Friday, October 16, 2020

The Guns of 'Eighteen


Arn Blevins, a rumored German arms dealer to terrorists, cautiously descended the decaying ladder to a World War One British command post. A generator supplied current to the old string of bulbs. They cast sickly yellow light on the next intruder, Captain Laslo of the British Army. The munitions expert was helping Blevins clear his estate of old ordnance--a legitimate concern for a man whose castle was full of arms and ammo. This remote spot on the French-German border had served him well, though it meant bribing bureaucrats on both sides. 

Blevins placed hands on hips. "There they stand, Captain, almost like they're about to speak."

Five corpses stood in various final acts: looking at a wall map, fiddling with a radio knob, checking a low door to an apparent tunnel. Rotting uniforms identified them as a sapper unit.

"We'll need to check the tunnel, as you say," Laslo decided. "It looks like they died from poison gas shells as it pooled down here."

"Not so fast." Blevins inspected rifles, trench coats, canned food. "Could be a tidy sum on the souvenir market for this old gear. We--" 

His jaw dropped when one of the figures, wearing a dusty monocle, turned on creaky joints to face them. A shower of cloth fibers fell from his trousers. With bizarre modesty, he used a nearby tunic to cover himself as if he'd just come from a bath. The others came to animated life.

Blevins seized Laslo, preventing his headlong flight up the ladder. "You're the authority, Captain! Explain this! I could make millions on whatever they've been dosed with!"

"It isn't that fanciful," Laslo said, stubbornly keeping hold of a rung. "Don't you see? Those stimulant bottles on the shelf. These men were pumped full of it. There's been some reaction with the gas."

The monocled figure croaked out a garbled verse of song. "When gunny shore. . . ." Working his stiff jaw, he found the mark. "When the big guns of 'eighteen roared." The others joined in. "The kaiser's plans were no more. Armies in flight, dyin' o' fright, when the big guns of 'eighteen roared!" 

Again Blevins had to drag Laslo off the ladder. "That door is facing the direction of my castle. If there's some kind of ammo dump in there, I could lose my empire: arms, ammo, armor, cash. And my buyers are very unforgiving men."

The monocled figure picked up the radio handset. "Blast--the rotters have cut the wires. We're on our own, men. We'll have to go volcanic!" 

"Blevins," Laslo warned, "the safety baffles in that tunnel have long gone to ruin. They won't protect this place from the detonation. We have to go, now!" 

"No!" Blevins drew and opened fire on the leader, blowing chunks of bone and tunic. But the detonator was wired into the lights, which Blevins had conveniently restored to power. An ominous rumble shook the earth, raining soil and roots on them as they clambered up. 

A geyser of dirt and smoke erupted from the vacated pit. But that was nothing compared to the pyrotechnics going on at the distant castle. Turrets collapsed in a roar of fire and thunder. Secondary explosions went off for some time. 

Blevins picked himself up. "I'm a dead man. Undone by a bunch of spooks!"

"Well," Laslo said, saluting his former comrades in arms. "Looks as if we've won the war--again." 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Fish Tale

 The star attractions at Six Forks Palladium sat on the center island of their expansive pool, but they weren't alone. A temporary ramp spanned the waters to admit a local reporter. He prepared to photograph the mermaids: blonde Binia, emerald Ellie, and the brunette Sirtis. They dangled fins over submerged steps, having just completed a water dance to the tune of Delerium's Stargazing. Country music resumed as they prepared for the coin toss so popular with fans.

Click! The photo caught them unawares.

Binia frowned at the digital proof. "Why'd you do that? I'm actually looking down!"

The young photog schooled them. "I liked that spontaneous flare of flukes. Besides, I don't want posed cheesecake. This is the real you--relaxing between acts."

Ellie used her fluke to push a submarine back out to sea. "That old Captain Ahab type over there bothers me. He's been eyeing us like the gooney bird of doom." 

An announcer blared a special sale on ATVs. When the echo died down, the reporter looked out over the plexiglass barrier thronged by onlookers tossing coins. "Right--that's Captain Mortimer. We've interviewed him before--a regular encyclopedia on sea lore. Bit of a know-it-all, though. Say--wanna meet him?"

Before anyone could object, the reporter traipsed cautiously across the bridge, arms out for balance. Moments later, Captain Mortimer came out the access door and crossed the bridge with a sailor's grace. He reminded Binia of a yacht captain, complete with white cap and silver buttons on his peacoat. The muttonchop sideburns were a little much, though.

Mortimer crouched next to Binia. "When a real mermaid sits, there's a gentle bend instead of the sharp angle of knees, they not having any."

"That's why we never stand," Sirtis said. "We aren't supposed to have any either." 

"Ever seen one?" Mortimer pushed his cap back. "I caught one off Rockfish Cove in my nets. My first mate was wantin' to sell her for a fortune. But I set her free, and he's so mad he pulls a gun on me. Then she flies out of the water and grabs 'im by the hair. It's the last I ever saw of either one." 

Ellie leaned closer to Sirtis. "Wasn't that Twilight Zone?"

"Serling's hair was fuller," said the brunette. "Night Gallery."

Sensing levity, the captain turned to more serious advice. "There's a way you can protect each other when you leave here after hours, what with how things are goin' and all." 

"Got it covered," Sirtis said, swooshing a spray with her fluke. "I pretend to have a sneezing fit into a tissue. It clears out the parking lot in a two-block zone." The girls laughed. 

"It's hardly a funny topic I'm tryin' to advise," Mortimer insisted. 

"Well, Captain," Binia began, "there's one thing about mermaids you can't teach us."

"Really. That would be. . . ."

"What it's like to be one." 

Pails and shovels in hand, the mermaids dove into the deep to retrieve coins on the bottom. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020



Having made another supply run from Earth, Ed overslept due to "portal lag". The aroma of bacon drew him down the corridor to the large common room. Only Zena was currently at home. Dressed in white island blouse and jeans--quite an eclectic blend of cultures--she was still uncrating specialty items for the magic shop she and Bonnie had a financial stake in. 

Ed took in the familiar statue in a corner it shared with a towering fern. It depicted an armed pirate shielding himself from something too horrible to imagine; that being the namesake spirit of the Mace of Medusa. "Are you guys ever gonna sell this thing? One guy offered a year's rent on the villa."

Zena set down a jar of German whiskey cornichons--crunchy gherkins laced with vanilla and honey. "Bonnie's proud of that battle on Rotbone Island, you know. She mentioned maybe making another one on a mission to Smuggler's Cove. But heck, like the shop is doing gangbuster business."

"What are we doing for lunch?" Ed started for the kitchen.

"Beans and franks in your honor--a little touch of home."

"Cool," Ed said with an effort at his old aplomb. Had he come to this end?--the visitor who barely knew lifelong friends anymore, friends who had blended in with Outworld culture. "I'm gonna watch, so I can make it back in L A." His hand suffered its first slap from the cook, Oki, when he tried to snatch some bacon.

"Watch what I do," said the green-skinned islander. "You learn how, yes?"

"I'm all eyes, madame."

Oki sliced a disk from a large onion. This she rotated while making inward cuts to produce a pile of onion cubes. As they sizzled on an oven powered by miracite crystals, she splashed on rapeseed oil and added black pepper--both products of Earth. Next came the pork and beans, followed by several squirts of barbecue sauce while the franks browned. 

"What about the bacon?" Ed asked, making another abortive snatch.

"That is for last, so it stays crunchy. You know?" Zena was definitely rubbing off on the maid. 

"Okay then, let's get to it." Ed trailed Zena into the enclosed balcony. A gathering storm stirred whitecaps on the sea, and wind rattled the glass panes. Somehow the mood was prophetic.

"So Ed, where's your transportation?" Zena asked. She began to plate up.

"Wicca? No doubt stretched out on the bar in some dive."

Zena laughed. "Hecabano went to the gaming district to try his luck. Cambris flew to Rotbone Island to reunite with the other Dracula brides. Everybody has his own little world."

But Zena had always been more of a homebody, one of several things they had in common that led to Dan pairing them on missions. Ed experienced a momentary panic: if Cambris regaled her sisters about the easy pickings on Earth, might she invite them all there? Ed wasn't sure he could control four of them. 

Oki sampled her fare with a frown; Lunari cuisine didn't feature much beef or barbecue. "Mister Ed, you do not have so much the jokes anymore."

"I guess we're getting swallowed up in our own pursuits," Ed said. 

"Ha!" Zena set down her spoon. "Remember that book on tap dancing I asked for last time? I've been studying it--and that's like all-American!"

Oki nodded. "She will do the. . . .the dance for us, okay?"

"Right," Ed added. "And I see Zena is corrupting you with Earth slang."

"That's nothing," Zena insisted after a sip of coffee--another Earth import. "I'm learning some Lunari. But that doesn't hold a candle to all the fly-by-night English instructors here. They teach the fans just enough to impress Bonnie and me at autograph events. They make the funniest mistakes!"

Ed squeezed eyes shut. What was next?--subways and hot dog stands? He carried his empty plate to the kitchen. 

Oki cornered him there. ""Mister Ed--will you bring more of the cloudberry preserves from Sweden? And brandy cherries? And the rum custard, and malt scotch cake--"

Ed took her shoulders. "Oki, I rest my case. Let's have some of that ligonberry torte while we wait on the others to get home. I can't wait to see Zena tap dance."