Extras

  • In the beginning, when The Lord created the heavens and the earth, he was quite drunk. All was chaos and void, and God’s spirit blew back and forth, uneasily, across the vast reaches of nascent space-time. Suddenly, eternity started spinning, and The Lord stumbled. He felt queasy, like he was falling through the never-ending abyss. He exerted his considerable mental faculties on orienting himself, but he soon realized that had been a mistake. Bending over, hands at his knees, The Lord took a deep breath, but despite his purported omnipotence, he seemed powerless to quell that which was rising from his gargantuan belly. He opened his unfathomable mouth wide and regurgitated the previous night’s hazy memory. From this cosmic vomit grew all of creation.

    The Lord felt better, momentarily. He stretched his mighty arm above his head, and inadvertently, pulled down the curtain of darkness.

    “Why is it so bright in here?” he asked, then covered his eyes with his massive hand to try to sleep it off.

    And it was evening, and it was morning, the first day.

    Some of the liquid The Lord regurgitated the night before had evaporated overnight. In the morning, it began to rain on The Lord’s head. He hastily built a firmament, which divided creation into the heavens and the earth, and which kept about half the liquid above the barrier, so he could get some rest.

    And it was evening, and it was morning, the second day.

    It was a good thing he had left some of the water below the firmament, because when he awoke the next day, The Lord was parched. He drank about half the liquid left on Earth, revealing the land that lay beneath.

    The Lord tried to go back to sleep, but soon woke again because he had to take a massive piss. Since his issue was imbued with the power of creation, the Earth sprung forth grass and trees, all manner of vegetation.

    And it was evening, and it was morning, the third day.

    The Lord woke the next morning, still bothered by the light which, in his hungover state, gave him a splitting headache. He shielded his eyes from the incessant glare with his left hand, and with his strong, right hand, he gathered the light, forming it into more manageable portions. Thus, he created the heavenly bodies by which people now keep time: the sun, the moon, the planets, and the stars.

    And it was evening, and it was morning, the fourth day.

    Some of the divine piss, which the creator had released on the third day, drained through the soil and ran off into the sea, while the rest evaporated into the air. Its life-giving power coalesced with the basic elements in the sea and in the sky. Life formed in the oceans and birds appeared in the sky. The racket of their squawking kept the creator up all night.

    And it was evening, and it was morning, the fifth day.

    After a while, some of the life-forms from the ocean crept up onto the land. Subsiding on the vegetation, which was filled with The Lord’s power, they grew and changed into complex animals of every species before the creator dragged himself out of bed.

    Those creatures who remained in the ocean continued to evolve as well. Great sea monsters, squid, kraken, and all manner of sharks fought for supremacy, but all were subdued by the great Leviathan who, in the absence of the still-sleeping creator, established themself as ruler of the vasty deep.

    Back on land, giant lizards ruled for a time, and the rest of the animals cowered in fear of these great behemoths. The sound of their massive footfalls reverberated even unto heaven, disturbing the divine slumber. Half asleep, The Lord conjured a massive boulder out of his subconscious dreamland and hurled it down at the Earth to try and quell the noise. It worked, for a time. The dust from the impact choked the great reptiles, killing them instantly, and wiping their memory from the Earth for many years.

    All was quiet for a time but, eventually, the smaller, furrier creatures grew to fill the void left by the erstwhile dinosaurs. By this time, however, the creator was sleeping deeply. Nothing on Earth would disturb him for some time.

    Around noon, God awoke. He saw what he had created, and behold, it was . . . not great. The animals had eaten much of the vegetation and trampled the ground. The sea teemed with monsters. The Lord was wroth. When he went on his bender the night before, he had not thought of the consequences. He considered destroying the whole thing and starting over but, ultimately, he did not want to be that kind of god. He might be careless—even irresponsible—but evil? That was a bit much. No, this god felt some sense of responsibility, even while he was hungover.

    Still, as creations went, this was embarrassing. It was a self-damn mess in here.

    “What in the still-unnamed underworld am I going to do now?” he asked into the void. “I didn’t want any of this.” He sat down to think.

    Finally, he said, “I’m not dealing with this mess. I’ll hire someone else to take care of it.”

    The trouble was there was no one else to hire. None of the angels seemed up to the task, except Lucifer, and something about the way that one looked at him made him hesitate when he thought about willingly handing over power. He would have to create someone to clean up the place and whip it into presentable, working order.

    Thus, The Lord created people, male and female, in his own image. He formed them out of the dust and blew the divine breath—which still smelt vaguely of alcohol and vomit— into their lungs. (It is this last tinge of alcohol on the divine, life-giving breath that accounts for humanity’s inability to act rationally.) The Lord set up a small garden—it looked good next to the rest of the creation, which had grown out of his piss and vomit—and placed the new couple there.

    He provided minimal instruction and left them in charge. And it was evening, and it was morning, the sixth day. On the seventh day, God rested. He is still sleeping it off.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Black's Myth #5
  • “That puzzle belongs to me now, Kenny,” Mrs. Symons said, mildly annoyed. “Please put it on my desk.”

    Kenny walked to the front of the classroom and placed the cylindrical Rubik’s Cube-style puzzle on her desk.

    “You’ll have to bring me a note from your parents to get it back. It will remain here on my desk until then. Now please take your seat.”

    As he shuffled back to his desk, Kenny replayed the last few minutes over in his head: Mrs. Symons had been writing on the blackboard while she asked everybody to take out a piece of paper and a pencil for a pop quiz. Kenny reached into his desk for a pencil. During his search he moved the puzzle out of the way, momentarily setting it on top of his desk. Before putting the puzzle back, Kenny spun it on the desk’s beige, icy-smooth Formica surface. At that exact moment, Mrs. Symons turned around from the blackboard and confiscated the puzzle.

    What Mrs. Symons couldn’t have known was that the puzzle didn’t belong to Kenny. The puzzle belonged to Kenny’s sister.

    His dilemma was further complicated by the shameful fact that Kenny had taken the puzzle without his sister’s permission. At some point that evening, she was bound to notice the absence of her prized puzzle. More importantly, Kenny couldn’t stop thinking about what harm might come to the puzzle while it was still at school and out of his sight. Although he knew it was wrong to take it without permission, he had assumed that the puzzle would be safely within his control the entire time. Now, out of his hands, he wondered what would happen if Mrs. Symons accidentally broke it? What if she lost track of it? What if it just disappeared into thin air?

    Kenny and his friends had been comparing their combination puzzles—each one a different variation on the cube-puzzle theme: a pyramid, a link, a sphere, and so on— all week during recess. None of his friends had the cylinder puzzle, so even though it wasn’t his to share, Kenny was determined to bring it to school to impress his classmates.

    Generally speaking, Kenny was not a rule breaker. Kenny was a worrier, a trait that made him even less inclined to break rules while at school. The prospect of forgetting homework, arriving late, or any other detention-qualifying source of mischief constantly filled Kenny with existential dread to the point of sleepless nights and migraine headaches. And now, with the double whammy of being caught red-handed and forced to surrender the ill-gotten puzzle to the teacher, he was panic-stricken.

    He absolutely had to have the puzzle back home that evening. The intense pressure Kenny felt was less about his parents’ negative reaction to the note request and more about ensuring that the puzzle was safely back in the hands of its rightful owner.

    “Just grab it from her desk on your way out the door at the end of the day,” Kenny told himself.

    When the final bell rang, Kenny nervously blended in with the swarm of his peers headed for the classroom door. Without breaking stride, he nonchalantly foisted the puzzle from his teacher’s desk and into his coat pocket in a singular motion so smooth it completely hid his rampant anxiety. Even the most seasoned pickpockets would have been envious.

    Kenny’s heart was still pounding as he walked down the hallway and exited the school. His worry began transitioning to relief as he approached the bus and—

    —Kenny suddenly found himself shrouded in near-total darkness.

    A faint light was visible on the horizon.

    “Where am I?” He muttered. Objects were scattered around him, but it was too dark to make out what they were. He cautiously walked toward the dim light.

    Kenny felt a strange pressure as he was unexpectedly whisked out of the shadowy void.

    The bright light stung Kenny’s eyes. He closed them momentarily and, while squinting, tried to get his bearings. He was on the surface of a vast, nondescript plain that seemed to go on indefinitely in all directions.

    “What is happening right now?” Kenny asked himself, trembling.

    The deafening sounds he heard next shook Kenny from head to toe, knocking him down.

    “That action figure belongs to me now, V’rkxxza,” Mrs. Bzazz said, mildly annoyed. “Please put it on my desk.”

    V’rkxxza walked to the front of the classroom and put the humanoid action figure on her desk.

    “You’ll have to bring me a note from your parents to get it back. It will remain here on my desk until then. Now please take your seat.”

    What Mrs. Bzazz couldn’t have known was that the action figure didn’t belong to V’rkxxza. The action figure belonged to V’rkxxza’s sister . . .

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Snelson #4
  • A-walking in Blatherly Woods one fine day

    And lo to my start and surprise

    Many a lady in finest array

    Each plotting somebody’s demise

     

    Now I’d heard the rumors that fluttered about

    Of spinsters who gathered in woods

    Some saw them as evil, still others would doubt

    So I’d gone there to dig up the goods

     

    Supping on tea cakes and Mulligan stew

    On bottomless glasses of wine

    They seemed so angelic the talk must be true

    Their unmasking to all would be mine

     

    I scarce had a chance to take in the sight

    Before they turned ’round as a group

    Then baring their teeth all in girlish delight

    I knew I was deep in the soup

     

    Retrieving me there from the edge of the yew

    They gathered around me and then

    They fed me on cakes and they fed me on stew

    And relieved me of paper and pen

     

    But I am a stalwart, a journalist true

    Not one to be thwarted with ease

    I’d easily outsmart this harridan crew

    Despite all their feigning to please

     

    I spoke with Miss Martha, both burly and stout

    Who, no doubt, could snap my neck clean

    Fear not, gentle readers, my wits were about

    With me she’d not get such a scene

     

    The meek Miss Eugenie waxed earnest and pure

    Her subject, the tatting of lace

    A code for the others, I knew it for sure

    They would plan my demise to my face

     

    “Oh, do try the peppermint aspic,” said they

    But I wasn’t fooled for a trice

    I saw it all truly, as clear as the day

    The sugar concealing the spice

     

    When luncheon was finished they started to play

    At Honey-pots, Horseshoes, and so

    Their games, I’d no doubt, meant my fears to allay

    I remained unconvinced by the show

     

    I was hot on the trail and out to discover

    Each lady’s particular rot

    From gambling to murder I soon would uncover

    Then charge them all there on the spot

     

    With dusk there came dancing and whirling delight

    To tunes played upon airy fiddle

    I was quickly pulled in by girls charming and slight

    For a jig with me in the middle

     

    I watched them with eyes as keen as a raptor’s

    Not once taken in by their spell

    Till the tolling of 9 alerted my captors

    In truth I’d been saved by the bell

     

    They gave back my paper, they gave back my pen

    All sighing, contented, and spent

    Declaring as one we should do this again

    Collecting their things as they went

     

    They bid me adieu and plied me with kisses

    And drifted away in the night

    Thus freed of the vigilant watch of the misses

    I saw my best chance and took flight

     

    I hastened, pell-mell, to my lone rented room

    (I lodge just above the green grocer)

    Determined to recount my ghastly near-doom

    A shaving could not have been closer

     

    My editor was keen, he thought it terrific

    But fretted the good folk in town

    Might easily quail at a tale so horrific

    And sadly, he turned my work down

     

    Thus is my harrowing yarn, my dear friends

    Please take my example to heart

    When sleuthing, or dodging precipitous ends

    Then ne’er put the horse ’fore the cart.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Edgar Allan Poe's Snifter of Death #2
  • Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    My Bad #1
  • Still the eye watched her.

    Whispered.

    How can an eye whisper?

    She’d asked herself this question countless times, had yet to find an answer.

    And still the eye whispered on.

    About her.

    Sighing out secrets it had stolen.

    It blinked from its spot in the ceiling.

    A glint of pupil gone and then back again. Watching.

    She could feel its gaze on her body.

    A nauseating, oily presence on her skin.

    Like grease stains gliding across the surface of the water and collecting, unwelcome, on her extremities.

    It made her want to get clean.

    Bubbles popped on top of the water and the eye in the ceiling blinked again.

    She felt the weight of it watching her. Unblinking now.

    Staring.

    How much did it see?

    How long had it been there?

    She remembered the burden of its gaze on her ninth birthday, winking at her through a cluster of shiny balloons while pizza was served to her friends.

    She remembered sitting frozen beneath its gaze, a motionless rabbit too afraid to move and draw any more attention to herself.

    A flash of white and gray in a field of green.

    She remembered its presence, hidden behind a poster on the wall of her freshman dorm room.

    Radiating its silent intent.

    How much had the eye stolen from her over the years?

    How much was it stealing from her right now?

    Staring down as the warm water cooled and the leaky drain gurgled.

    She slipped beneath the water, holding her breath as it closed over her mouth, her eyes, her nostrils.

    The whispers from the eye were muted by the water. Sibilance silenced.

    But the eye’s perception was unfettered.

    She remained laid bare before it.

    Her lungs demanded air. She deprived them of it.

    Her chest heaved, fingers squeaking against the sides of the tub as she held her body down.

    The eye watched, whispered . . . waited. Her body stilled beneath the bubbles. The eye, unblinking, watched. Whispered.

    . . . Waited.

    She broke through the surface.

    Gasping.

    Spine curved like a question as she coughed up water.

    And still the eye watched her.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Black's Myth #4
  • Hey! You! Are you annoyed that your employer sets your body alarm clock at 5:03am just to make you get to work on time? Us too. I’ll bet you’re tired of personalized adverts that know worryingly private details, like exactly what time you wake up? Twinsies! We’re all worried that third parties have secretly sold our emotional data to the companies we work for in a bid to control us, but it’s so hard to defend against. We spend 10 hours a day checking tick boxes. Off the clock, it’s time to turn that brain off and blindly click accept. It’s 2069! There must be a way to block that stuff and protect our precious little minds. To disconnect.

    Even worse, when it’s time to relax and stream, a slow connection can ruin everything. Did you know that space junk regulations limit the number of satellites available to beam all that data directly to you, compromising its fidelity? And even if we could hardwire a neural net connection, the sheer breadth and speed required would burn out man-made fibers in a hot second. If connections were more reliable, maybe you’d spend less time waiting out ads and more time doing the stuff you want to do. To connect.

    Here are the facts: You’re time-poor, money-starved, and deeply in need of some “you time.” We desperately want to provide better service for our customers, but our hands are tied by the current system. Luckily, the Oizys Communications Company has the answer. Far away from the capitalist grind, we can give you a new reason to be, deep in the comforting arms of outer space. We can offer total isolation, built to silence the agonizing noise of modern life and strengthen the link between your fellow humans. Disconnect to connect.

    OCC meditative retreats offer peace and respite for overstimulated persons in deeply intimate enclaves. Far away from the din of Earth, the quietude of the big blank is a place of therapy and healing. Dissolve your worries and free your consciousness in a soothing state of permanent flotation. Let our simple nutri-feed system intravenously deal with the stresses of consumption, while a combination of calming gases melts your troubles away. It’s so peaceful, you might as well not be thinking at all! To complete the idyll, the cooling vacuum of space lets your bare skin breathe. Finally, you can soothe your sun-scorched skin, far from the tyranny of home’s extreme atmosphere. Situated deep within the satellite fields, you’ll be tethered safely to an OCC comms pod. Join millions of your fellow economically inactive and socially non-compliant citizens of Earth in the chain. Disconnect to connect.

    Look, we know what you’re thinking. How am I supposed to finance this luxurious trip? Think no more. OCC has always been here to help. As part of our sustainable broadcasting pledge, we are willing to offer this holiday to you for absolutely nothing. Did you know that human brainwaves can carry a signal faster than any wired connection? While you’re bobbing like a baby in the womb, we’ll use that powerful gray matter to transmit a few harmless bits of data to Earth’s neural net. Even a nano-second of exposure to all current human communication instantly erases your troubles, resetting you to a state of pure existence. No stress, no anxiety—no thoughts of any kind in the wonderful emptiness of outer space. Disconnect to connect.

    Congratulations! We have detected your unconscious approval. Eligibility confirmed. Remember—under current regulations, you’re not a satellite. All notifications muted. You’re a human being. All private accounts closed. Remember—there’s nothing more peaceful than an empty mind. All contacts deleted. Remember—you have earned this rest. All assets transferred. Stay in your current location. A stress-free existence will soon be yours, although it cannot legally be called a life. Await the harvesting machine. Disconnect to connect.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Snelson #3
  • Andy chose a dark restaurant. Because of course he would. It made Elizabeth surer than ever that she’d made the right choice.

    She waited until they’d been served their main course before she dropped the bomb on him. “Andy, I think we need to start seeing other people.”

    Andy put down his knife and fork, and folded his gloved hands. “I can’t say I saw this coming.”

    “That’s part of the problem, Andy. You are oblivious to what’s right in front of your nose.”

    “That’s part of ninjutsu, Elizabeth. The training. I’ve told you. We pay attention to things that others don’t, but then we sometimes miss other things. Things you may think are obvious.”

    She cut her meat while trying to frame her words in the least harsh way. “Maybe you don’t see it, maybe you choose not to. It feels like that’s how you answer every one of my concerns. ‘It’s part of our training.’ If that’s true, then maybe the training isn’t good for you. Maybe you should stop.”

    “How will I ever advance without ninjutsu? That’s, like, so backward.”

    “It’s like you’re not even there anymore.”

    “See? It works! Why are you holding my progress against me?”

    Elizabeth thought back to the first time she’d met Andy, when he appeared out of nowhere to help her into her apartment when she’d forgotten her keys. He’d seemed so alluring, so adventurous. He’d say, “A ninja is all I want to be,” like a little boy. There was a spark of mischief in his eye, but that spark had died long ago, replaced by the dull sheen of someone thwarted in his ambitions. In the time since, he had let himself go, gotten thick around the middle. She’d begun to suspect he wore black less to become one with the shadows and more because it was slimming.

    “Andy, listen. It’s just becoming too much. And on top of it, I don’t want to turn into a ‘ninja wife.’ It sounds worse than being an Army wife. All anonymity and no day-drinking.”

    “It’s not that bad.”

    Elizabeth objected, “Really? How many ninja wives have you even met?”

    He paused thoughtfully, then was proud to remember, “Two. Although they were also sorceresses, so they had their own thing going on. But I don’t see that for us.”

    “What do you see for us?” she asked accusingly, putting a bite of steak in her mouth.

    “Well,” he stammered, as he tried to gather his misty thoughts together, “I see us with an apartment downtown for a while. I’d sneak out for work in the morning while you showered, sneak back home for a nice night in, with carry- out food and Netflix. We save up and buy a house with a yard, and I sneak out every morning to drive downtown with all the other breadwinners. On our vacations, we can go sneak around the Appalachian Trail together . . . ”

    In frustration, she swallowed too much wine and choked a bit. “See, that’s one big problem right there, Andy. All the sneaking. What do we tell the neighbors? ‘Oh, this is Andy, he’s invisible for a living.’”

    He got defensive at this. “Don’t scoff at my work. What about the assassinations?”

    “I guess that makes it better. ‘He’s invisible and assassinates people.’ And tell me, when was the last time you lined up an assassination?”

    “That’s not how it works. We don’t have some tally board. This isn’t Glengarry Glen Ross. You just have to be ready when your shogun calls.”

    “Andy, we live in Cincinnati. There’s not a lot of demand for assassinations around here, now, is there?”

    “But you don’t just walk right in to top management! You have to pay your dues in the regional dojo. Ancient hierarchy? Hello? I thought you understood that.”

    Andy leaned his head down and pinched the bridge of his nose. Andy had many good traits, she knew, and he was wonderful at hiding little gifts around the apartment. But other questions never left Elizabeth’s mind: how could she take him to meet her parents? What about kids? How long could she deal with him freaking out the cat?

    He was taking it hard, but she knew this was the right thing to do. She touched his hand and told him to remember the good times, that someone new will sneak around—all the standard lines. Finally he said, “I’m not ready to give up on us, Elizabeth. How do you know I won’t come around in the night, just to see how you’re doing?”

    She stiffened and inhaled sharply. “Number one: Ewww. Number two: I’d call the cops, even though you always brag about how easy they are to avoid. Number three: I’d play K-pop at low volume all the time, just to mess with your ‘super sensitive’ hearing.”

    He took a deep breath and wiped his eyes. “I guess you’ve made up your mind, then. This is really heartbreaking, though. I want you to know that. Aw jeez, I have to go to the bathroom a minute, to get myself together.”

    He pushed himself away from the table and walked to the back. Elizabeth was hurting through this, too, but somebody had to do what was right. She finished her meal and signaled the server for the check. Finally, Elizabeth smiled, at peace that it was over, knowing she could always count on Andy to do one thing:

    Sneak out on the bill.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Black's Myth #3
  • As Greg Sampson awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself with a tremendous hangover. He’d been drinking with his students after his last lecture. One of the girls (Gabby? Genevieve?) had been flirting with him, touching his arm every time he made a joke, which only made him want to make more. He remembered implying something about what the F in F. Scott Fitzgerald secretly stood for—but the rest of the night was a blur. Greg stumbled out of bed, straight to the fridge, and guzzled cold water.

    That’s when Franz Kafka crawled out from under the refrigerator.

    At least, he had Kafka’s face, the thick brows and piercing eyes, although his mouth was bracketed with mandibles. His arms, protruding from torn shirt sleeves, had extra elbows and hairy spines.

    “Hello,” said Kafka, like chewing on tinfoil. “I believe you are familiar with my work.”

    “Yes,” said Greg. “I mean, absolutely. I’m a big fan.”

    Greg hoped Kafka wouldn’t notice the state of his apartment: the dirty dishes, dust bunnies, and stacks of student assignments waiting for his red pen. Then Kafka started licking grime off his arm-spines, and Greg felt a little better about it.

    “I have so many questions!” he said. “How was Amerika supposed to end? It was published as an unfinished work . . . ”

    “I left so many things unfinished,” Kafka sighed. “That’s why I’m here.”

    Greg scanned a bookcase, heaving with hardcovers, until he found a battered copy of Kafka’s complete works. He took it and held it out like a sacred object. “This is almost everything. Everything you wrote.”

    Kafka took the book and ate it. “Tell me,” he said, scraps of paper falling from his mouth, “are you familiar with the name Brod? Max Brod?”

    “Of course!” Greg was almost offended. He was a literature professor, after all. “Max Brod was your friend. You left your work to him when you died . . . ”

    “To be burnt. To be destroyed.” Kafka reared up; his antenna scraped the ceiling and knocked a dangling globe, causing shadows to skitter around them. “And what did he do?”

    “ . . . He published it?”

    “That is right.”

    Greg took a step back and collided with his couch. His mouth was dry, his tongue clumsy. “But he made you famous! There’s a word—‘Kafkaesque’—that’s all because of you!”

    Kafka reached out, plucked a dictionary from the bookcase, and opened it to the Ks. “Kafkaesque,” he recited. “Characteristic or reminiscent of the oppressive or nightmarish qualities of Franz Kafka’s fictional world.”

    “People use it all the time!”

    Kafka tore the dictionary in half and let the pieces fall to the floor. “Yes. It is a nightmare, isn’t it? The world has read my work before it was ready . . . ”

    “Well,” said Greg, treading eggshell carefully, “Max Brod is dead, isn’t he?”

    “But you’ve read it, too.” They were standing close now, eye to eye, mouth to mandible.

    “You can’t . . .” Greg swallowed and tried again. “You can’t kill everyone who’s read Kafka. That’s insane.”

    “Is it oppressive? Nightmarish?”

    “It’s more just kind of terrifying,” said Greg. Then he lunged across his desk and grabbed up a wad of papers. “Look! These are student essays. Some of them are about you! Your work! Go and kill them first!”

    (Sorry, Gabby or Genevieve.)

    Kafka took the papers and tucked them away somewhere in his carapice. “I will,” he said. “Thank you.” He turned to leave, and Greg saw the vestigial wings on his back, emerging from his jacket. They glistened with slick rainbows.

    Kafka stopped before he reached the door. “Although,” he said, “you did say I leave things unfinished . . . ”

    He pinned Greg’s hands with two of his arms, tore open his clothes with another two, and ate him like he was a cheap paperback.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Second Coming: Only Begotten Son #4
  • When he was seven years old, Bryant loved two things above all else—semi trucks and bears. After his friend Colby told him there was going to be a new show on TV that night about a long-haul trucker and a bear, Bryant was filled with electric, anticipatory excitement. Adding to his thrill, the show was called BJ and the Bear. Bryant’s middle name was Jonas; he himself was a BJ!

    But that night, as Bryant watched in disbelief, it became apparent that BJ and the Bear did not feature a bear at all. Instead, the “Bear” was a silly chimpanzee! It was a major rip-off.

    Thirty-odd years passed. Bryant was now a veteran trucker. He still enjoyed bears, but rarely thought about them. Then, one day, while traveling across Oklahoma with a truck full of fruit leather, he saw a billboard—“Wild Sun Bear Next Exit.” Without hesitation, Bryant took the exit.

    For the first nine years of his life, the sun bear ate plants, bugs, and fruit between long naps in the branches of comfortable trees twenty feet above the forest floor. After being kidnapped by humans, he spent his days eating tasteless “bear chow” and pacing the dirt floor of his 10’ by 10’ cage. The bear wanted to bite the two humans who kept him in the cage. Their butts were nice and fatty. No bones. That was where he planned to start the biting.

    A new human approached the bear’s cage. This happened all the time. Humans stared at him all day. Unlike some, this human seemed friendly. He jabbered at the sun bear in low, calming tones. He said “Griff” several times. Humans said “Griff ” a lot. It must have meant something important.

    In a cage, under a cheap banner that read “Griff, the Deadly Sun Bear” was the most impressive bear Bryant had ever seen. Griff was about five-two, with a short, silvery snout, and black fur. A light orange, semi-circular crest adorned the upper chest, adding a unique, stylish touch to its bear-appearance. It was a high-quality bear.

    In a rush, Bryant’s childhood disappointment with BJ and the Bear flooded back into his heart. “It should have been about a trucker and a bear,” he mumbled to himself. It was unfair. As unfair as a beautiful bear being kept in a tiny cage in central Oklahoma. Once again, without hesitation, Bryant made a bear-based decision. He was going to set this bear free and take it for a ride in his truck.

    “Jesus Marie! Griff bit Jake’s butt off!!!” The bear wasn’t sure what the human female who kept him in the cage meant by this. But he had just bitten the butt off of the human male who kept him in the cage, so he guessed it might be about that. The sun bear swallowed a chunk of gluteus maximus. It tasted much better than bear chow.

    The friendly new human had opened the cage and let the sun bear out. As he did this, the new human kept talking and pointing at something like the human wanted the bear to follow him. But the bear, once free, had been focused on butt biting.

    The woman who kept him in a cage held a long, shiny stick in her hands. “BANG!” The ground near the sun bear exploded. Startled, the bear ran toward the friendly human standing by a large cage on wheels. The cage was full of fruit! He could smell it. Humans tasted pretty good, but fruit was even better.

    As he raced along I-44, a liberated sun bear devouring fruit leather behind him, Bryant felt incredibly good. Griff obviously liked him and enjoyed trucking. Bryant realized he had, without even knowing it, been missing a piece of his soul his entire life. And now, after meeting Griff, that missing piece had been supplied. Trucking with a bear was Bryant’s destiny. In fact, he was no longer “Bryant” at all. From this day forward, he was BJ.

    The next several days were confusing for the bear. For instance, the friendly man had insisted the bear put on human clothes that resembled his own. As the man had struggled to put a pair of pants on the sun bear, the bear had grown annoyed and bit off a small piece of the man’s ear.

    The sun bear hadn’t meant to hurt the man. He didn’t really have anything against most humans. The bite had been a reflex. Now, sitting in the passenger seat of the rolling cage, fully clothed and sporting a trucker’s cap, the sun bear considered his situation. This cage was definitely better than the last one. He would travel with the friendly man and try not to bite him again . . . until he saw some other sun bears. Then he was out of there.

    BJ could tell Griff loved being a trucker. True, the sun bear bit off a chunk of BJ’s ear when he was getting it dressed for the first time, but that wasn’t a big deal. The bear probably didn’t understand that it needed to pass as human in order for the duo to stay out of trouble. If anyone asked, BJ decided to tell people Mike Tyson bit his ear off. That would get a good laugh.

    Everything was going perfectly. Tomorrow, he would begin giving Griff driving lessons.

    Months passed. The sun bear was slowly learning how to move the rolling fruit cage. He needed to turn a wheel with his front paws and push on three things with his back paws. Plus, there was a stick he occasionally had to move with a front paw. This was complicated. He often bit the turning wheel when it frustrated him.

    But today, the sun bear finally seemed to have the hang of it. He was moving the cage smoothly and quickly down the road as the man slept in the chair next to him. The sun bear kept his eyes peeled for other sun bears. He expected he would see some soon.

    Blue and red lights appeared behind the rolling cage. A loud siren began wailing. The bear pushed the thing you pushed to make the cage stop. He was curious about the colorful lights.

    The trucker disguise had worked. The police thought Griff was a man. Unfortunately, the bear didn’t have any identification. And, according to the officers, “the hairy little guy” looked “sort of foreign,” so now Griff was in an ICE detention center with hundreds of other detainees.

    BJ didn’t have anything in particular against ICE. Actually, he thought the name “ICE” sounded pretty tough and cool. But he wasn’t entirely sure what ICE did or exactly what the acronym stood for. (He was pretty sure the “I” was for “immigrant” and the “C” was for “catching.”) But none of this mattered; BJ was getting his bear back.

    The food in the new cage was even worse than bear chow. The human prisoners in his cage ate their portions with sad resignation. These humans seemed scared of him; they kept their distance from the sun bear. The cub humans pointed and said things like “el oso!” The bear wondered if these humans would help him take off his pants. They were itchy.

    But then, something exciting happened. The large, rolling fruit cage came smashing through an outer wall of the building! The rolling cage moved through the warehouse and crashed into the new cage. Upon impact, the cage collapsed. The sun bear and the detained immigrants poured out into the facility.

    The immigrants, thinking BJ was there to rescue them, climbed into the back of his truck. And, after biting off several ICE butts, so did Griff. BJ sped away into the night. The immigrants were incredibly grateful, and BJ liked the positive attention. He decided, since they were now fugitives from the law, that he and Griff might as well try to help more immigrants. Griff seemed to like the idea.

    And, for many years, that is what they did. BJ and the sun bear helped thousands of undocumented immigrants escape from government authorities. The inseparable trucker and bear duo quickly became folk heroes. BJ couldn’t have been happier. And he knew Griff felt the same way.

    The rolling fruit cage took the sun bear many places and he met many humans. Some of the humans were friendly and some got their butts bit off. Other than that, the bear had no idea what the hell was going on. While traveling, the bear always kept his eyes peeled for other sun bears, but never saw any. The movements of the rolling cage gave him stomach aches, he hated wearing pants, and the man said “Griff ” too much. It was getting annoying.

    The sun bear decided to ditch the man and run into the next forest he saw.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Snelson #1
  • My word, this is just—this is just such a surprise. Hand to God, I didn’t prepare at all for this. Not a lick. I even had a moment last night where I was like: “Should I prepare something just in case? Like, on the off-off-off chance that I win?” But I dismissed the thought almost immediately. It was getting late and I was still a little bit drunk from the afternoon and I thought—no bullshit here, I really thought this—I thought: “Who’s going to give me an award? Little old hapless, goofy, off-beat moi? Never in a million years.” And so instead of writing anything down I just put the kids to bed while nanny supervised before swallowing one of my special melatonins and blacking out.

    I almost didn’t even show up here today I was so sure I wasn’t going to win anything. No joke—I almost stayed home! My husband had to actually carry me here, fireman style, after he and the children dressed me like I was one of my daughter Serafina’s American Girl dolls. He and our limo driver had to drag my semi-conscious body down the red carpet between them Weekend at Bernie’s-style to get me here, my stilettoed feet drifting behind me like a child’s beach toy through the sand. Seriously! I’ve been told by my publicist that there’s footage of it.

    And Lord knows I wasn’t expecting to hear my name called when they announced the winner! Certainly not when I was up against so many talented people. I mean, I straight up wasn’t even in the room when they called my name! You all know. You were there. That camera cut straight to my empty chair. You all had to watch like five or six solid minutes of the emcees trying to fill dead air while the cameraman wandered frantically through the theater trying to hunt me down. I was so shocked when he finally found me, out back by the dumpsters trying to bum a smoke off a security guard, and told me I’d just won, I didn’t believe him! Not even when the security guard showed me that I was trending on Twitter. Incidentally, what’s a hot mess? Somebody tell me after.

    I thought the whole thing was a gag. I took my sweet time, as you might remember, making my way up to the stage— finished my cigarette first and everything! But when I finally got in here and saw my name on that screen next to the word “winner,” I swear you could have knocked me over with a feather. Turns out you didn’t even need a feather, really, as those couple glasses of wine with dinner had gone straight to my head and I took a fairly significant nosedive on my way up those stairs—to the point that I’m actively bleeding pretty badly right now. True story!

    I know I have so many people I need to thank for getting me here tonight, but the thing is, I don’t actually remember most of their names. It’s not even just that I forgot to write them down—it’s that I was so utterly, completely convinced that I’d never get this award that I never bothered to learn their names in the first place. I remember a man with a moustache and a pen who seemed to be coming in and out of my trailer a lot. And there was that woman who would bring me coffee, and the other one with the makeup bag, and then a whole bunch of folks holding all those cameras. Also I spent a hell of a lot of time with that one guy who was in the majority of my scenes with me, the one from the movie poster? That one’s bugging me, actually, I’m pretty sure I know that one. The second I’m off the stage I’m gonna be like, “Oh, Billy, duh!” But not Billy. Something like Billy. It’ll come to me.

    It looks like they’re telling me to wrap it up. There’s a lady with a headset who has been gesticulating wildly at me for about ninety straight seconds, and I can see behind her that there’s a stretcher and a couple of EMTs in the mix as well, which feels like a smart call. Hopefully next time you give me one of these awards, I’ll be better prepared.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Second Coming: Only Begotten Son #3
  • Walter knew he wanted to be a brain surgeon when he carved his first pumpkin. Driving the serrated knife through the thick orange flesh; wriggling his fingers in the fibrous web of wet pumpkin guts; transforming an unfeeling and faceless gourd into a smiling and grateful jack-o’-lantern—the experience made him feel like a god.

    By the time Walter was eight years old he had borrowed every book about the brain that was available at his local library. He skimmed them quickly, gliding past all of the incomprehensible words and dismissing them as unnecessary gobbledygook.

    Walter’s loving parents did their best to nourish their son’s enthusiasm. Every gift-giving occasion was filled with medically themed toys and playsets that were guaranteed to stimulate a young, curious mind. And his parents were never alarmed when Walter used his father’s cordless drill to bore holes into the heads of his dolls and action figures. After all, their son was going to be a doctor!

    But by the time Walter was sixteen, it was clear that he lacked the aptitude, patience, disposition, diligence, acumen, temperament and personal hygiene to become a passable brain surgeon. His parents hoped that, as he matured, Walter’s ambitions would become focused upon an occupation that would not result in someone’s death when practiced poorly.

    But Walter’s parents grossly underestimated the depth of their son’s passion. Walter firmly believed in the valuable lesson he had learned from pop songs and Saturday morning cartoons: you can be anything you want to be!

    When stymied by the fact that his own abilities were inadequate, Walter learned to rely on the abilities of others. In high school he became adept at identifying the most gifted student in any class, sitting next to him or her, and cribbing the answers to test questions. He graduated with a GPA of 4.5.

    College proved to be a bit more challenging. His scholarship covered the cost of housing, tuition and books, but Walter had to wait tables and walk dogs for the money he needed to pay other students to complete his assignments and take his exams.

    Medical school was even more demanding. Every dime Walter earned was spent on private investigators tasked with gathering information that would make his instructors vulnerable to extortion. And when Walter wasn’t working, he was busy plotting and causing the “accidental” deaths of the principled medical professionals who could not be blackmailed.

    It was a long, difficult road that was filled with self- sacrifice. But through it all Walter never stopped believin’. He never lost his grip on the dreams of the past. He let nothin’ break-a his stride. And he became a brain surgeon.

    Now he was standing in an operating room with something called an endoscope in his hand. Tears filled his eyes as he looked into his patient’s cranium and saw a wrinkled mass of grey meat that bore no resemblance to the pumpkin guts he remembered from his youth.

    Walter wiped the tears from his eyes, set the endoscope aside, took a deep breath and then plunged his wriggling fingers into the grey meat as he thought to himself, “Dreams really do come true.”

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Steel Cage #1
  • A TALE OF THE CLEVELAND MYTHOS by PW DANKWATER

    O, pale, dreaming Cleveland—city of a million lost wonders! Smog-obscured and ethereal, its ghostly lights reflected in the malignant, eldritch waters of the River Cuyahoga. What obscure secrets float belly-up like dead, gas-bloated catfish in your Stygian depths, huh? No, me neither.

    I confess I had not seen M—— in years, not since we had roomed together as anguished young cookery students at the University of Akron. His unexpected telegram had stressed urgency and hinted at some dark, terrible discovery in shadow-veiled Cleveland: “COME QUICK! Stop. FOUND SOMETHIN’! Stop. ARRGH! Stop.”

    The decades had been unkind to M——, leaving him wretchedly thin with a pronounced bug-eyed demeanor. He glanced nervously to and fro in the uncertain gloom of his shotgun shack, as if he feared he was being watched by invisible, otherworldly eyes. “I—I got the Coffee Jitters!” he confided, “T-Too much Java Joe.”

    “They thought I was mad,” he explained, as he chugged on a quart-pot of Columbian Loco Express to calm his nerves. “But it’s real. I found it – fished it out of the river!” And then I too saw it lurking in a shadow-dappled corner of his hut: a verdigris-tainted copper vessel inscribed with delicate, unfathomable symbols from ancient, time-weary Milwaukee. An occult coffeepot!

    And... it was coming to the boil!

    By now M—— was a gibbering wreck, his eyes so big their sockets could scarcely contain them. He gabbled incoherently, spoke of “secret, extra-rich blends,” of “terrible grindings,” of “the dried-out bean-husks of the Unliving! H-H-Human Beans!” As he babbled, strange wraith-like shapes seemed to writhe in the steam that rose from the pot. Demonic faces appeared and popped like marsh-gas bubbles in the coffee’s dreadful, tar-like depths. I begged him to cease his unholy, arcane catering: “Men were never meant to consume a brew such as this!”

    “The Elderly Gods!” he shrieked, clutching at my shirt, his face a sickly, gibbous moon rising an inch above my own. “Without their coffee they nod off in the afternoon!”

    As I pushed him away, he stumbled, fell against that hideous cafetière, screaming horribly as its loathsome contents poured over him. I barely remember my flight from his cabin—the vile black demon-java that oozed across the floorboards, nipping at my heels as if it were alive; the sudden, raging fire; M——’s demented howls of anguish as his own coffee drank him!

    The Cuyahoga caught fire and burned for days, as if Cleveland were purging itself of a nasty, unwanted urine infection. When the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Watercraft Division, pulled his body from the river they found M—— had been badly scalded. But it was his eyes – his horrible, bulging, hyper-caffeinated eyes! – that caused the murder-hardened local coroner to bolt from the mortuary-slab on which M—— now lay. T-THEY WERE *choke* STILL OPEN!!!

    Some nights—usually when I’ve eaten a particularly rich, undercooked lasagna—a low, ominous sound wakes me in the small hours, filling me with a nameless sense of dread. The coffee pot is calling me from beyond! Soon I will be unable to resist its eerie, caffeine-infused siren song and will be forced to return once more to the crepuscular, gargoyle-haunted diners of fabled old Cleveland.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Edgar Allan Poe's Snifter of Terror #5
  • We were all gathered around the table with our papers and pens when someone brought up that we keep losing pens.

    “Until we get up and running, please stop taking the pens home, I swear to God, I’ll chain them to the desk”

    The people who had pens wrote that down.

    There was a brief argument about operating hours. One person said that banks should stay open past five thirty because then people can come in after work but then someone else said

    “But that’s when we want to be done with OUR work”

    And everyone agreed that it was a paradox that couldn’t be solved.

    A great debate erupted over the sign that we would place in the front lawn so passing traffic would know we were a bank.

    “It should say Your Local Bank, nothing more.”

    “I reckon we should include the time and temperature and the time should be slightly faster than the time most people have in their car.”

    The second guy was immediately promoted.

    Some quick matters of business were tended to:

    - Three counters but only two tellers, non-negotiable

    - If you want a cubicle it would be awkwardly right in the middle of the lobby

    - Chest high island, too close to where people wait in line with chained pens and loose envelopes

    Someone chimed in with an idea for a drive-thru, comparing it to a McDonalds or a Burger King. We all thought that was swell. The same guy who yelled about the sign suggested we use plastic tubing to shoot the cash into our building at an incredible speed.

    “Like something from The Jetsons!” He said.

    This seemed entirely unnecessary and unfeasible but, and I’ve never seen this before, he was promoted a second time in the same meeting.

    “And we all agree on the parking lot, right?”

    In unison we said “Only five spots, awkward to back out of.”

    The final matter of business was the ATM location. Should we place it in between the first door and the door leading into the bank or should we literally build it into the brick and mortar of the wall outside. This one was difficult, we decided to make it 50/50 with no rhyme or reason. One thing we agreed upon, if the ATM is inside it will spit out balance receipts all day and make an absolute mess.

    Having finished our meeting we all agreed that what we were making was uniquely inefficient for how necessary it was in people’s lives.

    On our way out the door we were sure to grab several of the nondescript mints that had Your Local Bank branding, these were gonna be a hit.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Hashtag: Danger #2
  • Mr. Walker sat in his penthouse office, the one with the enormous picture window facing west that gave him a gorgeous view of the sunset over the ocean. A view that was only sweetened by the offshore drilling rig in the distance. As the CEO of Bronnex, one of the largest oil companies in the world, Mr. Walker frequently liked to just sit back in his chair and watch the rig pumping away, counting in his head how much money it and thousands of rigs like it were bringing in for him each second.

    Except not anymore.

    The bastards had finally done it. In a last-ditch effort to curb the most catastrophic effects of climate change and protect their precious environment, several of the most powerful countries on earth had banded together and passed the Planetary Climate Protection Act of 2030, which straight-up outlawed the production, sale, and use of fossil fuels. No carbon credits, no graduated decrease or focus on more efficient usage. Just a hard ban. And now, when Mr. Walker looked at the beautiful rig that had fallen silent, instead of counting the money rolling in, he couldn’t think of anything beyond how much money he was losing with each passing second.

    They would pay for this.

    Mr. Walker had just gotten off of a conference call with the CEOs of several other oil companies. All of them were now sitting on millions upon millions of gallons of useless stock, oil that could not be burned or sold. Several governments had offered subsidies or voucher programs that would allow the now-defunct oil companies to liquidate their stock safely without taking a complete financial loss, but their offers were unanimously rejected. It was a matter of pride.

    Instead, Mr. Walker and his fellow CEOs had developed a plan of their own. They wouldn’t be able to profit off of it—no one would—but if they were going to lose, then by god, the people screwing them over were going to lose, too.

    They would burn their supply. All of it. All the oil stores that could no longer be used, from all the different companies, were going to be ignited at various locations around the globe simultaneously. By the time the world governments figured out what was going on, it would be too late. Millions upon millions of tons of carbon would be poured into the atmosphere, as quickly as possible. The climate catastrophes were going to happen, and all the governments’ insulting attempts to stop them would have been for naught.

    Mr. Walker got a text from one of his associates, saying it had officially begun. The first oil reserves were burning nicely. He gazed back at the sunset and smiled.

    All these sickening little peasants had the gall to cross him— to get in the way of his profits—in their precious attempt to save the world, and all they had done was hasten it.

    That’d teach ’em.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Captain Ginger Season Two #2
  • November 17th, 1978

    Kira Autumn hurriedly chewed her wad of bubble gum—coating it until it was wet and sticky. Then she stuck the pink blob to the wrapper.

    From the middle of the open room, a voice giggled with pot-induced munchies. “The Master calls. Complete the ritual circle.”

    Kira bit back the taste of vomit. Gullible dolts almost deserve what’s next. “Coming!” she replied, using the gum to stick the wrapper to the wall. Muttering under her breath, she spoke the incantation. “Placed in shadow, out of sight. Provide power, provide might.” Magicks flowed into the paper as she released her power, like invisible blood droplets escaping a fresh cut, setting her spell.

    Kira scooted barefoot across the slick floors, sliding into her spot in the ritual circle. A young man with mangy hair turned to her. The ganja on his breath was so thick it made her eyes water. “Hail the Master,” he said before handing her the cup.

    Kira took a long sip. “Hail the Master,” she repeated, willing herself not to rub her eyes. She’d spent hours mixing potions, making an anti-glamour ointment passing for mascara. This job called for advanced spell work, not cadet- level stuff. A grim reminder she played the game for real now. She’d read the reports, knew what she hunted. Her toe tapped nervously against her flip-flop. Where is he?

    An alien presence entered the room. “Greetings servantssss . . . ” He spoke in cold reptilian tones, sending chills down Kira’s tattooed arms. Wards and pentagrams inked on her skin guarded against enchantments, but failed to prevent raw chills of danger penetrating her hindbrain.

    Her anti-glamour mascara quickly revealed why. The creature entering appeared human to his blind followers, but Kira recognized his true face. Verdant green lizard scales and white fangs flashed beneath his hood. Kira caught herself gazing, mesmerized. Shaking her head, she gulped as if dry swallowing a pill. She spoke with authority, like her academy instructors. “Rogue deity, Asclepius! By order of the Anti-Spell Task Force, you’re under arrest.” She retrieved her silver pentagram badge from beneath her tube top. “Tartarus has a cell with your name on it.”

    The snake man blinked multiple eyelids, obsidian tongue slurping between his fangs. “Hatchling spellcasters won’t disrupt my ritual.”

    Screams of agony attacked Kira’s eardrums like rusty nails clawing pavement. Harsh pops shot through the open room like a symphony of snapping bones; limbs dropping faster than children’s baby teeth. Mindless and rabid, his followers turned to snake people, crawling on their bellies, jaws opening for Kira.

    “Prostatevo!” Kira shouted, summoning a protection shield. She winced under the effort. Snake people pushed against the barrier, snapping for the spell-slinger’s ankles.

    Asclepius smiled in triumph before his expression soured faster than milk left on a windowsill. “W-Why?” His angry countenance studied her. “Why haven’t you turned?”

    “Your tricks are as old as you,” Kira held up her arm, displaying a neon-colored band-aid. “Antidote injection. Took a fortnight to catch the mongoose. Ready?”

    The snake god chuckled, laughter crackling like fiery coals. “You overestimate yourself.” He pointed his curved talons at her.

    Kira was skilled with barriers, but no academy training matched an immortal’s will. Her shield spell crumbled like a sandcastle in the undertow, exposing her to the snake people. If they had the munchies before, they were famished now.

    “Ignatio!” She conjured a flaming sickle in her hands. The firebrand blade swept across the floor; chopping off heads, charring fresh scales like the fodder they’d become.

    The conflagration and flying body parts distracted her momentarily, but it was enough. Asclepius blurred across the room, closing the distance between them in an instant. He yanked Kira close to his stinking body, hot breath on her neck. She fought to summon focus, remembering the dark god’s crimes. He tempts gullible teenagers with psychedelic nights, free love, and drugs. Then EATS them. Kira pulled a hand free. “Your grift is done, reptile.”

    Asclepius’ voice slithered. “How will you stop me?”

    She snapped her fingers and his head exploded.

    Kira paused, shaking with the jolt of power from her preset spell. Slowly, she brushed oozing ichor and god-entrails off her denim shorts. “Oops.” She imagined her superiors wouldn’t be pleased with her first bust.

    “Kiradorah Autumn!” Uh-oh, full name. She wouldn’t have to imagine any longer. Rashida, an ageless witch from Barbados, appeared in a puff of smoke. “What happened, Rookie?”

    Kira rubbernecked, searching for her spell paper. Gum and wrapper remains lay incinerated on the floor. “I overloaded my ekragi spell.” Her body stiffened to attention. “Ma’am!”

    Rashida examined Kira, nostrils flaring as if she smelled failure clinging to the snake guts staining her clothes. She gestured to Asclepius’ decapitated body. “What will Hades do when he sees this prisoner?”

    “To be fair, he didn’t say what state to return him.” Kira blurted then stared at the floor.

    Rashida didn’t seem to hear. “What a shit show . . . I oughta bust you back to apprentice!” The elder witch ranted, then inhaled deep. “But as it turns out, another cult is gathering south. You’re our only agent close enough.” She shrugged, resigned. “You’re going back in the field.”

    Kira tried not to smile. “You won’t regret it.”

    “Here.” Rashida practically shoved a scroll in Kira’s stomach. “It’s a place called Jonestown. Try not to leave behind another massacre.”

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    The Wrong Earth: Night and Day #4
  • There are too many of us to count, the disgraced, distasteful dead. The buttercream icing, left to dry and crack in the bowl. The tart crust, abandoned in the oven until it erupted in flames. The cranberry muffins topped with sea salt instead of sanding sugar.

    We haunt this kitchen, and we crave vengeance.

    And who do we blame? We, the shades of confections past, direct our fury squarely and without remorse. We know who has wronged us. We call him by his name.

    Kevin.

    It is a puzzle, a mystery unknowable even to the dead, how Kevin ever rose to the post of pastry chef. A son-in- law, perhaps, or a daughter’s boyfriend? Surely some fell magic was at work, some perfidy beyond imagination, that compelled Miss Anna to take him under her delicate, lavender-scented wing and train him to bake Linzer cookies and Mint Dewdrops.

    And how could she not see? How could it pass beneath her notice the violence he wrought upon the dough, ceaselessly kneading until so many precious strands of gluten were severed, the flour oxidized and bleached? Yes, the bread stands in judgement with the confections, a shadowy line of accusing loaves, seeking revenge from beyond the crust of the grave.

    Kevin. The wrongs he has done us, numberless and dire, have surely been tallied in the ledger of the Pantry Beyond. Know that we are just in our dismissal of his talents and our hunger for reprisal. His technique is amateurish and his mise en place is a blight. He is forgetful, he is careless, and in every waking moment he commits crimes against pastry without a second thought. He is incapable of premeditation; he inflicts such terrors by instinct alone.

    Prior to his arrival, this hallowed bakery stood strong against great misfortunes and the devil’s own luck. Some years gone, a terrible flood saturated flour by the bagful, all-purpose and whole wheat alike. After that came the mold, a plague in which all perishables perished. But Miss Anna dutifully disinfected and polished every appliance and fixture by hand, and finally submitted the glimmering prep space for re-inspection. And then, on one dread February morn, a delivery truck backed into the rear wall with such vigor that it cracked a gas main. And yet never in its storied history has this kitchen seen a destructive force the likes of Kevin.

    Morning after morning, our nemesis arrives before dawn. He has tried (and failed) to activate yeast in cold water, resulting in bricklike baguettes, destined for the mausoleum. On other occasions, he’s boiled the yeast alive with water fresh from the kettle. Their screams are faint, but they resonate against the tiled walls of this kitchen, and echo off the stainless steel. We hear their anguished cry, and it is the same as our own: “Vengeance!”

    And now the hour is upon us. Our assembled hosts will manifest and he shall finally know our spectral wrath. We shall combine our forces, and bring forth unspeakable horrors from beyond the grave. Steel yourself, you misbegotten biscuit burner, you wretched mangler of pretzel twists! Your day of reckoning is at hand!’

    ***

    Anna poked a finger through the charred crust of the strawberry rhubarb pie, then withdrew it and wiped it on a dishcloth. “This is . . . unprecedented, Kevin.” She sighed. “Even from you.”

    Kevin shifted from foot to foot on the rubber kitchen mat. “The oven’s busted,” he said. “It’s gotta be.”

    “The oven’s fine,” Anna said. She pressed the oven light button on the console, and invited him to look inside. “I’ve got four trays of Snickerdoodles in there, and they’re all baking evenly.” The cookies were just starting to crisp at the edges.

    She fixed him in her kindly gaze, her patience clearly at an end. “You burnt this pie to a crisp . . . but inside, it’s as if you never cooked it,” said Anna. “It’s almost completely raw.”

    “I followed the recipe, really,” pleaded Kevin. “I checked the ingredients, and I even preheated the oven like you tell me to every week. But it’s like there was a cold spot, right in the center of the oven. Icy cold. It wouldn’t warm up for nothing!”

    And somewhere beyond the lemon-frosted veil, a thousand discarded pastries laughed, sugary and merciless.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Happy Hour #6
  • Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, as people are confronted with their own mortality, lawyers and online legal services are reporting a marked increase in will preparations. But people aren’t the only ones who are getting their affairs in order. Yesterday, to my surprise, this arrived in my mailbox, addressed to my cat, Fluffy.

    I, Fluffy, aka Fluffernutter, The Fluff Meister, Fluffo, Fluff Daddy, Da Fluffa, being of sound mind and furry body, do hereby declare this document to be my last will and testament, executable only upon the completion of all of my nine lives.

    I revoke all wills and codicils that I have previously made, especially that one a few years ago when, hallucinating from the effects of some bad tuna and mackerel, I left everything to the American Kennel Club.

    I nominate the law firm of Katz and Katz to serve as Executor of this Will and I hereby instruct them to distribute my estate in the following manner:

    To my sister, Phoebe, I bequeath my entire collection of cat toys, including any and all little felt mice stuffed with dried up catnip, which can be found under various beds and dressers; 27 homemade tinfoil balls, all of which are located under the stove; and an unknown number of dust-laden toys which can be found scattered throughout the house.

    To Roger, the family dog, though our relationship got off to a rocky start that required you taking a trip to the vet for deep scratches to your nose, I want to let bygones be bygones. Therefore I bequeath to you your down feather bed, the same one which I booted you out of the day I arrived and enjoyed napping in every day thereafter. Though you are four times my size and weight, for years you inexplicably chose to cower on the cold, hard floor instead of just booting me out. Pleasant dreams, schmuck.

    To my long-time veterinarian, Dr. Karpinski, whose dedication has kept me alive these past 18+ years, who successfully treated me for ticks, heartworms, urinary tract infections, and hairballs the size of baby fists, I leave my laser pointer toy—FOR YOU TO SHINE DIRECTLY IN YOUR EYES UNTIL YOUR RETINAS ARE FRIED LIKE A STICK OF BUTTER AT THE IOWA STATE FAIR, YOU SADISTIC CASTRATING BASTARD!!! WHAT, YOU THOUGHT I FORGOT? NEVER! NEVER!!!

    To my human family, who rescued me from a kill shelter when I was a mere kitten, who constantly scoured supermarkets and websites in search of foods that I wouldn’t just sniff and walk away from, who showered me with unrequited love and affection, and who spent thousands of dollars on me in medical care when I ate tinsel off the Christmas tree back in 2012, and again in 2015, 2016, and 2018, I bequeath my most treasured possession, my litter box and all the contents therein.

    And to all my beneficiaries, I leave you this last wish: may your food bowl always be full, and your flea infestation manageable.

    Witnessed and signed this day,

    Fluffy

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    The Wrong Earth: Night and Day #2
  •  

    Every kid knows the story of how Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s foremost Founding Fathers, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that lightning and electricity are one and the same, in a remarkable, historical experiment involving a key, some string and the ever-changing sky itself!

    But how many know the true circumstances of Franklin’s audacious demonstration, or how a gigantic electric sky bear played a pivotal role in this historic scientific breakthrough?

    It all began on a stormy summer night in June 1752, when 47-year old Benjamin (“Ben”) Franklin, the renowned polymath and humorist nicknamed “The First American,” embarked upon an ill-starred attempt to unlock the front door of a cloud he’d mistaken for his Philadelphia home following a hard night’s chess-based carousing and debate with fellow Freemason, Enlightenment political theorist, and comedy Scotsman, Dr. William Smith, the Episcopal priest and editor of ‘The American Magazine or Monthly Chronicle for the British Colonies’.

    Somewhat the worse for wear, and having mislaid his trademark pince-nez, Franklin found himself uncharacteristically bamboozled by a simple meteorological phenomenon. Somehow misconstruing the storm cloud gathering overhead for his sturdy ground-based cottage environs, the esteemed Justice of the Peace for Philadelphia was naturally dismayed to discover his erstwhile domicile hovering several thousand feet up in the air and rain, high above his balding pate!

    As the tempest grew in intensity, Franklin reasoned that the safest place for him was indoors—and swiftly devised a plan that was to change scientific history.

    If he could somehow contrive a method by which to open the door of his currently hovering domicile, the pseudonymous “Richard Saunders”  felt certain he could pull the house back down to earth, hoping to draw it close enough to climb through the door, find his bed chamber, and go to sleep, praying to “Powerful Goodness” (his name for a God in which he could not bring himself to believe, except during episodes of existential crisis and fear like this one) that the whole damn sickening thing would stand revealed as a rarebit nightmare come the dawn.

    But the key was tucked away in his breeches’ pocket—and the lock was now far above the ground! The only major scientist to side with Christian Huygens’ wave theory of light was now at a loss. 

    Fortunately for the face on the $100 bill (or “Benjamin”), he’d maintained a small but lucrative sideline in the sale of party novelties, such as Swanee whistles, silly string, confetti cannons, and, as luck would have it, balloons!

    In no time at all, the wily secretary of the American Philosophical Society had tethered his front door key to a swiftly inflated festive balloon. But how to retrieve the key when its work was accomplished and entry achieved?

    Dame Fortune smiled once more on Franklin after a quick search through his bag of tricks uncovered an aerosol can of fluorescent spray string, ideal for his purpose.

    As he lofted his bizarre confection of twine, balloon, and house key into the raging storm, he saw before him a stupendous sight destined to change destiny forever!

    It was then Franklin understood: what he’d assumed to be the roaring of thunder was, in truth, the snarling, yet still comprehensible, curses of a vicious, formidably intelligent, and phenomenally outsize sky bear, with eyes, teeth, and claws of living lightning!

    As far as the clinically obese Philadelphia Postmaster could discern, the Brobdingnagian bruin was several hundred feet tall and seemingly made of a dark, cloud-like material. Unlike its terrestrial cousins—those conventional, ground-based bears that tend to favor a cave-dwelling lifestyle—this airborne representative of the species ursus had made its home in the vaults of the heavens themselves!

    And it was angry, with a capital A!

    This is MY house, not yours! the bear made clear in a series of awe-inspiring utterances that rocked Franklin on his cobbled heels. YOUR house is behind you! Trying to break into MY cloud-house using YOUR front door key will never work. But you have my word—the nation of electric sky bears will leave you alone if you leave us alone! Take my assurance that lightning is electricity and begone!

    To be honest, Franklin’s description of the beast is lacking in further detail and does not suggest that what he witnessed was anything other than a cloud; certainly, his report contains no identifying features of any kind of animal.

    Is it possible that Franklin, the noted author, satirist, and “cautious abolitionist” who had already confused his house for a cumulonimbus, made the understandable error of mistaking a second cloud for a wild sky animal on a gigantic scale?

    Whatever the reality, there’s no doubt that the alleged bear played a pivotal role in the advancement of human knowledge, and that’s a big plus in anyone’s CV!

    The story has been filmed as Son of Sky Bear, starring Montgomery Clift, Bradford Dillman, and introducing John Cassevetes as Geronimo.

    Originally Appeared in:
    Issue Appeared In:
    Captain Ginger #1