Extras

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    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
  •  

    T’was a simple day of pleasure

    As I tended to my craft,

    When the solitude I treasure

    Was unsettled by a draft.

     

    As I went to close the casement

    And beheld the world without,

    I soon sensed a fell misplacement

    That disaster was about.

     

    For the day had darkened early.

    There was pricking in my thumbs.

    But my mind said, “Hearken, surely

    Nothing wicked this way comes!”

     

    Thus I quelled my trepidation

    And I tended to my chore,

    Till I heard my own damnation

    In a knocking at the door.

     

    “‘Tis for sure a peddler calling,”

    Was the lie inside my head,

    Yet I knew that I was stalling

    For my heart was filled with dread.

     

    Still, pretending not to hear it

    I redoubled to my work,

    But that damned incessant knocking

    Was a call I could not shirk.

     

    So I set aside my focus

    And I steeled my sagging nerve,

    Then set out to greet the locus

    Of the fate I could not swerve.

     

    Now the lights began to flicker

    As I stumbled down the hall,

    Every moment feeling sicker

    Dreading that which came to call.

     

    All about me joined in warning

    To dissuade me from my course

    Of catastrophe aborning,

    Ruination, and remorse.

     

    First a shrieking from the rafter

    Then a moaning on the stair,

    And wailing voice soon after

    Crying, “Madam, have a care!”

     

    But I kept on with my walking

    Every moment closer to...

    To the doom that was a’stalking

    And the moment I would rue.

     

    I at last unshut the portal

    And beheld the toothy grin

    Of my nemesis immortal,

    As she bid to be let in.

     

    I could not but give her entry

    As I could not now retain

    Any sense of guard or sentry;

    I must surely be insane.

     

    And I knew as she descended

    She would not too soon remove,

    As she’d quickly apprehended

    All the faults she could reprove.

     

    First my kitchen was abhorrent,

    Then my haircut was a fright,

    As she uttered forth a torrent

    That would likely last all night.

     

    Thus resigned to give attention

    To recounting of my sin,

    Surely Hell hath no invention

    Like my mother dropping in.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Edgar Allan Poe's Snifter of Terror - Season 2 #4
  •  

    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
  •  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Only that, and nothing more.”

     

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

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

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

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

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

    That I’d become the next Al Gore.

     

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

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

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

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

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

    There he sat, and nothing more.

     

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

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

    “Ruler of the Russian nation, master of assassination,

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

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

    He just smiled and nothing more.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

    “Quote the Putin: Evermore!”

     

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

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

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

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

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

    And own my soul... forevermore.

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

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

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

     

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

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Dragonfly and Dragonflyman #1
  •  

    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
  •  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Planet of the Nerds #5
  • 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