#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: 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: 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.

#AtoZChallenge: Irritation

Click. Clack. Click. Clack.

The sound went on and on, boring itself into Ilomen’s skull. Would there be no end to his torment?

Click. Clack. Click. Clack.

Ilomen gnashed his teeth. It didn’t help. He couldn’t believe he had to endure this torture. He was descended from the most fearsome archdemons in the Under Realms. He deserved better than this.

Click. Clack. Click. Clack.

Nobody else was saying anything. Why weren’t they saying anything? Were they all such spineless fools that none of them would silence this monster? It was unacceptable.

Click. Clack. Click. Clack.

The last strands of Ilomen’s patience snapped. He had to end it. At once.

Click. Clack. Click –

“Grrahh!”

Unleashing a mighty roar, Ilomen raised his hammerlike fist into the air and brought it down with stunning force. A splintering noise was followed by a loud howl. Bits of plastic and ink splattered in every direction.

“Ilomen! What have I told you about disrupting my classrom?” Ms. Grodsworth was livid. Some of the other students were giggling. Others stifled their laughter. Wozer, the subject of Ilomen’s wrath, rubbed his throbbing paw, his snout streaked with ink.

“Sorry, ma’am.” Ilomen slumped down in his seat. He was most likely going to get detention for this. Perhaps his father, the Dread Lord Ilmana, would be summoned for a talk with the principal again.

But at least he didn’t have to listen to that blasted clicking any longer.

#AtoZChallenge: Horseplay

“Hey, slow down!”

Helia laughed as she raced past her brother. She had left him trailing in her wake since they had first learned to walk. Now that the twins were fast approaching adulthood, she was the fastest runner in the family and poor Hadros could only lag behind.

“Come, on Helia! It’s not fair!”

“The gods aren’t fair, Hadros! No one ever asks Hermes to slow down!” She grinned and picked up her pace. Her brother’s panting breaths were lost to the wind as she flew through the forest, darting over large rocks and fallen logs. It was the most amazing feeling in the world to run without limits, without boundaries. Trees became a blur of green and sounds of birdsong ebbed and flowed like the river’s tide.

Poor Hadros. He’d never catch up to her. Helia decided to take pity on her brother and stopped, waiting for him by a clearing. He was nowhere to be seen. She couldn’t even hear his steps any longer. She craned her neck and looked around, getting impatient and a bit worried. Even Hadros wasn’t that slow. He should have come into view by now. Where was he?

As Helia was peering into the depths of the forest in an attempt to see some sign of her brother, she heard the sound of a twig snapping from somewhere to her left. She turned her head just in time for a shadowy figure to lunge at her, knocking her out of breath as they both tumbled to the ground. She struggled to stand up, pushing the other figure off her, but it was relentless in its attack.

“Hadros?!”

Helia couldn’t believe it. He’d snuck up on her! Her brother burst out laughing.

“You should have seen your face! Who would have thought that ‘Helia the Swift’ could be ambushed, huh?”

He laughed again, but was cut off by Helia headbutting him in the chest. They both fell to the ground, grappling with each other and kicking up clumps of dirt.

“That’s enough!”

The siblings almost jumped at the sound of their father’s voice. Haeron was standing at the edge of the clearing, arms crossed over his chest and one forehoof pawing the ground. Their mother Hali stood next to him, failing to hide her amusement.

“It doesn’t matter how old you grow,” she said, “You’ll always behave like foals.”

Helia and Hadros stood up, tails drooping. “We’re sorry.”

Their father shook his head, his stern expression giving way to a wry smile. “Alright you two. I think you’ve had more play time than you can handle. It’s almost time for supper.”

“Alright,” they said, in unison.

Helia looked over at Hadros, a sly twinkle in her eye. “Race you!”

With that, she galloped off back the way they had come.

“Hey!” Hadros charged after her.

Haeron sighed. Hali laughed and patted him on the back as they trotted along behind their children.

#AtoZChallenge: Exit Stage Left

Edwin Calstock was more nervous than he had ever been in his life. It was opening night for his play ‘The Dame of Versailles’ (A Drama in III Acts by Edwin Calstock) and he still wasn’t sure if their lead actress could handle the part. She was a recent hire. In fact, she had just been hired that morning, seeing as their previous lead actress couldn’t commit to the role. Well, she was dead. That was the reason she couldn’t commit.

Edwin had found himself in quite a bind after Minerva’s demise. There was no time to hold lengthy auditions for a new actress and the theater owner, Mr. Wellis, was not the most understanding or patient of men. If Edwin didn’t find a lead actress in another day, his life would be over. And worse still, his career as a playwright.

The play’s director, Robert Bland, had been running around the streets of Camden, trying to find a new face. It didn’t seem to Edwin the most efficient way of solving their problem, but he didn’t have any better ideas. Much to his surprise, Robert showed up that morning with a strange woman in tow. Not just strange in the sense that she was a stranger; there was something very unusual about her appearance and overall demeanor.

She had an unnaturally graceful gait; it was almost as if she were gliding over the floor. Robert was a tall man, but she was perhaps a good head taller, with skin so pale it almost shone in the daylight. Her hair was pulled back and tucked under a peculiar looking hat, but a few copper-colored strands hung loose. Her eyes were pale green, but as she came closer, Edwin realized that wasn’t quite right. They were luminescent, as if she had a gas lamp installed in her head. He was entranced by her, transfixed by those sparkling eyes.

Her voice was rich and deep, like a well-brewed cup of tea, though her odd, lilting accent gave him pause. But perhaps she could pass for French that way. It was more fitting. She said her name was Ellara, though she offered no family name. Her dress had unusual patterns embroidered onto it and she talked of places and events that Edwin had never heard of. Robert claimed she was from America, but that didn’t seem right. But then, Edwin had never been to America, so who was he to say?

Thus, Ellara was cast in the role and spent the afternoon rehearsing. She was a quick study and memorized all of her lines. Yet, Edwin could not help but feel unsettled. In part, because the mutton he had for lunch was a tad undercooked. but mostly because he had no idea how Ellara would actually perform once on stage.

The theater was completely full; every last ticket had been sold. Mr. Wellis was sitting up in his private booth. The curtains parted and the crowd fell silent. It was time for the show. All Edwin could do was hope. And perhaps book the next ship out of England, just in case.

Ellara walked onto the stage and Edwin’s heart sank. She wasn’t in costume, nor had she applied any makeup. He was doomed. She stood at the center of the stage and surveyed the audience with her lamplike green eyes. And then, much to everyone’s surprise, especially Edwin’s, she began to sing. There were no words to the song. Rather, there were no words that he could recognize, but as soon as he heard them, they turned into pictures.

There were vivid images of ancient kingdoms built among the stars. Gleaming spires that pierced the heavens and shining domes that covered entire cities. The people that lived in these kingdoms looked human, but there was something peculiar about them, especially their eyes, which shone like the sun. Perhaps they were gods, or simply a long forgotten race. The images changed. Now the strange beings were waging war, using weapons forged of light and darkness. People died, kingdoms crumbled until only the stars remained. And a child, with hair the color of copper and dull green eyes brimming with sadness. She was alone now, the last of her kind.

The song ended then, and Edwin was snapped out of his trance. He was sobbing with an intensity he hadn’t experienced since his school days. Coming back to himself, Edwin wiped the tears from his eyes and looked around the theater in confusion. He was alarmed to see the stage empty. Ellara was gone, and who knows what sort of performance she had delivered while he was daydreaming. What was he dreaming about anyway? He remembered shining stars, and little else.

The crowd was still quiet. Had they hated it? Were they waiting to unleash their boos? Had they left? Edwin thought it best not to dwell on it and was about to sneak out the back when he heard a faint clapping noise. The noise built in volume, turning into thunderous applause. As Edwin peeked past the curtain, he saw the crowd on its feet. All of them had tears glistening on their cheeks, even Mr. Wellis.

Edwin had no idea what happened, but the play, it seemed, was a success. He was elated. Ecstatic. Absolutely thrilled. And, once again, without a lead actress.