Against all odds, I finally got around to watching the recent release of Orson Welles’ last film, The Other Side of the Wind, and the documentary produced about its production They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead. To keep things lively, I also took a deep dive into half of the Mission: Impossible movies. Cruise may be crazy, but the man doesn’t make a habit of making unwatchable movies. I also snuck in a mockumentary lurking around on Amazon Prime, The History of Time Travel, because I just can’t help my self. Enjoy, and I’ll be back with another update next week.
Mission: Impossible (1996) (Reviewed 08/03/2019)
Mission: Impossible III (2006) (Reviewed 08/03/2019)
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) (Reviewed 08/04/2019)
The Other Side of the Wind (2018) (Reviewed 08/04/2019)
They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018) (Reviewed 08/05/2019)
The History of Time Travel (2014) (Reviewed 08/05/2019)
Sneakers (1992) (Reviewed 08/01/2018)
Ready Player One (2018) (Reviewed 08/05/2018)
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) (Reviewed 08/06/2018)
The Legend of Hell House (1973) (Reviewed 08/11/2018)
Avengers: Infinity War (2018) (Reviewed 08/14/2018)
The Green Mile (1999) (Reviewed 08/16/2018)
Room 237 (2012) (Reviewed 08/19/2018)
The Shining (1980) (Reviewed 08/19/2018)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) (Reviewed 08/24/2018)
The Shining (1997) (Reviewed 08/26/2018)
2010: The Year We Made Contact (1984) (Reviewed 09/05/2018)
The Nun (2018) (Reviewed 09/08/2018)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994) (Reviewed 09/16/2018)
It (1990) (Reviewed 09/19/2018)
The Mask of Zorro (1998) (Reviewed 09/23/2018)
Spider-Man (2002) (Reviewed 09/23/2018)
Spider-Man 2 (2004) (Reviewed 09/30/2018)
Spider-Man 3 (2007) (Reviewed 09/30/2018)
Carrie (1976) (Reviewed 10/03/2018)
Halloween (1978) (Reviewed 10/11/2018)
Halloween (2018) (Reviewed 10/20/2018)
Beetlejuice (1988) (Reviewed 11/13/2018)
The Hunger Games (2012) (Reviewed 11/17/2018)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) (Reviewed 11/18/2018)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (2014) (Reviewed 11/24/2018)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (2015) (Reviewed 11/24/2018)
Blade Runner (1982) (Reviewed 11/24/2018)
Cabin in the Woods (2012) (Reviewed 11/25/2018)
Ghostbusters (2016) (Posted 11/25/2018, pulled from a previous blog posted 07/17/2016)
Rocky (1976) (Reviewed 11/28/2018)
Nosferatu (1922) (Reviewed 11/30/2018)
Dracula (1931) (Reviewed 12/10/2018)
Horror of Dracula (1958) (Reviewed 12/10/2018)
Spy (2015) (Reviewed 12/10/2018)
Rocky III (1982) (Reviewed 12/11/2018)
Creed (2015) (Reviewed 12/11/2018)
The Front Runner (2018) (Reviewed 12/13/2018)
Creed II (2018) (Reviewed 12/13/2018)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) (Reviewed 12/17/2018)
Watchmen (2009) (Reviewed 12/19/2018)
Batman Returns (1992) (Reviewed 12/22/2018)
Aquaman (2018) (Reviewed 12/26/2018)
Ghostbusters (1984) (Reviewed 12/26/2018)
Ghostbusters II (1989) (Reviewed 12/26/2018)
Bond: Dr. No (1962) (Reviewed 12/27/2018)
The Founder (2016) (Reviewed 01/01/2019)
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) (Reviewed 01/01/2019)
Inside Out (2015) (Reviewed 01/01/2019)
Groundhog Day (1993) (Reviewed 01/02/2019)
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) (Reviewed 01/05/2019)
Forbidden Planet (1956) (Posted 01/05/2019, previously posted in a blog on 12/17/2017)
Justice League (2017) (Posted 01/05/2019, previously posted in a blog on 12/03/2017)
Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) (Posted 01/05/2019, previously posted in a blog on 07/02/2017)
Alien: Covenant (2017) (Posted 01/05/2019, previously posted in a blog on 05/28/2017)
Mars Attacks (1996) (Posted 01/05/2019, previously posted in a blog on 04/30/2017)
Multiplicity (1996) (Posted 01/05/2019, previously posted in a blog on 04/30/2017)
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) (Posted 01/05/2019, previously posted in a blog on 04/30/2017)
The Cable Guy (1996) (Posted 01/05/2019, previously posted in a blog on 04/23/2017)
Bond: A View To A Kill (1985) (Posted 01/05/2019, previously posted in a blog on 04/23/2017)
Split (2016) (Posted 01/05/2019, previously posted in a blog on 02/05/2017)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) (Posted 01/05/2019, previously posted in a blog on 12/18/2016)
Batman & Robin (1997) (Posted 01/05/2019, previously posted in a blog on 05/22/2016)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) (Reviewed 01/06/2019)
Venom (2018) (Reviewed 01/16/2019)
The Legend of Tarzan (2016) (Posted 01/19/2019, previously posted in a blog on 08/06/2016)
Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015) (Posted 01/19/2019, previously posted in a blog on 07/31/2016)
Glass (2019) (Reviewed 01/19/2019)
The Predator (2018) (Reviewed 01/20/2019)
Blade Runner 2049 (2017) (Reviewed 01/21/2019)
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (2018) (Reviewed 01/21/2019)
The Godfather Part II (1974) (Reviewed 01/21/2019)
Fright Night (1985) (Reviewed 01/24/2019)
The Dark Knight (2008) (Reviewed 01/31/2019)
Alien (1979) (Reviewed 02/05/2019)
Pulp Fiction (1994) (Reviewed 02/09/2019)
Star Trek (2009) (Reviewed 02/09/2019)
Aliens (1986) (Reviewed 02/10/2019)
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) (Reviewed 02/10/2019)
Highlander (1986) (Reviewed 02/16/2019)
Star Trek Beyond (2016) (Reviewed 02/17/2019)
Primary Colors (1998) (Reviewed 02/18/2019)
Stardust (2007) (Reviewed 02/18/2019)
Happy Death Day 2U (2019) (Reviewed 02/20/2019)
Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (Reviewed 02/23/2019)
The Terminator (1984) (Reviewed 02/27/2019)
Batman (1989) (Reviewed 03/01/2019)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) (Reviewed 03/03/2019)
Captain Marvel (2019) (Reviewed 03/17/2019)
Death of Superman (2018) (Reviewed 03/20/2019)
Us (2019) (Reviewed 03/24/2019)
Reign of the Supermen (2019) (Reviewed 03/24/2019)
A Star Is Born (2018) (Reviewed 03/30/2019)
Pet Sematary (2019) (Reviewed 04/07/2019)
Chaos on the Bridge (2014) (Reviewed 04/21/2019)
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) (Reviewed 04/26/2019)
Avengers: Endgame (2019) (Reviewed 04/28/2019)
Iron Man (2008) (Reviewed 04/28/2019)
Iron Man 2 (2010) (Reviewed 04/30/2019)
Thor (2011) (Reviewed 05/01/2019)
Shazam! (2019) (Reviewed 05/03/2019)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) (Reviewed 05/05/2019)
The Avengers (2012) (Reviewed 05/05/2019)
Iron Man Three (2013) (Reviewed 05/05/2019)
Thor: The Dark World (2013) (Reviewed 05/07/2019)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) (Reviewed 05/09/2019)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) (Reviewed 05/11/2019)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (Reviewed 05/11/2019)
What We Left Behind: Looking Back On Deep Space Nine (2018) (Reviewed 05/14/2019)
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) (Reviewed 05/14/2019)
Ant-Man (2015) (Reviewed 05/15/2019)
Captain America Civil War (2016) (Reviewed 05/17/2019)
Doctor Strange (2016) (Reviewed 05/18/2019)
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017) (Reviewed 05/18/2019)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) (Reviewed 05/19/2019)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017) (Reviewed 05/20/2019)
Black Panther (2018) (Reviewed 05/20/2019)
The Green Hornet (2011) (Reviewed 05/23/2019)
Brightburn (2019) (Reviewed 05/25/2019)
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019) (Reviewed 05/26/2019)
Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme (2007) (Reviewed 05/26/2019)
Step Brothers (2008) (Reviewed 05/31/2019)
Ma (2019) (Reviewed 06/07/2019)
Dark Phoenix (2019) (Reviewed 06/08/2019)
X-Men (2000) (Reviewed 06/22/2019)
Get Out (2017) (Reviewed 06/22/2019)
Child’s Play (2019) (Reviewed 06/27/2019)
Men in Black International (2019) (Reviewed 07/04/2019)
Star Trek: First Contact (1996) (Reviewed 07/04/2019)
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) (Reviewed 07/05/2019)
Always Be My Maybe (2019) (Reviewed 07/07/2019)
Synecdoche, New York (2008) (Reviewed 07/07/2019)
Star Trek: Generations (1994) (Reviewed 07/09/2019)
The Battle Over Citizen Kane (1996) (Reviewed 07/09/2019)
F For Fake (1973) (Reviewed 07/11/2019)
Midsommar (2019) (Reviewed 07/11/2019)
Matinee (1993) (Reviewed 07/11/2019)
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) (Reviewed 07/11/2019)
Little Women (1994) (Reviewed 07/11/2019)
Toy Story 4 (2019) (Reviewed 07/13/2019)
Ralph Breaks The Internet (2018) (Reviewed 07/13/2019)
Deadpool 2 (2018) (Reviewed 07/15/2019)
Tig (2015) (Reviewed 07/21/2019)
Glory (1989) (Reviewed 07/22/2019)
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019) (Reviewed 07/29/2019)
Mission: Impossible (1996) (Reviewed 08/03/2019)
Mission: Impossible III (2006) (Reviewed 08/03/2019)
The Other Side of the Wind (2018) (Reviewed 08/04/2019)
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) (Reviewed 08/04/2019)
They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018) (Reviewed 08/05/2019)
The History of Time Travel (2014) (Reviewed 08/05/2019)
Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (2015) (Reviewed 08/11/2019)
Mission: Impossible — Fallout (2018) (Reviewed 08/11/2019)
The Stranger (1946) (Reviewed 08/11/2019)
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) (Reviewed 08/16/2019)
Back to the Future (1985) (Reviewed 08/19/19)
Back to the Future Part II (1989) (Reviewed 08/20/19)
Back to the Future Part III (1990) (Reviewed 08/20/19)
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) (Reviewed 08/21/19)
Some big announcements will follow, but there is something I really need to get off my chest.
Yes, the President is racist. Even the people that still like him know this to be true, they just would rather we not talk about it. Or—if we do talk about it—we work ourselves into a stupor over it and forget to vote in a year.
That much is obvious. That is not what I need to get off my chest. But now that we’ve gotten that out of the way:
Robert Pattinson as Batman will be just fine.
Now, of course I would prefer the world to bring back Michael Keaton into the role in some kind of Batman Beyond situation, but I’ve been saying this for years, and there is still plenty of time to make that happen.
Every reaction to Pattinson taking over the role from Ben Affleck is blown out of proportion. Those that can only think of him via those silly vampire movies he did aren’t giving him a fair shake. Those abuzz about the possibility in light of his recent more interesting indie work think everything will work out.
But, please, consider this:
Everyone thought Michael Keaton would be a disaster. He was fantastic. People can complain about some of the merits of the two films he did and how they may have aged, but I’ve never heard an unkind word about his performance. Now, granted, if anyone ever did, they would suddenly sound like Charlie Brown’s parents, but I think the point that people liked it at the time and have fond memories of him as the Dark Knight even now.
Everyone was convinced that Christian Bale would be the perfect casting for the role. Ultimately, he probably ended up being the weakest part of the strongest Batman movies.
Everyone thought Ben Affleck would be terrible in the role, and well… He was fine in the role. The movies surrounding him were exercises in new and interesting ways to screw up a movie.
Do you want to know who—purely on spec—was the best casting of Batman, ever?
George Clooney in 1996.
The lesson? Nobody knows anything. Let them make their batmen. Everything (on that front) will be fine.
Whew, now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to the larger announcements in this entry.
Last week, I published “If You Enjoyed This Book,” the seventy-second flash fiction story I’ve written in the last year and a half. It will be the last story in that series.
The original notion was to produce these for two years, but that was also when I was trying to keep the entries under 500 words, a notion that also quickly evaporated. A byproduct of upping the word-count limit is that I now—even with omitting a few entries that I either wasn’t infatuated with or might work better in a different format—have enough stories to turn them into a book. The experiment is over.
I now begin the process of re-editing and organizing those stories into a volume, If Any Of These Story Goes Over 1000 Words, This Whole Book Will Explode. What happens to the blog entries in the meantime? All the links will remain live until the book goes to press, but the blog will be removed from the site’s masthead.
This may leave one wondering about what the site will look like in the future. You may have questions
1) Will I ever write another flash story?
Maybe. Over the course of the last 18 months I had a lot of ideas and almost-ideas, here’s just a few:
A story about a group of archeologists in the future uncovers the site of a laser tag arena, and can’t make heads or tails out of it.
The story of the participant in the famed Shelley/Byron writing commune (the one that gave the world Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus). Something tells me I might actually write that one up one day.
I tried several times to construct a story about the last person burned at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials. I wanted it to be funny, with the executioners past their peak enthusiasm for the mass murders, but it was always a story about being burned alive. C’est la vie.
Maybe other ideas will come to me, or maybe one of the above will light my imagination on fire again, and I’ll take to a pen to make things happen. If it does, it’s entirely possible that I will post it in this space, but I doubt I’ll ever get an itch to produce stories at this rate again.
Incidentally, one of the very first ideas I had when writing these stories dealt with a cabal of shadowy figures who make sure we forget that which brings us misery, but still feel miserable about it. I could never quite work the story out, until just a few weeks ago when I re-worked some elements and it became story #70, “The Misery Vampires.” Lesson? Hang in there, pals, some ideas just need time so you can work them out.
2) Will I still blog?
Simple answer: Yes.
3) What will I blog about?
I’m so glad you/I asked. I won’t do what I had done in the past and produce a new article/blog entry every week. That was just as grueling as the stories became. I’ll probably check back in here at least every other month to offer some thoughts. Like with the stories, if the mood strikes me, I may write other pieces as well.
I will still be posting regularly to a new, third blog on the site. Last year, after taking a deep dive with old Siskel and Ebert at the Movies clips on Youtube, being absolutely wrecked by both Ebert’s memoir Life Itself and the 2014 documentary that shares its subject and title, and reading a few of Ebert’s review collections, I wanted to take a stab at movie criticism myself.
I decided I would write a review (of no fewer than 300 words) of every movie I saw from that day forward. I would have to have seen all of the movie to write the review. If I had already reviewed it for this experiment, then I could take a pass.
Given the amount of time I spend watching movies, that may end up being a tall order…
All right. I lied. I made that decision about a year ago, and have been writing the reviews ever since.
So, now I have reviews of 144 films, encompassing over 70,000 words of material. It’s like a bonus book that I’m not even going to charge you for. There are a few Batman movies, to be sure*. A lot of newer horror releases I watched for Beyond the Cabin in the Woods, like Us (2019), Midsommar (2019), and beyond all comprehension The Nun (2018). Lora and I watched every Marvel movie that didn’t feature Edward Norton**, and those reviews are ready for your perusal. Oh, heck, just take a look at the list as of today, July 22nd:
The reviews are probably rougher than what I would normally post on the site, but this keeps me in regular writing and updating without having to come up with ideas from nothing every week. I’m okay with that if you all are.
For now, though, feel free to look around the space, and check back in often. Things will be changing around here pretty starkly and I can’t wait to show you what I’ve been working on. The final season of The Fourth Wall is just the beginning…
*In fact, I became very aware that I watched Batman (1989) three times in the last twelve months, which seems right about on average for me, even if one of the times was on the the big screen for the first time.
**No particular reason. We just skipped it in our marathon. I may circle back around to it soon.
We hope you have enjoyed this exciting title from Party Now, Apocalypse Later Industries. We are hard at work on additional titles to add to your library.
Okay. He went to go look over his files to make sure he’s got the full list of books he’s working on. We have maybe a minute before he gets back. Oh, damnit. He’s faster than I thought. Shh… Don’t let on that you know something is up.
Here is just a small preview of all the exciting things we have coming soon.
The Once and Future Orson Welles
The long-threatened “final” (see below) entry in the “Orson Welles For All Seasons” series will likely be the next book released by the company. It will see the various plot lines from The Devil Lives in Beverly Hills and Orson Welles of Mars come to a head, with a much older Orson leading a group of younger, New Hollywood directors on an expedition to find the long-lost sword of King Arthur.
Although at this point it could all change and end up being a book that presupposes the infamous “Frozen Peas” tapes were left over from Orson’s attempts to fake the moon landing.
Li’l Orson and the Acute Case Of Appendicitis
Realizing that a good idea can never truly die, I will soon return to the world of Orson and his byzantine history, telling a story of the boy who would one day direct Citizen Kane. Detailing his adventures with master escape artist Harry Houdini, the mismatched pair put an end to the Teapot Dome Scandal, or something. At the end of the story, Houdini is punched repeatedly by a mysterious woman, after which he dies of acute appendicitis.
It is—in keeping with the rest of the series—completely historically accurate. Look it up.
Orson Welles’ Out Of This World Low-Cal Cookbook
And finally, I will make all of us wish I had never written anything about Orson Welles with this collection of dishes such as The Other Side Of The Wind Quesadillas and The Magnificent Hamberson Sandwich. You’ll feel as if you died, went to heaven, and you’ll slowly realize you peaked at the age of 25. If you don’t have gout by the time you’ve tried the F for Fake Apple Pie, we’ll give you your money back!
His eyes have glazed over. He’s got that look on his face like he’s questioning all of his life decisions. If his mother wanted him to give law school another shot, he’d be most susceptible right now. That being the case, this might be our best shot to spring me from this. Here’s the deal. I’m a genie. Yes, an actual genie. Oh, God. He’s snapped out of it.
But the fun does not end there! These other books are bound to bring joy to you and the book lovers in your life for years to come.
Hugs and Kisses: How To Be Totally Radical With Your Subordinates
This tome is destined to join the pantheon of the truly great management self-help books on the market. Everyone knows the one thing missing from the business world is physical contact between superiors and their subordinates.
Assuming this revolutionary text clears our legal department (and why wouldn’t it?), it should be something your boss really thinks you should take a look at by Christmas.
Do you see what I have to deal with, here? This guy is becoming increasingly unhinged. He’s looking right at me now. Why did I have to say anything while he was still looking?
If A Story In This Book Goes Over Twenty Words, This Whole Book Will Explode
Not to be outdone by this volume, the next writing challenge I have set for myself involves writing a piece of ultra-short fiction each week.
Here’s just one example:
He crossed the street and found a chicken.
“Why’d you do it?” asked the chicken.
“I think you know why.”
See? They’re going to be great. By my math, it will take me just over 48 years to come up with enough pieces to fill an entire volume. Put in your Amazon pre-orders ahead of 2067 now!
Pick-the-Plot #2: Are You Kidding? It’s The Crushing Ennui That Will Kill You
Breaking out once again the similar-to-but-legally-distinct-from Choose Your Own Adventure model, in this book you take the role of Roger. Roger is in his thirties. He has a job. Now, you go on that adventure! Will he quit the job and not have enough money to eat? Will he relent to the crushing winds of society and join the ranks of middle management?
Here’s the catch: It doesn’t matter what page you turn to, the story ends up the same either way. It’s a clever twist on an old formula, and that is the promise made every time you open up a Party Now, Apocalypse Later book.
Okay, he may be out for a while. Let me level with you. I’m in trouble. You see, the author of this book has sealed me—a normally unassuming and friendly genie—into the pages of this book, to ensure both its success, and his future success as an author. I’m more than a little sure that’s not how genies work, but that doesn’t seem to matter much to him. If the author becomes rich and famous, then he’ll set me free to be reunited with my genie family, wife BLEEEEERT, and twin sons The Artist Formerly Known As Grifty Joe and Matthew.
Please buy these books. If you don’t, I’m doomed. Please, think of my family.
Shh. Here he comes again! Act natural!
The future is bright here at Party Now, Apocalypse Later Industries! No doubt about it!
She told herself to relax, but it only worked a little bit. It wasn’t like this was anything really dangerous, like spelunking or telling the person who cuts your hair to “just be creative.”
It was just time travel.
Four years in undergrad. That was the easy part. Two years for a Masters in Philosophy. Before you ask, a firm grasp of logical consistency is surprisingly helpful when one is trying to ward off paradoxes. Four more years to get a PhD in Theoretical Physics, the result of which was to negate any traditional forms of logic she had previously learned. Finally, after three years at the Temporal Academy, here she was, ready to make her first venture into the fourth dimension.
The gruff custodian of the time pod assessed her and the other graduates. His neatly trimmed hair and pendulous gait told her he probably had some time in the military long ago. His calm, smooth movements this close to a tachyon emitter, made him seem like he had been giving grave warnings to fresh academy graduates for years.
“All right, rookies, I have the feeling you know all of this, but the National Transportation Safety Board requires I go through these procedures before every flight, so get used to them. Also, on the off chance you are currently in the throes of a grandfather paradox, you probably aren’t remembering much of anything, so I’ll tell you again.
“Time travel has been around for hundreds of years. We’ve perfected it. It is safe. As you begin your journey into what once was and what may yet be, you will enjoy our stellar safety record as long as you keep several safety rules in mind. First: never, ever take off your tungsten-carbide bracelet.”
She self-consciously touched her left wrist, even though she knew the band was right where she had left it.
“Tungsten naturally repels tachyons, and believe you me, no one wants to be an open buffet for free-roaming tachyons.”
She had seen the video of what happened to people after tungsten-less travel. Parts of those people had become much younger; other parts had become much, much older. None of those bodies were ready for such a change. They didn’t live long, but they survived long enough to feel what was happening to them.
The custodian continued through his obligatory set of rules:
When out in the field, one is not to fraternize with extra-temporal figures. Along the same lines, if during a journey one runs into a blood relative, the traveller must not make contact of any kind. Despite what the custodian said, grandfather paradoxes were no joke.
No one from either the past or the future can return to the present with an expeditionary team. People from the past tend to feel a great deal of anxiety in the shadow of their previously unknown fate, and those from the future tend to have a difficult time obtaining credit at affordable interest rates.
And there was one final rule of prime importance: If you did not grab a tight hold of the grounding bar with your right hand before the temporal transit process begins and hold it throughout the process, then all of the tungsten in the world wouldn’t be able to help you. Tachyons would be the least of your worries. No videos existed of what might happen if someone screwed up in that regard.
“Do we all understand?” the custodian asked.
“I understand,” she said. Several other voices echoed the same words around her. It made her feel better, those words. Everyone else shared her nervousness.
A large metal door opened in front of her. She and the other recruits passed through it and into a large, onyx, sphere-like room.
Everyone took position at their grounding station and grabbed the bar in front of them. She followed suit as the door sealed shut behind them. The fastening clasp on her tungsten bracelet pinched her skin for an instant, and she reached to readjust it.
“Temporal Process has begun,” the PA system echoed. “Shift will be complete in ten seconds.”
Oh, hell, she thought. She had removed her hand from the grounding bar. She reached out to grab it again, only to realize she was doing so with her right hand. Panic settled within her while she tried to correct the error.
The black room turned bright. Her gut clenched as her innards tried to escape her body. The other graduates disappeared in an instant, and all was fire.
The past became the future, the future the past. The present evaporated. That fourth type of time the cosmos kept secret from mortal beings filled her mind. Her body was a foreign concept to her, and she became the cosmos. She could feel and hear everything, but in a truly surprising turn of events could only taste the leftover fried rice she had in her fridge.
The universe could not abide this intrusion. It rebelled. Pulled back to the big bang, she became the bang. She became the stuff that then became the star stuff that formed every atom of the universe.
And then it all started over again. She did not grab the right grounding bar at the right instant, and cause and effect once again unraveled like a sleeping bag, except the bag is infinity and you feel all pain everywhere. Somewhen in all of this, she wondered how the Agency of Temporal Affairs knew the grounding bar was so important. The question actually formed as a supernova in the left part of the Andromeda galaxy and disappeared before she could come up with an answer.
The universe corrected again and made a new rule. It deemed time travel impossible, and the universe was made right. In this instance, the graduate instead got a political science degree with a minor in marketing, and turned out to be just as harmful to the fabric of reality as she was before.
Both of the misery vampires hadn’t eaten in hours. Even the apprentice knew there would be plenty of prey to hunt.
Social media made it easier. Just as humans could merely send a picture of a pizza to certain establishments and expect food to come to them, misery vampires all over the world didn’t need to wait long to find a tasty morsel.
The master’s phone bleated. She took it out from under her cape and scrutinized her feed with the care and attention a true artist reserves for their magnum opus. Although the apprentice had not been fledgling for long, he already knew she treated every hunt with that level of interest. Some might think that if she was enraptured by every element of every night, then no night would be special, but—
“Ah hah,” the master said quietly. “There was a fire in that tenement building on the outskirts of town. It’s already out of control”
Goose flesh bubbled down the arm of the apprentice. There were going to be families of those that died. And survivors who have lost everything and are displaced from their homes. To say nothing of the people who would watch on the news and feel helpless.
The master’s phone bleated again. “Drat. That damned state senator already sent thoughts and prayers. So much for that great idea.” She put the phone to sleep.
“The state senator is one of us?” he asked.
“You’re surprised to learn most politicians are?” She said it like no one had ever compared politicians to vampires before. He kind of found her irritating in that moment, and worried if eternity was going to be like this, and how long his apprenticeship might last. It didn’t mean she was wrong; he was re-thinking a lot of politicians.
“Now what?” he asked, but he knew the answer. The hunt would continue, and it did.
“You have a question,” she asked, not asking a question.
“I have lots of questions.”
“We have plenty of time.”
A couple passed them on the sidewalk. Their steps exploded into a sprint once they passed the master and the apprentice.
“People are afraid of us, why?”
She thought about the answer. “You weren’t afraid. If anything, you were eager to learn more about us. But then again, you were a special case.”
“That’s just it. We eat people’s pain for food. I would think they would be grateful.”
She stopped walking, and he followed suit. Whatever she was about to say, he got the sense that it was a lesson he needed to understand. “To take a human’s pain completely away would be—to borrow one of their terms—an unsustainable agricultural process. We never take their pain away entirely. If we did that, the world would be without misery in months. We leave a little bit behind for them. Think of it as a seed that will grow more. For a while, they think they’re getting over it. Instead, they only forget why they’re depressed. They can’t quite point to what they’re angry about. And that crushing, despairing feeling just starts coming from nowhere and everywhere. That way, no one learns from their pain. They never get better.”
She might have said more, but in the distance, squad cars and ambulances flashed a symphony of blue and red. A white massive, gas-guzzling SUV—the kind that looked silly outside of a warzone—had completely engulfed the driver’s side of a bright green economy car that someone probably should have given up for scrap decades ago.
“And so, we never go hungry,” she explained.
They floated closer to the wreck. A young woman sat on the curb, her face a tableau of savory wonders. Whether she was the driver of the SUV, or the passenger of the economy car, her night was much closer to its beginning than an ending.
“Follow my lead,” the master commanded, then turned her attention to the human. “Bless your heart, dear.”
The master looked to the apprentice expectantly. He then looked to the human. “So sorry for your loss.”
They ate absentmindedly, and the apprentice’s mind wandered. Before he had joined her, some part of him thought there would be nobility to all of this. He now understood that had been naiveté. If there was a part of him that was still human, it might have despaired, too. Instead, the knowledge that his hunger would be sated—if only for a moment—would have to be enough.
It could have been her. There was very little reason it hadn’t been her. People certainly didn’t talk about that in front of either her or Mom. Most people didn’t talk about anything around them; they just stood in quiet, respectful horror of what had happened.
At the Community Harvest Fair people from all over town handed out candy to kids. The words “Halloween,” “Trick,” or “Treat” were never used.
Most people were more than happy to let Halloween go, as they still sort of believed years’ worth of half-whispered legends regarding poisoned candy hunters. If all of the candy was handed out before dark, in the church parking lot, and only by people all of the parents knew, then there would be nothing to fear.
Mom had a shift at the hospital, and couldn’t join them. Dad was once again “between projects,” as he liked to call it, and so was stuck taking her and Jimmy to the festival. Costumes were out—much to her consternation—but the candy would be salve enough.
Naturally, they arrived late. Children all over town had swept through the festivities and had already picked several of the candy mongers clean. All she and Jimmy got from several people were apologetic shrugs and empty hands.
As the party busted and whatever wisps of Halloween they were allowed to acknowledge began to drift away, dejection set in. Sure, a few adults had prepared for the throng of sugar addled youth—or wanted enough left over candy for their own collection—and still had fun-size Butterfingers, columns of Smarties, and a few Almond Joys to dispense, but the true treasure had long since passed them by.
Walking away from the fair with a paltry haul of sweets, the car was in sight before she realized what was missing.
“Do you see dad?” she asked Jimmy.
Jimmy looked around. He shook his head, the worry growing on his face as well.
Her heart sank toward her stomach. She knew she wasn’t lost. Both she and Jimmy had for-emergencies-only cell phones. They couldn’t disappear if they tried. The real fear lay in Dad not picking up his phone. She’d have to call Mom. Mom would have to leave work and come pick them up. It would just make things worse.
Steps approached quickly from behind them. “Where’d you guys go?” Dad asked. She breathed a sigh of relief as all the worst-case scenarios fluttered away.
“We were just going to the car,” she said.
Dad grimaced. “And miss out on all of this candy?” He hoisted up a bag and his frown ran away from a billowing grin. “Managed to catch one of the people before they left, and they had a lot leftover.”
She and Jimmy looked at each other, Dad’s grin spreading to them. Their haul wasn’t that bad this year after all.
When they got home, they nearly immediately walked towards their rooms and pajamas.
Dad looked almost hurt by their obedience. “You’re going to go to bed without having any of your candy?”
She shrugged, assuming she spoke for both her and Jimmy. “It won’t last if we eat it all today.”
Dad shook his head and emptied the bags. “One piece won’t kill you,” he said.
Jimmy took what looked like a Pixi Stix from the bag Dad had discovered. She went for a fun size 3 Musketeers from earlier in the night.
“You sure you don’t want one of these?” Dad asked, indicating one of the other candies from his discovery. She shook her head. She liked chocolate more anyway.
“This tastes funny,” Jimmy said.
“Well, Gosh, buddy, you already ate most of it,” Dad said, taking away the pod. “Tell you what. Maybe it’ll taste different tomorrow. I’ll package it up. You two get ready for bed.”
In the night, she dreamt of sirens and yelling. It was not until the morning that she realized that both Jimmy was gone and the dream had not been a dream at all.
The police came for the bag of candy Dad had found. Days passed where Mom and Dad didn’t say much at all. Then the police came for Dad. She heard them say something about life insurance before Mom ushered her out of the room.
She went through Jimmy’s wake in a fog. Normally she didn’t pay any attention to what grown-ups said when they weren’t talking to her directly. Now, she listened carefully, desperate to make some sense out of what had happened. Mom was of little help in that regard. She had enough to deal with.
“He was an idiot. How in the hell did he manage to poison anybody?” one man whispered to another.
The other man was about to respond, but noticed her lurking around. “Hi, there darling,” he said. “How are you holding up?”
She shrugged as honestly as she could. Now that they knew she was standing nearby, they wouldn’t say much more.
She walked away from them. As she did, she clearly heard the second man mutter, “Ask the mother. She works at the damned hospital.”
Mom found her. “Come on, let’s go home.”
Her throat went dry as she got into the car. She didn’t want to believe what the man at the service said, but the thought of asking Mom about it made the blood in her veins suddenly feel like ice water.
—was this how Jimmy felt after he ate the candy?—
And yet, she didn’t get sick at all that night of the funeral. What the man had said would just be a scattered thought that would live inside her every night as she went to bed, and every morning when she woke up, nibbling at the edge of her mind…
Unless it were the truth. Then she might not have to live with it for very long at all.
It only had a few minutes. Everything would have to be done perfectly. It had an unavoidable sense of every second that passed, even though it churned and writhed within the shape.
The shape’s pulse quickened as the van pulled up along Agamemnon Court. It had taken weeks’ worth of momentary stops at this intersection to make sure that both the van was not viewed as any sort of suspicious vehicle, and that it would have the opportunity to do enough recon to know that this was exactly the right kind of opportunity.
And it was.
3:14 PM. It would have to be at its next appointment in 16 minutes. It hated thinking in human concepts of time, but if the other humans thought that way, it would have to, as well.
It was careful like that. Precise. Exacting. It kept the thrill from being too much, from letting it overcome everything else.
That could not be allowed.
Mrs. Arner’s car was in the driveway. She seldom left her home. All part of the criteria. It could even see the slight flicker of her television’s light against the drapes of her living room. Jeopardy! it imagined. Followed by Wheel of Fortune! and then sitcom reruns until the 6:00 news.
3:15 PM. 15 minutes. No further time could be wasted confirming that everything was as it should be. It opened the van door and got out, walking briskly to the Arner’s front door. It did not fear prying eyes, as the shape that contained it avoided suspicion just as much as the van.
Standing in front of the doorway, it took a quick look around. No one else was on the street. Everyone across the street worked during the day. No one would see what was about to happen other than it and Mrs. Arner.
3:16 PM. 14 minutes. Dishwashing gloves. Identifying marks could not be left behind. It rang the doorbell. An older model. Not one of those new things with the camera connected to the internet.
A shuffle beyond the door announcing Mrs. Arner’s imminent arrival, and its pulse quickened further.
The door opened and Mrs. Arner didn’t suspect a thing. The shape of it was excellent at that, too. “Yes, hello?”
It didn’t answer, and Mrs. Arner didn’t expect anything that was about to happen. She couldn’t have had any awareness that something might have been wrong with it—or was about to be wrong with her—until the instant after it shot out her knee caps.
3:18 PM. 12 minutes. Mrs. Arner yelled for help. It knew there would be none. She may not have even been aware her injuries were not life threatening. Being shot can be alarming in that way. Her weeping and quiet begging for some kind of deliverance had been everything it had come for.
It went to the kitchen and grabbed a knife from the butcher block. If Mrs. Arner had not had a suitable blade, its plans might have been for naught.
3:21 PM. 9 minutes. With blood loss, Mrs. Arner’s screams had lost some potency. But the look on her face didn’t need much blood at all to stay at its most satisfying point.
3:22 PM. 8 minutes. Time for it to finish its work.
3:29 PM. With a minute remaining, it went to sleep, leaving the shape to carry on about her day. The shape was good for disguise. The shape was respectable. The shape avoided suspicion. The shape didn’t complain when it needed to play.
The process of finishing Mrs. Arner growing more distant in her mind, the shape finally felt fully human again. It—the thing that had slaughtered Mrs. Arner—had legs and arms and the face of a human. It was very nearly human itself on the outside. In fact, it and the shape shared those parts. They were in perfect symbiosis. They just took turns at the wheel.
She sighed. With it at rest, she could not avoid reckoning with what she was. Other people would have pedestrian terms for it. Serial Killer. Sociopath. Monster. All she knew was that she was hungry.
The minivan door opened, and the child got in. “Hi mom!” he cried as he took his seat in the back.
“All buckled up?” the shape asked. Her son nodded. “How was school today?”
“Good,” he said absentmindedly. “How was your day?”
“I took care of something,” she told him as she pulled away from the pick-up lane at the Elementary School and out into traffic. “I took care of it real well.”
He offered no reaction. He was a sweet boy even to ask. “Can we go get ice cream?”
“Ice cream it is!” she proclaimed. She pulled to the side for a moment, allowing police cars and an ambulance—both with sirens blazing—to pass her by. She wondered if they were going to see Mrs. Arner.
She didn’t think about it for long. She was far more interested in getting them both a scoop after a long day.
Thad Clarke—until recently the top agent of MCIU-5, that most elite unit of the CIA—marched past the throbbing hangover that had lodged behind his temples and knocked six times on the large oak door in front of him. The cadence of his wrapping was timed precisely to the lyric “O the ramparts we watched” from “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The subtle code was specifically designed to let the person behind the door know that security had not been compromised, and someone with code word clearance or above was requesting entry. Clarke only then realized the code might have been changed without his knowledge after what had happened last week. Then again, if he was truly persona non grata at headquarters, he doubted he would have been allowed on the top floor at all.
“Come in,” the tight, almost squeaky voice—no one would dare tell the owner of said voice that his voice had such a high, nasal quality, but there it was—came from the other side of the door. A harsh buzz rang forth and Clarke heard the carbon-steel alloy lock click.
Clarke entered the room he had entered hundreds of times before and was immediately struck by what had changed. The Old Man was still behind his desk, carefully reviewing cable reports from some far-flung area of the world. Clarke guessed the report was from Panama, judging by the satellite photos he could see partially sticking out of the beige file folder. This was as it should be. In fact, he decided that everything looked in order. There was just something off that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
“Have a seat, my boy. We have much to discuss, it would appear.” Clarke’s head of section—the Old Man—had indeed never gone by any official name, instead allowing whatever euphemisms around his identity to take hold. If enemy parties were to pierce the veil of MCIU-5, all they would find is a man with no name.
“Yes, sir,” Clarke said, taking the offered seat. He detected a slight increase in the treble of his voice. He loathed being a supplicant to anyone, but Clarke supposed he had always felt deferential to the man who had brought him into the ranks of clandestine operatives. Presidents had feared him. Entire Congressional subcommittees had feared him. Division lore indicated that before he died the only things J. Edgar Hoover feared were God, André Courrèges, and Clarke’s boss. Clarke had reason to be nervous.
“I’d like to start—” the Old Man said.
Clarke interjected reflexively. “If I may, sir. I’d like to apologize about what happened last week. I lost my temper.”
A smile crept across the Old Man’s face. It was an alien enough gesture on his face, that Clarke decided the next few seconds would lead to his total exoneration, or his death by the hands of the state. “Nonsense,” he said, waving the notion away with a hand. “If I had a nickel for every time I bellowed at one of the bean counters downstairs, I could set fire to my pension.”
Clarke matched the smile, but felt it blow up beyond anything that might be considered proper in the situation. “If we can chalk it all up to a lesson learned, I would very much appreciate the chance to get back to work.”
The Old Man regarded Clarke for a moment that felt as if it stretched into eternity. “Oh, dear,” he finally said. “This will be awkward, I’m afraid.”
“How do you mean, sir?” Clarke asked.
The Old Man grimaced and reached for the intercom on his desk. “Please send him in, would you?”
The voice beyond the intercom squawked something akin to agreement and the lock on the office door clicked again. A man—younger, with wispy blonde hair and a mirthful, nearly cherubic face—walked into the office. The newcomer’s pair of Allen Edmonds Carlyle Oxfords—the same type of shoe Clarke himself wore—clicked with each step. The Ermenegildo Zegna suit the other man wore was—from a distance—a precise match for Clarke’s own ensemble. If it weren’t for the man’s vapid grin, Clarke would have assumed he was looking at his twin.
“Hello,” the newcomer said. “My name is Thad Clarke. I’m glad to know you.”
Clarke—that is, the man who up until a moment ago thought of himself as the only Thad Clarke in the room—shot a glance at The Old Man and back to the interloper. It was a frantic, uncontrolled gesture, and Clarke immediately chastised himself for the loss of control. He had once brought down a Neo-Nazi financing ring using only his pinochle skills. Now, when his entire world had been turned upside down, he had been turned into some sort of spastic new recruit.
“But, I’m Thad Clarke,” he protested.
The Old Man shook his head. “Not anymore. We’re living in precarious times. Al Qaeda. ISIS. Russia and the Deep State. It’s preferable that they all think you’re still on the job, even if you have resigned. We had a contingency plan for your disappearance or death—”
“—that would be me,” the interloper interjected. “I bring a lot more to the table than just the willingness to fill your admittedly large shoes. I can pilot a space shuttle. I’m board certified from a very prestigious Clown College. I also make a mean quiche.”
Clarke looked incredulously between the two men. The Old Man nodded sharply. The smile was gone. “Yes, that’s all… true. It also turned out to be useful now that you’ve resigned your commission.”
Clarke lowered his head, but said nothing more. He had entered that office in hopes to get his life back. As he left, he had nothing. Not even a name. Thad Clarke will return, as it turns out, but the sad sack who left that building had no idea where to go next.
The kids at school said that if you followed the instructions exactly, it would come in the night. Jane knew to not believe the stories they told her.
And yet, before sleep could come, her mind wandered to the possibility—remote though it might have been—that it might be true. If some…thing was to come out of the mirror, her mind couldn’t begin to fathom what it would look like. They mentioned blood, and screaming, and a melting face. Those scant details formed no image in her head, just a deep and growing sense of dread. She didn’t want to find out what it truly looked like, even if it probably, definitely, almost certainly didn’t really exist.
Jane tried to push the thoughts out of her mind and force herself to go to sleep. She had nothing to fear. Even if the monster were somehow real—it wasn’t, it wasn’t, IT WASN’T—the only way it could pose her any danger is if she were to summon it, and she wasn’t about to do that.
But then another thought burrowed in through her ears and nestled squarely at the center of her mind, jolting her eyes open again.
What if it was true, and someone else did the thing in front of the mirror? Her parents might have heard the legend, but then they were grown-ups, and they were far too obsessed with making sure the thermostat was at the right setting and whether or not the grass needed to be cut to be worried about beasts from the spirit world. But then there was her older brother. He was three years older and had to have heard about the mirror ritual, too, when he was younger. He was exactly the kind of jerk who would try this, and laugh about it for weeks, regardless of what did or did not actually come out of the glass.
This was silly. She might have described it as insane, but a child—at least a child as normally level-headed as Jane—didn’t have a concept of insane or sane. There was no ghost who could be conjured from a mirror in a darkened room. Such things didn’t exist, except in the kinds of movies mom and dad would never let Jane watch in a million years.
Deep in the night, Jane thought her options through logically, and came up with only one that might, might give her some peace of mind. She emerged from bed and crept towards the bathroom. She closed the door behind her and had to consciously think herself out of the habit to flip the light switch near the door. Illumination from streetlamps at the corner gave the room just the slightest wisps of orange. It was just enough so she wouldn’t trip over anything and make a huge commotion for everyone else in the house.
She left the bathroom door open a crack. Even though there was no such thing as monsters, it didn’t hurt to leave an escape path.
With her eyes closed, Jane turned towards the mirror and tried to gather her nerve, while still being at a complete loss for why she would need courage at all.
Slowly she opened her eyes, and the face that looked back at Jane was not her own. But, wait. Yes, it was. Something about the low lighting made her look distorted, and it took a moment for her eyes to catch up with her mind and exclude her anxiety.
Jane quickly decided that if that was the worst thing to happen to her, this would then be a lot easier than she had feared. There was no more time for fear, or wondering, she just had to do it.
“Bloody Mary,” she called out. Her eyes darted back and forth quickly, trying to bring her peripheral vision to the forefront.
Nothing had changed.
“Bloody Mary.” This time her voice was louder, faster. She had decided that if she said it too slowly it wouldn’t count.
She moved to say it again, but as goose flesh popped up across her skin, fear threatened to take over.
This time it was not much more than a whisper.
But it counted.
A rush of air passed Jane, slamming the bathroom door shut. The hazy branch of light coming from the street blinked out. Jane tried to move out of the way of whatever was happening, but instead nearly doubled over the edge of the bathtub.
A glowing red specter crawled out of the mirror and turned its improbably dangling head toward Jane. Rivulets of crimson poured from the ghost’s face. It screamed like a banshee and Jane knew in that moment that there was no way the rest of the house—or for that matter, most of town—didn’t hear what was going on.
The ghost stopped and looked at Jane askance. Would it eat her? Or mangle her? Or bring her into some newfound dimension of despair from which she would never escape? All Jane wanted in that moment was for whatever was about to happen to her to just happen already so she could stop wondering about it. The end result couldn’t possibly be worse than all of this wondering.
“Are you Emily Smith?” the ghost asked, it’s moaning like the torturous depths of hell itself.
“No.” Jane whimpered. “I’m Jane Barclay. Emily goes to go my school, though.”
The ghost looked back to the mirror, and then back to the tub. “Oh,” it spat. “I was supposed to haunt a cool kid. One that everyone liked and had a lot of friends. Or, like, any friends, really. My mistake. Sorry to bother you. They all laugh at you, you know.”
The ghost contorted its body—folding in on itself—and re-entered the mirror. The lights returned, and the door creaked open.
It was worse than Jane had imagined.
As English legend had long foretold, King Arthur of Camelot returned from what some might have called death in the year of our Lord, two thousand and nineteen. He immediately proceeded to announce his campaign for the Democratic Presidential Nomination in two thousand and twenty.
Republicans—including that one particular member of the party—were delighted by the unlikely development. They had once made great hay out of other men’s true citizenship, and if there is one thing Republicans love more than anything else, it’s never having to come up with new ideas. It’s fair to say the Democrats have never been exceptionally stellar at coming up with new ideas, but lay off of them, if you would, they have a centuries-old British King of legend running to be the head of their party. They are trying.
The joyous/indignant caterwauling of the GOP did not serve them well for long. The Supreme Court took up the issue in their landmark case Pendragon v. Democratic Party of Iowa. Citing the particular syntax of Article II, the majority of the court indicated that His Royal Highness could be termed a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of the constitution, as particular rules about what constituted a citizen—even if they were considered legendary/dead—were not specific at the birth of the republic. King Arthur could therefore run, and run he would.
The party of Lincoln—for once echoing the dismay of their arch enemies—immediately decried that the return on their investment in a High Court that bowed to their every whim was anemic, at best.
Unfortunately, being allowed to run for the office was not the end, but the beginning of the King’s problems. If one were to describe the King’s platform, he would most assuredly be a single-issue candidate. He was not concerned with the snake eating its own tail that had become Russiagate. He was not interested in climate change. His website—kingarthurforamerica.com—had not one mention of prison reform or the scourge of economic inequality.
He made one promise, and one promise only: to find the Holy Grail.
This posed any number of political problems for Arthur’s effort. No one—least of all the candidate himself—exactly knew what that meant. Was it a metaphor for some sense of idealism that had been lost in the American consciousness? Or was it literally the cup that had so thoroughly dominated Arthur’s activities in centuries past? Arthur never specified. It didn’t seem to matter, either. Arthur received a level of free media on the topic that hadn’t been seen since… the last election cycle wherein a candidate made outlandish claims with nothing resembling reality to support them.
This increased attention likely served as the death knell for Arthur’s attempts to get back into the halls of power. Many likely Democratic primary voters found Arthur’s continued references to “the glory of christendom” off-putting, and he failed to amass a viable voting coalition. Polling for the once and supposedly future king never got above 3.5%. When caucus-goers assembled to make their choices known that following January, Arthur Pendragon finished twelfth behind an already crowded field of candidates. Arthur formally dropped out of the race the next day and retired to live in rural Vermont, where he continues to make swords to sell on his Etsy shop. Political observers have long wondered if the 2020 race would have turned out differently if he had been the nominee.Read More
Yes, I woke up late, but I had timed it all out perfectly. Pull myself out of bed no later than 7:45 AM. Jog for no more than 15 minutes. Shower: 10 minutes. Getting dressed? 10 more. Depending on whether or not Petyr is running the drive thru at The Java Jalopy, coffee will take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.
One might think coffee is an optional part of the agenda, but I have enough self-awareness to know I would be of more use to my employer and society pantsless and caffeinated than I would if the opposite were true.
Another ten minutes to get to my desk, and I should be sitting down well before 9:00 AM.
But of course, I had forgotten about the monsters.
The god-damned monsters.
At first, I heard sirens. As the latte hadn’t fully made its way to my central nervous system, I first thought a train was crossing the road up ahead. That wouldn’t have eaten into my timetable that much. I mean, a train can’t stay at the crossing forever…
The obstruction on my way to work was no locomotive of the Union Pacific, but instead a radioactively enhanced praying mantis the newspaper came to call Kamakirimonsutā. It marched over the I-34 Exchange Bridge, knocking cars and vans from the highest overpass. They exploded in balls of flames.
Despite the carnage all around me, I arched my neck to see if there was any way I could get around the logjam and to the next intersection. No such luck. Bumper to bumper, except for the parts that weren’t currently filled with either fire or mantis.
I was never going to get to work at this rate.
A police helicopter flew overhead landing for an instant near the overpass. The creature ignored them, and instead appeared to be contemplating whether they would take the interstate northbound to Raymond Burr Boulevard, or southbound toward Downtown.
Several SWAT officers jumped off the Huey and advanced on the creature. The creature took one look at the advancing cops, plucked one from the crowd and bit the poor sucker’s head off. All of us commuters just sat there and watching the rest of the uniformed saps ran for dear life. Now that I think about it, the biting of the head was probably more of an attempt at romance.
Oh, and it swatted the helicopter into its own fiery wreck pretty well, too. That seemed more hostile, but I’m not exactly an expert in kaiju psychology…
The bug went on the move. Eschewing the main thoroughfares for the east, I came to a sudden conclusion about my fate and the monster’s proclivities.
The praying mantis was headed straight for me. I could only hope I wasn’t—her?—type.
Every car around me suddenly went into reverse. Fender bender collapsed onto multiple other fender benders. It was an insurance adjustor’s nightmare, but then again, it wasn’t exactly like they were having the best time of things lately.
Oh, and the horns, how they did honk.
The monster looked down, and much to my own chagrin, mine was the only car not moving. It reached out with its claws and hoisted me up the fifty feet or so to bring me to its eye level. If it weren’t for the panic, I probably would have passed out.
The monster’s segmented eyes considered me for a moment, and I quickly got the sense that one of us had made a love connection. And in that moment, all someone else would have known was terror, but no, not me. I thought of all the work we needed to do today.
Suddenly, mortar shells rang forth. The army had arrived, and I was saved. The monster recoiled and dropped me. Thankfully, I landed on the highest overpass possible. Not so thankfully, it was another half an hour to work from where it dropped me.
“Get out of here!” the soldier in the tank yelled to me.
I didn’t have to be told twice. I took my own opportunity to go back away from what had become a complete war zone.
I got here as soon as I could, I swear. Luckily the monster set me down—well, dropped me, really—on the highway, and I made it here in record time. I’m sure I look like a mess. But I’m here now! Even with everything going on around me, it wasn’t like I was expecting the day off! Ha. Ha. Ha.
And, anyway, that’s when you came by.
“And that’s your explanation for why you didn’t come in until 9:30?” There was nothing even resembling a question in the supervisor’s voice. She had come out of nowhere to hector the employee about the tardiness infraction. The employee had to hand it to the kaiju currently overrunning the planet Earth: they at least had the decency to let you know they were coming.
“But…” the employee tried to protest. “Everything that happened to me.”
“Okay, well… We live in a world where kaiju attacks happen every week. If you want to get to work on time—and if you want to continue to work here, you definitely want to get to work on time—you need to get out of bed earlier.”
The last few minutes—actually, the last several months during which these attacks suddenly became a thing—threatened to boil over within the employee. Life had changed too much since these things had made their way to shore, and wanting a little bit of human compassion for their troubles didn’t feel out of line.
“Also, I see you managed to find time to grab coffee before coming in,” the supervisor said before retreating to her cubicle.
“But…” the employee tried to protest, but more words would only add more trouble to a Tuesday morning that had already started off bad.
~As I write this line it is 04/21/19 and the flash fiction blog has just edged out the movie review blog fro 50,000 words. As some of the stories may not make it into the book, and I have it in my mind (and will probably insist on it, unless my brain truly dries up with potential story ideas) pushing it at least past 60k, there is still some work to do.
~As a side note, I’m writing this line on 04/29/19, and it appears that the movie blog book is now at 49K and change. All of that written in just over six months. Imagine what I could do with my life if I didn’t feel the need to blog…
~So, Endgame happened. Obviously, the death of (REDACTED) left me a little underwhelmed, while the death of (ALSO REDACTED) may have me careening toward the beginnings of what will eventually be my mid-life crisis. The time travel doesn’t make sense when looked at it through a macro lens (especially when the fate of (REDACTED ONCE MORE) comes into play. And the unpacking of time travel tropes is probably objectively fun, it only served to send me careening into a full-blown panic attack, as it is trucking in the same lane of a project I currently have in development.
~Speaking of which, the scripts for all six episodes of The Fourth Wall, Season 2 are at a point where I can start showing them to some people. Weird that I’ve even made it this far on this, although there is still much to do. The script book looks to be hovering right around 96,000 words (before any other ancillary material might be added in), so that’s definitely the longest thing I ever wrote.
~With all of that above, I’m a little unmoored as far as writing projects are at the moment. Things will obviously speed up again as I get closer to being in production on the new season. Get back to getting The Once And Future Orson Welles ready for public eyes? Maybe, but I think I’d like a little more uninterrupted writing time runway before I truly, finally pivot in that direction. Keep writing flash and get that catalogue to a point where I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’ll have enough to move forward on a volume of the stories? Seems more likely. Finally break down and just play some video games for once? Feels incredibly tempting.
~Aaaaaaaaaand the movie blog just—with my review of Thor (2011)—hit 50,000 words as well. Odds are it will lap the flash blog, and then only continue to grow. Means the average entry is 505 words. Also means that if the numbers hold up, I watch about 132 films per year (not counting several of the films that appear in the blog that I’ve watched on repeat). Not sure if I should be bummed or proud of that.
~Also on that note, I didn’t think my 100th movie review would be for Shazam (2019), but here we are.
~Speaking of movies I did a review of that I’ll probably watch a couple of times, I had the unique opportunity to see Batman (1989) in a theater. As many times I had seen the film, I had never seen it on the big screen. The theater was about a quarter-filled with people who looked exactly like me. I wondered quietly if all of our lives had gone along a similar path, only to bring us to this time and place. The film—as I had quietly suspected for a while—is a different experience in the theater, and was probably meant more for that venue. Danny Elfman’s score rattles the one when it isn’t coming out of the puny speakers of a television. I may be hearing things, but I think for the 4K release—for which these screenings were intended as a promotion—they’ve tinkered with the sound design. Films of the 70s and 80s had this wonderful sound when guns are shot. It had nothing to o with what I would imagine is the reality of bullets, but more akin to a bell ringing. This film was once filled with that strange twang. Now? The bullets sound like bullets. I’m not sure if I like that, but then again, I didn’t really expect to have them ask me about it. Might just need to isolate that sound and use it more in The Fourth Wall this season and keep the dream alive.
~I don’t know how much I should talk about this next bit, but sufficed it to say things are happening here at Party Now, Apocalypse Later Industries. This space and the things I’m involved in may look quite a bit different a year from now, or at least I hope it will. It’s nice to have that hope again. It feels like it’s been a while.Read More
As I’ve continued to write the stories that appear here, I have had the intermittent occasion to bring to light a series of previous unpublished correspondence. In the Mother’s Day spirit, I now bring to you, dear reader, a series of postcards from a still unidentified mother and daughter during the mid-spring of an unknown year, presumably during the first World War. I found them at a garage sale in the town of Uncertain, Texas.
(The following postcard features an image of the long-since defunct Blessed Sister Mary Margaret O’Callaghan’s School For Ladies Of Substandard Morals. History-minded readers will remember that the School’s demise was a direct result of the Michigan Hobby Horse Scandal of 1942.)
All is well at school. I believe the convent of sisters is doing right by me, and I try to mind them. If you could see fit to send me just a little bit of money. I promise I will not spend it on frivolous things like sweets. I’m all out of heroin and could use a measure more.
(This postcard features a black background with a silver script that reads "Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and equitable but also to those who are perverse." ~ 1 Peter 2:18)
Acknowledging your card sent this past March the first. Unfortunately, no spending money can be forthcoming. The rhubarb harvest has not gone well, Grandfather’s gout has immobilized him entirely, and your brother refuses to stop howling.
Perhaps one of your school chums can lend you opiates until matters improve?
(This postcard features a painting of—depending on your perspective—an anthropomorphized carrot and turnip engaged in a sexual act, or enjoying a spring day on a swing.)
The Sisters may be reaching out to you soon, but I must defend myself before they do. While there was some trouble here, I assure you it is over now. The convent has confiscated my collection of pruning shears. I do not think they will allow me to have any other sharp objects until next term.
Has brother’s condition improved?
(This postcard appears to be from the same Biblical series and features a different passage. “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” ~ Deuteronomy 23:1)
Acknowledging receipt of your letter from April the second. You have shamed me. Those pruning shears have been in our family since the beginning. I would say that they are your inheritance, but from where I am sitting, you have been far too wicked for any kind of a birthright.
Your brother is very poor indeed. The howling has stopped, but he appears to be insensate and spends all day in the fields. The crows are beside themselves.
(This postcard features a colorized photograph of a cherubic infant posing next to a dark black creature.)
You have ruined my life by putting me in this prison of a school. You have ruined brother’s life by feeding him the water downhill from the outhouse.
You take refuge in God, but that is only because everything you’ve ever done is wrong.
Happy Mother’s Day.
(The sudden termination of the correspondence, what happened in the intervening months, and the fates of either writer remain unknown. This final postcard is similar to the others sent by the mother and features one final scripture passage. “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again." ~ Exodus 21:7-8.)
To the Sisters of the O’Callaghan School,
Please dispose of any personal effects that belonged to my daughter. No one will be available to retrieve them. Thank you for your valiant attempts to set her straight.
*Neither of the authors of the postcards offered a year. One can attribute the omission to the supposition that neither writer imagined their messages would be saved for posterity.
I never wondered if household pets had it better than those animals kept in the zoo. It’s not something one would think about, until they are either one of those things. And when would a reasonable, upright-standing human being ever have the occasion?
When I woke up that day, everything was darkness. Metallic wafts of some harsh kind of solvent wandered into my nose. I fumbled my way through the pitch black, eventually touching what I could only guess were a few leaves of iceberg lettuce. I had a thin suspicion that I was still alive, as I had a hard time imagining that either pole of the afterlife smelled or tasted like this.
That suspicion ebbed for a moment as—after a bountiful feast of lettuce things during that first day—the air grew thin. I felt woozy. I don’t think my eyes started to get heavy, but then again, the sight was the same whether my lids were open or closed. I could feel myself floating away. If this was the end, I’d want to say it was an odd one, but I didn’t have anything with which to compare.
And then, there was light. Sudden; jarring. Three bright, shining holes appeared above me, and I could breathe again.
Days passed like this. Three rays of light, and enough lettuce to feed a king, assuming a king would ever want to eat lettuce. I was contained in some kind of metal box measuring ten meters in any direction. The holes of light were in the ceiling of one corner, the supply of lettuce was stacked in another. Yet a third corner had a tank of water that would soon be bone dry. The fourth corner I used for any… other needs that might arise. I tried not to think about the fourth corner unless I really needed it.
On the third day, the ceiling above me parted and split open. A rush of fresh air and blinding light filled the box, illuminating all four corners of my living arrangements, much to my consternation.
Giant claws pierced the light and grabbed me. The inner ridges of the claws were not sharp, but that made them no less terrifying. I squirmed, but in retrospect I had no hope that it would do any good. My eyes adjusted to the new world and I met my new masters. Spindly, insectoid, and green. Two of them were in were in front of me; one bigger and one smaller. The smaller one—who had plucked me from the box—considered with an array of segmented eyes. The harsh contours of its face betrayed no expression.
“What is happening to me?!” I called out to the creatures. In response, a sound like the largest booming trumpet ever forged echoed back to me. The smaller one rubbed its claw around my face. I squirmed again, tried to scream, and the trumpet is all I got for my trouble.
Years passed like that. The food got a little better, pellets the size of my fist that tasted like a distant memory I had of meat. I came to rely on it, and the long stretches where I wasn’t fed were filled with anxiety that could only be salved by my master’s return and a fresh supply of food. I came to rely on them and even—in my weakest moments—came to feel something like affection for them.
It made me only hate them more.
Better food was out there, too. Somehow, my captors had gotten a hold of a number of items that were indistinguishable—at least, to me—from a New York-style pizza. To get even a whiff of such treasures, I had to perform all sorts of demeaning tricks. Mostly, those tricks consisted of sitting in a human-sized chair they pointed to. Apparently, these creatures from another world were not the most discerning audience in the cosmos.
I wouldn’t do it. I was a human being, damn it! The most evolved form of life on my planet. I would not be reduced to a pet for these things. They were the animals!
But here I am, sitting in their damn chair like a good human, and I’ll be getting some of that pizza here in only a moment.
I still sometimes wonder if the zoo animals or the domesticated have it better. Zoo animals are cared for more carefully. They sometimes get companionship in the form of other animals.
And yet, this new life of mine has its charms. They seem to like me an awful lot. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to them.
At this rate, I’ll probably never know which one has it better.Read More
Through the third, fourth, and fifth grade, Patrick Finnegan was a fine student. He liked history and was good at reading. He tried hard with math problems, even though they weren’t his strong suit, and always brought home at least a B. Most importantly, he always, always did his homework.
But then there was handwriting.
Try as he might, he was always flummoxed by the simple act of—legibly—making his letters in cursive. And to hear his teachers explain it, there would be no avenue of success in the 21st century for someone who could not write so that others could read it. Essie Samson could do it with ease, and she even got a ribbon for it at the holiday assembly in December. It seemed like handwriting was the only thing Rory Applewood was good at. Even Timmy Branscom could master the mysterious curves of a capital “Z”, and he had devoted his life to finding new and interesting ways to eat glue.
Mom and Dad expressed mystification bordering on mortification that Patrick could not master this simple task. They assumed he spent too much time watching videotapes and playing Mario, and was not sufficiently focused on his school work. The solution was simple. Mario and Friends went up in the attic for a little while, and the VHS player followed. When the marks from Patrick’s teachers regarding penmanship remained indifferent, bordering on hostile, Patrick’s parents did not know what to do.
Patrick’s grandparents—both sets, even—reacted differently. They marveled at the barely decipherable squiggles that made up Patrick’s handwriting exercises. “Don’t you see?” one grandpa bellowed, nearly perfectly echoing what the other grandpa had said during their last visit. “The boy is destined for great things with chicken scratches like this. Why, I’d bet a buffalo nickel he becomes a doctor before everything is said and done. Those people write like madmen, and they save lives and make money like this family has never seen!”
Such proclamations from their own parents failed to move Mom and Dad from their militant pro-D’Nealian zealotry, and Mario remained imprisoned. Patrick hadn’t ever thought about becoming a doctor, but if he didn’t have to worry about penmanship, it instantly moved to the front of potential “when I grow up” answers, just edging out secret agent, time traveler, and newspaper writer. Doctor Patrick Finnegan. It had a certain ring to it. When he wrote the title and his name down in his composition book, well, it looked sort of like this:
Drtoor Petri Flamingo
But it seemed like as good an idea as any.
This was, of course, before all the Doctors on planet Earth were vaporized, mind you.
It happened one day while Patrick was at school, and it happened fast. No one knew for sure from where the robots came. Most assumed they were the result of a Military experiment gone wrong, but most of those people had seen too many movies, Patrick decided. Some thought it was the internet waking up and swallowing whole everyone in sight. A few even whispered about how Windows 95 was one step too far into the technological frontier, and we were finally paying our dues. Whatever their true origin, the robots spread across the Earth quickly and destroyed every hospital, clinic, medical school, and—presumably—golf course across the globe. As far as first-strike strategies went, it was both brutal in its long-term effects and brilliant in that humanity could not fathom anything resembling a retaliatory strike.
It also eliminated 95% of the terrible penmanship on the planet Earth, and effectively eliminated medicine as a possible future career for Patrick Finnegan.
The robots moved quickly from there, striking at the centers of power for finance, government, military, and culture. Nothing was safe. What remained of humanity’s fighting forces attempted to turn the tide of what was quickly becoming an eradication but were impotent even in their best efforts.
Air Force fighter swarmed around them, no more effective than flies on a summer day. The robots would always have the upper hand. In their malevolence, the robots could decode any kind of human communication in an instant. Their harsh, silicon brains instantly devised tactics to suppress any biological uprising. The most elaborate ciphers were cracked like a candy bar falling in a vending machine. The robots even had a complete record of Native American languages in their hard drives, so the tools of the past were no longer useful.
But there was one thing that their computer brains couldn’t fathom.
And that was bad handwriting.
If a “b” could also somehow be a “t”—for example—the robots would work themselves into a frothy pile of indecision and cease functioning. Historians would come to wonder if this was why the doctors were the first to die.
The military scoured whatever was left of educational records to find children with a history of chicken scratches. Finnegan and other children like him were whisked away to the mountains of NORAD and there they became the vanguard of a new communication tool for humanity and its protectors.
And eventually, on the shoulders of Patrick Finnegan’s awful handwriting, humanity prevailed and the robots were destroyed…
Or, at least, that’s the story Patrick Finnegan scrawled out in his Composition Book while his teacher tried to dodge questions about why a capital Q looked suspiciously like the number 2.
He supposed he didn’t need to hide the tale of how he might one day be called to save humanity from their hubris.
No one would ever be able to read it.
The Camerons—please, call them Roger and Esther—took a moment from their busy lives of traveling and making friends to sit in their living room and look through the photo album of past trips and the people they had met along the way.
“Oh, Roger,” said Esther. “Look at that. Those are the… Wait. It’ll come to me.”
Silence passed between them. “The Walkers, Esther,” Roger eventually answered.
“Yes! The Walkers. Lovely couple. That must have been, what? 1997?”
Roger nodded and tapped the Polaroid of the Walkers, as if touching the photo would elevate the memory into something more real. He turned the page. More photos followed. “Look, Esther,” said Roger. “This is from our trip to San Francisco. Remember the Newmans?”
Esther smiled wider than the Grand Canyon and basked in her memories of the City by the Bay. “The family was Catholic, of course… But very nice.”
“Very nice,” Roger agreed.
Transfixed by further memories, Esther reached forward and turned to the next page in the album.
“The Murphys!” they both cried, nostalgia taking them both over in equal measure.
“Oh, they were so nervous!” Esther said.
Roger gave his blushing bride a sideways glance. “We were, too, if you remember.”
She smiled and remembered. “It seems like so long ago.”
“That was a big one for us,” Roger remarked. “Not our first, but… Golly, I can’t even remember our first all that well.”
“Oh, don’t remind me, Roger. We were so young. We got better, dear, no need to dwell on our amateur days.”
Roger nodded and flipped the page again. “Oh, look, Esther, the Halls. Sweet people.”
Esther’s face dropped. “Yes, but the boy wandering off like that… Gave us quite a fright!” She was already done with this memory.
His wife’s occasionally gloomy disposition could sour even the sweetest of moments. “Yes, he escaped, Esther… But time caught up with him. Time catches up with everyone.” Not wanting to linger on a bitter moment, he turned the page once more.
Esther giggled, any trace of dourness evaporating like morning dew. “Oh, the Banleys… You never forget a family that got you on the front page of The New York Times.”
Roger’s laugh sounded a little sharper than he meant it, but just a little. “I’d prefer the Wall Street Journal…” he grumbled.
Esther playfully pushed him. “Oh, Roger,” she admonished, but in every word there was love. From both of them.
“The FBI really thought they had their suspect all figured out,” Roger mused.
“Yes, suspect,” Esther echoed.
They took in all the other memories displayed, and for a moment reality started to seep into their reverie.
“Roger?” Esther asked.
“Yes, Esther?” Roger replied.
“We’re getting older, you know.”
Roger furrowed his brow. But then, he supposed, his brow was always furrowed. “I’m getting old, you’re just getting more lovely day by day there, Esther.”
“How long can we keep doing this, do you wonder?”
Roger patted her leg and shut the photo album. “As long as you like, my dear,” he told her. “As long as you like. Shall we?”
She nodded and rose from the sofa. Roger followed shortly behind her. He grabbed their camera; she grabbed the meat clever. There were always new memories to make. The Doren family—bound, gagged, and waiting in the basement—would see to that.
The stars had been blue for God knows how long, and while I couldn’t see them, I knew the stars behind were red. If the engines could somehow produce just a little bit more, everything outside of that front viewport would turn black.
But I knew that could never happen. Einstein had long since settled that. It didn’t mean things weren’t going to get weird, though.
Humanity’s first starship, the Cinefactus, had been traveling 99.9999999999 percent the speed of light (or 299,792,458 meters per second) since our departure from Earth’s orbit. That increase to a nigh impossible speed had been, by the reckoning of the ship’s clock, 47 minutes ago. In that time, over 62 years had passed back on Earth. So to any infants born around the time our flight began: now is the time to get serious about your retirement options. Seems like only half an hour ago you were getting ready to go to college.
My, how time flies. Literally. At the rate I’m going, other things fly too, but the engineers back home worked something out to deal with our ever-expanding mass. It involves variable geometry and a substance I can only describe as smelling of burnt peanut butter. Don’t take a whiff of it, though. That’s like… page one of our safety manual.
Our journey to the star nearest our solar system—Alpha Centauri, if you’re nasty—would take just about 4.5 years, ship time. For those of you keeping track, 3.1 million years would have passed back home. To all those infants: sorry about dying eons ago. Them’s the breaks. To any apes currently ruling over the Earth: the salt water on that beach is going to corrode the hell out of the Statue of Liberty. Just saying.
Now that I think about it, is that what actually happened to the dinosaurs? Did they leave the Earth for greener (or, as I mentioned above, and the visible spectrum of light dictates, bluer) pastures? Am I going to get to meet a velociraptor astronaut when I get to Alpha Centauri? That’d be cool.
Whether my crew and I’s journey takes what feels like half a decade or a handful of epochs, it’d be a drag to whittle away all of that time in the Cinefactus’ small unobtanium cabin. Never you mind! The engineers have accounted for that as well. We four astronauts, who would succeed where H.G. Wells had only dreamed, are secure in suspension chambers. We are awake, we can see the worlds beyond—or, again, what the visible spectrum of nearly surpassed light would allow us to see—and time moves even slower still. We even have just enough space to move around, receive nutrition, and… well, deal with any other biological functions that might come up over the course of 3 million years. The now 51 minutes of ship time that have elapsed since our departure have actually felt like 2 minutes in our little cubby holes. Thus, the journey would only seem as if it would take a little over two months.
Sure, it’s a long time to spend trapped in what amounts to a bathroom stall if it were designed by Steve Jobs, but it’s a small price to pay to travel further than any human has ever done before… and to likely outlive the human race and perhaps Betty White.
So, I’m not sure why (or, actually, for whom) I am making a record of my current dilemma, but it seems like as good an idea as any.
Moments after the suspension pod sealed shut, I realized I had made a little… boo boo.
We had trained on the simulator for over a year, had even done dry runs of the 65 days of stasis that would be required. Every meeting we had ever had on the ship reminded us of one thing above all else:
Before you go into the chambers, set the timer to let you out when the ship arrives at Alpha Centauri.
Before you go into the pods, set the timer to let you out when the ship arrives at Alpha Centauri.
Whatever you do, before you go into the pods, set the timer to let you out when the ship arrives at Alpha Centauri.
Can you figure out where I messed up?
The rest of the crew looked from their own pods towards me. Their glares were objectively slow, but shot to me like a bullet. Without a word, they all said in one voice:
Damnit. You had one job.
The timer on the main flight console stayed dim for what you would perceive as about 15 years before I realized my error. Without that timer, we would fly right past Alpha Centauri (and, possibly, right through the star) and careen further through the cosmos.
Forever, in case you were wondering.
We would soar past Sirius, and then Betelgeuse, and then everything else going out into Andromeda and beyond. As long as the ship’s batteries and peanut butter stuff held out, we would travel into infinity.
Well, I guess what I should be saying is that all of those things will happen. There’s no way out of the pod. There’s no way off the ship. And the ship will not stop.
By the time I finish this report, I will have already lived longer than any human being had ever lived.
It appears I’ll have plenty of time to stew over my mistake.
The first floor of Consolidated Industrial Audits Services’ Virginia Beach headquarters contained the auditors and support staff needed to provide world-class auditing services. The other three floors contained the true purpose for the building: the logistics, administrative, and quartermaster departments of MCIU-5, the elite counter-intelligence unit of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Agent Clarke, MCIU’s top operative, had never spent any time on the first floor. In fact, in the fifteen years he had been with the agency, he had both entered and exited the building via either the helicopter pad on the roof, or the pneumatic tubes that fed into the basement elevator bay.
On this particular Tuesday, however, Head of Section had given Clarke specific orders to report to the front company on floor one. Something vaguely akin to anxiety coursed through Clarke as he took the elevator ride down. Mandatory retirement age of 47 still loomed ahead of him, so it couldn’t have been that. Is working on the first floor what happens when people retire? The thought forced a wave of perspiration.
Such worrying was pointless. The agency would never keep discharged personnel that close to HQ. It was a security risk. Probably. It was far more likely that some agent of TOOTH—Terrorists Organizing Outside The Hemisphere—had infiltrated the Audit Firm in a gambit to launch a direct attack on MCIU’s base of operations. It would be incumbent on Clarke to identify the offending party and eliminate them. It certainly wouldn’t be the furthest he had ever travelled for an assignment, but he would take it on without complaint, all in the service of country.
The occupant of the auditor’s corner office of the first floor jaunted toward the elevator as Clarke exited. “Mr. Clarke… I’ve been expecting you.”
Clarke cleared his throat, trying to expel from his consciousness the memory of the last time he had heard that specific series of words. At that moment, Clarke had an electromagnet attached directly to his glands, and Dr. Quotient was ready to turn the blasted thing on. Not the most pleasant memory Clarke had of that particular moment, to be sure.
“Yes, I was ordered to—”
“Uh-huh,” the head bean counter nodded enthusiastically, immediately corralling Clarke back into his office. “Have a seat. Can I get you something to drink?”
“Glenlivet 25, if you have it,” Clarke remarked off-hand. “If not, one highball Absolut Crystal Pinstripe Black, pre-chilled.”
“You’re ordering top shelf liquor during a business meeting… on a Tuesday morning?”
Clarke frowned. “I may be a little bit out of my depth here. Water…?”
The bean counter nodded approvingly.
“Also in a Highball, with a lemon twist and three olives. Very cold. No ice, please.”
The bean counter’s nodding ebbed in enthusiasm. “Can we get a couple of bottles of water in here?”
One of the other workers moved to bring them the drinks.
“Now, why we’re here…”
“Who do I have to kill?” Clarke asked.
“I’d prefer you kill no one, but I understand you’ve gone at most two days without killing someone, so we’ll try to move quickly.”
Another office worker brought in two bottles of water. Clarke fumbled his way through trying to drink it with any degree of elegance, but it was just as tentative as his non-murdering. The structure of the liquid’s container baffled him.
“Naturally, there have been budget cuts across all intelligence services over the last year… That’s led to some belt tightening.”
Clarke would have spit out the water, had he successfully taken a sip of the beverage. “Let me tell you something about the spy game, my friend. It absolutely relies on men who can act independently of any other consideration. I’ve worked under those circumstances for a long time, and I’m not going to—”
Another employee brought the auditor a large, bulging file. It landed on the desk with a thud that reminded Clarke of the brief life of Maximillian Czar’s Polatron missile.
“No one’s interested in changing how you do your business, we just need to make sure you’re a little smarter with the Treasury’s funds.”
Clarke rose from his seat. “I’ve never been spoken to this way, and I’m not about to start now.”
“If you do not submit to this audit of your operational expenses, you’ll be suspended from field duty.”
Clarke turned around.
The audior continued. “I don’t find you attractive, Agent Clarke. Your normal methods of sidestepping procedural oversight by means of seduction will only embarrass the both of us.”
Clarke sat down again.
The bean counter opened the file and began reading. “Now, first thing’s first, on your last mission, you lost your Beretta 418.”
“I did not. I threw it at a TOOTH agent. He then fell off a plane, presumably to his death.”
“Yes, but that’s a six-hundred dollar expense that the agency is not able to re-coop.”
“Yes, but I killed an evil do-er, and got the agency a new jet…”
The bean counter looked further down on the report. “The upkeep of that jet is prohibitive. How about these… seven…teen?…vehicles you’ve totaled.”
“Fourteen thousand… Sorry, that’s fourteen billion dollars of damage to public property. I’m assuming that’s tied to the totaled vehicles…”
“All in the service of a grateful country.”
“Okay,” the auditor stopped another report. “You spend six-hundred thousand per… Month? On beluga caviar, and some of that liquor you thought I had sitting around the office. If you order some of the cheaper roe, that would go a long way—”
Clarke slammed his hands on the desk and rose once again from his seat. “Enough! I quit! Life is too short to eat second-tier caviar. I’d rather die in the poor house than continue under these circumstances.”
After he stormed out of the office, the bean counter activated an intercom on the desk. “I’m three for three on these auditing sessions. Send the next agent down, please.”Read More