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Issue Eight

Publisher

John Donald Carlucci

Magazine

Alford • Barnes • Boyd • Brewer • Brown • Caldwell • Capshaw • Caro • Hunt Jackson • Jasper • Marzel • May • Nadolsky • Parrish • Pope • Renaud • Stanley Taylor • Thorne • Tomlinson • Trent • Trigatzi • Vaughn


Astonishing

Adventures Magazine

http://astonishingadventuresmagazine.ning.com/

Issue Eight


Contents Contributors. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 The Weeping Woman Art

R.C Barnes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Eleni Trigatzi

Interview With Kelli Stanley

Cormac Brown. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15

Dirk Dangerous and the Giant Balls of Doom

Mark Caldwell . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19

Of Black and Scarlet Art

Roger Alford. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 Roger Alford

I Want to Sleep With Yul Brynner Katherine Tomlinson. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35 Catching Time Art

V.J. Boyd & Justin Boyd. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 Molly Brewer

Eternals

Peter Mark May. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47

The Mother of Crawly Things Art

Berkeley Hunt. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52 Joanne Renaud

Teething Pain

Tony Thorne, MBE. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55

Rylan Mathis & the Eater of Souls Brian Trent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 Art Larry Nadolsky The Unclaimed

Kat Parrish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67

Killing Rita

Michael Patrick Sullivan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71

Fairy Story Art

Katherine Tomlinson. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75 Jennifer Caro

Fair and Balanced

J. Jasper . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84

A Twelve-Month and Two Days Art

Blue Jackson. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89 Marzel

The Peril of the Changing Times

Ron Capshaw. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90


The Elixir Art

Sarah Vaughn. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 Sarah Vaughn

The Fox Meets the Bear Art

Christian Dabnor. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115 Joanne Renaud

A Coral Pillow

G. Wells Taylor. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125

A Pulp Portfolio Art

Larry Nadolsky. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135 Larry Nadolsky

The Tsar’s Treasure Art

Cormac Brown. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138 Joanne Renaud

Wendy Art

Joanne Renaud. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159 Joanne Renaud

High Noon at Hot Topic Art

Christine Pope. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 166 Jennifer Caro

Farewell (but not adieu)

Katherine Tomlinson. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 172

Cover Art

Joanne Renaud

Issue #8 Publisher/Editor-in-Chief John Donald Carlucci PublisherJDC@gmail.com Editor Katherine Tomlinson AAMDragonLady@gmail.com Art Director Joy Sillesen jsillesen@gmail.com

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. To view a copy of this license, visit http:// creativecommons.org/licenses/by-ncnd/3.0/ or send a letter to: Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California 94105 USA. All rights belong to the original artists, photographers, and writers for their contributed works. December 30, 2009


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ASTONISHING ADVENTURES MAGAZINE

Contributors Roger Alford is a writer and filmmaker. His produced plays include two staged “radio dramas,” The City Burns at Night and The Sheik of Hollywood. He created the popular Internet mash-up videos, Twilight Zone: Planet of the Apes, which Marc Scott Zicree (The Twilight Zone Companion) said was “great fun”), and Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Serial. His screenplay Storm Tide is recommended by Script PIMP and was named a 2nd-round finalist in a Script magazine “Open Door” contest. And he’s hoping for great things with his latest opus, Gangland Hollywood (shameless plug). His work has been discussed in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, US News & World Report, The Dennis Miller Show (radio) and Inside Edition. Website: www.theblackspectre.com. R. C. Barnes has been an avid devotee of fairytales, folklore, and mythology since she picked up Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book at the age of eight. Since that time she has studied multiple works involving the resonation of these seemingly simple stories throughout history and modern day society. An accomplished author in many mediums, she has written plays, short stories, screenplays, and puppet shows and seen her works performed and published. Ms. Barnes is the mother of three and resides in Los Angeles. She is currently at work on her first novel… and she intends to finish it. Justin Boyd is a graduate student at the University of Texas at Dallas. VJ Boyd is a writer living in Los Angeles. Molly Brewer grew up in Portland, Maine. From her childhood on, she was a voracious reader and devoured picture books, fantasy novels, folklore, and comics from around the world. Much of the inspiration for her work is a result of these early influences. She was educated at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University and graduated with a BFA in illustration. Molly lives in Massachusetts with her fiancé. Her most recent work can be found on deviantART at http://temiel.deviantart.com.

“Cormac Brown” is the pen name of an up-andslumming writer in the city of Saint Francis, who is following in the footsteps of Hammett…minus the TB and working for the Pinkerton Agency. You can find his fiction at http://cormacwrites.blogspot.com/ Mark Caldwell grew up in Nottingham and Warwickshire. He studied engineering at the University of Liverpool and then took a postgraduate course in developing websites. He would like to give dirkdangerous.com a quick plug where you can find more stories set on the Planet of Danger. He has written articles for Ragnarok and the now defunct Valkyrie Quarterly. He continues to be happy to be published somewhere without a name drawn from Norse legend. He’s a member of the SFSFW, an international group of gamers interested in fantasy and science fiction wargaming. One day he may finish a novel or have a game published. Mark continues to be really uncomfortable writing about himself in the third person. One day he hopes someone else will write his bio. Web site: http://www.impworks.co.uk/; email: mark@impworks.co.uk. Ron Capshaw divides his time between stay-athome-dad duties and overcoming his pulp sensibilities. By day, he teaches history and composition at the college level and at night tries to find a place to fall. In his other guise as an academic, he has written for the Washington Times, the New York Post, National Review, Partisan Review, and the Weekly Standard. He lives and labors in Midlothian, Va. John Donald Carlucci: Editor-in-Chief and former boy-in-a-bubble, JDC continues to search the world for evil-doers and the perfect cup of hot chocolate. He thinks the evil-doers are hiding it from him. Not that everyone is out to get him. No, that would be paranoid. Contact JDC: PublisherJDC@gmail.com. Jennifer Caro recently moved to England after falling in love and getting married to her lovely husband, Peter. Prior to her life in England, she grew up in a small town in New Jersey. She graduated from Berkeley College in 2006 with a degree in fashion


Contributors marketing and management and shortly thereafter started her own business, *My Magic Me*: http:// www.mymagicme.artfire.com/ Berkeley Hunt is an alumna of The Lee Strasberg Theater Institute, and works as a script reader and screenwriting coach. She is a fan of H. P. Lovecraft, Dorothy Parker, and Saki—the writer, not the alcoholic beverage. She lives in North Hollywood, proud home of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and of the Circus Liquor Clown. Blue Jackson is a writer of dark fantasy and a student of medieval history. She is a fan of historical fiction, particularly all things Arthurian, particularly when the stories are about the supporting characters at Camelot. She is currently working on an Arthurian fantasy called The Chanson of Dagonet, which legendary editor Margaret K. McElderry has invited her to submit when finished. J. Jasper lives and writes fiction and screenplays from a houseboat on the Black Warrior River near Brookwood, Alabama. He does not like to fish, but is considered to be one of the best dancers on the river. His former occupation is a secret. j.jasper@charter. net. Marzel, the owner, artist, and writer for www.theplayoflightandshadow.blogspot.com, currently lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California along with her husband, three kids, and her psychic pug, Brigit (who performs free readings on her blogs and has her own series called Puggy Predictions). Marzel specializes in photography, digital art, painting, sculpting. and writing of a darker nature. Currently, her position as co-administrator and Editor-in-Chief of the Dark Artists Guild keeps her busy with a brand-new newsletter, online magazine, and new/improved forum (all debuting in January 2010), which include opening up membership to fans and collectors. Peter Mark May was born in Walton on Thames, Surrey, England, in 1968. Married with two young sons, he has been writing as a hobby since he left school. His first novel, Demon, was released in January 2008 by Pegasus Elliott Mackenzie (Vanguard Press) and has sold internationally to four continents so far. Peter has read at the British

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Fantasy Society’s FantasyCon 2008 and appeared as one of the Special Writer Guests at Gamesfest 3 in Tring. His short story “Blood & Guts” has appeared on the Horror Bound magazine (Volume I, Issue I) website in Canada. Catch his blog at: http://www. freewebs.com/darkside6869/myblog.htm Larry Nadolsky calls his art neopulp, and he would know. He gained notoriety as the artist on Hey Boss!, an unauthorized comic about Bruce Springsteen, He is currently dong pinups for Stickerchick’s mypsptubes ,working on T-shirt designs for Redbubble, and developing a graphic novel involving babes, dinosaurs, and aliens (all the things dear to his heart). A rocker since the age of 16, he is currently lead singer of the band Los Grande Ninos. View his art on his site at: http://pinuppulp.com/ Kat Parrish is a grant writer from Washington D.C. She reviews paranormal romance for bittenbybooks. com and movies for a variety of print and online media. Christine Pope is a native of Southern California. In high school, she distinguished herself by passing notes written in Sindarin in the Tengwar script. Currently she enjoys historical costuming, throwing crazy themed parties, and spending way too many hours on the internet. Her contemporary romance, Fringe Benefits, is slated to be published in April 2010 by Pink Petal Books. More information on all her current and upcoming projects can be found at www.christinepope.com. Joanne Renaud is an illustrator who graduated in illustration from Art Center in Pasadena, California. Before moving to Southern California, she studied graphic design at Central Washington University and art at the University of Ulster in Belfast, Ireland. She presently lives in Los Angeles. Recent clients include Simon & Schuster, Random House, Harcourt Inc., McGraw Hill, William H. Sadlier, Trillium Publishing, Zaner Bloser, and Astonishing Adventures magazine. Joanne is a member of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, and enjoys travel, history, costume design, classic movies, old musicals, and cheesy fantasy art. See her art at: http://www.joannerenaud.com/ and http:// suburbanbeatnik.deviantart.com/


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ASTONISHING ADVENTURES MAGAZINE

Joy Sillesen has worn various hats in the publishing industry, including copy editor and managing editor, before moving on to graphic design. She is currently employed full-time in this capacity, but does take on the occasional freelance project. Kelli Stanley is a writer and historian. In addition to writing novels and short stories, Kelli likes fedoras, classic films (particularly film noir), Golden Age comic books, and listening to cool jazz and big band swing. http://www.kellistanley.com/Kelli.html Michael Patrick Sullivan is a hack. Nonetheless, his work was recently recognized by the Rod Serling Conference at Ithaca College and by the Screenwriting Expo of Los Angeles. He also writes for comicbookresources.com. He currently lives in self-imposed exile in Southern California and can be contacted though http://redrighthand.net. This marks The Auslander’s eighth appearance in Astonishing Adventures. G. Wells Taylor divides his time between promoting his new horror novel Bent Steeple, writing the next installment of The Variant Effect book for free download at SkinEaters.com, and editing the final book in The Apocalypse Trilogy: The Fifth Horseman. His titles are available for download or order at http:// GWellsTaylor.com, Smashwords.com, and Amazon. com. Taylor lives in Canada and has worked as a writer, journalist, and graphic artist. Tony Thorne, MBE, originally qualified as a professional Chartered Design Engineer, and built up a research and development company in Kent, England, specializing in such unusually varied projects as 30000C carbon processing furnaces, liquefied helium gas pipelines, nuclear protection equipment, and low-temperature surgery instrumentation. The latter and its worldwide commercial success led to him being awarded an MBE by the Queen. Later, he accepted the position of Chief European Executive of an American Company specializing in microbiological analysis instrumentation and computer-related products. Too much air travel time throughout Europe and the USA gave him the time to begin writing poetry. He launched out soon after as an occasional evening performer of his work at clubs, meetings, and festivals, and occasionally on local radio and TV, whenever he happened to be available. Now retired, he and his Viennese wife divide their time

between Austria and the island of Tenerife. He writes mostly science fiction and has completed ten collections of short stories, including Tenerife Tall Tales, Future Reassured, and Future Uncertain, available via the Internet and various outlets, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. He has just completed his first SF action novel, Points of View. Katherine Tomlinson is the editor of Astonishing Adventures magazine. Brian Trent is an award-winning novelist, journalist, poet, and screenwriter working in more genres than there are names for. He is the author of Never Grow Old: The Novel of Gilgamesh, and his work has appeared in more than 100 publications, including The Humanist, Boston Literary magazine, Illumen, The Copperfield Review, The Eclectic Muse, Strange Horizons, Blazing! Adventure magazine, Bewildering Tales, and many others. Trent was last year’s Honorable Mention finalist in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest. His website is www. briantrent.com. Eleni Trigatzi was born in 1978 in Athens, Greece. She graduated from the Athens School of Fine arts in 2004. She has exhibited her work in various galleries. In 2003 her illustrations were hosted at the 11th Biennale of Young Artists of Europe and the Mediterranean Countries in Athens. In 2005 she won first prize at a national comic contest. Her illustrations and comics have been published in Greek magazines and fanzines. http://elenatria.deviantart. com. Sarah Vaughn is a writer, illustrator, and graphic designer. She likes her tragedy with happy endings. This is her second appearance in Astonishing Adventures magazine. You can see much of Sarah’s art at: http://savivi.deviantart.com.

Please only contact the above contributors concerning serious business or polite conversation. No solicitation allowed.


The Weeping Woman

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The Weeping Woman By R.C. Barnes Illustrated by Eleni Trigatzi

T

he child had the face of his dead mother. Around the age of four those sweet apple cheeks had melted away and his face took on a melancholy look with large mournful eyes. They were deep penetrating eyes—just like his mother’s. I had only seen Maria once before her passing. One time. I knew about her, of course, as the young wife of my then-colleague, Luis Ramirez. Luis and I had been paired up on the Jenkins/Mueller account. Luis was the exciting new engineer at the firm and I was the visionary design executive who was supposed to bring an organic flow of energy and movement to the Jenkins/Mueller office suites. Sanchez and Ramirez—we were young, hip, fresh, and oh, by the way, Hispanic. We were the right people to dangle in front of an advertising firm that was remolding new offices after an enormously profitable soup campaign that crossed over into the Hispanic market. We fit the bill of how Jenkins/ Mueller wanted to present themselves to their next wave of clients. Shortly after the assignment was made public, the phrase “Team Taco” was snickered in soft voices around the cubicles and stairwells of the firm. I rolled my eyes when I first overheard. How original. I immediately thought, no wonder Luis and I had been awarded the account if this was our creative competition. The sting of “Team Taco” wore off in a few days once Luis and I became embroiled in our work. The Jenkins/Mueller

account was ours and I basically didn’t care how we got the account. It was mine and I was keeping it. But I’ve always been good at grabbing things and holding on fast. Like Michael—but then, I’m getting ahead of myself. Michael was standing in front of me. His hands were clutching a small-framed picture of Maria. It was the only photo that we kept around the home. It sat on a bookcase in Luis’ study amongst a collection of many other brighter family photos. The frame was a beautifully aged cedar, but it looked lost and out of place with the other pictures in metallic frames. It made Maria look like an ancestor from generations past rather than the first wife. “Who’s this?” he asked and turned the picture towards me. Maria’s young and innocent face gazed out of the frame. Her long hair was piled up high on her head, making her look a lot older than her nineteen years when it was taken. It was then that I noticed how much Michael looked like Maria. I wondered if Luis noticed this as well, but refrained from commenting about it. Luis and I have talked to Michael about Maria and her death. The circumstances had been explained to him. We told it like a story and I always used it as a way to show Michael that he belonged to me—that we belonged together. Michael was mine. I had pulled him from the waters. Michael was my son. The adoption was going through by the end of the month. The court date was set.


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“That’s Maria,” I answered. I held back my next thought, which was to question him as to why he wanted to know. That angelic face looked so worried. His brow was furrowed in thought. “Oh.” He turned the picture around in order to gaze at it. “She looks different. I thought she was my mother.” My heart skipped. “No mijo, Es tu mama.” I swooped him up onto my lap and removed the frame from his grasp. Holding him in a mama bear hug, I launched into the well-known family story, deciding it was time to retell it in order to quell any concerns that may be rising. “You know how it happened, mijo. There was a terrible rainstorm. The river waters were flowing into the streets and moving fast. Maria was out driving. She was trying to get home. She was scared and it was night and she didn’t know

the area very well and the main road that she took home was now blocked. She made a bad turn and crashed right into the river. You were just a baby, Michael—and bundled up tightly in a blanket. The river waters rose inside the car and carried you out through an open window. The current was fast and you were borne over the waters. Your father and I were by the riverbank where the car had disappeared. We were searching and searching, but we couldn’t see anything. Suddenly, there you were bobbing in the water, moving quickly through reeds and branches. I reached out and my hands caught your blanket and I pulled you in before the waters took you farther away onto the rocks. I grabbed you and held fast. And while you were safe in my arms, your hand reached out and clutched my finger. That was our bond, mijo. You were safe.” It was at that point in the story that Michael would take my finger again with his hand and clutch it firmly in his grasp. A surge of love would flood through me then, warm like the most inviting bath of a child’s silly giggle, a handmade card of green meadows dotted with yellow flowers and red hearts, and the fragrant smell of a clean boy out of the bath wrapped in a towel. How could I doubt the connection that I had with this child? We had a bond that was as strong as any—stronger than if I had carried him in my womb. Whenever I mentioned my fears to Luis—my fears of maternal ineptness due to my inability to bear a child of mine own—he would laugh and point to how wonderful I was with Michael. “He loves you, Kate. I know you would like to have more children. But sweetheart, we have Michael. You are his mother.” He would kiss my neck and then whisper softly in my ear. “You pulled him from the river


The Weeping Woman like the Pharaoh’s daughter pulled Moses from the Nile. You saved him, Kate.” Silently I would agree. But then I would think to myself—it didn’t work out that well for her later, did it? The Pharaoh’s daughter lost her adopted son and Jochebed with the descendants of Levi got him back. After Michael was tucked in and I had read at least twenty bedtime stories, I told Luis about the picture of Maria and the questions. “It’s only natural for him to be curious,” he said. “Yes, but why now?” “You mean, because the adoption papers are sitting on your desk? Luis looked at me. His eyebrows lifted in conscious meaning. “You’re reading into this.” “I am?” “We’ve always been up front with Michael about what happened.” Yes, but there were all those things that we left out of the story because they would be too confusing for a five-year-old to understand. Like the reason that Maria had been disoriented that night in the storm was because she was an emotional wreck. She had just seen Luis and me working late in his office, and had mistaken our closeness as the intimacy of an affair. She was hysterical. Insert the picture of Luis and the narrator in their office with Maria at the window. There was the fact that Luis and I were at that riverbank so soon after her car went into the river because we had been following behind in my truck, desperately seeking a chance to explain the situation. There was the fact that Michael had an older sister, a girl of two, who had been strapped in her booster seat in the back and had drowned in the car with Maria. There was the fact that the sole reason Michael had escaped the horrible death that had taken his sister is that Maria never properly learned how to

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fasten the infant seat and for convenience would place Michael in the well of the car in the front seat. Thus, he was not strapped in when the accident happened, allowing the movement of the water to take him out of the car. Then there was the fact that Luis and I felt guilty about the conditions that led to Maria’s death, yet we could not deny the powerful love that the two of us now had for each other. All we could do is wish that things had happened differently and that we had fallen in love via some other avenue rather than the circumstances surrounding his wife’s death. I was there to comfort Luis through his grief of losing Maria and his daughter. I was there to help him with the baby, Michael. I had pulled Michael from the waters. I flashed on my last image of Maria alive and the frightening sight of her pounding on the glass barrier wall of Luis’ office. Her endless hair soaked and dripping from the storm, plastered to her body like the skin of a seal. She was weeping, crying out Luis’ name. But the glass muted the sound and the cries sounded like she was distances away. We were so startled to see her, suddenly, as if out of nowhere, that we froze at Luis’ drafting table. Her visual anguish was so powerful that it resonated through the glass stronger than the sound of her sobs. Poor Maria.


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That was the only time I saw Maria alive, and the image still haunts me. The following day I decided to take off a bit early from the office and pick Michael up from kindergarten myself. On the way to the school I made a quick stop at the Mexican bakery that Luis and I loved, and snatched up a dozen of the heavenly sweet corn tamales that the shop was known for. When we got home, I placed a large dollop of butter on the warm tamale and set it on a plate for Michael along with a glass of milk. He looked at the tamale and then pushed the plate across the table in my direction. “I want it the way Bebe has it,” Michael said. “What do you mean?” “Can you make the tamale the way that Bebe likes it?” Michael looked at me, eyes wide, waiting for me to comprehend. “Who is the baby?” “Not baby. BEBE.” “Is Bebe at your school?” My mind raced over the names of all the girls in Michael’s kindergarten class. “No. She’s a little girl. She’s not big enough for school.” Michael drank some of the milk. When he placed the glass down, there was the telltale milk moustache on his upper lip. He wiped it away with his sleeve. “Michael, use a napkin. “ I handed one to him, but of course, now it wouldn’t be used. “How does Bebe like her tamale?’ “Don’t you know?” “I don’t know who Bebe is”. “She said you would say that.” “Who said that?” “My mother.” That stopped the discussion cold. “Michael, I am your mother.” I whispered it. A chill got a hold of me and my body did an involuntary shudder. “No, the lady with the hair said that she is.” Maria. It could only be. Maria with the

beautiful flowing hair that hovered past her waist and at times had a life of its own. I rushed to Luis’ study to locate the photo that we had of Maria. It wasn’t in its place on the bookshelf. I headed down the hallway, and as I passed Michael’s room, something caught my eye. There on the nightstand next to the porcelain frog, his stuffed owl, and the copy of the beloved book Runaway Bunny sat the photo of Maria with the sad eyes. Her hair was up in the picture, which was…why she looked different… I grabbed the picture and scrutinized that face. When Michael had first asked me about Maria, he had said that she looked different. But this was our only picture. How could he know about her hair? I wanted to confront Michael with the picture. But what could I say? Is this the woman who said she was your mother? Is it this woman here? This woman who is dead? I was afraid what the answer would be. Luis was working late that evening and I stayed up anxiously waiting for him. I felt foolish. My fears were ridiculous. Yet, I wasn’t even sure what I was afraid of. All I knew was that the house felt like a shadow had settled over it and when I had put Michael to bed earlier there were spots around the room that were icy cold. Luis came through the front door and I called him into the kitchen. He saw the sweet corn tamales out on the table and his face immediately lit up. However, the long wait for him to come home had gotten me worked up into a tight jumble of nerves. I couldn’t help myself and the words blurted out before I could hold them in or anticipate their effect. “How does Bebe like her tamales?” Luis reacted like I had smacked him with a sack of cement. His briefcase fell to the floor and he staggered backward. Only the refrigerator behind him kept him from landing on the tile. “Luis, how does Bebe like her tamales?” I fought the wave of hysteria that rose within me and threatened to erupt into this kitchen scene.


The Weeping Woman “Why?” His voice was hoarse. “Because that’s how Michael wants to have his tamales. And I don’t know who Bebe is.” Luis was silent and his head was bowed. “Luis,” I said somewhat insistently. Luis looked up at me and his eyes were filled with tears. “That was our pet name for Isabella.” I gasped. Isabella was Luis’ daughter who had drowned with Maria. “How does Michael know about Isabella?” “I don’t know. I don’t… I’ve said nothing.” Luis pulled himself over to the table and sat down. “What did he say?” “He asked me to fix the tamales the way that Bebe liked them.” Given Luis’ reaction to the mention of Isabella, I didn’t want to add the other information that he referred to Maria as his mother and knew about her long hair. “Cinnamon and honey,” Luis mumbled. “Isabella liked them with cinnamon and honey. Maria too. That’s how she fixed them.” That night I slept fitfully. I kept reliving the story of my rescue of Michael in my dreams. In them the river waters roared in my ears and the rain splattered so hard on my face that I struggled to keep my eyes open to seek Michael out. Fear gripped my body as I frantically searched the rushing waters for the blanket bobbing on the current. Too much time was passing in the dream. In reality I had located him a lot sooner. I had to have or he would have drowned. Too much time. Too much time. There. There was the blanket. I reached out to snatch up the bundle like I had done in the past. Only this time I couldn’t quite make it. My arm reach didn’t go far enough. I tried to take a step in, nearer to the blanket, but I couldn’t. My foot was caught and I was unable to lift it to move. I pulled and pulled, but I couldn’t budge my body any closer and now the blanket was getting away. Screaming I reached my arms out, trying to snare the prize that I had won only five years ago. But he was gone. The waters had swallowed him. I had failed.

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I awoke with a start. My heart pounded. I took a number of deep breaths and the horrible images gradually drifted away from my consciousness. One notion persisted, however. In the dream, the waters churning around my immobile body had become hair. Extended tendrils of dark hair that swirled and crossed and knotted me to the ground. In the morning, I promptly collected the adoption papers on my desk and filled everything out. I called a notary to come to the home, completed that transaction, and then had a messenger deliver the finished paperwork to our attorney’s office all before noon. I felt like a gauntlet had been thrown and I had to prepare myself as if I was going to war. My rational brain scolded these self-preserving thoughts and subsequent actions, but my inner wisdom knew that there was truth residing here and it shouldn’t be ignored. Luis had taken Michael to school in the morning before going into the office. I wondered what they had talked about in the car. By the bags under Luis’ eyes, I knew that he had slept erratically as well. That evening I discovered that he also had dreams involving water and an intangible ghostly Maria. “There are certain moments of that night that are frozen in my mind like photographs”, Luis said. I nodded my head as I knew exactly what he meant and probably what moments he meant. We were sitting in the living room. Michael was in bed. There was a fire crackled in the fireplace and we were wrapped in blankets, yet still the perpetual cold would not go away. Dampness had settled into the house and I was worried about mold. “In my dream everything is wet—water is everywhere. Even when I am inside, there is water moving through like the area is flooded and there is a constant rain. I see a woman drenched and hysterical pounding on the office


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glass. But in the dream, the woman screaming is you. It is Maria standing beside me, holding onto me and she is…laughing.” I gasped. How horrible. I had never laughed. “Then I am riding in your old truck, chasing after Maria in the storm like we did—only it is Maria doing the driving and the cab of the truck is filled with water up to our chins. I sputter and gasp as the water rises within and Maria smiles at me telling me to calm down and breathe—breathe in the water. But the last image is the most frightening. We are at the scene of the accident and the car has disappeared under the water. Yet over the riverbank is an enormous spider web. The strands are silver and they glitter from the rain. In the center of the web are three bodies that have been bound up by the spider. They look like they are wrapped in blankets. It is Bebe, Michael, and… you. The spider is Maria and she is suspended by the web from her hair. She calls me to enter the web—to join the rest of you.” Luis stroked my face and pulled me closer. The rest he spoke so softly that I knew it was a confession. “I wanted to go. I’m sorry, but in the dream I wanted to go. And when I woke up last night I was sitting in the bathtub in my nightclothes and the water was running. I think…no, I know, I was going to drown myself.” The following evening I was the one to stay late at the office and Luis had bath and bedtime duties at home. Due to the unpredictable occurrences in the home and our reactions to them, I had thought it best to let the girl who normally watched Michael in the afternoons and early evenings to have some time off. I told her to take two weeks. I didn’t know if I was being overly optimistic or not. When I came through the front door, the entire house was cold. I could hear the old heater in the front room operating at full throttle, droning and shaking, but to no effect. The house had no warmth. I listened for the little noises of Luis *My Jesus is sleepy. God bless him.

or Michael, for any movement within the house. Unnerved by the silence, I headed for the master bedroom. And then I heard it. From inside Michael’s room came the sound of a small clear voice softly singing, “A La Nanita Nana. Nanita Nana. Nanita Nana… Mi Jesus tiene sueno. Bendito sea, Bendito sea…”* The song was spellbinding and sweet, wafting down the hallway like a phantom wisp of smoke. Despite the pleasant charm of the melody, the sound was unworldly, and I found myself rooted to the bedroom floor, frightened for myself and my family. Luis was standing in the bedroom also listening to the song. His back was up against the corner giving the impression that he was hiding. “What’s that?” I asked Luis. I was surprised to hear that I was whispering. “It’s Michael,” Luis answered. He was whispering as well. “What’s he singing?” “It’s a lullaby.” “I’ve never heard it.” “I have.” I closed my eyes and silently composed a prayer for protection as I already knew the answer to the next question I was going to ask. “Maria?” “Yes, Maria.” I realized then that Luis was weeping. “What’s the matter, señora? What’s troubling you?” I was sitting inside the bakery where I had purchased the sweet corn tamales only last week. I had purchased a coffee to clear my head, but now it sat stone cold in front of me, untouched. Sleep was eluding me. I hadn’t showered in days as I


The Weeping Woman was afraid of the water. I winced at the thought of what I most look to others. My day in family court was approaching, and I knew that if I appeared in my present zombie state that my request for adoption would be postponed. I looked unfit to be anybody’s anything, and Luis’ appearance was that of a walking wreck. He wasn’t showering either and we were only giving sporadic sponge baths to Michael. Michael sang the lullaby all the time now, unaware of its tormenting effect. Anybody looking at us would easily discern that there were problems in the home and then there would be questions—questions that we could not answer. We were not a cohesive family, but one under a ghostly assault. I raised my face to the kind matronly voice showing concern on my behalf. It was the elderly woman who worked at the bakery. She had come out from behind the store counter and her hand rested firmly on my shoulder. “You look terrible, señora.” “I know I must.” I smiled weakly in embarrassment. The woman peered deeply into my eyes and then sat down across from me. She took both my hands in hers and gave me a reassuring smile. “You tell me. You tell me everything.” And I did. I told her about Team Taco, about the storm, about the accident and the guilt that Luis and I shared. I told her about the rescue of the baby and how his hand had grasped my finger. I told her about the tamales and Isabella, the cold house, the water and the hair, and the spooky lullaby. When I was done she patted my hands in sympathy and gave me a smile to match. “You are fighting La Llorona.” “I’ve heard that story. My grandmother told me. It’s like the witch and the gingerbread house or Baba Yaga. It’s a story—a fairytale.” I sighed. This woman didn’t understand. “Maria was real. She was Luis’ first wife. She died in a car accident. We buried her.”

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“You’ve taken her family. She is fighting for what is hers. She is using La Llorona to complete this task. She is luring the child and the man to a watery death. La Llorona can mean different things to different people, but she always responds when vengeance is needed and a wrong must be corrected.” “But she’s wrong. I didn’t intend to take her family. I didn’t plan to. We weren’t having an affair.” I sighed again. This was all so complicated. “But giving them up…giving them to her now means their death. I can’t give them up. Now they’re my family.” “Then you must convince her.” “How? How do I do that? She’s dead.” I didn’t mean to sound exasperated, but this woman was not speaking sense. But then none of this was making sense. My sanity had escaped me a long time ago, and I was somersaulting into oblivion with cold dampness and spidery hair. “You are a mother. You know.” The woman then withdrew her hands and ventured back behind the counter. She kept her head down and did not look at me again. Luis called me to let me know that he had taken Michael with him to the office. I was to meet them there and then the three of us would get a bite to eat before we headed home. I drove the car like I was on automatic pilot, unaware of the specifics of the traffic signs—only aware that the light was red, the light was green, oh, and this one is flashing yellow. I parked my car in the garage and headed up to the lobby. There was a fountain flowing in the area—a little rock formation and some flowers. It wasn’t one of those fountains for wishes and coins but one that was supposed to promote serenity. In my current state of mind, serenity was a gift— something for people who had time for that type of thing. I now viewed water everywhere as a threat. Upstairs Luis was rolling up his paper sheets and packing to go. I looked around for Michael


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and didn’t see him in his usual spot under Luis’ drafting table. “Where is he?” Luis gestured to the area under the table and then realized as I had, that Michael wasn’t there. We both then moved quickly and spread out through the office suites, checking all the cubicles and the bathrooms. There were only a few staff members around and none of them had seen Michael. Suddenly, the lobby fountain popped into my head. Not wanting to wait for the elevator, I flew down the fire drill stairs to the ground floor. The serenity fountain was enticing with its gentle trickling sound, but thank goodness, the waters were empty. I raced through the double doors to the street outside. After looking up one way and then the next, I thought for a moment and then ran back in. I didn’t think that Michael would have left the building – explore the area, yes, but he wouldn’t leave. I asked the guard at the lobby station if he had seen a five-year-old boy. “No, I would have noticed a child. He didn’t come this way and this is the only way out of the building.” “How about the garage?” I asked. “You need the remote to get those gates to open.” The man scratched his head and then had a thought. “Did you check the gym?” I was about to dismiss the notion because I couldn’t see Michael being drawn to a bunch of gym equipment when I remembered the whirlpool. “Oh, my God!” I knew I couldn’t move fast enough. I knew I was already too late. I knew that this time I wouldn’t be able to grab him in time. I pushed through the gym doors and searched the deserted area for the whirlpool bath. There it sat between the towels and the individual weights. I knew what I would find. He was floating face down. “Nooooo!”

I grabbed Michael’s body and lifted him clear of the water. I then began the CPR maneuvers that I had learned years ago when he was an infant and you take every life-saving class that is offered to parents. I thumped his chest and blew air into his lungs, continuing the fight—but I also began to beg. “Maria, no. Don’t take him. Please don’t. Don’t take him now. I’m sorry. I am. I’m sorry that I claimed him. I’m sorry I claimed them both. It was wrong to dismiss you.” I was weeping now— sobbing, continually trying to force life back into the little body in front of me. “Send him back, Maria. You’re his mother. You must want him to live. You must want him to have a life filled with happiness. You must have wanted that.” It then struck me that I was right about that. She must have wanted Michael to live. When they pulled the car from the river, the car window was open. Yet it was pouring rain that night. She must have had that window up when the car went into the river. And then she couldn’t save herself or Isabella, but she could get Michael out of the car. She rolled down the window and got the baby out of the car. “You didn’t want him to die,” I cried out to her. I spoke full voice as I knew she was there and could hear me. “You saved him. I pulled him from the waters, but you sent him to me. It was the two of us. The two of us saved Michael. Send him back to me now, Maria. Send him back.” I continued blowing air into Michael and looking at his face, feeling his neck for a pulse— anything. Any sign of life. I knew Maria had heard me. I could feel her there. She had to respond. She had to. She wanted her son to live. And then it happened. A little miracle. A small hand wrapped itself around mine and squeezed.


Interview: Kelli Stanley

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AAM Interview: Kelli Stanley By Cormac Brown

K

elli Stanley is a unique crime/mystery authors in that her material spans nearly two millennia. Most authors choose to remain firmly in the past or the present; Ms. Stanley writes about first-century occupied Britain and 1940 San Francisco, and handles both eras admirably. Ms. Stanley also introduces seamlessly the concept of noir into 84 A.D. Londinium (now London), and convinces the reader that this twentieth-century aesthetic is right at home in ancient times. If anything, she’ll have you believing that the Roman Empire created noir. Her first novel, Nox Dormienda (A Long Night For Sleeping) won a Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award for “Best Mystery of 2008” and was nominated for a Macavity Award as well. Her second novel, City of Dragons, about a thirty-three-year-old female investigator caught up in a murder mystery and Chinatown intrigue, will be published on February 2nd, 2010. An announcement of a publishing date for Cursed, her sequel to Nox Dormienda, is coming soon. Ms. Stanley can be found at: http://www.kellistanley.com/index.html http://kellistanley.blogspot.com/ Ms. Stanley is one of the crime writing authors known as “The Seven Criminal Minds.” http://7criminalminds.blogspot.com/

She also does an occasional column for The Pop Syndicate called “The Noir Bar,” and she is a contributor to Mystery Scene magazine.

AAM: What does the term “pulp” mean to you? KS: To me, “pulp” means meant-to-be-disposable yet amazingly endurable entertainment, at a time when American mass culture read for enjoyment, with only silent movies (until the end of the ’20s), radio dramas and nearly forgotten live art forms like vaudeville and burlesque competing for attention with books, magazines and newspapers. Pulps could be muscular, two-fisted adventures of characters like Doc Savage and The Shadow, who would heavily influence the birth of the comic book superhero a decade later. They could also be tough, hardboiled literature in the


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hands of Hammett, Chandler, Woolrich, and other writers who aimed to transcend the cheap paper and gaudy covers. They were the cheapest of books, and could feature the cheapest of stories…but in the hands of Black Mask editor Joseph Shaw, who nurtured some of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, a pulp was a laboratory of literary experimentation, and the birthplace of hardboiled and noir fiction. AAM: Who are some of your favorite pulp authors? KS: Hammett, Chandler, and Woolrich, of course. But of lesser-known writers, I like Norbert Davis. But you know, so many great writers I admire wrote for the pulps…Ray Bradbury, Elmore Leonard, Dave Goodis, Jim Thompson, Leigh Brackett…even Tennessee Williams published a story in Weird Tales. AAM: What are some of your favorite noir films? KS: That’s a tough question, because I love so many! Let’s start with Gilda, Nightmare Alley, Touch of Evil, The Big Heat, Raw Deal, Night and the City, Thieves’ Highway, Double Indemnity, Sudden Fear, and Nora Prentiss. AAM: Who are some of your favorite authors in general? KS: Everyone I’ve already mentioned, plus (of the classics) Poe, Thomas Hardy, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Dickens, Shakespeare, Virgil, Euripides, Austen. I love poetry, too. In the contemporary mystery-thriller community, I have far too many favorites to list!! AAM: What is the first book you remember reading, or having read to you? KS: I’ve been reading since I was about five, so it’s kind of hard to remember…but I do recall my parents reading poetry to me, and I remember reading a Classics Illustrated comic book of David Copperfield when I was five or six. And I vividly remember reading my first Nancy Drew when I was six or seven, along with D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths.

AAM: What would you be, if you weren’t a writer? KS: Well, originally I majored in drama. And I loved acting and directing, but the lifestyle was kind of tough…you have to be sensitive to be a good actor, empathetic, but insensitive and ego-driven enough to face down rejection. So I left that behind and did a lot of other things… owned a comic book store for a while with my family, and eventually returned to school for a Masters in classics. And by that time, I’d developed just barely enough hide to be able to withstand rejection as a writer. So all things considered, I wouldn’t want to be or do anything else, but if I could magically “become” something else, it would be a film director. AAM: If you weren’t writing crime or mystery fiction, what genre would you write? KS: Genres are really just ways for people to market and categorize your book … and to help your audience find it. Crime fiction allows me the parameters to write what I care about— human issues of justice, loss, relationships—in a way that is both viable and accessible. To me, much so-called “literary” fiction these days is one gigantic ego exercise, a study in selfabsorption…I don’t think writing stuff that only you can appreciate does much to improve the world. If you need a codebook to figure out what the author is saying—or if the author is saying only “Look at how brilliant I am”—why bother? I want to make people think, to feel, to respond to my books on many levels. I try to fire on all cylinders, so that readers can have as deep an experience as possible, and enjoy rereading anything I write … but at the end of the day, they still need to be entertained. And I happen to think entertaining people is a noble profession. So crime fiction is really the perfect genre for me to be able to do all of those things … hopefully! And if I wasn’t writing in it, I’d probably be creating historical novels


Interview: Kelli Stanley with some of the same crime fiction genre elements. AAM: What is your favorite source of artistic inspiration? KS: Wow, that’s a deep question. My favorite source of artistic inspiration is probably people. I’m always studying human behavior, remembering a voice here, a gesture there. I’m also deeply inspired by my environment—San Francisco, of course, for City of Dragons. And ideas are always sparked by reading history, memoirs of certain times and places, watching films (especially noir). When I’m actually working on a book (like I am now, with the sequel to City of Dragons), I find a great deal of inspiration in ephemera from the time or place…for example, old menus from restaurants in 1940, time tables for trains, etc. Thank God for eBay! For Cursed, the sequel to Nox Dormienda, just holding actual curse tablets in my hand was really, really cool. That was in Bath (England), where the book takes place. And one last inspiration would be my family. They keep me from getting too crazy when I’m working, and remind me of why I want to write in the first place. AAM: Of your previous work, which story best represents you as a writer? KS: Nox Dormienda was not only my first published novel, it was my first novel, period. And I set out to consciously pay homage to Raymond Chandler with it, and I’m very proud of it and thrilled that I get to continue the series with Minotaur Books! However, I’d say City of Dragons, which comes out in February, is probably more purely me, in terms of the style and more overt themes of the book. You can see similarities between the two novels, but you could call CoD the definitive example of my writing. AAM: Please describe some of your upcoming work: KS: Well, with City of Dragons I’m beginning a

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new series set in 1940 San Francisco, and really hoping to pay respects to classic noir and yet turn it on its ear. My protagonist is a 33-yearold female investigator… a former Spanish Civil War volunteer nurse and—for a time—an escort. On her way home from City Hall—which used to be downtown, in the Chinatown area— she gets caught in a crowd gathering for the Rice Bowl Party, a kind of three day-and-night carnival held to raise money for China war relief in the struggle against Japan. And on Sacramento Street, in the heart of Chinatown, she finds a young man on the ground who has just been shot…the noise drowned in the constant pop of the firecrackers. She calls for help, but it’s too late. Eddie Takahashi—a Japanese-American numbers runner, and a nineteen-year-old kid—is dead. The cops warn her not to investigate, figuring it’s racial hatred—not uncommon at the time between Chinese and Japanese Americans, especially after the Rape of Nanking. But Miranda watched Eddie die, and she’s damned if she’s going to forget him. Miranda is a rich enough person to write about forever, and if this first novel is successful, I’d love to continue the series through


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New this spring!

Mick Jagger was right. You can’t always get what you want. Katherine Wheeler is finding that out the hard way, after spending six months in Los Angeles with little to show for her efforts besides a rapidly dwindling bank account. So when an online ad offers the sort of position she can only dream of, she answers it at once. Alarm bells go off when she realizes her new boss is dangerously attractive, but Katherine figures she can handle the situation. After all, Pieter Van Rijn seems to be a consummate professional. What could possibly go wrong? After dealing with the love-struck son of a movie producer, a threatened lawsuit, and an earthquake, Katherine thinks she may have to re-evaluate her situation. But all those complications are nothing compared to wanting a man who doesn’t seem to want her back… “Captivating!”—Mary Wilson, author of Ghost Touch and Her Hungers Available April 2010 from Pink Petal Books PPB

Purchase directly from the Pink Petal Books website, Fictionwise, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.

World War II and into the Cold War. The second novel takes place three months after the events of the first. And in June, Tor will be publishing the next International Thriller Writer’s anthology, entitled First Thrills. It’s being billed as twelve stories from the bestsellers of today, and twelve from “the bestsellers of tomorrow.” Luckily for me, my short story “Children’s Day”—which features Miranda and takes place the year before City of Dragons—will be included. As for the Arcturus series, right now I’m waiting to hear from the publisher about the publishing date for Cursed, the sequel to Nox Dormienda. It takes place in Aquae Sulis—now known as Bath—about nine months after Nox, in 84 AD. It deals with the murder of a curse writer…a man whose curses, apparently, all came true … There are other things I’d like to write—a stand-alone thriller set in Humboldt County, a graphic novel—and I hope I get a chance to. I’ve got a lot of stories in my head! Thanks, Cormac, for the great interview—I’ve really enjoyed being in Astonishing Adventures Magazine! Thank you and AAM for having me over! You might want to mention that book trailers and an interactive map are available on my website, and more videos, podcasts, and features are coming for the City of Dragons release on February 2, 2010. The website is http://www. kellistanley.com. My blog is Writing in the Dark (http://kellistanley.blogspot.com), and I also founded a group blog called Criminal Minds, where I post every week with six other crime fiction writers at http://7criminalminds.blogspot.com. I also write an occasional feature for Pop Syndicate called “The Noir Bar”—reviews of some of my favorite films.


Dirk Dangerous and the Giant Balls of Doom

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Dirk Dangerous

and the Giant Balls of Doom By Mark Caldwell Somewhere over China… An open unpressurised De Havilland D.H.42 Dormouse… Altitude eight thousand feet… Visibility poor… Reading a three-week-old Manchester Guardian… Just before tea time… “Boss, didn’t we pass that mountain five minutes ago?” “I was thinking the same thing, Johnny. I’ve been flying by compass for a while. Can’t get over the top of this weather.” “We can’t be out of oxygen; we’ve not used any yet.” “Prof took it out to fit the new engine.” “You think it’s messing with the heading?” “I’ll see if we can find somewhere to put down and take a look.” Dirk flew us straight at the mountain, then banked hard ’til it was behind us. Some pilots would have taken it easy in case there was something hidden in the clouds. That’s not the Dangerous way. He put the nose down and I started praying. 7,000 ft.…5,000 ft.…3,000 ft.…1,000 ft. Suddenly we broke through the cloud and the ground was racing towards us. For a moment I thought my prayers had been answered. An airstrip appeared cut from the jungle. We were coming in too fast. If the chance of smashing

into the ground and ending my days in some corner of a foreign field wasn’t enough, a Dakota was pulling up from the strip. The Dakota was climbing straight at us. We both pulled back hard on the controls. Dirk pushed the Prof ’s new engine ’til it screamed like a rabid string section in a Stravinsky composition. Looking over the side, I picked out a dozen mangled wrecks in the valley below. The violins were going full speed. We banked hard to port. The Dakota banked to starboard. A dozen violas tore their strings apart. I caught the Dakota pilot’s eye as our nose came up. I’d swear she winked at me, although it could have been a reflection on her goggles. We soared on a swell of cello, supporting the straining metaphor into its dying bar. Dirk turned the crate into the valley and put us down. The landing wasn’t textbook, but then, neither was the track he’d used as a runway. A hundred yards up the track a group of men were struggling towards us carrying something heavy. They dropped whatever it was and charged us, pistols blazing. It seemed unlikely they knew Dirk, but with his reputation you never know when you’ll bump into one of his enemies. He pulled out the Suomi M/31 and with two well-placed bursts sent them packing. We clambered from the crate and stretched our legs. I fished a compass out of my pocket, checked it,


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whacked it a couple of times for good measure, then turned to Dirk. “It’s not the engine that’s playing silly whatsits with our bearings—it’s that mountain.” “Let’s take a look while we’re here. Get the bag and if those chaps were anything to go by, I’d say you should keep the Enfield cleared for action.” “Can’t we have a brew first, boss?” “No time for tea now, Johnny. Maybe they’ll do you a nice pot of the local green char at the village up ahead.” We advanced along the track. Something wasn’t right—and I don’t mean Dirk refusing a cuppa. In the middle of the track lay a safe; a brass plate read “Samuel Withers & Co Ltd. West Bromwich.” “You go halfway ’round the world and what do you find?” “No way we’re getting that in the Dormouse.” The track crested a rise, revealing a small village clinging to the banks of the river at the valley’s bottom. Something wasn’t right. We moved cautiously forward. The only noise was the water racing and the wind in the trees. Dead birds covered the track. An ox lay dead in its harness beside the man who’d been driving the cart. Dirk checked his pulse, looked at me, and shook his head. Looking down into the village we could see a horror I’d hoped never to see again. We both stood silent in recollection for a moment. I still have nightmares about Hill 60, May 1915. “You can’t fight gas with guns and we didn’t pack gasmasks. We’ll follow this ridge up river and look for another crossing.” Twenty minutes later, we found a rope across the gorge. My compass still pointed to the mountain. We followed crisscrossing trails ’til we came to the hillside littered with wrecked planes. Ahead, steps had been cut into the cliff face and fresh mine workings

cut deep into it. Spoil lay heaped at the cliff ’s base. We climbed the stair ’til the compass led us to a circular, ten-foot-high entrance. It had until recently been blocked by an iron-barred gate; its lock destroyed by a bullet hole clean through it. I fished a pair of torches from the pack and we advanced inside, our beams cutting along a long straight passage. “Johnny—see how the floor slopes gently upwards?” “Yes, boss.” “And the faint scratch marks in the dirt.” “Yes, boss.” A faint line crossed the floor. Eight steps on was another. A giant blade scythed across the corridor. Five more flashed by. Three more and a third swung through. Two steps, and Dirk almost had his hair parted anterior from posterior. “Blades by the numbers, Johnny!” “Not the conventional equal separation.” “They’ve not studied Fibonacci.” He shone his torch to one side where two more blades, each a step apart, were embedded in a pair of corpses. “Been there no more than an hour by the look of them.” “Weren’t they carrying the safe earlier?” “Could be.” “Why do you think this death trap is here?” “Don’t know. There’d better be something worth having at the end.” “Have I ever led you to a death trap and not found something worthwhile at the end?” “Bangalore?” “I’ll give you that.” “The Mercury Mines of Peru?” “I rescued that girl.” “Felicitous Bragshot.” “Nice girl. Long legs. Laugh like a donkey.” “So you got the girl with the awful name and laugh. What did I get?” “A warm feeling from a job well done.”


Dirk Dangerous and the Giant Balls of Doom “Sore feet and torn trousers.” “Well, if you’re ready for making jokes, you’re probably ready to move on.” We stepped round them; ahead the passage ended in a flat wall. Something went click. I hate it when something goes click. Something bad usually happens moments later. Moments later a giant boulder smashed through the wall. We ran back, counting steps and dodging axe heads. The boulder was smashing through the blades right on our heels as I followed Dirk out of the door. I’d have gone over the ledge, but he grabbed me and swung me round. The boulder flung itself in a ballistic trajectory, illustrating the path I’d have taken, into the valley below. We went back into the passageway, cautiously this time. Stepping over the remains of the false wall above us, we could see a sloped alcove in the ceiling that had held the boulder. Ahead, the passage turned a corner. Just beyond it the miners who cut the passage from the rock had dug a narrow alcove. Finally another passage sloped gently to a solid wall. I looked at Dirk. “They wouldn’t have.” “Wouldn’t have what?” “Set another giant rolling boulder trap.” “I think they’ve done a little more than that. See the holes in the wall?” “Poison darts?” “Well, the unpoisoned kind really just perturb me.” “There should be a roll of tape in your pack. We’ll block the holes up with bits of rubble.” Minutes later and the darts were ineffectually buzzing like wasps in a jam jar. “What do you think, Johnny?” “Mind if I take a breather this time, boss?” “You know you can call me Dirk when there’s no one around.” “I was the loyal batman to your daring Royal Flying Corp Pilot. Wouldn’t have been the done thing. Habits die hard; it just doesn’t feel right.”

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“And one day you’ll be the loyal friend carrying my coffin.” “No, sir. I think if these nasty traps get either of us, it will be me first.” “Probably for the best; you’ve met my five brothers so you know I’m the runt.” “Some runt—what are you, six feet, six inches?” “Well, yes, but my coffin would be at an odd angle with you carrying. Ready for another run?” “No.” I hoisted my pack anyway. “Too bad, old boy.” Dirk advanced, striding boldly down the passage. Sometimes I wish he’d just walk a bit slower into danger, look where he’s putting his feet. That’s not the Dangerous way. I was trying to spot the trigger for the trap as we went. We found it with our feet again. Our only option was to run. I threw myself into the alcove, Dirk close behind me, the billiard ball of doom mere inches behind him. We listened to it bounce its way down the passages and then launch itself over the precipice. Dirk sauntered to the tunnel entrance. “Good shot. That one turned the Iris wreck into matchwood. I’d put a shilling on the next one taking out that Sopwith.” Walking back down the passage, we discovered a second corner and another long straight passage with a slight slope. My torch picked out round holes in the wall again but these were bigger than the last ones. “Spears, Boss?” “Spears, Johnny. I’d say a quickstep should get us through.” Our poise was textbook perfect. We were on the balls of our feet all the way. Dirk led: right foot forward, heel to toe. My left foot went back, toe to heel, we spun diagonally to the wall. We turned right on the beat as the first spear thrust itself out in front of us, then swayed out of the way of the next spear as it cut between us. His


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left, my right, to the side, turning. A little contra body movement and a little rise. My left foot closing to my right, his right to his left now facing diagonally to the centre. Turning and rising over another spear. An improvisation under the next one. His left foot to the side slightly while my right size twelve went diagonally back toe to heel. Sway on four round the spear—and repeat. “Think you can dodge them on the way back?” “Not a problem, boss.” “Good, because here comes the boulder. You lead this time.” If you’ve never tried the quickstep, the time to learn it isn’t when you’re dodging spears and have a giant boulder racing towards you. Fortunately life as the companion of an international globe trotter requires certain skills beyond running, shooting, and carrying a back pack. Mixing a good martini and dancing a quickstep are fortunately amongst those other skills. The spears missed and the boulder rolled on. “So how would you score this one?” “Technical merit or artistic?” “At the moment I’d say whoever built it had hit the ball for six.” “You think it’s a six?” “Well, they didn’t hit the ball out of the ground but it’s definitely over the boundary rope.” “I’d say it was more of a four. It’s worrying but a bit repetitive. Not really deadly.” “Tell that to the chap over there.” “What, old Bob Skelly?” “It certainly looks to have done him in.” “He’s set-dressing. Whoever put this show on wanted to put a scare up you. Look closely and you can see where they rushed the job of cleaning his bones, but the real giveaway is that he’s wired together.” “We’ve had darts, spears, and scything blades.” “And great rolling balls of doom.”

“Yes, but none of it’s really very original. Where’s your giant lens focusing the sun into a burning blossom of death?” “Mexico, Caves of the Lord of Death. I lost a good flying jacket to that one.” “Or your funnelled Wind of Extinction.” “That was a good one. We got all the way through to within sight of the treasure without setting off a single trap, and then it blew us back through them all.” “We’d have been pushing up the daisies with that one old boy.” “Some foreign flea pit would have forever have been England.” “Good job for us that two-thousand-yearold traps tend not to work.” “A very good job. If they had, that would have been a six. At Trent Bridge I’d have put it in the Trent.” “And I’d have had to go and fish it out.” He was off and walking before my eyes had come back down from heaven. I expected another trap sequence followed by another great ball of doom, but this passage turned and brought a different view. The passage turned a corner and opened out into a vast natural cavern. “Wow. Do you think this is it?” “It?” “You know, where the treasure is?” “Why are you obsessed with money, Johnny?” “Because, unlike the Dangerouses, my wealth doesn’t run back to the Norman Conquest. We don’t have a family vault in Zurich to fall back on for small change.” “Johnny, are you turning into a Bolshevik?” “No, Boss. Like you said, I’m a filthy capitalist oppressor of the masses. I want to get horribly rich overnight so my great-great-greatgrandchildren never have to do an honest day’s work.” “So your great-great-great-grandchildren will be lawyers?”


Dirk Dangerous and the Giant Balls of Doom “And an occasional politician with a seat in the House. Second great-great-great grandsons may take the cloth.” “The odd granddaughter might, too.” “Call me a Bolshevik, and then there you go with your progressive thinking. If your granddaddy hears you talking like that he’ll cut off your allowance and disinherit you.” “Why do you think we’re five thousand miles away from dear old gramps?” “I thought we were here for a cricket match.” “Other than that.” “Anyway, since when did England play Nepal in a Test series, and since when did your ban on playing for England get lifted?” “It’s a friendly series. Hands across the oceans and all that. They were two men short. We were in the area. I said we’d make up the numbers.” “Hang on. What’s this ‘we’ business?” “You’re keeping wicket.” “But we left my kit in Shanghai.” “There wasn’t room for it and us in the crate.” “There was space for your full whites, pads, bats, balls and stumps; three of each type of suit, jungle gear, the Suomi, the Lee-Enfield, two brace of pistols, climbing gear, five hundred rounds, a crate of vintage Bollinger, and a picture of mater?” “You’re ranting, Johnny.” “You’re surprised, Boss?” “Well the Suomi did come in handy back up on the strip when those chaps charged us as we got out of the plane.” As we moved deeper into the cavern a dozen narrow beams of brilliant lights burst to life cutting down from high above. They met at a single point at the heart of the cavern. Atop a plinth stood a small, green statue. Checking the floor for traps as we went, we moved forward till we stood barely a foot away. “You know what it is, Johnny?” Dirk whispered.

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“No, Boss.” I whispered. “Why are you whispering, Johnny?” he whispered. “I don’t know Boss. Why are you whispering?” “It’s a little jade statue - that’s why, Johnny.” “Why don’t we grab it and run for it?” “Now, Johnny, we both know people don’t build death mazes to protect valuable jade heirlooms and then not put their best trap on the treasure. So first we check everywhere for traps.” “How much do you think it is worth?” “Probably worth a bob or euwww.” “How many bob to the ewe, Boss?” I laughed. “No, euwww, Johnny, something just dripped down my Ewwww!” “Something just dripped down your ewe?” I was struggling not to have the laughs turn into guffaws. “My neck again. There’s something up there.” We both looked up. I wish I hadn’t. If I hadn’t, it wouldn’t have hit me in the face just on top of my hat. It was wet and solid. I bent down and picked it up. A dirty, damp rag with a large knot tied in the middle. “It’s not worth a dime,” echoed a voice. “Hello?” “I’m up here,” said the voice. “How do you know it’s worthless?” “It’s a fake.” “You’re sure?” “I had it made.” “Why would you have a fake jade statue of Qin Shi Haung made?” “Long story.” “Don’t worry, we’ve a few days before we’re due in Kathmandu.” “I’ll tell you all about it, but if you could be a pal and get me down?” “We’ll have you down in a jiffy.”


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“Thanks, pal.” “Where are my manners? I’m Johnny and this is my boss Dirk Dangerous.” “Nice to meet you. I’m Joseph D. Haynes Junior, but you can call me Jo. I’d shake hands and do proper introductions, but I’ve been hanging upside down by my feet, trussed up like a turkey with a piece of old cloth as a gag for the last few hours.” “I know you. Don’t they call you Enigme? Can I get your autograph for my nephew? He’s a big fan.” “Sure thing, Johnny.” “We saw you in New York last year. You were fantastic. When you made that man act like a cockerel and had the women who locked you in the box unlock it, let you out and lock the box again—then get all surprised when you weren’t inside.” “Now, Johnny, leave the nice man alone.” “And then you did it again, except this time you didn’t have anyone unlock the box for you.” “Johnny, drop it.” “I was just saying…” “Jo’s one of the world’s greatest living escapologists. He’s probably a little embarrassed right now. What with being tied up sixty feet off the ground and not being able to get himself free?” “Sorry, Jo. We’ll get you down and I promise we’ll not tell anyone.” “No problem, Johnny.” “So, boss, how do we get Jo down?” “It’s going to be tricky. You see those wires running from the plinth?” He waved his torch along the floor. “Those connect to those explosives that I think will bring the cave down if anyone knocks the plinth or takes the jade.” “So we don’t touch the plinth until we cut the wires and disarm the dynamite.” “Then there’s another set of wires. Well, more like twenty more sets. Pick the wrong ones to cut—Boom! Goodnight, Dirk Dangerous. Goodnight, Énigme. Farewell, Johnny. There’ll be three kippers spare at breakfast.”

“So why don’t we just get a ladder and fetch him down?” He waved his torch in the air. Gossamer threads twinkled in the light. “You see all that tightly strung fishing line?” “Yes, boss.” “It’s connected to the dynamite, too.” “So we touch that and some foreign cavern is forever disputed territory of Great Britain and the good old US of A?” “Something like that. Now, if you’ll both be very quiet for just a moment.” I listened hard. Something was dripping. Each drip was followed by a hissing noise. “Jo, can you tell if you’re held up by rope or chain?” “Steel chain.” “I thought so. When we walked in here, whatever put the lights on also set a container of acid dripping onto the chain holding you up. Even if your guests didn’t set the bomb off, the acid would burn through the chain and drop you onto the fishing line.” Dirk stood staring upwards, his torch beam swinging back and forth aimlessly in the air for a minute, maybe two. “Johnny, old boy, do me a favour, would you? Run back and pick up as many of the shafts from those scything blades and thrusting spears as you can find in one piece.” “Be right back.” When I came back with my armfuls of shafts, Dirk was standing around tossing a cricket ball idly in one hand. “Was I carrying that ball all the time, Boss?” “Don’t you worry about that, Johnny me lad. Just bind those poles together. That’s right. Now I’ll take that. If you could hold my ball for me.” He tied his torch to the end and walked to the wall below one of the lamps. Carefully he raised the pole. The beam caught a line; he edged it to one side. There was another. He threaded the pole through the narrow gap and pushed against


Dirk Dangerous and the Giant Balls of Doom the lamp high up on the wall. Ten minutes later three of the lamps shone across the room picking out the lines. Another five, and the chain was illuminated too. Dirk reached over and took the battered cricket ball from me. He tossed it in the air once, twice, then pulled back his arm and threw it as though pitching at the strike end from deep extra cover. It flew fast and high and struck a pipe above

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the chain. The ball dropped and a jet of liquid streamed after it. A fizzing puddle ate its way into the cavern floor, leaving the ball a pulpy mess. “Well, that ball’s had it, Johnny old boy.” “That wasn’t your Lords’ ball, was it?” “It’s gone out for a good cause. Now we’ve got a bit of time we can defuse these bombs. Be a good chap and run and fetch the climbing gear we don’t need.”


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The Black Spectre In

Of Black and Scarlet By Roger Alford

Illustrations by Roger Alford Born into a wealthy family, young Brent Gregor’s life was shattered one fateful Halloween night when an intruder’s bullets killed his father, put his mother in an asylum, and left him in a wheelchair. Young Brent became a brooding recluse locked away, forever alone, in his family mansion. When he reached adulthood, Gregor spent much of his vast fortune searching the world in vain for a cure. His far-reaching efforts led him to an old gypsy woman who offered a fantastical proposition: by joining with a mysterious entity known as the Spirit Force, which Gregor could summon when needed, he could not only walk again, but harness phantom-like abilities: superhuman strength and agility, the power to hide unseen in the shadows, move objects with his mind, and easily pass through locked doors. In return, he vowed to stand for the righteous, to fight evil, and bring justice to those who have none. Now, like a ghost, he moves through the shadows of the night, bringing evil-doers to justice! When criminals and lawbreakers are marked with his trademark “X,” they know there is no escape from...the Black Spectre!

L

ittle Ricky Bartholomew sat poised on the edge of his cushioned seat high in the balcony of the ornate Orpheum Theater, his gaze transfixed on the action that took place on the stage far below him. He didn’t care that he and his kind, careworn mother, Mrs. Estelle Bartholomew, were seated in the cheapest section available, nor that his feet didn’t quite touch the floor and he was forced to maintain a careful balancing act throughout the entire show to keep from flopping backwards. None of that mattered to his ten-year-old mind, for he was living a dream that night, one that his mother had brought true by carefully saving pennies, coupons, and Green Stamps in order to afford it. His heart and soul were on that stage, transported back to 1790s Paris, and he bravely fought the unjust as The Scarlet Pimpernel. It was the most glorious night of his young life. When the play was over, young Ricky dropped to his feet to join the standing ovation then quickly realized that he couldn’t see anything and had to pull his seat back down so that he could stand on it. Once again, he was involved in a precarious balancing act. His mother worried that it wasn’t proper behavior, nor was it very safe. But there was no deterring him from joining in the applause full-force. When the actor and actress portraying Percy and Marguerite had taken their final bows, Ricky knew in his young mind exactly what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He wanted to be a stage actor


Of Black and Scarlet and bring the same cheer to others that he had experienced on that wonderful night. Ricky hopped down (thankfully, without getting injured) and clutched his mother’s hand as they made the long climb down the narrow, winding iron staircase to reach the richly-decorated theater lobby. Actually, it was more like him leading her. Ricky was so full of exuberance that when they finally landed upon the ground floor, he jerked free of his mother’s grasp and bolted headlong across the lobby towards the waiting street outside. “Ricky!” she called out, but she needn’t have worried. He came to a sudden stop when he ran smack into the back of a large, very well-dressed man in a bowler hat and gleaming white spats. Ricky let out a quick gasp when the man wheeled around with eyes aflame that burned brightly above his waxed moustache. Ricky instinctively took a step backwards and swallowed hard. The man’s expression quickly turned from anger to a broad smile when he saw his young adversary. Mrs. Bartholomew clutched her son’s shoulders from behind and curtsied apologetically. “Beg your pardon, Sir,” she said softly. “He’s just a little full of himself this evening.” The large man nodded with a smile and turned so that his very young wife (or was it his daughter? Mrs. Bartholomew wondered) could get a look at the mischievous offender. “Such a cute little boy,” the young woman said with a gleaming smile. Ricky was dazzled by her gleaming white dress that left far less to his young imagination than his mother would have liked. Mrs. Bartholomew quickly turned him away and towards the door. “Enjoy your evening,” she told the couple, then pushed Ricky along until he was well outside the theater. Had they lived in Terminal City and read any of the local papers, they would have easily known that the couple in question were notorious South Side crime boss Vito “Spats” Gennero

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(Terminal City’s very own Chauvelin) and his young wife, Annette. It was probably just as well that they didn’t. Though outwardly respectable, Vito Spats was a bloodthirsty killer, responsible, both directly and indirectly, for the deaths of scores of men. Not to mention countless other innocent casualties. Outside on the sidewalk, the crowds dispersed in every direction as the patrons returned to their hotels and climbed into waiting cabs. Ricky did his best impersonation of the gallant Lord Percy: “We seek him here, we seek him there! Those Frenchies seek him everywhere! Is he in heaven? Is he in--?“ Mrs. Bartholomew quickly interrupted her young son. “Okay, that’s enough young man.” She looked at her watch and was immediately flustered by the lateness of the hour. “Oh, my goodness!” she exclaimed, worried that despite the fact that this was a special occasion, Ricky was out far past his bedtime. There was a short line of taxis that still waited at the curb, but, sadly, her budget couldn’t allow it. They would have to walk the four blocks back to their hotel. Mrs. Bartholomew took Ricky by the hand again and pulled him along towards the closest intersection. Ricky looked around at all the buildings as his mother stopped to button his coat up to the top. Something didn’t seem right, but he wasn’t able to adequately protest until they had reached the next street corner. “Mother, I don’t think we’re going the right way,” he told her. He looked around again to get his bearings, hoping to spot some landmark that would prove him correct. Still flustered by the lateness of the hour, Mrs. Bartholomew looked in both directions, but wasn’t completely certain about either one. “I think we came this way.” Ricky spotted a beat Cop at the far corner on the other end of the block. Before he could suggest that they ask for directions, his mother


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tugged him along across the street and added, “We’ll try going this way and if it isn’t right, then we’ll just have to turn back.” They had only scampered another two blocks before it had finally become quite obvious that they’d gone in the wrong direction. Mrs. Bartholomew looked nervously about for a policeman, but this time there was no one nearby. “We definitely need to turn back,” she said in a vain attempt to hide the anxiety in her voice. “Come on, if we hurry we’ll be back there in no time.” They only managed to go a short distance before they noticed two dark shadows that followed them -- one in front and one from behind. Mrs. Bartholomew casually leaned down to her son and whispered, “If anything happens, I want

you to run find a policeman as fast as you can. Understand?” Auburn-haired reporter Vicky Rose stormed through the hospital as she raced down the gleaming tiled floor of the hallway. As much as she wanted to get the scoop on the terrible events that had happened just a short while earlier, her previously-unknown motherly instinct had kicked in. She found herself more worried about the poor boy who waited there at the hospital alone, with just a single thought in his young mind: whether or not his mother was going to live. “Thank goodness, you’re here,” the large and grizzled Detective Shayne said as he greeted her in the hallway. Having a child as the only witness to a potential murder was not a situation


Of Black and Scarlet for which they were prepared at the police precinct. What they really needed was a female officer, but that was completely unheard of. But since Vicky was such a regular fixture there, she would have to do. Det. Shayne quickly ushered Vicky into his office where young Ricky Bartholomew waited quietly. He looked up with something akin to a relieved expression as Vicky entered. She reciprocated with a warm and friendly smile as she kneeled down, took his small hand, and introduced herself. As she did, she felt a sharp chill as if something unknown had entered the room with her. A quick smile of reassurance from her was the only thing that betrayed the presence of someone else there. “My Mom, is she okay?” Ricky sobbed. “The Doctors are doing everything they can,” Vicky reassured him. “And the police are, too. But if they’re going to catch the men that did this, I need you to tell me everything that you can remember.” Ricky nodded in agreement. “Just tell me what happened after you and your mother left the theater.” “Okay,” Ricky nodded again, then recounted in just a few words how they’d gone the wrong way and gotten lost. “We only went a few blocks, we were pretty scared, and that’s when we saw them. They followed us at first, and then when we tried to turn back, they wouldn’t let us go.” “How many were there?” she asked. “Two,” Ricky answered. “Can you tell me what they looked like?” Ricky thought for a moment then nodded again. “They were tough guys, just like you see in a Jimmy Cagney picture. One of them was real thin, kind of wiry. He did all the talking. He had on an old suit with a tie. He had a beat up brown hat with a hole in it.” “What kind of a hat? A fedora?” Vicky asked.

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Ricky confirmed it with a quick nod then continued. “The other one, he was real big. A real tough guy. He had a cap like regular guys wear. Just wore a button shirt and an old coat. They smelled real bad, too. “Like liquor?” Vicky inquired, “or like they hadn’t had a bath in a while?” “Both,” Ricky told her. “Did they have any scars or tattoos or anything that you could see?” she asked. “Yeah,” Ricky answered as he sat up a little. “The thin one had a scar down one side of his neck. And the big one had a scar on the back of his hand, like he’d been burned or something.” Insert illo #2 anywhere along here. Vicky and the unseen Black Spectre came to the same unspoken conclusion. They were both quite familiar with Fred Karpis (the thin one) and Elmer “Big Fitz” Fitzgerald (the big one), two small-time pinch thieves who were known for working that section of town. The scars were the result (and reminders) of previous run-ins with Vito “Spats” Gennero’s men after the two had gotten two big for their britches. “We tried to go around them,” Ricky told her, “But the thin one, he wouldn’t let us. He said not to rush off and called my mom ‘Sweetheart.’” She tried to be real nice about it. She told him we didn’t have much and that we just wanted to get back to our hotel. Then the thin one, he kind of laughed and said they were there to help us. Kind of like the Welcome Wagon. Then he said they just need a little donation for the widows and orphans, and asked if we got his meaning. That’s when he opened his coat and showed us his pistol.” Vicky could feel the room grow even colder. Ricky gave a quick shudder. He felt it, too, but thought it was just his own fears getting the best of him. “So what happened then?” Vicky asked. “The big one laughed. He thought that was pretty funny. I was really afraid, so I held my Mom’s


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hand just as tight as I could. I looked around again for a policeman, but there just weren’t any around. I kept thinking one would show up, but he never did. I’ve never seen a street before that didn’t have a beat cop making the rounds.” “Well,” Vicky explained, “I’m afraid Terminal City is a lot different from what you’re used to.” “So anyways,” Ricky continued, “That’s when the thin one started talking real tough. He told my mom that he didn’t have all night, so he grabbed her pocketbook and threw it to the big one. The big one looked all through it, but all he found was two dollars and our bus tickets home, just like we told him. My mom begged for him to let us go, but he just stood there and thought about it for a minute. That’s when he looked down at her wedding ring.” Ricky stopped for a moment and swallowed hard. This was the part of the story he didn’t want to remember. “It’s okay,” Vicky reassured him. “Take your time.” Ricky swallowed again and choked back his tears. “I guess he figured Mom wouldn’t give it up too easily. I suppose he was right, ‘cause it’s all she has. That’s when he pulled out his gun. Just to make sure we knew he meant business.” Ricky stopped and stared down at the floor. His father had always told him that boys never cry, but he was having a hard time fighting it back. It was bad enough that he’d let his Mom down, he thought, and now he was letting his father down, too. Vicky clutched his hand tightly and wiped the tears from his eyes. Her hands were softer than his mother’s. He looked back up at her. She smiled back at him like a comforting angel. “My mom stepped in front of me,” he continued, “so I couldn’t see the gun no more. But I knew it was there. You could hear it in his voice. He got real mean. He told her to hand over the ring and not to give him any trouble. My mom begged him. It’s the only nice thing

she’s got. I think she was probably worried, too, what my father would do if she lost it. He was always going on about how long it took him to pay for that ring. That she better ‘guard it with her life’ because ‘it was worth more than she was.’ But the thin one, he didn’t want to hear none of that. He just said she better hand it over real quick. I think he was pointing the gun towards me, but I couldn’t tell because my mom was holding me so tight. That’s when I got real mad.” Vicky’s eyes lit up with concern. “What did you do?” she asked softly. “I just started thinking about my father and what he told me. When we were leaving, he made me promise to be the man on our trip and to look after my mother. But I was just standing there, taking it like a little baby. The Pimpernel wouldn’t stand still for that. So that’s when I shouted, ‘You leave her alone!’ And I let go of my Mom and I just started hitting him as hard as I could! And I kicked him, too. I just wish I was bigger. ‘Cause he just shouted ‘Get off me kid!’ and he just took his hand with the gun and threw me down on the sidewalk. I looked up and all I could see was that gun pointing straight at me.” The room went colder still. The Black Spectre listened silently, plagued by the memories of that fateful Halloween night so many years ago. No child should ever have had to endure what he did that night, and yet he was standing there listening to just such an event. It made his blood boil even more. “That’s when my mother screamed at him. She jumped on him, too, and really let him have it. He was trying to fight her off, but she wasn’t going to let go. That’s when I heard the gun go off.” Vicky was silent. She felt the air suddenly race out of her lungs. Ricky welled up again. Try as he might, he was unable to hold back the sobs. Vicky reached over and clutched him tightly. She felt so soft


Of Black and Scarlet

and comforting. And very warm against the growing cold that permeated the room. After a few moments, he was finally able to continue though tear-soaked sobs. “Then I looked down and she was just laying there on the sidewalk. There was blood. All over her new blue dress. I called out to her, but she didn’t answer. I bent down and I shook her, but she didn’t move. I didn’t know what to do. Then I remembered what she told me earlier, that if anything happens, I should just run as fast as I can and find a policeman. So that’s what I did. I don’t know if they chased me or not. I just ran as fast as I could. Just like she told me. But I don’t know if I ran fast enough.” Ricky broke down again and Vicky held him as tightly as she could. It would be a little while, she knew, before she could tell the police what she had learned, but it was no matter. The police were not going to find Karpis and Big Fitz. She

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felt the chill breeze leave the room just as quietly as it had come. The Black Spectre would find them soon enough. There would be hell to pay on this night. Of that she was more than certain. Goldie Tibbets stumbled out of the Elbow Room and buttoned up her coat as best she could against the chilly night air. She’d seen her best days several years ago and no amount of make-up or hair bleach would convince the world otherwise. Still, with the right amount of gin she could easily convince herself. She’d always thought that if she’d been able to find the right man, her life would have been better. But due to poor choices or just plain old bad luck, she’d attached herself to “another winner,” and now he was on the run from the police. Again. That had been the reason for the few extra


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drinks that night. Had she known what she was about to face, she’d have downed a few more. Goldie made her way down the cold, barren sidewalk toward her apartment building just a few blocks away. If she could just make it up the stairs, she thought, she’d be good for the night. Home free. After just a few more steps, she felt her lower body go numb with a sort of tingling feeling all over, like a foot going to sleep. Only this was much more than a foot. Feeling herself topple over, she grabbed for a nearby window sill to break her fall. It was at that moment she realized she wasn’t going to hit the ground. In fact, it was just the opposite. The ground was getting farther away. Goldie let out an alcohol-gurgled scream as she was lifted by an unseen force and rose up into the air towards the roof an old brick tenement building. She clawed for the walls and windows, hoping to grip anything to stop her ascension, but it was no use. She clutched her stomach tightly, fearing the worst. She felt her high-heeled shoes dangle from her feet and curled her toes upwards to keep them from falling off. But terror-fueled curiosity got the best of her and when she looked down, her shoes slipped right off and dropped to the sidewalk below. Worse still, the heel of one snapped off as it struck the pavement below. They were her only pair. Finally, she came to a stop just above the roofline, still hovering over the sidewalk below, which was three-stories down. She looked out over the neighboring rooftop and saw a dark-cloaked figure drift towards her. The only thing that shown in the darkness was the gleaming white skull of his mask. She’d read enough stories in the Crusader to know that this was The Black Spectre. And she knew exactly what he wanted. “Please! Don’t drop me!” she cried. “Where are Fred Karpis and Big Fitz?” he shouted.

She reached out to grab him, more afraid of falling than what he might do to her. But he waved his hand and she drifted further over the street. “Please!” she begged. “I’ll tell you everything! Just don’t drop me! Please?” The Spectre waved his hand again and she drifted back over the rooftop, but still left in mid-air. “It was an accident!” she told him. “They didn’t mean to shoot her! It was all an accident!” The Spectre angrily waved his hand again and she floated back towards the ledge. “Stop! Please!” she cried out. “Please! They’re holed up at the Morgantown Hotel, over by the river. Sixth floor. I swear!” The Spectre brushed his open hand swiftly and Goldie dropped to the gravel roof with a thud. She felt the sharp rocks dig into her palms and stocking-covered feet. She immediately checked to see if she was bleeding. She was. “Please! Don’t hurt Freddie!” she pleaded again. “It was an accident. It was all an accident! I swear to you!” The Spectre stepped over to another ledge that dropped down into the neighboring alley. In a moment, he was gone. Vicky sat in a large, comfortable chair across from where Ricky was curled up on the king-sized bed in the Crusader’s regular suite at the Sherman Hotel. It had been such a long and eventful night. With the lights out and only the soft hum of the street far below, she hoped that he would be able to get some sleep. Her newfound motherly instincts were in still full force and would not abate any time soon. The paper kept at tab at the Sherman just in case they ever needed to squire away an exclusive. It wasn’t the best hotel in town, but it was nice enough, and had certainly come in handy on more than one occasion. She’d visited


Of Black and Scarlet it many times before, but this is the first time she’d ever spent the night there. And it was certainly the first time they’d ever used it to host a child. All she could do was sit there and stare at his small form huddled up in the sheets, dwarfed by the massive bed. She could hear him whimper softly and let out an occasional sniffle, trying hard to be the man his father had wanted him to and not let her hear. She’d done her best to make him as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. Frank Matson, her perpetually disheveled editor, and his wife, Betty, had gotten Ricky’s things from the other hotel. Ricky didn’t want to go back there and she could fully understand why. As usual, Frank was dying for the details on this exclusive, but this time he was willing to wait as long necessary. Frank had kids of his own. And that trumped all of his usual instincts. As Vicky sat there in the dark, watching over Ricky, she heard his small voice whisper in the dark. She couldn’t quite make out what he was saying until she crept closer and heard him repeat it. It was something to give him strength and courage, she immediately thought. She hoped it would do just that. “We seek him here, we seek him there! Those Frenchies seek him everywhere...” He recited the entire verse over and over, always careful to bowdlerize the two words his mother didn’t want him to say. Fred Karpis paced nervously across the threadbare rug in the sixth floor room of the Morgantown Hotel. It had been a rotten night and the last thing he’d wanted was for it to get any worse. With each anxious step between the door and the bed, he played the details over and over in his mind, wondering how everything had gone so terribly wrong. He hadn’t meant to plug the dame. It was an accident. He’d only pulled the gun to scare her. He’d forgotten it

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was even loaded. But he was sure no one else would see it that way. It was her fault anyway. She should have just given up the ring and he’d have just let her and the kid go. Big Fitz just stared quietly out the window, peering through the thin slats of the wooden blinds. The street was clear save for a few parked cars and the occasional taxi that drove by. So far, there’d been no sign of a police car, but the night was only half over. “See anything?” Fred asked for the hundredth time. “Nah, still clear,” Big Fitz mumbled. “Good,” Fred stammered, his nerves getting the best of him. “We just gotta figure a way to get outta town. Lay low for a while till the heat dies down, that’s all.” The room grew suddenly cold. Like the temperature had dropped a full thirty degrees. “You feel that?” Fred asked, his voice shaking. Crash! The door burst from its hinges as if a hurricane ripped through the building. The men ducked from the splintered pieces of door frame that littered the room. Fred looked up to see The Black Spectre barge in like a forceful banshee looking for blood. Fred Karpis barely got his gun from his shoulder holster when three shots rang out from The Spectre’s twin .45s and his chest exploded in a shower of crimson. Big Fitz dove screaming for the window, crashing through the blinds in a desperate attempt to reach the fire escape outside. It was no use. An unseen, numbing force grabbed him by the legs. It jerked him back into the room then dragged him backwards across the floor. Big Fitz dug his fingernails down into the hardwoods, but there was no slowing his fate. The Spectre grabbed him up by the collar and lifted him straight off the ground. Big Fitz quickly found himself staring into the gleaming skull mask of what looked like


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Death himself. All he could do was beg for his life. “Please! Don’t kill me!” he pleaded, nearly in tears. “I didn’t do it! It was all him!” The Spectre glowered at Big Fitz for just a second longer, then hurled him out the window with more force than any man or beast could ever muster. Big Fitz crashed through the panes and plummeted flailing down to the street below in a shower of glass. He felt the crack of several bones break and the wind forced from his body as he struck the cold, hard pavement. All he could do was gasp for breath until minutes later he when was finally able to scream in agony. After a four-hour bus ride, two pots of coffee, and a nap at the police station, Jonas Bartholomew was reasonably sober enough to collect his son from the Sherman Hotel late the next morning. Frank and Detective Shayne led Mr. Bartholomew quietly upstairs via the elevator. Understandably, the man never said a word. He’d become a widower only a few hours before and, sadly, didn’t make it to the hospital in time to say good-bye to his wife. It was only in this moment that he realized just how much he’d loved her. He finally spoke up when they reached the hotel room door. “You mind if I wait to tell the boy after we get home? I think it might be easier on him that way.” Det. Shayne nodded a mumbled agreement. He didn’t envy the man in the least and, deep down, was somewhat relieved that the responsibility wouldn’t fall on his shoulders. Frank knocked quietly on the door. Vicky had taken Ricky out for breakfast earlier, but he was sure that they were back by this point. He waited a few impatient moments until Vicky let them in. Ricky looked up quickly from the chair by the window. His young face lit up at the sight of his father. Ricky rushed straight over and

hugged him tightly around the waist. At first, Jonas Bartholomew didn’t know how to react. He’d never shown much affection towards his son, having always felt that it was the wife’s place. But he was a lone parent now and Ricky wasn’t about to let go. Finally, he pried Ricky’s arms loose, then knelt down and pulled the boy into his own large, strong arms. It was late in the afternoon before Vicky was finally able to drive over to the Morgantown Hotel and witness the crime scene there for herself. Despite her exclusive access to the sole young witness, the story had been a bust. The other papers had managed to pick up enough details and each ran it on the front page of their morning editions. The Crusader had their front page headline, too, but with hardly any more detail than their competition. That would come in the next day’s paper, but by then it would be old news. After looking at the sidewalk, still stained with patches of blood and covered in shattered glass from where Big Fitz had been hurled from the top floor window, Vicky climbed the stairs to the sixth floor room above. She immediately saw the blood-tinged chalk outline where Fred Karpis had been found on the floor. Behind it were blood spatters on the bed and wall. It had been a quick and violent death. But even more frightening was the giant “X” that had been ripped into the plaster walls, so deep that it exposed the inner boards like gouged-out bone. She’d never seen such fury before. Such anger and otherworldly power. Clearly, The Black Spectre had been out for revenge of the worst kind. The only words that came to mind were the verse that poor young Ricky had repeated over and over as he had valiantly tried to comfort himself to sleep the night before. “Is he in Heaven or is he in Hell? That damned elusive Pimpernel.”


I Want to Sleep With Yul Brynner

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I Want to Sleep With Yul Brynner By Katherine Tomlinson Bangkok, Oriental setting And the city don’t know that the city is getting. The crème de la crème of the chess world in a show with everything but Yul Brynner —Tim Rice, Chess

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f an actor is lucky, he becomes famous for a role he’s played. Peter O’Toole will always be Lawrence of Arabia, Richard Kiley will always be remembered as the Man of La Mancha. Even Sean Connery, who carved out a notable career after hanging up his Walther PPK, will always be known as the first James Bond. (Barry Nelson and Bob Holness don’t count, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, look up “James Bond” in Wikipedia.) Like it or not, when Sean dies, the obits will lead with his most famous role, not Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Yul Brynner was not that kind of actor, and his most famous role, King Mongkut of Siam in The King and I, was not that kind of part— something another man could play differently but as well (with all due respect to Lou Diamond Phillips, who was nominated for a Tony in the 1996 Broadway revival). The play’s official title was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, but from the opening strains of the overture, it was clear that it was Yul Brynner’s The King and I. Striding the stage, no, stalking it—his fists on his hips, his stance wide-legged, he WAS the King of Siam.

He moved like he was made of silk, flowing across a stage or screen in a way that was gracefully feral, as if he were the unnatural offspring of Fred Astaire and a panther. He originated the stage role in 1951 and starred in several revivals, including one in 1985, the year he died. He won a Tony and then he won an Oscar for the 1956 film version. Sixteen years after the film, he reprised the role of King Mongkut for a short-lived television show called Anna and the King co-starring Samantha Eggar in the part Deborah Kerr made famous. He was 52 but hadn’t lost a step.


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All of his online bios note that he died the same day as Orson Welles, so we’ll note it here too, especially since the two were costars in a forgettable flick called Flight From Ashiva. The movie also co-starred a group of B-movie stalwarts including George Chakiris and covergirl-turned-actress Suzy Parker (the first model to make more than $100 an hour), alongside perennial tough-guy Richard Widmark and two-time Oscar nominee (and multiple Emmy winner) Shirley Knight. Brynner re-teamed with Deborah Kerr in the 1959 thriller The Journey, a story about a group of Westerners trapped in Budapest as the Russians move in. Yul played Major Surov, a man tormented by his lust for Deborah, a married aristocrat, and showed his angst by going all emo (in a manly way), slinking around in black leather, smoldering and smoking and shooting vodka. The movie’s ad campaign played up the sexual tension from the previous Kerr/Brynner pairing and promised fans would get to see a little more steam, built into the premise that Yul’s character would let everyone go on their merry way if Kerr had sex with him. (Seriously…would you call that a dilemma?) It’s all very over the top, and the acting style brands it as mid-century melodrama but still…there’s something kind of effective about it. The movie’s tough to find (it’s not on Netflix) but if you have the patience for it, it’s available on YouTube, chopped up into 10-minute segments.

The same year as The Journey, Brynner appeared (with hair) as Solomon in Solomon and Sheba co-starring Gina Lollobrigida as Sheba. He also played Jason Compson in the film adaptation of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, a novel about a dysfunctional family of fading Southern aristocrats. He was one of the family. Interesting casting choice. The next year, Yul took on a part that pretty much convinced audiences he could play an albino woman if he wanted to. The role was Chris Adams in The Magnificent Seven, an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai set in 19th-century America. How cool was Yul Brynner? He played a fast gun in the Old West who dressed in skin-tight black, sported a bald head under his black hat (and he was one of the good guys), and spoke with an indefinable accent. And nobody laughed.


I Want to Sleep With Yul Brynner He was so cool he could stand next to Steve McQueen and not disappear. He was so cool you knew Eli Wallach and his bandits never had a chance even if they had the home village advantage. He was so cool…well, let’s just say it’s no accident that his first name rhymes with “cool.” Thirteen years after appearing in The Magnificent Seven, Yul would rock a practically identical outfit as the cyborg gunslinger in Westworld, a futuristic western from the pen of the late, great Michael Crichton. Westworld came out in 1973, eleven years before The Terminator, and it could be argued that Brynner’s “Gunslinger” character was 100 degrees chillier than Cameron’s title character. It was something about those metallic contact lenses masking Yul’s expressive eyes. Brynner made 44 films in a career that spanned 41 years. When you make that many movies, it’s a numbers game. He was in some great movies. He was in some crap movies. He alternated art-house fare with pulp fictions like The File on the Golden Goose, The Double Man, and Triple Cross. He co-starred with some of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia and Anne Baxter, and Katharine Hepburn. He had an eye for the ladies and married four times. He had five children— two adopted from Vietnam (Angelina Jolie has nothing on him) and one a love child. He played in westerns, he made thrillers, he appeared in such classics as The Brothers Karamazov (playing Dmitri Karamazov) and in Edward Anholt’s adaptation of Jean Giraudoux’s play The Madwoman of Chaillot. He played good guys and bad boys and some who were both at once. He played the title role of Taras Bulba. He played Pancho Villa in Villa Rides. He made an

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uncredited appearance as a transvestite cabaret singer in Terry Southern’s cult film The Magic Christian. (I’d love to hear the story behind that!) He made an indelible impression as the swashbuckling pirate Jean Lafitte in The Buccaneer playing opposite Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson. The two had costarred in 1956’s Ten Commandments, Heston as Moses and Yul as pharaoh Rameses II. Yul was reportedly so determined not to be eclipsed by Heston’s physical perfection that he threw himself into a vigorous body building regimen. Let’s just go on record here and say, “Charlton who?”


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Towards the end of his life, Yul’s film career started to take a turn for the pulptastic as he appeared in foreign-made movies with titles like Blood Reckoning and The Ultimate Warrior. Don’t judge him harshly. A man’s got to eat, and by all accounts, Yul lived large. Even after his death, Yul could still stop a show. Dying of lung cancer, he recorded a dramatic antismoking plea for the American Cancer Society. When it aired, the announcer led with the words, “Ladies and gentlemen, the late Yul Brynner.” (You can see the PSA on YouTube: http://www.youtube. com/watch?v=JNjunlWUJJI) If you watch the video, you’ll note something strange. Yul’s ears have a peculiar waxy pallor and look distractingly elf-like. Decades before actors like Will Smith, Dwayne Johnson, and Vin Diesel embarked on careers that were essentially racially neutral, the ethnically ambiguous Yul made the racial issue irrelevant at the box office (at least in his own movies). He played Russians, Egyptians, Mexicans, all looking pretty much the same, although in Taras

Bulba and The Poppy Is Also a Flower, his characters had hair. He would make up stories about his heritage, just to mess with reporters. Sometimes he told people he was just a “nice, clean-cut Mongolian boy.” In fact, was really only about 1/32nd Mongolian, but he never let the truth get in the way of a good story. He lied about his height. (IMDB says he was 5’10” but most sources say he was more like 5’8”.) He could be egotistical. (An actor with an ego, who would have expected that?) He was a tireless humanitarian who was also fiercely competitive. In short, he was an unapologetic alpha male who lived his life on his own terms then left that PSA as a curtain call. His ashes are buried in a churchyard in France (no plot at Forest Lawn for him) but his more fitting memorial is probably his star on the Walk of Fame. It’s located at 6162 Hollywood Boulevard. That’s just a few blocks east of the legendary center of Hollywood at Hollywood and Vine.


Catching Time

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Catching Time By VJ and Justin Body illustrations by Molly Brewer

“W

here was your father last seen?” Cary Lane asked her. He floated behind his desk as if on a chair, even swiveling occasionally to enhance the effect. His pipe glistened and shone, reflecting the beauty of the creature before him. “I’ve never met my father,” Anasazi answered. “He left my mother before she died.” “And when did she die?” “Seven months before I was born.” Cary rolled up to the desk in his nonexistent chair and leaned into it. “What did you say?” “My mother died of a super plague designed by an old enemy of yours, the Prince of the Forest. But before she let out her last breath, invisible elves gathered me up from her womb and raised me in a crude incubator built into a hollowed-out tree. The details are complex and rather gruesome, but the point is, I have never met my father, nor do I have any idea what his or my mother’s names were. Nor do I know anything else about them, other than what I have told you, which was relayed to me by the invisible elves.” “I can see why you came to me,” Cary said, and rose. “Such cases are my specialty. I love a challenge. But how did you find me?” “I told her.” The man known as The Puffin emerged from the shadows. “Ah, yes,” Cary floated to the Puffin’s side. “My old protégé’. I should have known. You always

did have a weakness for a nice piece of flesh. If I recall that’s why we had to part company.” The Puffin said nothing and Cary turned to Anasazi. “Forgive an old man for holding a grudge, my dear. And now, I believe we must pay a visit to the Prince of the Forest.” “Rubbish,” the Puffin said. His pale chest was exposed as always, covered only with the ancient tribal tattoos he had etched himself with the quill of an unwilling urchin. “It would be my guess,” Detective Cary Lane deduced, “that due to deforestation, the Prince of the Forest has been driven from his kingdom. I further suspect that the government of his birthplace, Canada, though it vehemently denies his existence, protects and supports this prince, as he is integral to Canada’s national defense.” “This is foolish!” the pale Puffin cried out. “Even if your ‘suspicions’ are correct, this prince must be guarded by hundreds of the most highly trained soldiers in Canada!” He looked into Anasazi’s brown and beautiful face for support. The woman’s dark eyes looked away, lost in a world where her mother and father had raised her lovingly in the old ways of their tribe. “Hold your tongue, apprentice! I am not finished.” Cary spoke in commanding, yet loving tones. “I have received reports that the Canadian embassy in New York City has ordered 50 new Canadian maple trees for its grounds.”


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Anasazi looked up and said in wistful tones, “I’ve been to that embassy. Fifty more trees would make it a forest.” “Exactly.” Cary smiled proudly. That pasty Puffin wished he had stayed on the beach. Being reunited with his old mentor was less than enjoyable. “So you think the Prince of the Forest is in the Canadian embassy, waiting for his native trees so that he can command their spirits, and rebuild his kingdom here?” “All those years of training have not gone completely to waste, I see.” Detective Lane produced a pipe and began to smoke it. The Puffin stuck his chest out. “But even if we can reach the embassy before the prince’s trees arrive, he’ll still be guarded by crack Canadian commandos. Do you really think they will let us see this Prince that they claim they’ve never heard of?” “Do you remember when you were twelve, and we hid for forty days and forty nights in the desert, evading the one man who has ever outwitted me?” Cary asked with a twinkle in his cloudy eye. “That man was a terrorist! I’ll have nothing to do with him!” The whiter-than-white Puffin narrowed his red eyes. “That was many years ago,” Cary said. “This man, Ur of the Chaldeans, may have a way of finding the Prince. This may be Anasazi’s only hope of finding her father.” “If he’s even alive.” The Puffin shot a glance at Anasazi. “I’m sorry for that, Anasazi. I’ll do this. For you. I’ll work with that killer Ur.” Detective Lane brought the three searchers to a hotel across the street from the Canadian embassy, where Ur was waiting for them. Unfortunately, before they could have a conversation, a long arrow shattered the window and plunged itself into Ur’s head, bursting it like an overripe watermelon. Cary held out his hand

and stopped a dozen other arrows in midair. Anasazi held out her arm as if an invisible bird were perched on it and was speaking to her. She turned to the others. “They’re coming,” she said. Cary grinned and telekinetically formed the arrows into a spinning blade. Military men with crossbows and knives poured in through the window. Cary advanced his blade and shredded them as they came in. More men began pouring in from the door and the other windows. The Puffin speared them with his razorsharp wings, while Anasazi conjured invisible beasts that trampled many others. Soon it was impossible to walk without tripping over dead bodies, and our heroes could not tell the dead from the living. All was a jumble of blood and earth and dark men with dark purposes. Many invisible animals were slain as well. The arrows seemed to hang in midair, as when Cary had held them there only minutes before. Blood seeped from invisible wounds and trickled down the backs of invisible death. Sometimes the arrows would spontaneously tumble to the floor, and the Puffin knew that invisible elves were pulling them from the beasts and trying to heal them, but today was not a day of healing. A gun was brandished in the Puffin’s face, and he noticed for the first time that he was the only one still standing; the others were in the clutches of the enemy. The gun appeared to be an ancient six-shooter and its owner looked like a cowboy. “Cowboys and Indians,” the cowboy sneered, glancing at Anasazi’s unconscious beauty. “Ain’t it always the way.” Master Detective Lane considered: Ur was dead, for the moment, and Cary was not at his physical prime. Neither was the Puffin for that matter—he had given up physical discipline years ago for the ease of a pistol. Anasazi, on the other hand, knew the secrets of her tribe and


Catching Time could kill a man with one blow. Still, if these soldiers were crack Canadian special forces, as Lane suspected, they might take these three heroes to the Prince of the Forest. The detective let fly his gambit. “Take us to the Prince of the Forest, or none of you will live to see tomorrow,” Cary warned. “Who in tarnation is that?!” yelled the cowboy, “Kill ’em!” He opened fire. Cary threw himself to the floor to avoid the spray of arrows and bullets. It bruised him, and hurt like Cary hadn’t hurt for years. These three weren’t immortal like Ur—Ur of the Chaldeans who was blessed by God to be resurrected from any death suffered in battle—was it enough to be heroes? The Puffin struck out at one soldier’s groin and took his crossbow, making use of it. A suddenly conscious Anasazi utilized the secrets of her ancestors and killed men with single blows, each of these blows guided by invisible creatures—the soldiers of nature that were her comrades. Cary began to strangle the cowboy with the force of his mind. They were heroes. That was enough. The sound of rapid-fire weaponry interrupted this ruckus. After a moment every one of the evil soldiers lay on the floor, covered in blood. The cowboy was sawed in half by the gunfire. Five muscle-bound commandos leapt into the room. The smallest one spoke. “Lieutenant Commander Peter Pub of Canadian Army Special Forces!” “What do you want?” Anasazi asked. “We’re here to take you to the Prince of the Forest, ma’am. He sensed that you were in danger, and dispatched my unit to rescue you. Please come with me, all three of you.” Pub made hand motions to his men and two of them gathered up Ur’s lifeless body. They boarded a helicopter hovering outside the hotel-room window, and flew to the

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Canadian embassy. It was not long before they were in the presence of the Prince of the Forest. “Behold, mortals,” the Prince bellowed. “I am the Prince of the Forest.” Indeed he was. His beard was a glorious mess of vine, his flesh the incorruptible blend of plant and animal. A thousand hearts beat within his chest and encircling him were the souls of the most powerful living things: the Sequoia, the Lion, the Whale, and the Eagle. Beside him stood a case made of glass, and inside the case stood countless hourglasses, one for every forest man was trying to destroy. Anasazi fell to her knees in fright. “Is it just me,” Cary asked. “Or is this scene eerily reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz?” “Cary Lane,” the Prince said. “You have never shown me the respect I deserve.” “Not so,” Cary said. “I have always showed you the very lack of respect you have earned, with your brutal, purposeless shenanigans and contempt for life. You may be able to fool this young girl.” Cary pulled her to her feet. “But I know you.” “You call me brutal, Cary Lane,” The Prince said. “Perhaps you are here to discover how brutal I can be when provoked.” “I’ve come here for information.” Cary lit his pipe. Peter Pub stepped forward. “How dare you burn leaves in the presence of the Prince!” Cary stabbed him in the eye with the pointy end of his pipe. Peter scuttled into a corner, wailing and trying desperately to dislodge the pipe from his eye. “Well, I can’t very well smoke it now, can I?” Cary said. The other four guards lunged at Cary. Cary deflected two of them with telekinetic force bolts and poisonous barbs exploding from beneath the Puffin’s mechanical wings did away with the others.


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“You are weak, Prince,” Cary said, stepping towards him. “Why else would you employ these pitiful Canadians?” “The Canadians,” the Prince answered, “have discovered a living unicorn. I was brought in to tame it.” Cary stepped back. “Oh, no,” The Puffin whispered. “What is it?” Anasazi asked. “It’s what the Prince has always been after. Unicorn blood. If he has unicorn blood pumping through his veins, he’s unstoppable!” The Prince’s right hand transformed into a mighty formation of roots and wrapped around Cary, squeezing away his life. His pitiful form crumpled like an aluminum can. “Nooooo!” The Puffin extended his razor sharp wings and flew at the Prince’s belly. Out of the Prince’s chest came a giant barbed stinger, not unlike that of a wasp, that stung the Puffin in the spine. He fell to the earth and lay still. The Prince dropped Cary’s nigh lifeless body and knelt over the Puffin. “You will serve me well, young one,” the Prince said. “Your heart is a Puffin’s heart.” From behind her tears Anasazi saw a bright light, and there appeared a man. A man who had been dead. A man who had known death many times but who God would not let truly die until the appointed time. Ur of the Chaldeans had returned. He turned to face the Prince of the Forest. “No!” Anasazi begged. “He’s unstoppable!” “Nothing is unstoppable,” Ur said. “He is,” Cary whispered, his voice so twisted with pain as to be unrecognizable. Ur hesitated for a moment, but he could not let the girl die at this beast’s hands in order to serve his own honor. He gathered the pair up in arms that knew no fatigue and ran with speed deer have never known. For a week Cary Lane lay on the pallet Ur had made for him within his cave hideout. Ur,

Detective Lane, and Anasazi needed to lie low until they could come up with some plan to outsmart the Prince of the Forest, whose men were searching for them. After a week, Ur addressed Anasazi. “Detective Lane is in worse condition than before. He has slipped into a coma.” “We have to get him to a hospital!” cried Anasazi, “He won’t survive in these caves.” “But how long will he survive out in the open against the military might of Canada and the ever-growing power of the Prince of the Forest?” Ur shook his head, “No, he will be safer here.” “This is all my fault! Curse me and my quest! Now Cary is going to die, and so will we!” She began to cry. “Now, now.” Ur held the young woman in his arms, “Do not cry. I may not be the world’s greatest detective, but I do have a plan. I must go to get help. “Don’t worry,” he reassured her, “I will return, but until then, the equipment and supplies I have here will be enough to keep both you and Lane alive. And do not forget about the Puffin. A clever beach-bum he is. The Prince of the Forest should have known better than to let him live.” Ur gathered his things and made his way through the caves. Meanwhile, the Puffin was a busy little albino. He had constructed several pipe-bombs and Molotov cocktails from the gardening supplies he had been forced to use in the care of the Prince of the Forest’s gardens. The Puffin did not take kindly to imprisonment, and these weapons were going to be his instruments of revenge. When he found himself in the Prince of the Forest’s personal chambers he unleashed his fury. The explosive force of his weapons set the Prince’s chambers ablaze. The fire was uncontrollable, and men ran this way and that, many being burnt in the fire and many being maimed


Catching Time by it. The Puffin lent death blows liberally, dealing out punishment like playing cards. Canadian troops took the Prince of the Forest and loaded him into the back of an eighteen wheeler, speeding from the burning buildings of the embassy, causing chaos in the crowded New York streets. The Puffin was not to be evaded with such ease, however. He slid behind the wheel of a Canadian military jeep and sped like the devil toward the escaping truck. The cave was cool and dark, and Anasazi huddled with invisible animals for warmth. She could see Cary’s eyes twitching beneath his eyelids. Then she started to float. Everything in the cave began to float, to hover above ground. Even the invisible animals floated. And Cary awakened. The Puffin stood up in the jeep, spread his arms, and his razor-sharp wings expanded until they nearly blocked out the sun. Ten, 20, 30 feet and more, until his full wingspan of 50 feet lifted the jeep off the ground. “Fool!” The Prince bellowed, and a thousand birds of the air enveloped the Puffin and ate

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his flesh. Howling in anguish, he plummeted to the damp earth. And there he would have stayed, dying, had a man for whom death held no dominion not found him and saved his life. Ur of the Chaldeans lifted the Puffin’s head and offered him sweet healing water, and the Puffin drank of it. Anasazi watched as Cary paced about the cave as if he had never been harmed. Cary had said not a word after Anasazi had explained their situation. Instead he concentrated. He concentrated with a discipline unknown to ordinary men. Occasionally he would wipe sweat from his dignified brow or sigh a sigh which for other men would have meant failure, but never lost his concentration nor his determination that he not fail. “How is it you have been healed so very quickly?” Anasazi asked. “Quickly?” Cary asked incredulously, almost smiling. “My dear, I am healing myself. As we speak I am telekinetically repairing my own body, and with great pain as a by-product, I assure you.” “How many times have you done this?” Anasazi asked, “Perhaps a hundred before I retired a decade ago. This is the first time since then. You didn’t know this, my dear, but the Prince of the Forest is my greatest enemy. You see, in my last encounter with him, one week before my retirement, the Prince shattered my spine. My team and I defeated him, yes, and drove him back into the forest, but I lacked, and still lack, the telekinetic skill to completely repair my spine. I am a quadriplegic, my dear. It is only with years of practice that I have learned to telekinetically manipulate my limbs in order to mimic the movements of a healthy man.”


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“I had no idea, sir,” Anasazi said apologetically. “I’m surprised the Puffin didn’t tell you. Just how close are the two of you?” There would be no answer. No answer but the bellowing of death and the voice of a demon at the mouth of the cave. “Cary Lane!” The Prince of the Forest called out. “I shall take pleasure in your slow death!” Anasazi was an Indian in the truest sense of the word, and therefore was privy to many of the secrets only Native Americans know. One of these secrets was the method of talking to her spiritual animal guides. Anasazi had many of these, and today they would warn her of danger. A fawn, youngest of the deer, nuzzled her hand, and spoke in a small voice, “My maiden Anasazi!

There is great danger at the mouth of the cave! The Prince of the Forest—who is good to us in most seasons but fearful when angered—looms there, and his wish is for your death!” Anasazi bent down and touched the animal’s muzzle with her nose, “Good deer, thank you for your warning. Now run to your mother! I fly from this place.” “Have you gone mad?!” Even the world’s greatest detective couldn’t figure out who she was babbling to. “Quiet! The spirits of the birds of the air are telling me a way out of this place! The Prince of the Forest is at the mouth of the cave, and he wants blood. Quick, follow me!” Anasazi took off running, and Detective Cary Lane couldn’t help but find her swift thinking, and indeed her powers, appealing in the most basic ways. These two heroes fled from the caves, Lane following Anasazi, Anasazi following her animal guides. Ur and The Puffin were reunited with their two companions at the warehouse hide-out Ur had told them about. “If anything happens and we’re separated, we meet back here!” he had said. When they entered the building, however, Detective Lane and Anasazi were surprised to see five huge men with their friends. “Ah! There you are, my friends!” Ur kissed them both, then indicated the five giants. “These are the five sons of Simon. They are fishermen by trade, and it is said nothing can stop them.” “Hopefully we can find five tuxedos that will fit them,” Cary said, “Because we’re off to another embassy.” “Eh?” Ur looked to Lane quizzically. “I’ve been thinking, and I’ve figured out who and where Anasazi’s father is. I see the patterns. They all fit. Your father is the King of Jordan, and he is right now in the Jordanian embassy. There will be a party thrown there tomorrow night. We will be in attendance. I trust you can get us in, Ur?” Cary asked. “Of course,” Ur replied.


Catching Time The next night they mingled in a crowd of dignitaries, waiting for the King’s appearance. “The King of Jordan?!” the Puffin whispered harshly. “That is ridiculous, Cary!” “I thought perhaps those years of beachcombing might have taught you a thing or two, Puffin,” Cary responded. “But apparently you’ve remained the same foolish young man.” “And you’ve remained the same arrogant old one, despite your injuries. Did you know you still don’t walk like a normal man? The others haven’t noticed, but they haven’t been looking. You walk like a puppet on strings, Cary.” “It’s interesting you should mention puppets, Puffin,” Cary said, and beckoned to the others to draw near. “I must now reveal to you that I have gathered you all here under false pretenses. Of course the King of Jordan is isn’t Anasazi’s father. But he does possess the one other living unicorn. It is important that we destroy the unicorn, for if the Prince finds it, and mates the two, he will gain enough power through their offspring to control the entire world. Oceans, mountains, and all the beasts of the earth would be under his control. This is how the ancients ruled the earth, and some say the cosmos.” “Until the unicorns died out of a mysterious disease,” Ur said. “I know the story.” “A mysterious disease designed by the Prince of the Forest,” Cary continued. “He wished to control the earth on his own, without the others. He planned to kill the unicorns, all but two, and these two he would possess, and thus possess all the power. The Prince of The Desert foiled his plan and hid both of the unicorns, then used the last of his power to take all the other princes to another world, leaving the Prince of the Forest to live, powerlessly by those standards, on this heap of rubble we call the Earth.” “So you lied to us!” the Puffin screamed, the blood rushing to his face, coloring his albino’s face. “And you used Anasazi!” “I will find your father, Anasazi,” Cary

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promised. “In due time.” “I doubt it,” Ur said, and took a mysticallooking bottle from his belt. “We knew you would lead us to the other unicorn if we only gave you the chance.” Out of the bottle wafted mist, much like that of a genie, and the Prince of the Forest appeared. “Tell me where it is, Cary Lane,” the Prince demanded. “Or all these people die!” “I told you he was nothing but a terrorist! A thug for hire! We should have killed him for good back in the desert years ago!” the Puffin cried in pale tones. “If only you knew how!” Ur sneered. “Silence, monkeys,” the Prince of the Forest commanded, “Give me what I want.” He touched Cary’s face, and looked into his eyes. “Why? So that you can become invincible and plant your seeds throughout the world, your wretched ivy sparing only those your find worthy?! Who died and made you God!?” Cary screamed. “God is an Oak tree, and I am a sapling born of its seed. Give me what I want!” “Give it to him, Cary! He’ll kill us if you don’t! My spirit friends won’t attack him, nothing we can do can kill him.” Anasazi was trying hard not to cry. “Just because we can’t kill him doesn’t mean we can’t kick his butt.” The Puffin tossed a grenade in the Prince’s direction, “Fire in the hole!” The Puffin dove behind a table. The blast disintegrated the Prince’s body, and killed three of the five sons of Simon. “You only destroyed his body! His soul exists in the Amazon, and the Everglades—wherever there’s a tree. He’ll be back,” Cary warned. “Hopefully not in my lifetime!” The Puffin emerged from behind the table to face Ur and the remaining sons of Simon. “My spirit friends wouldn’t attack your boss, but they have no qualms about you!” Anasazi said as she summoned Grizzly bears from the great beyond.


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“And I’ve got more grenades!” the Puffin added. “And I’m smarter than you’ll ever be,” Cary boasted. “Yes, you’re right. We don’t stand a chance in a fight against you.” Ur drew his sword, and set it on the ground, “So I surrender. I am your servant.” “Don’t believe a word of it, Cary! He’s as evil as they come. A demon on Earth! We should kill him now!” The Puffin was mad with rage. “And become like the Prince of the Forest? Sparing only those we think should be spared? Give him a chance, Detective.” Anasazi’s words were soothing. “Put down your bombs, Puffin, we…” Before Cary was finished speaking, Ur caught them off guard and leapt upon Anasazi, drawing a knife and holding it to her throat. “Put down your weapons or she dies!” Ur ordered. “Put down the knife, Ur,” Cary said. “Do you really think I will hesitate to let her die when the fate of the world is at stake? Do you think she will hesitate to give it?” “I won’t have to,” Anasazi said, and became as invisible as the elves which had guided her since her birth. Ur could still feel her, her neck in his grasp, her squirming body, her invisible knife plunging into his belly. The Puffin stepped forward and held Ur up with one hand, pressing a revolver into his chest with another. “So God keeps bringing you back, huh?” the Puffin sneered. “Wellm do you think he’s going to do it again, after what you’ve done here today? Maybe he was giving you a chance, you know? A chance to get it right. . . Too late.” The Puffin pumped three shots into Ur’s heart. He crumpled to the floor, gasping, a gasping echoed by a magical one-horned horse in the royal stables a few short minutes later. Cary’s telekinetic grip tightened around the animal’s throat.

“No!” King Hussein of Jordan, a proud man, bereft of emotions, wept like a small child. “You don’t understand! He is not like other animals! He is. . . I love him. Take my kingdom! Anything! He is one of my children, one of my. . .” The rest was inaudible, but throughout it he kept his arm under the unicorn’s head, stroking its mane, caressing it with his face. He knew he could not stop these gods who had come to take away what he most prized, his only true love. They would do what they wished and leave him emasculated and broken on the stable floor. “Cary,” the Puffin said. “Just stop, just. . . Isn’t there another way?” He held Anasazi to his chest, shielding her from the sight. “As long as that creature lives, the Prince of the Forest will still be a threat,” Cary assured them. “It must be done.” And the unicorn breathed its last. “And what of my father?” Anasazi asked a week later as Cary saddled a horse to leave the Puffin’s beach hideaway. He had said nothing to either of them after spending the entire week in a deep sleep, a hibernation, the Puffin called it, recovering from the battles he had just endured. “What of him?” Cary asked, fatigue still overwhelming him. “We are each other’s children.” King Hussein of Jordan, a proud man, bereft of emotions, sat in sackcloth and ashes, weeping for seven days, until a man came to him. A young man who understood his ways and who dressed in the wildest of animal skins. “Allah has sent me to you, my king,” the young man said. “Because of a great wrong which has been done to you.” The young man lifted up the king’s head. “Do you really believe a creature as magnificent as the unicorn cannot be resurrected?” “Who are you?” The king asked. “My name is Ur.”


The Eternals

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The Eternals Melliott’s Quest Excerpt Chapter 15: Melliott’s Quest Begun By Peter Mark May

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t had been eight weeks since Melliott had set sail on the morning tide from the shores of Roedain, in the ship that bore the same name as the land they had left. All his crew had touched the helm that day eight weeks before and sworn their lives to their young Captain and his quest to cross the Oldest Ocean. Their stores of food, and more importantly fresh water, were running low and Melliott had navigated them to an uncharted island that was the largest and last of a small archipelago. Melliott took two boats ashore to try and find fresh fruits to stop the crew from getting RedRibs disease. Shanitus was left in charge with five of the crew and warned his Captain not to tarry longer than need-be. They landed on a white sandy beach and the air was humid and the tree near the shoreline were tall with pointed strands rather than the leaves of the forests back home. Not far into the denser close jungle, they found a cool fresh stream that ran from the centre of the island. Leaving Venett, Caylett, Khanis and Alliott to fill the water barrels and pick any safe fruit and nuts they could find near the shoreline; Melliott led Desiles with his crossbow and Mue with his bow deeper into the jungle in search of wild beasts to kill and cure in salt for their long sea voyage. An hour had passed and the party on the beach had nearly filled all their barrels while

Melliott and his two companions had hunted. They had soon shot three wild pigs and was each dragging one back to the stream to lead them back to the beach. When Mue who was the ship’s look-out and had the keenest eyes, spotted some old vine-draped ruins and a cave entrance. Mue pointed them out to his Captain and all three gazed at the cave entrance covered by overgrown vegetation, that might have been once upon a long time ago; a splendid archway. A broken path led past two near-hidden statues or gargoyles in the undergrowth that stood on columns either side of the entrance. They looked like primeval versions of the wild pigs they had killed with bolt and arrow. Desiles cleared away some of the vegetation from the statue nearest to him and saw the statues had leaner bodies than the round pigs they had shot and had more profound heads with three horns protruding. Mue drew his knife and drew closer to the other ugly guardian. They were made of a pink, blue and white veined marble that looked as tough as old oaken roots. “Captain Melliott,” spoke Mue, squinting into the gloom of the entrance, “many things seem to glow within this tunnel or cave like gold or diamonds. Shall we enter?” Mue was well renowned for his eagle sight for wenches, shoals of fish and shiny valuables. Melliott looked uneasily at the gargoyles, then at Desiles, a frown creasing the brow of his


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tanned handsome face. This was his first real test of leadership since they had left home, because most of his orders since then had been purely of a seafaring nature. “We have hunted well and in good time Captain, but the say is yours?” Answered Desiles to Melliott’s questioning gaze. “Then we will reward ourselves with a glimpse within, but be wary; old and empty places can still bring grief to the careless.” With that, Melliott drew his sword that had been forged long ago for his father in the old realm of Raven. Cutting away some of the undergrowth and vines that clogged the entrance, he glanced quickly at the silent guardians and plunged under the shadowy arch. The entrance led into an oval room encrusted with the same stone that the statues were made of. The chamber wasn’t as dark as it seemed outside and light somehow filtered in from the ceiling high above them. Melliott stopped in the centre of the chamber, with Desiles behind him, while Mue, who had seen the contents of the room, had quickly crept forward to examine them. On three tables at the far end of the chamber in an alcove lay strewn piles of gold coins, jewels of every hue, ring, bracelets and shields with golden designs. Melliott’s eyes were drawn to the long swords with ornate gem-tipped hilts and pommels, plus the shirts of silver mail and helms of gold and bronze. Melliott stood leaning with both hands on his sword, while Mue followed by Desiles began to examine and fondle the riches with wide longing eyes. Desiles shouldered his crossbow and took a long sword from one of the tables, sending a rain of small gemstones to fall upon the dirt covered floor. While Mue who had only made a meager living from being a sailor at the best of times was like a starving man before a bountiful breakfast table. Gems and gold coins fell through his fingers, yet some of the rings

seemed to get stuck onto digits somehow as he did it. Grabbing a periapt upon a golden chain that had a square of whitish-silver metal with a blood- red stone at its centre; Mue rushed over to Melliott. “Isn’t it fine Captain, good enough to caress the neck of any woman, maybe even the neck of a Captain’s sweetheart?” Mue held the amulet aloft, then thrust it deep into the satchel that Melliott had over his shoulder for fruit, trying to silently win over his Captain. Melliott smiled, putting his hand into the bag to recover the periapt. “A Captain needs no other sweetheart than his ship, his love of the sea and his heart belongs only to the next horizon. Now put back all that you have touched and this.” He ordered, trying to pull the periapt unsuccessfully from his satchel bag. “Captain, a sailor has rights to booty and this treasure lies here doing no aid to anyone, surely this old ruin would not miss a few items.” Pleaded Mue to the young High Kinsman Captain; now holding now a golden cup in his hands. Desiles looked at the sword and then to his Captain and decided to put it back. “We are adventures on a quest, not thieves Mue. Only the old treasures of our land and forefathers will we take and only when Zillah and all the enemies of Raven are slain.” Melliott spoke with such stern pride, causing such shame to sink into the sailor’s greedy eyes that he swiftly turned to remove all the rings from his fingers. From outside there came a sudden crack of stone breaking and two simultaneous thuds, as something heavy hit the ground. Melliott forgot about the periapt in his satchel and raised his sword, while Desiles retook the golden sword he had just put down and Mue drew his knife, some of his fingers still glittering with golden rings. Melliott lead the way out of the chamber


The Eternals and through the archway back into the warm sunlight. Pushing through the undergrowth past the columns, he saw the three wild pigs they had killed had vanished. Behind him, Mue gave a cry of fright. “Captain Melliott the statues have gone.” Both Melliott and Desiles turned to look in astonishment at the empty plinths which had once housed the pig-statues not more than a few short minutes ago. “Quickly we must return with all haste to the ship and hope my foolish blunders do not go ill against us.” Melliott led them past the place where the wild pigs had been left and moved with running boots in the direction of the beach. Desiles with his treasure sword and Mue with his keen eyes, at the rear. They had only gone a short way before there came a cry from Mue. They turned to see him a good fifteen yards behind, looking back down the path they just run along. He stood shaking with fear, pointing back at something that was obscured to Melliott and Desiles by the turns of the path and the intruding foliage. His companions ran back to the sailor, who stood frantically trying to pull the taken rings from his fingers. They had nearly reached him when something crashed out of the trees to block their way. It was one of the twain of statues, hewn of ancient enchanted rock and its size was twice that of wild pigs they had killed for food. It had three long sharp horns on its head and they were pointing in their direction. Mue cried out in distress as the other statue, that had suddenly become animated, blocked the poor sailors retreat the other way. “Captain, help.” Mue wailed as he tried to remove on last stubborn ring from the middle finger of his left hand. Yet it was wedged tight and so he forgot any hope of trying to rid himself of the stolen ring and pulled out his knife in a vain attempt to defend himself.

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“Come on,” Melliott urged Desiles as they both charged at the first guardian statue, which cut them off from their shipmate. Both their swords, sending painful vibrations up both their strong arms. Desiles sword managed to chip of a small chunk of its shoulder, while Melliott’s goodly blade cut off its right horn. Unharmed by the attack the stone creature only grew more enraged and advanced on its attackers, thrashing its head from side to side. Melliott and Desiles had no other course but to retreat, with quick defensive blows. Mue had somehow evaded the other guardian’s first attack, but at the cost of his knife, that now lay embedded in the path two yard from him. With his hands in front of him trying to get the last ring from his finger, as he watched the guardian. The stone statue watched him with deadly purpose. Quickly Mue flashed his ring hand out to the side and the stone guardian’s eyes followed it. Seeing his opportunity he charged forward to reclaim his knife. Yet the guardian had enchanted hast and just as Mue raised his knife to attack once more, the stone creature caught him dead in the midriff with all three of its deadly horns. His companions could only watch in helpless horror he was whipped from side to side, screaming in mortal agony. Finally the guardian threw him from its horns against a tree with a lifeless thud, his stomach torn to gory shreds. Melliott cried out in dismay, but the path to his fallen companion was still blocked the other guardian. All he and Desiles could do was to turn and run, until they came to a small clearing covered by dead leaves. Here they turned to fight, but only one of the guardians seemed to have followed them. “Raven!” Melliott screamed the war cry and charged the guardian from the right hand side, but the charging beast was too quick for him and his blow went wide as the statue butted him with the side of its head. Yet fortune favoured


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the young High Kinsman, as even though he fell bruised and winded, he was lucky the guardian hit him where he had cut off one of its horns: saving him from more terrible injuries. As Melliott lay on the brown leaves gasping for air, Desiles bravely rushed in to attack the boar statue, yet he too was knocked back into a tree and stood in a winded daze. “Arrrgh.” The warrior cried out in pain as the guardian impaled him to the tree, its long centre horn thrust deep into his ribs. He screamed again as the guardian tried to free itself, making every movement absolute agony. With a last stroke of strength and bravery; Desiles brought the bottom edge of his sword down onto the head of the beast. With a flash of brilliant light, the blade of his treasure sword shattered as it broke the centre horn from the guardian’s head. Melliott staggered to his feet to see the boar guardian turn to grey stone and crumble to pieces at Desiles’ feet. Still doubled-up and short of breath, Melliott picked up his sword from the leaves and stumbled over to the tree. Holding the end of the stone guardian’s horn, Desiles pushed himself along its length until he was free and fell to his knees with a blood spitting groan. Melliott threw himself to the ground in front of his fallen shipmate; who bowed his head, while trying to stem the flow of blood from his hauberk. “Desiles; bravest of warriors, worry not, I will carry thee to the beach and safety.” Melliott put his hand on the warrior’s shoulder for comfort. “Carry me not, for my quest ends here Captain. Save the others and fulfill your destiny High Kinsman.” With these words Desiles the Ravenhair warrior fell forward in death and great honour. “No,” cried Melliott caressing the dead warriors black hair. “I will not let yours or Mue’s deaths be in vain. I am sorry I was not a stronger

Captain, now I must leave you brave Ravenhair.” Rising quickly with tears in his eyes and sword held tight in his hand; he ran from the clearing towards the beach. Through the trickery of the forest or the tears that blinded his eyes; Melliott ran from the trees a small distance from the landing site. Quickly hearing the sounds of melee, he turned and ran along the sandy beach. Halfway between the beach and ship was one of the boats with Khanis and Caylett inside and many provisions. On the beach near the other boat stood Venett the Kinsman and Alliott the warrior, fighting the other magical guardian. Melliott ran harder his side aching, but before he could reach the fight, the beast butted Alliott in the chest. Then it turned its attention to Venett and attacked so fiercely that even a great swordsman like he stumbled and lost his weapon. The guardian was poised to butt and gore Venett, when Melliott ran charging up from behind, jumped onto the stone beast’s back and danced forward to bring his sword sweeping down to cut all three horns from the creature’s head. Melliott jumped aside as the guardian crumbled where it stood: dispatched like it’s twin. “Quickly let us leave this accursed island, before more ill befalls us. Help me get Alliott into the boat.” Melliott ordered, pulling Venett to his feet. “What of Desiles and Mue, do we not wait for them Captain?” “Our waiting would be in vain Venett, for they have fallen and would never hear our calls.” As the Roedain set sail again once more on its long quest, Melliott stood disenchanted at the rail looking at the fast disappearing beach. Shanitus the wise joined his mournful Captain at the rails and stared also at the island. “They were good men Melliott, try not to be too hard on yourself over this and tell me what happened once you entered the jungle?”


The Eternals “We slew some wild pigs, for they were abundant in number. We felt so strong and proud with ourselves. Then Mue noticed an entrance hidden by vines and guarded by two statues. They looked like a cross between man and wild pigs, yet had three horns on their heads apiece.” “Aha my old mind recalls a fable of long times past.” “A fable Shanitus? Speak plainly please, for I am in no mood for tails of the fairies.” “It is said that Galfridus the Traveler came to an island long ago and with a High Kinsman maid as his companion that had touched his Eternal heart. Now Galfridus and his maiden stayed on the island and made friends with the great Boars, strange pig-like men, with three horns of wisdom, speed and valour on their heads. The King Boar befriended the couple and they took walks through the jungle, talking of the birds, trees and animals that resided there. Yet the Boar King’s son fell hard in love with the Eternal gods’ companion; the fair maiden Melinda. Often he would talk to her, yet inside his love turned and twisted knowing he could never have her love like the Eternal Galfridus.” Shanitus paused for breath as the sea winds blew at the sails above them. “Then one night the Boar Prince saw Galfridus and Melinda together kissing under a tree at twilight. Consumed with a jealousy and rage that his love would come to nought, he charged at the Galfridus. Yet Melinda pushed herself in front of her lord and the Boar’s horns puncture her mortal body and slew her. It is said that Galfridus in his grief and rage slew the Boar Prince and then cursed every Boar on the island: that when they bore any new young, all would be hornless and mindless beasts. These statues must have been made by the Boars before they died out, using the last of their knowledge and magic.” “The cave we entered had many treasures of old. Then we heard movement outside and the stone guardians came to life, killing Desiles and Mue. They must have been put there as a

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reminder of the old race of Boar. Now only their brainless ancestors remain to roam the island.” Melliott shook his head, wishing that he had never agreed to enter the cave. “Did you disturb or take anything?” “The periapt,” Melliott suddenly cried, “it’s still in my bag. Mue gave it to me and in all the rush of battle I forgot to put it back.” Melliott reached into his bag and pulled the periapt out to glint in the sunshine. He pulled his arm back, ready to cast it as far as he could into the Oldest Ocean. “Wait!” shouted Shanitus, grasping Melliott’s wrist. “This is an ancient heirloom from a longlost race. Would you cast away something that cost the lives of three of your crew? That would be thankless indeed. Everyone and everything has a value and a purpose, which is beyond us to decide, keep it safe Melliott.” Melliott relented and kept the periapt around his neck, heeding Shanitus’s wisdom on this occasion. It was also a reminder of the men he lost, because of his weak leadership. With the quest continued Melliott hoped he would not make the same mistake again in the future.


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The Mother of Crawly Things By Berkeley Hunt Illustrated by Joanne Renaud

H

er brother Kevin could put curses on people. Maddie found this out when she was six and caught him eating the chocolate bunny out of her Easter basket. She hadn’t touched it herself because Kevin told her that if the real Easter Bunny saw her take so much as a bite, he would take back the basket and everything in it. Their mom yelled at Kevin and held back his allowance. That was when he told Maddie he was an acolyte of the Devil and could put curses on people. At first Maddie thought he said “Coke Lite of the Devil,” and that didn’t sound scary at all. Besides, Kevin lied about lots of things. Like that he was the carnation of someone named Hitler and she should scream HEIL, which was German, when he said to. Mom had put a stop to that fast. The curse Kevin put on her was that she wouldn’t like any of Easter dinner. It was hard to believe. The smell of baking ham, sweet and smoky, already filled the dingy little house. It would come out of the oven glazed with yellow pineapple and be set on the table beside green beans in a nest of French’s Fried Onions, the yams she didn’t have to eat if she didn’t want to, and all the crescent rolls she could eat. Best of all would be dessert, strawberry pie drowned in syrup redder than Christmas. But Kevin was 14, a creature who lived in neither the child nor the grownup world but in the murk between. He shared his bedroom with

resin monsters out of movies Mom wouldn’t even let Maddie see: Alien and Predator and something that had bat wings and a beard and mustache made of twisting green tentacles. He could drive the car, too. Twice now he and his friends had backed it out of the garage and parked it around the corner to make Mom think it was stolen. When she called the police Kevin listened in on the other line and laughed so hard that snot shot out of his nose. So when he cursed her she stood fast. He hogged the remote and sent her hate-stares all afternoon, then did an about-face and let her have his Mountain Dew. He’d even remembered that her fingers weren’t very strong; when he handed it over the can was already open. Maybe the curse was already working, because the Mountain Dew didn’t taste as good as it usually did. And when she sat down to eat, the food smells enveloped her like a giant, steamy fart. Her stomach turned itself inside-out and bile, thin and stinging, erupted from her throat and drenched the mashed potatoes. That made Maddie a believer. Kevin began demanding her dollar-a-week allowance and taking her share of the candy and sodas Mom sometimes bought. By the time she was eight she was forking over all her desserts and doing most of his chores, too. When Mom wasn’t home he even made her mow the lawn with their bulky old mower, a machine whose rusted steel teeth


The Mother of Crawly Things could cut off a toe if she wasn’t careful. All this to keep him from cursing her with flunking a grade or being called a retard and getting beaten up after school every day for the rest of her life. That was also the year that he totaled the car and Mom couldn’t afford to get another one. After awhile she asked Maddie not to accept any more rides from her friends’ moms and dads because there was no way to return the favor. Speaking very gently but very gravely too, Mom told her that it was better that Maddie not have anyone to sleep over, either. Maddie didn’t dare ask why not. She knew it had something to do with the fact that Kevin was 16 now and had tried to give her a dollar if she’d walk around the house without even her panties on. Which meant Maddie couldn’t stay at any of her friends’ houses, either. No climbing into the other kids’ SUVs for trips to the mall and no slumber parties. She might as well be a retard; by the time the year was up, she’d be every bit as hated as one. Even though he didn’t curse her, Kevin didn’t exactly leave her alone, either. Maddie had a pet snail she’d rescued from the poison in the neighbor-lady’s garden and named Jasmine, after her favorite Disney princess. Right after she refused to take his dollar, Kevin informed her— with a toothy grin—that the French ate snails. After cooking them, of course. That’s when he whipped his hand from behind his back. He was wearing a ratty old oven mitt and Jasmine was lying right in the center. Her shell was caved in, her once-pale and glistening snail-skin red and black with angry lines from the old backyard barbecue grill. Maddie cried until her stomach roiled and she thought she might throw up, just like the Easter Sunday when Kevin first put a curse on her. Mom grounded Kevin. The next day she bought Maddie an ant farm. The day after that, someone took the lid off the ant farm and the day after that ants were all over the kitchen, circling

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the sugar and flour canisters and tracking their way up the fridge. Naturally her brother was the one who ran for the Raid can and sprayed it everywhere. The one thing Kevin couldn’t stand was crawly things. Maddie managed to save nine of the ants by inviting them to crawl their way onto her fingertips, then hurrying outside. Deep in the corner of the tiny backyard, behind the disassembled sides of a rusty dog crate and a rabbit hutch whose floor was a solid mass of prehistoric droppings. she let them go, hoping that whatever watched over little crawly things would watch over them. Hoping so hard and so desperately that it amounted to a prayer. One without words, almost without consciousness, fed by horror at what had been done to Jasmine and what was being done to her. To what god or devil, benevolent, malevolent or indifferent, Maddie didn’t know. Not until later, after the shrieking stopped and the night was quiet again. That was after midnight, when kids and grownups alike were supposed to be dead to the world. “Get out! Get OUT!” The screams were high and hysterical and thrilling, because the screams were Kevin’s. Maddie ran to his room just as fast as she could, just in time to see the mother of all crawly things slice through the air over her brother’s bed. Big as a grapefruit, it paused as if deliberating. Then it strafed Kevin, just like one of the fighter planes in the Nazi movies he liked. Nose-first it went, right through his tousled, greasy hair. “IS IT OFF—IS IT OFF—IS IT OFF?” His fingers did a frantic, combing dance and a ragged thumbnail opened up a pimple, ripe for the squeezing. It spat reddy-yellow pus and the Mother of Crawly Things left his hair for the shelf ruled by the bat-winged, tentacle-faced thing. “KILL it, you stupid…!” Kevin shrilled. Maddie only stood, frozen not with fear but


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with fascination. The Mother of Crawly Things alighted atop Tentacle-Face, fixing her brother with eyes like round black stones. Kevin rolled awkwardly out of bed, scooping up a pair of tighty not-so-whities from the floor. He let fly, snapping them the same way he used to snap towels at Maddie. This time all that happened was that Tentacle-Face hit the floor with a crunch, and chunks of painted resin, big and small, shot away in all directions. Better yet, even though Kevin was now spewing the Ess-word— and the Eff-Word too—he sounded exactly like a third grader bawling on the playground. That’s when the Mother of Crawly Things took off for a leisurely circle of the room. Whether it really paused in the air in front of Maddie as if showing itself to her or whether Kevin’s bawling

somehow heightened Maddie’s senses, she could never afterwards remember. But what she did recall was that one instant it had the enormous white head and shark-like eyes of a potato bug; the next, a pale, snaily face and eyes on stalks. Its body was worm-red and segmented, then an iridescent beetle green. It had no legs at all, then six, then hundreds and hundreds. In their moment of communion, she thanked it with all her heart. Then it was gone, sailing over Maddie’s head on wings that belonged now to a dragonfly, now to a moth. Gone, even though the neighborhood was a rough one and the window was shut and the metal bars that overlaid it locked against the night. Kevin’s bawling had slowed to an irregular hitching and whimpering and still, somehow, their mother hadn’t heard and come running. His nose ran; spit and snot bubbled at the corners of his mouth. His pajama bottoms—none too clean when he first put them on—were wet with fresh pee. When Maddie left she made a point of looking him deliberately up and down, the look one gives a retard. She woke the next morning to Mom singing in the kitchen. The air smelled like waffles and her choice of toppings: blueberries or maple syrup and butter. Mere steps away, the door to Kevin’s room was ajar. Maddie gave a careful push and peered it. The old shag carpet had been trampled flat, as if by millions and millions of tiny feet. A yellow garden spider with one leg missing was trying to extract itself from one of the worn loops. A furry black caterpillar used its many front legs to drag its mashed back end. The old barbecue grill lay across another patch of rug, one gooey as if from the progress of hundreds of snails. Bits of wing and carapace and jaw littered the bed, so many that Kevin’s empty pillow was smashed flat beneath their weight. Maddie closed the door on the vacant room and headed for the kitchen. She loved waffles.


Teething Pain

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Teething Pain By Tony Thorne, MBE

A

lfred Klomp was very proud of his new dentures. Being a billionaire or two, he could always afford to try out the very latest products of research and development, especially as he owned a company that produced some of them. He was a jolly character and liked to laugh. He did it too often really; you could tell that by the way it irritated some people. He was the kind of person who showed a lot of teeth when he laughed, or even when he didn’t. His thin lips and neat moustache caused his teeth to look even larger. The Chief Scientist had explained that he must be very careful with these experimental dentures. He must give up smoking for a start— the teeth wouldn’t like it. They were intelligent, but young and still learning. Totally self-contained, and hinged at the back, they were powered by solar energy. All that was necessary to keep them fully charged was to smile at the sun for a few minutes each day. If the weather was gloomy, he either had to grin at a sun-lamp for about ten minutes or leave them out in front of an ordinary 100-watt light bulb for about half an hour. Alfred Klomp soon got used to them, and they got used to him, automatically responding to any jaw movements he made and anticipating what to do next. The way they tucked into a thick steak was a real pleasure. Crunchy apples and pears were easy. What’s more, his digestive

system improved enormously. No discomfort at all now following a heavy meal. He recalled how, when as a young boy, his mother had told him to chew everything thoroughly and not bolt down his food. But with so much to do building up the business, as he grew older he never had time enough to consume his meals properly. He‘d often suffered from bouts of indigestion. Now, everything was wonderful. Whenever he needed to be in a hurry over a meal, the teeth would sense that and speed up. Then one eventful afternoon it happened. The directors had just finished a successful meeting with an important new customer. Being very pleased with the deal, he had produced a box of the best cigars and proceeded to share them around. He also proudly explained that his daughter had given birth to a lusty boy early that very morning. That blessed event, plus the satisfying deal just concluded, was enough to demand a proper celebration. Alfred Klomp had been missing the occasional good cigar he used to enjoy. Just for once surely wouldn’t do any harm. Unfortunately, it did. No sooner had he lit up and taken a first draw, when the teeth objected. They flew open and leapt out of his mouth. Then they arced down to the floor, hinge uppermost, clattering wildly. Walter Gotch, the company accountant was nearest. He bent down with a halfconcealed smile and tried to grab them. Then


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yelped in pain as they bit into his thumb and hung on relentlessly. Violently waving his hand up and down, he finally managed to shake the teeth loose. They fell on the floor again, clicked a few times, and then jumped sideways under the conference table. Being intelligent, they soon learned that with their hinge uppermost, and by rocking backwards and forwards as they opened and shut, they could move around in any direction. The high speed they soon built up was impressive, and being endowed with a short-range radar system, they were able to closely whirl around any obstacles. Emerging from under the table, they shot across the carpet and were out of the office door before the horrified secretary could shut it. She wailed pitifully, then threw a faint and collapsed on a convenient settee, as the teeth scuttled noisily along the corridor leading to the stairs. Clasping a hand over his open mouth, Alfred Klomp raced after them. He was too late. They were already bouncing down the stairs, then away towards the front door as he tried to catch up with them. The uniformed doorman leapt up to hold the door open for his chief, not noticing the teeth hurtling through between his legs and then bouncing down the steps. Outside there was a large lazy bulldog on the pavement, basking in the sun. The teeth halted, rotated quickly, took in a short burst of solar energy and then leapt up at the dog. It howled, as they bit into the end of its tail, and then, barking furiously, it took off down the road, trailing the teeth at high speed, soon overtaking an elderly cyclist. Alfred Klomp waved up a taxi and tried to splutter something to the driver about following those teeth, but his gums wouldn’t let him. The chase started and the taxi began to catch up with the runaways. Unfortunately, at the first one-way intersection, the dog bolted down it; the wrong direction for the taxi. By the time the

driver had made the necessary detour, there was no sign of the dog, or the teeth. The chase had to be abandoned. The one-way street actually led to the local quayside. The dog had raced up a convenient gangway and was already on board a ship, with the teeth still firmly clamped to its tail. Exhausted, it looked around the deck and then scrambled underneath the nearest lifeboat for a rest. The dentures decided it was time to let go. With a grunt of relief, the bulldog began to lick the wound on its tail. The teeth’s radar immediately recognised the nearby structure of a set of jaws and leapt up into them. They didn’t fit very well over the existing natural set that were already there, but being flexible they soon learned to adjust and stay in place. The bulldog whimpered in surprise, then leapt for the moving gangway as the ship’s siren blasted its departure intentions. The dog just made it back ashore before any of the busy crew could react. Distraught meanwhile, Alfred Klomp had directed the taxi to his home to wait for him, not easy with one hand over his mouth. Once there, he raced up to his bathroom, then located and inserted his old dentures back into place. Ready again to confront the world, he ordered the taxi back to his office. On his arrival, the staff there avoided asking any obvious questions, especially the doorman. Things carried on just as if nothing at all unusual had happened. Once back in his office, Alfred Klomp was soon busy trying to compose suitable advertisements for the local paper’s Lost and Found column. He found it difficult, even somewhat embarrassing. LOST – SET OF AUTOMATIC TEETH, APPROACH WITH CAUTION. MISSING – HINGED SET OF INTELLIGENT MOBILE DENTURES. REWARD OFFERED - FOR INFORMATION


Teething Pain LEADING TO THE RECOVERY AGGRESSIVE RUNAWAY TEETH.

OF

He eventually decided to abandon the idea and have the Research and Development Department make up another set as soon as possible. This time with a built-in homing system, possibly satellite positioned. Then he could never lose them. After some thorough testing, they’d be ready for mass production. He started thinking about a series of clever advertisements, for promoting them on TV! Back at the quayside, as evening approached, the bulldog was testing out its new set of teeth. A normally tough alley cat had already fled in sheer terror at the sight and sound of a fearsome set of gnashing molars, already usefully synchronised to a range of menacing growls. A large Alsatian was warily keeping its distance and its current owner, a tramp going by the name of Wolfgang Klemper, was regarding the bulldog in astonishment. Every time its mouth opened, a deep growl emerged from between its grinning set of unusual-looking teeth. The tramp reached into a tattered plastic bag he was carrying, and pulled out the remains of a large dried sausage that he’d retrieved that morning from the rubbish bin of a nearby delicatessan. He approached and offered it to the bulldog, who regarded it with interest. The Alsatian, who had fondly expected it to eventually come his way, gave it a look of longing, but decided to remain at a cautious distance. Then suddenly the intelligent teeth responded to the implied instructions the dog’s jaws initiated. They locked on around the hard sausage. However, the fit being somewhat slack, they gave way at the rear; and still clamped to the sausage, promptly slipped out of the dog’s mouth. The Alsatian thought it saw its chance and began to move forward, barking furiously. The bulldog tried to bite the nearest end of the sausage with its own teeth, and almost made it. Wolfgang Klemper, however, was faster. He picked up the

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sausage, with the teeth firmly attached to it, and dropped it back into his plastic bag. Nobody human seemed to have noticed anything, so he set off home to his tattered caravan on the nearby abandoned building site. The Alsatian followed, with its expectations re-instated. Once settled in, the tramp tipped the contents of the plastic bag out on to his rickety table. The teeth by then had become docile, due to a lack of sufficient solar energy to activate them. Wolfgang carefully detached them from the sausage. With a piece of hacksaw blade he cut the teeth-indented end off the sausage and gave it to his grateful waiting dog. Next, he washed the teeth under the tap in the sink and dried them. He examined them minutely, then opening his toothless mouth as wide as it would go, he gingerly pushed them in. To his great delight, they fitted perfectly. He actually felt them twitch as they snuggled in. There was just enough energy left in them for that. He went over to the mirror over his wash basin and inspected his appearance. The transformation was truly remarkable; he looked years younger. Grinning up at the friendly street lamp shining through the window over the mirror, he began to comb his wispy hair and trim his scraggly beard. His thoughts turned towards that old lady he’d seen on a bench in the park. Back home some time later, he was seated at his table again. He picked up the rest of the sausage and his patiently waiting dog stirred expectantly. Wolfgang Klemper sawed away a piece and then experimentally shoved it into his mouth. Recharged by the street lamp, the teeth immediately proceeded to chew on the tough dry sausage. Tears of absolute joy welled out of Wolfgang‘s eyes, as he began to swallow the precisely tenderised morsels. His amazed, and very frustrated, hound watched in disgust as the sausage steadily vanished.


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Rylan Mathis and the Eater of Souls By Brian Trent Illustrated by Larry Nadolsky 1926 Rutherford hesitated on the village hill. The day was hot, with no breezy relief as might be found on Africa’s coast or tall mountain paths. Here was all green Congo, wet and humid like being underwater. The treetops floated on a miasma of stagnant mist. Rutherford was a tall man with a leathery, sun-beaten face. His eyes had the narrow precision of a sniper’s, giving the illusion of an ironic smile. From below the rim of his safari hat, he studied the astonishing tracks around the blazing rubber plant. Black smoke poured into the golden sky and made strange, malevolent shapes. If he was reading the signs right (and he knew he was the greatest hunter and tracker in the world), then a remarkable story had unfolded here just hours ago. The ground was a map of footprints, but there was one set—those of a heavy-booted man more than six feet tall— which were unique. Rutherford found them in the jungle bramble just beyond the dirt road, and they drew a half-circle around the factory. Then they made a dash for the back fence. The interloper must have scaled the fence, and suddenly there were signs of a legendary battle involving at least four men. No bodies were in sight, but the signs indicated that after knocking the guards unconscious the interloper had dragged them into the surrounding brush.

What transpired next Rutherford didn’t know, but the factory was now a crackling fireball. The next sign of the interloper’s footprints was from the building’s western side, and the diamond-like spray of shattered glass surrounding them suggested that he had leapt out from a second-story window with someone in his arms. Still carrying his quarry, he then ran to the nearby shed, stole a jeep, and smashed through the perimeter fence. Rutherford sighed, removing his hat and fanning himself with it. The jeep tracks were child’s play to follow, and he did for the next twenty minutes. His hidden injuries tormented him as he pushed himself along the uneven road. He found the jeep at a small, thatched village in the jungle. And that’s where he found Rylan Matthis. A large crowd of natives was dressing wounds by the river, and a tall white man was helping them. From a distance, Rutherford sized him up. The man was twenty-three, maybe twentyfour, with wavy black hair and a chiseled face. A young native, grievously wounded, was laid out before him on a bedding of woven reeds. Rutherford descended the hill. The unsteady ground pained him, and he rubbed the staunched laceration on his arm. “Good day to you,” he called to the white man. He looked at his boots.


Rylan Mathis and the Eater of Souls The young man glanced up and gave a quick, appraising stare. His eyes were a flash of blue. “Good day.” He returned to wrapping his patient’s chest. “I’m looking for an adventurer.” “These villagers have seen plenty of adventure.” “No doubt.” Rutherford removed his hat and fanned away the stench of death. “The adventurer I seek would be a strong, able-bodied man who has a penchant for artifacts of the past. He is famous the world over. Museums contract him to find priceless relics, and he has…treasures from Egypt, Morroco, Greece, and Tibet. He is young, but a veteran of the world.” “Sounds like quite a hero,” the man said, and washed his hands in a tortoise-shell bowl. “They also say that he was present for all that nasty business in Belgium, 1914.” A dark expression passed over the white man’s face. He removed his hands from the bowl, not bothering to dry them, and fixed Rutherford with a glower. The expression was so savage and malicious that Rutherford recoiled a step, his smarmy expression melting. It sometimes helped to rile someone up in the hopes of getting information from them, but not if the act of riling got you killed. The wounds hidden beneath his shirt flared up, as if anticipating further injury. “I am only seeking to enlist him!” Rutherford said softly. “His name is Rylan Matthis!” The man advanced, one slow step at a time. His eyes were terrible—no longer seeming to notice the hunter at all, but rather to see the fires and screaming families of that terrible night when the Germans slaughtered the neutral Belgians in an attempt to outflank France. The carnage was ankle-deep, people said. “I am Rylan,” the man said darkly. “My name is Karl Rutherford,” the

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hunter said quickly. “I came all this way to ask but a few questions, and then I’ll be off.” Matthis halted. The villagers were returning from the river and murmuring at this peculiar confrontation. “Ask your questions,” Matthis said. “What do you know about ancient Egypt?” “A few things.” “Ever hear of Emperor Khufu?” “Yes.” “He built the—” “Built the great pyramid 4,700 years ago. Was the son of Sneferu and Hetepheres. He was a conqueror and lifelong militant, and had an ego big enough that he needed to build the largest pyramid in history to house it. Or more accurately, he mercilessly tortured his people with the construction of this monument to heaven.”


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Rutherford slapped at a mosquito. “Did you know that Pharaoh Khufu also sent expeditions farther than any pharaoh before or since? While others were content to thank the gods for the seasonal swelling and shrinking of the Nile, he sent ships upriver to discover the source.” Rylan said, “Likely.” With a motion of his head, the hunter indicated the water hugging the shore. “Haven’t you been curious of that source? A man like yourself, rootless and homeless, who calls no nation his father and the entire Earth his backyard?” Rylan detected the sneer in the man’s voice; indeed, the hunter wasn’t doing much to disguise it. “If you travel up the Nile past Kartoum, the river splinters into two waterways. To the left is the Blue Nile which curls into Ethiopia. To the right is the White Nile, and is rumored to sprout from a secret lake somewhere in Uganda.” “You’ve been there?” “No. Not up the White Nile.” “But you have been to Ethiopia,” Rutherford said. “That young boy you were treating belongs to the Ethiopian royal family, no? I noticed the royal tattoo on his shoulder. Actually, there have been stories that some of the king’s relatives had been kidnapped and forced to work in the rubber plants here. Apparently a great ransom was being asked of the king for his safe return.” Rylan motioned for the man to walk with him away from the villagers. There was a small pier, made of wood covered in reed matting, where the locals often launched their fishing boats. Once they were standing there beneath the merciless daylight, Rylan turned to the hunter. “That boy is indeed a royal cousin of the king’s.” Rutherford suppressed his smile, impressed as always by his own astuteness. “So instead of paying the ransom, the king sent you to rescue him?” “I was the natural choice.” “Why?”

“Because I detest the rotten hearts of tyrants. I have fought my entire life against the shackles of corruption and greed. It was my duty to assist the king.” “That boy is going to die.” “Probably.” “Guess the king should have paid the ransom, eh?” Rylan’s eyes were hard. “Those injuries were from the rubber plant. The administration was torturing their workers, and was particularly hard on the captured royal in their midst. As I said, the rotten heart of tyrants.” And it was one rotten heart, Rylan thought, Despite all bodies which owned it. The basement of the human spirit was too easily accessible to mankind. Rutherford glanced back to the giant column of smoke coming from the distant plant. With no wind to disturb it, it hung like a mythical rope leading into heaven. “So it wasn’t just an accident at the rubber plant! You declared war on it, freed the workers, and blew it up? Ha!” His laughter was bitter. “And I’ll bet you did it without asking for payment! The king chose wisely! Who would have thought such paladins still existed!” “Where did you come from?” Rylan asked. “Malaka.” “Is that where you earned your injuries?” The hunter tried his best to hide his surprise. To his knowledge, he had given no indication that he was suffering from a bullet wound in the arm and terrible bruises to his body. A few cuts on his cheek, earned while he was dashing madly into the jungle brush to escape his enemies, was all that was outwardly visible, and scratches were not unusual. Then the hunter remembered rubbing his aching arm quickly as he stood on the hillcrest above the river. It had only been for a few seconds. Was that single instance enough for this Matthis character to deduce so much more?


Rylan Mathis and the Eater of Souls On guard now, the hunter decided to show his cards. “Yes, actually. A group of ruffians tried to murder me. When I got away, they shot at me.” “And hit near their mark?” The hunter tapped his arm. It was only a small tap, but it felt like a hammer delivered against the swollen, ruptured muscle. Rylan folded his arms across his chest. His steely gaze seemed to spy straight through all of the hunter’s efforts at camouflage. “And why would they do that?” “Because I had in my keeping an old manuscript, written by a royal scribe of Khufu’s court, describing the launching of an expeditionary vessel to find the source of the Nile.” Ah! Now it was the hunter’s turn to perceive something hidden in Matthis. The powerful man’s eyes flickered with interest, like light off a set of diamonds. Rylan looked past the hunter’s shoulders, to the villagers who were now openly gossiping, looking back at him in concern. He had been their liberator, and the eldest among them said he was to be their chieftain. Rylan hadn’t yet had the chance to refuse the honor. He was no man’s king or god. “How did you come by this manuscript?” The hunter gave a humorless laugh. “Trade secrets.” “Grave secrets, you mean. These men who attacked you, they were your companions, no?” “They were.” How did Matthis know? “There were five of us, each with his own specialty. They decided that mine was the easiest to hijack. Now they are on track to finding the Egyptian ship and all its treasures, and I have nothing.” “How do you know those treasures haven’t been looted?” “I don’t. But the ship was bound for a secret cave in the jungle known only to Khufu’s scribes. They said it was a magic cave where Time held no sway. There was a lake within…a lake which had never seen the sun.”

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“And you remember the manuscript well enough?” “I memorized it in case of just such an eventuality.” “Did it mention if priests of Bast were on board?” Rutherford was surprised. “Yes, actually. There were four Bast priestesses accompanying the crew. Why?” Rylan shook his head. “You came seeking a companion for this adventure? I agree, on two conditions. Firstly, I get first pick of the ship’s treasure.” Rutherford smiled. “And the second?” “If you want me to lead, then realize I am the leader.” “I promise.” They set out that very evening. The African jungles at night were like something from another world, where twisting trees and creepers cast hydra-like shadows in the starry gloom. The stars gleamed like silver coins. Rylan had canteens, two backpacks, his .45, his trusty worn hunting rifle, ammunition, and dry rations. A knife was in his boot, a strange amulet around his neck. “We’ll head due east and cut through the Great Rift Valley,” he was saying, breaking the quiet march they had been making for the last two hours. “It’s a shortcut to the supposed caves of your map.” Monkeys screamed above them suddenly. In that same instant, a flurry of dark shapes moved through the jungle around them. Rutherford jerked his rifle up. “Shh!!” Rylan snapped. “A pack of gorillas are passing through. Let them.” The hunched, knuckle-walking shapes passed them by with curious indifference. The hunter paled slightly, calculating his speed with the rifle against the platoon of simians he glimpsed through the jungle gloom.


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Rylan was quiet, and when the sound of gorilla footsteps had faded, he whispered, “What can you tell me of this Egyptian vessel we’re seeking?” “It had forty people between slaves, warriors, and crew. There was also a special contingent of guards for an offering of treasure to the Eater of Souls.” Rylan grinned coldly, an expression fit for the silver screen half a world away. “And that didn’t dissuade you?” “Mythological monsters and evil spirits don’t divert men from gold, Mr. Matthis.” For four days they pressed east, through stinging flies, clinging bramble, and humidity so thick it choked the lungs. Rylan insisted on Rutherford changing bandages with regularity, warning him that a festering sore would attract anything with six legs and eggs to deposit. Then, on the hazy morning of the fifth day as they reached the Great Rift Valley, their tedious trek was interrupted by a bullet’s unexpected arrival. “Don’t stand there like that!” Rylan hissed, angry at the way Rutherford was leaning out over the valley ledge. They were crouching in the wiry bushes at the valley rim. The rift valley looked like a cosmic axe had hacked a cyclopean swath between mountain ranges. The sun spilled into this airy space and was met by millions of leafy parishioners. “There’s a heard of elephants down there,” Rutherford said eagerly, spying a train of grey titans drinking by a small lake. He leaned far out, his hand perched comfortably on a tree. “That ivory would fetch me retirement!” Rylan jumped up from in an effort to pull the hunter down. In that instant, the hunter’s safari hat leapt off his head. The sight was astonishing. The hunter stood there a moment longer, as if trying to understand how it had happened.

Rylan grabbed the man’s belt and yanked him to the ground. “Stay down!” As he spoke, the echo of the gunshot rang across the valley. “Is that you, Rutherford?” a voice taunted from far off, filling the valley in a booming cry. “You’re a determined bastard, I’ll give you that!” Rutherford grimaced from where he squatted, recognizing the voice of his old compatriot. “That’s Clarke. He’s the one who shot me.” He touched his head. “Twice now, I guess.” Rylan used his rifle to bat foliage out of his way as they descended into the valley. He was coming to a short ledge by three conjoined trees when suddenly a new burst of gunfire shredded the jungle near him. Rylan threw himself forward, sliding like a ballplayer to the safe haven behind the trees. Rutherford stumbled, following the adventurer. He tried locating their attackers. The gunfire rate was too quick to be a single foe. Then he turned to Rylan, and was shocked to see the man sitting motionless, eyes squeezed shut, as if he were in prayer or scared. Was THIS the great Rylan Matthis? Tough until confronted with danger? Men were known by their reputation and their deeds, and the two were not always compatible. Rutherford kicked at him. “What are you doing?” “Quiet,” Rylan said. Then, eyes remaining closed, he shouted in a resonating voice that shook the valley. “Whoever you are, I have no quarrel with you yet. I am a resident of these jungles and a seeker of history. I am no threat to you or your interests, as long as your interests coincide with the greater good.” The sound of his voice died in a slow echo. Then abruptly, wild laughter piped up around them. “Ha! Stick your head out, fool, and I’ll show you how good my interests are!” The hoopla continued. “Come on! Give me your head so I can blow it off!”


Rylan Mathis and the Eater of Souls Rylan’s eyes were still closed. When the laughter died, he shook his head. “Thank you for your honesty,” he said. Then he rose and rounded the tree with his rifle aimed into the jungle below. He squeezed the trigger three times in rapid succession. When he returned to the safety of the tree, Rutherford was staring gravely at him. Below, renewed cries came from the unseen men, but it was clear that Rylan’s shooting had not been in vain. “Clarke is hit!” “Bleeding—” “Leave him! He’s dead!” Calmly, Rylan reloaded his weapon. “Let’s go. There’s another way down the valley.” Following closely, Rutherford’s mind whirled. “You located his position by the sound of his voice?” Rylan didn’t answer. If it weren’t for the hunter’s map, there would be no way of knowing that caves existed at the feet of Lake Victoria. They were shrouded by low trees bent sorrowfully to the water, obstructing the view. And then there were immense rocks which looked like they had been deliberately deposited in front of the fissure. “They were,” Rylan said, answering Rutherford’s query. “Khufu’s ship was meant to be imprisoned for all time within this cave.” Rutherford drank from his canteen greedily. “Indeed. That explains the legend of how this cave was spared the ravages of time.” “That rock can’t be moved.” Rutherford grinned. From his bag, he produced a bound stack of dynamite. But Rylan was not amused. “You knew this cave would be sealed?” “I did.” “Perhaps there’s a reason the cave should stay sealed.” “Ah! The Eater of Souls, you mean?” “There are strange creatures in this world,”

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Rylan said, feeling the chilly passing of recent memories defying the jungle heat. He had wrestled with moon beasts on Venzuela’s mist-crowned mountains, had fought off gods from prehuman civilizations, and battled frightful animals no biologist had yet named. People thought that the Earth was possessed by humanity, but in truth the deed was constantly shifting to new owners. Rylan had seen antediluvian sculptures and bas reliefs, and he had crouched over fossil beds, and he had read moldy books of strange pictographic languages, and he knew how frail mankind’s claims of ownership were. Five thousand years of human civilization was a blink in Earth’s lifespan. Others had lived, ruled, and faded. So too would such fate befall the world Rylan knew, and he sometimes wondered what adventurous species would one day be picking through the ruins of New York, Paris, and Moscow for the artifacts of Homo sapiens. “Nonsense!” Rutherford laughed caustically. He began setting the dynamite in boulder crevices. Rylan patted his rifle reassuringly. He alternated wary looks from the concealed cave to the surrounding jungle. A moment later the hunter was scrambling away from the lit fuse. The explosion brought about a rain of granite chips, and the foaming spurt of water sealed for centuries rushing into the daylight once more. The smoke cleared. The cave was open. And the ship was there. A dark lake had formed, perhaps from thousands of years of slow rainwater accumulation, trickling down from fissures to pool here in the Stygian dark. Thousands, not millions, of years, for it was evident that the lake was very shallow, and the forgotten Egyptian vessel was marooned on one rocky shore. Rylan’s heart swelled at the sight. The ship had leapt off papyrus scrolls, magically protected


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against the elements. Its wood had petrified and looked almost like stone. Oars jutted out from its upended side and glittered in Rylan’s lamplight with a coating of mica dust. “Let’s waste no time!” Rutherford said quickly, rifle in hand. “The others will be here any moment!” The ship was still painted in vibrant colors. Blue, red, and ochre designs were dusty along its hull, signifying eyes and cats and scarab beetles. Rylan felt his instincts on high alert as he read the hieroglyphics. They were warning glyphs. By the eyes of Horus and promise of Bast, we go to appease the Eater of Souls. A backpack dropped in the Congo would be devoured in hours by creepers, brush, and

bramble, but here was a treasure of five thousand years sealed away from the jungle heat, the critters and funguses. Rylan had explored the subterranean necropolis beneath Rome and fought in its lost coliseum. He had found a castle on the terrifying ice bog of Ireland. He had even barely escaped with his life from Rasputin’s hidden labyrinth. In each, artifacts were found intact which otherwise would have perished to history. None of them compared to the marvel of this Nile vessel. Rylan approached the ship. He rounded it once, the glory of past ages washing over his soul. Then he gently climbed onto the empty deck, seeing a hatch. Three dark shapes appeared at the cave entrance. “Rutherford,” Rylan warned. “Watch—” “The ship is ours!” a man shouted. Rylan ran for the hatch, when a spate of gunfire turned the floorboards around him into a cloud of wooden shrapnel and sawdust. He cursed, feeling a shard biting deeply into the flesh above his lip. His hands reached the hatch, and he pulled the heavy lid up like a shield against the gunfire. He crouched behind it, bullets thumping against its exterior. The only problem now was that way into the ship’s underbelly was on the opposite side of the hatch lid… and straight into the shooters’ sights. If only the ancient mariners who used it could have foreseen what futuristic battle would be taking place on its deck! Rylan grunted and strained against the hatch, tearing it straight up off its deck hinges. Then, still brandishing it as a shield, he walked to the gaping hatch and dropped down into the ship’s


Rylan Mathis and the Eater of Souls belly. Above him, his discarded shield danced and spun from Tommy gun fire. Rylan landed with cat-like ease in a darkened chamber. He struck the tinder of his lantern. A roomful of skeletons met the orange light. Their clothing, stiff as tree bark, clad desiccated husks. Each figure was kneeling, or lying, in a circle around a pyramid-shaped chest in their midst. Rylan approached. For a moment, he gazed at the pyramidal chest with grim fear and strange yearnings. His legs grew leaden, his heart burned to pry its top-piece off and gaze at what was inside. Instead, he pushed himself through his prickly lust. He went to one particular skeleton. It had been a woman, judging by the smaller size of the bones and the opal necklace of Bast around the neck. The clothing was blue linen, threaded with silver veins of cat-shapes and claws. Rylan wondered if her bygone skin had also sported tattoos to match. Gently, he undid the necklace, and in ancient Egyptian, he muttered, “Forgive me, but you do not need this where you are. Rest peacefully, and Anubis judge you well.” The wall opposite him exploded. It must have been another stick of dynamite. Rylan was pitched backwards, rolled over once, and drew his revolver, coughing in the cloud of dust. Four men entered. The three assailants, and Rutherford. It took Rylan a moment to realize that the hunter was not their prisoner, but was standing of his own free will beside them, his rifle held easily in Rylan’s direction. “You’re the speediest negotiator I’ve ever seen,” Rylan snapped. Rutherford sighed. “You killed the ringleader who wanted me dead. These others just want the treasure, and are willing to split it four ways with me.” “And you believe them?” “They’ve got the guns and numbers. I go with the winners.”

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Rylan nodded, his eyes flicking to the guns facing him. “Do you even know what’s in the chest?” One of the men was a swarthy, pony-tailed fellow with menacing eyes. “We’re about to find out,” he snapped. “Wait,” Rutherford said, reading deeper meaning in Rylan’s bearing. “Mr. Mathis is an expert on antiquity. Let him speak.” Rylan held up the necklace of Bast. “This is all I want from this wreckage. One of the lost amulets of Bast. Per our agreement, I get my pick of this ship’s treasures.” The pony-tailed leader stared in wide-eyed astonishment. “How much is it worth?” “Not as much as that chest full of gold.” Rutherford held Rylan’s stare. “Is there gold in there, Rylan? Or is it the Eater of Souls as you feared?” Rylan stood aside. “Open it yourself and find out.” “Just kill him and take what we want!” the leader said. “Including that pretty amulet!” “You could do that,” Rylan interjected quietly. “But be certain that I will kill at least one of you before my body hits the floor.” All eyes went to the revolver in his hand. The four men stood frozen, quietly measuring out their chances. Finally, Rutherford lowered his rifle. “Put the guns away. Everyone. We can negotiate.” The pony-tailed man grumbled but complied. Rutherford went straight for the pyramid and knocked its top carelessly off the base. His eyes grew wide. “Gold!” he cried. “Holy gold!” The others ran to his side. “We’re rich! Pure bars of gold!” Rylan turned to leave. “Where are you going?” Rutherford called. “Out of this cave, for starters.” Rutherford’s eyes glinted. He glanced to the fallen top-piece and observed the hieroglyphs.


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ASTONISHING ADVENTURES MAGAZINE “Are those glyphs representing the Eater of Souls, Rylan?” The adventurer nodded. “But you see for yourself that the Eater of Souls is not inside.” Rylan smiled. Rutherford paled slowly. “Do you seriously expect me to believe that a half hippo crocodilian monster who devours the spirits of men will come for us now that we’ve touched this gold?” “Depends on how you define the monster.” Rylan shrugged and turned to leave. “Mathis! Don’t be ridiculous!” But the adventurer walked out of the ship without another word. Rylan stalked off into the jungle happily. The world was bright and green, with fresh air and the cries of the natural kingdom. In that warm sunlight, he examined the necklace of Bast. In his own adventures, he had seen many papyrus scrolls and frescoes attesting to the healing powers of the cat goddess cult. In particular, the opal necklaces of Bast’s priesthood were said to tip the scales in favor of life when a person was gravely injured. Rylan thought of his young patient, grievously wounded from the abuses of the rubber plant. Maybe it was just a story, but it was worth the chance. Behind him, a sudden tumult of angry yells echoed loudly within the cave. He couldn’t discern the words. It was clear that someone had started an argument. The voices erupted into a discordant fray of accusations of greed. Then a scuffle. The sounds of a fistfight. The thunder of gunfire. Rylan shook his head. With the necklace tucked safely away in his shirt pocket, he vanished into the welcoming jungle.


The Unclaimed

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The Unclaimed By Kat Parrish

T

heodore Railsford was awake at two in the morning. His wife, Constance, was lying on her side, blissfully asleep. Connie never had trouble sleeping. A clear conscience, he supposed. But then, Railsford’s conscience was clear, too, so by rights he should have been sleeping like a baby and not staring at the ceiling of the master bedroom in their expensive Grosse Pointe home. Outside his home it was quiet. One of the perks of being wealthy was the thick, insulating quality of money. The further you got from downtown Detroit, the quieter it was. Ted appreciated the financial swaddling but wasn’t particularly grateful for it. After all, it hadn’t been a gift. He’d earned this place in life and he deserved it. His father had worked the line at the Ford plant his whole life—a bitter alcoholic who wanted something better for his son and bullied him into going after it. Ted supposed he should have thanked his father for pushing him so hard, but the old man has been a bastard and he couldn’t quite forgive him. Still, he had to admit that if his father hadn’t pushed him, he would not have ended up with the place in Grosse Pointe, and he certainly would not have ended up with Connie, who’d had her pick of lawyers and doctors and one young officer who came back from Viet Nam with a trunk full of medals and an idea that would revolutionize the shipping industry.

Ted had gone to college on a scholarship funded by the UAW, a scholarship that was meant for the sons of the men and women who worked the line. It covered tuition but nothing else, and he’d had to take a job to pay for books and meals and the crappy dorm room he shared with a guy who embraced the hippie lifestyle by refusing to bathe. Junior year Ted had moved out of the dorm and into a studio apartment off-campus. He worked as an orderly at a hospital on nights and weekends, wrote other people’s papers for cigarette money and beer. He’d graduated with honors. His father was dead by then, killed in an accident at the plant. He’d been drunk. There was no insurance payout. Ted’s grandmother came to commencement, took him out for a meal afterwards. She had a coupon for a two-for-one special at Denny’s. Later, he bought a bottle and brought it back to his apartment and got pissing drunk. On the following Monday, he went to work for GM. He was wearing a suit. His father hadn’t even owned a suit. He was buried in a nice white shirt Ted’s grandmother had bought at Sears. Someone at the funeral home had donated a tie. Ted himself almost never drank these days. Partly it was because it gave him a pain in the gut. Partly it was because he never, ever wanted


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to end up like his old man. He’d worked hard to leave that life behind and … “…And you’re never going back,” a woman’s voice said in the darkness. Ted was startled because he often talked to himself when he was alone, but this voice was not his. He fumbled for his glasses on the nightstand and put them on. A frail old woman stood beside his bed. She was wearing a thin, hospital nightgown and was barefoot, a detail Ted found odd. There were tracks in her arms from an IV, a bit of dried blood streaked in the crook of her elbow. Her hair was thin and wispy with ink scalp showing through in spots. Who are you?” he asked stupidly, aware that it was not quite the right question to ask a strange woman who has materialized in your bedroom in the middle of the night. It did not occur to him to be afraid. “You know me, Teddy,” she said. “ It’s Lindy. Melinda Worth.” I went to school with a Lindy Worth, he thought, but this woman looked a decade older than him. As if she read his mind, she said, “Yeah, the cancer ages you.” She laughed bitterly. “And then it kills you. Even if you have insurance and can get the meds you need.” “What do you want?” he asked, and this time there was a tremor in his voice. “Don’t be afraid, Teddy. I just want to show you something,” she said. She reached out and grabbed his wrist with one bony hand. Her fingers were surprisingly strong. And her hand was cold. So cold. A moment later, Ted was standing in front of his father’s coffin in the “viewing room” of Wisnicki’s Funeral Parlor. There hadn’t been many people there. And not much mourning. He saw himself, a hollow-eyed 13-year-old trying to act like a man. He saw his mother trying to hold it together and failing badly. Her lipstick

was on crooked, like she hadn’t been looking in a mirror when she applied it. He’d hated his father but hadn’t wanted him to die like that. The coffin had been closed. He heard some of his dad’s friends talking about what he’d looked like when they pulled him from the machine that had mangled him. They’d stopped talking when they realized he was listening. But he’d heard enough to understand it was a good thing the coffin lid was closed tight. Afterwards people had crowded around his mother and promised they’d stay in touch, but they hadn’t. A high school dropout, she’d started cleaning houses to pay the bills. On his 18th birthday, she’d killed herself. She left a note telling him she was sorry and wishing him a good life. Ted couldn’t bring himself to hate her, but her abandonment was one of the reasons he’d never wanted to have children himself. Connie was not happy about that decision. She’d wanted a big family. Ted woke at two in the morning, shaking off the remnants of what he thought was a very strange dream, one that had left him strangely depressed. He hadn’t seen Lindy Worth since his first days working at GM. She’d been somebody’s secretary, he thought, or maybe she worked in payroll. He couldn’t remember. He looked over at Cindy, who was still sleeping soundly, her breath coming in little whistling gasps. He thought about waking her and telling her about the dream, but he was ashamed at how unsettled he was and afraid she would laugh at him. And then Ted realized there was someone else in the room with him—a young Hispanic man, maybe 25, dressed in what Ted thought of as gang clothes. The young man didn’t look dangerous, but it was two o’clock in the morning


The Unclaimed and somehow he’d gotten past the home’s stateof-the-art security system and into the bedroom Ted shared with his wife. The young man had a gaping wound under his chin, still raw and bloody, and an exit wound on the back of his head. He was wandering around the room, picking things up as if evaluating them at a yard sale. He stopped before a framed Cindy Sherman photograph on the bedroom wall. It was one of Ted’s favorite things, a picture from the “Disasters and Fairy Tale” series in which the photographer posed herself as a dead woman with a fly crawling on her eye. Connie thought the photograph was creepy and disturbing and had asked him to move it to another room. Ted had ignored her. He often ignored Connie. He had told her that art was meant to disturb, completely ignoring—or conveniently forgetting—that his wife had an art history degree from Vassar and knew a lot more about art than he did. The Hispanic man was scrutinizing the photograph closely, and Ted found himself wondering what he thought of it. “That’s one effed-up chick,” the stranger comments finally, which annoys Ted enough that he finds the nerve to interrogate his visitor. “What are you doing in my house?” “I’m not here to cause trouble,” the young man replies mildly. “I just don’t have anywhere to go.” “You can’t stay here” Ted answers, wondering just how crazy the guy was and wondering if he could get to his panic button without the trespasser noticing. “Okay, then, let’s take a walk.” The Hispanic man pulls Ted out of bed and the next thing he knows, they’re walking down the corridor of the Wayne County coroner’s office. Ted is unsettled by the journey but does not begin to feel fear until the man directs him into a huge refrigerated room where white body bags are stacked

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up as neatly as DVD boxes at Fry’s Electronics. “This is a mess, huh?” the Hispanic man asks cheerfully. He walks over to one body bag, and reads the name on the toe. “This is me,” he says, and unzips the bag. Sure enough, inside the bag is the corpse of the Hispanic man with the gory gunshot in his throat. “What happened to…you?” Ted asks, dreading the answer. Knowing the answer. “Suicide, dude,” is the other man’s matter-offact reply. “But why are you still here?” “It costs $695 to cremate someone.” Ted still doesn’t understand. “You know what it’s like not to be able to afford $695?” “So you just got left here?” Ted shakes his head, unable to process the thought. “But surely there are organizations that…” The Hispanic guy interrupts him with a laugh. “The money to bury unclaimed bodies ran out in June. But hey, if you feel like making a donation, feel free.” Ted feels a stirring of guilt, covers it up with anger. “Don’t take out your failure on me, young man You’re the one who burdened your family by killing yourself.” The man’s eyes flash. “My wife left me when I lost my job, cabron. Took my kid with her. I’ve been living in my car. An American-made car built right here in Detroit.” “Surely there are other jobs…” “I’ve got a GED and a rap sheet. What am I supposed to do, apply for a job at Mickey D’s, and put the high school kids and the retirees out of work?” The smell of the morgue was making Ted dizzy. He reached out to steady himself and discovered that somehow he’s back home in his bed. And it’s 2 a.m. again. Chilled to the bone despite the central heating and the luxurious blankets cocooning him, Ted turns toward Connie,


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spooning into her back, trying to siphon off her body heat. Connie bought the sheets for their bed at Porthault in New York. They were custommade and cost $10,000. She bought them in three different colors. He’d just smiled and handed over his black Amex card. He could afford it. And she was worth it. They’d christened the sheets with a weekend of sex and champagne. He hadn’t needed to help things along with his little blue pills back then. Nowadays, mostly what they did in bed was sleep. Or at least Connie did. Ted did a lot of staring at the ceiling. The night ticks away, and suddenly Ted wakes again, surprised to have drifted off. He sees the man in the bedroom right away, a middle-aged black man he recognizes as the union spokesman who’d confronted the execs at the raucous meeting when they’d explained how the company bankruptcy was going to work. He remembered that the guy had been outraged but calm. His name was Jim, he thought. Or maybe Joe. Some one-syllable all-American name. “What happened to you?” he whispers as the black man looms over him. Jim or Joe or John unbuttons his shirt and shows Ted his scarred chest, with the marks from the needles that were plunged straight into his heart in an attempt to restart it. Ted meets the guy’s eyes and realizes there is only pity there, not the hostility he expected. Still, he is afraid as the apparition reaches out to clasp Ted’s hand. Ted finds himself at St. Paul’s Cemetery in Grosse Pointe. It’s a pretty place, not one of those boneyards where you find memorial plaques planted flush with the ground. A funeral is taking place, and it looks like there’s a lot of press there to cover it. “Must be somebody important,” Ted thinks before he realizes

the photographers and reporters are there to cover some sort of protest. People are carrying signs that say things like “The Rich are Different from You and I, They Get Buried When they Die.” There are rent-a-cops trying to keep order, but the protesters outnumber them and they also outnumber the mourners. It’s not until Ted sees Connie sitting in a folding chair holding hands with their family lawyer that he realizes the funeral is his. And he realizes something else at the same time. Connie and their lawyer are not just friends. Their body language tells him they’re lovers. She’s brightened her hair with a gold rinse, and it shines like a teenager’s. She’s wearing one of her designer suits, a severe black number that cost more than a thousand dollars. She looks good. She’s always kept herself neat. Ted really hasn’t noticed in the last few years. But clearly, his prick lawyer has. The coffin is big and looks like it might be bronze. It’s fit for minor royalty. Or a captain of industry. It looks substantial. But when it’s lowered into the grave, there is a glitch in the machinery and the coffin is dropped the last two feet. It hits the bottom with an audible thud. Ted wakes up thrashing, tangled up in those expensive sheets. He looks over at the clock. Two in the morning. He looks over at Connie who is still sleeping soundly beside him. Bitch. He’s about to wake her, to demand details about her adultery when he is suddenly paralyzed by a crushing pain in his chest. Fortysix years of living large have just caught up to him. His last sight on earth is a glimpse of the three ghosts standing in his bedroom, looking on without emotion as he dies. When it’s over, they slip silently out of the room. The ghosts take their time. It’s not like they have anywhere to go.


The Auslander in “Killing Rita”

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Killing Rita The Auslander in

By Michael Patrick Sullivan

B

lood did not splatter as the man in the Gestapo uniform reeled from a mighty American right cross. His beskulled black lid flew from his head of shock-white hair as he tumbled to the ground. He rolled on his left arm, the swastika on his red armband pressed into the concrete floor. “How ya like them apples, you dirty kraut?” A handsome, dark-haired man in olive drab fatigues, sleeves rolled up neatly past the elbows, looked down on the crumpled Nazi. “That was for Jonsey. And this one’s for Brooklyn.” A US Army–issue combat boot rapidly approached the Secret Policeman’s head until a disembodied voice called out. “Cut!” The white-haired man in the black uniform got up with the aid of the handsome man in green. He kept his sentences short. “Thank you, Bob.” Anything more than that, and the actor in the army uniform, not to mention the cast and crew of the low-budget Berlin or Bust, might get the idea that his role in the film didn’t require any acting. Even with just three words, he was concerned his Austrian accent might still come though. “Not a problem. I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.” It was unsurprising the actor was unaware of his co-star’s name, as the black-clad stranger had found his way onto the studio lot as a mere extra. The director, admiring his physique, upgraded

him to stunt work. Neither the actor nor director knew the reason his body was so well honed. The foreigner wasn’t certain himself, but he suspected it was because the uniform he wore now as an act he once wore in earnest, as a ruthless officer of the Third Reich’s secret police. He hesitated, but finally answered Bob. “My name is Joe.” The words came out that way, but in his mind the answer was different. It was the answer he always had when asked about his identity. The only one he knew to be true. “Ich ben ein Auslander.” I am a foreigner. “That’s a wrap for the day,” the director shouted, and the Auslander found an empty dressing room to change into his own personal uniform of a black trench coat. Perhaps that was why the Gestapo uniform seemed so familiar to him. As he stood in the mirror and looked at himself in the garb of pure evil, he wondered if there wasn’t another reason. Instinctively, he knew that this wasn’t the first time he’d worn a uniform of this sort, but he didn’t remember. He remembered nothing before waking in a Stateside hotel room with a stack of fake identity cards picturing him with dark hair and the image in the mirror of his hair turned white, as if by shock. His past, if that was what it was, came to him only in pieces, only at night, and only in his dreams. They were dreams of German plans to commit stateside sabotage. Sometimes, he only saw an image of a face or a place. On


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a rare occasion, like the one a fortnight ago, as he slept on the frozen ground beneath a bridge in Minneapolis, he saw both. The place was Hollywood, California and the face was that of movie star Rita Hayworth. The idea to infiltrate the studio lot where the auburn-haired beauty made movie magic as an extra was simple enough, and to do so in the guise of what he likely really was seemed to be nothing more than good strategy. He thought it likely that a Nazi saboteur with an interest in gaining access to the lot would probably use a similar ruse. For the last several nights, the Avenging Austrian had used the darkness to stealthily skulk the studio in search of traps, bombs, or any other clues as to an Axis plot within the studio gates. As he stepped out of the soundstage, he found his routine would be upset and that the timetable of terror had likely been considerably advanced.

Down the alley, the man of black and white could see lights and hear dance music coming from another huge soundstage. There was also the sound of a crowd having a good time. He was so intrigued by the goings-on that he was nearly trampled by a group of U.S. servicemen in their dress uniforms. He nodded silently to their hurried apologies as they made their way to the buzzing hangar-sized building. Uniformed members of the armed services, some back from the war, others about to ship out, streamed through the large stage doors beneath a huge USO banner. At the same time, the Auslander entered through a fire exit and ascended to the rafters. From the lighting catwalks, the white-haired warrior could clearly see the entirety of the party below. Soldiers and USO girls danced as a big band played. He could also see behind the stage’s curtain, where the film star and G.I. Joe’s pin-up girl was getting ready to take the stage and entertain the troops. The Auslander scanned the crowd for danger, but became aware of danger’s presence behind him as he felt a gun barrel press into the back of his neck. He heard an accent in the words that followed. It was a Düsseldorf dialect. “I thought you might show your face here, Herr Überverstand.” The fighting foreigner turned and found himself face-to-face with a man in a Luftwaffe uniform. It was an imperfect copy made by a studio seamstresses. The armed man touched his collar. “I gave myself a promotion. I hope you don’t mind.” “So long as you do your duty.” The Auslander assumed the guise of whoever the grey-uniformed man thought he was. “You do not fool me. I’ve heard tell that you were in the country, and I’ve heard what you’ve been up to. Defeating our own plots. You’ll not foil this one. A direct attack on the morale of the Allied fighting troops and proof that no one is


The Auslander in “Killing Rita” safe from the Third Reich, even in the midst of the Hollywood propaganda machine.” Found out, the Auslander had nothing to lose. He lunged for the weapon that had held him in check. It was an American weapon, an M1911A1 pistol of the sort that the soldiers below might wear as a sidearm, and some of them were. It was a fact that did not go unnoticed by the Auslander. If he created enough of a ruckus, then a hundred U.S. servicemen could open fire on both him and his assailant. He considered it an option of last resort. Instead he struggled for the gun against his foe, the sounds of brass instruments and the pounding of drums masking the sounds of hand-to-hand combat on metal grates. His hand gripped around the barrel; he had as much sway over the weapon as the man in the Nazi uniform. The only advantage he didn’t have was his finger on the trigger. He did, however, have his finger on the safety, and he switched it to the “safe” position. “So the stories are true. What’s become of you, mein freund?” The Auslander did not answer. As he tried to push his adversary’s hand down against a railing, he also pushed down the thoughts sparked by his opponent’s comments. Fears that he’d been found out. “Are they now hunting me?” He banged his foe’s wrist on the catwalk rail. The assassin still held the gun tight. “Am I now wanted by the Axis and Allies both?” The back of the would-be killer’s hand was forced into sharp contact with the side of a hanging can light. Still, he gripped the barrel. The Auslander simply hadn’t the time for the concerns the combatant had raised. He forced the gun back down to the railing, and with a reverberating clang, the gun flew free of both of their hands and skittered to a stop several feet down the catwalk. Its Nazi owner made a hasty

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dive for the weapon but was forced to fall short when the Auslander took hold of his left shin. In turn, he dove over the man, landing on his back, but with a closer reach to the pistol. With the gun within his reach, his fingers gaining traction on the textured handle, the German pushed the Auslander to the side and off the catwalk. His hand’s last act before taking hold of a rail support was to push the weapon further away. It tumbled off the catwalk as well, landing precariously on a scaffold, well out of reach of either man. The Auslander dangled dozens of feet above the crowd just as the music ended and the Master of Ceremonies took the stage. He wore a white dinner jacket and had hair slicked back with pomade. He patted his palm on the microphone. “Is this thing on?” It was. “Let’s hear it for Les Brown and his Band of Renown.” Applause drowned out the words of the disarmed Nazi as he knelt down to his nearly defeated rival. “My window of opportunity is here, and I am now powerless to use it. As a man of honor, you leave me no choice.” He offered his hand to the stranger beneath him. The Auslander’s former combatant said it best. He had no choice. He took the man’s hand and accepted his aid in returning to the catwalk. He allowed the German to become his sole means of support, if only for an instant, but an instant was all that would be needed to let him fall to his death. Such a fall was a certainty if the German wanted it to be, the Auslander reasoned, and would also reveal his presence. For that reason, the outlander trusted him “And now, the real reason you boys have come here tonight.” The emcee’s voice charged the crowd as it did the public address speakers. “Maybe you know her from the film Blood and Sand or more recently in My Gal Sal.” On his feet again, the Auslander had barely regained his bearings when his erstwhile combatant abruptly resumed his role and pushed


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him down. He grabbed the German’s lapels and pulled himself back, bodychecking his opponent, only to be repelled again, harder. As he fell, he realized his Luger, which had remained undrawn, was not falling with him. He looked up to see his enemy was now rearmed. His vision was just as quickly impaired by the sharp application of a boot to his face. Wracked with pain, the Auslander cupped his head in his hands. Despite physical reality, for a moment, he was nowhere at all. “Though I imagine some of you guys just back from the front probably know her best from that pin-up you kept in your jackets or rucksacks. Hubba hubba, am I right? Huh? Am I right?” The emcee concluded his introduction, “I give you the pin-up girl you’re fighting for, Rita Hayworth!” The man in the Nazi uniform took aim at the so-called Love Goddess as she took the stage. Her form-fitting sequined gown, with a carefully measured slit up the side, sparkled in the studio’s artificial lights. Applause and catcalls overwhelmed her as well as the ears of the German agent, and accomplished marksman, who was slowly squeezing the trigger of a pistol aimed directly at her head. Using the Luger was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. While he’d been able to acquire the Luftwaffe uniform from the studio’s costume shop so that he could execute his duty proudly in the name of the Third Reich, he could not acquire the nine-millimeter ammunition for the otherwise blank-loaded Luger in his costume’s holster. Now, he had the genuine article. BLAM! The shot rang out. Smoke poured from the gun’s barrel. Every pair of eyes attached to functional pairs of ears turned upward to see a man in a Nazi uniform aborting a Sig Heilstyle salute. Amongst that sea of eyes were the light brown peepers of an unharmed Rita Hayworth.

The German looked to find that the Auslander had gone. Panicked, he fired off several more shots, harming no one and breaking nothing. As the crowd below turned riotous and sought to capture the target of their ire, the grey-uniformed man dashed to an access ladder. Perhaps he would be able to salvage a getaway. That was not to be the case. As he reached the alcove where the steel welded ladder descended into a tool room separate from the soundstage, a flat palm halted him in his left shoulder. He noticed a black-sleeved hand reach into the costume holster and withdraw what the German thought to be a useless weapon for show: a blank-filled stunt gun. “It’s always in the last place you look…mein freund.” “You switched them. As we fought.” The German was incredulous. “You are not the Mastermind. What have you become? Who are you?” “Ich bin ein Auslander.” The avenging Austrian looked him in the eye as he shot the would-be assassin in the heart. The barrel was pressed so hard into the man’s chest that the report was muffled. “It seems that in Hollywood, nothing is exactly as it appears,” thought the strange sentinel as he made his escape as The German had planned for himself, down the ladder and out the tool room window. As the mob found the German’s body, they found they were too late to serve justice. It had been done for them. There was no reward of a kiss from a movie starlet for saving her life, but the Auslander did give himself a reward for a good night’s work. That night he slept on the soft sand of the beach, bathed in the lights and sounds of the amusements on Santa Monica Pier and the cool sea air on an otherwise humid summer night. He drifted into slumber and he dreamt. The next morning he was on his way again with his Luger at his side.


Fairy Story

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Fairy Story By Katherine Tomlinson Illustrations by Jennifer Caro

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ur parents read us stories when we’re little, stories to entertain us but also to instruct; to teach us the difference between good fairies and bad. The good ones, we’re told, grant wishes and turn pumpkins into coaches. The bad ones steal children and curse babies and transform princes into frogs. What our parents don’t tell us is that “good” and “bad” are labels that have no meaning when it comes to fairies. Those are human traits and fairies—no matter how pleasing to the eye they may be—are not human. It may amuse them to interfere in mortal matters occasionally—bestowing a magic ring here, a golden goose there—but they are equally diverted by more malign pastimes. They do things for their own reasons and no matter how freely given, there is always a price to be paid for a fairy gift. Always. I was about to go to bed when I got a text from CJ Bowe, the only woman on L.A.’s paracrimes squad and a friend of mine from way back. All she’d typed was an address followed by double exclamation points. That was her way of saying it would be worth my time to make a trip into Hollywood, even this late on a Friday night. I grabbed the Metro red line, which dropped me on Hollywood a block east of Vine at Argyle and walked the rest of the way. Parking is always

a nightmare in Hollywood, and I didn’t feel like fighting someone in a tank-size SUV for the last “compact” space on a glass-strewn side street. The clubs and bars were starting to empty out, vomiting a steady stream of poseurs and wannabes and has-beens who hadn’t hooked up or had babysitters to pay but were wired on Red Bull and vodka and not ready to call it a night. They saw the cop cars and the paramedic trucks at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine and drifted over to see what was going on. Not so different from me, really, but I get paid to be nosy. There was a bus load of excited German tourists milling around just outside of the crime scene tape that roped off the entrance to the Taft Building, a twelve-story relic of Hollywood’s glory days. Some of the tourists were taking videos of the goings-on, beaming them back to Deutschland, where it was 10 a.m. I hoped their friends had strong stomachs. Even though all that was visible was a pool of blood, it was a massive pool of blood. And even under the offcolor glow of the sodium street lights, you could see it had a strange purple luminescence. Fae blood. Which explained why CJ had called me. I showed a uniform my press card, and he let me through as the tourists craned to see if I was someone they’d seen on television. CJ was on her phone and waved white-gloved fingers at me. Her boss, John Dannon, also saw me coming, grimaced and turned his back.


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It’s no secret Dannon hates me, but most people assume it has something to do with him being a cop and me being a journo. In fact, we met when I was first working at the L.A. Times, fresh off my internship with the late, great Carl Kolchak at Chicago’s Independent News Service. Dannon was working the case that would make his name, the murder of an antique dealer who’d attracted the wrong kind of interest in his private coin collection. Amongst other things, the collection included twent-eight badly tarnished silver coins that he believed were part of the fabled “thirty pieces of silver” paid to Judas. By solving that case, John pretty much singlehandedly averted apocalypse, and it went to his head. And to his little head. One night I found him in bed with two skanky cop groupies and a ball python, and that was it for us. Who knew that twenty years later we’d still be bumping into each other at crime scenes? He’d been ambitious—wanted to run for mayor—but his political career never quite happened. Lots of things had never happened for him. It doesn’t help that he’s going bald and I still look twentyfive. That’s the begotten blood for you. At least it’s good for something. “Kira?” I turned to see Lee Park at my elbow. He’s Dannon’s number two, but he understands the value of positive press. Plus, when he wants to trade info with me, he always treats me to dinner at the restaurant his parents own. They make the best Jangeo-gui in town. “Why are we here Lee?” I asked. “That’s the big question, isn’t it? Are we the result of intelligent design or…” CJ interrupted him. “Victim is a half-ling,” she said. “Jumped from the roof,” Lee said. “Or was pushed,” CJ countered. Sometimes I wish the two of them would just get a room, get a bottle and get it over with. The sexual

tension between them is so strong it’s practically visible. “Do you have identification yet?” I asked. Lee pointed to a middle-aged man wearing a doorman’s uniform and a blank look. “Mr. Wisnicki identified her. Her name was Ashlinde Farrow. Her office was on the ninth floor. She was a social worker, counseled runaways.” “There aren’t any security cameras,” CJ added. “When Mr. Wisnicki comes on duty at five, he locks the doors. Tenants have key cards. He said Ashlinde worked late a lot.” “Yeah, Mr. Wisnicki kept tabs on Ashlinde,” Lee said. CJ shot him a look. He looked cheerfully unrepentant. “I’m just saying CJ…you think someone pushed her? Why not him?” I looked over at Wisnicki; saw the grief in his posture. Anyone could see he was devastated. Including Lee. He was just trying to provoke CJ. “How easy is it to get up to the roof?” I asked. “There’s an access door on the twelfth floor. It says ‘do not enter’ but it isn’t locked,” CJ answered. “Any witnesses?” I asked. CJ jerked her head toward a small group of people gathered around a paramedic truck— a couple of club kids who were smoking ferociously and one older tourist who had an oxygen mask over her face. The proximity of the cigarettes and the oxygen made me nervous. “You’ll want to talk to her,” CJ said, gesturing toward the youngest of the club kids, a beautiful darkhaired girl with a heart-shaped face. “The old one.” My stomach turned. I hate dealing with vampires. I really do. And the ones who mix with mortals annoy me the most. The vampire took a deep drag on her cigarette as I approached and exhaled in my face.


Fairy Story Vitch, I thought and tried not to look annoyed. The only way vampires can enjoy tobacco is if they share the sharp kiss with a smoker and taste it in their blood. But I guess the appeal of “looking cool” never fades, even if you have been out of high school for a hundred years. I told her who I was and pulled out my digital recorder. “I understand you saw the victim fall to her death; care to comment?” Not a shadow of emotion crossed her pretty young face. “She looked like a little bird learning to fly,” the vampette said dreamily. “She was flailing her arms around, trying to catch some air.” Another bored drag on the cigarette. “But she never did.” I waited, but that was all I was going to get. I turned to the group hovering around her. “Anyone else see anything?” A skinny boy about twenty piped up, “It wasn’t the fall that killed her. It was the sudden stop.” He sniggered at his own joke and looked hopefully at the vampire to see if she thought he was funny. She rewarded him with the barest smirk. I suddenly felt very tired and more than a little depressed. I went home and posted an entry on paracrimes.com, promising more details as soon as I had them. I found a picture of the dead girl and posted that too. No surprise, she’d been beautiful. The next morning I read Wisnicki’s statement, which CJ had emailed me, but there wasn’t much in there I didn’t know already. Ashlinde had worked with runaways, getting them into rehab, finding them jobs, buying them bus tickets home—if they had homes to go back to. Wisnicki had clearly adored her. I also had an email from a woman named Kristen Shaver who claimed to be a friend of the deceased and suggested meeting for coffee to talk about her. We met at one of the ten bazillion Starbucks between my house and her office and she paid for both our soy lattes.

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Kristen turned out to be a statuesque brunette with a strong jaw and hazel eyes framed by $400 glasses. She gave me her card. Shaver Enterprises, which told me nothing about what she did for a living except that she was her own boss. Turned out she did medical billing for a bunch of doctor’s offices. “Not glamorous, I know,” she said with a self-deprecating chuckle. “But it’s a recession-proof business.” Kristen told me she’d known Ashlinde for ten years and that she had a knack for helping people. “It was more like a gift,” she amplified. “Maybe that was her fairy blood coming through.” She told me she’d had lunch with Ashlinde just a week earlier. Her friend had been upset, she told me. One of her clients had gone missing after being spotted in a porn film. The filmmaker claimed she’d simply taken his money and disappeared. Ashlinde thought there was more to it than that. “You find him and you’ll find her killer,” Kristen predicted. But of course, she didn’t have a name. When you’re listening to your friends vent you never think it might be important to ask certain questions. You never expect they’ll end up dead a week later. “I’ll ask around,” I promised her, pretending not to notice the tears welling up in her eyes. She nodded gratefully and pulled a small photograph out of her purse. She looked down at it for a moment and then slid it over to me. It was a black and white mug shot of a battered, hollowed-eyed teenager. I wouldn’t have recognized Kristen if it hadn’t been for that strong jaw. “She saved my life,” Kristen said. “She was an angel.” Two days after Ashlinde’s death, the case was officially ruled a homicide. There was evidence of a struggle in her office and on the roof. CJ’s theory was that someone had sneaked into the building in the morning and then stayed all


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day before sneaking into her office after hours and confronting her. I told her about the pornographer and she promised to check it out. In exchange for the tip she told me that the only lead they had was that traces of goblin DNA had been found on Ashlinde’s clothes. I asked her to keep me posted. The next day I got a call from Ashlinde’s mother. She’d flown to Los Angeles to claim her daughter’s body and asked if I would meet her at Forest Lawn where the girl would be buried in their special section—the part where the graves are pierced with decorative spikes of cold iron and seeded with protective crystals to keep bodies safe from necromancers and others who might want to tamper with dead bodies.

The woman’s name was Róisín. She was Irish of course, her accent still there despite all her years in America. Fairies are fools for the Irish girls. Her hair was glorious and it was all her own—Clairol doesn’t make a shade called Spun Rose Gold. Her eyes were the color of moss agates under water. The woman was 50 and marked by sorrow, but even so you could tell that she had been a remarkable beauty in her youth. Beautiful enough to attract a fairy lover, which had been her tragedy. Róisin was eerily composed when we met in the small chapel where a closed rosewood casket with iron fittings rested on a riser. I wondered if her composure was due to her force of will or really good drugs. She told me Kristen had given her my name and number and that although she’d never read my blog, she knew I’d been a paracrime reporter for the Times. She basically wanted me to keep her daughter’s story alive until someone, anyone, was brought to justice for the crime. She could have done this over the phone, but grief-stricken people aren’t thinking straight. And anyway, if she’d contacted me by phone, I would have missed what happened next when the rest of Ashlinde’s family showed up. You don’t often see fairies up close unless they want you to see them. And even then, you rarely see them as they truly are because they wrap themselves in glamour. I’m as immune to fae glamour as I am to vampire glamour, but this fairy needed no magic to amplify his beauty. It was a wild, strange beauty, however, and you would never have mistaken him for human. He was maybe a head taller than I am, short by human standards, with features that looked subtly Asian—high cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes. His skin was the dark bronze of living metal and completely


Fairy Story unlined. His hair was black but held strands of purple and blue and iridescent green, like the carapace of a beetle. His wings had an armored look like the blades of an iron war-fan from some martial arts movie. “Sprye,” Róisin said, and the one syllable held the most emotion I’d heard from her since we’d met. “Mother,” he answered coldly, and that was a surprise. So this wasn’t the father, but the brother. And he was full-fae, not a half-ling, which was even more interesting. I wondered what had happened to his real mother. “You cannot have her,” Róisin said softly. “It’s been too long to resurrect her.” “And that was your intention, wasn’t it?” he asked hotly. “To keep her here until she could not be brought back?” The woman didn’t answer, just looked at him sadly. When he spoke again, his tone was pleading. “Please don’t put her in the earth surrounded by cold iron.” “It must be done,” she said. ‘You know it must.” “I’ve got lawyers filing an injunction.” The anger was back, more pronounced now. He produced a card, offered it to her. She didn’t take it. “They’ll stop you.” “No,” she said. “They won’t.” He stepped toward her then. He looked so furious I wondered if I should call security but Róisin stood her ground. I might as well not been in the room. “Why do you exert your claim now, Mother? You left her with us, remember? You didn’t want her. You didn’t want me. So you left us.” The pain in his voice was raw and ragged. “And then she left me too,” he added. Róisin reached for the fairy, cradling him to her breast. “My poor boy. My poor sweet boy.” He nuzzled into her, clung like a child as she stroked his hair. “I loved you both so much. I didn’t want to leave you. But I had to.”

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He recoiled from her then, as if she’d slapped him. “I’m taking her home,” he said, flat and final, and stepped toward the coffin. That’s when two Forest Lawn employees came into the chapel, one carrying a thermos-sized canister with a nozzle on it, the other empty-handed but with a look of authority. “Sir, I’m afraid I must ask you to leave,” he said. Sprye wheeled on him and shot a blast of some kind of magic at him. The empty-handed man put up his palm and deflected it with ease. I saw his hand wasn’t empty at all but held a mirror. Furious, the fairy stepped toward him, but the other guy blasted him with an aerosolized mixture of uncooked oatmeal and salt. Sprye shriveled a bit where the mixture touched his bare skin. It must have hurt, but he did not cry out. “Please, sir. We must insist.” Sprye turned to Róisin, whose composure had finally cracked. “This isn’t over.” He turned and stalked out, followed by the man with the sprayer. The other man stayed to talk to Róisin in a low voice. More men were summoned, and the rosewood casket was rolled away. Sprye had been wrong. It was over, and all the injunctions and writs in the world couldn’t stop what happened next. Within an hour, Ashlinde was interred in holy ground so protected against magic her brother would never be able to come near enough to leave a flower at her grave. That night, I was wrestling the recycling bin to the curb when Sprye appeared in my driveway, seeming to blink into existence out of nowhere. I felt him before I saw him, an explosion of heat like when you open an oven door to check on your cookies. He didn’t look like his mood had improved since the afternoon. “Lt. Dannon gave me your address,” he said, not bothering with conversational niceties like


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introducing himself formally. “He said you’ve been following the case closely and would be able to fill me in.” Nice. I would have to thank Dannon for directing a pissed-off Puck right to my door. Especially when I was out of oatmeal. “I’m very sorry about your sister,” I told him, “but I can’t help you.” I turned to go back into the house and he grabbed my wrist. Hard. It hurt. It hurt with the kind of bone-scraping pain that you’re not meant to feel this side of the grave. He knew he was hurting me and that amused him. I tried to pull away and found I couldn’t. I forced myself to relax. I don’t like bullies of any species, and I sure as hell was not going to let this creature jerk me around, just because he could. “What do you want Sprye?”

“My sister’s killer,” he replied, letting go of my wrist. “If you’ve talked to Dannon, you know there aren’t many leads.” “He seems to think you know more than he does. I believe he might be right.” “I don’t know who murdered your sister,” I said. “But you’ll find out.” It wasn’t a question. “I hope so,” I said and was surprised to find how much I meant it. Her death had left a hole in the lives of a lot of people. She had been doing something that mattered, not just taking up space. “Call me when you know something,” he said and…disappeared. But he left a phone number hanging in the air in golden letters, a small showy spell that followed me into the house and persisted long enough for me to enter the number into my phone.


Fairy Story Ashlinde’s murder case went cold. Dannon’s squad was overloaded with a rash of hate crimes directed at an enclave of Arab-American afrits. I interviewed Wisnicki the doorman and talked to Ashlinde’s supervisor. Nothing. And then the missing porn star showed up in the trunk of a car towed to the Van Nuys impound yard. The car was registered to her, which was kind of a surprise given that she’d been homeless just a few weeks before. No family was forthcoming, so the cops asked her last employer to identify her. CJ said the guy seemed genuinely upset at the turn of events. Lee was not so sure. I love CJ, but Lee’s better at reading people. I called up the pornmeister and asked for an interview. Jhon Eastman was only too happy to oblige and told me to drop by any time. I suggested coming by that very afternoon. That was fine by him he said and then spelled his name for me twice to make sure I got it right. Jhon met me in a cramped editing bay where he was cutting together some footage of his late protégé. She hadn’t been much of an actress, but then, Jhon wasn’t much of a filmmaker. He saw me looking at the clips, mistook my disdain for interest. “I’m going to release a tribute movie for her,” he said cheerfully, “something to show the world just how talented she was.” “Sort of like the Michael Jackson concert film,” I suggested. “Exactly,” he crowed. “Only with tits and ass.” His eyes kept straying to the editing screen where the footage was playing out soundlessly. “She could have been a real star,” he said wistfully, “another Shay Sweet.” “It didn’t bother you she was underage?” He gave me a look of astonishment that wouldn’t have fooled a five-year-old. “Really?” He shook his head, “But she had ID.” He trailed off, gave me what he must have thought was a grin filled with lopsided charm. I grinned back, pretending to buy his okey-doke for the moment.

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“You ever get a visit from a woman named Ashlinde Farrow?” He furrowed his brow in a dumbshow of concentration. “Ashlinde?” he asked. “That her stage name?” “I know she visited you Jhon. Your address is in her computer.” “Wait. Are you talking about that nosy little fairy princess—the one who committed suicide a few weeks ago?” Now see—Jhon overplayed his hand there. Ashlinde’s death had been all over the tube and the blogosphere. Ever since celebrity culture gave way to para-culture, you can’t miss the news when something happens to someone like her. Claiming not to recall her death was sort of like Heather Mills telling Sir Paul McCartney that she’d never heard of the Beatles before she met him. Unlikely in the extreme. “That’s the one, Jhon. About five feet tall. Blonde. Really, really beautiful.” His face twisted in a sneer. “Yeah, the little fwat showed up here a few times. Upsetting my actresses. She threatened to shut me down. I thought I was going to have to call the cops to get her out of here.” “Not a movie fan?” I suggested neutrally. “You don’t like porn? You don’t have to watch it. I make adult entertainment for a discriminating audience. I don’t force anyone to download it and I take care of my girls and boys.” “But wasn’t Ashlinde interested in one particular girl? Wasn’t she interested in her?” I pointed to the girl in the monitor. “Yeah. She wanted to talk about Jennah. Said she was going to see me in court if I didn’t let her take Jennah with her.” “”And did you let her take her?” “I did not.” He pointed toward a line of cheesy-looking trophies lined up on a credenza. One of them looked like a brass-plated, anatomically correct penis. “I am an award-winning filmmaker. I was going to make Jennah a star. And for


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all her airy-fairy ways, Ashlinde did not have her clients’ best interests at heart.” “How do you figure that?” “She wanted to take them away from good jobs, good money. She wanted to make them dependent on her.” “Getting them off drugs. Getting them off the streets.” I let it hang there. Getting them away from creeps like you, I thought, but didn’t add. He narrowed his eyes as if reading my mind. “Well, she’s not going to interfere anymore, is she?” he said. And then he laughed. And there was something about his laugh…something inhuman that pinged my radar. “I’d think you’d be more sympathetic to her,” I said, “since you have something in common. Both being half-breeds and all.” His face flashed green for a second and I knew I’d been right. Our friendly neighborhood porn purveyor was part-goblin. “It’s time for you to go,” he said and he didn’t have to say it twice. I drove straight to the police station and played the recording for Dannon. Then I told him what I’d seen when I’d goaded Jhon. Dannon wasn’t happy about me playing Nancy Drew, but he wasn’t stupid either. They brought Jhon in for questioning that afternoon. Then cut him loose the next morning. When I heard, I called the station, but not even CJ would talk to me. So I drove over there to confront Dannon personally. He brought me into his office and closed the door. He let me rant until I ran out of steam and then he just said, “We had to cut him loose.” He sounded so defeated and so… un-Dannon that I closed my mouth. He shoved a paper across his desk at me. I read it twice before it made sense. Jhon was a witness in a big case the Feds were trying to make against some Russian gangster moving in on the L.A. gas station business. He’d had a get-out-of-jail-free card and he’d used it. “He killed Ashlinde, John. And he probably killed the girl, too.”

“Oh there’s no doubt about him killing Ashlinde.” The hair on the back of my neck rose. “What do you mean?” “He admitted it, Kira. Admitted it. And then he lawyered up, claimed he’d never said it and wouldn’t you know? All our in-house recorders went on the fritz at the same time.” That meant that in addition to having a good lawyer, the creep also had enough magic of his own to futz with the electronics. “You’ve got nothing?” “I’ve got an ulcer.” He gave me a look that I felt in my bones. “Go home, Kira. I’ll have Lee call you if we get anything on those afrit cases.” I didn’t bother to argue. There’s unfinished business between me and Dannon, but I know him well. And I knew this was killing him. I left his office and drove around Hollywood for awhile. I passed the Taft Building. The police tape was long gone. The bloodstain washed away. Ashlinde was dead. And as her mother had told Sprye—there was no way she was coming back. But Jhon Eastman was still walking the earth. Somehow it didn’t seem fair. I texted Sprye and told him to meet me at the little park near my house. When he arrived, I told him who killed his sister and why. I knew I was signing Jhon’s death warrant. And I didn’t care. I felt fierce and righteous. Sprye listened without interrupting. And when I was finished, he simply turned and…disappeared. Two days later Jhon Eastman was dead. He had walked into a diner, ordered his usual breakfast of steak and eggs, and then collapsed in a heap. The autopsy didn’t find anything unusual and all the witness statements were vague. All of them had noticed one particular tourist sitting at the counter, quietly eating buttermilk pancakes. The waitress remembered he’d been a big tipper but in the confusion she must have mislaid the money because when she went to cash out at


Fairy Story the end of her shift, all she had in her apron was a handful of shiny pebbles. One of the patrons who’d been seated next to the tourist at the counter remembered he’d been wearing a t-shirt from Disneyland with Tinkerbelle on it. Nice touch, that. Sprye showed up at my door that night. I did not invite him in. “I owe you a debt,” he said without elaboration. “What do you want in payment?” “You can subscribe to my blog,” I said. “Paracrimes.com. Just Google my name and it’ll pop up. And donations are always welcome.” “That can’t be all you want,” he insisted. “Mortals always want something from the fae.” “Well,” I said. “I’m not exactly mortal. And I didn’t do it for you.” “Of course. You did it for the story.” Maybe he believed that. Maybe he was just trying to get a rise out of me. It was true I’d posted a story that afternoon that made it clear the late Jhon Eastman had been a “person of interest” in the Ashlinde Farrow murder case. I had signed off with my conclusion that now he was dead, the case would probably go unsolved. I scooped the Times with the story. I can’t pretend that wasn’t satisfying. It’s how I make a living. I had crossed a line with this case, though. I was clear on what I’d done, and I thought I could live with it, but the temptation to mete out vigilante justice was as seductive as the first taste of heroin. I would have to make sure I never took that second bite. What I wanted more than anything was for Sprye to go back to fae-ville and leave me in peace. I was tired on a

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cellular level. As if in response to my thoughts, he disappeared. When I went out the next morning to sprinkle my lawn, the roses were already opening in the heat. All except one. A fat, full-blown blossom of solid gold shone among the velvety red petals of my Mr. Lincoln and Chrysler Imperials. Sprye had left me a parting gift. Or his version of a fee. Or maybe even it was meant as an apology. I left the golden rose to catch the early morning sun. If it was still there by nightfall I would pluck it. But I’d been around fairy gold too much to really think it might be real.


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Fair and Balanced By J. Jasper

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he retired Reverend James Billups never really imagined having a driveway full of dead Mexicans and his own pistol in his mouth when he started watching the Fox News Network. “Fair and balanced,” he had told his daughter and liberal son-in-law, “Fair and balanced.” The son-in-law had asked, “Is that your main source of news?” The daughter had chimed in, “Dad, we’ve read a Harvard study that clearly indicates that people whose sole or main source of news is Fox are by far the least informed people out there. Change the channel sometime.” “True or false,” his dumb-ass son-in-law had asked? “Iraq was responsible for nine-eleven.” James had smiled at their stupidity. Harvard. Of course Iraq was responsible for nine-eleven, but it was probably a trick question, so he chose just to smile and shake his head. And he did change the channel. Lou Dobbs on CNN was letting the truth be known, also. James had found him accidentally, because he knew better than to let the remote stop for long on the Communist News Network. He was changing the channels past CNN, but David, a caller from Freeport, NY, had just called in and was saying, “Obama is rushing all these programs through by whatever means because he knows he will soon be exposed as a fake, a fraud, a…Kenyan.” “Certainly, your view cannot be discounted,” Dobbs responded, almost quietly, nodding his

head and then looking directly at the camera. James had always believed that a man should make eye contact with you, and he liked Dobbs’ hands. They were thick, large, and strong-looking, a sign that strength of character lay inside him. “I watch Lou Dobbs, on CNN,” he told his daughter and son-in-law. “You do know that Obama is not even an American citizen? They have proof…he won’t even produce his own birth certificate.” “Oh, James,” was all the condescending little son-in-law had said. His son-in-law’s hands were a little slim, and he had often wondered if he was not secretly a homosexual, especially since he had tried to give him a handgun for his daughter’s protection and the little queer had refused to take it. The pistol in his mouth tasted just like James expected it would, metallic, and he could see through the curtains that several police cars were already in the street. The ambulance guys were still hiding behind the ambulance, and he could see the legs of the Mexican woman he had killed sticking out from behind his car. The guys down at Civitans would never understand how he could have killed a woman like that, and he had realized the fact as soon as he had shot her and she had fallen. Though her two sons and husband lay dead in the carport, she was the reason that he had decided to end it. It was almost an accident. She had run screaming right at him, and he had shot her and then realized, even before her blood began


Fair and Balanced running out of the hole in her head, that she was just running to her husband and children. It had been a lucky shot, or unlucky for him now. He had even gone over to her and felt her neck, like they do on television, and he had looked at her hands. They were brown, but fine, thick, and strong, and he had thought to himself that she at least would work. He then had wondered, as he touched her neck, how she had gotten the sore place on the back of her right hand. She had burned it, unbeknownst to him, making a pie for her boys, who lay dead a few yards away while the pie cooled in her kitchen across the street. He had gone inside after that and sat down in the recliner with the remote control, and since it was time for Lou Dobbs Tonight, he changed from Fox over to it. He tried to listen to Lou but couldn’t, because all he could think about was his ruined reputation. Ruined. The woman should have kept an eye on the boys, and no matter how young they were, it was okay to shoot people for stealing on your own property. The short fat father had threatened his life. Self-defense. Everybody would understand that. But he could think of no good reason for shooting the woman. He just had to think. Think. He thought about his mother, God rest her soul. Times had been hard in 1924 Cullman, Alabama, for his unwed mother when he had been born. “She gave me my good sense and my Godly upbringing,” he would tell people with tears in his eyes. “The greatest woman I ever knew.” In reality, she had once locked him in an automobile all night long in a farmhouse yard while she fucked every poker player in the house. At home, she locked him in a closet many times while she entertained other men. But that was not the most traumatic thing she ever did to him. She once carried James on a picnic with a man and disappeared into the dark woods for a terrifying thirty minutes while the boy yelled

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out and cried for her. A snake had slithered up next to the boy while his mother let a traveling salesman fuck her from behind on the other side of a hedge. James still had trouble going into the woods. The man the mother finally married was a man who had not before had sex, and he had not been that great in bed, but he had a job at the sawmill and had owned a small farm with a house. To his mother’s consternation, though, the new husband was not able to have sex with her while the boy was at home. For that reason, James was shipped off regularly for two or three days at a time to various relatives, and he rightly sensed that it had something to do with the stepfather. Stepfather and stepson grew to hate one another. At night, the stepfather would tell stories of niggers at the sawmill and how dumb they were, and how much they stole, and his mother would chime in and say that she couldn’t stand to pass one on the street because of how they smelled. She always claimed that two niggers tried to rape her once in the woods and kill a boy with whom she was picnicking, when in fact, the two black men were squirrel hunting and had walked up on a white girl sucking a white boy’s dick and had run away as fast as they could. Since the stepfather could not get it up with James in the house, he constantly told him how worthless he was, and if the boy did not do everything and every chore exactly the way that the stepfather thought he should, he would tell the boy that he was as worthless as a nigger, and then he would beat him. The boy began to fantasize about killing the stepfather, but he was small and terrified. At the Baptist church the stepfather treated the boy as if he loved and respected him, but when they got home, the stepfather would beat the boy all over again for any minor transgression that he imagined the boy did while at church. If the mother tried to intervene, the stepfather


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would remind her of the scripture “spare the rod spoil the child.” James liked church nonetheless and accepted its teachings as best he could. It was a good thing for the stepfather that he did, for the boy was six feet, two inches tall at fifteen years old when the stepfather tried to beat him for the last time. The boy picked up an iron fireplace tool and started to split open the head and spill out the brains of his abuser when he remembered the commandment, Do Not Kill. He joined the Navy the next day. His mother cried, but she gladly lied about his age, because she was only thirty-two years old and at the prime of her sexual life. She fucked her husband as soon as they got home from the bus station and over the next few months they fucked so much for so long that she grew tired of the man and started also fucking the Baptist preacher at the little church. James succeeded at basic training, along with every other inductee, but the accomplishment of graduating from the training went to his head, and he ended up considering himself much superior to all the other young men there. One boy had come from a wealthy family, and James considered himself superior to him because that young man had come from money, which was bound to make one soft, and since he had not come from money he was therefore superior. Another young man in basic training was a lesser man because he was only five foot, nine inches tall, and James’ height advantage was evidence to James that he had come from much better stock and was therefore a much better man. One man in the unit was taller than James by two inches, but his face was ugly and his hands were too large, indicating to James that his own sized hands were perfect. He studied his hands and realized that they were the most perfect hands in the entire Navy, probably the most perfect ones in the entire world. As he examined the taller man’s hands he realized that they indicated a clumsiness not only of the body, but also of the mind.

James proved the point to himself when they paired the two tallest together for hand-to-hand training. James knocked the taller man over with a padded stick on the first try, and he soon devised a whole system of classifications based on the size and shape of a man’s hands whereby he could tell everything that he needed to know about a person within a few seconds of meeting him. Of course, if the hands were black hands or yellow hands, that was all you needed to know, because there were whole races of people to whom James was superior, right off the bat, without even having to do much thinking. James was good at not doing much thinking. By the time that James was put on a battleship in the Pacific, he considered himself very close to the person with the most intelligence in the whole Navy. He carried himself as such, and though he was as dumb as a iron cleat, he caught the eye of his superiors and soon found himself at the helm of a battleship. It was actually a very simple job, since they only let him steer the ship out in the middle of the ocean, and all he had to do was keep the ship headed within one degree left or right of whatever course somebody else determined. James loved to see his hands on the ship’s wheel and the power of steering the big ship coursed through his body and he was, without a doubt in his own mind, the greatest something not only on the ship, or in the fleet, or even in the Navy, he was the greatest something in the whole world. Even when the Captain was on board, or on a few occasions the Admiral himself, James at best considered the great men only his equal. After only a short while the officers on the bridge realized that James was as dumb as an iron cleat, but he was so caught up in his delusions of grandeur that he was not even able to notice when fun was being made of him. James never got the least bit miffed at any insult sent in his direction since he didn’t even know it was


Fair and Balanced happening. The ignorance made James appear to be somewhat level-headed and they let him stay on the bridge. The captain laughed in private to one of his officers that he knew how dumb James was, but he figured that there was less of a chance that James could somehow sink the ship while he was up on the bridge with all the officers keeping an eye on him. About this time James began to think about his relationship to God and began to wonder why it was that God had chosen him, over all the others, to be the seaman first class who rubbed shoulders with admirals. He realized then that he had been called to an even a higher perfection by God himself. He was chosen. It had to be. Only a few weeks before, his stepfather would not let him drive the old pickup, and now God had him steering a battleship. The something great that he considered himself was now making even more sense to him. God himself had touched him over everyone else he had ever known. When his ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine, he was one of the few survivors. A great fear came over him while he treaded water in the dark, and he became that same little boy lost in the woods with snakes, but this time it was sharks in the ocean. He prayed and made promises to God, one of which was that he would become a preacher if God would save him. When death in the water seemed certain, and he had lost all hope, he realized that he was not the greatest person on Earth, or in the navy, or even on the ship that was now at the bottom of the ocean below him somewhere. The words shouted at him so many times by his stepfather came back and he knew that he was the worst person, the most worthless, the laziest and dumbest person in the whole wide world. He knew there in the water that his mother was a whore and that he was a bastard without a birth certificate and that it was true that he was worth less than even a nigger.

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When the boat came to save him, the man that pulled him into it had little stubby hands, signifying a bull dog-like personality. He was sure that the man did not even wipe his own ass well, and that he was superior in every way to this imbecile. There was also a black man on board the rescue craft and when he came close to James the body odor almost knocked him over. He then became irritated at the inefficient way in which they pulled other survivors up into the boat, and at the absolute idiot who steered the small craft and left the wake running behind them look so zig-zaggy. That man would never be able to steer a battleship, and it was no wonder that so many men died with rescuers like this. God had saved him. He became a Baptist preacher after the Navy. He took classes at a Baptist college on the GI bill and was unable to complete a single course of study, but he was able to get a small Baptist church to hire him. He told people that God didn’t want him in school somewhere but that God wanted him preaching. His sermons were lackluster and made no sense even to the dumbest Baptist, but he very soon mastered the art of the altar call and the stretching out of the last hymn until everyone wanting to be saved could have a chance. He began to tailor his sermons and found scriptures that surely indicated that unless a person came to the altar and publicly proclaimed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior that they were headed straight to hell. To his surprise, on the eighth Sunday of his preaching career, a twelveyear-old boy, who had recently learned how to masturbate, came to the altar to be saved from Hades. Johnson had found his calling and realized that God had saved him from the ocean for a reason. He knew that it would just be a matter of time before he was at the helm of the largest Baptist church ever known, or maybe even


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head of the whole church worldwide. He was a survivor. But the years faded into other years without this happening and the decades passed, and James found himself still in the same small churches with the same small-sized congregations. He started remembering his stepfather’s words, and though he never admitted it even to himself, he believed deep down that he was the worthless bastard son of a whore, dumber than a rock, and worth less than even a nigger. It was 1963 when one of his church members invited him to a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan to lead the opening prayer. He liked everybody at the Klan meeting and they liked him, so he lied and told them that he had graduated from a Baptist seminary, but quickly told the truth that he had steered battleships in WWII. The Grand Klegon from Tuscaloosa happened to be at the meeting and called him the next week and that’s how he became the Kleagle, or recruiter of new members, for the local Klavern. The new cause invigorated James, and his small church finally began to gain a few members, Klan or Klan supporters each one. More importantly, he realized that the Grand Klegon had recognized the something great that was in him. And of course, he had been reminded that there was someone else to blame for all his woes and all his troubles and all his lack of money. He would probably end up the head of the whole Ku Klux Klan he thought. When his Klan group dissolved in the seventies he still blamed the niggers and liberals for destroying the country, but he felt the old fears of inadequacy coming back. For almost twenty years he felt rudderless, lost. And then came Fox News Network and CNN’s Lou Dobbs. James loved how Fox reported the fraud and theft committed by the niggers in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Sean Hannity told on his program how some of the niggers had used FEMA debit cards at strip clubs and how one had even bought some kind of expensive handbag

with hers. Neil Boortz was the guest that night and he had snickered that people were using the money for “emergency lap dances.” James now, with the gun in his mouth, looked over at Lou Dobbs. The whole town of Childersville, Alabama, was being overrun by Mexicans, and James appreciated the way that Dobbs maligned them. The four dead ones outside his house had moved in across the street about six months ago and that was when he had loaded his pistol and put it in the drawer beside his chair. Dobbs had praised the citizens arming themselves against the illegals at the border. He held the gun in his mouth and tried to think of a good reason to have killed the Mexican woman but couldn’t. I’m the worst person on Earth, he began to think. Worth less than a nigger. James put pressure on the trigger several times without being able to pull it, all the while trying to think of a way he could justify killing the woman to the Civitans. Out front, some kind of policeman was talking into a bullhorn just as CNN reporter Christine Romans was telling Lou Dobbs about illegal immigrants and leprosy. James stared at the television screen with the pistol in his mouth. “There were about nine hundred cases of leprosy reported in the U.S. for forty years,” she was saying, “In the last three years there have been seven thousand.” James took the gun out of his mouth and laid it on the coffee table. When the SWAT team burst in the door he was down the hall washing his hands, and he let them handcuff him and take him outside without resistance. As they led him past his driveway the ambulance men, wearing bluish rubber gloves, were bending over the dead woman. James smiled. Everybody at Civitans watched Lou Dobbs. “You boys better wear extra gloves,” he said to the ambulance men, “Look at the back of her right hand. That one’s got leprosy.”


Fairy Story

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A Twelve-Month and Two Days By Blue Jackson Illustrated by Marzel

T

hey found my love in the river on a day so cold the pots froze upon the fire and the sky was the color of ashes. They found him with his pale face turned toward the sun he will never feel again. They said he must have slipped and fallen into the river, hit his head against a rock, and drowned. But I knew the truth of it. As I bathed his body with vinegar and herbs and sweet water, I saw the black bruises on his back and the ragged wound on his head. He had not died by accident and he’d not died easily. When his killer came calling—not alone and with his intent disguised—he suggested that my husband had been in the woods hunting the red-roan deer that were offlimits to peasants, even in the starving time. I told him what he already knew, that there was no need to poach the lord’s deer when I was at home stewing lentils and leeks for our dinner and had fresh bread baking on the hearth. It is a sin to covet another man’s wife, we are told in scripture, but some people never believe the laws are meant for such as them. So my love had gone into the woods and so had my lord and only one had come out. We laid my husband in the ground but I shed no tears. Not then and not when my lord came to my door to ask for my hand. And not even when I said yes.

The mourning period we’re given is twelve months and a day. And on the second day, I will go to the church and my lord will put his ring on my finger and call me his wife. We will go to bed and there, when he is not himself, I will plunge a knife into his chest. I will bathe in his hot heart’s blood. And then I will join my only love. And my lord will go to hell.


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The Peril of the Changing Times By Ron Capshaw From Comics Escapade, December 1981 The 1970s is considered a turning point for the comics’ medium. In this era, writers approached topics and their heroes in ways previously taboo. Hence Batman was returned to his dark roots, with the possibility of insanity powering Bruce Wayne’s crusade dangled in front of readers. The Green Lantern and Green Arrow dealt with topics of racism, pollution and drug abuse. And the Ghost, a real-life figure, nevertheless warped by the previous attempts was portrayed as an antiestablishment figure. Although only lasting nine issues, Warren Sukuta and Renny O’Neil’s version garnered critical acclaim, particularly for a three-issue run, “The Checkers’ Scenario,” which pitted the Ghost against a thinly-veiled Richard Nixon. Before 1973, the Ghost was sanitized for audiences. A pulp magazine, The New Adventures of the Ghost (1936-38), presented Silver with as he appeared in the newsreels, but refrained from having him take on Bundists out of fears of alienating the overseas market. A 1944 serial featuring Kane Richmond of Spy Smasher fame featured Nazis (the head villain played by Lionel Atwill) but departed from the real-life version by giving Silver a mask and twin automatics. Hoping to capitalize on the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby boom at Marvel, Atlas comics presented the most unfaithful version of all. The simply titled The Ghost ran only two issues and featured an

atomic-powered hero (the victim of a Hydrogen bomb explosion a la Bruce Banner) that still gives purists the shudders. Thus, what was presented to writer Renny O’Neil in 1972 was a figure warped by an industry’s ever-changing mores. O’Neil wisely went back to the drawing board and presented the closest version of the real-life hero to date. “Avengers were in back then,” he says. “The Shadow, Batman; all made it safe to show Silver as he really was.” O’Neil depicted Silver in the 1970s but retained his anti-fascist image, which for him, meant having him take on the then–President of the United States. For O’Neil, the move was not deliberate. “A lot of my sensibilities went into the Ghost,” he says. “But I was not trying to vent my anger at the establishment. It just seemed natural that he would take on anyone abusing power.” Fans today cite the power of O’Neil’s version for keeping the Ghost mysterious and avoiding any origin story. Again, O’Neil says he was not being deliberate. “Truth be told,” he says, “I couldn’t find an origin story. For all that has been written about the real-life Jonathan Silver, nothing is known about how he began….” First there was the sensation of green—seemingly endless green that made his light-sensitive eyes wince and tear. Then he felt the sensation of something taking him up into the air.


The Peril of the Changing Times From that moment on ’til the day he died, the baby would be overwhelmed by the man in the pith helmet holding him. “He’s perfect,” a man in a lab coat said behind pith helmet. “He’s meant to be,” the pith helmet said. After that, he was handed over to scientists, oriental martial artists, Italian fencers, parapsychologists. They put him in a room at the age of four that he managed to tunnel out of by the age of six. No one rebuked him, least of all pith helmet, who although careful to keep his distance, did look through the Plexiglas at the boy in the room from time to time. By the age of eight, the pith helmet began opening the door and attacking the boy on the youngster’s birthday. After a particularly violent tenth birthday, the pith helmet collapsed beside the boy, dusted the plaster out of his hair, and said,” You’ve never asked what all of this is about.” The boy looked at him, focusing on the man with peculiar green eyes, and said unhesitatingly, “To fight evil.” Pith helmet smiled. But he didn’t smile that cold day in 1926 when the boy ran away. He railed at the boyman’s keepers and sent out the best private detectives to locate him. They reported back that the boy had been trained too well. Weimar Days So far so good, the youth thought. Anais-gun is not a jungle-bred fool. I am two feet from the guard and he has yet to spot me. Silver watched the man, who was no doubt a veteran of the Great War bored with civilian life and horrified by the democracy his country had become. Silver decided to blink and let the guard see him.

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“Was?” the man said, reaching for his pistol. Silver decided to let him at least draw it before he chopped him in the nerve cluster. Silver placed the unconscious guard in the trashcan by the entrance. Appropriate, he thought. Once inside the basement, he tried to mingle with the audience. Silver had never seen so much unwashed khaki in his life. Just an announcement, he reminded himself, no captures. Just let them know I exist before they try anything extra-legal again. The speakers were assembled on stage. The fat one was the air ace. The skinny one was the Don Juan and self-proclaimed intellectual of the group. Take it slow, Jonathan, he told himself. Remember the lessons of Mr. Mycroft. Never begin an action without at least three escape options. He felt for his forged passport, his Spanish seaman’s papers, and the disguise kit. He took a deep breath and then snapped his fingers. The first explosion took out most of the ceiling. Twenty-five people began coughing and rubbing their eyes through plaster mist. The second took apart the podium. The fat one was on the ground feeling for splinters. Silver raced to the podium, screaming, “Saboteur!” He grabbed Don Juan, telling him he had a car to get him to safety. The doctor bought it and went with him. Silver waited until they were on the road to make the announcement. “You claim you’re intelligent, so I’ll give this to you thesis-sentence style.” The doctor turned pale. “You’re American?” “Up to now, you boys have had control of the streets. I know the police look the other way when you send a Jew through a store front window. But that is over. It ends tonight.” “Who are you?” “Your stab in the back.” Silver took off the wig, exposing his white hair.


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“Mein Gott. Loder.” “What?” Silver was on the verge of punching the good doctor and then dumping him out of the car. “What did you say?” “No, you are too young to be him. So the experiment worked, but the sentiments have gone awry. Pity. I guess environment does matter.” “What are you talking about?” “You don’t know, do you?” Silver slammed on the brakes and drove the palm of his hand into the doctor’s chest. “While you’re gasping for air, think about the 123 other places I can hit. Tell me who this Loder is.” “Loder. Steiner Loder. Viking Society. Your mirror-image.” Footsteps were approaching—booted ones. Silver punched the doctor unconscious just as the brownshirts were at the car. Silver opened the door into the first one. He got out of the car to confront the second one, an older man. “Loder?” the older one said. Silver took his legs out from under him. A third one tried to hit him over the head with a blackjack. Silver blocked and broke the man’s arm in the same gesture. He stood over the older man, who lay on the ground, and said, “Loder’s gone over to the Jews” and vanished into the night…

“1916. “ “Of course. But you aren’t here to relive school.” “Observant as always.” He outlined what happened in Berlin to the old man. “The Viking Society was basically a precursor to the brownshirts. Loder, I believe, was their token professor. He dropped out of sight before the war. Never photographed. Why do you ask?” “He’s my latest project.” “Has your father decided to unleash you on the world?” “No. Dad still wants me cocooned.” “He knows best, my boy.”

The tutors wouldn’t or couldn’t tell him anything. But he knew someone who would. Mr. Mycroft had changed little. He was still obese and house-bound, although now he had the excuse of old age. “My boy, how are you? Come in and have some tea.” “No, thank you, sir. Experiments tell me caffeine is only a temporary brain stimulant.” “Cocaine is worse. Never try it, my boy. It is over-rated. Let’s see, the last time I saw you was—”

The old man looked unhappily out from beneath the brim of his pith helmet at Silver. “Jonathan, you are not to leave again. You have an obligation not to put yourself in danger until the appointed time.” “When is the appointed time, Dad?” “Oh, events are moving in a way fortuitous to your introduction into the world.” “But the world is a political place, Father. It seems that I am only half-prepared. Your standing order to all of my tutors has always been never to discuss politics with me. Why?”

Annual report to Dr. Malcolm Silver—May 3, 1911. Subject already can read Norse. The safe was ridiculously easy to crack, but it took him some time to find the diary in the sheaf of paper. May 12, 1908—“It can be done. But I must show that it is not the environment but the genetics. I am leaving to prove it.” June 1909—“Found the perfect receptacle for the seed. She knows nothing; she is merely an incubator. To prove my theory of genetics over environment, I am selecting a birthplace filled with racial filth.”


The Peril of the Changing Times “Politics is inborn. I wanted to see what political ideas would germinate in you on their own, unaided. “Oh, they have. I guess you could blame it on the vegetarian diet, the lack of sausage, of manly meat…” The father looked up from the lab table. “…I’ve become quite the optimist,” the boy continued. “I don’t think that Mankind is degenerating, despite its last military outing. War has its purposes. It reminds Man of what he must reject. After all, we’re really all the same—black, white, brown. Why should we fight each other?” The old man paled; his skin matched his hair. “You know.” “Oh yes, Dad. Everything. I always wondered why I was kept in a cocoon. All the athletics, the emphasis on combat, clean-living. Surrounded only by men. You wanted a warrior so bad, you even let inferior races train me. Remember LhoHan? He didn’t meet your racial qualifications, but he knew unarmed combat, so I guess we could be pragmatic.” “Son, you’re needed. The world is decaying. You have a noble heritage. Your ancestors were Vikings. Do you want your children surrounded by garbage? That will be the future if you don’t change it.” “No.” “No?!! You owe it to me! I have given you everything!! Your very superiority you owe to me!!” “You’re wrong about my heritage. I’ve done my own investigating. You may be surprised. Mom apparently did not tell you everything. A drawback of the separate sphere, I suppose.” He left the old man with the diary—the diary telling of the woman’s affair with the Jewish artist, of how she must never tell the doctor, of how the doctor must think he is the boy’s father. He didn’t have to go back to know what happened when the pistol fired. It was your own fault, Dad. You assigned the forgery tutor to me.

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1936 In the glare of the Colorado sun, four men trudged through the snow. The only sounds in evidence were the sucking noises their boots made as their legs lifted out of the slush. Clad in heavy mackinaws and expensive-looking jodhpurs, they could have been business men on a sporting vacation, but there was an air of menace about them that dispelled this impression. The tallest figure was out in front. He would have stood out in any crowd. He was impressively tall and well-proportioned enough to discourage any skinny jokes. His hair was completely white and matched the terrain. A close observer would have noted his unusually grey eyes. The newsreels never really did justice to those eyes. Nor would Technicolor if one had wished to spend the money on that expensive print to photograph this man. And any news photographer would have given his eyeteeth for a photo of him, for he was famous in his own way as Gable or Garbo. He was Dr. Jonathan Silver, known to the tabloids as “the Ghost.” The second figure in front was skeletal thin. Occasionally, he would have to take his glasses off because they would fog up. He looked like a professor forced on a hike against his will; he was Montgomery Ravens. The third figure, Kidfast, was almost as large as the first one. His hair was cut shorter than the fashion and he had a beard. The manner in which he carried a rifle slung over his shoulder revealed his military background. The final figure, Lewinsky, was black-haired and hawk nosed. His eyes burned with a fiery magnetism. These eyes had burned on many a professor who incurred his wrath. The silver-haired figure held up his hand and the others immediately crouched down, pistols drawn. The weapons they carried were unusual enough to make them stand out even in that gun-drenched period. “It’s a cabin,” the silver-haired figure said.


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“Probably selected on purpose. They want a setting out of the American Revolution to legitimize theirs.” The four men moved silently toward the building. Out front there were parked cars—all bearing license plates from numerous states. Two men stood out front holding rifles. “Wait for my signal,” the silver-haired man said. Remembering his lessons at the hands of Ana-Guis, the silver-haired man became the panther, gliding slowly across the snow. He made no detectable noise. He emerged close to the first sentry and hit him in the back of the neck. The man tried to scream, but could not, and would have pitched forward onto his face if the silverhaired man had not caught him. The other guard collapsed when the blow dart hit him in the side. Silver stood up, made a fist in the air—a sign that looked like the communist salute that was popular on college campuses of the period. The three men came forward. “Remember. We are here to capture, not kill. We want exhibits. Agreed?,” he said, looking at all, but especially the man with the sniper rifle. All three nodded. From a pocket in his vest, the man took a small globe and attached it to door. He stepped back and snapped his fingers. The door flew off its hinges. The four men burst into the doorway, guns drawn. Confronting them in the cabin was a who’s who of the American Right circa 1936. Seated, his arms gripping the chair was William Dudley Pelley, leader of the Silver Shirts. By the fireplace was Waldo Donovan, head of the White Christian Flower Unit of St. Paul, Minnesota, and a man who called the President of the United States a “traitor.” Seated behind a large oak table was Roscoe Masterricht Von Garn. The silverhaired man had seen Von Garn’s file, courtesy of a contact in the State Department, but he mentally reviewed it now: Born Stuttgart 1899. Emigrated to Britain 1919. Educated at Oxford. PhD in Biology 1928.

Returned to Germany 1933. Believed to have been recruited by SS intelligence one year later. He was the most dangerous foe the silverhaired man had ever faced. “Well, well, the gang’s all here. Planning a little night of long knives, are we?” Von Garn rose. He was impressively tall as well as being completely bald. “Jonathan Morgan Silver, aka ‘The Ghost.’ Chemist. Microbiologist. Explorer. Criminologist. Defender of the voiceless—re the Jewish.” The other men laughed. “Did I leave anything out?” “Manhunter,” the silver-haired man said. “Captain, you were right,” Lewinsky said, holding a bundle of papers. “These are War Department plans. They are traitors.” “Patriots,” Von Garn said, holding up a hand to correct. The silver-haired man smiled. “You must acquaint me with your definition.” “Give me time.” Suddenly, without warning, the bald man straightened his arm by his side. A cylindrical object rolled down his sleeve and hit the floor. Vapor arose when it hit. “Time for a nap,” said Von Garn. “Gas,” Silver yelled and pitched out of the window. Silver had expected some kind of underhanded trick from Von Garn, and he was ready. After leaping out of the window, he waited. Von Garn soon appeared, running with a machine gun and holding a mask over his face. He saw the Ghost, tossed his mask away, and fired. Metal-jacketed doom would have pierced the Ghost had he not dived forward into the snow. Silver fired once, knocking the machine gun out of Von Garn’s hands. Von Garn raced into the woods. Silver soon followed. Silver smiled. He knew he would catch him. He came to the edge of a cliff. He knew Von Garn was in the vicinity somewhere; he could smell the German’s fear. He heard a twig crunch and turned. Death was racing toward him with an axe. Von Garn was


The Peril of the Changing Times grinning; he pictured the Fuehrer’s face when he presented him with the head of the Ghost. Silver also smiled, for he had prepared all of his life for this moment. Here was the enemy! He must not fail! Silver ran toward him and chopped him in the neck before the German could swing the axe. Von Garn lay on the ground, gagging while Silver covered him with his pistol. “You think you’ve won, don’t you?” he sneered. “Well, you haven’t. My time will come. I know this country. My mother was American.” He pointed at the Ghost emblem on Silver’s jacket. “One day that symbol will be reviled by every school-boy in America. It will be on wanted posters throughout the land. Your government will hunt you down and I will help them.” Von Garn stood up. “Prepare for it, my friend. It is coming.” Suddenly, before Silver could stop him, Von Garn ran and jumped off the cliff. Silver looked down the cliff ’s edge, grimly, straining his ears for the scream that never came. 1943 The silver-haired man always hated press conferences. Having the gruff general at his side didn’t help, either. He hoped to get this over with quickly. “Dr. Silver, precisely what is the nature of your work on this project?” Before Silver could answer, the general stepped in his way at the podium and said, “That is classified, boys. You know that.” Silver moved in front of the general. The air of dislike between the two men was evident to all in the room. “It is part of the war effort. Of a scientific nature.” “Why aren’t you in uniform?” Silver grinned faintly. “Ask General Blankenship.” Everyone laughed. Red-faced, the general said, “Dr. Silver is more valuable to the war effort as a scientist than as a soldier.”

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Silver stepped in his way again. “Let me just say that I am eager to get this project over with so that I can meet the Nazi menace personally.” “Sir?” The co-pilot’s voice brought Silver out of his day-dreaming. Night-dreaming would be more like it, he thought, looking out of the bomber window into the Polish sky. “No need to call me that, Lieutenant. I’m not army.” “Sorry, sir. Would you like a cigarette?” “No, thank you. Lung cancer. Did research on it in ’34.” “Sir. I know we are not supposed to talk to you. But did you really capture an entire arm of the SS?” Silver smiled. “Afraid not, Lieutenant. Some pulp writer’s imagination got away from him, I suppose. Actually I’ve been stateside for most of the war. This is my maiden jump.” “Green light.” Silver got up. He was clad entirely in black. He clasped his jump ring onto the cord. “Good luck, sir.” Silver stood outlined against the night. “Thank you, lieutenant. Quit smoking.” Silver disappeared into the night. It was there, just like the OSS said it would be. It still works, Silver thought, watching the guard drop after the blow dart hit him. Silver moved silently among the barracks. He stopped in front of the doors of one and brought out a machine pistol of his own design. He had to fight Donovan to keep his own equipment. In the barrack, a white-coated figure leaned over a Bunsen-burner. “Working late, Manfred?” “What? Jonathan. What are you doing here?” “Getting you out.” “My God. The last time I saw you was—” “At the Leipzig conference. 1938.”


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“Enough reminiscing, my friend. Do you have any idea what they have me working on? Here, look, “ he said, handing him a sheaf of papers. “Rockets. Germ warfare. An atomic bomb. How far along are they?” Another voice interrupted. “You should have left when you had the chance, Silver. Reminiscing was always your weakness.” Von Garn stepped out of the shadows, Luger drawn. Silver’s eyes narrowed as he dropped his gun to the floor. “Yes, Von Garn smiled. “Back from the dead. Not unlike Moriarity at Reinbach.” “Nice uniform.” Von Garn was clad entirely in a black SS uniform with an American flag on his chest. “Thank you. You should be honored, Jonathan. You are standing in the presence of the leader of the George Washington Brigade.” “Heresy.” “Heres-? Oh, yes. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Ours is a bit more racially pure, I assure you. Goodbye, Dr. Langstrom.” Von Garn shot the man standing by Silver in the head. “You cold-blooded bastard.” “Temper, Jonathan. My, the war has loosened that superb self-control hasn’t it?” Silver smiled. He waited for Von Garn to get in position. A close observer would have noticed the Ghost’s boots move closer together. “Allow me to salute you, Von Garn.” He brought his heels together, and there was a tremendous burst of light. Von Garn cursed. Blinded, he fired everywhere. By the time his eyes cleared, his pistol was empty and Silver was in front of him. Silver slammed Von Garn across the room. Von Garn lay on the ground, watching the paleeyed giant slowly advance on him. “Not a cliff edge this time. Something infinitely worse—” Silver drew back his hand in the kill position. “Me.” “I think not.”

Silver whirled as he heard the safety catch click, but he was too late. The bullet from the major’s Luger hit him in the shoulder. Silver dove across the room as the bullets flew and out the window. “I can still get him,” said the major. “Forget it,” Von Garn said. “Your men will never find him. He is the Ghost.” 1945 Lewinsky checked the man at the elevator entrance to make sure he really was from the government. According to his credentials, he was. “Security division. Don’t think I know that one.” “We’re new.” “Ah, well, come this way. Would you like the speech that goes with the grand tour?” “No, thanks, the agency has the basic story. Skilled in numerous and obscure martial arts. Chemistry degree Harvard. Microbiology degree Princeton. Inventor of Blandings x. 1935, discovered the fabled Maple White Land of Professor Challenger fame. Bought it and then sold it back to the natives in order to prevent poaching. 1935 captured Gottfried Hoessel of the White Legion. 1938, unknown mission into Spain. Practices a form of Oriental philosophy. Has two associates beside yourself: Evans Kidfast, former marine sniper, and Montgomery Ravens, professor of literature. He sometimes collaborated with Terence Rafael, a.k.a Dr. Escape.” “Well done. Here is the man himself.” Silver had aged little since his mission in 1943. He looked up from his microscope. “Went to Hartford. Security division. I’m here at the request of the President, sir. Do you have a projector?” Silver gestured toward the corner. “For the last year, the Russians have been stealing as many German scientists as they can get their hands on. They even have a special unit called ‘Grab’ that advances into enemy territory for this purpose. Their leader is a former


The Peril of the Changing Times White Russian called Lzun. This photo you are seeing is the only identification we have on him. Many of the scientists they are after worked on the rocket program. I don’t think I have to tell you what would happen if Uncle Joe grabbed one with atomic knowledge. Right now, they are after several of Germany’s atomic scientists in Berlin.” Silver took off his glasses as the lights came on. “Before we accept, I want to make something absolutely clear: I do not want Silver and Associates used to rescue war criminals.” “They are scientists, I assure you. The American government will never use war criminals.” “This is outrageous. You are fascists.” “Easy does it, Ivan. You were trying to steal him, too.” The Russian held his head as he came out of the crashed plane. Kidfast covered him with his pistol. A small bespectacled man followed out of the plane door. “Amerikaner? I’ll go with you.” Silver heard a gasp from behind and saw Lewinsky rush forward and strike the small man. Silver held Lewinsky back. “Whoa, horsey. We’re supposed to retrieve him, not mutilate him.” “This man—this thing—was the doctor in my camp in ’37. I saw him kill three of my comrades.” “It is a lie. I was at the university in ’37. I—” “Save it,” Silver said. “Eleven hundred miles to save this.” The Russian smiled. “I suppose we can have him now?” Silver took out his pistol. “Take a hike, Ivan.” He fired at the Russian’s feet. “Are you going to kill me?” the small man said. “No. We never do that. You, my friend, are

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going on a little trip—to Palestine. And we are retiring from government work. But what I want to know is: who else is the government getting out?” The OSS man felt uncomfortable in the presence of the bald prisoner. For the past year, he had interrogated all kinds—guards, commandants, even a spy or two. But this one carried something evil into the interrogation room with him. “Save it, Roscoe. I’ve got everything here. Your party card, your activities in America, in Peru, in Poland. We’ve got enough to keep you in a cage for the rest of your life.” “I was a farmer for the first three years of the war. I was called up into the infantry in late ’44.” “Where’s the rest of your brigade, Von Garn?” “What brigade?” “Can it, Roscoe. We’ve got you. Don’t try to squirm out. By seven o’clock tonight you’ll either be in a cell in Paris or Tel-Aviv.” Von Garn leaned back in his chair and smiled. “Dismiss the guard and give me a cigarette.” He took a deep drag, supreme confidence in every gesture. “I’m not allowing any Jews to get their hands on me and I hate French food. So—” The OSS man reached for his notebook and pen. “What is it worth to you to know about Soviet intelligence activities in sector 5?” Memo to the Director 7/6/48 Enclosed, sir, is the information you requested on Silver, Jonathan. Born Gabon, Africa 1909. Little information on his parents other than his mother died in a missionary settlement in 1914 and his father was killed in a raid on IWW headquarters in 1918. After that, Jonathan traveled abroad. Graduated from Harvard 1929 and Princeton 1931. Independently wealthy. We have looked into this and do not


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know where he gets his money from. Perhaps some Soviet slush fund. Begins his man-hunting in the late 1920s, mostly against Mussolini sympathizers and criminals. Graduates into Nazi-hunting in the early-to-mid 1930s. Unknown number of missions with the OSS during World War II. Political profile: Although no party card has been procured, it is believed that Silver is a Party member. He fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain in 1936 where he met another of his associates, Dante Lewinsky. In 1941, he publicly defended the labor leader Harry Bridges. Signed numerous petitions in the post-war period against the atomic bomb. Conclusions: Silver is the worst kind of propaganda for the Russians. A veritable super-hero for the Left. He is obviously pink if not red. Advise investigation and possible arrest. New York Post, April 1949 Today federal officers seized the headquarters of Jonathan Silver, better known to the underworld as “the Ghost.” Silver himself was not at his office. Federal officer J.P. Macginley had this to say about the fugitive: “Wherever he’s hiding, we’ll get him. You can be sure of that. Unless he has already made it to the Kremlin.” Chicago Tribune, December 1950 Suspected Soviet agent Jonathan Silver is still at large. Agencies now report that he is probably no longer in the country. His assistants, now in federal custody, refuse to tell where he is. Memo to the director April 1, 1951: “In the last three months, several of our retrieval operations have suffered serious setbacks. Request investigation.” Memo to the director July 7, 1952: “Retrieval of Karnsky upset. Several agents on the scene in hospital. No description of assailant.”

Memo to the director April 9, 1953: “He’s back.” From The Real Americans, October 1962 Where is he now? None of the younger generation will remember the exploits of a man who gave many of us inspiration in the dark and fascist-ridden thirties. Jonathan Silver, aka the Ghost, was more than a criminologist, a scientist, an explorer. He was a defender of the defenseless, and the most relentless foe the fascists, both American and foreign, have ever known. From 1932 to 1939, he tracked down some of the most insidious enemies of freedom in the world. Silvershirters, Bundists, Klansmen, Nazis—all feared the appearance of the Ghost and his men. During World War Two, he inspired us as a protector of the home front. Pulp magazines, usually the repositories of racism and exploitation, printed his adventures on a regular basis. A 1943 movie serial starring Kane Richmond flashed across the silver screen. But soon the political tide turned. With the war economy in danger of being converted for peace, the capitalist war-mongers soon turned their attention to scapegoating. They needed to deprive the Left of their one true hero. Soon they began the character assassination of Silver and associates. His books were burned in the street. Theatres refused to show his serial. And on June 18, 1949, federal agents raided his headquarters in Manhattan. But they were greeted with a surprise. The Ghost no longer lived there. He had escaped. He had lived up to his name. For the past 13 years, no one has heard from him. Where are you, Ghost? In these days of saber rattling, the nuclear threat, of nuclear war, and blacklists, we need you more than ever. —Dawson Crando In the old days, he would have chartered his own plane. That would have enabled him to carry


The Peril of the Changing Times all of weapons in with him. But these were not the old days and he was a hunted figure. It would not do to alert the airline security to any irregularities. So he came into the enemy camp unarmed and in disguise. His passport worked, and he was soon on his way to the destination. He approached an old garage where a mechanic was bent over a table. “Still tinkering, Dr. Escape?” In the old days, Terence Rafael would have heard the man coming from thirty yards. Now he whipped around startled. “That voice…Jonathan?” “Back from exile.” “What the hell are you doing here?” “Evil is afoot again, my friend. Our kind is needed.” “Geez, I wondered what happened to you.” “What happened with you?” “Oh, the usual rigamorole for our kind. Called up before HUAC. Told to play ball or else. Hell, the Security Division even offered me a clean slate if I would help track you down. Told ’em to stick it, of course. So now Dr. Escape works on cars.” Silver looked at a picture. “My God, I had forgotten about this! Us against the Death Merchant. 1935.” “Thirty-six. The good old days.” “Up for a reunion?” “Always.” “This will bring him in, I know it will.” “The operation was not constructed to smoke out an old superhero. It is to change the tide. Get our power back.” “I know. Just wishful thinking.” “Is everything in place?” “We’ve got three teams. They’ll be out before the blood dries. We even have a fall guy. A member of Naval Intelligence’s insertion division.”

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“All right, let’s talk about the Silver eventuality. If he learns about this, he’ll try to stop us.” “Let’s shake his old tree and see who falls out and talks.” From Ramparts, July 1963 Dante Lewinsky only appears old. He still carries with him all the youthful verve that he had as a member of Silver and Associates. We are in his New York apartment. Interviewer: What was it like being a member of the Silver organization? Lewinsky: Never a dull moment. But it wasn’t exactly like the pulp magazines made it. By 1939, we were dodging Hollywood more than bullets. Interviewer: Do you keep in touch with any of the old members? Lewinsky: No. What would be the point? Jonathan was the glue that held us together. When he left, the organization fell apart. Besides there were certain political differences between some of us. Interviewer: For instance? Lewinsky: Well, I won’t name names (laughter). That’s not my province. And there were only three of us, so it should not be too hard for you to figure out who. It was just—well, let me put it this way: they were more against the German version than the American one. Jonathan didn’t think it mattered that much during the war years so he never really argued much with the one in question. Interviewer: What were Jonathan’s politics? Lewinsky: (laughter) Here we go! Well, he certainly wasn’t a Communist. Jonathan was horrified by many of the things that went on in the Soviet Union. I guess the best way to classify Jonathan politically is that he was against totalitarianism— in any nation. But such a view got drowned out when those McCarthyite bastards took over. Interviewer: What precisely were the charges against him? Lewinsky: Premature anti-fascism! Having the wrong kind of friends! Serving your country in the wrong agencies! Basically, it was his associations.


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Jonathan was friends with Steve Nelson—you know, the Communist leader. They had met in Spain and disagreed politically—mainly over Stalin, but they did not let that affect their friendship. And then there was Jonathan’s service for the OSS. Interviewer: What was wrong with serving with the OSS? Lewinsky: Boy, you are a youngster! Well, Donovan—the head of the OSS‚recruited people who were multi-lingual and had guerrilla training. So naturally, he got a lot of Spanish Civil War veterans in tow. Hoover knew about the political makeup of some of the agents and had a fit. He called the OSS the “red unit.” Well, because of Jonathan’s scientific abilities, the War Department was determined to keep him in the laboratory. About the only place he could evade this batch was the OSS. When the climate changed, or worsened, the OSS was viewed as an American NKVD. His membership in this group, however brief it was, was an additional nail in Jonathan’s coffin. But what you have to understand, young man, is that almost every pulp hero from the Depression was being called up in those days—Dr. Escape, the Silver Eagle, Captain Thunder. The government didn’t like the independence of our kind, so they replaced us. Soon the landscape was dotted with the likes of the True American, Captain Eagle-governmentsanctioned flag-wavers. He still watched the newsreels. It was his only link to him now. As he sat and watched the black and white figures, he could almost distinguish the real battles from the fictionalized ones. He saw himself on screen with Silver and the president. “My God, we were that close,” he thought. “We could have changed the world! Why didn’t we?” He had to blink twice when the screen turned to color, or at least a figure did, twenty years too early. It was the figure of Captain Victory, but the figure was real and spoke as the newsreel reflected off of him. “Where is the Bolshevik?”

“Lenin? He’s been dead for forty years. Try Moscow. I believe he is on display and the tickets are cheap.” “You know who I am talking about, Lewinsky.” “Yes, and I know who you are. Spare the heroic threats, boy. I was facing your kind across a gun barrel when you were still itching your father’s flag-draped underwear.” Victory drew his two trademark 45s. “Again, where is Silver? Is he back in the country? Has he contacted you?” “My friend, if he was, you would know it.” Lewinsky rose. “Believe me, you would.” Bullets drove Lewinsky back to the wall. His chest convulsed once and he died. Captain Eagle turned on the lights. “The instructions were not to kill him. They were to shake the tree and see who falls out,” said the observer. “Well, someone has fallen,” replied Victory. “He won’t be getting up.” Victory looked at the movie screen just as Silver appeared riding on the running board of a car. “Come out, come out, wherever you are.” “This is a reunion?” Silver smiled in the darkness. “Of sorts. We are once again surrounded by armed men.” Both Dr. Escape and Silver were looking through binoculars at several tents. “My God, Jonathan. They even have rocket launchers brought in,” Dr. Escape said, pointing at several crates. “A regular army. Sanctioned by the Agency. Imagine having this unleashed on dissent.” “Okay, what are we doing here?” “What we always do when we find the enemy’s camp: capture a stray.” “How?” “Remember my invention from 1934?” “The snapper-two?”


The Peril of the Changing Times Silver smiled and snapped his fingers. A tent lifted off the ground and burst into flame. Men wearing fatigues rushed out the other tents brandishing rifles. One man, weighing at least 250 pounds, ran by where Silver and Dr. Escape were situated. Silver grabbed him and slammed him into a tree as if he weighed nothing. He carried the soldier over his shoulder. “To the sanctum?” Dr. Escape asked. Silver smiled. The agent hated everything about the South— its people, its food, but especially the heat. He thought of all the hot places he had been condemned to sweat in as the helicopter landed. He thought about the Bay of Pigs. Three men got off. They looked their part. “I’m here to get you in place without any trouble. Anything you require, you go through me. No one else. Here are your passports and where you’ll be staying. Anything else you need? The tall one spoke. “Yes. For the government not to leave us stranded on the beach this time.” The soldier awoke and was instantly disoriented. He was surrounded by silver. He seemed to be trapped in a cloud. He wandered around the room trying to find some sense of perspective, some wall, some ceiling. He found none. A voice spoke. “Sit down.” The soldier complied. “How many and when?” “What?” “I’ll use surgery if I have to.” “Three teams. The 22nd.” “How?” “One man gets the guard looking the other way. The umbrella man signals and the building sniper begans firing. After that, the two men at the fence close the coffin door.” “Escape routes?”

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“I don’t know. I really don’t.” Silver now appeared before him. It was really an old trick, but an effective one. He merely doused the room in a silver light and then wore an all silver uniform to blend in. Taking off his mask made it appear to the soldier that a head was levitating in front of him. “Sleep. You will remember nothing. Upon awakening you will present yourself to the police and confess to burglary.” The soldier went into a trance. Outside the room, Dr. Escape was waiting. “Not the old sanctum. A bit make-shift.” “Still effective, though. You heard?” “Yes, and I still can’t believe it. My God, Jonathan, they are going to overthrow the country.” “My friend, they overthrew it years ago. What is taking place next week is merely the eradication of a symbol.” I could get him right now. He’s 6 feet away shaking hands and waving to the crowd. If I had my way, the golden head would split in two. Well, well. He’s looking right at me. I draw my finger across my throat. He merely smiles. You’re dead, Jack. For the fifth time, Silver had to straighten his legs out because of the cramp. I never got these in the old days, he thought. I’d better hurry and push history in the right direction. He looked out of the tree at the teams. He smiled at the simplicity of the operation. Three snipers. One in a building where the fall guy works. The others disguised as cops behind the fence. Silver cocked his pistol and was about to spring from the bushes when a gloved hand grabbed his wrist and yanked him out. Somebody hit him in the head, and he went down. Silver looked up from the ground and saw a cloaked figure with stars all over the cloak. The other figure was dressed as a thirties aviator with two pistols hanging at his sides.


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“Hello, Bolshevik,” the cloaked one said. “You’re too late. He’ll be dead before you get up, and by night you’ll be strung up by your thumbs begging for mercy.” Over their shoulders Silver saw Dr. Escape come out of the bushes. To distract them he said, “Arno Vaslo, formerly of the White Legion, now known as Captain Eagle.” Silver felt for the acid globe in his pocket. “…and Bennet Houston, once of Pedley’s Silver Shirts. Now you’ve exchanged silver for a flag shirt.” “And you are dead,” Victory said. Escape hit Victory in the back of his head. Silver threw the acid globe at Eagle and came off the ground, yelling at Dr. Escape: “Watch them!” The limousine was rounding the corner as Silver picked up his pistol and ran toward the grassy knoll. Silver cocked his pistol and took aim at the man in the window with a rifle. It was a long shot, but he had his specially modified .38 with the extra-long barrel. Before he could get off a shot, his air was suddenly cut off. He grew dizzy. Someone was strangling him from behind with piano wire. The president was clutching his throat as well. Dizzy, Silver saw a leg up against his and fired into it. The cord loosened. The president was falling forward. The cops had their rifles out. I’ll kill the strangler later, Silver thought, turning toward the limousine.. Silver gasped in horror as the president’s head exploded. On the ground, Von Garn only smiled and said, “Reunion again, my friend.” Silver screamed and ran toward the cops. He received the second shock of the day when he saw Kidfast toss the smoking rifle to the other cop. Kidfast was turning to leave when he saw Silver. “Backup!” Kidfast screamed. Three cops came out of the car and begin firing at the silver-haired giant. Silver barely had time to lift the sewer lid and drop down. As he

fled, he considered Kidfast’s betrayal and began to revise his plans. It is a scene of celebration. Old flags are unfurled. Toasts are made. Spanish slogans are heard. Kidfast will have none of it. He tries to calm the team down, but it is useless. Typical Latinos, he thinks. He walks over to where Von Garn is bandaging his leg. “You should have assumed, Kidfast.” “You as well.” “Ah, well, one of the joys of life is a challenge.” “You saw him in battle. You know that he lives for this kind of thing.” “As do I.” “They have the bait?” “Yes, got him in a movie theater before our man could silence him. It does not matter. We’ll get him before he talks.” The red light on the radio began flashing. “Probably the other team reporting in,” Kidfast said, switching on the intercom. Silver’s voice issued forth from the radio. “What did they dangle in front of you, Evans? What did they appeal to? It could not have been your pocketbook. You always had enough money in the old days. What was it?” “Jonathan, you cannot possibly think you make any difference.” “You’re dead, Evans. You have to know that. And you too, Von Garn. I know you’re sitting there beside him, drinking schnapps.” Von Garn merely smiled as if he expected Silver to contact them all along. “You’re a relic, Jonathan,” Kidfast said, “Do you honestly think that this is the thirties and the Ghost is going to jump on a running board and save the day? Do you honestly know what you’re up against?” “Yes. You and Von Garn. And whoever else you’ve got on your side. It really does not matter how many. The Ghost always fought the best


The Peril of the Changing Times against a big organization. In the thirties it was the underworld ; in the forties it was the Nazis. Just remember this, my old comrade. I’ll show up on your doorstep. It might be ten years, it might be ten minutes, and then retribution for today will occur. Silver out.” Utopia magazine, January 1946 “Blueprint for the Future” By Jonathan Silver “We stand poised for action. We have just won a war. Opportunities like this are few, but we now have the power to affect destinies. We only need the will. “In the last war, we had similar aspirations, but they were thwarted. In ten years, the Weimar Constitution would be shredded by the eagle of fascism. Russia would degenerate into barbarism. We did not know then what we know now: we must change ourselves. “It is not technology that holds the key to happiness; it is man’s capacity for good that does. We can become better than we have been. But we must first abandon force as an option. We must not become so callous as to think that only bloodshed can affect change. The moral man can.” “They’re coming for you. You know that. Kidfast knows about this place.” Silver sprayed on the last of the skin adhesive to his wounds. The policemen were good shots. “I know. He helped me discover it.” “You could at least get the natives out of here.” “They won’t leave. They’ll fight to the last man for me.” “Then what do we do?” “We fight, Dr. Escape! I built this place as a fortress. Well, that is what it is going to be. The jungle is dense. They can land with helicopters, but it is still four miles of bush to this place. It took Challenger three weeks. I expect we will hear from them in about 2 days.”

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Radio Days From the makers of the Benisol toothbrush, we bring you the adventures of the Ghost, the hard and relentless fight of one man against the enemies of his country. Ghost: Well, I hear sirens. You are going to hang for being a traitor, Simonson. Simonson: Never! I have riches. I will hire the best lawyers in the country. I’ve done it before. I’ll do it again! Ghost: Axis rat. (sound of a punch) Acey: Good left hook, Boss! But we better be going, although I’d love to see the look on Commissioner Kirkgard’s face when he sees your calling card on our friend here. Ghost: As would I, Acey. Come, let us away. (music) Ghost: Remember, kids--if you see someone doing something suspicious, report them to the FBI. They may be an Axis spy. The show ended in 1947. The helicopters landed. Von Garn had hoped for more special forces, but they were becoming increasingly preoccupied with Asian affairs. As it was, he felt confident. For years, he had tried to find Silver’s lair—that area where the Ghost would disappear from sight for months—but he had failed. Now thanks to Kidfast, they had him. Kidfast had been pale and silent all through trek; now he spoke. “Be careful. He has sensors everywhere.” The team moved carefully through the bush, trying to disturb nothing. Dr. Escape’s bamboo trap got three. Silver’s snapper-two got three. Kidfast screamed for order, but the team began firing in all directions. A shape came out of a tree. Oh, God, it’s him, he has his battle vest on! Kidfast thought. Kidfast fired at Silver, hitting him where he wasn’t bullet-proofed—the legs. Silver went down.


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“Move in!” Von Garn shouted to the remaining men. Eight men, guns drawn, surrounded Silver. “It’s over, Jonathan,” Kidfast said, “You should have stayed here. I would have left you in peace. But you had to break cover. Don’t move anything, Jonathan. I know all of your tricks.” Silver smiled. “I’ve adjusted with the times.” The base of the tree behind them blew apart. The team tried to run, but the falling trees got them. They were pinned. Only Kidfast and Von Garn had moved out of the way. They shot Silver’s other leg out from under him. “Take his vest off,” Von Garn said. “I’m sorry, Jonathan,” Kidfast said. Silver lay on the ground, panting. “Me, too.” Kidfast took off the vest. “I’ll keep it as a remembrance.” Kidfast remembered the Adventure of the Mephisto Gas, about how the Stalinist secret agent in that underground cave in Meggido, Arizona, ended up after holding the vest, and hurriedly dropped it. But it was too late. Von Garn stepped forward and cocked his pistol. He heard Kidfast scream. Von Garn looked and saw the flesh falling off Kidfast’s hands, his arms, and finally his face. Von Garn turned and fired at Silver, but he was no longer there. “Back again to square one, aren’t we? From Colorado’s woods to the jungles of the Maple white land. I think I will actually miss you, Von Garn.” Von Garn screamed and began firing in all directions. He screamed again when he heard the gun click. So this is what it all boils down to, Silver thought. All the training. He remembered the underground chamber in the bowels of Moscow, of how the father he thought had died was very much alive and well and employing his racist theories for the Kremlin:

“Again,” his father said. The assistant threw the switch and The Ghost’s body jerked against his chains. “Enough,” his father said. “You could electrocute him until his teeth melt. It won’t do any good. He learned this from an oriental.” His father sneered the last word. His father begin circling the table where the Ghost was chained. “Have you ever wondered, my dear boy, why you fought for all those Jews and other subhumans? Was it revenge against dear old dad or were you really trying to do some good?” When the Ghost didn’t answer and his eyes were still rolled up in his head, his father grabbed him by the hair and shook him. “Bah!” his father exclaimed and left the room with the assistant. After the door slammed, the Ghost spat out a tooth, caught it in his left hand and began working on the lock. “Both,” he whispered. Silver crawled out of the bushes. “I can’t walk, Von Garn. It is fair now. An old man who can’t walk.” Von Garn unsheathed his knife and dived at Silver. Silver suddenly stood up and hit Von Garn in the nose. Blood spurted in all directions. Von Garn stared in disbelief. “You lied! You never lied!” Silver completed the kill move he started in 1943. “Times change,” he said, as he chopped the life out of Von Garn. —To Philip Jose Farmer for lighting the fuse.

Be sure to read Editor Katherine Tomlinson’s special announcement on page 172!


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The Elixir By Sarah Vaughn Illustrated by Sarah Vaughn The body snatchers were early. “Got a good one for you, Dr D,” said one as Dornick shut the door behind them. Fishe was his name, the doctor remembered. Dornick was terrible at names, but he knew this one because the body snatcher’s lips pursed to resemble a carp gasping for oxygen. Huge man, Fishe took up most of the weight carrying the bodies. The other one’s name, a little man with a hooked nose and a god-awful purple polka dotted cravat, eluded the doctor. “You said you was wanting a woman.” The body was rolled up in a foul-smelling carpet, but Dornick could hardly tell it was there, they carried it so lightly into his back office. Walking in front of them, he began to close up files and books on his desk. He remembered the dart board, but it was too late. “Well, I’ll be damned!” said the little man. “Do you use those same little knives to cut up them bodies?” Dornick thought about removing the scalpels from the bullseye, but decided against it. It would not hurt to be intimidating tonight. Besides, he was proud of those throws. Three in a row. His aim had much improved, and combined with the force and speed, they were lodged deep and true. He led them to the far wall, and waited for them to turn their backs before pressing his foot

into the moulding by the bookcase. The lock released, and the wallpapered door swung open into the examination room. They dropped their package on the floor next to the long table where the doctor performed his autopsies and unrolled the carpet a little too fast. The corpse spun off, long brown hair wrapping around the head, thin arms flopping heavily onto the wood. Dornick narrowed his eyes at the cadaver. “Hardly a woman,” he said. “I told you no children.” “Not a girl, Dr D!” cried Fishe. “I swear to ya! Turned eighteen today, upon my honor.” “And you know this how?” Fishe swallowed, and dragged his fingers down the sides of his mouth. Crumbs fell to the ground. “Said on the tombstone, it did. Same date and all.” The little man seemed to recognize the doubt on Dornick’s face. “Numbers is numbers, wherever you go.” Even so, it wouldn’t have taken this quickly to dig up a grave and strip the body of its clothes. Something was off, and the doctor knew it. It took a fool not to guess there was some mischief about with these two. The little one made a motion to the other snatcher, and they picked up the body, plopping it onto the examination table, smoothing its hair off its face, rearranging its arms onto its


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stomach. One hand was clenched frozen into a fist. Around the wrist were some gruesomelooking scars. Try as they might, they could not open the hand, and so placed the other one on top of it. Dornick did not want the body. But the idea of them continuing to handle it revolted him. “Pretty thing, she is,” said the little man, staring at the corpse. “A pity, that. For one so young, I mean.” Dornick quickly moved between the men and the table, and began to set up his scalpels and saws. He tipped his head down to look at the small ruffian above his spectacles, staring coolly into his eyes. The little man blushed and lowered his gaze, adjusting his purple dotted silk cravat. A garish color, and worse for wear. A man such the body snatcher could hardly afford such finery on the pay he received from Dornick alone. How many bodies they found for other doctors, Dornick did not know, and until now he hardly cared. But the way that little man looked at the naked corpse created a rage inside him, white hot in his chest. The disturbing sensation of seeing a dead body wore off with time and repetition, yes, that was true. Dornick had autopsied above five now, seen countless others, and the sight no longer made him retch. But he had not come to such a state as to no longer separate the living from the dead. “Pity, indeed,” Dornick said. “Sir,” he said. The doctor picked up a scalpel when the body snatcher licked his lips. “Might… might we watch this time?” Without a word, the doctor ushered them out of the office and toward the back door. “I’d be willing to give this one to you free of charge if you let us stay.” “Thank you, gentlemen. If I change my mind, I know where to find you. Until next time.” He placed their two guineas into Fishe’s hand. The men retreated as he swung the door closed. Dornick pulled the steam lock lever, and

waited for the spidery metal cylinders to follow the tracks into the sub-bolts. With the final hiss of the lock seal there was quiet. He walked through the small house, checking all the windows, closing every curtain. Not only did he lock the office, but the hallway door as well. He could not deny it was vital for him to dissect a female. The bodies Fishe and his associate had given him had all been men. Informative enough, it certainly made putting flesh to page easier. But cutting open similar bodies was getting tiresome. And the last time he had dissected a female body was when he had been a student, sharing it among five other men. Hardly ideal. A part of him saw no reason why he shouldn’t start his work on this new one. But another part of him dreaded it. It was not the usual pauper’s body, or abandoned poorhouse corpse. That was clear. Would anyone be looking for it anytime soon? Would anyone be lead to Dornick? And did he want to get himself in even deeper? After closing and locking the office, he felt able to breathe again. He was alone with the body. The hands had moved. The unclenched hand had slipped from its place on the fist. Normally, this would not disturb him, but the logical direction would be for the arm to fall back to the side. The body’s hand was now resting above the other. The corpse, though stripped of clothing and adornment as was the custom of grave robbers to avoid heftier penalties, was not dirty, and showed no signs of being pulled out of the ground. Its hair, long, clean, brown soft curls, flowed free with little tangling. The skin, though pale and cold, did not wear the gray of death, yet there was no sign of embalming. A small whisper in the back of his mind grew louder. She was alive. Impossible. He lit the magnifying lamp, and moved the spy glass down to illuminate the


The Elixir body. Carefully, he turned her head and checked for a pulse below her jaw, on her neck. Nothing. He turned her head back up, his fingers tangled in her hair. His breath caught. He held up his hand, fingertips stained dark red. Dornick parted her hair to reveal a gruesome wound covered with sticky blood, not fresh, but not entirely old either. He had seen similar injuries before, after a riot when officers on their horses beat away the mob. Not even an ox of a man would have survived it. The doctor frowned after further inspection of the wound. It looked worse than it actually was. The side of her head should have felt soft. There was solid bone where he should have felt broken skull and brain beneath. Dornick turned back her head to face the ceiling. Her eyes were now open. Clear brown eyes stared right at him, unflinching. “Pull yourself together, Leander,” he said out loud. She was dead. Of course she was. Dead bodies still moving was not unheard of. He had seen twitching limbs in the hospital morgues. But he could not bring himself to pick up a scalpel yet. With one last attempt, he lowered his ear onto her left breast and waited, his eyes on the clock, watching the seconds tick by. This was insanity, Dornick knew. Any doctor walking in on him, face on a naked female corpse’s chest would lock him into a hysterical house— A lub… and the dub to follow. “My God.” Her heartbeat came faster this time. He touched her face, looking into her eyes, trying to see any flicker of cognizance, but still it was as if she was as dead as the body snatchers claimed. His eyes flickered to a small green glow inside her fist. Like Fishe, he could not open her hand, and he did not want to use pliers. What in the world was she holding?

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A sound like a steaming kettle filled the room, its high-pitched wail growing louder and louder and louder. He barely had time to leap out of the way before the screaming girl leapt up and swung a punch at him. She fell off the examination table. She struggled to stand, her legs buckling, her hair wild. Dornick moved to help her. In her disoriented state she toppled the table over, and smashed the tool cart, sending tools and wood splinters flying. “Let me help you,” he said. “I won’t hurt you, I swear on my honor.” The girl charged for the doctor. She swung at him again, and he ducked his head. She punched a hole through the wall. Plaster dusted the air. She betrayed no pain. Her hand looked untouched. Unbelievable. Raging, the girl leapt at him. He blocked her blow with his arm, and shouted in pain when it barely did anything but drop at her force. She lunged at him again, and he backed out of the room into the office. He would have to get past her to reach any of the autopsy tools. They were no option. Searching wildly around the room, he saw his desk. Lamp, paper weight, skull, inkwell. Bookshelves, books, spyglass, globe. Wall, painting, license, dartboard. Dartboard. His eyes honed in on the scalpels lodged in the bullseye. I don’t want to kill her. But he could stop her. Enough to get out of the room. Lock her in, or lure her into the hallway, wait for her to calm down. Dornick ran between the desk and the bookshelf wall to get to the board. She chased him, and caught him just as he lifted it off its nail. He shouted in pain as she scratched down his back. Dornick was able to twist around, and use the board as a shield, pushing her away, his back hitting the wall as he did so. He could feel the wallpaper on his skin.


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“Stop!” he shouted. She stilled a moment, and flung her head, eyes closing tight. The sound seemed to confuse her. The sound? Or the words? “Please, be still,” he said, softening his voice. “I want to help you.” “…Elp…” she said. Her voice was how walking on broken glass must feel. Her eyes lifted up to his. She seemed just as stunned as he when he met her gaze. By God, those eyes. The green was unearthly. “Yes, help. Let me help,” he said. As a precaution, Dornick moved one hand toward the scalpel handles, the board shielding his small movements, and tried to wiggle one free from the cork. She jerked her head, her focus now on his shoulder. It appeared the girl could interpret his fine motor movements through the minute follow-through of his upper limbs. She snarled, and lashed out again, but not before Dornick pushed her back with the board, and lifting his leg, shoved his foot against the cork, giving enough force to pry away a scalpel. With that shove, the girl stumbled back. Dornick waited for her to rush at him again before throwing. The scalpel sank into her shoulder, and she howled in pain, barreling into him, shoving them both into the wall. She knocked the breath out of him, and he waited for another blow to come. Yet, it did not. The girl leaned against him, breathing heavily, moans in between. She gingerly touched the scalpel in her flesh, and then the blood dripping from the wound. She stared at her fingers, and blinked numerous times. The girl looked straight at him, with the full power of sentience and intelligence. “Help,” she said, her voice weak. “Help me. Please.” He caught her before she crumpled to the ground. Her fist slackened, and the bright green glow caught his attention. A corked vial was

about to slide out of her hand, and he gently took it out of her grasp, pocketing it for safe keeping. There would be time to look at it later. The important part was she was alive. Unconscious, but alive. In the stillness of the office, Dornick’s ears were singing. His blood pumped at an alarming rate. He felt jittery and full of energy. The doctor could hardly comprehend the events of the last half hour. He lifted the naked girl up into his arms, knees slung over one arm, the other around her shoulders. She weighed as heavy as a bird, and her flesh felt warm and soft. Her head rested against his neck, and underneath the smell of sweat he recognized the trace scent of jasmine. He shivered, and carried her up the stairs to the bedroom. Alive. What madness was he in now? Faye woke with a start, her head splitting, tears streaming down her face. Oddly enough, though her breathing was labored, she wasn’t sobbing, and she wiped her face with her hands. The nightmares had been unpleasant. Rotting ghouls without lips hovering over her, smokey oil lamps behind them obscuring her view. It took her a moment to realize she was not in her own bed. She looked around her, surveying the unfamiliar room. Sunlight streamed through the curtains. It was a bare little space, with old faded wallpaper, and very little furniture beyond the bed, nightstand, and out of place looking parlour chair at the side of the bed. She scooted to the far end of the bed. There was a man sleeping in the chair, who was definitely not her father. Fear had always clammed her up, her throat tightening so not a peep could escape her. This was no exception. After the moment of stunned terror passed, she realized silence could be for her benefit. She had no idea where she was, and


The Elixir a sleeping man was far less dangerous than one who was awake. He was slim, and ill kept. Pale stubble grew on his cheeks and jaw. His hair looked as if it hadn’t been cut in months, and the blond strands were so long they brushed his shoulders. Coat missing, and cravat laid across the back of the chair, his wilted shirt lay open to reveal his collar bone and top of his chest. She blushed. It was far more of a man than she had ever seen in her life. But there was a kindness about him, and the lack of muscle gave her comfort. The book limp in his hands and the glasses resting on the newspaper on the nightstand convinced her. Far more scholar than young buck. But scholars could be just as dangerous as beefy rogues. Faye’s heart began to pump faster when she noticed she wore an unfamiliar nightshirt, one far too large for her. The opening of the collar, though tied as snuggly as possible, had fallen to one side, exposing a shoulder. Instinctively, she covered her shoulder, but cried out in pain at the movement. Her sentinel stirred, the book in his lap falling to the floor with a thud. The sound woke him entirely. There was no running now. “Good…afternoon,” he said, checking his watch. “How are you feeling?” “Good afternoon,” she said, nervous. Her voice felt raw. Faye tried to swallow. It only made it worse. He poured water into a glass for her from a silver pitcher, and walked to her side of the bed, sitting on the mattress. She clutched at the sheets like a shield, bringing them close up to her chin. The man held out the glass, and waited until she carefully stretched an arm out from the sheets. She tried to take the glass, but her hands trembled so badly she dropped it. The man caught it before it hit the sheets. Not a drop was spilled.

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Faye got the distinct impression he was not as harmless or weak as she first surmised. Her civility ended when he tried to bring the water to her lips. She clamped her mouth shut. “You must try to drink something,” he said. “To eat if possible. I have some broth waiting for you, in the steam heater, if you have the strength to take it.” “Who are you?” she asked. “Do you not remember?” She looked at him, wide eyed, her heart leaping up into her throat. “Oh, no no, you have nothing to fear. We are strangers. Indeed. My name is Leander Dornick. I’m a doctor. You…came into my office, last night.” “I don’t remember.” “That is understandable. You took quite a nasty bump on the head.” “I did? How?” “I was hoping you could tell me. Do you not remember anything of that night?” “Nothing,” she said. “I hardly know more myself. You were brought to me, seemingly dead, by resurrection men.” Her throat closed up. “Body snatchers?” “I’m sorry if this offends you. If I am to practice properly, I must know the human body inside out, and see it for myself. The anatomy books are sorely lacking. The laws do not allow us enough bodies for science. I want to be as good a doctor as I can, and to do that I must know how disease and age affects the body.” “Of course,” she said. He stared at her, and then blinked. “It is only logical. We have done the same. I come from a scientific family, you see. It does not offend my sensibilities.” “I am glad to hear it. And indeed, I am glad I am here to be of some service to you.” His shoulders relaxed, and he reached into his pockets. “You had this in your hand.” She had barely enough presence of mind to hold out her hand when he brought out the vial with the familiar green liquid. It was warm to the


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touch, and she held it up to the light, the brilliant glow bursting around the room. It looked as if they lived in a glass bottle. “This was the successful batch,” she said. “Only enough for three doses…” “Did you take one?” he asked. She nodded her head, and winced. Not a good idea for the pounding at her temples. “They told me not to, but it was the only way.” “Who did?” Her lips trembled, and she felt the burning sensation of tears forming. She became very scared, and did not know why. “Mama and Papa. They knew what would happen.” “Who are your parents?” “Doctor and Mrs. Bomson. But Mama could have been a doctor in her own right, if they had let her. Why do you looking at me so?” “You are Fayeneth Bomson?” “Yes.” Faye felt so tired all of a sudden, and weak. Her stomach felt like an empty pit ready to consume her. She could not read the doctor’s expression as he stood from the bed and made his way to the nightstand. He picked up the newspaper, and came back to her. “I am afraid I have the worst of news,” he said. “It is not easy for me to tell you this. You must prepare yourself.” He handed the newspaper over to her. She knew it could be hardly worse than the world coming to an end, if she had woken up with cuts and bumps in an entirely new house. Her hands were shaking, but she made out just enough of the front page to nearly faint. LEADING SCIENTIFIC FAMILY DIES IN HOUSE FIRE. DAUGHTER MISSING. Faye remembered everything now. She covered her face with her hands. She could only cry. She didn’t have the will to react to the pain when the deep wound at her shoulder began to bleed again, nor the presence of mind to feel ashamed as he untied her nightgown to check her stitches and redress her wound.

“It wasn’t an accident,” she said at last. “The fire…they set the house on fire, with Cook still in the kitchen with the birthday cake…” She felt wild. Her core felt hollow, but her fingertips and cheeks on fire. She felt as if she could go mad if she let herself. “I know,” he said, and checked her pulse, her temperature. She was complacent enough, until he touched her head, and she cried out in pain. “I am sorry.” “I threw one of the vials into the furnace.” She grasped at his shirt. “I would have done it to all of them…but they chased me into a corner. And Mama screamed for me to do something with the vials…and I did. I drank it. “It was my birthday dinner. Cook was to bring out the cake…dear, sweet Cook…” She turned her head away, and took several quivering breaths. “But she didn’t. It was Mr. Retter instead who brought it out. Papa knew they were after the elixir. Mama and I ran to the lab while Papa tried to slow them down, but it wasn’t very long until they were pounding on the door… and they bashed through, and Mama told me to protect the elixir…and they—they—they killed Mama, and all I remember after that is being very angry, and then my head hurt a great deal. And nothing.” She let out a great sigh. She was silent for a time. The doctor unwound the bandages around her head. “They killed my parents,” Faye said again, but more quietly. With finality, and understanding. “And Cook. And the mice did not deserve what happened to them. But I did that myself, the poor things…I didn’t want to kill them…but it had to be done. To protect our work. Retter could have understood what it did. That it did very great things to the weak. And horrible things, to the healthy. Very, very horrible things. And Mr. Retter would have stolen it to become rich. I heard them shouting one night about it, after they dropped off a corpse…”


The Elixir “You must try to be calm, Miss Bomson. Give me but a moment, and I shall give you some broth. You need to eat, or you will not heal.” “And on my birthday,” she said, just now realizing it. “On my very birthday, that ratty Mr. Retter walks in with that horrid polka dot neck tie…and my mother and father, and poor Cook, and our mice…” She let him handle her, the rhythm of the gauze strips tying around her shoulder lulling her into a stagnant state. His hands were gentle, and warm. At last he tied up the nightgown, and she fell back onto the pillows. When he tried to move farther away, she clasped his hand, holding onto it tight like a rope to shore as she was swept farther and farther out into the black sea. Miss Bomson did not wake again until night had fallen. Dornick had kept his hand between hers as she slept. Her sleep was anxious, and several times she stirred and made faint moans, but a squeeze of his hand, or brushing her brow softly, calmed her. His muscles were cramped, his back aching. He was desperately hungry, but for the life of him he could not get himself to move. He knew for certain now it was Fishe and his partner (ratty Retter, he would remember now) who killed the Bomsons. The fact that Miss Bomson held the last vial of the elixir and they could not pry her hand open was the only thing that saved her from burning with her family in the house. He looked at the scars around her wrist, white and young. Could the body snatchers have tried to cut off her hand to get the vial? Whatever the elixir did, it made the bone as strong as steel, and healed the flesh within hours. Yet the wound from Dornick’s scalpel still had not healed. Pink around the edges, no sign of infection, that was good. But the elixir must be out of her system by now, and too weak during the scalpel throw to do much to speed her healing. That pinned the effect life at around six to ten hours for women. It would most likely be less for

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a man since it took longer for caffeine and other drugs to be removed from a woman’s system. Dornick had had hours to think. Hours to plan. And when she opened her eyes he was prepared. “It was not a dream,” she said. “No, how I wish it was,” he answered, and ladled some broth into a dish out of the steam heater he brought up from the kitchen. “You must drink this. Your wounds are almost entirely healed, but you need your strength. They will be coming, and we must be ready for them.” She looked at him, looked straight into him. She let him hold the dish to her mouth, and did not flinch when he wiped a drop from her chin. “They want the last vial,” she said. “And to make sure I disposed of your body before they dispose of mine.” She began to shake, and he placed one of his hands on her shoulder. “You needn’t worry. You had the strength of ten men when you drank the elixir, but had a wildness about you. Was this what you meant when you said it did horrible things to the healthy?” “Yes. Papa and Mama meant for it to help the ill recover, to give them strength when they otherwise would give out. The sick mice recovered in hours rather than days. But the healthy ones nearly tore down their cages, and would not rest until it left their bloodstream.” “You are very lucky you drank it. That blow to your head would have killed you for sure, but whatever was in the elixir must have entered your bloodstream in time to begin to heal. I have never heard of such speed.” He helped her to sit up. “Is that vial really the last?” “It is,” she said. “All of our research was destroyed, and I did not know the formula…I would have to start from the beginning. And use the dose in the vial…but one needs to drink all of it for it to take any effect. One would destroy it to study it.” “I understand,” he said. “It would be quite an endeavor.” “One I’m not even sure should be taken on…


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it could be used so awfully. Mama and Papa never foresaw what would happen.” Miss Bomson’s sleeve had fallen to her elbow. She stared at the scars on her wrist, and touched them very lightly, as if they were a fresh wound, to test the pain. “We must go down to my office,” Dornick said. “But they are coming!” “And we will be waiting for them.” “But what can I do?” she asked. “You can stay dead.” As he helped her down the stairs he told her the plan. Retter stood behind some piled-up crates in the alleyway, looking at the lit window two doors down. The doctor was awake as he usually was this time of night, cutting up them corpses for who knew what. Science be damned. Retter figured half the doctors they dropped the bodies off to probably did more than cut ’em open and look inside. It gave him the shivers it did, and whether they were bad or good shivers was up for debate. Fishe slunk through the alleyway, hunching his shoulders over to make himself look smaller, squeezing himself next to Retter. He was sweating like a pig, and smelled just as foul. The little man sniffed out his nose to blow out the stench. “Anything?” Retter asked. “Nothin’. Looked all over the usual places. Either the birds and rats were very hungry this time, or he’s still workin’ on the corpsey.” Retter grunted, and straightened his necktie. “Time to go in, then. Be wary of those little knives. Looks like he’s a good aim, that one. And no chit chatting. A clean sweep, you got it? He opens the door, you bash his head in, we look for the green stuff. Yeah?” “Yep yep,” Fishe said. They checked the alleyway for any fools walking around this time of night, saw it was clear, and headed to the door. When Fishe made his usual

hard and powerful knock on the door, it swung open on its own. Both men leapt back. Retter licked his lips, trying to shake off the nervousness. “Dr. D?” Fishe called into the empty hallway. There was no answer. The hall door was wide open, light spilling out of the office. “Smells like a trap,” Retter said. Fishe walked in anyway. Retter closed the door behind them, and pulled out his knife. They checked each room on the way to the office, only to find the doors locked. The steamlock was on the front door. It was as silent and as dark as a tomb, the only beacon the open office. Retter didn’t like it. No sir, he didn’t. That doctor had concocted a plan, he had. And Retter’d be damned if he’d fall into it. He was a crafty one, that young doctor. The second he refused to let them watch him cut open that girl’s body, he knew there would be trouble. The walls began to glow a faint green behind them. Fishe whipped around. Retter watched his partner’s mouth open into a huge gaping hole, and his eyes bug out almost like they were going to pop out. The dead body of that scientist girl was standing by the stairs, wearing a loose white robe, holding out the glowing vial in her hands, the green turning her pale skin into the most ghastly color. Her lips were pressed tight, her eyes squinted, and eyebrows furrowed, but she said not a word. Chills ran down Retter’s spine. “She’s turned into an an…angel of vengeance,” Fishe cried, and stumbled back. The body took a step towards them. Fishe banged his head against the wall. The body took another step. The lumbering man scooted with impressive speed down the hallway toward the office. The body took another step. The floorboard squeaked. Retter heard a high-pitched singing past his ears, and a small thunk. The ghost gasped. Everyone looked at the scalpel lodged in the staircase banister.


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“Dr. D!” yelled Fishe behind Retter. “She’s alive, you idgit!” screamed Retter. The girl’s eyes widened, and she made a little squeak. He made a run for her, and grabbed her wrist. There was grunting and rustling behind him, but Retter blotted out the sound. The girl’s angelic robes on closer inspection was a man’s night robe. The cheek! If that just didn’t tickle the brain. “I knew you were trouble, the moment I laid eyes on ya.” “You’re going to die,” she said, but she looked very scared as she said it. “You’ve got some bones there, girl, for such a little thing.” Retter dug his fingers into the wrist he had tried to saw off the night before, and she cried out in pain. “Now gimme the green stuff so I can kill you again. Not quite as quickly this time. You see, I was the one who undressed you, and I liked what I saw.” She screamed. At first Retter was pleased he caused so much fear, but then noticed she was no longer looking at him. Retter turned around in time to see Fishe drop to the ground, blood pouring out of his neck. The huge man clawed at his throat, as if he could cinch up the tear, but pretty soon he flopped a couple times and stayed still. Fishe was as dead as the bodies they carried each night. The doctor stood at the doorway, one of those little knives good and bloody in one hand and ready to be used again. But Retter was quicker. In the same motion, he twisted the girl to stand between him and the doctor, and with his free hand flicked his dagger as hard as he could. It sank into the doctor’s right arm. He grunted, and staggered forward, dropping the scalpel. Retter wrenched the vial out of the girl’s hand and threw her against the wall. She cracked her head against it, and crumpled to the ground. Retter straightened his neck tie, and barreled into the doctor, sending them both to the


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ground near Fishe’s body. Without the use of his right arm, the doctor wasn’t much of a fight, and Retter was able to pull out the dagger. The doctor screamed, not high-pitched, but one of those screams from the gut, which gave Retter an idea. He stabbed the bloke in the belly, which shut him up. And then again. And again. The doctor held onto Retter by his necktie, getting the purple silk all bloody, his grip slackening with each second. But then Retter felt an immense and sharp pain slash across the back of his head. He reeled around. The scientific girl hovered over him. Retter instinctively touched his head with his hand. The bitch had sliced him with the scalpel. She swung the scalpel again, and cut across his chest. He knew it was stupid, but couldn’t help throwing his hands up to cover his face. He could feel his wrists tear open as she cut him, deep and hard. His hands flopped back. “You’re going to die,” she said again. He could have been scared. It would have been pretty easy with this wild girl flitting over him with a bloody sharp knife, looking all crazed and blazing with righteous fury. But he knew something she didn’t, and that gave him a small amount of pleasure he could cling to. “So are you.” He laughed. “You think this ends with me? You think we was the ones who wanted your green experiment?” “What are you talking about?” “We were hired, little miss, to get your concoction. Get it and kill your ma and da, and you. I know who it is, but I’m not telling. Think on that,” he said, and grinned to see her face. He was still grinning when she plunged the scalpel into his chest. Dr. Dornick was still alive. “I have an hour, yet,” he said. “If I’m lucky. Gut wounds…”

Faye shushed him, placing her palm on his face. He leaned into her touch. Blood was everywhere. She had slipped several times on her way to him, and the hem of her nightgown was soaked. When she pulled back his waistcoat and carefully lifted his shirt away from the wound, even more spilled out. “Oh, dear God,” she said. She ran back to Retter’s body, sifting through his pockets until she found the vial. The doctor began to protest when she uncorked it. Her hands were shaking, and she nearly spilled the elixir. “Not a word. Drink up,” she said. “It’s too important,” he said. “You need it for analysis.” “And you need it to live,” she said. “If you don’t drink it, I’m just going to pour it on the floor. And then where will we be?” “You don’t need to.” Faye kissed him on the mouth. He looked up at her, his eyes wide. She kissed him again. The doctor opened his mouth, and she carefully poured the elixir down his throat. She helped him to his feet, and they limped into the office. She shut the door, locking out the images of the dead killers in the hallway. The doctor made his way into the examination room, and laid down on the floor, groaning. “If I go wild, please run,” he said. “You close the door, and leave me inside here. Promise me.” “I promise,” she said. Faye laid his head in her lap, and stroked his hair. There was no fear of the wildness, at least for a while yet. The elixir would heal the doctor, it was certain. But if it was still in his bloodstream once his wounds were gone, he would be a very dangerous man. “But I will be waiting.” Underneath the smell of sweat he caught the scent of jasmine, and shivered. He kissed her fingers, and held onto them like a rope to shore as he was swept farther and farther out into the black sea.


The Fox Meets the Bear

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The Fox Meets the Bear By Christian Dabnor Illustrated by Joanne Renaud

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he figures that busied themselves unloading the crates from the tramp steamer were unaware of the dark shape that observed them from the warehouse ceiling, clinging to the shadows of the rafters. If they had looked upwards into the maze of girders, they would have seen a shadowy figure crouched in the scaffolding, dressed in a black suit, elegant brogues, fedora, and trench coat. The Fox watched and waited until the last crate was loaded onto the flatbed lorry, which, he noted, was an Opel rather than the more ubiquitous Bedford. Damn those arrogant Nazis and their superiority complex. Fluidly, he flipped through the girders and onto the top of the building. As the lorry passed by the side of the warehouse, he ran silently across the roof, keeping parallel to it, before leaping gracefully down and landing neatly between two of the crates. He drew his collar up around him, so that only his eyes were visible, and settled back into the darkness. The Opel wound its way slowly inland. The Fox estimated the journey to be about five miles before it came to a halt and he heard an exchange in German. He waited until he heard gates clang shut before slipping off the tailgate of the truck and into the nearest patch of shadow. Once there, he took stock of his surroundings. It was a stately home, Georgian, he guessed, probably built from cotton-mill money. Two men

stood either side of the door, shotguns folded over their arms as if they were hunting fowl. He watched as the truck came to a halt and people began unloading the crates. A figure appeared in the doorway and began barking instructions. The Fox drew his binoculars and focused on the newcomer. He was wearing a grey tweed suit with deep chestnut riding boots. A duelling scar suggested that he was from a military academy background and the round wooden handle of the Mauser sticking out of his open tweed jacket that he was German. The Fox drew his service revolver and eased back the hammer before making his way silently to the side of the house. Once there, he peered through one of its white sash windows. Inside were all the trappings of a Fifth Column base— radios, maps, a rack of schmeisers, and, dominating it all, banners bearing the Swastika hung either side of the fireplace. Their brazen flaunting of the Double-Cross on English soil sickened the Fox, and his lip curled in disgust. He withdrew his miniature clockwork time lapse camera and placed it on the sill. He had just finished winding it up when he felt a cold steel blade press against his throat and a face moved close to his ear. “If you attempt to call for help, tovarish, I will slit your throat before you have chance to draw breath. Drop your weapon.” The accent was unmistakably Ukrainian, and female, but


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what was she doing here? The Fox knew that whatever her purpose, she did not sound the sort to make idle threats. He dropped his pistol to the ground. “Now, let’s have a little chat, you and I.” The unknown assailant led the Fox to the cover of a hedgerow and forced him down onto his stomach, holding him there with her knee pressed hard into the small of his back. “Now, tovarish, talk. Where is Hammer? Where is my partner?” “What on earth are you talking about?” “English? A Nazi and a traitor. In Soviet Union, you would be a long time dying, shluha vokzal’naja.” “Wait, I think you misunderstand. I was following the cargo the damned bosch have been smuggling in.” The Fox gulped as he felt the blade at his throat move away slightly. “Thank you. That was getting rather uncomfortable.” There was a pause and the Fox was roughly rolled over. His attacker was athletic in build, dressed in a leather jumpsuit, which was entirely olive except for a red hammer and sickle emblem on her chest. Blonde hair framed her rounded, doll-like face, cascading down, past the red neckerchief and onto her shoulders. She stared intently at his face, with piercing blue eyes, and then, satisfied, nodded and released him. “Dobre, tovarish, I trust you, for now, but

should you attempt to cross me, you will be dead before your body hits the floor.” “I wouldn’t dream of it, my dear,” replied the Fox, doffing his fedora. Spinning it sharply by the brim between his fingers, he flipped it back onto his head, but not before Sickle saw the vicious scar which cut its way through his black, oiled hair. “Now, I believe introductions are in order. I am the Fox, an agent of the King, albeit one who operates voluntarily and without official capacity.” “My code name is Sickle. I am part of Soviet Union’s highest honoured spy team.” The pride in her voice was obvious. “Well, Sickle, it appears that our goals may coincide quite conveniently. Following a lead I had from my friends in the Norwegian resistance, I intercepted a tramp steamer arriving at the docks. It was flying under Norwegian colours, but the voices I heard were most definitely German, so, I stowed away on one of their trucks, and here I am.” The Fox bowed low and theatrically. “Well then, as you are here, you may be of some use,” she said brusquely. She retrieved his pistol and handed it to him. “So, do you have a plan?” asked the Fox, cleaning the dirt and grass from the gun, peering down the barrel and chambers in the cylinder to make sure they were clear of obstruction. When there was no reply, he looked up to see Sickle clambering rapidly up a drain pipe. He shrugged, retrieved his wind-up camera, and followed her. Keeping low, they scurried across the terracotta tiled roof and look down into the courtyard below. What they saw shocked them both. Rows of dark grey metal human shapes stood, motionless and silent. They were tall and broad shouldered, fully two feet taller than a normal man. Their faces were featureless aside from a round grill where the mouth would be and black glassy eyes. The top of their heads were like sculpted Stahlhelm, high at the brow, sweeping


The Fox Meets the Bear down past where the ears would be. On their large, riveted pauldrons and greaves were the hated double cross of the swastika and skull symbol of the totenkopf cavalry. Sickle peered down at the assembled figures. “What are they?” “My dear, they look like suits of armour, but they don’t appear to be inhabited—they’re not moving.” A man in a white lab coat and spectacles, hair scraped back severely over his pate, came out into the yard and fiddled with one of the hulking figures. Steam vented from grills on its shoulders. “Tovarish, I am doubting that they are suits of armour. We must find Hammer. If he has been following them, he’ll know.” “That would be a marvellous idea if we had any sense of where they might be holding him. Maybe we could go and ask someone?” “I can be most persuasive if I need to,” she said, silently slipping in through a garret window. “I don’t doubt it, my dear, I don’t doubt it,” whispered The Fox to himself before following her. The upper corridors of the house were dark and quiet, the only light quartered rectangles where the moon came in through the windows, the only sounds the rustling of the curtains and soft, padding footsteps of the intruders. They were nearly at the end of the corridor when a sudden creak alerted them to an opening door. Quickly, they flattened themselves against the wall, shielded from view by the door. Two greyclad German soldiers swaggered casually into view, shmeisers slung over their shoulders. As the door shut, preventing anyone who may be inside the room from seeing, Sickle nodded at the soldier on the left. The Fox signalled his agreement. He marvelled at how agilely she bounded

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forward, and how coldly she drew her curved blade across the German’s throat, spinning him halfway around, sending an arc of blood across the wall as he fell down dead. Aware of the need for information, the Fox clasped one hand over the mouth of the other guard and pressed the barrel of his gun to the Nazi’s head. The guard began to sweat, all too aware of the cold metal hexagon at his temple. “Now, I’m not sure if you speak English, but I’m sure you understand that any attempt to cry out will be met with your immediate demise. If, however, you co-operate, I will attempt to prevent my colleague from killing you.” “Jawohl, I will go quietly,” nodded the German in clipped English. The Fox cringed as Sickle drove her leather gauntleted fist hard into their prisoner’s stomach. His cry of pain was muffled by the sock stuffed into his mouth. “Where is Hammer?” Sickle lifted his head roughly. His one eye was swollen and useless, and a trickle of blood ran from his nose. The Fox winced in sympathy. He had never had the stomach for such brutal interrogation, but expediency was of great import this time, and he left her to it. Each vicious blow carried with it a vengeful hatred borne of what she had witnessed at Kiev. She seemed disappointed when at last he spoke. “He’s being held in the wine cellar. Please, get her away from me,” he pleaded of the Fox. “Sadly, I have no control over her actions,” replied the gentleman spy, leaving the room. He looked at Sickle before he shut the door. “It’s your decision.” Sickle exited a moment later, sliding one of her curved blades into its scabbard. He didn’t ask her, and she didn’t volunteer the information. Either side of the doorway leading to the wine cellar stood a black-clad German guard,


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the skull and crossbones on either lapel, rather than just the one, marking them out as SS. The Fox screwed a silencer to his pistol. “I’ll take the one on the left.” Sickle nodded, hefting a smaller blade in her hand. “Now!” said the Fox. Two shots from the pistol hit one guard. The other just had time to register his surprise before a curved blade arced through the air and buried itself in his face. He slid down the wall, leaving a slick trail of blood up its sandstone brickwork. “Hammer!” Sickle was scarcely able to keep her voice down when she saw her partner. He was bruised and cut, his uniform in tatters. He was a giant of a man, his hands, clenched into fists seemed almost the size of the Fox’s head. “Sickle. I knew you’d come,” he said, his voice thin and reedy for a man of such size. “Let’s get you out of here, friend,” said the Fox, working at the thick ropes that held the giant in place. “Don’t worry, tovarish, he’s with us. English.” “Your Comrade there tells me you might know what’s what,” asked the Englishman as he cut. “Da. I followed the Fascist pigs from Skoda factories in Czechoslovakia. They are working on mechanical men. They plan to attack your Royal Family.” “A blow at the heart of the country! Why, it would cripple the morale both here and with our soldiers.” The Fox made a double take. “Mechanical men?” “Da. Their heads are nothing but cogs and wheels. Like clockwork toy soldiers, but for the purpose of dealing in death and destruction. I thought it madness at first.” He rubbed his red, rope-burned wrists as he stood. “So, how do we stop them?” asked The Fox. “I have seen them in action. They were sent to suppress partisans in France. They are almost

unstoppable, but for one thing.” “What’s that?” “They need a human operator. Someone to lead them into battle.” “Cut off the head and the body will die, eh?” “Da. Yes. There is but one man trained in their operation. Oberleutnant Volz. In order to assist him in battle, he wears a suit of armour like that of his charges, but it has to be lighter to allow a man to use it. Kill him, and then you will be able to approach the mechanical men and dismantle them. Kill him, and I will have had my revenge. But we must be quick. If the automatons have only just been assembled, they will not be ready for battle for a while.” “Then we must make haste. Do you feel up to moving?” He needn’t have asked, as he saw Hammer hefting a large two-handed iron working hammer in his hands. “Let us go,” said the brute. The athletic figure of Sickle bounded past them and up the steps. “Do you two need invitation?” The three Allied agents crouched in the shadows of the stable. They watched as a figure clad in thick plate armour exited the main building, advancing clumsily down the stairs. As Hammer had said, the Oberleutnant wore a lighter version of the mechanical army’s form. On his face was an elephantine gas mask, a tube snaking it’s way, trunk like, to a tank on his back. “So, how do we eliminate him?” asked The Fox. “I think Sickle has an idea,” replied Hammer, pointing. The lithe figure flipping and leaping through the courtyard, did not, in fact, have any sort of plan, other than to avoid the hail of bullets that zipped and buzzed through the courtyard, pinging off the stonework, and close the distance between her and her target.


The Fox Meets the Bear

“She seems to have a habit of that,” said the Fox, turning to Hammer. “You learn to go along with it.” With a grin, Hammer stood and charged towards the nearest group of soldiers, who, intent on trying to hit their almost impossibly agile target, were unaware of the Muscovite juggernaut until he was amongst them, swinging his hammer with all his strength. Broken bodies flew through the air with a sickening crunch. “Not exactly, subtle,” said the Fox with a grin and a shrug, stepping out into the courtyard and firing his service revolver, clinically picking off his targets, “but effective.” With a graceful back flip, Sickle cleared the last of the soldiers between her and the Oberleutnant, slashing one of their throats as she did so. The armoured giant just stood there, impassive as she landed in front of him, before swatting her aside as if she were a child. Flopping

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like a rag doll, she flew sideways, landing in a box bush. Volz turned towards her, two stubby, wellventilated barrels clicking up from the armour on his forearms. “No!” shouted Hammer and the Fox in unison. The Hammer sprinted towards his fallen comrade, and The Fox hurriedly thumbed fresh rounds into his pistol, before unleashing them in quick succession towards the behemoth. Although it did little to stop the steel beast, at least it got its attention. The bullets intended for Sickle stitched a deadly pattern along the wall towards the Fox. He was barely able to scramble to safety and a brick chip slashed at his face. Outside in the courtyard the Hammer was having considerably more luck, the last of the infantry either routed or lying in broken piles. He lifted Sickle out of the bush, and together they turned to face their enemy. The Fox pulled more bullets from the leather pouch at his waist, forcing them into the revolver with shaking fingers. If his new allies were caught out in the open, they would be torn apart. He had just snapped the cylinder of his firearm back into position when there was a thump and clack as two huge gauntleted fists drove through the wall either side of him, collapsing the brickwork. He fired his pistol into one of them at point-blank range, but it did nothing, the two hands pulling him back through the rubble. He looked up at the emotionless black glass eyes, his own wide-eyed face reflected back at him. One of the huge fists drew back with a click and a whir. The Fox closed his eyes and waited for the final crushing blow which would end it all. Seconds ticked away, but it seemed like an eternity. The sounds of the gearing on the armour rose higher, and The Fox opened his eyes. Hammer was holding back the creature with both his arms, his teeth gritted in exertion, but he was losing


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the battle. The Fox rolled to the side just as his assailant wrenched his arm free. The mighty fist drove into the ground, the momentum throwing him off balance. In one fluid movement, The Fox regained his feet and planted his foot into Volz’s backside, sending the iron giant head-first into the rubble. Inside the suit, Oberleutnant Volz’s breath came in short, panicked bursts. The weight of the suit, combined with that of the giant Russian, was making getting to his feet next to impossible. With one final effort, he managed to get up first to his knee, then to his feet. He turned sluggishly, and his heavy metal shoulders dropped. The glass that the goggles had been made from was resistant to most bullets, but at this range, the powerful bullet would shatter it easily.

The Fox pulled the trigger, which in turn drew back the hammer and revolved the cylinder with a double click, before finally firing the bullet which ended the life of the German officer. As the trio set about the task of dismantling the mechanical men and rounding up their creators, just over a mile away, Volksgrenadier Pietr Ehrlichmann was donning clothes stolen from a washing line. He looked around at the scenery. It was a pleasant enough country, and he would like to see as much of it as possible before his capture, or he got bored of life on the run and turned himself in to the authorities. Maybe someday soon be able to send word home to his parents in Monchengladbach. The young conscript wasn’t sure why the mad Russian woman had let him go, but he was not one to question good fortune.


A Coral Pillow

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A Coral Pillow By G. Wells Taylor

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hen Carl paused in his long and dangerous descent to wave, he almost lost his footing on the crumbled shale slope. A scatter of stones clattered and drew his eyes to the sharp rocks below where the wild waves chewed the shoreline with foaming teeth. Risking another scare, he cocked his head from side to side, peering through a tangle of sea wrack for another glimpse of her. He’d seen her swimming just before. Yes, there on the salted sea breeze, he saw a golden coil of hair. It danced in the air and beckoned, but he could see nothing more. She had moved behind a wayward boulder that had crashed down the slope in a reckless bid for the deep—years or even centuries past. Urgently, he resumed his climb, weathered boots scuffing at the loose rocks for purchase, and more small avalanches rattled. He hugged his pack tight to his chest so the iron tins of ham bit into his flesh. His free hand clutched at the air for balance. A cave worn by water and wind gaped before him. Reflected light sent spangled ghosts into its depths. The waves rolled in along a stony trench and to either side ran a shelf of rock where the footing grew more sure. Echoes of daylight and breakers filled the cave’s mouth. Carl searched for signs of her. “Carl?”

His name floated up from the shallows of the sea cave, the syllable buoyed by emotion. Carl stepped a few more yards beneath the arch of frowning stone. Beside him the waves were slowing. The trough of lime green water showed visions of colored fish and coral. “Lhasa?” he whispered. The name sparked on the dancing water before trailing off to burbling echoes. “Here.” Her voice again, this time followed by a lighthearted giggle and playful splash. “Lhasa,” Carl breathed, face widening around a grin as he rushed forward. The cave broadened out at the end where the trough spilled its contents in a pond. To either side the rock swept up and cradled a beach of fine, dark sand. Time had cut holes in the vaulted ceiling so beams of amber pierced the briny air. Lhasa sat on the sand, her smile dancing. She raised her smooth, strong hands and beckoned—long fingers flickered anxiously. Carl hurried and then paused a moment over her, breathing deeply, always disbelieving. It was magic. Her pale irises held the color of driftwood shot through with pupils darker than the deepest shadow of the wave-worn cave. Her skin shone with the tan of endless summer, and jeweled her shoulders and arms with gilded bands. Golden hair fell in ringlets by her shoulders, hid her breasts in playful tangles.


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“Carl, my love.” She stretched her arms toward him. He dropped his pack, fell to his knees, and swept her into his arms. Her face he covered in kisses. “I have missed you so!” Carl gasped, tears growing hot in his eyes. His voice was heavy. “It is more difficult to meet you, love,” Lhasa sang, her accented tones an enchantment. “My family grows suspicious.” “Damn them!” Carl blurted boldly, then softening, kissed her closed eyelids. “We must be together, we must. The hours in the lighthouse grow long and as each passes, the memory of your face grows stronger. It grows, my love, until I feel you with me. We must find a way.” Lhasa’s eyes dropped and her full lips formed a frown. “I fear there is no way. My family will not approve,” she sighed, her strong hands kneading his shoulders. “Already they seek a suitor.” “We must find a way!” A pang of envy made his voice so sharp she flinched. “I am paid well for my lighthouse work; my carpentry earns me money from the shipwrights on the shore. We can have a life together…” “But, we differ so…” “No.” He grasped her hands and brought them down between their chests. “In here we are alike. The same God set these hearts to beating.” He rubbed the knot of fingers on their breasts. “We are one, my love. We have seen the round moon many times and watched the stars whirl in the inky black. Lhasa, we know each other’s heart.” “Just that you do.” Lhasa smiled, pulled his hands up, and kissed his heavy knuckles. “For this will sit unwell with your people, too.” “Damn them! They are fools and cannot know!” He glared out toward the sea cave door. “They do not love each other!” “Outcasts would we be.” “Two stars in our own night,” he said without hesitation. “King and Queen of heaven.”

“Bu…” she whispered, glanced at the pond, then back to him. “Enough.” Carl set a finger to her lips. “Remember the night we met.” Lhasa nodded and smiled. “Then you know the fate we share.” He smiled. “Out of the darkness came the light— from the end a beginning. You know what we are.” Lhasa leaned forward and kissed his smile. “Then we must leave.” Her breath brushed his whiskers. “We will go from these shores to another, and start this new life together.” Carl’s hands slipped to her strong hips and pulled her close. The salt air filled his nostrils. “Tomorrow night,” he whispered, and kissed the soft skin on her cheeks. They made love in the sand while the warm sea lapped at their bodies. Outside, the rocks that made their cave with lines of shadow formed a grimace. The sea was black, as it grew cold. Forty years had passed, but Carl’s broad shoulders held the years well. Many kegs of oil had he hauled up the turning steps to the lanterns atop the lighthouse. Then all that changed. A heavy limp in his left leg spoke for that part of the tale. Twenty years before, falling down those steps had shattered his thigh, and two weeks awaiting help near killed him with poison and pain. When he had returned from his mainland sickbed, his replacement relieved, he found noisy engines powering electric lights. Still, his broad shoulders held the years well. He stood atop the slope he traveled every day, and like each day before he held the same debate. She won’t be here. A cloud of darkness filled his mind, but


A Coral Pillow through it came a voice to the surface wafting like some cruel angel of the deep. She promised. He limped down the slope, face set and grim. His mind did the things it did at this time always. Pain and acceptance struggled to dominate. Like a widow hugging the tattered nightshirt of a cruel husband for warmth, Carl held the memory of Lhasa. His thoughts straggled back to their meeting. He remembered the first time he saw the bleak black island: bare two miles long, all of dark rock and sparsely grown. The lighthouse jutted from a rise at one end, a mast of the same material looming over him like a gravestone. Youthful passion and remorse had driven him there: sick of life, sick of people, and sick of love. Not four months passed before he drank himself numb and foolish in a lonely fit. Driven by pretty ghosts to a momentary need for company, he set out for town in a twelve-foot launch. Town was a village on the mainland shore ten miles across a cold and choppy channel. The rough sea sank his boat. He hit the water, and great blackness pressed him round. Like death it kissed his fingers and numb spirit with frozen lips. A gasp of air, and he dropped beneath the waves without a sound. He had no strength to fight the dark current dragging him down. Why live to another lonely day? Then, the hands. Glowing, they fluttered toward him like ivory doves in a sky of shadow. They flapped from the dark to perch upon his arms and breast and squeeze the heavy muscle there. Warmth brought life to his heart, and power to his legs. Something in their touch made him fight. Carl shook off the numbing ache of death as he was lifted upward, carried, towed, and

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dragged to land, where he fell unconscious before laying eyes on his redeemer. He kicked to the surface awake. Waves beat nearby. Gulls and plovers wheeled in an orange dawn. Morning gave him Lhasa’s eyes; their black centers showed the arch of beach that swept around. They echoed the night before, the night that should have made the sea his lonely tomb. He tried to raise himself. “No, fellow, you must rest.” “But the sea,” he mumbled against a dragging weight in his limbs. “There we met.” She smiled. “When you called my name.” “But I do not know it,” he said as sea mist fell upon them. “You spoke and my spirit heard, for I, too, looked for death.” She turned to the shore. “The storm could not take me when you called me back.” Unable to understand, Carl fell asleep and dreamt of a sea with warm hands. But that was a whole life ago. Now Carl reached their little beach. It was not so easy to clamber down that slope, but there he was deep within the cave, his old lungs dragging in the sharp sea air. His leg throbbed painfully from overwork but he barely felt it. The echoing cavern was as empty as it was that night of promise so many years before. He sighed, and then winced as he lowered himself upon the sand they so long ago had shared. He lit his pipe. The gray smoke drifted up and disappeared like the past. Two years later they removed Carl from the island. He was too old, the company said: too old to climb the many steps, too old to keep the channel safe for ships and weary crews. The company built a new lighthouse of silver steel


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on a hump of rock fifty feet from the old. Carl’s lighthouse stood empty in the wind, a forlorn spit of stone. When Carl refused to leave, three strong sailors broke him free of the island like he was made of the same hard rock or he had wound long roots among its many fissures. He had no place else to go, but they only cared that he went. He now lived in a small village in a small room. A company pension kept him fed and clothed, but Carl cared little for food, and he did not go out enough to warrant more than a change of shirt. The village was small, but he found its rutted streets crowded; its people noisy for his ears. He would sit by himself in his low attic room at the boarding house and gaze out its window at the sea. It shimmered there by the horizon, the waves flickering like forgotten ghosts. A blanket now, he needed for comfort, and three pairs of socks to wrap his gnarled feet against the chill. Still the sea air could reach him through the small window, puffs of it and breezes tugged his baggy eyes awake, pulled his attention to the waves and whispered: She promised. Often he would weep as he rocked in his rough old chair. Often he would fall asleep that way, mouth and jaw hung slack and open, rheumy eyes clotted with sleep and tears. Like barnacles, the wiry white whiskers dotted his old jaw in patches. One morn as Carl slipped out of painful dreams, voices came to him from the yard below. Often the loud and churlish calls of boys were flung about like restless haunts. Sometimes the noise rattled the rafters above and heaved him from whatever blissful numb and quiet he could manage. He rarely had the passion to holler back anymore. Those days were done. Often had the children trespassed to steal apples from the tree beside the outhouse. Often had they answered his objections with taunts:

“Old grump! Old grump! Crooked stump!” So what the use? Sometimes as if they missed him, they’d mark his absence with jeers. But today he pulled himself forward in his chair, not to holler but to hear. The children had been talking. Just chatter bordering the cruel, but a single spoken word hoisted Carl from his dreams. The word repeated, like magic leant strength to his old limbs and drew him forward to stand out of sight by the sill. The children could not see him listening. “Go on!” came a braggart’s voice. “I tell you, I saw it,” a young lad shouted. “Nah!” another cried. “He’s dreaming!” said a boy. “No,” came the lad again, the voice insistent. “We saw it at the Wilford fair up the coast. Romanians run it, they do.” The jeering laughter grew quiet. “My Da took me after shipping apples. There’s a freak show.” “There’s a freak!” The braggart laughed. “And there he stands.” “No. I swear it’s true,” said the lad again. “Really?” a pair of younger voices begged in unison. “As real as you and me,” the lad affirmed. “It’s a trick,” the braggart scoffed. “If it’s a trick,” the lad who’d seen the freak show said, “then so’s the blue sky!” Carl looked up toward the sky, saw puffy clouds pass the eaves. Dizziness shifted behind his eyes in a wave, and he slapped at the bedpost for balance. The boys heard the noise and they started: “Old stump. Old stump. Crooked grump!” But Carl could barely hear, pulling on his heavy coat and boots and thinking of the quickest way to Wilford. A monkey chattered shrilly where it rode the lacquered shoulder of a fiercely carven bear.


A Coral Pillow Carl fell back with the brittle steps of age to catch his breath and gather courage before slowly limping past. He watched the creature until there were many paces put between. The monkey, tired of him, scolded others that wandered near. All around the tents and wagons were painted with bold signs that promised delights of every kind. The smell of horses galloped in the air and drew Carl back to a lost enchanted time. The fair he walked in now sparkled in that very breeze and whispered the same magic. A long-absent grin cracked his cheeks, and Carl passed into the fairgrounds to mix with the country folk who crowded near. With a croaking laugh, he hoped to see himself a boy swing by his father’s hand. A banner hung overhead. Strange beasts from myth danced across red silk and around gold letters that marked the Freak Show. Carl’s eyes searched among the mythic forms, but with sinking heart found none familiar. He limped toward a broad aisle in the space between rows of wagons. Each hung a draped and painted stage before the gathering. People crowded here and there, fingers pointing, mouths agape. Children climbed higher for a frightened glimpse of a Lizard Man, his scaly skin slick in sunlight. Carl looked under a feathered hat brim and past a furry shoulder to watch a dwarf in purple dance atop a wooden stool. His feet beat out a rhythm, pacing a celebration missing from his face. The somber features told the tale. What could he be but a beggar? Carl pushed on, and pushed he did, for the crowd grew thick about the strong man as Goliath held a couple on a bench high overhead. Siamese twins joined at the chest drew a large group with their singing. One soprano, one tenor, they crooned a tearful country song. The happy crowd threw pennies, but the girls looked sad in their own embrace.

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Then through the din, a loud splash and spattering brace of cheers dappled over a crowd that clotted the end of the freak show lane. Such a crowd was in this place that Carl was slowed to wedge a shoulder away or gently press a leg aside with his cane. The gathering parted well enough, but there were so many and they did so slowly. Another splash! But age had taken Carl’s height away, replaced all with rounded shoulders, stoop and cane. He could just see atop the sign a word: “Nereid.” In large colorful letters painted it baffled, yet in the air hints of its meaning still twinkled in water droplets and scent of sea. Carl struggled frantic to push and jostle startled folk aside. Crazy old man! Some laughed and cursed as applause spattered like rain and the people turned to move past him. He fought with fury, breath catching, vision swimming, until he was swept to the stage. A thick canvas curtain hung over stained floorboards. Carl stared up at the sign, searching for the word until he cursed. The picture painted there was proof enough, so he leaned to lever himself aboard the stage. Gasping, pulling he swung a knee up for purchase. Then larger, stronger hands than his fell on his shoulders round, heaved him back and turned him, cane in his hands like a sword. A big balding man with beard of gray stood smiling, his golden shirt stretched tight across a belly that hung over green pants and high boots. “There, there, old fellow,” the Romanian said. “Show’s over. Just once a day my friend.” “I must see…” Carl insisted. “See tomorrow.” The man grinned broadly. “One show a day.” “No!” Carl shouted. “I must see.” “She is old, my friend,” said the bearded man. “And lacks the spirit for more.” “No!” Carl’s face was dark. “I will see her today. TODAY!” He turned to mount the stage again. “Stanislaus!” the big man bellowed. “Jerzy!”


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Many hands gripped Carl’s shoulders and pulled him down to face two men in scarlet coats. They grabbed him hard and shook him like a child. That rankled Carl’s pride, and he sputtered angry curses. “Hold, Grandfather!” they laughed and carried him from the stage. “You’ve had your share to drink, no more.” Carl struggled, but his breath was gone. His heart hammered and his vision swam. He staggered as they pushed him down the road. The men stood at the gate, then watched as Carl pressed the pain into his chest. He turned and walked in the end, as the men lit pipes and swore and laughed, and one stooped low for stones. Carl’s limp was worse than before, and his back ached as he walked some way down the road, to sit at last on a twisted root beneath a tree. A wind came from the beach but broke around the oak against his back. Tears dotted the lapels of his old coat as he tried to fill his pipe with shaking hands. His head spun, and he leaned back to fall asleep with pouch and pipe still strangers in his lap. A small hand smoothed his cheek and Carl murmured quietly, unused to such a touch. So soft the hand against his face, and small, a child’s. “Thank you, “ he whispered, “young one.” “Come, fellow,” said a voice, high-pitched but rough with age and use. “The sun is setting and the cold is deep. You will not wake from sleep.” “Now. child,” Carl mumbled rolling forward to sit. “Get along, I’ve wisdom enough to know this thing.” And Carl saw the fairy glow of a little pipe bowl burning. “You’re no child!” “Nor have I been in fifty springs!” the voice exploded. “You might have seen Bayok’s dance this very day.” The dancing dwarf from the fair puffed on his pipe; its orange heat warmed small round

features. The little face was impish in the eerie light. “I’ve slept too long,” Carl growled and crawled to his feet, his joints aflame with cold. The sky was red with sunset, and through the trees breakers boomed in amber bars. “I thank you, sir…” “Bayok,” said the dwarf. “Bayok, then. It does grow cold with autumn night.” Carl shook, and spied the purple sky. Stars peeped out and heavy clouds scudded under flocking gulls. Then, from sleepy thoughts a single word: Promise. “Lhasa!” he blurted as a fist of pain struck his chest. Maddened by passion, he dropped to a knee and gripped the small round shoulder. “Do you know my Lhasa?” “Who?” Bayok wriggled in the old man’s grip. “Lhasa, don’t lie! I hear the knowing in your voice!” Carl’s features were twisted by pain and anger. “Stradovicho’s wife?” The dwarf pointed his pipe at Carl’s fury. “I’ve known her since she joined us.” “Lhasa?” Carl slumped against the tree. “Wife?” “Never a greater friend.” Bayok worked small fingertips under Carl’s large thumb. “She understands the heart.” “Wife…” A hole opened in Carl’s soul, and he drained out into darkness. “How do you know her?” Bayok crouched atop an old root, his coat still fast in Carl’s grip. “To me was her hand promised!” Carl growled and punched his old wound. “She promised.” He slapped his breast with hope his heart would burst. “Promised!” His vision swam and his maddened brain turned the dwarf into a thing from hell. “How, little demon?” Carl bellowed and pulled the dwarf roughly. “Why did she marry Stradovicho?” Bayok’s face contorted as the old fingers slipped up around his throat.


A Coral Pillow “You’re mad!” he wheezed and pulled. “How?” raged Carl, with a face of love and hate and loss. “Five years past she married,” Bayok hissed. “No work of mine!” “How came she to this place, your group?” Carl snapped. “You were here when she came.” “Stradovicho brought her forty years ago. From fishermen he purchased her with gold.” Then Bayok pulled against Carl’s grip, his small voice growling, “Enough! To hell with you, madman. If you’re to break my neck, then break it!” Then Carl saw the pale face in dying sunlight with round eyes wide with terror. He loosed his grip and the dwarf jumped back, snatching up the cane as he went. He struck across the old knuckles, but the man offered no defense, did not even feel the blow. “Purchased!” Carl wept. “He bought Lhasa?” “Yes, you fool!” Bayok clubbed the air between. “I’ll make a drum of your skull and dance.” “Forgive me,” Carl breathed, slumping by the tree. “I am not myself.” Tears ran down his cheeks. “My wife was she to be.” “Your wife?” the dwarf asked, eyebrows raised, cane lowering. “We were to marry,” Carl repeated. “Then you are Carl.” The dwarf tipped his head in greeting. “And I’m a fool.” “I am Carl,” the old man said, shifting forward as another surge of madness caught him. “The very one, then…” The dwarf dropped the cane, searched about a moment before picking up his pipe to light it. “She waited for you.” “Waited?” Carl crept forward on his knees. “Calmly now.” Bayok raised a warning hand and puffed until the bowl glowed red. “She hates old Stradovicho, and that’s the truth. He did buy her from fishermen. Truth also. He bought her but not her freedom.” He cleared his throat. “For that she hates him.” “Why marry?” “Stradovicho abused her, wedding ring or

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not.” Bayok blew a curling stream of smoke. “But it irked his pride that she would not accept his offer so he drugged her, and in that state he won her hand.” “Drugged her…” “It was sad the day it happened,” Bayok said, “and sad after.” “We must help.” Carl struggled to stand, but the dwarf pushed him back. “Stradovicho’s men today were kind and gentle, for many eyes were watching. They will be neither if they catch you there by night.” “I will save her.” Carl fought back his tears. “And you must help.” The dwarf shook his head and turned. “You told me even now, she was your friend. Is that truth also?” Carl implored the dwarf in shadow. “She understands the heart, you said. My friend, would she understand yours now?” The dwarf dropped his gaze, and found his pipe was out. “I’ll help,” he muttered, and stabbed his finger in the bowl. Lamps and torches guttered in the dull red fairground air. Carl and Bayok hurried past the wagons, hidden well in the poor low light. They mounted the stage by the sign that read “Nereid,” and stood side by side in the dark to sweat. Something splashed past the paint-covered curtain and quickened Carl’s old heart. Bayok pulled his coat. “Wait!” he whispered, most worried. “Stradovicho chains Lhasa to her tank at night for fear she’ll call to friends. And aye, he’s heard of you too.” “What to do?” “The key will in her master’s wagon be.” Bayok’s eyes swung to the shadows as he spoke. “I will help.” “You can’t.” Bayok smiled. “Wait here.” The dwarf leapt off the steps and into shadow. Carl watched the dark-shrouded space by the


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wagons and a rectangle of orange appeared. A tiny man passed before the amber. Carl waited in the dark smelling sea salt and sand. Water trickled as the hand of a bather displaced it. There was a moan, a quiet half-spoken word. Soft it was as a calm sea swell; then came a sigh like a fine bow spray. Fear gripped Carl as he struggled in his heart. He longed to hold her in his arms, to crush Lhasa to his breast, but he was old now, so pale his vein-traced skin. The flesh beneath was flat and thin. Would she want him? He tread closer listening, ear brushing the rough curtain’s edge. “Carl!” A whisper stabbed at his back. He whipped about to see Bayok there. “The key!” the little man said, as he set it on Carl’s palm. It was wet with darkness, and in the dim light Carl saw the oozing black came from the dwarf ’s small hands. “What happened?” Carl set a palm on Bayok’s arm. Tears lingered in the little man’s eyes. “Are you well?” “Yes.” Bayok smiled. “But what did you do?” “Bought our freedom both.” A fever of passion pulled the dwarf ’s face low. “Let us go.” Carl nodded, afraid to know. “Lhasa needs us.” “No.” Bayok wiped his wet cheeks with a shirt cuff. “Lhasa is too great a burden to easily bear away; we will be caught by noise.” He patted Carl’s arm. “I will distract them while you take her. My time among these wagons is done. Bayok is old and he has danced in blood.” “But…” Carl was silenced by the dwarf ’s waving hands. “Save her.” “I thank you.” Carl caught the small fingers and squeezed them. The dwarf melted into shadows. Carl moved quickly now, hands searching for an open fold in the fabric. His fingers grasped a

coarse seam, and he was inside. It was very dark, lit only by one wax-drowned candle and a faint glow that seeped through the curtain. There were just dim shapes, and his cane felt the floor like a blind man’s. “Lhasa?” he whispered. No answer came. He moved forward, clawing at the gloom for obstructions, and his arm sank with a splash in cool water. Carl stumbled against a deep tub and there followed a clink and hollow ring of bottles on the floor. The smell of whiskey was heavy. “Lhasa?” Still no answer, but a rough drawn breath shifted the water. The edge of the tank was chest high and of oak boards bound with iron. Carl hung his cane there and felt along the lip until his fingers brushed wet hair. He peered into the darkness, and his old eyes saw a pale shape in a tangle of dark curls. “Lhasa!” He stabbed his hands into the water and pulled her silent form to him. Carl welcomed her crisp sea smell, and the warm ripe rise of her flesh. He kissed her brow, still tight with youth, and then whispered her name like a spell. “Lhasa. Lhasa. Lhasa.” Still she did not respond. The liquor was heavy upon her. He felt her arms and on the left a circle of iron at the wrist. He fumbled with the key, cursing the rattle and noise—cursing his stiff old knuckles. The chain fell away with a thump. Success emboldened him, brought vitality to his form as he reached deep into the tank and heaved her out. His coat and clothing were soaked by the action and grew sodden and heavy; yet Carl’s shoulders held the years well. He limped from the cover of the curtain and down the steps of the stage, pausing only to glance at Lhasa’s face in the weird light. Her features were drawn and pale, yet time had only brushed its lips across her face. With sinking heart he saw that though her hair had grown


A Coral Pillow white strands, she was otherwise unchanged. Like a young woman careworn and tired, but she was just as he remembered. He limped along as quickly as he could, his old heart laboring with the strain. Then, his shadow danced before him as the grounds behind were licked by violent flame. Turning, Carl saw wagons now demonic silhouettes leap against the fire from burning tents. Bayok had set a blaze to cover their escape. Carl shrugged his burden higher, ignoring the deep ache in his back and leg. He turned and made his way slowly past the pine trees, Lhasa growing heavier with each step. He stumbled blindly on from the fairgrounds and the road. Through the blackness he wended, his old ears searching fast for sounds of sea. The rising sun brought him awake on his back in the dim orange light. The chill dew lay heavy on his face and clothes. Gulls wheeled and screeched overhead. A dull throb in his leg brought him back to his cares. The sand caused him to tumble, Carl was sure of that. The waves were breaking in the darkness and echoed over the sloping dunes. One moment he had kicked his way through grass at the beach’s edge, and the next he was falling. The searing pain in his leg gave voice to the old damage there. Carl turned his head to Lhasa’s face, still unconscious or asleep at his side. The rising sun was warming her skin; coloring the pale features he’d seen the night before. The lines around her eyes were deeper than remembered, and a severe triangle now mapped her nose and lips. But such beauty did she have! Pain lanced his chest, rose in strength and would not stop. He sank into the black. Two pale brown eyes regarded him. He’d been stuck in nausea and nightmare before coming free.

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“I was on my way, my love,” Lhasa smiled weakly. “When fishermen caught me.” “Oh, Lhasa!” Carl tried to pull her close, but his arms would not respond. Pain flashed angry fire through his shoulders. “Peace, my love,” she cautioned, “you’re not well,” “Lhasa,” he growled, teeth gritted against the pain. “I loved you always.” Sorrow brought tears to his eyes. He suspected what the pain would mean. “I waited.” “Stradovicho bought me and took me far from the sea. For years I traveled with his show. I hoped you did not think ill of me,” she said, lips quivering. “I thought of you always.” She looked toward the waves. “I fear we’re too late to enjoy that life we wished together.” “It matters not, I’ve seen you now,” he sobbed. The pain in his chest drained his life away. “I am at peace. You must go to the sea. Can you go?” “I could…” Lhasa’s features trembled under tears. “But I will not lose you again.” “If the tales are true…” Pain wheezed through Carl’s chest. “You will live forever.” “Not forever,” she whispered as the new sun broke across the waves. “And the same long life awaits me there that I wished to leave for you.” “But honor me, Lhasa. I am old…and dying,” he gasped. “Live a long life and love again.” “I didn’t want it without you, Carl.” She patted his chest. He summoned up his strength to push her away, but she smiled as new tears flowed. “Instead, I have a gift for you.” “No…” he insisted. “To the sea.” “It is a way we have, my people, to gather up our years and use their power at once, in time of need.” Her fingers probed the flesh over his heart. “What do you say?” “We can live a day together, as we would have lived our lives.”


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“No!” Carl tried to push her again. “You have no say in how I use my magic,” Lhasa laughed. Her soft lips pressed his and fire flashed through his chest. It ran the length of his limbs and he bellowed. The setting sun lit the water to red flame. The pair laughed where they swam. Water streamed from their sleek bodies as they embraced again. “Love me, Carl!” “So I shall,” he laughed, their lips meeting, arms entwining. Beneath the waves they dropped. The water closed out all sound but their beating hearts. The sea grew colder as they spiraled ever downward, yet their love heated the darkness around them and gave it light. Above, the sun dipped lower in the sky to

form a half-crescent against the sea. Downward the lovers spun. Into the deep they went, a flickering spark that frightened away its darkest denizens. Their passion grew with each revolving fathom. From the horizon, the sun sent long and fiery fingers forth to caress the darkening waves and slide burning tips against the distant coasts. In the darkness, the lovers settled on a mattress of mud and gray. Arms about each other, cheek pressed to smiling cheek. The waters knit a warm cover of kelp to blanket their tangled limbs. Coral formed a pillow for their heads. Carl’s heart beat its last. Lhasa opened her eyes, and turned in his embrace. She studied his features, now slipping and shifting back to an old man’s. She kissed him once, and swam away.


Pulp Portfolio Pulp Portfolio

neopulp artist larry nadolsky

AAM: Tell us about some of these paintings. LN: Mars Attacks Venus—This is a project I’ve been trying to get off the ground for awhile. It’s changed formats and now is a serial graphic novel in development. Amazons, dinosaurs and Martians—What else is there? Solomon Kane—This is a painting I wanted to look very pulpy and old fashioned like it was pulled off the newsstand in the 40s. Kane is a very dark character, but I didn’t want him to look that way for this illo. The Frost Giant’s Daughter—The Frost Giant’s Daughter painting… painting Conan is very daunting. Let’s face it, he’s been done by the best guys out there. I didn’t want to look like a third-rate Frazetta. I wanted

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ASTONISHING ADVENTURES MAGAZINE AAM: Are these images we’re featuring commissions or just for fun? LN: Most of the stuff is for samples that I sent out or for my website. AAM: Do you have a pet project? Some story you’d really like to illustrate? LN: I would like to draw Batman. One project I

to emphasize the cold. hence all blues and purples. The giants are garbed in traditional Viking attire. No fantasy armor. Conan should be in more furs and his sword is a bit decorative, but you got to show some brawn in a Conan painting. I don’t know if the composition works in this painting very well. AAM: Can people buy the art on your site? LN: Everything has its price. If people are interested they can contact me through my website. I don’t get emotionally attached to my art. If someone wants it and enjoys it. That’s great.

got really close to doing was a Munsters comic. (It got caught up in copyright issues and the publisher couldn’t use their liknesses, so the book tanked before I got on board.) I would like to do a new version of Mars Attacks. (I’m sorta doing that with Mars Invades Venus). Another dream job would be comic covers for all the ’50s and ’60s TV shows. I’m a sucker for all that stuff. AAM: Who are the artists you admire? LN: I admire all the old illustrators, Frazetta, Gogos, Saunders, Peak, Bonfils, Chiriacka, and a dozen other guys. Comic book guys like Swan and Heath, artists that drew with clean lines that


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all you taggers. http://www.mypsptubes.com/ index.php?p=catalog&parent=73&pg=1 More great art in the pulp tradition can be didn’t need a ton of coloring layers to make the found on Larry Nadolsky’s website, Neopulp: art look good. http://pinuppulp.com. AAM: You’re a long-time musician. If you had to choose between rock and roll and art, which would you pick? LN: Art, of course. I’ve sung in rock bands a long time. It’s great when everyone gets along. All it takes is one member to be unhappy, then nobody is. Band politics is like being back in grade seven. Our bass player just quit. Now everything is screwed up. Sometimes it’s hard to get your choices of songs. It’s a compromise. Art is a lifestyle. If I want to create something, I’m in control all the way. It’s no wonder a lot of guys in bands go solo. Too much BS sometimes. AAM: Are you a Beatles or Stones kind of guy? LN: Probably Beatles, but I’ve always performed the Stones more. Ah they are both great. AAM: What are you working on now? LN: Working on that Mars Invades Venus thing. Check out mypsptubes for my pinup stuff for


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The Tsar’s Treasure By Cormac Brown Illustrated by Joanne Renaud

A

rattlesnake has its rattle, and a scorpion has its tail and stinger. A shark has that fin that sticks out of the water and those fearsome teeth. Even lions have their claws, but there is nothing about Luna to tell you how deadly she is. Don’t let me get ahead of myself, though, because getting ahead of myself is how I got into this mess. Yesterday, I’d just made my last delivery of the day at a bakery over by Bryant Street when I heard a squeal. Now, most guys would’ve chalked it up to a mouse or a rat, and gone on their way. Me? I’ve spent most of my life living on the wrong side of Market Street, and know the difference between the rodent’s squeak and a muffled scream. I quietly opened my door and reached under the seat for the tire iron I kept there. I peeked around the corner, and what did I see? Two mugs were trying to drag a woman into a car, and the woman was fighting them every step of the way. One of them barely had her in his grasp, while the other had his hand over her mouth and she was trying to bite it. She kicked the one with his hand on her mouth in both of his shins and he grunted. She kicked him again in the same spots and he slugged her in the jaw. It took everything I had not to brain the bastard, as I thumped between his shoulder blades with the tire iron and he dropped like a sack of flour. The other let go of the dazed woman and she fell on top of the mug I’d just clobbered. He

reached into his coat for what I guessed was a gun, but it was already too late. With a solid hit from my iron, he went from a would-be gunman to an amateur astronomer because I had him seeing stars. I would have slugged him again, but I didn’t know the circumstances and why risk a murder rap? I took a few steps, and then I remembered why I came around the corner in the first place—the girl! I looked down and got a good look at her. To say that she looked like Carole Lombard with dark hair would be an insult to her, as Carole was barely in the same league. My eyes went further south, and let me just say that this woman’s body was something that even Mae West would envy. I gently slapped her on the left cheek. She stirred and I helped her sit upright. “Are you okay?” I asked her. She slowly nodded and I replied, “I’ll be seeing ya.” “Where are you going?!” she said, and amazingly, her voice was even more beautiful than she was. “I’m sorry; I gotta get my truck back or the boss will dock me at least two hours of pay.” “You can’t just leave me here!” “Knock on the back door of the bakery over there and they’ll take care of you,” I replied. I looked back briefly at her and was surprised. She didn’t look scared at all, but angry…very


The Tsar’s Treasure angry. I shrugged to say it wasn’t my fault, and I kept on going. I didn’t get too far before a heard a short yelp, followed by a shrieking scream. The yelp I recognized as hers, but the source of the scream was a surprise. The punk that I hit with the tire iron had a hold of her right arm and she was doing an impression of Oliver Hardy making wine…using that certain area below his waist and above his knees as the grapes. He let her go with a scream and she pulled the gun out of his jacket. I winced because even in that poor light, I could see the tears streaming down his face. She ground her shoe into him one last time and started after me. “You…hey, stop right there!” “What are you, a lady cop or something?” I scoffed and walked away. I was greeted with the gun digging into my shoulder just before I got to the truck. I turned around slowly and very, very carefully. “You didn’t take the safety off,” I said calmly. She tilted the gun to look and I took it out of her hand before she could react. Two years of reform school gave me the reflexes from the boxing that we did there to keep us from attacking each other like animals. Two years of riding the rails as a hobo and living in Hoovervilles taught me not to be afraid of Death. Death is that punk that tries to stick you in the back when you’re not looking, and you have to make him eat his own blade for trying it. The only way the Grim Reaper is going to get the drop on me is when I’m too old to see him coming. “If you wanted a ride, all you had to do was ask,” I added, even though my heart had its gas pedal all the way to the floor. I tucked the pistol behind my back, and I went around and opened the passenger’s side door for her. She was almost calm by the time she sat down, as if the last five minutes hadn’t happened at all. I closed the door, came around and got in. I pursed my lips before starting the

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truck and I said, “Pull a gun on me again and I might forget that you’re a woman.” As if that were ever possible. Her eyes were focused on the right mirror to see if either of those mugs was going to get up, and I had to gently pull her back so I could check for traffic. We pulled onto Harrison Street, and she rubbed her bare arms, so I took my coat off and handed it to her between shifting gears. “Thank you,” she said in a voice that sent shivers down my spine. “Yeah, well, you’re not keeping that coat.” “No, I meant for what you did back there.” “It was no problem. Look, I’m sorry that I can only take you as far as 17th and South Van Ness; we’re not supposed to have passengers.” She slowly nodded; her mind seemed to be somewhere else. Me? I had to worry about the curves and I’m certainly not talking about Bryant Street, which has just one turn. No, I’m talking about her shifting her hips ever so slightly; to keep me distracted enough from kicking her out or to get my attention…same difference. She looked around the truck and said brightly, “If you don’t mind me asking, how much do you make?” “I make enough for three square meals and two packs of cigarettes a day, plus a roof over my head. I like this just fine because it’s the first job I’ve ever had where I wasn’t covered in whatever I was working with.” She smiled as she tried to picture just what I was talking about, and she said, “For instance?” “Grease from the kitchen, dirt and manure from the garden, that kind of thing. Also I was a hobo for a couple of years and that’s about 718 days too many.” “How would you like to make some real money?” “Oh, if I had a dollar every time someone has said that to me? I could take the rest of the year off, no lie.” “Well…say, what’s your name?”


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“Pruitt.” “Pruitt, eh? My name is Luna. Well, Pruitt, I’m not talking about two packs of cigarettes a day kind of money.” I’m talking about buying four or five tobacco farms, and having enough left over to pay employees to work every one of them.” “Is that right?” “That’s right. You wouldn’t have to work another day in your life.” “And if I had a dollar for every time someone said that, I really could buy a tobacco farm,” I joked. She wasn’t amused. “My point is this, lady, no one is just going to hand me money and I’ve done enough things that could’ve put me in prison for an extra-long stretch to know that money is better when you earn it honestly.” “If you’re so smart, do you know your history?” “I’d say that I do.” “Do you remember 1917?” “Not all that well. I was only seven.” “Well, I was only six, and even I know the Communists overthrew the Tsar of Russia.” “What about him?” “Well, the Tsar was the worst schmuck of them all. He ruled the people of Russia with an iron hand and kept all of the money for himself.” “Are you a Red?” I asked her. Not that I cared, but because I wanted to know if someone else was using her as bait to get me to join the Party. “No, that’s a fact, Pruitt. The same thing happened in France, and they didn’t go Commie. Anyway, just right before things took a turn for the worse, he took a huge portion of his treasure and he sent it out ahead. This way he would have money for when he and his family finally got out of there…only the treasure did and they didn’t.” I lit two cigarettes and passed her one. “You know, I was a chimney sweeper for six months, and during that last month, I could barely

breathe. I promised myself I would quit smoking, and yet, here I am. So, let me guess, you have a map?” “Something better. Information…solid information as to just where the treasure is.” “No doubt, a little birdie told you.” She took a deep drag of her cigarette and blew the smoke in my face. I nearly hit another truck because I was wondering what it was like to be that cigarette. “And let me guess, you’d rather crack wise and miss out on this opportunity altogether.” She took another drag and she saw me looking at her lips. She smiled because she figured that this here fish was on the hook, and under different circumstances, she maybe would have been right. She wouldn’t have had to reel me in at all and I just would’ve jumped on the boat on my own. I was already wise, though, having taken part in about five too many “get rich quick schemes” that had left me with even less money than I had started out with, or on the run from the law. “Well, it’s been a slice of cake, but I have to let you off here.” “What? You just can’t leave me here at this time of the night!” I told her firmly, “And I can’t drop off the truck with you in it or I’ll lose my job.” “My…you certainly are a prickly one… minus the ‘l’ and the ‘y.’” “Goodbye, nice knowin’ ya,” I said with a smile as I pulled over. I reached past her and opened her door. “With the money I’m talkin’ about, you can buy all the trucks that you want and you’ll never have to work again!” I sighed. The heart wants what the heart and other parts of the body want, but the brain got wise and overruled everything. “I’ve been on the straight and narrow for a whole year now, and I’d like to keep it that way. I tell you what…you can keep the jacket, okay?”


The Tsar’s Treasure Silently and reluctantly she got out, and I saw that flash of anger light her lovely face again as I pulled away. “Another thirty seconds and I woulda docked you, Pruitt!” barked my boss. All the idling trucks and guys loading them made plenty of racket, but this guy is the kind that likes to shout no matter what. “What are you waiting for? Climb down already.” I hesitated, and for good reason, I forgot about the gun I had tucked into the back of my waist that didn’t have the jacket covering it anymore. I leaned on the door and slowly put the pistol in my right pants pocket. I climbed down awkwardly. “What’s with you, ya hurt yourself?” “Yeah, it’s no big deal; I just dinged myself on that last delivery is all.” “Well, just make sure that you’re on time tomorrow!” What a swell guy…jerk. I limped over to the time clock and punched out. I wasn’t looking forward to limping with this thing all the way home. Some of the guys were looking at the boss and his no-good brother. The two were having a conversation, and the way they were pointing at me, I knew I was the topic. “Hey Pruitt, you know my brother Greg, right?” “Yeah.” “Well, he says that on his way in tonight, he saw you drop a chippie off.” “I’m not sure what you mean.” “A chippie, a doll, a tomato, and you can play stupid on your own time, because you gave a passenger a ride. You’re fired! Come by for whatever we owe you on Friday!” Well, that’s that. No good deed goes unpunished. You never seen anyone turn their backs on anyone so fast, as I walked through that loading dock like Moses did through the Red Sea. No one even said “goodbye,” lest they get fired too.

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“Pruitt, where’s my two dollars from lunch the other day?” O’Connor yelled down at me from the dock. I reached for my wallet, and then I remembered that it was still in my jacket! “I don’t have it on me,” I shouted back. “I’ll get it back to you tomorrow!” “I’m not going to be here tomorrow and you know it, you lousy mooch!” I didn’t have time to argue. I had to catch up with Luna before my wallet, along with my license, and my money for the rest of the week, took off. I could hear O’Connor calling me every name in the book as I ran down the street. When I got back to the area where I dropped Luna off, there was nary a soul except for a few cats rummaging around through the garbage cans. I searched for a few minutes, running around the neighborhood and not finding anything remotely female, just a bunch of mugs up to no good. I had given up all hope when I heard a yelp that seemed strangely familiar. There was a different big lug this time and he was leaning against a lamp post, with Luna standing near him with a broken bottle in her hand. I guessed from the way his hair was wet and glistening with glass and God knows what, that she had crowned him with that bottle. He was disoriented and blinking hard and she looked like she was going to finish him off. I surprised her by snatching the bottle neck out of her hand. He came to quick, and when he got to his feet, I was already greeting him with the gun in my right hand. “Settle down, mister, and turn around. You don’t want none of us.” “Oh, yeah? Just put the gun down and we’ll see just who wants who.” “Look, pal, believe you me when I say that I’m doing you a favor. You don’t want to tangle with her, unless you want to spend the rest of your life as a cripple.”


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It took him a little too long to mull it over, but he eventually left. I was wondering myself just how I would deal with Luna without a suit of armor handy. She had a smile for me that felt like a haymaker catching me square in the jaw. I looked at her, and suddenly it all made sense how a woman like that was exactly why mugs like me wound up in jail or dead. You are so distracted thinking about a smile like that, you forget that you are not invisible at a bank or bullet-proof. “Oh, Pruitt, you reconsidered,” she said, as if she didn’t want to be disappointed. I put the gun in my left front pocket and I reached toward my jacket for my wallet. She thought I was reaching for her and she hugged me. I hesitated as I hugged her back, knowing that she was going to blow her top when she found out my only…well, my main interest was getting my wallet back. She looked at me with those eyes and the next thing I knew, I was kissing her. I was hypnotized, I tell you, and I had absolutely nothing to do with what was happening. Thankfully her stomach rumbled, and that put everything on hold. “Oh…pardon me,” she said, and I thanked her stomach for giving me a quick pardon as I got my bearing again. “Let’s get something to eat,” she said, and I nodded. The gun complained about the lack of room, so I moved it to my right pocket. We ate at the fanciest restaurant we could find that was open at that time of the morning, and we took a taxi to her apartment. Those were two extravagances I had never allowed myself before. I was a strictly street car and diner guy. Her apartment was in Cow Hollow, a pricey district I never got to see unless I was delivering there. She took her mail key off the ring and gave me the rest of her keys. She said she was going to get the mail and for me to go on up to her apartment, #215. I took my time getting there, hoping

that I could kiss her goodbye…away from her apartment where it would make my escape all that much easier. She took her sweet time and I got tired of waiting, so I opened her door. It seemed like a nice enough apartment…I really couldn’t tell what it looked like because the lights wouldn’t work. Then someone threw the floor at me, or was that versa-vice? My carpet tastes like tongue…or is that versa-vice? “Versa-vice?” That makes no sense at all and neither do I. It’s not like the cops have a “versa squad.” So now I’m awake, but my mind is in a fog that’s thicker than any that San Francisco has ever seen. I slowly think it over and a few things come back to me, including how I met Luna last night. I know that I’m in Luna’s apartment, but I don’t know where she is and I have no idea who the hell is this guy lying next to me. His hair is blond and apparently his eyes are green…at least that’s what they look like under his fluttering eyelids. His skin is red, and I mean red like someone cut him out of red adobe brick. Speaking of “brick,” he’s huge, a regular gorilla. He has a blackjack dangling from a strap around his hand, and that probably explains how I wound up on the floor. But how did he? I look around and see there are large vase shards around the back of his head. I hear a slurp, and I look up to see Luna drinking a cup of coffee. She winks at me and her face disappears behind a newspaper. “You…don’t…know…who you are peeling with! I will fill you full of pencil!” a voice slurs in a European accent I can’t quite figure out. “Mihály means ‘you don’t know who you are dealing with. He will fill you full of lead.’” “I am knowing what I say, girl!” The red man jerks and tries to get a hold of his blackjack as he sits up, and I reflexively pull the gun out. He shakes the blackjack out of his hand and goes for his gun. We both have pistols


The Tsar’s Treasure pointed at each other’s head and I’m wondering if they even know what a Mexican stand-off is in Hungary. Of all the weapons you can pull on somebody, guns are the most problematic. Once you have the gun out, if other guy has any sense, he’ll back down. Of course, if he has one too, he’s thinking the exact same thing. Unlike with other weapons, you can’t deflect a bullet…especially this close. I finally get a good look at Mihály and I want to call up J. Edgar and the G-Men, because some way, somehow, a church is missing a gargoyle, and he’s sitting right here just a couple feet away from me. “Okay, that’s enough, you two,” chimes in Luna. “We’ve got a busy day ahead of us and I need you both cooking with gas.” Mihály looks at me sideways, away from the pistol, and I don’t like it. I feel sorry for Luna, because she’s never going to collect the last month’s rent and cleaning deposit, after the mess that Mihály and I are going to make when one of us pulls the trigger, and the other does the same by reflex. I feel even sorrier for me because even though she was a great kisser, last night wasn’t quite the same send-off that the boys in the Great War got from the girls before they went overseas to die in the trenches. My eye catches two beads of flop sweat drip running down Mihály and his eyes dart at those beads, too. I smile, and now there is fear in his eyes. He knows I’ll pull the trigger and he’s not so sure that he wants to. My trigger finger tightens a tiny bit…then before this comes to its inevitable messy conclusion, she dangles something right between us. Mihály and I both relax…just a tiny bit as we look at the earring that is between us. It’s gold, but what sticks out is the green, an emerald green that is more intense than Luna’s eyes. Three

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emeralds almost the size of dimes surround one that is almost as big as a quarter, and they are all held together by a gold earring. Maybe there is something to this Tsar’s treasure after all, because where could you go in a world like this, without having every man and woman near you trying to steal something like this? You would have to stay in a palace with plenty of guards. I put my gun away as an act of good faith and Mihály does the same, though for a splitsecond, I’m tempted to put this mad dog out of his misery. Luna purrs, “Here’s the key thing for you to remember...earrings come in pairs, and I have good information that there is a pair in the mansion where we are going to tonight.” “You keep bringing up this “good information” angle...” “Pruitt, here,” she puts the jewelry in my hand and she closes my fingers around it. I feel the weight, and while I’m no expert, I can tell the emeralds aren’t paste. “It is working of beauty, no?” Luna nods and I don’t. The Mad Hungarian’s face softens, which only means that his gargoyle mug has gone from granite to sandstone. As crazy as he looks, there’s something in Luna’s eyes that makes me wonder if it’s her that I really should be keeping my eyes on. She’s looking at the earring the same way I saw men looking


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at her this morning, only her motivations are harder to read. “This little trinket alone will be worth all your trouble. I had it appraised and even if we don’t discover anything else tonight, we will still make a nice profit. Those characters that you saved me from this morning? One of them saw this when I went to the jeweler’s, and he and his boys followed me when I went to hire some movers and a truck. So this is just a taste. There is supposed to be a lot more where this came from.” “Supposed to be?” I ask, and moments later, Mihály is angry again, only at her. It seems that the radio in his head takes longer to pick up the same signals than the rest of us do, because the antenna in his head is loose. This might come in handy later on. “Relax. There’s plenty of loot to be had, even if we can’t find the Tsar’s Treasure. We are talking silver, statues, an art collection that is worth almost half a million dollars.” “And all of that is a pain to fence, except for the silver,” I say. “Not to mention that fences are a bunch of snobs. If they don’t rip you off, they’ll rat you out.” “Who made you the expert around here?” snapped Luna, which made me wonder if I really was dealing with two mad dogs, instead of one. “I told you, I have plenty of experience in things that have gone wrong. Does this place have guards? One of the better burglar alarms that you can’t simply take out with wire-cutters? Do you have a map of the place so that we don’t get lost in the dark? Do you have a combination to the safe? Because I’m not a safecracker here and Mihály doesn’t strike me as someone who has the temperament of yegg.” Mihály gets that gargoyle look again, and then realizes that I’m making sense and he turns it on Luna. “You fool-proofing plan, I leave instantly here.”

“All of that is taken care of, the joint is cased, and all you two have to do is save all this fighting for someone else. How hard is that?” Luna says all sultry that I can’t help but feel a tingle all over. “If we are waiting until next week, I can have plenty of men here,” Mihály boasts. “I’ve got that in the bag, sweetie. You just have your car out front in five minutes,” Luna says, dripping with honey, as she ushers the Mad Hungarian out the door. Now that I get a good look at the apartment, it’s quite a spread. Why, if you hocked her radio, her toaster, her phonograph and her juicer, you could buy a decent used car with that dough. She curls a finger at me and I follow like a love-starved puppy, doing my damnedest to keep my tail from wagging. Luna points to a closet and I open it. “Grab those duffel bags,” she purrs and she takes off her blouse. Her charms rise with the blouse and her arms, and then her camisole comes off too. “Um, the bags?” she laughs, motioning toward the closet and I steal a quick glance as her bra comes off. There’s a memory that the Tsar would’ve called a real “treasure.” Inside the closet are five heavyduty canvas bags that are big enough to carry even bodies, if necessary…this sets off an alarm. “Say, what exactly do you ‘have in the bag?’” “Nothing silly, you can see that they’re empty.” “No, you said that you ‘had it all in the bag.’ Maybe Paprika-Breath is actually right about something for a change. We could put all of this off for a few days so that I could bring a couple of guys. I hate to keep bringing this up, but neither you nor Mihály strike me as second-story men.” A picture on her dresser catches my eye, and I do my best not to let her see me looking it over. It’s a girl around four or five years old that looks very much like Luna, and a man and a woman that I’m guessing are her parents. The woman has on a dress that no one in my neighborhood can


The Tsar’s Treasure afford, even though it has been out of style for over twenty years. The man has on a Russian military uniform...a general’s uniform, if I had to venture a guess. “You can turn around now,” she says, and I do. She has on a black sweater, black pants and a black wool cap, and she looks great. Hell, she would good even in a canvas potato bag. “That’s why we’re doing this tonight,” she calmly says and points at me. A devilish smile appears on my face against my will and she shakes her head. She says, “No, there will plenty of time for that tomorrow morning, Lover Boy. I mean, give me the gun from last night.” I hand it to her and she checks to see if a round is chambered, then she pulls the clip out. “So, are we gonna be working with anyone I might know? Someone with a reputation?” She takes the bullets out of the clip and counts them. She puts them back in the clip. “I just met you last night, so how would I know what circles you travel in? These guys are just a bunch of dumb clucks I’m stringing along,” she says with a smile. She checks the barrel and the slide, and then Luna slaps the clip back in with the experience and confidence that leaves me astonished. I wonder if her father gave her a .25 at birth, instead of a baby-rattle, and she was playing dumb about the safety this morning. Luna puts the gun in her purse and our eyes meet. One of her bangs falls in her eyes and I brush it back. We look at each and something special happens…oh, I could get used to this with no persuasion necessary. Our moment is shortlived, as there’s pounding on the door, and the fists on them sound like a cross between a Gene Krupa solo and a machine gun. Luna points at the door for me to check who it is, and she has the living room window open by the time I get there. She puts one foot on the fire escape and she nods for me to go ahead. I open the little peep door and I’m greeted by a familiar grotesque bulging eye.

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“What shin-agains are you doings in there?” Mihály says in a growl muffled by the door. “We’re honeymooning like Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy,” I reply. I croon a little of the “Indian Love Call” chorus and the skin around that bulging eye almost turns purple. It’s too easy to get this guy’s goat; he is absolutely of no use to us…unless Luna wants him as the guard dog that’s going to keep everyone in line. She pushes me out of the way and opens the door. “Get the damn car, Mihály; we’ll be down in a minute.” He eyeballs us both to make sure nothing went on, but she slams the door before he can get a good look at me, probably woke up half the building. I can’t believe my eyes. Mihály’s car is a tan and red 1931 Model A Coupe...except the car is supposed to be black. The red is the rust that is so persistent that it actually looks like red paint if you squint, and the tan is dust and dirt. This almost seven-year-old heap looks like someone managed to put the dust bowl on four wheels. “Pruitt is driving, Mihály.” “No, this is not occurring now,” says the gargoyle, “I paid four hundred dollars for this car and no one else is driving, ever.” Luna murmurs, “We need him to drive; he’ll pay the necessary attention to the road and I’ll be sitting in the middle.” She deftly puts her right hand on his heart like she’s going to heal him, and he does everything but lie down on his back and beg her to rub his belly. The thirty minutes it takes to get out of San Francisco goes quietly, except when I catch Mihály leaning in to sniff her hair and I swerve the car. Luna pits us against each other like two boys on the playground that will eventually be so busy fighting we won’t notice her swiping our candy. Despite the loud engine, the failing suspension and road noise coming up through the holes in the rusted floorboards, you can still hear our stomachs grumbling. We stop off at a dingy


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restaurant across from the Tanforan Racetrack, in San Bruno. I leave the waitress a tip almost as much as my whole meal cost, because it might be my last…what the hell. The three of us still say anything as we get into the car, though obviously we size each other up like boxers in the ring before a match. “Drive up the hill,” Luna says, after a couple of blocks. This part of San Bruno is mostly farms and orange groves, so I figure we’re just killing time until it gets dark. She has stopped speaking altogether and she just taps me on the shoulder and points to where she wants us to go. Somewhere just below Crystal Springs Reservoir, we pull alongside a hill that shelters us from the breeze. Luna nods for us to get out, and she opens a huge carpet bag that she brought. “This is downstairs,” Luna says, as she opens a piece of paper and puts four rocks on the corners of it. It’s a map, and she puts another map right next to it and does the same with the rocks. “And this is upstairs.” “You weren’t kidding when you said this was a ‘mansion,” I mutter. Both of the maps are detailed, including such large objects such as the tables, beds, couches, and the piano…the kind of stuff that will wake the owners up or get you hurt if you don’t know where they are. Now that her information looks solid, I’m wondering how she got it. Did she pose as a maid? A nanny? An art appraiser? “You two will be the only ones to see the complete layout, and everyone else has gotten just a quarter-section of either floor.” She reaches into the carpet bag and hands us two pistols with two extra clips of ammo, and two snub-nosed .38s. I know better than to ask what these are for, but the Mad Hungarian asks anyway. “We’re going to serve soda pop and ice cream at a social, and those crowds get out of hand when you run out of Maraschino cherries,”

I reply. “Are you going to break out in a sweat again?” I needle him with a little reminder of this morning. “We are talking about a good deal of money, Mihály. Now, you figure that people are willing to rob and kill somebody at a liquor store for as little as five bucks in the till. You two are here to make sure that everyone stays honest.” “And who is going to make sure that you stay honest, Luna?” Luna laughs at that question warmly, but under that smile is a chill like that of Southern Pacific refrigerator car going through the Sierra Nevadas in February. “This is why we have to be hiring own peoples!” “I’m gonna level with you fellas. There is plenty of money to be had, but we are going to need a lot of help searching a place as big as this. They don’t have to know that you are not there to do any heavy lifting but to make sure things don’t get out of hand. Now, if things get tough? We might have to do some addition by subtraction. That means that maybe the treasure can’t be spread too far around, and if the guys that don’t like that the fact that the deal is renegotiated? There might be an accident…or two, or three.” I give the guns the once-over, though not as expertly as Luna did. They seem to work fine… they’ll do. Mihály doesn’t bother to check his and he probably doesn’t know how. I put the snub-nose in my right sock’s garter and the pistols fit nicely in my jacket. I study the maps and I memorize them. Mihály copies me like the amateur that he is. I’d tell Luna never to send a guard dog to do a gangster’s job, but I’m not going to be an idiot and underestimate her. I also don’t know who the other guys are and who they will be loyal to, nothing is what is seems. The last of the sun disappears as we reach Hillsborough; at least that’s where she says we are. I don’t know The Peninsula all that well, and for all the pointless driving we did to kill time,


The Tsar’s Treasure we could’ve been halfway to Los Angeles by now. This might as well be Mars, with each mansion as big as two medium apartment buildings put together on plots of land almost the size of hospital lots. This mansion seems to be the biggest in the neighborhood, a California-style Spanish house, with a red-tiled roof. Luna tells me to cut the lights and pull off the road, some two hundred feet away from the residence. I nearly hit two small trucks that I wasn’t expecting to be parked next to some trees. There must be a private zoo here, because two polar bears and an Otter jump out of the truck nearest to us. That is, two pear-shaped giants and a bright-eyed man with the kind of moustache that the Fuller Brush man would covet for his wares. The giants stand on either side of the car; both of them have red hair and hands almost as big as footballs. Mihály slowly reaches into his coat and Luna skillfully grabs his hand before he can pull a gun. One of the giants pulls out a knife and the Otter says, “No, Oleg, it is Luna,” in a sing-song voice that suggests that at least the Otter is a Swede. Oleg reluctantly puts away his knife, and at this point, I know I’m going to have to earn each and every penny on this job, or I will die trying. Any lumberjack will tell you that it takes skill; effort and time to cut down the bigger trees, and that you best get out of the way when they fall. The three of us get out of the car, and a golfer gets out of the truck that the Swede was sitting in. What is happening with that get-up? Did he come here after playing nine holes? “Oh, Luna, there you are,” says the golfer. “We were worried.” His accent isn’t like that of the Brits or the Aussies that I know; he sounds like an exaggerated version of that Leslie Howard from the movies. Four more guys get out of the other truck: a Chinese dressed like a stockbroker,

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two barrel-chested men that look and dress like Basques, and a priest. All that is missing is the rabbi, but this is no joke. There are eight men, one gargoyle, 32 rooms, and one woman with a gun. I have no idea who or what is inside the mansion. “I’m Jan, this is Oleg and Halvar,” says the Otter. His thick moustache and his lips don’t move; the guy should’ve been a ventriloquist and he certainly has the two dummies. “I’m Cord, Cord Nash,” says the golfer with his high-water pants tucked into those argyle socks and that bright-yellow cardigan. Maybe this idiot figures that if the cops show up, he can pretend that he is from around here and can simply walk away. “Mihály!” barks the Mad Hungarian. “Estebe and Iban,” said the taller of the Basques. They reminded me of some shepherds that I knew from Montana, and there’s a hint of recognition in Iban’s eyes. “My friends, I’m glad that we can be here together for such a blessed and wondrous event. Y’all can call me ‘Brother Ward.’” Odd, we have a preacher in a Catholic priest’s outfit with a Southern accent. “I am Batukhan,” says the Chinese, and that name really doesn’t sound that Chinese to me. His moustache is more like the Mongols I’ve seen in comic books. “Pruitt,” I mumble and it sounds like I said “Pit.” You don’t want anyone to know your name if you can help it, so you can make the cops work harder if someone rolls over. None of us shake hands and why the hell should we? Most of us are rivals for Luna, and all of us are definitely rivals for loot. “Now, fellas,” Luna says, her voice dripping with milk, honey and promises that no woman could ever keep, “you will know the Tsar’s Treasure when you find it. There will be gold, there will be every kind of jewel that you can imagine and there will also be a scepter.”


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“A waat?” asks Cord, and that little bit of Boston accent that slipped in there; confirms my suspicions that this rat is a phony. How could a country club Brit not know what the hell a scepter is? If he’s “Cord Nash,” I’m Ford LaSalle. “The fancy stick that kings hold onto during ceremonies. This one is solid gold and it has a falcon’s head at the top of it, with rubies for eyes,” Luna says sweetly. I noticed that she furrowed her brow ever so slightly at Cord’s slipup. Luna gives Mihály the tiniest of nods and he nods back. Why didn’t she nod at me? “Why using fancy Chinaman?” grumbles Mihály. “Batukhan is not Chinese; he is Mongolian and he will be doing the translating.” “Why can’t you?” a perplexed Cord asks. “He will do the translating. I will stay out here where it is safe,” Luna scolds Cord as if he is a misbehaving child. Now it’s Cord’s to furrow his brow. Apparently everyone was in the know on this except for Cord and me, though his balled fists say that he doesn’t like being outside the loop. I kinda got used to this hours ago, and I’ve accepted that I’m on a runaway train. Either we slow down by going up a hill, we hit something, or we go completely off the rails. Regardless, I can only try and control what goes on in front of me, and hope that I come out of this with just a few scrapes and scratches. “Since this is Wednesday, there will be only one person in the house,” Luna says as she checks her watch. “It’s seven, so he will already

be blotto. You can just pry the front door… neatly, and walk on in.” Everyone seems to be looking at her with uncertainty, but Luna seems confident. Like a general, she has her battle plan mapped out and she couldn’t care less about casualties. At this point? We are all just here for the money. “You all know what to do,” she concludes in a sultry voice. She taps me on the shoulder and says, “I have your bag in the car.” She goes to Mihály’s trunk and I follow. Everyone walks toward the mansion with a carpet bag exactly like Luna’s. The Basques are carrying what look like sledgehammers, except the heads look like black rubber instead of metal. Luna opens the trunk, and she waits until they get down the road a little, then she opens a canvas bag that is different from the ones in her apartment. She shines a flashlight into the bag and I see two sawed-off shotguns. “If worse comes to worse, the buckshot from these will spread in a wide pattern and you can bring down at least two at a time.” “Luna…let’s be honest here, self-defense is one thing, but this something else altogether. I’d just as soon not have to kill anybody while committing a robbery, as I don’t want to wear prison blues, and that little hat that goes hand in hand with that chair full of electricity. They really don’t suit me at all.” She reaches for a shotgun, opens it, checks the shells and slaps it shut. She points it at me and all the honey in her voice is replaced with something colder than hostility. “You know, Pruitt, we’re this close to becoming people that can own a house just like this one. I’m counting on you to come through for me; you’ll be my eyes and ears in there.” You will be the pacifier, if anyone decides to act up, and you’ll be my soldier, if this turns into a war. If I can’t count on you, then you will become part of my math problem…and believe me when I say that anyone in there would gladly step into


The Tsar’s Treasure your shoes. I would rather it was you on my side, but if you’re not? I’m ready for that, too.” She puts the shotgun back in the bag, pulls the drawstring tight and hands it to me. She smiles and her grin is like a glove to the face. How would you like it if someone threatened to kill you, then handed you two shotguns? I could easily let her have it, but she knows that’s the last thing in the world that I would do…or would I? I couldn’t kill a dame if my life depended on it, but it might just come down to that. I won’t bother to look back and I don’t need to. Her face is fresh in my mind and it always will be, no matter what happens tonight. I won’t turn around, because she’ll just finesse me with another look. And let’s face it; I’m doing a fine job of that all by myself. Halfway up the path, a twig snaps and I reach into my jacket. Like a guard dog that sneaks up to the fence as you walk by, Mihály appears. And like the chain that chokes that dog before it can leap over the fence, my pistol stops him dead in his tracks. He looks down at it, and while he’s not as scared as he was this morning, he’s still got a way to go before he’s brave enough to try me. I take a couple of steps backward, with my gun still squarely aimed at his midsection. He slinks back into the trees where he came from, and the little bit of light from the house illuminates his gargoyle eyes. Another round goes to me, though I will have to K.O. this bastard for good real soon. I put the gun away as I get to the house, because there’s no sense in poking the hornet’s nest until it is absolutely necessary. The front door is open just a little, and unless you knew what to look for, you wouldn’t notice the small marks where the crowbar pried it open. I put my gloves on and walk into the front hallway, which is wider than my grubby little studio apartment on Ellis Street. That’s when everything hits my ears at once. At most, they had a five-minute head start on me…tops, and pandemonium is already in full swing.

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Estebe is in the receiving room across from me, where all the furniture has already been turned upside down, and all of the upholstery has been cut or shredded. He is taking one of the sledgehammers to the wall and despite its rubber head; it is still making a racket. “I’m glad you could join us, Brother,” says the counterfeit priest, as he and Batukhan drag a drunk right past me and down the hallway. Even though he is ten feet away, I can still smell the vodka coming off of him as the drunk struggles to come to. I wonder if it’s the alcohol that has him reeling, or if those two put the hurt on him. Anyway, I don’t trust that Brother Ward character any further than I can throw Oleg and Halvar. I’m an only child, so when anyone calls me “brother” outside of church, I know they always want something or are up to something. The drunk manages to get one foot down and Brother Ward knees him hard in the back. The drunk lets out a small grunt and Brother Ward knees him again. I have to hand it to him, as those were some powerful blows and he… or the alcohol, almost shook them off. The pair drag him faster this time and he gives in for the moment. I go to the first room on the left, and now I see what she saw in the Swedes. Oleg and Halvar lift the heavy stuff, and Jan scampers beneath and around the objects searching for hidden compartments, I imagine. Jan shakes his head, and goes over to a book case. Like a butcher sectioning a cow, Oleg goes to town on the divan with his knife. Halvar lifts Jan up to the bookcase like you would a kid to a water fountain, and Jan grabs books off of the top shelf. He flips through the pages, checks the binding, and then drops the book. Jan says something in Swedish, then the giants look at me standing in the doorway and they all laugh. He knew I was there the whole time, though he didn’t let on. I hear the sound of furniture dragging upstairs, asnd then loud thumping. Before I leave the room, I wipe the


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smile off of the giants’ face, but good, with the salute that tells them what they can do with themselves. Recalling Luna’s map, I go around to the back stairway. I go upstairs and I follow the white-carpeted hallway. Iban is in the bedroom that is right above the receiving room. He has all of the furniture in the center of the room and he’s swinging at the walls like John Henry from the old folksong pounded the rails. I’m guessing by the smaller bed and lack of personal things that this is the guest bedroom. “Pass the wine,” I say in Basque, one of the only five phrases that I know in that language. Iban nods and smiles, and now he remembers where we knew each other. I was building fences near Billings, Montana, and he and Estebe were herding sheep. They always had a full zahato with them, a goat-skin bag filled with wine. We smile, shake hands and slap each other on the back. We exchange nods, shake hands again, and then we go right back to work. We have no time for chit-chat; there’s a treasure to be had. As I come out of the bedroom, there’s that tell-tale bulging eye, peeking around the corner over by the back stairs. I have to fight the temptation to lure and take him out right now, I’d prefer that he waylays at least a couple of people. I figure that he has to be thinking the same thing. The bedroom next door is three times larger than the last and the bureau holds a couple of answers, and it raises more questions. There are several pictures of a familiar family; some taken in what I am guessing is Russia, but most of them taken in America. The ones that appear to be in Russia have Russian-like architecture, and the one of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow is definitely there. There are more pictures of the General and that lady from the picture on Luna’s dresser. Then there are four of Luna growing up, and now there is no doubt; they are Luna’s parents, and

Luna used to live here. When I look at this mansion and expensive neighborhood it’s in, I have to wonder if they made their money in vodka, or is everything around us what’s left of the Tsar’s Treasure? I wrap the four pictures of Luna up in nightshirts and put them in the bag with the shotguns. If any of the others find them, they’ll try to get further information about the treasure, instead of concentrating on finding it. I’m tempted to go outside and question her myself, but that will only drag Mihály outside with me. I shut the bedroom door and brace it with a chair because I don’t want anyone sneaking up on me. I give the room and the closet the onceover in a little less than five minutes. All I find are some costume jewelry, some old Russian gold coins, a saber, and old Nagant seven-shot revolver. I bag the saber and the pistol, leaving the other stuff for the next guy. If anyone has found the treasure already, they sure are being quiet about it, so I cautiously walk out of the bedroom. The longer this thing takes, the hotter the flame burns under the pot and then this all will come to a boil. I look through two more rooms and they are both empty, with just wallpaper and carpet in each one. Mihály seems to be gone, as I check out the rest of the upstairs rooms and they are all empty like those other two. As I come out of the very last room in the back corner, I hear slurred cursing in Russian. I go back in the room and I open the window to see where that’s coming from. There’s a small cottage that is behind the mansion and fairly close to it. Even though its windows are opaque and poorly lit, I can still make out the silhouette of someone being struck while held by another. I’m guessing it’s the drunk being worked over by Brother Ward and Batukhan, though it might be Luna’s father. Either way it’s worth a look, but as I leave, I look at the wallpaper. This room seems more lived-in than the empty ones,


The Tsar’s Treasure as years of the sun shining against photos and pictures that were hanging on the wall have left impressions. Judging by the contrasts in the carpet, there was a bed and dresser here for years, too. Both areas in the carpet are the same size as that of Luna’s bed and dresser, but that could easily just be a coincidence. Mihály stands at the threshold with his arms folded, and obviously he was waiting for the one time that I didn’t check for him. I look at the area where the bed was one more time, and then I turn around and give him a smile. He returns the smile and says, “I am telephoning your bluffing.” “Are you trying to say that you are ‘calling my bluff ’?” He tilts his head and ponders it for a second. “Yes, no difference.” “You mean ‘same difference,’” I grumble. This mug is making me fight hard to keep my left eye from twitching. “I mean, ‘yes, no difference.’ What, you don’t knowing how to speak English?” “No...Not like that I don’t, no.” His face turns purple and he growls “Let me telling you some things, I am far more intelligent than even I am knowing.” He delivers that last accentuation by tapping the side of his head in such a way that he looks like he’s giving the sign that he’s touched in the head. “Mihály, make your play…if you have the brass. Otherwise, step aside.” He folds his arms again, and me? I have my hand on my pistol. We look each other in the eye for a few moments. I hear the man screaming again and I take a step closer. I hope for Mihály’s sake that this gun doesn’t have a hair-trigger as my finger twitches. His face returns to its normal brick red and he swallows; his huge Adam’s apple bobs. There’s no sweat this time, nor does he go back up, but he steps a little forward and to the

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side. I walk past him and I draw as I go out into the hallway. I wait a few moments for him to spring out to shoot me in the back, but he won’t oblige me…this time. That damn guard dog has slipped his collar, and the next time he will be on the attack. Downstairs, five more rooms have been demolished since I went upstairs and seven of the 16 rooms in all. If any of them have found the treasure, they’re not letting on. Estebe seems to be enjoying himself…a little too much, judging by his giggles. I believe that he will probably buy up buildings with his share, just so that he can tear them down. I look in on the three Swedes, but they can’t be bothered with me…or so it seems. Once again Jan makes a smart-ass comment in Swedish and they all laugh; they want me to think that they have eyes in the back of their heads. When they get theirs, I don’t know if I’m going to be one giving it to them, but I definitely want to be around for it. Now that I have a second to think about it, the odd thing about the house is that as big as it is, only so many rooms are furnished. It’s as if Luna’s parents have run out of money. The nearly full moon lights up the yard so well that I don’t need my flashlight, and it’s not like I would’ve used it anyway. There’s no need to announce yourself when you’re checking up on someone, and Brother Ward strikes me as the deadliest of the bunch, this side of Luna. Even in the dark, I can see the grounds are well kept. Maybe the drunk is their gardener and handyman, because as far as I can tell, he seems to be the only servant living here. I didn’t see a butler’s room, though there could be a servant’s quarters by the kitchen. Knocking on the door could get me shot and so could just barging in. I try the door and it moves. The voice cursing in Russian this time is not the drunk. I’ve seen people beaten up so bad that the only way they were going to leave was by


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ambulance or the undertaker. I’ve seen a hobo dragged halfway across a train yard because his jacket snagged on a passing freight car. This drunk looked like something in between that, as if he went a round with a tornado and lost. “Brother Pitt, you’re just in time to witness me do God’s work,” says Brother Ward. He holds an odd medical instrument I’ve never seen before over the drunk and Batukhan screams in Russian in the poor slob’s ear. There isn’t a god in existence that would’ve wanted this. Not even those that demanded sacrifices, because even those gods want their offerings to have a quick death. I look the cottage over. It’s small and under any other circumstances, it would be cozy. Brother Ward has several of these strange contraptions laid out on the table, and a third of them are covered in blood. I wince just a little and the phony priest takes offense. “Now don’t take on so! Brother Gregori knows all, but he won’t say anything, not even after Brother Batukhan explained that the Lord says, ‘the truth shall set you free!’” “Do you know if Batukhan is translating everything right?” “Of course I am, my Russian is perfect! My tribe has traded goods with them for all of my life,” the Mongolian gripes. “Don’t you be fooled, Brother Pitt, Brother Gregori understands everything we’re saying now. The man is fluent in Russian, German, Chinese and English. He’s just playin’ stupid.” I look at Gregori. He’s barely alive, and at this point, I doubt anybody can be this dumb on purpose. He spits blood at Brother Ward, and Batukhan slaps him in the head. My eyes have seen enough of this blood bath, and I shift them over to the cottage walls. There is one painting, and I lift it up to see if there’s a safe behind it. Nothing doing. The walls seem consistent, with no noticeable work or paint. The Mongolian yells at Gregori so

loud that both the charlatan priest and I flinch, yet the Russian barely moves. I really do believe that he knows absolutely nothing, until the fireplace catches my eye. Six months of climbing roofs on rickety ladders. Six months of carrying brooms twice as long to four times as long as me, up and down those ladders. Six months of inhaling things that would nauseate even a coal miner. Six months of people getting mad every time I stepped in their houses to cover their fireplaces, furniture and floors with sheets. Those six months of experience as a chimney sweep said that the soot was all wrong in the fireplace of this cottage. Gregori knew it all along, and now I do. He is so far gone, though, that I doubt I can do anything to save him. He whispers something and Batukhan leans into him. Gregori whispers it again, and he passes on from this world and into the next. “What did Brother Gregori say?” “He says this is all Luna’s doing,” says the Mongolian with a shrug. Brother Ward puts a small mirror up to Gregori’s mouth, and there is no fog on the glass. He checks his wrist for a pulse and finds none. As he puts his instruments in a satchel, the fake priest asks, “What did he mean, ‘this was all Luna’s doing?’” A little too eagerly, I change the topic with, “Hey, Ward, I’ve been meaning to ask, why do you call everyone ‘brother?’” “Because we are all God’s children, and only He can be the Father,” he says with his voice rising. “Now, I’ve been meaning to ask you, just what are you sticking your nose in our business, heathen? You’re about as welcome here as The Devil would be at a christening.” I don’t know what it is, but I do know that I barely ducked it, and it struck the wall behind me with a solid thunk. I have my gun out just as quickly as it took the rat to throw whatever it was, and even more quickly, Batukhan kicks it


The Tsar’s Treasure out of my hand. The pistol goes flying into the corner and the Mongolian sprints out the door. Brother Ward looks for the gun and he can’t find it. I come at him with fists flying, and he reaches for the fireplace poker. I land a solid left jab on him at the same time he thumps my right shoulder with the poker. The pain forces me back a few steps and he charges. My mind tells me that “guns make too much noise,” and I reach instead for whatever it is that’s sticking in the wall. I throw it at him and hit him in the chest. It looks like a scalpel, but it’s hard to tell because it’s in there, pretty deep. Brother Ward falls forward on the blade, it goes all the way in, and he expires. I grab my gun and I run out the door. Did Batukhan get the Swedes? Did he run to the Basques for help? I’m guessing he did the smart thing and made straight for Luna and the car. I run to the front of the house, and the Mongolian is inside the Model A as I come around the corner. He pops out as I approach, but he doesn’t see me at all and he looks under the car. I wait until he crawls back from underneath and gets to one knee. I grab him, and throw the bastard head-first into the car. He puts a goodsized dent in the door and flops to the ground. I check the car, then both trucks, until I find some rope. I tie him up and throw him into the truck he originally came out of. Things have taken a turn for the worst when I come inside. In a room that is two doors from the receiving room, I find Estebe. He’s been strangled with an electrical cord and his eyes are bulging almost as much as Mihály’s. I think, “’cord’… what happened to Cord Nash? I haven’t seen him since the start of this whole thing.” Who could’ve done this? As big as their hands are, Oleg and Halvar wouldn’t have needed a cord. Luna isn’t strong enough to have managed this, and why wasn’t she outside? Was she hiding

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as Batukhan came out? It has to be Mihály, because Iban wouldn’t have killed his friend and fellow countryman. He would need Estebe to back him up against the Swedes. No, it had to have been Mihály, or maybe someone else was brought in on this caper. Maybe Luna has nine more suckers on the hook, waiting outside to do her bidding. As I make my way toward the kitchen, I realize I missed something in the receiving room. Between the ripped pillows is a leg. I move one of the pillows over and I see a knife sticking out of a familiar yellow cardigan. The poor weak-kneed idiot should’ve stayed at the country club, where the bunco squad is the worst thing that could’ve happened. I hear a crash coming from a room near the kitchen; it’s the billiard room, if my memory of Luna’s map is right. There are ripped paintings and broken vases all over the floor...so much for making a profit off of the art collection. It seems Oleg and Halvar have just upended a pool table and they are trying to figure out how to open the bottom of it. Jan flips over an urn and he sifts through the remains of some poor unfortunate soul. I feel a little sick as he runs his little grubby fingers through the ashes and bone fragments. He plucks out an object and it looks like the match to the earring that Luna had. The three of them exchange looks, and it seems they all have had enough and they are going to call it a night, with the earring as their haul. Jan points at me, and Oleg and Halvar approach me with knives drawn. He who hesitates…is me. I ignore my first instinct, which is to shoot them. Even though the neighbors are plenty far away and we are on the back side of the house, I don’t want gunshots to bring the police. I’m pretty certain I know where the treasure is, and all I have to do is quietly put these four-flushers down and find Luna. Yeah, she’ll run away with me after all of this is


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said and done. Talk about your pipe dreams. I must be the dopiest of dopes and a king-sized sucker to boot. I turn my gun around in my hand and I let Oleg have it right across the face. He drops his knife and he blinks hard a couple of times. Other than that, he doesn’t seem fazed at all, and this despite the huge red welt that the bottom of the magazine left on his face. I grab a pool cue off the wall rack and I jab Oleg in the throat. He gags and crumples to the floor, making noises that almost makes me feel sorry for the big sap... almost. Halvar brings his knife around like a roundhouse punch and I strike his hand with the wood. He drops his knife but he’s ready for my follow-up as I thrust the cue like a sword. He wrenches the cue from my hand and throws it away. Halvar clamps those massive mitts of his around my neck and slams me against the wall, knocking most of the wind out of me. I try to kick him in the shins and he’s ready for that, too, blocking my feet with his knees. I’m losing air fast, and I’m going to black out any second. He bows his elbows to move in closer and to weaken my punches to his face. I rabbitpunch his kidneys, and his reaction is more like a slight case of indigestion than anything. As everything blurs, I finally get one good shot in just behind his left ear, and his grip finally slips just long enough for me to catch my breath. He shakes it off as I gasp like a fish out of water, and then he’s on me again. We tumble to the ground and he chokes me again. Now that I want to shoot the bastard, I can’t because he’s pinned me on top of my first backup gun and the other one in my sock fell out. I knee his lower back and I might as well be massaging it, for all the good it does. I reach for whatever I can and I jab him in the right eye. It’s a piece of the pool cue and he falls off of me, clutching the stick. He grunts and writhes on the floor, but I gotta give it to the

tough son-of-a-bitch, because he won’t scream. Dizzy as a drunk on a two-day bender, he comes after me. I punch him square in the jaw, and I’m the one that somehow gets hurt, ‘cause it feels like I just hit a brick wall. He’s still after me, and he looks like a crippled dancing bear from a circus. I kick him flush in the gut and he stumbles back for a couple of steps, and then comes back for more. I grab one of the billiard balls and as I connect with his forehead, it makes the same sound as a bowling ball hitting the floor. Halvar falls backward, and both Jan and I are startled by the noise the giant’s body makes as it hits the floor. Jan still has his left hand in the ashes, as he goes for the .38 revolver at his waist with his right. I dive to the floor behind the upended pool table for cover, going for the backup gun in my pants before I land. As he comes around the corner, feathers fly everywhere. I use a pillow to muffle the gunshots. I pick my gun up and dead man’s ashes or not, I pick the earring up, too. I look the pool table over and I wonder if there is anything to it. Just as I decide not, a hand grabs my right ankle; it’s Jan. I kick my ankle free, and he blindly gropes for me for a few moments and dies. So much for The Otter and The Two Polar Bears...though Oleg is still breathing...only just. The kitchen has been tossed, and judging by the intact furniture, the Swedes weren’t the ones that searched it. There isn’t a lot of food here, considering that this is a mansion. Even if Luna’s parents are on vacation, which they seem to be, the whole mansion doesn’t seem to have any of the things that a normal mansion does. There’s no piano, and I’ve seen one in every mansion I’ve broken into. Most of the rooms don’t have furniture or even chairs, and that’s contrary to every mansion I’ve been to as well. I have to wonder how rich her parents actually are, though there is definitely something to Gregori’s cottage. There is a side door and an


The Tsar’s Treasure iron spiral staircase, partially hidden at the back of the kitchen…neither of these were on the map. I step lightly on the stairs, as they are the kind that send the vibrations that tip off anyone who could be waiting for me. There’s no one waiting for me up here, in this small room; that is just a little bigger than the spiral staircase is wide. This room also wasn’t on Luna’s map, and I have a pretty good idea why. There are several cigarette butts sitting on a small window sill, and all of them have a familiar shade of lipstick. I hear rhythmic thumping that sounds like it’s not that far from this room. It must be Iban swinging his hammer again. I search along the wall, but I can’t find a door handle or a catch. I go back down to the kitchen, and it takes me awhile to find a candle with the whole thing turned upside down. I light it and cup the flame to make sure the candle doesn’t go out as I climb the stairs. I find the catch a little higher than I anticipated. It’s a small rope handle about four and half feet up. I blow out the candle and I slowly pull the rope. It takes me a couple of seconds to adjust my eyes to the light in the hallway, and when I do, I’m greeted by an ugly sight. It’s Mihály and he has the drop on me, with the man of the house’s Nagant. I duck back into the room as a bullet buzzes my left ear. I stumble down the spiral staircase and the only thing that saves me is the good iron work of whoever made the railing. I look like an armadillo trying to defend itself as I bounce down the steps, and I connect with the kitchen table like an eight-pounder does with the five and seven pins. Did he shoot the lights out? Because everything has gone black. “I will fill you full of lead,” Mihály calmly says. “Don’t you mean ‘pencil,’ Paprika-Breath?” “Making jokes all you wanted, but you are the one that is screw-zed”

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“Don’t you mean ‘screwed?’ Oh, and you better turn around.” “I am knowing what I say, screw-zed. You are the one that should be turning around, because…” Mihály is stuck. He sees me looking past him, and he’s tempted to look but he also thinks this is a trick. It isn’t. Iban hits Mihály in the head with an iron skillet. The Mad Hungarian falls, and I push him away before he falls on top of me. I get up and I go through Mihály’s pockets. I find the Nagant revolver, so he’s picked up a few things here and there. Did he find some of the treasure? Iban puts the skillet down, and he’s grinning. I don’t want to ruin his happiness, but he’s better off finding out sooner than later. I give him one of the pistols that Luna gave Mihály and I point to the hallway and whisper, “Estebe.” He leaves, and just as I am about done searching through Mihály’s jacket, Iban cries out. I don’t like to see anyone cry, much less a grown man and I shed a couple of tears, thinking of the man who just lost his best friend. All told, Mihály has taken the Russian gold coins, a couple of rings that he mistakenly thought were worth something, a gold watch that I bet was Estebe’s from the Basque inscription on the back of it, the guns she gave him, and a pair of handcuffs…no doubt meant for Luna. I drag him to the furnace room next to the kitchen and handcuff him to base of the heater. I leave the Nagant and one other gun near him, but way out of his reach. If the cops show up, he’s gonna be the fall guy for this kettle of rotten fish. I cross the hall and say, “Iban, let’s go.” He doesn’t respond and there’s no way he could, with his throat slit ear-to-ear. I pull two guns out and I do a quick roomto-room search of the downstairs. Nothing is different, Mihály and Oleg are the only people still alive, and there are no fresh clues. I go out to the front, figuring that it must have been Batukhan,


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but the car, the trucks and the Mongolian are all still there. I check his throat to see if he was strangled or slashed, but apparently the killer left him alone. I dash back in and check upstairs, from the hidden room above the spiral staircase, to the other end of the mansion…nothing. I realize the killer has to be in Gregori’s cottage. I approach the little shack from the side that doesn’t have a window. I kick the door in and I jump back. “Come on in, I’ve been expecting you,” she says with that milk and honey voice. I leap in with two guns drawn. Brother Ward is still lying there; his pockets have been turned inside out. Gregori is still slumped in his chair, blood dripping slowly from his mangled face. In the corner by the fireplace, Luna sits in a small chair that is meant for a child. Despite her clothes and face being caked in dust, she is still lovely. I’ve never understood that expression “the cat that ate the canary,” until now. There it is, right there in her smirk, and the only things missing, are the cage and feathers. Cautiously, I check the small bathroom and the closet, the only two places big enough for someone to lie in wait. Gregori’s bed is too low for anyone to be under there, but I look under there to buy time and to gather my thoughts. “Did you sit in that chair as a child, when he told you stories about the Tsar’s Treasure?” “Who are you talking about?” “There were some pictures of you in your parents’ bedroom, and I grabbed them before the others had a chance to see them.” “Who?...These people are not my parents.” “The resemblance is too strong, Luna. Not to mention that three of those pictures were taken around this mansion,” I calmly say. I tuck the snub-nosed in my sock but I keep the other gun in my hand, in case she has an accomplice waiting to barge in. “Really, I have no idea what you’re talking about. You must have been hit on the head

tonight. Or maybe you are still feeling the effects of Mihály’s blackjack?” I take the four pictures of her out of the canvas bag, and I unwrap them. I stand them in a row on the table facing her. Then I put the Russian gold coins in front of the pictures, as well as the earring. She can’t help herself. Those beautiful eyes light up at the sight of the jewelry she has coveted as long as she can remember. “Now, do you want to keep lying to me? Because I’ll just have to take this earring and be on my way.” “Don’t try me, Pruitt,” she says as she pulls out the gun from last night. “I know the safety is off this time; I checked,” she warns, and she cocks the hammer. “Yeah, I’ll bet you checked a lot of things. Well, one reason I’ve never stayed in jail for long was because the courts always lacked what they called ‘circumstantial evidence.’ Without that evidence, it always came down to my word against that of a thief or a two-bit informer. It was always my word against some chiseler, so I always made it a point to work with guys that I knew the jury wouldn’t believe in a million years…even when they were telling the God’s honest truth. “So what you have here, is a lot of circumstantial evidence. A map that told us the layout of the mansion, which was supplied by you. An earring that matches the one you already have in your possession. Couple that with these photos and the evidence suggests that you are ripping off your own house.” “You are perceptive, Pruitt,” she says with a smile. “It’s too bad that you weren’t a little smarter, or maybe you would’ve caught on sooner,” she snaps. “Well…what is there left for me to say? The heart…and every other part of me, wants what I want.” “You should’ve listened to your brain a little closer, instead. Unfortunately, you won’t get another chance.”


The Tsar’s Treasure “You won’t kill me, Luna. You still don’t know where the treasure is, and you know that even as strong as you are, you can’t lift it yourself.” She brightens and says, “So, that’s why you came back here instead of running away like you should have. Where is it?” “None of my guesses have panned out, so far…where did you get all that dust?” “The attic. That’s where I was at, most of the time and none of you idiots bothered to check up there. It’s too bad I find any women I could get in on this, because men can’t seem to find anything unless it is covered in perfume and lipstick.” In two shakes of a lamb’s tail, her mood turns sour again. “That’s not true; I definitely found trouble,” I joke as I reach for the last chair. She jumps to her feet and I bet she was this close to pulling the trigger. “I’m just gonna sit down here, is that okay with you?” “Look, just give me your gun, Pruitt. I know you won’t shoot a woman, you already had your chance outside…and you definitely wouldn’t shoot me.” “Save the sultry for Hollywood, Sister, where you can be a poor man’s Mae West. I might not kill you, but that don’t mean that I won’t shoot you. I tell you what, if you put the gun down, it’s not too late. We can take the proceeds from this and buy us a nice house.” “And live off of what, a flour delivery man’s salary?” she chortles. Then she laughs just a little too long, because it’s the best way to needle me good. Damn, she takes aim and calls my bluff. Now I have an idea how Mihály felt. It baffles me that the last time someone pointed a gun at me, I shot them just like that. But Luna…it doesn’t help that Luna is a dame, or everything that I feel for her. I’m almost certain that if she was going to kill me, she would’ve done so when I walked through that door. The hell with this; I put my gun on the table…though I keep my hands close to it.

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“Hold on. I saved your life at least twice; doesn’t that count for something?” It’s such a sight, as she leans forward and she pulls her shoulders back, just so. This would be what they call “killing them slowly.” She says ever-so-sweetly, “You have been my knight in shining armor, and the perfect gentleman… where’s the challenge in that? People don’t go to the rodeo to see well-behaved horses, right? “What do you want? I’m not asking you for marriage; I just want to spend some time with you. If you’re waiting for me to beg for my life, it ain’t gonna happen.” Luna lets out an exasperated sigh. “Pruitt, you have to find the treasure, I can’t live on this,” she says, pointing to the coins and earring. “I would spend this in two months.” “Do me a favor and level with me. Was Gregori the one who told you about the treasure or not?” She sniffs, “Yes, in a way. He told me plenty of stories about the old country, but that’s not where I heard about it. When it would get hot here, we had all of our windows open and when he got too drunk, which was almost every day, he would talk loudly in his sleep. I thought that it was all a fanciful dream until one day when I was playing dress-up and I went through my mother’s drawers. I found the earring and I knew that Gregori’s drunken yammerings were true.” “Luna, you’re still pretty young, and my guess is that you haven’t had to work for anything, yet. Do you have an idea how much a spread like this costs? I know generals make pretty good money, but they aren’t millionaires. Plus, it would cost a fortune for a White Russian General to escape with his family. Does your father own a business?” “No, he works as a bank manager. He and my mother kicked me out because they said that they couldn’t afford my ‘free-spending ways.’ He is liar and a hypocrite, I know that the two of them are vacationing in New York.”


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“I don’t think they are pretending not to be rich. There is no butler, much less a live-in maid. Over two-thirds of this house is not furnished, which means they would be too embarrassed to entertain.” Luna grimaces and bites her lip. “There’s hardly any food in the cupboard, but you knew that already since it was you that tossed the kitchen. These coins and the matching earring were all that we could find.” And with this remark, she’s had it. Luna jumps to her feet, points the gun at me, and says, “Put it in the bag! Your guns, too!” I do as she says, and try to win her over with my eyes. She avoids my gaze as she snatches the bag. As she gets to the door, I ask, “Are you sure that you won’t change your mind?” “I’m sorry, Pruitt. Maybe someday if I run out of money, I’ll come looking for you…but… probably not.” “Hold on,” I get up. I lean forward as if I’m going to kiss her, and then I give her the keys. “You can’t drive Mihály’s car without them.” She plucks them out of my hand, and as I turn around; she slams the door. I guess letting me live was her way of telling me she loved me. She’s a cold piece of work…and I’m even colder. If she won’t have me broke, then she can’t have me when I’m rich. I go over to the fireplace and I give it the once-over, because I know somehow that Gregori’s share of the loot is right here. Even in disguise, the General couldn’t risk carrying the real treasure, lest one of the soldiers that used to be under his command recognize him. No, Gregori had to be the one that got out of the country and either through Europe or China. The soot is not real; it’s grease paint and ash that was slapped on there to make it look like the fireplace had been used. None of the bricks move, so I take a look at the fireplace grate. I rub it with a rag, and lo and behold, it’s shiny underneath! No, it can’t be… it is! Then I wonder about the poker set next to

the fireplace. I grab a penknife I find on the floor and I scrape the long tools. The poker, the tongs and the shovel, the whole damn thing! Wasn’t it Louis the XV that said, “Platinum is the only metal that is fit for a king?” It makes perfect sense. Gregori must have converted the Tsar’s Treasure into platinum, because they’re finding more and more of it in the Urals every day. He could’ve shipped the whole thing in a box, just like this, and there’s no customs officer in the world that would be the wiser! As the sun daubs streaks of purple and grey over the hills of East Bay, I roll what’s left of the treasure in a wheelbarrow towards the trucks. Batukhan writhes furiously as I wheel by. I say, “Give my best to the San Mateo County Sheriffs, buddy!” to him and I salute. Under his gag he utters every kind of curse from Moscow to Maine. As I start up the truck and pull away, I have to stop thinking about the money. Where do I ditch the truck? When can I take these damn gloves off? They’re soaked, they smell and they’re itchy. How the hell do you fence platinum when it’s not jewelry? Oh, well, it’s much better to have problems like these. Unlucky in love…


Wendy

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Wendy By Joanne Renaud

Illustrated by Joanne Renaud

T

he rain is pounding on the roof, and I’m staring at the bottle of Ambien on my coffee table. My doctor would tell me that it’s too late at night to take even one pill, but more than anything, I just want to sleep. It wasn’t just that I was tired—I’ve had insomnia most of my life, I’m used to that—but it was that I wanted to forget. I wanted to forget him. Only half an hour ago, I was lying on my couch with the TV on. I usually have the TV on—it often soothes me to sleep, whether it’s a cop procedural or an infomercial. As usual whenever I was trying to rest, thoughts sped through my mind like out-of-control race cars. I kept thinking how our game would launch soon, and that several of the systems designers were already sleeping at the office, and that I was behind, and if I didn’t get my ass in gear for the big project milestone coming up on Friday I’d be in trouble. I knew I’d feel better if I could sleep. But I could hardly ever sleep. If only I could go on vacation—if only I could get away from my dingy apartment. If only— I must have dropped off at some point, for the next thing I knew, I was climbing up a narrow road, the sun blazing down on my unprotected head. I could tell from the familiar dry hills, scrubby pines, and chaparral that I was near the San Gabriel Mountains. I was wearing exactly what I was wearing when I lay down to sleep, which was my usual makeshift pajamas

of running shorts and a T-shirt. But I knew exactly where I was going: I was going to visit to Wendy. I know to most people I would sound completely cracked, but my insomnia has resulted in exceptionally vivid dreams. Over and over again, I would dream about the same places, the same things, the same people, until ultimately the dreams took on a life of their own. This hasn’t always been a complete disadvantage. I do art for video games, and my active dream-life often helps my brainstorming and character design—even though right now I mainly just render textures. My mother always said I could never grow up, so I found a job where I didn’t have to. It seemed to work for a while. I grew up in Montrose, deep in the foothills of Los Angeles, where the coyotes lurk in the pristine suburban developments and snack on any wayward pets they can catch. This narrow road was not so far from my old home. I used to walk up this very path to a broken corrugated pipe that emerged from the arroyo wall. I had climbed up it a couple of times, but I could never go too far—the darkness and the skittering noises of God-knows-what freaked me out too much. I was older and braver now. Or maybe it was because the dream had inoculated me against something as trifling as a fear of spiders.


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As in my other dreams, I clambered up the pipe, as limber as a child, and climbed and climbed. It was narrow, but somehow I managed to squeak through. Strangely enough, I remembered the pipe having a few extra inches for me to wriggle through the last time I ventured up it. Now, there were only millimeters between me and the metal. Despite my diet of ramen, beer, and cheese puffs over the past month, I knew I hadn’t gained any weight. I had a fast metabolism and no figure to speak of. Had the pipe shrunk? I emerged on the other side, winded. I stood up, wiping my hands on my shorts. The wind blew my hair as I gazed around, and I almost forgot about my insomnia. I didn’t know where the island was supposed to be, or why Wendy even lived here in the first place. She lived about a mile from where I was standing, in a series of caves and corridors dug into the cliffs themselves; I stood upon a path near the very summit. Beneath me, red volcanic rock plummeted dizzyingly into the sea below. The cliffs circled a bay, just like Santorini in the Aegean— there the sky and sea met, both a dazzling sapphire blue, like the azure eye of heaven. It was all so beautiful, it almost hurt to look at it. I walked along the cliffside path, looking down into the caldera, and at the seagulls wheeling below me on the air currents. A gentle breeze caressed my face, and I tasted the tang of salt. If I just let myself go, I could let the wind carry me down towards the sea, and I could fly like one of those gulls. I knew I had done it in the past, when I was a little girl, and I had first dreamed of coming here. It had been very simple; but I was too tired now. If I dove off the cliffs here, I knew I would splatter my brains on the rocks below. The sun beat against my neck unmercifully, and I could feel my skin frying. I wished I had a hat.

By the time I reached the door that led down into the caves, I felt faint. It didn’t seem that long ago when I was running around here, all spastic energy, a brown-skinned little tomboy with dirty blonde hair in a bowl cut. I stepped into the shadowed stairwell and leaned against the wall for a moment, overwhelmed by the heat, and by exhaustion. After catching my breath, I made my way down. I didn’t know why I felt so uneasy. I’d feel better when I sat down and had a talk with Wendy, I told myself. No doubt it was due to my lack of sleep. “There you are,” a familiar voice called out, when I finally staggered to the bottom of the stairs. “I was wondering when you’d get here. You’re usually on time.” The stairs emerged into a sandstone cave, which I knew well. The walls twisted and curved dramatically, as if they’d been made from layers of stone ribbons; and the light, bouncing off these walls, created a whole spectrum of shifting colors, all rose and lavender and amber and rust. The ribbon-walls were broken by the gnarled roots of oak and pine, which had sunk through the ceiling, and acted as furniture for the people who lived here. My friend Wendy sat on one of these roots, and she smiled at me. Her long white hair was pinned up into a bun, and she wore the same shapeless house dress, but the glowing golden light made her look almost youthful. She might have been pushing sixty years old, but you could tell she’d once been a very pretty woman. It was all in the bone structure, as my mom was fond of saying. I smiled back. “Hey, Wendy.” “Hello, Shay.” She stood up, smoothing her faded dress. “Now, I thought hay was for horses.” She sounded so gently bemused it was hard to tell if she was teasing me, or reproaching me for my lack of manners. I shrugged. Usually I’d have some kind of witty comeback, but even


Wendy in the dream, I was desperately, depressingly tired. “I’m happy you’re here—I’ve seen so very little of you lately. I’ve missed having someone to have tea with. My dear Peter…” She stared past my left shoulder and her voice faded a little, but then she forced herself to smile. “Well, neither he nor the boys are very interested in tea, and who can blame them? Boys will be boys!” I glanced about the common room, which branched out into a maze of corridors and other rooms. A few shabbily dressed kids drifted in and out, pretty much indifferent to my presence. Occasionally one would throw a sharp glance in my direction. I’d never quite figured it out, but the boys she referred to seemed to be her charges; they lived in this cave-pueblo with the same kind of furtive wariness of teenage runaways at a halfway house. She’d looked after me much in the same way, the first time I’d started coming here. But even when I was little, I’d never had much to do with the other boys. I always had more to say to Wendy, which is why I guess I’d kept coming here in my dreams. For the lack of a better theory, I figured she needed someone to talk to. Besides her, I was the only other woman here, and apparently the second oldest. “Well, I know one boy who likes tea,” I said. “But he’s gay.” “Gay?” I had clearly thrown her for a loop. “All the boys about here are gay—they have such merry, lighthearted spirits. Especially Peter.” Despite myself, I snorted. There she was, going on again about the mysterious Peter like he was her gold medal–winning presidential grandson. Part of me was curious as to what he was like, but it seemed I was fated never to meet him. Ships passing in the night and all that— I’d never even seen him outside. “Sure, I bet he’s very gay.” She smiled a little, but her eyes were

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shadowed. “It is a pity that you two have never— been properly introduced.” “Yeah?” “Yes. You would like him, Shay. He is a delightful soul—all games and gamboling and madcap larks.” She paused, giving me a mildly reproachful glance. “I’m afraid I haven’t seen much of you lately. May I ask why?” “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ve had so much to do. You know, with work and all.” Her brow creased. “Work. You are one of those modern career girls, aren’t you?” She spoke with a sweet, clueless innocence— she wasn’t a bitch about it, like my mother was when she was complaining about wasting my time on “those stupid video games”—but it still set my teeth on edge. “Sure,” I said. “Bills have to be paid somehow.” “I suppose. But shouldn’t your husband provide—?” She stopped, because I must have looked both disgusted and incredulous. “Oh, never mind, my dear. I have been away from your world for so long. Now, why don’t you come over into the kitchen, and we can have some tea?” Wordlessly, I followed her into the “kitchen”— it was really just a room with a few rudimentary cooking supplies, furniture that had seen better days, and various foodstuffs stored in crates. As I sat down in a battered chair, she boiled water in a blackened kettle, heated over coals. She prepared the tea by scooping several spoonfuls into her antique teapot, and pouring in the boiling water. I always got the sense from Wendy that she wished that teatime could become a full, proper ritual, with tables, tea cozies, silver trays, and the like, but she had to make do with what she had. “I don’t have any milk,” she apologized. “Just sugar. I hope you don’t mind. I’m so terribly sorry—” “Don’t worry, Wendy. It’s no big deal.” We drank tea in silence for a few minutes. Ordinarily, I found this all soothing, but my


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head was pounding. All I could think about was how tired I was, and everything I needed to do when I went back to work tomorrow. What was wrong with this picture? Here I was, thinking about my job and my inability to sleep, even in my dreams— Wendy peered at me closely. “Is there something wrong?” “Yeah.” I sighed. “I haven’t been able to sleep lately. It’s getting pretty bad. My mom wants me to start taking Ambien.” “Oh!” exclaimed Wendy. “Is that anything like laudanum?” “Laudanum?” What the hell? I asked myself. “Yes, my mother would take a few drops at night whenever she had trouble sleeping. My father…he could give her such a headache. My, how that bottle frightened me! It was very clearly marked ‘Poison’ with a skull and crossbones next to it—I used to imagine the most dire things would happen if I even touched it. My heavens.” She chuckled ruefully. I knew that Wendy was old-fashioned, but at times like this, I wondered if she was senile. “Um, no,” I said. “It’s not opium, it’s…. sleeping pills.” “Ah! So it is more like Veronal?” I had no idea what Veronal was, so I didn’t say anything. “There are so many newfangled medications nowadays. But if your doctor permits it, I cannot see the harm.” “I think I should be okay.” I paused uncomfortably. “But Wendy—if I start taking them, I’m afraid I won’t be able to come here anymore.” I was afraid she would ask me why, but she seemed to understand. It was entirely possible I would dream while on medication, but I doubted it would be anything like the recurring dreams produced by my un-drugged subconscious. “Oh.” She stirred her tea. After a moment she cleared her throat. “I am sorry.” “You don’t have to apologize. If it happens, it happens, right?”

“Well… one must do what one must. I am sure your mother is only looking after your best interests.” “Yeah, sometimes she means well.” I stood up, rubbing my forehead, since by now it was throbbing. “Would you excuse me for a minute—I’m feeling a bit nauseous. I need to go back outside for some fresh air.” I set aside my teacup and walked back out into the common area, where several dirtyfaced boys looked at me sullenly. Ignoring them, I climbed back up the staircase. I was about to emerge outside, when a scrawny ten-year-old, coming down in the opposite direction, stepped in front of me. “Excuse me,” I said. I tried to get around him, but he didn’t budge. He stared at me so intently with his beady eyes that I began to feel uncomfortable. “You’re not from here,” he said. He had a large nose and a receding chin, which made him look like a rat. I almost expected his nose to twitch. “No, I’m not,” I agreed. “But I used to come here a lot. I come to see Wendy.” “We know,” said Rat-boy. I stiffened, but continued to smile politely. “We?” “Peter told us,” he said. “He knows everything.” My smile froze. Peter, again, of course. I was torn between wanting to meet someone who was clearly omniscient, and wanting to avoid him. My first boyfriend in high school had been named Peter, and that was enough for me to dislike anyone with the same name. He was a spoiled wannabe punk with bleached spiky hair, a foul mouth, and a trust fund. He ran around with a bunch of younger kids, and bullied them as thoroughly as Jack did his tribe of schoolboys in Lord of the Flies. Perhaps Wendy thought of Peter as her golden boy, but I found it easier to picture someone like my


Wendy ex-boyfriend holding up a rotting pig’s head. I smirked. “Did I say something funny?” Rat-boy demanded. “Uh, no, sorry. If you could let me by…” Rat-boy pushed his head forwards. “Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t. Do you have something for me?” I stared. “What?” “What’s in your pockets?” Something to shut him up, I hoped. I dug through my pockets. Some lint. A Starbucks receipt. Wait, here was something… A tampon? My period had just stopped yesterday… “Let me see that!” said Rat-boy, and grabbed it. He unwrapped it like it was a candy bar, and started pulling at the string. “What is it?” “It’s a tampon,” I said, inwardly cringing. He stared at me blankly for a moment. “It’s something…for girls,” I added. “A girl toy?” I didn’t know what to say, so I just nodded. At that, he laughed—it was a high-pitched, unpleasant laugh that grated against my nerves like a metal file against glass—and he bounded down the stairs, swinging the damn tampon like a yo-yo. I shuddered, and tried to put it out of my mind as I stepped back into the sunshine. I felt a little refreshed now, but it was still very hot. I walked along for a little while, until I felt like collapsing. There were few trees and no springs of fresh water on the top of the cliffs. I didn’t want to, but I knew I needed to go back. I should say my good-byes to Wendy. Hopefully next time when I visited her, I wouldn’t feel so exhausted and irritable. I kept telling myself that as I walked back to the caves, down the staircase, and into the common area. And that is where I saw him. He was leaning against a tree root, surrounded by a gang of boys—and although he wasn’t holding a conch

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or the head of a pig on a stick, his authority was clear. He looked almost exactly like my ex-boyfriend—possibly a little younger, and definitely with less acne, but with the same colorless hair, and the same smirk. My eyes widened. I knew who he must be… “Peter!” I exclaimed.

He gazed at me, but there was no recognition there. As I examined him more closely, I could see the resemblance was less than what I had originally thought. His face was oval, his nose was straight, and his mouth was pretty as a girl’s. He could have modeled for a statue of an angel in church, but there was something strangely feral about him. I almost expected to see pointed teeth when he smiled. “So, you’re Wendy’s friend,” he said. He had a boyish, almost musical voice. “I’ve heard about you.”


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“I’ve heard about you, too,” I said. “Of course you have.” He cocked his head at me, all cool confidence. I found this a little strange, since Peter looked poorer than the poorest bum on Skid Row. One arm was akimbo, the other rested on a rope belt. He wore a ragged hoodie covered with patches, and a pair of jeans so ancient and tattered they looked as if they’d been dug up by archaeologists. His feet were bare, and encrusted with dirt. He could hardly be older than seventeen—he still had baby fat in his cheeks—but the black almond-shaped eyes that met mine were ancient and unreadable. I began to wish that it was my ex-boyfriend there. As horrible as he was, at least he was familiar. This boy here—there was something deeply unsettling about him. There was something familiar, too. On my first trips here to the island, when I was very young, I vaguely remembered seeing a teenage boy with the same white hair, red mouth, and black eyes… “Ratty just told me about your gift.” I could see Rat-boy practically dancing with glee. “Yes, so I did, Peter, so I did, she gave me a toy, she said it was for girls, only for girls—” “Shut up,” said Peter, and Ratty fell back, cringing. “I let you come here because Wendy wanted your company. She needed another girl to talk to. But now—” “Now what?” I said. “What’s changed?” “You have.” Peter’s gaze only flickered over me for a second, but I felt incredibly conscious of just how little I was wearing. My legs were bare, I wasn’t wearing a bra, and I was so sweaty from walking in the sun that my thin t-shirt clung. I fought the urge to wrap my arms around my chest. “You need to leave,” he said, and there was a murmur of agreement among the other boys, like trees rustling in the wind. “Shouldn’t Wendy have something to say about this?” I said. I saw her in the background,

her face very white, her hand to her mouth, her eyes as wide as saucers. She looked as frozen and helpless as a child. Peter smiled. “She does what I tell her.” “What?” “This is my island,” he said, with a chilly assurance that made my skin crawl. “I let her be the mother here. I’m her husband.” “Her husband?” I said incredulously. “What? How—” His beautiful lips curled with contempt. “It’s not what you’re thinking.” “So you’re a mind-reader?” Peter’s eyes narrowed. “We need a female around. But only one. For spring cleaning, you could say.” “Awesome,” I snapped. “So, you and your gang have your very own maid?” “Yes…and no.” “Well, what is it? Yes or no?” “You seem very intent on finding out about us, Shay.” He placed special emphasis on my name, lengthening the vowel as if it were some exotic word he’d never heard before. “Is there a reason you’re so interested? You keep coming back here. That takes a special talent.” As he stepped towards me, his black eyes boring into mine. “Is there something you’re not telling me?” Despite myself, I stepped backwards. “No. I don’t know why I keep coming here. I guess it was because Wendy needed someone to talk to— ” “That’s true enough. But there’s something else, isn’t there?” I had no idea what he was talking about. Even though I knew, rationally, that it was only a dream, I was beginning to get really frightened. And furious too. “No, there isn’t anything else. I don’t know what you’re talking about!” “Oh you don’t, do you?” “No!” I shouted. “What is wrong with you? Why do you have to keep Wendy here? Is she your


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Wendy slave? Does she have to spend the rest of her life picking up after you and your little cult followers? What makes you so goddamned special?” “What makes me so goddamned special?” He smiled so broadly that his face seemed to split in two, with his teeth gleaming like needles. “If you’re so curious, Shay, then I’ll show you.” Then he stepped even closer towards me… And he seemed to grow taller. And he changed. As his hair trailed out like pale vines, the whites, pupils, and irises of his eyes became a liquid black, and his skin took on the white papery texture of birch bark. His fingers distended into darkened tapers, like overgrown fingernails, or the wind-blasted branches of a pine. I could still see beauty in his face—his features remained delicate and symmetrical—but it was nothing like his previous appearance. As he leaned over me, I was overwhelmed with the smell of the earth, decomposing leaves, and the odor of rotting flesh. Gasping, terrified, I scrambled backwards, backing into the wall, and sliding down to the ground. Everyone else in the room faded away into nothingness, and I all I could see was the huge black eyes of this creature…Peter, if that was even his name… I bring these boys here, he said—and his voice, whispering directly into my brain, sounded like leaves at midnight. I take them away from your world. They follow me, and only me. “Wendy—” I croaked. She has loved me for several lifetimes. Do you think she’ll leave me now? For some ignorant girl who fancies herself her friend? He reached his hand towards me, smiling all the while, and with those fingers touched my face lightly. It felt cold, bone-cold. I shivered. Go back to your own home. “I…” I gasped. Don’t come here again or I’ll break the cord that joins your waking and sleeping selves. If by any chance you ever have a son… He chuckled.

Be careful where you put him. I might bring him here. Or better yet… you’ll have a daughter. Who knows? Maybe she can be my mother and my wife. At that, he threw his head back and started to laugh. It was a strangely childish laugh, high, trilling, and abandoned—and he didn’t stop. It grew louder and louder, pounding relentlessly into my ears, until I felt that my brain would split in two. And then I felt myself falling, and falling… And all of a sudden I was there, back on my couch. The TV was still on, but there was nothing but snow. It’s just a dream, I told myself, trembling. Just a dream— But my feet were filthy. It’s still raining, and I still can’t sleep. All I can see when I close my eyes is his face. And I can still feel the cold touch of his fingers. Unless, of course, I take a pill. But then I’ll never see Wendy or Peter again. I stare into space for a while before I make my decision. It only takes a few minutes for the drug to start working. But as I lose consciousness, I feel a strange ache, and I wonder, distantly, what it would be like—to be his mother and his wife. Dangerous words… Fiction on the bleeding edge of a black and beating heart…

Dark Valentine Magazine Coming Spring 2010 www.darkvalentine.net


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High Noon at Hot topic By Christine Pope Illustrated by Jennifer Caro

I

knew he was trouble the second he walked into the store. Oh, not your usual sort of trouble—not the sticky-fingered tween who thinks she can smuggle out a bottle of nail polish and a couple of statement buttons with no one noticing. Not the privileged princesses from the hills who just loved to take a buttload of clothes into the dressing room and leave them all there for the “staff ” to pick up. And not even the wannabes in long black coats that my friend Joanna and I referred to as the “knee-hilists” (usually pronounced in a fake German accent like the one employed by the would-be kidnappers in The Big Lebowski). Anyway, I was used to the hipsterish flotsam and jetsam that floated in and out of the store. This guy didn’t match any of the types who tended to haunt the place. For one thing, he wore a long brown coat. Now, it was cold enough outside that the coat itself made some sense, especially for wimpy SoCal natives who thought anything below 70 degrees was freezing. However, no one who knew what they were doing would be caught dead wearing brown inside a Hot Topic. Black was the color of choice, with maybe a variation into dark gray and army green, or some red and even hot pink (in a purely ironic sense, of course) thrown into the mix. The fact that he was male and at least in his early thirties just clinched his complete fish-out-

of-water status. Sure, we got some guys; they usually gravitated toward the vintage band T-shirts. And while we tended to skew younger, we did get some women in the store who were probably flirting with thirty. Since I had less than eighteen months to go before I hit the big three-O, I wasn’t about to pass judgment. At least those thirty-something women weren’t working in tween poser-punk hell. So taken one at a time, the stranger’s oddball traits weren’t that strange. Taken together? They set off pretty much every internal alarm I had. I sidled out from behind the counter. Tuesdays were pretty dead, especially at midday, and I only had one other staff member as backup. Unfortunately, my backup wasn’t Joanna, who I pretty much trusted to handle anything short of the zombie apocalypse. No, that day I was stuck with Martine, who looked great as a model for the store’s wares but who wouldn’t recognize a shoplifter if they paraded past wearing an outfit composed entirely of price tags. “Get the register,” I murmured to her. She was in the middle of refolding a stack of striped stockings and looked up at me with a deer-inthe-headlights gaze made even more Bambiesque by her thick eyeliner and fake lashes. “The what?” “Register,” I hissed. “Now.” Those lashes fluttered like moths around a street light, but at least she had enough brains


High Noon at Hot Topic to recognize the authority granted me as assistant manager and abandoned her sock sorting for the cash register. Good thing sales were slow that day; Martine couldn’t be trusted to make change. Luckily the predominance of plastic these days saved her ass most of the time. Once more into the breach, I thought, not for the first time marveling at how my degree in English lit. had propelled me into an exciting career in retail. Still, I didn’t see any way to avoid talking to him. I had to make sure he was at least mostly harmless. “Can I help you?” I asked the stranger. He’d paused in front of a rack of “vintage” band T-shirts, but he wasn’t fooling me; I saw the collar of a white button-down shirt peeking past the heavy overcoat. He turned. Cool blue-gray eyes scanned me briefly before he redirected his attention to the ranks of bogus shirts, where Led Zeppelin mingled incongruously with the Clash and the Sex Pistols.

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The dismissal was obvious, but I stood my ground. My internal alarms were still going off, and they’d been right enough times over the years that I wasn’t about to ignore them now. “Our shirts run a bit small, so you might need a large.” “It’s not for me.” Just a hint of an accent. I couldn’t place it. East Coast? Definitely not from Southern California, though. “A gift?” I persisted. Then he did turn toward me, a smile hinting at the corners of his mouth. Damn. I hated it when customers who were actually cute came into the store—it didn’t seem professional to flirt with them, but considering how cramped my social life was, I’d stepped over the line a time or two. Oh, well. What Corporate didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. And the alarm bells had been quieted a bit by that smile. He didn’t look like a pedophile or a shoplifter. “For my nephew,” he said.


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Somehow I got the feeling that the nephew was purely mythical, but I knew better than to push it. “So is he more of a classic rock type, or is he into punk or goth or—” I let my words trail off because I could tell he wasn’t listening. He’d gone alert, like a hunting animal scenting its prey. I swiveled slightly to see what he was staring at. And then I realized the Trio had entered the store. Even after working at this particular branch for more than a year, I still didn’t know their names. They always paid cash. No ersatz T-shirts for them, either. They bought the higher-priced Lip Service and Morbid Threads clothes, along with some cosmetics. No jewelry or any other accessories. Oh, that didn’t mean they went without. But (as far as my untrained eyes could tell) they wore the real stuff. The red stones on their fingers and at their necks glittered like very expensive blood. One man, two women. Joanna and I used to make up elaborate stories about them—that they ran a high-end fetish club, or that they were some sort of musicians or performance artists. Hard to know for sure, since of course they said almost nothing when they came into the store, except for the few times they’d wanted to special-order something or asked whether we had a particular size back in the stockroom. Now, I’ll admit that all three of them were worth staring at, and I don’t even swing both ways. They all had glossy, perfectly straight long hair that fell almost to their waists. One of the women had black hair, the other dark red. The man’s hair was also black, although with a pure white streak at each temple. They had the kind of skin that could only be achieved through a series of brutal dermabrasion sessions, and their bodies—well, let’s just say that every time they came in the store, I vowed to put in an extra hour at the gym. That said, I was just a little irritated by the attention the stranger was paying to them. A

minute ago, he’d looked halfway interested in me. Now it seemed as if I didn’t exist. I cleared my throat, even as the Trio headed to the back of the store where the pricier merchandise was located. “So what size is your nephew?” Again that hint of smile, as if he knew I was only playing along. “You know I don’t have a nephew. By the way, I’d advise you to duck.” “Wha—” I began, but I didn’t have time to finish the word. He was already pushing past me, headed toward the back of the store in the Trio’s wake. As he moved, I watched him reach inside that incongruous brown coat. When he produced the hidden object, I realized why he’d chosen a floor-length outer garment—not the usual sort of attire for L.A., even in the middle of January. Because he held in his hand a long stake of some pale wood. Despite his warning to duck, I began to follow him. The last thing I needed at that point was some loon to commit mass murder in my store. If nothing else, the paperwork involved would be deadly. It happened so fast, I wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing. The stranger looked like an ordinary enough man, but no man I’d ever known moved quite like him. If I’d blinked I would have missed his progress from the T-shirt racks at the front of the store to the section in the back devoted to our more glam apparel. The music blaring from the speakers overhead drowned out any sound he made. Any sound I could hear, that is. At the very last second one of the women—the redhead— turned toward him. Her mistake. The sharpened piece of wood pierced her right through the breast, a scant inch above the edge of her leather bustier. Blood should have gone everywhere, but it didn’t. Instead, her mouth opened in a wide scarlet-painted O, her head snapped back, and then she exploded


High Noon at Hot Topic outward in a shower of dust. Her clothes—black skirt, leather bustier, platform boots—fell to the ground. The shriek I’d been about to let out caught in my throat. What the ever-loving hell— I heard a scream, but it wasn’t mine. The black-haired woman screeched like about a hundred fingernails being dragged down a blackboard at once, and her companion spun around. The walking stick he held (an affectation Joanna and I had laughed about on several occasions) expanded outward in a lightning-flash of movement, becoming a scary-looking staff tipped in sharp steel. The stranger’s admonition to duck suddenly sounded like a great idea. Since the two remaining members of the Trio were focused on him, I took the opportunity to drop to the ground and begin scuttling across the floor to the relative safety of the checkout counter. An unfamiliar voice. “Gregoire. You disappoint me.” I crawled behind the counter and saw Martine crouched there, false eyelashes fluttering with such speed I was surprised they didn’t come flying off. Since she was closer to the phone, I whispered fiercely, “911!” “Wha?” “Dial 911. Nine frigging one!” A shaking hand reached up and dragged the phone off the counter. I grabbed it before it could clatter to the ground. My own fault; I should have known Martine couldn’t manage something as simple as dialing three numbers. But when I put the receiver up to my ear, all I heard was a weird, fast dial tone, the kind you sometimes get after a disaster like an earthquake or something when everyone’s tying up the lines. Crap. I put the phone down on the floor and peered around the corner of the counter. Martine stayed where she was, back pressed up against the wall.

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Not that I expected her to do anything more than that. At least she hadn’t fainted yet. The stranger said, “Not the first time, I’m sure.” The leader of the Trio stood unmoving, staff still clenched in his left hand. His female compatriot appeared unarmed, but if I’d had someone wearing her expression facing me in a club, I would have taken off my earrings and then tried to find the nearest exit. “You’re slipping, Gregoire. In public? Really?” “Opportunity is everything,” returned Gregoire. His brown coat flapped open to reveal a wholly unremarkable white shirt and flat-front khakis. He feinted with the stake, a snake-like movement toward the black-haired man he faced, but at the last second he snapped to the right and drove the stake through the woman’s chest instead. Another explosion of dust, this one made more spectacular by the sudden of flash of the Trio leader’s steel-tipped staff. I heard a tearing sound; the tip of the blade caught Gregoire’s lapel, but he stepped back in enough time that the only damage he appeared to sustain was the rip in his overcoat. “Kill them, if it amuses you,” the black-haired man said. “Man”? I decided it was time to stop kidding myself. Human beings didn’t explode into dust when you drove stakes into their hearts. No, kids, only vampires were supposed to do that. “It doesn’t amuse me. It’s just what needs to be done.” “Always so righteous. So tedious.” These words, delivered in a deceptively languid tone, were followed by another vicious swipe of the vampire’s blade. I couldn’t quite figure out how Gregoire managed to keep evading those blows. I knew if I’d been in their path I would’ve been sushi. “You change nothing, Gregoire. I made those two. I can make more.” He turned slightly, and


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I found myself suddenly skewered by a pair of piercing dark eyes. So much for trying to remain inconspicuous. “That one, for example. Not quite up to my standards, but at least she already has the wardrobe.” Not up to his standards? Okay, so I wasn’t quite as bonelessly thin and supernaturally polished as his previous companions, but that didn’t quite qualify me for bag-over-my-head status. “I wouldn’t try it.” Gregoire flickered a quick glance in my direction, and I saw his mouth harden. “At any rate, you’d have to get past me first.” “You say that as if it would cause me some difficulty.” The blade descended, and Gregoire lifted the stake he carried to block the blow. Whatever wood that thing was made of, it had to be unbelievably strong. Almost at the same moment, he swept it around in a vicious arc, connecting with the vampire’s ribs with a resounding crack. Not point-first, unfortunately, but it had to have hurt like hell. The Trio’s leader did wince but then delivered a kick worthy of a judo master. It caught the stake at exactly the wrong angle, and it flew out of Gregoire’s hands. Only to land a foot away from me. I didn’t stop to think. There wasn’t time. I lunged for the stake, felt the smooth wood under my searching fingertips. I wrapped my hands around it and jumped to my feet. Gregoire didn’t seem to have missed a beat. Deprived

of his weapon, he grasped one of the clothing racks, wrenched it loose from the wall, and hurled it at the vampire’s head. Black spandex and gleaming PVC rained down everywhere. I heard a curse but didn’t stop to figure out whether it had come from Gregoire or his opponent. The vampire was distracted. I had only one chance. I had to thrust the stake upward, since he was taller than I. Somehow I’d thought his ndead flesh would offer more resistance, but the sharpened piece of wood drove smoothly


High Noon at Hot Topic through his chest. It sort of reminded me of the time I’d gone to Girl Scout camp and had to help pound tent stakes into rain-softened earth. At least this time I was ready for the shower of dust that followed. I closed my eyes and felt bits of dissolved vampire settle on my bare arms and my eyelashes. A hand descended on my shoulder, and I started, then blinked. Gregoire stood in front of me, staring down into my face with a sort of bemused wonder. “You killed him,” he said. “Well, yeah,” I replied. “Wasn’t that what you were trying to do?” “Of course. But he was—” He hesitated, then said, “I’ve been hunting him for a very long time. He was a master. For a master to be killed by a complete amateur is unheard of.” “That so?” I brushed vampire dust off my arms and shot Gregoire an arch look. “Guess he shouldn’t have made that remark about me not being up to his standards, then.” “Hell hath no fury.” “Damn straight.” To my surprise, he grinned at me. “What on earth are you doing working retail?” “Glut of humanities majors.” Maybe I was flattering myself, but I thought I caught an admiring glint in his eyes. “Are you saying vampire hunting pays better?” The grin remained in place. “Somewhat.” I stared down at the mess of vampire explosions all over the floor and wondered whether even the store’s industrial-strength vacuum cleaner would be up to the task of getting it all out of the carpet. Something struck me, though, as I stared down at the abandoned clothing the undead Trio had once worn, scattered amongst the new pieces that had come falling down when Gregoire pulled the clothes rack out of the wall. Corporate would have a fit if we had to declare all that a loss.

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“It’s noon,” I said. “I thought vampires couldn’t go out in daylight.” In answer, Gregoire bent down and retrieved one of the redhead’s patent leather platform boots. He tapped a finger against the chunky rubber sole. “Hollow. They fill these with their native earth. The sun still hurts their eyes, and they will burn if they stay out in it too long, but this helps them to blend in.” “I wouldn’t say they blended that well. Kind of stuck out in a crowd, if you ask me.” “Somewhat. But this subculture suits them well. It’s recognizable, and, as I said, the footwear suits their purposes.” As I was pondering that remark, Martine staggered over to us. She stared down at the mess of dust and discarded clothing on the floor and pointed at it. “He—they—what—” Martine wasn’t coherent at the best of times, but this was bad even for her. Gregoire didn’t appear particularly perturbed by her babbling, however. He passed a hand over her face and murmured, “Forget.” The false eyelashes fluttered again, and then she stood up a little straighter. In almost normal tones she announced, “I’m going to get the vacuum,” and disappeared back into the stockroom. “Neat trick,” I commented. “It does come in handy.” Those blue-gray eyes suddenly seemed a little too piercing. I glanced away, then said, “I probably should help her—” “I would rather you helped me.” Nonplused, I just stood there, not sure exactly what he meant. The smile returned. “You appear to have some natural talent. Or would you rather stay here and fold T-shirts?” Well, when he put it that way… After all, he had told me that vampire hunting paid better than retail. “Let me go get my purse,” I said.


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Farewell (but not “Adieu”)

T

wo years ago, publisher John Donald Carlucci and managing editor Tim D. Gallagher placed an ad on Craig’s List looking for someone to join their new venture, the creation of a quarterly online and print magazine devoted to all things pulp. It would be Astonishing! and Amazing! It would be Astonishing Adventures magazine. I answered that ad, and even though my middle name doesn’t begin with a “D,” they hired me as their resident “Dragon Lady” and let me play along. The first issue, with a furious “pulp monkey” on the cover, was digest-sized. That would change with issue #2, when it grew to its current dimensions. Some of the writers in that first issue—Cormac Brown, Mark Caldwell, Michael Patrick Sullivan, and Roger Alford—became regulars in the magazine. What would an issue be without a new “Auslander” or “Black Spectre” tale? Or something new from the prodigious and eclectic minds of Cormac Brown and Mark Caldwell? Writer Christian Dabnor joined AAM with the second issue and continued to contribute stories that were astonishing adventures that were a delight to read. Issue #3 marked the debut of “Scarlet Fatale,” the gorgeous redheaded bad girl who replaced the masked pulp monkey mascot of previous issues. The ranks of writers continued to swell with Michael Hughes and Bill Cunningham, Kat Parrish, Blue Jackson, and Henry Zero Covert contributing on a regular basis.

Issue #4 was one of arrivals and departures. Tim Gallagher left (and was missed), and Joanne Renaud came aboard as, essentially, our inhouse artist. She recruited others, and issue #5 included artwork by immensely talented Manuel Morgado, a Frenchman trained in Portugal. Our renown was spreading! Issue #6 was a Christmas in July treat, a summer issue stuffed full of great work by all the usual suspects plus a story by novelist Peter Mark May, a very different vampire tale by writer/artist Sarah Vaughn, and novelist Brian Trent’s swashbuckling Rylan Mathis story, the first of three, all illustrated by neopulp artist Larry Nadolsky. Issue #7 featured the debut story of Sidney Harrison, a writer not yet out of her teens; a pulp fiction fotonovela by regular contributor Kat Parrish, photographed by Susan Schader; and chilling stories by novelists Christine Pope and G. Wells Taylor, both of whom have returned for issue #8. We saved the best for last. This special double anniversary issue of Astonishing Adventures magazine will be its last. Publisher John Donald Carlucci has gone on to found Darke Media, where he has created a webseries called “Fierce Cravings.” It’s been a great two years, and I hope you have enjoyed being a part of the astonishment as much as I have. This is farewell, but not adieu, because pulp fiction lives forever —Katherine

Astonishing Adventures Magazine 8  

ePulp at its best

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