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The Glass Lady

"Who are you?"

"I’m Manitoba."

"Like the place in Canada?"

"The place?  That the best you got, killer?  Don’t know what it is?"

Kirk shrugged.

"Is it a city?"

"Nope."

"State?"

The girl made out of broken glass paused and then shook her head.

"That’s pretty close, but no, not a state.  It’s a Province."

Kirk was getting quite baffled by this whole situation.

"Does it really matter?  I mean, isn’t that pretty close to a state?  Isn’t Canada made up of the different provinces or whatever?  Isn’t that like us and the states, more or less?"

The glass girl scratched her face.  She took a pebble out of it and threw it on to the ground.

"Semantics are important in life, Kirk.  Everyone knows that."

"How the hell do you know my name?"

"Oh come on.  I’ve been your windshield for years now.  Do you really think I wouldn’t know your name by this point?  Are you really being that insulting?"

He was bleeding pretty badly.  It had to be the blood loss or a hit on the head or something.  That would make sense.  Maybe.

"I’m in a lot of pain here so I’m just going to cut right to it.  Are you real?"

"Oh, absolutely."

"How?"

"What do you mean?"

"You just came out of my windshield glass and started walking around.  Umm…what’s up with that?"

"Oh, yes, that.  Yeah, don’t worry about that."

"Are you kidding me?  Don’t worry about that?  I’m sorry.  I’m going to kind of just sit here and freak out a lot unless you start answering some questions."

"Bah, Cindy was right about you.  Such a baby."

He should call Cindy.  Sure, they broke up, but maybe she could calm things down.  In the mean time…

"Shut up!  Don’t bring up, Cindy!"

"Geez.  Touchy, aren’t you?  No wonder she cheated on you with Barry that one time."

"What?"

"Right here.  Back seat.  Saw everything.  She loved it.  Can’t say I blame her."

"Oh god.  Oh god.  I just can’t deal with this."

"Well, you need to get your stuff together, buddy.  I’m alive for a reason.  Get the emergency kit in the trunk, clean up your blood, and get moving.  If you stay here you’re going to die."

Kirk just blinked and spat out some blood.

"No."

"Don’t be petulant.  No time for it.  Get moving."

Kirk shook his head.  It had to be some kind of crazy head wound.  Or drugs.  Or something.

"Why Manitoba?"

"Previous owner.  Before your time.  Crazy times."  The glass near her glass cheeks turned a slight shade of red or at least it seemed to do so.  "None of your business.  Can you clean up your blood already?"

"Yeah, sure.  Why not?  I’ll listen to you glass lady, but only until I get some good pain killers."

"Yes, yes, drug yourself.  I’m sure that is going to solve your problems."

"Oh shut up."

"All of you humans are honestly just such children."

"Don’t make me get a rock."

"Try it little man."

Kirk grumbled and started moving towards the trunk.

The Line

It was Friday.  The only day of the week that really meant something.

The whole week was just a build up to the line.  Every minute in his cubicle was just a minute in anticipation of waiting in line for his reward.  Everything was just a matter of waiting.

Every stupid report.  Every dance recital.  Every child vomiting.  Every boring and mundane conversation with his wife.  Every meeting.  Every red light.  Everything.

The line was everything.  Everyone knew it.  It was like electricity in the air.  Nobody wanted to live the lives that they were living.  The line was the great equalizer.  Everyone was waiting for the same thing.  It was a chance to metaphysically embrace your fellow man in something greater than yourself.  It was better than drugs, sex, and sports combined.  It was the ultimate in all of creation.

Everyone always smiled on the line.  Smiled and talked about the latest shows.  It was a happy time, with everyone embracing the best that society had to offer.  All were present with a common purpose and nobody with $100 to spare was turned away.  It was exactly how democracy was supposed to work.

Nobody ever cut the line.  It was too big.  Too important.  Sure, it happened at first but then it just stopped happening.  Society builds itself up based off order.  The line reinforced that idea with its perfection.

There were detractors of course.  Misguided poor that saw the line as some sort of elite activity that was hurting the country.  It was all total bullshit.  They were sad and pathetic free thinkers that thought their crazy off the tube lifestyle was somehow better.

The woman four places up smiled at him.  Her teeth were properly white and perfect and her body was Package 3.  Sporty with a well toned but large ass.  Always a good model.  She made a gesture at him and he knew that she wanted sex.  The line did that to people.  It got people excited.

He was a Package 1.  Well toned, perfect chin, good hair, blue eyes.  It was expensive but worth it.  Promotion after promotion came his way and he had affairs from the line all the time.  They meant nothing of course but they were a nice distraction before he had to get back to his family.

The lined moved forward and the sense of nirvana came ever closer.  Soon it would be his turn.  Soon the world would make sense again, even if only for a few seconds.

The Package 3 went into the tent.  It was her turn.  It was hard not to be jealous.

She went in and out.  The others replaced her.  Finally, it was his turn.  The end of the line.

He walked into the tent.  It was Gwen Fisher from the popular reality show Witch Detective.  She was even more beautiful in person.  He walked into the proper place.

"I’m Gwen Fisher.  Nice to meet you."

She then punched him hard in the face.

The nanobots in his body would fix the damage to his face within seconds and the  Package 3 would be waiting out back for a quick screw.  However, none of that mattered right now.  It was important to live in the now and embrace the great wonder of America.

A real life celebrity just punched him. 

It was heaven.

Never Bet on Red

"…and remember, don’t bet on red.  Got all that?"

"Yeah, yeah, I got it."

"Skip, this is important.  If you don’t get it, don’t say that you do.  We only got one chance here."

"Look man, I said I got it, alright?  Can I go?"

Herman shook his head and took another drag on his cigarette.  He was an ugly old son of a bitch but he knew the rackets better than most.  This was going to work.  It had to.

"You’re too damn cocky, kid.  Don’t screw this up."

"Thanks for the confidence, Mom."

"Shut up and get in there."

Skip smiled at Herman and entered the casino.  This world didn’t follow Union Jack standards.  There were advantages and disadvantages to that practice.  The good news was that they never asked about the source of your credits.  Large sums came in all the time.  Unfortunately large sums very rarely left.  The house cheated often and there was very little you could do about it.  You had to get in and get out fast.  Only chance you had.  No authorities to offer comfort or investigate.

"What’s your poison, blue eyes?"

The greeter was an Arv.  They were a slender and beautiful people that were well known for being excellent lovers.  They generally loved humans, especially humans like Skip.  Every Arv had black eyes with no pupils.  The colorful eyes of humans were considered incredibly decadent in their society.

"Bixli Ale and some chips, gorgeous."

He put his credits on her tray and smiled.  It was a smile that often got him both in and out of trouble.

"I’ll have to keep an eye on you, Rome Tongue."

Long ago the story of Romeo and Juliet reached the stars.  Somewhere along the way the O vanished from the name and it got mixed together with the term snake tongued.  Rome Tongue was the end result.

"I look forward to it."

She came back with the drink, the chips, and her number.  It was going to be a good night.

At least it should have been.  Sadly Lady Luck wasn’t in the mood to cooperate.  Skip quickly realized that he didn’t understand Herman’s instructions quite as well as he thought.  It wasn’t completely his fault though.  Vecna was a very complicated game.  It combined elements from old Earth games and old alien games and mixed them together into a giant stew of mass confusion.

He was losing and losing bad.  He examined the odds and only one choice looked good.

Betting on red.  It was his only way out.  If he bet on red and won he would both win back what he lost and walk away with quite a tidy profit in his pocket.

Herman was always too cautious.  This was going to work.

"Bet it all on red."

The room went quiet.  It was a bold move.  Clearly these aliens and world travelers had never seen someone with such a large pair of balls.  It felt right when he did it and felt even more so after the hush.

However, then the laughter started and it didn’t quite feel as right.  Everyone paused a moment and watched the turning of the tiles.  Everyone was waiting to judge him.

Loser.

All of it.  He lost it all.

Everyone went back to their business, many of them with uplifted spirits.  They still had credits to bet after all.  Watching others lose always made you feel better about your own odds.

"Better luck, next time, Rome Tongue.  You’re dumb, but the offer still stands."

It was the Arv.  She smiled at him and winked suggestively.  Then the bouncers threw him out.

"What the hell happened?  Where’s our money?"

Good old reliable Herman.  Could always rely on him to ask about the money first, and then Skip’s general well being never.  At least he was consistent.

"I bet on red."

"WHAT?"

"You can yell at me later, Herman.  I’ve got a date."

The Little Dancer

"This is a bad idea, Mor.  We shouldn’t be getting involved in human matters."

"Grix Dung!  They mettle in our business all the time!"

"We don’t have business!  We exist to serve them!"

"Yeah, yeah.  That is what you always say.  I think it stinks."

Jok shook his stone head.  Something was wrong with Mor.  He was always questioning the teachings.  Fik thought that he was crafted wrong.  Of course such a thought also went against the teachings but Jok wasn’t going to argue that particular point with Fik.

"We have a duty.  We have orders.  Anything outside of our orders is not our concern."

Mor shook his head and hit the nearby wall.

"We aren’t even that far away from our spot.  Aren’t you curious about what is going on in there?"

"It isn’t our job to be curious."

"So says you."

"We have one job, Mor.  One.  The two of us were built to guard the West Armory.  We are now eighteen steps away from where we are supposed to be.  If one of the creators came by…"

"Open your eyes, Jok!  One of the creators is in danger!  Look, the little dancing one.  The young female.  See how those inside touch her?  Do you see how she struggles?  Do the creators usually like being forced into bags like that?"

Jok looked into the room of the dancer.  She was not a child as the creators saw but she was still so very young.  She was no more than twenty summers.  Mor was right.  She was trying to scream but one of the strange looking men had covered her mouth with some kind of cloth.  They were forcing her into a large sack.   Her hands and legs were bound with unusual red rope.

"Alright, I admit it.  That looks bad."

"Told you."

"However, we can’t do anything about it.  We are already at eighteen steps.  To get to her would be at least fifty.  I don’t even know if we can go that far."

"Don’t you think we should try?"

"Why?  I’m sure the humans can take care of it."

"What if they hurt her?  What if they kill her?  Aren’t we supposed to protect the creators?"

Jok looked back into the room.  She looked scared.  She was flailing wildly.  Was she trying to get their attention?  Mor was right.  They were supposed to protect the creators.  However, they were also duty bound to protect the Armory.  How did they get to the dancer?  Why didn’t Fik and Hij or Loe and Dem stop them?  They should have been intercepted before her room.

"I don’t know….Mor.  It goes against the teachings…"

"Forget the teachings!

Jok punched Mor hard in the face.  Some of the stone on his hand chipped.  A larger chip was now missing from Mor’s face.  If a human would have been on the receiving end of the punch they would no longer have a face.  He felt guilty about punching his brother but he was speaking blasphemy.  It had to be done.

"Ow…"

Mor looked up with his expressive ruby eyes.  It was obvious that the emotional blow was stronger than the actual physical blow against him.

"I’m sorry, brother.  I acted out of instinct.  To speak against the teachings…"

"Look, that isn’t important right now.  We will settle up later.  One of the creators is in danger.  We either go down there and rescue her right now, or we let one of the creators come to greater harm.  Greater purpose or blindly follow the teachings.  Choose now."

Jok looked down once more.  The creator was now completely in the sack.  Her attackers were starting to work their way towards the door.

"I still think this is a bad idea."

They weren’t supposed to play favorites.  They were supposed to do their duty.  Nothing more.  However, sometimes when Mor helped one of the creators bring things into the Armory Jok would take a few steps.  Just a few to get a bit closer.  He liked to watch her dance.  She was half his size and she was able to move in ways that he never could.  It was beautiful and made him feel a sensation he could not understand.  However, he knew that he liked the sensation and knew that he favored this creator over the others.  Now she was in danger and his brother was right.  It was time to do something.

"Good.  Glad to see that reason finally got into that big stone head of yours.  Ready to kill all of them?"

Jok simply nodded and prepared to strike.

"Absolutely."

Crocodile Intimidator

I stare into the eyes of the beast.   It stares back ready to lunge.  Few can do what I do and everyone around knows it.  My going rate is absurd but few complain.  They don’t have any other choice.

The next nearest croc-scare is over a hundred miles away.  They need the problem settled today.

They always do.  Nobody can ever wait when one of the toothed monsters steps close to town.

It was said that we used to just kill them.  Of course that was when we had guns and other such things.  Those days are long gone and dwelling in the past won’t get you nowhere.

Their hide was too tough now.  Even the sharpest spear simply broke on their scaly bodies.

They stopped fearing fire long ago.  Loud noises too.  Evolution and mutation were all too real and the scaly monsters of the swamps proved it death after death.

Now only thing worked.  Fear.  You either feared them or you made them fear you.

That is where I come into the picture.  No physical actions worked.  No traps.  No gimmicks.  Just me and the monster.  We stare into each other’s eyes and one of us backs down.

If you’re good you have work for life.  If you’re not you get the same deal.  The life part is just shorter.

The contest continues.  I am down on my hands and knees with my head forward.  My gaze is absolute.  I look deep into the eyes of the Lord of the Swamp and I challenge him.  He is surprised at first and starts to come towards me.  He is ready to bite off my head.  However, he pauses.  They always pause.

I am a human that is not afraid of him.  Immediately I am shown more respect.  Only by maintaining the gaze can I keep it.  A man who stares down a Crocodile simply can not flinch.  If you do your career ends in a most unsettling way.

It continues forward slowly.  Not a good sign.  Movement is a sign of superiority in this kind of fight.

I refocus and grip the two small knives in my hands.  They push into the soft ground and are mostly hidden.  They are relics of the past.  Only the fastest can survive if the intimidation fails.  I am not fast enough.  If I fail I do not possess the skill to stab the eyes with enough precision to blind the beast.  We all claim that we are that fast of course but few of us have bodies that can match the honey words.  If the beast does not back down we die on the spot.

Two more small steps.  It is working.  I am winning.

One step more.  Even smaller.

This is it.  The time to strike.

I scream the loudest that I can scream.  I try to make it as guttural and primal as I can.  I give all of my heart and soul into the scream.  Every frustration of the world enters into me and scream out at the beast.  I give all that I have inside of me.  I give it now or soon I will end up inside of him.

The beast jolts.  No human has ever attacked him in such a way.  It’s brain simply can’t handle the strange attack.  It jumps into the water and swims away.  It will not come back to these parts.  At least for a while.

I have won.  I have lived another day.

The beast is gone.

No beast or man is above me.

Now for the wine and women.

The Decaying Water

The water was still and clear.  It was like looking into a marble.  Beauty was inside but it was unreachable.

Daniel’s therapist told him that this was a good idea.  He had some serious doubts about the whole situation.

It had been five years since he lost Cindy in the boating accident near Bar Harbor.  He was on a boat again.  He was out on the water.  Doctor Monroe told him that the experience should help him move on.  It was supposed to allow him to properly show his grief.  Allow him to move past the fear.

Daniel thought it was all bullshit.

Getting out on the water wasn’t going to accomplish anything.  His life was simply shambling along, mostly without him.  He found a new job away from the water, but it wasn’t the same.  None of it was.  She was the lighthouse to the harbor of his soul.  Now the light was broken and the wrecked ships were piling up.

There were six tourists on the boat, marveling at the beauty of the water.  The captain and his crew made up the rest.  It was a small vessel but well built and well maintained.  Eleven souls trapped together just off the coast traveling together on the Blue Skies while traveling under skies far from it.

Yelling.

The older couple trying to fix their failing marriage.  The man loves boats.  The woman does not.  Both stink of sadness and booze.  Arguing over the hotel back on land.  The woman walks off in a huff.

The man apologizes to everyone collected.  We all mumble what seems appropriate.

She comes back in a hurry carrying a suitcase.  More yelling.  The suitcase goes overboard.  The man seems only a few steps away from hitting her.  The captain steps in to try to calm the situation.

This was a mistake.  It was all too familiar.  Even the couple was conspiring against him.  There was a fight.  A bad one the day she died.  He never got the chance to apologize.  Now he never would.

The suitcase was sinking.  Daniel wasn’t the only one watching.  The other tourists on the boat were alternating their gawking.  The couple and suitcase were equal targets.

The suitcase hit the sand beneath the waves.  It shouldn’t have been an event.  It should have just hit softly and the sand should have shifted gently for a few seconds.  However, the normal response did not come.

The suitcase hit and the sand exploded upward like the heavy case was filled with explosives.  The clarity of the water vanished all around the boat and the marble’s beauty was shattered.  Strange and ugly looking fish and swirling sand mixed with black dirt was now all around them.

Then he saw her.

It was Cindy.  She was naked and looking up at him.  Her skin was grey and parts of it were rotting off.  Her teeth were covered in algae and her hair was full of sea debris.  However, none of that mattered.  Daniel looked down at her and saw perfection.

He dived into the water.  This was his second chance.  The lighthouse could be fixed.

It only took seconds to reach her.  His hands outstretched to her and soon she was in his arms.

She held him close and kissed him beneath the waves.  Her grip was strong.  Too strong.  Her mouth was also all wrong.  The teeth inside were not the teeth he used to love.  They were sharp and designed to rip the flesh of prey with ease.

None on the boat could hear him attempt to scream under the waves.

The search for his body lasted two weeks.  No sign of Daniel or the suitcase were ever found.

The Box

My head hurts.  Where am I?  Why is it so dark?

I try to gain my bearings.  Fail.

It’s cold here.  I’m on the floor.  Looking up into darkness.

No light.  At all.  Cold and dark on my back.

How did I get here?  What was the last thing I was doing?

I sit up.  I want to vomit.  I resist.

I move my hands around the room, searching for some clue.  I meet a wall.  Cold stone.

I follow the wall.  Find another wall all too soon.  Follow that one.  Find another.  The trend continues.

A stone box.  I’m in a stone box.  Each wall can’t be more than nine to ten feet.

I go around the perimeter again, feeling the walls.  Still the same.  No door.

I panic a little.  Maybe scream and cry a bit.  You know, very manly coping.

I then get down on my hands and knees and start exploring.  Is there anything else here?

It’s a long shot.  Why would there be something else with me in the room?

Why am I in this room to begin with?  With so many unknowns a long shot was looking pretty good.

A miracle!   I find something.  Wood.  Wood connected to metal.  A tool!

What did I find?  I feel the shape of the metal carefully.  Don’t want to cut myself if it is something sharp.  It isn’t sharp though.  It is hard and solid.  Sturdy reliable metal.  It’s a sledgehammer.

Is this some kind of sick game?  What the hell is going on?

I wait.

.

.

.

Who put me here?  I have to be dealing with some kind of crazy person.  Was I drugged?  Is some wacko just waiting for me on the other side of the wall?

I’m not going to play along with his sick game.

.

.

.

Damn.  This is awful.  Waiting isn’t getting me anywhere.  I don’t have any food.  No water.  I’m going to die here.  I need to do something or I’m going to die.

Damn it.  Damn it.  Damn it.

I sigh and pick up the sledgehammer.  I pick a wall and swing in the general direction.  I can feel myself connecting but I can’t see a damn thing.  Hopefully that did some damage.  I put down the hammer and feel the stone skin of my victim.

Nice little chunk broken out.  Not much but it’s a start.

I get to work.

I have no idea how long it takes.  A lot longer than I thought.  I now have much greater respect for guys in construction.  Swinging this thing around is tiring work.  Especially on an empty stomach.

My god I’m hungry.  I hope I can find some food soon.

I break through and low light floods into my chamber.

My arms!  What the hell is on my arms?  What are these strange symbols.  They weren’t there before.  What the hell could they mean?  I try to rub the symbols off.  They are in some kind of ink that doesn’t come off with friction or saliva.

There is a lantern hanging on the wall in front of me.  A new wall about ten feet away from what used to be the wall of my prison.  I grab the lantern and explore my new environment.

More walls and three additional lit lanterns.  A box surrounding my box.

What is this?  What did I do to deserve this hell?

I walk around the box again.  Nothing.

Stone walls and 4 lanterns, one now in my hand.

I slump down to the ground and act manly again.

Then I wait.

.

.

.

This is stupid.  Just waiting around isn’t going to accomplish anything.  Obviously I’m dealing with some kind of absolutely insane architect or construction guy or something.  I just need to get the hell out of here.  Play along with his game until I find him and then beat the crap out of him.

I pick the wall where I picked up the lantern.  I get to work.  Steel connected to wood meets stone.

The new hole opens up into a new chamber.  Just like the last but bigger.  I walk around the new layer of the box searching for something new.  I find a sword.

A sword?

Really?

Are you freaking kidding me?

I throw it into the wall in anger.  It gets dented a bit.  I then sigh and pick it up.  I go back to the hole that brought me to this layer of the prison.

I start making a new hole.

It’s the same.  All the same.  Layer after layer.  Each one a new item.

Silver and gold chainmail armor.

Leather boots.

A metal Knight’s helmet.

Rope.

A shield.

Two gold coins.

I finally break out into fresh air.  I can barely believe it.  I can also barely move.  My body is exhausted from breaking through all of the walls.

I’m on an island.  I can smell the Ocean.  I walk out of the Stone Prison.

I look around.  Am I alone or is my insane jailer nearby?  Why would he arm me?

I’ve never swung a sword before.  If he attacks me can I really do anything about it?

All of a sudden a giant boar rushes towards me.  It was just out of sight and now it is charging towards me with no desire to slow down.  It is clearly now afraid of me.

I drop the lantern and try to ready the shield.  I have no idea what I’m doing.

The boar hits the shield hard.  It looks crazy.

I slash towards it with the sword.  It is so heavy.  How did knights fight with these things?

The boar bites towards me and tries to gore me.  I slash like a mad man.

No choice but to fight for my life.

The blade enters the body.  The boar falls.

I legitimately feel rather manly.

Of course my urine soaked pants do help to remove that feeling rather quickly.

I almost just died.  Holy crap.

I kind of collapse for a while.  You know, to recharge energy or something.

.

.

.

I get up.  I start to wander around the island.  Nothing.  One dead boar.  I’m going to have to eat it if I can’t find something better.

Then I see something significant.

A man.

A cloaked man on an old boat.  He is holding an oar.  As I approach he puts out his hand.  It is old and gnarled, sun touched into disgusting looking leather.

He doesn’t say anything.  His ancient grey eyes simply stare forward as his hand waits.

I take out the two gold coins and put them in his hands.  He then motions for me to get in the boat.

Is this the Psychopath responsible for all of this or just another pawn in the sick game?

I look around the island.  Nothing.  No other escape.

I step into the boat.

Termination of Fortune

"I’m afraid that today is your last day with us."

Emerson couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  He had put ten years into the company.  Now they were just tossing him aside like yesterday’s trash.  Of course the trash generally had an easier time of things.  The readjustment of employment was one of the most stressful things in the world.

It was also one of the most painful.

"Can’t we work something out?  I thought my numbers were good."

"Fraid not, champ.  We looked at the books.  You are just too far off your mark.  Yesterday you hit two percent.  We just can’t afford that kind of discrepancy."

Hayden looked exactly like the type of jerk that he was.  Expensive suit, glitzy watch, perfect tan, shiny teeth, tacky earring, and soulless eyes.  Emerson as usual wanted to punch him in the face.  However, things were going to be bad enough without adding assault into the scenario.

Had he really hit two percent?  He must have.  Such things were tracked in extreme detail.  It was all bullshit.  Who the hell cared that his sales were 2% lower than anticipated?

The answer was obvious though.  Everyone.

"Come on Hayden, give me another chance.  Can’t you just cut my wages to make up the discrepancy and just let me off with a warning?"

Hayden looked down at Emerson from his management chair.  It was flying just above Emerson’s cubicle and the smell of the low grade rocket fuel was pungent as usual.

"You know what, Emerson.  I could.  However, I really don’t want to.  I already started some of the paperwork.  It will just be easier to finish it up."

Hayden was lucky that getting to his face was currently difficult.

"This is bullshit!" Emerson yelled.

"Yes, yes.  That’s what they all say."

Hayden pushed the big red button on his chair.  It didn’t need to look like that.  It was just part of the psychological torture that made up corporate America.  Some business analyst somewhere decided that the entertainment industry made big red buttons bad.  It was thus decided that the button would be used to start the process.  Now 95% of corporations used the button to start the horror.

Hayden’s chair floated up higher and moved over another cubicle.

Emerson screamed as his termination began in earnest.

The magnetic gravity field of his cubicle activated and Emerson flew into the air with extreme force.  The metallic nanomachines in his body acting as the traitorous agents of his pain.  Most of the time the nanomachines were helpful to the worker.  They reinforced the body and kept sickness away.  However, once employment was over their more sinister purpose quickly became obvious.

Being lifted into the air due to a magnetic field lifting up tiny robots in your blood is just as painful as it sounds.  Emerson wanted to scream at the top of his lungs.  He did too.  At least for a second or two.  After that the nanomachines deactivated his vocal chords so Emerson had no choice but to scream in silence as his coworkers watched on silently.

His voice was gone.  It wasn’t just a temporary loss.  Sure, he would be able to speak again in a few hours once the nanomachines were done with him, but it wouldn’t be the same.  The company owned his voice.  It was used to help identify him as a security measure.  Companies used to just update the saved information on their servers.  However, server updates were expensive.  They now just rewrote the employee instead.  Saved them at least $500 per employee.  That desire to save money meant that all of Emerson’s friends and family would simply need to get used to his new voice.

The fingers came next.  Emerson looked in horror as his fingertips were burned away by the nanomachines.  Another security measure.  He had heard horror stories of the earlier process being very bloody.  Now, things were done by tiny little lasers disintegrating the matter in a surgical manner.  No blood.  No mess.  Just parts of your hand being melted away.  They too would grow back in a few hours.  When they did the nanomachines would broadcast the new prints to the police force to make sure Emerson’s citizen file was up to date.

The eyes were next.  Retina scanning was the third level of security in Corporate America.  This meant that the nanomachines attacked Emerson’s eyes.  It actually wasn’t that bad compared to the pain of his fingers.  It was just a quick sharp pain followed by blindness.  He would hopefully get his sight back in a few hours.  Three percent of individuals never did.  What was left of the government was still working on improving that percentage.

"Thank you for your service.  Good lucky out there."

Hayden’s words were a mockery of all that used to be right in the world.

Emerson was then ejected from the building.  The rush of air was quite delightful at first but he knew it would not last.  Within a few seconds he landed in the designated dumping area.  The giant airbag that caught him was attached to an unemployment office.  Once his body regenerated to a more acceptable state of being a specialist would help him get back on his feet.

That was how it was supposed to work anyway.  It rarely did.  Emerson knew that everyone only had so much good luck saved up.  He had already used up most of his.

Someone helped him off the airbag and laid him down on a cot.  He would stay there until his body was back to the new normal.  In the mean time he simply had to keep screaming silently.

As the needle went into his neck Emerson thought of his bleak future.

Protect and Spell

Blake really wished his reaction time was quicker.  Sadly it was not so the push of air hit him like a boxer hitting an unsuspecting elderly lady.  It lifted him off his feet and deposited him less than gently through the glass window of the Starbucks.

It was going to be that kind of afternoon.

“Get down!” he yelled at whoever would listen.

Saying the words from the floor while covered in glass did take away a bit of his gravitas.  However, it couldn’t really be helped.  Sometimes you had to look the fool in order to keep people safe.

The civilians ducked for cover.  So far nobody was trying to act like a hero.

It was a small miracle.  Things were bad enough as it was without even more magic being thrown around the scene.  Vigilantes were everywhere now.

Blake got to his feet and pinpointed his target.  The man was tall and lanky.  He had to be at least 6’4” if not taller and it looked like he missed quite a few meals lately.  He was wearing old clothes that were too small for him and the giant dragon tattoo on his face made him rather easy to identify.

His real name was George Clark.  However, he was better known by the name Victory Hex.  He was currently number seven on the FBI’s most wanted list.

Victory moved his hands and gestured towards Blake.  The slightest movement created variation in the magic being weaved.  Every since the incident the police had to adjust quickly.  They needed to learn as many variations as possible and be ready to counter them.  Blake knew what was coming.

His own hands moved as quickly as he could muster.  Sadly it wasn’t that quick.  He just wasn’t picking things up as quickly as some of his peers.  They never covered this magic crap during his training.  Sure, he knew there was going to be some on the job training but this was just ridiculous.

The giant ball of fire was launched into the Starbucks.  Before it connected with anything Blake’s spell went off.  The air in front of the fireball was sucked away and the fire without oxygen quickly went out.

Criminals liked the simplicity of fire.  Arson had increased 2000% percent since the incident.  The police quickly learned that a well timed air spell was incredibly handy in a pinch.  The vacuum was now the first spell officially taught to all officers.

Victory was quick.  After the fireball failed another spell was weaved and a fist of earth came out of the ground and punched Blake in the gut.

God damn magic.

It ruined everything.

Things used to be simple.  The worst a guy had to worry about was some perp with a gun.  Now, guns were mostly useless.  It was pretty hard to shoot a gun if you’re on fire or drowning in a floating bubble of water.  Of course that is assuming the perp doesn’t use your own gun against you.  The country was shocked when Jackson Young used air magic to make Officer James Wilson shoot himself in the head.  Now it was no longer an isolated incident of a powerful user.  Perps all over had learned the trick.  Guns were now just a liability.  Most officers just left them at home in drawers for sentimental reasons.

The stone punch should have done some extreme internal damage to his stomach.  However, after the vacuum the next spell taught to each cop was a basic armor spell.  It lessened any physical blow against you.  It was very useful in most insane situations.  There were far too many of those types of situations these days.

The armor wasn’t perfect of course.  The giant stone fist slamming into Blake’s stomach still hurt like a son of a bitch.  It was just like a vest.  Sure, it saved you from something more serious but it still wasn’t at all ideal by any means.  Not getting hit was always the first choice.

Blake moved his hands and formed another spell.  It wasn’t like movies.  No magic words.  No wands.  It wasn’t that flashy.  Just some simple movements of the hands and the spell was created and triggered.

Right after the incident was terrible.  So many people were accidentally casting spells simply by moving their hands and living their lives.  Spell safety was now a thing taught to everyone in the country.  It was all just so silly and inconvenient.

Victory braced himself for the spell and momentarily paused for a few seconds in confusion as it started to rain on him.  The clouds formed out of the nothing space and immediately started to piss down on Victory.  Getting your opponent wet didn’t seem like the killer strategy to win conflicts but it actually was surprisingly effective.  People didn’t use water spells very often and they made for good distractions.

The initial surprise would only give Blake a few seconds.  That was all he needed.

He jumped over the frame of the broken window and activated his wind burst spell.  A gust of wind pushing at around 100 miles per hour was suddenly on his back pushing him towards Victory like an arrow heading towards dead center.

Victory was not expecting a police officer to turn himself into the projectile.  Most casters tended to rely completely on their magic.  Blake wasn’t most casters.  His disdain for magic meant that he only used magic just enough to get to the point where he didn’t need to use it anymore.  His body made contact with Victory and soon after so did his fists.

Once he was in close enough range the rest was pretty simple.  Some well connected quick punches were potent enough to stagger Victory enough to allow Blake to capture him.  Handcuffs were a thing of the past.  Now every cop was taught a paralyzing spell.  If the person couldn’t move his hands he couldn’t cast spells or do anything else.  The problem was that it was very advanced magic and could only be used at extremely close range.  That means you had to take down the perp first before it was useful in the least.

Blake had heard that some cop in Baltimore had figured out how to increase the range up to about five feet in some circumstances.  It was still a work in progress though.  For now every cop worked with what he or she had and they kept experimenting and hoping to find the next new thing.

Blake walked around the Starbucks to make sure everyone was ok.  A few cuts and bruises but nothing major.  It could have been a million times worse.  Blake told the injured to head over to the hospital for some healing and then walked back over to Victory.  It wasn’t like he was going anywhere but it was still best not to take chances.  The amount of time that people stayed paralyzed varied greatly.

Blake touched Victory and did the long and complicated pattern needed for teleportation.  Both men vanished in a puff of smoke and arrived at the teleportation circle at the station.

The amount of paperwork that Blake was about to fill out was going to be absurd.

However, he didn’t mind.  The world was crazy now.  The incident changed everything overnight.  Procedure and policy changed almost daily now just to maintain some version of the status quo.

At least paperwork still made sense.


Business as Usual

“What about Jimmy Cola?” Hank asked.

“Not good.  Down 45%.  That damn story last week is killing us.” Bill responded.

“That bad?” Jerry pondered.

“Yeah, we’re in the shithouse.” Bill said while shaking his head.

“What is our synergy plan?” Arthur asked.

Arthur was the VP of the program.  Everything was resting on his shoulders.  Hank, Bill, and Jerry were the best.  Ratings and profits were down.  If anyone could get things crawling up again it was the three parasites sitting across the table from him.

“We need to enter total spin.  If the cola does bad stuff to your body we need to market that in some way to make people want it anyway.  Ultimately it should push up sales if we are clever enough.” Bill said while stroking his beard.  It was an annoying habit he had when he was thinking.

“Bad stuff is kind of an understatement, Bill.” Hank said.

“How bad are we talking?  What does it do?” Jerry asked.  He was never in the know.  He was only part of the power three because he was good with numbers.  He was otherwise a parasite with very weak fangs.  Bill and Hank had both slept with his wife Janice.  Arthur felt sorry for the guy.

“It doesn’t matter.  We just need to find a solution.” Bill said.

“What do you mean it doesn’t matter?  I mean if something is really that bad shouldn’t we look for another product instead to promote?”

Arthur, Hank, and Bill all burst out laughing.  After a few seconds they composed themselves.  Poor Jerry didn’t get the joke.

“Jimmy Cola is giving us a very respectable 20 percent.  Sure, it is hurting us now but they have been good to us.  We need to make this work.  If we do we can probably even modify the contract and go up to 25 or 30.  We have them right where we want them.  We just need to clean up this little mess.” Arthur said imparting his sage wisdom to his three parasites.

Bill and Hank nodded with great vigor.  Jerry looked uneasy.

“Alright, from a pure numbers point of view you are right of course.  Increasing to 25 or 30 would be an excellent way to make up for our losses since last week.  However, it sounds like we are talking about a new marketing campaign here.  That alone is going to cost us 6-8 points if we want to make it quality.” Jerry stated with a tone of finality.  They all knew better than to question his numbers.

“Glad you have your head back in the game” Bill said.

“I’m not the one normally known for that problem am I?” Jerry fired back.

It was a low blow and well played.  Bill had a serious drinking problem.  It had cost them three sponsors so far.  If he wasn’t so god damn bloodthirsty Arthur would have let him go years ago.

“Let’s focus on our PR problem shall we?” Hank said quickly trying to steer the conversation back into something that would be productive.

Bill and Jerry nodded at each other and then focused on the problem at hand.

“What are your thoughts, Hank?  How can we spin this?” Arthur asked.

Hank shook his head and tapped his fingers on the giant oak table.  Arthur was very proud of the table.  It cost him twenty thousand jobs and it was imported from South America.  The rumor was that three workers died bringing it to the plane.  It was a quality product worth the price.

“As I said, this is bad.  The scientific report is pretty damning.  There is very solid evidence that shows that the cola is directly responsible for the supposed side effects.  We could try to buy off some other scientists to refute the claims but it would be a damn hard sell.” Hank declared.

All of the men around the table nodded their heads.  Jerry broke the momentary silence.

“How bad are we talking exactly?  You guys still haven’t answered me.  I mean I know this is more Hank and Bill’s area of expertise but I might still be able to help.  What are the side effects?”

“It melts your small intestine from the inside.” Bill said with a shrug.

“Jesus!” Jerry declared.

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic.” Bill said.

“Don’t be so dramatic?  How the hell can we possibly spin this?” Jerry said with a shrill voice.

“I already told you.  We just need to figure out how to sell the benefit involved.” Bill said.

“Is there a benefit?” Arthur asked.

“Of course.  Weight loss.” Hank said with a smile.

“Explain” Arthur said.

“Look, it doesn’t kill you all at once.  It somehow messes with your body chemistry and the acid in your stomach somehow gets changed around.  This then leads to the modified acid somehow getting into your small intestine and then the acid just slowly melts it.  Along the way you get a series case of diarrhea that won’t go away.”

“That’s brilliant.  It’s a weight loss soda.  Same great taste but with none of the calories.” Bill said with another smile on his face.  He was obviously very proud of himself.

“What about the damage?” Jerry asked.  He looked kind of ill.

“Whatever.  Just buy new organs.  They’re cheap enough these days.  Sure, the useless class won’t be able to afford the new organs but who cares?  Jack up the price of the soda and market it towards those of us that can afford it and want to lose weight.  The dregs rarely watch our show anyway.  They are a blip on our data stream.” Bill said with obvious contempt in his voice.

Arthur and Hank looked to Jerry.

“He’s right.  They only make up 5 percent of our total buyers.  The number don’t’ lie.  As much as I hate to admit it the plan has a lot of merit.” Jerry stated.

“I’m going to be very busy, but I think we can do it.  How are we going to start off the spin?”

“What about Mike?  He drinks this shit on the show all the time.  How is he holding up?” Arthur asked.

“Oh, his intestines are ripped to shreds.  We just thought he was being a diva but apparently all his complaining lately has been legit.” Bill said with a laugh.

“Perfect.  Schedule the organ replacement for Friday.  We’ll do it live on air.  Once America sees their beloved Mike Hunter endorse the newest health craze we’ll be back on top in no time.  This is brilliant stuff gentlemen.  We’ll get that 30 point for sure.  Hell, I’m feeling bold.  Think I’m going to go for 40.  Seems fair considering we’re about to make Jimmy Cola the most popular soda in the world.”

Arthur got up and shook the hands of the three men.

They were parasites but they were his parasites.

Nobody did business better.

Man on Roof

“Karl is back.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Fraid not, boss.”

“God damn it.”

Charles walked into his office and opened up the top drawer of his desk.  They didn’t have to say more.  When Karl came to the restaurant it only meant one thing.  Charles rifled through the drawer and found what he was seeking.

He walked outside and looked up.  Karl was where he always was in this situation.

“Hey Karl.”

“Hey Chuck.”

Karl waved down at Charles.

“Buddy, we talked about this.”

Charles shook his head and waved up at his brother.

“Did we?”

 “Yeah, we did.”

Karl was sitting in his usual spot.  It was right next to one of the vents on the roof.  Nobody ever saw him climb up.  It was obviously how he was getting up to the roof but somehow the actual process of getting up was always missed by everyone in the restaurant.  It was weird but everything about Karl ended up being weird so Charles didn’t think much about it.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, pretty sure, pal.”

“What did we say?”

“We said you shouldn’t be going up on the roof anymore.”

“Doesn’t sound like something we would say.”

“No?”

“Well, maybe something you might say.”

Things had been very rough since Debbie got married.  Watching after Karl was a full time job.  Unfortunately so was running his restaurant.  The two did not combine well together.  Debbie was always the best in the family at handling Karl.  She was even better than Mom and Dad.  However, she had served her time.  It had been five years since Mom passed away.  Charles had avoided it for too long.  His time was long past due.

“What did we say about that?”

“I don’t remember.”

“I think you do.”

Karl looked away from Charles.  It was obvious he was trying to be deceptive.  He didn’t like looking Charles in the face when he was trying to lie or avoid a conversation.

“Don’t think so.”

“Come on, man.  Look at me.  What did we say?”

Karl turned his face back to Charles and then sighed.  He would have shuffled his feet if he was sitting on them up on the roof.

“If you say we agreed on something I need to trust you that we did.  When in doubt if you say something assume it is something that you are saying to look after me.”

“That’s right.  So what did we say?”

“Not to go up on the roof?”

“That’s right.”

Karl put his hands together like he was praying.  He did it when he was upset.  Charles now hated that motion more than almost anything else.  When he was the cause it meant that he was causing his brother pain.  However, some things just couldn’t be avoided.

“But…but I like it up here.  It has a nice view.”

“I know it does, but you can’t just go up there.  It’s dangerous and it freaks out my customers.”

“Why?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why does it upset people?”

Charles wanted to scream the simple truth.  It wasn’t normal.  It was weird.  People didn’t go to dinner expecting to see some random lunatic on top of the roof of their restaurant of choice.  However, such truth was too cruel, too honest for his dear brother.  Finding the right way to explain things to Karl was always difficult.  Charles did not have the eloquence of their sister and both men knew it.

“It makes people uneasy, Karl.  They worry about you.  They think you might fall.  If they are worrying about you falling they can’t enjoy their pasta properly.”

It wasn’t a total lie.  There was probably some truth to it.  It would just have to do.  Karl nodded and looked out at some of the guests waiting for their table to be called.  Most were trying to be somewhat polite and feign indifference.  However, it wasn’t every day that the manager of your restaurant had to barter with his brother to get off the roof.  Some staring and whispers were naturally forming.

Karl looked like he was about to yell down at everyone to get their direct opinion.  Charles immediately put up his right hand high above his head.  It was an old family sign.  When someone in the family did the simple motion it was a sign for Karl to either stop something or just not start something that he was going to do which would ultimately be a bad idea.  The sign was sadly used quite a bit.

Karl had a lot of problems.  Listening to the sign was not one of them.  As soon as Charles raised his hand Karl immediately closed his mouth and nodded.

“But…I really like it up here.”

“I know you do, but I really need you to come down now.”

“I don’t want to.”

Multiple snickers from various potential customers.  Charles couldn’t really blame them.

“What if I had something for you?”

“Something?  Like what?”

“A treat.”

“A good treat?”

“The best.”

Karl looked down at his brother.  Charles took out the bag of Peanut Butter M&Ms that he got from his desk earlier.  Karl always did have a soft spot for Peanut Butter.  Karl’s eyes lit up or at least Charles thought they did.  It was kind of hard to tell since he was up on the roof.

“I just need to come down?”

“That’s right, buddy.  Just come down and you get the treat.”

“Ok, deal.”

“Great.”

Karl stood up and came over to the ledge.  In one graceful motion he swung himself down to part of the building and within seconds he was back on ground level.  It was the second saddest motion that Charles associated with his brother.  So much wasted potential.

Karl took the M&Ms from Charles.  Charles grabbed his brother and held him close.  He whispered into his ear and Karl nodded quickly and went inside.  Charles started his rounds.  He had a lot of guests to apologize to about the drama.  Such was the way of things.

The Man on the roof was now on the ground.  It wasn’t much but it was a start.

Paper Problems

“I’m telling you New York is going all the way this year.”


“You’re insane.  No chance.  No chance.”

“They have great offense and hustle this season.  You can’t deny that.”

“I wouldn’t call it great.  Sure, it’s better than last year but that’s not saying…”

Both men stopped suddenly.  Both men noticed the mistake immediately.  It was not the type of mistake that could go unnoticed.

“Shit.  Bob, did you just do what I think you did?”

Bob looked over towards the trash can.  Both men stopped moving as much as they could.

“Oh my god.  I think I did.  Shit.  Shit.  What do I do?”

Henry shook his head.  This was beyond bad.  Both men had always joked about it in the past.  Not joking about it simply made things too bleak.  However, the reality was here.  Bob just screwed up in a deadly way.

“I don’t know, man.  I don’t think there is anything you can do.”

“Are you kidding me?  Just like that?  No second chance?”

“Don’t think so.  As they say, you’re done, son.”

“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.  Can’t I run?”

“I guess you can try.”

Both men looked towards the wastepaper basket to the right of Bob’s desk.  No movement.

“Damn it.  How could you be so careless, Bob?  I mean, come on!”

“I don’t know!  I don’t know, ok.”

“Now I’m feeling all guilty.  I mean, I know it’s your fault and all, but damn, all the same.  If we weren’t talking about the game…”

“Yeah, I know….it’s alright, man.  I don’t blame you.  I’m the one that screwed up.  You could have been anybody.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah…”  Henry shook his head and looked his old friend in the eyes.  “I’m still sorry though.”

Both men looked over the trash bin again.  There was still no movement.

“I lied.”

“What?”

“I lied.  I’m not actually a level 12 multitask technician.”

“You’re kidding right?”

“Damn it!  Why the hell would I mess with you at a time like this?”

Henry looked down at his feet and then over at the trash bin again.

“I’m sorry, you’re right.  It’s just.  You think you know a guy you know?”

“Yeah…sorry about that. 

“Why’d you do it?”

“Needed the money.”

“Dude, that sucks.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.”

The trash can started to shake.  It wasn’t a lot of movement but it was still movement where there should be none.

“Anything you want me to tell Gloria?”

The two men stared at each other.  Both knew what the question really meant.  Bob nodded.

“Yeah, tell her that I love her and tell her that I’m sorry she married such a fool.”

“I will.  You might be a fool but you were a good friend.”

“Thanks.  You weren’t half bad yourself.”

“I feel like we should hug or some shit.”

“I wouldn’t.  Don’t want to get in the crossfire, you know?”

“Yeah…”

“Should I run?”

“You should try.”

Both men nodded and rushed towards the door.  The gesture was pointless.  Henry knew it and deep down so did Bob.  Bob had messed up.  He didn’t stamp the old form with “Expired”.  He threw it into the trash can improperly stamped.

Henry kept running.  Looking back would only fuel nightmares.

Nobody should see a man killed by a sheet of deadly paper.

Some things the mind should just never process.

Old Secrets


“Come on, Abel.  It’s been 10 years since we met.”

“No.”

“Ah, come on.”

“Don’t want to talk about it.”

“That the best you got?”

“Don’t you use the same excuse for your little flask there?”

Clint looked down at the flask on the table.  He had just put some “helper” in his second cup of coffee.  Abel always was good at turning the tables on him.  Clint always claimed it was cough medicine if anybody he didn’t know asked.  Both men knew better of course.

“That was a low blow.”

“I know.”

“Why did you say it then?”

“Thought it would work.”

Clint had lost track of how many times he had run into Abel over the last 10 years.  It had to be at least 100.  Even with all of their meetings he still knew so little about him.

His name was Abel Luna.  He was 31 years old.  He had a public record of graduating High School at 18.  He didn’t have a college transcript.  No criminal record.  No residence.  No driver’s license.

“You can be a really cold bastard sometimes, you know that?”

“I do.”

He didn’t go to the homeless shelter.  He wasn’t renting out a room at any of the hotels or motels in Clint’s patrol area.  Yet he was always around.  He was like a ghost but made out of flesh and blood.

“Can’t you give me a hint?  Something?  It’s not like I haven’t been patient.”

“It isn’t a matter of patience.  It is a matter of privacy.  I don’t want to talk about it.  Don’t take it personal.  I like you quite a bit, Clint.  You’re a perfectly fine guy, especially for a cop.  It just isn’t something I desire to talk about…to anyone.”

“I can take you in, you know.”

“That right?”

“Yeah…”

“For what exactly?”

“Well…not answering police questions about your residency for starters.”

“Yes, I’m sure Jerry is going to love you wasting your time with that one.”

“Oh, come on!  This is just absurd!  You can’t live your whole life as one big secret!”

He was right of course.  He didn’t have anything really to go on.  Hell, Abel was there first.  According to the local residents he just kind of showed up 12 years ago.  No family.  No car.  He just walked into town and asked if anyone was hiring.

He had worked for almost everyone in town.  He never did anything official of course.  Abel simply didn’t do official.  Everything was off the books and under the table.  If the IRS ever caught up to him he would be in a world of hurt.  However, if you don’t have a home or phone it gets rather tricky for the IRS to catch up to you, especially if you have never officially worked anywhere in your life.

He had a varied skill set.  One day he might be doing carpentry work for Mrs. Jensen and the next he was doing gardening for Mr. Green’s bank.  Nobody ever asked where he learned everything.  He spent a lot of time in the library.  Everybody just assumed he just loved to learn.

“You know that isn’t true.  People live secrets all the time.”

Clint looked down at his flask.  There was a reason that he drank.  Everyone knew the general reason and they left it at that.  Some things shouldn’t be talked about.  What a man does in war doesn’t need to be spoken about when it’s over.

“Sometimes people have a good reason.”

Abel looked up from his pie.  His eyes were remarkably blue.  They always stood out when Abel actually focused them on you.

“You’re right.  Sometimes they do.  In fact, I would say they often do.”
He then looked back down and ate another bite of his pie.

“I really don’t understand you.”

“I know.”

“Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Not in the least.”

Everyone just assumed that Abel had a campsite in the woods somewhere.  However, nobody ever found it.  The local teenagers mostly avoided the woods at night.  They weren’t really afraid of Abel.  Nobody was.  He had done nothing but good things for everyone in the four towns nearby.  He had shown up in each and never caused any problems.

The same couldn’t be said about a quarter of the residents of the various towns.

It was never anything major.  These were good people.  However, sometimes they just got a bit rowdy, especially once the playoffs started.

Not Abel.  He was the perfect citizen, minus all the mystery bits.

“How do I know you’re not some kind of criminal?”

“Do I seem like some kind of criminal?  Have you ever found anything that points you to investigate that particular avenue?  Have I ever caused any problems?”

“Well, no…”

“Well then.  Let’s assume I’m not then.  Sound fair?”

“Yeah, yeah I suppose it does.”

That was just how he talked.  He was very direct.  For a man with so many obvious secrets he had a surprisingly “no bullshit” attitude.  If you asked him a question he would always answer you honestly.  The only problem was that sometimes he simply told you no or told you he didn’t want to talk about it but he would never blow you off.  That just wasn’t the type of man he was.

“Ok, fine. I give up.  No more questions.”

“Good.”

“Alright, I lied.  One more.  Where are you heading next?”

Abel looked around the diner for a few seconds and then nodded.  He did that sometimes.  Nobody was ever really sure why he did it, he just did.

“North.”

“So I’ll probably see you over at Gwen’s Sandwich Shop right?”

“Yes, that seems likely.”

“Well, see you there then.”

“Yep.”

He wouldn’t go north.  He never went the direction he told Clint.  However, Clint only patrolled four small towns.  It was a relatively small area.  He wasn’t going north but he should be showing up in one of the other towns soon enough.

Abel was still holding on to his old secrets.  Clint knew it wasn’t going to be easy to convince him to let them go.  It never was.  However, he also knew the pain of keeping secrets hidden away.  He only had half a secret of his own and sometimes it was almost too much to bear.  Abel was carrying around a lot more than just half a secret.

Clint would just need to bribe the truth out of him one piece of pie at a time.

The Problem with Noses


The human nose is really kind of a loser.  He lets in bad smells.  He lets himself completely go to hell and turns disgusting with the slightest cold.  He is a total wimp and terrible at nose to anything combat.  He never contributes anything of note besides an occasional good smell and he is a total freeloader.  He is constantly hanging out on your face and never pays for a damn thing even though you take him everywhere.  He is the classic friend that you just can’t quite rid of even though it would probably be better for both of you if you parted ways.

Of course the biggest problem with the nose is that it isn’t a hand.  Heck, even a finger could do in a pinch but a whole hand would be even better.

Lou Stanley was unfortunately learning this the hard way in the very worst of ways.

His morning started off pretty ordinary.  He woke up and did his normal work day routine.  He drove to work, hitting minimal traffic.  He bought a bagel and coffee from Emily at the food cart in the lobby.  He flirted with her a little bit and she flirted back.  He contemplated asking her out and then chickened out.  It was a typical Tuesday.

Work went by and he accomplished his goals for the day.  Then things started to go wrong and wrong quickly turned into crazy.  It all started with his cell phone dying.

Just as he was about to leave his boss Duncan informed him that Steve dropped the ball on the Valentine Industries account.  Duncan had to let Steve go and he needed some prep work done immediately for a presentation tomorrow.

Duncan bribed Lou with overtime pay and a couple of good seats for the game on Sunday.  It was a good and solid bribe and even though Lou was tired he took it and got to work.

Everything was dragging along nicely until about 9:15 or so.  Right around then he heard voices he didn’t recognize in the building.  Being a responsible employee he tried to quietly call Karl at security.  No answer.  He was then going to call the police but the intruders must have had good hearing.  He quickly turned off his monitor and tried to hide under his desk.

His cell phone was right above him on his desk but he didn’t dare move.  They weren’t talking.  They were listening for him.  His lackluster hide and seek skills gained him about 20 seconds.  They found him and immediately tied him up in his computer chair and blindfolded him.  It was three men armed with guns and Halloween masks.  They had local accents and dark clothing.  Lou immediately knew why their purpose.  It had to be Duncan’s safe.  There was nothing else of real value.

A lot of money went through the company.  Most of it was electronic transactions but Duncan had to keep some money on hand for special situations with clients.  Lou didn’t understand all of the semantics involved.  He just knew that Duncan usually had thousands of dollars at a time in his office safe.  It had to be an inside job.  Who else would know about it?  Some ex-employees came to mind but each seemed less and less likely as he went through the candidates in his head.

It didn’t matter.  The important thing was that he had to figure out a way to get out of his current situation.  He listened.  He heard nothing.  He listened again.  Nothing of note came to him.  He heard some noise off in the distance but nothing nearby.

“Hey guys, I really don’t know what is going on here and I really don’t care.  I just need to piss something fierce.  Can we work something out here?”

He said it to the nothingness around him.  He didn’t whisper it.  He didn’t yell it.  He was just speaking in a conversational tone.  If someone was close enough to hear him they would respond.  However, if all of them were either inside Duncan’s office or near his office he should be in the clear.

“Guys?”

Nothing.  He waited a few more seconds.

“Guys?  Anyone there?”

Still no reply.  This seemed like his moment.  They tied him up and blindfolded him but they didn’t turn off his computer.  The general hum of the office kept the noise of his computer mostly background noise.  Most of his fellow office drones just left their computers on overnight.  This meant his captors took away his cell phone and unplugged his phone but they forgot about the computer.  He still had a method of reaching the outside world.

Of course the problem was his only ally in this great struggle was his nose and as we all know noses do not make for steadfast companions.  They tied his hands behind his back and behind the chair.  For extra security they then tied them to the chair itself.  His legs were also tied to the chair in an uncomfortable manner.  Getting out of the chair was simply not an option.

The first step was getting the blindfold off.  This was going to be a hard enough task even without the extra penalty of being blind.  He prayed that they left his desk alone.  He was pretty sure that they did.  He leaned towards his desk and lifted the chair off the ground slightly.  Supported all of his weight and the weight of the chair on just his tiptoes was difficult but possible.   He leaned further into his desk and searched for a pencil or pen with his nose.  He found one.

They didn’t put the blindfold on well.  It was just a piece of cloth wrapped around his eyes.  They probably figured the tying would take care of everything so their workmanship was shoddy.  He moved the pen he found closer to the edge of the desk.  He then nudged it into position and then put it between him and the blindfold.  It gave way after some gentle jostling about.

Victory!  It was only the first step but an essential one for what came next.  There was no going back now.  He had removed his blindfold.  He picked his destiny.  He could have just sat there and just let the world go by but that isn’t the type of man that Lou is.  He is no nose.

With his vision restored he got down to business.  He picked up the chair again and painfully stretched forward.  This time it was a much further stretch.  His muscles ached as his nose led the charge.  He tried to hit the power button of the monitor.  He missed.  He tried again.  He missed again.

This was a very tiring plan but it wasn’t like he had anything better planned.

After about a minute of effort he finally achieved victory.  The monitor turned on.  He heard voices down the hall.  His captors were arguing about something.  That could mean trouble or could be a good sign of dissention among the ranks.  Both options meant the same thing for Lou.  He needed to finish up his plan sooner rather than later.

He pulled the keyboard and mouse closer to him using his face and nose.  Once they were at a less painful angle he then moved his mouse over to his messenger program.  Thank god he had it up otherwise he would lost precious seconds.

He clicked on his neighbor Henry.  Double clicking without a finger was particularly challenging.  Why couldn’t his nose have better motor skills?

He moved his nose over the keys as quickly as he could.

911 hrelp qwork tided jp[ masked men

The reply came back after a few seconds.

Is this for real?

ydesa hyedlp;

Holy shit.  Calling the cops now.

Lou then shifted his weight more and moved his right foot as close as he could to his power strip.  Luckily hiding under his desk earlier shifted it out slightly.  He was able to just reach the power button with the tip of his shoe and turn it off.  Now there was no easy trace of his contact with the outside world.

He looked around and listened.  The three men were coming out of Duncan’s office.  The man in the middle had a good sized duffle bag over his shoulder.
Trying to hide wasn’t an option.  His bonds were too good.  Only thing left was to act the victim.

He used the last of the strength in his legs to push his chair over in the direction of the fallen makeshift blindfold.  If things went well they would think it fell off when he fell.  If things didn’t go well he was pretty sure he was never going to get that date with Emily.

Hitting the floor made a loud thud.  Lou made sure to exaggerate it but not too much.  The three criminals came running.

“Have a little fall faggot?” one said in a familiar voice.

Got you.  Mike Madison.  You always were a prick.

“Oh god!  Please, don’t hurt me!”

“Come on, let’s get out of here” said an unknown voice under the mask of Dracula.

“Whatever.  Later, pussy” eloquently came out of Mike’s mouth while pretending to be Austin Powers.

The three men left but they didn’t get far.  The police arrived 6 minutes after Mike and the boys left Lou.  Henry arrived at the 10 minute mark.  He was a good neighbor.  It didn’t take much effort to track down the thieves since Mike was foolish enough to talk.  He was still living at his old address in the company files.  Mike never was the smartest.  The police were waiting for him when he got home.  He was a real nose of a guy if you know what I mean.

Lou got a big bonus and the whole incident made him examine his life and gave him the confidence to ask out Emily.  She said yes despite that rather useless nose on his face.

Then again for a nose I guess it did alright.  Still though, it’s certainly no hand.

Brick Layer Brock

Brick Layer Brock

The last red brick was finally placed.  Brock had been working on the wall for weeks but all of his hard work finally paid off.  It went around all of City Hall and was beautiful.  The Mayor wanted a quality job done so he hired Brock to put up the wall brick by brick.  It wasn’t the biggest job Brock worked in his twenty years of brick work but it was certainly the most satisfying.  His bricks would stand guard over City Hall for years to come.  Brock stepped down from his ladder and took a few steps back to admire his handiwork.  It was a good wall.

Then a man violently smashed through the wall.  Many hours worth of work were gone in a flash.

It wasn’t just any man.  It was Captain Excellent.

“Sorry about the mess, citizen.  Evil is in the air!”

Bah.  Tomorrow Men.  Always breaking things.  At least he was nice enough to apologize.  A lot of them never did.  Captain Excellent was pretty decent compared to most.

“Umm….are you alright?” Brock asked since it seemed like the right thing to do.

“Of course!  However, Doctor Havok soon won’t be!”

With that he jumped into the air and flew in the general direction of villainous cackling.  All of them had read too many damn comic books.

Brock examined the damage.  It was bad.  A small car hitting the wall would have created a similar amount of damage.  People weren’t meant to be smashing through walls.  It was indecent.

The repair was going to take hours, maybe even days.

~*~

No more hole.  The damage had finally been restored.  It took 12 detail oriented hours but the hole was finally fixed.  The wall was complete.  The beautiful wall was now ready to be Brock’s legacy.  He packed up his ladder and other supplies.  He put everything in his truck and then walked across the street.  He wanted to get a nice look at the total package.

A flaming bus then smashed into his truck and then landed on the wall.

Brock simply stared.  It was unbelievable.  How did they know?  Were they planning their idiotic battles around his work schedule?  He frantically started looking around for his latest abuser.

Battle Boy.  Inferno Ivan.  He saw them both down the street.  The bus was obviously the work of Ivan.  Based off the flaming scorch marks it looked like he hit the bus towards Battle Boy and Battle Boy dodged out of the way.  Brock’s poor truck got hit with the large projectile instead of the intended target.  It was yet another typical pointless battle with the little guy getting burnt.

“Hey!  You there!”  Brock yelled getting closer to the scuffle.

Battle Boy and Inferno Ivan both turned towards him.  He didn’t really have a second part of his plan.  He was just driving along on adrenaline and hoping he didn’t crash into a wall.

“Hey man!  You should get down!” Battle Boy exclaimed.

As he said a red burst of flame hit his shiny black armor and Brock jumped out of the way into some nearby bushes.

“Taste my hot flame, Battle Boy!” Inferno spewed out like a Saturday Morning cartoon.

Damn Comic books.  So much amazing potential wasted away on idiots.  It was an entire generation of special individuals just wasting time fighting each other instead of using their gifts to change the world.

“This nonsense needs to stop!” Brock yelled out from the bushes.

“Chill out!  I got this!”

Brock stood up from the bushes and advanced on the Tomorrow Men again.

“Got this?  Got this?  My truck and wall are ruined because of you!”

Battle Boy and Inferno Ivan had stopped fighting.  They were both watching Brock approach them.  Neither of them could have been older than twenty.  Kids.  Stupid kids with super powers.

“Hey!  It wasn’t my fault.  Ivan did it.”

“So what?  I’m supposed to!  Now get back old man or…”

Brock was so sick of these would be villains.  They were petulant children with no real goals.

“Or what?  What are you going to do Ivan?  What if I don’t get back?  Are you going to kill me?  Are you going to hit me with that fire?  Going to throw it at someone who isn’t playing with you?  Do you have that in you, son?”

Brock was now standing within thirty feet of Ivan.  He really hoped that the answer was no.  He moved a little closer to the supposed villain. 

25 feet. 

Closer. 

20 feet.

“Get back…I’m not…I’m not going to warn you again…”

Battle Boy was simply watching the whole exchange go down.  He was slowly inching up with Brock.  He was standing about ten feet behind him.

“Made up your mind?  Can you do it?  Do you have it in you?” Brock defiantly asked staring into his eyes.

Inferno Ivan’s gaze broke.  He looked away and shuffled his feet.

“That’s what I thought.”

“Way to go, gramps!” Battle Boy practically yelled.

“Shut up!” Brock yelled.

“But…”

“You aren’t off the hook.  Consider you and your playmates on warning.  I need to go get a new truck and then work on rebuilding my wall.  If I see any of you children around City Hall again there will be hell to pay.”

“But Gramps….”

Brock glared at both of the young men.

“Do we understand each other?”

Both men nodded and answered in unison.

~*~
Brock was finally done.  It took an additional three weeks but the huge portion of the wall damaged by the flaming bus was fixed.  Everything was red brick and perfectly aligned.  His new truck wasn’t that bad either.  Luckily he had excellent Tomorrow Men Insurance.

He packed up his ladder and equipment and walked across the street.  It was his monument to the city.  Not a single super powered kid could be seen or heard anywhere nearby.  It was perfect.

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