Speeding Bullets

The thing about moving at superspeed is that from your point of view everything else has slowed down and you’re moving at normal speed. So, yes, I can run back and forth across the country in way less time than it would take a commercial jet, but when it’s not an emergency I still fly.

Do you know why? Because relative to my point of view, I’m running at about twenty miles per hour. That’s fast for a human, but slow for a cross-country vehicle. It means that when I go from coast to coast, I’m spending two months doing nothing but running. I don’t get tired. I don’t get hungry. I’m not aging any faster than normally, relative to objective time… though the first few years of using my powers, that was always something I worried about.

But I do get bored.

Two months of seeing the country unfold a bit at a time, with nothing but your own thoughts. No sounds. Not even the wind in your hair. The interphase field that moves molecules around to keep me from destroying myself or everything else in my wake prevents that.

I’ve always been a solitary person. I don’t mind having some time to myself. I’ll take a hundred mile run sometimes just to get some hours to spend clearing my head or thinking through a project. Trying to make a living and be a superhero, it’s nice to be able to steal some moments out of thin air here and there to do the brain work. After all, I can push up the speed a little when I’m sitting in front of a computer, but only so much.

So short trips are fine. Longer ones are for emergencies only. If I were going to run across the country for fun, I’d have to stop every few hundred miles and spend some time moving around in real time just so I didn’t go crazy.

Still, you asked me what the worst thing about my powers are, and honestly, as bad as that can get, that’s not it. The absolute worst thing is when I get there too late. I can all but stop time, but I can’t make it go backwards.

Bullets travel thousands of feet in a second. That’s nothing compared to me, but it’s fast enough. They’re faster than the speed of sound. If I hear a gunshot, the bullet has already hit its target before the sound hits my ear.

Imagine arriving at the scene of a shooting that’s already in progress. Someone’s just been shot. Now imagine you’re seeing it slow motion. No sound. Just visuals, slower and sharper and realer than anything you’ve ever seen in the movies.

A moment not quite frozen in time, not quite suspended in front of you… and you could step out of that moment, you could speed it up, but there are still bullets flying and people in their paths and you can’t let go and step back into the normal flow of time until you’ve saved everybody else.

Do you have any idea how small a thing a bullet can be? How hard it is to spot in mid-air even when it’s barely moving? How big an area a burst of gunfire can cover by the time I know about it? Most of those bullets will probably bury themselves in walls or trees or the ground, but not all. Any one that I miss could end or change a life.

You see it like this: there’s a blur and suddenly I’m standing there with everyone’s weapons at my feet and a hand full of lead. What you don’t see is how many times I go back and forth, how meticulously I search the area, how wide a zone around the action I comb, how far I stretch time from my point of view in order to be sure… and when I come back down, it’s never because I am sure. It’s because I’ve given up. Because I’ve realized that I’m making myself crazy.

I can’t stop all the bullets. I can’t be everywhere at once. No one can, of course, but I have a power that lets me feel like I should be able to.

I wouldn’t give it up, of course. Not for anything.

But you asked me what the worst thing about my power is, so I told you. It’s not something I’ve ever told anyone before, but then, that’s not the sort of question most people ask.

It makes me wonder what the downside to yours is.

February 3, 2012 | Fantasy | 6 Comments »





Petal To The Metal

There is a sound like the crinkling of aluminum foil as the scytheflower slowly unfurls its petals. The stem flexes and they turn to face the rising sun, the petals angling to best catch the light. The plant’s leaves make use of sunlight for photosynthesis, but the mix of metallic elements in the petals allow it to produce energy more directly as they heat up throughout the day.

The energy produced by the living thermocouple is difficult to store, but it still contributes to the scytheflower’s sustenance. The silvery sheen on the surface of the petals as they twitch in the sun has been designed by evolution to catch the eyes of birds in flight, a trait which helps give the scytheflower some of its other names: magpiercer and crow-murderer.

Down swoops a blackbird, attracted by the shiny flash of the flower. There’s the whining whir of a buzzsaw and a brief, aborted squawk. The bird’s carcass will feed the soil, which feeds the plant.

Though its metallic petals are valued by collectors, the scytheflower is best approached with care, or not at all.

January 30, 2012 | Science Fiction | No Comments »





Bloodmouth

“So you’re a vegetarian vampire,” I said.

“Vegan,” he corrected me gently.

“How does that work?”

He smiled showing the points of his upper canine teeth.

“Better than you would think,” he said. “My dietary needs are obviously different than they were when I was a baseline human, which just leaves me with the moral and ecological components of veganism… although in my mind it’s all a matter of morality, as it is immoral to render the earth uninhabitable for everyone in order to feed one’s appetite.”

He spoke smoothly and evenly, and slowly enough that I could get much of his answer down on my tablet before he’d stopped speaking. Normally I used a digital recorder when I did interviews, but vampires didn’t show up on recordings any more than they did in mirrors. It was one of the peskier details for those who still clung to the idea that the undead condition was nothing more than some kind of virus we didn’t understand yet.

“But plants don’t have blood,” I said. “I’m not trying be smart-alecky, but you can’t survive on tomato juice, or by biting a maple tree…. can you?”

“No,” he said with a laugh. “Although it’s funny that you should raise such possibilities. It was a book about a vegetable-draining rabbit that first got me interested in a vegetarian diet as a child… and that same silly story stirred my interest in darker subjects, as well. I couldn’t live on vegetables, but the whole course of my existence is the confluence of two paths that book started me down.”

“So how do you feed?”

“Well, again, we come to the moral component of veganism,” he said. “It is wrong to kill an animal for food and it is wrong to take the product of another being’s labor without consent. To feed my blood thirst, I need do neither. I take my sustenance from willing and sentient volunteers. To spend precious resources feeding a cow and then eat that cow is wasteful and destructive compared to using the same resources to simply feed ourselves—-excuse me, I mean living humans—-but those who I feed through need only increase their iron and glucose intake slightly. Collectively, our footprint is actually slightly smaller than it would be if I were consuming the same sort of food they do.”

“And it doesn’t bother you to drink blood, after so many years without meat?”

“The thought of meat still makes me ill, but… my biology, if it can be called that, is different,” he said. “I felt a bit of what you might call apprehension before my earliest feedings, but it was more the fear that I would be repulsed than actual revulsion. I credit these vestigial misgivings with helping me maintain control at an age where I might have easily lost it.”

“So there are control issues?”

“Oh, of course there are,” he said. “This wouldn’t be something I’d want to put out there as part of the face of modern vampirism, but: blood is delicious and we are predators by nature. The heat and flush of life excites us, as does the hunt and the struggle at the end of it. But as beings with a human mind at our core, we are gifted with the ability to moderate our instincts and operate according to the callings of our higher nature rather than our baser urges.”

“So then… forgive me, but I have to ask this… you’ve never killed anyone?”

“No one I did not intend to,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“Well… being fed by vegan friends slakes the bloodthirst, but not what we might term the ‘bloodlust’,” he said. “My morals do offer me an out there, though. Feeding a cow and then killing it food is wasteful, but killing someone who feeds on cows helps end the cycle of waste. Taking sustenance from a creature that has not consented is immoral, but a person who subscribes to the notion that occupying a higher place on the food chain is a license to kill has clearly consented to being hunted by their biological superiors.”

He laughed. It was a deep, rich, and somehow chilling sound.

“Not that I subscribe to such a hierarchical view of things myself,” he said. “But why argue with people who are so certain of their place in the world that they’re willing to kill because of it?”

“Listen,” I said, putting my tablet aside. “When you agreed to this interview…”

“I like to get to know my meals,” he said. “One should always know where one’s food comes from.”

“You said you enjoy the hunt…” I said, hoping for at least a head start.

His red eyes bored into me. He showed his teeth again, though this time it looked less like a smile.

“Sometimes,” he said. “But while I try to keep an active afterlifestyle, sometimes I don’t feel like running.”

January 27, 2012 | Horror | 5 Comments »





Bogey Nights

Every night when his mother turned out the lights, there was a brief period when the darkness seemed total, with everything except for the squares of light behind the window shade draped in total blackness. And every night the child’s eyes adjusted, as eyes do, and the familiar features of his room returned in their shadow-drenched form.

But one night it began to seem to him that even as most of the darkness faded somewhat, some of the shadows not only remained resolutely dark but became darker still… more solid, more real… as the night wore on. More, they seemed to move and grow. Never when he was looking, of course, and never in too obvious a way, at least at first.

After night after night of this, he eventually managed to convince himself that he was seeing nothing out of the ordinary… that it was just his imagination, or that this was just how darkness worked, and he’d never noticed it before.

Then the night came when it didn’t happen, and that tender illusion was stripped away, though all he felt was relief that whatever had been transpiring in his bedroom every night was over.

That relief lasted until the next night, when it all began again. The darkness crept out from under his dresser, from beneath his closet door, and from behind the chair in the corner. It pooled together and slunk slowly across the floor towards his bed… never quite reaching it, though coming quite close. There was no kidding himself about it now. He’d seen what his room was supposed to look like in the dark, and it had seemed too right and natural for him to pretend that what he was seeing now was anything like normal.

That first interruption wasn’t the only time he was given a respite. Sometimes they happened quite frequently, and other times weeks would go by without the unnatural darkness taking over his room. At first he prayed each night that the darkness would pass him over, but eventually he came to dread those nights just as much, if not more.

The beshadowed nights had become normal to him, and on those nights he could at least see the darkness reaching for him. He knew better than to let his foot hit the floor on those nights, or relinquish the protection of the covers. He could see his doom coming. He knew where the shadows were.

The other nights… who knew where the shadows got to on those nights? Who knew where they lurked? Who knew where they waited for him? He certainly didn’t, and that terrified him in a way that all the tendrils of darkness creeping across his floor never could.

He dutifully bade his mother goodnight as she turned off the lights. He closed his eyes involuntarily and ducked under the covers, not willing to see at once what sort of a night he was in for.

Beyond the covers, the shadows in his room were just shadows… but outside his window, a pool of darkness deepened, and then seemed to straighten and stand up. A figure strode out towards the sidewalk, carefully skirting far around the circle of amber light cast by a lamp pole. Another dark figure flitted across the street towards it. The two came together in what could only be seen as an embrace, had any human eyes been watching.

“So, where do you want to go tonight?”

“I don’t care, I’m just happy to get out of the house for a while.”

“I know what you mean… it’s a good job, and an important one, but it’s like, we can’t spend every night scaring kids.”

“Yeah. Honestly, I think their little minds can use a break. We’re supposed to be teaching them how to cope with fear, not driving them up the wall with it.”

“True that.”

January 3, 2012 | Horror | 1 Comment »





Present

For Kim, in loving memory of Charles Barnes. With kindest affection to Charles Dickens, who rendered some slight assistance with the opening.


It was a long night, if it were only a night; but Scrooge had his doubts of this, because the Christmas Holidays appeared to be condensed into the space of time they passed together. It was strange, too, that while Scrooge remained unaltered in his outward form, the Ghost grew older, clearly older. Scrooge had observed this change, but never spoke of it, until they left a children’s Twelfth Night party, when, looking at the Spirit as they stood together in an open place, he noticed that its hair was grey.

“Are spirits’ lives so short?” asked Scrooge.

“My life upon this globe, is very brief,” replied the Ghost. “It ends to-night.”

“To-night!” cried Scrooge.

“To-night at midnight.”

“But,” said Scrooge, “if I am to understand you, Spirit, you mean to say that you are born on Christmas Eve and pass from this world in the space of the holidays? Why, but this is fantastic.”

“More fantastic than all that you have witnessed this night?”

“But how is it that you have learned so much about the spirit of humanity in so short a span?”

The Ghost paused for a moment as if it were considering how best to answer.

“Perhaps,” it said at length, “this is not my first life. Perhaps I have had the chance to walk among humanity myself and learn firsthand of the best it has to offer.”

“But, Spirit,” Scrooge said. “Surely you don’t mean to say that a good man died so that you could impart to me your lessons?”

“Oh, no. Men die in every season, man, the good and great as along with the dismal and poor. Was the man I was a good man? Let us say that he did good things sometimes, and that he learned to make the season brighter for those who loved him, and when he was called away—rather suddenly—he was given one more opportunity to do some good before leaving this world for the last time.”

“And this happens every year?”

“I imagine it must,” the Spirit said. “All that is mortal must pass, Ebenezer, on this day as on any other. But do not look upon it as a dark thing. I do not! It is my chance to bear a candle into the darkness.”

“And you do not regret it?”

“If I regret anything, it must be the kindnesses I did not perform, the loving words I did not speak, the opportunities I missed to be of some benefit to those around me. Do I regret the time and manner of my passing? It was not mine to choose, and I hope that those I’ve left behind do not hold it against me.”

“But could your remaining hours not be spent bringing comfort to those you have left behind?”

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” the Spirit said. “It is my honor to bring comfort and cheer to all who draw together in search of it. I will be with them in the hereafter, but for this time I belong to the world. But hark! The time is drawing near…”

December 24, 2011 | Fantasy | 2 Comments »





Slipped

Eventually she did make it back to Kansas, despite the last witch’s trick. When she got there, her family’s farm was gone. It was not just that the buildings had been destroyed or carried off by the twister, but the land they had stood on was no longer there. The space it had occupied was gone, like someone had taken a map of the county and pinched part of it.

When she got over her shock she moved on, because there was nothing else for her to do. She kept moving on. She learned not to put roots down anywhere, never to get too attached to anyone. She traveled all over this world and visited others, but for her, there could be no place like home.

December 21, 2011 | Fantasy | No Comments »





Who Said Life Was Fair?

“So, you’re after the fair folk, are you?” the old lush said to me.

I’d been pointed his way as part of my quest. I had been told not to expect any information about where I needed to go or what I needed to do, but that I needed to hear what he had to say, all the same.

“I am,” I said.

“Then you need to hear my warning,” he said.

“I’ve heard lots of warnings,” I said.

“About accepting gifts, or refusing gifts, or eating food, or declining it, right? Things like that. This is a different sort of warning,” he said. He paused and then threw back his glass, draining the last of the beer from it. “I met just one fairy in my life. Saved its life, by its own admission. Three wishes it offered me… three wishes. Said it would come back on the new moon to hear and grant the first of them.”

“Did it?”

“I full-on expected it wouldn’t… I worked hard to resign myself to the notion that my one and only encounter with the wondrous was all I would get out of it, and to be happy with that. But as the month wore on and the moon waned, I started to feel a flicker of hope and yearning. You see, my father had died of a bum ticker when he was three years younger than I was, and I had a certain recollection that his father had also died young in a similar fashion… so it had often been in the back of my mind that a similar thing might happen to me.”

“You wished for a good heart?”

“Good health in general,” the old man said. “So of course the blasted thing came back, and it heard my wish… that my heart and liver and other organs and parts should be strong and healthy until the day I die. And no sooner than the words were out of my mouth than it struck me that the quickest route to fulfilling that one would have been to kill me on the spot, but no, the fairy just crossed its arms and said ‘It is done’ and damned if I didn’t feel the difference right away, and double-damned if I haven’t felt it since. So, the fairy told me it would be back in a month for the second wish.”

“What did you wish for?”

“This time I knew it was on the up-and-up, so I started to plan ahead. I had my health, and could expect to live a good long life, barring misadventure… as a fit man, I could look forward to a few more decades more of hard labor followed by a miserly retirement. So I decided what I really wanted was a certain measure of comfort, security, and leisure to live out my life in style. That’s not one wish, of course, but the thing that secures all of that is. I decided to wish for money. A million dollars. That’s a chunk of change with the power to change lives today, but back then… well, it was a sight more than it is now. I could have wished for more, but I didn’t want to abandon my old life. A million dollars could be explained. It seemed like a credible windfall.”

“So what happened?”

“Well, the fairy returned, and heard my wish… which was for a million dollars to come to me in some fashion that was legal and brought no misfortune to anyone else… and it suggested I spend the next afternoon removing a certain stump from my property. Under there was a cache of old coins, worth just over one million dollars even after the tax man took his share. And I went a little wild with it, for a while, though my brother-in-law was a banker and he invested the lion’s share of it for me, and I’ve done quite well by him over the years.”

“So two wishes worked out well,” I said. “What happened with the third?”

“Well, the fairy again said it would be back when the moon was new. And I had health and I had wealth,” the old man said. “So for my third wish I wanted something special, something extraordinary… something that couldn’t have been come by any other way. I didn’t know what I wanted when the fairy left, but as the weeks slipped by I thought back to all the times in my life I’d been thirsty and couldn’t beg up a drop of drink to wet my whistle. I knew my liver was good for the duration, so I decided to make sure that never happened again.”

“You were rich,” I said. “You could have bought beer anytime you wanted. You could have bought a brewery.”

“Right,” he said. “But the same could be said for nearly anything I might have wished for. Besides, I said I wanted something special. So I made up my mind to wish that I had but to snap my fingers and the glass nearest to me would fill itself up with whatever I wanted most to drink, the best quality. I had a good week and a half to fix this wish in my mind, to think on the possibilities… the exotic liquers I could try, the fond remembrances I could relive. I could sample thirty-year scotches and the greatest wine collections the world had ever known. And if ever I met a man who didn’t believe my good health and great fortune were a gift from the fairies, I could strike them dumb just like this.”

The old man gave a loud snap with his fingers. I looked at the glass he’d set on the counter, but it remained empty and inert.

“…what happened?” I asked.

“The little devil never showed up!” the old man said. “That was its trick, you see.”

“It gave you perfect health and more money than you needed?”

“It made me believe,” the old man said. “It made me hope. It made me wish… those first two things, they were things I wanted. They were things I asked for. But they weren’t a wish like this was a wish. I’d never felt a deep-seated yearning for a million dollars, you see. I’d prayed for health, in the off-hand sort of way that you do, but I had never fallen to my knees and begged for it.”

“You still had your money,” I said.

“You don’t understand,” he said. “If it had said two wishes, I would have been satisfied. If it had said two wishes, I would have walked away perfectly happy. I wouldn’t have been disappointed if from the start it said I could have one wish, or it offered its thanks and went on its way. But it promised three wishes, and it spread them out so I had time to get used to the idea, to come round to the way of thinking that this was how things worked.”

“But have you ever in your life since then actually gone thirsty?”

“No,” he said. “Not thirsty, exactly. Not for lack of drink.”

“Thanks for the warning,” I said.

“But you still mean to press on.”

“If I’m offered three wishes, I’ll know what not to do,” I said.

“If you’re counting on two, you’ll get one,” he said. “Or three but something else will go wrong. Or you’ll be offered something else, something that isn’t wishes. You see, the lesson here isn’t how it played out with me. The lesson is about what happens when you trust a fairy.”

“I think I could manage a long, rich life,” I said.

“You think I don’t feel lucky?” the old man said. “I do, if only because I’ve heard from others who’ve had their dealings and come away much worse for it. But no matter how lucky I am and how lucky I feel, I also feel cheated… and I’ll always feel cheated. It’s a bigger thing than you think.”

“I could stand to feel a little cheated if I had your life.”

“That’s what they all say, when they find me,” the old man said. “But they all find me in a bar.”

“I won’t make the same mistake you did,” I said.

“No, you’ll make your own.” The man raised his empty glass. “Here’s hoping you come out the other end of it.”

December 18, 2011 | Fantasy | No Comments »





When The Giants Wake

If there’s a certain amount of poetic justice in the latest round of layoffs to sweep the country, it’s a small one. In the first place, the executives who were let go all had contracts that stipulated exorbitant severance packages and in the second it doesn’t really portend anything good for the working class.

Nobody’s even sure exactly where the trend started, where the idea came from. Memos floating it went around the halls of the big multinational banks. It worked its way into the middle of mass e-mail chains. At one high tech firm, a voice on a conference call quietly made the suggestion. It seemed like a radical notion at first, but it gained traction at first based on sheer buzz alone.

The purpose of a corporation is to make money. This is considered to be obvious almost to the point of tautology. The right decision is always the one that produces the most profit, the biggest return on investment, the most reward for the least risk. Everything else? Just a distraction.

In recent years, this came to be understood as gospel truth and the officers of the corporations became little more than executors of a program. The ones who wouldn’t make the “hard decisions” for the good of the company got booted out. The ones who would were rewarded.

But if it’s possible to determine what the right choice is, why did there have to be a single person who was tasked with making them? It doesn’t take a warm body in a seat to cut services and reduce payroll to the minimum needed to operate, after all. Eliminating the decision-makers not only saves a company the not-inconsiderable cost of their future compensation, it reduces the chance of a costly error made in a moment of sentimental weakness or compassion.

Maybe the human touch is needed to deal with the fallout when things were pushed too far, but people are getting more and more used to hearing “that’s business” and “we have a right to make a profit” when they complained, anyway. The longer this goes on, the more it seems like it’s always been that way.

There were laws and regulations that needed changing to accommodate a headless corporation, of course, but by this point that was little more than a formality. The government expectes there to be a person to hold accountable, but corporations are people and they’re firmly in charge.

The evidence increasingly suggests that they know it.

December 15, 2011 | Horror | No Comments »





Check, Please

“Is it true,” I asked Death, “that I can challenge you to a game of chess for my life?”

“It is,” Death said. “But few enough people think to ask, and even fewer exercise that right. Fewer still see the game through to completion. Most give up within a matter of turns.”

“Are you so good?”

“I am as skilled as you might expect of one who has had as much practice as I have, though my skill is not solely the reason for concession.”

“Certainly you’ve had more years to practice than most people,” I said. “But how much of that time did you devote to a serious study of the game?”

“A little here, a little there,” Death said. “It adds up. In particular, I have spent more time than most masters of the game learning to play under the peculiar conditions that govern the game in this between-place.”

“What peculiar conditions?” I asked.

“There must be judges, for an impartial contest,” Death said. “No move may be made if the judges deem it illegal.”

“What is the penalty for attempting an illegal move?” I asked, with more than a touch of trepidation.

“Nothing,” Death said. “It is withdrawn, as if it had never happened, and play continues.”

“Must all the judges agree?” I asked, looking for the trap or hitch.

“No, there are three of them and majority rules,” Death said.

“Who are they?” I asked, expecting it to be either angels or demons… and not knowing which one I’d rather have.

“A council of theologians,” Death said. “We have had other judges, but none remained sufficiently interested long enough.”

“I will probably lose,” I said. “But… I think I’m going to challenge you anyway, and I’m going to have to see the game through until I’m checkmated. That’s what life is, right? Struggling against death until the last moment?”

“Sometimes. There is such a thing as acceptance,” Death said. With the wave of a hand, a chessboard appeared on a pedestal. A trio of figures appeared in the mist that swirled around us, though they kept their distance. “Our judges… they will remain some distance away, unless their judgment is needed. You may have your choice of sides.”

“I’ve heard that white has an advantage in going first,” I said. “That if you’re playing white and you play a perfect game, you can’t be beaten. Do you suppose that’s true?”

“Do you suppose you’ll play a perfect game?” Death asked.

“I concede the point,” I said, but I chose white anyway. There seemed to be a better chance that Death would play perfectly than I would.

The opening moves of the game seemed nothing particularly remarkable to me. It was only when I reached for my knight and moved it out of the back row that the judges came forward.

“False move! False move!” two of them cried.

“That was a perfectly valid move,” the third one said. “But I’m outvoted. As usual.”

“What’s wrong with the move?” I asked.

“You moved your knight one square over and then two squares up,” one of the objectors said.

“Yes?” I said.

“Knights move two squares in one direction and then one square perpendicularly.”

“No they don’t,” the third one said. “They move just as the white player described.”

“It’s the same results either way,” I said. “Fine, though. I’ll move the knight two squares forward and then…”

“Stop!” the other objector said. “That isn’t how the knight moves at all. The knight moves one square diagonally in any direction, and then one square orthogonally in a direction outward from its square of origin.”

“Oh, it does not!” the theologian who hadn’t objected to my original move said.

“‘Orthogonally’, indeed,” the first theologian said.

“But… listen,” I said, having taken a moment to decode the new claim and what it meant in terms of squares on the board. “All three methods you’re describing end up with the same set of squares as valid destinations. You’re all stating the same rule a different way.”

“We most certainly are not!”

“The very idea!”

“It is frankly insulting that you would take the true rule and lump it together with the unfounded suppositions and fallacies peddled by these charlatans!”

“Okay,” I said. “Let me try a different tack. You’re just describing different ways for calculating the valid moves the knight can make, but the knight does not actually cross through any squares. All the actual rules of chess care about is the destination square. So if you can all agree that the destination is valid, can I make the move?”

“You’re suggesting that the path doesn’t matter?”

“The very idea!”

“Your sophistry has no place in a serious game.”

I sighed and looked at Death.

“It is possible to win a game without the use of knights,” Death said. “But I’ve had more practice at it than most. Do you wish to continue?”

I knocked my king on its side.

“Look on the bright side,” Death said. “Before this occupation was arranged for them, they spent all their time arguing about more important destinations than that of a chess piece.”

December 12, 2011 | Fantasy | 3 Comments »





Corked Creativity

The magician pulled the stopper from the pewter bottle. Oily black smoke bubbled out of the top and then spilled down the neck to pool around its base. Gradually, the dark vapor coalesced into a solid form, that of a tiny figure with needle-sharp claws, glowing red pinpoint eyes, insectile wings, and a twitching tail. It wore a black hat with a skull and crossbones on it.

“What is thy dread bidding, master?” the imp intoned.

“Wretched spawn of the hell-pits, it is my wish that… wait, is that a pirate hat?” the magician said, registering the headgear.

“Er, no,” the imp said as the article in question poofed away in a puff of smoke. “I mean, not really. Just… just some dark glamour. It looked like a pirate hat, though. Good eye.”

“Why were you wearing a pirate hat?”

“Well, it gets boring, living in a bottle,” the imp said. “So I took up a hobby.”

“Playing pirate?”

“Well, not at first,” the imp said. “At first I was just amusing myself by grabbing little crafty things for myself whenever you sent me out into the world, and then I got into model-building, and then from there it just sort of… snowballed.”

“You mean you built a ship inside your bottle?”

“I think it could catch on,” the imp said. “Though I think if you got me a slightly larger bottle, a glass one, then it might be a little more, you know, functional. As a decoration, I mean. Decorative, I guess, would be the word.”

“I didn’t summon you from the hell-pits for decorative purposes.”

“Right, no, you didn’t,” the imp said. “But I’m just thinking… when I’m in the bottle, which is most of the time, you’re not getting any use out of me anyway. But with a glass bottle and maybe some kind of a display stand, maybe a nice polished red walnut or a polished mahogany… well, you’d just be getting more value. And since you gave up your soul to bind me, you might as well get as much as you can out of the deal. Right? I mean, am I right?”

“…let’s just get back to my dread bidding,” the magician said.

“Right,” the imp said. “It was only a suggestion.”

December 9, 2011 | Fantasy | 2 Comments »