Tag Archives: funny

The Interno

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Spring sunshine was filtering through the Venetian blinds that covered Dr. Jefferson Parkindale’s office windows, throwing thin, evenly spaced rectangles of light across his desk and the floor. The scientist was reclining in his comfortable computer chair, feet up on the corner of his desk, shoes off, fingers interlocked behind his head. He sighed happily.

“I’m telling you,” he said to his guest, “signing up for the Interno program was the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s a wonderful technology.”

His guest was Dr. Graeme Carter, a longtime colleague and companion. They had worked on many research projects together over the past two decades, though their friendship had never truly extended beyond the walls of their offices and laboratories. “I’m happy for you,” said Carter. “You’ve done nothing but smile over the past three weeks! I’ve almost come to miss that old contemplative frown of yours.”

“Oh?” said Parkindale. His face drooped into a flatter, duller, somewhat distant expression, with a hint of a grimace. “This one?”

“That’s the one,” said Carter. “But on second thought, maybe I haven’t really missed it at all. If you’re happy, why not look happy, eh?”

Parkindale brightened up with another smile. “Precisely! Exactly! Still, what’s the saying? All things in moderation?”

“I suppose.”

Parkindale turned his eyes towards the ceiling and muttered to himself for a moment. “Too much smiling… Too much smiling… Yes, that’s helpful.”

“Er,” said Dr. Carter, regarding his friend somewhat quizzically, “so, I’ve been wondering… How does the Interno program work? I’ve only heard bits and pieces about it. When I heard you were having the procedure done I went online to do some research, but there’s very little information available, surprisingly.”

“Oh, the Interno is wonderful!”

“So you’ve said. But what is it?”

Parkindale swung his feet off of the desk and onto the floor and sat up straight in his chair. “What time is it?”

“Five past two,” said Carter. “Why?”

“That’s been two hours, then,” muttered Parkindale. “Sufficient for today, I think.” He reached over and twisted the blinds closed. “Too much sun time gets me hyper,” he said with a wink.

“Really? Sugar and caffeine do it for me. Have you had yourself fitted with a solar panel or something?” joked Dr. Carter.

Parkindale’s smile faltered for a moment. “Oh. No! How silly. Of course not. We humans function on chemical energy harvested through eating, not on solar power… What an idea! Have you ever been to Europe? Nice weather we’re having today!”

“Whoa,” said Carter, “relax. I was only joking.” He fixed Parkindale with a curious stare.

Parkindale smiled benignly.

“Anyways,” said Carter, “the Interno?”

“Ah, yes. In layman’s terms, the Interno is an expansion device for your subconscious mind.”

“You mean… an implant?”

“Precisely,” said Parkindale. “Exactly. It’s small, noninvasive, safe, reliable—”

“—and a long list of other marketing buzzwords, I’m sure,” said Dr. Carter. “But what does it do? How does it work? Beyond making you such a persistent smiler, I mean.”

“It’s marvelous,” said Parkindale. “Brilliant. To put it simply, the Interno automates all of the most boring, mundane, tedious tasks and chores of your daily life, freeing your full brain power up so that you can focus on what’s truly important.”

Carter stroked his chin. “What sorts of tasks do you mean?”

“Oh, the obvious ones, to start,” said Parkindale. “Brushing your teeth, combing your hair, other elements of personal hygiene. Taking out the trash. Scratching itches. Eating, if you want.” Opening a drawer in his desk he took out a bottle of lotion, rolled up his shirt sleeves, squeezed a little lotion into his hands, and began to rub it onto his elbows, and then his neck.

“And what does it look like, on a practical level, when you ‘automate’ those tasks? Can you still taste your food, or do you just ignore it altogether?”

“That depends on the food!” said Parkindale with a wink. “I rarely pay attention to my breakfast cereal, for example, but at the company barbecue yesterday I made sure I was experiencing the full pleasure of the steaks and hamburgers. Some of the small talk, on the other hand…”

“Are you saying you can even automate conversations?”

“Almost flawlessly!” grinned Parkindale. “Chit-chat is really pretty predictable, most of the time. There are a few gaps in the Interno’s social programming—it might toss out an occasional nonsequitor—but when you’re talking to someone like Susie-May Buttons from the BioChem department it’s doubtful she’ll even notice, honestly.”

“Fair enough,” said Carter. “So how do I know you aren’t automating this conversation right now?”

“Does it feel like you’re talking to the real me?”

“Well…” said Carter. He gazed intently at Parkindale’s face, studying his colleague’s somewhat plastic smile.

Parkindale raised his eyebrows and kept smiling.

Carter studied his colleague’s glassy eyes.

Parkindale smiled.

Carter studied his colleague’s even-as-clockwork breathing.

Parkindale smiled.

“Well,” said Carter again, “you seem real enough, I guess…”

“Then what’s the difference either way?”

“Um,” said Carter.

Parkindale laughed. “I’m pulling your leg, of course, Graeme. Of course you’re talking to the ‘real me’. I only use the Interno to get out of boring conversations.”

“Right…” said Carter, squirming a little in his chair. “Still, the whole concept of this ‘Interno’ does bring up some awkward questions, doesn’t it?”

“Like what?”

“Well, what happens your ‘conscious’ brain while you’ve got yourself set on ‘autpilot’?”

Parkindale leaned back again in his chair and surveyed the ceiling. “It’s a little bit hard to describe. I guess you could call it a sort of ‘out-of-body’ sensation. Depending on what you’re automating, you feel detached from your physical senses, and your brain is set free to wander where it will, or to focus intently on whatever it chooses. My scientific work has never been more productive, and my leisure time has never been more relaxing. I’ve begun to write poetry, Graeme. Me, writing poetry. Can you believe it? Granted, it isn’t very good poetry…”

“So does the Interno affect your personality, then?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t think so,” said Parkindale, “not significantly. Do you think it has affected mine?”

“Hmm.” Carter thought about this for a moment. “It’s hard to say, to be completely honest. You’ve always been a bit, er… eccentric. If anything, you’ve been eccentric in some different ways recently, that’s all.”

Parkindale furrowed his brow, while continuing to smile. “How so? Can you be specific?”

“Oh, it’s nothing too big,” Carter assured him. “You’re a bit dreamier, a bit more absent, and I suppose that makes sense. The constant smiling… Again, I’m not complaining about it! Simply observing. And your habits have changed. There’s, er, the lotion, for one. I don’t remember you ever using the stuff before.”

“Always good to keep your skin and joints well lubricated!” said Parkindale.

“‘Lubricated’?” said Carter.

“Moisturized, I mean,” said Parkindale.

“Right… And you’re always perfectly punctual now.”

“The Interno has some very useful clock and day planner software!”

“And this one’s a bit weird, but when you walk, you always seem to go the exact same speed… The rhythm of your footsteps lines up pretty much perfectly with this one song I keep hearing on the radio, actually.”

“Do people normally walk at inconsistent speeds?” said Parkindale.

“Well, sometimes people are in a hurry, or sometimes people are just kind of strolling gently along. You always seem to be on kind of a steady march.”

“Interesting,” said Parkindale. “Like this, you mean?” He stood, stepped out from behind his desk, and paced the length of the office, his socked feet marking a very distinct and even beat across the carpet, thap, thap, thap, thap. He spun on his heel when he reached the wall and paced back, thap, thap, thap, thap.

“Yes,” said Dr. Carter. “Just like that. I can hear the song in my head.” He hummed a little melody softly.

“I see,” said Parkindale. He swung his feet back up onto his desk, rolled his pant legs up, and began applying lotion to his knees. Staring at the ceiling, he muttered, “Varying walking speeds… Varying walking speeds… I’ll have to see if I can get myself a firmware update for that. I mean, get the Interno a firmware update, of course.”

Dr. Carter shifted in his seat awkwardly. “I do have one other question,” he said.

“Oh?”

“What happens if, hypothetically, the Interno gets stuck somehow, say there’s a glitch in its software, and it doesn’t turn the autopilot off when you want it to? I’m speaking purely hypothetically, of course.”

Dr. Parkindale waved one hand dismissively. “You’ve been reading too much science fiction,” he scoffed. “That article in the Enquirer was complete speculation and sensationalism. The Interno is very well programmed. It’s loaded with fail-safes and auto-quits and resets and antivirus programs. It’s virtually impossible for the Interno’s systems to break, or be defeated. You’re statistically more likely to be hit by a hovercar than have something go wrong with your Interno.”

“Yes, but—”

“Really, Graeme, there’s no need to be so paranoid. If there’s one thing I’ve been learning more and more, it’s that you should really try to approach life from a positive perspective rather than a negative one. Don’t think about risks or drawbacks or worst-case scenarios. Think about opportunities, benefits, goals, targets, dreams… Being fitted with an Interno has definitely shifted my perspective towards the positive things. I’m sure it would work for you, too!”

“Er, maybe,” said Dr. Carter, standing.

“Think about it,” said Parkindale. “Consider it. I can get you a good referral, help you jump the waiting list. It’s not too expensive, either. Just $5,000 for installation and $500 per year afterwards for regular maintenance and software updates. It’s a bargain!”

“I should really talk it over with my wife, but I’ll let you know what I decide,” said Dr. Carter, stepping towards the door.

“Tell her there’s a couples’ discount—the second unit is 50% off!”

“I will,” said Carter, as he exited into the hallway and bustled off.

Dr. Parkindale smiled at the closed door.

He smiled.

He smiled.

He squeezed some lotion onto his elbow.

Behind his smile, deep inside himself, some fading part of him screamed.

Memoirs of the Model Agent 2: The Associate Bilateral Forthchancellor and Her Daughter

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There are a lot of things the Chancellorate’s Security Forces won’t tell you when you’re considering signing up. They won’t tell you about the extended shifts, the lack of sleep, or the post-traumatic stress disorder; they won’t tell you about the long, slow descent into insanity that you’ll suffer as a result of being forced to work so closely with politicians; and they won’t tell you about the somewhat ironic lack of job security.

Agents quit. Agents die. Agents get fired because their boss is having a bad hair day. Some agents are even lucky enough to retire.

New agents are brought in to replace them. There’s a lot of turnover in the Security Forces, one way or another. The speed with which new recruits are hired and trained can make your head spin. On one particularly crazy day I showed up for work in the morning as part of a team of eight, finished the day’s mission as the second-in-command of a team of four, and clocked out two hours later as the leader of a team of fifteen.

The downside of the system is that you never know when you’re about to meet your replacement. The upside is that if you know what you’re doing, it shouldn’t take you too long to start climbing the ladder.

As I mentioned at the end of the previous chapter, after the incident with Mr. Dimbles I transferred to the protective detail for the Third Assistant Under-Chancellor-in-Waiting. I only spent two months there before I took my next upwards step.

I was hand-selected by the Associate Bilateral Forthchancellor to be a personal bodyguard for her daughter, Dorothy. My duties involved accompanying Dorothy to and from high school and sitting in on her classes and cheer squad practices. It wasn’t the worst position I’d ever held. Teenagers can be insufferable, but I did my best to blend in and even befriend a few of them.

For weeks, my most pressing security concern was trying to keep the teenage boys’ grubby little hands away from my holster. They wheedled and whined at me, tried to bribe me, tried to butter me up. “Come on, Ms. Connolly,” they would say. “You’re so pretty. You’re so nice. We just wanna hold your blaster! We just wanna see it! We won’t do anything. We’ll take you out to a movie if you let us touch it.” On a certain level it was flattering to have that much male attention—being an agent hadn’t afforded me much of a social or romantic life for a few years—but I wasn’t yet that desperate for entertainment, so I continually disappointed them.

During my time with Dorothy I directed more of my attention towards protecting her from bullies, blondes, and bad boys than towards keeping her safe from political dissidents and assassins. The girl was much more likely to be struck by heartbreak than a bullet, especially with the desperate, headstrong way that incorrigible flirt pursued her male classmates. I think that may have been one reason her mother hired me to work with her. She was a scandal waiting to happen.

There eventually came a day, though, early one May, when I was required to put away the “don’t-you-look-at-her-that-way,-punk” glare I used on the boys and the “shoulder-to-cry-on” attitude I held towards Dorothy and had to exercise my agent training in a more legitimate way.

It was the day of a big track and field meet between Dorothy’s school and three of the neighbouring schools. Everywhere you looked the students were dressed in purple and gold, showing off their team spirit, and earnest-looking teenagers were running and jumping and flipping and cheering and crying and throwing popcorn at one another. It was chaos, the kind of scenario a well-trained agent really hates.

Dorothy’s cheer squad was in high demand. They were being pulled all over the campus, from the track to the gym to the stands to the cafeteria. I was trekking along after them, keeping a dutiful eye out for anything unusual or threatening.

There were a few quiet minutes between the long jump and the pole vault, and the coach decided it was a good opportunity to get some photos of the cheer squad taken for the yearbook. She dragged the gaggle of girls over to where the photography teacher was taking some wide shots from a verge of grass just inside the 12-foot chain link fence that surrounded most of the school.

The girls began assembling into various team poses on the grass, formations and glamour shots and human pyramids. The school mascot, a big purple teddy bear with enormous googly eyes, was wandering by and decided to join in and ham it up with them. The group’s laughing and chattering and posing began to draw a small crowd, which made me more than a little nervous.

Then Dorothy’s mother showed up, her own entourage of three agents in tow. The Associate Bilateral Forthchancellor was a typical politician, which meant she was never one to miss a photo opportunity. She had come by to watch a few events from the stands, but apparently she hadn’t been receiving enough personal attention up there—the Vice-Prime Chancellor of Education was hogging the spotlight, I think. She convinced the photographer to include her in a few shots and joined in with her daughter, striking what she must have thought was a comedic yet dignified pose. She looked like a turkey in a tuxedo. Dorothy was more embarrassed than the time I kicked in the door of her bathroom stall and found her taking a nap to avoid Chemistry class. She was scowling at her mom with the dark ferocity only a 16-year-old can generate.

“Oh!” said the Associate Bilateral Forthchancellor when the photographer seemed to be getting tired of her. “I have an excellent idea! Why don’t I pose shaking hands with the mascot? It would look great in the papers.”

The photography teacher was clearly reluctant, and seemed ready to go back to covering the sports—the discus throw was about to begin—but after some wheedling and cajoling he agreed to snap a couple of quick photos. The mascot was game for it, so they stood by the fence and struck a pose together.

The cheer squad was getting together and trundling off back to the field to cheer on the discus throwers and shot putters. My attention was turned towards fighting through the crowd to get back close to Dorothy when the shot was fired.

The Associate Bilateral Forthchancellor was the first to react, diving to her stomach on the grass and covering her head. In moments her three security agents were at her side, checking for injuries and scanning the panicking crowds for the source of the shot.

I drew my blaster and sprinted towards Dorothy, putting myself between her and the direction I thought the shot had come from. It sounded to me like it had come from underneath the bleachers. Pushing Dorothy to the ground, I stood over her and scanned the bleachers for any gleam of sun on metal that might betray the shooter.

When no further immediate threat presented itself, I grabbed Dorothy under the arms and half-carried, half-dragged her over to where her mother was being guarded by her own three agents. The teddy bear mascot was sprawled out beside them on the grass.

“Is she all right?” I asked.

“The shot missed,” reported one of the other agents. “It got the mascot, instead.”

Another agent was on the phone already, calling for help. I heard an ambulance’s sirens start up somewhere not far off.

“Watch her,” I told the other agents, handing Dorothy over. Then I knelt down beside the mascot to assess the situation. There was an obvious bullet hole at the base of the mascot’s neck, right about where the head of the person wearing the costume would be. The mascot wasn’t moving. I couldn’t hear any breathing, but I didn’t see any blood, either. “Help me get this mask off,” I said, reaching to pull off the bear’s head.

“No, wait!” said one of the agents. “It’s, uh… We might do more harm for good! We should wait for the ambulance.”

The recommendation didn’t make any sense to me, but before I could retort I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye, on the other side of the fence. I looked up and saw a man sprinting towards the road, holding a violin case.

I drew my blaster and shouted, “Hey, stop!”

He turned to look over his shoulder, saw me standing with my drawn blaster, yelped, and tripped in a gopher hole. He went sprawling and his violin case flew open. The pieces of a sniper blaster tumbled out into the grass.

I looked left, then right, and saw no quick way through or around the fence, so I jammed my blaster into its holster, took a run up, leapt up onto the fence, and started climbing. The shooter was frantically gathering up the pieces of his sniper blaster and stuffing them back into the violin case. There was panic in his eyes when he saw me climbing. He hugged the violin case shut, jumped back to his feet, and began to run again.

A black car pulled up on the shoulder of the road and honked its horn as I crested the fence and dropped hard onto the ground on the other side. Someone inside the car pushed the rear door open and a hand beckoned the runner on. He only had 50 yards to go, and I had to cover twice that distance to catch him, but I had been a track-and-field athlete myself, back in high school, and the 100-yard dash had been my best event. I dug my toes in, raised my head, and took off running.

The shooter saw me coming and yelped and stumbled again. The driver of the getaway car honked and yelled something. I was making up ground. I reached for my blaster, just in case, but he was only 20 yards away now, 10, 5…

I planted my foot and propelled myself through the air like a long jumper, piling onto the shooter and driving him to the ground. The getaway car squealed off before I could get my blaster up to take a shot at its tires.

The shooter was whimpering like a lazy kid in gym class. “Don’t hurt me! …Not supposed to catch me… Just following orders! Not my fault!”

I wasn’t having it. “You took a shot at a member of the Chancellorate. You may have just killed a kid in a bear suit. If it’s not your fault, then whose is it?” I grabbed him by the elbow and hauled him to his feet. His tears were turning the dirt on his face into trails of mud, but behind all the mess and the contortion of his features something twigged my memory. “Vizak?” I said. “Is that you?”

His eyes flew open. “No!” he said. “No no no! I’m not… No!”

But I was sure I recognized him now. “It is you. Pokur Vizak. We went through training together a few years ago. What happened to you?”

“I, uh… I went bad!” he declared. “Bad guys kidnapped me and brainwashed me into being a bad guy, too. Nice guys finish last! Down with the Chancellorate! I’m sad and confused and dangerous. You’d better take me to jail.”

One of the Associate Bilateral Forthchancellor’s agents caught up to us. “Oh!” said the agent. “You caught the guy. Uh, nice work. I guess we should, uh, bring him in, then.”

“How’s the mascot?” I asked.

“Oh, fine, fine,” said the agent. “I mean, well, hurt pretty bad, probably. Might be dead. Ambulance is picking it up right now. Don’t worry about it.”

Don’t worry about it? A kid might be dead inside that suit, maybe a kid I’ve been seeing every weekday for the past few months, and you’re telling me not to worry about it?” Grabbing my prisoner by the wrist, I hauled him back towards where Dorothy and her mother were being watched. Through the fence I saw the ambulance coming to a stop, and two paramedics stepped out nonchalantly, one carrying a stretcher. I rounded the far end of the fence, near the bleachers, and arrived as they were sliding the mascot on the stretcher into the back of the ambulance.

I handed the prisoner to the other two agents and stomped up to the ambulance. “What’s going on?” I demanded. “Aren’t you even going to look inside the suit?”

The paramedics looked sheepish. “Er, no need,” said one. “I’m afraid it’s dead, so… No need.”

It?” I was furious. “What is with you people and calling this person an it? That is a human being in there.”

The paramedics cast glances at each other and at the ground. “Er,” they said. “Sorry.”

I wasn’t appeased. Something about the whole scenario wasn’t sitting right with me. The behaviour of the paramedics, the other agents, even the shooter… It was all wrong.

The paramedics took advantage of my momentary silence to begin closing the rear doors of the ambulance, but I reached out and grabbed the door to stop them. I pushed them back and climbed into the ambulance where the mascot was lying. Sliding forward to the mascot’s head, I slipped my fingers around the edges of the mask and pulled on it.

“No!” said the other agents.

“Wait!” said the paramedics.

“Stop!” said the Associate Bilateral Forthchancellor.

The mask came off smoothly and fell to the floor. Underneath was a mass of gears, servos, wires, and circuit boards.

“What in the world?” I said.

Then the ambulance doors slammed shut on me, locking me in, and the paramedics jumped into the front of the ambulance, started it up, and drove off.

***

You won’t have heard this story before. You might not even believe it. Their plan worked. The Associate Bilateral Forthchancellor was able to spin the “assassination attempt” into a ton of great press and earned three consecutive promotions in the span of 18 months, eventually spending two full terms as Unilateral Forthchancellor, directly advising the Over-Chancellor on public relations and media issues.

I could have retired young on the money they paid me to keep my mouth shut. Instead I bought a house, went back to school for a Master’s degree in Security Operations, and invested what was left.

Sure, I could have blown the whistle, but it wouldn’t have accomplished much. I was already feeling pretty jaded about the entire Chancellorate at that point, anyways, and to be honest that hasn’t really changed. I still think the Chancellorate is filled with idiots and crooks, and I’m not the only person who holds that opinion, not by far. Nobody seems to want to do anything about it, though. Even publishing a story like this one in this book won’t cause much of a stir, probably.

The next two chapters might.

Year of Stories – Week 16

Welcome to week 16 of the Year of Stories!

Free this week is The Valley, a 3,500-word sci-fi/fantasy crossover. Read it now! You can also buy it for 99¢ in the Store.

Synopsis
In a laboratory somewhere on Earth, a vast scientific project is about to bear fruit. Meanwhile, somewhere else entirely, a girl pleads with an old mystic named Kolio to save her mother’s life, or, failing that, at least her soul. In the valley of the lifewater, two worlds collide…

The highlighted Store release for this week is Memoirs of the Model Agent: The Associate Bilateral Forthchancellor and Her Daughter, a 2,500-word sci-fi comedy that acts as Chapter 2 of the earlier How I Rescued Mr. DimblesRead it now for only $0.99!

Synopsis
Agent Connolly continues to rise through the ranks of the Chancellorate’s security forces. She finds herself the personal bodyguard to the daughter of the Associate Bilateral Forthchancellor. At a school track meet, chaos erupts, and she finds herself caught up in a dangerous and reckless conspiracy.

To read previously released stories, check out the Year of Stories page.

Jary’s Got a Gun

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On the morning of the day Jary Tomlin found the world’s last remaining gun, he and his wife were having an argument in the kitchen. As is so often the case with arguments, it was one they had been through several times before.

Linda was pulling mugs and measuring cups and self-baking cake mixes out of drawers and cupboards and throwing them into plastiboard boxes. “If you’d stayed in school instead of dropping out like a lazy bum,” she said to Jary, “this wouldn’t be happening.”

“I seem to remember you encouraging me to drop out so I could get a job,” protested Jary, as he packed away the coffee machine robot.

“Well you were failing every class,” Linda retorted, emphasizing her point by flourishing a whisk. “If you’d actually ever done any of your homework, things would’ve been different!”

“You wouldn’t let me do any homework,” said Jary. “You kept forcing me to take you on dates to the laser-skating rink, and watch your holovision shows with you, and visit your mother every other day of the week…”

Linda whirled around with her hands on her hips. “So it’s my fault now? I’m the one to blame that we can’t make rent, that we’re getting kicked out onto the street? Go on, tell me how it’s my fault!”

Jary raised his hands defensively. “Don’t bite my head off!” he said. “All I’m saying is if we want to live in nice houses like this one, and buy unnecessary robots to make our coffee for us, then maybe you need to get a part-time job.”

The robot in the box at Jary’s feet beeped and burbled.

“You heard me,” said Jary, giving the box a kick.

Tears flashed into Linda’s eyes. “You don’t appreciate all the work I do,” she said, pointing an accusatory ladle at Jary’s chest. “I’m your wife, Jary. My job is to take care of you. Haven’t I always done that? Haven’t I kept you fed? Haven’t I kept you happy?”

Jary sighed. “That’s not what I mean.”

“Look at the holes I’ve worn in my socks, running around the house every day, making your dinner and washing your laundry and dusting your TV. Look at the holes, Jary!” sobbed Linda. She held up her foot and looked at it herself. “Oh my. I need new socks. And some pants, too, probably.”

Jary rolled his eyes. “You don’t need any new pants. You just bought three pairs last month.”

“What would you know?” snapped Linda. “You’d dress yourself in the same jeans and t-shirt every single day if I wasn’t here to take care of you. Don’t you try to tell me what I do and do not need to buy!”

“You’re impossible,” groaned Jary, stomping out of the kitchen.

“Where are you going?”

“To the garage, out of range of your voice.”

“Fine!” called Linda. “Take the shelves down while you’re out there!”

Jary slammed the door behind him.

The garage was a total disaster. It was supposed to fit two hovercars, but it would have been a challenge to park two hovercycles in it at this point. Jary stood for a minute and let the steam seep out of his ears.

That woman was sapping his life away. She refused to get a job, spent every dime he earned, and didn’t even want to have kids. What had ever induced him to marry her?

He kicked the dusty treadmill that Linda had promised she’d get good use out of, and a side panel broke off. Junk. It was all junk. Jary wasn’t even sure where some of it had come from. Maybe they’d reached some kind of critical junk mass, and it was starting to reproduce. He was sure he’d never seen those laser skis in the corner before.

The shelves along the back wall were layered with boxes and bags. Jary didn’t even know what was in half of them. A couple on the end looked like they might be intended for recyclables, but Jary never put anything in the recycling. Maybe Linda did. Not likely.

The shelves were probably the only worthwhile thing in the whole garage. He’d built them when they first moved in. Oh, what wonderful plans he’d had back then for a neat, tidy garage, with a place for everything and everything in its place. The shelves had been a key element of that vision. Now they just sat there on the wall, looking down over the mess, mocking him.

Well, he wasn’t going to leave them behind for whoever moved into this place next. The landlords could evict them, but they weren’t going to get any free home improvements out of it. Besides, Jary was in a destructive mood, anyways.

He climbed over the old laundry-bot to retrieve his hammer from the crowded work bench along the far wall. He’d been intending to fix that bot one of these months, and sell it once he get it working. Why hadn’t he? All it needed was a new battery, probably.

Hanging the hammer on his belt, Jary leaned a stepladder up against the wall beside the shelves and started bringing boxes down. He found a bunch of scrapbooking materials in one, and a collection of How-To manuals in another. There were a few boxes of pieces for a model train set, and ah ha! The Halloween decorations that had gone missing a couple of years back, and that he’d forgotten to ever go looking for.

Jary stacked all the boxes on top of his work bench. By the time the shelves were clear, he’d worked up a decent sweat. It felt good, and when he looked up to the empty shelves he got a bit of that original optimism back. Eviction wouldn’t be so bad. They’d find a new place soon, maybe even a better place, and it would be a fresh start. Everything would look like these empty shelves, bare and clean. He’d finally be able to get things organized, especially if he brought the shelves along to help.

Mounting the ladder again, Jary turned his hammer around and started pulling at the nails he’d used to hang the shelves. Most of them came out quite easily. It probably would’ve been smarter to use screws. He’d do that next time. And he’d have to get a stud-finder to make sure he wasn’t just anchoring into drywall, like he’d apparently done in a couple of places when he’d put these up. Oops.

One of the nails, at least, had gone into something solid. It had probably done most of the work of holding all the boxes up for the last couple of years, and it sure was being stubborn about coming out. Jary braced himself and yanked at the hammer with both hands, gritting his teeth.

The shelf came loose and collapsed with a crash. Jary’s momentum carried him off the ladder and he fell onto a couple of garbage bags which, thankfully, were stuffed with old clothes. He blinked and sputtered. Drywall dust showered down around him.

Wrestling himself free of the garbage bags, Jary got back to his feet and looked up. There was a hole in the drywall where the shelf had been anchored. Where Jary expected to see a vertical wooden stud, though, he instead saw a small, horizontal shelf that had been hidden inside the wall, with a little red box sitting on top of it. What was that doing there?

Jary climbed up the ladder and took out the red box. He lifted off the lid just as Linda pushed open the door.

“What’s going on?” demanded Linda. “What was that crash? Are you breaking stuff out here? You look like a mess!”

“I found something,” said Jary, “hidden inside the wall.”

“What? What is it?”

“I’m not sure.” Jary took the object in the box and held it up in front of him. It had a wooden handle that fit nicely into his palm, a short, round tube sticking out in front of it, and some metal mechanisms in the middle.

Jary,” said Linda, breathlessly, “that’s a gun!”

“You think so?” said Jary. “I thought guns were bigger.”

“It’s a gun, Jary, I know it’s a gun! Guns are illegal! Guns are dangerous! Put it down! You’re going to blow us both up, or set the whole neighbourhood on fire or something!”

Jary held the gun—if that was what it was—gingerly as he climbed down from the ladder. “Don’t worry, I’m being careful,” he said.

Careful!?” screeched Linda. “A gun isn’t something you can just ‘handle carefully’! We should be evacuating!”

“There’s no need to get hysterical,” said Jary.

Oh yes there is!” Linda shrieked. “Guns aren’t safe, like peace weapons. They aren’t like Pacifiers or Tranquilasers or Harmony Beams. They’re violent. They’re meant for war, and murder, and killing people!

Jary rolled his eyes. “Does this little thing look like it’s going to just jump up and murder someone?”

Linda just whimpered.

“Fine,” said Jary, “I’ll call the police, just in case.” He put the gun back in its box and carried it into the house.

“What are you doing, carrying that thing around? You shouldn’t even be touching it!” warned Linda. “And don’t get the carpet dirty! You’re covered in dust.”

Jary tried to tune her out as he went into the kitchen, picked up the phone, and scrolled through the contacts list to find the local police department.

The civilian dispatcher who answered the call took his name and address. “What can I help you with, Jary?” she asked.

“I, um. I found something hidden in the wall of my garage,” said Jary. “My wife thinks it might be a gun.”

He heard a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line. “What have… What are you doing with it?” asked the dispatcher.

“Nothing,” said Jary. “I just brought it inside and thought I should call it in. You know, just in case.”

“You brought it inside? Are you insane, Jary? This is a gun we’re talking about! Where is it right now?”

“Beside me on the kitchen counter. I—”

Another voice broke in. “Mr. Tomlin, this is Agent Parsons of the CIA. We advise you to remain in your home, and leave the gun where it is sitting right now. Do not attempt to leave your home, or your actions will be viewed as indicating hostile intent. Our agents will be arriving in approximately 15 minutes to secure the gun. I repeat, we will be on site in 15 minutes. Remain where you are.”

“Um… Okay,” said Jary. “Should I stay on the phone, or…?”

“That’s your call, Mr. Tomlin,” said Agent Parsons. “If you want to talk, we can talk. It’s up to you.”

“It’s just that I’m kind of dirty right now.” Jary plucked a little chunk of drywall out of his hair.

“I see,” said Agent Parsons. His voice had a rasping edge to it. “So it’s like that, then. Very well. Like I said, it’s your call. We’ll be seeing you in 15 minutes. Will you be ready for us?”

“I intend to be,” said Jary.

“I assure you that we, too, will be ready.”

“Er,” said Jary, “great, I guess.”

“This is not a game, Mr. Tomlin,” said Agent Parsons. “Remember: 15 minutes.”

Jary hung up. “That was weird.”

“What did they say?” asked Linda. “Are they coming here?”

“Yeah, in about 15 minutes,” said Jary. “He was very clear on that point. I’m going to go rinse off all this dust before they get here.”

“Ah, oh,” Linda moaned, “why did this have to happen to us? And right in the middle of all our packing, too.”

“It’s fine,” Jary assured her, already on his way to the bathroom. “I’m sure it’ll only take a minute or two to deal with.” He ran the hot water, hopped into the shower, and began scrubbing his head.

Two minutes later he heard someone pounding on the door. “CIA! Open up, Jary Tomlin! We know you’re in there!”

Jary shut off the water and hopped out of the shower, muttering to himself. “Fifteen minutes? Doesn’t the CIA know how to tell time?” He ran a towel over himself as quickly as he could. “Linda, get the door!”

Linda poked her head into the bathroom. “I’m scared!” she said.

“Well I’m wet!”

The pounding continued. “Open the door, Mr. Tomlin!”

Jary sighed as he hurriedly pulled on his underwear and pants. The fabric stuck to his still-wet skin. He dragged a shirt over his head and trotted into the kitchen to retrieve the gun.

“Last chance, Mr. Tomlin! Open this door right now!”

“I’m coming!” Jary called. He jogged up the front door, turned the handle, pulled the door open, and held the gun out in his palm.

He was greeted by half a dozen imposing CIA agents in dark suits and sunglasses with very serious expressions on their faces and Pacifiers in their hands. Each thumb-sized silver peace weapon was pointed straight at Jary. The front yard was ringed in by a telecopter, two SWAT helivans, and at least two dozen nervous-looking police officers.

The CIA agents looked down at the gun in Jary’s hand and smoothly, slowly, began to back away.

“Here it is,” said Jary. “It isn’t mine. I just found it.”

“Steady now, Mr. Tomlin,” said one of the agents, a black woman who was holding her hands placatingly out in front of her. “Let’s not make this any more difficult than it has to be.”

“I don’t want things to be difficult.”

“Good,” said the agent. She licked her lips. “Good,” she repeated. “I’m Agent Smithers. Can we talk? All I want to do is talk.”

“Sure, yes,” said Jary. “Let’s talk.”

“Why don’t we talk inside,” suggested Smithers.

“Fine,” said Jary.

“Okay, I’m going to come towards you, and I’m going to keep my hands out in front of me, where you can see them. Why don’t you lead me to a couch, or a table, or really anywhere you’ll feel comfortable.”

“Um,” said Jary. “Okay.” He brought Smithers into the front room. She sat down on an easy chair, seeming decidedly uneasy about it. Jary put the gun down on the coffee table and sat on the couch.

“Now, I know what you’re thinking,” said Smithers. “You’re trying to make a statement. You want to shake things up a bit. I get that.”

“I… What?” said Jary.

“I don’t know where you got this gun. The technology for making them has been lost for decades. But here we are.”

Jary wrinkled his forehead. “I just… I found it in my garage.”

“Uh huh. Really, it doesn’t matter where it came from, Mr. Tomlin. That isn’t why I’m here. All I want is to get the gun out of your hands without any bloodshed.”

“That sounds very reasonable,” said Jary.

“Good,” said Smithers. “So, down to business then. First, let me turn this off…” She reached into her jacket, took out a small audio recorder, and thumbed a switch. A red light on its side blinked out. “I’m sure you’ll appreciate that we’d prefer not to have a record of these negotiations,” she said. “Official policy states that we do not negotiate with terrorists.”

Jary’s eyes popped open. “With what?”

“Now, here’s the really good news for you,” continued Smithers. “I don’t actually work for the CIA.”

“You don’t?”

“Well, I do, but not only for them. I’m here on behalf of a foreign government. Exactly which government is not your concern. Suffice it to say that I think your interests and our interests align in this scenario.”

“Interests?”

“We want this gun, Mr. Tomlin. It is of extreme value to us.” Smithers stared at Jary intensely. “The Global Disarmament accords did their job well. Too well, we think. Look at us, armed with nothing but Pacifiers and Peacemakers and other pitiful nonsense. All that hype and rhetoric about Mutually Assured Destruction means nothing now. With this gun in our hands, there would be nothing ‘mutual’ about it. You may have your demands, Mr. Tomlin, but we have much larger fish to fry.” Smithers paused. “And I’m not saying that because we’re a coastal nation. I mean, we might be, but we aren’t necessarily. Water-related metaphors exist in landlocked countries, too. We might have lakes.” She frowned. “Don’t read too much into that.”

Jary said, “What?”

“You want numbers? I’ll give you numbers. How about a million dollars?”

Jary sat up a little straighter. “A million?”

“Ten million, then. We aren’t some poor, backwater nation. Or maybe a back-land nation. What I’m trying to say is we have resources. But not that many resources. Enough resources. Stop trying to make me slip, Mr. Tomlin. I’m not telling you anything more than you need to know.”

Jary blinked and looked down at the gun. What in the world was going on?

“Wait! Last offer!” said Smithers. “Twenty-five million dollars. We’ll walk out of here together, you and I, take that telecopter in the front yard, and jump away to Rabat before they know what’s going on. Or to any other city. Whatever city I’m from. Because maybe I’m not from Morocco. But I could be. But maybe I’m not.” Smithers bit her lip.

Twenty-five million dollars. Jary surreptitiously pinched his leg. Nope, he wasn’t dreaming. The things he could do with twenty-five million dollars… But from the sounds of it, that would mean giving the gun to Morocco. Should he do that? They seemed to want it really badly. Was it really that powerful of a weapon?

“Um,” said Jary, “what happens after you get the gun?”

“Whatever you want,” said Smithers. “You fly away free. You can even keep the telecopter.”

His own telecopter? It was like a childhood fantasy come true. “That sounds… really good,” said Jary. “But I think maybe I should talk to my wife.”

Smithers leaned forward. “Certainly,” she said, with a Cheshire grin. “Go ahead. I’ll wait.”

“Linda!” called Jary. “Linda, where are you? Come in here!”

Linda peeked her head in from the kitchen, behind the couch Jary was sitting on. “Yes?”

“I need to discuss something with you,” said Jary. He turned around to look at his wife. “This lady says…”

As soon as Jary had turned, Smithers pounced. She flung herself forwards, grabbed at the gun, and crashed through the coffee table. Jary was so startled that he tipped the couch over backwards. Linda screamed.

Smithers came up with the gun in her hand. “Ha! Now the tables have turned!” she crowed. “You should have taken my offer, Mr. Tomlin.”

“I was going to!” squeaked Jary, raising his hands above his head.

“Too late now,” barked Smithers. “But you’re coming with me anyways, both of you. You’re going to be my insurance policy until we get on that telecopter. Get in front of me. March!”

Jary and Linda scurried ahead of Smithers as she led them to the front door.

“Open it,” ordered Smithers.

Linda slowly turned the handle and pushed the door open. The CIA agents and police officers in the yard were instantly alert, raising their Pacifiers.

“Nobody makes a move!” shouted Smithers. “I’ve got the gun!”

There was a collective gasp. “Veronica, no!” cried one of the agents. “What are you doing?”

“I’m securing the future prosperity of Morocco!” boasted Smithers. “Or maybe some other country. Morocco might only be an example. You’ll find out soon enough! Don’t try to track me when I leave, or else.” She waved the gun in the air.

Everyone cringed.

Smithers glared evilly. “I’ve got hostages, and I’m taking them to the telecopter. First person to make a move gets to experience the full destructive power of this marvel of pre-Disarmament technology!” She prodded Jary and Linda with her free hand. “Move,” she commanded. They began taking slow steps across the yard towards the waiting telecopter.

A young, steely-eyed police officer waited until they were just passing by, and swiftly raised his Pacifier.

Smithers whirled on him and pulled the gun’s old-fashioned trigger with an evil, triumphant grin. There was a loud BANG, and the officer was knocked over backwards.

“Ooh, ow!” moaned the officer. He sat up, holding his shoulder. Blood was streaming out between his fingers. “Ooow.”

Smithers looked at the gun in her hand and furiously spun Jary around to face her. “That’s it!?” she bellowed. “That’s all this gun does?”

Jary shrugged meekly. “I don’t know! I just found it!”

The CIA agents, several of whom had dived to the ground when Smithers fired the gun, were getting back to their feet.

Smithers defiantly raised the gun in front of her. “You’ll never take me!” she cried, and sprinted towards the telecopter.

Four Pacifier beams struck her at once, and she and the gun disintegrated into a neat little pile of dust and salt.

“Interesting,” said one of the CIA agents.

“Very interesting,” said another.

“I guess it really was quite a small gun.”

END

Captain Blackbird and the Mutineers

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The fearsome Captain Blackbird gazed out from the deck of his ship and swept his glance across the sea. The wind ruffled his mighty beard and made his velvet eyepatch flutter. “Arrr. The sun is high, and the sea is blue. There be no better day for some piratin’!”

He stomped his boot on the deck, took a vigorous swig of rum from the bottle in his hand, and cried out to his crew: “Avast, ye dogs! Bend your backs! Stretch your legs! Today we go lootin’ and plunderin’, me hearties!”

A pitiful, whimpering half-cheer rose up from the throats of the crew.

“What be this?” said the captain. “Be ye not eager to lay your filthy hands on a right heap o’ treasure?”

A bronze-skinned giant of a man with one eyepatch, three teeth, a mighty beard, and about a dozen ugly scars laced across his chest looked up from his mop and said, “Oh, aye, treasure indeed.”

“Do you doubt me word, then, Hank?” said Captain Blackbird. “When has your Cap’n ever led you astray?”

“Meanin’ all due respect, sir,” said Hank, “you promised us a pile o’ gold last week, in them mountains, and alls we found was rocks and goats.”

“Well me stash had been burgled,” cried the captain. “Surely you can’t blame me for that!”

Laslow Cort, a bald, whip-like man with tattoos all down his arms, hopped down out of the rigging and stood beside Hank, chewing a plug of tobacco. “And the rumrunners’ stash you led us to,” he said. “Completely empty! We never saw a single drop o’ rum, despite your sincerest assurances.” He spat tobacco juice on the deck.

“Watch yer mess, Laslow,” said Hank, swiping his mop over the tobacco juice.

“Aye, sorry, Hank.”

The rest of the crew was gathering, now, at the foot of the mast, frowning and folding their arms, some snarling while others chewed on their thick moustaches.

Captain Blackbird stood in front of his cabin and tugged at his earring. “If I didn’t know any better, Laslow,” he growled; “if I hadn’t rescued you from that slave camp with me own cutlass, Hank; if I wasn’t the loyalest, caringest, most generous Captain on these Seven Seas, I might think this was shapin’ up to be a mutiny.”

“Aye, Cap’n,” said Laslow, pulling a pistol out of his belt. “‘Tis indeed a mutiny, but it need not be a bloody one if ye’ll listen to our demands.”

“Demands, eh?” said the captain. “So you aren’t going to just shoot me down in cold blood, then, fellows? Mighty honourable of ye. Mighty appreciative, after all I’ve done for every last one of ye.”

Hank reached over and lowered Laslow’s gun. “We won’t shoot you down, Cap’n,” he said. “Not if you accept our terms.”

Captain Blackbird scoffed. “How noble of ye scurvy dogs.” He spat on the deck at Hank’s feet.

Hank glared, then ran his mop over the spit. “Aye, scurvy dogs we be. That’s our first demand. We be sick and tired of all the scurvy. We want oranges and lemons to eat, not just all this mutton and broth and crusty bread.”

Oranges and lemons?” hooted the captain. “How d’ye like that for a pirate’s meal? You’ll be turnin’ into girls and sissies before my very eyes!”

“Say what you will,” said Laslow, “but I’ve heard they’ve got a sort of citrusy voodoo in ’em that cures the scurvy.”

“Hot air and bilgewater,” said Captain Blackbird. “Utter nonsense and foolishness. But have it your way, you mangy curs. Eat all the oranges and lemons you want, while I feast on meat and bread, like a proper pirate.”

“There’s more,” said Laslow. “Hank and Vick and Willem need new eye patches. They’ve been runnin’ short for a couple o’ weeks, now. Willem had to make one out o’ wood and string!”

Willem stepped forward, scowling, and pointed at his wooden eye patch. The skin around it was red and raw from chafing.

“Oh, aye, is that the reason for it?” said Captain Blackbird. He roared with laughter. “I thought he was tryin’ to be fashionable!”

“You best not be making light o’ his situation, Cap’n,” warned Laslow. “The splinters he gets are downright fierce.”

“Aye, well, it’s certainly a miserable plight,” said the captain, melodramatically. “New eye patches all around, then, boys! Two for each man!”

Willem cheered victoriously. The others shot him a silencing glare.

“So, lads, fruit and eye patches,” said Captain Blackbird. “Surely your list be longer, if you felt need to threaten mutiny over it. What else do your black hearts desire?”

“Um, Georgie’s got arthritis,” said Hank, gesturing to a pale, feeble, white-haired gent standing in the back.

“No more hard labour for Georgie!” declared Captain Blackbird. “Up in the crow’s nest with him all day long! Let him eat his oranges and lemons as he lies in the sun! We’ll get some real colour in yer skin, me boy.”

Georgie bobbed his head gratefully.

“And one more thing,” said Laslow. “Our most important demand.”

“Pray tell,” said Captain Blackbird, with a dark grin.

“Rum,” said Laslow.

“Rum?” said Captain Blackbird.

“Rum,” said Hank.

“And grog!” called Willem.

“Shut yer hole, Willem,” barked Laslow. “Rum’s what we want. We don’t need none o’ that filthy spew.” He turned back to the captain. “We’ve been suckin’ on dry bottles for nearly a week. I haven’t been sober this long since I was a lad on me father’s knee!”

“Ah, boys, we come to the crux of it, then,” said Captain Blackbird. “Sobriety is a terrifying beast. No wonder you’re all makin’ lists o’ yer hardships and sufferin’s. We’ve gotta get some more fire in your bellies!”

Laslow pointed his pistol at the bottle in the captain’s hand. “Maybe let’s break open the private stash, for starters, eh?”

“Stash?” said the captain. “What stash is that?” He lifted the bottle to his lips and gulped the rest of its contents down. He belched. “I’m as dry as the rest of ye, I’m afraid.” He tossed the bottle into the sea. “That’s why we’re on course for Gorgon Isle, me lads. Hordes of treasure lie there, and casks full o’ rum, besides. It’s as true as my mother’s love, boys, and I can take ye there by nightfall.”

“Rum!” croaked Georgie.

Casks o’ rum!” cried Willem.

Laslow eyed the captain warily. “All right, then, Cap’n. We’ll go with ye to Gorgon Isle and find what we find, but if we come out unsatisfied, it’s the plank with ye, and make no mistake!”

“If any man leaves the Isle unsatisfied,” said Captain Blackbird, “on my honour, I’ll dance a proper jig off the plank right into the sharks’ waiting mouths and sing a tune for you to dance by as they eat me.”

Hank and Laslow looked at each other and nodded. “Set the course then, Cap’n,” said Hank.

“Up sails!” cried Captain Blackbird. “Tonight we drown in rum and Spanish gold!”

The pirates set to with renewed passion, hauling up the sails and turning the ship into the wind. Laslow and Willem helped Georgie up into the crow’s nest, and Hank swabbed away enthusiastically until the deck shone in the sun.

A few hours later they spotted Gorgon Isle on the horizon. It was covered in dense green jungle and rang with the songs of birds and the screeching of monkeys. They drew near and began to lower the boats.

“Land ahoy!” croaked Georgie.

“Aye, Georgie,” said Laslow. “Aye, land ahoy, and we saw it an hour ago. Eyesight’s not what it used to be, is it, lad?”

“Follow me,” said Captain Blackbird when they’d reached the shore. They cut their way through the jungle for about a mile and came at last upon the yawning mouth of a cave. “Into the caves we go,” said the captain. “Arr, lads, be wary. I’ve been here but once before and hardly escaped with me life, due to the foulest deceit and treachery. Stay close, and keep your voices low, so as not to awaken the spirits.”

“S-s-spirits?” said Willem.

“Oh, aye,” said Captain Blackbird. “The restless souls of the blackguards who betrayed me, Willem. Only my wits and my cutlass brought me safe through when last I visited this place, but the traitors, those gutless mutts, were well rewarded for their villainy. If you hear ’em whisperin’ at you, pay no heed. Stick by me, boys, and they’ll do ye no harm.”

The crew lit torches and plunged into the caves. The walls and ceiling flickered in the torchlight, and slow drips of water echoed around them. Stalactites hung down above them like teeth. The pirates walked on their toes, afraid to speak lest they disturb the spirits.

The tunnel took them deeper into the earth, around corners and through caverns. As they went, the echoes of dripping water grew louder, and every shuffling step they took sounded like an army approaching from around the bend.

“What was that?” whispered Hank.

What?” squealed Willem.

Hush,” ordered Laslow. He perked up his ears to listen. A thin sound floated up from the depths, like a half-lost echo of a wavering voice.

“The spirits!” cried Willem.

“Aye,” said Captain Blackbird. “But don’t be afeared. We’re nearly there, lads. Draw your cutlasses, if it helps ye feel bolder.”

One by one, the pirates shifted their torches in their hands, drew their cutlasses from out of their belts, and brandished the weapons in front of them. Willem’s teeth chattered.

“Just a short ways, yet,” the captain assured them. He pointed them down a left-hand fork in the passage and led them around a corner. The echoing whispers grew louder, and the pirates almost thought they could make out words among the shifting sounds.

Rum and gold, they say,” said Hank. “They’re calling out for rum and gold!”

Captain Blackbird held his torch out in front of him. “Ghosts get mighty thirsty,” he said, “and when you’re dead everything loses its colour, or so I’ve heard. Right you are that they want rum and gold. In death as in life, eh, my hearties? But in death, all the rum ‘n’ gold in the world can’t satisfy… Rum is for the living!”

Willem licked his lips.

“Just around this next bend,” said Captain Blackbird. “Here’s where the treasures lie. The quicker we get in there and drag ’em out, the quicker we can get ourselves away from these wicked spirits, and the sooner we can wet our lips with all the rum we can carry.”

“Rum!” shouted Willem. He held his torch out in front of him and jogged around the corner. The rest of the pirates moved to follow, more slowly. They heard Willem shout again, more excitedly, “Rum!” and every one of them shoved eagerly past the captain into the treasure chamber.

A mound of gold coins sat in the middle of the wide, round cave, and stacks of bottles were piled all around and spilled out of wooden chests. Willem had already thrown his cutlass aside and was ripping the cork out of a bottle with his teeth. He lifted it to his mouth and started to pour the rum down his throat. The entire crew swept down on the treasure and began tossing coins in the air and prying chests open, hooting and hollering like wee children on Christmas morning.

Suddenly they heard a loud, guttural, echoing exclamation from the other side of the chamber. “What’s this!?” cried the voice.

Another crew of armed pirates had emerged from a different passage, bearing their own torches and cutlasses. “They aren’t ghosts!” said the burly black man with the nose ring who was leading them. “They’re filthy thieves! At ’em, boys!”

The other pirates charged, whooping and swinging their cutlasses. Captain Blackbird’s crew swept up their own weapons to defend themselves, and everyone was caught up in the deadly melee.

It was over in minutes. Dozens of bodies lay strewn around the chamber, lying in puddles of blood and rum. The only men left standing were Captain Blackbird and his counterpart from the other crew, a thin, hook-nosed gent with a long beard, six earrings, a tall hat, and a red parrot on his shoulder.

“A shame, Captain Tinder, that it comes to this yet again,” said Captain Blackbird.

“Aye, ’tis a bloody shame, indeed, to see so much blood shed upon our precious hoard.”

“Not enough rum, they says to me. Too many splinters. They want to eat oranges and lemons and laze about all day.”

“Arr,” said Captain Tinder, sympathetically. “A pirate crew’s not what it used to be.”

“I guess we’ll be headin’ back to Tor Tuga then, my friend. Always plenty o’ fresh and eager faces there ready to follow an old sea cap’n on his perilous quests.”

“Right you are, Sir Elmo.”

Captain Blackbird flinched. “Arr, while I appreciate your reference to my rightly swindled knighthood, Tinder, you’d best not be mentioning my Christian name.”

“Oh, aye, my sincerest apologies Elmo—er, Sir Blackbird,” said Captain Tinder. “I’d forgotten yer, er, ‘sensitivity’. Have ye any crew left fit for sailin’?”

“Nay, sadly. All fools and mutineers, this time around, every last one. Not a soul fit for savin’ among the lot of ’em.”

“Four o’ mine stayed loyal,” said Captain Tinder. “You can borrow two to get your ship to Tor Tuga.”

Captain Blackbird stooped to gather up a few bottles and a pocketful of gold. “Aye, thank ye, sir. To Tor Tuga, then, and may it be many profitable months before next we meet on Gorgon Isle!”

END

Flash Fiction: Beach Decency

Today I found this little flash fiction piece lying around in one of my writing folders. I wrote this as a contest entry for a local newspaper, but I never heard back, so I assume it didn’t make the cut! I might as well get some use out of it, though, so here it is.

The guidelines for the contest were that the story had to be under 500 words and had to include the words whale, impress, and cosmos.

Enjoy!


Beach Decency

“Pardon me, miss; you aren’t allowed in here.” The declaration came from a furtive, bespectacled man with a thinning patch of salt-and-pepper hair. He was peering around a sheet of plywood that was acting as the door to a makeshift beach hut constructed out of stacks of driftwood and covered over with a few patchy tarps.

Heather Normandy flashed her press badge. “I’m not just another gawker, sir. I’m with the newspaper.” A gust of wind kicked up some sand from the beach, and she turned to shield her camera.

“I’m sorry, but you can’t come in,” replied the gatekeeper.

A rough hand tapped Heather on the shoulder. “Excuse me, miss,” said a gruff gentleman holding a large bucket of seawater. Heather stepped aside, and the gatekeeper let the man through.

Heather craned her neck to see through the gap as the man passed inside. “I know you have a beached orca in there. You have no right to hide this from the public!”

“Is your bravado supposed to impress me?”

“Oh, I have to impress you?” said Heather sarcastically. “What if I told you I was the second runner-up of the 2004 Miss Cosmos Pageant?”

The gatekeeper gave her a funny look.

Heather heard the sloshing of water and a low moan of distress. Several voices muttered inside the hut. The man who had just entered stepped back outside with an empty bucket.

A tall man wearing a toque and carrying a large bundle of old bed sheets walked up next. The gatekeeper said, “Excellent, Jason!” and let him in. Returning his attention to Heather, he said, “I’m afraid I simply can’t let you in at the moment. You’re a woman; it wouldn’t be decent.”

Heather was outraged. “What is this, some kind of sexist publicity stunt?”

“No, no, of course not! How could I expect to maintain my membership in the Oak Bay Society of Moral Living if I were a sexist?”

Someone else on the inside whispered into the gatekeeper’s ear. “Excuse me, miss,” he said, pulling the plywood shut behind him.

Heather heard some whispered conversation. Then the gatekeeper popped his head back out.

“Good news!” he said. “You can come in now. But please keep your photography, um, tasteful.” He politely held the door open.

Heather strode into the gloomy hut and pulled out her camera. The beached orca was lying on its side, feebly opening and closing its massive jaws. A dozen men were stationed around it, rubbing it with wet cloths and dousing it with buckets of seawater. Heather began snapping photos.

Then she saw what had been done with the bed sheets: they had been crudely pinned together and wrapped around the orca about two-thirds of the way down its body.

“What’s with the whale diaper?” asked Heather.

“Far be it from the Society of Moral Living to expose a living creature’s nakedness to a member of the opposite sex,” said the gatekeeper. “It simply wouldn’t be decent.”

Flash Fiction: “Representative”

For those of you who don’t check out TypeTrigger very often, or have never been there, you really should. I can’t say enough good things about the site and the community there.

If you really don’t want to head over there and check out the stories I’ve written, or all of the other great writing, here’s the latest bit of flash I did, in response to the prompt “representative.”


Representative

“I am a representative of the Poppledop Gang,” the pudgy blond boy told me, “and this is a list of our demands.” He was standing at my door wearing an ill-fitting little suit and waving a clipboard under my nose like it was a weapon. I had no idea who he was or what he wanted, but it was kind of cute.

“Demands?” I asked him. “But you haven’t given me any reason to listen to them yet!”

“Oh,” said the boy, apparently caught off guard. “Sorry, I should have said that first.” He looked down at his clipboard. “Ok, we, the Poppledop Gang, have taken your cat, and also your dog, and if you do not submit to our demands, we will put them both in a cage and you will never see them again!”

“Oh dear!” I said, very sweetly. “My cat and my dog are best friends! How could their good relationship possibly last if they are forced to spend time together?”

“And there will also be a badger in the cage,” he told me.

That was an unexpected wrinkle. “Where did you get a badger?” I asked.

“Don’t believe me?” he threatened. “Here are our demands. 1) Free ice cream for all gang members, in perpetuity. 2) Private use of your backyard for Poppledop Gang business, no questions asked. 3) We get to rename your pets whatever we want.”

“Uh huh,” I said sarcastically. “Yeah, sure, I’ll agree to that.”

“Oh good!” said the boy. “Can I have some ice cream?”

“No.” I closed the door and went to look for my pets. I couldn’t find them.

An hour later there was a knock at my door. I still have no idea where they found that badger.