Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Review: 1 Night




In Minhal Baig's debut film, she seeks to examine love, time, and how relationships evolve.

The setup is simple: Two couples, one at the beginning of their relationship, the other possibly at their end. Liz (Anna Camp) and Drew (Justin Chatwin) are an older couple checked into a Hotel. They wander the streets recalling familiar places and memories, and talking out their lives. The second couple Bea (Isabelle Fuhrman) and Andy (Kyle Allen) share a miserable prom, as their relationship begins to bloom.

1 Night divides its time between these two couples. Liz and Drew's excursions around town are filled with generic arguments and often flat dialog. The two leads are always great, but have little to work with here. On the flip side, the younger couple, despite having their own conflicts, are not so maudlin and lift the film from what might otherwise be a bit of a slog.

There are moments to enjoy in the film, largely in the young love side, but ultimately they're drowned out by the dour and often bland dialog and heavy handed score. At roughly 75 minutes, 1 Night feels too long. Indeed, if Baig had just done this as a short, it likely would have worked better.

Minhal Baig ties the two ends of the story together in an interesting way, that I won't give away. On the directorial side, the film is beautifully shot. Baig shows promise for future projects, but just isn't there yet in her first offering.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The 5 Pigs You Meet In Heaven

Planning a day trip to visit your parents in the great beyond? Maybe you're getting closer to your own departure but want to know what to expect in the next life? Assuming you're lucky enough to be heading "Up" we've got you covered. Here is a list of the 5 Pigs you can expect to meet when you get there.






1. Pete
Upon reaching the Pearly Gates, you'll find Pete waiting for you. In life, Pete taught blind children to see the world in their own way, before he was served up as sausages with mashed potatoes. In Heaven, Pete's job is to greet you and show you in.









2. Noodles
Back in the day, Noodles was a show pig on earth. He delighted audiences with his talents. In the Great Beyond, he routinely fills in as lead guitar for daily worship. He's not particularly good, but it's Heaven so no one cares.








3. Dinner
Dinner, who grew up on a working farm, was named as such, so no one would get too attached to him emotionally. The irony is how much joy his bacon and chops brought to local families. In Heaven, he's in charge of organizing your accommodations. 








4. J. P. Wessingham
Identified at a young age for having a brilliant mind, J. P. was a career student whose passion for learning was exceeded only by his love of philanthropy. In the end he gave all of himself one Easter dinner in celebration of Jesus' sacrifice. Now in Heaven, J. P. is responsible for one of the wings of the main library.







5. Madam Puddles
As everyone knows, all Guinea Pigs go to hell, but due to a clerical error, Puddles was let in several decades ago. Don't think they let her off too easy though. Puddles is now in charge of running the largest call center in the sweet hereafter. 



Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mr. Jones Meets A Cow [Short Story]




















  

God, was he tall!

Coming over the horizon, the two men in a truck saw what looked to be telephone pole snapped in half. But as they pulled closer, the hunched figure of a great man began to take shape. As if under it's own willpower the truck began to slow. The proverbial crawl achieved, they had but a few moments to gawk before they were upon him.

The truck's headlights carved two trenches along the darkened road, illuminating the behemoth. Sensing their stare the giant turned his attention to them. The beams from the truck broke upon his bony face, casting shadows, and for just a brief second, making him look like an old, stone gargoyle. His sharp features were emphasized by his slate grey complexion and framed in by his short hair that was slicked down by the light drizzle falling falling about him. For clothing, an obviously self-made, brown trench coat, too heavy for a Tennessee spring night, hung off his broad shoulders. A hand the size of a hubcap raised his thumb in the familiar request.

"Damn! What is he Del?” asked a mound of gelatin in overalls known as Albert Bright. "Think he's some kinda circus freak?"

"Don't know, but he sure doesn't look well."

Del the owner of the green '87 generic they were in began pulling over.

"What in the hell are you doing Del?" Al asked.

"Stop your swearing, I'm pulling over. There's not a town for another 30 miles. Judging from the way he's swaying he probably wouldn't make it another 30ft."

The Giant wearily made his way to the stopped truck.

"Ok, but don't blame me when tomorrow we all wake up dead," Al whined.

"Your house is just a mile away. If you want, you can walk back and we'll work on my tractor some other time."

For Al it was like not being given an option at all. The last time he had walked that far was… never. Al shook his head and responded with something not fit for print.

"Alright then, let's see what he has to say," Del cranked down his window as the giant both knelt and bent over. "What's the story stranger?" he asked.

"Hiking across America," Rolled out an accent unfamiliar to the two farmers. "Got lost a while back and the only thing I seem to have found is a cold."

"Sorry to hear about your misfortune. Tell you what though, if that front moving in is as bad as it looks, we'll be racing home. I'm sorry to say we don't have facilities large enough for you in our house, but you're welcome to hunker down in the barn. Smells a bit but it's warm and dry. Jen -that's my wife- will fix you something for that cold. Wadda-ya' say?"

"I say, that sounds miraculous. My thanks to both of you kind sirs."

"No problem. Toss yourself in the back and we'll be on our way," Del flashed a smile. "Name's Del, and this here beside me is Albert."

"Pleasure to meet you both, I'm Tom Thumb," his face went from a smile to dead serious. "My parents were sick."

He threw his bag into the back, which sighed under the weight. After his own was added the truck was practically riding on flats.

"I still think it's a bad idea," Al whispered, "come morning, everyone of us dead. Just wait and see."

Which as it happens Del was unable to do, since for the first and last time in his life, Al was right.

                                                  #

"...Blah, blah, blah. Who do you get to write this trash? Thing reads like a bad dime store novel."

The three-foot high alien sitting across from me tossed the file he'd been reading behind him. Within seconds a flask and a small glass with ice, replaced the file in his hands. He filled the glass with the familiar amber of his favorite scotch. A cigarette also decided to make an appearance.

"First off," I said, "What are you a hundred? Dime novels went out with the twenties. Second, put that fag out. You know I have asthma."

"Well, I don't, so let's compromise. You won't breathe 'til I'm finished."

"Funny. Put it out."

His black orb eyes stared at me from under a fedora. It complemented the 'Midnight Blue' pinstripe suit he was sporting. Perfect for his complexion which is always a little gray. Mr. Jones is the most stylish agent we have working for us here at the SSSS. Err, that's Solar Systems Secret Service. I've often wondered if he only does this job to afford his lifestyle.

A moment passed while the toothpick sized cigarette almost disappeared. Just before it hit the filter he stubbed it out like he was obeying his orders. He continued staring at me a while longer, showing emotion you wouldn't think a rubbery looking face like his could.

"Thank you," I half growled from my Cat throat. I too am an alien but of a species that looks like a tiger-humanoid mix.

"Sucks to your ass-mar, Wolf," he muttered before emptying his cup, "what do you want me to do about the hitcher? Sounds routine to me."

"If you'd have finished reading the report..."

"Yeah, well, I'd have finished it if the writing wasn't crap."

"Meredith wrote it."

Meredith is his cousin and my wife. His mouth became a Cheerio of an 'o'.

"Oh," he said.

"Don't worry I won't tell Mare about it. But you have to get down there quickly before that damned Mulder and Scully can!"

"That's a now long cancelled TV show."

"Well, whatever the equivalent is. Earthlings have such a way of bungling things up."

"Friendly though. Good food too," he smiled happily, “I remember a chimichanga I enjoyed at a little out of the way Mexican place. Darn thing was near as big as me.”

"Glad you find earth so agreeable. You’re scheduled for departure in 12 minutes."

"So soon? I haven't even got a toothbrush."

"Take my spare if you like," I held up a brush he could easily use to paddle a boat.

"Pass. Anything I should know about what I'm walking into?"

"Nitsche. No movement in the last 48."

"Nitsche?"

"I'm learning Krealien. Mare wants us to vacation there this year."

"Ah. You can count on me chief or my name's not Mr. Jones." He reached into his pocket and handed me a card that read:




Mr. Jones
Snappy dresser
Agent of SSSS
Bad Ass.




"I wish you'd stop giving me these things, I already have twelve."

"Meredith gave me a thousand last Christmas."

"Oh."

My wife is a very big hearted, um, 'handsome' woman.

"One more thing Wolfy boy..."

"Yes?"

"I can already see the narrative for this report shaping up in that head of yours and I can tell it's going towards a Sam Spade novel. When you do write this up, don't go that route. I'm more of a 'James Bond' type," Jones flipped me a sarcastic salute then left.

What's wrong with Sam Spade novels?

                                              #

Early on Thursday morning as the first light was just starting to peak over the horizon, a strange sight visited the small town of Canyon, TN. A tiny ship shaped much like the classic saucer, found perch in the grassy meadow a few yards from an old barn. The once beautiful red paint was chipped away in most places.

The door of the ship opened and out walked something the old farm had never seen before... A $2,500 dollar suit. Jones, always decked out in the best, was adorned in his black Armani. A cane in his hand served as a reminder that only a few, like the tiny alien stretching after the long ride, can pull off the look. He scanned the area then pulled out a cigarette. Pacing himself, Jones stored his cane in the ship and then headed for the barn.

Minutes later, having walked the perimeter, he stood before the large barn doors. One of them was opened a little. A lucky break since he would have had a cracker of a time opening it. Cautiously he entered in. The bit of sun shining through the planks offered barely light enough to see. Jones pushed the doors open till the barn was flooded with the day.

How to describe the inside? Oh, yes. It was the inside of a barn. I'm sure you have a mental picture you can draw on. Do so now, as it's correct. Jones climbed up into the hayloft only to find nothing besides a few random strands of straw. Quickly he climbed back down.

"Well the place seems pretty clean," he mumbled to himself, "with the exception of these dead bodies."

There were three bodies to be exact. The rather tall fellow in the report and two farm hands. Farmer Del could've identified them as John and Paul Pope. In the case of the latter two, they seemed to be dead. No breathing and no brain movement. Strangely though, Jones' portable MRI scanner detected a pulse in each of them. As for Tom Thumb... Nada.

A noise from a stall alerted Jones that he was not alone. He took a couple tentative steps then cursed. He lifted his right shoe and frowned. A large brown glob reminded him he was, after all, on a farm. He did his best to wipe it off then continued. As he got to the edge of the stall he pulled his gun out. In a quick movement he spun around the corner, his blaster outstretched.

"Alright, freeze!" he yelled.

"Moo," the response came.

"Moo? What are you, some kind of cow or something?"

"Moo," the cow assured him.

Jones eyed the cow for a few minutes wondering if it might yet be a Carigula from the planet Ipea in disguise. In the end he decided it was just hungry. 15 minutes later he left the barn; cow fed and watered. The only other buildings on the property were a woodshed and the house. The woodshed proved nothing other than that the people of earth name things appropriately. This left just the house.

It was a lovely little number. The kind of house people leave to their children, who then sell it to some young couple that'll leave it to their children, who in turn will proliferate the cycle. It was white with a blue trim. A new roof had been added within the past year, as had new windows. The front door was standing wide open. Probably not the way it was normally kept, but the second lucky break of the day for our intrepid, short agent.

The immediate room was a 70s style kitchen, showing generations of progress only with its new oven. The lime green wallpaper and orange floors were more than a little oppressive. Far too much for the sensitive alien whose eyes intensified the hue by 70% more than a man’s eyes. The effect was so horrible that Jones felt compelled to have a drink.

The Living room\dining area was almost as bad. Brown. No more words to describe it. Just brown. Nevertheless Jones gave it a thorough investigation. Content that nothing was hiding he moved on. The small bathroom and three closets concluded the downstairs area.

A long trek up the 13 steps brought Jones to a small hallway and 4 doors. Behind the first on the right, was a linen closet. The second revealed a small bedroom. Inside were things a small girl might enjoy. A large playhouse and doll set. An assortment of cartoon paraphernalia littered around the room. Posters of some sort of puff girl thing, made Jones' stomachs turn. A frilly bed may or may not have had a pink comforter underneath the weight of stuffed animals. In fact everything looked untouched and perfect. The only thing missing was a little girl. Jones was about to leave when he noticed something. On a mirror that was attached to the wall opposite the bed and above a small dresser, a small pinprick of blood quietly stared out. Jones made a mental note of it and moved on.

Back in the hall and across was a bathroom with a lot of toothpaste in the sink but not much else. That left one last door. The master bedroom was the only decent decorated room in the whole of the house. With the possible exception of the plaque that hung above the four-poster bed proclaiming "The Dell" in absolutely poor taste. As it happened the farmer was in the “dell” at that moment as was his wife. Neither of them were particularly surprised to see Jones. Neither were much of anything anymore as they were both dead.

"Always the last place you look," Jones muttered, before checking for a pulse. Both of them were like the farm hands.

Jones searched the rest of the room. A small door led to yet another bathroom. Curtains in the room pulled back to reveal a balcony. He pulled a cigarette out, then glancing at the old couple stepped out to light up. Respect for the dead and what not. He puffed away for a while, rubbing his temples and looking out over the field.

"Something very odd has wronged you two. I just wish I could say what," Jones pondered aloud.

As he was saying this he noticed a ways off from the house a large wooden door flat in the earth.

"I wonder if yonder storm cellar might have something to say in the matter."

Jones flicked the butt away and headed down and out. A few minutes later he stood before the door. A muted thumping from inside was trying to get out. A latch on the outside all that was keeping the unknown caged within. Jones eyed the door intently. Something instinctively told him his greatest fear was behind that door. Summoning all his courage (taking a drink of scotch) he threw the latch back. The door burst open and his worst fears confirmed themselves in the form of a little girl.

"Oh thank you so-" catching sight of her savior, she screamed, then passed out.

There was no way in hell a three foot high alien was going to move a 5'1 girl an inch let alone the distance to the house. As the saying goes 'desperate times call for desperate measures'. Jones pulled a brass cylinder from inside his suit pocket. Six small holes were on one side, and six corresponding buttons on the other. Jones pressed one of the buttons and a short needle popped out. Quickly he administered a shot to the child. Masaki-Liu is a vitamin extract that is commonly used to make a drunk sober up quickly, and is not meant for children. Needless to say the girl bolted straight up, eyes wide open.

"Fire! Fire in my blood and head!" she screamed.

"Here have a swallow of this,” he said handing her a small cup. The girl downed it then began choking.

"Now my throat's burning!"

"Scotch will do that. How's the head feel?"

One day I really must have a discussion with my cousin-in-law about the “do's” and “don'ts” of dealing with children

"Better actually," then as if remembering to what she was talking to, "what are -um, who are you?"

Jones smiled at the chance to ditch another card.

"...'Bad ass.' So you're an alien spy?"

Jones nodded.

"How come the card's in English? Do aliens speak English? Are you going to help my Mom and Dad?" She glanced towards the house her green eyes filling with tears.

Jones exhaled slowly, "My cards are written with a special type of ink that lets any intelligent species read it. Very few aliens speak English, I just happen to like your planet. Your parents…” He paused for a moment, struggling to find the words. ”I'm sorry to say there’s nothing I could do. I'm here to find out what happened to them."

The girl collapsed into a heap. For several tear choked minutes all Jones could see was a pale blue shirt, jeans and a lot of peach colored hair. He almost reached out to pat the girl on the back, then thought better of it. It would probably only freak her out even more. The only thing he could do was step back and give her some time. Hopefully she'd be able to pull herself together enough to answer a few questions. In the meantime he made a call.

"Hello?" I answered.

"It's a royal mess here," came Jones’ voice, remarkably clear for a phone light-years away.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"There's a kid down here and it's all... damp. What do I do with it?"

"What about everyone else?"

"Eh, they're dead, mostly. Focus Ewen. A child, 9 or 10 years old, and damp. Very, damp."

"What do you mean, 'mostly dead'?" I asked ignoring his whining.

"Hearts are still beating. That's not important though. What's important is that you tell me how to turn it off."

"Turn what off?"

"The eye-water. It freaks me out. Makes me feel funny. Like I should hug it or something."

"Oh, sweet crackers. Just hurry up, okay? Bye."

Jones stood speaking profanities into the dial tone for some unknown time before returning his attention to the girl. The child, still crying, was now sitting up. He approached her slowly feeling strangely vulnerable to her.

"I don't mean to interrupt your cleansing ritual, but I need to ask you a few questions. I know it's horribly traumatic and so soon, but there are things I need to know. They may help to figure out what happened. Do you understand?"

She nodded.

"Good. What I'd like to do is take you to my ship. I think you'll be more comfortable there. What do you say?"

A look of terror flooded her face and Jones understood that it wasn't going to happen that way.

"Ok, how about I just sit beside you here?" He scanned the area realizing that no matter where he sat it would stain his suit either with grass or mud. He chose grass and mentally tacked it on to the agency's expense report.

"Alright here's the plan. I'll ask you a question, you answer. While you’re talking I'll use this nifty little gadget that will scan your mind. It’ll allow me to see things you may not remember. Won't hurt at all, I promise. Is that alright?"

Another nod.

"Good. What's your name?"

"Kimberly Anna Johnson."

"How would you like me to call you?"

"Anna. Everyone else does," she sniffed.

Jones felt a strange pride for the girl. Anna seemed to be pulling herself together.

"Okay Anna. How come you were in the cellar?"

"I was at a sleepover on Friday. When I got back Saturday evening the house was quiet. I went upstairs to my parent’s room-" she broke off, unable to go on.

"That's alright Anna, you can stop for a minute," Jones was looking at his palm-sized scanner, which displayed her memories like a movie.

He watched through her eyes as she went up the stairs not in the least afraid. Why should she be? This was home. First she went to her bedroom to put away a few things. Then out to the hall where she called out. There was no answer back, nor would there ever be from her mother and father again. At last she stepped into her parents room. It was dark. The little light coming from the crack in the curtains only made it worse. Rain outside was drawing strange shadows on the walls, making them appear to be crawling with some sort of bugs. Like armies marching up and down.

On the bed something seemed to be sitting on her father's chest. She couldn't understand why her Dad didn't wake up. Whatever was on top of him had to be heavy. Anna called out to him, expecting him to sit up. She never even thought how odd it was for them to be in bed when their daughter was still out. However, it wasn’t her father that responded. The thing sitting on Del rotated the top half of itself to face her. A red light set in what she assumed was its head glowed in a cross shape.

She ran from the room, slamming the door as hard as she could. Down the stairs, out the kitchen, around the house and into the cellar she went. She barely felt the rain. Her only thought, that it had to be safer out of the house. A minute later she'd heard the door of the cellar latch close. Whether from the wind or by the hand of the hideous creature, she did not know. Jones suspected the latter.

The sun shone down brightly on Anna's face. Jones' eyes capable of seeing things only his race could, noticed the little rainbows that filled her every tear. He told her about them and it had an almost calming effect on her.

"Mr. Jones, can we go to your ship now?" she asked.

Jones nodded and led her to the tiny ship that shared a strange technology with many planets. Outside it was about the size of a tractor's wheel. But inside was like to a condo.

"I know, it's not much, but I make due," his weak attempt at humor fell short of even falling short of the mark.

"I didn't think it would be so..." Anna remarked.

"Yeah, it's a neat effect. Some scientist watching old episodes of Doctor Who got the idea. Unlike Doctor Who though, this ship just shrinks you down when you enter. Does the trick though. Would you like something to drink?"

"Yes please. Anything would be good."

Jones scanned the fridge and cupboards, wondering what exactly one could serve a human girl. It had been a year or so since he was last on earth and he hadn't had a chance to go shopping then. In the end he went with a Pink Veluthe, a sort of generic fruit juice he'd picked up while on Planet X: The Shopping Planet.

When he entered the room Anna was no longer crying. She seemed almost peaceful. She was polite when she took the drink. Even thanked him. Then she guzzled what she described as the best fruit punch she'd ever tasted. Jones smiled, obviously pleased to no end.

"Now Anna, I've got to go back out there, but I want you to stay here, alright?"

"No way," she answered flatly.

"I have to insist. It's much too dangerous out there. In here is safety."

"In here is not helping. I need to help. I need- Daddy?" Anna dove out the door.

Jones looked out the front window and saw Del walking around like he'd never even been sick.

The small alien ran out after the girl but could not match her stride. Off in the distance he saw the man open his arms and Anna leaping into them.

"Anna, no!" Jones yelled. By the time he reached them they were hugging as if all was right in the world.

"Oh Daddy, I thought you were dead," Anna was saying.

"I'm quite alright as you can see. How are you?" Del spoke.

"I'm fine Daddy, now that you're here."

"Excuse me," said the little alien politely, "but I don't believe we've been properly introduced."

Del dropped the girl in surprise. Anna fell back, nearly cutting herself on a nearby axe.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Del asked.

"Here? That’s funny, I don't recall trading schedules with you. Tell you what though, I just scanned your body and right now it's telling me two things: One, despite your standing here, you're still not breathing; and two, there is currently something living inside you. My name is Mr. Jones, what's yours?"

His was apparently "Mr. pulling gun out of pants and screaming ‘he's mine food, mine food.'" Needless to say old Mr. P.G.O.P.S.H.M.F.M.F. never got a shot off. Anna who seemed oddly parted with her grief buried the hatchet, in her father. An ax to the chest coincidentally being his weakness.

"Thank you," said Jones. "I'm very sorry you had to do that. I can't imagine how hard it was for you."

Anna was staring down at her father.

"Just tell me it wasn't really my daddy anymore. That I didn't actually kill him," she spoke as if the wind had been knocked out of her.

"I don't know what comfort these words will be but your father died days ago. All you did was destroy one of his killers."

"I thought so. What was it?"

"A kind of parasite."

"Like Puppet Masters?"

"Sort of. Much more intelligent though."

"Did he feel pain when he died? Not now, I mean, but before."

"No," Jones lied.

"What happens now?" She bore no emotion, as if all feelings had been drained from her.

"You go back to the ship and wait for me. I'll do what has to be done here."

"Huh-uh," Anna put her foot on her father and retrieved the ax like it had been stuck in a log, "I need to help finish this."

Jones saw the determination in her face and asked only one question.

"What's with the ax laying around where anyone can trip on it?"

Anna shrugged, "Dunno. We don't even own an ax like this."

"Oh-ho," Jones said. "Here’s the plan. We're going back into the house and you're not going to do anything you don't have to. I lead, you're my backup. Any questions?"

"What's your first name?"

"Mr. Jones will do fine, thank you."

They entered the house from a side veranda. This time they came directly into the living room. Jones had seen a lot of things in his life, but nothing had prepared him for what greeted them. Jones had figured on Anna's mother psychotically roaming around, perhaps greeting him with a cleaver in hand. He could even imagine her with the family rifle. What he never considered was that she would be wielding lemonade.

Nor was she the only one in the room. Both of the farm hands were there, seated quite comfortably, icy glasses in one hand and cookies in the other. It could have been a snapshot of normality, if not for the whole being dead, thing.

"Oh good, Anna and Mr. Jones have arrived. Please be seated." 


Jen Johnson motioned towards two empty seats. Jones started to pull his blaster but the farm hands had already replaced the cookies in their hands with guns. It was a surprising choice of firearms at that. The ‘Jericho’ maybe popular with military people and collectors but is rarely seen on farms.

"Now, now Mr. Jones. You've already killed my son. The least you can do is sit and talk a spell."

Jones looked at Anna and sighed. If he'd been alone he would have chanced it. He's small but can dodge and shoot like no one’s business. But Anna might have been hit in the crossfire. He couldn't risk that.

"Can I have a glass of that yellow stuff?" Jones asked.

Jen smiled, "Of course. How about you Hon?"

Anna sat rigidly in a recliner clutching the ax, tight lipped. She managed to shake her head no.

"Suit yourself. Mr. Jones how is it you came to be here?"

"I hate it when people play dumb and ask me idiotic questions. You know who I am so obviously you know how I came to be here. You are aware that what you're doing is a violation of section 831-B of the A.S.Y.'s inter-celestial treatise?"

"Poaching?" Jen was shocked, "Is that what you think we're doing?"

"Aren't you? You are feeding off the humans, right? And humans happen to be a protected species."

A look of hurt filled Jen's face.

"Not at all. We are not Parasites. John, Paul, go bring the bags. We'll show them what we're doing. I'm sure you'll find this interesting Mr. Jones."

The two farmhands stood up and began walking towards the kitchen. Here now is what makes agent Jones different from so many others. What sets him apart from say, Elliot the Xanite, who sadly, is no longer with us: A lack of curiosity.

Not a second after their backs were turned, Jones had his blaster out. A quick shot to John's head and one to Paul’s left lung persuaded the men to die. He then shifted his gun to his hostess, who sat glued to her chair, jaw on the floor.

"What did you do that for?" Jen asked.

Jones looked at her like it was the most obvious thing in the world and she was playing stupid again.

"To kill them, duh."

"But you didn't even hear what we had to say!"

"Meh."

"But aren’t you even a little curious?"

"Curiosity killed the cat."

She raised a finger, "Ah, but satisfaction brought it back."

Jones shrugged, "Who cares? I hate cats."

A large hole appeared in the upper left corner of Jen's head where an eye used to be. Probably as a result of the gun shooting her.

"You hate cats? Bang? Why didn't you listen to what she was saying? She said they weren't parasites! Don't you think you should have found out what they are?" Anna cried out.

"That's a question that deserves an answer and here it is. In truth, I actually do like cats. I just thought it had more of a punch that way."

Jones held out his scanner. He studied each body carefully and frowned at the results.

"There's one more at least," he announced a few minutes later.

"How do you know that?" Anna asked.

"Because none of them are the one you saw."

"So what do we do now?"

Jones sat back and lifted a glass to mouth, careful to drink from an area that wasn't sprinkled with red. A sour expression crossed his face. He took a small red flask that for once did not contain Scotch from his left pocket. He poured it into his glass and sipped his now hard lemonade. After a lick of his non-existent lips he declared it good. A cigarette soon joined the mix and felt right at home. He glanced at Anna who was staring at him impatiently. He let out a great puff of smoke with a deep rush.

"Alright, look, for every step you take I have to take five. I'm having a break."

"What about my parents?" Anna demanded.

"They're dead. Five minutes won't change that," he winced once the words were out but Anna didn't react like he thought she would.

Instead she sat back in the chair and didn't say anything. They sat in silence for exactly 5 minutes. Jones watched the last seconds tick away on a clock above Jen's body. It was shaped like a house, the clock, not her body. When time was up he stood and left, Anna following.

"Where are we going?" Anna asked.

"There is only one other being on this farm big enough to house the bug you saw. The cow."

So back to the barn they went. Inside Anna got her first look at the giant.

"What about him?" She asked.

Jones glanced at Tom.

"No he's the first unfortunate victim and the carrier that brought him to the farm. He's completely dead."

Jones sidled up to the stall and looked at the cow with his black orb eyes. The Guernsey in turn looked at him with its big cow eyes. This continued awhile, both of them sizing each other up.

"Alright cow, I know there's a critter the size of Wisconsin inside of you, so talk. What's going on?"

"Moo," the cow answered him.

"Moo?" Anna asked Jones.

"Moo," the cow assured her.

"So we're still playing that game are we,” Jones stated.

"There's no game," said a voice from behind them. Anna and the alien turned simultaneously to see the figure approaching, "it's just a cow."

"Uncle Albert?" Anna breathed.

Jones smacked his head with the palm of his hand.

"Fatty! I forgot all about you. How's the bug?"

Al held up a rifle. "We prefer to be called spiders."

"This is why I hate farms," Jones declared, "everyone has a gun."

"Why are you doing this?" Anna asked.

"Nice to know someone's willing to hear us out before shooting. Mr. Jones, are you interested?"

The SSSS agent lit a cigarette before responding.

"No, and let me tell you why. Every time something like this goes down it's always for one of three reasons. Either you're hungry, you're aiming at global domination, or something's wrong with your race and you need to lay your eggs in a host's body. Your husband Jen ruled out the first option. We can rule out the second because there were only two breeders to begin with. You in the Giant's body and Daddy Long Legs in the duffel bag. That leaves us with number three. I think I heard somewhere they now have Viagra for women. Not that you need it anymore. You know, since I wasted your life partner."

"Lucky guess. However since we've nothing left to talk about, I'll be killing you now."

Al raised the rifle and fired. Jones was gone quickly, like a rubber band stretched then fired off. He was well out of the way by the time the bullet reached where he had been standing. When he landed he had his gun ready, but found it wasn’t needed. The ax formerly in Anna's hands had taken up residence in Al.

"Good aim Anna," Jones voiced.

"Thanks. That's it, right?"

"Not quite," Jones straightened his suit out then lowered the gun on Anna and fired.


                                                      #


The small alien sat across from me smoking until once again I asked him to put it out. He'd had several good weeks rest and was just now coming in to make his report. If it were up to him he'd never file a report. I always end up holding his paycheck until he does.

"I don't quite understand some things. I'm afraid you're in for some questions," I said to the dismay of my friend.

"Oh alright," he sighed.

"Let's start with that strange accented tall man. What planet was he from?"

"Earth. He was Irish."

"Earth! But he was so tall."

"11'3. Grew up in a suburb of Dublin. I had the body shipped to his family along with a note that said he died defending an old lady from a gang of bikers."

"That was sweet of you."

"Not really. I just like lying."

He pulled out a short metal tube he'd gotten in a tourist shop on the trip back. He pushed a button on one end and the metal telescoped into a martini glass.

"Cute. How did you know it was the female in Al?"

"From what I saw in the girl’s memory. The females are always bigger when it comes to spiders. Plus I figured it was laying eggs in Del. Are we almost done? It's Tuesday Taco Two-play at Toucan's Tasty Tosquitos," he licked his mouth and rubbed his tiny belly for emphasis.

"Soon enough. Now about the cow. Why did you bring it with you?"

"I feel that for future investigations it would be good to map the cow language."

"But from what I’ve been told the cow has only one word in its vocabulary."

"Moo," Jones said.

"Moo?" I asked.

"Moo," he assured me. "I figure it must be something important if they spend their whole life trying to make us understand it. Besides it gives something for the language boys to do down in room 303. You know they're always staring jealously out the windows as the agents come and go."

I rubbed my head, which was beginning to hurt.

"Why can't you ever just blow up something like everyone else? Why must you always bring someone or something back with you?"

"What are you talking about? I blew up the farm."

"I know. I mean- oh never mind."

Jones leaned forward, proffered a queer little smile and spoke conspiratorially, "Now that that's all finished I'm gonna treat you to a taco."

"I didn't say we were done. Besides, Meredith is making *sigh* curd loaf."

"Oh. Sorry."

"Yeah...let’s get back to it."

"Ok, but hurry up."

"About the girl. How did you know she was infected? Was it that bloodspot you saw?"

"Nope. That turned out to be from some bike crash the week before. The tip-off came from her sudden lack of emotion. You know, the way she was able to sever ties with her family. And when I say sever ties I mean hacking away at them. And when I say hacking I mean she used an ax. And by ax I mean-"

"I get it! So, why stun her than? Why not just destroy her too?"

"She hadn't completely succumbed to the bugs. Like the two farmhands she was only seeded with eggs. They hadn't developed yet. The farmhands weren't even hosts yet themselves. If they hadn't been killed first I would have done what I could have to save them too. As it stands they were basically remote controlled by Jen."

"How did the girl last so long?"

"Strong immune system. Some people just have them," he looked at his watch and then at me. I ignored him and went on.

"What is her status now?"

"I cryo'd her, but not before the poison had seeped into her brain and etched out the ridges that code empathy. A few months of treatment and she should be mostly back to normal. She’ll have a scar though which may cause glitches from time to time."

"And where will she live while this goes on?"

Jones shuffled his feet as he searched for the right way to phrase what he had to say.

"Let's go get those tacos."

"Jones, now!" I snarled

"I thought I would take her in. I like her. She reminds me of a kitten I once had."

"Children are not pets."

"Fine. She'll be my niece or some such drivel. Look, there's loads of other humans here. Even a couple her age. She'll fit in great. Back on earth they'd probably accuse her of murdering her family."

"What about extended family?" I asked.

"She has one aunt who's near death."

I let out my last heavy sigh of the story and brought out a copy of the agency's expense report.

"Fine, Jones, fine. Keep the kid. But I have one last question."

"Shoot," he said, getting to his feet.

"How in the hell can you justify spending Twenty-eight hundred Kulbars on a new suit as a 'cleaning expense?'"

Jones removed a plain white envelope from his jacket and placed it on my desk.

"I thought this might come up so I prepared this in advance. Now if you'll excuse me I have a date with 2 number 3's," Jones stated before exiting with the quiet dignity of a saint who has just been martyred.

I looked at the envelope dreading its contents. Unfortunately there was no putting it off. I am after all a very busy person. I didn't bother with the formality of a letter opener. Though strangely enough I have ten of them. Don't ask. It's a hobby. Instead I ripped the side open and emptied it into my left hand. Inside, the smarmy arse had left another of his business cards with my answer. Underlined in red with arrows pointing at it from all angles were the last two words. 'Bad Ass.'

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Causes, Lost




The superhero opened the filing cabinet and rifled through till he came to a section marked 'Causes, Lost.' He took a folder out from under an arm and placed it in the section before closing the cabinet. Solemnly he walked back to his desk, cape flowing gently behind his back. An old wooden chair behind the desk bore his weight with a creak.

The hero opened a drawer in the desk, and retrieved a bottle of whiskey and dirty mug. He poured himself a quarter glass and brought it to his mouth. He paused for a moment, before putting it back down untouched. He got up and retrieved the folder he'd just filed away.

Jane, Shelly
19 - F
MA
(Deceased)

"The girl with two first names," he spoke aloud to no one.

He had chased every clue he could find. Run down every dark alley, and dimly lit bar. He had knocked on the doors of a hundred perps, and shaken down every shady establishment. In the end he'd missed all the real clues. Because in the end, it was her all along.

She'd been on a collision course for a couple of years. "Heroin for a heroine" the headlines would read. An overdose in the bathroom of her apartment two nights before. He'd gotten there in time to find her there himself. And in that moment, standing over her, he'd felt it. More than ever he'd felt it. He was just a man in a ridiculous costume.

The hero lifted his glass and drained it.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

200 Souls [Short Story]





Out the window. Up the fire escape. Across the rooftop, over the ally to another roof. Every footstep he took, I matched, tumbling through the maze of the city. About to cross another gap between rooftops, he looked back to see where I was. A mistake on his part. Fatal, as it turned out. His timing off, he plunged down to the earth below. Spread out on the concrete. Neck broken. A bloody mess.

I turned around and headed back the way I'd come. I felt robbed. The knife in my hand felt robbed. I tucked it back inside my jacket. No real need to run now, I took my time across the roofs, till I came to the one where my car sat parked below.

"We should check in on the girl," he whispered to me. I don't know why he always whispered. It's not like anyone else could hear him.

I nodded and took the fire escape down two flights to the window that I'd exited shortly before. She was sitting at the table. Around her, things were strewn across the floor, broken and spilled. An ode to the fight I'd just had with the freshly spattered man.

"Sorry about the mess," I said.

She looked up startled for a moment but calmed instantly when she saw it was me. Humans are funny. Save someone's life and they instantly trust you. I could just as easily be a murderer, but how would she know?

"Don't worry about it. Thank you for saving my life," she responded.

She was pretty; black, athletic, with long dark hair and chestnut eyes. Her hair was messy and her clothes torn. That was only to be expected after what had almost happened.

"Happy to do it. Listen, should we get you to a hospital or something?"

"I'm fine. What happened with that guy?"

He looks like a Jackson Pollock.

"He looks like a Jackson Pollock," I responded. 
I have a bad habit of speaking my mind.

"Pardon?"

"He fell off a roof as I was chasing him," I course corrected. "He's dead."

"Oh. That's...good."

She was looking at me funny and I could guess why. I was dressed like a Victorian gentleman, complete with long coat and cane. Well, the cane I'd lost in the fight. I took a moment to locate it and retrieve it.

"I guess I should be going," I said.

"I'll see you out."

I stood in the doorway. A dim lit light in the hallway shined just brightly enough to guide you to the stairs. I smiled at her, as we stood there, unsure of what else to say.

"Ask her about him," he hissed at me.

I sighed.

"Did you know that man?" I asked.

She shook her head no, but I could tell she was holding back. So I probed deeper.

"No? Should I tell the police he just followed you home?"

"The police? Do we really need to get them involved?"

"Of course," I lied. "A rapist is dead, in part, because of me. The police are going to want to know what happened."

"He wasn't raping me, he was trying to kill me. But I understand. do you think you could at least wait till morning? It's been a long night and I really need some time to process things."

"Ask her about who's in her closet," he whispered in my ear.

"Not at all. Goodnight to you," I said, ignoring him.

She bid me goodnight and closed the door. As I walked down the hall he materialized beside me. Short, skinny, and white with a stupid, push broom mustache. He was also dressed like a Victorian gentleman, though he had a bowler hat atop his scraggly brown hair.

"There's a man in her closet, tied at the hands and feet," he spoke.

"Don't care. Not my concern. That counts by the way. I'm at 14 now. She makes 14."

"That would only be the case if you had saved her life. She's still going to die tonight unless you intervene."

We had reached the stairs now and were descending.

"That man, by her own mouth, was there to kill her. I want credit for it, damn it."

"Alright. Since that was half the job, I'll credit you half a soul. If you're content to just have half, then by all means go home and celebrate."

We had reached the outdoors. The night was damp, but fresh. The city lights illuminated the streets, offering passerby a false sense of security. At home, a bottle of scotch was waiting for me. I hate to disappoint an old friend, especially when it's a liquid dinner date. But I'd waited a long time to move up in numbers.

I took the fire escape again. It's a good thing I'm in excellent shape, otherwise I might find this up and down exhausting. I arrived, out of breath, at the window I'd been in and out of all night. Inside I crept, looking around. She was gone, replaced by the body of a dead man who, by the looks of things, had been shot a half dozen times.

"Make him talk, will ya'?" I said to my companion.

He reached through the floor underneath the corpse and pulled something up. A moment later our sieve looking friend was gasping.

"Where's the girl gone to?" I asked the reanimated man.

"What's happening? Who are you?" he asked back.

"I'm Ian, this here is Thornton, and you're dead. Now that were all caught up, why don't you tell me where the girl went?"

"She's gone after McLaren. I'm dead? Oh, God, I am! I remember."

"Who's McLaren?" I demanded, shaking him.

"God, I'm sorry. I shoulda listened to my mama. Please God, forgive me."

Suddenly, a light flashed over the goon, illuminating his body. A second later his soul was gone.

"Son of a bitch," I spat.

"It's your own fault, for reminding him he was dead. Once a soul is reclaimed after death, it's taken immediately."

"Yes, thank you, Thornton, I remember. Doesn't really help me out right now though, does it?"

"I'm just saying..." Thornton just said.

I rifled through the twice dead man's pockets. There was no wallet or anything that could ID him. I did however find a matchbook. Little tip out there for you amateur sleuths, there's always a matchbook. I don't know why --maybe people really love fire-- but there's always a matchbook.

The one I got off the corpse directed me to a dive bar across town. I grabbed Corpse-y Magoo, and hefted him up the fire escape to the roof. Thornton helped for a change. Once on the roof I hefted him into the ally down below. Best I could do with limited time. That taken care of, I headed down the fire escape for what I hoped was the last time.

Back in my car, I headed to the bar. Thornton sat patiently beside me. Cops were already blocking up the road by where the first body had dropped. I circled round, heading down a side street. It was a cool night and I drove with the windows down enjoying the wind drying the sweat off my head.

"You know, I have to admit that was impressive," I said to Thornton.

"What's that?" he responded.

"In the time we walked down the stairs, she killed him and managed to get down the fire escape."

"You would find that admirable," he said in disgust.

I smiled and drove on. The dive bar on the matchbook was closed when we got there. I peered through a window but no one seemed to be home. Just to be sure, and because I'm polite, I knocked. When there was no answer, I felt satisfied in having done my due diligence. Using the brass knob on the end of my cane, I smashed a window and let myself in.

The bar was not what I expected. For one, there was no bar. For two, it was stacked full of boxes. I slit the one on top and had a look. It was full of matchbooks like the one in my pocket. The label on the side was a little more helpful as it was addressed to a Sean McLaren. The address was to the bar, but at least I had a first name to go along with the last.

"Got any ideas on how to find this Sean McLaren?" Thornton asked.

I looked up from my phone. "Really? It's called Google, ya' nob. I realize you've been dead for some time, but that's no excuse for not keeping up with technology."

The search results led me to news stories about a suspected drug lord. From there it was a couple quick jumps to connect him to a Chinese restaurant. I helped myself to a box of matches. I could feel Thornton's scowl as I loaded the box into the back of my black, '65 Ford Falcon.

"What do you need with all those matches?" he asked.

"I don't know. I just really love fire, I guess."

Ming's China Palace wasn't far from the bar. I enjoy Chinese food as much as the next person. If tonight's events could be resolved without too much violence, I'd have to see if they were any good. That said, I would not be entering via traditional means. Whatever hope I'd had of not using anymore fire escapes that night was quickly dashed by the site of the young lady I'd saved earlier, entering a window three stories up.

"Drug dealing Chinese restaurant...what a cliche tonight is turning into," I muttered to myself.

I climbed up the stairs, as quietly as I could, thankful that this was a much shorter trip up. At the window I stopped and peered carefully around the edge. Inside was well lit. My young friend was sneaking up on a man twice her build. A moment later and she had him in a choke hold. He struggled, lifting her into the air and bashing her against the wall.

"What are you waiting for?" Thornton poked at me.

"She seems fine so far. I wanna see where this goes."

Where it went, was down. The big man had run out of steam and oxygen. She rode him to the floor like a kitten on a moose. Seconds later she was back up. Just in time for a group of five to enter the fray. None were as big as the moose, but each one had a hundred pounds on her easily. They all had bats and knives. No guns, I was surprised to see.

The first one that came to meet her swung wide. She ducked quickly, and landed a punch in his gut. I looked closer. More than a punch! She'd left a knife embedded in his stomach. He collapsed in a heap, by his moose buddy. Next came two at once. One was brandishing a baseball bat, the other a heavy metal chain. As they swung their respective weaponry in unison, our young heroine leaped into the air, grabbing hold of a light fixture dangling from the ceiling and kicked them both in their faces.

"You know it really is a shame that the criminal world is just as sexist as any other corporation," I said to Thornton who was looking on appalled as the two goons crumpled to the ground. "See how quick and nimble she is? And they don't have any female talent on their side to match her."

The final two chickened out and ran for help. She took that moment to catch her breath. I found myself breathless as well, admiring her dark beauty. The next group that came in was easily three times the size of the first. They had guns too, which hardly seemed fair to me. I'd been enjoying the show.

From the back of the group, a mid 30's Asian guy, stepped out. He wore a perfectly tailored suit and expensive shoes. His expression was of pain, like all villains get when they feign butt hurt over some perceived betrayal. His words soon confirmed my feelings.

"What are you doing here, Neska? This isn't like you," he said.

"You know why I'm here, McLaren," she replied. "What you did to my sister was inhuman."

"That was between me and her. She had a debt to pay and I settled it. As far as I'm concerned the matter is in the books."

"Not between you and me it isn't."

"Neska, Neska, Neska. Do you see all these men with all these guns? I'd hate to see something as beautiful as you ruined. It'd be like defacing a Picasso."

"I will kill you, even if it's with my last breath," she promised.

"Fine, have it your way," he said, waving it off with his hand. "Kill her, please."

Guns were raised. I took this as my sign it was time to intervene.

"We're on Thornton," I said, leaping in the window.

Everyone in the room, while surprised at my appearance, quickly recovered and began firing at me. Neska, took the opportunity to run out of the way. Thornton, my spiritual friend, began swirling around me like a mist. As the bullets ran through his ghostly body they were decelerated to a level that would leave bruises later, but not penetrate my flesh.

What's the point of having a cane if it doesn't do anything, right? I twisted at the top and pulled, revealing a rather cruel looking dagger. This paired with the knife in my jacket, and I felt fashionably attired for the fight. Realizing their bullets were useless, most had dropped their guns and retrieved hand weapons of their own.

I would love to write in great detail about the melee, but the trouble is, when you're in one it's not really as exciting as watching. There was a lot of ducking and dodging. A couple managed to penetrate Thornton's protection and cut me, or give me a good punch, but that was it. Mostly I slashed my way through the lot of them.

I noted at one point that dear, sweet Neska, had joined me in the fight. She was marvelous. Watching her was like watching a ballet bathed in blood. I was actually pleased to be saving her. A sentiment I rarely felt. At last, after what was, again mostly grueling work, the room was littered about with the dead. I looked upon my work and was pleased.

There was only one left to dispatch. Sean McLaren stood against the door looking on. He had that jaded look upon his face that can only come from a life of brutality. I approached him, knives in hand, ready to complete the task.

"What's your deal?" Sean asked me. "Are you a hired hand for Neska? I'll pay you triple if you take her out right now."

"Money doesn't interest me. I owe a debt that needs to be repaid."

"Please, let me do it," Neska implored. "Let me kill that Irish son of a bitch for what he did to my sister."

"Irish?" I responded. "He's Chinese."

"I'm Irish-Korean, you racist asshole."

"Really? Why Chinese then? Why not a Korean restaurant?"

"I hate kimchi," he answered.

"Huh, fair enough. He's all yours Miss Neska."

I stepped aside and offered her a knife. She took it from my hand and approached him. Out in a flash came his gun. I couldn't believe I hadn't thought to frisk him. I was so quick to let her have her revenge for...whatever, and now I was about to lose my 14th soul. I started to run, to head her off, but as it turned out she was quicker than I was.

The knife I'd given her flew threw the air, and landed in his arm, causing him to drop his gun. She quickly followed after, landing on top of him, a syringe in her hand. God knows what was inside it, but a moment later he was writhing in agony. Another moment later, and he wasn't doing anything ever again.

Danger seemingly over, Thornton stopped spinning his protective mist around me and materialized as a man again.

"Well done," he said.

Neska looked up from the man she'd just killed to me.

"Who and what are you guys?" she asked.

I looked at Thornton startled, then back to her.

"You can see him?" I asked in return.

"Of course I can. I'm not going to miss two dudes dressed like Pride and Prejudice."

"Double huh. This is an interesting development, to say the least. Anyone up for Chinese?" I wiped my dagger clean and inserted it back in the cane, before heading out the door.

"Is he serious?" she asked Thornton.

"You get used to him after awhile," he responded.

Downstairs I ordered myself some lo mein and crab rangoons. They were okay, but nothing special. McLaren should have stuck to drugs and left the food business to the experts. Still, food is food. I sat there eating it as a barrage of questions were hurled at me. Who was I? Why had I helped her? How did I know to help her? Why didn't the bullets kill me? How does Thornton...Thornton? I happily ignored her, choosing to focus on my food instead. Thornton, not able to partake in the meal, filled her in on the details.

"200 souls?" she asked.

"Yes, madam," Thornton replied. "A debt to be repaid to the universe by Mr. Caliber for his sins."

"What sin did he commit?"

I wiped my mouth and answered that one.

"Quite a few, but in this instance murder."

"Who did you kill?" Neska asked.

"Me, of course," Thornton spoke nonchalantly.

I stood up and threw some money down on the table before continuing.

"Well, this stroll down memory lane has been fun, but I really only stayed this long cause I was craving Chinese. I think I'll head out."

"Wait," she said, pulling on my sleeve. "I'd like to help. I have skills --ones you don't even know about. I think I could you help with your quest."

I laughed. "I don't do sidekicks. You can lose souls that way. Best of luck to you, 14."

I exited, leaving Thornton to handle any unfinished business he might have. I got as far as opening the door before I turned around. I walked back slowly to my dinner dates and slumped down in my still warm booth. Thornton was twirling his thumbs and rolling his eyes innocently, like this was some damn Laurel and Hardy routine.

"Did you forget something?" asked Neska.

"It would appear that I'm without a mode of transportation currently as my car is on fire," I responded and glared at the ghost beside me.

"I certainly hope you don't think that I would..." Thornton responded, over-dramatizing the hurt in his voice. "That is to say, what did you expect, hauling a big box of matches around like that in the back of your car?"

"Uh-huh." I sighed and prepared to swallow my pride. "Neska, I don't suppose you could give me ride?"

"Of course," she replied. "It's the least I can do."

"Splendid!" Thornton exclaimed. "Now you two will have a chance to talk more."

"Sometimes Thornton..." I said, rubbing my wearied head. "Sometimes I wish I could kill you again."


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