The Slight Army

The Slight Army

This story was originally published by Print Static Movement.

The spiders have been like an invasion of late. There is one that setup camp by my driveway along a wall and a support post. He has his web and a little web cave that he scurries into when he hears a noise. He is black and furry and most likely of the deadly variety. The other day I saw a larger one of apparently the same type nearly an inch-long scooting down the inside frame of my front door. I just saw one climb down the string controlling the blinds in the window.

I live fairly close to wooded areas, and often, I will find small snakes in my yard or on my porch. The spiders I don’t mind as much as the snakes. Snakes carry far more venom in their bite, and they are not so easily squashed. The snakes are good though because as small as they are, they eat the spiders.

The spiders were becoming quite numerous, so I started killing them one by one. I would smash them either with my foot or a book or anything handy and then leave the carcass as a warning sign to the other spiders. This worked for a while, but soon there were dead spiders in almost every room of my house.

And the cat is no help. He watches the spiders and acts as if he will pounce upon them, but he never pounces. He just watches. Perhaps I need a new cat. I wonder if there are special breeds for hunting spiders. But I digress.

Killing the spiders seems to work. Less and less spiders show themselves on an almost daily basis. Still, I kill the ones that do invade my sanctuary. Slowly I began to notice a change in the spiders, not so much in the spiders themselves for there was still a wide variety, but in their behavior. They would seem to stop when they saw me and then duck for cover before I could squash them. Soon I took to carrying a shoe with me, so I would have a projectile weapon to use against them.

The most prominent species grew to about a half inch long and was covered in black fur with a white diamond on their back although the white diamond could have been light glinting off their many eyes. The next most prominent species was of the daddy-long-legs variety with a bulbous body attached to eight thin, long legs. These grew to at least an inch long from toe to toe. I felt safe around this type because I was fairly certain they weren’t poisonous.

The last kind was the most fearsome, growing as much as an inch and a half long with black and red bodies with red legs. This kind would sometimes rush at me when I went to crush them, but luckily, I was skilled by now at crushing spiders, so they never sunk their fangs in me. I was thankful for this because surely those fangs were dipped in some fatal neurotoxin.

I have a few friends, and one came by my abode the other day. She shrieked on reaching my computer room.

“Yes?” I asked.

“All the dead spiders!”

“Yes. I leave them as warning to the other spiders not to come around.”

“Clean them up!”

I nodded. “They’re doing a good job keeping the other spiders away.”

“If you say so, Ash.”

I smiled. We opened up our lab work on the computers and started plugging away at the numbers. I offered to make tea, and she said, “Please.”

I went into the kitchen, and a brown spider appeared running across the counter. I didn’t have my shoe with me, so I crushed it with the tea cup, sending it straight to hell where it belonged. As the tea finished, I shouted down the hallway, “Sugar? Honey? Lemon? Milk?”

“Honey!”

I squeezed a dollop of honey in both cups of tea and went back to the computer room. In the hallway on the way, a daddy-long-legs inched along the floor, and my foot happened to flatten it.

I handed over the tea. She smiled and took it. “I’ve got the lab worked out, I’m getting 1.0 for the first dataset and the expected .5 and .25 for the second and third datasets…”

I smiled. “Show me.”

She showed me the calibrations on the computer. “My work here is done.”

“OK, Samantha, I’ll walk you out.”

“I can find my way, Ash, so long as the spiders don’t get me.”

My head bobbed up and down. “They seem to get more aggressive all the time.”

“You shouldn’t kill them. They prey on other insects.”

I shrieked. “Some of them are poisonous!”

“Poisonous spiders are very rare…”

“If you say so… I’m killing them.”

Samantha downed the last of her tea and grabbed her books. She fled the scene without even another glance at the hordes of dead spiders splattered here and there on the wood floors.

As she stepped onto my porch, a rather handsomely large spider of the red-legged variety inched its way directly in her path.

“Don’t kill it, Ash. They eat other insects. You’ll be up to your ears in mites, beetles, and flies if you murder all the spiders.”

I smiled at her as she left and then jumped up and down on the likely poisonous red-legged monster.

I went to the computer and did my write-up for the lab when I noticed a slight bite on my ankle. I looked down, and one of the rodents injected me with something. It died under my cruel fist. I looked, and as I watched, tendrils of poison spread out along my leg. It started to swell up. My first thought was emergency room, but then I realized my second thought, no health insurance.

The wound in total grew no bigger than a quarter, so I soaked it in hot water and lanced it. With a squeeze, pus came out of it for a while, more pus than I would have believed possible. The pain subsided afterwards. I made myself a ham salad sandwich and grabbed an apple.

I fell asleep after lunch, and when I woke up, I examined my ankle. The swelling had subsided, and the flesh was back to its original color. I rubbed it a little, and it didn’t hurt, so I decided not to be bothered by it. I ordered Chinese delivery and ate it in front of the television.

A spider, an especially furry one, inched into my view on the floor of the living room. I moved to squash the creature, and it darted under the television. Cursing at the little demon-spawn, my fist shook in anger. The leftover Chinese went in the fridge, and my hand grabbed up a spatula from a drawer. I went to the television and tried to get the spider with the spatula. The spider was nowhere to be found. I did find some loose change under the television, which I pocketed.

I was tired for some reason and looked down again at the spider bite on my ankle. Barely a mark. I went into my bedroom and lay down, thinking I would take a short nap. Sleep hit me with an iron mallet in an instant.

A few hours passed, how could I tell how many, I was asleep. Then I noticed difficulty breathing, and I opened my eyes in fright. I could barely see. White silky webs had been stretched across my eyes. I tried to wipe them off, but I couldn’t move my arm. I looked down at myself, and through the web, I could see more webbing all across my body.

I flipped into a berserker rage. My vision narrowed, and my stomach tied itself into a knot. Strength pulsed through my body like a gift from an ancient ancestor. I wrenched my right arm free and scraped at the webbing on my face allowing my eyes to work and letting fresh air in my lungs. Spiders were all over my bed. The pesky little black furred kind. I kicked at them and lashed out with my arms scattering them to the floor.

I looked at the ground, and the spiders had formed up into ranks and rows, ten spiders across a row and five deep in perfect formation. In between each brigade of the red-legged bastards was a good-sized spider of a variety I hadn’t seen before. Huge eyes dotted its face. Black and yellow hair ran in lines across its carapace body. It had pincers the size of needles, and they dripped with venom.

I howled a mighty war cry, “Aarrroooo!” and leapt out of bed at the phalanxes of spiders.

The yellow haired variety jumped at me as I stomped on spider formations one at a time, laughing maniacally. I batted the yellow haired monsters out of the air as they got near me.

A tiny drum beat echoed, and en masse the whole of the spider horde turned their butts at me and shot silk. Hundreds, nay thousands of strands of silk hit me at once and engulfed me. Then one of the yellow haired spiders jumped below my reach and got a good bite of my leg. I cried out in pain and squashed the spider under my palm. Too late. The venom worked its natural wonder, and I fell to my knees. Then I collapsed on the floor, and the faintest of cheering filled the room…

I went into convulsions and lay there twitching for a solid fifteen minutes. When my body calmed down, I found I couldn’t move, but the spiders still watched me. A thousand tiny voices spoke in unison, “Now, after those two bites, you can hear us. You have slaughtered many of our kind, and that needs to stop.”

Paralyzed with fear and poison, I tried to nod. The tiny voices spoke again, “We are intelligent, and we believe we possess souls. We do not want mankind to know because we do not want to be subject to their scientific process. You will stop killing our kind.”

“You’re invading my home…”

“Only to hunt. Not to lay eggs. If we laid eggs in here, there would be thousands of our young everywhere. If you don’t change your ways, then you will see a green spider with black stripes down its body and black legs. When you see this spider know that you are doomed!”

I whimpered some more and lay there in my paralysis. The army of spiders dispersed to parts unknown. A few hours later I could move.

Check out Evelyn’s Book, a precursor to Winter’s Line. In truth a comedy about magic and witches and old boyfriends.

For a Lizard

For a Lizard

By Geoffrey C Porter

This story was originally written for a class with Tim Waggoner.

For a lizard, I was a late sleeper, but I enjoyed my evenings just the same. I always woke up thirsty and hungry. I slept between two small shrubberies on the edge of some giant’s structure. I don’t know what to call it. The giants would go in and out of it. I only noticed because it was imperative that they didn’t step on me.

Water was nearby, and I darted down the trail towards it. Ahhh, the wonderful trail which only us lizards seemed to use; however, one time I saw a snake on the trail. I could make good time on the trail. At the end of the path was the lake all the lizards drank from. Fed by a box sticking out of the wall of a bigger structure. Every few seconds a drop of water would splash from high above into our lake.

I lapped up water and more water to gather up my strength for the trek into the woods where the prey lived. I had to cross one of the giant’s roads, and the giant’s vehicles would zip along the strip trying to crush me. I smiled for I would be eating soon enough. Assuming a good day to hunt. If worst comes to worst, I could hunt in the giant’s refuse pile. Always a good breakfast to be had if you were prepared to go through the garbage and risk the giant’s ire. Being a lizard from a long line of talented lizards, I’m not too proud to go for the easy pickings if I get hungry enough.

I took off in a run towards the road. I looked left, and the way seemed clear. I didn’t miss a step. I had my momentum built up and galloped with all four legs across the hot asphalt. I crossed the stretch of cool grass separating the lanes and looked to the right. The road was quiet and empty. I ran as fast as my little lungs would let me.

Ahhh, the shade and cool green foliage of the woods stilled my racing heart. I stopped underneath a fern and started telescoping my eyes about. I zoomed in on spots and specks here and there looking for life. I saw a spider, and not anyone I knew, so I waited for it to come close to me. Once within my talented reach, I lashed out at it with my tongue lassoing it. Mmmm, crunchy.

Then I paused and looked around. I swallowed the spider. The tiniest vibration came through the ground, and I said to myself, “Ants.” I looked and looked. They rounded the edge of a tree. An entire row of them. They just kept coming. When there were more of them in view than I could possibly eat, I jumped in close and started harvesting them in threes and fours with my tongue.

After the buffet, I went back underneath the fern and smiled. I didn’t bother looking for more grub. I could barely move; I was stuffed so full. No way could I run back to the lake like this. Perhaps it was time for my nap. I took a careful look around to make sure there were no giants, and I closed one eye. I thought back to those tasty ants, and I slowly drifted off to sleep.

When my eyes opened, the sun was setting low in the sky. Once again, I was thirsty. I ran across the road again to the lake and drank my fill of the water. Wendel approached the lake while I drank, and he said, “Have you seen the signs?”

Wendel was a rather stupid lizard with mostly green scales and a few freckled blue ones.

“No,” I said.

He smiled. “Somebody put signs up on the trail.”

I laughed. What would lizards need signs for?

I considered going across the road again and hunting some more, but I am rather lazy for a lizard, and I wouldn’t want to get fat. I hit the trail to go home. That’s when I saw it, the tiniest little wooden sign on the side of the trail. It said, “Looking for more?”

I paused. Was I looking for more? Other than a female lizard I had everything, and sometimes female lizards drank at the lake, pretty ones, too. One I talked to was named Jill.

I kept going down the trail. I saw another sign. “Do more with your life.”

I paused. What was I supposed to be doing? I eat, I forage, and I sleep. I’m a lizard, golly.

I started going down the trail. I saw a sign that said, “Wake up and do something.”

“Huh?” I said.

I turned around and headed back to the lake. Wendel was still there, and I walked up to him and said, “Who put those signs there?”

“Nobody knows.”

I hissed a little bit. “Somebody has to know.”

Wendel looked me in the eye. “Did you see all the signs? Or did you turn back to talk to me?”

“I don’t know.”

“They make more sense if you see them all.”

I followed the trail again. The last sign said, “Get a job.”

I froze in my tracks. I started running down the trail to see if there was another sign. “Get a job” was the last sign. What is a job?

I walked back to the lake hoping to encounter Wendel again. Instead I saw Jill. “Hi, Jill.”

Jill smiled at me. “Have you seen the signs?”

“Who do you think put them there?”

“It had to be the giants.”

“Why though?” I asked.

“Who knows why a giant would do anything. Want to breed?”

“Ummm, not right now, I want to know what this ‘job’ thing is.”

“You don’t want one of those, Jeremy. They suck the life out of you.”

“What is it though?” I asked.

“You really don’t know?”

“No.”

“You know how we hunt insects? Well, a job for us would be like you hunt insects, but you don’t eat them. You give the insects to another lizard. That lizard gives you something called ‘money’ for the insects you catch. Then you ‘buy’ insects to eat with the ‘money’ you have.”

“Would the ‘money’ I make from hunting insects be enough to buy more insects than I could hunt?”

Jill chirped a few times, what must have been laughter. “You’re an idiot. Maybe we shouldn’t breed.”

I sighed. “But, I’m good looking. Isn’t that enough to breed?”

“You’re good looking, but you’re kind of clumsy and stupid.”

“I am not!”

“Eh, I’m out of the mood anyhow. See you around.”

I went down the path again past all the signs to my shrubberies. I tossed and turned all night. The next morning I hit the trail again, and this time there was a new sign, and it said, “GEICO Insurance.”

I was at the lake, and a giant turned the corner carrying a crate of some kind made out of shiny metal. The giant looked down at me. “We’re not going to hurt you, little guy.”

I froze in terror. A giant had never spoken to me.

“We need a new mascot, and you’re just the looker we’ve been looking for.”

I paused. I wanted to run. I really wanted to run. But the curiosity engine of my mind was overpowering my reflexes with a desire to know what was going on. The giant reached down with its paw and scooped me up and put me in the box. “You’ll like your new job, little fella.”

Check out Juxta, Magi on Amazon. Delicious epic fantasy.

The Pixie

The Pixie
By Geoffrey C Porter

The snake reached out to me with its forked tongue. It had black scales all along its back, but green scales adorned its underside. It seemed to shake its head and then twist and turn into the tall grass. I wondered what would come by next. That damn pixie cast some spell on me, and all I can do is sit here. Then I tried moving. It worked. I pushed myself to my feet, and a tingling sensation coursed through my feet and ankles, but it evaporated as the sun finished setting.

The autumn wind rustled through the trees, causing dead brown leaves to whisper to the ground here and there. I hadn’t eaten in ages, and I kept my eyes peeled for any sort of berry or fruit, edible or not.

I started hunting for dandelions. The pixie demanded two handfuls, claiming she needed it for wine. I found one yellow flower after another and kept at it until my pockets were full. After walking back to the ancient oak tree, I knocked on the trunk.

The tiniest little creature you could imagine maybe two inches tall with clear wings stepped out from behind the tree trunk. She had kind of pointy little breasts and wide hips. Her long, black hair was neatly arranged in a bow. She wore a well-tailored moleskin dress and high heeled boots. In a high pitched, loud voice, she screeched, “Did you get the dandelions?”

“Don’t hurt me!”

The creature glared. “I won’t if you do as I ask.”

“I did what you said. I got the dandelions.”

“Show me,” she said.

I started pulling the flowers out of my pockets in a great mass.

“Hand them to me one at a time, you idiot!”

I held out one flower. The pixie flew off the limb and grabbed it. She slid through a hinged door and came back out. She started to tap her foot. I shrugged.

“I need more than one!” She howled.

“Oh.” I held out another dandelion. She snatched it and went back through the door. She came back out. I held out another blossom.

This went on for some time. I handed over the last flower. She came back out of the door, and I started to back away. She flew up to my face and tapped me on the nose with her wand. I transformed into a rock.

Being a rock wasn’t so bad. I waited. Birds liked to perch on me, and of course inevitably, the birds didn’t seem to mind pooping on their perch. So, I spent some time as a rock. Very spiritual.

One day, the pixie returned, and tapped me again with her wand.

I morphed back into a human shape. Although I might not be human, mum always said my father was a goat, but that’s another story.

I looked at the pixie. She looked at me and smiled. She had stark white, pointy teeth, and a tanned complexion. I ran. The pixie was faster though and flew ahead of me and threatened me with the wand. I stopped running and started crying. “Please don’t hurt me! I’ve done everything you’ve asked!”

She shook her head. “You haven’t done enough! I need hawk eggshells.”

I wept. She kicked me in the eye.

“What was that for!” I yelled.

“If you’re going to cry,” she said, “I’ll give you something to cry about!”

I did my best back away routine.

She waved her wand. “Oh no you don’t.” She pulled out a little pipe, stuffed it with something, and lit it with a flintlock lighter. “You’ll get me some hatched hawk eggs first.”

“Then you’ll let me go?”

She rubbed at her chin.

“I’ll get you the hawk eggs, if you promise to let me go…”

“No deal. Get the eggs first then we talk.”

So, I started climbing trees and soon got pretty good at it, too. I found some hatched bird eggs. Not knowing if they were hawk eggs, I put them in a pouch anyway and lowered them by rope to the forest floor. I stumbled upon an apple tree and climbed until I found some ripe apples. My stomach was full for the first time in what seemed like years.

I went to the pixie’s tree and knocked. She answered with a wide smile on her face.

She selected one of the egg shells and went inside. She came back out with a yellow liquid in the shell. “Drink it!”

“I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me! Let me go!”

“Drink it, now!” She shouted.

“I went inside the volcano for ash. I found you newt claws. I did everything!”

“What I’ve done to you so far is nothing compared to what I’ll do to you, if you don’t drink the wine.”

I took the egg shell and chugged it. It tasted good. I started to shrink until I was no bigger than a pixie. I felt compelled to check on the size of my manhood, but then I realized I was in public with birds and chipmunks watching.

The pixie grabbed my hand. “Now we can get married.”

Turtles & Rabbits

Turtles & Rabbits (by Geoffrey C Porter)

A version of this story was originally published by Bards and Sages Quarterly.

The ancient but timeless snapping turtle sat on a tree stump lecturing on the proper application of technique in writing. I sat listening and nodding, wondering if I would be allowed to speak anytime soon. The turtle went on to claim that he was a third-generation linguistics expert, and his policies regarding technique were taught in all the best universities. My attention span for such things is limited, and I interrupted, “But, can’t I simply put pen to paper and etch the words out as they come to me?”

“Oh no,” the turtle said, “you must be inspired to plot out a great picture in the reader’s mind. You must paint a vivid canvas of colors and imagery. You cannot simply put down ideas and concepts. The writing must flow from word to word. You must assume your first draft is atrocious, and write a second draft, and finally a third draft. Some even go as far as to write a fourth or fifth draft.”

I had to interrupt again, “But, what if I’m careful, and I get it right the first time?”

The turtle cracked a wide smile, and there were bits of food stuck in his teeth. “You won’t get it right the first time. Nobody gets it right the first time. I’ve seen your first drafts, and you manage almost fifty errors per page.”

“But you’ve said in the past that the difference between a first draft and a second draft equates to improving the plot.”

“Yes, but would it hurt to fix the errors?”

“Publishers have armies of editors.”

“Will a publisher read past the first error?”

I paused at that. Would they?

The rabbit next to me whispered in my ear, “I got sex right the first time.”

“Sex and writing are two very different things!” The turtle said with a raised, high-pitched voice.

“For the reader, are they that different?” I asked. “I mean, you derive pleasure from both. Both should have a climax.”

“Writing is a skill that works like a muscle,” the turtle said. “There are countless exercises that will build up that muscle, and you must practice them every day.”

I shook my head back and forth, thinking what kind of maroon does exercises? “But I want to write a new story every day. Isn’t that exercise enough?”

The turtle shot lasers out of his eyes at me and howled. “No! The exercises are more important than any story.”

I sighed. I had heard the turtle talk about exercises before, and those talks bored me to tears. I often wondered if I was interested in this writing class, but it was the only writing class in the forest.

The turtle’s eyes shifted from me to the other pupils. “Don’t aspire to be as good a writer as I am. Be content if you can write one decent story in your life. Someday, you might have a great epiphany and become a great writer, but until then, you must practice and revise.”

“But… I don’t want to revise old stories. I want to write new stories.”

The turtle turned back to face me and simultaneously slumped his shoulders down low. “I have read your old stories, and they aren’t very good. You need to apply the technique of imagery and detail to each one. You need to give your characters thoughts and emotions. It’s not good enough to create a solid plot or a bit of action. You must write each story as if a blind rabbit were reading it. You must detail every image and character.”

“But, if I’m writing for a blind turtle, it seems the imagery would matter less, for a blind man has never seen a blond haired, blue eyed wench. He doesn’t need to know what she looks like. My characters are defined by their actions.”

The turtle laughed a happy little chuckle. “That’s the key to the imagery and sensory detail, for you must make a blind person see. You’ll have arrived as a writer when you can make a blind man see and a hard man cry.”

My eyes opened wide enough that they almost fell out. They almost did. “I’m a simple rabbit. I don’t want to make a blind man see, or a hard man cry. That is the work of miracles.”

“You will never be a writer.”

Grab the Wither Chronicles off Amazon. Historical fantasy set in 600 AD. After the fall of Rome, and the start of the dark ages.

The Bracelet

The Bracelet

By Geoffrey C Porter

This story was originally published in Breath & Shadow.

I took to wearing long sleeve shirts on my fourteenth birthday. Two years before, I received my bracelet, and the restrictions started. I was born with the sugar disease, and ever since I have been on insulin. The insulin doesn’t matter, for it lives in a simple little pump I wear around my bicep. I replaced the cartridges of medicine with fresh ones and watched the battery charge. I could charge it with any one of my other devices, so that didn’t bother me. What bothered me was the stinking bracelet.

Worse for some of my friends at that age. One boy I knew had failing kidneys, and he couldn’t even walk up to a drinking fountain and take a drink of water if he was over the limit his doctor prescribed. The damn bracelets controlled everything. If I walked up to a vending machine, 82.3% (I did the math) of the selections would flash red and be locked out by black screens. If I walked up to the counter in a restaurant and tried to order a large milkshake, well they aren’t really milk shakes of course, a resounding alarm will sound if the equipment is in place. The equipment wasn’t always functioning or on, so it was worth it to wear long sleeve shirts and tempt fate on some of my crueler days.

It wasn’t illegal to try and ask for things I wasn’t allowed. They have talked about it in Congress, but you know how they talk and talk and talk. One of my friends made the mistake of asking for a beer when he was 16, and they called the cops. The cops just laughed and hit him a few times with their clubs. Only two or three times, not like they would if he had done something truly heinous like playing his car stereo too loud.

I turned 18, and I moved on to college. The equipment was everywhere. I met a guy without a bracelet, and he offered to sell me a Snickers bar for two dollars. I asked him, “What do they cost from the vending machine?”

He smiled. “You’ll never know, will you?”

Having never tried a Snickers bar, I still relished in the commercials. They did make sugar free Snickers, yes, but that is beside the point. I gave Bob his two dollars, and he handed over an ice-cold Snickers bar. I was in heaven. I ate it so patiently. Of course, I threw it up later. My stomach simply twisted itself in knots until I went to the bathroom and encouraged it with my will to empty its contents.

The machines and cafeteria barely allowed me enough food to survive. I weighed in at 130 lbs. I told myself countless times standing on the scale, ‘130 lbs. is unhealthy…’ I was hungry all the time. They let me have all the celery, carrots, and plain lettuce that I wanted. Oh, and vinegar, if I wanted to put vinegar on the lettuce, that was allowed. I craved a satisfying meal. At least I could get meat, when I wanted it. Mostly. The guys with kidney disease could get a thin slice of ham with breakfast, or a cheeseburger at lunch with the smallest slice of ground beef you’d ever seen.

I could get cheeseburgers, with no ketchup. I could get a steak, but they were costly. It’s like the government wanted me to live forever. But it was like that for everyone. I heard stories about the bracelets they give the elderly. How they cause doors to lock when you’re near, so you can’t even go outside to enjoy the fresh air.

I met this girl, and she was nice. She did the most wonderful things to me. She wore no bracelet though. She used to buy these chewy, little sweet candies called Bit-O-Honey. I even tried one. Like bliss. Not the same kind of bliss being with her was like, but definitely sensory bliss in the form of taste. And the ice cream, she loved ice cream. She would buy pints of the best flavors and always offer to share with me. I couldn’t stand it. Better to starve, I said, and I broke up with her. Not the best decision I ever made in hindsight, but I burned through three insulin cartridges a week! I was back down to one cartridge a week in no time.

I grew a little older. I took on a job jumping through hoops for a big company.

I couldn’t get food. I had to eat every last calorie worth of food I purchased, or I would truly have withered away. I woke up in the nights with heavy shakes, and I would eat a four-gram glucose tablet, of which I was allowed three per day. My doctor kept me on an 1800 calorie a day diet even though I begged and begged for more. He would quote the law and offer me no other choice than to live in anguish with bitter lows constantly assailing my physique.

I still wore long sleeve shirts, and I found myself wandering the streets seeking out a store without equipment. I saw a strange sign in my quest. It read, ‘One-liter water, $2. M&Ms, small bag, $2.’

The sign hung next to a wooden door. I knocked.

Inside, someone shouted, “Come in!”

I stepped through the doorway.

A short, tan-skinned fellow with jet black hair and piercing brown eyes sat behind a counter. The lights were dim. Four coolers sat against walls. A rack of assorted candies leaned against one wall. They had other groceries available too, various nuts, cereals, rice, very common stuff.

The short man smiled. “Cash only.”

I nodded. I knew if they had no equipment, they’d only take cash. I stepped up to a rack of fruit and grabbed both an orange and an apple. I walked up to the candy selection and grabbed a box of Nerds, because I could make those last, and a Bit-O-Honey in homage to my first girlfriend. Oh, there had been a few others, of course.

The man took my dollars and smiled. He put everything in a thick paper bag, and I began to walk home. I went back to that store almost every day for a month. No more hunger for me. I even gained one pound.

It started across the Internet. New laws were being debated about increasing the strictness of the dietary management system they claimed was so effective and necessary. The laws passed of course. Thousands protested, but the laws passed.

I lasted for a week and a half before I found myself out of food credits and half-starved with bad shakes and a twisted stomach. I walked to the store, expecting to find equipment for scanning bracelets. I poked my head inside. The short, dark haired fellow smiled at me. The cash register was there. The food was there. I didn’t see any equipment to scan a bracelet.

I grabbed a banana, a package of beans & rice, and a chocolate bar.

The man took my cash, and I smiled. I peeled the banana as soon as I stepped out of the doorway. I started walking while enjoying the fruit.

Sirens howled. I walked casually stuffing the half-eaten banana in my paper sack. A cop car with blaring sirens and screeching tires pulled to a stop next to me. The cops approached me. “Halt!”

“Eh?” I said and stopped.

The cops had their clubs out.

“What do you have in the bag?” One asked.

“Essential supplies.”

The other cop said, “Show us.”

I showed them the food.

They laughed. Then they scanned my bracelet.

They arrested me. I sit now awaiting trial.

Grab Codname: Bear, a fun secret agent story.

Codename: RedCat

Codename: RedCat

By Geoffrey C Porter

I looked down at the piss coming out of my dick. Pink, maybe even a little red. My step dad took it too far with his last drunken beating. Hitting me all over with a leather belt. Who hits a kid in the kidneys?

I knew enough to know I had to get away. I’d be dead before I reached eighteen. It started real slow like, a smack here and a smack there, but a twenty-minute beating as hard as he could over a B in school?

Somebody banged on the bathroom door. “Are you about finished in there? Are you in there wanking?”

My older step brother, obviously. I zipped up and opened the door. The step brother was allowed to hit me, too.

I ducked under his swing. He was slow and clumsy, and at this time, seemed more interested in using the bathroom for the night than giving chase. I crawled into bed, but I refused to let myself fall asleep. Nobody came to tuck me in or say goodnight.

I had good ears, and in that house, having good ears was a penalty. The last grunts and moans from down the hall quieted, and I knew the house would be asleep soon.

I waited for snoring, and it soon followed. My feet reached out to the floor. No way was I turning a light on. Dumped my backpack out on the bed. I had a stolen box of granola bars, and those plus two pair of underwear, socks, and a pair of pants, plus an extra shirt all went in the bag. I had twenty dollars too, a present from my real dad. Not that he gave a rat’s ass about me either, but at least I had the twenty.

The window in my room opened easily enough, and I pushed the bag through first. There I was, on the roof, a good eight or nine feet off the ground. I strapped the bag on, and climbed down to my stomach. My whole plan was to hang from my fingers and just drop a few feet down, but I scraped my belly on the shingles and slipped.

I landed on my side, but compared to some things I’d been through, not that bad. I really didn’t mind the pain, but pissing blood? The principle of the matter, who wants to live in terror their whole lives? The whole concept that it started real slow, and just kept getting worse and worse. I had enough.

I ran through our little town. A national park bordered the other side, and on the other side of that, another town, another county. If I could make it through the park, avoid bears, I’d be golden.

I crossed a dirt road and ran through the woods. The moon set, and I curled up on the ground to sleep. Best sleep I ever had in my life, and the sun woke me up. My stomach growled, but I needed to save my resources. Six twin-packs of granola bars, and it’s at least a five-day journey through that park.

I took a leak and realized I forgot toilet paper. Screw it, I needed to poop, and I did.

I got my bearings and ran. Almost stepped on a damn rattler too, but the thing paid me no mind. I didn’t stop running. Free at last. I had no plan, but I knew there had to be something better out there somewhere.

When the sun set, I ripped open a pack of the granola bars. I drank from a stream. My backpack made a fine pillow, and damn if I did not dream of conquest and fury.

Somebody said, “Wake up, kid.”

Dear god, all a dream?

I opened my eyes. The moist forest floor tickled my back. Two park rangers stood there. I was lightning, grabbing my pack and taking off in a run.

These were grown men though. One shouted, “Don’t run or we’ll taze you!”

They’re not going to taser a kid, and I was distancing them.

I felt a prick on my back, and bam, lightning raged in my body, and I fell.

They zip tied my hands behind my back, and one of them threw me over his shoulder. The other one picked up my bag and looked through it.

I cried. They put me in the back of their patrol car.

The driver hit a red button on his radio and started the car.

“You can’t make me go back,” I said.

The officer on the passenger side said, “A runaway.”

“If somebody beat you like they beat me, you’d run away, too.”

The driver turned down the road, but not in the direction of my little town, in the direction of the town on the other side of the national park.

“How often did they hit you?” The driver asked. “What did you do?”

I didn’t want to talk to these men.

“You have to talk to us,” the passenger said. “We can file charges.”

Charges won’t do me any good. “Last time I was pissing blood, over a B in school.”

“They hit you on the kidneys?”

“They hit me all over. All over.”

The radio spoke for the first time. “We’ll take him.”

The driver reached down and pushed the same red button on the radio.

“What’s your name?” The passenger said.

“Jim.”

“Happy Birthday! It’s a good thing you’re 14 now.”

“I’m 13. My birthday was last month.”

The driver pulled into a diner. “You look like you could use a meal, and since it’s your birthday, they’re having a special on pancakes.”

“I’m 13.”

The passenger turned to smile at me. “You need to trust us that you’re 14. If you’re 14, you have choices in life. If you’re 13, you’re heading off to a foster home.”

Choices? What choices? But both of these officers stared at me with huge grins.

I said the words real slow like. “I’m 14. Today is my birthday.”

“Now you’re talking, kid,” the driver said. “Let’s get some pancakes.”

One of them let me out of the car, and undid the tie on my wrists. “Don’t run. We’re not going to make you go home.”

I nodded. We went into the restaurant, and I ordered a plate of silver dollar pancakes.

The officer sitting to my left said, “Double that order, and throw in two sides of bacon.”

I looked up at the waitress. “If it’s going to be two plates of meat, make it one bacon, and one sausage links.”

Both of the men with me laughed.

I ate all that food. It made me kind of groggy, too.

One of the officers started talking. “Now that you’re 14, you can choose to go to a foster home, or you can choose to go with some friends of ours.”

“Friends?” I asked.

“They’re law enforcement. Just a different breed than us.”

My eyes started drooping, and I wanted to lie down.

“That bench is awfully comfy,” the left officer said. “You can sleep. You have time.”

I was down on that bench in a heartbeat. A great thundering woke me, and I looked outside. A helicopter was landing in the parking lot. Two men climbed out. They dressed the same in tan slacks, leather shoes, white button up shirts, and leather jackets, with bulges under their left armpits.

The two men walked up to our table and smiled at me. The officer on my left said, “Go with them, Jim. They’re good guys.”

I stood up. The left man in the jacket said, “I’m Mathew, my companion is Jeffrey.”

Both men were big in the shoulders and legs, with a narrow waist.

Jeffrey waved at the waitress. “Two to go coffees, and a ham sandwich for the kid.”

I just had two plates of pancakes. “I don’t need a ham sandwich.”

Mathew pointed at my chest. “As little as you are, you need a sandwich. You’re 14?”

“I’m 14!”

The waitress came out with two coffees and a plastic box containing a sandwich.

Jeffrey and Mathew took the coffee, and I grabbed the plastic box.

We walked to the helicopter. How could I be that important to these men to justify picking me up in a helicopter?

“Ride in front,” Jeffrey said.

I climbed in the front, and we were off. As loud as the chopper was when it landed, it was nearly silent as we flew.

“This helicopter is Chor-Tan made,” Mathew said.

“Chor-Tan?”

“Aliens who are trying to help us.”

Aliens? “Like at Roswell?”

Mathew chuckled. “You really think a species capable of interstellar travel would crash land?”

“Well, I never thought about it like that.”

There was a pause. I looked around. The ground was just a blur, sliding by below us.

“The problem is, even though the Chor-Tan are helping us, the Razdoran are trying to assimilate us,” Mathew said. “If they can pull that off, by dismantling our governments, mankind will just be their slaves.”

That did not sound good.

“How do I fit into all of this?” I asked.

“There’s a man who is helping the Razdorans,” Mathew said. “His name’s Centurian. He’s the biggest crime lord the Earth has ever known. You’re going to be his end.”

I don’t think I can do that. Wait. Maybe I could? I could bloody try. “I’m in!”

“We knew you would be. Eat that sandwich.”

I ate the sandwich. After a while, we landed on top of a parking garage surrounded by desert. An older woman in her forties was waiting. She smiled at me.

“I’m Nancy. I’m in charge of this training facility.”

They should call it Home.

“Are you sure he’s 14?” Nancy asked.

“His birthday was today,” Jeffrey said.

“Parents?”

“A fire. Burned up his birth certificate, too.”

“Convenient,” Nancy said. “Let’s look him up in the database. Where were you born?”

“I forget,” I said. “I never thought it would be important.”

“The auditors are going to have a field day. Especially as little as he is.”

I looked from one adult to the next.

“You said we needed new recruits, and we got you one,” Jeffrey said.

“Yes, now get me ten more. Just make sure they’re bigger than this one,” Nancy said.

“He just needs a sandwich or two.”

I just had a damn sandwich.

She looked me in the eyes. “Your name’s RedCat now, forget Jim.”

Huh?

“You’ll work. Study. Exercise. Train. Follow orders no matter what,” Nancy said. “Is all that clear?”

“Except the RedCat thing, can’t I get a cool name like, Scorpion or Snake or something?”

“No, you’re RedCat!”

I shrugged.

“This way,” Nancy said.

I followed her. She led me to a door in a hallway. “These are your quarters. Your schedule’s on the computer. Today you can relax, but tomorrow you’ll work.”

I wanted to hug her. And before I realized it, I was hugging her. She patted me on the back, then pushed me off her. “Try and make friends.”

I nodded.

“And eat something, please.”

I laughed. She left me alone, and I read up on agency history. Ate at meal time with a big crew of other teenagers, and I was littlest by far. Two sandwiches went in my belly at dinner.

I lay awake that night. What have I gotten into plagued my thoughts. Since when have aliens been in contact with us? I started reading more agency history on the terminal.

A messenger window popped up on my screen, from somebody named Thomas.

“If you’re not going to sleep, let’s do something. Meet me at the range, and I’ll get you checked out on our 9mm.”

Checked out on a Nine? I pulled up a map of the complex and started looking for range. I sent a message back to Thomas. “I’ll be there.”

The lights in the hallways must have been on some kind of motion detectors, because it was lit up where I stepped into the hallway, but in each direction was darkness. I ran to the right, and the lights above me lit up just ahead of my steps. Behind me was more pitch black. I tried to run faster than the motion detectors in the lights, but they were always one step ahead of me.

Thomas was a bulky fellow who obviously worked out a lot. He was in his thirties and thin as hell. He had kind of an ugly mug though, like his face was originally a typical brick or something. He smiled at me. “RedCat?”

“Jim,” I said.

“No, you’re RedCat now.”

I shrugged.

We stepped into the range proper. Fifteen stations plus a control panel. Thomas typed some stuff into the panel, and a slot opened to reveal two boxes of ammo, and a Beretta 9mm pistol that I had seen on TV a hundred times.

Thomas dropped the magazine out of the pistol and showed me how to insert a round into it. Then he gave me the box of bullets. “You can load.”

He smelled very strongly of marijuana, and I was a bit surprised. “You smoke pot?”

“It’s allowed. It helps me relax.”

I started feeding shells into the magazine. No more would fit, so I stopped.

“You don’t have to slam it in, just push until it clicks.” He handed me the pistol.

“Don’t point it at anybody unless you intend to shoot them,” he said. “At the range, keep it pointed down range.”

I pointed it down range.

He moved to one of the stations and punched a few buttons. A target materialized about fifteen feet away. He looked at me. “Pull the top of the gun backwards and let go to chamber a round. Line the sites up and squeeze the trigger like you’re trying to crush a soda can.”

I lined things up. Squeezed the gun together. Bam! It jumped in my hands, but I held on tight.

Thomas clapped. “Good for a 13-year-old.”

I stopped. “I’m 14, man”

“You had better be. And you had better remember your story when the auditors come. Plus you are too damn little, start growing!”

I stood up on my tippy toes.

Thomas laughed, but I wasn’t sure if it was because I did something funny, or he was just that stoned.

“Empty that pistol,” he said.

I did not need further encouragement.

Journal note: Auditors questioned me eight months later, but I was six inches and twenty pounds heavier. I kept my story straight. They raised a few eyebrows, but there were no further investigations.

Buy Codename: Bear on Amazon, a fun secret agent story.

Codename: Archangel

By Geoffrey C Porter

Ben turned the corner onto his street after a long run and found two men in brown leather jackets, white shirts, and tan pants standing around outside of his apartment. One was black skinned the other white. As Ben got closer, he noticed two things. The men had bulges under their armpits that surely implied they were armed, and a black sedan was parked in the lot with government plates he didn’t recognize.

Being a nineteen-year-old black man in a mostly white neighborhood, Ben suspected the worst. His fears were soon realized when one of the men said, “Benjamin Meyers?”

Ben looked these men in the eyes. Neither man was frowning or mad, rather they seemed happy.

“What can I do for you?” Ben asked.

The left man, the black guy, said, “We’d like you to meet somebody.”

The other man said, “We want to offer you a golden opportunity.”

“Sounds like crap,” Ben said. “I got shit to do.”

“You do have things you need to do, very important things. Please come with us.”

“Hell no. I plan to fill a kiddie pool with jello and get naked.”

“We’re not going to hurt you or force you into anything,” the black guy said. “We just want you to meet our boss. She’s a real nice lady.”

“What are your names?” Ben asked.

The white guy said, “Jon.”

“Mohammad,” the black guy said.

Is he lying? Is he Muslim? “You are Muslim?”

Mohammad laughed. “You were born with a Christian name, but you were adopted by a Muslim couple. Do you pray?”

How did he know so much! “I don’t pray. In my heart, Islam is the best religion, that’s all.”

“How do you feel about women?” Jon asked.

“Women are our equals in many ways.”

“Great,” Mohammad said. “We can’t use you if you believe in Sharia Law. We employ a lot of women.”

A lot of women? Maybe he should go with these men.

The men looked at Ben with questions in their eyes.

Ben nodded. “How far is it?”

“The facility is on the outskirts of downtown,” Mohammad said. “On the East side.”

“My mom is going to need dinner and a shot in two hours.”

“It’s a fifteen-minute drive. On my honor, you’ll be back to take care of your mom.”

Ben moved to the back door of the government sedan.

“Ride in front,” Jon said. “I like being able to stretch out.”

Dammit, that was Ben’s entire plan. He climbed in the front. Mohammad drove. He drove very carefully, focusing on the road. Jon seemed to be trying to nap. They were there in fifteen minutes.

They parked in an underground garage and rode an elevator up three floors. An older woman was waiting, with mostly gray hair, and thick glasses. She wore a neat and tidy combination of a jacket over a white shirt, with a blue skirt on. Ben’s instinct was to bow to her, and he did.

“You’re so big and healthy,” the older woman said. “What do you think about heavy weapons assignment?”

“I don’t even know what this is about,” Ben said. “I don’t know your name.”

“My name is Nancy. You’ll report directly to me if you enlist. We only recruit orphans. We’re a crime fighting agency, and we face off against the most notorious of criminals. A man named Centurian, who has ties to off world aliens.”

Ben stopped dead in his tracks. Off world? Off world! “What?”

“Aliens have been in contact with us for a long time, Archangel. Some help us, some want to enslave us.”

“Did you just call me Archangel?” Ben asked.

“That’s your new name,” Nancy said. “Forget Ben.”

Archangel?

“I like it,” he said.

Wait, aliens? Interstellar travel? “Advanced technology?”

“Would you like to meet our martial arts bot?” Nancy asked. “I think that is likely the most interesting technology we use in training.”

“Show me.”

“You’re interested in a heavy weapons assignment?”

“Yes, yes, that’s fine.”

Nancy smiled a big grandmotherly smile. She turned down the hallway, pressed a few buttons on a control panel. “It’s on level 20. Step inside, hit the bot like you’re trying to kill it. They won’t do more than bruise you, but this is the highest level. This is the heavy weapons beginning.”

Archangel stepped into the room. A man appeared in a set of dirty coveralls. Except a second ago, the room was empty. The man threw a punch. Archangel knocked it out of the way at the wrist. Another punch, harder. Nancy spoke across the intercom, “It’s artificial, smash it.”

The figure became kind of pixelated for a moment, then rematerialized. Archangel clobbered it in the face, and it disintegrated into nothing more than a pile of dots. Another man appeared. Archangel was quick to smash this one. The third man to appear was Asian, and he dodged Archangel’s clumsy blow. Then the bot clocked him on the side of the neck. Pain danced for a moment, and he threw a solid punch with more precision than before.

The Asian bot drifted to nothingness, and two new opponents appeared.

“No fair.” But Archangel smiled wide and went to work.

The machine in him kicked on, and he defeated the bots.

Nancy clapped her hands. Jon and Mohammad had disappeared.

“We need to get you home,” Nancy said.

“Yes.”

“Can you drive a motorcycle? We have helmets that should fit you.”

“I’d been planning to get one,” Archangel said. “I know how to ride it.”

“Then I don’t see any reason why we can’t send you home on a motorcycle. You need to be able to get to and from our facility at least twice a day.”

He wanted to kiss Nancy in the worst way.

“If it’s raining, we’ll send a car to fetch you.”

This was southern Cali, and it never rains. She showed him to the garage, the helmets, and the bike. The bike was an 1100, and Archangel couldn’t have been happier.

He climbed on, and the machine purred to life. The helmet fit, and Archangel was off for home. How was he going to explain this to Mom? Maybe she wouldn’t notice the bike, but if he went in, to what? The agency? Did they call it that or was he calling it that? He didn’t know. He had seen a sign maybe. A GPS panel came to life on the bike, but he switched it off. He knew his way home.

He walked into their apartment. Mom was parked on the couch in front of the TV. She spoke in a raspy voice, “You never came home from your run. What happened?”

“I need to start dinner, and you need your morphine.”

She pointed her clawed right hand at him. “Answer my question first. Did you meet a girl?”

He couldn’t lie to her. “I’m really not sure what happened to me today.” It all might as well have been a dream, but he had a helmet in his hands.

“Did you get a bike?”

“I did, Mom, I did.”

“Is it nice?”

“I’m not sure that I can afford to keep it, but it’s what I want.”

He went into the kitchen. It looked like a good night for a frozen pizza, so he turned the oven on. He went back into the living room. His mom was looking out the window. “That’s a brand-new bike. How?”

“It’s really complex, Mom. I promise it’s nothing illegal.”

“It’s something wrong though.”

“No, Mom.”

She got real quiet, and Archangel knew that meant she was getting angry. They ate pizza in silence. He gave her a shot of morphine for the cancer. Their phone rang, which was odd. Mom was closer, and she got to it first. She said, “Mmmmhmmm…” several times, then handed the phone to Archangel.

Nancy’s voice came through, “You made it home ok? In time?”

“What did you tell my mother?”

“I explained that I’m the source for your new bike, and that we’re a government agency through and through. You’re signed up for three classes, and two of them are starting tonight. You can come back down, yes?”

Archangel knew the way. Mom would be good until late in the evening. He had no reason to say no. “I’ll be there.”

He hung up the phone. Mom looked at him with a smile. “This new job is important?”

“Very. I’ll be home later.”

“Make me proud.”

He went back down to the bike and started it. Nancy was waiting for him with a sheet of paper and a tablet computer. “The paper is your training schedule. The tablet has all your textbooks on it.” The motorcycle had saddlebags, so he could transport the tablet. Perfect.

He looked at the paper. “Long range rifles and Gremlins tonight?”

“Heavy weapons classes. In the morning, you exercise. Afternoon is driving, martial arts, and the range. Evening is danger room and classes.”

The gremlins class was first. The woman teaching it pushed a button and a life-sized monster appeared above a table. It wore brown pants over otherwise green and black skin. It wasn’t especially muscular, but it has claws and teeth that shined like metal. Looked like Titanium.

“They breathe Nitrogen. We’re not sure what they exhale. They do poop, but it’s not like Earth poop. We don’t think they pee. Their idea of fats, protein, and carbohydrates is our idea of dirt, wood, and metal.”

The teacher let all that sink in.

“We’ve only captured them a couple of times, and our containment efforts have never been successful. They absorb metal and hard plastics through their skin. Every cage we’ve built for them has been a waste.”

Archangel looked at the other two members of the class. One was a big black guy, easily six four and well built. The other guy was Spanish, and constructed like a brick tank.

The teacher smiled at them. “I’m sorry, in my haste, I forgot to introduce everyone. Stand and state your name.”

The black guy stood up. “Tank is my name.”

The Spanish guy went next. “I’m Jesus.” He pronounced it Hay-Soos.

Archangel stood up. “I’m Archangel. Why are gremlins so important to heavy weapons? Where do they come from?”

“Their favorite food is ammunition. Gunpowder and explosives,” the teacher said. “They come from a mineral rich planet about sixty light years from us. We really don’t know how intelligent they are, or how they got here, but they’re here.”

“How do you kill them?” Tank asked.

“They can be smashed, or shot, or knifed. They can bleed out, but their skeletons, their bones, are made of metal, whatever metals they grew up around. Titanium are the most dangerous. Gremlins born in our desert regions on Earth are mostly silicon from the sand.”

“So they’re aliens?” Jesus asked.

“Very much so.”

“Can they talk?” Archangel said.

“Yes and no,” the teacher said. “When they make noise, they broadcast on radio frequencies. It’ll really throw your cell phones for a loop. Other gremlins miles away seem to be able to understand them. One reason they seem to like our deserts is a lack of radio stations. Gremlins hate it inside our cities. Too much noise.”

Archangel looked at Jesus and Tank. The two seemed content.

The teacher pushed a few buttons. “You now have a quiz to take in your tablets. After that we will review everything again.”

Boring! Still the men got the quizzes right, hell they had just gone over this stuff. Then the teacher reviewed everything again. After that class, Archangel made his way to a second classroom. Tank and Jesus followed him. The long-range rifles class was just the three of them again.

They talked about, guess what, long range rifles. Taking down a target at 500m was their discussion. They talked about fifty caliber rifles and what kind of damage that could do, as well as different kinds of bullets ranging from Teflon to Tungsten and explosive tips. There was no quiz, no review afterwards. Archangel headed back to the garage.

Tank shouted after him. “Have a beer with us!”

“I have to go home,” Archangel said with a sigh.

“Do you have interstellar law tomorrow until eight?” Jesus asked.

It was nine-thirty now. Archangel said, “Yes.”

“Beer, tomorrow!” Tank said.

“I’ll have a beer with you, tomorrow.”

Wait, he was only 19. “I’m only 19.”

Tank and Jesus laughed. “Heavy weapons is special rules,” Tank said. “We have the most dangerous job in the game, and we can get beer.”

Archangel rode the bike home. There was an envelope taped to his door. He opened it. Prepaid credit card with a note attached to it, $500. A membership card to a gym eight kilometers away. A hand written note, “Run to the gym tomorrow. Don’t take the bike. Lift your ass off. The card is in case you have any expenses. Nancy.”

Archangel gave his mom a shot of painkillers and kissed her on the forehead for goodnight. The cards for the gym and money went into his wallet.

He lay awake all night. By sunup he began to doubt his sanity. Everything seemed as real as the day before. He cooked up a batch of oatmeal for them. He put on his shorts and a shirt.

Running to the gym was no problem. Jesus and Tank showed up at the same time. All three of them were sweating and grinning. Tank spoke first, “Are we going to see who’s strongest?”

“It’s not my heavy day. I did a heavy day two days ago,” Jesus said. “Eight to twelve reps for me today.”

“I haven’t been in a gym in long time,” Archangel said.

“But you’re so damn big!”

“I have some gear at home. I lift.”

“I bet I’m stronger,” Tank said.

Archangel still wasn’t sure if all this was real. Just one long, incredibly real dream. Maybe he was dead or in a coma somewhere. “That’s ok with me if you are.”

“You’ll do a heavy day?”

“I never do heavy days. I never have a spotter.”

Tank started jumping up and down. “You’ve got a spotter today! Let’s see how much you can lift.”

They hit the weights. Archangel was strongest at curls, but Tank could out bench him by a lot. Hard to do benches with no spotter.

They took off running in opposite directions. Archangel floated home. He stopped at a grocer and picked up cooked shrimp with cocktail sauce. The credit card worked fine, but he was careful to save the receipt. He surprised Mom with the shrimp.

“I’m not even hungry,” she said.

“You’re going to eat a few, no matter. You’re wasting away. Your body needs fuel to fight the cancer.”

She frowned. “There’s no fighting this cancer, you know that. I’m on borrowed time.”

Archangel wanted to cry, but he’d cried himself to sleep enough times since the diagnosis. All people must die. “Please eat. I got them special, thinking they were your favorite.”

“They are.” She started eating, and once she started, she ate a lot. It made Archangel happy. They destroyed a half kilo of shrimp between them.

Archangel took the bike down to the Agency. Jon and Mohammad, from the previous day, greeted him in the garage.

“Nancy had to fly home last night,” Mohammad said. “You got the credit card? Jesus and Tank reported that you showed up at the gym.”

“I have the money,” Archangel said.

“Good. There are limits, but let us know if you need us to refill it.”

“Your schedule is simple,” Jon said, “three hours a week at the firing range, four hours a week driving, six hours a week on the martial arts bot, and four hours in our danger room. We only have a skeleton group of trainees here, so the equipment is mostly free all the time.”

No teachers?

Mohammad must have recognized the look on his face. “You have coaches, first Jon and me, but there will be other teachers too. Some of it, like the driving, you simply need to play with the simulator. It needs to become muscle memory. The danger room, you need to schedule with Jesus and Tank. They’re full time students, so they should have no problems accommodating your schedule.”

Archangel decided the driving simulator was most appealing. The device looked like a racing video game. Driving it was out of this world. G-Forces pulled on him through every curve. Jon watched, and repeated a chant, “Drive faster. Drive faster. The clock is ticking.”

Archangel biked home to fix dinner. Simple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but after the first one, Mom said she wanted a second, and he smiled wide. She was thin as a rail, and that couldn’t be good.

He attended a rather lengthy discussion group on interstellar law back at the agency. It seemed like the laws were set up far more in favor of the tyrannical Razdorans than Humans or Chor’Tan. It was clear from their discussion of history that the Razdorans harvest worlds for their natural resources, and they had their eye on Earth. Chor’Tan were doing everything within the law to help humankind, but there were limits. Why the Chor’Tan helped wasn’t made entirely clear in the lecture, enough that they helped.

Razdorans stood three to four meters tall, and had two sets of arms, one that had evolved as super strong appendages for smashing enemies, and another pair that had fine delicate hands. They considered creatures with four limbs to be less intelligent than them, and oftentimes were considered food.

The lecture ended, and Archangel was assigned chapters to read. Tank patted him on the back. “Time to drink!”

“I’ll drink with you,” Archangel said, “but I’ll be drinking root beer. Islam forbids alcohol.”

Jesus put his hands on his hips. “If you’re drinking root beer, I’ll drink a nice lemon lime soda.”

“Cola for me,” Tank said. “I could use some calories after today.”

Archangel looked from one to the other and realized they were being serious. When was he going to wake up? This dream had to come crashing down. How long could it last?

They drank their sodas and talked for an hour. Archangel had to get home to take care of his mother. He curled up in a ball on his bed and drifted off to the most blessed sleep he’d ever known. He woke up with the Sun. The credit card was still in his wallet. The bike sat in the parking lot, waiting on him.

Oatmeal for breakfast again, then a run to the gym for a leg workout. He talked to Jesus and Tank, and they agreed, time for a danger room session that afternoon. Neither would tell Archangel what happens in a danger room session.

The room was easy to find. It was on the lowest level of the building, below the parking garage, and essentially just one huge room with padded walls, ceiling, and floor. It spanned the whole complex. Mohammad was waiting for them. He spoke in a quiet tone. “You’ll be firing blanks. Keep moving. Standing still will get you killed.”

Easy enough. The three young men grabbed pistols and extra magazines, making sure the rounds were crimped over instead of a bullet. Tank pointed at Archangel. “You can go first.”

“I’ve never done this before,” Archangel replied.

“It’s easy. Shoot everybody. There are no friendlies except me and Jesus.”

Archangel ran headfirst into the danger room. A pixelated man appeared, and Archangel put a round in his chest. Blood flowed, but clearly a computer animation. They raced through room after room, gunning down opponents. It really wasn’t that hard, but the three young men had fast reflexes trained by countless hours at video game consoles.

They reached the end, and Mohammad clapped a bit for them. “Next time a higher difficulty level.”

“Turn it all the way up,” Tank said. “We’re ready!”

Jesus chimed in. “Yeah.”

“I’m not ready,” Archangel said.

“Go to the range,” Mohammad said.

They went and shot their pistols for an hour. Then they watched a video on how to disassemble them and clean them. They did as they were told. The powder solvent and oil smelled good to Archangel. Smelled like home.

Days passed into weeks. Archangel was focused like never before. Cook meals, morphine injections for Mom, bike to the agency for training or exercise. No time for a woman if he could even find one to marry. He got Sundays off from agency work.

One Friday morning, his mother didn’t wake up. He called an ambulance and wept. They buried her on Monday. Jon, Mohammad, Nancy, Jesus, and Tank all attended the funeral. Some of Mom’s friends and family attended too. Archangel wore a black suit and tie. Tears streamed down his face as they lowered the casket into the ground.

Archangel trained like never before. He buried himself in it. A few months passed, and Nancy summoned him to his office. Jesus and Tank were there.

Nancy offered them coffee which they declined. “We need to relocate you three to Phoenix.”

“What’s in Phoenix?” Tank asked.

“It’s our main training facility. There are three active teams there, and each one needs a heavy weapons expert. You’re those experts.”

“I feel like I’m still a noob,” Archangel said.

“You’ve all beaten the danger room simulations to the highest levels. You’re ready.”

Jesus clapped his hands together once. “When do we leave?”

Nancy pushed a few buttons on her keyboard. “Tomorrow morning. You don’t need to bring a lot of clothes, bring only what you truly need. The agency will provide clothes.”

Archangel went home. He went through the picture albums and decided he needed all the pictures. He hated to leave everything else behind, but the apartment just reminded him of his mother. Pots and pans, furniture, none of it mattered. All that mattered was the pictures.

He stowed those in his backpack and slept. He was up with the sun, and he rode down to the agency. The flight to Phoenix was quick, and the sun burned bright stepping out of the plane. Jesus and Tank both had duffel bags. A new man, Simon, drove them to the agency facility. The place was huge. Four-meter-tall walls with weapon nests on every corner. Multiple buildings, and a running track around the inside of the wall.

Simon pulled the car into a parking garage. Nancy was there. She said, “There is one final test you must achieve before becoming true heavy weapons experts.”

“Name it,” Tank said.

“Archangel will go first. You must navigate twelve kilometers of desert, take out two human sized targets, and destroy two targets with rockets. You’ll have to take water, extra rockets, a 50-caliber sniper rifle, and a double-barreled shotgun in case of snakes.”

“Snakes?” Archangel asked.

Nancy nodded. “There might be snakes.”

“Yes, Archangel can go first,” Jesus said.

“I’m ready,” Archangel said. “Do I get a GPS phone?”

Nancy reached in her pocket and pulled out a phone. “The target location and this facility are marked in the GPS already. Your gear is waiting by the gate.”

Archangel handed his backpack to Tank. “Don’t lose my bag.”

“Don’t lose your life,” Tank said. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

“Don’t even start. A little run in the desert.”

Nancy said, “Let’s go.”

They went to the main entrance. A 50-caliber rifle waited, plus a canteen, 4 rockets in a backpack, a sawed-off double barrel shotgun, plus a belt with shotgun shells in it. Archangel started putting everything on. They gave him 20 shotgun shells, 2 extra magazines of 50 caliber ammo, four rockets, and three liters of water. He held the cellphone in his left hand. His other hand fingered the stock of the shotgun in the holster on his right.

Archangel took off in a run into the desert.

He had never before really been in a desert, and he jogged past rock outcroppings and cacti. Some of the cacti looked more dangerous than other varieties, but he figured all of them would do damage. He came across a dried-out streambed and checked his phone. Although not a direct route, the streambed would bring him close to his target zone. He followed the route, dodging scorpions and big tarantulas. The spiders were bigger than anything he had seen before. He watched carefully for rattlers and other potentially poisonous snakes. Off to the side, one of the snakes slithered up the side of the streambed, but Archangel simply ran past.

The sun baked him, and he stopped for water and to check the cell. He was two kilometers or so from the targets. He drank a full liter of water and upped his pace. The sweat evaporated off his skin almost the instant it formed. If he was short on water, he wouldn’t have done it, but he stopped to take a leak. He peed right on an ant hill. Karma will get him for that later he was sure.

According to the satellite mapping on his cell, there should be a rock outcropping on his left soon, and there it was. He turned out of the streambed and jogged in a straight line. A wooden structure that had signs. Two silhouettes were set up 500 meters away, and two burned out husks of vehicles were 200 meters away on the right and left.

Archangel unslung his rifle and chambered a round. One shot to the heart on the left target. Then he worked the bolt action, then a shot to the heart on the right. One shot one kill. Perfect.

He pulled a two-part rocket assembly out of his backpack. One part was a tube with a shoulder rest, and he stuck the rocket in the end of that. He lined the device up on the first burned out vehicle and squeezed the trigger. Swooosh… Boom! One happy Archangel. A strange beeping sounded, but he wasn’t sure where it came from. He attached the second rocket to the launcher, and swoosh, boom. Archangel did a quick heel-toe dance move that would surely get him laid if a woman saw.

He checked his phone. It was beeping, and it showed only static.

Movement caught his eye. Short, 1/8th meter tall figure, covered in green and black skin, with sharp metal claws and teeth. Hell no. Gremlins. Archangel started jogging. Three of the little bastards were in front of him. He pulled his double barrel and blasted the right one, then the center one. The left one leapt at him before he could reload. The gremlin slashed at the strap holding his rifle in place, and the claws cut into Archangel’s gut. The rifle fell to the ground, and the gremlin fled with it.

“A flesh wound,” Archangel said as he slid two new shells into the breach.

He looked around. Three gremlins were staring him down. He ran for home. He ran fast. Two more gremlins dodged in front of him. Archangel blasted them with the shotgun, and slipped two more shells into the gun as he ran.

Must conserve ammo, raced through his mind. He reached the streambed and followed it. In a heartbeat, a gremlin stood in front of him. He didn’t shoot it. He intended to simply run past it. The thing reached out and clawed Archangel’s leg on the calf. The wound on his front had stopped bleeding, but now he bled on his leg, and every step he took hurt.

He looked behind him. There was distance in the way, but a small army of sharply clawed, green and black skinned monsters chased him.

While running, he pulled his backpack off, and readied a rocket. He turned and launched it at the closest gremlins. Body parts flew, but there were too many of them. He dumped all the water bottles out of the backpack and ran on.

Another pair of sharp-toothed monsters dodged in front of him. Archangel blasted them with the shotgun. He dropped one shell as he reloaded. No going back for that. He ran at his best pace. His mind drifted above the pain in his calf, above the thirst in his throat. The only thing that mattered was keeping away from those gremlins.

The agency complex shimmered in the distance. Archangel looked back. He had distanced those little bastards. Then one poked its head around a bend, then an army.

He ran with all his strength at the gate. “Open up!”

The gates slid out of the way. He jumped inside and shouted, “Close the gate!”

Some asshole said, “What’s the rush?”

“Gremlins!”

“Oh shit!”

Two of the little bastards made it through the gate, and both met up with the business end of Archangel’s twelve gauge.

Nancy came walking out of the complex, with Jesus and Tank.

The 50 caliber machine gun nests above the gate cranked to life spitting fire and hot lead at the army of gremlins.

“You brought ammo back?” Nancy asked.

“One rocket,” Archangel said, “two 50 caliber magazines, and a couple of shotgun shells.”

“You’re supposed to dump the ammo when the gremlins show up.”

That had never occurred to Archangel. To drop the ammo when faced with an enemy. It made no sense.

“We need to get you to medical,” Nancy said. “You’re now heavy weapons, full blooded.”

“You know you ran that course in record time?” Jesus said.

“I’m going to do it faster,” Tank said, “but I’m not bringing any ammo home.”

Archangel examined the cuts on him. “Yeah, yeah.”

They stitched him up at medical. Nancy showed him three pictures, two males, and one female. “This is Bear. The guy with the red hair is RedCat, and the female is Zen.”

“This is my new team?”

“We could have a formal introduction, or you could join them for a meal tomorrow. Tell them you’re their new sniper.”

Archangel grinned. “I’m their new sniper?”

“You are.”

“I’ll look for them in the cafeteria.”

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Boris the Cat

Boris the Cat

By Geoffrey C Porter

This story was published by the Sinclair Clarion – A community college newspaper.

I named the cat Boris, and I suspect that he is a good cat. He cuddles with me, purrs, and plays with his toys. He has short hair and is colored white and black.

He has begun to get this glint in his eye though that he is planning something. The strange thing is: I bought 50 coffee filters just two weeks ago, and I am down to my last filter. I make at least one pot of coffee a day, and I never make more than two pots in a day. It makes no sense to me that I’d be out of filters in two weeks.

I live alone with Boris, so I have to wonder if the cat is stealing coffee filters from me, but this begs the question: what is he doing with them?

I bought a package of 200 coffee filters, and I lived my life for a while. After a month, I ran out of coffee filters again. I looked at Boris, and he raced into the other room. I chased him around the house for a while, but he got bored of that. It started to seem like the cat would stalk me. He would follow me around the house and simply watch me. Then he would disappear to parts unknown for hours. I decided it was time for professional help.

I put Boris in his carrying cage and drove him to the veterinarian’s office. I waited for my turn. We brought Boris into the back.

The vet looked at me and smiled. He wore a white coat. “How’s Boris?”

I sighed. “I think he’s stealing coffee filters.”

The vet tilted his head to the side.

“Yes,” I said, “Clearly he’s stealing coffee filters from my kitchen.”

“Is he eating them?”

“I’m not certain. I never find any remains.”

“I don’t think he’s stealing coffee filters,” the vet said as he rubbed his chin. “He has no thumbs. How could he separate one from the stack?”

“I don’t know how he’s doing it! Make him stop!”

“I could give him a shot of an antipsychotic,” he said.

“There’s an idea!” I said as I snapped my fingers.

The vet reached over to a counter and took a long drought of what smelled like hazelnut coffee. “Do you think he’s making coffee?”

I paused.

“Well?” The vet said.

I paused.

“Cats have very addictive personalities,” the vet said with a smile.

Something dawned on me… I wondered if I could get a cup of the hazelnut the vet was drinking. “Well, I have noticed sometimes when I go to make a fresh pot of coffee there are grounds in the machine that aren’t coffee. They smell like catnip.”

“Yes, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s making catnip tea. Is there an unused closet in the house? He might have set up a hydroponic catnip farm.”

My eyes opened wide, and I paced out a little three step circle in the tiny exam room. “He has a kitty door to the outside. He has an entire patch of catnip planted in rows in the backyard.”

“Catnip tea. Cat’s love it. Once they get in the habit, it’s hard to break.”

“What do I do?”

The vet let out this little sigh and stared off into space. “My advice is to buy the coffee filters in bigger packages.”

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