Extras

  • Being battle-ready takes practice, practice, more practice, and these cookies.

    Ingredients:

    1 stick butter (or 1 package cashew butter), softened 3⁄4 cup brown sugar

    1 egg

    1 tsp vanilla extract

    1/2 tsp cardamom

    1 tbsp ginger

    1 package dark chocolate chips 1 cup flour

    1 tsp baking powder

    Pinch of salt

    Cream, spices, butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract together. Add flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Mix in chips. Let cool in the fridge for an hour for crispier cookies, or spoon onto a greased cookie pan (or use parchment paper) and bake at 350 oF for 10 minutes for softer cookies.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Ash & Thorn #3
  • The unfit heirs unfolded on the city sidewalk under curdled gray skies, each springing from the open pages of the special pop-up books that comprised their very bodies and souls.

    SPROING! Vertical Vic leaped to life, all scowling freckles, red crewcut, boxing gloves, and Cupid-print boxer shorts astride a multilayered cityscape straight out of New York City in the 1940s.

    BOING! Treetop Tina shot up and outward, her mane of wild blonde locks quivering as she swung angrily in her leopard-skin tunic from a vine between towering jungle palms.

    KER-DOING! Amid a magnificent Rube Goldbergian contraption miraculously flicking, ticking, and spinning after the pop, Dickory Dock the white-furred mouse was the first to squeak his fury. “What’s this we hear about us getting cut out of the will?”

    The attorney and executor, Mr. Lattice, was magic-markered on the surface of a man-sized red balloon with cardboard feet and a little black derby hat glued on top. “All will be made clear.” His voice, when he spoke, sounded like air whistling out of the pinched valve at the bottom of a balloon. “The reading of that very will commences now, here at the site of my client’s tragic and untimely death.”

    Mr. Lattice wobbled around, bobbing his head at the vast sinkhole before them, in the middle of the interrupted city street. Pavement fell away on all sides, dropping into darkness in the distant depths.

    The executor and heirs were silent for a moment, solemnly gazing into that great pit—the last earthly remains of the pop-up store they had once called mother, teacher, and home. It should have helped put things into perspective, for such was the fate of every pop-up store—to someday become a sinkhole, collapsed in one place forever. The fate of every pop-up book, such as those gathered on the sidewalk that day, was not much better. It was to become a smaller version of the same dark chasm—not a sinkhole but a pothole.

    “Like other pop-up stores, the dearly departed business known as Funfolded was never bound for long to any one location. She opened and closed many times in many places around the city,” explained Mr. Lattice. “Unlike other pop-up stores, her specialty was not personalized kite string or gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches or customized corn plasters, but pop-up books like yourselves. A pop-up store for pop-up books! Never has there been a more ingenious retail concept!”

    The heirs rattled their pages in stiff applause.

    “Now, we must honor the last wishes of this magical store.” Mr. Lattice bobbed against a thick, dusty tome resting at his feet, and the cover flipped open. Instantly, an ornately inscribed parchment scrolled up from between the pages to a height of six feet, its ancient amber surface rippling in the soft morning breeze. “I give you the last will and testament of Funfolded!”

    “Just tell us if any of us got anything!” Vertical Vic hopped his cityscape closer to the popped-up will and testament. “Or God forbid, if we owe anything!”

    “Here’s what it says, and I quote,” said Mr. Lattice. “‘Because the three of you saw fit to blow up everything I loved, I hereby bestow upon you the pop in the chops you deserve. May you feel the same horror you inflicted upon me as these shock waves engulf and consume you.’”

    Treetop Tina’s book flipped to the next spread of pages. This time, in the scene that popped to life, she was riding a flamingo’s bright pink back as it flew above a vast emerald rainforest. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

    Mr. Lattice bumped the will and testament tome and another page turned, sweeping away the parchment scroll and unfolding a bold new spread in its place. This one showed a magnificently complex pop-up book within the pop-up will and testament, complete with exotic minarets capped with glittering gemstones, twinkling lights in an indigo sky, and what looked like a circus parade in full regalia, led by an elephant wearing a gilded scarlet turban. The book within the book was surrounded by cutout replicas of Tina, Vic, and Dickory, all looking sinister as they slid from carbon paper shadows with their covers ajar.

    “This last will and testament tells the story of the greatest pop-up book ever to appear at Funfolded!” said Mr. Lattice. “It contained pop-ups within pop-ups within pop-ups, all the way down to the subatomic level. It was a miracle, a treasure beyond compare, and it would make Funfolded world-famous once word got out...especially when the world learned that it was born within the pop-up store herself, the product of immaculate publication! It was a messiah book that could save the planet, causing it to rise instead of collapse. At least that was what Funfolded expected, until the three of you got done with that one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Your jealousy drove you to ruin it!”

    As Mr. Lattice told the story, a strange procession occurred. All manner of animate objects rolled and squirmed and wriggled and jounced from nearby alleyways to the rim of the sinkhole. Tina, Vic, and Dickory looked around nervously as the stuff collected on the brink—an odd assortment of items with one thing in common:

    All of them popped in one way or another.

    There was popcorn in an aluminum plate with a foil cover that grew into a shiny silver bulb when heated. There were coiled paper party favors that unfurled suddenly with a screech when breath blew into them. There was a jack-in-the-box, a metal cube that burst open and disgorged a jester-capped puppet bounding on a spring. There was even a bright yellow rubber raft that explosively inflated when its release valve turned.

    All these items converged and assembled around the huge hole in the ground, crowding in so closely that the three pop-up book heirs had trouble flipping their pages.

    “How did we supposedly ruin that so-called miracle book?” Vic’s voice quavered as he said it. Plastic two-liter bottles of soda pop—one clear and one dark brown—shook themselves vigorously on either side of him. All it would take was the loosening of their caps, and the contents would spray everywhere, perhaps with enough force to wash Vic over the edge.

    “Business at the pop-up store was up a thousand-fold thanks to the miracle book.” Mr. Lattice skidded back from the rim on an errant breeze, then steadied against a folding chair that had just spread itself wide behind him. “But the three of you, as jealous as you were, couldn’t stand for that. One night, you set up a chain reaction in the store, like a domino show with pop-up books—each book popping at just the right angle to trigger another pop-up and so on.

    “When Funfolded opened for business the next morning, the store was filled with a terrible racket of covers slamming, pop-ups springing, and die-cut dioramas colliding like the clatter of a thousand mousetraps all going off at once.”

    “No need to get nasty about it!” shouted Dickory Dock.

    “When it was all over, that miraculous book was crushed and broken, its spine snapped, its magnificent pop-up magic forever flattened.” Mr. Lattice bobbed from side to side as if shaking his head. “In abject sorrow at the loss of her golden child, Funfolded died of a broken heart. But she managed to leave behind one last gift, one great secret that will forever prevent wickedness such as yours from enfolding all there is.”

    Tina perked up, opening to a new spread that showed her standing high atop a mountain range holding aloft a roaring lion cub. “A gift? So she did leave us something after all!”

    “It’s a gift, all right, but not for you.” Mr. Lattice wobbled in a circle, looking around at the poppable objects ringing the crater. “Or haven’t you wondered why all these kindred poppers have gathered for this solemn occasion?”

    “Aren’t they just random curiosity seekers?” asked Vertical Vic. “Here to rub elbows with celebrities like us?” He flipped pages to a spread in which he flexed his biceps over Radio City Music Hall, still clad only in heart-print boxer shorts and looking especially pleased with himself.

    “They care nothing for the likes of you.” As Mr. Lattice bumped the pop-up will and testament tome, the elaborate spread of the miracle book folded away, replaced by a bouquet of a dozen open parasols emblazoned with black-etched spirals that seemed to wind inward as they turned. “They are only here to grant the last wish of the great pop-up store they all idolized for popping out a child of the divine.”

    The parasols spun faster, and the spirals blurred hypnotically. Everything arranged around the rim edged closer to the precipice.

    “You mean these...things are getting the bequest?” Dickory Dock looked more outraged than ever as pages turned to unveil his latest spread. This time, the contraption in which he posed was whirling with wedges and wheels of cheese, propelled by gears and levers powered by the swishing tail of a sleeping cat. “But that’s not fair!”

    “You could not be more wrong.” Mr. Lattice laughed. “They aren’t getting a thing. They are giving.”

    As the words left his lips, the poppable things left the rim, dropping into the blackness of the sinkhole. The popcorn, jack-in-the-boxes, and party favors spun down into the void, whirling past the inflatable raft, mattress, and love dolls as they floated gently through the darkening depths.

    Still more objects hurled themselves into the crater, dozens at a time, all popping, expanding, and unfolding as they went. Inner tubes, umbrellas, pool toys, and pop-guns tumbled downward, flowing in a great cascade amid currents of rice cereal, candy rocks, and carbonated beverages.

    Even as the flow continued, a thunderous roar rumbled out of the hole, and the ground began to shake. Tina, Vic, and Dickory Dock hopped back from the rim, even as it fractured and widened, threatening to swallow them whole.

    “What’s happening?” Dickory Dock sounded terrified.

    “Something you should appreciate!” Mr. Lattice wobbled on the edge of the pit, dangerously close to the drop-off. “Fueled by the power of the poppers’ sacrifice and the remains of our dearly departed, the whole world is popping up! Reality is unfolding into something entirely new!”

    Suddenly, the pavement under the unfit heirs crawled with fissures, like a pane of glass about to shatter. The three pop-up books flapped their pages frantically as if they might somehow fly away from their impending doom.

    But it was too late, and the street crumbled beneath them. Screaming, they tumbled into the thundering darkness along with all the other popped and popping things, adding to the glorious downpour.

    Which then paused, falling silent and still for one very pregnant moment.

    Mr. Lattice teetered a final time on the brink, batted by the breeze. “You see, all reality is just a pop-up book that has never been opened...until now.”

    Even as Mr. Lattice fell over the edge, everything inside the hole poured up all at once, stabbing into the sky with such force that it turned all the world and reality itself inside out.

    SPROING!

    BOING!

    KER-DOING!

    Leaving something indescribably new and beautiful unfolding in its place, like the blossom of a flower that’s never been seen or even dreamt of before.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Billionaire Island #3
  • As Susie awoke early on a Tuesday morning, she felt something different. There was something...loose. She opened wide and reached her finger in, touching it gingerly. Upon poking it with her finger, it wiggled. It was loose.

    Of course she knew that this was going to happen sooner rather than later. She was hardly the first kid in her class to lose one, and her parents had told her all about putting it under her pillow for the fairy. Who even knew if that was real, though? Susie had recently stopped believing in Santa Claus, so she was skeptical about whether or not the fairy was real, too.

    Susie’s mom burst in a few moments after she woke up. Her mother was already dressed and ready for her work day, as she seemed to be every morning.

    “Mommy,” said Susie, “Look. It’s loose!”

    Susie opened up and her mother looked.

    “Oh wow, sweetie. That’s great! Your first one. I can’t believe my baby is growing up this quickly! Are you excited to put it under your pillow for the fairy after it comes out?”

    Susie took a moment to think, and then nodded. That’s probably what her mom wanted her to do.

    Her mother smiled and held out her hand, wiggling her fingers at Susie.

    “Come on, Susie. Breakfast is on the table. I got an early start on the day and whipped up your favorite—French toast!”

    Susie grinned and went with her mother. French toast was her favorite.

    At school, right before lunch, Susie approached her teacher, Ms. Mullen, about her discovery.

    “Does it hurt, Ms. Mullen?” she asked.

    Ms. Mullen was young and usually very cheerful, the very picture of what a kid like Susie wanted from an elementary school teacher. She had fantastic cat’s eye glasses, and always wore colorful chunky costume jewelry. It was fantastic. But even though she gave Susie her most cheerful smile, her voice quavered just a touch.

    “Well, Susie. It might hurt a little bit, but it won’t hurt for very long. It’s afterwards that’s strange.”

    Susie’s brow furrowed.

    “What do you mean, Ms. Mullen? Will I miss it?”

    “No, it’s more that, um, it’s a little complicated. It will feel strange for a long time after it.”

    Ms. Mullen’s face threatened to drop for a moment, but she managed to hold onto her teacher’s smile. She brought her hands up over her desk and unconsciously wrung them a little.

    “Susie, I wish children didn’t have to lose...”

    She drifted off and looked behind Susie, her wringing hands trembling slightly before she seemed to compose herself.

    “Never mind, Susie. It’ll be okay. Head off to lunch; it’s spaghetti today.

    Susie nodded and scampered off. Ms. Mullen seemed a little odd, but grown-ups could be like that. And soon enough, Ms. Mullen’s concern left her mind. After all, it was spaghetti day. And just like with breakfast, that was her favorite.

    Ella hung upside down on the jungle gym, her long dark ponytail hanging down towards the soft padding that had recently replaced the pea gravel that covered the area of the playground. It was recess time and Susie wanted to talk to Ella about her experience with the fairy.

    “Susie, the fairy is definitely real. Who else would have given me twenty dollars?”

    Susie thought that Ella’s parents, who lived in a house with a three-car garage and a pool, were more likely the benefactors, but she kept that to herself. It wasn’t nice to say things like that. But it did put her anxiety a bit at ease. At least once it came out, she could put it under her pillow for some spending money.

    “You’ve got a loose one, huh?”

    Grayson, a very boastful boy who didn’t have many friends, had come over to Ella and Susie. The two girls usually humored Grayson to some extent. Even though he was a fibber, he was nice enough, and didn’t deserve the derision he seemed to receive.

    Susie nodded at Grayson.
    “Lemme see!”
    Susie reached her hand up and wiggled it to show him.

    “Yep, it looks like it’s gonna come out anytime now. You know, when I lost my first one, it ended up taking too long.”

    Grayson leaned over and grinned, as if he was telling a secret, instead of a likely lie.

    “I tied a string around it at one end, and the other end to my brother’s bike. He rode as fast as he could and POP, out it came.”

    Ella, still upside down, grimaced.

    “That’s gross, Grayson.”

    Grayson looked hurt.

    “Well, it’s true! I could do it for you too, Susie. If you wanna.”

    Susie shook her head, trying her hardest to look like she wasn’t also kind of grossed out.

    “No, I can wait.”

    Grayson shrugged and began to walk off. “Suit yourself, Susie. If you want the fairy now, that’s what you gotta do.”

    At this point, Ella transitioned her upside down hang into a skin-the-cat, landing neatly on her feet inside the jungle gym.

    “He’s so weird. There’s no way he did that.”

    Susie nodded, and absentmindedly reached up to wiggle it. “Yeah, so weird.”

    Ella looked at her, and her face scrunched a bit.

    “It is different though, after you lose it. And the fairy is real.”

    Susie nodded.

    Ella frowned, looking on Susie with what looked to be pity.

    It was bedtime, and Susie was dressed in her favorite unicorn pajamas. Her mother had just finished reading her a story. They were reading from a book about prairie life, which Susie wasn’t very interested in. She didn’t say anything to her mother though. It wouldn’t be very nice.

    “All right, Susie. It’s time for bed. How was today?”

    Susie produced a soft smile, “It was a good day, Mommy.”

    Her mother pointed at her face.

    “Is it getting looser?”

    Susie poked at it gently.

    “I think so, Mommy.”

    Her mother looked closer, scrutinizing Susie’s visage.

    “Oh yeah, could be any time now. Remember to show us when it happens, and put it under your pillow.”

    “Okay, Mommy.”

    Her mother smiled and stroked Susie’s hair.

    “Okay, sweetie.”

    Her mother turned out the light, which tipped the night light to come on in a soft white tone.

    “Goodnight, Susie.”

    Susie leaned back in her bed, and pulled the covers up under her chin.

    “Goodnight, Mommy.”

    Susie awoke, but it wasn’t morning yet. Something felt strange to her. She didn’t feel something loose in her head anymore. Susie reached her hand up and tried to find it to wiggle. It was gone. She looked around in her bed, and there it was. White, shiny—and with her perfect brown iris staring back at her. And for a moment, she could only see her halogen-tinted room with half of her sight, but that soon began to change.

    On one side of her vision, the room began to swirl and tint a deep sickly purple. She felt something moving, crawling around in her skull, making its way towards the surface where it used to be in her head. She heard a slight cracking, and something burst wetly forth, tendrils brushing her cheek. The purple in the air began to deepen, and she started to see things she’d never seen before.

    Something shimmered in the air around her, more damp, dark tendrils coming forth from nowhere, a twisted gift of her newfound sight. The appendages writhing in her socket drew towards their larger twin, drawn to the only-now-seen horror. Susie almost screamed, but instead she took a deep breath. She had known what to expect, at least from seeing those that had lost theirs first. She had seen adult eyes her whole life, and so she knew what hers must look like even as it squirmed around against her eyelids, forcing some slime to run down her cheek . Her mother and father didn’t neglect her education, and she knew what would happen next.

    Finally, a sort of core to the tendrils burst forth from nothingness. It had a great maw, filled with row upon row of unnaturally long teeth, serrated and gnashing, moving around the mouth like a sickening carousel. It drew towards her, all slurping and gnashing.

    She held up her hand shakily. Contained within was her offering—perfectly round and glistening.

    The Eye Fairy had come, and in its tentacled grip was a dripping twenty-dollar bill.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Ash & Thorn #2
  • 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
  •  

    Miss Mordicant’s School for Pestiferous Youth

    Reforming the villainous, vile, and uncouth

     

    A is for Alice, igniting delight

    She burned down the town to light up the night

     

    B is for Brandyce, sent there to dwell

    For stuffing his family into a well

     

    C for Cordelia, lost in a pique,

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

     

    D is for Dillon, for choosing to give

    A few local fellows the end of a shiv

     

    E is for Elsinore, now in the mew

    For ladling arsenic into the stew

     

    F is for Fenrir, precocious and small

    Who punctured his great-uncle Max with an awl

     

    G is for Gladys, admitted the day

    She pushed granny’s wheelchair straight into the bay

     

    H is for Humbert, who needs to reform

    After tying his Pop to a pole in a storm

     

    I is for Izzy, hauled off in a huff

    For marching her siblings straight off of a bluff

     

    J is for Jasper, mischievous lad

    When sharing contagion, gave all that he had

     

    K is for Kate, (the Duchess McGannon)

    Caught shooting step-siblings out of a cannon

     

    L is for Lemuel, sly little fox

    “Inflated” his grandfather’s life vest with rocks

     

    M is for Myrtle, who one afternoon

    Bludgeoned her math tutor with a bassoon

     

    N is for Nevin, who garnered reproach

    For trampling friends ’neath the wheels of his coach

     

    O for Octavia, frail and asthmatic

    Caught storing bodies in trunks in the attic

     

    P is for Paul, choleric and lean

    Roasted his kin and picked their bones clean

     

    Q for Quintessa, both lovely and fair

    She finished her grandparents off with a scare

     

    R is for Reese, who liked to disport

    In casualties of the asphyxiate sort

     

    S is for Stella, who thought it a ripper

    To feed all her cousins into a wood chipper

     

    T is for Thaddeus, nimble and quick

    Walled up his kindred with mortar and brick

     

    U is for Uli, who took inspiration

    From Robespierre’s method of exsanguination

     

    V is for Vlad, a gadabout heller

    Mowed half his classmates down with a propeller

     

    W, Walda, gave Auntie the blight

    By lacing her corset a little too tight

     

    X for Xavier, a grim little chap

    Doffed Papa’s head along with his cap

     

    Y for Yolanda, so helpful, so nice

    Directed her fellows straight to the thin ice

     

    Z, Zacharias, achieved all his wishes

    By sending his household to sleep with the fishes

     

    Miss Mordicant takes them, no matter their sin

    Redirecting their passions to something akin

     

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

    To fill corporate boards and political office

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

    FROM THE CHRONICLES OF JACE DUEL, EARTHMAN

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

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

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

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

    The Galena.

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

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

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

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

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

    The perfect woman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Leave that to me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    You know so many things!

    He just smiled.

    I suppose you must leave now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The news, she said, shaking her head.

    “I know,” he replied.

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

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

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

    “Will you marry me?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “Are you sure about this, Bryce?”

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

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

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

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

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

    “Yes, I’m sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Bryce, what have you done?”

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “This was no ordinary potato.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And it was angry, with a capital A!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Thank you all for coming.”

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

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

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

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

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

    “I want doughnuts!” whined Envy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Anger blinked.

    “It says so right on his business card.”

    Anger roared in Oliver’s face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Only that, and nothing more.”

     

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

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

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

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

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

    That I’d become the next Al Gore.

     

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

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

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

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

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

    There he sat, and nothing more.

     

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

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

    “Ruler of the Russian nation, master of assassination,

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

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

    He just smiled and nothing more.

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

    “Quote the Putin: Evermore!”

     

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

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

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

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

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

    And own my soul... forevermore.

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

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

    They listen.

    They support you.

    They’re comforting.

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

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

    #

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

    They’re ignorant.

    They’re heartless.

    They’re cruel.

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

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

    #

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

    They’re realistic.

    They’re mature.

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

    Take a look around.

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

    #

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

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

    #

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    CAPTAIN GINGER #3
  • The stones wait, forgotten amongst weeds and brambles and drifts of dry, cracked leaves, as snow gently falls, blanketing over them in a hushed hiss. The names carved into them have all worn away, only the traces of dates and symbols remain. A single half skull sits in the midst of their uneven ring, browned and cracked, dug up by some animal and left to rot in the open air. Its eye sockets look up to the bright gray sky with hollow silence.

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

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

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

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

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

    Then she hears the cry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    She takes it to feed.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Planet of the Nerds #4