“Hello sir, Farnsworth’s Monster Emporium and Death-ray Dealership, this is Todd speaking. How can I help you this morning?”
“Can you speak up sir, I’m having a little trouble hearing you. Ah, you’re using your speaker phone. How can I be of service today? You’ve purchased some of Professor Peril’s BamHogZu Lair Defender.
“An excellent choice for those among the elite Plant Mastery villain set; fast-growing from its Bamboo ancestry, caustic from its Hogweed genetics, and with the tailored Kudzu genes, it forms spiny, and beautiful blooms from spring to fall. You’ll have a lair safe from prying eyes in no time.
“I see. Plant Mastery is anyone with level five on the Magnus Scale of Domination. You lack complete Plant-Mastery? It should still respond fairly well to Plant Domination at level two, or even basic Plant-weaving at level one. It might take some time to cover your whole lair as an effective barrier.
“Sir, it wasn’t a recommendation for you to possess some degree of plant control, it was a requirement. Fortunately you’ve called us in time and we can use our Drone Supply and Return service to expedite you something more suitable to your needs.
“You’ve already planted it? Nothing to worry about. It will lie dormant for two days without plant mastery to activate it normally. We’ll send over digging robots to remove all traces of it. Sir, why are you screaming? I can’t understand you. Why would you need a broom?
“Oh, Zoom! Oh my. Zoom Plant Growth Accelerator and BamHogZu ARE a potent combination. You should not have been sold this product with no plant mastery whatsoever. I didn’t realize you had already activated the growth acceleration. Wrapped around your legs? You should stand very still right now. Sir. Sir! You are going to have to stop screaming. The plant is designed to grow toward the sounds of suffering.
“That’s better. Are you wearing any clothing? Tuck your hands into your sleeves. Slow your breathing. If you remain quiet, the plant should begin growing onto the barrier wall you placed it against and away from you. I know your legs where the BamHogZu is touching you are in great pain, part of its caustic Hogweed genes, but you mustn’t push it away, as it will only grow toward you faster. Thrashing is a growth stimulant.
“We are dispatching an extra strength defoliant to your location. If you are willing to pay a bit more, we can have it carpet bombed by a fast attack drone. Please be advised, there will be side effects from being at ground zero. The defoliant will leave you with a bright orange skin tone for four to six months. You will also be toxic to any living plant during that time. The orange color will also stain any bright fabrics you wear so you might want to consider more orange in your wardrobe or make everything you own black for a while.
“Spines penetrating your legs. Got it. Those drones are on their way, ETA about four minutes. Remember to hold your breath for as long as you can. There may be some stinging. Thank you for calling Farnsworth’s Monster Emporium and Death-ray Dealership. Have a great day.”
More Tales of Tech Support © Thaddeus Howze 2014. All Rights Reserved
An industrialist put on his plastic face, his expensive suit and dragged an indentured lawyer into town with him. His Bentley arrived in a cloud of choking dust and stinging flies.
The town had gathered around a podium to listen to the complaints of some locals while they waited for the industrialist to arrive.
He took the podium, confident, smiling but after a few minutes, one of the townsfolk hurled something which landed with a solid thunk on the raised wooden stage. It was an old Colt revolver. Already loaded.
The industrialist looked closer at the crowd. He noted their pale mien. Many were coughing into towels. The bitter iron stink of blood wafted through the air. He knew that scent, intimately. Their condition had to do with residue from the hydraulic fracturing process.
He considered their condition…unfortunate.
His gaze swept over the crowd but he appeared unaffected. “What’s this for?” he asked as he gingerly picked up the gun.
“If you plan on robbing people you should be appropriately armed,” someone shouted from a distance.
“I don’t understand what you mean. I’m genuinely happy to report how wealthy we’re becoming through your sacrifice. It’s legal, I assure you.” Unlike the industrialist, the attorney refused to meet anyone’s eyes.
Looking around the industrialist saw the stage stood in a pool of stagnant and foul-smelling water. “You should do something about your plumbing.” It was then he noticed the stones people carried.
Reverend Ames staggered up to the front of the crowd, his eyes rheumy but still sharp enough to see their way through to the heart of a man. “We are a god-fearing people. Galatians, chapter 6 verse 7: ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’”
The reverend spit and threw his stone at the industrialist and his lawyer. Others followed suit. Ducking, the two men tried to escape but large unhappy townsfolk waited at the foot of the ladder with metal bats.
The industrialist pointed the gun at the crowd. “Don’t make me use this.” A rain of stones arced through the air with more hitting than missing. The lawyer dropped and lay still. Shaken the industrialist fired the weapon at the Reverend.
The weapon flared and in seconds, vapors beneath the podium ignited, with the contaminated water beneath the stage acting as fuel. Both men were surrounded and engulfed by a makeshift funeral pyre.
No one fled.
The townsfolk leaned forward, silently savoring the screams of the two men. One or two looked a touch uncomfortable, but no one turned their back to the flames.
The Reverend smiled at his parishioner who had given the industrialist the gun filled with flaring blanks. He turned his gaze toward the fire and with venom said, “Yes, sir. You are so right we should do something about those leaky water pipes. Not to worry, the water stops burning in a couple of hours. Plenty of time for you to get used to your new accommodations in Hell.”
The townsfolk rejoiced quietly and agreed to never speak of this.
When the methane was expended, only a pile of dark ash remained of the stage, the industrialist and his counsel. As the townspeople turned, the pile of ash shifted suddenly and slowly the industrialist stood up and brushed the ash that used to be a podium and possibly a lawyer off of his once-again, pristine suit.
The townspeople stood agape. Dust rose from his footsteps as he walked from the ashes toward his car. He turned, the setting sun behind him.
“Just who did you people think you were getting in bed with?” His horns and winged shadow lingered in the setting sunlight, reaching out toward the townsfolk for an instant as he got into his car.
I can’t believe they did that. People can still surprise me…
The roar of his Bentley could be heard over the sounds of water mains and wells exploding, fire flowing toward the very center of town. No street was clear, no avenues for escape; a river of flame from every direction.
Collectively, they screamed, cowered and burned.
Nearby, a murder of crows took wing and celebrated.
Unnatural Gas © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved
We chased him for forty days and forty nights.
He eluded us, he deceived us, he made us fight against each other, he tormented us and mislead us. And yet he could not escape us. For all of our infighting, we were committed to one thing above all other petty jealousies, beyond our rivalries for power and glory, beyond our need for His Attention, we were committed to our brother’s capture.
Our works he perverted. Our plans he thwarted. Our dreams he frustrated. We did not blame him. He was as he was made. But even our immortal patience was worn thin by his pranks, his trickery, his complete disregard for any propriety at all. We made the world as we were commanded and he just as promptly broke it, sundering the land, raising up the seas, creating storms from wind, snow from rain.
It was easier to tolerate in the beginning. He was the youngest. He was His Favorite. He was tolerated and even indulged. And secretly he hoarded his powers. He made nothing. He created nothing. He only disrupted the work of others, saving his Prime for his machinations whilst we spent ours crafting the world of our mutual Creator.
On the forty-first day we cornered him in an iterative and recursive corner of Reality, a sidereal realm, a place neither Here nor There, and once he realized we had tricked him, his rage was something to behold.
“Ho, Trickster. No place to run.” Our eldest brother wore a body of Flame, the essence of creation. He was the bringer of life to worlds and realms. This place was his creation.
Our eldest sister, wore a body of Mist, soothing, cooling, bringing the rain, the rivers, and lakes of a thousands worlds. “There is no need for cruelty, flaming one, he has led us on a merry chase and knows he cannot escape. Gloating is beneath such as we.”
“And yet he must, for if he did not remind himself he is my master and my better, he might not actually know it to be true.” The Trickster wore a body of twisting cubes, each sliding against each other in an orgy of geometric wonder; cubes which were consuming each other, writhing in an orgy of shades and hues.
Silently as was her want, our sister composed of the blackness between the stars, spoke. Her voice was the wind of winter, cold and terrible, inescapable, “We have you, Trickster, and if it were left to me, and it is not, I would feed you to our most nameless of brethren, the monsters of our earliest creation, the shame of our birth and let them tear you to atoms as is their wont. But our Creator has forbidden such. So our punishment for you must be as cruel as he would allow but no meaner than that.”
“Dark sister of mine, oh why am I being set upon in this way? What is my crime? A bit of harmless mischief here or there? Surely one cannot begrudge one such as myself the tiniest bit of entertainment? Our work seems so endless and without meaning. What does our Creator tell us of our work? What is His plan? We create Great Works and he decides if they are worthy? When they are not, what happens to them? He tells us not. Does that not chaff, even you, my coldest of siblings?”
“Silence!” our brother of Flame roared. “Your honeyed words have no place here. You have been found wanting, the destruction of our Works is your crime. You claim to be a part of the effort of Creation. If so, if you are a part of our Great Work, name your piece, lay claim to your effort and if it be worthy we will leave you in peace. If not, know you will face our wrath.
Our other siblings soon arrived. Beings composed of the stuff of Reality itself. And as they surrounded the Trickster, he grew fearful sensing our resolve.
“I am as our Creator made me? Would you challenge his thought of a need for the likes of one such as me? Which of you would tell our Creator he has done wrong? Is the Creator capable of making mistakes? I have no remorse for the things you claim I perverted. I made each of them better, more beautiful, easier on the eye, or more challenging for the tiny creatures you all show such great affinity for. You made reality, I fractured it giving it dimension. You created matter, I gave it phases, so that it knew variation and color. Some of you are born from those very transformations. Would you judge me when I have made it possible for you all to exist? What hypocrisy is this? I deny your charges. I say to you, this is folly and I would leave here. Now.”
I strode forward through the diverse elements of my brethren and stood before him and he quaked in fear. I am the Void, the place between all places, the boundary between all things. None have power over me, and none can resist me. He was right to quake in fear. In power, I have no equal save the Creator of All Things. “You have done all that our Creator asked. He asked you to make difference, polarity, divergence, but your work now is done. If allowed to continue you would break the underpinnings of the Universe.” Having knowledge of the future and the past, I know ultimately this Trickster would eventually have his way with all things. But not today.
“All that you have done, will remain. All of the transformations of our universe you have altered, we will not change and in our way, we will be grateful to you. The beauty you have brought to our work is greater than we would have done without you. Now I bind you. The only trace of you will be as an echo in the background of all there is. I name thee, Entropy and everyone will know your name, though they will only infer your existence. We deny you. Your doom has been spoken.”
My siblings turned away, my doom pronounced, they knew our work was done. Each turned away and visualized their contribution to the Universe aborning.
Our Creator Spoke, his voice booming “Let there be Light.” And there was light. It spread from a single point that was not a point into an explosion moving faster than any of our Works had ever done before. The Trickster turned and looked into the Work and wept.
Then he laughed and pointed. As the universe formed he faded from view.
He knew what I knew when I spoke of it. He would be the birth and the death of all there was and would underlay the most important aspects of our Work. And he would never be welcome anywhere.
He was both wonderfully and terribly made.
The Second Law © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved
Claude Marks was a man down on his luck.
He lost his job as a gas station attendant a year ago and paradoxically seemed unqualified for any work which could support even his meager lifestyle, such as it was. Claude was a man of simple tastes and ambitions. Not a terrible looking fellow, Claude had a strong back and mostly unremarkable features, a mop of dirty blond hair which defied a style which would give his round face any gravity. He bore his dullness with poor grace and was often thought to be an angry man by most people who knew him.
Eventually his fall would cost him his apartment at the edge of his city’s poorest suburb. With nowhere to go but down, he would take up residence in a daily hotel because he had already exhausted the kindness of the few friends he possessed. Having the wit to hock his possessions, he was able to keep himself out of the drain while his quest for work continued. His persistence paid off. A job as a stock boy in a local market gave him the ability to avoid the indigence he was headed toward and for a moment, Claude breathed a sigh of relief.
But the daily hotel he lived in was still a far cry from comfortable. He found himself bone tired after work but his hotel room had all the comfort of a prison cell. A dark and dingy hole, barely lit by the forty watt light bulb in the center of the room, the pseudo-kitchen with a gas stove and half refrigerator was where he might store a few perishables. The half bathroom without a respectable shower, aging toilet and a mysterious smell which rose from the commode when the wind blew in just the right direction over the century old structure.
The worst part of his room was the bed. A mattress which rivaled the hardest bedrock, sheet covers as thin as a butterfly’s wings, and a nasty collection of vermin which plagued Claude ceaselessly. Nothing he did ever seemed to alleviate the horrors waiting in his bed. The hotel had already given up their struggle against the bedbug and considered their failed efforts due diligence. Nothing further was or could be done, so it wasn’t. Claude was left to his own devices to find a way to endure.
A few weeks into his new job, Claude noticed the back of the store where they dumped the wasted food from the kitchen, broken cans, and other products past date. Ever so quietly he would take the edible resources from the large trash cans. Those things only mildly past their date, or cans which had lost their labels were subject to his predation. No one noticed or seemed to care and Claude considered this a changing of his luck, with a meal thrown in for good measure.
Unfortunately, the neighborhood being what it was, had others who might leave things in the store’s dumpsters since it was one of the places which got regular service, rain or shine. On a dark Wednesday, Claude found a television with a broken antenna whose case while a bit dinged and nicked from the vicissitudes of life. Finding an antenna attachment in the hardware section, he carried his ill gotten gains home and plugged it in hoping for a distraction from his life.
The image required some work, but after an hour of tweaking the antenna and moving it around, Claude was satisfied with the quality and began cooking his dinner. This was a good day, food, a bit of television, a shower and sleep. Settling in for the night, the television rested on a dilapidated chair in front of his bed just within arm’s reach so he could change the channel. What else could he ask for besides a remote?
And just as quickly he thought, a candy bar would be nice. Claude hardly had a sweet tooth, but remembered eating the occasion chocolate bar at the gas station in his previous life. And of course, a candy bar ad flashed on the screen to make his longing complete. As he faded off to sleep he reached out to the screen and touched the bar and promised himself one tomorrow. He could afford it, it was payday.
When he woke in the morning, he felt refreshed for the first time in months. He jumped up noticing he was just a little later than usual. If he rushed he would be able to be almost on time. Scrambling around and getting dressed he was almost out of the door, before he saw it under the bed next to his shoes.
It was an unopened candy bar.
The same candy bar he had not been to the store to get. Yet.
He could hear the bus coming down the street and if he missed it he was going to be late. The last thing he wanted to hear was Mahoney’s mouth.
He grabbed the candy bar and ate it on the run toward the bus stop. Best thing he ever ate.
“You’re late.” Mahoney’s vodka laced breakfast wafted across the doorway as Claude rushed in from the winter cold.
“So dock me. I’ll be in the loading bay.”
“Unload those three beds and all is forgiven.”
“Screw you, Mahoney. It’ll be done by noon.” Mahoney’s face tightened and if one looked close enough, you might imagine steam rose at his collar. Mahoney hated Claude. He was always late, very aggressive and insubordinate on a regular basis. After writing him up two times, the senior store manager suggested Mahoney try to look at Claude’s hard work ethic first and his attitude last. Mahoney still hated him but work was done first and Mahoney took the credit. Win-Win-Lose for Claude.
Mahoney was going to be breaking in a new girl today and he fancied this one. A pretty youngster, barely twenty with this being her first work experience, made her prime pickings for an experienced Lothario like Mahoney.
The choice of young and nubile staff members was a perk of the job as far as he was concerned. He looked around expecting her to be coming from the changing area. Where was she?
She watched Claude as he unloaded the truck, his arms flexing with just a light coating of sweat. He wore a short sleeved shirt and his hands were covered with rough workgloves. She stood in the doorway watching him work for a few minutes before deciding to introduce herself. Her co-worker had mused on the way out, she could do worse. He was the hardest working man at SafeCo. She had a weakness for a hard working man. “My name is Camille. Call me Cam.”
Momentarily startled, he pulled his headset down to his neck.”I’m Claude. I’d shake your hand but I’ve got stuff all over ’em. You’re new here?”
“Yes, I was supposed to start this morning. Couldn’t get into the changing room until another lady let me in.” Cam wore her hair in braids pulled back and the work apron of a SafeCo cashier. She was shapely and wore no makeup. Claude found himself mesmerized by her simple good looks. Her smile was glorious. He could look at it for hours. Only the nasal bellow of Mahoney could ruin it.
“Camille!” Mahoney’s Brooklyn accent played havoc with her name.
Claude whispered as she turned and walked back into the store. “Watch his hands. He is a very handy fellow.”
“I’m sure. He’s wearing Old Spice. He wasn’t wearing it yesterday. I’ll keep an eye out. See ya, big boy.” She smiled and intercepted Mahoney before he could mangle her name again.
End of Part 1.
Within Arms Reach © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved
I saw the Corroded Man again today.
This was one of the things I had enjoyed the most since I was a child of nine summers. It was at my favorite festival here in Madrid. Mom said he was always there and he was legendary, in his way. I was fascinated by him. Such perfect stillness, like a statue but warm, approachable, almost human.
His body was motionless in the square and had been that way for almost ten years. No one could remember when he first started showing up but he was especially popular with the tourists, who came to marvel at his stillness. She would absently lecture me on the Corroded Man as we walked through the outdoor market. He appeared there during our hotest and stickiest of summers, fully dressed, coat, hat, boots, but as always, still and without complaint.
She told me he once had a personal guard who stood by and allowed people to approach one at a time to show them he was still alive. That was some time ago. No one knew what happened to the guard. One day he simply stopped showing up. The locals had taken to calling him the Corroded Man. His corrosion, the verdigris which covered him, clothing and all, was a perfect hue of a penny turned green, sitting in a moist place until the color was unevenly, naturally, perfectly hideous. The bold might have touched him and remarked how much like metal he appeared to be, rough, worn by weather.
He was a great tourist attraction. People came to Madrid, just to find him, some say. When they did, its was usually a woman, who would find a mirror, hold it under his nose and see his breath form, slowly, on the glass. They, of course, paid a nice tourist fee just to do so. It was fun to watch them approach and walk around him. He sat on the edge of a suitcase balanced on one corner with his leg extended a cane and cup in his right hand.
What made him so famous was not just his stillness. While he was by far the best of Madrid’s performance artists, if he could be said to be performing by not moving, he was famous for other reasons. Occasionally, he would attract birds who would sit on him in the manner of birds and statues. These became some of our most famous postcards ensuring visitors would seek him out on their trip to our warm climate and Old World Charm. He was to be found in the middle of a square where foot traffic was high and he appeared where he was always able to be best seen from a distance.
What made him most remarkable, legendary even, was the simple fact, no one ever saw him move.
He never got up to get a drink. Nor eat. Nor take a bathroom break. They never saw him pack up at the end of the day. Nor did they know for certain where he would be the next day. One of the most favored games of tourists was to find where the Corroded Man would move to next. People would watch him for days, sitting out in the square for as long as he did.
My father passed away when I was eleven. He died quietly from a sudden illness while I was away at school. My obsession with the Corroded Man only grew as I got older. I began to mark his habits when my schoolwork allowed. It took my mind off of my studies and the gap of my missing father.
The owners of small shops loved to see the Corroded Man appear near their establishments. He brought with him an entourage happy to spend with them and they quietly prayed he would stay for a while. As if he could hear them, some days he would. My mother was one of those shop owners who sought his favor.
My mother was an excellent cook and had quite a reputation among the locals, still she only managed to just make enough money to keep the doors open and me in a local private school. She said it was what my father wanted, his dying wish, in fact. So she struggled and I did my best in school.
She went to him one afternoon when I was still a child. She made me wait at the edge of his circle and walked to him. She crossed herself and spoke quietly for a few minutes. Then she turned, gathered me up. Her sad look back stayed with me, stoic, with a firm resolve. She returned to her shop.
Nothing seemed to change at first, but one day in the early summer, he blessed her by appearing in front of her store. Though his visits were brief, he would appear many times during the year and particularly around my father’s birthday. We celebrated Father’s birthday by leaving his favorite wine in front of the Corroded Man. The bottle disappeared only to reappear when he had moved on to a new location. Its contents were always gone.
I begged my mother as a teen to allow me one night to see if I could catch him in transit. My friends and I sat and watched. We laughed, told jokes, and hid from the well armed policemen who wandered by, stop and have a cigarette. They talked to him as if he were an old friend, someone who knew their secrets and had no judgment. Once they were done, they thanked him for listening and moved on.
We sat vigilantly at first. Never taking our eyes off of him. Then we ate from our basket, my mother had prepared cheese, wine, and bread, enough for even my friends. We sat behind a bench so he couldn’t see us and talked about school, our futures, planning for the day when we would leave Madrid and make our way in the world. I had ambitions of going to school in Los Angeles and becoming an engineer. I wanted to see the beautiful women of Hollywood and live in Beverly Hills. A tourist came through the shop one day and told me how wonderful it was there and I could never get it out of my mind.
Once it was dark we moved to the bench and continued our vigil. He sat in profile to us. Full of food and wine, it was inevitable we would fall asleep for a moment, that long moment when you are certain you are awake, but really aren’t.
He appeared the next morning across town in a different square, motionless as ever, with no one there managing to be sure when he arrived. I went off to school eventually. I had put the Corroded Man out of my mind while I was in college and only thought about him when I was on my way home to see my mother. A scholarship had paid for school so my mother was finally free of my educational burden. She finally spent some money on herself and the shop, which had expanded greatly.
I came up through a back alley doorway so I could come in through the kitchen to surprise my mother. There were new faces I had never seen but a couple of regulars who waved, smiled and kept on working. I was even more surprised when I walked out of the kitchen and saw the bustle of people having food, enjoying themselves with my mother coordinating the dance of employees and patrons from the front of the restaurant.
She smiled at me and pointed toward the front door. I ran to her and hugged her as hard as I could. As I hugged her, she told me, once I left for school, he appeared in front of the shop and has for all the time I was away, sat there, in vigil. I was sad that I had missed my Father’s birthday and our strange family tradition. I wanted to thank him personally. I had never spoken to the Corroded Man before, thinking it a strange thing to talk to someone who never answered.
I turned to look outside toward his favored spot in front of the store and he was gone, his vigil completed. All that was left to mark his passing was the empty bottle of my father’s favorite wine. He never came to us again. His legend in Madrid, however, continued mysteriously, as it ever had.
The Corroded Man © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved
Photograph © Emilio Morenatti, 2013, All Rights Reserved, used without permission
The Barghest, as large as a bloody calf, seemed even more terrifying up close. Clifford Engram questioned the decision to offer it a job so soon after finding himself flat on the ground with the brute standing over him. No matter, he needed the help and the creature and his master were uniquely qualified.
Engram kept his hands out and clearly visible. No sense in antagonizing the creature. At this point, the man behind the monster probably didn’t understand how dangerous it was. The eight police officers it attacked while they were not dying, they were not getting better either. Their wounds refused to heal, no matter what treatment was applied.
Doctors called it cellular necrosis. Unfortunately for them, this was a side effect of wounds created by creatures from the Second World. Injuries caused by malice by creatures from the Second World had to be forgiven, blessed or a greater entity would have to command the creature causing them to release those poor bastards from the effect. That was his task today. Without his help, those men would die in a few days from a slow rotting of their flesh.
“Ben. I know you can hear me. I need your help. I know what you’re doing.” Or at least I suspect I do. Things seemed so much easier a week ago.
Up close, the Barghest seemed more terrible than it had at a distance. As Engram stared at it, the creature grew larger, spiny growths appeared on its back, moving in the same direction as its fur. The jaws grew wider and when it bared them, Engram felt a bit sick. A physical reaction which emanated from the creature, a fear reaction as unnatural to him as flying without wings. Is he trying to intimidate me using magic? Engrams’ curse mark agreed and burned as it resisted the glamour.
The wolf turned his head as if he smelled something. He sniffed twice and released an ear-shattering howl. This sound drove Engram to his knees and caused his nose to start bleeding. Then the beast turned in the direction it gained a scent and leapt into the murk of a nearby alley.
When Engram’s ears stopped ringing, he wiped his bleeding nose on a handkerchief and shook the sound out of his head. That’s when he noticed a scraggly group of stray dogs standing in front of him; an unexpected group of unfriendly-looking dogs. While they were a fraction of the Barghest’s size, their number did give him pause. If nothing else, he would have to fight his way through them to give chase. Yes, his reinforced coat would offer some protection, but it wasn’t as if they were only going to chew only where he wanted them to. Right here lads, only on the arms, eh?
As he tried to back up, he looked around him and noticed all avenues of easy escape were covered by six or seven other strays of varying shapes and colors. At least two of them were mastiffs or pit bulls, both known for their biting prowess. Engram, more a cat than a dog person, remembered the first rule of predator-prey relationships. Don’t run. They like that.
Putting away his handkerchief, he took out a no-brand sucker, he used as a cigarette substitute. The animals did not react when he reached into his coat. They ceded no ground, nor approached any closer. Their job is to keep me here. Sorry boys, I can’t allow that. Can’t count on being able to find Fisher again if he remembers anything of this encounter.
Reaching back into his coat, he pulled out three small packets. He picked them up at an Italian restaurant earlier. Crushing the packets his hands, he ground the powder into a fine dust splitting it between his two hands.
“Come on, lads, haven’t got all night.” He ran into the alley and the dogs sprinted after him. Swirling the powder into the air behind him, he used the tiniest bit of Qi, to spread the dust into the faces of the slavering hounds.
The yelps and whining disappeared into the distance along with his pursuers. For the next few minutes the detective ran purely on instinct. Easiest path following the direction of the wind. A random dog might appear, one who didn’t get a chili powder surprise but a swift kick usually resolved the issue and he escaped with little more than minor injuries.
Then he heard the howl, the howl he heard the night of the attacks. A howl which chilled the blood and froze it in men’s veins. He stopped and oriented himself. Less than two blocks. He reorder his Qi into the elemental fire and ran toward the melee. He marshaled his breathing and could feel the heat building in his breath. Engram wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived, but Fire manipulation was his strongest Qi mastery, and the growling and shouting indicated a full out struggle. It was even stranger once he could see it.
There were eight maybe ten men attacking the wolf creature. Their arms were replaced with longer tentacle-like appendages which they whipped though the air with devastating speed. As their blows struck ground or nearby buildings, splinters of rock flew up and ricocheted around the small courtyard where this confrontation was taking place. The Barghest was fast, flickering in and out of existence seconds before each tentacle landed. It jumped backward and howled in the direction of the most hideous and malformed of the young men attacking it.
The hybrid man-monster vibrated, trapped within the sonic wake, his flesh tearing itself asunder under the assault. Seconds later, the hybrid was blown apart, raining chunks of steaming flesh skyward in the cool London evening. Seconds later, the chunks of flesh started to smoke and disappeared. Each creature, once dispatched, turned into a puddle of noxious slime.
Two of the men turned when a young man exited the building and ran toward him with startling speed. Channeling fire gave Engram the speed of a wildfire, at the cost of burns he would need to heal later. He firestepped and disappeared from the alleyway. An instant later he reappeared in front of the two creatures. He shoved the boy back through the closing door. “Run! Don’t look back.”
The boy who had been distracted by his phone didn’t notice anything until he thrown bodily back into the building. Engram finished his movement by releasing the fire, the price of his movement in the direction of the two unknown creatures. It shot down his arms and onto his hands, before flowing over the beasts just out of reach. His flesh sizzled and he ground his teeth.
The Qi flowed languidly and crossed the short distance like foxfire, bathing them in a wispy flame. Engram pulled his arms back toward himself and sealed himself to the Earth, borrowing its resilience and durability. His arms were crossed in front of his face as the foxfire erupted into a bonfire.
The other monstrosities paused as the screams of their comrades tore through the small space. The Barghest, took advantage of their momentary distraction and chewed off the head of the closest horror which had managed to enshroud it in one of its tentacles. The smoke-like form of the Barghest had a purple burn where it was touched. Its fantastic speed was diminished though it was still appeared more than a match for the remaining three. Their human shapes seemed to be breaking down, they were sloughing off human flesh in green glistening chunks. They were breaking out of their clothes, as they were shedding their human forms completely.
The mystic investigator was unable to move as long as he channeled the Earth’s power. Flames swept over him as the burning corpses fell about him draping him in their ignited flesh. Two of the remaining three turned away from the Barghest and squealed a terrified sound. One vaulted into the sky and vanished in the darkness. The other became a swollen and bloated thing, dripping liquids as it grew, becoming nearly eight feet tall.
The Barghest dispatched the last one who had not moved away quickly enough with a howling burst of sound. Engram was grateful he had not dropped his Earth shield since the creature did not seem to care who was affected by its power. It’s zeal and bloodlust were evident. Even injured, its ferocity was undiminished. It let loose another howl and a response from all around echoed in the distance.
The giant strode toward Engram, turning its back on what it deemed to be the lesser threat of the Barghest. A mistake. The wolf did not consider itself the lesser threat and launched itself through the air toward the giant back. Without a backward glance, it whipped its tentacle through the air and with a cracking sound struck the Barghest right in the chest.
The powerful snap knocked the Barghest back at half the speed of sound. It crashed into the building behind it and disappeared into the rubble of the old brick structure. Engram could no longer see or hear it through the lingering cloud of dust. The dogs who responded to the call, roared onto the scene each slavering and wild. There were more of them than the creature could turn its attention to and soon it was covered in dogs, tentacles being chewed on. Its roars of rage rebounded off of every wall, and coupled with the howling and barking, it was more of a primal hunt in the wild than in the center of London.
Engram looked at the burning forms of the two creatures in front of him and transferred his Qi toward the mastery of flame, a second too soon. The creature managed to whip one of its tentacles, dogs locked in a death grip around his body.
This is going to hurt… He called the fire still roiling around on the ground and whipped it into a frenzy as he heard his ribcage beginning to crack. His Qi swept through the fire and bound it to the giant. Its legs ignited. Engram felt the conflagration even as his long coat began to smolder. The beast, afire threw Engram through the air.
He didn’t remember hearing his arm breaking his fall as the ground rushed up to meet him. He turned over bonelessly, barely capable of movement. The fire swallowed the creature, dogs and all and Engram felt a momentary pang of regret for their passing. The Qi based fire burned brighter as Engram watched, willing it to be as hot as he could make it. He only had a few more seconds of consciousness. He had to make it count.
He never even heard the sound of the Barghest as it came out of the building and stood over him, blocking the light from the burning creature. It stood over him and its jaws came toward him.
“Damn, so close.” Engram’s eyes closed as he released his Qi. The glowing red orbs filled the sky above him, then darkness.
Anger without Enthusiasm © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved
“I haven’t been able to sleep.” Ben whimpered to his psychiatrist who doodled in the margins of his pad. The doctor stopped listening five minutes ago as his client went into his usual rant about his neighbors and their part in his overwhelming depression.
“I tell you, they talk about me behind my back since me wife died. She was the soul of gentility. Not a mean bone in her. I see them whispering about her on my way home from work.”
Dr Grumman considered his patient, trying to find a way to help him back from the brink. Ben was a decent man, his upbringing in a modest township in Cornwall meant his education was humble but serviceable. Despite that, his social charm allowed him to find his way into London and get work in the food service industry while he finished school as a chef. He met his wife during his time in school and fell tragically in love with her.
With only a few months left to finishing school, his wife was killed in a traffic accident and he had a nervous breakdown. He was unable to finish his schoolwork and forced out of his apartment. Since then, the man has lived without zest. A perfect example of the idea of depression as anger without enthusiasm. He seemed to repress all of his emotional energy becoming paranoid in the process.
“Are you sure they are talking about you? Perhaps you are still adjusting to coming home to an empty house. Death can be quite traumatic. Adding the loss of a job you’ve had for a long time and I could understand your feelings.” The doctor while appearing to not listen was still involved with his patient for at least three more sessions and his insurance ran out. With his wife’s death, Ben’s new job didn’t offer coverage for this type of therapy.
“Tell me how the new job is working out? Are you settling in okay?” This will probably keep him talking for another ten minutes.
“Crimey, I hate that place. The kids, those homeless bastards, drive me flippin’ nuts. I am not cut out for watching a homeless shelter, halfway house, or whatever the bloody hell they call the place in polite company.” This was the most emotion Ben had shown since he’d come into the office. His doctor stopped doodling and paid more than cursory attention. Emotion meant he was feeling something. This was a good sign.
Dr. Grumman sat up and looked at Ben more closely. Ben was a middle-aged black man who had lived in Cornwall most of his life until he married and moved to London. His wife, an insurance agent was their primary breadwinner and while he talks about her sainted nature, he admits to her being a bit overbearing from time to time. “Isn’t there anyone in this new job you like? I mean you prepare food for the entire place, their staff, the students, there isn’t a single person you have taken even the slightest bit to?”
“It’s not like that. The kids seem to be an okay lot but when they come together they lose any manners they seem to have individually. When they do that, I become the butt of their jokes since I am the only person dealing with food and preparation there. The kids have to do some time in the kitchen and I am stuck training training them. When they don’t listen, I end up having to talk to the floor manager. And him, if he were run over in traffic I wouldn’t miss ’em.” Ben’s face got tight and he stopped talking. His wife was killed the same way. His statement cut him deeply.
“Since we are almost out of time, I am going to renew your prescription. I want you to stay on your dose and keep going to work. I want you to make an effort to work with the young person in your kitchen. You don’t have to be friends, I just want you to be friendly. I know it’s been hard for you. But put yourself in their place and see if you can find it in your heart to expand your perspective. Think about someone else for a change and I’ll see you again next week.” The doctor got up and reached out his hand. Ben stood up, noticed the doctor’s hand, and shook it perfunctorily.
“Doctor, I wanted to tell you about a dream I’ve been having.” His face was as serious as Grumman had ever seen him.
“Ben, can it wait? I have another patient outside?” Grumman hated putting him off like this, he genuinely liked this simple and pleasant fellow.
“Sure thing guv, I’ve sat on these dreams for a couple of sessions, I figure they will work out just like everything else. We can talk about it next week.” Ben smiled painfully and slid past the doctor on his way out the door. He wished he could have remembered to talk about the dreams earlier in the session. They were vivid and disturbing. Right now, nothing a pint wouldn’t handle. Ben Fisher went to a local pub and put the dreams out of his mind.
A man in a long coat with wide-brimmed hat walked in behind him and took a table a few feet from his. Their eyes never met, but he never stopped watching Ben for the entire evening. He noted his drinking habits, his speech, the fact his eyes would look at women and then turn away painfully; lust in his heart, shame on his mind. He never spoke other than to the young waitress who served him. Though the pub was crowded, no one intruded on his table. He gave away the other seats to patrons and drank quietly until Ben Fisher decided he needed to go home.
He followed him, staying out of Fisher’s sight, though in his current state, he would not notice much. His apartment was a modest place was off the main road. He passed through a close and piss-soaked alley, his broad shoulders nearly touching both sides of the narrow passage between two aging buildings. He remembering how much he hated visiting London, it reminded him of his claustrophobia.
Ben Fisher reached his apartment unmolested. And then the man in the hat waited. He didn’t have to wait long.
A black dog appeared on Ben Fisher’s apartment steps. One second he wasn’t there, and then he was. He was a massive specimen, square in the chest with a large head and powerful jaws. With only a momentary sniff in the wind, the dog took off at a brisk pace down the street. The Man in the Hat turned his collar up and followed as quickly as he could.
The dog moved soundlessly up the street and turned into a section of town best left by decent people after dark. It stopped and smelled the air and trotted with purpose, as if it were on the scent of a particular target. People who saw it jumped out of the way, surprised at its soundless approach and massive size. A few people even got on their cellphones to report the animal especially since the recent news.
Imagine their surprise to note the animal disappeared from sight in the time it took for them to make their call. Flustered, half hung up in embarrassment, the other half continued their report determined to have someone take them seriously. They never noticed the man who followed the hound, who slipped equally smoke-like between passersby amazed at the animal’s speed.
The man was grim and determined. He had failed to stop this creature for two nights in a row. It had already claimed three previous victims. The police assumed it was a man who used a large dog for a weapon. The victims were always young toughs, often homeless, found savaged and robbed in poorer sections of town. The only witnesses were unreliable, claiming a dog of immense size and strength killed the men and vanished in a mist.
Last night, the police were able to confront the creature. It did not go well for them. Though none of them died, most were savagely mauled and two of the eight were in critical condition. The Man in the Hat had arrived too late to stop it. He didn’t know what to look for. Now he did. Tonight would be different.
The dog had vanished. In his moment of reverie he had taken his eyes off the beast. Damn.
A blow struck him from behind, something massive, slammed into his back, knocking him to the ground. The weight stayed on his back and he could feel the cold breath of the animal as it stood there and growled menacingly. He could feel his cursed mark pulsing with anticipation.
The beast walked around toward his face and kept within inches of him. It made eye contact and held it. Feral, wild, unbridled rage coursed through those eyes.
The man fixed his hat and stood up, never breaking eye contact. “Ben Fisher. I would like to offer you a job.”
Anger without Enthusiasm © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved
Forget Me Not
“Excuse me? You don’t know who you are? Do you know where you are?”
“There is a coffee shop on the corner of Fifth and Main, two blocks from where you’re standing. Go there. Up two blocks, then over one. If I may be so bold how did you get this number? Your phone lists it as an emergency number. Is there an additional number there? Read it to me please.”
“Ma’am, your identity is secured by our company’s security system but I can tell you the last purchase you made is probably involved. Three days ago, you bought a pair of “Inspection Deflection” Secret Identity Glasses. Are you wearing a pair of glasses by any chance? They would be stylish, with a tiny gear and wrench icon on one of the inner arms. You might want to take them off until we finish our conversation. That bad, huh. Okay, wait until you get to the coffee shop and try to avoid looking at any mirrors or highly reflective surfaces until you get there. If you catch a glimpse of your reflection, you may forget more of your short term memory.”
“Yes, ma’am, I’m a friend of the family, Todd. You are walking to a coffee shop. Fifth and Main. Just look down until you get there. Can I ask you a few questions while you walk? Can you remember how long you have been wearing the glasses? All the time. You had them made with prescription lenses. Hmmm.”
“Can you remember anything from yesterday, like going to your day job? Think carefully, did anyone there act as if they had never seen you before? You were arrested by your company’s security team? Yes, ma’am, that qualifies. They didn’t recognize you after the second day of wearing the glasses. No ma’am the product is not defective. You’re at the coffee shop. Good. Now you’ll need to get a pen and paper. Since your memory has been compromised, you may have trouble remembering parts of this conversation.”
“No, they weren’t supposed to make people think you were someone else. They’re initially designed to make people not notice you, or not look too closely at you. They reinforce the mental image you have of someone you want them to see. But I suspect the problem occurred when you got up this morning, you put your glasses on and looked in the mirror wearing them, didn’t you? You fell asleep in them. It’s okay ma’am, it happens to almost everyone who uses them. The memory manipulation will work on the wearer just like any one else who sees you.”
“The erasure will only last for a day or so. We recommend you don’t wear the “Deflectors” when you are going to use mirrors for more than a few minutes or around people for longer than eight hours a day, as the perception filter has a cumulative effect, making people slowly forget who you are. That can include you. You can end up living your secret identity as your only identity.”
“Your prior representative should have suggested our ruby quartz filter enhancement, since you were having a prescription applied to provide you some resistance to the effect. I can have someone come to the coffee shop and set you up in a hotel until your memory returns. No ma’am, this won’t cost you anything, you are one of our preferred members. I will also have two extra pairs of glasses made, one set will be an Inspector Deflector set and a normal pair to wear around the house. Yes, ma’am, I will make sure you can tell them apart. Thank you for shopping with us. I am glad I could be of service. Yes, you can ask for me when you call. My name is Todd. Todd Alexander. Thank you for shopping Farnsworth’s Monster Emporium and Death-ray Dealership.”
“Good afternoon, Farnsworth’s Monster Emporium and Death-ray Dealership how may I help you? She’s gone? Did anyone see her? I see. Looking in her compact. I will make the necessary notes in her file. Thank you for going out in any case. You guys have a cup of coffee on me.”
Client account suspended due to possible memory loss. Recommend updating information packing with “Inspector Deflector” product line. Also recommend on site training in the use of the product line. This is the fifth such incident in the last year. Escalating account to management for further consideration.
More Tales of Technical Support © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved
For the last couple of years, I have participated in a variety of writing challenges to spur my creativity (and quietly drive my wife to distraction). My favorite three were 30 Short Stories in 30 Days or NaShoStoMo, NaNoWriMo, and the 30 Character Challenge. Since I haven’t seen any announcements (and I have a backlog of stories to complete) I thought I would combine two of my favorites together and get 30 cubed. 30 stories, 30 days, and create 30 new characters in those stories. I am hoping to have other people see my banners and join in for the fun. If you are interested, please let me know and we can collaborate, talk about the process, and share stories.
This contest only has two rules: Any story you write has a minimum of 200 words. Yes, that would be flash fiction, but since it was allowed in the past, we will just run with it. The second challenge is to have 30 stories at the end of the month. Some days will be harder to fill than others and that is okay. This is not meant to stress you, but to challenge your creativity, your willingness to go out on a limb with a story and trust to your ability to create. As far as characters are concerned, you can include a profile (a paragraph will do) at the end of the story discussing the protagonist (or antagonist, if they are more interesting). There is no genre limit but I will be writing science fiction, fantasy and horror as my main genres. You write whatever is moving you, of course.
At the end of the month, if you are able to complete the challenge, we will have some badges for you to put on your site showing your participation in the event. Have fun!
If you are web savvy, you can place one of these markers at the end of your postings. I will make a few other themes when I get a moment.
Day 1: Cryptic (1) – Introducing: Walter Abrams, Cultist Sorcerer
Day 2: Cryptic Part (2) – Introducing: Clifford Engram, Paranormal Investigator
Day 3: House of Oak: Red Star, White Sun (9) – Marcus Darby and the Sherak in White