He was called, in the southwest where his reputation spread, Lean Wolf. And in those places, where desperation is a familiar companion, it was clear why. But his was not a want of material wealth, nor even a want of basic sustenance. For he prowled the byways and backwoods and the highways like his namesake, and like his namesake, was cunning, and like his namesake, had what he needed from the land, and from the lesser creatures. Also like his namesake, he was feared, and rumor flared about him, calling him many dark things, though by and large he was not so.
In truth, Lean Wolf was a man, like many others, but one who knew his hunger and grew close to it, like a lover. It was in the early days his strength, and in later days, a trusted friend.
A little bit of silliness to start the day:
I was researching proper punctuation with quotation marks, and found these examples:
Bob snorted and said, “I don’t believe in zombies”―right before thirty of them emerged from the tunnel.
Her favorite song was “Gangnam Style”; she spent weeks trying to learn the dance.
Kind of mundane, in the end. I think they could be spruced up a bit:
Bob snorted and said, “I don’t believe in zombies”―right before thirty of them emerged from the tunnel. Their favorite song was “Gangnam Style,” and they had spent weeks trying to learn the dance.
I’m envisioning a gaggle of K-pop-loving undead eager to come out to the world. They decide the best way to do so would be to put together a group choreography, maybe get it filmed and put online in the hopes it’ll go viral, so they work it out and practice and practice and practice, making sure to get all the steps just right. They even find the perfect rehearsal space—a cold, underground room off an abandoned tunnel, where they won’t disturb anyone or be disturbed themselves, and where decomposition will be limited. They work hard, and finally, after weeks, they’re ready to emerge and show the world what they’ve got. And then, when they do, what happens? People like Bob are stunned and everyone thinks there’s a zombie outbreak and panics.
Those poor, rotting souls.
Now, lemme tell you: Regus Screwhammer is a dwarf. And I don’t mean he’s some squat hairy guy with an excessive love of stonemasonry. No. He is, for sure, but I mean he is dwarf with a capital D-W-A-R-F. Drinks that vile, soured goat’s milk concoction of theirs like wine. The kinda guy you don’t take home to mama unless your mama is four feet tall and can out-wressle a bear.
Screwhammer is my partner. We find things for people. Information. Individuals. Objects of interest. Not always glamorous as it sounds, and sometimes—well, sometimes it gets downright dangerous, and that’s when a guy like me wants a guy like Regus Screwhammer at his back. He’s brutal in a scrap, loyal to his friends, and he loses nunna his capacity when drunk or dosed up.
But Screwhammer ent what anyone would call a romantic. (He’ll say otherwise, but that’s just to get in your britches. Of course, he’s never dishonest about his intentions. He might just mislead a little.) Which is why this is wunna my favorite stories about him.
Screwhammer drinks at almost any place he likes in Amity, because his coin is solid—and because when it isn’t, he’s got that kinda rep. But mostly he drinks at the Horse Trough, a rowdy but friendly little joint center of the lower city. I don’t go there anymore, myself. Bitter memories.
Once, though, we was there together, soaking up the ambiance. Cider, stout, absynthe, whatever we could find, us and a handful of tagalongs. Now, the Horse Trough being a pretty low place, rough and all that, it gets your regular, expected degenerates for such a joint. We was near the back as usual, filling up our tanks, enjoyin the rowdy music, when we hear a hush that starts near the fronta the room and ripples toward the back. We look over as everyone stills for just a moment: the double doors swing shut behind what has to be the most elegant elf I ever seen, stepping delicately through the crowd. Think of it: a watering hole full of drab brown folk and suddenly a rainbow lances through. I ent much for poetry, but if I were, I’d say that were it.
Then someone lets out a monumental belch, and the place spins up again. The man who’d been about to punch that other man—he had stopped to watch the elf, put down his fist, and now he sits back on his stool confused.
Conversation strikes up. Malvar sez: “D’you git a look at em?” by which he means the elf. “‘igh class ‘z wot. Ent ortta be in ‘ere.” “Ha!” said Screwhammer. “You donno holler.” Laramy makes to argue: “That elf, he gonna bring ‘is frenz, and they all gon’ bring theirn, and pretty soon the Trough is gonna be the Silver Goblet or sumthin’ posh wut won’t let us in, and won’t none of us have a place to drink.” Several of the others grumbled agreement. But Screwhammer just says “If I kin drink at the Brass Envelope, then the elf kin drink here.” Everyone knew how select the Envelope were, how it were talls only and really just rich talls only and never let the shorter humankin in, save strangely enough for Screwhammer. And no one wanted the Trough to become as closed-off as that place. So we just left it at that.
We went back to talking for a bit, something non-subjectal y’know like any other evening at the watering hole. But after awhile it became apparent something were happening over at the bar. Raine looked over, then looked back at the resta us and said “ Somethin happenin ov’at the bar.” Sure enuff, some small scrub was talking to the elf, all awkward like. He had two drinks in his hand; he offered the elf one, a fancy-looking goblet. The elf held up a hand stop-like. The scrub gestured the goblet forward, but eir hand didn’t budge. Scrub stepped back, looked to either side, ruddier than before. Shrank back into the crowd.
Now this were nothing abnormal, someone getting rejected, but with the high-class elegant blue-and-green, the scarves and the flowing outfit, the perfumed hair, the elf definitely were. Abnormal, I mean. And so anything to do with em, became so too.
We and just about the whole common room figured the small scrub had gone and made the wrong assumption, for why he was waved off. But pretty soon, another suitor came knocking, and the elf let him go with the same gentle wave. And then another, and another, fellas, ladies, etc.
By this point, news was making its way around the bar. Every now and then, someone’d get up the gumption and go get rejected. We was watching for a while, appreciating the comedy. Then someone—Raine, I think—started in at betting, at first on rejection or success. But when it were clear enough the elf wouldn’t say yes to no one, we started betting on who would give a go when, and sometimes too at what point of the night the elf would say get fed up and leave, or whether eventually anyone would be able to give em a drink.
After a while, no one else were going up, and the Regular Crew were getting bored. Finally Raine said “Malv, you go give em a try.” But Malvar replied, “Naa, ‘m right comfy ‘ere. You go on yerself.” Raine said back, “Ha! Don’ need me no elf prince or princess.” And then Callum the Ponce said “You only say that because you know you don’t have a chance,” which got Raine all ruddy and brung up laughter from the rest of the Crew. Raine muttered something about Callum not knowing enough about the subject to do any better, but the sorcerer just cocked his head and raised an eyebrow: “Why don’t you stick to purchasing your companionship, Raine. Witticism is like fencing: you shouldn’t come unarmed.” Callum always was better with his words than with his spells.
This banter goes on for a while, with eventually money thrown on the table for whoever wants to be brave, but no one actually wants to give it a try, they all just want something to bicker over. So it remains moot, until at last Screwhammer, who had been silent all the while, says “Fukkit. I need another drink,” and gets up. And we all stare as he heads to the bar with the whole stasha for-the-elf drink money jutting out between his thick fingers. Here’s how it went, according to him:
I steps up next to the elf and says to the bartender, “Two Dragon Fin Stouts, aye.” The bartender slides ‘em over, I picks ‘em up and hands one sidelong to the elf, sayin’ “Here.”
“I don’t drink that”, elf says.
“Ye do now,” says I.
“Excuse me, little man?”
(Here I gets a mite surprised like. I known Regus Screwhammer ten-odd years and he ent never let no’ne talk downa him.)
“Ye been sippin’ that dainty amber nectar, the same cup, all evenin’. Expensive stuff, I wager. An’ yiur dressed nice, too. So ye don’t come down to places like this often. Which means yiur here fer the color, the novelty.”
“And if I am?” the elf replies.
“Well, ye shedn’t be drinkin’ the same stuff yiu gets in yiur fancy upscale bars. Ye should try what the regulars drink. And this,” I raises me mug, “is the best o’ that ye can get here.”
There’s a beat in which the elf stares at me, one eyebrow lifted. Then twitches a smile, raises the second mug, an’ downs the whole thing.
So I cheers: “Aye! There’s a good elf!” An’ I claps the elf hard on the back. Ey looks over at the bartender an’ says “Another, please.” The bartender gives it up an’ now it’s my turn to be impressed. The elf knocks back the drink, looks me in the eye, an’ says real loud an’ real slow an’ real clear, “What’s next, small one?” as if I shed be impressed an’ leave well off.
Well, the room just about went silent there and then. Like I said, Screwhammer never once let anyone call him small or talk down to him, and every regular in the place knows it. So they’s just waiting to see what he do. But I can see—he’s too intrigued by the elf, so he lets it slide, doesn’t even notice like. He just quirks one eyebrow to match the elf’s and says “Aye.”
Then he gives the bartender a little nod, and the bartender takes out two small glasses and reaches up high for a dusty bottle. He wipes it clean with his rag and sets it on the counter with a bang. The jolt jars something inside the container, and little orange-yellow sparks swirl up through the murky liquid, leaving curls like feathered clouds or licks a flame. I got no idea what the drink is myself, but the elf sure knows, and eir eyes light up. Screwhammer looks at eir, an intense stare, not quite a challenge.
Ey cocks eir head yes. The bartender pours. Screwhammer grasps the two glasses, hands em one. Then he turns his attention to the business at hand. Ey, about to do the same, stops, watches. Screwhammer takes the glass, holds it up between his fingers, lets the lamplight filter through the liquid. The twitch of something behind his mustache. Then he closes his eyes, brings the rimma the glass to his nose, inhales long and slow. A smile creeps out into the open. And he puts the glass to his lips, draws a slow, gurgling sip. I can hear him taking in air to mix with the liquid in his mouth. Who woulda thought he were a connoisseur?
The elf, for er part, makes a little moue of approval, and does the same with eir own drink. Whatever it is, ey holds it in eir mouth a while, eyes closed, inhaling deeply before ey swallows.
Then ey looks over at Screwhammer and says, simply but not without appreciation, “You’ll do.” Screwhammer looks back at em, almost sidelong, eyes unreadable, and bursts into laughter. And from that point on, the two are inseparable. They down drink after drink, some quickly, some slowly. After a while I give up even watching.
Then, eventually, Screwhammer comes up to me. “Aye, Jerem!”
“Aye,” I say back, measuring. “We’re missing you over here, Regus.”
“Sorry, lad. This one’s too fun!”
“Aye, I get you. But me and the boys, we about to tear into some card. You in?” I say this, but the Regular Crew done give up elf-watching a half hour before. They’re already in at the card.
Screwhammer chuckles. “Aye no but I’m no’ done with the elf yet. We’re drinkin’ buddies now.” He grins.
Ah, well. Guess I’m out my usual partner. “No worry, mate” I say. “Why don’t you bring em over and join?”
Screwhammer’s smile disappears. “Not tonight, Jerem, mate. Lissen, we’re goin’ inty town a bit, find The Appleplum.”
“Oh?” I say. The Appleplum is an Upscale Establishment. Very posh. Screwhammer has never been let in before. It’s a sore point with him.
“Aye. Elf says ey can get me in. Worth a shot, I say.” He’s grinning wicked big now. Like the ripe world about to fall off the tree into his hand. “Yiu could come if ye like, ey won’t mind. Jest yiu, though. No’ the rest.” He nods in the directiona the Regular Crew.
“Right, cheers. Regus, I think I’ll stay here,” I say. “Callum ready to try me again at Gambit, an’ the boys is curious whether he learnt any useful since his last drubbing.” Shit hell, another night and I would’ve gone with him and spared the Ponce his embarrassment. Just not feeling up for the hoity-toity I guess. And mayb I want to let him have his fun.
“Aye, mate. I get you.” And he claps me on the shoulder and turns to head back to his new companion. Then he half turns back and adds, “Don’t wait up! I’ll see yiu at the office tomorr’.”
I nod and turn back to the card before the duo are even into the street.
“So?” I ask when Screwhammer kicks open the office door in the morning, looking fresh as last Wainsday’s ale. “You get in?”
Regus Screwhammer shakes his head. I’m about to press him over it, when he gives me the biggest shit-eating grin: “Ah, no. No, we den’t. But Lordy it was good!”
“Tell, tell,” I adds. Screwhammer’s bender stories is always delish.
“Well,” he says:
We left the Horse Trough when ye saw, and we stuck on down to the Mission District, ey an’ me. I’m anxious as never—yiu know me, I den’t get anxious. Ey says “Little man, if you are nervous, you can go back to your little dingy joint. It will not bother me.”
So I quirks an eye at em and grins shark-like an’ sez “Noo, I’ll be comin’ with yiu I thinks. Yiu’ve got an air about ye.”
“Do I?” ey looks bored and astonished.
“Aye. Yiu look all hoity but ye know how to find fun. I can tell that.”
At that, the elf snorts the most dainty snort I ever ‘eard. Which makes me give em a sly sidelong look which ey matches and then we starts laughing, rocking on our feet as we moves down the street.
Which is why we don’t quite see the Pickies move out from where they was leanin’ on a wall, least until they circled us up.
“Screwhammer,” the Boldest sez. “We doon’ wan’ yoo. Jess step ooway froom the eelf an’ we’ll leeve yeh be.” E’s got a nervous edge to ‘im.
I laughs at that. “Oh, I den’t think so, gents—“
“—Hey!” one of them interjects.
“—an’ ladies. Laddies an’ ladies. Heh. See, the elf ‘ere is me Drinking Buddy. An’ I den’t quit me Drinking Buddies, sure, not in a scrape.”
“Oh, you are adorable, Little Man,” the elf says, a wry smile on eir lips.
“Shut it, Elf,” I sez back. “It’s the rules. Safety first, ye know.” At which ey laughs out loud.
But the Bold Pickie ent happy: “Screwhammer, Ahm serioos. Ditch the eelf an’ yoo’l ‘ave noo haarm.” I ken see ‘im shifting ‘is grip on ‘is cudgel like ‘e worried.
“An’ if I don’t?” I sez.
“Weell, if so, I aant responsible.” And ‘e grins sharkteeth, but there’s a fierce fear behind it. E’s about to step up, and there’s a dainty hand on me shoulder, and the elf whispers “It’s okay, Little Man. Let them. They’ll learn a little lesson.”
I looks at em and I sees ey’s sincere. So I sighs and frowns, but I steps back a bit. ‘Course, as the Pickies swarm in, I can’t resist sticking out a foot and tripping one. Does me liver good to see ‘im tumble face down in the dirt!
Well, now the Pickies close in on the elf, wary but predatorial, and I’m casual but ready to spring in. We’re all about for a surprise.
When the Bold Pickie raises his cudgel to strike, the elf becomes a whirlygig of motion, eir scarves and skirts and cloths streaming about em as ey dances and flits amongst eir foes. Pickie after Pickie takes a swing and connects with air only, their target no longer there. Jerem, yiu shoulda seen it! A thing of glorious beauty, was it. Ey moved almost slowly like, and not a one could touch em. Weaving amongst the Pickies, and eir blows were like gentle touches, but the Pickies, they crumble anyway, till finally, eir dance done, the elf lowers eir arms. All about em is the prone bodies of the gang. Not a one moving. Not a one awake.
So I walks over, nodding approval. The elf looks unperturbed. For good measure, I gives the stiff I tripped a good kick in the eggs, and when the elf quirks an eyebrow I shrugs: “E were about to get up an’ go at ye again, that one were. I saved ye.”
At which ey laughs, high and sparkling, and I ent no poet, but it’s like the greatest mead I ever had, that sound.
“So,” I ask Screwhammer, “You went to the Appleplum after that?”
“Oh, nae. We jest went back to the elf’s lodging and screwd like little rats,” he says, and starts laughing.
It was the oddest sight to behold. Screwhammer has this expression on him that is like nothing I ever seen him do. It ent until he adjusts his britches with a happy sigh and says “I’m seein’ em again tonight. Maybe we’ll try an’ get in there this time,” that I realized what it is: he’s in love.
“You’ll tell the Regular Crew, won’t you,” he adds. Then he picks up the Job-Finding Bodkin, hefts it between his fingers, and eyes the Client Wheel. “All right, Jerem. Give ‘er a spin. Time for a new customer.”
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I’m working on a novel. Well, really, a series—a trilogy and a spinoff duology—inspired by this Reddit writing prompt. The basic premise is that humanity, having spread into the solar system, begins to explore other star systems. We establish a small handful of colonies and encounter a few so-far-peaceful alien species. Then, without apparent warning, one of the colonies is destroyed in an attack that seems to originate from one of the species, but involves a previously unknown and enormously powerful being—the species’ god, or one of them. Humanity retaliates, but finds that it is difficult to fight a god with conventional weapons. In defense and as a means of striking back, a team is outfitted with strange weaponry and equipment reverse-engineered from the technology left by another, long-vanished alien civilization. Their actions and the consequences thereof will lead humanity to ethically treacherous ground, and uncomfortable questions about the nature of the universe and its place in it, as well as its own status vis à vis its religious or spiritual beliefs.
The general idea is to have a trilogy exploring the initial response and the beginning of a multi-system war, unforeseen consequences on both members of the strike team and on certain alien civilizations, and the ultimate unfolding of the enormous changes humanity’s arrival on the interstellar scene provoke. And, in the midst of it all, a two-book spinoff series following a search for more remnants of the vanished alien civilization, in the hopes that it will provide both answers to some troubling questions and additional technological advantage for humanity. This search will ultimately have important consequences for the resolution of the original trilogy; it will occur simultaneous to the second and third books.
I’ll be posting previews—character sketches, technology concepts and descriptions, and glimpses of the world as I build it—for patrons over at my Patreon page. So if this kind of thing interests you and you’re not already a site supporter, head on over and sign up to check it out!
For those who aren’t already in the know, Patreon is a crowdfunding platform that allows creators of all types to receive regular monthly support from their fans. Unlike Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and many other such sites (which do one-shot campaigns for individual projects, usually of large scope), Patreon campaigns are ongoing and support the creators’ entire set of activities, rather than just one project. As such, reward thresholds for donations are much lower, and recurring. The result is a sort of monthly salary for producing beautiful, interesting, and useful things. Curious? Check it out.
ritten bye the grate and humbel scrīb to
Kin Thane Olorff Gravius III, yorse truly, Antavian Bolwr
Hisstoricly Men hav hated Gyants indisputabley. Gyants hav eten Men. And thayre livestocke. Gyants arre biger then Men. Thayrefor thay are Monstars. It is truu that Gyants arr tall and Men ar muche smallar in all thinges. Perhappes this is the reall reson Men hav hated Gyants all along. Men, yff youe ken beleev suche a thynge, mezhur oanley in inches.
This aloan has cauwsed meny Men to attacke a Gyant out of feyr an envey. But it thayre have ben maney moar slandars to Gyant nām too than this. Men say we grynde Men’s bones withe owr teeth, yet Men do note noh the truu cases off this pracktise. Thare is in facte a shortege of calseeum Dentiste in the
dyet live of the Gyante, and Men being beying small and Handey, Gyants emplye tham to cleyn thayr teeth. Yoou can see how, in if an unknoing wacher wer to sea this acte of syimbyosis ockerring, one myghte thynke sumthinge bad. And then if one were to triy to stoppe this affayr and wer to startel the Gyant, the Gyant mi ghte inadvartenly byghte down oar yven swallo the helpfol Dentiste, cawsing a tarribel mizundarstaining.
Of thea accyuzatchans of horeding Men’s
tr welth, theese ar bayseless. Men hav ample monney and thay covar the cowentreyside with et. Aney that stumbels into the hoames of Gyants is thare by Men’s playcing or by vertue of “Fynders, kaypers,” Men having left et in thay open for aney one stumballing bye to have. Or the Men that coume toa attacke a Gyant arre call kynde enoff to brynge with thaem monies foar reparations, whych the Gyant is happeye enow to resseve in compansachon fore his enjurey. Ande iff a Man shold dye in battel withe one off Gyantkind, wea are kynd enouph to bary hem in the Arth so to be consumd by worms an to furtelīz our gardens, whyche es whot you Men do, or to eat him so as note toa wayste this preshis meate and to remembar hime our apponant.
Farthar, we do not raype an pillege, as yoar Wymen an yore hoamz ar too small far thet. Enywaie wee hev owar oane Gyantessez whou arr fahr pratayer an moare kyne. If Men wold myke thayr doars and houzas bigger, we wold not brake tham whan we caym to calle.
Soa youu seey it is nott for meaneness or hayt we hav thes repyutaytian, but fōr Men’s owne misledding hemsalf and hes jalossnass of our membars and his incoansideretness that thay hāyt us. Wye on Arth Godde
wold myghte crayt some suche spaycies, smalle anvious an domb as thay are, Godde oanley knoes.
Comments: Oh, man, I wrote this one a loooong time ago! (Almost 15 years, I would guess.) I just stumbled across it the other day when cleaning out my computer. Dusted it off, gave it little polishing, and here it is. Enjoy!
There was a man on my front stoop. A stale cigarette stub hung at his lip; he had stubble like an unmowed lawn and he stank predictably, which was to say like a hairy fat man on a hot day; he was wearing a greasy wife-beater and fuzzy orange cat ears; and he was meowing loudly.
Oh god I’m not awake enough for this, I thought. Mental facepalm.
“Ugh. What.” I said.
“No. Who are you?” I asked, unable to prevent a note or three of exasperation from flitting into my words.
“Meow,” he said. “I’m Miffy, dumbass. Let me the fuck in.”
Literal facepalm this time. He was not a cat, let alone my cat. (Don’t know what clued me in.) Miffy had been missing for two weeks. I had put up posters. Maybe I shouldn’t have.
“Look,” I said. “I had a late night. There was a party…”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “Tell it to my arse. Meanwhile, let me in and feed me. I been on the road, I need breakfast.” He pushed past me and headed straight into the living room, where he stopped, stretched his arms up, and sniffed the air bit. “It’s good to be home!” He sniffed again. “You have a lady in this place? Good job, mate!”
“Get out of my house!” I said.
Instead, he moved around the room, leaning down to smell specific bits of furniture or floor, each time commenting on some aspect of my recent life: “Some party! That pot I smell? My man! Hey, smells like that chick over here. Did you two do it on the coffee table? Niiiice.”
“What. Are. You. Doing.”
“Hey, you got some sorta bug up your arse or something? Relax, mate. I’m just taking stock.” He moved on, to the other side of the couch. I followed him.
“Ok, I don’t know who the fuck you really are, but you need to get out of my living room and let me go back to sleep before I call the cops.”
“My living room,” he corrected. “I let you stay here.”
“What?!” I was pretty much screaming at this point. “I live here. It’s my apartment. I pay rent!”
“Yeah, you’ve got your uses. Speaking of which, where’s my breakfast? I’m fucking starving.” The man disappeared into the kitchen.
“Hey!” I ran after him. He was rubbing up against the cabinet door like some creepy pervert with a furniture fetish. As soon as he saw me again, he started pawing at it. “You got any of that Super Seafood Supper shit in there? I could really use some tuna and salmon.”
I grabbed the keys off the counter and hurled them at the man, who ducked with surprising agility and took off past me toward the stairs. I could hear his feet pounding down the upstairs hall and disappearing into the vicinity of my bedroom. Shit.
Following in his wake, I counted to myself, thinking about the relaxation training class I had taken back in community college. I hadn’t done that well in it; thankfully, the instructor was hot, and I got to bang her for a better grade. Anyway, the one thing I remembered was some sort of numerical mantra that the lady probably made up herself, so I started reciting, 1 breath, feeling tight, 2 breaths let go of fight, 3 breaths made of light… I imagined my rage slipping away like fluff on a breeze, but every time I saw some sort of release, I remembered “Miffy” and felt myself tense up again.
I got to the door of my room and looked in. No one. Wait, no—under the bed. Fuck. How did he get under the bed? Dunno, but he was there, squeezed in like an overstuffed pillow.
“You hairy motherfucker,” I said. “Get out from under my bed and get the hell out of my house or I’m calling the goddamn cops. You’re fucking trespassing, and I don’t want you here.”
A muffled “Meow” filtered up from under the bed. WTF?
I sighed. “Look, buddy—“
“No. No, I’m not calling you by my cat’s name. You’re not fucking Miffy. I don’t know who the fuck you are, but you’re not my goddamn missing cat. Now listen—“
“—Fuck. Look, I don’t know who you are. You just show up out of nowhere—
“I’m your fucking cat, doofus.”
“—out of nowhere saying you’re Miffy. You’re a fat, hairy, grown-ass man, dude. WTF?”
Silence. Then a noise that sounded like a plunger being used on a sink without the emergency overflow being stopped up. Repetitive. Violent. And after a few seconds—
“Oh, no. No! No no no no no! Don’t you dare throw up under my bed! Get out from under there right now! Miffy!”
I dropped to the floor, flattening myself as much as I could, and reached into the dim cavern under the furniture. My fingers closed on something loose and hairy, and I pulled. The plunger noise ended abruptly.
I had been expecting a fight, especially given the size of the man, but he slid out surprisingly easily. My hand gripped flaccid skin on the back of his neck (ew), and he was curled into a fetal position as I dragged him out from under the bed. As soon as he was out, I let go. The asshole uncurled and looked around a bit startled.
“What the fuck, mate?” he said, and made an expression like he was going to turn inside out. His jaw dropped open, his body bunched up and released almost like it was doing the wave, and with one last plunger thrust, a pickle-sized packet of brown gunk ejected from his throat and flopped onto the floor next to me. It was slimy and hairy and cigar-shaped. I retched.
The man was now sniffing delicately at his ejection.
“Oh jesus fucking christ, man!” I yelled. “What the hell?”
He looked surprised. His eyes wide, and I swear, if his ears had been pointy, on top of his head, and able to swivel, they would have been facing straight backward. His body was tensed up and he looked ready to bolt again. Dammit. I took a breath, let it out.
“Ok,” I said, more calmly. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. But you just vomited all over my floor. Not cool, man. Not cool.” I was getting tense again.
The man relaxed enough to shrug. “Never bothered you that much before.”
“What? You’ve done that before? Do you—do you, like, sneak into my house and throw up on a regular basis? Fuckin’ nasty. No. No, no, that’s not possible. I’d have found it. One way or another.” I stood up.
“You always cleaned it up before. What’s the problem now?”
“The problem is that you’re a crazy, sweaty, pot-bellied stranger who pushed his way into my home like it belonged to him—“
“—and then ran rampant around it before vomiting on my floor.”
“Mate, I don’t know what’s with you, but I haven’t done anything different than usual. …Are you pissed I went away? Is that what this is about? I came back.” The man got up and walked out of the room, rubbing against the doorframe as he left.
I suppressed an exasperated cry. “Look, I’m about done. You do whatever the fuck you want. I’m going to clean up your vomit, and then I’m going to call the fucking police.”
“Suit yourself,” I heard from the other bedroom. “Your life.”
Downstairs in the kitchen, I went looking for paper towels and some cleaning supplies. I had just stood up from foraging under the sink when I heard a noise and caught movement out the back window. I looked and almost dropped the latex gloves I had just retrieved. Near the back of my yard, an absolutely gorgeous woman, like sultry, stunning, top model. Crouching, as if she had just jumped down from—the fence? As she stood up and started to stalk across the yard, a low whistle escaped my lips. Fuck. But what was she doing back there? And, come to think of it, why was she wearing cat ears?
A crass chuckle startled me. “Miffy” came up from behind and leaned against me. “Heh. Yeah, Ginger always has been a looker. The minx.”
Comments: I think this one was a response to some writing prompt, but I can’t remember which one, so…tant pis. The idea wrote itself pretty swiftly, then got interrupted. In the process of coming back repeatedly to it, I also wrote a couple other snippets of scenes between Miffy and his “owner”. Maybe they’ll be turned into sequels later.
If you like what you’re reading and want to see the work keep coming, head on over to my Patreon page and support me.
From blackness, a voice:
“Help me… Please help me… prisoner… dungeon of the castle.… name is…“
The voice drifts away into dream and haze, then returns.
“…wizard has done something…“
The voice (thin, high) fades out and in again.
“…other missing girls. Now only I—”
I startle awake in my chair, looking around. My cubicle. (A cubicle? Since when?) My tea-stained mug (who gave that to me?), my keyboard and its crumbs. My secondhand office chair, lumpy and torn. (Did the office actually give me this?) I struggle to recall what company I work for. A—bookstore, was it? No, that sounds… not quite—
Lightning and simultaneous thunder shake the office floor. A second flash, and then the lights go out. Pure dark.
I start to stand, slam my knee into some hard edge under the desk. Swear words come to mind, but all that tumbles out is a growl of random syllables. I’m clutching my knee and trying to balance on one leg, so I jerk and nearly fall over when a man’s voice addresses me.
“—I’m going downstairs for a bit. No need to worry, I’ll be back before long.”
I limp an about face and wince into a flashlight beam, raise my hand to shield my eyes. The light lowers and I see a mustached, balding man with a doting grin.
“Sorry,” he says. “I’ll be right back, just gonna see if someone’s still down in maintenance. You stay here, if the power comes back on you can keep working on the report without me. Or, y’know, go back to napping.”
He winks, fatherly, and walks away down the carpeted hall, disappears around a corner. I sit back down in the dark, massaging my knee. Who was he? Should I know him? He spoke like he knew me. Jerry, my mind says. Everyone calls him “Uncle Jerry”. It’s because of the mustache. Weird.
Wait. I can’t stay here in the dark. I pull open my desk drawers one by one, use the periodic lightning flashes to see their contents. Second try, I find a flashlight. Perfect. I get up, I stick my head over the top of my cubicle, and look around. The other workspaces are all empty. Great. Well, maybe I can find the vending machine and take all the Snickers.
Stupid! I realize when I get to them. The power’s out. Of course they don’t work!
All right, all right. I clutch my flashlight and head past the elevators toward the stairs. Damned if I’m gonna stay up here waiting for Jerry. I’ll just catch up with him downstairs, tell him I’m done for the night, gonna go home. He’ll understand. Heck, he’ll probably head out, too.
I push open the door to the stairwell, hear the noise echo down the lightless concrete shaft. Something about it makes me shiver. Whatever. It’s just the dark, the lack of electricity and people. I shine the flashlight ahead of me and pick my way down the stairs. I can hear the slow drip of water, and pointing my beam out into the empty space between flights, I glimpse something glinting as it falls. A roof leak, I bet. Continue on.
Seven flights down, I reach bottom. The floor is slick with water and my footsteps slap, splash and echo. The flashlight plays off of wet surfaces. Only one way to go—but wasn’t the corridor shorter last time I came through?
Something moans in the darkness, and I freeze, then inch forward, sweeping ahead with my light. There, in a heap against the wall: someone!
Carefully, I inch up. It’s Jerry, slumped where the floor meets the wall. He’s holding something tight to him—looks like a piece of office shelving. His other hand rests on a crowbar that’s lying on the wet floor.
“Wh-who? That voice…Link?” Jerry coughs out a laugh. “Thought I said to stay upstairs.”
“I got, I dunno, scared. Bored.”
“Ah, well…Guess you can’t…escape who you are.” He coughs again, and I notice the blood coloring his shirt. “Link…take the…the crowbar. And my shield…do what I couldn’t…rescue…her.”
Jerry’s head lolls as he goes unconscious. I check his pulse: faint but there. I don’t know anything about wounds, so I just make sure he’s comfortable and not bleeding too much.
Then I look down at the “shield” and crowbar. What the hell was Jerry talking about? Sigh. I pick up his “gifts” and stand, flashlight seeking the exit to the lobby. It’s not there. Instead, down the hall, a strange, old-looking wooden door, like you might see in a fantasy video game. I ready the crowbar and shelf-shield, and step slowly down the hall.
Comments: I feel like I posted this one already, but I can’t seem to find it in the archives. At any rate, I’ve revised it slightly, correcting a few words here and there. I still can’t find a good title, so what’s up there now is provisional. (If you have any ideas, by all means, suggest them!)
The idea originally came to me as a fun tribute roleplaying campaign, though Lord knows which system I’d have used. (Seems a number of my story ideas show up that way.) I held onto it for a long time, then was inspired by a writing prompt on Reddit to type it up as a story.
He had, in the end, made his choice. There were those things he loved—the gun parts, their machine oil tang, the powder going in and the acrid smoke after firing, the camaraderie of war brothers, the clacking, hungry jaws of the hounds—and there were those that were scarred into him—the wails of the stricken, the rolling rumble of enemy engines, artillery fire approaching like some terrible countdown. The contortions of the dead, the irrevocably wounded. The stink of trench disease. The putrid water, the chemical food, the rampant shits. In the end, it was these that weighed the most, and these that he had hoped somehow to set aside.
His niece had always loved the plank swing under the elm in his yard. He had pushed her on it, many a time. Her shrill giggles. He had hoped, laying down arms, deserting—he had hoped that he would at last win himself time to do more of that. To swing with her, even.
Well, now he was swinging.
GERALD ALEXANDER ROTHBURN.
It was the tone Jerry’s mother used to use when she was annoyed. Jerry rolled his eyes out of habit. “What?”
YOU MUST CEASE YOUR CALCULATIONS.
It was then that Jerry realized he didn’t know whom he was talking to. No one was supposed to be in the Maths wing this late, and he was pretty sure he would have heard the classroom door open anyway. He looked around hesitantly from the chalkboard. Behind him about two meters back, between the lectern and the front row of desks, and hovering perhaps a half meter off the floor, was a figure robed in elaborate white—tall, with a red and gold stole, and three brilliantly backlit heads that emerged from one neck, noon sunlight streaming from a spot just behind them.
Jerry gaped. “Wh-Who are you?” he managed to stutter.
For a long time, the being didn’t answer. Then:
EHYEH ASHER EHYEH.
Jerry raised a hand against the light and squinted. “What does that even mean?”
I AM THAT I AM, GERALD ALEXANDER ROTHBURN.
YES. DESIST IN YOUR MATHEMATICS.
“Stop? No! I can’t. God, no!—sorry—Don’t you realize what this will do to the world? Of course you do, you’re omniscient.” Jerry rolled his eyes at himself. “Jesus!—sorry, sorry—it’s just, this would revolutionize everything! How can I stop? Why? Why would you tell me to do that? You can see the good it would do”
QUITE SIMPLY PUT, EACH BEING MUST FIND FAITH FOR HIM-, HER-, OR ITSELF.
Jerry gave the three-headed being a look. “You’re omnipotent. If my equation is so problematic,” he said, “why not simply prevent me from finding it. Or better yet, make it unproblematic, or make me interested in entomology instead of math?”
FREE WILL IS ESSENTIAL.
“Free will is— So I needed to find faith in my own way, and I need to be allowed to decide what to do with my discovery on my own? You can’t—or won’t—stop me. You want to persuade me.” Jerry sneered out that last verb.
God was silent.
“What if I do publish the formula? What, then? Will you punish me?”
HUMANITY IS NOT KIND TO PROPHETS, GERALD.
“Is that a threat?”
IT IS SIMPLY A STATEMENT OF WHAT YOU KNOW.
“You’re threatening me.”
I DO NOT WISH YOU HARM.
“Great.” Jerry almost rolled his eyes again before a thought stopped him. “Now, wait a minute! I’m not going to preach any sort of religion whatsoever. This is hard, mathematical proof here. Not craze-brained hallucinatory belief.” He spat the last word out like a knot of mucus.
TRUTH IS REGULARLY UNCOVERED, GERALD ALEXANDER ROTHBURN, BY MANY MEANS. IT IS JUST AS REGULARLY BURIED, REJECTED, OR IGNORED.
“So some of those prophets had it right.”
The figure looked at Jerry.
I AM THAT I AM, GERALD ALEXANDER ROTHBURN.
“OK, so which ones were right?”
ALL OF THEM. NONE.
“Alright. So why all the contradictions among accounts? Why all the resultant conflict?”
QUOD VIDĒ FREE WILL.
Jerry narrowed his eyes. “I call bullshit. That’s a cop-out answer, and I won’t accept it. You’re God, or you say you are. Creator, divine spark, all that. Presumed all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful. You made choices. Deliberate ones. Informed ones. There’s no other option for you. Even changing your mind isn’t really a change, let alone a surprise for you, but rather a calculated decision. If it can really be called calculating, since for you, it’s merely knowing. You can’t make something and let it go free to do as it pleases, since you’ve always already known what it will do and become. Maybe it’s not control, per se, but it sure as heck isn’t freedom either.”
The triune figure said nothing. Jerry crossed his arms. “You don’t deny it.”
I AM LETTING YOU COME TO YOUR OWN CONCLUSIONS.
“Oh, fuck off. You’re not above this. You came down to me.” Jerry got bolder. This whole thing was going tits up and he was going to blow the cover off it. “Everything you say or don’t say, every little action you take or fail to take, influences me. You know that. You know exactly what you’re doing, and where this conversation will end.”
“And you’re a royal ass, is what.” Now that Jerry had said it, it seemed a little small, like not enough blanket to cover the bed. Like a baby blanket on a king-sized bed, even.
YOU ARE ANGRY.
“No. Yes. I was, up until I said what I just said.” Truth was, Jerry was tired. “Look. You try coming face to face with your creator only to find out he’s—it’s a giant fucking manipulator. See how you feel.”
A pause. The being floated there, saying nothing, showing nothing.
“Are you—are you hurt?” Jerry asked.
I LOVE YOU, GERALD ALEXANDER ROTHBURN.
“Like fuck you do. Don’t change the subject.”
I LOVE ALL OF MY CREATION.
“Uh huh. Right. Well. I guess that’s better than the alternative, O He of Two Emotions. I don’t really fancy being wrathed into a pillar of salt.” Jerry felt his cheeks flush again. The fucker was good at pissing him off, wasn’t it?
YOUR SIN DOES NOT MERIT THAT TREATMENT.
“Yeah. What sin does? Real goddamn reassuring, you are. You’ve already determined the outcome. Doesn’t matter what I say, or even what you say. My end is going to be my end, whenever and however that happens, because you chose it. Or actively didn’t not choose it. Fuck you.”
GERALD ALEXANDER ROTHBURN.
“No, seriously, fuck you. Fuck you for coming down here to tell me what to do, fuck you for trying to make me think I have a choice, and fuck you for predetermining everything anyway.”
Jerry was breathing heavily now, red-faced. This was not how he had expected his proof to turn out.
DO YOU WISH ME TO GO, THEN?
“What?” Jerry was taken aback.
DO YOU WISH ME TO LEAVE YOU TO YOUR CALCULATIONS?
“I- you- they- gaaAAAAAAa!” Jerry kept growling for a minute.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
“What a dickish question. Yes, I want you to leave me alone with my math, but no, I don’t want you to go away. (How often does one get this sort of chance?) I don’t know. Do whatever you intend to do. You were always going to do that, anyway. Fuck.”
There was silence for awhile, then clicking as Jerry picked up the chalk and renewed his work.
JERRY. YOU ARE HUMAN.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
YOU ARE FALLIBLE. FRAGILE.
Jerry hissed out a sigh. “Threats again? How does one tell God to go to hell?”
YOUR WORK EXACTS A PRICE FROM YOUR BODY. FROM YOU.
“Yeah, yeah. Fatigue, stress, etc. I exercise four days a week and I get plenty of sleep, thank you very much. You sound like my mother. Go to hell.”
There was more silence. Then:
YOUR PROOF IS STRICTLY PERSONAL.
“Of course it is,” Jerry said, wiping sweat from his cheek. “I don’t get paid to do this. I get paid to coddle undergrads.”
“What else is new?”
THE ONLY CERTAINTY TO BE HAD IS IN DEATH, GERALD ALEXANDER ROTHBURN.
“Fine,” Jerry said. “You know what? I think I’m going to finish this. Just to spite you, I’m going to finish my proof.”
YOU WILL NOT CONTINUE.
“Yeah? Fuck you.”
YOU MISUNDERSTAND AGAIN.
Jerry clenched his mouth into a firm line. Then he went to move back to the board, but something twinged somewhere in his chest and he stumbled. Tried to catch himself against the chalk ledge, but instead he was on the floor. Everything far away and moving in stilted clips. The distant sound of a door opening, and voices, and