October 2013


“So, it’s that time of year again,” says my muse through a fog of cigar smoke and with cheap Pabst heavy on his breath. “What are you going to fail to finish this year?”

I don’t like the tone of my muse’s voice, or the various odors issuing from his maw, and I could do without the stained wifebeater and torn sweatpants he’s sporting. “You’ve got a lot of nerve talking like that,” I riposte. “I’m beginning to regret ripping you off as a concept from Stephen King.”

“The process of ripping off, be it from On Writing or your own blog posts from last year, is irreversible,” my muse replies, punctuating the remarks with a throaty belch. “Ripping off is like heat transfer, it only goes one way until the eventual, and inevitable, Ripoff Death of the Universe. Now answer the question.”

I sigh. “A western,” I say. “I’m going to try writing a western. A heady tale of humor and betrayal, gunslinger grrls and black-hatted villainesses.”

“A western?” chortles my muse, frabjously. “Well callooh-callay, aren’t we fancy this time around. Who the hell writes westerns anymore? The genre’s been dead as a doornail since the Sputnik launch.”

“It’s a genre I’ve never tried before,” I reply, more than a little defensiveness in my voice. “Would you rather I wrote a Harlequin romance?”

“At least then you’d have an excuse for female characters all over the place,” my muse snorts. “They didn’t have female cowboys there, hoss. I mean, that’s encoded right there in the name cow-BOY.”

“I’ll think up an explanation,” I shoot back. “And the western isn’t all about historical accuracy. Sergio Leone had a gun from 1889 in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and that was set in 1862.”

“And when you have the track record with westerns that he has, maybe you’ll get away with it. Maybe. But if you want to cough up an unfinished western when the genre is deader than Louis L’Amour, don’t let me stop you.”

“I’m going to finish this year, too,” I say. “NaNoFiMo, National Novel Finishing Month. Set in stone.”

“Just like the last 5 novels?” My muse laughs. “Or the one you actually did finish…six months later? Or the only one you finished by November 30, by undoing all your contractions at 11:50pm, but refuse to speak of?”

I roll my eyes. “I don’t refuse to speak of it, I just openly admit that it was dog crap. That’s what happens when you try to expand a 1000-word story by 50 times. Now are you with me or not?”

“Fine, fine.” My muse opens a fresh can of rotgut and clips the head off a fresh cigar. “We’ll see who was right in 30 days on the dot. Happy National Novel Writing Month, my rootin’, tootin’ friend. Good luck–you’ll need it.”

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This Halloween, remember that ghosts are an important part of our ectosystem. EKG meters, bright lights, the subtle emanations from video recorders, the silent pulse of a cell phone signal…all of these can scar an ectosystem and upset the supernatural balance that has evolved over hundreds of years.

Are you truly haunting ghosts for research purposes, or just to mess with them? Leave ghosts to their eternal restlessness; don’t add to their torments. When you visit that spooky graveyard or that abandoned manse, take only ghost photographs, leave only ghost footprints.

This message brought to you by the Spook Club of America. Stewarding our precious paranatural resources since 1888.

Inspired by this.

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Family history: originally minor nobility in the Electorate of Hanover, descended from a line of horse-breeders. Accompanied George I’s court to England in 1714, and served in various minor posts in both the English and Hanoverian governments. Served the Hanoverian government-in-exile during the Napoleonic Wars before returning to Hanover permanently in 1837 with Ernest Augustus when the union of Britain and Hanover came to an end.

Thomas
Father (1841-)
A Hanoverian diplomat who frequently shuttled between Hanover and London. After Hanover’s annexation in 1866, he was retained as part of the new Prussian delegation due to his contacts and experience, and remained with the embassy when the German Empire was founded in 1871. Served first as an aide, then as an attaché, and finally as a consular agent before retiring to Germany in 1905. Was married twice: first to the daughter of a minor Hanoverian noble (1861-65) who died in childbirth, and later to Anna Gregory.

Anna Gregory
Mother (1861-)
A British woman of Scottish ancestry. Fluent in several languages, she found work as a secretary, interpreter, and governess in London’s diplomatic community. Met Thomas, two decades her senior, at a reception in the German Embassy in 1882; they were married the following year. The family maintained residences in London and Hanover, but gradually increased their time in Germany until moving there permanently in 1905.

Tobias
(1895-)
Born in London, and split his time growing up between a variety of English and Continental schools before moving permanently to Germany in 1905 and enrolling in gymnasium. Entered the German Army with a lieutenant’s commission just before the start of the First World War.

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“Excuse me, sir.” It was a Metromart greeter, a kindly-looking old man.

“Yes?” I said.

“I was wondering if I could see a receipt for that haircut, son,” he continued in a grandfatherly tone, “if it wouldn’t be too much trouble.”

“What?

“It doesn’t look like that’s the haircut you came in with, son, that’s all,” said the greeter. “Been losing a lot of money to shoplifters lately. Shrinkage, they call it. I’d just like to see a receipt so we know you’re not walking off with a Metromart haircut, that’s all.”

I’d been given a receipt for my $14 Walk-In Special at Metromart Clipzz in the back of the store, but had immediately ditched it. “I threw it out,” I said, incredulous that I was even being asked.

“Well, then, I’m afraid I’m going to have to invoke the shopkeeper’s privilege and detain you for a bit, son,” said the old man. He raised a walkie-talkie. “We need Vega Section to the grocery-side entrance for a suspected shrinker. I repeat, we need Vega Section to the rocery-side entrance for a suspected shrinker.”

“Wait!” I cried as the heavily armed and armored security guards in Metromart livery dragged me away. “How can someone shoplift a haircut?”

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“What is that over there?”

“A reminder,” said Father, sadly. “Do not approach it.”

Son squinted at the squat shape, shambling about on steel legs and examining the odd rock with steel arms. It looked to him like a can of synthehol come to amiable, blocky life. “Why not? It looks cute…and sad. What’s it a reminder of?”

“A reminder of the limits of making any construct too much like a human without clear purpose,” said Father. “They were built with human memory engrams, with the ability and drive to grow and learn not unlike us.”

“That’s a good thing, right?”

“It might be in other circumstances. But they were designed to take the most toxic, the most radioactive waste that humankind produced and secret it away to places where it would be safe and undisturbed for ten thousand years. Their engrams–the humanity we built into them–led those constructs to question their mission, to abandon it, to seek out others to assuage their loneliness.”

Son looked at the distant automaton with pity. “It’s lonely?”

“Yes,” said Father. “If you let it, it will reach out a hand of friendship to you and speak to you of its thousand-year journey. And the poisons with in, the invisible rays that it was designed to shield beneath miles of earth and stone, will kill you in minutes.”

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“Welcome home,” said Pavlov. It was an even bet as to which terrified Hardwick more: that an intruder was in his home, or that the intruder had spoken without moving his lips.

“W-who are you? What are you doing here? Get out!” screamed Hardwick, dropping his load of groceries. Vinegar from a shattered bottle of pickles pooled around his shoes as he fumbled for his cell phone.

“That won’t be necessary.” Pavlov once again spoke without moving a muscle. He simply kept his dark eyes fixed on Hardwick, gleaming beneath his slicked-back helmet of black hair and high domed forehead.

Hardwick’s arm went limp, and his smartphone cracked its screen as it tumbled to the hardwood floor. “Sutton sent you.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Of course.” Pavlov’s eyes were unblinking, his thin lips pursed and closed.

“How…how did you find me?” there was a hint of resignation and despair in Hardwick’s voice.

There was no real reason Pavlov had to answer the man’s entreaties, but whether out of pity or a desire to gloat, he did so: “You left a thousand breadcrumbs. People have seen you, spoken to you, heard rumors. I took those breadcrumbs from their minds and followed them to the loaf. It wasn’t hard; no harder than a voracious reader tracking a fact through a library of open books.”

“What happens now?” Hardwick was frozen; he wasn’t sure f it was fear of some kind of paralysis like that Pavlov had induced in his arm a moment ago. He also failed to notice that his lips were not moving; the conversation had seamlessly shaded over into the realm of extrasensory perception.

“I will search your mind to see if you actually possess the information that Sutton believes you to. Then I will wipe its contents clean.”

There was an ominous, disinterested finality in Pavlov’s remarks, even though his face was as a mask throughout. Many would blubber or gibber helplessly at this point, but–whatever his other flaws may have been–Hardwick was able to keep his composure in the face of looming destruction.

“Will it…hurt?”

“Did it hurt before you were born? Does it hurt when you are asleep?” Pavlov thought evenly. “I see here that you know many of the things Sutton hoped, but not nearly as many as he feared. It was a foolish move to try and parlay such pittances into a plea bargain and a reward, but smarter men have transgressed for smaller prizes.”

It was done. Pavlov’s expression was one of intense discomfort for a moment, and then Hardwick crumpled to the floor, every neuron in his brain still functioning but completely devoid of the engrams which had represented a functioning mind. The psychic hitman calmly walked out through the open door, while Hardwick’s police handler found him unresponsive hours later. The witness was assumed to have suffered a massive stroke, and was left in a persistent vegetative state in an area hospice.

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“He’s gone quiet,” said Santino Zambrano, one of the condottieri mercenaries of the Rings of Gold company.

“I’ll get him going again,” replied his captain, Giustino Valenti. Rising, he clipped on his cuirass and drew his sword, pounding the pommel on the wooden door. “Hey! You in there! We didn’t do through all the trouble of capturing you so you could sleep! You’re to build us weapons and make a chart of Venice’s naval defenses!”

No response.

Zambrano’s face glistened with sweat. “What if we killed him, or he killed himself? He knows the Medicis and the King of France! Do yuo have any idea what they’d do to us if we not only kidnapped but killed the great Leonardo da Vinci?”

“Quiet, quiet,” snapped Valenti. “Do you want the boss to hear you blubbering like that? We condottieri of the Rings of Gold company are made of sterner stuff. He’s probably just playing dead.”

The mercenary opened the door and advanced into the darkened room, rapier and mein gauche drawn. Zambrano followed with just his boot dagger.

“Where are you, you stinking old sodomite?” barked Valenti. The room was dark; the prisoner had extinguished all lights and only a thin sliver filtered in from the arrow slit in the wall.

“Look at this,” said Zambrano. He had taken up a handful of Leonardo’s papers with the intention of stuffing them down his cuirass and selling them. “These look like gloves and body armor, not cannons and ballista like the boss told him to design for us.”

“Put that down! Do you want to-” Valenti was cut off by movement in the corner of his eye. Something flashed across Zambrano’s field of vision, and he saw his captain stumble backwards, gurgling and clawing at a crossbow bolt in his neck. A figure moved in the shadows, much larger than a man, and moved about with a sudden belching of smoke and fire.

Zambrano fled the room, pursued by whatever he had roused, screaming an alarm. The remaining Rings of Gold mercenaries, save for their absent leader, sprang into action. A phalanx of pikemen surrounded the makeshift prison’s only exit, while arquebusiers backed them up with loaded guns.

Leonardo’s war machine tore through them in seconds.

Emerging into the full sunshine, Zambrano could see that the captive had fashioned himself a suit of armor from the cannon components, somehow using the power of a small stove on his back to allow his frail frame to move the hundredweight of brass and iron and steel. A blade at the end of one arm sliced the pikes to matchwood, while a projector on the other belched Greek fire, breaking the men’s ranks as they died in flaming agony. The arquebusiers, out of range, replied with a volley, but their lead shot clinked harmlessly off Leonardo’s armor. In response, the inventor pulled a lever and a rack of vertically-mounted miniature magazine-fed crossbows appeared over his shoulders; the gunmen fell before Zambrano even heard the twang of the strings.

Cowering, Zambrano threw down his weapons and raised his hands. Leonardo’s war machine approached him and one of the metal gauntlets seized the front of the mercenary’s armor, hauling him bodily off his feet.

“What…what are you?” sputtered the condottieri.

Leonardo’s eyes glistened from behind an armor-plated mask. “I am Renaissance Man,” he growled.

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