Bernie Watson, a self-acclaimed womanizer, always wanted to see Paris. One day he managed to travel to France after tediously scraping up the money he needed for the trip. In his imagination, Bernie saw himself sitting in the first class, sipping champagne and enjoying movies, a beautiful woman next to him. He was dreaming about standing on the balcony of a 5-star hotel with a breathtaking view over the city until he could see the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe from far.
Reality looked a bit different. Bernie found himself in the middle row of economy, helplessly jammed between an angry tourist at the end of his vacation and a permanently eating eighty-year-old on the other side, with an ancient Pekinese on her lap.
When he arrived at the hotel, he found that the two-star hotel he had made reservations, was even older than he had suspected from the pictures. It was located in the most run-down quarter of the city. Bernie now wasn’t the most hygiene-fanatic on Earth, but after a trip of roughly 9 hours in an airplane, he still felt the need to shower. Usually, he would have used baby wipes to clean the worst, but they had removed them at the customs; the heavy accent of the man explaining the reason made it impossible for Bernie to understand, and he didn’t know where to buy them in France.
He undressed and stood in front of the mirror, looking at his body with appreciation. He didn’t see the pale, almost sick-looking skin that hadn’t seen the sun in the past forty-five years, the slightly protruding stomach, the flat ass, and the wobbly arms which all showed that he hadn’t seen a gym from up close for decades. Also, he didn’t see the missing hair on his lower chest that made his torso look like he was regularly wearing a bra…. But he found himself very attractive, and to him, that was enough, after all, only his own opinion was important.
He climbed into the shower cabin and found himself facing an old construction with two faucets, on one it said C, which he immediately concluded was ‘cold,’ while the other one said F, which he figured, must be the opposite… hot, or (f)arm with a typo… he was in France, after all.
Full of energy, he turned the ‘Farm’ and found himself showered with an icy stream of brown lava… as it was normal in an old building in Europe when the water fuses had not been used for a while.
Immediately ‘Louis XIV,’ his Sun King, resentfully withdrew into his hunting lodge… Bernie, of course, caressed his little king, knowing he had to be careful… after all, he was utterly dependent on his Sun King’s moods.
He, therefore, mixed himself a decently comfortable water temperature and continued showering… until someone in another room flushed the toilet…
In these old hotels, this process had an immediate effect on the water temperature by removing the complete cold water from Bernie’s shower within nanoseconds… He found himself in the boiling hot shower cabin. The door which had only jammed from the outside was impossible to open from the inside. Also, he had no idea that the re-fill of an old toilet tank in a two-hundred-year-old hotel room needed about 25 minutes.
Bernie, while having the hot brownish lava pelted onto his head, he realized, he had only one hand to turn off both faucets! With the other hand, he had to protect his Sun King as well as possible! Because in this country, where he was unable to speak the language, he would not be able to talk someone into helping him with his injured, burned sun king…
(This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.)
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.
Three True Tales of Terror (with teens, rats and possums) – with illustrations
Tale #1: High School Horror
This morning as I dropped sixteen year old Clara off at school I saw a girl walking across the parking lot. I know I shouldn’t have, since I am the parent, I said, “She has that geek walk. You know, very fast and deliberate.”
Then Clara looked at me in a cold chilling manner. “She is sooooo weird. Her finger nails are really long.” Clara made a hand motion showing four to five inch long nails. Yikes.
My child proceeded to recount a short list of weirdness. Then she said, “She never shaves her legs. Her skin is super dry. And then she scratches her legs during class. It sounds like this.”
And my daughter scraped her nails against the woven upholstery of the car seat – a loud, heavy, scraping noise. To imagine that was a human leg made me wince.
Then Clara scraped her nails along the pebbled plastic dash board of the car. “Just like this.”
Then she got out of the car with her hundred pound pack full of text books (no lockers for these kids) and headed off to her first class.
On the way home I thought of The Tell Tale Heart.
I know, I’m a parenting blogger. I should have said, “it is ok for a girl to have hairy legs if that is her choice.” But I didn’t. Deal with it.
Scrape. Scrape. Scrape.
Tale #2: The Rat
Once upon a time, back before the life I’m living now, for a short time I lived alone in a small shack of a house in the woods.
I was sleeping and awoke to the sound of crashing, and two sets of four feet running through the room.
My small long haired tabby cat Eureka was chasing a rat.
Eureka was named so because I found her. The name is on the seal of the great state of California. It means “I have found it.”
The rat and cat both ran into the storage room, and I closed the door.
There was more crashing and banging. Then it stopped.
Then mewing noises came from behind the door. I opened the door. The cat had the rat trapped between a wall and my sewing machine case.
I kicked the sewing machine against the wall, once, twice, three times.
On the third kick the rat flew out and landed dead on the floor. This rat was huge – half the size of the cat.
Disgusted I went back to bed. I’d deal with the rat later.
About an hour later I was awakened by a sound.
“Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch.”
Eureka the cat was by the side of my bed, eating her rat. Crunch, crunch, crunch.
I’d deal with it later. I pulled the covers over my head and went back to sleep.
When I woke up again there was no fur, no tail, no bones, no rat at all except one foot, something that looked like a kidney, and the head of the rat staring up at me with dark black beady eyes.
Tale #3: Not Dead Yet
The last time my son was home from college he was going through some boxes in the attic looking for vintage vests and ties he could take back to school. He found something else, something I’d forgotten about. What a treat. It was almost like Christmas again.
I will never forget when he looked at me holding the box and asked, “Mom, what the hell?”
My parents traveled to California in 1849. It was the year the great California Gold Rush Started. Among their party were two young women, Martha and Leyna.
Unlike my father, and pregnant mother, Martha and Leyna were not Vampires. Martha had been a young slave who’d been purchased (at the age of thirteen) in 1848 by my mother, and immediately given her freedom. Martha was smart and sweet girl who liked baby blue ribbons and anything to do with roses. Leyna was a sturdy one eyed teen with a black eye patch, and a head full of long blonde curls and pale blue eyes. She was to marry a man in his 40’s but she’d have none of that. She ended up in the service of my mother who appreciated her common sense and sense of humor. The contrast between the small dark slender girl and the Amazon like pale girl was almost extreme, but the two became inseparable friends.
By 1866 my parents had produced five little Vampire children. My brother Andy’s Italian music master was falling in love with Martha. Leyna was happy to be her own woman and running the kitchen. Both were still working for my parents.
Yes, we had a kitchen, for Vampires do eat food from time to time, especially with growing children. Another reason (which has a lot to do with the whole point of this story) is that my parent’s entertained a lot. None of their fine Nineteenth Century friends had any idea that Jeremy and Samantha and their five darling children were Vampires. It was all about appearances.
So during the party season of 1866 strange things started to happen around town. Even the illustrious households like the Standfords and Crockers reported disturbances of the most disgusting manner.
Women reported they’d feel something pulling at their large skirts, only to hear running, and a hissing laugh, followed by a cloud of flies and fleas. Sometimes they’d smell horrible fart like gas, or feel the brush of soft fur against their legs.
From fine homes, to local bars, alcohol supplies started to run low. Someone or something was getting into the supply.
Even our house was not exempt from the strange bad smelling visitor. I could hear my mother talking to my father about it. She said she’d heard of such event near St. Louis.
All the while my brothers and I were watching for whatever being was causing the disturbance. There were rumors of a dwarf escaped from a circus, or Werewolves, or ghosts, or even trained devil dogs.
Then one day we saw them walking along the edge of our house. A large greasy possum, his fur slicked back, and wearing one of my father’s ties around his neck, crept along with his teeth showing, and his dark eyes darting around. He was followed by a small creature who staggered along like a drunk. It looked like a small armadillo. The possum was disgusting, like the drunken dandy Werewolves who thought they were God’s gift to women. The armadillo creature was small and sweet.
Soon all Hell broke loose. The possum was trying to “romance” our cats. Alright, he was trying to mount them. That led to a possum face full of bloody scratches. Our dogs barked but he just flipped him off. Next we chased him into the house where we lost him for a few hours. We found the armadillo creature in a corner curled up around a bottle of whiskey.
The sound of scratching claws could be heard against the hardwood floor. The rank smell, and trail of my mother’s lacy unmentionables, led us to the kitchen.
“Look what that demon spawn has stolen from Samantha’s room,” we heard Leyna yelling.
Martha ran down the hall telling us to help her pick up the mess.
Then my mother appeared in the doorway. She was not happy. “It is called Buster. Martha, Leyna, we must eliminate it. NOW.”
Of course my seven year old brother Val and I started to scream at them not to kill it. We wanted to put it in a cage and tame it. We wanted to have it as a pet. We’d wash it and train it. We’d teach it tricks. We’d be famous.
Mother said NO.
The creature put his head up and looked at my mother with his shining black eyes, then hissed out the words, “Want some tail between your legs beautiful?”
The was a collective gasp, even from the Vampires in the room.
Martha, in a whirl of blue ribbons and lace, grabbed a broom. Leyna grabbed a large cast iron frying pan.
The creature hissed again. “Love it when the bitches get all fired up.” Then a cloud of fleas, flies, and fur swirled around the room.
Martha, Leyna and the possum thing called Buster disappeared into the kitchen. My mother followed, slamming the door behind her.
We stood with our ears to the door listening to the carnage. It sounded like a bar brawl. When the door opened my mother came out, her hair falling in messy curls down her back, her hands covered with scratches and blood. Martha and Leyna stood in shock.
A possum jaw was stuck in the back of the door, teeth sunk into the wood like nails. The rest of the animal was on the cutting board, a mash up of fur and a long rat like tail. Blood ran off of the surface onto the floor.
“Is it dead?” I asked.
My mother started to laugh. Then Martha and Leyna laughed too, until the three of them couldn’t stop.
“May I have the fur?” Asked my brother Val.
My mother smiled. “Whatever for my darling?”
“I’d like to make a doll out of it for Juliette.”
Val was a darling child.
Then Leyna spoke, “My sweetheart can do taxee-dermy. He’ll make you up a nice dolly for Juliette.”
Val and I jumped up and down clapping our cold little Vampire hands. We couldn’t have been more excited.
A week later Buster came back gutted and stuffed. His eyes had been replaced with shiny black buttons. His jaw and other loose parts had been sewn and wired back on. He was as good as new. And to make things even better Layna had made Buster a fine dress of green silk, with tiny yellow bows. Eventually my mother got tired of Buster’s stinking dressed up corpse and put him away.
As for the armadillo, he turned out to be a rare pigladillo. I would sit with him purring in my lap for hours. He lived to be almost forty years old. Such a sweet thing, even when he was drinking.
I was looking through my dusty archives to find something interesting to re-post, re-blog, re-purpose, or you know, not write today.
Given what is going on right now we should all have a lot more done than we have. Novels should be finished. Your entire yard should be re-landscaped. Dogs should be trained and dressed up like great works of arts. You should have painted at least three museum worthy masterpieces. To give him great amounts of credit my husband painted four rooms in our house including the kitchen.
Blogging about grown children is sort of like walking on a tight rope in the wind. That is all I’m going to say about that today.
I spoke to a friend today who sort of mentioned that one day just blends into the next and it is ok if nobody is getting anything done. It is ok. Additional stress is the last thing any of us need right now.
In the meantime I thought you’d like to read an amusing story that might make you smile.
Gerald Atkins, Vampire Hunter
“Now take that Gerald Atkins. He was the worst Vampire Hunter I’d ever seen. He could spot them but that was about it.”
“What was wrong with him?” Austin poured Grammy another cup of coffee.
“Oh he thought he was so suave showing up all dressed up like Sam Spade in his over coat and hat, smoking those smelly cigarettes of his.”
Grammy put some half and half in her coffee and continued. “Gerald would do stupid things like show up with holy water he’d gotten from a nun down at the Catholic church. I told him that he’d just as well throw Coca Cola at a Vampire for all the good it would do. I believe he was having sexual intercourse with that nun. Sister Ann was her name. I bet half the babies in that orphanage where hers.”
“They weren’t her children,” said Austin.
“You don’t know that Austin.”
“Just let me finish my story. Gerald Atkins was an idiot. He showed up at a party with his detective get up, with his briefcase full of holy water, a cross, and some old spike he carved out of a 2×4 piece of lumber. Of course he had a knife too but I doubt if he ever sharpened it. The man was goddamn lazy if you ask me.
In a back room back away from all of the drug addicts doing their cocaine on the glass top tables Gerald Atkins finds a couple of Vampires hanging out. There’s a male and a female. Mr. Vampire looks like he belongs to one of those hair bands. It was the 80’s you know. Miss Vampire wore a royal blue silk dress with the back open almost down to her butt crack. So Gerald Atkins takes a look at then and throws his holy water at them. It splashes all over Miss Vampire’s expensive dress and does nothing but make a bunch of stains. The Vampires jump all over Gerald’s ass and suck enough blood out of him to almost kill him, but not quite. Then they dump him in a gutter.
He wakes up in the hospital blubbering on about Vampires. The doctors were convinced he had bats in his attic and was full goose bat shit loony, and locked him up in the mental ward for a few days.
Another time he decided he wanted to date a Vampire woman. Gerald Atkins was so stupid thinking he might get lucky before he killed her. He talked her up trying to tell her how beautiful she was in a cool sort of way. She listened to him and beat him to any game he might have been trying to play. He ends up telling her his life story and about all of his pathetic sorry romances except for his diddling Sister Ann. He never dared speak of Sister Ann but everybody knew about them. Everybody.
Then the fool thinks the Vampire woman is falling for him because she is smiling so sweetly and making her eyes go all twinkly and pretty the way Vampires do. That Vampire woman tied Gerald Atkins naked to a bed in a fancy hotel and left him with the bill. She never took a stitch of her clothing off. Just left him there naked as the day he was born with a couple of holes in his neck. Idiot.”
“Is he still hunting Vampires Grammy?”
“Gosh no. Those Vampires got tired of his shenanigans and cut his head off one night. They left him in the Old City Cemetery with his body laid out on a random grave and his head on top to the tombstone.”
“That’s awful,” said Austin.
Grammy shook her head. “Not really Austin. He wasn’t careful or smart like we are. He never did his research. He could tell if someone was a Vampire but he sure didn’t have any talent to hunt them down properly. He gave us all a bad name.”
Austin offered Grammy more coffee. She nodded yes.
“No thanks. I will have another one of those sugar cookies you made. I’ll take two.”
“Do you think you’ll ever hunt Vampire again?” Austin asked his Grammy half joking. Just half.
Grammy took a bite of cookie and thought a bit. Then she smiled at her grandson. “I don’t know. I can’t run like I used to but you never know. They wouldn’t expect an old lady like me now would they.”
Austin just smiled and took a cookie. No they wouldn’t expect anyone like his Grammy. Nobody ever expected Grammy.
Have fun everyone. I have a new series starting up tomorrow so I’ll see you back here soon. Stay home. Social distance. Wash your hands. Be nice. Think good thoughts. Be creative.
Even Vampires are going out less these days. We must, what does Gillian say, oh yes, she says we must stay the fuck home.
While at home during this quarantine for a virus called Covid-19 my friends feel compelled to keep me entertained from afar.
A quarantine is not an uncommon or foreign idea to me. I was born at the time of the great black death plagues in Europe. I have been through many many many pandemics. Unfortunately for me I was locked in a crypt for the past three hundred years only to be rescued in the year 2014. I had skipped the 18th – 20th Centuries and first years of the 21st. That included all of the technology that came to be, not to mention the popular culture that occurred. Everything changed. I have still yet to catch up.
My friends, who forget I did not read Dickens the first time around, and never drove an automobile, or even heard of or imagined an automobile until six years ago expect me to dive into the fun and frivolity caused by people staying the fuck home.
They, my dear friends, telling me WATCH THIS. They expect me to laugh. The songs are all about hand washing, bleach, and staying alive. While these are all good instructions I find myself at a loss. These songs are also supposed to be humorous. I am supposed to laugh. I understand that if I drink milk I am supposed to spit it out of my nose. I do not understand that reference either. Who shoots milk out of their nose? I do not understand.
Finally my good friend Randolpho asks me why I do not understand the musical quarantine parodies. I tell him that it is the same reason I do not understand the songs of Weird Al. I have no point of reference.
THEN Randolpho tells me that another thing those staying at home do is to make a playlist.
“What is a playlist? Are we going to put on a show and play different parts from afar wearing masks and gloves? If we do Othello I will not play Iago.” I tell my friend.
Then he says, “NOOOOOOOO,” like he always says when he thinks I am being stupid. “A playlist is a list of songs that you like. Usually it is a list of songs that define your being. It is music that makes you feel.”
“Alright then, I will make a playlist,” I told him.
I freely admit I do not know all of the songs but I have learned quite a few pieces of music that make me feel. Not all of them make me feel but I do enjoy listening to them, especially loudly in my car when I drive at night with the windows rolled down.
Driving with the window rolled down and music playing loudly is a pleasure of modern life I could have never have predicted. It is invigorating unlike almost anything else.
I have made a playlist. This is what is called a short list meaning it is not all of the music I listen to.
Walkin After Midnight – Patsy Cline
One Fine Day, Madam Butterfly – Haylet Westenra
Rave On – Buddy Holly
Concerto in Da Minor, Bach – Bach Eternal
Riptide – Vance Joy
Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash
Friends in Low Places – Garth Brooks
Riptide – Robert Palmer
Fuge in G Minor, Bach – Virgil Fox
I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
Friends in Low Places – Garth Brooks
Everlasting – Survivor
You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/CD
Who’s Alright – Yeah… Um Huh. – The Rapture
Somethin’ Stupid – Frank & Nancy Sinatra
Short Skirt Long Jacket – Cake
Camel Walk – Southern Culture On The Skids
Dark Necessities – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Hall of the Mountain King – Apocalyptica
Day Dream – Lovin’ Spoonful
Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major Johan Sebastian Bach – Yo-Yo Ma
Hot Blooded – Foreigner
Night Call – Kavinsky
Night Walk – Gavin Luke
Tricky – Run DMC
The Way You Look Tonight – Fred Astaire
House of Wolves – My Chemical Romance
Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues – Buddy Guy
You Could Be Right – Jeremy Lister
Contagious – Night Riots
John Coltrane – everything
Randolpho told me my list is random. In fact, he said it was the most random playlist he has ever seen. I do not know what that means. I refuse to ask him or comment on his response.
His exact words were, “What the Hell is this Vlad? Were you trying for random?”
I told him once again that his hat was ridiculous.
I have conversations with my neighbor over the fence. She told me that in order to entertain her children she is making paper dolls. I asked her what paper dolls are. She told me. She cuts out shapes of girls and boys, animals, princesses and snowflakes. She said her paper dolls are cute. I asked her how to make them.
I made my own paper dolls. As you can see I am fairy adept when it comes to arts and crafts. I believe these would be considered cute.
I still do not understand those who go to the streets and protest that their hair needs to be colored, or that they need to go to the beach or go out an fart in the public squares. They should try being locked in a crypt for three hundred years. They would not do well indeed.
As a 676 year old Vampire I know to well the finality and fragility of human life. I also find myself, as always, someone with a vested interest in what these warm blooded humans do with themselves.
I have come to respect those who have become quite ancient for the standard of warm blooded humans. They are called seniors. When I was locked in that crypt there were very few seniors. Now there are more but they still need to be protected and respected.
Others from babies to people who are not yet ancient are also becoming ill and perishing from this virus.
Humans can indeed be vile creatures.
Today I went out to the hardware store to get a saw blade. I am building deck chairs. That would be chairs I will sit in when I sit on my deck at night. I am supposed to be improving my home since I am supposed to stay at home.
I put on a face mask. When I returned to my car I attempted to take off my mask but got a fang caught in it. Damn it all.
I have finished my deck chairs. I am listening to my playlist. Now I will binge watch on Netflix.
I know what a virus is now. A virus is a small being that is not an animal or a plant. It creates illness for no other purpose than that. A virus is a vile thing. I came to learn that some believe that a virus is what first caused Vampires to become Vampires. I very much doubt that.
How can something so small that not a soul can see it can do so much damage?
As I sit under the stars listening to the frogs, with a glass of blood on the table beside me, my MacBook Pro on my lap, and my love Gillian in my other deck chair I count my blessings, that is if there are blessings for Vampires. There must be blessings or Gillian and I would not be here.
I look at her and sing quietly,
Heart and soul I come to you Are we meeting here on cue Just in time for a love affair? Like a fool that walked through fire
Just to reach my heart’s desire Baby would you be waiting there? Can we afford to wonder If this could be the one?
Woh-oh — lookin’ for a love that’s everlasting Wonder if the feeling’s strong enough Tell me are we merely lovers passing Or an everlasting love?
She takes my hand and makes me stand. Then she holds me close, and then we went inside, leaving the night for others, and starting our own playlist for the night.
Are you looking for something to do while you’re staying at home?
Look no more! Follow the simple guidelines below and write that best selling novel.
Plot: what happens
Pick up to two.
Boy meets girl. Girl calls boy an asshole. Girl changes her mind.
Girl is gets engaged. The guy she is engaged to is a dick. She meets someone else. Someone else is better than the dick.
Someone is murdered. Everyone tries to figure it out.
Someone goes missing. Everyone tries to find missing person. Missing person doesn’t want to be found.
Someone is in danger. They meet someone while in danger. They fall in love. The bad guy dies. They are soulmates.
Someone gets sick. Then they get better.
Someone lives on a farm and longs for another life.
Someone lives in the city and longs for another time.
Someone finds religion and doesn’t know what to do with it.
Someone goes on a treasure hunt but finds that bad guys are looking for the same treasure.
Man finds out his wife is cheating and moves out to the wilderness with his children.
Woman finds her grown children frustrating so she moves to Italy and falls in love with a dashing man her own age.
Rock star goes on a journey to find his long lost family.
Someone has something to hide but they aren’t doing it very well. Drama ensues.
Someone finds a lot of money but a bad person wants it too.
Someone finds a body under their house and decides to bring it back to life.
An invasion of frogs and the exciting conclusion
Crew goes into space and something goes wrong
A quest to find treasure or something. They pick up friends along the way and get into loads of trouble before they FINALLY find what they’re looking for.
Twists: unexpected and surprising events
Pick up to five
A big fat lie
A tall handsome cowboy
An unexpected visitor
They get back together
A love letter
Ending: what happens in the last few pages
Pick up to three
They get married and happiness happens
They get rescued
The killer is caught
The killer isn’t caught
They all laugh about it
She loses all of her extra weight and shows them all how fabulous she is.
The dog comes home
The long lost child comes home.
They find the planet
They find happiness right where they are
Revenge is applied and it is sweet
They are ok just the way they are
Pick up to three
A person who uses they/them pronouns
Brother Harold who solves mysteries in the Middle Ages
Supporting characters: people and other living creatures
Pick up to ten
The gay best friend
The sassy black woman
The Asian friend
The pale white friend
The other ethnic friend
The talkative child
The shy beautiful woman
A tall handsome cowboy
The sullen teen
The bully from high school
The mean boss
A rich female business owner
The man in charge
The best friend from college
The mysterious stranger
The lady detective
The hard boiled detective
An alien from another planet
The pool boy
A wise person
A super old granny or grandpa
The noisy neighbor
The poor guy who is really a rich guy in disguise
The female mechanic
The tennis pro
The hair dresser
The HUGE moose
An ape in a dinner jacket with an English accent
Pick up to two. It would be easier to pick one but there might be some crossovers.
Depressing introspective mush
An overly gripping family saga
Location: Where your story takes place
Pick up to six in case they want to move around
Near the ocean
Far far away
On the moon
I want to build my own world
In a well
Deep dark woods
An unspecified chocolate shop
A rabbit hole
A ship on the high sea
A ship on the low sea
A police station
Pick as many as you need but don’t jump around too much
Twenty years ago
American Civil War
English Civil War
California Gold Rush Era
A few years into the future
Way into the future
Back to the future
A long long time ago
Not Earth time
Chapters: Pick a quantity and stick to it
No chapters. Let it freely flow
Maybe a little
Nothing but violence
Look at your list. Put on your face mask. Go for a walk and think about it. Come home. Wash your hands. Leave your shoes by the door. Make some tea/coffee/cocktail/water then put your list in order and start writing.
WRITE WRITE WRITE WRITE WRITE.
You can do it!!!!
By using these easy lists, in two weeks at home YOU will have a best selling novel. Don’t forget to spell check and edit. Make sure your cover isn’t some crappy ass amateur thing. If you have a good cover who cares what is inside. Right?
Good luck. Have fun. Send links to your book when you’re finished.