Adventures for the Average Woman
IDEAGEMS ® February 2006
A MONTHLY PUBLICATION OF SERIAL FICTION AND FACT-BASED ADVENTURE TALES PRINTED WITH EARTHFRIENDLY RECYCLED MATERIALS
Volume 1, Issue 4
Inside this issue:
Upheaval, distress, bewilderment — these are the themes of this month’s issue. AFTAW explores the domain of the Lord of Sorrow in the world of Tarot. The card shown here, the Three of Swords, denotes the heartbreak, loneliness, and betrayal many women feel this time of year (this humble author included). Hopefully, the serial stories in this issue will dose you with a prose-laced sugar pill of relief. In Part III of “Natalie and The Blue Dragon,” our dear damsel must venture into the phantasmagoric nightmare of New Orleans, the place of her birth now ravaged by the winds and rains of destruction. What dark secrets of her past will she find? Will vegan Gina fall prey to her vampire roommate’s lusty bite? Find out in Part IV of
“Neomodern Nosferatu.” Join down-and-out Arna in her fight against ghostly visitors and ghastly corporate lawyers in the battle to keep her family legacy, an ancient theater in a rustic Montana mining town, from going under the bulldozers. Read Part IV of “The Mystery of the Majestic.” Jack B. Nimble’s interview continues with more shocking revelations from the brokendown fairytale dowager, Cinderella. Speaking of fairy tales, don’t miss out on Katie’s continuing graphic encounter with a knight in not-so-shining armor. From medieval mysteries jump into tropical terror with Part II of “Cutlass Moon.” The search for a shaman leads to the forbidding Land of the Dead. More mystery and intrigue spin their web to snare the unsuspec-
Three of Swords
A Word With You
ting reader in Part IV of “The Spoiler.” Will Detective Savage solve the crime of the kidnapped author? And finally, the chilling thriller “Boundary Waters” will make you rub your hands to stay warm. Are you shivering from cold, fear, or teeth-gnashing anticipation? Lose not all hope ye who enter here. Our sensational sensual stories promise to fulfill all aspirations of a good read.
Mystery of the Majestic
Katie and the Errant Knight
Natalie and the Blue Dragon
— Cytheria Howell, Author, Editor, and Incurable Romatic
Three of Swords
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by Linda Kent
Boundary Waters 18 20
IDEAGEMS PUBLICATIONS AFTAW at IDEAGEMS 1516 University Blvd. W. Wheaton, MD 20902 E--mail us your queries, submissions, and comments to:
The Spoiler, Part IV If you happened to miss out on Parts I, II, and III of this or any of our other stories, order the back issues for $2.00 a copy. Or better yet, sign up for a year’s subscription for $15.00 and receive the first three issues plus eight months of future issues. Simply fill out the coupon insert inside this month’s issue.
Detective Renee Savage woke up to the pitch of night. The digital glow on her DVD player told the hour: 4:24 a.m. Renee had been conked out for seven solid hours, the most sleep she had had in months. She found it strange and disorienting, even guilt riddling, for a detective to succumb to sleep was like a supermodel giving in to pudding. It could spell the end of a career. She had a missing person’s case to solve and time was of the essence. She fumbled for the switch on the table lamp and winced at the sudden 60-watt flare up. She took note of her wrinkled work dress. She had actually been so tired she had never changed out of her clothes. She went into the bedroom to slip into the comfort of a pair of sweats and tee-shirt. She tried running a brush through her thick snarled mane then gave up all hope of working out the tangles. Her tiny stomach squealed a complaint, so Renee went to the kitchen and rummaged through the remnants of restaurant fare in her fridge. With a tasty leftover tuna salad sandwich in one hand and a yogurt smoothie in another, She wended her way back to the overstuffed folds of her sofa. She nibbled and swigged her way through a dozen cable channels that flashed disjointed scenes from oldie-but-moldy movies, news bites, crap TV, and infomercials. Having found nothing of substance, she clicked off the giant plasma screen. Her mind craved stimulation and sought for it in her work bag. She reached inside to pull out a plastic sack that bore the name of a local bookseller. The plastic crinkled teasingly while her hand slipped out the purchase she had made on her way home from work. One by one, she set the three paperback books in a line on the
The problem with these corporate jerks is that they’re shooting hoops while the competition is arranging a fianchetto around the Queen’s bishop.
black leather of the sofa. She let the plastic bag fall to the floor and turned to examine her collection. The embossed titles seemed to spring off the covers: The Spoiler, The Spoiler Returns, The Spoiler’s Revenge. Behind the bold Edwardian script of the first tome lay the vivid graphic art of a man in the black garb of yore. He rode a black stallion that reared up against a full moon. From the corner of her bag poked the battered black and white cover of a composition book — the missing author’s journal encased in an evidence bag “borrowed” from the station storeroom. Renee pulled up a pair of latex gloves and snapped them on. She opened it and ran a long-nailed finger across the handscrawled pages. “Marsha, my dear,” she called to the missing author. “I can only hope your scribblings will give me insight and help me piece the puzzle of your life together. Then maybe I can figure out just what happened to you.” She gently cradled the journal in her palms and began to read. The detour into hell was not announced by glaring orange signs and flashing fiery arrows but by whispers, smoke and mirrors. “Red Team meeting, Marsha, in ten.” Donning the colors of a corporate player with white shirt, dark tie, suit coat and slacks, Nick Sneider, the rookie systems analyst at Skylark Logistics, stood before the second string cubicle to call me into the game. Fine blonde hair covered his head and face like fuzz on a freshly picked peach. I waved acknowledgement with my right hand as my left dribbled words across a computer keyboard. I was working out the final edits on a technical proposal for a digital imaging contract with the Maryland Register of Wills. The Skylark group had, as usual, waited until the eleventh hour to review the specs and quote the costs before making the final play. I had been given the ten-minute warning for passing my portion of the ball to company VPs who would make everyone scramble with last minute changes before the five p.m. deadline.
I dreaded team meetings where the VPs and CEO would waste valuable production time with their sucky sports metaphors on how everyone had a position to play on the court of big business. It was March madness for contract bids, and if any player dropped the ball or committed a foul, penalties would be severe. The problem with these corporate jerks is that they’re shooting hoops while the competition is arranging a fianchetto around the Queen’s bishop. No wonder this piss-ant company doesn’t win any bids. They’re in the wrong friggin’ game! I banged out the statement of work and watched the computer clock tick down the minutes as the delicate eggshell of my sanity began to crack. Suddenly, I smelled smoke. I checked the CPU’s wiring but couldn’t detect any defect. My olfactory senses detected the bouquet of vanilla and tobacco. I called out to the next cube, “Hey, Nick. Do you smell smoke? Nick?” Hearing no reply, I stood up on tiptoe to peer down into Nick’s cube. The desktop computer screen showed a half-finished game of solitaire but the solitary player was nowhere to be seen. A low hollow whisper filled my left ear. “Gwynyvere,” it murmured. I gasped and turned around. Nothing was there but the three gray walls of my corporate cell. I stepped into the aisle to find it void of human activity. The background noises of phones purring and keyboards clacking trained my ears. “Gwynyvere.” The whisper blew past my right ear. I swiveled on the backs of my heels to face… ... no one. “Who said that? Stu? Andy? Who’s there? Come on, guys. How do you know my --?” Another voice crept up from behind. “Watchya—?” A loud shriek leapt up and arms swung out to collide with a Styrofoam cup of steaming black coffee. The searing spray exploded over the bulging blue pastel of the intercessor’s shirt. “- looking for?” It was Glen Mackie, a (continued on page 3)
Adventures for the Average Woman
The Spoiler (continued from page 2)
I pulled down the lower eyelid of my left bloodshot orb. “Am I sick or a total whack job?”
Kelly crossed her ropey arms across her pole-like torso and shook her sorrel mane. “Nope. Why?” I did not offer an explanation.
doughy, balding and bland telecommunications engineer from Fort Meade. I grabbed my chest and heaved. “Sorry, Glen, you startled me,” I hastily apologized. “Geeze, Marsha, get a grip,” he chastised. The hot brew scalded the pale pink flesh under a sky-blue Joseph A. Bank dress shirt. I scrambled to retrieve a box of tissues from my desk. Glen made five snatches from the box and sniveled, “Thanks, but I don’t think Kleenex is gonna do much for third-degree burns. Way to go for a lawsuit.” He fussed over the large stain on his shirt. “Man, I gotta go wash this out.” He waddled down the aisle, past reception, and out the exit. “You OK, Marsh?” I pressed my fingers to my lips to keep my heart from leaping out onto the floor. It was Kelly Groh, the webpage content editor three cubes down from me. I tried to catch my breath. “Yeah, I was looking for Nick.” “He’s already in the conference room,” she explained with a jerk of her horsy head toward the glass-paneled room. “What happened to you?” I took a tissue and daubed the coffee splatter on my gray suit jacket and white blouse. “Glen sorta snuck up on me and...,” I suddenly changed tacks, “Kel? Did you happen to smell something like pipe smoke a while ago?” “You think someone was smokin’ in here?” She rolled her bulging green eyes and crinkled her long broad nose. I didn’t say what I thought but quizzed, “Would you happen to know if we have anyone here named Gwen or Guinevere?”
Volume 1, Issue 4
“You look absolutely ashen.” Kelly’s drawl belied her West Virginia origins. “Maybe y’oughtta go and freshen up some before Mr. Michaels hears the buzz and swoops down on y’all. I’ll try and cover for you at the meeting for a few minutes, okay?” kindly offered the tall gangly woman in the olive suit whose sleeves were just a smidge too short in the cuff. I took her advice and set out for the washroom. I opened the women’s lavatory with my assigned key and went over to the fauxmarble sinks. I set my purse down on the counter and looked in the mirror at the dark circles under my sorry-ass eyes. I hadn’t been sleeping well for the voices whispering that very name I heard in the office: Gwynyvere. The night callings had been going on ever since I had fled New York, five years ago. I could have easily racked them up to the hallucinatory echoes of my stressed-out mind, but to hear disembodied voices in broad daylight at my place of work could not be so easily brushed aside. I pulled down the lower eyelid of my left bloodshot orb. “Am I sick or a total whack job?” I twisted the two taps of the middle sink and cupped my hands below the flow. After applying several cool splashes to my face, I twisted the tap to the off position and felt my way along the counter to the paper towel dispenser. Once I wiped the water away from my eyes, I blinked them open to more inexplicable insanity. There in the mirror appeared a young black woman in a worn buckskin coat and great floppy felt hat. Her bowed-out belly indicated a third-trimester pregnancy. I had to wonder how this street person had managed to get past security and into the building. “Can I help you?” I cautiously ventured. The woman’s reflected image looked away nervously. I discreetly reached over the counter and opened my bag. “You need money?” I pulled a twenty-dollar bill from my wallet and held
it up to the reflected image. “Here.” The woman ignored the offer. Instead she looked toward the door and stated, “Begging your pardon, Mistress Gwynyvere, but the gentleman waiting outside wishes to speak with you.” The fine hairs on my arms rose to attention. “Gentleman? What gentleman?” I turned to face the woman. “How do you know that name, Gwy —?” To my utter terror the woman wasn’t there. ‘Where’d you go? Who are you? How do you know that name?’ I screeched as I frantically searched each and every stall. All were empty. The woman’s voice echoed in the ether, “He’s waiting for you, missum. You needs to go to him.” I rubbed my eyes but saw only my face in the mirror. With trembling hands I rummaged the bottom of my bag for my cell phone. My trembling fingers fumbled through the list of options until I found the office number. “Skylark Logistics. How may I direct your call?” said the receptionist. My throat was sere from fright rendering my voice a faint rasp. “Deliah?” “Hello? Is anyone there?” she checked. With a hard swallow of dry spit, I polished up my voice fogged up with fear. “Deliah? It’s Marsha. Put me through to Kelly, will you?” I nervously scanned the confines of the restroom. “Kelly’s in the Red Team meeting.” Deliah stated with professional flatness. “Yes, I know, but you have to call her out. This is urgent.” I squeaked. “Hold, please.” The easy listening instrumental version of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” broke in and droned on for countless measures. “Kelly Groh here.” Her voice was perfunctory and devoid of her usual character. “Kelly? Marsha,” I rasped. Her voice percolated with concern. (continued on page 4)
The Spoiler (continued from page 3)
As she showered and dressed, she mentally reviewed the scant evidence in her mind : a kidnapped has-been romance writer, a shot glass with traces of a two-hundred year old opiate and an antique bras button from a waistcoat retrieved at the scene, and the laundry list accounts by an outraged and perhaps unbalanced victim.
Marsh, what’s takin’ you so long?” She dropped it to a low tone. “Mr. Michaels has been askin’ for your tech piece and he ain’t lookin’ none too pleased.’ “Kelly, I need you to come here to the restroom.” “What? I can’t take a break now.” I could just picture her large eyes scanning the room for signs of the boss’s spurious approach. I begged, “I need you to come down and see if... if…” “See what?” “See if there’s a man standing outside the door.” I was barely audible. “What?” Tears filled my plea. “Kelly, Please. It’s important.” “Michaels is coming out now. I have to go back,” she blurted. A knock sounded at the door. I yelped. “God, Kelly, I mean it. Find a way to get down here.” Desperation overrode all control. “Gotta go,” she said. The connection clicked off. I flipped down the cover of my cell and went over to the door. I pressed my ear against it to try and discern if there were any signs of a presence on the other side. I closed my eyes and tried to quell my hammering heart and rapid breathing. My tightly shut eyes popped open. The aroma of vanilla musk and pipe smoke filled my nostrils. “Gwynyvere, come out to me,” beckoned the deep resonant voice. I jiggled the butterfly latch to make sure it was secure then sprung back from the door. “You get away from me you demented prick! I have a cell phone and am calling the police right now. Do you hear me?” The lock clicked and the door opened. The abrupt blare of the alarm clock caused Renee to leap up from her seat. “Holy crap!” she yipped. She squinted at the blue numbers on the DVD. They coolly indicated 5:40 a.m. Renee inhaled deeply as though trying to catch the kidnap victim’s scent before throwing back her ebon head with its thick
raven hair and commenting, “Well, Marsha. We’re going to have to take up the rest of your accounts later. You do seem to have issues though.” Renee rambled on to the still empty apartment. “Yet, I understand how maddening it can be to be an intelligent, capable woman working with dominating male dunderheads.” Her long fingers turned the pages for clues — names, places, dates, times. She picked up a pen and notepad from an adjacent end table and jotted down what she deemed significant information from the entries. “Skylark Corp. East Pratt Street. Baltimore, Maryland” she pronounced as she penned. “Jerry Michaels, VP. March Nineteen ninety nine.” She closed the journal and slipped back into the bag. She pulled the gloves from her hands with a sharp snap . The golden rays of the morning sun danced across the floor of her high-rise apartment overlooking the steamy Mississippi Delta. Renee rubbed the glare from her eyes, yawned and stretched. She stuffed the books back into her bag then prepared to meet a new investigatory day. As she showered and dressed, Renee mentally reviewed the scant evidence in her mind a kidnapped has-been romance writer, a shot glass with traces of a twohundred year old opiate and an antique bras button from a waistcoat retrieved at the scene, and the laundry list accounts by an outraged and perhaps unbalanced victim. Over a quick cup of dark roast instant coffee, the tall, elegant detective with expensive fashion tastes that exceeded her modest civil servant’s income pondered how she would convince N.O.P.D. brass to let her work the scene. Would they buy an argument for this one needing a woman’s sensibilities and sensitivities? She slurped down her quickn-dirty java and wiped traces from her plump lips. “Ten years as a detective and they still treat me as a second rate rookie.” She sighed, stood up, went to the full-length mirror in the entryway and straightened
her teal blazer and tight matching skirt. Renee grabbed her work bag and made for the elevator. She watched the numbers click down from 9 to P2. Her heels clacked on pavement to carry her to her designated parking spot. She opened the door to her Crown Victoria and strapped herself in, being careful not to crease her suit. She turned on the ignition and felt the car purr in her hands. She turned back to see the area was clear before backing out. Then the corner of the journal caught her eye. “Who was outside that bathroom door?” She shifted to park and reached for the composition book. She flipped through the pages to find the part where Marsha heard the mysterious voice outside the restroom door. Renee’s almond eyes grew wide upon finding the section of Marsha’s story then quickly scanned the account. “Weird,” she opined. She found herself engrossed with the diary. A call from headquarters on her car radio brought her out of the reading trance. Renee saw by the dashboard clock forty minutes had passed. She responded to the call to say she was on her way in and pulled out with a loud screeching peel of rubber on cement. As a woman on the force, she would have particular hell to pay for being late. She anticipated the snide remarks about what female problems could lead to such dereliction of duty, and she knew by copping to any one of them — menstrual cramps, migraine, PMS — she would be excused out of political deference. She hated resorting to lame stereotypical explanations; she knew they would lead the way with least resistance and minimal reprimand.
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Adventures for the Average Woman
Cutlass Moon, Part II
LAND OF THE DEAD by L. Notch
JOURNEY INTO THE LAND OF THE DEAD There is nothing as wearing on a human body as constant exposure to the elements. The incessant rains of a tropical monsoon steadily beat a man down and erode away his will to resist – nature’s form of Chinese water torture. The rainy season on this archipelago began but four days ago. There would be no letup for another ten weeks. In that time, travel through this part of the island would be difficult if not impossible. Many of the roads will wash away. The landmark mangroves will disappear under an endless gray sea. Villages will be submerged. People know to move to higher ground during this brutal season. Unfortunately, on this side of the island, the only high ground available is forbidden territory that everyone familiar with this land knows to avoid -- everyone except for one stranded American named Peter Brett. Peter had been toiling uphill through deep jungle since the first drop of rain fell. He had been avoiding the main footpaths in order to keep his presence low profile. His black t-shirt and “lite” camouflage wear made him blend with the somber tones of the rain forest. He couldn’t help pondering the sharp contrast of how the day before his departure it had been perfectly dry and brilliantly sunny then – whoosh -- the soggy curtain dropped, sheet after sheet after sheet. It plastered his thick dark hair to his scalp, brow, and sides of his face. It was numbing on his skin, ears, eyes, and mind. Peter had a black rain slick in his pack but it did no good to keep him dry. The subequatorial heat was so intense that his own sweat soaked him under the plastic. Better to suffer the drenching from above. It was impossible to find dry ground on
Volume 1, Issue 4
Unfortunately, on this side of the island, the only high ground available is forbidden territory that everyone familiar with this land knows to avoid -- everyone except for one stranded American named Peter Brett.
which to bed for the night. He simply had to adjust to being wet and staying wet. At least the torrent pelting him kept the mosquitoes at bay. Snakes, on the other hand, came out to play “sneak attack” in the showers, and the leeches were having a bloodsucking field day. The machete he’d grabbed up on his way out of the leper village served to clear them and the overgrowth and snakes from his path. It didn’t serve well for removing leeches. Peter tried burning them off with the small lighter he carried but for as many that would shrivel and drop off his face, arms, and shins, many more would attach themselves. Worse than the “skeeters” and leeches were the mango flies. Similar to the botflies in Brazil, they laid their eggs in your skin. A sore red pimple would sprout within a few hours then, in a matter of days, an inch-long worm would burst out. The rain meant plenty of much needed clean drinking water. No matter how exhausted he felt, he wouldn’t dehydrate or catch any worse parasitic infections than he already suffered. For over a week he’d been battling fever and diarrhea from some spirochete that ebbed and flowed through his bloodstream. The med-kit provided him offered him basic relief through a ration of medications. Even now he wasn’t feeling in top form but he couldn’t let it keep him from his mission. He climbed and chopped through tangles of vines and broad-leafed grasses. His muscular chest heaved as he strained for oxygen. It was as though his lungs were sucking down chunks of it through a straw from the thick malt of jungle air. It was hard to see for the gray skies and dark jungle canopy. Day had few distinguishing features from night and night was moonless and starless, black as death. The senses never knew what tricks nature was playing in the shadows. Was it imagination or was it something slithering around in the black recesses of the jungle? In the dim midday haze Peter thought his senses were playing such tricks on him when he saw the great thatch hut looming from a tree break on a high ridge above him. He cautiously scaled the giant roots of banyans and clawed through the dark clay that lay exposed from years of erosion
along this tropical mountain slope. When he got near the top, he hid behind the wide twisted trunks of an old banyan whose thick hanging fringe further concealed him from view. He took a few minutes to recoup from the strain of the climb. He tried to ease his breathing so he wouldn’t be detected. One good thing about the rain: it would drown out his gasping for air and most of his other movements. After regaining his complete composure, he positioned himself to scope out the place. The hut stood in a clearing about ninety feet away. He estimated its height to be at fifteen feet and its length at about thirty feet. It was surrounded by an eight-foot high fence made from bamboo poles that had been sharpened into nasty points at their top ends. One access, a narrow gate constructed from the same bamboo spikes, was made visible by its uneven alignment with the rest of the structure. In front of it, sat a figure. Judging from his bare legs he was a dark-skinned man, a native, whose head and upper body were draped in a dark blue or green plastic rain slick. A long dark object lay in his hands across his lap. His head was bowed down and his face hidden under the plastic hood. Peter surmised he was a guard asleep at his post, making it easy for him to take the man unawares. Panther-like, he crawled up onto the tall grass in the clearing and crouched low to the ground. He scuttled over to the far right side of the fence perimeter. He removed and set down his pack around the far side of the fence so it wouldn’t be spotted. Muscles taught from the strain of stealth, he clung close to the fence as he painstakingly made his way to his target. He counted on the rain slick’s hood to block the guard’s peripheral vision. The guard did not notice as Peter snuck up from behind. Peter peered over the man’s left shoulder to notice the long object in the man’s lap was indeed a hunting rifle. He then calculated at which angle and at what intensity a karate chop to the back of the neck would suffice to knock the man cold. In the fragment of time it took a single raindrop to spill from the end of Peter’s long nose then splatter onto the grass, the powerful blow had been delivered. (continued on page 6)
Cutlass Moon (continued from page 5)
The man toppled forward to the ground and lay face down with his legs bent at the knees as though he were still sitting but with his posterior poised in the air. Something was not right with the laws of nature in this scenario. Peter cautiously bent down to turn the man over onto his back. As he pulled the man back by the shoulders, the plastic hood fell away from the man’s face. Peter immediately recoiled from the combination of sight and scent. The man’s face was horribly bloated, his eyeballs oozing from their sockets. His long tongue hung like a dead slug from the side of his twisted mouth. Flies were fighting the thundering drops of rain to land and lay their eggs in the rancid flesh upon which their maggot offspring would feast and thrive. Why hadn’t Peter noticed the stench of death on his approach? Adrenaline combined with the extreme concentration required of the martial arts can really throw the senses off track, he concluded. Peter bent down to examine the body. He wanted to know when and how this man had died. Since rigor mortis was still in full throttle, it had to have been within the last twenty-four hours. Upon inspection under the plastic rain slick, Peter cursorily examined the man’s bloated bare torso. He then moved down the arms and along the man’s legs. Finally, he noticed coagulated blood on the man’s left heel. A series fine puncture marks shaped in a horseshoe confirmed his theory. Viper bite. Next he wondered if the resident of the hut knew that his or her devoted guard had permanently abandoned his post. Peter slunk back to grab his pack. In it he had a small firearm, which he kept for extreme confrontational situations. He used guns only as an ultimate resort. Otherwise, his mind and his body served well as offense and defense. Given his powers of deduction as to the resident who might confront him in this abode, he had no consideration of needing to use a deadly weapon. Gently, slowly, he pushed the bamboospike gate open. He stepped inside the fence perimeter and saw the tall hut before
The dark shadows and amber highlights cast across his face by the kerosene-generated lamplight render a gaunt, haunted look.
him. It stood on a series of stocky stilts about four-feet off the ground. A muddy footpath carved into the rust-colored clay soil led to four wooden steps bowing with wear as they hiked up to a long open porch. Thick wet thatch from the roof hung down like Peter’s matted hair. To the left end of the porch was an open-faced hut that looked to be a cooking area. Inside was a black metal stove and hanging pots, pans, and utensils. To the left of that was an enclosure that might be for storage. When Peter peered in through the slightly open panel, he saw it was a washing area, with a water tank, shower head, bars of soap and even plastic bottles of oddly named Asian brand shampoos and conditioners. Somebody here enjoyed a few of the creature comforts that appealed to the civilized areas of the world. He stepped back onto the path and stepped lightly upon the stairs. Peter pushed with the ruddy mud-caked toe of his military-issue boot onto the porch floorboards to hear what complaints they would utter. Fortunately, they weren’t very audible for the creaking wood was muted by the pounding rain. It took him a few moments to realize that once on the porch, he was out from under the heavy rainfall. It was a strange sensation after days of being hammered by droplets. He set his heavy pack down against the hut’s thatch-covered wall and stole toward the door. The entrance was a mere hanging mat over an opening in the bamboo frame of the hut. To the right was a shorter hanging mat that covered what looked to be a window. Peter peeled the long mat back a sliver to peek inside. Nothing but gloom. He listened for movement. Nothing but the incessant patter of rain. He then noticed how the twilight had deepened. The climbing, chopping, waiting, stalking, striking, and scouting since his arrival late in the morning had consumed the day. Peter went inside. The 5500 Geo-series RemCam RX4 DigiLog clicks down local time to the millisecond: 122901 18:11:46 [GMT + 11:00] and shows the weather conditions: 90 degrees F, Barometric Pressure 27.7,
rain, 90 per cent humidity, winds 5 to 10 knots. In an array of yellow, orange, brown and black pixels, Peter Brett's lissome features fill the minute snap-out LCD screen. His left hand holds the small camera with the lens pointed at his face while his right hand slaps at a mosquito that lands on four-day old bear stubble. “Goddam it! Sorry. The mosquitoes and flies are annoying as hell. That repellent I was supplied with doesn’t seem to do any good,” he quips to his audience of one. The dark shadows and amber highlights cast across his face by the kerosene-generated lamplight render a gaunt, haunted look. "You'll have to excuse my appearance. I’m absolutely roughing it out here." The same hand runs its slender fingers through tangled tufts of russet-colored hair. Dark circumflex eyebrows accent hazel-green eyes with flecks of gold in the iris. Focus lines create a vertical crease above the bridge of the long aquiline nose that descends to a strong masculine embouchure with puckered lower lip. The olive complexion, alabaster teeth, and rugged jaw line belie a Mediterranean gene base. His smooth lower-register tenor voice flows to the movement of the mouth many fans back home would salivate on plasma screens to cyber kiss. He ceases mugging for the camera when he realizes that this particular recording will never be seen by his adoring fans. It is for high-securityclearance eyes only, if and when they would ever retrieve it. Adopting the demeanor of reporting for duty, he clears his throat and begins, “Entry eleven-thirty-six-zero-one, oheighteen-hundred eleven hours, Second Lieutenant Peter Brett accounting. I am finally able to sit down and record the events that have brought me to this point in my mission. Along with some limited gear and rations, I have been provided this digital recorder to perform this task. “Before I begin to recount the act of terrorism that befell me and several collateral civilians, I have to put it on the record that I would not be alive to produce (continued on page 8)
Adventures for the Average Woman
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A Word With You Wow! Our fourth issue! I can hardly contain my enthusiasm over the growing success of the little magazine for adventurous women that could! I want to thank all our dear readers and earnest subscribers for partaking in our repast of fresh literary delights. Now, if only we could convince more of you to join in the feast of zesty entertaining fare at the humdrum table of daily life. Our readership is expanding. We have subscribers and sponsors from Minnesota, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, Nevada, California, New York, Maine, Hawaii, and even abroad in England and Switzerland! Soon, we’ll be launching in New Zealand. How’s that for popularity? We are happy to announce a new chapter opening up in Boston. In fact, this humble author and editor will be relocating to the Boston area come February, but we will continue to publish from our locations in Maine, Hawaii, and the Washington DC area. It’s been a hard-going, tumultuous time for this small-time serial magazine. Lack of funds, mounting debt, forced relocation have all tried to take their toll on the endeavor, but determination will out! The
Volume 1, Issue 4
It’s been a hard-going, tumultuous time for this small-time serial magazine ... but determination will out!
unemployed, struggling writers and artists who contribute to this effort will not be deterred. Granted, most of the contributed work has been mine; however, others’ offers have been slowly trickling in through the Ethernet. I sincerely hope and pray for a gusher of submissions one day. Then we’ll see this vehicle really fly!
gift horse in the chops. Seize the deim and all other proverbial caveats to hammer away while the iron is dripping red hot. Before you know it, our frisky filly of a publication will be reined in and harnessed to follow a formula. It’s just what happens when hair-brained schemes become party to convention.
So, if you should have a story, part of a novel, piece of art, advice column concept, or an article on a real-life issue that involves a woman-centered adventure, please, please, please, e-mail your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org. We favor unknown authors and artists, and although we can’t pay anything right now, we’d be happy to give you copies of your piece published. (Exactly how many is negotiable. Just e-mail or call us!)
It is my heart-felt hope that “Adventures for the Average Woman” reaches a national standing through growing support from readers and commercial sponsors. That way, we can reach more minds and invite more undiscovered talent to the fore. Gosh, I so want us to have the means to pay creative contributors for their hard, painstaking work!
I know, I know. This all sounds a smidge too loose and informal, but isn’t that how all humble beginnings start out? Be thankful we can afford to be this open! Once we get mega-sized and “corporatized” (heaven forbid) we’ll have to set up all sorts of hoops and gates with nasty bare-fanged long-nosed denizens of the literary keep to snarl at would-be interlopers. Gather ye offers to publish while ye may. Don’t look this paper gift
If you’re reading this out there and enjoying every word, please subscribe to help us help those willing to bare their talents before you. It’s not easy exposing our inner-most thoughts through wordcraft and imagery to an intelligent, critically minded public! Yet, we’re willing to do it solely for your reading pleasure. — Cytheria Howell, Principal Author, Editor, and Incurable Romantic
Cutlass Moon (continued from page 6)
Suddenly, a dark face with oversized orbs for eyes and a gaping mouth with pointed white teeth looms up onto the screen.
this account if it hadn't been for,” he pauses and casts his eyes down for a moment then looks into the lens again, “Kalinda Tawee, the woman the locals call the Pitautau. If my report should sound less than officious in tone, it's because I am emotional about this mission, not to mention exhausted. Given the fact I have been classified as ‘disposable’ at this point, I figure, what the hell? Let it all hang out.” He pauses. The hiss of rain prompts a digression. “Here that? It's raining. It's been raining, and I have been soaked to the skin for days. “I believe I am currently in one of the many abodes of the Pitautau, the island’s head shaman. This hut is on a steep hillside surrounded by dense jungle. The seasonal monsoons have made trails slick and overgrown with tough vines and grasses, which I had to hack through by machete. On my climb up this way, I encountered several mummified corpses. I heard the Australian missionary in the leper village refer to this region as the ‘Land of the Dead.’ I think it's the island people's traditional burial grounds. “I arrived before noon and saw a man sitting shotgun near the front gate. I assumed he was a guard of some sort and observed his movements. When he didn't move out of the pouring rain or change position, I approached with caution and delivered a blow to knock him out. I didn’t notice the stench of decay until I turned him over. Then I came face-to-face with him and noticed how bloated his features were. He was dressed in a dark blue polyvinyl rain poncho with a hood over his head. I noticed a line of stale blood running from his left heel. There I spotted a half-moon impression of puncture marks. Looked to be snakebite. Then I cautiously went through the bamboo gate that allowed access through the high fence surrounding the large hut.” “The place is built on flexible but sturdy bamboo stilts and stands about four feet off the ground. There is a red clay path lined with stone, probably designed to direct the runoff of water washing down the mountainside from the heavy rains. There are some steps that lead to a porch area that I have to cross in order to reach
the main entrance, which is covered with a woven mat.” The camera turns away from his face and moves through the gloomy interior of the hut, reflecting Peter’s POV. At fourcandle power of the dim lighting by kerosene lamp, the camera details objects quite well. “There appears to be no electricity, not even a generator. The premises are void of inhabitants, save the occasional gecko, but evidence that a person has been recently residing here is plain. There's fairly fresh fruit in a basket hanging from the pole there by the entrance.” The grainy sepiacolored image takes on the contours of spherical and cylindrical objects. “Looks to be guavas, limes, bananas, and some I don't recognize. Huh! At least I won't starve. Down here,” he directs the camera to a large black box under the fruit basket, “I see a larder of some sort. Here let me open it.” His right hand flips up the latch and lifts the lid. “It contains canned foods, non-perishable medicines, dried roots of some sort, and down at the bottom… some chocolate bars and…what's this? A full quart of,” the lens zooms and focuses in on the label, ‘Captain Q Rum, Manufactured in Korea.’ Pure bliss.” He pans down releasing the zoom. His bare toes wiggle in the lower edge of the frame. “I removed my muddy boots and soggy socks and set them just inside the entrance. The floor is solid planks of some sort of wood, and covered in woven mats. On this side,” the image skims across the weave of palmetto-frond mats and climbs up the edge of a wide pole, “there's a hammock under mosquito netting stretched between two main support poles, some rolled up mats, and a couple of hurricane lanterns.” Suddenly, a dark face with oversized orbs for eyes and a gaping mouth with pointed white teeth looms up onto the screen. Peter lets go a slight gasp then realizes what the captured image is. “The décor consists of a collection of masks hung about the thatch walls.” The camera settles on another grotesque visage then zooms out to panoramic view. The wall is covered with hanging heads of all shapes and sizes. “It's eerie how they look down at you. I feel like I'm being watched from
every angle.” Peter looks away from the leering masks and continues the tour. “Three o'clock to my right is the front window below which is a low-level desk -- no chair. It's covered with documents, drawings, maps, writing implements, a portable battery operated short wave radio, and a portable battery operated AM/FM cassette tape and CD player recorder, a small kerosene lamp, a flashlight, a bowl of nuts of some sort. Hmm, a bit stale but tasty. Underneath the desk are some wooden boxes containing cassettes and CDs. Everything from Spike Jones to Stravinsky. Over the table and against the wall, there are shelves, all made from bamboo and some other reed. These extend out to the right of the desk. The shelves are lined with more documents and books in all sorts of languages it appears. These must be her writings. I'll have to examine them. “Looking down the length of the long narrow hut, I see what looks to be drums lined up along the walls. At the far end, there’s a closet, also made of bamboo. It contains clothes, linens, sandals. Good, some dry clothes.” Turning the camera back on to himself, he wraps up the take. “Well, that's about all there is. I will camp out here and see if she returns. End recording.” The LCD goes blank. Peter peels off his damp reeking clothes and wraps himself with one of the long cloths he found in the closet. He decides to sleep where she slept, in the hammock under the protection of the mosquito netting. He mutters a silent oath and crosses himself. He is psychically transmitting the message that he means neither to disrespect nor violate her private space. He lifts the netting and climbs in the hammock. The moment the stringed device makes its first sway, he tumbles into a restless slumber in the lone hut in the Land of the Dead.
To be continued. Subscribe today! To read earlier portions of this and other stories, call or email for back issues — FREE with a paid subscription for $15.00 for twelve issues.
Adventures for the Average Woman
Neomodern Nosferatu, Part IV
“Haunted” by Jamie Studebaker
Gina glowered at the vampire looming over her. “Just tell me where you bite your prey.” Clive firmly held her by the chin. His obsidian eyes studied her from head to toe. “Well, inside the thighs, sometimes in the buttocks, in between the fingers and toes, underneath the breast (if you’re a woman), under the armpit, behind the ear or at the hairline at the back of the neck.” He leaned in and playfully nibbled her nape. “Hey!” Gina slapped at him. “What?” he chuckled. “It’s just a nip. I didn’t even break the skin.” Gina pushed him off with a flap of her arms then proceeded to rub the assaulted area on the back of her neck “Isn’t there a repellent I can use, like garlic or DEET?” Clive didn’t respond. Gina turned to face him. “Did you die when Lord Harwick bit you way back in the Dark Ages?” She had to know. He corrected her mistaken sense of history. “It was during the Renaissance, not the Dark Ages.” He segued to answer he question. “Not completely. I was brought to the brink when he took up the dagger and sliced open a vein in his arm. He placed it to my lips and bad me drink. I recall no freewill in it at all. Blood trickled down my closing throat. A rush of fiery heat surged through my limbs. My heart pounded at a breakneck pace then stopped completely. Numbing cold blanketed me. I was unable to move or speak.” The quiet of his voice betrayed the shock of his horrific experience. “Were you aware?” Gina’s hazel eyes grew round and big. “Vaguely. It’s been such a long time.
“Whom else could I love? I was a vampire destined to feast on humans for nigh near eternity. I couldn’t very well go back to my unsuspecting family who believed me to be drowned in the shipwreck.”
When I did come to, it was in a dark narrow box deep under the ground. Harwick had put me in the family cemetery.” His eyes scanned hers for signs of distress. Gina’s curiosity covered her fears. “Why?” “I think it was meant as a rite of passage as well as a brainwashing strategy. You can’t imagine the terror of waking up buried and unable to break free. If I had been human, I would’ve expended my oxygen in a matter of hours and expired. But being transformed into the undead, I had to lie there and pray for my release.” He lifted a finger to lift a surly curl from her brow. “I didn’t realize the unholy undead could pray. Doesn’t that seem a bit of a contradiction? Gina gently pushed passed him to obtain a bottle of spring water from the fridge. She didn’t wait for a reaction to her smartass assumption. “How long were you there?” He peeled away to give her leeway. “Days, weeks, I never knew. I remember my body changing. The pain in my stomach was unbearable.” “From hunger?” She glided over to the table, sat down, twisted off the cap and took a swig. Clive slid into the seat across from her and folded his hands. “Yes, as well as my internal organs morphing at the cellular level to create a tract suitable for digesting blood only. I quickly learned that eating sold food was like eating shards of glass.” “Ouch,” she blew into the bottle pressed to her lips. “Then my canines began to extend, ever so slowly. I bit my own lip the first time I used them to feed. Awkward.” He reached up to finger a fang then refolded his hands. Gina swallowed her swig. “How did you manage to get out to feed?” “Harwick came and exhumed me. I was so traumatized and confused I had no choice but to learn the ways of the vampire and do his bidding. I eventually grew to love him even.” The faint blush returned to Clive’s pallid cheeks.
“Ew. That’s sick.” Gina guzzled down the rest of the water. She got up to drop the empty bottle in the recycling bin. Clive turned in his chair to face her. “Whom else could I love? I was a vampire destined to feast on humans for nigh near eternity. I couldn’t very well go back to my unsuspecting family who believed me to be drowned in the shipwreck.” Gina returned to her seat. “Didn’t you miss them?” “Terribly. I had three lovely daughters whom I only got to see by glimpses as they grew old and died.” “And your wife?” Gina shyly asked. Clive curled up his left hand and studied his cuticles before polishing them on the silk of his black robe. “To be honest, ours was a marriage arranged for socioeconomic convenience as were most marriages in those days. I never truly loved her. Yet she was a good woman who managed to land another husband with adequate means. She also managed to outlive him and two other husbands. What a trooper, to use a modern expression.” “You didn’t want to make her or your children vampires?” Gina delved. Clive stood up and began to slowly pace. “Heathens no. What sort of an existence would it have been for them besides one filled with gore and horror?” She looked up at him from her seat and said, “An existence as long as yours.” Clive set his palm on the table and leaned. “No. Only the craftiest and cruelest among us thrived. You forget those were the days when people truly believed in monsters and were always on the hunt. Many innocent humans died from the suspicion they were in league with the minions of evil.” “Is that how you made it through the ages, by being crafty and cruel?” she provoked. Clive stood straight and came behind her. He finger-fluffed her hair with the flare of a stylist in a salon. “At first, then after two hundred years of ripping and tearing human flesh, I saw the light.” (continued on page 10)
Volume 1, Issue 4
Neomodern Nosferatu (continued from page 9)
“You mean you bought sunscreen and went to the beach?” she quipped to clip the thread of blood-roiling tension. “Very funny.” He set his hands on her shoulders to smooth down all signs of stress. “No, I had an epiphany. You exist for more than two centuries you’re bound to have one. By this time I had grown tired of Harwick’s horrid habits of bringing in shipwrecked sailors, boys mostly, trussed up as holiday turkeys to be toyed with then bled to death. A few he transformed to become his fresh new love interests. Harwick no longer seemed to have an interest in me. Worse, he thought it best to do me in rather than have me best him by leaving first. He was quite the narcissistic megalomaniac.” Gina relaxed under his suave massage. “What did he do?” “Harwick began murdering the inhabitants in a nearby village then cast the blame on yours truly. You’ve never lived to see an angry mob of peasants armed with pitchforks, blunderbusses, and torches bearing down on you. Frightful. Using the night flying skills I had develop through Harwick’s training combined with kabala— She snapped from the spell of his touch. “Wait a minute. You can fly?” “In a fashion.” “What, like a bat? Can you turn into a bat?” She scooted her chair at an oblique angle. “No. Now will you let me finish?” He turned her back to face the table and continued his gentle rubbing. “At any rate, I slipped through their ranks and made it to a ship that brought me to the mainland. With the small fortune in gold and gems I had acquired from serving Lord Harwick, I stowed away as crated-up cargo being shipped to the American colonies.” “On the Mayflower?” Gina started to sweat. “No, about a hundred and fifty years afterwards. I landed in Baltimore just at the time of the Revolution, and I have remained on this continent ever since.” Sensing her uncomfortable arousal, he ceased his ministrations. Gina breathed easy. “And Lord
“Choosing a mortal is like plucking a rose. Set the rose in a vase and its beauty fades within a matter of days. That’s what you seem to us.”
Harwick? Is he still alive?” Clive retook his seat at the other end of the short rectangular kitchen table. “Oh, yes. He even tried to reestablish contact with me during your Civil War. He was selling supplies to the South and wanted me to be his emissary. But given my sympathies to the Union cause, combined with my memory of the way he tried to dump me, colloquially speaking, the relationship remained cold as the grave. Classic case of he went his way and I went mine.” “Do you know where he is now?” She leaned in on her elbows for the news. Clive did likewise to inform, “I know he’s involved with powerful international industries of which I steer very, very clear. I lie low in the gay bordellos in the city’s underbellies -- when I’m not playing human house with you, of course.” “Thanks for the beautiful rose.” Gina reached up to stroke the silky red bloom rising from the thin glass vase in the center of the table. Clive set his cool hand on hers and offered up coffin-spun philosophy, “Choosing a mortal is like plucking a rose. Set the rose in a vase and its beauty fades within a matter of days. That’s what you seem to us. That’s how it was with my wife, children, and the countless mortals I have loved. One moment they sprout, the next they blossom, then ‘poof’ -- their petals of life turn to dust and blow away.” She slipped her hand from his. “Doesn’t that bother you?” He leaned back in his chair with a sublime creak. “Does it bother you to see this fair flower wither away with time?” She brought her arms tightly about her as though she’d caught a chill. “I guess you just accept the fact then toss it.” Clive didn’t need to reply in confirmation of the bitter truth she had just grasped. Monday meant return to drudgery at a keyboard behind a cubicle for Gina. After clickity-clacking through another eight hours of her life, Gina left with the evening shift herd down the corporate chute and out into the night where Clive patiently waited. The rest of the week
followed suit. Clive would accompany her home then set off to do his nocturnal business. He didn’t seem to fear roving gangs of human harpoonists. Out in the dark dead end of Bonifant Street, Gina impatiently waited for Clive who had failed to show up at the appointed time. She squinted through the dark haze of the balmy night to spot his tall lean figure striding beneath the flickering streetlight. A tap to her right shoulder made her leap with a yelp. “Hey,” said a noodle-thin woman clad in black. Her spiked cobalt Mohawk and mascara-rimmed eyes lent credibility to Gina’s fears. “Look, I’m waiting for someone, and he’ll be here any minute,” Gina hastily informed as though it would stave back aggression. “Yeah, I’m sorry to interrupt your waiting, but I’m new here and I’m not sure which bus to take to get up to Aspen Hill.” The scrawny female lit up a smoke. Gina coughed and waved off the choking plumes. “You can catch the Y8 down the hill near the metro station.” “Thanks,” said the ghostly-faced girl. Her eyes shot up behind Gina. “This must be your man.” Gina turned to see Clive standing behind her and beamed a smile of relief. “And who might you be?” he inquired. “Oh, my name’s Mina. Mina Franks.” She held out a wafer-thin hand boasting a large black oval ring. Clive gave it a quick shake. “Mina and Gina. Fancy that.” “I take it you’re Gina,” mused the retropunker. “Well, gotta go and catch my bus. See ya.” She bounced off feather-light into the night. “Well?” asked Gina. She took his arm and walked away from the corporate mill. “Well what?” Clive teased. “Is she ordinary or…,” Gina dropped her voice, “a lesbovamp?” “I really didn’t notice,” he declared nonchalantly. “How could you not notice? Don’t you sense these things?” she flustered. (continued on page 11)
Adventures for the Average Woman
Neomodern Nosferatu (continued from page 10)
“Only when I’m paying attention,” he egged on. Noting her exacerbation, he assured, “She’s an O. At least, I’m fairly certain of it.” “Only fairly? What’s the use of having you around if you can’t tell an O from one of your own?” The bus rolled up and Gina climbed aboard. Clive paid the fare and took the aisle seat next to Gina. He reviewed the few passengers in the bus then lowered his voice. “Look, I really don’t hang out with female vampires. I can only tell you that if they’re not swooping down at you like harpies, they’re not out to eat you, okay?” “That makes for lousy comfort.” Gina drew her arms defiantly across her chest and stared at her reflection in the window. “What’s all this then?” He leaned close for a sniff. “Your body’s kicking out norepinepherine like a frenetic mule. Why so uptight?” Gina bit her lip then gave up her angst. “All of a sudden, they’re gunning for me at work, increasing my performance quota, writing me up for minor lapses, not to mention the staring and the lip-smacking.” “Lip smacking?” Clive blurted. “Well, maybe I’m imagining that, but I am being made a target. And it all started once you began showing up at night to meet me.” She eyed him with dubiousness. The bluish-gray lights in the bus’s interior enhanced Clive’s ghastly pallor. He ran his long fingers through his thick dark-brown locks and commented, “Maybe they’re jealous. You know how women are.” “What sort of gender-bashing remark is that?” Gina huffed. “No offense, but the word ‘vamp’ isn’t bandied about in reference to female Ordinaries for nothing. Think about it.” Clive reached up to pull the bell cord to signal the bus to stop. He held Gina’s elbow as they descended from the bus. The doors hissed closed and the bus trolled down the dark streets for the stragglers of the evening. Clive stayed in that night. He felt a nervous tension in the night air and wondered if Gina wasn’t sensitive to the
Volume 1, Issue 4
The two became friends, tag-team hunters, fellow blood feasters, and if the urge overtook them, passionate lovers.
subtle shifts in the dynamics of the preternatural realm. He didn’t tell her that during his weekend outing right before arriving at the suck party, he had found one of his few remaining immortal friends dead in his roost in the attic of an abandoned row house in Northeast DC. A harpoon had nailed him through the back into a wall after blasting him through the window he was trying to climb through in order to reach safety. His body hung in tatters so desiccated that even the rats couldn’t find sustenance from his remains. Clive pulled him down and cradled his friend’s crumbling bones in his arms. He didn’t cry, but consoled the deceased with reminiscences of their past, meeting over the fresh pulsating flesh of a thrashing young male Ordinary in a back alley in Baltimore, taking turns at sucking from his veins until they inexorably collapsed then crawling into a culvert for the day to sleep but not before discussing the horrifying works of an up-and-coming author named Poe who understood the throat-griping terrors of being buried alive. They swapped their own not-so-premature burial stories and how they escaped their earthly tombs. The two became friends, tag-team hunters, fellow blood feasters, and if the urge overtook them, passionate lovers. Over the eons, they set off on their separate paths that would lead them to common crossroads now and again. Clive had been happy to meet up with Morris in recent months and hear his ribald tales of travel to the Arctic where night lasted six months but how Inuit blood tasted fishy. Morris wasn’t much into seafood, even when alive. Now he wasn’t into anything except as flakes of ash in Clive’s caring hands. He rubbed Morris’ remains between his palms and blew the fine powder of death out of the window into the night breeze. Clive had determined to lay low in Morris’s atelier for the rest of the day. The following night, after a blood rave, he found another old flame snuffed out. Vincent had been decapitated then crucified to a tree in Rock Creek Park. The
whizzing sound of a harpoon cutting through the brush in the clearing where he and other celebrators of bloodlust cavorted drove Clive from the scene before properly disposing of the shriveling corpse. Realizing Morris and Vincent -- both veteran survivors and masters at hiding from vampire-killing Ordinaries -- had met their unearthly fates, Clive began to perk up and take particular note of the upcoming pogrom. He would have to stock up on supplies which would mean making a trip to the blood bank which in turn would mean dealing with the state-run bureaucracy. Clive detested reporting in to the census takers for the non-living. He hadn’t shown his face at a processing clinic for over a decade, and it galled him to have to do so now. Yet, he knew if he went there, he might get the low-down on the undeadly goings-on around town. By one a.m., Gina had gone to bed, and Clive ached for her. He mopped the kitchen floor and folded the laundry. At one point, he stopped his puttering to watch the pulse throb in the vessels around her temples and along her throat. She lay warm, soft, full of sweet flowing blood. He wanted to crawl in beside her, like he had done their first night together. He worried he might not be able to control his urges. These were his afterlife-long bane, but five hundred and forty years had taught him to resist. He rationalized that he only wanted her to assuage his fears and insecurities, just as she used ice cream as a source of comfort in times of stress. He watched the tide of life steadily ebb and flow through her veins until slivers of sunlight slipped from under the window shade. He stole into his closet quarters and slept the day away.
To be continued. Subscribe today! To read earlier portions of this and other stories, call or email for back issues — FREE with a paid subscription for $15.00 for twelve issues.
Mystery of the Majestic, Part IV
LOCKED OUT “You’re free to go.” Manny, the human pincushion, was standing at the open office door. Arna saw her things sitting on the hallway floor. She grabbed her hat and purse and shot out the door catching up her duffle bag on her way down the stairs. “Hey, wait? What about this?” The burly man held up the cardboard box containing Uncle Armand’s funereal urn. “It rightfully belongs here,” she tossed back and sped for the stairs. “Hold it.” Manny’s bear paws caught her by the shoulder. “You need to be blindfolded before you go down there.” “What?” she cried. “Boss’s orders.” Manny took out a black bandana and wrapped it over her eyes. “This is highly humiliatin’!” she protested. Manny took her bag in one hand and guided Arna down the stairs, past the stage, and up the center aisle in the spectators’ hall. Although she couldn’t see the Apparatus she could certainly hear it grinding, creaking, and cracking. In the lobby Manny removed the blindfold and handed her the duffle bag. Refusing to let her limp argue the pace, Arna dashed by the tawdry displays of S&M paraphernalia and battery-operated sex toys. The Dom in the pageboy-cut burgundy wig and lacy black bodice behind the counter, where popcorn and candy used to be the fare, merely raised a painted-on eyebrow to see her pass. Arna’s right hand banged the door open into the air and sunlight. She drew in a
She looked back up at that grinning toothless marquee. “Don’t you mock me, ya ol’ bitch.”
breath of freedom and stepped down to the street where her car should have been. She looked around to see it sitting behind the locked gate to the alley. “Goddamtittohellnback!” she screeched. She threw her duffle bag hard to the ground and kicked it a few feet down the pavement. She looked back up at that grinning toothless marquee. “Don’t you mock me, ya ol’ bitch.” The roar of 360 horses drew her invective away from the old theater. A 1970 gold Thunderbird two-door Landau painted with fiery red wings rolled up to the sidewalk and shut off. Out from the driver’s side stepped Marque D. Sade, dressed for the role of business with a black suit, white shirt, tie, and dark shades. His smooth black hair was slicked back and bundled at the back of his head in a tail that curled down to the base of his neck. “Ms. Yutter, leaving so soon?” “I need my keys and that damned gate open.” She shot him a steely look from beneath the rim of her black Stetson. From his suit coat pocket, Marque pulled out his slim black cell phone and dialed. Arna waited with the suspense of being at a gunfight until she heard the gate scraping pavement. She turned to see Manny playing valet behind the wheel of her Wrangler. Arna limped over to the mouth of the alley where her car idled in spurts and rattles. Manny got out and cleared the way for her. She stuffed her duffle into the back seat, but before she could climb in, two figures closed in behind her. It was Marque and a much shorter man in a dark suit and dark glasses. “Ms. Yutter?” The unknown man addressed her. The thin brown strands on his pate tussled in the breeze. “And who might you be then? Another tormentor and blindfolder of women?” She fixed an angry bead on Marque. “I am Mr. Sade’s attorney. I’m here to present you with this injunction.” He handed her a folded sheaf of papers. “Injunction agin’ what?” Arna wasn’t
even sure she knew what an injunction was. “I have got a court order prohibiting you from leaving the city limits until you are deposed in an official hearing whose date is to be determined forthwith by a local magistrate.” “Deposed? Like I was a beauty queen ‘bout to lose her crown ’cuz o’ posin’ for Playboy or somethin’?” She curled her lip. “Considerin’ the frightful shape I’m in, that don’t make no sense.” The attorney assumed she was being facetious. “Failure to comply with this order will necessitate issuing a warrant for your arrest. Furthermore,” he continued, “the order prohibits you from discussing anything you saw or said to Mr. Sade and his performers pertaining to any of the equipment or procedures used in their act. Failure to comply would be considered contempt of the court, an act punishable by incarceration.” “Well, I’ll be gag-ordered,” she murmured as her eyes scanned the legal clause the short little man was referring to. “There are also the matters of malicious vandalism and trespassing which you will be charged with.” “Vandalism? Trespassing? But this is my property! I own it!” “Yes, as concerns the building and the lot it sits on, but you did not have the keys for the lock to the gate of which my client is the sole proprietor. Your unsolicited intrusion into his rehearsals further makes you the transgressor, not my client.” “Listen, you stainkin’ dog turd,” Arna charged him. The little man was quick to recoil. “I’d advise you to control yourself, Ms. Yutter, lest you care to add assault to the growing list of charges pending against you.” Arna backed down from her stance. She swallowed hard. “So, how long am I expected to wait around for this here deposition?” (continued on page 13)
Adventures for the Average Woman
Mystery of the Majestic (continued from page 12)
“Well, knowing how seriously backlogged our courthouse dockets are these days, I could hazard a guess at, let’s say, four to six months.” The little man lurched back in anticipation of a strike. Arna rocked backwards from the hardball pitch. She realized this ball team was in a league well beyond that of the Tuckers Corner Junior Badgers. Tears spilled from under the brim of her hat and rolled over her round flushed cheeks. Marque contritely patted his cohort on the back for a job well done as the two walked off. Arna stormed after them. “Wait a damn minute. You can’t hold me up here for months! I cain’t afford it. I need to sell this dump and get on with my life.” A homeless man rummaging through a dumpster across the street raised his head for the din of her frantic appeal. They kept walking away. She followed. Marque turned to face her. “Look, you wanted to make this difficult.” “Marque, allow me,” the lawyer said, “Ms. Yutter, Here’s my card.” He reached in his side pocket and fished out a white business card from a small silver holder. “I advise you stop harassing my client and have your attorney contact me.” “I don’t have one.” “Well, what about your uncle’s lawyer, Mr. Levitt? I’m sure he’d represent you.” ”Hell, I couldn’t afford to pay the retainer.” She bawled. “Well, you’ll need to find some sort of legal counsel. Until then, I’m sorry.” He went with Marque back to the T-bird. Arna got into her Wrangler and sat behind the wheel. She looked up at the rearview mirror to see Manny locking up the closed gate behind her. She was locked out of her estate. She pounded the dash and blasted the horn in outrage. When her vent subsided, she cranked up the jittery Jeep. The radio clock blinked on at 11:31. Arna reached in her bag to pull out a peacock-colored splay of business cards. She shifted into drive and headed for the address listed on the
Volume 1, Issue 4
“You know, hon,” he picked up his drink and leaned close, “if you’d let me, I could sure swizzle the hell outta your cocktail. Whaddya say?” He flashed a gold tooth and winked.
one embossed with the corporate name and logo for Blue Earth Developers. By evening, Arna was sitting on a stool at Big Jake’s Saloon with a Rusty Nail in her left hand and a crinkled up cigarette in her right. Smoke steamed from her nostrils. She snubbed the butt in the black ashtray with the missing notch and swirled the ice cubes in her drink with a red swizzle stick. At the end of her horrible day, no one had taken her to dinner. Both Levitt and Mendelssohn made legitimatesounding excuses as she exited the meeting with them that afternoon. She noted how they both observed their expensive watches before they pushed her out the smoked glass doors of the fancy office building. Arna figured they were frustrated with her hedging on making a signed-and- sealed deal with them as regarded the Majestic and Blue Earth Developers, Inc. No deal, no din-din. It didn’t matter. She was too tired and depressed to eat. She sat in the bar and considered her options. She counted the seventy-three dollars and some odd change remaining after the four-dollar drink plus barman’s tip. How far from this Montana shit hole could she go on that? Far enough to land in some other shit hole in Wyoming. She looked around the place and asked the bartender, “Y’all wouldn’t be hirin’ at the moment, wouldjya?” The tall robust man in suspenders wiped the glass sweat from the bar top. “Can you wait tables?” “Surely can.” “Got a local address?” “If’n you can count the tag number of my Jeep as one.” “Sorry. Gotta have a street address or I can’t hire you.” He reached above his head and took down a pair of tulip glasses from a rack. Arna nursed her poison and prayed for oblivion but knew the watered-down swill wouldn’t be enough to do her the service. The temptation to order another gnawed on her like a toddler on a teething ring. It
wanted gratification. She bunched up her brow and tickled the ice in the glass with the plastic stirrer. She startled at the man who sidled up next to her. “Whoa, little lady, didn’t mean to scare ya.” He tipped the brim of his Hazer and straddled the stool on her left. “Say, Big Jake, I’ll have a whiskey straight and, uh, get another of whatever this li’l ol’ gal next to me’s a-swizzling.” The bartender twirled an edge of his handlebar moustache and nodded. Arna wanted badly to crawl up inside her hat and hide, but knowing she couldn’t she said, “Barkeep, belay that order.” She smiled but did not look directly at her would-be benefactor. “I mean, I’m fine with this’un if’n it’s all the same to you. ‘Preciate the offer though.” She twiddled and poked at the ice then licked the sweetness off the red plastic. “You know, hon,” he picked up his drink and leaned close, “if you’d let me, I could sure swizzle the hell outta your cocktail. Whaddya say?” He flashed a gold tooth and winked. “Uh, Big Jake, is it? Guess I’ll accept the gentleman’s offer after all.” (continued on page 14)
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Mystery of the Majestic (continued from page 13)
“Comin’ right up,” confirmed the tall and portly barman. He snapped his suspenders, poured the jigs of Drambuie and Scotch over fresh ice in a new glass and set the drink in front of her. Arna smiled, raised her glass, and dumped it in the man’s lap. “Swizzle away, dickhead.” “Hey, now, we don’t behave like that in here. I have to ask you to leave.” To Arna’s surprise Jake, the bartender, was talking to her. “Fine.” She made sure the saloon’s touristy swinging doors didn’t slap her on the ass on her way out. Several bar-hops later, she climbed in her Jeep, gripped the steering wheel and set her spinning head against it. She took in deep breaths to restore oxygen stolen from her brain by alcohol then raised her head and started up the car. She meandered through the straight and narrow streets until she came crashing into the chain link gate to her unwanted legacy, the decrepit theater bequeathed by her later Uncle Armand. The Majestic loomed gloomily in front of her. Arna turned off the ignition. With her duffle bag and purse slung over her shoulders, she climbed to the roof of her car and jumped the fence. A single beam from the lone headlight that had survived the crash lit the way down to the only door her set of keys would open. “Stand still, you damned door,” she slurred. The key found it difficult to find its way into the lock for her teetering, but eventually persistence paid off with a quiet click and a push. Manny blocked her with his massive hulk. “Where do you think you’re going?” “Git outta my way, ya big galloot or I’ll key ya.” Arna took a wide drunken swipe. Manny pinned her arms behind her back and pried the keys from her fingers. “All right! Uncle already! Just take me to that sicko leader of yours. I need to talk to him.”
She meandered through the straight and narrow streets until she came crashing into the chain link gate to her unwanted legacy, the decrepit theater bequeathed by her later Uncle Armand.
He pulled out his bandana and banded it around her eyes. “Hey!” she protested. “I ain’t looking at your danged apparatus!” “Sorry, but I’m under strict orders,” he said and led her upstairs to the office. “So, you’re back,” Marque announced as soon as she was pushed through the door. “Can we quit playing blind man’s bluff now? I’ve been ‘it’ for way too long.” Arna gritched. Manny removed the blindfold from her eyes. “She ran her vehicle into the gate,” Manny informed. “I’ll try and move it.” He backed off into the dark corridor. “You’re drunk,” Marque observed and shut the door. “And you’re not.” She huffed in his face before stumbling over to the sofa. The leather breathed a long airy sigh as she plopped down with her duffle. From her purse she pulled out the accordion-folded injunction and clutched it in her hand. She lay back, propped her boots up, and pulled the Stetson down over her eyes. “He is one mean mongrel, ain’t he?” she postulated. “He’s a protecting our vested interests. Anything wrong with that?” Marque threw her a biting look. “’Spose not.” Arna glanced out from under her hat to notice that Marque had changed from the clothes of a corporate wizard into the spooky black garb of his dark craft, a form-fitting ribbed turtleneck and corduroys. He was sitting in Armand’s chair behind the desk. The calming strains of the Chopin preludes wafted on a digital current flowing through an Aiwa system. He had been trying to make sense of the computer files and paperwork left behind in the office. Uncle Armand had not kept a tidy desk, and Mr. Levitt had only made matters worse with his foraging. At least Marque had found his contract with Armand concerning his entitlements at the Majestic.
It was a concealed weapon he could whip out of his jacket lining pocket in the event anyone would challenge his right to be there. He was going over the receipts, accounts, drafts, and IOUs. By a quarter of midnight, it had all become a big blur before his eyes. He keyed in ctrl + alt +del with the flare of a concert pianist then clicked the shut down command with the mouse. The desk lamp gave his face a theatrical glow. “So, aren’t you technically trespassing again?” He spiked the vicious ball they’d been volleying into her court. “Might I remind you I am the legal owner of this place. So unless y’all got a TRO agin’ me, I aim to go where I please, with or without a blindfold,” she shot back. Marque rubbed his eyes and stretched back in the chair. “So long as you understand I intend on running things here my way. I’ve got promoters, investors, and our regular patrons to think about. I’ve got the show booked summer long, not to mention the workshops. And there’s the business in the lobby which, by the way, is a registered and legitimate business that must be maintained.” Arna tipped up the brim of her hat with one finger to dog-eye him. “And that’s another thaing. That sinful business downstairs,” she referred to the Paine & Pleasure Shoppe. Arna learned from Levitt and Mendelssohn how low her uncle had stooped in order to save his failing theater. The very concept of selling battery operated dildos and fur-lined handcuffs offended Arna’s Bible-based sensibilities. “How dare you expect me to have my good name attached to that?” “First, your good name isn’t involved. Second, it’s proved to be a viable means for subsidizing revenue lost during the off season, moral objections aside.” She eyed him like a coyote spotting a snake. To be continued. Subscribe today!
Adventures for the Average Woman
The Adventures of Katie Madigan: Katie and the Errant Knight
Fed up with work and a lackluster life, Katie longs to escape. In a series of graphic stories, she descends into one grueling adventure after another. Katie, be careful what you wish for.
THIS CONTEMPORARY GRAPHIC THRILLER CONTINUES IN OUR UPCOMING ISSUES. SUBSCRIBE TODAY! Volume 1, Issue 4
Natalie and the Blue Dragon, Part III Story Notes: This story was written for a dear friend of mine in Maine whose loved ones suffered the painful destruction of Hurricane Katrina that devastated that grand old city, New Orleans. — Cytheria Howell Natalie’s heart skipped three beats. She sensed she was not as alone as she had initially surmised. The draft of air drew her down the corridor. The light steadily waned and vanished. Natalie felt the walls to keep on her track. After endless minutes of trailing down the long hallway, she came to a door. She fought to turn the rusted knob her fingers had stumbled upon. Finally, the latch released with a resounding click that bounced off the walls in a series of echoes. Natalie peeked past the door frame to see a fancy parlor with velvet cushioned chairs and a full tea set on a round table. The dim glow of wall sconces revealed a setting of a time gone by. Natalie stepped into the ornate room, and the door closed behind her. She studied her surroundings. On one of the parlor chairs sat a bright red hat. She remembered the days when she attended the Red hat Society gatherings, where women of social standing met in their fancy red hats to discuss matters of society and fashion. She picked up the hat, brushed it clear of dust and cobwebs and sighed. The days of social events had long since dissipated. Poverty limited her to the bare essentials of living. She set the hat delicately atop her head, and the room came alive with color. Natalie spun around to meet a tall octoroon woman wearing long red satin robes and a black silk turban wrapped high about her head. “Welcome to the room of spells. I am Madame Sorcière du Cloître. You have summoned me for a purpose.” Glassy black eyes fixed on Natalie for a response. “I…,” she stammered, “I’m not sure what I’ve done. I just put on this hat and—”
“Welcome to the room of spells. I am Madame Sorcière du Cloître. You have summoned me for a purpose.” Glassy black eyes fixed on Natalie for a response.
“You put on a magic hat, my dear. It will serve you well on your mission.” “You know about my mission?” “I know everything about you, ma chère.” She drew a long bony finger down Natalie’s round supple cheek in order to chase a tear. “Why are you crying my dear? Are you frightened?” “I don’t know why I’m crying. This room makes me feel so sad, as though something precious has been lost. I can’t quite put my finger on it.” “You are correct, l’enfant. Something was lost in this room. Joy. It’s up to you to find it and restore it.” “Joy?” she puzzled then broached the purpose of her quest. “Look, what I’m really looking for is a lost little girl. Have you seen her? Has she been here?” “Let your heart guide you and you will know.” With those words she evaporated into the ether. Natalie shuddered at the sight. She adjusted the red hat to fit firmly to her head as though it were a knightly helmet. All she needed was a magic sword or a glow stick. The room darkened. Only a faint glow emanated from a door tucked away in a far corner. Natalie sallied forth. She soon found herself in a large ballroom with vaulted ceilings. She slid slightly on the shiny parquet floor. She grabbed the hat to keep it from toppling off her head. A fit of laughter broke out behind her. She pivoted on her heels to find the source. Another burst of cheer erupted from the other side of the room. She turned to meet it but encountered nothing. Strains of violins echoed faintly in the distance. Natalie strained to see through the darkness to make out an object suspended from a crooked music stand. She strode across the floor to investigate. Her fingers latched onto a snow-white face mask bedecked in a splay of feathers. Natalie put it over her face and saw the room come to life with brightly costumed Mardi Gras celebrants. In the crowd, she saw towering wings. “My angel!” she surmised and pushed through the phantom throngs to get to him. She tapped him on
the shoulder and the man in wings spun around. “Do I know you?” asked the man donning a golden mask. “It’s Natalie!” she announced with gleeful hope. “Natalie? I’m not sure I know a Natalie. How might I help you, dear?” “I, uh, though you might be…” Realizing he had no notion who she was, she begged off. “Never mind. I’m sorry to have bothered you.” “Whom are you seeking, my dove?” inquired a dark-skinned man in a simple black domino. “My warrior angel, but I guess he’s not here.” She looked about the busy ballroom. “You wouldn’t by chance have seen a dragon pass through here?” “A dragon? I think not! But I can well imagine you should forget about such fantastic creatures and focus on what you should be looking for.” “And what, pray tell, would that be?” “Tell me. What’s missing from this room, fair Natalie?” “I don’t know. It seems quite joyous to me.” Yet deep inside she felt a void. She thought a moment and asked, “You haven’t seen a lost little girl in here, have you?” “A little girl lost?” The man raised a gloved hand to his lips. “What does she look like?” “I don’t know. No one gave me a description. I was just told I was to find her.” “Who told you?” “The angel As-ku… something I can’t pronounce. Anyway, he saved me from freezing to death and sent me on this mission and--” “Calm down, my sweet little pigeon. Don’t ruffle those feathers so,” he admonished in a deep voice. He took her firmly by the wrist and bored into her with deep dark eyes. “Tell me what’s truly lost.” He drew close until his hot breath reached her face. (continued on page 17)
Adventures for the Average Woman
Natalie and the Blue Dragon (continued from page 16)
“Please, let me go.” Natalie tried to pull away. “What’s gone from this place, Natalie? What must return?” he blew in her ear. “I don’t know!” In spite of her extraordinary height, she cringed. “In-no-cence,” he muttered slowly and released his hold. “Innocence?” At the sound of her voice, the man and all the other masked denizens melted away. She stood alone in the dark vacuous room and listened to her beating heart. Natalie pulled the mask from her tearstained face. She held on to it in case it might have special protective powers. She was wiping the wet from her face when the squeak of a door opening caught her ear. Just left of the old bandstand a small door stood ajar. Natalie skipped over to it and ventured inside. She wandered down a narrow hallway that seemed to be shrinking in on her. To make matters worse, she kept batting at what seemed to be invisible hands pawing her slender frame. Claustrophobia gripped her mind. Panic coiled around her pounding heart. “Angel! Dragon!” she shouted. “Don’t leave me in here! I need your guidance and protection. Please!” Just then Natalie heard a whimper. “Who’s there?” she asked. A soft sobbing came from directly ahead. Natalie pushed forth but found the passageway growing increasingly small. No sooner had she stooped over when she wound up on her hands on knees to crawl to the source of the crying sound. She crawled on her firm belly into a space the size of a coffin. She could hardly move or breathe. “Dragon! Angel! Help me!” she wailed. A small girl’s voice echoed hers. “Help me!” Natalie peered down the dark corridor. “Where are you, sweetie?” she called. “I don’t know. It’s so dark.” The child sobbed pitifully.
Volume 1, Issue 4
The reflection looked back at Natalie with perplexity. “Have you come to help me?” the watery image asked.
Hearing a lost child’s cries, Natalie drummed up her inner strength and pushed through the tightening confines of the passageway. “I’m coming, sweetie. Hang on!” “Please hurry. I’m scared,” pled the small voice. Natalie gripped her hat, clutched the mask, and grunted through gritted teeth to push past the squeezing timbers enveloping her body. Taking in air proved painful to the lungs. “I haven’t done this much pushing since giving birth to my son twenty-three years ago!” “What? I can’t hear you. What did you say?” begged the forlorn child. Natalie paused to catch her breath. “Nothing, sweetie. I was just talking to myself.” “Please, keep talking to me. I need to hear your voice. It’s so lonely and dark in here.” Natalie bowed her sweaty furrowed brow and cried. She knew the abject fear the poor girl must be feeling. Memories of dark times bobbed on the murky surface of painful experience long since banished to the deepest recesses of her mind. “Can’t afford to get maudlin now. Got to get through and get to that little girl.” Taking in a deep breath, she gave a giant thrust. The air expulsed from her lungs with a loud wail. The wood encasing her cracked and popped. She’d broken free to find herself on the smooth tile floor of a small chamber. “What’s wrong?” urged the voice. Natalie got to her knees and brushed the splinters from her arms and neck. “Nothing, darling. I broke through the wall is all. I’m in some sort of room.” “What sort of room?” asked the meek voice. “I’m not sure,” Natalie replied. She looked around in the gloom. A dim light filtered in from high above. It looked to be a bathroom with an old-style tub on clawed feet. She noticed a marble sink with a golden spigot. Water dripped in a
slow measured beat into the basin. “Are you there?” called the voice. “Yes, honey, I’m still here. I think I’m in a bathroom. There’s a tub and a sink, but no toilet.” “Is there water in the tub?” asked the distant girl. “I don’t know. I’ll check.” Natalie padded over to the tub to look inside. The tub rippled with black fluid. Her reflection caused the waters to stand still as glass. She peered down at herself and saw a young girl the color of sienna. Her thick wavy hair snaked down her blossoming bosom. The reflection looked back at Natalie with perplexity. “Have you come to help me?” the watery image asked. Natalie jumped clear away for the fright of her image as a child addressing her. “Where did you go?” called the voice. “Aren’t you here to help me? Please, hurry. Mother’s coming! You have to help me before —” The voice broke off suddenly. Natalie stood back with her hands over her face. A piercing shriek shattered the silent pause. Natalie ran to the tub to find it completely drained and bone dry. “Where are you? Where did you go?” She felt the cracked enamel of the antique bathtub. “Please, come back!” Her tears splattered the crumbling surface. Within moments, the vessel for bathing collapsed in a heap. Natalie looked up to the far faint light above. “Angel, where are you? I don’t understand any of this! Where is the little girl? How can I find her? Help me!” Her shrill pleas echoed up and down the chamber. The slow dripping faucet filled the sink to overflowing. Soon, water began to climb Natalie’s trembling legs. “How?” She puzzled the incongruence of drops rapidly flooding an entire room. To be continued. Subscribe today!
Boundary Waters, Part IV
The blue hue of moonlight breaking through the storm clouds rode on his lightly heaving chest. Claire followed the chase of light and shadow in the contours of his shoulders, neck, and face. Her hands craved fingering the delicate recesses carved into his flesh as they had done when he was in hypothermic state. She studied his sculpted masterpiece of skin and muscle. She wanted to dive into the lake of his beauty and drink its pure water. She closed her eyes and chastised herself for desiring a man who treated her with cruel torment. Like a startled nightjar, Claire’s fearful vision fluttered off the moment dawn rapped frantically at the front door. Her mouth felt the pressure of Erik’s palm. “Quiet,” he warned. The chill air hung silent before being shattered by more banging and the calling of her name. “I better answer,” she mumbled through his fingers. “Why?” he cautiously pulled his hand away. “If I don’t, they’ll try breaking in to see why I’m not answering.” He sat up and wrapped the bedspread around himself. “Come on, then,” he urged with a vice grip on her arm.
On the way to the door, he jabbed the point of the carving knife into the small of her back. “Just find out what they want and get rid of them.” As a precaution, he slid the chain lock into its groove. Claire opened the door as far as it would go. Through the crack she saw the snow-trimmed hat of highway patrolman Tom Hanson. His breath steamed in the frigid air. “Claire? You okay?” He strained to see what was behind her in the dark recesses of her house. Claire raised a hand to her mouth and coughed. She rasped, “I’m okay. Just a little under the weather.” “I was making the rounds out here to check on folks, given the storm and all. I saw your Durango down there in the ditch and got to worrying.” He covered his nose and mouth with his gloved hands to warm up his frost-nipped face. “Yes, I was coming back from Denver and trying to beat the storm. I almost made it,” she coughed and smiled. “Well, look, you need anything in the way of supplies? This snow’s gonna be blowin’ for a few days with subzero temps in the double digits. Got enough wood for the fireplace and fuel for the generator?” Claire felt the tip of the knife trained at her spine. She nodded stiffly. “Plenty, Tom. Thanks for your concern.” She closed the door and turned the latch. Erik clamped his hand over her mouth and held it there until the snowmobile roared out of range. “Good girl,” he sighed in relief. It was then he noticed he could see his breath. “It’s freezing in here.” “The fire’s gone out. We’ll have to start a new one.” “That guy mentioned a generator. Where is it?” “In the cellar.” “Let’s go get it started before we freeze to death.” “At least me go to the bathroom first,” she blurted through chattering teeth. “Sorry,” he apologized. “Let’s go.”
Knife in hand, he followed her to the restroom. “Leave the door open,” he advised. Claire quickly finished and came out without flushing. “We’ll need the flashlight. It’s on the coffee table.” She led him into the living room to fetch it then showed him to the cellar. In the narrow span of light, she checked the fuel gauge and flipped the ignition switch. The machine grumbled a complaint then sputtered out. She tried again with the same disappointing results. “What’s wrong with it? Why won’t it start?” Bundled in the bedspread, Erik jumped from one foot to the other to stave off the chill. “I don’t know. I haven’t used it in a while. Maybe the fuel line is clogged. Maybe a field mouse chewed up the internal wiring.” She fought back her tears with the back of her hand. “All right, don’t cry. We’ll fire up the stove. Where do you keep the wood?” She led him up the stairs to the enclosed porch behind the kitchen. She clicked off the flashlight and placed it on the counter. Thin rays of sunlight strained through the nickel-colored colander of clouds into the large plastic-covered enclosure. Dead rabbits and game fowl hung strung from the ceiling. Tightly packed cords of wood lined the wall. The hoary floor nipped Erik’s bare soles. With a yip, he jumped back. “Allow me,” offered Claire. She slipped into a pair of work boots by the door and brought in an armful of wood that she threw into the stove. Eying the knife, she suggested. “Look, I’ll do this. You make breakfast.” Erik opened the dead fridge. He quivered from the bone-piercing chill and pondered its contents before deciding on the ingredients for an omelet. He sniffed the milk. “This stuff is about to go off.” “What do you expect?” she exasperated. (continued on page 19)
Adventures for the Average Woman
Boundary Waters (continued from page 18)
He hunted for a bowl and a frying pan then noted the indoor and outdoor thermometer combo hanging on the wall by the window. He tapped it with his forefinger. “Is this thing accurate?” “Very.” “Fifty-five below outside,” he exclaimed. “Is that even possible? “Not including the wind chill factor,” she informed. “A freezer’s toasty warm in comparison.” “It’s only forty-one above in here.” He checked the wood-burning stove to find it stone cold. “How long will it take to heat up?” “About twenty minutes or so. Just let me empty out the ashes. Oof-da,” she lamented Minnesota-style with the hauling of the heavy ash bucket out to the porch. She went to the sink to rinse off her hands, opened a cylindrical tin of coffee and set to filling a stovetop percolator for brewing. After placing it on one of the cast-iron burners, she took a seat at the end of the table, picked up the roll of tape and threw it into a darkest recess of the living room. Watching her, he set to work whipping the eggs with lukewarm milk. He brought the bowl of omelet mix and set it on the table. He drew up the dark blue bedspread around his bare shoulders. “I’m sorry for getting rough, but when you moved for the knife and then the cop at the door…. You can understand my taking precautionary measures.” She raised her eyes to meet his. “I can’t understand why you would do any of this. I don’t understand how you can hurt innocent people. I don’t understand what you did, but it must have been bad to make you so… so vile.” “Vile? You think I’m vile? I may be gruff but I’m not vile.” He went to check the stove. “How do you know when it’s ready?” With her back to him she quipped, “Spit in the griddle. If it sizzles, it’s ready.” “Now, that’s vile!”
Volume 1, Issue 4
She stared blankly into the burgeoning flames of the fireplace and pondered the risks of being cooped up in the midst of a deadly storm with a dangerous criminal whose response to her ploys would be unpredictable.
“Squeamish? Like you were when you watched me cut up the rabbit?” He didn’t reply. “Just sprinkle water in it. Same thing.” She saw the bowl lift from the table and listened to the sizzle of the egg mixture stirring to the scrape of the spatula. “More like scrambled omelet.” He doled out half onto a plate and set it before her with a complementary eating utensil. He took his seat and devoured his creation. Claire heard the coffee perking. She got up and poured two cups and passed him one. “What did you do anyway?” “Huh?” He grimaced at the bitterness of her brew. “What crime did you commit to make you be so terrified of being caught that you have to terrorize me? It must have been bad.” “I didn’t commit any crime.” Claire dropped her fork on he plate. “Oh, so, this abduction is simply for sport.” “I was set up, okay?” he snapped. “For what?” Claire probed. “I don’t think you really want to know.” He dulled the java’s sassy edge with a spot of curdling milk. “Got any sugar?” “In that canister on the counter,” she indicated before asking, “Why not?” “Because if I tell you…,” he stopped. “Never mind,” he sighed to the musical stirring of sweetener in his cup. “I’m bringing in more wood for the fireplace.” Claire set down her cup and made for the porch. She stared blankly into the burgeoning flames of the fireplace and pondered the risks of being cooped up in the midst of a deadly storm with a dangerous criminal whose response to her ploys would be unpredictable. In the silence of her distress, she poked life into the embers. It startled her to feel him land beside her and launch into his tale. “We had just shot our final take,” he began. “I went to the wrap party and got wasted. I woke up my apartment next to a dead girl covered in blood in my bed. She
was a stand-in actress I had casually dated until I found out she was a minor. She had told me she was nineteen, but when I found out she was seventeen, I dropped her like a bad review. I did not want to go down for statutory. In any event, before I could even dial 9-1-1, the cops were kicking down my door. I jumped out the window and landed in a heap of trash bags in the alley. I hailed a cab and got to an old girlfriend’s house. You can imagine how pleased I was when she picked up the phone and yelled for the cops. “I ran, pinching a pair of shades from a street vendor. Then I jumped a bus, hunkered down in a seat in the back and prayed people wouldn’t recognize me. Soon enough, someone did and soon everyone was clamoring for my autograph. I jumped off the bus near a train yard. I climbed in a freight car and hid. I curled up into a petrified ball in a corner of the freight container while the train rocked me to sleep. The next day, I found myself in San Diego. I got out and hitched a ride east with a guy who spoke no English but knew the meaning of money. We swapped clothes before he dropped me off at the truck stop in Colorado and took off. You know the rest.” Tears seeped through his fingers and dropped to the floor. Claire slid the iron poker into its stand on the hearth and turned to face him. “I believe you,” she said. “You’re a bit of a rude brute, but you’re no killer. You couldn’t even stand to watch me cut up that rabbit. By that logic, how could you stab a human being to death?” “Didn’t you read the headlines glaring at you in the checkout line when you paid for your coffee?” He slid his hand across an imaginary banner. “‘Movie Hunk Wanted for Rape, Torture, Murder.’” “I pay no attention to the media.” Her fingers ached to rub the streaks of sorrow from his portraiture. She drew closer. To be continued. Subscribe today!
Cinderella Breakdown, Part II Reporter, Jack B. Nimble, concludes his interview with middle-aged Fairyland dowager, Cinderella, who has fallen on hard times. JBN: What sort of relationship did you have with your children? Cinderella: To be honest, I hardly saw my kids. Look, we lived in a huge palatial estate. Once the kids were school age, they were shut in rooms with private tutors. I’d only see them at formal occasions or royal family gatherings. When we met, they were stiff and distant, just like their selfimportant braggart father. “Oh, by the by, let me tell you all about the giant firebreathing dragon I single-handedly slew the other day,” or “Did you know that according to a recent poll conducted by Royal Subject Magazine I am still considered the handsomest prince in all the land?” JBN: Didn’t you have your own audience at court? I mean, every princess has her courtly duties too, doesn’t she? Cinderella: Courtly duties? Like what? Host a tea for my Medusan mother-in-law with her rich-bitch backstabbing matriarch friends? JBN: I thought the Princess went out among the ranks of the poor to bring attention to their needs and raise money for charity -- that sort of thing. Cinderella: You would think, wouldn’t you? Well, I normally would have done such if it hadn’t have been for my melancholia and leviathan girth. My husband ranted and raved about how my obesity was ruining the springs and shocks on the coach at great debit from the kingdom’s coffers. He’d further gripe how he couldn’t afford the fabric for a new gown every time I made an appearance to the public. I was relegated to attend to menial functions within the palace grounds, like interviewing candidates applying for positions as ladies-in-waiting or overseeing the spring cleaning of the tapestries. Of course, I never lifted a feather except to direct a cleaner to a missed spot. Even in those low-profile administrative matters, my mother-in-law ruled supreme. She would come in and have the final say with the stroke of her royal staff. Then she’d look down her long
I’ve never told this to anyone, but yes. When I began to blossom, he fondled the pedals. I sat in the ashes and stayed filthy in the hopes he wouldn’t want to touch me.
nose at me and huff disapprovingly. She never forgave the fact that I came from the commonality. She went so far as to invent the story that my dearly departed father was actually a person of wealth and title. What a crock. JBN: You mean he wasn’t a well-to-do entrepreneur? Cinderella: He was a pathetic halfwitted souse. When my mother died, he sank into the bottle. His business failed, and he married my wretched step-mother for her money, which he regularly frittered away on drink and gaming. It wasn’t long into the marriage when my step-mother discovered him with a broken neck at the bottom of the stairs to the cellar. The Royal Investigators wrote it off as accidental death due to intoxication. I always suspected she had a hand in it. I just could never prove it. JBN: Could your suspicions have been the driver of the wedge between you and your step-mother? Cinderella: She loathed me from day one. She resented my father for paying attention to me rather than her. Little did she know or even care that much of his affection for me was uninvited and unappreciated. JBN: You mean he sexually abused you? Cinderella: I’ve never told this to anyone, but yes. When I began to blossom, he fondled the pedals. I sat in the ashes and stayed filthy in the hopes he wouldn’t want to touch me. JBN: How did you cope? Cinderella: Well, there certainly wasn’t any food available to me, if that’s your drift. No, I’d sit by the hearth and lament to the cat, mice and cockroaches, whichever crawled by first. I fantasized about being swept off by a brave knight on a noble steed or finding a magic lamp containing a genie who would grant me three wishes. JBN: But your fairy godmother did indeed appear. Or was that just more royal PR spin? Cinderella: No. She came and conjured up all the magic you and others have read about. That was so amazing. I had to rub my eyes and pinch myself to make sure I
wasn’t dreaming. Going days on end without a decent meal can cause uncanny hallucinations, you know -- that and tippling from my father’s flask of mead. JBN: Alcohol wasn’t your only addiction. You were arrested for possession of a controlled substance on more than one occasion. Cinderella: Hey, I was never convicted on any charge, but yes, I did engage in a little recreational drug use. It was hard not too. The stuff was to be had at every royal affair: magic beans, poison apple, pixie dust. I’m addicted to the cheap stuff now, crack-jack. [She shouts to a nearby troll.] Hey, Tyrone, jack me up, will you? JBN: What exactly is crack-jack? Cinderella: A diluted form of poison apple. You inject it instead of ingest it. Of course it’s lethal in high doses. I hear Snow White finally kicked her habit and is clean now. [A coach passes overhead with loud brassy Renaissance music blaring that quickly fades away in passing.] Merry, I hate that Moorish shit. It all sounds the same. Whatever happened to the monophonic lyric poems? I remember holding up a candle to a very resounding “Chanson de Roland” by the Courtly Troubadours back in ’71. Now that was music. Where were we? JBN: We were talking about your drug habit. But what I’d really like to know is how you managed to lose everything and wind up in the king’s gutter. I mean, didn’t you get a divorce settlement in the way of goods and property? Cinderella: What I got didn’t amount to fiddle-faddle once the solicitors and taxcollectors were through. The financial pressures of living the high-life eventually led to bankruptcy. Do you know what court jesters charge these days? Not to mention the food and upkeep for the peacocks! It didn’t take long for me to be out on my royal keester. God, I wish I had gone back to school and pursued a career in candlestick making or inn keeping. A dog leech rakes in a ton of gold crown. Heaven knows what I used to pay on vet bills for the kids’ sundry pets. But it’s too late for me to try now, I’m afraid. (continued on page 21)
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Cinderella Breakdown (continued from page 20)
JBN: Surely you could call on your fairy godmother at any time to change your situa-Cinderella: That old besotted cow couldn’t transform a pumpkin into a zucchini. She’s a pixie head, you know, snort, snort. We used to toke up together before we had a bitter falling out. Happily ever after, my royal ass. I haven’t seen or heard from her in ages beyond ages. JBN: What happened? Cinderella: For starters, she led me on with promises of how great my life was to be. Typical lying junkie. Then she got wasted and turned Tyrone the Troll, here, into a chamber pot! He suffers enough derision just for being a troll. Can you imagine what it was like for him to be literally shit upon? That night, I snatched her wand away from her. She wanted it back, but I refused to let her have it. Can you imagine what havoc she would have wreaked had I let her operate such a device under the influence? Why, I must have saved countless people from getting changed into spittoons, slugs, hermaphrodites, or worse! No, I kept this puppy out of her pudgy hopped-up hands. JBN: Is that it? Can I see it? Cinderella: Well, just for a sec. JBN: From all appearances, you managed to return Tyrone the Troll to his natural state. Why haven’t you used this to fix your problems? Cinderella: It’s broken. At first I thought it just needed batteries, but it’s useless, I’m afraid. JBN: So no more magic solutions? Cinderella: Guess not. JBN: Have you thought about going to a social services center or a shelter for wayward wenches? Cinderella: And lose what little I have left? I’d be conked on the head and stripped of my clothes in the flicker of a candle flame. These slippers are collectables, you know. JBN: You don’t fear someone taking them from you down here? Cinderella: Not with big lugs like Tyrone and Karl to protect me. No one would dare.
Volume 1, Issue 4
But before I meet my grim fate, you must promise to run this report unedited and uncensored, or all will have been in utter vain. Do you so swear on an oath of fealty?
JBN: Do Tyrone and Karl provide for you? Cinderella: Sure, but I do my part too. Every market day, I sit pretty at the edge of town and beg. Most folks don’t realize it’s really me, however, and I don’t insist on telling them. That would just dash all their hopes and dreams of a living happily ever after. JBN: How so? Cinderella: Think about it. If this could happen to a royal princess, it could happen to anyone with the great Fairyland dream. JBN: It does explain why you have been out of the limelight for the past few years. The Palace Public Relations Office hasn’t said much about you other than that you prefer the quiet cloistered life high up in the tower. Cinderella: Ha! That’s where they want me to be: locked away to embroider doilies the rest of my natural life, kept silent about the illicit activities going on behind the portcullis. No thank you. I’d rather languish in filth and shoot gunk into my veins. At least I am free to do what I please. JBN: How did you escape from the palace? Cinderella: I hid myself inside a delivery wagon on its way back to town. JBN: And no one discovered you? Cinderella: It was a feast day. Everyone was high or drunk, including the quoteunquote security detail. Feh! JBN: You realize after this interview appears in print, they may come after you. Cinderella: I realize that, and I’m willing to brave their assault. But before that happens, I want you to tell the public that their fairy kingdom is a farce. The royal palace isn’t host to the idylls of the king – at least not in the way the people who swear fealty think. No, it’s a lofty pit filled with finely dressed bloodsuckers out to drain the land until it is a barren waste. The Prince is a philandering douchebag, and the Princess, his new wife, is a vain self-obsessed fashion horse with a drive to bankrupt the holdings of the realm. Our son and daughter are no better for their respective reputations as ravager and
castrator. The Queen, is an avaricious harpy while the mighty King is a fool and a cuckold. No way was Charming ever his son! I have proof! JBN: Those are very bold assertions that could merit imprisonment and nay, even beheading. Cinderella: You don’t think I know that? Why have I remained hidden among the riff-raff at the edge of civilization for so long? But now, I no longer care. My life is spent. Let them take what’s left and throw it to the dogs. But before I meet my grim fate, you must promise to run this report unedited and uncensored, or all will have been in utter vain. Do you so swear on an oath of fealty? JBN: On my honor, milady. On that note, I took my leave and hastened back to the office to scribe this piece. I feared my editor wouldn’t risk printing the scandalous remarks made by a jacked-up royal junkie, but upon reading it and hearing my description of the former princess’s situation, she told the printers to damn the broadswords and run the story. I guess she understands a woman’s pain beneath the yoke of patriarchal feudalism. I can only hope we keep our heads so the truth can be told and appreciated for its message that things are never what they appear. What beauty and wealth we believe befall fair lasses in the land may be but a fool’s notion. What makes a maiden live the forever happy life is not glass shoes and golden palaces but rather an earnest effort to master a trade and make a good life for herself, by herself. And if a charming character should come down along the pike of life, she should consider him wisely -- not by outward appearance or material gains but by the purity and honesty within. — Jack B. Nimble is a reporter with Pageboy News. All rights reserved.
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