Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Sea Was A Fair Master, by Calvin Demmer: A Review

The Sea Was A Fair Master, by Calvin Demmer is a collection of 23 short stories known as flash fiction, ranging from horror to dark fantasy. The collection, released this year, is a hodgepodge of quality, some with rather predictable endings to stories that are jaw-dropping in their vision and presentation.

I agree with author Gwendolyn Kiste who states in her introduction to Demmer's collection that flash fiction is not easy to write, but I respectfully disagree with her observation that horror is uniquely suited for flash and that, in the horror genre, there are no rules. Horror is not easy to write and has never been. Careless writers only end up with gore fests and in the flash format, it is to easy to end up with a shaggy dog story where the ending becomes contrived and predictable. There are rules that help the writer not to fall into such traps.

There are a few of Demmler's stories that, though not bad, seem rather awkward and would have done well with a serious rewrite and a slightly longer word count, but let me tell you about the stories that are downright magical:
  • On The Seventh Day is the collection's opening story about a ship's captain and his crew that cheat the sea of its vengeance. This is a story that stays with you.
  • Yara is about an android who is more human than her creator and the ending of the story is perfection and speaks directly to the heart.
  • The Sea Was a Fair Master, the title story of the collection, is a hard story to label and it is probably best that way. For this reviewer, it spoke of how war changes us all and not for the better.
  • Not Suicide tells a tale about the power of love that transcends death.
  • Graves may have a predictable ending, but the journey toward it is worth the trip. 
All in all, the collection is a passable way to spend an evening for the horror fan. There is enough blood and gore to satisfy those who like their fiction a little more visceral (Restroom Finds, The One, Trashcan Sam, and Hangman are some of the notable ones), but there are other gems within the collection.

For this reviewer, when Demmler writes simple horror, his prose is passable, but when he writes of the matters of the human heart, even its darker aspects, he comes close to wearing the mantle of a Ray Bradbury.

Doll Wars: The Prologue

Some years ago I began my most ambitious work, a braided novel that told a story of an ancient blood line that could bring life to golems. Instead of crude wooden puppets, the most recent generation was able to bring ball-jointed dolls to life, but conflict split the group into two factions and their dolls and their masters now battle unseen across our world.

The first part, In the Father's Image, first appeared in a special issue of Ethereal Tales magazine in 2014 and appears in my collection, Come Into My Cellar, Darker Tales From A Cerebral Vaunt

The second chapter, Rowan Dreaming, has never been published anywhere except in my collection bearing the same name.

The fourth and final segment, Dollmaker, was first published in the March 2009 issue of Aiofe's Kiss and has never appeared anywhere else.

What follows is the prologue to Doll Wars, the third and largest segment of the work where the characters in the first two stories all come together to learn about their strange power to bring life to inanimate dolls and find themselves embroiled against their will in a conflict that is centuries old.

Doll Wars
by Alan Loewen


Florence, Italy 1833

Ci sentiamo, Carlo!”

Ciao!” Carlo called as his friend ran off. Carlo turned to run back down the street toward his home. With the setting sun at his back, Carlo laughed with delight as he raced his lengthening shadow on the cobblestones. He deftly avoided the lamplighters as they began their evening duties and dodged the horse-drawn carts and carriages that clattered through the streets.

Leaping onto the porch at his house, he opened the front door and paused to catch his breath. “Mama! Papa! I’m home!”

Only the echo of an empty house greeted him. “Mama? Papa?” Carlo closed the door behind him.

A sudden loud noise from the basement made him jump.

His father, Domenico Lorenzini, had forbidden his family to ever enter the basement and dutifully, Carlo and his mother acceded to his wishes.

Once a week, Aldo De Luca, his father’s cousin, would pay the family a visit and after tousling Carlo’s hair, would join Domenico in the basement and stay until well after Carlo’s bedtime. Carlo thought the world of Aldo De Luca and called him Zio Aldo, Uncle Aldo.

But now, Carlo paused in front of the basement door listening to the sounds of scuffling and cursing, muffled by distance.

“Aldo!” he heard his father shout. “It’s heading toward you! No! No! The stairs! The stairs!”

Frozen in surprise, Carlo heard feet ascend the stairs behind the door. The doorknob rattled, turned, and the door flung open.

Carlo could only stare at what stood before him. A tiny figure, no taller than his waist stood framed in the doorway, the garish light of a lamp below making the creature stand out in silhouette.

It bore the shape of a human, a clumsy caricature of a small boy but one made out of wood, a crude face chiseled onto a rough, splintered ball of pine with stiff limbs ending in mismatched digits. Behind it, Carlo’s father and Aldo De Luca raced up the stairs in hot pursuit.

Carlo screamed.

With a hiss, the creature lunged at Carlo, knocking him onto his back. Splintery fingers clawed at his chest and face.

“Carlo!” he heard his father cry, “My son!” Carlo’s father tripped over the top step and went sprawling, hands reaching for his only child.

But it was Zio Aldo who reached Carlo first. Grabbing the misshapen creature by the back of its neck, he pulled the hissing thing off of the screaming child and hurled it back down the basement stairs followed by the sound of something shattering. 

Aldo then scooped Carlo up in his arms, hugging him to his chest. “What have we done?” Aldo groaned in his ear. Aldo suddenly spun about and put Carlo into the outstretched arms of his father. “Carlo! Stay with your Papa! Take him, Domenico. Let me deal with what we have done.”

Carlo clung to his father. Together they watched Aldo shut the basement door behind him and heard his footsteps descend the stairs.

“Papa?” Carlo said through his tears. “What was that?”

“Silence, my son,” his father said. “Let me see if you are injured.”

His father’s inspection of the small scratches on Carlo’s face was interrupted by a short squeal from downstairs making them both jump. Minutes later, the tread of heavy footsteps slowly came up the stairs. Uncle Aldo opened the basement door, his face pale.

“I threw it into the fireplace,” Aldo said. He ran his fingers through his curly, black hair. “I threw it into the fireplace and held it there with a poker until it stopped struggling.” He fell back against the wall as if all his strength had left him. “Wine. I need wine.” He stumbled off toward the pantry.

“Papa?” Carlo said as he continued to shake from the encounter. “Papa, what was that?”

Domenico smoothed his son’s hair. “Son, listen to me,” he said quietly. “You must not tell anyone what you saw tonight. We could get into trouble, very serious trouble. You must forget what you saw and you must never tell a soul.”

Later that evening, Carlo crept from his bedroom to the top of the second-story stairs to listen to his father and Uncle Aldo as they talked in the kitchen below. His mother, his father had told him, had been gone all day tending to an ill friend.

“Surely you are going to give up this madness, Domenico,” Carlo heard Aldo say.

A pause followed. “No,” Carlo’s father said. “I got the procedure wrong. Rabbi Loew had it perfected. If he did it, then we can do it as well. The next one …”

“That thing could have killed your son! Your only son! ” Aldo hissed. “We’re fortunate that he only had scratches. And what if that thing had escaped into the streets?”

Another pause. “Aldo,” Domenico said, “I cannot give up now. You and I are blood descendants of the great rabbi of Prague and we have inherited this power as a gift. It’s in our blood. I cannot stop my research. I will continue. I just failed in the process. A flaw. I confess I don’t understand the ancient Hebrew. The manuscript is in such poor condition! I will be more careful next time. The next golem will be ...”

“Domenico,” Aldo interrupted. “We and our forebears have followed Mother Church for the last six generations. What we are doing is wrong. It is black magic.”

“And, Aldo,” Domenico continued, ignoring the interruption, “I need your help. And I know you. You are just as curious as I.”

“We are doing the Devil’s work,” Aldo muttered.

“Was the Golem of Prague the Devil’s work?” Domenico asked. “You know the legend. It protected God’s People.”

There was a longer pause. Uncle Aldo finally spoke, his voice so low, Carlo could barely hear him. “How do we make sure that we do not create something we cannot control? What if we cannot fully discover the secret?”

“We will try until we succeed.” Carlo heard the finality in his father’s voice. His father had a stubborn will. “I will make the name Lorenzini famous.” A pause. “And the name De Luca as well.”

With a shudder, Carlo crept back to his bed as the voices of his father and Uncle Aldo droned on into the night.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

An Exercise in Insanity

Because I lack the brains the Good Lord gave a mud stump and only half the commonsense, I accepted a challenge that was posted as a meme on Facebook. The result was over 40 people asking me to write a segment as if I was introducing them in one of my novels. 

I determined that if I wrote one to three a day, I would be finished within a month or so. I started on Saturday, December 8th, 2018 and I finished the last entry on March 19th, 2019.

I will never try this again. Ever.

  • The participants are listed in alphabetical order according to their first initials.
  • For those I know well, there may be some inside jokes that may fall flat for the casual reader.
Here are the participants:

A. Will

Adam had been visiting an elderly lady at the local ER, fulfilling his pastoral duties when the electromagnetic pulse hit and shoved his world back to the pre-technological 1880s. He realized he would never know if somebody detonated a nuclear device high above the earth or if the sun had belched out a massive solar flare. It made little difference. Everybody had become Amish whether they liked it or not.

Walking back to his home on the road littered with dead cars, dozens of people walked beside him, drivers stranded when the electronics in their vehicles fizzled. Adam would instead have been back at his house on the porch hammock listening to the rain while reading a good book.

However, it looked like he was going to become one of those old circuit riders whether he liked it or not. With their electronic toys gone, people were going to need spiritual guidance now more than ever. 

B. Mowery

Mowery tilted his fedora back and shifted his legs off his desk. "Let's not bandy around the bush," he said. "You come in here wanting a private detective for a job, and now you're telling me it might be illegal?"

The pretty little thing sitting across from him nodded and dabbed at her tears with a silk handkerchief.

"However," he continued, "It's not that I've danced on the wrong side of the law before, but the emphasis is dance. I don't do anything that would make me lose my license or put me behind bars."

The woman paused for a moment. "I understand," she said thoughtfully. Then, after a pause added, "So how much would you charge to teach me how to shoot a high-powered rifle with a scope?"

B. Löwen

Brendan put the head of the zombie directly in the sites of his Mosin–Nagant M1891. As he grinned and slowly squeezed the trigger, he considered for the hundredth time how the negative connotations of the word "apocalypse" were wildly exaggerated.

C. Pellegrino

"A good gardener grows soil, not plants."

Carol had heard this numerous times and now living in Arizona with desert heat, gardening by nurturing the soil was a more significant challenge than when she lived in Illinois. The alkaline soils were unforgiving to the vegetables, flowers, and trees Carol longed to see come to life in her backyard.

So, instead of focusing on the plants, she focused on the soil.

Everything good went into her mulch pile: egg shells, coffee grounds, anything that was wholesome and organic that would create viable soil.

And to the sheer jealousy of her neighbors, the plants responded. Tomatoes grew as big as softballs, roses had blooms almost a foot wide, and her lettuce heads could feed several households at one meal.

"How?" her neighbors asked and Carol responded with her mantra. "A good gardener grows soil, not plants."

So her neighbors created mulch piles of their own and dug and planted and their plants turned an unhealthy yellow and died.

Carol mused over the dilemma as she plunged her hands into the fertile, dark soil and worked it like dough. Her neighbors had imitated her precisely, yet only her plants prospered. 

The next season she experimented with trees, planting oak, ash, and yew as she enjoyed the idea of planting trees traditionally associated with fairies.

That summer her tomatoes grew to the size of volleyballs and her trees soared into the heavens.

And her neighbors' gardens still failed.

"What's your secret!" her neighbors kept asking, and Carol kept spreading her hands in puzzlement. "A good gardener grows soil, not plants."

It wasn't until the next year she realized her error, and before she walked into her garden and disappeared into the lush growth, she realized her mantra was only partially true. It was the main reason her garden blossomed, her neighbors' efforts failed, and it was all because of a secret ingredient.

"A good gardener loves the soil, not plants."

C. Mills

Chris kept his campfire small to keep the smoke undetectable from raiders. Since the apocalypse when Arabs released spread a hardy bacteria that made oil worthless around the world, the United States had become more primitive and much more dangerous. 

His horse ate at the sparse grass that grew among the tall trees. In a few minutes, Chris would break camp and continue riding south through the old Shenandoah National Park to Waynesboro where doctors urgently waited for the diphtheria vaccine kept in Chris' saddle bags. 

Chris made sure his fire was out, checked his horse's saddle and sure his Remington 700 was ready for any type of action. Mounting his horse, he turned the gelding's head toward the south with the rising sun on their left.

C. Rebmann

Chris stared out over the Scottish moor and watched the sun come up in the morning frigid air. A coffee pot steamed on the small campfire and behind him, his tent lay open for a good airing. Lighting his Scottish brier with a coal from the fire, Chris puffed on the Inverness shag until the smoke from the brier mixed with the smoke from his campfire. Once again, he turned to his journal.

Arthur Machen hinted at the existence of subhuman, subterranean dwellers in his fiction, he wrote. In the 17th century, Robert Kirk studied what he called "the wee folk" and vanished off the face of the earth for his troubles. 

For the past three months, I have explored the more desolate moors of Scotland and interviewed residents of some of the more isolated hamlets and became convinced the tales of elves and fairies are loosely based on the reality Machen and Kirk uncovered. 

I have also come to the conclusion these creatures are inimical to humanity based on the number of disappearances associated with their purported sightings. For the last two months, I have camped on the Scottish moors and found what is best described as possible entrances to their subterranean world: odd depressions in the ground, stone circles, dolmens, and fogous that are more than they first appear. However, evidence also clearly reveals these creatures have been diminishing in population, and I would like to think I have found their last underground settlement.

Suddenly, the morning stillness was ruptured by a loud explosion. To Chris' right, about a quarter mile away, a massive ball of fire rose into the air mixed with boulders and a gigantic shower of dirt.

Chris smiled, puffed on his pipe, and continued writing. However, I can also say with certainty, these creatures are now wholly extinct and will trouble humanity no more.  

C. E. Smith

The Atlantic Ocean stretched out from Cindy's front door, and she once again enjoyed the sound of the surf as it created a new shoreline. Only seventy-five yards from her front door, five years earlier the Atlantic shoreline had stood hundreds of miles away, but then the earth shook, and the mother of all earthquakes rattled the little town of Milton and plunged the world back into the 1880s.

Three days later, Cindy and her husband discovered the earthquake had given them and their neighbors' shoreline property.

It took a little getting used to. Eventually, the cries of the gulls, the scent of salt, and the roar of the surf became just part of life.

Then the mermaids came.

Cindy was disappointed that Disney had gotten it all wrong. It was true that from a distance, the upper part of the creatures looked like pretty young women, but up close, one could see the skin was composed of fine scales and the shark teeth that filled their mouths seemed much out of place for such a beautiful creature.

And to say they were man-eaters was not using figurative language. However, life had brought about a comfortable stalemate. The humans stayed out of the ocean, and the mermaids couldn't come out on dry land.

But all of that changed when one day the mermaids disappeared and Cindy learned the strange creatures were not the apex predators everyone assumed they were.

And neither were humans.

C. Cahill

Reginald DeBois swore as he surveyed his ransacked library. In a panic, he rushed to the wall safe hidden by an original painting by J. W. Waterhouse. 

The safe lay open and empty except for a handwritten note.

Mr. DeBois, the note read, the 16th-century map of Atlantis from the library of Charles the First is now under the safe protection of the Library of Congress where it belongs. I would like to thank you for the momentary diversion provided by your guards, your guard dogs, and your elaborate security system, but please try to remember that the next time you steal a priceless artifact, that I will quickly get it back from you. I am, after all, a librarian.

D. D. Lerew

Deb typed The End on her manuscript and sat back with a satisfied sigh. From the mirror behind her, came a familiar voice. 

"That's not exactly how it happened. My experiences have been a lot more intense and darker." Deb spun around and looked into the mirror. From it, stood a reflection markedly different than Deb's. In another room, in another world, a young woman with bright red hair and green eyes stared back at the author. "The ghosts in your world," the reflection continued, "are so mundane. They just stand there and say, 'Boo!''" 

Deb shrugged. "Different worlds, different experiences. You just keep relating your adventures, and I'll keep being your amanuensis, but I'll tame 'em down a bit for the readers. I don't mind giving them a sleepless night, but post-traumatic stress disorder is another thing."

"Well," the young woman in the mirror said, "since a writer can only write what she knows ..."

Deb's vision blurred and she suddenly found herself sitting on a chair with a young red-haired woman standing before her in the flesh. Behind her, Deb saw a mirror showing a computer console with an empty chair before it. "Kyrie, what have you done?" Deb asked.

Kyrie Carter laughed and grabbed a duffel bag from the floor. "Thought you would like to broaden your writing experience. Now let me show you in my world what real ghost hunting is all about."

(Note: You can read all about Kyrie Carter's adventures here.)

D. G. Rhodes

Denise made her way through the crowd. Around her, hot air balloons sprang up in various sizes and colors making the converted Goodyear ballpark look like an oversized garden straight out of Alice's Wonderland. Looking for the bright yellow balloon that was to be her landmark, she made it out from among the host of others and hurried toward it.

She found a man working on the moorings. "Mr. Rhodes?" she asked.

The man looked up and smiled. "You must be the lovely lady that won the free balloon ride," he said. He smelled of Old Spice, and his shock of white hair made him look much older than his eyes that were full of life and energy. "Let me help you into the balloon here."

Denise made her way into the gondola, taking care not to bump into the tanks of gas or the large cooler she assumed to be full of food and drink.

A klaxon sounded, and Denise watched in awe as the balloons began to take off around her. Suddenly, she felt her ballon lurch and begin to lift. Panicked, she turned to discover Mr. Rhodes already ten feet below her and waving his hat in adieu. 

"Wait!" Denise screamed, but Rhodes only waved his hat harder and yelled, "Ad Astra!"

The other balloonists ignored her cries, and Denise kept rising up and up accompanied by hundreds of balloons.

Four hours later Denise could see the curvature of the earth, and she was awestruck by its beauty. Marveling that she was neither cold nor gasping for air, she eventually opened the cooler to find it well stocked with champagne, mineral water, and an assorted variety of cheeses and dried meats. There was also an antique spyglass much akin to what pirates used to scout the horizon in the old movies.

The other balloons continued to float with her, but the other people in the gondolas continued to ignore her or else she had become invisible to them. Most likely, she thought, the vacuum of space between us won't let my voice carry.

Several hours later, they sped past Jupiter and Denise gave up trying to rationalize her experience. It was then that she realized there was one star in the heavens that was becoming increasingly brighter and most logically was her destination. 

She opened the cooler and took out a bottle of champagne and a long-stemmed glass. As the balloons raced on, she toasted her fellow balloonists who raised their own drinks to her in response. Then as she toasted the star that grew steadily brighter, she laughed to herself. "Ad Astra indeed," she said. "Ad Astra!"

D. Carr

"Magic," Dennis said, "is purported to be the manipulation of supernatural elements when in reality, true magic consists of the mundane presented with excellence. To quote Abraham Maslow, 'A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.'"

Dennis poured me a mug of his famous mead and offered it to me.

I took my first sip. "Saints preserve us!" I cried. "This stuff is extraordinary!"

Dennis smiled. "I, therefore, rest my case."

D. Pheil

Derek and Alex hid behind the rubble of what was once a Sheetz store, and they scanned the sky for trouble. 

"I'm completely certain that was a Quetzalcoatl," Alex said. "I'm telling you Trump must have made the Mexicans angry enough to send an old Aztec god after us."

Derek shook his head. "I don't care where it's from or why it's here. A flying snake the size of a Greyhound bus cramps my style."

Alex laughed. "Just like you to take on some angry monster from Mexican mythology."

Derek racked a slug into the chamber of his Mossberg 930, and with Kid Cudi blasting through his earbuds he stood up. "You comin' or not?" Derek asked.

Alex laughed and manually pumped a slug into his own shotgun. "Oh, I've got your back. Let's go snake hunting."

D. Myhre

Diane paused for a moment as she stared at the hallway door. Looking like every other inconspicuous door in her home the odd reality about this door was that she had never seen it before.

Her forehead wrinkled in puzzlement, she opened the door to see a long hallway filled with other entryways. The fact that the door was located on a wall that should have communicated with the outside made the mystery even more puzzling. 

She shut the door and reopened it only to discover the reality of the hallway with its multiple doors appeared to be consistent, even after several experiments opening and closing the door.

Gingerly, she entered the hallway and opened the first door to her right to discover it opened onto another hallway similar to the first.

This is my house, Diane thought, and I don't cotton with doorways that appear where they've never been before. She closed the door and went around her home gathering supplies she knew she would need: a bag lunch, a large skein of yarn, a box of chalk and a heavy-duty flashlight with extra batteries.

As she stood outside the door, she paused for a moment in thought. "The trick to any maze," she said aloud, "is to only follow one side. I'll stay to the right."

Her first venture ended thirty minutes later at the first distinct feature other than door-filled hallways. A dark stairway led up. She tied off her yarn and followed it back to the main door.

The next day, armed with fresh supplies, she ascended the stairway. An hour later the steps terminated in another door. Opening it, she blinked in the bright sunlight, the sound of surf and birds filling her ears. It was a beautiful summer day even with the two suns in the sky, one large and orange and the other small and a hot electric blue. 

The next day, Diane's boss received a voice mail. "Taking an extended vacation. Don't call me. I'll call you."

D. Farley

"You are best known for your three books," the interviewer said, "especially your young adult work, Bearing the Saint. I quote from one of the reviews: 'Following the character of Edmund, we get a glimpse of a real world that reads like a tale out of epic fantasy with its exotic locales, its ever-present danger and--in the latter portion of the story--political intrigue. Farley is an excellent writer and manages to describe a world long gone.'

"However," he continued, "you also write in the fantasy and SF genres for magazines, correct?"

Donna responded in the affirmative.

"And what," the interviewer continued, "do you enjoy writing more? Historical fiction or genre fiction?"

For a moment, Donna looked puzzled. 

"Did...did I say something wrong?" the interviewer stuttered.

Donna shook her head. "When did I ever say I wrote fiction?"

E. Hinkle

As I sat with Eric in his home, I stared with unabashed envy at his library. Shelves groaned under the weight of countless books while more massive tomes stood stacked in piles about him. It was the most extensive private collection I had ever seen in my life and made my own library appear paltry in comparison.

"So I see why the local police call you for help in solving crimes that go beyond the norm," I said. I reached down and picked up an original 17th-century edition of Michael Ranft’s De Masticatione Mortuorum in Tumulus in perfect condition.

Eric nodded as he sat back in his overstuffed armchair. "Yes," he said, motioning to the tomes around him. "You could say I'm rather well read."

F. Jones

"Well," the salesman said, "we do have one ship that you might be interested in. The Spirit of Inquiry is an exploration spaceship, with a standard hull and an advanced FTL drive with redundant systems. It is equipped with a planetary sensor system and a landing shuttle. However, you'll need a minimum crew of four."

Fred Jones leaned back in his chair and chewed his lower lip. Money was no object, and he had a crew, one salvaged from some of the filthiest and crime-ridden ghettos in Taipei. Two of them were even human.

"Well, exploration is exactly what I have in mind," he lied, "so I guess all that's left is the paperwork and the payment."

The salesman smiled and immediately began drawing up the licensing and purchasing papers while Fred texted his crew. We got a ship, he tapped out. Looks like as smugglers we're in business.

And back in business for me, Fred thought with a smile.

G. K. Fish

The white box truck bearing the name, Daniels and Daniels Exterminators, LLC, pulled up in front of the small house looking identical to the other few hundred homes that filled the old housing complex. One of the first to be built in Duanesburg, the houses not only shared the same architecture but the same flaws like cloned, forgotten, elderly women biding their time in a nursing home.

Two men in coveralls, carrying their equipment cases, walked up the sidewalk and rang the doorbell. 

"Mr. Geoffrey Fish?" the taller of the two asked when the door opened.

"That's me," the young man said. He looked at their cases, obvious concern on his face. "You got the right equipment for the job?" he asked.

The two exterminators looked at each other, and the smaller of the two rolled his eyes. "Mr. Fish, we've been exterminating rats before you were an idea in your sainted daddy's mind. Now, if you'll take us to the basement."

Geoffrey shrugged, opened the door and invited the two into his home. "Door to the basement is in the kitchen."

"When did you first notice the rats?

Geoffrey led the way to the kitchen. "When they carried off my dog," he said.

"Sorry to hear that, but that's rather rare. Small dog? Chihuahua?"

"Nope," Geoffrey said. "Puddles was a Great Dane."

The two exterminators glanced at each other through the corner of their eyes, and with his free hand, the taller made a circle with his index finger near his forehead symbolizing mental illness.

In the kitchen, the basement door stood boarded up with several two by fours nailed firmly in place. "Let me get a hammer, and I'll pry these boards off for you," Fish said. "I just couldn't sleep well knowing the rats could probably get up to the main floor."

Minutes later, the exterminators opened the basement door to complete darkness. The smaller one pulled out his flashlight and pointed it down the stairs. It illuminated a rat that looked up at them and hissed its rage.

Standing a good eight feet tall, its incisors gaped a full four inches long matched by claws just as formidable. It was joined by three others.

Without a pause, the exterminators closed the basement door.

"So," Geoffrey asked, "What are you going to do about my rat problem?"

One exterminator picked up a board while the other grabbed the hammer. "We're gonna reseal this door," he said, as nonchalantly as if he were discussing the weather.

"And then we're gonna burn your house down."

G. Salter

It is not known what shattered the thousands of Earths across the multiple universes and reconstructed them like giant jigsaw puzzles, but most people put their money on a cosmic burp created by the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva. Before the event, the news had made casual mention of the particle collider being activated for another experiment, but that might have been a casual coincidence.

Now, ten years later, an order had returned piecemeal to the fractured Earth which Gregory Salter called home. The city of Olympia had twelve distinct sections from other realities, and eventually, the different existences having been thrust together had come to an uneven truce. Admittedly, two consisted of residents that could not function in their new habitat, one because of extreme xenophobia and the other because of a lust for blood and murder. The former race solved the problem with self-euthanasia, and the latter was wiped out by their new neighbors, but the other worlds adapted to their circumstances.

Gregory now worked with creatures that looked like intelligent lions (Earth #6), humans that were only three feet tall at maturity (Earth #4), strange humanoids that appeared more synthetic than organic (Earth #11) and a plethora of other new citizens. Outside the boundaries of the city, there were thousands of other fragments, but that was not Gregory's problem.

Currently, his problem consisted of a delicate feline creature that had become his roommate some three months previously. Though different species, Gregory and Ilea were able to make the best of it except for one or two difficulties.

“Ilea,” Gregory said, “you’re shedding, and you’ve clogged the shower drain again!”

The next day, Gregory had returned home from work to find a somnolent Ilea passed out on the couch shredded in the bliss of a catnip high. Dealing with kitty litter for a five-foot-tall feline coupled with a fascination with shiny reflections made Gregory's life difficult until one day, he walked into the apartment to find Ilea tangled up in the window blinds.

Extricating her, Gregory surveyed the damage, frustration clearly on his face. “What is wrong with you?” he asked.

Ilea shrugged. “I get bored.”

The next day, Gregory came home with a visitor. “Ilea,” Gregory said, “allow me to introduce you to our new roommate. This is Daria. Maybe two cats will keep each other out of trouble?”

Gregory soon learned that yes, two cats could keep each other company, but the problems simply shifted parameters. Big time.

H. Lowe

“No, no no!” Heather exclaimed as she walked into the kitchen to find her little girl playing on the floor. “You leave the fairies alone!” 

Carefully, Heather extricated the inch-tall, delicate creature from the toddler’s grasp, rearranged its leaf-like clothing and wings and shooed it out the door. 

“Sweetheart,” Heather said, as she scooped up her child, “we have to let the fairies alone, okay? They keep the mosquitoes and flies out of the house.” Heather looked around the kitchen with an inquisitive eye. “Now they usually travel in twos. Where’s the other one?”

With a giggle, the little girl opened her mouth to show a very wet fairy on her tongue, terror evident on its elfin face. 

Fifteen minutes later, Heather shooed the newly-dried creature out the door. She turned around to see her daughter playing with a more traditional toy. “Now, now, what have we said about big girls no longer needing pacifiers?”

HA Tail

Carefully, Holly used pen and ink and added an arabesque to the design on the scroll. Deftly, she included a griffin and intently began to color it in with inks she had carefully mixed with her own hand and mixed with ground semi-precious gems and stones to produce lustrous shades that made the image jump off the page.

And that is precisely what the griffin did. 

Only two inches high, it began to cavort on the page reveling in its existence, and Holly gently shooed it off before it tracked ink on the rest of the manuscript.

"Go join the others," she said with a sigh. 

With a cry belying its diminutive size, it leaped into the air to join the hundred or so of its brethren flying about the room's bright oil lamp. Holly groaned and rubbed her eyes in exasperation. "Last time I buy my supplies from some traveling mage," she muttered.

J. C. S. Wales

"I keep having this dream," James said, "where I'm at a concert. The band is six ... um ... women."

The psychiatrist nodded his head and scribbled for a bit in his notebook. "And how do you feel when you find yourself in this arena? Threatened? Afraid?"

James shook his head in the negative. "Not at all. I'm actually happy. The music is incredible, and I'm just enjoying the music with the crowd. I really don't want to leave."

"But you do, of course."

James nodded. "Yes. I always wake up, but ..."

The doctor looked up, his brow furrowed in thought. "What is it you aren't telling me?"

James sighed. "Well, after the concert, the lead singer looks right at me like she wants me to come up to the stage."

"And do you?"

"No. At that point, I wake up, but each dream goes a little bit longer and longer. I think at some point I'm going to go to her."

"What else are you omitting?"

James shrugged. "Nothing else," he said. He didn't feel comfortable telling the doctor that the singing group and the audience weren't human, but a panoply of anthropomorphic animals and that the singer herself was a vixen in human form.

The doctor nodded. "It's probably nothing," he said, "but the receptionist will give you some sleeping pills that repress dreaming. I'm sure that will help."

Ten minutes later as James walked down the sidewalk, he felt the bottle of pills in his pocket. As he walked by a public trash can, he tossed them in and kept walking, whistling a catchy tune to himself that he had heard in the previous night's dream.   

J. Dellosso

"Just one last question," the officer asked as he closed his notebook. "When the robbers entered the bank, you were able to usher ten people into a safe room and keep them quiet and calm during the entire experience. How did you do that?"

Jen shrugged. "Not only am I raising five children, but my husband also writes complex thriller novels. I have read them all."

(Note: Jen's husband's novels are listed here.)

J. Wilhelm

The policeman gasped for breath as he ran around the street corner almost knocking another citizen off his feet.

“Did you see it?” the policeman gasped.

The citizen simply stared at him in confusion. “See what?”

“That … that thing! I saw it take down a mugger who had knocked an old woman down, but then when it saw me, it ran off! Big! Big muscles!! Nasty lookin’!” The cop bent over, his hands on his knees, as he gasped for breath.

The man shook his head. “No. I saw nothing.”

The cop looked around the dark city streets in confusion. “I better get back to the old lady and cuff that mugger. Precinct chief ain’t gonna believe this one.”

The policeman turned and walked away.

Jim Wilhelm stared and shook his head. Moments later he shrugged his shoulders and casually levitated up into the night sky.

K. Williamson

Ken Williamson never thought he would ever be the victim of a home invasion, but there's always a first time. Now he stood staring down the barrel of a cheap Saturday Night Special held by one intruder as two other men ransacked his house.

Fortunately, Ken was home alone, so it was just him and the three armed burglars, but anything they took could be replaced, and it was unlikely they would find …

“Hey, lookie here,” one of the burglars said. Ken’s face fell in shock and surprise. There behind a large painting of Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shallot, they had found his safe.

“I think you had best leave that alone,” Ken said.

“Shut up, you!” the one with the gun ordered. “Tell us the combination.”

“Look. I seriously keep nothing of value in there, and what is in there I’ve been appointed as guardian and …”

The man cocked the pistol and pointed it at Ken’s head.

“Okay, the digital code is simple, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Ready? It’s one … one … one …one.”

The burglar looked at him incredulously. Ken shrugged. “Life’s too short to play around with codes. Make it simple.”

The other criminal punched in the four digits and with a cry of delight the safe door spun open. From its dark depths sprang a mass of tentacles and dragged the man forcibly into the small cubicle.

The other one turned to run, but the whiplike tentacles were faster. The burglar with the gun spun around and emptied his gun into the writing mass until the hammer clicked on an empty chamber.

“What is this?” the man screamed as the tentacles dragged him toward the open safe.

“I told you,” Ken said. “I’m a guardian. We watch over evil things. You think us preachers only work on Sundays?”

As the man began to disappear into the safe’s oily depths, Ken spoke above his screams. “I call him Bucky.”

K. S. Isaac

Kimberly opened the front door and smiled at the two guests standing on the porch. “Welcome to Isaac’s Bed and Breakfast! Please come in.”

As the man and woman entered, Kim took their coats. “You must be Mr. and Mrs. Arnoult. We are so delighted that you’ve decided to come and stay with us for a bit. Allow me to show you around.”

Kimberly led her guests through the entranceway into the foyer where the guests stared in open-mouthed wonder at the sweeping curved staircase that led to the upper floor. “To the right is the library.” Kimberly opened the door to show a massive room with every wall filled with bookshelves from floor to ceiling. “Across the hallway is the living room and the two doors below us are the dining room and the conservatory.”

Mrs. Arnoult shook her head in surprise. “Your home looks deceptively small on the outside.”

Kimberly nodded as she had her guests follow her up the staircase. “Many people have said that to me. You might say my home is certainly bigger on the inside than what it appears.” At the top of the stairs, she showed them the hallway with bedroom doors on each side that receded into the distance. “Your room is Number 74, about 200 hard yards down and to the left.”

One of the nearer doors opened and a spry elderly gentleman exited her room, saw the trio and smiled. “Ah, Mr. Rohrbaugh," Kimberly said, "please allow me to introduce our new guests, Mr. and Mrs. Arnoult.”

With a warm smile, Rohrbaugh shook the proffered hands. “Always a delight to meet new guests,” he said. “Later at supper you will have to tell me how President Johnson is doing.”

Mr. Arnoult cocked an eyebrow. “You mean President Lyndon Johnson? The guy back in the 60's”

“Hmm? What?" Rohrbaugh said in surprise. "Well, yes, of course, the 60's. 1865! But we've always called him Andrew Johnson. You know. Lincoln’s vice president. Pity President Johnson had such responsibilities thrust on him after such a tragedy. Until dinner then.”

The Arnoults stared at the man as he made his way to the staircase and descended.

“Mr. Rohrbaugh is quite a dear,” Kimberly said with obvious affection. “He’s been with us the longest and we hope that you’ll stay just as long.”

K. Wetzel

“So, Kristina, how is the new A.I. coming along? Is it making your computer work here at the hospital any easier?”

Kristina sighed and shook her head. “Ever see any of The Terminator films?” she asked. “This so-called upgrade was supposed to replace a number of workers and so far I’ve had to lead at least three forays into the mainframe room to attempt to wipe out the bots the blasted thing keeps building!”

Kristina’s boss looked up in surprise. “Wait,” he said. “Run that by me again?”

“Let me use small words, boss. The A.I. is using nanobots to create larger murderous bots and I and my team have had to beat them back using oversized coffee mugs and staplers. If you want us to continue, I insist that we are given some TOW missiles.”

Her boss shook his head. “But that’s not what was supposed to happen.”

Katrina shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah, I know right?"

L. Cabrera

Leigha opened her eyes and stretched, wanting nothing more than to ignore the morning alarm, roll over, and snatch five more minutes of sleep. Yet, duty called. Her husband had been up for an hour already and taken care of the kids, seen them off to school, and hastened off to his own job. Now it was her turn to groggily sit up, pull on her slippers, and eat something before leaving to work on the optics for the observatory's main telescope.

In the kitchen, pouring herself the first of many cups of coffee, she stared out at the lawn, past the protective dome, to the rolling red sand dunes illuminated by the pink sky of Mars.

L. Millson

Louve opened the package and carefully took out the lacquered box. "Well, Tala," she said to the dog patiently laying next to her chair, "looks like this treasure was worth waiting for."

Carefully, Louve turned the Japanese puzzle box over in her hands as she admired its artistry. From the 16th century, the box was originally commissioned by Ashikaga Takauji, the first shōgun of the Ashikaga shogunate, and the fool who sold it on eBay had no idea what he owned.

And now it belonged to Louve.

Tala looked on, her tail thumping the floor while Louve carefully inspected her prize. With a cry of triumph, she slid a carefully concealed tile that should release another secret move on the puzzle box. Patiently, because Japanese puzzle boxes sometimes had well over one hundred distinct moves in order to reveal their secrets, Louve gently pushed, pulled, pressed, or slid small components of the box as they were revealed.

In her heart, she hoped the interior held some priceless treasure such as a jade pendant or a valuable hand-drawn manuscript, but reality told her it would be empty and that her expectations were only the product of fantasy.

While Tala watched from the floor, Louve continued her explorations.

Five hours later, exhausted, Louve found the final piece that would allow the lid to slide off and reveal its concealed treasure. With a laugh of hope and satisfaction, she slid it aside to see what secrets the puzzle box held.

And Louve discovered her newfound treasure contained an entire universe.

It is said among the mystics that there is not enough space in the cosmos to record all the adventures of Louve and her faithful companion Tala, but they also say there may be barely just enough room to store those books in a small lacquered Japanese puzzle box. 

M. Daniel

Daniel gritted his teeth and wiped his bloody sword on the grass. Before him the corpse of the monster he had just slain steamed as it cooled off in the brisk morning air. 

The new game master never directly implied that testing his pen-and-paper role-playing game would result in his being sucked into a real world of sword and sorcery, but the more quickly Daniel found this Lord Pyre of Ice and slew him he could get back to his own world of comfortable beds and convenient technology.

M. Crane

"Okay, Mystery," Meaghan said, "Show me the way." With a small kick of her heels against the sides of the horse, Mystery began a slow walk outside of the corral. 

Once outside its confines, Mystery turned to the north and began a gentle trot across the Wyoming plain. Meaghan kept the reins slack and allowed her horse to follow its own lead. Now was an issue of faith and trust and Meaghan felt that she had no choice. The September sun was low in the sky and the night was going to be chilly. When the neighbor came in tears and told her that her four-year-old daughter had wandered off, Meaghan's husband and gone the neighbor to call the police.

So, she put a saddle and bridle on Mystery, explained the situation to the animal as if it could understand, said a quick prayer, and now her horse freely galloped in a straight line as if following an unseen trail. When the child sometimes visited Open Hand Ranch, she always gravitated toward Mystery.

It was twenty minutes later, when Meaghan saw the child, sitting on the ground almost as if she was waiting for them.

"Sweetheart," Meaghan said as she brought Mystery to a halt beside her, "you cannot wander off. Your mommy is worried."

The girl looked up at her and smiled. "I'm sorry. I followed a rabbit, but when I got lost, I knew you would find me."

"Oh? And how did you know that?"

"I heard Mystery tell me she was coming. So I just sat and waited."

Information on Open Hand Ranch can be found here.

M. Doelle

Melissa's fingers danced over the keyboard, not working on a novel, but weaving elaborate lines of assembly language. The program was complex to say the least and she had struggled with it as much as she had struggled with her novels. Now that I consider it, she thought, coding this program is much, much more difficult. 

With a grin of satisfaction, she typed in the last few lines and with a few clicks of her mouse button began a beta test of the program.

With high expectations, she turned to her faithful dog sitting at her feet. "Speak, boy!" she ordered.

The dog wagged his tail and gently woofed.

Melissa sighed. "Reboot," she said to the dog who promptly hiccuped. "Now speak, boy."

The dog looked up expectantly. "What is it you would have me say?"

You can read information about Ms. Doelle's novel here.

M. D. Brooks

If the human mind could have comprehended the scene, it was a place without boundaries, a universe of bright opalescence. Orbs of dazzling brilliance glided slowly through the ether. Their attention focused on one that addressed them.

“I have traveled universes uncounted,” it said, “and I have braved much, but I yearn for a greater adventure.” 

“And what would that be?” came the response.

“I wish to learn what our kind cannot, we who live in splendor without limit. I desire to learn about love and loss, kindness and pain. I aspire to live an existence where I experience life where darkness and light exist side by side and where good and evil contest with each other.” 

The universe remained silent for countless epochs of time and then spoke anew. “But when you return, you will be different from us,” the Voice said.

“So be it,” the Orb replied. “I will pay that price.” 

“Then let it be so.”

* * *

A baby’s cry filled the room while the doctor smiled. “It’s a girl,” he said. “What are you going to name her?” 

The mother looked at her newborn, her face filled with joy. “We have a unique name for her. We shall call her Michael Dawn.”

M. R. Morrow

When Craig had suggested a car ride exploring the little-known dirt roads of the South Mountain in south-central Pennsylvania, Michael had seized the idea as an excuse to break away from the tedium of reading another obscure literary classic for his electives course.

Rustling up Whitsel from his dorm room, with Morrow taking the shotgun seat, the trio drove past previous explorations into places like Dead Woman's Hollow and Horse Killer Road.

Thirty minutes ago, Craig had turned down a road that looked more like a forest trail unvisited by any type of motorized vehicle.

Craig brought his Dodge Dart to a stop and scratched his head. "I'm a tad confused here," he muttered.

Michael watched a dragonfly zip past his window, its foot-long wings sounding like a chainsaw.

"Did you see that?" Whitsel whispered.

"Just hush," Michael whispered back. "It's the most normal thing I've seen in the last 15 minutes."

Craig opened the glove compartment and took out a topographical map of Michaux State Forest. After studying it for a few minutes, he again scratched his head. "I just don't know where we are."

Michael looked up through the tree canopy at a waning moon shining in a blue sky. Not that it was unusual to see the moon during daylight hours, but it now appeared four times larger than usual.

"I think where we are," Michael said, "is probably rather unimportant at this point."

P. Rhoades

When the fog came, it brought the transformations.

Every morning, Perri would wake up to his neighbors screaming or crying or cursing or, tragically, to an occasional gunshot.

As each day passed, Perri would look outside his window and through the fog see strange shapes of neighbors transformed into anthropomorphic creatures. Next door, the children were now a raccoon, and a squirrel and they played in their yard uncaring about their new physical appearance. Through the window, Perri could barely make out a bear watching the children play through a living room window.

"It's as if people are changing into something symbolizing their heart," a friend, as yet still human said.

Perri shuddered. He remembered the morning a group of neighbors, some transformed, some still human, chased down a chitinous horror that had once been the neighborhood curmudgeon known primarily for his cruelty and viciousness.

Yet every morning in the bathroom mirror, Perri still stared at a human visage and he always went to sleep wondering when he would change and how his neighbors might react.

One morning, still groggy from sleep, Perri opened his eyes to see his vision partially blocked by a muzzle of gray fur. With a gasp, he flung the covers off to see white furred arms and hands ending in delicate claws. 

Wobbling on slightly digitigrade legs, his new body carrying a very different shape, Perri stumbled to the bathroom mirror, overwhelmed by new physical sensations.

In the mirror, Lapine eyes stared back at him in a face framed by long white hair and long erect ears tipped in black.

R. Parks

Riley Parks watched as the surgeon placed the last stitch in the deep cut on his hand and tried to suppress his frustration. Here it was Christmas Eve, a beautiful full moon, and while he was home preparing Christmas dinner for the next day, he dropped a frozen turkey that skidded across the counter, struck a plate, and sent a butcher knife flying and ...

Well, here he was in the ER on Christmas Eve getting four stitches in his hand.

The surgeon made small talk as he put away the needles and swabs when suddenly from the hallway came a cacophony of screams and shrieks. The doctor looked up in anger, muttered something under his breath about the incompetence of hospital security guards, and walked to the open the door to investigate the ruckus. Immediately, he screamed and turned to flee down the hallway leaving a stunned Riley sitting on an ER bed.

Hot on the doctor's heels, a large form fled past the open door leaving Riley staring in open-mouthed shock.

That... his stunned mind tried to say. That... that was a werewolf!

Knowing that questioning his senses was not the best use of his energies, Riley tore into the supply cabinets looking for anything to defend himself should the creature return. Maybe a scalpel or one of those long needles used for cardiac stimulation...

Suddenly, his eyes lit on a large glass bottle and Riley seized it as the last hope of a condemned man.

Riley walked out into the hallway directly into a scene from a horror story written by a hack. At the end of the hall, covered in crimson, the beast crouched and growled.

"Here, boy!" Riley said. "C'mere boy!"

As the werewolf lunged, Riley, using a facial mask as a sling, threw a large glass bottle of silver nitrate directly into the monster's face.

* * *

"And that, ladies and gentlemen," Riley said to rousing applause, "is how I got started in my current job as a werewolf hunter."

R. Laughman

Across the table, Laughman's opponent rolled the dice and smiled. Between them lay a game board covered in figures representing various characters. Boldly, the young man moved a piece across the board. "Looks like you're losing this one, Laughman," he said with a sinister laugh.

Laughman smiled, took the dice and sent them skittering across the board. Casually, he moved one of his own pieces across the board. His rivals' eyes widened in shock as he abruptly realized the extent of his loss.

Laughman, laughed, stood, cracked his knuckles, and the first piece he put back into the box bore a striking resemblance to his former opponent who had suddenly and mysteriously vanished.

S. Phillips

It was the final lap on the Circuit de la Sarthe, and the pack had been left behind by two cars that vied for the lead: a golden BMW M3 and a cherry red Welter Racing prototype that had carried the trophy for the past three races.

One hundred thousand spectators gasped in awe as the BMW attempted to pass the lead car, but the lead was too fast.

It was on the last turn when the driver of the BMW made their move. Trying to block his opponent, the driver of the Welter nicked the front of their competitor sending both of them into uncontrolled spins. 

One hundred thousand gasps erupted from one hundred thousand throats, but as the Welter careened off the wall, the driver of the BMW deftly regained control and avoided the spinning Welter by a fraction of an inch. 

Moments later, the golden car whipped by the finish line past the waving checkered flag.

At the finish line as the crowd cheered, champagne corks popped, and cameras snapped pictures, the driver got out of the car, removed her helmet, and freed her hair to shine in the sun.

One of the reporters pushed his way to the forefront and shoved his microphone in spite of the driver’s face. “As an American,” he said, ‘you’ve made a name for yourself.”

The driver smiled. “Yes, I have,” she said, “and the name is Phillips, Sheryl Phillips. Make sure you get that right.”

S. Bramwell

Stoker sighed as he stared at the ancient relic before him, a statue that made the mind hurt just to look at it.

Nothing had happened. Stoker had said the right words at the right time with the right ingredients, and once again, he had purchased what was most likely a cleverly designed fake.

He heard a low growl behind him.

Or maybe not, he thought.

T. M. Ford

Teresa traced a line on the map before her. "Doncaster used to be known as Cair Daun, and if I know anything of ley lines, the reason the ancient Romans built a fort here was not that of access to the river, but because this place was known as a locus of power."

Paul looked over her shoulder. The map was a crisscross of straight lines that extended throughout South Yorkshire, but all of them intersected one spot, the city of Doncaster. "But if those many ley lines intersect in this area, the amount of power should be off the scale."

Teresa shook her head. "Not if the Romans found a way to put it in stasis." She chewed her lower lip in thought. "Imagine if you will that for the past millennia, this nexus has been asleep."

"So can it be awakened?"

Teresa smiled. "Child's play for a savant like me."

The air trembled, shimmered, and solidified. Teresa's house melted away in the mists of time, and a crude village appeared with dirt roads and mud huts surrounded by a tall wooden wall.

Paul gasped. "Where are we?"

"Not where," Teresa said. "When. Welcome to Danum, the Roman fort that was the first settlement here. Shall we explore?"

(Note: Teresa's online shop is here. It is unlikely she sells any Roman artifacts, but if she does, they just might be authentic. ;-)

T. Ross

Tiffany paused in the action of brushing her teeth and looked intently at the mirror’s reflection. In its surface, she saw herself, the open bathroom door, and the hallway leading the stairs to the living room, but there was something off, something she couldn’t put her finger on.

Turning, she looked down the hallway and saw nothing out of the ordinary, but turning once again to the mirror, she slowly realized the reflection the light coming from the living room had an odd bluish tint to it.

Several times, Tiffany looked at the mirror’s reflection and what actually appeared behind her. 

On impulse, she reached out and touched the reflection of her fingertips on the mirror. Biting her lower lip in thought, she closed her eyes and stretched out her hand once again. She stretched her arm out fully, meeting no resistance. 

She withdrew her arm, opened her eyes, and examined the mirror again. Now there was no oddly colored light coming from the first floor. Looking down, it took her a few moments to realize the hot and cold water spigots were reversed, the letter C backward.

Slowly, she turned. A faint blue light poured up from the stairwell behind her.

Tiffany operates Shivae Studios, and you can enjoy her artistic endeavors here.

W. Bell

Walter Bell looked at the five men before him. The small outdoor café in Cuenca was deserted at this hour so he could talk freely. “The Llanganatis,” he said,  “is a range of mountains that face the eastern side of the Andes that cut through Ecuador. They've been called the most hostile place on earth, and you can believe it.

"The area is best known for a myth about buried treasure and the place does have its share of treasure hunters. Their sanity is always up for debate, so we need to be ready for some possible encounters that may be violent. Also, there is the local fauna; snakes, spiders, jaguars, et cetera, et cetera.”

One of the men, a grizzled adventurer with skin permanently tanned from the tropical sun, raised a finger. “And yet, you tell us that you can find old Ruminahui’s treasure up there?”

Walter nodded. “I can assure you of this because I found it.”

Another man snorted and laughed aloud. “Yeah? So why do you need us?”

“Because that amount of gold can’t be carried out by one man. And I can tell you there will be … other challenges as well. Things you wouldn’t believe unless you see them yourselves.”

“So, we just waltz on up there, grab the gold, and come back rich.”

Walter nodded. “That’s the basic idea, but I must let you know one salient fact. When I and my first team discovered the gold we weren’t prepared.” He paused and looked around the table. “I am that team’s sole survivor.”

W. F. Lowe

"Let me tell you a story," Wesley said, "one I think you'll find of some interest.

"When the Mafia hire enforcers, they like to hire men who look nasty, because their job is to strike fear into the hearts of those who owe them money or need a lesson in manners. So they hire the guys you see portrayed as Mafia in the movies: tough, vicious, and ones that stand out in a crowd.

"But hit men? Well, that's a different story. Then they hire regular looking guys, highly trained to kill mind you, but guys you wouldn't look at twice in a crowd. Ones that could walk right by you and you wouldn't even raise an eyebrow, and you wouldn't even know you were dead while you slumped to the floor.

"And when I say they are highly trained... well, let's just say they can kill you with a soda straw."

The man pointed at the straw in the cup Wesley held in his left hand. "So, you say you can kill me with a soda straw," he sneered.

Wesley laughed. "All I did was tell you a story, but I'm still going to encourage you to let the family I'm guarding alone. They're not worth your notice. Just turn and walk away."

The man laughed. "You're just gassing," and he lunged.

* * *

The coroner scratched his head in puzzlement while his assistant stared in shock.

"So how," the coroner asked, "do we end up with a corpse with a paper soda straw through his temple?"

Z. Tora

Zervon shook his head in consternation. The G.P.S. was plainly malfunctioning, and he didn't recognize the rural road where it had led him. The infuriating thing was a Christmas gift and though an off-brand he had never heard of he had thrown it in his car and today was his first day of using it.

It had led him correctly to the store that he had wanted to find, retail that specialized in certain art books that he enjoyed, but when he left and told the G.P.S. to lead him home, it led him to unfamiliar roads and surroundings.

For the last fifteen minutes, he hadn't even seen any houses, stores, or gas stations. He stopped his car as there was no visible traffic, turned the G.P.S. off and turned it back on. He pushed the button for home, and again the female voice told him to continue on the road but assured him his destination was only ten minutes away.

The fields and their wooded boundaries gave way to thicker woods, the tops of the trees blocking Zervon's view of the sky.

"Home is on the left," the G.P.S. intoned.

The trees gave way to a settlement of bamboo huts with roofs of long grass. Stopping his car, Zervon stared in surprise at his destination.

When the tigers came out, walking like humans on digitigrade legs, striped furry arms open in welcome, Zervon realized that his G.P.S. was intelligent enough to know the difference between home and a house.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Island of Doctor Moreau: A Fond Critique

When I was quite young, I found and read H. G. WellsWar of the Worlds and I remember reading the entire work in one sitting. Since then, I have read and reread the book multiple times, reveling in the narrator's attempts to reunite with his wife and survive a deadly attack from Martians. Positively affected by the experience, I immediately found three other works from Wells to delight and amaze me: The Time Machine (1895), The Invisible Man (1897), and The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896).

The latter had a huge impact on my young mind as I wandered Noble's Isle with the narrator, Edward Prendick, and his horrific encounter with vivisectionist, the aforesaid Dr. Moreau.

Unlike War of the Worlds, I only read The Island of Doctor Moreau once in my life, but last week I found it available at the Gutenberg Project website (you can obtain your own copy in multiple formats here) and downloaded it to my Kindle eReader. I confess I was curious if a book I had not read in five decades would still have the same impact it had on me when a young child.

It took me only two days to read the 43,500 word+ novel and I can tell you I found it even more fascinating than when I read the work so many years ago.

Admittedly, the science is completely wrong, but if one can suspend belief, Wells' tragic tale of doomed souls created under the merciless knife of the titled character instills in the reader a sense of deep pity and outrage. Moreau's belief that surgical torture would transform animals into humans makes him the villain and more of a monster than the monsters with which he populates his island. This moves the tale well away from science fiction, a genre the novel has always been associated with, but in this reviewer's opinion, into the field of genuine horror.

As an author, there are two works I have always wanted to revisit and rewrite or revise: H. P. Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, and Well's The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Trust me when I say of all the faults that can be laid at my feet, giving myself airs is not one of them. It is a charge of arrogance to consider touching the works of two masters, and I know I cannot even approach them with the same level of quality that came from the pens of the masters, but if time allows me to undertake such projects, it is motivated not from a spirit of conceit, but of humble gratitude for the privilege of walking in worlds of another's creation and a desire to once again grasp the magic I felt when I read the tales for the first time.

On August 5th, 2010, I began keeping a list of books I have read. The Island of Doctor Moreau is 293rd book I have completed since that date.