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Attack of the Wardrobe

by

Celeste never meant for any of it to happen.

She had purchased the wardrobe entirely on a whim. She did that sort of thing a lot; her small house was chock-a-block with various yard sale finds, random pieces of furniture, books she might one day possibly read, and paintings she didn’t understand but found lovely. Her bank account suffered mightily on account of her constant whimsical purchases, but she managed to get by.

The wardrobe she had purchased because it reminded her of a story she had read as a child. Celeste was sadly disappointed to find that there was no magical land hiding behind the wardrobe, but even so, she consoled herself by the fact that it was quite roomy, and had plenty of space for her ugly Christmas sweater collection. So she stuck it in her upstairs room and forgot about it.

This was a mistake.

One wet Tuesday, she had invited three of her friends over for a binge-watching of an HBO series they were all fond of. They were into the second episode when suddenly Celeste heard a distant bump from the upstairs room. She ignored it at first. Then the bump came again, louder, and this time the others heard it too.

“From ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggedy beasties…” her friend Miranda quoted, giggling. Miranda was very well read and liked to quote lines.

Celeste rolled her eyes. “So go see what it is, why don’tcha?”

Miranda giggled again. “It’s probably that stupid wardrobe. Maybe someone from Narnia got in!”

“Only one way to find out,” Celeste said, and now she was laughing a little as well.

Miranda started for the staircase. “Fine, I will. Send someone if I’m not back in five!” she called, before disappearing up the staircase into the second floor.

They had paused the show to wait for Miranda. Several minutes passed. There was another bump.

“Miranda?” Celeste called. She wasn’t really concerned. Not yet. Miranda was probably having a little fun up there. She was hiding. That was it. Celeste had stopped laughing, though.

“Jerkface,” Rhonda muttered. Rhonda was the bluntest member of the group, and had a distinct lack of filter. “You know what? This is boring. I’m going after her.”

She marched up the staircase before anyone could stop her. Now it was only Celeste and Shelby alone in the living room.

They waited. Shelby was the quiet one of the bunch; she hesitated to venture her opinion even when directly asked. She wasn’t about to call attention to the increasingly distressing fact that neither Rhonda nor Miranda had returned.

Bump. 

Maybe,” Celeste ventured, “we should both go. Together. See what’s happening.”

A short pause followed.

Bump. 

“I’d rather not,” Shelby whispered.

They waited several more minutes. There were no sounds from upstairs.

“They’re playing a game,” Celeste said, trying to sound reassuring. “They both decided to play hide and seek and they want us to find them.”

“Or it’s something else,” said Shelby.

Quite suddenly the lights went out.

Bump. 

“Shelby?”

Silence.

“Shel?”

More silence.

Bump. 

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After-Action Report

by

“Ah, Jacob. How was it?”

“Splendid. Changed his ways. Completely new man.”

“You don’t sound too pleased.”

“I’d rather hoped for company.”

“There’s that banker with the nose excrescence. You could try him.”

“Oh. Dead tomorrow, isn’t he?”

“As a doornail.”

“Fine. I’ll have a go.”

“Good man, Marley!”

Changes

by

The old man sat glowering at the fire. “I’ll have him,” he muttered. “I’ll have him. He must show himself this time, and I’ll have him.”

“Excuse me, sir?” The voice was unfamiliar. The old man blinked.

“Sir?” the stranger said again. “My apologies for intruding, but are you Captain-”

“Aye,” the old man said. He was the only captain he knew of on this barren rock. “What d’ye want? I have a long voyage tomorrow, and it’s passing late for visitors.”

The stranger smiled suddenly. “I could be vague about all this, but there’s no point, really. Even if you found my time machine, you don’t have the technical expertise to work it. The temporal field capacitator alone…”

“The what?” The old man blinked again.

“It’s the device that regulates the flow of the chronoton flux. It runs on steam power, surprisingly enough; I would’ve preferred using trilithium cells, but your time period is so primitive. Anyway, I wired up a steam generator that provides enough ambient energy to allow the chronoton flux to achieve maximum gravitational alignment, thereby reversing the polarity of the temporal streams and allowing for a level-three tesseract event.”

The stranger might have been talking in Latin for all the old man knew. He coughed slightly. “Look, man, as I said, it is passing late for-”

The stranger sighed. “Right, I’ll get to the point. The thing is, know exactly who you are, and what you’re after. I’m from the future. My name’s irrelevant, but I represent a group of people who sympathize with your quest. We read the book; we know how it ends. You’ll die.”

The old man was outraged. “I cannot die, no matter what you say! I have been given assurances, nay, signs-

“Yes, yes, the stranger said, a little impatiently. “I figured you would bring that up. Here.” He tugged a book out of his coat pocket. “Read the last chapter. 135, I believe it is.”

The old man read quickly. Then he looked up at the stranger. Others would have asked who had written the text, but the old man recognized the thoughts and the words. He knew them for his own. “Right,” he said. “So I die then.”

“No,” said the stranger, producing a second article from his coat pocket. The old man thought it looked like an old flintlock he had seen once, in the war. “No, you don’t.”

“Why?”

The stranger smiled again. “When you stand on your quarter-deck, your wooden leg made fast in your pivot hole, and you look left or right, you see different scenes with each direction you look? Each turn?”

“Aye,” the old man said. “Every turn, I see a new sea and a new wave.”

The stranger made a slight shrug. “That’s it, then. My friends would like a new sea.”

***

A year later, the old man’s ship paraded triumphantly into the harbor, all sails out and banners flying. The sailors told wild stories of how the old man had struck down the hated white whale, struck him down with a blast of steam and a bolt of red light from his hand. No one believed the stories; men long at sea were known for their exaggeration.

That night, the stranger visited the old man again. The captain seemed much bemused. “I have done what I set out to do,” he said. “I had him. I revenged myself upon him. But…what shall I do now?”

The stranger smiled. “Do more.”

Reflections on Lullabies

by

So. I realize the blog has been quiet for the last several months. I have a very good reason for that. We’ve had a baby. She is several months old now and doing reasonably well; there’s some health challenges which have caused us some sleepless nights, and I’ve learned that it is a very bad idea to google medical terms with which one is not familiar, but overall, we have been very blessed. And when she smiles at me in the morning, and right after I’ve “changed her diapey!”,….I am truly blessed.

That being said, Little Bit’s arrival has given us a whole new perspective on the world. Lullabies, for instance. It turns out that when one has a baby and the baby is fussing, oftentimes one can calm the baby by holding her and singing to her. My stock of music is somewhat eclectic; by now I’ve run through everything from Hail Holy Queen to Edelweiss from The Sound of Music. (That last one choked me up a bit. If one is sentimental, one should be careful what one sings to one’s baby.)

But I’ve also hit some of the classic lullabies. And to be honest, some of them are kinda weird. Take “Rock-a-Bye-Baby.,” for instance. It starts off nice, the baby’s rocking peacefully in her tree…but wait. Why is the baby in the tree? Oh, well, maybe it’s a big tree like Rafiki’s tree in The Lion King and maybe the baby is secure and…”When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall…” 

Wait.

What.

And down will come baby, cradle and all! 

This seems an odd choice for a lullaby. “Sleep well, baby! Try not to think about other babies plummeting to their deaths from the trees!”

And then there’s” “Hush, Little Baby.”  When I sang this to my baby recently, I had many questions.

Is it a good idea to buy one’s baby a mockingbird?

Who’s going to take care of the mockingbird?

The baby’s not going to take care of it. She’s a baby.

So Papa’s going to get stuck with the mockingbird.

Of course.

Now the mockingbird won’t sing, so naturally I…buy the baby a diamond ring.

What did I do with the bird?

I trust I kept it around as a beloved pet.

Do I even know why it didn’t sing?

Why won’t the caged bird sing?

Also, the baby’s a little young for jewelry, isn’t she?

Suppose she chokes on the ring?

But apparently the diamond ring was faulty and turned brass, so I…buy the baby a looking glass.

Well, okay. A mirror’s kinda cool.

It’s not like the baby’s going to break the mirror or anything….

It broke.

So now I buy her….a billy goat.

*record scratch*

“Hey, honey, sorry about the ring and the mirror and the bird….but here’s a GOAT. Yeah! Everyone loves goats!”

Now the goat won’t pull. (Pull what?)

So I buy…a cart and bull.

A bull seems like a dangerous gift for a baby.

Is the baby in the cart?

Is the baby fastened securely?

Is there a cart seat?

Wait. The cart and bull have turned over.

Was the baby in the cart at the time?

Trusting not, I now buy the baby…a dog named Rover.

Rover. How original.

Of course the dog doesn’t bark.

Where am I finding these animals?

I should sue.

Meanwhile, I buy the baby….a horse and cart.

Is it the same cart, or a new one?

If the old one, was it repaired after the bull fiasco?

Boy, I sure hope nothing happens to this horse and cart….

They fell down.

Of course they did.

I would say I have the worst luck, but then again…

I do have the sweetest little baby in town.

This much is true.

The Last Job

by

Peter set the battered car down gently by the side of the stunned would-be bank robbers. “Now, you sit there and think about what you did,” he admonished them, brushing bits of rubble off his sleeve. “The police will be along to get you.”

He turned on his boot heel and blasted off into the sky. He didn’t blast far; his favorite watering hole was only a few blocks from the crime scene. It was Peter’s custom to celebrate a good save with a drink or two. With his near invulnerability, the alcohol didn’t come close to affecting him, but he enjoyed the tradition nonetheless. He landed outside the bar, did a quick change into his civilian clothes, and made his way inside.

There was a not unattractive blonde sitting next to Peter’s usual seat. Unlike some capes, he didn’t have a secret love interest; he’d been decidedly single for several months. He decided to take a chance. “Hi there,” he began. “I’m-”

“Peter Clearwater,” she said, cutting him off mid-introduction. “32. Mild-mannered corporate attorney at Dewey and Howe. Lives at 32 Forest Lake Drive, ironic because there’s not actually a lake or a forest within miles. And you’re really the Red Brick. You foiled a bank holdup this morning. Last week you averted the Collapsing Hell Dimension Crisis. Good job on that, by the way.”

“How did you-”

“Constance,” she said, smiling thinly. “I’m your guardian angel.”

Peter blinked. “My what?”

“Figures,” Constance said. “You know, every kid gets a guardian angel. Says so in the book. We’re the ones keeping you from dying when you’re not supposed to. You know, pull you out of the way of buses, redirecting the falling tree at the last minute, that sort of thing.  Gets pretty tiring, actually, all the saving people routines. My favorite was the Mysterious Stranger popping up to do CPR and then vanishing into the night. I did that with you when you were four. Good times…”

Peter wasn’t sure what to say to that. “I…had no idea.”

Constance sighed. “Course you didn’t. Thing about guardian angels, we’re supposed to be discreet. I’ve had dozens of charges over the years. Not one of ’em ever cottoned on. I figured you’d be the same. But then…you got powers.”

“Yeah,” Peter said uncertainly. “When I was twelve. Fell into a vat of radioactive chemicals.”

The angel went slightly red in the face. “Sorry about that. I had to sub in for Tabitha on Search and Rescue. Figured you’d be safe on the factory tour. I mean, I thought you people had regulatory standards now. I’m surprised OSHA didn’t shut that place down.”

“Well,” Peter said, shrugging. “It worked out. I got super-strength, invulnerability, and I can fly.”

“Yeah, and I’m out of a job,” Constance said. “I’m breaking the rules even telling you all this. We’re not supposed to reveal ourselves unless you’re at some moral crisis. Didn’t you ever see Touched by an Angel? No? Ah, well. Anyway, the point is though, you’re invulnerable. You don’t need a guardian angel. Not you, not Mr. Ecosystem, not Ron Raven, not Gaseous Girl. Either you’ve got superpowers and you don’t need saving, or you don’t have superpowers but you get saved by someone who does. And it’s not just guardian duty either; Search and Rescue’s the same way. We’re just about obsolete.”

She had paused just slightly in her last few words. Peter picked up on it. “Just about? What’s left?”

Constance let out a long sigh. “There’s only one, really. I hate it, myself.  But we’ve all got to pitch in now. And today, I’ve got the duty.”

“You mean…”

“Yeah.”

“But…me? I didn’t think I could.”

“Yeah. Everyone still does.”

“When?”

Constance looked sadly at him. The air went just slightly colder around her. “You should probably go ahead and finish that drink now.”

Wrong Lever

by

I push open the hatch and stare, gaping. A cloud boils lazily upwards on the horizon. Everything between me and the cloud is rubble. The ashes fall lightly on me.
I hear the doctor below. “Sheila? Are you out yet? Did it work?”

He was trying for a basic freeze ray. How do I tell him?

I start with the blindingly obvious. “Ah, no. Not exactly.”

The doctor swears. “I knew the blue lever was the right one!”

“Yeah. Looks like.”

Afterwards

by

I didn’t think it would be like this. I remembered hearing the banshee scream and seeing Sheila fall over. Then everything went black. I figured I’d be waking up to fluffy clouds and pearly gates. Either that, or flames and pitchforks. I was really hoping for the clouds, honestly.

What I didn’t expect was to find myself sitting on an oversized sofa in a waiting room. A little coffee table sat in front of me, bearing a neat array of sports and news magazines. Bland landscapes decorated the walls. I heard the faint plinking of piano music wafting from a hidden speaker.

A frosted glass window slid open, and a smiling attendant poked her head out. “Hello, would you sign in, please?”

“Oh, sure,” I said, standing awkwardly and approaching the window. “Erm, I wonder, are you…?”

“Cindy,” she said, smiling even more brightly. “Afterlife Services.”

“Ah. So I am…actually….”

“Deceased, yes.” Cindy’s smile didn’t even flicker. “If you would just sign here, please, and initial there….thank you! One of our associates will be with you shortly!”

“Thanks,” I said, sitting back down. The window slid neatly closed. I didn’t think this was the Bad Place. People usually didn’t smile there, from what I’d heard. So, this was heaven.

I leafed through the magazines. I was disappointed to find that they were all extremely outdated. On the bright side, it looked like the U.S. had a decent chance against the Soviet hockey team this year.

There was a door on the far wall, at a right angle from the window. I kept expecting it to open up and someone to call me. It stayed resolutely closed. I finished going through the magazines. There wasn’t anything else around to read. I did see a television in the corner, but it wasn’t running, and I couldn’t find the remote.

I tapped on the window. “Hello!” Cindy said again. “Jane, is it? Someone should be with you momentarily!”

“Yes, about that…” I said. I wasn’t worried. Not quite yet. “I can’t seem to get the television to come on.”

“Ooh, I’m sorry,” Cindy said, looking sincerely crestfallen. “We’ve been meaning to fix that for days. I’ll send a message to Afterlife Services Maintenance and they’ll get to it shortly. In the meantime, would you care for a beverage?”

I hadn’t felt thirsty until then, but it had been a while. “Sure,” I said. “Water’s fine.”

More time passed. No one from Maintenance appeared. Cindy had kindly given me a plastic cup with water and two ice cubes. The cubes melted. I finished the last bit, and realized I had a new problem. I tapped on the window again. “Hello!” said Cindy. “One of our associates-”

“Will be with me shortly,” I finished. “Yeah. Where’s the bathroom?”

“Unfortunately, there isn’t access to a functional restroom on this floor,” Cindy said. “But once your processing is complete, one of our associates will be happy to escort you!”

“And when will that-”

The window slid shut. I waited. It occurred to me that there wasn’t a clock anywhere in the room. The piano music kept repeating the same two chords over and over again. I tapped on the window for a third time. It didn’t open. I banged hard on it, panic rising. I seriously considered using the coffee table as a battering ram, but when I pulled, it wouldn’t come loose from the floor. I hurled a magazine at the window.

No one answered. Ever.

Now I knew exactly where I was.

This story is part of the ongoing adventures of Jane the Igor. Thanks for reading! 

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