Jumper

The wind was brutal, whipping around the corners of the concrete jungle with a howl of rage as it sought to escape, back to the freedom of the open plains.  I hadn’t been prepared for the wind, and it cut through my overcoat as if it was nothing more than a thin shirt.

Nonetheless, I kept my eyes open, ever-searching, always on the move.  I had to stay alert.

Down at my wrist, my watch was ticking away.  The tiny clicks as the second hand swung around were gone, torn away by the wind, but I could still hear each increment as though a shock was surging through my body.

I had to time this perfectly.

Behind me, I could hear cries at the door, the sound of heavy bodies slamming against wood.  The men were already at the room of my hotel suite, throwing their weight against the door frame in hopes of cracking the locking mechanism.

They didn’t stand a chance – at least, not with just a shoulder or a kick.  I had done my reconnaissance well.  I knew that the doors here were made of solid-core oak.  They weren’t going to yield to anything less than a battering ram.

The seconds were still ticking away.  I stared down, knowing that my time was running out.

I’d staged a rehearsal a couple of weeks ago, with little more than a rock thrown through a jewelry store window and a “borrowed” police radio to announce that the figure was on the roof.  The police had a helicopter.  It took eight minutes for the chopper to arrive.

I had under two minutes left.

Staring down, distance stretched away towards the vanishing point.  The ground.  It was night, too dark to see the people hustling up and down the sidewalks twenty stories below me.  I could, however, see the lights of the cars, tiny little mechanical bugs trying to find their way around the maze of gridlock.

From this spot, in the heart of downtown, it took nearly forty minutes to reach the airport.  That wasn’t a viable option.  It would never beat a helicopter.

The cries behind me were getting louder – and they were accompanied by a sound I didn’t want to hear.  Wood was splintering.  I didn’t know whether I’d gotten a room with a cracked door, or if perhaps all of those donuts the officers had been eating were giving them extra bulk to throw at the door, but they were getting through.

I didn’t have to look down at my watch.  My time was almost up.

My feet were clad in leather boots, well broken in and nearly silent on most surfaces.  They were also smooth on the soles, sacrificing a bit of grip in exchange for not leaving any mark behind me.  Currently, those boots were balancing on a seven inch stone ledge.

Another splintering crack.  I glanced to my left.  The window was just a couple of feet away.  I could take two steps to my left, toss the bag slung under my arm back inside, and then follow it…

…to what?  To the waiting arms of the police.  To being caught red-handed with the evidence, to a guaranteed ten year prison sentence.  And ironically, I wouldn’t have the money for a lawyer.  No country club prison for me.  I’d be behind the bars with the real heavy hitters.  I wouldn’t make it a year.

No, I couldn’t go back.  I had to move forward, as risky as it might be.

On my wrist, my watch buzzed, sending a jolt into my skin.

Time’s up.

I stepped off the ledge.

As I fell, I glanced off to my right.  I could hear the faint thwop of rotors as the police helicopter began to close in on the location.  But they weren’t quite close enough yet.  Their spotlight couldn’t see me as I fell.

Down, down I dropped, the wind rushing past my face and making me squint.  I had practiced this before, but I still knew that it would hurt.  I had to be ready.

I hit the top of the aboveground train just as it came around the corner, shooting along on its track, eighteen stories above the ground.  Its howl was loud enough to drown out my own cry as I landed heavily on the roof.

I’d just barely made it.  I was on top of the first car.

I grappled for a moment, scrambling to gain purchase, making sure I wouldn’t slide off that metal skin.  My hand checked beneath my coat, ensuring that the bag was still there.  I hadn’t lost it.

I let out a breath I hadn’t realized that I had been holding.  But I wasn’t clear yet.  There was a tunnel coming up, one that would leave me a splatter on the stone.  I had one more jump to make.

I glanced over the side, watching the roofs go rushing past.  I could see my target building, rapidly approaching.  I pulled in one more deep breath.

My watched buzzed again.

I threw myself off the train.

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First Date

So listen, I’m really kind of hesitant about this whole dating thing, okay?  I’ve had some bad experiences in the past.

No, I don’t really want to talk about them.

You really wanna know?  Trust me, you won’t like it.

Fine.  But just remember, you were the one who asked.  I wanted to just have a nice night out, grab a couple drinks, go dancing, maybe make out a little before I drop you off at home, but you wanted to learn more about me.

So, uh, I guess I’ll just come out and say it straight.  All of my exes are dead.

Hey, don’t give me that wide-eyed look!  You asked!  And it’s not like any of them were my fault.  In fact, I warned them all.

Listen, I promise I’m not a serial killer, okay?  I just have really, really bad luck.

Here, take Lucy, for example.  She was this great girl.  Sweet, red hair, freckles, always smelled like lavender, tits like you wouldn’t – er, I mean, a nice figure.  Anyway.

We went out for a few weeks, and I really liked her.  Also, I liked that her house was only a couple blocks from my gym.  Instead of showering in that stinky locker room, I could duck into Lucy’s shower and clean off.

But when I was there, I noticed that she had, like, 3 different things all plugged in and balanced on the edge of the tub!  There was a hair dryer, one of those hair iron things, and a radio.  All just balanced there, asking for an accident!  One slip, and we’re talking electrocution city.

So yeah, you can probably guess how that relationship ended.

Exactly!  Totally not my fault.  Now, how about that dance…

…oh, the others?  I guess I did say multiple, yeah.  Well, Carol really should have gotten her brakes fixed.  I told her at least three times that other people didn’t have to repeatedly pump the pedals to stop their car.  And you always yield to a train.

More?  Um, Allie was a thrill seeker.  And I had a great time going rock climbing and go-kart racing, but those are all on the ground, you know?  Skydiving’s a different story.  I guess I learned a lesson from it, though.  Groupon is not the place to look for discount skydiving tickets.

And you don’t have to worry about going like Stacey – you’re not nearly as loud as that girl was.  She could talk your ear off.  Hell, both ears, even.  So even though the avalanche was attributed to the “fresh snow caving off,” I’m guessing that it was an especially loud “Oh my gawd!” that brought it on.

See?  Totally not my fault.

What?

My most recent?  That would be Claire, and she’s totally fine!  Promise!

You don’t believe me?  Here, I’ll prove it and call her.  We broke up on good terms, she’ll totally be fine to tell you that I’m a nice enough dude.

Just wait, it’s ringing.

Hi, Claire?  Oh, Mrs. Lensen, hi.  I was hoping to talk to your daughter-

-uh huh, okay-

-oh.  I’m so sorry.  I hadn’t heard.  Well, uh, my condolences.  Okay.  Bye.

Er.

Bad example.

That meteor strike could have hit anyone, really.

Hey, wait!  Where are you going?

The Science Fair

I peered down at the experiment.  The globe was hanging in the air, and covered in activity.  I pulled my pencil out of my clipboard.

“God,” I noted in the name.  “And your project’s name?” I asked.

“Earth,” the young man replied.

I filled in the name on the form.  “Okay then,” I told the young man.  “Tell me about your project.”

The man (really, the adolescent was little more than a boy) glanced down at his shoes, and then turned to his project.  “Well, it’s a biosystem,” he began.  “Been running for about six billion years, now.”

I raised my eyebrows at him.  “Accelerated, of course,” he added hurriedly.

I bent down to peer at the biosphere.  “It looks quite inhabited,” I observed.

The young man nodded.  “Yep – dominant species appeared about ten thousand years ago,” he said.  “They’ve already spread across the entire sphere.”

I picked up the magnifying glass and peered through it.  “They look like they’re being pretty hard on the environment.”

God shrugged at this.  “They’ll adapt,” he said.

I waited as the globe turned to examine the far side.  “Looks like a fight’s broken out here,” I said, peering at one region.  “Not sure why.  Mostly desert.”

“They’ve been fighting over that part for a long time,” God volunteered.  “They originated there, so I guess it’s special.”

“Doesn’t look very evolved to me.”

“They’re evolved in other ways!” the boy protested, trying to win back points.  “They’ve tamed their environment, and are even building devices to ease their labor!”

Sure enough, that was worth bonus points on the grading form.  “Any issues in producing them?” I asked.

He shrugged.  “At one point, the evolution seemed stuck on lizards.  I had to do a soft reset.”

The man was volunteering this information, but my keen eye had already spotted the evidence of the reset on the cross-section.  “Supervolcano?” I asked.

“Combined with a meteor strike.”

It was at least not directly violating the rules.  I referred back to my form once again.  “Any other direct influence?”

No answer was immediately forthcoming.  I looked up at the young man and saw an uncomfortable expression on his face.  “Any influence?” I repeated, glaring at him.

He wilted beneath my glare.  “Well, I tried to put them on the right track about two thousand years ago.  Sent down an aspect, told them to be friendly, all of that.”

“Didn’t quite take,” I noted.

He shook his head.  “Yeah, I learned my error there.  Not going to try that again next year.”

I checked the appropriate box.  “So, not planning on continuing this?”

“Nah.  Now that I’ve learned some of my mistakes, it might be easier to just cleanse the whole thing and try again. I should have fewer screw-ups next time.”

The form was just about complete.  “Well, just be sure to make sure to sterilize,” I commented as I signed the bottom.  “Don’t want anything getting out and spreading.”

The boy looked hopeful as I moved on to the next experiment, but he probably wouldn’t take home a medal this year.  The next experiment looked more promising, however.  There was a large thing with tentacles, visible even without magnification, rampaging across this biosphere.   That looked novel.

A Campfire… with Death!

No matter how much we tried to explain the idea, the personified concept wasn’t quite getting it.

“No, the point is that it’s a scary story!  See, the hook on the car door means that the hook-handed killer was there all along!”

YES, BUT THE GIRL DOES NOT DIE.  WOULD THE STORY NOT BE SCARIER IF THEY ALL DIED?

“But then there’d be no one left to tell the story!”

HERE, HOW ABOUT THIS.  A THOUSAND PEOPLE DIE EACH DAY FROM BEING HIT BY TRAINS.

“Well, I guess that’s kind of depressing, but I don’t know if it’s really scary…”

I STILL DO NOT UNDERSTAND.  THIS IS A THING?  SITTING AROUND BURNING BRANCHES AND ATTEMPTING TO INDUCE FEAR?

“Yeah, it’s called camping!  We’re out experiencing nature!”

SO WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE FEAR TALES?

“No, man.  Scary stories.  Not ‘fear tales.’  And I guess it’s because we’re out here in the darkness, not knowing what’s out there – so telling scary stories that aren’t true makes us feel better in comparison to what’s really there.”

BUT THERE ARE MANY THINGS HERE THAT CAN KILL YOU TOO.  FOREST FIRES.  BEARS.  MALARIA.

“Well, yeah, but those aren’t as bad as the stories we tell!  See?”

I DO NOT SEE, IT IS VERY DARK.  IT IS BETTER TO BE MAULED BY A BEAR THAN STABBED BY A MAN WITH A HOOK ON HIS HAND?  YOU ARE DEAD IN BOTH CASES.

“Ugh.  Look, I can’t explain this.  Do you have a story or are we going to skip you?”

YES, I WANT TO TRY.

“Okay.  Let’s hear the scariest thing you’ve got.”

ONE DAY, ALL OF THE ENERGY IN THE UNIVERSE WILL BE EQUALLY DISTRIBUTED AND THERE WILL BE NO MORE MOVEMENT.  ALL WILL BE STILL AND DISTURBED ONLY BY BROWNIAN PERTURBATIONS.

“Dude, that’s not scary!”

“Well, it kind of is.  More depressing, I guess…”

“But we won’t be around for it!  So it isn’t scary.”

AH.  IT MUST PERTAIN TO YOU SPECIFICALLY?  YOU HAVE FOUGHT A MAN WITH A HOOK FOR A HAND?

“No!  But we could, you know?  We won’t live to see the heat death of the universe.”

OKAY, OKAY.  LET ME TRY AGAIN.

“You would have thought that the personification of death itself would be better at scary stories, man.”

“Dude, shut it.  At least he’s killing all the mosquitoes.”

OKAY, HOW ABOUT THIS.  JACK THE RIPPER!

“What about him?”

HE USED TO KILL MANY PROSTITUTES.  OFTEN VERY VIOLENTLY.

“Well, you can’t just say that!  You have to make it into a story!  Like, maybe the ghost of Jack the Ripper haunts these woods, and he kills any woman who enters the woods and isn’t a virgin because he believes her to be a whore…”

BUT THERE ARE NO GHOSTS.  AFTER ME, THERE IS NOTHING.

“Now, that’s scary.”

IS IT?

“Yes, but not in the right way, man!  Look, you have to tell a story!  Give us a, what’s the word?”

“Narrative.”

“Yeah, one of those!  Make it personal!”

I AM NOT A PERSON.  I AM AN INFINITE CONCEPT, TEMPORARILY INTERSECTING THIS PLANE IN AN ASSUMED SHAPE TO INTERACT WITH YOU.

“Well, we can’t relate to that.  So it doesn’t work for telling scary stories.”

“Look, the marshmallows are almost gone.  Maybe we should just turn in for the night.”

NO, NO, GIVE ME ONE MORE TRY.

“Ugh.  Fine.  Last one, though!”

OKAY.  THE NATIVE AMERICAN TRIBE THAT ONCE LIVED IN THIS GEOGRAPHICAL AREA USED TO REQUIRE THAT ITS BRAVES GO OUT INTO THE WOODS FOR A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY IN ORDER TO BECOME TRUE MEN.

“Okay, good start so far!”

THESE BRAVES WOULD INDULGE IN A VARIETY OF HALLUCINOGENS TO AID IN VIEWING THEIR SPIRITS.  SOME EVEN INTERACTED WITH ME, WHICH WAS UNUSUAL.  BUT ONE BRAVE, VERY CONFUSED, FELL DOWN A HILL AND BROKE HIS LEG WHEN HE HIT A ROCK.

“Ugh.  In the woods?  That would suck.”

“Shut up, dude!  Let Death keep on telling his story.”

AFTER THREE DAYS, WHEN THE BRAVE HAD NOT RETURNED, THE REST OF THE TRIBE SENT OUT THE BEST TRACKERS IN THEIR GROUP.  ONE OF THESE WAS THE BRAVE’S OLDER BROTHER.  THE OLDER BROTHER QUICKLY FOUND HIS YOUNGER BROTHER’S TRACKS AND FOLLOWED THEM TO THE RAVINE.

UNFORTUNATELY, IN THE MIST RISING UP FROM THE RAVINE, THE YOUNGER BRAVE SAW NOTHING BUT A SHADOW LOOMING IN THE MIST.  HE GRABBED HIS SPEAR AND ATTACKED.  IT WAS NOT UNTIL HIS BROTHER WAS SLAIN THAT HE REALIZED WHAT HE HAD DONE.

“Oh god, that’s chilling.”

YES, THE COLD ONLY ADDED TO HIS CONFUSION.  THE BRAVE’S MENTAL STATE WAS FURTHER DETERIORATED BY THE REALIZATION OF WHAT HE HAD JUST DONE.  HE STRAPPED HIS LEG AND MOVED THROUGH THE FOREST, KILLING EVERY OTHER TRACKER HE CAME ACROSS.  HE THOUGHT THEM TO BE MALEVOLENT SPIRITS PURSUING HIM.

“Oh man, this is good.”

“Yeah, keep going!”

DESPITE HIS DELIRIUM, THE BRAVE EVENTUALLY RETURNED TO THE REST OF THE TRIBE.  HE CHARGED OUT OF THE WOODS, HIS BLOODY SPEAR HELD ALOFT AS HE HOWLED.  IT WAS NIGHT, AND WITH THE WARRIORS OUT SEARCHING THE FOREST, THERE WAS LITTLE RESISTANCE.  HE KILLED MANY OF THE TRIBE’S WOMEN AND CHILDREN BEFORE HE WAS FINALLY SLAIN.

“Holy shit, man.  That would be so scary!  A crazy Indian just charging out of the woods at us…”

“Native American, dude.  It’s more PC.”

“Screw PC, this is a scary story!  Is there more?”

YES.  THE ELDERS OF THE TRIBE BELIEVED THIS TO BE A TERRIBLE OMEN, A SIGN THAT THEY WERE CURSED.  THEY PREPARED A POISONOUS DRAUGHT FOR THE REMAINING MEMBERS OF THE TRIBE, SO THAT THEY MIGHT JOIN THEIR GODS.  THEY ALL CONSUMED THE DRAUGHT AND DIED.

EVENTUALLY, THE BRAVES THAT HAD BEEN SEARCHING IN THE WOODS AND HAD EVADED THEIR CRAZY TRIBE MEMBER RETURNED.  THEY FOUND THE REST OF THEIR TRIBE DEAD, SOME SLAIN BY SPEAR, OTHERS BY POISON.

“Now that would drive me crazy.”

“Sssh.  Keep going!”

THERE IS LITTLE ELSE TO TELL.  THE LAST BRAVES WERE LOST AND WITHOUT GUIDANCE.  THEY HID IN THE WOODS, LIVING SOLITARY AND CONFUSED LIVES UNTIL THEY DIED AS WELL.

“Geez.  A whole Indian tribe, all wiped out.”

IT WAS A SCARY STORY?

“Hell yeah, dude!  God, it’s gonna be hard to fall asleep tonight.”

ALL OF THE BRAVES ARE LONG SINCE DEAD.

“Yeah, but that’s not the point.  Just imagine a crazy Indian running out of the woods at us.”

“Native American.”

“Shut up.”

“Look, it was a good story, and the fire is dying down.  We should probably turn in.”

AH YES, YOU HUMANS AND YOUR SLEEP.  DO NOT WORRY.  I HAVE KILLED THE BEAR THAT WAS IN THE AREA ALREADY.

“Wait, what?  There was a bear?”

YES, HE WAS CIRCLING THE CAMP.  I STOPPED HIS HEART, AS HE WOULD HAVE INTERRUPTED MY STORY.

“Holy shit, Death.  You should have just said that!”

BUT HE HAS NOT KILLED ANYONE.  IS HE SCARY?

“Ugh.  Look, I’ll try and explain this more in the morning.”

GOOD NIGHT, MORTALS.

“Night, Death.”

Blake Meets Ophiel

My first thought upon meeting Ophiel was that he was very out of place.

I was hanging out in Storm, the cheapest club downtown, leaning against the bar and wishing that I was a girl.  Man, girls had it easy.  They just smile and guys are lining up to buy them drinks, and all they have to do to flirt is to look pretty.  How hard could that be?

But for guys like me, we’re expected to act like we’re made of money, buying drinks, breaking into conversations with strangers, and risking those same drinks coming back in our face when we suggest adjourning to someplace more private.

Yep, guys have it so much harder.

And given that the current balance of my bank account was somewhere between fifteen and twenty-five dollars, I had it much harder than most.

This thought kept on intruding into my thoughts as I stared at the pretty girls and better-equipped guys that surrounded me.  I had to be careful here.  I could only afford a couple of the insanely overpriced drinks, and I had to pick my targets carefully.

My thoughts were interrupted, however, when I spotted the young man pushing his way through the crowed, attempting and failing to head towards the bar.  He was dressed in what looked like some sort of frat guy toga getup, and was wearing an expression suggesting he’d just suckled a lemon.  He appeared to be muttering something under his breath as he was buffeted back and forth between people in the crowd.

He looked to be heading right towards me, and I wondered whether I should be concerned.  He had clean-cut blonde hair and a face that looked classically handsome, a bit like he’d stepped out of an old oil painting.  Despite this, however, the muttering was making me doubt his sanity.  Crazy came in all shapes and sizes, I knew.

He was still determined to get to the bar, however, and as he drew closer, I began to catch snippets of what he was saying.  “Demote me down to guardian?” he was saying to himself, and also unintentionally to everyone within a three foot radius.  “How dare they!  There must have been some mix up with my papers.  I belong in an office!  Not in the field!”

Finally, the blonde man managed to reach the bar, pushing in next to me.  I half expected some of the other fellows next to me to complain about his shoving, but they seemed strangely unbothered by this newcomer, wrapped in what looked suspiciously like a white bed sheet, intruding on their space.  The golden-haired man flopped his arms down on the bar, sighed – and then turned to me.

He didn’t speak at first, but his eyes ran up and down me, blatantly checking me out.  I tried to ignore it for the first couple seconds, but that glance was incredibly obvious.  I had to say something.

“I’m sorry,” I said, deciding to take a less aggressive tack at first.  “I’m flattered, but I don’t go that way.”

The other man blinked at me.  “Listen, I’m not happy about this either,” he said back to me.  His voice was strangely melodious, as if there was a flute playing behind each of his words.  “But I can’t do anything about it – or I’d already be out of here.”

This was getting weirder.  I began to consider leaving the club, just trying to get away.  But I had already paid the very steep cover choice, and I wasn’t forfeiting those seven dollars just because some crazy decided that he was attracted to me.  “Why not go for that guy, then?” I asked, pointing off haphazardly down the bar.  “I’m sure he’s a much better option.”

The golden-haired man glanced down the bar in the direction I had indicated, and then sighed loudly.  “Wish I could,” he said, sounding genuinely regretful.  “But I’m stuck with you.”

I was already doing my best to tune him out.  A girl in the middle of the dance floor had just caught my eye – she was smiling, looked very cute, and from the half-full beer she was sloshing around, was definitely already fairly drunk.  And when I made eye contact with her, her grin widened.  I was in.

“Whoa, I wouldn’t do that!” the golden-haired man beside me cried out as I started to head into the dance floor.

I didn’t stop, but tried to ignore him and keep walking.  Screw this guy!  What did he know?

Author’s note: this is a small section of a novel I’m considering writing.  More to come!

Three-Sentence Scary Stories

Horror is usually achieved through creeping suspense.  Can flash fiction successfully capture horror?  I think so!

1.
I hadn’t realized how far the raft had drifted out into the lake; we seemed to be at the center, surrounded by inky blackness. My friend had jumped in a couple hours ago, promising to swim to shore to get help. She still hadn’t come up for air…

2.
With a hiss, the shuttle detached from the space station. Inside, Davies breathed a sigh of relief; the virus had been contained before it breached the shuttle. But as the shuttle drifted away, something was still scratching at the outside of the airlock.

3.
Somehow, I seemed to have far more karma on Reddit than I remembered. I had definitely blacked out last night; had I posted something? It wasn’t until the /r/gonewild comments started that I realized what I’d done.

Author’s note: /r/gonewild is a place where people post naked pictures of themselves.

4.
Ironically, I’d been reading about aneurysms when the nosebleed started. “How annoying,” I thought to myself as I reached for a tissue. But now the box is empty, and the blood isn’t stopping.

5.
I stared down at my daughter.  She looked just how I remembered her, wearing the same pale pink dress the mortician had picked out.  “Daddy?” she whispered out of the darkness.

6.
I stared around at the people as they passed, spinning in circles on the crowded sidewalk.  No one else but me could see the demons, writhing beneath their skin.  I would have to burn them out.

7.
The man grinned as he closed in on her in the alley, a vicious and sadistic grin. She could feel her limbs already getting heavy; there must have been something in that last drink. “Now,” the man leered as he pulled a knife from his pocket, “I think it’s time to have some fun.

The Darkness in the Killer

Ambiance.

None of the other cops made eye contact with me as I stepped into the alley.  They had parked the patrol car across the entrance; none of the lights and sirens were on, but it still ensured that we wouldn’t be deserved.  The sergeant, standing nearest to the narrow alley, gave me a brief nod.  I returned it as I passed.
The man was inside.  He was down on his knees.  And he was grinning.
The alley was a dead end.  It only went maybe twenty feet in before it ended at a brick wall, at least ten feet high.  Dead end.  For one of us, at least.
I kept my face blank as I strolled in.  It took an effort.  He was on his knees on the ground, like I said, his hands behind his back.  I knew that he was wearing cuffs; otherwise, the other cops wouldn’ta let him out of their sight.
He kept on grinning, smiling cheekily up at me as I came to a stop a couple feet away.  “Officer, I don’t see what all the fuss is about,” he said, his tone jovial.
His teeth were perfect.  The voice in my head wanted me to rearrange them with my boot.  “We caught you this time,” I said.  My hands dipped into the pocket of my coat, reaching for my smokes.  I’d quit the habit a few weeks ago.  Hell, I’d quit the habit a lot of times.  It always came creeping back.
“Caught in the act,” I went on, pulling out one of the crumpled white tubes.  “Real stroke of luck, it was for us.  Otherwise, you would’ve slipped away, clean as always.  But you’ve pushed too hard.  What’s this been, now, four women?  Five?”
He blinked a couple times, but that damn grin never wavered.  “I really don’t know what you’re accusing me of,” the man said.  “But hey, you’ve got the cuffs on me, and I’m not going to resist.  Haul me downtown, let me make my call, and I’m sure this can all be sorted out.”
I didn’t say anything, just stared down at him as my cigarette caught the flame, puffing into life.  And then I pulled back my foot.
He wasn’t ready for the kick, and I caught him right in the soft part of the stomach.  He doubled over, falling forward.  Now he was on the ground like the others.  Almost like a slide show, their images flickered across my mind.
Five women, all dead.  Four in the last week.  I’d had to show up to every crime scene.  All in alleys, just like this.  All of them with their throats cut.  Eventually. 
“They suffered,” the coroner told me,each time I went down to visit him.  “Extensive knife work.  This guy’s good, and he’s a bastard.  He knows how to make them suffer.”  The man went on, pointing at details, but I blocked it all out.
Each time, each scene, I’d stood by, kept my face blank, and said as little as I could.  And inside me, voices howled, screaming that I would find this guy.  He was gonna burn.

All of them had been splayed out on the ground, just like this man was now.  But none of them had grinned.
After a few coughs, he managed to get himself under control, to straighten back up to his knees.  He tried grinning up at me, but I drew back my foot again.  That grin vanished instantly, as if it had never been there at all.  
“Okay, let’s drop this,” he hissed at me.  “I know you.  ‘The cop on the take.’  Everyone knows you’re dirty.  Is that why they sent you to come get me?  The Mob upset about how I treat their fair jewel of a city?  Too bad you got me on official police business, and now this all has to play out.”
I knelt down beside him, staring into his face as I puffed at my cigarette.  The darkness inside my head screamed at me, itching to wrap their shapeless, formless fingers around his scrawny little neck.  I said nothing, and he grinned at me, a savage flash of teeth.
“Here,” I said.  “Let me help you up.”
Those images were still flickering through my mind as I walked behind him, reaching down.  I’d slip my hands under his armpits, help him up, and he’d go off to lockup.  He’d face jail, a trial, a cell.  All those women faced was his grin as he carved at them with his knife.  Five faces.  They would have been beautiful, before.  They weren’t any longer.
The sergeant, outside the alley.  He was a good cop.  He still had a soul, hadn’t lost it like me.  But I wondered how long that would last.  When he had been where I’d been, seen what I’d seen, would he still be able to resist that darkness inside his head?  
The man in front of me.  He had given into the darkness, given himself over to it.  But me and the darkness, see, we had an understanding.  A bargain, you might call it.  Late at night, with no one around for miles, we’d talked.  I offered it a deal.  Punish the evil, I pleaded.  And the darkness eagerly accepted.  
“Come on,” the man in front of me said, impatient.  His words were mocking.  “Let’s go.  Do your duty as a cop.”  
I bent down, looped my hands beneath his armpits to lift him up.  His eyes went wide as the knife went in.  “Nah,” I replied.  “I’ll do my duty as a human being.”

The Angels – Blake and Lucifer have dinner

Blake stared at the man sitting across from him.  As if attempting to provide the right ambiance, the light bulbs in the restaurant flickered.  It was, he had to admit, very menacing.

“So you’re the devil,” he said, not sure whether he was awed or horrified.  It really was a mixture of both.  “Lucifer.”

He had to admit, the man didn’t look that intimidating.  Like most of the devils he had met, he was sprouting a small pair of horns from his forehead, but they were quite petite, barely noticeable beneath his bangs.  He had blonde hair, trimmed loosely, and he wore a white robe.  He definitely wasn’t nearly as menacing as Hastur had appeared.

Lucifer shook his head as he reached for his glass of wine.  “I still can’t get used to that name,” he remarked in a mild tone.  “I know it’s been changed from Lucern for a few million years, but it still sounds odd to me.”  He took a sip of the wine, grimaced, and then spat it back into the glass.

“You know, you don’t seem that intimidating,” Blake remarked.  He wasn’t quite sure what to say.  What in the world does one say to Satan himself?

Lucifer glanced down at himself, and then shrugged again.  He really did seem quite calm.  “I’ve basically given up on the whole thing,” he admitted.  “Sure, Hastur loves the whole ‘stomping around with spiky boots and yelling’ bit, but what does it really matter, in the end?  I’m not going to get promoted out of this bit.  There’s really no reason for me to try any more.”

As Blake processed this, trying to figure out what to say next, Lucifer raised up a hand, waving at one of the waitresses as she passed by.  “Do you think I could get a vegetable platter?” he asked politely.  The woman nodded, her eyes going wide as she took in the robe and horns, and then went scurrying off towards the kitchens with a fake “meep.”

Blake tried to reclaim control of the conversation.  “So you really don’t want to invade Heaven,” he pressed.

“Invade?”  Lucifer looked totally surprised.  “Why in the world would I want to do that?  Sure, they’ve got a better view than my current place, but I would totally be downgrading in terms of size.”  He leaned across the table, waving the wine glass at Blake in a conspiratorial manner.  “You should see the size of my pad,” he confided.  “It’s literally twice the size of Gabriel’s.  I know, I was invited over for a house-warming party once, before the whole, you know, Fall thing.  And I’ve got one of those, er, those things.”  Lucifer looked confused for a moment, gesturing with the glass.  “With the jets, and the bubbles.”

“A Jacuzzi?”

“That’s the one!  Man, you humans are really creative that way.  Jets of hot water, never would have thought of that.  Really, you owe me a favor for that meteor strike.”

This seemed like a total non sequitor, but Blake tried to stay on topic.  “So no plans to invade Heaven,” he repeated.

Lucifer took another sip of the wine, and then promptly spat it out again.  “Why do I keep on doing that?” he asked, more to himself than towards Blake.  “No, no plans of the sort.  Listen, we’re basically just a holding tank.  Souls come in, the demons play with them a bit, and then they go away.  It’s a pretty standard operation.  Works well, turns a decent profit, they keep telling me, no need for growth.”  He glanced around the restaurant, perhaps wondering where his vegetables were.

A minute later, before Blake could speak again, the waitress returned, her trembling hands bearing a plate of grilled vegetables.  Lucifer’s eyes lit up, and he immediately picked up a spear of grilled asparagus with one hand.  “Oh, this is the stuff,” he said enthusiastically as he took a bite.  “Really top-notch, you guys.”

The human sitting across the table from Lucifer felt that he could probably ask more questions, but his intuition was telling him that it was going to be a waste of time.  The leader of Hell wasn’t behind this.

Of course, he was known as the Father of Lies, but somehow, Blake couldn’t see anyone being this good of a liar.  Currently, the fallen angel was attempting to cram Brussels sprouts into his mouth with every sign of enjoyment.  That was not the move of a master manipulator.

“Listen, thank you for taking the time to have dinner with me, really,”  Blake said, rising up to his feet.  When he glanced towards the restaurant’s nearest window, he briefly caught a glimpse of Ophiel’s face – his guardian angel was sticking close, checking in on him.  “But I think I’m going to take off.”

Lucifer looked up at him, his mouth full but his eyes questioning.  “I hope I didn’t offend,” he managed to choke out through the vegetables.

“No, no,” Blake hurried to reassure him.  “I just think you’re innocent, and we need to figure out who’s planning an attack, and what it might be.  Remember, stolen astral devices and all?”

“Oh yeah,” Satan nodded.  “I didn’t realize we had mortals working on that, but yes, nose to the grindstone.  Not literally, of course.  Hastur tried that once and it was very messy.  But keep at it.  That’s a good fellow.”

Blake rolled his eyes as he headed out of the restaurant.  The more he learned about Heaven and Hell, he thought to himself, the more certain he grew that God was just playing some sort of big joke on everyone.  “How many layers of bureaucracy can you make before nothing at all gets done?” he asked himself out loud.

“Sorry, what?”  Ophiel had appeared next to him, looking worried.  “So, any leads?  Is Lucifer behind this?”

The young mortal man shook his head.  “Don’t think so,” he replied.  “We’ll have to keep looking…”

The Cutest Supervillain EVER!

Captain Stupendous came bursting in through the front doors of the lair like a wrecking ball.  Although the superhero was dressed in tight, form-fitting clothing, however, he was definitely male – and his muscles bulged as he sent the three-inch thick steel door cartwheeling across the interior chamber.

The man went rolling across the floor, popping up on his toes, ready to spring.  And it was fortunate that he did so, as the Battle-Bots standing inside the chamber immediately came to life as their sensors detected an intruder.

The two machines, one on either side of the Captain, slowly advanced as the gatling guns on their shoulders began to spin.  In under a second, hundreds of depleted uranium rounds were in the air – all flying straight towards the intruder at over a thousand feet per second.

At least, they were flying towards the superhero – until he moved.

Captain Stupendous broke into a straight sprint, dodging aside as the bullets cut through the air like angry supersonic bumblebees.  He sprinted towards the nearer Battle-Bot, ducking and weaving to keep out of the line of fire.  His strong legs rapidly closed the distance between him and the assaulting machine.

The Battle-Bot was equipped with titanium fists and electro-twitch muscles, but it still couldn’t match the Captain’s speed.  He leapt up, slamming into the robot’s chest, his fist cutting in through hardened armor like it was butter.  His hand closed around a handful of sparking wires.

“These seem important!” Captain Stupendous announced as he yanked the wires out of the robot’s chest.  And indeed they were, as the machine’s legs immediately gave way, and the construction went crashing down heavily to the floor.

One bot incapacitated, one to go.  The other Battle-Bot was now charging forward, fists raised, the entire floor of the chamber shaking from its weight as it lumbered towards its enemy.  It was still firing off bursts from its shoulder mounted cannon, shredding the corpse of its companion with rounds.

Once again, Captain Stupendous was faster – if just barely.  He dodged aside as the second Battle-Bot’s fist came down, and the robot’s attack pulverized the head of its former companion.

The Captain’s hand came sweeping around like a karate chop, slicing through the bot’s leg at the knee.  As it came crashing down, he brought his other fist around in an uppercut, and connected strongly with the monster’s jaw.

Captain Stupendous watched, pleased, as the head of the second Battle-Bot was literally torn from its shoulders and sent flying up into the ceiling.  The rest of the bot crumpled down to the ground, its gun still choking out a few more rounds into the floor before dying.

With the bots destroyed, Captain Stupendous advanced towards the interior of the chamber, where he knew the central command console stood.  “Give it up, Fang!” he called out, his booming voice echoing around the chamber.  “It’s all over – and as we speak, my companions are knocking out the last of your nerve gas missiles before your satellites can deploy them!  Just come quietly!”

As he advanced further, his super-eyes adjusting to the interior dimness, the Captain spotted a high-backed chair at the heart of the semicircular control panel.  He had never laid eyes on this supervillain before, but he knew that he had this opponent cornered.  “Turn around slowly, Fang!” he shouted.

The chair rotated around.  And the Captain’s mouth dropped open.

There, sitting in the chair, where he had expected to see some sort of masked man, sat a small puppy!  The Captain wasn’t especially familiar with dog breeds, but this one looked like one of those weiner dogs with the long bodies and stubby little legs.  There was a metal box mounted on the dog’s head, a short wire sticking up like an antenna, but other than that, the dog looked disturbing normal.

“Er, Fang?” Captain Stupendous repeated, a note of unsure confusion now entering his voice.

“Ugh, yes.”  The voice seemed to come from the dog, but the little puppy’s lips never moved.  “Great job, Captain.  You’ve caught me.  I can at least admit when I’ve been outmaneuvered.”

The Captain’s fists had been up in preparation of a final fight, but he lowered them now, instead scratching at his head.  “Um, are you…” he began, but then stopped.  How do you ask a supervillain if he’s a canine?

The puppy glanced down at itself, and then started licking its front legs, making soft slurping noises.  “Yes, Captain, I am currently in the body of a dog,” Fang replied.  “A dachshund puppy, to be exact.”

This time, the Captain realized that he wasn’t actually hearing the voice through his ears – it was speaking directly into his head.  “I don’t understand,” he confessed.

The puppy, apparently now feeling that its feet were sufficiently clean, climbed out of the chair.  The Captain had to stifle an audible “aww” as it struggled to reach the floor with its stubby feet and nearly collapsed as it fell.  It managed to finally get to the ground, however, and sat up with a happy, dopey smile on its face.

“Trust me, Captain, this is not exactly how I intended to meet you,” Fang beamed into his head.  “Let’s just say that there was an accident with a brain upload to give those Battle-Bots better intelligence, and there was a shortage of available donors.  I needed a body rapidly, and my niece had brought by this ridiculous animal, and well…”

The dachshund had waddled over to Captain Stupendous’s feet, where it had collapsed down on his boots, apparently exhausted by the effort.  Captain Stupendous lowered a fist, ready to grab at the beast in case it tried some sort of venomous bite, but the dog simply began licking at his fingers.

Inside his head, the Captain heard Fang sigh again.  Even without breath, the emotion was clear.  “Listen, this is really embarrassing,” Fang said, “but before you haul me in, do you think you could let me step out the back for a minute?  This stupid creature has a bladder the size of its brain – so, in other words, miniscule.  Otherwise, you may end up with an accident on the floor of your HyperJet.”

The Captain considered the image, and then shuddered.  Cleaning up dog wee was definitely not in his duties as a superhero.  “Yeah, go ahead,” he commented.  He turned his attention to the control panel.  He could at least make sure that the nerve gas missiles were all disabled.

“Thanks, Captain,” Fang told him as the dog padded off towards a small doggy door cut in the back of the lair, its stubby little tail flicking back and forth.  “Give me a few minutes.  This body apparently has to smell every single square inch before it’s ready to release.”

“Sure thing,” Captain Stupendous said absent-mindedly as he stepped closer to the control panel.  The dog had vanished out the back, but he was focused more on a single red button that was blinking on the panel.  There was a small display next to it.  The Captain bent forward to get a closer look.

The display was showing numbers – counting down!  And it was going very rapidly.  Captain Stupendous spun around to stare after the doggy door, but he could already hear a rumble from the far side.  The Captain’s super-hearing told him that the rumble sounded suspiciously like the rocket engine of an escape pod.

With a curse, the muscled man sprinted for the exit.  Behind him, a mushroom of red and orange began to blossom up as the numbers hit zero…

On building an airship

I have recently decided that I want an airship.

If you have seen Up, you know what I’m talking about.  The idea of a powered lighter-than-air transport device allowing for leisurely exploration, equipped with a full cabin and living quarters is incredibly freeing.  To be able to roam the Earth above the clouds, descending wherever you choose to land, reaching places untouched by any other vehicle… the idea sounds incredible.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty much still only in the realm of fantasy – or perhaps possible for a crazed billionaire like Sir Richard Branson.

The single biggest issue with an airship is the most obvious – getting it off the ground.  Currently there are two options, neither of which is especially appealing:

1. Hot air.  This is how hot air balloons work.  It’s cheap, which is great.  On the downside, hot air (at least, in balloons) lifts about 0.3 ounces per cubic foot.  That’s not a lot.  Just to lift me would take 6,500 cubic feet of hot air.  Add in the carriage, heater, propulsion source, and, not insignificantly, the actual containment bag, and we’re talking about an incredibly massive apparatus.  I’d like for my airship to be smaller than the city I park it over.

2. Helium.  Currently, this is how airships like the Goodyear blimp get off the ground.  And it has much more lifting power than hot air, at nearly an ounce per cubic foot.  So you only need 1/3 the bag size as using hot air.  But the caveat with helium is price: about $0.60 per cubic foot.  Now, that’s not too bad for birthday balloons.  But for two 150-lb people and a 200-lb structure, we’re talking nearly $3 grand in helium costs.  And that isn’t a one-time purchase; helium dissipates, and the dirigible must be refilled every now and then.

There is one more option that isn’t on here: hydrogen.  Hydrogen provides about 7% more lift than helium, but it is also very, very explosive.  Hindenburg ring any bells?  In addition, hydrogen airships are illegal in many countries, simply due to the ever-present risk of danger.  There’s also a wide range of concentrations where hydrogen is still very flammable, which means even mixing it with air doesn’t do the trick of preventing your airship from disappearing in a very loud “bang.”

So for lift, I’m currently going with helium, but it’s not a great solution.  But let’s put a pin in that for now and turn to the other side of the coin: weight.

Humans are fairly dense.  Food is heavy.  Fuel is heavy.  And engines are heavy.  All of these things need to somehow get up in the air, which means a lot of lift.  Fortunately, in this area there are a few useful innovations that could be beneficial.

#1: Aerogel.  This substance is basically a gel, but instead of containing liquid between the matrix of solid molecules, it contains air.  Very expensive to make (currently more expensive per volume than gold), but it is also incredibly light.  And unlike “gel” suggests, it’s quite solid and durable.  Building many of the airship structural parts out of aerogel, especially internal struts and supports, could help drastically reduce the weight.

#2: Stirling engines.  These are engines that run based on a temperature differential.  For example, they can run when placed on a hot surface in a cooler environment.  And given the fact that hot air is providing lift on its own, using that heat for propulsion would be a great idea as well.  Perhaps most important with a Stirling engine is that, because its “fuel” is the temperature differential, there’s no need to carry around heavy, flammable liquids like gasoline.

One option that uses Stirling engines is to have a black airship; in the day, the sun would heat up the interior of the structure, creating a temperature gradient to power the Stirling engines.  Of course, this would be fairly ineffective on cold days or at night, but it would help lessen other fuel demands.

#3: Carbon fiber.  Carbon fiber seems to be everywhere now (I can buy a carbon fiber wallet and clipboard online now, if I had any inclination to do so), but it is a very useful material.  Incredibly strong and quite light, this would be ideal for the structure of the airship and cabin.  Synthesizing it is expensive, of course, but costs are constantly dropping, further aided by the use of 3D printers.  A question to consider: could a Stirling engine be build mainly of carbon fiber parts?

Unfortunately, lightening the load only goes so far.  Even if the structure was weightless, there’s still the weight of people, cargo, food, and so on.  We’re still talking about a couple thousand cubic feet of substance for lift.  So until a better method of achieving lift is discovered, this will be a frustrating concept.

Still, the end result is incredibly appealing.  What a retirement that would be…