“Two Months of Tales” (continued)

Workshop (@TETWorkshop) concludes a sampling of content published over the last two months with three final examples.

Biographical information for the author is shared beneath each piece.

The first half of “Two Months of Tales” is also available.

~~~

He likened his job to a beachcomber with a metal detector. Occasionally, he’d find jewelry, crowns, or medical devices. This time, he found only pins. When his haul was this minimal, he daydreamed he was at the beach instead of running the magnet in the cooling cremation chamber.

Michael Carter is a short fiction and creative nonfiction writer with a metal bar in his chest. He’s also a ghostwriter in the legal profession and a Space Camp alum. He’s online at michaelcarter.ink and @mcmichaelcarter. 

~~~

On their date she smiled, but never showed her teeth. Maybe she was coy—hard to say when you met on an app. 
When he leaned in for a kiss, he learned the truth. He saw them as she parted her lips. Glittering & razor sharp. 
He admired her teeth before they tore out his tongue.

Sarah Skiles is a writer of fiction and creative non-fiction. Her “#VSS365” microfiction and tweets about weird food cravings can be found @sarahskiles. 

~~~

After taking a fastball to the temple, he was fortunate to be able to stay in the game. 
He took his base, trotting down the first baseline. 
The afternoon had become wonderfully sunny. 
And was that Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb? 
Wow! Unreal!
He thought those guys were dead.

Joshua Scully is an American History teacher from Pennsylvania. His fiction can be found @jojascully.

Workshop2MonthsTales-CoverAmandaBergloff

Artwork courtesy of Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff).

“The Great Cherry Battle” by Damon Garn

THE ABSURD ADVENTURES OF STROM AND ASH – A SHORT STORY SERIES CHRONICLING THE ANTICS OF A WACKY MAGE AND A DAFT DRAGON

***

From the historical writings of Bostonius the Quilled, events having taken place one thousand years ago. Or so. Probably.

Strom Coalbeard, the Archmage of the Black Tower of Athar, was legendary among mages for his malice. His dragon partner, Ash Brightspark, was known as the Red Dragon of Death. In their earlier adventures they decided to return home to the Black Tower of Athar to check on things. Unfortunately they’ve both been gone so long, they’ve forgotten where home is. In the Icecrystal Mountains they met Daraga the map maker, who gave them a small map fragment that showed Athar located near a sea. Daraga suggested they find a minstrel friend of hers named Salena who had traveled extensively and might be able to give them some additional insight as to where Athar might be.


They are being pursued, however, by Sir Bertholomen (aka Sir Bert) and Misker, his talking horse. The paladin is bent on fulfilling his life’s quest to bring Strom and Ash to justice for a bar tab they skipped out on a couple of centuries earlier. Once free of his family’s life quest obligation, Bert can pursue his dream of being a wealthy author of fantasy and sci-fi books.


We rejoin Strom and Ash on their adventures as they descend out of the Icecrystal Mountains and toward a small town where they hope to find the minstrel. Or at least some decent grub…

Strom Coalbeard breathed deep. Ah, the wind rushing against his face! Dragonflight was so invigorating. He opened his mouth wide to inhale again, instead receiving a mouthful of his own considerable mustache. Choking and cursing, he spat out the offending hair.

“Problems?” asked a deep voice tinged with sarcasm.


“No,” spluttered Strom, the Archmage of the Black Tower of Athar, still choking. “Just flossing the bugs out of my teeth.”


“Uh-huh. With your beard?” rumbled his companion with a chuckle. This was, of course, Ash Brightspark, the Red Dragon of Death.


“Oh shut up!” cried Strom to his flying mount. The two had been serious evil-doers some one thousand years ago. Now they both suffered various ailments brought about by old age and too many victory parties. They had been vacationing for so long they’d both long forgotten how to get home so now they were searching for clues about their country of Athar. Strom rode Ash as they traveled and they frequently bickered like an old married couple.


The two were also keeping an eye out for their arch enemy, Bert the Paladin.


But for today, they weren’t worried about any of that. They were just cruising through the clear skies and enjoying life.


“Are we there yet?” Strom asked moments later. “I’m hungry.”


“Since neither of us knows where we’re going, I suppose we could be there,” said the old dragon reasonably. “What shall we get to eat?”


“There used to be the Chartreuse Camel tavern down by the Windy River,” suggested Strom. “Maybe they’ve heard of that minstrel Daraga told us about. It’s your basic squat-and-gobble, but I’m game if you are.”


“Sounds good to me. I’ll head that way.”


“There it is!” called Strom an hour later, pointing with his staff, whacking Ash in the jaw in the process.


“Hey, quit swinging that thing and get serious!” shouted the dragon angrily.


“Yeah, that’s what she told me, too!” giggled Strom.


“Oh, please!”


Neither traveler paid any attention to the obvious panic of the small town sprawled about the inn. Mothers fled with children, men cowered, dogs whined in fear.


“I’ll go get us a menu,” Strom said as Ash landed outside the Chartreuse Camel tavern. “Be right back.”


Strom strode through the tavern door.


“G-good afternoon, s-sir!” said the terrified innkeeper, cowering behind the counter. “C-can I h-h-help you?”


“I’ll have an ale, and for the dragon – .” Strom paused.


“The same for me, of course,” said Ash, poking his great snout through the tavern doors. “Actually, I guess I’ll need a keg.” He thought a moment. “Maybe two.”


The owner’s mouth hung open, his arms hung slack. He blinked twice. He was obviously totally overwhelmed by encountering a dragon in his dining room.


“I think we’ll take our meal outside, if you don’t mind,” said Strom, taking a menu from the counter and heading for the door.


“Uh, yes sir,” the owner said. He watched Strom leave the building. “I’m getting too old for this stuff.”

***

“I’ll have the chili with meat,” said Strom to the waiter.

Ash groaned. “You’re not sleeping anywhere near me tonight!”


“Oh shut up!” cried the archmage. “Also another ale.”


“And for you, s-sir dragon?” asked the waiter, whose name was Bob.


“I’ll have two sides of beef and a sheep,” replied the dragon.


“Uh, two entire sides of beef?” asked Bob.


“Yes.”


“And an entire sheep?”


“Yes”


Long pause.


“And how would you like those cooked?”


“I wouldn’t.”


“Wouldn’t what?”


“Wouldn’t like those cooked.”


“Two sides of beef and a sheep. Rare,” clarified Bob.


“No.”


“No what?”


“Not rare. Raw.”


“Raw?”


“Raw. Uncooked. Still mooing. Fresh killed. Raw.” He looked at the shuddering waiter. “Got it?”


“Yes.”


“Good.”


“Would you like something to drink?”


“Another ale, please.”


“A tankard.”


“No.”


“Two tankards?”


“No, a keg.”


“A keg?”


“A keg.”


“Of ale?”


“Yes.”


“Okay.” Bob wrote furiously on his pad.

***

While they waited for Bob to return with their food a young boy walked nearer, trying to get a closer look at Ash.

“Maybe he knows the minstrel,” Strom said.


“Come on over here, young man,” called Ash.


The boy looked uncertain. “Mommy says not to talk to strangers.”


“Well, there’s no one stranger than him,” Ash pointed at Strom.


“Hey!”


“We just want to ask you about someone,” continued Ash to the boy.


“Okay,” said the child.


“We’re searching for a minstrel,” Strom said.


“A menstrual? My sister has those.”


Strom’s mouth hung open. He was utterly unprepared to deal with this highly classified information.


“No, no,” said Ash. “Like a singer, a storyteller. They sit in the tavern all day.”


“Oh, like my daddy!”


“With a lyre or a guitar.”


“Yep, Daddy sits in the tavern all day with a liar.”


“Your daddy is a storyteller?”


“He sure is. Mommy says he has real whoppers.”


“What tavern is this?”


“The Crass Bass. It’s next to the temple.”


Strom snorted. “That makes for a short walk from Saturday night to Sunday morning.”


Bob returned with their food. He frowned at the little boy talking to the wizard and dragon.


“Go on inside, young one,” instructed Strom. “Have them give you some sweet cream and put it on our tab.”


“Okay mister! Thanks!” the boy disappeared inside.

***

Once they’d finished eating, Strom and Ash decided to visit the Crass Bass to search for the minstrel. They found the dubious establishment deeper in the town, surrounded by run down buildings and houses of ill repute. With a temple next door.

“Daraga said the minstrel’s name was Selena, right?” Ash said, looking around. He’d taken on his preferred disguise when dealing with humans, that of an old, long-haired elven man.


“Yep.”


Stepping into the tavern, they were surprised to find a reasonably clean and well-maintained common room. A few patrons occupied tables. Behind the bar a dwarf polished the counter and stacked tankards. He eyed them but didn’t say anything.


In the far corner a figure leaned back in a chair, a broad brimmed hat covering head and face, with a long jacket hanging to the floor. A pair of well-worn leather boots were propped up on a chair opposite the one the figure tilted back in. A tall lute leaned against the wall nearby. No details of the figure were readily visible from beneath the coverings.


Ash and Strom sat down at an empty table. The dwarf walked over to them, hobbling on a long wooden peg.


“What’ll ye have?”


“Ales,” Strom replied. “Is that Selena the minstrel over there?”


“Who’s askin’?”


“Uh, I am. You just heard me and saw my lips move,” Strom grouched.


“Ye know what I mean, old man. Why should I tell ye anything? Ye’re a stranger in these parts.”


“My name is Ash. My friend here is Strom. We’re looking for Selena for information about her travels. We’re hoping she might know of a tower we’re looking for.”


The dwarf looked the dragon-in-elf-form up and down for a long moment, as if he didn’t quite believe his eyes.


“Yeah, that be Selena.” He pointed at the figure learning back in the chair. “She’s restin’ right now. Ye’ll leave her alone. Want to talk to her? Come on back here tonight and pay the cover charge, like everyone else.”


“It’s alright, Crag. I’ll talk to them.” The minstrel had walked over. Crag grunted and stumped away as the woman sat.


Taking off her hat, she revealed her face.


Strom and Ash gazed at her in surprise for a long moment.


“What the matter, boys, never seen a half-orc before?” Selena smiled, revealing long incisors behind her red lips. Her skin was a pale jade, while her eyes were emerald green and full of mirth.


“Well, you’ve got to admit, half-orcs aren’t common in these parts,” Ash responded. “You must get a lot of surprised looks.”


“I do, actually.” Her arms were well muscled and she was clearly very strong. “I’m Selena. I didn’t catch your names?”


“Strom Coalbeard, the Archmage of the Black Tower of Athar,” Strom bowed slightly from his chair.


“I’m Ash Brightspark.”


Selena squinted at Ash. “You’re a bit odd looking for an elf.”


He grinned at her, revealing his own fangs. “Appearances can be deceiving.”


“Hmmm. Well, I’ve heard those names before. Long ago there was supposedly an evil duo – a mage and a red dragon – who conquered a great many lands and defeated several attempts to wrest control of their country of Athar. Their names are still spoken in fear, though their fate has been lost to time.”


Strom beamed as he and Ash fist-bumped. “I’m so glad you know about us!”


“We’re historical figures. And still feared!” Ash paused. “Would you like an autograph?”


“Uh no that’s okay.” She looked doubtful. “It’s said they suddenly disappeared. Just left behind their tower and hoard, and went journeying through the lands, to be lost in the mists of legend.”


“And now we’re ready to return home,” agreed Ash.


“We were told by Daraga the map maker – “


“Ahem,” interjected Ash.


“- Uh, the cartologist – that you might be able to help us find the country we’re from.”


Selena arched an eyebrow. “You can’t find Athar?”


“Why does everyone always seem so surprised by that?” Strom asked. Ash shrugged.


“It was called Athar about one thousand years ago,” Strom continued.


“A thousand years ago?”


“We’ve aged gracefully.”


“So what’s the problem?”


“Um, well it’s kind of embarrassing,” said Strom.


“More embarrassing than that hat?” Selena pointed to the mass on top of his head while Ash giggled.


“We can’t remember how to get to Athar. And in all this time, the country itself seems to have disappeared.”


“Daraga had a map fragment that showed Athar along a coastline, but the map didn’t show what sea it was near,” Ash continued. “She recommended we find you.”


Selena looked thoughtful. “Well I’ve traveled for many decades all through the lands. I do remember seeing a lot of dead old ruins and towers.”


“Oh no,” said Strom. “The Black Tower would not look look dead. It would look the same as the day we left.” Ash nodded agreement.
“Well, it could also be overgrown. Or even submerged by this time.” Selena thought again for a long moment. “I wonder… Do you have a map on you?”


“Several, actually. Strom charmed them out of Daraga before we left.”


Selena eyed the mage. “Well, she’s always had a thing for older men.”


Strom rolled his eyes at the same time he unrolled the maps. Selena leaned over the table, tracing a few coastlines.


“There,” she said, pointing to a long coastline bordering the Skull Sea. “It was somewhere along here I remember seeing a tall black tower with nothing else around it. It seemed odd to me at the time for such an immense tower to be so far from civilization.”


“There was once a whole city there,” said Strom a little sadly.


“What were you doing in that area?” Ash asked Selena.


“A friend of mine runs a shipping company near there.”


“A shipping company?” asked Ash. “I thought you said the area was uncivilized.”


“She deals in a variety of goods. Some not always acquired legally.”


“She’s a pirate?”


“Yes,” Selena said. “And she knows those coasts like the back of her hand. She’d know right where that tower is. When I saw it, many years ago, it was completely covered by vines and the surrounding jungle. I think it would be very tough to see from the air.” She glanced at Ash.


“What’s her name?”


“Gilda.”

***

After their meeting with Selena, the two went exploring.

Two hours later they were sprawled underneath the trees of an immense cherry orchard they had happened upon. Clearly cherries were a major export for the town. They’d been sampling the fruit all afternoon and now a large pile of pits lay next to each of them.


“Hey, it’s nap time,” Ash said.


“Yeah, you’re right,” replied Strom. Red cherry juice streaked his grey beard. He suspected his mustaches would smell of cherries for some time.


“Should one of us keep watch?” asked the dragon.


“I guess so. We’re in enemy territory, after all,” said Strom. They pointed at each other.


“You do it!”


Then they both promptly rolled over and went to sleep.

***

Misker and Sir Bert trotted up the lane that ran through the center of town. The townsfolk appeared to be just settling down from some sort of a recent uproar. Several people crowded around the doorway of a tavern labeled “The Chartreuse Camel,” where the proprietor was gesturing wildly.

“Excuse me, good folk,” interrupted Bert. “Is there a problem here?”


“We just had a dragon come through these parts!” exclaimed one of the men.


“Is that so?”


“Yes it is!” The man seemed personally affronted that Bert might not believe him. “I saw it with my own eyes.”


“And there’s tracks over in the yard.”


“We may be on to something here, Misker,” said Bert. Misker simply bobbed his head in agreement.


“Which way did the dragon go? And was he alone?” Bert asked the townspeople.


“He had an old man walking with him. They went toward the orchards.” Several of the townsfolk pointed the way.


“Who are you?” asked the tavern owner suspiciously.


“I am Sir Bartholomen, a paladin. And this is my faithful mount, Misker.”


Misker looked up guiltily with one of the flowers from the tavern’s flowerbeds hanging out of one side of his mouth. Bert sighed.


“We’ve been hunting these two for a very long time. We will rid your town of their evil.”


“Um,” said the tavern owner. “Is that really necessary? They haven’t hurt nobody. The dragon was actually very polite.”


There was some grumbling among the rest of the townspeople, too. Apparently having a famous but harmless dragon as the town mascot seemed like a pretty good idea to them.


“Maybe you strangers had best be on your way,” suggested one woman.


“Yeah, I think you’ll have time to move on to the next village before sundown. If you leave now, of course.”


With that the crowd began to hustle Bert and Misker out of the village, deliberately pushing them in the opposite direction from the orchards where the dragon apparently was. The good paladin had no choice but to leave. He could not force his way through these folk without harming them, nor could he really go against their wishes.


Soon Misker was plodding down the village road, away from the settlement, with a forlorn Bert on his back. After a few minutes, Misker, turned off the road, jumped a small ditch and began to trot across an empty pasture.


“What are you doing?” asked Bert.


“Just because we can’t go through the town doesn’t mean we can’t go around it.”

***

A couple of hours later, just as the sun was nearing the horizon, the horse and the paladin crept stealthily through the cherry tree orchard. The leaves were thick and the branches hung low with heavy ripening bunches of cherries. Ahead they could see Ash stretched out among the trees. Two heroic sets of snores rumbled from the area, so they knew Strom was also nearby.

Misker had strongly voiced his opinion against this plan. Sneaking up on a nearsighted dragon and a sleeping wizard, Misker assured Bert, was not found anywhere in the Paladin Survival Manual. Sir Bert overruled him, saying this was their only chance to get near the pair. They had been struggling to arrest Strom and Ash for some months now, having followed them through the Icecrystal Mountains. The map maker there had given them such convoluted directions that it had taken them weeks of extra time to finally catch up to their quarry.


Misker’s job was to pin the mage to the ground and keep him from casting spells, while Bert would threaten the dragon with his magical sword. The sword had already proven it could protect them from the dragon’s fiery breath.


The stalking of their prey had gone perfectly. Misker stood near the snoring Strom, ready to pounce and silence him. Bert was preparing to lay his sword across the immense throat of Ash, when suddenly the entire area erupted chaos.

***

Ash’s first clue something was wrong was a series of stinging hits across his flank. Opening one eye, he could see red stains blossoming across his side. It looked suspiciously like blood. The dragon freaked out. He immediately leapt straight up into the air and managed to entangle himself in the overhead canopy of strong cherry tree branches. He then plummeted back to the ground, landing heavily. His collision with the tree branches shook loose several hundred cherries, which pelted down on the stunned horse, mage and paladin.

A chorus of giggles rang out from the trees around the four.


“Unit one, FIRE!” came a shouted command.


Immediately from the south came a strong aerial barrage of cherries. The missiles had been aimed with deadly precision, causing Strom and Misker to yelp and dance around attempting to dodge the cherries. Bert cowered behind his shield while cherries binged off it in rapid succession. Ash lay in the grass, moaning piteously.


The barrage lightened for a moment, but the voice quickly rang out again.


“Unit two, FIRE!”


“Son of a —” the paladin swore sourly as a he found himself on the wrong side of his shield with this new attack. Cherries were splattering across his white tunic, staining it with long rivulets of cherry juice.


“What?” Strom shouted. “What’s goi — ARGH!” A flying choke cherry sailed gracefully into his mouth, jamming his throat. Something nearby giggled hysterically.


“We’re under attack! Sound the alarm!” trumpeted Ash.


“Arrgh!” replied Strom.


“Quick, scout the enemy positions! Prepare to return fire!” shouted Misker. “It’s a bunch of kids with slingshots!”


“Arg! Ahh, ugh!” replied Strom heartily.


“Gather ammunition! Take cover!” ordered Bert. “Get — what are you doing, Coalbeard?”


“Meh? Arg! Ah! Ah!” answered Strom, pointing at his throat and turning slightly blue.


“What? You’re choking on a cherry? You old trickster! This is no time to indulge in personal problems. We’re under attack!”


The dragon thumped Strom soundly on his back with his tail. The cherry sailed out of the mage’s mouth.


“Thanks!”


Another barrage of cherries was launched from nearby bushes and sailed toward them.


“Hit the deck!” Strom threw himself to the ground, where most of the cherries slammed into his posterior.


A chorus of giggles echoed like the roar of attacking savages.


“We’re surrounded!” Ash cried as another cherry bombardment bounced and splattered off his scaly hide. “Ho! What have we here? I’ve captured one of the enemy.”


Snugly wrapped in the immense coils of Ash Brightspark’s tail was a four year old human boy. Clutched in his chubby hand was a small slingshot.


“Bring him to headquarters,” Strom ordered crisply. “I’ll conduct the interrogation.”


The little boy stood staring uncertainly at the four figures. He seemed to be too young to be afraid. The cherry bombardment from the surrounding trees stopped, as though the enemy didn’t want to attack while their comrade was in the line of fire.


“What are you doing here?” Strom demanded tartly as he sat down near the child.


“My friends and I are cherry bombing you,” the child replied saucily.


“You are intentionally inflicting acts of war against myself and the dragon?”


“And us!” cried Sir Bert, brushing helplessly at his once-white tunic.


“Uh-huh,” nodded the boy with a giggle.


“How many of you are there?” Strom asked.


The child held up four fingers. “Thirty,” he said.


Misker snorted.


“This is very serious, young man. You are now a prisoner of war, and under the articles of — what are you laughing at?”


“You sat on a pile of cherries, O Great and Mighty Conquerer,” replied Ash with a grin.


“I what?” Strom jumped up, spinning around to look. A mashed goo occupied the spot he had just occupied himself. Ash and the “prisoner” burst into deeper laughter as they saw the red stain on the mighty archmage’s backside.


Sighing, the mage tried to regain his dignity while wiping the mess off his robes. He wasn’t particularly successful with either attempt.


“Now listen here, young man,” Strom grouched at the little boy. “We are on an Important Mission.”


The tiny warrior’s eyes got very round at this information.


Strom launched into an account of the search for the Tower, but the child quickly interrupted.


“Can I go now? I want to cherry bomb you again.”


“You need to sign a treaty of nonaggression before we can release you,” began Strom.


At that moment the child’s compatriots decided to cover his escape with a particularly heavy artillery barrage. In the resulting confusion, the young soldier escaped.


As their defenses crumbled the four decided they were getting the short end of the fight.


“This battle is the pits!” exclaimed Strom as one of those very items bounced off his prominent olfactory facility.


“We must fight back,” said Bert. “They appear to only be children. Lots and lots of children.”


“Temporary allies?” proposed Misker, looking from face to face.


“Agreed!” Ash said. “Let’s get them!”


Strom levitated the entire pyramid of cherry pits he’d stacked that afternoon as he plundered the orchard and used his magic to hurl them at his foes, who began to return fire even more enthusiastically. Meanwhile, Ash used his tail to protect their position from incoming missiles. Bert wielded his sword and shield to great effect, splitting cherries midair and protecting the wizard’s flank. Misker stood in the middle of the huddle, issuing orders as the direction of the attacks changed. The tide of the battle began to turn over.


The air was filled with flying cherries and the delighted cries of young and old as for a moment a truly vast generation gap was bridged.


Soon, however, mothers began to call their children home for dinner. Not so soon, however, children began to actually hear their mothers call them home for dinner. And even later children began to actually go home to their mothers for dinner.


This had little effect on the Great Cherry Battle, as Strom kept magicking cherries into the air, Ash kept splattering cherries, Bert continued slicing cherries out of the air and Misker kept the four of them rotating. Liquid cherries continued to rain down, bringing forth delighted cries.


Eventually they realized they were just defending against themselves (and this with only marginal success) and they stepped slowly from their battle frenzy.


“A glorious day!” panted Strom.


“A glorious victory!” agreed Ash.


“The enemy lives in terror of our wrath!” exulted Bert.


“The enemy probably lives in amusement of our wrath,” corrected Misker reluctantly.


“Yeah, I suppose so,” sighed the archmage. “What’s for dinner?”


“Cherry pie.”


They all groaned.

***

The four combatants slept in the orchard that night. They’d maintained their uncomfortable alliance and decided to trust each other for the time being. There was no doubt, however, that one pair would betray the other as soon as possible.

When the sun rose, the four found themselves surrounded by a squad of troopers who had come to the village to investigate rumors of a friendly dragon and a hostile paladin, as well as the complaints of several parents that said their kids had been ambushed by adults in the orchards. Several troopers remained on their horses, while others stood over the four companions with blades drawn. A grouchy sergeant bawled at them to wake up.


“Get yer scrawny asses off the ground and fall in!”


Bert popped to his feet, years of military training kicking in immediately. Strom grumbled and slowly stood up, looking blearily around. Ash didn’t move – a dozen human troopers weren’t worth waking up for. Misker simply played the dumb horse.


“Report!” the sergeant roared in Bert’s face.


“I’ve captured wanted criminals and am returning them for justice.” He pointed at the mage and the dragon. “My horse and I have been searching for them for years.”


“And what do you have to say for yourself?” the sergeant turned to Strom.


“We came across these two attacking innocent children in this orchard. They were bullying them with cherries. I stepped in, attempting to protect the young ones, like any poor grandfather would. My pet dragon helped.”


Misker and Bert gaped at the mage as he blatantly lied to the sergeant.


“I believe we were knocked out by these two,” continued Strom. “I am frankly shocked they didn’t slit our throats last night in our sleep. Thank goodness you came along, troopers!”


The sergeant drew his short sword and held it to Bert’s throat. “Is this true?”


“Uh, er, well we were pelting the children with cherries. But they started it.”


“You, sir, should be ashamed of yourself. A paladin is meant to be the very paragon of kindness and justice.”


“No it’s not like that at all!” sputtered Bert. “The children attacked us. And these two helped.”


“You will be silent.” The sergeant turned to Strom. “Thank you for your assistance with this matter, elder. You are free to go with our thanks.”


“But, but…” Bert said. “Wait. He’s the evil one.”


Strom just grinned at him. “Watch the horse, too, sergeant. He’s more devious than you might expect. And I’d recommend a strip search for the paladin.” Misker just glared at him while Bert turned pale.


With that, the mage and the dragon walked away from the troopers and their prisoners.

***

A couple of hours later they were airborne again and headed for the coastline that Selena had recommended. It was time to continue their search for Athar, and that meant tracking down the minstrel’s pirate friend.

“Was the strip search suggestion too much?” asked Strom.


“Nah. It’ll do that uptight paladin good to get humbled a bit.”


“Think they’ll follow us again?”


“I’m sure of it. I wonder how the paladin will get along with the pirate we’re searching for.”


“Only one way to find out!”

Strom and Ash continued toward the coast. The skies were clear and the flight was easy. Far behind them Sir Bert cursed them, and Misker huddled miserably in a small stable. Both were plotting revenge.

*

Damon Garn lives in Colorado Springs, CO with his wife and two children. He enjoys hiking, writing and annoying his neighbors with mediocre guitar playing. He writes in the fantasy/sci-fi realm experimenting in flash fiction, short stories and a novel. Follow on Twitter: dmgwrites or at dmgwrites.wordpress.com

TheGreatCherryBattle-GARN-CoverABergloff

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff).

“Unearthly Hues of Cyan” by Joshua Scully

The extraction of helium – 3 from Uranus was entirely automated, leaving Emily Rockwood too much time to think. Along with two other technicians, she was assigned to the observation and recovery station that lazily orbited the seventh planet of the solar system. Aside from a few daily tasks and the rare repair of a drone or probe, there was little responsibility for the station crew. 


A single transmission to Earth took three hours – with another three hours necessarily for even the most immediate reply – preventing the technicians from regular contact with loved ones back home. Rockwood received few communications, but she assumed her family didn’t want to distract her from her responsibilities with frivolous gossip and announcements.


Of course, the other two technicians were not the social sort. John Terry, an older man near the end of his spacefaring career, hardly spoke and seemed more machine than human. Tyler Donaldson, the station commander, was a company crank through and through. Every dull word that came out of his mouth seemed read from an invisible script.


Rockwood often lounged in the common, a small rectangular room that housed the extent of entertainment and exercise equipment available. Windows stretched from floor to ceiling along one wall, allowing any visitor the opportunity to glimpse a robotic miner zipping back and forth between the massive cyan orb below and the station. However, Uranus absolutely dominated this view at any given time. Even the occasional extraction probe or droid that came into view hardly obscured the featureless expanse.


Whenever Rockwood wasn’t on duty, there was little else to do but sleep, eat, or bath in the cyan glow of the host planet. Even if she tried to exercise or download a briefing from Earth, Uranus loomed in her peripheral vision. The common was a comfortable space though, and she found herself occasionally dozing there as opposed to her quarters.


When she had first arrived at the station, she really wasn’t able to discern any features in the cold, dead atmosphere that loomed beyond. However, as the months passed, her eyes became more familiar with the bland world, and she believed she could detect the faintest white swirls or occasional darker patches. These rare and fleeting dark spots were closer in shade to the egg of a robin than anything else. 


Terry and Donaldson rarely disturbed Rockwood during her visits to the common. Both men seemed content to remain in quarters or in the maintenance bay. Her fellow technicians only concerned themselves with the the various droids and probes that slowly sucked away the lifeblood of the planet.


The cyan and white swirls of Uranus became even more distinct with time. Rockwood assumed this change was a result of the extraction process. The darker patches of the planet gradually grew more obvious, too. She shared this observation with Donaldson, but he didn’t seem to notice or care.


During her lonely stretches of personal time, Rockwood found herself scanning the sphere for those darker regions. These strange discolorations were more apparent with every viewing and seemed to be taking certain shapes.


Donaldson refused to acknowledge the bizarre changes in the atmosphere of Uranus. Rockwood attempted to bring this up during routine conversation, but the station commander only repeated his usual rhetoric about the importance of appropriate rest and recreation on the station. Despite his dismissal, Rockwood continued her study of the planet.


Within a few days, great eye sockets, a gaping nasal opening, and a mouth fixed in a jagged grin appeared within the swirling gases. This inhuman manifestation had coalesced from the darkest cyan hues present in the atmosphere. 


There was no doubt the expression was threatening and directed at the station. Mankind had attacked this icy world, and now the planet desired to retaliate. 


Rockwood wondered if the others knew about this obvious sentience. 


The answer quickly rushed into her mind. Of course this extraterrestrial intelligence was known to Earth. She didn’t doubt the helium-3 extraction process was a cover to allow for the study of the entity possessing the planet. She quickly decided Terry was an android, programmed to do whatever bidding Donaldson requested. She knew that Donaldson was very much aware of the conspiracy and that he would do anything to stop her from interfering.


Emily Rockwood, a novice selected for this mission because she was probably unexpected to possess much gumption, rushed for the emergency escape craft. She locked herself inside, disabled the autopilot, and ignited the engine. A garbled, confused voice crackled over the transmitter. This was undoubtedly Donaldson trying to stop her.


He was too late. He had radically underestimated her. 


She manually guided the craft toward the gibbering face, which had only recently gained a deep demonic voice. She ignored the various warnings about pressure that flashed on the display in front of her, and she easily dodged a few probes that rushed to stop her. These crafts were obviously tapped into whatever programming directed the mechanical John Terry.  
.
Emily Rockwood decided she would sacrifice herself to save mankind from whatever evil menace lurked deep within the cyan clouds of Uranus. The emergency craft was an unfailing missile strike in her hands.


She only hoped her real story may one day be known.


*

Joshua Scully (@jojascully) is an American History teacher from Pennsylvania. His writes fiction and loves a good anachronism. 


UnearthlyHuesOfCyan-SCULLY-CoverABergloff

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@Amanda Bergloff).

 

“Lost Girl” by Frieda D. Taller

My head in chaos

Memories sneak in

A reminder

How things were

Before

I was happy.

I walk down

My memory lane

Greet my old self

My sparkling eyes-

Inspired

and contented.

I had a full time job-

Accountant

By day

Writer

at night.

Happy life

Crazy friends

Supportive family.

I have Me.

I was single.

I didn’t care about

Anniversaries

That my friends

Celebrated

I enjoyed being single

I owned my time

My space

My heart.

I was happy.

I didn’t care about

People

Bugging me

Their endless questions

“Why are you single?”

“When are you getting married?”

I just didn’t care.

I was too busy to care…

Until

You came.

My world

Changed

When you said hello.

You made me believe

That soulmates

Exist.

You made me believe

That forever

Remains.

You brought more

Joy

To my

joyful life.

You made me feel

Unbound happiness

We were happy.

You made me imagine

Walking down

The aisle,

To you

At the end

Waiting for

Me.

You made me imagine

What life could be

Together

You & Me

Two beautiful

Kids and a house of

Our own.

You made me imagine

All the date nights

Together for

The rest of our

Lives.

You made me believe

That fairy tales

Do come true…

But you never told

Me that fairy tales

Were just

A romance

Fiction

A make believe

Everyone

Knew.

You were my

Soulmate

But

I never knew

Not all soulmates

Stay

Together

Forever

We were just two

People who believe

In the same belief…

But we were not meant to

Be.

You made me imagine

How great

“I dos” and “till death

Do us part” are,

Never did I imagine

You never planned

To exchange these words with me.

You made me imagine

Beautiful things

but never taught me

that imagining

Can be

disastrous memories.

I was happy.

We were happy.

I thought we were happy

But you

Left me

A mirror world

Shattered into

Pieces.

Tears rolled down my face,

Insecurities crept in

Was it me?

Was it you?

Was I not enough?

Or you were just dissatisfied?

Was I too much?

Or were you just a joke?

All this time

I thought

You were

“The one”

But little did I know

All this time

I wasn’t the only one.

A pulsating, throbbing pain

struck me;

as if there was a crack

in my head,

No bandage

could cover

I tried to look back

To the girl I was

With the sparkling

Eyes,

but the spark

was gone.

I have lost

The spark

And I have

Lost ME.

I lost myself

When I found you. 

 

*
Frieda is a self-professed writer, traveler, horror movie fanatic, and certified Foodie. She works as a finance supervisor for a media company by day and as a writer by night. In addition to writing, her other hobbies include painting, crafts, and dancing. She can be found on Twitter @foxyfridz.
LostGirl-TALLER-CoverABergloff

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff).

 

“Two Months of Tales”

Workshop (@TETWorkshop) is pleased to present a sampling of the very short fiction published three times per week on Twitter.

Biographical information for the author is shared beneath each piece.

The second half of “Two Months of Tales” is also available.

~~~

“Which wire? Red or blue?”
The transmitter inside the armored van gushed with the frantic breathing of the explosive ordnance disposal specialist.
“Oh, there isn’t a green one?”
He had reason to be heartless. The EOD had an affair with his wife.
And you can’t defuse them all.

S.S. Sanderson (@SSSanderson2) writes fiction and lives a life that looks better on paper.

~~~

She went running after dark, & her headlamp swayed through the park. Trees rose in every direction & almost trapped her.
At night, branches & leaves brushed against her window.
Things returned to normal on her way to work.
She opened the office door, & a forest loomed behind.

Dennis Mombauer (@DMombauer) currently lives in Colombo as a freelance writer of fiction, textual experiments, reviews & essays. Co-publisher of novelle.wtf. Homepage & newsletter under dennismombauer.com.

~~~

“Our basement is haunted by the ghost of Antonio López de Santa Anna.”
“Isn’t that a little specific?”
Without hesitation, the birthday boy opened the basement door.
“Remember the Alamo!” he shouted.
The party guests chuckled.
Floating epaulettes hid behind the washing machine.

Joshua Scully is an American History teacher from Pennsylvania. His fiction can be found @jojascully.

Workshop2MonthsTales-CoverAmandaBergloff

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff)

June 11, 2018 Performance Introduction

The Evening Theatre is proud to present the first of two June performances. Selected pieces from Workshop (@TETWorkshop) will bookend the acts selected for this evening.

Workshop is an online journal that utilizes Twitter as a publishing platform. The Evening Theatre launched this new endeavor two months ago and has already published over twenty “very short fiction” pieces. The limitations of Twitter (280 characters or less) challenge authors to be concise and direct. 

“Two Months of Tales” is a sampling of the pieces published by Workshop and includes short fiction from Michael Carter (@mcmichaelcarter), Dennis Mombauer (@DMombauer), S.S. Sanderson (@SSSanderson2), Joshua Scully (@jojascully), and Sarah Skiles (@sarahskiles).

Between selections from Workshop, The Evening Theatre presents pieces from Frieda D. Taller (@foxyfridz), Joshua Scully (@jojascully), and Damon Garn (@dmgwrites). This performance includes poetry, prose, and the continuation of a wonderfully hilarious saga. Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff) was again kind enough to provide original artwork for this performance.

The lineup for our June 11, 2018 performance:

Opening Act: “Two Months of Tales

First Act: “Lost Girl” by Frieda D. Taller

Second Act: “Unearthly Hues of Cyan” by Joshua Scully

Headliner: “The Great Cherry Battle” by Damon Garn

Encore: “Two Months of Tales” (continued)

TETJune2018-CoverAmandaBergloff

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff)

 

“The Tyrant and the Fog” by Dennis Mombauer

A thick and heavy fog was hanging over the street, a theater curtain possessed by unnatural life. If the Castaway extended his arm, the fog swallowed his hand, transmuted it into something strange, a black claw or a hovering insect.
O
The Castaway looked around, searching for some point of reference, something familiar. The fog ebbed in a hypnotic rhythm, as if this place was located in the middle of a wasteland raked by silent bomb impacts.
O
Why had he come here? The Castaway’s eyes found shapes to both sides, a wall to the left, a wall to the right, scarred asphalt in between.
O
O
“Oh! Oh! Oh!” sang the scarecrows, and their tattered rag-arms flapped in the breeze.
“The tyrant created the world.”
“The tyrant created the city.”
“The tyrant sent down the fog.”
O
O
“Hello?” The Castaway’s voice vanished into the mist like a floating probe, faded away past the edge of his hearing. He put forth one foot to check the firmness of the ground, then moved his other leg. Step by step, he followed the street, wondering if he walked through a dream or waking reality. He had never seen a place like this … it couldn’t be real.
O
There was something in the eerie smog before him, a dark bulge as high as his waist. A woman sitting on the ground, her back against the naked concrete wall. Where her lower body was supposed to be, only a black hole gaped, filled with a tangle of wires instead of blood and entrails. She looked at the Castaway with empty eyes, too far gone to recognize him, and the Castaway stared back.
O
“Hey!” The voice hissed like a sudden gas leak, and the Castaway span around. Something moved toward him, someone, and with every hammering heartbeat the creature transformed from a formless shadow more into a human being. It was another woman, and she was spitting out words: “Away from her! She is not yours!”
“I just wanted to help her.” The Castaway showed his empty palms. “What happened to her? Where are we?”
O
“Go away!” The woman came closer, and the Castaway stepped backward. Her hair was sticky with crude oil, or maybe something more reddish. “The fog, it doesn’t dissipate.”
O
The woman’s voice became softer now, pawing at the Castaway’s ear canals with retracted claws: “It has been months since I found myself here, perhaps years, and the fog has always stayed the same. Everyone is running, but no one can find a way out … no one can escape the tyrant.”
O
She planted herself between the Castaway and the breathing corpse on the ground, and fog oozed out of the walls around her. The Castaway walked away, and the women receded into the distance, became blurred until they finally dissolved into swirling nothingness. 
O
The Castaway’s feet carried him through a world which knew no transitions, not between house walls and the sky, not between up and down, inside and outside. Everything was coated with the same grey that surged the streets like waterless tides.
O
Every so often, there were patches of graffiti on the walls, yellow symbols, some kind of rash on the skin of the city. Did they depict drops, tears or pearls, maybe eyes without pupils? They engaged the Castaway’s gaze as if they had activated some secret engine inside him, all pumping pistons and revolving wheels. In his mind, he saw a man, then a woman, a big group of people dissipating and melting into the fog, nothing more than pale cremains and chalky bone-sand.
O
What did all of this mean? The Castaway was not alone in this place, but so far he seemed the only person still in their right mind.
O
O
The scarecrows gawked into the distance, and dry tears ran from their painted eyes.
“The tyrant has put his mark on the city and everything in it.”
“So say the philosophers.”
“So says the world.”
O
O
The Castaway noticed that he had stopped, that all but the most vital muscles in his body had ceased working. The fog descended on his consciousness, made it brittle like annealed firewood. With every thought, mist swirled up under his steps, engulfed him and rubbed off all corners. He felt like a diver on the seafloor, deaf and mute, every motion endlessly sluggish under the pressure of a thousand atmospheres.
O
No. The Castaway shook his head, and thick layers of dust loosened from his brain while the frozen neural pathways thawed. He couldn’t stay here, he had to search for a way out, for answers. His steps didn’t make any sound on the asphalt, and it felt like he wasn’t moving at all. Something gleamed through the fog, a sphere of orange light, and the Castaway steered toward it.
O
The orange sphere mutated into a street lamp under which a small path was visible. Green appeared out of the fog, mossy grass under old trees, some kind of park or garden. Where the light ended, three figures loomed, motionless shapes with outstretched arms and raised heads; but before the Castaway could take a closer look, someone shouted at him:
O
“Hey!” A man approached, not hasty but with determined steps. “Are you a human being?”
O
“Yes.”
O
“You sure?” The stranger carried an assault rifle with a mounted flashlight and inspected the Castaway over its barrel.
O
“What?” The question was grotesque, but the Castaway pushed away his confusion:
O
“Don’t you hear me talk? Please, tell me where I am and what I should do. How can I go back to the place I came from?”
O
O
The scarecrows turned in the wind, and their outstretched stick-hands clapped together, plick-plack, like the wheel of a watermill.
“Do what you want: Only this will get you further.”
“Do what you should: It is your duty.”
“Do what you must: You have no choice.”
O
O
“You won’t find what you search inside the fog and you won’t find it inside the city. It doesn’t exist.”
O
“But there is an outside? Some border of the fog?”
O
The man with the rifle nodded: “Of course.”
O
“Please lead me out of this fog.” What did the Castaway have to lose? His clothes and a handful of change? He was trapped in a nightmare, and if this stranger could help him wake up, it was worth a try.
O
The man with the rifle shrugged, indifferent to the Castaway’s cause: “Follow me.”
O
His flashlight seemed to whirl up but not disperse the fog, a sun ray in a dusty attic. The street crossed other streets, travelled through a maze of byroads, beneath pedestrian bridges and past underground garages, all of which were turned alien by the fog. There were no lights behind the apartment windows, no parked cars, not even garbage–no sign that this place had ever been inhabited.
O
Something rattled in the distance, a sound as cold as dropped chains or the falling hammer of an oil rig. Wasn’t there movement besides the restless haze?
O
The Castaway could vaguely perceive figures at a distant intersection, and by their strained arms and hunched backs, he could tell that they were dragging a heavy burden behind them.
O
“Who are these people?”
O
“Workers.” The man with the rifle only gave a casual glance to the creatures while they slowly disappeared behind the corner. “They have been working since the fog has descended, maybe even longer. Let’s get moving.”
O
What choice did the Castaway have? His guide led the way, and he followed him while the fog bubbled up from every crack and crevice. It seemed as if the work floors in a hundred factories had slipped into gear and were blowing exhaust fumes out of their chimneys: as if some hidden machinery deep inside the city had started its work. The fog seethed and surged, reared up and scattered in silent explosions without blasting power.
O
The crying of an infant echoed from the walls and through the fog, or maybe the call of some animal. Cats could cry like babies, some bird species could emulate them, and apes were so close to humans that their young might sound similar …
O
“Don’t listen. There are children being born inside the fog, but mostly such sounds are tricks and traps.” The man with the rifle thrust his body through the mist like an icebreaker through the Arctic Ocean. The fog huddled against the light cone of his lamp, distorted it like everything else. The brightness swayed through nothingness, then it found walls with graffiti, yellow blisters on the city’s concrete flesh.
O
O
“Oh.” The faces of the scarecrows decomposed to form colorless grimaces, newspaper pages under a downpour.
“There is no way.”
“There is one way.”
A shower of straw breezed past the three figures.
“The tyrant is on every way. He guards them all.”
O
O
“Hold it.” The men raised his hand in a military gesture, as if they had suddenly stumbled onto a deserted battlefield. “Somebody is here.”
O
The Castaway peered in all directions until he found her: It was the woman he met at the beginning of his journey, who had chased him away. She held something bloody between her teeth, of which she yanked off pieces. The man with the rifle spat and barely missed a gasoline puddle.
O
“What … what is she doing? Is that …”
O
The woman turned her head sideways, like a hyena over its prey: “What I eat strengthens me. To strengthen me, others must die. I only do what the tyrant has always done.”
O
The man with the rifle spat again, then continued his march: “I have killed before but never nourished myself on it. Only for defense, or when there was no other choice. Come on.”
O
“Shouldn’t we do something?”
O
“There is nothing to do. Follow me, if you’re still searching for a way out.”
O
The fog spilled over the walls like a flash flood, so closely above them as if a multi-billion dollar cocaine cloud descended unto the streets. The two companions walked on in silence, and around them flakes of ash drifted to the ground.
O
“What is it now? Why are we stopping again?”
O
The man with the rifle nodded to the side, to a junction: “This is it.”
O
The asphalt of the street came to an end on barren soil, and to its sides, the last houses of the city rose. Behind them, as far as the eye could see, a wasteland stretched out under an empty sky: Not darkened by storm clouds or shrouded in smog, just empty. Blank. Undefined.
O
“This is it? The world outside?” The Castaway couldn’t avert his eyes. “But you … if you know the way … why do you stay in the fog?”
O
The man with the rifle shook his head, and his lamp light flitted aimlessly over the deserted plain. “There is nothing out there except hunger, cold and loneliness. Inside the fog, at least there are other people; at least there is a system.” He turned away: “I will retreat now. It is your decision if you want to leave or follow me back inside.”
O
“Yes … I know.” The Castaway stared into the emptiness beyond. “Are you the tyrant?
You’ve led me here, but I don’t think you will let me go any further.”
O
The man with the rifle didn’t smile, didn’t show any sign of confirmation. “Why shouldn’t I let you go? I’m as much the tyrant as you, or the cannibal, or the eternally toiling workers. If you want to go, you are free to do so: But where would you turn?”
O
O
And the scarecrows nodded with their heads full of straw.
O
)
END

 

IMG_0777

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff).

Dennis Mombauer, *1984, currently lives in Colombo as a freelance writer of fiction, textual experiments, reviews, & essays on climate change & education. Translates both fiction & non-fiction. Writes fiction, textual experiments & essays on Climate Change & Education as well as English poetry acculturated with German. Translates both fiction & non-fiction. Editor & co-publisher of “Die Novelle – Magazine for Experimentalism“. Publications in various small- to medium-sized magazines & anthologies. German novel publication “Das Maskenhandwerk” (The Mask Trade) with AAVAA press in 2017.
Homepage: www.dennismombauer.com | Facebook: www.facebook.com/DMombauer

Dennis can be found on Twitter @DMombauer.

“One Slick Dragon” by Damon Garn

THE ABSURD ADVENTURES OF STROM AND ASH – A SHORT STORY SERIES CHRONICLING THE ANTICS OF A WACKY MAGE AND A DAFT DRAGON
O
***
O
From the historical writings of Bostonius the Legible, events having taken place one thousand years ago. Or so. Probably.
O
Strom Coalbeard, the Archmage of the Black Tower of Athar, was legendary among mages for his cruelty and malice. His partner, Ash Brightspark, was known as the Red Dragon of Death – his fiery breath so hot even the strongest armor melted in an eyeblink. On the party circuit these days they are known as Strom the Bomb and Ash with Cash. After several centuries of mixing healing potions, tequila and special brownies, they didn’t have it all together, but together they had it all.
O
Strom and Ash have begun another adventure. Having been gone from the Black Tower of Athar so long that they’ve forgotten where it is actually located, they begin to follow a series of clues that hopefully will bring them back to their Mislaid Tower.
O
They are being pursued by Sir Bertholomen (aka Sir Bert) and his trusty talking steed, Misker. The paladin is bent on fulfilling his life’s quest to bring Strom and Ash to justice for a bar tab they skipped out on a couple of centuries earlier. Once free of his quest, Bert can pursue his dream of being a wealthy fiction author.
O
In their first encounter with Sir Bert and Misker, Strom and Ash learned of a map maker in the Icecrystal Mountains who may have a map fragment showing Athar. They were flying toward the mountains, enjoying the warm weather…
O
***
O
Ash the dragon stretched as he flew. The sun warmed his wings. The air was fresh. A sound like frogs in mortal agony tortured his ears.
O
“Please quit singing, Strom,” pleaded the dragon to the wizard on his back.
O
“Sorry,” whined Strom. “I’m bored.”
O
“Can’t you read your spell book or something?”
O
“If I read it one more time I’ll have it memorized.”
O
“You’re driving me insane.”
O
“Humph. That happened long ago,” Strom muttered. Louder, he said “Say, is that snow on those mountains?” He pointed with his staff.
O
“Hey! Watch where you’re swinging that thing!” yelled Ash.
O
“That’s what she said,” answered Strom glibly. “Can’t you see the mountains over there?”
O
The nearsighted dragon could barely see the end of his nose, and would not have noticed much of anything within miles of them. He snorted noncommittally.
O
“Oh yeah. I forgot. You’re going blind in your old age,” the mage snickered, though he had seen quite a few birthday parties himself. “C’mon, let’s go over there. I think that’s the Icecrystal Mountains Sir Bert and Misker told us about.”
O
“How are we going to find one tiny human in that huge mountain chain?” asked Ash. “You got a spell for that or something?”
O
“Nope. We’ll just see what happens when we arrive. How many villages could there be in those mountains anyway? Besides, I don’t remember the last time we frolicked in the snow.”
O
“I hate snow!” the dragon argued. “I am a respectable, fire breathing dragon. A dragon does not frolic in the snow. I have the Brightspark name to uphold.”
O
“More like Buttspark, if you ask me. Jiminy, you big baby. It’s just snow. You’ll love it. Trust me.”
O
Ash groaned but obediently turned and flew toward the snowy mountain slopes.
O
***
O
Gliding high above the mountains, Strom and Ash finally saw signs of a town nestled among the peaks. There were several hundred houses and shops spread across a broad valley, as well as a good sized blue lake. Snow blanketed the town and surrounding mountains. Long avalanche chutes cut down the mountain slopes.
O
“Let’s try this place, Strom,” Ash said. “It’s certainly big enough.”
O
They landed some distance from the village. Ash used a spell to transform himself into a male elf. They’d learned long ago that a dragon landing on Main Street was an unwelcome sight for most settlements. He took the form of a wizened old elf, with long reddish hair and deep black eyes. For fun, he retained long fangs in his otherwise handsome face.
O
The two trudged up the road and into the town.
O
They stopped at a small coffee shop with a polearm over the door called Pike’s Perk to ask directions and get a warm drink.
O
“I’ll have a large coffee, no cream, no sugar,” Strom said to the barista.
O
“And for you sir?” she said politely to the “elf” next to Strom.
O
“I’ll have a tall half caff, half decaff latte, extra shot, with two pumps of sugar free raspberry flavor, low fat whipped cream, three shakes of chocolate shavings, soy milk, no foam, cherry on top, to go, with one of those little paper things so I don’t burn my fingers,” answered the dragon promptly.
O
“What the hell -?” Strom spluttered while the barista furiously scribbled notes.
O
“I like what I like,” Ash said primly.
O
“What happened to a regular old basic coffee?”
O
Ash and the barista both glared at Strom.
O
“Your friend is pretty unsophisticated,” whispered the barista to Ash.
O
“You have no idea, miss,” Ash rolled of his eyes. “He’s even more embarrassing in a sushi tavern. He once ordered fish sticks off the kids menu because he couldn’t pronounce anything else.”
O
“If you two are quite finished?” Strom said before heading over to a table.
O
Ash’s drink was brought over almost immediately. The barista had to look up the procedure for Strom’s coffee and it took her three tries to get it right.
O
“Do you know if there is a good map maker in town?” Ash asked her.
O
“You mean a cartologist?”
O
“Um, sure.”
O
“Yes, we have a very famous cartologist here. Her name is Daraga. Her shop is further on into town. She creates a bunch of different maps from her travels. With winter coming on, I doubt she’ll be on the road again until spring.”
O
***
O
The walls of Daraga’s map store were covered with maps of varying sizes and scales. Dusty globes lined shelves. Great cases of rolled maps consumed much of the worn wooden floor. Several large tables filled out the rest of the space. Behind a low counter stood three more immense tables with long sheets unrolled across them, anchored by a number of miscellaneous knick knacks. A dark haired woman with a long braid bent over one of the tables, meticulously drawing on one of the sheets.
O
“Be right with you!” she called, continuing her work.
O
Strom browsed the map displays, looking for references to his homeland of Athar. Ash took down one of the globes, admiring its detail.
O
Finally the woman stepped around the counter.
O
“I’m Daraga. How can I help you?”
O
“Strom Coalbeard,” said the mage with a bow.
O
“Ash,” said the dragon to her.
O
“Just Ash?”
O
“Yep.”
O
“Uh, ok.”
O
“We’re looking for a small country,” Strom said.
O
“Aren’t we all,” Daraga responded with a smirk. “I don’t sell those.”
O
“No no, I mean we lost the country.”
O
“You lost it? Did it fall out of your pocket or get lifted by a thief in the city?”
O
“Um. No. We forgot where it is.”
O
“You forgot? Where your country is?”
O
“We aren’t usually this irresponsible,” Ash assured her. “We haven’t been there in almost a thousand years.”
O
“A thousand years? You two are remarkably well preserved.”
O
“Thank you!” said Strom. “I don’t feel a day over seven hundred.”
O
“Er – right. It’s a good thing I like older men,” she leered at the mage.
O
“The country is called Athar,” said Strom nervously after a moment of her scrutiny. “Have you heard of it?”
O
“No, I can’t say that I have. I don’t recognize the name, but countries change hands regularly and they are often renamed. Do you have an idea of what region it was in?”
O
“No, those really aren’t the kind of details we keep track of,” sighed Ash.
O
“I see.” She thought for a moment, eying Strom again. “I’ll tell you what. I have some very old maps in storage. It will take me some time to find them. In addition, I’m pretty busy right now. How long did you plan to be in town?”
O
“We’re only here to meet with you before continuing our journey home.”
O
“Aw you know how to make a girl feel good. You came all this way to see little ole me.” She beamed at Strom. “I’d say you need to find a room for a few weeks. I’m backed up and those old maps will take a while to track down.”
O
“What are you working on that takes so much time?” asked Ash curiously. “Maybe we can help.”
O
“Not unless you can fly,” she replied.
O
“As a matter of fact…”
O
***
O
It took a while to work out a bargain. Once they convinced Daraga that Ash was really a dragon and could fly her high above the peaks to help her make more accurate maps, she immediately tried to hire them to work for her for a few months. Eventually the three of them agreed that Strom would have dinner with her once a week, Ash would fly her over the mountains on clear days so she could continue sketching possible trade routes, and Daraga would search her archives for any reference to Athar. Her crush on Strom was a source of amusement for Ash.
O
***
O
“Just one more peak, Ash,” said Daraga.
O
“You said that two peaks ago,” grumbled the dragon as he drifted toward the mountain top the map maker pointed to.
O
He landed on the steeply pointed summit. The mountain over looked Daraga’s village and offered an impressive view to the west. They could see many of the roads that bisected the area. Daraga was busy making sketches and taking measurements, attempting to give her maps as much accuracy as possible. She clearly worked very hard for her reputation.
O
Ash dozed, stretched out in the snow. Strom was digging through his bottomless bags, looking for something to do. Daraga often took an hour or more to make her drawings.
O
Strom was the first to notice that something was wrong. Daraga had been uncharacteristically quiet for several minutes. When the mage looked over at her, she was slumped over her sketchbook.
O
“Daraga? Daraga?” Strom shook her shoulder.
O
She didn’t respond. When he pulled her back toward him, she flopped limply into his arms.
O
“Ash!” called Strom. “Daraga is unconscious. I think the altitude got to her.”
O
“Bring her over and we’ll fly her down to the village.”
O
Ash grunted as Strom lifted Daraga on his back. “Give her a shot of that ole bottle you carry,” suggested the dragon.
O
Strom looked around guiltily. “Shhh. No one is supposed to know about that, you fool. You’ll make me look like a lush.” Nonetheless, he pulled a small flask from a hidden pocket. He placed it against the map maker’s lips and tilted it back.
O
“Open her mouth first,” Ash suggested as he felt the liquid dribble down his back.
O
“Oh, right.” Strom tried again, this time getting the woman to swallow some of the fiery liquor. With a surreptitious glance around, Strom took a long pull at the bottle himself.
O
“Hey! I saw that, old man,” cried the dragon.
O
“Shut up and fly, you relic,” returned the mage after a long belch. “Before we all freeze to death up here.”
O
During this exchange Daraga woke up and realized she was being cuddled by the old man chugging the contents of a flask.
O
“Well hello, my hero,” she murmured. Ash stifled a laugh.
O
“I think she wants to be warmed up, Strom.”
O
“Give it a rest and get us out of here,” said Strom. “My beard is freezing to my lips.”
O
The dragon flexed and gave a mighty stroke with his wings and went absolutely no where. “Uh-oh,” he muttered. “We have a problem.”
O
“Tell me about it while we fly to warmer territory,” ordered Strom. “These robes are drafty.”
O
“That’s the problem — I’m stuck, frozen right to the ground.”
O
“Oh great, what were you thinking? I — hey, we’re moving!”
O
“I know, the snow is breaking away under us! We’re sliding! Avalanche!”
O
Strom grinned with a slightly insane smile as Ash began to slide. The dragon’s scaly belly, worn smooth with age, made for an excellent sled. His legs couldn’t slow his progress and within moments they were plummeting down the side of the mountain; the largest living sled in the world.
O
Ash was moving at close to his flying speed, vaporizing drifts and sending snow hundreds of feet in the air. Strom screamed in delight and hunched over Ash’s neck like a jockey on a prize horse. Daraga clung desperately to the mage and began to turn a sickly shade of green. The old man’s beard kept wending its way into her open mouth like a living thing, and his shapeless hat battered her mercilessly in the face. Startled birds squawked as they were nearly run over by the out of control dragon, and a great white stag bounded rapidly out of their way, then stood shaking his majestic head in apparent disgust.
O
“YEEHAW!” screamed Strom.
O
“Uh-oh,” cried the dragon. “We’re coming to treeline, Strom. What are we going to do?”
O
“Use your tail as a rudder! Steer!” Daraga cried. Both dragon and wizard turned to look at her incredulously. “Well, got any better ideas?” she asked sarcastically. “Try it.”
O
Ash tried Daraga’s idea, with remarkably good results.
O
“Hey, I’m getting good results,” Ash remarked, steering himself through the trees with his gigantic tail. The trees were a blur. Ahead, an old avalanche chute opened up. Ash steered into it.
O
The dragon shot through the chute like a greased goblin through a gutter. Suddenly, the three realized they were being watched. Hundreds of villagers lined the edges of the chute as they careened by. More scrambled quickly out of their way. The people had apparently been enjoying a bit of sledding themselves. They were entirely out-classed by the three newcomers, who sped by in a blaze of twigs, snow and wild cries.
O
“Watch the dog!” cried Strom. One brown pup could not escape the chute quickly enough. Its tiny paws dug desperately into the snow as the great dragon bore down upon it. Just before Ash plowed over it, Strom cast a spell. With a howl of terror the dog was flipped over the dragon’s head and right into Daraga arms, where it cowered and whined as they went sliding down the hill.
O
“Hey! No pets allowed,” Ash yelled.
O
“You’re the one that nearly ran it over,” scolded Strom. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
O
“Big trouble ahead!” the dragon cried. “The lake.”
O
“I see it! We’ll freeze,” the wizard answered.
O
“You’ve got to stop!” the human yelled.
O
“Yip! Yip!” the dog agreed.
O
“Well, I believe this is where I get off, my lady,” said Strom to Daraga. With a wicked grin, he bailed off the side of the dragon, landing in a fluffy snowbank. Daraga turned and saw the old man emerge from the snow and wave his hat sadly as the woman, the dog and the dragon met their fate in the lake with an explosion of steam, snow and water.
O
***
O
The dragon skidded across the surface of the lake, kicking up water in a huge plume behind him.  Eventually his momentum died out and he sank like a rock, dragging Daraga and the dog under with him.
O
Moments later, three heads broke the surface of the water, staring at each other in wonder.
O
“I don’t believe it!” said Ash.
O
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Daraga sighed.
O
“Woof!” barked the dog, who was already paddling around the small lake.
O
Strom, standing at the shore of the steaming lake along with hundreds of stunned villagers, blinked in surprise at this exchange. He’d expected a lot of whining and complaining, particularly from Ash. It actually appeared the three were enjoying themselves. Looking around, he saw a small sign posted in the snow. Clearing it off, he read “Klantith Hot Springs.”
O
As they climbed out of the natural hot springs, Ash and Daraga were surrounded by the towns people, who had watched the last half of their journey in disbelief. It seems the villagers used a short portion of the mountain for sledding, but it was too much effort to hike very far up the snowy slope. They were clapping and cheering for the adventurers.
O
A group of teenagers was already trying to get Ash’s attention so they could beg for a ride to the top. The fact that he was a huge red dragon didn’t seem to bother anyone – their sense of fun overwhelmed their sense of fear.
O
“I’ve got a plan, Ash,” Strom said.
O
“Yeah? Let’s hear it.”
O
“We could open a sledding company! Here’s what we do…” He whispered in the dragon’s ear.
O
 
Ash got a big grin.
O
And so they spent the winter in the village. Ash transported sledders and their sleds to the top of the avalanche chute, and twice a day took a group in a specially designed dragonsaddle for the entire summit to bottom run, right into the hot springs.
O
Daraga did her research for them that winter. She didn’t have any maps showing the tower itself, but she did have a very old map fragment with the word “Athar” and a skull and crossbones warning. The fragment showed the land of Athar near a coast, but there was no indication which sea it might be close to.
O
They copied the map, tipping Daraga handsomely. When spring came they planned to depart and try to find more clues about their lost home. Daraga had suggested a minstrel named Selena she knew that traveled a great deal and collected stories about the old world. She said the bard could usually be found further to the east in the warmer climates this time of year. They’d agreed to look the woman up to find out what she knew.
O
Daraga continued her weekly dates in pursuit of Strom, but the old wizard seemed completely oblivious of her crush. Eventually she gave up, returning her focus to her cartography work.
O
It had been a fabulous and profitable winter, until one morning Ash spotted a shiny figure riding up the main road toward the mountain village.
O
“That silly paladin,” Ash said, shaking his head. “I thought the horse might have talked some sense into him.”
O
The paladin was Sir Bert, of course, their enemy. His family had been pursuing Ash and Strom for hundreds of years regarding a forgotten bar tab. Now the interest and additional fees had stacked up to the point where even the duo’s vast fortune couldn’t cover it. In addition, Sir Bert felt he was obligated to complete the quest on behalf of his family so that he could follow his own dreams. The quickest way for him to accomplish that was to kill Ash and Strom.
O
“Trouble,” Ash said when he encountered Strom in the village. “Bert and Misker are almost here.”
O
“Here?”
O
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?”
O
“Well it was about time for us to leave anyway. I don’t feel like dealing with those two every time we turn around.”
O
Ash nodded in agreement.
O
The snow was thinning anyway and the villagers had had their fill of long sledding runs for the winter, so it was probably a good time for them to depart.
O
Strom took Daraga aside and offered her half the money they’d made that winter if she’d throw the paladin off their track.
O
“Tell him we died in an avalanche or something,” Strom suggested.
O
“A fire breathing dragon die in an avalanche?” argued Ash. “I don’t think that’s even possible.”
O
“Whatever, just do what you can to keep him off our backs for a while.”
O
“Sure thing, guys,” Daraga said. “I’ll see what I can do. Pretty hard to lie to a paladin though.”
O
“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” Strom encouraged her.
O
With that they took off, skimming low to the ground to avoid the notice of the approaching paladin, and continued to the east in search of the minstrel that might guide them closer to their home.
O
The adventures of Strom and Ash continue as they search for their forgotten tower and try to avoid their paladin nemesis. They needed to find the wandering minstrel Daraga had suggested before Sir Bert caught up to them again. Perhaps the minstrel would know the next step in their journey. The good news was that minstrels also always knew which bars were having Ladies Night…
O

OneSlickDragon-GARN-CoverBergloff

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff).

Damon Garn lives in Colorado Springs, CO with his wife and two children. He enjoys hiking, writing and annoying his neighbors with mediocre guitar playing. He writes in the fantasy/sci-fi realm experimenting in flash fiction, short stories and a novel. Follow on Twitter: dmgwrites or at dmgwrites.wordpress.com


“Montanha do Aranha” by Joshua Scully

A smoldering volcano dominated the horizon. Beyond a golden beach and a jumble of trees, the crown of the immense geological rupture was all that Ivo could see. The towering cone was flanked by a patchwork of ancient sepia and sienna flows, bringing to mind similar summits in the Azores.
 O
Ivo initially paid little mind to the smoking mountain. The tattered remnants of his clothing and the scorching sun seized his senses before he could genuinely assess his surroundings. He was grateful to be alive, drenched and nearly naked or not.
 O
Both Mira and Nelas were gone from view. Painfully aware that Mira was at the bottom of the South Sea, Ivo prayed that Nelas had not joined her sister. The other ship was his only hope of rescue.
 O
Ferdinand Magellan and his Spanish fleet had just beaten the storm, but his Portuguese pursuers were not so fortunate. Several crewmembers from Mira had washed up on the beach of this small isle with Ivo, and the sea had stripped and battered each man.
 O
Once regaining his strength, Ivo inspected the bodies on the beach. Most were lifeless, but there were two exceptions. Adriano and Martim, childhood friends from Porto, were breathing but unconscious.
 O
Ivo dragged his countrymen from the blazing heat and into the shade of the closest palms. Contemplating how he might attract a rescue, he imagined constructing a massive fire on the beach. The flames and smoke would hopefully be visible from the sea. There was no doubt that the volcano lurking behind his shady refuge was impossible to miss.
 O
Bold crustaceans and seabirds readily plied the beach as Ivo watched from between the unresponsive Adriano and Martim. These creatures poked and pried the dead seaman, evaluating the potential for a meal. Without the strength to chase the scavengers, he could only watch as nature slowly seized the bloated remains of his dead companions.
 O
However, the island proved wildly temperamental. The ocean had presented a drowned banquet for the various beach foragers, only for the earth to rumble and scatter the opportunists. Ivo had drifted to sleep against the trunk of an impressive palm, but this tremor immediately roused him.
 O
A second quake followed. 
 O
Finding the strength to gain his feet, he stood and observed a dark, ominous cloud emitting from the volcano.
O
Reinvigorated, Ivo decided that he would gather wood and fresh water, both of which were necessary to survive even a few days on the island. He checked to make sure that Adriano and Martim were safely positioned away from any encroaching waves or menacing island fauna before stepping beyond the first row of palms.
 O
The incessant roar of the South Sea was quickly replaced with the hums, buzzes, and squawks of an island forest. A variety of insects bolted between trees. Various birds darted after their hexapod prey.
 O
“Birds – of – paradise!” Ivo exclaimed. He had before only ever observed drawings or heard descriptions of the beautiful plumage possessed by these birds.
 O
Within a few steps, Ivo was amazed by the number of mangoes, breadfruits, and coconuts ripe for the picking. He certainly had no concerns regarding the availability of wood or food. This island, although minuscule in size, was teeming with life. 
 O
“Shipwrecked in paradise,” Ivo said to himself. He sighed in relief.
 O
An easy climb up any number of nearby trees could provide a healthy meal for ten men.
Reminding Ivo that he was stranded in no dreamscape, the ground beneath his feet trembled and shook. Although he managed to keep his feet, the entire island went silent.
 O
A distinct trepidation had seized nature.
 O
If an eruption was imminent, Ivo and his fellow survivors needed a rescue much sooner than later. He pushed forward through vines and branches. The terrain offered a steady uphill climb, but the journey was easy enough.
 O
There seemed to be few land creatures. Occasional bones scattered between trees surely belonged to birds or reptiles. Ivo stumbled upon larger bones only rarely. He suspected these were the remains of some mammal, perhaps even a monkey. However, he did not cross paths with a single creature, bird or otherwise, much larger than his hand.
 O
Ivo wondered through the forest for at least an hour before he heard the subtle trickling that no subterranean growl could ever quiet. A stream bubbled through the earth at the crest of a low hill.
 O
Ivo cupped his hands and scooped water from the stream. Even a distant rumble from the volcano failed to take his mind off the delicious liquid.
O
“Water,” he whispered to himself. “Salvation.”
 O
Ivo drank from the stream for some time and debated how he might move Adriano and Martim to this particular spot. He glanced around for the simplest approach through the trees. 
 O
In one direction, which Ivo reckoned to be north, his eyes caught distant blue, brown, and white flashes between trunks and branches.
 O
The blue was nothing more than the sea, to which Ivo was much closer than he expected. He quickly surmised that the spring must be near a bay or cove that allowed the sea to penetrate the isle. The brown and white patches were what really dazzled his mind.
O
These colors were produced by the hull and sails of a ship.
 O
Nelas!” Ivo shouted. “Nelas!”
 O
The ship had obviously sought shelter from the gale in this natural harbor and had unfurled all sails to slip back out to sea. Any nearby volcano was certainly a cause for concern, even for a caravel at anchor. Thoughts of fresh water, coconuts, and of fellow survivors were dashed from Ivo’s mind. He absolutely had to get to the beach before the ship slipped out of the cove.
 O
Stumbling to his feet, he rushed forward. His elation made him less aware of his surroundings and, after just a few strides, he struck a dangling branch. Attempting to spin away from the collision at the last second, he lost his balance and tumbled to the ground.
 O
Relieved that he had not struck his head, Ivo slowly stood. Stepping to restart his running pace, he was jerked backward. He grimaced and looked down, intending to untangle the offending vine or snap some stubborn branch.
 O
However, there was no vine or branch, but only a soft mass stuck to his chest. The object appeared to be the combination of gooey unripe breadfruit and sticky cannonball.
 O
Ivo gripped the gunmetal sphere and offered a firm pull. The surface of the ball seemed to be bonded to his flesh. He felt his skin suddenly release a thousand beads of sweat. The Nelas was not going to wait for him. 
 O
He pulled again to no avail. His hand became just as stuck to this strange glob as the skin covering his right pectoral.
 O
A sinewy thread was attached to the orb, perhaps double the diameter of his thumb. This thread was of a similar color and, Ivo suspected, composition. He looked up to see that the thread disappeared in a tangle of branches far above his head.
 O
Ivo wondered if the dangling thread was only tree sap or, more menacingly, an adhesive rope designed by unseen natives. He looked out beyond the edge of the forest to see Nelas slowly sailing out of the cove. Panicking, he scoured the ground for any stone or splinter of wood that he might use to cut himself free.
 O
Already a relatively tall man, Ivo appeared to become somehow taller while searching. A corresponding pain as the tissue of his chest strained to support his weight assured him that this was no trick of the eye. The sticky glob was lifting him toward the mesh of branches over his head. Throwing his free hand upward and grabbing the thread, he allowed this hand to become stuck to the snare in exchange for an opportunity to pull himself up higher. This lessened the strain on his chest and the resulting motion prompted a plan of action.
 O
When Ivo was again lifted upward a few feet, he held firmly to the thread and globule with both hands while extending his legs. Whipping his lower body backward before extending again, he produced a considerable swing. He continued this motion, producing a wider and wider arc with each forward thrust. When the arc brought him closest to the sea, he called out.
 O
Nelas! Hey!”
 O
His mind imagined bloodthirsty cannibals pulling him onto some treetop butcher block. Gladly accepting escape in any form, he continued to kick and swing. 
 O
The extent of his arc brought him closer to the trunks of several robust trees. Ivo hoped he might be able to wrap his legs around one of these trunks, entangling the gooey ball and thread in a few sturdy branches so to provide time for an escape.
O
However, as he kicked and twisted his body to increase the range of his arc, Ivo realized that he was ascending at a far more rapid pace.
 O
Nelas!” 
 O
The volcano grumbled in the distance and, for a moment, his ascent ceased. At the greatest forward extent of Ivo’s swing, the soles of his feet slipped over the scaly bark of the trees he so desperately sought.
 O
When the mountain again fell silent, Ivo was jerked upward. Although far enough off the ground that a fall could easily result in his death, he continued to swing and looked upward to face his attacker. With most of the sticky thread now pulled into the branches above him, his arc became shorter and reaching the safety of the trees was no longer realistic.
 O
Thin brown arms occasionally dipped below the branches above Ivo’s head, and the sailor’s mind returned to stories of island cannibals hungrily devouring unfortunate men. The islands of the South Sea were unknown and distant places to most seaman. There was no imaging what awaited him within the mesh of those branches.
 O
Ivo shouted, leaned, and kicked. He looked up again and caught a glimpse of an eye.
 O
Two eyes. Then four.
 O
Six eyes. Then eight.
 O
The slender arms multiplied in a similar way. At this distance, Ivo could see that the arms were covered in fine hairs. 
 O
He wasn’t the potential prey of a clan of tree-dwelling islanders.
 O
Ivo had walked into the snare of a gigantic spider. An arachnid easily the size of a man was reeling him into a treetop nest, not unlike a hungry fisherman with a plump trout on his line.
 O
“Adriano! Martim!” Ivo cried. His distant shipmates offered no reply.
 O
A furry head burst through the branches above Ivo. Eight soulless eyes longingly stared back at him. Mandibles chirped, clicked, and dripped venom. The slimy substance dropped onto Ivo’s face and shoulders.
 O
Ivo desperately tried to twist away, but his arms and legs were exhausted and there was genuinely nowhere to flee. He dangled precariously with no hope of freeing himself. When the first spindly arm touched the hand that he had earlier purposefully stuck to the thread, Ivo screamed. He shrieked so loudly that even another rumble from the volcano did not silence him. 
 O
The spider lurched forward, careful not to lose purchase on the branches, and extended two pearly appendages from hairy pedipalps. The creature sank both fangs into Ivo’s extended arm, puncturing forearm flesh between the wrist and elbow. The ensuing pain was intense but faded quickly. He bled very little despite the fact that each fang looked comparable to his great toe.
 O
Bluish goo dripped from the wound. The spider retreated back into the branches, although the awful creature remained incredibly close and in plain view.
 O
Ivo shouted and growled at the creature. He showed his teeth and wiggled his fatigued body. He did everything and anything possible to appear threatening.
 O
The spider didn’t move but only observed from a short distance. From this vantage, Ivo was able to see that the sticky glob and thread were anchored to the branches below the spider. 
 O
He wondered if he could break those branches.
 O
When the volcano trembled again, Ivo watched the spider cower and slip backward for a moment. The unfortunate sailor resolved to summon his remaining strength and kick upward the next time that the volcano disturbed the island. With any luck, he could contort his body and lift his legs up toward the spider. Once having seized the branches between his thighs and feet, he could snap the limbs supporting the spider and thread anchor.
 O
If successful, he would fall headfirst to the ground with the creature. Ivo immediately deemed that preferable to whatever fate the spider intended for him in the treetops.
The entire island shuttered. This particular tremor sounded incredibly deep. There was no longer a doubt in Ivo’s mind that the volcano would soon erupt and, quite possibly, send the entire island beneath the waves.
 O
When the spider again recoiled, Ivo immediately seized the opportunity. Supporting his weight with his stuck hands, Ivo flexed his abdomen and whipped his legs toward the arachnid. However, his entire design was interrupted by a sudden faintness that whirled into his mind.
 O
This hesitation allowed his attention to settle on the discoloration advancing down his extended arm. Near the puncture arms, the flesh of his forearm was swollen and purple. This repugnant deformation included his hand and reached down to his elbow. An unrelenting horror tickled his heart when he realized the gruesome transformation was slowly spreading toward his shoulder.
 O
Ivo screamed again, but little more than a strained yelp emerged from his mouth. His fatigued body seemed impossible to move.
 O
Regaining a measure of confidence, the spider scurried forward toward its dangling prey. Eight eyes watched as the injected venom softened the nearest tissue. Not even another volcanic groan stopped the creature from pulling apart furry pedipalps to reveal bony chelicerae. The arachnid maneuvered these glistening projections toward the plump, purple flesh nearest to it and put its grinding jaws to work.
 O
Ivo watched for a brief second as the swollen appendages that were once the fingers on his left hand disappeared between quickly chopping hooks deep within the mouth of the spider. His bones had softened to the point that only the faintest splintering was audible. Largely congealed blood occasionally dripped down his arm. The scene was enough to induce vomiting, as Ivo’s insides forced out a seething mass of purplish slime.
 O
Moving his focus in the direction of the volcano, Ivo prayed some eruption might consign this dreadful island and the resident spider to the South Sea. His heart fluttered fitfully and his vision seemed to fade.
 O
Attempting to ignore the grinding sound above him, Ivo thought about Adriano and Martim. His mind soon wandered elsewhere. Briefly, his thoughts returned to the house in Porto where he grew up. He was on his father’s knee again, listening to a story about João Corte-Real and some far off land to the west.
 O
The island shook fiercely. Ivo returned to reality, hoping that his deliverance was at hand. The spider was, by that time, well beyond his hand and grinding away at what had been the forearm of a Portuguese sailor sent to chase Ferdinand Magellan around the world. 
 O
Ivo made a final appeal to the Virgin Mary. His last wish was that the innards of the Earth intervened before the creature reached his head.
 O
For a moment, all was quiet except for the fiendish feasting of the horrible predator. The bristly hairs of the great arachnid brushed against the cheek of the poor sailor. Ivo could not help but notice the entirety of his left arm had disappeared into the mouth of his tormentor.
 O
Ivo drifted into unconsciousness just as the fury of Mother Nature erupted through the island. 
 O
MontanhaDoAranha-SCULLY-CoverABergloff

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff).

*

Joshua Scully (@jojascully) is an American History teacher from Pennsylvania. His writes fiction and loves a good anachronism. 

 

“You Are What You Eat” by Russell Armstrong

PsychiatricEval 

for one Benjamin Sneed,

whom Secret Service agents desperately need

to know why he sent Congress E-L-E warnings

and the President tweets to skip breakfast this morning. 

Patient Identifying Data 

is routine at best:

twenty-five, male, and straight — lives alone with a pet.

Mental Status 

compliant, coherent; mood — anxious

Sneed swears this is time we don’t have that I’m wasting. 

 

History of Present Illness

none; currently takes no meds,

but Flonase and a rare Vicodin before bed.

Paranoid schizophrenia plagued his father’s grandmother

and his mom’s dad — anxiety, bipolar disorder.

 

Assessment

of eval is “BS remarkable,”

and the tale patient tells, well, fantastically farcical:

The Xyll were pacifists, philanthropic by nature —

scientists, inventors, and problem-erasers,

not warriors, butchers of children and sickly.

So when the Carno invaded, it ended quite quickly.

The Xyll abandoned their homeworld in haste.

A handful of spacecraft narrowly escaped.

In the attack, the Carno, twelve billion did kill,

and all that remained were but three-thousand Xyll.

Fleeing in five enhanced hyperdrive ships,

zillions of light years till finally they slipped

past our Sun’s corona for foolproof protection.

The star’s radiation concealed all detection. 

Escaping the Carno, though, came at great cost.

The Xylls’ weapons? Near depletion.

The Xylls’ hyperdrives? Lost.

With only sublight speed, such flight speed meant death.

“We’ll stay put,” they reasoned. “Think on it instead.”

But the Xyll were slow thinkers — unfathomably so.

Yet they always wound up where they set out to go.

This time, 93 million miles to a planet

whose rich atmosphere and strong field type of magnet

if tweaked underground, and then fine-tuned in air,

from space, scans would read the Xyll weren’t even there. 

At twelve feet in height, with blue hair, blood-red skin,

“No way!” the Xyll surmised. “NO WAY we’ll fit in!”

So they spied and they learned with eavesdropping spyscopes

how best to rid Earth’s fossil-fuel burning hosts.

But it took thirty years, till 1863 when

the States were bogged down in a slight disagreement.

The Xyll sowed the seeds for mankind’s vivisection

and Yanks to fall short in their War of Aggression.

The Xyll engineered a malignant enhancer,

a serum that killed normal cells like a cancer,

turning imbibers to crazed superslayers,

and all who abstained into slain early-gravers. 

Once the rebs razed the planet, their powers would falter,

triggering neurotoxins that melt men to water.

Since the Xyll were attacked, too, by hostile invaders,

the serum reached Dixie some eight minutes later

in lightspeed torpedoes, disarmed, with instructions —  

a gift for “The Cause” (to wreak worldwide destruction). 

But the rebs took the serum while camped out that night, 

ignoring Xyll warnings Yanks must be in sight.

With none to destroy, Johnnies turned on each other.

They fought hand-to-hand; gray murdered gray brother 

with picks, with shovels, with bayonets and stones. 

In the morning, ten thousand but sinew and bones.

The Xyll took a decade times twelve to recast 

a weapon to make us a thing of the past.

In that time, three-thousand Xyll shrunk to twelve-hundred. 

Five ships were now two, but at long last they’d done it. 

D-evolver, they called it — a de-evolving agent. 

The East almost won the Cold War once they gained it.

Evolution-regression of humans into 

wrist-dragging apes of a primitive hue.

Detonated sufficiently high, the blast radius

would rescind the reign of Earth’s kings: Homo sapiens. 

To the Soviets, D-evolver flew at light speed.

Please — America whiffed in 1863! 

The Xylls’ plan to pierce NASA and de-evolve the West 

would then spread North, South, East and de-evolve the rest.

But scarcely a minute past launch celebrations, 

the space shuttle blew up, Challenger was cremated.

Two faulty O-rings were the official cause, 

damaged by Soviet spies before launch

when they stowed the D-evolver in Challenger, too,

and awaited malfunction at mile sixty-two.

The thirty-six Fahrenheit temp, though, that morn,

more frigid than all shuttle liftoffs before,

caused both seals to fail at nine miles’ altitude, 

and despair to plumb depths of despondent Xyll gloom.

For thirty-two years more the Xyll pondered on,

their numbers fast dwindling, two ships down to one.

Six-hundred Xyll left, tinkering and still building.

A month till the Sun breached their ship’s solar shielding. 

Flee the star, risk the Carno? A crisis point reached. 

Or commit all resources to storm the Earth’s beach?

So the Xyll built a comet a city bus-long

with mirroring technology — their most vile of all.

The last two torpedoes light-towed it to Earth,

where the atmosphere shredded and spread it like dirt.

Comet dust saturated and poisoned the air,

drifting down to the surface, the world unaware.

This time, no rogue actors, no weather mishaps.

This time, the Xyll cruelly left nothing to chance.

Sneed learned of the plot from unwitting transmissions

when Solar flares compromised Xyll data systems.

Enhancer, D-evolver, now something far worse

will mold humankind into one last main course. 

Diagnosis

must wait.

Lunch is served; Sneed will join me.

I’ve had him restrained and will have him fed forcibly.

He’s not drunk or dined since the comet arrived. 

That was three days ago and — Hello? — we’re alive.

He blames the strange vanishings, the upsurge in food

on the Xyll — space aliens! Good God, what a fool!

“No, my paranoid BS. We’ll dine then you’ll see.”

Tough love’s the best medicine with patients like Sneed.

“Open wide, try this apple juice, duck breast, and spinach.”

I’ll complete my Prognosis and Plan when we finish.

Prognosis
O
O
O
O
Treatment Plan
O
O
O
O
*          *          *

 

Seventy-six days later, the surviving Xyll heroes

colonized Earth, population now zero.

Seven-billion-plus edibles who laughed, breathed, and walked 

lay, lifeless, in cubicles, classrooms, crosswalks.

For there is no escape, 

liquid, savory, or sweet,

when no matter the meal,

you become what you eat.

O

IMG_0779

Artwork created by Amanda Bergloff (@AmandaBergloff)

***

Russell J. Armstrong (russelljarmstrong.com) lives with his wife and daughter in Chicago. He is a high-school administrator who currently spends his days as a stay-at-home dad. When he isn’t changing diapers or reading books about letters and numbers, he is working on his first novel. He can be found on Twitter @RussWritesWell.