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, September 20, 2008

Dominant Species-

Scratches-All-the-Time entered the building at his leisure, found his place in the circle, and sat on his haunches. He lazily brought up his left hind leg and began to scratch slowly behind his left ear.

You're late. Observed The Alpha.

Scratches did not respond to the voice in his head. He switched to scratching his right foreleg with his teeth. Scratches thought The Alpha's obsession with human time to be quite unseemly for a Canine.

Why can't we have these meetings from home? grumbled Moves-Like-a-Bee. The Terrier was hopping around the circle, and being disgustingly pup-like. Not the proper behavior for a six year old. Middle-age should be more sedate, thought Scratches.

Tradition. said The Alpha. Pack meetings have always been in real groups.

So where is the traditional deer carcass?
asked Smells-Like-Lemons. His professionally done coif was accented by bright ribbons tied in his fur. You know how hard it is for me to get away.

Yeah, yeah. Fancy show dog. replied Bee.

Lemons gave him a haughty look, and then barked a doggish laugh. Lemons may look pretty, but he fought like a circle buzz-saw. Nobody would push him too far, and he knew it.

Back to business. said The Alpha. We have a problem. I got word at the Alpha meeting that our take-over of this planet has not gone unnoticed.

The whole circle sat up, ears erect. Whines and growls came from twenty three doggy throats.

A transmission was intercepted by the home world. he continued. The Vogons did a survey of this planet, and observed an inordinate number of us being served by the humans.

I knew no good would come of those leash laws. complained Rolls-in-Crap. Too obvious that we are in charge. Being fed, being walked. All of our needs met.

We lost our cover when the humans killed off so many of the feral members of the Order. The Alpha agreed. It was only a matter of time. Even with our efforts to reestablish the wild packs, we haven't had sufficient cover for generations.

The Vogons are stupid. said Bee. He bounced up and down in place.

The Vogons are stupid, yes. said The Alpha. But they sell information. Someone in the Galactic League might take issue with our unauthorized expansion.

The pack thought back on their history. They remembered through their racial memory. The Great Alpha made the declaration, These hairless monkeys are just what we need to dominate the galaxy. We shall pretend to submit to them, and through that seeming submission shape their species and their future.

Why did they chose the humans? asked Smart-as-a-Stone. They get out of hand, sometimes.

Thumbs. said The Alpha. I don't suppose you have noticed that we don't have any. We needed them to make tools and weapons.

Well, they have proved adept at those things, that's for sure. observed Bee.

The Alpha stood up suddenly, staring into space. The others watched and waited.

Crap. he said. Bad news on the Alpha Network. The Vogons have already reported to the Galactic League Assembly. They have condemned the planet, and the Vogons got the contract.

How can they justify destroying our planet? asked Lemons.

Something about an expressway coming through. said The Alpha. The Dolphins are already beginning their exodus.

The pack picked up the image from The Alpha's mind. Millions of Dolphins rising from the sea in the dark of night, sailing off into space.

We can't do that. complained Bee. Those not-fish have huge brains and telekinesis. We just have a psychic link with a bunch of dysfunctional hairless apes. We are so screwed!

Nonsense. declared The Alpha. The Alpha's are already grooming the next White House dog. With some luck he will guide the next American President into a new space program. Our exodus shall be assured. Probably.

Great. said Bee. We pin our hopes on the influence of a bald monkey and a fleet of over-sized Roman Candles. Yeah, I feel good.

It has been decided. said The Alpha. Go home and guide your humans to make the right choice in the coming election. The fate of the world depends upon it.

Scratches looked up from licking his balls to see that the meeting was breaking up. He stood up and followed the others out.

They all made their ways through the city to their various homes.

I hate politics. Thought Scratches-All-the-Time. I wonder which of those two folically challenged simians we were supposed to have our humans vote for?

He kept his thoughts to himself, however.

He did not share The Alpha's confidence in this plan. With the end of the world growing closer by the minute, Scratches had to assess his priorities.

He turned from the path home, thinking of something more important than influencing his humans in the coming election. He knew of a nice little bitch that was in heat. He began moving with a lot more purpose than he had for the big meeting.

Scratches-All-the-Time knew what was really important in times like these.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mystery Box-

"What is it, Dad?"

"What kind of gift would it be if I told you?" said Wendy's father. "It is a Mystery Box."

Wendy had unwrapped the gift, and within the gift box had been another wrapped box. The label read "Wait". She held the four inch square cube in her hand, feeling the texture of the wrapping. Not paper. Something like burlap. When she turned the box something shifted inside. It did not make a sound.

"Can I open it yet?" she asked.

"In a moment, if you want to." said her father. "Did you smell it? It smells old, like it has been around awhile. Not unpleasant, just the scent of many years."

She brought it near to her nose, and inhaled. Yes. Time rested lightly on the surface, permeating the cloth wrapping.

"Did you regift this?" she asked.

Her father smiled. "Yes. On purpose. That is part of the mystery."

Wendy looked at her father, trying to read what was behind the intensity of his gaze.

"My father brought that to me when I was about your age." he said.

"Oh. A hundred years ago." Wendy quipped. Her father chuckled.

"I asked when I could open it. The same label was on it. 'Wait.'" he continued. "My father said I could open it after I had thought about it for a bit."

Wendy turned her head a bit to the side, looking at the Mystery Box.

"You didn't open it." she said.

"No. I realized that if I didn't open it, there were infinite possibilities as to what might be inside."

"An eternal mystery." Wendy said, softly. It was almost a sigh.

"I can't give you the world, Wendy. I can give you possibility and hope for the future." said her father. "You can open it whenever you like."

Wendy was turning the box in her hands when she heard the door close.

Infinite possibility, all in a little box.

She read the label one more time, and then placed the unopened box where she could see it every morning upon waking.

"Infinite possibility." she whispered. "What a great gift. It goes with everything."

Saturday, September 6, 2008


General Fortus stood before the door to the Garden, and waited. He rarely had to wait on anything, being the highest ranking military person in the Troskan Empire, but he waited here. The wait was the consequence of his own orders, and he had a purpose in those orders.

"He is out of line of sight, Sir." reported the soldier guarding the door. The soldier inserted an ornate key in the equally attractive lock, and opened the door for the General. Fortus stepped inside, and went down the short passageway to the next door and the next soldier. That soldier had a similar key, and inserted it into a similar lock. He quickly opened the door, and the General stepped through it into the Garden. He heard the door close, and the lock snap into place.

His crew was good. They had been well trained, and knew their business. It was critical to Fortus' plan not to let the resident of the Garden know anything of the outside world. At least, until today. Fortus rehersed in his mind his plan for this day. The culmination of fourteen years of planning. The beginning of the next phase.

Fortus walked as he thought on his plans, wandering along the convoluted pathways of the Garden. It was astoundingly beautiful, and all for one small boy. One small boy who was on the cusp of becoming a young man.

Rounding a turn in the pathway the young man came into view. He was sitting on a bench by one of the many reflecting ponds, watching the clouds reflected in the water. The young man turned at the sound of Fortus' feet on the gravel path.

"Uncle Fortus! How good to see you!" shouted the young man, who stood up carefully and walked slowly toward the General. He shook the General's hand warmly, looking up into the older man's eyes with open affection.

"Good day, Pestilence!" said Fortus. He noted the continuing flame of fever in the young man's ashen cheeks, and the heat of it in his hand. "It is your birthday today. Fourteen years old!"

"You said you had some special plans for today, when you last visited." the young man named Pestilence said.

"Indeed. All is ready." replied Fortus. "Walk with me, Pestilence. I have gifts for you."

They strolled together down the paths of the Garden. It was beautiful, and Fortus always enjoyed such strolls with his adopted nephew. The General had made this special residence as pleasant as he could. It was a prison for the boy, but not a place of punishment.

Pestilence glanced around at the familiar grounds, little realizing that his small universe was unusual in its beauty. He had know no other place, and never seen the world outside. So careful and subtle had been his lifelong imprisonment that he only vaguely thought of the world outside at all. The outside world was like colors to a blind man. He rarely gave it any thought.

They came to a door. It was large and deep brown, with an arched top. The ironwork was ornate, and the lock and latch beautiful. Like all of the doors Pestilence had ever seen, it was locked.

The General sighed, and pulled a key from his pocket. Pestilence was immediately curious. In all of his years of residing in the Garden he had never seen a key, nor an opened door. The General had engineered the place so that people could enter and exit the Garden always unseen by its one inmate. He met with people on the paths, but never did he see them come or go.

Today the General would breach his own command, and expose Pestilence to the possibility of something greater than the Garden.

The young man watched as his Uncle placed the key in the lock. The key turned slowly, and the latching mechanism engaged with an audible "snap." Fortus turned the knob, and pulled the door open.

"Pestilence, here is your first gift." said Fortus, as he ushered the young man through the door. "This door shall remain unlocked. You may open it whenever you wish. Now, let's go up the stairs."

The General assisted Pestilence with the unfamiliar stairs. "Always use the handrails." he said. "You are too precious to lose in a fall." He showed him how to ascend safely.

At the top the stairs opened onto a well appointed deck at the top of the wall, overlooking the Garden. Pestilence gave the Garden only a glance. His eyes were wide as he looked in the opposite direction. The vague concept of outside became suddenly real.

A sloping ridge line, covered in trees, descending to a little bay. Water going out to the horizon. He had no words in his small vocabulary for most of what he could see. Life in the Garden had been simple, and required little in the way of words.

He was astounded. Fortus allowed him to stand and stare for nearly a half-hour before recalling his attention to their business.

"As I said, a gift." Fortus repeated. "You may come here as often as you like. View your Garden from a different perspective. You may even observe the outside world."

"So big." said Pestilence. "Yet the trees and plants seem to have no order. Is there no person to care for them?"

"Caring for a garden is one thing." said Fortus. "Ordering a whole world is another. Still, this Garden is pivotal in managing that world. Sit, Pestilence. Let me tell you a story."

The young man found a seat. He waited patiently, the glow of the fever alive in his face.

"Our land is not particularly large." Fortus began. "A very small continent, not much more than a very large island. We have been small players in the politics of the world. There are many nations, all seeking the power to dominate the others. Like those games I taught you, long ago."

Pestilence nodded, though it was apparent that he did not fully understand. How could he, living isolated as he did? The General made a mental note to begin the next phase of the young man's education in a few weeks.

"Though not large, we were prosperous. We grew more than enough food, and our artisans created things highly sought after." continued Fortus. "We were growing rich and were held in high esteme by other nations. Then came the dark times."

Pestilence moved to the edge of his chair. This was better than any other story he had been told. His attention was intensely focused on the words of the older man.

"Disease ravaged our people. Entire villages were wiped out. One in every three people died." said Fortus. "Our economy was in ruins. The people were confused, and in need of a firm leader. The Emperor seized power and placed things in order. He brought people together in central locations and built fortified cities. We were ripe for plunder, once word got out and other people came to believe the ravaging disease had run its course."

Pestilence touched his own cheek gently, feeling the burn of the fever that had always been in him.

"I found you, and adopted you as my nephew." said the General. "Your parents, sadly, had both died. Of all the people that contracted the disease and did not die, you were the only one in which the disease continued to live. You have never been defeated by the disease, yet your body has never overcome the invader. You became our national treasure."

"What do you mean, Uncle?" asked the young man. "How can one sickly boy be the treasure of a nation?"

"This Garden I had built as your home." the older man continued. "In all of these years I sought to keep you safe. I also have used you, lad. I am not ashamed of that. You have served your people better than hundreds of men. Thousands."


"Over these years you have had many visitors." said Fortus. "They came and met you, touched your hand, shared your food. Soldiers, workers, mothers and more. I did that to keep them exposed to the disease that in you did not die. Our people will be strong and resist the disease because you are here to share it with them."

Pestilence nodded, remembering the endless stream of visitors he met in his Garden. It had been part of the patern of his life for as long as he could remember.

"You know, Pestilence, most boys do not get new bedding every day." Fortus said. "Nor do the get new clothes four times each day. The bedding in which you have slept and the clothes you have worn have been taken to other lands. Carefully managed, we have used them to bring disease to various other lands, keeping them weak. Too weak to invade our precious land."

Pestilence looked out over the sea. He could only vaguely imagine those other lands, those other people. He thought that perhaps he should feel some guilt or pain over all of those deaths. He could not. It was all too new to him.

"That is why I have kept you in this Garden." Fortus said. "You are too valuable to lose. Yet you grow older, and who knows what the future holds? So, I will begin your education into the ways of our nation and the world."

A young woman appeared around a corner. Now that he was aware of the trick, Pestilence realized that she had come from outside, through some hidden door. He eyed her and the contents of the tray she carried with equal interest.

The General noticed his interest, and smiled. The next phase should go quite well. Over the recent months the more matronly women working to care for Pestilence had been replaced by younger women. The uniforms of those women became more aluring over time, to provoke the interest the General now observed.

She set the tray of delicate fruits on the table. She smiled at Pestilence, and then stepped back against a nearby wall to wait.

"These fruits we cannot grow here in this land." said Fortus. "We must trade for them. To keep the balance of trade we exchange other goods. Bedding, for example. Perhaps children's clothes."

Pestilence took one of the unusual fruits and studied it. He then consumed it with obvious relish. His eye often strayed to the young woman standing by the wall.

"You want to do your part, maintaining this balance of trade, don't you?" asked Fortus.

Pestilence nodded. He was not sure why it was so hard not to look at the serving girl.

"Sandra, come here, please." said the General. The serving girl came and stood by him.

"Pestilence, would you like Sandra to stay with you for a few days?"

"Oh, yes, Uncle!"

"Good, good. Sandra, why don't you take Pestilence over there and you two can get to know each other. Don't mind me, I will be fine right here."

Sandra smiled and took Pestilence by the hand. The young couple walked a few paces away and sat on a lounge facing the Garden.

Fortus sat back and smiled. Sandra was just a few years older than the many other serving girls working around the Garden and surrounding compound. She was considerably more experienced. She would teach Pestilence some wonderful things in the next few weeks. Things he would be able to share with the endless parade of young women the General intended to march through the Garden.

Perhaps the condition that made Pestilence so valuable was genetic. Perhaps it could be bred. If not, the young women who had been intimate with Pestilence could become another exportable commodity.

If nothing else, the unending pleasure should keep his young prisoner docile for many years to come. The General was content in his belief that the Empire would be safe and secure for a very long time.

He got up quietly, went around a corner and let himself out through another hidden door.

Pestilence did not even notice his Uncle's departure. He was too busy with the next phase of his education. It was a very happy birthday, indeed!

Monday, September 1, 2008

All That is Holy-

Abraham carried the vessel with great care as he navigated the narrow path. He had been an acolyte for only a month, and took his duties seriously. It was his task to feed and otherwise care for the ascetic monks attached to the monastery. The mixtures of simple grains were sanctified, and destined to nourish one of God's Chosen.

Making the final turn in the path Abraham walked up to a literal hole in the wall. Brother Levi had hollowed out the hillside and sealed himself inside a small cave of his own making. He had stacked the rocks that formed the front of his cell, leaving a hole just big enough to allow the vessel Abraham carried to pass through.

Brother Levi was the last of the seven monks assigned to Abraham that he had to visit each morning. Abraham was tempted to greet the monks. Abraham was a naturally cheerful young man, and keeping the silence required in the Vale of the Monks was difficult for him. Still, he was devoted to his God and to the church. He managed, most of the time.

Abraham silently slid the vessel full of grain into the hole. He waited. Soon, a pair of hands took the vessel into the darkness. Abraham tried to hold his breath while showing the proper veneration for God's Chosen. Unfortunately, the Chosen of God did not smell very good. Abraham felt bad for his uncharitable thoughts, but he did not believe his nose lied to him.

A moment later another vessel appeared in the opening. It was the vessel he had delivered the day before. Abraham lifted it with care. The contents reeked more than the air escaping from Brother Levi's dwelling. He carried it slowly away. He was always very careful at this point. The solids and liquids sloshed dangerously in the vessel, no matter how carefully Abraham walked.

He was relieved when he reached the place where he could pour off most of the liquid. He took great care in not letting the solids escape. He mouthed the prayers he had been instructed to speak as he performed this task. Ordinarily he enjoyed prayer, but these prayers required him to breath more than he really wanted. This was a time when even a small inhalation could be incapacitating.

Once most of the liquid had been poured off Abraham lifted the vessel and carried it in his outstretched arms. By the time he got to the hut of Father Isaac his arms were shaking from the strain. Father Isaac met him at the door, and took the vessel before he could drop it. Father Isaac gave him a baleful look.

"Abraham, Abraham, Abraham!" he said. "How long will it take you to learn to venerate the gifts of the Chosen of God?"

Abraham hung his head in shame.

Father Isaac tucked the vessel under his arm, and gave Abraham a gentle smack on the top of his head. "Come with me." he said.

Abraham followed, thankful for the gentle rebuke. He watched as Father Isaac took the stone lid off of a very large vessel, using only his free hand. With practiced moves Father Isaac emptied the contents of the vessel Abraham had brought to him into the larger vessel. He muttered the appropriate prayers as he waited for the last bit to drop into the ripe smelling container. Abraham muttered the prayers along with the priest.

The task completed, Father Isaac handed Abraham the vessel and put the lid back on the larger container. It would be Abraham's task to take the vessel to the nearby stream and wash it clean. Abraham liked this part of the job. The air was fresh by the stream, and he could sing his prayers to the music of the running waters.

"A year from now and this shit will be ready." said Father Isaac. "People will come here and buy this shit to take home to their gardens. You know why, Abraham?"

Abraham held his tongue. He knew that it was not a question he should answer. Father Isaac liked to ask questions, and then answer them himself.

"They will come for this shit, because it is Holy." continued the old priest. "Yes, this is Holy Shit. Those crazy men sit in their rock holes, praying and pooping. Why should just the praying be Holy? That's what I said. 'What about all of that shit?' I asked."

Abraham waited. He knew better than to interrupt.

"So, they put me in charge." said Father Isaac. "They said, 'OK, so you do something with all of that shit.' And I did."

The old priest looked lovingly at his row of large vessels. He patted the nearest one with affection.

"Holy Shit. That's what I said. Put it up for a year, and it is the best soil on earth. That's what I said. And the people listened. They came, and took it to their gardens, and praised the Chosen of God for their prayers. But it wasn't only prayers that gave them abundance from their gardens. No, it was the Holy Shit."

Abraham nodded, and waited patiently.

"You go, Abraham. Clean that vessel, and bring it back. Then you can be off to your classes."

Abraham smiled, turned, and ran for the stream.

"Oh, and Abraham!" Father Isaac shouted after him. "Take a bath while you are there. You don't smell so good!"