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.


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

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


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


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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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


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


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


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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