More silliness. If you can't write good, write a lot.
KATHY KEEN AND THE BIG STINKY DOG
By Ken Green
“Oh, great, my boots are ruined,” I said, “Kathy, what are we doing here?”
“We’re detecting, Veronica,” Kathy said in here deadpan voice she uses while detecting, “That’s what we do.”
“Why can’t we go detect at the mall?” I asked, “I don’t like it here. It’s all squishy.”
We were in a peat bog, deep in the moors of Massachusetts, and those boots were stretch suede. They made my legs look amazing. And they were ruined.
Kathy turned to me and said, “You should wear more practical clothing. Who wears a sundress to a murder investigation?”
“Murder?” I asked, “What murder? There’s no murder here!”
“There’s always a murder,” Kathy said, “We just need to find it.” She pulled her stupid magnifying lens out of the stupid pocket of her stupid biker jacket and peered at me through it.
“Besides,” she said, “You look like a piñata.”
“I like wearing colors, you…biker lumberjack.” I said, “I’m celebrating my Latin heritage.”
Kathy’s brow furrowed. “I thought you were blasian.”
“I’m blasiantino, thank you very much,” I informed her.
“Is that a new thing?” she asked me.
“Yeah, I’m trying it out.”
“Well, you look fabulous,” she said, turning away, “But we have detecting to do. The games afoot, or whatever.” She walked away, her Doc Martins making squish squish sounds in the soft wet peat. I followed, because that’s what I do. I’m the sidekick, which makes no sense.
I’m the pretty one, after all. If anything, she should be following me.
So we squished like, freaking forever and she said “Aha!”, and picked a walking stick up off the ground. “A clue, Veronica!”
“Are you sure it’s a clue?” I asked.
“Of course it’s a clue,” she said, “I said ‘Aha’, didn’t I?”
Well you can’t argue with logic like that. “So what does the stick tell you, my flame-haired beauty?”
“It tells me that its owner is careless, and prone to lose things,” she intoned.
My girl bits quivered. It’s really sexy, how smart she is.
“Observe,” she said, presenting the stick to me, “The shaft is oak, and the handle is carved elk horn. What does that tell you?”
“That the owner has no taste, and hates animals?” I speculated.
“Very good, Ronni. Now look at these markings…”
“Those are tooth marks,” I told her, “Made by an enormous, angry black mastiff.”
“Come now, Veronica.” Kathy chided me, “How can you possibly know what color the mastiff was?”
“Because he’s twenty feet behind you, and he looks like he wants to kill us.” I informed her.
“He’s…” Kathy turned.
The mastiff stood there, big as a pony, and growled his growly growl. Hate blazed in eyes like the fires off hell.
“Wow,” Kathy said, “That is one big ass dog,” she deduced.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “Throw the stick, Kathy.”
“But,” Kathy said, “It’s a clue…”
“Throw the damn stick!” I yelled, “As far as you can!”
Kathy threw the stick. The demon-hound chased it.
I grabbed Kathy’s shoulder and yelled, “Run!”
We ran for our lives across the boggy marsh.
“See?” I said, “This is better. This is what sane people do in their spare time.”
We were sitting in a Starbucks at the mall, sipping lattes.
“How is this fighting crime?” Kathy asked me.
While I was framing my brilliant retort, a man dressed like a butler walked up to our table.
“Miss Katherine Keen?” he asked.
“…and her ravishingly beautiful associate!” I added. Why do they always forget that part?
“Yes.” Kathy said, “And this is Veronica Davenport. And you are?”
“I am here on behalf of Henry Baskerville, my employer. He urgently wishes to speak to you. The limousine is parked outside. Will you follow me?”
“What do you think, Ronni?” Kathy asked me.
“Sure, Kat, we’re two underage girls, why the hell wouldn’t we get in a car with a complete stranger?”
“Very well,” Kathy stood, “We are at your service. Lead the way.”
I promised you bad stories, and today I've delivered. Hold your nose while reading this one.
HAM AND CHEESE ON WHEAT
By Ken Green
Sit down, kiddies, and shut your yaps. It’s time for a story, a story that all happened here on dirty old Earth. A story from the bad, bad days before the worms came and gave us the law. And, like all these stories seem to do, it all started with a girl.
Rhonda had been following the suit for three blocks. He had picked up a sandwich from a food truck and was walking to wherever. Where didn’t matter. All that mattered was the sandwich. He didn’t seem very interested in it, and Rhonda was real damn hungry. So he walked, and she followed. Sure, there were other commuters. But they didn’t matter.
They didn’t have sandwiches.
“Just drop it,” she muttered, “How hard is it to drop something?”
She thought about sending, but sending was dangerous. She didn’t want to kill the guy, she just wanted some breakfast. And sending could bring a blue team, with their gloves and their needles. Hygiene was powerful sneaky, since they learned the trick of using turncoats.
“Then again, turncoats get fed. Probably get to take showers, too. Maybe I should turn myself in. Let them put a chain on my neck and burn an M on my forehead. Sleep every night in a nice padded cell.” She realized she had been talking out loud, and shut the hell up. Nobody seemed to notice. In Manhattan, crazy people were just part of the scenery. Why doesn’t Hygiene scoop them up?
It was almost tempting, but she knew better. No padded cell waited for her. They’d probably just hammer a suppresser into her skull and let Mr. Rapey have her, or put a nice warm bullet in her brain and be done with it.
Her stomach growled. “Screw this,” she muttered, and narrowed her eyes, focusing on the back of his head. A little send wouldn’t hurt anybody. “Drop,” she whispered.
His legs gave out, and he collapsed to the pavement. Rhonda sighed, then sprinted to him.
“Oh my gosh!” she yelled, as she knelt to attend him, “I think he’s had a heart attack! Somebody call for help!” she grabbed the sandwich and crammed it into her shirt.
“Hey! What did you do to him?” a voice shouted behind her, and a hand clamped onto her shoulder.
“No.” Rhonda said, and it was already too late. She could hear the clicks of synapses closing in her brain, then the red, red noise, and the silence that comes after.
She staggered as she stood, not wanting to look. A street full of dead people, crumpled like laundry, as far as she could see. Time to run.
It's maddening to get just a piece of an idea, and not know what to do with it.
BROWN EYE, BLUE EYE
By Ken Green
“Shut up,” Jinks muttered, “Shut up, shut up, shutup.”
The earmuffs weren’t helping. She’d knicked a pair of Hello Kitties, hoping the tiny soulless eyes would chase the thoughts away. But they didn’t work any better than the thrift shop jacket, or the church bin ski cap. Nothing worked. She couldn’t armor herself against the thoughts.
But on most days she could handle them. Push the noise into the background, ignore them like voices on the subway. If they would just let up for a minute, let her…
She caught her reflection in a store window. She had forgotten to put her shades on! One look at her mismatch eyes, and somebody was sure to call Hygiene. Her eyes were her curse. When she had arrived in this world, brand new and wet, her mother took one look at her brown and her blue, and screamed, “Get that devil baby away from me!”
Nine months in the warm love, twelve years in the cold noise. Twelve years of hospitals and foster homes and the deafening thoughts.
“Help me?” Jinks said, “You want to help me? There’s only one way you can help me,” she sobbed, trying to blink the tears back, “Stand me up against that wall, tell me I’m pretty, and put a bullet in my head.”.
Well, yesterday was bad, and today's not looking much better. Going into this project, I had feared that I would give up mid-February, and, I have to confess, I'm finding it difficult to go on.
So far today, I've managed to hammer out an ending for Into The Steam, which I've re-titled A Maid's Work. It still is a very silly story, but at least it has an ending now.
A MAID’S WORK
By Ken Green
“Miss Farthing!” Professor Kettle bellowed, “Come here at once!”
Penelope leaned her broom against the wall, brushed her hands on her apron, and headed down the stairs to the laboratory. There, she found the esteemed professor standing next to the control panel of his apparatus, beaming as proudly as if he’d just given birth to the damned thing. With his white beard, and ruddy cheeks, he looked like a demented Father Christmas.
“At last,” he said, “The universal translocator is complete.”
Penny gazed upon the creation before her. A series of heavy iron hoops, bigger than the wheels of watermills, was the dominant feature. These hoops, ten in number, formed a tunnel through which a wrought iron footbridge passed. Each hoop was connected to its own gearbox, which in turn was connected to a fierce huge electrical engine. The control panel was a hodgepodge of copper wires, vacuum tubes, spinny things, and other such deviltry.
“Very good, sir. If you wish me to dust it, I fear I shall need a ladder.” Penny said.
“Dust it?” Professor laughed, “Oh, no, girl. I wish to test it!” He yanked at a lever, and the machine sprung to life. The great motor spun, Fierce sparks raced between coils, the gearboxes trembled, and the huge hoops rotated and counter-rotated. The air within the hoops seemed to shimmer, and a cold, dry breeze flowed from them.
Penny pasted a huge grin on her face, “Well, Professor, it certainly seems to work!” she gave him a thumbs up, “Truly this is a great day for science.” She started to back away slowly. “We should celebrate. I’ll just run to the kitchen, and make a nice pot of tea.”
“Miss Farthing.” Professor ordered, “The test is not complete,” he gestured towards the bridge, “Up you go.”
“Oh, Professor, I do not deserve such an honor…” Penny declaimed.
“Miss Farthing,” Professor was no longer smiling, “I insist. Take this,” he handed her a bound journal, “To record your observations.”
“Oh, bugger,” she said, as she mounted the bridge, and strode towards the unknown. Within the hoops, time and space committed obscene acts of Einsteinian buggery. Spinning vortices of quantum foam clashed into one another, making an annoying clanking sound. Ectoplasmic droplets of unnamed colors floated all around her, joining in perverted shapes and dissolving just as quickly. Stepping through them, Penny found herself swept along a glittering noncorridor of nonspace.
She found herself on a vast dusty plain of red sand. In the distance, she saw sun-bleached plateaus and arroyos.
“This must be Arizona.” Penny speculated, “However shall I get home?” she gazed at the cloudless blue sky. “At least it’s a pretty day.”
A shadow passed over her. She glanced up to see a huge bird plunging towards her. No, not a bird, but a bestial, winged man-like creature! He seized her with his cruel talons and bore her up into the sky.
“Good heavens!” Penny cried out, almost dropping the heavy journal, “I’d heard that American were rude, but this surpasses all boundaries!”
The demon gained altitude, it’s leathery wings easily lifting their Edwardian burden. Far below, a grand canal snaked its way across the desert. They flew to a plateau taller than the others and, topping it, they plunged down its central shaft. Down and down they descended, till the fiend deposited Penny at the bottom, then ascended without her.
Penny despaired. She was surrounded by darkness, the only light coming from the opening so far above.
As her eye adjusted to the darkness, her fear grew. There was movement in the cavern.
“No,” she begged, “Please. You have taken my freedom, must you now come for my virtue? It is far too cruel a fate to bear…”
“We do not come to hurt you,” came a voice, low and gravelly, “We too are slaves of the high ones.”
Forms emerged from the shadows, hunched, bent armadillo people with thick, leathery shells and terrible claws.
“Oh!” Penny retreated, but realized she was surrounded. She closed her eyes, and through trembling lips said, “Do what you will. But I beg you, be gentle.”
“We’re not going to do what you’re thinking,” the voice said, “It isn’t even anatomically possible. So relax. We just want to talk.”
Penny opened her eyes. “How do you know what I’m thinking?” she asked.
“We are reading your mind with telepathy. We can do that. We’re Martians. My name is Dillokin.”
“Martians?” Penny asked, “What are Martians doing in Arizona?”
The Martian brought his hands to his head, as if he had a sudden headache. “We’re on Mars. Every day, our captors force us to go to the fields and dig for roots.”
“So, why don’t you just run away at night?” Penny asked.
“We cannot. It is far too cold at night. We would never make it.”
“Have you tried working together?” Penny asked, “Perhaps you could huddle together for warmth.”
“Working together never occurred to us. We will try your plan this very night.”
They waited for sundown, and crept out the slave tunnel to the frozen tuber field. They tried huddling together, but it was far too cold. Reluctantly, they returned to their cavern.
“It’s no good,” Dillokin moaned, “It is our fate to be trapped here for all eternity.”
“Don’t give up hope, Dillokin!” Penny said, “I do not believe in fate, any other than the fate we make ourselves. Why can’t you escape during the day? Surely, with your armored shells, the High Ones cannot harm you.”
“It is true,” Dillokin agreed, “Our shells are impenetrable, even to their evil spears. Alas, our shells do not cover the entirety of our bodies. No matter how tightly we roll up, our bellies are still exposed. When they swoop down upon us, they merely have to flip us on our backs, and we are undone. Our very anatomy condemns us to servitude.”
“I do not believe that. Penny pronounced. “God would not be so cruel to such a kind and noble people as you. There must be a solution to this puzzle.”
“But however will we find it?”
“We’ll do it the British way,” she said heroically, “With violence, arrogance, and an unearned sense of privilege.”
“But how…” Dillokin stared to ask.
“Let us sleep on it tonight.” Penny proposed, “Perhaps the solution with come to us.”
The next day, they headed out to the field. The high ones soared and glided overhead.
“I have an idea.” Penny said, “Huddle up again.”
“But it is not cold,” Dillokin protested.
“Not for warmth, but for protection.” Penny explained.
“I don’t see how this is going to work, but we’ll try it,” Dillokin vowed.
They formed a tight phalanx. An overseer swooped down to investigate. Hovering a meter above the armadillo people, he poked at them cruelly with his spear. Penny threw her heavy bound journal at his face, as hard as she could. He was stunned, and fell to the ground.
“Tear him apart!” Penny ordered, “Show them what fear is!”
They set upon their victim with the rage of the long oppressed, tearing his flesh with their wicked claws. He howled in terror and pain. The other high ones swooped down to his aid, only to get dragged down and clawed to death. The overseers were becoming more cautious, setting down further away from the group, trying to draw individual armadillo people from the safety of the huddle.
“I have another idea,” Penny declared, “Join hands and form up into a giant ball!”
“But…” Dillokin, protested, “That’s a completely stupid idea.”
“Yes,” Penny said, “That’s why it’s going to work.”
The armadillo people assembled themselves into a big ball with Penny at the center. Unsure what to do, the high ones set down to examine the strange new tactic.
“Roll, armadillo people!” Penny exhorted, “Roll to justice! Roll to freedom!”
By shifting their weight, the armadillo people were able to roll, slowly at first, then gaining momentum. In this way, they crushed their oppressors and gained the freedom which is the birthright of all intelligent creatures, even the ugly ones. They rolled to the safety of their long abandoned home, an arroyo with steep walls where the high ones would never be able to trouble them again.
“You have led us to freedom, Miss Farthing. Will you lead us to our future? Will you be our queen?” Dillokin asked
“Are you mad?” Penny asked, “Having won your freedom, would you throw it away so quickly? No, Dillokin, I will not be your queen. Armadillo people should be ruled by Armadillo people. I will not be a tyrant.”
“You are humble and wise, Miss Farthing. If there is anything…What the hell is that?” Dillokin exclaimed, pointing past Penny.
Penny turned. Hanging the air was a shimming orifice of nonspace. From it emerged the familiar scents of gear oil and electricity.
“Miss Farthing!” Professor Kettle called, “At last, I have found you!”
Penny sighed, “Oh, thank the stars.” She turned back to Dillokin.
“Farewell, noble friend,” Penny said, “I shall never forget your kindness. I would hug you, but I do not wish to contract leprosy.”
“And we shall never forget the kindness you have shown us. For you have taught us the value of liberty.” Dillokin said.
With tears in her eyes, stepped through the portal. On the other side, she found the professor. His appearance had changed. Over his suit, he was wearing a frilly apron. His eyebrows were singed, and he was covered with a fine dusting of flour.
“Good Heavens!” Penny gasped, “Professor…”
“I…got hungry,” he explained, “I tried to make scones…”
“Professor,” Penny growled, murder in her voice, as she pushed past him, “What have you done to my kitchen?”
“The fire is out…” his stammers were drowned out by the sound of Penny storming up the stairs. A maid’s work is never done.
Well, yesterday was a roller coaster. When I posted yesterdays thing, I was ready to give up, thinking I might never write again. Then my muse clocked in, and I pounded out the text below. Go figure.
By Ken Green
Heroica awoke to the sound of hoof beats. Racing to her window, she threw the shutters open, and was bathed in the golden light of dawn. Below, through the castle gate, rushed a rider on a lathered pony.
“Boy!” Heroica cried down from her balcony, “What news have you?”
“Great happy glorious news, M’Lady!” he declared to her, “The battle is won, and Don Pedro returns this day!”
“Glorious news, indeed,” Heroica grinned, “Stay where you are, I wish to know everything!”
Not bothering with her slippers, Heroica bolted down the stairs, clothed in naught but her linen nightdress.
“My lady!” Margaret raced after her with a dressing gown, “This is most unseemly…”
Heroica burst through the doors and skidded to a halt. The messenger had dismounted, and stable boys were attending his mount.
“M’Lady…” the page gasped, for Heroica blazed in the morning light. He averted his eyes.
“I cannot see you so…” he stammered.
“You certainly cannot!” Margaret huffed, having caught up at last. She busied herself with helping Heroica into the dressing gown.
“Nonsense.” Heroica declaimed, “What of the battle? Tell me, does Claudio survive?”
“Yes, M’Lady,” the boy assured her, “Alive and unhurt, he rides with Don Pedro…”
“Oh, happy day indeed!” She grabbed the boy and planted a wet kiss on his forehead, then threw her arms wide. “Oh, glorious day!”
“M’Lady!” Margaret and the boy both gasped, for entirely different reasons.
“And you say they arrive this day?” Heroica asked.
“Yes, M’Lady,” the boy stammered, “‘tween noon and vespers, I figure.”
Heroica turned to Margaret. “We have much to do!” she declared.
“Yes, M’Lady,” Margaret agreed, “We need to get some clothes on you.” There was an edge to her voice.
The glorious morning gave way to a magnificent midday. Don Pedro and his companions rode into the courtyard, resplendent as the sun that blazed above them. Among them were the valorous Claudio, the wily Benedict, and the rat bastard Don John. (Boo, hiss.)
Governor Leonato stood on the castle steps with Heroica.
“You have outdone yourself, daughter.” He said, pride in his voice.
“It was nothing, father,” she said, a little hoarse. She had spent the morning barking orders at the servants, and her efforts had paid off. Every stone, pillar, and surface in the courtyard had been scrubbed within an inch of its life.
Don Pedro rode to the steps.
“My Prince!” Leonato declared, “It gladdens my heart to hear of your victory. Please do me the honor of staying here for the month!”
Don Pedro leapt from his stallion and embraced Leonato. “I shall, Leonato. After the trials of war, my men have earned a rest.”
“They shall have that, and more.” Leonato said, “This very night, my lovely daughter has arranged a costume ball.” He gestured to his daughter.
Don Pedro took her hand and kissed it. “A more gracious hostess I have never known. Nor one so beautiful.”
“Oh, go on,” Heroica laughed, with a little snort, “Your Royal Highness is too kind.”
They were joined by Beatrice, who had decided to show up. “Ah,” she said, “Benedict is here, I see.”
“Yes, Lady Beatrice, it is I,” he said, tipping his hat.
“It is good to see you, Benedict!” Beatrice called to him, “Every circus needs a clown!”.
I did a dangerous thing with this story. I start tho story with a ridiculous premise. I put Olivia in the ocean, and I had no idea how she got there. So to tie up that loose end, I wrote this third half of a two-part story. Welcome to my creative process. A flow chart of my work methods might resemble a plate of spaghetti. Anyway, this is today's offering
EXILE TO PARADISE PT.3
By Ken Green
“Where will you go now, Squire?” Darla asked.
“Don’t call me that anymore.” Oliva said gently, “No more false names, no more disguises, no more lies. I’ve done nothing but lie since I arrived at this place, and look how much trouble it’s caused me. From now on, I’ve Olivia, and only Olivia.”
“A wise policy, I have no doubt,” Darla said, putting her arm around Olivia. “But the question remains. Where would you go?”
“I know not.” Olivia said, gazing over the calm waters of the harbor. They sat on the pier. The sun was rising, the fishing boats were out, and there was no trade to be had. The quiet part of the day.
Olivia nuzzled her cheek against Darla’s warmth. Why does this feel so right? “I still have the money Deep gave me.”
Darla adjusted her shawl to wrap them both. “Deep?” she asked, “Who is this ‘Deep’, Sweetie?”
“Deep was the one who fished me out of the sea. Didn’t I tell you about him?” Olivia squirmed closer and settled, the way a cat does.
“It seems there are many things you don’t tell me.” Darla said.
“Deep was the big one, the huge Maori with the crazy tattoos on his face.”
“And you say he was a fisherman?” Darla asked.
“Yeah. And he gave me a bag of money. What’s wrong?” Olivia asked.
“Sweetie, I know every fisherman who works these waters. Intimately.” Darla said, “And none of them fit that description.”
“But…” Olivia said, “He was there. I was drowning, and he pulled me out. He saved me. He had to be real. I would have died.”
Darla pulled Oliva closer, stroked her hair, “My poor lamb, my poor crazy lamb…”
“No.” Oliva asserted. “He was real. He had to be real…”
“Explain it again.” Darla said patiently, “How did you get here?”
“I was flying from Detroit to Nashville…” Olivia started.
“Flying, Honey?” Darla asked, “How? Were you on a broom? You’ve dodged one hanging, why invite another?”
“You’re right, Darla. People can’t fly. Why do I keep thinking crazy things?” Olivia looked down at the oily water.
“You just have water on your brain, that’s all. Maybe if you tilt your head…” Darla offered.
“I’ve tried that, Darla, I’ve tried sitting in the sun to dry it out. I don’t think I’ll ever get better.” Olivia lamented, “I’ve even tried making myself cry, figured that would drain it for sure. Nothing works.”
“There, there,” Darla said, gently rocking Olivia. “You’ll be fine. One day, you’ll be all sorted out. Just start at the beginning.”
“I was fly…I was travelling to Nashville…” Olivia resumed.
“Which is in the Americas…” Darla interrupted.
“Yes… ” Olivia confirmed.
“Where the copper-skinned savages live.” Darla said.
“No, Darla, they’re not savages. And they’re not really made out of copper. They’re just regular people whose ancestors got screwed. Can I just tell the story now?” Olivia pleaded.
“Sorry,” Darla said, “Why were you going to Nashville?”
“Because I wanted to be famous. I was going to write my own songs, and sing in arenas, and I’d be rich, and everybody would love me.”
“But you wound up in the sea.” Darla prompted.
“I’m pretty sure I fell.” Olivia nodded, “I think I remember falling from a great height. Oh, Darla, I keep remembering pieces of things, things that don’t make sense.”
“Yes, flying carriages and thinking boxes, and towers as tall as the sky, made of glass,” Darla said, “Such beautiful nonsense.”
“It’s not all beautiful.” Olivia said, shaking her head.
“Come on,” Darla said, getting up, “I want you to try something.”
“Where are we going?” Olivia asked.
“Where any sane person goes for answers.” Darla said, “We’re going to a tavern.”
They walked down the street, and turned a corner. They wound up at the Cock and Bull, a smelly tavern with a stupid name. Out front, a busker lay in the street, passed out, drunk, snoring and hugging his lute as if it were his lover. Darla squatted down and wrestled the instrument from his arms. She stood up and handed it to Olivia.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” Olivia asked.
“You’re a musician,” Darla said. “Figure it out.”
Olivia slung the strap over her shoulder with a motion that felt strangely familiar. She held the lute and picked out a chord, and then another, and another.
Darla’s brow furrowed “You only know three chords?” she asked.
“The holy trinity of rock and roll,” Olivia said, with reverence. What does that mean?
“Well, play some more.” Darla urged, “Maybe it gets better.”
So Olivia played, and she started to sing. Tears ran down her face, but her voice didn’t falter. She played songs that she knew without knowing that she knew them. Songs from the cities of rust. Songs from the swamps of Georgia. Songs about war in a faraway land.
Darla began to move with the rhythm. Soon she was spinning, and her skirts were swirling in a crazy gypsy dance. Passersby threw coins at her feet. A crowd had gathered.
“Look, Sweetie,” Darla said in hushed tones, “You’re rich and famous. And somebody loves you,” she added softly.
“Thank you, Darla,” Olivia said, “But I still don’t know who I was, or how to get back.”
“Does it really matter so much?” Darla asked.
“Of course it matters,” Oliva said, “It’s who I am.”
“No,” Darla said, grabbing Olivia by the shoulders, “This is who you are, this solid flesh,” she tilted Olivia’s head up, “These eyes I look into. These lips that I…these lips that speak,” she put her hand on Olivia’s chest, “This heart that beats…Olivia, your heart is racing.”
“Is not…” Olivia lied, a tremor in her voice.
“This is who you are, here and now, in this moment, not some half-remembered ghost haunting a far-away land of fairy tale miracles. Why isn’t it good enough?”
“Darla?” Olivia asked, “Why are you yelling at me?”
“I’m not yelling!” Darla stopped herself, “Sorry, let’s talk about something else. So the vicar absolved you, then?” Darla asked.
“Yeah,” Oliva wrapped her shawl tighter, as a chill morning breeze swept the street of Hadley, “He told me to go forth and sin no more. Then he gave me this convent dress.”
“You look good in black,” Darla said.
“What I don’t get,” Olivia said, “Is why that crazy witch threw magic dust on me. What was the point of that?”
“Let’s go ask her,” Darla said, her voice suddenly colder than the breeze.
“Wait. Are you sure that’s…” Olivia rushed to catch up.
Darla was walking faster than usual, and her jaw was set. She turned down an alley, and Olivia followed.
“Where are we going?” Olivia asked.
Olivia stopped at a pile of dirty, discarded cloth, and started kicking it.
“What are you…Oh!” Olivia gasped.
The cloth moved of its own volition, growing and rising and resolving itself into the shape of a woman. A specific woman. The witch.
“Three Penny Annie,” Darla said, folding her arms.
“Daughter,” the witch said, rubbing her side.
“No,” Darla said, “You do not call me that. You gave away that right.”
“Very, well, Darla, why are you here?”
“Your mischief nearly cost this girl her life.” Darla said, her voice flat.
“Did it?” Three Penny asked, “I see your friend standing before me, alive and unhanged. I think the words that you seek are ‘thank you’. Tell me, Darla, have you ever known my mischief to fail?”
“Wait,” Olivia demanded, “Are you saying you planned all this?”
“You’re welcome…” Three Penny said.
“It doesn’t matter what she says,” Darla cut her off, “She’s full of lies and poison. Let’s get out of here,” she grabbed Olivia’s arm and pulled her away.
“Wait a minute…” Olivia said, but Darla was dragging her away. She glanced back at the witch. For one brief moment, Three Penny seemed to be just a small, sad, defeated woman. In the next, she was the witch again.
“Come visit again soon!” Three Penny called after them, “I do so enjoy these family reunions!”
“You just stay away from us!” Darla roared, not looking back.
Us? Olivia stumbled, trying to keep up, Are we an us? Do I want to be an us? There’s nobody in this world I’d rather to be with, but…
They were passing the tavern again.
“Darla, stop!” Olivia shouted.
Darla stopped. “What now?” she demanded.
“Where are we going?” Olivia asked.
“To the beach,” Darla gestured to the sky, “The sun’s over the rooftops, the boats will be in soon. I can catch the morning rush, work a bit, and we can get an early lunch afterwards.”
“No, Darla, where are we going? Where is this…relationship headed?”
Darla threw her hands up in exasperation. “I…I don’t even know what that question means.”
“Then try this one,” Oliva said, “What do you want from me?”
“That’s easy,” Darla said, “I want you to stop wanting to leave me.”
“I…I don’t want to leave you.” Olivia said. I don’t. I really don’t. What does that make me?
“Well, Sweetie, that still means at least one of us needs to make a living, so…” Darla turned toward the beach.
“Wait, Darla. Could you give up the trade?”
“Sure,” Darla said, “Right after I give up eating and sleeping under a roof.”
“I still have the money Deep gave me.” Olivia held the pouch up.
“Are you telling me there’s a lifetime worth of money in that little bag?” Darla asked.
“There might be,” Olivia said glancing at the tavern, “Follow me.”
The tavern had just opened for the day. The owner was behind the bar, wiping pint glasses for the midmorning rush.
“Can I get you anything?” the barman asked.
“Yeah,” Olivia said, “I want your tavern.”
“Well, you can’t have it,” the barman said, “It’s been in my family for eighteen generations, and I…”
Olivia upended the pouch. Gold coins fell to the bar with loud clunking noises.
“Enjoy your new purchase,” he said, spreading his wiping rag on the bar and gathering coins onto it, “Don’t let the vicar run a tab, it’s like pulling teeth to get him to pay up.”
He walked away smiling.
Darla stood, stunned. “What just happened?” she asked.
“You just got hired,” Olivia said, stepping behind the bar. She found an apron and threw it at Darla, “Put that on. You’re my new barkeeper.”
Darla tied the apron on.
“Olivia, what are you doing?” she asked, “Do you intend to make me an honest woman?”
Olivia tied her own apron on. “I think that might be a lifetime job. Will you stay with me that long?”
Darla looked around her. “Olivia, this is…do you mean it? Can I stay forever?”
“Yes, of course you can stay,” Olivia said, stepping out from the bar, “This is your home.”
“Is it you home too, Olivia?” Darla asked, “Are you going to stay?”
Olivia took Darla’s hands. “I have to stay. I just sank my last dime into this place.”
Later that evening, after the post-dinner rush, Olivia snuck out the back.
“Mrs. Three Penny!” she whispered, “Mrs. Three Penny! Are you out here?”
A shadow detached itself from the wall and became solid.
“I never married, actually, so it’s ‘miss”,” the witch said.
“I meant no offence, miss…” Olivia said.
“None taken, child. Witches are fairly informal. Besides, way I see it, we’re family now. How did you know I’d be out here?”
“That’s easy. Your daughter just moved into a new place, and you want to be sure she’s safe. Because you love her.” Olivia said.
“Well, you’re smarter than you look, thank the stars. Is there something you wanted of me?”
“Just one thing. An answer. Did you bring me here?”
Annie shook her head. “All the way from the Americas? I fear I’ve never had that much power.”
“Oh,” Olivia sagged, “I thought I’d had it all figured out. I guess I’m not so smart after all.”
“What I did have,” Annie said, “Was a Djinn who owed me a favor. He granted me a wish.”
“What did you wish for?” Olivia asked, already knowing the answer.
“I wished my daughter could be happy. Perhaps if I had been more specific…”
“No, this is good.” Olivia brushed her hands on her apron, “This could be a good life. Somehow, it feels like one. I’d better get back to work.”
“Take care of her.” Annie said, “Will you do that for me?”
Oliva laughed, “With you as a mother-in-law? Yeah, I guess I’d better. I’ll treat her like a princess.”
“Don’t do that,” Annie said, “Just love her.”
“I will, Miss Annie,” Olivia vowed, “With all my heart.”
Olivia went back into her brand new stinky old tavern, and the night wore on. Closing time arrived, and Olivia pushed the last guests out the door, wiped the tables, and swept the floors. Tired but happy, they walked up the stairs.
Olivia never made it to Nashville, never sang in an arena, never got a recording contract. Life in Hadley wasn’t anything like the things she had imagined, but it was a good life, because she was safe, she was loved, and she got to spend every day with her new best friend.
Today's offering was spurred by a pet peeve. You know how in mystery and adventure stories, you often see the hero get hit in the head, and he just goes to sleep long enough to advance the plot? That's a cliche' I'm trying trying to avoid. (God only knows why-I seem to be embracing all the other cliches'. Go figure)
In real life, if you hit somebody in the head hard enough to knock them out, There's a pretty good chance you'll kill them. Even if they don't die, there's all kinds of other effects that are long-lasting and unpleasant.
So I invented a fictional device I'm calling Dermals. Dermals are barbed stickers that are loaded with drugs. Slap a dermal on somebody, and watch them fall.
Of course, dermals are pretty damn unrealistic, the way I've depicted them. I don't know of any drugs that work fast enough to work as shown below.
What can I say? It's work in process. This all is.All of it.
KATHY KEEN AND THE AWKWARD CONVERSATION
By Ken Green
I felt a cold sting on my neck. The bastard had slapped a dermal on me. I reached to peel it off, but my fingers were already numb, and my hand was useless. The room spun, and my legs turned into rubbery lead. The floor rushed up at me, but I never felt it. I was unconscious before I hit it.
The swim back to consciousness is always the worst part. I didn’t want to open my eyes. Light always triggers the headache, and the nausea that follows. So I left my eyes closed and took shallow breathes.
“I know you’re awake, Miss Keen.” Dr. Heinous said.
Handcuffs on my wrists. They had put me in a chair. I tried moving my feet, but they were secured, too. Bugger.
I took a breath and opened my eyes. Heinous, or one of his minions, had unbuttoned my blouse. Pervert. At least they’d let me keep my skirt.
A gloved hand tilted my chin up, and I was looking into the face of evil.
“You’ve gone to lot of effort just to see my bra, Dr. Heinous. I could have sent you a picture.” I said.
His scar twitched as he tried to smile.
“Igor was concerned that you might be wearing a wire. He kept patting you down. It grew tiresome.”
“Well. I’m glad I slept through that. Ah!” The headache arrived, like the worst hangover ever, a steel battering ram of pain right behind my eyes.
“Drink this.” Heinous held a glass to my lips.
“More drugs?” I asked.
“Electrolytes.” Heinous answered, “It’ll help.”
I took a sip of the electrolytes. They tasted like Gatorade. I had an insane vision of Dr. Heinous pushing a shopping cart in the local Walmart, with Igor in tow. I laughed, which just made the headache worse. Then the Gatorade decided to go down the wrong way, and I was coughing.
“Oh, look at you,” he said, wiping my chin. It always amazes me, how gentle he can be, when he’s not murdering people.
“Doctor?” I asked.
“Yes?” he responded.
“I’m going to need a bucket.” I informed him.
“Oh. Right.” He placed a steel pail in my lap, just in time. I unloaded the butter croissant and latte I’d had for breakfast. Some of it left through my nose. I really hate that.
He offered me more Gatorade, I shook my head, which was exactly the wrong thing to do. The battering ram grew spikes, and the second wave of breakfast came up.
“Are you done?” he asked me.
“I think so,” I whispered.
He sighed and removed the bucket.
“How did we get here, Kathy?” he asked me, “Why does it have to be like this?” He stroked my hair. The pressure actually helped counteract the pain. I leaned my head against his hand. He really can be kind, at least in small ways. Times like this, I can almost forget what a murdering lunatic he’s become.
“I don’t know, Dad, why did you go insane?” I asked. It seemed like reasonable question at the time.
“I didn’t go insane, the world did!” he screamed, pulling away from me, “I’m trying to fix it! Why can’t you see that?”
[I]Oops. I'm almost out of time, maybe I'll have more tomorrow. It's been a rough week.
When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. Whatever. Today's tasty tale takes place in Texas and features a terrified teen.
THE LONG ROAD by Ken Green
“Don’t call me that, Squirt,” Clair said, her eyes on the horizon, “Don’t ever call me that.” She took a quick glance at their six, and then to Squirt. “Don’t look at me like that. I’m not being mean. There’s a reason. Where are your eyes, Squirt?”
“Huh?” Squirt asked, looking hurt and confused.
Clair raised her hand and stopped herself. Take a moment, Clair, she’s a good kid, just explain it again. Clair squatted down so she was face to face with Squirt.
“Where do we look, Squirt?”
“Everywhere, all the time. Always check the six.” Squirt recited.
“That’s right, Squirt,” Clair nodded, glancing at their nine and three, “You said that real good. Now why do we check our six?”
“So no sneaky zoms can sneak up on us.” Squirt said.
“That’s right. We have to be smart like snakes, and quick like bunnies. That’s how we stay alive.”
“Clair?” Squirt asked.
“I need to pee.” Squirt said.
“Oh, okay.” Clair stood up, took a Three Sixty. Nothing on the road ahead, nothing behind. Just the long broken ribbon of I-75, and the fallow fields to the sides. Clear blue sky, not much breeze to carry their scent.
Weapon check. Remington shotgun. Two shells left. One for her, one for me, if it comes to that. No. Clair shook her head. Don’t let it come to that.
“Done now,” Squirt said.
So they walked. A truck stop lay up ahead, and they needed supplies.
“Where do we look, Squirt?” Clair asked.
“Everywhere, all the time.” Squirt answered.
“Then why the hell aren’t you doing it?” Damn kid’s going to be the death of me.
They reached the parking lot.
“Okay, kid, stay close to me. Eyes open, mouth shut. We’re going shopping.”
Clair steered clear of the trucks. Sometimes zoms crawled under them to hide from the sun. But not today. They reached the store entrance. Clair braced herself. Even through the closed doors, she could smell the spoiled dairy products. Inside, the stench would be unbearable. Worse, it would mask the stink of any zom lurking there.
“Shallow breaths, kid.” Clair pulled the door open, and stepped inside. Holding the shotgun tight, she swept the room with her eyes. Nothing moved, other than some flies buzzing over a picked-over corpse by the magazine rack. Clair headed the other way, toward the canned goods. She shrugged off her backpack and started cramming cans into it. Chili, tuna, anything with protein. She glanced at Squirt. Better get some vitamins. And condensed milk, if they have it.
“Clair!” Squirt screamed. “Three O’clock!”
Clair spun to her right. A zom lunged at her, grabbed the shotgun’s muzzle. Clair punched with her left hand, connected with the zoms shoulder, with little obvious effect. The zom, a former girl and store employee, yanked the shotgun from Clair’s grasp and dropped it. Clair, pulled off balance, fell to the floor. The zom took a step toward Clair and reached for her.
Clair aimed a savage kick at the zom’s knee, and it fell on her. It opened its jaw wide to take a bite of Clair’s face, but Clair was quicker. She slammed a can of sardines into its mouth, knocking some teeth out and lodging there. Clair rolled twitching dead thing off her, and grabbed a can chili and pounded the zoms head till it stopped moving.
She glanced at Squirt. The kid’s eyes were big as saucers, but she didn’t make a sound. Good girl, you’re learning.
Clair stood up, brushed herself off. “Backpack,” she said to Squirt. Squirt walked up to her and turned around. She knew the drill. Clair dropped some bottles of water and some canned veg into the kid’s bag.
“Too heavy?” Clair asked.
Squirt shrugged, let the backpack settle. “No, I can carry more.”
Clair smiled, grabbed some Twinkies. Yeah, she’s earned it. She threw them in, and zipped the bag shut. “Let’s get out of here.”
They stepped out of the store and into the sunlight. Clair reached down to pat Squirt’s hair.
“Hey,” she said, “You did good, kid.”
Her eyes scanned the horizon. It was still a long walk to Dallas, with no telling what lie ahead, but they were smart like snakes, and quick like bunnies. They might live another day.