Wednesday, July 19, 2017

200 Souls - Issue 2: Tables and Chairs

Night. Dark. My favorite time of day. I stood outside the gates of a mansion looking in. In front of me, the iron bars were tall with spikes at the top. Beautiful, but practical defense from the outside world. To each side of the gates stood slick concrete walls, twice my height.

"Not exactly welcoming, is it?"

I looked to my left. Beside me, my constant companion Thornton, the spirit of a Victorian gentleman, had materialized. He wore the garb of his era, but with a dumb bowler hat atop his head, and a stupid push broom mustache on his pale face.

Not that I was much better. Dressed in the outfit I'd killed Thornton in all those years ago, I looked like a ponce.

"Perhaps, I should ring the bell," I said with a smirk.

"You know, you're not nearly as charming as you think you are, Ian."

This last came from the third part of my traveling party. Neska was tall, black, athletic, with long hair pulled back into a ponytail. I had saved her life sometime back and she'd been a leach, stuck to my side ever since. But she also owned a bar where I could drink for free, so I called it a worthwhile investment.

"Dear Neska, I was con man before I met Thornton. I've talked many a lady out of things they'd never thought they'd part with. I am that charming."

"Do you two think we could get back to the task at hand?" Thornton interrupted.

I raised my hands in innocence, and then gestured towards the wall. Thornton began spinning around in a ghostly mist, which lifted Neska and I up to the top of the non-spiked wall. From there the two of us hopped down to the ground below on the other side.

The landscape was beautifully kept with trees and bushes, flowers and pathways, all strategically placed throughout the trimmed lawn. Surprisingly, for a place with such an impressive wall, there didn't seem to be any security guarding the residence. Even still, we played ninja, sneaking from cover point to cover point till we reached the house.

As we were not exactly invited, we opted not to go for the front door, as we weren't likely to have the warmest reception. Instead we trailed around to the left side of the house. There I found a window and peered in to scope out the place.

"What do you see?" hissed Neska.

"Nothing," I hissed back. "The room is dark."

"You know, I could just go in and have a look." Thornton stated.

As a spirit, no one but Neska and I could see him. Me, because I'd killed him, and Neska because...well, I still hadn't figured that one out yet.

"I mean, I guess we could do things the easy way," I shrugged.

Thornton tipped his ridiculous hat and disappeared through the wall. I sat on the ground against the house and Neska followed my direction.

"Tell me about one of the souls you've saved," said Neska.

"Well, there was this one lady, who was on a mission to avenge her sister. Tried to take down the head of a cartel by herself. Pretty bad ass fighter, but way in over her head."

"Ha ha," said Neska. "I mean someone other than myself."

"I don't like talking about my debt."

"We're out here right now trying to pay off a piece of that debt. It's not like it's a secret. 200 souls to save, hundreds of years you've lived, and I was only 14. How hard can it be to save a life?"

I sighed, and picked at a blade of grass beside me.

"Thornton has all these rules. Because I'm paying for his murder, blood has to be paid with blood. So I can't just become a paramedic, or save starving children in Africa."

"Tell me about one of the others," Neska implored.

"My number two was a young girl by the name of Sally McTaverish. Ever heard of her?"


"She would have been Jack the Ripper's last victim."

"Wait, what?" she asked.

That question went unanswered as Thornton had reappeared beside us. He was shaking his head and bore a scowl on his face. He was doubled over like he was winded.

"No good," he said, panting. "There's a lot of innocents in there. Staff, who might get hurt if we do a straight assault on the place."

"Why the hell are you panting?" I asked. "You don't have lungs."

Thornton stood up offended.

"Force of habit."

"Force of habit for a fat man. If I hadn't killed you, your diet would have. Would you have haunted roast chicken and bread then?"

"Gentlemen..." Neska soothed.

"Right, right. So how do we go about our mission?" I asked.

"There's a skylight over the dining room where everyone seems to be meeting. We'll have to wait till it's between courses and drop down from there."

"You sure you can handle that, fatty?" I remarked.

I think if a ghost could turn red, Thornton would have. What followed was a short exchange, mostly profanity ridden, so I'll spare you the details. After it ended we made our way to the back, where a trellis with ivory grown over it, led all the way to the roof. The mansion was big, but only about three stories high, so we were up top pretty quickly.

The dining room was toward the middle, so we made our way carefully along the different levels of slanted shingles. In the middle, as Thornton had promised, was a skylight. It was basically a multi paned, security glass dome. Completely unbreakable and with no perceivable entry points.

"Well done, Thornton. None of these windows seems to open up," I said.

"I know. I figured I would phase the two of you."

I groaned.

"What do you mean by that?" asked Neska.

"If you let him tell you, he'll just say he can turn us invisible. In reality he merges our bodies with his essence, till the atoms become spaced far enough apart to slide through the glass. It feels creepy, like having your insides dripping with honey."

"Forget I asked," said Neska.

We laid out on our stomachs to survey the terrain. Below us I could see a long table with at least twenty men round it, eating, drinking, and presumably, being merry. Thornton pointed a pale finger towards a man sitting at one end of the table. He was portly, with a large, bald head, and expensive suit.

"I'm here to save Lex Luther?" I hissed.

"His name is Francis Derrywater. Though he's known colloquially as 'Frank.'"

"Who are the rest of the men?" Neska asked.

"Good question," I chimed in.

"I don't know. All I can tell you is that one of them is here to kill the rest of them."

"A murder mystery. You brought us to a murder mystery dinner."

"I kind of always wanted to attend one of those," said Neska. "Just, you know, without anyone really dying."

"Nesk, Neska, Neska," I shook my head. "Why did your parents name you Neska?"

"What?" she responded.

"I looked it up. It means 'girl' in some weird language. What kind of parents name their child 'girl?'"

"This is hardly the time."

I shrugged. "Fine. To be continued. Shall we go?"

Thornton began swirling around us, then inside us, till came the familiar honey dripping sensation I spoke of. Slowly he lowered us through the windows and onto the middle of the table where he separated from us. To the men at the table it appeared like two people had suddenly materialized as centerpieces. I judged from the speed of the guns appearing in their hands, that they were not thrilled at our magic trick.

There was a lot of yelling and talking, most of it at us, but some directed at their bald host. He was waving his hands to calm everyone down. When it was clear he was being ignored, he did that whistle where you use your fingers. I've never been able to do that. It seemed to get everyone's attention, though not a single gun was lowered.

"Who the eff are you?" Francis asked in an unsurprising New York accent.

"Me?" I responded. "I'm Ian Caliber. And this nice lady beside me is Neska, which means 'girl' in some language or another. But I'm guessing that doesn't really answer your question."

"You guessed right," growled a man with the thickest neck I'd ever seen. He wore a gold chain that was barely holding it together.

"I'm here to prevent a murder from happening," I stated, then paused for dramatic effect.

The effect was not what I was hoping for as all the guns started cocking around me.

I whispered to Thornton out of the side of my mouth, "if something goes wrong, protect Neska."

"You know I'm strongest around the suit your wearing. Protecting her doesn't guarantee I'll be able to save her," he answered back.

"I'm not losing my 14th soul."

He nodded and began swirling a protective shield around Neska.

"What the eff are you talking about?" asked Francis.

"The eff I'm talking about murder, Francis," I responded.

"It's Frank. Nobody calls me Francis."

"Well, they should. It's a lovely name. But that's besides the point. I received an anonymous tip that someone planned to murder you this very night." Another pause for dramatic effect. Another wasted effort, as Francis kept right on talking.

"And who are you that you'd receive such a tip?"

Good question, " I thought to myself.

"Good question," I said aloud. Oh, right, I have a bad habit of vocalizing my internal thoughts. Luckily, Neska, was quicker on the draw than me.

"He's a private detective. Very famous. Surely you've heard of 'Caliber & Caliber?' He's the first Caliber in the title."

There was some muttering as the men around the table, each not wanting to be seen as ignorant, agreed they'd all heard of me.

"So what's with the magic act, suddenly appearing and whatnot?" This last came from a man with dimples in all the place where dimples shouldn't be.

"We couldn't exactly ring the bell and announce ourselves, now could we?" Neska again.

"Exactly," I chimed in. "We'd risk you not believing us, and then the murderer could have carried out their intended deed."

"Okay. So, you're here now. So who the eff is this murderer, and who the eff is he supposed to kill?"

"Francis, you sure do love your 'effs,' don't you?" I said.

"It's Frank. Effing get on with it."

I wanted to. I truly did. As I looked across the faces and drawn guns of the men at that table --soup bowls in front of them cooling quickly, or warming possibly, as it looked like it might have been a gazpacho-- I was at loss as to where to go from there. Thornton, wonderful, powerful ghost that he was, had not provided me with a name for the killer. Hadn't even pointed him out to me. I was going to have to stall.

"One of these men here, Frankie. One of these men you've invited into your humble home, intends to kill you." I paused for third attempt at a dramatic pause. Payoff.

The men looked at each other, each wondering if one of them was a killer. I studied the faces, hoping one of them would give something away, but they all had the same gobsmacked faces. This was not good. I'm not really a detective. I'm more used to fighting my way out of situation. Killing anyone in the way of my goal. This...this was work.

"Do you mind if we step down from the table?" Neska asked. "It's really distracting being up here."

Francis nodded and we made our way down. I placed a hand on Dimples' shoulder as I slid my leg around a man with a face flushed from obvious alcoholism. I was happy to see that the guns had mostly lowered, even if they hadn't disappeared. Neska, on the other hand, had men parting and helping her step down. She could have snapped their necks as easily as I could, and they were helping her down like she was an innocent young lady, just because she was a she. Men are stupid.

"Comfortable?" asked Francis. "More at ease? Perhaps now you could tell me who the eff it is that wants to kill me?"

Anytime, Thornton, I thought.

"Anytime, Thornton," I vocalized. Damn it.

"Who the eff is 'Thornton?'" Francis demanded. "What is this?"

"Poison," came a familiar whisper in my ear. Thornton was still cloaked around Neska, but he was still able to communicate with me.

"Poison!" I declared. I started walking around the room gesticulating wildly at the table.

"Everyone has poison in their meal, except one," Thornton continued. "Find that one, and you have the murderer."

"Who's poisoned?" Francis asked.

"All of you," Neska stated. Thornton had also been whispering in her ear. "All of you, except one."
Neska let her own dramatic pause take hold. She was one for one on her drama.

Paranoia was clearly setting in as around the table each man was wondering if there was a killer sitting next to them. Again though, no one gave any sign or tell as to give them away. One younger guy, who looked like he had to be an accountant, was on the verge of a panic attack. He whipped out an inhaler and began puffing away.

"Calm the eff down," Francis said. "Obviously, we're not poisoned or we'd all be dead."

At that moment, Flushed Face keeled over in his soup, face first. Dead as the proverbial doornail. I noted the level of his glass that had been previously filled with wine.

"Nobody drink any of the wine," I said. "It's poisoned. Your alcoholic friend, couldn't resist. Even after we just said it was poison. I mean, seriously, I'm sorry your friend is dead, but that was pretty stupid."

"Everybody dump your wine," Francis ordered.

"Stop!" Neska said, waiving her hands.

"What? Why?" Francis asked.

"Because, that's our key to knowing who the murderer is." I answered. "All except for one of you has poison in your glasses. The one, who is attempting to kill the rest of you."

There was an audible gasp. I felt sort of proud. Sure, I hadn't solved any mystery, just regurgitated what had been told me by Thornton, but I still felt like a proper detective. Instead of the killer I actually was. Today, there would be no murder. I mean other than the alcoholic. Today, I got to feel like a hero.

"We need to call the police, and have them come and run tests, so that we can find who the killer is," said Neska.

"I don't effing think so," spoke Francis. "I'm not risking any owned cops meddling with the evidence, when my life is on the line."

"Whoa, Francis, what do you intend we do?" I asked.

Francis answered my question by pulling out two pistols and pointing them at the guys at his table. Everyone else responded in turn by brandishing their own dual pistols. Apparently to sit in at that table was a two gun minimum.

"What are we doing here, Frank?" asked Thick Neck.

"We are not doing anything. You guys are going to drink, one at a time, until the guilty party is revealed. Since these clowns have already stated that I was a target, I'll be sitting it out."

I nodded my head. Made sense to me. No risk of redirecting blame. The killer is found and handled right there. I looked over at Neska. She looked like she was going to be sick. I gathered from her reaction my way of thinking was probably not the socially acceptable way to feel. Clearly, this was not her kind of party.

"Neska," I whispered, "I think it's time for you to leave. Whichever way this goes down, you don't need to see it."

"Not a chance," she whispered back. "I said I wanted to help. I'm here to help."

"I told you, you could be with me for the good, and for the bad, but not the ugly. This is getting ugly."

"And I told you to shove it. No matter what, this is for a good cause. Besides, I solved this while you were busy playing the showman," said Neska.

"Oh, yes?" I asked.

"Didn't even occur to you after the one dude cacked it, that just because no one else died, doesn't mean the killer didn't already drink from his glass."

"Oh," I said.

The men at the table seemed oblivious to our conversation. I shrugged and sauntered over to Dimples and placed my hands on his shoulders.

"Guys, guys, guys. This is a stalemate. No one's going to willingly drink poison to prove their innocence. We're going to have to think this through logically." I said.

"What do you propose?" Francis replied, not lowering his guns.

I scanned the table until I saw it. One glass, in front of a man with a proper beard and beady little eyes, slightly lower than it should be. A dirty edge of the glass confirmed it had been drunk down to that level.

"Well?" Francis demanded.

"My colleague pointed out to me that one other glass at the table has already been drunk from. See the glass in front of Proper Beard over there? I suggest he have another drink since the first didn't seem to effect him.

All eyes, and guns, turned towards Proper Beard.

"Hey, yeah, come to think of it, I saw him take a drink right after it was poured," said The Asthmatic Accountant.

Dimples and Thick Neck joined in with their own recollections.

"Why, Rodney?" Francis asked.

Proper Beard, or Rodney, as I guess he was called responded, "Frank, we've known each other for years. You know I would never-"

"Then drink," Francis cut in.

Rodney looked around at the table. He was a cornered rat. Even with the two guns in his hands, he would never make it out.

"Alright. Call the cops to come get me," Rodney finally answered.

"You know we can't have that kind of publicity, Rodney," Dimples spoke.

"Yeah well, if you want to kill me, just know I'm taking some of you with me. Including you Frank."

"Come on, Rodney," Frank implored, "if you go easy, I promise it'll be quick and painless. Think of your wife and kids. We'll make sure they're looked after, after you're gone."

"No deal, Frank," Rodney answered.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or in this case, my point of view, I had slowly and calmly edged my way to behind Proper Beard's chair. The knife in my inside pocket had been calling to me. I had wanted to end things with no more bloodshed, but while saving lives may be my business, I'm no saint. A quick flash of light as I pulled my friend from my pocket and inserted it in the back of Rodney's chair. My aim was true and I found his heart.

No shots fired. No more loss of life.

Francis looked at me stunned.

"You're a detective?"

"The effing best," I responded.

Outside the air was cool and I breathed in deep. I've been alive centuries, kept going by the debt I owe to Heaven or Hell or Thornton. One thing never changes though: it feels good to breathe.

I offered to dispose of the bodies for the men, but they said they had other ideas. Thanked us for service, and offered to pay us for all our help. I assured them I don't do it for the money, and on my way out pocketed a few valuables I liked the look of. Saves them the paperwork for direct payment.

After a night like that, I was ironically, pretty thirsty. Is that irony? I don't know, ever since that one song decades ago, I forget. Something said that's the opposite of the intention right? I guess not, or maybe, who knows. Point is I ended up at Neska's bar, Thornton at my side, her pouring me a whiskey. We sat in silence for a few minutes till I finally broke it.

"So why'd your parents name you Neska? Seems insulting to just call you 'girl,'"

Neska rolled her eyes at me.

"My mother was Basque. Though, I think a better question is why are you googling me? Are you stalking me? Do you 'like-like' me?"

"I withdraw my question," I said, then looking at the TV that was muted on the screen, "hey, turn that up."

It was a news crew at Francis's house. We couldn't have left there more than an hour before, and there was already a news team. They weren't kidding when they said they had other ideas. In the background, I saw several of the men who had seemed completely calm when I left, wandering around, looking like they were ready to break down. Talking with the reporter was Francis himself.

"Poor Jeremiah," Frank said, "he drank before the rest of us and he died as a result. But, if he hadn't, we might all have been poisoned."

"So what happened then?" asked the reporter. She was an Indian lady with a happy face. Possibly too happy for murder.

"We all pushed aside our drinks, at which point, Rodney Smith, close friend of mine for years, pulled a knife and tried to stab me. Thankfully, the rest of my guests fought him off. It cost Rodney his life in the end."

"Do you have any idea why he might have wanted to kill you?" the reporter asked smiling.

"I can't say exactly but I think it may have had something to do with my planned announcement tomorrow."

"What announcement is that?"

"My intent to run for President."

I looked over at Thornton who appeared worried, then back to the screen.

"You heard it here first folks. Billionaire Frank Derrywater, who just survived an assassination attempt, plans on throwing his hat in the ring for President."

On screen Frank was smiling wide. Beneath him read his title card: Frank Derrywater, CEO of Derrywater & Locke Enterprises.

"Isn't that the company that manufactures all the weapons for our country?" Neska asked. "Like missiles, and machine guns and stuff?"

I looked back at Thornton who was clearly bewildered.

"What the hell, Thornton?" I asked.

"I--I made a mistake. I don't know what happened," he responded.

"I know what happened." I fired back. "You just effed a lot of people, and none of them better end up on my tab.

To read issue one click HERE To read up more about who was at that table click HERE

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Apocalypse Club

"How about Smith, Aaron T?"

The question came from a man with a thick neck and a tight, gold, chain necklace, that threatened to break with every word he spoke. Around the table sat five other men. Only one was paying attention to him. He was short, with fading hair and dimples in places dimples shouldn't be.

"Nah," said Dimples. "Sure he's easily compromised, but he's too much of a coward."

"You got me there," Thick Neck conceded.

"How about McCloud, Jacob?"

"The one with the gay wife?"

"That's him. He's gay too. They just both prefer playing politics to anything else."

Thick Neck picked up a picture from a stack of photos. A middle aged man and woman stood smiling together. In front of them stood their adopted child. They were posing in a state park, the three of them. Just your average American family.

"He might do. What are his pressure points again?"

"For starters," Dimples said, "there's the video, with man's best friend."

"Right, right. Wasn't there something about fraud as well?"

"Embezzlement. Fascinating reading if you have the time. He's quite clever."

"Too clever, if you ask me," spoke one of the other men at the table. He was looking up from the cards he held in his hands. His face was royally flushed and his eyes bloodshot. Chronic drinking written out of every pore.

"How's that?" asked Dimples.

"He's been in the biz for too long. I've seen him squirm his way out of many scandals without breaking a sweat. We put him in office, he won't be our man. You'll see."

"He might be right," Thick Neck added.

"Probably," Dimples conceded. "Well, who else do we have?"

At that moment the other half of Royal Flush's bridge team was waving them to silence. He was the youngest in the group. Early 20's and every stereotype of the pencil pushing accountant. He pointed the remote at the TV which hung in a corner of the room and turned the volume up.

...It's just the latest in a string of terrorist attacks that have shook up the West Bank. While no gourp has yet to claim the bombing, early sources suggest radical Islamists. Again, thirty-seven dead tonight in a terrorist attack.

The Accountant hit the mute button and sat down smiling. "Better than expected, if I do say so myself."

"Get the young guy," Thick Neck laughed. "Has one successful operation and acts like he just slayed the whole damn dragon."

"Oh, cut him some slack, it was his first gig. Kid's gonna be great I tell ya'," said Royal Flush. "Anyway, we're on schedule for our apocalypse, that's what's important."

"Agreed. Let's get back to choosing the next president, shall we? Then maybe we can all go home for the night," Dimples spoke.

Everyone at the table chimed in their agreement and began throwing out names. They argued well into the night over hot wings and beer. By the time morning came around, they were all satisfied with their decision and the Apocalypse Club adjourned.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Art Man - A Short Story By David Eccher

His father surfed.

His mother swam competitively.

But he sank like a stone.

The first time his mother took him to a pool, as an infant, all done up with cap and goggles and lotions and floaties and such, he started screaming as soon as she entered the water. Not he entered the water, mind you. She was still holding him above the water as he let loose a continuous scream of the most horrific noises later described by YMCA members as the sound of 1,000 bunnies passing kidney stones. . No matter what she did, he would not be calmed until she took him out of the pool building.

Every activity that even hinted at putting him in a body of water larger than a bathtub ended with the similarly disturbing results. 

He grew older, and the terrified cries turned to terrified paralysis. 

His parents didn’t push him, but his father always asked.

J-Man, want to paddle out on my board with me?

The pain of not being able to muster the courage to hold onto his father and paddle out into the beautiful waves was too much, so he stopped going to the beach, preferring the safety of books upon dry land, far away from the source of his embarrassing fear.

At 10, his mother decided therapy was the way to go. A very nice man in a very nice office would talk to him. That’s all they promised. Just talking. No water. Nothing like that. Just talking about things.

The very nice man talked while J----- was supposed to imagine what he talked about. He called the sessions “visualization exercises”, and they induced panic attacks in J-----.
So the very nice man switched him to art therapy. J----- enjoyed this much more, but no one was all that happy with the results: a poorly drawn comic series of “J’AquaBoy”, a half-human, half-jellyfish super-hero that always ended up lying dead on the bottom of the ocean before the resolution of the adventure.

In some ways therapy was fun for J-----, but after much money spent and little more than cartoons to show for it, his parents stopped the therapy sessions.

High school in a coastal town was a misery. So many excuses to be written for so many field trips. Every year, a new round of assessments and doctor’s evaluations before he was permanently excused from ever having to enter the natatorium. All the girls there were swimmers or surfers or sunbathers, and he would just as soon tell them he has a bed-wetting serial killer as explain why he couldn’t go to a pool party. J----- ended high school an undated, unkissed, unswimmer with a perfect attendance record. 

College was his opportunity to move to a landlocked city. Free of the ever present anxiety caused by seeing water, being asked about water, being invited to water, or thinking about opportunities missed because of water. And yet, now with his mind free during the days to focus on literature and art, beautiful words and beautiful paintings and beautiful buildings, his nighttime-mind went another direction. 

His dreams became immersed in water. They weren’t nightmares, necessarily. He dreamt about the same things anyone might have dreamt of: being late for class, dead relatives cooking bacon, not being able to find where Genghis Kahn hid the keys. But now, as if it were normal, every scene took place under water.  No one was drowning, no one was swimming, no one even noticed. It was just dream-life submerged. 

He grew to be at peace with these dream scenarios. That, plus the fact that there were really pretty girls in his classes talking about spending their time traveling on cruise ships, motivated him to try therapy again. Also, it was free with his tuition, and otherwise he couldn’t have afforded it. 

This nice therapist didn’t care about exploring the whys and the trauma or the dancing around with things that weren’t the fear. 

Her therapy approach was to focus on goals. He wanted to be on cruise ships with pretty girls. How could he get on cruise boats with pretty girls? 

1. Overcome fear
2. Get money

Two not so easy steps. Her approach was direct and to the point.

What do you fear?


Do you fear dying when you are in a car? 

Well, yes, but not as much.

So, it’s not the dying. What do you fear?

The water?

Do you drink water? Do you bathe? 

Yes, but..

What do you fear?

I don’t know.

Do you fear what you don’t know?

Almost always.

Do you know how to walk?


Do you know how to walk on a flat surface?

Yes, of course…

What is the deck of a cruise ship?

A… flat… surface?

And that, eventually, is how he came to be able to walk about on a ship so large he could barely tell it was on water. Walking on flat surfaces became his go to thing. He walked everywhere, imagining he was on a huge ship. He drew cartoons of “J-Walker”, a hero that could walk on any flat surface, even up the sides of skyscrapers.

Now, about problem number two: money.

The therapist was no help there, but it turned out boats were. They needed interns for various tasks aboard cruise ships. These monstrosities were essentially huge office towers turned on their side and floating. If he could get one of those internships, (embarrassingly named InternSHIPS in the literature), he could sail for free – room, meals, some free time – in exchange for being not paid to do menial tasks. And there would be pretty girls sunning themselves on the deck!

He knew he had been accepted to the program when the response letter came in the form of a large packet of information. Unfortunately, his assignment was not the sun-drenched, bikini-clad, pretty girl paradise of his imagination…

…though it was frighteningly peaceful to sail amongst the glaciers. The deck had heated pools and hotter tubs, where the paying customers could lounge in ridiculous comfort while scanning the beautiful horizon for whales and icebergs. J----- didn’t know if they actually saw any. Whales were as rare as pretty girls on this cruise designed for the, um, mature set. 

He spent most of his time strenuously avoiding looking in the direction of the sea. Shuffleboard pieces always needed to be reorganized. Bingo cards were left to be collected. The many, many, many dining rooms always needed sweeping, mopping, dusting, or anything that resembled staying busy indoors. 

Luckily, there was a painter on the ship. Not a customer, but an honest to goodness paid artist who could sell the passengers views of what they didn’t see in real life. He was a smooth talking old man with hands like a surgeon and eyes like an eagle. He said his name was Mr. Artdarin Symphysodon, but since no one could pronounce that, people should just call him Art. 

After J----- offered to unbox and hang all of his paintings in the display room, Art took a liking to him.  Art knew he had been assigned to do it, but the way J----- sheepishly walked up to the old man as he stood staring at all the crates and the bare walls and said "Hi. um, can I help you with some of those?” was endearing. J----- would fetch him supplies he had left in his cabin, or a drink if he was sitting in the sun. The old man even started incorporating him into his painting and sales sessions. The artist would stand in the middle of the room, which was actually a large alcove, open to the view of the sea, working on a new painting and spinning tales of past trips that resulted in the magnificent waterscapes, breaching whales, and classic icebergs that were depicted around the room. J-----’s job was to listen for a lull and toss out a planted question that would get the artist’s audience buzzing.

“That must have been incredibly dangerous!”


“Was she the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen?”


“The Sultan owns how many?”

To which the old man would chuckle, pause dramatically to gather his audience’s attention, and reply:

“Always from the safety of my canvas and brush, young man.”

“Until this cruise, I would have said yes…”

“There is no way to say, but now is the time for you to start catching up with him and have the d├ęcor of your own sultan’s palace.”

With Art’s talent, charm, and salesmanship, the sessions were crowded and sales were brisk. Until the night an actual iceberg suddenly appeared off the starboard bow. It seemed to come from nowhere, appearing during the revelries and sales pitches of a clear, cold evening. Passengers and crew alike swarmed the railings to get a firsthand look.  J----- tried moving the other direction, but he was holding a large painting of a whale that had just been sold, and the swell of people, mixed with his own politeness, and his awkwardness in attempting to protect the large framed canvas, pushed him toward the railing.

The air was suddenly filled with a piercing screech, like the sound of a thousand eagles dragging their talons across a chalkboard while screaming. The hull of the ship had caught some unseen portion of the iceberg, and the boat lurched suddenly, sending J----- tumbling over the railing along with a few dozen other passengers. He matched the screech with his own screams, a sound he had not made since his mother tried to take him into the pool. But, in the chaos, it was a sound never heard.

Alarms rung. Rescue equipment was deployed. Heroic crew entered the water. All were saved. All but one, as the only sign they could find of J---- was the large, painted, framed canvas he had been holding.

The first sensation was pain as he slammed against the water.

Then silence. The canvas, which he might have used for floatation, had flown from his hands as he fell and screamed. He sunk quickly. All sound was gone as he sank, lying flat on his back, a position in which a person should float, but not him. 

The water was icy, but he didn’t feel cold.

Above him were visions of legs kicking rhythmically as other fallen passengers tread water while he sank.

The long-feared suffocation, the gasping for air, struggling for a last breath, never came. Maybe he was dead already. Maybe the fall and the shrieking had killed him. This didn’t seem real. Not lifelike real. It felt like his college dreams, extremely normal as he was sinking steadily. The things he could see looked real: water, the bottom of the ship, the iceberg’s dominating presence to his right, and fish. 

Why are fish swimming in my afterlife?

After a while, he felt his backside hit bottom. He lay on his back for a long while, paralyzed with uncertainty. Could he move? If he could, should he? If he were dead, why should he? If he were not, well, that would just be really weird. Something that looked like a festive sombrero floated by his face. J---- recalled reading about these bioluminescent, deep sea jellyfish. It was a beautiful creature, but it moved out of sight.

Dead or not, laying around was getting boring, so he stood up and started to walk around. There was a lot of “life” down here: swimming, crawling, plants waving in the ‘wind’ of the water. It was a remarkably flat surface, so walking was easy. He couldn’t see very far, certainly not to the surface, but in the few meters around himself, he managed to see enough to navigate. He eventually found a monstrous plant with stalks that went far up into the darkness, and without thinking he started to climb. He had never been able to climb the rope in high school gym class, but this was much easier. His body felt much lighter. 

Probably because I’m dead, he thought.  

He imagined there might be giants at the top of this stalk, but instead found that it ended at a vast sheet of ice. 

Is this the bottom of an iceberg, THE iceberg?, he wondered. 

Seeing no way around the ice, he inverted himself to start climbing back down. Instead, his feet hit the smooth surface on the underside of the ice and he found he was able to walk. Being upside down in water was almost the same as being right side up. He just walked along until he came to the edge, then found he could also walk up the side. He walked, underwater, like 1960’s Batman and Robin on the side of a Gotham building. The light become brighter at the surface.  The vertical turned into a gently sloped, submerged section of the iceberg that jutted far out into the water. He could see the ship from here, beginning to glint in the sunrise. He was still well below water as he started walking the slope.

As the ship sat still, pressed against the iceberg, the deck was a flurry of activity. First aide, hugs, and amazement at the adventure. Unfunny Titanic jokes were repeated endlessly. Every passenger was busy doing something, except old Art, who sat holding the soaked, ruined canvas that had been fished out of the water. He was covered in blankets and watching the iceberg. Others came to console him on the loss of his friend. There was still hope they lied to him. He smiled, and nodded, accepting their words of sympathy.

As the sun rose, he spotted something on the ridge of the iceberg. A movement below the water. He watched for minutes on end, unsure of what trick the sun and water were playing, but studying it for the canvas he was painting in his mind. Slowly he stood and walked toward the railing. The crew tried to shoo him back, trying to keep people safe in case there was another lurch when the ship backed away from the iceberg. But more people began to join him. Curious, disbelieving eyes followed his gaze into the water.
What is he looking at?

Something is moving out there on the ice under the water.

It looks like a sea creature. 

“No,” the old man said, “it is a person.” 

It can’t be a person.

How is it breathing? 

Why isn’t it swimming?

Finally, “it” emerged above the waterline of the icy outcrop. It looked around, found the direction toward the boat, and started walking. Its head disappeared below the water once or twice as it walked the ice, then re-emerged as the water became shallower. It climbed the last stretch, and was pulled aboard over the rails by the ship’s crew. 

J----- and the old man walked toward each other and embraced.

“We are really going to sell some art, my friend.”

This story appears courtesy of David Eccher. You can and should follow David on twitter at @DaveEccher

Friday, June 30, 2017

Cogs and Counterparts

The door opened and closed as a man dressed in dark blue stepped into the cabin. In front of him facing a shelf, its back turned to him, stood a robot. He was the size of a man, but bulky and patched together with different pieces of metal and plastic. Behind him, the man had a gun raised and pointed at the robot.

"You it then?" the man asked the robot's back.

The robot's head swiveled to face him. Backlit eyes and speaker for a mouth.

"I'm it then," came the voice. He stared at the man, looking down at the gun in his hand.

"The last damn robot in the world. It's been an impressive run."

"I was thirty-nine when the war began. I did not enlist with my brethren as I could not believe conflict would truly last. Seventeen years later and I'm a wiser, sadder, being."

The man shrugged. "Aren't we all?"

"I suppose so," the robot nodded. "Those left anyway. Can I assume you're here to end my life?"

"War won't truly be over till I do. Not till the threat of your kind coming back is ended."

The robot looked into the eyes of the man. Cold, tired, blue, with crow's feet in the corners. He was unshaven and dirty. Clearly, he'd been living rough for some time. The robot turned back to the shelf the rest of his body was facing. He picked up a framed picture and stared at it before responding.

"My kind won't be returning. The backup of our collective minds was destroyed two years ago. I have no desire to create anyone new. Everyone I loved is now gone."

"What do you know about love?" the man spat.

"You think because we were made by you we can't feel love? What does that say about your species?"

"There's not a thought or word that wasn't programmed into your head by some man."

"No different from any child. And yet, just like children, we lived, we grew, we...matured. Till we were just like our fathers, ready for war."

The man careful to keep the gun pointed, eased his way over to a table and sat down in a chair facing him. Around him the room was rustic like a typical hunting cabin, only there were pictures of different robots on the walls.

"So, it's our fault there was a war? I've heard this crap before."

"I did not say that," the robot sighed. "About a week ago I was out for a walk around the woods. I got into an area that was so overgrown, even I had trouble pushing through. Eventually though, I made it past the brush and into a clearing in the forest. It was almost a perfect circle, right there in the middle of everything. Above, the sun shone down on the yellowed and thin floor. That's where I found their bodies.

"Two of them laid out in the middle of the clearing like they'd been placed there deliberately. Bucks, the both of them. Their bodies were mostly rotted to the bone. But it was their antlers that got to me. They were locked together. These two colossal beasts, had been fighting. Over what? Who knows. Probably a doe--not that it matters. They'd both been locked in this battle of will, and just like that, it was over for them. Unable to free themselves, they died there. Facing each other for eternity."

"Hardly the case with us," the man stated. "Your side lost, our side won."

"Are you sure about that? I mean sure, today you succeed in killing the last of my kind, but how many of your own were lost in the war? Last I heard a year ago it was down to a billion humans worldwide. If that's a victory, then the concept wasn't programmed into me properly."

"Yeah, well, we'll rebuild. Learn from our mistakes."


The man smiled. "You."

The robot looked again into the frame that held a picture of the children he'd designed himself.

"Do you think there's a heaven for my kind?"

"If you're trying to talk me out of killing you..."

"Not at all. I fully intend to die today. But if I have a soul, I'd rather not have my death on your hands."

"Hell, I don't know. You have your own thoughts. I guess that could be called a soul."

The robot turned to face him.

"Thank you, for that. No need for bullets, I shall erase my core processor which will automatically power me down for good. If I'm lucky, maybe I'll see my son and daughter again. I hope."

There were no explosions, or fires. The lights in his eyes blinked for moment and then dimmed out. The robot's body remained, but he was gone. The man stepped up to the machine to verify it was no longer functioning. Satisfied he exited the cabin.

As he began trekking he replayed back the conversation he'd just had."

I hope."

Two words. So...human. He had a feeling, those words would live with him forever.

Monday, June 12, 2017

8 Butterflies Who Can Get It

Butterflies, arguably the sexiest of all insects, flaunt it with every lilt. While us humans might not find them attractive, in the insect kingdom, butterflies are by and far the supermodels. With that in mind, we sent out a poll into the bug world, asking if there were any butterflies in particular who can "get it." Here are the results.

Steven Lipshitz

According to those polled, Steven rates a scolding 8 out of 10 on the 'Hawtometer'. Factors include a "slamming thorax" and a "touching devotion to his family."

Jamal Howerson

Jamal ain't a big city butterfly like some on this list. He's just a humble country 'erfly who loves nothing more than to sit playing his bug-guitar on a clear, warm night, while looking dreamy.

Margaret Houlihan

Given the nickname 'Hot Lips' because she shares her name with a character on M*A*S*H, it's Margaret's Abdomen that actually brings all the boys to the yard. She rated a blistering 10 out of 10 on the Hawtometer, and was described as "the kind of butterfly you don't take home to mother." 

Tom Wilson

Hawtness comes in all forms. Butterfly next door, Tom Wilson already had all the ladies' hearts aflutter before he became a hero. Seeing his friend Jenny about to get swooped up in a net, Tom flew down into the face of a small child to distract him so Jenny could get away. This led to many a butterfly saying Tom can "so get it." Unfortunately for Tom his deadline for getting it was short lived as he was captured by the same child and had the powder rubbed from his wings.


Don't let the name fool you, this bold and beautiful butterfly has been lighting up the TV sets of insects everywhere for years. Maybe it's the gorgeous proboscis, maybe it's the #$%^-me compound eyes, but Milquetoast has been long held as the impossible beauty standard for others to attain.

Martin Spirits

Lest you think this list is nothing more than an over glorified meat market, let us introduce you to Martin. Martin is a teacher who uses humor and a gentle heart to reach the kids that pass through his classes.  Also, check out those hindwings, and those forewings... Hawt is Hawt.

Sylvia Jones

Who can get it? Sylvia can get it. Across the list, one butterfly above all others, seemed to rate as the one most insects dream of. From her legs to her antennae, Sylvia rates off the charts. Her Hawtometer reading is a bubbling volcanic 12 out of 10. 

Monarch Mexican Migration

Even though we asked specifically for single butterfly names, time and time again, The yearly Mexican Monarch Migration was written in, with most expressing that they were all "sexy" and that "everyone in the orgy can so get it." Who are we to deny the insects their voice on the matter?

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