Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Old Country Waltz



The Old Country Waltz
(a true story!)

When I tell people that I had an after school job taking care of horses, they mostly ask if I rode the horses or groomed them or did whatever the hell else you’re supposed to do with them, like, I don’t know, go for buggy rides or something. I didn’t do any of that. I shoveled up their crap.

I actually don’t like horses much. I don’t bear them ill will, I just don’t trust them. They are smart creatures and can be quite graceful and beautiful, but they only do one thing well and that’s move forward. Any other kind of movement, like backing up or moving sideways, turns them into flailing beasts that can easily turn a stable boy’s head into mush.

And they also have a condition known as ‘crazy eye’. Crazy eye is mostly found in humans and most people don’t think to look for it in animals, but it’s there. They get this crazy eye because they are just smart enough to know that if a predator happens by and they can’t move forward to get away from it, they’re fucked. So they’re hyper-vigilant and ready at any moment to unleash their only defense, which is to flail around spastically and kick the shit out of anything that’s nearby.

This also could be me projecting my own fears onto the animal. I have a healthy respect for horses because they are mostly giant, tense balls of muscle, teeth, and hoof, and I knew that if I spooked them or did anything foolish, they would quickly turn me into a bleeding pile of rags. I tend to have respect and awe for animals that are capable of mangling me without having to put any effort into it.

So, in other words, this after school job taught me that maybe I shouldn’t look for a career working with animals.

During the summer, there were some opportunities to work more hours and put some folding money into my pocket. This mostly took the form of a job simply called “hayin’”. Hayin’ is the act of cutting, bundling, stacking, unstacking, and restacking hay. Essentially, a tractor would go out into a field of long grass and cut it, kind of like a lawnmower only a much larger scale, and then a fabulously complex machine called a hay baler would be hauled along the field and it would suck up the cut grass, bundle it, snap baling wire around it, and then shit it out the back end.

Much like with the horses, I had a healthy respect for the hay baler. I was always a little afraid to go near it because I knew that one wrong move and it would suck me in, slice me to ribbons, and the tie my parts together with a nice, neat bow. So again this job taught me that I probably shouldn’t explore a career involving any kind of machine with more than three moving parts.

Anyway, after the tractor and the hay baler did their job, a truck hauling a flatbed trailer filled with teenagers, myself included, would be driven out into the field. We would then walk slowly behind the truck, pick up the bales of hay (which weighed around fifty pounds each, give or take) and pile them onto the flatbed. This was a chore that got steadily harder the longer you did it. As the trailer filled up, you had to toss the bale of hay higher and higher, usually until we had it about fifteen feet high or so. Then the truck would be carefully driven back to the barn and unloaded. We repeated this all day, every day, for about a week or so.

Another thing that I should mention is the weather. We did this job in the late summer, because that was when the grass was nice and long and still dry. You want the hay to be dry because (fun fact) a wet bale of hay will burst into flame under the right conditions. That always blew my mind. There is a scientific reason for it, but I’m not going to go into it here. Just know that you live in a world where wet grass can spontaneously catch on fire and burn a large swath of land.

If you weren’t aware, summers in Maine are a soothing experience. The sun is just warm enough on your skin, like a cozy cardigan, and a periodic relaxing wind caresses you with an almost silken touch. This lasts for about fifteen minutes just after sunrise, then the rest of the day becomes a muggy hellscape filled with black flies, mosquitos, and rage with the mortality rate of assholes saying “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humidity” spiking dramatically.

Needless to say, this job also taught me that I shouldn’t work outside.

And so it came to be that, on the third or fourth day of doing this job, I woke up with a horrible feeling around my crotch. My entire upper thigh area, including my naughty bits, were an alarming red color and itched like hell. I had gotten heat rash. On my balls. And I had to go to work.

I don’t know what kind of people you would work with that would be okay with a man scratching his nuts all day in front of them, but the guys I was working with were not it. Just the day before one of my coworkers had worn these billowy plaid pants, and we spent the day calling him McHammer and reciting lyrics to “U Can’t Touch This” at him with a thick Irish brogue. And by “we” I mean mostly “me” because I’m kind of an asshole.

So I knew I just had to suffer through it. The day grew horribly hot and the air didn’t move at all. Besides being just all-around itchy, because hay is not exactly the smoothest of substances, my crotch was on fire. The worst was just after our lunch break. I had hours to go before I could get to a store and get some kind of powder or something, and the sun just sat like a fat devil right over our heads. That’s when WBLM decided that I wasn’t quite suffering enough.

WBLM, the Blimp, was the only station we could tune in on our shitty little portable radio. It was, and still is, a classic rock station that simply belches forth a steady stream of Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. All goddamn day. It may have been a contributing factor to my lifelong indifference to music. This particular weekend, WBLM decided to put on what they called a “Roll The Dice Weekend.” What this consisted of was a lazy dee jay would “roll” two six-sided dice (complete with roll-the-dice sound effect) and whatever number came up would be the number of songs played by a particular artist.

Now this lazy bastard decides that the next musician to get the roll the dice treatment would be Neil Young. Of course, because I imagine the dee jay wanted some time to update his resumé or smoke a joint, he rolls boxcars. Twelve songs in a row with no commercial interruption by Neil Young. Yay!

So there I am, sweating my inflamed, hay covered ass off in the middle of a black fly infested field, trying not to fall into a medieval torture tube that could reduce me to a neatly bundled square of pulped meat, while a damned Canadian whines at me. Of course, I realize it could have been any musician and I would have suffered. I have nothing against Neil Young personally and from all accounts that I’ve read, he seems like a good musician, caring father, and unique whateverthefuck, but there is a special level of Hell where, right now, sinners are getting sunburned while their crotch is swollen and inflamed and their whole body is covered in dry grass while some demon plays Southern Man on a fucking loop.


And though they look all placid and gentle grazing in the next field over, I know that those damned horses are just thinking of new ways to freak out and cave my head in. And to top it all off, I’m surrounded by teenaged hicks (a group I certainly belonged to at the time) who were all trying to come up with new ways to insult or punch each other and I was too distracted to take part, because I was desperately resisting the urge not to go nuts scratching my crotch like a madman.

Which is why, to this day, the sound of Neil Young’s voice makes my balls itch.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Revenant (Chapter Twelve)


Revenant

Chapter Twelve

In the two years I'd spent tracking Darryl, I spent a great deal of time going over the journal that Clive had given me when he died. I no longer held any illusions that Clive had been a good man. In fact, I came to learn that he had been a downright evil one. The journal not only laid out how Clive had gone about sewing my soul up in my own body, but also outlined all of the despicable things he and Darryl had gotten up too.

I pulled the journal out now and looked at it. On the outside it looked like a ordinary, battered leather book. Inside, I knew, it contained a treasure trove of horrible knowledge. Rituals and procedures that could change the very fabric of our reality. It was evil, sure, but it could also become a powerful tool for justice.

Not even thinking twice, I tossed it into the fire I had started. The flames ate it eagerly and flared into new life, illuminating the cavern I had dragged myself and Darryl into. I reached out pulled out a fiery stick, used it to light the fuse that ran to the charges I had set at the mouth of the cave. As it hissed and sputtered, racing along the cavern floor, I leaned back and finally let myself rest. I couldn't help but smile as I looked over at where Darryl sprawled on the other side of the fire.

He looked like my twin. His mouth was loosely sewn together with silver threads, dark glasses fused over his eyes, his nostrils plugged with wax. The only differences were that his stomach  bulged out from what I had stuffed in there during the ritual and that my soul was slowly leaking out of me from where Darryl had shot me.

Like I said, I spent a lot of time over the last two years studying that journal.

The sound of the detonation was what finally woke Darryl.

“Where am I?” he muttered, his had hand reaching up to touch the stitches that loosely held him HIS mouth shut. A thick cloud of dust wafted up the tunnel and swirled around us, causing the fire almost gutter out. Darryl looked at it and saw the journal burning. “What are you doing? That book is priceless!”

He slumped back against the wall, his face a mask of agony.

“Wow,” I said mildly, feeling weak as I finally began to let myself go. “A book getting destroyed brings out more emotion from you than a person meeting the same fate.”

“Look, we can work this out,” Darryl spasmed, grabbing his stomach. He looked down at himself, his hands tracing the outline of a rectangle that jutted obscenely out of his skin. “What the hell is this? What have you done to me?”

“This whole time I been hunting you,” I said, “I've been worried about one thing. What to do with you when I found you.”

Darryl frantically grabbed at himself, finding more obscured shapes and angles under his crudely sewn skin.

“I knew I was going to kill you,” I continued, watching the thin blue tendrils of my soul flow out me and coalesce near the roof of the cave. “that was a given. But what kept me up at night was a nagging question. 'What if there ain't a Hell?'”

“What have you done?” Darryl screamed. “What have put inside me?”

“That right there,” I said, pointing at the rectangle, “is a jewelry box. Belonged to Theodora Hughs. You killed her in Abilene, sliced her throat and left her in an alley.”

Darryl began to panic. It was the sweetest thing I'd ever seen.

“I really had to work to get that crammed in there,” I continued. “I finally lodged it in next to a silver hair brush that Emily Kline had been fond of in life. It's also wedged next to a pocket watch that belonged to Miss Ellie Mae Cramer.”

The spirits began to flicker into the cave, adding an eerie blue tinge to the orange light of the dying fire.

“I had to fit a lot of stuff into you, Darryl,” I said as I faded out. “It was disturbing, sure. But worth it. So worth it. You see, I like the idea of Hell. The idea that evil men get tortured for their sins, that the folks who they've killed or wronged get some justice. But I couldn't bank on it.”

Darryl began to shake, his body twitching and jerking. He whimpered as bruises began to appear on his skin. I watched as one of his ribs suddenly broke and stabbed out through his flesh, only to be rapidly pulled back inside, the hole closing up behind it.

“I figure I managed to stuff the precious belongings of about two dozen of your victims in there with you. Two dozen angry spirits to keep you company and make sure you don't get bored. Eventually you'll die, your body will disintegrate and you'll be free to cross over to whatever lies beyond. And who knows, maybe there is a Hell. If so, I'll be seeing you then, Darryl.”

The sounds of his screams were like music as both the fire and myself finally had the good sense to die out.

The End

Friday, January 18, 2013

You: Chapter Fifteen (A Choose Your Own Adventure)


You

 Welcome to Choose Your Own Adventure time! The way this is going to work is pretty familiar. Each chapter, you will be given one or two choices that will dictate how the story progresses. The choices will be given in the body of the story and you vote your choice by clicking on the answer in the corresponding poll on the right side of this here blog. Voting begins on Saturday when the story posts and remains open until Tuesday night.
   A word of warning, though! Unlike a Choose Your Own Adventure book, you can't go back and make a different decision to get a different outcome. Whatever decision wins the vote on Tuesday is final, so choose wisely.

-Rich
Chapter Fifteen


You bring the motorcycle to a stop outside the dilapidated barn just as the sun begins to set. Stepping off, you take a look around the area and stretch your back. It pops loudly.
“This is the place?” you ask The Brain. You've been riding for hours, constantly changing directions in case you were being followed, and are feeling more irritable than normal. You don't know what you were expecting when The Brain told you he had a secret hideout, but a run-down barn in the Agriculture Zone wasn't it.

“It's more secure than it looks,” The Brain assures you mildly.

You grab your backpack from the bike and begin to walk slowly toward the barn. Whatever crops had once been planted here have long since been choked to death by long, tubular weeds. A ragged scarecrow reigns gloomily over a field of withered corn.

“I take it no one comes here much?” you ask.

“Most of the city's food needs were being met by the farms on levels one and three,” The Brain explains. “so the council decided to abandon this level. I bought this barn through a fake identity I made. Our masters back home know nothing of it.”

You step in through the partially open barn door and peer inside. Old, rotting bales of hay lie in decaying clumps against the back wall. A few empty horse stalls and a loft, a battered table, and a pile of rusted tools round out the décor and make you wonder if you'll get a splinter, tetanus, or die in an avalance of dead grass.

“I love what you've done with the place,” you say as you set your backpack on the table, which creaks alarmingly, and begin to unstrap The Brain's tank from your chest. “Really homey.”

“It is more structurally sound than it looks,” The Brain says. “Behind that pile of hay over there is a computer terminal and some lab equipment. We'll need those if we're going to plan a jail break. Are you sure you still want to do this?”

“No,” you admit. “but we can't trust our own people to save us and the human rebels here...well, may not like me so much since I kinda, sorta bashed one of them over the head. That leaves the enemy of our enemy, I guess.”

“So, what the pla...Wait a minute, what are they doing here?”

You look over at your backpack and see that one of the shrunken people you rescued has crawled out of your bag and is looking around. He's dressed like a milkman. You reach over and let the rest out. You'd almost forgotten they were in there.

“I couldn't let you blow them up,” you say. “And maybe they can help us with this jailbreak thing.”

“How?”

“I don't know. Maybe they can crawl in through the bars or something?”

“This is a high-tech prison facility,” The Brain yells. “They don't have bars! They have force-fields and things of that nature. Two-inch-tall Amway salesmen aren't going to be of much use.”

“Well they could...There are Amway salesmen here?”
“Yes, we've found that Amway exists on almost all civilized parallels. The implications are disturbing,” The Brain goes silent for a moment, thinking, then snaps back to reality. “At any rate, I suppose we have to brainstorm some options and we shouldn't rule anything out. Can you still access the nanites in your bloodstream?”

“Not since I put this thing on,” you say, pointing to the circlet on your head. “It seems that it not only blocks Orson but also doesn't allow me to use the computer functions in my head. We could lie to Orson, tell him we're still working for the folks back home and that we're breaking out...I don't know...some other guy to help us get into the Citadel's labs and see what they are up to?”

“I suppose we could do that,” The Brain muses. “We have to assume he's infiltrated the city's water supply by now and has access to every building in the city. Or at least everywhere that has plumbing. And we'd have access to more manpower. It is risky though. Is that my giant serum in your bag?”

“Are you thinking we could use it to restore the shrunken guys to regular size?”

“Huh? No, no, they're doomed to stay like this forever,” The Brain says dismissively. You see a small woman begin to sob. The tiny Milkman comforts her and glares at The Brain. “Well, maybe not forever, but who has time to think about such things. I was considering that you could use the serum and simply rip the side of the jail open. If we wanted to be crude about it.”

“I always wanted to stomp through a city like Godzilla.”

“Who doesn't?”

“What else do we have?” you ask as you wander around the barn.

“We could scrap the whole idea and try to infiltrate the Citadel on our own,” The Brain says after a moment. “We don't need to break anyone out of jail. We just need to stop the Martians from developing trans-dimensional travel. I have to admit, I don't like the Venusians anymore than I like the Martians. Who knows what this guy that's been jailed has planned. They could be orchestrating an invasion on the city.”

“That is a good point,” you admit. “So what are we going to do?”

What ARE you going to do?

1. Convince the Wee People to help you.
2. Lie to Orson to get his cooperation.
3. Use the Giant Serum
4. Forget the Venusians, go solo into the Citadel.


So, there you go! You have until midnight Tuesday, January 29th to make your choices and the new chapter will post on Saturday, February 2nd. Have fun!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Gorilla Malloy & The Silver Skull Of Amnorak


Gorilla Malloy And The Silver Skull Of Amnorak


Simmons stood up on the control platform, like a king observing his domain, and cast his gaze over the rows of data analysts and security officers. This was his first time taking control of the sprawling command center of the Special Response Team and, though he tried not to show it, was dreadfully nervous about screwing up. It didn’t help that his eyes kept getting drawn to Analyst Fitzgerald’s legs, which were maybe the most exquisite things he’d ever seen. He’d been working up the courage to ask her out for lunch or coffee or something ever since he’d gotten this job.

Realizing he was staring at them again, he hurriedly looked back down at the large touch screen computer monitors that were arrayed in front of him. Several of the analysts had shunted some emergencies his way so that he could back up their initial responses. A fire at a Newark area nuclear facility that Analyst Jackson felt was routine enough for the local fire fighters to handle. Simmons agreed. A break-in at the Mushaki building in Los Angeles also seemed pretty routine, so he approved that too. Some hackers had broken the security system of a federal building, no big deal. Fourteen separate instances of crime and each one of them more mundane than the last.

But just as Simmons was about to write off the afternoon of his first command as being just another routine shift, something about that Mushaki break-in began to nag at him. He rapidly scrolled back to the notification with his right hand while his left brought up any relevant information about the building, its owners, and its contents. He scanned the data, shunted a few items to the analysts below, like a zookeeper tossing fish to a flock of penguins, and began his hunt for whatever was nagging at him.

Analyst Adani shunted an article from a small antiquities magazine up to him and everything clicked into place. Swearing quietly, and stealing a quick look at Fitzgerald’s legs, he touched the red icon that would put him in contact with General Fuller. While he waited for the grizzled old general to respond, he directed every available satellite feed, traffic camera, and hijacked cell phone to feed him real time images and sound of the area around the target building.

“What is it?” General Fuller’s face popped up on right side of Simmons’s monitor.

“We have a situation, Sir,” Simmons said nervously. “I think you should come down here.”

Fuller rolled his eyes and stood, giving Simmons a sudden and unwanted look at the General’s crotch. “Have everything up on the big screen by the time I get there.”

The energy in the room had changed. Each of the twenty analysts were frantically sifting through a mass of data and throwing any relevant details up to Simmons’s monitor, where he would sift it further, and shunt the crucial details up onto the big screen for the General to digest. A police dashcam had a good view of the front doors of the building, where a team of armed men could be seen pacing back and forth. A news copter had arrived on scene and were filming another group on the roof. One of the men looked like he had a rocket launcher.

“What do we got?” Fuller growled as he walked up the steps to the command platform.

“Looks like we have a Die Hard situation, Sir,” Simmons replied. “There’s a  team of aggressors holed up in the Mushaki building in Downtown L.A. They have the ground floor and the roof covered and, according to our seismic data, they set off some kind of detonation in the underground garage and may have sealed off that entrance. That just leaves a few service entrances, which we have to assume are covered or booby trapped.”

“Dug in like ticks, eh?” Fuller mused, an unlit cigar clamped in his teeth. His hand moved over the monitors, expanded some images on the big screen, taking in the whole situation. “So why is this our deal, Simmons? Why not leave it to the feds and the locals?”

Reaching awkwardly around the general, Simmons flicked the article from the antique magazine up onto the screen. A giant photo of a silver, devil-horned skull filled the screen.

“This is why I think it’s our deal, General. The Silver Skull of Amnorak. Supposedly it has magical properties and is cursed and blah blah. What’s important is that it is worshipped by a cult, the Cult of Amnorak, and is one of their most prized icons. For decades it was thought lost, but...”

“Don’t tell me,” Fuller sighed. “The skull is in that building.”

“It turned up last month at an auction in Paris where it was purchased by one Hiroshi Mushaki,” Simmons said, putting images of the relevant data up on the screen. He zoomed in on the dash-cam photo of the aggressors, highlighting an armband with a silver skull insignia on it. “The cult demanded its return, made threats, but were ignored by the Mushaki Corporation.”

“They can’t ignore them now,” the General said. “I think we can assume that these are fanatics who can’t wait to die for their cause. Fantastic. You were right Simmons, this is our deal.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Simmons felt an odd mixture of relief and pride. “I have a few analysts working on a plan of attack. We figure if we move a few fire teams in....”

“I’m going to stop you there, son,” Fuller said. “When it comes to a job like this, there’s only one agent I trust to get it done right.”

All of the data analysts and security personnel turned to look at the General, each of them had a look of joyful expectation. Simmons was confused.

“One agent, Sir? Who would that be?”

“Gorrilla Malloy.”

The room erupted into a cacophony of cheers and high fives. The General glared at them and they quieted down instantly, getting back to work, but Simmons could see the faint edges of smile on the old man’s face. Simmons took a deep breath.

“Sir, I know I’m new here,” he began. “and that it probably isn’t my place but...”

“Speak your mind, son.”

“Well, I’ve been going through the records, specifically the ones concerning Gorilla Malloy and I think...”

“That’s some pretty thrilling reading, ain’t it,” Fuller said, his face full of pride. “That sonofabitch is worth ten fire teams.”

“Sir...he’s a gorilla.”

“More like a gorilla-and-a-half.”

“No, I mean he’s an actual gorilla. I know he got struck by lightning...”

“Which gave him his trademark shamrock scar on his cheek,” an excited analyst whose name Simmons had forgotten yelled up. “That’s why they named him Malloy!”

“Yeah, I know that,” Simmons said carefully. “And I know that he likes to wear pants...”

“Battle fatigues,” the analyst corrected.

“Battle fatigues, yeah. And that we gave him a gun...”

“A custom made .50 caliber automatic,” the analyst shouted up. “which he’s never fired because a gorilla like Gorilla Malloy doesn’t need a gun to fight crime!”

“He doesn’t need a gun because he’s a gorilla.”

“And a half,” Fuller added.

“No, I mean he’s just a gorilla,” Simmons exclaimed. “I don’t think he’s an intelligent, mutant, crime-fighting gorilla. I think he’s just a fucking monkey in pants.”

The room went quiet. Fuller slowly turned his head and caught Simmons in a withering gaze. Simmons nervously looked away and saw that everyone was giving him the same glare. Out of the corner of his eye, Simmons say Analyst Fitzgerald slowly get up and make her way to the command platform stairway. She walked up right up to him, looking down on him with blue eyes cold as winter, and slapped him hard across the face.

“He’s an ape, you son of a bitch!” She hissed at him. “An ape who saved my life!”

Simmons felt his jaw click back into place and wondered if this hurt his chances at getting that lunch date.

“Look, I read his record,” Simmons said loudly enough for the whole room to hear. “I know he saved all of you when that terrorist cell broke in and took you all hostage last year, but he did it by throwing feces at them and then bludgeoning them to death. When he was done, he climbed up into the rafters and fell asleep. He only came down when you put a female in his habitat.”

“He is a horny bastard, I’ll give him that,” Fuller said with a chuckle. Everyone in the room, except Fitzgerald, chuckled along with him.

Fuller grabbed Simmons by the shoulder and pulled him close.

“Look, son, why don’t you shut up for a bit before everyone here hangs you for treason. Gorilla Malloy is this agency’s best weapon and you should see him in action before you go shooting your mouth off, okay?”

“Yes, Sir,” Simmons said, feeling his jaw click back into place..

“Good. Now, without any further interruptions,” the General said, pointing a finger at the big screen and raising his voice. “Deploy Gorilla Malloy!”

Simmons rubbed his cheek and looked up at Analyst Fitzgerald.

“So, uh, what are you doing for lunch today?”

Saturday, January 12, 2013

You: Chapter Fourteen (A Choose Your Own Adventure)


YOU

   Welcome to Choose Your Own Adventure time! The way this is going to work is pretty familiar. Each chapter, you will be given one or two choices that will dictate how the story progresses. The choices will be given in the body of the story and you vote your choice by clicking on the answer in the corresponding poll on the right side of this here blog. Voting begins on Saturday when the story posts and remains open until Tuesday night.
   A word of warning, though! Unlike a Choose Your Own Adventure book, you can't go back and make a different decision to get a different outcome. Whatever decision wins the vote on Tuesday is final, so choose wisely.

-Rich


Chapter Fourteen

Setting the Brain, nestled in his new portable tank, by the back door, you run back into the kitchen and sling your backpack onto the counter. Removing the binoculars and tablet you consider which one to leave behind.

“Fuck it,” you mutter, placing both on the countertop and stuffing the bottle of giant serum inside. “If I can’t see, it don’t matter and if I ain’t read it, I can’t be bothered by it.”

You quickly walk through the rest of the house to see if there is anything else worth taking, but ultimately decide to leave the shrink ray and the jerky behind. It’s too bad really, you’ve always heard that beef jerky made by mad scientists was supposed to be like little, tough chunks of heaven, but having a little extra room in your backpack may come in handy.

You are just about to leave so that the Brain can blow up his old house when you remember the shrunken people out on the front porch. If the house goes, they’re going to go too. You debate it for a moment, should you run them out to the sidewalk or put them out of their misery. They aren’t anyone to you, after all.

What do you do?

Choice One

1. Save the wee people!
2. Let ‘em burn!


Slinging your backpack on, you make your way back through the house and pick up the Brain.

“Why do you have a backpack that only holds three things?” the Brain asks. “Seems like a pretty impractical design.”

“I know, I don’t see why I don’t just cram as much stuff as I can into it, but there you go. So where is this bike?”

“Behind the shed. We’d better hurry, I already set the timer to detonate the house.”

“How did you do that without any hands?”

“Don’t ask stupid questions. Let’s go.”

You make your way through the overgrown backyard and try to muscle your way past an unruly bush to get to the back of the Brain’s shed. After snapping a few branches, you finally plunge past the bush and find a tarpaulin covered mound sitting in the middle a cleared patch of ground. Looking a little closer, you notice something suspicious about the cleared patch and the back of the shed.

“How come everything looks burned away?” you ask the brain.

“That would be the radiation. Now hurry up and uncover it so we can get out of here.”

Though you feel yourself filling with doubt, you throw back the tarp and take a look at the motorcycle that lies beneath. All that doubt drains away.

“That is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” you say with awe. The motorcycle before you is a masterpiece of chrome and steel. It looks like a Harley had some kind of torrid fourway with a lion, a swan, and a fighter jet and then gave birth to this angelic marvel of engineering. You feel a tear come to your eye. “How did you build this?”

“I don’t really remember, it was like I was possessed or something,” the Brain says. “I just know that I wanted an escape vehicle, something capable of taking me across the wasteland if I had to flee. Two weeks later, I had this.”

You climb on and examine the array of controls before. Though it is a ground vehicle, with tires almost as wide as your arm is long, you see one button that will put it into hover mode. A few other buttons are marked with icons for rockets and machine guns.

“Does this thing have weapons?” you ask.

“Of course it does,” the Brain says, exasperated. “I was going to use it to escape into the wasteland wasn’t I? Now let’s go. Quickly now.”

You push a button marked “Ignition” and feel the motor hum to life beneath you. You nervously open the throttle on the handle just a teensy bit and the rocket booster on the back flares into life. The bike lurches forward, like a beast barely chained, before tearing across the yard and smashing through flimsy fence that surrounds the house. You and the Brain roar down the street at an ungodly speed, the heat of the engines nearly melting the asphalt as you go.

It takes a moment for you to realize that the maniacal laughter you hear is coming from you.

Minutes later, after shooting out of Gammaville and making your way to the expressway, the Brain begins to shout up at you.

“So, what’s the plan? Where are we going?”

“The park. We’re going to meet up with that spy you mentioned. I figure that the Venusians don’t want the Martians finding other Earths to conquer, that would make them too powerful, so we’re going to use them to find out what’s going on so we can stop it.”

“They are a duplicitous species. They will betray us.”

“Not if we backstab ‘em first. Now shut up. I’m going to enjoy this ride while it lasts.”

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

After a hour and a half of riding, which involved an hour of being “lost” in the Agricultural Zone, you find the sprawling park that dominates the center of the domed city. Finding a secluded area, tree-lined area you stash the bike and follow the Brain’s instructions for setting its vicious anti-theft system.

“There’s a trench coat in the compartment on the back,” the Brain says. “it should be enough to at least partially cover me.”

You reach into the compartment and pull out the battered, leather trench coat. It’s heavy, but comforting. Adjusting your pack and the Brian’s carrier, you walk out of the woods and begin to follow a manicured dirt trail.

“So where do we find this guy?” you ask. “I assume he doesn’t wear a sign that says he’s a spy.”

“It’s a she,” the Brain says. “and according to our reports she operates a hot dog stand near the main fountain. You’ll have to go up to her, ask for a hot dog with anchovies and cream cheese, and follow her instructions from there. I would imagine she is going to have you do something to prove your loyalty to the Venusians.”

“Ooh, this feels like real spy stuff,” you say, feeling giddy.

“It doesn’t when you say stuff like that.”

“Don’t be mean,” you admonish, smacking the side of his tank.

Making your way through the park, you notice all of statuary set into little niches alongside the path. Most of them depict Martian flying triangle-ships crushing some major city. The first you encounter has a ship destroying the Statue of Liberty with a death-ray. The next victim is the Eiffel Tower. Then the Pyramids. It makes you feel nervous that the Martians could do the same to your world.

“There she is,” the Brain whispers up at you.

She’s a skinny one all right, like a skeleton that’s had some parchment spread over it. Her hair is black and cut short, her face seems to made up of competing angles sharp enough to cut. Behind her stands a massive water fountain depicting a dozen Martian triangles shooting death-rays at a giant metal Earth.

Feeling more than a little nervous, you make your way to the hot dog vendor and wait in line. After the small knot of people move on, you step up to the cart.

“What can I get for you?” the woman rasps at you.

“I was hoping for a hot dog with cream cheese and anchovies,” you say, hoping you sound conspiratorial enough. The woman fixes you with a black-eyed glare.

“I haven’t made one of those in a long time,” she says after a moment. “My partner makes them better than I can, but he’s been taken prisoner by border security.”

“Is that so? I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Me too,” she says, still giving you stink-eye. “So I would need him to really make a hot dog like that work. But someone would have to go into the security building in the Slum Zone and get him for me.”

“I guess we’ll just have to see if that happens,” you say, a cold feeling begins to creep up your gut. “I’ll be seeing you.”

She doesn’t say anything as you make your way across the park and back into the woods. Finding a bench, you sit down and weigh your options.

“So we have to go break out some rebel from a security building in the Slum Zone, eh?” the Brain asks. “That should prove a challenge.”

“Especially considering I broke out of there the moment I got into town. My face has to be all over that place.”

“Damn. So what are we going to do?”

Choice Two

1. Go to the Slum Zone and break out the Venusian sympathizer
2. Forget the Venusians, contact Orson
3. Go to the Citadel and try impersonate your duplicate
4.Contact Jacob’s people


So, there you go! You have until midnight Tuesday, January 15th to make your choices and the new chapter will post on Saturday, January 19th. Have fun!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Dune Buggy Debutantes (Complete Edition)

Dune Buggy Debutantes
Complete Edition

Part One

Lenore opened the throttle but the back tires spun uselessly, burying the back of the buggy deeper into the shifting sands of the dune.

“Damn it all!” Lenore cursed, jumping out of the driver's seat and promptly losing her footing on the loose sand. Struggling up to a standing position, she could hear Alexander huffing up the steep, gritty hill behind her.

“You...almost...had..it, Len”, he wheezed at her as he leaned against the buggy's rusty roll bar, which promptly gave out under his weight and sent  Lenore's chubby friend into the sand next to her.

“This is hopeless”, Lenore whined. “We'll never win the Sandblaster 5000 Dune Buggy Race Of Doom with this old thing.”

“You can say that again,” came a mocking voice from the top of the dune. “Where did you get that thing anyway, Rusted Out Pieces Of Crap R Us?”

Lenore looked up and groaned at what she saw. At the top of the hill, sitting in the driver's seat of a vintage VW frame buggy colored the same bright pink as her custom leather jumpsuit, was Veronica VanTassal. Perpetual Homecoming Queen, daughter of the town mayor, and worse of all, five-time winner of the Sandblaster 5000. Roaring up next to her in top of the line buggies were her two constant companions and cohorts, Regina Goebbels and Glinda Jones. Regina jumped up and sat on the top of her buggy, its roll bars colored a shade of purple that would have made Prince jealous, and pointed at Alexander as he continued to struggle in the shifting sands.

“Fatty is your mechanic?” She said mockingly. “Watch out Lenore, I heard he once poured radiator fluid into a Corvair engine block.”

“Oh my God!” Glinda gasped as she checked her hair while leaning against her lime green Meyers Manx. “Even my brother knows that's an air cooled engine and he's retarded.”

“It's hopeless, little girl,” Veronica said with a fake pout. “You're only going to embarrass yourself if you try to race me. I haven't even come close to losing. Ever. That $5,000 grand prize is as good as mine.”

“You don't even need that money!” Lenore shouted, throwing her goggles onto the ground.

“Yeah!” yelled Alexander. “Your dad already owns half the town!”

“Without that prize money we won't be able to fix up the community garage, and without that garage less fortunate kids won't be able to build and repair dune buggies of their own.”

“And if that happens then the dunes might as well belong to you and your rich bitch friends,” Alexander spat.

Veronica leaned out of her buggy and fixed them both with an imperious glare.

“Tough titty.”


Part Two

Lenore watched despondently as the remains of her buggy were hauled deeper into the bowels of the town dump.

“I had no idea this place was so huge,” Alexander said with awe in his voice as he sat down next to Lenore on the old cooler. He frowned at her frown and offered her some of his Big Gulp Mountain Dew. She declined. “This place must go on for miles. They're taking the buggy to the far north corner. The guy there told me they ship all the usable metal stuff to China and they make dryers and washing machines and stuff out of it.”

For some reason the thought of her beloved buggy, the one that used to belong to her unknown father, becoming some soccer mom's new Maytag brought tears to Lenore's eyes. Looking away from Alexander so that he wouldn't see her crying Lenore saw that same old man who she had passed back on the dunes just before her buggy finally gave up the ghost. Seeing her seeing him the old man quickly turned and hurried back the way he came, weaving awkwardly to avoid a rusty box spring that was probably crawling with tetanus.

“Hey! You! Hold on a second,” She yelled as she jumped up off the cooler and ran after him. The sudden shift in weight on the cooler caused Alexander to tip over sideways, dumping his Big Gulp all over the front of him in the process.

“Aw jeez!” he moaned, struggling to stand up and slipping on the sticky mixture of mud and Dew. “Just my luck!”

Lenore ran through the labyrinth of trash and detritus. Heedless of the stink of garbage but trying to avoid the dubiously colored puddles that pitted the narrow lanes as much as possible, it wasn't long before she lost all sense of direction. Several times she felt that the old man had somehow outrun her or given her the slip but every time she was just about to give up he would appear. Once she caught his reflection in a broken vanity mirror. Another time he had just turned a corner in an aisle she had just run in to. He seemed perpetually one step ahead of her.

Then she turned a corner and there he was, sitting on a stool in a small cul-de-sac in the middle of the massive town dump. Approaching slowly Lenore noticed another stool set across from him. She walked over to it and sat down, never taking her eyes of him.

He on the other hand didn't even glance in her direction. He just sat, smoking an old corn cob pipe and whittling a piece of wood with a small folding knife. He looked as if he had been sitting there all day, wiling away the hours, instead of being chased by a sixteen year old girl through a trash heap.

“That your buggy I seen being hauled off?” he asked, his voice raspy and harsh. He looked up at her, one eye seemed to squint almost to the point of being closed. Lenore realized that he had a glass eye.

“Yeah. The frame cracked. Even if I could fix it I wouldn't trust it not to snap again coming down from a jump.”

“Smart girl,” he muttered, returning his attention to his whittling. “You must be Charlie Cooper's girl.”

“How did you know?” she asked, surprised.

“I recognized that buggy today. I know every buggy that ever entered my race.”

It was then that Lenore noticed the grubby stitched on name tag that adorned his dark green work shirt. She stared at the old man in amazement.

“Your Burgess Mayfair. You owned The Mayfair Dune Buggy And Paintball Emporium. You're the one who started the Sandblaster 5000 Dune Buggy Race of Doom back in the 1960's.”

“You have been doing your homework,” he said with a half smile. “I was sad to see Charlie's machine come to an end like that. Can't say I'm surprised though.”

“Wow, you knew my dad? My mom always said he was a great racer. Did you train him?”

“Your mom said your dad was a great racer?” Burgess asked. “I hate to be the one to break it to you but your dad sucked. So did his buggy.”

Lenore stared at the old man with her mouth agape. How could he say that? Her dad had been great. She grew up knowing he was great. How could this old washed-up wreck of a man disrespect her father that way? Lenore started to get up to leave when Burgess raised his hand.

“I don't mean to disrespect his memory,” he said calmly. “Charlie was good kid. Honest. Polite. I really liked him. But he entered that race full of hate. And the buggy he built, the one you finally put down today, was built on nothing but hate.

“I remember the year he entered. He had a thing for your mom something fierce and she stood by his side the whole time. But the only thing he really cared about was beating Flash Amberson. He didn't build that buggy to win a girl or earn money for a relative’s surgery. He built it to beat Flash. And that's why he lost.”

Lenore sat back down. Did she want to win in order to save the community garage? Or did she really just want to beat Veronica VanTassal? She always thought she wanted to win the Sandblaster because she assumed that's what her dad would have wanted. But now that she knew he only raced out of some need to beat someone else, maybe her reason for competing wasn't pure enough.

What the hell did purity matter anyway? It was a goddamn dune buggy race!
“You need The Excalibur,” Burgess stated in a matter of fact manner.

“What's The Excalibur?” Lenore asked.

“July 31st 1972,” Burgess began. “Elliott Cochran enters the race. His mother needs surgery and the prize money would be enough to make sure she gets it. He responds to an ad in the Penny Savah and meets with a woman down by the old reservoir. She sells him an old frame and engine for a dollar. He fixes it up, paints it silver, christens it The Excalibur, and wins the race.”

“So did he keep winning?” Lenore asked excitedly. “If the buggy was so good did he keep racing?”

“Nope. It broke down the next year. He had to pay to have it hauled away. But then came 1976. Eli McGovern. Needed cash so that his older brother could go to school and become a doctor. Finds an old, silver painted frame and engine while out on a hike. Guess what he did?”

“Fixed it up, painted it silver, and won the race?”

Burgess simply tapped the side of his nose. “1982. 1985. Every year someone enters who really needs to win, The Excalibur shows up. I've seen her a few times myself.”

“Where?”

“Right here in the old dump. Once buried beneath a pile of old scrap metal. This other time it was perched right up on top of Diaper Mountain. It moves around, you see. So that the garbage men don't ship it off to China and turn it into a dishwasher.”

Lenore sat in silence. She knew what she had to do.

“If you find it,” Burgess said as he stood up and tossed the piece of wood he'd been whittling to her. “You take it to my old shop. I got tools and everything you need to fix her up.”

Burgess walked out of the cul-de-sac, leaving Lenore holding the wooden dune buggy he'd carved.
Part Three


The two of them leaned against each other, exhausted but feeling good, and examined their handiwork.

It almost looked like a living thing. It sat low, just a few inches off the stained garage floor, and looked like a tiger ready to spring. Its tires were wide and so black they seemed to suck in the light around them. Its ever-so-crooked front bumper and slanted headlights gave it a sneering visage, like it was looking at the two of them and found them lacking. Its silver roll bars and frame glinted in the oily light, dazzling the eye.

“The Excalibur,” Alexander exhaled, misting Lenore in a cloud of Big League Chew and Mountain Dew. “I honestly thought we'd never get it built, but there it is.”

“I knew we'd do it,” Lenore said. “With Burgess on our side, how could we not finish it?”

“Yeah, about that,” Alexander began, getting up and picking up some of the tools that were scattered around the garage. “what is up with that guy, anyway?”

“What do you mean?”

“What do I mean'? The guy's weird, is what I mean. He talks to himself, he smells strange, and why did he make us keep listening to that same Flock of Seagulls song over and over again?”

“He calls it 'montage-ing', Lenore sighed. “I think he's just really superstitious or something. He seems to think this buggy frame is mystical or something.”

“You know, I didn't want to say anything....”

“Yeah,” Lenore said hesitantly. “What?”

“Well,” Alexander stammered, fidgeting with a fan belt he'd picked up. “Do you remember building this buggy? I mean, like actually welding parts and dropping the engine block in and stuff?”

“Sure I do. You do too, you were there.”

“I remember the digging the frame out of a pile of diapers. I remember hauling it here on a trailer and dancing around to that damn song while holding tools. I remember ordering parts on the internet and signing for them when they got delivered. I remember you trying on different outfits at the mall in front of Burgess and I....”

“That was pretty weird, I'll give you that.”

“But I don't remember actually touching this thing.”

Alexander saw Lenore consider what he was saying and for a moment she looked at the silver buggy suspiciously. Then, as if someone behind her face was controlling the muscles, she shifted her attention to him and glared at him.

“It isn't a thing,” she hissed. “It's The Excalibur and it's going to win me the Sandblaster 5000 Dune Buggy Race Of Doom. It's going to help me beat Veronica VanTassal and if you aren't with me then you’re against me, got it?”

The venom in her eyes and voice made Alexander step back a pace, straight into a bucket of old oil. He could feel it flow over his socks and settle down into his shoe.

“Aw jeez...”

“Nice boot, egghead,” came a deep voice from the garage door. “You should get a matching pair.”

Lenore and Alexander turned toward the voice. Standing in the large doorway, the sun silhouetting his muscled frame, stood Biff Lonegan. Captain of the wrestling and football teams, shoo-in for prom king, and (worst of all, thought Alexander) the object of Lenore's affection since the third grade.

“Nice buggy,” Biff said as he strode in, shooting Alexander a quick sneer. He shifted his focus to Lenore and gave her a smile. “Did you build this yourself?”

“Yeah,” she answered dreamily. She snapped out of it a bit and stared at the floor, embarrassed. “I had some help. Alexander here and an guy I met at the dump....”

“The dump? Whatever. Look, you want to go get a coffee or something?”

“Really?” Lenore asked, clutching the tire iron she had been holding to her chest. “Right now? Sure! Let's go...wait a minute...”

Alexander let out a sigh of relief. For a moment he thought that she had forgotten that this was Veronica VanTassal's longtime boyfriend and that this was obviously a trick set up to distract her. Good thing she was smarter than that, though.”

“Never mind, let's go!” she giggled.

Alexander's mouth hung open as he saw her bound towards the door. Biff made a show of checking out her ass and then turned toward Alexander.

“Sorry you can’t come along, egghead,” Biff said with mock sympathy. He stuck his right index finger into his mouth and then jammed it hard into Alexander's ear, a line of drool connected all three for a moment like a saliva cat's cradle. “Nerds tend to scuff my Camaro's leather interior. It says so in the manual.”

He gave Alexander one last shove, which toppled him over onto his ass, before sauntering out the door. Alexander felt oil ooze out of the can and run up his pant leg.

“Fine,” Alexander said, sulking on the floor of Burgess' garage. “ Go with him, but when you get a bucket of pig's blood dumped on you don't come crying to me.”

As Alexander began to pick himself up, trying vainly to get his foot out of the oil can, he failed to notice the headlights of The Excalibur flick on and briefly shine at Biff's Camaro as it peeled out of the parking lot. He also didn't hear the engine begin to growl softly.  

Part Four


“Oh my God!” Veronica gasped, her hand over her mouth.

She watched in horror as, down on the street, the silver dune buggy sped out of the garage and began chasing down Marcus Joiner. The running back was fast, but not faster than the 2216cc VW motor that propelled the driver-less buggy down the rain-slicked blacktop. The steel bumper caught Marcus behind the legs and Veronica heard his kneecap crack even though she was a block away and on top of a two story building.

“That bitch got herself a possessed dune buggy!” Veronica shouted, stamping her foot in rage. “And that loser Marcus can't even get it together enough to put sugar in its goddamn gas tank!”

“Well, he won't be making that mistake twice,” Regina said, pointing down at the street. The Excalibur had stopped and was revving its engine while Marcus feebly tried to crawl away down the street. The girls could see he was crying and begging the dune buggy for his life. “What a crybaby.”

The dune buggy, tires squealing and smoking, peeled off down the street and rocketed at the wounded football player. Veronica turned away in disgust but heard the dull, wet thud of the front tire connecting with his head.

“That's just great,” she sighed. “Now it’s probably going to hunt us down and kill us one by one. Lenore is so predictable.”

“I don't know,” Glinda said, her eyes riveted to the scene below. “It’s like we were trying to pull a Carrie on her and she countered with a Christine. And it’s not like we were being original ourselves. You even got your boyfriend to ask her to the prom and I know you were looking to buy some pig blood on the internet.”

“Christ, Glinda, you are such a nerd,” Regina scoffed. “You should go join those losers in the A/V club and help them de-scramble cable porn.”

“Shut up, whore.”

“Both of you shut up,” Veronica hissed. “I'm trying to think.”

Down below, Biff Addelson was trying to sneak out of the garage. His neck was bloody and he was walking with a pronounced limp. Trying to move quietly, his fear-filled eyes were riveted to the dune buggy that was roaring back and forth over his friend's body. He didn't see the metal trash can until he was already knocking it over.

“That's it,” Veronica said, snapping her fingers. “I'm calling Daddy.”

“That's your solution to everything,” Regina said, bored.

Veronica walked to the back of the roof, away from sound of The Excalibur chasing a screaming Biff down the street, and dialed her phone. Regina and Glinda, watching the hapless quarterback stumble just as the buggy caught up with him, heard the familiar cadence of their friend pleading with her father. Flatter, whine, bitch, threaten, cry, plead, threaten again, sniffle, “thank you, Daddy”, hang up.

“That should shake things up a bit,” Veronica said, a smug grin on her face.

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

Two hours later, out in the darkness of the desert, a helicopter could be heard approaching. It was painted a flat, non-reflective black and no running lights signaled its approach. It was virtually invisible against the night sky. Dangling from a chain attached to its undercarriage was an equally dark capsule, twelve feet long and four feet wide. Like a coffin built for a giant.


The helicopter hovered for a moment and released the capsule, it feel gracelessly to the desert floor below and buried itself in a dune. The helicopter was already headed back the way it came as the lid of the capsule was violently kicked open from within. A humanoid shape rose out of it and surveyed the landscape. Noting the lights of the distant town, the figure began to run with astonishing speed toward it.

Murdertron began his hunt.  

Part Five


“Oh. My. God!” Regina screamed from the bathroom. “There is a goddamn FOREARM in the bathtub! Ohmygodohmygod...!”

She ran sobbing into Veronica’s room, leaving bloody footprints all down the hallway. She threw herself down on the bed, hysterical. Glinda reached out one wooden arm, as if to console her, then changed her mind and dropped her head back into her hands with a hollow clunk.

“Don’t you think I know that?” Veronica asked with a snooty lilt. She sat, hunched over and cradling something, with her back to her friends. “It is my arm, after all.”

“Wait...what?” Regina asked, looking up from a now mascara stained pillow. “What did you do now, Veronica?

“This!” She yelled, spinning around dramatically and almost losing her balance. Her right arm, from the elbow down, was a writhing mass of slick, black-and-red cords. The twisting monstrosity seemed to flow like water, terminating in a vicious, black-clawed hand. “The Arm Of Amnorak! What do you think?”

“Your delivery was a bit....wooden,” Glinda said, her hinged mouth flapping up and down, before burying her face back into her exquisitely carved hands and letting out a sob.

“Enough with the wood puns!” Regina shouted at her.

“I can’t help it,” Glinda moaned. “My soul is trapped in a goddamn ventriloquist dummy. All things considered, I think I’m handling things quite well.....Knot!”

Both girls started up a fresh round of sobbing. Veronica ignored them and admired her new demonic arm instead.

“I had those two gay warlocks from the football team make it for me,” she said. She turned her arm over and, pretending Lenore’s head was inside, clenched her fist. “With this arm I’ll finally be able to beat that bitch at her own game. She may have figured out a way to beat that robot Daddy sent after her, but there is no way she’s going to weasel away from me now.”

“Hold on,” Regina said slowly. “Mitch and Darren are gay? No way! They totally took the Bradley sisters to the prom.”

“And left with each other,” Glinda pointed out. “Rumor has it there was a little rooting around going on in the back of that limo, if you know what I mean.”

“Will you two shut up?” Veronica hissed.

“Oh my God, Veronica,” Regina shouted. “Have you looked at yourself lately? You cut off your own arm and replaced it with a demon! And what was it before this? Lenore hired some mystical ninja to break your robot buddy, so you end up unleashing a car full of evil clowns on the town, and so she ends up sacrificing that fat friend of hers so she can beat the clowns and then you....”

“And why is my soul trapped in a dummy again?” Glinda ask, scratching at her side.

Veronica rested her chin into The Arm Of Amnorak and considered for a moment. “You know, I can’t remember why we did that.”

“When is this going to end?” Regina asked. “When both of you and all of us are dead?”

“It ends when I win the Sandblaster 5000,” Veronica said. “It ends when that bitch eats my dust and watches me go home with that trophy.”

Regina and Glinda stared at each other for a moment in disbelief. Glinda hopped down from the vanity table and walked over to her demon-armed friend.

“Dude,” she said slowly. “The Sandblaster was last week. Some hipster chick from Duluth won. It was all over the papers.”

“What?” Veronica gasped, feeling faint. “Did Lenore race?”

“No,” Regina said mildly. “She was a no-show. You should have been there, it was an awesome race.”

“Oh,” Veronica said, sinking down onto her couch. “It’s over? Wow. Really wish I’d know that before I sawed off my arm. Wow.”

“So, what now?” Regina asked.

“I don’t know,” Veronica said, still stunned. “Have you guys applied to any colleges? I was thinking about Burlington.”

“You guys!” Glinda yelled, furiously scratching at wooden body. “I think I have termites. This could finish me!”

Veronica and Regina got quite the chuckle out of that one.


The End