I should’ve known something was up. It was Switch Day, and usually the doctor is lighting up my phone with texts wanting to know if I’m on my way yet. He always gets anxious on Switch Day. But on this particular morning, my phone was strangely silent. I was preoccupied myself, and didn’t notice it. I probably should have.
I picked up my lab coat from the cleaner’s and drove towards the castle. It’s important to look your best on Switch Day. I had prepared everything else. The brain was installed and ready to go. The creature was laid out nicely on the table. I’d even run through my vocal exercises the night before. It’s important, when you’re an Igor flipping the switch to bring the doctor’s creation to life, that you enunciate clearly. You’ve got to really put effort into that “Yes, master!” Some Igors just whisper it, and that’s no good. Worse, some Igors (Cynthia, for instance) want to go off-script and add a few words of their own. There’s a time and a place for that, but Switch Day isn’t it. When the doctor says “Igor! Throw the switch!” I say ‘Yes, master!” and do it. Simple as that.
I arrived at the castle right on time. I had pulled the trick candle and opened the secret passageway so many times before, I could do it without thinking. I hurried down the steps and into the lab, shrugging on my freshly ironed coat. Then I stopped cold. The switch wasn’t there.
It should’ve been on the wall directly opposite me. Everything else was there as it had always been: the bubbling array of beakers and test tubes, the old dusty fan wheezing away in the corner, the creature lying placidly on its table. But the switch wasn”t there. Instead, a shiny black electronic speaker had been fixed on the wall. The doctor stood next to it, looking unusually sheepish. “Ah, Jane,” he said. “You’re here.”
That was a shock. He had never before used my given name. I was an Igor, after all. I was so thrown by this I wasn’t sure what to say. Then I managed the obvious question. “Where’s the switch?”
“Ah, yes,” the doctor said. “I’ve, er, installed a new voice-activated system. Saves wear and tear on the castle. A simple word, the machine starts up, and voila, my creation is alive!”
“Nifty,” I said. It was a bit to take in, but I felt I could get used to it in time. “So what do I say to start it up?”
The doctor scuffled his feet. “Well, the thing is… I’ll say it.”
“Oh.” I blinked, confused. “So, if there’s no switch, and you’ll be starting the machine…what will I do?”
A long pause followed. The doctor looked down at the creature lying on the table. Then I knew. “Oh.”
“It’s not personal,” the doctor hastened to assure me. “It really isn’t. It’s just… it’s the wave of the future. Automatic lightning machines, voice-activated starter switches… there’s a colleague of mine in San Diego who’s just invented a brain-retrieval drone! Progress marches on! But, sadly, no advance in civilization comes without-”
“Save the speeches, doc,” I said. “Could you at least write me a decent character reference?”
“Absolutely,” the doctor said. “And you’ll be paid up through the end of the month as usual.”
“Swell. See you around, doc. Good luck with the experiment. I… I’m sure it’ll work this time.”
Some Igors in my position might’ve burst into tears. I managed to make a dignified exit out of the laboratory. I even reset the trick candle back in its place. Suddenly I found myself out in the sun, in the castle courtyard, with a whole day to kill. I had no plans. I was an ex-Igor. What was an ex-Igor supposed to do?
This story was written for the Yeah Write weekly writing challenge, and follows on from Up and Down and Trades.
The doctor has been having difficulties with brains lately. It isn’t like the old days, he keeps telling me. Back then, he could send an Igor to any old cemetery or medical institution and round up half a dozen brains, and no one gave two hoots about it. Now, you have to go through medical review boards, apply for funding, fill out ethics paperwork. It’s surprising how much bureaucracy one has to go through simply to get a human brain for use in bringing to life an undead monster.
So it’s understandable why the doctor wanted to cut corners and just use my brain. “I’ll replace it,” he assured me. “I’ve got a friend who makes androids. Positronic matrix, backup memory banks, the works. You won’t know the difference!”
“No,” I said, quite firmly. Even an Igor has standards. “I’d like to keep my brain, thanks. I’ve seen that Doctor Who episode with the Cybermen.”
“Doctor who?” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
“I’m asking you!”
The doctor has no sense of humor. I could have done this for hours, but I relented. “Tell you what,” I said. “If I get you some other brain, will you leave mine alone?”
“Just as long as it’s an appropriate brain,” grumbled the doctor. “Not just some clown off the street. If you happen to have any German physicist friends…”
I did not. I do, however, belong to an Igor support group on social media. We complain about our doctors, discuss ways of getting castle damp out of your clothes, wonder if the new automatic lightning machines will put us out of business. It helps relieve the stresses that go with the job.
So I posted late one Wednesday, asking if anyone knew of a brain that might be available. An hour later I got a reply. It was from Sheila, who worked for a mad scientist in Wisconsin. Sheila and I had developed a solid friendship online; she had been an Igor a lot longer than I had, and had a wealth of experience to share. Tonight, it just so happened that she had come across a guaranteed reputable brain, from a German physicist no less. In return, she wanted to know if I had a certain ancient amulet useful for breaking curses on mummy burial chambers. Apparently her boss was expanding his line of work.
Fortunately, before I started with the doctor, I dated a guy who worked for certain Top Men in the government. He gave me just such an amulet for our six-month anniversary. Some girls might have expected flowers, but no, I got an amulet with occult hieroglyphics. We broke up after that. I kept the amulet.
So, the doctor ended up with a very nice German physicist brain for his experiment, and dodged a good deal of red tape, while Sheila got a nice amulet. We all came out ahead, more or less.
I am an Igor, and this is my job.
This story was written for the yeah write weekly writing challenge, and involves characters from last week’s story. Thanks for reading!
We shrank down into the puckered green vinyl of the seats. Before I had a chance to really get a handle on what vinyl looks like at the subatomic level, we shrank up again. When I and the guinea pig popped out full-size into the lab, the doctor was rubbing his hands and giggling. “It works!” he said, rather obviously. “My Incredible Shrinking Machine works!”
“And it’s given me a splitting headache,” I said.
“Silence, Igor!” the doctor snapped. “The headache is a mere residual side effect of the process and will resolve itself in due time!”
I had been trying for two years to get him to realize that my name isn’t Igor. It’s Jane Summers. The doctor is a traditionalist. He’s a mad scientist; therefore, his assistant is Igor. I’ve had about as much success convincing him otherwise as I had with getting him to use solar panels in the castle laboratory instead of lightning. If you’re going to violate the laws of nature and reanimate dead tissue, you might as well be environmentally friendly. That was my thought. The doctor didn’t agree.
I put the guinea pig back in its cage, and turned to switch off the Incredible Shrinking Machine. It seemed smaller than I remembered. So did the vinyl school bus seats I had scavenged, and which the doctor had used for the first run. Then my head bumped against the laboratory ceiling. “Hey, doc?” I said.
“Not now, Igor!” the doctor said. “I must recalculate the neutron discharge polarity and reduce the absorption matrix of the perimeter flange!”
“Yeah, yeah, sure,” I said. “Listen, doc, about those side effects?” I began moving towards the door, hoping I could still squeeze through.
“Minor residuals,” the doctor sighed. “As I said, it will resolve itself shortly without undue stress.”
“Oh, okay,” I said. The door was out now: too small. I could smash through the window and get out that way. But then I remembered the bars on the window. Comes with putting your laboratory in an old castle, unfortunately. I had to crouch down to both knees now, and my back was pressing up against the ceiling. Something was about to give, and soon.
“WHAT?” the doctor bellowed, clearly out of patience. Unfortunately, I was also out of room.
“Could you fire up the Incredible Shrinking Machine again? I kinda need to be shrunk back.”
“What in blazes are you- Oh. I see. One moment.”
It turns out that, besides a headache, one small side effect is that when you are restored to normal size, you might not stop. Fortunately, the doctor managed to reverse the process. He got so absorbed in this interesting new problem, however, that he forgot to stop the shrinking bit. So I got a nice long look at the subatomic properties of vinyl after all.
I am an Igor, and this is my job.
This post was written for the yeah write weekly writing challenge. One of my new year’s resolutions is to write more often, and participate in the grids more. This is the result so far.
This is a story I wrote for the yeah write super challenge #2 a little while back. I didn’t win, but it was fun, nonetheless. I haven’t written much lately, but I mean to try and get back in the swing of things soon. In any event, here’s the story. Our assignment was to combine two genres: horror, and Western. So I did.
Calhoun Jenkins strolled casually in through the swinging saloon doors. The place was crowded, as it usually was on a Saturday night after payday. Every table was full, every seat taken by rough men who were dividing their attentions equally between the beers they sloshed down and the girls who sauntered about the place. Calhoun was an easygoing sheriff who generally turned a blind eye to what the townsfolk did after hours, so long as it didn’t hurt anyone. Tonight, now, tonight was different. Tonight, he was after Dingy Hal.
The sheriff didn’t attract much attention as he pushed his way through the crowd over to the bar. Miss Becky didn’t attract much attention either as she came to take his order. Miss Becky was the long-standing proprietor of the place. She took no nonsense from anyone, and generally asked no questions either. Calhoun asked for his usual, then leaned towards her. “Is he here?” Calhoun said quietly.
“I don’t rightly know what you mean,” Miss Becky said coolly. “Lots of folk in here. You thinkin’ of anyone specific?”
“You know darn well I am,” the sheriff said. Other men in his position would’ve said “damn’ or even used stronger language, but Calhoun’s ma had been a Sunday School teacher, and had raised him up right. The worst thing he ever had said was a thunderous “by jingo!” That had been two weeks earlier, when Dingy Hal had made off with the Federal gold shipment on the afternoon stagecoach.
Miss Becky sighed. “All right. He’s here. Went upstairs about an hour ago.”
“Fine,” said Calhoun. “Be seein’ you.” He started to push back from the bar.
Miss Becky grabbed his sleeve. It was an odd, frantic action, so unlike her that it caught the sheriff’s attention. In all the years he’d been working the town, he had never known her to be frightened. Even during the war, Miss Becky had faced down rebels and Federals alike with unruffled calm. Now, however, he saw honest-to-goodness terror in her eyes. Her hand was gripping his arm so hard that her fingers had gone white as paper. “Sheriff,” she whispered. “You’d best leave now. I’m telling you. Dingy Hal…ain’t himself.”
“Well, who is he then?” Calhoun said. He couldn’t imagine why she was so upset. Dingy Hal was a mean sort, to be sure, but he wasn’t any worse than the Howland brothers, or that Cooper gang two years before that had shot up the infirmary with the doc inside it. Also, Dingy Hal wasn’t near as fast a draw as Calhoun was. He knew that for a fact.
“I can’t say,” Miss Becky answered. “But there’s things goin’ on up there that ain’t right. Come back later. Monday even. Just not tonight.”
Calhoun sighed. “Ma’am, I’m not going to let a man like Dingy Hal get away just ‘cause you’ve got the flutters. Not when I got him dead to rights. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”
He pulled his arm free of Miss Becky’s terrified grasp and headed for the stairs. Calhoun was entirely confident. All the same, he did keep tight hold of his gun. Behind him, Miss Becky slumped to the floor. She hadn’t seen the inside of a church in years, given her profession, but even now she managed a small prayer. “Don’t let him get et,” she moaned. “Not again.”
Upstairs, the sheriff found the hallway unusually quiet. You could normally hear noises coming in muffled from behind the doors. Now, the sheriff could almost hear himself breathing. He didn’t much care for that. Calhoun drew his gun and held it ready, just to be on the safe side. “Hal?” he called, trying to suppress the quiver in his voice. “You’d better come on out. It’s the sheriff.”
One door at the far end of the hallway creaked slowly open. Calhoun hadn’t thought to ask if anyone had gone upstairs with Dingy Hal. Rumor held that Jane was his favorite. “That you, Jane?” the sheriff asked. “You’d best get downstairs. Hal and me-”
There was a sudden gurgling noise. It didn’t sound like Jane. It sounded deep and ominous, like prairie thunder before an oncoming storm. Calhoun paused. “Hal?”
The lights flickered. The dirty wooden floor trembled beneath the sheriff’s boots. The gurgling noise grew louder. A shadow lurched into the hallway. Something came after it.
“What in the hell-” Calhoun gasped. His gun hand jerked. The Colt revolver banged sharply. The Thing kept on, unfathomable and monstrous, all waving tentacles and luminous eyes. The sheriff didn’t even have time to scream.
Downstairs, Miss Becky heard the gurgling, faintly audible over the off-key piano music. She sighed, and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. The town would get another sheriff, she knew. Maybe the next one wouldn’t get himself et. She kinda doubted it. Dingy Hal had been awfully hungry of nights.
This story was originally written for Round Two of the yeah write super challenge #2, fiction specifically. Enjoy!
The bar was unusually empty for a Saturday night downtown in the city. Even the bartender, a gregarious man who normally enjoyed his shift, wanted very much to clock out early and get away. An undefinable air of gloom seemed to hang over the place. Even the jukebox kept playing sad little songs with wistful saxophones trailing off into minor key.
The front door banged open, and a woman in a red jacket stormed through. “Right, where is he?”
“Ma’am?” said the bartender.
“Guy in a fedora. Used to wear a cloak, I liked the cloak, but he’s gone all hipster now. Wears sunglasses indoors, even. Said he’d be here.”
The bartender pointedly tried not to look at a shadow huddled in a booth by the far wall. .
“Ah,” the woman said. “Typical.” She marched over and sat down hard opposite the shadowed figure, slamming a thin sheet of paper down on the table. “What, may I ask, is this?”
The man slowly removed his sunglasses and folded them up with a neat, ominous click. “It is a complaint. I filed it with your department this morning.”
“I figured that,” she snapped. “But what’s it about?”
“You were on vacation last week,” he said coldly.
“Yeah? So?” she replied angrily. “Look, you’re Death, you’re always on the clock. But I’m only War. I figure I’m entitled to some peace every now and again. People’ve been fighting all over, I just got done with a big show in East Plaznik, and then there’s the big missile scare. I deserve a break once in a while, yeah?”
“Perhaps. But your deputy had the duty.”
War shrugged. “Revolution’s a good chap. Knows his business. What’s the problem?”
“Revolution called in sick. The duty devolved to one of the…lesser incarnations.”
For the first time, War showed a trace of concern. “Who, exactly?”
There was a long pause. Even the jukebox went silent. When War spoke, her voice was very quiet and very strained. “Monday.”
“Yes,” Death said. “The Incarnation of Monday was in charge of War.”
She sighed. “It couldn’t have been that bad…”
Death glared. “Oh, yes, it could have. And it was. Were you aware of what Monday usually deals with? People oversleeping their alarms. Traffic jams on the freeway. Terribly boring work meetings. These are not usually problems handled by War.”
“I still don’t see the problem.”
“Do you know how many people usually die because they were bored during a conference call?”
War’s left eyebrow quirked. “You’re upset because you didn’t have anything to do?”
“I found something,” Death growled, “but it was hardly dignified. There were no explosions. No uprisings. One person missed his alarm and in his hurry to make a meeting got hit by a bus. Another was poisoned by eating a pastry to which she was allergic. A third died as a result of an unfortunate stapler mishap!”
War giggled. “Oh dear. That’s awkward.”
“Fine. I’ll make sure not to leave Monday in charge of War again. Deal?”
“At least Tuesday would’ve been appropriate,” Death said sullenly. “With being named after a god of war and all.”
“I’m curious,” War said. “If you did go on vacation, who’d cover the department for you?”
Death looked uncomfortable. “We have made inquiries. No one particularly has been identified for the duty…”
“No one particularly? So you’re saying there might be someone?”
“There was a volunteer.”
War’s eyebrow quirked again. “Someone volunteered to play Death? You have to tell me.”
Death sighed deeply. “Dysentery.”
There was another long pause. “Perhaps…” War said carefully. “You should plan not going on vacation.”
“I don’t intend to.”
This story was written for Round One of the yeah write super challenge #2, fiction specifically. I was in group 3, so my assignment was to write a story with an emotion (disapproval) and an event (swim in a pool). This was the result. Enjoy!
The alarm had finally stopped. Ensign Sam noted the silence as he made his way down the corridor. He had grown used to the constant wirping in the background. The ensign almost missed it. “Guess you finally gave up on me,” he said, as he pushed open the lift door. “Deck seven.”
The ship’s computer didn’t give its usual cheery reply. The lift simply clattered into motion. Sam missed the swoosh from the old days, as lifts smoothly glided about here and there, carrying people on their various ways. Now it was just him, and no swoosh. Sam supposed he should do something about the clatter eventually. He had no idea what; he had been a medical ensign, not a starship’s mechanic. If the ship’s computer ever felt like talking to him again, he decided he would ask about it.
As he descended slowly down towards deck seven, Sam reflected on the first conversation he’d ever had in the lift . There had been so many, of course, back when there had been a full crew, but the first one had been particularly memorable.
He had been a bright-eyed young ensign, eager to explore the galaxy and discover new life forms. Sam had been slightly nonplussed when his first assignment in sickbay had been to prepare a detailed inventory report on stocks of available medicines, which wasn’t nearly as exciting as discovering a new life form.
When Sam had finally completed the inventory report, he was to deliver it to the first officer on the bridge. To Sam’s astonishment, when he stepped into the lift on his way up, he found himself sharing a ride with the captain.
At first Sam had been overawed in the presence of authority. The captain hadn’t even noticed him at first; his mind was on graviton-deflector beams, Palsgrafian matrix generators, and the supply of quilithium resonance crystals. Then he became aware of the trembling ensign. The captain decided he ought to say something. “First voyage, ensign?”
“Oh, ah, yes, sir, very much, sir,” Sam had stammered.
The captain, who was still new to the command himself, thought he should relieve the tension with a slight witticism. “Well, is the ship to your liking? Any special requests?”
He hadn’t actually expected an answer. But Sam, being a fresh new ensign, had taken him seriously. “Well, er, a swimming pool would be nice, sir. Not much to do in our off hours, sir. I’ve got a friend on the Sailor Princess, sir, and he says they’ve got a real nice pool….”
The ensign’s voice trailed off as he realized his mistake. The captain’s eyebrows fairly bristled. Sam felt the full force of his glare, and quailed before it. “Ensign,” the captain snapped. “This is not the Sailor Princess. This is the Allied Planetary Starship Fairchild. We’ve been assigned to patrol the quadrant perimeter. We were not assigned to go on a blasted swim!”
Sam had started on a desperate apology, but the lift had reached the bridge at that unfortunate moment. The captain stalked icily out of the lift and grabbed a communicator from a passing lieutenant. “Doctor?” he barked. “You should keep an eye on your ensigns. Seems they don’t have enough to do! Seems they think they’ve got time to splash about in swimming pools! Better correct that misapprehension, doctor!”
The sickbay had not been kind to Sam after that. The doctor, upset at being scolded by the captain, had taken it out on the entire medical staff, canceling leaves and increasing hours in the scheduled shifts. The other medical ensigns had naturally blamed Sam for the new hardships and never missed a chance to mock him for it. It had been a miserable few weeks. Then, with the onset of Barnium’s Syndrome and its unfortunate results, Sam didn’t have to worry about what the other ensigns thought of him anymore.
The lift clattered to a stop. The old ensign made his way gingerly out of it. He was in the engineering section, just near the quilithium crystal tanks. They were practically empty by now, after so long a voyage. Sam cautiously removed the last remaining blue shards and then turned to another tank nearby.
He had been waiting twenty years for this. The ensign had set aside a tiny amount of each day’s water ration he allowed himself. Now, he poured all those accumulated ration fragments into the empty quilithium chamber. With a happy sigh, Sam eased himself into the cool water. He didn’t care that the decrepit Fairchild was about to tumble into a black hole, finishing off its last survivor. He didn’t care that he hadn’t heard from Earth in twenty years, nor that the whole planet had probably forgotten about him by now. All that mattered was this: he finally had his swimming pool.
The bartender of the Dirty Comet Cantina considered himself a conscientious man. He had to be, in his profession. So many space cantinas had turned to robot bartenders, who were efficient, friendly, and didn’t require payment. The Dirty Comet bartender, being human, did expect to be paid. He kept his job by virtue of being the only human bartender in three systems who could keep track of the vast complexity of alien biologies in his system. He knew that a Rigelian could handle seventeen Swirling Supernovas without blinking an eye, whereas someone from the seventh moon of Flaxanar could barely sniff one before they fell off their stool. On this rainy night, he knew that his customer at the moment was pushing the limits of sobriety.
“You,” growled the customer. “Another. Now.”
The bartender summoned up his most solicitous expression. “Here, now, don’t you think you’ve had enough, sir?”
“But you’ve had six Orion Iced Teas, sir, and those are gargleblaster quality. I really think, sir-”
“I’m an otter,” he said, sighing. “It takes more to get us plastered. I thought I’d got there, but I’m clearly doing something wrong, since I’m not there yet. So. Another.”
The bartender also prided himself on his ability to judge when his customers wanted to pour out their sorrows. “Having a bad day, are we, sir?” he said kindly, sitting down opposite the otter.
“A bad day,” the otter repeated. “A bad day? I have had a bad year.”
The bartender tried to look sympathetic. He had heard so many sob stories over the years that he found it hard to seem really genuine without knowing the details. “Like to tell me about it?”
“You’re not an angel, are you?” the otter asked suspiciously. “I don’t like angels.”
“No angels here, sir,” laughed the bartender. He stopped laughing at the otter’s expression. “I mean, er, no, I’m pure human. Three generations Earth-born.”
“Congratulations,” growled the otter. “I don’t like Earth either.”
Here the bartender made a mistake. “What’s wrong with the old planet, then?”
“Earth was where it started. That angel was from Earth. The murder case that angel dragged me into: Earth. The Holy Grail? Earth. Filthy, stinkin’, stupid Earth.”
The otter smacked his paw on the bar for emphasis. “I wish the whole planet would disappear. Like that.”
The bartender decided not to press the point. Instead, he silently got the otter another drink. Neither of them realized that they had been overheard. Even the bartender had overlooked the shadowy figure in the corner booth. But the shadow had heard what the otter said. The bartender hadn’t lied; there weren’t any angels on the small moon. Unfortunately, there were a few members of the other team.
The shadow listened, but the otter was through unburdening himself. He didn’t say another word until he had finished his seventh Orion Iced Tea. “Another,” he said, more slowly. “Put it…. Put it on my tab.”
“Right, sir,” the bartender said. “And that’ll be under…”
“Stamper,” growled the otter. “Same’s it was before.”
“Of course, sir,” said the bartender.