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?