Friday, December 02, 2005

Today's Word: Yeoman

Lord Tartar gagged as the poison seized his airway like a hangman's noose. He clawed at the heavy brocade collar about his neck, but found no relief. Silently, and red-faced, his eyes squirmed about the table as his high-born lady and noble children began to take notice.
"Harvard?" asked his wife, the first hint of alarm creeping into her refined tones.
"Da?" said his eldest son, the one who would inherit all Lord Tartar's holdings after his death. But Trevon would never do this. Ever had he been a good lad; dutiful and obedient.
Tartar gripped the corners of his fine blackwood dining table, the one he had ordered special from the Resonian isles. One of these people had killed him -- plotted murder against kin and played out the murder with deft alacrity. But who?
His youngest son, Ulus? The boy stood to gain nothing from his father's death, save a quickening of his ultimate enlistment in the kingsguard.
His middle daughter, Runa? Without her father's ties to the House Grannen she had no hope to wed the young knight Daved Grannen, the Youth of Sand Hill. Her mother could never work the arrangement well enough to satisfy those uppity Grannen folk. No. Not the girl.
His lady wife? She loved him without measure, he had no doubt. And her wails of misery at this crucial moment could not be foolery.
Who then? Who would kill a lord in his own manor, at his own table?
Only one among those gathered wore any look save horror.
The yeoman, Purstis Patch. The little, wizened man was smiling.
Lord Tartar pointed at the wretched servant with the last strength left in his arm. Already he felt his chest fit to burst from a fire that had kindled there. Already blue and red spots danced in the great lord's vision.
"Yes," said Patch from his spot in the corner, and he let slip the golden wine service in his hands so that it clattered loudly on the floor. Only then did Tatar's family take note of the steward. But the man did not flinch away, even as Lord Tartar's sons rounded on him, murder in their eyes.
"One hundred forty years my family has plotted to topple your house," said Patch, backing into the shadows. "Once our name reigned in the valleys and mountains of Yunfron. We were the lords while your folk were merely swineherds and sharecroppers. But you usurped us. You stole our lands and brought us low -- humiliated us by offering my folk service in our own halls. Well no more I say! No more!! You are no lords above Patch! We shall see you rot in the nine steps of the Pit before we allow you to rule us anymore. So die you old fool."
Tartar's oldest had reached Patch by then and manned him to the floor where he set to throttling the older, slighter man.
Fat good it did though. Lord Tartar died.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Today's Word: Pbbbbt

Pbbbt world!!

-- david j.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Today's Word: Race

David sat before the empty computer screen imagining the worlds he might create, longing to tap out fame or money or both from the plastic keyboard. After two hours, with nothing to show for his time beyond the byline, David decided maybe he should become a race car driver instead. Look out Gordon.

-- david j.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Today's Word: Popular

Auzor Reece eyed the human sitting before him.

"You don't believe the All-Point is slowing drawing all matter and energy back into itself?" asked the Auzor.

"No," said the man.

"Then what, sir, is your religion? To what diety do you owe your being?"

The human stared, his eyes never moving from the old Auzor's face.

"The popular and favorable opinion of friends, family, and millions of fans around the world. That's my religion. It's the only real source of power in any society, warrel or human.

The Auzor actually considered this. It was true that popularity embued its focal point with great power. And since the great reunification was still millions of years in the future, the All-Point could not, in actuality, give a believer any type of power; not in a real sense.

Auzor Reece nodded.

"And this is why we must destroy you, sir. Your power -- your popularity -- is too great on earth. You sway the humans against us; humans who would otherwise gladly join our religion. Thank you for the lesson on true power. It has been enlightening."

Reece motioned to the guards who took the human away to the first of many deaths. In the quiet interrogation room, the Auzor sat, hands folded under chin, contemplating power.

-- david j.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Today's Word: Box

Sometimes it's okay to think inside the box, especially if you're a hobo.

-- david j.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Today's Word: Placate

In the center of the Plaza of Pride stood Nerl of Plint, a poor bean farmer who had died not ten minutes before, having run afoul of a mother bear.

"How did I get here?" asked Nerl of no one in particular since there was no one around.

"You died," said a thick, deep voice behind the farmer.

Nerl turned and found a skeleton dressed in a hooded shroud. Tall it was, probably near seven feet, and yet razor thin like a poorly stuffed scarecrow.

Nerl was not afraid. "Where's your scythe?" he asked of Death.

"I quit carrying it two hundred years ago. It's just not stylish these days."

Nerl nodded. He gazed around the empty plaza.

"Why did I come here?" he asked.

"You always wanted to visit the Plaza of Pride. And this is the best time, when you're first dead. You can't see the living folk, so the place isn't so crowded."

"So you grant wishes? I never knew that."

"No, Nerl, I'm just placating you for the moment."


"Well, you do remember how you cheated Ronel the swineherd out of his ten acres that time, don't you?"

Nerl swallowed.

"I'm to be punished."

Death shrugged. "Six hundred years in the third tier of Hades, nothing too terrible. After that you can work your way up for good behavior."

"Is the third tier hot?"

"Oh, no. It's filled with poison oak and you'll be naked."

-- david j.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Today's Word: Diffuse

The wedding picture created a clear metaphor.

The bride beamed, smiling her horsy teeth at the groom who lay abed out of frame. Light from a tenth story window cascaded the background, making the world seem to glow white, tinting the bride's curly locks a high shade of blonde, framing her face in its shine and setting off the vivid white of her dress. Monitors -- heart rate, pulse, and temperature -- glowed in red liquid crystal, showing the groom's heightened state of excitement. All about the bride, the world stood frozen in sharp focus, clear as her happiness and bright green eyes.

On her arm limped her father. His dull red and balding head, though out of focus, gleamed with sweat. In the shot, one can see, even in the two dimensional frozen frame, the man's pronounced limp, his dead left arm. A fuzzy aura of diffused light encircled him -- his life, his choices, his future death.

-- david j.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Today's Word: Number

Of course we can find you. We've got your number. We're the NSA.

-- david j.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Today's Word: Bagatelle

After surviving shrapnel in both legs during the war, cancer shortly after the war, the loss of his wife and a particularly painful motorcycle accident, Terry thought gallstones would be a mere bagatelle.

He was wrong.

-- david j.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Today's Word: Decrepitude

So worn down, turned-under and washed out were the villagers who survived the forced march that their bodies quickly fell into a bewildering decrepitude even after several days of rest.

-- david j.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Today's Word: Curmudgeon

At a time when the echoes of war reverberated near and far, casting all the land of Leros and Den into dark pools of doubt and fear, the robber bands of Zyflos the Really Smelly appeared. Of course, Zyflos wasn't the man's real name. He HAD been Zyflux the swineherd until he took up crime as a profession and gave himself a name befitting his new robber baron status.

Zyflos and his most trusted lieutenant, Mudgeon, cut a swath of terror a hundred miles long, robbing weak merchants and powerful army commanders alike in their quest for wealth.

But when Zyflos, making the mistake of many a wealthy bandit, first began to truly trust then rely upon his no good second, the rotten Mudgeon seized the advantage, attacking Zyflos with his own former cronies, catching him out in the open like a pilfering fox.

Bound hand and foot and staring down the pointy end of a spear, Zyflos glared at his former lieutenant, incredulous.

"How dare you bite the hand that feeds you, cur!" he screamed.

Mudgeon scratched at the black scruff covering his cheeks.

"Cur," he muttered, his eyes screwed up to the blue sky. "Cur-Mudgeon. I like the sound of that. Thank you Zyf, you've given me my baron's name. Curmudgeon it is."

-- david j.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Today's Word: Tyro

Dickie wore the red stripped coat, tie and hat which made him at least look the part of a soda jerk, though he was merely a tyro. School had just let out and he had run all the way to beat the traffic coming out of the cross town rivals, Westside and Eastman. Mr. Peterson, the shop owner, was in the back doing something and had left Dickie to "mind the store". Dickie hoped that meant serving soda pop.

Clarissa Bell and Mary Jones bunny hopped through the door, making Mr. Peterson's little door bell tinkle. The girls giggled behind their social studies books when they saw Dickie behind the counter.

"When'd you start working here, Dickie Goodman?" asked Mary Jones.

"Today. You two want anything, or you just here to make eyes at Tony Gerondi?"

They looked scandalized and they both sneaked a peek at Tony Gerondi who sat in a corner booth sipping a Royal Crown soda, talking around the straw to his football cronies.

"You don't worry about who we're looking at, Dickie Goodman. You're here to serve us," said Clarissa, smiling mischievously at the last statement.

"Yeah, soda jerk," said Mary and the girls laughed.

"What will you have?" asked Dickie. His face was turning red, he could feel it. What could be worse than a boy with freckles blushing?
"Chocolate root beer float," said Clarissa, her voice cold.

"Make it two," said Mary.

The girls turned away from him, flipping their hair to show their boredom with Dickie.

That was fine. With them facing away, the girls never saw Dickie reach for Mr. Peterson's tin case of Ex-lax he kept under the bar.

Two crushed chocolates, a good hard shake, and revenge was sweet.

-- david j.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Today's Word: How-to

The answer IS NOT in one of these how-to books on writing novels.

-- david j.
Today's Word: Novel

Novels are hard to write well.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Today's Word: Buergermeister

In the infinitesimal center atom of your eye dance the waves that form all things; little strings that curve and bind, sewing up the universe in patterns of life and muted elements: suns and rocks and beating hearts.

In this mix of gyrating vacuum, where all things come together, one string reigns -- the buergermeister of all string theory -- with supreme energy of life and substance.

The frayed knot of infinity.

-- david j.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Today's Word: Floccinaucinihilipilification

Astus hitched his powder-white skirt upward by the single strap cinched round his muscular right shoulder. Silver paint bled off his papier-mâché short sword, coating his palm, but the young actor ignored it.

His cue was coming. The Italian, Adolfo, had reached his single monologue, bellowing like a gelded bull before the lovely Celeste, the finest actress in the city-state. How Adolfo fawned over the young phenom. But to her credit, the buxom soprano ignored his sweaty backstage advances with the kind of cold scorn only achieved through breeding.

"What hero could save me from such a one as you?" asked Celeste, and Astus exited the dark wing, sword raised.

The crowd cheered.

It would have been a grand entrance -- his third of the day -- but the latchet holding Astus's right sandal chose that moment to unfasten. In the next horrifying instant, the young actor tripped. His fake sword slipped from his hand, spun through the air, and struck fat Adolfo in the head. The singer crashed to the stage like the very hammer of God.

Some people laughed, some screamed. But in the foremost center row the greatest theatre critic in all the world, Lord Gino Rolinsino Tremholm III, sat with his hands folded, his steely blue eyes fixed on the stage.

Astus stared into those calculating eyes and knew that, despite his many good showings in the last three seasons, all his work would be counted Floccinaucinihilipilification by this, the most influential man in any actor's career.

-- david j.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Today's Word: Penny

The saying, "A penny for your thoughts", must have been created by a woman.

A man wouldn't pay THAT much.

-- david j.
Today's Word: Pastiche

Larry brushed a lock of unruly dark hair out of his eyes revealing his thunderbolt-shaped scar. With a sinking heart, he raised his wand -- the one with the sphinx eye and wyvern scale center -- as the boogie-blight circled overhead, stealing all the joy from the world.

"Inconceivablous!" shouted Larry, with a flick of the wand.

The boogie-blight yelped as a ray of pure, white light struck him. Then he fell to the floor of the Chamber of Enigmas, dead.

"Bloody hell, Larry," said Lon. "Where'd you learn that?"

Larry shrugged. Could he really tell his best friend Lon about his secret classes with Professor Smartybore?

"I know where he learned it," said Dido with a prim turn of her nose.

"You do?" asked Larry, concerned.

"Of course. That was the inconceivablous incantation. We studied it two years ago at 8:15AM on a Thursday in Professor McMonical's class." Dido frowned when the boys looked mystified. "Honestly, I think you two never listen."

-- david j.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Today's Word: Numinous

No matter the subject matter; no matter the genre, all my stories eventually take on a numinous aspect.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Today's Word: Advection

Coker bent his brown body over the flames, his bone necklace dangling precariously in the heat. With one hand he sprinkled beach sand over the fire, mumbling the ancient Rite of Rain, swaying as the words escaped him like bubbles rising from a sink full of sudsy dishes.

He seemed so certain, with his nappy hair and thick beard that rendered his mouth invisible. I hadn't the heart to tell him advection brought moisture.

-- david j.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Today's Word: Gestalt

"I said we shouldn't box men into categories that restrict their free exercise of rights, even rights inside a maximum security prison," said Larry.

"Yes, but your point is silly, baseless, and ill-conceived. You're looking at this issue from a pea soup perspective," I said.

"What exactly is a pea soup perspective?"

"You see everything as clouded; all filled in with soup, but there are many, many extraneous factors shading this issue. It's a complex, gestalt problem that cannot be solved by addressing one or maybe a few of its periphery questions."

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Today's Word: Disease

For some women, pregnancy is a sexually transmitted disease.

-- david j.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Today's Word: Snap

Three more bolts snapped in half under the scaffold's flimsy rails. Terrence gripped the walkway fence like a man clinging to a rope. Finally, the last bolt gave way and the whole superstructure fell. For a moment al was quiet echos as pieces of bolt and loosed metal clanged far below, then the deafening crash of the silo's metal stairs hitting the firing pad far below.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Today's Word: Nugatory

Janet surveyed the near empty box of chocolates. Her fingers sifted the crumpled wrappers, seeking the telltale weight of chocolate encasing a mystery filling. Somewhere near the middle she found it, a gold foil surprise.

Cherry? Cream? Caramel?

With slow, sultry deliberateness, she pulled the edges, spinning the prize till it came free.

Toffee? Cocoa? Brandy?

Janet slipped the treat into her mouth, bit down and explored the center with her tongue.

Her eyes popped open; she breathed out her nose in disgust.


-- david j.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Today's Word: Captious

The imagination is a canvas on which one can paint the most vivid colors, record the most compelling sounds and mark the most telling emotions known to humanity. Its vibrant recordings keep all that is blessed, repugnant, defiled and sacred in life in sharp and murky detail to be experienced over again though the moment that held them is lost.

Then, when the inner critic reviews the sights, sounds, tastes and feelings, and renders some captious criticism to censure the free spirit, the imagination can be wiped clean in a breath like a new day dawned for adventure in every capacity.

-- david j.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Today's Word: Chilled

Seeing Madam Toots alive and well chilled Dana's heart to the last ventricle.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Today's Word: Punctual

Corporal Kain arrived at the post testing center twenty minutes early. It never hurt to be punctual, mom always said.

A cluster of men in plain clothes stood outside a steel door marked: Army Research -- No Admittance Without Authorization. The doctor, one Captain Robert Tensley, who had ordered Corporal Kain's physical after recovery from a running injury, had told him to wear loose fitting plain clothes. Since the guys here wore jeans and crew-collared shirts, Kain assumed they were also at the center for physical therapy check-ups.

A toothsome nurse dressed in white opened the heavy steel door from the inside. The men filed in, handing the nurse their medical records as they passed.

Wordlessly, she led them to a small room where they sat in silver chairs upholstered in thin Naugahyde. She left for about five minutes, during which Corporal Kain noticed the men around him seemed much older than he. Some of these guys had gray hair. No one spoke. They seemed intent on their own thoughts.

When the nurse returned, she took them to a larger room lined with hospital beds.

"Strip to your underware and lie down."

Everyone followed her orders without question. What choice did Kain have? She wore no rank, that nurse, but she was probably an officer. And lady officers were not to be trifled with in Kain's experience.

A doctor came round with a syringe. He was not Captain Robert Tensley. He injected each man in the arm, sparing them not a word -- tight-lipped as the nurse.

Corporal Kain, like the rest of the men he had accompanied into this silent experiment, fell asleep before he realized he was drowsy.

"Who's this kid?" asked Doctor Trevado, pointing at Corporal Kain's supine form on the hospital bed.

"We don't know. Somehow he got mixed in with the rest. Nurse Jones didn't know the subjects by face and she didn't bother to check their records until the trials were already started," said Doctor Caslow, the head of the Army's Ten-Man project to develop warriors far advanced compared to the common man.

Doctor Trevado checked Kain's chart.

"Looks like he is fairing the best of the lot. Can these results be right?" he said.

Caslow nodded. "This kid's going to be a superhero when he wakes up."

-- david j.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Today's Word: Progeny

That life is unfair is plain to see
Just have a look at our friend the bee
Buzz and work and carry all day
With no time to rest, tarry, or stay
Work for the queen and do her will
Until at last your wings will still
No sex, no mate, no progeny for you
Just another drone on the honey making crew

-- david j.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Today's Word: Foible

Royson, hero of the four day war of vermin, strained against the thick ropes binding his wrists and ankles. The fiber was far too thick, the knots too tight for him to break free, but he thought if he could only rub enough blood on them he might slip loose.
"No use trying to win free, boy," said the crone as she chopped mixed vegetables into her man-sized cauldron. "I've ensorcled those bindings. They'll not loose unless I command it."
Royson glared at the witch who had captured him unawares as he lay sleeping on the downlands.
"How can you do it, woman? How can you eat the flesh of men who are your brothers in humanity?"
The witch stopped, stared at him critically, and seemed to consider this.
For one brief moment, Royson believe he may have touched the ancient woman's heart -- roused some thread of sympathy and feeling within her shriveled soul.
Then she flashed a gap-toothed smile colored brown and yellow, and said, "Well, hero, we all have our little foibles."

-- david j.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Another Today's Word: Back

I turn 30 today. I'm back!

-- david j.
Today's Word: Teem

Tremik, Katel, and their child, Gram, stood on the last green hill of their journey, overlooking the fabled city of Lastel. Years and tears and toil had brought them here, first carrying little Gram then watching him toddle along the trail, then handing off burdens to him as his back and arms grew strong from labor.

Katel cried and Tremik held her. The city teemed with life. Its tall buildings and well laid streets fairly gleamed in the evening sun. At every intersection of every street, on every building outside and in, across the face of the entire city swarmed the great wasp larvae of Gukrateaman. The wiggling horde of their most hated enemy.

The breeze kicked up, making the bells in Katel's hair tinkle and a smattering of dust dance across the downs. With it came the sound of the horde: a great lulling buzz like mighty engines beating far beneath the earth.

Gram looked at his parents, his quiet face inquisitive.

"Are we there yet?"

-- david j.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Today's Word: Ghost

Seven ladies passed us by, meandering towards the misty lake. We watched them grow ever more white as they trundled along. It seemed as though the fog absorbed them in tiny portions like ghosts dissipating into the murk. They were beautiful those ladies. Where have they gone?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Today's Word: Camel

I watched that fog smooch my room window
Like a wayward camel pressing
Its moist lips against the pane

Friday, January 28, 2005

Today's Word: Predator

They hobbled, for both had sustained injuries debilitating to their gaits, into the bright sunshine and cold, wintry air. A smell like rotting fish and potatoes made them clamp their mouths shut. Roman pointed to a narrow fissure in the rock. Putrid green steam rose from it in a relentless stream.

"I'll never go back in that place," said Kate. She held one grimy, oil-covered hand over her mouth and nose, trying to ward the smell.

Roman turned back, regarding the low cave from which they had recently come. No less than twenty green-gold eyes peered out of the darkness, watching him, willing him to come back.

"They don't like the light," he said, and wondered briefly if "they" was the correct pronoun. He hadn't actually seen the things chasing them; perhaps it was a single being -- a monster possessing hundreds of independent eye stalks like coarse threads frayed from a bobbin.

"Thank God. I was beginning to think we'd never see the light of day again." Kate picked up a rock, started to throw it into the cave mouth, thought better, and pitched it the opposite direction towards a long, sloping field of heather. It made a dull thump and disappeared.

"Well, on the bright side, at least we know we aren't the dominant predator on this planet."

"How is that a bright side? Human's have always been the dominant predator."

Roman shrugged. "This way we know our place."

Today's Word: Wait

Death comes to those who wait.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Today's Word: Sonorous

Dragons did not shit where they ate, but that was only by virtue of their length. Gorge, servant to her majesty the red dragon Stynaserian during the eighth decade of her life, discovered early in his career that dragon's ate much and shit man-sized mounds.

In fact, it seemed to Gorge, after only three weeks service to his smoldering queen, that his job of chamberlain entailed little more than removing waste from the rear of her cave and delivering food to the front. He spent half of every day just mucking feces, only to spend the second half hunting the great devil's dinner. And he had only taken the job because he thought all dragon's kept treasure and he might steal a bit over time. Only too late did he discover that such tales were wild; what use had dragons for gold or diamonds? Such things were the paltry inventions of man and carried no more worth to a dragon than the mounds at the back of Stynaserian's cave.

This unbearable and altogether unhealthy situation continued for some weeks before the man confronted his dragon master early on the summer solstice when he knew he might catch her drowsy.

"My queen, what boon have I earned for the services I've provided these long weeks?" He asked, trying to make his voice boom, though the cave and Styn's own sonorous breathing seemed to swallow up most of his bluster.

The dragon, her red scales glistening in a slant of sultry sun fallen through the cave mouth, opened her huge eyes and puffed a gout of flame at the floor. Her head -- it was the size of a small fishing vessel -- rose from the floor and she regarded her servant.

"Boon? What boon would you have, little insect? Have I not suffered to smell your man blood day and night without eating you? Is that not boon enough?"

Gorge steeled himself against the fear that now turned his knees to pudding and his bowels to cream.

"No, my queen. It is not enough. I have served well and hard these last days and for nothing save some small scraps of charred meat -- your half-chewed leftovers. A man needs wages in this world, even if a dragon does not. I have shoveled your shit and now I would have payment."

"You smell of shit," said the dragon. But was there a hint of amusment in her voice? Had he gotten through? Engaged her respect for him if only a bit?

Gorge thought so.

"I smell as I do, because I serve you, my queen. Your cave is clean as rain-soaked leaf."

Styn was quiet a moment, then she said, "Go to the river and return when you are clean. Then I shall give you your boon."

Gorge washed in the cold mountain water until every bit of filth had been cleaned away. And when he returned to his mistress he stood before her nude to show that every part of him was washed white.

Stynaserian, the great red dragon of the north, gobbled Gorge down in one swift flick of her neck and snap of her jaws. She did not even bother to chew.

In his first week of serving the dragon queen, Stynaserian, Elbert learned that dragons ate much and shit man-sized mounds.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Today's Word: Topsy-turvy

Jimmy didn't like the way Rob leered when he said the name, as if Rob had spent too many nights just a little too drunk, thinking of Nancy, killing her in his mind as bendy smoke rose about his face.

Rob was no killer, at least Jimmy didn't think so. But tonight, with the jarring and yet soft barroom lights in his eyes, lighting them like two little lanterns in twin lighthouses, Jimmy could see another Rob -- a callous Rob. A Rob who didn't care about office politics, writing his fantasy epic novel or the 50 cent goldfish he had been nursing the last six months. Tonight Rob was all hate. And the look of it made Jimmy's stomach turn topsy-turvy, the way the Ninja had at Six Flags when he was a kid.

Jimmy sipped his beer, belched silently, and said, "What did Nancy do to you that was so damn bad?"

Rob turned those two points of light (like old Bush's thousand points of light -- or had that just been a Dana Carvey skit? -- crystallized into two, piercing needles) upon his old friend. Jimmy shivered. He couldn't help it. There was death there, lurking so close to the brim that Jimmy wondered how Rob's insides kept from shriveling up and turning black.

"She's having my baby," he said, his voice even, his temper calm; and wasn't that worse? Oh, God, how that was worse than anger or malice or seething vehemence.

That even, clear tone turned Jimmy's heart to tar.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Today's Word: Alpo

Twelve angry men chased Hubert through the abandoned warehouse. Small arms fire broke the silence in booming coughs, but Hubert was not hurt, and so he ran on.

Outside the warehouse lay a defunct parking lot, grown through with golden rod and crab grass. Hubert's footfalls upon the cracked macadam were like the thrumming gaffaws of a madman, echoing off the empty buildings and across the very dark bay to the east.

"Stop, Mr. Reese. You've nowhere to run and we are many!" said one of the men behind him , but Hubert ran on.

He ran until his lungs burned, his head throbbed, and the soles of his feet felt tenderized. They caught him -- all twelve of them -- near a small, empty fish camp diner. He stood hunched over, panting, his mouth a wide O. Tendrils of clear spittle hung suspended from his lips like narrow little fingers.

"God, why can't you hosers leave me alone?" asked Hubert when he had breath to speak.

"Because your nation needs you, Mr. Reese, said one of the twelve; the one called Tom. Tom's mother was a lush. She had once left Tom and his older brother in the station wagon while she drank herself loopy in a downtown bar. It had been hot that day, and Tom had passed out. When he awoke, the police was there and Tom's mother was being hauled away by two of them. Tom's brother, Eddie, was being hauled away as well; laid flat on a stretcher, a very white sheet over his face.

"I just want to be alone, Tom."

Tom was nonplussed by the use of his name. He had been working telepath recovery for nine years.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Reese, but that is not possible."

"You're so wrong, Tom."

Hubert pulled a .32 caliber pistol -- a tiny thing really -- from his coat pocket and buried deep in the cleft of his chin. He pulled the trigger, splattering his oh-so-powerful brain, along with not a little bone and blood, across the diner's front window.

"Damn," whispered Tom. He lifted his radio, the one that could only raise Central, and said, "Bear-4, Bear-4, this is Hound-8."

"Hound-8, Bear-4, what's your status," said the tinny voice at the other end.

"Another soup dejour, Bear-4. The bowl is cracked."

A pause, then, "Roger that, Hound-8. Bring the dogs back in for Alpo, over."

"Roger," said Tom, feeling disgusted, as he always did, when a runner offs himself. "You heard him, men. Alpo."

He started back the way they had come, following the telepath, giving no eye contact to the eleven men that came along behind.

Alpo. A hell of a lot of paperwork and bullshit.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Today's Word: Gray

I never been one much for sci-fi. I mean it has its place and all, but I’ve always liked shoot-em-ups and the like when I go to the movies and I don’t read. So telling about this is like picking glass out of your foot, it don’t feel good, but it’s gotta happen.
The beginning was in my backyard; me barefoot, smelling wet grass and dog shit, courtesy of my neighbor who has a bumper sticker that reads: My other boyfriend is a pinscher.
But all that is boring, even to me . It’s just a bunch of lights I hardly remember and running and panting, side cramps and mud. Most of that first part is fuzzy in my head anyhow.
It’s easier to tell after the first part, when they had caught me, and the zookeeper had me hung out over a cliff face with just one hand, like he was freaking Hercules or something.
I should tell you about the zookeeper. That’s what I call him. He’s the one that dealt with me the whole time, though others were around, picking at me here and there, but he was my guide really.
He caught me easy. I had been running awhile, probably a mile and more, which is no small feat considering I don’t like to run unless somebody’s stole my watch or something. But he kept up with me all through the woods just loafing along there behind.
Then he had me, caught by the neck, and dangling over a cliff, those long gray fingers of his digging into my throat. I remember thinking how he wasn’t even breathing hard. I was panting like an old woman climbing stairs, and there was the little gray guy, just looking at me with those flat, black eyes. I couldn’t see my reflection in those eyes, nor the splatter of milky white stars above us. They seemed to suck all that up like tar.
I was having trouble breathing, but that didn’t seem to matter too much, with him holding me out over the edge like that, my bare feet dangling above a sixty foot drop with old tires, a rusted out car, and all kinds of trash at the bottom.
My feet were starting to tingle from and my head felt like it was going to explode. For an instant I imagined my brains all over that gray guy’s face, and I would have laughed if I could have breathed.
The gray guy was like you read about in the magazines. I’ve read a lot about them since it happened to me, but back then it was all new.
His head was big as a pumpkin, gray and hairless. His mouth was just a slit below two pin pricks for a nose and those flat, black eyes. My zookeeper, like all the rest I saw, wore orange pants with a white stripe down the right leg. They were shiny like satin, and though I never once touched them, I imagine they were soft. He didn’t wear a shirt, none that I could make out anyhow. His chest was gray as his face, and unblemished: no bellybutton, no nipples, and hairless.
The gray guy held me there a long time, dangling, before he spoke. He spoke to me, not at me; meaning his mouth didn’t move, and I didn’t hear words, but I knew exactly what he was saying.
He asked me a lot of questions, fast. I don’t remember all of those, mostly just where I was from, what my diet was like, how many females I had mated with at this point in my life. I held on to his tiny little wrist, sucking in as much air as I could, and tried to think back some answers, but there was no way with me hanging out there and him going so fast. So I gave up, and decided that if he tried to drop me, I’d pull him down with me. Wouldn’t that make a great headline: Local man found dead at base of cliff, alien body nearby.
My zookeeper got a flash of that newspaper. I could tell he didn’t like that one damn bit. He pulled me in, still just using the one scrawny arm, and lowered me till my bare feet touched the rocks.
He loosened his fingers, but I held on to his wrist. I squeezed it till I thought surely his hand would pop off. In fact, I thought all kinds of terrible things, like me choking him to death, or taking an axe to his bulbous head, and even me running him over with my car.
Didn’t seem to phase him much. He stared at me a minute and I could feel him working around in my skull. Then my hands just let go his wrist without meaning it. And I stood there, looking at him, looking at me. My hands fell to my sides. Then the lights came back into the sky, much closer, and that was it, I was on their ship.
That’s how things move when the gray guys come around. Time jumps. Sometimes a couple of minutes, sometimes worse.
I was on my back, looking up at blackness where I thought there should be ceiling. The zookeeper bent over me, peering into my eye. That’s all he looked at, my eyes. I never got a probe up the wahzoo like some I‘ve read about. I didn’t. Nobody did anything unnatural or sexual to me. Not ever. I swear. And I wouldn’t admit it if they did anyway. The zookeeper just poked at my eyes, and maybe my chest once or twice, with these little cold-light gadgets. It must not have hurt me. I still see 20/20.
Then he started asking questions again.
Who was your mother? Where was she born? Did she have heart troubles?
I answered, at first, but then it was tiresome. He asked a good many of them over and over. Pretty soon I was saying, go to hell, for every answer.
He didn’t like that.
I stood on a meteor. Now I’m no math whiz and I never liked science so much in high school, but I knew it was going fast and it was headed for a star. It wasn’t getting brighter or anything, we weren’t going that fast, but I could see it out in front of us every time the meteor spun around, like a big white fingerprint smudge on a blacked-out window. The meteor flipped so fast that night and day alternated about every minute or so. First the surface was black. I couldn’t see the zookeeper who stood right next to me. Then it would brighten by degrees, until the whole surface was brighter than daylight back on Earth, and the meteor was a riot of cracks, broken black rocks, and dust.
It wasn’t cold or hot on the meteor. I didn’t feel anything except a little queasy from the constant turning. My zookeeper took my hand in his and we looked off at the star for awhile. It looked like Haley’s Comet, all those years ago when it passed Earth, only no tail.
I felt the zookeeper reaching in and feeling around on the surface of my brain again. It’s like he was sifting out pebbles from sand inside my head. Funny thing was, while he sifted I could see inside his head too.
Hard to explain, that gray guy’s mind. It was like a centipede, I think, all squirming legs moving independent of each other, and then the body wiggling back and forth as well. And it was dirty. Dirty as sticking your hand down in a bowl of shit to fish out a twenty you dropped. In that big, dirty mind of his I was as small as a speck of lint on the Statue of Liberty.
He squeezed my hand when he realized I was in there, hard. Skinny the little gray men might be, but strong as grizzly bears.
Do you want to stay here? said the gray guy. Though he really didn’t say it, just thought it.
You have a will to fight. Fight and stay here. Be good and go home.
Well, that didn’t take a lot of contemplation.
We were back on the ship in an instant. And now there were a lot of others in the room where I had been laying down. They were all gray like my zookeeper. There weren’t any greens, reptiles, humanoids, or any of the other kinds I’ve read about in all the magazines. All the gray guys were of a size, except one who was tall as me. They must not assign station according to height, because it seemed like the tall one was being ordered around by the normal-sized ones. Maybe he was some kind of freak on his planet, and they banished him to serve on the earth expedition ship to get rid of him. Who knows?
These other zookeepers led five humans into my room. They were all men, all naked. I looked down and realized I was naked, but it really didn’t matter I suppose.
I tried to speak to a couple of the men, but my zookeeper gave me a little flash of the spinning meteor and I gave it up. Those guys were like zombies in the horror movies anyway. They didn’t move unless their zookeepers told them too and their eyes were glazed over and funny looking.
All of my zookeeper’s friends wanted to look me over and ask me questions. Several did, and they were all the same.
Who was your first girlfriend? Have you any children? Do you masturbate often? Do you like French vanilla fudge ice cream?
I answered and answered. Pretty soon my mind was tired and my zookeeper told the others to leave, which I thought was nice considering how he had treated me thus far. Once they were all gone he said, You are a strange human being. You can read my thoughts. Do you know why that is?
Do you?, I thought back to him.
No. Your kind are not enough evolved to communicate this way, and yet here you are. Never have we found one like you in all our research. Why is that do you suppose?
No clue.
A shame.
And so then I was in Britain. I knew it was Britain, though I wasn’t sure if it was London or some other big city, because the cars were all on the wrong side of the street, along with all their drivers being on the wrong side of the car. And I was standing next to one of the big, red public phones like you see in movies. Some cop started yelling and shaking a black stick in my face for being barefoot and dressed only in pajamas. Thank God the zookeepers put those back on me.
The story made all the big rags over there. For about a week my picture was splashed right up beside Prince Charles and that lady he humped when he was still married to Diana, back before she got killed in that tunnel by ultra secret SS men. Had something to do with the change from the original German royal name to Windsor. But that’s a different story.

The End

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Today's Word: Dwindling

The money stopped flowing and the prison ran defunct. For well on a year the warden kept his guards working for food, cutting prisoner rations down to 800 calories a day, killing not a few by slow starvation. But, when it came down to the add-lines on the warden's dwindling prison assets manager, such losses were beneficial -- more food for the rest, more time to push off the inevitable.

The warden killed himself in the early summer of 326 A.L. once the food was gone and most of the guards with it. Chaos reigned for some time before a king emerged. Through his noble leadership, the prison population, which had been dwindling under the warden and during the insanity after that one's death, began to grow. As a community, they ventured forth as if from the cradle, seeking arable land. The planet Resoq bloomed and gave forth crop under the former prisoners' coaxing hands. Likewise, did the first true settlers of that famed and tranquil world bear fruit and multiply their numbers, for the king encouraged marriage among the men and women who had once been deemed incorrigible by a far away society on a forgotten planet called Earth.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Today's Word: Smarmy

We looked out upon the gray sea, our hunger such that sand would have seemed a fine meal, but there was no sand, no harbor, nor even lone rocks jutting up from the gentle waves. There was only water, poisoned and cool and the smarmy look of the captain who, we all agreed, had surely horded a hundred day's rations in his sea chest under lock and key.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Today's Word: Unwieldy

The new story grows unwieldy even as I delve into its secret places. The witch is sly but caring, the mother is cruel but in love, the girl is innocent but murderous.

The baker prepares a poison pie. He too shall die.

-- david j.