Monday, December 1, 2014


Mama, why is the market so colorful and gay?
It is the barbarians, they will be here today
Oh how we've awaited this wonderful day
When all the king's men will not keep them at bay
And all of the children they surely shall slay. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Take Back the World

This is a long one and I'm not too sure how the footnotes worked out, but I hope you enjoy.

             Tristan Loke put his thin, manicured fingers together and smiled. “Now, what can I do for you, Mr. Reese?”
            A. Reese, a heavyset biker in leathers and shades, cracked his knuckles menacingly. He looked extremely out of place in the nondescript office belonging to his financial representative. “You can tell me where the hell my money is!” he snarled.
            “Ah.” Loke nodded reassuringly. “The fact is, it’s on its way to your account as we speak. There was some difficulty with the bank, as your previous assets were frozen because of a computer gaffe. The modem crashed and some financial records had to be reassessed, so that took quite a while to complete. And then there was the matter of the periphrastic in the checking account…”
            Reese’s expression was blank. Loke sighed.
            “To put it in your terms,” he explained, “a computer went no-worky and our bookkeeper mismana—fouled up, but it’s all sorted now.”
            “It better be,” snarled Reese. He was back in his element now. “Cause if it isn’t, then I’m gonna take you to the cleaner’s, pretty-boy.”
            Loke pressed his fingertips against his eyes. “Threatening your financial agent is not an effective or efficient method of operation, Mr. Reese.”
            “Yeah, well, am I gonna get my money or not? I made a hell of a lot on that last stunt gig and I wanna blow it all in one place.” His eyes glazed over. “I got my eye on a nice little Harley. She’s a beauty. You should see her! Five cylinder engine, red chrome, shiniest gal you ever laid eyes on. Beautiful. She’s got a high-tech speedometer and shiny exhaust pipes and—”
            “I get the picture,” Loke said, rolling his eyes. “Now, is there anything else you wanted help with?”
            “Yeah, there is.” Reese dug a handful of rumpled papers out from the pocket of his motorcycle jacket. “I need ya to look over these before I sign ‘em. It’s my contract for More Rapider and Enrageder 8. I’m playin’ the main dude with the wicked shades an the jacket an the cool bike.”
            Loke took the papers and flattened them. “You know,” he said, exasperated, “you shouldn’t carry important legal documents crumpled in your pockets. It makes for inaccuracy and unreliability later. Also, I’m not actually a legal consultant. I just handle your money.”
            “So handle the money in the contract an tell me if it’s legit!” yelled Reese, snapping from content to irate with alarming speed. Loke could almost hear the gears crunching.
            He raised an eyebrow without looking away from the papers. “You remind me of one of my nephews.” (He neglected to mention that that particular nephew was in jail.)
            Reese, unsure of whether he was being complimented or not (he wasn’t), crossed his arms and looked menacing. It was something he did rather well. “Look, wise guy, you handle the papers and I handle the awesomeness, okay?”
            “Norns help us all,” murmured Loke, shaking his head. He passed the battered papers back across the desk. “Your contract looks fine. Your money should be in your account by tomorrow. Anything else?
            Reese thought about it for a good long minute before shaking his head. “Nope, that’s it.”
            “Excellent. Val will show you out. Val!”
            A blond woman poked her head around the door. Her name was actually Maggie, but Loke tended to call all of his blond, female employees Val. It was a private joke.
            “Show Mr. Reese to the lobby, would you, Val?”
            “Yes, sir. Oh, and there’s a woman to see you. A new client, I think.”
            “Excellent. Send her up at once.” He rose and shook hands with Reese. “Great dealing with you, Al. I hope to see you again soon.”
            “Ya know,” said A. Reese, crushing Loke’s hand in his own, “you Northerners ain’t too bad. I always liked you guys. Thanks fer all yer help.” He left the office and immediately started hitting on Maggie-Val.
            The funny thing was that Tristan Loke looked just as out of place in his own office as A. Reese did, but in a completely different way. Where Reese was heavyset and powerful, Loke was slim and delicate, with a pointed chin, nose and ears. His chin-length red hair caught whatever light was available and glimmered with hints of gold and crimson, and his golden-green eyes sometimes unnerved his clients when he narrowed them in a certain way.
            Loke took out his iPad and tapped the screen, pulling up A. Reese’s financial account. He transferred just enough money to keep Reese happy to the bank account before diverting the substantial remainder into his own account in the Cayman Islands.
            Then he leaned back, studied the device, and wondered if he should drop Reese from his clientele.
            Sure, Reese was easy to rip off, and he provided Loke with lots of money—he’d bought Loke a rather nice villa on a small Caribbean island without knowing it. But where was the fun in swindling an idiot like Reese? The moron was so disorganized in his financial affairs that without his bank manager he wouldn’t have noticed anything wrong until he was evicted from his eight-million-dollar mansion. It was, simply put, much too easy. And it wasn’t like Loke desperately needed the money—he enjoyed having it, but he also enjoyed having to work to get it.
            He pulled up a list of his appointments and smiled. One o’clock: Minerva Thena. Now there was someone Loke could be proud of ripping off. Her keen intelligence and perspicacity made it very hard to trick her, but so far Loke was managing it. A delightful challenge.
            The office door opened and Loke hastily cleared the iPad screen, slipping the device back into his briefcase. He looked up with a smile.
            “Good day. Now what can I…”
            His smile flickered.
            The woman before him had appeared on many billboards and would appear on many more. She was shapely, voluptuous, with pouting lips and blue mascara-lined eyes; she was wearing the latest fashion in the form of a little black dress, but it was her hair that truly attracted attention. It fell in golden waves to her waist, thick and long and shining. Every strand had an ethereal luminescence. It glowed from within. It was what made her such a successful model, that incandescent quality that no amount of conditioner could achieve.
            Loke frowned, offended. “Sif, you cut your hair. It used to be to the floor!”
            Sif tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Hello to you too, Loki. Times change. Was that Ares I saw leaving your office?”
            “Indeed it was. He’s one of my most valued customers. But I made you that hair!”[1]
            “You didn’t make it. You just had it made, and that was only because you cut the original off.”            
            “Still. Cost me an arm and a leg, that hair. Cost me a mouth, too.”
            Sif rolled her eyes. “No, the mouth was because you lost a bet.”
            “Still. It was because of the hair.” Loki crossed to the door, opened it, and stuck his head through. “Val, don’t let anyone in. I am not to be disturbed.”
            He closed the door and motioned for Sif to sit down. She took the chair in front of the desk and pulled a compact mirror out of her glittery purse.
            “So,” said Loki, sitting opposite her, “how’s your husband?”
            Ex-husband, as of nearly twenty years ago.” Sif reached for her lipstick. “As I’m sure you very well know, Loki.”
            “Ah yes, Thor always was rather troublesome, wasn’t he? When does he get out of prison?”
            “I have no idea. Hopefully not for a while.” Sif rolled her eyes. “He never did adapt well to the times.”
            “Of course he didn’t. He’s been depressed since Odin’s Jotun[2] Treaty of 1815. Speaking of which, have you heard from Odin?”
            “Oh, you know him. Still up in Asgard liaising between the Pantheons, silent as ever, enigmatic as hell. Oh yes, how’s your daughter doing?”
            “Hel’s doing great[3],” said Loki, leaning back. “Got engaged a few months ago. It’ll be an…interesting wedding.”
            “Really?” Sif crossed her legs. “Who’s the lucky groom?”
            “One of those Grecian-Roman fellows, Hades. They met through their work.”
            “Oh my. That will be an interesting wedding. Isn’t Hades divorced?”
            “Eh, Persephone was never right for him. They split up the moment divorce became an institution. How are your kids doing?”
            “Ugh, don’t ask.” Sif began to reapply her still potent lipstick. “Thrud just graduated from the police academy, Ull’s still off being a mountain guide, Modi’s still in court-ordered anger-management therapy and Magni’s a stormchaser.[4] You know, flying into hurricanes and such.”
            “Really? Good for him! Hey, I heard Forseti[5] made it onto the Supreme Court.”
            “Well, we always knew he’d go far, despite his father’s untimely death.” Sif fixed Loki with a look which clearly communicated that eight hundred years had in no way been enough time to forgive him for killing Forseti’s father. Everyone had loved Baldur.[6]
            Loki spread his hands. “Hey, I know what you’re thinking, but I’ve changed. Honest! Do you see anything criminal about this office?”
            “Besides the fact that well over half of your clients’ money goes straight into the Cayman Islands?” Sif glanced at Loki from the corner of her eye.
            “Besides that.” He seemed unperturbed.
            “Well, there’s the appalling coffee.”
            “They just don’t make it right anymore.”
            “And the fact that you’ve been hiding from the Aesir since the First World War.”
            “Ah.” Loki nodded. “How long have you known that I was alive?”
            “About two years. I suspected a decade ago. Things started to look…fishy with some of the Grecian-Romans. Those who had taken up careers in acting didn’t seem as wealthy as they should be. When there’s a hint of trickery about, I always look for you.”
            “How touching.”
            Sif uncrossed her legs and leaned across the desk. “More importantly, how are you alive? I know for a fact that you haven’t touched one of Idunn’s apples[7] for nearly a hundred years.”
            Loki shrugged. “I have my means.”
            “Which are…?”
            “Why should I tell you?”
            “An interesting question.” Sif sat back and re-crossed her legs. “Do you want to hear another interesting question?”
            “What is there to stop me from going to Odin and having you thrown back into Niflheim for treachery, murder, genocide and embezzlement?”
            Loki nodded, and then said, “It’s amazing what a little nectar and ambrosia every now and then will do for a body.”
            Sif’s perfectly plucked eyebrows furrowed. “You aren’t that kind of god, Loki.”
            He shrugged. “You have to build up a tolerance, of course, but given time it’s quite effective.”
            Sif threw her head back and laughed. Her hair swished around her head in a motion that had been patented by an expensive shampoo company. “Oh, Loki, you’re always full of surprises!”
            “Unlike Thor, I know how to adapt.” He shifted in his seat, leaning forward with his chin resting atop his laced fingers. “Now that we’ve caught up on the small talk, Sif, what do you want?”
             “Hmm.” Sif sat back and tapped her lips with her compact mirror. “How to phrase this? I want you to help me take back the world.”
            There was a pause.
            Loki blinked. “I…never saw you as the ‘world-domination’ type, Sif.”
            “Have you seen the movies they made about Thor?”
            “You mean the ones in which he’s a superhero? Of course! They were hilarious.”
            “They were blasphemous!” Sif leapt to her feet and paced the office. “Those idiot mortals got just about every single detail wrong!”
            “Well, yes.” Loki smirked. “Thor isn’t nearly that intelligent in real life.”
            “I mean it! How can you take this so calmly?!” She whirled and pointed at him. “You were in them too! You were a dark-haired megalomaniac who was also Thor’s brother!
            Loki winced at the memory. “That was a bit embarrassing, now that I think of it.”
            “You and Thor are not brothers! You and Odin are brothers!” Sif turned again, her hair swishing perfectly. “The whole reason that the Aesir cannot kill you is that you have Odin’s blood in you veins! You’re more like Thor’s adopted uncle than his brother! [8]
            “To be fair, they got the adopted part right,” Loki pointed out. “And I think Thor and I had more of a brotherly relationship back in the old days. We were closer to each other in…well, not age, but maturity.” He snickered. “Besides, he was so much fun to tease. Remember the time he had to wear that wedding dress?” [9]
            Sif couldn’t help smiling at the memory. “That wasn’t one of your pranks, though.”
            “It was still hilarious.” Loki chuckled at the memory, then grew more serious. “But what was that about taking back the world?”
            “My point about the movies was that our stories have been—perverted,” snapped Sif. “No one remembers us, not the way we’re supposed to be. People worshipped us, Loki. They prayed to us. Do you see anyone doing that now? Don’t you miss it? Don’t you miss being loved?”
            “They loved you,” Loki replied. “And Baldur, and Freya, and maybe a few others. But Odin and Thor and me?” He smiled wickedly. “We were feared, not loved.”
            “So you miss being feared, then!”
            Loki stood up and walked to the window of his office. Sif watched him carefully as he folded his hands behind his back and looked out. The morning light outlined the profile of his slim features and set fire to his red hair.
            Sif smiled. “So you’ll help me?” She walked to him, stood close enough that he could smell her perfume. Her hand crept up to his shoulder and her pale fingers slid under his collar.
            Loki carefully kept himself from shivering.
            “We could rule this world together,” Sif whispered into his ear. “We could make the mortals fear us. You could be a king.
            Loki smiled slowly. “Mm-hmm. And you would be queen, then?”
            “Of course.”
            A car’s horn honked far below.
            He nodded. “Thanks. But I’d rather not.”
            Sif smiled triumphantly. Then Loki’s words sank in fully and she jerked away, glaring at him. “What?!
            Loki turned and walked back to the desk. He picked up a framed photo and looked at it.
            “I’m a trickster, Sif. I let other people make the rules, and then I break them.” He looked up, his golden eyes meeting Sif’s blue ones. “I may have wanted to rule once, but not anymore.”
            Sif stared at him, her hands curled into fists at her sides. “Why not?”
            “Honestly?” He shrugged. “I’d get bored.”
            “What?” She blinked. “But…but you’d have power!”
            “Well, ye-es, but that was more fun in the old days when it was a monarchy.” Loki tossed the photo aside and leaned against the desk. “These days it would be all cabinet meetings and bureaucracy and delegating and never getting a break for tea. I get enough of that here. It’s not worth my time.
            “Besides,” he continued, “do you really think this would get very far? Odin loves humans! Most of the Greek-Romans are pretty fond of them too! I don’t want to get their bad side. I mean, have you seen Ares? He’s three times my size and he has a gigantic sword!”
            “You got on Thor’s bad side plenty of times, and you’re still here!” snapped Sif. “I daresay Mjolnir’s[10] worse than any Greek sword!”
            “Ah, but Thor can’t kill me. I’m Odin’s blood brother,” Loki reminded her. “The Greeks wouldn’t have any problem chopping me into itty-bitty pieces. And they’ve always been of the stabby persuasion.”
             “You’re a trickster,” said Sif. “You could talk your way out of it.”
            “Yeah, maybe…” Loki raised an eyebrow. “Tell me, Sif, do you actually have a plan of how you’re doing this?”
            “What?” Sif hesitated. “Of—of course I do!”
            Loki smirked. “Do tell.”            
            She hesitated again, searching for words. Then she looked away. “My plan,” she snarled, “was to get you to make a plan. You’re the bloody trickster.”
            Loki nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
            Sif stared at him. She narrowed her eyes. “These are excuses, Loki. What’s your other reason?”
            He smiled.
            “Mortals fascinate me. I mean, look at them, Sif. Yes, they’re changing the stories, but that just shows how amazing they are. The old ways can’t last forever, so they change the stories, make up new ones about us.
            “My point is that we haven’t been forgotten.”
            “Some of us have.” Sif’s voice dripped resentment.
            “Not true.” Loki shook his head. “Anyone who looks can find us quite easily on the internet. But the way that they’ve changed us—it’s a testament to their ingenuity. Making Thor a superhero, me a supervillain—I think it’s quite amusing. The humans underestimate each other. The screenwriters and the people who make comics, they want to keep us alive, but they’re desperately afraid of rejection. They think their readers won’t be able to understand us. They’re so scared of making unsuccessful art that they just use whatever’s popular and insert us into it—in this case, comic books. You can’t take it personally, Sif—it really says much more about their abysmal attention spans than it does about you or me.”
            The clock on the wall ticked. The sound of screeching tires floated up from the pavement.
            “Just to be clear,” Sif said through gritted teeth, “you are saying that you don’t mind being known as a ranting supervillain.”
            “Well, some of the fan art is truly disturbing,” Loki mused, “but yes, that’s what I’m saying.”
            Sif bent her head in a carefully controlled gesture. “Then I have no more to say to you.”
            “Apparently not.”
            Sif turned, her hair whipping behind her, and walked to the door. She opened it and then paused.
            “You realize, of course, that I cannot conceal your whereabouts from the Council of Pantheons. You’re a wanted criminal, after all.”
            Loki smirked. “Of course.”
            She turned and looked at him. Her beautiful face was ugly with hatred.
            “Look at you,” Loki said quietly. “You didn’t used to be this resentful. I feel sorry for you, Sif. Thor’s not the only one who can’t adapt to the times.”
            The door slammed so hard that the framed forged certificates on the walls shook.
            Loki sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Then he walked to one of the walls and ran his fingers across its surface. He pressed down and a rune glowed under his hand. A doorway appeared, revealing a secret closet.
            Loki had been planning his exit from the Tristan Loke Representation Company since the company’s inception. In the closet were stashed a suitcase full of money, well over a million dollars in various currencies and jewelry, as well as a stringed pouch with three sets of passports and drivers’ licenses. Each set had a different name on them, but all of the photos were of Loki.
            Loki slung the pouch around his neck and tucked it under his shirt. Then he hauled the suitcase out into his office, shut the door to the secret closet, and took a piece of chalk out of his desk drawer. He painstakingly drew a rune onto the suitcase.
            He tapped the rune and it glowed. There was a soft pop and then the suitcase was the size of a Barbie’s purse. Loki picked it up and tucked it into his breast pocket.
            He walked out of the office and strolled through the lobby.
            “Are you going for an early lunch, Mr. Loke?” asked Maggie-Val,[11] glancing up from her desk as he passed.           
            “Yep. Then I’m taking a walk. I won’t be back for a few hours.” A few hours would be plenty of time for him to escape.
            He knew there would a massive imbroglio when his embezzlement was discovered. It didn’t bother him. It wasn’t his mess to clean up. That was the way Loki worked these days: He had his fun and left the nasty bits for someone else to take care of. It was quite an agreeable way to live.
            Loki walked out of his office. He immediately noticed the two stern-looking gentlemen across the street. Sif certainly hadn’t wasted any time alerting the Pantheon Police about his whereabouts. He strolled casually down the street, stepping into the first dark alley he came to.
            Once he was alone, Loki smoothly shifted shape, going from man to rat in less than ten seconds.
            It took skill to keep his clothes within the shift, but Loki had mastered it long ago. When he took on human form, his clothes—and the suitcase in his pocket—would be with him, as well as the new identities.
            A common Rattus norvegicus skittered down the street and slipped into the nearest sewer grate, indistinguishable from any other rat.

[1] Sif is (or was) Thor’s wife. She used to have long, beautiful golden hair, but then Loki cut it off as a prank. Thor got extremely angry and to save his own skin Loki went to some dwarves called the Sons of Ivaldi and had them make hair out of real gold for Sif, as well as some other shiny things to apologize to the gods. Loki then made a rather stupid bet with some other dwarves, saying that the Sons of Ivaldi were the best smiths in the world. This eventually resulted in Loki’s mouth being sewn shut (because he lost the bet), but the upside was that the dwarves made Thor’s hammer to prove Loki wrong.
[2] Jotuns=Frost giants. They had a rocky relationship with the Aesir. (Aesir=Norse gods.)
[3] Loki has three children: the Fenris Wolf, the Midgard Serpent, and Hel. Hel runs the underworld.
[4] Thrud is Sif and Thor’s daughter, and Magni and Modi are Thor’s sons and Sif’s stepsons. Ull is Sif’s son and Thor’s stepson.
[5] Forseti is Baldur’s son. In Asgard, he was the one who judged disputes among the gods.
[6] Baldur was the god of light and a very nice guy. Everyone loved him. Except for Loki, apparently, who was responsible for his death. Long story. “The Death of Baldur” is one of the better-known myths; you can Google it if you like.
[7] Idunn was the caretaker of the Golden Apples of Immortality. These were what kept the gods alive, since Norse gods are not immortal and can be killed (like Baldur was).
[8] Odin and Loki met before Odin lost his eye and became wise (‘nother story). Loki was (and still is) a very weird Jotun (or possibly ½ Jotun—there are different versions) in that he’s not huge and ugly. He and Odin got along well enough that they cut their wrists and let their blood flow together, making them blood brothers. That’s why none of the Aesir can kill Loki—he’s their chief’s brother.
[9] True story. For once, it wasn’t Loki’s fault. The story is usually called The Theft of Thor’s Hammer.
[10] Mjolnir=Thor’s hammer. Pronounced mule-neer.
[11] As in Valkyrie. Valkyries=Norse warrior women who accompany Odin into battle. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ghost Stories

            The following stories are absolutely true.

            My old school was haunted.
            It was a lot like this school, where we are right now, in that the main building used to be a house. It had a big staircase that went up one flight of stairs before coming to a wide landing, where the music teacher’s desk resided, and splitting into two staircases that both led to the second floor. The third floor of the building was accessible only by a cramped, narrow back staircase that wound around from the first floor up. Only the teachers were allowed to use the main stairway for some reason.
            The landing with the music teacher’s desk used to house an organ. Not a body part, the kind that you play in a church. It was a good spot for one, since the grand doors of the school opened directly in front of it. In the old days, when the Scripps family actually lived there, you would have walked in and immediately seen the organ, if no one was playing it. If someone was playing it, you would have heard it before you even got into the building.
            That organ could be heard from halfway down the block, apparently.
            At least, that’s what the neighbors said.
            Not the neighbors who lived there when the Scrippses were alive. No, these were the neighbors who habitually complained about their driveways being blocked by parents’ cars, the neighbors who walked past the sign saying Pasadena Waldorf School every day. The neighbors who still live there now.
            One of the staff members was dealing with a nieghbor issue one summer day (when school was not in session) when a woman whose backyard was just over the school’s fence commented on the music. “By the way, who is it playing the organ over there? I always hear them around three o’clock when I’m gardening.”
            The staff member was puzzled. “We don’t have an organ anymore…”
            But the late Mr. Scripps had always practiced at three o’clock.

            My eight-grade teacher told us that story once, simply to make us shiver. But my mother was the administrator of the school for several years, and she has ghost stories of her own to tell. For instance, once she and another staff member—a woman named Mrs. Ward—were in the Finance office on the third floor. They could hear a voice from the adjacent office outside, very clearly, although they couldn’t actually distinguish the words. The voice was definitely audible, but when Mom and Mrs. Ward went to see who was there…they realized that they were quite alone.
            Or rather, they were the only living people there.
            The neighbors weren’t even the only people to hear the organ. Mr. Baier, one of the sports teachers and a member of the administrative staff, heard it when he was down in the basement of the school, clear as anything.
            But the most frightening supernatural event? That occurred at night, when the school             was being readied for the coming day.
            The cleaning crew always worked at night. I can’t remember ever actually seeing them; they simply weren’t there during the day. But after that night, my mother had to find someone else to clean the building, because they weren’t coming back.
            They were in the main house, vacuuming, dusting, polishing, doing whatever they needed to do before heading home, when one of the men went into the handwork room to dust the windowsills.
            The handwork room sat at the front of the building. The windows overlooked the lawn, and yellow shafts of light cut patterns across the darkened carpet. It had once been a bedroom, but now it was used to teach students how to sew and knit. A shelf of half-finished stuffed animals perched above a shelf of half-finished cloth dolls, casting weird, twisted shadows in what little yellow light there was.
            And in the room…stood a figure.
            It seemed male, the maintenance man was sure of that. It was tall, and dark, and he felt a distinct aura drifting from it. It wasn’t a nice aura like you’d get off of a kind, gentle person. No, this aura was…malevolent. Evil. Cruel.
            The cleaning crew left so fast that no one bothered to turn out the lights. The doors were left unlocked in their haste to get away, the gate unbolted. It was lucky that nobody chose that night to break into the school, because they would have had an easy time of it. 
            The whole affair was kept rather quiet. I would not have heard about it if it wasn’t for my mother. But that cleaning crew…they never, ever came back. 

Friday, October 17, 2014


One hundred page views
Such an honor it is to
Have one's writing read.

The Adventure of the Homicidal Automatons, Part the Last

Last chapter! Thank you for reading! Let me know in the comments if you'd be interested in a sequel...

This is a Sherlock Holmes story I wrote a few years ago, set in an alternate London where the British Empire expanded into the reaches of outer space. This chapter wraps up the story. Scroll to the end for chapter list.

Four days later, at twelve o’clock, I dictated the following to MRS Hudson:

            My dear Miss Morstan,
            Would it be convenient for me to pay a call to your shop at three o’clock? I no longer trust Holmes to re-install the dagger, throwing knife and scalpel in my arm. Thank you for your kindness and generosity.
            Dr. John Watson

            I gave it to a message boy, expecting that it would be delivered within an hour or two. I was quite surprised when, contrary to my expectations, the lovely Miss Morstan decided that she would rather come to me.
            “I hope I am not unwelcome,” she said with a smile. “I was paying another house call in the neighborhood and realized that it would be more convenient for both of us if I simply came here.”
            “My dear lady, you are always welcome here,” I stated warmly. Holmes, absorbed in tinkering with an Id, merely grunted.
            Miss Morstan sat me down at the table and began to take my arm apart. “I confess I have another motive as well. I should very much like to hear the conclusion to the case of the Venusian Lubricant. There were a number of loose ends and I would like to know how they were tied up.”
            Holmes removed his goggles and sat down in his armchair, reaching for his pipe. “Ah yes,” he said. “Most interesting.”
             He described to her the wrappings-up of the case. The scientist lackey, McGrath, had been arrested on the spot. The carriage-driver, still in the hospital, was under questioning, although Holmes was required to pay his hospital fees. (At this point Miss Morstan expressed sincere sympathy—she herself had been forced to repair, or rather rebuild, the mechanical coach pro bono and had lost the business of its owner.) The crown had been safely returned to its case, and the security around it doubled. A team of the Queen’s scientists was working on refining the Venusian Lubricant so that it would no longer be susceptible to villainous signals, using the mastermind’s invention in their research.
            Holmes then revealed something he had not yet told me:
            “I went to question McGrath yesterday afternoon.”
            I sat up. “I thought he would not speak.”
            “I questioned him further. At first he was belligerent and would not answer my queries, but when I said that I could have significant influence over his trial if he would cooperate, he revealed some very useful information. He told me the name of his employer.”
            Miss Morstan and I both leaned forward. “What is it?” she asked.
            Holmes sat back, smoke curling from his pipe. “He said it was ‘Moriarty’.”
            There was a silence broken only by the small clanks of Miss Morstan’s tools against my arm.
            “Moriarty,” she murmured, a small frown on her delicate features. “I suppose you’ve investigated already?”
            “I haven’t found very much yet,” admitted Holmes. “James Moriarty was once a professor of considerable mathematical ability at -------- University. He left just over two years ago and nothing has since been heard of him. That is all that I have learned so far. I shall, of course, keep searching, but I believe that our professor has well and truly escaped. By this time he may be halfway to Venus.”
            “In any case, we should keep up the search for a way of refining the Lubricant,” said Miss Morstan. “I think the ideal thing would be to render the oil so that only signals from the metal it contacts directly may be transmitted. Perhaps putting a sample through a Jovian Percolator along with some Aphros seeds would do the trick?”
            The two began one of their technical discussions that I have such difficulty following, but soon Miss Morstan had finished with my arm. She left nearly an hour later, after taking a very pleasant tea with us.
            “What a very attractive woman!” I exclaimed, watching from the window as she hailed a cab and stepped smartly inside.
            “Is she?” replied Holmes. “I did not observe.”
            “You really are an automaton—a calculating machine,” I said. “I think that even MRS Hudson has more of an emotional range.”
            “The only way in which Miss Morstan is remarkable is her intellect,” remarked my companion. “Indeed, it is almost comparable to a man’s.”
            “Above that of most men, I think.”
            “Impossible. For all her intelligence, she is still a woman, and as such she is weak and in need of protection.”
            I looked at my companion, both irritated and resigned. Then a small smile twitched my mouth. “I think she will surprise you, Holmes. I think that she will surprise both of us.”
            “Then you think we shall see her again?”
            “In our hunt for Moriarty? Certainly. She is tenacious enough that she will wish to assist us, and force us to allow her to. And besides,” I said with a smile, “I shall need her to repair my arm, shall I not?”

Thanks for reading! And keep checking back for the next serial...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Ursine Incident

I wrote this in eighth grade and rewrote it in tenth. I think it still holds up decently. I'll probably come back to these characters eventually.

The Ursine Incident

The first time I saw Stephen, he painted a hex sign on my arm, and I couldn’t move my fingers for three hours. It was a rather impressive hex, for an eight-year-old boy. I don’t know where he’d learned it.
     The second time I saw him he broke my broom in half. I had just got it and I had been showing it off. It was in the corner and he tripped over it.
            As you may have been able to tell, we didn’t like each other very much. Stephen thought I was an annoying know-it-all, and I considered him incredibly spoiled.
            Being the children of best friends did not help us avoid each other. Every month or so our parents would have a dinner party (usually at his house) and we would be forced into the same room for several hours. We generally pretended to get along while the adults were watching and ignored each other for the rest of the time.
            Until the Ursine Incident, that is.
            Before I tell you about this, I just want to say that it was entirely Stephen’s idea.
            This particular Incident took place when I was eleven and Stephen, being two weeks younger, was ten. It was at the monthly-or-so dinner party. We had set up the Monopoly board and were now reading different books in opposite corners when Stephen spoke.
            “Hey, Candace,” he said, “there’s a very good spell in this book I’m reading. Want to try it out in the Dungeon?”
            Stephen had never asked me to do anything before (I don’t count requests to shut up) and I was immediately suspicious. “Stephen Parker, what are you up to? Let me see that!” I marched over and wrestled the book from him. After finding the page he’d been on, I scanned it and snapped, “Nice try, Stephen, but there is no way you’re turning me into a tree toad.”
            “Who said anything about turning you into a tree toad? I was thinking of…erm…Libby,” said Stephen unconvincingly.
            Libby was Stephen’s eight-year-old sister, and I happened to know two things about her: firstly, she and Stephen got along remarkably well, much better than most siblings; and secondly, she preferred to spend the night at a friend’s house whenever my sister and I came over. (Smart girl.)
            “Yeah, right,” I said, rolling my eyes, but then a thought stuck me. “Stephen…what about Marcia?”
            Marcia, then seven, was my aforementioned sister. She really was a brat. Stephen, Libby and I all hated her. She was whiny, selfish, and very, very annoying.
            “Say, that’s not bad! Where is she?” exclaimed Stephen, his eyes lighting up.
            “Last time I saw her she was in your playroom,” I said.
             We got up and crept down to the Parkers’ playroom.
            Another thing I should probably mention about the Parkers: They’re rich. They used to live in England, so they all have accents, but now they live in this big house on Walker Hill. Stephen has a playroom and a computer and more toys than he and Libby can keep track of. It’s part of what makes him so annoying. I live in a decent middle-class house on Allen Avenue, but whenever I come to the Parkers, I feel very poor indeed.
            Marcia was indeed in the playroom. She was kneeling on the floor giving one of Libby’s Barbie dolls a tattoo with a black Sharpie.
            The playroom had two doors, one at either end. I stayed at one and Stephen went to the other. From across the room I saw him hold up three fingers. He lowered one, then two, and then we pounced. Marcia didn’t even have time to shriek before she was bundled up with thick yarn from the playroom wound around her ankles and my sweater over her head like a burlap sack. I threw her over my shoulder and, ignoring her muffled cries, we headed down to the Dungeon.
            The Dungeon isn’t actually as scary as it sounds. Rather than being a place where one tortures and eventually kills poor hopeless prisoners, with rats scurrying across the floor and twittering in the corners, it is simply the space where Stephen’s father makes potions and experiments with various combinations of magical substances. He has a job in the research department of the Catalyst University. The Dungeon is basically his home office, nicknamed as it is because it is located beneath the house and has stone walls.
            I hoped we weren’t disturbing anything in progress. The floor had some smudged chalk on it and high on the walls were shelves with books, bottles and vials. “Put her down here,” said Stephen, indicating the middle of a large pentacle that had been painted on the floor. I unceremoniously dumped my sister to the ground.
            “Candace Winsley, I hate you!” Marcia shrieked, thrashing until she dislodged the sweater from her face. “Let me out of here RIGHT NOW!”
            I tied my sweater across her mouth and turned back to Stephen.
            “Okay, so now…?”
            “Now we encircle her with butterfly dust and read the incantation. Then we throw in some salamander blood and stand well back,” said Stephen, scanning the page.
            “I’ll do the dust, you do the incantation.” I grabbed a vial labeled Butterfly Dust off of one of the shelves.
            “No good, they have to be done by the same person,” said Stephen, holding out the book.
            “And that person can’t be you because…?”
            “She’s your sister.”
            I sighed, but I really did want to try doing magic. We’re not supposed to at home.
            I took the book and flipped through the pages for a few moments until Stephen irritably said, “Will you get on with it?” Then I glared at him and started circling Marcia, letting the dust pour out of the vial in a circle around her and saying,
            Salamander blood and butterfly’s rot,
            Change this boy/girl (delete where applic—wait a minute, that can’t be right.”
            “Don’t say that part!” said Stephen, far too late to stop me. I made a move to start over, but he cried, “No! Keep going! We can’t mess it up any more or I don’t know what will happen!”
            I was having some serious doubts, but I picked up:
            Change this girl to what she’s not.”
            I repeated it three times, this time omitting the words “boy” and “delete where applicable.”
            I now know that if we had stopped there, the magic would have hung around for a few hours before turning into sludge. Stephen’s father would have found it the next day and cleaned it up before giving Stephen a lecture, and Marcia would have ratted me out to my parents, but that would have been preferable to what actually happened.
            Maybe it was the misread incantation and the interruption. Maybe it was the smudged symbols on the floor. It was probably all of the above. But whatever it was, when we threw the salamander blood into the pentacle, we didn’t wind up with a tree toad.
            We wound up with an extremely irate bear cub.
            My first thought: Oops.
            Stephen let out a very high-pitched scream and bolted for the door. I took a few nervous steps back. “Nice bear cub,” I said tentatively. “Niiiice Marcia…”
            The bear cub growled.
            I rapidly assessed the situation and ran for it.
            I had never run so fast before, although I think I have since. Marcia, being on four legs, had the advantage on the stairs. I burst out into the house a few steps ahead of her and tore down the hall, the bear cub that was my sister lolloping after me. With a crash, she knocked down a small table with an expensive-looking vase on it.
            Stephen’s father ran out into the hall, with Father and Mother close behind him. Stephen was clinging to his mother’s skirt. “There she is!” he yelled. I wondered if he meant the bear cub or me.
            Stephen’s father made a quick, complicated gesture with his left hand. “Rapio rationis restorant,” he said calmly.
            There was a soft explosion and a cloud of grey smoke, which cleared to reveal human Marcia running after me. She stopped and stamped her foot. “Darn it! That was so much fun!” She burst into tears. “Why’d you have to do that!” she shrieked.
            Mother hurried over and gathered Marcia into her arms, shooting me an evil look. I heard Stephen’s father rebuking him: “What on earth were you thinking? You know you’re not allowed in the Dungeon! And why a bear?”
            “I told you, Dad! We were trying for a tree toad!” Stephen said, exasperated.
            Mother was trying to soothe Marcia with little success. “We’d better go,” she said. “I think Marcia’s had a long night.” She shot me with another evil look, one that promised Death and Disembowelment and No Dessert. “I’m so sorry about this.”
            Stephen’s mother reassured her that it was all right, no harm no foul (she hadn’t noticed the vase), and she’d call later.
            As we headed for the door, Stephen caught my eye. He grinned and winked at me. I raised an eyebrow, and then we left. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Adventure of the Homicidal Automatons, Part the Eighth

Sorry for the late update. I was visiting colleges and didn't have time to publish it earlier.

And now, the penultimate chapter of our exciting adventure!

This is a Sherlock Holmes story I wrote a few years ago, set in an alternate London where the British Empire expanded into the reaches of outer space. Will be posted in chapters on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Scroll to the end for chapter list.

“Are you quite certain this is a good idea?” I whispered to Holmes at eleven o’clock that night.
            Holmes shushed me and peered into the darkness. It was a cold, foggy night, and I shivered as I pressed myself flat against the outer wall of Buckingham Palace. I flexed my mechanical fingers nervously and foolishly wished that Miss Morstan had accompanied us. But no, I chided myself, it was better that she, a fragile woman, remain in her home during this most dangerous operation, although it had taken Holmes and myself the better part of two hours to convince her so.
            Beside me, I sensed Holmes tilting his head. “Something is wrong,” he whispered. “Where are the guards? There should have been a patrol just now.” My friend hastened towards the gates of the palace, with me hot at his heels. The entrance to the palace itself was alarming in its complete lack of guards.
            Holmes raced through, halting just beyond the mighty gates. I heard cries and the sounds of vigorous fighting coming from the courtyard. Holmes started once again for the mighty building. “That is merely a distraction. Quick, Watson!”
            We ran into the darkened palace and dashed through several rooms. Holmes stopped and held out his hand. “Watson, do you feel anything odd in your arm?”
            I looked at it and flexed it. “No.”
            “Good. The device I constructed is working, then.”
            “You mean the device Miss Morstan constructed.”
            Holmes grimaced and motioned for silence. The device in question was clipped to my upper arm, to prevent it from receiving any signals besides those from my shoulder.
            We journeyed through those royal halls, Holmes padding silently and me keeping as quiet as seemed humanly possible. Holmes led the way, suddenly breaking into a sprint as we neared our villain’s target. He burst through the door to the anteroom of the jewel case, his modified revolver in hand. “The game is up!” he cried, but then he started, frowning, for there was no villain to be seen.
            I perceived motion in the corner of the room and cried out. In the next moment, a MAID had flung itself upon Holmes and two more were advancing towards myself.
            I pulled out my revolver and, seeing no other option, shot one of the unfortunate robots through the cranium. It sputtered down in a grinding of gears, but the other was still wheeling towards me at an alarming speed. I ducked as it aimed a deadly blow at my head and I knocked it over to the side where it struggled to stand.
            Suddenly I felt the gears in my arm move against my will. But this time the gears stopped when I commanded them to.
            “Villain!” I cried. “Your foul device will not work a second time!”
            “We shall see,” responded a deep voice, and the gears once again moved.
            It appeared that Miss Morstan’s device did not work quite as well as we had hoped.
            Exerting all my will to stop my arm from moving, I ran to help Holmes but was hampered by the MAID I had knocked down, which had regained its balance. The subsequent skirmish was made all the more difficult for me by the fact that I was also struggling to keep my arm under control. I glimpsed Holmes grappling now with the other human in the room but I was unable to give him aid; indeed, I would have welcomed aid myself. Battling mechanical servants while one’s arm is disabled is nothing to laugh at. Two more MAIDs had joined the first three, one helping Holmes’s adversary and one joining me.
            While Holmes held his own, I must confess that I was overwhelmed. One of the MAIDs pinned me to the floor while the other raised the large pike it held, obtained from I know not where, and prepared to stab me through the heart.
            Helpless, I braced myself for the deadly blow.
            I heard a small noise from the doorway and the MAID holding the pike abruptly jerked, cogs grinding unpleasantly as it underwent a conflict of intentions. The pike imbedded itself in the floor just to the right of my head and in broken tones the robot said, “Commen/men/mencing emergency/cy shutdown/own/own.” Its head dropped to its chest and a click signified its death. The MAID that had been holding me to the ground rolled neatly to its feet and began straightening the debris of its comrades.
            I clambered to my feet and was glad to see that the MAID fighting Holmes had also desisted, allowing him to gain the upper hand on the human villain. Then, turning to the doorway, I beheld a most astonishing spectacle: Miss Morstan stood there, a shining rectangular device crackling with energy in her gloved hands!
            “Miss Morstan!” I cried. “How have you come to be here?”
            “Watson!” Holmes, having rendered his foe unconscious, raced for the room beyond the anteroom we stood in. Miss Morstan followed him and I her, but Holmes abruptly halted in the doorway.
            “Too late!” he cried, and indeed, the case containing the crown jewels had been smashed and the crown itself taken!
            “How is that possible?” I exclaimed. “We halted the villain in the anteroom!”
            “That was not the mastermind, merely the minion,” said Holmes grimly, running back into the corridors of the palace. “He held us off while his master got clean away in the commotion!”
            “Leaving his henchman to the mercy of the guards,” commented Miss Morstan.
            Holmes turned and stared at her. “What are you doing here?” he asked, incredulous. “You were told to stay at home!”
            “Would you prefer it if I had not come when I realized that Doctor Watson’s device could not possibly block the signals at close range?”
            “You are female! You should not have come!”
            “If I had done as I was told, Watson would be dead!”
            “She did save my life,” I admitted reluctantly. Holmes looked at me in astonishment before shaking his head and running towards the palace entrance.
            We were waylaid by the guards, who had stopped fighting each other and run to see what the commotion was. Holmes took charge. “Quick!” he cried, “the villain went this way!” Dodging their confused questions, he dashed into the street. Miss Morstan and I followed with a few apologies and promises of a later explanation. I do not think the guards considered this sufficient, but they were disorganized enough to allow us to slip away.
            Holmes immediately lit upon a piece of fresh manure as evidence of which way the mastermind had made his escape. He glanced about the street and rushed to a mechanical coach that was parked by the palace wall. “Morstan! Open this!”
            Miss Morstan hurried to unlock it, having the key in her pocket. I now recognized the coach as the same one she had been repairing when we first met. Holmes climbed into the driver’s seat and released the brake. The coach began rolling forward incrementally.
            Miss Morstan joined Holmes in the seat to his left, while I sat in the back. The mechanic frowned at my friend as he grasped the vehicle’s tiller. “You do know how to drive a mechanical coach, Mr. Holmes, don’t you?”
            “It can’t be all that different from a traditional one,” said Holmes, stomping on the accelerator.
            The old mechanical coaches were, as I have mentioned, extremely difficult to drive. They had a tendency to weave from side to side on the road, and they were steered by means of a tiller, which made turning the contraption disobliging and dangerous. To my knowledge, Holmes had never attempted to steer one before.
            The coach shot forward, throwing us back into our seats. I dearly wished for something to secure myself with, but the wretched thing had no safety harnesses or anything of the like. I was reduced to clinging desperately to the side of the carriage as we raced through London at dangerous speeds. The few nighttime passersby leapt out of the way as we passed.
            Holmes jerked the tiller far too hard as we barreled into a square. The coach spun, the wheels screeching and throwing up sparks. The noise of the engine was so loud as to be nearly intolerable.
            “For God’s sake, Mr. Holmes, let me drive!” cried Miss Morstan, clutching her seat so as not to be flung out.
            “No! I am getting the hang of it,” growled the detective, pounding the accelerator. Between bouncing from the cobbles and trying not to let my dinner resurface, I caught sight of a regular coach ahead of us.
            “Slow down!” shrieked Miss Morstan. “You’ll kill someone!” A street urchin proved her point by diving for cover, barely avoided near-certain death.
            The carriage ahead was at full gallop now. It swung around a corner and Holmes followed, throwing us into the doors. We were now running near the Thames, which drove my panic to greater heights. Dying was not something I wished to do that night, and falling into the Thames would mean my certain demise, weighed down as I am by my arm. I noticed at this point an alarming rattle coming from the left side of the carriage. Peering as best I could in the dark and bumpy ride, I got an impression of the problem: One of the wheels was loosening. “HOLMES! CAUTION! PLEASE!”
             We were going at full tilt now, far faster that the vehicle had ever been meant to travel. The tyreless wheels caught at every cobblestone, jostling us wildly and increasing the difficulty of steering for Holmes. I saw the carriage ahead of us suddenly turn down a side street. Holmes cursed as we shot past, unable to risk turning. “Never mind!” he cried, “they must follow the river. They are merely trying to—”
            Ahead of us, a cab and four trotted into the middle of the road. Holmes slammed his foot on the brake, but the mechanical coach did not stop until it was not six feet from the horses, screeching unpleasantly. Glancing at the wheel, I saw that it was almost off. I tried to warn Holmes, but before I could speak he once again accelerated. The coach rocketed forward, pedestrians running. It was truly a miracle that we injured no one during that terrible ride.
            A few streets later, once again a coach came in front of us. But this time, instead of braking, Holmes pressed the accelerator. My head snapped back and I was unable to see what was happening for a few moments, but Miss Morstan explained later that the horses spooked and reared, about to bolt. Miss Morstan instinctively threw Holmes aside and stamped on the brakes. The mechanical coach screamed, the loose wheel finally detached, and our vehicle skidded around several times before slamming into the side of the carriage, knocking it clear over on its side.
            I am quite sure that none of us would have survived had Miss Morstan not had the presence of mind to cry “Jump!” as she deployed the brakes. Holmes and I leapt over the sides onto the cobbles, with Miss Morstan following a moment later. I therefore was able to watch the fearful crash not as a victim, but as an observer. The driver of the carriage was not quite so lucky, but he too lived. He was thrown off his seat and one of his legs was caught under the toppled carriage, cleanly breaking the bone.
            We picked ourselves up off the pavement once the two vehicles had ceased movement, besides that of the panicked horse, dragged down onto its side but not seriously injured. Holmes ran to the fallen traditional carriage. He wrenched the door open and gave a cry of anger. Looking over his shoulder, I saw that the carriage was completely empty.
            “Holmes, do not tell me that this was the wrong carriage!”
            “It was the correct carriage, but our foe was wily, Watson. He leapt out in the backstreets and is even now making his way down the Thames! There is no chance of catching him now! I should have seen it immediately!” Holmes groaned and turned away from the coach in disgust.
            Hearing cries from the bystanders, I hurried to help the fallen driver of the traditional coach. Finding that his injuries, although serious, would heal easily, I called out for someone to summon an ambulance. Holmes and Miss Morstan were, meanwhile, climbing about the fallen vehicles, examining them. It was Miss Morstan who, climbing inside the carriage, gave a cry of surprise. “Mr. Holmes! Look at this!” she cried, holding up a bag which evidently carried something angular and heavy.
            Holmes ran to her side and, snatching the bag and reaching inside, brought forth the Crown itself!
            “Aha!” he cried, “our pirate has left his prize! He could not safely jump from the carriage while carrying it, so he sacrificed his treasure for the sake of his own well-being! Well done, Miss Morstan!”
            At that moment, the ambulance which I had requisitioned arrived. I will spare the gentle reader an account of the questions and answers that followed, the lectures Holmes received from the police, and the arrest of the carriage driver except to say that Miss Morstan and I solemnly swore to each other never to let Holmes behind the tiller of any vehicle at any time in the future, no matter what the circumstances. We had most thoroughly learned our lessons.