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Showing posts with label humor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label humor. Show all posts

Friday, January 02, 2015 6 comments

The Swamp Witch Gets a Student (#FridayFlash)

Earlier Swamp Witch stories…



Image source: openclipart.org
Many of those who came to Hattie the Swamp Witch did their business on her porch, and never entered her house. Those invited inside rarely got a look at much more than the front room, the “living room” as most reckoned it. From there, one might get a glimpse of her kitchen, usually as she worked at fixing up whatever it was that needed fixing—usually a love potion, or the results of too much love or lust, but Hattie wasn’t one to judge.

Beyond that, Hattie might let a visitor use her bathroom if they needed. Anyone curious or nosy enough to approach the other two doors (firmly closed) would get a warning from Mr. Sniff, her cat. Once or twice in Hattie’s long career, she had to give a visitor a poke with a broom handle and a dire threat. Not that there was much to see behind either door.

One door went to her bedroom. The nightstand was the only cluttered part of the bedroom, stacked with books. The other door opened on a narrow hallway, leading to a back porch. It was screened in, had indoor-outdoor carpeting, and sported a small hammock. On this muggy summer afternoon, Hattie was snoozing in the hammock, a little afternoon constitutional—

BAM BAM BAM

Mr. Sniff, curled up on the warm carpet, jumped up and hissed. “Wha?” Hattie gasped, flipping herself out of the hammock. She landed on her hip, snarling a curse that would have curdled the swamp water if it wasn’t already nasty.

The pounding again. “Coming!” Hattie snarled, ducking through the narrow hall and grabbing her hat off the dining room table. Mr. Sniff went straight for the door and meowed, stretching himself toward the knob like he would let the visitor in himself.

“Huh,” said Hattie. Mr. Sniff was a pretty good judge of her visitors, even through the door, and he’d never done that before.

“What’cha want?” Hattie asked, jerking the door open and stepping back before the visitor knocked her nose. She sized up the young woman on the other side: she looked both plain and angry. Well, a Loosyana summer was enough to make anyone a bit testy.

“I want to disappear,” the visitor snapped.

“Come back at night and get off the path,” Hattie replied. “You’ll disappear right quick. But I guess that ain’t what you meant. Here, let’s sit out on the porch swing. What’s yer name?”

“Paula LaFria.”

“Okay, Paula. Tell me what’s on your mind, and I’ll tell you if I can help. You want a glass of water or anything?”

“Yeah, water would be good. I’m sweatin’ like a pig out here.”

“Okay. Sit tight. I’ll be right back.”

Pouring the water, Hattie debated, then decided it couldn’t hurt nothing. She poured a goodly knock of vodka into Paula’s glass. It would help to loosen her tongue.

Hattie returned to the porch, to find Mr. Sniff in the woman’s lap, purring up a storm. Paula smiled and obliged the cat with ear scratches and head rubs.

“If that don’t beat all,” said Hattie, sitting next to her. “He ain’t usually that friendly. You must be a good person all the way down. Here’s ya some water. Tell me what’s on your mind. Why you wanna disappear? You ain’t killed nobody, have ya?”

That got a wry chuckle out of Paula. “Naw. Not yet, anyway.” She took a gulp. “No offense, but your water tastes a little funny.”

“It comes out a well. Eighty, ninety years ago, they went drillin’ for oil and struck water instead. They just capped it off, but one of my predecessors tapped it and run some pipe back here. Gotta pump it, but it beats draggin’ a barrel of water down the path. It’s probably healthier than your town water. But that ain’t tellin’ me anything about your problem. You wanna disappear? You don’t need no witch help for that, just head to Nawlins or Baton Rouge like all the other young folks.”

Paula shrugged and slugged down her treated water. “Still got men there. Always starin’, always thinkin’ I’m obligated to show ‘em a good time, like it’s a privilege for me or something. So I thought if you had something that would make me disappear, I could at least live my life in peace. I got two hundred dollars saved up. Ain’t much, but I’ll give it to you if you can make it happen.”

“Hm. You know most of what a swamp witch does ain’t really magic, right? I mix up potions, yeah, but it’s all stuff you can find out here. I checked the library, and I think there’s a scientific basis for all of it.”

“So you can’t help me.”

“I didn’t say that,” Hattie assured her. “I done a little studyin’ where I could, ‘specially where it comes to love potions. I guess my recipe gets yer body chemicals a-brewin’. Maybe that’s a natural thing for you. If I could figure out how the recipe works, maybe I could figure out something to make it go the other way, cut off that brew. But I got a more sure way to make ya disappear.”

“Without me jumpin’ in the swamp, I hope.”

“Yeah. Mostly. You ever think about bein’ a swamp witch?”

“What?” Paula jumped to her feet, swayed for a moment, and sat down. “I think the heat’s got to me.”

“Sure. I’m ready to call it quits myself. But Nowhere, Loosyana needs a swamp witch to take care of things. Nobody’ll bother you, unless they got a death wish. I teach you the recipes, how to deal with folks, and all ya gotta do is change yer name.”

“My name?”

“Yep. My born name’s Susan. But Hattie’s been the swamp witch out here for over a hundred years.”

Paula grinned. “You know what? You got yourself a student.”

Friday, November 07, 2014 9 comments

The Knights of the Irregular Polygonal Table (#FridayFlash)

Any resemblance to Sabrina Zbasnik’s Rejected Story is purely, uh…

OK, let’s pull the pin and see what happens with this one. For other stories in this world, enter “strange lands” in the search box at the top of the page.



Image source: openclipart.org
Once upon a time, in the Strange Lands north of Aht-Lann-Tah, there was a tavern. Actually, the Strange Lands has plenty of taverns, as drinking oneself stupid was far easier than trying to understand one’s neighbors. But this tavern was situated at the foot of Aiken Butte, and was named for the landmark. As it was near the border of the Dominion and several other states great and small, knights of the nearby realms would gather there to drink, tell tales, work out minor differences between the kingdoms, drink, boast of their prowess, drink some more, and set dates for golf outings. And when they finished all that, they got down to some serious drinking.

The owner of the tavern had set aside a long table in the back for the knights. The corners were worn away by years of swords rubbing against them, so everyone called it the Round Table (Sir Pedant pointed out that it was actually a rough irregular polygon, with a general oval shape, but “the Knights of the Irregular Polygonal Table” just didn’t have the same ring). Besides, irregular is the norm in the Strange Lands.

But I digress. One fine day, knights from several realms were drinking and doing the other things that knights do when they’re not golfing or trying to knock each other off their horses. Into this peaceful debauch entered Sir Slice, so named for his golf swing rather than his swordplay.

“Ho! Ha!” the other knights shouted, pulling up a chair and making room. “What news?”

“Dire news, indeed,” said Sir Slice, slamming down his ale. “A dragon has captured another princess.”

“Not Stonebelly?” asked Sir Umber.

“Nay, good Dragonpooper,” Sir Slice grinned as the other knights laughed. “Just a regular dragon.”

“Dragonslayer, if you please,” Sir Umber growled. He had ridden out against a dragon one day, and the dragon laughed itself to death when Sir Umber soiled his armor. His now-former squire had let slip the truth, and nearly lost his head for it, for a secret once out can never be hidden again. “A dead dragon is a dead dragon, no matter how it is slain.”

Sir Slice waited for the laughter to die down. “Be it as it may. Who among us will go forth to rescue the unfortunate one?”

A long silence worked its way around the sort-of round table. “You haven’t heard?” said Sir Pedant. “It’s all about affirmative consent these days.”

Sir Slice scratched his oily head. “What does that mean? You sally forth, you slay the dragon, the princess is yours. That’s the way it’s always been done.”

“Not anymore,” said Sir Umber, glad to change the subject. “The princess must want to be rescued, and tell you she wants to be rescued. Those are the new rules of chivalry.”

“What? Of course she wants to be rescued!”

“She may want to rescue herself,” another knight said. “Or she may find the dragon’s company preferable.”

“So what are we supposed to do?” Sir Slice asked incredulously. “Marry a peasant woman?”

“Nay, whatever you do, don’t go there!” Sir H’rangid shouted. “You haven’t seen Hell on Earth until you share a roof with a peasant woman whose elevated status goes to her head. Ask me how I know. I even have to leave my golf clubs at Sir Umber’s keep, and tell her I’m out on patrol when I go anywhere.”

“Again I ask, what are we supposed to do then?” Sir Slice cast a baleful eye around the table, as if he had learned an unpleasant truth about his comrades.

“‘Tain’t so bad,” said Sir Bubba. “Ya ain’t riskin’ yer life for someone who don’t appreciate it anyway, and ya got more time to play golf and drink beer with yer compadres.”

“Bah. I never thought I’d see the day when my fellow knights would refuse to aid a damsel in distress. It is up to me, then.” Sir Slice turned on his heel, stumbling a little, and left the tavern.

“Calm, my fellows,” said Sir Pedant. “Our friend must learn for himself.” He swallowed the last of his ale and waved his tankard at the serving-wench. “As we all did. Now, to the business at hand. What golf course shall we grace with our presence?”

Sunday, October 05, 2014 4 comments

Little Swingers

Meet Amelia, in the swing next to Mason. She refers to him as “my boyfriend.”

Just a-swangin'

This is a church thing. They sit together in church sometimes, and usually at the Childrens’ Sermon (where the kids all come up front). I first found out when she had her arm around him as they sat listening. Her grandmother and I were cutting up about it later. “She’s a little old for him, ain’t she?” I asked in my best fake Southern accent. She’s six, and her birthday was during the summer, so she’s definitely older than him.

They don’t do much more than sit together, sometimes hold hands as they go downstairs. Mason doesn’t seem to be fazed much by it; it’s just part of church for him. For their grandparents, it’s just one of those amusing things kids do.

But apparently, she’s a bit of a troublemaker at school. Seems like Mason’s inherited his father’s (thankfully former) attraction for troublesome girlies. One more thing to grow out of. I hope.

Friday, September 12, 2014 9 comments

End of the Road (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
Vincent “Van” Hendricks stopped at the curb in front of the old mansion. “This is crazy,” he said, for the eighth time since he grabbed his leather bag and jumped in his Impala. The twenty years he spent chasing Jan Meppel demanded he go, though. You are invited to my lair, the letter had said. Bring your tools, and friends if you wish, but I pledge that you will come to no harm by my design. Hendricks had chosen to come alone, but told several trusted friends where he was going that night.

Shouldering his bag, his feet carried him to the door while his mind continued to sift through the reasons Meppel would invite him over. Some treachery, no doubt, but he was prepared.

He raised his hand to knock, but saw the note: Hendricks. The door is open. Please let yourself in and proceed to the parlor. Help yourself to the wine and canapés, and I will join you presently. He shrugged and followed directions. His bag held ways to test for poison, but the food and wine were safe. He poured himself a glass of wine, a vintage far more expensive than he ever bought for himself, and waited.

“Ah, Hendricks,” his enemy, this vampire, greeted him, carrying his own glass and seating himself. “I suppose you are curious why I invited you.”

“I’m sure you have a little surprise planned for me, Meppel.”

The vampire chuckled. “Indeed I do,” he replied. “I am here, you have come, and it is time for you to finish the hunt.”

Hendricks frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“Then I’ll say it plainly. I want you to kill me tonight.”

Hendricks nearly choked on his wine. “What? Why?”

Meppel stood and began pacing the room. “If you include the days of my life, my pre-vampiric existence one might say, I am six hundred and fifty years old, and am bored beyond anything you can imagine. I seriously began to contemplate suicide—which for one in my condition, is a gruesome act indeed—about fifty years ago. Indeed, had you not come along, I would have likely done it before now. Evading you lifted the long boredom for a while, but now it has returned. I’d rather hoped you could have brought me down without my help, but it is not to be.”

“Kill you. Just like that. And you’re not worried about Hell?”

“Not at all. You see, I have no soul. Or rather, my soul went on to its reward with the death of my old self. I awoke into my new existence with my mind and memories, but my soul… gone. Amusing: the one part of me that was fitted for eternity departed when my second birth made me immortal. Such is the curse of the vampire.” Meppel drank and smiled. “I spent many years researching that problem, two centuries ago, and you are the first person to hear the answer I found.”

“That’s interesting,” said Hendricks, truly interested in spite of himself. “Evil without consequence?”

“Evil? You once likened me to a parasite, feeding off those like you. Does a dog call the tick evil? Nay, the tick does what it does to survive. What it is made to do. And I do the same. I may have fed on the unwilling. I may have killed those who deserved death. But never have I done what was done to me, and changed someone against his will.”

“What? What happened?”

Meppel drained his glass and set it on the table next to his chair. “I was in the employ of a merchant, in what you now call the Netherlands. This merchant owed favors to my father, and he persuaded the merchant to hire me on. I was not aware—nor, I believe, was my father aware—that my employer deeply resented my father. One night, he encouraged me to drink my fill of his wine, and I blacked out. When I awoke, it was to my second birth. He who had done this explained how my former employer had sold me, told me of my new existence, what I could do and not do, and so forth. He had a cadre of loyal staff, who also served as our food source. We fed them well, and they fed us in return.

“When whispers of our existence became too loud, we sailed to the Antilles. My master left me his worldly goods when he chose to end his own existence, and I moved on to the Americas. And now, I have reached the end of the road. You have what you need, I presume?”

Hendricks took a stake and mallet from his bag. “I do.”

“Where is your sword?”

“Sword?”

“To strike off my head after!” Meppel looked agitated. “You cannot tell me that you have hunted vampires and—bah. Use that one.” He pointed to an antique sword hanging on the wall. “The scabbard is around here somewhere. Take it with you when you go. You’ll need it when you go back and finish all the other kills you bungled. Will you need me to position the stake properly as well?”

“What? I—”

Meppel waved a ringed hand. “I am sure you know where to put the stake. To my chambers, now. Let us finish this.”

Friday, April 04, 2014 9 comments

Sleeping Butay (2 of 2) (#FridayFlash)

Check out Part 1 here, then read on…



With Butay safely out of the way, Hatchet gathered her entourage and returned to the Dominion. Word preceded her, and Prince Chowming packed a bag. “I am on a tour of the Dominion’s golf courses,” he told his advisors, “and then I may journey to Aht-Lann-Tah to see how their courses compare. But I have no fixed itinerary, nor a set time to return.” With that, he bolted from the castle with his closest friend and caddy, Lord Horn.

Once safely away, Chowming and Horn changed into the clothes of common travelers, and set out for the coast. There was only one minor incident along the way, and the Prince has asked me to keep it quiet out of respect for Lord Horn’s dignity.

“Tell me again your intent?” Horn asked, as they neared the town.

“I will find someone to marry on my own,” said Prince Chowming, “and then perhaps that horrid Princess Hatchet will trouble me no more.”

Horn was doubtful, both of the plan and of Hatchet, but said nothing. As princes went, Chowming was easy-going—but there were limits, and the aforementioned minor incident had mostly depleted that deep reservoir of goodwill. So they reached the seaside town, and Chowming revealed himself to the mayor.

“Majesty,” said the mayor, bowing enough to strain his back, “how may we serve you as you grace our presence?”

“I am looking for a wife,” said Chowming. “Tell me, who is the most beautiful maiden in your lovely town?”

“That would be Butay, daughter of Lee and Ki the boatbuilders. But—”

“Is she betrothed?”

“No longer, majesty. But—”

“Then direct me to her home, mayor. I thank you for your help.” Chowming waved away all further objections, and the mayor gave directions.

Lee and Ki were surprised to see the Prince at their door, but were shocked and dismayed when he told them, “I wish to see your daughter, Butay, to ask her hand in marriage.”

“But, majesty,” said Lee. “She is asleep.”

“Then I shall wait for her to awaken.”

Ki wept. “Our daughter has been asleep for a week,” she said. “None have been able to waken her.”

I wonder if Hatchet got to her first, he thought. Aloud he said, “May I see her?”

Denying the Prince anything was unlawful, but he was so polite and well-spoken that the boatbuilders would not have objected had they dared. And so, they led him to her room and left him there to ponder the sleeping Butay.

“She is indeed beautiful,” the Prince whispered. “I only wish I knew what to do.”

“Take her, then marry her,” Lord Horn suggested. “She is in no position to object.”

“What?”

“Certainly, my prince. This is an opportunity of a lifetime. A wife who does not naysay, nor nag, nor—”

“That seems hardly sporting,” said Chowming. “She cannot object, but neither can she consent.”

“You’re the prince! Look. I’ll go take her parents to dinner or something. You just do what comes natural, then we’ll carry her home. If you insist, we’ll have the local priest bless the union or whatever.”

Chowming stood alone, looking at Butay. “This is so wrong,” he muttered. He slid the bench from her vanity across to her bed, then sat on it and took her hand. “If I have to marry at all,” he told her softly, “I would just as soon it were someone like you. I don’t know you, but your parents seem like honest folk. If you’re anything like them…” He took a deep breath. “Butay, daughter of Lee and Ki, will you marry me? If you do not object, I will take that as a ‘yes.’ And I swear, I will—”

“What did you say?” Butay’s eyes fluttered open, for asking for her hand in marriage was how Hatchet’s spell was broken.

“I said, will you marry me?” Chowming gasped. “Butay! You’re—you’re—”

“Um… who are you, and why would I want to marry you?”

“I’m Prince Chowming.”

“Ohh. You must be loaded. Sure, I’ll marry you.”

“Oh, happy day!” Chowming bolted from the room and out the door, calling for Lord Horn and Butay’s parents.


“So I would like to marry your daughter,” Prince Chowming told Lee and Ki. “I know she’s not a princess, but I can fix that with a royal decree—”

“But she is a princess,” Ki said quietly. “The night before our wedding, King Grabaz came to me and demanded his privilege.” She turned to her husband. “I’m so sorry, Lee. I was embarrassed, and I hoped that… well, now I hope you’ll forgive me.”

“Well, this is awkward,” said Chowming. “That means you’re my sister. Dad was such an asshole.”

“Figures,” Butay grumbled. “Can’t seem to get a break. Or a wedding.”

“But you could still come back to the castle,” Chowming insisted. “Since you’re my sister, you have access to the royal credit card. I was only looking for a wife to help stimulate the economy. Do you like to shop? Bring your parents, too. We’ll give them a nice retirement, wing in the castle, servants, the works.”

“Er, sire,” Lord Horn mumbled. “There’s the matter of Princess Hatchet.”

“Oh, dear, that’s right,” said Chowming. “I can’t go home until she does.”

“Princess Hatchet’s at the castle?” Butay scowled. “That was her who gave me that drugged wine, like as not.” She rolled up her sleeve and clenched a fist, hard and knobby from a lifetime of building boats. “I’ll see to her.”

And so, they returned to the castle. After a most entertaining smackdown, a battered and bruised Hatchet fled home with the tattered remnants of her entourage. Princess Butay and her mother stimulated the economy quite well with their shopping, and the people of the Dominion once again prospered. As for Chowming, he decided to take that golfing tour after all. All was well in the Dominion, and they all lived happily… for a while, at least. Until the next thing happened.

After all, this is the Strange Lands.

Friday, March 14, 2014 16 comments

Oh Rats! (#FridayFlash)

This wasn’t one of Mason’s ideas, but it does continue the adventures of the exterminator and his enthusiastic sidekick. For more of these two, see Chomp! and Sssssslither!



Image source: openclipart.org
“Lee’s Exterminators.” Lee listened, as Kate said “mm-hmm” several times and scratched at a notepad. “Uh, sure. We can set out bait blocks. Oh. Well, I’ll check with the boss. Can you hold for a moment?”

“What’s going on?” Lee asked, sticking his head out of the office.

Kate had that grin. “They’ve got a detached garage, infested with rats.”

“Don’t tell me it’s—”

“I think it might be an anomaly, yeah. Do we have time to go check it out?”

Lee sighed. “Unfortunately, yes. No scheduled jobs this afternoon.”

“Great! I’ll get the info, call the profs, and we can get going.” Kate was a biology major at the university, and worked for Lee part-time. When a job turned out to be an anomaly, and he’d seen too many of those lately, Kate’s professors paid well for videotape and live specimens. But no amount of money was worth the nightmares.


“They’re… aggressive,” the customer told Lee, rubbing his left arm. “I ain’t seen nothin’ like it. If I didn’t have stuff in there I want to get out, I’d just have the fire department come out and burn it down.”

“Okay,” said Lee. He noted that tone, the one that said you’ll think I’m crazy if I tell you what’s really going on. “Kate, let’s suit up. Sir, if you’d rather go inside while we work, that might be safest.”

“Are you gonna fumigate the garage, then? That’s what I’d do.”

“We’ll see what we’re up against, first. Then we’ll decide what to do.”

“Okay.” The customer sounded doubtful, but fished in his pockets. “Here’s the keys.”


“Video on,” said Kate.

“Keep your shield on the ground,” Lee warned. “Last thing you want is for ‘em to get to your ankles.”

“Roger that.” She stepped forward.

“Kate, it’s my job to go in first.”

“Nope! My turn. I’ll be careful. My insurance is up to date, anyway.” Kate opened the unlocked door before Lee could protest further. “Lights on,” she said. “What the…”

Through the audio pickup, Lee heard a sound like spats of rain. “What’s going on?”

“It’s rat poop,” said Kate. “They’re pushing it off the plywood in the rafters. Like it’s a warning. Interesting.” She drew that last word out, relishing it. “There’s a few of them,” she continued. “Normal size. Brown and white. Weird, they’re not running—shit!”

“Kate!” Lee dashed forward, but Kate was already backing out of the garage.

She turned and gave Lee a wild-eyed look. “If I didn’t know better, I would have thought they—”

Lee looked at Kate’s shield. “Where did that nail come from?”

“Nail?” Kate turned her shield around. “Holy… Lee. We need to check the video. Now.”


“Son of a…” Lee trailed off, as Kate stepped through the video frame by frame. Even with the motion blur, it was obvious.

“They built tools!” Kate exulted. “Weapons! A fracking crossbow! Do you know what that means?”

“It means we’ll have to fumigate the garage after all.”

“Are you crazy? This is an intelligent species! Maybe the only examples! We can’t just exterminate them because—”

“Uh, Kate? We’re exterminators. It’s our job to get rid of animals that invade people’s dwellings. They’re encroaching on human territory. If they were people, they’d be squatting. Trespassing. The police would remove them, using force if necessary.”

“Deadly force?”

“Probably not,” Lee admitted. “But tasers would be a possibility.”

“Taser.” Kate snapped her fingers, rapidly. “Do you have anything like that? Something that would just… knock ‘em out? Sleepy gas?”

“Not with us. Call your profs. Maybe they can suggest something. Then we can let the customer know what’s happening.”


“Ready? Go!” Lee and Kate led the charge, followed by four more biology students. All wore masks and air tanks, and carried cages and grabbers. Kicking the door shut behind them, they waded through the fog of ether and used the grabbers to toss unconscious rats into cages.

“Three nests of babies up here,” said one of the students, standing on a ladder. “And some adults. Looks organized. Almost looks like a daycare.”

“Sweep ‘em into the cage, nests and all,” said Kate. “Try not to mess up the nests. I hope they don’t OD.”

“How many do you think we’ll miss?” Lee asked.

“There’s probably a few up in the insulation,” another student suggested. “Whoa. That looks like a crossbow.”

“It is,” said Kate. They shot nails with it.”

“Day-yam. No wonder you called us in.”

“Got a whole pack of ‘em here,” said Lee. “Let’s get ‘em picked up. What are you guys gonna do with them?”

“The profs have already got some students renovating one of the basement rooms,” said Kate. “Full habitat, observation areas, the works. If we can learn to communicate with them…” she trailed off.

“I still think we should exterminate ‘em,” said Lee. “We’ve got enough politicians around here already.”

Friday, February 14, 2014 10 comments

The Swamp Witch and the Deacon (#FridayFlash)

We’ve met Hattie before, in Past the Witching Hour. The two of us have some plans for more, but at our own pace.



“Knitting’s good for the soul, Mr. Sniff. And it keeps my fingers nimble.” Hattie held her project in one hand, and used the other to scratch her cat behind the ears. “Now go take that nasty old mole off and eat it, or whatever you plan to do with it. Good kitty.”

Hattie resumed rocking on her porch, the creaking of the porch boards a counterpoint to the click of her needles. Add some boom, she thought, and it would sound like what the kids play in their cars. Out here in the swamp, though, only sirens carried to her door.

Mr. Sniff hopped back on the porch, then hissed and jumped onto the rail. He crouched, watching.

Hattie followed her cat’s gaze, and saw that flash of color. “You be good, kitty. That’s my friend.” She prodded the cat with a toe, and Mr. Sniff jumped down and glared before slinking away. The parrot glided under the porch, and alit on the perch that Hattie had made for him. “What news, Rainbow?”

“Visitor,” Rainbow croaked. The parrot had come to the swamp about a year ago, probably an escapee from some birdcage in Nawlins or up north, and had struck up a friendship with Hattie. He warned her of people on her path, and she gave him shelter on cold nights. Mr. Sniff thought he would make a fine feathered feast, but Rainbow knew to be wary of the cat. The bird was smart enough to carry on a limited conversation, too.

“Thank you, Rainbow,” said Hattie. She took a bag of nuts from a pocket, and shook at few into her hand. “Snack?”

“Snack. Thank-oo.” Rainbow flitted down to the arm of Hattie’s rocker, and picked the nuts from her hand, before flying away.

“Here, kitty,” said Hattie, laying down her knitting. “Let’s look like we know all and see all.” She chuckled. Nobody walked through this part of the swamp unless they wanted something from the Swamp Witch.

So when Scott Devereaux reached the clearing, where Hattie’s house perched on one of the few firm spots in the swamp, he saw the witch standing on the porch with arms crossed. Her black cat sat on the rail next to her, glaring at him. How did she hear me? he thought, then shrugged.

“What’cha needin’?” Hattie snapped.

“What makes you think I would want what you have to offer?” he said, a little more boldly than he felt.

“Nobody comes out here ‘less they need my help,” she said. “C’mon up and sit, Mr. Devereaux. Whatever it is, it stays ‘tween us. I ain’t stupid enough to go blabbin’ ‘bout people’s bidness.” Though I sure was tempted to turn in your daddy, back when you were in diapers, when he wanted some help for that thirteen year old girl he knocked up. But being strict about keeping people’s secrets was part of being a Swamp Witch.

“You know who I am, then.”

“Course I do. Your daddy’s the preacher at that big ol’ Protestant church. You’re the deacon, and he’s settin’ you up to take over when he retires next year.” She took her rocker, and waved a hand at the other one. “Pull that chair around. Tell me what’cha need, and I’ll tell ya if I can help.”

Instead, he stood, looking down at her. “What I need is for you to get gone. You’ve been a blight on this community long enough, and respectable folk have had enough. You do the Devil’s work out here, letting people escape the consequences of their sins—”

Hattie snorted. “You think you’re the first self-righteous fool who come out here to run me off? You might be surprised at the ‘respectable folk’ around here who I let escape the consequences of their sins, little boy. Me and your daddy went to school together, he knowed me all his life, and he’s been preachin’ ‘round here longer than you been born. He never seed fit to do nothin’ but live and let live, least by me. I know he taught ya to mind your own business, too.”

“Don’t you dare talk about my daddy,” he hissed.

“Okay by me.” Hattie sounded not at all intimidated. “I know he didn’t send you out here anyway, and he ain’t part of this. Maybe we should talk about you instead. Or, you wanna pay for your own sins, nobody’s makin’ you come to me.” She gave him a significant look.

“I am not interested in hearing your lies and innuendo.”

“Well, you don’t want my help, and I ain’t goin’ nowhere. So I guess we got nothin’ more to talk about.” Hattie picked up her knitting, ignoring how the younger Devereaux glared at her and tried not to fidget as the evening light dimmed.

“This ain’t over, witch.” Devereaux finally spun around and stomped down the porch steps.

“I know what’cha need, boy,” she called, and Devereaux spun around. “Yep. You think I don’t know what people need before they come a-callin’? I figgered you wouldn’t wanna talk about it, so I left it along the path.” She nodded at Devereaux’s wide-eyed stare. “So count off fifty paces after you pass that first tree, you’ll come to a little break on your left. Go through it, and count twenty more paces. It’s there.”

Devereaux nodded once, then turned and walked away without another word. “He didn’t offer to pay, I notice,” she muttered. “Theft is a sin, and sin has consequences, eh kitty?”

Mr. Sniff looked down the path, and arched his back at two faint splashes.

“Oh, dear,” said Hattie. “Dern fool got off the path, and the Swamp Critter got ‘im.” She returned to her knitting. “Time to find a new girl to take over, kitty. I’m gettin’ too old for this.”

Sunday, December 08, 2013 8 comments

This Isn't the Future We Were Promised

Image source: openclipart.org
When I was little, I ate up all the stories about the future: flying cars, moon colonies, cruises to Saturn’s rings, robots doing all the work, and an end to poverty and racism.

What we got was: none of the above, plus the Internet, and powerful computers that we can carry around in a shirt pocket. And texts like this:

Daughter Dearest: Will you bring me some toilet paper?

Can I exchange this future for the one I actually bought?

Saturday, November 23, 2013 6 comments

The Many (goofy) Faces of Mason

When Mason takes selfies, he goes all out:


So the wife, daughter, and I were all laughing about this, and Mason came to see what was so funny. I showed him, and he said…

“That’s not funny at all.”

Which was even more hilarious, of course.

Friday, November 08, 2013 14 comments

The Smells of Death (#FridayFlash)

I was going to use this last week, but didn’t get it written down until Saturday. So you get it this week instead. ;-)



Image source: openclipart.org
Odors were part of the job. Fever-sweat, stale urine, incontinence, rotten breath, all were honest smells. That stink of fear, though, that was the smell the Grim Reaper hated. And it was all over this one.

“Please,” the man gasped. “Not yet. Not yet.”

The Reaper sniffed and took out his tablet. “David Farnsworth, age 51, lung cancer.”

“Don’t kill me. Please. Not yet.”

“I won’t kill you.” The Reaper spoke quickly, overriding that look of relief. “That’s not my job. You just die, is all. If I got to kill you, I’d have done it twenty years ago.”

“What?”

The Reaper opened the stylish black cover and flicked at the tablet’s screen. “Your doctors have been on your ass since you were… nineteen. So you’ve been getting the ‘quit smoking’ message for thirty-two years. If you didn’t want to die tonight, you should have listened. Instead of telling them everybody’s gotta die of something.” He glowered. “And flicking your damned butts out your car window, treating the earth like your personal f— freaking ashtray… if it were up to me, I’d have blown one of those back into your car, set your crotch on fire, and had you go off the road and slam into a bridge support.”

“Jeez. That’s harsh.”

“Whatever. I’m not the one who gets to kill you, in any case. You killed yourself. My job is to collect your sorry shade, and take you to Soul Court.”

“Soul Court? What’s that?”

“That’s where you’re judged. Yeah, you’re lucky I don’t have anything to do with that. They’re pretty lenient. If you haven’t made life Hell for people around you, worst that’s gonna happen is they’ll send you back for another go-around.”

“Like reincarnation? Ow. Ow.” Farnsworth gasped. “It hurts!”

“Yeah. Not as much as it ought to. But yeah, I figure they’ll give you a second chance. Don’t blow it.”

“Ah… ah… dammit, not now… oh.” Farnsworth looked down at the body on the bed. “Shit.”

The Reaper gave him a sardonic smile. “Two… one… yup.”

“Ewwww. Why did I have to do that?”

“You all do. Some don’t wait until they’re dead. Let’s go. You stink enough already.”

Friday, October 18, 2013 12 comments

The Battle of Hallowe'en (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
“Sir,” the elf scout barked, “no sign of the enemy anywhere.”

“They retreated?” the elf general cocked one bushy eyebrow.

“It appears so, sir.”

“Well,” the general told his staff, “that was one disappointing turkey shoot.” A ripple of high-pitched chuckles went around the tent. “But the Big Guy won’t care. We’ve seized Thanksgiving, with almost no casualties. With the former occupants deserting, we won’t have any trouble anywhere in November.” He paced in front of the staff, mostly for effect. “You know what that means, gentlemen?”

“We accelerate the timetable?” one of the elf colonels asked.

“Exactly. Hallowe’en won’t be an easy nut to crack, but now we can deploy our full force. No worries about supply lines or occupation. Once we take October, Labor Day will be a cakewalk. From there, the other holidays will surrender, and the Big Guy will have the gift he always wanted!”

Christmas year-round!” the staff shouted. The forces of Christmas got back to work.


The general extended his brass spyglass and looked at the border. It was as dark and gloomy as the scouts said, and it gave him a shiver. Bah, he thought. Kids dressed up as spooks, and decorations, is all it is. Still, he wished the Big Guy had changed his mind about keeping the Nine close to home. Rudolph’s schnozz would have come in handy when they went in, not to mention possibilities for aerial recon. But you go to war with what the Big Guy gives you…

“Units, report,” he said into his handset.

“Infantry One, ready.” “Infantry Two, ready.” “Cavalry One, ready.” One by one, each unit signaled its readiness. The cavalry, mounted on prancing reindeer, armed with barbed branches. Infantry, carrying glass ornaments and dazzler tree toppers.

“Any word from the scouts?” a colonel asked.

“Not yet. They’re overdue.”

“How much longer do you plan to wait?”

“Not long. I have to assume they’ve been captured or incapacitated.” He lifted the handset again. “Units, move out, Plan A,” he ordered. “Have the troops keep an eye out for our scouts.”

The infantry marched forward, lighting their dazzlers. Cavalry hovered on the flanks, ready to charge in if needed. Infantry Unit One slipped across the border and into the gloomy trees. The major sounded tense. “Enemy sighted. Sort of. They’re staying just close enough where we can see movement—hold your fire!” A brief pause. “Some of the troops are a little eager, sir. No engagement yet… look out!” The transmission cut off.

“Cavalry, go!” the general shouted into his handset. Shouting battle-cries, the elves urged their reindeer forward, faster, faster, disappearing into Hallowe’en territory. The noise of battle carried back into November, and it sounded fierce. “Units, report at will.”

“Infantry Two— it’s— ohnoAHHHHHHGH!”

“Something’s wrong,” the general said, then riderless reindeer came bounding out of Hallowe’en. Eyes rolling, they dashed through the staging area and kept going, probably all the way to Christmas Eve.

“All units, retreat!” the general barked. “Regroup at the staging area!” He heard horns blowing the retreat signal, and stunned elves finally bolted from the spooky woods and into the staging area. Not a terribly orderly retreat, but not quite a rout.

The news was bad. Half the troops were still in the woods, presumed killed or captured, three-fourths of the surviving cavalry had lost their mounts, and the survivors were too shaken to give coherent reports. The only thing he could get out of them was something most said: we have to fall back before it gets dark.

“Sleigh bells, what a debacle,” the general muttered. Maybe the Big Guy hadn’t taken this as seriously as he thought. They’d done well with Thanksgiving, but it was one brief skirmish and then the inhabitants deserted. He always knew Hallowe’en would be the real test, and… well. “Form ranks!” he bellowed across the staging area! “Orderly march up-calendar! Fall back to Thanksgiving!”

Shouts and screams drew his attention to the border. The general stopped and gaped at the sight of zombie turkeys and pilgrims shambling forward. The dazzlers seemed to have no effect, and ornament grenades only stopped them when they took off the heads.

“They went Hallowe’en!” a colonel gasped. “What’s next?”

“Flying barbecue forks from Labor Day?” the general suggested. “I don’t think we want to find out.” He lifted the handset again. “Full retreat,” he said, deflated. “Back to December, elves. We’re beat.”

“Sir,” the colonel said. “If the Big Guy would loan us a couple of the Nine, maybe we could drop beachheads down-calendar. Something like ‘Christmas in July.’ If we get them established, we could come back and hit the We’eners from two fronts.”

“We’re not done for good,” the general said, “just for now. We’ll look into that idea, colonel. Or you will. When we get home, I figure myself for the scapegoat.”

Zombies by day, vampires by night, harassed the forces of Christmas all the way back to December. Only a few returned to tell the tale.

Thursday, September 12, 2013 11 comments

How to Kill an Elder God (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
“How did you find me?” the elderly priest asked.

The youths shrugged. “Google.”

“And you modern youths, with your modern technology, think you discovered and awoke Tilgoth, am I correct?” They nodded. “Then how did you escape? I know all acolytes in my order, especially the ones skilled enough to bind Tilgoth, and you three certainly are not among them.”

“We don’t know!” another offered. “We were running like hell, with that thing coming up on us yelling FEED ME, and I threw down my backpack so I could run faster! Then it stopped and made all these weird-ass noises, like it was gagging on something, and we just kept running.”

The priest frowned in thought. “What was in there?”

“Spare batteries for my flashlight. A sandwich and a Coke. Some rope.” The kid smirked. “Maybe he got a shower when he opened the Coke. I know it was really shook up.”

“A sandwich.” The priest stared into the distance, long enough for the boys to start fidgeting. “Could it be that simple? Boy, tell me about the sandwich.”

“My name’s Jeff. It was just baloney and Velveeta, with a little mayo.”

“Jeff. You and your friends may take a seat. I must consult some of our most ancient manuscripts. I will have an acolyte bring you meat and drink.”


It took the priest two long hours to find the manuscript he wanted, his aging eyes driving him to concede to the vulgarity of spectacles and a battery-powered flashlight. When he returned to the reception chamber, he found the acolyte glaring askance at the three boys. The wine had made them merry indeed.

He dismissed the acolyte, then turned to the boys. “You three are uncultured, ignorant… and extremely lucky,” he said. “The key to Tilgoth’s destruction has been in our possession for over six thousand years, but you have uncovered it and placed it in our hands this day.” To his amused surprise, the boys stopped snickering and paid attention. “Let me read this passage to you.”

“Sure.” “No prob.” The third yawned, but nodded.

“Hear what was written: In the last days of the land that was called Bochim, where dwelt the abomination Tilgoth, the priest-king Hoat’goth ascended to the throne. In those days, a curse spread across the land, blinding many cattle. So many were blinded, indeed, that the yearly sacrifice to Tilgoth demanded all the remaining breeding stock.

“And so Hoat’goth consulted the priests beneath him, who said ‘demand from the land of Gograh a tribute sufficient for the sacrifice, and if they will not give the tribute, arise and conquer them.’ But these words were not pleasing unto Hoat’goth, and he thought to himself, ‘If Tilgoth could not preserve sufficient cattle, may he share our suffering.’ Seeing that Hoat’goth had determined to do this thing, and would suffer no objection, the priests shut their mouths and said nothing. But one priest raised his voice, saying, ‘do this not, for it will bring down destruction upon us all.’ Then he fled, before Hoat’goth could order him slain.

“Thus, on the day of the sacrifice, Hoat’goth gathered blinded cattle in sufficient number for the sacrifice, and slew them before Tilgoth on the altar. But when Tilgoth ate the impure sacrifice, he vomited upon Hoat’goth, and the vomit dissolved him. Such was the illness brought upon Tilgoth by the blinded cattle, that he rose and vomited across all the land.

“Now when the king of Gograh heard of trouble in Bochim, he arose to plunder what he could. But when he came to Bochim, he found only death and ruin. Only the priest who had spoken true, and fled the wrath of Hoat’goth, remained. He sat upon a stone and told the king of Gograh, ‘The god Tilgoth has cursed this land for three generations, and withdrawn to sleep in the uttermost west. Now slay me, for my purpose is complete. When your descendants see fire in the sky, south to north, then the curse is lifted and they may claim this land as their own.’” He looked at the boys. “Our order followed civilization ever westward, until we found Tilgoth.”

“Whoa,” said Jeff, “a blind cow made him sick? He must have totally puked on a baloney sandwich, then!”

“Oh, I totally know what’ll kill that thing, then!” Jamal piped up. “I’ll tell, but you gotta take us with you.”

“Indeed.” The priest met their grins with a small smile. “It was you who awakened Tilgoth, so it is only fitting that you help with its final destruction.”


“Bring forth the sacrifice,” the priest whispered, and Jamal dug the gallon zip-lock bag out of his backpack. “Now, carefully, boys. Be ready to run, as you did before.”

“You got it,” Jeff replied. They crept forward to the altar, where they had ignorantly sat to take a breather.

“Lay the sacrifice on the altar,” the priest said, “then back away quickly.”

Jamal nodded, opened the bag, and tipped the misshapen ball onto the altar.

As before, Tilgoth awoke quickly, evidenced by the rumbling and hissing they both heard and felt. The priest shouted something in an unknown language, then hustled away to join the boys at what they hoped was a safe distance.

A roar became a retching noise, then a sound that none of them could ever describe. Other sounds, screeching, pounding, vomiting, gasping, followed them up the cave as they ran.

“What was that, anyway?” the priest asked.

“The ultimate weapon for killing a god,” said Jamal. “Spam, rolled in Monsanto genetically-modified grain, all covered in high-fructose corn syrup. My uncle says that would kill just about anything that wasn’t born in Texas.”

The priest chuckled. “The purpose of my order has been fulfilled, and I will soon send the acolytes home. Or perhaps we could become your acolytes. Will you teach us the ways of Google, that we may yet serve?”

Thursday, August 29, 2013 9 comments

Staff Meeting (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
A Nazgûl’s piercing shriek rang through the conference room. Orcs, trolls, balrogs, all cringed and covered their ears, their heated argument suddenly forgotten.

“Now that I have your attention,” said Sauron, his glowing eye piercing the attendants, “let us try to stay focused from here on out. We do not have the luxury of time.” He turned to one of the few humans in the room who had not fled or fainted at the Nazgûl’s screech. “Mouth, kindly open the slides?”

The room darkened, and the projector lit up the screen descending from the ceiling. “Our situation looks very good, at least on paper,” said the Mouth. “We have superior numbers, supernatural assistance, and we have co-opted Saruman.”

“I’m not so sure that last is a positive,” said a cave troll. Despite their brutish reputation, carefully cultivated, cave trolls were intelligent and usually well-educated. “He is turning our own weapons against us. If he manages to seize the One Ring, he could push both Gondor and Mordor aside.”

“Your concerns are noted,” said Sauron. “But Saruman is no longer a player. The forest rose up against him, and undid all his work.” He paused to let that sink in. “But even without that detail, my Ring is difficult to locate. The Nazgûl are scouring the countryside, especially in those rare moments when it’s used. If they cannot find it, then only a great stroke of luck will put the Ring in his hands.” He gave the Nazgûl king a dark look. “Your failures so far have not been encouraging.”

The Ringwraith bowed his head. “It is only a matter of time, my lord.”

“But time, as I mentioned, is not on our side!” Sauron’s eye blazed in the darkened room. “The King in exile revealed himself in the captured Palantir, and I believe the Ring is already in his possession!”

Murmurs rippled through the room. “My lord,” the cave troll opined, “if he has the Ring already, why has he not worn it?”

“I—” The Dark Lord came very close to blurting I don’t know, and that would not do. “But even that is not the greatest threat we face.”

More murmurs. “But what threat could be greater?” the Nazgûl asked.

“The greatest of all.” Sauron’s voice grew hushed. “The writer.”

“I thought he was a myth,” one of the balrogs blurted.

“He lives,” the Dark Lord said, in a near-whisper. “I have seen him. He’s some kind of goody two-shoes, despite having given us all the advantages. I fear he’s going to pull a deus ex machina out of his ass.”

“But what can we do, my lord?” the Mouth asked, looking even more pale than usual.

“We must talk to him,” said Sauron. “Convince him that the King must take up my Ring, fall under my power, and allow us to prevail. His story thus becomes a cautionary tale, and certainly a more realistic one.”

“There is certainly a market for dark fiction,” the cave troll added. “We can not only conquer, but be a commercial success!”

“Hear, hear!” the orcs chanted.

The Dark Lord smiled. “Then let us begin, without further delay.”

Friday, August 23, 2013 10 comments

Adam and Steve (#FridayFlash)

Amazing, the ideas you come up with on a morning commute.



“Yooooooohoooo. Adam… Earth to Adam.”

“Oh… geez. Sorry, Steve.” Adam patted the riverbank next to him. “Have a lie-down.”

“Dude. I could have swallowed you whole, just now, and you wouldn’t have even noticed.”

“Sorry,” Adam said again, as Steve dropped next to him with an audible whoomph. “Got a lot on my mind, I guess.”

“Remember when it was just you and me?” Steve gave a wistful sigh. “You’d ride on my shoulders on those evening walks, and we’d talk about the day? Paradise lost, man.”

“You could still come.”

“After that curse she laid on me? Man, that was just mean.”

“You caught her at three-quarter moon. I don’t know what it is, but she gets really horrid at three-quarter. Not that it’s all that much better the rest of the month, lately. Why haven’t you weeded the garden, when are you gonna put up that rain shelter, why can’t we eat the apples—”

“Whoa. She knows better about the apples!”

“She keeps asking what’s the point. Like there needs to be a point? God said no. It’s not like there’s a shortage of food or anything.”

“Wow. That’s a new one.” Steve rubbed his head against a tree. “Who’s she been talking with?”

Adam sighed. “Well, she’s been hanging out with the serpent a lot.”

“Jeez, not the serpent?” Steve sounded shocked. “There’s something wrong with that dude. Look, man. Tell her anything. Tell her… tell her you’ll stop seeing me if she’ll stop hanging out with the serpent.”

“I wouldn’t do that!”

“You have to, man. For both your sakes.“

Adam gave Steve a sad smile. “You’re the best friend a man could ever have, Steve. If you had lips, I’d kiss you.”

“Ha, a T-rex is man’s best friend. I like that. Just see if you can get that curse rescinded. Having my descendants evolve into chickens would really suck.”


“Hi, honey.”

Adam paused. It had been quite a while since Eve had greeted him with a smile and a kiss. “Uh, hey,” he ventured. “You sound happy.”

“I know, I’ve been a real bear lately. I wanted to make it up to you.” She smiled. “I baked you a pie.”

Friday, June 28, 2013 16 comments

Past the Witching Hour (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
Tap tap tap.

“Hmmmm.” Hattie the Swamp Witch opened her eyes. It was dark. The only other sound was the comforting tick of her windup alarm clock. A warm pressure on her feet told her that her cat, Mr. Sniff, slept on.

Tap tap tap.

“Not again,” she groaned, wrapping the pillow around her head. The cat squirmed and shifted off her feet. Again, the infernal tapping.

“I’m comin’!” she called, flinging the covers off the bed and scrambling to her feet. Mr. Sniff moved over and curled up, giving her a reproachful look. “Like it’s my fault?” Hattie grumbled at the cat, as she threw on her black dress. “Now where’s my—ah.” She jammed her pointy hat over her mussed hair. “Least this fool won’t see my bed head.”

The tapping came once more before she stomped across the living room floor and flung the door open. “What’d ya want?” she mumbled around a yawn.

“Miss Hattie?” It was one of the girls-almost-women from town, looking frightened. “I think I need your help. I’m… late.”

“Yer really late, if you come knockin’ on my door in the middle of the night. Don’cha know what’s out here in the swamp after dark?”

The girl looked confused for a moment. “No. I’m late late. Like with a boy.”

Hattie huffed. “Well, get inside, then. If the Swamp Critter don’t eat’cha, these bugs will.” She stepped aside, and the girl hurried in ahead of the mosquitos.

“Why is it so dark in here?” the girl asked.

“Contrary to what you and every other fool in the wide world seems to believe, witches gotta sleep just like everyone else. Only time I’m up at midnight is when one of you come a-knockin’.”

“I’m really sorry, Miss Hattie. I can come back tomorrow mornin’ if it’s a better time.”

Hattie sniffed. “Well, yer here now, so ya might as well get yerself taken care of. Besides, I suppose problems like yours are best dealt with when the rest of the world’s abed.” The witch scrabbled her hand across the table until she found the matches, then lit the kerosene lantern hanging above. “Here. Sit.” They took seats across from each other.

“This is real nice,” the girl said, looking around the room. “Cozy. Not what I expected.”

“Well, women like their places just so, ya know. I guess you was expectin’ a freak show.” She waved away the objection. “So, who was it?” Please don’t say ya ain’t sure.

A moment’s pause. “Cam—Cameron Lindsey.”

Hattie thought a moment. That name hadn’t ever come up before. “Wait. The smart one? Got a full scholarship to Loosyana State? He ain’t the kind to…”

“It’s not all his fault,” the girl admitted. “We both kinda got carried away. He promised he’d use protection next time.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t let there be a next time. Protection or no. Ya know he’s gonna find a girl at that college. One with an education. A future of her own.”

A sigh. “I know.”

“Well, gimme your palm. We’ll see what you got ahead of you, then we’ll take care of your other problem.” Hattie took the girl’s hand. Not like she’s got much future if she don’t get herself outta here. And get damn lucky. “Says here you… you got tough times ahead, but ya got a better chance of gettin’ by if you do good in school and finish up. Coupla years of tech school after ain’t gonna hurt neither, if you can find a way to pay for it.” She poked a random spot on the girl’s palm. “This here says, don’t take the first offer that comes along. Aim a little higher.”

“That’s what I was doin’ with Cameron. And look how that turned out.”

“Yeah. Not everything you try’s gonna work out. But if you got any friends or kin in Baton Rouge, maybe you move there. Find honest work, get some more schoolin’, and keep Cameron from forgettin’ about you.” Hattie stood. “Wait here. I’ll get what ya came for.” She trotted into the kitchen, and mixed up the recipe in a chipped coffee mug. She knew the recipe by heart; out here in Nowhere, Loosyana, there was a lot of call for it.

“Drink this down,” she said. “It’s gonna taste horrid, and yer gonna wanna chuck it back up, but don’t let that happen. It’s gotta be in ya to work. Then yer gonna have the worst cramps you ever had for a day. You can drink a little milk or something if you want, it ain’t gonna hurt.” She watched as the girl choked down the recipe, wincing all the way but only gagging once, then slid the glass of water across the table. “Here, drink this. It’ll get the taste outta yer mouth. But remember that taste, ‘cause you don’t wanna have to do this again. Ya hear?”

The girl nodded. “What do I owe you?”

“You got twenty? Good. That’s enough. And promise me you’ll be more careful from here on out.”

“I will. And thanks for not turning me into a toad.”

“Eh. I didn’t turn Martin Fontenot into a toad. Damn fool got off the path, and the Swamp Critter got him. You think about stayin’ on the path, and maybe you won’t think about chuckin’ that stuff back up.”

Hattie watched the girl go, and Mr. Sniff rubbed himself around her ankles. “Fool kids,” she said. “Y’know, kitty, I think I’m gonna make me a sign. Witching Hours, 9 to 5, closed at sunset. Yup. Stick that out there along the path, and maybe we can get a whole night’s sleep.”

Friday, May 24, 2013 15 comments

Authors Behaving Badly (#FridayFlash)

In a parallel universe, this is on one of the cable channels…



Remixed from graphics
on openclipart.org
SFX: upbeat theme music.
Animation: hand dips quill pen into black inkwell, marked with a skull and crossbones. Writes show title.

Voiceover: Look out, readers and reviewers, it’s Authors Behaving Badly!

Animation: hand scribbles across title, revealing:
Interior, library. Penny Dreadful leaning on a table strewn with books and eReaders.

Penny: Welcome to this week’s segment of Authors Behaving Badly. I’m your host, Penny Dreadful. I may host the show, but you make it go! If you see an author behaving badly, let us know! Send the particulars—we love video if you can get it—to abb-alert@abb.example.com! If we use your author in one of our segments, we’ll send you an official “Ink-Splattered Bystander” t-shirt!

Now, let’s go to our first misbehaving wordslinger.

Chyron: CODE YELLOW CODE YELLOW…

Penny: Gator Scott caught indie author Leonard Konrad getting a little huffy in his response to a review on Goodreads. The reply inexplicably disappeared, but Gator saved a screenshot. Mr. Konrad wanted to know, “Did you really read the book I wrote? Maybe you just skimmed it? Or do you have a pink Kindle, like in Stephen King’s UR, that downloads books from parallel universes? I suspect the latter, because your review details have a superficial resemblance to Magic Trip. But anyone reading with a little care and comprehension would have understood that Chapter 1 leaves off in mid-summer and Chapter 2 picks up at the beginning of fall. I could have included those six weeks where the lovers develop their relationship, but then you would have complained about the story being long and boring, instead of overly brief with abrupt scene changes.”

When we emailed Konrad about his outburst, he admitted to writing, then deleting, the reply. He explained, “I thought I knew better than to read reviews when I was drinking, but I went one click too far.” Well, we’ll let you off the hook this time, Leonard, but we’re keeping an eye on you! Makes the “I’m watching you” gesture.

Cut to commercials.

Black screen, giant red letters flashing CODE RED!. SFX: buzzer.

Cut to: exterior. Penny, holding microphone, standing on small-town sidewalk. Low palm trees sit in corner planters.

Penny: For our Big Blowup of the Week, we travel to Houma, Louisiana, between the swamps and the sea. Houma is known mostly as a bedroom community for oil services companies, but it’s also the home-a best-selling author Andrea Wheat! Wheat has made a lot of dough off her blockbuster horror series, Biker Ghoul of New Orleans, but the critics were unkind to the fifth book, Hurricane Nights.

Animation/overlay: cover of Hurricane Nights tumbles onto the screen, landing in the corner. Penny continues.

Penny: Many suggested the series had run out of gas, and now it was time for Andrea to put down the kickstand and start something new. But undaunted, her publisher released Book 6, Floating Crypts, last month. Even some of her long-time fans had trouble finding nice things to say about this one. “After Hurricane Nights, I really hoped that would be the end,” said one. “She’s dragged this one out too long.”

Closeup of Penny. But if the fans were dismayed, the critics were apoplectic. Reviewer Kim Flameside wrote, “It’s appropriate that Wheat writes for Random House, because this story was completely random. It seems to be nothing more than scenes from previous books, thrown into a blender, and poured onto the page. This series is two books past its prime, but the temptation to stick with a moneyspinner is hard to overcome.”

Cut to: interior, apartment building. Wheat took particular umbrage to Flameside’s review, spotlighting what she called the “nastier passages” on her blog and inviting her enormous fanbase to share their thoughts. And share them they did! Not only did they inundate Flameside’s blog with insults and outright threats, some tracked down his address and phone number.

Cut to: interior. Man on sofa, face pixelated. Title: Kim Flameside.

Flameside: When I started getting death threats on my answering machine, I got out of Dodge. I’ve changed my town, my car, my phone, and I’m thinking about changing my name. All this, over one review of a seriously flawed book!

Fade to: answering machine. Penny voiceover. This is the message that Flameside said was the last straw.

Voiceover: woman’s hysterical voice. Titling: transcript. You’re jealous, you stupid bleeep! If you had one percent of the talent that Andrea Wheat has, you’d be writing your own books instead of tearing down the hard work of great people! When I come to Memphis and find your bleeep little powder-blue Accord, I’m gonna run you off the road. And then, I’m gonna bleeep you up! You better have your will in order, is all I got to say. Click

Penny: Andrea Wheat turned down our request for an interview. Her publicist had no comment, but Wheat did have this to say in email: “I can’t be responsible for every random person who uses my name to justify their actions. I don’t condone violence, or threats of violence. But maybe reviewers shouldn’t hide behind a keyboard and take potshots at authors’ hard work, without expecting a little backlash from time to time.”

And that’s where it stands. We had dozens of people send us this sordid tale. So many, in fact, that we’re putting your names in a hat. Ten of you will receive our official “Ink-Splattered Bystander” t-shirt. As for Kim Flameside, he tells us that he stands by his review, and will review other books, but with comments turned off for now. ABB has offered him a co-host spot. And Andrea Wheat has earned her place in the not-so-coveted ABB Red List!

Fade to: logo animation. That’s all for this week. Remember to support your local authors… unless they’re behaving badly!

Thursday, May 09, 2013 22 comments

Stonebelly the Dragon (#FridayFlash)

To celebrate the release of my new book, Pickups and Pestilence, I’m running a giveaway for my anthology Oddities through Saturday (May 11). If everyone who reads this #FridayFlash downloads a copy, I’ll be a happy writer!

Oh, and check out the Release Day post—there’s other goodies, links to interviews and reviews, and a Kindle 4 up for grabs!



The Unlikely Tale of Stonebelly the Dragon

Image source: openclipart.org
Once upon a time, in the Strange Lands north of Aht-Lann-Tah, in a cave dug into the side of a mountain, lived Stonebelly the Dragon. Stonebelly mostly dwelt in peace, having roasted and eaten all the brave (but stupid) knights that thought to spit him on their lances. Mostly.

One summer morning, Stonebelly awoke to the scent of a human, walking up the steep path to his cave. He raised his head and peered over the edge. He saw: one old man, wearing a uniform but no armor, leading a cow by a halter. The cow wore a bell, and the clunking noise preceded them up the mountainside. Being an old dragon, Stonebelly was patient. He laid down to wait.

“Good dragon?” he heard at last. He lifted his head to see the old man, standing at the edge of the cave mouth. The cow looked resigned. Stonebelly understood the languages of most animals, and this one told him, Just eat me. Better that than walking back down the mountain.

The dragon snatched up the cow and swallowed it in two gulps. It didn’t suffer much. The old man, however, looked ill. “Please don’t eat me, too,” he begged.

“I had to quit,” Stonebelly assured him. “You’d give me indigestion these days. I presume that you want something from me? Humans don’t exactly bring free gifts.”

“Aye,” said the old man. “Crown Prince Chowming is held captive by the Rival Kingdom. We need him returned, by any means necessary.” He wrung his hands. “Just bring him home safely. Does that sound alright?”

The dragon put a huge claw to his flinty face, and scratched himself behind the ears. Humans still didn’t realize that was a secondary erogenous zone. “Needs more cowbell,” said Stonebelly, lowering his claw. He jiggled his head; the cowbell, dangling from a lower tooth, clunked again. He gave the human a significant look.

“Oh, aye, there’s plenty more where that came from!” the old man beamed.


Stonebelly flew among the clouds, contemplating the habits of humans. Not for nothing are these the Strange Lands, he thought, not for the first time. But he thought he might enjoy this little task—the Rival Kingdom had shortchanged him a (human) generation ago, when he had done a little service for them. They’d likely forgotten, but a dragon’s memory is long. Wreak a little havoc, rescue the prince, wreak a little more havoc, take the prince home, gorge himself on cattle. Not a bad plan, he thought.

Reaching Rival Castle, he loosed a resounding, roaring belch of flame. I need to slow down when I eat, he thought, but the effect was most entertaining. Guards on the castle wall ran for their lives, or fainted on the spot. He swept over the wall…

Oh, no. In the great courtyard, he saw Prince Chowming, bound hand and foot, propped up next to a stern young woman in a flowing white gown. Humans get so irrational when you interrupt their mating rituals, he thought. The guests—and the bishop—scattered to the winds. Prince Chowming stood his ground, only because he couldn’t move, and the bride-to-be-bereft slipped behind him.

“Begone, foul dragon!” the woman snarled.

“Glad to,” said Stonebelly. “But the prince comes with me.” The prince raised one eyebrow, and Stonebelly winked. Chowming gave a sigh of relief.

“Never! He’s mine! I stole him fair and square!”

“Look,” said the dragon, growing annoyed. “I’m taking him home. If you don’t give me any grief about it, I’ll forget the little matter of your mother cheating me, back in the day.”

The young woman’s eyes grew wide. “You remember—” She stretched out her hand, and a swarm of wasps leaped for Stonebelly’s eyes.

The dragon recoiled, and loosed a tiny puff of fire—just enough to turn the swarm into a constellation of sparks, fluttering to the ground. He stomped, making the ground shake. “Enough, puny human!” he roared, and the woman fled, letting Chowming fall over.

“Climb on,” he told the prince, offering a claw. Chowming hopped to him, and Stonebelly sliced through the ropes with a talon.

“I’m so glad to be out of that!” the prince sighed. “She was going to make me…” he shuddered. “Princess Hatchet is not subtle. Or kind.”

“Aye,” said the dragon. “I have the urge to wreak a little havoc. Payback, you know. Would you rather I leave you somewhere safe while I attend to it?”


After gorging himself on the cattle of the royals and rich families, Stonebelly flew Chowming home before returning to his cave. There, he curled up and slept for four months. Princess Hatchet tricked a traveling merchant into marrying her, and Prince Chowming played golf and drank beer whenever he pleased. And they all (except the merchant) lived happily ever after.

Monday, April 08, 2013 3 comments

Mason, behind the Camera

I’m a little under the weather right now—Mason had a stomach virus that had him barfing all night last week, then the wife got it. Now it’s my turn, but at least I haven’t been barfing. But that won’t stop me from blogging, dangit!

Mason’s photography technique is “point and spray” at the moment. When he gets older, I’ll try to teach him how to do it right, but he still gets some interesting shots. He found the “switch to front camera” button, so now I find some fun little selfies…

Razzzzz…


What does this button do?


Thirsty, Granddad?

Thursday, March 14, 2013 13 comments

Enemy of My Enemy (#FridayFlash)

I got requests for more Pulse, and the Muse was in an obliging mood…



“Harr Electric.”

“Do you repair computer room powering?” The voice on the phone sounded frantic.

“We can, and have, on a number of occasions.” Pulse, in his public guise as Helmut Harr, listened and jotted down names and addresses. “Do you not have an electrician on retainer? … Ya, I can send someone right away, but I will have to charge emergency rates.” He listened some more, then shuffled some papers on his desk and tapped at his keyboard. “All of my other people are on jobs right now, so I will have to come myself. No, it’s no problem.” Both were true. As a supervillain, Harr’s electrical contracting business provided not only income and a cover for his extra-legal activities, it could provide opportunities. Like now. He pulled up Maps and plotted a route. “If I am not delayed by traffic issues, I can be there in about half an hour. No, I am leaving right away. … You realize, if I am detained by police, it will take even longer. … Yes, I am leaving now.”

Hanging up, Harr turned back to the computer. Republic Industries was a nut he’d wanted to crack for a long time. Their IT was top-notch, and had thwarted prior attempts to break through from outside. Inside, things should be much easier. Like last month’s bank caper, and the ongoing campaign against spammers, this was personal. Republic had a “devil may care” attitude toward product safety, and their subsidiary’s faulty electrical equipment killed one of his workers last year. Harr’s insurance covered the monetary loss, but neither he nor the employee’s family could replace Kenny Brownfeld.

Checking his inventory, he had the repair parts most likely needed. He tossed them in a component bag in the back of his pickup truck (blue, with an aero-cap and the Harr Electric signage prominent). A few of his ferret kits were already hidden in the toolbox.

The guard at the gated parking lot waved him through, and Harr took a contractor parking space. Hefting his tool box and component bag, he entered the maw of the beast itself. The indoor security looked through his things, but found nothing to raise suspicion. The ferrets were in hidden compartments, and were powered down in any case. Satisfied, the guard led Harr to the IT director’s office.

“Thanks for coming so quickly, Mr. Harr,” the director said. “We’re in a pretty tight spot here.”

“Your redundant supplies didn’t kick in?”

“No, and it’s horribly embarrassing. One of our subsidiaries made the equipment.”

“Ah. So all of your powering is JES?” Jelsen Electrical Systems made the box that killed Kenny Brownfeld.

“You’re familiar with it, then.”

“Oh, ya.” Failures with JES products kept Harr Electric profitable, personal antipathy notwithstanding. Ironic, that it now provides a path to vengeance. Harr had emigrated from Austria, as a child, with his parents. They worked hard, and expected him to do the same. He learned English, endured the other kids calling him “Helmet Hair” and mocking his accent. When he discovered his power to create an electromagnetic pulse, he took great delight in frying their electronic toys. Vengeance brought such satisfaction…

The IT room was dark. “Everything is powered down?” Harr asked, incredulous.

“Even the security cameras. Is it going to be a problem?”

“Not at all,” said Harr, hefting his toolbox. A golden opportunity, indeed. “I always bring emergency lighting.” He put the toolbox down long enough to bring out a trouble light. “Lead the way.”

Alone in the dark, Harr plugged two ferrets into unused Ethernet ports on the primary routers. Small magnets kept them hidden inside the racks, where they were not likely to be found for a long time. It took only a few minutes to confirm Harr’s guess about the problem: the under-spec’ed relay JES used in the switching circuit had burned out. It took only ten more minutes to replace it with a better part.

With his actual work done, he loosed a little of the EMP power that gave him his supervillain name, damaging several servers and switches. They would not fail right away.

He wrote up the invoice in the IT director’s office, shook the man’s hand, and left. Whether Republic actually paid the eight hundred dollars was doubtful, and not important; Harr already had what he wanted. They would pay far, far more.

At home, working through his carefully crafted relays, he accessed the data the ferrets were already sending. He smiled, attached several files to an email, and clicked Send. Then he opened Twitter and DM’ed Captain Heroic.
sv_pulse
You have mail.

Captain Heroic (Ret.)
AMAZING! How did you get this?

sv_pulse
Unimportant. I will soon have more if you need it.

Captain Heroic (Ret.)
Sure, send what you can and I’ll pass it on. But this is actionable. You want to be in on the takedown?

sv_pulse
Justice is the heroes’ job. ^_^

Captain Heroic (Ret.)
With enemies like you, who needs friends? LOL

sv_pulse
Sometimes, the enemy of my enemy is also my enemy. Good hunting.

Harr closed Twitter, and looked at the data continuing to pour in from Republic’s no longer secure network. Soon, he would have what he needed to hang CEO Palmer Lanois himself. “All in a day’s work,” he chuckled.

Friday, February 22, 2013 17 comments

Anti-Hero (#FridayFlash)

Chirp, the computer said.

“Hunh,” said Helmut Harr, better known as the supervillain Pulse. That chirp meant he’d received a DM on Twitter, which didn’t happen often. He kept a low profile online, routing his access through several hacked PCs and an anonymizing relay or three. His Twitter account followed a few random normals and the known superheroes and supervillains. Even mortal enemies had to communicate on occasion. Harr shrugged and closed his solitaire game. He gave the tweet a curious scowl:
Captain Heroic (ret.)
You have HNN on? Go check it out.
Vas ist…?” he muttered, then shrugged and ambled into the living room. HNN was often useful for tracking movements of the enemy, giving villains windows of opportunity, and that was the channel the TV came up to most days.

Harr gasped at the title on the screen: “Pulse: Supervillain or Folk Hero?” He gaped at the parade of normals being interviewed. “About time someone took Wall Street down!” “Yeah, Pulse, stick it to the Man!” “He did more for normal people in ten seconds than all the superheroes combined have done in ten years!”

They cut back to the studio, where Betty Kanaka (so easy on the eyes, Harr thought) anchored the desk. “It was an audacious caper,” she said. “Pulse managed to gain entry to the server rooms at Goldman Sachs headquarters, and the Skyscraper City branch of Bank of America, and left them a smoking ruin. Computers, routers, disk drives, security systems—all completely destroyed. Statements issued by both banks claim that no data was lost, and disaster recovery plans allowed them to function normally within a few hours.”

“Ha. No data lost.” The fact was, Pulse had hacked into Bank of America and deleted several hundred mortgages from the system (including his own), along with about ten thousand foreclosures (including one for Jaguar, a supervillain who’d had a run of bad luck lately). The EMP attacks covered his tracks, and he’d hit Goldman Sachs just because they were assholes.

“Pulse has not yet issued a statement, nor has he responded to our emailed questions.”

Harr muttered a curse in German. He only checked his email once a week, and most of it was spam anyway.

“The FBI has reiterated their standing offer of a two-million dollar reward to anyone who can positively identify Pulse, or bring him to justice. For HNN, I’m Betty Kanaka.”

Harr hit the Power button on the remote, and returned to his computer. The DM window was still up, so he typed his question to Captain Heroic: WTF?
Captain Heroic (ret.)
You thinking about switching sides?

sv_pulse
Nein. No. Hell no.

Captain Heroic (ret.)
Hey, I’d come out of retirement if you did. Might be fun to work together.

sv_pulse
I had personal reasons.
He opened his email, and found the questions from HNN buried in about two hundred offers for reverse mortgages, horny married women, Nigerian ancestors, timeshares, discreet pharmacies, and the like.
Captain Heroic (ret.)
So what’s next?

sv_pulse
Spammers. I hate opening my email these days.

Captain Heroic (ret.)
So you’ve already switched sides. If you need help with that one, let me know.

Captain Heroic (ret.)
Miss Siles wants a piece of spammer. Or some spammers in pieces.

Captain Heroic (ret.)
But keep it online. She’s… distracting to work with in person.

sv_pulse
So I’ve heard. I’ll keep that in mind.
“No time like the present,” he said, opening the HNN message. He scanned the vacuous questions, clicked Reply, and typed: Those who make a supervillain look like a hero, should take a good long look in the mirror. Yesterday, big banks. Tomorrow, spammers. Do not think of this as switching sides, rather I am eliminating the competition. He clicked Send, and smiled.

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