossing the street to the other side, but they'd know she was scared of them then. They were just four men smoking, she told herself.

Avoiding their shadowed eyes, trying not to challenge them she walked past them seeing their heads track her. She could feel the knot constricting between her shoulder blades and knew that she'd need to make another appointment with the chiropractor. She passed and realized that she'd been holding her breath. She let it out. There were footsteps behind her, muffled things compared to the staccato clicks of her heels. She looked over her shoulder and saw the man's stubble covered face. She ran. A hand squeezed her arm and caught her pulling her back as she yelled.

They laughed. "Ain't no one going to help you." It was the man that held her who said that, his hands feeling slick in the darkness.

She slammed her heel down into his soft athletic shoe and twisted her arm out of his grip. Someone lashed out and hit or kicked her and she sprawled to the pavement. Pain shot from her skinned knees and arms. The men moved to surround her and she pulled the locket from her throat, thumbing the latch with one hand, and popping the Phoenix pill.

Flames, brilliant fiery white things, coruscated before her eyes and blinded her to the dark street. Something gripped her legs or hands she wasn't sure which, her whole body itched. She kicked thinking that she might be able to break whoever's grasp had her, but the itching feeling stayed. She still couldn't see anything, and heard screams. Her own and possibly others as well. She was still on the ground, as the flames began to fade but her eyes hadn't adjusted yet. She pushed herself up on to her knees, listening and feeling for anything. Nothing.

The streetlights came into focus a single light in the darkness. She stood and walked forward and stumbled over something on the street. A black burnt carcass. Had she done that? The pill? Her arms were covered with iridescent scales that caught the light from the street.

She hurried down the street. Every few steps, she looked back over her shoulders but the bodies didn't move from the ground where they had fallen.

Halogen headlights blinded her as a dark car careened down the street and skidded to a stop. She saw the dark form of the driver lean over and open the passenger door.

"Hey Phoenix, everything is okay now." A man's voice so deep it purred. She backed away from the car until she bumped against one of the buildings walls. He shuffled out of the car keeping his arms out, away from his body. "Don't worry, I'm one of you."

One of you? What did that mean. There was something about the skin of his face, something un-skin-like. A texture to it. Hair. Or rather patterned fur. "Who are you?"

"A Phoenix, just like you." His hands were still held out palms upwards or perhaps pads upwards. "Come with me, I'll take you someplace safe."

"No." This was too much and Crystal closed her eyes. She recalled the bodies of the four men lying on the ground.

"We have to get out of here," he said. "The mob will have detected your change and will pursue you here."

"The mob?"

"I don't have time to explain. You must trust me."

Crystal looked at the car, she could ride with him. If required, she'd jump out the door.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Outback Power Systems

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

Staples anchored a white plastic square to the corner of the squat sandstone building that no longer looked new after the incessant sand that blew off the Great Victorian Desert. The flapping plastic intrigued Kent and he stooped to peer behind the plastic. A copper plaque read, "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups. -- Unknown."

"G'day mate, no need to bother with that. You must be the American journalist. We should get out of the wind." The man dwarfed Kent. He placed his thick left arm, larger than Kent's thighs, on Kent's shoulder and guided him to the door. Upon entering the building Kent thought he might've gone deaf. It was so silent, but he realized he could hear his feet scuffling on the carpet. "It is good to meet you Mr. Clarkson. I'm Arthur, the site ombudsman, and I'll show you around today."

In the fluorescent lights, Kent got a good look at Arthur. He was a bear of a man, at least six-foot tall, and had a full beard more like a computer geek than a PR lackey. "What was that plaque about?"

"Nothing. Just a little old Australian humor. We're working with the construction firm right now. Do you need to set up anything before we start?"

"No, no. I'm all set, my video feeds streaming as we speak and my virtual assistant tells me that the audio is working perfectly."

"Ahh... so this virtual assistant transcribes your interview into notes that you use to write the article later?"

"Absolutely not," said Kent. "All I do is the initial interview. The virtual assistant will ghostwrite the segment and I've got another virtual assistant to copy edit his story and then it's off to my editor. Don't worry, they're quality folks.

"Beaut, mate. Let's start this tour so you can do whatever you do when you're not being reporterly. You already know the history?"

"Yeah, yeah... no need to bore the virtual assistants. They've got all the info on background." Kent just wanted to get this over with so he could blow this joint and get back to Sydney where he could relax on an ocean beach.

They walked down the marble halls as the sand stuck in the tread of Kent's shoes squeaked. On the other side of a two-story window giant wheels spun as dozens of people jogged in the base. It looked like giant-sized hamster treadmills. Rubber belts attached to the central axle on the wheels and disappeared underground.

"The turbines are underground. Not much to see there, looks like any old power station."

"And they do this for free?" asked Kent.

"Not exactly for free, mate. If they want any power, they must hit their quota. But they get a free benefit out of it, no need to join a gym."

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Trojan Blob

A response to Nathaniel Lee's "Everything Has a Flavor" in Mirror Shards.

Alastair swirled the golden-hued 60-year-old Macallan single malt in his glass and leaned back in his cabin chair as he looked out the port window at a view of mainland Europe twinkling into dusk and the last light of the evening playing over Britain's shores. The whiskey was rare but Alastair had earned it, he postponed drinking it even after they came to the agreement with the aliens. But now, they had converted the alien technological schematics and treatises into Blue-ray format and embedded the harmless alien pet blobs into the population.

The ship's intercom pinged and the voice of one of the cadets interrupted. "Sir, the alien ambassador wants to speak with you."

"Have we a reneged, or hurt one of their pets?"

"Uh no, sir. He says it's urgent, but he'll only speak with you."

Alastair sighed and set his glass down on the walnut burled bar. So much for his relaxing evening. "I'll be down there."

Alastair strode into the reception gallery in his United Nations navy uniform with the matching cape. He hated the cape, it required too much thought to ensure that it sat properly at all times and made him look dignified. The alien ambassador sat at the table with three of his cohorts standing behind him. Alastair waited for the cape to settle and then sat across from the ambassador. "What seems to be the problem?"

"No problem," said the ambassador. His English was flawless. Alastair supposed the long journey had given them plenty of time to practice. "We'd like to negotiate a modification to the treaty."

"I thought we had come to agreement on your technology, our land, and the hosting of your pets." It'd taken months to arrange the original treaty, was that null and void now?

"The land, Saharan Africa, Antarctica, Central Australia, and Greenland, is less than ideal."

"I know. We discussed this many times and in the end we agreed that it was best to give you lands that were less populated. Our culture is strongly attached to their land."

"We recognize that and must apologize for our actions. Our brethren are not as harmless as they may seem." There were whispers among the United Nations functionaries. "We know the value your culture places on your young."

"What have you done." Shouted Alistair.

"Nothing that will leave lasting damage. At least not if you cede the islands of Britain, Japan, and New Zealand to us."

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pure Sport

A response to Greg Bear's "Blood Music", a novel about bio-engineered cells that spread like a plague through people, and Dean Whitlock's "Nanosferatu", a short story about a nanomachine medicine that acts like the fountain of youth.

Blake threw the alternate identity papers against the table. The glossy paper slid on the varnished table. "I can't do this," said Blake.

"You don't have a choice," said Ringley, Blake's agent, as he paced below the display shelves filled with Blake's MVP plaques and championship trophies. Ringley was well-built, a statuesque face and sculptured muscles that dwarfed Blake's own.

"Look at me, do I look like I've been gene-augmented? I've never failed the gene tests previously. It's got to be a, what do they call it?"

"False positive."

"Yeah, false positive. Get them to rerun the test."

"I'll do that, but it's not going to work."

"Why not?"

"Because, we enhanced you post-birth before they took the initial DNA specimen. We made the enhancements subtle so you would have an advantage but it wouldn't be obvious."

Blake's chair fell over as Blake leaped to grab Ringley's shirt and he strained to slam Ringley against the wall. Ringley braced himself and his body didn't budge. The top of Blake's head was lower than Ringley's chin. Blake let go of Ringley's shirt and his shoulders deflated. "Why?"

"The un-augmented league has pure games where there is a real challenge." Blake found it hard to believe that Ringley had done it for the game. More likely Ringley had seen the profit he could earn from Blake. "The augmented leagues are full of a gene war where anyone with some money can win and all the players lack intelligence."

Blake sat down again and picked up the papers. "If I become this," he shuffled through the paper, "Joshua, what am I going to do? All I know is how to play the game."

"You could play in the augmented league?"

"Look at me, gene therapy would take years to get my body in shape."

"You've got years, kid. I'll play up the false positive, but they're going to insist on a retrial and eventually you'll be out. This is a good option. Think on it."

The door slammed leaving Blake alone with a room full of awards that an hour ago had meant everything to him but now were nothing but a cheat.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


A response to Heather Hansen's "Quote" in Flashy Fiction.

Pings echoed from the jug as it filled drop by drop. "Why is it taking so long?" Bubba asked.

"Shh," said uncle Joe. "Don't distract me. I need to keep an eye on the temperature."

The domed spotlight hung from a rain gutter on the house and blinded Bubba when he looked at uncle Joe. He peered into the darkness of the woods to let his eyes readjust. A tube ran from the boiler up into the top of the cylindrical cooler that acted as a condenser. The copper spigot, cut into the side of the cooler, dripped clear liquid.

His uncle pulled out the jug, handed it to Bubba, and slipped a new one into its place. Bubba grabbed a thermos out of his pack and filled it with the moonshine.

"Hey, you don't want that. That's the heads, it'll make you go blind."

Bubba didn't plan on drinking the moonshine himself, but he didn't want uncle Joe to know that. He poured half the thermos out until uncle Joe bent over the thermostat again. He waited for the other jug to fill. There was enough liquid in it to top off his thermos, but uncle Joe was touchy and he daren't annoy him before the moonshine finished.

Uncle Joe handed him the other jug, nearly full. "This is the good stuff." Uncle Joe returned to the distiller as it continued to drip and fill up another jug. Bubba filled his thermos and stoppered it. "Don't drink that all in one go, it's strong stuff."


The bell rang and Bubba slid his history book into his pack and hurried out the door with the other kids. Maybe Karl wasn't going to find him after all. Outside, he hurried towards the buses. Someone grabbed him from behind and twisted him against the stone side of the staircase in the shadows of everyone racing to leave school. Karl stood over him one hand stretching the collar of Bubba's shirt.

"Where's the moonshine?" Behind Karl, Chad and Rick hovered like a couple of raccoons waiting to eat the crumbs.

"I... i... in my pack," said Bubba.

Karl twisted his head at the pack and Chad pushed Bubba and then pulled the pack off his shoulders.

"It's in my thermos."