You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, a fantasy adventure novel available at Barnes and Noble Online.

Saturday, December 22, 2007



A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

He leaned quietly against the lamppost, drawing gently upon his cigarette. The smoke was good. He exhaled, the cloud of smoke joining with the damp fog that filled the twilight evening. The light from the gas lamp atop the lamppost played with the smoke and fog, making this evenings smoke something special.

Out of the fog came a sound. Horses hooves paced along the cobbled street. The narrow way between the buildings funneled the sound, amplifying it. He took another drag, and waited.

A single horse, pulling a van. Two men on the seat. The van was elaborately carved and painted. The driver was a younger man, listening intently as the other man spoke to him. The other man was smaller, and somehow seemed something other than a man. He was speaking softly, but quickly. He seemed to be instructing.

A medallion attached to the van above the driver’s seat caught a bit of light from the lamp, flashing momentarily in the twilight.

As they drew abreast of the lamppost, the smaller man stopped talking. The little man nodded a terse greeting, and then turned to look in the direction they were traveling.

The little man looked surprisingly like a fox. Yes. Like a fox. Strange.

Taking another drag from the cigarette, letting the smoke slowly escape from between his lips, he watched the painted and carved vehicle pass. Soon, it was just the sound of horse’s hooves in the fog and twilight.

Finishing his cigarette, he turned back toward the building from which he had earlier stepped out for a smoke. This was only the second doorway of that building he had tried. The first had let him out onto the street he had originally come in on.

At least it had looked like his street. It was hard to tell. It had been night. All of the lights were out, and there was no traffic. That had been disturbing enough, but there had been a mist, and a sense of threats unseen. That had been weeks ago, and only tonight had he found courage to try another doorway.

He walked back to the doorway from which he had recently exited. The numbers were in a script that was hard to read, but appeared to indicate that this was 249b. He had never seen such a script before. He lifted the latch, and entered.

The room was rather non-descript. Ordinary furniture, though of an unusual design. Utilitarian. Rather uninviting. Not so nicely turned out as the area occupied by those who called it “the club.”

Two-four-nine-b, the club without any real name. Not really a club, but what else to call it? The association was strange, like the building it occupied.

He crossed the room, and passed through an inner door. Here he was, again, in the strange central hallway. It extended into darkness in either direction, much like the narrow room at the top of the building. Up there were two bowling alleys. Here, just a hallway with a seemingly endless succession of doors.

Cross the hall, turn right. Two doors down. It opened, with a regular doorknob rather than the unusual latch of the outside door he had just used.

He was back in the reading room, between the two bookcases that framed and partially obscured this doorway. Another oddity of the club; these seemingly pointless doorways. He sighed a sigh of relief. He walked back to the grand room, the one with the larger fireplace. The place where tales were told.

Stevens came in from the opposite doorway, and placed a very old canvas bag on the table. If things went as usual, Stevens would serve another round of drinks, and the time for telling stories would begin.

As he leaned against the wall opposite the fireplace, he contemplated the seemingly endless hallway, with so many doors. So many doors.

“Drink, sir?” Asked Stevens. He had appeared from nowhere, now carrying a tray of that magnificent brandy that opened the telling of tales on the Thursday before Christmas. This very night.

“Uh, yes. Thank you, Stevens.”

He took his drink in hand, but did not drink. It was for the toast of the evening.

Stevens had not moved.

“Have care, sir.” Said Stevens. “There are a great many doors. They are a lot like the stories told here. They could take you anywhere. Happy Christmas, sir.”

Stevens delivered the rest of the drinks to the others around the fireplace. The time for the telling was near.

He looked across the room, at a painting that hung there. A tower, in a field. A dark tower, in a field of what looked like blood-red roses.

A tower like that could contain a great many doors. A tower, like a brownstone building. A great many doors.

He waited for the tale to begin, and thought about doors.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Other Side of Christmas

The Other Side of Christmas

A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

The elf keeping watch was old. Three hundred and ninety-seven Christmases. For most of them he had been down below. Working in materials, manufacturing, and packaging, shipping and receiving. Indoors work. Now, he had the honor of waiting for the Old Man. The wind took some of the pleasure out of that honor, but he held onto the pleasure he had felt when Santa himself asked him to keep the watch. Yes, cold or not, it was an honor.

“Been with me a long time.” The Old man had said. “You know the ropes. You also know how to keep a secret.” At first he had thought that it was secrets of manufacturing he meant. Only as he had time to think, out here in the cold, had old Wilkie recognized that it was something to do with Santa’s return that might require a secret to be kept.

Finally, he could see the sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. It was the most recent model, and handled well. Wilkie could recall several earlier models that were hard to control after the load had been delivered. Not this one. She was tracking beautifully.

In moments the sleigh was on the pad. The Old Man looked tired. Wilkie had never seen him right after the return. He certainly didn’t seem full of Christmas cheer. He looked like a worn and bitter old man. Wilkie had seen plenty of those in the years he did field work. Spreading Christmas cheer was a tough job.

The Old Man tossed Wilkie the reigns.

“Take it below, Wilkie. Have Tobbie and his crew move the bag to my room. I am going to have a bath and something to drink.” Said Santa. The Old Man moved away through the falling snow.

Wilkie checked the sleigh and reindeer. They appeared to be properly on the pad. He went to a control panel and pushed the “down” button. Soon the sleigh, the reindeer, and Wilkie were down below. The crew came forward and began the elaborate process of unhitching the reindeer and leading them away.

He waved to Tobbie, and pointed at the empty sack that had so recently held so many toys and other gifts. Tobbie nodded, and led his team of four elves to the sleigh. They seemed to be having quite a bit of trouble with the empty bag. Like something inside was struggling.

As he watched, he saw part of the bag extend itself suddenly toward one of the elves. He took a good blow to the chin, and went down.

“Wilkie!” Tobbie cried. “Get over here and lend a hand! We have to get this to the Old Man’s room! Quickly!”

Wilkie jumped in, and eventually the four of them were able to get the wriggling bag down the hallway and into the Old Man’s room.

Santa glanced quickly at Wilkie, then at Tobbie. There was a silent exchange between the Old Man and the elf. “Put it over there.” He finally said.

The elves moved their burden over to a large chair. The chair was festooned with chains and leather fasteners. They set their burden in the chair, and began working to keep it under control as they removed the bag.

What emerged shocked Wilkie. A young human woman! Still, he managed to do his part to get her strapped into the chair. Her voice was muffled by a gag, but Wilkie could tell that she did not wish them anything like Christmas cheer.

Once all of the straps and chains had been applied, the exhausted elves stepped back to regain their strength.

“Sorry, Boss.” Tobbie finally managed to say. “Jingles took a shot to the jaw, and went down. Wilkie was the only one nearby.”

Santa looked appraisingly at Wilkie. “It’s all right. He might as well be initiated right now, eh?”

Wilkie did not like the sly smile on Santa’s face. Not at all Christmas-like. Nor did he like the way his fellow elves had their hands in their pockets. What could they have in there?

Santa turned to the young lady.

“My dear child.” He said. He sounded his old, gentle self. “Christmas is ending. The season’s Christmas cheer is almost exhausted. It must be replenished. It will come from you.”

He stepped away, and had an awful gleam in his eye.

“You shall be this year’s Mrs. Claus.” He said. “Each year, I capture a new Mrs. Claus. Tomorrow night will be our wedding night. Willing or not, it makes no difference. Misery will be your lot for the year. I will come to you, every night. Every time will be a torment. With every drop of your personal misery Christmas cheer will be renewed, ten times over.”

“Every time I come to you will make you older. By next Christmas you will be very old, indeed. By the time I next take to the sky, you shall be dead.”

The terror in her young eyes was exquisite. Santa was satisfied. She had been a good choice.

He then turned to Wilkie. His look was not unkind, but it was firmly resolved. The other elves kept their hands in their pockets.

“Well, Wilkie. Now you know the secret of Christmas. The joys of Christmas are built on the misery of an unwilling sacrifice. One like this mothered each of you. Every elf. Now, Wilkie, I need to ask you. Are you one of us?”

He looked at the Old Man. He looked at the menace of the other elves, with their hidden hands. He looked at the young woman, chained to the chair. He thought on Christmas’ past, and the joys of the season. A season spoiled for him, but still precious for the world.

“Yes, Old Man.” He said, and swallowed hard. “Yes, I am one of you.”

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Warren Povich had been thinking about his reset button. Now, everyone in the year 2187 did not have a reset button. Only about a dozen, if the information Warren had was accurate. It might be possible that the Temporal Research Institute was just feeding him some bullshit when he became part of the program. The only way to find out would be to push the button.

Warren was a sales technician. It was not much of a job when he took it, and not much of a job now. He was facing an inadequate retirement, if he hoped to make up for the sacrifices he had made for his family. Warren did not really regret his life, but he did sometimes wonder what it might have been like to do it again. Differently.

He had joined the Temporal Research Institute while still in college. They needed test subjects. He got some money for school by letting them wire his brain and do silly experiments.

At least, he thought they were silly. He couldn’t ever remember them clearly. Those memories were like the tail end of dreams that fade upon waking.

Apparently they thought he was a good subject. They offered him the reset button. Just like in a computer game or multidimensional experience theater production. He laughed quietly to himself at those analogies mentioned when he was so young. Still, the analogy held, even if technologies have moved far along other paths.

Warren ordered a cup of tea from his kitchen, and took the steaming cup with him out onto his deck. Humble housing, but still a good view. He always enjoyed it in light of his grandfather’s recollections of the last days of urban crowding and the last of the era of polluted air. Technology and government had matured over that time, and the populations had been dispersed to better suit the needs of the earth and all who lived upon it.

Idyllic, but boring. He reflected on a very good life. His wife and kids had provided enough positive feedback to counteract the tedium of his job and a life with few prospects beyond safety and comfort. Yet, at any juncture that might offer a decision to follow adventure and danger, he had opted for safety and security.

He sipped at his tea, and accepted its predictable goodness. When he had realized that the reset button that the Institute had given him provided a license for all sorts of misadventures, he surprised himself by adopting a very conservative approach to living his life.

He still surprised himself. It might well be time.

Leaving his tea, he went to the closet in his bedroom. Moving a few items, he was able to reach the door to a small safe. He pressed his thumb to the lock, and the door opened. Warren extracted a small item that looked like a common remote.

It was a small instrument, of some form of plastic. A place to put his right thumb on one side, and a similar place for his left thumb on the other. It was intentionally awkward to hold while activating. The experiment required that the initiation of a reset must be intentional. That was also why the unit included voice recognition.

Warren held the object carefully by its edges, and intoned, “There’s no place like home.” A silly password, but it had seemed both amusing and appropriate in that long ago time when the experiment was fresh and new. With his thumbs so far from the reading surfaces, there was no danger of a reset.

He took the object with him, this button that held an entirely different future for him. He carried it with him as he returned to the porch. He took up his tea, and sipped at it. Still warm. Everything in Warren’s world was designed to serve him. The cup would not let the tea grow cold.

Warren thought about his wife. How they had grown apart, but complacently so. He thought about his children, who had lives of their own. He thought about his grandchildren, who loved him just as vaguely as he loved them.

As he thought, he placed the plastic object between his hands. Thumbs found their ways to the reading surface. There was no change in the device, but he knew that it awaited the voice code. It felt anxious in his hands.

Warren faced the setting sun. It was quite near the horizon.

What would happen if he said the words? How would the reset affect the world? He had stood like this, countless times before, and thought these thoughts. How many times might he have done this, already? Was this life the result of multiple resets?

Though many times he had been tempted to do so, he had only made one reset point in all of his years. Just before getting married. Just before starting this long, boring, yet vaguely satisfying life.

Warren watched the sun dip slowly past the horizon. The passage of time presented visually before him. He stood, hands together, thumbs on the plate. Darkness grew around him.

Between past and future, Warren stood.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Diet

The Diet

A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

“Hello?” Inquired Adriana Loomis, as she opened the door of the little shop. “Hello? Anyone here?”

The room was dark, and draped with tapestries. Mystical. Medieval. Exciting.


She stood near the center of the small room. It contained two chairs, neither of which looked capable of carrying her substantial personage. She had passed petit in her youth, dallied with curvaceous for a season, and spent many years as big boned. At this point in her life she was corpulent, on a good day. On bad days she was as big as a house.

“Hello? I am here about the diet.” Adriana said, waving around a piece she had torn out of a newspaper. There seemed to be nobody to see it as she waved it about, so she stopped. It drooped in her hand.

“One moment.” Said a voice from behind one of the tapestries.

She waited.

The tapestry was pushed aside, and a surprisingly young man stepped into the room.

“Are you really a Gypsy fortune teller?” Adriana asked. He seemed so young.

“Romani.” He said. “I am of the Romani people. I tell fortunes. I read cards. I read palms. You mentioned the diet?”

“Yes. Your advertisement says, ‘Lose a pound a day for the rest of your life.’ You can do this?” She asked.

“I can, if you are sure it is what you want.” Said the young man.

“I have tried everything. Oh, please. Can you help?” Cried Adriana.

“You have the money?” He asked.

Adriana extracted a large roll of bills from her purse. She handed it to the young man. He glanced at it, and put it in his pocket.

“You didn’t count it.” She said.

“I am a fortune teller. It is correct.” He said. “You are very sure of this?”

“Yes.” She moaned. “Please.”

The young man reached up and brushed her face with the back of his hand. He leaned close to Adriana’s ear.

“Thinner.” He whispered.

He stepped back. “It is done. A pound a day, for the rest of your life.”

Adriana was incredulous. “That’s it?” She asked.

“It will work.” He said. “I learned it from my grandfather. It worked for him, and his fathers before him.”

“I…..believe you.” Said Adriana. She turned to go.

“One more thing.” He said.

She turned back. He was holding out a business card. She took it, and looked at it.

“My sister’s bakery.” He said. “If you change your mind, talk to her. Ask for the strawberry pie. It was my grandfather’s favorite.”

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Everything You Need

Everything You Need

A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

“What is it?” asked Tommy. He held the old canvas bag up and looked at it. He gave it a sniff, and was pleased that it did not smell as musty as it looked. It smelled old, and somehow smelled a bit like the sea. It looked to be about three feet long, about two feet in diameter, and it had a braided chord drawstring.

“It is a family heirloom.” Said his father. “Look inside.”

The request seemed silly. The bag was empty. Tommy pulled the mouth of the bag open, and reached inside. He touched something. Tommy almost dropped the bag. He gripped the object, and pulled it out of the bag.

“A book.” He said. “An old book. Leather.”

“The letters on the cover stand for Thomas James Morse. Your great, great grandfather.”

Tommy turned the book in his hands.

“Dad, the bag was empty.” Tommy said.

“Yes.” Said his father. He left the room and closed the door.

Tommy came into the kitchen to get a glass of milk. His father was sitting at the table, reading the paper. He folded his paper, and set it down next to his coffee.

“Dad, why aren’t we rich?” Tommy asked.

“You have been reading the journal?” his father asked.

Tommy nodded, and sat down. He put his glass on the table, and waited for his answer.

“What part did you read?” asked his dad.

“Thomas Morse was lost at sea. His ship broke up on a reef near an island.” Tommy related.

His father nodded, and encouraged him to go on.

“There was a seagull feather stuck between the pages at that part. That’s why I started reading there.” Said Tommy. “He grabbed the bag as the ship broke up. He made it to shore.”

His father took a sip of coffee, and waited for Tommy to go on.

“When he made it to shore, he opened the bag. Inside were this journal, a pen and ink. There were also a hatchet, a knife, some string, a small pan, and a box containing tinder and flint.”

“Everything he needed.” His father said, quietly.

“But Dad, the bag could have given him food and stuff.” Tommy said.

“What did he do with the things he got?” Asked his father.

“Built a fire to get warm and dry.” Answered Tommy. “He then was able to make a shelter. He made snares and fishing spears. He was able to stay alive for months, until a ship finally picked him up.”

His father nodded.

“He could have been rich!” Tommy blurted out. “We could be rich, with a bag like this!”

His father just looked at Tommy.

“Where did it come from?” Asked Tommy. “It’s just too weird.”

“I don’t know. We have Thomas’ journal, but he never relates just where the bag came from. He may not have learned to write before he got it. He was a man of the sea, traveling far. Some far off port, I have always imagined.”

Tommy thought for a while.

“It doesn’t give you what you want, does it?” Asked Tommy. “That’s why we aren’t rich, isn’t it?”

“No Tommy. It just gives you everything you need.” His father said, quietly.

“Everything you need.” Tommy thought out loud.

His father nodded, looking a bit sad.

“Everything you need.” He repeated. “Use it carefully, Tommy.”

Tommy nodded. He got up and went to his room. He looked at the bag for a long time. He then picked it up, and folded it carefully. He found a dark place, deep in his closet. He put the bag there, and then closed the door.

“Everything you need.” He repeated, and walked away.

Saturday, October 27, 2007



A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

His mother was there when he was born. That is a given. The village midwife was also there, Mother Arna. That was practically a given. The village priest was there, as well. The Great Mizuti. That was special. It was time to select the Child of the village. If the child was born a male, The Great Mizuti would bless and name him.

He was born male. The Great Mizuti did bless him. The Great Mizuti named him Blame. He would be Child of the village, son of the people. His days would be blessed. The people would prosper, because of him.

For ten years Blame grew as most other children. He was a bit fatter than most, because many women of the village felt the compulsion to mother him and give him treats. He was a bit more protected, for the other children were not allowed to abuse him. Blame was Child of the village, and of symbolic value. The children were encouraged to respect and defer to Blame.

On his tenth birthday, The Great Mizuti came at dawn and lead Blame away. Blame was not afraid, until he was lead between two lines of masked men. The carved masks were horrible, and made Blame draw close to The Great Mizuti. The priest put an arm around Blame, and hugged him tight as they made their way through the threatening gauntlet.

When Blame was standing near the altar, The Great Mizuti had the men lift their masks, so that Blame could see the faces underneath. Blame became less frightened as he recognized many men of the village. Most of the men had been kind to Blame. He began to relax.

The Great Mizuti had Blame lay down on the altar. He did so. Four men tied his hands and feet to the altar. Blame again felt afraid. The Great Mizuti patted Blame’s head, and said that it would soon be over. Blame tried to relax.

Another four men came forward, and with reverence placed a board on top of Blame. The Great Mizuti made motions over the board, and mumbled secret words. Blame again felt afraid. The Great Mizuti turned to the gathered men, and said some more words. Blame could not hear the words, because his heart was pounding loudly in his ears.

Then the men took the board away. They untied Blame and helped him sit up. The Great Mizuti lifted Blame from the altar, and took him by the hand. They made their way back to where his mother waited, outside the Holy Place. She hugged Blame, and led him home. There were tears on her cheeks.

Every year after that, for six years, The Great Mizuti came and got Blame from his mother’s home. Every year they walked between the masked men. Every year they tied him to the altar, and placed the board on top of him. Every year he was returned to his mother. Every year there was a tearful hug, and a return to everyday life.

When the ritual was completed on his sixteenth birthday, Blame was not returned to his mother. He was taken to a beautiful little house on the north edge of the village.

“This is now your home, Blame.” Said The Great Mizuti. “You may visit your mother as much as you like, but here is where you will sleep. Many people will visit you, here. You are Child of the village.”

At first Blame spent much time at his mother’s home. However, he had many visitors at his new house. Many brought him gifts. Quite a few of the young people came to visit Blame at his house on the north edge of the village. Some of the young women were quite friendly. It was not long before Blame seldom slept alone.

Blame grew quite fat and jolly. He lived on the gifts of the village, which were given freely. He enjoyed his visitors, and they enjoyed him. Some commented that he was one of the kindest persons to bear the name in many years. This he did not understand, but he accepted the compliment nonetheless.

Twice more he passed between the masked men. Twice more he was tied to the altar. Twice more the board was placed on him and words said over him.

Several of the young women of the village who had visited his bed grew round with child. Their parents were proud, and gave even more gifts to Blame. Soon Blame found himself crowded by young women. They strove with one another for his attention. He did his best to attend to every one.

Following the next year’s ritual, some of the married women of the village came to his little house. The came covered in shawls, always late at night. They would chase out any young women who were in the house, and take Blame to his bed. They would always leave before first light, wrapped again in their shawls.

Blame grew concerned, at first, that the husbands of these women would visit him in anger. However, that did not happen. Soon he relaxed and enjoyed the new attention. The younger women were delightful, but the older women proved much more interesting in many ways.

One day The Great Mizuti appeared at Blame’s door.

“This is your twentieth birthday, Blame.” Said The Great Mizuti. “Come. We must again go to the Holy Place. Today you are Blame.”

As he had many times before, Blame went with The Great Mizuti. He walked between the masked men of the village. The masks were particularly gruesome and angry this year, and made Blame uncomfortable. Blame quietly took his place on the altar, and allowed the men to bind him to the stony surface.

This time the ritual took longer. The board rested in its place along the wall. The people of the village had gathered near a pile of stones to one side of the altar. One by one, they came to The Great Mizuti. They whispered in his ear, and then returned to their place of waiting.

The Great Mizuti selected a stone for each person who had whispered to him. They were round and flat, and looked old. Some were rather small, and these were handed to the villagers under the direction of The Great Mizuti. Some were large, and a masked villager would carry the heavy stone to be placed at the feet of the appropriate villager.

Now the board was set in place on top of Blame. Starting with the oldest members of the village, they came forward one by one. Each placed their stone carefully on top of the board. Many kissed Blame on the forehead after doing so. Blame grew confused. This was not the way the previous rituals had worked.

The men in masks aided those who could not lift their own stone. Soon Blame was having trouble breathing. Still they added stones. Finally, when he thought he could stand no more, there were no more people lined up. Breathing in small breaths, Blame felt some form of relief. Perhaps it would soon be over.

The village fell back, and The Great Mizuti addressed them in a quiet voice.

A villager came forward and spoke with The Great Mizuti. With a grand gesture, The Great Mizuti invited another villager forward. The Great Mizuti and the two villagers conferred for a few minutes. Then the first villager selected a good-sized stone. He handed it to the other villager, who came toward the altar.

Blame could not breath. He felt a rib crack as another stone was added to the pile. His vision blurred, and began to go dark. With the addition of another stone, Blame issued a sigh, and blood flowed from his open mouth. Darkness engulfed him, and he knew no more.

The Great Mizuti raised his arms over the pile of stones, and spoke the ancient words. He turned to the gathered villagers, and lifted his arms toward them in blessing.

“We named him Blame, twenty years ago. Blame, as one to take all of our faults and sins to the grave for us. I declare all of you forgiven, and all grievances within the village absolved. Be at peace with one another.”

He looked with pleasure at the many full, round bellies on the women of the village. It will only be a matter of weeks before he will again name a child.

“Go now, in peace with one another.” Said The Great Mizuti. “Be at peace with yourselves. Your faults and sins have died on this altar.”

They all went to their homes, in peace.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Gritty Kitty

Gritty Kitty

A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

Captain Lepshot was ecstatic! After so much searching, he had found a source of Schmagmum that was of astounding purity, and in an environment that would allow for easy extraction. He could hardly wait for the final tests. In moments he would be able to send a message to the fleet leader, advising of the discovery.

“The damned thing is back again!” called out First Officer Plenum. “Battle stations! Strap in, everybody!” Alarms sounded, red lights flashed. Blue bodies bounded to security benches, attaching themselves with various straps and fasteners.

Lepshot watched as a huge quadruped entered the view of the forward monitor. It was gigantic, covered with fur and obviously built for killing. It stepped into the granular material in which Lepshot’s ship, The Underbelly, lay hidden. Only some of the remote sensor arrays were visible above the surface of the curious granular material containing the precious Schmagmum.

The great beast made a cursory olfactory inspection of the area in which The Underbelly lay hidden, then turned away. Moments later it lowered its hindquarters over the secreted ship.

“It’s going to defecate!” shouted Science Officer Debenture. “Prepare a test probe!”

The ship shuddered as masses of fecal matter dropped upon it.

“I think that it’s done.” Said Debenture.

“It’s turning around.” Said Plenum. “I think it is making another olfactory scan of the area.”

“What’s it doing?” Shouted Lepshot.

The ship shuddered as the massive creature dragged masses of granular material over the feces. Then it turned, and walked away.

Lepshot was going to call general quarters, when the sensors called out again.

“What the hell is that?” shouted Plenum. He was staring at the monitor in terror, gripping his bench with all four hands.

On the monitor was a creature to make the quadruped seem miniscule. Bipedal, with only two arms. At least it wasn’t covered with fur. Just a little on top of the orb between its arms. It was leaning down toward where The Underbelly was laying, now only partially hidden.

It appeared to have some kind of tool in its hand. It scraped away at the granular material, while deep and loud sounds issued from the orb between its arms. There seemed to be sensors and an orifice of some kind in the orb between the arms.

“I wonder if we could communicate with it?” said Debenture.

The creature collected feces from the granular material, and placed it in a bag. It started to turn away, when it suddenly stopped. Turning, it appeared to be focusing its sensors in the direction of The Underbelly.

“Uh, oh.” Said Plenum.

“Always one for understatement.” Said Lepshot. The sound was a whisper.

Sudden and violent motion indicated to all that the creature had taken The Underbelly into its grasp. Most of the crew was unconscious by the time the shaking stopped.

“Damage report!” called Lepshot when he regained consciousness. At first there was nothing, then confused and feeble voices responded.

“No permanent damage, Captain.” Reported Plenum. “Two serious injuries on level two. Security straps broke loose. They are on the way to sick bay.”

“Captain, you won’t believe this!” said Debenture. “Those samples! The feces? Huge traces of Schmagmum. Huge!”

“Hmm.” Lepshot responded. “And just where are we?”

“In some other part of the artificial structure we were exploring.” Replied Plenum. “On a flat surface, next to some kind of information processing device.”

“Can we communicate with the device?” Lepshot asked.

“Way ahead of you, Captain.” Said Debenture, prodding some instruments. “Hmmm. Yes. Yes! I think we can do it!”

“How long?”

“By the time the star of this planet sheds light here, again, it will be done.” Said Debenture.

“Tomorrow, then?” Said Plenum.

“Well, taking into account various factors, tomorrow is a good enough term.” Replied Debenture.

“Debenture, keep your team working. I want to send a message by morning.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“Plenum, with me. My ready room. We need to work out our message.”

“Aye, Captain.” Said Plenum.

Everyone began to undo their safety straps. Debenture headed down to deck two, to put together a team to attempt to communicate with the device next to the ship.

Plenum and Lepshot went into the ready room and closed the door.

William Tanner looked at the object sitting next the computer on his desk. It looked like a stainless steel can, about ten inches long and three in diameter. Then he looked at his computer monitor. The message looked like some kind of Pidgin English, but the message was clear.

The only thing to do was to test the promise he read on the computer. William picked up the can, and carried it into the next room. The stench indicated that Ludlow, his faithful cat, had recently used his litter box.

“Good.” Said William.

He placed the can in the dirty litter box, and left the room. For the next hour he kept himself busy, avoiding the room containing the litter box. Finally, when the hour was done, he returned.

The can sat on the surface of the litter. The litter itself was clean, and the room was free of the usual odor.

William picked up the can, and carried it back to his desk. He used more care than he had used the night before. He had some idea who lived inside, and wanted to avoid any injuries to his new partners.

He sat down at his desk, and began typing carefully on the keyboard. He was not the greatest businessman, but nobody he knew had any experience in writing an interplanetary contract.

The strange little people in the can were going to make him rich.

“Captain, I think we have an agreement.” Said Debenture. The whole crew had worked together to craft the contract, knowing that they now possessed first rights to the largest source of Schmagmum in the known Galaxy.

Lepshot reviewed the contract. It had taken quite a while to iron out some elements of communication, and yet it seemed to go rather quickly for an interspecies business agreement. The profit motive always seemed to cross such lines.

Lepshot flicked on the intercom and started to speak.

“I remain your Captain, but only for purposes of negotiation with the Fleet and the Home World. By virtue of being in the right place at the right time, we have all become partners in a great business venture.

“Now that we have the initial contract with the creature called ‘William Tanner,’ we may prepare for our communication with the Fleet. Considering just how wealthy they will all become, along with us, I think we will reach a most lucrative agreement.

“Lest any of you not fully understand the treasure we have found, I will explain. This world has a creature, called a ‘cat.’ These creatures commonly dwell with creatures like William Tanner. He calls himself ‘human.’ Though the cat is pleasant to humans, the cat’s urine and feces are not. These are collected in boxes, called ‘liter boxes.’

“We have discovered that cat urine and feces are loaded with Schmagmum, a material critical to our culture and the reason for our exploratory travels.

“It is most convenient that our ships are just the right size to fit into these ‘liter boxes.’ We shall bring the fleet, and each of our ships will be assigned a litter box. They shall process the Schmagmum, and periodically we shall rotate ships to return to the home world.”

“What does this ‘Tanner’ get, in exchange? Can he get the other humans to cooperate?” Asked Distopia from Engineering.

“Tanner will ‘sell’ our ships to other humans as a device to clean litter boxes. He will become quite wealthy. He will see to distribution of as many ships as we can make available. I believe that Fleet Commander Pudillia will quickly call in the other exploratory fleets. As the Schmagmum begins to flow, I am sure more ships will come from the Home World.”

“What if curious humans try to discover how we process the urine and feces? Won’t they try to disassemble our ships, and put us in danger?” Asked someone else in Engineering.

“Good question.” Said Lepshot. “ Plenum thought this one through. Our short-range telleporters will work well enough to get a crew away from the ship before a breach. Crews can survive long enough in this world for a rescue team to reach them. The ship will self-destruct after the crew is safely away. We will modify the interiors of our ships to make them look like some indescribable machine. The destruction will be contained within the hulls, to prevent injury to the curious. Our secret will be safe.”

“Any further questions?” Lepshot asked. “No? Well, then, Plenum, would you please put me through to Fleet Command? I think it is time for us all to become incredibly wealthy.”

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Little Gratuity

A Little Gratuity

A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

Sergeant Hansen put down his binoculars to answer his departmental phone. He felt it buzzing on his belt. He had only been at this particular location for about an hour, and was not expecting a call from headquarters. He glanced at the number displayed, as he flipped the phone open to answer. There was just dead air. Out of habit, he noted the number, closed the phone, and then picked up the binoculars to return to his observation.

Hansen shifted in his seat, then refocussed his binoculars. Department vehicles never seemed all that comfortable, even after sitting in them for many years. At least the night was cool and comfortable.

His personal phone buzzed just as he got the binoculars back in focus. He put them down again, and took the phone out of his jacket pocket. He looked at the number, and hesitated a moment in answering. The number was the same as the one displayed on the other phone. He did not recognize the number.

He flipped the phone open.

“Good evening, Sergeant Hansen. I hope you are enjoying the view.”

“Do I know you?” Asked Hansen.

“I doubt that you do. However, it is my duty and pleasure to meet you.” Said the voice on the phone. “We can see you right now. We know what you are looking for, and have some information you might value.”

If that were true, they would know he was working alone. Whoever they might be.

Hansen thought about closing the phone and changing his location. It would be prudent.

“Before you decide to go, Sergeant, just listen a moment longer. If we were going to arrange for an accident, it would have happened by now.”

Hansen considered this, and had to concede that it was logical.

“Go on.” He said. If the information proved valid, it could help build his career. It could lift him off of the career plateau he seemed to be sitting on.

“Not on the phone. We need to meet. Hang up, and I will text coordinates to you.” Said the voice.

Hansen closed the phone. Moments later, a short vibration indicated that the text had been received.

The message had GPS coordinates. He entered the coordinates into his navigational computer, and started his engine. The location was about ten minutes away. It was in a rather non-descript part of town. Low threat, plenty of people around.

When he arrived at the coordinates, he was in a free parking lot in a mid-level restaurant district. Hansen parked, and waited. A moment later, he saw two quick flashes of light across the street. A young man was standing there. He put something in his pocket, and then began to cross the street toward Hansen’s car.

Hansen cleared his jacket from the area around his holster, and placed his hand on the grip of his revolver.

The young man stopped about ten feet away. He held his jacket open for a moment, and then held his hands in clear sight. He made a turning motion with one hand, indicating that he wanted Hansen to roll down his window. Hansen did so, but not with his gun hand.

“Evening, Sergeant Hansen.” Said the young man. “I have been requested to escort you into the Spring Fern, to meet with some associates.”

Hansen hesitated. It was risky, but the reasoning of his mystery phone caller still held. They could have hurt or killed him several times, already. He had already stretched department policy. May as well go all the way.

The sergeant took his hand off of his weapon, and stepped out of the car. He intended to retain his weapons, but the young man did not even suggest he leave them or give them up.

The Spring Fern was a rather unassuming restaurant, featuring American and Chinese cuisine. Hansen had taken his unrefined taste there several times. The young man escorted him past the hostess, who did not appear at all surprised. Whoever he was to meet had connections, but not particularly lofty ones.

Once Hansen was seated at a quiet booth in the back of the restaurant, the young man left him. A waitress came and set up a tea service, without glancing at Hansen or saying anything. Hansen waited.

Less than five minutes later a rather smallish man came and sat across from Hansen. A very young woman of astounding beauty accompanied him. “Barely legal” was the phrase that came to mind. She sat next to his host, and studied him openly. She did not seem to match his host in any quality.

“Tea?” Asked the man across from him. Hansen nodded. The man was a bit rat-faced, and though well dressed had the appearance of a relatively successful street thug. For the first time, the events were taking on something of the flavor Hansen had expected.

The man did not offer a name. He poured tea for the young lady, first. Then for Hansen, and then for himself. At least his owner had taught him some manners, thought Hansen.

“Are you hungry, Sergeant? I could order a meal for us, but we really won’t need that much time.” Asked Rat-face.

“No, thank you. Since my observations have been observed, I figured I would be going home. I may have to rethink my approach.” Hansen said, with unusual candidness.

“You are probably wondering why someone so low on the totem pole was chosen for this meeting.” Rat-face said. “Oh, don’t look so surprised. The fact is both you and I are not up there very high in our respective institutions.”

Hansen noticed that the man seemed to take great pleasure in the term, “respective institutions.” He was obviously recently elevated in his education, and enjoying the taste of a new vocabulary. A lap dog learning new tricks. Lap rat.

“You were chosen, Sergeant, largely due to you rather lowly position.” Continued Rat-face. “We know that you are gathering information on what is mistakenly considered a case of modern slavery. Flesh trafficking. That sort of mistaken concept.”

The young man sipped gingerly at his tea. It was apparently not his drink of choice, but he worked hard at enjoying it. Apparently his masters were fond of tea.

That done, he looked up at Hansen. He did his best to present a winning smile. He failed.

“My associates are well connected.” He said. “They obviously know a bit about you. Your habits. Your assignments.”

“Hmmm. So, other than this very poorly shrouded threat,” Replied Hansen, “You are telling me that someone in my department is a source of information for your masters. This, of course, doubles your threat, since it promises reprisals from inside. Career troubles. Accidents. Do I have this right?”

The impoverished smile grew forced. Hansen thought he was doing rather well. He might be able to turn this thing, maybe get some information. Career building information.

“Sergeant, what some of our mutual associates want from you are a few favorable reports.” Said the Rat-faced man. “Perhaps a bit of misdirection, as well. Coming from your level, these reports will serve quite well. They will be lost in the sea of paperwork, yet reach the right eyes.”

Hansen was satisfied. He had forced the dance, and thought he was gaining control.

The Rat-faced man nodded to the young woman at his side. She got up and moved to the side of the booth next to Hansen. She sat close, and was quite compelling. A distraction, but one he could work through.

“Besides being quite beautiful, Melody is quite special.” Rat-face said, referring to the young woman sitting by Hansen’s side. “She, in many ways, does not exist.”

Hansen could feel the considerable heat from her body. In that way, at least, she very much existed.

“Where she comes from is a secret. I certainly don’t know. Where she goes, and with whom, also remains secret. Many very powerful men share secrets with women like her.”

It was dawning on Hansen just how far up this could go. How many people had a vested interest. Important people. Powerful people.

“I assume you have some kind of proposal?” Hansen asked. Physical threats he could handle. This, however, felt like a mountain was hanging over him. One misstep and he would be buried. He had been out of his league from the beginning.

“We just want you to be open to a little guidance.” Said Rat-face. His smile was quite genuine, now. His career was about to get a boost. Perhaps a bone from his masters.

“Just that you accept a little guidance in creating your reports.” He continued. “You will continue to report the facts, of course. We just want to assist you in knowing just what the facts really are. What you see, what you hear. That kind of thing. Nothing dangerous.”

Hansen shifted in his seat. She sat so close. She didn’t exist. Women like her in the company of men of power. A tool. A weapon. Untraceable.

“We might feed you some valuable information, from time to time.” Said Rat-face. “Career building information. Information that will serve the greater good, so to speak. If it draws eyes away from my associates, all the better. Yes?”

“Melody, give the man his special gift.” He continued.

The young lady slid a key across the table. It was attached to a fob. On the fob was written an address and a phone number.

“Just to make your decision a little easier.” Said Rat-face. “Her apartment. I think she would enjoy a bit of company. Any time. Just think of her as a little gratuity.”

Hansen began to sweat.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Last Page of a Novel.

The Last Page of a Novel

A very short story by Michael R. Lockridge

Rodger sat at the table of his favorite café. He was nursing a mocha cappuccino, along with the bullet wound in his left thigh. It hurt. The bullet wound, not the cappuccino. The cappuccino was great. He hadn’t enjoyed such pleasures for many weeks. Months.

The cut along his right side still ached a bit, as well. All things considered, it was a small price to pay. He reflected on how surprised he had been, when Linda’s knife pierced his jacket and opened the skin along his ribs. She died in his arms, their blood mingled on the ground.

She had been a great partner, and fabulous lover. Still, hunters of treasure have a lust greater than the flesh. Memories of their time together flooded through his mind. Memories of fighting common enemies on their way to gain what Rodger had in his satchel. Good memories.

The satchel rested in his lap. He opened it, just a bit, and peeked in. Yes, there it was. Glorious! The very definition of a treasure. Once delivered, it would be the beginning of a whole new life.

Rodger finished his coffee, and got up from the table. His wounds cried out from the movement, but settled down as he walked out of the café. Rodger felt pretty good as he walked down the street, on his way to the office building where he was to make the delivery.

He felt like he was in the last page of a novel.

In the next alley he passed, there was no motion in the shadows. Nobody jumped out, swinging exotic weapons and shouting in foreign tongues. No bullets flew. No heavy objects fell from above.

Rodger turned into the office building. He went to the office of his contact. He made his delivery, and received his pay. He walked out through the door, and into his whole new life.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Credit Limit

Credit Limit

A short story by Michael Lockridge

“Well, Stevie,” he said to himself, “Your hung over again.”

Steven Engel rolled himself carefully from his bed. He gave no thought to giving its rumpled surface some kind of order. Stevie had not made his bed for a great many years.

He made his way across the hall to the bathroom, adjusting his ill-fitting underwear as he went. After centering himself, more or less, on the toilet, he dumped the remains of the liquor he had processed into the toilet. The stream flowed for an eternity. The screaming of his bladder abated, Stevie swiped at the flush handle, and padded out of the bathroom.

Morning was long gone. He dismissed this fact absently. Mornings were a distant and alien concept for him. Stevie rummaged around in his wardrobe, which he kept conveniently scattered on the floor of his room. He fished out his worn robe, and after several tries got his arms through the right holes. He tied the sash into something resembling a knot, and lurched out of the room.

His stumble across the living room was brought up short by a familiar, yet unpleasant voice.

“Been drinking again, I see.”

Stevie stood where he was. He did not want to turn in the direction from which the voice had come. Without looking he knew that the chair in the corner contained an ugly lump of a woman. A lump that sat there, day in, day out. A lump that would be there forever.

“Morning, Ma.” He said. He looked at the carpet at his feet. He waited.

“How many of your credits did you spend last night?” She asked, the voice drilling through his hangover. “How many rounds of drinks did you buy for your no-good friends? I bet you bought most of them, didn’t you? Didn’t you! You always do. I know you do!”

Then the tears began. They wrenched at his heart, years ago. Now, he just stood and took it. It would soon be over. It was always the same. Even the same words.

“They’re not real friends, you know.” She continued. “They don’t care about you. Not like I do. Heaven knows why I do! They just want the liquor your credits can buy. You’re just a soft touch for them, and for those cheap women you seem to find so attractive!”

Women! That was a laugh! Not many of those, lately, cheap or not.

Next would come how fat and lazy he had become.

“Not only have you become fat and lazy,” She continued, “but you don’t seem to care about anyone else. You don’t seem to care about yourself!”

Stevie scuffed his toe against the thinning carpet. Thinning, like his hair. Like his patience.

Just stand there, he told himself. Defending himself just made it take longer. This, at least, was a lesson he had learned.

“Haven’t I taught you better?” She said. “Watch your credits, I always said. You only get so many when you are born. Enough, if you take care. Just like everybody else. Enough credits to live by, if just barely.”

Yeah. Benevolent government. Give everyone just enough to live on. Not enough real jobs to earn much more. At least, not any jobs a man would really want. Enough to sit in a too small apartment, watching soaps and game shows all day. Yeah, great life!

He held his tongue, as the perennial lecture continued. No more apologies, no more challenges. No angry retorts. Just take it. It was over sooner, that way.

“I can tell you aren’t really listening.” She finally said. She sighed. When that did not solicit an apology, or any other response, she turned away. “Go. Just go. Someday, you will have to pay the piper.”

Pay the piper. She always said that. He hated that saying.

Stevie shuffled on into the kitchen. He needed coffee. No, he needed a drink. But coffee would have to do.

He got together the necessaries, and was soon seated at the kitchen table. He brought up the news on the monitor, and was reading when the doorbell rang.

Stevie took a sip of coffee, and continued his reading. Nobody he knew ever came to the door. Let her get it. Maybe it was one of her so-called friends. She could go on and on to them about her no-good son.

He heard the door open, and quiet voices in the hallway. Then the door closed.

“Stevie. Come in here. Quickly.” His mother said.

Something in her voice raised an alarm in his sodden consciousness. He went to her.

Two men were standing by his mother. Blue uniforms. Badges. Patches on their arms, declaring them to be State Collections Agents. His bowels felt like water. He really needed a drink.

“Steven Engel?” Said the one nearest him. They looked so much alike. Distant. Inhuman. “Present your identification, please.”

Swaying on his feet, he extended his left hand. The agent took his hand in a firm but surprisingly gentle grip. He ran a small scanning wand over the place where Stevie’s identification was implanted. The agent consulted the screen at the base of the wand.

“Steven Engel,” Said the agent, “Your credit account is overdrawn. By the authority of the State, we are to confiscate your personal assets and deliver them to the appropriate authorities for redistribution.”

The grip on his hand became considerably less gentle, as the agent applied a hypodermic unit to his arm. There would be no struggle, though the panic in Stevie’s mind would have offered one, without the sedative. These men were seasoned professionals. A struggle might spoil some of his “assets.”

Together the two agents lowered Stevie’s sedated body to a sitting position on the ground. One of the two interchangeable agents went to the door, opened it, and brought a gurney in from the hallway. In very short order, Steven Engel was strapped in and ready for removal.

Stevie could see that his mother was back in her chair. He longed to say something, but the sedative would not let him speak. His head just lolled in her direction. She looked numb, dulled by shock. What could he say, even if he were able to speak?

One of the agents spoke briefly with her. He took her hand, and held it for a moment. He seemed surprisingly gentle, considering the nature of his job. He then released her hand, handed her a small card, and turned.

Silently the two agents removed their burden from the apartment. The place became very quiet. The sunlight coming in through the window moved slowly across the floor, and then up the wall. Eventually the light faded. The woman just continued to sit as darkness filled the room.

The phone rang. She answered it, absently. “Hello?”

“Hey, is Stevie there?” Asked a man on the other end of the connection. She could hear music in the background. Voices.

“No. Stevie isn’t here.”

“When will he be back?” The man asked.

“Stevie won’t be back.” She said. “He is gone. Stevie has gone to pay the piper.”

Friday, September 7, 2007



A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

The cab pulled up to the curb, and out stepped an upwardly mobile young man. One of dozens of such vehicles that had pulled up to the same watering hole, disgorging similar young men. A yellow flow, which made up the urban river running into the night.

Our young man caught sight of his reflection in a store window, and adjusted yet again the look he had worked so long in creating. He perceived of himself as one of the predators visiting the up-town bar called The Serengeti. To most observers, he would appear to be just one of the herd.

His last minute preening completed, the would-be hunter pushed open the doors of The Serengeti and stepped into his fate. He made his way confidently through the crowd, danced his way across the corner of the dance floor, and made his way to the bar. He scanned the beverages in front of the guests around him, and decided to take a chance. He ordered a vodka martini, believing it would stand out among all of the over-dressed glasses containing concoctions with mock-African names.

The dance floor was a sea of Tom Cruise clones. The Cruise before he made a joke of himself, who set the standard for the suave young actors coming after him. All with a nod to Sean Connery, though most of this pack did not even know they were emulating the ancient icon.

They danced by themselves in the company of young women, most of which seemed to be striving to be the poster child for anorexia. The couples formed on the dance floor seemed more accidental than of any purpose. A protracted, if colorful, chemical interaction. Reaction more than relationship.

None of this registered with our young man. Devoted to the cult of youth, he was purposefully shallow, caught up in the image of himself reflected in the lesser beings around him. He leaned back against the bar, and scanned the undulating crowd, confident that his tasteful clothes and trend-bucking choice of beverage had every female eye upon him. For the most part, this was delusion.

He had reduced his drink to little more than an olive on a stick, when the bartender tapped him on the shoulder.

“From the lady at the end of the bar.” He said, handing the young predator a replacement for his defeated drink.

He accepted the drink, and thanked the bartender when he surreptitiously indicated which of the women at the end of the bar was his benefactor. He caught her eye, lifted his glass in thanks, and took an appreciative sip. She nodded in return, and then continued her conversation with the woman beside her.

Our young predator returned to his hunter’s scan of the herd, though indeed he was already decided to go after the quarry which had offered itself up to him. He checked her out a few times, thinking himself the epitome of stealth. She was rather exotic, though he could not say from what exotic land she might have come. A bit fleshy, at least by the junky-chic standard of the day. He could not admit to himself that this was appealing, but her well-rounded curves excited him.

As he extracted the olive from the bottom of his empty glass, he once again glanced in her direction.

She was gone.

He whipped around in a flurry of serious uncoolness, seeking her in the crowd. He was dismayed to think he had lost an easy conquest, but even further dismayed to find her right beside him. Had she seen his uncool display? How could he cover this up?

Regaining some control, he simply offered her his hand.

“John. John Williams.” He said. She took the offered hand.

“Tyra Jenkins.” She replied. He shook her hand, then held it gently as he thanked her again for the drink.

“Might I buy you one?” He asked.

“Sure. But just one more. Who knows what other pleasures the night may hold?”

John turned to the bartender, and placed his order. He felt quite pleased with himself, having won the night so early. Had he been a peacock, his display would have been full. He tried to be subtler than that, as he turned back to Tyra with the drinks.

They made small talk together, as they enjoyed their beverages and watched the undulation of the dancers. He glanced at her, and came to like very much what he saw. Obviously not American, she was somehow not obviously anything else, either. Her accent was sleight, but very interesting. He grew more intrigued by the moment. She seemed to blend in and stand out at the same time. Most intriguing.

She finished her drink, and he took the glass from her and placed it on the bar.

“Did you want to dance?” He asked.

She thought for a moment. “It’s kind of crowded out there. Wouldn’t you rather come to my place? I could make some more drinks….”

John thought he was particularly cool, the way he accepted her offer without displaying the considerable excitement he felt. Ever since she had been close enough for him to smell her subtle perfume, his desire had been growing. Yes! Of course I want to go to your place!

“That sounds like a great idea. Shall I call a cab?” He said.

“It’s just two blocks. We can walk. Come on.”

John followed her through the undulating crowd, and was once again able to appreciate her curves. His considerable, if unwarranted, confidence flagged for a moment. He almost admitted to himself that he was out of his league, this time. Then she put her hand in his, and his confidence returned. Hand in hand they went out into the night.

Her apartment building was rather non-descript. She held his hand as they entered the elevator. Once the doors closed, she slid up close to him. Her scent filled his head, and he drew her to him. Their lips met, and they only parted when the elevator doors opened on her floor.

She drew him down the hall, his hunger growing with every step. He stood behind her, dying as the seconds went by while she searched for her keys. She opened the door, and he followed her closely inside. The instant the door was closed, he pulled into his arms.

She smelled delicious, tasted delicious. His hands traveled rapidly over as much of her as he could reach. She did not resist. He was on the edge of just ripping her clothes of her, when she pushed him gently away.

“I thought you wanted drinks!” She said, coyly.

“I want to drink you!” He responded. It would have sounded stupid, if it weren’t so very true. He had never known desire like this.

She took his hand and led him to her sofa. In moments their clothes were a tangle on the floor, and their bodies were a tangle on the sofa. Her hand ran up and down his spine. It felt like fire. Like fire! Pain flared from the place where her hand rested, and was as suddenly gone.

He could feel nothing. He could not move. He couldn’t even scream.

She struggled out from under him, then stood just looking down at him. Her expression was unreadable. She gathered their clothes, separating his from hers into two piles. She did not put hers on, but rather walked over to a closet near the door. She put her clothes in a hamper inside the closet, and then pulled out a wheelchair. She rolled the chair over next to the sofa.

Had his circumstances been different, what happened next would have amazed him. Once she had the chair in place, she lifted him from the sofa and put him in the chair. She lifted him as if he weighed but a few pounds. Her power was amazing. She positioned his head so that he could easily see what was in front of him. His head did not flop, but remained as she had positioned it.

She stood in front of him, and for a moment her expression was warm and inviting. Again he caught her scent, and it was maddening. Though he could do nothing, feel nothing, he desired her more than life itself. Then she laughed, and the expression faded from her face. His desire ebbed, and was gone. What replaced it was a cold fear.

She showed him her hand, the one that had inflicted such pain. He could see a sharp probe extending from her middle finger.

“An interesting toxin, yes?” She said. “You are very aware, yet immobile. I can speak meaningfully to you, and you can understand. Yet you cannot speak. Your chemistry is interesting.”

The probe slipped into her finger, and disappeared.

She then turned from him, and gathered his clothes. From his pockets she took his wallet and money. These she put on a desk, within his view. The rest she put in the same hamper as her own clothes. That done, she returned to the desk and sat down.

She put his money in a drawer. Then she took his credit cards from his wallet, and scanned them with a card reader. Data began flowing across the computer monitor on the desk. The cards she then ran through a shredder.

“I must live on the proceeds from each hunt.” She explained. Once again human emotion flashed across her face, a sudden and disconcerting smile. Then, gone again.

“Your rather primitive computers allow me to acquire quite a lot in funds and workable credit.” She said. “Especially from you ambitious creatures. Hunting the more violent of your species is a lot more fun, but draws too much attention. I can cull your stupid herds with impunity. A sport kill now and then is enough to tide me over. This is business.”

As she said this, she moved behind his chair. Then he was moving, across the living room and to a bedroom door. In spite of his cold fear, he felt a moment of excitement. The memory of her scent was still in his mind, and he had the irrational hope that the bedroom held some promise of desire fulfilled.

When the door opened, that hope faded. In it’s place that cold fear came alive. It blossomed to the edge of outright terror.

“My offspring.” She said. “Larva, just now, but growing every day.”

The objects in the room were disgusting. Writhing things like blood encrusted maggots. Huge maggots. Footballs with mouths. Bloody footballs, with just the suggestion of a mouth. They writhed in a charnel pile, but without the stench.

She closed the door on the horror, and rolled him backwards into the kitchen.

Standing now in front of him, she began stringing a pulley and ropes to a bolt in the ceiling. The bolt was hidden in the middle of a rack for pots and pans, seeming a part of an ordinary element in a well-appointed kitchen.

“You experienced my expertise in scents.” She said, as she worked. “The trick is to attract my quarry without driving every man around me mad with desire. Though that is a bit of fun to do, from time to time.”

With the pulley rigged, she began to bind the rope around his legs. The terror clamored within him, but had no outlet.

“That skill with scents allows me to alter the meat I feed to my larva so that it does not draw undue attention.” She said, as she began to hoist him slowly out of the chair by the rope. She tied him off, hanging head down over the tiles of her well-appointed kitchen.

The sounds that followed told him that she was putting the chair away, and getting something else from the closet. Soon, she was once more before him, putting down what appeared to be a wading pool.

“Waste nothing.” She said. “Not a drop of blood. Not a scrap of meat or bone.”

Again she stood in front of him. Now she had a sharpening steel, and a knife. Slowly she worked the blade.

“Why am I telling you all of this? Why show you these things?” She asked. The blade slid time and again against the sharpening steel. “Fear improves the quality of the meat. Not much of an issue for my larva. Flavor is important to me. I want to raise the terror to such a level that you will be delicious. Ah, and you will be delicious!”

She put the steel on the counter, and held the knife at her side. Stepping forward, she grabbed his head and pressed his face between her breasts. Her scent once again filled him, and unbidden desire flooded his being.

He heard the knife pass through his throat, though he did not feel it. He heard the blood begin to patter in the pool below him. Slowly, the darkness closed in. Just a herd beast, was his last thought.

The predator had become prey.

Friday, August 31, 2007



A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

Lisa hid in the barn, making her final preparations. Three days and nights she had stayed here, watching and learning. Patience was always the most important quality in the hunter. Her grandfather had taught her that, in the long ago days when he had taught her the art of the bow. More important than the shooting. Patience brought the hunter to the place where the shot could be made.

She hid the pack and gear under some hay. Nothing inside would lead back to her people. They were already dead. None were left to take revenge upon. They had all been taken from her during the war.

As she tied down her loose clothing, preparing to move in stealth, she remembered them all. The invaders had killed her grandfather, her father and her brother outright. Seven men, veteran fighters, had taken their home, their land, and their lives. They had spared her mother’s life. They had spared her own.

It was only a matter of weeks. Weeks that seemed like years. They helped themselves to the fruits of their little farm. They helped themselves to her mother. Most of all, they helped themselves to her. Time after time. She retreated within herself, became like the walking dead. She remembered that darkness.

She checked her bow. She selected three arrows, her best. She would only need one, but her grandfather had taught her to be prepared for a missed shot.

As she waited for first light, she remembered her mother. The men had required her to work, as well as serve as a plaything. Her mother could not hide inside herself. She suffered in full consciousness, slave to the men who murdered her husband, her father, and her son. She had found strength to try to comfort Lisa, even in her own suffering.

Lisa shed a tear at the memory. It slowly coursed down her cheek. She was lost in the memory, and paid the tear no mind.

Her mother did not last long. Not being as interesting as her young daughter, she often was subjected to pointless abuse. One day the playfulness of her captors was too much, and she died. Lisa was not even sure of the cause. Something just broke.

Her mother was not buried. Like the rest of her family, her mother was cast into a ravine.

No longer just a plaything, Lisa became the servant of her captors. They were less abusive toward her than her mother, but still demanding. The change of duties brought her back to herself. She began plotting revenge.

A patrol of local men came by one day. Lisa was bound, gagged and held by one of the men in a back room. The others arranged themselves in ambush. Though killed to a man, Lisa was proud of her neighbors. They reduced the number of her captors to four.

With fewer of them, she was less often busy meeting their carnal needs, and more the servant girl. She heard them talk. She learned where they lived. She learned that they were the lesser-trained tail of some aspiring emperor’s army. Their task was simply to occupy and pacify the local populace, preventing organized resistance.

They were just thugs, terrorizing and murdering.

After a seemingly infinite time had passed, the men had a meeting. It was agreed that three would go out and seek news from the emperor’s forces. One would remain to keep their little nest warm and safe. He would insure their captive remained where they could continue to enjoy her hospitality.

They were gone two days when her opportunity presented itself. They did not know that her grandfather had taught her to keep and use a blade. She had been a part of the occasional slaughter of chickens and lambs from the time she could handle a knife. She could keep a blade sharp, and use it well.

She did use it well. Complacent in his martial skill and superior strength, he attended too closely to the meal she had made him. He bled his own gravy onto his plate, his throat slit clean and wide.

Lisa took only as much time as was necessary to get her gear together. She found her grandfather’s best bow, and clutch of arrows. To this she added what other arrows she knew of around the farm. She dressed in her brother’s clothing, grabbed her gear, and then made her way into the woods.

Her enemies were now reduced to three. She waited and watched on the edge of the forest for two days. Her remaining captors returned at close to noon on the third day. She watched them enter the house, and then run out again. She had left the man she had killed sitting at the table. They ran about, searching for her.

Not finding her, they settled into their captured house. She continued to watch from the woods, living on cold foods she had brought out and stashed in the woods. No fire, nothing to give away her presence.

The next day she watched them leave early in the morning. They were apparently going home. The little band of three made their way toward the road that would take them back to their own land. They had come, raped and murdered, and now were just leaving!

Lisa made her way quickly through the woods. She knew of a good vantage point over the road. Her vengeance was not yet complete.

She was in hiding for less than an hour when the three passed below her hiding place. A clear shot presented itself, and she took it. Now there were only two.

They searched hard, coming close to the place she had hidden on two occasions. When they finally tired of the hunt, they vanished into the woods. They were headed back in the direction from which the came.

After some time had passed, Lisa went to the road to strip the body of her enemy. She was not surprised to find that his companions had already done so.

Lisa began working her way slowly through the woods, parallel to the road. Several times large knots of soldiers came along, and she had to hide. Over the course of several days, the groups became smaller. Never so few that she could pick one off with any safety. Never did she see her quarry hidden in the herd.

She continued to move steadily along.

A week on the move brought her to a small village. She lurked about, eventually learning that this was the village of one of her captors. Three days of lurking, hidden sleeping places, and stolen meals brought her at last an opportunity.

Her quarry wandered drunkenly from an inn at the edge of town. From her hiding place under a wagon she watched him lurch out of town toward some farm in the distance. He never made it home. She left him with two arrows in his back, laying face down in the mud and dung.

Lisa came slowly out of these dark memories. Two more weeks it had taken her to find the village of her last captor. The last couple of days taught her his location and habits. The light coming in through the barn door told her it was time.

She made her way slowly toward the barn door. She waited for a cart to pass, and then ran low to the cover of a wagon in the yard. Under the wagon, up against the fence on the other side. She could see the door clearly. It opened, as she knew it would.

Her quarry stepped forth, looking back and waving to somebody. He had not even turned when the arrow pierced his neck. She let him turn and look at her before she loosed the second arrow. It pierced his chest, and he fell.

A scream broke the morning. Shutters flew back, and heads poked out of various windows in the little village. A woman, round with child, stepped out of the door from which her quarry had just come. She looked down at the man who had been Lisa’s tormentor. She looked up at Lisa.

Their eyes locked. Lisa heard the sound of two more lives breaking. Two more victims of the evil that had engulfed her.

“Vengeance is not sweet.” Said Lisa, the bow dropping from her numbed hand. “It is very, very bitter.”

Lisa drew her knife, and turned the blade in her hand. Throwing herself forward, she fell upon it. Another scream rent the morning. Lisa realized it was her own.

She longed for satisfaction, but it evaded her as the darkness overcame everything.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Death by Chocolate

Death By Chocolate

A short story by Michael Lockridge

“Well, Bill, I must admit I am curious.” Said Ted Wendell, as he followed his host down the narrow hallway.

“It is revolutionary, to say the least!” Bill Horton replied, as they reached a doorway.

“Curious, but incredulous.” His guest said.

“Not for long.” Said Bill, opening the door.

He stepped across the room, and pulled a sheet off of some equipment sitting on a cluttered table.

“I must admit it is not too impressive to look at.” Bill apologized, as he started a computer and several power supplies. While the systems initiated communication among themselves, he extracted a sample of liquid from a clear tank sitting on the same table. He took his sample to another table nearby, and placed it in a test tube.

“This solution is comprised of a number of base components for the fabrication of nanobots.” Bill explained, as he tested the solution. “There are carrier molecules suspended in the liquid, which will respond to a form of chemical programming I have developed.”

“Sounds complicated.” Said his guest.

“Initially, perhaps. However, I worked out some algorithms which moved the work along quite nicely.” Said Bill. “The key was finding a coding interface which allowed me to instruct chemicals in a manner similar to how we instruct computers.”

“You know, Bill, that I am a business man more than a scientist. Still, I think I can see where you are going.” Said Ted.

“It’s ready. The carrier has integrity.” Said Bill. “I can explain as we go along.”

The two men turned back to the table full of equipment. The tank of liquid had begun to churn. Sediment that had been on the bottom was being forced into suspension within the liquid by the churning action.

“Some of that motion is just the liquid being recycled by a pump.” Said Bill. “Some is from the gas ports which are along the bottom of the tank. There are bits of just about everything in there for the program to react with.”

His guest nodded, but said nothing. His was paying very close attention.

Bill removed a small sample of material from a small plastic case. He used forceps to remove it, holding it up to the light. “Iron.” He said.

He dropped it into the tank. It sank to the bottom, shifting a bit with the agitation of the chemical bath. He then turned to the computer monitor and keyboard.

“The interface is relatively simple.” He said. “I direct the visual monitor to lock onto the target in the tank. There.”

On the screen a window gave the computer’s view of the target. Bill made a few more keystrokes, and the agitation of the liquid stopped.

“Now the parameters.” He typed some numbers into several boxes on the screen. “I have set the system to create a duplicate of the iron sample. The ‘bots will have two generations, then break down.”

“Two generations?” Asked Ted.

“The initial program creates a general ‘bot. Quite a few, actually.” Explained Bill. “These are standard ‘bots comprised of the elements in the carrier molecules. These create the replicator ‘bots. Each type of ‘bot can reproduce itself. Each generation has a molecular tag. If not limited, they would continue to reproduce themselves infinitely. You can imagine the consequences.”

“Ahh.” Said Ted. “Yes. So you build in a limiter. Please, proceed.”

“The replicator ‘bots will need raw materials.” Said Bill. He dropped a cleaned piece of metal in the tank. “Just a bit of an old car. Stripped of paint, degreased and acid etched. Not necessary, but the carrier solution is expensive enough to produce that I try to keep it clean. I want to know what is in there.”

Ted nodded.

Bill hit the enter button on the keyboard. Nothing seemed to happen.

“The monitor indicates that the first generation of general ‘bots is propagating. Now the second generation has begun, and the first generation is fabricating replicators. According to the computer, the replicators have started working.”

Ted looked into the tank. Nothing visible seemed to be happening. Then the piece of junk metal began to look a bit fuzzy. Over several seconds the target piece of iron seemed to swell. A few seconds later the swelling stopped.

“Done.” Bill said. He switched the agitator back on, and drew a sample of the liquid. Again he went to the second table and ran a test. “Confirmed. The ‘bots are now inert.”

With a long set of forceps he removed the iron sample. It was visibly nearly double the size of the original sample. Bill rinsed it, dried it and handed it to his guest.

Ted Wendell turned the piece of iron in the light. It was not so neatly shaped as the initial sample, but obviously double the size.

“Do you have anything to drink?” He asked his host. “I think I need it.”

“Yes, of course. Right this way.” Bill said. He led his guest to the door of his little laboratory.

“Bill, I think that you are about to reshape the world. After our drink, I need to make some phone calls.” Said Ted. He still clutched the piece of iron in his hand.

The two men stepped into the hall, and closed the door.

Michael Horton crawled out from behind the small sofa in his father’s laboratory. He wasn’t supposed to come in here, but his pet rat had been missing all morning. He had looked almost everywhere. The laboratory was his last area to search, and the area behind the sofa seemed like a great place for the rat to hide.

He felt a little like a rat hiding behind the sofa, when his father and the other man came into the lab. He didn’t dare move, or he might get into trouble. When he realized that he might get a chance to see what his father had been working, secretly, for so long, Michael could not help but crawl out a bit from his hiding. He watched the whole procedure.

He didn’t understand everything he had seen, but he could tell that the other man was pretty excited when the little piece of metal got bigger. He couldn’t understand such excitement over making more metal, though. There was metal all over the place. Not very interesting.

Once the men were gone, Michael crawled out from his hiding place and stood before the machine. He knew how to use a computer for games and homework. This didn’t look any harder. In a moment he had the agitator running, and managed to find the screen that had the settings his father had adjusted.

What would he want to make more of, with a machine like this? He checked his pockets, and found the answer.

“Chocolate!” Michael said. He unwrapped the dark matter, and dropped it in the tank. It sank to the bottom. With a little trial and error, he had the sweet substance centered in the aiming window.

How much was not a real question. Lots of chocolate had to be a good thing. He adjusted all of the numbers as high as he could set them. Then, he pressed the enter button.

Michael waited, and watched. He had not seen the piece of metal get bigger, but his father and the other man had talked about it. He watched the chocolate, and it didn’t seem to do anything. After a few minutes, he grew tired of waiting.

Michael shut off the agitator, and shut down the computer as much as he could. He did not want to turn off the power, so he set everything back to the way he remembered seeing it when he had started.

The last thing Michael did was to fish the chocolate out of the tank. It was a little sticky, so he threw it into the trashcan beside the table. Nobody would notice it there. The remains of several meals were in there from when his dad was working late. Licking his fingers, Michael went to see if he could find his rat.

Bill Horton locked the door to the house, and followed the EMT’s to the ambulance. They didn’t have room for him to ride with Michael, so he had to drive. He would follow them to the hospital.

As he drove, he could barely keep his panic in check. Just after his guest had left, Bill had found his son lying on the kitchen floor. He had been unconscious, but still breathing. Terror had filled his heart, and calling 911 had been an almost impossible task. He kept his son as comfortable as possible while waiting for the emergency medical team to arrive.

He had not returned to the laboratory before finding his son in the kitchen. Had he done so, he would have seen the tank breached by the rampant nanobots seeking the materials they would need to replicate their target. He might have also seen the fat, white rat emerge from the brown mass in the trashcan by the table in his lab. The rodent plopped onto the floor, and trundled away. He dripped brown goo as he went toward the secret way out of the house he had recently discovered.

Just possibly, Bill could have corrected the situation, averted the disaster, had he returned to the lab at that time. However, once the body of the poisoned rat had been picked over by a flock of crows migrating through the area, the fate of the world was sealed. Just possibly, it was already too late.

At least he was in time to hold his dear son, Michael, before life left his young body. A body already becoming something very like chocolate.

Science officer Shaltzan looked at her instruments, and was very troubled. It had been very hard, talking Captain Kelros into diverting to the small planet. Only when she displayed images of the creatures living there had he agreed. That, and the implied offer of ritual mating.

The creatures were quadrupeds, rather than bipedal, but had fur and facial structures similar to her own species. They had longer tails, and of course weren’t sentient. She had studied them for a short period of time while serving on a survey vessel. The chance to look in on them again was worth a ritual mating.

What disturbed her was the state of the continent on which her precious specimens had resided. Past tense. Nothing but a few microbes seemed to live there now. A brown slurry seemed to cover most surfaces, and all of the other continents seemed to also be similarly infected.

Very few signs of life, and no sign of intelligence, seemed to exist any longer on this world. The strange, bald bipeds that seemed to dominate this world all seemed to be gone. At least, that was what her long-range surveys indicated.

Kelros appeared impatient. Science officers on merchant vessels were required by regulation, but not particularly desired by the merchants. Kelros had been unusually indulgent.

“We need to study what happened here.” She said.

“Send a probe. Collect samples. Then we go. We have seven more systems to visit, before we reach home.” He said. “My chamber, in one hour.”

So romantic, she thought. Shaltzan watched him leave the bridge, then turned to her instruments. There. Probes launched. They would return with her samples by the time the ritual was completed.

Seven systems, then home.

Friday, August 10, 2007


I find myself longing to travel, but not always having the time or money. Fortunately, I can follow travel blogs and utilize other resources on the Internet, and make preparations for my coming retirement. I have also begun to do what I call vtravel.

Using my atlas, I plot a journey. I have been targeting travels of thirty to sixty miles a day, and focusing largely on secondary roads. As I progress along my chosen road, I look up towns and points of interest as I come across them.

I keep an open document as I do this, and log the journey through hyperlinks and photos I gather off of the Internet. Many of the photos have links to other sites, as well. Each page is a wealth of information.

Thus far I have discovered a trove of interesting places I would have missed moving faster. I have learned about people and places, and established some solid ideas for places to go when I am more free to travel. I have also discovered a new form of writing.

One thing I intend to do based on this experience is to photograph places near where I live, and place them on the Internet so that other people can use them. If more people gave some thought to using their photos as a resource for everyone, we could all benefit. We could all visit places even if we can't always go there.



A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

“Nice ride.” Said the man behind the counter of the Quick Stop. “What, exactly, is that?”

He handed the bag to his tall, thin customer.

“That is a reproduction Gypsy caravan.” Said Marcus Windsel, with obvious pride. “I built it myself. Mostly from drawings, and old photos.”

“Cool.” Said the man behind the counter. “Be sure you clean up after that horse of yours.”

Marcus nodded, and stepped outside.

Just two days ago he had put the finishing touches on two years of work. Fabrication, carving, assembly and painting. After a great deal of research.

He walked over to his horse, patting him gently and offering him a carrot just purchased from the convenience store. The horse accepted the gift placidly.

“Well, Wanderer, we are on our way.” Said Marcus, as he stepped up onto his drivers seat. Before he took the reins, he consulted his map one more time.

“Where you going with that thing?” Asked another customer. The man had stopped for a pack of cigarettes and a newspaper, but figured he might get something interesting here to tell his cronies in the park. Anything new to spice up the well-worn conversation.

“Everywhere!” Said Marcus. “I plotted a course on which I can run this rig out of town. I can get at least a hundred miles out, from what I have plotted so far. From there, who knows?”

“So, uh, you a Gypsy?” Asked the curious customer. “You don’t look like a Gypsy. Not that I would really know.”

“I think so. At least, my Grandfather referred to himself as a Traveler.” Answered Marcus. “See this medallion up here on the wall? I inherited that from him. Some kind of family heirloom. Anyway, Gypsies were often called travelers. I always thought of myself as a Gypsy, and now I am living the dream.”

“Pretty.” Said the customer. He was looking at the brightly painted carvings, as well as the medallion pointed out by the so-called Gypsy. “Where you learn to drive this thing?”

“I went to a ranch in Wyoming. There is a camp for learning to drive horse teams.” Answered Marcus. He expected to answer lots of questions on his travels. He knew that his creation was colorful, creative and unusual. He relished the prospects.

“Well, gotta go.” Said the customer. “Good luck, young fella.” He waved, tucked his paper under his arm, and sauntered off toward the park.

Marcus took up the reigns, gave them a snap, and clucked his horse into motion. He pulled sedately out into the street, and turned to follow the careful markings on his map.

He moved along the blue highways for hours. People waved, often standing along the street to watch him pass slowly by. He answered shouted questions as his horse plodded along. At lunchtime he cooked his first meal inside his unusual recreational vehicle. It was proving to be a great first day.

Houses grew sparse as the day passed into late afternoon. The road narrowed to two lanes, and he was thankful for the thin traffic. His colorful rig did not delight all passing drivers. It was slow, and therefore irritating. Still, the day continued to live up to his expectations.

He was a traveler, just like the grandfather he venerated. He did not know the old man well, having seen him seldom. Still, his memory was like a bit of magic, inspiring this wonderful journey.

Well before sunset Marcus found himself a camping spot. Little more than a turnout, and closer to the road than he would like, but still adequate. Cut back into a hill, the turnout felt safe and private. He set the brake, and stepped down.

Marcus unhitched Wanderer, and led him to a patch of grass on the hillside. He hobbled the horse, to prevent him from living up to his name.

“A camp fire would be nice.” Marcus said, wistfully, as he made his way back to the caravan. Not practical, so close to the road.

The van looked marvelous in the waning light. Once inside, he prepared his evening meal. After dinner, he sat outside for a little while. He imagined himself one in a long line of travelers. He grew weary, and took himself to bed.

The next day he awoke just before the rising of the sun. He stepped outside to take care of some business, and look after Wanderer. He found Wanderer behind a small stand of trees. He was leading the horse back when he noticed the man sitting on the bank, near the van.

The man seemed to be fascinated by the medallion mounted on the caravan. He paid neither Marcus nor the horse any mind at all. Just sat and stared. Marcus noted the rather fox-like appearance of the man. Pointed face, sharp eyes. Hair a bit shaggy. When he finally turned and looked at Marcus, the similarity became a bit spooky.

“Do you know Artemus Wendel? I see you have his medallion on your conveyance.” Said the strange little man. “Oh. Pardon me. I’m Yarmoth Dunst.” He stood, and offered his hand.

“My grandfather.” Said Marcus, rather absently, as he offered his hand in return. He was rather distracted by the man’s tail. Furry, like a fox.

The man shook Marcus by the hand, and then followed his gaze. The tail swished from side to side, then was still. The foxy eyes returned to look over Marcus once again.

“Hmmm.” Said Yarmoth. “I can see that Artemus did not complete your education. Did he give you the medallion? I mean, with his own hand?”

“No.” Marcus answered. “It came from my father. Both he and my grandfather are gone. They went on a journey several years ago, and never came back. My father had left the medallion in my care.”

“Ahh.” Said Yarmoth. “So, you don’t know.”

“I thought we were Gypsies.” Said Marcus. His voice was just above a whisper. “Grandfather was a Traveler.”

Marcus had dropped the horse’s lead. Yarmoth picked it up and tied the animal to the van.

“I think we could both use a cup of tea.”

He guided Marcus to the entrance of the van, and helped him inside.

Marcus let the little man, if man he was, make the tea. Soon they had steaming cups in on the table in front of them.

“I am afraid that you are in error regarding any Gypsy heritage.” Said Yarmoth. “Fine folk. They have often been kind to me. They are travelers, but not Travelers.”

Marcus continued to look rather blank.

“Your grandfather was my friend. We are Travelers.” Yarmoth continued. “The medallion is a talisman. It thins the line between wheres. When used properly, a talisman like your medallion permits passage between worlds.”

Marcus continued to look confused.

“Have you heard of Stephen King?” Yarmoth asked.


“Did you ever read his Gunslinger novels?”

“Uh. Yeah. A while ago.” Said Marcus. “Why?”

“Remember what Jake said, when Roland dropped him?”

“Oh.” Said Marcus. “Oh.”

“I shall go with you.” Said Yarmoth. “You have already crossed your first barrier. We need to find your grandfather, so that he can teach you what this is all about.”

The foxy little man took a sip of tea. Marcus just sat, and looked confused.

Marcus sat for a moment longer, thinking on how his adventure had taken a rather sudden turn. The adventure he had planned had just become infinitely more interesting.

He looked at his new friend, and smiled.

“Well, Toto. I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore.” He said.

It was Yarmoth’s turn to look confused.