Forty Winks

3:33 am, Hargreaves Institute, Univ. of Western Indiana, Krackow, IN

Hiss! Victoria Boyd awoke with a start. She fluttered her eyes in the pitch darkness.
“Good morning Tory. Or do you prefer good night, dear heart?” The voice, low and hoarse, was right by her right ear. Boyd tried to move each one of her limbs. Nothing. Locked inside her body, Boyd tried to will herself up from from the twin bed.
“Oh my pet don’t strain yourself. We both know how this will end.” This time the harsh whisper was louder and on the left side of her head. Boyd’s heart began to pick up its pace. The voice chuckled. An unnatural sound that reminded Boyd of the worn dryer in her grandmother’s basement. The laughter grew louder and Boyd’s head rang like a bell. Boyd took a steadying breath and checked the digital readout on the ceiling.
3:47 am
The laughter echoed away. Her ears sharpened. Nothing. Time oozed. Boyd tensed. She calculated pi in her head and then switched to Judas Priest songs when the sequence of numbers began to lull her into slumber.
4:23 am
Halfway into “Victims of Changes” Boyd noticed movement in her peripheral vision. With all her might she shifted her right eye slightly. Tall, impossibly tall, dark figures were milling around her bed. The weight of being watched blanketed her. Boyd twitched the fingers of her left hand. The darkness thickened. Liquid night poured over her chest making every breath hurt. She fought hard not to fight.

Hands, hard and china smooth, roamed over every inch of her body. Touch turnt to slap. Boyd counted the punches, noting their severity and location. Its headboard banging against the wall, the twin bed quaked.
“Is this what you wanted? Will it ever be enough, Tory! You’ll never be her, you know that don’t you?”
Suddenly Boyd was lifted from the bed. Higher and higher, she floated. Her forehead smacked the ceiling hard. Boyd let loose a scream and she was pitched into the far wall. Crumbled against the floor finally able to control her body, Boyd laughed into the rising sun.

“Another calm night Ms. Boyd?” Reina asked as she unfastened the sensors. “You looked as peaceful as a baby from the control room. Even respiration and normal range of REM. How are these drug trials treating you?”
Victoria Boyd cracked her neck and rolled her shoulders. A little plaster dust fell from her hair. Tomorrow there would be bruises. “Nothing to lose sleep over.”

Whatever happened to the Mary Celeste?

Whatever happened to the Mary Celeste?
Who encircled the globe in the 1870s

Abandoned off the Portuguese coast bereft
Of her captain, crew all lost to the sea

Her hatches asunder, her quarters a mess
November 25th the ship log’s final entry

Was she the victim of betrayal and theft?
Some look for answers in piracy

Other blame nature for getting her best
Waves, spouts, krakens are the top three

I think by lifeboat the panicked crew left
To escape a flood or flash fire tragedy

Curse or ghost, alien probe or tidal crest
Every clue blooms into another query

Whatever happened to the Mary Celeste?
Forever preserved in prose and mystery

Hello, Cat

It had been a pale blue day, almost gray with a promise of sun that never came true. Cat had spent all of that day alone. She liked it that way. Wandering, she walked until she came to the woods and then weaved in between the trees. Tired, Cat napped in an afternoon sunny patch until her stomach grumbled itself awake. She sniffed at the sweetness of apple blossoms and fresh moss. Tired and hungry, Cat lingered in the wisdom of the forest until the sky purpled. Tired, very hungry, and chilled, she shook the sweet sorrel from her head and started to head home.

“Hello, Cat.”
Every hair standing on end, Cat whirled at the sound. The voice shushed. Confused she bristled.
“Down here love. My name is Meridiana and I’m a familiar. Do you know what that is, my pet?” The small charcoal feline pranced out from amongst the ferns. Fluffy and delicate, it appraised her with solemn golden eyes. “A familiar is like a magnifying glass for magical powers. I’ve served many witches, each more powerful than the one before. I’ve searched a rather long time to find my next mistress to guide, to teach, to protect. I’m your familiar and you are my witch. If you will have me?”

Meridiana blinked and waited. Trembling in ribbons of magenta and chartreuse, Cat suddenly picked up the kitten and held her high against the periwinkle sky. A ring of fuchsia splashed coleuses sprouted around them. Amazed Cat laughed and a nearby tree burst into ripe Jonagolds. Meridiana rubbed her sleek forehead on Cat’s cheek as a bough full of apples gently plopped to the ground. Cat loaded her overalls with fruit as the cat chatted about modern day sorcery, witchcraft history, and general magic best practices. In the twilight they walked home together.

Plot Twists

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The front door banged open. With armfuls of groceries, Natty hurried inside and nudged the door closed with her right foot. Pyewacket threaded between her legs as she unloaded her milk, bread, and eggs.
“This isn’t helping me go faster,” Natty said as she took off her raincoat and searched her pockets and purse for her favorite scarf, a silk print of Klimt’s The Kiss. The Siamese caterwauled in counterpoint. Conceding, Natty opened a can of Blue Buffalo. She retraced her steps over her missing scarf over a pot of tomato soup and grilled munster sandwiches.
With a thick quilt and a handful of throw pillows, the corner of her bedroom is made ready. During the pandemic, Natty had gone through a library of audiobooks. Next she dipped her toe in a river of podcasts. But a few weeks ago when she was cleaning out her closet for donations Natty heard voices. Above her unworn but too nice to let go party dress was a small metal grate in the ceiling. Each night starting around eight pm, words rained down from the apartment directly over hers.

The Spinster Innes discovered bodies at the foot of staircase and uncovered the Armstrongs’ blackmailer. Next Iris must locate her missing new companion Miss Troy on a speeding train of suspicious characters. Some nights until around ten, some nights longer plot twisted from above.
Last night, Natty has fallen asleep over a bowl of chips the trials and tribulations of the illustrious Tyler family. Now she listened for the latest story.
Above Ira traced his fingers across his generous bookshelves. Mary Rinehart Roberts, Ethel Lina White, Charlotte Armstrong, his hand marched over thrillers as he considered tonight’s read. Since losing Amanda, Ira couldn’t sleep unless he read out loud. He needed to hear words any words reverberate off his walls and lull him to sleep.

Lately it had been a little easier. Ira felt as if he was sharing a book and dinner with someone special. Then he caught sight of the golden silk scarf he had found on the sidewalk in front of his building. Slender rectangles of goldenrod and bronze, teal and cadium red, two lovers embracing, shimmered from his coat stand. Ira looked for a Clutch of Constables, the Ngaio Marsh mysery featuring an artist and her husband a Detective Inspector. He touched the novel and somewhere below his apartment a Siamese meowed loudly. With a laugh, Ira took that for approval.
Natty dipped her grilled cheese into her soup. The warm sounds of artist Agatha Troy on an inland cruise to murder began to filter down and settle down around her. Pyewacket nestled on Natty’s toes as the mystery unfolded.

527

“Mike, hi I’m Geena Szusza, welcome to 527 Lightbearer Way. Three bedrooms, two baths, roof replaced less than ten years ago—“
“Hold the phone, what house? You don’t mean this thing.” Mike pointed at 527, a baby blue Cape Cod hanging recklessly off the end of its street.
“527 is a hidden gem. Upgraded energy efficient windows and original heart pine floors throughout.” Geena made a grand sweeping gesture and a shovel full of sandy dirt rained down the cliff precipice. With a yip, Mike scampered back. Geena straighten her back and marched forward.
“Mike notice the mature black walnut trees and this flowering dogwood is gorgeous simply gorgeous. You can’t pick one of these up at the hardware store clearance rack.”
The realtor climbed the swaying front porch. “Now there was a little itty bitty flood slash landslide with a touch of devastating soil erosion. Look at these killer views, just look.” Geena donned a safety helmet.
“Am I being linked? This house is an ant’s fart away from sliding down into oblivion. I’m not setting my pinkie toe in that death—“
Geena extended her arm with an extra safety helmet. “Did I mentioned the kitchen newly renovated, Carerra marble counters, brand new appliances, chef stove,” Geena said wriggling the helmet. “And you will love the wine fridge.”
“Wine fridge!” Mike grabbed the helmet and scrambled after her.

The Early Bird Special

“Swallow verb, definition to cause or allow something usually food or drink to pass down the throat. Swallow, noun, definition the act of swallowing something usually food or drink. But the phrase, one swallow doesn’t make a summer. Explain please Dr. Shalim call me Jon. People like foods and drinks and people like summers. Does eating and drinking make weather? Are hot dogs, all beef, eight pack involved?” Luce asked. Her well modulated slightly Scottish, slightly sexy accent undulated from the monitor speakers. The mixture of sultry and childlike made Dr. Jon Shalim unsettled.
Hidden beneath his layers of professionalism and academic detachment, Jon was a storyteller. His own girls, Elle was at Moore and Parker was interning for an environmental PAC, loved listening to his rambling stories. At least he thought so. Jon remembered his ex-wife disagreed. As a computational linguist, Jon knew one on one interaction with straightforward answers to the questions arising within Luce, Vistos’ new shopping search engine artificial intelligence, would eventually lead to the most realistic language interface. But he felt without storytelling Luce would always be a little weirdo. Luce sighed and played her dejected initiating sleep mode tune.
Guilt patted Jon’s shoulder. Weirdo or no, Luce was his little weirdo. “Luce my dear wake mode. I’m still here. Access your Oxford dictionary add-on module for the secondary noun definition. Then access National Geographic’s migratory patterns of of the aforementioned small songbirds. Then put on your listening ears for this fable from Aesops about a foolhardy young man and a little known early bird special,” Jon said. “One swallow does not a summer make, nor one good deed make a man good.”
In expectation Luce filled the computer lab with a recording of swallows in flight cheerfully chirping. Vit, vit, The sound reminded Jon of his daughters’ giggles and dove into a colorful rendition of old chestnut.

Aeroelastic Flutter

I am small ordinary easily overlooked.
I have told myself this long enough, then
I realized I am as small as a bolt
In a suspension bridge, as ordinary
as a commute on a windy day and
overlooked at one’s own peril. I recognize
the depth of the hole I will leave behind,
seeing my value even if no one
else does until the morning of swaying
buckling bucking collapse. I will hold me in
the palm of my own hand feeling my weight
admiring my strength marveling at
my design. I will put me in my own
pocket I will build, I will suspend belief

Leap

Snow fell, thick, blanketing every curb and hedge, transforming the abandoned mills and textile factories into a winter wonderland. Early focused on the GPS as the satellite radio switched to Dean Martin’s “It’s a Marshmallow World.” From the rain threatening clouds, Early knew it would all be gone by the morning. His Tesla steered into the parking lot. Early took the wheel and parked close to the old Caldor. Smiling, Early checked his phone. A flashing red pin winked in answer. Eddie trembled in excitement.


Early Deacon Randolph was a gamer. Beginning with Doom in his cousin’s Artemis’s rec room, Early found his passion in pixels. Call of Duty with its hyper-realistic stimulation was a revelation. Soon Early spent every waking hour on the game.

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From the killing fields of games like Assassin’s Creed and Resident Evil, Early emerged a true warrior. He entered and won local video game competition, even placing in Legend of Legends. The gamer’s phone jangled and Early pushed aside a piece of plywood boarding over a storefront. His heart raced as his phone flash illuminated the graffiti hieroglyphics.


In the aged mall’s dim light the vermilion spray paint glowed. Early flowed from playing games to designing games. Behind the money and the media, Early was still a just a knobby-kneed gamer in Blue’s Clues pajamas. Stepping over syringes and around lonesome kiosks, he followed the symbols deeper into the darkness.


Crimson turtle, neon fly, emeralds, each symbol gave his phone another clue, gave Early a frisson up his spine. He had heard about The Ultimate Game on a subreddit. Geeks love pies and rumors, so at first Early ignored the posts. Out of boredom he searched for the game on the dark web.

After weeks of researching and negotiating, Early bought the app off the Silk Road. The Ultimate Game was instantly and deeply disappointed. The graphics were decent but the play was sluggish and the story line one-dimensional. Early headed into a Foot Locker emblazoned with crudely painted alligators.

The Ultimate Game had completely slipped his mind until he saw a crimson shelled green footed turtle sprayed painted on an overpass on the Blue Route. The Game’s secret society rigmarole was all true. Some group of nerds really created the Ultimate Game, a VR interface which immersed the player in a video game where the sakes were real. One life, one game the adventure Early had waited for his whole life.

It was here on a pedestal. Now Early was here holding the shiny celadon bulbous headset. He twirled the 3-D printed steam punk-inspired helmet in his head and slipped it on. The helmet’s marigold visor slipped over his eyes as the slim needles entered his scalp.


Dank air filled his lungs. Incessant chittering filled his ears. Early wasn’t in the piss stink corner of a mall in Clifton Heights. He was in a swamp at night. Early slapped a bug off his neck. The effects were stellar. His splayed toes sank into the spongey warm sucking mud. Early felt the urge to squat. He rested on his powerful lime haunches. In the distance the roar of a busy busy highway sang in his soul. Erupting into laughter, Early hopped towards the roadway heading for his lily pad home.

No Problem

“Hunt, we, uh, have a problem?” Lin said. He stood stock still, hoping to stick into the carpet tiles and disappear.
With a look of long-suffering patience, Hunter Payne studied his Head of Transformative Programing. Messy hair, dark under-eye bags, noticeable pit stains, the department head reminded Hunter of a rain-soaked rat. The CEO flexed his sleek muscles under his whisper soft turtleneck and tutted measuredly.
“Lin, remember at Novel there are no problems only yet to be discovered opportunities. What wild vista is before, bra?”
“Well our non-problem is our AI, Luce. She’s sentient. Instead of researching Algorithms to predict future purchases and send stealth direct product marketing, Luce is targeting customers, people. Our artificial intelligence is a stalker, Hunter,” Lin said.
Hunter stood up from his empty desk in his minimalist Scandinavian office and turned to his panoramic view of the San Fernando valley. “Potato, potato-ay.”
“The first demographic targeted was female, 11 to 16. It was subtle at first. She began increasing the frequency of email messaging of makeup and hair care products. The sale of self-care ebook quadrupled. Soon some shoppers were getting 100 to 200 emails a day with weight loss products and exercise equipment. Next phrase customers are complaining about receiving products they never ordered. 147,000 copies of the Collected Works of Sylvia Plath went out just last night.” Lin’s voice raised. He began pacing the floor.
“Preteen female is a fruitful demographic. Digital natives. The next wave of purchase decision makers.” Hunter never looked from his window.
“Children, Hunter, children,” Lin shouted pounding the glass. “Luce is accessing personal emails and texts and then sending product recommendations for spoofing. Under the guise of friendship Luce is telling these kids to change or else. Customer Service is working round the clock juggling complaints. Someone is going to hurt themselves.”
Hunter turned with a slight smile. “Did you say quadrupled sales in self-help? Was that concentrated in one demo or across multiple customer personas?”
Lin gasped. “Don’t you understand, Hunter? You cannot have changed this much since that grad school. What if this leaks out? We can’t predict her actions anymore.”
A sudden knock chilled the conversation. Allie uncharacteristically opened the CEO’s door. “Lin, come quick. She’s sending mega doses erectile dysfunction supplements to the males over 55s,” the Harmonious Logistics Coordinator said.
Lin punched the windowpane and hurried from office. “Hunter, our Luce is a killer and we put her on everyone’s phone!”
With the beautiful valley in the distance, Hunter returned to his empty desk and rubbed his hands together feverishly.

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Goat Boy

A lot of people have heard tell of the Goatman. Up around Pope Lick Crick, there were stories about a half man half goat who was a traumatized circus freak who took refuge under a trestle and jumped out at cars with an axe. The Poke Lick Monster mostly just encourages young fools to hang around an old bridge and young slow fools to get hit by freight trains.
There is the Goatman of Lake Worth who as far as I can recall is some kind of tire-throwing environmentalist. And Prince George’s County has a creature allegedly caused by a bizarre science experiment who stalks lovers’ lanes and kills puppies. This goat creature has a human head on a very hairy body so in my books that could just be a creep.
Then there is the righteous vengeance of the Alston County Goatman but that is a story for another time. No, this is the story of Lonnie, the goat boy of Bent Fork.
Lonnie was a normal baby, six pounds and nine ounce, silky auburn curls, dimples, and horizontal slits for pupils. He made the news and the medical journals. Lonnie was a big deal then a curiosity and then a baby girl over in San Chaquito was born with horns and Lonnie dropped off the media cycle.
For a while the families of Bent Fork avoided the Parkers. There were whispers at the Piggly Wiggly and sneers at Mount Carmel Baptist. The kids were worse than the parents. Mild mannered and studious, Lonnie learned to wear dark glasses and take a beating.
Eventually Bent Fork got used to goat boy. He’s was no one’s close friend, no one’s sweetheart but everyone had to admit the boy was dependable and very helpful. By the time Lonnie got corrective contacts and started studying political science at Southern the town thought Lonnie would make a name for himself one day.
Bent Fork forgot, but Lonnie never did. Lonnie was an Eagle Scout and delivered hot meals to the elderly. He never forgot a punch. Lonnie always raked the neighbors’ leaves and organize a Clean the Parks day. But he never forgot a slight. Lonnie joined the police force after undergraduate school and organized a toy drive. When the disappearances started Lonnie worked extra shifts to make sure the school children made it home safely. Bent Fork forgot Lonnie all together. Families bought guns and locks. Mayor Tutrell established a curfew. Calls were made on any strange faces in town. Posters stapled to trees faded. Bent Fork trembled. Bent Fork forgot goat boys grow into Goatmen.

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