#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: 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: Dead End Romance

Delilah Stokes had always been told that dead men tell no tales. She learned that was a lie when her ex-husband refused to shut up.

Frank was the kind of guy that young girls were looking for: roguish, charming and spontaneous. He had the sort of face that looked just as good with a smile or a brooding frown, and he knew how to use each expression for maximum effect. When they met, Delilah was a twentysomething free spirit on a journey with no end in sight and Frank was a twentysomething dreamer who couldn’t tell a speed bump from a milestone. Sparks flew the first time they locked eyes at an old gas station, and they burned for each other.

They were young and energetic, living each day as if tomorrow were just a myth. Their wildfire romance led them to the altar, followed by a steamy honeymoon. Using the short-sighed gift of prophecy that all young lovers have, they knew they’d be together forever. A year later, they realized ‘forever’ had an expiry date.

Once the scorching layers of passion, lust and proclamations of everlasting love had burned away, they realized they had nothing left. Frank was still living in his dreams without a penny in the real world and Delilah was hopping from one dead-end job to the next, trying to find a reason for their marriage to survive another day. With time and a few changes, they might have stuck it out. But then Frank had a plan.

Even when she’d first met him, Delilah knew that Frank was a man who saw laws more as rough guidelines. It was a charming trait at first. But as their relationship went further and Delilah craved a degree of stability, Frank’s wayward ways became harder to bear. So when he suggested armed robbery as a solution to their money problems, she wanted nothing to do with it. But Frank, for all his faults knew how to exploit his charm.

It was a simple plan. Masks. Guns. A trail of gas stations. Hold up the convenience store clerks at gunpoint and clean out their registers. They would skip a few along the way, make it seem random, hard to track. Nothing could go wrong.

After their third robbery, things seemed to be looking up. They were a pair of anonymous crooks on the run, but that initial spark of passion was back. For a little while, Delilah forgot her ideas of married life and craved the freedom of the open road again. But Delilah had always been told that crime doesn’t pay. And she discovered how true that was when the long arm of the law finally stretched far enough to wrap its fingers around them.

After an hour long chase involving three cop cars, Frank’s car couldn’t take it any more. They were stranded, holed up in the gas station that would have been next on their list if the cops hadn’t shown up. Frank was holding a gun to the old cashier’s head. Delilah was trying to find another way out. The fuzz was closing in. It was over. But then Frank took it too far. He was going to shoot the hostage. Delilah just knew it. She couldn’t let that happen.

Delilah lunged at Frank, managed to loosen his grip o the old man. He still had the gun in hand, though. And Frank wasn’t happy. He shoved her aside and she could see the madness building in his eyes. He aimed the gun at her, started to say something. Maybe he was going to convince her to kill the hostage. Or maybe he was going to say his final goodbyes before killing her. It didn’t matter. He never finished. Delilah found the shotgun hidden under the counter and fired it right into Frank’s chest. The sound was deafening. The sight of exploding flesh and organs made her throw up. But it was done. She had shot the hell out of ‘happily ever after’.

Delilah turned herself in. She confessed to everything. Told the whole story. The jury was sympathetic, but she was still a criminal. She got five years and served three. It was just long enough to watch her dreams shrivel away to nothing. Even after being released, she felt like she was in a cage. Guilt didn’t wash away no matter how often she showered. Her only consolation was that she was rid of Frank and his madness.

On a warm summer night, Delilah couldn’t sleep. She was plagued by strange thoughts and visions, nightmares that evaporated into smoke whenever she opened her eyes. She got up and went to get a glass of water. When she came back, Frank was sitting on the bed, waiting for her.

“Hey Del,” he said, flashing that same charming smile she’d fallen in love with all those years ago. He looked exactly the same as the last time she’d seen him. Slicked back hair. Fine line of stubble along his jaw. Gaping hole in his torso.

Delilah gulped down the rest of her water with her eyes closed. When she opened them, Frank was still sitting there in the dim moonlight.

“Dammit, Frank,” she said, wiping a trickle of water from her chin. “What the hell do you want now?”

 

 

13 Tales of Terror: Eternal Thirst

Malcolm was a vampire.

He hadn’t always been a vampire, of course. In fact, he’d only just become one last night. Before that, he led the simple life of an accountant, managing his company’s books and compiling expense reports. It was a simple, unexciting life. Just the way Malcolm preferred it.

All that changed the night he met Fiona. Or was it Violet? Malcolm was bad with names. Fiona (or maybe it was Violet after all) was the friend of a friend, or rather, the friend of a colleague. There wasn’t much room for friends in Malcolm’s life, so he let his co-workers fill in that role. Alfred was perhaps the one person he might call a friend, if someone were to really quiz him about it.

Every Friday, Malcolm and Alfred would go out after work. They always went to the same place: The Drunken Uncle. They would order three beers each and drink them in silence, or while making small talk about politics or local current affairs. After a couple of hours, they would pay for their drink, shake hands and parts ways, not to see each other again until Monday morning. It was a comfortable routine.

A week ago, Alfred mentioned that his cousin Fiona (it was very likely Violet) was in town for the weekend, and asked if it would be alright for her to join them on their weekly outing. Malcolm wasn’t too fond of breaking routine, but he agreed anyway.

Alfred’s cousin wasn’t what Malcolm had expected at all. She was outgoing, outspoken and knew had to command attention. Malcolm was more drawn to her than he had been to anyone in his life. And she seemed to enjoy his company, which even he found surprising. The usual three beers were swapped out for several shots of harder liquor, and the night went on into the early hours of Saturday morning. The three of them had gone from the bar to Malcolm’s apartment at some point, though Malcolm wasn’t sure when. Alfred had passed out long before then, but he and Violet (or was it Fiona?) were still wide awake and lost in each other.

They had drifted closer over the course of the night, both emotionally and physically. At las, they were sitting face to face, leaning closer still. Malcolm knew what was about to happen, welcomed it. And that’s when it happened. Instead of kissing him, Violet (it didn’t really matter what her name was at this point) went for his neck, biting into his throat. It wasn’t quite as painful as Malcolm had expected, more like getting a shot, really. Within moments, it was done. She leaned back with a satisfied smile on her bloody lips and he suddenly felt very tired.

By the time Malcolm woke up, it was already Saturday night. Violet and Alfred were gone, and Malcolm was alone in his living room. He was disoriented at first, struggling to remember the past twenty four hours of his life. Piece by piece, it came back to him. He remembered what had happened and put a hand up to his neck. There were two small puncture wounds, as if he’d been attacked by a stapler.

Just then, Malcolm felt an unbearable thirst. His mouth was dry and his whole body felt empty. He had to satisfy himself. He knew what he had become, and the unholy urges that came with it.

There was just one problem: Malcolm couldn’t stand the sight of blood.

A to Z Challenge: Fred Felton’s Folly

f

 

Fred had no idea how long he’d been falling, or how much further he had to go. It was probably the most frustrating part of tumbling into a bottomless pit. And to think the day had started off so well.

***

As a fraud investigator for FiendLife, the insurance company most trusted by aspiring supervillains, Fred Felton always had his hands full. Fraud, after all, was something every supervillain was intimately familiar with. There were very few cases where the grievances were genuine. Still, the job had its moments, and Fred knew no villain would be foolish enough to try and disembowel or disintegrate him. FiendLife didn’t look to kindly on the extermination of its employees, unless it was performed by the board of directors.

When the villain known as Flamethrower tried to file a claim after his house burned down, it seemed like an open and shut case. An accidental fire in an arsonist’s home? Sure, and maybe the Pulverizer didn’t hate puppies. He did. He really did. The Pulverizer had serious allergies.

The scene of the crime didn’t really offer any clues. The house had been completely razed to the ground, furniture, fixtures and all. Fred knew this could only be the work of someone with some serious firepower. Someone who could throw flames, for example. But he didn’t have anything to prove it. Not yet, anyway.

Fred noticed something among the ashes. A piece of metal that had survived the fire intact. That could prove to be significant. As he walked over to where the object was, Fred felt the ground give way under him. A trapdoor! He hadn’t dealt with one of those in about a year.

So it was that Fred Felton found himself tumbling down a pit without end, wondering why he hadn’t taken up a safer and more boring job. Maybe he could have been a lion tamer. At least they didn’t have to worry about wayward supervillains. But no, he had taken the job of fraud investigator at the premier villain insurance firm instead.

A sudden thought occurred to Fred while free falling through the void. Elaborate traps weren’t really Flamethrower’s style. He also wasn’t the kind of guy who would just have a trapdoor lying around. This had been a setup. Someone had wanted him to come here and fall in. But who would be diabolical enough to do that?

Of course! Fiendlife!

Fred realized that he’d just been fired. Fired while investigating the Flamethrower. Fiendlife really needed to work on their HR skills, but their sardonic humor was on point. Fred appreciated a good chuckle while facing down impending doom.

The Demon Cat

This is an old story I’d posted to my other blog, before I was on WordPress and before I had separate blogs for fiction and non-fiction. I’m quite fond of this one because it’s the first time I’d written a story for a writing prompt, and I pulled it together surprisingly fast. It’s also my first funny story (at least I hope it is), which is no easy feat.

Science and science fiction site io9 has a weekly writing prompt where they ask their readers to come up with a short story based on an image or illustration. A recent prompt about the ‘Demon Cat’ caught my eye and inspired me to spin a little yarn. Today seemed like an appropriate occasion to post it (I had posted this on Halloween).

(Image credited to Patrik Björkström)

Horatio looked at the cat with a great sense of disappointment. He consulted his summoning book again, thinking that he must have made a mistake. The creature certainly looked fearsome enough, with its luminous (yet oddly lifeless) eyes, wild black fur streaked with silver, claws like little daggers, and the twin pairs of steer-like horns that appeared to be jutting out of its back. But it was still, Horatio noted sadly, just a cat.

The cat merely glowered at him, its tail swishing languidly like a snake with a full belly. Horatio checked the spell once more:

Izzhgo Akr’al Bezral Belegha. This incantation is to be chanted five times after the proper rituals have been completed to summon the demon lord Bezral, Harbinger of Doom and Devastation, Devourer of Souls, and Master of Infernal Sciences.”

Yes, he’d certainly liked the sound of that. A touch theatrical, perhaps, but a Harbinger of Doom was exactly what he needed. Horatio Pendleton was an assistant manager at the Fixwell Hardware Store. He was a slight, timid man with eyes that always looked nervous and a smile that was far from reassuring. For the past year or so, he’d had an eye on the general manager’s nametag. But a promotion would be difficult to get, what with current manager David’s exemplary work ethic. Horatio’s only chance at climbing the corporate footstool was to remove David from the picture entirely.

He could have done the job himself, or hired someone to do it for him, but that would inevitably become a hassle. Some sort of evidence was bound to turn up, as it always does, and the police would no doubt find a reason to question him. Horatio was not a man of fortitude, and repeated interrogation might force him to accidentally confess. But supernatural creatures wouldn’t leave any evidence behind, especially not demons. They were a careful sort. No one would connect him to a demonic killing, and if they did, he could just summon his demon to kill them as well. It was brilliant!

So it was that Horatio had found himself at the old bookstore on the corner that always smelled like mothballs. After much research, he’d finally found what he’d been after: Hell’s Coming To You! – The Layman’s Guide to Demons and Summoning Spells. He’d thumbed through the book, finally settling on a suitable demon for the job (that demon being the Dread Lord Bezral, Harbinger of Doom and Devastation, Devourer of Souls, and Master of Infernal Sciences). As directed, he had collected the necessary ingredients for the summoning spell: the ashes of an oak branch, three drops of virgin blood (Horatio wasn’t very popular with the fairer sex), a piece of white chalk, and a tuna sandwich (he was rather hungry). With everything prepared, he had headed off to the nearest cemetery to start the ritual. At the first stroke of midnight, Horatio chanted the words, his voice shaking with excitement, mind swimming with visions of an all-powerful lord of hell that would impale David with deadly claws and drag him to eternal damnation.

And after all of that effort, he’d wound up with a cat perched on a tombstone.  A demonic cat, but then how was that really different from a regular one?  

Horatio shifted uncomfortably, watching the cat as it, in turn, watched him. He cleared his throat and decided to address the beast.

“Er…evening, your, um, Lordship,” he began, lowering his gaze in an attempt to be reverent. “Welcome to, uh, to our world. Hope the trip was…pleasant?”

The cat continued to stare impassively.

“Now, ah, you might…you might be wondering why it is that I have summoned you here, “ Horatio continued, starting to feel extremely stupid. “Well, you see, there’s this favor that I, uh, that I need from you.”

If the cat were the least bit interested in what was being said, it was doing a good job of hiding it.

Horatio wondered if the spell had failed. Maybe he’d just come across a feral cat that some crazy person had glued horns onto. Were they even horns? Now that he looked more carefully, perhaps they were just tangled branches that were distorted in the moonlight. He laughed, nervously. Of course that’s what happened! He’d come here all worked up and ready to see a demon, so he’d fixated on the first living soul that came into sight. Horatio shook his head, still laughing. Demons. What a ridiculously fanciful idea.

He started to walk out of the cemetery, book tucked firmly in his pocket, when he heard a loud yowling noise behind him. The sound stopped him cold. He turned around, a cold chill running down the back of his neck, to see the cat leaping toward him; curiously, it no longer looked like a cat at all. Certainly not any he’d ever seen. Voice rising to a squeak, Horatio Pendleton managed a feeble “Your Lordship..?” before he witnessed the horrific success of his summoning spell firsthand.

************************************************************************

It was a crisp Monday morning, and David Ealing, general manager of the Fixwell Hardware Store, flicked on the switch for the neon ‘Open’ sign in the window while whistling a jaunty tune. “Ah, good morning, Horatio!” he said in a booming and almost unnaturally cheerful voice as his mild mannered assistant walked in.

Horatio smiled back mechanically, as if practicing that expression for the first time.

“You alright?” David asked, noticing the dark circles under Horatio’s eyes and the unusual (or was it, really?) pallor of his skin.

“Oh yes,” came the flat, monotonous reply. “Just fine.”

Now David Ealing wasn’t always the sharpest tool in his store, but he had a vague notion that perhaps everything wasn’t ‘just fine’. Before he could press the matter any further, however, David felt a sharp, burning pain in his chest. He noted with no small measure of surprise that the source of the pain was Horatio’s hand, which had sunk wrist deep into his body. Some sort of portal had also opened up under David’s feet, and as he contemplated its sudden appearance, he felt himself get sucked into it, much like a speck of dust getting sucked into a vacuum cleaner. The only proof of his presence was a nametag lying on the floor with the words ‘General Manager’ inscribed on it.

Horatio stared at the floor, fascinated, then picked up the nametag and pinned it on his shirt. He marveled at how he had allowed himself to endure such a subservient existence for so long. But that didn’t matter anymore. Now he was in control of this dismal establishment. And soon enough, he would be the Supreme Overlord of the Mortal Realm.

But there was plenty of time for that. Horatio allowed himself a contented purr and walked toward the manager’s office, licking the back of his hand thoughtfully.