#AtoZChallenge: Zoology

Zin looked down from the glowing monitor and made a note on the Labpad on his wrist. All the enclosures were secure. The specimens carried on as normal, oblivious to their captivity.

Each specimen was the inhabitant of a different universe, an entirely separate dimension. They had been trapped into pocket universes that ran on a loop, like a video that restarted after ending. They were all so different, so fascinating to observe.

There were 25 specimens in all, each identified by a letter of the human alphabet. Zin couldn’t remember why that system was chosen above other that were far more suited to categorization, but he had long ago learned to stop questioning such trivial details.

He ran through the subject logs.

Subject A was testing out his simulated city again, reprogramming certain quirks.

Subject B had developed supernatural abilities that transformed her into something else. It was an intriguing development, though Zin was glad she used her new abilities to help others.

Subject C’s ineptitude at his work was amusing. Zin would often play that loop again in his off hours.

Subject D made Zin uncomfortable. There was a lot of darkness to her world and her life. Zin almost wished they had taken a larger slice of her life.

He was intrigued by Subject E. Her story sounded familiar, but he hadn’t been able to find a record of her homeworld or species in the pandimensional archives.

Subject F deeply unnerved him. Zin hoped that he could be terminated, but that wasn’t his decision to make.

Subject G was confusing at first. The lack of color fascinated Zin, though not as much as when the colors finally bloomed in that world.

He made a note to brush up on his Earth mythologies after observing Subject H. He had quite forgotten what those creatures were called.

Zin couldn’t tolerate Subject I for long.

He was reminded of a parasitic race that his own people had once contained when viewing Subject J.

Though he was a detached observer, there was something about Subject K that brought many emotions to the fore. Zin missed his own family. Some days, he couldn’t even remember them and it frightened him.

Subject L posed a dilemma. Were Zin’s people like the doctor in that world, conducting experiments that their subjects never consented to?

He buoyed his spirits again by looking at Subject M’s report. She reminded him of Zela, his wife, in many ways. He made a note to save that report when the experiment was over. Even if he never saw his family again, at least he could keep that as a memory.

Subject N brought a smile to his face. He needed that.

Subject O’s journey was interesting. Zin wondered if any of her kind still existed in any universe. They were supposedly immortal, but time’s erosion could not truly be stopped.

Subject P hit close to home. The leaders of Zin’s world had made compromises in the name of diplomacy and while he was glad of the overall results, he could never forget the lives that were lost along the way.

Zin remembered Subject Q well. They had encountered each other once when the subject phased himself onto Zin’s ship for some nefarious purpose. He had managed to escape, but now Zin could study his methods more closely.

Subject R posed an intriguing mystery and Zin was frustrated about not knowing more. That was a world he would have to revisit on his own time.

The eerie silence of Subject S and her world reminded him too much of the emptiness on his ship. He scrolled past that part of the log fast.

He remembered the chaos that was caused by Subject T and how it had almost caused a total universal collapse. It was fortunate that it had been handled without the intervention of galactic authorities.

Zin liked Subject U. Her story was inspiring, and it made him proud to be a chronicler.

Subject V’s containment was probably best for many people in the universe. Zin couldn’t help sigh with relief.

Subject W was a truly odd case.

Subject X had been the cause of much debate between Zin and his superiors They believed that ancient technology could be resurrected for the benefit of many, but Zin was forced to remind them how Subject X had wound up.

At last Zin came to Subject Y. The monster. The hunter. Whatever it was. Zin didn’t like it. It deserved to be contained.

With his observation complete, Zin logged out of the Labpad.

The stars looked so beautiful outside, suspended in the darkness. Zin could not remember how long he had been out there in that station. He hadn’t run out of rations or fuel, so he must have been within the planned schedule. But it had been so long since he had any contact with anyone from his planet. So long that he had forgotten the original purpose of the containment experiment.

For him, it had become his own private menagerie, full of living exhibits that he viewed at his leisure. It gave him some comfort during the long, lonely voyage.

With a sigh, Zin tore his gaze from the stars and opened up the Labpad again. He tapped the file marked ‘Subject A’ and made his way through the logbook.

#AtoZChallenge: You’re It

It was just a game. At least, that’s what you believed at first.

Hiding from my eyes, making me find you. Making me hunt.

Don’t get me wrong, I had fun. It was a good game.

But all games have to end, don’t they?

How long could you possibly hide? I found you out eventually.

Truth be told, I had discovered your location some time ago, but I didn’t go there right away.

It was all part of the game. I wanted you to believe that you were still hidden. That you were safe.

That just added to the fun.

And when I was done enjoying myself, I ended it.

I found you. And I changed you.

Transformed you into a creature of myth, a nightmare.

Now my time is done.

It’s your turn.

You will find the hidden. You will hunt the fearful. You will play the game until it’s your turn to win.

You’re it.

The game begins anew.

#AtoZChallenge: Xerography

They called it Human Xerography: the process of imprinting the physical characteristics of one person onto another with the use of nano particles that could be molded around the human form.

One person could become another’s exact duplicate without any messy surgery and with zero recovery time needed after the procedure. The process was initially developed for medical applications – patients with severe burns or scars could instantly revert back to their previous appearance and find peace of mind again. It was a boon for wounded soldiers, especially when combined with the process of limb regeneration. Other uses soon followed.

It took only five years for the xerographs to become a common feature in hospitals and healthcare facilities. Even less time for it to end up on the black market for less altruistic purposes. Have a hot date? Want to make an impression? The xerograph could imprint the best features of any celebrity (or even your better looking friends) onto you. Brothels used the xerographs to alter the features of their girls to match their clients’ preferences. Anyone could be a supermodel for the right price.

Like me, for example. I was just your average Joe, the kind of guy that nobody would give a second look if they passed by me on the street. I saved every penny I could to be able to afford a xerograph session. I chose the features I wanted from the available catalogs. A broader chin, thicker hair, a more chiseled torso. Just half an hour was all it took for me to be a new man.

I enjoyed luxuries that were never available to me before. Women smiled at me and wanted to get my number. Some men too. Storekeepers, waiters, security guards all showed me more respect. I was treated like royalty simply for existing. But it wasn’t enough. I still found flaws.

My chin wasn’t dimpled enough. There was still some flab on my sides. My nose was more crooked than I’d remembered.

I took more money out of my savings. Had another session. Some more changes.

Life got even better. I was flying high on my new looks. My nights were no longer lonely, and I couldn’t remember a time without companionship. I relished the jealous looks I got from other men, ones who looked just like I had before. Or did I look like that once? I couldn’t really remember. I threw out every reminder of my old, ugly life. That person never existed, as far as I was concerned.

But even this life grew old. I needed a change. Something fresh. Something even better. Thanks to my new job, saving up wasn’t a problem anymore. I booked another xerograph session.

This time, I opted for a completely new face, based on one I saw in the catalog. He was perfect. Just completely perfect. I wasn’t going to take bits and pieces anymore. I wanted to be him, this lantern-jawed specimen staring at me from a photograph. And soon, I was.

Life really couldn’t get any better.

I was soon to learn that it could only get worse.

Days after my session, I was at one of the fanciest new restaurants in the city (there was a six-month long waiting list, but not for me) when I was approached by two men in black suits. They asked me to come with them, though I knew it wasn’t really a request.

As it turned out, my new face belonged to a spy who had gone rogue and on the run. I tried explaining that it was a mistake, that I only looked like him because of xerography. But in a world where everyone lies about their face, why would anyone believe me? It’s not like I had any old photographs to prove my claims. And even those could be expert forgeries.

There’s a long list of crimes associated with my name, or rather, with my face. I don’t know where the real spy is or what he looks like. Maybe he looks like the old me now. Maybe he gets the luxury of blending in with a crowd while my face gets displayed all around the world.

 

#AtoZChallenge: Walled In

Where’s my cellphone?

That’s the first question that pops into my mind when I wake up.

I fumble around in the darkness, feeling what seems to be smooth stone under my hands. It’s cold.

Where am I?

I figured that would come up sooner or later. The room doesn’t feel cramped. If it is a room, that is. The darkness makes it feel much smaller, though, as if I could reach out and find the walls closing in.

But how did I even get here? And where is here anyway?

Could be a jail cell, though I don’t think I was arrested. I feel like I’d remember if I were a felon.

Was I kidnapped?

That’s a possibility, though I can’t think of why. Maybe I’m famous, a celebrity or tycoon. Maybe someone I know wanted to ransom me. It’s honestly a bit hard to keep my thoughts straight. It’s so dark. Not even a sliver of light from a doorway. There must be a doorway. I couldn’t have just materialized in this room.

Just how big is this place anyway?

I extend my arms to the side as much as I can and feel nothing but air. I pick a direction and walk toward it until my hand bumps against a wall. Good, we’re making progress. Slowly but surely. The wall feels solid, but it has a little give to it. Like soft wood.

Is there a door around here?

I start walking parallel to the wall, keeping my hand on it. Let’s see how far this thing goes. After about 60 paces, I hit a corner. Great. Now we’re getting somewhere. I turn 90 degrees and follow the next wall. This time, it’s about 40 paces till the corner. Okay, so it’s a rectangle. Another wall, and 100 paces this time. Seems I was pretty much in the middle of the room. I trace a path along the fourth wall, and then cover the length of the first one. Still no door.

How did I get in? And how the hell do I get out?

Weird. I push against the wall again, which has a rough, pebbly texture. But it’s not stone. I give it another push, stronger this time, and I hear a scraping sound.

What the hell?

I think I just moved the wall. I push it again. Another scrape. I give it one more push before my arms give out. I have no idea what I’m doing. There still isn’t any light or any other sound or anything. It’s just me and this bizarre room. I want to scream, but I have no idea if anyone will –

The hell was that?

I just heard a voice. I’m sure of it. I strain my ears. Nothing. I’m starting to hear things. That can’t be good. I – okay, that was definitely a voice. It gets louder. Really loud. It sounds like a woman. I start yelling to get her attention. I hope she can hear me. Then the floor starts to vibrate.

An earthquake?

I plant my feet firmly on the floor, bracing for the worst as the floor vibrations get more intense. Then the light almost blinds me.

Am I dead? Is this Heaven? Or..?

“Look, honey! We got one!”

I look around, my eyes adjusting to the light. There’s a small rectangular hole above me, in the ceiling of the room. It’s enough for me to get a sense of my surroundings. I’m in a house. A very big house. And I don’t mean a mansion. I mean just…big. There’s a woman standing over me. She might be thirty feet tall. Or forty. It doesn’t really matter.

“Ha!” she says. “And you thought they weren’t real! I told you there’s little people living in our house! See?”

She pointed down to my cell. A large man joined her.

“Well, what do you know, Wendy. Guess it’s true.”

He leaned forward and peered into my cell.

“Hey there, little guy. Now what are we gonna do with you?”

It’s coming back to me now. The bar last night where I met that strange man. His crazy story about magic beans, fairy tale nonsense. Getting near blackout drunk. I think we planted the beans somewhere. I climbed up into the clouds. There was the big house, with the huge kitchen. The mousetrap that had some food in it. I was hungry.

But the man. Where did he go? Did he just leave me here?

The man picks up my prison and carries me into a back room. There’s a faint buzzing sound from somewhere around me. There’s a small black object on the floor of the trap.

Well, I guess I found my cellphone.

 

 

#AtoZChallenge: Village of Villainy

The village of Bösedorf lies nestled somewhere near the Vogelsberg mountains, hidden away from most folk. It is often referred to as the Village of Villainy.

You might wonder why, and that would be a perfectly valid question to ask. Though really, if you think about it, the answer lies right in the name.

The Village of Villainy is a village full of villains. Hence the name Village of Villainy.

Thieves, highway robbers, cut-throats, swindlers and misers inhabit this sorry hovel of a village. They spend their days plotting their next heinous acts, and their nights in drunken revelry and debauchery. Oh, so much debauchery. I could spin a tale just out of that, but it would be inappropriate for most readers except those of a particularly saucy disposition.

But enough about the debauchery.

Many rumors and legends abound about the founding of Bosedorf. Some claim that the notorious robber baron Heinrich Heinrich had fled his homeland and created the village as a haven for vile fiends and rogues. Other believed that an ancient order of monks had founded Bosedorf to aid mankind but that their plans had gone horrendously awry when one of their own made a pact with dark forces and cast a shadow over the whole village. A more mundane theory suggested that escaped prisoners had settled there to hide out from the law and ended up forming a community over time. It’s the more likely explanation, but people usually go with the monk story.

Now in fairness I must admit that Bosedorf is not a bad place to pass through, provided you don’t have too many valuables on your person. The roguish sort do know how to have a good time, after all, and they know their way around an alehouse. But try not to stay there too long, or you may find yourself missing a few items, such as clothes or money or limbs. But if you can ignore the potential for destitution and doom, Bosedorf is not too bad a place at all.

 

#AtoZChallenge: Untitled

Uther The Bold.

Unther The Dashing.

Ungular The Narcoleptic.

Urden looked at the plaques under her ancestors’ portraits and sighed. They all held great titles and were known throughout the kingdom for their mighty feats. At the end of the hall was a space for her portrait and an empty plaque. One day, it would read ‘Urden’. But what would follow her name? What would be her title and legacy? She had not achieved anything worthy of a title so far in her life, and she had no idea where to even begin.

Her father, Ulasfur The Firestarter, was legendary for his bomb making skills, which he used to defeat invaders and, well, anyone that upset him.

Her mother, Undilien The Hammerer, inspired awe and fear with her feats of strength, most of which involved using her fists like hammers and the heads of her enemies like nails.

Her brother, Urdar The Knife Eater, built his reputation on a most bizarre appetite.

And then there was Urden. Just Urden. She was not extraordinarily strong or skilled with weapons. She certainly didn’t like the taste of knives.

All she had was her imagination, dreaming up impressive acts that she might one day perform, such as defeating the Five-Mouthed Narglebeast or conquering distant kingdoms.

As she pondered her future and the name that would one day be inscribed on her plaque, she put her imagined feats to parchment, penning fantastical chronicles of a mighty warrior. She didn’t want anyone to know she was writing about herself, so she made up a name for the heroine of her story: Ularda Toothsmasher. That sounded good.

She would sometimes read aloud from her stories, giving voice to Ularda’s many exploits. One day, her father’s cup bearer overheard part of the story, where Ularda was fighting the Narglebeast with her bare hands, and mistook it for truth. He then told the story to her mother’s armor polisher, who told some of her friends. Thus did the tales of Ularda spread, causing quite a stir throughout the kingdom as everyone pondered over this fearsome warrior they had only just heard of.

Urdar would talk about her at length, of how he would one day like to meet her and impress by devouring an entire battleaxe. Ulasfur wondered if she would be interested in adding some bombs to her arsenal, and Undilien vowed to fight alongside her to the death. Urden remained silent during these discussions. She neither praised nor condemned this mysterious new warrior.

Cults were built around Ularda, fanatics praising her name and trying to divine every minute aspect of her life. Where she was born, where she grew up, who her family was, if she had any suitors. Urden’s little tale had gotten out of control.

She could keep it a secret no longer. Urden confessed to creating Ularda and her stories. Her parent didn’t believe her at first, but she showed them the parchments and the little portraits she had made. Once the truth was out, she expected the worst.

Much to her astonishment, there was no punishment. Rather, people were amazed at her storytelling skill and asked that she tell them more tales about Ularda Toothsmasher. Urden was more than happy to oblige.

She wrote many more stories about the fearsome warrior and, over time, wrote about many others as well. Wizards and mages, proud orc chiefs and conniving goblin shamans. The kingdom was enraptured by her fanciful tales.

At last the time came to add Urden’s portrait to that of her ancestral line. There was only one title that seemed fitting:

Urden The Author.

#AtoZChallenge: Time Lapse

It was another quiet summer day. Tina Davis was in the kitchen, washing the dishes after lunch. she was trying not to cry too audibly, lest her seven year daughter Sandy hear her.

Sandy had been diagnosed with leukemia only a month ago, but things were already looking grim. It wouldn’t be too long before she had to be put into hospice care. Tina didn’t want to dwell on what would happen after that. How could things possibly have gone so wrong? She put the last plate on the rack to dry and walked out the back door into her yard.

She pulled out a pack of cigarettes from her apron and put one between her lips. She’d given up smoking almost a year ago, but it was the only solace she could find from everything that was happening.

As Tina fumbled in the pockets of her apron for a lighter, she saw a strange flash of light in the small wooded area behind the house, right near the neighbors’ yard. A glowing door had appeared there. Through squinted eyes, Tina could just make out a shape emerging from the door, which closed immediately after.

The figure that emerged from the door was dressed like an astronaut, or rather, a child’s idea of what an astronaut looked like. It wore a bulky rust-colored suit with a large chestplate that had a timer on it. Black tubes ran from the plate to the helmet of the suit, which was opaque. Yet somehow, Tina had the sense that the thing was looking right at her. It flipped open the visor of its helmet to reveal darkness. It had no face or head. Just a swirling void. Tina felt her mouth go dry and an odd tingling sensation all over her body, as if she had just touched a doorknob after shuffling her feet on the carpet.

The sensation stopped.

Tina couldn’t remember why she had come into the yard. She looked around at the cloudless sky, the lush trees, the empty space by the neighbor’s yard. What was she doing out here?

“Mum!”

Sandy’s voice jerked Tina back to the present. She turned to see her smiling face on the other side of the kitchen door. Tina smiled back. She still couldn’t believe the miracle that was standing in front of her. It was close to two years ago that Sandy had been diagnosed with leukemia, doomed to never recover from it. But then, she got better. Tina didn’t remember how. In fact, she couldn’t remember the past year at all. All she knew was that Sandy was alive, and one of the happiest nine year olds she had ever seen.


 

Dr. Adam Wilfrey walked up the steps to the Bureau of Time Management, fumbling in his coat pocket for his ID card. Doris at the security desk buzzed him through.

“Ah, thanks, Doris,” he said, still trying to find the card as he walked to the elevator. “Oh, and good morning!”

Doris smiled and shook her head.

The Bureau of Time Management was a nondescript office building in London’s West End. It had been established a few years ago, when time travel had started to become commonplace, and temporal anomalies started popping up from misuse of the technology. The Bureau was formed to track and contain the anomalies and to make sure that there were no lasting disruptions in the time stream.

Adam Wilfrey was in charge of the Bureau and liked to get in early to make sure everything was running smoothly. He made himself a cup of tea in the break room and walked into the main laboratory to check on the chronometers. They were running as expected. Dr. Wilfrey took a satisfied sip of his tea, but didn’t get to savor it for long. He was staring at one of the chronometers, which was showing something rather odd.

The previous year was missing. All of it. But there were no alarms, no notifications. Nothing at all to indicate that something was wrong.

Dr. Wilfrey put down his tea and picked up the phone on the desk. It was going to be a very long morning.

#AtoZChallenge: Sweetest Sound

Sonmore High School was quiet at midday, quieter than it had ever been.

Most of the students were in class.

A small group was hiding under the bleachers out by the football field. One of them had a packet of cigarettes, stolen from his mother.

A couple of young lovebirds had snuck into one of the supply closets to fool around.

Ms. Tanner was writing out an equation on the board. Her chalk slid along the slate surface without making a sound. Her students looked at each other in confusion.

Mr. Patrick’s class had been giggling about his odd haircut mere moments ago. Their grins turned to shocked stares as their voices died in their throats.

Stacy Hicks had been reading aloud from MacBeth in English class. She continued sounding out the words, looking around the room for any signs that the others heard her, growing more frantic as she saw the fear on their faces.

The boy by the football field dropped his cigarettes when he could no longer hear his friends joking amongst each other.

The couple in the supply closet screamed when their loving moans died away, but nobody heard them.

Not a sound was heard anywhere in the school. No talking. No yelling. No laughter. No droning lectures. No footsteps. No heartbeats.

Ms. Sybil walked into the library with a smile on her face. Silence at last. Just the way she liked it.

#AtoZChallenge: Rained Out

“Another ‘impossible drowning’ case. Victim found dead in a suite at the Chesterton Hotel. This one’s even weirder than the others.”

“How’s that?”

“The suite’s on the 50th floor.”

“Damn. How the hell does that even happen?”

“Ya got me, partner.”

Detective Roger Bakshi was stumped, and he wasn’t the sort of man who was stumped easily. Three murder victims in the same week. All three drowned. None of them were near a body of water. A waterlogged car sitting in a garage, a greenhouse that got turned into an aquarium, and now this. It didn’t make a damn bit of sense.

Two men and a woman. Different ages. Not all the same race. No professional connection. No common interests. No thread that ran through them. But they had obviously been killed by the same guy. Or gal. How, though? How does someone flood a sealed room unnoticed? Even clogging the toilet and tub wouldn’t cause that to happen.

Bakshi arrived at the Chesterton and was escorted up by the manager.

His partner, Chandni Harrison, was already at the crime scene. His scuffed shoes squelched on the wet carpet as he walked over to her.

“So, what have we got?”

Chandni gestured to the bloated gray body lying on the giant double bed at one end of the suite. “Meet Prabhat Wallace. CEO of HighPoint, an online rag focused on celebrity gossip and ridiculous rumors. He was found by the housekeeping staff in the morning when they went to clean his room and noticed a large puddle of water under the door. Little did they know that was just a teaser.”

She tapped her foot on the floor, which reeked of mildew. “The victim was probably killed last night, though there wasn’t any record of him having visitors.

His body fell onto the bed when the water was drained. That’s about all we can determine for now. Course, it doesn’t look like he was getting ready to turn in for the night.”

The victim was dressed in a loud buttoned shirt and slacks, probably on his way out to enjoy the nightlife or have a few drinks at the hotel bar. A look of shock was frozen onto his bloated face. No kidding. Who wouldn’t be shocked about drowning in their hotel room? Aside from every surface being wet or water damaged, there wasn’t a trace of outside interference.

“He wasn’t planning to go for a swim either. Did the killer use a fireman’s hose or something?”

“Thing is, there’s no record of abnormally high water usage in this area. It didn’t come from the faucets or the fire hydrant at the end of the street.”

Bakshi rubbed his stubbled chin in frustration. This case was making less sense by the minute.

One of the uniformed officers approached them. “Detectives. This might be of interest.”

He held up a book that was found hidden in the victim’s briefcase. On the front cover, bold, snaking letters read: ‘Indraloka: Cult of the Rain God’. The two detectives exchanged a look.

“So our guy was in a cult?” Chandni asked.

“Looks like it. And, hey, hold on a second.” Bakshi’s brow crinkled. “I’ve seen that book somewhere before – Professor Mitra!”

“The history professor who drowned in his car?”

“Yes! I saw a copy of the book in his house!”

Chandni’s eyes narrowed. “You’re right. I remember seeing it too. Second row on his bookshelf. Wanna bet the third victim had a copy as well?”

The faintest trace of a grin crossed Bakshi’s face. “That’s just easy money.”

The both of them thanked the officer, then headed back to the station. Cult of the Rain God? That might explain why the victims were drowned. But it still didn’t provide a damn clue about how.


 

“Need anything else?”

The waitress had a pretty smile. He had noticed that the moment he walked into the place. She could easily have been half apsara. He smiled back at her with a radiance that belied his drab gray clothes.

“No, thank you. Just the check please.”

He looked out the window after she had gone. Fat drops of rain splattered against the glass; it sounded like the tapping of giant fingers. He could have stopped it with a mere thought, caused the clouds to retreat and brought the sun out again. But he liked the rain. There was beauty in the chaos of the storm, in the symphony of thunder and lightning. If it were up to him, he would spend the rest of the day sitting by that window, humming to the rhythm of the rain.

Idly, he ran a finger along the water glass in front of him, causing its contents to bubble and froth like the ocean on a stormy night. He put a stop to it before the waitress returned.

The man in the gray overcoat paid his bill, left a generous tip and walked out the door. The whole world was dripping wet, but not a single drop of rain touched him. They merely bounced off, as if they were little rubber balls.

He took a small notebook out of his pocket and consulted the list of names written on the first page. Three had already been crossed out. He traced a finger along the fourth, then put the notebook back.

It was time to go to work.

 

#AtoZChallenge: Quantum Dislocation, or The Assassin Who Brought No Spare Pants

Quentin was stuck and couldn’t see any way out. When he had woken up that morning to the chiming melody of his holo-alarm, he couldn’t possibly have guessed that mere hours later, he’d be sinking in quicksand. Yet there he was. Life could be funny sometimes. Not funny like a good joke, but you get the point.

He was sinking fast and had not time for a flashback, but Quentin would be damned if he didn’t get some exposition in before dying.

Quentin Fiddleswitch was what they called a ‘ghost’. Not in the sense that he was dead, but more in the sense that he could phase between dimensions at will. He could, for example, exit the dimension of this story and enter the world where you’re sitting at your computer reading this. Or at least, he could if he still had his phase disruptor with him. Alas, he did not. All he had was a very sinking feeling and an aversion to bad puns.

I should also probably mention that he was an assassin. That’s important for the next part of the story.

Quentin had been hired by The Organization (a secret society so secretive that they didn’t even have a real name) to eliminate a high-ranking government official, because who would bother paying him for one of the low-ranking officials? Or an intern? Could you imagine a man such as Quentin Fiddleswitch being hired to kill an intern? Hardly.

The official was a member of the Council for Inter-Dimensional Regulation and Safety Against Interlopers From Other Dimensions, which, aside from being a terribly impractical name, also meant bad news for Quentin and his ilk. So he set out on his task, gathering intel on his target and working out the best way to kill him and make it look like an accident. When you’re a shadowy and ominous group like The Organization, it seems you would just kill people and not worry about your PR, but they were very finicky about hiding their involvement in these things. It didn’t really matter to Quentin as long as he got paid.

At last he had the perfect plan. The official was going on a jungle expedition in a parallel universe. Some sort of inter-dimensional political maneuver, but basically a paid vacation and photo-op. Quentin knew exactly what he had to do. It involved an irate crocodile (though on further examination, he was certain it was an alligator), a poison dart, two cans of whipped cream and a pit of quicksand. It was inspired. A true work of art. A plan so ingenious that it would be pointless to explain it as you lot wouldn’t comprehend its sublime intricacies anyway.

No offense to you.

But it was a good plan.

However, as you’ve probably figured out from reading the introductory paragraph, things did not go to plan. Of course you did. I never doubted your intelligence for a second.

Through a series of rather improbable and frankly ludicrous events, Quentin ended up accidentally phasing into his own trap. The alligator ran off with his disruptor belt, the official escaped unharmed (and with several lovely pictures of his expedition to have as keepsakes or to share with strangers on the webbosphere) and all Quentin had left was a half empty can of whipped cream. It was of no use to him at all, so he threw it away.

He was struggling to escape and regretting the little detour into the past. Instead of narrating previous events, I could have been talking about how he got out of his perilous situation. But then how would you have caught up on what’s happened? It’s not like there’s a pamphlet accompanying this story or anything.

As he sank another inch, Quentin realized there was only one way out of this. He needed a deus ex machina. An author-devised solution that would save him from the most impossible odds. Fortunately, he had one. An improbable series of events that led to Quentin being pulled out of the quicksand by the very same alligator that had put him there. Call it irony, providence or contrived drivel, it did the trick. Quentin was out. Unfortunately, he was also naked and watched the collar of his shirt disappeared into the pit with a sorry gloop.

After a grueling gator-wrestling session, Quentin retrieved his phase disruptor belt. Since he had failed in his mission, he needed to get away and lay low for a while. The governments of several dimensions would be displeased about the attempted assassination and The Organization didn’t forgive failure. Though honestly, it wouldn’t be much of an evil society if it did.

So Quentin strapped on his belt and piloted a course for the one dimension where he could be safe for a while. I can’t really tell you where he went,of course, but it’s a place where The Organization’s influence doesn’t extend. Not yet, anyway, but that would be a story for another time.

So that’s it then, the tale of Quentin Fiddleswitch and his failed assassination attempt. You can move along and get back to your daily lives. Writing biographies or shopping for new hats or whatever it is people do in their spare time. And if you happen to see a naked little man wearing a strange belt run past, don’t be alarmed.

Just find him some pants.

#AtoZChallenge: Peacekeepers

Pavel tapped his staff against the ground. He had already been waiting for fifteen minutes and old age hadn’t build up his patience much. He scanned the sky again, but it was still clear. He was on the outskirts of the city, standing outside a makeshift hut in the ruins that existed at the edge of the desert. It was a good place to think and to discuss matters of importance, away from the prying eyes and ears of the faction leaders.

It also gave him a good view of the city skyline and the low surrounding buildings made it easy to spot anyone, or anything, coming by air. So far, he hadn’t seen anything other than a few scout drones. Then a dot appeared on the horizon. Pavel drove his staff into the ground and stood up on shaky knees. Pallas had arrived.

She swooped low over the half-demolished buildings, circling one before landing a few feet away from the old man. She was tall, towering over his hunched form easily. Her golden armor had a dull sheen to it, and the gilded wings on her back were wide enough to shade him completely. As she strode toward him, the wings retracted into a small pack on her back. The visor of her flight helmet pulled back to reveal an angular face with skin the color of burnished bronze, a few strands of silvery hair peeking out from under the helmet’s rim.

“Pallas,” he said, standing as tall as he could but still having to look up at her. “What tidings do you bring? Has a decision been reached?”

“They’ve agreed to a truce.”

Pallas had been sent to negotiate peace between the Monduti and the Revain, two of the most powerful clans in the city. They each controlled several territories and had alliances with many of the other factions, but it was never enough. They were ready to rip the entire place apart if neither of them could control it. Pavel and his Peacekeepers had to step in to prevent that from happening. They were the official arbitrators of the city, tasked with keeping it in harmony by masters who had long been forgotten.

It hadn’t been easy getting the Monduti and the Revain into the same room without causing a bloodbath, but Pallas had a knack for persuasion. She wasn’t the Captain of the Peace for nothing. She had managed to broker an agreement between them.

“But there are conditions,” she said,  “And if even one is not met, the whole thing collapses into chaos again.”

“I see.” Pavel turned away from her, his shoulders drooping. “It can never be easy, can it?” He ran a hand through his matted gray beard. “But it’s a start, at least.”

“Yes. It is.”

Maintaining the peace between warring factions was an uphill task, and as more factions splintered, forming their own groups and coming into conflict with each other, it was only going to become more of a challenge. Pavel couldn’t afford to lose control of any of them.

“What are the conditions of the truce?”

Pallas pressed a plate on one of her gauntlets, causing it to project a small holographic screen. “The Monduti had a spy in the ranks of the Revain. The Revain want the spy executed in public to discourage any such betrayals in the future.”

“And what do the Monduti want?”

“Control of one of the Revain’s smaller territories.”

“Sounds simple enough.”

“The Revain are willing to hand over control, but the territory chief isn’t being cooperative. He’s prepared to fight. That could upend everything we’ve done so far.”

Pavel considered that for a moment. “And if he surrenders, will that satisfy them? Will it put an end to this war?”

Pallas inclined her head. “For now.”

“It will have to do. Very well. Convince the chief to surrender. If he’s still feeling stubborn, kill him swiftly.” He locked eyes with Pallas. “Do not give him any opportunity to fight.”

“Understood. And the execution?”

“Yes, that’s fine. Just ask them not to turn it into a celebration. We’re satisfying basic conditions, nothing more.”

Pallas nodded. Her wings extended themselves again and flapped once, sending up a cloud of dust. She took off, headed back to the city.

Pavel shuffled over to his hut and sat down on a wooden crate, feeling it creak under his weight. The factions enjoyed testing the limits of his tolerance. But if it helped him maintain the peace, he could live with it. The occasional bloodshed was a small price to pay for the larger goal.

#AtoZChallenge: Outsider

Olive Orkin never fit in with the other children. As she grew up, she never fit in with other adults much, either. She was forever the outsider, watching others huddle into close-knit groups while she hung around by herself. In her family, she was the odd duck, the one who stood out from the rest.

Even her uncle Bainbridge, the black sheep of the Orkin house who had tarnished the family name several times over through acts that none of her relatives dared discuss in the open, fit in better than she did. Such was her lot in life.

Most people worried that others would speak about them behind their backs, but that was never a problem for Olive. They spoke about her when she was right there, though to them she seemed invisible.

Olive was getting ready for her first day at a new job, and she was not looking forward to it. She knew the routine. People would remark on her newness and how she would soon be part of the group, yet within minutes, an unseen wall would crop up between them, cutting Olive off from the rest of her co-workers. She had been bumping into that wall her whole life with no hope of climbing over it.

After getting off the bus, which stopped a ten-minute walk away from her office, Olive trudged her way to the gleaming building and in past the sprightly receptionist who would likely forget about her within the week, if not sooner.

There the usual hellos and welcomes. She was given a quick tour by the office manager, Alice. She was shown the break room, the copy room and two meeting rooms. Finally, she was shown to her desk and assigned her tasks for the day. She buried herself in her work and tried not to worry about anything else.

People walked by her desk throughout the morning, often in pairs or small groups. Whenever she got up, she was alone. But she was used to it. She had been expecting it.

At lunchtime, a few people went to the break room. Some would head to the cafeteria on one of the lower floors, and one small group took over one of the conference room, bags of takeout in hand. Olive decided the break room would be the easiest option.

Alice was there, along with Delia, one of the accountants, and another new girl whose name Olive didn’t quite catch; she had started work the week before. The three of them had their backs to Olive, paying her no mind. It was just was well for her. She shrugged and started walking to the mini fridge, but never made it all the way to the fridge door.

Alice, who still hadn’t seen Olive come in, took the new girl’s hand in her own and pulled it toward her mouth. Olive’s cheeks reddened. She hadn’t expected to walk in on something so intimate, and certainly not in the middle of the day. Were public displays of affection a regular thing around the office? Just another awkward social wave that she’d have to surf? She thought it best to just enjoy her lunch in peace and worry about that later.

The new girl didn’t move or make a sound. She wasn’t even looking in Alice’s direction. She was staring at the wall. That seemed odd to Olive, but then, if her manager suddenly decided to get cozy at work, she might do the same. Delia just sat and smiled. Alice leaned in, as if she were about to kiss the girl’s hand. But that’s not what she did.

Alice bit down on the girl’s hand, just between the thumb and forefinger; Olive saw two little streams of blood flow out, then retreat under Alice’s lips. That’s not very romantic, Olive thought, her mind still catching up to the situation. As Alice was feeding off that hand, Delia took the other and did the same thing. Olive stood transfixed. Minutes later, both of them let go of the girl, who still hadn’t moved.

Delia’s head whipped around, followed by Alice; they both fixed Olive with a steady, calm gaze. Olive looked from one to the other. She wasn’t really sure how to react to this revelation so she gave them an awkward smile, her lips parting just enough for her fangs to catch the light. They smiled back and offered her a seat at the table.

Olive sat down, feeling in much better spirits than at the start of the day. Maybe she wouldn’t be an outsider after all. In fact, she thought, as she examined the twin bruises blossoming on the new girl’s hand, she would fit in just fine.

#AtoZChallenge: Nemesis

It was another quiet afternoon in the neighborhood and Neville Bartson was looking forward to a warm cup of tea while sitting out on his lawn. He was growing accustomed to retirement, to hours spent without worrying about tasks that needed to be completed, and naps that weren’t interrupted by crisis. It had been two years since he moved into the neighborhood looking for a change of pace, and he’d certainly found it. He had no family to speak of, though he had come to know his neighbors quite well. Neville was truly enjoying his golden years.

He went out to the little garden that he had started tending. A few buds were starting to sprout; it wouldn’t be long before the flower bed would be a bloom of colors. Satisfied, Neville was about to walk back inside when he saw someone standing on the sidewalk, watching him.

The figure was covered from head to toe in copper-colored armor, with little touches of black and steel gray to break up the color. A dark cloak was slung around one shoulder and he wore a helm on his head with two curving bull-like horns and a slot through which baleful eyes glared. A scabbard hung from his left hip with a sword that might have been half the length of his body.

“Hello there,” Neville said, with a small wave. “Are you looking for someone?”

The mysterious figure raised one gloved hand, each finger covered by several overlapping armored segments. He pointed right at Neville.

“It is you I seek, Neville Bartson!” His voice was like thunder booming in an auditorium. “I have traveled many leagues on a journey of many days to find you. Long have I awaited our meeting. ”

Neville’s forehead wrinkled. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe I know you.”

The figure thrust its armored chest out and loomed over him. “I am Glomdar the Misfortuner, Terror of the Saltlands and Scourge of Fenhall!”

“Glomdar…” Neville thought for a moment. “Hold on, are you the Gillings’ boy from across the street? I always thought your name was Kevin. You work in insurance, don’t you?”

“I know not of this Kevin! I am Glomdar of the Ravenspit! Despair is my helm and Devastation my cloak!”

“And that pays well, does it? Sounds more exciting than insurance.”

Glomdar gawked at him in disbelief. “Enough of this!” he roared, waving one hand in a loud, clanking gesture. “I have not come here to speak of insurance! I have come for you, Neville Bartson! I am your nemesis!”

“You are?” Neville scratched his nose. “Odd…I don’t remember hiring one. Very well then, you may be a nemesis if you like. I’m not reimbursing you for meals, though.”

Glomdar stiffened. “What?”

“Look, I don’t fully understand the terms of our contract, but if you’re going to be my nemesis you’ll have to cover your own expenses.”

Glomdar was trying to assess the situation, his dark eyes darting around furiously behind his helmet. “I had not expected this. I was told that you were a formidable foe, Neville Bartson. But you are just…just…”

“Old?” Neville smiled. “You may mock me now, young man, but one day, you’ll have aching joints to worry about too. Rather soon, I expect, with all that heavy armor jangling about.”

The both of them stood where they were in silence. A car passed by, slowing momentarily as the driver did a double take. A bird chirped somewhere above them.

“Would you like some tea?” Neville said.

Glomdar was dumbstruck. He clenched and unclenched one fist, considering this unexpected proposal. He nodded.

“Come on in then.”

Neville got out his most elegant tea cups, white porcelain with a floral design along one side. They had always been reserved for guests, but Neville didn’t have too many people coming around of late. He filled them with boiling water, put tea leaves in two strainers (Neville never used tea bags) and let them steep for a few moments. Glomdar was sitting at the small round table in the kitchen, shifting and adjusting his armor.

Neville placed the cups on a tray and brought them to the table.

“I’m sorry, I should have asked if you wanted any sugar.”

Glomdar shook his head. “Sweetness does not suit me, Neville Bartson.”

“You can just call me Neville, you know. No need for such formality.”

“Very well. Neville.”

The little china teacup looked even more dainty in Glomdar’s giant hands, as if he were cradling a newly hatched bird. He took a sip, taking care not to scratch the cup against the sharp edges of his helmet.

“How do you like it?”

‘It pales in comparison to the nectar of the Dire Gods, but it is quite nice.”

“It’s chamomile.”

“Ah.”

Glomdar placed the cup gently back on its saucer with a soft clink.

“I am grateful that you invited me into your home, Neville. But I must fulfill my purpose. As your nemesis, I have come to challenge you to a duel from which only one of us can emerge victorious. Prepare yourself for battle. I will give you fifteen mi – ”

Glomdar paused then, and his eyes widened as he looked at Neville. Both hands clutched at his throat.

“You cheated!” he croaked, before toppling to the floor in a clanking heap.

Neville finished his tea, put the cups away and walked up to his attic. Soft cooing sounds greeted him. He smiled at the white pigeon that sat in a small coop by the window, its feathers tinged with silver. There was a desk near the coop with a sheaf of parchments. Neville took a parchment and scrawled a message on it, then went to the coop and tied it around one of the pigeon’s legs.

“Godspeed, Cloudpiercer.”

The pigeon fluttered out of his hands, circled around the neighborhood twice, then disappeared into the clear spring sky. Neville went back down and set about removing Glomdar’s armor. He had given up the old ways so long ago. He didn’t think anyone still remembered his name anymore. It was flattering to think that some young upstart should consider him worth of a challenge, but he was well past the age of dueling.

Neville preferred to kill his enemies with kindness. A little cobra venom didn’t hurt either.

#AtoZChallenge: Week 2 Roundup

Woohoo! We’re halfway through the April A to Z Challenge and it’s been a roller coaster of a week, filled with Gothic tales of intrigue, bite-sized delights and villainy.

I’ve fallen a bit behind on my reading, but I still managed to discover a few great blogs this week! Please do give them a visit.

Into Another World It’s an A to Z of villainy over here! A daily rundown of some of the meanest baddies to grace the silver screen, along with some choice quotes and a little glimpse at antagonists in the every day.

Atherton’s Magic Vapour: You sir! You seem like a connoisseur of fine tales! Perhaps, madam, I can interest you in a Gothic mystery filled with suspense and intrigue? No? That not enough for you? My, you are a tough customer indeed! How about I throw in some lovely black and white illustrations and a vial full of Atherton’s Hilarious Humor, guaranteed to make you laugh until your sorrows evaporate? Excellent! You won’t live to regret it!

A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose: Tales of wicked people and wicked deeds, at just 55 words apiece!

The Armchair Explorer: Discover brave new worlds from the comfort of your armchair! A quick book review for every letter of the alphabet!

 

That’s it for this week. It’s a short list, but that just gives you more time to explore each blog!

My roundup from Week 1 can be found here, and those blogs are still absolutely awesome, so you should definitely be checking them out!

#AtoZChallenge: Multitasking

Melissa woke up to the sound of her daughter crying. It was more powerful than any alarm clock. She checked the time: 5 AM. Her head thudded back against the pillow. Next to her, Mark was stirring. She forced herself out of bed and shuffled over to check on Lily. Her oldest daughter, Madison, bounded out of her room with more energy than anyone should have at that hour. The day had officially begun.

The morning was a flurry of breakfast preparation and lunch packing. Melissa zipped around the kitchen like a lightning bolt, organizing everything she needed and laying out three lunch bags with well-practiced efficiency. She kissed Mark goodbye and gave Madison a hug (though she was getting to the age where overt shows of affection made her squirm) and saw them out the door. Finally, she had a few moments to breathe.

Lily gurgled and tossed a spoonful of pureed carrots across the kitchen table. Breathing would have to wait.

Once the kitchen had been cleaned (again), Melissa consulted her list for the day. There were groceries to buy, she had to pick up some supplies for Madison’s science project, followed by a quick stop at the bank and then Madison needed to be picked up from soccer practice. It sounded simple enough. But first, she had to tidy up the place.

Melissa zoomed from room to room, dusting, vacuuming and mopping. In almost no time at all, the house was spotless. It was time for grocery shopping.

After hopping for a quick shower, she got dressed and packed Lily’s bottle and diapers in her Emergency Baby Kit. With Lily nestled in one arm, Melissa walked out the door. And promptly walked back in to pick up her car keys from the coffee table.

She found a good spot open in the grocery store parking lot, but part of it was blocked by a bad parking job. Melissa sighed and got out of the car. She looked around to make sure the lot was empty, then nudged the offending car with her foot and slowly slid it out of her spot.

Grocery shopping was always a quick affair. She was done in just a few minutes, gliding around the store and around the other shoppers with ease. As Melissa raced over to the checkout lane, she came to a screeching stop. Self-checkout. An old woman with a befuddled expression and a cartful of groceries. A hapless store clerk. She was going nowhere fast. Unless…

Melissa zipped to and from the counter at lightning speed, checking out all of the items to the old woman’s delight and the cashier’s befuddlement. As the woman walked away, still excited about her speedy checkout, Melissa paid for her groceries and headed out to the parking lot. It was time to go to the hardware store. Lily laughed and spit up all over her shirt. The hardware store would have to wait.

With Lily all cleaned up, Melissa was back on track. She strode into the hardware store and consulted her list. A few basic supplies that were no trouble at all. Then came the plyboard. The exact boards she needed were stacked on the highest shelf and she couldn’t see any attendants around. Melissa jumped, grabbing onto the top of the shelf with one hand, and gathered the boards she needed with her free arm. She leapt down and deposited the boards in her cart. All supplies were bought, a clear checkout counter was found, and she was off to the bank.

Melissa found herself facing another long line. There was only one teller available, and it seemed half the city had business to conduct that day. She waited. And waited. And waited. The line shuffled along. Melissa almost pounced on the teller when it was her turn. Her transaction was interrupted by a loud bang.

“Everybody on the ground! Now!”

Banks robbers. Melissa rubbed her temples in frustration. The lead robber was striding around the lobby brandishing a shotgun while his cronies intimidated the tellers and other customers. A chandelier hung from the vaulted ceiling. Melissa grabbed the pen at the counter, snapping off the chain that tethered it. She waited until the leader was standing just under the chandelier. Timing was everything. Then, trying not to be noticed, she tossed the pen like a dart.

The pen hit one of the candelabras mounted on the chandelier, causing it to fall right on the leader’s head. He staggered around for a moment, then went down. The bank’s security guards took advantage of the ensuing confusion to overpower most of the thugs. One of them made a break for it. In the blink of an eye, Melissa overtook the gunman, tripped him, and was promptly back at the counter. Everyone applauded the security guards. Melissa turned back to the teller.

It was a quick transaction after that. She glanced at her watch as she walked way. There was still plenty of time for soccer practice. She was in no rush.

As she got to the car, a loud rumble shook the earth. The sound of screaming soon followed, and then a crowd of people went running past her. Up ahead she saw a giant robot, all metallic arms and legs with a glass bubble in the center. It stomped around, crushing cars under its clawed feet and firing lasers into the air. Lily clapped her hands and cooed at it. Melissa sighed and opened the trunk to fish out her work outfit.

Soccer practice would have to wait.