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All posts for the month January, 2016

 

Lars is from Scandinavia. If you didn’t know it in advance, you’d know it within minutes of meeting him. He has a habit of telling how much better things are there.

“In Scandinavia, music is better.”

“We are not weak men in Scandinavia.”

“We like to talk about Scandinavia in Scandinavia.”

Yeah, so the last one is mine, but you gotta admit you smiled, right? The constant comparisons will get under your skin. It’s like ants crawling over your brain. Tiny little feet, always moving, that itch you can’t scratch.

He’s a damned good driver, though. Dealing with his bullshit comments is a small price to pay for a driver of his caliber. Word has it he was the wheelman for the Latimer Family for a while, not that he would confirm the story. No one would be dumb enough to pry, anyway. Some things just get left alone. Last thing you want is one of their specialists showing up to perform a vivisection on you in front of your kids.

“Highways are better in Scandinavia,” Lars says as he tweaks the wheel and passes a slower-moving minivan of some kind. I can see a couple of kids in the back, watching a cartoon on the backs of the front seat headrests. For a moment, I wonder what it must be like to have a mundane existence.

I lose myself in the gentle susurration of tires passing across asphalt. We’ll be at the job soon enough. I need to keep myself focused, not wonder about kids and minivans. That’s a life for someone else.

He downshifts as we exit the highway, light flashing off those silver horseshoe cufflinks he wears. He’s silent as we roll through a couple of intersections and down a street. I think my lack of response has calmed the country comparison thing for the moment.

We pull up at a house. Big ugly green thing, but it blends perfectly with every other house on the block so that it won’t stand out. Mungo and Shiva are sitting on the porch, pretending to read the paper.

“We are here,” Lars says.

 

 

Elements: vivisection, ants, Scandinavia, horseshoe, susurration

I’m dreaming of peace. Soft images. Calm and serene.

A shimmer of light filters into the darkness.

Silence changes out for sounds. Random beeping and crackling sounds that intellectually I know are computers, but seem so otherworldly.

My eyes drift open.

The bay is dimly lit. Not even enough to read by. They know this is where you’ll wake up. No one wants to stare into a bank of sun-bright lights first thing.

There are techs here. Medics. They go about their duties in quiet efficiency, checking gauges and readouts. I let them remove the spiderweb of tubes and wires before I step forward and plant a foot on the deck. As always, it’s icy cold. The shock has proven to be the little jolt my body needs to fully come around, and this time is no different.

“Where?”

“Saffron system.”

“SitRep.”

“Heavy Confed presence. We’re number three on approach. Expectation of enemy action within three hours.”

I sigh and glance back at the hibernation tube.

I was dreaming of peace.

 

 

Elements: Hibernation

The dame that stepped into my office that day was a knockout. Legs that went on for miles, more curves than a mountain road, and eyes that seemed to look through you. God knew I had a weakness for redheads, and He was obviously the Creator of this one. She was too perfect to be real otherwise. Outside the door I could see Millie giving her a serious dose of the stink-eye.

Millie’s a good girl, and her instincts are solid.

I should have listened to her.

“Mister Danner?” the redhead said. Her voice was thick and smoky, and made me think of bourbon poured across a single cube of ice. I could see her sipping at it in some downtown joint.

“That’s the name on the door.”

“I need your help.”

Just like that, she had me. That hint of defenselessness in her tone.

“What’s happening?” I asked her.

“I think my house is haunted.”

“Haunted.”

“Yes. There are strange noises at all hours of the night.”

I stood from the desk, walking over to drop a pinch of tiny food granules to Marky the gold fish. He snagged a couple on the way to the gravel floor of his fishbowl. The little castle at the bottom was more haunted than this dame’s house. Her old man was doing something and just couldn’t keep it quiet. It never pays to say something like that, though.

“So you think I’m the man to figure out what’s wrong with your haunted house?”

She opened her purse. The stack of hundreds she pulled out was thick enough to choke a horse.

“I have money.”

“I can see that.”

“I just need help.”

“What does your husband have to say about all this?”

“He never hears them, so he doesn’t believe me. You see, he has narcolepsy, and he’s always asleep when the noises start.”

Narcolepsy. Maybe it wasn’t the old man doing something after all.

“And bringing me in isn’t going to upset him? I mean, he doesn’t believe you have anything going on. What’s he going to think when I show up? I can tell you what he’s gonna think: He’s gonna think you’re stepping out on him and bringing home your trophy.”

I’d seen it before, and it was a result as sure as peeling the wax paper from a fresh deck of cards: it was gonna get noisy. On the other hand, it had been some time since I’d made any real noise. I’d seen her access to cash, and God knows I love redheads.

“Please, Mister Danner. I just need someone to tell me I’m not crazy.”

“Sweetheart, I’m no doctor, but I’ll take a listen for your ghosts. I can’t promise anything’ll come of it, but I’ll take the case.”

 

 

 

Elements: strange noises, wax paper, narcolepsy, gold fish, red head.

Her fingers trembled on the surface of the table, baby blue nails ticking against check-patterned black and gold formica. Not for the first time, she reflected on how hideous the table was. It was one of the things he had when he moved in. Some hand-me-down from his dead mother, so she kept it even though nothing was ever going to match with the thing.

She picked up the glass and drank the contents in one long swallow, her throat protesting the fiery liquor that splashed down into her stomach. The glass made a clacking noise on the tabletop. A match to just one notch on the winch that lowered the casket into the ground.

Clack. Clack. Clack.

The glossy black box was draped in a spray of everlastings. They quivered as the coffin was lowered. Her lips pressed tightly together as she watched.

She wondered if she would ever smile again.

 

 

Elements: everlastings

Rita –

If you are reading this, then it means that I failed. One way or another I’m dead. I’m so sorry I never took the time and the chance to tell you what I was truly thinking. Yeah, I know, the last thing you expected from me is a love letter. Get over it. You’re getting one. It’s the last thing I could give you.

You meant more to me than you can ever know. I remember the first time we met, sitting at that pretentious little café on the corner. You had that big swirling drink and you looked at me across the rim. I remember thinking that you had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. Still do, in fact. They were glowing like a Fremen from Dune. (See? I can’t even write a love letter without being a nerd.)

You asked me for a light and we talked. Drank freely until it was time to leave. Neither of us could drive and we got in that stupid green taxi with the third-rate homemade reggae on the stereo. I wanted to smack that driver. I never told you, but I ran into him about three months ago, hawking his CDs on Flagler Avenue. He still sucked.

I have always wondered if you had really lost your house key or if you were just looking for an excuse to be with me a little longer. I was quite the host, right? “Welcome to my home. I have coffee if you want. Oh, and frozen fish sticks.” It’s a wonder I didn’t suicide on the spot from sheer embarrassment.

Anyway, every day since I’ve thought of you. When I needed a smile, a shot of courage, or a brief second of hope, it was your face I saw. I’ll be looking at your pic tonight before I go in.

So if you are looking at this letter, Greg is there with you. I asked him to deliver it. We’ve exchanged that duty over and over again through the past two years. One of us holds a final letter for the other. He’ll escort you to the house. Trust me, doll – if you have this letter, you’ll need the force. Under the bed there’s a weapons case. Help yourself. Take anything you want from the house. Burn the place to the ground when you leave.

I won’t go into the full explanation here, but Greg can bring you up to speed. Just know this much: Werewolves are real. Yep. Not the stupid shit from old movies, but giant monsters that tear people apart. Greg has seen them up close, just like I have.

I stumbled on a den yesterday. I’m going to wipe them out today. Well, I was going to. Obviously something went wrong. If there’s a story on the news about a massive explosion off Northeast Eighteenth (they’ll say it was a gas leak or possibly claim some terrorist bullshit) then at least I broke even, and the escort will just be a formality. If not, then this den is still viable and the pack will hunt.

I’ll sign off here, Rita. No matter what, know that I loved you.

Alexander.

 

elements: love letter, werewolves, taxi service, lost key, fish sticks

“Ripper! Flank two, distance two point one-one and closing!”

K-Dog chuckled at the announcement and stepped out of formation. “Mine,” he said on the unit push. He muted the radio for the moment, knowing that VicVic would be shouting at him for breaking the line. He needed a second to see what he was up against.

Camera One showed him little more than the swirling winds and the white blur of the ongoing blizzard. It was continent-wide, and he knew there was little use grousing about the storm. It was just the environment they operated in here. Even in the control cabin, with the heat on, it was still a little chilly. His toes were uncomfortable. He hated working on winter planets, but he went where the money was flowing.

Camera Two was set to sonic imaging. The onboard computer was filtering the storm’s interference. He spun the dial to turn up the resolution, revealing the Ripper that was making its way toward them. He didn’t immediately recognize the pattern, but he could see rocket pods, a pair of chainguns, and a laser cannon. The Ripper carried a crackling power sword in its left hand.

Time to start this bitch.

He flicked a switch with a finger of his left hand, and a microwave designator came to life, centering on the Ripper.

He reopened the radio. VicVic was still calling him.

“It’s a Scimitar variant,” K-Dog said in between the sergeant’s hails. “Stolley, toss me a starburst?”

“Copy,” Stolley said in his flat tone. “Shot,” he added as the missile rack on the back of his brilliant red machine lit up and a rocket leapt skyward on a tongue of flame. It screamed upward for a kilometer and shattered, releasing hundreds of seekers, their guidance systems locked onto the designator K-Dog had initiated. Their engines flared yellow as they powered into a single-minded pursuit of the target.

K-Dog switched on his autocannon and the heavy plasma gun, readying both for the attack to come. He took off in a lumbering run toward the Ripper, planting his feet carefully in the snow drifts. The wide-splayed feet with their grip plates should maintain traction, but K-Dog had seen battles lost on less. He watched through Camera Two until his targeting reticle illuminated. It was centered on the Ripper’s torso.

“Plas going live in three,” he warned.

“Splash,” Stolley said. The seekers began to hammer into the Ripper in a series of impacts. Explosive charges forged the warheads into shaped charges capable of breaching light armor. The objective with the heavy armor was more to overwhelm sensors and targeters than actually penetrate them.

“Firing.”

The world became a ball of brilliant illumination as the plasma gun flared. A streak of raw power jetted from the shoulder-mounted cannon. On the left shoulder, the autocannon roared to life with a staccato thunder. The recoil kept him from twisting out of his approach when the plasma gun spat its lethal load.

The glacis plate of the Ripper shattered in a blinding display. Bits of molten armor scattered into constellations as brilliant as anything the heavens could shine down upon the frozen planet.

A volley of rockets arced from the Ripper in response to the attack and K-Dog flicked the command for his flare launchers. At the end of his right arm, the massive chainsaw shrieked to life. He triggered another burst from the autocannon and charged. The ground beneath him shook in response to his weight.

“Let’s see what you’ve got,” K-Dog said with a wicked smile as the first of the chaingun rounds began to nip at his armor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elements: Winter Planets and Constellations

 

“Y’all wanna cup of coffee?” Edison asked. His drawl was a long, slow thing, like a freight train slipping through a busy city. He held a cardboard tray with three steaming cups in his hand, careful not to get it near the stack of paperwork he had come here to research. The records he needed on cobra attacks were obscure at best, and only in what he deemed ‘the lair of the snake people’ could he find his answers. Years of experience had shown him that arriving with several cups of coffee was a quick way to grease the wheels.

Seated at a long table, Doctor Pare looked up through the Coke-bottle spectacles he wore. His eyes were enormous behind the lenses. One thin shock of his greying hair was draped over the right lens, and he brushed it back with an ink-stained finger.

“I don’t drink coffee,” he said. He used the doctoral tone when he answered — the one he reserved for speaking to people who were somehow less important in his view. Having spent the years and effort to become a Professor, that number of people was impressive. The look had proven effective on many people before him, but Edison just grinned. No herpetologist, Professor or otherwise, was going to shake his self-esteem.

“Better’n that glowing green shit over there,” he said, using his own cup as a pointer and indicating the half-empty Mountain Dew bottle at Pare’s elbow.

“I’ll have you know –”

The bottle tumbled from the table as Pare’s wildly swinging arm cast it from the surface. He jumped and reached for it, the plastic bouncing from his fingers twice in a comedic flailing that set Edison to chuckling.

The sound made as the bottle hit the floor was louder and deeper of tone than the clacking of his glasses as they slipped from his nose.

“My glasses!” he shrieked. The tone of superiority was gone, replaced by raw horror at the thought of reaching down to recover a broken pair of glasses.

He dropped to his hands and knees, fumbling about in the floor for a treasure that he could not see.

Edison took pity on the scientist, stepping around the table and retrieving the fallen specs.

“Here ya go,” he said, reaching out to place the glasses in Pare’s hand. “They’re fine.”

Pare let out a sigh of relief as he fitted the thick lenses back over his eyes. He blinked several times.

“Thank you,” he said. “For a moment, I felt like…”

“Velma?” Edison prompted as the Professor’s words trailed off. Pare actually grinned, and a giggle escaped him.

“I loved that show,” he confessed.

 

 

Elements: A herpetologist, obscure records, coffee, broken glasses

He pulled the brim of his fedora down lower and studied the trap closely. He admired the creativity of the designer, blending it in with the background so well.

“C’mon, Doctor Jones!” urged Milton. “If we don’t find that map…”

The threat was left hanging. They both knew the ramifications of failure. Letting the Nazis discover the map to El Dorado would have world-spanning consequences. Milton had come with Indy to this ruined church, but the quest had been fraught with danger. The lion that they had crept past, the tripwires, the stacks of scrolls they had found…

“Damn it, boys!” Mom shouted. Buttercup meowed as the scream awakened her from her nap.

“I send you in here to find one simple recipe and you can’t just find it? And why is my yarn all over the floor?”

Milton and Lucas smiled. There would be another adventure.

 

 

Required elements: A doctor, a lost recipe, church

The alligator’s mouth was held shut with a few loops of tape. Garcia didn’t think it made the creature less dangerous,  but he followed the instructions of the handler and ran his fingers across its surface. He marveled at the feeling.

“It’s like stone,” he breathed, scarcely able to form words.

“Yeah, kid. They get pretty solid as they get older. Me and Viktor here, we used to wrestle back before folks got all touchy and said I was hurting him. If I took off this shirt, you’d see who was really getting hurt back then.”

“I bet,” Garcia said, eyeing the man as if he could see the scars through the shirt. He nodded a goodbye and moved on deeper into the carnival, losing himself in the sights and sounds.

He paused to buy a fluffy blue cotton candy. “Not the pink one, sir,” he had said, knowing he would be ribbed unmercifully by any classmate who saw him with pink.  The blue was okay, even though they would laugh at his choice of treat. The fair was the only time he allowed himself the indulgence, and the spun sugar was heavenly to him as it dissolved on his tongue.

He passed by the brightly painted Mermaid Extravaganza. He didn’t bother going in. David Filcher had sneaked around the back and snapped a photo of one of the “mermaids” with her tail and fins taken off and spread out beside her while she spooned pudding into her mouth from one of those plastic snack cup things. The shattering of that illusion was enough to spoil him experiencing that particular booth.

Around him, the sounds of stereos playing conflicting songs created a cacophony from which there seemed no escape, a constant chaos of sounds overlapping and competing as each carny in their booth listened to their own preference. In the span of a hundred steps, Garcia heard nine different genres and thirteen separate songs. He preferred the interior of the big top, where the calliope roared, and the rollicking tunes they played reminded him of his sister when she had performed live, playing everything from flute to oboe to saxophone. For a while, she had made the Garcia family famous in Daunterville.

He saw Miriam and Eunice lurking at the edge of the sideshow. Their curiosity was obvious from their wide-eyed expressions, but they held themselves separate — as if the bonnets and dresses they wore in comparison to the tight pants and cut-off shirts of the local girls were not enough contrast. Garcia snatched two more cotton candies from the nearest vendor and jogged over, extending them to the twins.

“A gift from me to you,” he said. “Don’t even think of saying no. It’s a county fair tradition of mine to give something special to someone.”

His words made it seem like he had just followed a pattern, but the sparkle in his eyes when he looked at Miriam belied the statement to anyone who could see.

He smiled and turned away, feeling his heart thunder in his chest. His hands were trembling. He resisted the urge to turn back and see if they were watching him.

 

 

Required elements: a bonnet, alligator, pudding, stone, oboe, mermaid

My first Scavenger Hunt entry.

Required item(s): An Owl.

 

I remember hearing them as a kid and trying to see them at night. Maybe picking up a reflection from their eyes with the GI flashlight I had. I can remember more about that light than about the owls. I had it for years.

It was a standard angle-head military light. Ran off two D-cell batteries. Compartment at the base for filters (it came with red, blue, and diffusion – which was a disc of white meant to simply make it a glowing spot) and a snap-free hanging ring. I had the black one instead of olive drab, but it was still one hell of a light for a kid my age. I ordered it from the now-defunct Parallax corporation, a MilSurp company whose catalogs I drooled over many a day.

The light did what I needed, but it never quite showed me the owls, who sat in the trees, staring at me, telling each other that one day I would come into the open and they would dive bomb me just to see my expression.