The “No Wizards” Rule

“Let me guess,” Greg said, looking at the petite blonde girl who had just walked into his shop, “a butterfly on your lower back. Am I right?” He was tall, in his early thirties, slightly paunchy but with some muscle left over from his college football days. Like most tattoo shop owners, he was heavily illustrated. From the neck down, he was covered in intricate black and gray artwork, much of it drawn by his own hand.

“I told her you were a nice guy,” Ricky said. “Don’t make me a liar.” Ricky was Greg’s apprentice, and about ten years his junior. Greg’s tattoos were subdued and elegant, like poetry, but Ricky’s work was flamboyant and garish, like poetry shouted through a bullhorn. Ricky’s hair was just as showy, dyed neon colors and moussed into spikes, like electrocuted cotton candy.

Rachel let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. “No butterflies,” she said. “And no dolphins or roses or other girly shit like that. I want a tree down my left side… I brought a photo… It was outside my window while I was growing up. Whenever my parents grounded me, which was a lot, I would just climb down the branches and go wherever I wanted. That tree was my freedom, you know?”

“Oh, you’re the tree girl!” Greg said, slapping his forehead. “I remember now. Yeah, Ricky emailed me your photo. I’ve been looking forward to doing this one. I worked up a design I think you’ll like.”

Rachel followed him across the shop to his large, black chair. Chewing her lip, she looked at the tray of needles and inks as if they could jump up and bite her. Gary put his hand on her shoulder and gently guided her into the chair. “It’s a, um, nice place you’ve got here,” she said.

“Thanks! We just redid the floors. Twice.” He stepped over to a metal shelf on the wall and produced a large piece of paper. It was a black illustration of a maple tree with long, thick limbs that twisted like snakes. “It might be hard to imagine from the stencil, but I’ll fill in the leaves with reds and oranges. When I’m done, it will look like fireworks. …If you aren’t sure about this, I can airbrush a temporary tattoo, and you can try it out for a few days.”

“No, no, I’m sure. That sounds wonderful. …Thank you.”

He cleaned her side with rubbing alcohol. As he poured the inks into a tray, she glanced at the artwork covering the walls. In between sample tattoos and photos of happy customers, there was a large, metal sign in a black frame.

SHOP RULES:

  • No drunks.
  • No racists.
  • No barbed wire armbands or tribal anything.
  • No boyfriend/girlfriend names.
  • No face or hand tattoos.
  • NO WIZARDS!

The last rule had been added with marker in a large, angry scrawl. “I’m almost afraid to ask,” Rachel said. “Do you get a lot of fantasy geeks in here or something? Get sick of drawing Gandalf and Dumbledore?”

Greg shook his head and picked up the tattoo gun. “No, I’ll do a fantasy tattoo, if you want one. I just had to ban wizards…”


Last week, I had Ricky sand and stain the floors. Most people didn’t want to deal with the fresh stain smell, so business was a bit slow. I didn’t need his help with the shop, so I sent him outside to wash some rust stains off the parking lot.

I was wiping the dust off the counters when this old man walked in. He looked a bit like Charles Darwin – bald on top, with a fringe of gray hair, and a scraggly, white beard. He was wearing a long, black cloak, like something out of the middle ages, and a necklace with a huge, blue crystal wrapped in silver claws. Totally not the type we usually see around here.

I was just about to ask Darwin what he wanted when another customer pushed past him, practically knocking him over. Tall guy, three-piece suit, blonde hair slicked back like a TV preacher or used car salesman. Blonde guy shoved a wad of cash at me and said, “I was here first.”

I said to Darwin, “Have a seat and I’ll be right with you.” I hated being rude to the old man, but I had rent to pay, you know? He looked pretty angry, but he didn’t complain. He just sat down and rubbed the crystal on his necklace, muttering something under his breath.

I took the blonde guy back to my chair and introduced myself. He said his name was Wallace. When I asked what he wanted, he gave me a piece of paper with some foreign writing on it. “Another person trying to be different by getting a tattoo in a foreign language,” I thought. “Looks like something out of Lord of the Rings. Probably his girlfriend’s name in dwarf or something.”

I had to go back up front for more stencil transfer paper. Darwin was still mumbling into his necklace. As he rubbed the crystal, it seemed to shine with an inner glow. Probably a trick of the light. I said, “I’ll be with you in a few minutes,” but he just kept mumbling.

I went back to my chair and showed Wallace the transfer. He said, “Yes, that’s perfect. It has to go on my chest, right across the center of my heart.”

“Are you sure everything is correct?” I asked. “I heard this story about a girl who got these Chinese characters tattooed on her back. She thought they said ‘prayer’, ‘purity’, and ‘water’, but they actually said ‘please clean the restroom’…”

Wallace sneered and unbuttoned his shirt. “Yes, it’s exactly like the book.”

“I knew it!” I thought. His chest was already shaved, so the only prep work I had to do was cleaning the area and applying the transfer. I was about halfway through the letters when he started griping about the pain and asking for a break.

I walked back up front. Darwin was still rubbing his necklace, but now he was staring out the window. There were dark clouds on the horizon. A storm was rolling in. “Only a little while longer now,” he said to himself. “Only a little while longer.” Something about his voice made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I decided to get back to work before he saw me standing there. Wallace’s break had been long enough.

I finished the last letter on his tat and wiped away the blood. Before I could bandage it up, something odd happened. The letters were glowing. A sickly, yellow light shone from under his skin.

“Must be something wrong with your ink,” he said.

“Ink can’t do that,” I said. “But I think I know who did.” Now, I don’t believe in the supernatural. I don’t believe in anything. But what other explanation could there have been? I ran up front and found the old man still sitting, still muttering into his necklace.

“What the hell did you do?” I snapped.

Darwin jumped out of his chair. “Me? All I’ve been doing is sitting here! I’ve been waiting for you to come back so I could ask you for directions! I was looking for the fair grounds. I wanted to go to the Renaissance fair, but now it looks like it’ll start storming soon. Just a little while longer.” Looking over my shoulder, his eyes grew wide. “But we’ve got a bigger problem than a storm.”

Before I could turn, something like a cinder block slammed into my back. I crashed to the floor, the wind knocked out of me. When I managed to roll over, I saw my attacker. Somehow, Wallace’s skin had turned as gray as a granite statue. He had also grown to be about eight feet tall. The strange glow had spread across his whole body, but was brightest at the marks on his bare chest.

“My god,” the old man gasped. “He’s a golem!”

“A what?”

“A golem… They’re supposed to be stone or clay figures brought to life with magic, but he’s done the reverse! How is this possible?”

Wallace smiled darkly. “He was foolish enough to mark me with runes he didn’t understand,” he said. “And now, to keep my spell a secret, he must die!” Leaping forward, he threw a punch at my head. I barely managed to roll out of the way. His fist slammed into the floor like a brick into a windshield.

Just then, Ricky burst through the door. “What’s going on? What the hell is that thing?”

“Go to my truck!” I yelled. “Get something to remove engraving!” But Ricky just stood there, his head bouncing back and forth from the stone man to the hole in the floor. “Now!” Finally, he ran back outside.

Darwin grabbed a chair and hurled it at Wallace’s head. It clattered to the floor harmlessly, but it was still enough to make him mad. He climbed off of me and launched himself at the old man. I struggled to my feet and stumbled over to the counter. Fortunately, Ricky never bothers to put away my tools. The belt sander was still sitting behind the counter.

I grabbed the sander, but kept my arm behind my back. “Why don’t you come get the cash register, statue man?” I called out. “Your old clothes won’t really fit anymore, so you’ll need money for new pants. And a rock polisher. Maybe an umbrella to keep the bird shit off of you.” But he ignored my taunts. He raised his fists over his head, ready to crush the old man.

I switched on the belt sander and ran at him. I leaped at his waist in a football tackle. He was too heavy to knock to the ground, but I managed to push him away from Darwin. I held the sander on his chest. He didn’t make a sound. Whatever had turned him to stone had also made him immune to pain.

He yanked the sander from my hands and swatted me away like a fly. With a laugh, he crushed the sander into a ball. Grabbing the power cord, he swung the ball of metal over his head like a mace, sending it crashing down into Darwin’s skull. The old man collapsed in a heap.

“No!” It was Ricky. He ran into the room, a plastic bucket in his arms. He heaved the bucket at Wallace, showering him in hydrochloric acid. “Melt, you fucker!”

But nothing happened. That concentration wouldn’t dissolve stone, which is why I had given it to him to clean up the rust stains in the parking lot. “Oh Ricky, you idiot!” Wallace grabbed the couch and flung it across the room, slamming Ricky into the wall. I bolted to my chair, and the stone man chased after me.

I reached for the tattoo gun, which was still loaded with black ink. Laughing, Wallace spread his arms wide. “Is that your plan?” he said. “Really? You’re going to try to tattoo stone? Go right ahead!”

I shook my head. “No, I just wanted to get you close enough for me to do this.” With my other hand, I reached for the air brush, and covered his chest in black. It was only paint, but it was enough to blot out his tattoo.

Wallace stumbled back, clutching his heart. He tried to rub away the black, but it was too late. The glow faded, and the color returned to his skin. He shrunk to his former size, and his skin returned to flesh. Flesh that could be burned by acid.

He howled in agony, driven mad with pain. Using my chair like a battering ram, I knocked him to the ground. His head slammed against the floor. He was out cold.

Grabbing some work gloves, I pulled him to the sink and did my best to wash off the acid and paint, and then called the cops. While I waited for them to arrive, I did my fastest cover-up job ever. Instead of runes, his chest was now covered in the logo of the local police union. The cops would be pissed when they found out he wasn’t one of them, and if he thought about getting a new magic tattoo in prison, he would be too scared to bare his chest.

When the cops finally showed up, the old man’s body was gone. There wasn’t a drop of his blood, not a sign he had ever been there. He had just simply disappeared.


Greg put the finishing touches on Rachel’s maple tree, and gently bandaged her side. “Hey Ricky,” she called, “Greg says you almost got killed by a wizard!” She laughed in spite of the pain. “It was a great story. You should have heard it.”

Ricky walked back to the chair. “Yeah, he’s good at telling crazy stories.”

“He really is. I hardly even noticed the needle!”

Ricky walked Rachel back up front and took her payment, then saw her to the door. A moment later, the phone rang. “Greg, it’s Bigfoot. He wants you to touch up his back piece.”

“Oh, hell no. I’m not shaving that hairy bastard again.”

Sudo Shutdown Everything

“So, what did you do this weekend?” Frank asked, unwrapping a blueberry muffin.

“I destroyed the universe,” Johnathan said. He pulled off his leather jacket and tossed it over the back of the chair.

Frank checked the coffee shop window – the parking lot, trees, and sky were all there as usual. “Well, I’m sorry to say, but you seem to have done a mighty poor job of it. If I was a super villain and hired someone to destroy the universe, and this was the quality of work they did, I would demand my money back.”

Johnathan sighed. “I should probably start at the beginning.” He tore open half a dozen sugar packets and dumped them all into his espresso, his third that morning.

“Sure, let’s hear it.” Read more…

Color All Your Days

T

he UFO extruded a long, mechanical arm and yanked a confused cow from the field below. On board the spaceship, a green-skinned man in an apron lit a charcoal grill, his antennas waving excitedly.

Sighing, Greg turned his sketchpad around so his customer could see the drawing. “Something like this?”

The man laughed. “That’s great, bro! But make my apron say something funny.”

“Fine, whatever.” Greg wrote “Something Funny” on the apron and handed the man the caricature. “That’ll be twenty dollars. And if you’re interested, I also have some actual art for sale.” He gestured to a large, wooden screen covered with watercolor portraits and nature scenes.

“Nah, bro.” The man folded the caricature in quarters and shoved it in his jacket pocket.

“Somehow, I didn’t think so.” As the man walked away, Greg stood up, stretched his legs, and wiped the dust off his paintings. “I might not be selling any art, but on the plus side, I haven’t had to buy paint for over a year.”

The beach had been chilly and windy all morning. The boardwalk was mostly empty, but he had managed to make just enough money to cover gas and lunch. On warmer days, the area attracted hundreds of beach goers and tourists, but even then, they weren’t exactly in the market for fine art.

His section of boardwalk was between a retired couple who made turquoise jewelry and a homeless surfer who sold seashells. Of course, the beach was covered in thousands of seashells, but these were special. They had plastic googly eyes glued to them. On the other side of the boardwalk, about twenty feet away, stood a long row of candy machines, soda machines, souvenir penny makers, and other mechanical money-wasters.

Two women walked quickly up the boardwalk, high heels clacking on the wooden planks. The first looked to be in her early forties. She was wearing a waitress’s uniform and a dingy sweater missing most of its buttons. Her friend was ten or fifteen years her junior. She had on tights under her dress and a scarf around her shoulders, but was still shivering in the cold.

“What’s that?” the waitress asked, pointing at a glass booth. It looked something like a cross between a ticket counter and a vending machine. Inside the booth stood a mannequin dressed like a gypsy woman in an old horror movie. The mannequin was staring down at a large crystal ball surrounded by tarot carts. Its lips were parted slightly, as if it were just about to speak. Read more…

Butch

T

here is a strange light outside, hovering over the woods behind the back fence. Through the gap in the boards, I watch as it darts back and forth like a huge humming bird. I want to alert Food Giver, but barking is not permitted. Thankfully, he steps outside. I must be quiet, but now I can show him!

“Butch, walkies!” Food Giver says. I love walkies! He attaches the leash to my collar and opens the gate. I stop and point up at the light over the woods. “No dawdling,” Food Giver says, smacking my paw. “We can practice shaking later. It’s walkies now.” I try to point again, but Food Giver tugs on the leash, and I must follow. Read more…

Countermeasures

I

t was around my fourth or fifth win that I noticed casino security watching me. A gigantic man in a black turtleneck was casually chatting with other players, but every time I put down a bet, his shaved, bullet-shaped head turned my way. I could feel him probing the area with his mind, the energy sparking across the table like static electricity. My winning streak was about to end.

The fact that the guard could focus his mind was nothing short of astounding. From the nonstop flashing, dinging, and buzzing of the slot machines to the quarter-scale roller coaster, The Big Queen, running continuously a hundred feet over the players’ heads to the showgirls strolling the floor in costumes with hardly enough cloth to cover a Barbie doll, everything in The Royal Giant Casino added up to one big distraction. It was a wonder that anyone could concentrate long enough to place a bet.

I was doing my best to blend in with the other players. I was dressed as your typical Vegas tourist in my Giants cap, a gaudy Hawaiian shirt, and some oversized sunglasses that, I had hoped, would keep anyone from recognizing me. But apparently it hadn’t worked. You win a little too often, at too many places, and people start to get suspicious.

It was time to make one last bet before I cleared out. Better make it a big one. I placed eight thousand dollars on twenty-three, half my night’s winnings. The dealer called “no more bets” and spun the wheel. He carefully placed the little, ivory ball, spinning it in the other direction. The ball gradually lost momentum, bouncing across the numbered slots, its dance finally coming to an end in twenty-three.

The dealer called “Black thirty-five!” I was about to protest, but sure enough, the ball was now sitting in the next slot over. Somehow, it had moved.

“Looks like a TK,” I thought. I scanned the other player’s bets. A few people had won low-paying outside bets, black beating red,or odd beating even, but no one had bet on thirty-five. “It must be the guard. He’s not just psychic security – he’s a counter-psy.” Read more…

Roscoe and the Anti-Television

O

ne night, in the middle of an October thunderstorm, a raindrop ripped a hole in the sky. This raindrop was different, as big as a freight train and made of silver. It dropped through the hole and fell without a sound. At one thousand feet, it froze, hanging in the air. Far below it stood a ramshackle farm house, broken shingles and cracked windows barely keeping out the rain.

From its pointed tip came a beam of blue light. The light pierced one bedroom window, then the other. The raindrop turned and sent another beam of light to the far side of the farm. The light vanished and the hole in the sky sealed shut. The raindrop hid behind a cloud, waiting. Read more…

The More Things Change

“And then, to get at your grandmother’s brain, I would saw off the top of her skull.” Paul smiled at the sea of horrified faces. His students found twentieth century medicine utterly barbaric. Just hearing about historical surgery was disturbing, but he had also provided three dimensional illustrations. Poking a finger into the projection, he pulled the image out of the way and the next one slid up into view. “Today, it’s much simpler. The latest magnetometers can detect the magnetic field emitted by your brain from clear across the room. Direct electrical stimulation of the hippocampus can cause you to rapidly relive your memories as your life literally flashes before your eyes. We record the electrical activity of these memories, and…”

Christine was in the front row again. This week, her hair was pink. Her skirt was black and silver, a starry sky wrapped around her legs. Apparently she had just come from art class. Her neck and arms were sprinkled with blue specks, the results of her frantic, almost violent painting style. It looked as if the air conditioning were on too high again. She had goosebumps down her arms, and her nipples were… Read more…

Jumper

Jumper

Sixteen stories to the street. That has to be enough.” David jammed the crowbar into the door frame and pulled. The wood cracked and snapped, pieces falling. Tossing the tool aside, he retrieved the wine bottle of from the top of the stairs. There were a few mouthfuls of red left. Couldn’t let it go to waste. Read more…

Dull Science Fiction Novels

Dull Science Fiction Novels

Just because it’s science fiction doesn’t make it exciting. Here, then, are some science fiction novels that are guaranteed to put you to sleep.

  • A Clockwork Orange Julius
  • The Invisible Manager
  • Atlas Shrugged, Sighed, and Wallowed in Regret
  • A Song of Ice and Fire and Wind and Rain and Dirt and Trees and Pine Cones and Waffles and…
  • Ringworld & Other Places to Take Your Fiancé
  • Foundation, Lipstick, Blush, and Empire
  • Stranger in a Strange Land’s End Sweater Vest
  • A Wrinkle in Trousers
  • Fahrenheit 45 and Partly Cloudy
  • Ender’s Game Goes Into Extra Innings
  • Something Wicker This Way Comes
  • Have Spacesuit, Won’t Travel (Also Have Motion Sickness)
  • 2001: A Honda Odyssey
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the New Jersey Turnpike
  • Flowers for Algebra Homework
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mattress (Part 14 of the Napping Astronaut Chronicles)
  • The Stairs My Destination
  • Jurassic Parking Garage
  • Do Androids Dream of Taking Tests in Their Underpants?
  • 1984: The Mondale Campaign
  • I, Robert
  • The Lost World – No, Wait, There It Is. …Well, That Was Easy
  • The Andromeda Stain Remover
  • Journey to the Center of Ohio

Bonus: Dull Scifi Movies!

  • Backgammon To The Future
  • Soylent Chartreuse
  • Brunch of the Living Dead
  • Forbidden Planetarium
  • OboeCop
  • The Months and Months and Months the Earth Stood Still
  • The Fifth Element: Boron

Jack

Jack

The clock in Jack’s brain woke him up at dawn. He pushed open the door of his charging closet and joined his team’s single-file line out into the muddy parking lot, where they were loaded onto trucks. Inside the filthy, rusty trailer, Jack took a place next to what might have been his twin. Both Jack and his double were about nine feet tall, canary yellow, and made of steel. Their large, bullet-shaped heads were featureless, save for a pair of glowing eyes. The only difference between the two was that Jack’s serial number was 66-55-321, while his double’s was 11-34-334.

The truck pulled into the parking lot of Goebbels Elementary School, and Jack and his team were unloaded into the cold. Dark clouds stained the morning sky a dirty gray. It looked like rain again.

The foreman was a short, portly man with hair like a laurel wreath and skin like a sausage casing. He was the only living person on the site. The Collective only hired humans for supervisory positions. It was cheaper to employ mechmen to do the actual construction work. The machines were perfectly obedient and worked constantly, with no need for bathroom breaks.

“Is everybody fully charged?” the foreman yelled. “It’s going to be a long day, and I don’t want anyone running out of juice in the middle of it! Alright, we are here to build the kiddies a new football stadium. The foundation has already been laid, so we can get started building the frame. You two jacks, get the masonry from the supply truck and take it over thataways.” Jack’s twin walked off to the pallets of concrete blocks, but Jack was still, staring silently at the tiny man barking orders. “Move it!” he screamed. “Hey, idiot, didn’t you hear me? Go get the pallets!”

“Perhaps you should have him run a diagnostic check,” a helpful cement mixer suggested.

“Or maybe I’ll just reboot him, right in the ass.” The foreman paused to think about what would happen if he fell behind schedule with yet another construction project. He might be demoted back to garbage mech supervisor, and have to spend another twelve years watching greasy robots empty dumpsters. “C’mon, Jack! I need your help here, buddy. Please.”

Finally, the machine began to move. Jack trudged across the parking lot and pulled a pallet from the supply truck. Even though he could easily carry three in each hand, he lifted just one, shuffling slowly towards the construction site.

“If I didn’t know any better,” the foreman thought as Jack lumbered past, “I could swear that machine just sighed….” Read more…