Flammable Darkness, Interlude

 

Sparks. Find something that makes more sparks. The black slime creature had evaded the sparks sent out by the broken portal generator.  June ran to her kitchen with a crazy idea.

In the kitchen June kept a brown paper bag full of sparklers. They were leftover from last year’s July 4th.  She grabbed the bag and her cigarette lighter and ran back to the utility room.

June smoked, but not in the house. She never let her son see her do it, knowing the risks and all the scary stuff cigs were supposed to do. For once her bad habit could do something to save her life.

A sparkler was lit. The creature’s slick body reflected the light emitted from the sparkler. It slowly backed away toward the wall. June threw the sparklers at the creature. Not good enough. The creature evaded it until the sparks went out. Then it started to advance.

June went for bear and lit all of the sparklers, throwing them at the creature. So many sparks, so much light.

There was an audible wail as the sparks did their damage. It didn’t take much to quickly incinerate the creature until it was all smoldering ash.

FOOM

The creature exploded like one of those puffball fungi, filling the room with black, purple, and blue smoke. The smell of death and rotting flesh and decay washed over the room. June, lightheaded, was covered in the ash and ran out of the room coughing and sick to her stomach.

The ash was filling the house. June had to get out of there. she ran to the kitchen, opened the door, and out of the house. the whole house was filled with the smoke and ash, becoming clearly seen by the neighbors. Someone called the fire department. An ambulance was also sent.

*

“Oh thank God you’re safe,” said June’s mother Carol. Along with June’s mother were Frank and Anne, friends of June. Their children had invited little Eddy to stay over. Eddy was there to visit too.

June had been sent to the hospital for smoke inhalation while fire and rescue personnel searched the house. The entire inside of the house was covered in black soot and it had been determined that the fire started in the utility room.

“What happened?” asked Carol.

“I don’t remember. Electrical shortage maybe,” said June, “I feel fine.”

“No, I mean what happened to your eye?”

There was a bandage on her eye. June touched the gauze lightly.

“It doesn’t hurt. I don’t remember it being here.”

In walked a nurse to check on June. she politely asked friends and family to leave the room. Then a tall man in a black suit with a white overcoat showed up. June assumed he was a doctor.

“Hello, ma’am. I’m Doctor Thomas Phasmid. In addition to your smoke inhalation, we’ve done some tests on the type of smoke. It isn’t anything we’ve ever seen.”

“Why is my eye covered?” asked June.

“Well that’s what baffles us,” said Dr. Phasmid, “It appears the smoke infected that eye, but we were unsure as how to treat it.”

“I feel fine.”

“You’re also on pain killers. The infection was spreading. We  removed the eye.”

 

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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Coach Headsman, interlude

“Look, Luthar, unlike you, I don’t like being seen,” said the former basketball coach for Bernard Berenson Middle School.

Jeroboam Steadman had, in life, been the most celebrated Men’s basketball coach at Bernard Berenson Middle School in twenty years. The trophy cases were filled mostly because of his leadership.

At the very height of his glory days, Coach Steadman was killed in a terrible accident when a metal ceiling beam fell during a game. Rumor had it that coaches at rival schools paid to have the beams loosened.

The old gym was named Steadman Court, post-humous in his honor. A few weeks later it was no longer used for night games and a new one was built that year.

Newspapers stated the new gym was built for expansion sake and to invite new growth to the school. Off the record interviews stated a different reason.

Disturbing sightings started to surface in the old gym of a flying human head, behaving like a giant bat, in the furthest corners of the metal rafters of the ceiling.

Eye witnesses claimed it was Coach Steadman looking to make sure the bolts were tightened. Soon after students ventured inside the Steadman Court, saying “Watch out for Coach Headsman!”

Yet as a specter, Coach Steadman wanted little to do with haunting. He had been blessed with a rare type of Briostone that allowed him to remain in human form almost year round.

Instead of using a second chance at life to continue with a sports career, Coach Steadman could be found at his favorite sports bar “Irving’s,” seated on a bar stool and eating pretzels.

Gordon Luthar had located “Coach Headsman” Steadman and insisted that they meet. Luthar had forgotten that Coach Steadman was as curt a specter as he had been in life.

“Yes, I know you make your appearances complex,” said Luthar, “Which is why you are a member of the Unseen.”

“So what?”

Coach Steadman was eager to get back to watching the game.

“There’s a particular young man who wants to investigate the other specters on campus. You included. Do you mind moving your appearance date to the day after?”

Each specter was different in how they viewed being sighted without a decent Briostone. Some were fine with it. Luthar knew Coach Steadman found it embarrassing to be seen when he made an appearance.

“Sorry, Luthar,” said Coach Steadman, “I used to give you tribute every month, but now I answer to loftier authorities. The kid can see me or not. I really couldn’t care.”

“You have a membership with the Unseen only because of your unique class Briostone,” said Luthar, “It does not require much ether to work, so you make your ghastly self rarely seen. But rarest sightings generate the most ether.”

Coach Steadman sipped his beer with a shaky hand and stuffed a few pretzels in his mouth. His cool composure was fading fast.

There was a reason Luthar was able to sway all the specters on school grounds, hailing him with a tribute of ether each month. He had a way with words.

‘Why do you hide in here, Coach?” asked Luthar, “Who are you supporting that needs all that ether?”

“I’m tellin’ ‘ou noffin’, Luffar,” said Coach Steadman with his mouth full.

“I believe you said something similar to me before,” said Luthar, “Back when I offered to let you have your rare occurrence, in exchange for tribute. A small amount of ether given to me was all I requested. I ask it again. Unless you want to lose that goldmine, and, perhaps, anger whoever you’re working for.”

“No, you’re not serious. I’ve had that gym from day one!”

“I am not getting any tribute from you lately,” said Luthar, “Why should I let you stay on such a lucrative schedule?”

Luthar’s words finally soaked into Coach Steadman.

“Oh. Ok, so this a blackmail deal?”

“You know specters who are scarier than me,” said Luthar, “See what strings you can pull. I do not want Roger Flair to write anything revealing the truth about the school.”

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

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Beauty and Exoskeletons, Interlude

Victoria Swansoncrop

 

Victoria’s luminescent yellow-green eyes were now curiously staring at Whartleburg. Having recently arrived via Channel Teleporter, thanks to June, she was expecting Whartleburg to take her under his wing.

“Who are you supposed to be?” asked Whartleburg. But he knew already; His instinct told him so.

“I’m June’s sister.”

Whartleburg didn’t know how to handle the revelation.

“I’m Whartleburg.”

The two stared at each other. For ten seconds, the world was frozen in time and nothing else mattered. Whartleburg suddenly could not move. He was transfixed in place, only able to see Victoria’s luminescent green and yellow eyes. Instinct told him it was a common trap that praying mantis type Enzectozoids used to catch their prey.

But then another image entered his mind. Salyria, tall and pale, her lavish gown, a wedding gift from Spider King Ahab, the same color as her sapphire eyes. Her long dark hair danced in the winds that endlessly chase at the height of her window outside the granite prison walls.

Her eyes were saddened, yet strong, determined to wait, knowing in her heart that Whartleburg would save her. At that moment her eyes met his. She saw Whartleburg from afar and her inward gaze was turned outward.

Salyria while in her prison was not helpless. Though not built for combat, she could still encourage the heart. She spoke briefly and the vision was gone:

Remember Salyria. Should Whartleburg give up now, all his efforts to oppose Spider King Ahab would be in vain.

Whatever huntress’ charm Victoria unknowingly had sent out shattered like glass, and Whartleburg was no longer smitten. He no longer saw the great beauty in the exoskeleton of Victoria Swanson, June’s sister. Instead he saw a confused, scared Enzectozoid woman. She needed training.

Whartleburg woke up and sprang to his feet.

“Hey, you’re alive! Thank God you’re alive!” Victoria was saying.

“You thought I was dead?” asked Whartleburg.

Victoria nodded.

“You were unaware of what you did? It’s called a Hunter’s Glare trap.”

“Hunter’s what?!”

“Lady, I cannot train you,” said Whartleburg, “Only a master in the Maantisazian school of Enzectozoid marshal arts can do that now.”

“What’s that?”

“The Maantisazian school is for Enzectozoids who are mantis, wheel bug, or other assassin types.”

“Who, me?” exclaimed Victoria, “I’m no killer.”

“Then show me,” said Whartleburg, “Put your hands up. Like you are praying.”

Victoria reluctantly put her hands up in front of her.

“Now close your eyes.”

At first she refused but Whartleburg convinced her it would be ok.
Whartleburg then picked up a rock and threw it right at Victoria.

Victoria quickly shot out her hand and snatched the rock out of the air. She looked at the stone, amazed she caught it. But then she realized the rock had been perfectly cut into three pieces.

“How’d I do that?”

“Your instincts make you attack anything that comes near. Until you can train, you cannot be yourself without causing violence,” said Whartleburg.

Just then, a swirling blue storm cloud boiled forth out of nothing six feet from the ground. From out of the swirling tempest emerged a giant. Muscular, white beard, light blue skinned and balding, The giant was sent to destroy the stronghold.

“My liege!” ran Whevelbor panting. “Reports have come in. The enemy knows the fortress is taken.”

“That explains why the giant is here,” said Whartleburg.

“My army has provided us transportation,” said Whevelbor.

Close to the fortress were several old military Jeeps.

“All we need to do is not get caught,” said Victoria.

“Can you still fight, my liege?” asked Whevelbor.

“It’s been a long day,” said Whartleburg, “But we must escape.”

Whartleburg raised his arms to summon his battle axes, but he knew already that he still did not have the strength to use them fully. The axes appeared, but then faded and returned whence they came.

“Alas, I need more strength,” said Whartleburg.

“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.”

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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Dishonest, Interlude

Horus Corley calmly walked into Beth Azure’s bedroom. The cat sleeping on her bed stirred, immediately knew something was wrong.

“Hey there, baby!” grinned Corley. He flashed his surgically sharpened teeth. The cat arched his back, hissed, and jumped off the bed. Corley laughed as he watched the cat run down the hallway.

It only takes Pestilence Men two minutes to make their target sick. Horus Corley had been standing at the foot of the bed for a half hour. Despite his best efforts, Beth Azure slept soundly. Corley smiled his surgically sharpened teeth, but it was only a smile of embarrassment. He tried again.

“Heh, heh. I’m not sure what’s wrong. Have you simply have been taking more vitamin C this whole time? You keep sleepin’ like you’re dead. Well wake up!”

Beth, curled up like a little child, hugged her pillow like it was a teddy bear. Whatever she dreamed was pleasant enough to make her smile. Was it the warmth of the blankets?

“Why won’t you listen to me?!” shouted Corley. Then he covered his mouth. Shh. Don’t wanna get the rest of her family sick. They’re not on the list. Yet.

Aw, no. He heard coughing in the next room. Beth no longer smiled in her sleep.

“Com’n, fever up,” said Corley, “I got others to sicken tonight. Wait a minute—!”

He saw Beth put her hand on her ear to check something, then went back to sleep.

Earphones?!

Something Corley’s boss did not tell him was that Beth Azure always slept with earbuds connected to her phone, which played soft music all night.

“The Briostone coulda been useful tonight,” muttered Corley.

Despite their reputation, Pestilence Men, like delivery services, had to follow rules. Corley was presently invisible, incorporeal, and could not simply remove the earphones. Due to job ethics, the Briostone, which made Corley flesh and bone for a brief time, could not be used while on the job. So how would he accomplish his mission?

He’d just return the next night. He’d return as long as it took, until the night when Beth forgot to wear them, or something unfortunate happened to her phone.

When Corley left the house, he was contacted by his boss.

“Is the task complete?” asked the voice on the other line.

“Yeah. Sure is, boss.” Corley smiled, “She is sick as a dog.”

There was a long pause.

“It will snow tomorrow,” said the voice on the other line, “The snow makes everything better for us.”

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

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Starve a Fever, Feed a Ghost, Interlude

Ring, ring.

The line’s busy, try again.

Ring, ring.

“Hello?”

“Beth, how are you?”

“Hey, Roger.”

“Beth, what are you doing, say, Friday night?”

“Friday? That’s the next dance.”

“Yeah. Wanna go with me?”

She paused. “Um, yes. I’d love to.”

No Way! Who would have thought?

“Alright. I will see you Monday,” said Roger.

“Hey. I’m not Monday, I’m Beth,” said Beth.

“Well, ok then,” said Roger “I’ll see you tomorrow, Beth.”

Roger went to bed totally excited. But as he slept, standing over him unseen, was one who was not enthused.

In fact, he had been going through a painful ordeal after Luthar took his Briostone. His eye was still recovering from that knife wound, and one day soon Luthar’s little school would know his pain.

Until then, Horus Corley was working for one of the members of the Unseen Group as a Pestilence Man. He never thought he could have sunk so low on the Specter totem pole. He was now among the most hated of all specters.

Pestilence Men are the reason that illness spreads so quickly in a housing or school community. They travel from house to house, especially the ones containing small children, targeting individuals who are scheduled to fall ill. Corley now stood at the bedside of a sound asleep, and smiling, Roger.

“Going to the dance with a real girl, huh Roger Flair? You’re growin’ up so fast.
You must be feeling real good right now, mmm hmm. Heh, well tough luck, kid!”

Roger awoke early Monday morning from a terribly repetitive fever dream. Roger’s doctor said he had the flu. Even after a flu shot with a frighteningly small needle, he was still ordered to not go out to any night activities. Not for another week, so he would miss the dance, but be back on Monday.

Beth kept in touch with Roger all week by phone and was his lifeline for notes and homework. When Friday evening arrived, Beth chose to go with a group of her friends to the dance. At her insistence, they sent Roger a ten second video to his smart phone telling him to get well soon.

 

“Yeah, this is Corley.”

“Corley, I want you to go to the house of Beth Azure,” said the voice on the other line, “Give her the Influenza you gave Mr. Roger Flair.”

“You the boss,” said Corley. The other line hung up.

It wasn’t hard being a Pestilence Man. All you do is stand at the poor soul’s bedside and talk to them until they get sick. But it fed his Briostone, so he was willing to do the work. Corley looked at the file for Beth Azure.

“Azure,” mused Corley, “That seems to ring a bell. Where have I heard that name?”

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

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My Employer has Feathers

Adolescent Infatuation, Interlude

Ring ring.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Is this Roger?”

Roger put down his sandwich.

“Um, yes.”

“Hi, this is Beth Azure. From school, remember?”

“Oh yeah. How are you?”

“Look, I’m running for class president this Spring. I’m calling everyone in class to vote for me.”

“Sure thing, Baby.”

“What?”

Oops.

“Er, sorry. You got my vote!”

“Ok, Roger,” she said, “Have a good weekend.”

Com’n, Roger, have some guts!

“Hey, Beth? Beth!”

Too late. She hung up. That’s ok. Just talk to her at school.

 

Unseen, having targeted him and followed him home, a certain personality was standing behind Roger. He had been with Roger since he had joined the school paper.

Sorry, kid. You don’t chase us. We chase you.

A member of the Unlisted Group, recommended through the former Head Coach, at Luthar’s insistence, he was hired to monitor. He was asked to watch and every now and again, keep Roger out of trouble. Out of Luthar’s way. It might not always be advice that should be heeded, but advice nonetheless.

Covering the various reported hauntings was advised against, but Roger did it anyway. Deciding to call back Beth right now, instead of waiting, would be foolish. But Roger wouldn’t hear that either.

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

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Hungry?

 

Unlisted, Tangible, Interlude

Principal Gordon Luthar winced as he removed his shirt. How could Horus Corley have left him with a terribly nasty knife wound on the shoulder, yet made a simple stroke with his fingers? Luthar never knew it was there until he got home that evening.

He got out the antiseptic and bandages and went to work. There. That should hold until the next tribute arrives. Tribute of ether from other specters allowed the Briostone to heal his body, but the next payment would not be due for another week.

“Gordy! Supper’s almost ready!” said his wife.

“Sounds good, Lucille,” called Luthar, “What is cooking?”

“We’re havin’ minute steak, mashed potatoes, gravy, and steamed broccoli! And carrots!”

“Oh, baby! You KNOW what I like to eat!”

“Oh, I know what you LOVE to eat!” Lucille laughed.

Lucille and Gordon Luthar had been married for over 15 years. She had yet to discover his secret. Such was the skill of his Briostone. He was so alive it was like living forever. Perhaps, when she was near death, he could get a Briostone for her too?

The Briostones could, with various degrees, give its wearer the best of life and death. It could turn its wearer tangible, giving them the physical body to continue living as if they had never died, but keeping the advantages of being a specter. But that also means he or she is now susceptible to all the dangers of life. They could die, were vulnerable to attack from other specters, and therefore had to learn some form of defensive combat.

In Luthar’s case, his Briostone was among the Rare types. He could get dressed, have a wife, and run a school with all the demands being Principal required, at the cost of lesser specters paying him tribute.

Specters with Lesser type Briostones could not have the life that Luthar enjoyed. Not without lots of hard work to raid other stones. Consequently Luthar had many enemies.

Ether now flowed in the veins of specters, instead of blood, and it was what kept the Briostones from shriveling up. Merging them with other Briostones could make them more clear, increasing their skill.

Certain levels could be acquired from injecting ether into a Briostone to change it from common quality, to premium, to rare. But there was that certain level of quality that just could not be attained.

The Unique class of Briostones was legendary. They required far less ether to perform, which explained why the specters who had them never revealed themselves. Scarcity and random appearances were telltale signs that a specter had a Unique class Briostone. The more they showed, the greater the risk of being attacked and losing it.

Yet if Luthar could get his hands on a Unique level Briostone, merge it with his own Rare Briostone? Who knows what it would create!

Actually, it might blow up.

Never mind that, it’d still be cool to have one!

There were 23 other specters whose haunts were on school grounds. Luthar knew them all rather well. They all had agreed to give him tribute on certain days of the month. Some poor soul had written a children’s book about them. The teachers would never know how frighteningly real it was.

Yet that was a book on the specters who appeared most often. In reality, there were a few other specters in and around the school and the neighborhood. They did not appear as often and therefore were not considered as “scary” as Luthar, alias “Hector Hundred.”

The Unlisted group of specters appeared at first glance to be solo types. Their need to appear only happened when other flashier events happened, like New Year’s Eve, or in catastrophic events like hurricanes or tornados. In truth, they were a very tight-knit organization. Their level of danger was far greater than that of Luthar. That bothered him. They had to go.

All the occasional, strange phenomenon, without-a-trace stories were the work of the Unlisted group. They tended to have their meetings in abandoned buildings under heavy guard. But they never invaded onto school property. What if they ever did? Would the students be safe?

Luthar mused briefly if Corley was working for the Unlisted. Hmm. The only specter he knew that might know the Unlisted group members personally was the former head coach. He only appeared on a quarter moon. Or was it a half moon?

It didn’t matter. He showed up in human form, body intact, often enough at the local pub. Luthar hesitated, then looked up the number and reached for his home phone.

 

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

Accidents Happen, Interlude

You knew already how this would end,” said Luthar.

Horus Corley held his hand to his face. He winced in pain, limping away.

“This isn’t over, Luthar,” said Corley, “Or should I say, ‘Hector Hundred.’ Perhaps your beloved school should learn the truth?”

“They will never believe the truth if it comes from a kidnapping thief,” said Luthar.

“Oh, well I’ll just take that to heart. I might take on the protective persona too.”

“But not without this,” said Luthar. He held Corley’s Briostone in his hand. The latest knife stroke removed it from Corley’s neck.

Corley looked wild eyed. He kept feeling for the Briostone. His beloved “children,” now free of his control, vanished. The specters’ dual for dominance was over.

“Thank you for your patronage,” said Luthar, “This will provide that I stay in charge a little while longer.”

Luthar held his own Briostone with Corley’s. The former absorbed the latter and became more translucent.

“Mine proves the stronger,” said Luthar.

“Oh, Yeah?  Well, watch your back, Luthar. Cause there are others. Just like me,” sneered Corley, “Know that we don’t like you as Principal. So watch. Your. Back!”

As he said it, he tossed something at Luthar. Instinctively Luthar dodged the projectile, but the missile was not seen or felt. What was it? Was it even real?

“What did you throw at me?!”

Corley only grinned surgically enhanced sharpened teeth. He tipped his fedora and vanished.

 

The local TV news had by now arrived and were able to cover Principal Luthar exiting the gutter drain with Shawn Skipperson. The seventh grader was taken to the hospital to make sure he was ok, which he was. At the insistence of the reporters, Luthar made a brief statement.

“Accidents happen,” he said, “I’m so glad it did not end in tragedy.”

One reporter asked why he went in himself.

“I’m principal of Bernard Berenson Middle,” said Luthar,  “It is my responsibility to look after ALL of my students. They are MINE, even as they are yours. Even the deviant skateboarders. Mr. Skipperson is important to me as everyone else.”

Roger was at home. He had finished his homework that afternoon and was working on an article. It wasn’t something he was particularly excited about: construction for a new building dedicated to science and math. The teachers and staff were mostly upset about it because it would take up parking space. It would take two years to build. Roger would not see it until his Sophomore year of high school.

But then Principal Gordon Luthar was on the news. Footage was seen of him coming out of a gutter drain with a boy in his arms. Apparently he had rescued the boy, who had been trapped. Somehow Roger could not believe that. There had to be more to the story than that.

Wait. There. It was brief. Roger paused the DVR. On Principal Luthar’s left shoulder was a red patch staining his dress shirt. Blood. Anything could have caused it. But in a gutter drain?

 

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

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Beyond the Gutter, interlude

Subsisssstence. More. Subsissstence,” was heard from far below in the darkness beneath the grate that would not open. Even further in could be heard the screams of a frightened teenage boy. The terror had reduced his emotions to that of a little child, squalling, wailing, whimpering—

And then silence that screamed infinite times louder.

 

Gordon Luthar wasn’t in his office and had gone for the day.

“Can you give me his home number?” asked Assistant basketball coach Mr. Hind to the secretary.

She gave Mr. Hind the number to Principal Luthar’s cell phone.

“He doesn’t like to be called unless he’s in the office,” she said, “But if this is an emergency, I think he’ll understand.”

“Thank you,” said Mr. Hind. He then called Principal Luthar.

“Hello, this is Gordon Luthar”

“Yes, Principal Luthar?”

“Indeed. Who is this?”

“I’m Jeffry Hind, the assistant basketball coach.”

“Oh yes. Congratulations on yesterday’s win.”

“Thanks. Listen, a young man has fallen into a gutter drain. There seems to be some trouble down there, and, well, I can’t get the grate open.”

How delightful, he thought.

“The grate is spring-loaded. Like a mousetrap. Have you called the local authorities?”

“Yes, I have.”

“You may not want to go down there yourself.”

“I feel it’s my responsibility,” said Mr. Hind.

“I insist. Call them anyway. If you feel you must help, there is a latch that unlocks the grate in one of the corners of the opening.”

Mr. Hind found a small knob in one of the corners, but it needed pliers to move it. A well timed strike with a crowbar set the knob to unlock. The grate opened like shutters in a window.

“Okay, it’s open,” said Mr. Hind.

“There should be other teachers still on school grounds at this hour. I will be right over. We may need to call the boy’s parents.”

Principal Luthar hung up first. A police k-9 unit drove up. An ambulance drove up a few minutes later.

When Principal Luthar drove up, paramedics, a fire engine, and local police had arrived on the scene. Yellow police tape was now sectioning off the area.

“I am Gordon Luthar, principal of Bernard Berenson Middleschool,” he said to the chief firefighter, “What is happening so far?”

“I tell you what, we’re havin’ a tough time finding the boy.”

“How so?”

“The drain opens up to the city sewers. The sewers go for miles. He could be anywhere.”

Luthar started to understand the situation. If the boy was not found and retrieved in a timely manner, then his plans would unravel. He’d never hear the end of it if the boy died. He had an idea where he could be found, but simply leading authorities would be suspicious.

Luthar waited until the firefighters went into the drain single file. He counted to 100. Then he went in himself.

In the drain it was cold and dark, but one could stand upright. The firefighters carried flashlights. A couple police officers went with them for protection. But they were going the wrong way. Trouble didn’t lurk that direction.

The Briostone, that Luthar wore around his neck, not only kept his physical appearance. It also helped him see in the dark, speak with other ghosts, and gave him a sense for danger. He went in the opposite direction as the authorities. Soon he was hearing what he wanted to find.

“Subsssistence,” could be heard in the next room.

“Simper, what are you doing?” said Luthar.

There was young Shawn Skipperson, huddled in a corner of a large room. Six feet above the ground he had been plastered with mud and filth to the wall, but was still alive and unhurt. His captor, a lemon colored, massive crocodile, stood there watching his prey. The real culprit couldn’t be far away.

“Horus!” said Luthar, “Horus Corley! Where are you?!”

Another yellow crocodile appeared out of the shadows of the room. Beside it, smiling wickedly, stood a squat little man. He was dressed in a trench coat and hat. His ears, which in life he had surgically altered to look long and pointed, stuck out from under his fedora. His purple lensed glasses concealed conniving eyes, and reflected light from another place.

“Is it time to visit me again already, Luthar?” said Corley, “I’ve paid my tribute.”

“The honor you had is now tarnished,” said Luthar, “Why have you captured one of my students?”

“C’mon, man,” said Corley, “My children gotta eat.”

“I normally let you have your fun,” said Luthar, “But your activity today is causing a scene. It is getting in the way of MY PLANS.”

“Look, man,” said Corley, “We’re hungry. Don’t you smell that? It’s liver. Liver! Fresh! Young! Liver!”

“I am asking nicely,” said Luthar, “Release the boy. Unharmed. Return him to his friends. Depart from this particular drain.”

Corley turned to his crocodile familiars.

“What do you think, Madison? Simper?”

“Sssusstain,” The two yellow crocodiles hissed. They had a sudden weird gleam in their eyes.

Luthar stretched out his arms. From his sleeves emerged twin daggers. He clanged them together to make sparks.

“This is MY school,” said Luthar, “You will cease this. Or I shall bleed your etherial blood dry.”

“You’re not the only one with a Briostone, Luthar,” retorted Corley, “How about if we got ether from you this time?”

Corley took out a single dagger from his coat.

SHING

The dagger extended two feet longer.

“Naw, sorry Luthar. I think we’re cozy right here.”

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

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Subsistence, interlude

Hey, hey watch this!”

The skateboarding seventh grader gained momentum up the concrete ramp for the gym used for handicapped wheelchair users, across a level area past the building entrance. He jumped over the guardrails with the help of a homemade ramp he had made in woodworking class. He tried to use the skateboard to glide down the descending rail, but nearly midway lost his balance. He did not land well, crashing onto the sidewalk.

“Woe, dude, that was so gnarly!” said his friends, who were also skateboarders.

It was after school at 5 p.m. and the deviant seventh grade skateboarding clique were beginning to get rowdy.

 

The seventh graders at Bernard Berenson Middle were, simply put, lesser forms of eighth graders. They were the great divide; the servants of the eighth graders, guardians against scummy sixth graders.

But they were only the guardians and servants of the cool crowd. Those eighth graders who were average or lowly were either seen as other seventh graders and befriended or were picked on, depending on the seventh grader.

But all these particular seventh graders thought about was the next rad trick on a skateboard after school. They weren’t really into the social agenda. Therefore, they were left to themselves.

So when Shawn Skipperson, the next skateboarding seventh grader, sped up the ramp, over the guardrails, successfully pulling the guardrail gliding stunt, for a few seconds, only to fall into a large open gutter drain— no one heard his fall. And no one expected the drain to close by itself.

The boy’s friends looked for him. He wasn’t far, just in an obscure place, on the blind side of the gym. But they did find him.

“Dude, Shawn, why’re you in there?”

“Major bummer, man! Get me out!”

The three boys pulled on the grate to the drain. It would not budge.

“It won’t open!”

“Ah c’mon, man, it’s dark down here.”

Something stirred.

“I think all the teachers are gone, right?”

It got closer.

“Well let’s try again to open the grate, ready?”

Ssss.

“Holy crap, guys! I just heard something!”

“Pull!”

The three boys pulled again on the grate. It started to open. Something was weighing it down.

SSSuuubsss.

“C’mon, guys, please hurry!”

SSSubssisssss! 

Shawn’s legs were pulled back from under him. He fell to the ground on his belly. He was being pulled backward, away from the light of the grate.

Ssssubsssissstence. 

 

“Ok, got it?”

“Glad I had these on hand. Yeah, now put your crowbars in the grate opening for leverage. Yeah, that should do it. Now Pull. Pull. Pull! PULL!

It had been two minutes since they had heard anything from Shawn.

Good thing Mr. Hind, the assistant basketball coach, was still around to lock up. With his help the boys were able to open the grate. He had also called the police. Paramedics were on their way.

The grate behaved like a great weight was attached to it. They got the grate open, but it slammed shut.

Mr. Hind called again.

“Shawn. Shawn, can you hear me?”

Nothing could be heard from Shawn. But soft, barely audible words could be heard seemingly far below.

Subsssistence. More. Subssistence.

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

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