February 2014

Before Grissom could reply, Vincent had walked out of the protective cover of the parked cars, toward Hartwell’s place. He held the shotgun in the crook of one arm, pointed at the ground and flopping easily.

“Who’s there?” a voice cried as he neared the front door.

“It’s Undersheriff Gaines, Mr. Hartwell,” said Vincent. “I’ve come to see if there’s something we can do to end this little standoff here.”

“Vincent Gaines?” Hartwell said. “The old Commissioner of Schools?”

“Not anymore,” Vincent said. “It’s Undersheriff now. And while I can hardly be called the same man, there is a certain resemblance, you might say.”

Hartwell was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said. “That’s the God’s honest, I am. That’s no way to lose your wife or your daughter.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hartwell,” Vincent said. “I appreciate it.”

“So here’s what I’m gonna do, Undersheriff. I’m gonna let you walk back the way you came, and you’ve got my solemn word to the Lord God that I won’t shoot you in the back. That’s a damn sight more than I could promise any of those others. But don’t be expecting that kind of generous treatment if you come back again.”

“I’m mighty grateful for that, Mr. Hartwell. Truly I am. But I’m afraid I just wouldn’t be doing my duty if I took you up on that. Fact is, I think at this point you can’t even bribe me. I’m gonna have to come in there, arrest you, and take an axe to your still in the basement. We’ll try not to mess things up when we go on, and you should be out of jail in a few days.”

Vincent took another step forward, and Hartwell leaned out one of the front windows, a rifle in his hands. “You try that, and I’ll shoot you down where you stand. Send you to join your family.”

“Do you think I don’t know that, Mr. Hartwell?”

Hartwell furrowed his brows. “You ought to. You’re a damned fool otherwise.”

“Do you think that a single day goes by that I don’t wish I was dead, Mr. Hartwell?” Vincent continued, still advancing. “Do you think one minute goes by when I’m holding this thing that I don’t want to put it in my moth and pull the trigger?”

“What’re you talking about?” Hartwell said.

“I’m just being honest with you, Mr. Hartwell. If you’re so anxious to shoot me, you’d better go ahead and shoot me. Believe me, it’s nothing I haven’t thought about doing twenty times before breakfast this morning.”

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The bounty hunter stared at the group of defiant Englishmen, his quarry lost and concealed among them.

“I’ll say it one more time,” he growled. “Give me the Yank you’re hiding in your midst.”

He was greeted only with stony silence. Taking another approach, the bounty hunter pulled a card out of a pocket and read:

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator says “Calm down. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a gun shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says “OK, now what?”

Quite despite themselves, the Englishmen roared in laughter, exposing dozens of sets of jagged and malformed teeth…and one set of brace-straightened pearly whites.

“There we go, there’s our Yank,” said the bounty hunter, pressing his gun to the latter’s temple.

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A polite society is a happy society, a secure society.

That’s what we all thought, anyway.

But that was before someone thanked a friend for a thank-you note and started a chain reaction which led to the Thankpocalypse.

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“It’s a transaction involving the Republic of Laeth.”

“Wasn’t that in the news?”

“You mean the civil war? The fact that it’s now the People’s Republic of Neolaeth?”

“Well, that would explain why the newscaster sounded so depressed. What’s that got to do with the Exchange? If the old government owed you money, or if you have any holdings in Laeth kwatlous, you can bring your bearer certificates or IOUs in and see what the market will bear. My advice? Get one framed, put it on your wall, and sell the rest as souvenirs or toilet paper.”

“You misunderstand me; I am negotiating assets for exchange scrip. The Republic of Laeth Navy.”

“Oh, some of the old navy made it out? We’ve been known to convert a skiff or two into currency to let people do their Exchange shopping. What’re you selling?”

“The Republic of Laeth Navy.”

“You told me that. Which ship?”

“The Republic of Laeth Navy. The whole navy. Four battlecruisers, six cruisers, ten frigates, twenty destroyers. How much will you give me for it?”

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“How…how could you say such things?” the young student said, visibly shaken and flustered.

“Ah, I can tell from your voice that you are young,” came the reply, from behind unblinking, clouded, rheumy eyes. “And I think I can tell from your reaction that your glow has not yet faded with age.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” the student said, indignant.

“It means that when we are young and beautiful, we are used to getting our own way,” sighed the sage. “People give us their attention not because of what we say but because of who we are, and we are allowed to spout nonsense unchallenged by those blinded by our beauty or desirous of it.”

“But not you,” said the student, sarcastically.

“I have no sight left to see beauty, and no patience left for the folly and self-assurance of youth,” said the sage. “Better to be brought to the harsh light now than to only find it years later, when beauty has faded and decisions are made.”

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The Thinking Cap
Cerebruortuum segniores

This delectable and brightly-colored fruiting body has the curious effect of speeding up cognition and allowing great intuitive leaps in a relatively short span of time, at the cost of permanent synaptic damage and eventual brain death. An antidote was first synthesized by Reswob in 1887 and is widely available; some graduate students have been known to abuse the cap along with the antidote to benefit from these effects, which is–needless to say–strongly contraindicated.

“The use of cerebruortuum segniores in the Chinese Imperial Examinations was punishable by death, but they were nevertheless smuggled in with astounding ingenuity. Naturally, the long term effect of brain death meant that cheating one’s way into a good score was an exercise in futility, but the false belief that the effect could be counteracted through acupuncture and the consumption of baiji ovaries meant that every year dozens of students had to be carried out of their cells in comas to expire peacefully in what Ching Dynasty chroniclers called the 菜園–the vegetable garden.” – Dr. Phineas Phable

The Bamf Puff
Nocterepunt xavier

The Bamf puff gets its name from onomatopoeia: it causes imbibers of the immature puffballs, or those exposed to newly-released spores to be teleported a short distance away, leading to a distinctive sound as air rushes to fill in the void. It is a defense mechanism designed to disorient predators who might otherwise feast on the fungi’s succulent flesh, which is highly regarded as a delicacy by humans and animals alike. Intact puffballs are extremely difficult to harvest without rupturing but were highly valued as quick getaway tools by highwaymen and assassins.

“The difficulty with the buff’s teleportation effect is its randomness–it tends to be in the same horizontal plane as the puff, but not always. Stories of hapless mushroom hunters and would-be assassins trapped in trees, buried underground, or even fifty feet in the air are not uncommon. No one is quite sure what happens to the material displaced by the appearing victim, but it is always gone for good–an effect that people have occasionally tried to harness for waste disposal, the keeping of secrets, and even murder. They are rarely successful, save by the rarest kind of luck.” – Dr. Phineas Phable

The Princess Toadstool
Fortunadcaelum relinquere

A distant relative of the famous Cordyceps genus of behavior-modifying ascomycete fungi, princess toadstools also alter behavior through fungal infection, albeit in a much more regimented way. Princess toadstools are clonal, with a large number of fruiting bodies connected to a single, subterranean, fungus. Consumption of one of the fruiting bodies leads animals–or humans–back to the initial site, where they are compelled to tend to the larger fungus by bringing it food, irrigating it, and creating what Bharadwaja called “princess gardens” in his Ayurveda. An antidote is available, though mild cases will often clear up on their own.

“In the hollows of the Himalayan foothills near the norther border of Kashmir, there is a particularly large and ancient princess toadstool that is surrounded by the skeletons of laborers and charcoal-makers it has ensnared over the years. It is at the center of a particularly large and lush princess garden, one lined with stones and fed by an aqueduct from a glacial spring. No one is sure how old they are, for none dare approach it.” – Dr. Phineas Phable

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Gather close children
And listen to the tale
Of a Chinese hiker
Named Ped Xing
Who visited America
And was touched
That everywhere he walked
They had put up signs
To welcome him

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