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, 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.