March 2014


“Everyone remembers where they were that horrible day that Dr. Doomington unleashed the Quackinator on the University of Northern Mississippi and turned everyone into ducks,” says Officer Carruthers of the DPS in a statement. “And the incident in Cascadia last year was really a wake-up call for us–if Professor Chaosz, who everyone thought was just a kindly science teacher, could hurl moviegoers into the fictional world of the film they were watching with his Imaginverter…it could happen anywhere, at any time.”

The Active Mad Scientist training seminars at Southern Michigan University are designed around three simple principles: “Flee,” “Fear,” and “Fight.”

“Obviously, the best solution to an Active Mad Scientist is to simply leave the area as quickly as possible,” says Carruthers. ” That’s ‘Flee.’ It gives the Area 51 Response Team time to arrive and secure the area. But that’s not always possible, as we saw at the incident in Sacramento where Sinestroni erected a Reality Barrier to prevent escape.”

“Fear” advises that people relocate to designated shelters and huddle in wordless terror in the hopes that the Active Mad Scientist will pass them by. “We’ve hardened certain campus locations against mad scientists,” Carruthers adds, “with lead linings, ray scramblers, polarized laser-proof glass, NBC sealing, and magic spells (well known to be a weakness common to mad scientists).” The officer does concede, though, that there are circumstances in which the “Fear” strategy will not work. He cites the notorious 2002 attack on a Pennsylvania supermarket with mutagenic nanodroids by Das Angstverk√§ufer GmbH as a particular example.

Finally, the “Fight” step urges people who are cornered like rats to strike back at an Active Mad Scientist with whatever means of self-defense they have available. “Obviously this is a last resort, if ‘Flee’ and “Fear” fail, only. We don’t need anyone being a hero and getting themselves frozen in carbonite.” Officer Carruthers explains that the best method if it comes to fighting is to try and grapple the Active Mad Scientist at point blank melee range: “They generally tend to be very weak physically and quite nerdy,” he says. “Though be sure to assess beforehand. Grappling with Doktor Destroyo is not the same as going toe-to-toe with Baron von Muscles, PhD.”

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The local apparatchik had no specific orders, but he regarded it as his duty to civilize and Russify the pastoralists and herders under his authority. To that end, he ordered the confiscation of an item venerated by many of the Siberian native peoples in that remote oblast: a large meteorite of indeterminate age. The natives had long used it as a source of meteoric iron for speartips and other implements, but also ascribed a religious agency to the great hunk of metal. Tools made with it were always carefully guarded, for instance, and were never buried with their former owners as grave goods but rather returned to the site.

Regarding this as an appalling superstition, the apparatchik used his authority to not only seize the meteorite, but also to have it melted down. Without consulting his superiors, he had it taken to the blast furnaces of Magadan to be melted down and then presented it to a sculptor in Vladivostok as simple pig steel to be used in a sculpture of Vladimir Lenin. His idea was to attract the natives to his glorious new planned settlement by destroying the fabric of their society and allowing them to gravitate to their old “deity” given new form and purpose.

The last communication heard from anyone in that area was a receipt for the statue’s installation. The ghostly and windswept ruins of the abandoned settlement and its Lenin statue stand even today as a monument to failure.

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Children in those days knew, as children in these days have forgotten, that the world is a dark place full of nooks and crannies where the light will never reach. They were regaled with fairy tales of kings that fell due to their own hubris, lost dear ones devoured alive by the spirits of the forest they had once mocked, and fearful creatures of bright shadow who served to tempt the unwary. One thing that was the same, then as now, was the need to cloak a lesson in the guise of a tale.

But the lessons to be learned were harsher, and the abiding concern was that the lesson was learned, not how well the child liked the story.

That world still exists, insulated from the children of today by the comforting and ephemeral cloak of modernity. But the tales have changed, and the young ones are less wary than they might have been in another time, another age. The darkness has had to grow darker as well, turned in on itself by many long, lean years. And it must compete. What pied piper out of the old stories can compete with those the children see every day on the television? What false promises can a Rumplestiltskin spin into gold when falser promises issue from every mouth a young dear one sees? What wolves can invade a home with evil intent when so many things that might devour a soul are invited in willingly?

So beware, oh best beloveds. For when the darkness finds you, it will be a hungry darkness with claws and teeth ground sharp against the whetstone of the waking world.

Let me tell you of one such darkness, and the terror it wrought. Draw near, and listen to the oil-dark telling of a fairy tale of old entering into the new.

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Latisha Owen thought that the amber drops on her car’s windshield were just flecks of resin from a pine tree. There weren’t any pines near her apartment, nor could she recall driving under any, but when the spots proved resistant to her wipers and fluid, she ignored them and commuted to her job as a secretary at Garnier Tool & Die.

When she left for lunch, though, the small flecks had grown into cloudy amber crystals that were nearly half an inch long and took up a half-dollar-sized spot on the glass. The wipers were worthless against an obstruction of that size, and Ms. Owen gave up trying to pull the crystals off with a gloved hand (it was nippy out) when the windshield cracked. Resolving to call her cousin, an auto detailer, after work, Ms. Owens caught a ride to her usual lunch spot with a friend.

She returned late, having lost half-an-hour to futile attempts to dislodge the crystals, and went straight back to work without stopping to check on her car. Ms. Owens subsequently stayed late, calling her sister to pick up her children from school; she emerged from Garnier Tool & Die at nearly 7 o’clock that night. To her astonishment, by then the crystals were nearly four inches long and had spread across the driver’s side of the windshield, making driving impossible. Stymied, Ms. Owens called her cousin to meet her in the Garnier lot the next morning and took a city bus home.

Darrell Owen stopped by the Garnier lot the next morning before opening his auto detailing and body shop. Arriving at approximately 7:30 AM, he found that the mysterious amber crystals had grown considerably–they now covered half of his cousin’s Celica and had jumped the gap to a Garnier company car left parked nearby, fusing the two together. None of Mr. Owen’s power tools made any impression on the crystals, and he broke two saw blades and three drill bits in the process. Worried, he called the police.

At the same time, Latisha Owen noticed that the gloves she had used to try removing the crystals had begun to show flecks of the same amber spots that had first appeared on her windshield. Hysterical, she wrapped them in paper towels and returned them to the Garnier parking lot, dumping them under the crystal mass that had all but consumed her car. Her cousin discovered similar crystals on his own gloves and power tools, and did the same.

Local police proved unable to respond effectively to the crystals’ aggressive growth, easy contamination, and seeming indestructibility. University researchers and the government were similarly incapable of doing anything as the crystals grew larger and overtook the entire Garnier parking lot and the building itself. Finally, in desperation, a detachment of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built an airtight containment dome over the site to limit the spread of the crystallization. For the time being, that seems to have worked; no further crystals have been detected outside the site, and every object known or suspected to be contaminated with them.

But the cloudy amber crystals remain an enduring mystery. Aside from their color and their unusual 7-sided columnar shape, absolutely nothing is known about their origins, their method of propagation, and their physical properties. The danger inherent in working with them is simply too great.

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Irma Cook, State DMV Employee #4227, was responsible for license plate renewals and registration for Deerton and greater Tecumseh County. Ordinarily, hers was a sedate job, and that was the way she liked it. Irma had ossified into a comfortable living and had only 5 years until she retired on a generous government pension, which she planned to spend as far away from snowy rural Michigan as she could.

But that had been before the Great License Plate Switch of 2007. The dumbass governor had decided that the most important problem facing Michigan wasn’t Detroit rotting from the inside or the explosion of meth labs (both figuratively and literally) in the state or the fact that the Mitten hadn’t created a new job since 1976. No, license plates were a far more pressing (and taxable!) issue. The beautiful “Lake Superior Blue” plates, with their shining white letters on an azure background, had been around since 1982 and had–in Irma’s opinion–been a welcome change from the cluttered and generic plates issues by other states. You could always pick a Michigan plate out of a crowd without even reading it.

No more. Decreeing that it was imperative to have the state’s URL on the places (michigan.gov, which didn’t exactly take a UM med school degree to figure out), said dumbass governor had required Michiganders to trade in their Lake Superior Blue for Boring White With A URL On It. For a fee, of course, that would add a few million bucks to the tattered mitten’s depleted coffers. So everyone, even if they liked their old plate, had to buy a new one with new numbers on it.

That didn’t bother Irma as much as having to listen to the complaints.

“My new license plate says YAY 911! My car’s already been keyed three times!”

“Do you know how many lewd noted I’ve gotten stuck on my windshield since they gave me 6AY 53X?”

Irma gruffly sent most of the petitioners away to full out Form 1080-P to get a new plate at full price. The person with “A55 RGY” took a little more convincing.

“It’s the Traverse City cherry in the middle of the plate,” the petitioner said. “It looks like an O.”

“Oh,” Irma said. “Form 1080-P.”

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The city is more full of hard cases than a whiskey warehouse. But that sign on my door says walk-ins are welcome, even if each new client at my hole-in-the-wall detective agency chips away a little of my faith in humanity like a sculptor at marble. But when I saw that client there–duck’s ass haircut, popped collar, pink polo shirt, the works–I knew I was in for another deep dive into the underbelly of a city that never sleeps.

The name’s Chad Schmidt, and I’m a private eye for douches.

The client approached my desk, the sharp shadows from my blinds cutting into his tanned skin. “Check it. Rush is in two weeks, brah, and someone took all our Jaeger.”

I leaned back in my chair, the springs squealing like a mob snitch under the hot lamps. “You messin’ with me? All of your bros’ Jaeger is missing?”

“Jeeah, brah. We went out for tacos, and all 500 bottles were gone! So my bros and I were like ‘sick’ and I was all ‘dude.'” It was a sad story with a sad end. This city filled libraries with stories like that, libraries that left them so moulder on sad, forgotten shelves caked with sad forgotten dust.

“Dude, chill out,” I said. I placed one hand on the revolver taped under my desk. A desperate man with a desperate story had a way of turning on you like a wounded bobcat, after all. And it was clear to anyone who saw him that this man was hurting inside. “What’s it got to do with this guy right here?”

“We, like, heard about the time you totally found Phi Qoppa Beta’s missing kegs.”

“Totally, brah. No one messes with the Phi Qops and their sick keggers.” I massaged my temples. That had been a hard case. A lot of good booze had been lost, and the newest pledges had even wound up stone cold sober. That’s the part about being a douchebag detective that they don’t put in the books, the cases that keep you waking up at night in a cold sweat.

“So you’re all about finding my bros’ Jaeger?” There was hope in the client’s tone. Hope is a dangerous thing in this town, a town that enjoys making hope die a slow, screaming death or running it out on a rail.

“Lay it down for me, brah.”

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They tacked Professor Hudson by following his trail of destruction. Scattered and tattered papers at a poetry slam in Moose’s Bar. A trail of detritus leading from open mic night at Shooley’s Pub through the library and out the emergency exit. When the great author and sometime lecturer was finally found, he was passed out half-naked on a suburban lawn that wasn’t even close to his own.

Incholate, Hudson would only groan at them when prodded, spurting gibberish in a definite a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g rhyme pattern.

“Come on, professor,” said Lucy, “we have to get you home.”

“Love is too young to know what conscience is/Yet who knows not conscience is born of love?” Hudson groaned convulsively. He rolled over and lay face-down in a pool of composition textbook pages.

“Oh man, oh man!” cried Adam, who was not at all used to Hudson’s escapades. “This is bad. What’s wrong with him?”

“Then, gentle cheater, urge not my amiss/Lest guilty of my faults thy sweet self prove.” Hudson spat out the words as if they were choice-cut chewing tobacco.

“Isn’t it obvious?” said Lucy, a veteran of hauling Hudson hither and yon in the dead of night. “He went on another sonnet bender. He’s been reading and writing them all night, and his brain sonnet level is probably way north of .08.”

“For, thou betraying me, I do betray/My nobler part to my gross body’s treason,” said the professor with a sound halfway between a sneeze and vomiting.

“What are we gonna do?” Adam was on the verge of panic.

“Don’t worry. We just need to get the poetry content of his brain down a little bit so we can walk him home,” said Lucy. “Did you bring that copy of Emery’s Twilight of the Vampires like I asked?”

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