Friday, December 30, 2011 15 comments

#FridayFlash: Poltergeist Pranks

I had a dream a couple weeks ago, and thought it would make an interesting story…



Poltergeist Pranks

I loved how the apartment smelled on Saturday afternoons: Jean all sweaty from helping the physical therapist in the morning, the lunch we fixed, the musk of lovemaking for dessert. I was getting used to how she’d nap afterwards, sprawled naked on her back, taking up most of the bed. We’d catch up on our homework later on, maybe meet some friends this evening, more love later. The sweet life for a couple of college students.

I slid out of bed, making sure she was covered, and padded to the bathroom. It was October, still nice out, and the window was open about six inches. I slid the condom into the trash then stood at the toilet.

Maybe I should mention the poltergeist. That’s why this apartment is so cheap: it’s haunted.

To say I missed the bowl would be an understatement. About three inches from the porcelain, the stream took a right angle turn and went out the window. I had time to say, “Oh great,” before the shouting and cursing began. I finished and took a peek through the blinds: frat rats. Five or six of them.

“Dammit,” I whispered. “Now they’re gonna pound on the door and wake up Jean.” The only reply was a brief chill and a hollow sound that could have been a snicker. My poltergeist had an odd sense of humor, and didn’t like frat rats. Seeing as a hazing gone wrong ended its living phase, I could understand that. Since I also like weird humor, we reached an accommodation early on. It and Jean are okay too, one more reason why I love her.

I had just enough time to throw some clothes on before the pounding started. Jean slept on, to my surprise. It must have been really good for her. Muffled voices joined the pounding: “Open the damn door or we’ll break it down!” “You think you’re smart?” “Get out here!” “Hey, this is the apartment where —”

With a sigh, I opened the door. “What?”

The dampened frat rats froze for a moment, then screamed and ran for the stairs. Behind me, I heard a familiar sound: Jean laughing. I turned to find her in my robe, doubled over, and grinned. Her humor was infectious. “What’s so funny?”

“Oh God, Mike, you should have seen yourself just now! Eight feet tall, green, and you were holding an axe over your head! I wish I could’ve gotten a picture!”

After a minute to think about it, I sputtered and then joined the laughter. You gotta laugh about this stuff. It’s so much easier than finding an affordable, non-haunted apartment.

Thursday, December 29, 2011 3 comments

A Smooth Visit

Well, as smooth as anything ever goes around FAR Manor, anyway. There were no episodes of Daughter Dearest committing mayhem on Snippet, or even a heated argument. But it wasn’t completely uneventful…

The Boy and Snippet arrived Christmas Eve, almost exactly when expected. I got to talk with The Boy a while outside that afternoon. He seems to really like Manitowoc; he said he plans to stay there two or three years. He’s been working at a snow blower factory, which seems like a pretty steady job in Wisconsin although they haven’t had much snow there this year. He texted me a pic last week (before arriving) of a dusting of snow, with the comment “this is the first snow that stuck for more than five minutes.” It’s been a pretty mild winter so far, north as well as south. But he thinks he has a better job lined up when he gets back… one with good benefits and better pay. That would be good!

Of course, they were off visiting friends pretty much every evening except the last. Mason mostly enjoyed having them around, although he seemed relieved when they were gone. Toddlers do like their routines, and don’t like having them disrupted.

Snippet was mostly on her best behavior while she was here. Mrs. Fetched printed out several of these shots and included them in Christmas cards, including the one for The Boy and Snippet. She opened the card and squealed.

“What is it? A $100 bill?” our friend Jacob asked.

“No, it’s better!” She waved the picture around.

Okay… when someone says a photo I took is better than a $100 bill, it becomes rather difficult to say bad things about that person afterwards. Really, the only problem we had with Snippet is that she seemed to have an upset stomach. A lot.

You think she’s preg? Daughter Dearest texted me (from across the room) at one point. I really really don’t want to think about that possibility. Texting or IM’ing someone in the same room is a kind of telepathy, when you think about it… nobody else can hear what you say FARf! focus!


Anyway. She got better, good enough to go to iHop with us for lunch. One of her friends is working there, was on duty, and they had a nice chat. Snippet had a job at an ice cream factory (imagine that, a dairy job in Wisconsin… almost as strange as a poultry job in Georgia), but it melted away and now she’s at the local Applebee’s. So she told her friend, “If we move back, I could work at Applebee’s and Calvin Klein!” (she worked at the latter in the outlet mall before moving). Mrs. Fetched looked at Snippet, while I looked at The Boy. He didn’t show any reaction at all… like he just tuned her out.

Mason and I both got “happy place” presents. He got the train table shown here, and has left it only reluctantly since Christmas. Mrs. Fetched’s older sister, the sane one (because she lives like 90 miles away) got a new iPhone 4S, stuck her old iPhone 4 into its original box, and gave it to me. SCORE! Her daughter, Cousin Al (long story) gave me a hard-case for it. It doesn’t have Siri, but it works a HELL of a lot better than that crappy-ass Sony-Ericsson thing. I’m looking forward to no random crashes. I just need to get the photos off the old phone now.

There was much of the 3 Fs — friends, family, food — and that’s the part of Christmas I can get into. Of course, that meant I didn’t spend as much time with my online friends as I would have liked, but something’s gotta give when you only have a 24-hour day (and have to sleep for ⅓ of that). I would have liked more time with The Boy, and would have liked to see Snippet make an effort to spend more time with Mason, but overall I think things went much better than expected.

Then came Tuesday. It started out pretty good: I cashed the check that Dad sent, bought a Kindle 3 and a couple $5 CDs (Styx and Journey if you want to know)… and Daughter Dearest’s present for Dia de los Reyes, plus printer ink for her and Mrs. Fetched’s printers. Total: $300, and would have ran more if they’d had a Kindle case I liked. By the way, the Kindle 2 cases aren’t compatible with the Kindle 3. slaps Amazon upside If anyone has $50 that they want to throw away, you can buy me the lighted cover. I plan to de-register my old Kindle 2 and pass it (plus cover) to a friend of mine who wants an eReader. Of course, I’ll leave an ARC of White Pickups, plus Xenocide and a few Project Gutenberg goodies on it.

But I digress. The Boy and Snippet wanted to visit her dad, who is currently in Marietta, and take Mason with them. It’s one of those things that I haven’t managed to wrap my head around, the idea that Mason has another grandfather, but we got our act together and moved the car seat over so they could go. What they didn’t bother to mention was that they went about 40 miles out of the way to pick up a friend and take him along (some things never change). So… we were done with the “blow the Christmas money” spree, and on the way home, when The Boy called: “My car broke down at McFarland Road.”

Yee. Haw. Fortunately, we left the Civic near the freeway. We called our favorite towing service, and the girlies went on home while I went down to pick up the warm bodies — especially Mason. The tow truck was already there, so that was taken care of. That’s when I found out about the friend, but we crammed everyone into the car and got rolling. That’s when Snippet opined, “Maybe we should just stay here.” Again, The Boy gave no reaction. Snippet was less than enthusiastic about this whole “move north” thing to begin with, and she was hoping they’d just stay here once they got here. I had sort of expected them to stay, but they didn’t.

The car was a relatively easy fix: it mostly needed a major tune-up (and a valve cover gasket). So… $100 for the tow bill, $250 for the repairs, and they departed about seven hours behind their original schedule. And yes, we’re the ones who paid for it. Almost worth it to send Snippet on her way, although it would have been better if The Boy had sent her and stayed here. They departed with a car packed to the gills, plus a big carrier that somehow didn’t fall off the roof. Good thing they’re all skinny.

The interesting thing was Mason’s reaction. He seemed to think he was going to go with them, and was relieved when he stayed behind. He was happy to say “bye-bye” even if he enjoyed having his bioparents around for a few days. I hope that one day, not too far in the future, they’ll be able to give him the kind of attention he needs… I’ll miss Mason big-time, but for now he’s where he belongs.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011 4 comments

#TuesdaySerial: Xenocide, pt 11 [CONCLUSION]

Previous episodes: Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3 • Part 4 • Part 5 • Part 6 • Part 7 • Part 8 • Part 9 • Part 10



Xenocide, part 11
Conclusion

The flashing blues strobed the immediate area, but got in my eyes as well. Distant streetlights, porch lights, and jack-o’-lanterns didn’t help. I heard Tenesha grunt and curse, saw her twisting in the grip of… someone. Another man stood to the side; he and Noble had weapons pointed at each other in what they used to call a “Mexican standoff.”

When in doubt, act like you’re in control. “Police!” I barked, aiming at the man holding Tenesha. “Let her go and put your hands on your head! You’re under arrest!”

Noble picked up on that. “Drop your weapon!”

I heard a man laugh from Tenesha’s direction, then Jobst’s voice: “You did this, you moron. We tried to do you a favor, and you blow our cover? Nice.”

“I don’t consider sending an innocent kid to prison doing me a favor.”

“Why? He’s just a pothead punk. If we don’t do it, you’ll have to bust him later on. And who knows who he’d hurt along the way?”

“I don’t know how you do things in spook-land, but this is America,” I said. “And the CIA isn’t authorized to operate on American soil, so you’re way out of your jurisdiction. You hurt her, the only way you’ll see Quantico again is feet-first.”

“You don’t have a clue what you’re dealing with here,” said Jobst, sounding strained as Tenesha continued to struggle. “The victim’s — people — have been in touch. They want justice.”

“You know as well as I do that Danny Freeman did the shooting,” I said. “Justice isn’t justice if you ignore the perp and just yank an innocent citizen off the street. Give them Freeman —”

“No!” the other man yelled.

“— and they get justice. Give them anyone else, and it’s just random vengeance.” I glanced at the other man. “I know it’s your father, but you can’t protect him by sacrificing a kid!”

“Leave him out of this!” Freeman Jr. yelled, turning his gun my way.

Noble saw an opportunity, and took the shot. Freeman went down, bellowing, clutching his shoulder.

Jobst took a shot at me from can’t-miss range — thank God Tenesha’s thrashing threw his aim off. His bullet hit the trunk of the patrol car and zinged past me, making me flinch back before I could return fire. With a frustrated cry, Tenesha broke free but she fell at his feet. He glared at me, took aim at her —

Then something flew out of the dark and smacked Jobst in the side of his head, making a hollow wet thwop. Jobst grunted and staggered, gun-hand flailing, and I took him down.

“Tenesha? You okay?” I called.

“Yeah.” She got to her feet. “What about you?”

“Fine, thanks to you. You think you can keep these assholes alive until the ambulance gets here?”

“If I have to.” She gave Jobst a murderous glance. Noble was already cuffing and searching Freeman Jr. “What happened just now? One second I thought I’d had it; the next, he took one upside the head! Who —”

The Headless Horseman,” a voice called from the darkness. A familiar, youthful voice. I got the flashlight from Noble’s car and shone it on Jobst. Nearby, a pumpkin — the little ones used for Hallowe’en decorations — lay half-smashed, some of its guts spread over Jobst’s head and suit. I shone the light toward the voice, but Jacob Moss had already disappeared into the dark. I shrugged and secured Jobst.


Freeman and Jobst lived, but they might have preferred otherwise. After a hurried discussion with the sheriff and Doc Dix, we called in a news crew from downtown and gave them the whole story, just in time to make the 11 o’clock news. As Sheriff Carmichael put it, “we just turn on the lights and watch the roaches scatter.” We didn’t feel like we had a choice, though — letting Jobst and Freeman go quietly into the night (Sarah Plant was long gone) would have left us with no guarantees that they wouldn’t just grab some other innocent, here or elsewhere.

Politics and news sensations being what they are, we didn’t get much of a break for a while. We charged the perps with conspiracy, credit card fraud, assault, and attempting to pervert the course of justice — not that it mattered, they disappeared from the hospital and were never seen again. Our worthless Congressman vowed to launch an investigation into the matter, but never did. Being on the Intelligence Committee, it’s likely he knew what was happening all along. The sheriff did his time in front of the cameras, looking pleased with a job well-done. He had two years left in his term, but people would remember this. I’d have been surprised if anyone tried to unseat him. With proof positive that we weren’t alone in the universe, people started acting a little different toward each other. A little better.

As for Tenesha and me, the spotlight turned away from us after a few days and we finally got an evening uninterrupted. I won’t go into details, but it went well and we’re still together. We don’t think of ourselves as an interracial couple — because after you’ve seen an alien up close, those kind of differences just aren’t important.

THE END


Want to read it offline? The whole story is available on Amazon and Smashwords!

Friday, December 23, 2011 2 comments

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 3 comments

#TuesdaySerial: Xenocide, pt 10

Previous episodes: Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3 • Part 4 • Part 5 • Part 6 • Part 7 • Part 8 • Part 9



Xenocide, part 10
Date-us Interruptus

I went straight to Ruth’s from the Moss place — but Tenesha was there first, keeping the corner booth warm. She and a cold beer were waiting for me.

“Only fifteen minutes early?” she pretended to chide me. “What could possibly keep you?”

“Wrapping up a case,” I grinned, setting my radio against the wall. She listened wide-eyed as I filled her in on the details. “So if our Fed friends have any sense, they’ve already tucked in their tails and are running back to Washington as we speak. The — the victim isn’t getting justice, but pinning it on an innocent kid would be worse than no justice.”

“Yeah.” She looked off to the side. “I ordered us some supper.” The waitress came over and dropped off a plate of nachos and another one of cheesy fries. “I figured we’d need a little extra luck tonight,” she said, maneuvering a cheesy fry to her mouth without losing any of the cheese goo. We ate, we drank, we were merry for a little while.

“Fourteen,” said my radio. That was my code. I gave it the finger before I picked it up, and Tenesha shook with suppressed laughter.

“Fourteen here.”

“Disturbance at 638 Sherman.”

“On the way.” I looked at Tenesha. “That’s just down from the Moss place. Sounds like they’re not smart enough to let this drop after all.”

“I’m coming with you,” she said. The look she gave me said and you’d better not argue. She got a to-go box for the leftovers.


On the way, something occurred to me. I picked up the radio. “Seventeen, this is Fourteen.”

“Seventeen.”

“Any disturbance down the way?”

“Negative.”

I frowned. We had Noble watching the Moss residence, because he would recognize the not-FBI agents best, what they drove, and so forth. Something wasn’t right here.

“They’re trying to draw you out,” Tenesha said.

“Yeah.” I picked up the radio again. “Fourteen to dispatch.”

“Dispatch.”

“Has anyone called in a disturbance at 638 Sherman?”

“Negative, Fourteen.”

“Ten-four.” I rounded the corner onto Sherman. “Maybe I ought to take you back to Ruth’s. I don’t think they pulled this stunt to give me a box of doughnuts.”

“You need backup.” That no-argument tone again. I might have resented it if she wasn’t right.

“Seventeen, this is Fourteen. You see our lights?” I flashed the brights down the street.

“Ten-four.”

“We might have a problem. One needing backup.” I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but that wasn’t assuring.

“Come around and park behind me, then.” When in doubt, follow orders and stick to your post. Noble couldn’t bring backup to me, but I could bring myself to the backup.

“Ten-four.” I drove past Noble’s patrol car, then turned around in the next driveway down and slipped behind him. “You should be okay here,” I told Tenesha, and slipped out of the car.

Noble had his motor running, the heater doing what it could to keep the chill October night air from invading through the open window. The sound and smell of the exhaust felt reassuring, somehow. “Everything going okay then?” I asked him.

“Yup. Just did my hourly checkup ten minutes ago. The Moss family has gathered no rolling stones.”

“Clever. Sounds like their new scapegoat is yours truly.” I filled him in on the call.

“Yeah, I was wondering what that was about —”

I heard a door open, and Tenesha’s “No!” A second later, I was crouching behind the car, gun out. Noble lit his blues, then rolled out and came up hot. “Tenesha!” I yelled, squinting, looking for a target in the flashing light as Noble worked his way around the hood.

to be continued…

Can’t wait to see how it ends? The whole story is available on Amazon and Smashwords!

Monday, December 19, 2011 2 comments

Skylar, "Latchkey" Kid

I was trying to catch up on Twitter this afternoon, when I looked out the window and saw Big V cruising up the driveway in her power-chair. I shouted an alarm, and Mrs. Fetched and Daughter Dearest went out to see what was going on.

“I need you to call 911,” she said, “Skylar has locked himself in the car.” Now for those sharp readers (which, since you’re reading TFM, is all of you) who were wondering why she didn’t make the call herself, she dropped her cellphone in the toilet yesterday. Which makes it a smellphone for sure! Turns out that Cousin Splat was cleaning out the car, and Skylar wanted to “help.” Of course, there is no second set of keys for their car.

The 911 dispatcher asked Mrs. Fetched if the toddler was stressed. “No,” she said, “but his grandmother is pretty stressed!” That got a chuckle out of dispatch. I figured I’d better go down there myself, just in case there was something I could do… and passed Big V (and her German Shepherd with the huge schnozz) on the way.

Skylar is (when he’s not throwing a random fit) the Zen Master of toddlers. He was chattering nonsense, poking at various things, and not concerned in the least about being locked in an Impala. Cousin Splat (his dad) and I tried to get him to poke the power unlock, to no avail. I thought about trying to get him to push buttons on the key fob, but the keys were in the ignition and decided that wouldn’t be a good idea. The car has an interlock where you can’t shift out of park unless you’re hitting the brakes, but still. Big V got in on the act, and the schnozzlehound got between her and me when she started sounding upset… like I was the problem here.

The cop showed up at last, and had me hold the flashlight on the driver door latch while he ran a gadget between a window and the weatherstripping. Skylar got interested in the thing poking in the car, and started pushing on it. This was actually helpful (for a change), since it gave the cop enough leverage on the latch to pop it.

“His diaper is pretty wet,” said Cousin Splat, carrying him inside.

“Yeah, you probably have to change your pants too, after that!” Big V opined.

I think they’re going to get a spare key made first thing tomorrow.

Christmas Cheer, all in one place

Mrs. Fetched thinks I’m grinchy. Not so, I just prefer to focus on the social aspects of Christmas — family, feast, reflection — than to make a gaudy show of things. Still, there’s a few things I’ve done over the years to mark the occasion. Some of the newcomers to the free-range insane asylum could easily miss them in the 1300+ posts that have accumulated over the past 6 years, so I’ll gather them together here for you.

A Christmas Story — Santa Claus lives in a single-wide trailer in Lumpkin County, Georgia. Come read about my fictional encounter with The Big Guy.

Podcast from FAR Manor #3 — a special holiday song, and several contributors shared their earliest holiday memories. (I wish I had the time to do more podcasts.)

For This Night — my first #FridayFlash, posted as such. It's about The Slaughter of the Innocents, from the viewpoint of two soldiers.

Music! — the “special holiday song” from the above podcast, as a standalone MP3.

Enjoy!

Sunday, December 18, 2011 3 comments

Staycation 2011, Days 0–2

Work has a strange policy: they let you carry over two weeks of vacation per year. But everyone gets three weeks, plus a week of personal days and floating holidays, so (if you carried over two weeks from last year) you pretty much have to burn off a month’s worth of vacation to keep from losing any. The upshot is, the office gets awfully empty the second half of December.

We were hoping to get down to Florida to visit Mom before Christmas, but I couldn’t ever get anyone to nail down the days they were off… so maybe we’ll go next month. At least with the chicken houses in permanent shutdown, there won’t be that to contend with — but I have full faith in Mrs. Fetched’s ability to find some other timesuck to throw me into.

With Mason around, I’m already watching him nearly all weekend, every weekend. This weekend was typical in that regard. After a haircut trip yesterday, I zipped over to the bank to deposit a check and that was the closest thing approaching free time I had. Mason refused to take an afternoon nap, so I had none of the time I expected for writing this post yesterday. Then Mrs. Fetched and Daughter Dearest took off on a shopping trip, leaving us to find our own supper. I know Mason likes Subway’s meatballs, so we went there… and they were out of meatballs. I headed up to Johnny’s, where the food’s good but the service is glacial, and got us some chow. Then it was off to Chick-Fil-A, the only fast-food joint around here with an indoor playground, to let Mason burn off some energy.

One thing about Mason: he has a near-fetish for straight lines. He’ll line his cars up in a neat little row, then have a Toddler Meltdown™ when they don’t stay straight when he pushes the line. On modern playgrounds, with their tunnels and spiral slides, he’ll go through a straight tunnel — but if he can’t see the other end, he won’t go in. So he would go up the stairs, then come down and go poke around in the toddler area. Meanwhile, a little girl about three months younger than him was roaring down the spiral slide and having a good old time. Didn’t make the slightest impression on him.

So I’m not sure what happened — maybe some other kids chivvied him through the bent tunnel into the upper level — but he ended up in the enclosed area up top and started crying, because he wouldn’t go down the slide and he wouldn’t go back down the tunnel where he couldn’t see the outlet. I had to climb in there and talk him down; if he could see me, he was fine.

He also refused to nap today — and I had to make rolls for the supper after our church cantata — but I chucked him in his crib anyway until I got the dough thrown together. He was not exactly happy about that, but he got over it pretty quick once I came in and got him out. I got the rolls done just in time — I mean, we were out the door as soon as I threw them in a paper bag — and my throat survived the singing.

Tomorrow, I hope to do some yard work and some writing. Not necessarily in that order. The Boy and Snippet will be here for Christmas proper — or maybe I should say improper — so there might be a little soap opera-kind of post this weekend.

Friday, December 16, 2011 22 comments

#FridayFlash: To Begin With

I’m not sure about this one, so feel free to pound on it if you’re so inclined.



To Begin With

Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Harley was dead, to begin with.

Finds like this are rare nowadays. Almost every barn, shed, and garage in the world has been mined for vintage motorcycles. Those who still have them have an idea of what they’re worth — gone are the days when they’d almost pay you to cart off that hunk of rust.

I didn’t get it for free, but a hundred bucks is close. “Yeah,” the old lady said, “I could probably get a lot more for it, but I’d have to put it up for sale. To be honest, I need the space in the shed more than I need the money. My husband brought that thing home… oh God, thirty years ago. He left it there all this time, then he passed away last year, just as he finally started tinkering with it.” I didn’t exactly argue with her about the price. Maybe I should have — if I’d offered her something close to what it was worth, she might have still let me have it for the hundred bucks, but… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

She watched as I pushed it out of the shed and onto my trailer. It was a tough slog — the tires were flat and rotten, and the axles turned only under protest. The chain was caked with grease, which was good because it didn’t impede me even more. The clutch cable was frozen, but I managed to find neutral after a few attempts.

“I think I got the better end of this transaction,” said the old lady, with a sardonic smile, after I wrestled the bike onto the trailer and got a couple tie-downs on it. “Would you like something to drink?”

“Sure,” I said. “But seriously, you’re letting this go for —”

She waved off my protest. “Coffee or tea?”

“Water would be fine,” I said. She nodded and ducked into the house, bringing out an old green tumbler full of ice water as I finished securing my prize.

“Mitch wi— would be pleased,” she said as I drained the glass. “At least someone’s taking on his old project.” She paused a moment as I handed her the tumbler. “Well, I’m sure you’re anxious to get home and start fixing it up.”


The restoration went much smoother than expected. I had to tear it down, of course, but the insides were in much better shape than I could have hoped for — almost no wear on the bearings, and no scoring on the cylinder walls. The odometer’s 1300 miles could well have been honest. The frame was sound, and most of the rust was only on the surface. A few hundred bucks’ worth of parts, and a bunch of evenings spent the way I like spending them, and I had a vintage bike easily worth eight grand. Maybe ten.

It was Christmas Eve when I hooked up the battery. Cold outside, but warm enough in the garage. I thumbed the compression release, squeezed the clutch, and stood on the kickstarter. To my surprise and delight, it coughed to life on the third kick! “Merry Christmas! It lives!” I shouted. I let it warm up while donning my cold-weather gear.

“Where to?” I asked the bike. Friends were drifting off… but Jim had said something about a Christmas party at his place tonight. It was only ten miles away, and my gear was good for thirty in this weather. I backed out of the garage, flipped on the headlight, and was on my way.

The Harley was alive!


I’d gone maybe a mile when the rabbit dashed across the road. The bike surged on me, as if jumping at the rabbit, and we nailed it before I had a chance to brake or throttle back. I grimaced, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. Evolution in action, etc.

I was almost to Jim’s place when it started sputtering. I cursed and pulled to the side under a street light, working the spark advance to keep it running, and leaned over to look. Nothing leaking, but that didn’t mean anything. I could have missed a piece of crud in the fuel system — or worse, an oil line — and now I was paying the price. I took off a glove to twist the petcock, then cut a finger groping for it. A second later, the engine smoothed out. I wrapped a napkin from my pocket around my finger, then put the glove back on. Whatever crud it was, I thought, it must have passed through.

Jim’s party paused for a few minutes, because everyone heard my grand entrance and wanted to see the bike. Beer flowed freely, and I drank more than usual when on two wheels. Jim offered to let me stay over, but the Harley started right up again and I rolled out.

A rat scurried out in front of me on the way home. Again, the Harley surged and caught it. Too weird, I thought, but I had no idea anything was wrong until I got to the turn home… and kept going. I couldn’t get the bike to slow down, no matter how hard I throttled back or braked. Straight on we went, into the ugly part of town.

Close to midnight, I saw the drunk staggering along the sidewalk up ahead… and so did the bike. The headlight died, and I braced myself for what was coming. The drunk stumbled into the street and the Harley surged again. I wrestled the handlebars, but the bike was in control: it swerved at the last second, kicking the back end around and slapping the drunk back to the sidewalk. The reaction pushed us out of the skid. We kept going, and haven’t stopped yet.

So if you see me coming, get away from the road.

The Harley is undead. And it’s hungry.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 2 comments

#TuesdaySerial: Xenocide, pt 9

Previous episodes: Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3 • Part 4 • Part 5 • Part 6 • Part 7 • Part 8



Xenocide, part 9
Upping the Jig

“CIA?” I cocked my head at Carmichael. “Then maybe our friends at the Garden Inn aren’t really FBI agents, but still part of a different three-letter government agency?”

“That’s the way I figured. I had a lot of time to think on the drive home. When you depend on the whims of the voting public, you don’t get to let your imagination run loose too often, you know. You got a good imagination though, Adler. I’ll bet you can come to the same conclusion I did in a lot less time.”

“Conclusion?” The sheriff nodded. Why would the CIA still be hanging around if they knew who did the deed? “Oh shit.”

Carmichael laughed. “You’re faster than I thought.”

“They’re gonna pin it on someone local? Damn. I bet I know who, too.”

“I suspect they’re under a lot of pressure from above, and… from above.” He pointed at the sky. “But if you know who they’re gonna blame, you got a big jump farther than me, and about an hour faster I might add. If I thought you were the political type, I’d be worried for my job.”

I laughed. “You’ve got nothing to worry about there!”


I had to do my usual cop duties through the day, which actually worked in my favor for a change. Shortly after the smoke break, I got a text from Tenesha: Are we really both off-duty tonight?

As much as we ever are, I responded. I’d figured the Moss family wouldn’t be together until evening. I planned to wait until eight, to give them time to finish supper, then visit them. Around 9 then?

If I HAVE to wait that long… I guess. See you then!

At 8 p.m. sharp, I pulled up to the Moss residence and rang the doorbell. I remained in uniform for this visit.

A woman opened the door and gave me a puzzled look. “May I help you?”

“Mrs. Moss?” She nodded. “Are your son and husband at home?” Another nod. “Good. I need to talk to all three of you. It’s very important.”

She wasted no time ushering me in and giving me the comfy recliner while she rounded up the men of the house. The elder Moss came in first, with a smile and a handshake. “Good to see you again, Officer. If you’re here about the case you mentioned, I still haven’t heard anything.”

“It’s related to that. But I’d really like to wait until everyone’s here.”

His face fell. “Jacob’s a good kid. He can’t be in any trouble —”

“No trouble, not any he’s made for himself,” I assured him. “He’s been a big help with this case, in fact.”

“Really? He hasn’t said anything about it to us.” The elder Moss looked both proud and confused.

“Is that his computer?” I looked at the desk in the living room.

“Yeah. We heard somewhere that it’s a good way to keep the kids from looking at sites they shouldn’t be looking at, to put their computer in a more or less public space.”

I didn’t bother mentioning smartphones. If Moss Sr. hadn’t figured that out by now… but then mother and child came down the stairs to join us in the living room.

“Um, Mrs. Moss?” I began the conversation. “May I ask a personal question? Have you cleaned under the sofa recently?”

She gave me a strange look. “To be honest? No. Jacob’s too old to be hiding his toys under the sofa these days.” The kid rolled his eyes.

“Do you mind?” I reached under the sofa, found what I expected, and laid it on the coffee table.

“What is that?” Mr. Moss asked.

“That,” I said, “is a listening device. A bug, in the common parlance.” The parents stared at it goggle-eyed; the son gave me a dirty look that said Why didn’t you say something? I shrugged back. “Your son discovered a murder victim last week.” He looked like he wanted to protest, but I continued. “It turned out to be some kind of alien species — and by alien, I do mean from some other planet.” I paused a moment to let them chew on that; it took a little longer than planned. “Two people claiming to be FBI agents nominally took over the case, but we’ve continued to pursue it, and I daresay we’ve gotten farther than they would like.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Jacob.

“It means we have a pretty good idea where the shooting took place, and who did it,” I said. “We’re pretty sure that the shooter — or an accomplice — has a son in the CIA. It’s pretty likely that the so-called FBI agents are actually with the CIA, and they’re desperate to find some sucker to pin this murder on. Someone not related to one of their agents.” I let that sink in for a moment.

“You’re saying… these people are going to try to pin it on my son?” the elder Moss asked.

“Maybe him. Or maybe you,” I said. “But they’re listening in to this conversation —” I pointed at the bug on the coffee table — “so they know the jig’s up. I’m taking the device with me as evidence. We take that whole ‘serve and protect’ thing seriously, so we’re not going to let them pin a murder on an innocent citizen without a lot of publicity. If they have any sense, they’ll find some other patsy. Preferably someone not in our jurisdiction.”

All three members of the Moss family just stared, stunned. I picked up the bug. “We’ll have someone watching the place, just to make sure nobody tries to arrest you for a crime that none of you committed. Stay home if at all possible, it’ll help us help you. All right?”

continued…

Can’t wait to see how it ends? The whole story is available on Amazon and Smashwords!

Friday, December 09, 2011 29 comments

#FridayFlash: Bait

“Mom! Dad! Shinies!” Elly and Sam ran to the back door, yanking at the doorknob, as Kyle climbed onto an end table and pressed his face against the window. In the scrapyard behind their house, the contents of a transparent box glittered.

“Whoa! Kids!” Mom clapped her hands twice; the two older kids turned to give her pleading looks. Kyle paid no attention. “What have we told you about shinies? Especially on cloudy days?”

Kyle, still pressed against the window, said, “The aliens are fishing. If you try to get the shinies, they’ll pull you up there. Then they’ll fry you and eat you.” His nose, pressed against the window, made him sound strange.

“That’s not true,” Sam protested. “They throw you back if you’re too little.”

“You wouldn’t taste good anyway.”

“Kyle!” Mom warned him, touching Sam to cut off a rejoinder. Kyle huffed and continued to watch.

“It came down out back?” asked Dad, coming through the front door and wiping his dirty hands on his shirt. Mom nodded.

“Jane at school says they always throw people back,” said Elly. “She said her uncle got caught, and they put him in a glider. He could see the whole world, and he knew kinda where he lived, so he tried to glide back home. But he still had to walk for a week after he landed.” She ran to give Dad a quick hug, then returned to the door.

“It’s my turn,” said Mom. She shooed Elly and Sam away from the door.

“Mom!” they protested.

“If we let you come outside to watch, do you promise to stay with me on the deck?” Dad asked.

All three kids cheered their agreement, and Kyle jumped down and joined the others in a flash. Mom opened the door, slipped through first, then stood at the steps and pointed the kids to the deck. They complied, grumbling, Dad grinning behind them. He picked up the spotlight while Mom got the hooksticks. This was the only life the kids had ever known: aliens in the sky, enticing people with shinies, and grownups playing tricks on the aliens. Their parents remembered a world in some ways better, yet poised on the brink of self-destruction, before the aliens changed everything. Dealing with aliens was hazardous, but a box of shinies was the only kind of wealth that mattered these days.

Dad pressed a button. The spotlight itself was a shiny — a piece of alien technology, bait taken from some earlier fishing trip. It showed no light of its own, but now a thin arc glowed above the shinies where Dad pointed it. “See that?” The kids nodded. “That’s their line. It’s a monomolecular filament, and it’ll stick to your skin or clothes if you touch it. Then you’re caught. That’s why we use the hooksticks. And that’s why one of us shines the line, so the other won’t get caught.”

“What’s mono— mono-leck-er?” Kyle asked.

Monomolecular, stupid,” said Sam. It means it’s one piece and you can’t cut or break it.”

“Mom!” Kyle yelled. “Sam called me stupid! Could you stick him to the line?”

Mom caught the line with one hookstick. Without turning, she said, “If you two don’t stop, I’ll put you both on the line!”

“He started it,” Kyle muttered, soft enough that only Dad heard. He and Sam made faces at each other then turned to watch Mom. Elly ignored her two younger brothers, watching Mom and looking worried.

Mom used the second hookstick to catch the hook and pull it out of the shiny bait. The kids cheered as it came loose.

“This is the dangerous part,” Dad told the kids. “A gust of wind can blow the line around, maybe get loose and catch your mom. This is why you should never play around with shinies. We can use them, but we don’t understand them all that well, and they can be dangerous.”

“What kind of shinies are they, Dad?” asked Elly.

“We’ll find out in a few minutes.” He called to Mom, “The truck. It’s closest.”

Mom nodded, watching the line and glancing at her footing as she eased the hook over to the rusty flatbed truck. Using the hookstick, she slipped the aliens’ fishing hook onto the tow point after a few tries. Then she stepped back, tightening the line, and pulled hard.

The line snapped straight, jerking the hookstick out of Mom’s loose grip and sending it flying across the scrapyard. With a groan, the truck lifted into the air, swinging and twisting. Mom dropped the second hookstick and dashed for the deck. The kids watched gaping as the truck dwindled and disappeared into the clouds.

“We need to get in the shelter for a while, kids,” said Dad. “If that truck comes loose, it’ll squash anything it lands on!” He hugged Mom. “Great job. As always.”

Other than a usual Kyle-Sam squabble, they spent an uneventful half hour in the shelter. Finally, Mom said, “Let’s go see what they left us,” and the kids dashed shrieking into the daylight and the scrapyard.


“That’s a keeper!” Zubba chittered, looking at the truck twisting on the hook.

“Yeah,” said Xob. He used his gaffe to pull the catch onboard. The two of them squelched over to it, examining it for a few minutes. “Hey Zubba… you think they’ll ever figure out we’re fishing for iron?”

Wednesday, December 07, 2011 No comments

Writing Wibbles

At last, Xenocide was approved for Smashwords Premium on Monday! I’m not sure whether they’re just getting swamped with titles these days or what — but to me, a “few days” (as their boilerplate says) to review implies maybe 3–5 days… not 8. So anyway, it should soon be available from Nook, iBooks, and several other stores where Smashwords distributes — hooray! It took longer than expected, yes, but I did get through on the first attempt. I don’t think it was that difficult: follow their style guide and it’s just tedious at worst.

But I haven’t exactly been sitting around waiting. In addition to my author page on Goodreads, I now have an author page on Amazon. Both have nice little gadgetry that displays excerpts from this blog, among other incidentals (like links to all the books I have out, which right now is one). Just another way technology is leveling the field for indie writers.

I kind of think this chaotic time will last for a few years, until publishers make it worth the indies’ while to stop being indie. A few of the current publishers will survive; others, like many hardcore smokers diagnosed with lung cancer, will prefer to die rather than make the changes necessary for survival. In their place will be the new wave of publishers, who never thrived under the old regime and are thus able to treat writers as partners rather than serfs. They’ll have faster publishing schedules, royalties more favorable to authors, and — best of all — they’ll handle most of the publicity.

Am I dreaming? Maybe delusional from this stupid chest cold? Maybe. But if one of the established players suddenly made those kinds of changes, I expect there would be an author stampede in that direction.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011 6 comments

#TuesdaySerial: Xenocide, pt 8

Previous episodes: Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3 • Part 4 • Part 5 • Part 6 • Part 7



Xenocide, part 8
Fool’s Gold

The paydirt turned to fools’ gold: when I pulled up Danny Freeman’s Visa card, it was reported stolen. On the same day the perps got their SUV cleaned out, no less. Of course, that didn’t mean it wasn’t him — he could have wised up and tried to cover his tracks. But when I pulled his driver’s license record, his description was nothing like a reasonably fit man in his early thirties: Freeman was fifty-four, and (judging from his height and weight stats filed with the DMV) about forty pounds overweight.

I hate when a lead doesn’t pan out, but instinct told me that Freeman wasn’t exactly out of the loop on this one. The problem was, whoever used his credit card would be local to him — and that was a good hundred miles from here. Well out of our jurisdiction, and I couldn’t exactly get the State Police involved in the case since the FBI supposedly took it over.

“I’m beat,” I admitted to the sheriff on his smoke break. I was frustrated to the point of asking Carmichael for a cancer stick, but I knew Tenesha wouldn’t approve. I wouldn’t want butt-breath getting in the way. “Seriously. I don’t see any way we can take this case any further without tripping over the Feds.”

“It’s not like our friends are working the case very hard,” said the sheriff. “I’ve got Deputy Noble keeping an eye on them, but they’ve hardly left the hotel except to hit a nearby restaurant. And they’ve only done that twice in the three days since they’ve been here.”

“Yeah. I hate to let this drop, but I don’t see how I can take it any further.”

“Maybe you can’t,” the sheriff said, “but I can.”

“What?”

He grinned. “I happen to know Sheriff Lester down that way, I’ll pay him a courtesy call. And while I’m there, I tell him we found a case of credit card fraud against one of his locals.”

“But how do you let him know you’re coming without the Feds catching on?”

“It’s Friday. I’m going on a weekend fishing trip — I have a trailer on Lake Baldwin, next county over. There’s no cell coverage at my place, so I’ll make the call from a payphone at the bait shop. Nothing suspicious or even out of the ordinary. I’ll be back Sunday night, and I’ll let you know if I find anything interesting.”


The weekend was a bust, no pun intended. Tenesha had shifts when I didn’t, and vice versa. I had a little excitement Saturday night, quelling a domestic disturbance. Like most cops, those are the calls I hate the most: there’s usually alcohol or less legal intoxication issues, and even the person making the call can turn on you in a heartbeat. SOP in our county for domestics is, you get backup whether you want it or not. There were two couples involved, the women no more roughed-up than the men, bombed out of their minds on who-knows-what. We ended up running all four in and getting a warrant. We found plenty of well-used drug paraphernalia, some residual this and that… but they’d smoked up everything before we got there. That was probably what triggered the quarrel.

As for the rest of the weekend, I spent it either working or watching random ballgames, either at my apartment or Ruth’s. I did a lot of fantasizing about Tenesha. You just never know how an attraction will turn out, once you get to know someone a little better, but I knew I wanted more and it seemed like Tenesha did too. There would be crap from some of the other deputies about a mixed-race relationship — bad attitudes take a long time to die — but they could mind their own business.

But one step at a time. If we were going anywhere together, we’d have to find time to be together first. She did text me Sunday afternoon: Were you in on that domestic last night?

Yeah. But they came along peacefully.

:-) Stay safe, OK?

You bet. Can I email you sched? You can pick a free evening?

Sure.

Email on the way.

I got a kick out of the idea the Fibbies were reading our mushy texts and rolling their eyes.


Monday morning, I barely got to my desk when the sheriff waved toward the back door and mimed smoking a cigarette. I dropped my stuff and followed him out back.

“Catch any fish?” I was almost panting with anticipation.

Carmichael grinned. “Oh hell yes. I got enough crappie in the freezer to throw a fish fry for the entire department. Not only that, our fraud victim is a hog farmer.”

“Yeah, that fits. But we’d need more than that to pin the tail on the donkey.”

“There’s plenty more. Sheriff Lester and I go back a ways, and he didn’t have any problem telling me all about one of his upstanding citizens… and his family. If we were to bring pictures of Freeman’s son and hired hand to your detailing guy, I’d quit this stuff cold turkey if he didn’t say they’re the ones who brought the SUV in for the clean-out. Oh, and by the way, Danny Freeman owns an Excursion.”

“That fits, too. Freeman Junior and his Hired Hank ditch the body and go get the barge cleaned out for the long drive home. They pay with Dad’s credit card, then maybe call him and tell him to report it stolen to provide plausible deniability. I assume the senior Freeman was with his wife all this time, or perhaps doing something in public where they’d be recognized. Alibi covered.”

“And exposed. It doesn’t tell us who pulled the trigger, but if we could round up all three on a conspiracy charge, under normal circumstances we’d probably get one to admit to the deed.”

“Um… ‘could’? ‘Under normal circumstances’? There’s something else, isn’t there?”

The sheriff puffed his cigarette with vigor. “Yup. Turns out that Daniel Freeman, Jr. works for the CIA.”

to be continued…

Can’t wait to see how it ends? The whole story is available on Amazon and Smashwords!

Saturday, December 03, 2011 6 comments

Deck Them Halls

Christmas time is here, by golly
Disapproval would be folly
— Tom Lehrer

With Thanksgiving finally out of the way, Mrs. Fetched went into full-blown decoration mode. I somehow got out of helping with the inside stuff, beyond horking boxes around. I was doing something, not at the manor, but can no longer remember what it was.

However, Mason was there to help, and he did hang some ornaments. Of course, he slapped ’em right back off the tree first chance he got. Mrs. Fetched invested in non-breakable ornaments this year… although as a friend put it, “they’ll cut your foot just like the glass ones if you step on one.” Okay, maybe they should be called shatterproof instead?

We’ve started doing the “one finger” rule with him — if he touches something, touch it with one finger. But that doesn’t stop him from sweeping that one finger across something to send it flying.

I wasn’t so lucky with the outside. We don't go as bat $#¡+ crazy as some people do with their lights (those, as Mrs. Fetched puts it, who “have nothing else to do”), but it’s more than enough in my opinion. She kept us going much of Saturday and Sunday, well past sunset both days, poking hangers onto the shingles and hanging lights every which way. I had to dismantle and re-do the net-lights over several of the boxwoods, since someone plugged them into each other and I had no idea how they were meant to plug into actual AC current. But I got it straightened out in the end and we managed to get it all lit up for a while… until (I think) the breaker fried. Mrs. Fetched insists we didn’t do anything more this year than last, but she always hits the after-Christmas sales and stocks up on more lights and stuff so I know better.

Then there was the strange case of the “decoration” in the field that was once going to be a subdivision. Seems that some merry pranksters snagged this thing from a farm off Juno Rd. My first knowledge of the deed was seeing it in a ditch along the highway one morning, on the way to work. Two days later, it was gone… and showed up here. It’s been there since Thanksgiving, clearly visible from the road going to the in-laws’ place.

If the chicken looks headless, that’s because it is. If the head didn’t shatter into a zillion pieces when it landed in the ditch, I rather expect it’s now a decoration in some goofball’s man-cave. I like to think of it as the Evil Zombie Chicken, protecting the acreage from another developer… or maybe there’s a bankruptcy curse in effect. Actually, I’m surprised that Coldwell Banker (the seller) hasn’t done something about a stolen statue yet.

Friday, December 02, 2011 26 comments

#FridayFlash: The Other Woman

I’ve had the idea for this one kicking around in my head since September 29. To avoid spoilers, the explanation is below.



“Hello?”

“Hi… Cathy?”

“Yes. Um, who’s calling?”

“This is Ann. Tony’s wife?”

Long pause. “Oh. He really told you then? He said he did, but I didn’t believe it.”

“Yes. He did.”

“And… and you’re okay with this?”

“Not really. But if he takes care of my needs first, I suppose… anyway. Is he with you?”

“No! He said he needed to spend some time with you this week!”

“Really?” Ann’s voice softened. “He said he was going to see you this evening.”

“God. I hope he’s not hurt or something!”

“Or… you don’t suppose?”

Cathy sighed. “To be honest, when he’s been here lately, he’s been spending more time on his laptop than… you know.”

“Hmph. Cathy, I’m not comfortable discussing this over the phone. Could you meet me at Jolt Coffee? It’s in the strip, down from the Saver-Mart.”

“Um… sure. I guess.”

“Good. Park over at the insurance office, two doors down. There’s always a few spots open there. I’ll meet you there.”


After leaving a detailed note, just in case the wife had foul play in mind, Cathy left her apartment. She knew Jolt Coffee well — she and Tony found each other on Facebook, then met in person at Jolt the first couple times. He’d been upfront about things: he had no intention of leaving his wife, but needed to get away from her coldness and demands from time to time. She didn’t want a commitment, so the arrangement worked for her too.

Until now. All month he’d been distant and moody, making her wonder if he had S.A.D. issues. And now, she was meeting his wife. This was just weird.

She recognized Ann from a photo that Tony kept in his wallet: a statuesque woman, one who looked used to getting her way. Not for the first time, she felt like she understood Tony’s need to get away…

Ann smiled a thin smile as she closed her car door. “You must be Cathy,” she said. “Let’s get inside, this wind is cutting.” Indeed it was, as befit late November. “You seem like a nice young woman — oh my.” She looked into the coffee house window, then thrust out an arm and stepped back, pulling Cathy with her.

“What is it?”

Ann stole another glance. “I think we found him.” She gestured toward the window.

“It is him!” she whispered, peeking in. “But I don’t see anyone with him.”

Ann’s shoulders slumped as she looked skyward, lips pressed together tight. “That doesn’t mean anything,” she said, tugging at Cathy’s jacket. “Let’s go in.”

Cathy inhaled the heady smell of espresso and vanilla as they entered. The usual soundtrack, Italian folk music, played in the background. Tony sat at a table, back to the entrance, hunched over his laptop like they had both seen so often this month. Ann nudged her and pointed: you go left, I’ll go right.

They flanked Tony, but he paid them no mind, typing away. Suddenly, he slapped the table and leaned back. “Yes! Fifty thousand! I made it —” Then he looked up, his wife on one side and his mistress on the other. “Uh…” he looked back and forth between the two.

Ann and Cathy looked at each other above him. “Let’s get a coffee,” said Ann. “We know who — or what — Tony’s real love is.”



So… why September 29? That’s when Tony Noland posted his handy guide, 7 Easy Ways To Give You Time To Write™. The first way was (summarized): start an affair, tell your wife you’re visiting your mistress, tell your mistress you’re staying with your wife, go to a coffee house and write. Since Tony gave me the idea, I thought it was fitting that I name the hapless male character after him. (I just hope his wife isn’t named Ann!!!) Seeing as November just went past, I put a NaNoWriMo spin on it.

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