Short Story Sunday: Take Me Away

February 28, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It moved. Ahhhhhhh she thought. Cameras.

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

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

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

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

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

~ end

Short Story Sunday: Spreading It Thick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why do you say things like that Caleb?”

“Like what? Open your eyes Ramona.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ end

Short Story Sunday: Prisoner of Love

It wasn’t as if Andy had planned on being locked in a basement. No windows. It wasn’t like he’d turn into a bat because he couldn’t do that, but he could make them think he wasn’t there. Or at least he hoped that was true, considering he had no idea who had locked him away.

He thought about the Count of Monte Cristo.

How did I escape? With difficulty. How did I plan this moment? With pleasure.

But unlike Edmond Dantes, Andy didn’t have a mad priest to show him the way to treasure so that he could get revenge on his captor and win back the woman he loved.

Andy thought about the woman he loved for a bit. Did she love him? Or was she rejecting him simply because he was a Vampire and she was not? Or was he just thinking about it way too much.

It would have been nice to be back in his own comfortable home, playing the piano, entertaining friends or curled up in a chair with a good book and a nice goblet of wine or blood or…

A sudden noise brought him out of he reverie. A brick popped out of the wall and a pale hand came through. What could this sudden event of fate mean? Was he to be rescued?

He reached for the hand. It pulled back at his touch.

“You’re like ice,” hissed a quiet voice.

“I run a little cold. Who are you?”

“I am but a prisoner of love.”

Andy took a deep breath, at least a deep one for a Vampire. Why did he always find himself in situations like this with someone who was bat shit crazy?

“Where are we and why? No stupid answers.”

He was answered with silence. That wouldn’t do. Andy went to the hole in the wall and looked through. It was dark but he could see a slight shadow. “Answer me. Where are we? Do you know?”

Something jumped on his lap and shook him awake. Andy let his book (The Count of Monte Cristo) drop and nearly tipped over the goblet on the table next to his favorite reading chair. A small black kitten curled up and started to purr. What a crazy dream. What a strange and bizarre dream he’d had. But he didn’t have a black kitten.

Sitting still and quiet Andy listened for noise of a visitor. He’d hear the slightest breath or an excited heart beat. If they were close enough he’d smell blood.

There was no other living thing in the room except Andy and the kitten.

“Where did you come from dear kitty?”

The kitten only purred. She was tiny, maybe 8 weeks old at the most. A sense of unease overcame him. Someone was in the house. Making his fangs ready he stood and turned around. Standing behind him was a pale form – a woman in a long silken dress and platinum blonde hair. She held out her hand.

“I am but a prisoner of love,” she whispered.

“Is this your cat?”

But Andy never got his answer. She vanished in a wisp of smoke with the smell of sulphur.

The next morning he walked the exclusive old neighborhood and asked if anyone knew who the kitten belonged to. He even put up posters. Nobody had lost a kitten. Nobody had an answer for him.

What is it with Vampires and cats and love? He laughed then said aloud, “If you’re going to haunt my dreams and my house you might as well tell me who you are.”

He felt a cold blast of air then heard a soft laugh then the soft sound of a woman’s voice “When you compare the sorrows of real life to the pleasures of the imaginary one, you will never want to live again, only to dream forever.”

It was a quote from The Count of Monte Cristo.

A prisoner of love. “Not me,” thought Andy, “not me.”

~ End

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

Short Story Sunday: Hollow Heads

Hollow Heads

A Science Fiction Story by Marla Todd

Sure we all volunteered with a capitol V but we didn’t know we’d be stuck a billion miles from home with a bunch of assholes.

Our plan was to stop at Planet 2387 before we made communication with our target planet. 2387 is an uninhabited wasteland. There might have been the rudiments of life there at one time but that ship had come and gone.

So we land at what was left of the Emile Hanson Memorial Outpost, otherwise known as Hanson’s Hole. I looked up Hanson’s name before we left home. He’d been the captain of the third Mars mission. You know, the one whose head exploded when he ran into a couple of guys from Europa, but that was a long time ago. That was almost three hundred years ago, long before I was born.

On the wall of the main building of Hanson’s Hole the words, “Welcome to Hell” were scrawled in what looked like blood.

Junior Potemkin, the communications officer, if you could call him that, started to hyperventilate. I slapped him in the back and told him to stop it. Captain John Finch our leader, rolled his eyes, and told us start testing for signs of life. I called my lead science officer and went exploring.

We’d only heard of this place. Nobody was sure even who’d been here in the past, or exactly what their mission was. We were looking at a ghost. And while the rest of the crew stood shaking in their gravity boots I started to explore. I didn’t travel twenty light years away from home to pee my pants over some extraterrestrial graffiti.

I’ll tell you, when I signed up for this gig, last minute of course, I found myself with the lamest group of space travelers ever assembled. Sure they were all smart and looked good on paper. Everyone had advanced degrees and shit loads of experience. But the experience was in the lab and on paper. Nobody had field experience or people experience aside from the Captain or me.

Potemkin was an expert in written communications but couldn’t carry on a conversation if his life depended on it. Our lead engineer Thomas K. Morgan was one of those insidious geeks who corrected everyone on every single word they said. Morgan’s favorite line in any conversation was, “actually” fill in the blank with his expert opinion, which was usually bullshit or worthless trivia. After we were out of the solar system Captain Finch told Morgan that he’d throw him out into space without a suit if he didn’t cut it out.

The rest of the group included a guy called Boof who thought he was channeling Flash Gordon, an antisocial hermit of a physicist who asked to be called X, and a pair of identical twins I called Satan’s Daughters. The twins, Vera and Meera, were sneaky little shits who talked at the same time and were never seen away from each other. They were brought on as some sort of geology experts, you know, dirt and rocks as they liked to remind everyone as they cackled like witches as if that was funny. They were dirt and rocks as far as I was concerned. The rest of the crew was bland, mean spirited, and aside from the Captain had no imagination what so ever.

So I’m looking at the writing on the wall and wondering what in the world, and who in the world had written it. I felt someone rub my shoulder and looked over to see Boof standing there expecting me to be Dale Arden to his Flash Gordon. Give me a break. He looks good but no. Absolutely no.

“Boof,” I said looking up at the leafy blue green canopy of plants (I assume they were maybe once plants) around the building. “Let’s take a look inside.”

He gave me a great big blinding white smile and knocked the door open with his foot. Boof wasn’t carrying a ray gun, but it wasn’t because we’re a couple of scientists with seven degrees between the two of us. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t like scientists or people with degrees can’t be badass. We just didn’t have any weapons with us.

The interior was dark. Not like no lights, because there was a skylight, but because obviously the interior decorator of this forgotten outpost either had a stack of 1980’s Architectural Digest Magazines handy for inspiration, or he was into all things Gothic.

“Looks like vampires live here,” said Boof.

I gave an uncomfortable laugh and tried to be serious, that is until the music started to play. I couldn’t figure out where the music was coming from. The sound was sort of like it was coming out of a metal tunnel. A man was singing in sort of a strange high voice, but it sounded kind of nice.

You’re just a little bit of sunshine when it’s raining,

You’re just a little bit of gladness when I’m blue,

You’re just a little bit of love light that keeps shining,

And when it’s cloudy, you’re a silver lining.

“Radio Franks.You’re Just A Little Bit of Everything I Love,” said Boof.

I looked straight ahead at a slowly moving shadow. “How do you know that Boof?”

“I like early 20thCentury music,” he answered, his eyes also on the shadow.

“Sing me something from the late 21stCentury. You know the one, about the alien romance, ruby skin.”

Your DNA plays around,

Like a silken ghost,

Worlds apart are we.

Flying higher

Flying higher

Flying higher

Reach the stars

Ruby skin, emerald eyes,

Heaven between

Hot alien thighs.

Flying higher

Flying higher

Flying higher

Reach the stars

Boof started to sing quietly in a surprisingly beautiful tenor.

“I hate that song,” I said taking a slow step forward. “You changed the lyrics.”

“Yes, I did change the lyrics, and yes I hate it too. Do you sing?”

“Only in the shower.”

“Can I join you?”

“Only in your dreams.”

“Let’s sleep then, shall we,” Boof said in almost a whisper as we slowly walked towards the shadow.

The shadow moved, in what looked like the shape of a human hand, then stupidity happened. A tremendous scraping sound, sent us turning backwards to see Garland Holbright, one the Earth’s most famous journalists, come along to document our journey for the ages. Every living Earthling knew who the man was, and Garland never let us forget.

Garland had opened the door in the wrong direction, throwing it off of it’s tracks.

“Find anything yet?” Garland called out loudly as he propped the door up against a wall.

The shadow vanished.

“God Damn you Holbright. You’re such an asshole,” said Boof, as I grabbed him by his jacket and held him back.

Garland Holbright was what we (not me, everyone else) called a Frank, short for Frankenstein. He was one of those kids who’s parents had custom ordered him from a cocktail of perfect DNA so he’d be brilliant and exceptionally good looking. Sure his IQ was off the charts and he was good at taking tests. Sure on a scale of one to ten in looks Garland was a seventeen, but where he excelled in trivia and Prince Charming handsomeness he lacked in creativity and personality. The guy was an insufferable bore with an ego the size of Jupiter.

Sure we’d all had genetic modifications for long term space travel. Our respiratory systems, muscular growth, and bone density had all been tweaked. A few of us, including me, had a few personal tweaks as well. My eyes are now a little brighter shade of hazel, and my hair is finally grows model perfect. That said, I’d like to think that you always get better babies with natural random DNA selection.

Boof and Garland had gotten into it the night before. Garland had convinced a friend to hack into the personnel logs and found out that Boof was created by a couple of teenagers one hot summer night in the back seat of a self driving solar convertible.

“Silence,” I said in one of those loud mom-like whispers. “Both of you. Garland, we are not alone.”

Garland formed an O with his mouth in surprise. I knew the guy was deathly afraid of aliens. Go figure. He goes on a space mission but he is afraid of anything that isn’t human, or maybe a dog.

While I was getting ready to rip Garland a new one Boof grabbed my arm.

“Timothy Leary is not dead,” he said right in my ear, so close I could feel his hot breath. I shook my head to get him away from me.

I wondered why Boof was making a reference to the 20thCentury Philosopher. Thank goodness he didn’t start singing that song. What was that group? Moody Crew? No, I think it was Moody Blues. I’d been spending way too much time with Boof. I swore between Boof and Garland I felt like my head was going to explode.

Then I turned around and there before us stood Pilot Tim Leary from the Space Explorer 23 Dog Star Mission. According to records, and Wikipedia, he’d died years ago, before I was even born. When I was a kid he was one of my idols.

Leary held out his arms in a welcoming gesture and with a wide grin said, “Welcome to Hanson’s Hole!”

“Captain Leary?” I asked, stepping forward to introduce my team and myself. “Chief Officer Gwendolyn Ward of the Research Ship the DeGrasse Tyson. These gentlemen are Science Specialist First Class Boof Errikson, and Garland Holbright, a journalist for International Geographic.

“An award winning journalist,” said Garland holding out his hand to Leary.

I kicked Boof in the ankle to prevent him from doing anything stupid. I let Garland have his bit of ego masturbation before I found out what was going on with Leary.

Leary took me by the arm as he walked and talked me into a much larger room that resembled an intergalactic art museum with comfortable seating. “I see your ship was named after the 48thPresident of the United States. A good omen there. My ship was called “The Dog Star.” I like dogs and all, I have a couple around here somewhere, but, I’ll tell you, it was a dog of a ship. Holy space shit, that thing was as bad as 2213 GM Sasquatch. Remember those? Do you like to be called Gwendolyn or Gwen?”

“Gwendolyn please. You’re alive.”

“Yes, very much so,” he said with a dashing smile as he patted my arm.

“But your body was found. DNA matched yours. There was no mistake. There is a huge memorial in Washington D.C.”

“And I’m honored at the thought, but obviously I’m still alive. I am indeed Commander Timothy Leary of the Dog Star.”

“But…” I started

“Do you know much about clones Gwen, Gentlemen?”

“Holbrook is a clone,” said Boof.

“I am not a clone,” said Garland.

“Gentlemen…” I hissed at them.

“You’re a freak Holbrook,” said Boof.

Garland threw his shoulders back. “You’re nothing but degenerate pod shelter trash.”

I’d had enough. “Boof, Garland, NOW.” I turned back to our host, “Captain Leary, the time line wouldn’t make sense. All of your bodies were found and brought back to earth. How do you explain that?”

Leary smiled again. “None of us wanted to go back so we cloned ourselves.”

“If you cloned yourselves, wait, your bodies were found a month after you landed here. It would have taken at least twelve years to have a fully grown human body.”

Leary motioned to the plush red chairs in the room. “Sit and make yourselves comfortable. I’ll tell you all about it.” We sat, and Leary told us an extraordinary story. “Once we had the Time Machine it seemed like we could steal anything we needed. Where do you think all of this art came from? Anyway, we stole an advanced cloning lab from the Dingus V Planet Chain. Nobody there has had fertile sex in centuries. They can’t, so they clone. Sad story, but shit happens.

Listen, none of us wanted to go back to our mission or Earth. We also didn’t want anyone looking for us. With the technology from Dingus V we were able to clone fully formed human bodies in thirty-six Earth hours. Thirty-six fucking hours. Unheard of. We programmed our clones to be without working brains. We called them the hollow heads. Once our clones were grown we smashed their empty heads in and called it a day. No brains, no souls, just lab grown flesh.”

“Wait,” said Garland. “You had a time machine?”

Leary smiled and shook his head in a definite yes. “I knew you’d ask. It is an amazing machine that jumps both time and space.”

“Space portal travel I can believe, but Time Travel is illegal universally, said Garland.

“That doesn’t mean it I can’t do it. I went forward because I don’t like the people I was with. I’m only here at Hanson’s Hole because I needed an additional respite from, well, everything. What are you doing here? Space Jumping I assume, but what is your mission. Nobody stops at Hanson’s Hole.”

I explained our mission as Leary listened intently.

Holbrook held up a finger and gave an artificially inquisitive look. “Why does it say Welcome to Hell in blood on the door of the compound?”

Leary shrugged. “I have no idea. It was there when I got here a few weeks ago. I just haven’t had the time or the paint to fix it.”

After more discussions about Leary’s adventures we returned to our own ship. I knew exactly what Leary was talking about when he said he was tired of annoying people.

Vera and Meera, the evil twins, came giggling and snorting into my office.

I motioned for them to sit. They both sat down and crossed their bony legs in unison. “Do you have the updated geology reports?”

Vera was the first to respond. “The soil acidity has doubled from the last time measurements were taken fifty years ago.”

“Fifty years ago,” said Meera.

Vera continued. “We also detected new volcanic activity. Are you having sex with Boof?”

Meera then spoke again, right on the tail of her sister. “Are you having sex with Boof? Was it good? Positively volcanic?”

“Volcanic. We know you are,” said Vera.

Meera started to laugh, a high pitched crow like cackle, then she started to snort. Then Vera joined in.

“Insubordination is not to be tolerated on this ship. If you ladies continue your immature behavior I will make sure you’re dropped off at the next supply station. You will receive no letters of recommendation, and I guarantee you will have to find your own way home, at your own expense. Capiche?”

“Yes, of course,” they said in unison. It almost sounded like they had an echo to their words.

“Thank you for the report. I’ll review it thoroughly.” I said motioning with my hand for them to leave.

After they’d Holbrook put his head in the door. “Do you want to have dinner later? This isn’t romantic, of course…”

I cut him off. “No.”

“Is there something going on between you and Boof?”

“No. Jesus, Garland, I’m having dinner with Caption Finch. A working dinner.”

As soon as he left a message came on the screen from Boof.

Hey Baby, do you want to see stars tonight?

I deleted the message.

The entire trip had been like the set-up from a bad bodice ripper romance, but without any sex or bodice ripping. You know the story. The heroine is caught between two potential lovers. One is dark haired, gorgeous, with impeccable breeding, and insanely rich. The other is blond, gorgeous, insanely smart, and grew up more or less a street urchin in a block of government run shelter pods. Who should our heroine choose? One will eventually betray her as the other one rescues her, but she won’t know until it happens. Screw that. I didn’t have time for it.

I took the clip out of my hair and shook out letting it fall to my shoulders. Thank goodness for planets with normal gravity. I remember reading about the days when the idea of women being in space seemed ridiculous. The excuse was always something about hair, periods, sex, temptations, strength and peeing. Seriously, one does not need a penis, or a hairy chest to travel in space. Thank goodness for Nichelle Nichols. I was so glad to see her on the one-dollar coin last year. I remember reading the emails of my great-great-grandmother telling my father about when she met Sally Ride. I can’t even imagine.

Over the next few days Captain Finch and I tasked our crew with collecting data, and ship maintenance. Our engineer Morgan questioned everything we asked him to do. He claimed inspections were not necessary. He went on about how his qualifications were better than anyone on the ship, and bragged about his superior intelligence whenever I requested a progress report.

Our physics team, headed up by a guy named Dex Harland, who insisted on being called just “X” decided that we were all going to be eaten by mutant aliens and refused to leave the ship. They spread the word through the crew that Timothy Leary was going to drug them and feed them to giant spiders or some sort of shit along those lines. It was as if the entire crew had gone insane.

I asked one of our two our medical officers about it and he told me that he was writing a screenplay about a murder on a space barge couldn’t give a rat’s ass about our mission. His name was Dr. Charles Young. He only took the job to get out of paying child support for four different women and six kids on three planets. Our sane medical crew member, Dr. Sashie Vern, took my arm and asked if I wanted to get coffee. In the empty crew lounge she begged me to keep Dr. Jay away from her due to his incompetence and creepiness.

On our last supply stop, Hawk Donaldson, a popular member of our Engineering group had a one night stand with a Trasidain female. Trasidian’s are beautiful human like creatures with iridescent pink skin, and several more pleasure seeking orifices than Earthlings. Unfortunately Trasidains also have horrible parasites, which there is no cure for except the death of the host.

Hawk contracted a large number of the parasites and was in excruciating pain as the bugs ate him from the inside out. On his request Dr. Sashie put him into a medically induced coma until his death thirty four hours later. His body, along with the bugs, was cremated and blasted into space.

After Hawk’s death Dr. Sashie wondered why most of the crew members refused to see her for regular check ups or even acknowledge her existence. I should have guessed what Dr. Sashie told me. Dr. Jay had told everyone that Dr. Sashie was incompetent and had caused Hawk’s death.

I went back to confront Dr. Jay and he just smirked.

“I’m entitled to my opinion,” he said with a shit eating grin. I wrote him up for spreading false information and confined him to his room when he was not on duty. The following day rumors spread that I was sleeping with Captain Finch, which was odd considering Finch is gay. I knew it was Dr. Jay.

As I made my rounds that day I realized that our crew, due to the nasty mix of passive aggressive cockroaches and over inflated egos was completely shutting down as a functional team.

The Engineering Group all shaved their heads and wore goggles because they decided that they did not want Garland Holbrook writing about them. Their reasoning was that if they all looked alike then Holbrook would get confused and leave them alone.

Poor Junior Potemkin, our painfully shy communications officer was being bullied by a Data Wrangler named Bambi Von Grob. She would sit next to Potemkin and make snorting noises, suck up snot in her nose, cough, loudly chew crunchy food hours on end, pound on her work station. In retaliation to his complaints she innocently told everyone on board that she was a victim of Junior Potemkin’s bullying.

I could go on for hours about the adolescent behavior of the crew. It seemed that most of my day was spent listening to complaints, breaking up fights, and telling crew members to act like adults.

With six months into our mission, and five years to go, I didn’t know how Captain Finch and I were going to handle this. I loved my job. I loved exploration. I loved the science, but I hated almost everyone on board of our ship.

Boof and I continued to visit Tim Leary. He told us a lot of tall tales but was stingy with any technical information. He said he’d always been more of a manager rather than a scientist. He’d joke that he should have been a stand-up-comic, even thought he didn’t really say anything funny.

One night at dinner, with a nice view of the three aligned moons of the planet, the Captain vented for about an hour about the crew. Boof, Garland, and Dr. Sashie Vern had joined us as the highest ranking crewmembers.

Captain Finch had an announcement for us. “I’ve done some research and come to a realization that we were given a crew of rejects of the highest order.”

“You think?” Boof said with a disgusted look.

“Our mission is longer than usual with extensive isolated periods and difficult Space Jumps. I asked for an experienced crew of individuals with solid science experience, and technical expertise. What I ended up with was a crew of people that nobody else wanted,” said Finch.

I added to his thoughts, “I asked around and was given memos stating that the reason was have the crew we have is because somebody wanted to get rid of them. We asked for the best of the best, and in turn, present company aside, we got the worst of the worst.”

“Exactly,” said Finch.

“Now what? Behavior modification or bull shit team building at the next supply spot isn’t going to fix anything,” said Sashie.

Garland Holbrook poured another glass of wine and smiled. “Clone the crew and leave them there. Then we can have a perfect crew. They have the facilities right here for high speed clone creation.”

“How would that work?” Asked Dr. Sashie.

“Leary and his crew stole the technology from the Glanidians who use semi-brainless clones for off planet mining and prostitution. It’s cheaper than robots, and biological clones are more reliable,” said Garland.

“But you have to feed them,” said Boof. “How can that be more reliable?”

Garland smiled. “No, they eat themselves. They don’t even know it. You know, Clone Nuggets.”

“That is horrible,” said Sashie.

“Yes it is but it isn’t what Leary and his crew did,” said Garland.

“Eventually we’d have to land somewhere and we’d be found out,” said Captain Finch.

“You don’t get it. We will clone the crew, but tweak the genetic codes so that they’ll have more pleasant personalities. We’ll make them brilliant but downright sweet, and completely bland. I know Gwendolyn and Boof could do it,” said Garland. “You both have studied genetics and personality modifications for violent and anti social prisoners on off planet penal colonies.”

I had to speak up. “It will take an extra week depending on how many clones we’re going to make. I spoke with the Evil Twins today and they estimated a major volcanic explosion within the next month. If it blows it will take out all life within five hundred miles of Leary’s clubhouse.”

Then we all sat, nobody asking the questions we all wanted the answer for.

There was a knock on the door. Tim Leary stood there in a black tuxedo, holding three bottles of wine in his arms.  “Your mission reminds me of a story my Great Great Grammy used to tell me. A long time ago when she was a little girl there used to be a huge store called Ickyah. People would flock to it to be unassembled furniture because it felt good if you built stuff yourself. The buyer would get home with instructions that said it would take two hours to build your bed frame and nightstand. Fifty hours later maybe the bed would be done and the nightstand drawer assembled. Another twenty hours everything would be complete with the help of additional duck tape and a lot of swearing.”

“Leary,” I said. “What does that have to do with your mission?”

“That’s what it is like living here. Everything was supposed to be easy. Self contained they said.  But it wasn’t. Fortunately I have a lot of duck tape. I still have that fast acting cloning machine. I’ll let you use it.”

“That is out of the question. We all took ethics oaths to protect our crew,” said Captain Finch.

“I didn’t,” said Holbrook.

We spend the rest of the night bitching about the rest of the crew. After everyone realized that we had more shit-for-brains stories than we could tell in one night. My brain was so agitated that there was no way I could get any sleep so I took a stroll under the three moons of Planet 2387.

“You need a real name,” I said aloud as I scanned the horizon.

“It has a name. Atropos.” I turned to see Garland Holbrook standing next to me. I didn’t even hear him coming. “She was one of the three Fates. Atropos was the one who would decide how long one’s life line was. She’d also choose how one died,”

“Why’d you come on this mission? You could have any job you wanted,” I said.

“Captain Finch is the best. None of us could have predicted the bait and switch with the crew. Think about it. If we had the original crew this would be a perfect science mission.”

This was new to me. “Original crew? Garland, what are you talking about?”

“You don’t know do you? They were finishing up in Florida on their last mission. You and Boof were later additions.”

I was almost in shock. My entire body went numb. Over a thousand souls were lost in a terrorist attack at the National Space Science Research compound. Religious fundamentalists fire bombed the place. No wonder Captain Finch took what crew was assigned him. The man must have been in deep mourning. Why didn’t anyone tell me? Why didn’t I figure it out?”

“Garland, could we get Tim Leary to go back in time and…”

“You know it doesn’t work that way. When you go back in time you can change whatever you want but it won’t change the future. Your changes spin off into an alternate thread of time that eventually fades away.”

“Sure, I forgot. I knew some of the people who died. I had no idea they were signed up with Finch’s next mission. No idea.”

I turned and headed off towards the Welcome to Hell door. I wanted to talk to Leary.

As I took my first step Garland grabbed my hand, twirled me around and kissed me. If I thought my head was spinning before, it was spinning even more now.

“I know you’re attracted to me. I know you’re attracted to Boof. May the best man win, and you know I’m the best man,” said Garland as he kissed me again.

“Let’s go talk to Leary,” I said as I tried to catch my breath.

Three weeks later we left Planet 2387. Leary took off in his time machine a week before we blasted off. From our ship we watched (at a great distance) the massive volcano blow up a good portion of the planet’s crust.

Junior Potemkin came into my office and thanked me for helping him out. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about.

“Everyone is so nice now,” he said slowly choosing the words. “It is as if they were all replaced with clones, or something.” Then he laughed uncomfortably. “That would have been weird.”

I smiled and told him that I was glad he was happy now. I truly was.

~ End

Strange Adventures in a Deviant Universe – WPAD Science Fiction.

This story is featured in Strange Adventures in a Deviant Universe, W.P.A.D. Science Fiction Anthology. Available with most fine online book dealers (including Amazon and B&N) in electronic and paperback versions. Part of proceeds from all WPaD books go to support or fellow authors who have MS. 

Short Story Sunday: Times of Need

He held her hand and listened as she told her story.

“I…can’t…if I die…my body…I’ll be…put…in a freezer…nobody will get….me”

She’d come from across the street where she’d lived for almost twenty years. They’d become friends, sharing glasses of wine on their decks, discussing keeping up their Victorian homes, and everything else under the stars.

Tonight she’d somehow made it across the street. He’d let her in and tucked her into the comfortable bed in his guest room. She could barely walk, barely breath, and barely speak, but he managed to make out her story.”

“I grew up in a place where poetry had to rhyme. Romance always ended in a wedding. Divorced women were predators out to steal husbands. Women didn’t buy their own homes. It was all about waiting for a man. Tonight you’re going to be my man, but not that way. I hope you don’t mind.”

“It will be an honor to be your man tonight,” he told her.

“I’m divorced. My kids are in college. I can’t die of this. If I go to the hospital I’ll die alone. If I stay home I will die. My body will be taken to a storage freezer. My kids won’t know what to do. Their father is worthless. He isn’t in their lives. Will you make sure my children will be alright. They know you. They trust you.”

“I’ll make sure they’ll always be alright. Your children will be safe. You’ll be safe. You aren’t going to die.”

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll catch this from me?”

“No,” he said. “I am not afraid. I won’t catch it. I can’t catch it.”

She gave him a weak smile, knowing he wouldn’t catch it. Then she coughed again with tears of fear and frustration.

“I’ll make it better,” he said. “Is that what you want?”

She closed her eyes as she thought about her choice. As she tried to speak nothing came out. Then she squeezed his hand, and looked in his face.

Brushing her hair out of his face, then off of her neck he said, “Alright. Here we go. Next week we’ll be having wine on your deck and forgetting you were ever sick.”

The next morning she felt like she was having the worst hang over of her life, but the cough was gone. Her sense of smell was back. She laughed.

He came in with a cup.

“Coffee?” she asked.

“Spiced blood. You’ll need it.”

In these times we all need to take care of others. Wear your mask. Check in on those who are alone or might need extra help. Stay safe.

~ end

Short Story Sunday: Chicken Dance

“You don’t have to wear that mask Charlie. I’m not sick.”

“Mom, there is a pandemic going on. I don’t want you to become sick. I can’t risk that.”

“Well, I don’t go anywhere.”

“I go places mom. I’m out in public.”

“What about Austin? He sees me without a mask.”

“I’m part of your bubble Grammy.” said Austin. “Most of my work is from home. Remember I told you about teaching my classes on Zoom.”

Grammy furrowed her brow. “Zoom? Is that fast classes so you won’t spread the Covid?”

“No Grammy, it is classes over the computer, on the Internet,” said Austin.

“Well, if you’re not teaching or messing around with old houses you’re working with dead people. Damn Vampires can’t get the Covid. At least my grandson decided to follow in the family footsteps and do something about the vermin,” said Grammy.

“So how are you mom,” said Charlie.

“Chicken died,” said Grammy.

Austin spoke first. “What? Chicken? Did raccoons get her?”

“When did this happen?” Charlie asked his mother.

“This morning,” said Grammy.

“Mom. Oh no. How?”

“I don’t know. I think Kayla killed her.”

“Grammy, why would Kayla kill Chicken?” Austin knew Grammy’s caretaker would never hurt any animal.

“I don’t know. Maybe she just got tired of her,” said Grammy.

“How did she kill Chicken?” Charlie asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe she chopped off Chicken’s head.”

“Mom, Kayla didn’t kill Chicken.”

“You don’t know that,” said Grammy

“Mom…”

“Austin, have you been hunting any Vampires lately?”

“No, things have slowed down over the holidays and haven’t picked up, thank goodness,” said Austin.

“Maybe Vampires got Chicken,” said Charlie.

“Don’t be a smart ass Charles. You know they don’t eat chicken, much less suck out their blood,” said Grammy.

“I wouldn’t know mom. I never hunted Vampires.”

“You never had the talent for it. Austin on the other hand got that gene for sniffing out and killing those pesky damned undead creatures.”

Kayla, Grammy’s caretaker came in followed by a small pack of small dogs. “Good morning. Hey, his Charlie. It’s been a while.”

They made a few words of small talk as the dogs bounced all over Charlie and Austin.

Then Kayla said, “We lost Chicken.”

“I know, we heard,” said Austin.

“She was pecking at some wires so that might have killed her. I don’t know. She might have just died of natural causes. Poor Chicken.”

They talked more about Chicken and made more small talk. Then Grammy said, “Go out in the yard Austin and get some lemons. We’re going to make a lemon pie.”

“Good idea,” said Charlie.

“It will keep the Vampires away. They don’t much like pie,” said Grammy. Then she giggled like a little girl.

“She was one of the most fierce Vampire Hunters of the 20th Century,” Charlie told Kayla.

“I can believe that Charlie,” Kayla said with a smile. “She is still pretty fierce.”

“You’re right about that,” said Charlie. “You certainly are.”

~ end

This is my first new story for quite a few weeks. All of the Covid isolation, construction at my house, and other weirdness has sort of, well, not been conducive to creativity. As always, stay safe, wear a mask, turn off the news, go for walks, talk to and with your kids, listen to your kids, don’t be a dick, be kind, and kiss a Vampire.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman