Skip to content

Category: Prose

The Boxed Djinn.

Professor Albert Groom labored in obscurity; a man without a patron or an audience in an age of change and fiendish conformity. He kept to himself and dabbled as a gentleman scientist. The very image of the enthusiastic amateur with only the formal education his family paid for to guide him.

In a hot summer

Chet had spent the last 14 years moving one step at a time along a trail of self-destruction that has stretched out ahead of him as a teenager as a “whole lifetime” and now was looking like something that folks in high society will call ‘youthful indiscretion’.

Chet had been killing for Uncle Sam since before there were secret agencies to give you medals for it. He had been working for The Secret Service unofficially just so they’d have a budget to shuttle him around the world to take care of people they thought they couldn’t buy or bully.

Chet found himself in his 30s, back home again. In the deep dark of time between duties. He had nothing, was nothing, he hardly existed as an actual person anymore. Chet always seemed to be somewhere else. He had personalities and voices and accents for every place America Had an Enemy, He forgot what his home town even looked like; never mind how they’d sound.

Chet stared at the main drag of the huge college town he had been born into. He couldn’t picture anything about this place. He felt the breeze die, and the heat pricked him all over. Pins of sweat appeared as soon as the breeze gave up the ghost and the Sun seemed to just focus on Chet’s lost self. Like the baleful eye of a God or at least Judgement.

Chet ducked into the Drug Store and was pleased to find it cooler and darker.

“Hey! Chester!” the man behind the counter looked to be about Chet’s age. A burly man, not the type you’d find behind the counter in a Drug Store.

Chet met the man from behind the counter as he stretched out his hand, Chet assumed a friendly personality, “Good to See You! It’s been forever is this your place?”

“Sure Is! My Dad left it to me when he moved out to Nevada!” Chet scanned around, looking for a family name, catching Scanetts. He spun through names in his head and came up with some unsavory people, and Nevada clicked it all into place. Chet knew right away why he was in his home town.

“Izzy?” Chet ventured.

“YOU REMEMBER!” Isreal Scanetts (Scanetti) was in fact running a local money laundering scheme via his father’s Drug Store. Which did a decent business; but it’s books showed a bit more profit than was sensible for a town this small. Izzy was watching shop for his Father’s Mobbed up connections in Nevada.

Chet was here to close up shop. It was going to be a long hot Summer.

My Demons are well dressed

Ever since I was a very young boy, I’ve been haunted by material success.

My personal demons clutched at me from the corners of my room, in the ceiling. They tore me from my bed scrabbling for the blankets. Yanked from bed and sleep and tossed bodily into the night sky, spinning into forever before I had even seen a picture of the moon.

Or, I thought. It’s possible I had seen a space program that night and my brain made a nightmare where I was tossed into space by the shadow men that whispered from the dark corners of my ceiling.

Years later, I’d find myself in the street outside of my house, somehow curtained with velvet scarlet curtains that stretched impossibly into the night sky above. The street lights lit the curtains, these long wide, but not “curtain” wide strips of soft, red cloth, attached at intervals to the ground forming boundaries that were not walls showing sky and neighborhood around.

There was a pounding from the earth. A slamming sound, from a glowing rectangle in the dirt on the ground.

I looked into it, deep down there was a man tied to a stone table, another man swung a hammer at the writhing man and where the hammer hit, a geyser of gore would erupt like a volcano of the flesh.

The man with the hammer turned and pointed at me, a grin that said “You’ll be here soon!”

Or maybe I saw a Poster for Ozzy Osborne and made a whole scenario up in my head for a nightmare. The guys who tell me stuff in my dreams, they think that’s how it is. I still get uncomfortable when I think about it, I avoided looking at that poster for a decade.

Then one of the guys started showing up in places. He’d be this smiling, silent, mad-eyed Polish Airman. He’d show up every-time I was left alone outside of the house. He wasn’t a threat or something, he just would sorta appear, hang out like “don’t you forget, we’re always here” and then take off.

Or I dunno, I imagined this very detailed idea of a ghost that’s doing some kind of Spiritual Racket on a guy. Who knows.

The Patient Gentleman, he says that it’s never gonna stop being like this until I can pay them off for all they do for me.

Higher Res Version of the Header.

Watching over the sleeping

The night watch at any old Graveyard is going to be a hairy affair. You’re at the Number 1 spot where “something” is going to happen if the veil gets thin at night. You can walk the whole ‘yard in full Daylight and not see the Sun, so Night Watch? It’s the pits.

Every night you walk the lines, the same lines 1,000 Night Watch have walked before, you check every single line, you step in the footsteps of legends, literally. NEVER walk it backwards, never counter-clockwise. You don’t want to unlock that lock! Graves that have given up a sleeper are marked in lit green, it’s never going to stop glowing as long as you and I are still around.

So the Night Watch? They keep the sleepers safe from the world and the world safe from the sleepers. If they wake up, the Night Watch tries to talk them back to bed. They have rites that they repeat all night long, quiet, like a lullaby for the Ancient Dead. “Go to Sleep, Elder God…” you know, but more Glutteral noises and whoops, like a whale makes.

I hear the Watch in the Desert has it easier, because they only really need to watch when it Rains or Floods, So the rest of the time their Watch have regular lives and they do ritual cleansing to “go in” and “get out” it must sound like Luxury to our Watch here, who are not lifers, but they do months long rotations. When they get off, they spend a week or two getting out of the habit of singing to themselves and a bit more in some salt rooms being blessed and cleaned by guys in robes who’ve been doing it so long.

So yeah, Night Watch. It has to be done, it’s the way we keep the bad old days from coming back.

After they closed the Parks

With no place to go and no one to care for them, the became a real problem when they got smart as hell REALLY fast. They took over in a big way, their massive flying death-beasts were one thing, but it was the humanoid ones that really took the world by storm. They had gone through our technological infancy at light-speed, something about Reptilian reproduction with long life spans…. their brains were different, more focused.

The Dinos took earth, the sites of the fights are still there, burning and enclosed, they use them as entertainment, theme parks really.

Walks of Shame

The place looked ever worse in the daytime, I had no idea where I was or how I got there or even what time it was.

My phone was GONE.

My Wallet was GONE.

I had my shoes on my feet, some cash in my socks and that was it.

I woke up in a bed, dressed and dry. I had no idea where I was, so I walked out of there and into some kind of slum. Everyone kind of looks the same, it was Morning, and the whole street is full of people doing the same as me. They are looking around, trying to figure out where they are and what happened.

Overhead, the sky is brown, and awful. Like the worse smog day ever. It’s HOT, too, humid. Everywhere is messed up, I’m noticing that I ache, so much. Around me I can hear people calling out for people, names and languages, nothing catches my ear.

I follow the smell of a diner cooking breakfast and coffee, and find it’s a stall at the end of a long line of flops. The guy behind the counter smiles at me with these metal teeth and he offers me this ATM skimmer and as I grab it my thumb hits the square and the words, paid pop up.

I don’t think anything about it, I take my coffee and a bagel (?) and step out again, looking both directions I realize that this isn’t a road, it’s more like a long alley. No cars.

Where the hell am I?

A few of the people wandering around like me have friends now, pairing up or are their buddies from last night catching up? There’s a couple people fighting now.

A woman stopped me and asked about Jeannie, I said that I didn’t know where she was and could she point me back to Home.

The Woman just sort of nodded and said she would, and she led me back to the place I had come out of. I told her that this wasn’t home.

Jeannie walked in the door I had just come in and put down a bag of something.

“Oh No! He’s missed a dose!”

She looked older, way older. Like … hold on.

She held out a pill to me and a glass of water and I took the pill and sat in a ratty chair.

It had been 20 years since the war was over and we lost.

I had been exposed to a neurotoxin something exotic, it robbed me of every memory between being infected and now. I remembered it all, crashing into it. This was home now, we were in a concentration camp of sorts.

They kept us with our families, and watched us from up on high, kept fed and secured, and lost.

As night fell and the patrols became more obvious, Jeannie sat and told me all of this, as my head re-sorted itself around the new normal. A World under the fist of an army no one could see anymore, kept like pets in massive slums, not even able to have kids anymore. The last kids were born 20 years ago.

In their Propaganda, they claim they are cleaning up the planet, and they will fix the damage their viruses and gene warfare did to humanity, but the more science-inclined among us noted that the insects and animals were unaffected by the alien warfare. This was a planned and targeted attack on humanity. And every few days, I forget.

Every few days I wake up, it never happened an I walk from a mystery bed into a hot and bright morning with other strangers who probably fought right next to me against a common enemy we should have seen coming.

Now there’s a daily walk of shame for all of humanity to remember.

Hidden Geographies

There’s these towns that I dream about over and over, their geography is getting to be familiar to me, to the point that when I see the places that the dreams were inspired by, I get a little confused because I thought I dreamed them.

There’s an intersection that my family passed seemingly 100s of times on family trips here and there through my life, it’s not even a major intersection, but we passed it dutifully so many times that whenever I take a long road trip in a dream, I’m sure to pass by it. It marks the boundary between the known and the unknown, the familiar and the exotic. It’s an almost literal HERE and THERE sign in a dream for me.

There are a series of small towns that I dream of with peculiar hidden geographies, side streets and alleys and shopping bazaars. These always seem to involve a street that splits in two directions, in one direction is a familiar stretch with a post office, a carpet shop, a cinema, a chip shop and a toy shop. I’ve drifted down (or rather up) this stretch so often that I can envision the walk passed easily. Inevitably the dream will lead through some side street to “the other bit” where the mystery place will be, the thing the Dream is “about” will be in this other part of the town, a part you can only approach without going there.

The People of these towns don’t exist for the most part, they aren’t even “Dream people” more like “filling” that’s not true, there are these, I don’t know, characters that end up being around town. There’s a Hotel/Hostel/BnB at the far end of town that vacillates wildly from being a 70s Drama and a Turn of the 20th Century Flop House.

There’s a Massive house at the far end of the main strip, it houses the rich old town founders family, they never live there long, they always sort of wander out, leaving a hollowed out mansion full of empty rooms with no ceilings.

There’s a strip of roads that lead out of town in three directions, 2 south, 1 north. or 1 east west and 2 south.

That’s it, it’s always the same otherwise.

Sometimes there’s a curving road that leads up to a highway of sorts, sometimes the whole affair is perched on a cliff with a modern posh hotel slam in the middle.

There’s a Shopping center that services the whole district, it never changes, it’s perpetually under siege by pop singers.

One Dirty Dog

Wind and dust and the smell of desert herb that comes with the only moisture of the day with the meager morning dew whipped by the winds of dawn and riven through the dry bones of the last Ghost Town in the Last Ghost State in the Whole Damned Ghost United States.

It’d been decades since the town had seen a stable visitor. There still came the odd visitor, a curious type looking for some evidence of America here in a park set up for families in a time of peace.

Every day the Cyborg Cowboy would patrol the empty streets, ferreting out animals and repairing the whole facility. It never wanted for parts or power, or even for function, there was a non-stop stream of animals into the compound. Drawn by the noise of the musical machines in the bar and the sounds of gun-fights that played over the loudspeakers.

The Cyborg was freed every night at closing time. A voice will announce: “Good Night, Buckaroos!”

And the Cyborg finds herself free of the yoke of the day, she can wander the empty streets and investigate the fences and decide whether to let the animals in again that night.

Burned in

Life in between the margins of the different habs was difficult on the regular, but Chum, you don’t know the halfs of it.

If you weren’t ‘Corp, you weren’t a citizen and if you weren’t a citizen, ANYONE could take a strip off you and the rent-a-guards would look the other way, because no one was giving them the money to care.

So I worked twice as hard some days just to look like one of those well-fed Corpos so at least I could avoid randomly being shot or stabbed by another Corpo for kicks. At this point I’d saved enough credit to get myself a nice hole in a dry wall on between the two biggest, warmest Habs in town. I’d forgotten which Corp I was supposed to be calling home by that time and took to wearing the colors of both, so as to confuse the more aggressive ones.

The Day to Day was always the same, roll out when the sun vanished from sight, put up a pin on the map and tell those that wanted my work where I was setting up shop that night. A Smith comes, pays some creds, I fiddle something for them, they leave. I live another day. Do that three times in a night and I’m good for the week. I’d been doing 4 a night for weeks and even my deck was beginning to wonder what would burn out first, my uplink or my brain.

A typical smith wandered into the “Heat and Eat” I’d set up shop in that night, sat far from me at first, checking me over with a not-so-subtle scan that triggered a few alarms both on me and the checkout. Not typical then.

At that point 2 more heavies walked in, looking at everyone but only seeing me. They sat on either side of me and I had a moment to guess what was coming, they looked Sov-Grown (same seed, random) they could have been Sov-Gov and that would be trouble for both of us.

The Smith stood up, smoothed his improbably hard to describe black suit and sat across from me.

“Comrade, your service is needed to find a girl.”

He placed a readable data stick on the table and gestured to me, I read it with a portable and translated it from Sov-Gov to English. Standard missing child, looks like a Moscow-Metro Snatch and Sell.

“Do you have an approximate location?” I didn’t look any of them in the eye.

“All of everything is in that Dossier, my friend. There’s no clock on this tonight, but if you can turn her up today, there’s a wildly indulgent tip here for you.”

The Heavy on my Left produced an onyx credit card with a “balance carry” logo on it. Essentially a bank on a card. Minimum balances being in numbers large enough to buy a luxury cardboard life.

I had already eliminated most of AsiaPac/SovCits/Alba/UK/AusNet/SudAmerica by the time the credit had hit the table. I was warm already, which was nice. I had long since tuned up my search systems to work on the quiet and my storage was humming with deltas of datasets from every major clearinghouse on earth. If it was text, I could find it in a moment, audio almost as fast. Video was a problem, due to permutations. It’d take me whole minutes sometimes.

Finding a living person in the real world, it was trickier.

Finding a person is like catching a bug in flight, you can see the bug, you can track it, but when you go to move, it moves too and sometimes all you catch is the place it’s been. Smith wanted the Bug, not where the Bug had been.

I hit Green for her location after 2 hours. I’d breached a Security Camera setup at a facility in Warm Hab number 2, to my back. She was less than 14 kilometers from where I sat.

“Here” I had printed all I had on a card and handed it to him, he scanned it with his portable, called out and nodded to the heavies. The Credits hit my hand and they were out the door.

I took the cash and flushed it into a bunch of different accounts, turning it into various coins and creds in dozens of accounts and investments, clearing a few debts and setting myself up in a luxury flop stitched onto the outside of Warm Hab 1. It wasn’t inside, but at least it was above the alleys.

The good thing about money is it buys you security, and for me that meant an old Habber sitting watching my door and calling me at 3:00PM telling me I was about to get a rapid wake-up.

The Door to the Flop busted in and the two heavies from the night before flooded into my place with a dozen SovGov cops in tow. I watched this from a video feed as I deeked out of the Flop and into the open air between the two Habs and sailing headlong into the waiting crush of gravity and trash in a swan dive away from danger.

I turned, looking back at my flop as the security kicked in and the whole unit unfolded from the assembly and disintegrated like it was never there. Good Security in luxury cardboard, I say.

The SovGovs and Heavies fell into the alley and I was missed, but I was burned. Clearly.

I crawled out of the trash, checked over my gear and found nothing that mattered was broken. I set up a search for anything related to last nights work and found my way to a quiet and out of sight place for breakfast where I could watch the doors for new friends.

I had been Burned to the ground. Looks like the Lost Girl was a local Pop Star and no one was happy to see her in the hands of Smith, but the SovGov didn’t want any loose ends, and I was loose, man.

I admit, the idea of a new “Barda” focused Story is intriguing

For one thing, a Barda-Only Story where Barda gets her hands on the Onyx Sword from Gods and Monsters and jumping universes to meet the somewhat criminal Superman of that earth would make for a cool comic.

The Premise is fun, there was an anomaly at the Source Remnant on New Genesis. The Source Remnant has this sword hilt in it, when grabbed the MotherBox like tech in the sword activates and tells Barda a secret way into this alternate universe. It also tells her that in this alternate Scott Free is a strong and powerful warrior.

You set up that she needs “Scott Free” from Gods and Monsters Universe to donate some blood for Local Mister Miracle because his time on Apokolips robbed him of something from his diet that every child on New Genesis gets. Subsequently an organ is shutting down.

Barda has to get a sample and reading from “Bad Scott Free” to save her husband, strangely the sword “Wants to Go Home”