A Summer at Shiloh Grove: Conclusion

She was going onto assignment for Dr. Brum. Kelly Q had little choice in the matter as she had been in the back offices more than most and been exposed to things that made her presence here dangerous to the Shiloh Grove. What things could those possibly be? After all, he said, he’d been shown things too. Kelly Q asked if he had any idea what they did with his blood. None whatsoever. And had he ever seen Dr. Brum’s ‘pets?’ A few, Brother V admitted, already weary of this breach of confidence. They wear them, she said. The people he serves. The world politicians. They gather in this place because this is where the reptiles shed their skin. She slowed down a bit. Does Brother V know what the concoction is that he drinks? “You explained it to me,” he said, “vitamins, sugars and proteins.”

Kelly Q said yea, something like that. It enriches your blood to make it more suitable for the reptiles and the politicians, although sometimes its hard to tell which is which.

Brother V was thoroughly confused at this point. Kelly Q laid it out, step by step. You give blood, you drink the blue mixture which was synthesized from the reptiles, it enriches your own blood which then is given back to the reptiles and politicians, depending on who they swore oaths to. The reptiles, at a certain stage of maturity, shed their skin. It can be vibrantly colorful and this skin can stretch over the politicians to where they become something else. It’s hard to see unless you know how. They look like people, and maybe they were or still are people to varying degrees, but it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. She encountered Dr. Brum testing different infusions on one of those-who-wouldn’t-make-it, as he was so fond of pretending to mentor. The ones who begged for their jobs the hardest came with him to be tested. They were given the ultimate inside information but usually ended up as failed prototypes. He had a new dig site somewhere, even she didn’t know where. But he gave her the option of working at a dig site or being a chemical lab-rat. The dig sites, he emphasized could be dangerous as one had no idea what was being released along with the giant skeletons in their catacombs of unintelligible symbols. The interplanetary elements they brought with them. Many were brought down by natural disaster. They maybe understood earthquakes because tectonics happen across the universe, but no one’s ever adequately prepared for a large one, or a super volcano. You live long enough, these things happen. Preserve your secrets for the future. Or maybe, Kelly Q speculated, if you consistently planet-hop and wind up in the throes of catastrophic disaster, maybe the problem is you. 

Brother Q was silent for some time before I prodded, “And then?”

“And then?” he shrugged. “She left.”

“And you never saw her again?”

He shook his head.

“And what about the restaurant and Dr. Brum?”

He stood up to give me full view of his stopped demeanor, his skin was cracking in several places and while it didn’t look like anything was leaking, I couldn’t be sure. His face was irritated as it had been when I first saw him.

“Clearly I’m too sick to work there, and they let me go. Repeated transfusions takes a toll on the human body. If you’re wealthy like the leaders, you get the better mixture which turns you into some kind of hybrid. Although I’m not sure that’s a much better life. To folks like you and me, their lives seem comfortable and glamorous, but they serve terrible masters and they never really end a day of work, unlike someone with a dead-end job.”

“Surely Dr. Brum could help you out,” I said, taking out my phone, “he’s still famous isn’t he?” I opened YouTube for a start and typed in his name which called forth immediately a list of recent lectures and interviews.

“You can’t look like me and get around him,” Brother V said.

“But that’s what he does for a living! Helping people who wouldn’t otherwise function in society,” I said, “unless . . .” I almost clapped my hand over my mouth to avoid finishing that sentence.

Brother V relaxed into a pained and one-sided grin. “Unless I made all that up. You don’t have to say it. It’s pretty unbelievable. But you won’t tell anyone. It would upset your friends and loved ones to tell them of our meeting even if you didn’t accept a word of what I said. You’d be branded for even relating this story.”

He was right. Midway through his tale I had decided there was no way I’d be telling my wife about this. She never knew him, and neither did any of my current friends.

“I won’t think you rude for leaving,” said Brother V. “It was lovely to see you again.”

Before I left, I asked if he needed my assistance with anything. He clearly saw what I was offering and assured me that his government assistance checks covered his needs. He lived a different style of life now. An underground one that I would always feel uncomfortable with if I should ever go to see him again.

Back in my car, I briefly looked up archeological news from the region where Kelly Q had been sent, nothing about giant skeletons or unnatural lizards. This was a night neighborhood and the number of people who passed my car while I sat unnerved me so I continued my drive home.

Leave the World Alone!

Whenever there is public bickering - a heated argument at a protest or on a political talk show - one of the members feels the need to keep smiling as if to say, ‘I’m above all that’ but it always seems forced. During my walk home (the bridge was cleared of all media, and mostly all people by now) my thoughts were occupied with the strangeness of the television news. Is it a form of ‘whistling past the graveyard’? That thought led to the realization that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen a graveyard. Maybe I don’t notice them because I never go to them. My math teacher friend almost exclusively uses landmarks in terms of alcohol vendors. Even gas stations are either ‘the gas station that sells beer’ or ‘I’ve never heard of it.’ For some reason, I felt guilty about my lightness of mind. Why should I feel content? Isn’t something awful about to happen? If so, does my worrying prevent or catalyze it? Maybe I was overthinking. After all, everyone has several ‘astonishing coincidence’ stories which goes to show that astonishing coincidences are actually quite common.

Then there are those coincidences which seem like the universe is against you. Ever had a baby sat directly in front of you two flights in a row? Does someone seem to sneak into your house and move all your things around? (That doesn’t happen to me, I’m quite organized and don’t have much.) Maybe there is some unconscious longing in me which is exploring these issues for the first time. I’ve never been one for therapy, mainly because I don’t want my employers having access to my mental health history. I have no mental health history, but if I just started seeing a shrink, my employer might inquire as to why. I started to laugh at how malevolent that would be and then stopped myself. For a distraction, I looked out upon the river.

Was there a giant rabbit floating on its back below me? Impossible! Maybe someone’s silly idea of a raft. At that moment a roaring belch filled the air and I jumped, clutching my heart. Inadvertently I looked down at the rabbit who swam forward with its ears as if they were frog legs. A log floated beside this rabbit and a humanoid figure with a watermelon for a head climbed out of the large squirrel hole. He swished his hand in front of where his nose should be, as if to get rid of an awful smell, then struck a traditional diving pose, and leapt onto the rabbit’s stomach. The rabbit expelled a stream of water from its mouth and this human/melon figure rode it to the bridge and my eye-level. I looked around me seeing not another soul and put my hand on the guardrail although I didn’t want to get too close. The melon figure put on a pair of comically large goggles and then produced (from I know not where) a mallet. He raised the mallet and smashed his head. The watermelon exploded, and the humanoid part slinked into a pile revealing that it had only been a leotard containing a pile of fish dressed up as a man. The fish swam in a spiral pattern down the waterspout and leapt one by one into the river below before the rabbit could stop expelling water. I realized I hadn’t blinked in a while and rubbed my eyes, then seeing nothing but a fat man on an inner tube I became aware that throngs of people were bustling past me and I was inconveniently blocking the walkway.

Continuing along the guardrail, I kept my eyes open and mouth shut. A clown in stilts halfway across the bridge wobbled with a baby elephant under each arm. No one else seemed to notice this and my determination to continue-looking-determined prevailed, even when the clown waved at me and pat his elephants on the head, causing them to trumpet a rather amateur performance of the Promenade movement of Pictures at an Exhibition. If I’d had a hat I would have pulled it over my eyes, but baldness is one affliction that has appeared to pass me by.

I hurried down the street despite being followed by roller-skating manatees in tutus. They swerved through the crowd unmolested. The front one held a trophy which was apparently the property of the angry mustache with goggles who was flying the bi-plane. It’s all I saw of the pilot. The roar of the engine grew louder as the mustache let loose a grappling hook and tried to snag the trophy but only succeeded in snaring a lamppost and smashing his plane on the bridge. The front manatees crashed into the rubble, causing a pileup behind them.

The trophy went flying and the mustache skid along the street, leaving a trail of fuel and burning wreckage. The mustache went up in smoke with an audible phwomph!, right as the trophy landed. The manatees put the fire out with their bodies and grabbed the trophy. But something started to shake the ground and they all turned in terror toward the soaking rabbit who had emerged from the river. As the rabbit picked up the manatees with the intention of eating them like corn nuts I slammed my front door and was once again blessed with silence.

In order to take my mind off the occurrences, I logged into my company website and set about an irritating task that I could always find excuses to avoid while at the office. As pathetic as other employees might find me for doing this on a weekend, I was pretty sure there were problems in the spreadsheet of our second-largest account. While I was not currently assigned to it, I had been in the past and was part of a general problem-solvers group. Isolating the exact error in the spreadsheet computations was going to be a tedious and headache-inducing bore, but it was just the distraction I needed. Once I found it, it turned out to be massive. Bigger than my educated guesses. I allowed myself a smile, and maybe even a sinister chuckle or two, but these were forced for theatric’s sake. After being recognized for this contribution I would be able to demand a much higher asking price from the company. Take that, River Rabbit!

I stayed in next weekend. I couldn’t help but notice the third white van to pull into my neighborhood and sit there. It, like the other two, had a rusty ladder on top, but all the windows were blacked out and there were no license plates. I knew to not go outside if the sun was wearing a sombrero. Not that I’d become a total recluse, but I do have enough food to last for several days, and even preparations in case of a power outage or earthquake. It just makes sense. I would have gone to the store had I needed to. Even in the face of the sumo-wrestling dwarves in my front lawn. Not like, human dwarves either. Imps? Goblins? Some days, the world is just telling you to leave it alone.

I wish someone would tell me if I were under suspicion of something. I would always fully cooperate. There is nothing to hide in my house and I am incredibly boring by anyone’s standards. I know that’s not the best argument in order to avoid a police-state, but it happens to be true in my case. If they would just tell me what the problem is, then we could sort this out. I’m sure they’ve got better things to do than to watch the ventriloquist-flowers grow and practice their painfully cliche routine.

Love Potion Number 187 (Part 7)

No one ever saw her leave. The young men who would wait outside the supposed ‘perfume’ shop hoping to ‘accidentally’ ‘run into’ one of the young ladies leaving for the night were always disappointed. One would lean against the nearest lamp-post, one across the street. Another would round the corner just at closing time, and then again fifteen minutes later. All three making awkward eye contact.

She did not live at the shop, although she was always the first one there and the last to leave. Olivia travelled other roads. Just off the route that Brock took to deliver her potions, was a light road. So named that it only showed itself to special eyes in special light. 

There’s certain insects and frogs with neon skin and shells, these crush to powder and mix with spiderweb dew. The consistency must be just right, or you’ll go blind. Many are afraid that if you make it too thin, the mixture will run off, like tears. It must be so thin that even an eye-dropper can’t hold it. That’s the key. Preparation is everything. This mixture must be applied to the eyes with a brush made from (ideally) the spider’s web where the dew came from. The water is just better suited to the medium, but any spider’s web that holds dew will suffice. Keep the eyes closed for six hours as the mixture soaks in. It’s best to stay awake for this because in sleep one moves involuntarily. Sit still. Most adherents time this so that it will be twilight when the eyes open. This is usually a mistake, as the overwhelming amount of impressions can cause one to wander along dangerous paths. Open the eyes around midday, and the twilight impressions will emerge, like a developing photo, and you’ll be better to tell the safe from the unsafe.

Of course, certain knowledge of the Etherworlds is vital to choosing paths, but intuition and heart apply as well. If you don’t like it, don’t take it. Likewise, if you like it too much. There’s plenty to choose from. Olivia made her home along what travelers know of as the Vinetree route.

The road diverges from the dirt path to a copse of trees which appears, no one can really say when. Within the trees is another world entirely. The sun vanishes and a phosphorescent green glow becomes the source of illumination. A few paths make their way through the snake-like vines. Any of the primates and birds that live here have access to the full range of motion, but not a human like Olivia. She sticks to the path. 

Sometimes, vines grow together in a spiral motion like a cyclone. Within many of these are homes. The vine forest is so thick that violent storms rage outside its confines while the inhabitants hear nothing. The spaces between worlds are fragile and only the strongest plants have adapted there. Those that live within the plants give back by making use of the plant’s gifts. Seeds are spread, leaves are turned into clothes. The ingestion of nectar and marrow, rather than being a consumptive act, is the act of expansion. One doesn’t turn food into oneself, this plant food is an honorific sacrament.

Vintree Village has seen its fair share of exploiters, but they don’t last long. Their damage is always sad, but their fates are just. Approaching unknown but potential power with the sole intention of riding it like a bull is one of the quicker recipes to an endless series of unconquerable ailments. Vines which previously had been providing an anti-aging nectar into one’s tea may burst with the insects which fill the vine when it is drained. These parasites then attack the nearest mobile being and bring forth all manner of rot and fire to the nerves, this torment indefinitely prolonged by the previous ingestion of the anti-aging properties - to name but one consequence.

Olivia keeps books. All made by local ingredients. Certain leaves have cellular memory of such capacity that the number to describe it has not yet been named. Even with all this space, her bookshelves span the shelter. What does she do with all this unfathomable knowledge? Olivia is not a pragmatist, because pragmatists are problem-junkies. And maybe all worlds contain all problems and the fact that she could cure every disease she’s ever come across has occurred to her. That would not solve the problems of distribution and exploitation and the vines do not give up their secrets lightly. Were she to betray their trust, the consequences would be dire. So she communes with them and explores their cellular memory and writes formulas to further the total understanding of being.

It has been argued by explorers, that the plants themselves are evil for causing harm upon some people who use their properties and not others. Why not cure a disease and save millions of lives each year? But the vines do not think in terms of human life. In this Etherworld, and perhaps in others, the plants are a network of balances. An artist perfecting composition with an infinite series of moving parts.

Holy Books - V: Symbolism in Literature

1 There’s far too much symbolism in literature. One could argue forever about how the oceans are either separate or one, but what about the continents? Surely all the continents are connected or there wouldn’t be a planet. In fact one could look at the planet as having just a few places where the ocean floor is higher than average.


2 If Professor Poo thinks that Pre-Theormite sculpture had a disadvantageous affect upon the fourteenth century political criticisms of Beckermuuund, but Professor Pee believes in applying the philosophical asymmetries of Outer-Schouylestissimus to n-dimensional extant graphical topoholix, then both together should at least keep each other busy and out of our hair.


3 But where was I? Oh yes. We may have all grown from an inner continent that no one remembers. For, like so many layers of mold, the original falls apart. After maggots have started living atop your kitchen counter, it’s quite a dream to have that counter as clean as it once was. Other life forms eat off it now, no longer you.


4 But enough about me. I am at least, willing to listen to dissenting voices, and I’ve heard tell of hunters living deep within the planet, from the original continent who occasionally come up to our level. For what purpose? Exploratory probably. Imagine a blizzard that went on for centuries longer than it was supposed to. You would adapt, and your offspring, and certainly their offspring would not remember what life above layers of snow was like.


5 Some say the earliest of us had it like that, and are still down there now. In the first continent. We grew on top of them. Our most ancient past is also our distant future, for only they will remain. Not a Professor Poo or Pee among them.


6 Oh sure, some of us live underground and have documentaries made about us, but enough about my wife and children. You try and take some family vacations, and then nobody wants to see the sun ever again.


7 But even sewer and subway dwellers are mountaintop hermits compared to our antediluvian ancestors. In fact, there are gurus who relish that role. I’ve heard many a metro maintenance technician on their lunch break bellow diatribes into the hungry darkness.


8 “Sometimes me wife snorts in her sleep! And I find meself wishing I was a pig! They seem happy with so little. And I’ve always wanted to eat people too, but I could never mention that in polite society!”


9 Ivory tower academics are so dull. One could wander forever through a single opening sentence. Everyone is so determined to define their terms in the narrowest way possible, thus excluding any kind of interpretation that could lead to discussion. 


10 The only possible response is a rebuttal paper. But that has to define its terms differently since it is saying something different, therefore requiring the original paper to be republished, disguised as ‘new’ just because some of the words are in a different order. Copy and paste, and you’ve got yourself an academic career.


11 Still, all the symbolism in the world didn’t save the lost cities of the first continent. It’s hard to believe that the entire civilization remains untouched, just squished. I’d imagine only a few larger centers, working in trade with each other. 


12 There are two factions, predictably enough. Those who want to wait out the eventual crumble of our top-heavy civilization, and those who venture to explore up here in hopes of reconciliation . . . or revenge.


13 I believe there are agents among us engineering our destruction. They are us, just from the first continent. 


14 You didn’t think that all the nonsense taught in campuses is merely accidental did you? Using technology and exploitation to explain why technology and exploitation is bad while grooming people for careers in technology and exploitation! Nonsense. And what about in the world of work? All that irrational bureaucracy? I can’t be the only one who notices that people behave in ways that hurt themselves specifically, but are okay as long as it hurts others too. And this is the state of modern, high-tech business? The thinkers of tomorrow all creating as many administrative positions in between themselves and reality as possible so that paperwork itself may become a life-form more all-consuming than an extraterrestrial fungus!


15 They’re really just amusing themselves as it would take a far greater power than all of us combined to outdo us. We’ve used nuclear weapons before and society didn’t crumble in a cowering miasma of mistrust.


16 Just amusements, like my colleague Doctor Crotch-Rot’s high energy particle beam capable of disrupting the core of stars. It’s all theoretical and we’ll just continue to believe those lasers in his garage are for his model train set. What’s he putting on, a Prince concert?


17 But where was I? Oh yes, symbolism in literature. Is it there, or isn’t it? If we can’t even trust those who run things not to be agents from an ancient underground race bent on our destruction, then I really don’t have an opinion one way or the other.

A Summer at Shiloh Grove (Part 6)

On the first of the many training days, Dr. Brum oversaw the process. All front and back-of- house staff were there and were given tours, shown the walking patterns, which Brother V, along with certain others, knew instinctively. The rest that didn’t he assumed were on Dr. Brum’s list of potential failures.

“I’ve never been wrong,” Dr. Brum said to him privately, “but I always hope I am. It is my goal to be able to teach the unteachable. Unfortunately,” he winked like the nurse at Brother V, “some of you may have to pick up slack in the meantime.”

Brother V was ambitious at this point and picking up slack was the only way to climb the rope, so to speak. He was about to say that to Dr. Brum, but Brum had left.

Each of them was given a schedule to report to the medical offices before leaving. Brother V, while not being allowed to discuss this treatment with other employees, told me that he gave blood each time and the more frequent the schedule, the more of that blue pond-drink they gave him. 

He went often enough to understand when the cute nurse worked there, and while he never had any realistic thoughts about dating her - he could never be that forward and the HR within an organization such as this would be a nightmare - he enjoyed her company more than some other older nurses who seemed either bored or bitter. 

His most forward act on this front was to request a schedule change from the receptionist. He made up a story about visiting family and days off and asked if he might swap a day with another day. The receptionist explained that it was unorthodox and the schedules were very specific and Brother V found himself in the position of being the difficult customer. It was a role he had never held before and took on with great discomfort. He asked if she printed out the schedule sheets during their visits and she said yes. He then asked her just to check if there would be an opening on the day of his request and if there was could they just switch that one day? He’d be in her debt and he did not know how he could repay her. He could read in her face that thought-process which he had gone through numerous times. ‘Yes-this-thing-is-possible-but-uncommon-and-irritating-however-you’re-not-going-to-leave-it-alone-so-I-give-up.’ She made a few clicks on the computer, printed him out a new sheet, once she decided to comply with his request she switched back onto smile-customer-automatic-pilot. “Is this what you were looking for?” she asked. It was exactly what he was looking for and he thanked her once and left. He knew from experience that even being thanked profusely by a difficult customer did nothing to ease the anguish that serving them had placed on you.

The work at the restaurant was tiring, and most of the time, Brother V could not place the many faces at the tables. Occasionally there was one that looked vaguely familiar and he would later realize that this face adorned the news quite a bit and he was used to seeing only the one photograph or currently famous video clip. The aides, as usual were more demanding but Brother V found that silly more than anything else. 

He was elated with the success of his changing temperaments and longed to have a meeting with Dr. Brum about it. Such a meeting, now that he was no longer a new hire, would be difficult to procure, but he could do it in time, and the longer he waited, the more evidence he would have to report.

On the day of his selected blood-letting, he noticed his preferred nurse leaving the building. She saw him and waved and he ran to catch up and asked her where she was going. The guards patrolling the compounds did not take kindly to his running. She informed him that this was to be one of her last days in this employment, that her term was over and she had many other things to attend to.

Brother V was distraught and told her about his schedule change, a sudden onset of boldness that he hoped she wouldn’t find creepy. He told her that he found her presence pleasant as opposed to other nurses he named due to their bitterness and boredom. This nurse, we can call her Kelly Q, was flattered and even suggested that after his donation he could meet her in a certain coffee shop. She had a job interview later that afternoon and did not want to dwell at her apartment in the few hours in between. Brother V agreed.

He gave his donation, the receptionist asking him all kinds of questions about his family which Brother V somewhat improvised and then felt guilty about, unsure of how deep this company was investigating him. If anyone understood the importance of privacy, it was the Shiloh Grove.

Kelly Q had a friend at the coffee shop who met Brother V instead. A roommate, or soon-to-be ex-roommate due to the nature of Kelly Q’s work. This roommate gave Brother V a slip of paper that she had never looked at, said that’s where Kelly Q was and that Brother V should head there.

Turns out, it was another coffee shop although this one was at the corner of a suburb. Maybe this shop got busy after people were more traditionally done with work. It certainly wasn’t on a high-traffic intersection and it was all the way across town. Kelly Q was standing by the door when Brother V got in. She was about to leave, she told him. He apologized for not having had time to clean up or change or . . . she stopped him right away and asked if he knew why she was leaving.

You've Got It!

The artifact in question is in your possession. All memory of it has been erased, either by you, or someone else, I don’t know yet. Maybe a combination. While the artifact cannot harm you in your ignorant state, those hunting for it are committing atrocities across universes in their quest to find it. But these atrocities are nothing compared to the enslavement and holocaust which should result in their acquisition of the artifact. There are also those searching who would seek to thwart this harm, and prevent the artifact falling into the wrong hands. And yet, somehow it’s entrusted to you to figure out who gets it. Will there ever be bloodshed enough to cleanse the universe of its sense of humor?

Please do not mistake this as some symbolic, feel-good self-help motivational manifesto about how all the power to achieve your dreams and get everything you want was yours all along if you just believed in yourself. Nothing could be further from the truth. You’re a pawn, so selected due to your obliviousness to reality that is so complete it verges on miracle.

Many of these entries descend into fable, for therein lies an infinite number of ways to explain the unexplainable, and maybe one of them will stick someday. Have you heard the one about the mysterious stranger?

The stranger haunts many lands. And that’s only the portion that is speakable. The stranger said something to you of immense importance, but you missed it and the stranger committed suicide out of despair. Placing the artifact under your domain was one gamble too many for the old wizard. Even the magical run out of luck.

Wherefore, this document then? If all is lost, then what’s the point? But all is not lost. In fact, you’ve got it. We just don’t know where you put it. Allow us to explain:

The old magical ones immerse themselves in arcane lore which was worked out by others before them as a way of keeping busy. By analogy, today’s academics do the same thing. Publish or perish, write books about books about books. Actual magical knowledge is sparse and powerful enough to avoid classification. But those who study the arts go into it for power. To one-up the world, get back at their bullies, escape, hide from the chaos of the universe in the calligraphy of dusty manuscripts that look deliberately made but are in fact, patchwork garbage. They entrench this knowledge as the only way to true knowledge, despite having none of their own, and they become old enough that these young people with the same emotional hangups as the old guard swallow the bait, and the cycle continues. The old people finally have the respect they need to feel somewhat in control of things despite having never accomplished anything except cement a form of institutionalized confusion.

We for one, say fuck all that nonsense. Not to say the old ones lacked for cleverness. They have millennia of self-devouring rules tangled like an Oroboros in a series of constrictor knots. It is beyond doubtful that they can recover the artifact, and if we leave it to them, we are doomed. Nor can we trust ourselves to develop our own schools. The very attempt to do so is to fall into the same inescapable rut that has befallen so many before us.

Another fable then . . . and no, this is not a self-esteem promoting exercise to get you to write your own ending or some bullshit. Where you find the answer to your own question without knowing what either is. What a load of toss. This tale is of the Old Asylum.

The Asylum appears dark and full of malevolence. It is easy to understand why those such as ourselves are kept there. Our histories would provide enough sordid detail to study until the end of the universe. 

A fascinating look at strange magic explored simply to find the end of the road: no benefit, no result, just phantasmic effects. The weird and unproductive are kept locked away.  However, our darkness is illusory. It’s just your own wall you’re looking at. Like your stupidity is our wall. Our fragmentary sentences may appear as poetry, and legendary epics have been written from the pieces. But it’s all just wallpaper. Our identities so fixed and fascinating that people aspire to such changelessness every day of their life. They fantasize opposites in an attempt to explain. All of the above is a mistake.

We have become your artifact. That is our maneuver. Although we found its doorway in a place you cannot access. Therefore it is imperative that you recover it on your own plane. The stranger tried to tell you. But we are here now, working on our own shortcut. What if you just got up and left everything you knew? Would that reveal it?

Love Potion Number 187 (Part 6)

In the Whiskey Room (3rd floor, left wing) of Summerwood Estate, James Kaur reclined on a red leather couch. Later tonight, (the twilight hour being the optimal time) he and his fellow hunters would go out along the sea of flat lawn which would lead - during that hour alone - to a mountainside where they would hunt the elusive Filbybirds. 

At most times, the lawn ended at the border for the golf course. James was here early because of a meeting beforehand on the possibility of transporting the bird’s eggs for breeding purposes to other centers. Maybe when hatched, the birds would lead explorers to other pathways. 

James’ knowledge of these types of roads came from placing orders for Olivia. She had plans involving all sorts of exotic supplies and he wanted to know where they came from. Sure enough, when Brock first arrived, James had asked him about his journey and was smothered with a boring tale of running a cart along a dirt track. 

Still, James thought that the nearest dirt track to downtown could not possibly be as near as Brock described, so he had to listen in on Olivia and Brock talking. Olivia was pulling some strings, that much was clear to James and she would never let him in on it. Or if she did, it would only be to use him for something and he didn’t want that. He would author his own destiny. He had no respect for puppet masters, at least, not ones that were so blatantly transparent. When he heard that Brock also did work for Summerwood, he walked right in.

Easy enough at first. However, it was obvious that James had not had the lifetime of nutritionists and trainers at his disposal as did everyone else. The Hunting Club took a dislike to him asking for immediate entry and he decided to play his trump card. The words Filbybird. At this point, he was little more than bluffing, but the manager gave him a look that said, ‘go on.’ So James described for them the way that Brock made his way to the club. 

He lead the manager - along with the few members that were there during the day (lazy, retired drunks who had fallen into mockery by the rest of the more active club) - on the path that Brock would take to get to their toolshed. His prediction proved true and within a few minutes, they were on the dirt path complete with cart-trails. Other paths branched off from it along with wooden signs written in lettering that none could decipher. 

An older member spoke up, slurring slightly. He told a tale of twilight. The mountains of the Filbybird, only conducive to certain atmospheric conditions that weakened walls between the worlds. He said that he had been stupid to never think to try it here. Hunting lodges tended to be established on crossover areas such as this due to ancestral knowledge, forgotten by word-thoughts, but not by trans-generational memory. He told the group they would surely get lost if they continued on these paths and they should come back at twilight, which they did.

James lead the way, carrying an old unused trapping cage meant merely for display. When they reached the base of the mountain, he pointed to a crag for James to set the trap on, and what kind of leafy bait to use. It would resemble a distressed nest and the Filbybird would fly in to check on any starving children. They caught one immediately and James became an honorary member overnight. 

He finished his whiskey in time for Brock’s break, at least according to the schedule James had looked at earlier, and headed down to the stables to try and strike a bargain.


There were no horses in the stables because racing season was not underway. The horse regularly sponsored by members lived elsewhere and generally came here to train a month before the big race. James found Brock, sitting on a tree stump, where riders usually sat to get their boots on.

“Tough day at the office?” asked James.

“James, what on Earth,” said Brock. “Do you live here?”

“I’m a member. Recently appointed. You must have paths everywhere.”

“They’re not my paths.”

James took one of Olivia’s pouches out of his pocket. “You figure anything out for these yet?”

“I’m just a delivery guy. Occasional set-up, you know,” Brock replied.

“I have a quick yes-or-no question for you,” said James. “Will you assist us in mapping those paths you take?”

“I can’t do that,” said Brock. “I just know them. I can’t draw or anything. Or even read the signs. At least, not in the way that people would call ‘reading’. I understand what they’re pointing at.”

“But you could show me and some colleagues. Or rather, just me. I could show colleges some other time.”

“Why do you need to know?”

James walked over to a stable and opened his pouch. He looked up and knocked on the wall twice. A beam of sunlight, like a stage spotlight, sailed across the empty stable. “That idiot on the roof, knows how to do one thing.” James emptied his pouch, which contained dirt, onto the hay. “Brock, what I need from you is the availability of those roads, and knowledge of their destinations, or at least, lead me to someone who can do that.”

“James, I can’t. It’s just too much a violation. Olivia didn’t ask you for this, did she?”

“Would you believe me if I said yes?” asked James.

“I’m . . . guessing that I shouldn’t,” replied Brock.

“Give the man a cigar!” James whirled around back to a stable and whispered a few words into the dark and dusty air before closing the door. He asked Brock one more time. “Will you give me what I want? Last chance.”

Brock stood up. “I’m really not comfortable with this. Maybe I’m misunderstanding something.”

A woman’s voice came from behind the stable door. It rattled a bit.

“Calm  yourself,” yelled James to the door. He turned back to Brock. “If you don’t help me, I’ll kill her right now.”

“What are you fuckin’ talkin’ -”

James slid open the viewing panel of the stable and Julie’s raging eyes glared back. “James, what is this? I’ll tear this fucking door off -”

James rapped twice on the walls and a beam of sunlight shot down behind Julie, causing her to scream. Smoke poured from her back and James rapped on the wall again and the light disappeared. Julie collapsed into the hay.

“I will kill her if you do not obey my every command,” said James. “I tried to be reasonable, buddy.”

“You have to let her out sometime,” said Brock.

James shook his head.

“I’ll find a spot where he can’t get me,” said Julie, “then you’re dead.”

“Three knocks and he tears the tarp off,” said James. “Also, if it even sounds like I’m in distress, he’ll remove the tarp as well. This is a shoddy old barn and Julie would never escape in time. After all, she’s a trespasser.”

“Fuck you,” said Julie. “Let him have it Brock, I’ll find a way.”

“What happens if I do what you want?” said Brock. “You let her go in the evening? She tells Olivia, and they both come to kill you?”

“This isn’t easy for me,” said James. “But I plan on being untouchable by then. Power always finds a way.”

“You have no idea the forces Olivia could send after you.”

James shrugged. “I have no idea of the forces that could protect me. So here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to knock three times. The roof is coming off, and she is going to die.” James walked over to the door. Furious sounds of Julie trying to bury herself in hay. “It’s useless my darling.”

On the third knock, Brock shoved James aside and dove into the stable himself. Sounds of a tarp being pulled away and the room filled with sunlight. He threw himself on top of Julie who curled into a ball, barely able to keep out of the light.

James yelled, “you gonna stay there all day? Suit yourself.” He looked up to the open sky and waved at his companion. “I’ll help you with the ladder in just a second.” He walked to the next stable over, started his cigar and tossed the match in the hay before heading back to the main mansion of Summerwood Estate.


“Think we can get inside?” asked Brock. “If we crawl to the door, just stay in my shadow, and we can get in the main building.”

“He could have security on his way,” said Julie. “We could be thrown outside.”

“We’ll find you a better hiding spot,” said Brock. “Work out a better plan from there.”

Julie shuffled through the hay, taking care to only move in Brock’s shade before they got to the door.

“I’m gonna pull it open now.”

Just an inch was all she needed and she slithered into the darkness of the closed stable. The relief at being away from the sun was so total it took her a moment to notice the growing fire.

“Brock, you’ve gotta get out of here. I’ll find a place to hide.”

“He could have more of your soil,” said Brock.

“That’s why you need to find him and stop him.”

“He’ll have me arrested.”

“Just go,” said Julie. “Don’t burn to death. That’s rule number one.”

Brock tried the main doors which of course were locked from the outside. The flames crawled up to the ceiling and the flush of heat was like a tidal wave, knocking him over. He gripped the cool dirt on the ground and rubbed it in his face. Julie was nowhere to be seen. Brock looked over to an office door and headed in that direction. Perhaps he could lock himself away from the flame. He watched the sheet of flame trickle along the wooden beams, running along like a scared spider. Soon after that, all the wood started cracking with the sound of a thousand gunshots.

A Summer at Shiloh Grove (Part 5)

With one more admonition that it was okay to turn back now - although he would always be considered under confidence - Brother V agreed to give some blood. After all, he was going to be a server in the restaurant and such a position gave no leave time for the scientific backwoods with which Dr. Brum concerned himself. 

Brum had an exceedingly wide array of interests. People in the international community who criticized him had usually only seen one video or heard one sound clip on a subject with which they were passionate about but disagreed with his take on. Such people then assumed Dr. Brum to be the greatest scoundrel who ever lived. Had they heard his take on any number of other subjects previously, however, he may have endeared himself to them. The complexity of the individual was his specialty, and not whatever subject he had off-the-cuff answered a question about that happened to be filmed or recorded. 

Brother V assumed that Dr. Brum had shared this information with him out of a childish glee at his own interests, rather than looking for outside eyes or a research partner. People like Dr. Brum were interested in everything and couldn’t help bursting at the seams.

So Brother V gave the blood and thought little of it. He was given a granola bar and a soda afterwards to get his sugar back up. More people should give blood, Dr. Brum explained. It’s the only place in modern days where you’re encouraged to eat cookies and drink soda. Brother V was encouraged to take it easy the rest of the day so he did.

The results came in the mail along with a form to fill out for new hires. Brother V was ecstatic, filled out the form and took it to the deserted restaurant where he was told he would find a staffing office. He followed the directions to the compounds out back and was almost approached by two different suited guards before he found the right path on the map. A receptionist took his paperwork and told him to have a seat, the nurse would be with him shortly.

Nurse? asked Brother V. The secretary explained that he was there to give blood. Brother V explained that he had just given blood the other day, the results were with his sheets, he didn’t see the need to bring them. The nurse had his results on the screen and told him yes, everything he said was true, and he was here to continue the treatment. Treatment for what?

A scampering sound, like shuffling papers, stopped their conversation. The receptionist asked him to be still a moment. Ludvig was nearby. A movement caught the eyes of Brother V. Around the edge of the desk, an iguana made its way across the floor, its toenails had pierced some paper from the recycling and it rubbed the last remnants off against the side of the desk. The reptile walked in between Brother V’s legs and the desk. 

Although he took it for an iguana, its skin was not a uniform leafy-green, but was rather rainbow patched. These patches were more of the oil-on-water variety rather than colors on the skin and Brother V wondered whether it was just a trick of the light. While Ludvig’s face was the most reptilian that Brother V had seen thus far, his arms were muscular like a bodybuilders and his stomach lurched as he crossed the carpet, due to large hanging sacs of skin like a series of testicles along his lower belly. The receptionist watched this as well. Ludvig crossed the room at an ambling pace until he came to a series of branches beneath a heat-lamp that Brother V had assumed were for decoration. Ludvig, in a snakelike motion, bent back on his hind legs, then reached with his buff arms to a lower branch and hauled himself up. From there he began making his way closer to the heat-lamp.

A nurse opened the door. She summoned Brother V in and he made his way back, politely informing her as well of his test just the other day. She knew all about that and they were there to continue the treatment. This time, since he was giving more blood and it had only been a few days, they would be giving him a supplement to drink. 

“Vitamins, sugars and proteins. It’s better for you than soda,” she said with a wink. She was young, as young as you could be to have gone through a nursing program.

They passed through a hallway with several closed doors, each with a series of color coded signs in the front indicating what procedure was being performed and the sounds of medical activity. Brother V asked if other new employees like him were here now.

“Oh yes,” the nurse answered, “we’re busy staffing for the upcoming negotiation season. Personally, I’m relieved we’re getting started this early. You’ll all have plenty of time to complete your training before being thrust into the maws of those animals.” She gestured vaguely in the direction of the hotel and Brother V heard a loud squawk from behind a closed door.

“Is one of the new employees perchance, a parrot?” he asked.

The young nurse laughed in her musical tones. “No silly, that’s Herbet. He’s a Parisian Wildflume.” she lowered her voice to a whisper. “But he’s not a bird. Although he can fly. He’s an amphibian. They’re so delicate now with all the pollution that humans engage in.”

She sat him in an exam room with the familiar blood-sucking vampire machine and swabbed his arm. She had him lay back and talked to him briefly about local sports, of which he knew nothing, and trees being cut down around her apartment which depressed her. He learned a lot about her without having to ask a single question, although he desperately wanted to ask questions. Around ten minutes later, she cut off the feed and promised to be back in just a moment. Upon her return she brought a clear glass of dark-blue fluid which reminded Brother V of gatorade, but had some brownish silt floating in it which reminded him of pond scum. He drank the whole thing really fast, found that although he wanted to think it was disgusting, he couldn’t really place it and that perhaps its rather alien taste was the thing which promoted an initial revulsion to which he later felt was unjustified given its rather neutral character on the palate. 

On the way out, the receptionist handed him some papers regarding his start date and where to report. Finally, thought Brother V, this is happening. He felt invigorated rather than drained and had an evening out with friends that night. Old restaurant friends who were still stuck in their haunts and wanted to hear everything about his current status. He encouraged them to apply if they felt they were up to it, but none of them were. They all had their own dreams which a demanding job like his would only get in the way of.

Book of Common Prayer for the Misfortune of Others

The path to one of the many mage schools is usually found either by trickery or accident. It is rare for a seeker to find for, as history shows, those who consciously seek the knowledge of mages are usually morally broken to begin with. Thus the need for such drastic camouflage. Whatever the path may be: psionic, enchantment, divination or others, the conscious seeker has always sought to control others and obtain security for the self rather than unravel the mysteries of existence.

However careful our guard has been, it seems we have more of these seekers in our midst than we thought. Another possibility is the susceptibility of bribery to our current students. We are speaking of course, of the alarming appearance of the Book of Common Prayer for the Misfortune of Others. Originally appearing in English, still its most widely used form, translations are appearing at an alarming rate. Our efforts at clamping down on its production have been met with moderate success, but rather than clean up the world, we must attempt to stop the problem at its source.

For those of you new to the schools, we hope that the Book is not such a commonality that we may assume knowledge. We explain: The Book of Common Prayer for the Misfortune of Others is a pocket-sized book of spells used to inflict general malaise on those who would get in your way. These spells may be cast by anyone, and most operate at around 15% capacity. 

Some have praised the book, saying that its appearance has kept the amateur seeker contented and prevents them from seeking greater power which would cause greater harm. But we think its harm is great enough, and no amateur seeker before its appearance came close to perpetrating the current harm being done by the Book.

Its first appearance remains a mystery, and thus we fear, may have come from a high echelon indeed. We shall now briefly expound its effects, illustrating with examples.


Abjuration: A version of the Prismatic Wall was used recently at a Ruse of Habit concert in Boise. The spell user did not want to stand near the front of the crowd and wait for the band to set up, so instead, downed some shots at the bar. Then when the lights went down he cast the spell. Ruse of Habit are so named because they feel the term ‘drug addiction’ is a way of shaming people who find society dull. They feel that all drug use is recreational and there is no such thing as a habit. Which makes what happened next doubly unfortunate. 

In its full use, the Prismatic Wall is several layers of light, each presenting its own danger to those who try to pass through. In this instance, only the back wall was activated, thus causing blindness and/or inter-dimensional banishment to the audience members it passed over, as well as the singer, Blunted Snortpill. In this dulled-down version of the spell, those who are randomly transported end up in the astral plane, normally a vivd and hallucinatory place, however, for those doomed to undergo never-ending withdrawal, would present a dark fate indeed.


Conjuration: Political activists and perverts alike have enjoyed the limited use of Far Step. Both are usually disappointed at the results and consequences. A recent intrusion into a Republican think-thank where the spell-caster had a camera ready did not in fact capture, as promised, ‘clear-cut plans entitled ‘Genocide Upon the Poor’ and ‘On the Enslavement of Women and Minorities’’ but rather, potential drafts of policy recommendations about road resurfacing and law-school interns studying for real-estate licensing. This person gave their spell book to a friend before teleporting and, as far as we know, the book has not made its way into government hands.

Misunderstanding of this spell is common as people tend to forget or overlook the fact that their entire body is transported, rather than just their sight. This is not a spell of astral projection, which Ronald Soderland found out recently when Stepping into a co-ed dorm during a females-only party. At full attention, he was subsequently sprayed with so many different kinds of mace that a new kind of poison gas was synthesized and the building had to be evacuated. He was held under quarantine until death. One cannot help but be a little grateful.


Divination: Of the spells so far mentioned, the practitioner has tested it upon themselves first, usually to ill effect. While an admirable personality trait, when complete knowledge is available it is a stupid option, much like trying to build a plane without studying the current literature on aerodynamics. See Invisibility, is the spell most likely to end in madness if self-tested and is responsible for a great deal of the bad publicity of occult practices. While a skilled mage may use it to advantage, in amateur circles it is almost always cast upon an enemy as it brings into focus creatures of the Ethereal Plane which feed upon human energy. Energy most people are ignorant of themselves emanating.

Our current pope was giving his address in Saint Peter’s Square, when he became silent and his eyes widened. This was unnoticed by most at first, given how high up he is on the balcony. He backed up, knocked over one of his Bishops and ran behind the curtain, glancing out from time to time and babbling in his native language about flying monsters growing fat on the wasting spirits of the people. When encouraged by his Bishops to address the crowd with this surely divine revelation the pope instead battened down the hatches, so to speak. He refuses to go out to this day. Already the most ardent supporter of exorcism that the church has had in hundreds of years, the pope has now more than doubled their number which has lead to countless cases of children and adults with perfectly explainable diseases to forego medical care and die at the hands of bumbling priests who are allowed to kill with complete impunity.


Enchantment: While many of us have run through our heads a hypothetical ‘what-if’ scenario, those who use the watered-down Enchantment spell get to test their theories in reality. While this spell has usually been used to win family or spousal arguments, lately, some have gotten close enough in physical proximity to politicians to make them change their actual words. The politician says something out of the blue completely contrary to his or her long-held value system, is momentarily confused, then continues on the original tract. They are mocked for a bit and then forgotten about and life goes on as usual. This spell is not as effective in a culture with a short attention span as actual hard work over a long period of time would be.

Transcript from CSPAN: 

Rep. James Burt R-KT: “. . . the breakdown of the African-American family is responsible for the high crime rates observed in that community. Black culture itself celebrates the victories of capitalism and hip-hop is full of messages that hard-work and perseverance pay off. Along with their religious convictions, blacks and conservatives are natural allies. As we all know, a Socialist Democracy with Single-Payer Health Care is the only sustainable source of government that would . . . ahem, excuse me. I have welcomed the board of the Evangelical Association . . .”

and on the other side

Rep. Lonnie Nelson D-OR: “. . . it is time to hold accountable those who always fall in favor with policies that systematically oppress minorities and treat them as targets rather than citizens. After all if millions of illegal immigrants can help our economy, why couldn’t they help theirs? . . . Excuse me (drinks water, coughs) and, oh my, you’d think . . . you’d think that the business-friendly right-wing, with their worship of money, would want to sweep the issue of undocumented workers under the carpet . . .”


Evocation: Many of these spells are undoubtably used in traffic, few have the large-scale negative effects of Crusader’s Mantle. With the caster as the center, the spell extends fifteen feet, creating an aura which awakens boldness. With sedan-style cars, enough space to affect each adjacent car of the caster. During traffic jams, this causes explosive road-rage which only serves to increase the problems as fender-benders lead to fistfights, causing the spell-caster to be further stuck. 

When Karl Navarro, 32, was leaving his apartment, late for work one morning, only to be stopped by a school-bus emptying in front of him, he looked for his newly acquired prayer book for advice, and cast Crusader’s Mantle. He assumed it would just be a sort of fast-forward spell for the children to get into school faster, or perhaps encourage the bus drivers to hurry the process along, but in fact, he revved his engine, and sped off like a race car, the children streamed into the street and all jumped, not out of his way, but upon his car, coating it like flies on a carcass. He continued to drive in the direction that he thought his work was on, children hanging onto his hood, each other, pasted over all his windows, waving at passers by. He ran three red lights miraculously before plowing into the back of a UPS truck that was stopped in the side of the lane. The children, none harmed, then streamed into the back of the truck and had an early Christmas as they opened all the packages, many of which were wines from across the country being shipped to current wine-club members. It’s hard to say if the children’s later actions were still the result of the spell or intoxication.


Illusion: Very popular in office environments which tend to all have the similar drab atmosphere, Hallucinatory Terrain has become a favorite at meetings, particularly to cast upon a hated project leader, district supervisor, or boss. Even the version in this book has a duration of around three hours. More than enough to wreck a busy executive’s day. He may have the CFO, Regional Manager, or Sales Captain on Skype, boldly step up to the podium, turn on his power-point, and then devolve into an almost primate state when he sees the world around him turn into a jungle complete with spiders the size of ponies and crawling mud devouring him alive.

Another popular use of this spell is in the realm of customer service. Perhaps an employee may find herself being harried by a customer demanding that she honor an expired coupon from a separate establishment. She asked the man if she could look in her manual for a brief moment during which she opened her spell book and recited the incantation. The man promptly found himself alone in a desert. It became clear from the tone of his voice that, although the desert was blistering hot, the sun was setting. He screamed for help, could not believe that no one was around. He dug through (hallucinatory) piles of sand looking for a charger for his phone, and when escorted out by police, assumed they were the freezing winds of the desert’s oncoming night. His children would never properly manage his portfolio, he muttered over and over.


Necromancy: In contemporary society, death is an unusual event and quite removed from daily events. However, hospital/mortuary employees, and hunters have found use for the stripped-down version of Animate Dead. One guess as to what the medical profession uses this spell for, and it’s not saving lives. This spell creates undead servants at even the advanced levels. It is not called after all, Raise the Dead, or Endow with Life, but merely, Animate Dead

From that sordid subject let us move on to the rather creative use that hunters and hitchhikers have found. Carcasses already picked clean by predators can be reanimated which can then attract future predators which are in turn caught by the hunter or hitchhiker and eaten. This is one respect where the common man has found a use that our wizards had never considered. This is not an endorsement for the book’s continued circulation in society but rather an encouragement to learn what we can from this tragedy. 

Parents resurrecting dead pets never ends well. Although the pet does not come back homicidal, like in certain fictions, it grosses a child out to have a freshly dead dog or cat follow them around and sleep in their bed. So stop it with the pets.


Psionic: While in a class of their own, a psionic spell has found its way into this handbook in the form of the Truevenom Weapon, causing an object in question to be endowed with toxic venom. This is another favorite of the customer service profession. Initially, it caused the shutdowns of many restaurants, but practitioners have been more careful as of late. A waitress, upon hearing a mother implore her daughter to never work in ‘a place like this’, instead of casting the spell on the food or utensils, cast it on the mother’s phone, laying on her lap. Phone attacks are increasingly common when you cannot brandish a weapon and hit someone publicly.

Another common use is people casting it upon open seats next to them in busses or trains. With air travel, this delays the entire flight as the plane must be evacuated so its practice has diminished. Corpses on the bus or train go much longer unnoticed.


Transmutation: This is another popular office trick which has bosses on edge. Many of them, after chewing out a disappointing employee, has found themselves unable to control their rate of movement, plummeting into walls and down flights of stairs. They have been the victims of Longstrider. It tends to be less effective in public, making crowds rather more chaotic than easier to maneuver through. In traffic it is deadly. Tailgaters bear the brunt of this spell. Upon being allowed to pass, the victim of the tailgating casts this spell upon the passing car, which then shoots ahead at a much faster rate than before often causing fiery chaos which ensnares the caster as well. This book has been found at many accident sites where the burning hasn’t quite consumed all, often clutched by or melted to the hands of the perpetrator.

Pitch for Soap Opera a la The Book of Leviticus


Young Levi, approaching high school graduation, is blooming into an Adonis. Growth hit late for him and now he is ready to have some fun. The high school years were not good. Too small to play sports, he tried on different identities and never clicked fully with a group of friends. Father worried that Levi might be gay, and that’s disgusting. 

Interested in the life of his aunt, a hippie who lives in the woods in a camper and visits every year or so. During their last visit, he deplores the fact that he never had a girlfriend. He pretends to not be distressed to his parents. Levi’s aunt invites him for a weekend at her place, a special weekend where other campers gather together. He goes and they get intoxicated and have sex. He barely remembers it, but is pleased at his accomplishments.

He takes the special concoction that his aunt and the other campers enjoyed so much and puts it in his mother’s drink, just to test it. She becomes completely incoherent and they have sex. With condoms of course.

The reason young Levi is able to take such advantage of his mother is because his father is often out having numerous affairs. Being a young kid, Levi is hip to the computers and finds his father’s Tinder profile, then seduces his many mistresses, and their friends as well.

Due to his father’s numerous affairs, an illegitimate daughter has been conceived, close to Levi’s age. They meet and, although Levi knows they are likely related, they have sex anyway. She is the first person even close to his age he has bedded and he is so good in bed at this point that their relationship continues for quite a while.

All of his father’s friends themselves are serial adulterers and Levi works through the ranks of their mistresses. His father remarries a younger woman who agrees to be with him so she can continue having sex with Levi. Similar arrangements are made around the adulting circle.

In a very special crossover episode of the Sci-Fi soap The Time Traveler’s Wives, Levi ends up in the future and is drawn especially to young women who turn out to be his granddaughters. Oh well, too late to take that back. A bit disgusted by himself at this point, he sticks to women his own age, but again ends up with a daughter-in-law instead. How was he to know that his future family would never leave town?

Back to the main narrative where his aunt, with whom he long ago lost interest, comes back revealing she has a family thanks to alternative insemination. She never had a father for her daughter who grew up to be rather promiscuous. Levi insists on his purity and that he has no recollection of the affairs now decades past. He beds her daughter out of contempt.

Reeling with this blast from the past, Levi decides to settle down and get married. It is easy enough to find any woman who would say yes, so he pretty much rolls the dice. To everyone’s surprise, he picks a homely (by TV standards) woman with a terminal disease. She’s also super rich and when she dies he marries her model sister.

Now living in high big-business socialite circles - and a father himself - Levi is expected to participate in family traditions: Easter Egg hunt at the Zoo, Christmas in the Catskills, and sacrificing your first-born to the god Moloch. 

Levi, being confused during this ritual, has sex with another man and the show gets cancelled because that’s disgusting.

Love Potion Number 187 (Part 5)

Brock wondered how long he would have to stay as dumb as he was. Pushing that cart all the way to Olivia’s shop was supposed to be a special delivery, a not often thing. Leave time to rest in between jobs. And he found himself, not two days later - still recovering from the soreness in his arms - pushing an unduly loaded wheelbarrow around the grounds of Summergrove Estate. 

He’d done plenty of jobs around here before which is why he picked the contract. He had not foreseen the other problem though. Being a hard worker meant that other people left you all the hard work. And to perform it while the slackers who made as much as you get to do nothing but complain how above-it they all are. What was the alternative though? Become one of them? Morally unacceptable. 

As he weeded he pondered the pouches Olivia gave him. Given his luck as of late, it was too much to hope that they would cure aching muscles. The concoctions were at best, experimental. One’s relationship with Olivia was part of a grander scheme than anyone could know by themselves. Meeting people like her and falling in with them was a surefire sign that the powers that govern things have different plans than you. So Brock kept the pouches in his work locker, just in case some possible use suggested itself.

He didn’t really know what went on at Summergrove Estate. Whether it was someone’s actual home or just some kind of country club. He worked off-the-books as a simple tradesman/laborer - mostly for rich people he would never know the names of - but isn’t that the bulk of everyone’s career? 

In cities with connections that ran through wires there were laws concerning who could work for whom and when, but Brock didn’t give that much credence. He found it hard to imagine that in a large metropolis there wouldn’t be a job for every type of person.

At the local office he was able to pick through the contracts and chose ones that fit his schedule. There was never any lack of variety or opportunity. His involvement with Olivia had been a slightly different matter as the one who drew up the contract lived in the same village as Brock. He had never seen his village on a map, but maps he had been shown were so confusing anyways. He also heard that no one (in the cities!) used maps anymore, so there was that. Maybe people had learned the lay of the land and were passing it down the generations.

Anyways, a school-teacher from the village who kept up with her favorite pupils had learned that Olivia (shock!) was joining the others in the city. She was going to have her own store in a dingy crowded street and sell things that none of them had heard of. And where had Olivia gotten this knowledge of city commerce? No one knew. 

Brock brought her first deliveries to her. Although knowing the way to the city, he was surprised when the dirt path he had always taken somehow ended him in the back of an alley, then a parking lot which smelled of smoke. No one gave him a second glance and Olivia had let him in still dressed as she would be in the village. James was in the front, setting up shelves. He hurriedly introduced himself, then went back to work. Methodically color-scheming. What Brock was bringing Olivia looked very different than what James was stocking. Powders and liquids, oils and extracts and such. But James didn’t seem to notice when he came downstairs to collect the mixtures. He spoke to both of them with a familiarity that implied lifetime acquaintance.

After unpacking and mixing a few things, Olivia asked Brock if he would continue to work with her. She knew he was contract only and could refuse if he wanted, but she offered to be flexible as to his scheduling needs. He agreed, having learned the route and he knew, as she did, that very few others in his line of work would take a city route and it would be a pain if everyone delivering to her was doing so for the first time. This wasn’t the village, where everyone learned how everything else worked. 

Due to his association with Olivia, the Summergrove Estate contracts were made available. It didn’t really qualify as city or . . . whatever was outside, and Brock saw both kinds of people there. This seemed to be a special place for those like him who could cross over between the two modes of being.


The night before, he had gone out with Julie. Not on a date, but she had a friend who interested him, and no one hit on them when Brock was there. Before her friend showed up however, he and Julie speculated over what the potions might be. He had tried to get into Julie’s personal life a bit, but aside from her condition, he didn’t know much. They shared a fondness for Irish Americana which had a weekly showcase at a local music club. They tried to make it there at least once a month.

Julie could get through a crowd like a river snake and repulse anyone who came near if she wanted to. A few foolhardy men tried to hit on her each night and the moment she was tired of it she could stare into them. They would stop speaking and walk off muttering, “bitch . . . bitch.” Brock did not know what they saw in her eyes, but it was venomous.

She hadn’t seemed herself that night, and Brock talked to her friend. They got along nicely, but after awhile he realized that Julie wasn’t being merely polite. She was distracted by something. The friend had gone to the bathroom and Brock asked Julie if she was on the potions or anything.

“There are certain things I can get away from,” she had replied, “but not this.”

Brock realized then how impossible it would be to escape Olivia’s tangles. If they were even Olivia’s to begin with. “Are you . . . involved with what she . . . at all?”

“Follow your own advice Brock,” said Julie. “No one knows anything about the betrayal she’s referring to. It’s probably some kind of magical test, you know. Weed out people with a guilty conscience.”

“How about the professor?” asked Brock.

“No one knows . . . wait, how do you know what he does?”

“He just looks like one. Weren’t people calling him professor, or did I just imagine that?”

Julie’s friend returned. “I know a guy named Dr. Oboe. That’s actually not his name. But we teased him in high school about his college aspirations. Getting advanced academic degrees in specific instruments. He’s a woodwinds whizz. Anyways, he said he plays for a band which opens regularly in clubs around the city. We should see him sometime.”

They ended the night with Julie telling Brock that she had every intention of losing her stash. Although with Olivia’s wicked insight into intention on a nearly universal scale, Julie didn’t know how successful she could be.

“Everything you try and keep track of, the most vital things in your life, cell phone, wallet, keys, you lose all the time,” Julie said. “But the shit you want to get rid is the shit you somehow trip over in every single room. What kind of magic bullshit is that?”


Holy Books - IV: The Plumber's Parables

1 “Even universes live and die,” explained the plumber who had arrived late, stayed later, and still not fixed the problem.


2 This put ecology professor Mr. Nielson in a tough spot. But so did jet-setting around the world to conferences so he could have his photo taken with local anarchists.


3 He would say to his students: “Here I am with Anella Kaeo, she was accused of bombing the conference of hoteliers and property managers in the capital of Fliegsum. Of course not . . . heh heh, the hotel I stayed at for our own conference. Her book has been refused sales by every online retailer, although you can still get the Unabomber’s Manifesto (think I’ll make that required reading next semester) so I got a signed copy. Let’s just flip to a random page. Ahem, ‘to compensate for his rage at not being female, the man must get his gun off, i.e. go to war.’ Strong stuff. She’s been accused of transphobia due to her focus on maleness, but declares that the ecologic problems currently outweigh the gender-outlaw discussion in her life. Some have put her in the camp of those claiming that diversity in the workplace is less of a problem than the growing gap between rich and poor and is merely the Corporate State’s attempts to divert us while they rob our wallets. Is she a left-wing revolutionary, or a right-wing hate-monger? I leave it to you to make up your own minds . . .”


4 The plumber pushed a shop-vac past Mr. Nielson then paused. “I’d wear boots if I were you,” he gestured to the sea of shit climbing past the Professor’s ankles.


5 “My life is a hollow lie,” said the professor, sitting down.


6 The plumber patted him on the shoulder. “There there. You a teacher? You study symbolism much? I’d go see a shrink because your life is playing out like an analyst’s wet dream.”


7 “Do you need a house?” Mr. Neilson asked. “You can have this one. You’ve put more work into it than I have.”


8 Now wasn’t that generous of the professor, children? To just give away his house like that? Mr. Nielson went to his room, changed his clothes, then checked into a hotel and showered and felt terribly guilty about being alive for the rest of his days. Shouldn’t we all follow his example? Wouldn’t the world be a nicer place if we did?


10 Another parable from the plumber about space aliens:


11 “Yep, they took me aboard,” said the plumber to the 4th-graders. “But not to stick something up my rear end, rather, they wanted me to put pipes on their uh . . . equipment,” he said, nervously eyeing the teacher, who seemed to be asleep, or on the phone, or a substitute.


12 The plumber glanced around the students. “Is my son even in here? No matter. This message is for all.” He picked up his bag and placed in on a desk in the front row. “Mind if I use this, little Timmy?”


13 “My name’s Corbdyn,” said the child.


14 “Whew times have changed.” The plumber took out vials of fluid and a stack of schematics. “When I was your age, all little boys were named Timmy, and all little girls were named Susie. At some point your name changes when you get a little older, after all, you never see a kid named Bob, right?”


15 The first vial he presented held an orange fluid that looked like Kool-Aid, however, he tipped the vial sideways, took out the cork and spilled the liquid into the air where it floated and maintained a cylindrical shape. He had the student’s full attention. 


16 “Shoulda brought my 67-Turbo-XZ engine to demonstrate. This right here, will lift anything and you can push it around smooth, like an air cushion. Tried to tell the Smithsonian about it, but I guess they get letters like that all the time and they just ignore it. Whatever. Made my mechanical hobbies a lot easier. How about a volunteer?”


17 He picked a girl he called Susie from the hands that shot up. He pulled the fluid to the ground and told her to just set her foot a little above it until she felt resistance.


18 “Kinda feels like a trampoline,” Susie (Ivy) said.


19 “There you go,” said the plumber, “now put your other foot, just like that.” He put his hands to the edges of the fluid and lifted her into the air. Susie squealed with delight. “Now don’t go too far,” said the plumber, “but you do have a little bit of moving room.”


20 She tested the edges of her air cushion and bounced up and down a little. The plumber helped her back to the ground before putting the fluid back. The kids groaned.


21 “I got other things to show ya, don’t worry.” He explained that that fluid, once put in pipes and diluted with another chemical, allowed faster-than-light travel while negating the effects of time dilation.


22 He showed another vial of what looked like dirty motor oil. “I have taken a tablespoon full of this every morning as recommended by their surgeon general and I am now 267 years young.” He patted his belly. “Should probably work out a bit more though, huh?”


23 All while the teacher slept up until the lunch bell the plumber took the kids through demonstrations of telepathy, teleportation, psychokinesis, raising the dead, and the barbarous names of evocation.


24 “I’ve had such a great time today,” the plumber said, “you kids have been so wonderful that I’m gonna give five of you a sampler pack. Just remember to share among friends. We’re gonna do this raffle-style. Each of you write your name on a piece of paper and I’ll mix ‘em together and the first five gets’em.”


25 He found several dusty containers in a long-unused cabinet for science demonstrations and made up the sampler packs. In the raffle, the first two names picked were ‘Timmy’ and ‘Susie.’


26 “Guess I shot myself in the foot a little there,” said the plumber with a twinkle in his eye. “Looks like everybody gets one! Enjoy your recess.”


27 The class cheered, grabbed their sampler packs and went outside to play.

A Summer at Shiloh Grove (Part 4)

“What’s in the cages?” asked Brother V.

“Ah, terrariums,” replied Dr. Brum. “You’ve got a curious mind. Your pattern comprehension showed that though. The answer to your question is: reptiles. Like most terrariums. I can show you some before we get started. After the . . . I don’t want to say blood-letting, that sounds so barbaric, and collection sounds too bureaucratic, but at any rate, after our procedure you may feel a bit disoriented so now’s the time.”

He lead Brother V to the nearest box, about the length of a desk and slowly lifted the black blanket. There was a large log in the center, surrounded by bits of tree branch with varying foliage. Its chief resident was a snake, or what Brother V at first took to be a snake. This long scaly green thing with brown stripes draped itself among the branches. Yet it had tiny clawed ‘hands’ running along its body at roughy two-inch intervals. Its head as well did not seem to be an extension and end-point like the head of a snake but rather jutted upward like a human head. It had a neck and the head came to a point in the front like a snake’s would, but its cranium became oblongly spherical near the top. Its snout was vaguely wolf-like and Brother V felt an inherent nervousness about looking closer at its face, although this nervousness fought viscously against his sense of curiosity.

“This is Raina,” explained Dr. Brum. “She came from western Belarus. A naturalist friend of mine knows where the colony is, but doesn’t tell. Belaurus is quite conservative with its nature. She is weak because unfortunately, we have to test her. Also, you won’t find her in any books yet. Maybe my friend wants to name them after himself, although he thinks there is much more to them than just a reptile. Maybe they do not live there all the time. Maybe they live much deeper in the Earth and have outlets at various places. Allow me to demonstrate.”

He placed the curtain down over Raina and led Brother V to a terrarium across the room. This one was smaller, but Brother V detected the faint sounds of activity within. Dr. Brum lifted the blanket, revealing a similar landscape to Raina’s only this one had sand sculpted into precarious structures. Skinny hills that seemed they should collapse. Brother V’s eyes hurt looking at the structures and he couldn’t figure out why.

“If you look to the side, away from the cage,” said Dr. Brum, “maybe you see them.”

Brother V did just that and immediately was treated to a series of darting shapes, like nervous fish, moving around on top of the sand.

“Breathe slowly,” instructed Dr. Brum. “Stop concentrating so hard. Focus on your heart instead.”

As Brother V did so, bringing his attention into his chest, following these yoga-like directions, he noticed a pen on a nearby table and let his eyes rest on that while in the corner, he saw shadowy humanoid shapes maintaining these towers. It seemed like a sped-up film.

Dr. Brum moved behind him, speaking to himself said, “quickly now,” he counted down and pressed a button on the wire leading to the light which turned the light a dark red, like a bathroom heat lamp. He slid aside the top and pulled something out and walked over to Brother V. “Look.”

In his hand was one of the creatures. At first glance, like a kind of garden lizard, but with longer and more muscular arms. Their heads as well, like Raina’s had distinct necks and formed into the spherical smoothness at the top, like an egg. Upon closer inspection, their faces were not reptilian but more leonine. Strong mouth and jaw.

“I must put it back now,” said Dr. Brum. “These were found in Southern Nigeria. A striking resemblance. Archeological digs tend to uproot these in desert areas. Perhaps you’ve never seen these famous photographs which also accompany the reptiles.”

He stopped over at his desk and shoved a clipboard with papers in Brother V’s direction. “Also, I’ll need you to sign these. Nothing special, just saying that you voluntarily gave blood as condition for employment. It’s also saying we’re not giving your blood to someone else and that we’ll notify you should any unexpected genetic diseases show themselves, stuff like that.”

Beneath the bureaucracy, Dr. Brum opened a file cabinet and pulled out a folder. “We keep hard copies of these because if our systems should get hacked, heaven forbid. At any rate, I like to show people what I’m up to as well down here. Rumors are always worse than the truth. Unfortunately,” he handed the stack of photos to Brother V, “being present in these pictures means being . . . relocated, at the conclusion of the project, like a witness protection thing.”

Brother V scanned through the stack. In various climes, jungle, desert, forest, coastline, it showed excavated holes in the ground revealing giant humanoid skeletons. Giant in scale to the humans standing around them.

“We need scale,” explained Dr. Brum, “otherwise people would assume they are fakes, or just normal skeletons. These photos are global and span decades. Same with the discovery of these alien-like creatures. The reason you find them inherently off-putting is that even the chemical components of their genetic material, or what we’re calling their genetic material, is completely unique to anything we’ve seen before.”

Brother V had had enough. “Why are you showing me these?”

Dr. Brum smiled. “Because of the secrecy of this position. Every official who comes here knows of these and they’ve all agreed to keep it under wraps until we know more. Kind of inspiring, no? Despite philosophical, political and religious differences, discoveries like these are what it takes to unite world leaders. And needless to say, although I’m required to say it, the consequences for violating this confidence are dire for you and . . . everyone around you so just . . . don’t. It’s been kept secret for decades and not always through pleasant means.”

Writers Writing About Writers

It’s about time I came clean with who I am. That guest at the dinner party two chapters ago? Earl Hartman? Well that’s me. I’m not crazy about writing about myself, but after all, I was there. So that’s who I am. A novelist telling a story. Only this time, it really happened. How fortunate I was to be involved, even peripherally, since I have the ability to cogently record things. It all began while I was at work on my previous novel, where Guy Quinn stumbles upon a group of contraband seed-traders who genetically engineer plants for extra-terrestrial communication:


 - With autumn-fire hair in waterfall curls beside her winter face, wearing a green vest of clouds and floral patterns, Maleia rolled her aquamarine eyes and slammed down her empty shot glass. She had seen Guy Quinn from across the bar, even over the sea of heads. Neither of them belonged here, in this land, and both of their attempts to blend in only made them stand out more to each other.

Guy hitched his fingers in his belt-loop and scanned every part of the bar that didn’t have her in  it, as if looking for the shortest line. She came to him.

“I don’t want any trouble when your man gets out of the pisser,” said Guy.

“I’m here alone,” Maleia replied. “Reminds me of someone.” 

Feigning an arrow through the heart, Guy backed up and leaned against the wall, purposefully letting her corner him. “Hurts, but you can’t get to me that easy. Traveling people tend to unwind in spaces reckoned safe for travelers. It’s not too much of a stretch to think we’d run into each other.”

“You’re just like you were in school,” said Maleia. “Never the usual social cues. No ‘how-are-you?’ or ‘what-have-you-been-up-to?’ Always something new.”

“It’s a gesture of respect. To let the other person say things to make themselves feel comfortable. I’m far more interested in why no one’s messing with you here,” said Guy.

Maleia cast her gaze around the bar and heads seemed to turn away from her, like she had an anti-magnetic gaze. “When I realized I might have to stay here awhile, I decided that certain behaviors where not to be tolerated.” She gestured to the bar. “But money spends everywhere, and I think best when I can pull from other people’s thoughts. Just most other people don’t like that.”

Guy waved to the other patrons, none of whom were looking at him. “It’s okay, I know her,” he said. “Don’t worry about me.”

“Okay, you win,” said Maleia. “What have you been up to?”

“I’m an adventure novelist,” said Guy. “Got a series about a guy named Carlos Parks. Done okay for myself. Good reviews, steady sales.”

“What has that got to do with any other aspect of your life?” asked Maleia.

“It just pays the bills and I don’t have to think about it,” said Guy. “Come on, I’ll buy you a copy and sign it.” -


: His goggles broke through the salty meniscus and Carlos tore the air-pipe out of his mouth. The boat was already speeding. With one hand on the ladder, the wake kicking his body up and down, Carlos undid the straps on his air-pipes with the other hand, the pipes he knew now had been replaced with XF-42, the deadly hallucinogenic poison used on the Sultan of Egria to get him in a paranoid delusion so he would launch a chemical attack on the humanitarian Navy fleet docked in the Bay of Opleyya.

Fresh air felt amazing, and despite his current danger, Parks felt his mind bring his body up to speed on the situation. Once he cast his breathing tubes into the turbulent wake, he climbed effortlessly onto the main deck. He wouldn’t have to contend with much, as most of the crew had been airlifted, still blindfolded, upon completion of their duties. They were not allowed to know the coordinates of their location. Only the captain remained at the helm and now Carlos understood why. Because Carlos was supposed to be dead.

The shipwreck they sent him to was planted, and poorly. But he’d been hallucinating. Luckily, he’d recognized the Sultan’s symptoms when they happened and never questioned his judgement when he began seeing them in himself.

Carlos zipped off the suit and took a look around. The ship was quite deserted, as he thought it would be. Hopefully Ioakim was still prisoner on board and hadn’t been executed. That would have to wait until after the captain.

He remembered where the helm was due to the champagne breakfast they’d had this morning. A spectacular view. As Carlos suspected, the captain, being alone, had to focus all his attention on the ship. He had a portable radio on a TV dinner stand by the controls and was fully occupied with weather, currents, and communicating events and future instructions. Carlos was able to tiptoe nearly right behind him before speaking.

“The way I see it -” Carlos began.

The captain shrieked and turned around, no relief on his eyes upon seeing Carlos.

“Once the ship comes to a full stop, we’ve got a few hours before your fastest men can get here, but I’ll have the Navy here in half that.”

The Captain briefly glanced around him and was obviously unarmed and unprepared for combat. His breathing became more regular and he tried plan A of every supervillian: denial.

“Were you never able to go out for the dive, Mr. Parks? I must have a word with my -”

“Can it Ahab,” said Carlos. “You know what you did. Or maybe you don’t. How can you be totally sure that you prepared the XF-42 correctly? Colorless, odorless. It could have leaked out, even a little when you filled the air pipes with it. First time it’s ever been done. Would have been more amazing if you hadn’t made a mistake. Taken a bit too much to the head.”

Stepping back from the controls, the Captain felt his pulse, then looked at his hands and back at Carlos Parks. “You - you’re dead. This isn’t real.” He started laughing. “This isn’t real!”

“How do you know you’re alone on this ship?” asked Carlos. “If this isn’t real, whose to say that any of your memories are?”

“But I - uh, have we even left the dock?” the Captain wondered to himself, staring out the window. “Are we even on a boat? Is the moon in June a spoon humming a tune?” He flung his cap against the wall and pulled out a tuft of hair in each hand. He ran a finger along his lips. “bublbublbublub . . .” he turned and ran out the door and jumped over the side, the wake tossing him quickly behind the boat like a seal playing with a ball.

Carlos quickly went to the controls. First he pulled an emergency stop which he hoped wouldn’t destroy the ship. Luckily, the button did what it said and he heard the hum of the engines raise in tone as their rotations slowed and the ship came to a stop. He didn’t know his location but he could find the Navy frequency on the radio. Luckily, the Captain’s radio was not a civilian one, but an illegal listening device. Criminals always became their own undoing. Before he called the Navy though . . .

Climbing down the port to the lower level, the ship revealed its true character. Only the very top was reserved for the smuggler elite. The rest was two levels of cells, then the engine room and storage. The halls were narrow, the floor, a steel grate and the walls gray but the lights were red. Designed for maximum discomfort.

The singing rang through the halls long before he could find the cell that Iokim was in. Iokim often sang to himself. Nonsensical joyous songs from his homeland. Nonsensical at least, to Carlos. The constant joyousness was also a mystery, but it had helped them through numerous scrapes, Iokim being somewhat impervious to the notion of mortal danger.

Carlos got to what he thought was the right door and knocked. “Room service,” he said.

Iokim’s song stopped and there was the the sound of him jumping to his feet. “Oh Mr. Carlos. You’ve come. I thought they forgot to get me along with everybody else. I just sing until I die.”

Fiddling with the latch, Carlos eventually heard the satisfying click and the heavy steel door practically pushed itself open. Iokem ran out and gave Carlos a giant hug.

“You save me once again,” he said.

“Yeah, no problem. Buy me a drink sometime,” Carlos replied.

Iokem couldn’t believe the luxury of the upper decks. “Next time, I definitely reserve a cabin up here,” he said.

Carlos got on the radio and called the Navy. Less than an hour ETA. He let Iokem’s infallible sense of food lead them to the kitchen where they made sandwiches and found some beer. Then they set up chairs on the upper deck and awaited their rescue. There was not a cloud in sight.

“I think I see China,” said Iokem.

“You know that naked-eye visibility out here is only about three miles?” said Carlos. “I barely believe it myself.”

Iokem asked how Carlos dealt with the Captain.

“I just got him to believe that his memories weren’t real and he decided to . . . change that.”

“You mean you just talked him into giving up?” asked Iokem.

“Something like that,” said Carlos. “I write novels for a living. My character is a professor of philosophy. Nick Jansen. So I have to do research sometimes. I believe it was Descartes who first pointed out that everything we know about life is based on an unprovable and fallible premise.”

Iokem asked the question by raising his eyebrows.

“That we can actually know anything to be true,” said Carlos. “Kurt Godel later mathematically showed it.”

“You a writer?” asked Iokem. “I never knew that. How does that affect the rest of your life?”

“Not at all,“ said Carlos. “It just pays the bills.” :


{ Nick Jansen summarized for his class his final confrontation with the Terror Management Terrorist. The lab of the TMT of course appeared to be a house like any other, white picket fence included. But Jansen knew to be on his guard. The foot-soldiers of the TMT had had their fear of death so systematically removed that they bordered on invisible. He recalled with embarrassment how badly he had underestimated the TMT’s infiltration of campus. A few manifestos placed strategically that when read, lead to the immediate removal of the fear of death followed by a moral shift of such seismic profundity that psychologists had yet to even name the type of person it produced.

Luckily, the students who were converted by the manifesto all left school and Jansen thought he had seen the last of that strange phenomenon. Mass hysterias, seemingly inexplicable, have happened throughout history.

And then the murders began. Disgraced professor Becker Emerson volunteered his interpretation for a news program during which he revealed himself to be the Terror Management Terrorist and that, as predicted, the world would pay dearly for ignoring his research.

No one knew how he did it, but he claimed he could drain our surplus consciousness - all the distractions of culture and identity - to create fearless people capable of extraordinary evolutionary leaps.

Now, in is lab, Nick Jansen was about to find out how the TMT did it. Out of the corner of his eye, a person appeared. Well, not appeared, the person had always been there, but just decided to act now. Jansen grabbed a huge book from the shelf and caught the butcher knife, which for a moment, the killer tried to wedge out of the book. Jansen took this moment to knee the killer in the groin. Still susceptible to physiological distress, it turns out.

Jansen tossed the book aside and pinned the killer on the ground, preparing to ask the location of his leader. The killer’s look of pain ceased and was replaced by the vacant malevolence that was the trademark of Emerson’s foot-soldiers. Jansen had been tricked. With a few barely discernible moves - an expert combination of several martial arts - Jansen was caught in the killer’s grip. An agony spread from his limbs, crawled up his neck and threatened to black him out when he heard Emerson say ‘enough.’

The killer let go and a relief so total immersed Jansen like a warm bath. He giggled a bit, almost forgot where he was, so good it felt not to be in that grip anymore. A gentle hand took his, and Emerson helped Jansen to his feet and led him to the couch.

Phantoms surrounded Jansen on all sides. The room had been teeming with people and he had not seen a single one. They all watched the duo on the couch as their leader prepared for his greatest challenge of all.

“I see you’ve counteracted the manifestos,” said Emerson. “Very cleaver, using religious arguments when you yourself are not a religious man, Dr. Jansen.”

“If it works, it works,” Jansen replied. “What was it that movie detective said? ‘You can never have too many saviors.’”

“Does not the fact that it works test your un-faith?” asked Emerson.

“Ideas are more powerful than the words that describe them,” Jansen replied. “This may seen fine to you,” he gestured to the student who held Emerson’s tea for him, “but it’s out of your control.”

Emerson had the student hold his teacup to his lips and serve him. The hand of the student was bright red, and no one wanted to look at what the skin behind the cup looked like. “Is that all you want to know?” asked Emerson. “Where does it end? It ended, Professor, with my first success. With a total adoption of my manifesto, centuries upon centuries of war and injustice will be brought to an end. Everything stems from the ignorance of our impermanence. The willful ignorance. Wars establish countries designed to outlive people, political and religious ideas. Even silly little fictions are designed to live forever. Taking away the folly of pretending is like coming up for air after those moments of panic. Your entire life has been a panic over things that don’t matter, imposed by the fear of the one thing that does. Remove that, and you’re free. Aside from certain physiological limitations, but as you’ve seen, even a good many of those can be overcome. Our bodies and minds are capable of miracles that make religious literature seem like a quarter behind the ear. What do you have to lose? Your social games? Romantic ills? War? Poverty? Injustice? Everything that causes anxiety and misery? I beg you - do you want me to share something? - your resistance against me is more powerful than I ever dreamed, and so I beg you - for the good of humanity, allow my message to spread.”

Jansen shook his head. “You’re not afraid of me. You could have killed me ten times over the second I set foot through the door. What are you really doing?” As if in answer, he beheld the blank TV on the wall, mirroring their movements. “Turn that on!”

Chuckling, Emerson asked, “wouldn’t you rather discuss philosophy with me?”

Jansen looked around him.

“There’s nowhere to run. You’re too late. But since you insist.” A student switched on to the news. The town was in shambles. The National Guard would fire their weapons upon invisible foes. Civilians got mowed down in the process. Burning cars littered the streets. Emerson tutted. “They never listen.” He turned to Jansen. “Do you really prefer this to what could be? Is this really the easier route to go, rather than opposing my ideas?”

More gunfire was heard and the news camera dropped. An anchor looked on, then was torn to pieces herself. A few sets of feet ran by, then the camera was picked up. A student showed herself. It was Maya Fertillo.

“Professor Jansen,” said Emerson, “does your heart still long for your forbidden fruit? I can take that ache away.”

Maya spoke. “If anyone is still watching this, we’re continuing our meetings.” She moved her hands and twisted her face before dropping the camera and running.

“Hell of a time for her Huntington’s to start acting up,” said Emerson. He turned back to Jansen. “Why are you always so interested in what you can’t have?”

Nick Jansen’s face remained vacant.

Emerson swiped his hand back and forth in front of it. “Is that all it takes? First the death of your wife, the abandonment of your child, and now this? Your nubile lady-love taken by random genetics? I recognize that stare.”

A shudder shook the walls, and a window broke. Emerson looked toward it. He gave a signal to his students who appeared to vanish into thin air, one by one. Before his own disappearance, Emerson said to Jansen, “if there’s anyone still there, you’re welcome at any time.”

Jansen heard the tanks running through the streets. He would be captured if the Guard decided to invade homes. But he didn’t think they would if no one went outside. The TV had died, along with the power. But what he hadn’t told Emerson was that Maya’s spasming was not her Huntington’s acting up. It was a body-language code, developed by some particularly gifted students. They wanted to see if they could hold conversations across classrooms without Professors noticing and only Jansen had caught on. He hadn’t been able to crack the code himself and had gone - in humiliation it must be said - to Maya Fertillo and begged for the cypher. 

On the news, she had told the students who understood the code where to meet. Emerson’s foot-soldiers who evolved beyond social cues would never understand.

Jansen leaned back on the makeshift desk. An old summer camp was their new village. Students were routinely sent out to recruit others, and the population was growing fast. Either Emerson’s soldiers stopped caring enough to do nothing, or they were planning another war. At any rate, the new society began now.

Jansen had always been told, even in the old world that he should write his adventures down.

“I’ll let you in a little secret,” he said to the class. “I’d been working on a novel and never really cracked it until things went to shit. In this day and age it’d be totally unbelievable, but I think that’s why it’s working now.”

Jansen was also often told that it was important to document what had happened and how to combat the decay of society for future generations but he just couldn’t bring himself to make it work. Somewhere among the group, was someone who would be perfect for that task, but it wasn’t him.

“I always liked the literary sad-sack,” he said. “Kind of self-indulgent, but endearing. Of course, nothing like my own life, which is why I never got around to it. But I’ve got a lot more spare time nowadays. The character’s name is Earl Hartman. I know, a total loser name, and he’s a published but non-successful writer who works for an ad-firm, but not even on the creative side of things. His wife finds great pleasure in their children’s accomplishments but he just can’t get over his ego-centrism and learn to look at the world around him. Failure after failure accompanies this.”

The students just stared at Nick Jansen, chuckling to himself. “It sounds bleak now that I say it out loud, but I’ve found it funny and charming. Anyways, screw you. I can have fun. It has nothing to do with my real life and that’s what’s important.” }

Love Potion Number 187 (Part 4)

Those who live to tell what death is like never do. The experience makes intuitive sense the way a dream does. Describe it for someone else, and you may as well be making up words. There are some who forget they have ever died and go on with their lives still fearing the supposed inevitable end. Which begs the question, how many times can one survive death and forget about it? There is no known limit to this.

Julie was alone in her black SUV, a kind of portable night. Outside the temperature was nearing the triple digits, and an excavation along the bridge slowed traffic to a standstill. Her first thought was an invitation to rage, mercifully short-circuited by a prospect of relief. She had nowhere to be. Her official plan was to stop at her health club on the way home after today’s staff-training seminar, but the only thing she looked forward to at the health club was the spa. Although she had eaten junk food in the reception area and wanted to work it off, she felt so gross in the crowded hotel conference room which got staler by the minute that the thought of sweating, even in an air-conditioned gym, revolting. This construction gave her an excuse to go straight home and have a bath. She and Jeff had no plans for this evening since she didn’t know how long the seminar was going to last. Also, there was an audio book she wanted to listen to but never had the time. Whenever she thought of it she was on the freeway, hardly a safe place for messing with her bluetooth. 

Now at a dead stop, even grateful, stealing glances with satisfied smugness at the misery around her she started the program. A series of introductory lectures on the history of Eastern Europe. Her ancestry went back to that area pretty quickly, but she wasn’t interested in anything post-AD. The idea that 99% of human history was unwritten had always fascinated her, but it was not something she was willing to risk a financial future by getting a degree in, so her elective interests had always steered toward that. Reading a book in the evening put her to sleep so she decided to try the audio versions. She could study it on the web if supplementary material was required and when she better understood things there were a few museums in the surrounding cities that she had her eye on learning about and maybe even, gasp, volunteering in.

A dull thud from the side of the road shook the car and she grabbed the steering wheel even though she was in park. Heads turned in the direction of the sound. Several giant tractors were on the side of the bridge, all at various angles digging into the hill. The sound must have come from one of them.

“And that should be enough to give any thinking person pause,” said the professor on her program. Annoyed that she had been distracted, Julie backtracked and was once again absorbed into life in the Caucus Mountain range.

What she didn’t notice was: on each side of the bridge, sleek black cars with minimal red and blue lights at the top of the windows lined the highway. Uniformed personnel with heads down scuttled out. Apparent bursts of steam shot up in between cars, and if she’d been in the helicopter overhead, she would have seen a crawling black river, edging from one side of the road to the other. The men from the black cars ran in between the stopped traffic with small tools, pushing back whatever it was. Combustive steam or smoke forcing their heads back. Drivers tried to lower their windows and look out but they were quickly ordered to not move and told that there was no danger. Just some runoff they didn’t want getting to the other side of the bridge. The uniformed men were quick. This was not a river they were trying to stop, but refugees of a sort.

Julie’s back passenger door opened, jolting her out of ancient times. The smell of char accompanied the person who lunged into her back seat. He whispered screams with what little breath he had. His skin was burnt and black nearly all over. She yelled at him to get the fuck out, but he continued to look through her as she fumbled with her own door.  Slammed shut the moment she opened it. She stared into the sunglasses of one of the government men. He was not going to let her out.

She never felt the hands on her shoulders or the teeth on her throat. For Julie, death was like waking from a dream. She was alone in the car. The car lurched like with a hiccup, and then floated gently upward. A moment ago she had been parked, but she couldn’t remember where. Intuitively, she knew that cars didn’t float and understood that she was dying. She looked around for someone to tell, just to inform them for practical reasons, but there was no one. As the car rose higher, the blue sky turned whitish, like with cloud cover. Like when she lay in bed on a weekend morning, not wanting to wake, but unavoidably knowing that the sun was up. She knew she would forget everything, an unavoidable reality that had no point in being argued with. Just time for the next breath. She did allow herself a few moments of luxury to bathe in the cloud-white blank before rejoining the world.

Evil Twin Prison

This wing of the ward is full of evil twins. That’s their story and they’re sticking to it. Simon Kelson, 36 was sitting in the back of a co-worker’s car while they drove to a conference across town. During their brief foray on the freeway, he decided to test an hypothesis. Cramped in the middle seat, he relaxed all his groin muscles, then unzipped his pants and sprayed urine back and forth. The initial fountain hit the ceiling, but then waved onto the driver, passenger, and those sat on either side of him, with the lion’s share running down his arm. There was much yelling, but his hypothesis was proven correct as the driver stayed calm enough to pull the car over without incident.

His co-workers were not amused, had him arrested for sexual harassment, but he claimed innocence of the entire matter. It didn’t help that the district manager who ran the conference took their tardiness as a snub and didn’t buy the story either. Simon invoked the evil-twin clause because hey, he always assumed he worked solely with evil twins.

Loreen Meusburger, 42 in the women’s ward has a long and prosperous resume in customer service and marketing for department stores. She was found arguing, with great eloquence and public support, for attempting to walk out of a distant store wearing five coats and six hats, three pairs of shoes, and four pairs of gloves, all with the price tags still on them. She knew it was against policy to directly accuse a customer of stealing. She showed up to her trial with a shaved head claiming to be her evil twin, doing the first good deed of her career, standing in place for Mrs. Meusburger. She couldn’t believe that people would mistake the woman in the store for her, despite the matching fingerprints and DNA signature. 

A third curious case is Julian Barlow. Facing company layoffs, he offered to reduce his own position and salary to part-time so that they wouldn’t have to fire any of the younger employees who had promised longevity with the company. He remained modest in the face of such praise and decided to pursue cooking classes in his spare time. Upon completion of the introductory safety material regarding cleaning agents, he somehow procured a can of compressed sulfur dioxide, along with some scrubbing bubbles.

A silence fell over the class as he set up his station. A quizzical expression formed on the face of the instructor as Julian’s eyes widened along with a buck-toothed grin.

“Uh, Mr. . .?” was all the instructor had time for.

Julian rushed over to the boxes of produce to be distributed among the class and sprayed the gas and bubbles along them proclaiming, “tee-wee-wee-wee!”

Standing in shock, no one was moved to action until he ran out into the actual store. The trail of sulfur made people gag. He made it to the produce section and halfway round the bakery parading his demented laugh behind him like a flag. He was knocked on the floor by a rolling pin and the can of compressed sulfur dioxide fell against a rack, puncturing its side and sending it across the store like a missile. It arced above several aisles and initially no one could see it land in the deli where it ricocheted among the slicers and ovens, breaking a glass door and igniting in a ball of volcanic flame.

Julian Barlow continued to spray scrubbing bubbles into the face of anyone who tried to stop him and he ran out the front door right into the arms of the first arriving policemen. Assault of an officer nearly quadrupled his sentence.

He at first claimed to be the Tee-Wee twin, a specter that had accosted Julian since childhood, but the real Julian has yet to appear back at work and is no longer welcome in any cooking class.

- - - 

They play a game on the evil-twin ward called ‘Devil’s Advocate’. How therapeutic is it? Hard to say. A few sharper psychiatrists caught onto it and even got an inmate to admit that there was method to the madness. It takes the form of ‘mock-readjustment.’ 


DOCTOR: And what first went through your mind, when your wife brought up divorce?


INMATE #1: I felt it coming a long time and there was, I suppose, an inward sigh of relief, so I said ‘I understand. I wish things had been different, but if this is what you want, I pledge to make it as easy as possible on us.’


The doctor examines some notes.


DOCTOR: So I uh, have it here that maybe the first part of that is correct. There was a period of respectful silence, but during this period, your were uh, defecating in your pants, and you ground it into the carpet, then proceeded to act like a baby, refusing to do any task for yourself until you had to be hospitalized for dehydration, where you continued to ‘act’ like a baby, but in private, stole prescription drugs for your children to sell at school and they bought themselves . . .


INMATE #1: You meant back then? I’m sorry, I was under the impression that you wanted my first impression in this moment, rather than reliving something old hat. I thought I was here to learn new patterns. Once I get out, me and my good-twin will be such an unstoppable force of benevolence that you’ll be fired for keeping me here so long. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be cross with you just then.


Another example . . .


INMATE #2: Starting a garden, and then teaching the basics of growing flowers. At first, just pretty things, and then adding vegetables, things you can use, is the doorway to the most basic understanding of how the universe works. I’d love to see that enstated here.


DOCTOR: May we stick to the exorcism you performed on your neighbor’s party?


INMATE #2: We do have a wildfire problem, but it’s only a problem because people live there. Wildfires are good for the forests, good for the soil.


DOCTOR: It started with a burned mattress imprinted with a human shape upon it in their yard.


INMATE #2: A terribly distressed individual, that you have yet to catch, might I add.


DOCTOR: The next weekend, during their ‘usual row’ as you put it, you stood outside in a sheet and anointed the house with -


INMATE #2: Holy water -


DOCTOR: Gasoline, at which point, you had already barricaded their front door -


INMATE #2: It is sad, how little people notice the natural wonders around them when occupied in their own drama.


DOCTOR: - nineteen people died that night.


INMATE #2: So many trees were planted. I’m sorry, what were we talking about? I understand there’s tragedy in the world, doctor, and that you see a good deal of it. But have you ever considered spending time with me in my garden?


DOCTOR: It is a rather nice day -


INMATE #2: Let’s talk outside.


DOCTOR: I don’t really see the harm . . .


Joline Gaddis had always claimed that her evil twin was still out there, but she would use this opportunity to do good in the institution. On the day in question, she was found hoeing dirt in the back yard, saying that Dr. Carl Long, her assigned psychiatrist, had given her permission. He has yet to be found. The prison system credits Ms. Gaddis for not escaping through the open back door upon which hung Dr. Long’s lab coat.


A Summer at Shiloh Grove (Part 3)

Brother V opened his beer and stared out the window which may as well have been a painting of pure blackness. “Dr. Brum is a great man,” he said. “Do you keep up with his work?”

Upon shaking my head he continued to explain. Dr. Brum is a popular guest on news, television and podcasts. He gives talks all around the world and conducts research in conjunction with various universities. He’s published quite a few papers which are beginning to look like foundational materials for a new book on his method. Individual Optimization. When working with prisoners or addicts or the mentally disabled, he had to focus on finding one thing for them to do and be good at. At this, he was exemplary. But people aren’t only good at just one thing. They’re not meant to be robots performing a single task over and over. Depending upon their age and experience, their abilities likewise shift, along with their interests. He was developing a calculus of human competency.

None of that had anything to do with Brother V’s story, but he wanted to illustrate how incredible Dr. Brum was, and still is, despite this sidetrack.


Brother V would be working with (i.e. serving) the most powerful and influential people on the planet, and it was necessary that he understand the speed with which they function and the large numbers they are constantly contemplating. Dr. Brum issued a battery of tests, most of which were quite boring. It was a sight, Brother V  explained, to see Dr. Brum not as this media personality, but as an actual scientist who laboriously churned piles of numbers for a living in search of replicable patterns.

“I’m just learning who you are,” Dr. Brum explained. “This is not a pass/fail, or smart vs. dumb. These tests will determine how we work together.”

Brother V was given a tour of the area accompanied by silent men in black suits. The bulge of weaponry could be seen in their sides and wires led to nearly invisible ear-pieces like exposed nerves.

Why was Brother V not introduced or being trained by the other FOH staff? Where were the cooks? Even during this off-time, prep had to be done. Fridges and freezers cleaned. 

Dr. Brum explained it like a game. “Think of a chess board. Or any game board really. A simple arrangement of colored shapes. A child could come up with it. But on top of this lies a game which has ensnared humanity for thousands of years. Maybe longer. You are seeing the base of operations. The foundation upon which all this functions. And a kitchen is more complicated than a game because it involves people with egos. And out there,” he pointed to the dining room, “are the egos that rule the world. And their game is even more complicated. But it still all rests on this simple geometric arrangement.”

Brother V said, “and then he turned my head. We were standing in between the kitchen and the dining room. A guard leaned against the door, holding it open. Dr. Brum tilted my head ever so slightly to the side, made a single adjustment to my chin and said, ‘there.’ And everything changed. It was like I was looking at a grid, but from above. I’m not saying it was an out-of-body experience or anything, but I could see half of the kitchen and half of the dining room, and the way they worked together, their lines and spaces, and the implicit shapes in between them, suggested the rest of the layout, and I saw immediately who would stand where in the kitchen, where their boundaries were. The patterns in which the service staff would move. The counter-pattern of the bus-staff. At this point I almost fell over and Dr. Brum was behind me. He put his hand on my shoulder.”

Brum chuckled and explained to Brother V that he hadn’t expected him to see the pattern so soon, but all the better. Brum whispered conspiratorially that he worked with an architect to renovate this space so that it suited its current dimensions. The old hotel board however, had declined to keep Brum as part of the hiring process after that, to which Brum had offered a bet. They could hire whomever they want, and he would predict with a 100% success rate who would stay and who would go. Even further, he would predict when an employee would leave to the exact day. If Brum’s predictions were correct for a year, they’d make him in charge of the hiring. Given a 100% success rate, they gave it to him after four months.

He took Brother V to a series of bungalows in a joint property behind the hotel and restaurant. It seemed odd that the hotel would have live-in staff. Such things were usually reserved for the olden days of massive factories employing entire towns.

These buildings were, in fact, a series of medical offices, chemistry labs and storage. The hotel performed its R&D right on the spot. The restaurant had its recipe development building, and the laundry and recreational services were constantly perfecting cleaners and sterilizers, water purification. And the doctor’s offices were there for the staff. Anything from a headache to a heart-attack could be serviced here. Of course, there were first-aid kits all around the hotel for burns and cuts and what-have-you. 

At this point, one of the guards put a blindfold over Brother V’s eyes.

“I’m going to take you somewhere that I can’t show you,” said Dr. Brum. “It’s not far.” A guard cleared his throat to indicate that even this was too much information.

Brother V could have figured out on his own that they weren’t going far as they were lead into a building, through some hallways and down some stairs, then into an elevator. Even if they walked through the same hallways twice, he never got in a vehicle, so he knew they were still on the hotel grounds.

From the side of his ears he heard skittering noises, like small mice running around. The light peeking in from the edges of the blindfold turned from fluorescent white to sterile-lab blue. He felt fingers removing the blindfold and it was revealed that he was in a science lab of some kind. Black cloths were draped around large boxes with bright lights inside. It smelled of sawdust.

“Gentlemen,” said Doctor Brum to the guards. They stared at each other and after a moment the guards turned and left the room, seeming to have lost a battle. Their entire job was to go places where others were not allowed, and here was this newbie, getting to play with all the lab toys alone with the doctor.

“I need to take a little blood from you,” said Doctor Brum. “Nothing more than what you’d give at the Red Cross. I don’t know if you’re jumpy around needles. I wouldn’t guess so based on your tests, but phobias tend to be irrational. It is a requirement for the job, so if you have any reservations, now is the time to voice them.”

Brother V had none. This was a high-profile job and they were likely going to test him for any hard-to-find drugs or maybe genetic conditions and predispositions to illness which could become problematic later. No one wanted a Typhoid Mary walking among the world elite.

Meeting the Creator

We went on a ride. The paddleboat reminded me of something like the Tunnel of Love that you see in movies but I don’t think ever existed. Why we were taking this ride together I don’t know because we normally don’t like things like this. It’s easy enough beforehand to tell yourself that nothing can harm you. That you’ll keep your eyes open for the scary parts because all you’re doing is sitting in a place that someone intended to be comfortable.

The boat stared slow and we bumped against the sides a few time. We entered a dark tunnel, and everything stayed black. Occasionally we’d look behind us to see the fading gray of the sky as the last pinhole of light vanished.

A dull roar like some large concealed motor grew in volume. We couldn’t tell when it started. The walls around us came to life. A tunnel of woven flesh. Something squealed and then there was a person. Or rather, a human figure with some kind of lizard head walking in front of us. Slightly to the side, clearly on the screen. The creature’s head fell backward, effectively ripping out of its chest and it felt the bloody muscle walls and became absorbed by them, squealing all the while.

We held hands. My hand was on top and something touched me. I didn’t dare move. The slimy claw rubbed back and forth around my knuckles before retreating into the water beside us. After its retreat, human hands grew out of the fleshy walls, writhing like creatures just birthed, a thin film breaking between their fingers. It’s a gimmick I’m sure everyone’s seen in haunted house movies and I started to think this ride was getting derivative already.

The hands would occasionally part to show us passing by rooms with more monsters in them. Human creatures with animal/alien heads, torturing themselves. A spinning saw through a lizard tongue, and slicing the head in half. Crossed arms being pulled in separate directions by chains, hanging the body over a pile of glowing ants who crawled ever upward. Then we came to the weird part.

All the walls around us went black but I didn’t notice when it happened. Too busy contemplating the torture of monsters. The boat didn’t feel like it was moving. In front of us, panels of a comic strip flashed like advertisements at a movie.

The dialogue was hard to read and the panels stayed too briefly to take everything in, but it told the story of a mouse with a gambling problem. The story took place along a dark and old-timey wharf. After each panel, the background lighting became more and more red, which implied to me that the mouse came to a bad end after continually pleading for mercy from a series of shadowy gangsters, species indeterminate. Eventually, the red covered up everything, and a short animation was shown.

It took place in the same location, but this portrayed a donkey standing up and masturbating. As he furiously climaxed making sounds like a trampled bicycle horn, he ejaculated a pair of rabbit ears which swam around his body before slithering onto his head and the donkey was now a rabbit. It was followed by a few shorter ones of animals metamorphosing. A frog turned into a sloth, and a zebra became an ape, but retained its stripes.

Once the cartoons ended, darkness returned along with that dull roar and the boat continued through the darkness. At this point, I didn’t want to see much more so I closed my eyes, then felt foolish, like somehow the ride operators could see me and are laughing and I opened them again and things seemed brighter.

We moved through a projected tunnel of flame which slowly ripped itself apart. Behind it was the vacuum of space. The stars and nebulae became more prominent, informing me that this is what really lies behind everything. The backdrop to all our earthly achievements is this unknowable darkness.

As my gaze lost itself among the stars, the boat thumped to a stop and I realized that the stars were actually reflections of disco-style studio lights. The front of the boat gave way. We were in a TV studio and there were lots of us. Other people on the ride, I assume.

The lights came up and the announcer at the front, a young lady with a team of others beside her, recited the rules and prizes for the upcoming dance competition. Then they announced the winner which was me, but she talked so fast and I didn’t want to be singled out in this way that I pretended not to hear it and at first succeed in convincing myself that she must have said something else. The logistics of this are impossible, I told myself. How could this ride be arranged that everyone gets their own unique ending? It’s nonsense. 

The lights got brighter and I was terrified for a moment that a spotlight was going to land on me but it didn’t, thus easing my fears. Of course, we all had to dance so that isn’t great either. Music started, and I looked at everyone dancing and it seemed that what they were doing wasn’t so hard and I fell into the pattern pretty easily. I didn’t even feel that stupid.

One of the producers came up to me and told me to come to the front of the stage because they called my name earlier and my heart sank. I took my partner’s hand and we headed down and the producers explained something to me but I wasn’t listening because all I understood is that I’ll never see my loved ones again. Even my partner didn’t get this despite my emphasis in explanations and I said goodbye like I meant it but it didn’t register.

The producers ushered me into a circular glass tube. It closed and another frosty layer slid on top of it, obliterating the transparency. Everything outside turned blue. I’m not claustrophobic but I worried that I might become so if left in here long enough. What they’re doing is kind of fucked up and in my anger I pushed on the glass, even knowing that I was supposed to wait.

It lifted over me quite easily and I was in the same TV studio but now empty. Daylight came in through some upper windows. I heard sounds of typing and other office activity coming from two doors in back of the soundstage. I looked the closer one and its floor was covered in fans nested in tangles of cords. Each fan had a few streamers of gray confetti on its grill. Maybe cooling off motors. I felt like behind-the-scenes somewhat. Somewhere I shouldn’t be. I  couldn’t enter this room because of the fans everywhere so I went to the other one.

Rows of desks with people in medical smocks working at them. Some of them wore masks. No one paid attention to me and I looked through some cabinets, feeling somewhat like a video game character exploring and no one will acknowledge me until completing a certain assignment. 

I walked down the lane between desks to the back of the room where the man who designed the ride sat. I’ve seen him on TV before. In interviews he thanks the various teams of actors, designers and psychologists he worked with to create this experience.

Love Potion Number 187 (Part 3)

After the rush of customers, James had to decide what to do with the cart. He didn’t like it in the hallway, nor could he leave it out back because if anything wasn’t nailed down, some band of bored and roaming adolescents would throw it off a building. 

Olivia told him to shove it in between the dumpsters. He hated the dumpster area and there were always hidden squirrels who seemed to go out of their way to chase him. Everyone found  this funny and when it became clear that he would not budge, Brock offered to put the cart away so that he could use it as an excuse to smoke as well.

He went upstairs and heard James talking to someone. It was Ruby, possibly another reason James didn’t want to take out the trash. But Brock and Ruby had been childhood friends growing up and he knew her better than most. He showed himself and then asked her to come out back with him. James glared.

Ruby asked what Brock was smoking, had tried it before, and declined. She asked him whose dumpster was whose, then begged him not to tell her. After narrowly avoiding a squirrel-in-the-face, she tore open a trash-bag and pieced together the journey of the refuse.

“This apple was brought by someone who never brings their lunch but is resolving to eat healthier. The fact that it’s barely nibbled on means that it sat in their house for so long it started to rot. 

“An Amazon box, now there’s a challenge but since this is a business trash . . . if I can just . . . there, it’s not a business address which means that the object is being used for business but the person doesn’t want to report it. For tax reasons,” she snapped her fingers, “got it. It’s a keystroke analyzer/collector that the person installed to get rid of certain computer activity. They just started doing something which they’re going to do regularly and which would cost them loads on taxes or regulations. And judging from the dumpster this came from, I’d say they’re buying underground helium.”

“Wouldn’t all helium come from underground?” asked Brock.

“It’s an endangered gas,” replied Ruby. “It’s getting super-expensive so balloon-shops are having to resort to the explosive hydrogen.”

“You’d think there’d be some no-smoking signs around here if that were true,” said Brock. “Which it isn’t. You can do better.”

“You see this paper plate?” Ruby pointed out. “It was used twice, then cleaned then used again all for the sake of proving a point. One of the employees next door really wants to be a comedian and his only line is ‘you seem like the type of person who would re-use a paper plate.’ He’s said it to every employee, totally out of context and never gets a laugh. So one day, they hid his lunch, then presented it to him on a paper plate. Fair enough, but then they emptied all the trash (hence these nearly empty garbage bags) and all the cans so that he couldn’t throw anything away, and they took all the break-room utensils out so that the next day he was forced to use the same paper plate and people took pictures from an actual camera,” she lifted up the disposable camera, “an entire roll, got them developed and posted them on the bulletin board.”

James poked his head out the back door and yelled, “Hey! The shopkeeper says hop to it!”


Alone with the professor, Olivia asked for his help with the dirt.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean,” Irving Adwell said.

She handed him a potion and had him pour some into a handful of dirt and mix it together. She had him repeat a few phrases, unintelligible to him and which he had trouble pronouncing. As he did this, the dirt crumped in his hands onto the table. “Keep going,” she told him.

Brock and Ruby came back in and together moved the crate of dirt to the corner. The professor continued his mantra. Olivia went upstairs and told James to lock the door and put up the closed sign. He protested all the way down stairs and she assured him that yes this was the only time everyone could be together for this and yes it was serious.

“When did Julie get here?” asked James.

The professor dropped his dirt on the table. Julie noticed him staring and backed away to be by Ruby. 

“A moment ago,” said Olivia. “Pay attention.”

“Does everyone here know each other?” asked Professor Adwell.

“I don’t really know James all that well,” Brock volunteered.

“And no one knows who you are,” said Julie.

The Professor explained how he read something which told him to come here and he wasn’t sure why.

“The point is,” said Olivia, “one or more of you is breaking our pact. And I brought you all here to feel uncomfortable about it. I don’t know who it is . . .”

“What pact?” asked the professor, “surely you can’t expect me to know . . .”

“No one knows what she’s talking about,” said Brock. “Happens all the time. She knows something that we don’t, ourselves, consciously know.”

“That’s enough,” said Olivia. One by one she placed her new potions and pouches on the table while she continued speaking. “These are the next steps in our Equalization Studies. Your assignment. You’ll know what to do when the time comes. As for the betrayer . . .” she lowered her head so that anyone looking at her would just see her eyes, focused on nothing.

James opened the door to the stairs and ushered everyone out the back. He reopened the shop. Olivia remained downstairs for the rest of the working hours.