Posts Tagged ‘Rish Outfield’

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Cast of Wonders 363: SOUL CLEAVER Clarence

Show Notes

Matthew told us, “This story began life as a PodCastle flash fiction contest entry. While it only made it to the semi-finals, Katherine Inskip commented that she’d love to see a longer version submitted to Cast of Wonders. Armed with this encouragement, I worked to fill out the characters, their struggles, and a plot. It took a fair amount of feedback and editing, but I was delighted that the finished story was one that Cast of Wonders was interested in publishing!”


SOUL CLEAVER Clarence

by Matthew J. Jarvis

“My dear dragon,” the princess announced as she held aloft Clarence’s topaz windflower, its gemstone petals glinting beautifully in the sun. “These are, without doubt, the finest sculptures in all the land!” Around him the humans attending the faire clapped enthusiastically. “State your name, dragon, and ask any favor in my power to grant, for you have truly won first prize.”

Clarence glowed with pride. “My name is–“

“SOUL CLEAVER!”

The thunder of his father’s roar shattered the late-afternoon quiet of the forest, as well as Clarence’s reverie. He clutched the real topaz windflower in his claws and frantically cast about for somewhere to hide it. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 283: Staff Picks 2017 – Single Parent

Show Notes

Every year in January, Cast of Wonders takes the month off to recharge, plan the year ahead and highlight some of our favorite episodes. Throughout the month, different members of the Cast of Wonders crew will present their favorite story of 2017.

This week’s episode is hosted by audio producer Jeremy Carter.


Single Parent

By Sarah Gailey

The monster in my son’s closet is so fucking scary.

Here’s what happened: Jack screamed in the middle of the night and I came running because I’m his dad and that’s what dads are for. He’s been doing that for a month — screaming like someone’s in his room murdering him with a screwdriver. And even though there’s never, not even once been anyone murdering him, I couldn’t just let him scream his little head off all night. If I didn’t come running, his mom would have risen from the grave just to come and slap me upside the head.

I know what you’re thinking, but the monster in the closet is not his mom. It is not my dead wife, come back to watch over him and protect him. This isn’t that kind of a story. It’s a fucking monster, okay? (Continue Reading…)

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Episode 253: Single Parent by Sarah Gailey

Show Notes

Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


Single Parent

By Sarah Gailey

 

The monster in my son’s closet is so fucking scary.

Here’s what happened: Jack screamed in the middle of the night and I came running because I’m his dad and that’s what dads are for. He’s been doing that for a month — screaming like someone’s in his room murdering him with a screwdriver. And even though there’s never, not even once been anyone murdering him, I couldn’t just let him scream his little head off all night. If I didn’t come running, his mom would have risen from the grave just to come and slap me upside the head.

I know what you’re thinking, but the monster in the closet is not his mom. It is not my dead wife, come back to watch over him and protect him. This isn’t that kind of a story. It’s a fucking monster, okay?

Anyway, he screamed like he’s screamed every night since we watched Denise go into the ground. I came running like I’ve come running every night since we threw dirt at her coffin, which seems like it’s supposed to be important and respectful but really just felt like throwing dirt at my wife’s corpse. He was sitting up in bed, sweating and crying and smelling like little-kid-piss and I remember thinking that this was the last straw — that tonight I would be Tough Dad and tell him I wasn’t going to put up with the screaming anymore.

I didn’t end up doing that, though. I’ve never been a tough guy. Denise was always the tough guy, but she’s being tough on Abraham up in heaven somewhere and I’m down here sitting on my kid’s wet bedsheets.

Anyway, I burst into his room and put my arms around him. I kissed his sweaty head and told him that everything would be okay. I asked which nightmare had woken him up this time. Usually they’re nightmares about his mom coming back, which breaks my heart to hear, but the therapist said I have to listen. So I braced myself, and tried to be ready to hear him talk about how Denise’s face is melting off in his subconscious.

Only this time, he shook his head. Not a nightmare. A monster.

I am a bad father because I was relieved. That’s how you know you’re a bad father: your kid is trembling and terrified and you breathe a sigh of relief because it’s only his worst fear and not yours.

The thing is, I thought I knew how to handle the monster situation. From experience. For six months or so before Denise died, Jack had this thing about a monster in his closet. The therapist said that he was processing her sickness through a proxy – that he couldn’t quite understand what was coming, that he couldn’t know what “terminal” meant, so his little-boy brain just decided “there’s scary shit on the way” and invented a monster that was always getting ready to eat him. That’s how I felt for the entire time she was dying. And sure enough, once she died, he stopped having the thing about the monster.

So I did what I had done every other time that Jack had woken up screaming about the monster: I checked the closet. That’s what you do, right? Your kid says “oh god there’s something scary” and you say “I’ll go look at it for you” and then you look, and there’s nothing there, and you tell the kid that nothing is there, and everyone goes back to bed.

Except that’s not what happened.

Look, there’s never been a monster in there before. I can deal with a lot of stuff. I’m a bedtime champion and a dang master at after-school-talks about feelings. I can re-shingle a roof and I’m even okay at plumbing, if the water’s shut off right. I can handle myself, is what I’m saying. But a monster? I had no game plan for there actually being a monster. My game plan was oriented towards getting the kid back to sleep. It’s a fifteen-minute plan at the most. The point is, who prepares for the eventuality that a six-year-old is right about something at two in the morning?

Not me, I guess.

So I told Jack-o I would look in the closet, and I did. I opened the closet door, and then I shut it again very quickly, because guess what? There was a monster in there.

You’ll want to know what the monster looked like. I was too busy clenching to retain details, but here was my general impression: teeth, claws, tentacles. I didn’t know that tentacles could have claws, but apparently the limits of my imagination do not encompass the fullness of God’s creation, so what do you want? Also, eyes — so many eyes, like a spider with a lot of little spiders on top of it. All of them were looking at me.

It was without a doubt the scariest thing I have ever seen in my ever-loving life, and I’ve seen a doctor’s face when he’s about to say the phrase “six months left”, so I know from scary.

I opened the closet door again. The monster made a noise like a percolating coffee maker. I shut the door.

And now I’m sitting in my son’s bed, not minding the piss smell so much, and I’m trying to figure out how to tell him that the monster in the closet is real.

 


 

It’s not fair to Jack, is the thing. It’s not fair that he already had to find out that moms can die and dads can’t stop it – now monsters? In his closet? And I can’t spin this as maybe it’s a nice monster because it’s a monster and monsters are by definition not nice, and something with that many eyes eats little boys. It’s just a fact.

He’s looking at me and his little pink lip is quivering and he’s shaking like he runs on batteries, but he’s setting his jaw like his mom used to. Christ. He’s being brave.

He rubs the back of his head, foofing out his duckling hair, and I realize that it’s a motion he’s learned from me. I do that all the time. I’m doing it right now.

“Well, buddy. What are we gonna do about that thing?”

He shrugs in that little-kid way. When a teenager shrugs, it means “I don’t give a crap, what do you know? Leave me alone, I’ll never get old, I’ll always like this kind of music.” When a little kid shrugs, it’s so honest — a little-kid shrug just means “I got no goddamn idea, pops.” I love the hell out of him when he shrugs at me.

“When did the monster come out?”

The kiddo looks at me like I’m an idiot. “When I let my feet stick out from under the covers.” Of course. His feet are well and fully tucked in now. I lift the corner of one of the blankets just an inch, and sure enough, the doorknob on the closet starts turning. I put the corner of the blanket back down fast and the door stays shut.

“Well, we can’t have it coming out of there.” He agrees with me, nodding gravely. “‘Cause kiddo, I don’t know how to tell you this, but… I’m, like, one hundred and ten percent certain that it’ll eat us.” He nods again, Duh, Dad. Kid already knows this stuff, I don’t need to tell him. He doesn’t look so scared anymore, and I realize that it’s because I’m here. His work is done — he called in the big guns, and now, the situation in the closet will be resolved by someone who knows what to do about situations in closets.

He thinks I can fix it. He thinks I can fix anything. Even after I couldn’t fix the one thing that mattered most, he still thinks I know all the answers.

We sit on the bed, talking over our options. We could nail the door shut, but then he wouldn’t be able to get any of his shoes or his pants, and he needs those for school on Monday and all. Plus the monster can probably dissolve nails with acid or something. From our combined understanding of monsters, it’s probably allergic to something dumb like mustard or broccoli or spider-man band-aids, but we don’t have time to experiment. I don’t have a gun, because I live in a house with a six-year-old. I’m proud to say that the idea of a gun doesn’t even occur to him until I mention it. What a guy.

We sit in his rocketship bed, trying to figure out what to do about the monster. He doesn’t want to kill it, because he’s six and he’s the best person in the world. I want more than anything to kill it, but I’m pretty aware of my own limitations and frankly, I don’t think I could take that thing on. I take Jack out for ice cream if there’s a spider in the kitchen, okay? Denise was always the one who dealt with those, and I never saw her take out a spider the size of my kid’s closet. This thing — it’s big. And it’s a monster. And did I tell you about the tentacles already?

After a long time spent discussing the merits of just burning the house down – and let me tell  you, spend an hour trying to explain fire insurance to a six-year-old and you’ll feel eager to face a monster – we notice that it’s getting light out. When it’s definitely morning – birds are chirping, sun is shining, the whole magilla – we decide to see if the monster is still there. Maybe it’s only there at night, you know?

My son lifts up a corner of the bedsheets.

Nothing happens.

He pushes the bedsheets down until they’re just covering his feet to the ankles.

Nothing happens.

He takes a deep breath, my brave boy, and whips his feet out from under the covers like the he’s fastest gun in the West winning a shootout. We watch the closet door, eyes wide, hearts pounding.

Nothing.

He looks at me and I look at him and we both know that one of us has to look in the closet. He whispers, “Maybe it’s sleeping. Maybe it’s nocturnal.”

I squint at him. “When did you learn ‘nocturnal’?”

He rolls his eyes and I realize that someday this kid is going to be a teenager, and I look at the closet door, hoping the monster will come out and eat us both before that happens.

“Okay. Okay, buddy, here’s what we’re gonna do. You’re gonna go shut yourself in Daddy’s bedroom, okay? You’re gonna lock the door-”

“I’m not supposed to lock the door.”

“I know, but just this once, you’re gonna lock the door and -”

“But I’m not supposed to lock the door because -”

I rest a hand on his head and deploy the Dad Stare, which is basically the only weapon in my arsenal. He’s polite enough to pretend it’s intimidating.

“You’re gonna lock the door. And then I’ll take a look and see if the monster is sleeping, and then we’ll figure out what to do, alright?”

He nods. His eyes are huge, but his jaw is still set in that Denise kind of way. I put my arms around him and I hug him, I hug my son so tight that I’m sure I’m hurting him, but he hugs me back anyway because he’s the best damned kid there ever was.

“If anything happens to me, you take my cell phone from my nightstand and you call Grandma Irene, okay?” His answer is muffled because I’m jamming his face into my chest. I pull back to let him breathe. His face looks like he has a lot of objections to this plan, but he just says “I love you, Dad,” and I don’t know if I can keep it together much longer so I push him out the door.

I sit on his rocket bed and listen to his little feet pad down the hallway. I hear him go into my bedroom with the one empty nightstand, and I hear him close the door, and God bless his six-year-old heart, I hear him turn the lock.

I don’t want to waste any time, because my son is probably terrified in there. He’s scared and alone, wondering if his dad is about to get eaten by a monster.

I have to open the closet door.

I can’t just sit here and wait – it’ll be the same thing in there no matter when I do it. I have to get up and walk across the room and open the door to my boy’s closet.

I wish Denise were here. I always wish she was here – that hasn’t stopped, not once since she died – but right now I really, really wish she was here, because she would be the one to look in the closet. She would get right up and march on over and yank the closet door open. She would grab the monster by one of those frilly things around its primary eyeballs and she’d drag it out to the front yard and make it feel ashamed of itself.

But I’m not Denise, and I’m just sitting on the rocket bed with my head in my hands because I can’t take on a monster. It’s too hard, and it’s not fair, and I don’t know how. I’m not her. Looking in the closet to confirm that there’s no monster is right in my wheelhouse, but dealing with the monster when it’s real — that’s Denise stuff.

Something tickles between my ears.

Denise stuff. This is a Denise job.

The tickle fades, but then returns again, brighter. Denise stuff. Denise stuff. Why does this feel so important?

And then I remember.

I was six. My ma came into my bedroom because I was screaming at the top of my lungs. She looked in my closet and then she said ‘oh no, no sir. This is Reggie Stuff,’ and then my pop came in and he looked in my closet, and then he sent me out of my own room. I remember I sat in my parent’s bedroom with my ma. We shut the door and put a chair in front of it and then she taught me how to play poker for a few hours.

Of course. Of course it was him.

I run down the hall to my bedroom. The door is shut – locked, of course, damn it, Jack locked it because I told him to. I’m about to pound on the door, about to yell for him to let me in, but then I think better of it. I tap on the door with the pad of my index finger.

“Hey buddy, can you let me in? It’s your dad.”

There’s a long pause, so long I almost tap again, before I he answers. I can barely hear him.

“How do I know you’re not the monster?”

Oh, Jesus, how do I answer that one?

“Kiddo, it’s really me. I… huh. How would you know if I was the monster?”

Another long pause. The sound of the lock clicking open. He eases the door open a crack, peeks out at me with one eyeball. I kneel down to look through the crack at him.

“Buddy, it’s me, I promise. But if you’re scared, you can just grab my phone from my nightstand and slide it through to me, okay? I have to make a really important phone call.”

The door shuts, locks again. Smart kid. A minute later, my phone slides under the door.

“Thanks, Jack-o. I promise I’m not mad at you for not letting me in, okay?”

No response. I tap on the door with with my pinky finger, soft as I can, wishing I could rest my hand on his fine blond hair; wishing I could give my frightened little boy a hug.

“I mean it. I’m not mad at you. You’re a smart guy, and you did the right thing. I love you.”

There’s a sniffle from the other side of the door. “I love you too, Dad.”

There’s a sniffle from my side of the door. I wipe my eyes on the sleeve of my t-shirt, and head back to the bedroom before he can hear me crying, because what’s scarier to a six-year-old boy than hearing his dad cry?

I make the phone call, and after that, it’s only ten minutes or so before Grandma Irene arrives.

I’m not supposed to call her Grandma Irene – I’m supposed to call her Irene, or Mrs. Hart if she’s mad at me about something. But to Jack, she’s Grandma Irene, so it’s in my head now. You know how that goes. She’s the only grandparent the kid has, what with my ma and pop dead and Denise’s dad having run off way back when. Jack loves her.

“So, what’s the big emergency?”

I don’t know how to tell her, so I just point upstairs. We go into Jack’s room. Her eyes fall on the empty rocket bed.

“Where’s Jack? Is he alright?” Her face is white and she’s gripping my arm with such incredible strength that I know I was right to call her.

“Jack’s fine, Irene. He’s in my bedroom. I – I need your help.”

She’s searching my face, and just like that, she knows. Her head swivels until she’s looking at the closet door. She definitely knows. But she asks me anyway.

“Why did you call me?”

I clear my throat. I’m embarrassed. Wouldn’t you be? Calling Grandma to come help out? Admitting that since your wife died there are some things you just don’t know how to do? Some things you just aren’t ready to take on yet, because you can’t accept that she’s not there to help with them anymore?

“There’s a monster.”

“What? Speak up, I can’t hear you.”

I clear my throat again. I try to make eye contact with her but I can’t, so I settle on looking at her chin.

“There’s a monster. In the closet.”

She ducks her head to look in my eyes, and the way she does it is so Denise that I well up.

She nods. “What kind of monster?”

I am at a loss. What kind? How should I know?

“Uh, tentacles? Teeth, claws, eyes. Frilly things.” I wiggle my fingers around my temples like that’ll clear up the meaning of ‘frilly things.’

Irene looks at the closet, and it looks like she’s doing math in her head. She nods again.

“That’s Irene stuff, alright. Take Jack to the park and play catch. Don’t just look at me with your mouth open, Donovan, do as I say. Go to the park with him and play catch and then come back.” She calls me Donovan instead of Donny and that’s how I know she means business. And I want to take Jack to the park. But even this I can’t do on my own.

“…He won’t come out of my room. He wants me to prove that I’m not the monster, and I – I don’t really know how to do that.”

She stares at me for a long moment, then smiles. “He’s such a smart boy.”

She strides down the hall to my bedroom, raps on the door, and calls to Jack. “Jack, you come out of here right this instant. It’s Grandma Irene. I’m taking care of the monster; you and your father are going to go play catch in your pajamas.” She sounds so much like Denise that I want to curl up on the floor and bite my knees. Her tone is one hundred percent Irene, and I feel a pang of sympathy for what the monster is about to go through. Jack comes out of my bedroom. His eyes are all puffy. Grandma Irene gives him a quick hug and then pushes him towards me.

We go to the park and we play catch. Actually, we’ve never played catch before, so it’s kind of weird – us in our bare feet in the dewy grass, me teaching my kid how to throw a baseball. He’s good at it. I’m good at teaching him.

When we get home a few hours later, there are three big garbage bags piled up on the curbside for pickup. I set Jack up in the kitchen with a bagel and some peanut butter, then head upstairs. Irene’s jacket is draped across the fin of Jack’s rocketship bed, and the water is running in the hall bathroom. I knock on the door.

“Irene? Is everything okay?”

She cracks the door and peers out at me, exactly the way that Jack did when he wanted me to prove I wasn’t the monster.

“Everything is fine, Donovan. I’m taking a shower. Would you be a dear and throw this out for me?” She passes out what remains of her smart pantsuit – it is a wad of pastel shreds, held together by green ooze. “And would you loan me something to wear?”

I haven’t thrown out any of Denise’s clothes yet, and in her side of the dresser I find a set of her pajamas that look like they’ll fit Irene. I pull them out, run a thumb over the penguins on the pajama bottoms. They’re surfing. The penguins, not the pajama bottoms.

How do I do any of this without her? How do I do it alone?

But then, I’m not alone, I guess. I’ve got Irene. And I’ve got Jack. And I know that eventually, I’ll learn to do the Denise stuff. When I’m done looking at the empty places where she should be. When the fact that they’re empty stops being something I need to stare at in order to understand the contours of my loss.

I hear the water in the hall bathroom turn off, and I know Irene’ll be needing these surfing penguins in a minute. I crack the door open just enough to slide the pajamas through, then close it again as quietly as I can.

I walk downstairs, bracing myself for the peanut butter explosion that inevitably awaits me in the breakfast nook – but when I get down there, there’s no peanut butter explosion. My boy has pulled his chair up to the sink, and he’s standing on it so he can reach to wash his own plate. Getting soap everywhere, but still. He’s trying to pull his weight.

What a guy.

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Cast of Wonders 121: Little Wonders 5 – Trope Twists

Show Notes

This is Little Wonders, our collection episodes featuring flash fiction and poetry centered around a theme. This episode we bring you the conclusion of our flash fiction month: Trope Twists!

 


The Hero
By Jessica Holscher

Down a desolate and lonely dirt road, a young man walked toward the horizon.  With a sword at his back, he traveled for destiny. The famed fortune teller of the town he’d just left, Madam Mystic, told him he would defeat the three headed dragon and save the princess.  Without a moment’s hesitation, he headed for the beast to save the missing damsel.

Suddenly, a rustling caught his attention.  Surely, he couldn’t have already reached the monster.  He readied his sword and stood firm. The rustling grew louder and a female child emerged from the bush.

(Continue Reading…)

Episode 91: Open 28 Hours by Darin Ramsey


Open 28 Hours

by Darin Ramsey

The seven-pointed star was pink and gold, and hung in the night over the dome like it heralded more than just a refueling stop and convenience store. The dome sat alone on a rocky, airless orb at the outer reaches of the system, so small and distant it didn’t have a name. From a ship on approach, the dome resembled a fallen globe on a tripod, with the three docking rings at the end of the airlock.

Tan was restocking Queen Shooga’s Sodium Sulfate Bars and thinking, “Thirteen more hours. Thirteen more hours.” The airlock chimed, then lensed open with a whine and hiss, and a Miradalina slid from it. She was young; none of the seven brood polyps behind her ears had hatched, and the shell on her back only spiraled three times. Probably on her first holiday without a chaperon.

“Greetings, daughter-of-the-sea!” Tan called out. “Welcome!” She glanced in his direction, waved her ears gently, and slid down the aisle of cold drinks. Tan was relieved to see that she trailed a slick salvager; Miradalin trails did a number on the mop. He set the box of sulfur candies down and heaved to his feet, tucking his sandy hair behind his ears as he walked to the Galactacard Omni-denominator register.

As he stepped behind the counter, the airlock chimed again. A meter-tall mass of scarlet centipedes half-writhed, half-rolled into the store, stopping at the counter, where several of them raised their heads to click at him. Tan glanced down at the Galactacard’s translator screen, then back up and said, “Gentlemen, you honor me by advancing the Hive here at Snak-E-Star. You’ll find the ecdysium down this hall on my right, after the relief stations for males, females, and drones.” He didn’t relish cleaning up the shell remains later. And it took days to get the smell out. He shrugged; at least the Hive tipped well.

The Miradalina slid up to the counter and extruded her selections.

“Ah, excellent!” Tan tapped buttons on the omni-denominator. “One large greenleaf tea, two phytobars, and a tin of krill mints. Fourteen and four-sevenths, please.”

Three cubes fell onto the counter. Tan swept them into the omni-denominator, which spat out three flat squares. She absorbed her change, burbled a brief melody, and slid out.


“Ten more hours. Ten more hours. Ten more hours.” Tan was through restocking and was feeding the products in the Live Snacks aisle when he realized the Hive was still in the ecdysium. Usually ecdysis — shedding the old shells — only needed a couple of hours. What could be taking them so long? He was on his way to knocking discreetly on the door when the airlock chimed twice. He paled as the pair entered. Fierce, unblinking eyes over serrated beaks swept the store. They had to angle their long, feathered bodies forward to avoid bumping the three-meter-high ceiling as they walked. Tan ground his teeth at the screeching their talons made on the floor and petitioned all Space that they were in a hurry. They had to be in a hurry. They were obviously a new nesting pair on their First Flight holiday. He was supposed to greet all customers, but didn’t dare speak to them first; it had taken weeks to regrow his fingers.

The lock chimed again. “What am I today?” Tan complained to himself, “Capitolus Station?” A two-meter cube, a small sphere half-buried under it, rolled in. The cloudy, swirling surface, he knew, was more in deference to the sensitivities of the Balannee within, than out of politeness to those outside; but he was grateful that he didn’t have to see them either, or catch a whiff of their dank atmosphere. Icons flashed along the front edge of the cube. After reading the translation, Tan typed out his answers, which glowed from the front of the counter, above the – well, he thought of them as “magazines,” even though some of them were “read” by eating them.

The Balannee tank blinked and rolled to the hot drinks, flashes and glimmers within as the occupants “spoke” to each other.

In the Live Snacks aisle, the KaaHaa couple were having what Tan’s mother called a “tiff.” The female clutched a box of fuzzy ten-legged things that Tan never could pronounce in her frail, claw-like hands. Her “kak, ka-kak kah” sounded very irritated, and reminded Tan of other young brides he’d known. They were out of range of the Galactacard’s translator, but he could guess what she was saying. Her nestmate made short, irritated “tok tok” sounds, apparently trying to calm her, but she was having none of it. Her “kak, ka-kak,” grew louder. He bobbed his great, triangular head up and down and trilled a purring sound. She hopped from foot to foot, swinging the box of insects. Her voice grew shrill, and “kik-kik, kee-ee” mixed in.

The male jumped back and straighted up as tall as he could in the relatively low store. “Uh-oh,” Tan thought. He tried to casually cover his ears. The Kaahaa’s shoulders started to spread, his fists pushed together in front of him. “Tsaaai!” He cried out, a call uncannily like the eagles and hawks of old. It made the shelves rattle. The Balannee tank glowed orange for a moment, then faded.

She turned away from him, her beak pointing high in the air, and started toward Tan. Her mate had just opened his beak again when Tan heard a door hiss on his right. “Oh, not now,” he whispered.

The Hive slid out of the hall, bright pink instead of scarlet, and froze. Somehow, Tan felt them focus on the two avians, who stared back at the mass. Tan felt like the pivot point on a carefully balanced scale, helpless to tip it one way or the other. There was a frozen moment.

The Hive stack suddenly collapsed into its component members, who rocketed in all directions. The avians pounced, snapping at the scurrying insectoids. Bottles smashed on the ground as the half-meter millipedes climbed displays. Shelving buckled under the weight of the huge birds, boxes tearing and tubs cracking as the giants sought out the smaller beings. Tan watched his inventory being destroyed and scowled before twisting a knob under the counter.

A dissonant, piercing alarm filled the shop. The KaaHaa fell to the floor and tucked their heads under their wings. The Hive members shrank further into whatever cover they had found. The Balannee tank glowed a bright yellow. After seconds that seemed like minutes, the alarm stopped.

The KaaHaa slowly drew their heads out as the Hive members sought each other, reassembling as they could. The Balannee tank faded to white. They all turned to Tan, who was standing on the counter with a very mean-looking rifle.

“No eating the customers!”


“One more hour. One more hour. One more hour.” Tan stood behind the counter, too tired to do anything else. The reports on the damaged merchandise had been long, but they were just reports. Thankfully, the Hive had elected to not press charges, and had tipped him forty percent, besides. The embarrassed KaaHaa had given him contact information, grateful that recompensation would be the only penalty.

It had been the cleanup and repairs that had done him in. There were parts of the floor where some of the more extreme beverages had eaten away the tile, some of the shelves weren’t level, and he hadn’t gotten the aisles even when putting the shelving back in place. But it was close enough. At least there had only been a couple of customers in that time.

“One more hour. One more hour.”

The lock chimed, and he suppressed a groan.

A space-suited figure came through the lock and reached for its helmet clasps. Lathe, her dark pageboy cut as ever-present as her wide smile, was inside. “Hey, Tan, how was your shift?”

“Am I glad you’re here,” Tan said with a sigh. “It’s been a long week. You won’t believe what happened today…”

He told her about the day’s events and had her read the reports. When she was done, she said, “Why don’t you log out and take off a little early?” He nodded and went for his space suit.

Employees had to land behind the dome so they wouldn’t take up a docking ring. Lathe was helping him into his suit when she said, “You could look for another job while you’re on-planet. You know, only work eight or nine hours a day, breathe atmosphere, see people.”

“Are you kidding?” Tan said. “And give up space?”

Episode 69: Cosmetic Procedures by Desmond Warzel


Cosmetic Procedures

by Desmond Warzel

When I became a private investigator, it wasn’t for excitement, or for money. The work is humdrum, and whatever noir romanticism the profession ever actually had is long gone (though I’ve got a raincoat, a fedora, and a dusty bottle of scotch in the closet, just in case they’re called for). As for money, there isn’t much–and I don’t need it anyway. I’m a dilettante, and utterly unashamed of it.

It was an ego boost, pure and simple. I suppose I just enjoyed the idea that, when some poor desperate soul was in dire straits, stretched to the breaking point, with nowhere to turn, I would be the one he’d call.

Well, now I’m sitting at my desk, unable to take my mind off the lower right-hand drawer, and the unique item therein, and I have no idea who I should call.

I am, however, extremely open to suggestions.


We were just about to give up for the morning and go for lunch; the prospect of a deliciously unhealthy meal had much greater appeal than sitting around the office looking for new and exciting ways to cross-index the files. Then Mr. Harris shambled in and sat down. He wore a really sharp gray suit, but the ends of his tie were the wrong lengths, and he’d missed several swaths of his face the last time he’d shaved. He was an older guy, about my age, and despite his current disarray, he seemed comfortable in his skin. I saw Harris as a kindred spirit; I suspected that he had seen and done a great many more things than his nice clothes indicated.

It was with this impression in mind that I held out that little spark of hope–so quickly extinguished in most cases–that this endeavor would be something more than my having to chase after his wife for a month, taking pictures of her with some other guy. This could be something different.

“It’s about my wife,” said Harris.

Well, win some, lose some. “Go ahead,” I prompted, “how long’s it been going on?”

“What? No, nothing like that. At least I don’t think so.”

“What seems to be the problem, then?”

“She hasn’t been herself lately.”

“How so?”

“She’s bored. I’ll admit that. I’m busy with my work, and there’s nothing to do around the house. Committees, charities, they just weren’t doing it for her. So she went to a party last year hosted by one of her friends…you know, where they sell the cosmetics?” He gave me the name of a well-known company–I’d heard of it, at least–which I’ll keep to myself for now.

“Go on.”

“The next thing I know, the house is full of the stuff, boxes piled up everywhere. Every weekend, she either hosted a party at our place or oversaw someone else’s. It’s not what people expect from the wife of someone like me, and we certainly didn’t need the money. But she was having the time of her life, she’d found something she was good at, and I certainly wasn’t going to stop her. Besides, plenty of well-off people have stranger hobbies than that.

“She started recruiting people, and pretty soon she had her own cadre of saleswomen. She was away from home all the time, but I couldn’t bring myself to complain; I figured that the way I was feeling–lonely and isolated–was no different from how she’d felt during our entire marriage, and she’d never complained once. She was genuinely happy now, so I never said an unkind word about any of it.”

“So what’s the trouble?” I asked.

“About a month ago, they made her a regional director–bumped her up in the hierarchy, so now she has two tiers reporting to her. She hasn’t been the same.”

“How so?”

“She became distant–she barely speaks to me. She has enough clothes to outfit a small army, but now she only wears the company suits they gave her–and I mean 24/7. She’s not home most nights, and never–never–during the day. I know it sounds like she’s cheating on me, but I’ve followed her everywhere I could, and no dice. It’s all makeup parties and company functions, nothing else.”

“What is it you think I can do for you, Mr. Harris?”

“I don’t really know. But something’s wrong. She literally changed overnight. I guess I’m hoping a fresh perspective will help. I have money, whatever you need.”

We shook on it, and I assured Harris that I’d at least look into it. After the door swung closed behind him, my two associates wandered casually in from the next room, where they’d been listening the entire time.

I’m pretty good at this job, but sometimes there are places where a middle-aged white guy is just too conspicuous, and for those occasions I depend on Michelle Riggs (for femininity) and Nate Churchill (for blackness)–both of whom, I hasten to add, are top-notch investigators in their own right. “Got an errand for you, Michelle.”

“Go to one of these parties and see what’s up?”

“That’ll be fun, right?”

“It will be if you budget me some expense money; it’ll look suspicious if I don’t buy anything.”

“Sure, go crazy. Get a variety. We may want to have them analyzed, if all else fails. Nate, would you–“

“Find out everything I can about this cosmetics company? Here, start with this.” Nate pulled a folder from behind his back and tossed it on the desk.

“You’re a wonder, Nate.”

“It’s called Google, Mr. W. I’d teach you to use it yourself if I didn’t think it was the only reason you kept me around.”


“So what do you make of it?” I indicated the array of tiny pastel boxes spread across my desk: lipstick, eyeliner, and other things beyond my ken.

“It’s pretty good,” Michelle replied. “Better than the drugstore stuff and on par with the fancier brands.”

“This isn’t much for five hundred bucks.”

“This is actually two hundred and fifty dollars’ worth. I’ve got the rest at home. Performing some independent analyses.”

“I don’t doubt it,” I said dryly. “But that won’t be the answer anyway. If these products were making people catatonic and nomadic, we’d find out about it. And Nate says no, not a single case. Besides, I imagine it’s quite the opposite–I bet those parties can get pretty rowdy.”

“A bit. So what’s the next move? Observe the wife?”

“Nate’s tailing the wife now. Nothing so far that we don’t already know.”

“Well, it happens that when I was paying for the stuff, I hinted that I might be interested in selling it myself. The saleswoman was more than willing to talk my ear off, and she invited me to the next local function–where she’s going to be promoted to regional director.”

“So?”

“So wasn’t that the last thing that happened to the wife before she went off the deep end?”

Understanding began to dawn for me. “You should go, then.”

We should go–husbands are invited too. You can observe first-hand.”

“Husband? I’ve already played that role. Twice. Panned by the critics both times.”


Arm in arm, Michelle and I strolled into the lobby of the Days Inn whose largest meeting room was to contain this little get-together. My other hand rested in my suit pocket, awaiting the phone vibration that would signal an update from Nate. We hung at the back of the room, trying to remain inconspicuous while watching for anything suspicious. The place was filled practically to overflowing with chattering women and self-conscious husbands. Everyone was friendly, if cursory–I knew no one here, of course, and Michelle’s single acquaintance from the party was nowhere to be seen.

Out of nowhere, the meeting suddenly came to order, and the majority of the people settled into several rows’ worth of folding chairs. Michelle and I camped in the back row, and four of the women took seats behind a wide table at the front of the room. From their identical magenta blouses and black blazers, I took them to be higher-ups in the company. Pinned to each of their lapels was a feathery brooch–probably meant to be floral, but to me they looked like little round sea anemones, stirring in the occasional cross-breeze from the air conditioning.

Oh, how those women did go on. There was company news to disseminate. A bunch of awards to hand out for best recruiter, most product sold, and so on. Then a nervous little guy in a bad rug came in and gave a refresher lecture on the tax implications of home-based businesses. He seemed glad to get out of there–I think being around that many women made him uncomfortable. All through these proceedings, the four at the front remained seated, never participating, only whispering among themselves occasionally.

Finally they got to it. Someone introduced Michelle’s friend from the party; she rose, to enthusiastic applause, and gave a little speech thanking everyone for their support. The four bigwigs at the front got up from their chairs and solemnly shook her hand. One of them produced another anemone brooch from her briefcase and fixed it to the lapel of the newly-minted regional director, who then brought her chair to the front and sat at the head table, a position befitting her new status. She was smiling like she’d just won the Irish Sweepstakes.

I nudged Michelle. “Now keep an eye on her,” I whispered.

“We should both keep an eye on her.”

“Yes, but I’m about to fall asleep.”

“And I’m not?”

“I thought you liked makeup.”

“Makeup, yes,” she hissed. “But if I cared about tax deductions and promotions, I’d have gotten a real job in the first place.”

“Mind your manners, you’re on the clock.”

I had assumed they would end the meeting with the woman’s promotion, but they kept right on going. My natural male defenses blocked out most of the talk, but I dutifully kept some of my attention on our subject. She and the four bigwigs sat tranquilly at their table as each speaker took her turn. Unlike those of us in the audience, whose eyes were naturally drawn to whomever was speaking, those five stared straight ahead at nobody in particular. When an amusing anecdote was shared, the audience dutifully tittered, but the bigwigs’ expressions never changed. And the smile that had adorned the face of Michelle’s friend had faded away without our notice; she now wore the same neutral expression as the other four.

“Hey, Michelle,” I whispered. “Doesn’t she look sort of–“

“Distant? I was just thinking the same thing.”

“Go up and congratulate her afterward. See what she does.”

The meeting droned on, and we didn’t hear a word. We kept staring at the Big Five, none of whom made a move. When we finally–finally!–adjourned, the rank and file milled around and socialized, while the Big Five filed out of the room, briskly and quietly. Michelle and I fought our way through the crowd and out into the hotel’s lobby, but we couldn’t find any trace of them. I sent Michelle out to survey the parking lot while I combed the hallways, but wherever they’d gone, they’d been quick about it. For successful businesswomen, they didn’t spend much time gladhanding.

We regrouped in the lobby. I gasped for breath, lamenting the tribulations of middle age. The rank and file drifted past us and out to their cars. “Something happened to that woman,” I said. “Right there in front of us. I don’t know what, but I think we’re on to something.”

“What do we do?”

“Call Mr. Harris and tell him to meet us at the office. I need to call Nate.”

I fumbled my phone out of my suit pocket and dialed. The intrepid lad answered on the first ring.

“Churchill here.”

“Nate, it’s your boss. Code mauve.”

“Code what?”

“Mauve.”

“Mr. W., I don’t think we have code mauve. We’ve got code red, green, blue, purple. Teal, even. No mauve. In fact, I don’t even know what mauve is.”

“There’s no code purple. What you’ve been calling purple, that’s mauve.”

“Purple? Oh, hell no. You said that one was only theoretical, Mr. W.”

“Gird your loins, my boy, and get back to the office ASAP.”


Michelle sat atop my desk, I behind it. Mr. Harris paced the office. We made small talk to stay awake. It was past midnight, and well into the small hours, when Nate finally strode into the office. His slacks and shirt were torn and several deep scratches adorned his arms.

Code mauve means to retrieve the subject under observation, by force if necessary. It’s frowned upon, legally speaking.

“I got her,” Nate said, “but you guys can get her out of the car yourselves. You didn’t say she was gonna fight like that.”

Harris took Nate by the arm. “Is she okay?”

“Is she okay? Look, Mr. W., I trust you implicitly. You say bring her in, I bring her in. But let me tell you, a brother can’t be bundling a struggling white lady into his car on a regular basis. It’s likely to raise eyebrows.” He tossed me his keys. “Once I cuffed her, she settled down some.” While the three of us hurried out to the car, Nate retrieved the scotch from my closet and took a healthy pull, straight from the bottle.

Mrs. Harris was in the back seat, cuffed to the door. A handsome, classy woman, she wore one of the black company blazers, complete with anemone brooch. I unlocked the cuffs, and Mr. Harris coaxed her out of the car. We three each kept hold of her, and after one abortive escape attempt, she gave in and accompanied us into the office. Nate backed away slowly, scotch in hand, as we brought her in, sat her down, and handcuffed her to the desk. Mr. Harris knelt on the floor beside her and took her hand. She never said a word.

“Where was she, Nate?” asked Michelle.

“At some lady’s house. They were both dressed like that. When I got Mr. W.’s call, I waited until she left and accosted her in the driveway. She fought like a badger. Didn’t make a sound, though.”

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s think. Something turns normal women into…this.”

“Something that was also in that conference room,” mused Michelle. “But what? A hypnotic suggestion? They give them laced bonbons before the meetings?”

“Maybe something in those blazers,” said Nate.

“That makes as much sense as anything,” I said. “Something common to the bigwigs, but not to the rabble at large. In fact, I don’t think the rank and file had a clue anything was wrong.”

“Take the jacket off her, see what happens,” said Nate. “One of you do it, though.”

“Mr. Harris,” I asked, “is she usually dressed this way?”

“I haven’t seen her in anything else all month,” he replied. “She’s got a dozen of them.” He stroked her hand. This was the most time he’d spent with her in days.

“Mrs. Harris,” said Michelle as she cautiously approached the woman, “let me slip your jacket off that arm. Then I’ll uncuff you…” Michelle had barely laid a hand on Mrs. Harris’s sleeve when the women pushed her violently away, propelling her across the office. “Mr. Harris,” she said haughtily, straightening her blouse, “would you mind?”

Harris grimly took hold of his wife’s jacket. “It won’t come. It’s her brooch, I think it’s pinned through to her blouse. Just a second…oh.” Harris backed away. His face had gone pale. I pushed him aside and grabbed at Mrs. Harris’s jacket. She began to thrash. Michelle joined in our struggle, and with her help I got a hand inside the blazer and felt the spot where the brooch joined it to the blouse. Reminding myself to apologize to her husband, I reached inside Mrs. Harris’s blouse…and found that the brooch passed right through it, pinning both blazer and blouse to her skin. Only there didn’t seem to be a pin at all; something else held the whole works together…

Steeling myself, I withdrew from inside Mrs. Harris’s clothing and grabbed hold of the brooch with both hands. And oh, my lord…

It was like holding an angry tarantula in both hands. Those little feathery wisps that I’d thought looked like anemone tentacles began fluttering wildly in my grasp. Revulsion shot through me, but I held on long enough to give one good heave, and the brooch came away from the jacket…and there was more to it than we’d thought.

Protruding from the back of the brooch was a bloody root the width of a pencil. I looked away and pulled harder, feeling more and more of the thing sliding out of Mrs. Harris’s chest with a sickly wet sound. It seemed like fifty feet of the stuff, especially with all of those little tentacles bristling impotently against my palms, but when I finally yanked it free and landed on my backside, there were about twelve inches’ worth of roots trailing from it. As it struggled, it flung drops of the woman’s blood, which spattered on the floor.

The enormous implications of the night’s events were beginning to dawn on me, but for the moment, all I wanted was to find somewhere to stash this thing before it stuck me with that root and turned me into a zombie. Michelle and Harris stared, openmouthed, but Nate was on the job, dashing into the next room and returning with the candy jar from his desk. He emptied it on the floor; M&Ms skittered everywhere. I stuffed the thing inside. Nate furiously screwed the lid back on and stowed the jar in my otherwise-empty lower right-hand desk drawer, slamming it shut.

I collapsed on the floor, shuddering. From somewhere on the other side of the desk came Mrs. Harris’s voice, plaintively addressing her husband. “Sweetie? What’s going on? What is this place?” I heard her rattle the handcuffs.

“Mr. Harris?” I slid the drawer open a little and peeked in. The thing lay in the jar, twitching pathetically. “Do you have someplace to take your wife for a while? A summer home? Or perhaps you might go on a nice long cruise? I think someone may come looking for this.”


And we’re back at the beginning, and I’m stuck with a mind-controlling alien sea anemone in a jar. Sure, I could just set the thing on fire and forget about it, but the other four brooches we saw–along with who knows how many others–imply bigger issues that need addressing.

The cops would laugh at me, the FBI would hang up on me, and my priest would hand me a pamphlet to read while he called the nuthouse.

Homeland Security? NASA? Area 51?

Any suggestions?

Cast of Wonders Episode 29: Eggs Under Moon

Show Notes

Of Eggs Under Moon Elizabeth said “This poem came out of the March 1, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl, a live poetry activity that I hold monthly in The Wordsmith’s Forge. It was inspired by a prompt from Mary-Grace Ellington.”


Eggs Under Moon

by Elizabeth Barrette

The girl nearly steps on the nest
before she sees it,
throws herself back against the sand
to avoid the faint damp hollow.

She runs to the beach house,
pounds on the door, yells,
“Dragon dragon dragon dragon!”
as fast as she can draw breath. (Continue Reading…)