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…

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…

Art for Art’s Sake

Art for Art’s Sake

When the doctor told Jack he was going to lose his sight, his first thought was “I should have become a podiatrist. Even blind, it’s easy to find someone’s feet. They’re usually at the end that’s not talking. But, no, I just had to be an artist…” Jack was a painter. For a little while longer, at least. He would have six more weeks with good vision, possibly less. And then the world would slowly vanish, taking his art career with it. Without sight, it is very difficult to tell if the meadow you are painting is full of red flowers, blue flowers, or ferrets smoking cigars. Read more…

On a Mission from God

One of the best ways to deal with writer’s block is “free writing”. Just putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and letting it flow, without editing, reservations, or judgment can be a great way to recharge your creative batteries. Sometimes, you will produce gibberish. Sometimes, you will produce the seeds of a great story idea. And sometimes, you will produce… Something else.

*****

On a Mission from God

I get home from work, and there is a message from God. First of all, who gave God my number? Damn it, I’m unlisted for a reason. God’s been bothering me ever since we first met. He was sitting outside of Burger King, begging for change. I didn’t have any coins, so I gave him a tenner. Ever since then, he’s asked me for a favor every time we’ve talked. I guess he thinks I’m a pushover. I guess I kind of am.
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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…

The Snake Charmer and the Human Unicorn

The Snake Charmer and the Human Unicorn

A Love Story

F

or one week in summer, red cloth and steel polls transformed a vacant lot into another world. Strange creatures danced like demons, beautiful women tamed wild beasts, and ordinary men demonstrated a host of supernatural powers. The sideshow had come to town. The sideshow! The bastard child of the circus and the absolute bottom rung of the theatrical ladder. In the days before television swallowed the world, the sideshow was the ultimate in voyeurism. You could ride every rollercoaster, play every game, eat every delicious treat the carnival had to offer, but it would be the sideshow you would remember forever. Some memories fade like the dawn, but others are destined to die with you.

A clear, blue Monday morning, opening day. The crowds attacked the carnival grounds like an angry swarm of locusts. Across from the row of rides was a long tent, purple and crimson, with a rickety, wooden stage near the entrance. A man in a white pinstriped suit and Panama hat stepped onto the stage and lifted a megaphone to his lips. Bentley, the sideshow talker. The bally had begun. “Ladies and gentleman,” he bellowed, “have I got a treat for you. This is, bar none, the greatest show in the galaxy. We’ve got beautiful, Hawaiian hula dancers, Marco the Magician, and Vesuvius the fire breather! We’ve got a cow with two heads! Guaranteed born alive, or we’ll hand you a crisp, clean hundred dollar bill! Come see the show, folks! We’ve got more thrills than a fish has gills! See Jade the sword swallower! When she swallows a light bulb, you can see it shine in her belly! Now, have I got a treat for you today! Come a little closer, and enjoy a free show! That’s right, free! Free as the air you breathe!”

At these words, a tall, curvaceous woman in a tiger print leotard climbed onto the stage. Wrapped around her shoulders was an immense, black and gold python. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Bentley continued, “this is one of the stars of our show, Sabrina the Snake Charmer! Show ’em what you do, honey!” Sabrina lifted the snake from her shoulders and, arms outstretched, presented it to the crowd. The women shrieked and moved back. A few men told their wives they were moving in closer to look at Sabrina’s snake but, instead, they helped themselves to an eyeful of Sabrina. Suddenly, Sabrina lifted the snake over her head and slowly lowered its head into her mouth. The crowd gasped. She opened her mouth and released the snake, kissing it gently. “Isn’t that great, folks?” Bentley said. “Of course it is! And that’s just one of ten acts you can see, all for fifteen cents. That’s less than a penny each! Still not convinced? Here’s Marco the Magician!”

Marco quickly donned his top hat and cape and boarded the stage while Sabrina rushed into the tent to get ready for the real show. She brushed past a tall man in a blue denim shirt, ignoring his hellos. The man in the blue shirt was entirely unremarkable, save for the fourteen-inch horn protruding from the center of his forehead. The Human Unicorn watched Sabrina hurry to her stage and deposit the snake in a large, bamboo basket. The Unicorn trudged back to his stage and waited for Bentley to “turn the tip,” or bring the crowd inside. Suddenly, Marco flew past him, holding onto his top hat with both hands.

“They’re on their way!” he shouted. “Get ready, Unicorn!”

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The Not-So-Great Porter

The Not-So-Great Porter

“I

t’s a new world out there,” Mr. Heisenberg said. “There is no sense of wonder anymore. Magic is dead, killed by science long ago.”

“Give me another chance,” the white-haired magician said. “If I can’t pack the house, I’ll never darken the door of your theater again.”

“You’d better wow me, old man.”

“So it’s come to this,” Porter thought, “begging this morbidly obese simpleton for a few moments on his stage. But he’ll see! In my jacket are the blueprints for a miracle. Tonight, I’ll show him magic still lives and breathes!”

Showtime. Porter’s assistant, a raven-haired beauty in a white gown, came to center stage. “I need a dozen volunteers,” Porter said. “Please form a circle around this lovely, young lady. Join hands. Let nothing touch her.”

Moving to the edge of the stage, The Great Porter gestured mysteriously, and the woman began to rise. With the ring of people around her, there couldn’t have been any wires but, somehow, she was floating. She rose gently, twelve feet in the air, like a leaf falling in reverse. The illusion was perfect, beautiful. Truly, this was a miracle. But then, the audience began to mumble and groan. And then they stood and simply walked out.

Stunned, Porter followed the crowd out the door. “Where are you going?” he cried. “What’s wrong?” But the audience ignored him. Grumbling about the lousy show, they slipped on their helmets, strapped on their jetpacks, and flew off into the night. Porter sighed, exhausted. “Heisenberg was right. It’s a new world out there!”

The Guardian of Gradyville

The Guardian of Gradyville

G

radyville: Population 71. Seventy ordinary people, and Ricky Jarvis. It was one of those towns you passed on the way to somewhere else. There wasn’t much reason to stop at a place that was little more than a church, a grocery store, and a bait shop. Even the highway didn’t stop. The highway just wrapped around the town like a corset, keeping the people there firmly in their place.

Sunday morning. Everyone in town was at Hilltop Church, either sitting inside or buried in the back. Pastor Wallace was pacing on stage, waving his Bible like a sword. “And the Lord said, in my name they will perform miracles. They shall pick up venomous snakes and not be bitten. They shall drink poison and not perish. They shall perform healings and resurrect the dead. …Now, my children, we can perform miracles in God’s name, but that does not mean that every miracle comes from him! I have read every word in this here book, and nowhere does it say anything about levitation! I do believe, dear children, that if God wanted us to fly, he would give us feathers!”

“Just like a penguin,” Ricky thought.

“And if a blessing doesn’t come from God, it must come from… another source.

Ricky certainly was blessed. The nineteen-year-old had the body of a god. Well, Hercules was technically a demigod, but you get the picture. He was six-foot-nine, nearly three hundred pounds, and built like a human bulldozer. He could fly. He could lift a tractor with one hand. He could shout loud enough to shatter windows. He was also bulletproof, not that he had any risk of being shot in Gradyville. At least, as long as he avoided the woods during hunting season.

“Some people,” the preacher continued, “think that doing a little bit of good can wash away a great evil. Some people think you can use the devil’s right hand to hold back his left. Well, the devil can’t make you the Saint of Sinners. No matter how much good you do, you can never buy back your soul from a pawnshop in Hell!”

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Enough Rope

Enough Rope

“M

y god,” Hunter moaned. ”They’re going to come after me again. Now that they know for certain that she’s dead, they’ll think I did it. They always suspect the boyfriend. I’m going to end up in prison. I just know it.” He paced nervously, fumbling with the zipper on his jacket. His bedroom suddenly seemed very small.

”Nobody’s going to jail,” Brett insisted. ”You and I are the only ones who know what really happened to her. As far as they know, Kate’s body simply fell from the sky. The farmer thinks it was thrown from a plane… Look, why don’t you have a cigarette and relax?”

”I’ve been trying to quit,” Hunter said. ”But it doesn’t matter. Not anymore. I can’t die of lung cancer if I get the electric chair. They’re going to come for me! The police will be here any minute!”

Brett stepped across the room and grabbed Hunter by the shirt collar. ”Listen to me, Hunter. You aren’t going to prison. Nothing can happen to you. Even if you confessed, who would believe it?”

Read more…