White Cats, interlude

..When I was young, my grandfather never liked cats. He didn’t mind me having a dog though. But I was more fond of cats. I asked him one day why he felt the way he did.

“…Because dogs keep the mad scientists away,” he said.

..It took a few minutes to get him to explain what he said…

“..When I was young, I thought I could go into the state park at night. I didn’t fear the dark, didn’t know the danger that stalks…

“You’ll never see the white fur which seems to glow in the dark, or the eyes that reflect your flashlight,” he said, “You will hear neither the purring that comes down from his perch, nor smell the ammonia stench of his white lab coat flowing.. You won’t feel the prick of the blow dart or be aware of where you land…

“You won’t recall the taste of dead leaves upon hitting the ground, or see Dr.Winter, the large green eyes, watching and making his plans…

“So don’t find yourself in his laboratory. Be careful when you venture at night. Always be watching the trees. For you don’t know when Dr. Winter is watching. Be careful when you hear the breeze…

“He’s always looking for new test subjects, he watches, waits for the unwary…

“So get a dog, get a dog, grandson, and keep Dr. Winter at bay.”

–from “The White Cat of the Labyrinthine Woods” by Tyger G. Caterwauling, Summer Sunny Squashmare Publishers, Topeka, Kansas 1985.

Black Swamp, interlude

“What if I helped?” asked Victoria, “All we need is a distraction, right?”

“You’re not trained yet,” argued Whartleburg.

“Perhaps I can help,” said Whevelbor, “I happen to know the instructor for Maantisazian school of Enzectozoid marshal arts. I cannot use his instruction myself, but let me pass on what I know.”

* * *

Meanwhile, back on earth, at June’s house, in her utility room, something was stirring.

The investigators who had tracked Victoria’s signature to the dimensional portal machine, located inside June’s house, forgot to turn off the device. It was left on Channel 3, a general, unprotected, public portal. Anything could freely go and come through that device. And it did. And it was hungry.

Ray, the lead investigator, and his two men were in the kitchen with June. He wanted to know where to find Victoria and was getting no where, when they heard the noise in the utility room.

“RRREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE”

June stayed in the kitchen. Ray and his men went to investigate. June quietly followed.

She saw Ray and company go into the room. They cringed and shot their weapons but it was not phased. June heard loud screaming, then silence.

After a few moments of silence, a white mist started to travel across the ground. June was compelled to enter the room.

It wasn’t fully out of the portal yet. Light was absorbed into its surface as it slowly crawled out of the portal.

It went by many names, as many as the number of cultures it had destroyed. Yet among all the names, there was one that had stuck. Survivors who reported it to authorities simply called it Black Swamp.

It didn’t have a face but June already knew it saw her. Solid black, humanoid, on the ground, more liquid than solid, it used its arms to thrash this way and that to get out of the portal.

Long since had it left its home far away. Constant travel to other dimensions wore its body down to the point where all that was left was sentient black sludge.

It didn’t care what it ate, so long as its prey came in contact, producing exhaust to move it along to its next meal. As it ate, so it grew. Now it was the size of a large house.

June didn’t know it yet, but she had half an hour to get to safety. Rather than try to fight it, should she try to run? Maybe she could contain it. The authorities would never believe her.

Excerpt from “Enzectozoid Chronicles: The Legacy of Whartleburg the Whalloper” from the curiously long book of short stories, I am lettuce, who are you?

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My Employer has Feathers, Interlude

“So tell me Mr. Bucket–”

“It’s Becket, Sir,” said Jay.

“Mr. Becket,” said the employer behind the desk, “What have you done with your life that makes you the absolute candidate for this position?”

“Well, the confidence level I have in my experience—–”

“Oo Oo Oorrrrr!” said Mr. Quarts and rolled his Rs.

Mr. Quartz appeared unaware of what happened. He looked up at Jay quizzically.

“Why’d you stop? Please continue.”

“The experience I have collected from previous employers has prepared—-”

“Hoot, hoot, hoot hoot. Hoot hoot hoot hoot, Orrrrrr!” said Mr Quartz as he spat out the now well chewed piece of legal paper.

“Uh, sir, is this a bad time, should I come back later?”

Mr. Quartz was now scratching his sideburns furiously as large brown bird feathers were rapidly growing, covering his face, hair, and his hands. His nose was growing sharp and turning orange colored. His eyes were getting wider and a strange light that wasn’t there before had appeared in them.

“Mr. Quartz, Mr. Quartz are you ok?!” shouted Jay.

“I’m just fine, Mr. Becket,” said Mr. Quartz, “But I suggest you run while you still can.”

“Should I call an ambulance?” asked Jay.

“No, that will not be necessary,” said Mr. Quartz, “But if you must help me, then run. As fast as you can.”

“Why?” asked Jay, “I just want a position at your company!”

“You may have a 90 day trial period. But only if telling you makes those lungs huff and puff,” said Mr. Quartz, “Because moving prey makes better sport!”

Excerpt from “Employment is for Birds of Prey”
from the curiously long book of short stories, I am lettuce, who are you?

The-scariest-homemade-costume-I-could-find-from-a-show-you-never-heard-of, Interlude

wpid-20151112_175906.jpg

 8th graders were, for the most part, treated like gods and goddesses, being the highest grade at Bernard Berenson Middle. In a peculiar, unexplainable reasoning, 8th graders were blessed with the ability to do subtle things other grades could not get away with. They had more freedom in the school, for one thing. However, in order to do these things, one had to take their eyes off themselves and focus on others. Consequently, for groups like the jocks and the cool people, most of whom were oft full of hot air, they never realized their true nature.

The jocks, especially the select popular crowd, were too focused on being cool. They had long since abandoned their childhood; but to Roger they seemed dull and boring. They had all dressed as simple as possible: A mask here, some face paint there. Nothing scary, just enough to fit in.

“Hey, Roger, nice costume!” said one of the jocks in Roger’s class. It wasn’t a complement. Roger wasn’t fitting in according to cool 8th grade protocol. To the cool crowd, he was portraying a lesson in what not to do.

Roger, however, didn’t care. His plan for wearing the elaborate getup was two-fold. The first part was winning the costume contest. He arrived in a homemade costume, made from cardboard and aluminum foil, to become “Sliver Fang Espro of the martial arts school of ‘Potentate Leviamath'” from his favorite video game, “Enzectozoid Chronicles: Mandibles of Justice.” He had spent many hours with the help of his older brother to get the costume perfect. It looked like a humanoid metallic shark had eaten him.

When the 8th grade jocks and the cool kids saw the costume, they thought Roger’s maturity level was still in third grade. But Roger didn’t care. Let them kid. They weren’t the reason he showed up at the dance. Suddenly the music stopped and Miss Long, the seventh grade english teacher, strode up with a microphone.

“Ok, everyone. Those who witch— I mean, wish— to be part of the costume contest, stand in the center of the gym and form a line! Whoo hoo!”

Everyone adored Miss Long. Trim figure, early twenties, curly blond hair, she was one of those teachers who was young enough to relate to youth, but mature enough not to give busy work, or lots of homework. Tonight she was dressed like a smart phone, glasses and everything. Even in that dorky costume, from afar some of the boys still had a crush on her; a love which would never be returned.

Five minutes later, Roger received second place for his costume. First place went to one of the sixth graders, a quiet young man dressed like an old southern gentleman. That mask looked amazing.

Time went by rather fast for Roger. He danced his heart out, embarrassing the 8th grade jocks even more. He slow danced with every pretty girl he could get to agree to dance with him. One of them was Beth Azure.

She was Miss Long’s younger second cousin and, under normal circumstances, looked strangely just like her. Tonight she was dressed like a mime, complete with black and white striped long sleeve shirt, suspenders, and black pants, black socks, and white tennis shoes. Her blond hair, which normally extended past her shoulders, was neatly tucked under a black newsboy hat. The finishing touch was her painted face; it made her look more like a witch doctor than a mime, but was good enough to win her third place.

“Congrats on winning second place,” said Beth.

“Thanks,” said Roger.

“Sliver Fang Espro, right?”

“Yes. From Enzectozoid Chronicles.”

“My little brother plays that game!” said Beth. “He also collects the toys. And he watches the cartoon.”

She quickly pulled out a smart phone.

“May I?”

Roger let her take a photo of his costume.

“He’s a big fan,” she said, “Literally. It’s all he ever talks about.”

Roger didn’t know what to make of that comment. Was Beth also a fan?

“So how well do you know Enzectozoid?” asked Roger.

“Me? Not much,” she said. “I’ve only read the books. Twice through.”

There were, so far, four books in the Enzectozoid Chronicles series. They were all best sellers. Book #5, Claws of the Scorpiozzo, was due in January.

Roger could feel his heart thumping in his chest. “Um, I like your costume.”

“Aw, thanks,” Beth smiled and looked away toward one of her friends. Then she looked back at Roger. Awkward silence. Their eyes met. It was dark. Roger leaned in toward Beth. He couldn’t see clearly, but he wanted to know for himself.

“Your eyes… have some purple in them,” mused Roger aloud.

“…Really?” said Beth.

She had always been the studious, calm type personality. Though many had tried, none had ever succeeded in charming Beth Azure. But for the first time, and possibly the last time that night, something dramatic, unexplainable, happened when Roger inadvertently complemented Beth’s eyes: She blushed.

“BUZZZZZ! Buzz Buzz Buzz! BUZZZZZ!”

Suddenly, from out of no where, a couple zoomed in between Roger and Beth.

“Buzz Buzz Buzzzzz!”

Hands clasped in classic ballroom fashion, and running from point A to B, seventh grader Tim and his date Joy, dressed in matching bee costumes, laughing as they ran up and down the gymnasium. They randomly targeted slow dancing couples, running past them, circling them, and running back up to rest. The whole time they buzzed like bees gathering pollen as they ran.

“Bumble Ballroom” was a self-chaperoning method of dance introduced and encouraged by Miss Long. It was designed to interrupt other couples, ensuring the atmosphere was kept light.

Whatever spell the song playing had cast was now broken. To Roger it was like waking from a dream. The song was about over anyway.

“Are you doing the dare?” asked Beth.

“Yes I was planning on it,” said Roger.

“Well, how do you know it isn’t some prank?”

Roger swallowed.

“I really don’t. But I agreed to a dare and cannot back out.”

“Well, most of the school knows about it. I’ve read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow over the Summer. Ichabod Crane was also played a cruel joke. Please don’t follow in his footsteps.”

The last slow song of the night ended and Beth looked at Roger with a funny look in her eyes. She quietly gave Roger a small mirror.

The mirror was strange. It was round and fashioned to look like a human face with his mouth open. The mirror was placed where the mouth gaped open.

“If it’s a ruse, you can just record the dopes and put it on YouTube. But if it’s real, well…” Beth trailed off and gave Roger an impish grin to reveal perfect braced teeth. Even that look made Roger’s heart flutter. He then did something uncharacteristic.

“Um, Beth, if I don’t make it,” he said hesitantly, “I just wanted to say—-”

“Roger it’s almost midnight,” said Beth, “Be careful, and good luck.”

Now remember, at the beginning of this post, that 8th graders, even the uncool types, were blessed with being able to get away with certain things other grades cannot? This challenge was one of those things. Whether intentionally done or not, the cafeteria doors were left unlocked. It was two minutes to midnight when Roger opened the doors, exhaled, and slipped inside.

The other reason Roger donned a scary costume was for the dare. Maybe he could out-spook the spook? It was the scariest costume he could think of. There he was in the cafeteria, alone, in the dark, arriving to the challenge early. Two minutes before the ghostly challenge would start at midnight.

Excerpt from “Fall from Autumnway”
from the curiously long book of short stories, “I am Lettuce, who are you?”

Go to the next page: “Veiled in Red

Previous page: “Homemade and Cheesy

Insurmountable Odds, Interlude

whartleburg

In a rush, the flaming portal closed with finality. Whartleburg was where he needed to be. Though June and her son Eddy wanted to go with him, Whartleburg knew they would only get in the way. Indeed even as he thought about his charges back on earth, in another dimension, the storm was brewing.

This would be the fight Whartleburg had been moving toward. He would do his best, he would push through. And when the dust settled, in a granite tower waited Salyria, his fiance. She had been waiting for him, should never have been waiting, but the Spider King Ahab wanted her. He could not be told no, and to keep her safe locked her up in frozen isolation, so no one could harm her. Whartleburg was the only opposition who had lasted this long. Though he too was caught and banished to an unknown dimension, thanks to Eddy and June here he was again.

From afar could be felt the presence of Spider King Ahab driving forward his armies. First send in the weaker thugs to wear him down, next the tougher ones, then the champions. And should he succeed still, well we’ll just see what happens next. His Arachness Spider King Ahab will not get up unless he must.

In came the bikers, whooping and hollering. Whartleburg brandished his twin giant axes and bared his mandibles. Suddenly something overshadowed him. What’s this? A pincer attack! From behind were more bikers. Among them was a great hulking guy whirling around his head heavy chains.

“This is the end, Whartleburg!” shouted the great biker.

Whartleburg threw his twin axes and looked at the big man.

“What goes around comes around. That includes razor sharp spinning axe blades.”

Excerpt from “Enzectozoid Chronicles: The Legacy of Whartleburg the Whalloper” from the curiously long book of short stories, I am lettuce, who are you?

The next chapter: “Reminiscence.”

Previous chapter or entry

Too-Grown-Up-to-Play-with-Dolls Interlude

Ticka tilly
ticka tilly
ticka tilly
ra ra ra!

The sounds of those blasted toys on the shelves kept chatting while I was in the storage room. Cutting edge, technologically advanced, motion sensors inside little statuesque chipmunks, all 1500 of them, were activating at once, red eyes blinking all at once to make the room so illuminated with red light that I didn’t need to turn the light on. I did anyway. All I needed was garbage bags. There they are. Someone had set the box of garbage bags in the dead center of the room on the ground. What kind of sick joke was this?!

Hey, nice tie, Lucy! Did your mommy dress you again?

“I told you for the last time, my name is Gabriel!” I said to the nearby jerk of a toy. I called that one Randal. All the Randals I knew growing up had been jerks, and this one was no different. I picked up the box of garbage bags, wishing I could put the toys in them and just go to town bashing them against the concrete floor.

The three shelves where the toys had been placed took up most of the room. Past the shelves was a desk large enough for a computer and printer. I moved past the shelves carefully and moved to the desk. Of the three drawers, the third one was the largest which contained myriads of files of various types. One file of which was the invoice for having ordered 1501 “Noisy Lemongrass Chipmunk” dolls.

It was advertised that one could download from their manufacturer’s website programming to make them do all sorts of tricks, sing songs, catchphrases, and respond to simple questions. My boss had ordered them last month, but not one of them had sold because of one, I say one, defect. We didn’t know when we were ordering them that a single wire malfunction had caused the downloaded material to make them act and sound malevolent. It was reported that some of them had attacked small children. Naturally the parents sued, but the company who made Noisy Lemongrass Chipmunk denied all claims. They simply fired a few people and assured the public things would be fine. But we still had to remove from the store shelves all1501 of them.

So now I had to pass by them everyday at work. There was no way to turn them off. Lately they had gotten worse. Now they flashed red eyes instead of blue. Now they would respond with wicked cursing and threats if I asked them questions. And worst of all, if I made moves to dismantle them, they would jump at me. I’m not kidding, I have to scars to prove it. A design flaw left their paws and feet with pointed claws.

They ran on battery power, thank God, but could also recharge via staying online. Our staff kept waiting for them to burn out, but after weeks of being online they just kept going. Number one was the biggest and meanest of all of them. I had long suspected it had turned on the computer in the storage room. We had to keep the wi-fi on in the store.

I rejoiced when it was reported number one was reportedly stolen. Then we found him outside the storage room in the sporting goods section next to a baseball bat. I still shudder when I remember his screaming threats of rage when we put the thick blanket over him. It was the only way to handle him without getting hurt. Seriously, who would steal a toy so annoying? Then it hit me. Our store wasn’t the only one that had ordered a shipment of Noisy Lemongrass Chipmunks. What were they doing with the faulty toys?

Excerpt from “Noisy Lemongrass” from the curiously long book of short stories, I am lettuce, who are you?

Violent Cartoon Based Interlude

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Whartleburg the Whalloper, part of the “Enzectozoid” toy line, a ripoff generic toy from more popular ones in the past. It was a humanoid beetle-man with purple rippling muscular anatomy, held in it hands a double axe bigger than the figure. The best feature of the toy was a button on the back that when pressed opened and closed a set of functional large pincers where its mouth should be, just under its bulging green eyes, able to firmly grip simple objects. Or, according to the back of the packaging, to crush guns, knives, swords, dino jaws, helicopter blades, or whatever the wicked Spider King Ahab had in mind to send to destroy his most hated nemesis.

Eddy’s mother, June, thought it looked hideous. It exploited violence in an already over active six-year-old boy; he didn’t need it. But Eddy’s pleas had gotten to where his mother dreaded taking her son to the store, simply because she knew that particularly hideous action figure would be there waiting.

Now the wait was over. Eddy could not believe he held Whartleburg the Whalloper in his hands. His whining had ceased, and his expression of awe had not changed since he and his mom had exited the store. He just could not take his eyes off the new toy still in its package. June his mother would not let him open it until after dinner. As Eddy was staring at his new toy, it suddenly looked up at him.

“Hello, Boy,” said the toy.

“Um, hi,” said Eddy in a whisper.

“What do you call yourself?”

“I’m Eddy.”

“Greeting, Eddy,” said the toy. “I am Whartleburg, sole heir to the Mandaublian School of Marshal Arts.”

“Really?” said Eddy, “Mom says I can’t play with you right now.”

“Your mother is wise and you should listen to her,” said Whartleburg, “But you may need to release me sooner. Both you and your mother are in grave danger.”

“Why is that?” asked Eddy.

“Because I’m not really a toy. And Spider King Ahab’s minions have followed me to your universe.”

“Son, what do you want for dinner tonight?” said Eddy’s mother.

Little Eddy was hesitant at first.

“Whartleburg says he’s alive and he needs out.”

“Oh, he did, did he?” said the boy’s mother. “You can play with him after you help me with dinner, ok?”

“No, it isn’t that.”

“Then what is it, son?”

“He says there are dinosaurs following us!”

As soon as Eddy had said it, an unearthly roar was heard. She had been hearing a stomp, stomp for the last few minutes, but thought it had been the stereo in the car in front. In the rear view mirror were three very large bipedal reptilian predators. They were singling out her car and knocking out of the way other cars in their way, roaring as they pursued. This was not computer graphics. And they were at least as big as a house.

To make matters worse, four cyclists raced past the dinos and surrounded the car. They were whooping and hollering as they gunned their engines, which had no muffler. VROOM VROOM!

They were knocking on the door and shouting, “Hey, babe! Pull over! We wanna talk to you! Yeah, we just want the kid’s toy!”

Dinos and bikers. They said they want the toy, after I paid a whopping six dollars? thought June. She dug into her purse, told Eddy to call 911.

“Who are you calling?” asked Whartleburg.

“The police,” said Eddy.

“They will not help you. It will only get worse. I will stop them, but you must first release me.”

“911, how may I direct your call?” said the dispatch.

“We’re being chased by bikers and dinosaurs!” said Eddy.

“Yeah, right. You’re using a cell phone to make this call. If a police officer finds you made this up, then you’re in serious trouble, young man.” The dispatcher hung up.

“They hung up, didn’t they? asked June.

“Whartleburg says to let him out,” said Eddy, “He says he’ll save us, can I let him out?”

“Oh, Eddy, not now. Whoa! Hey!”

Sling BANG sling BANG Whoo hoo!

The bikers were now slinging heavy chains and every now again were banging the roof of the car.

“Please? Can I open him now?” said Eddy.

One more bang from the biker, this one breaking the glass nearest Eddy’s window.

This time Eddy didn’t heed his mother’s advice. He opened the packaging with his teeth, ripping apart the plastic. Once the toy was out, Eddy was disappointed.

“You said you would help us,” he said to the toy.

“You must first shout the words, ‘Up Mandib Inzecto.’ Then I will no longer be a toy.”

“Up Mandib Inzecto!” screamed Eddy at the top of his voice, unnerving his mother.

“What did I tell you about screaming in the car—-ah! Who are you?!”

A full size, extremely muscular man with purple skin now sat in the back seat next to Eddy. He had huge metallic mandibles where a mouth should have been. He had only a stub where a nose should have been, but his antennae above his huge compound eyes were moving franticly. He stared out the window at the bikers. He then looked out the back window at the three T-Rexes who were in hot pursuit.

“My name is Whartleburg. Sorry to have startled you. I will handle your problem right now,” he said as he opened the door and kicked the nearest biker, swinging as he did so onto the roof of the car.

The bikers were jeering now that their target had finally revealed himself. Whartleburg raised both hands and with foreign tongue and clicks of mandible summoned his twin giant axes. But they didn’t stay in his hands long, soon becoming as whirring discs of light, shot into the air, addressed their targets, and in a single instant the dinosaurs fell to pieces. The axes returned to the hands of their master and vanished in a flash of light.

Then Whartleburg addressed the bikers. He jumped off the car onto the median of the road where they focused on him. They rode around and around him, whooping and hollering at what they would do. But though motorcycles are tough, their balance is fragile. One good kick offset one cyclist, but it also offset the balance of all the others. Without their bikes, they were as scared children. Whartleburg dispatched them quick, but did not kill them.

He grabbed the nearest biker.

“What is your master’s plan?” demanded Whartleburg.

“As if I’d tell you,” said the biker, “We’re just the distraction. The real fun was planned when you and your new family got home from the store!”

Whartleburg looked and saw the car was long gone. June had sped away as soon as she was free of trouble. Yet his antennae could detect the car’s heat signature. After examining the bikes, one of them was in good enough shape to ride. Whartleburg rode away toward the house of his now sworn charges.

Up in the distance, were large white puffy clouds. His antennae warned him that those were no ordinary clouds. They would be settling directly over the house of June and Eddy. Once that happened it would be too late. He urged the motorbike faster. Spider King Ahab had really spared no expense in sending his most devastating minion to destroy the people that Whartleburg was sworn to protect, the people who had been predicted would release him from the seventeen year slumber.

It had gotten very stormy by the time Whartleburg arrived at the house of June and Eddy. Unnatural towering cloud cover hovered and rotated directly overhead, while other houses were virtually cloud free. No one could see the personality behind the clouds, but he was there, slowly gathering. The temperature became more humid by the minute, as if someone was taking a great deep breath, getting ready, and at the right time deliver a terrible power that none could survive. Such was the temperament of Balaub, Spider King Ahab’s Storm Liege.

Whartleburg had dealt with Balaub before. It wasn’t easy but could be done. In the past, Balaub would go after the metal in Whartleburg’s mandibles. Climbing to the roof of the house, Whartleburg summoned his axes but with different clicks of his mandibles. This time they had on a rubber padding.

“It’s been a long time, Balaub,” said Whartleburg, “I’m sure you remember our fight last time.”

A giant man turned around where a gray blue storm cloud had been. He appeared like a Greek god, pale white skin, white hair, long beard, but had sunken eyes whose pupils were orbs of ball lightening. He saw his master’s enemy, but remembered his orders. Still, if he could take his enemy out as well as two innocents, perhaps then the reward would be all the greater. Balaub opened his mouth and inhaled audibly, making the wind blow, and the trees around the property start to bend and sway. A great hand was reaching out toward Whartleburg.

Thunder great and terrible erupted that shook the house down to its foundations. To the trained listener, it was the language of Storm Lieges.

“You have been judged. The air finds you guilty. Now ends your existence, you who have released mine enemy.”

“How mighty you forget,” shouted Whartleburg as he threw his axes. The weapons spun around like discs and distracted the lightening that would have struck the house. “You’ve only got one good shot in you. Because lightning never strikes twice, you can no longer destroy the house.”

More thunder. More shaking. Now the massive hands were getting closer. Wind was picking up.

“Oh ye of little faith,” said Balaub, “I’ve become far more vast since we last fought. And because of your slumber, you are the same as when we fought last. Hooow? Oh hooow, dear Whartleburg, will you best me?”

Excerpt from “Enzectozoid Chronicles: The Legacy of Whartleburg the Whalloper” from the curiously long book of short stories, I am lettuce, who are you?

Next chapter: “Insurmountable Odds”