Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"They Fight Crime!"

This is a story that comes from an idea generator on the website Here's what the generator gave me....

"He's a globe-trotting ninja vampire hunter. She's a cold-hearted streetsmart fairy princess with the power to see death. They fight crime!"

....and here's what I came up with:

* * * * *

She paused just out of the circle of light cast by the street lamp. It was dark tonight. Dark and wet. Those few individuals that had decided to brave the rain streaking in sheets from the gloomy sky walked briskly under their umbrellas, their eyes focused on the slippery pavement. One of these people passed Jehanna so closely that his briefcase brushed the soft suede of her trousers. It left a wet smear on the otherwise dry fabric.

Normally, Jehanna liked the rain. She liked the way the earth smelled when wet. The fresh loamy odor reminded her of her youth. But that was long ago, and in a city the size of Chicago, the heady scent of nature was overpowered by the fetid stench of human habitation.

She sighed and pulled the hood of her long coat tighter around her face. She would have preferred the heavy woolen cloaks of her homeland, but such clothing would have marked her as out of place here. She almost laughed at the thought. Had anyone actually stopped to study her in their mad dashings they would have noticed immediately that she was different, and not only because the raindrops stopped just shy of hitting her.

A car turned the corner and Jehanna caught her image reflected in the darkened window of a nearby store. Yes, she was different. It wasn't anything obvious about her. Her eyes tilted a tad too much. Her cheekbones were a touch too sharp. Her nose was just a bit too straight, her chin too pointed. All of these elements added up to a picture that was not quite human. If only they could see her ears.

Or her wings.

Her musings were interrupted by a sharp keening sound, well beyond the range of human hearing. It started off soft, but gradually increased in intensity until it practically pulsed in her head. Jehanna put a finger to the microphone attached to the collar of her blouse and spoke quickly.

"Jarius, it's happening. I'm standing near the corner of Wacker and Jackson. I'd estimate the action is taking place somewhere on Quincy."

There was no answer over her receiver. Not that she had expected one. Jarius wasn't much for conversation, especially when it was action that was required.

Jehanna was moving now herself, walking briskly to a nearby doorway. She stepped into the darkened space, glanced perfunctorily at the surrounding sidewalk and Transformed. Raindrops glistened momentarily with the reflected light of magic, then a small shape was winging its way to the northeast.

* * * * *

Jarius squatted on the roof of the apartment building, absolutely motionless. Passersby who looked up - as unlikely as that event would have been in the pouring rain - would have mistaken him for a gargoyle, an immovable stone statue left over from another time, set to watch over and protect the building's inhabitants. They wouldn't have been far from the truth.

As still as he was, behind his wrap-around Raybans, Jarius's eyes missed nothing. He saw the teen-ager slip out the ground floor widow across the way and escape in a friend's awaiting car. He saw the elderly couple, arm in arm, strolling down the sidewalk, looking for all the world as if they had just recently discovered love. He saw the pigeons descend on the remains of a hot dog bun, tossed carelessly out the window of a passing SUV. He saw the man in the Lexus park in the space vacated by the teenager's friend. He watched the man step from the vehicle, heedless of the effects of the rain on his Armani suit, and walk purposefully up the steps of the nearest building. The man took a key from his pocket and entered immediately.

Jarius was up and moving before the door completely closed. He took a step forward and dropped off the edge of the roof. He landed on the steps three stories below with a lightness that belied his size, and was sprinting across the street almost instantly. He didn't bother with the intercom system or the lock, choosing instead a more direct method of entry. One gloved fist shattered the window next to the door and turned the knob from the inside. He was stepping over the threshold when Jehanna's voice spoke to him through the receiver in his ear. He didn't bother to answer. He knew instinctively that he was in the right place, that the man he saw entering this building was the one they sought.

Five quick strides placed him before the door to the apartment. He grasped the knob and turned. The door was locked. Jarius gave the door slight push just above the knob. The lack of give confirmed to him that the dead bolt was also locked.

Jarius chafed at the delay. It had only been a minute since the man had entered, and only seconds since Jehanna's warning, but his instincts screamed at him that if he did not hurry he would fail in his mission. He stepped back, took a deep breath to center himself, and launched a sidekick at the door.

There was a large CRACK as the door flew open. Jarius stepped through the shattered frame and scanned the apartment.

The man was standing in the living room, straddling the limp body of a woman. Sanctius snapped from its scabbard as Jarius leaped forward, swinging for the kill.

The man moved so fast he was almost a blur. Sanctius swept through the empty space above the woman's body. Jarius spun instinctively, the holy blade carving an arc through the air designed to stop the inevitable counterattack.

The attack never came.

Jarius fixed the figure in the corner with a stare. The vampire's eyes glowed slightly red, but he otherwise showed no sign of aggression.

"Hold, Hunter. I did not do this."

"I find that hard to believe."

"It is the truth. Search the body."

Jarius glanced down at the woman who lay at his feet. Blood pooled thickly around the body. The source was easily identified - several stab wounds were in evidence in the woman's chest.

"The woman was like that when I entered. I was not involved. You have no jurisdiction here."

"You came here intending to feed," Jarius said. "That's makes it my jurisdiction." He raised Sanctius to the ready.

"Whatever intentions I may have had are irrelevant. By the Accords, I am innocent of any wrongdoing."

Blood and stones. Jarius wanted this vampire, wanted him badly, but the creature spoke the truth.

"Begone, then, vampire."

"What I came for is not here anyway, Hunter." It smiled, showing perfectly white human teeth. "Happy Hunting." With a blur, it was gone.

Jairus slid Sanctius back into its sheath. What did the creature come for? Jehanna's visions were never wrong. The vampire had intended violence here. It hadn't had time to search the apartment, so what it wanted must have once been on the person of the woman.

Jarius bent down and inspected the body. He found it almost immediately: a fine red line around her throat, evidence that a necklace had been torn from her before her murder. The body was fresh. Only one person could have done it - and he had what the vampire wanted.

"Jehanna, you need to find an old, black Cadillac Seville, some rusting on the hood. License plate IL- UL 2532. Find it now."

He was already moving out the door to the building as Jehanna's questioning reply came over the radio. He didn't bother to answer it.

* * * * *

Jehanna perched high on the railing of a fire escape watching the scene below. The old Seville was parked at one end of the alley, its teen aged occupants arguing over something. Jehanna couldn't hear the conversation from this distance, but it was evident things were getting heated.

A second car pulled into the opposite end of the alley, the light from its lamps fully illuminating the two kids. They stopped their arguing, forced to shield their eyes. Jehanna tried to identify the new vehicle. Was that a Lexus? She wasn't sure. She had never gotten the hang of identifying vehicles. Without license plate information she would never have found the Seville.

The driver of the Lexus killed the lights and got out of the car. The two boys followed suit.

"That you, Sanchez?"

"Shut up, you #*%@ fool! You want I should off you now?"

Jehanna saw the gun in Sanchez's hand. Evidently the boy did, too, as he stopped talking and held up his hands.

"You have the stuff, or not."

"We got it."

"Then hand it over before I get more pissed."

The keening started again. Where was Jarius? She was forbidden to intervene directly and someone was going to die by supernatural means in the next minute or two.

The second boy walked forward, a necklace with a charm dangling from his fist. He stopped six feet short of Sanchez.

"I...I want to see the reward first."

Sanchez chuckled. It was an oily sound. "You have guts, kid. I'll show you the reward."

Sanchez moved so fast he must have appeared as a blur to the kid.

He was a vampire!

The vampire held the kid around the throat with one hand and lifted him several inches off the ground.

"Your reward is a quick death."

A crossbow bolt embedded itself in the vampire's left breast. It staggered, glowing red eyes searching for its attacker.

Jarius sprinted from the shadows of the alley, Sanctius poised to strike. The vampire dropped the boy and attempted to defend itself, but the holy water coating the bolt was doing its job. The fiend was too slow. Sanctius sliced down, severing its head from its body. There was a flash of brilliant white light, and the vampire exploded into dust.

Jehanna smiled. Jarius always arrived in time.

A siren sounded close by as the boy attempted to get to his feet. Jarius promptly punched him in the face. He hit the ground hard.

Jehanna watched the first boy scramble back into his vehicle and flee the scene. She waited until he was gone before joining Jarius in the alley below.

"Why did you do that?" she asked, pointing to the unconscious kid.

"He killed his own mother tonight. All for this." Jarius retrieved the necklace from the boy's hand. "I'm not going to kill an innocent, but I'm not going to let him get away with murder either."

A reasonable explanation. "What do you think the vamp wanted with the necklace?"

"No clue, but we need to find out." Jarius sheathed Sanctius. "The cops will be here soon. We better be going."

Jehanna nodded. Without a second look at the boy she shimmered and flew out of sight.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ah, Good to Be Back

So, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this November. ( I spent most days that month writing towards the 50,000 word novel that was the goal. I fell short in the end, topping out at ~ 38,000 words. I missed a few days and then got sick at the very end of the month which wiped me out. Still, for me, writing 38,000 words in 30 days is a mind blowing achievement. I learned how to write 1000 words at a shot without editing - all within 20 minutes. This gives me hope I can actually complete a novel some day.

I may decide to post what I wrote here, but probably not. It's trash, pure and simple. But with some editing it could actually be novel worthy (and if I ever finish it.) For the meantime, I intend to go back to hammering out shorts for awhile to give myself a break. I promise to post more this week.

- Todd

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Opposite Woes"

Anyone for poetry? This is silly....


"Opposite Woes"

"O, Dr. Day, there's something wrong!"
I told him with a yelp.
"Just tell me what it is," he said,
"I'll see if I can help."

"Well, it all started just lastweek,"
I told him with a frown.
"I made an effort to stand up;
Instead I sat back down."

"That's not so bad," the doctor said,
"Just dizziness I'm sure.
I have right here some medicine
that will affect a cure."

"If dizziness was all there was
I'll bet that would be true.
But there's still more that's going on
I need to share with you.

"I tried to fill my coffee cup
and tipped some from the spout
But, instead of filling up the mug
I found I'd poured it out!

"My shoes should go upon my feet -
they end up on my head.
I sleep upon my table and
I breakfast on my bed.

"I know that I'm right-handed;
I've been so all my life,
but recently I use my left,
At least, so says my wife.

"I'm drinking from the toilet and
I'm peeing in the sink.
My eyes are always open, while
my mouth's begun to blink!

"And if all that is not enough
To prove to you my plight,
I'd swear the Cubs have won the pennant
and that CAN'T be right!"

"So, left is right and right is wrong.
That's quite a list of ills.
I don't think I can solve this case
By giving you some pills.

"Let's see," Doc said, "I think I know
Some tests that we can run.
With those results we then will see
If something can be done."

And so they ran a CAT scan
With an MRI or two.
They tested both my ears, my mouth,
My bed and sink and shoe.

When all the tests were finished
The results were analyzed.
Then Dr. Day sat down with me
And shared the big surprise.

"We've figured out your opposites.
Our reasoning is clear.
Do you remember last week, the
Procedure you had here?

"It was a simple surgery;
We just removed your brain.
Once it was out we washed it
And returned it back again.

"But, sadly, a mistake was made,"
said Doc Day with a frown.
"For though your brain was clean,
We put it back in upside down."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Helping Hand"

This story is a combination of two challenges, one to write a story using a journal entry format, and another to tell about what you would do if you suddenly received discovered you had super powers.


Journal of Corporal Joshua Rogers, US Army
August 15, 2009

We inspected another site today. Officially we found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Unofficially...well, that's a different story. The bunker we uncovered had definitely been used as a lab of some sort. The chem sniffers reported blanks, but the rad guys said they detected low levels of some kind of radiation. They tested all of us pretty thoroughly afterward and pronounced us clean. Some of us think the radiation proves Saddam was doing some kind of nuclear research, but the tech wizzes say that since certain lab equipment uses radioactive sources, it's impossible to tell from the faint traces we got what the actual source of the radiation is.

On an unrelated note, I got stung by a scorpion today. Couldn't believe it. I reached down to take off my boots and wham!, it hit me in the hand. Thing had been clinging to my pants and I hadn't noticed it. Tiny little bugger. Doc Johannsen said it wasn't dangerous and shouldn't hurt much more than a bee sting.

August 16

Had a terrible headache today. A couple of times my vision blurred a bit; I definitely felt some eye strain. Thought it might be a reaction from the scorpion sting, but the Doc checked me again and said it wasn't. Gave me some ibuprofen and send me back on duty. Weird.

August 17

Headache is much worse today. Can hardly see straight to write this. Doc put me on medical leave for observation. I'm having problems with my hands - they aren't always responding when I try to move them. Took me several tries to write this. Gonna lie down and rest.

August 19

Somehow I lost a day. Doc says I spent most of yesterday in a delirious state; no fever, but I drifted in and out of consciousness, though I can't remember it. When I was conscious, Doc says I flailed my arms about. He had to tie them down. The headache is gone now and I can write this without problem. Doc wants to keep me for a couple of days for observation.

August 20

Maybe I'm crazy, but I swear this actually happened. I'm sitting in bed, reading a book when I decide I want a glass of water. I reach over for the glass and take a drink - then I see the glass, just floating there in front of me. I can feel the glass in my hand, but both my hands are still holding the book open. I jump out of bed and "throw" the glass away from me. It flies across the room and lands on an empty bunk. I'm freaking out. The nurse comes in, asking what's wrong. I tell him it was nothing. I dozed off and jerked awake because of a bad dream. He looks at me funny, but leaves. I sit down and try to figure out what happened. I can't. All I know is, I FELT the glass in my hand. I moved it to my mouth and took a drink. All while holding on to the book with both hands! I begin to think about the possibility of radioactive scorpions and begin to wonder. I've read Spiderman. It couldn't be real, could it?

I decide to experiment. I sit cross-legged on the bed and put the book in front of me. Here goes. I reach out my left hand for the book. No problem. I try with the right hand. No problem. I put both hands firmly on my knees and force them to stay there. Then I reach for the book. Nothing happens. I feel stupid. Spiderman, indeed. But something happened with the water glass. It did! I try again. Reaching....reaching.... I FEEL my hand, my HAND, close around the book. I glance at my knees. My left and right hands are still there. But I still feel the book in my hand. In fact, I can feel three hands. My head starts to ache, right between my eyes. I ignore it and bring my right hand forward. The book starts to tremble; my third hand is loosing its grasp. My right hand grabs for the book. For the briefest instant I can feel both hands touching, then my head begins to throb, and the third hand goes away. I'm extremely tired right now. I'll try more tomorrow.

August 21

I tried using my third hand on and off today, always careful not to let anyone catch me. I'm not sure what's going on with me, but I've heard stories about some of the research done at DARPA. I have no intention being shuffled off there to be some guinea pig for the Army's Dr. Frankenstein. I'm keeping this to myself.

My control got better throughout the day, and I noticed that the headaches decreased in like proportion. Here's what I've learned.

The third hand is real, yet it isn't. I can pick things up with it, and feel them as though they are in my physical hands, but the third hand feels no pain in and of itself. I can actually touch it with my other two hands, but to objects other than those I am actively trying to hold or my own body, the hand is non-corporeal.

The third hand is about as strong as one of my regular hands. I find I can lift things I would normally be able to lift, while things that are too heavy remain too heavy. The hand extends as far out from my body as my normal hands do, too. This is useful, naturally, but I wish I could reach farther. That would have some really great applications. Maybe it's just a mental block?

August 22

Doc released me today. He can't find anything wrong with me and I certainly haven't told him about hand number three. In fact, I don't intend to tell anyone. Ever.

August 25

My range has increased quite a bit. I can now reach things out to about ten feet. This has allowed me to initiate a few practical jokes I'd never have been able to orchestrate before. The best has got to be got to be goosing Sergeant Brandt as she walked past O'Reilly in the mess hall. Wow did she lay into him. Gave him additional sentry duty for a week. This so totally pays him back for the camel dung in my bunk. As an aside, Sergeant Brandt has a very firm ass.

August 28

We're going on extended patrol today. I've never been comfortable with these. The potential for ambush in the area we're heading to is low, but was an area of extreme violence in the past. I hate seeing people living in fear like these people do. Especially the children.

September 5

This is Dr. Albert Johannsen, with the Army Medical Department. It isn't standard protocol for me to write in a patient's journal, but given the circumstances, I feel it is appropriate. This certainly isn't going in my official report. Maybe Corporal Rogers' family will find it useful.

I find Corporal Roger under my care due to what officially is "an accident in the field." A land mine detonated close to the corporal, causing damage to his central nervous system. The corporal is in a coma I doubt he will ever come out of.

The report is unclear as to how exactly the land mine detonated. Witnesses state Corporal Rogers made an attempt to prevent an Iraqi child from entering an area known to be seeded with land mines. He ran towards the child, waving him away. The child did not respond. The mine seems to have malfunctioned and detonated approximately ten feet from the corporal. The child was five feet from the blast, but remained unhurt. Not so for Corporal Rogers.

That's the official report. What it doesn't cover are the strange little oddities than remain unexplained. No shrapnel from the blast was found more than inches away from the mine. Corporal Rogers has no physical marks on his body - nothing that should have caused his vegetative state. No cause could be determined for the mine to have detonated.

Having discovered Corporal Rogers' journal, I believe I have a possible answer to these questions; not an answer that can ever be offered up officially, but one which nonetheless fits the circumstances. If we take as fact what Corporal Rogers reported in his journal, this is what I believe to have occurred.

Corporal Rogers saw the child moving toward the mine field and moved to intercept. As he approached, he saw the mine and realized he would not make it to the child in time. Using his "third hand" he covered the mine. (Given his increase in range it makes sense that his area of effect could have grown in like measure allowing him to cover the entire surface of the mine even though the mine itself would have been larger than his hand.) In his haste, his third hand detonated the explosive. Corporal Rogers made sure the third hand stayed corporeal and used it to contain the blast. The amount of effort needed for this must have been monumental. The effect, while not affecting him or the child physically, surely fed back into his brain (much as he became mentally fatigued from exercising the hand, only orders of magnitude more intense.) It is this mental feedback which has caused the corporal's coma, rather than any physical trauma.

I cannot know if this theory is correct, just as I cannot predict whether this "psychic trauma" will ever heal. What I do know is that Corporal Rogers is a hero. A child lives because of his selfless action. God bless you, Corporal. God bless you.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Dark and Misty"


Moira jumped as the unexpected explosion occurred just a yard from her feet.

"Joshua, you're a complete nimrod!" She looked for her brother, but the darkness of the wood made it difficult to see him.

Her brother cackled, his voice indicated he was moving away from her. The little git should know better than to toss firecrackers in the park. The rangers would throw them out if they got caught, and they didn't want that. Moira couldn't stomach another relocation in the dark.

She moved farther down the path, away from the continuing hooting of her brother. What were they doing here? Why couldn't she just have a normal life? The question was a frequent one. As long as she could remember her family had moved from place to place, never staying in any one spot for long. As a child, it had been exciting, all the moving around. As a thirteen year old with a budding interest in boys it was less than satisfactory. She had tried talking to her Dad about it, but he just didn't understand. It was like the whole period thing; he recognized it was happening but didn't want to discuss it. Joshua was even worse. Her ten year old brother was like an evil Tasmanian devil, blowing through in a whirlwind and leaving things completely messed up in his wake. Moira was nothing like either of them. They loved the outdoors; she liked the comfort of four solid walls. They craved adventure; she wanted structure. They were really nothing alike. They didn't even look alike. Moira's dark complexion, black hair and brown eyes contrasted sharply with the blond-haired blue-eyed look her father and brother shared. Sometimes she couldn't even believe they were related.

Her dad said she was a lot like her mom, both in looks and temperament. Moira sighed. She wished she had known her. Her mom had died when she was five. She had some memories of her, but they were faded and blurry. She didn't even have a picture. Those had all been destroyed in the fire that claimed her mom's life and destined her family to live in the wild. Moira cursed God for that, taking away her mom and her structured life in one blow.

Moira wiped the wetness from her eyes. Though she couldn't remember her she missed her mom a lot these days. How much easier would it have been if her mom had been around to talk to. She would have had someone with the same interests, someone who she could relate to. Someone who would understand.

She stepped from the woods, just now realizing that the path she was following ended at the beach. Moonlight flowed over the waters of Lake Superior. Rolling bundles of mist kissed the lake's surface, giving it a surreal effect - as if the lake were alive. She walked to the edge of the water, staring into the shifting morass of mist. A styrofoam cup floated out into view, seeming to appear as if from nowhere. It bobbed up and down on the minute waves of the lake, then vanished once more into the fog, as if it never was.

How very much like me, she thought. In and out of obscurity. No permanence. No anchor.

"What are you doing there?"

Moira spun. A flashlight hit her in the face. She threw up an arm in front of her eyes.

"Oops, sorry about that."

The light lowered. It took a second for her eyes to adjust. When they did she saw a woman about twenty feet from her standing next to a wooden notice board. She wore an official looking uniform complete with brimmed hat and the aforementioned flashlight. A park ranger. Moira relaxed. Her father and brother didn't like the rangers, but Moira didn't mind them so much. They represented structure. She could respect that, while at the same time hoping this one hadn't noticed Joshua's stunt with the firecracker.

"The beach is closed for the night, young lady."

"Sorry, ma'am." Moira always said "sir" and "ma'am" when speaking to adults. Her father had taught her it helped to gain their trust. "I was just walking about from the campground and didn't realize I would end up here."

"What's the name?" the ranger asked.

"Moira Jones."
The ranger pulled a piece of paper from her pocket and ran her finger down it.

"Yeah, I got you right here. Site number two. Still, beach is not part of the campground, so I'm going to have to ask you to head back to your site."

"Yes, ma'am."

Moira walked up from the beach. She chose to head toward the ranger, rather than back to the path. This was the first adult woman she had had the opportunity to speak with privately in quite some time, and while she had no illusions there would be an in depth discussion, the possibility for any conversation with a female was too strong to pass up.

She noticed a stack of papers at the ranger's feet.

"What're those, ma'am?"

"Hm? Oh, notices. I get a stack from the state every so often. Supposed to post them around the park. They don't last long out here in the weather, but it's part of the job, so..."

"Can I help you hang them up?"

The ranger looked at her. Maybe it was the desperate look Moira was sure was in her eyes, but she nodded.

"Sure. Can always use a hand."

She handed Moira half the stack.

"Two pins in each page at the top corners and one in the middle at the bottom. Take the old ones down first and toss them in the trash. You take that side."

Moira tore down the old notices on he half, then picked up the stack of new papers. She flipped through them. There was a new copy of the beach rules, an advert for park activities the next month, and other assorted items of little interest. It was the missing person page that caught her eye. She pulled it to the front of the stack and started reading.

Missing, Viviana Vasquez, Sex: Female, Race: Hispanic, Hair: Black, Eyes: Brown, Date of Birth: 6/4/1996, Last Seen: 8/12/2001."

Wow, this girl had been missing for eight years. That was a long time to be away from your family. She looked at the picture on the left. It showed a young girl, about five years old, with long hair done up in pigtails. She was smiling. There was a second picture - one of those that had been computer adjusted for age. She looked at it - and promptly gasped. The page fell from her fingers. That was impossible.

"What's the matter, dear?" The ranger touched her shoulder, concern evident on her face. Moira pointed to the notice.

"It's me!"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Best Halloween Ever"

I usually hate Halloween.

Don't get me wrong. I like the costumes, I like the candy, I like the generally spooky atmosphere. It's my parents who have soured me on the holiday. See, Mom and Dad think when you reach a certain age (twelve years) you are too old to trick or treat. Instead of being allowed hit the streets in the hunt for candy I was relegated to standing at the door and filling the sacks of my friends. It was more than a little humiliating.

This year I had high hopes things would be different. This year my parents had consented to allow me to attend a party on Halloween night. I would finally be out from under their noses. Trick or treating, here I come.

Didn't work out that way. Somewhere between twelve and sixteen while I was stuck catering to the lucky candy seekers, my friends had moved past trick or treating and discovered the "joys" of binge drinking. I had expected a fun evening of goofing around in costumes while filling my pillowcase; instead I ended up the babysitter to a bunch of sloshed idiots. Don't get me wrong. The ninnies are still my friends, but they know I don't drink and inviting me to a party where the sole purpose is to consume - just so I can be the official "cop watcher" - was cold. No one even brought candy.

It was a sucky night - and not of the vampiric nature.

When Jackson puked all over my Zorro cape I knew it was time to go. I left the party on foot. (You think my parents would let me drive on Halloween? Visions of me running down cute little ghosts and goblins were more than they could handle.) It was only a couple of blocks to my house - another reason my parents had been willing to let me attend) - so I didn't have long before I got home and had to explain to my parents why I smelled like vomit and where all my trick or treating candy had disappeared to.

I decided to cut through the neighboring cul-de-sac rather than take the main streets. The cops were out in droves tonight, and while curfew wouldn't official start for twenty more minutes, I didn't want to have to explain to them why my cape smelled like vomit either if one of them stopped to "chat."

Lightning flashed across the sky. It seemed the air wasn't just heavy as a result of my mood. Rain was coming. Wouldn't that just be the perfect end to my night, getting soaked on the way home? Why not strike me with lightning, too?

Another lightning bolt flashed. The accompanying thunderclap was loud. It echoed through the cul-de-sac. I quickened my pace. It wasn't that the threat of rain and lightning scared me...okay it was. I was miserable and home was just a block and a half away.

I ran across the street toward the house at the end of the cul-de-sac. I often cut through Mr. Cotter's lawn on my way home from Jackson's. It saved me a good five minutes of travel time which was especially useful when I was late. Mr. Cotter sometimes yelled at me as I passed, but he was an older guy who lived alone and couldn't have chased me if he wanted to. It was a small price to pay to avoid a lecture at home.

Another lightning flash/thunder clap heralded the opening of the heavens. It was an instantaneous downpour. One moment there was nothing, the next the rain was falling so heavily I had a hard time seeing where I was going. The rain was cold and the drops were large. Their impact began to sting. No way....

My fears were realized as small white pellets began to collect on the pavement. Hail. There was no way I was running home in this.

I made a beeline up Mr. Cotter's driveway and onto his porch. The overhang wasn't large, but it did provide some shelter from the hail, which was rapidly increasing in size. A jack-o-lantern sitting on the edge of the porch was getting pummeled. I would share its fate if the wind shifted.

I made a quick decision. Mr. Cotter may not like me much, but I would rather share an uncomfortable moment in his foyer than spend any more time out in this. I had raised a hand to knock when I noticed the door was already open.

"Mr. Cotter?" There was no answer. Hailstones the size of golf balls were careening off the concrete into my legs. I had no time to wait for a response.

"Mr. Cotter, I'm coming in."

I stepped into the foyer of Mr. Cotter's home and promptly forgot about the hailstorm. Mr. Cotter was sprawled out on the floor. He looked unconscious. A large plastic bowl lay nearby, candy scattered across the tile.

"Mr. Cotter!"

I squatted next to him and shook his shoulder. There was no response. For a moment I panicked. Then training from four years in boy scouts popped into my mind. I checked to see if he was breathing. He wasn't, and there was no pulse. I immediately started CPR. One, two, three, four five...the cadence of the chest compressions filled my mind. How many was I supposed to do? I hit thirty and then gave him a quick two breaths. Again. One, two, three, four, five....

I don't know how long I worked, but my arms began to ache from the strain. Come on, where was the pulse? I ended another set of compressions and breaths then checked again. To my very great relief I felt a pulse. It was weak, but it was there! And he had started breathing again.

I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and dialed 911. The operator answered quickly. I told her what had happened. When she asked for the address I paused. Address?

My eyes fell on an open tube of pills not far from one of Mr. Cotter's outstretched hands. I snatched it off the floor and read the address to woman on the phone. She said an ambulance would be there momentarily and to stay on the phone to monitor his progress. As I waited for the ambulance I read the information on the pill bottle. Nitroglycerin tablets. I had heard about those. Weren't they used to help prevent heart attacks?

The ambulance arrived moments later and took over. They took the pill bottle and confirmed my suspicion. It looked like a heart attack. I had most likely saved Mr. Cotter's life.

As I walked home a little later, the hailstorm now past, I reflected on the evening. How differently Halloween had turned out than expected. Gone was the displeasure over a lousy party. Gone was the disappointment of the lack of trick or treating. How trivial that all seemed now.

I walked into my house a few moments later. Mom met me at the door.

"Oh, thank goodness. I was worried you'd been caught in the hailstorm."

"I was, but I'm fine, Mom."

She didn't look convinced, when but a quick visual check showed no evidence of swelling or bruises she relaxed.

"How was the party."

"The party stunk."

"Really? That's too bad. I know how much you were looking forward to it. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I think I can honestly say this has been the best Halloween ever."

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Demolition Without Borders"

This is from a challenge to write a story about a worker with the Demolition Without Borders" company who is called in to demolish a structure somewhere (my choice) in the world. A strange wooden box is discovered and a necklace with a charm is found inside. Something happens when the necklace is put on.... This one is a little dark. (Hmm...lots of dark things lately. Time to write about something happy!)

Two things are certain, I thought as I finished up some paperwork before hitting the mess hall, I'm cold, and I'm hungry. I rubbed my gloved hands together in an attempt to restore circulation. More cold than hungry.

My job with Demolishers Without Borders had taken me to many strange locals over the years, but never one so cold. The Quebecois had two words they used for cold: froid and frait. Froid was your common variety cold - minus 20 degrees below zero, give or take a few degrees. (Centigrade or Farenheit, take your pick. At those temps it didn't really matter which.) Frait was a step beyond. This was Frait, with a capital "F."

The trailer where we had located the office cut the chill a bit, but only so much as it slowed the icy winds that relentlessly battered the settlement. We had brought a couple of generators with us, but we had severely underestimated the effect of the temperature. Both generators were working overtime to heat the habitat tents, leaving the office at the mercy of the elements.

As I rubbed my hands I reflected again on the reason we were out here. It was unusual to find a settlement like this so far north in the province. The logging company employing us said the small community used to belong to an Algonquin tribe, but had been deserted for many years. They wanted to construct a new base camp at the site, but the prefab structures the company preferred wouldn't fit unless the old dwellings came down first. The buildings were little more than shacks, so the company could have done the removal themselves, but this was the off season and a great majority of their workforce was gone until spring. The company never did say why the settlement was deserted, but since an official records search had declared the land as belonging to the company (never say DWB didn't do due diligence) we took the job.

Feeling temporarily restored to my fingers, I tried to finish up my paperwork only to discover that the ink in my pen had frozen. Of all the.... I unzipped the front of my Carhartt jacket and shoved the pen into the pocket of my shirt. I few minutes in there ought to warm it up just fine. Then a few signatures and I could move over to the habitat tents for some food and some much needed warmth.

While I waited, my eyes fell on the small wooden box one of my workers had pulled from one of the buildings earlier in the day. He had been unable to open it and so turned it in to me. It was rather crudely carved with figures obviously meant to invoke fear. I vaguely remembered the Algonquin tribes believing in demons and evil spirits, so it was easy to image the box once belonging to a tribal medicine man. My interest piqued, I studied the box until I found the cleverly hidden catch. I had to take off my glove to open it, anxious to discover what kind of ancient Algonquin talisman it might contain. I slipped the catch, and the box popped open.

I wasn't disappointed. Inside I found a dried, shriveled piece of *something* attached to a small chain that had the appearance of gold. I held the necklace up by the chain. Closer inspection revealed the dessicated flesh to be a finger, though this finger was much too hairy to belong to a human. Maybe a monkey? Though where a tribal shaman would have found a monkey in northern Quebec I had no idea. The thing was truly ugly, but I couldn't resist the urge to slip the chain over my head.

My stomach turned as the finger settled on my chest. Suddenly this didn't seem like such a good idea. I removed the necklace and set it back in the box. The task was made more difficult by the fact that my fingers were beginning hurt from the cold. I closed the box as quickly as I could and shoved my hand back in my glove. The demons on the box seemed to stare at me. They seemed infinitely more menacing than before. I opened a drawer and tossed the box inside. Better if I didn't have to look at it.

My stomach chose that moment to rumble. Man was I hungry.

The door to the trailer opened and Fred leapt inside. A frigid wind followed him in tearing at his face. It was hungry, too.

Fred slammed the door shut, trapping the wind outside. "Man, that wind is vicious! You almost done in here, boss? Weather report says another storm is coming through. Best to be in the habitat before it arrives."

"Yes," I replied, my gut rumbling again. "That would be best."

Fred must have heard my stomach. "You hungry? Supper's on."

I was hungry. Very hungry. My hand acted of its own accord, grasping the letter opener on the desk and plunging it into Fred's neck. Fred's blood steamed as it hit the air. I was so hungry. And Fred was so warm.

Moments later I exited the trailer. My jacket didn’t fit so well any more. It was much looser through the chest, but the arms seemed to have shrunk, coming only to my elbows. My flesh was turning gray, though I doubted it was from the cold. I was much warmer now - Fred had seen to that - but his marvelous flesh had done little to satiate my ever growing appetite. I was so hungry.

The biting wind did little to hinder me as I walked to the habitat. Fred had said supper was on. They were waiting inside. Waiting to feed me.

I entered the habitat.

The wind laughed as it welcomed me home.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Deepest Darkest Thoughts"

This is a tale of Chicago's Arcane Threat Division (the ATD). If you haven't read the other Officer Spurgeon tales, you might want to read those first.

"Spurgeon and the Rookie"

"Ugh. Tell me why we're down here, again?"

Ryan Segal, rookie and newest member of the Arcane Threat Division of Chicago's Finest, tried to pull the cobwebs he had just stepped through from his hair. He only partially succeeded.

"We're tracking down a lead on Il Monsignor," Detective Carter said, ducking to avoid another set of cobwebs.

"And who is this Ill-Mon-Seenyor character exactly?" Segal asked.

Carter turned to look at him. Light from Segal's flashlight cast strange shadows over the detective's face. "Don't you ever read briefs?"

"Uhm...I must have missed that one?"

Carter snorted. "Sure." He started back down the passage, his pace faster this time. Segal had to jog a bit to catch up.

"Il Monsignor is the ATD's largest pain in the arse. Most of the calls we get are either fakes or the result of some nut job who stumbles across some minor mojo. Most of those either can't control what they find, or the mojo is of such minor significance that we can shut it down pretty easily. Il Monsignor is different. He's the real deal - a true sorcerer. Sources claim he has his hands in most of the illicit activities involving magic in the Chicago area. I think he's probably responsible for the nut jobs, too. He makes sure the wackos find the magic and they cause enough trouble to keep us out of his hair."

"Mini magical distractions?"


"So why haven't we brought this guy in yet?"

"Il Monsignor is smart. He knows that the use of magic isn't in and of itself illegal. So he uses magical means to get others to do his dirty work. There's no physical trace, nothing we can put into evidence. And the worst thing? We don't even know who he really is. All we have is a code name and a long list of ills."

Carter paused as the brick tunnel ended at a T. He flashed his light down both passages, and then chose the one on the right. Segal followed, still picking cobwebs from his hair.

"So what's all this got to do with an old prohibition era tunnel?" Segal asked.

"Spurgeon and Doyle arrested a deranged witch this morning. She'd been passing out candy tainted by dark magic to the neighborhood children. Totally out of character for this lady; she's usually the one offering to help people with their problems, not add to them. Neighbors say she starting acting strange yesterday afternoon. Spurgeon and Doyle traced her activities back to the building we came in by. Spurgeon found the tunnels and called us in."

Spurgeon. Just the mention of the guy's name ticked Segal off. As a result of a recent "partner exchange" with Spurgeon, Segal had spent a week under investigation by internal affairs for shooting a guy on Navy Pier. The shooting was legit. Everything should have been routine, but Spurgeon had mentioned the lack of a weapon on the part of the perp. ATD routinely covered for each other when it came to such situations - how did you explain the need to protect yourself from fireballs and lightning bolts when magic was not accepted as a realistic threat? But Spurgeon was the department's "Official Doubter." He didn't believe in magic and hadn't covered for Segal where anyone else in the department would have. Even after a few weeks it still made Segal's blood boil. Spurgeon might have saved Segal's neck a couple of times, but the guy was a Class-A jerk.

"So? Why didn't they check this out? Didn't want to get their clothes dirty?" Segal flicked his fingers to get rid of another cobweb.

"You're not thinking this through," Carter replied. "This incident practically reeks of Il Monsignor. The guy is smart; there won't be any physical evidence. Our best shot is to hope that there are traces of magic left from whatever he did to the witch, something we can use to track him down. If Spurgeon walked the area...."

"The traces would disappear."

"Exactly. Wouldn't be the first time Spurgeon inadvertently destroyed evidence. Protocol requires him and Doyle to call things like this in just in case."

So the mighty Spurgeon wasn't always the knight in shining armor. He messed things up as often as he helped out. The thought brought a smile to Segal's face. It wasn't the noblest of thoughts, but Segal felt better, nonetheless. Until the radio squawked.

"*Yous guys find anything yet? 'Cause we's gettin' hungry up here.*"

Segal grumbled. Carter pulled out his radio. "Not yet, Spurgeon. Give us another ten and we're out of here."

"*Ten? My gramma can move faster than you two. Tell the rookie to pick up the pace, Carter. You're killin' me, here.*"

"Maybe he should have called his grandma, then," Segal said. He pulled more cobwebs from his clothes. "Would've saved me the hassle of listening to him complain."

Carter chuckled, then paused. "What's that?" He trained his flashlight on a bundle sitting in the middle of the passage ahead.

"Looks like a basket covered with a cloth of some kind," Segal said.

"Yes. Odd place for a basket. And look, there's no dust on the cloth."

"Meaning it hasn't been here very long."

Carter nodded. "Very good." There was a note of approval in his tone. Segal smiled in spite of himself.

"This could be what we're looking for. Stand back a bit, I want to check for

Segal stepped back as Carter made a few complicated gestures while muttering strange words under his breath. The hairs on Segal's arms rose a bit, something he had learned to expect when in the presence of active magic. Carter said that sensitivity had been one of the reasons ATD had requested Segal be assigned to the division. Carter ended the spell, his hands spread out before him. There was a moment of silence, and then the cloth began to glow with a soft blue light.

"Yes!" Carter said. "We've got something...."

There was an explosion of absolute darkness. Sounds ranging across octaves struck Segal's ears with the force of a thousand mini sledgehammers. The sensation lasted but an instant, then became something more, transcending the physical to drive talons of agony directly into his soul. The pain was so exquisite Segal lost touch with his senses. The blackness consumed him.

He was floating in a sea of despair, tossed about on waves of terror. Images flitted through his view, horrors not seen by the eye, but conjured directly by the mind. Abominations of unimaginable evil committed heinous acts, abhorrent to his Segal's very essence. Works of vilest sorcery ripped and tore at him, laying waste to the innocence of his soul.

"And you are powerless to stop it," a familiar voice whispered through the darkness. "If only you were worth the badge on your chest."

Spurgeon's face, distorted into a demonic caricature of the man, yet eminently recognizable, blossomed into his view above it all. It threw back its head and laughed.

No! Not Spurgeon. I will not be laughed at by the likes of you!

The laughter rose in volume.


The psychic scream lanced through the image, rending it to shreds. It reverberated in Segal's mind, gaining force as it rebounded through his psyche. The darkness roiled, it pulsed....

It burst.

Segal came to on the floor of the passage. His head was pounding, but he struggled to sit up. He grabbed at his flashlight. Where was Carter?

Carter lay on the floor a few feet away. His eyes were rolled up in his head and he shook from what looked like a seizure. The spell - and Segal was sure that's what it was - still had his partner in its grasp. Somehow he had been able to get free.

Segal scooted over to Carter and tried to wake him to no avail. Carter was shaking more violently now. He wouldn't be able to manage the strain much longer. There was only one way out, and Segal hated himself for having to use it.

"Officer down, I repeat, officer down. Spurgeon, we need you here on the double!"


Five minutes later the situation was over. Spurgeon's arrival had done the trick - the spell had been unable to survive in his doubting presence. While Spurgeon and Doyle took the basket, which had been filled with some kind of psychotropic mushroom, back to the cars Segal sat with Carter, making sure he was all right.

"What happened, Carter? What was that?"

"That was a mindtrap spell, and a nasty one at that." Segal raised an eyebrow and Carter continued. "Mindtrap spells are designed to cut the recipient off from the physical world and trap them in the confines of their own psyche. This particular spell had a rider, a glamor that dug up the deepest, darkest thoughts from the mind and used them to overwhelm the victim's soul."

"You were having a seizure."

Carter nodded. "The human mind is not designed to handle such things. The body goes into shock, then eventually shuts down completely. A very tidy little spell."

"We're lucky Spurgeon was here to save the day, again."

Carter placed a hand on Segal's shoulder. "Spurgeon does a job in the unit, and he does it well. But today it was you who saved the day, Segal."

"But it was Spurgeon who stopped the spell."

"Spurgeon would never have gotten here in time if you hadn't found a way out of it first. You're the hero today, Segal. I owe you my life."

Segal felt himself blushing. Dammit.

"Now then," Carter said, getting to his feet, "Let's check out that basket. The spells will be gone, but there may be a physical clue we can use to help us get to Il Monsignor."

"You still think it was him behind this?"

"A mindtrap spell that complex? Anchored to a basket left here for no other reason than to attract the ATD? Set to go off when other magic was activated? This has Il Monsignor written all over it."

There was more discussion as they headed back to the cars, but Segal would be hard-pressed to remember much of it later. His mind was too full of pride to fit much of anything else.

"Return to Summer"

This was an immediate response challenge to "End of Summer." The "Return to Summer" challenge required the use of the following words: Sunshine, Watermelon, Ants, Warmth, Hamburgers, Hotdogs, Grill, Fris-bee, Grassy Field, Checkered Table Cloth, Fireworks, Cold Beer, A Hungry Dog. Of course, I couldn't help but modify them in my own special way.

"Hello, everyone, and welcome to the 2009 Fantasy Writing Group Summer Talent Show. With Ima Sidekick, I'm your host, Needa Betterjob. This year's show is sponsored by Tony R. 'Tony R., Someone's Choice for Pun-Filled Entertainment.'

"What's new at this year's show, Ima?"

"The choice of venues this year was a little surprising, Needa. Seems the Hungary Dogs had their MLB license revoked last week after publicly mocking the Commissioner by burning him in effigy in the dugout. It didn't help that the entire pitching staff got trapped behind the blaze and is now in intensive care."

"Ouch! Those are some hot Dogs, Ima."

"True, Needa. Turns out the team owner did it intentionally in order to win a bet."

"Did he win?"

"So I'm told, Needa."

"Well, there you have it folks. If you need to win a bet, fire works."

"Anyway, with the Dogs out, Grassy Field became an open venue and the Fantasy Writing Group snapped it up."

"It looks like the festivities are ready to start, Ima. What's this year's theme?"

"Warmth. People need to display some sort of talent involving things that make them warm and fuzzy."

"Sounds like an easy theme."

"Could be, but the Fantasy Group prefers for things to be outside the traditional box. It should prove interesting."

"Give us an idea of what we can look forward to."

"Well, scanning the entry list there are several that seem promising. The pigs should be entertaining."


"Yes, these particular pigs are legal residents of a borough."

"What does that make them?"

"Ham burghers."

"I see."

"It gets better Needa. There's a soldier bee from the hive down the road that's managed to grow quite an afro."

"What's his name?"

"Frizz Bee. And he's not alone. Hundreds of his aunts have shown up to watch him compete. And its rumored the Queen Bee herself will make an appearance to watch her son shine."

"That would be exciting. What else stands out for you?"

"There are some naiads on the list."

"What are those?"

"River spirits. There is some controversy over having them on the program, though, Needa."

"How's that?"

"Well, naiads don't wear clothes and these are rumored to be very well endowed."

"You mean they have large water melons?"

"Ahem. I wouldn't have put it that way, but...."

"Perhaps a safer entry?"

"How about a sculpture? One enterprising young fellow crafted a chrome golem entirely out of grills from '57 Chevys."

"That should be interesting."

"Then there's America's answer to the flying carpet."

"What's that, Ima? A jet powered Hoover?"

"Nothing so mechanical. We've already got Hot Dogs, baseball and Chevrolet. Outside of those, what could be more American than the flying checkered table cloth?"

"Apple pie."

"Hah. Got me there, Needa."

"Well, it looks like they're ready to start down on the field. Count Dracula is our MC this year and I'm told he's getting into the American theme, too. Foregoing his traditional coffin this year, the Count is entering the field in...some kind of stone box trailing wisps of some kind of mist. What is that, Ima?"

"I believe it's an iced cold bier."

"And you CAN'T get more American than that."

"End of Summer"

This was in response to a challenge for "End of Summer." I admit it's a bit dark.

The photographer snapped another picture.


"I love this time of year," he said, "don't you?"

His companion didn't answer, too overcome by the moment to speak.

"Parents are happy for vacation to be over."


"The children mourn the loss of their freedom as they head back to school."


"It's a time of transition, from one stage of existence to another." He snapped another picture.



The camera indicated the memory card was full, so he popped open the cover, pulled out the old card, and slotted in a new one. He took a moment to check the light settings and made a few minor adjustments. His companion was patient through the process. He appreciated this about her. An artist should never be rushed.

"I was never too attached to any one season as a child," he continued.


"Each one held something unique to look forward too."


"Think about it: Autumn had a new school year, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. Winter included Valentine's Day and snowball fights, not to mention Christmas. Spring meant shedding winter clothes, Easter egg hunts and kite flying. And then there was Summer - the coveted break from school, picnics and beach trips."


"If you had asked me back then, I probably would have said that Summer was the best of the bunch. After all, the good times lasted for three whole months, while the other seasons only had certain times to look forward to."


"Ask about specific memories, though, and I'd have had equally good memories about each season. That's part of the reason I became a photographer."


"You see, as time goes on I find I remember less and less details about things. I have a general memory of feelings and such, but the visuals - the visuals never seem to stay with me unless I record them."


"Seasons come and go, you see, and after awhile, they begin to blur into each other, making it hard to separate them in memory. With pictures, I can remember each one as if it were yesterday."


He checked the scene once more. Had he captured it all? Yes, that should do it. He set down the camera and addressed his companion once more.

"I have to thank you for being with me on this journey. Yours is a Summer I will recall fondly years to come. Sadly, our time together is coming to a close."

She spoke then, or tried to, but all that escaped was a muffled sob. A tear rolled down a cheek that was already wet and red.

"Yes, it saddens me, too," he said, catching the tear on the edge of his blade. "But time moves on. It is time for Summer to end."

One quick motion of the blade and it was over.

He pocketed the knife and retrieved the camera. His heart ached a bit as it always did at the passing of a season. It hurt when one was gone. Still - he patted the camera - he had his memories. There was no use crying over what was spilt. Not when another season awaited.

He closed the door behind him as he moved to the next room. His companion was already there.

"Hello, dearest Autumn," he said, readying the camera. "Let's get acquainted, shall we? Our time is so short. Fall will be gone before we know it."

I'm Back!

Hey, I'm back. Long break, needed time, had a baby (well, wife had a baby) 3 weeks early, got sick, etc. Bad excuses. I'm back. New Posts will commence momentarily!


Friday, August 21, 2009

FFF - "Highgate" Chapter 2

Finally. I finally got up the nerve to continue this. I know, I'm one big chicken. I have actually avoided the urge to edit this. I haven't even read it over again since writing it. It probably stinks. :) Anyway, here is Chapter 2. Enjoy. I hope.

Jonathun awoke to a dreadful pounding on his door. A glance at the window told him it was still dark outside.

"Go away," he called. "Come back at a decent hour."

"I was told to fetch you, sir."

"That's nice."

Jonathun rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. The knocking started anew. Jonathun pulled his pillow over his head, but the pounding didn't stop.

"I said go away."

"But, sir, Master Lyden requests your presence."

Master Lyden....

His five day penance. In his anguish over missing the Returning Jonathun had forgotten it completely.

Jonathun rolled out of bed. His pocket watch read 4:45 in the morning. An hour no sane person would choose to be up and about, that was certain. Still, if he was late for penance, he might just find his sentence extended and that would never do.

The knocking started again. "Sir? Sir?"

"All right, already. I'm up. Just give me a moment to throw my pants on."

4:45. Let the torture begin.

Jonathun opened the door to find an elderly man dressed in the servant's livery of the Magisterium, holding a latern. Jonathun had never seen the servant before, but that wasn't a surprise. While Masters Horvinnt and Lyden were often with the cadets, seeing to their instruction, outside of weekly services the cadets were rarely at the Sanctum itself.

"If you would follow me, sir."

The man lead Jonathun out the student barracks. The moon shone brightly into the dark of the early morning, illuminating the empty courtyard in a sharp silvery light. Jonathun tried to blink the sleep out of his eyes. He had taken several steps towards the Sanctum before he realized that his guide was not going that way. Instead, he was making his way to the main building. Jonathun had to run a few steps to catch up to him.

"Where are we going?" he asked.

"To the kitchens."

"Good, I'm starving."

The man grunted, but didn't reply.

It only took a few moments to get to the kitchens. They entered via the back way, past the chicken coops and through the academy's herb gardens. Jonathun had been this way many times in the past. Students were generally asked to stay out of the kitchens, but part of their curriculum included training in all aspects of a seeker's role. That included food preparation in the field. Because of this each cadet had a rotation in the kitchens. It was tedious work. Jonathun could understand the need to know how to cook over a camp fire, but he had a hard time reconciling that skill with daily food preparation for the more than two hundred people that populated the Academy. Master Jermiah, head cook, ran the kitchens like a true military camp. As far as Jonathun was concerned, service in the kitchens was akin to slavery. Give him a forced march any day.

As they entered the kitchens proper, Jonathun was surprised to see only two other people present. Davind leaned against one wall, arms crossed, a scowl on his face. The other person was dressed in the apprentice robes of one of the Magesterium. The figure turned toward him. It was a girl he didn't recognize. She couldn't have been more than - seventeen? That would make her a couple of years older than him. She was almost as tall as Jonathun, but in contrast to his somewhat muscular build she was very slight; her apprentice robes practically enveloped her. Her dark brown hair was drawn back in a ponytail, tight against the back of her head. The effect caused her face to look almost severe. Or was it the fact that she was frowning?

"You're late, cadet."

Her voice was deeper than he expected, coming from someone so thin.

"Yeah, well no one told me what time to be here." It came out sharper than he intended, but the stress of the situation coupled with the early hour left him bereft of patience.

"Breakfast preparation begins at 4:45 sharp. You will be here at the appropriate hour tomorrow or your punishment will be extended."

Jonathun felt his temper flare. "I said I'd be here. Who are you anyway? I thought Master Lyden was in charge of out penance."

The girl's eyes flashed in the lantern light. "My name is Belinda. I am the personal assistant to Master Lyden. He has put me in charge of your penance duties. You would do well not to anger me."

Jonathun bit back an angry reply. If this girl was in charge of his penance he would need to tread carefully. He took a calming breath.

"Sorry. I'm just tired and hungry. As soon as I've eaten I'll be better."
He looked around. "Speaking of, where's the food?"

Belinda looked exasperated. "Are you stupid or just oblivious? With the exception of the four of us and Master Lyden the entire academy is on its way to the Returning. Everyone. That includes Master Jermiah and the kitchen staff. If you want breakfast, you have to make it. The same goes for lunch and dinner, for the next five days."

Jonathun blinked. No kitchen staff? He hadn't thought of that.

"What about after that?"

The words came from Davind. Jonathun had forgotten the other cadet was present.

Belinda glanced at him. "Alamel here will take over kitchen duties after that."

"Wouldn't it be easier if he just did it all?" Davind said. "It's not like this is the kind of work we're any good at. Jonner is likely to burn the bread. It certainly wouldn't be the first time."

"Hey, that wasn't my fault...."

Belinda cut him off. "It doesn't matter whose fault it was. Truth be told, I'd rather neither of you touched anything I have to eat. Unfortunately, that isn't my call. Master Lyden said you're to handle kitchen duty, so you'll handle kitchen duty. Alamel will be here to make sure you don't burn the place down, but that's all he's going to do. He is under strict orders to do none of the actual work himself. When you're done with the cooking, Master Lyden and I will get our breakfast first, and then the two of you will be allowed to eat. When you're done cleaning up in here, we'll talk about your next task. You have two hours - Master Lyden breakfasts at 7:00. If you're late, you get an extra day's cooking duties."

Belinda left without another word.

Alamel stepped forward, a parchment in hand. He smoothed it out on the counter. "Two hours isn't much time, sirs. We had best begin. Cadet Davind, take that basket over there and fetch the eggs from the hen house. Cadet Jonathun, grab that sack of flour so we can start on the bread."

Jonathun's stomach rumbled. Great. Just great.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Spurgeon and the Rookie"

This was in response to a challenge to present a "Great Line" you had written. I took a very different tack on this one. In the story below you will find 25 very famous movie lines. All but three of them are from the Top 100 Movie Lines of All Time List. Great Lines, right? I did change one word for one of the lines to make it fit the location. The rest are word for word copied, AFAIK.

My challenge to YOU is to find the 25 lines and correctly identify the movies they come from. I suppose you could use the Top 100 list if you need help. Any takers?

(And, of course, I'm interested in what you think about the story - though it suffers from forcing 25 movie lines into it.)

Best of Luck!

"Come on, Joe. I'm supposed to be driving."

"You talking to me? 'Cause I never let a rookie drive. Now get in or I'm leaving your #$%@ a$$ behind."

Officer Ryan Segal got reluctantly into the passenger side of the squad car. His partner, Detective Carter, was in court today and he'd been assigned to work with the department's official doubter, Officer Spurgeon. The rest of the guys touted Spurgeon's praises, but as far as Segal was concerned, Spurgeon was nothing more than a big pain in the arse. Segal was contemplating calling Spurgeon on the driving thing when a call came over the radio.

"2319! 2319! Corner of Franklin and Washington."

"What's a..." Segal began, but was cutoff as Spurgeon floored the accelerator. Horns blasted and pedestrians made rude gestures as the squad car roared away from the curb. Segal held on for dear life and tried again.

"What's a 2319?"

"Little girl's cat is stuck in a tree."

"Oh come on. Tell me the truth."

"You can't handle the truth."

"Try me."

Spurgeon swerved the car, barely missing a parked ambulance.

"Jeez, you almost hit that paramedic! I knew I shoulda been driving. I should report you."

Spurgeon glared at him. "Go ahead. Make my day."

Segal reached for the radio. Spurgeon chose that moment to swerve again, turning into a narrow alley with reducing their speed. Trash cans and other less recognizable items were strewn across their path.

"Fasten your seatbelts," Spurgeon said. "It's going to be a bumpy night."

They bounced over several items. Segal banged his head against the top of the car. His face hit the window as they screamed out of the far end of the alley and hung a hard left, clipping a street sweeper in the process.

"I really think you should let me drive," Segal said.

"What we've got here is a failure to communicate, " Spurgeon replied. "Let's try this again. I. Don't. Let. Rookies. Drive."

They rounded another corner, this time narrowly missing a businessman crossing the street. The man's briefcase was torn from his hand, and papers scattered across the windshield before being blown away.

"But you keep hitting things!"

"Well, nobody's perfect."

Spurgeon slammed the brakes as they reached their destination. Segal stumbled out of the car, as much to get away from Spurgeon and his maniacal driving as to answer the call. It took a moment for him to orient himself. By that time, Spurgeon had approached the individual waiting for them at the front of the building.. Segal hurried over as Spurgeon shook the man's hand.

"Who's this, Spurgeon?" the man asked.

"The Rookie. Segal, say 'hello' to my little friend."

The man _was_ short. Segal thought it was rude of Spurgeon to point it out, but The man didn't seem to care.

"Name's Tork," he said. They shook hands.

"What's going on, Tork. Call said you know something."
This guy had his own code number?

"I see dead people," Tork said.

Segal raised an eyebrow. "Dead people? Like ghosts?"

"Naw, nothing like that. I'm psychic. I get impressions – see things before they happen."

Spurgeon rolled his eyes. "Psychic. Right. Way to spread it on thick for the Rookie. Tork's an informant. He's very well connected and his info's usually good."

Tork looked at Segal and winked.

"You made the call, Tork," Spurgeon continued. "What's the scoop."

"At sunset, at the farthest point of Navy Pier, some bad mojo is going down. If you aren't there, people are going to die."

Spurgeon checked his watch. "Sunset's in about fifteen minutes. We better hustle. Thanks. Tork." Spurgeon paused. "If you're wrong, I'll be back."

Ten minutes later they were exiting the car at Navy Pier. Segal was shaking form the wild ride, but Spurgeon wasn't about to wait up. They sprinted to the east end of the pier by the lake. The area was completely deserted.

"I have a bad feeling about this," Segal said. "Where is everybody? I thought he said people were going to die."

"They're here. Somewhere. We just have to find them. Tork said people were going to die if we weren't here. We are. We'll split up. You stay here, I'll check out the Grand Ballroom."

"But what if..." Spurgeon was already heading up the steps to the Ballroom doors.

Segal sighed. Alone again. He pulled his weapon, just in case, and made his way around the south side of the Ballroom toward the Beer Garden. He was rewarded with the sound of voices. He approached the area cautiously.

"Hello gorgeous," a male voice said. "Here's Johnny!"

"You! Why did it have to be you?"

"Look, Baby, it's not gonna hurt. Much. Just stand still right there against the wall."

"Nobody puts Baby in a corner."

There was the sound of a struggle.

"Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"

Segal peeked around the corner. In the shadows of the Beer Garden he could see two people struggling. The man succeeded in slamming the woman against the wall. He held her there with one arm across her neck while he reached for something in his pocket.

"Carlisle will kill you," Baby said. Her eyes were wide as Johnny pressed something onto her forward."

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Segal couldn't wait any longer. He stepped out in the open and pointed the gun. "Hey, you! Get your damn hands off her!"

There was a flash of light, so bright Segal had to cover his eyes. When he could see again the man was standing back looking up at the woman who floated in the air. Her arms were outstretched, her head tilted back with light streaming from her mouth and eyes.

"What did you do?" Segal shouted. "Get her down from there."

"I don't think so," Johnny screamed back. "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" He turned and pointed something at Segal. Segal reacted instinctively and pulled the trigger.

A shimmering barrier flashed into existence around Johnny. Segal could see where the bullet struck as ripples were flung outward around the semicircular shield. Johnny laughed.

"Prepare to be fried, copper. Take him out, Baby."

The floating figure rotated an extended a hand in his direction.
Flame gathered in the palm then lanced out at him. Segal dodged forward just in time to avoid the blast, but the flames were still close enough to singe his hair.

"Damn," he muttered. "I'll have what she's having."

Segal took refuge behind a trash can and yelled, "Hey! Come on, Baby. Snap out of it!"

"She's mine, copper. With her power at my command nothing can stop me. I'm king of the world!"

Segal fired again at Johnny. The shield was still in place. He barely managed to dodge another fire bolt. This wasn't good. Where was Spurgeon?

As if in response to his thought a gruff voice called out over the mayhem.

"Gentleman, you can't fight in here! This is the BEER room!"

Three things happened at once. The lights coming from Baby vanished, she fell to the ground, and Johnny's shield winked out of existence. Segal fired. Johnny spun around, falling backward.

Segal rushed to the man, wary a gun. Johnny was on his back, blood coming from a shoulder wound. He reached toward an amulet, just inches from his outstretched fingers. "My precious.... " he managed, and then closed his eyes.

Segal checked the man's pulse. It was still strong. He was going to make. Strange there was no gun, though.

"Nice shot, rookie," Spurgeon said as he walked up. "Thought you'd need some back up, but you managed it all on your own."

"Is that a compliment?"

"I give credit where it's due." Spurgeon replied. "Here's looking at you, kid."


It has been a very busy last couple of weeks. I have done very little writing, so very little posting. Hopefully that can change this week. Stay tuned for a new story.


Thursday, August 6, 2009


This was inspired by a guy at work who always tried to skirt the rules. He did some things one day that I got extremely upset over - and this was the result. I don't usually write in present tense, but I was so in the moment I wanted the reader to be in the moment too.

I want to kill him.

What part of "we can't do the run without a contract" doesn't the guy understand? Evidently all of it, because he's out there in the plant messing around anyway.

I make it a point not to swear, but several very choice phrases that my mind must have picked up over the years find their way to my lips. I spit them out, wondering only briefly how such dirty words feel so good coming from my mouth.

I've done what I can to minimize the effects of bozo's actions. Several megs of e-mail and a ream of paper's worth of CYA have miraculously departed my desk in the past ten minutes, so I am relatively certain that when the sparks start flying I'll be sufficiently fireproof. But that doesn't keep me from feeling like I've been hit by a Mack truck.

I raise my hands over my head and stretch in an attempt to loosen my cramped shoulders. I shouldn't bother. Stress has the very uncomfortable habit of causing the muscles in my neck and back to knot up in ways that Boy Scouts would be proud of, and experience has proven that nothing short of five o'clock will help.

I glance at my watch. The digital numbers blink as the time changes from 2:59 to 3:00, and a cheery "beep, beep" sounds in obvious mockery of my situation.

"Will this day never end?"

My mournful cry goes unanswered. That's probably for the best. I have enough problems to deal with without my co-workers thinking I'm crazy.

But you are crazy.

My hand freezes on the way to my water bottle. I look around, but I'm alone. The stress has me hearing things that aren't there. I shake my head and grab the bottle. I twist the cap off more forcefully than is necessary and chug half the contents.

But I AM here.

Water sprays out of my mouth. It plasters the front of my computer screen and trickles down between the keys of my keyboard. I leap from my chair and grab a stack of Kleenex from the box on my desk. I attempt to wipe the water from the computer. It isn't until I notice the streaks on the monitor that I realize the tissues are the kind with lotion.

"Aw, hell!"

I hear you. What do you want?

I spin around quickly, but the practical joker is nowhere to be found. A quick glance over the walls of my cubicle reveal that all of my nearby coworkers have escaped to the break room. I think to check my phone, but it sits soundly in its cradle.

I'm a bit offended, friend. You ask for me, then you act surprised that I answer.

The sound seems to come from within my mind. No, that can't be right. The stress has gotten to me more than I thought it had. I back from my cubicle and half walk, half run to the restroom. My face is flushed. I turn the faucet on full blast and splash the cold water over my cheeks. It seems to help.

I look at my reflection in the mirror. My eyes are wide and bloodshot. I look like the quintessential drunk. I laugh a bit at the thought. I have never in my life touched a drop of alcohol.

Maybe you should start drinking. It's been known to help in situations like these.

I catch the barest hint of movement from the corner of my eye, but when I look that direction, I see nothing.

My heart begins to race in my chest. What's going on?

The shrinks say if you hear voices, you're insane. That's only true if you're hearing things that aren't really there.

My body tenses and I spin around, eyes darting about the small room. I slam open the doors to the toilets, but the stalls are empty. My chest is heaving. It's hard to breathe.

"This isn't funny, all right? Show yourself, you sick bastard!"

Haven't you guessed by now? I'm in the one place you haven't looked.

I turn back to the mirror.

Look closer.

My hands are trembling as I grasp the sink and lean closer to the mirror. My reflection distorts as a face seems to emerge from my own - a face with a twisted, demented visage and glowing red eyes.

You can't see me because I'm INSIDE you.

My stomach sinks, even as my limbs become rigid. The face begins to laugh. Something snaps within me and I'm moving again, fleeing the restroom.

Running won't help, friend. Once you've invoked Hell, there's no going back.

Oh, God. This isn't happening to me. This CAN'T be happening to me.

But it is happening to you, friend. Your little four-letter word prayer opened the door.

No! I'm a good person! I've always followed the rules. I obey the commandments. I tell the truth. I go to church....

Church! The word brings me a measure of sanity. I feel for the cross my mother gave me on the day I went away to college. It's there under my shirt. The physical reality of it lends me hope. If I can just get to a church....

The Church only helps the innocent possessed - those who suffer through no action of their own. You invited me in. You are left to your own fate. Now that Hell is in you - NOTHING CAN GET ME OUT!

Panic sets in. Fear motivates my every action. I can only think to flee.

I round the corner and enter the atrium area at a full run. The large picture window, newly commissioned and still under construction, beckons. There is a way to get rid of the devil within me. Only one way.

There is a loud CRASH as glass shatters and I am falling...falling...falling....


The Demon named Vulgarity turns to his companions as they look down from the new exit to the building's twentieth floor.

"I think you pushed him a bit hard."

"How so?" asks Stress. "I haven't been any harder on him than any of the other swine who work here. All I do is set the stage. After that it's up to you guys. Fear's the one who pushed too hard."

"Like Heaven I did! You know this guy. He was heading straight to the nearest church. Within ten minutes he would have been confessing his sweet little heart out. We would have had to start all over."

"But you killed him! Where's the benefit in that?"

Fear grins. "He committed suicide, didn't he?"

The other two Demons smile in sudden understanding.

"Come along," Fear says as he fades into the Ether. "Let's go home and welcome our newest house guest."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"The Game - Chapter 5, Part 2"

If you haven't read Chapter 5, Part 1, do that first.

Valinor noticed immediately that there was something different about one of his opponents. That one was almost a full head taller than his companion and wore a smattering of metal plates about his person, complementing the chain mail armor that both gnolls wore. It's weapon was heavier, as well, indicating a greater strength - and most likely, greater ability. "The Leader," Valinor decided. His suspicion was born out as the larger gnoll barked out an order to the other and then stepped back to watch the combat.

The underling moved forward carefully, still wincing from the sting Valinor's bow had imparted to his face. He took a straightforward swing which the ranger easily blocked. Valinor returned a slash with his second sword. The gnoll stepped back out of reach and brought his axe up to counter the ranger's follow up thrust. The exchange followed for a few seconds, each trading blows that were subsequently blocked or evaded. The gnoll was good, but followed a fairly set pattern of maneuvers that the crafty ranger soon deciphered. Valinor launched a right-handed thrust at the creature's midsection. When the gnoll predictably brought his axe handle across to parry the blow, the ranger swept his left sword across and struck the axe driving it farther out to the right. He then twisted his right wrist, rolling the blade about and under the axe driving the point home in the creature's unprotected armpit. As the gnoll jerked in pain, Valinor spun, reversing the swing of his left blade and simultaneously retracting his successful stab. The full circle spin brought both blades across the startled gnoll's neck, relieving the creature of its head.

Valinor ended the spin in a ready position and eyed the gnoll leader. To his surprise, the gnoll spoke. The words were heavily accented, but in well-spoken Common.

"Such pretty displays will not work against me."

"So have others said who were bigger and stronger than you. They are all dead."

The gnoll laughed. "I hardly fear the boasts of a weakling human. I am Kartoch. I will feast on your flesh tonight."

"You will feast on your doom."

The laughter continued as the gnoll leader advanced.


Theadina found herself hard-pressed. While no novice to fighting - the Knights of Calinde were not a true martial order, though they did receive martial weapons training - her sword skills lacked the fluid grace of Teserk, the effortless coordination of Valinor and the raw power of Colin. She relied on well practiced routines and strategies and had little success with battlefield improvisation. Her opponent lacked even her skills, relying on brute force to overwhelm his foes, but in this case, that strength was just enough to throw off Theadina's rhythm. The gnoll couldn't penetrate her defenses, but neither could she recover fast enough to press an advantage.

The two were at a standstill.

Worry began to eat away at the knight. What if her skills were not enough? What if her strength gave out first? Already she was beginning to tire, the heavy axe blows causing her arms to go numb. She couldn't last at this much longer, and she couldn't expect that her friends would save her.

A flash of inspiration came to her then. Theadina leapt back as the gnoll executed another of his powerful overheads and stepped into the tightly packed trees off to the north. The slope made it difficult to maintain her footing and for just a moment she almost regretted her hasty decision. Then the gnoll was upon her and she had no more time to question. The gnoll's first swipe came - Theadina ducked - and the axe crashed into the tree next to her. The gnoll had to jerk twice to pull the heavy blade from the wood, giving the knight the extra time she needed. A quick slash drew a thick line of blood down the creature's arm. It howled in anger and launched a mighty overhead chop. Theadina swung around the tree to her right and attacked the gnoll from the rear. The monster spun quickly to block , but the axe head caught up in the brush and didn't make it up in time. Theadina's sword stabbed through the gnoll's throat and the creature fell heavily to the ground.


Colin dispatched the first gnoll he had felled and took stock of the battle. He couldn't see Valinor, a large boulder blocking his view, but he watched as Theadina neatly dispatch her foe. He turned to find Teserk one on one with a gnoll and having no real difficulty. Mammoth was keeping another of the foul creatures occupied. It looked as if the battle was almost over. That's when he heard Mort's scream. Theadina heard it, too, and the two of them followed the sound into the trees to the south of the trail.


Teserk was toying with his opponent when he heard the scream.

"I guess play time's over."

The gnoll looked at him funny.

"That means it's time for you to go bye-bye," the swordsman explained. He launched a lightning fast thrust which the gnoll barely managed to so sidestep. The move brought him right into the path of Teserk's follow up kick. The toe of Teserk's boot caught the creature square on the muzzle, snapping its head back. The gnoll fell backwards to the ground. Teserk spun his sword around, reversing his grip, and plunged the blade down through the rusty chainmail and into the gnoll's chest.

The swordsman caught sight of the last of his attackers fleeing scene. He snatched a javelin from the earth nearby and launched it at the retreating figure. His aim was true, the missile taking the unfortunate creature in the hip. It stumbled, falling backwards down the slope to land just beneath Mammoth's flailing hooves. There was a sickening pop.

Teserk retrieved his blade and followed his two friends.


Kartoch rushed in suddenly, leading with the thrusting point atop his two-bladed battle axe. Valinor darted to the left, slashing down with his right blade. The gnoll pivoted smoothly, taking the slash on a battered bracer and brought his axe about in a horizontal cut. Valinor stepped back and slapped the passing axe head with his left blade, hoping to throw it farther out to his left, and thrust his second blade in at the expected opening. Kartoch anticipated the move, dipping the axe so that Valinor's blade slipped over without much impact, then swept the axe back across one handed, intercepting the darting stab. The gnoll's free hand shot forward to grab the ranger's neck, but Valinor spun to the left and avoided the clawed hand.

"Give up, human. You cannot match me," Kartoch snarled as Valinor maneuvered himself against another charge.

"Perhaps not," the ranger replied, "but at least I'll have the pleasure of knowing that my friends cut your murdering band to pieces before I died."

The advancing gnoll leader paused briefly and cast a glance back along the valley floor. His superior height allowed him to see that Valinor spoke the truth. His tribe lay scattered across the ground - broken and bloody as three of their intended victims moved off into the trees, seemingly unharmed.

Kartoch roared in anger - a chilling half laugh that reverberated off the valley walls in spite of the trees. "You will die first, and then I will hunt your pitiful band single handedly until each lies twisted and torn at my feet."

"Save your words for someone who cares, Kartoch. You are a leader with no one to lead."

The gnoll sprang at Valinor, unbelievably quick for one of such large stature. Valinor barely managed to slap the axe head aside before Kartoch plowed into him. The force of the charge threw the ranger backwards. Valinor tucked into a roll and came up in a crouch, his swords crossing above his head. He caught the descending axe in the vee of the cross, the sharp blade stopping a scant inches above his forehead.

Kartoch put his considerable weight behind the axe, trying to force the axe-head into the ranger's face. Valinor strained to keep his blades in place, but his arms were beginning to tire. The razor edge of the axe slipped ever closer. Valinor managed to set his feet under him, then, and with a mighty heave of his legs threw Kartoch back. The gnoll leader recovered almost instantly, launching himself again at the weakened human.

Valinor parried the blow and the one following, the hits ringing along his arms. He had to end this quickly. He dodged another mighty blow and scrambled over a fallen tree to give himself time. Kartoch pursued relentlessly.

Valinor spoke a command word as the gnoll leader came over the log and his two short swords began to glow, their blades bathed in white-hot blue flames. Kartoch failed to notice, arcing the great axe in a mighty two-handed overhead blow. Valinor sidestepped and brought both flaming blades down on the axe handle. The twin swords exploded with a concussion of fire, shattering the wooden shaft and singing the fur of Kartoch's hands. The startled gnoll pulled back in a panic, but Valinor gave him no recourse. He stepped over the gnoll's burning weapon and unleashed a devastating combination attack. Lines of blood appeared in several places across Kartoch's body as magical blades sliced almost effortlessly through the gnoll's makeshift armor. Flames licked at the wounds as the creature's clothing caught fire. Valinor finished the attack with a full thrust that took the gnoll leader in the stomach. Again the sword erupted in a hellish blast. The magical fire burned from the inside out, leaving the gnoll leader a smoking husk as Valinor withdrew the enchanted blade.

Valinor grimaced and stamped out the small fires that had caught in the dead leaves littering the valley floor. It was dangerous to use those blades in a forested area. Not that he had had much of a choice.

The ranger sheathed his twin blades and headed off towards where Mort had disappeared into the trees.


Valinor arrived at the scene a few moments later. Mort sat on the ground, his arms wrapped around his legs, rocking slowly back and forth as Theadina tried to comfort him. Colin and Teserk were examining a body - a human body.

"What happened?" he asked, walking over to the two men.

Teserk stood. "Near as we can make out, Mort was following your advice to hide in the trees when he came across this guy here. Mort says the fellow attacked him and he defended himself. With this."

Teserk held up the farmer's small skinning knife.

Valinor blinked. "He killed a man with that?"

Colin pointed at the gash that ran under the man's chin. "One stroke. Nice an' clean."

"This from a man with no combat experience," Teserk added dryly. "You have to admit, Valinor, this is more than a little off. Add it to the other discrepancies in the man's story and the strange reaction of Mammoth. It just doesn't add up."

Valinor was forced to admit, if only to himself, that Teserk was right. Something wasn't right here. Still, the ranger was always one to give a person the benefit of any doubt. He looked at the sobbing farmer who called himself Mortimous deVous.

"This isn't the time or place for questions. Dusk is here and we've still a mile or more to the wizard's home. "

Teserk looked at him incredulously, but Valinor ignored him. "Get him up, Theadina, we've got to move.

"Leave the body," he instructed Colin as he started back down the slope, "We don't have time for a proper burial."

Teserk watched in silence as Valinor left the area. Theadina helped Mort to his feet and led him after. Colin made to follow, but Teserk stopped him with a hand.

"Valinor's making a mistake here."

"Aye, lad, it's possible. But it's his mistake to be makin'. We put him in charge, remember? Never ye fear, we'll be keepin' a watch on our Mr. deVous."

Colin trudged after the others, but Teserk remained for a moment. He bent one more time to study the body in the failing light. That was just too perfect to be an accident. He ran a finger along the smooth cut - then noticed something he had missed before. In addition to the knife stroke, there was a small line that traced around the back of the man's neck, almost as if a thin wire had torn the skin. It was too thin for a rope. A necklace perhaps?

"Teserk, let's go!"

Valinor's words were just loud enough to carry to him. Teserk filed the information away to study with the rest of the clues he'd discovered. He would get to the bottom of this, if Valinor's misplaced trust didn't get them all killed first.

"The Game - Chapter 5, Part 1"

This is Monday's post. Sorry it's late.

If you haven't read Chapter 4, please do that first.

After a short discussion, the group decided to approach the Wizard's home by way of the woods, rather than by the road. Broadbent offered to send one of his men along as a guide, but Valinor firmly refused.

"We have already imposed too much upon your hospitality, as well as relieving you of your bread money. We would not then take one of your men into danger."

Broadbent shrugged. Either way was fine by him. He insisted, however, that the group take Mort's Mammoth, as well as Silent's horse.

"I don't want anything belonging to that scoundrel in my camp. She's yours."

Colin practically cheered, having long since decided that the black mare was one of the finest horses he had ever seen. Mort didn't look quite so pleased.

It was easy to see why as the farmer warily approached the big chestnut gelding. Mammoth reared and tossed his head, his nostrils flaring in warning. Mort dropped the lead rope, skipping back in alarm.

"Doesn't seem as if Mammoth likes you much," Teserk noted.

Mort grimaced. "Mammoth has always been a somewhat...reluctant animal. I'm sure the robbery combined with being taken by strangers has been a little unnerving for him. He'll calm down soon."

Mort ducked down to reach for the rope, but Mammoth reared again and Mort fell backward on his rump in his effort to get away from the heavy hooves.

"Mammoth, you stop this nonsense," Mort said sternly as he got back to his feet and walked forward in a confident manner. He reached a hand for Mammoth's bridle and was rewarded by a fierce nip that almost took off his hand. He backed away hastily, spearing the gelding with a venomous glare.

"Fine, you worthless excuse for a work horse. You can rot here. See if I care!"

Teserk looked from Mammoth to Mort, then walked slowly up to the big animal. Mammoth didn't so much as move as Teserk reached out a steady hand and placed it on the horse's powerful neck. The swordsman scratched gently, then slowly gathered up the lead rope.

"Seems like he's all right to me," Teserk said with the hint of a smile.

Mort scowled. "Then YOU lead him. I've had enough of his fickle nature for one day." The farmer stomped off to where Theadina and Valinor were getting some last minute directions from Broadbent.

Teserk looked back at Mammoth. The big horse nudged him in the shoulder, encouraging more of the neck scratching. Teserk's smile faded.

"You certainly don't like him, do you boy. I wonder why that is?"

Not having any answers, Teserk clipped the lead rope onto Mammoth's bridle and led the gelding over to where the others were preparing to depart.


Taking Broadbent's advice to heart, the party followed a dry stream bed east towards Nefarious' estate. The map the old soldier provided was crude, but by all indications the group would reach the wizards home round about nightfall. Teserk had questioned the wisdom of approaching a hostile spellcaster's home at night, and for once, both Mort and Colin agreed with him. Valinor had persisted, however, and asked whether the party would rather face the wizard when he least expected them or camp in an unfamiliar wood with a band of bloodthirsty gnolls roaming about. Teserk had pointed out the fact that they might never see the gnolls either way. Valinor had countered by saying it would be easier to avoid the gnolls if they were on the move. He then reminded them that in the morning the wizard would be well rested and watching for them. In the end, the group had reluctantly agreed with Valinor's plan, trusting in the ranger's woodlore to keep them out of harm's way.

The stream bed was fairly flat and provided a good path. Valinor took the lead, scouting ahead for signs of the gnolls. Mort and Theadina followed a ways after, chatting about this and that and generally enjoying the quickly fading sunshine. Teserk and Colin brought up the rear, leading the two horses. As the distance between the group widened, Teserk took the opportunity to share some of his suspicions with Colin.

"Did you see the way Mammoth reacted to Mort back at the camp?"

"Aye, I saw it. It doesn't appear he be likin' 'is master all that much."

"My thoughts exactly. Not the reaction I would have expected from a docile work horse trained to work a farm."

Colin furrowed his brow. "Tis true enough, though Mort bein' a mink farmer an' all, I expect he was jest used fer pulling wagons and sech. Perhaps tis as Mort said - the shock of the attack 'as left 'im skittered."

Teserk laughed. "Skitterish? Look at the fellow - he's as docile as a newborn puppy."

Colin looked at the plodding gelding and was forced to concede the point.

"I donnae suppose ye'd accept that the bloodshed shook 'im a bit?"

"A horse that lives and works on a mink farm where slaughter is the rule? No way."

"All right then, maybe he's been abused, beaten and sech fer disobedience."

" Come on, Colin, you know horses better than that. Abused animals are rarely friendly with anyone, Mammoth does everything I ask. And there's not a mark on him that would indicate abuse. No, I don't buy any of it. Something else is going on here, something that I can't put my finger on. It's almost as if Mammoth doesn't know him."

Teserk's words were softly spoken, but their impact caused him to stop suddenly as if he were slapped. Colin looked at him, and Teserk could tell the half-dwarf had reached the same conclusion.

"Ye donnae think the man is really Mortimous DeVous."

"That would be a logical conclusion."

"Then who do ye think he be?"

"I don't know. Maybe the traveler the farmer picked up on the road, maybe somebody else." Teserk frowned. "Maybe the wizard."

Colin's eyes narrowed.

"Should we be tellin' the others?"

Teserk shook his head. "We have no proof. The whole thing ties up so neatly - it's just my word against his. Theadina would never believe it, that's for certain."

They started moving again, walking in silence for a time.

"So what's yer plan?" Colin finally asked.

"We proceed very carefully," Teserk answered, a dangerous glint in his eyes. "We look for anything else that seems out of place. And we never - ever - let 'Mr. DeVous' out of our sight."


The shadows were lengthening steadily as Valinor suddenly appeared from nowhere up in front of the group and quietly called for a halt. The group quickly gathered to him.

"The path ahead narrows into a small valley," the ranger reported. "It's heavily lined with trees and the shadows are pretty thick right now. It would be the perfect place for an ambush."

Theadina asked, "Have you seen signs of the gnolls?"

Valinor shook his head. "Not any physical signs, as such. The valley floor has been altered somewhat, though. There are large rocks where there should be none and trees lay at angles too convenient for my tastes. Broadbent said Nefarious sometimes released prisoners to be hunted by the gnolls. This place stinks of a place where the foul creatures might herd unsuspecting prey to fall on them and cut them to pieces."

"Kin we go around?" Colin asked.

"Not unless we want to add a few hours to our travel."

"We don't have a few hours left," Teserk said. "It will be full dark in less than an hour as it is."

"Then we trip the trap," Colin said as he loosened the strap securing his large mace to his side.

"Agreed," responded Valinor. "We have the advantage of knowing the valley for what it is. We won't be the simple prey they're used to."

Mort was visibly trembling. "W-we're just gonna walk down into a trap? Are you crazy?" His tone was sharp and carried in the suddenly silent forest.

Theadina quickly placed a steadying hand on the farmer's arm. "Mort, lower your voice. Everything will be all right."

Mort's voice decreased in volume, but there was no mistaking the panic. "All right? He wants to take us down into a trap! You all may be experienced warriors, but I've never been in a battle in my life. What am I supposed to do while you all have your fun?"

This last part was aimed at Colin and Teserk who seemed to be eagerly anticipating the possibility of combat.

Theadina's voice was soothing. "Stay close to me. If trouble arises, take refuge behind the nearest tree. I promise, we won't let anything happen to you. We're in this together ."

"For Lucinde's sake," Valinor added.

Mort looked from face to face, then straightened. "Okay. We'll do this. For Lucinde."

Valinor nodded grimly, then led them into the valley.


Their movement was slowed by the various rocks and fallen trees Valinor had seen while scouting ahead. They made their way cautiously with the ranger in the lead, followed closely by Theadina and Mort. Colin wasn't too far behind, but Teserk lagged a bit to the rear having some trouble maneuvering Mammoth around the strewn rubble. Valinor wasn't too concerned over this, knowing that Teserk was capable of taking care of himself. The ranger kept his eyes trained on the surrounding slopes to catch a glimpse of their would-be attackers, an ash longbow at the ready. The onset of dusk and the heavy tree cover made the task much more difficult.

The attack came as they reached the halfway point through the valley.

A hail of javelins arced through the air to fall among the party. The missiles were poorly thrown, only one striking a target. Colin caught a glancing blow along one muscular arm, but the wound was superficial, the sight of his blood steeling the half-dwarf for combat. A howling laughter filled the air and tall, hunched figures broke cover from the trees to fall upon the group.

Valinor turned quickly at the first sign of attack and followed the arc of one of the javelins back to its caster. As the hyena-headed figure of a gnoll burst from the trees it caught a dark feathered shaft in the chest, staggering it. As it tried to regain its balance, a second arrow joined the first, removing the attacker from the fight.

"Mort, take cover!" the ranger shouted as he sighted another gnoll, this one charging towards the farmer. This time the arrow took it in the throat, dropping the creature to the ground. Valinor couldn't see if Mort followed his advice as two more of the monsters sprang from the trees directly before the ranger. He swung his bow in a wide arc, catching one of the gnolls in the face, then dropped the weapon and drew his twin short swords. More wary this time, the two circled slowly, waving their battle axes about menacingly.


Theadina raised a loaded crossbow and fired as a gnoll leapt at her from atop a massive boulder. Her aim was true and the creature landed dead at her feet. She had no time to think, however, as another of the creatures rushed her. She threw the crossbow at it, slowing its advance just long enough for the knight to draw her blade.

Then the gnoll was upon her. She heard Valinor's warning to Mort, but was unable to go to his aid. The seven-foot tall gnoll outweighed her by a good hundred and fifty pounds and it was all she could do to turn aside the first vicious axe swipe. She was thrown slightly off-balance, but recovered in time to duck the monster's second attack and spin out to the side placing the boulder to her left. Because the boulder gave her partial cover, the gnoll was forced to attack from a higher angle to avoid the rock. Theadina crouched and came forward under the swing making a quick thrust. Her sword caught the gnoll in the stomach, drawing blood, but something prevented her from completing the thrust. She was forced to spin away to avoid the gnoll's answering chop.

Theadina swore in a manner most unbecoming to a Knight of Calinde. These monsters were wearing armor! The gnoll growled in its laughing way and advanced on her.


The gnolls opposing Colin soon discovered that their armor was NOT effective against the half-dwarf's heavy mace. The fighter blocked the attack of the gnoll to his left then slammed the mace head into the stomach of the gnoll to the right. The creature doubled over on the ground, coughing blood, effectively out of the fight. Colin ducked under the horizontal swipe of the other gnoll and grabbed the passing axe handle with his left hand. The gnoll tried to pull the axe from the fighter's grasp, but Colin was the stronger of the pair. With a mighty heave, he jerked the axe forward, pulling the gnoll towards him. As the creature overbalanced, the fighter launched a vicious head-butt that cracked it between the eyes. The gnoll staggered and Colin smashed his mace down on its head with a two-handed overhead swing. The dead creature twitched as it hit the ground.


Farther back, Teserk found himself beset by four of the monsters hoping to take out the isolated party member in an easy fashion before helping to overwhelm the others. The strategy might have worked, but the gnolls didn't account for Mammoth. As the gnomes stormed Teserk's position, Mammoth reared angrily, lashing out at the attackers. Two were forced to back away, leery of the massive animal. Teserk promptly set his back to his impromptu partner and faced the two gnolls that were able to approach him.

They came in a coordinated fashion trying to get the swordsman to commit his defense to one side. Teserk would have none of it. His bastard sword twirled about as if possessed of a mind of its own, deflecting a strike here, hooking an axe-head there and pulling it out wide.

The gnoll to the right stumbled slightly, his axe dropping as Teserk deflected the axe of the gnoll to his left. Teserk thrust at the opening. The gnoll recovered more quickly than he should have, the stumble being a feint to draw Teserk away from his defensive line. The gnoll's axe came up and there was no way Teserk could block it. He didn't have to.

Teserk saw the ruse for what it was and chose that moment to spin to his left. His timing was perfect as he ducked under the hooves of a rearing Mammoth. The Clydesdale lashed out at the unsuspecting gnoll and connected a huge hoof with the creatures forehead. The gnoll crumpled to the ground, the front of his face caved completely in.

Teserk continued his spin full circle, coming around low on one knee. His sword took one of the unsuspecting gnolls at the knees, hamstringing one leg while almost completely severing the other. He leapt up, dodging to the right to increase his distance from the still rearing horse. His opponent, recovering from the shock of the swordsman's sudden appearance, stepped up to engage him.