Extras

  • With just a few additions to your home bar, you can make these on-trend cocktails for you and your friends... but probably just for you.

     

    Impending Doom

    • 2 ounces cask-strength Scotch

    • 1 teaspoon Demerara or raw sugar

    • 1 piece lemon peel

    Mix first two ingredients in a mug (metal is best, to prevent general immolation). Add lemon peel as garnish. Carefully ignite. Watch it burn. When it is done, you have nothing.

     

    Ante-Revolution Fizz

    • 1 shiny penny

    • 1 bottle Cristal champagne

    • 1 whole lobster

    Flip coin 100 times. If it is either heads or tails 99 times, serve yourself the Cristal in the finest stemware, garnished with the whole lobster. If not, live in a tent under an overpass.

     

    Pacific Garbage Patch

    • One Long Island iced tea

    • 117 plastic straws

    Serve Long Island iced tea with battery of straws. Discard straw after each sip.

     

    #metoo

    • 11⁄2 oz. vodka

    • 1⁄4 oz. cranberry juice •1⁄4 oz. triple sec

    • 1⁄4 oz. lime juice

    • 1 lime wedge

    With first four ingredients, prepare Cosmopolitan. Garnish with lime. Throw against wall. Call lawyer, therapist, Mom.

     

    Get Woke

    • 1 pint of your city’s most difficult-to-obtain boutique craft beer

    • Sanctimony

    Drink slowly, preferably in overpriced urban outdoor beer garden, while patiently yet passive-aggressively explaining exactly what is wrong with the outlook of those around you. Repeat until you “feel seen.”

     

    He Who Shall Not Be Named

    • Misc. liquor/liqueur

    • One large bag Cheetos

    Initiate news blackout. Pour an inch or two (or three) of each available liquor/liqueur into pint glass, jar, or any other receptacle. Lack wherewithal to stir, much less shake. Drink accompanied by Netflix and entire bag of Cheetos, eaten one by one while studiously avoiding looking at them, lest any be anthropomorphic.

     

    Climate Change

    • One large ice cube, carved into sphere

    • 18 oz. gin

    Set ice aside. Drink room-temperature gin slowly while feeling helpless. Try not to picture a polar bear swimming and swimming and swimming because there is nowhere to go.

     

    The WWIII

    •1 nation, divided

    •1 ascendant demagogue

    •1 fresh alliance of dictators

    •Sprinkling of military parades

    Shake first three ingredients well. Garnish with militarism. Serve in a pit of despair.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    EDGAR ALLAN POE`S SNIFTER OF TERROR #3
  •  

    Miss Mordicant’s School for Pestiferous Youth

    Reforming the villainous, vile, and uncouth

     

    A is for Alice, igniting delight

    She burned down the town to light up the night

     

    B is for Brandyce, sent there to dwell

    For stuffing his family into a well

     

    C for Cordelia, lost in a pique,

    Who stitched Nanny’s mouth so she couldn’t speak

     

    D is for Dillon, for choosing to give

    A few local fellows the end of a shiv

     

    E is for Elsinore, now in the mew

    For ladling arsenic into the stew

     

    F is for Fenrir, precocious and small

    Who punctured his great-uncle Max with an awl

     

    G is for Gladys, admitted the day

    She pushed granny’s wheelchair straight into the bay

     

    H is for Humbert, who needs to reform

    After tying his Pop to a pole in a storm

     

    I is for Izzy, hauled off in a huff

    For marching her siblings straight off of a bluff

     

    J is for Jasper, mischievous lad

    When sharing contagion, gave all that he had

     

    K is for Kate, (the Duchess McGannon)

    Caught shooting step-siblings out of a cannon

     

    L is for Lemuel, sly little fox

    “Inflated” his grandfather’s life vest with rocks

     

    M is for Myrtle, who one afternoon

    Bludgeoned her math tutor with a bassoon

     

    N is for Nevin, who garnered reproach

    For trampling friends ’neath the wheels of his coach

     

    O for Octavia, frail and asthmatic

    Caught storing bodies in trunks in the attic

     

    P is for Paul, choleric and lean

    Roasted his kin and picked their bones clean

     

    Q for Quintessa, both lovely and fair

    She finished her grandparents off with a scare

     

    R is for Reese, who liked to disport

    In casualties of the asphyxiate sort

     

    S is for Stella, who thought it a ripper

    To feed all her cousins into a wood chipper

     

    T is for Thaddeus, nimble and quick

    Walled up his kindred with mortar and brick

     

    U is for Uli, who took inspiration

    From Robespierre’s method of exsanguination

     

    V is for Vlad, a gadabout heller

    Mowed half his classmates down with a propeller

     

    W, Walda, gave Auntie the blight

    By lacing her corset a little too tight

     

    X for Xavier, a grim little chap

    Doffed Papa’s head along with his cap

     

    Y for Yolanda, so helpful, so nice

    Directed her fellows straight to the thin ice

     

    Z, Zacharias, achieved all his wishes

    By sending his household to sleep with the fishes

     

    Miss Mordicant takes them, no matter their sin

    Redirecting their passions to something akin

     

    She carefully molds them all, grim, sly, or raucous

    To fill corporate boards and political office

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Edgar Allan Poe's Snifter of Terror #6
  •  

    FROM THE CHRONICLES OF JACE DUEL, EARTHMAN

    The spacemen fell from the sky, one by one. A fur-clad northern warrior, grav-pack sputtering helplessly as it flapped loose on his green-skinned shoulders. A thick-bodied Makrian woman, skin burnt red from the merciless sun of the equatorial provinces. A bare-chested Savak, leather straps tearing into his dark blue torso as he twisted and dropped to the steaming desert sands.

    Jace Duel, Hero of the planet Estrana, didn’t know their names. But he knew their mistress, the woman whose life they’d just died to protect. As the last of the soldiers fell, Jace whirled in midair, his heart racing at the sight of her.

    The Princess hovered above the desert, bobbing gently in the air. The double suns of Estrana, high in the cerulean sky, shone down bright and hot on her long, thin, deceptively strong limbs. Her skin gleamed white, almost translucent, along her swanlike neck and the waif-thin ankles visible above her form-fitting spaceboots.

    Her skintight uniform was ivory with crimson flourishes along the front, denoting the Princess’s royal heritage. A sharp point rose up from the top of her helmet. Her eyes were purest blue, staring in fear at the deadly creature looming before her.

    The Galena.

    It spread its wings, seeming to fill the sky, and shrieked. Bolts of electrical current crackled across its ethereal, shifting form. Its torso, head—even its wings seemed to be made of electricity, sparking and flashing with every quick, darting motion.

    Jace tensed, twisting in midair. But before he could trigger his gravity pack, the Princess mouthed a single sneering word: beast. She raised her ray-gun in both tapered, milk-white hands, and fired.

    The particle-bolt struck the shimmering creature, spark- ing red and blue across its chest. It howled in pain—then swept one crackling wing wide and swatted the Princess across the sky.

    Jace’s blood raced. He swooped low, reaching out with both hands. He twisted sideways, and the dazed Princess tumbled easily into his grip.

    He veered upward, positioning her easily in his arms. As always, her beauty stunned him to the core. Her skin was flawless, her limbs lithe and strong. She was barely eighteen—less than half his age—and she seemed to weigh almost nothing.

    The perfect woman.

    Uhh, she murmured, squirming in his grip. Thank you, Jace-Dul.

    “That’s why you called me,” Jace replied. Despite the dan- ger, he felt calm, confident. “No harm will come to your father’s kingdom today. I swear it.”

    The beast must be destroyed! she cried. But how?

    Jace looked around, shielding his eyes from the glare of the twin suns. The Galena was leading them to the east, over the Jungle of Many Hues—which concealed the Royal City of Estrana within its thick tree-cover. Distant mountains rose to the north, like a sheet of ice glimmering in the desert heat.

    As they neared the creature it whirled, maw gaping with electric power. Energy covered its entire form, an impenetrable barrier of force. No, Jace realized. Not its entire body. . . .

    He squeezed the Princess’s hand. “Concentrate,” he said. “Combine our K-Auras. That’ll charge up both our ray- guns, give us a better chance.”

    She nodded, brow furrowing in concentration. You are our Hero, she said. But . . . She paused, gazed again at him. Will it be enough to stop the Galena?

    “Leave that to me.”

    As the beast hovered and flapped, Jace turned his pointed helmet toward it and charged. The Princess’s covering fire lanced into the Galena’s body, raising tiny explosions all along its torso. She was a good partner, Jace thought. A fierce warrior; everything a man could want in a girl.

    The beast twisted, snapping, struggling to snare him in its gaping jaws. But Jace stayed true to his course. He lanced straight toward the only part of the creature that appeared solid: its gleaming, silver-crystal eye.

    A million volts sizzled through his body. He stiffened, every cell in his body crying out in pain. With enormous effort, he reached out and grabbed hold of the jewel. It was smaller than it looked, barely larger than a pebble. An optical illusion created by the creature’s shifting electrical fields.

    Ignoring the pain, he yanked hard, snapping the crystal free of the creature’s face. The Galena let out a quick howl—and then, all at once, it just switched off. Jace gasped in relief as the electrical current flickered and died.

    He caught a quick glimpse of the creature—now a withered, vaguely avian skeleton—as it dropped to the Jungle below. Then it was lost beneath the thick, bright-colored tree cover.

    The Princess swooped up beside him, smiling in gratitude. The eye, she said, was the source of its power! How did you know, Jace-Dul?

    “Thank my grandpa.” He tossed the jewel up in the air and caught it again. “He used to play with crystal radio sets. They were electrical in nature, too . . . and completely powered by jewels like this. Pluck out the power source, and . . .” He shrugged.

    You know so many things!

    He just smiled.

    I suppose you must leave now.

    Her gaze strayed to a group of ancient ruins, barely visible across the desert, ten miles to the south. Within them lay the Tomb of Science, the transit point between the worlds.

    “Soon,” he said, turning to gaze into her eyes. “But if you’re feeling . . . grateful?”

    Her expression went blank. She placed her arms around his neck; they felt cool, graceful, snakelike. He cast a quick glance past her at the desert, at the bodies of her fallen soldiers lying distant on the sand.

    Then he wrapped his legs around her slim hips and together, grav-packs throbbing, they dropped gently down into the Jungle.

    Afterward they lay together against a violet-leafed Bann’am tree, her head resting gently in his lap. The memory of her whip-like body lingered on his skin. Their helmets lay discarded on the wet ground, points crossed like swords.

    We could rule this world together, she said, reaching up to run thin fingers through his hair. You and I.

    Jace didn’t know what to say, so he said, “Yeah?”

    We could unite the remaining tribes: the warlike Sz’iplin, the ragged beggars of the Sunken City, the waking sleepers of the Somnosphere. We could rebuild the glory that was lost when Estrana descended into ecological collapse; into biological, nuclear, and chemical war.

    “My brother talks about war,” he mused. “Keeps saying he wants to kill all the Muslims. Make the world a safe place.”

    A safe world, she whispered, as though the concept were totally alien to her.

    He gazed into those impossibly blue eyes. “I can’t say yes. Not now.” He smiled. “But I’m not saying no.”

    An expression he couldn’t read crossed her pale face. It wasn’t exactly sadness. More of a terrible knowing, as if a curtain had been lifted from some inner stage.

    And now you must go. She forced a smile. To your secret doorway.

    He rose to his feet, donning his helmet and grav-pack. As the pack hummed to life, a dark feeling washed over him. Sorrow and loss; lifeless things slipping away, falling dead from the sky.

    “I love you,” he said, surprising himself.

    He couldn’t stand to see her reaction. He blasted up into the sky, as fast as he could; then he turned and shot like an arrow across the desert toward the ruins.

    Back in Brooklyn he stumbled out of the basement fireplace, dusting desert sand and rainforest grime off his uniform. He took a quick but thorough shower, changed into casual clothes, and hurried to the jeweler’s, glancing repeatedly at the time on his flip-phone. He made it to Grand Central and caught the train with seconds to spare.

    Sitting on the train for nine hours, he found himself lis- tening to Bush’s latest speech. Shock and awe, weapons of mass destruction, bringing freedom to the Middle East. He thought of his brother Mal, the anger in the man’s voice when he pronounced the word Eye-raq.

    Alisha was already at the restaurant when he arrived. She looked up from the table, smiled tentatively at him. Ni- agara Falls thundered down outside, the deafening rush of water silenced by thick plate-glass windows.

    The news, she said, shaking her head.

    “I know,” he replied.

    Heart juddering, he took hold of her warm, dark hand. Turned it over and over, studying the folds of her knuckles, the callouses on her fingers. She studied him with a frown that seemed to hold layers of worry.

    He reached down and pulled out the box. Opened it to reveal the ring that had belonged to his mother. The tiny silver crystal—the jeweled eye of the Galena—glistened up from its new setting.

    He turned to stare into Alisha’s black eyes. She blinked, her hand tightening on his in a sudden spasm.

    “Will you marry me?” he asked.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Dragonfly and Dragonflyman #4
  •  

    ’Sup, nerds? It’s Wednesday—New Comic Book Day!—time to open a fresh pillow-sized bag of chorizo ’n’ cheese billy-clubs and check out this week’s hot picks!

    First up is Monopoly Comics #1000, a special, bumper-sized anniversary issue that contains a thousand one-panel tales featuring their most obscure characters in order to retain copyright in perpetuity. “Golly gosh! It’s a glorious grab-bag of gorgeous greatness ghat’ll grab gou gy ghe gall-bladder!” boasts publisher, Dashing Dan ‘Da Don’ Dizney. Thrill as the All-Wingnuts Squad fight HUAC, the Living Committee! Gasp as you read such soon-to-be-forgotten classics as Where Lurks... The Lunk?, If This Be...Monday! and Baloney Fights Alone! Wheeze so badly you’ll need an inhaler when you witness the return of beloved western heroes like The Ten-Gun Kid, The Gun Control Kid and The Nevada Nuclear Testing Ground Kid. My favorite story? The long-teased team-up of near-sighted legal stenographer, Peggy Page, the Co-worker without Peer, and Patsy Porker, Nit Nurse, as they take on The Alliterator and Ttt! The Terrible Typo (last seen in Dentures on the Loose #32). You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll grind your teeth when you see the price!

    Not to be outdone, rival publisher, Desperate Comics, immediately killed off all their characters, cancelled their entire line and published a $19.99 Prestige Format special with no pages in it.

    IP Farm is an exciting new imprint based in various tax havens dotted across the Caribbean. Editor Lester Dodgy, told us, “We found a box of damp old comics in the basement that didn’t belong to anyone, so here we are.” IPF promise an interconnected universe that includes The Tricorn Hat, Stoopid McDoopid, Blonde Dame in a Swimsuit, The Fightin’ Ukrainian and Dope Fiends Tell it Like it Is! “Wait’ll ya see what I’ve cooked up for ’em!” said IPF’s lawyer, Mort Wriggler. “And my nephew’s art’ll blow yer socks off! It’ll make a terrific movie or maybe a series on Nutflux or Amazon Dire—whoever pays us the most!”

    The Pocket is the latest book from four-colour wunderkind, Bob Blofeld, who you may recall quit Monopoly Comics, aged 12, to form Indifferent Comics with disaffected pros like gravel-voiced, .45-wielding writer-artist, Frank Spillane. Says Bob, “The Pocket is about this guy who finds a pocket in his pants that he didn’t know he had and when he reaches into it he finds it’s full of guns, candy bars, pictures of girls and other cool stuff. Neat, huh?” Sure is, Bob! And speaking of Frank Spillane, his controversial new graphic novel, Barfbag, has just been solicited. “Have you ever seen a sucking gut wound? Heard a human lung whistle as it slowly deflates?” he rasped over the phone from a gated seniors community in Orange County. “Well, that’s what it’s like here.”

    Congrats to Jimmy Humdinger for self-publishing the millionth issue of Scary Clown, a character he cocreated with his mom when he was 3 months old! All your old 90’s favourites—Bloodpony, Bloodpuppy and Bloodmom—guest-star in an 80-page epic called “I Don’t Like Puppets, No.”

    And, finally, some sad news. Anarchic humour mag, The National Spittoon, has shut shop after 126 years. Editor, Bill Soused, said, “We tried hard to stay relevant—the April issue had a free Beatles wig and some itching powder—but tastes are changing and our nails and hair are so long now that they keep getting caught in the typewriter ribbon.” The Spittoon’s final issue includes hilarious send-ups of The Manchurian Candidate and the Cuban Missile Crisis along with regular strips like The Zany Adventures of Abe Lincoln and Faceless United Fruit Company Employee Vs Faceless United Fruit Company Employee—all written and drawn by “The Usual Ol’ Bunch of Bastards.”

    “The publisher stole our clothes and imprisoned us, but we’re no longer ashamed of our nekkidness!” cackled Bill manically, as he slid down a makeshift rope woven from the beard of an assistant editor and disappeared, typewriter tucked beneath his arm, into the sewer system of Yonkers, NY. The cover, as ever, features their snaggle-toothed mascot, Newt Gingrich.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
  • When you need something sweet but also to warn you about how the world is probably going to end.

    Crust

    2 cups all purpose flour 1 stick butter, chilled 5-6 tbs ice water

    Filling

    3 cups tart or sour cherries
    1 cup dried orange flavored cranberries 1 cup sugar
    1⁄4 cup cornstarch

    In a medium saucepan, put the cherries and dried cranberries over medium heat. Mix the sugar and cornstarch together, then pour over cherries and cranberries. Mix and stir constantly as they cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until you see the liquid release from the fruit and start to thicken. Remove from heat and put in a container. It will thicken the longer you let it sit, or you can put it in the fridge to cool down while you work on the crust.

    Crust:

    In a large bowl with the flour, use a fork to work butter in small pieces. Keep working with the fork until the mixture can be pressed together and leave a fingerprint and/or clumps. Then work in 5-6 tablespoons of ice water, one at a time, until dough starts to form. Knead dough into two equal round parts. Put in fridge for about an hour. Roll out bottom and place in 9-inch pie pan. Roll out second piece of dough and cut into strips. Try to keep them even. Put cooled filling in crust and cover with strips, weaving or braiding them together as you go. Bake for an hour until crust is light golden brown.

    Meet Pickle in ASH & THORN by Mariah McCourt, Soo Lee, and Pippa Bowland. Coming soon from AHOY Comics.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Dragonfly and Dragonflyman #5
  • Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Edgar Allan Poe's Snifter of Terror - Season 2 #6
  •  

    **BZZZTTTT**

    And so, as our power dwindles to zero, this will be the final transmission from the SS James Cameron of the Western Earth Spacefleet, Captain Calvin Walters reporting. I'm sorry that we on the Cameron were interrupted in our mission by tragedy, but we knew what we signed up for. We knew there was risk, but the pursuit of peace and scientific knowledge was more important. We have no regrets. Fortune favors the brave. Signing off.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    This is Captain Calvin Walters again, of the SS James Cameron. An update: Turns out our power situation was not as dire as estimated. I'd forgotten that, just as a car's gas tank is not bone dry when the needle hits E, there are extra power supplies when our indicators read 0%. Just to dummy-proof things, I guess. Which makes me the dummy, since I'm the one who cut off the life support of the rest of the crew some time ago, hoping to save power for a last-minute rescue. Listen, we all forget things, right? We're still at the end of our power, just not the end end. Crap.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    Which means we are still open to the idea of rescue.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    This is Captain Calvin Walters of the SS James Cameron. At this stage of our mission, I would like to recommend citations of valor and meritorious service, posthumously, to the entire crew of our ship. They gave their lives for the good of humanity. I'd also like to recognize Lucy and Charlie Brown, the naked mole rats who kept us company through so many long days in space.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    To clarify, I am not recommending citations of valor for the mole rats. That'd be crazy. Sorry to disappoint the critics out there.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    I'd like to send my warmest regards to my wife, Dr. Avni Joshi. Ours was a marriage of convenience to advance our careers, of course, but she was a good sport, and always upbeat, and a damn good scientist. I wish her well.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    And I apologize for letting the rumors about a girlfriend named Tiana circulate without my stopping them. It was just a macho thing among some of the flyboys, and I regret if it caused anyone pain.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    Boy, this is way more power than I thought I'd get.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    I regret also those long hours I wasted reading Master and Commander and the other novels of Patrick O'Brian. The British Imperial Navy holds few lessons for our work in space, but it looked kind of captain-y, so I kept it up. Same with the fake pipe.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    In retrospect, installing the slushie machine in the galley was a mistake. It ate up a huge amount of power, and the crew was over the novelty quickly.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    From the perspective of space, with near-infinite darkness in every direction, you gain a bit of wisdom about the struggles we have on Earth. What we let divide us is so miniscule, tragically. Donuts and crullers are good. And so are cronuts. It almost doesn't need to be said, but sometimes it does.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    Baseball was killed by robot umpires. We scientists have to own that. Also, the many killings committed by the robot umpires in the final weeks of October last year. Our fault.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    Don't ask me how I got "Electric Avenue" stuck in my head. Haven't heard that one in years.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    The worst thing about space? Government-issue Q-Tips. Seriously. The worst.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    Scientists are focused on details, systems, and patterns, but up here in space, to convey the majesty and power of everything we behold, it would take a poet. Too bad I cut off his life support system with the rest of the crew. If I find Patterson's notes, I'll send them along.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    Ringo Starr was Earth's luckiest person of the 20th century. Come at me.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    Can you remember your high school fight song? I can't. Am I losing my mind?

    **BZZZTTTT**

    Shit. Power keeps increasing. I feel like I'm trying to leave a party, y'know, jingling my keys.

    **BZZZTTTT**

    Where's the “delete” button? Isn't there a . . .

    **BZZZTTTT**

    This is Captain Calvin Walters of the SS James Cameron. I have just received word that our ship will be rescued in six hours by the SS Octavia Butler in the Western Earth Spacefleet command. Please disregard all transmissions that may have been received in the past 30 minutes. They were notes for a novel.

    **BZZZTTTT**

     

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Dragonfly and Dragonflyman #5
  •  

    Throughout the 1930s, the headlines screamed: THE COPPERHEAD STRIKES! ORGANIZED CRIME REELING FROM ATTACKS BY MASKED VIGILANTE! FIFTH COLUMN TAKEN DOWN BY COPPERHEAD! COPPERHEAD DELIVERS GANGSTERS TO COPS’ DOORSTEP! COPPERHEAD DISMANTLES TERROR PLOT! THE COPPERHEAD STILL AT LARGE!

    And one persistent question across years of headlines: WHO IS THE COPPERHEAD? I was the only person who ever learned the answer to that.

    I remember one blustery winter evening in 1939. A new war raged in Europe, its menace poised to threaten our own sovereign shores before too long. Snow fell heavily on an American city, a white blanket that covered all without concealing the grit and grime beneath it. As even the snow itself was engulfed by the dark shadows of metropolitan twilight, the city’s denizens of night came out to play...and to prey.

    At the docks—never the safest part of town—the evening shroud of darkness further emboldened its scavengers, its predators: the lawless, amoral element who broke the law and victimized the weak, the good, and the innocent impartially. Criminals. They thought themselves fierce and mighty, fearless, beyond the reach of the law.

    But there was one that even they feared.

    On this evening, a family from out of town—from some faraway place that was safer, saner—found itself separated from its tour group. The man, the woman, and their young son, all of them so far removed from any familiar surrounding, blundered into the wrong place at the wrong time, the worst time. Already nervous, scared, they were surrounded without warning. The chill air of the docks was nothing compared to the cold dread that gripped them as a gang of five thugs circled them, demanding money, demanding tribute, demanding blind terror, laughing and scowling at this poor family’s plight. The mother clutched her son. The father did his best to shield his loved ones from harm, and to surrender his wallet to these assailants, but knowing with sick certainty that would not be enough to satisfy these four evil men.

    Wait. Four evil men? Hadn’t there just been five of them?

    With a gurgled scream, that fifth attacker crumpled to the pavement, bruised and beaten, entering a long, painful slumber that could not be described as the sleep of the just. His four companions exchanged a miserable glance through the glittering, grimy snow—they knew. They’d lived in this city long enough to know, and to abandon hope. They would resist. They would fight. But their battle was already lost.

    A phantom of black and copper, topped by an incongruous flash of long red hair, moved among them, striking too quickly to be real. It was a woman, her face concealed by a dark mask. Even these dull-witted devils understood their misplaced machismo would be no match for her. Her copper whip coiled and bit like a venomous snake. Two more fell to the ground, their weapons scattered, their bodies wracked with pain. Another tried to run, but stopped short as a black-gloved hand reached out from nowhere and gripped his throat like a vise. Then the toxic sting of her whip sent him into unconsciousness as well.

    Only one of the thugs remained. Still armed with a knife, buoyed by the false bravado of his own desperation, the criminal lurched toward the boy and his mother, seeking hostages. It was the stupidest thing he had ever done in his misspent life. For now, he had drawn the ire, the anger, of this relentless wraith of vengeance.

    His weapon was gone before he knew it. His intended victims were beyond his reach. He stood alone, face to terrible masked face, with the cold fury of...

    THE COPPERHEAD!

    The last thug fainted. It was a mercy he did not deserve.

    With the brief battle over, The Copperhead’s grim stance shifted, softened. She turned her attention to the family she’d rescued. No longer a figure of swift and merciless justice, The Copperhead transformed into an angel of mercy, tending to this family, making sure they were unharmed, unafraid. As help arrived, The Copperhead faded into the shadows once again.

    The Copperhead knew the awful cost criminals could inflict upon a family, the ache of innocence lost. Innocence, and the innocent, must be protected. Her father had been a gunslinger in the Old West. His family suffered loss, but always fought for what was right. He passed his own sense of justice on to his daughter, The Copperhead.

    And The Copperhead passed that on to the next generation.

    The Copperhead didn’t know I was there on that long- ago winter evening, watching her deliver both justice and mercy where they were needed most. Maybe she did know, and just never let on. I was ten years old, but I could see through her mask and her Halloween garb. I scurried back home, stopping just long enough to chase away some bullies pestering some little kids. Always protect the innocent. I still made it home just before The Copperhead arrived. She was no longer masked, no longer an avenger. No longer The Copperhead.

    “Cody,” she said to me. “Did you get your homework done, or did you just listen to the radio and read your story magazines all evening?”

    “Don’t worry. I did what needed to be done. Just like you taught me.”

    She kissed me goodnight. And she returned to her room to plan the next step in her war on injustice. There were criminals to catch, Nazis to punch, rights to wrong. People to inspire. Innocents to protect. A family legacy to uphold.

    I grew up to be a crimefighter myself, a secret agent, Codename: Copperhead. I have a license to kill. I have never used it; I find another way, like I was taught. I remember the lessons I learned: Fight. Be fair. Punish the guilty. But above all else: Protect the innocent. That’s what The Copperhead taught me. And every day I thank her for the example she set. Thank you, Copperhead. I love you, Mom.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Captain Ginger Season Two #2
  •  

    We’re voyagers on Spaceship Earth? Nah. Not big enough.

    There’s this region in space that, since we’re talking about things on the scale of space, can be thought of as a line. A boundary. It’s where our solar system ends and space begins. It’s called the heliopause. Inside it, you’re part of the solar system. Outside it, you’re in interstellar space.

    How it’s formed is the cool stuff. Our sun is constantly blasting out charged particles—protons, mostly. This is the solar wind. The effects of the solar wind are felt by everything in our solar system. On Earth, the northern and southern lights are caused by these particles entering and interacting with the atmosphere at the poles.

    Thing is though, these particles can only move so fast for so far. All stars continuously blast out particles, and we’re surrounded by a lot of stars. Our sun’s solar wind slows thanks in part to the constant pushback of the solar winds of other stars in the interstellar medium (interstellar = outside of our solar system). Think of it like a bubble—the air inside a bubble is pushing outward, air outside the bub- ble is pushing inward, and those two “worlds,” inside and outside, are separated by the bubble’s skin. In this case, the bubble is our solar system.

    The layers of our situation go like this: Unencumbered solar wind, which encompasses the bulk of the solar system. This is followed by a zone of “termination shock” where the solar wind is slowing due to incoming pressure. Then comes the heliosheath—a turbulent zone made of massive “magnetic bubbles” notable for the continuous drop-off of solar wind particles. This is finally followed by the heliopause, the “boundary” where virtually all of the sun’s solar wind is stopped by that coming in from inter- stellar space. The heliopause is the place where the sun’s push “out” is matched by space’s push “in.”

    First-hand knowledge of these outer regions comes in large part from Voyagers 1 and 2, launched in 1977 and still kind of working today. Voyager 1 passed through the heliopause into interstellar space in August of 2012, while Voyager 2 followed in late 2018. Their specific findings are such that they can put a serious crimp in your interstellar travelling plans.

    First, the amount of cosmic rays—particles that were orig- inally part of some sun’s solar wind and have added with those of countless other suns to form a constant “space breeze”—rises dramatically as soon as you pass through the heliopause. As it turns out, our solar wind blocks about 70% of the cosmic rays that would otherwise come into the solar system. Even with that, we still get enough on Earth to measure and see their occasional effects. Humans travelling past the heliopause would need a lot of shielding to protect themselves from the apparent constant cosmic ray shower.

    Voyager 2’s data also suggested that the heliopause is mostly made up of low-density plasma that has a tem- perature between 53,000 to 89,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s really hot, but again—it’s really low density, mean- ing that both Voyagers were able to glide through without any problem. Hopefully someday, humans will follow and be similarly unaffected in their extremely well-shielded spaceships tricked out for interstellar travel.

    One last thing about our heliosphere and heliopause—the whole thing, if it could be seen from a huge distance away . . . it looks more like a comet, with a leading head and trailing tail. Living on Earth as it makes its way around the sun, it’s easy to forget that the sun is moving through space as well. The heliosphere is rounded and compressed (the “head”) relative to the direction in which the sun is moving in orbit around the center of our galaxy, while it trails behind, creating a longer “tail.”

    We’re all passengers on Spaceship Solar System? That’s more like it.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Dragonfly and Dragonflyman #4
  • Bryce couldn’t figure out Meagan. She was easily the smartest student in Mrs. Garcia’s sixth grade class, and yet she never seemed to understand any of Bryce’s jokes. She rolled her eyes at his puns, heaved sighs at his Arnold Schwarzenegger impression and never even cracked a smile when he let loose an epically loud burp.

    Bryce had nothing against Meagan, but he couldn’t imagine how or why they would ever become friends…until last Saturday.

    It happened at the skate park. Bryce was trying to stay on his board for more than fifty seconds without falling. It was a feat he’d need to master if he ever hoped to win five gold medals at the Olympics. He had just kissed the pavement for the twenty-third consecutive time when Meagan zoomed past him riding a vintage single kicktail with fifty-four millimeter wheels. 

    She reeked of confidence as she rolled directly into the half pipe and dove out of sight. An instant later she shot into the air and performed a backside 360 tail grab that displayed the sick, hand-painted graphic on the bottom of her deck.

    Bryce gasped. Nothing made sense anymore. Up was down. Right was left. The Earth went around the sun. Only one thing was certain. Bryce’s whole life depended on making Meagan his friend.

    For days Bryce tried desperately to start a conversation with Meagan, but he fell mute whenever he got within six feet of her. It was as if she radiated an impenetrable force field that wouldn’t allow anyone with less than a B average to speak to her. Bryce was pondering ways to crack that invisible barrier when Mrs. Garcia’s voice interrupted his thoughts.

     “Are you sure about this, Bryce?”

    Bryce had no idea what Mrs. Garcia was talking about. That was not unusual. However, Bryce also had no idea why his hand was raised above his head.

    “Bryce, the science fair is three days from now. Are you sure?”

    The horror of what was taking place slowly dawned on Bryce. Without his guidance or permission, Bryce’s arm had raised his hand and volunteered him for an extracurricular activity.

    Bryce looked around the room. His classmates were wide-eyed and slack-jawed—anxiously awaiting the punchline for what could only be a joke.

    Among those wide eyes were Meagan’s. And for the first time they were filled with something other than annoyance or impatience. Bryce had surprised her. Her shields were down. He seized the moment.

    “Yes, I’m sure.”

    The fact that Bryce was earning a solid D in science didn’t worry him. He had once wowed his first grade glass with a sprouted potato in a Mason jar and he was certain a recreation of that exhibit would thrill Mrs. Garcia and, more importantly, Meagan.

    The only obstacle was time. No student had ever sprouted a prize-winning potato in just three days. If Bryce was going to pull this off, he’d need help. So he turned to the internet.

    After consulting a website filled with innovative hacks for growing potatoes, Bryce combined common household cleaning products with WD-40 to create a powerful fertilizer. The website also advised Bryce to form a personal bond with his potato, so he named it Nick.

    Nick received all of Bryce’s attention. Bryce read to Nick, sang to Nick and did his Schwarzenegger impression for Nick. And Nick thrived.

    Three days later, Bryce stood proudly by his fully-sprouted potato exhibit in the school’s gymnasium. Mrs. Garcia gave him a quick glance and promptly awarded him one of several highly coveted “Participant” ribbons.

    Bryce smiled broadly as he pinned the tiny green ribbon to his shirt and hurried away to impress Meagan with what he had achieved.

    Suddenly, Nick’s companion was gone. The wave of loneliness that washed over him was incredibly painful and it grew worse with each passing minute. When the solitude became too much to bear, Nick flexed his roots, pushed himself out of his Mason jar and went in search of Bryce.

    Nick wandered through the gym on his tender roots—hopping from table to table and dodging the feet of students who took no notice of him. He moved past a frightening “Is The Cafeteria’s Pizza Killing Us?” exhibit and finally saw his only friend.

    Bryce stood six feet away from Meagan and her trophy-winning exhibit on bioluminescence in terrestrial invertebrates. His fingers smoothed the tiny green ribbon on his shirt as he took a step closer to her. Bryce was about to speak when, from the corner of his eye, he spotted a scale model of the planet Jupiter flying towards his head.

    Bryce was not a good student. He had never distinguished himself in any class or subject. However, he was one of the finest dodgeball players the school had ever known. He sidestepped the incoming planet and it crashed through Meagan’s exquisite, hand-carved models of Photinus carolinus.

    Bryce and Meagan both turned to face their attacker. They were shocked to find themselves staring at a sprouted potato resting next to an incomplete model of the solar system.

    Meagan had no idea how a potato had become sentient or why it had hurled a planet in her direction, but experience had taught her that circumstances such as these required only one question.

    “Bryce, what have you done?”

    There was no time to answer. Nick’s stems were already reaching for Neptune. Bryce grabbed Meagan by the hand and pulled her along behind him as he ran.

    Nick pursued them—fueled by a jealous rage unlike anything a potato had ever known. He had been used—coaxed into sprouting so that Bryce could charm a new and better friend. It was a betrayal and insult that Nick could not abide.

     

    Bryce pulled Meagan through the double doors that led to the school’s swimming pool. The two of them immediately lost their footing on the wet floor and tumbled into the water. It was then that they discovered what they had in common: neither of them could swim.

    Nick stood idly by as they thrashed frantically in the pool. It was a fate they deserved.

    But the hours Bryce spent with Nick had germinated more than stems and roots. Nick possessed a full range of emotions; and his anger was quickly quelled by his compassion. The feeling was new and unfamiliar to Nick, but he didn’t hesitate to act upon it.

    He could feel the hyper-chlorinated water leeching the life from his stems as he plunged them into the pool and reached for Bryce and Meagan. His young leaves withered as he took hold of Bryce and Meagan and pulled them to the pool’s edge. And his tender roots weakened and withered as Bryce and Meagan climbed out of the water and fell to the floor.

    Bryce and Meagan stumbled to their feet and cautiously approached the small spud that had become their savior.

    Meagan lifted the lifeless tuber from the floor and held it in her cupped hands.

    “This was no ordinary potato.”

    Bryce opened his mouth to explain what he’d done and inadvertently let loose the loudest burp he had ever emitted. The sound of it was still echoing off the walls as the faintest of smiles appeared on Meagan’s face.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Captain Ginger Season Two #1
  •  

    Every kid knows the story of how Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s foremost Founding Fathers, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that lightning and electricity are one and the same, in a remarkable, historical experiment involving a key, some string and the ever-changing sky itself!

    But how many know the true circumstances of Franklin’s audacious demonstration, or how a gigantic electric sky bear played a pivotal role in this historic scientific breakthrough?

    It all began on a stormy summer night in June 1752, when 47-year old Benjamin (“Ben”) Franklin, the renowned polymath and humorist nicknamed “The First American,” embarked upon an ill-starred attempt to unlock the front door of a cloud he’d mistaken for his Philadelphia home following a hard night’s chess-based carousing and debate with fellow Freemason, Enlightenment political theorist, and comedy Scotsman, Dr. William Smith, the Episcopal priest and editor of ‘The American Magazine or Monthly Chronicle for the British Colonies’.

    Somewhat the worse for wear, and having mislaid his trademark pince-nez, Franklin found himself uncharacteristically bamboozled by a simple meteorological phenomenon. Somehow misconstruing the storm cloud gathering overhead for his sturdy ground-based cottage environs, the esteemed Justice of the Peace for Philadelphia was naturally dismayed to discover his erstwhile domicile hovering several thousand feet up in the air and rain, high above his balding pate!

    As the tempest grew in intensity, Franklin reasoned that the safest place for him was indoors—and swiftly devised a plan that was to change scientific history.

    If he could somehow contrive a method by which to open the door of his currently hovering domicile, the pseudonymous “Richard Saunders”  felt certain he could pull the house back down to earth, hoping to draw it close enough to climb through the door, find his bed chamber, and go to sleep, praying to “Powerful Goodness” (his name for a God in which he could not bring himself to believe, except during episodes of existential crisis and fear like this one) that the whole damn sickening thing would stand revealed as a rarebit nightmare come the dawn.

    But the key was tucked away in his breeches’ pocket—and the lock was now far above the ground! The only major scientist to side with Christian Huygens’ wave theory of light was now at a loss. 

    Fortunately for the face on the $100 bill (or “Benjamin”), he’d maintained a small but lucrative sideline in the sale of party novelties, such as Swanee whistles, silly string, confetti cannons, and, as luck would have it, balloons!

    In no time at all, the wily secretary of the American Philosophical Society had tethered his front door key to a swiftly inflated festive balloon. But how to retrieve the key when its work was accomplished and entry achieved?

    Dame Fortune smiled once more on Franklin after a quick search through his bag of tricks uncovered an aerosol can of fluorescent spray string, ideal for his purpose.

    As he lofted his bizarre confection of twine, balloon, and house key into the raging storm, he saw before him a stupendous sight destined to change destiny forever!

    It was then Franklin understood: what he’d assumed to be the roaring of thunder was, in truth, the snarling, yet still comprehensible, curses of a vicious, formidably intelligent, and phenomenally outsize sky bear, with eyes, teeth, and claws of living lightning!

    As far as the clinically obese Philadelphia Postmaster could discern, the Brobdingnagian bruin was several hundred feet tall and seemingly made of a dark, cloud-like material. Unlike its terrestrial cousins—those conventional, ground-based bears that tend to favor a cave-dwelling lifestyle—this airborne representative of the species ursus had made its home in the vaults of the heavens themselves!

    And it was angry, with a capital A!

    This is MY house, not yours! the bear made clear in a series of awe-inspiring utterances that rocked Franklin on his cobbled heels. YOUR house is behind you! Trying to break into MY cloud-house using YOUR front door key will never work. But you have my word—the nation of electric sky bears will leave you alone if you leave us alone! Take my assurance that lightning is electricity and begone!

    To be honest, Franklin’s description of the beast is lacking in further detail and does not suggest that what he witnessed was anything other than a cloud; certainly, his report contains no identifying features of any kind of animal.

    Is it possible that Franklin, the noted author, satirist, and “cautious abolitionist” who had already confused his house for a cumulonimbus, made the understandable error of mistaking a second cloud for a wild sky animal on a gigantic scale?

    Whatever the reality, there’s no doubt that the alleged bear played a pivotal role in the advancement of human knowledge, and that’s a big plus in anyone’s CV!

    The story has been filmed as Son of Sky Bear, starring Montgomery Clift, Bradford Dillman, and introducing John Cassevetes as Geronimo.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Captain Ginger #1
  •  

    This week marks 10 years since what has come to be known as the Tucson Trivia Robot Riot made national headlines. The Arizona Globe contacted the relevant individuals, both human and robot, to construct this oral history.

    Roger Leeling (owner, The Thirsty Skink) We started having Trivia Tuesday at the bar to increase sales. For the first two years it did exactly what it was supposed to. Then the robot started showing up.

    Jamie Franklin (trivia host) The first time the robot came in, no one noticed until after the contest. He sat in the back corner where the lighting’s not great. They kicked everyone’s a**. It wasn’t close at all.

    Brooklyn Styles (trivia enthusiast, captain of team “Girl Power”) I was sitting at the table next to “Team Science” that first night. Their team captain acted as spokesman, but the strange-looking guy in the corner was obviously feeding him the answers.

    Abbey Finch (team “Girl Power”) Brooklyn said she thought something was off about the guy in the back. His hair didn’t seem to fit his head. After they won, I decided to walk by and get a closer look. There were wires coming out of the guy’s neck!

    Leeling A customer told me that one of the members of “Team Science” was a robot. I didn’t believe her. But, just to make her happy, I said I’d have Jamie check it out.

    Albert Pearl (amateur robotics scientist, captain of variously named trivia teams) I had just collected our fifty bucks and was headed back to the table when I saw the host talking to Barney.

    Barney the Robot (trivia robot) Professor Pearl said, “Run!” I ran out the front door. I am fast!

    Franklin That robot ran really slowly. I can walk faster. I think one of its legs was several inches shorter than the other. It was kind of pitiful. No one even tried to chase him.

    Leeling I put up a “No Robots” sign on the Skink’s front door. I’ve got nothing against robots, but the human players didn’t stand a chance against him. It was bad for business.

    Robot If I answer many trivia questions correctly, Professor Pearl promises to turn me into a real boy. And he’ll get me a dog too!

    On March 12th and 19th, Barney the Robot and Albert Pearl used disguises to gain access to Trivia Tuesday.

    Franklin First, the robot had a long white beard and Albert Pearl wore a baseball cap. The following week the robot had on the baseball cap and Pearl had the fake beard. They weren’t very creative with their disguises. But I didn’t give a s*** if a robot/human team or an all human team won. I got paid fifteen dollars and two free drinks either way.

    Leeling I’d needed glasses for years. But I’d just turned forty, been through a bad breakup, and was feeling self- conscious about my appearance. I looked younger without glasses. So, yes, the fake beard tricked me and I gave them the fifty bucks again. Twice.

    Franklin Honestly, I have no idea how they got past security every week.

    Shane Popoff (former Thirsty Skink bouncer/doorman) I just let them in. I’ve always liked robots. Robots are tight. Plus, trivia nerds are annoying. Have they heard of the Internet? No one cares what you remember. My phone remembers more.

    Styles By the third week, every time the robot’s team answered a question the other teams would boo. It was getting pretty rowdy. A few people even started throwing tater tots at the robot’s team.

    Robot Humans began throwing cylindrical potatoes at us. Scary!

    The next week, on March 26th, the robot did not attempt to participate in Tuesday Trivia.

    Finch Our team won that week. Everyone had a really good time. We thought the tater tots had sent them a message and they weren’t coming back.

    Pearl My mother was visiting from Florida that week. That’s why we didn’t show up. I definitely did not have to rewire the robot so that he wasn’t scared of tater tots.

    On April 2, Pearl and the Robot were met by a large group of human trivia players as they attempted to enter The Thirsty Skink.

    Styles Abbey came into the Skink and said she saw Pearl and the robot walking up the street to the bar. Everybody went outside.

    Popoff The trivia nerds were yelling and screaming and pointing to the “No Robots” sign. It was really sad to see a nice, friendly robot being treated that way.

    Clint Howland (captain of team “Golf Life”) We’d been prepping for “Michael J. Fox Trivia Night” for weeks. Watching “Family Ties” and “Spin City” like fiends. We weren’t letting that robot spoil our fun. No chance.

    Leeling I’d been to my ophthalmologist and gotten hooked up with a bunch of disposable contact lenses, so when I looked outside to see what all the commotion was about, I could see the robot. I went out to make sure things didn’t get out of hand.

    Pearl The owner said he wasn’t letting Barney in. Bar policy. Which was completely unfair. The only rule at Trivia Night was “no internet.” Barney doesn’t use the Internet. He stores all the answers on his hard drive.

    Leeling I told Pearl if the robot left, he could come in. But he wouldn’t be able to play, because a team had to have at least two members.

    Pearl and the robot left the premises, and the crowd returned to the bar. Ten minutes later, Pearl returned, carrying a backpack and accompanied by another man.

    Nicholas Evans (homeless resident of Tucson, team “Professor’s Revenge”) I was camping a couple blocks away from The Thirsty Skink. Some guy said he’d buy me a beer if I’d be on his trivia team. I told him I wanted chicken fingers too.

    Popoff I had to check the dude’s backpack before I let him in, so I saw the robot head. I thought it was hilarious. I let them right in.

    Robot My head is easily detached from my body. I like riding in backpacks!

    Howland Team “Professor’s Revenge” knew all the answers, even a question about “Life With Mikey!” No one’s seen that movie. Something was up. My buddy Avery and I went over and accused them of cheating. A voice was coming out of Pearl’s backpack! I thought he had a phone in there. I grabbed the backpack. Then things got crazy.

    Robot I fell out of the backpack and slid across the floor. Sliding is fun!

    Bryson Heath (bar patron) I was just there to drink. I’d been sipping whiskey for hours. I don’t like trivia. Or robots.

    Styles The robot’s head slid over to the bar and stopped by some guy’s feet. He kicked it toward us. I just reacted on reflex and kicked it away.

    Robot Being kicked is bad. I called my body for help!

    Leeling All of a sudden, the robot’s body walks through the door. It can’t see without its head, and it’s crashing into tables. Knocking people down. Breaking plates and glasses.

    Franklin I was up on stage. I didn’t think the robot could climb stairs, so I felt pretty safe. I started filming everything with my phone.

    Heath The robot’s body was knocking people down. I tried to help by punching it. But I missed and accidentally punched some trivia dork. It felt good, so I just kept punching dorks.

    Leeling People were fighting. Throwing glasses. Kicking the robot’s head around. I called 9-1-1. While I was on the phone, the robot’s body stumbled into the kitchen.

    Robot My body could not find my head. It is hard to find things without eyes!

    Yocelyn Manzanares (former cook at The Thirsty Skink) A headless robot came into the kitchen and started thrashing around. I went home. I didn’t get paid enough to fight robots.

    Leeling The robot accidentally started a fire as it was leaving the kitchen. Some people ran outside when the fire alarm went off. Others were so drunk they kept fighting.

    Robot A human kicked my head and it stopped right between my legs. I picked it up and put it back on. Professor Pearl said, “Time to go home!”

    Evans The guy and his robot just walked out. I never got my chicken strips. It was a bull**** deal.

    The Thirsty Skink burned to the ground that night. Fifteen people were hospitalized with first degree burns and the effects of smoke inhalation. Miraculously, no one died. The cell phone video Jamie Franklin took became a viral sensation, racking up over seventeen million views and leading to the production of a moderately successful Marky Mark Wahlberg movie about the day’s events.

    Police forced Albert Pearl to modify Barney the Robot as a precaution against further accidental violence.

    Robot I no longer have arms or legs. I sit on a couch!

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Edgar Allan Poe's Snifter of Terror - Season 2 #3
  •  

    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
  •  

    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
  •  

    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
  •  

    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
  • 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