A Newspaper From the Future – July 24, 2012

Gabriel slouched in an uncomfortable wrought iron chair outside an indistinct coffee shop on third. He morosely nursed a stout black cup of coffee and an epic hangover from behind a pair of red tinted lenses. Even though it’d been 16 years for him since he’d taken his vows, people watching never got old.

Half a block down, across the street, a young girl walked her dog. She disappeared briefly and just as suddenly returned. Gabe casually inspected her temporal aura and traced the ephemeral filaments that tied her to her perceived time and place. Gabe took a sip of coffee and concentrated until he found the moment where the girl’s essence bifurcated. He lost interest after he realized the weight of his scrutiny collapsed her wave function, returning the girl to her previous path.

Across the street on the corner of 3rd and Jackson, Gabe noticed a young boy hawking newspapers. The kid wore a Lundberg Stetson and a rumpled, ink-stained linen shirt. Jackson bore heavy pedestrian traffic and a woman carrying a small parcel walked straight toward the newsboy. While she was completely oblivious to his presence, he seemed to notice her and casually stepped to one side to let her pass.

Now that is interesting, Gabe thought to himself.

Gabe had seen sensitives – people who seemed to have a higher sense attuned to the bones of chaotic, frenetic multi-verse they inhabited. They’d appear to suffer a chill or pause thoughtfully whenever they experienced a spatial superposition. Never before had he seen someone who demonstrated an acute awareness of an entity from another time existing in the same space.

He studied the young man and his temporal aura. He teased apart the fabric of space and time and imagined standing slightly behind the boy. The tingling he felt in the back of his head telegraphed subtle differences in the earth’s magnetic field that gave him a sense of his place in time: He didn’t need the boy’s clothing to tell him he was somewhere in the 1920s. Gabe was just about to reach out to tap the boy’s shoulder when he turned around.

“Paper mister?” he asked.

“Why yes, I think I would like one, sport.”

Gabe reached to his breast pocket for his wallet when the boy shook his head, “You’re money’s no good here mister.”

“Don’t be silly chap. How about two bits?”

“Sorry mister, your money’s no good. Those coins are twenty-second century replicas. Don’t worry about it mister. Here just take one.” He handed Gabe a paper.

“Son, how do you know that?”

The boy smiled and vanished in a way Gabe was at a loss to explain. He reached out, searching for the boy’s essence, but felt no traces. With a building sense of dread and panic, he reached out to the essence of Father Murphy. The saintly old man’s sudden presence at his side was a great comfort.

“Father, I’d found a rogue thread but he escaped.”

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In Too Deep With Your Bookie – June 25, 2012

The confessional was cramped, the air stifling.  I felt crushed beneath the weight of shame I’d carried in with me.  It clung to me like whorehouse sheets, reeking of stale smoke and bottom shelf booze.  I crossed myself, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.”

While Father Whalen spoke his blessing, I thought of sins and penance.

I’d never thought of hope as a sin, but what else do you call that desperate spark that drives you to play one more hand?  Sure I’d gambled, maybe even a little more than the next guy.  I figure you can’t always lose, and the longer you lose, the more likely you are to win.  Of course, I’d been wrong so far.

“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.  It has been six weeks since my last confession.”

Six weeks and $50,000.  I hit the flask in my breast pocket to steady my hands and searched for the courage to do what I’d come here to do.  Or, maybe I was trying to squeeze as many sins in as possible before this absolution:  Take your pick.  It doesn’t matter to me, and they’re probably both true.

“Father, I…” my voice cracked, “I have been intemperate in the abuse of my body many times in the past six weeks.  I drink alcohol to excess and I smoke cigarettes.”

“In first Corinthians, chapter six, verse nineteen, we read that our bodies serve as a temple for the Holy Spirit.  Abuse of this temple is an affront to God.”

“I have also gambled in excess many times.  My family will suffer for the choices I have made, and I fear my soul may be beyond redemption,” I sobbed between clenched teeth.

Silence followed from the other side of the confessional as Father Whalen reflected a moment.  He said warily, “No man who is penitent is beyond red…”

“I have also committed murder in the house of god, striking down a priest in retribution for hypocrisy and failure to satisfy gambling debts in the amount of $343,000.”  There was a sudden sound of movement from the other side of the screen, but father Whalen couldn’t open the door before the revolver in my hand bucked twice.  He slumped against the screen, silent ever after.

I dropped to my knees, “I am sorry for my sins.  His mercy endures forever.”  I put the revolver to my temple and it bucked a third and final time.

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Lipstick Message – May 30, 2012

“Three snowboarders strayed out of bounds at a ski resort in Oregon in the past two months.  They all died of exposure.  A fourth is missing and presumed dead – I’m telling you it’s Yuki!” Sharon stabbed her finger emphatically on the wall map.  A multicolored array of pins stretched from the tip of South America to northern reaches of Alaska, including one lonely pin in Cheboygan.

Lori studied the map, searching for patterns, trying to see it with fresh eyes.  The small cluster of pins in eastern Oregon did seem compelling, but no more so than half a dozen other similar clusters scattered across the western hemisphere.  She silently cursed Melinda for her impetuosity.

“Melly should never have gone after Yuki alone.”  Lori reached for her cold cup of coffee and absently backhanded it, knocking it over.

“Oh hell!” Lori exclaimed in dismay as the collection of newspaper clippings spread out on the desk quickly wicked the coffee from one end to the other.

“I’ll grab a towel,” Sharon said as she dashed into the bathroom.

Lori slid the few clippings that were still dry away from the danger zone and tried to salvage a few that weren’t too wet.

“Lori come here – hurry!”

She burst into the bathroom to see Sharon pointing at the mirror with a shaking finger.  At first nothing seemed unusual, but as she watched it seemed to shimmer.  Numbers began to appear in a hastily scrawled script that Lori knew well, but they seemed backward.  She snatched a makeup compact from the counter and turned her back to the mirror.

“Sharon, write this down:  45.34454, -121.7095”

“Those are coordinates!”  Sharon ran back to the map and searched the fine lines that indicated latitude, “Forty five, forty five…that’s North America.  I told you it was Mount Hood!”

—–

Melinda knelt by the stream and searched for that calm that would help her with what should have been a simple spell.  She’d fumbled through her purse looking for the tube of Sharon’s lipstick that she’d swiped on her way out of the apartment.  After a deep breath, she leaned down until she was nearly touching the water.  She whispered a few words to the stream that hadn’t been uttered in over a century.  Almost imperceptibly, the water seemed to slow.  Then quite suddenly there was utter silence as the flowing water simply stopped.

Using the lipstick, she scribbled a series of numbers on the surface of the water.  A slice of eternity seemed to pass before the stream sluggishly began flowing again.  The slowly building current began to carry away the numbers before Melinda realized how much trouble she was in.

Even though Melinda had released her spell, the stream stopped moving again.  The crystal clear water turned a cloudy white as a draft of breathtakingly cold air washed down the gully.  A small series of staccato booms sent jagged cracks racing through the ice as sudden expansion from the freeze heaved the streambed upward.

“Too close!  I’m not ready yet and she’s too close!”

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Best Friends Need Your Help – March 13, 2012

The air was still and cold.  Every breath kindled a bloom of crystalline agony in her chest, as if hoarfrost stretched achingly cold and beautiful fingers from Yuki-onna’s rime-sheathed heart to her lungs.  A hand at her brow shielded her eyes from the brilliant but warmthless midday sun as she searched for a familiar, hoary oak tree.

Possessed of an ancient wisdom gleaned from weathering generations of unnatural winters, what few vermin remained in the wood had taken to deep burrows.  Yuki-onna could sense their fiery hearts hammering in the darkness as they lived small brief lives defined by hardship and fear, unraveled by a flash of fang or talon.  A blaze of warmth quickened in her veins as an errant thought snuffed the nearest.  Its tiny mote of life-energy staved off the all consuming hunger that drove her to ever greater heights of madness.

Still she searched, never finding.  She consumed, never sating.  Beneath her feet lay a path of ice, and in her wake stretched a glittering wasteland steeped in silence unbroken save by the whisper of creeping frost.

—-

Lori picked her way through the undergrowth to an unused path leading deeper into the woods.  One hundred and seventeen years had spurred much change to her ancestral home, but the contours were familiar and she had no difficulty finding the rough-hewn schoolhouse of her childhood.  Cedar shakes, now gray with antiquity, dangled from the collapsed moss-covered remains of the roof.

Her best friends stood talking quietly beneath the massive oak where they’d made their pact as girls all those years ago.  So much time had passed and the world had moved on for everybody but these women.  Their oath and sacrifice secured perpetual youth.

“So what happened?” Lori asked as she walked up.  Melinda looked guiltily at Sharon, but said nothing.

“It’s Yuki…she might have gotten free,” said Sharon.  Melinda fidgeted with the brass clasp of her bracelet.

“How could she get out?  Who slipped up, or do I even have to ask?”

Melinda spoke up finally, “I’ve never understood how you two could be so strong for so long.  I’m so sorry, but a couple months ago this guy moved in next door and I…”

“Stuff it, Melly.  You know what’s at stake!  How could you be so careless?” screamed Lori.  “You may have let Snow Woman out for the sake of a dalliance with a stranger?”

The Oath that imprisoned Yuki-onna demanded chastity in exchange for longevity.   Lori never figured Melinda would be the one to screw it up.  Melinda tended to be bookish and awkward around men.  Her long black hair was usually pulled into a severe bun.  She always seemed to be about a decade behind the latest style.

With the Oath broken, Yuki was almost certainly free.  A chill wind stirred the trees.  Lori shivered and pulled up the collar of her jacket as she thought about the coming winter.

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A Mad Scientist Approaches You – July 4, 2012

The old man pulled a leather pouch from his waist and spread it flat on the ground.  He scooped up the contents of the pouch and gently tossed them to the leather again.  Ayize watched impassively as the withered old witch doctor studied the bones.

Sitting beside her mortally ill husband in a grass hut thousands of miles away from home, Olivia could only think of the relentlessly modern and fastidiously sterile hospital back home in Baltimore.  Three weeks ago, she and Dylan had jumped at the chance to enjoy a holiday in Ngorongoro.  Three days ago, Dylan complained of feeling feverish.  Three hours ago, she and her guide, Ayize, gently carried him into the hut of the tribe’s Sangoma:  A witch doctor.

“Please, Ayize, ask him if he recognizes the symptoms of this fever.”  The old man had said precious little in their time together.  He took no notice of Olivia’s anguished plea and continued to study the bones.

At length, he pointed to a small bone indistinguishable from the others and spoke solemnly to Ayize.  When he finished, Ayize turned to Olivia and translated, “He says this one is Hyena.  It means ‘thief’.”  She pointed to the one nearest the hyena bone and continued, “This one is lion claw.  It means ‘strength’.  Nduduzo believes,” Ayize’s eyes flickered to the old man as she explained, “that your umyeni…your husband is being hurt by a bad spirit.  It steals his strength.”

Olivia clenched her teeth and blinked back tears.  She prayed for strength and guidance while she nodded respectfully.  He didn’t know, and he couldn’t help her.  She shifted her weight as she prepared to stand, but Ayize put a restraining hand on her knee.  “Nduduzo is wise and proud.  We must let him finish.  I know you do not understand, but please – he can help.”

The old man spoke again, pointing to a shadowy corner of his hut.  Ayize’s eyes widened in surprise, as she looked to where he was pointing.  She responded hesitantly in Zulu.  He nodded slowly as she went to the shelf he indicated and retrieved a small vial.

“Nduduzo says, ‘This is the essence of dreams’,” translated Ayize.  She bowed her head reverently before the skeletal Sangoma on the other side of the fire.  The old man gestured impatiently to Ayize and she turned to Olivia and presented her with the ornate little bottle.

The old man spoke again, rapidly, fluidly.  He paused to allow Ayize to translate.  “Tears of Ancestors, blood of lion, also…” she searched for the word, miming twin pinchers.

“Scorpion?” offered Olivia.

Ayize shook her head, “No, it moves between the land and the sea…”

“Crab?”

“Yes!” Ayize’s smile was brilliant but brief as the old man plunged headlong into his prescription.  Her translation continued, “As the crab moves between land and sea, so he links this world with the spirit world.  This must be drunk and your umyeni will be cured.”

“But how can he drink anything?  He’s unconscious!”

“No!” Ayize interrupted emphatically, “You must drink.  Nduduzo says, ‘Wish only for your husband’s recovery.  The muti is mighty and to ask for more would only anger the ancestors.’”

Her hands shaking, Olivia studied the iridescent contents of the dainty bottle.  Seeing no other choice, she closed her eyes and threw her head back, swallowing the contents of the bottle.  I wish we’d never come to this God-forsaken continent.

When she opened her eyes, she felt a flash of vertigo followed by a wave of relief as she saw the familiar walls of their flat in Baltimore instead of the dark sooty interior of a witch doctor’s hut.  She jumped to her feet and was about to call out for Dylan when the phone rang.

“Hello?” she answered.

“Olivia, I need you at the hospital, your father’s sick.  I’m afraid Africa will have to wait!”

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YOU Are the Arch-Nemesis – November 13, 2012

Detective Bowman climbed out of an unmarked Caprice and appeared to shrug his jacket into a more comfortable position and straightened his tie. Confident his sidearm was secure; he sauntered over to Officer Wills.

“Officer, make this good or make this brief: My curried beef is getting cold and my beer is getting warm.”

Wills grinned. “You’ll have to settle for good, Bo. Why don’t you come into the lobby and see for yourself?”

Bowman shrugged and waved Wills ahead, “…damn curry gives me gas anyway I guess.”
He’d been called to the downtown Marriot. He expected the humidity from the massive water feature in the lobby. He expected the plush furnishings and the soothing instrumental background music. He did not expect to see a man in his early twenties dressed like Tweety-bird.

“Hey Wills,” he tapped the officer’s shoulder. “Don’t tell me you called me here to referee a mascot’s convention…”

“Negative, Bo.”

“Furry orgy gone wrong?”

Wills smiled broadly, “Just go talk to the canary, see if you can get him to sing.”
“Aight, I’ll bite.” Bowman walked over to the young man in the Tweety suit. His Bieber bangs were plastered to his forehead with sweat and his eyes were wide and haunted, like he’d seen something he couldn’t have…or maybe something he shouldn’t have.
“I’m Detective Mike Bowman. How are you doing tonight?”

“Another cop! Look, you’ve gotta find John! We think he may have been 1-8-7’d!”
Bowman grinned and shook his head as he pulled a pen and notepad from the breast pocket of his coat. “Son, the force retired radio code three years ago, and I believe anthimeria is a misdemeanor in this precinct so let’s leave nouns nouns, shall we? Now, why do you think your friend has been murdered?”

“Wile E.’s gonna eat him, if he hasn’t already!”

“I see. Son are you aware of the criminal penalties for filing a false report?”

Tweety threw his wings in the air and rolled his eyes.

“Start talking, and tell it straight from the beginning,” Bowman said firmly. He sighed and thought about his dinner. The kid breathlessly plunged into his story.

“My friends and grew up on Looney Tunes,” he began.

Bowman raised an eyebrow in warning, “Son don’t play me for a fool. When I said the beginning…”

“Just listen and you’ll understand! We came to Tampa for a convention. We were in our room watching the Bugs Bunny show dressed in costume for the show later this evening. A roadrunner episode came on that we’d never seen before. Halfway through, Wile E. Coyote ordered something from ACME. It was a trans-dimensional hole. Normally the roadrunner runs right past stuff like that and the coyote falls for it every time.”

As he spoke, he’d been looking down at his toes, across the lobby to the shimmering sheet of water cascading dramatically down the face of a stone wall, or even up at the giant crystal chandelier overhead – anything to avoid eye contact. He looked up, straight into Bowman’s eyes.

“This time was different. When Wile E. Coyote went to place the portal, he tripped and it flew straight at us. The screen went black. I thought Larry had tripped on the power cord again. This is the freaky part,” he paused, “You’re not going to fucking believe me anyway, what’s the use?”

“Try me. We’ll go from there.”

“A werewolf climbed out of the screen. Well, we think it was Wile E. Coyote, but it sure as hell looked like a werewolf!”

Bowman sighed and clicked his pen closed. He returned the pad and pen to his pocket and whistled for Wills. “Officer Wills! Take this fine young man into custody and charge him with filing a false report. I want a tox screen and…”

“Just go up to our room and see for yourself! John was dressed like the roadrunner. When the coyote climbed out of the screen, everybody started freaking out. The coyote chased john around the room and when John ran past the TV it just …sucked him in!”
“Fine. Lead the way, Tweety. I warn you, though. You’re courting felony charges right now.”

The room was a mess of overturned furniture and empty pizza boxes. The TV was indeed playing Looney tunes.

Detective Bowman turned about expectantly. He was about to direct Tweety out of the room when his phone chimed with a text message. He flipped it out and read: There must always be a Roadrunner. He glanced to the TV screen to see the coyote holding a white sign that said the same. Wile E. Coyote nodded slowly and then turned and trotted off into the sunset.

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