Short Story Sunday: Desert Winds

On the edge of the Sandia Mountains, My friends Amelia her husband Raul and I drove down the gravel road to the home of Ximena, an ancient woman who mostly lived in solitude with the company of the birds and the wind.

Ximena’s home was a large old adobe structure rimmed with bells and bushes of purple flowers. She greeted us at the door, as always wearing a long colorful skirt. Her black hair flowed down her back almost to her knees. Dark eyes smiled at us in a welcome greeting, as did her fangs. She is almost as ancient as Tellias and Eleora, and like them Ximena looks like a young college girl.

We came into the main room. Walls lined with books and crystals flanked part of the room with windows on the other side looking towards the mountains. We could smell the dried chiles rastas hanging in the kitchen. A red shouldered hawk perched on a wooden chair. It called out when it saw us.

“Maria, you still sing so sweetly,” I said to the bird. She gave me a cold stair then allowed me to pet her feathered head.

Maria the hawk had been around since I was a young woman, more than a hundred years. I wondered at times how she could live so long, then I stopped wondering and chalked it up to magic, love or pure mystery. It is what it is. That is how things work here in the land of magic.

A youngish man with dark hair and eyes like Ximena, but pale skin, came into the room. He was introduced to us as Kyle. But he wasn’t like us. I could feel his warmth as soon as he walked into the room.

Kyle was a man of many talents. He was a photographer, a teacher, a writer, an engineer and apparently a lover. After talking over wine and a light diner we also discovered Ximena’s young friend was also extremely opened minded.

He was also a young widow. One night left him alone with his dreams dead, but he kept going and kept at least a portion of the dreams and spark alive.

While Raul, Amelia and Ximena went to a back room to examine some old maps or something, Kyle and I went out to the porch. Bats flew about as the sounds of the bells filled the air.

Kyle asks me about my husband Teddy. I smiled shyly and told him how we’d met as kids and fallen in love a hundred years later. I think I’d always been in love with my husband on some level.

Then Kyle spoke of his lost love. “After Kayla, my wife, passed away everyone kept asking me if I’d go back. Over and over they’d ask the old what if question. You know, you can’t go back. I can’t bring her back. I will never forget her. She is part of me, but I live in the world of the living.”

“No ghost?” I had to ask (always thinking of obnoxious Nigel)

“Only a Vampire in the Southwest would ask that,” Kyle answered with a knowing smile.

“A Vampire anywhere would ask that. Don’t get me started on the ghosts I see all the time.”

“No ghost. Kayla moved on the night she died. That is a good thing.”

“Yes it is. You’re a wise man with a loving heart. In some circles that is a rare thing.”

He leaned against the rail. “I don’t know you except by reputation but I want to ask you a few thing, or at least see how you feel about a few things.”

“Okay,” I said.

“I’m in love with Ximena. I know what she is. I know how old she is. It doesn’t matter.”

I shrugged and laughed. “My 500 or so year old Grandmama is in love with a 35 year old. What are you, about 38?”

He smiled. I was correct. He was 38 and absolutely a delight – young, yet years ahead of most men his age.

“Dear Kyle, you also want me to tell you if I think it would be wise if you became a Vampire? Right?”

He smiled an uncomfortable hot blooded smile.

I said to him, “Kyle, you are in love with the cold wind under the moon and the sprint of night. She is an amazing being. I’ve always admired her. If you feel you can make a life out here with her then do it. But don’t lose yourself in her. Always be who you are, even after you become a Vampire. That is the only way it will work. If you try to be too much like her she will leave you, because she fell in love with you, not with herself.”

Raul and Ximena came out to join us with wine for Ryan and spiced blood for the rest of us.

Ximena whistled and Maria the red shouldered hawk came and landed on a table next to her hand. Ximena gave the bird a piece of meat she took from a bag in her pocket.

Into the night we talked until the sun came up and created unbelievably beautiful light and shadows on the mountains.

I could hear the wind whispering to the lovers:

The light

in dark eyes

promises kept

forever and

again

in our hearts

we love

we laugh

and we learn

to do it 

all

over 

again.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

Short Story Sunday: Star Crossed

I don’t remember why Teddy wanted to go to Verona. Maybe it was the Roman ruins or the colorful buildings. It might just have been because we had never been there before. Or maybe it could have been because the vampire population is small. 

I’d ask Teddy and he’d just smile and tell me that it was the romance of it all. With Teddy everything is about the romance of it all.

We’d rented a tile roofed house with a courtyard full of flowers, a hot water heater that worked, and a quick walk to the markets and historic sites.

One morning over coffee I heard someone crying. I questioned my husband. He went out to the courtyard and didn’t see anyone.

“It sounded like a girl,” I said. “She sounded so sad.”

We both stood in the kitchen and listened. The crying started again. Then we heard the voice of a young man speaking softly in Italian.

“This is not my fault,” he said. “I had no control over the situation. I told him that you were both fools to think your infatuation would lead to any good.”

Then she wailed and cried again. “You are wrong. He and I were in love. It was the love that only angels can bring to this world. It was true. It was so beautiful.”

“No,” the young man said. “He was like a dog who sniffed at every crotch he saw. He would follow them until they shooed him away. You were nothing but a rebound with a pretty face. Nothing more than another cute little pet.”

The girl screamed obscenities at him, then it stopped.

Despite it being summer, a chill filled the air. Teddy and I look at each other. 

“Ghosts” said Teddy. “I hate ghosts.”

Suddenly a young man, more of a teenage boy, with hair to his shoulders and a billowing white shirt stood before us.

“You hate ghosts do you? I hate vampires. They come here with their breath smelling of blood, and their pale skin. Yet… look at you. Damn you are handsome. Your wife is quite lovely but you! You, both of you, do not look, or even act like the undead demons of the night.”

“We are neither undead nor demons,” I said. 

The wailing started again. Materializing next to him was a girl, maybe thirteen or fourteen. She wore a long green dress. Her dark hair was flowing down her back to her waist. Tears flowed down her face.

“My love Romeo and I were to be together always, even in death, but I was stuck here with HIM.” She glanced over to the male ghost with hate and loathing.

“You were idiots,” he said. “You had no business hooking up. I died because of you. Because of YOU Juliet.”

“Mercutio you are a liar and a wart on the ass of a dog.” Then she looked at us. “For hundreds of years he has done nothing but insult me and question my love for Romeo. He is jealous to the point of obsession.”

“I would rather die than be with a girl like you,” Mercutio said.

“You are dead,” Juliet screamed.

“Because of you. I am dead because of you. Now I am stuck with this bitch forever while my ungrateful friend Romeo has gone with the angels to a heaven he does not deserve.”

“Why do you stay in this place,” I asked.

“It is where vampires come to visit. Normal living people do not see us. They do not believe in us. When Juliet cries they only hear the wind. When we tap on the walls they think we are rats,” said Mercutio. “It breaks my heart because my charms are wasted on an ungrateful child.”

“I am not a child,” Juliet wailed.

“You are not a woman,” said Mercutio. “So why do we stay? Where would we go?”

“My name is also Juliette,” I said, “I just spell it differently.”

“It looks as though you were wiser when choosing a man,” said Mercutio.

Juliet started to wail again.

I glanced at my husband. “Should we go see some of the old city Teddy?”

“Good idea,” said my handsome husband.

As we walked the streets Teddy put his arm around my shoulder and kissed me. “I’m glad that when I almost died that I woke up as a vampire and not a damn ghost. They’re always so bitter.”

“Bad decisions. You didn’t choose to be vampire, but you also didn’t choose to fall in love with the wrong person,” I said.

“Very true. I’m happy to say I’ve never felt the urge to be star crossed.”

“Or throw pebbles at my window late at night.”

He laughed and kissed me again. Teddy and I have always told our children that choices they make when they are young might follow them forever. They must be careful and think of consequences. Being carried away in the moment might be deadly, or even worse. 

Tragedy comes in many forms. Then again, so does comedy. I think I’ll stick with comedy. Yes, don’t underestimate a vampire’s capacity to entertain. 

Now several years later I sometimes wonder if the spell was broken on the two ghosts in Verona. I can only hope. Even the worst follies of youth should eventually be forgiven. It is time for them all to say goodnight. And now, it is time for me to do the same as well.

Short Story Sunday: Off To See The Wizard

Off To See The Wizard

Druce had just pulled his toasted seed and dried berry bread out of the oven when his friend Morcant came through the door carrying a basket.

“What do you got in there?”

“Smoked salmon, a bottle of squid ink, and dried salted kelp chips.”

“Nice.”

“I see you’ve made your famous berry bread. That will win over the hearts of the coldest stone.”

“We can only hope. I’m paring it with a jar of honeycomb, and a jug of my best mead.”

Druce wrapped up the bread and took a look at his friend. Morcant wore a soft seal skin over his shoulders. His tunic was sleeveless showing off his muscular arms. Today Morcant’s black hair was worn down around his shoulders framing his handsome face. Druce never wondered why all of the women in their village and the surrounding area sought Morcant out even if it was just to look.

The seal skin was that of Morcant’s sister who’d died in the past summer season. She and Morcant were Selkies. On land they were human, and in the sea they were seals. They guarded their seal skins with their lives, for if anyone stole their skin they would be trapped as humans, and in bondage forever.

Morcant’s brother-in-law never took his wife’s skin, but celebrated the fact that as a Selkie she had come to him of her own free will. Her love was free, and her husband was devoted to her. They had that rare true love that so many seek but never find.

One day while they were out fishing, his sister still in her human form, they were overcome by a great shark and dragged to the bottom of the sea as dinner. Morcant, as customary for Selkies now wore his sister’s skin to stay close to her spirit and to have her love with him always.

Druce looked into his mirror and brushed his sun streaked brownish blonde waves with his fingers. He was smaller than Morcant, and not quite as handsome, but the ladies still liked him too. And of course he liked them more than they could imagine.

“So, Druce,” said Morcant, “when exactly did this Wizard guy come into town?”

“Last week, under the darkness of the night.”

“What’s he like?”

“Personally? I don’t know. I hear he was sleeping with his sister. Nymue told me that. She also said he used to stalk her, asking her about her magic and getting all sappy and trying to sound mystical about it. One day she showed him a sword she was going to give to the next king and he said I’ll show you my magic sword. She kicked him out and told him she’d put a bad enchantment on him if he ever hit on her again. And I mean bad, you know, guy bad, like his sword won’t work for a year or two. Like a blade of grass.”

“Sounds like a creeper.”

“A real mess if you ask me. Anyway, that was a while back so maybe he’s changed. Gotta give a guy some doubt that he has grown up since his misplaced youth chasing ladies in lakes and all of that shit.”

“OK so I don’t get it Druce. You’re the Worlock around here. What’s the difference between you and some Wizard dude, except that you’re better looking and are better with women.”

Druce laughed. “As a Warlock, I can, how can I put this so it won’t sound weird. As you know I can harness and control spirits, demons, and other’s who aren’t human. I can’t make them work for me. I also control their evil so that they can’t harm people. I take their energy and do good with it. I can also do other magic and tricks through my own will. I deal with both sides of the world, that of the dead and that of the living. That of the physical and that of the spirits.”

“And what about Wizards?”

“Wizards learn their craft. They are gifted in the ways of magic, but their magic comes mostly from the use of potions, and the channeling of their magic through a staff, or wand. They can scare spirits and demons but they can’t control them. And Wizards are giving Warlocks a bad rap. I hear that in other parts my kind are being hunted down and burned to death. They think we’re minions of Satan.”

“That’s bull shit. Then why the fuck are we going to greet this guy and bring him gifts. He sounds like a freak to me.”

“Because he is working for the King.”

“The Kings is an idiot. He is obsessed with some old cup, and everyone knows his wife is sleeping with his best friend.”

“Hey, I didn’t put him into office. Blame that on Nyume. The Lady of The Lake should have minded her own business and …”

There was a scream and in through the door came a whirl of gray, which stopped and materialized into a woman. She smiled showing lovely white teeth, but her eyes were black and crazy. No harm. Just their friend Milen, who was also a Banshee.

“Milen,” said Druce, as he blew her a kiss. “Thanks for coming. I have fresh venison stew in the pot there over the fire. I put the eyes in there for you.”

She grinned and put a long fingered hand into the boiling stew and plucked out an eye, the popped it into her mouth.

“Hey, Milen, we should be gone just a few hours,” said Druce. “I’m so glad you could watch the baby for me.”

“Ohhhhhh of course,” she said as she went over to a baby unicorn who was curled up asleep in its tiny bed made of soft sea grasses and dried fragrant flowers.

“Alright then, we’ve better get going, if we’re going to go,” said Druce, and they packed up their gifts and went to meet their new neighbor.

The new Wizard had chosen and old Roman camp on a hill as his new home. The buildings were already there and in fairly good shape. It was also about a five day journey from there to where the King lived. Or at least the king the Wizard worked for.

The two friends arrived at the home of the Wizard and were greeted by a tall man with a brown beard flecked with gray. His eyes shone blue like spring wildflowers, flecked with gold.

The Wizard welcomed them in and introduced himself as Merlin, the Wizard. There was something sort of sad about him, like someone who had a lot of friends, but nobody he was really close to. Druce wondered if Merlin could pick up on emotions and sadness like a Warlock could. Or like a woman could.

Merlin thanked them for the gifts and asked them to come sit. He led them to a room where the walls were covered with tapestries and the chairs with lush textiles and furs.

“The seal skin you wear is beautiful. The finest I’ve ever seen,” said Merlin to Morcant.

“This is my sister’s skin. She passed six moons back. I wear this skin in her honor.”

There was a pause in the conversation and a bit of weirdness.”

“Morcant is a Selkie,” said Druce.

Merlin looked surprised. He was surprised. He’d never met a Selkie before. It seemd, as they talked, that there were a lot of things Merlin had never done.

Still they visited and had polite small talk. Druce and Morcant of the village and the surrounding peoples, and those who were not people. There was also a lot they didn’t tell him. When the sun began to set Druce and Morcant bid their host goodbye.

They started the walk home in silence but then Morcant spoke.

“Merlin was nice. Not much of a bro, if you know what I mean, but nice. But dude, he has more demons than you’ll ever have.”

Druce gave a sad smile, “At least I can control my demons. Fuck, they aren’t even my demons. Merlin needs more sunshine, and he needs to divorce himself from his dysfunctional family and friends. I always tell everyone that it isn’t demons that are bugging them, it is their toxic friends and family members that are getting them down. He needs to let go.”

“True,” said Morcant. “Are you going to tell him about the unicorn?”

“Hell no,” said Druce. “I’m not telling him where the dragons are either.”

As they passed a cottage on the edge of a field of grain a woman stepped out and greeted them. “Morcant, will you stay the night with me? I could use your love, and I’ll have plenty to give back.”

“Go,” said Druce. He knew Morcant had been seeing the Widow Cath for few months. Her elderly husband had died leaving her a large farm to manage, a task she did better than most men. Morcant had always been fond of her, but now it was becoming a bit more than fond.

At home Druce found the Banshee Milen sleeping with the tiny unicorn baby in her lap. She’d taken on a physical form, that of a woman of a certain age who had a well earned beauty earned from a life well lived, at least before she had been betrayed and murdered by her husband. He put a blanket woven of the softest flax over them.

He poured a glass of beer and pulled a stool outside in his garden, out under the stars. He could hear the waves of the ocean. Maybe later he’d go down to the beach and see what spirits were among the sea shells and boats tonight.

But now he sat and thought of the sad Wizard. Then he thought of the women he knew and how it would be nice to have one of them in his bed that night, skin against skin, and a special kind of magic that came when two people came together in desire of both the body and the soul.

Then he thought about how dragons had become so endangered due to the trade of dragon bones by Wizards for their wealthy clients. Everyone with half a brain knew that dragon bones powder did nothing to make one’s manhood larger.

Then he thought of women again.

Milen the Banshee came out with a stool and sat next to him. He told her about his visit to Merlin. She said it was sad when one was so full of power and so lost. Then she said she was glad her husband had been hanged after she’d died. She always mentioned that. Druce didn’t blame her. She hadn’t planned on being a Banshee.

Then she put her hand on Druce’s. “Darlin, I’ll be in human for for another hour or two. Let’s go inside and take advantage of that.”

And like any good Warlock who knew what was good for him Druce kissed her and took her inside.

~ End

 
~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

First posted here in 2018 and still one of my favorites.

Short Story Sunday: Take Me Away

February 28, 2021

It wasn’t as if she needed to go out. It was that connection with the surface and letting the cold air on her skin wake up all of her senses.

As she put on her camouflage jacket she thought about how as a child she’d never been able to go out on her own. The adults had been so overprotective. There was nothing out there to be afraid of. One outside she walked along her usual route, taking in the sun and imagining what it was like to be somewhere else. Anywhere else would do right now.

Somewhere else. Jack had broken her heart, along with smashing her dreams to oblivion. Every secret of her heart was smashed by his cruel words. He’d called her unrealistic and unpractical. He told her she could never leave, but that she’d never have his heart. The more she thought about it the more she realized that this perfect man was nothing but imperfect. He was a fraud. He was an uncreative, selfish, and boorish prick. Good riddance.

After several hours of hiking she stopped for a snack, and a quick look at her map. Then out of the corner of her eyes she caught motion. WTF? Nothing should have been out here. Nothing.

About a hundred feet away was a machine. It had wheels on the ground. How odd. It was about ten feet long and almost the same across. Approaching it without caution she thought about Jack. That jerk-off was afraid of everything. Sure he pretended to be tough and a big man but underneath it all he was afraid of anything new. He lacked curiosity. Everyone she knew lacked curiosity. It made her sick to think that she was considered the weird one. Everyone else was weird to her. She was stifled by their attitudes and smug sense of complacency.

As she walked up to the machine she suddenly wondered if there was life on it. Where did it come from? More like who did it come from? She knew where it was from.

“Hello?” she said quietly as she approached it, the same as if she was approaching a wild animal.

It moved. Ahhhhhhh she thought. Cameras.

This strange new machine was adorable. She moved closer and looked straight into the lens. Pushing her hood back off of her head, and then smiling she said, “Come get me. I want to leave this place. I want color, and the warm sunshine on my bare skin, and everything you take for granted. I want the freedom to think my own thoughts without being told I’m crazy. I want to know who you are, sing your songs, eat your food, and listen to your stories.”

On the side she saw letters, then took her gloved hand and wiped off the reddish brown dust. In a blue circle was a name. NASA.

“Take me away,” she said. “I want to walk on your beaches. I want to feel sand in my toes. I want to look up in the night sky and see where a glowing red dot and know how wrong everyone was about me.”

136.73 million miles away in Pasadena, California, on the planet Earth, someone yelled out in excitement, and almost knocked over her coffee. “OH MY GOD. You have to see this. YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS.”

Back at the wheeled rover she smiled again. “I’m here. Take me away.”

~ end

Short Story Sunday: Spreading It Thick

While the rest of the country was freezing Ramona was digging up her raised beds in Long Beach. She and her brother swore they’d never leave California. That is just about the only thing she agreed on with him.

Caleb had been visiting the night before. As usual he’d brought back a slew of bad memories in an attempt to get her to feel like a failure. Gaslighting Remona was his favorite activity as far as Ramona’s husband was concerned. Fortunately, her husband Mac was out of town fishing with their son. Ramona couldn’t have handled another Mac and Caleb knock down drag out.

She opened the bag and spread the manure thick, just like Caleb spread his BS thick. The tomatoes would thrive better than Ramona did before she got out of her brother’s grip and realized what a snake he was.

Replaying the conversation from the night before she stuck the spade with all of the violent force she could muster. Then she tied her gray hair back into a ponytail.

“Mac can’t like that gray hair,” Caleb told her with his usual tone of superiority.

“I’m tired of coloring my hair,” Ramona told him. “Mac likes it.”

“I doubt that. I bet he’s off with another woman right now. I wouldn’t blame him.”

“Why do you say things like that Caleb?”

“Like what? Open your eyes Ramona.”

She replayed the lies and remembered how he had told her parents she’d faked a pregnancy. He’d befriended the woman who broke up her first marriage. He told almost every ex-boyfriend of her that she was either a slut or a psychopathological liar. 

When she and Mac didn’t get the bid on their dream house, she’d found out Caleb had told a wealthy friend about it. That wealthy friend had bid way over the asking price. Over the years Caleb had called potential employers and told them Ramona was crazy. Caleb had lied to their elderly parents and almost cleared out their bank account. She caught him trying to steal their dog. The list went on and on. 

Unfortunately, she didn’t even know about most of what he’d done until years later. Then when she did find out it stung even worse than when it happened.

Finally the last straw was when Caleb had convinced her then 17 year old son Sam that he was Sam’s father. Ramona remembered how Sam had become withdrawn and angry. Finally after a week of frustration she found him crying in their back yard and found out what had happened. Sam was now twenty two, and she’d stopped talking to Caleb. At least until last night.

Ramona knew she shouldn’t have let Caleb in her house. He sat down in her living room and bragged about his new young wife. He said he was going to sue her for a long list of unbelievable shit. Then he started to spout off about her husband Mac and how he must be cheating on her. Now the text from a friend of hers made sense. She wondered why anyone would be concerned about what Mac was doing when he wasn’t at home. 

As Ramona dug and leveled out the raised garden beds she smiled knowing her tomatoes, peppers, and exotic melons would thrive. The lettuce would be the be green perfection. Her pumpkins would grow to enormous size. And oh how the artichokes would virtually sing.

There was enough bull shit in her raised beds now to last for years. She dug one last home and dropped in Caleb’s wallet. She knew his car would be towed away in a few days. She’d re-parked it two miles away and walked home. It felt good to stretch her legs. 

Maybe later she’d take her dogs Wally and Tess down to the beach. She deserved some fun. Her work was done. It was a good day. 

~ end

Short Story Sunday: Hollow Heads

Hollow Heads

A Science Fiction Story by Marla Todd

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.”

Your DNA plays around,

Like a silken ghost,

Worlds apart are we.

Flying higher

Flying higher

Flying higher

Reach the stars

Ruby skin, emerald eyes,

Heaven between

Hot alien thighs.

Flying higher

Flying higher

Flying higher

Reach the stars

Boof started to sing quietly in a surprisingly beautiful tenor.

“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.

~ End

Strange Adventures in a Deviant Universe – WPAD Science Fiction.

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.