Josh had left the meeting and work for the day. He needed to think.
Coffee and avocado toast. He’d found a seat by the window. Four hours of negotiations on the acquisition.
His phone dinged quietly with a text from his sister Kitty. She’d started the seedlings for her summer garden. It was only March but it was time for her. Every year he’d go to her house and help her can salsa and a myriad of other wonderful magical things she’d fit into Mason jars. Then they’d go on her deck where they’d drink beer and eat chips and salsa, and talk about everything, and nothing at all. She’d always pin her hair up and wear dangling earrings. Her laugh was infectious. He had needed that laugh after all of his meetings that morning. Jake would call her later.
Right now it was an exhausting and shitty day. Nobody was happy. Nobody would listen. He’d had an intelligent well thought out plan. It was a cluster fuck of already made ignorant opinions. Nothing was backed up with facts or experience.
On the way home a ladder had fallen from a utility truck, hit a car a few places ahead of him on the freeway. The next thing Jake knew a woman was holding his arm and they were both covered with blood.
His arm was broken, his face was bruised and cut, his entire body felt like he’d been beaten with a baseball bat then thrown off of a cliff. His car was totaled. Stitches went from his left ear down his jawline to his chin. Three pins or screws or something was now holding his arms together. The headaches lasted weeks.
The woman went to the hospital with him. She held his hand. Her name was Scarlet. The last thing he said to her was, “make sure someone feeds my cat.”
It was the last day before everything shut down.
At home he didn’t need a car. He couldn’t have driven anyway for the next few weeks. Using a keyboard was almost impossible with two hands. If he had to go out he could take an Uber or Lyft. Food could be delivered. Cat food and litter could be delivered. No problem.
Zoomie the gray tabby kitten was delighted to keep him company. Unfortunately his girlfriend had moved back in with her ex the day he got out of the hospital.
By April a new car had been delivered and now had almost eighty miles on it. He wasn’t going anywhere. All work was at home. At least work was going well and keeping him busy. He’d hired three people he’d yet to meet in person. A woman named Emerald had been cleaning his house since he’d come home with the broken arm.
By June the depression rolled in so he would put Zoomie in a backpack or in his harness and go for long walks. By July his sister was canning without him. His brother and parents had driven down to see him a few times. It was always great to see them. They begged him to come up and stay with them but he was too busy with work. He’d bake cookies for Emerald to bring home to her husband and kids.
At the end of July he could pull his hair back in a ponytail. He’d started working out again. Zoomie was getting huge.
One morning on Facebook he saw where a friend of a friend posted something about a dog. My brother passed away. His dog Daisy needs a home. Daisy is a sweet five-year-old German Shepard/Lab mix. She is well trained. We don’t want to take her to a shelter.
Without thinking more than five minutes about it Josh called the number. A man answered. He said his neighbor would drop off the dog.
A few hours later he got at text. I’m outside in your front yard with Daisy.
Daisy stood wagging her tail and wiggling with happiness. A pretty brown haired woman wearing a sundress held Daisy’s leash. At least he thought she was pretty. Her eyes were pretty above the mask.
She introduced Daisy to Josh, then said, “How are you Josh? Do you remember me?”
He couldn’t quite place her.
“I was in that accident when you broke your arm. I was in one of the other cars. I’m Scarlet. Do you remember me?”
“Oh, wow. Scarlet. It’s good to see you.”
“Good to see you too. You look good. Thank you for the nice letter and the flowers,” then she laughed, “and the toilet paper.”
In September Josh cleaned out the texts in his phone and found Scarlet’s message. I’m outside in your front yard with Daisy. Right now Daisy was at his feet snoring with Zoomie curled up at her side.
Outside the smoke from the fires made it unhealthy to walk. Josh put on music and danced while playing with Zoomie and Daisy. Then he pulled his hair back and attended Zoom meetings, trying to look like he was normal. He noticed how the scar on his face showed up, not so much ugly or disturbing but interesting.
There were Zoom calls with work and friends. His family stopped by once a month. A few friends came by. Josh talked to his neighbors. The world was opening up. It wasn’t the world where he’d stop for coffee and avocado toast when he wanted to think. This was a world of protests, and weirdness, hate, and mean politics. But in his own bubble it was a world of people who’d reached out. It was a world where he treasured each phone call and guarded visitor. It was a world where Zoomie and Daisy were his own tiny family with their own habits and secrets.
One Saturday right before Halloween he received a text. Hi. Do you mind if I bring my dog Crystal over? She and Daisy used to be great friends. In fact, they’re sisters from the same litter. I thought it would be fun to have a play date.
Josh thoughtI could use a play date too.
Then he texted back,That would be awesome. Bring Crystal over anytime.
Opening and closing his hand Josh still felt a little bit of numbness and a little ache. He’d be fine. It would be more than fine.
Note: I’m just fooling around with some ideas for much larger and more detailed stories. As we all stay at home, worry about the election tomorrow, and think about the well being of those we care about we’re still side tracked by other challenges. Fortunately good things still happen. This might get worked into my 2020 NaNoWriMo project. You never know.
Have fun. Stay creative. Stay safe. Wear your mask. Vote. Check in on those who might need extra help both mentally and physically. Hug your kids. Kiss a Vampire. And keep checking back for more silly stuff.
Bernie Watson, a self-acclaimed womanizer, always wanted to see Paris. One day he managed to travel to France after tediously scraping up the money he needed for the trip. In his imagination, Bernie saw himself sitting in the first class, sipping champagne and enjoying movies, a beautiful woman next to him. He was dreaming about standing on the balcony of a 5-star hotel with a breathtaking view over the city until he could see the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe from far.
Reality looked a bit different. Bernie found himself in the middle row of economy, helplessly jammed between an angry tourist at the end of his vacation and a permanently eating eighty-year-old on the other side, with an ancient Pekinese on her lap.
When he arrived at the hotel, he found that the two-star hotel he had made reservations, was even older than he had suspected from the pictures. It was located in the most run-down quarter of the city. Bernie now wasn’t the most hygiene-fanatic on Earth, but after a trip of roughly 9 hours in an airplane, he still felt the need to shower. Usually, he would have used baby wipes to clean the worst, but they had removed them at the customs; the heavy accent of the man explaining the reason made it impossible for Bernie to understand, and he didn’t know where to buy them in France.
He undressed and stood in front of the mirror, looking at his body with appreciation. He didn’t see the pale, almost sick-looking skin that hadn’t seen the sun in the past forty-five years, the slightly protruding stomach, the flat ass, and the wobbly arms which all showed that he hadn’t seen a gym from up close for decades. Also, he didn’t see the missing hair on his lower chest that made his torso look like he was regularly wearing a bra…. But he found himself very attractive, and to him, that was enough, after all, only his own opinion was important.
He climbed into the shower cabin and found himself facing an old construction with two faucets, on one it said C, which he immediately concluded was ‘cold,’ while the other one said F, which he figured, must be the opposite… hot, or (f)arm with a typo… he was in France, after all.
Full of energy, he turned the ‘Farm’ and found himself showered with an icy stream of brown lava… as it was normal in an old building in Europe when the water fuses had not been used for a while.
Immediately ‘Louis XIV,’ his Sun King, resentfully withdrew into his hunting lodge… Bernie, of course, caressed his little king, knowing he had to be careful… after all, he was utterly dependent on his Sun King’s moods.
He, therefore, mixed himself a decently comfortable water temperature and continued showering… until someone in another room flushed the toilet…
In these old hotels, this process had an immediate effect on the water temperature by removing the complete cold water from Bernie’s shower within nanoseconds… He found himself in the boiling hot shower cabin. The door which had only jammed from the outside was impossible to open from the inside. Also, he had no idea that the re-fill of an old toilet tank in a two-hundred-year-old hotel room needed about 25 minutes.
Bernie, while having the hot brownish lava pelted onto his head, he realized, he had only one hand to turn off both faucets! With the other hand, he had to protect his Sun King as well as possible! Because in this country, where he was unable to speak the language, he would not be able to talk someone into helping him with his injured, burned sun king…
(This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.)
Durce stood with his friend Morant on the cold beach as they examined the golden cup. Morant stood with a seal skin over his shoulder, dark hair dripping salt water, and wearing nothing else, looking like something like a man off of what would centuries later be called a bodice ripper.
You see, Morant was a Selkie. In the sea Morant was a seal. On land he transformed into a man and kept his seal skin with him. If someone took his seal skin he would never be able to return to his seal form. Fortunately Morant never had that problem.
Druce was a Warlock. In contrast to his dark haired dark eyed friend he had sun streaked hair and bright blue eyes, a look that would centuries later be known as a surfer dude.
But at this time they were living in the time of the Crusades. Everyone was looking for relics such as the finger bone of their favorite saint, a piece of the holy cross, or even the Holy Grail.
“Remember when Merlin came looking for his lost cup for King Arthur? Wink wink wink,” said Morcant.
“Galahad was the most pathetic of the lot,” said Druce as he polished up the cup with his sleeve.
“You’re right about that one. What ever happened to him?”
“He ran off with the daughter of a Viking. It was a PR nightmare for Camelot.”
“No kidding. Why didn’t I hear about that?”
Druce shrugged. He figured Morant must have been either in the ocean or in the bed of an number of women, both regular women and royalty.
“Seriously Druce,” said Morant. “I thought Galahad had sworn an oath of purity.”
“He did. Then again so had the Viking girl. She was to be sacrificed to the Gods but she and Galahad thought it made more sense to just run off together. Oaths of unnatural behavior rarely end well. Last time I heard they’d gone off to a yet to be discovered continent. At least discovered by the general public if you know what I mean,” said Druce. “Put your clothes on, the wind is picking up. You’ll catch your death from the cold.”
They talked as they walked up the beach towards their homes in the village.
“So Druce, how many Holy Grails do you have now?”
“This one makes a dozen,” said Druce with a sly smile.
Over the years he’d gathered Holy Grails from travelers of the world, disenchanted religious folks, lovers, and others. Sometimes he’d bring them out for dinner parties. At other times he’d use them as dishes for honey candy, or vases for wild water lilies.
When someone would bring Druce bits of bones, wood from crosses, vials of virgin’s tears or cloth shrouds, he’d send them up to the monastery on the other side of the hill. That is until Brother Mark ran out of storage space. Now Druce would just send up loaves of his famous seed bread in return for jars of honey from Mark’s amazing hives.
“It is thought,” Morant said, “that the Holy Grail will give one eternal youth. What do you think?”
“I think I have a full set now.”
Morcant laughed out loud and shook the last of the sea water out of his hair. “What do you want for dinner?”
“I don’t care,” said Druce. “As long as we have plenty mead and plenty of good company.”
What is in your heart is more important that what you have in your hand. Enjoy the relics of the past, and savor the hope of the future with good friends and those you love.
Druce held out his arm while his friend Morcant cleaned and bandaged the wounds. “I was out fishing on the rocks. She’d been coming there to meet me for the past few months. At first she’d just poke her head out of the water and look at me for a bit then swim away. After the third or fourth time I got her to come closer. She spoke to me in our language. Sure, her voice was sort of high and irritating but I got used to it.”
“No wonder you’d been fishing so much lately. What did she look like?”
“Bright sea blue eyes, hair the color of a new spring leaf, and skin iridescent like a pearl. I’ve seen pearls Morcant, I know that beauty. And speaking of beautiful round objects, her breasts were perfect, tipped with spectacular blue nipples.”
“That is all a fine fantasy but below the waist she’s a fucking fish.”
“Warm like a dolphin.”
“You didn’t. No. Tell me you didn’t.”
“Just a kiss, on salt touched lips.”
“Then she nearly ate your arm. What is wrong with you Druce?”
“I didn’t expect her to bite me.”
“Did she give you her name?”
“Bloody great. I know her. Nothing but trouble that one.”
“I’m sure it was just an accident or a misunderstanding.”
“No. She intended to drag you down to her home and eat you, or worse. Druce, for a Warlock you can be insanely gullible when it comes to a pretty face and a pair of tits. I’ll make you some healing tea so you won’t end up with arm rot or some other disgusting Mermaid crud.”
Morcant made the brew for his friend then tucked him into bed and headed towards the beach.
Being a Selkie, Morcant knew all about the charms of women. They couldn’t resist him. That was the way of Selkies. But there was also something about Druce that women liked. He wasn’t the tallest or the most handsome man in the village, but he had a boyish charm females loved. Maybe it was his bright eyes, quick smile, or those dimples, or even the messy sun streaked hair. It could even have been the fact that he was the keeper of magic. Who knows. Maybe it was his sense of humor. All of that considered, Druce couldn’t keep it under his tunic and was always having troubles with women.
Upon arriving at the shore Morcant drew the seal skin from his shoulders and wrapped it around his entire body. His toes touched the salt water and he turned into a seal. That is what Selkies do. They are seals in the ocean, and on the land they carry their seal skins and walk as humans. They’re remarkably attractive in their human form. Unfortunately if someone steals the skin of a Selkie then they can hold the Selkie as their slave. But that last fact is neither here nor there for this story.
Morcant the seal dove down deep into the ocean. He knew where to go. He knew where the Merfolk lived.
When he saw Pook with her green hair and blue tipped breasts he grabbed her hair in his mouth and dragged her up to the surface of the ocean.
Letting go of her hair Morcant showed his large seal teeth to Look.
“You’re such an attractive seal,” she said to him in her tiny voice. “Sooooooo attractive. My tail has an itch that only a Selkie Seal can scratch.”
Morcant growled a low seal growl. “You nearly killed my friend. You have no business perusing Druce and making him fall in love with you. You’re not a human woman and have no business with him.”
Pook grinned at him showing her pointed teeth. She reminded Morcant of a shark. “What will you give me to keep away?”
Morcant grabbed Pook by the hair again and spoke between his seal teeth. “I will drag you to the beach and then give you to men who will put you in a cage and drag you across the land. People will pay to see you and look at you in horror as your lovely skin dries up, and then you become nothing but a piece of dried salted cod. THAT is what I will give you.”
Pulling her hair away Pook screamed a high pitched scream that would break glass then swam off.
Later, in human form, Morcant checked in on his friend Druce. The Warlock was sleeping soundly.
The sound of the waves lulled Morcant into a slumber filled with dreams of calm oceans, and warm human women.
At the bottom of the sea the Mermaids sang their high pitched songs while they drank their brew out of polished shells. Pook brushed off her pride and picked out a Merman to share the night with. She thought of Druce and his adorable dimples, and sun kissed hair. Her heart fluttered a bit and she felt oddly in love with the man with legs. Then again, what would she do with legs? She had no idea, so she swam into the night, tending her broken heart, in the arms of her new Merman lover.
You might have seen this story last summer. As we all know things have been hot, and sad, and unsafe, and uncertain lately so I wanted to share a little mermaid lore to maybe help you relax a bit and maybe smile a bit (even if it is under a mask).
Taking a short cut through a downtown alley wasn’t always like it was in the movies. He’d rarely witnessed crimes, or found dumped bodies among the dumpsters and rats. The smells were close to death but not quite. Urine and sun roasted garbage were the aromas of the night. No night-blooming jasmine for this short cut.
Walking along he wasn’t afraid. There wasn’t anything to fear except maybe stepping on something disgusting he’d have to scrape off of his shoe later. But then he saw her standing at the end of the alley.
Had she been a cat he would have taken her home, or found her a forever home, but she was not.
“Hi Val,” she said in a girlish voice. She sounded like she was maybe twelve instead of twenty eight.
“Nikki. You look good.”
She looked good for Nikki. Val hadn’t seen her this clean, well, maybe ever. She’d been homeless on and off for the four years he’d known her. Tonight was the first time he’d seen her in a dress. Even through the bad teeth, unhealthy chalky skin, and the constant fidgeting he could tell she’d once been pretty.
“My cousin Josh took me shopping. Got me this dress, and the sweater. Do you like it. The sweater is sort of like lace, all light like, for the summer. First new clothes I’ve worn in maybe six years.”
“Are you living somewhere?”
“I have my own room in the back of Josh’s building, out by the alley so I have, like my own private entrance. I have a bathroom too. The toilet is in the shower because it is really small. Sometimes when I take a shower I just pee on the floor over the drain. I always laugh because the toilet is right there.”
“What are you doing out here?” It was 3:00 am. He knew why she was out.
Nikki crossed her arms and leaned from one foot to the other. “Just doing some business, you know.”
“Looking for a fix?”
“Maybe, and a little romance.”
Val knew she traded sex for drugs. She kept talking.
“Um, Josh won’t let me bring guys home. I can’t do drugs, drink, or smoke at my room. Those are his rules. You know, I do stuff for him like clean up in the back, mop up, dishes, take out the garbage, and stuff. Maybe I’ll get to cook or work up front one day. He said if I work hard he’ll pay to get my teeth fixed. Ramon said if I go back to school he’ll help me too.”
Val knew Ramon, the high school kid who was headed off to U.C. Berkeley. Nice kid who wanted to get a degree in mathematics and change the world.
“You should go home Nikki. Forget the fix. You look so pretty tonight. Don’t waste it on some creeper. You don’t need to get high,” said Val.
“Maybe if you’d turn me into a Vampire I wouldn’t need it. If you turned me into a Vampire I’d stop hurting all the time. I’d be pretty again.”
“You’d die Nikki.”
“Better than living my life.”
“Don’t say that Nikki. Never say that.”
She looked down at the ground, then leaned up against a parked car. “Tell me a story Val, about when you were my age.”
He’d been telling her stories to get her mind off of getting high, or having sex with anyone she could in exchange for the next high. If he could keep her up until the sun came up then she’d be safe from the evils of the night.
“In 1886 I was twenty eight, same age as you are. My sister and I were in London. Jack the Ripper was in the news. We were at a party…”
“What was she wearing Val? Tell me what your sister was wearing.”
“A cream colored silk dress adorned with purple roses, millions of ruffles and a huge bustle in back. Her hair was piled high on her head in curls all done up with pearls and ivory combs. She danced for hours with a wealthy handsome son of a Duke.”
“Did she drink his blood?”
“Of course she did.”
“Did she make love to him?”
“In a way he would never forget, or get over. He’d never fall out of love with the mysterious woman he’d danced with all night.”
Nikki hugged herself as Val continued to tell her a half true story, embellishing it with more romance than reality.
He walked her home, and kept her talking until the first light of the morning started to show in the sky. “Be safe Nikki. Listen to Josh and Ramon. They’re looking out for you. They care. I care.”
He kissed her cheek with his cold lips.
“Why don’t you ever drink my blood Val?”
“You know why Nikki,” he said.
“I’d do you good Val. I’d make that cold blooded…” She continued with a crude and explicit, sexual description of what she would do to him if he’d only take her home to his house, or even behind one of the dumpsters in the alley behind her building. He turned and walked away from her feeling sad, and disgusted.
Two days later Nikki was found dead in her little room, wearing one of her new sundresses. She’d had unprotected sex with at least three different men that night. She’d died of an overdose of a cocktail of drugs too lethal for most people to imagine.
Before Josh opened his restaurant for breakfast Val stopped by to give him his condolences. Josh shook his head. He’d done everything he could to help Nikki.
“She was always a lost soul. So much talent. Aw man, she was so beautiful once. She just got in with the wrong guys, one right after another. They took everything from her. But she wouldn’t listen to anyone,” Josh told Val, wiping his eyes.
Ramon stood listening then said, “Nikki could have so much hope. Just yesterday she was telling me she wanted to go back to college. She wanted to live. Then she went on again about her friend who was going to turn her into a Vampire, and she’d be young and pretty again, and live forever. She said she was in love with this guy, this Vampire. It was creepy. She was nuts. Sorry Josh, but…” His voice trailed off as he wiped a tear off of his face.
Val wished them the best. That afternoon he made a large donation to a local women’s shelter. Over the past one hundred and fifty nine years he’d seen many lost souls. One slutty little druggie shouldn’t have bothered him so much. Nikki was nothing to him. Then again, she could have been everything to someone if anyone other than Josh or Ramon had cared.
Had she been a stray cat he would have taken her in. Had she been clean he might have taken her forever.
Sure we all volunteered with a capitol V but we didn’t know we’d be stuck a billion miles from home with a bunch of assholes.
Our plan was to stop at Planet 2387 before we made communication with our target planet. 2387 is an uninhabited wasteland. There might have been the rudiments of life there at one time but that ship had come and gone.
So we land at what was left of the Emile Hanson Memorial Outpost, otherwise known as Hanson’s Hole. I looked up Hanson’s name before we left home. He’d been the captain of the third Mars mission. You know, the one whose head exploded when he ran into a couple of guys from Europa, but that was a long time ago. That was almost three hundred years ago, long before I was born.
On the wall of the main building of Hanson’s Hole the words, “Welcome to Hell” were scrawled in what looked like blood.
Junior Potemkin, the communications officer, if you could call him that, started to hyperventilate. I slapped him in the back and told him to stop it. Captain John Finch our leader, rolled his eyes, and told us start testing for signs of life. I called my lead science officer and went exploring.
We’d only heard of this place. Nobody was sure even who’d been here in the past, or exactly what their mission was. We were looking at a ghost. And while the rest of the crew stood shaking in their gravity boots I started to explore. I didn’t travel twenty light years away from home to pee my pants over some extraterrestrial graffiti.
I’ll tell you, when I signed up for this gig, last minute of course, I found myself with the lamest group of space travelers ever assembled. Sure they were all smart and looked good on paper. Everyone had advanced degrees and shit loads of experience. But the experience was in the lab and on paper. Nobody had field experience or people experience aside from the Captain or me.
Potemkin was an expert in written communications but couldn’t carry on a conversation if his life depended on it. Our lead engineer Thomas K. Morgan was one of those insidious geeks who corrected everyone on every single word they said. Morgan’s favorite line in any conversation was, “actually” fill in the blank with his expert opinion, which was usually bullshit or worthless trivia. After we were out of the solar system Captain Finch told Morgan that he’d throw him out into space without a suit if he didn’t cut it out.
The rest of the group included a guy called Boof who thought he was channeling Flash Gordon, an antisocial hermit of a physicist who asked to be called X, and a pair of identical twins I called Satan’s Daughters. The twins, Vera and Meera, were sneaky little shits who talked at the same time and were never seen away from each other. They were brought on as some sort of geology experts, you know, dirt and rocks as they liked to remind everyone as they cackled like witches as if that was funny. They were dirt and rocks as far as I was concerned. The rest of the crew was bland, mean spirited, and aside from the Captain had no imagination what so ever.
So I’m looking at the writing on the wall and wondering what in the world, and who in the world had written it. I felt someone rub my shoulder and looked over to see Boof standing there expecting me to be Dale Arden to his Flash Gordon. Give me a break. He looks good but no. Absolutely no.
“Boof,” I said looking up at the leafy blue green canopy of plants (I assume they were maybe once plants) around the building. “Let’s take a look inside.”
He gave me a great big blinding white smile and knocked the door open with his foot. Boof wasn’t carrying a ray gun, but it wasn’t because we’re a couple of scientists with seven degrees between the two of us. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t like scientists or people with degrees can’t be badass. We just didn’t have any weapons with us.
The interior was dark. Not like no lights, because there was a skylight, but because obviously the interior decorator of this forgotten outpost either had a stack of 1980’s Architectural Digest Magazines handy for inspiration, or he was into all things Gothic.
“Looks like vampires live here,” said Boof.
I gave an uncomfortable laugh and tried to be serious, that is until the music started to play. I couldn’t figure out where the music was coming from. The sound was sort of like it was coming out of a metal tunnel. A man was singing in sort of a strange high voice, but it sounded kind of nice.
You’re just a little bit of sunshine when it’s raining,
You’re just a little bit of gladness when I’m blue,
You’re just a little bit of love light that keeps shining,
And when it’s cloudy, you’re a silver lining.
“Radio Franks.You’re Just A Little Bit of Everything I Love,” said Boof.
I looked straight ahead at a slowly moving shadow. “How do you know that Boof?”
“I like early 20thCentury music,” he answered, his eyes also on the shadow.
“Sing me something from the late 21stCentury. You know the one, about the alien romance, ruby skin.”
Boof started to sing quietly in a surprisingly beautiful tenor.
Your DNA plays around,
Like a silken ghost,
Worlds apart are we.
Reach the stars
Ruby skin, emerald eyes,
Hot alien thighs.
Reach the stars
“I hate that song,” I said taking a slow step forward. “You changed the lyrics.”
“Yes, I did change the lyrics, and yes I hate it too. Do you sing?”
“Only in the shower.”
“Can I join you?”
“Only in your dreams.”
“Let’s sleep then, shall we,” Boof said in almost a whisper as we slowly walked towards the shadow.
The shadow moved, in what looked like the shape of a human hand, then stupidity happened. A tremendous scraping sound, sent us turning backwards to see Garland Holbright, one the Earth’s most famous journalists, come along to document our journey for the ages. Every living Earthling knew who the man was, and Garland never let us forget.
Garland had opened the door in the wrong direction, throwing it off of it’s tracks.
“Find anything yet?” Garland called out loudly as he propped the door up against a wall.
The shadow vanished.
“God Damn you Holbright. You’re such an asshole,” said Boof, as I grabbed him by his jacket and held him back.
Garland Holbright was what we (not me, everyone else) called a Frank, short for Frankenstein. He was one of those kids who’s parents had custom ordered him from a cocktail of perfect DNA so he’d be brilliant and exceptionally good looking. Sure his IQ was off the charts and he was good at taking tests. Sure on a scale of one to ten in looks Garland was a seventeen, but where he excelled in trivia and Prince Charming handsomeness he lacked in creativity and personality. The guy was an insufferable bore with an ego the size of Jupiter.
Sure we’d all had genetic modifications for long term space travel. Our respiratory systems, muscular growth, and bone density had all been tweaked. A few of us, including me, had a few personal tweaks as well. My eyes are now a little brighter shade of hazel, and my hair is finally grows model perfect. That said, I’d like to think that you always get better babies with natural random DNA selection.
Boof and Garland had gotten into it the night before. Garland had convinced a friend to hack into the personnel logs and found out that Boof was created by a couple of teenagers one hot summer night in the back seat of a self driving solar convertible.
“Silence,” I said in one of those loud mom-like whispers. “Both of you. Garland, we are not alone.”
Garland formed an O with his mouth in surprise. I knew the guy was deathly afraid of aliens. Go figure. He goes on a space mission but he is afraid of anything that isn’t human, or maybe a dog.
While I was getting ready to rip Garland a new one Boof grabbed my arm.
“Timothy Leary is not dead,” he said right in my ear, so close I could feel his hot breath. I shook my head to get him away from me.
I wondered why Boof was making a reference to the 20thCentury Philosopher. Thank goodness he didn’t start singing that song. What was that group? Moody Crew? No, I think it was Moody Blues. I’d been spending way too much time with Boof. I swore between Boof and Garland I felt like my head was going to explode.
Then I turned around and there before us stood Pilot Tim Leary from the Space Explorer 23 Dog Star Mission. According to records, and Wikipedia, he’d died years ago, before I was even born. When I was a kid he was one of my idols.
Leary held out his arms in a welcoming gesture and with a wide grin said, “Welcome to Hanson’s Hole!”
“Captain Leary?” I asked, stepping forward to introduce my team and myself. “Chief Officer Gwendolyn Ward of the Research Ship the DeGrasse Tyson. These gentlemen are Science Specialist First Class Boof Errikson, and Garland Holbright, a journalist for International Geographic.
“An award winning journalist,” said Garland holding out his hand to Leary.
I kicked Boof in the ankle to prevent him from doing anything stupid. I let Garland have his bit of ego masturbation before I found out what was going on with Leary.
Leary took me by the arm as he walked and talked me into a much larger room that resembled an intergalactic art museum with comfortable seating. “I see your ship was named after the 48thPresident of the United States. A good omen there. My ship was called “The Dog Star.” I like dogs and all, I have a couple around here somewhere, but, I’ll tell you, it was a dog of a ship. Holy space shit, that thing was as bad as 2213 GM Sasquatch. Remember those? Do you like to be called Gwendolyn or Gwen?”
“Gwendolyn please. You’re alive.”
“Yes, very much so,” he said with a dashing smile as he patted my arm.
“But your body was found. DNA matched yours. There was no mistake. There is a huge memorial in Washington D.C.”
“And I’m honored at the thought, but obviously I’m still alive. I am indeed Commander Timothy Leary of the Dog Star.”
“But…” I started
“Do you know much about clones Gwen, Gentlemen?”
“Holbrook is a clone,” said Boof.
“I am not a clone,” said Garland.
“Gentlemen…” I hissed at them.
“You’re a freak Holbrook,” said Boof.
Garland threw his shoulders back. “You’re nothing but degenerate pod shelter trash.”
I’d had enough. “Boof, Garland, NOW.” I turned back to our host, “Captain Leary, the time line wouldn’t make sense. All of your bodies were found and brought back to earth. How do you explain that?”
Leary smiled again. “None of us wanted to go back so we cloned ourselves.”
“If you cloned yourselves, wait, your bodies were found a month after you landed here. It would have taken at least twelve years to have a fully grown human body.”
Leary motioned to the plush red chairs in the room. “Sit and make yourselves comfortable. I’ll tell you all about it.” We sat, and Leary told us an extraordinary story. “Once we had the Time Machine it seemed like we could steal anything we needed. Where do you think all of this art came from? Anyway, we stole an advanced cloning lab from the Dingus V Planet Chain. Nobody there has had fertile sex in centuries. They can’t, so they clone. Sad story, but shit happens.
Listen, none of us wanted to go back to our mission or Earth. We also didn’t want anyone looking for us. With the technology from Dingus V we were able to clone fully formed human bodies in thirty-six Earth hours. Thirty-six fucking hours. Unheard of. We programmed our clones to be without working brains. We called them the hollow heads. Once our clones were grown we smashed their empty heads in and called it a day. No brains, no souls, just lab grown flesh.”
“Wait,” said Garland. “You had a time machine?”
Leary smiled and shook his head in a definite yes. “I knew you’d ask. It is an amazing machine that jumps both time and space.”
“Space portal travel I can believe, but Time Travel is illegal universally, said Garland.
“That doesn’t mean it I can’t do it. I went forward because I don’t like the people I was with. I’m only here at Hanson’s Hole because I needed an additional respite from, well, everything. What are you doing here? Space Jumping I assume, but what is your mission. Nobody stops at Hanson’s Hole.”
I explained our mission as Leary listened intently.
Holbrook held up a finger and gave an artificially inquisitive look. “Why does it say Welcome to Hell in blood on the door of the compound?”
Leary shrugged. “I have no idea. It was there when I got here a few weeks ago. I just haven’t had the time or the paint to fix it.”
After more discussions about Leary’s adventures we returned to our own ship. I knew exactly what Leary was talking about when he said he was tired of annoying people.
Vera and Meera, the evil twins, came giggling and snorting into my office.
I motioned for them to sit. They both sat down and crossed their bony legs in unison. “Do you have the updated geology reports?”
Vera was the first to respond. “The soil acidity has doubled from the last time measurements were taken fifty years ago.”
“Fifty years ago,” said Meera.
Vera continued. “We also detected new volcanic activity. Are you having sex with Boof?”
Meera then spoke again, right on the tail of her sister. “Are you having sex with Boof? Was it good? Positively volcanic?”
“Volcanic. We know you are,” said Vera.
Meera started to laugh, a high pitched crow like cackle, then she started to snort. Then Vera joined in.
“Insubordination is not to be tolerated on this ship. If you ladies continue your immature behavior I will make sure you’re dropped off at the next supply station. You will receive no letters of recommendation, and I guarantee you will have to find your own way home, at your own expense. Capiche?”
“Yes, of course,” they said in unison. It almost sounded like they had an echo to their words.
“Thank you for the report. I’ll review it thoroughly.” I said motioning with my hand for them to leave.
After they’d Holbrook put his head in the door. “Do you want to have dinner later? This isn’t romantic, of course…”
I cut him off. “No.”
“Is there something going on between you and Boof?”
“No. Jesus, Garland, I’m having dinner with Caption Finch. A working dinner.”
As soon as he left a message came on the screen from Boof.
Hey Baby, do you want to see stars tonight?
I deleted the message.
The entire trip had been like the set-up from a bad bodice ripper romance, but without any sex or bodice ripping. You know the story. The heroine is caught between two potential lovers. One is dark haired, gorgeous, with impeccable breeding, and insanely rich. The other is blond, gorgeous, insanely smart, and grew up more or less a street urchin in a block of government run shelter pods. Who should our heroine choose? One will eventually betray her as the other one rescues her, but she won’t know until it happens. Screw that. I didn’t have time for it.
I took the clip out of my hair and shook out letting it fall to my shoulders. Thank goodness for planets with normal gravity. I remember reading about the days when the idea of women being in space seemed ridiculous. The excuse was always something about hair, periods, sex, temptations, strength and peeing. Seriously, one does not need a penis, or a hairy chest to travel in space. Thank goodness for Nichelle Nichols. I was so glad to see her on the one-dollar coin last year. I remember reading the emails of my great-great-grandmother telling my father about when she met Sally Ride. I can’t even imagine.
Over the next few days Captain Finch and I tasked our crew with collecting data, and ship maintenance. Our engineer Morgan questioned everything we asked him to do. He claimed inspections were not necessary. He went on about how his qualifications were better than anyone on the ship, and bragged about his superior intelligence whenever I requested a progress report.
Our physics team, headed up by a guy named Dex Harland, who insisted on being called just “X” decided that we were all going to be eaten by mutant aliens and refused to leave the ship. They spread the word through the crew that Timothy Leary was going to drug them and feed them to giant spiders or some sort of shit along those lines. It was as if the entire crew had gone insane.
I asked one of our two our medical officers about it and he told me that he was writing a screenplay about a murder on a space barge couldn’t give a rat’s ass about our mission. His name was Dr. Charles Young. He only took the job to get out of paying child support for four different women and six kids on three planets. Our sane medical crew member, Dr. Sashie Vern, took my arm and asked if I wanted to get coffee. In the empty crew lounge she begged me to keep Dr. Jay away from her due to his incompetence and creepiness.
On our last supply stop, Hawk Donaldson, a popular member of our Engineering group had a one night stand with a Trasidain female. Trasidian’s are beautiful human like creatures with iridescent pink skin, and several more pleasure seeking orifices than Earthlings. Unfortunately Trasidains also have horrible parasites, which there is no cure for except the death of the host.
Hawk contracted a large number of the parasites and was in excruciating pain as the bugs ate him from the inside out. On his request Dr. Sashie put him into a medically induced coma until his death thirty four hours later. His body, along with the bugs, was cremated and blasted into space.
After Hawk’s death Dr. Sashie wondered why most of the crew members refused to see her for regular check ups or even acknowledge her existence. I should have guessed what Dr. Sashie told me. Dr. Jay had told everyone that Dr. Sashie was incompetent and had caused Hawk’s death.
I went back to confront Dr. Jay and he just smirked.
“I’m entitled to my opinion,” he said with a shit eating grin. I wrote him up for spreading false information and confined him to his room when he was not on duty. The following day rumors spread that I was sleeping with Captain Finch, which was odd considering Finch is gay. I knew it was Dr. Jay.
As I made my rounds that day I realized that our crew, due to the nasty mix of passive aggressive cockroaches and over inflated egos was completely shutting down as a functional team.
The Engineering Group all shaved their heads and wore goggles because they decided that they did not want Garland Holbrook writing about them. Their reasoning was that if they all looked alike then Holbrook would get confused and leave them alone.
Poor Junior Potemkin, our painfully shy communications officer was being bullied by a Data Wrangler named Bambi Von Grob. She would sit next to Potemkin and make snorting noises, suck up snot in her nose, cough, loudly chew crunchy food hours on end, pound on her work station. In retaliation to his complaints she innocently told everyone on board that she was a victim of Junior Potemkin’s bullying.
I could go on for hours about the adolescent behavior of the crew. It seemed that most of my day was spent listening to complaints, breaking up fights, and telling crew members to act like adults.
With six months into our mission, and five years to go, I didn’t know how Captain Finch and I were going to handle this. I loved my job. I loved exploration. I loved the science, but I hated almost everyone on board of our ship.
Boof and I continued to visit Tim Leary. He told us a lot of tall tales but was stingy with any technical information. He said he’d always been more of a manager rather than a scientist. He’d joke that he should have been a stand-up-comic, even thought he didn’t really say anything funny.
One night at dinner, with a nice view of the three aligned moons of the planet, the Captain vented for about an hour about the crew. Boof, Garland, and Dr. Sashie Vern had joined us as the highest ranking crewmembers.
Captain Finch had an announcement for us. “I’ve done some research and come to a realization that we were given a crew of rejects of the highest order.”
“You think?” Boof said with a disgusted look.
“Our mission is longer than usual with extensive isolated periods and difficult Space Jumps. I asked for an experienced crew of individuals with solid science experience, and technical expertise. What I ended up with was a crew of people that nobody else wanted,” said Finch.
I added to his thoughts, “I asked around and was given memos stating that the reason was have the crew we have is because somebody wanted to get rid of them. We asked for the best of the best, and in turn, present company aside, we got the worst of the worst.”
“Exactly,” said Finch.
“Now what? Behavior modification or bull shit team building at the next supply spot isn’t going to fix anything,” said Sashie.
Garland Holbrook poured another glass of wine and smiled. “Clone the crew and leave them there. Then we can have a perfect crew. They have the facilities right here for high speed clone creation.”
“How would that work?” Asked Dr. Sashie.
“Leary and his crew stole the technology from the Glanidians who use semi-brainless clones for off planet mining and prostitution. It’s cheaper than robots, and biological clones are more reliable,” said Garland.
“But you have to feed them,” said Boof. “How can that be more reliable?”
Garland smiled. “No, they eat themselves. They don’t even know it. You know, Clone Nuggets.”
“That is horrible,” said Sashie.
“Yes it is but it isn’t what Leary and his crew did,” said Garland.
“Eventually we’d have to land somewhere and we’d be found out,” said Captain Finch.
“You don’t get it. We will clone the crew, but tweak the genetic codes so that they’ll have more pleasant personalities. We’ll make them brilliant but downright sweet, and completely bland. I know Gwendolyn and Boof could do it,” said Garland. “You both have studied genetics and personality modifications for violent and anti social prisoners on off planet penal colonies.”
I had to speak up. “It will take an extra week depending on how many clones we’re going to make. I spoke with the Evil Twins today and they estimated a major volcanic explosion within the next month. If it blows it will take out all life within five hundred miles of Leary’s clubhouse.”
Then we all sat, nobody asking the questions we all wanted the answer for.
There was a knock on the door. Tim Leary stood there in a black tuxedo, holding three bottles of wine in his arms. “Your mission reminds me of a story my Great Great Grammy used to tell me. A long time ago when she was a little girl there used to be a huge store called Ickyah. People would flock to it to be unassembled furniture because it felt good if you built stuff yourself. The buyer would get home with instructions that said it would take two hours to build your bed frame and nightstand. Fifty hours later maybe the bed would be done and the nightstand drawer assembled. Another twenty hours everything would be complete with the help of additional duck tape and a lot of swearing.”
“Leary,” I said. “What does that have to do with your mission?”
“That’s what it is like living here. Everything was supposed to be easy. Self contained they said. But it wasn’t. Fortunately I have a lot of duck tape. I still have that fast acting cloning machine. I’ll let you use it.”
“That is out of the question. We all took ethics oaths to protect our crew,” said Captain Finch.
“I didn’t,” said Holbrook.
We spend the rest of the night bitching about the rest of the crew. After everyone realized that we had more shit-for-brains stories than we could tell in one night. My brain was so agitated that there was no way I could get any sleep so I took a stroll under the three moons of Planet 2387.
“You need a real name,” I said aloud as I scanned the horizon.
“It has a name. Atropos.” I turned to see Garland Holbrook standing next to me. I didn’t even hear him coming. “She was one of the three Fates. Atropos was the one who would decide how long one’s life line was. She’d also choose how one died,”
“Why’d you come on this mission? You could have any job you wanted,” I said.
“Captain Finch is the best. None of us could have predicted the bait and switch with the crew. Think about it. If we had the original crew this would be a perfect science mission.”
This was new to me. “Original crew? Garland, what are you talking about?”
“You don’t know do you? They were finishing up in Florida on their last mission. You and Boof were later additions.”
I was almost in shock. My entire body went numb. Over a thousand souls were lost in a terrorist attack at the National Space Science Research compound. Religious fundamentalists fire bombed the place. No wonder Captain Finch took what crew was assigned him. The man must have been in deep mourning. Why didn’t anyone tell me? Why didn’t I figure it out?”
“Garland, could we get Tim Leary to go back in time and…”
“You know it doesn’t work that way. When you go back in time you can change whatever you want but it won’t change the future. Your changes spin off into an alternate thread of time that eventually fades away.”
“Sure, I forgot. I knew some of the people who died. I had no idea they were signed up with Finch’s next mission. No idea.”
I turned and headed off towards the Welcome to Hell door. I wanted to talk to Leary.
As I took my first step Garland grabbed my hand, twirled me around and kissed me. If I thought my head was spinning before, it was spinning even more now.
“I know you’re attracted to me. I know you’re attracted to Boof. May the best man win, and you know I’m the best man,” said Garland as he kissed me again.
“Let’s go talk to Leary,” I said as I tried to catch my breath.
Three weeks later we left Planet 2387. Leary took off in his time machine a week before we blasted off. From our ship we watched (at a great distance) the massive volcano blow up a good portion of the planet’s crust.
Junior Potemkin came into my office and thanked me for helping him out. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about.
“Everyone is so nice now,” he said slowly choosing the words. “It is as if they were all replaced with clones, or something.” Then he laughed uncomfortably. “That would have been weird.”
I smiled and told him that I was glad he was happy now. I truly was.
This story is featured in Strange Adventures in a Deviant Universe, W.P.A.D. Science Fiction Anthology. Available with most fine online book dealers (including Amazon and B&N) in electronic and paperback versions. Part of proceeds from all WPaD books go to support or fellow authors who have MS.