Extras

  • We’re too late. It’s already been here.

    Mulder, I hope you know what you’re doing.

    Look, Scully—just like the other homes: Douglas fir, truncated, mounted, transformed into a shrine...halls decked with boughs of holly...stockings hung by the chimney, with care.

    You really think someone’s been here?

    Someone...or something.

    Mulder, over here—it’s a fruitcake...

    Don’t touch it. Those things can be lethal!

    It’s OK. There’s a note attached: “Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.”

    It’s judging them, Scully. It’s making a list.

    Who? What are you talking about?

    Ancient mythology tells of an obese humanoid entity who could travel at great speed in a craft powered by antlered servants. Once each year, near the winter solstice, this creature is said to descend from the heavens with jagged chunks of anthracite.

    But that’s legend, Mulder—a story told by parents to frighten children. Surely, you don’t believe it?

    Something was here tonight, Scully. Check out the bite marks on this gingerbread man. Whatever tore through this plate of cookies was massive—and in a hurry.

    It left crumbs everywhere. And look, Mulder, this milk glass has been completely drained.

    It gorged itself, Scully. It fed without remorse. But why would they leave it milk and cookies?

    Appeasement. Tonight is the Eve, and nothing can stop its wilding.

    But if this thing does exist, how did it get in? The doors and windows were locked. There’s no sign of forced entry.

    Unless I miss my guess, it came through the fireplace.

    Wait a minute, Mulder. If you’re saying some huge creature landed on the roof and came down this chimney, you’re crazy. The flue is barely six inches wide. Nothing could get down here.

    But what if it could alter its shape, move in all directions at once?

    You mean, like a bowl full of jelly?

    Exactly, Scully. I’ve never told anyone this, but when I was a child, my home was visited. I saw the creature. It had long white shanks of fur surround its ruddy, misshapen head. Its bloated torso was red and white. I’ll never forget the horror. I turned away, and when I looked back, it had somehow taken on the facial features of my father.

    Impossible.

    I know what I saw. And that night, it read my mind. It brought me a Mr. Potato Head, Scully. It knew that I wanted a Mr. Potato Head!

    I’m sorry, Mulder, but you’re asking me to disregard the laws of physics. You want me to believe in some supernatural being who soars across the skies and brings gifts to good little girls and boys. Listen to what you’re saying. Do you understand the repercussions? If this gets out, they’ll close the X files.

    Scully, listen to me: It knows when you’re sleeping. It knows when you’re awake.

    But we have no proof.

    Last year, on this exact date, SETI radio telescopes detected bogeys in the airspaces over twenty-seven states. The White House ordered a Condition Red.

    But that was a meteor shower.

    Officially. Two days ago, eight prized Scandinavian reindeer vanished from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Nobody —not even the zookeeper—was told about it. The government doesn’t want people to know about Project Kringle. They fear that if this thing is proved to exist, the public will stop spending half its annual income in a holiday shopping frenzy. Retail markets will collapse. Scully, they cannot let the world believe this creature lives. There’s too much at stake. They’ll do whatever it takes to ensure another silent night.

    Mulder, I—

    Sh-h-h. Do you hear what I hear?

    On the roof. It sounds like...a clatter.

    The truth is up there. Let’s see what’s the matter.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    CAPTAIN GINGER #3
  • A voice woke me from my deep, dreamless sleep. “Samsa? Private Samsa – Get up! The Krauts have dug in on Hill-21. I need you an’ Joe K to knock out their machine-gun nest.”

    “But, Sarge, I-I’m a . . . monster,” I answered. But instead of a sob of existential despair, I could only make a series of unintelligible clicking and scraping sounds. I burrowed deeper into my foxhole, tried to hide. “Can you not see my dung-coloured, bathtub-sized carapace? My repulsive, eight-limbed thorax and twittering mouth-parts? I am an inhuman grotesquerie! A repellent freak!”

    “Huh? Are you . . . disobeying a direct order? On yer feet, soldier—now!” I could see disappointment and disgust in Sargeant Spinoza’s eyes, magnified a thousandfold by my compound insect eyes. I thought I would drown in my own shame. “Nobody lives forever!” he added.

    “Well, okay,” said I. There was no faulting his logic.

    “Why are we here?” asked K miserably as we inched our way up the slope. What’s the point of all this, of . . . of anything?” He threw down his carbine and wept.

    I made a ‘cut the gab’ sign with all eight limbs at once (four of them squeezed into size-12 G.I. boots), lost balance and rolled down the hill. Like tragic Sisyphus, forced to roll a boulder up a hill, was I also doomed to endlessly repeat my own climb for all eternity? I lit four Lucky Strikes and smoked them at the same time. Meh.

    We rushed the German position. Well, actually, I scuttled and skittered, zigzagged to and fro, back and forth, a human cockroach tacking on the winds of an unkind and uncaring Fate. K stumbled forward, staring at the grenade in his fist, as if unable to comprehend its function or it underlying epistemological purpose. “I don’t know what this is!” he wailed. “What is it—what is this thing that I hold?”

    The M1 carbine was not designed to be fired by one such as I—a vile, guilt-ridden mockery of an insect-man—so I waved it at the enemy in what I hoped was an appropriately aggressive manner and made disparaging cricket noises.

    Wehrmacht troops threw down their weapons and fled at the sight of me. “Ach! Run! It’s an American secret weapon—ein Kakerlakensoldat!”

    Our target was in sight. But a dour-faced German sapper appeared and flagged us down. “Stop! Are you authorised to be here? Without the appropriate signature this attack cannot proceed!”

    “What?” said I, incredulously. “Whose signature?”

    “I cannot say.”

    “Cannot—or will not?”

    “I’m not permitted to answer that. I have my orders, you know.” And he turned his back on me—somewhat petulantly, I thought—folded his arms and pouted. So I scuttled round him.

    I yelled down to the enemy machine-gunner in his camou- flaged dug-out. “Hullooo! Who’s in charge? We’re here to attack you.”

    The gunner answered from within, his face a solemn white moon rising from the darkness of life’s tragic abyss. “Ha! What trifles constitute happiness!” he replied, quoting Nietzsche—or maybe it was Don Rickles. I don’t speak German. “Ah, the sound of a bagpipe... without music life would be a mistake. The German imagines even God as a songster!” He began singing In The Mood, his assistant-gunner doing the trumpet parps and the pair Lindy Hopped their way out of their dug-out and off into the woods.

    The Sarge lit a cheroot in the cold, grey light of dawn. “Attaboy, Samsa! Yer a hero. The Lieut has recommended you for a Purple Heart. But him, the poor dumb schmuck—” He nodded towards where Joe K stood, paralysed, still contem- plating the grenade, his face a pale, grim parody of Munch’s painting, The Scream. “It’s the bug-house for him.”

    First published in 1949, The Hill was filmed in 1952 by Frank Capra (no relation) starring Audie Murphy as PFC Greg Samsa, Glenn Ford as Joe K and Marlene Dietrich as Sarge.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Penultiman #3
  • There is never a better time than right now to get started gardening. Never mind what season it is, there is always something you can plant. If this is your first foray into home-growing, here are some helpful tips to get you started:

    Start small. Pick a manageable project to begin with. A cute little herb garden, some nice rose bushes, maybe just a row of lettuce. You need to learn to walk before you can run.

    Don’t go in for expensive equipment. You won’t need it, and your money is better spent on good quality compost and seeds. That old shovel you have in the shed will do just fine for now.

    Don’t forget to bait your goblin traps. Contrary to popular mythology, goblins are vegetarian, and nothing will shrink your crop of carrots faster than a hungry greenskin.

    What do you mean, you don’t have goblin traps? Are you stupid? How do you expect to grow anything with goblins in your garden?

    OK, OK, so you might have goblins. It’s probably not the end of the world. I shouldn’t have reacted like that. If you have a hammer, nails, some netting, golf balls, an even number of pencils, and some old milk bottles, you can actually make your own goblin traps. As long as they don’t make it into the house, you should be just fine. You can deal with this.

    The fridge? You found them in the fridge? Oh no. I don’t mean to alarm you here, but you may have let this get out of hand already. If they’re in your fridge, they’re in your house. If they have a nest in your house, you are going to have a serious problem trying to evict them.

    I mean, they could be nesting anywhere: the attic, walls, basement, cupboards, the foundations. I know you wanted to start gardening, but honestly, I’m not sure that should be your priority right now. Rooting out a goblin infestation without the aid of a pest-control wizard is next to impossible, and I don’t need to tell you how hard it is to get a wizard to your house on short notice. I don’t know what to tell you, I really don’t.

    It’s only a matter of days before they start to take over; they breed like—well, like goblins. Soon you’ll be coming downstairs in the morning to find they have finished the coffee and not bothered to refill the pot. They will make goat’s cheese in your sink. They will make you rewatch Lost, but talk over all the good bits. Before you know it, they will start homeschooling your kids, and your kids will start to talk about socialism and collective organization. You’ll wake in the morning to find they have painted your toenails using that embarrassing hot pink varnish you bought but thought better of ever using. And they won’t have been neat about it, either. You might be past all help by now.

    Forget about improving your garden. Have you considered trying to sell your house?

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Happy Hour #2
  • The Ravenmaster lets out a whistle. All seven of the glossy black beasts take roost on their assigned spots. Aubrey, the one farthest away from the Ravenmaster, shudders its feathers into place. Something about the motion troubles the Ravenmaster.

    The gates clank and squeak as they open. Children of all species under the Empire’s flag jump and waddle and ooze off of the buses.

    “Urchins,” mutters the Ravenmaster, uncharitably. “You’re awfully grumpy, for a robot,” says his assistant. “You are typically rude, for a human. And late as usual.”

    Children and guardians are getting the first pamphlet on their appendage displays. The devices emit sounds, scroll text and waft scents so that everyone can understand the grand tradition of this historic place, no matter their species. “The whole tower complex is a replica of the one constructed many millennia ago, in London, on Earth. Many of the stones and metals used in the construction were transported across the vast reaches of space, from the home world itself, to recreate this essential icon of the Empire.”

    Some adults, mostly loyalists to Charles the 23rd, marvel at the details. Kids are generally more interested in the ravens.

    “You should love the kids. They are the only ones who care about your ravens.”

    The Ravenmaster bristles. “Without my ravens there is no Empire.”

    “You sound like that would be a good thing.”

    The first group has made their way to the grassy area where the ravens reside. The Ravenmaster lets out an impressive whistle. The group falls silent.

    “The ravens protect the tower, the monarchy, and the Empire. They are modeled on ravens bred in Somerset, some six thousand years ago.”

    A bluish appendage shoots up. “What’s a Somerset?”

    “Shame. You have not studied your historic geography! Demerits!”

    The youngster pulls all of its limbs into a central trunk. An adult tries to console it.

    “Just because you don’t know, doesn’t mean you should take it out on the kid,” whispers the assistant.

    The Ravenmaster favors her with a scathing glance.

    “The ravens to your right are named Gripp, Merlin, and James Crow. To your left are Bran, Winston, Markel, and Aubrey.”

    “Which one can play dead?” another youngling asks, careful to not raise a hand.

    “I see you’ve done your reading. James Crow is famous for her occasional display. Perhaps, if we are lucky, she will favor us with one today.”

    The bluish child moves to the back of the group. It shud- ders and drops silvery tears, falling like tiny diamonds on the grass.

    Aubrey cocks a head toward the glistening tears.

    The Ravenmaster goes through his whole routine, signal- ing James Crow to play dead.

    Aubrey hops down from his perch and picks up one of the tears. He swallows it. Then another, and another. He allows the bluish child to pet his tail.

    To revive the bird, the Ravenmaster insists the children sing “God Save the King”, at full volume. James Crow hops up and ruffles her glistening black feathers.

    The Ravenmaster notices Aubrey missing from his perch. He lets out a whistle. Aubrey flies up, cawing and making a big show of circling the perch before landing.

    The children applaud. The Ravenmaster is not pleased. He sends them on to view the crown jewels and armaments.

    He puts up a sign: “The ravens are resting and will return after their nap.”

    The Ravenmaster takes Aubrey into the workshop.

    While he is away, the assistant notices the little tears. She goes inside to get something to collect them in.

    She returns to find Winston, Markel, James Crow and Bran all eating the tears. She uses the whistle on her lanyard to call them to attention. They ignore her.

    She returns to the workshop. Aubrey lays open on the diagnostic reader. Glistening nanobots seethe out of him, sliding up the hand of the Ravenmaster and into his slack mouth.

    The assistant goes back to the yard. Gripp has joined the others, eating the silvery tears. Only Merlin, the one actual raven, stands alone. She scoops up the bird and carries her to a transport chamber.

    The assistant and the bird materialize deep in the secret vault of QI6 HQ. They step off the platform.

    “Ravenmistress.” The guard bows to her.

    “The intel was good, another attempt on the ravens. We’ll have to revert to more avians until we can sort this.”

    “You were able to save the mother bird, then?”

    Merlin lets out a triumphant “tok cr-r-uck” and flies to the highest spot in the room, the tiny nanobot clinging to the hock of her right foot unnoticed.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Edgar Allan Poe's Snifter of Blood #2
  • The witch’s face was covered with moss and filth and her dress had the workings of a large clock sewn into it. “What?” she said, picking at one of the gears.

    “It’s a little much, don’t you think?” I was drunk, zigzagging home from the pub.

    “Quiet. Here.” She held out the sword: it caught a streetlight’s glow. “This is for you. You’ll know what to do with it.”

    I took the sword from her with exaggerated occasion. The streetlight popped and she vanished. I slept in my clothes, the sword by my side.

    The sword was silver, with a ruby studding its hilt, and no one could remember it but me. I showed dozens of friends, sometimes dozens of times, and after the initial shock it would vanish from their memories.

    (I showed it to Dave too many times, and he forgot his own name. “Do?” he said, or “Da?”, hoping I’d finish it for him.)

    The sword also couldn’t be given away. I supported myself by selling it to pawn shops and waiting for it to appear, at dawn, in my bedroom again. When I held it up in the sunlight it made a clear keening sound.

    “Frankly,” I said to the witch, “it’s a lot of responsibility.”

    For nights, I’d waited under the dead streetlight for her to appear, the sword wrapped in an old blanket. I was sober now and determined to give it back.

    “No,” she said. Looking closer, I saw scuffed digital watches tied into her hair. “That’s not how it works.”

    “Then tell me what it’s for. Give me a hint. Should I be practicing or something?”

    “You’ll be fine. It’s magic. But time’s ticking.” Her long fingers made a mysterious gesture. I waited for something to happen, but nothing did. She added: “Got a cigarette?”

    I practiced, just in case. I watched fencing footage and mimicked the moves. It cost me a couple of lamps and a nasty gash in the kitchen door but slowly the sword and I came to an understanding.

    It wanted to strike, to cleave and smite. It knew what to do. I wasn’t its knight; I was its caddy. I’d brandish it at the appropriate moment and the rest would play out like a cutscene in a video game. All I needed to know was when.

    Months passed. I’d sold the sword to all the local pawn shops, and had to travel to find new marks. Dave, gradu- ally, recovered from the sword’s thrall, and I was careful to hide it under the bed whenever he came around.

    I thought about running away—but how could I get on a plane knowing the sword might appear in my carry-on luggage? It felt like an anchor, and I started sleeping until noon.

    I staked out the streetlight again, but the witch never ap- peared. I’d brought her cigarettes so smoked until I was sick. “Go to hell,” I said, spitting on the concrete.

    Every light on the street stuttered and died, so I know she heard me.

    And I heard the roar in my sleep. The alchemy of dreams turned it into a fire, and I woke up sheet-tangled and soaked in sweat. The sword, buried under worn clothes, sang an alarm: a pulsing C sharp.

    Another roar, closer now. I wanted to turn on the news, see what was out there, but the sword called to my hand; once I took it, it dragged me out the door.

    “Here we go,” I said to it, confidently as I could.

    Outside the street was empty except for a dragon. It saw me and paused, foot hanging ominously over a midsize car.

    “Hey,” it said. Flames licked the inside of its nostrils, and it was missing one eye.

    “Hi,” I said.

    “So you met the witch.”

    “Yeah.” I was now shouting over the noise of news helicop- ters and occasional disbelieving yells.

    The dragon lowered its foot. The car compacted, inch by inch, windows shattering like a spit-take. “How’d she get you to take it?”

    “I was drunk.”

    The sword yanked at my grip, pulling us closer. The dragon gave off heat like an open kiln, but the sword’s hilt remained cool and its song remained pure.

    This dragon, this sword. This moment. I struck a pose, hoping the news cameras caught it.

    The sword generated its own glow: a noon-day sun, casting thin, tall shadows. It was singing a note never heard before as I swung it down . . .

    “Hold on,” said the dragon, surprised. “There’s been a mistake.”

    It took all my strength not to let the blow land. The sword squirmed, eager to test itself on the dragon’s scales. I held on tight. “What is it?”

    The dragon unfurled a tiny arm and beckoned with a claw. “That’s my sword,” it said. “The ruby in the hilt? It’s my left eye.”

    “Oh,” I said. “Yeah. That makes sense.”

    It plucked the sword from my hand. “Thanks,” it said.

    I walked home and watched its rampage on TV, then went to bed around midnight. I lay there, listening to faint sirens and screams, and hummed the sword’s song in the dark.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Penultiman #2
  • TO: Captain Ginger

    FROM: Science Cat

    RE: ???

    Cap’n: I wanted you to be the first to see this. I stumbled across it while searching for another file. The implications are... well, we should probably discuss it in person. Suffice to say, I think it’s the first record we’ve managed to find that was written by a very special Feeder*. It’s corrupted and full of gaps, but take a look and then let’s talk it over?

    P.S. Thanks for the “Greenies” treats. My teeth feel better already.

    * human

    --

    My Very Own Dear Rowena,

    This will likely be my last communication. I have glimpsed the horsemen on the horizon, seen strong men reduced to quivering jelly. I have heard the radio-borne screams of an entire crew as they voluntarily steered their ship into the heart of a star. All to avoid the pain, the agony, the unbearable end of all they held dear.

    You and I were no strangers to agony. We inflicted plenty of it, each on the other, over the years. I admit to a twinge of jealousy when your animal-intelligence enhancement benchmarks exceeded my own. When you accepted your FSA certificate, I fear my brows narrowed ever so slightly and a slight hissing noise escaped my lips. I’m sure you never noticed; your adoration of me never wavered, in all the time I knew you. But at the end of days, all one’s sins must be confessed.

    I’m certain I caused you pain at times too—though, admittedly, no examples come readily to mind. You were always endlessly patient with my foibles, even if your laughter at my jests occasionally came across as forced. And yet, even with all that has passed between us, there is no one in the universe to whom I feel closer. No human, at any rate.

    Pardon, my love. One of my subjects, the fiery Betsy Spots, has taken exception to her enzyme injection and sunk her impressively hooked claws into my wrist. My apologies, Dear Betsy, for this trouble—and for the double-strength radiation bath that awaits you. But time is short, and our usual safeguards must be set aside. One day, perhaps, you will understand.

    Where was I? Ah yes: you and I, Rowena. Even in our darkest hours—even, I daresay, on that terrible day when you hurled the DNA crisper at my head and stalked out the door—even then I felt the inextricable bond linking our souls. For we, alone among our ill-fated race, shared a passion, a sense of urgency born of our ability to see the dark future ahead. The terrible path that

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    obsessed with improving humanity. For over a century, this singleminded goal has led us to develop ever more sophisticated tools for in-utero tinkering. We can now eliminate all genetic predispositions toward disease, brain damage, and muscle deterioration. We have created a race of supermen and women, unhampered by mental or physical flaws.

    And in all this time—throughout decades of experiments, millions upon millions of gene-snips and nanorepairs—we never once considered the possibility that all this tampering might leave us MORE vulnerable, rather than less.

    For in our pursuit of perfection, we have reduced the once-diverse human race to a single, targetable genetic template. And along the way, we have lost the ferocity, the sharp edge that allowed us to protect ourselves in eras past. The eye, if you will forgive a dying man his miniscule jest, of the tiger.

    Few options remain to us now. But one of those options, which even now occupies my feverish final hours, lies drenched in thick irony. For in the very same technology that served us up to the butcher’s knife may lie the only hope for the human race to live on in memory, if not in flesh.

    You see: In all those years, too, we never considered the OTHER uses of gene-alteration.

    Forgive me, divine Rowena. I see I have neglected to mention another trait so tragically lost to our kind: playfulness. The ability to toy with one’s prey and then, if one’s hunger is not yet acute, to retract one’s claws and allow it to waddle on its way. The playfulness celebrated in story and song, in the old-fashioned courtship between an eager, wolfish man and a coy, faux-reluctant woman. You never said as much; indeed, your harsh words ofttimes belied the sentiment. But I know you always appreciated my off-color remarks, my humorous log entries on the skirt lengths of our various interns, the cameras playfully mounted in

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    nights. How could it be, I wondered? Could a simple disagreement on the matter of test subjects—of all things!—be the sole obstacle keeping us apart? A mere trifle, yet

    FILE CORRUPTED - TEXT MISSING

    no fear of death...not of my own, at any rate. But I confess to a touch of unease at the screams and cries as the infection consumes my crewmates, one by one. The medical bay is jammed to bursting, the ship’s supplies of painkillers long since exhausted. With the Maker damaged, those stores cannot be easily replenished.

    I hold no desire to join those poor souls writhing and wailing on cold hospital beds. Perhaps soon I will venture down to the Maker, see if I may coax its wheezing circuits back to life. But for now I prefer to stay in my laboratory, its door barred to block out all pain and screams, all the human suffering I have spent my life struggling to avoid. Here with my formulas, my experiments, my life’s work.

    With my cats.

    No, flawless Rowena, angel of my eye, I fear not my imminent passage from this world. But I admit to a seizing pain when i picture YOU, countless light-years away, falling victim to this same horrific fate. I know our love can never be; certainly not now, as all humankind prepares to join us in oblivion. Not because of the harsh words, the restraining order, or the fact that you sought out a rare science officer position on a Rimworld ship. The words, I know, were spoke in passion; the order, a mere scrap of paper; and the fact that the Rim is as far as possible from my current posting here on the Intrepid—surely that is a coincidence, yet another of the universe’s cruel, random jokes.

    No, Rowena. No no no no no. Even were our doom, the doom of all men and women, not so tightly sealed; even if the human race were not facing its final hour; even then, the flame that burned so bright between us could only have flickered briefly before winking out forever.

    For I LOVE CATS: fierce flashing engines of joy, of passion and predation, all those bright qualities our own race so thoughtlessly tossed aside. Cats swell my heart, enrich my mind, grant me hope that the legacy of humanity may, in some form, survive. And this, my dear sweet cruel Rowena, you shall never understand. For you, most perfect of all sirens, sharp-thorned flower of my dark garden, eternal apple of my one still- functioning eye, you love only

    FILE CORRUPTED - ATTEMPTING TO REPAIR

    you love

    FILE CORRUPTED - WORKING

    you love only

    WORKING

    love only

    WORKING

    dogs

    FILE ENDS ABRUPTLY

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    CAPTAIN GINGER Volume One: Survival Instinct
  • Donald Tillman jumped behind the counter of the closed Burger Grab fast food restaurant as bullets shattered the countertop’s wood and laminate. The portly recruiter for the Bernardino Collective was hunted by his greatest achievement, Jennifer Taft.

    “Jen, let’s talk!” Tillman gasped, unused to the physical exertion and stress. From the shadows, Jennifer answered with another gunshot that blasted wooden splinters onto Don’s bald head.

    “You lied to me, Don,” said Jen. “You lied to all of us!”

    Donald tried to fish his cell phone from his jacket pocket but couldn’t find it. Don realized he had left it on the restaurant table he was sitting at when Jennifer jumped through the glass window, aiming her firearm. He was in the middle of texting headquarters with an update on the operation when Jennifer arrived. The promises Don made in the text regarding Jennifer’s mission now seemed over- optimistic.

    Jennifer made no sound as she moved in the dark. Don was scared. Jen would kill him, and the sad thing was Don knew he deserved it.

    Don had recruited Jennifer and her classmate Diane a few years back at Harvard. They had taken tests and done interviews for job opportunities with the Bernardino Collective; both passed a rigorous background check. The two college seniors tested well, with multiple language skills and an aptitude for problem solving, exactly what the Collective wanted.

    The Collective advertised as a human resources marketing firm, but in the final interviews, Don told his two prospects a secret: the Collective was an ultra-covert, off-the-books American spy organization. With a smile, Don had asked them to serve their county.

    “Please, Jen. Let’s talk.”

    “You sent me to kill Diane. But she told me everything. She told me the truth, Don!”

    Jen and Diane were roommates at The Facility in Upstate New York. The two shared the remote 400-acre campus with about thirty other recruits also right out of America’s top colleges. The two-month curriculum included the expected training in spycraft, firearms, and hand-to-hand combat, but mostly focused on communications and psychological manipulation.

    Don was at their graduation. He personally gave Jen her first assignment.

    Jennifer had expected an exciting overseas adventure, and was surprised and disappointed when Don told her she was heading to the small town of Saline, Kansas, where she would be deep cover as a Burger Grab restaurant manager. But Don was encouraging.

    “There’s some bad shit going down in Saline. Domestic terrorism. I’ll brief you later, but this is an important mission, Jen. We need our best on this one.”

    Jen hated the work and the rural locale, but she kept her cover, often receiving coded instructions from Don asking her to investigate possible local terrorist bases that always turned out to be empty warehouses. And the restaurant was running well, even though Jen found her low salary and shitty benefits burdensome. To maintain cover, she couldn’t receive her Collective wages until after her mission was complete, but Jen was proud to sacrifice for America.

    Jen didn’t know where Diane or the other Facility trainees had been assigned; she hoped somewhere glamorous. But then Don had shown up yesterday and told her that Diane was stationed in Cambria, six hours away. Like Jen, Diane was investigating domestic terrorism in a small town, with a similar cover at another Burger Grab.

    And then Bob told her that Diane had turned, that she was working with the terrorists. Bob asked his stunned protégé to terminate Diane. He held her trembling hands in his, told her it was necessary, that she would be saving lives. Bob left coded instructions and a gun in an unmarked car outside Jen’s restaurant, and promised her a better assignment after the awful business was finished. He would wait for her at the restaurant.

    And now Jen was back. “Diane figured it out. The Collective isn’t a spy organization. It really is a consulting firm. And its biggest client is Burger Grab.”

    Risking everything, Don stood up from behind the counter to face Jen, his hands up in surrender.

    “You know how hard it is for fast food chains to hire quality managers on the wages they pay?” Don was caught; the best strategy was to come clean. “It was my bold idea. Recruit the best and brightest by appealing to their idealism and fantasies, plus the whole expense is a tax write-off.”

    “And when they get wise, you have them kill each other when an agent ‘goes rogue’!”

    Don could see the tears in Jen’s eyes. “Please don’t kill me.” “I won’t.”

    Don sighed in relief until he heard the footsteps behind him.

    “But I will,” said Diane. Burger grease was the last thing Don smelled.

     

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Edgar Allan Poe's Snifter of Blood #1
  • The doorknob on the machine was higher up than it was before he turned it on. That’s how he knew it had worked.

    As he opened the circular door, smoke curled out. He trudged over the lip of the door in pants that were now too big for him. He didn’t think that far ahead. But he had thought enough to leave a small mirror on the work desk. He was staring at his 12-year-old face, one that he had not seen—except in photos—for three decades.

    Gone were the worries! The troubles! The doubts! There were problems in the world, he still knew that on some level, but the grown-ups would handle them.

    And while they were busy taking care of everything, he would do what he came to do.

    Grabbing chips and soda, he plopped down in a beanbag chair. His wife and kids were visiting her family for the weekend so he finally had the entertainment center to himself. He hadn’t watched the newest Star Wars yet because he wanted to watch it through the eyes of a child. From the first notes of the orchestra keying up the iconic theme, to the final frames of CGI glory, the movie washed over him like the Force. Sound effects he’d heard a thousand times—a blaster striking a Storm Trooper’s armor, a light saber warming up—echoed in his soul.

    The next day, he watched classics from his childhood, Krull and Beastmaster, without the irony or criticism that infects an adult mind. In between movies, he broke out his son’s video games. With younger reflexes, and a mind for weaknesses and combos, he dominated them in a way he couldn’t when he was older.

    But all good things must come to an end. As Sunday evening crept in, and the pizza ran out, it was time to return to his home body before his family came back. He cleaned up his fun stuff and returned to his lab. When he stepped into the machine that made it all possible, he looked at the mass of buttons and levers and had a startling realization: He didn’t know how any of it worked. The technology to change a person’s age was only known to by his adult brain.

    He heard the front door open and his son’s voice call out, “Dad! We’re home!”

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Penultiman #1
  • Brad checked Emily’s dive mask. It was secure, but Emily’s pupils were large and black. She was high as a kite. He wanted to make sure the scopolamine patch was still on her arm, but Emily had already zipped up her shorty. No matter. Her eyes confirmed she was in no shape to dive. Do not operate heavy machinery, Brad had read on the drug’s information sheet. Scuba equipment wasn’t exactly heavy, but the intent of the warning was to keep people from doing dangerous things. Scuba diving can be dangerous.

    Brad’s mind was clear and focused. He helped Emily into her buoyancy control device, looking every bit the conscientious dive buddy. “Mask—check! Fins, check! BCD— check!”

    Emily smiled wanly, but Brad’s performance was really for the benefit of the other divers and crew. He then double-checked his own gear because his partner was too spaced out to help.

    “Where are we?” Emily asked.

    “Almost to Colombia Deep.”

    “I mean . . . are we in Mexico?”

    Brad glanced around, but no one had heard her over the roar of the motors. “Yes, dear. This is where we got married eight years ago. Good times, no?”

    Emily stared at the tropical blue horizon. If Brad had asked that question yesterday before she’d applied the seasickness patch, she might have rolled her eyes because they were about to start the process of dissolving their troubled marriage. The only reason she’d agreed to accompany him on this trip was because she loved being underwater almost as much as he, and she thought it might be her last opportunity for some time. She loved it even though she often got sick and chummed the fish. Bonine just didn’t cut it, so Brad suggested she ask her doctor for something stronger. Her doctor failed to warn her just how potent scopolamine was, though, especially on one so slender. After a few hours wearing the patch, she was so stoned she didn’t know she was high.

    The boat slowed and circled until they finally dropped anchor at the reef Miguel had promised. They would dive to ninety feet, swim along a wall, gradually ascend to thirty feet, ride the current for another twenty minutes, then slowly ascend and take the safety stop at fifteen feet to off-gas the rest of the nitrogen absorbed from the compressed air. Surfacing too quickly could result in decompression sickness, which might cause mild nerve damage or, sometimes, excruciating death.

    Emily had been on enough dives that she rolled off the side of the boat into the water effortlessly. She then surfaced, deflated her BCD, and jackknifed downward to begin her descent. Brad watched her swim away from him, impressed by her form. But he saw she forgot to check for him. As buddies, they were supposed to be within ten feet of each other in case of gear malfunction or some other problem. She seemed to be shadowing the divemaster. Miguel had decades of experience, Emily had maybe six dozen dives under her belt. Brad leveled off at about forty feet and watched his buddy load up on nitrogen.

    This isn’t on me, he thought. She got the patch. And she deserves to get bent for threatening to go after half my assets. That wasn’t really the case—California divorce law determined the financial outcome; Emily had threatened nothing. If anything, she wanted an amicable split so they could remain friends and continue to do things like go diving together. But Brad needed to win, and he wanted to cut her loose. Permanently. He watched her fin beside a hawkbill turtle. Pretty.

    Pretty deep, he thought. She’s probably got nitrogen narcosis on top of the scopolamine high.

    On the ascent, Emily lost control of her buoyancy. She’d sucked up so much air at depth that her tank was near empty and acted like a balloon. Brad saw her look frantically at her beeping dive computer and struggle to slow her rise, but she practically shot to the surface, blowing through the safety stop. Brad finned over, trying to appear as if he were helping her. Miguel caught up to them and pushed her to the boat. Beto hauled her up with one hand, ripped off her mask, and lunged for an oxygen bottle. Brad hoisted himself onboard and watched as his wife died. It was ugly.

    On the ride back to shore, he buried his face in his hands as someone patted his back. He wasn’t hiding tears, though. He was smiling. He’d just committed the perfect murder.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Billionaire Island #6
  • The stranger’s name was Zachary Ulysses Griffin, and when we first laid eyes on him, he was steering his immaculate 1972 Buick Riviera into the parking lot of Clarence and Mattie’s Seasoned Skillet.

    The Seasoned Skillet is where most of Franklin goes for breakfast when it’s too hot to fry bacon in your own kitchen. Clarence and Mattie are without question two of the least gifted cooks in Franklin, but they compensate for their food’s lack of quality by offering generous portions of it.

    When Zachary stepped into the establishment every eyeball in the place rolled in his direction. He looked as cocksure as a Marlboro cowboy as he sauntered up to the counter, took himself a seat and ordered a cup of coffee.

    Like the rest of us, Mattie was curious as to what could possibly bring such a charismatic stranger to Franklin. Unlike the rest of us, Mattie has never been shy about sticking her nose into the personal affairs of a total stranger. She poured him a cup of weak, lukewarm coffee and commenced to peppering him with questions about everything from his birthplace to his hat size. After learning that Zachary preferred boxers over briefs, Mattie finally got ’round to posing the question that we were all so desperate to have answered.

    “What brings you to Franklin?”

    We all stopped grinding our teeth on burnt toast and leaned a little in Zachary’s direction so we wouldn’t miss a word of his response. He took a sip of his coffee, winced, looked Mattie dead in the eye and said, “I’m here to slay your vampire.”

    Now, folks in Franklin have had a ringside seat to a whole lotta oddities that defied science, reason and propriety. As a result, we’re not too quick to dismiss even the strangest and most peculiar of notions as out-and-out nonsense. But there are two things about which we remain absolutely certain: time travel is hogwash and there’s just no such thing as vampires. (Our list used to consist of three things but the tragedy that befell Jada Navarro’s quinceañera proved that pterodactyls are definitely not extinct and definitely not vegetarians.)

    Anyway, upon hearing that Zachary fancied himself a vampire hunter, Mattie emitted an involuntary snort that spoke for just about everyone in the diner. She refilled his cup with more of her watery blend and politely informed him, “There’s no such thing as vampires.”

    Whereupon Zachary smiled at Mattie from across his cup of unpalatable coffee and made her blood run cold with the simplest of queries.

    “Are you sure?”

    Those three little words floated through the Seasoned Skillet like a bunch of dandelion seeds riding on a warm breeze. They drifted into our ear canals, spun ’round our cochlea and came to rest deep inside our brains. They might have withered and died there, but Zachary was quick to nourish them with plenty of fertilizer.

    He turned on his stool and regaled us with thrilling tales of the vampires he’d dispatched and the grateful people who scrawled poems about his adventures. But his most harrowing recitation was the story of a town filled with skeptics who came to ruination because they could not accept the fact that a bloodsucking monster could be hiding in plain sight.

    At this point Randy Patton—he teaches math at the high school—had heard just about enough from Zachary Ulysses Griffin. Randy stood up from his plate of undercooked eggs, interrupted Zachary and firmly reminded us that vampires simply do not exist.

    Zachary was clearly agitated by Randy’s impertinence. He slid off his stool, tossed a crumpled fiver on the counter and headed out the door while throwing an ominous, “You’ve been warned,” over his shoulder.

    For a little while it seemed like that was the end of it. But that afternoon, the seeds Zachary planted began to germinate.

    Carter Gibbs was in the process of shoplifting a bag of chocolaty Butterfingers from Siddig’s Market when he caught sight of Mattie loading two dozen bulbs of garlic into her shopping basket. Mattie tried to claim that she was preparing to whip up a tub of tahini sauce, but given her aforementioned lack of culinary skills, she was clearly being dishonest.

    Mattie sheepishly confessed that Zachary’s horrific tales had put a scare in her. And while she didn’t necessarily believe in vampires, she also didn’t see the harm in stringing together a garlic necklace as a purely precautionary measure.

    After Carter slithered out of the market with his ill-gotten candy bars, he immediately spread the word about Mattie’s purchase. And as you might expect, that led to an all-out, full-blown, no-holds-barred run on garlic.

    Within an hour every store in town was hanging a “No More Garlic” sign in the window. That left a lot of fearful people clamoring to get their hands on anything that might protect them from the evil creature of the night that was undoubtedly living right next door.

    Fortunately, the trunk of Zachary’s Buick Riviera was practically bursting with garlic bulbs, holy water and pointy wooden stakes. And as luck would have it, he was willing to part with the tools of his trade for just slightly

    more than the retail price. We were in a frenzy to fork over cash for everything he was selling, when Randy Patton elbowed his way to the front of the crowd.

    Randy Patton has never been one to raise his voice. He usually lobs his pertinent observations at us while standing a healthy distance away from whatever fracas might be taking place. But on this day, that changed. Randy clenched his fists, took a deep breath and expended every bit of it when he let loose on the whole lot of us.

    He read us the Riot Act for allowing our actions to be governed by irrational phobias and falling prey to a mendacious, fear-mongering charlatan who had never glimpsed, encountered or slain a vampire, because vampires simply do not exist.

    At this point Zachary Ulysses Griffin had heard just about enough from Randy Patton. He was a blur of motion as he whirled around, yanked a wooden stake from the trunk of his car and plunged the pointy end of it straight into Randy’s chest.

    To be sure, Randy was most times an annoying know-it- all. But he was also the man who’d dedicated his life to teaching our sons and daughters the value of trigonometry. And the sight of him bleeding heavily from a massive chest wound was more painful than anything a vampire could have ever done to us.

    When Randy fell to the ground Doc Mendoza was by his side in the blink of an eye. She did her best to stop the bleeding while Bumpy Tate called for an ambulance. And as they sped Randy to the hospital the rest of us trailed behind them with all the speed we could muster. But Clarence and Mattie stayed behind. They had to clean up all the wooden stakes and garlic we’d hurled to the ground in their parking lot.

    Though the vampire-killing stick didn’t turn Randy into a cloud of smoke and ash, it did fracture two ribs and collapse a lung. But Doc Mendoza says that after a few weeks of physical therapy, Randy’ll be back to teaching young minds about cosines and tangents.

    As for Zachary Ulysses Griffin, he disappeared. In all the confusion he must have hopped into his immaculate Buick Riviera and sped out of town. We don’t imagine he’ll ever return to Franklin. After all, we are more certain than ever that vampires do not exist.

    But we have concluded that there are some monsters capable of hiding in plain sight.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Captain Ginger Season Two #6
  • Ingredients:

    1 cup butter (cashew works best) 2 eggs

    1 cup brown sugar

    1 tsp vanilla

    2-4 tbsp of loose lavender Earl Grey tea

    2 cups flour

    1 tsp baking powder

    1 cup milk

    1 pinch of salt

    Cream together the butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla and tea. Mix in dry ingredients, alternating with the milk. Bake in a cupcake pan for 25-35 minutes at 350 degrees. Top with candied orange peel.

    Candied Orange Peel

    1–2 medium oranges 1 cup sugar
    1⁄2 cup water

    Cut the peel of 1–2 medium oranges and remove as much of the pith as possible. In a medium saucepan, bring 1 cup of sugar and half a cup of water to a simmer. Add the orange peels and lower the heat. Stir frequently. Let the mixture cook for anywhere between a half an hour to an hour, or until sugar mixture thickens into a heavy syrup. Place the peels on a rack or parchment paper to cool. Place a few of the candied peels on top of each cake. Save the leftover syrup for other recipes or use as a drizzle on cakes.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Ash & Thorn #4
  • Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Dragonfly and Dragonflyman #3
  • 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
  • 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
  •  

    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
  •  

    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
  •  

    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