The Cult of Dog-Sothoth 2

Image credit: Mystakaphoros
Image from Imgur.

Lawrence’s shoes squeaked on the waxed floor as he hustled up the pet toy aisle. He took a drag from his cigarette and snorted the smoke out. The Golden Paw had surfaced a year ago, robbing supermarkets and exotic sex shops. They never hit the same place twice. Surveillance cameras didn’t yield anything useful, and he couldn’t stake out the sex shops. As it turned out, the city had a heightened demand for fuzzy handcuffs and ball gags. That, and the mayor didn’t want police scaring away the “Alternative Coitus Connoisseur Community.”

Turns out sales tax on easily washable latex pants is three percent of the city’s revenue. Still, the Golden Paw had taken about two million bucks in cash and assorted leather goods. Then they just up and disappeared. Maybe they’d been arrested. Maybe they all got fuzzy-handcuffed and lost their keys. Interest faded over time, and the Golden Paw got forgotten.

Lawrence puffed on his cigarette. He stopped at the end of the aisle when he saw a man in a magenta bathrobe and brown pajamas wagging a finger at the two HappyPet employees that were on duty. “How did neither of you notice someone drawing a GIANT DICK in the back of the store?” The guy wiped his sweaty face with his sleeve and gestured towards the parking lot, empty except for a few police cars. “We’re supposed to be open! Look at all the business we’re losing! I-” The man stopped flailing and developed a twitching eye when he saw Lawrence with his cigarette. “You can’t smoke in here!”

“Relax. I’m on my way out,” said Lawrence, exhaling smoke as he talked. He pushed the door open and then stopped. “You must be the store manager.”

“Yeah,” said the man in the bathrobe. “Wait, I can confirm my identity.” He fished around in his pockets, pulling out a gold name tag with the name “J. Thomas Harper – Manager” etched into it.

“Don’t worry, I believe you,” said Lawrence. He made a show of examining the graffiti. “I noticed a likeness,” he said, the cigarette in his teeth bobbing up and down. Both store employees burst out laughing. They tried passing it off as coughing when the manager scowled at them.

Thomas whipped back around to face Lawrence. His bathrobe flipped open, showing a bare chest and tighty-whities about two sizes too small. “I don’t have to take that from a public servant like you,” he said. He wagged a finger an inch in front of Lawrence’s nose. “I’m a taxpayer. You need to find the delinquents responsible and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law! The fullest! Extent! Do you understand me? What are you doing still standing there? The culprit isn’t here!”

Lawrence took one last drag from his cigarette, the filter getting warm on his lips. He dropped the filter on the floor tiles just underneath the no smoking sign. “I’ll get on that right away, sir,” he said. Blue smoke formed a cloud around the wagging finger. “In the meantime, you’ll need to give a statement to my partner. Oh, and you’re going to stay closed until someone can clean Dongatello’s masterpiece off the wall.”

The clerks snickered. Lawrence headed past the police tape to find his car. Behind him, he heard the manager hissing orders to his captive minions.

The Cult of Dog-Sothoth

Image credit: Mystakaphoros
Image from Imgur.

Author’s Note: This story does feature spray-painted male genitals and some coarse language. For those who do not care to partake of such boorish and cheap humor, I offer this adorable meme above. He’s the cutest nightmare anyone will ever have.

For the fifth time in as many weeks, Detective Lawrence Timmons was staring at a giant penis spray-painted in hot pink. It was in the frozen food section of HappyPets, a pet store with locations nationwide. The whole thing was about fifteen feet long from ball sack to glistening tip. Along the shaft, the artist wrote, “HappyPets hates animals! Free our four-leged[sic] brethrin[also sic]!”

His partner, Detective Jane Markowitz, came up and handed him some coffee in a paper cup. She squinted at the drawing and nodded. “Been posing again, Larry?” she asked. Her voice was deep, like she had a frog in her throat and couldn’t get it out again.

“If it was that big, I’d pass out every time I had an erection,” said Lawrence.

“We can test that in my car,” said Jane.

Lawrence sighed. His sexual harassment suit must have been dropped. Again. “How about we work the case?”

“Offer still stands,” said Jane, snapping on some plastic gloves. She looked over the artwork from end to end, twice. “It’s got to be the same person doing this. Lines are the same with the other phalluses. Or is that phallees? Eh, dicks. But our artist appears to include the same heart-shaped-”

Lawrence had stopped listening when he saw something poking out between packets of organically raised no-cruelty tuna fish. It was a rolled sheet of paper with a dirty rubber band around it. The detective rolled off the band and opened the sheet. At the top, the title read in big bold comic sans font, “The Manifesto of the ORDER of the GOLDEN PAW.”

“Terrorists,” said Lawrence. “You gotta fucking be kidding me.” He fished in his shirt pocket for his pack of cigarettes. He took one out with his teeth and lit it with a cheap gas-station lighter.

“I don’t know if I’d call them terrorists,” said Jane. “It’s probably just a bunch of kids who get high and go around town with their spray paint.”

“Jane,” said Lawrence, the cigarette in his mouth bobbing up and down as he spoke, “this isn’t a bunch of kids. I’ve heard of this group before. If I’m right, this is just the beginning.” He took the paper and shoved it into Jane’s hands.

Behind him, Jane opened up the paper and said, “Aw Christ on a pogo stick, comic sans? Really?”

Story Snippets: Untitled Short Story

Image by Pixabay, courtesy of Stockvault.

Author’s Note: Here’s a little bit of something that just came to me the other day. I don’t know if it’s going anywhere, but I kind of like the character.

Up until now, Don had enjoyed the flight in his lawn chair. He could look past his dangling legs to the countryside about a thousand feet below him. The height didn’t bother him. Rather, he’d hit an unforeseen complication.

His ass itched.

Trying to scratch it made the chair rock a little too hard. It didn’t help that his flight uniform consisted of some old shorts he hadn’t worn since the 80’s. He was proud he could still fit into them. He wasn’t as proud of how short they were, and how they’d pinch his butt cheeks when the wind gusted. Each pinch bunched the fabric a little bit higher on his leg. All that bunching and pinching pulled at sensitive skin, which made his ass itch.

Don’s misery didn’t end at his ass. In one dedicated effort that almost dumped him out of his chair, he’d lost his air rifle. It’s not like he was particularly attached to it – he liked his tube sock collection more – but that rifle was the only way he could make a controlled descent. Without it, he couldn’t pop some of the weather balloons holding his seat aloft.

Gardening Ain’t Easy

If I landscaped something this beautiful, I’d demand to be buried in it.
Image courtesy of Stockvault.

People sometimes talk about having gardens like they magically spring forth from nowhere. I had an intention to create a garden plot in the backyard for a few years now. The other things I planted – fruit trees and berry bushes mostly – are alive and well. Somehow, this translated into thinking a garden is the next logical step to develop my green thumb.

So here I am, thinking it’s going to just be a couple days’ work with a tiller and some garden tools. This view didn’t reflect anything resembling reality. Worse, the research I did beforehand showed this. I just fell for the magic of editing and cool garden videos that do a cut from before to after in under a second. The process I went through put three new scars on my hands (rabbit-proof fencing is also me-proof). And although I joke about it, I actually almost kind of came super close to losing a leg. The tiller is fine. I’m fine. We’re both fine.

In the middle of this ordeal, I questioned whether growing stuff is worth the hassle. Each time, I tabled the discussion for later. Then I’d go back inside, see all the pepper plants waiting to go outside, and think I at least have to see this year through. I really want to try my hand at some fermented hot sauce and some chili powders.

Not everything I want to try is going to be easy. Growing stuff in the backyard started as an outlet for me. Now I’m getting into the parts of horticulture which require more patience and attention. At the least, the endeavor has curtailed my designs on building a mobile earthen oven.

For now.

Scroton’s Biggest Fan

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

I don’t usually wake up naked in a parking lot, smeared in rotten bananas and rancid butter. The asphalt under my butt cheeks wasn’t too warm, so at least it was still in the morning. My situation wasn’t too uncomfortable, all things considered. I had my Scroton Official Licensed Helmet on, with real gold antennae bobbing around in the wind. Scroton is the biggest pop icon in human history, although I doubt anyone hasn’t heard of him.

I’m his biggest fan.

Last night is a bit of a blur, but between the tequila shots and hunch punch I vaguely recall the reason why I’m out in a random parking lot letting passersby chuckle and take pictures. At the bar, we were all watching him on the screen. Then, the credits roll and there’s a preview for next week’s episode. Except this time it was an announcer telling the world that Scroton was hosting a giveaway.

He never gives anything away. There was a big deal last year about a lady trying to sell Scroton’s nail clippings on an auction site. My friend found out about it from another friend, who saw it on social media. My friend found out the whole thing was fake after she got approved for a second mortgage. At least she didn’t place a bid.

That’s besides the point. The sweepstakes is the real deal. Exactly one second after it aired, the fan sites and forums and social media accounts got set on digital fire. People who didn’t even like his show or his product line were coming out for this one. This was going to be big.

The rules were pretty simple. They kind of needed to be, since I was about fifteen sheets past three sheets to the wind. All anyone needed to do was show how devoted they were to Scroton, and get that online. The person who went the most viral wins. That person had to be me.

I’m his biggest fan.

One thing led to another, and I was now outside as a living buffet to the local insects. Luckily I had the presence of mind to pile my clothes next to where I slept. My phone was on top of them, to my relief. They said the winner would be notified by text.

Past learning about how asphalt tickles soft skin, I also discovered that insect legs can be ticklish too. A few of them had crawled under the helmet and were discovering some extra banana butter on my scalp. It got a rise out of me in more ways than one, which was kind of scary. I hoped the growing crowd didn’t notice, but someone yelled out, “They’re climbing the flagpole!”

“Flagpole, more like an anthill,” said some old lady. She was right, of course. I never was well endowed.

It didn’t matter. Everyone was sharing now. My phone started blowing up. Someone noticed me, and the word was out. Scroton’s biggest fan was hardcore about winning. An hour later, the contest had to be called. My picture was all over the Internet, with captions in at least fifty different languages.

Scroton’s fan site sent me a text. I waved off some insects and smeared banana butter on my phone. “Congratulations,” they said. “We’re sending you a picture signed by Scroton himself.”

A tear came to my eyes, and it wasn’t caused by the butterflies or fleas. I got up and put on my clothes, which took a lot longer considering some of the insects really didn’t want to leave. Yeah, I didn’t smell good, but that was okay. I was going to have something that Scroton touched. I deserved it.

I’m his biggest fan.

Happy Independence Day

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Today is Independence Day here in the United States, where we celebrate the founding of our country and the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. To my fellow Americans, have a happy Independence Day. Try not to get injured in any fireworks related accidents. I will do my best to heed my own advice.

People outside the U.S. might not fully understand what benefits there was to fighting for independence, so I’ve compiled a very short list of the most important* things:

– The ability to drink and use fireworks at the same time without anyone looking at you funny.

– Being able to go shopping in one’s pajamas.

– Not having to throw in an extra “u” in words like “honor” or “color.”

For those outside the U.S., have a pleasant July 4th. If you wanted to celebrate, though, we really don’t mind here in the States. Think of it as an extra excuse to have some cake or annoy the neighbors. Well, maybe don’t annoy the neighbors – unless they deserve it. Also, if your country has a similar tradition of celebrating its independence or inception, let me know in the comments. I know I missed Canada Day (sorry everyone living in the frozen north!), but I blame Google for not informing me.

*These are actually not the most important things to most Americans. Although, judging from what we put on TV and the Internet, it might seem like that at times.

The Sky Princess, Part Three

Image by Pixabay, courtesy of Stockvault.

Author’s Note: Here’s the third and final part of the story I wrote for a short story anthology published by my local public library. Part one can be found here; part two can be found here. You can purchase the anthology here. All proceeds go to the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library. This story has been reformatted for easier reading on this blog.

“Wait, you set fire to a water tank?” asked Betsy.

“Yes, water can burn if it presented with a sufficiently hot fire,” Isak explained.

“What are they going to use to put it out?” asked Gravat.

“I wouldn’t suggest using water,” said Isak. “Anyways, it’s a ‘them’ problem, not an ‘us’ problem.”

Over at the dirigible, Flannigan erupted from underneath the canvas balloon and said, “I’m not going anywhere in that death trap!”

Felicity poked her head out and said, “It’ll be fine! Lightning capacitor engines haven’t killed anyone in the last twenty years!”

“That’s because they haven’t been used in the last twenty years,” Flannigan retorted.

“What seems to be the problem?” asked Gravat.

Felicity lifted her goggles. “The engine on this is an old one, and it uses two free arcs of electricity to generate power. To start it, someone needs to crank it while the other holds a metal driveshaft between the arcs.”

“That sounds unnecessarily dangerous and quite insane,” said Gravat, who received an affirming nod from Betsy.

“Engineers are all about the machine first,” Felicity explained, as if the mystery was solved.

Gravat looked at the heap of rusty iron and felt like being shot at in battle was safer. “Do we have no other choice?”

Felicity pointed to the Kesperrians. “We can sneak this craft out the doors at the back. All the others are too large.”

“Fine,” said Gravat. “But why does Flannigan have to hold the drive shaft?”

Flannigan held up his hands. “These are the steadiest hands in the whole kingdom,” he said. “Precision is my passion. But I think Felicity abuses it sometimes.”

“I can do it if someone explains it to me,” said Gravat.

“You’ll just get yourself killed,” said Flannigan. He scowled at Felicity. “Fine, I’ll do it. But I want you to get me some of those mercury pressure gauges I’ve been asking for.”

Felicity gave him a peck on the cheek. “Consider them yours!”

Jim and Ginny helped wheel the craft out the back while Felicity and Flannigan worked on it. Gravat tried eyeing what was going on, but the canvas balloon was in the way. Eventually Felicity poked her head back out and said, “Everything’s ready. We just need to inflate the envelope with a lifting gas. Do we have anything useful nearby?”

“All the helium is guarded,” said Betsy, her attention still on the Kesperrians. The fire seemed like it was finally dying out, and some of them turned their attention back to the hangar. “Can’t the engine just make hot air or something?”

“That would take too long,” said Felicity.

“I would just like to point out that this is why a coal-burning engine is better,” said Isak.

“We can use my teleportation apparatus,” said Ginny, holding up a bracer with wires and blinking lights. “It will work this time.”

“To be fair, you say that every time,” said Flannigan.

Jim staggered towards them and said, “I have gas.”

“This is not the time,” said Flannigan.

“No,” said Jim, pointing to a pile of manure and plant matter next to an outhouse. “There’s the gas. Just – hic – get the balloon on top of the outhouse.”

Gravat helped Isak and Felicity push the craft next to the small wooden structure. The smell of the manure and decay made Flannigan pale, and Betsy held her nose. Jim opened the door to the outhouse and started shoveling in stuff from the pile. Ginny and Gravat began to help at Jim’s direction: “This is some good sh – hic – stuff. Shovel as much as you can.”

They reduced the pile by half, and Jim told them to stop. He produced from his coveralls a series of three glass bottles with cork stoppers; the liquids were green, pale yellow, and orange. Stepping inside the outhouse, Jim closed the door. “For science,” he muttered, and then he came back out again.

Nothing happened for five minutes.

“What is supposed to happen?” asked Gravat, who noticed that the fire was mostly under control, and the Kesperrians had almost fully returned to their duties.

“It’s bas-basic chemistry,” said Jim. “You can’t rush it.” He nodded at the top of the outhouse, and Gravat saw the balloon flutter a bit. Then, it fluttered some more, and it started to inflate. “Can I have my happy flask back now?”

Nearby, Gravat heard some shouting. Betsy said, “It would appear the Kesperrians have found us.” She pointed at a dozen angry guards running towards them.

“We should get going then. All aboard,” said Gravat, jumping onto the flying rust bucket.

“Starting the engine. Ready Flannigan?” said Felicity, her hand on a crank.

“No, but if I don’t survive this, I don’t want Jim to have my thermometers,” he replied. Jim wiped a tear from his eye. One of the Kesperrians took a shot at them, and the bullet whizzed over their heads. Flannigan shouted, “This isn’t going to work if they shoot me, either!”

Isak leaned out of the craft and yelled, “Hey! You’re shooting at a balloon filled with the most flammable gas known to humanity! Do you want the whole hangar to be set on fire?” One of the Kesperrians heard him, and she waved for the other guards to stop firing.

“Is that true?” asked Betsy, her face losing all its color.

Jim opened his mouth, but Isak interrupted and said, “Not really.”

With the danger averted, the group floated into the air slowly, picking up speed as the engine kicked to life. The propellers on the side of the bucket started turning, and the craft ascended up towards their destination. So close to the ship, Gravat sat back and marveled at its size. Having survived a war with the Kesperrians, he trembled to think what they could have done with such a massive weapon.

They got close to the ship, and Gravat jumped out onto a landing. Up so high, the wind howled and it was difficult for him to keep his balance. He managed to tie a rope from the dirigible to the ship, and he waited for the others to disembark. Betsy got out, but no one else followed.

She pointed a gun at him and shouted, “Untie the balloon now!”

“What is the meaning of this?” asked Gravat.

“I’m taking the ship from you,” said Betsy. “Your services are no longer required!”

“You fiend,” growled Gravat. “Do you always double-cross people who work for you?”

“It’s cheaper that way,” said Betsy. “Stop stalling and untie the ship, or I will shoot you!”

“You’ll have to shoot,” Gravat yelled. He lunged forward, and he saw Betsy’s gun fire. His chest burst with pain, and the bullet knocked him back to the deck. Gravat hit his head, and his vision blurred. He saw Betsy lift her gun again, and then he saw a bright flash of light. Then, he saw nothing. Hands lifted him up from the deck, and they took him below.

“What happened?” he asked after the pain dimmed a bit.

“Ginny saved your life,” said Felicity.

“So did – hic – my happy flask,” said Jim, holding up the dented steel container. “You’re welcome,” he said, taking a long pull.

“It worked, it really worked,” said Flannigan, staring at Ginny. Isak was also scratching his head.

“Where’s Betsy?” asked Gravat.

Over on his right, he heard a loud knocking on the wall. “Get me out of here,” Betsy yelled, her voice muffled.

“By my calculations, she’s in a janitor’s closet,” said Ginny, doing the math in the air.

“What do we do now?” asked Felicity, helping Gravat sit up. “We’ve cleared the moorings, and the ship has power.”

“Since we just stole an airship, I don’t think we can go back to the aerodrome,” said Gravat. “On the bright side, we can fly anywhere we want.”

“Sounds good,” said Felicity. “Where to first, captain?”

“Captain? I’m sure you’re more qualified,” said Gravat.

“You look – hic – look like a cap’n,” said Jim.

Gravat shrugged, then winced. “Okay, well, fine. Let’s head due west, and chase the setting sun.” With a salute, everyone hopped to it, and the Sky Princess sailed on her maiden voyage.

The Sky Princess, Part Two

Image courtesy of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library.

Author’s Note: Here’s the second part of the story I wrote for a short story anthology published by my local public library. Part one can be found here. You can purchase the anthology here. All proceeds go to the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library. This story has been reformatted for easier reading on this blog.

Eluding the police proved to be an easier task than Gravat imagined. In addition to her skills as a solicitor, Betsy possessed the ability to evade the authorities. It took about five minutes of travel through dark alleys and trespassing through a muddy slum, all of which Gravat never even knew existed. After that brief detour, the group made their way to the Kenton Aerodrome.

The aerodrome itself was an open field with giant wooden hangars dotting the north, west, and south edges. Airplanes and gyroplanes took off on the east, while balloons and zeppelins came in from the west. When Gravat stopped to think about all the traffic coming and going, he realized he’d never actually flown before. “My first visit here is to steal an airship,” he muttered.

“Not just any airship,” said Betsy, pointing to a massive wooden hull suspended a thousand feet in the air. Six gargantuan propeller engines along each side churned the atmosphere, keeping the airship aloft. Dozens of steel cables descended from the ship to the ground, keeping it from flying off. Betsy folded her arms and said, “Now you can see why my employer is so interested in recovering her.”

Felicity licked her lips and adjusted her goggles. “Those are VX-2300 steam engines running those propellers,” she said, as if she was describing a paramour. “I can’t wait to get up there and get my hands on those-”

“That’s the most difficult part,” Betsy interrupted, her narrow eyes burning a hole through the back of Felicity’s head. “The moorings are electrified, so we can’t climb them. We’d need a dirigible to get up to the ship, but they’re all guarded.”

“Why not use a wireless and trick the crew to landing her for us?” asked Flannigan. “Well, for you all. I’m not suited for flying.”

“There’s no crew on board,” Betsy explained. “The only good news is that if we could somehow get on board, a single person could get the ship ready and away before the Kesperrians respond. However, they know this, so they’re sure to have the entire aerodrome crawling with their agents.”

“So what’s the plan?” asked Gravat.

Ginny produced a pencil from her tangled hair and wrote notes in the air. “I could teleport us up there, if we found an electromagnet, a lightning rod, and some dephlogisticated spirits.” She continued scribbling. “Our odds of survival are quite good – one percent.”

Flannigan quivered and his face blanched. Everyone except for Gravat and Betsy rolled their eyes. “I’m not – hic – not drunk enough to try that yet,” said Jim.

“I vote for using fire,” said Isak, pushing his bowler hat back on his head to scratch his scalp. Betsy looked at him dubiously. “As a pyrologist, my interest is purely scientific.”

“That shouldn’t be necessary,” said Gravat. “Since Betsy is our employer, I figured she ought to have a plan of action.”

“Actually, coming up with a plan is entirely out of my hands,” said Betsy. “I was hoping for ideas.”

Gravat frowned. “If this were a military operation, we’d take a few days to come up with a plan of action.”

“Well, we only have a few hours,” said Betsy. “The Kesperrians will return to the ship and then leave for Schweiberia.”

“It won’t take long for me to make a personal teleportation device,” said Ginny, who somehow managed to find some wire. She was coiling it around an apparatus.

“I think we can call that Plan C,” said Gravat, putting everyone else’s minds at ease.

“That implies you have a Plan B,” said Flannigan, his voice dripping with skepticism.

Gravat surveyed the bustling crowds along the aerodrome’s perimeter. Aircraft took off and left at a decent pace, despite the late hour. All sorts of people made their way to passenger terminals to board airships or planes. Then, Gravat noticed a crew of people making their way along the outer edge of the manicured field beyond the hangars. They all wore the same brown coveralls, and they slipped past the passengers through a door into one of the hangars. “I do now,” said Gravat. “First, we need to get our hands on some work clothing. We’ll figure out what to do next after that.”

“That’s not a plan at all,” said Flannigan.

“It’s as good a start as any,” said Felicity, her eyes lingering on the Sky Princess a little longer. She let everyone else head out first so she could get one last glance at the prize.

Most of the land around the aerodrome was soft, grassy field which made it perfect for rough landings in an emergency. It also helped Gravat and the others move quietly towards a large tent serving as quarters for aerodrome staff. If he was being honest, the sergeant didn’t think they would have been able to make it so far unnoticed. He wasn’t fully comfortable leading a group of strangers in committing grand larceny. But it was for his country, and he was nothing if not a patriot.

Their cover broke when Jim let out a disastrously loud belch just a few feet from the tent. Gravat looked over and saw him searching for his top hat in one hand and holding a flask in the other. Inside, one person said, “Did you hear that? It sounded like a goat in distress.”

“Nonsense,” said another person. “Nobody would bring a goat around here again.” The flap opened, and two men stood there staring at the seven people huddled outside. “Are you lost?” asked the one on the right.

The one on the left said, “Look at that man’s flask! You can’t drink alcohol here!”

Taking the flask from Jim’s hand, Gravat screwed the cap back on and hid it in his coat pocket. “It’s not alcohol,” he said. “It’s punch.”

“It’s what?” asked the man on the right.

“Punch!” Gravat said, and swung a fist right into the man’s jaw, knocking him out cold.

“A melee! How exciting!” said Isak, who took down the man on the left with his own swing.

“I abhor violence,” said Flannigan, his voice coming from behind Felicity.

“Gimme back my – my happy flask,” said Jim, dusting off his hat.

“There’s no time. We have to get to the ship before these two wake up,” said Gravat, opening up the tent flap and shepherding the people inside. They were in a small enclosure, with lockers stacked everywhere. He wondered how he was going to search them all when Betsy produced some lock picks and started popping them open left and right. Within minutes, they all had their disguises, although Jim’s had to be left open above the waist.

The group made their way past the passenger areas close to the hangars. Betsy pointed them towards a smaller hangar, where they entered from the back. Inside, they found a large group of dirigibles the Kesperrians used to ferry people from the ship to the ground. They all had a ring of guards armed with heavy steam guns. “Well, so much for stealing a craft to get onto the ship,” whispered Gravat.

“What’s that in the corner?” asked Betsy, pointing to a heap of canvas and iron.

Felicity muscled her way forward between the two. “That’s a DG-300 series balloon craft. It’s old, but if it has an engine, I can get it flying again. In fact,” she said, adjusting her goggles, “I think that’s the engine underneath the deflated balloon. How are we going to get it out of the hangar?”

“We need a distraction,” said Gravat. “Something flashy to get the guards interested for a while.”

“I have the perfect idea,” said Isak. “When it happens, you’ll know.” He left the group, disappearing out the door they entered. About five minutes later, Isak came running towards the Kesperrians, his hand holding his bowler in place. They raised their weapons, not sure what the crazed man was getting at. One of them shouted at him to halt, and he slid to a stop, resting his hands on his knees. “The water tank!” he shouted, trying to catch his breath.

Behind him, a jet of white flame spiraled into the sky. All of the Kesperrians gasped in terror. Half of them dropped their weapons and ran towards the inferno. The other half gave up watching the hangar and kept their eyes on the incinerated water tank. Isak let them pass and then went over to find the others. He was beaming. “Good call setting a fire next to the water tank,” said Gravat.

“Oh, pish-posh,” said Isak. “It was the water tank.”

The Sky Princess, Part One

Photo credit: Suzanne Flynn.

Author’s Note: Here’s the first part of the story I wrote for a short story anthology published by my local public library. You can purchase the anthology here. All proceeds go to the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library. This story has been reformatted for easier reading on this blog.

Gravat Miller was no longer a soldier in His Majesty’s Prestorian Army. For twenty long years, he did everything his superiors ever asked of him without complaint or delay. Now, he wandered the streets of Kenton alone in civilian clothing, unsure of what he was going to do with the rest of his life.

With four silver lilies to his name – he already spent one on a coach from the barracks – he tried thinking of what work he could get at his age. In the city, everyone of his social standing usually worked in a factory or on the steam machines. It took a lifetime to learn how to do it well, though, and Gravat spent his life on different pursuits. He’d be lucky if he could get work mopping the floors of a grease locker or a coal room.

Above, sky ship engines buzzed all around, ferrying passenger liners into the nearby aerodrome. The old sergeant looked up at one, considering life in some foreign land. Kaiser Sturmhard in Schweiberia had a regiment of foreigners, and Princess Daphne in Chantali had a reputable foreign legion. He almost turned a shoe towards the aerodrome when he realized he might be called upon to fight his old friends. Some of them might understand, but Gravat knew he couldn’t bring himself to fire upon old comrades in arms.

Across the street, Gravat heard a piano belting out rags. The sound came from a drinking den that looked like it had been maintained by the patrons too drunk to hold a hammer. Smoke billowed out the front entryway in a gray sheet, and every conversation occurred at maximum volume. Over the door, a sign read, “The Journeyman’s Rest.” Waiting for a couple of steam cars to pass by, Gravat crossed the road and decided to check the place out.

Inside, was pure chaos. Over in one corner, he saw fights, gambling, and fights over gambling. In another, he found a team of engineers wrestling with an automaton, the latter spinning wildly enough to break a table and all the glasses on it. Above the fray, a woman in a green dress swung perilously from a chandelier, drinking from a mug and singing along to the music coming from the piano. Gravat sighed heavily, wondering if this was the company he’d have to keep in his abrupt retirement. He walked through the den to the bar, pausing twice to let brawlers pass, and flashed a lily at the barkeep. “A mug of your finest,” he said, using the term loosely.

“You could buy the whole place a round for that,” said the keep, a man about as round in the belly as he was tall.
Gravat imagined this wasn’t a place that made change for silver. “Of course, that’s what I meant.”

Pointing at the sergeant, the barkeep shouted, “Listen up! This guy just bought the house a round!” Some people cheered, others cussed in appreciation, but nobody stopped what they were doing. The barkeep took the soaking rag from his shoulder and wiped a mug with it. He waddled over to a tap and opened it up, filling the glass all the way to the top. Setting it down on the bar, he slid it over to Gravat.

Turning around, Gravat took a sip of the brew, which had a kick more fierce than his rifle. He braced himself for another sip when the music from the piano stopped. Everything else stopped too, including the woman on the chandelier, who jumped down without spilling a drop of her drink. “Not you again! That was my favorite song!” she protested, glaring at a woman standing next to the piano.

“Give me one minute of your time, and I’ll be happy to let you return to it,” she said, dropping an electric cord on the floor.

The rest of the bar let out a collective groan. “My name is Betsy Rikert,” she began.

“We know!” shouted the bar, everyone rolling their eyes in perfect unison.

Betsy ignored them. “I represent Gertrude Allaine, of the Allaine Steamship Company. If you are brave of heart, bold in spirit, and relatively sound of mind, then I have a job for you. It’s a dangerous task, but you’ll be well compensated.”

“Oh, go find someone else to do your dirty work,” said an engineer, pinned to the ground by his automaton. “Or at least explain why nobody ever comes back after you hire them.”

“I’d like to hear her out,” said Gravat. He considered the woman across the den. She dressed like a corporate lackey, wearing a decent woolen suit and a starched collar that hadn’t frayed. Gravat got off the bar and walked up to her. “How much?”

“I am afraid such a tranzaction is illegal,” said a deep voice at the den’s entrance. It belonged to a man wearing dark goggles and a gray coverall stuffed into heavy boots and thick gloves. Five other people in matching attire flanked him on both sides. “Mizz Rikert is an enemy of ze Confederacy, and she shall haf to come vis us.” They all brought out steam pistols from their coveralls, aiming them at Gravat and his would-be employer.

“My word, this escalated quickly,” said Gravat. He asked Betsy, “Why do I have guns pointed at me?”

“The Kesperrian government has a misunderstanding with my employer,” she explained.

“Zis is no misunderstandink,” said the spy, changing his aim to Betsy. “Ve vill not allow you to shteel ze Sky Princess.”

The entire audience in the den said, “The Sky Princess?”

Gravat sighed. “What’s a ‘sky princess’?” he asked.

“You haven’t heard of her?” an engineer asked. “She’s only the fastest and best armed sky ship ever built by Prestorian hands.”

“Zis is a lie!” shouted the Kesperrian agent.

Gravat scratched his head. “I take it your employer built this thing, and now wants it back?”

Betsy nodded eagerly. “Right. My employer built it. Exactly. The rest of it is a long story.”

“The Kesperrians have always been enemies of Prestoria,” said Gravat. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they stole it first.”

The spy waved his pistol at the pair. “Hello? I haf a pishtol, and I’m villink to use it!”

“One moment,” said Betsy and Gravat.

“Look,” said Betsy, “I can tell you that you’re completely right. The dastardly Kesperrians stole the ship, and we need to recover it. I really could use the help from a military man such as yourself.”

“Who said I was in the military?” asked Gravat.

“It’s ze hair,” said the spy.

“You also have perfect posture,” said the chandelier woman. Several engineers and the automaton nodded in agreement.
Outside, Gravat heard shouting followed by heavy footsteps. Five people exploded through the entrance, right into the spies. Everyone fell to the ground in a giant tangled mess. A woman with light brown hair that resembled a bird’s nest popped up out of the pile. She looked at Gravat and said, “Is this West Bremerheim?”

“No,” said Gravat, fearing he’d reached his limit for strange things happening to him in one day. “You’re in Kenton.” The woman just blinked. He added, “The capital of the Kingdom of Prestoria.”

She looked crestfallen. “It should have worked this time. Perhaps I need to readjust the coefficient of reality.”

A nasal voice squeaked from inside the pile. “Ginny, of course it didn’t work! I told you so, but nobody listens to me!”

“Oh, calm down, Flannigan,” said another man, poking his head out from between a spy’s boots. He freed an arm and fished around in the pile, pulling his friend out by the collar. “See? We just ran into some new people. Looks like we’re in a public house!”

“The Journeyman’s Rest,” Gravat added. “The beer’s not too bad.”

Flannigan and a couple of spies erupted from the pile as a large man bounced up. He let out a thunderous belch which shook the windows and knocked his top hat askew. “I’ll be the judge of that!” he bellowed.

Outside, Gravat heard a faint sound of whistles and shouting. He strained to listen, but the nearby commotion grabbed his attention again. The large man had mostly undone the human pile, revealing the last of the five new arrivals. It was a woman wearing a heavy brown overcoat and thick, shaded engineer’s goggles. She climbed to her feet and dusted herself off. “I’m afraid there’s no time for a beer, Jim,” she said, slapping the rotund man on the arm. Searching she found the other man that lifted out Flannigan. “Isak, we need to get going.” She looked right at Gravat. “Does this establishment have a rear exit by any chance?”

“I actually haven’t been here long enough to find out, let alone finish my beer,” said the sergeant.

Jim walked up to Gravat and took the mug gently from his hand. “It will be my honor to help you,” he said, his breath almost wilting the old veteran.

“That sounds like the police outside,” said Betsy, looking through the door nervously.

“Is that a steam pistol?” asked Isak, taking one from an unconscious spy. “How quaint! Where’s the boiler? Is it pocket-sized? A backpack? Belt clip?”

“Focus!” said the engineer. She turned to Betsy. “What exactly did we interrupt here?”

The corporate representative eyed the door. “I feel like I should be asking you that.”

“Don’t change the subject,” the engineer replied.

“Ms. Rikert and I were going to recover the Sky Princess from the clutches of the Kesperrian government. You and your associates subdued some of their agents just now,” Gravat explained. “Thank you for your rescue.”

“You’re after the Sky Princess?” said the engineer. She licked her lips. “I’d like to get my hands on that fine piece of engineering.”

“Does that mean you would like to help?” asked Gravat.

The engineer and most of her friends nodded enthusiastically. Flannigan looked like he just ate a lemon. “While the guy seems nice, I’m not sure I trust her-”

“Don’t impose on them,” said Betsy, grabbing Gravat’s arm. “It should only take the two of us.”

“I’ll split my salary with them,” Gravat said. “If this is really a matter of domestic security, I should like to bring a team with me.”

Light from the police’s electric lanterns illuminated the building across the street. Betsy looked at it and said, “Sure, fine, you’re all hired. Let’s get going, shall we?”

“Splendid!” shouted the engineer. “Felicity DuBois, at your service!” One of the police rounded the building, and pointed at the den. He let out a loud whistle. She said, “Full introductions can be made later.”

“Naturally,” said Betsy, who directed them to the den’s back exit. They all ran out, except for Jim, who paused for a refill of his mug.

#1linerWeds – Being First Isn’t Everything

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Image Credit: Zinneke at lb.wikipedia.org. Reprinted under a CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Luxembourg license.

“I’ve never placed second to anyone,” Victor told the executioner, “and I don’t intend to start now.”

Author’s Note: This is part of the wonderful and amazing Linda G. Hill’s One-Liner Wednesday writing prompt. Click the link to find more one-liners, and then maybe try your own!