Posts Tagged ‘Humor’

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Cast of Wonders 417: Please, Stop Printing Unicorns


Please, Stop Printing Unicorns

by Fran Wilde

It shouldn’t need to be said that home bioprinters are not toys. And yet, as The New York Times reported last week, Fisher Price Waterhouse will soon offer a line of kid-friendly bioprinters in bright colors.

As a parent, I understand the temptation. There’s so much possibility here for creativity, for immersive learning through technology. But caution is necessary. The moral and environmental consequences of bioprinting extend far beyond the grasp of young minds. This is a moment for modeling moral behavior for tomorrow’s leaders, not a jumping-off point for imaginative hedonism.

Making bioprinting more accessible to the public — especially to children — will be likely to lead to even worse disasters than last Friday’s blockade of the Chicago I-899 skyways off-ramp by a herd of miniature unicorns. Sure, the unicorns (whose origins are unknown) were the size of ducklings, but their appearance caused several accidents and a moral quandary. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 311: And Flights of Skuhwiggle


And Flights of Skuhwiggle

by Charles Lee McDaniel

“Hello, children. Quiet down and give me your attention. We have a super-duper treat for you this morning.”

Geez, Nurse Janina was laying it on thick. Jimmy’s hand tightened around the tall stool he held, and his stomach shrank to the size of a raisin.

Why are you worried? the familiar voice inside his head asked.

Because I’ve never done this before, Jimmy thought back.

Excuse me? The gooey green alien perched on Jimmy’s shoulder puffed out its rubbery chest and it squinted its almost-human eyes at him. Have you forgotten how we wowed the crowd at the school talent show? It was only a couple of weeks ago. I know you humans can’t compete with Astrofarians when it comes to memory, but even so…

It’s not that. Jimmy peeked past the curtain hiding him and Skuhwiggle from the rest of the ward. Twenty or so kids looked up at Nurse Janina, drinking in her tale of how Jimmy had supposedly met his alien friend.

(Continue Reading…)

Episode 245: One Thing Leads To Your Mother by Desmond Warzel


• Narrated by Patrick Bazile
• Audio production by Jeremy Carter
• First appeared in Unidentified Funny Objects 2 (UFO Publishing, 2013)
Read along with the text of the story.
• Discuss this story on our forum
• For a list of all our stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia page
• Come visit us on Facebook and Twitter


Listen above or download here.

Show Notes

Desmond Warzel is the author of a few dozen short stories, four of which (including this one) have been featured at Cast of Wonders. He’s also particularly proud of his appearances in venerable magazines like Fantasy & Science Fiction, at nifty websites like Abyss & Apex, and in other quadrants of the vast podcasting galaxy, such as The Drabblecast. His most recent new work appears in the anthology Coven: Masterful Tales of Fantasy, from Purple Sun Press. He lives in Pennsylvania. You can follow him online.

Patrick Bazile is an American Actor/Voice Over Talent and a distinct sound in the voice over industry. Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Patrick has voiced everything from PSA’s to major product brands. With a deep, commanding voice often referred to as “The Voice of God”, Patrick demands attention.​ Follow him online and on Twitter.

 

 

 

 


Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available at MusicAlley.com.

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Episode 209: A Real Stand-Up Guy by Daniel and Mary E. Lowd


A Real Stand-Up Guy

by Daniel and Mary E. Lowd

 

Topher checked his watch and peeked out around the dusky red stage curtain.  There was a full house in the bar tonight. If he played them right he could get all the tips he needed, and tonight could be the greatest night of his life.  He put a paw to his face, pulled down on his tawny-furred jowls, and drew a deep breath. “Okay,” he said, softly to himself. “Let’s go.”

The spotlight hit Topher before he reached the mike, but he was used to that bright glare in his eyes.  He straightened his jacket and stared the audience down before he began, giving them his best tough guy look.  He had the mug for it, if not the build. “I don’t get no respect,” Topher barked at the audience. “It’s because I’m short.  Curse of my breed, you know?”

(Continue Reading…)

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Episode 187: Staff Pick 2015 – The Haunted Jalopy Races by M. Bennardo

Show Notes

Every year in January, Cast of Wonders takes the month off to recharge our batteries, plan the year ahead, and highlight some of our favourite episodes. As part of joining the Escape Artists family, this year we’re pulling out all the stops. We’re running 10 staff pick episodes over the month, each one hosted by a different member of the Cast of Wonders crew.

We hope you enjoy alumnus host and editor Graeme Dunlop’s favorite story from 2015, The Haunted jalopy Races by M. Bennardo and narrated by Alasdair Stuart. The story originally aired March 22, 2015 as Episode 160.


THE HAUNTED JALOPY RACES

by M. Bennardo

 

It all started when gallant Joe Jones and shiftless Sylvester Sneep agreed to race each other for the hand of pretty Sadie Merriweather. Except that’s not really how it started at all, not the first year anyway, not back in 1938.

Back then, that first year, Joe Jones wasn’t thought especially gallant and Sylvester Sneep wasn’t thought especially shiftless. Sadie Merriweather was indeed thought especially pretty–at least by most of the boys in Rock Falls–but Joe and Sylvester weren’t racing for her hand.

(Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 160: The Haunted Jalopy Races by M. Bennardo


The Haunted Jalopy Races

by M. Bennardo

It all started when gallant Joe Jones and shiftless Sylvester Sneep agreed to race each other for the hand of pretty Sadie Merriweather. Except that’s not really how it started at all, not the first year anyway, not back in 1938.

Back then, that first year, Joe Jones wasn’t thought especially gallant and Sylvester Sneep wasn’t thought especially shiftless. Sadie Merriweather was indeed thought especially pretty–at least by most of the boys in Rock Falls–but Joe and Sylvester weren’t racing for her hand.

Not even in Rock Falls, not even in 1938, did anybody think that the outcome of a jalopy race could decide the affections of a teenaged girl. Instead, it was purely a matter of honor. Sylvester had felt his pride pricked when Sadie chose Joe over him, and so the challenge for the race had been given. The challenge was well-known among the upper classes at Rock Falls High School, but the rest of the town only got their first inkling of what was happening when the boys revved up their modified flatties at the top of the square pointing out to Falls Bridge down on Five Falls Road, and by then it was too late.

(Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 139: Little Wonders 6 – A Little Laughter

Show Notes

You’re listening to Little Wonders, our thematic flash fiction collections. This episode we bring you A Little Laughter.

Special thanks to Kevin McCloud and the Free Sounds Project for providing music and special effects.


Continue?

by James Vachowski

Fog fades away.  Darkness lifts. I struggle to find my feet as vision returns.  The room is empty. Signs of a struggle.

She’s gone!

Off and running with no control of my body as I fly on a path towards revenge.  An unseen hand guides my movements. Of course I know who took her. Who else could it be but Ryoku?  Damn him! If only we had left when he first made his threats…but this is no time to dwell on the past.

Rushing forward, unable to turn back.

Through flat, muted ears, I can almost hear the timer that ticks down the seconds we have left.

My steel jaw clenches as I will the fury down into my tightened fists.  Rage funnels through them as I pummel wave after wave of Ryoku’s goons, henchmen, thugs, and anyone else foolish enough to stand in my way.

Down the stairs.

Through the alley.

Over the barbed wire fence, ducking a pair of rabid junkyard dogs.

Forward still, rushing onward towards my love, and vengeance.

(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 82: Mr. Scampers War by J. S. Bell


Mr. Scampers’ War

by J. S. Bell

An explosion of leaves, a swirl of dust and the fierce jungle cat leaps from the verdant forest and is on the gazelle in one bound. Claws rend and jaws clamp shut. The gazelle dies with a bleat of terror.

“Aw, Scampers, you’re such a cute kitty!” A baby-talking voice rattles the jungle cat, causing him to freeze. “Killing your toy mousy like that. Izzat a fun game?”

The small Lap Servant’s speech impediment continues, thinks the mighty predator. Perhaps it’s a sign of a significant mental defect. Doesn’t she know, this is no game. Life is balanced on a razor’s edge between the ready and the dead.

Mr. Scampers cleans a paw, slightly mussed by the trek through the jungle under the sofa, and considers how best to respond to the Lap Servant. He chooses his default action:  Ignore the human.

Scampers leaves Mousy, drifts into the kitchen and bounds onto the Forbidden Zone, prowling for a tasty morsel, perhaps a bit of bacon, or a small chunk of cheese left unguarded by the Food People. Hmmm. Smells like tuna.

“Mr. Scampers,” Food Woman snaps. She is mixing something in a bowl near the sink. “What are you doing up here?”

He looks at her. Is this a trick question?

“Melissa,” Food Woman shouts. “Come get your cat off the counter!”

Before he can follow up on the tantalizing odor, the small Lap Servant plucks him up and carries him back into the den.

“Naughty, Mr. Scampers,” Melissa scolds. She is ten years old and has tried to dress him in doll clothes before. Scampers is wary of her attention. “You know you’re not supposed to be up there.”

“Why?  Is it a dog burial ground?”

“It’s no good you meowing at me.” Lap Servant sits down with him in the Good Chair and starts rubbing under his chin. “Howl all you want, but you’re not to be on the counter. Mommy says you’ll Leave Germs.”

“Group hug!” barks a deep, bass voice.

A boisterous, moronic, splay-footed nightmare of a Black Lab, known as Big Jake by the Food People, rampages into the den and leaps for the chair. The obvious stupidity of a forty pound dog jumping into a chair already occupied by a Lap Servant and a dangerous jungle cat just never seems to occur to the fool.

“Jake!” the Lap Servant squeals and pushes the dog off, tumbling Scampers to the floor at the same time.

“Idiot!” Scampers howls. “I’m going to rip your lungs out through your wet, drippy nostrils. You are a brain-dead refugee from the swampy end of the gene pool!”

“Aw, man,” Jake woofs. “Don’t be such a hater.”

Scampers stalks from the room, heading for his Special Place on the upstairs bedroom windowsill, shooting Jake ‘the tail’ as he goes.

“Hey, are we On Duty again tonight?” the Idiot asks. “That’s a really boring game, you know, not doin’ nothin’ all night. Just watching.”

Stupid dog. Life or death on the line, and he calls it a game. He needs to go chase a car. And catch it!


Nighttime.

The Food People have fulfilled their purpose and have curled up together in the Big Bed. The Lap Servant also sleeps, in the Small Bed, her breathing scratchy with a trace of congestion. Other tiny sounds, detectable to only the keenest hearing, whisper through the Domain, which is never completely silent to the survival-bred instincts of the fierce jungle cat. The beautiful green eyes of the sleek feline scan the territory, ever vigilant, ever watchful.

Mr. Scampers owns the night.

“Dude! Dude!” The shocking bark blasts Mr. Scampers straight up into the air. He springs up as if shot from a bow and lands, feet splayed, poised for battle, ears back, fur up, ready to kill or be killed….

Enemy?  Enemy? Where?  Mr. Scampers sees a black dog face pasted in the window. Oh, it’s the Idiot.

“C’mere, you gotta see this!” The Idiot bounds around the patio, a rubber bouncy ball covered in fur.

“How can I see anything, Idiot,” Scampers points out. “There’s dog slobber all over the window.”

“The window?” The dog cocks his head, looking puzzled, then brightens. “Oh, you mean the Force Field. But, hey, lookit-lookit-lookit!”

Jake faces the darkness of the yard and hunkers down, butt up, floppy tail wagging in the air. “I think it wants to play!  Do you think it wants to play? Do you think it knows Stick, or Ball or Pee on the Fence?”

“Pee on the Fence isn’t a game, moron.”

“Maybe not to you,” Jake glances over his shoulder, then returns to staring out at the blackness of the yard. Something moves beyond and around the pools of light, trickling through the trees, jittering with a motion unlike any prey Scampers has ever seen. The shape flits from shadow to shadow, somehow avoiding the puddles of light, or countering them with a liquid black intensity so dark the moonbeams bend around it. As if individual photons fear the creature and move to avoid contact, slinking away as Scampers does when he is not in the mood for stroking.

A deep, atavistic fear brings Mr. Scampers to his feet and a low growl starts in the pit of his stomach, powers up through his chest and erupts in a howl of pure rage. The shape freezes. Scampers senses the creature’s gaze fix upon him with eyes that, though unseen, contain all the loathing and hatred of an enmity born in Hell’s darkest cavern. The feeling of a thousand fleas tracks across Scampers skin when the full weight of the shadow’s attention fixates upon him.

“Wake the Food People, Idiot,” Scampers hisses. “Use the danger signal.”

“Danger signal?  What’s a danger signal?”

“Like when you see a squirrel, you bonehead!”

When the Food People said that the Idiot came from a litter, they must have meant ‘litter box’.

Scampers bows up sideways, his short, tabby coat puffed out in an impressive display of feline martial skill, more than a match for any skulking creature of the night. Get any closer, Spawn of Hell, and I will open a fuzzy can of whup ass and pour it all over you.

“What’s wrong?” Jake looks confused.

“That thing, if it’s what I think it is…” Scampers howls another challenge in a low moan that scales up in volume to ear-splitting intensity.

“That thing is pure Evil,” Scampers spits.

“Evil?” Jake is now concerned, looking back and forth between Scampers and the creature in the yard. “Is that something you eat or play with?  I know! I could pee on it!”

“No! Don’t go near it, Jake.”

“But what is it?” Jake asks.

Scampers stares at the darkness, a spot of black so deep it defeats even his highly evolved eyesight. Fading, like the blurry images imprinted on his eyes after the Food People take a Cute Picture, the spot of blackness where the creature stood only seconds before starts to blend in with the surroundings. In moments, the deeper blackness is gone, as if it never was. The back yard seems to take a breath, and the sounds of normal life fill in the silence. Insect Prey chirps, Rodent Prey skitters through the leaves and Non Prey noises trickle back into his consciousness.

No matter how normal the night sounds now, Scampers knows that his life will not be normal again anytime soon. A war whose beginnings are lost to history, a war waged for so long that the enmity was part of feline DNA, a war fought to the death, has come to his Domain.

The Ancient Enemy is here, threatening Scampers territory and those under his protection.

“Go get a bowl of crunchies, Jake.” Scampers tells the cowering pup. “Sit. Stay.  And get ready. You’re about to see one hell of a fight.”


Humans have many names for the Ancient Enemy, or so his mother related to Mr. Scampers and his siblings. Gremlins, hobgoblins, fairies, the Little People. Even demons. Many words to describe essentially the same being. Some of these creatures are relatively benign, doing no more than prankish mischief, like moving a human’s keys, or stealing a single sock from the laundry. These jokesters are easily appeased with offerings of food or drink, and run from battle, refusing to engage in combat with the noble cat protector of the house. They are more an annoyance than a threat.

Others, however, were made from more sinister cloth.

The Ancient Enemy prefers the sweet tang of a sleeping child’s dying breath to that of any other sensation on earth. The Enemy cannot penetrate the walls without an access point. A raised window, a door left ajar, a chimney damper not closed, all of these make for convenient entries. An opening is almost always required, though some of the more devious Enemy can operate simple tools and take apart human devices. They especially enjoy toying with brake lines and aircraft engines.

Scampers drifts to sleep, thinking he really needs to get his rest. He will need all his strength, wits and cunning for the coming battle.


That night, when the servants eat supper, the Idiot begs more than a little. Scampers shows complete disdain for the way the Idiot slavishly attends every mouthful the people swallow.

“Can’t you show a little dignity, Idiot?”

The Idiot’s tongue lolls out of the side of his mouth as his head cocks to one side. He whimpers when Food Man puts a bite of beef in his mouth.

“That’s it,” Scampers says. “I am now calling you Super Idiot from now on.”

“Cool. Do I get to wear a cape?”

After dinner, the servant family gathers in the den, staring at the TV. The Idiot naps and farts on the rug in the middle of the room. Food Woman leaves for a time and Scampers tracks her sonically, noting that she enters the Bath Room in the hallway.

Scampers avoids this room. He finds it intimidating when the servants activate the Shower.

He has bad memories of the Shower.

He hears the toilet flush and the woman returns to the den.

“Honey,” she says to Food Man, “did you leave the bathroom window open?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” he answers. “Why?”

“Well, the screen has a tear in it. Bugs can get in.”

“Hmmph.”

“Well, will you fix it this weekend?”

“Huh?  Yeah, sure…fix it. Got it.”

“Thanks.”

Scampers heart has gone cold. He trots to the small room and his worst fears are confirmed. The window is open, and there’s a hole in the screen, just as Food Woman says.

Did the Enemy already penetrate the Domain?  Was it hiding somewhere, waiting to come out and take the small Lap Servant’s life?  Mr. Scampers has to assume so and act accordingly.

Time for the jungle cat to go on the prowl.

After a complete circuit of the house, Scamper’s concludes that the open window is a false alarm. He senses nothing out of the ordinary in any part of the house. He finishes scouting the girl’s room and enters the upstairs hallway.

He stops.

Something is laying in the hallway. A small body, ripped to shreds. It was not there moments ago. Scampers crouches and his pupils expand as he slips forward to inspect the tattered body on the floor.

It’s Mousy. Gutted and laying in a pool of its own stuffing.

The Ancient Enemy is in the house.


Scampers is woken from a sound sleep by a cold, wet nose poking into his belly.

“Dude,” the Idiot snuffles, “wake up. Something’s wrong.”

The tabby, curled nose-to-tail on the Lap Servant’s bed, glares murder at the Idiot. He has a warm nest burrowed between her feet and is loathe to leave it, regardless of the dog’s anxious expression.

Wait a minute. It’s after midnight. What’s the dog doing in the house?

“What’s wrong?” Scampers’ ruff tingles and the hair rises along his spine. He springs up, quivering with tension.

“I don’t know,” the Idiot says. “The Food People are like, you know, not moving. They haven’t put me out, and I have to pee real bad.”

“Not moving?” This doesn’t sound good. “Where?”

“In the flashing box room.”

“Stay here,” the cat orders. “Guard the child.”

Scampers flashes downstairs, alarms ringing in the back of his mind. An uneasy and unfamiliar bubble of fear forms in his stomach when he enters the den and sees the TV still on, the laugh track mocking him with its gaiety. Both Food People are unmoving on the sofa, heads lolled back and mouths open.

The tabby leaps onto the sofa and sees that they’re still breathing. Good. Maybe they just fell asleep watching TV. If that’s the case, I can rouse them very quickly. He pats faces, walks on bladders, sticks his nose in ears, but nothing works. The humans slumber on.

This is so not good.

Scampers treads across the humans and onto the side table nearest the man. A glass of wine is there, half empty. Scampers freezes when he catches a whiff of the contents. He smells the stench of the Enemy, over-powering in its intensity, a mixture of cinnamon, pepper and lemon. Somehow, the Enemy has dosed the human’s wine, rendering them even more unconscious than usual.

They’ve been drugged. They will be no help at all in protecting…

Melissa!

Scampers bounds from the end table and pelts up the stairs and into the Lap Servant’s room, leaping past the scattering of toys, dirty clothes and cookie crumbs. In a flash, he’s on the bed, confronting a nightmare.

“Just back the heck off, bucko,” Scampers growls.

The Ancient Enemy crouches next to the sleeping girl, actually standing on her hair as it trails across the pillow. Clawed hands are poised over the girl’s face, razors suspended over her delicate skin. Slitted pupils gleam faintly, fired internally by the torment of a hundred innocent souls. Vaguely monkey-shaped, the Enemy stands erect on two barbed feet. With leathery skin the color of bread mold, the creature stands no taller than the girl’s dolls. Hobgoblin ears and a sharp, narrow jaw frame its triangular face. Nose slits flare at the sight of Scampers, and a feral grin reveals the tiny points of glistening fangs.

“Leave now,” Scampers commands, “and you will live.”

“And if I don’t?” The creature’s voice rustles like dead snake skin on dry leaves. It is the king of mischief and pain. The hobgoblin loves tormenting the weak and helpless.

“If you don’t, you’ll be facing one angry pussycat, my friend.”

“I’m sure we can come to some arrangement here. The girl for the adults, perhaps?” The crouched figure straightens slightly and turns to face Scampers. The Enemy loves to bargain for lives, but never with honor and never fairly. “What if we make a deal?”

“Would you take the dog, instead,” Scampers says aloud, then regrets it. He is shamed the thought even crosses his mind.

“Forget it, gremlin,” Scampers snarls. “I deal in claws, friend.”

“Okay,” the nightmare shrugs. “That works, too.”

The Enemy leaps. Wicked sharp claws are bared, teeth gleam in the moonlight. A flash of motion and it’s in the air going for Scamper’s throat.

Forty pounds of black Lab crashes into the room, leaping for the bed.

“I’ll save you!  Cowabunga!” the dog cries, flying through the air.

“Idiot!” Scampers screams. “No, I’ve got this…”

Too late. The clumsy mutt plows face-first into Scampers, tumbling them both over the girl’s legs. The creature from Hell leaps over the dog-and-cat pile and. A scrambling sound and the Ancient Enemy is running from the room.

“Get off!” Scampers rakes with bared claws, struggling in the tangle of black legs. “If it gets away, we’ll never find it.”

Scampers bolts after the creature as it makes for the stairs case. It’s already on the landing, making a right turn at the landing. Scampers hurdles the top flight of stairs and lands on the hobgoblin’s back, sending them both crashing into the wall. The Enemy screams in anger and frustration and swipes a clawed hand at Scampers. Ears back, the tabby hisses and boxes with the little devil. Both fighters draw blood in a flurry of blows.

Scampers slashes his claws across the little goblin’s eyes, temporarily blinding it. For a second, the creature is vulnerable. Scampers coils his muscles, preparing to leap into the Enemy and latch onto its throat, killing it in one decisive blow.

A thundering, black juggernaut hits Scampers from behind and bowls him into the creature, taking both of them into a tornado of whirling fur as they tumble down the stairs.

“Look out, Scampers,” the Idiot pants as he tumbles. The big dog thuds against the front door, jumps to his feet and shakes his head, ears flapping madly. “You could get hurt fighting that thing. Better let me handle it.”

“The only thing hurting me is you!  Now, move!”

The Enemy scrambles away and Scampers chases him into the kitchen. The hobgoblin leaps onto the counter, grabs a hanging pot and flings it at Scampers, who skitters on the tile floor, claws seeking traction. The metal pot bongs on the floor and clatters across the room, a near miss.

Scampers is forced to dodge as pans, skillets, plates and other kitchen devices are hurled at him by the Enemy. The creature cackles a warty, raspy little laugh, giggling and tossing spoons and spatulas, platters and pasta strainers. The Idiot watches from near the refrigerator, eyes wide, clearly stunned. This amount of destruction goes beyond even his ability to comprehend.

“Dude,” he whimpers, “we’re gonna be in sooooo much trouble.”

Scampers dodges a saucer, which shatters, sending jagged shards across the floor. “We’re gonna be dead if we don’t catch this little rat-bag and kill it.”

The Enemy runs out of ready ammunition and hurls instead a chilling caterwaul of hatred at Scampers. Bounding from the counter, it races for the den. The cat’s claws scrabble over the tiled floor, hit maximum traction and propel him after the creature.

In the den, Scampers is momentarily confounded by the Enemy, perched in the open china cabinet, holding a Waterford vase like a major league pitcher. Going into a wind-up, the goblin shrieks and fires the vase at Scampers, narrowly missing him. The tabby dodges right, then jukes back left, working closer.

But the Idiot has overcome his shock and bounds directly at the enemy, slamming into the china cabinet at maximum Black Dog Velocity. A splintering crash rocks the cabinet, which teeters away from the wall as the dog bounces off, missing the beast who has leaped to the top of the piece of furniture.

Cackling with glee, the goblin braces his legs and pushes the china cabinet further away from the wall, tilting past it’s balance point. The Idiot runs for cover as the tall cabinet, full of collectibles and glassware, goes over, face-first.

The explosion of shattering glass doesn’t even cause the drugged humans, just feet away, to twitch. The creature leaps over the sofa between the Food People and races for the dining room.

Scampers screams a war cry and pursues.

Into the dining room, the living room and back through the kitchen and den, the creature runs a circuit around the lower floor, destroying furniture and bric-a-brac. Along with a mad cackle, the gremlin leaves behind a trail of destruction.

Scampers, like all cats, is a great sprinter, but lacks stamina for long races. Soon he is winded and panting, lagging behind the cavorting hobgoblin. The Idiot crashes around, barking and woofing, but accomplishing little.

Until.

Through more chance than good planning, the beast is trapped between the dog at one end of the hall and Scampers at the other. It takes the one avenue open to it, the open bathroom door, no doubt intending to escape through the torn screen. A cry of dismay rings out and Scampers smiles when he sees the closed bathroom window. Cornered, the Enemy turns to face the cat and dog, now both blocking the door. The slit-pupils of the creatures eyes expand and it crouches in a fighting stance.

“Dude,” the Idiot pants, trailing drool. “This isn’t fun any more. I think I want to just watch while you kick that thing’s scrawny, green butt back to Hell. ‘K?”

“That’s the smartest thing you’ve said in…forever.”

Jake woofs with pride.

The ancient battle cry of the Tomcat has frozen the blood of prey and enemies alike since the days before Scampers’ ancestors adopted the Egyptians. Screaming his war cry, Scampers rushes at the monster.

They collide in a blizzard of flashing claws and razor-sharp fangs, a howling melee of no quarters battle.

Scampers locks his jaws on the Enemy’s throat and spurs it with his hind legs. Likewise, the Enemy rips and tears at Scampers, seeking the killing blow.

There is a crunch of bone.

Stillness…


The jungle cat drags its dead prey to a safe place in which to consume the tasty bits. Muscular jaws working, the king of beasts cracks through bone and gristle to nibble here and there, eating until sated and then napping for a while. He curls his strong, battle-scarred body between the Food People and closes his eyes. He decides to leave the remainder of the Enemy’s carcass at their feet as an offering.

“Won’t they be thrilled,” the mighty cat says, “when they wake up and find what I have left them.”

Episode 77: The Long Cut by Tom Howard


The Long Cut

by Tom Howard

“Do you want me to drive for a while?” my mother asked from the front passenger seat.  It was the middle of the night but, unlike my older sister, I couldn’t sleep. The desert streaked by just out of sight of the headlights.  Off in the distance I could occasionally see a cluster of lights. I often wondered if there were kids like me asleep in their beds in little houses.  Kids who didn’t have crazy fathers who insisted on driving everywhere because planes and trains were too expensive and buses were too slow.

“I’m good until Tucson,” said my dad.  He and Mom traded off driving since we never stopped at a hotel because Dad said he’d never pay hard-earned money just for sleeping.  “I could use another cup of that coffee if there’s any left.”

Mom unscrewed the lid from a battered aluminum thermos in a ritual that I’d seen her perform a hundred times.  She’d pour the dark, steaming liquid – rarely spilling a drop – into Dad’s big travel mug. He’d complain about how bad restaurant coffee was.  I didn’t wait for Dad’s expected comment. I just looked out the window. Where the heck were we?

“Dad?” I said.

“Yes, son.  Why aren’t you asleep?” 

Considering that I’d been sitting in a SUV for the last two days since we left Grandma’s house, I answered truthfully, “I guess I’m not very tired.  Dad, what’s that big lake off to our right?”

“A lake?” asked Mom, opening and looking at an atlas more battered than the thermos.  “There’s nothing bigger than a pond for hundreds of miles. What are you seeing?”

She peered out her window into the darkness.  “Stan, he’s right. I can see the full moon reflected on a big lake out there.”

“Maybe we’re lost again,” said Dad.  “Check the map for a reservoir or irrigation canal.”

Dad didn’t like to use the interstate highway in case there were tolls, so we took the back roads whenever we traveled.   Unfortunately, Dad didn’t have much of a sense of direction. If Mom was napping, Dad would explore new, and unnecessary, territory, usually in the exact opposite direction from where we needed to be.  My sister and I called them ‘Dad’s Long Cuts.’

“Well, it’s about time for a potty break anyway,” said Dad.  “I’ll find a place to pull over up ahead.”

“I’d prefer a service station restroom to a bush,” said Mom.  This was another ritual. Dad had a bladder the size of a kiddie pool, and he never pulled over until all the rest of us were squirming and begging.

“Randy!” my sister screamed and punched me.

“Ow!” I said.  “What was that for?”

She made a face and pointed to her window.  “Like that thing would fool anyone.”

I stared at the strange creature pressed against the glass of Trudy’s window.  It looked like a hairless bat if a bat had tentacles with suction cups.

“Dad,” I said slowly and then changed my mind.  “Mom!”

“What is it?” she asked, turning from the map to look at Trudy.

She gasped.  “Stan! There’s something on Trudy’s window.”

“It’s just one of Randy’s plastic toys,” insisted Trudy.  She started to roll down the window.

“Don’t!” I shouted.  “Look! It’s breathing.”

Just then something smacked against the front window.  Dad swerved and cursed. “Did you see that, hon? It looked like an albino bat!”

“Yes, dear.  I think one of them is on Trudy’s window.  Trudy, don’t open that. Randy, if this is one of your practical jokes, you’re going to be grounded for a year.”

“Hang on!” yelled Dad as more of the unusual bats bounced off the windshield.  During the swerving back and forth, Trudy’s bat slid off the glass and flew away into the darkness.

Dad slowed down and nothing else hit the SUV.  “What in the world do you suppose that was?” he asked.

“Maybe a group of albino bats hunting for insects,” said Mom, always the practical one.  “Wasn’t that exciting, kids?”

Trudy looked questioningly at me and I shrugged.  “Yes, Mom,” I said.

“Hey,” said Trudy, looking out her window.  “What’s wrong with the moon?”

Mom looked around.  “Where, dear?”

“Up there,” said Trudy.  “Why are there two of them?”

I bent over and looked out her window.  There did appear to be two full moons in the night sky, one smaller than the other.  Neither had the man in the moon face I was used to. Trudy shoved me back onto my side of the seat.

“Probably just some optical illusion,” said Dad.  “The desert does that sometimes. You know, like a mirage.”

This time Trudy gave me a look that said “the old man is crazy,” but she remained silent as she turned back to the window.

“Hey, I see a station up ahead,” said Dad.  “We’re lucky they’re still open after midnight.”

When we pulled up to the pump, a buzzer went off.  Dad looked down at the hose he’d run over when we got out.  “Wow,” he said, “I haven’t seen one of those in years. You don’t suppose they still have full service out there in the middle of nowhere?”

“I don’t care,” said Mom, “just as long as no one gets between me and the bathroom.  Come on, Trudy.” My sister was still squinting up at the moons.

The station was brightly lit, very clean, and surrounded by water.  I could hear it lapping against the edges of the highway we’d just come in on.  The air was warm, warmer than I expected the desert air to be at night.

“What’ll it be?” asked a little man appearing out of nowhere.  Dad and I both jumped. In the bright lights, he looked faintly Asian or perhaps Eskimo.  His face was lined with enough wrinkles to make him look like he’d been soaking in a tub too long.  He wore a coverall with an unfamiliar logo and wasn’t much taller than I was.

“Uh, fill ‘er up,” said Dad, digging for his wallet.  “You guys take credit cards?”

The old man, busy with the gas pump, looked at Dad for a minute and nodded.  “That will be fine. Where you folks headed for so late?”

“Tucson,” said Dad.  “We hope to be there by morning.  This is the right road, isn’t it?”

Again the old man paused for a moment before speaking.  “No. You’ve got off on the wrong road. You need to go back to the last fork and go north.”

“Dang it!” said Dad, moving out of the old man’s way as he started to wash the SUV windows.

“What town is this?” I asked.  “We didn’t see any big lakes on the map.”

“Town?  No town,” said the old man, taking Dad’s credit card.  Even in the bright lights, the service station attendant’s skin looked gray.  “Go back to the fork in the road,” he repeated.

Something nearby bellowed out on the water.  The loud roar sounded like it was made by something that was a cross between a lion and a train whistle.  Dad and I both jumped and then laughed at our skittishness, but I was glad that it was too dark to see what animal had made that noise.

“You’d better hit the bathroom, son,” said Dad.  “I’m going to see if they can refill our thermos.”

I nodded and headed toward the bright lights of the building.  Mom and Trudy were coming out with an armload of snacks. 

“Their stuff is very reasonable,” said practical Mom.  “Although where they got purple chocolate, I’ll never know.”

“You’d better get in the car and lock the doors,” I warned.  “Dad and I heard something big and loud out on the lake.”

“Yeah,” teased Trudy.  “It was probably a brontosaurus looking for his mate.  Come on, Mom. Look, this National Inquirer has a story about President Presley!  What a hoot.”

I hurried inside and went to the bathroom.  On the way out, I grabbed some blue potato chips and paid for them with change in my pocket.  The pretty blonde behind the counter looked at the silver strangely before she said, “This will do.  Have a good trip back to the fork in the road.”

I nodded at her, noticing that she hadn’t picked up the money.  I don’t think she moved or even blinked while I was in there.

“Dad, I think we better go,” I said as I got in the car and locked my door.  He was already back in the driver’s seat and looking at the map.

“I don’t see a fork in the road,” he complained.  “I don’t know what that old man was talking about.”

“Just go back the way we came, Dad,” I said.  “They probably have tourists lost out here all the time.”

“Okay,” he said, starting the SUV and turning around.  “It’s too bad that we couldn’t see this place in the daylight.  It might be a real tourist attraction.”

I didn’t say anything.  I just stared at the two moons.

“Coffee, dear?” asked Mom, reclaiming the map.  Trudy was busy reading the Interdimensional Inquirer.  Behind the smallest moon, a point of light appeared and streaked toward the service station.  As I turned my head to look back, I really wasn’t surprised to see what looked like a flying saucer float down and hover beside a pump.

I turned back around and closed my eyes, hoping we found the fork in the road before the sun came up.