"We are NOT taking the wizard."

“Ugh,” Clara groaned, her eyes almost as sharp as the dagger currently twirling through her hands.  “I can’t believe we’re bringing this guy.”

Maria glared at the female rogue, although she could sympathize a bit with the complaint.  Clara was tough to get along with, her personality almost as pointy as the dozen or so blades secreted about her person.  But even for Maria, the man was quickly wearing thin.

“We need a wizard,” she brought up, for what felt like the millionth time.  Her white cleric’s staff was shifting a little as it leaned against the tree beside her, so she brought it down to prod at the fire.  “And he’s the only one in town.  We’re lucky to have him.”  The words even rang true to her.

But what else could they do?  It was true – they needed a wizard.  The eight-legged corpse that the damn man was currently squatting upon was proof of that…

Maria shivered at the thought of their most recent encounter.  A Sepulchral Assassin!  She thought that they were little more than legends, the last few of them surely confined to their broodhives!  But this one had come crawling out of the darkness, head reared, claws flashing, its eight legs flying over the ground.  Charging at them out of the darkness.

Maria’s healing spells were useless against the Assassin.  Three of Clara’s knives sank hilt-deep into the monster’s carapace without visible impact.  The beast was almost upon them, rearing to strike-

-and then it was engulfed in wizard’s flame.

The Assassin had collapsed a moment later, keening noises coming from the burning heap as its sealed shell burst open under the onslaught of heat.  The wizard had saved their lives.

But still, Maria thought to herself as she looked at the man, there was something not quite… right… about him.

Perhaps it was his hat, pointy and foppish and leaning off to one side like a fool’s cap.  Or maybe it was his lumpy and doughy physique – he clearly relied more on his mystical arts than on his physical prowess.  He had become winded after less than an hour of hiking, and Maria feared for the rest of their journey.

But the aspect of the wizard probably putting her most on edge was his drink.

The man had summoned it up as soon as they made camp.  “Need it, ‘s for my powers,” he had mumbled to the pair of women as he hastily gulped it down.  “Full uh’ magic bits ‘n stuff.”

Maria felt zero inclination to try any of the drink.  It was as thick as paste, contained strange lumps, and it glowed.  Not a good combination in a drink.  But the wizard seemed to enjoy it, squatting atop the burnt carcass of his kill.

Trying to think of more ways to reassure her companion, Maria opened her mouth, but her words were cut off by a horking noise.  Slowly, as if fearing what they would find, both of the women turned to their companion.

The wizard’s cheeks were bulging and his face was flushed.  With a mixture of annoyance and pity, Maria watched as he coughed up a large chunk of his glowing drink, spitting it back down into his cup.  “Drank too fast, ‘uh guess,” he managed to get out between wheezes.

Maria could see Clara rolling her eyes beneath her hood.  “He is not sleeping in our tent tonight,” she muttered.

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The Regression Chambers

I stared up at the board, looking at the different times available.  How long did I want to enter the chamber for?  An hour?  A day?  Maybe even longer?

The robot attendant, a faceless white automaton, was somehow still watching me.  I could feel its gaze on me, that kind of implacable patience that can only be fueled by silicon circuits.  I ignored it.  I was used to being watched by robots.  They were only there to serve, after all.

I knew that some people went in longer.  My friend Lev had once entered the chamber for an entire week.  When he had staggered out, limping and bloody, he insisted deliriously that it was the best experience of his life.  But he also had to get immediate attention from the med-bots, fixing up his injuries before he bled out.

Lev was hardcore, there was no doubt about it.  I knew that, deep down, I aspired to be like him, but there was no way that I could manage to survive an entire week.

I stepped up to the counter, finally making up my mind as much as I knew I ever would.  The robot had its face on me.  “Have you made up your mind, sir?”  it asked.

All of the robots had a slight but unmistakable British accent.  No one really knew why; Lev insisted that it was the quirk of a long-dead programmer.  It was a quirk that we were prepared to live with.  No one was able to fix it. No one made things any more.

Lev insisted that this was the problem.  I didn’t know.  I didn’t think that I was ready to make any decisions like that.

“I have,” I replied to the attendant.  “One day, please.”

The robot didn’t respond, but there was a slight clicking from behind it, as the electronic circuits in the chamber rerouted themselves to the new pattern.  A few second later, the heavy, pressure-sealed door beside the attendant slowly opened with a hiss of released piston steam.

I took a deep breath.  The location and the time was always randomized; there was no way to tell where I would pop up.  I quickly ran through my preparations, my skills that I had mastered, hoping that they would be enough.

Lev’s lessons once again rang in my head.  We realized too late that we were stagnating, he insisted.  He loved to give these sermons, stomping around and waving his arms.  We didn’t know that, by giving ourselves everything that we wanted, we were stopping our forward momentum!

I wasn’t quite sure what this meant, but Lev was really insistent on this part.  We had lost our innovation, he claimed.  We were content, and so here we stopped.

And this, he went on, was why our ancestors had built the chambers.  It was a way to escape, to get to a time and place where we were no longer protected, no longer cushioned by attendants to provide whatever we needed.  It was a chance to return to the fire, the crucible in which we had been forged.  I didn’t know what this meant, but Lev loved to repeat it.

I could almost hear his voice now, as I stepped up to the huge, heavy door of the chamber.  “Return to the crucible,” he would say, his aged voice cracking slightly.  I was returning now, as I had done so many times.

My heart in my throat, I stepped through the door.  There was a hiss immediately behind me as it closed.  No retreating.

I stared around at my new surroundings.  I was on a beach, I saw.  There was no sign of man.  The surf was gently lapping at the sand, and I could see palm trees nearby.  The air smelled of fresh salt.

I grinned.  This, I could deal with.

Remember, I thought to myself as I picked up a stick and began sharpening it on a rock.  No safety net here.  No med-bots.  No one to help if I got into trouble.

This made me feel alive in a way that I’d never felt before.  And I couldn’t get enough.

"We are just simple farmers."

Of course, we didn’t put up much resistance as the raiders came rolling into our little town.  They didn’t even need to fire off a shot, although they did so anyways.  One of those idiots was leaning out the side of their stripped-down Jeep, firing an AK-47 up into the air like he was Rambo or something.

What an idiot.

We, of course, instantly had our hands up.  What are we going to do, fight back?  We’re farmers, not mercenaries!  And it might be the Wild West out here, society collapsed and every man for himself, but we have a healthy respect for many things still.

For example, none of us is much inclined to replace our internal organs with chunks of hot lead…

They had two cars – the Jeep, as I mentioned, and what looked like the world’s most battered SUV.  The thing was missing its roof, for god’s sake!  Four or five raiders in each car, all of them armed to the teeth.  I suspected most of it was for intimidation – ammo’s as precious as gold out here – but it did the job.

They came pulling to a stop in the dusty little town square, right in front of our big communal town hall.  ‘Course, it’s also a schoolhouse, church, and meeting room, seeing as how it takes a lot of work to put up a building when it’s all done by hand.  The gasoline’s long gone, or being hoarded for plowing equipment.

I came strolling out of the hall as soon as I heard the gunshots.  “Howdy there, folks,” I greeted them politely as they all came piling out of their dirty cars, doing my best to ignore the guns.  “What can we do for you here?”

The leader was pretty clear – he had a red bandana and a pair of those old Aviators sunglasses covering up his face.  “What the hell does it look like, old timer?” he shot back at me, his voice filled with barely controlled rage.  “This is a damn raid!”

“A raid?”  I raised my eyebrows, tried my best to look surprised.  “Friend, I’m afraid that we’re nothing but simple farmers, doing our best to survive.  You won’t find much of value in our little town, although we’d be happy to provide you and your friends with a hot meal.”

The man jabbed his rifle at me.  “Watch it, old man!  You might have white hair, and get respect around here, but I won’t hesitate to shoot you.”

I shrugged, but kept the slight smile on my face.  I knew that my words carried the ring of truth, and as I waited, I think it began to sink in to the leader of the raiders as well.

After a long, uncomfortable minute, the man jerked his head at a couple of his associates, also toting their own big guns.  “Go poke around,” he ordered.  “See if you can find anything worth grabbing.”

The men looked a little angry that they had to do this menial labor, and I saw one of them open his mouth to complain, but the leader raised his gun threateningly.  The other fellow hastily closed his mouth and they went trooping off.

I placidly watch them disappear into the fields around the little gaggle of buildings.

With his men dispatched, the leader turned back to me.  “Now, why don’t you take me inside this building of yours,” he said, his tone making it clear that this wasn’t a request.  “And no sudden movements, or I’ll cut your spine in half.”

I shrugged, not rising to this threat.  “Follow me, son,” I said gently, and headed back into the town hall.

We pushed through the doors, moving towards my study.  The man was still hefting his gun when I glanced back at him, despite my disarming smile.

Inside my study, he poked around, sidling up to the large plant in the corner.  “You farmers sure like your plants, huh?” he asked, prodding it with his gun.

I winced.  “I wouldn’t agitate it, if I were you,” I warned him, but the man was having none of it.

“Agitate?  Screw this damn thing!” he bellowed, lashing out with one foot at the base of the large plant.

The foot didn’t come back.  With lightning speed, the tendrils of the plant lunged out, wrapping around his ankle.  The sudden jerk threw the raider off balance, and he went tumbling down to the floor, the gun knocked from his hands by the hit.

I slowly strolled over and used my foot to push it further away from his grip, just in case.  The plant had already managed to advance up the man’s legs to his thighs.  He stared up at me from the floor.

“Please, old man,” he begged, confused and disoriented.  “Please, it hurts!”

I turned away.  The plants injected a mixture of paralytics and hallucinogens that kept their victims from fighting back, but it still wasn’t too pleasant to see.  Instead, I bent and picked up the fallen gun, and then strolled back outside.

Out in the circle, the other farmers were already emerging from their fields, carrying the rifles of the other raiders.  They looked at me, and I just shrugged.  “We’ll put them in the back with the others we’ve collected over the years,” I said.

“And the vehicles?” asked another farmer.

“Drain them of the gas, and then we’ll burn them outside of town.  No point in keeping them, they’re useless to us.”

The men just nodded and turned away, no one hurrying much.  We weren’t in any big rush.  There was never any danger.

We were just simple farmers, tending to our crops.  But in exchange for us nourishing them, they watched out for us in turn.  It was the great circle of life.

Events In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

Sure, I’ll admit it.  The car is a gift to myself.  It’s not a necessary component of my daily life.  No, it’s a moving declaration of my mid-life crisis.

And hey, I deserve a mid-life crisis!  Come with me.  As I roll down the streets of my memory, let’s examine all the places that I’ve royally botched things up.

Ah, here’s college.  The good ol’ alma mater, where I spent every night partying.  Which, as it turns out, probably wasn’t the best idea.  My grades were all right, sure, but I still lagged behind my classmates, and not just from the resulting hangover.  They went off and got jobs at fancy law firms.  I ended up back home, pulling double shifts to afford my crappy apartment.  Hah.  More like compartment, if you managed to squeeze inside.

Of course, then I met Jill.  Love of my life, from the moment I laid eyes on her.  If I hadn’t been back at my home town, back working at the front counter of that little shop, I never would have met her when she came strolling in.

I can see that some of you in the audience are perking up.  “Maybe this is a love story,” you say.

“Maybe this will all turn out smiles and happiness in the end,” you whisper to each other.

“Perhaps he’s just showing us how far he fell so that we can see how high he rose,” you exclaim hopefully.

Sorry, folks, no such luck.  We’re still dropping.

Of course, it wasn’t all descent for a while.  Somehow, my bone-brained humor was enough to make Jill laugh.  And what a laugh, man!  Some girls do that little tinkle, a fake little giggle that makes you wonder whether you’re actually dating someone old enough to be legal.

Jill didn’t laugh like that.  When Jill laughed, it came bursting up out of her, rising like a bubble to overwhelm her in a tidal wave.  You couldn’t help but be swept along with her.  Some people write about a contagious laugh.  Jill actually possessed one.

So there I was, somehow making this angel laugh along with my dumb jokes.  I don’t know how I overcame my natural shyness, how I managed to do it, but I asked her out.  And she said yes.

Stop awwing in the audience!  I can hear you, you know.  And it’s not gonna end well.  Just want to make that clear up front.  We’re about to switch over to straight tragedy.

Things went well at first.  Really well.  We connected like, well, like a love story.  We were totally in tune, in sync.  She brought out the best in me, encouraged me to apply for a promotion.  And I got it!  I remember coming home with a huge double handful of flowers, flowers I could actually afford to buy for her, and telling her it was all because of her encouragement.  And she laughed, and swept up the flowers in her arms, and I told her she was beautiful, and we fell together on the couch.

And things were great.  I remember they were great.  In fact, they were great for a long time – right up until they weren’t.

I still don’t know what triggered it.  Nothing seemed to change, there was nothing different.  And maybe that’s the trouble, right there.  Maybe the stagnation was building up, and this was when it finally chose to blow, with no warnings to signal what was about to hit me.

I came home, just like any other day.  Unlocked the door, already shrugging out of my coat, and set my briefcase down inside the front hall.

But my briefcase bumped up against a suitcase that was already there.

That was when I looked up and saw her.  She had her coat on.  There were tears in her eyes.  She didn’t want to leave, didn’t want to go.  But she went.

I told you folks that it was a tragedy, didn’t I?

Sure, she said things to me, things I barely heard.  How she was comfortable with me, maybe too comfortable, how that scared her.  How she was worried she had lost that sensation of new, of being in giddy, head-over-heels love, how she needed to go out and find herself.  How it wasn’t my fault, how I shouldn’t blame myself for this, how she just needed some time alone, she didn’t know how long.

She said a lot.  I really didn’t hear most of it.

That kind of brings us up to now, doesn’t it?  Sure, I’m skipping over a lot of crying and moping and eating crappy food and feeling sorry for myself in my boxers on the couch, but I know you don’t want to hear about that.  And finally, after the millionth luxury car commercial, I went out and bought one for myself, a vain attempt to cheer myself up out of this depression.

Of course, even with the promotion, I couldn’t just stroll into the auto dealership.  So I went to one of those used places instead.  Found a nice ride, arranged to have it checked out, then delivered right to my door.  Nice service.

And the car’s still pretty new, see?  Still got the sticker on the rear view mirror.  Says “Events in mirror are closer than they appear.”

What?  Huh, that’s odd.  Isn’t it supposed to say something else?

Anyway, the seat feels nice.  Leather, hardly scratched.  Turn the key, the engine rumbles right to life.  Sounds good.  The thing’s gonna chew through gas, but oh well.  Maybe Jill was right.  Maybe I’m also doing my thing to search for that spark.

Okay, let’s see.  Hmm, mirror’s off.  Let’s just adjust that-

That’s really weird.

Hold on.  Look at that, in the mirror.  You can see my hand, right?  See the wrinkles on the fingers, how the skin’s a little bunched up around the wedding band.  Gold’s a little scratched, but it still looks nice.

Except I’m not wearing a wedding band.

Never did.

I was thinking about it, you know.  Thinking about proposing to her.  That had been my approach to spicing things up, to getting that spark back.  I thought she was just a little down because I hadn’t proposed yet.  Maybe if I had beaten her to the punch, she wouldn’t have left.

But she did leave.  I never got a chance to show her the ring in my pocket.

But now, in the mirror… there, see?  It’s still there, in the reflection.  Not a trick of the eye at all – there’s a wedding band wrapped around my ring finger there.

“Events in mirror are closer than they appear,” huh?  Well.  I’ve never been much of one for flights of fancy, wild imaginations, any of that.  But this seems promising.

Let’s take this baby out for a spin.

Cinderella, Ever After

I had just settled down on the couch, a copy of my favorite pulp novel on my lap, when I heard Charming come in.  I rolled my eyes, putting the novel aside.  No reading for me, it seemed.

How could I not hear the man come in?  He insisted on riding that damn white stallion everywhere, and its hooves always left dirty tracks over the marble floors of our palace.  Sure, we now had servants for mopping all of that mess up, but I still felt bad for them.

A second later, the Prince himself came sweeping into our room, his sword rattling in his scabbard, his boots clicking across the floor, and his hair probably perfectly in place.

You know, I suggested some carpets?  “They might brighten up this place, make it warmer,” I had said.  I hadn’t added that they’d also muffle the Prince’s imperious striding everywhere.  He wore spurs on those boots, you know that?  Click, click, click.  Drove me nuts.

A second later, arms swept around me, and I felt the man kiss at my neck.  Okay, he wasn’t all bad.  He had some good points.  That made me feel even more guilty.

After giving me a little kiss on my neck, Charming straightened back up.  “Hello, my dearest!” he boomed out.  “What are your plans for the day?”

I held up the novel that had been sitting on my lap.  “Well, I’d been thinking about relaxing, making some progress on this latest book,” I said.  “You know, take it easy?”

“Take it easy?”  I saw the Prince’s brow furrow.  “But darling, the Royal Gardens need tending!  And the ponies in the Royal Stables could really use a trot around, maybe a combing of their manes?  And of course, the tailors would love to model their next series of dresses on your designs, if you want to go explain your process to them?”

Ugh!  So much to do.  You know, I thought that when I was whisked away, off into the lap of luxury, that I’d be done with all these obligations.  But now I felt like I was right back at home.  ‘Scrub the floors, Cinderella!’  ‘Design more dresses, Cinderella!’ ‘Clean the chimney, Cinderella!’ ‘Weed the gardens, Cinderella!’  ‘Cook our food, Cinderella!’ ‘Frost these cakes, Cinderella!’  It never stopped!

I stood up, spinning around to glare at Charming.  I could feel the words on the tip of my tongue, about to come spilling out.  “You know what, Prince?  This wasn’t what I wished for!  I didn’t wish for you!  I just wanted a night when I wouldn’t have to work any more!”

The words were right there.  But I knew the damage they would cause.  And this man wasn’t to blame.  It was true, my life was much better than it had been before.  I ought to acknowledge that.

So instead, I plastered a smile across my face.  “All good suggestions, dear,” I told the tall and strong man instead.  “I will consider them all and decide on the best.”

The man’s broad face spread into a happy smile.  “Wonderful, my princess!” he called out, as he swept away, probably off to go hunt with dogs or with hawks or do some other princely thing.

After he had vanished, I sighed, lowering down my book.  I wasn’t going to get to read today.

When I had made that wish to my fairy godmother, I had asked for her to “take me away from all of this.”  Sure, she’d done it – in astounding style, hooking me up with the kingdom’s prince.

But really, I would have settled for just a night off where I could laze around and do absolutely nothing…

The Urban Escape, Part IV

This story is a continuation. Start here.

The doors open once again.  My worst fears are realized.

Donaldson.

The boss.

My boss.

I’m pulling hooky and my boss is in the elevator with me.

Shrink back.  Hold briefcase.  Don’t make eye contact.  I’m just grabbing an early lunch.  Not feeling great, hoping some OJ will be enough of a pick-me-up.  Don’t want to infect the office.  My shield feels flimsy.  I don’t know if it will be enough.

The boss is in.  Doors close.  Tick, tick, we drop through the floor.

Three floors down, and he clears his throat.  “Barry.”  It’s not a question.  My gut’s in knots.

“Headed out early?”  This is a question.  No, it’s an interrogation.  I lift my eyes, and he’s locked on like a laser sight.

“Just an early lunch, sir.”  That quiver in my voice is good.  Shows I’m being truthful.  I just wish it was on purpose.  “Not feeling so great, hoping that some fruit might help prevent any sort of flu, nip it in the bud.”

Narrowed eyes.  Is he buying it?  I can’t tell.  “Flu.”  He wants an explanation.

I scramble to give it to him.  “Had a couple late nights, sir.  Might be coming down with something.  Don’t want to affect office productivity, though.  If it’s bad, I’ll push through and work from home.”  There.  Good work ethic.  Promote that man.  Or at least let him out of the building.

“True,” he nods after a minute, and I have to fight to hold in my sigh of relief.  “Want to keep the herd safe.”

He leans in.  I try not to lean back.  “By the way, on the topic,” he adds, his voice dropping.  “Have you heard about this ebola thing?  Just caught a whisper of it.  Bringing doctors back here, I heard.”

“Sounds quite nasty, yes sir.”

“I might duck out a bit early, stock up on supplies.  Caught a whisper that there might be shortages, maybe even riots.  Don’t want to deal with that.  Working from home’s a good idea, Barry.”  A nod, a nudge from an elbow.  “Good man.”

We’re slowing down.  The doors open.  Sweet, sweet freedom awaits.

Let Donaldson out first, though.  Watch him stride across the lobby in his suit.  Keep the downcast expression.  Keep on thinking about being sick.  Gotta play this right.

…and he’s gone.  Step through those big doors.

Breathe in fresh air.  Arch back.

Freedom!

The Urban Escape, Part III

This story is a continuation. Start here.

“You must have heard the news.  I can’t believe they’re doing it now.  Those poor people, and with the holiday right around the corner.”

I don’t want to look.  But I feel myself caught.  The gravisocial field is too strong, and I don’t have enough managerial thrust to escape.  I turn, sigh, and nod.

“Hi, Bertha.  What are you talking about?”

She’s still in her chair, but I can feel that tugging field rolling out like waves from her.  She doesn’t stand much, but she doesn’t need to.  She’s like a small mountain, pumping out ever-present clouds of sadness.  Whenever someone has a balloon of happiness, she’s always ready with a pin.

“Marketing,” Bertha repeats, as if I should know.  “They haven’t hit their targets.  Half the division’s being laid off.”

Didn’t know.  Don’t care.  Need to get away.  “Well, I’m sure that they’ll be hired back soon enough,” I say, putting on a fake smile.  “Besides, they make a ton.  They’ll be fine.”

“It’s a bad sign,” the cloud of sadness insists.  “Means more layoffs are coming soon.  Might hit our department.  Someone will be going.  And probably someone new, or someone close to retiring.”

My teeth hurt.  I keep them clenched.  “I’m sure we’ll be fine,” I say.  But it’s not enough.  I can’t fight sadness with optimism.  Gotta try a different tack.

I flick through my options.  Ebola?  No, blew that already.  Other sad things?  I’ll just be caught forever.  Happiness isn’t enough.  I’ve got one more card left.

Time to play for shock value.

“Actually, Bertha, there’s a video I’ve been meaning to show you,” I say, trying to lean around her to reach her keyboard.  I don’t think I can make it around.  There’s too much ’round’ to make.

Instead, I wave at her keyboard, and finally, she passes it over.  She’s a little confused, but with me for the moment.

Pull up YouTube.  “Sail Cat.”  Awolnation.  This might be my ticket out.  Bertha’s over the hill, she doesn’t watch viral videos.  Not even the old ones.  I’ve had this bullet ready in the chamber for a while.

Play.  Video’s going.  “Aww, stray cat?” Bertha rumbles, but she’s still watching.

Music’s building.  Here it comes.  “SAIL!”  Off goes cat.  Gasp goes Bertha.

“Oh my gawd!  I can’t believe it!  How do I watch it again?”

“Just click right here.  No, here.  No, this button.  Look, just let me.”  Video’s playing again.  Bertha has all her attention on the screen.  The field lessens.  This is my chance.

Sprint away.  From behind me:  “SAIL!”  “Again, again!”  I’ll have to find some more cat videos for next time.

The elevators are ahead of me.  Jam the button.  C’mon, c’mon.  Ding.  Yes!  Through the line, into the room, and I’m free!  The doors are closing!  The doors are closing!

The doors are… caught on a hand in them.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

The Urban Escape, Part II

This is a continuation. Story starts here.

The man is already striding towards me, one hand up and waving back and forth, as if there’s any chance I would miss him.  “Barry!  Yoohoo!  Hey, what’s happening, mister early lunch?”

I feel my hands tense, clenching.  No.  Stay calm.  I can handle Gossip Gary.

“Oh, just feeling a little under the weather,” I reply quickly, stepping forward to cut the distance between us.  The man’s still loud, but maybe this will bring him from deafening down to just piercing.  “Think I might work from home this afternoon.”

“Under the weather?  I don’t see any rain clouds over ya!”  This is accompanied with a braying guffaw.  I want to knock his throat in.  No, stay calm, keep it cool.  Think sick thoughts.

Shrug.  “Well, you know there’s a bug going around,” I say.  I need to throw this dog off my scent.  A thought occurs, a possible way out.  “I mean, you heard about the ebola, didn’t you?”

“Oh, sure, I heard all about it!  What exactly are you talking about?”  He has no idea.  He can’t admit ignorance, however.  He’s hooked.

Lower my voice.  Look conspiratorial.  Play this right.  “It’s all over Africa, you know,” I let on.  “Spreading around.  Even the doctors are sick – and they’re coming back here!  Bringing it with them!  There might be an epidemic here, but all the news outlets want to keep it quiet!”

Oh, there’s the light in his eyes.  “But don’t tell anyone about it,” I go on.  Hook is set; time to reel in.  “We don’t want a panic, right?  People rushing the stores, riots, all of that.”  Tap nose.  Too much?  Nah, just enough.  “Know what I mean?”

The man is nodding – too fast.  He is caught, snared in my net.  Hook?  Net?  Whatever, I don’t fish.  He’s already itching to dash off and spread the news.  “Remember, keep it quiet, Gary,” I add, and then move past him.

I don’t think he even notices me leaving.

One down, and the exit’s ahead.  Go, go, go!  I put on a burst of speed.  One turn.  Two turns.  Just one more…

“Oh, Barry.  It’s terrible, isn’t it?”

Oh no…

To be continued!

The Urban Escape, Part I

Author’s note: Consider this a replacement for Monday’s lack of a post.  More to come tomorrow!

Ugh.  I can’t stand this any more.  I have just got to get out of here.

Sure, it was nice when I first took the job.  Decent pay, a cushy office chair, a cubicle of my own to decorate with pictures of all those places I hope to someday be able to afford to go, and a computer with unfettered internet access.  What could be better?

Fast forward a couple of months, now, and that’s all gone sour.  The pay never lasts as long as I want, my chair makes a super annoying squeaking sound, my cubicle feels more like a prison cell, and my computer faces the entrance.  I go on a site not related to the company, and anyone who walks by my office can see it.

And oh, those people.  My god.

You know what?  I’m taking a half day.  I’ve decided, just now.  Feel that chill in the air?  No?  Maybe it’s just me.  My throat is just really scratchy today.  Ugh, I just feel like I need to cough, but I don’t, you know what I mean?

Yep, definitely getting out of here early.

Computer’s shut down.  Files in briefcase, so I can claim to be “getting work done from home while recovering.”  Hah, like that’s gonna happen.  Coat.  Keys.  Make sure little African Violet plant has enough water.  Check.

Now, for the escape…

Peek out the cubicle.  Left.  Right.  Okay, coast is clear.  Time to move. Remember, keep low.  The walls are low enough so that I’ll be spotted if I straighten up.  Keep my back bent, head down like a good drone, and I’m invisible.  Coming up on the corner.  Turn left-

“Oh, Barry!  Where you headed?  Getting lunch already – it’s a bit early, isn’t it?  Are you meeting someone?  Who is it?”

Crap.

To be continued…

No post today – MOVING

I am currently moving homes, and am thus unable to have a post up in time today.  So sorry, loyal readers!

I may have a post completed by later today, and there will be a new little story up on Wednesday as usual.