It is time for another meeting of Juliette’s Book Club. Today our theme is PIE.
2020 has sucked in so many ways, starting with fires in Australia, and now fires in California with a pandemic, stupid nasty politics, and an assortment of other bullshit we’ve had to deal with. That includes crappy books. I can’t even count the number of books my husband and I have started in 2020 and not finished because they were THAT BAD. These included books by so called best selling authors.
On my way down to visit my daughter earlier this month I unfortunately left my book at the airport in the security area. Ugh. It was a good one too. Double Ugh.
Fortunately my child has the good fortune of living near a bookstore. There I picked up Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz.
I can’t put this book down. We have a WINNER. It is a book within a book, done inthe most brilliant and clever way. Magpie Murders is so much fun. I haven’t finished it yet so if you have don’t give away the ending. As you can see in the photo my bookmark is still in it.
Here is the official description:
When editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the bestselling crime writer for years, she’s intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan’s traditional formula has proved hugely successful. So successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job.
Conway’s latest tale has Atticus Pünd investigating a murder at Pye Hall, a local manor house. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but the more Susan reads, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.
Masterful, clever, and relentlessly suspenseful, Magpie Murders is a deviously dark take on vintage English crime fiction in which the reader becomes the detective.
Thank you Anthony Horowitz for writing a book I don’t have to throw in the recycle bin.
Halloween is almost here so once again I have to mention my favorite Halloween book Halloween Pie by Michael O. Tunnell and Kevin O’Malley.
When the kids were small we checked this out from the library all year long. Then one day we checked it out only to discover some little puke had ripped half of the pages (some completely gone) and used a purple crayon on the rest of the pages. Of course the adult who’d been in charge of the spawn didn’t tell the librarian about the destruction and offer to replace the book. At that point I got my own copy of the book.
This is a wonderful tale of a witch who baked a pie and all of the graveyard ghouls who said “GIVE ME SOME PIE.” There is even a recipe in the back so you can make your own Halloween Pie.
Everyone loves pie, or at least they should. Even Vampires who can’t tolerate sweets well love pie.
So with that introduction I’ll introduce you to the BEST cookbook ever:
BAKED, New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, with photographs by Tina Rupp.
I heard (don’t correct me if I’m wrong) that these were the guys who invented salted caramel.
Everything in this beautiful book is amazing. If you follow the instructions you will think you’re a Food TV Star. You’ll be doing the happy dance. Everyone around you will be doing the happy dance.
If you have just one book for baking BAKED is the one book to have. Trust me on this one.
Now I feel like I’ve gained 20 pounds just writing this post.
I’ll see you soon for another meeting of Juliette’s Book Club.
Right before the lockdown I was visiting with my Uncle Rico in Laguna Beach. While there I met an interesting house guest.
He said his name was Fred. He was tall with auburn hair and ears that stuck out a bit more than normal. He was THAT Fred.
When his plane crashed he wasn’t surprised. When a small boat picked him up he was more than surprised. Fred had fully expected to drown or be eaten by sharks. His injuries would kill him. He knew it. His rescuers didn’t speak English but after God only knows how long they brought him to an island where there was someone who did.
He was asked, “Do you want to live forever and be part of one of the greatest mysteries on Earth, or do you want to die and be part of one of the greatest mysteries on Earth?”
“What’s the catch?” Fred asked.
Fred said his new English speaking friend smiled in that way people do when they’re about to drop a bomb on you.”
“I watched her die,” Fred continued. “It took me years to stop thinking about it every single day. They’ll never find her body. Come to think of it they’ll never find mine.”
He smiled in a sad sort of way. “That was a long time ago. It doesn’t have to define who I am now.”
I thought about this because I was thinking about my kids in these weird times. There will be unexpected choices. Things won’t always be in their control. It is how we react that matters. It is how we learn from our experiences that matter.
Of course it is always a good thing to have a little bit of mystery. Uncle Rico and I come by it naturally because, as you know, we’re Vampires, but a little mystery is something everyone should have.
You don’t have to be an open book. Rather be a page turner with a good twist or a cliffhanger.
I’ll have to admit it was a good thing Rico was on that Island way out in the Pacific Ocean way back in 1937.
Wear a mask
Hug your dog
Talk to your kids
Check in on those who might need extra help or might be lonely
Every house I’ve ever lived in as an adult has had writing on the wall. It’s usually phone numbers in the garage next to the automatic sprinkler controls, or labels in the pantry closet, or construction notes. I’ve lived in a couple of places that had backs of closets illustrated by children who are now senior citizens.
Earlier this week my husband Steve and I started painting the walls in our family room and breakfast nook. We’re doing a major decorative remodel. Think “Property Brothers” or something along those lines. As he pulled out screws that previous owners used to hang some large pieces of art or maybe a giant fish or something.
Anyway, a large piece of plaster fell off of the wall. Steve swore something under his breath using the words “fuck” and “damn.” He called me over.
“Look at this honey. What do you think?”
On the wall these words were scrawled in black ink: I killed Heather Marie Larkin. She was a bitch and deserved to die. Her body is buried under the house. JKR 1989.
“Do you think it’s true?” I asked Steve.
“I don’t know. It could be a joke. Have you ever heard of Heather Marie Larkin?”
“I don’t know. It sounds sort of familiar. I’ll look it up.”
The Internet was all over Heather Marie Larkin. She’d been twenty-four years old, a recent college graduate, engaged to a brilliant law student named Ted LaRue. From the comments it looked like the Heather wasn’t well liked. Not just because of her spectacular good looks and charmed life, but for the fact she was a horrible person. Heather Marie Larkin was the girl who got away with everything. If anyone was in her way they would fall – and fall hard.
One night in 1989 Heather vanished and was never seen or heard from again. No clues. No suspects. Nothing. JKR was Joanna Katrina Randolph. She married Ted LaRue two years after Heather vanished. Her parents had built the house in 1982.
Steve said, “You know if she is buried under our house we’ll never be able to sell it. The press will be all over the place. This will always be known as a murder house. Those true crime people will be all over the place, looking in our windows and trying to bug us about things, not to mention the ghost hunters.”
“Good point,” I said.
“Glad you agree. Hand me the paint brush sweetie.”
Sure we all volunteered with a capitol V but we didn’t know we’d be stuck a billion miles from home with a bunch of assholes.
Our plan was to stop at Planet 2387 before we made communication with our target planet. 2387 is an uninhabited wasteland. There might have been the rudiments of life there at one time but that ship had come and gone.
So we land at what was left of the Emile Hanson Memorial Outpost, otherwise known as Hanson’s Hole. I looked up Hanson’s name before we left home. He’d been the captain of the third Mars mission. You know, the one whose head exploded when he ran into a couple of guys from Europa, but that was a long time ago. That was almost three hundred years ago, long before I was born.
On the wall of the main building of Hanson’s Hole the words, “Welcome to Hell” were scrawled in what looked like blood.
Junior Potemkin, the communications officer, if you could call him that, started to hyperventilate. I slapped him in the back and told him to stop it. Captain John Finch our leader, rolled his eyes, and told us start testing for signs of life. I called my lead science officer and went exploring.
We’d only heard of this place. Nobody was sure even who’d been here in the past, or exactly what their mission was. We were looking at a ghost. And while the rest of the crew stood shaking in their gravity boots I started to explore. I didn’t travel twenty light years away from home to pee my pants over some extraterrestrial graffiti.
I’ll tell you, when I signed up for this gig, last minute of course, I found myself with the lamest group of space travelers ever assembled. Sure they were all smart and looked good on paper. Everyone had advanced degrees and shit loads of experience. But the experience was in the lab and on paper. Nobody had field experience or people experience aside from the Captain or me.
Potemkin was an expert in written communications but couldn’t carry on a conversation if his life depended on it. Our lead engineer Thomas K. Morgan was one of those insidious geeks who corrected everyone on every single word they said. Morgan’s favorite line in any conversation was, “actually” fill in the blank with his expert opinion, which was usually bullshit or worthless trivia. After we were out of the solar system Captain Finch told Morgan that he’d throw him out into space without a suit if he didn’t cut it out.
The rest of the group included a guy called Boof who thought he was channeling Flash Gordon, an antisocial hermit of a physicist who asked to be called X, and a pair of identical twins I called Satan’s Daughters. The twins, Vera and Meera, were sneaky little shits who talked at the same time and were never seen away from each other. They were brought on as some sort of geology experts, you know, dirt and rocks as they liked to remind everyone as they cackled like witches as if that was funny. They were dirt and rocks as far as I was concerned. The rest of the crew was bland, mean spirited, and aside from the Captain had no imagination what so ever.
So I’m looking at the writing on the wall and wondering what in the world, and who in the world had written it. I felt someone rub my shoulder and looked over to see Boof standing there expecting me to be Dale Arden to his Flash Gordon. Give me a break. He looks good but no. Absolutely no.
“Boof,” I said looking up at the leafy blue green canopy of plants (I assume they were maybe once plants) around the building. “Let’s take a look inside.”
He gave me a great big blinding white smile and knocked the door open with his foot. Boof wasn’t carrying a ray gun, but it wasn’t because we’re a couple of scientists with seven degrees between the two of us. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t like scientists or people with degrees can’t be badass. We just didn’t have any weapons with us.
The interior was dark. Not like no lights, because there was a skylight, but because obviously the interior decorator of this forgotten outpost either had a stack of 1980’s Architectural Digest Magazines handy for inspiration, or he was into all things Gothic.
“Looks like vampires live here,” said Boof.
I gave an uncomfortable laugh and tried to be serious, that is until the music started to play. I couldn’t figure out where the music was coming from. The sound was sort of like it was coming out of a metal tunnel. A man was singing in sort of a strange high voice, but it sounded kind of nice.
You’re just a little bit of sunshine when it’s raining,
You’re just a little bit of gladness when I’m blue,
You’re just a little bit of love light that keeps shining,
And when it’s cloudy, you’re a silver lining.
“Radio Franks.You’re Just A Little Bit of Everything I Love,” said Boof.
I looked straight ahead at a slowly moving shadow. “How do you know that Boof?”
“I like early 20thCentury music,” he answered, his eyes also on the shadow.
“Sing me something from the late 21stCentury. You know the one, about the alien romance, ruby skin.”
Boof started to sing quietly in a surprisingly beautiful tenor.
Your DNA plays around,
Like a silken ghost,
Worlds apart are we.
Reach the stars
Ruby skin, emerald eyes,
Hot alien thighs.
Reach the stars
“I hate that song,” I said taking a slow step forward. “You changed the lyrics.”
“Yes, I did change the lyrics, and yes I hate it too. Do you sing?”
“Only in the shower.”
“Can I join you?”
“Only in your dreams.”
“Let’s sleep then, shall we,” Boof said in almost a whisper as we slowly walked towards the shadow.
The shadow moved, in what looked like the shape of a human hand, then stupidity happened. A tremendous scraping sound, sent us turning backwards to see Garland Holbright, one the Earth’s most famous journalists, come along to document our journey for the ages. Every living Earthling knew who the man was, and Garland never let us forget.
Garland had opened the door in the wrong direction, throwing it off of it’s tracks.
“Find anything yet?” Garland called out loudly as he propped the door up against a wall.
The shadow vanished.
“God Damn you Holbright. You’re such an asshole,” said Boof, as I grabbed him by his jacket and held him back.
Garland Holbright was what we (not me, everyone else) called a Frank, short for Frankenstein. He was one of those kids who’s parents had custom ordered him from a cocktail of perfect DNA so he’d be brilliant and exceptionally good looking. Sure his IQ was off the charts and he was good at taking tests. Sure on a scale of one to ten in looks Garland was a seventeen, but where he excelled in trivia and Prince Charming handsomeness he lacked in creativity and personality. The guy was an insufferable bore with an ego the size of Jupiter.
Sure we’d all had genetic modifications for long term space travel. Our respiratory systems, muscular growth, and bone density had all been tweaked. A few of us, including me, had a few personal tweaks as well. My eyes are now a little brighter shade of hazel, and my hair is finally grows model perfect. That said, I’d like to think that you always get better babies with natural random DNA selection.
Boof and Garland had gotten into it the night before. Garland had convinced a friend to hack into the personnel logs and found out that Boof was created by a couple of teenagers one hot summer night in the back seat of a self driving solar convertible.
“Silence,” I said in one of those loud mom-like whispers. “Both of you. Garland, we are not alone.”
Garland formed an O with his mouth in surprise. I knew the guy was deathly afraid of aliens. Go figure. He goes on a space mission but he is afraid of anything that isn’t human, or maybe a dog.
While I was getting ready to rip Garland a new one Boof grabbed my arm.
“Timothy Leary is not dead,” he said right in my ear, so close I could feel his hot breath. I shook my head to get him away from me.
I wondered why Boof was making a reference to the 20thCentury Philosopher. Thank goodness he didn’t start singing that song. What was that group? Moody Crew? No, I think it was Moody Blues. I’d been spending way too much time with Boof. I swore between Boof and Garland I felt like my head was going to explode.
Then I turned around and there before us stood Pilot Tim Leary from the Space Explorer 23 Dog Star Mission. According to records, and Wikipedia, he’d died years ago, before I was even born. When I was a kid he was one of my idols.
Leary held out his arms in a welcoming gesture and with a wide grin said, “Welcome to Hanson’s Hole!”
“Captain Leary?” I asked, stepping forward to introduce my team and myself. “Chief Officer Gwendolyn Ward of the Research Ship the DeGrasse Tyson. These gentlemen are Science Specialist First Class Boof Errikson, and Garland Holbright, a journalist for International Geographic.
“An award winning journalist,” said Garland holding out his hand to Leary.
I kicked Boof in the ankle to prevent him from doing anything stupid. I let Garland have his bit of ego masturbation before I found out what was going on with Leary.
Leary took me by the arm as he walked and talked me into a much larger room that resembled an intergalactic art museum with comfortable seating. “I see your ship was named after the 48thPresident of the United States. A good omen there. My ship was called “The Dog Star.” I like dogs and all, I have a couple around here somewhere, but, I’ll tell you, it was a dog of a ship. Holy space shit, that thing was as bad as 2213 GM Sasquatch. Remember those? Do you like to be called Gwendolyn or Gwen?”
“Gwendolyn please. You’re alive.”
“Yes, very much so,” he said with a dashing smile as he patted my arm.
“But your body was found. DNA matched yours. There was no mistake. There is a huge memorial in Washington D.C.”
“And I’m honored at the thought, but obviously I’m still alive. I am indeed Commander Timothy Leary of the Dog Star.”
“But…” I started
“Do you know much about clones Gwen, Gentlemen?”
“Holbrook is a clone,” said Boof.
“I am not a clone,” said Garland.
“Gentlemen…” I hissed at them.
“You’re a freak Holbrook,” said Boof.
Garland threw his shoulders back. “You’re nothing but degenerate pod shelter trash.”
I’d had enough. “Boof, Garland, NOW.” I turned back to our host, “Captain Leary, the time line wouldn’t make sense. All of your bodies were found and brought back to earth. How do you explain that?”
Leary smiled again. “None of us wanted to go back so we cloned ourselves.”
“If you cloned yourselves, wait, your bodies were found a month after you landed here. It would have taken at least twelve years to have a fully grown human body.”
Leary motioned to the plush red chairs in the room. “Sit and make yourselves comfortable. I’ll tell you all about it.” We sat, and Leary told us an extraordinary story. “Once we had the Time Machine it seemed like we could steal anything we needed. Where do you think all of this art came from? Anyway, we stole an advanced cloning lab from the Dingus V Planet Chain. Nobody there has had fertile sex in centuries. They can’t, so they clone. Sad story, but shit happens.
Listen, none of us wanted to go back to our mission or Earth. We also didn’t want anyone looking for us. With the technology from Dingus V we were able to clone fully formed human bodies in thirty-six Earth hours. Thirty-six fucking hours. Unheard of. We programmed our clones to be without working brains. We called them the hollow heads. Once our clones were grown we smashed their empty heads in and called it a day. No brains, no souls, just lab grown flesh.”
“Wait,” said Garland. “You had a time machine?”
Leary smiled and shook his head in a definite yes. “I knew you’d ask. It is an amazing machine that jumps both time and space.”
“Space portal travel I can believe, but Time Travel is illegal universally, said Garland.
“That doesn’t mean it I can’t do it. I went forward because I don’t like the people I was with. I’m only here at Hanson’s Hole because I needed an additional respite from, well, everything. What are you doing here? Space Jumping I assume, but what is your mission. Nobody stops at Hanson’s Hole.”
I explained our mission as Leary listened intently.
Holbrook held up a finger and gave an artificially inquisitive look. “Why does it say Welcome to Hell in blood on the door of the compound?”
Leary shrugged. “I have no idea. It was there when I got here a few weeks ago. I just haven’t had the time or the paint to fix it.”
After more discussions about Leary’s adventures we returned to our own ship. I knew exactly what Leary was talking about when he said he was tired of annoying people.
Vera and Meera, the evil twins, came giggling and snorting into my office.
I motioned for them to sit. They both sat down and crossed their bony legs in unison. “Do you have the updated geology reports?”
Vera was the first to respond. “The soil acidity has doubled from the last time measurements were taken fifty years ago.”
“Fifty years ago,” said Meera.
Vera continued. “We also detected new volcanic activity. Are you having sex with Boof?”
Meera then spoke again, right on the tail of her sister. “Are you having sex with Boof? Was it good? Positively volcanic?”
“Volcanic. We know you are,” said Vera.
Meera started to laugh, a high pitched crow like cackle, then she started to snort. Then Vera joined in.
“Insubordination is not to be tolerated on this ship. If you ladies continue your immature behavior I will make sure you’re dropped off at the next supply station. You will receive no letters of recommendation, and I guarantee you will have to find your own way home, at your own expense. Capiche?”
“Yes, of course,” they said in unison. It almost sounded like they had an echo to their words.
“Thank you for the report. I’ll review it thoroughly.” I said motioning with my hand for them to leave.
After they’d Holbrook put his head in the door. “Do you want to have dinner later? This isn’t romantic, of course…”
I cut him off. “No.”
“Is there something going on between you and Boof?”
“No. Jesus, Garland, I’m having dinner with Caption Finch. A working dinner.”
As soon as he left a message came on the screen from Boof.
Hey Baby, do you want to see stars tonight?
I deleted the message.
The entire trip had been like the set-up from a bad bodice ripper romance, but without any sex or bodice ripping. You know the story. The heroine is caught between two potential lovers. One is dark haired, gorgeous, with impeccable breeding, and insanely rich. The other is blond, gorgeous, insanely smart, and grew up more or less a street urchin in a block of government run shelter pods. Who should our heroine choose? One will eventually betray her as the other one rescues her, but she won’t know until it happens. Screw that. I didn’t have time for it.
I took the clip out of my hair and shook out letting it fall to my shoulders. Thank goodness for planets with normal gravity. I remember reading about the days when the idea of women being in space seemed ridiculous. The excuse was always something about hair, periods, sex, temptations, strength and peeing. Seriously, one does not need a penis, or a hairy chest to travel in space. Thank goodness for Nichelle Nichols. I was so glad to see her on the one-dollar coin last year. I remember reading the emails of my great-great-grandmother telling my father about when she met Sally Ride. I can’t even imagine.
Over the next few days Captain Finch and I tasked our crew with collecting data, and ship maintenance. Our engineer Morgan questioned everything we asked him to do. He claimed inspections were not necessary. He went on about how his qualifications were better than anyone on the ship, and bragged about his superior intelligence whenever I requested a progress report.
Our physics team, headed up by a guy named Dex Harland, who insisted on being called just “X” decided that we were all going to be eaten by mutant aliens and refused to leave the ship. They spread the word through the crew that Timothy Leary was going to drug them and feed them to giant spiders or some sort of shit along those lines. It was as if the entire crew had gone insane.
I asked one of our two our medical officers about it and he told me that he was writing a screenplay about a murder on a space barge couldn’t give a rat’s ass about our mission. His name was Dr. Charles Young. He only took the job to get out of paying child support for four different women and six kids on three planets. Our sane medical crew member, Dr. Sashie Vern, took my arm and asked if I wanted to get coffee. In the empty crew lounge she begged me to keep Dr. Jay away from her due to his incompetence and creepiness.
On our last supply stop, Hawk Donaldson, a popular member of our Engineering group had a one night stand with a Trasidain female. Trasidian’s are beautiful human like creatures with iridescent pink skin, and several more pleasure seeking orifices than Earthlings. Unfortunately Trasidains also have horrible parasites, which there is no cure for except the death of the host.
Hawk contracted a large number of the parasites and was in excruciating pain as the bugs ate him from the inside out. On his request Dr. Sashie put him into a medically induced coma until his death thirty four hours later. His body, along with the bugs, was cremated and blasted into space.
After Hawk’s death Dr. Sashie wondered why most of the crew members refused to see her for regular check ups or even acknowledge her existence. I should have guessed what Dr. Sashie told me. Dr. Jay had told everyone that Dr. Sashie was incompetent and had caused Hawk’s death.
I went back to confront Dr. Jay and he just smirked.
“I’m entitled to my opinion,” he said with a shit eating grin. I wrote him up for spreading false information and confined him to his room when he was not on duty. The following day rumors spread that I was sleeping with Captain Finch, which was odd considering Finch is gay. I knew it was Dr. Jay.
As I made my rounds that day I realized that our crew, due to the nasty mix of passive aggressive cockroaches and over inflated egos was completely shutting down as a functional team.
The Engineering Group all shaved their heads and wore goggles because they decided that they did not want Garland Holbrook writing about them. Their reasoning was that if they all looked alike then Holbrook would get confused and leave them alone.
Poor Junior Potemkin, our painfully shy communications officer was being bullied by a Data Wrangler named Bambi Von Grob. She would sit next to Potemkin and make snorting noises, suck up snot in her nose, cough, loudly chew crunchy food hours on end, pound on her work station. In retaliation to his complaints she innocently told everyone on board that she was a victim of Junior Potemkin’s bullying.
I could go on for hours about the adolescent behavior of the crew. It seemed that most of my day was spent listening to complaints, breaking up fights, and telling crew members to act like adults.
With six months into our mission, and five years to go, I didn’t know how Captain Finch and I were going to handle this. I loved my job. I loved exploration. I loved the science, but I hated almost everyone on board of our ship.
Boof and I continued to visit Tim Leary. He told us a lot of tall tales but was stingy with any technical information. He said he’d always been more of a manager rather than a scientist. He’d joke that he should have been a stand-up-comic, even thought he didn’t really say anything funny.
One night at dinner, with a nice view of the three aligned moons of the planet, the Captain vented for about an hour about the crew. Boof, Garland, and Dr. Sashie Vern had joined us as the highest ranking crewmembers.
Captain Finch had an announcement for us. “I’ve done some research and come to a realization that we were given a crew of rejects of the highest order.”
“You think?” Boof said with a disgusted look.
“Our mission is longer than usual with extensive isolated periods and difficult Space Jumps. I asked for an experienced crew of individuals with solid science experience, and technical expertise. What I ended up with was a crew of people that nobody else wanted,” said Finch.
I added to his thoughts, “I asked around and was given memos stating that the reason was have the crew we have is because somebody wanted to get rid of them. We asked for the best of the best, and in turn, present company aside, we got the worst of the worst.”
“Exactly,” said Finch.
“Now what? Behavior modification or bull shit team building at the next supply spot isn’t going to fix anything,” said Sashie.
Garland Holbrook poured another glass of wine and smiled. “Clone the crew and leave them there. Then we can have a perfect crew. They have the facilities right here for high speed clone creation.”
“How would that work?” Asked Dr. Sashie.
“Leary and his crew stole the technology from the Glanidians who use semi-brainless clones for off planet mining and prostitution. It’s cheaper than robots, and biological clones are more reliable,” said Garland.
“But you have to feed them,” said Boof. “How can that be more reliable?”
Garland smiled. “No, they eat themselves. They don’t even know it. You know, Clone Nuggets.”
“That is horrible,” said Sashie.
“Yes it is but it isn’t what Leary and his crew did,” said Garland.
“Eventually we’d have to land somewhere and we’d be found out,” said Captain Finch.
“You don’t get it. We will clone the crew, but tweak the genetic codes so that they’ll have more pleasant personalities. We’ll make them brilliant but downright sweet, and completely bland. I know Gwendolyn and Boof could do it,” said Garland. “You both have studied genetics and personality modifications for violent and anti social prisoners on off planet penal colonies.”
I had to speak up. “It will take an extra week depending on how many clones we’re going to make. I spoke with the Evil Twins today and they estimated a major volcanic explosion within the next month. If it blows it will take out all life within five hundred miles of Leary’s clubhouse.”
Then we all sat, nobody asking the questions we all wanted the answer for.
There was a knock on the door. Tim Leary stood there in a black tuxedo, holding three bottles of wine in his arms. “Your mission reminds me of a story my Great Great Grammy used to tell me. A long time ago when she was a little girl there used to be a huge store called Ickyah. People would flock to it to be unassembled furniture because it felt good if you built stuff yourself. The buyer would get home with instructions that said it would take two hours to build your bed frame and nightstand. Fifty hours later maybe the bed would be done and the nightstand drawer assembled. Another twenty hours everything would be complete with the help of additional duck tape and a lot of swearing.”
“Leary,” I said. “What does that have to do with your mission?”
“That’s what it is like living here. Everything was supposed to be easy. Self contained they said. But it wasn’t. Fortunately I have a lot of duck tape. I still have that fast acting cloning machine. I’ll let you use it.”
“That is out of the question. We all took ethics oaths to protect our crew,” said Captain Finch.
“I didn’t,” said Holbrook.
We spend the rest of the night bitching about the rest of the crew. After everyone realized that we had more shit-for-brains stories than we could tell in one night. My brain was so agitated that there was no way I could get any sleep so I took a stroll under the three moons of Planet 2387.
“You need a real name,” I said aloud as I scanned the horizon.
“It has a name. Atropos.” I turned to see Garland Holbrook standing next to me. I didn’t even hear him coming. “She was one of the three Fates. Atropos was the one who would decide how long one’s life line was. She’d also choose how one died,”
“Why’d you come on this mission? You could have any job you wanted,” I said.
“Captain Finch is the best. None of us could have predicted the bait and switch with the crew. Think about it. If we had the original crew this would be a perfect science mission.”
This was new to me. “Original crew? Garland, what are you talking about?”
“You don’t know do you? They were finishing up in Florida on their last mission. You and Boof were later additions.”
I was almost in shock. My entire body went numb. Over a thousand souls were lost in a terrorist attack at the National Space Science Research compound. Religious fundamentalists fire bombed the place. No wonder Captain Finch took what crew was assigned him. The man must have been in deep mourning. Why didn’t anyone tell me? Why didn’t I figure it out?”
“Garland, could we get Tim Leary to go back in time and…”
“You know it doesn’t work that way. When you go back in time you can change whatever you want but it won’t change the future. Your changes spin off into an alternate thread of time that eventually fades away.”
“Sure, I forgot. I knew some of the people who died. I had no idea they were signed up with Finch’s next mission. No idea.”
I turned and headed off towards the Welcome to Hell door. I wanted to talk to Leary.
As I took my first step Garland grabbed my hand, twirled me around and kissed me. If I thought my head was spinning before, it was spinning even more now.
“I know you’re attracted to me. I know you’re attracted to Boof. May the best man win, and you know I’m the best man,” said Garland as he kissed me again.
“Let’s go talk to Leary,” I said as I tried to catch my breath.
Three weeks later we left Planet 2387. Leary took off in his time machine a week before we blasted off. From our ship we watched (at a great distance) the massive volcano blow up a good portion of the planet’s crust.
Junior Potemkin came into my office and thanked me for helping him out. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about.
“Everyone is so nice now,” he said slowly choosing the words. “It is as if they were all replaced with clones, or something.” Then he laughed uncomfortably. “That would have been weird.”
I smiled and told him that I was glad he was happy now. I truly was.
This story is featured in Strange Adventures in a Deviant Universe, W.P.A.D. Science Fiction Anthology. Available with most fine online book dealers (including Amazon and B&N) in electronic and paperback versions. Part of proceeds from all WPaD books go to support or fellow authors who have MS.
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again.” ― Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca
Last night I dreamt I went to a rock concert in an old 1940’s movie theater. I paid for it with a credit card I found at an unknown location, and I took my cat with me. The cat ran off in the theater. Later after the show, which included several costume changes and fireworks I found the cat in a field next to the theater. I couldn’t find my car so we took a raised monorail home through a city that looked like it was right out of the Fritz Lang movie Metropolis. I never did figure out who the band was. Needless to say I do not steal credit cards or take my cat to concerts. However I will always love the movie Metropolis and the book Rebecca.
Daphne Du Maurier is one of my favorite authors. Her books are always mysterious, well written, and timeless.
Her villains are horrible. Her characters are vibrant. Her story lines will leave you on the edge of your seat, or glued to your book.
So today, while I write this still in a sleep haze of weird dreams and high winds trying to blow down my house, I recommend you read ANY books plays or stories by the amazing Daphne Du Maurier.
I’ve read that Du Maurier was somewhat cold, often called frosty when it came to other people. She was distant from her children. As an introvert she rarely gave interviews and disliked social gatherings. I would have thought she’d be the life of the party and had many many friends, and been a lovely mother. Go figure. Read the book and don’t worry about the author.
By the way, the move “The Birds”, you know Hitchcock “The Birds, was based on one of her stories.
My favorites are Jamaica, Rebecca, and My Cousin Rachael.
Today is Sunday and time for another Tangled Tale. Last night my husband and I saw the 2019 movie The Lighthouse. The movie is about two lighthouse keepers, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), left on an isolated lighthouse on a rock in the 1800’s. It is part art house film beauty, part horror, and a lot of twisted weirdness.
For today I’m rerunning my own Lighthouse story. I posted it back in July but that’s ok. I’ll post it again today.
A story I’ve told before. I will tell it again tonight.
He’d been found in the ocean, wearing a formal jacket with tails and clinging to the top of a grand piano. Underneath the man was a large gray wolfhound.
The captain of the ship that had picked him up said that he didn’t seem to remember much, or maybe did not want to remember. The dog, named Delilah, wouldn’t leave the side of her master.
At first they thought it was a ship wreck but it ended up being a complicated and strange mystery. The ship, a 200 ton brigantine had left Port of Talcahuano, in Chile three months before the mysterious man had been found in the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco. Not a soul was on the ship, except the Captain who’d been found with a gun in his hand and what looked like a fatal self-inflicted bullet wound in his head. The life boats were still on the ship, as well as a cargo of wine and explosives, and the personal belongings of the few passengers and crew.
A break in an unusually strong and violent series of storms allowed them to dock and drop the man on the piano lid and his wolfhound off at the home of the lighthouse keeper’s family.
The lighthouse keeper checked in on the man who was sleeping in his guest room, dog curled by the bed. He could tell the stranger was wealthy by the quality of his clothing, the expensive watch and ring, and the formal refined way he’d spoken. His locked trunk had been recovered from the abandoned ship and now was at the foot of the bed.
The stranger said his name was Maxwell. He told them to call him Max. The first night there he’d drawn exquisite pictures for the light keeper’s wife of palm trees, and of beautiful women in fashionable dresses, and native women of South America with unusual hats and full colorful skirts. Over brandy he told them that he was 31 years old, born in 1849 when his pregnant mother had come out with his father for the California Gold Rush. Now he resided in San Francisco.
“What is your occupation? “The lighthouse keeper’s daughter Jayne asked the stranger, fully well expecting him to say he was involved in a rich family business, or lived off of the wealth of his forebears.
He looked at her with hazel eyes, that she would have sworn were dark brown earlier that evening. “I am in law enforcement of a sorts, like detective, or a marshal. I seek out those who are particularly evil. I had apprehended a ruthless and violent fiend in South America and was on my way home. Unfortunately on the ship…” he paused and glanced up for a second, then back at the family of the lighthouse keeper. “On the ship I found myself taken by surprise and overwhelmed. It is a story I will tell you later, but now I must sleep, or I’ll end up under the table here.”
So he retired for the night. That was two days ago. He still slept as quiet and cold as death, but not dead. The dog lay by the foot of the bed thumping her tail whenever anyone came near.
A storm raged outside. The weather didn’t allow anyone to go get a doctor. His wife assured him that the man called Max just needed to rest. It made sense considering the man had been clinging to a piano lid and floating in the freezing ocean for days before he was picked up.
Despite the storm Lighthouse Keeper’s wife climbed up a ladder to fix a shutter that was almost ready to fly away with the wind. As she reached the window the ladder fell and she crashed to the ground below. All went black except the feeling of being carried inside.
Max put her down in a large chair by the fire and took her broken arm in his icy hands. “Close your eyes,” he whispered. She could feel his hands heat up and warm her wrist. The pain turned to numbness. She opened her eyes and could see a look of pain on his face, then he smiled and kissed her forehead.
“You’re arm is still broken, but the bones have started to mend enough for you not to need a splint.”
“You? You healed me,” she said.
“Yes. It is a gift. Keep the knowledge to yourself or people will think we are both insane.” He then touched a forming bruise on her forehead, making that pain, along with the bruise go away as well.
During the night the storm broke up. Sunshine came out between the clouds. Jayne convinced Max to walk down to the docks to pick up some fish for the night’s dinner.
She held his arm as they strolled along the road.
“Your glasses are so dark. I noticed your eyes turned from hazel to brown when we went outside,” said Jayne.
“My eyes are sensitive to the sun. I have three younger brothers, and a younger sister. Two of them have eyes that do the same as mine, that is change color,” he said, then changed the subject. “Do you like living here Jayne.”
“I love my family. I love the ocean. I don’t being in a small town with nothing but fish and lumber. I’d like to see more of the world before I’m expected to find a husband.”
“Do you want to be married Jayne?”
“Maybe,” said Jayne, “I can move to Utah and take two husbands. Women can vote in Utah and Wyoming. Why not here?”
“Because men are ignorant and barbaric my dear Jayne. They’re afraid that if you vote you’ll be smarter and more just than they are. The don’t want to give up their power to someone who might do a better job. By the way, men of a certain faith may have more than one wife but I do not believe a woman is allowed two husbands in Utah. You would have to go to Tibet for that.”
Jayne laughed. “To be truthful, even one husband would be too many for me right now. I don’t need anyone to own me right now.” She tugged on his arm. “You’re so different.”
“How am I different? I’m just like any other man.”
“You healed my mother’s arm. You survived almost a week in the icy ocean’s water hanging onto a piano top with nothing but the clothes on your back and a dog. Your eyes change color. Your skin feels like ice. You are unbelievably attractive. I am stating a fact about your looks. But I only want your friendship. Even with the oddness I like you. I feel as if we have been friends for a long long time. Where are you really from Maxwell? Who are your people?”
He smiled and took off his glasses. His eyes were hazel again. “Where I come from men and women are equal. We live quietly. We live honestly among each other. What I am about to tell you will sound strange, but we live on the edge between life and death. We walk in the world of sunlight, but also walk in the land of the shadows and do not fear death or God.”
“I would like to go there with you. I would earn my way. I could be a lady detective.”
“It is not easy to live in my world Jayne.”
“No world is easy Max,” she said then smiled and pulled the comb out of her hair letting it blow in the wind. “Do you have a sweetheart at home?”
Max hesitated then spoke. “There is a woman I have a strong connection with, but I will never love her.”
“Is she married?”
“No. It isn’t like that. We met when I was at the University. So was she, which is odd unto itself. She knows my thoughts. She knows my desires. But she is not the one. What about you Jayne?”
“I was engaged to a man who knew neither my thoughts or desires, and had no intention on learning either. He thought I belonged to him body and soul, not in the way of love, but as property to be owned and controlled. He was jealous to the point of rage if I would speak with another man. He was even jealous of the boys I teach at the school and demanded I quit my teaching job. I would rather die than live a life where someone else controlled my body, my thoughts, my job, and my every whim. That is why I am no longer engaged to him.” Then laughed and ran to the end of the pier and let the wind blow through her hair and laughed some more.
Max marveled at the way she was so free thinking and full of life. He saw so much death and sorrow in his line of work that now with Jayne he felt renewed. She was sunshine in his dark world of shadows and night.
Hours later in the quiet of the night, the wind died own, and the moon hung in a thin crescent in the sky. Max walked along the beach with his dog Delilah. The taste of fresh blood and wine was in his mouth and the cold comfort of the night had settled into his soul. Delilah ran ahead, then the dog started to bark. Ahead of him Max saw a bloody figure crumpled on the rocks. His heart sank. It was Jayne.
Max picked her up and carried her home. He knew what had happened. She’d gone out to look at the stars and was attacked by a man she’d jilted. She’d spoken briefly about it when they’d walked earlier in the day. She had turned away the advances of a hot headed man who wanted her as his own. In the afternoon the man had walked past them, giving Jayne a look like a mad dog when he saw her holding Max’s arm.
He put her on her bed as her parents and brothers gathered around. As still as death, and as cold as the sea, they watched life drained out of her.
Jayne’s mother put her hand on Max’s arm. “Can you heal her, like you healed me?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “If I do she will never be the same, not like she was before. She won’t be crippled or lose herself, she will be… she will be like me.”
“Save her, then find the man who did this to her,” said the Lighthouse Keeper.
“You do not know what you ask,” said Max.
“You put a spark back in her eyes I have not seen in ages. Please save her if you can.”
“Let me be alone with her and she will not die.”
In the morning a man’s body washed up on the beach. It looked as if dogs had torn out his throat. His face was a mask of fear.
Two weeks later Jayne kissed her family good-by and went with Max on the next ship to San Francisco.
Max stood in his living room with a glass of wine in his hand as he looked at the view of the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge. He couldn’t imagine getting tired of it. He glanced over to see Jayne, wearing a short black dress and looking gorgeous as always, coming towards him. He kissed her cool cheek. She smiled with just a touch of fang showing.
Max glanced at a small pretty woman across the room. He suddenly thought of what he’d told Jayne about her so many years ago on the walk to the docks. Odd that when he was out in the ocean, clinging onto a piano top of all things, he had thought of Mehitabel. He might ask but he was never sure what she would say. No, he wouldn’t ask, he’d just wait to see what would happen, but he was sure she’d stay.
“I’m sure she’ll stay,” he told Jayne.
They talked for a while longer, about work, about friends, and about how the sunset sparkled on the ocean. Max wasn’t always one for words, but he knew that Jayne knew that they’d always be friends. Maybe even before they had ever met.
Then Jayne laughed. “I still can’t believe you were clinging to a piano lid.”