Monday, April 5, 2021

Coral (Inktober, Tuesday, October 20, 2020)

For Inktober, October 20, 2020. Prompt word: “coral.” Tuckerization: Michael Wilson
(Note: Michael Wilson is the author of The Hunted Mage Trilogy, a powerful set of novels written by a master wordsmith.)
A reminder that volunteering for tuckerization only means a character in the story shares the participant’s name. Other than that, no other similar characteristics are implied. 

Coral
by
Alan Loewen
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Coral

Lea had her hands deep into the suds of the sink while washing dishes when she heard a tentative tap on the living room door. She sighed, exasperated at the interruption. The moment she had her hands in a sink or was in the middle of a shower somebody would ring the doorbell, or call on the cellphone.

“Michael?” she called, hoping her voice could reach down the hallway. “Michael! There’s somebody at the door!”

There was another tentative tap on the door when Lea heard Michael step out of his study. “I didn’t hear the doorbell,” she heard him say.

Lea paused in thought. Yes, that is odd. Why are they knocking? Quickly she rinsed her hands, curious about who would knock when everybody else would ring the bell.

She walked into the living room just as Michael opened the door to show a little girl standing on the front porch. The child’s yellow sundress contrasted sharply with the ebony hair spilling over her shoulders, contrasting with her light complexion. As Michael knelt to the child’s level, Lea noticed that one eye was a brilliant green while the other was a startling blue. Heterochromia! Lea thought. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.

“Yes?” Lea heard Michael ask. “Can I help you?”

The child turned around and pointed to the house across the street. “That’s my new home,” the child lisped. “Are there any boys or girls that can come out and play?”

Michael smiled. “Yes, we saw your family move in yesterday. We were going to come over this evening to say hello. And what’s your name?”

The little girl tugged at an ebony lock for a moment. “My name’s Coral.” She smiled and held up her hand showing her fingers. “I’m five.”

“Well, Coral, we have a daughter named Katerina, but she’s at school right now. But does your dad or mom know you crossed the street?”

“Will you play with me?” Coral asked.

Michael began to say, “Right now I’m busy, but let me walk you back to your home …” when Coral reached out and took his hand.

Lea gasped as suddenly Michael and Coral vanished. Shocked into silence, Lea could only try to breathe as her mind froze in shock.

And just as suddenly, Michael and Coral reappeared.

Still, in a kneeling position, Michael fell backward, his eyes wide with surprise when he saw his wife. “Lea? Lea!” he gasped. “What … what year is this?”

Lea felt the blood leave her face as she stuttered her response. “It’s… it’s still 2021. You and that child were only gone for a second or two.”

Bursting into tears, Michael struggled to his feet and embraced his wife in a crushing hug. “No … no,” he moaned. “I’ve been gone for fifty years at least. I thought I’d never see you again.”

He pulled back and suddenly stared at his left hand in stunned surprise. “I still have my hand? I lost that at the Battle of Molgrim’s Wall!”

The rest of his words came out in a torrent. “We went … somewhere.” He turned and pointed at the girl giggling on the front porch. “I had to hire myself out as a mercenary because we had to eat, and after ten years, Coral married some baron, and I was that baron’s man at arms and … and …” He broke down as he once again put his arms around Lea in an embrace that drove the air from her lungs. "I fought ... I had to fight ... things," he gasped.

“That was fun,” Coral said. Lea and Michael turned to the child in mute surprise. Coral spun about and skipped down the walk toward her home. Turning her head, she shouted, “And I’ll come back tomorrow, and we’ll play again!”

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Come Into My Cellar (My Love Letter to the English Language)

Come Into My Cellar (My Love Letter to the English Language) 
by Alan Loewen
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



Words mean something to me. Though far from being the wordsmith I long to be, I love the magic of words and what one can do when one carefully puts them together. I gloat over words like a curmudgeonly wine connoisseur hiding in his deepest cellar lingering over his dusty bottles of rare vintages. 

Take this one for example. Uncork the bottle. It contains only one word: senescence. Let its aroma fill you. Taste it. Feel how it lingers on the lips, its repetitive sibilance pleasing to the ear. It needs such little effort for your tongue and mouth to reshape the monotone drone produced by your vocal cords. Yet its sweetness hides its true meaning. Like the snake it simulates, it conceals behind its aesthetics madness and horror. Senescence speaks of age-induced dementia when the human brain falls far from its glory into senility and oblivion. I shall put this bottle back onto the rack and treasure it for another day. Its pleasant aroma turns to the attar of the grave if played with for too long. 

So many delightful words here all bottled up, waiting for me to combine them like an alchemist of old. If done well, I can make the imbiber experience delight or desire or sorrow if, and only if, I can master the fine art of blending. 

Over here is my collection of combinations. Using the essential elements of words, I have created fusions of linguistics and grammar resulting in unique elixirs and tonics that I believe turned out rather well. 

Here is one of my favorite aromatics. Give it just a sip and let it linger on the palate of the inner ear. Tell me what you think: 
I cannot say I own Elysia House. Better to say she owns me. Laugh if you wish, but I hear the whispers. Elysia is alive—self-aware—responsive to those who breathe and move within her walls. And over the months, I have come to find a rest here as well as a calling, for Elysia has her secrets. I now plumb her endless mysteries while wandering her oak-paneled halls as a willing revenant. 
Ah, yes. Personally, I think that is a savory one. So many more here. Some are meant merely to give a moment's respite, a cheap, no-name vintage for a moment's slaking of one's thirst, but there are others here that may tarry with you for a while. 

All these beautiful words. All these lovely cordials. Mine, all mine. 

No, no! Don't touch that bottle. Yes, that one with the green label where the very glass feels slimy to the touch. Let that one be. Some are meant for my palate only, libations best kept bottled up forever. 

Here. Try this one instead. It is my favorite. Open it and let its fragrance overwhelm your senses. It is my most treasured possession. 

It starts out, 'Once upon a time ...'

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Sarah Wilson’s Farm (Inktober, Monday, October 19, 2020)

For Inktober, Monday, October 19, 2020. Prompt word: “dizzy.” Tuckerization: Sarah Wilson
A reminder that volunteering for tuckerization only means a character in the story shares the participant’s name. Other than that, no other similar characteristics are implied. 

Sarah Wilson’s Farm
by Alan Loewen 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 




Sarah let her dog out for his daily early evening run of the backyard of her farm. Dusk had settled over the fields and woods, and actual nighttime was just minutes away. In the light of a fading day and a waxing moon, Sarah saw in the distance six deer running along the hedgerow that bordered the lower field.

That is if deer could run on their hind legs. 

Fortunately, Cicero was too old and blind to see them. He went about his business as Sarah impatiently tapped her foot. When the old dog finally decided to return to the house and the warmth of his bed, Sarah shut the door behind him and locked the two deadbolts. 

With a stifled yawn, Sarah made her way to the kitchen for her evening tea when through the window, a light in the field below caught her attention. She studied it for a moment and then gritted her teeth realizing it was a trespasser with a flashlight. 

Fortunately, trespassers were rare, but with the advent of the Internet, rumors about the uniqueness of Sarah Wilson’s farm had created some unpleasant encounters. In the last year, several unwanted explorers of a more metaphysical bent ignored the numerous No Trespassing signs surrounding Sarah’s 300-acre property, all to their detriment.

Fortunately, this time, there was only one flashlight. When there were three or more, Sarah’s job as caretaker always became a tad more complicated. 

Putting on her coat, Sarah unbolted the back door and walked out to the shed where she kept her ATV. It had been difficult finding one that was electric. Still, she needed something silent that would allow her to not only approach trespassers before they ran but would also allow her to travel unheard around her property without causing the other beings on her farm to notice her. Her truce with them was generational, but one did not tempt fate. 

And some of the farm’s regular inhabitants could be quite unpleasant. Especially at night. 

Sarah started the ATV and steered it in a wide circle to attempt to come behind the intruder. As she swung the ATV about, Sarah could see the silhouette of a person picking their way across the field via the use of their flashlight. 

However, as she approached, the trespasser heard the hum of the electric motor and turned, hitting Sarah in the eyes with the bright illumination of the flashlight. 

“Shine that flashlight on the ground,” Sarah yelled. In response, Sarah turned on the headlights of her ATV, illuminating her unwanted invader. Sarah sighed. “You again?” 

Sarah got off her ATV, leaving the headlights on and the electric motor running. Ignoring the trespasser’s look of disapproval, Sarah stood with her fists at her hips. “What did I tell you last time?” Sarah asked. 

Her intruder remained silent. 

“You are clearly trespassing, and you are going to turn around this very minute and leave,” Sarah said. “I told you last time, Ms. Pitzer, you are not welcome here.” 

The woman sneered. “Why don’t you call the police then? They’d be interested in your little farm here and what you have hidden on it.” She held up a cell phone. “I’ve already taken enough pictures to let the world know what you’re hiding here. I’ve got pictures of odd tracks, strange lights, and a shadowy figure that clearly isn’t human.” 

Sarah shook her head. “The Internet is filled with dubious photos. Yours will be laughed at as well.” 

“But,” the woman said, “I think I could get enough interest going to make your farm an interesting destination for adventure seekers. Now, I don’t think you want that to happen, so why don’t you let me in on your little secret here? Just between us girls?” 

Sarah crossed her arms. “Really? You truly want to know?” 

The woman smiled. “Sure.”

“Okay,” Sarah said while giving a shrug. “Why not? Okay, here’s the story in a nutshell. 

“My family has been tasked to guard this property for the last five generations when our first ancestor journeyed to the new world from the Black Forest in Germany. Since the Holy Roman Empire, my descendants received the responsibility to guard and conceal certain forces of nature from those who would use them for their own purposes. 

“These forces are meant to be hidden because they are inherently deadly. You with me so far?” 

Pitzer licked her lips and nodded, her eyes bright with fascination. 

“So I have all sorts of … I guess you could call them guests, all former residents of the Black Forest, safe and secured here on my acreage. If I were to rattle off all the different beings here, the list would make you dizzy.” 

The intruder smiled. “And what gives you the right to keep them to yourself?” she asked. 

Sarah looked nervously about. “Look, you might have just enough time to leave. Maybe. The sun has set, and the moon is waxing. The hounds will be upon us soon. I need to go lock myself in my house.” 

Sarah jumped on her ATV. “I think,” Sarah said, “you misunderstand my responsibility here.” She swung the ATV around. “I am not here to protect these creatures from you. Until Kingdom Come, I’m here to protect people like you from what is kept here.” 

Sarah made it to her house, jumped off the ATV, and almost tripping over Cicero, she bolted the door behind her. Moments later, Sarah heard screams coming from down the field, screams that faded into the forest. She hoped that the Black Dogs had found the trespasser for there were other creatures far worse. Sarah hoped her intruder would not learn that there were states of being infinitely worse than death. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Backrooms (Inktober, Sunday, October 18, 2020)

For Inktober, Sunday, October 18, 2020. Prompt word: "trap." Tuckerization: Danie Martin 
Author's notes: A reminder that volunteering for tuckerization only means a character in the story shares the participant's name. Other than that, there are no other similar characteristics implied. 

This story is based on The Backrooms, a creepypasta and Little Girl Lost, episode 91 of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone.

On May 12th, 2019, an anonymous 4chan user started a thread in the site's paranormal board /x/inviting users to post pictures of "disquieting images" that just feel "off." The user posted a picture of a yellow room at an off-center angle posted below. Another user replied with a narrative about the picture quoted below the title and the story of The Backrooms was born.
The Backrooms
by Alan Loewen 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 


"If you're not careful and you noclip out of reality in the wrong areas, you'll end up in the Backrooms, where it's nothing but the stink of old moist carpet, the madness of mono-yellow, the endless background noise of fluorescent lights at maximum hum-buzz, and approximately six hundred million square miles of randomly segmented empty rooms to be trapped in. God save you if you hear something wandering around nearby because it surely has heard you."
Danie yawned and eyed the alarm clock critically. Prepared to enjoy the day off, she could have slept for another thirty minutes, but another alarm clock was scratching at the bedroom door impatiently waiting to be fed. 

Stepping into her slippers, she groggily walked over to the bedroom door and found Arnie, one of her two cats, eager for breakfast. A small tabby, Arnie curled around her ankles, trying to speed up Danie's journey to the food dish. 

"Hey, furball? Where's Jeffy?" Danie asked. Adopted at the same time as Arnie, Jeffy was mostly blind, and the two had bonded in the shelter. Unwilling to separate the two, Danie and her boyfriend, Jared, adopted them both. 

"Jeffy?" Danie called. "Kitty, kitty, kitty?" She sighed to herself. Most likely Jeffy had gotten trapped on one of the old-fashioned heaters that kept the apartment warm or else trapped on top of some piece of furniture that he couldn't get down from due to his limited vision.

"Jeffy?" 

From another room, Danie heard the plaintive meow of a cat and, leaving Arnie impatiently waiting near the empty food dish, went in search of her second cat. 

She followed the sound of Jeffy's cries to the living room where they got progressively louder. Clearly coming from behind the couch, Danie looked behind it but saw no cat. 

"Jeffy?" 

Again, she heard the meow, but this time it sounded as if Jeffy was meowing for her from inside the wall. 

Danie shuddered. The apartment was part of an old brownstone, and she did not want to picture Jeffy having found some way to crawl behind the wall. Danie pulled the couch from the wall and searched for any way the cat could have crept into the wall. 

Trying to ignore Jeffy's calls as they pulled at her heart, Danie knelt next to the wall and went to lean against it to hear Jeffy better. 

To a combination of her shock and horror, the wall failed to support her and Danie promptly fell through it.

It took a few moments for her senses to take in her surroundings, the first sensation being the uncomfortably damp carpet she had fallen on. The second sensation was the faint stench of mold. 

Shocked, Danie looked up to find herself in an empty moderately-sized room with nondescript yellow wallpaper. Open doorways led to similar rooms, all illuminated by flat-panel fluorescent lights in the drop ceiling. 

Staggering to her feet, Danie turned to discover a simple wall behind her without any door. 

A faint meow came from somewhere behind her. 

"Jeffy?" 

She turned and walked into the next room, similar to the room she had left, trying hard not to think of the impossibility of her situation. The small apartment where she lived could not support so many rooms; the wall she fell through merely separated the living room from the kitchen. 

Through one set of open doorways, she only saw more rooms appearing to recede into infinity. 

"Jeffy?" 

From some distance away, she heard a plaintive meow from her cat. As Jeffy was blind, it was unlikely the poor creature could find his way through the maze. Suppressing the growing wave of horror she felt at her odd circumstances, Danie focused only on finding her lost pet. 

Calling out in every room, Danie wandered further into the maze. 

She felt a wave of relief when she finally found the little tabby sitting by a wall in one of the rooms. She swept the cat up in her arms, speaking words of comfort, and within seconds the cat was nuzzling her neck and purring safe in Danie's arms. 

Turning to make her way back to where she entered this odd maze of rooms, Danie realized to her terror that finding her way to the original room might not be possible 

She took a deep breath and began to reconstruct her journey back to the original room. Being blind, Jeffy could not have made his way too far into the labyrinth, and Danie felt she had to be no more than eight rooms away from the wall. 

Fifteen minutes later, Danie paused and tried to calm her growing fear. Not all of the rooms had doors on all sides of their walls, and Danie had to admit she was lost in the maze. 

Then she heard the growl. 

It was faint and many rooms away, but still audible, and Danie turned to listen more carefully. It repeated itself, a little louder and indeed a little closer. 

Panicking, holding tightly to Jeffy, Danie started to run randomly through the rooms. Whatever the source of the noise, Danie did not want to meet whatever now stalked her through the rooms. 

It was then, Danie heard another cat's plaintive meow. 

"Arnie?" 

Ignoring the growling sound that pursued her, Danie called out to her other cat. Most likely impatient at being fed, it had followed her into the maze and was calling out to her. 

Listening carefully, Danie followed the sound of her cat and, to her immense relief, found Arnie rubbing himself against the side of a doorway. Purring, he began rubbing himself against Danie's ankles. 

The growling that pursued her sounded louder, but Danie ignored the threat. 

"Hey, you want to be fed? You want food?" she asked. "Let's go get food." With that Arnie turned, his tail held high and began walking away from her at a fast walk. 

Following Arnie, still holding tight to Jeffy, Danie followed the cat who eventually led her into a room with only three doors and one blank wall. 

Danie felt a wave of relief when Arnie walked through the wall and without pause, Danie tried to follow. 

However, the opening or portal or whatever it might have been was unusually small,, and to her terror, Danie could actually feel the hole growing smaller by the moment. 

Ignoring his protests, Danie shoved Jeffy through the wall and started to squeeze her way through. 

Through the wall, Danie could see her living room. She continued to worm her way through the wall as the portal continued to shrink, threatening to constrict and vanish completely before her escape. 

Exerting herself, ignoring Artie's cries for food and Jeffy's desire to once again be held, Danie concentrated only on getting herself through the wall. 

Suddenly, something seized her right ankle in a hard grasp. 

With a scream, Danie pushed as hard as she could and dragged herself through the hole. 

That afternoon, she told her boyfriend the story. He clearly found her story incredulous, but his doubt was erased when Danie showed him what lay near the wall. 

A large clawed, scaled arm lay on the floor. 

Danie had managed to make it through the wall before it closed completely, severing the arm that grasped her ankle as cleanly as that of a surgeon. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Driving the Storm (Inktober, Saturday, October 17, 2020)

For Inktober, Saturday, October 17, 2020. Prompt word: "storm." Tuckerization: Sandy Dice Jones
A reminder that volunteering for tuckerization only means a character in the story shares the participant's name. Other than that, there are no other similar characteristics implied. 
Driving the Storm 
by Alan Loewen 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



Volcanic ash threatened to coat the windshield, and Sandy thanked her lucky stars for the thousandth time she was driving the Storm. A regular vehicle's engine would have choked on the thick clouds of ash. The abrasive grit blowing on the windshield at hurricane force would have scarred normal glass to the point of destroying all visibility. 

Gusts of wind tracking 150 miles per hour rocked the vehicle while lightning created by ash particles turned the view outside into a hellish nightmare straight from the mind of Hieronymus Bosch. 

Since the Yellowstone supervolcano eruption ten months ago, ashfall, nuclear winter, and hurricane-level winds had brought civilization to a quick end. Now, North Americans could do nothing but hunker down, pray the volcano was not going to usher in an XK class end-of-the-world scenario and find new ways of surviving. 

Blowing ash and lightning had reduced Sandy’s radio transmissions to worthless squeals of static. It was impossible to let Alpha Base know she had to leave her partner behind at the last outpost with a broken leg when Anne took a bad fall. Trying to walk to the back of the vehicle, the Storm had taken a bad lurch spilling Anne into a bunk. Sandy could still remember hearing the crack as Anne’s femur snapped. 

Now Sandy sat in the driver’s seat of a massive vehicle, the Storm, thirty tons of strengthened steel and titanium created for an event just like this. Normally it required two people to operate, but now Sandy learned how lonely it could be as the elements tried their best to destroy the Storm taking her with it as well. 

Once again, Sandy took a quick glance behind her seat. The cargo, a hundred cases of medicine for Outpost Four, sat safely strapped from the jostling the Storm received from the wind and ash outside. The SOS from the Outpost had said the need was great, and Sandy was determined to get the medicine to the outpost as soon as possible. 

Plowing through drifts of ash, the reinforced front of the Storm also had the ability to knock aside abandoned cars, and stretches of I-81 could be a maze of vehicles abandoned when people tried to flee the choking clouds of heated ash. 

Coming up on the bridge that crossed the Susquehanna River, Sandy brought the Storm to a sudden halt. In the light of the halogen headlights punctuated by flashes of lightning, Sandy could see the road simply disappeared just twenty yards ahead of her. 

The bridge could not stand against the sludge of the Susquehanna; the river's waters turned into a thick porridge of ash and water. 

Sandy’s hands tightened on the steering wheel as she put the Storm into reverse. Seven bridges crossed the river in this area, and Sandy hoped one still stood. 

Half an hour later, Sandy found only one way of access still standing, a railroad bridge. 

Sandy peered through the wind-driven ash, unable to see the far side of the river. It was possible that the bridge may have fallen at the far end or the way was blocked by a locomotive, but there was no other choice. 

Carefully, Sandy eased the Storm onto the tracks and slowly began to cross. 

After fifteen minutes, Sandy could still not tell how far she was across the river. The tracks simply disappeared into the ash-driven wind. She hoped she would not meet an obstacle that would force her to back up, but Sandy had no choice. 

Trying to stop the ache in her chest by slowing her breathing, Sandy’s hands ached from their white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. Suddenly, the world outside turned white, and an immediate roar of thunder followed the lightning strike outside.  

Sandy heard the bridge groan, and the Storm began to tilt as the bridge began to crumble. In her rearview monitor, Sandy saw the bridge behind her twist and crumble as it began to fall into the river. With a scream, Sandy stomped on the gas, hoping there were no obstacles in front of her. 

Sandy put the Storm into a higher gear, desperately trying to stay ahead of the bridge collapse. It was then she saw the stalled locomotive on the tracks some fifty yards ahead of her. 

Knowing it was certain death if she fell into the river below, Sandy pushed the Storm to its maximum speed and thanked God when she saw the train had stopped twenty yards ahead of the bridge. 

With a jerk of the wheel, Sandy could steer the Storm off the bridge and away from the train. A shower of sparks as the front of her vehicle scraped the train was a bright finale to the danger Sandy had faced. 

Two hours later, Sandy drove the Storm into the long driveway of Outpost Four. Toggling the signal that would open the massive entrance to the outpost, Sandy watched the door open to the well-lit garage that could easily fit four vehicles the size of Storm.

The ashfall still prevented her radio from working, but Sandy was surprised that nobody stood ready to greet her and take charge of her lifesaving cargo. There was no waiting medical team, nor any engineers and mechanics waiting to go over the Storm and prepare her for her trip home. 

Turning the Storm’s ignition switch off, Sandy felt the great vehicle give a final shudder.

Ten minutes later, Sandy opened the door of the Storm and stepped down into the huge silent garage. 

With her jaw set firm, Sandy swept the area with her Mossberg 500 tactical shotgun. Something was very wrong at Outpost Four, and it was her job to find out what was going on. 

No rest for the weary, Sandy thought, but she knew if her partner was here, Anne would say something different. 

A woman’s work is never done. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Pocket Monsters (Inktober, Friday, October 16, 2020)

For Inktober, Friday, October 16, 2020. Prompt word: "rocket." Tuckerization: Jasmine Smith 
A reminder that volunteering for tuckerization only means a character in the story shares the participant's name. Other than that, there are no other similar characteristics implied. 
Pocket Monsters 
by Alan Loewen 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 



Legal: Pok√©mon. © 1995–2020 Nintendo/Creatures, Inc. and GAME FREAK, Inc. 

Jasmine hid under the bushes hoping the dark forest would conceal her from the people who sought her and Hinoarashi. She could feel the tiny cyborg trembling under her arm where it snuggled close to her. In the shape of a fire mouse from a popular anime and card game, the creature looked like a cross between a tiny anteater and rodent with a bristly, bright red and yellow crest of stiff hair springing from its back. 

It had cost her almost two months of salary. But despite the expense, it was not unusual to now see hundreds of them in hundreds of different shapes dutifully following their owners down the streets. 

And now she and Hinoarashi were being stalked by a rogue group of pocket monster owners who had illegally adapted their cyborgs to fight. Calling themselves Team Rocket as a sick reference to the anime, they had kidnapped Jasmine and Hinoarashi. They brought them into the woods so their own pocket monsters could learn fighting techniques by attacking non-hacked cyborgs. 

Jasmine tightly gripped the jagged rock she had found. Slightly larger than a softball, she hoped she didn't have to use it as that meant she and Hinoarashi had been found. 

The bushes in front of her rustled, and Jasmine looked up to see the vegetation had been parted. She looked up into eyes that glowed yellow and green. Standing six feet tall, the cyborg stood on two feet. Long white hair descended behind it to its waist and covered most of its chest. Its fur was a combination of red and yellow. 

It opened its mouth and gave out an ear-splitting screech. Some distance away, Jasmine heard somebody call out. "Bursyamo! Did you find them?" 

The pocket monster opened its mouth, and Jasmine could smell the flammable liquid the creature used for saliva. In a moment, it would spray and ignite, and Jasmine and Hinoarashi would be burned alive. 

Quickly, Jasmine reached out, grabbed Bursyamo's feet, and pulled them swiftly toward herself. Knocked off balance, the pocket monster fell backward, and in seconds, Jasmine sat on top of it, making short work of its head with the rock she held. What felt like an eternity, the cyborg's thrashing stopped. 

Grabbing Hinoarashi, Jasmine tried her best to run away from the direction of the voice. Bursyamo's owner didn't sound that far away, and it would not be long before he discovered his pocket monster's fate. The two Team Rocket members would now have another reason to make sure Jasmine and her pocket monster didn't leave the woods alive. 

The forest was dark, but enough moonlight filtered through the trees to help Jasmine in her flight. Running with Hinoarashi tucked under her arm, Jasmine could avoid most of the trees even though the roots and low-lying vegetation threatened to trip her. 

Hoping to come out on a road, Jasmine heard the sound of running water and directed her flight toward it. 

When she came out to the bank of the stream, she paused. The stream was wide and deep, and the water swift and high. 

"Well, well, well," Jasmine heard to her left. Spinning around, Jasmine saw the female member of Team Rocket grinning at her in the moonlight. Next to her crouched her pocket monster, a creature that looked like a squat miniature rhinoceros but covered in armor that Jasmine knew would be rock-hard. Though only three-feet high, Jasmine knew that the pocket monster was one to be feared. She had already seen it in action, and it was only by luck she and Hinoarashi were able to avoid its charge earlier that evening. 

Jasmine scooped up Hinoarashi in her arms. "Pocket monsters were never meant to actually fight," she said. "What you're doing goes against their programming." 

The young woman shrugged with a smirk on her face. "Anything can be hacked," she said. "And pocket monsters were always fighters. It's what they were meant to do. It's what they were created for." 

A voice suddenly called out from the dark forest. "Jessie! Where are you?" 

"I'm over here. I got them trapped by the stream." The woman called back. "Follow my voice." 

Moments later, a young man burst out of the underbrush, his face a mask of fury. He pointed at Jasmine. "She killed Bursyamo," he shouted. "Kill them, Jessie! Kill them both!" 

"Done," the woman said. "Attack, Sihorn!" 

With a roar, the pocket monster charged. 

Desperate, with no exit available except one, Jasmine jumped into the stream. 

The stream was only waist deep, but the swiftly flowing water knocked her feet out from under her. Trying her best to hold Hinoarashi above her head, Jasmine quickly floated downstream. 

Behind her, Jasmine heard the woman shriek, "Sihorn, stop!" but a sudden splash behind her let Jasmine know the command had come too late. 

Pocket monsters were water-resistant but not waterproof. And much to Jasmine's shock, she suddenly heard the report of a loud explosion and the screaming of the man and woman Jasmine left far behind. 

Doing her best to hold Hinoarashi out of the water, the stream carried both of them down to where the water became quieter, and Jasmine could stand without difficulty. Gasping, she made her way to the bank and flopped to the ground. 

Hinoarashi nuzzled her. Checking him for damage, Jasmine was relieved to find no injury from the water or her flight through the forest. 

The explosion puzzled her. Indeed, pocket monsters were not supposed to have that strong a reaction to being immersed in water. The cyborg must have been hacked in more ways than one. 

Nonetheless, Jasmine thought to herself, Team Rocket certainly blasted off again.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Outpost on Ceres (Inktober, Thursday, October 15, 2020)

For Inktober, Thursday, October 15, 2020. Prompt word: "outpost." Tuckerization: Jared Loewen
A reminder that volunteering for tuckerization only means a character in the story shares the participant's name. Other than that, there are no other similar characteristics implied.

This story is adapted from a current work in progress. 

Outpost on Ceres 
by Alan Loewen 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 




“Welcome to Thule Air Force Base, sir!”

Lieutenant Colonel Jared Loewen stepped down from the helicopter and returned the salute, barely able to hear the man over the shrill whine of the rotor blades. The turbulence blasted the snow-covered ground sending sharp ice crystals into his eyes.

“Major General Ashcroft wants to see you right away, sir.”

Jared nodded and followed the man to a squat bunker. Inside, warmth and feeling slowly returned to his cheeks.

“This way, sir, unless you need to use the facilities first?”

“No, thank you,” Jared responded. His promotion to Lieutenant Colonel a day earlier resulted in a slight pay raise and new orders to report to Thule Air Force Base, a relic of the Cold War located 950 miles south of the North Pole, a post so desolate that supply ships only dared the ice pack once a year.

Jared's escort led him to a prominent oak door with Major General Anthony Ashcroft inscribed on a brass nameplate. His escort held the door open and Jared stepped inside to see the General’s aide, a man the same rank as Jared, rising from the desk where he sat.

“Welcome to Thule,” the aide said. “General Ashcroft will see you now.” He turned and held open the inner office door for Jared.

Inside, Ashcroft sat behind his desk, his office a quiet testimony to austerity and focus. Jared stood at attention until the man deigned to acknowledge him.

After a few minutes, Ashcroft put the papers he was studying to the side. “At ease, Colonel. Please be seated.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Coffee?” Ashcroft asked.

“No thank you, sir.”

The General shrugged. “It can easily hit 20 degrees below zero here. If you’re not a coffee drinker now, you soon would be, but you won’t be here long enough.” Ashcroft stood and walked around his desk to sit on the edge. “Congratulations, by the bye, on your promotion.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I pushed it through myself.”

Jared paused in surprise. “You, sir?”

“Yes. You have a Q-sensitive security clearance because of your work at Cheyenne Mountain. You’ve dealt with nuclear material, you saw action in Afghanistan and Iraq so you have combat training, and other factors as well as personal interests that make you suitable for a special assignment.”

Jared's mind raced for something to say. “Thank you, sir. I won’t disappoint you, sir.”

Ashcroft frowned. “You had better not. Too much rides on this decision.”

“Sir…” Jared paused for a moment. “May I ask what personal interests of mine you are referring to?”

Ashcroft ignored the question. He walked back around his desk and tapped the intercom. “Is Moody here yet?”

“Yes, sir,” came the response. “Shall I bring him in?”

“No. Colonel Loewen will meet him out in the office and Moody can escort him to the staging area.”

“Yes, sir,”

Ashcroft turned his attention back to Jared. “Chief Master Sergeant Moody will escort you to your new command. Good luck.”

Jared stood and saluted.

Moody was a short man with a no-nonsense air about him. “Chief Master Sergeant Bryan Moody, sir. If you’ll follow me, sir.” Jared returned the sharp salute.

Jared matched the man’s stride as they walked down the corridor. “What can you tell me about the new assignment, Sergeant?”

“My apologies, sir. General Ashcroft directly ordered me not to answer any questions until we reach the staging area.”

The first stop was at a guarded elevator that read both palm prints and retinas under the silent gaze of two armed men. The Sergeant punched the button for the fourth floor down.

The two men stood staring at the flashing numbers on the elevator screen for a few moments. The Sergeant cleared his throat. “I understand, sir,” he asked, “that you have some interest in fantasy and dark fantasy entertainment?

Jared bristled. “You’re out of place, Sergeant. My personal interests are none of your concern.”

“My apologies, sir.” The elevator door opened. Across the hallway, a large window looked down over a large well-lit room. The Sergeant stepped forward and pointed to the room below.

It was a mess hall and Jared stared down at the hustle and bustle of activity for three full minutes before he spoke.

“I don’t understand. What is this?”

“Welcome, sir, to Operation Leviathan,” the Sergeant said. “These are your troops. If you would please follow me?”

Jared ignored him, staring down at the mess hall below. “They’re real aren’t they?” he said, his voice a shocked whisper. “Are they aliens?”

The Sergeant rejoined him back at the window. “No, sir,” he said. “Back in the 1980’s the military started uplifting rabbits. They’re the species best suited for the job they have to do.”

Jared stared down at the creatures below. Standing on two legs, a little less than five feet in height, they wore identical loose-fitting regulation khaki clothes, lop ears tossed back over their shoulders. Finely furred hands worked spoons and forks as they ate.

“I need to sit down,” Jared said.

“We have a chair for you right here, sir. Your reaction is quite normal, if I may say so, sir.”

Sergeant Moody took a folding chair leaning against the wall and arranged it so Jared could sit and still observe the activity below.

“This is why you asked me about my interest in my types of entertainment,” Jared said.

“Yes, sir. You once attended a large literary conference. Do you remember the group that showed up? The one that did the surveys?”

“Yes. We were told they were psychology students from the local university. Those weren’t confidential surveys after all, were they?” Jared said.

“No, sir. The military used them specifically to sort out thousands of people to find the ones most suitable for operations of this sort. You passed muster. Only one in four thousand can.”

“So you’ve recruited civilians to this as well?”

“Within reason, sir.”

Jared shook his head in bewilderment. “I’m going to be working with anthropomorphic rabbits. I have acquaintances who would sell their souls for an opportunity like this.”

“Let me show you to your quarters, sir, and then I’ll introduce you to your team. They’ll brief you on our situation.”

*

They stood at attention when Sergeant Moody opened the door to the small conference room. Out of the five present, one was human, and the rest were the rabbit-human hybrids Jared had seen earlier.

Up close, they looked delicate, their faces a unique blend of human and lapine. All of them were covered in gray fur with white fur covering the lower jaws and the front of their necks, and though they all had long hair on the tops of their heads, only one of them had hair tumbling down around her ears.

They all wore the same loose-fitting regulation clothing, more for modesty as their fur would have served to keep them warm.

The human member of the team wore a double bar on his shoulder showing him to be a Captain.

“Please be seated,” Jared said, almost choking on his words from his conflicting emotions. Moody pulled out a chair at the head of the table for Jared and then took the empty chair to Jared's right.

“I have received no intel about this operation,” Jared said. “How do we start?”

The human spoke up first. “Captain Jay Griffin, sir. If you’ll permit me, I may as well start.”

Jared nodded.

“First, please allow me to introduce the others.” Griffin pointed to the creature on his right. “This is Lapine First Class Enoh.” His hand moved to the next one. “Lapine First Class Thane and then Lapine First Class Oath and,” he pointed at the one with the long hair, “this is Illatha. Illatha is your aide and secretary and she is very capable.”

Jared simply nodded in response.

“If I may?” the Captain asked. Without waiting for a response, he picked up a small remote and pushed a button. At the end of the room, part of the wall slid open to reveal a monitor. A star system appeared with four planets orbiting around it.

“What you’re seeing, sir,” the captain continued, “is Gliese 667, a triple-star system in the constellation of Scorpius lying at a distance of about 22 light-years from Earth. On November 1st, 1964, we detected a strong radio signal from the third planet in the system from the main star.

“The radio signal contained video instructions on how to construct a device that would allow a radio signal to cross several light-years in less than a week, what we have come to call a ‘subspace squirt.’

“That introduced us to the Chental, a friendly race of aliens who just wanted to talk to their neighbors. Lacking the technology for interstellar travel they assumed that distance protected them from any race that had warlike tendencies. They reasoned if they themselves hadn’t discovered a way to go from star to star, nobody else could either.”

“And it is from them we also learned to …” Jared paused. With what words could he even use to refer to the rabbit-like creatures that sat around the table?

The captain smiled, seemingly aware of Jared's discomfort. “The list of technologies the Chental gave us is impressive. The U.S. military made great strides in genetic engineering, robotics, artificial intelligence, nuclear fusion, exobiology, quantum physics, and others. The Chental are pacifists by nature. We never let them know that we utilized their technology for our military.”

Jared thought for a moment. “And this information is known only to us?”

The captain shook his head. “No, sir. There is a federation between our allies because there is a greater problem.” He clicked the button in his hand and the picture on the screen changed.

Staring back at Jared was a hairless, warty humanoid face with yellowish skin. Its small mouth above a receding chin would have given the creature the look of an idiot if not for the large red eyes that shouted of malice and cruelty.

The captain continued. “The Chental also made contact with another race some five years after we responded to their signal. What you’re looking at is what calls itself the Kiga and they’re just as nasty as they look. Their xenophobia is matched only by their arrogance. We estimate they have eradicated at least thirteen other sentient races before they met the Chental.”

Jared gasped. “Which means they have the tech for interstellar travel.”

The captain nodded. “Yes, sir. The Chental never stood a chance. We believe the entire race was exterminated.”

Jared sat back in his chair and let the information wash over him. “Have we made contact with the Kiga?”

The Captain shook his head. “Not knowingly, but if they don’t know of us now, they should soon. We live in a bubble of radio activity that spreads out from our planet for a distance of 110 light-years. The Kiga will discover us sooner or later and when they do, they’ll pay us a visit and it won’t be neighborly.”

“So where do I and ... ,” Jared motioned to the four lapines sitting around the table, “these others come in?”

The captain looked at the long-haired lapine. “Illatha, would you like to answer that?”

The lapine stared at Jared for a moment before answering. “My people have several gifts that make us very suitable for the task ahead of us. We are not claustrophobic, we have a strong sense of community, and you, sir, have the personality to put up with us and our environment and be our military leader. You are, after all, an orphan, single, with no real ties to anybody on Earth and nobody to question your disappearance for two or more years.”

Illatha’s voice was certainly female. Jared noticed she spoke with a slight lisp and she replaced labial consonants with their corresponding dentals, an old ventriloquist’s trick substituting d for b, n for m, and others.

“And where is this environment?” Jared asked.

Illatha looked at him, her alien face showing no emotion. “Deep inside the asteroid Ceres.”

One of the other lapines spoke up. “First Class Thane, sir. If I may? As Captain Griffin has stated, it is only a matter of time before the Kiga discover us. We are, as the Captain has said, a very noisy planet and we will be discovered soon if they have not discovered us already. Fifteen asteroids have been militarized along with our own moon, the Martian moon, Phobos, and several moons of Jupiter and Saturn. We are in the process of putting outposts on moons around Neptune and Uranus and ultimately, we will be on Pluto. We are Earth’s first defense.”

The Captain nodded in agreement. “We are making strides in developing an interstellar craft that will carry the fight directly to the Kiga, but we are at least two years away before we can even test the first prototype. Your job along with the other bases is to hold the Kiga off if they come before we are ready.”

Jared stood and the rest followed suit. “When do I leave?” he asked.

“Tomorrow, sir,” Sergeant Moody replied.