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.”

Boof started to sing quietly in a surprisingly beautiful tenor.

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

“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. 

Noz ~ a story by Mike Cooley

Noz

By Mike Cooley

The thump woke me up. Noz looked at me, blood dripping from his fangs. The body was on the floor in the kitchen; she looked young. The cigarette between my stained fingers was still lit and my hair was matted against the side of my face. I was lying on the ratty couch and an empty bottle of something cheap was on the carpet between me and the dark glass table. The cabin smelled ashes, spilled red wine, and fate.

“Noz. What have I told you about bringing home strangers?” I nodded toward the young lady, who was lying on her back, motionless and pale. Her hair was sandy blonde, and she was wearing a jade necklace, a turquoise blouse, and black shorts. The smell of her perfume wafted toward me, floral and ephemeral.

Nozfuratu’s satisfied grin morphed into a look of apology. He licked his left paw and smoothed his ebony hair back, trying to act nonchalant. “Mrow?” Other than the inverted white cross on his forehead, he was pitch black. It wasn’t immediately obvious how a feline of his relatively small size was able to take down a human and drag her all the way home, but I had long since given up trying to figure that part out.

I sat up with a groan, the inside of my skull pounding like a kodo drum, grabbed the kit off the table, and then beaconed Noz with a curled finger. “Come here. You know the drill.”

He sheepishly approached, after looking over his shoulder to make sure his prize was still there. Then he stopped in front of me and bared his teeth, holding still. The aura around him flickered with power.

I moved the test strip close and took a crimson drop off his incisor, then I inserted it into the tester and waited. “AB Negative? What have I told you about that, Noz?”

His ears flattened and he looked at me with apprehension. Then he gave me his best sad eyes.

“Can’t you smell the difference? I know we discussed this. If you have to hunt, you need to stick to O Positive or A Positive. I’m running out of everything else.” I wagged a finger at him. “You know how dangerous it is for me to leave.” I gestured at the walls of my cabin, nestled deep in the woods west of Duluth. There were piles of books and magazines all over and it looked like a small windstorm had just blown through. Shelves fastened to the walls contained a strange assortment of artifacts including silver rocket ships, moon rocks, and particle detectors.

Noz nodded with understanding, but his eyes were defiant and wise. His long tail twitched back and forth hypnotically.

The girl on the floor was still motionless. I stood and stretched, then rubbed the sand out of my eyes. Noz followed me into the kitchen, around the girl, and to the fridge. I opened the door, exposing row after row of blood bags, hanging from metal rods. I pushed them to the left, looking for the rare AB. There was one bag of it, near the back, so I grabbed it and then shut the door. There were dusty photos of crop circles taped to the front of the refrigerator and a few pictures of people that used to admit they knew me.

Noz trotted over to a ceramic bowl on the floor and lapped up some water.

I hooked the bag onto a metal stand near the broken television, then picked up the girl and laid her down gently on the couch. Then I wheeled the stand closer, and propped the girl’s head up on a pillow that was closer to clean than the rest of my place. Noz watched with great interest as I sterilized the needle with my lighter, let it cool, and then eased it into her arm.

Noz crept up to the side of the couch and peered up at her, his long black hair making him look bigger than he actually was. He sniffed her skin and then licked her pale face.

“Give her some space, Noz. You almost killed her. Why does a little guy like you need so much blood, anyway? You got a hollow leg?” I dodged the stack of Ancient Aliens magazines and pulled another bottle of cabernet out of a cardboard box on the floor. The cabin was a mess and smelled of damp cigarette butts, booze, and loneliness. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a real visitor.  Not many people knew where I was—and that’s how I liked it.

I sat down in my padded leather chair near a stained glass floor lamp, on the other side of the glass table from the girl. She looked like she was in her twenties, slight of build and a bit scuffed up from being dragged by Noz. I pulled the cork and poured a glass of dark red, then lit a Marlboro and took a drag. The ashtray on the night stand next to my chair was full of  filters and ash. There were empty beer cans on every horizontal surface.

Noz sniffed the girl’s hair one more time, then walked over, jumped into my lap, and curled up in a ball. His eyes closed and he began to purr. He smelled of power, like he did every time he brought someone back, and he felt heavier than he looked, like he was made of warm granite or lead.

I lifted the red, inhaled the aroma, and swirled it. Then I tilted it up, finishing my glass and pouring another. I looked around the inside of the cabin for signs that anyone had been there while I was passed out, but the haphazard clutter seemed the same as the night before. I didn’t remember when the voices had dimmed and let me fall asleep, but it had to have been hours ago.

The girl’s eyes fluttered open. They were blue and filled with confusion, which changed to awareness, and then panic as she scanned the room and stopped on me. “Where? Where am I? Who are you?”

“Noz dragged you home.” I gestured toward his sleeping form in my lap. “But he took too much blood, so I gave you back a pint.” I pointed at the metal stand and the hanging crimson bag, which was half empty.

She looked around the dirty, cluttered living room until her eyes fixed on the front door. Then she looked back at me. Her eyes shone with defiance, rather than fear. She tried to sit up and then slumped back down, closing her eyes for a moment.

“You’re not afraid.” I took the last drag from my cigarette, ashing it out in the octagonal glass ashtray to my left, then I exhaled slowly toward the front door. The window to the right of the door revealed only darkness beyond.

“Should I be?” She sat up on the couch again and groaned, reaching toward the bite mark on her throat. “Are you trying to tell me that little thing brought me here?” She pointed at Noz.

I nodded. “He’s a vampire.”

“Your cat is a vampire?”

“Would you like some wine? You lost a lot of blood.” I slid Noz off my lap onto the chair and stood slowly, then reached down into the crate for the last bottle. The girl didn’t flinch or try to scramble off the couch. “Normally they try to run when they wake up.”

“I’m not a runner.” She looked at the blood bag hanging from the metal stand, and then down at the tape on her arm.

“My cat bit you, sucked your blood, and then dragged you home; I’m a black man, somewhat disheveled, and you don’t know where you are.” I pulled the cork, poured my glass full and then poured half a glass and set it down on the table within reach of the girl.

Noz woke up and jumped down onto the dirty, wooden floor. Then he walked over to the couch and looked up at the girl as if apologizing.

“Somewhat?” She reached down and petted him. “I’m Nalia. Noz is cute. What if I leave and tell the police what happened?”

“You won’t remember me when you leave. No one does.” I rubbed my unshaven chin and took a gulp of wine. I looked down at my stained t-shirt and grungy pants. I couldn’t remember the last time I had showered.

Nalia reached for her glass, then lifted it to her lips and took a small, experimental sip.

“It’s safe. Same bottle.” I raised my glass. “Sorry about the bite and the scratches… Noz gets hungry.”

“This happens a lot? Where are the other girls?” Nalia patted the couch next to her and Noz jumped up.

“They left after I gave them some blood back. Halfway through the woods they forgot all about us.”

“So you’re magic?”

“Noz is. I’m just a man with a troubled mind.”

“Troubled, dangerous?”

“Not to you.”

“Can he turn into a bat?” Nalia scratched Noz behind the ears.

“No. But he doesn’t show up in mirrors, and rarely goes out before dark. Garlic doesn’t bother him and silver bullets can’t kill him.”

“You look a little rough. You all right?” Nalia leaned forward and looked me up and down.

“It’s been a rough couple of lifetimes. It gets a bit noisy up here.” I tapped my temple. “Why didn’t you run when you woke up?”

“My Mom says I’m different. That I embrace risk.” She took a bigger sip of cabernet and looked at the bookshelf full of Alchemy tomes against the far wall.

“And that’s what you think?” I let the voices inside wash over me like an ocean wave, and then they receded to a dull murmur. They were trying to tell me something about Nalia, but I couldn’t make it out. It was all static.

“No. Well, yes—I am different. But it’s not about risk. What about you?”

“I believe I was born under a pyramid. And I’m a patchwork of ghosts.”

“How’s that possible?”

“Sometimes when people die, and I’m close enough, their ghost passes through me—and sticks. Then I have another voice up here.” I pointed at my forehead. “I have attracted the attention of the wrong beings.”

Noz galloped across the room and jumped to the top of the bookcase, peering down at us like a gargoyle; then he closed his amber eyes.

“Is this a kidnapping?” Nalia watched Noz on his perch. She brushed her pale hair back behind her ears and continued absorbing the details around her as if cataloguing them so she could describe everything to the authorities. She sniffed the air experimentally and then her nose wrinkled.

“More of a cat napping.” I pointed to Noz, who remained still. “You are free to leave at any time. But the GeoSat rays are strong right now, so you might wanna wait…”

“Rays?” Nalia leaned forward and raised an eyebrow. Her blouse was covered with butterflies and the jade stone was fastened to her necklace with silver wire. Her fingernails were painted dark purple, matching her lips. She was wearing tennis shoes.

Noz vaulted from the top of the bookcase, stretched out to catch the air, and glided down to Nalia, landing on her shoulder.

“He’s yours now.” I took a drag of filtered death and then turned my head and exhaled away from Nalia toward the back room. The cabin had one main room with a kitchen, a bathroom, and one bedroom.

“You can’t just give me your cat.”

“Noz is allowed to have pets. But only one at a time.” I smiled. “Wanna test your legs and get me a beer?”

Nalia pulled the needle out of her arm with a grimace and then reapplied the tape to her arm where it had been pierced. The bag on the stand was nearly empty. Then she stood up, her stance belying the fact that she was ready to bolt. She wavered a bit, like a palm tree in an ocean breeze, and then stabilized. “Why did you say the rays are strong?” She turned toward the fridge.

Noz remained on her shoulder, enjoying the ride. He nuzzled against her left ear and began to purr.

“You’re an anomaly. They’ve noticed.” I pointed up toward the sky.

Nalia opened the fridge and gasped at the rows of hanging bags. “That’s a lotta blood.”

“Nozfuratu is a good hunter. Beer’s in the bottom drawer.”

Nalia grabbed two Castle Danger’s and tossed one my way. “Catch!”

I caught it and popped open the can. “Thanks.”

She nodded, walked back over to the couch, and sat down, cracking her beer open and taking a gulp. “What do you mean I’m an anomaly? What did I do?”

“It’s not what you did… it’s what you are. You’re an energy channeler.”

“A what?”

“You might be more familiar with the term, witch.”

“My parents are normal. I was born through the woods and down the hill, on the shore of Lake Superior.” Nalia pointed.

“One or both of your parents is not. One thing abnormals are really good at… is hiding it. Outsiders are in constant danger on this world.”

“How can you tell what I am?”

“The glow around your left ring finger.”

Nalia held up her hand. “I don’t see anything.”

“I see a lot of things.” I drank half the ale and lit another cigarette. “Are you feeling better?”

“A little weak. Last thing I remember is the little bastard leaping for my throat.” Nalia grabbed Noz by the scruff of the neck and shook him gently. “I was out for a walk. Getting some air. Trying to leave my troubles behind.”

“I know a thing or three about trouble.”

“What are you doing hiding in the woods?”

“Iron Ore.” I drank the rest of the beer, crumpled the can, and tossed it across the room into a basket full of empties.

“Pardon?” Nalia took another sip then set her beer down on the table. “Those things will kill ya.”

I looked down at the Marlboro, then rubbed the stubble on my chin. “It’s not that easy. The iron helps disburse the rays—from up there—so I can sleep.” I pointed at the ceiling, which was dusty and festooned with cobwebs.

“Are you one of those Flat Earthers?” Nalia laughed.

“I’m a Multiple Earther. That which you think you know is nothing more than a thin veil over what actually exists.”

“I’m not a witch.” Nalia tilted her can up and emptied it, then set it down on the table.

Noz jumped onto her lap and curled up.

“But you have powers. ”

“Not useful ones, like dodging flying vampire cats.”

“I know this is a lot to ask, but would you consider helping me?”

“How often do you have strange girls in your house?”

“Ladies.”

“Don’t change the subject.” Nalia pointed at me and her aura grew larger. There was a blue glow around her hands that crept up her arms toward her shoulders.

“It’s not polite to point.”

“Considering the circumstances, I don’t believe that you are occupying the high ground here. Right, Noz?” Nalia looked down at the dark fluff.

Noz opened one eye, then nodded and smiled.

“Could you help me transfer my energy signature to Eagle Mountain? It will be dangerous.”

“Hold on. You want me to carry your energy away from here?”

“No. I will walk there, with you. And then we will perform the ceremony. It’s the only way to break the GeoSat link. Noz will come with us, for protection.”

Noz stretched and then looked from Nalia toward the front door.

“What if he gets hungry again?”

“He won’t be hungry again for a few days. But he might bite some things.”

Nalia picked up a magazine and looked at the cover. “Why do you have all these Alien Artifact ‘Zines?” She opened it up and scanned all the handwritten notes in the margins and then the circled phrases and images.

“Research.”

“So, you’re nuts because of these GeoSat beams?” Nalia closed the magazine and set it down on the table.

“I was always nuts. But once they found me here, they’ve redoubled their efforts and I’m pinned down like a bug on a needle under a magnifying glass. They know my frequency.”

Nalia looked at the front window and then at her watch. “It’s eleven. What if we take too long and the sun comes up while we are hiking in the woods with Noz?”

I stood up, walked down the hall to the bedroom door, opened it, and grabbed the carved wooden box from the night stand. Then I turned, walked back into the living room, and held it up. “I’ll bring his nest. We can put him in it before sunrise.” I set the box down on the glass table in front of her.

“You have a coffin for your cat?” Nalia smirked.

“Your cat. Although he doesn’t much care for the idea of a human owning him. As far as Noz is concerned, you are his.”

Nalia scratched Noz under the chin. “One bite and you think you own me?”

Noz bared his teeth and pretended he was going to bite Nalia again but instead lightly nibbled.

“So you will help me? It’s not too much of an imposition? You’re not afraid… of me?” I sat down in my chair and closed my eyes, feeling the rays outside searching for me while the ghosts inside tried to escape through my breath.

“It appears that you are only a danger to yourself. And I wasn’t going anywhere when Noz bit me and drained my blood. I was just walking in the trees, trying to absorb some positive thoughts from the old ones.”

I opened my grey eyes and leaned forward. “Oh, I’m dangerous. But not to women. Right, Noz?”

Noz perked up and looked from me to Nalia, then dipped his chin.

“Why me?” Nalia held up her left hand and examined her fingers. “I don’t see any glow.”

“You have become accustomed to your power. It lies beneath the surface like a smooth lake under ice. But I am lucky Noz found you. He is wise beyond his years.”

Nalia went to the fridge and grabbed two more beers, tossing me one. Then she cracked hers open. “I’m in. But no funny stuff.”

“Hiking up a mountain with an old man and a vampire cat while being scanned by GeoSats doesn’t count as funny stuff?” I opened my eyes wide and then grinned.

“How far is it?” Nalia drank half of her Castle Danger, then set the can down. “I better use your bathroom first.”

I pointed down the hallway to the left. “It’s about four hours to the top from here. If we don’t get attacked.”

Noz ran ahead of Nalia and popped into the bathroom. There was a thump and then the light clicked on.

Nalia laughed and followed him.

I sipped my beer and smoked another death stick while Nalia took care of business. Then I slipped the remainder of the Marlboro pack into my shirt pocket along with a lighter, grabbed a knife and slid it inside my boot sheath, and then packed Noz’s carved wooden nest into a backpack.

Nalia and Noz emerged from the bathroom and came back into the living room.

Noz looked excited. He knew we were going somewhere.

“Ready?” I stood up and slung the backpack over my shoulders.

Nalia nodded.

I opened the front door and headed outside.

Nalia and Noz followed. She closed the door behind her.

Thetrees towered above us and the faint glow of the moon shone through a layer of clouds. The forest smelled of pine. I followed the winding dirt trail and scanned the thick underbrush. Nalia and Noz were close behind me. I pulled a cigarette from my front shirt pocket and lit it, then took a puff.

“What’s your name anyway? And what are you looking for in the woods?” Nalia looked over at me.

Noz hung close to her legs, his ears perked and his eyes wide. He was watching the woods, too, and smelling the air.

“Isaac. I’m watching for manifestations. Noz can smell them.”

“Manifest what?”

“The GeoSat beams know where I am. And they can produce… creatures.”

“So we are in danger? I thought it would just be bears or cougars.” Nalia looked down at Noz who was peering up at the tree tops.

“The Manifests are deadly. But I have a knife.” I pointed at my boot. “And Noz.”

“And me.” Nalia smiled. “So these ‘Sats are aliens that want to kill you?”

“In a way. But not flying saucer aliens. They know I can expose them, so they want to keep me isolated. I know where they’re from, and that they’re trying to change the future.” I walked faster. There was a smell that I recognized wafting through the air. It was like burnt cinnamon mixed with rotten leaves.

Noz growled and then shot ahead of us.

“There’re here.” I crouched, then reached into my left boot and pulled out the hunting knife.

Nalia’s eyes grew wide. She stopped in the middle of the winding trail and took a defensive stance. “I don’t see anything.”

“Open your mind.”

Three blue beams erupted from the midnight sky, piercing the darkness. There was a crackle of energy and then the creatures were upon us. They were misshaped and hairy, like melted gorillas from a different world. Their hands had too many fingers and their eyes were scattered around on their faces, asymmetrically.

“Jesus.” Nalia extended her left hand and a green glow sprang up around her, shimmering like a translucent egg.

Noz flew through the air and hit the first manifestation in the head, fangs extended. His momentum knocked the creature down and they both rolled down the hill to our left.

“Feel your energy. It springs from within. Shield us and I will take these two on.” I lunged forward and stabbed the closest creature. The steel blade pierced its cold skin. It screamed with a voice that sounded like metal ripping, and raked me with obsidian talons, tearing my shirt and drawing blood. An acrid smell filled my nostrils.

Nalia went to one knee, and the green aura extended around her like a bubble.

The second creature dashed itself against the bubble in anger, but the shield held.

“I don’t know how to do this.” Naila’s face showed fear and she was trembling; sweat ran down her forehead.

“It’s not necessary to know. It’s not something you learn; it’s something you are. Feel the flow and stay in it. You are a conduit.” I spun to my right and the second creature barreled into me, pinning me to the ground. The knife dropped out of my hand, slick with the blue blood of the creature I had stabbed.

Noz popped out of the bushes, his muzzle and head covered with the blood of the creature he had wrestled down the hill. He pounced on the back of the one that had me pinned and started biting it.

The manifest on top of me screamed like a rusty hangar door and rolled off, scrabbling at its back with both arms, trying to dislodge Nozfuratu.

The third creature battered against Nalia’s shield over and over, trying to reach her. Each time it hit the barrier, it drove her back and the shield weakened. The green glow of her power crackled and sputtered. Nalia was on both knees, sweat drenching her body. “I can’t hold it. I can’t.”

“One more minute. You can do it.” I rolled to my left, grabbed the knife, and plunged it into the creature Noz was biting. It shimmered and then dissolved into dark azure smoke, which drifted away on the night’s breeze leaving nothing but the echo of its last scream.

Noz screeched and turned toward Nalia as her shield collapsed and the last manifestation knocked her to the ground.

Nalia screamed and raised her arms, trying to knock the creature off.

The creature wrapped both of its powerful hands around her neck and squeezed. It was making a gibbering noise and its many eyes were wide open and staring.

Nalia’s screams stopped and she went limp.

Noz bit the creature, draining blood while pulling it off of her.

I stabbed it in the head and it turned to smoke like the others.

“Nalia?” I examined her neck, which was bruised but not broken. She was breathing.

Noz rubbed against her anxiously, his face near hers. Then he licked her lips.

“Wha? Christ!” Nalia’s eyes fluttered open and then she coughed and sat up, clutching her throat. “That was close.”

“Now you see why I don’t leave my cabin.”

“Thanks for saving me, Noz.” Nalia rubbed under his chin.

Noz purred like a tiny chainsaw and then licked his paw trying to clean his face of the creature’s blood.

I wiped the viscous blue off my knife and then sheathed it in my boot. “You feel well enough to keep walking?”

Nalia nodded and stood up. She rubbed her neck and moved her head around in a circle carefully, checking for pain.

I started walking along the dirt trail again. It was getting steeper as we passed the base of the mountain.

“How far to the cave? Are we going to run into any more manifestations?”

“We are getting close.” I reached for another cigarette, but the pack was empty. “The creatures don’t usually manifest again, right after an attack.”

We walked for another twenty minutes before I held up a hand. I could see beams scanning the woods all around us, and the glow of eyes watching from the trees. “We’re here. It’s off to the right, behind that outcropping.” I pointed.

“I don’t know what to do. I’m not really a witch, you know.” Nalia reached down and grabbed Noz, then put him on her shoulder.

“I know you don’t think you are. You’ve been conditioned by humans. They’ve taught you to suppress it. They’ve made you forget what you really are.”

I led the way off the trail and into the mouth of the cave.

“Now what?” Nalia pulled a flashlight out of a pocket on the backpack and illuminated the hollow.

The cave was twenty feet high and deep enough we couldn’t see the end. The rock walls were covered with moss, and the dirt floor was littered with pebbles and small bones.

“You are going to extract my essence and coat the cave walls with it. That will trick the GeoSats into thinking I’m here. You will have to nearly kill me, or it won’t work.”

“But I don’t know how.”

“Noz will help.” I laid down on the cave floor and stretched out my arms. “Reach down to my chest and find the edge of my essence.”

Nalia knelt down beside me and placed her hands on my chest. “But what—what if you die?”

“There are worse ways to die than looking at beauty.”

Noz leapt down from Nalia’s shoulder, and took up a position to my right. He looked up at Nalia expectantly.

“Close your eyes and feel the essence within me. It will feel like warm gelatin. And it will pulse with fire. It will burn.”

“I think. I think I can feel it.” Nalia spread her hands and began to pull them upward.

Noz gave a worried meep, placing his face close to mine.

I felt the warm rush of my life force draining, as if my blood was evaporating, and I grew faint. “Take my essence, and paint the walls with it.”

Nalia crouched over me, fear in her eyes.

Everything began to spin in a dreamlike spiral. I could smell freshly turned earth and pine trees. The ghosts within me sprang free and hung in the air like paper lanterns.

She spread her fingers and a pulsing glow sprang from her hands. She reached into my chest and pulled on my heart. Then she pulled her hands back and my energy flowed upward and out of me.

My eyes closed.

Nalia flung her hands upward and outward, spraying bits of my essence over the inside of the cave like spatters of gold.

Noz nuzzled my cheek. “Mrrow.”

A sigh escaped my lips and I exhaled. I felt no need to inhale anymore. The weight of the world rose off of me like a shimmer of light. There was a vibration within my chest like the rumble of faraway thunder. I could smell coffee. Memories flickered by like moths.

Nalia’s eyes widened. “Oh, no you don’t!” She pounded my chest with her fists.

“I’m not leaving you.” My voice was no more than a whisper. “But I’m too weak to walk. Noz will have to drag me far away from here before my essence is detectable again.”

Noz bit down on my pant leg and dragged me from the cave as if I weighed nothing. Above the rocky opening in the side of the mountain the GeoSat beams danced, scanning the area. They played across the cave opening while dreams of the ancients flickered into life behind my eyelids. Ghosts danced and swirled through my consciousness like flickering fireflies.

“Isaac? Are you alive?” Nalia crouched over me. Her voice sounded far away.

My eyes opened. Noz was perched on my chest and I was lying on my back. Trees rose above me and it was nearing dawn. I could hear the chirping of birds as the forest began to wake. “I am. Where are we?”

“About halfway back. Noz dragged you.” Nalia’s blue eyes showed concern and her lips were a tight line.

“And the beams?”

“They didn’t follow. They were scanning the top of the mountain behind us.”

“We need to get Noz in his nest.” I sat up and the forest swirled around me. I fought the urge to black out and squeezed my temples.

Nalia pulled Noz’s coffin out of the backpack and set it on the ground, then opened it. The outside was carved walnut while the inside was red velvet. The hinges and clasps were golden. “Time for your nap, Noz.”

A warm, red glow sprang up from the eastern horizon, filtering through the brush like blood.

I grabbed Nozfuratu and held him to my chest, grasping him tight. Then I looked into his eyes. “You take care of her.”

Noz rested his head on my shoulder for a moment, then jumped off of me and into his nest, curling into a ball. He looked up at Nalia expectantly then lifted a paw in my direction.

I held up a hand, palm open and let a wash of feelings swirl through me like an undercurrent in a fierce river.

She closed the lid and latched it. “He’s in. Can you walk?”

I struggled to my feet. “As long as I can lean on you a little. We need to get back to my cabin before my strength comes back, or the GeoSats will detect me.”

“They were scanning the cave when we dragged you out of there.”

“I think you did it, Nalia. They will believe I’m still there.” I leaned against her and walked as fast as I could. Each step was harder than the next and I was barely able to lift my feet. My bones were weary, but I wasn’t going to waste the chance.

The sun was kissing the ground to the east, red turning to golden, rays cascading through the leaves when we got back to the cabin.

Nalia pulled open the front door and dragged me to the couch where I collapsed as everything went black.

Shewas sitting on the leather chair keeping an eye on me when I woke up, a beer in each hand. Her aura was bright and undulated around her like a ghostly shell.

“Feeling better?” Nalia leaned forward. “You look dazed.”

I sat up and looked around the room, spotting Noz’s wooden nest on the glass table in front of me. “I’m feeling free. I can’t hear the beams.” I looked up at the ceiling. “Best sleep I’ve had in years. How long was I out?”

Nalia smiled. “It’s dusk. You slept all day.” She held a beer up in the direction of the front window, where daylight was beginning to fade. “What now?”

“You are free to go. I owe you my life. Take Noz with you.” I leaned forward, unlatched the coffin, and opened the lid.

Noz opened one amber eye, then the other, then vaulted out of his coffin in one swift motion. He stretched and preened, his face lighting up when he saw Nalia.

Nalia walked to the fridge, grabbed a handful of blood bags, and jammed them into the backpack. Then she pulled the pack onto her shoulders and reached down to pet Noz’s head. “You sure you’ll be okay without us?”

I nodded. “They won’t know where I am for awhile. Perhaps long enough for me to escape them.”

“I believe in you.” Nalia walked over, placed a hand on my shoulder, then leaned down and kissed my cheek.

“Be careful, Nalia. They know who you are now.”

Nalia smiled. “I will, Isaac. I will.”

Noz ran across the room, leapt up to the door handle, and turned it with his weight. He locked eyes with me and raised his chin with pride.

Emotion welled up in Nalia’s eyes. She touched a finger to her lips and looked away before her face could betray her.

The front door swung open, and then they were gone.

* * *

From Mike Cooley:

mdc-author-shot-1

I am a science fiction and fantasy writer by night, and a software engineer by day. I have written many science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories. I grew up in Washington State, went to college in New Mexico, and ended up in Minnesota. My top influences are Phillip K. Dick and James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon). I could name another hundred writers that have influenced me and my work, but that would be a bit excessive.

~ Mike Cooley

Tangled Tales

From Juliette:

I love this story so much.

I can’t even express how honored I am to feature this story from my friend and  author Mike Cooley. Thank you Mike.

Mike’s blog Last Writes Fantastical Tales of Madness and Mayhem can be found HERE (click here.) There you’ll find his blog, his books, contact information, and some of the best new science fiction, fantasy, and horror available today.

His work is also featured in several WPaD (Writers, Poets, and Deviants) Anthologies.

wpadposter

Over the next few months I’ll be featuring other talented guest authors.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

Short Story Sunday: Pandemic

Austin Durant, college professor, historic restoration specialist, and Vampire Hunter, was working on a time line for when the first Vampire Hunters made their appearance in California. Some said it was 1867 but he knew it was probably earlier. Any written records were difficult to find, and there were no public records.

He closed the blinds in his office. Damn it was hot for April. Like everyone else he was at home, doing Zoom conferencing, and wondering if he’d ever be able to do live classes again.

The phone vibrated on his desk. He was quick to catch it before it vibrated right off onto the floor.

He looked at the caller I.D. It was his fifteen year old nephew Caden.

“What’s up Caden?”

“Uncle Austin, I’m at the hospital. Mom broke her arm. The bone was sticking through.”

“What happened?”

“She was out in the yard and tripped. I drove her here but they wouldn’t let me come in with her. I’m waiting outside in the parking lot. They said they’d call me.”

“It could be hours. Is there any shade?”

“Yeah, I found shade. I don’t want to leave her. I just have my permit. I’m not supposed to drive alone.”

“Do you want me to come down and get you?”

“No. It’s ok.”

“Do you have a mask? Gloves?”

“A mask. No gloves. I’ve got a bottle of hand sanitizer in the car.”

“Do you need anything to eat. Drinks?”

“I went through the drive through. I drove without mom but I turn sixteen next week. I’m sharing some chicken nuggets and fries with Cookie. I got big drinks for both of us. Water for Cookie.”

“Why’d you bring Cookie?”

“I don’t know. Nobody would bother a kid with a hundred pound dog. I have a book too, and my phone.”

“Where’s your dad?”

“Home. Didn’t my mom tell you? He has it. I think he has Covid19. My dad has been in his office on the spare bed for the past week coughing. He could barely get up the stairs by himself. We bring him food and leave it at the door like room service.”

“Is he going to be ok?”

“I don’t know. I think so. They said to bring him back to the hospital if he gets worse.”

Caden’s voice broke. Austin could hear him starting to cry.

“You ok?”

“No. I mean yes, I’ll be fine. I’m just worried about my parents.”

“Do you want me to come to the hospital?”

“No, it’s ok. I just wanted to let you know about my mom.”

“Should I send a friend? You know, a friend.”

“A vampire?”

“They don’t need to social distance.”

“Right. They’re sort of already dead. Um, I’m fine for now. Um, Uncle Austin, could you, uh, have one of your friends check on my dad for me?”

“No problem.”

“Thanks.”

“Would you ask them to stop by Dairy Queen and get my dad a Blizzard. Something with chocolate. Either the Oreo one or the Fudge Brownie one.”

“I think I can arrange that.”

“Cool. He’d like that.”

“I’ll send someone your dad knows.”

“Thanks. Uncle Austin this is so weird.”

“The vampires?”

“No, the pandemic.” Caden gave a little horse laugh, the way teenage boys do. “It is so weird. Thank for being here for me.”

“Always. Love you kid.”

“Love you too. I’ll keep you posted on mom.”

They finished their call and Austin sat at his desk thinking about his sister, his nephew, and his brother in law. His heart ached at the thought of not being able to do much.

Then he picked up the phone and dialed.

“Hey, it’s Austin. Could you do me a favor?”

The silky smooth vampire voice on the other end answered back, “Anything for you darling. Just ask.”

“Have you ever been to Dairy Queen?”

~ end

 

Tangled Tales

 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

 

 

 

Sam Judge

Sam Judge

Part 1: The Apocalypse

My grandparent’s crazy is the new normal.

Normal is still pretty crazy, well, because it isn’t normal. We don’t want it to be normal, but unfortunately that is what normal is to me.

Does any of that make sense?

My grandmother and I talk a lot about that. I’m so glad she’s still around. She’s the one who encouraged me to go into reporting and photojournalism.  She is also the one who encouraged me never to color my hair. But enough about me.

The crazy stuff started to happen when my parents were in college. First were the pandemics in China that spread through most of Asia wiping out millions of people in most of the large urban centers. To this day most people of Chinese descent live outside of China.

After that happened, along with a shit load of political fall out, there was another plague of a sorts. Radioactive and other unidentified debris started falling from the sky. The governments of the world claimed they didn’t know where it came from. From the sky was all they could say. From the fucking sky.

Shortly after the first zombies showed up in Australia. They were already dealing with the aftermath of the third big wave of fires when the population started to die, but not die. Roaming packs of shuffling virus infested humans with rotting flesh attacked the normal living. When bullets ran out flamethrowers were used, and even more fires started. Entire cities burned.

From Australia the zombies moved slowly across all continents gnawing and rotting along the way. In the United States the Midwest and the Chicago area were hit especially hard. It is estimated that almost forty percent of the population between the ages of fifteen and seventy became zombies before the epidemic died down. The zombie attacks were compounded by an never ending Midwestern winter.

Governments continued to crumble. Strange deadly disease continued to pop up, and then vanish after massive causalities.

After the first wave of zombies someone in what was once known as North Korea shot off a nuclear warhead claiming the USA had caused most of their population to die of the Black Crow flu. The bomb landed on Tokyo, Japan. That started yet another war and more tolls on the already weak human populations and wild life.

By the time I was born the Southern Hemisphere was for the most part totally uninhabitable. A few brave souls still lived there but not many outside of the research stations and military posts.

After that all hell broke loose again for a short time, then things got really bazar. Some yahoos from the rogue Canadian Space Front shot the alien research station out of the sky thinking it was a Chinese space station shooting zombie virus bombs down over rural Alberta.

The alien space station landed in the middle of Nevada. Seriously, as if Nevada didn’t already have their share of alien based urban legends and whack jobs crawling all over the desert. Unfortunately all but two of the twenty-four aliens on board were killed. The two who survived managed to say that they’d been watching us for a while and were frankly shocked at what they’d seen. Then they too died. We never did find out where they were from. The funny thing is that they looked like us except their skin was kind of a baby blue, and their eyes were slightly larger like anime characters. When I was a kid I wanted to go visit the site but my parents would never take me.

After the proof of life outside of our planet was proved, religious groups and cults started to pop up preaching the end of days, and other crazy ass biblical prophecies. I remember my mom telling me that she didn’t think things could get any stranger, but she was wrong. Things did get stranger, right in her own home. In her own womb in fact.

Around the time of my birth another new and unique phenomenon began to happen. PAM otherwise known as  Post Apocolypitic Mutations. I know all about that one personally because I’m a PAM baby.

I was born with dark hair, but by the time I was a year old my hair had turned steel gray. By the time I was in college white and silver highlights grew in.  My eyes are the same steel gray color as my hair. My most unique feature, one that I rarely share with others, is the ability to conceal lies from others, including PAM babies who have the ability to catch lies. And if you’re asking, why yes, it does come in handy.

Other PAM cases were more extreme than mine. There were kids with seven fingers, tails, and odd multicolored eyes, but those weren’t the really interesting cases. Some children displayed traits that came right out of the old super hero comics. There were people with extraordinary hearing, or could see miles away. Every kind of physical strength and endurance you could think of was showing up with PAM kids.

One girl known as Emily Seventeen could read minds. Every government and nut job religious organization wanted her. She died of a brain hemorrhage the day she turned twenty-one. Her brain was studied but nobody could ever figure out how it worked.

After much study it was discovered that all of these people with extraordinary strengths had their weakness that would make then “normal.” They all had their proverbial kryptonite. The most famous example of this was my friend Harriet O’Malley who could disjoint her entire body, every single bone, and creep around like a giant ameba, as flat as a pancake. She was tired of the mess, the sloppy re-jointing, and general discomfort of her particular skill set.

After a lot of trial and error Harriet accidentally found a fix to put an end to being ameba girl. When her younger brother died in a car accident Harriet had a large memorial tattoo in his honor put on her upper back and across her shoulders. It was a play on words because when she we feeling depressed he always told her “I have your back Harriet.”  The ink on her back was absolutely beautiful and in full color. When the tattoo was done and completely healed she was asked to go flat. She couldn’t do it. The tattoo held her together. Her brother did indeed have her back. A simple tattoo was her kryptonite. Who would have guessed? Or maybe it was simply giving over to grief and love. It always seemed far-fetched to me, but she was my friend so I believed her.

 

Part 2: The Assignment

So that brings us to now. I’m a science and political reporter for TCN, I might add, the largest and most prestigious news agency around. TCN is unique in that it is not associated with any political party, religion, or even region. It is completely neutral (like Switzerland before the zombies ate everyone there.)

One day I was sitting in my home office in Laguna Beach, drinking coffee, and working on the possibilities of more alien visitations, when I received an assignment to interview Sam Judge. Yes, the over the top ultra famous Sam Judge.

Like me, Sam Judge is also a PAM baby. Unlike me, his unique features were more along the lines of my friend Harriet O’Malley – high on the super hero scale.

I caught a flight out the next morning with Harriet, who by the way is my photographer, and our sound/camera guy Phil Steen. At security our I.D.s were checked showing Harriet and I were PAMs.

The security woman gave me the usual judgmental glare. “Do you have any special powers we should know about?”

“No,” I told her. “Just my funny hair color.” What I didn’t tell her is that I can lie and nobody, not even a PAM with special lie detecting powers, can detect my lies.

Harriet told the security officer that she used to be able to liquefy but wouldn’t do it on the plane. Phil isn’t a PAM so he went right through despite his shaggy un-kept beard, tacky pink and green plaid pants, and orange jacket.

On the flight to Chicago Harriet and Phil talked about taking making some side trips to interview famous zombie hunters old, and slept. I read up on Sam Judge.

At the time Sam Judge was a twenty eight year old PAM. His birthday was three days before mine. That was interesting.

His powers are extraordinary physical strength, and the ability to read lies. He also possesses well-honed leadership skills.

People love Sam Judge. As a war hero he’d single handedly slain entire armies of remaining zombies, unsavory cannibalistic humans, and took on monster mutant lizards, dogs, and elk. Sam Judge never lost a battle. That didn’t mean that he never lost at love.

Same Judge was left at the alter when his bride ran off with his best man. He didn’t take it to well and exacted revenge upon everyone she knew by digging into their rather unsavory business practices. Both of her parents, her brothers, and the ex best friend were now in prison. That was interesting.

He mentioned later that she never told him that she loved him. He would have known it was a lie. Nobody can keep a lie from Sam Judge if he wants to hear it. If Sam Judge doesn’t like what he hears he will be one badass vindictive bastard. I know if he’d known me than I could have told him she was trouble and saved him a lot of grief.

Since then no other woman had captured Sam’s heart. He was not dating anyone seriously. There were no prospects for serious relationships. Handsome Sam Judge does not give his heart away.

Sam was born into what I would consider a cult, called Chosen Followers. They are a hybrid of Catholic and fundamental evangelical beliefs mixed with doomsday prophesy weirdness. Just for kicks and grins add in some crazy stories about visions of the Virgin Mary.

Sam Judge’s mother, Isabelle McCarthy Judge, said that Sam was chosen by God, and that it was God who gave Sam his powers. She refused to call him a PAM or use the termPost Apocalyptic Mutations when describing her son. Mrs. Judge went all the way to the Supreme Court of the Untied States to get the title removed from all of her precious Sam’s paperwork.

Most interesting of all was that with all of the attention on Sam Judge over the past ten years nobody had ever figured out what his kryptonite was. Nobody. Well, nobody so far. I intended to find out exactly what made Sam Judge tick.

 

Part Three: The Interview

As usual Chicago was freezing. I’m surprised the plane was able to land due to the current snowstorm. Current snowstorm is an understatement. They had below zero winters that lasted for nine months out of the year.

I wanted to be professional but in no way frumpy. A black skirt, pared with a bright sapphire blue sweater, black tights and flat black boots. I didn’t put any clips in my chin length gray hair. Because this would be filmed I had on the full face make-up.

Gabrielle dressed similar in a forest green wool wrap dress, tights and flat over the knee boots. Phil showed up in all black save for a purple and yellow tie. He’d shaved off his shaggy beard that night and showed of a handsome face that I’d never seen before. He’d also pulled his shoulder length hair up into a neat man bun. Phil actually looked really good for a change. I had to compliment him on making the effort.

It took us about a year, ok maybe an hour, to go though security at the Judge mansion. Not only were we patted down, and all of our belongings checked, we were also asked detailed questions that we’d already answered in a preliminary email.

A pale young man who introduced himself as Timothy Ryan led us to a large living room filled with artwork, comfortable furniture and flowers. One side of the wall was all windows overlooking the new Chicago skyline. Harriet made a beeline to the huge stone fireplace and thawed out her hands. Timothy showed us where an antique sterling silver coffee, tea and water service had been set up, then left the room.

“Modern Prairie mansion overkill,” said Phil looking around.

“I like it,” I said. “I could live in a place like this, you know, if it was back home. I wonder when Sam is going to show up?”

“Right now,” said a voice, followed by a laugh.

There he was, Sam Judge in all his glory, looking better in person than in any video or photograph. Despite his impressive body builder physique, the first thing I noticed was his eyes. Bright hazel, the color of the winter waves, with genuine happiness showing through. Those eyes were in a gorgeous, handsome, beautiful male face. His famous hair, a glossy caramel color, fell down his back and to his waist.

“Welcome. I’m so glad you made it. I’m Sam Judge.” He approached me and held out his hand.

As I took his right hand he put his left hand over it in almost a protective way. I looked right up into those beautiful hazel eyes. “I’m Lilah Wolfe. Good to meet you Mr. Judge.”

“Call me Sam.”

I introduced Harriet and Phil, and then noticed nobody else had joined us. Usually men like Sam Judge had an entourage or at least a few minions hanging about, but it was just Sam.

“You’re known for your strength and speed. What else do you want people to know about you?” I asked.

Sam gave me the answer I was looking for. “I never enjoyed the things I had to do. Dealing with zombies, violence, mutant insects, isn’t fun for anyone.”

“You dug a classroom of children and their teachers out of the rubble of a building. You got to them faster than any machinery could have.”

“Lilah, I just went on auto pilot. When I found them.” He paused to compose himself. “The children were so small. The only thing I could think of was getting them back to their parents. When I saw the teachers all I could think of was getting them back to their own children.”

We talked a while longer about Sam Judge’s heroic achievements. Then I asked the question that nobody dared ask before.

“Your mother claims you’re not a PAM baby.  She even went so far to have a hint of post apocalyptic mutations removed from all of your medical records. How do you explain your strength and speed? How do you explain the fact that nothing injures you?”

He turned on the charm all the sudden and almost threw me off of my game. “I’m not immune heartbreak.”

“You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t immune to the entanglements of romantic love. You also can detect whether someone is telling a lie or the truth. You’re 100% correct all of the time. Sam, how do you explain that?”

“I can’t. My mother always said my gifts are from God. She had a vision when she was pregnant that said I would be infallible and a seeker of the truth.”

“She was also in Las Vegas at she got pregnant with you, the same weekend the alien research vessel was shot down. She was exposed to cosmic fall out when she was pregnant with you.”

“A lot of women were exposed to fall out from space, and nuclear fall out from wars, and more toxic crap than we can count. Their children all turned out fine. Let me ask you something Lilah. You’re a PAM baby. Where was your mother when she became pregnant with you?”

“San Francisco. Safe in San Francisco. You have a point. So you honestly believe your powers are from God?”

“I don’t even speculate on where my unique abilities come from. I accept who I am and what I can do. I try to make the world a better place with my gifts.”

“What’s your kryptonite?”

Sam smiled another dazzling smile that made my heart skip a beat. This was so unexpected. Was there something he wasn’t telling me?

He laughed and put his hand on mine. “I don’t know. I don’t even know if there is something that will break my spell.”

“A kiss maybe?”

“Is that an offer?”

“No. I was just kidding. So tell me about your work with the arts?”

The interview went on as expected. I asked a lot of questions. Sam was charming and engaging. I knew he’d capture every single heart of every single person who saw the interview. I’d done my job.

 

Part Four: Off the Record

Harriet and Phil went shopping on the Miracle Mile. Sam and I went to lunch at O’Joys, the best deep dish pizza in New Chicago.

Over a bottle of Chianti and pizza we talked off the record.

“I know you’re a PAM baby. Sam you can’t believe that you’re part of a biblical prophecy like your mother tells everyone.”

He smiled and took my hand, “I have to keep her happy. Frankly the belief has become more of a detriment. I’m starting to look like a fool.”

“What about your dad?”

“He goes along with whatever my mother says.”

The proliferation of religious extremists since the big break down of society due to wars, pandemics and the existence of aliens, had always disturbed me. The very idea that the man sitting across from me seemed totally immune to what was going on seemed the height of hypocrisy. Phil had once told me Sam’s kryptonite was probably women. What I saw in Sam was a man who, contrary to his own worldly views and sophistication, was letting himself be used as a symbol of strength by a group that many considered to be a religious cult.

I changed the subject and we talked about other things. After lunch Sam’s driver took us to the Art Institute of Chicago where we wandered the halls getting to know each other better. I couldn’t believe how much Sam Judge and I had in common. We both loved the same art and music. We both loved dogs but neither one of us had time for one right now. We both wanted to have families one day but worried about being PAM kids. We both had our secrets that we never told anyone else. I found myself telling him things that I don’t share with other people. And he shared with me. I promised him I wouldn’t put any of it in the press. He believed me. I didn’t exactly tell the truth. I kept the idea of using some of his secrets in the back of my mind.

From a wonderful lunch, to a somewhat romantic afternoon in the museum, we ended up back at Sam’s house. From there we had dinner in his kitchen. Aside from security on the parameter of the building, no other staff was present. Sam cooked. I drank wine and listened to him tell funny stories about growing up with a mother who thought she was in charge of the strong boy who saw right through her. I told him stories of my work, and my life in California, growing up as a PAM child. Sure we talked about ourselves but we talked about everything else too. We discovered we both liked the same books, the same music, and laughed at the same silly jokes. Our lives were so different but we clicked as if we’d been friends for years.

As we finished cleaning up Sam put his arm around my waist and gently pulled me close.

“Lilah,” he said. Just my name. That was all it took. I kissed Sam Judge before he could kiss me. But oh how he kissed back.

The next morning I woke in Sam’s bed wondering if I’d done the right thing. It felt so right in my heart, and with every cell in my body (OMG did it ever) but logically I knew it was wrong. I’d crossed the professional line.

Sam brought in coffee, but it went cold as we made love again.

As we lay in the afterglow I whispered, “What makes you so strong Sam Judge?”

Sam laughed. “Don’t tell a soul, but my mother always said it was my hair.”

I knew he was telling the truth.

“I can’t imagine anything so crazy,” I said, knowing he wouldn’t catch my lie. I could imagine it was his hair. Damn, it I needed to know, and the story would make me millions. On the other hand, how could I even think of harming this beautiful man who was so sweet and trusting?

 

Chapter 5: The Attack

I had lunch in the famous Olde Pope’s Bar and Grill with Harriet and Phil. We talked over stuffed potatoes and beer. They teased me about spending the night with Sam. I told them that I could easily fall in love with him, them I laughed it off. I didn’t want them to know that I was falling hard for Sam Judge.

“Did you find out what would take his strength away?” Harriet asked.

I should have said anything, but these were my two best friends. “He said his mother told him that it was his hair. That’s why he won’t cut it. I doubt that but you never know.” As soon as the words came out of my mouth I regretted it. Harriet and Phil glanced at each and smiled. That wasn’t a good sign. “Don’t even think about it,” I said, but I knew they already were.

That night the sky had cleared. Sam took me out to his roof to see a sky full of trillions of stars, more than I’d ever seen. While I gaped in wonder, he pointed out constellations and galaxies.

“Sam, where do you think the blue aliens came from?”

“I’ve always thought they were from the heart of the Milky Way,” he said. “I’ve imagined they sent research ships out to the far ends of the spirals of the galaxy to find like minded civilizations. When you think about it, they must have had families and friends they left behind. You have to wonder if they fell in love, or suffered heartbreak.”

“You’re such a romantic.”

“Maybe. To be honest, and don’t tell me I’m crazy, but Lilah I think I’m falling in love with you. This is more than an infatuation. I don’t mean to sound like a cliché but…” He held me close. “Do you believe in love at first sight?”

I rested my head on his chest. “Yes, I do. Sam, I absolutely believe it,” and that was no lie.

Savor those perfect moments in life, because in today’s world they never seem to last, especially in the freezing war torn Midwest.

Later that night, as we finished dinner at one of Sam’s favorite places on the edge of Lake Michigan we held hands and talked. I told Sam that the lake looked like a frozen ocean. The only difference was that I couldn’t smell the salt in the air.

Just as Sam was about to speak, a loud voice shouted “WHORE WHORE. Stay away from him. She’s nothing but a harlot sent here to seduce you and take you from us.”

Obviously they must have seen the interview that had been aired the day before.

“Ladies,” said Sam, as he stood. “Please stop.”

“Whore, whore, whore,” a group of a dozen women yelled as they ran towards us.

Then the unthinkable happened. Hell, it seems like everything is unthinkable these days, but this was personal. One of the women came at me with a knife. Sam stepped in her way and I can still hear myself screaming as she plunged it into his heart.

The poisoned tipped knife that was meant for me went into Sam’s chest. The women continued to scream at me. They pushed me down and started kicking me and clawing at me. Suddenly I was pulled up by Sam’s strong arm. The knife wound barely fazed him. I’d never seen anything like it.

“Leave her alone,” he growled at the women. “Be gone.”

Sam indeed did have super strength. The press showed up and he told them how he’d saved the woman he loved, and gave a stern warning to anyone who would come between us. I was in in a world of hurt, but overwhelmed with emotion when I heard his words. I started to cry, not because of the pain but because my heart was breaking. I didn’t know what to think. I was falling in love but there was no way I could stay in crazy land with Sam Judge.

Medical crews on the scene put a butterfly bandage on a cut on my forehead. Sam’s wound was stitched up. They said the knife had been tipped with Zom-bee poison. It would have killed me, but it didn’t even seem to faze Sam.

The women were arrested. Sure I thought my nightmare was over, but it had just started.

Sam took me back to his house where, after a few strong painkillers, we fell asleep in each other’s arms.

I woke to a sound of something like water sloshing. I looked over to see a glint of metal by Sam’s head. There in her ameba form, slithering up the side of the bed was Harriet with a pair of scissors. Phil was by the door. Before I could say WTF Harriet had cut off Sam’s hair right at the bottom of his neck. I screamed. Phil screamed. Harriet dropped the hair on the floor and took her own shape.

Sam sat up in the bed. “I feel sick. Lilah, I can’t see. I feel so weak.” Then he passed out.

I’ve never been so angry in my life. All I can remember is screaming at Harriet and Phil.

“You told me you couldn’t transformed anymore,” I screamed Harriet.

“I lied, and you didn’t even catch it,” she said to me her eyes smoldering red. “You’re not even a real mutant you gray haired freak.” Then she grabbed up Sam’s hair off the floor, and ran from the room. That was the last time I ever spoke to Harriet.

After the paramedics showed up I kissed Sam and told him that I loved him. He opened his eyes and said, “I love you Lilah. Oh shit, what happened to my hair?”

Like the coward I am, I left Chicago leaving Sam and any romantic thoughts behind. His mother said I took his strength. I was branded as a whore and a horrible person. Screw them. I didn’t care. My only concern was about Sam.

Sam told everyone it wasn’t my fault. But it was. I knew it was all my fault. I should have never been involved with him. I should have never had told his secret to Harriet and Phil.

 

Chapter 6. Revelations

About a month later, as I was sitting on the beach drinking coffee and feeling sorry for myself Phil came up and sat next to me. I hadn’t seen him since that night in Chicago.

“What are you doing here Phil?”

He gave me a weak smile. “I’m sorry. I tried to stop her, Harriet. She just liquefied and I couldn’t stop her. I am so sorry.”

“Screw you Phil,” I knew he was telling me the truth but I was still angry with him. “Harriet sold Sam’s hair on eBay. Can you believe that? I will NEVER forgive her. Never.”

“Listen, Lilah, I have some news about Sam.”

“I know, he is doing better. Sam is better than ever. Blah blah blah. But he’ll never trust me again.”

“You’re wrong. It wasn’t his hair. What took his strength and eyesight was the Zom-bee poison on the knife. With your kiss you gave him the enzymes he needed to survive.”

“But Phil, I’d kissed him before that.”

“Your enzymes your body produced were activated by fear. When you thought Sam was going to die your body chemistry kicked in. There are others like you who also created these healing enzymes. Scientists are calling the enzymes the love bugs.”

I went home and tried to process the information Phil had told me. I didn’t know if I’d ever forgive Harriet. People were still calling me a whore and blaming me for taking away their hero. I didn’t take anything away from anyone. I saved Sam but the truth never mattered. Jeeze, if the truth ever mattered mankind wouldn’t be in such a fucked up mess.

Sam contacted me about once every week or so just to see how I was doing. I was cordial but embarrassed. He was friendly but never romantic. I couldn’t bring myself to even think of going out to see him. I wasn’t part of his weird culture. The thought of seeing his mother terrified me. My heart broke every time I saw one of texts or emails.

Everything seemed to be a mess, but I pulled myself up, ignored the hate mail and moved on. I landed a new job as the Host for the 62ndseason of  The Bachelor.  As far as I was concerned, personally I was done with love, but at least I could help some other poor fool try their hand at it. The good reviews knocked me off my feet. They were THAT GOOD. Fans loved me.

I also redecorated my house and adopted a medium-sized six-legged rescue dog named Muffin. My mom, who’d been my rock through this whole ordeal, told me that happiness would be mine to have. I hoped she was right. Oh, and she took in Muffin’s five legged, three tailed sister Cookie.

On morning, of my 30th birthday I heard that Sam Judge was starting a foundation for the advancement of research on PAM babies. He had also donated millions of dollars to research into combatting harmful and deadly viruses and poisons that proliferated after the last biological warfare cluster right before Sam and I were born.  There was something else I found out. Sam Judge had a PhD in Biochemistry. Who would have known? I sure didn’t and it wasn’t anything he advertised.

Sam Judge was strong without his superpowers. He was strong with his compassion and his mind. And here I was hosting a dating show. Hey, I guess somebody had to do it.

I heard a knock on the door. I almost didn’t get it. Seriously, I never answered my door these days. Half the time it was a bag of dog shit, or something equally nasty. To my surprise Sam stood on my front porch.

His hair had grown out to his shoulders. The addition of glasses made him look even sexier than he already was.

I hardly got the words out, “Sam what are you doing here?”

“I got tired of the cold. Are you going to invite me in?”

It turns out The PAM Center for Biological Research was being built just down the road from me at University of California, Irvine. Sam was also going to be teaching there.

We got married six months later and I’m expecting our baby. Yes, we had all the tests done and the baby has no mutations.

Yesterday as we walked along the beach a giant fireball came from the sky and landed about a quarter mile from us. We ran to see what it was. Another alien spacecraft. Yes, I finally got to see the aliens. I hugged Sam and told him I loved him more than all the stars in the sky. Yes, my grandparent’s crazy was the new normal, but life is good, and I know it will only get better.

 

~ end

Tangled Tales

~ Juliette Kings aka Vampire Maman

2020 © Marla Todd

 

 

 

Short Story Sunday: Community

Community

Alexis was fortunate to have the acceptance and support from her family and community.

She was much taller than most women. She’d had laser hair removal and surgery to soften her face. To soften her voice she’d taken voice lessons, including music lessons from a well known opera coach. She’d taken ballet lessons to help her become more graceful. Since her feet were exceptionally large she had custom made flip flops that she wore rain or shine.

Life was good for Alexis who’d become a best selling romance author, and outdoor wilderness guide.

Today she drove up I-5 towards her small home community in California’s remote Trinity Alps. The Escalade was packed with hard to obtain supplies: a solar generator, books, pens, paper, Simple Green, apples, silver polish, matches, half a dozen burner phones, and fifty tooth brushes among other things.

Her Uncle Dave had been the first to leave the community. A few others followed. It was never easy but the rewards were great for those who no longer wanted to live remotely in the mountains.

She’d be bringing her young cousin Trent back with her. He’d been accepted to UC Irvine in the fall. Trent would live with her first for a few months and learn how to live among those who were so different from them. She’d transform him into a hip and modern young man.

After a thirty mile drive down a rough dirt road Alexis stopped and got out of her car. She stretched her legs and took a deep breath of the clean cold mountain air. Then she let out a long mournful howl.

First she could smell them then out into the clearing they came. It was good to see so many of her family and friends.

No matter where she went she knew she’d always be at home with her Bigfoot family.

~ End

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

Short Story Sunday: Motorhome

Motorhome
An Austin and Elizabeth Story

Austin grew up knowing that Grammy didn’t have many filters. She’d say anything she wanted to anyone. Austin’s mother said Grammy had always been rude. Grammy said she was giving out good advice that might make people want to do something about their situations. Everyone was in a situation so everyone was told what they needed to do.

Grammy’s caretaker, a lovely woman named Kayla, had texted Austin the following:

“Just a warning, Grammy is in a mood today. Completely speaking with no filter. We talked to Tom across the street. Grammy asked how they were doing and before he could say anything she said, “well it looks like you and your wife have completely given up on loosing weight.” I nudged her in hopes she would stop but it didn’t work. She then went on to say, “I thought you guys were dieting. Looked like you’ve completely given up on losing weight. Tom was so red embarrassed. I said he is healthy and happy and always smiling, so I told him to have a nice day and closed the door before Grammy could say anything else. I then said “OMG Grammy u can’t ever tell people that they are overweight. Ever. Men or women. It is not to be discussed. Don’t tell women they look pregnant. None of it. She said “Well maybe if I say something that will make them want to lose weight.” I said, “NO. NO. NO. Nothing you say will change them. You’re just being terrible at that point. No more ever.” Grammy’s mind is in it’s own place sometimes. Tomorrow is a new day. I told her she is the cutest sweetest little Grammy in the world. She has to stop thinking and saying such negative things.”

Austin was mortified. Tom had been a good friend for years, and would do anything for Grammy. But sweet little Grammy had a dark suspicious side. She’d grown up in the Deep South where people generally have fewer filters than those from other regions of the country. She’d also grown up in a family of Vampire Hunters. It was in their blood, no pun intended.

When Austin arrived at Grammy’s house he wondered who the old motor home in the driveway belonged to.

Kayla, a rail thin brown haired, blue eyed woman in her forties came out to meet him. She and her college student son Colt live with Grammy and took care of her in her great big family home. At one time Austin had tried to get Grammy to sell her house and move into a smaller house in his neighborhood, just three houses down from him, but she’d have none of it. She’d rather complain about money and upkeep than move out of the house she’d lived in for sixty-two years.

“Is someone visiting?” Austin looked toward the motor home.

“I bought that last week. I’m going to take Grammy on a road trip.”

It was a small 1981 motor home complete with faded orange and red stripes on the outside.

“Wow, look at this thing,” said Austin.

“Come inside. Take a look,” said Kayla inviting him in through the back door.

Grammy was sitting on an orange couch that could fold out into a double bed. There was a table, a small kitchen, four captain’s chairs, and a tiny bathroom complete with a toilet, sink, and a shower.

“Hey, Grammy,” Austin said bending down to kiss her.

Grammy was small, and still quite pretty for an eighty eight year old lady. Her white hair had been done up the day before with pink foam curlers. She wore bright pink lipstick, a pink flowered shirt, and matching pink pants.

Grammy took his hands, “Austin. What do you think of our new castle on wheels?”

“Great,” said Austin. “The orange and red carpet is pretty ugly, but otherwise it’s great.”

“I don’t see any problems with the carpet. It looks almost new to me,” said Grammy. “Now, Austin, are you still seeing that Vampire girl?”

Austin was in love with a woman who just happened to be a Vampire. He knew it wasn’t exactly the right thing to do but…

“But,” he said, “Grammy, Elizabeth isn’t a shadow creeper, or one of those ghoulish undead types. She lives a pretty normal life. You know the kinds of Vampires I help get rid of, and Elizabeth isn’t one of them.”

“You know those Vampires aren’t right. They do nothing but cause problems. Austin you’re an idiot for getting involved with one.”

“Grammy, Elizabeth isn’t that different from us.”

“That’s what you say. But the next thing you know they’ll be coming out of the shadows. I bet you the first thing they’ll do is call the ACLU and get a bunch of lawsuits in place against us normal people asking for rights and then some. Then they call AARP because they’re all older than dirt. You can’t trust them Austin. Listen to me. You are going to have nothing but trouble ahead of you. Nothing but trouble.”

“OK Grammy, I get your point.”

“I hope so. I don’t want you marrying one of those things. You haven’t have sexual intercourse with that Vampire of yours yet have you?”

“Grammy, I’m not going to talk about this anymore.”

“Are you still killing Vampires?”

“Only the ones without souls.”

“Well, how do you know if they have souls? They’re all a bunch of fanged faced liars.”

“Grammy, I know. I’m a Vampire Hunter. I can tell. It’s in my blood.”

“Well, your blood will be their blood if you don’t watch out.”

Kayla, who’d gone inside to make iced tea, came back out with three tall cold glasses full of iced tea with fresh mint. This wasn’t the popular sweet tea, but strong freshly brewed black tea with just a hint of lemon and mint. Grammy wouldn’t allow anyone to ruin her good tea with the addition of sugar.

Grammy took a sip of her tea and said, “I don’t know why your mom and dad had to name you after a city.”

Kayla smiled. “Be nice Grammy. You know Austin was where they fell in love.”

“Well, maybe. But it sounds like a character out of a trashy cheap romance novel,” said Grammy.

And she wasn’t kidding.

Austin had dinner with Kayla, her son Colt, and Grammy. They’d dined on garlic coated shrimp in a pasta, along with mushrooms and more garlic. Grammy always made sure she had garlic in all of her food to keep the Vampires away now that she had retired. Austin knew for a fact that garlic didn’t keep Vampires away.

Conversation became pleasant and without any caustic remarks. Grammy was charming and full of joy. Kayla looked relieved.

As Austin left his Grammy gave him a hug and a kiss. Then she said, “I wish you’d find a normal girl.”

Austin smiled and said, “Normal girl? Grammy, you of all people should know there is no such thing.”

Grammy just said, “pasha,” and closed the door in her grandson’s face.

 

~ End

 

Tangled Tales

Read all of the Austin and Elizabeth Stories (The Hunter Series) from the start.  Click here for the full set.

Juliette aka Vampire Maman