May 2013

I found that I could not rid myself of the horrid book, no matter how hard I tried. It continued to record my every action, thought, and word upon its pages as they occurred, in a hand and tone not unlike what I used for my diary. The librarian had warned me of this, but my curiosity and foolishness were now manifest…and I could not bring the text back without angering the Hexagon Library, which is most unwise.

Seeing my entire life’s activity laid out is both intoxicating and horrifying. Perhaps I find myself unable to part with the book because I keep hoping to look forward in its diabolical pages, to see what has yet to happen. I have never been able to do so, but the tantalizing prospect is astonishingly seductive.

But I must have succeeded. I must have, if you are reading this. For I kept no diary, and these words can only be read between the covers of that most dire tome. So I must have rid myself of it for you to be able to read it now.

And that can only mean that my future is laid out for you to read pages on.

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Some people say “Tis better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Some people need to shut up.

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“Aw, man,” said Chrissy. “I thought this was supposed to be a contemporary romance story.”

“Nope,” said the man in the steampunk hat and goggles that had just tunneled up through a concrete sidewalk slab. “This is a dark fantasy story, and you’re headed into the Vale of Pnath in the underworld to find purpose in life amongst the ghasts, gugs, and night-gaunts of eldritch legend.”

“Are you sure?” asked Trenton. “I was sure that this was going to be an action comedy. I mean, I ‘m pretty sure I saw terrorists getting ready to take over campus, and me and Chrissy are vapid and adversarial enough that you know we’ll bump uglies even in the heat of combat.”

“I didn’t sign on for that,” Chrissy pouted, folding her arms.

“And I’m not equipped to fight anything that isn’t a Lovecraftian monstrosity,” said the steampunk, shrugging.

An androgynous princeling happened by at that very moment, holding a beatbox. “Yo! Anyone call for Tolkienesque poetry to halt this story dead for a few pages?”

“And that’s the final straw,” Chrissy said, stalking off. “I’m not going to be in this story until it decides what it’s about. If you need me, I’ll be having a hard drink in a Western.”

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It was something that we had trained for extensively. In the result of capture and torture, disassociation was the greatest weapon in our arsenal: in the world of the mind, an inward-looking world of hallucinations and detachment from the physical, we could hold our resolve. The information we carried would be safe from prying eyes, and our training built in a psychological marker for us to realize what was going on even in our fugue state: a note, to ourselves, signed, informing us that we were dreaming away the horror of captivity.

I’d always been a little disappointed that I never got to use the techniques, being posted Stateside by the Agency.

But that was before I discovered a note from myself on my kitchen table at home.

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Jennie stumbled backwards, the flower pot making up her left shin shattering noisily. Her hastily-constructed body was a vessel for her disembodied spirit, not a tool for combat. In the far corners of her mind, she mused that it must have seemed quite a sight: an American girl battling what could only be described as a reproduction of herself made from stray gardening tools.

The Zaar sneered back at her. Jennie had never seen her own features so contorted with hatred and malice, and shuddered to think what that malevolent spirit might do if it possessed her body any longer. “I eliminated your feeble friends like babes in the woods, one by one, despite the limitations of this pitiful husk,” it snarled. “You think you can do better when you’re nothing but a mound of garbage?”

Jennie kept playing the simple melody on the tanbura she’d been given. Play the song, forgive the sin, reclaim the body…that was the mantra, after all. Hadn’t the Abdaar told her as much?

“Silence your pathetic stringing,” the Zaar continued. Jennie’s possessed hand reached out with a speed that she’d never have been able to muster and snatched the instrument from the garden-glove fingers that held it. With a motion worthy of the minor lagues, the Zaar smashed the tanbura onto the hard stone floor.

“No!” Jennie cried despairingly. She’d gotten the song out completely one and a half times, maybe two. Why wasn’t it working?

“I thought that disembodiment, and the rare opportunity to watch your body participate as my master ripped the soul out of every one of your ancestors back five generations, would be punishment enough for your meddling,” said the Zaar. “But to see you here attempting this Abdaar ritual…I think it will be much more convenient to simply snuff you out here and now.”

Jennie’s Zaar-possessed hands closed around the throat her disembodied life-essence had constructed out of an old garden hose, hefting the makeshift form into the air. Though it was essentially hands gripping trash that should have slid right through them, Jennie found herself unable to escape.

Play the song, forgive the sin, reclaim the body…” she rasped. Play the song, forgive the sin, reclaim the body

“Silence.” Her body’s eyes were glowing, literally glowing, as Jennie felt her spirit being torn to pieces. “Foolish girl. I shall make your soul an offering to my master.”

Play the song, forgive the sin, reclaim the body…” Jennie’s makeshift eyes widened. Of course…it wasn’t a single step, but rather two…could she summon the willpower needed to do it, even after all the Zaar had done?

Jennie’s garden-glove fingers flopped at her sides, rose, and encircled the Zaar. Not in a stranglehold, but an embrace. “I…I forgive you,” she whispered. “After all that you’ve done, all the people you’ve hurt…you’re still a hollow shell without a body or a friend in the world.”

“Quiet! You know nothing!”

“You’ve got nobody, not even your beloved master, in the entire world…while my friends and family will be with me forever, even if they die. I forgive you, and I feel sorry for you.”

The Zaan shrieked, Jennie’s possessed mouth loosing an inhuman sound into the world. But it was the sound of a mortally wounded beast.

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Chief Irons nodded. “He was…recommended to me after the imbroglio with that serial killer and those role-playing cards.”

“A psycho leaving playing cards at murder scenes like the goddamn Joker?” said Officer Kennedy. “Is that a joke? Tell me you’re joking.”

“Certainly not. This isn’t anything related to comic books, but my encyclopedic skills are once again of use to the boys in blue.” The speaker trundled in on a Roustabout-brand electric scooter, his face grave and bewhiskered, his head alternately bald and overflowing with greasy hair. “Sherwood Greg. Private graphic novel archivist, loremaster, licensed Pokemon breeder, guild leader, head of the Council of Twelve, and overall coordinator for Nerdicon, at your service.”

“This is Sherman Gregward, recommended to me personally by Chief Strong,” said Irons.

“An expert witness, huh?” Kennedy snickered. “Well I suppose if we’re looking into insights on fat nerds like our victim here…”

“Sherwood Greg, as I indicated, if you please,” said Greg with a confident flip of his head. “And yes, officer, I am being retained for my insights. I am sure that if the next victim is a boorish reprobate hiding behind a badge like a +2 amulet of strength, your services will be sought instead.”

“I’m pretty sure there was an insult under all those flabby nerd words,” said Kennedy. “Get off my crime scene.”

“Very well,” Greg said, beginning the laborious process of turning his scooter around. “But good luck identifying that guild symbol without me.”

“Hang on,” said Chief Irons. “What’s that about the symbol?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. Just the symbol of one of the most powerful guilds in the Dungeons of Krull MMORPG, the most popular online game of all time if you don’t count Bejeweled.”

“Why would someone paint it on the wall in the blood of a murdered nerd?”

Sherwood Greg cocked his eyebrows and tented his fingers, Spock-style. “That, Detective, is the right question,” he said. “It might interest you to know that not one month ago that guild–the Fireshields–was proscribed by the Dungeons of Krull team for massive illegal item duplication and laundering in-game gold mined in China. Players lost everything. And depending on what information you’d like to share, I’d wager that this victim of nerdur most foul was either a guild member…or one who reported on their illicit activity.”

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GesteCo to Release NATRON™, A Revolutionary New Beauty Product

GesteCo Labs, [redacted] – May 23, [redacted] – GesteCo Pharmaceuticals, a wholly-owned subsidiary division of GesteCo, is pleased to announce that public trials for its new beauty product NATRON™ have officially begun.

NATRON™ is a breakthrough in modern cosmetology, combining cutting-edge research with age-old techniques to leave skin beautifully tanned and totally resistant to all forms of weathering and aging.

How does it work? By tapping into the ancient and underdeveloped process of mummification, NATRON™ works to preserve the youthful, glowing skin that you now have, and acts as a natural tanning agent as well. Why trouble with expensive Botox, which is a toxin harvested from deadly bacteria, when NATRON™ is an all-natural* substitute?

NATRON™ provides the same firming effect as Botox, but lasts for centuries in even the harshest desert environments. Side effects are minor** and pose no known long-term risks†. Interested applicants can contact GesteCo directly for public testing information, either through our toll free number 1-555-789-36λ9 or by visiting our website at http://www.gesteco.ntz

Conchita Perez
Ph: +55-555-1337

* – Natural ingredients before processing with GesteCo’s patented chemical and genetic accelerants. Meets natural purity standards in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, Burma, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
** – Side effects in previous studies include but are not limited to: dessication, entombment, death by fire, the Curse of the Sands, compulsive soul-feasting, scarab infestations, loss of appetite, and walking like an Egyptian. Meets the definition of “minor” according to the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1972 edition.
† – “Long-term” in this case refers to the length of the previous clinical trial, which was two weeks. This meets the international standard definition of “long term” as proposed by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the Non-Aligned Nations conference in Geneva, 1957.

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This is Clifton “Sagebrush” Lowe, reporting for the Prosperity Falls Futurist. As part of our continuing series on “People in the News” I interviewed Virginia MacNeil, late of the Prosperity Rangers, on the circumstances of her dismissal from that storied organization.

LOWE: To what gainful purpose have you put your so-called skills to now that the Rangers have permanently expelled you from their ranks for cowardice and recklessness?

MACNEIL: I’m working as a guard for the Chatham Stage Company now, and they’re lucky to have me. They know what the Rangers don’t: these skills are in the blood. It’s not about practice or anything like that; I come from a line of people who can shoot straight and hit hard, and that why I’m the best at what I do.

LOWE: This despite your well-known loss to young Mr. Sullivan at the Ranger Trials?

MACNEIL: He caught me off-guard, and is a low-down, dirty sneak and cheat. You can take that to the bank and cash it in.

LOWE: Could the words you had not moments ago for the convalescing Mr. Sullivan indicate a latent and passionate longing? What truly defines love for an ex-Ranger?

MACNEIL: Love is about being equal or better than somebody, and I don’t see a lick of that in Sullivan. He’s haughty, insulting, and superior, putting on more airs than a perfume factory and more full of insults than a whorehouse for a cheap john.

LOWE: So by her own definition of love, Miss MacNeil has been laid low by Ranger Sullivan!

MACNEIL: I hope for his recovery only that I might have a chance to show him up once more and that the Rangers might see that my so-called mistakes weren’t so bad. They’re between me and God, not me and the Rangers–who’re they to say I was wrong when I’m just doing what comes naturally, what I was made to do?

LOWE: There can be no secrets from the Great Watchmaker, it’s true.

MACNEIL: Well…I’m not sure if he knows about the stack of Horatio Alger pulps behind the loose board in my room, especially not the ones where the hero’s name is crossed out and I wrote my own in. If Adam knew that I was reading the same thing that the Prosperity Library burned in a heap last year…

LOWE: Salacious! I would opine that the Great Watchmaker does in fact know all about your stash of pulp rubbish. Then again, but your earlier argument, since he made the man who made them, the fault lies not with that pulp-peddler Alger but rather the Watchmaker himself.

MACNEIL: Yeah! I fit hadn’t been meant to be read, it wouldn’t have been written!

LOWE: And I suppose the same can be said of homemaking guides for young ladies?


LOWE: Fair enough. If you could tell your own story your own way, how would it go?

MACNEIL: Dashing, beautiful, and talented Ranger Virginia MacNeil, daughter of late Marshals Vincent and Patricia MacNeil, has risen from hardship to glory! People constantly underestimated her, called her stupid and boastful and idle and lazy and such, but she has proven them wrong in spectacular fashion by saving Prosperity Falls from forces that would destroy it from the inside and the outside! Like the hero of a Horatio Alger novel–and in fact Alger is hard at work adapting her own story for worldwide publication–she pulled herself up by her bootstraps and triumphed!

LOWE: So you count being the daughter of two of the most famous Rangers and being admitted to the Rangers despite failing the admission test and having your brother’s successful ranch at your back as Horatio Alger style hardship?

MACNEIL: Shut up.

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The car came screeching into Manuel’s garage pockmarked with bullet holes and leaking fluid.

“Hey!” he cried. “Hey, you can’t drive in here like that! I’m not that kind of mechanic!”

The driver’s side door flew open to reveal a woman cradling a man’s head on her lap. He had clearly been shot several times and was not breathing.

“H-holy shit!” Manual gasped.

“You’ve got to help us…please…” the woman wheezed.

“I’ll…I’ll call 911,” Manuel said, fumbling for his cell.

“No time, no time!” the woman said. “I need you to do it yourself. Fix him yourself.”

“What? I don’t know any first aid…I don’t even know CPR!”

The woman grasped at her companion’s chest…and opened it, revealing a whirring array of planetary gears and pistons not unlike a sophisticated Northstar V8. “Fix him…please…”

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One of the toughest things about taking to the open road is that there’s often no way to tell who is a safe and responsible driver and who is a dangerous loon with a 2-ton hunk of steel at their beck and call. As such, I’ve prepared the following guide for public service purposes. Make sure you stay well clear of…

Cars Obviously Bought For Teenagers By Their Parents
You see these a lot in college towns–Mommy and Daddy couldn’t possibly send little Krissy Mae to school without a car, so they bought her a Chevy Silverado with a custom pink pain job. Or maybe Daddy, thinking back to the rustbucket he had to drive before making his bones at the firm, buys his son Brayden his own hot rod red or mustard yellow sports car. The key here isn’t just that teenagers are bad drivers; it’s that teens who are privileged and never had to deal with the consequences of their actions are such bad drivers they make the rest of their species look safe. A young kid in a car they obviously couldn’t afford is the sign to watch for, but custom paint jobs are a good shortcut. All those teen-driven pink cars on the road have a Daddy’s Girl behind the wheel, since they aren’t old enough to have earned it through Mary Kay.

Cars With More Bumper Stickers Than Bumper
People who like to inflict their views on random passersby are not always shy about inflicting other things on them as well. Like vehicular manslaughter. This one cuts across all political spectrums and belief systems. People with hippie leftist communist Maoist stickers about saving the extinct Tasmanian tiger and whatnot are statistically speaking more likely to be high while driving, which results in impairment as well as questionable music choices. And the right-wing stickers, the ones with gun-toting eagles bursting through Confederate flags…well, they’re probably drunk, which is the rough equivalent of being stoned in terms of impaired judgement. And they’re heavily armed, which means perceived roadside slights might be met with deadly force, where the lefties can only hurl their bong at you.

Cars With Dealer Stickers
Either the person is test driving or they just bought the dang thing. Even if they didn’t total their last ride, they still have no idea how much brake pressure there is between “hard stop” and “gentle slowing.”

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