Extras

  •  

    Oliver Chasegrincher, middlest middle manager of the Demon Resources Department, lowered himself carefully into the chair at the head of the conference table. The chair squeaked anyway. Oliver breathed in the slow and mea- sured manner described in the ninth chapter of the ninth binder of the manual Your Job Is on the Line Too: A Guide for Doing the Stuff Your Bosses Can’t be Arsed to Do Themselves.

    “Thank you all for coming.”

    Oliver attempted to make eye contact with each of the sev- en figures seated at the table (as described in binder eight), but wound up looking awkwardly at the ceiling.

    “I want to begin by saying that upper management values your work very highly. Very highly. But the annual figures arein,andtheyhavenochoicebutto...Wait...Werethere supposed to be doughnuts at this meeting?”

    Five accusing fingers pointed at the seat to Oliver’s right. “Hey! I’m just doing my job!” Gluttony protested.

    “YOU ALWAYS EAT ALL THE DOUGHNUTS!” Anger slammed their fist on the table.

    Sloth jerked awake, pointed at Gluttony, then lowered their head back into their puddle of drool.

    “I want doughnuts!” whined Envy.

    “Okay, everyone, let’s not make this harder than it already is,” said Oliver. “The figures are in and they are not good. We overexpanded. We course-corrected. But we did not recover from that overexpansion, unfortunately.”

    “You may remember that I pointed out that 216 Deadly Sins was a few sins too many.”

    “Yes, thank you, umm, Pride, is it? Thank you. They reduced the number back down to you seven, but profits are still not where they need to be. So, unfortunately, cuts must be made. But I’m sure you remember the last all-hands meeting? Satan promised no one would be getting fired. So no one is getting fired. Hooray!”

    No one else hoorayed. This lack of enthusiasm was not covered in the manual.

    “So, umm, yes, no firings. They’re just going to do a bit of reorganization.”

    Oliver snapped his thin fingers. A colorful chart appeared in the air behind him in a flash of light and a puff of sulfur-scented smoke.

    “By combining Lust and Gluttony with Greed, we will cut our overhead by nearly 30 percent, as shown here.” Oliver pointed to a red line on the chart that didn’t actually connect anything but was red and therefore looked very important.

    “What can I do to make you change your mind?” purred Lust.

    “I won’t eat all the doughnuts again, I swear!” implored Gluttony.

    “Greed, you will be the dominant sin, overseeing Lust and Gluttony.”

    “I’m getting a raise for doing that, right?”

    “No raises, but with one sin doing the work of three, it certainly looks like you’ll be putting in some overtime.” Oliver almost whispered the next sentence. “Unpaid, of course.” Oliver closed his eyes and snapped his fingers again. Lust and Gluttony disappeared.

    Greed’s body blurred and phased in and out of existence, then snapped back into focus with a splutt sound very much like the sound of a bird flying into the sliding glass door of a Florida beach rental.

    “Oh,” muttered Greed. “I feel all tingly. And I really want to screw a doughnut.”

    Anger threw back their chair and lurched toward Oliver. “SATAN PROMISED WE WOULDN’T BE FIRED, BUT THEN WHAT DO YOU CALL THEM DISAPPEARING?”

    Oliver looked to the ceiling for help, but the ceiling was not helpful. “Well,” he said quietly, “Satan is the Prince of Lies.”

    Anger blinked.

    “It says so right on his business card.”

    Anger roared in Oliver’s face.

    “Okay then, moving on,” Oliver said loudly, as Anger roared all the way back to their chair for the sole purpose of throwing it across the room. When they stopped to breathe, Oliver quickly said, “You will all be moved into cubicles on the eighth floor, effective immediately.”

    “Working in a cubicle farm is beneath me!” wailed Pride.

    “It fosters collaboration,” Oliver yelled over the roaring. He stood, the chair creaking obligingly.

    “Upper management wants to thank you all for your coop- eration,” he said in a voice that he hoped was loud but calm. “Please contact DR for help moving into your cubicles. Thank you, and goodbye.”

    Four of the Five Deadly Sins filed sullenly out the door. Anger roared all the way down the hall, eliciting stares from the four figures entering the conference room.

    Oliver coughed nervously into his closed fist. He started to sit, eyed the chair, and opted to continue standing.

    “Thank you all for coming. I want to begin by saying upper management values your work very highly. But the annual figures are in, and they have no choice but to make some cuts. But I’m happy to remind you that Satan has promised that no one is getting fired. Hooray!”

    Oliver paused in the silence. Still no hooray. He gestured to the meaningless chart.

    “So then, here is our plan for your reorganization into the Three-and-a-Half Joggers of the Apocalypse.”

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Dragonfly and Dragonflyman #2
  •  

    When my plane touched down in Rome this morning, my assistant, Hogshead, said the same thing he’d said the last 45 days in a row: The hunt continues, m’lud. Do you think you’ll finally catch them here? And I told him the same thing I've always told him: It will all come out in the wash, faithful Hogshead. It will all come out in the wash.

    I’ve become quite philosophical these days, after all the travel and disappointments…all the wild goose chases in pursuit of my obsessively exclusive nemeses, the Super-Selective Revenge Squad. Que sera, sera, I say—whatever will be, will be. Because I have hope that one day soon, we will run the Revenge Squad to ground. And then Iwill take my revenge against them in ways even those depraved maniacs cannot imagine.

    Mr. Giraffe…Butterscotch…The Corsage…Doctor Diagonal…Headrush…and Jack Squat. This horde of super-powered fiends have dedicated their lives to taking me down one way or the other. But they went too far when they got my favorite TV show cancelled. To me, life without Boil Water Notice is like life without chocolate or dreams. They’ve left me no choice but to chase them to the ends of the Earth.

    Fortunately, Hogshead is a valet of many talents. This time, he assured me, he had an indisputable lead on the Revengers, owing to Jack Squat making a public nuisance of himself by urinating in the Trevi Fountain. Mr. Giraffe didn’t help matters when he took a busload of tourists hostage at the Circus Maximus, demanding to see the ringmaster, clowns, and elephants…not realizing it wasn’t that kind of circus.

    So now here we go, charging into the Roman night with every kind of tracking device known to man and beast. Ready at a second’s notice to deploy my extra-awesome arsenal of built-in super-powers. I plan to soften them up with my nuclear hangnail and flab folds of fury…then trot out blistering fungus vision and the pièce de résistancecontagious indigestion. And don’t forget transmissible senior moments straight from the fermented brain of El Demento, which proves a super-villain can sometimes be helpful, cooperating from behind bars with her lifelong archenemy (yours truly) in pursuit of parole-related considerations.

    As Hogshead and I scour the streets of Rome for our quarries, locals whiz past us on scooters and jeer like chimps in a jungle. Hogshead fires dog piles at them from a paintball gun and howls like a banshee when they connect. We sing our battle song as we jog toward the ultimate showdown at St. Peter’s in the Vatican: it sounds like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” set to balls-to-the-wall death metal. The words are all about how we’re going to punish the crap out of Mr. Giraffe, Jack Squat, and the other Revenge Squadders, leaving them as little more than disfigured vegetables crawling through the teeming Roman gutters.

    If only we could find the scoundrels. They aren’t at St. Peter’s after all, or anywhere else in the Vatican or Rome, for that matter. So, eventually, we call it a night. We eat a fabulous meal at a Michelin three-star restaurant, sleep in a five-star luxury hotel…and in the morning set out for our next destination. According to Hogshead, who as always is a master of picking up the trail, a Twitter post by Doctor Diagonal places him and Butterscotch on safari in Botswana, of all places. Laughing at us while observing prides of lions. How fitting; we shall hunt down the bastards like the very beasts they observe.

    So now we know what our next stop shall be. As I perform my morning calisthenics, Hogshead packs our bags and lays in supplies for the journey. I ask him, rhetorically, how much longer this exhausting chase can continue. As long as your money holds out, m’lud, says Hogshead. And then we’re off again into the wild blue yonder, only this time I can practically feel Jack Squat’s fat neck between my aching fingers. He is as good as dead, I tell you. As good as dead.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Hashtag: Danger #2
  •  

    Once upon a midnight dryly, while I pondered Bill O’Reilly,

    Raging at the media’s crimes, the failing Times, with rhymes, unsure,

    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a slapping,

    Like Jake Tapper, crudely rapping, tapping towards my chamber door.

    “Some reporter,” muttered I, “a loser that we should deplore,

    “Only that, and nothing more.”

     

    Ah, distinctly, I remember; as we’d shambled toward November,

    A candidate for head of state, a fate I didn’t rate before.

    Here was I, the leader Trump, but on this stump, in deep a slump,

    Against old Crooked Hillary, no artillery, in a losing war,

    Among the proles, I’d dug deep holes; and all the polls were rightly sure

    That I’d become the next Al Gore.

     

    There and then, I flung the shutter, to hear a cryptic Russian stutter,

    In swooped a quaintly face, a tainted gaze of stately yore.

    Not one to fear a food with gluten, he, a shirtless cowboy mutant!

    T’was the Putin, highfalutin, hooting with a garish roar,

    Perched upon his stallion, a battalion, at my chamber door!

    There he sat, and nothing more.

     

    “Sir,” I cried in rapt delight. “What swift boat brings you here tonight?

    “What lures you to my doorstep, here in lockstep, in these times unsure?

    “Ruler of the Russian nation, master of assassination,

    “King of Pandemonium, and polonium - that fatal spore:

    “I need a break, some news that’s fake, to stake the Clintons to the floor!”

    He just smiled and nothing more.

     

    In my keenly altered sanity, a time I should be watching Hannity,

    There came, in stages, Facebook pages, rages like none saw before,

    Great waves of made-up Clinton news, long lists of phony Clinton views,

    Conveyed by bots, a million clots, projecting plots from Manifort,

    And hackers, young attackers, truth-hijackers in a cyber war

    Shouting, “Lock her up... forevermore!”

     

    To win my electoral fight, there came dark billions from the right,

    And stolen mails, with cruel details, cold entrails on a killing floor.

    They came in peaks from hacker geeks, with foul techniques, on Wikileaks,

    We won the day, though facts still say, our rivals scored two million more.

    The Putin grinned, my fealty pinned, to win our electoral score,

    “Quote the Putin: Evermore!”

     

    And now the Putin, ever seeing, guards his tapes of myself, peeing,

    While Democrats, the filthy rats, fling brickbats at my White House door,

    Beyond the cheering, and the sneering, four years of electioneering,

    A prisoner’s life, a furious wife, as critics pound upon my door

    The Putin waits, with darker fates, to boil my name down to its core,

    And own my soul... forevermore.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Edgar Allan Poe's Snifter of Terror #2
  •  

    Golf was invented by Sir Walter Raleigh (or was it Sir Francis Drake? I always get those two confused) on Plymouth Hoe while waiting for the Spanish Armada to show. (That rhyme was accidental, but DM me if you need a librettist for your rap musical.) Drake—or maybe it was Raleigh?—amused himself by using his walking stick to knock a potato into a hole in the uneven turf. Upon which, he exclaimed: “Ha! I have got a Hoe in one!”

    Raleigh’s new invention quickly caught on. A version using hoops and a mallet known as Croquet Potato be- came popular among the wealthy, because only the rich could afford potatoes. It spread to France where it was known as Pomme de Terre, and Germany where it was called Pomme de Fritz. Drake later dated Rihanna and Jen- nifer Lopez. Nobody knows why it’s called golf.

     

    Cricket was first described in the 1584 edition of Wit- less’s Almanac: “The rules are uncleare. Pebbles or thmall thstones are throwne by thee bowler at thee battsman, the aim being to strike him in thee codpiece. A sticke or thee arm-bone of a disinterred ancestor are swung vigorously to-and-fro in order to keep thee hurled rocke at bay.

    “Spectators will oft fling turdes and effluvia to distract thee hapless player. Mayhap he will attempt to flee thee game onlye to be thwarted by a drunke and unruly mob. When strucke in thee nether regions, thee battsman will crie, ‘Fie! I am undone! My downe-belows doth smart most frightfully!’ and fall to thee grounde complaining in a sorrowful and ungentlemanly manner. Thee umpire will then declare him ‘oute!’ And the companye, laughing and much full of mirth, shall dunk thee battsman in thee vil- lage cesspool, declaring loudly, ‘Thy wickets are stickye! ’Tis not cricket!’”

     

    Rugby is named after Rugby, the town in which it was first played, and it soon became more popular than other 17th- century sports such as Halifax, Doncaster, and Salem, Massachusetts. The rules were simple: The west side of the town battled the east for possession of a greased pig or weasel. The last surviving player got to keep it. Medieval versions of the game used a cow or a witch.

     

    Polo is not a British invention. The sport is named after the Italian explorer Marco Polo, who introduced the game to Europe after seeing it played by Zen Buddhists mounted on giant hibernating tortoises. But the pace was too lan- guid for adrenaline-addicted 13th-century Venetians, who instead put saddles on intemperate priests and rode them round St. Mark’s Square, beating each other senseless with olive tree branches. No ball was used.

     

    Beard-swapping was first popularized in Elizabethan Eng- land by Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake—or maybe it was Francis Raleigh and Walter Drake? I always get those four confused.

    Raleigh (cheerfully brandishing his beard): Drake! Here, take my beard and glue it to your face with this hot horse- fat. Now run along and visit Good Queen Elizabeth’s bed- chamber in my stead. She’s expecting me—er, I mean, you.

    Drake (suspicious): Eh? Egad, sir! Wait . . . You owe her money? Have fallen from favour?

    Raleigh: God, no. ’Tis’ but a harmless sport, nothing more.

    Drake (pulling face): But Her Majesty is pale and ginger and smells of . . . He pinches his nose.

    Raleigh (waving away all concerns): The beard is soaked in lavender. Wear it high ’pon your head—over your eyes— if she doth give you the Right Royal Horrors. Tell her “‘tis fashionable.” Let her chase you round the room for an hour or so—say ‘tis part of the sport! This may exhaust her and shorten your visit. Here, have a potato. Take two!

    Drake (concerned): She... won’t make me dress up as the Golden Hind and explore the “vast, untapped territories of Virginia” again, will she, Raleigh?

    Raleigh (running away): I’m Drake, not Raleigh.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Dragonfly and Dragonflyman #1
  • The two ancient warriors faced off as they had countless times before. For thousands of years, Yurtzi Mingofff and her pursuer Urt Krggsvh had battled on planets across the universe. Each time their confrontation led to the destruction of the very planet they fought upon. And each time their struggle ended in a draw. Yet both knew today’s battle, in a suburban park on a planet called Earth, would be different. This battle would surely end with their deaths.

    Pretty exciting setup, isn’t it? I’m especially proud of the part about how the warriors always destroy the planet they're fighting on, and this time they’re on Earth where we live. High stakes! You can already tell this is going to be a great story.

    Urt stood ten paces from Yurtzi, his space sword at the ready. When two space swords crash against each other just right, the impact releases the power of a dying sun, atomizing the unlucky planet, and flinging both combatants into separate corners of a distant galaxy. This always gave Urt a hell of a headache, but he usually recovered pretty quickly, and would then begin searching for Yurtzi so they could continue their war. He usually found her within forty or fifty years. But Urt knew their cycle of violence was coming to an end. This would be the final battle.

    That last sentence is where I got the title from. BTW, I didn’t think it was important to explain why this battle is more deadly than previous battles, so I skipped that part. Does anyone out there care? If you do, let’s just say that this time the space sword explosion is going to be bigger. Way bigger.

    Yurtzi pointed her sword at Urt. She had grown to love Earth over the last 43 years. Of all the planets she had found momentary peace upon, this had been her favorite. Its inhabitants charmed her, caramel milkshakes were delicious, and she was a huge fan of ducks. It was heartbreaking knowing that this wonderful planet was doomed.

    Dammit. In the first paragraph I should have mentioned that the alien warriors are both weird colors. Yurtzi is blue. Urt is some tough color. Maybe red. And let’s say he has a little fin on top of his head too. That’ll look cool.

    Neither warrior wanted to made a move. The specter of death hovered above them. For the first time in their endless series of battles, each warrior felt the cold hand of fear lightly cupping their buttocks. Seconds passed. Then minutes. Urt and Yurtzi stood statue-still, each staring unblinkingly into their ancient opponent’s eyes.

    A pair of humans approached Urt. The male held up his cell phone. “Nice costume, bro. That fin's really cool. Can we take a selfie?”

    The smiling humans took another step toward Urt. Without taking his eyes off Yurtzi, Urt swung his sword. The human male’s phone fell to the ground, sliced in half. The tips of three of the man’s fingers lay scattered near the wrecked cell. Urt snarled at Yurtzi in their alien tongue. “Your allies will not distract me, woman! My focus is pure!” Yurtzi chortled her high-pitched, alien laugh.

    Did you catch that Urt doesn’t speak English? And Yurtzi has a high-pitched laugh? Also, back at the beginning, did you notice Urt’s last name doesn’t have any vowels in it? How would you even pronounce it? These are little professional writer touches that make fake things like aliens seem more believable. It’s what we do. I like to call myself an imagineer.

    “They weren’t my allies, you idiot. That guy was just trying to take a picture with you.”

    “He was trying to take my glorgloom? Why?”

    I left in an alien word there. (It’s their word for picture.)

    ‘He thought your fin was cool.”

    Urt felt bad as he watched the humans scoop up the loose fingertips and run away. He had always been a little self-conscious about the size of his fin. He actually appreciated the fact that the human male thought it was cool. The old Rzan saying was true; when you assume, you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”

    I know. I know. But it works in their language too. Trust me.

    “You can’t destroy the humans’ computer phones without consequence. Their police will be here soon. You are the pursuer, great Urt. Make your move.”

    Urt shifted his feet. She was probably right. He was the pursuer. But the space sword explosion was going to be way bigger this time. It made him nervous.

    “I see you hesitating, Urt. Let us cease this conflict. Why must we battle yet again?”

    “You know why, woman. You must be punished for your cruelty.”

    OK, readers! As you know, this is a Choose-Your-Own-Ending story, so I’ve imagineered two excellent conclusions to this exciting tale. Your job is to read them both, and pick your favorite. Then, tear the losing ending out of this comic book, cut it into hundreds of small pieces, flush those pieces down your toilet, and smash your toilet with a sledge hammer. You will then have a perfect short story. Let’s do it!

    ENDING OPTION A

    Before Yurtzi could ask what “cruelty” Urt was referring to, the first bullet hit her. It tickled. The human SWAT team had arrived. A bullet hit Urt in the eyeball. It was annoying. “Powerful Yurtzi! Let us momentarily set aside our ancient war, and defend ourselves against these primitive Earther scum!”

    Yurtzi instantly leapt to Urt’s side, as the two Rzanian warriors and the human law enforcement employees began an epic battle that would be whispered about in far flung corners of the universe for a thousand millennia.

    Twenty seconds later, it was over. Nineteen SWAT officers had been decapitated, and the other three had been chopped in half. Space swords are really hard to beat. It was silent in the park. Blood was everywhere. Urt sighed and turned to Yurtzi. “I’ve had enough fighting for one day. You hungry?”

    “Yeah. Come on, Urt. Let’s go get a pizza.”

    Wow. Great ending, right? And don’t worry about how I established that Yurtzi was “charmed” by humans earlier, but then she blithely slaughters a bunch of them. I can explain that. If you see me around town, feel free to ask. Anyway... here comes the second ending choice!

    ENDING OPTION B

    “What cruelty?”

    “Don’t pretend, woman. You know. Seventeen millennia ago, when we were serving in the Rzanian army, I asked you to accompany me to a blurzball game. But you refused, and told me you were gay. It was very embarrassing for Urt. I could've handled you telling me I'm not attractive. You didn’t have to lie. It was cruel.”

    “Urt. I’m not gay.”

    “I knew it!”

    “But my girlfriend is.” Urt stared at her blankly. “It’s an old Earth joke. I am gay, Urt. I wasn’t lying.”

    “How could you be gay? You’re so pretty. Your skin is a perfect shade of blue. And you don’t dress like a lesbian.”

    Yurtzi frowned. Urt was so stupid. He always had been. She wouldn’t have dated him even if she were straight. “How pretty I am has nothing to do with my sexual preference, Urt. And...did you actually chase me around the universe for over 17,000 years because I wouldn’t go to a blurzball game with you? We destroyed hundreds of planets with our battles! Quadrillions of lives lost... all because your feelings were hurt?”

    Urt felt he had to explain. “Look. I really liked you, Yurtzi. Your smile. The little hop you'd do when you got excited about a new mission. How you always burped after you ate Zelgggan fly-paste. Your name even has my name in it! It's like we were destined to be together. So when you told me you were gay, I felt ashamed. And stupid. And angry.”

    “That’s really immature, Urt.”

    Urt lowered his space sword. “Yeah... I’m sorry. I’ve been a dick. Were you always gay, Yurtzi?”

    Yurtzi lowered her sword. “Yes. So... are we cool?”

    Urt began to walk away. “Yeah. We’re cool. I won’t bother you anymore.”

    “Wait. Urt. Before you go. Do you like pizza? Because if you do, Earth pizza is the best.”

    Urt looked back at the woman he had stalked for thousands of years. “Yes. I would like to eat Earth pizza with you, Yurtzi.” Urt paused. He had to ask. “This isn’t a date, is it?”

    Smiling, Yurtzi shook her head. Urt was really stupid.

    Well. There you have it. I think it’s pretty obvious which ending is better, but if you chose B, I won’t hold it against you. I’m pretty proud of the “blurzball” bit in that one. It’s an alien sport.

    Thanks for reading. Drive safe!

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Bronze Age Boogie #6
  •  

    There is no utility in agreeable people. Everybody loves people that sympathize. Agreeable people are nice.

    They listen.

    They support you.

    They’re comforting.

    They tell you exactly what you want to hear exactly when you want to hear it. Don’t we all love these people, the people who shout “Yeah!” when we say something we believe in? Don’t we all love being affirmed, respected, heard? Don’t we all love living in a bubble of support where real people in the real world don’t factor in, and we can pretend everyone agrees with us? Where we can pretend we’re always right, about everything? Take a look around.

    The people inside your walls are there for a reason. You may think they’re the best people, but they’re just your people. The world is not confined to the circumstances and education that served you your beliefs. The only thing that loitering inside your own walls is going to do is make it harder for you to approach disagreeable people with anything resembling an open mind. You’re making things worse for yourself. Stand up, speak out, seek out discord.

    #

    There is no utility in discordant people. Everybody demonizes the other side of an issue. The other side is mean.

    They’re ignorant.

    They’re heartless.

    They’re cruel.

    They close their minds to any sort of logic and refuse to listen to what the correct people have to say. Don’t we all hate those people, the people who shout “No!” when we say something we believe in? Don’t we all hate being rejected, degraded, ignored? Don’t we all hate living in a box of horrors where no one understands us, our ideas, and our perspectives? Where not one person will accept us for who we are? Take a look around.

    How genuinely ignorant do you have to be to think that you’re always right? Does it really make sense that everyone else who doesn’t see your perspective is just wrong, and that’s the end of it? You have to stop living like your own biggest cheerleader for your own personal solution to the world’s problems. You’re just as one-sided as the people you hate. All hating other sides of an issue like they’re demonic is going to do is make you so isolated in your beliefs that you’re no longer open to new ideas. You’re making things worse for yourself. Sit down, shut up, seek out reason.

    #

    There is no utility in reasonable people. Everybody appreciates those who consider both sides. The reasonable are respectful. They’re considerate.

    They’re realistic.

    They’re mature.

    They take the world as it comes with an open, unbiased perspective. Don’t we all admire those people, the people who ponder and test the ideas that we believe in? Don’t we all appreciate being stimulated, challenged, engaged? Don’t we all see the value of someone who will always think carefully, and go back and forth and back and forth on all different sides of an issue, searching for the best possible answer?

    Take a look around.

    Haven’t you been listening? There is no best answer. There is no right answer. The world is a wad of loopholes and exceptions and backstreets and dead ends. Nothing is two-sided, or three-sided, or any number you could think of. There are too many people. There are too many possibilities. There are too many circumstances for any one thing to be right. “Better never means better for everyone . . . It always means worse, for some.” Trying to find a perfect solution is just spinning in a circle until you can’t bear it anymore. That’s why no one does it, that’s why we all pick a camp. You’re making things worse for yourself. Stop talking, stop thinking, stop trying to seek out what’s right.

    #

    There is no utility in opinions. There is no utility in debate. There is no utility in change, or progress. There is no utility in dreams, or extremes, or beliefs. There is no utility in crying into your pillow at night when the world seems too much. There is no utility in anything I have just said.

    You can only be part of a system for so long before you start to realize it’s broken. You can only look at a picture for so long before you start to hate it. Nothing is good forever, so nothing is good at all. That’s what you get when you look at society: a mess of people trying their best to fix something far beyond repair.

    #

    So that’s the world we live in. Find a way to be happy, I guess.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Second Coming #4
  •  

    Umbrella at the Pasta Palace

     

    The umbrella won’t go down.

     

    He is a law school graduate.

    A judge on a split shift

    between here and Brooklyn.

    Assessing situations

    Is his strong suit.

    But no matter how much

    he fusses with the button

    the umbrella won’t go down.

     

    The rain has stopped.

     

    He spins it self-consciously.

    He and his colleague

    have approached

    the prestigious pasta palace

    with the confidence of politicians

    running unopposed.

     

    The destination is definitely desirable.

    The DA drops by for takeout.

    A prominent journalist

    can get a hug

    from the Congressperson at the bar

    or a less effusive greeting

    from the mayor.

     

    But doubt is creeping

    across the faces of the judge

    and his colleague.

    No matter how much

    he fusses with the button

    the umbrella won’t go down.

     

    Taking its fully opened space

    the umbrella won’t fit

    through the palace door.

     

    The time for judgement

    is at hand.

    The judge shows no hesitation He turns and leads

    his colleague

    in search of expanded entryway.

     

    His decision is nolo contendere.

     

    --

     

    Sedative

     

    Fire rages

    in a yogurt cup

    set by the stubbing

    of the last cigarette

     

    a distraction

     

    from refugees pausing

    on the late night news

    to see which way

    the war is going.

     

    --

     

    The Balladeer

     

    Four more songs

    ’til a break,

    a chance to drink

    the edge off the boredom

    standing always moving

    hiding wrinkles from the spotlight

    moving quickly

    to hide another year

    etched on his face

    since the last time

    he played this club.

     

    Four more, of the same songs

    now like breathing

    mechanical parts like a stereo

    with human parts

    and four more songs

    before something

    inside him

    clicks off.

     

    --

     

    Happy, Happy Birthday, Critic

     

    I am 30 years old

    and have holes in my shoes

    on the sides

    where the puddles surge in

    as I walk home

    from a concert

    which I’ll write about.

    They’ll pay me ten bucks.

     

    Everyone enjoyed the concert

    except me.

     

    If I don’t find

    something wrong with it

    they won’t pay me ten bucks.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Edgar Allan Poe's Snifter of Terror - Season 2 #1
  •  

    “You have ten minutes.”

    “That’s not a whole hell of a lot of time.”

    “Shall I make it five?”

    “Well, if you put it that way . . . I just wanted to say I really appreciate you taking the time to . . . ”

    “Tick, tock, Mr. Rogers.”

    “Paul. My friends call me Paul.”

    ...............

    “Well, I suppose I should begin.”

    “Please do.”

    “I’m sure you’ve been pitched hundreds of scripts over the years...”

    “Thousands.”

    “And you’ve probably bought only . . . ?”

    “From a pitch? Four have been optioned.”

    “And produced?”

    “None.”

    “Wow! Better chance winning the lottery and making it on my own.”

    “Your story...?”
    “Yes, well, it’s sort of like Fatal Attraction meets The Usual

    Suspects.”

    “Interesting comparison.”

    “Don’t you think? The main character is named Lenny. He’s your stereotypical nice guy who gets taken advantage of by his boss, his friends, and even his wife.”

    “Mr. Rogers, I’m afraid I’m not hearing anything original.”

    “Hold on. We’re still in Act 1. One gloomy morning, as Lenny is leaving for work, he catches the deliveryman tossing his paper into a puddle in the driveway. This event carries him off the deep end. He has a mental meltdown and decides it’s time to get back at everyone who has ever wronged him.”

    “All because the newspaper got soggy?”

    “It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. His first target is his boss, Sam—a cruel, overweight man, with a receding hairline and bad skin. The previous winter, Sam, in fearing for his job, had sabotaged a computer program and had the blame cast on Lenny, which in turn gets him demoted.”

    “I see.”

    “Told in flashback.”

    “Flashback?”

    “Yes. To augment the suspense. Lenny severs the brake line in Sam’s car. The following morning on the way to the office, Sam crashes into the highway divider and is killed.”

    “It sounds like a bad episode of Matlock.”

    “I realize it’s a tired way of murder but you have to understand the character. Lenny is a first-time criminal whose mind hasn’t yet had the time to warp and devise more nefarious schemes.”

    “Well, I certainly hope he’s a fast learner if you want to audience to hang around to the end.”

    “No. He gets better at it. After dealing with his boss he then targets his friends.”

    “What did they do to him?”

    “Played a prank on him in high school.”

    “Wait a minute. How old is this guy?”

    “Thirty-nine.”

    “It must have been some prank.”

    “They stole his clothes while he was taking a shower in the gym locker room.”

    “He kills his friends 25 years later for stealing his clothes? You’re going to have to work on the motive for that one a little better.”

    “Don’t be fooled. Traumatic grade-school experiences can have lasting effects on kids.”

    “But he’s friends with them now?”

    “It’s a close-knit community. No one moved out of town after finishing school. Over the years he has maintained his friendships.”

    “All right. I’ll play along. What does he do then? “Well, it involves a car.”

    “Back to the car?”

    “I know. I’m working on it. You can only have so many car crashes in one town before eyebrows start to raise. Anyway, soon after Lenny’s promotion, his friends decide to take him out for drinks.”

    “Promotion?”

    “Yes. Now that his boss is dead, someone had to fill the role.”

    “That’s lazy.”

    “Excuse me?”

    “Lazy. Lazy writing. It’s too neat. The underling that murders his boss and is rewarded by obtaining his position. I’ve read it hundreds of times before.”

    “Can I get back to the story?”

    “Tick tock, Mr. Rogers. You’re not impressing me so far.”

    “As I was saying, Lenny goes out drinking. Even though it is supposed to be in celebration of him, his buddies, Tom and Jerry, end up doing most of the drinking...”

    “Tom and Jerry? Is that supposed to be some sort of joke?” “No. That’s their names. I can’t help it.”

    “Yes you can. Meet Lenny’s new best friends, Tom and Steve.”

    “Fine. Tom and Steve get so drunk that they are barely conscious. Lenny drives to Landing Lane bridge, a turn- of-the-century structure that is barely sturdy enough for cars. Lenny drives the car off the bridge. It’s not much of a drop to the water so he is able to pull himself from the vehicle before it sinks. His friends are too drunk to escape.”

    “The End?”

    “Not quite.”

    “His wife?”

    “Exactly. She has been cheating on him, thinking he was too stupid to know...”

    “Hold on a moment. That is your Fatal Attraction angle?”

    “Yes.”

    “Have you actually seen the movie, Mr. Rogers?”

    “Well, no, but everyone knows what it’s about.”

    “Making cross-references to movies you haven’t seen is not the best...I think it’s time for us to wrap this up.”

    “I’m about to. So Lenny kills his wife...” “How?”

    “He drops a hair dryer into the tub while she is taking a bath.”

    “Oh come on, now! Surely you could have thought of something a little more original! Most hairdryers these days have safety devices built into them. They shut off when they come into contact with water.”

    “This was a real old one. Her mother’s.”

    “At this point the only people left in theater are going to be the masochists.”

    “So now that his wife is dead Lenny expects to feel liberated. All of those who have done him wrong are dead. He should feel great. But he doesn’t. He realizes the wife’s lover, a real son of a bitch, needs to die as well. Only then will Lenny be able to live in peace.”

    “Perfect. Just what the audiences wants to see. The main character killing someone else.”

    “I’d like to think of it more as justifiable homicides.”

    “The End.”

    “Slow down. The clock on the wall says I have one minute.”

    “Fine. You mentioned the story is like The Usual Suspects. I fail to see the correlation.”

    “The bad guy in that movie. The one Kevin Spacey played . . . ”

    “Keyser Soze.”

    “Yes, him. Thanks. Now, before you say anything, I did see that movie. Lenny, like Keyser Soze, gets away with all of his crimes. That’s the link.”

    “That’s great. The two people left in the theater will be happy to hear that the main character, a serial killer, who is not sympathetic in the least, has gotten away with all of his heinous crimes.”

    “So after he kills the lover, Lenny settles back down, finds better friends, a more rewarding job, a new spouse, and lives happily ever after.”

    “Roll credits?”

    “Yes. Roll credits.

    “There is one thing I am mildly curious about. How does the wife’s lover die? Have you thought of another crafty car crime? A potato in the tail pipe causing the carbon monoxide fumes to overwhelm him?”

    “You really want to know?”

    “Why not?”

    “Are you considering optioning my script?”

    “Don’t be ridiculous.”

    “All right. The lover—he gets shot. A .45 with a silencer screwed on so that no one will hear.”

    “Any special way?”

    “No. Though the chest. Dies quickly so he can’t identify the killer.”

    “Does it hurt?”

    “I’m not sure. I hope not. For your sake.”

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Second Coming #3
  •  

    Me, my parents, my grandparents and my great-grandparents were all born here in Franklin. That means I’ve heard every story that’s ever been told about anyone who ever lived in this town. I know who wrecked whose car, who poisoned whose well, who’s buried in whose backyard and a whole lot more. And not one of those stories ever involved someone having a problem with the giant spiders.

    Far back as anyone’s willing to recall, the people in Franklin and the spiders pretty much left each other alone. The spiders never came into town and we didn’t go out there poking in their nests.

    Of course there were a few isolated incidents. Once or twice a year some kids from the high school or some drunks would wander out to the nests, get tangled in a web and end up getting sucked dry. But just as often some baby spider would wander into town and get mowed down by a school bus, or a drunk driver or a combination of the two. So it all kinda balanced out. That’s the way it had always been.

    But four days ago one of Joel Roundtree’s cows went missing. Now, if it had been five or six cows, Joel would have chalked it up to rustlers. But just one cow, that got Joel pretty riled. It seemed like the sort of thing the high school kids might do as a prank, so Joel caught a few of ’em in the liquor store parking lot and did some interrogating. The kids swore up and down they didn’t know anything about Joel’s stupid cow.

    And Joel had already ruled out aliens ’cause there were no crop circles or scorch marks. I know people think aliens carry off cows with levitation beams and transporters, but they don’t. Aliens will always leave a clue when they take a cow.  

    That left the spiders as the most likely suspects. We’d never known a spider to take a cow, but once Joel ruled out all the impossibilities all we had left was the spiders. He said that’s how Occam’s razor works.

    If it’d been my cow, more than likely I’d have saddled my insurance company with the loss. But Joel’s always been a vengeful cuss. The thought of some spider laughing about the cow he’d made off with was not something Joel could abide. So he called a town meeting.

    Like always, we met in the high school gym. It and the church are the only rooms in town big enough to hold everybody but the church don’t allow beer inside. Soon as the floor was open for new business Joel commenced to screaming and spitting about the goddamn spiders and what they’d done to his beautiful cow. No one paid him much mind until he told us that once a spider gets a taste for cow, that spider’s gonna come back for more. After that, just about everyone chimed in.

    Fiona Watkins told how the spiders caused her back aches and carpal tunnel.

    Carter Gibbs claimed the spiders made his wife Doris leave him. (I honestly doubt that there’s any truth to that. He’s just blaming the spiders so he doesn’t have to reflect too deeply on his own behavior.)

    Bumpy Tate told how the spiders made him go bald. (Which could be true ’cause none of Bumpy’s male kin suffer from any embarrassing hair loss.)

    Cecilia from the bank theorized that the spiders were the cause of all the dropped phone calls and the slow wi-fi.

    And Carter piped up again to blame the spiders for burning down his tool shed. (I suspect he accidentally burned his own shed while trying to build a meth lab, but I’ve got no good evidence to support that.)

    Randy Patton—he teaches math at the high school—he said it was scientifically impossible for the spiders to do all the things folks were saying. But he sat down and kept his mouth shut after Joel called him a spider lover and told him to go live with the spiders since he loved ’em so much.  

    After everyone said their piece we put it to a vote. Aside from Randy we were all in agreement; the spiders had to die.

    We didn’t bother with a plan. We just figured we’d better get to it before the spiders got wise to what was happening.

    I went home to get my twelve-gauge. Mind you, I wasn’t too enthused about killing the spiders; but life doesn’t hand you many lawful opportunities to go wild with a shotgun, and I didn’t want to miss this one.

    The spiders didn’t put up much of a fight. They were big as trucks but they behaved just like the tiny ones you find in your bathroom. They mostly ran around scared and confused about why they was dying. I had a lot of fun with my twelve-gauge but I wasn’t even close to being the MVP.  Joel had welded a big ass slingshot into the bed of his Silverado and he was launching Molotov cocktails. The way the flames stuck to the spiders I figure he must’ve added some Vaseline to the mix to napalm-it-up a bit.

    Fiona Watkins was out there in the Grand Fury she uses for the demolition derby. She was plowing into spiders and snapping their legs like she was in a Mad Max movie.

    Bumpy was wearing combat boots, a tank top and dual-wielding a couple of .45s like he was Tomb Raider. He didn’t hit a damn thing but he looked cool as hell.

    And Carter was trying to lasso and hog-tie a spider but that didn’t work out so well. He got dragged for a quarter mile before he thought to just let go of the rope. (Honestly, I believe Carter’s lack of sound judgment is largely responsible for his estranged wife and his burnt-up tool shed.)

    It took us a little more than an hour to chase all the spiders down and make sure they were dead. And we all slept good that night knowing our cows were safe.  But the absence of spiders didn’t bring about the changes folks were hoping for.

    Fiona still had her aches and pains. Carter’s wife still didn’t come back. (And she truly shouldn’t.) Bumpy was still bald-headed. And Cecilia from the bank still couldn’t stream her shows without a whole lot of buffering.

    But Joel’s cow did turn up. The high school kids he questioned, they were lying. Joel’s cow was stashed over at the Gas ’n’ Go. They posted pictures of her with her head under the hood of an El Camino—looks like she’s checking the oil or something. It’s pretty funny but I’m sure the cow was happy to be back home with Joel.
    Three days later both Joel and the cow got eaten by the giant ants. According to Randy the giant spiders had probably been keeping the giant ants away from the town. Kinda wish we’d known that.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Bronze Age Boogie #6
  •  

    I encourage all employees to make themselves feel more at home by bringing personal items to the office and I try to leave the matter of decorating one’s workspace to the discretion of the employee whenever possible. However, recent events have made it necessary to draft the following policies and guidelines regarding desk eels:

    1. Eels should not distract co-workers. Bringing an eel to work can be a powerful act of self-expression, particularly when it can perform tricks or is brightly colored. However, it should be remembered that this is first and foremost a place of work and eels that bare their fangs or attack people may be considered to be intimidating or disrespectful by your coworkers. If your eel exhibits such behavioral problems, please leave them at home.

    2. Eels should be attended at all times. Many employees like to bring their eels to the lunchroom where they can compare notes and chat with fellow enthusiasts. Though we encourage this sort of camaraderie, we have experienced increasing problems with people leaving their eels in the break-room sink, in cupboards, or forgetting them in other places throughout the building. As a result, the janitorial staff has to spend precious time every morning trying to reunite them with their owners. Just like everyone else, the janitors have a job to do around here, and looking after your eel isn’t it. Please keep your eel either at your desk or in the designated aquatic play pen outside the copy room.

    3. No poisonous or electric eels of any kind. This should go without saying.

    4. Do not feed other people’s eels. While your eel may enjoy an occasional Ritz cracker, other eels may be allergic to salt or on a strict macrobiotic diet. So though well intentioned, feeding another person’s eel can cause bad blood between co-workers. There was an incident just last week where one employee fed a colleague’s eel a piece of his turkey sandwich, not knowing that his co-worker was trying to raise the animal in a vegan environment. This resulted in a formal reprimand being entered onto the first employee’s permanent record.

    5. Do not allow your eels to eat other people’s pets. It is often said that there are just two kinds of people in the world— eel people and clam people. While the eel people definitely seem to be in control around here, that doesn’t mean that we should be disrespectful respectful to fellow employees who are clam owners. And the best way to show respect is to not allow your eel (or indeed, encourage them) to feast upon the clams of others. We all have to live together, folks.

    6. Do not name your eel after co-workers. Though most people are eel lovers, there are those who consider them to be ugly and menacing in appearance, so to name your eel after a co-worker may give them the wrong impression. Also, please try to refrain from giving your eel any names of an ethnic origin that you yourself are not a member of.

    7. Eels, yes. Water moccasins, no. This goes even for non-poisonous water moccasins. A snake is not an eel and I’m sure we can all agree that there’s something fundamentally wrong with a snake who can swim on top of the water. Also, no wolf eels. They aren’t true eels, anyway, but rather members of the Anarhichadidae family. Antisocial and surly by nature, the last thing we need around here is to let a bunch of wolf eels set the pace for company morale.

    I don’t mean to ruin anyone’s fun, but if we all observe these simple rules of eel-etiquette, I’m sure we can all be efficient and productive workers while still having a good time.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    CAPTAIN GINGER #3
  •  

    A few months into her captivity, Fran made a decision to change her behavior. She would stop crying, for one thing—it was exhausting. Pacing the cornerless, windowless white room probably telegraphed anxiety, so she would jog, do sit-ups, or perform some other activity that would burn off stress and pump blood. Meditation and yoga (or a reasonable facsimile) would help her keep what was left of her sanity. She would eat the odd food that materialized on the low platform three times a day, and go ahead and watch the entertainments and read the books that appeared on the familiar-looking tablet device. Instead of trying to shield herself while bathing or changing clothes, she would reject her old notions of modesty and own her skin and body, stretch marks and all. The captors probably didn’t see her as a sexual object, anyway, being aliens.

    Fran couldn’t see any cameras in the room, but she knew she was being observed and analyzed. She knew because whenever she needed something—water, medications, tampons—those things would appear. And things she wanted appeared more readily once she relaxed into her situation. It was as if her captors could read her mind better when it was freer of black thoughts.

    One day she woke to find a man in her quarters. Of course she had longed for a companion, but this man would not have been her first choice. Or thousandth. He radiated stupidity and meanness. If he hadn’t been so frightened he might have started beating on her, just for sport. Fran made her fear and contempt clear by vomiting and hiding. When she emerged from under her blanket the man was gone. She hoped the aliens hadn’t killed him, but for the first time in months, she was glad to be alone.

    She was happy to be rid of the brute—but soon her captors gave her another human. This one was a young girl who looked much like her daughter Beth, and Fran wondered if she might be Beth, but without her daughter’s memories. A clone, perhaps? It didn’t matter—the girl’s presence flooded the desperate young mother with hope and purpose. The two bonded quickly while Fran comforted the scared girl and explained in the gentlest terms what was happening.

    As she spoke, Fran recognized the connection between serenity and reward. Were the aliens conditioning her to be an obedient pet? Was she an experiment, or a test subject they could study in order to conquer Earth? She could resist her masters and introduce chaos by getting drunk and acting horribly, but she wasn’t that kind of person. What would be the point of such resistance? These beings were obviously her superiors, but apart from stealing her from her home, family, and the world she was connected to in her DNA, they seemed to want to please her.

    So Fran and Beth made the best of their situation. They meditated, learned to play music and paint, and generally kept their minds occupied with higher things. Fran’s husband appeared one day, which upset her at first because he was dead. But she decided he was a gift, so she accepted and treasured him. As serenity flourished their quarters expanded, morphing into a spacious old house in the country. Then it became part of a village of charming homes. People appeared out of nowhere to fill the houses and Fran and her family helped them integrate into their growing community. Gardens, animals, tools, carriages, and festivities—all appeared as if they had always been. When rain finally fell from dark clouds, Fran ran out into it naked and laughing with joy.

    The introduction of seasons helped Fran keep track of years. She didn’t look or feel any older than when she had first come to in that embryonic white and barren chamber. So much had happened, time must have passed. But the children hadn’t aged, and animals and people didn’t die. A dark cloud formed in Fran’s mind for the first time in a long while. Was she a pampered creature in the alien zoo or was she hallucinating a heaven in her last nanosecond of life?

    Fran looked around and decided the answer didn’t matter. She was happy.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Planet of the Nerds #5
  • Conversation at a Party

    1) Where do you work?

    2) What train is that off of?

    3) Where do you live?

    4) What train is that off of?

    5) Oh nice, that’s not a bad commute!

     

    Workday Lunch Options

    1) Bowl comprising of a grain, a protein, and two sides

    2) Single meatball parm hero, serves 5

    3) $18 build your own salad

    4) Cold chicken you made on Sunday night in a fit of anxiety

     

    Things to Make Sure You Have Before Leaving Apartment

    1) Keys

    2) Wallet

    3) Phone

    4) Earbuds

    5) Portable charger

    6) Overflowing recycling bag 7) Overflowing garbage bag 8) Did I say keys?

    9) Shoot, keys, just to be safe 10) Keys, where are th-?

    11) Keys, OK we’re good

     

    Roommates

    1) Craigslist user maryqtxoxo@yahoo.com

    2) Guy you went to high school with

    3) Girl you went to college with

    4) Guy that’s kinda dating girl you went to college with though he’s not on the lease

    4) Seriously, what is going on there, should we have a meeting?

    5) Ugh, it’s whatever

     

    Conversation with Stranger on Subway

    1)

     

    Conversation Ordering from Coffee Cart

    1) One medium coffee, black please

    2) No, no cream

    3) No, no sugar

     

    Sporting Events to See

    1) Yankees vs. Mets at Yankee Stadium 2) Knicks vs. Nets at MSG

    3) Rat vs. rat at 14th St. Subway Station

     

    Things to Do Before Jaywalking

    1) Look left

    2) Look right

    3) Look left

    4) Look right

    5) Look left

    6) Look right

    7) Yell “We got this, c’mon.”

     

    Moving Apartments

    1) Call a moving company

    2) Find out you procrastinated too long

    3) Ruin four of your closest friends’ day

     

    Leaving New York

    1) Say you’re thinking about LA

    2) Never do anything

     

     

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Second Coming #2
  • The stones wait, forgotten amongst weeds and brambles and drifts of dry, cracked leaves, as snow gently falls, blanketing over them in a hushed hiss. The names carved into them have all worn away, only the traces of dates and symbols remain. A single half skull sits in the midst of their uneven ring, browned and cracked, dug up by some animal and left to rot in the open air. Its eye sockets look up to the bright gray sky with hollow silence.

    The snow falls all day and covers the small, neglected cemetery in shimmering white. It continues to wait for night to come as the snow slows, then stops. The light fades into a peachy, golden, afternoon. It glints off rooftops in the slight distance, a village or town that has forgotten the others that used to live there. The sun sets a dull red.

    Darkness sets the snow aglow in the light of a half moon, cold and blue and beautiful. It falls on her face, a soft gray translucency, against the starry sky. She walks over the ground without steps, the dark strings of her hair streaming in the brittle, bitter wind.

    She passes through the stones, long fingers sweeping against their tops, recalling names that no longer matter to anyone else, including her own. They help her remember and stay rooted to this world instead of the next. She is not ready to leave yet and has not been since the fire and all that came after.

    Her eyes, deep pits of shadow, show just a pinprick of light at their centers, blinking and fading, like slowly dying stars, staring past everything and piercing the nothing beyond. Her mouth, wide and thin, is frozen in a cracked and unforgiving frown. She is empty now, so empty, a pit of gaping, aching, craving, need.

    There is only one stone she stops for, one stone she sits by, one stone she touches with a longing, soft, sigh. It is a small stone, a little cross that lists slightly to one side. She hums to it and weeps for it and watches it as the hours while by.

    Then she hears the cry.

    That pale gray head turns at the sharp, wailing, sound of it, piercing across the snow covered clearing beyond the graveyard. She knows that cry. It wraps itself around her heart and she is moving towards it, fast, a blurred shadow among shadows.

    She is remembering that cry from before, a hungry sound, a plaintive sound, full of desperate longing.

    In the clearing, set in the middle of a different kind of stone ring from the monuments she left behind, is a small bundle. The cry from it is growing weaker, sadder, as though it knows that no one is coming for it. She looks down from her grayness and sees a small, pale, scrunched, face, with lips turning a faint blue. Tears have frozen to its cheeks as the mouth lets out ragged, hiccupping sobs.

    “Shhhhhh.” She says to it, her voice cracked from disuse. “Shhhhhhh.”

    The child stops crying and looks up and smiles. It reaches two arms up to the gray figure who stoops and lifts it into her transparent arms. She looks into the child’s eyes, blurry with tears, as it sticks a chubby hand into its mouth for comfort. It sucks on its fingers listlessly, eyelids drooping, it’s wracking breaths slowing to ragged, shallow ones.

    She coos to the child, whispers soothing nonsense and nothings. She knows it is a girl child, sickly, so small and pale for her age. It is cold in her arms but she does not feel it. She only feels the weight of it, the little limbs grasping at her, the round head pressing against her arm that is not, technically, there.

    She takes it away from the fairy circle, back to the dead forgotten stones, to the place where her own daughter is buried. She sits in the middle of the faded monuments and rocks the baby whose eyes drift closed. She sings it a lullabye and touches its icy, round cheek. It makes a soft rattling sound in its throat and goes still.

    When its eyes open again they are dark like her eyes, with tiny pinpoints of light deep within. It looks at her with knowing now, and smiles with tiny, sharp, glittering teeth. It is gray like her, empty like her, and it is hungry.

    She smiles and takes it towards the village in the distance, the village it came from, the village that left it to die and rot, alone, among the stones.

    She takes it to feed.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Planet of the Nerds #4
  • Art by Cayetano Valenzuela

    Mind the gap, please. Station stop is New York Penn Station. All doors will open. Pick up your feet, be aware of your surroundings. Now arriving Penn Station, all doors, all options open.

    Mind the gap, watch the closing doors. Step aside to allow others inside the car. Block not the entrances lest ye be blocked. Law is inconstant, punishment for misdeeds cannot be guaranteed. You and you alone determine your path.

    The Authority reminds you to keep all bags close to your person. Do not use electronics in public. Be wary of strangers, especially those whose odor or demeanor are different to your own. Trust must be earned, vigilance will be rewarded.

    Station stop is Newark Penn Station. Now arriving. Watch the doors. Watch the smoke, be alert for small explosions. Keep your wallet in your front pocket.

    Passenger advisory: Stations Litwin, Wolfsbane, and 157th Street are closed for repairs. Passengers for Litwin Wolfsbane 157th are advised to take this train to 285th Street and transfer for the inbound train making all stops. As an alternative passengers may disembark at next station stop and transfer to shuttle buses. Be sure to pick up a paper transfer ticket at the attendant's booth. Your card will not be charged for transfer. If your card is charged please contact the Authority immediately. Mistakes do happen and the Authority runs on order. The trains run on time, your account will not be mischarged. All errors will be corrected, all transfers redeemed in the fullness of time.

    Station stop is Philadelphia Penn Station. Exit in an orderly fashion. Watch for tiny men with quick hands. Beware of perfumed women speaking loudly of trivial matters. Do not raise your voice, practice moderation in public drinking habits. Avoid vocal fry.

    Passenger Advisory: All trains will run local after 11:18 PM, except those on the Circle Belt, which will run as normal from the airport to the expressway and back again. Circle trains stop very briefly, so be nimble. Vault gracefully over the gap, ignore the blast of air from the departing cars. The Authority advises only experienced passengers with newly replaced hips ride the Circle Belt. Authority disclaims all responsibility for injuries sustained after 12:11 AM, excepting only MetroExtreme™ cardholders.

    Do not attempt to hold the doors. Holding doors can cause injury and equipment failure. Do not hold doors for slower passengers.

    Station stop is Baltimore Penn Station. Last stop in this zone. Passengers are advised to don hazmat suits and avoid eye contact. No transfers after Baltimore Penn Station.

    Due to a sick passenger, trains are being rerouted across the Divide. Please squeeze your eyes shut, ignore the bright phosphenes shimmering across your retinas. Visual distortion is due to changes in pressure and acceleration, lurching and bumping is due to routine trackwork. Keep all bags close to you.

    So much wealth. So much poverty. Can you see across the aisle? Through the thick visor of your protective suit, across the miasmic haze? Avoid eye contact, clutch all bags close. Mind the gap.

    Station stop is Mare Selenium. Approaching Mare Selenium Penn Station. Passengers are advised that only the first two cars will open. Please walk forward, taking particular care not to look down. The platform is farther away here; the gap is wider than before.

    Do not use electronic devices between cars. Just don't.

    Watch the closing doors. Watch them. Your card will not be mischarged, your ride will never be free. You and you alone determine your path. The Authority assumes no responsibility for insufficient funds, mounting medical bills, for indigent relatives or a disturbingly persistent cough. Your path is your own.

    Mind the rubble, ignore the wheels sparking on charged rails. Once there was a station here, a place of stone where people grumbled and glared and leaned on pillars. Once there were people, air, a newsstand. The newsstand sold magazines with flimsy covers and pictures of celebrities buying groceries. Mademoiselle, the Wall Street Journal. Amazing Stories. Once there was a station, I don't recall its name.

    Passenger Advisory: The Red Line is now the Rhomboid Line. Adjust all itineraries accordingly. Download our new PathWaze Rewardze™ app, which replaces the old MetroExtreme™ app. Accept all permissions swiftly, without delay.

    All trains run local from 11:19 PM. All trains run wild from 1:56 AM. Hold tight to straps, fasten hazmat helmets. Do not make eye contact. Keep your wallet in your front pocket. Help yourself before helping a child.

    The Mann line is now the Dude Line. The Dude Line is now the Bro Line. The Rhomboid Line is now the Trapezain™, except after 2:08 AM when it merges with the Circle Belt. Download our app. Step lively to the platform with your shiny new hips.

    Station stop is Antares Penn Station. Mind the gap as you exit. You are off the map, off the grid, off the app. Step wide, take the longest stride you can and feel nothing beneath your feet. No air, no platform, no answers. No help as your hazmat suit shreds, your air seeps away, the warmth bleeds from your body. No up, no down, no shelter from the terrible cold, the final truth. Your path is your own.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Second Coming #1
  • Native New Yorkers know him as DADDY KNACKERBLASTER, jovial spirit of their mighty metropolis, and one can think of no figure better-suited to personify the diversity, vitality, and modernity of this grand city than a garrulous, periwigged white gentleman of the 1700s, in his tricorn hat, breeches and buckled shoes!

    As you approach the hustle and bustle of AMUSEMENTS FURLONG, it’s hard to miss the 60-foot tall effigy of a guffawing Knackerblaster bestriding the gates of the New York World’s Fair like a colonial Colossus! The merry mascot is flanked by a pair of equally vast folkloric sidekicks, both of whom may already seem outlandish, even alarming, to modern eyes - the aggressive, racially-insensitive Lord Goose, and the perhaps even-more troubling Ma Turkey, of whom decency precludes any further elaboration.

    Looking at her now, towering over the happy crowds at the Fair, with her formidable meat cleaver, sharpened sickle, and over-generous supply of eyes, it’s hard to believe Ma was once as popular as Santa Claus! As it is, she stands as one more sobering reminder that the Past, for all its sassy trappings of knights, pilgrims, and bucolic slave laborers, also plays host to a veritable shit parade of creepy and shameful traditions, rituals, habits, customs, and excuses; all of which tends to cast our illustrious forebears in a less than admirable light. Thank heavens for the bright and certain Future, as celebrated here in this sprawling spectacular festival of forwardness!

    ‘Howdy yez’aaall!’ is the cheery and historically-accurate greeting that awaits every visitor who buys a ticket and passes between the vast natural arch of Daddy Knackerblaster’s powerfully akimbo legs on their way to an unforgettable experience at this spectacular exposition in the heart of Flushing, NY.

    First on any itinerary is a stroll along the GREAT RAINBOW WAY, where visitors can sample cultures as different and yet alike as the concave and convex sides of a spoon! This colourful celebration of the Triumph of Democracy in the World of Tomorrow is as American as pumpkin pie, Martin Luther Kong, and the moon!

    On your way to GAY NEW ORLEANS – a flamboyant LGBTQX salute to the Big Easy and its laid back ‘come one, come all!’ attitude to alcohol, drugs, and sexual experimentation – try not to miss the SMARTCAR DODGEMS, or the aptly-named SCREAMING CENTIPEDE – a ghastly and perverse surgical experiment given a mischievous World’s Fair spin!

    Other attractions include the CRIMSON TOWER - where visitors can ‘experience’ for themselves gruesome CIA ‘special rendition’ techniques such as piss-boarding, the ‘Toenail Clippers’, ‘Noise-Crash Monday’, and the terrifying, emasculating ‘Pants Invader’ – and SINISTER THIBET, where Buddhist monks at the end of their tether, self-immolate in spectacular fashion, while soldiers of the Red Army frown upon this ancient inexplicable culture of weird ceremonies, sacrifice and idolatry.  

    The world’s oldest collection of prophylactics, excavated at the Jamestown colony, delivers a fascinating, indeed stomach-churning, insight into the bedroom antics of the Pilgrim Fathers and can be found on exhibit in the CONDOM CENTER, a building made almost completely of rubber, gas, and whispered promises!

    Elsewhere, the spirit of undergraduate frivolity is captured in the starkly-named ROOFIE TENT, while easily-triggered college students are catered to with differently-shaped ‘safe spaces’ in SNOWFLAKE ALLEY, and even ‘safe rides’ such as the COMETRON – a gentle, completely horizontal rollercoaster attraction which only turns up once every 75 years and travels at an upper speed of 3 feet per month.

    Other novelty exhibits you must not pass up include NATURE’S SHAME, DON’T LAFF IN THE CREMATORIUM, MIDGET MOCKERIES, PALACE OF MISGENDERMENT, WORLD IN YOUR POCKET, SACCO AND VANZETTI’S KRAZY KOURTROOM KAPERS and the WORLD OF WATERGATE aqua-impeachment ride. 

    But there’s more to the Fair than amusements and frivolity. Educational exhibits include the SCIENCE SHACK, KEMISTRY KIOSK, MATHEMATICS IS FOR EVERYONE and the LEARNING CAN BE FUN enclosure, notable for its tumbleweeds, distant mission bells, and the hollow sound of the sirocco.

    And here I pause for a moment to come across some Boy and Girl Scouts burying a time capsule they’ve created to show people of the future what life was like at the dawn of the Space Atom Age! The fresh, eager, and ever-smiling faces of these spunky youths offer a brief preview of a coming time where everyone is happy and nothing bad can ever happen again.

    The turquoise heated expanse of LIBERTY LAKE offers the ‘freedom to just be yourself’ – but one warning: may contain NUTS! And when I say nuts, I mean nude nuts, let’s just leave it there.

    It’s from here, that an ill-advised left turn will bring you, as it brings both myself and my emotionally-vulnerable elderly mother to a corner of the Fair I had no idea existed until I made that fateful decision to follow the left-hand path. A moment I bitterly regret and wish I could erase from history’s storied pages.

    The so-called SWAMP OF NATIONS, offers a disconcertingly lifelike panorama of desolation that contributes a bracing note of caution, even dire warning, to the World’s Fair celebrations.

    Before us, a crumbling, hauntingly-familiar ruin, half-submerged in the waves, and lapped by a froth of sediment and distressed plastic, turns out to be the Statue of Liberty with a skull for a head! Riptides swirl around the 20th storeys of gutted skeleton skyscrapers – the hollowed-out remains of the Chrysler Building, the Empire State and Trumpet Tower.

    But don’t imagine that only the proud monuments of Manhattan that have been brought to their knees by years of decay and damnation!

    Nearby lie the shattered fragments of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World, now merely the Seven Neglected Ruins; here, the Eiffel Tower, partially-melted, snapped at the base by some brute force beyond imagining; there, the Houses of Parliament gutted by fire, the haunt of subhuman bandits and mutant jihadis; a grubby pile of bricks and toilet paper marks the place where the White House once stood, immersed in a spectrum-slicked, and poisonous lagoon from which all life has fled, leaving only a nausea-inducing synthetic parody of existence that flops and gasps in the shallow muck, like a jellyfish filled with needles, ever eager to bite and infect visitors with some terminal malady before it dies in agony under the bilious sun of that merciless sour firmament.

    We may deduce, from these glimpses, that the entire world of Tomorrow is but a noxious corpse dressed in the rotting shroud of its decaying architecture.

    And it’s OUR fault.

    Daddy Knackerblaster himself looms eerily over the desolate gloomscape that surrounds us – but this version of the reassuring figure casts him in a far more ominous light, where he appears to drown in a quicksand of reeking refuse with a knowing, insane leer that seems to implicate us all in what should have been an easily-preventable apocalypse.

    The eye-popping exhibit Mother and I have so rashly stumbled upon is entitled THE WORLD’S UNFAIR, and it’s safe to say that while the rest of the Fair celebrates a frankly unlikely future of longevity jellies, jet people, sarcastic washing machines and boisterous pet pterodactyls, this exhibit reminds us in no uncertain terms that there may be a darker side to the world of tomorrow, and offers an alternative look at what life in New York City might actually be like in the year 2050!

    A year in which life as we know it will have choked to death on its own ‘infected filth’, according to THE WORLD’S UNFAIR creator, ‘performance commando’, Solomandos Croatoan. In the enfant terrible’s diseased vision of the mid-21st century, incestuous mutant monsters, bred to live on garbage, will snout mindlessly through the trash and faeces clogging Madison Avenue and Broadway, without ever finding what they’re looking for.

    If the sickening tableau of witless crustacean conflict Mother and I are forced to endure is anything to go by, theirs will be a savage future of motiveless cruelty, characterized best by its extreme ugliness and bleak futility.

    A gloating Croatoan – ‘I wanted to show them what the future would REALLY be like,’ he repeats continually, robotically - directs our attention, with an oddly spastic and unsettling sequence of gestures and winks, to a filthy crater where a mob of scrabbling crab people are excavating a time capsule that looks exactly like the one I saw those smiling Scouts loading earlier.

    Mother and I bear speechless witness for quite some time as the squabbling, imbecilic crab-sapiens, inheritors of a senile, dying Earth, empty from their canister the contents so lovingly selected and chosen by those beaming, can-do youngsters in the world’s past. I notice a recipe for Apple Pie shredded to confetti and spat from churning tool-faces as though it were poison.

    Then, chuckling mindlessly, these hideous inbred descendants of that golden generation apply formidable mandibles and nippers to the task of demolishing the worthless memorabilia of a long-gone civilization - devouring photographs and children’s drawings, regurgitating marriage certificates and zip drives filled with classical music and artistic masterpieces - as an ailing, toxic sun sinks, as if to its knees in preparation for a beheading, across contaminated waves.

    Mother dies not long after.

    And is that a knowing leer of terror and futility I remember on the eroded, imbecilic face of our toppled idol, Daddy Knackerblaster?

    Or am I simply alone, with nowhere left to go, no future?

    Staring into a merciless mirror.

    Don’t take my word for it! Come see for yourself!

    The World’s Fair is a thrilling value-for-money tribute to the ideals of our great country and every American should be proud to take part!

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    High Heaven #1