Saturday, February 27, 2010

(Recommended Reads) "The Old College Try" by J.M. Strother

She was just finishing up her morning coffee, enjoying the quiet of the house, when her cell phone rang. Jason. She smiled. While she enjoyed her newfound freedom and the solitude, she still missed her boy. She wavered, at times glad he chose an out-of-state college and greater independence, while at other times sorry he was not closer...

click here to read the rest

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Forty Eight

In the end it was all dismissed as a terrible accident but some said Scarlet Sentinel shouldn't have been texting while flying.

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Forty Seven

She gave up greasy foods for grains; it was out of the frying pan and into the fiber.

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Forty Six

Johnny Priapism had a reputation as one of the meanest porn stars in the world but as he got older he became a real softy.

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Forty Five

Bob had been celebate for six years... but not on purpose.

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Forty Four

"The saints of gunpowder and the firing pin either didn't know the difference between a worshiper and a target. Or didn't care."

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Forty Three

The Blue Bolt like to break wind while he broke the sound barrier, he kept the streets free of crime, and pedestrians, and pets.

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Forty Two

Don told the kids a bedtime story, the story was about how their mother was bleeding him dry with alimony payments.

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Forty One

In this age of voluntary online nudity a peeping tom seems almost quaint.

Friday, February 26, 2010

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Forty

When Little Vito marked you for death he used a puffy unicorn sticker. It was more humiliating that way.

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Thirty Nine

“What do you want?” Magwier asked. “Two things,” Lorelei replied, “Frozen custard and oral sex and not in that order.”

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Thirty Eight

Karl asked "Why do you keep staring at me?" She said, "Because you're the ugliest man I've ever seen." "Oh," Karl said.

(Recommended Reads) "Smile, Look Away" by Jim Wisneski

They told me someone squirted ketchup into the snow.


My reaction on the inside? That's some thick ketchup.


My reaction on the outside? I smiled and looked away...

click here to read the rest

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Thirty Seven

Mr. Nice Guy fought crime in River City with reason, charity and kindness; he had every bone in his body broken at least once.

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Thirty Six

"I must rescue the Earl of Salisbury, I know what's at stake."

(Recommended Review) Curtains (1983): or, A Madness to Her Method

I finally got around to revisiting a relatively obscure cinematic slasher from the golden age of the subgenre: Richard Ciupka's debut effort from 1983, Curtains. This was one of those movies I remembered having enjoyed back in the burgeoning home-video boom times, and wondered how it would stand up after all these years...

click here to read the rest of the review over at MAD MAD MAD MAD MOVIES

(Recommended Reads) "Good Clean Fun" by Karen Schindler

Right in the middle of my very meager and very late night dinner the intercom buzzer went off. It's so loud that even when I'm expecting it the damn thing nearly scares me to death...

click here to read the rest

(Recommended Reads) "Yearning" by Linda

Out the small square window, Baltimore glittered, a patchwork of lights trembling beside the velvet black of the harbor. Somewhere below the shimmering mantle was my tiny, impermanent home. My tiny life...

click here to read the rest

Thursday, February 25, 2010

BBC announces start date for Doctor WHO in America

BBC America has announced that their broadcasts of the new series of Doctor Who will start on April 17th. The date has been reported in the Hollywood trade paper Variety, and has been confirmed on BBC America's website and Facebook page. The start date for UK broadcast has not yet been officially confirmed. There are reports that a trailer has aired with the date of April 3rd, but this may have been broadcast in error. The BBC's official position is that the series will debut "at Easter".

click here to visit THE DOCTOR WHO NEWS PAGE

And lets celebrate by watching the new series trailer AGAIN!

GERONIMO!

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): Tombs Of The Blonde Dead part four- Resurrection In Pink

The Nick Of Time

(and other Abrasions)

Tombs Of The Blonde Dead

part four

Resurrection In Pink

by

Al Bruno III


From the very moment the four members of the band Severe Tire Damage took the stage things started to go wrong. Half the attendees of the Garden of Duchesses' rock and roll wake started to rush the stage at the very first drumbeat and and Audra Dimico was part of the first wave. She managed to stay on her feet and reach the stage but only after she had been shoved, nearly trampled and surreptitiously felt up countless times.

The lead singer of Severe Tire Damage was slurring the lyrics of every song, the lead and base guitarists were glaring at each other murderously and the drummer was obviously coked out of his mind. As far as Audra was concerned this was exactly what rock and roll was all about and the show was already worth the miserable journey from the wonders of Olathoe to the sun-bleached excesses of LA.

The first song dwindled out and after a few sour chords and miss-timed drum beat a new song began. Audra cheered a looked around for someone to share her ear to ear grin with but there was no sign of Lorelei. The must have gotten separated in the crowd; Audra started to worry but then she thought better of it, she knew they could take care of themselves.

They all did, after all there wasn't a member of the Seventh Circle of Greater Easter Council of Mystagogues that didn't have an outright murder or two to their names. It was almost a rite of passage, an unwanted and terrible one but a rite of passage all the same.

The concert continued, and the audience crowded closer and closer to the sage as Severe Tire Damage started the work their way through their roster of hits. There were no well known faces in the crowd, just aspiring models and their failed cage fighter boyfriends. To Audra it was like drowning in a sea of steroid acne and breast implants. It was getting hard to breathe and she was starting to taste her own sweat and growing panic. Crowd control was failing fast as Gurlich manor security and roadies alike where pushed further and further back until they had to retreat up and onto the stage.

Audra was close enough to reach out and touch the leg of Severe Tire Damage's long haired front man Harvey Whitstien but her arms were pressed tightly to her sides. She was starting to feel faint and sick to her stomach but even if if there had been the strength in lungs her to scream no one would have heard her over music thundering from the oversized speakers on either side of the stage. She considered an incantation but didn't think she had the strength to pull it off, she had only just managed to get them here in one piece, if she overdid it she might end up plunging herself into the heart of the Maelstrom.

Better to scream her head off and hope for the best.

Of course screaming was only an option when you had breath to spare and by the time Audra had managed to make the decision to call for help she was already swooning. As always whenever she lost consciousness she saw a parade of faces pass before her eyes, all the people she had wronged by loving them.

At first there was only blackness, timeless, peaceful and empty of promises.

Then commotion all around her, tossing her this way and that until she was flat on her back, she blinked and found herself dazzled by bright lights and a straggly curtain that swept to and fro over her face.

Oh.

My.

God.

The roadies had pulled her up out of the crowd and onto the stage. They had laid her at the very feet of Harvey Whitstien like she was some kind of a not-quite a virgin sacrifice. He was singing to her, whipping his hair over her; there was an uncharacteristically mischievous look in his eyes. Audra tried to say something but she suddenly had a mouthful of drool.

Once she started trying to stand a roadie bustled her offstage and gave her some bottled water, he asked her what her name was and where she was from. Audra gave answers she knew he wouldn't find surprising and then went about the business or re-hydrating herself and enjoying the show from some of the best seats in the house. She was starting to feel better around about the time Larry Gurlich and a half-dozen burly pallbearers brought a pink coffin onto the stage.

The band and the crowd fell silent. Harvey Whitstien said, "This next song is one of our big hits, and it goes out to a very special lady that left us way too soon. She was a beautiful lady and one Hell of a piece of ass."

Severe Tire Damage started to play their top ten hit 'Lady Snakeskin', the crowd went wild, Audra was on her feet jumping up and down in time with the drumbeats. From her vantage point she saw the pallbearers starting to sway in place, at first she thought they were just doing a bad job of rocking out but then they fell over like dominoes. Larry Gurlich grabbed his chest and fell to his knees. The music stopped as the pink coffin lid cracked and fell open.

The crowd thought it was part of the show at first but once the members of Severe Tire Damage and their roadies started to drop dead one by one panic set in. Audra felt the strength draining from her limbs all over again as the woman in a nightgown-like burial robe rose from the coffin and began to shimmer with ghostly energy. Bit by bit she drew the souls from those nearest to her and with each one she consumed she became more life-like and beautiful.

Audra felt an unnatural arousal stirring in the pit of her stomach and everything was starting to go black all over again.

Click Here To Continue

(Recommended Reads) "Of God, Of Death, Of Man" by Tim Remp

Did I dream of a life?


I can remember the pain and burning in my chest when I coughed. My grieving wife, Elizabeth, sobbed as our priest spoke the words of extreme unction while anointing my forehead with scented oils...

click here to read the rest

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Thirty Five

Madness had left her constantly tormented by angry voices, it made her perfect for call center work.

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Thirty Four

The aliens were so misshapen, slimy and fleshy that only aficionados of hi-def porn could comfortably communicate with them.

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Thirty Three

Captain Hero caught hold of the landing gear of the rapidly ascending helicopter and then realized he had no idea what to do next.

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Thirty Two

Soon everyone knew the stomach turning legend of Bleedy McSquirt- two-fisted crime-fighting hemophiliac.

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Thirty One

Lorelei stared in disappointment at the ancient idol, “This is the blasphemous 'Pain Of The Goat? It wouldn't even piss off PETA!”

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Thirty

Lorelei stared in disappointment at the ancient idol, "This is the blasphemous 'Pain Of The Goat? It wouldn't even piss off PETA!"

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Twenty Nine

“It never fails. You start out studying metaphysics and you end up running through the sewers with pieces of skull on your shoes.”

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Twenty Eight

Amazing Ed bragged the government had laced his bones with calcium. No one ever explained all the things wrong with that statement.

(Recommended Reads) "Audience" by Maria Protopapadaki-Smith

We reach the double doors at the end of the long, grey corridor and the warden ushers us in with a sombre greeting. I want a good view of the proceedings, so I stride towards the front row of seats, my wife's hand in mine...

click here to read the rest

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Twenty Seven

Stan needed eye-drops, ear-drops and nose-drops, Stan also liked to pick the labels off things. Disaster was inevitable.

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Twenty Six

"Not so violent after all are you Doomsday Girl?" Captain Hero said, "Smoke bombs, rubber bullets, I bet this katana isn't- OW!"

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Twenty Five

Getting a reputation didn't worry Audra, especially not while she was having one night stands using her roommate's name.

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Twenty Four

Over the years she taught him meaning ecstasy but she damn well never got him to remember how to spell it.

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Twenty Three

As a rational man Greg understood that there was always a chance of being raped to death by an albino baboon. But at the Wal Mart?

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Twenty Two

Cyborg Rusty Johnson told the rest of the team he would be in his room buffing. Thalia completely misunderstood.

A New NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET Trailer

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Twenty One

Hers was a lifetime of bad decisions, she had always considered consistency her strong suit.

5 Second Fiction Nine Hundred and Twenty

Special Agent Mario Krump betrayed his nation and his ideals but by God he was a size 7 again!

IN THE MIDNIGHT OF HIS HEART preview chapter: Second Interlude


second interlude
May 14, 1993

by
Al Bruno III









Like most soldiers, Cenobia's life was made up of long periods of monotony, punctuated by the occasional moment or terror or confusion. Unlike most soldiers, the battleground Cenobia fought for was the world itself. At least that's what the Monarchs told her and she wasn't about to question them. They didn't like to be questioned, or disobeyed for that matter. Orders were orders and orders had brought her here, to an abandoned hotel in south Troy, New York. The place was a murder scene no less; tatters of yellow police tape still fluttered in the breeze.

Cenobia sat on a grimy sawhorse with her back to the decrepit building. With one eye she kept watch for her target, with the other watched the flickering screen of a GameBoy. Playing Super Mario Brothers always soothed her nerves. It worried her that her target had chosen a place like this for their first meeting. Did he suspect? Was he planning an ambush? If he was it was doomed to failure, her superiors had drilled every fact and rumor about the building into her head. They had somehow procured a set of the original blueprints and made her memorize them floor by floor. She knew every hiding place, every potential hazard.

There could be no margin of error tonight. She wondered idly what her target really thought he could accomplish by opposing the Monarchs. Was he like the Vlodek? Trying to regain the political influence they had long ago lost? Or was he like the members of the Greater Eastern Council, ready and willing to screw over everyone and anyone just to get a little more power? Perhaps, Cenobia wondered, perhaps he was like she had been before her 're-education'. Perhaps he too hated anything that he couldn't understand, anything that was different.

Thankfully, the Monarchs had cleansed her of her sins and given her a new purpose in life. They had reinvented her.

Unsteady, low-pitched whistling roused her from her thoughts and from Super Mario's improbable world of giant mushrooms and monster turtles. Her target was coming, strolling non-chalantly though one of the city's worst neighborhoods. Cenobia's superiors had showed her dozens of photographs and sketches, she had never met him but she knew his every expression. Her target was short with brown, curly close-cropped hair and dark, malevolent eyes.

He was calling himself Jason Magwier these days, but he had had many aliases over the years- Clive Bastable, August Zabladowski, Noah, Percy Kent-Smith and of course the Hanged Man. That last nom de plume was a reference to the twelfth tarot card in the deck - an image of a man hung by his feet. It represented a person who would sacrifice everything for knowledge.

Switching off the Gameboy, she slipped it into the pocket of her long winter coat. It was a little too hot for a coat like this, but it kept the shoulder holster she wore well hidden. Standing up, Cenobia took a moment to get into character. Her target waved excitedly to her; she raised a hand in reply. She waited until he was within striking distance before she gave the password, "The Cause is all."

"All for the Cause." he smiled and bowed slightly, "Cenobia DeVries I presume."

"It's an honor to finally meet you sir."

"Please call me Jason."

"Jason it is then."

"You come highly recommended." he stepped past her and stared up at the ruined hotel, "The Monarchs want you almost as badly as they want me."

"I only wish I could do more." she flushed with guilt at the memory of her transgressions.

The Hanged Man spun on his heel and darted towards her. Panicked Cenobia flinched for her gun but then thought better of it. Her target whispered conspiratorially in her ear, "They're vulnerable. More vulnerable than they know."

"Good."

"And with your help the Cause can only grow stronger." he smiled, turned back around and plunged into the hotel's dark interior. Cenobia followed him.

It took her eyes only a few seconds to adjust to the lack of light; her senses were so much more acute now- a gift from the Monarchs. The floor was thick with dirt and debris. She knew that the Monarchs had suffered a great defeat here almost forty years ago, she just didn't know how. Her superiors didn't like to talk about their defeats. She searched for answers in the blistered ceiling and the cracked uneven floorboards but found nothing. Not a single clue. Towards the stairs was a trio of fading chalk outlines, each one depicting a body, its limbs splayed. Her target stood between them, "He's a killer, that's all he knows. Can I trust him? Should I help him?"

"Who do you mean?" Cenobia drew closer.

"He did this with his bare hands. With his bare hands! If I help him achieve his heart's desire won't it just make him more bloodthirsty? Can I risk more innocent lives?"

"Will helping him aid the Cause?"

"Yes."

"Then why do you care?" she tried to sound comforting, but she couldn't shake the strange feeling that she was in danger. Cenobia cursed herself for letting the Hanged Man set the terms of their meeting, "What he does is his business not yours."

He gazed at her, his dark eyes churning, "If I give a madman a loaded weapon am I not responsible for the mayhem he causes?"

"If it furthers the Cause isn't it worth it? Isn't a handful of lives a fair exchange for the world?"

With a frown and a shrug her target led her to the stairwell. Cenobia followed, "Why are we here? I thought you were going to make me a member of the Cause?"

"Consider this your rite of indoctrination." he pulled a flashlight from the pocket of his leather jacket and began trudging up the shadowy stairs. "You don't understand enough yet, but I think you will soon."

I understand more than you ever could! She thought hotly, I understand that when the Monarchs are finished with you they'll pick you apart atom by atom just for fun!

They walked in silence for a time, she knew she would have to make her move soon, but there was information she needed- and the Splinter. She dared not come back without that. She reached into her coat and closed her hand around the handle of her revolver.

"So tell me..." The Hanged Man paused on the steps and swung the flashlight around, dazzling her, "How did you first discover the existence of the Monarchs?"

"Don't you already know that?"

"Humor me."

"I was a customs officer at the Miami airport. That was back in the eighties."

"The ninteen-eightees?"

"Yes." she replied incredulously. She held her hand up, trying to filter out the flashlight's glare, "A lot of drugs come through there. The smugglers would do just about anything to get them past the gate. They'd wrap little packages of heroin up in condoms and swallow them, stash cocaine in a baby's diaper..."

Her target tsked under his breath.

"One day I saw a pair of coffins being offloaded from a private Learjet. The bottom of one of them was leaking onto the tarmac, like a car leaking oil. No one else paid it any attention except for me. You kind of develop a sense of these things after a while and I knew that there were no bodies in those coffins." she felt an unexpected wave of nostalgia at the memories or her old job, her old life. She lived to serve the Monarchs but sometimes she would give anything to be back in that time and place again.

As she spoke the flashlight beam wandered off her and began tracing lazy patterns on the cobwebbed ceiling and rotting walls, rats and roaches scattered before the light. For a moment the circle of illumination hovered on a trio of ruts dug deep into the plaster, they looked like claw-marks.

"And then what?"

"I ordered the coffins seized and searched. The paperwork said that they were the remains of an employee of the Trinity Advance Corporation and her spouse."

"TRIAD..." he said distantly.

"Yes. TRIAD owned an Island out in the Caribbean and apparently there had been some kind of insurrection-"

"Kristina and Peter Miller."

"What?"

"The death certificates were for names were Kristina and Peter Miller." the Hanged Man swung the flashlight around and shone it under his chin. The shadows it cast made his face seem skull-like

"How did you-" Cenobia started.

Her target's only answer was a Cheshire-like grin, "Please go on."

"When we opened the coffins, there were no bodies Just trashbags full of worms." She spoke slowly, half-expecting him to interrupt at every sentence, "Stubby-inch long things. They didn't look like any kind of worm I'd ever seen before."

"What did you suspect?"

"I don't know what I suspected. All I knew was that they were violating a dozen or so customs laws. I ordered the coffins and their contents impounded. Ten minutes later I'm getting a call from the Attorney General telling me to back off and let the 'biological samples' through."

"Did you?" he swung the flashlight beam back around again, making fresh spots dance before her eyes.

"You know better. I let them go through but I slipped a few of the worms into an evidence bag and sent them down to Quantico." The longer this story went on the less nostalgic she felt. The past was the past, why should she go dredging it up now? "The samples disappeared on the way there -along with all paperwork. I found myself demoted for failing to follow procedures. All within a week of intercepting those damn coffins.

"That just made me madder. I started doing a little digging into the TRIAD Corporation during my off hours. For the last forty years they had been one of the top medical and pharmaceutical research firms in the world but within the last ten years they had begun to finance other, less mainstream, types of research. Like on life after death and psychic powers."

"You must have found that very intriguing."

"Infuriating is more like it. Every time I found an informant they clamed up, data disappeared with no explanation, records I needed couldn't be found. Then internal affairs suddenly starts sniffing around my door. Something about bribes and drugs."

"Had you ever taken a bribe?"

"Never!" she said, suddenly defensive. How had this happened? She was supposed to be interrogating him, finding out his secrets! Still though she told him the story, it was almost as though she had to, "I wasn't on the take. If you say you stand for something, in my book you better well stand for it. I was just about at the end of my rope with this TRIAD nonsense when I got a call from the CEO of the company, a Mr. Kriely."

Incredibly the Hanged Man began to sing faintly;
"I laughed and shook his hand, and made my way back home
I searched for form and land, for years and years I roamed
I gazed a gazely stare at all the millions here
We must have died along, a long long time ago"


"What was that for?"

"It's a song. By David Bowie." Her target pointed the flashlight beam at her feet; "He's still my favorite, after all this time. Now please go on."

Cenobia clenched her hands into fists, there was an angry buzzing in her brain, "You ready know all of this already why am I-"

"Sorry. I just had to be sure." he turned and started heading back up the stairs.

"Sure of what?" she raced up the steps after him.

"Not much further." He called back jauntily, "Only a dozen flights until the top floor. I keep the Splinter hidden there."

"What?" The man must be either mad or an imbecile! To hide it here, in a dilapidated old hotel that the Monarchs had once used for a beachhead? The Splinter was an object capable of unraveling the secrets about the constitution of ultimate infinity, the juxtaposition of dimensions and the position of the known cosmos of time and space in the unending chain of linked cosmos atoms which made up the immediate super-cosmos of curves, angles and material and semi material electronic organization! At least that's what her superiors told her.

"I keep the Splinter hidden here, it's safer. I call it The Purloined Letter stratagem."

A few floors later they took a break. The Hanged Man was winded; he pulled a paisley-colored handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped his brow... I don't remember the building being this tall."

Thanks to the generosity of the Monarchs Cenobia didn't get winded that easily, but she pretended to be tired just the same. The less her target expected the better, "When was the last time you were here?"

"I've never been here before."

"You just said-"

"No. What I said was that I don't remember the building being this tall. I didn't say I'd ever been here before."

"You're not making any sense!"

The Hanged Man had lost interest in the verbal sparring again, he arced the flashlight's glare past her to a pile of rubble near her feet. Something glinted within it. He gave the circle of light a waggle, "Cenobia... could you see what that is please?"

This was it. If her target was going to make a move against her it would be now. She tensed as she reached down into the pile of wood, plaster and cloth. Her trembling fingers wrapped around something leathery. She drew it out.

The stairwell went black as The Hanged Man screamed and dropped the flashlight, "Take it away! Take it away!"

The gas mask was dark and streamlined, it looked almost bestial with its snout-like mouthpiece and broad, dark tinted eyepieces. Why would her target be so scared of a piece of Army surplus?

He cowered on the steps, his hands were coving his eyes "Please... get rid of it."

Cenobia briefly considered using the mask to torment some answers out of him but that wasn't within the parameters of her orders; she was to gain his confidence, get the Splinter and capture him using the least force necessary. The Monarchs wanted him for themselves. Rumor had it they were already squabbling over which of them would have first crack at him. She threw the mask down the steps, into the darkness.

"Is it gone?"

"Yes."

He stood and shook himself all over, like a dog trying to dry itself. "I hate those things."

Cenobia retrieved the flashlight and handed it back to him, "Gas masks?"

"It's better you didn't know. Hell I wish I didn't know. Of course technically speaking I may not know and I just may think that I know. You know?" the Hanged Man started up the stairs again, taking them two at a time.

A little while later they found themselves at the top floor stairwell. There was a skeleton in the corner, its was dressed in rags, Cenobia could see that the bones of the neck and ribs had been shattered. Her target prodded it with his foot, "Well bless my buttons. You weren't kidding John were you?"

"Who's John?"

"The man who killed this poor soul here."

"She pointed to the skeleton, "Who was this? Who did John kill?"

"An insufferable little know-it-all. A man so preoccupied with battling the Monarchs that he lost the woman he loved." the Hanged Man switched off the flashlight, "He won't be missed."

The top story door swung open, a pair of kerosene lanterns lit the wide room. The inner and outer walls had crumbled away long ago, revealing the blunted, shadowy skyline of south Troy. Knots of electrical wiring hung like vines from the gutted ceiling, they swung to and fro with every breeze that passed through the upper floor. At the far side of the room there was a worn looking stone platform, it was adorned with dark rubies and gold. Her target stepped into the room, Cenobia followed.

The door swung to a close behind her. There was another man standing there; he was ruddy complexioned and wore thick, round-framed glasses. For some reason he was wearing surgical scrubs. "Is this her?" he asked.

"Cenobia, this is Pexley."

"Is this her?"

"Yes." the Hanged Man replied somewhat sadly.

"What's going on?" Cenobia drew her gun and trained it on her target's gut, "I came here in good faith."

"You came here under the orders of the Monarchs." he replied.

Pexley crossed behind her to stand beside her target "You're sure aren't you?"

"When you shine the light in her eyes you can tell." he clicked the flashlight back on shone it in her face, "Her pupils are segmented."

With a grimace of anger she fired the pistol, leaving her target holding a ruin of wires and plastic where there had once been a flashlight. So, all the stories and the meandering, it was just a game was it? He honestly thought he could toy with her, a servant of the Monarchs, and get away with it? "The Splinter. I want it. Now."

Pexley raised his hands and retreated to the stone platform, "Well I'll just leave you two to work this out..."

"Stay right where you are Pexley Aldorus of Shartok's Circle." she ordered.

He froze in place, "Magwier, you do know what you're doing don't you?"

"I hope not." he grinned.

Cenobia stepped closer to her target, "The Splinter. Where is it?"

"I'm sorry this happened to you. You were a brave and valiant-"

"Tell me where the Splinter is or I'll blow you damn kneecap off."

He shrugged, "In the jacket pocket of skeleton on the landing."

"You." she gestured towards Pexley, "Go get it and come right back here."

Hands still raised, he obeyed but as he walked past her he commented, "I would like to assure you madam that I am strictly the hired help in this endeavor. I in no way hold any allegiance to this man or his Cause."

The Hanged Man offered her an apologetic shrug, "It's so hard to find good help these days."

"On your knees." she hissed.

Her target got onto his knees, "There may still be a chance I can help you."

"It won't work Hanged Man, the Monarchs have shown me the truth."

"The truth? And what might the truth be?"

"They're us."

"What?"

"They're our future. The evolutionary destiny of the human race. They're reaching back into the past to aid us." she spoke in a matter-of-fact tone.

"Pure hokum! They must have given your brain a serious scrambling for you to believe that."

"You will see them in all their glory before you die."

He rolled his eyes, "Be still my heart."

Cringing Pexley returned to the room, all he had in his hand was a yellowed envelope. "I'm so sorry but it seems as though someone else has absconded with the Splinter. I did find this note however. It's addressed to you Cenobia." he offered it to her.

The angry buzzing was back now, she felt as though there was a nest of hornets loose in her skull. "Read it." she gestured with the gun.

The envelope practically crumbed away to dust as Pexley tore it open, the slip of paper inside was the color of velum. "It says... Sorry Cenobia but the Splinter isn't to be toyed with by the likes of either you or the Monarchs. I spirited it away from here decades ago..."

The buzzing reached a fevered pitch, blood leaked from her tearducts. The Hanged Man was grinning at her. Still playing games was he? She vowed to wipe that grin off his face for all time. The Monarchs would still get him, he'd just be missing his teeth, and his eyes and his balls.

Oblivious to all this Pexley continued to read, "...I also regret to inform you that since you have been compromised the Cause will not be needing your services. Sincerely yours, Jason Magwier... Ps. Jared Now!"

A sudden motion to her left drew Cenobia's attention. She turned, weapon raised to fire. A flurry of silver eyes and milk-white flesh blinded her. When her vision cleared again she found her arm had been severed at the elbow. Numbed with disbelief she could only gape at the snarl of torn skin and jutting bone.

"I don't mean to hurt you." The Hanged Man said as the creature rounded on Cenobia and brought her down, "But hurting you hurts the Monarchs and I can't let them win. Not this time, the stakes are too high."


Tales From The Oddside: The Same Deep Waters As You

The Same Deep Waters As You
by
Al Bruno III





The sound of the ocean crashing up on the rocks. If I close my eyes it sounds like applause. The storm has left the beach is deserted, but she said she'd be here.

She promised.

We only got here a few days ago, me, my Mom and Dad and my brother Leon, who's a year and a half older than me. The car ride to Cape Cod had been long and everyone was in a bad mood. Leon especially, he started ragging on me, waving his scholarship in my nose. Like I'd want to go that feakin' jock factory anyway. It went on for hours and hours and just like Dr. Patterson said I didn't answer him back. I just agreed and tried to change the subject but I lost my temper and started to give it back. All it takes to piss Leon off is to mention those three magic letters D-W-I.

Mom of course chose that moment to break us up.

After about half a day in the car we reached the cabin. Ordinarily Dad celebrated his son's victories by trips down to Lake George, so-called fishing trips that were actually excuses for drinking and whoring.

But since his beloved all-star was heading off to college in the fall he rented a cabin near the bay side of the cape and the whole family was going along for the trip. No matter how much I'd tried to weasel out of it, Mom and Dad still made me go. No way they were leaving their sweet little darling daughter alone to get into god-knows what kind of trouble.

He'd rented the cabin sight-unseen. I remember how proud he was about that, sight-unseen, he actually thought he was getting a deal.

Of course when we got there he understood. The place was a wreck, it looked like the kind of place the killer from the Friday the 13th movies would go. And the inside smelled like mildew and cat pee. Mom suggested we go find a hotel room, Dad of course would have none of it-

"This is already paid for! It's a roof over our heads isn't it? It's not so bad, besides after you girls clean it up a little-"

"Us girls?" I dropped my bags on the floor, "I thought we were here on vacation. Or is that just for you and your son?"

Leon rolled his eyes and Dad looked ready to turn purple. Mom tried to get in the middle, "What Rachel meant was that we didn't come all this way just-"

"Oh, I know what she meant all right." Dad looked right over Mom and glared at me. I could feel the I work all day. speech coming on line, "I work all day so you and your Goddamn mother can have nice things and all you give me is grief."

"But Dad-"

"Honey, it wouldn't be so bad if we worked together..." Good old Mom and her spine of jelly.

With that Leon and Dad turned to go, if we were lucky they wouldn't be back until after dinner but of course, Dad being Dad he couldn't leave without a little stinger.

"Besides Rachel, a little work might help you slim down a little."

I don't even remember storming out of that rat hole cabin or if anyone called out after me. All I know is that I ran until I found myself at the beach.

I'd never seen the ocean before, except in movies, TV and books.


*


It's just so... so huge in real life. You look at it and you realize that you're only seeing one tiny part of it. There were birds everywhere, big ugly seagulls and tiny little nervous-looking birds that divided most of their time between sifting in the mud and running in terror at the slightest motion. Tiny shells cracked underfoot. Slipping off my shoes I waded into the surf. This was the closest I ever got to swimming. To swim you have to own a swimsuit and swimsuits and me don't exactly get along.

My weight has always been a problem for me. I've been dieting since I was eight, well trying to diet anyway. I was heavy for a girl my age, too heavy, and it made me look years older. Leon still cackled over the time that I'd been mistaken for his mother. The water here was calm like a swimming pool. I could see my reflection in the water, for as long as I can remember I've hated my reflection but as I waded I watched it, the way the ripples pulled me apart and put me back together again.

It was like I was hypnotized or something. I didn't even look up once until a splashing sound distracted me. That's when I realized it was twilight, that my reflection was gone and the ocean was a bruised purple color. The color of a grape popsicle. I heard a woman laughing somewhere nearby, probably getting a real laugh at the fat girl on the beach.

I didn't have a key, so when I got back to cabin I had to knock on the door. It flew open and my Mother was screaming in my face, "Where were you? We were worried sick?"

"I was just looking around." I answered with a shrug.

Leon and Dad were sitting at the rickety table, a plate of bones in front of each of them, an empty bucket of chicken lying in the trash near them, "Well you missed dinner."

"Yeah Sis." Leon said, "That's not like you."

"Up yours!" was all I could think to say.

With that Dad was up and on his feet, his breath was sour and there were shreds of chicken in his teeth, "I didn't bring you up here so you could screw around and do whatever you want to do! We are here to vacation as a family!"

"Look I just-"

He poked me in the chest, just hard enough to hurt but not hard enough to leave a mark, "Do you understand me?"

I gritted my teeth and said, "Yes."

It turned out that Dad had bought an entire extra bucket of chicken just for me. I told him I wasn't hungry but after everyone had gone to bed; I ate the entire thing, hating myself with every bite.


*


The next day we went to an amusement park, as a family. Of course I'm too big to fit onto a lot of the rides so I spent most of the time on the sidelines being miserable. I looked at them and though about what a perfect little family they made, or they would make if I wasn't around.

We got back to the cabin late into the afternoon. Leon asked if he could have the car to go and meet some kids he'd met at the amusement park. Dad threw him the keys. I started to say something about Leon's suspended license but then thought better of it.

Instead, after the Golden Boy had taken off I asked if I could go back to the beach. Dad made me sweat it out for a few minutes but then he let me go. Mom slipped me a few bucks in case I wanted some ice cream. Then Dad said I didn't need any ice cream and the old fight between them started to head into high gear.

I high-tailed it out of there and found my way back to the beach. I walked along the shore, skimming stones and pocketing interesting seashells. I found my way to place where an outcropping of rocks jutted out and up. It made a natural pier. After a few minutes climbing I made my way up and onto it and I sat on the edge and dangled my feet off. The waterline was about five feet below me. For a crazy moment I wondered how deep it was. If I jumped would there be enough to break my fall? If I died here, would my family even care? Or would they be relived?

Would they make jokes as they searched for a Plus-Size coffin?

Her body broke the surface of the water below me, I hadn't seen anyone swimming down there. Her hair was dark, her face belonged on the cover of a beauty magazine. She was wearing nothing but a white blouse that was two sizes too large for her. The wet fabric revealed a body that was like something out of Leon's wet dreams. I wanted to drop a rock on her.

She noticed me, her eyes were blue like the ocean. "I didn't see you up there." She smiled up at me, "I hope I'm not bothering you."

I shrugged, "It's a free country."

"I'm Nannete." She said as she stepped out onto the beach and found her way up onto the rocks.

"Did you lose your swimsuit?"

"I always say," Her smile was playful, "that life's too short to worry if someone's going to see you naked."

"That's easy for you to say." I was surprised at how bitter I sounded.

She knelt beside me, her face even with mine. She looked like one of those china dolls. Her lips parted, I thought she was going to say something but instead she kissed me. Electric shocks ran through me. I felt numb. I felt sick. I felt warm all over.

When the kiss broke I tried to speak but I couldn't. She smiled and dove off the rock-pier. I tried to shout a warning but I was still kinda dazed. I didn't even hear her hit the water.

I got up fast as I could and ran back to the cabin. Leon had a bunch of friends over there with him, they looked at me funny as I ran up the walk. I ran my hands over my lips, fearing that Nannete had left lipstick smeared there. One of the girls, she looked drunk or stoned or both, she waved and gave me a sarcastic, "Hi Rachel, I'm Delores. Your brother told us all about you."

"Really?" I said, "Did he tell you about the man he put in the hospital when he was driving around drunk?"

With that I stormed into the cabin and nothing my Mother or Father had to say to me mattered much. Nannete was all I could think about.


*


A sound just outside the cabin woke me up, I went to the cracked window and gazed out. The sun wasn't even up yet. I wondered if Leon had some little bimbette in his room.

The laughter filled the air, surrounding me. I recognized it now, I'd heard it my first night here.

It was Nannete and she was somewhere close.

Was she looking for me? I threw on the clothes I had worn the day before and, after cautiously slipping out of the cabin, I ran outside.

I couldn't see her anywhere, but I heard her voice. She was singing in some foreign language, it sounded like something out of a NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC special. I followed the sound.

Before long I was back at the beach, back at the rock outcropping. It was half-submerged under the water, the tide had come in. Cold water washed over my feet as I walked along the pier. It was like her voice was coming out of the ocean.

At the edge of the outcropping I knelt where she had knelt. The sky was dark and cloudy and I could barely see my hand in front of my face.

Somehow I lost my balance. Before I fell in I heard my father's voice in my head- ...stupid, clumsy, fat...

I don't know if I hit my head or something as I fell but right after I hit the water everything went black.


*


A soft hand was stroking my face when I woke up.

"Nannete." I said

Her only reply was to give me water from a cup. We were in a cave. Candles ringed the walls.

There were all these strange symbols painted on the walls. My clothes were spread across the floor, slowly drying. Humiliated I reached up, tried to cover myself. "You've nothing to hide." She slipped out of her white blouse, "Neither do I."

My heart started racing again. Any moment I was sure I was going to burst into tears, "Where am I?"

"You're safe." She huddled close, her eyes were shining in the candlight.

"But where-"

Nanette silenced me with a kiss, her lips were cool. "Answers are no comfort." she breathed.

Each of the kisses she spread out across my body felt like a raindrop. Dizziness washed over me, it was like I was on an elevator that wouldn't stop going up.

Then out of nowhere she started running her nails hard across my chest and belly. I wanted to escape. I never wanted to leave. It was like she was taking me, making me hers. Blood welled up from the cuts and scrapes. She started kissing me again, her lips smearing the red. Her murmuring filled the cavern but I couldn't understand what she was saying.

Sobs shook me as she alternated between caressing and tearing at my skin. I don't now how long it went on for but when it stopped I felt anguished. She raised herself up over me, swallowing me with her shadow. "Every transformation begins with one tiny change."

Sitting up, I kissed her hard on the mouth, losing myself in her. I felt lightheaded, like I was going to pass out.

Maybe I did pass out, all I know is that when I came to my senses I was lying flat on my back on the rocky outcropping. It was raining hard and I was soaking wet. My brother was calling my name. Moaning, my skin still tingled where Nanette had touched me.

Looking down over the edge of the rock I could see the tide had gone out. Leon was walking along the surf, looking wet and miserable and calling my name with a pissed off expression. How long had I been gone for?

"Leon?" For a hilarious moment he was utterly bewildered, his square head looking back and forth to try and find me. "Up here!"

When he finally found me he just started screaming up at me, "You are in big trouble! Dad is seriously pissed!"

"I just went for a walk."

"A walk? You've been gone all day!" He waded out into the water to get a better look at me, the water was up to his knees.

I glared down at him, "I lost track of time. So what?"

"You're out of your mind!" The expression on his face was like he was looking at something disgusting, "Delores told me she saw you up here!"

Bile rose up, leaving a sour taste in my mouth, "She saw me, so what?"

"She saw what you were doing! She told me-"

A stone the size of a bowling ball crashed down on Leon, crumpling his skull. He collapsed face down into the water surf, blood clouding the seawater.

I scrambled to my feet to find Nannette standing there.

"You killed him." I said.

She nodded in agreement, "Do you care?"

I know I should have felt something but instead I just sank into her arms. "What am I going to do?"

"That's your choice."

I want to be with you." I said, "I want to be with you forever."

The rain pelted us, the clouds were getting darker. It didn't matter, I felt safe as a baby in her arms, "Then join us."

"What about Leon?"

Nanette released me, and stepped to the edge "The sea takes care of it's own."

"I'm ready then."

"No." she shook her head, "You must sever your ties with this world before you can join mine."

A cold determination flooded me, "I understand."

"Go then, and return here when you have finished." She kissed my forehead and then dove into the sea.

I turned and started walking back to the cabin. After a few minutes I turned back to look for Nanette. Through the storm I saw four hazy gray figures standing by Leon's body. I assumed they were the police but as I watched lifted it up and carried it into the sea.


*


My Dad started screaming at me from the very moment I stepped into the cabin, mother was silent and reproachful. The tingling I had felt on my chest and belly was worsening, it was almost painful. I pretended to listen as I went over to the kitchenette. It didn't worry them in the least to see me reach into one of the cabinets and pull out a steak knife. I wonder if they thought I was going to make myself a sandwich, I wonder even now what they saw when they looked at me.

Of course Dad was hot on my heels, at moments like this he can never resist giving me a hard poke with his finger. I counted his footsteps on the cabin floor. When he was right behind me I stabbed. The knife was dull but my strength was more than enough to make the skin of his neck dimple and split.

His scream was ragged and his mouth was wide enough for me to see the end of the blade poking onto his throat. Somewhere far away, Mom was screaming.

I withdrew the knife from the man at my feet and stabbed down a few more times just to be sure. After all, I had made a promise. Mom didn't try to run when I came for her, she was almost resigned as I slit her throat.


*


There was enough kerosene left in the cabin's rusty heater to get a good fire started. I watched the cabin burn for a little while, watched the flames licking at the roof to struggle and sputter at the harsh downpour. I felt nothing; I hadn't felt anything at all since I left Nanette's arms.

Then I came back here and waited. I lost myself in the sound of the ocean washing up on the rocks. If you close your eyes it sounds like applause. The storm has left the beach is deserted, but she said she'd be here.

She promised.

The tingling under my skin was painful. I tore at the white blouse I wore and scratched madly at the scabs. They broke easily. The flesh beneath them was gray and slimy.

"Rachel."

Standing on the rocky outcropping gave me a full view of the ocean and the darkening clouds. I couldn't see her but I could feel her, she was close and she was waiting.

I looked down, the tide was still out but I understood now that the water has always been deep enough. I stripped out of my clothes and leapt into the ocean to join her.