Not Happily Ever After

I remember her first making the comment as we lay together, exhausted, in the afterglow of our third date.  I’d propped myself up on one elbow, turning to look over at where she lay on the dew-dampened grass.

“You know,” I commented, “I think that this was the best date I’ve ever had.”

She turned her head a little, smiling back at me.  Even in the dim moonlight, I caught the little hint of violet in her sparkling eyes.  “I knew it would be,” she murmured back to me.

Her fingers reached out, lazily, their tips dragging across my bare chest.  “Might as well just write the ‘happy ever after’ ending now, huh?” I said, keeping my tone light.  Just a joke, I told myself.  Don’t admit how hard you’ve already fallen for this girl.

“Happily ever after?” she repeated back, her eyebrows furrowing together slightly.  “No, this isn’t happily ever after.” Continue reading

Dark Matter Cretins

The coffee cup felt reassuringly heavy in his hand.  Captain Xavier Holland turned it over in his hand for a moment, admiring its simplistic lines.

Sitting forward, he wound back – and heaved the cup as hard as he could.

A direct hit.  The cup clattered against Ensign Bran’s shoulder, making the man jerk and yelp.  “What the hell?” he burst out, spinning around to stare with injured eyes at his captain.
Continue reading

[AGttA] 2.1: Loneliness

Continued from chapter 2.0, here.
Click here to read the entire story from the beginning.

Axiom 2: Gather supplies.

Journal, it’s been close to a week now.  I know this, because I found a calendar covered in cute little pictures of kitties, and I’ve been crossing off the days on it.  Six crossed off days means that it’s been almost a week.

I’m not sure what I’ll do when I run past the end of December.  I don’t think they’re printing more calendars any longer.

Also, have I mentioned how much I hate eating beans? Continue reading

Side Effects May Include Superpowers

The CEO struggled to suppress his yawn as he listened to his Chief Financial Officer drone on.  Sure, the man was a wizard at making numbers jump through hoops – and vanish, when they weren’t exactly necessary to keep around – but good God, his presentation skills were terrible.

The CEO surreptitiously glanced down at his watch, a $45,000 Piaget for which he’d spent six months on a waiting list.  Either he paid all that money for a knockoff, or else the Financial Officer was literally making time itself slow down out of sheer boredom.

“Okay, well, it sounds like that’s going well,” he spoke up, slapping his hand on the conference table and cutting off the Financial Officer mid-sentence.  “Let’s hear from someone else, shall we?”
Continue reading

New appearance, new features!

Check it out!  Missing Brains, the blog, now has a new and updated look!

We’ve moved over to WordPress, and there will be more features hopefully coming up over the next few days to weeks.  Soon, you may see more Twitter integration, a linked Patreon page where you can support your favorite blog author, more tags, and other new advances I haven’t fully thought of yet.

The address should stay the same, although many of the links may be changed and may be broken; I’ll be working to repair those.

Stay tuned!

Through the Mirror

I glanced back behind me even as I slowed my pace.  I’d lost them – for now.  I could hear their footsteps, however, not stopping.

They’d keep on searching for me until they found me.  I needed to disappear.

The inside of the clothing shop felt strange with the lights turned off.  Mannequins loomed suddenly out of the darkness, their hands stretched out as though reaching for me.  I dodged around them, forcing my mouth shut and trying not to let any sound escape my lips.

There, in the back!  I hurried towards the doorway leading into the rear of the shop, below the sign that read CHANGING ROOMS.

As I ran past the counter, however, a corner of my jacket caught at a hook, extending out from the edge.  I felt the tug, turned to try and catch the falling item – but my fingers were too slow.

With a crash, a pile of hangers hit the floor, bouncing and scattering across the linoleum.  The sound echoed in the dark shop, and I froze, my heart beating wildly.

They must have heard it.  Distant footsteps paused, then picked up again as they changed direction.  They headed towards me.

No time to waste.  I abandoned my pretense of stealth, ran back into the changing rooms.  My eyes searched wildly in the dimness, searching for the surface-

I saw it.  A full length mirror, extending all the way to the floor.  I shoved my hand into my pocket, fumbling, searching.  I couldn’t afford to stop, to take the time to dig through my pockets and locate what I needed.

Stepping up to the mirror, I raised my hand, pushing out against the glass surface.  When I had first passed through, so many years ago, the glass had resisted, fought back, tried to push me back out.  I didn’t belong in that other world on the far side, it told me.  No human belonged there.

But I fought back, managed to slip inside.  And it grew easier with each successive trip.

Now, the glass barely resisted at all, parting like smoke.  I dove in, through the glass, closing my eyes instinctively like always.

I’d kept my eyes open – once.  The visions I saw made me determined to never make that mistake again.

My other hand still scrambled in my pocket as I stepped through the mirror, still searching.  For just an instant, I felt what I sought, but it slipped deeper into the jumble of items in my pocket.

“A long time, Mistress Delmora.”

“But no time at all, as it may be.”

They closed in on me, appearing out of the misty glass.  I knew they were there, of course, knew they’d come, but they always startled me.  Creatures of smoke, they appeared and vanished in seconds, dissolving away into the mist between the realms.

Finally, my fingers closed on the objects I sought.  “I have payment for my passage,” I quickly spat out, pulling the coins from my pocket.

The silver circles winked in the dim light as I tossed them to the creatures of shadow.  No hand moved to catch the coins, but they vanished, never hitting the ground.

I waited.  I knew the rituals.

“She has paid the price to cross,” one of the Ferrymen finally intoned, sounding almost regretful.

“We bid her safe passage, in honor of the accord,” echoed the other.

Their eyes, however, lingered on me.  “Until next time, Mistress Delmora,” whispered the first, as it melted away.  “In no time at all.”

“We will be waiting,” its partner finished, as they dissolved into mist.

For a moment longer, I stood still, gazing back through the floating glass of the mirror.  My pursuers wouldn’t be fooled forever, I knew.  They’d find their own way through, wouldn’t stop chasing me.

But I’d bought myself time.

Coat swirling around me as I pulled it tight, I turned away from the mirror, striding into the mist of the new world.

[AGttA] 2.0: Supplies

Continued from chapter 1.2, here.

Axiom 2: Gather supplies.

Well, journal, it’s two days later, and I’m feeling a little better about my situation.

Should I be calling you a journal?  What’s the difference between a journal and a diary?  Ooh, I know, I’ll look it up with my brand new DICTIONARY, right here!

Let’s see…

Okay.  A journal is “a daily record of news and events of a personal nature; a diary.”  Hmm.

Journal, maybe I’m going a little crazy from lack of human interaction, but at least my situation seems fairly good aside from that little issue.

I’m still in the Starbucks.  I’ve decided to make this my home base – it’s got comfy chairs and coffee, after all, and the roof still hasn’t collapsed down on my head.  I’m taking that as a good sign.

But while Starbucks has some very tasty sandwiches stored in the fridge in the back, that’s not going to last me too long.  So I’ve been scouting around in the area, scavenging all the supplies that I can get my hands on, and dragging them back here.

Let’s see, what have I got… Journal, I’m carrying you around with me while I make a tally of all the supplies I’ve gathered so far:

  • A wheelbarrow.  I found this at a home and garden supply store, and it’s amazingly useful for navigating around the rubble of a broken, destroyed world.  It greatly cuts down on the number of trips that I need to take in order to haul cans of beans, jugs of water, blankets, and other invaluable supplies back to my coffee shop home base.  Four out of five stars, with one star deducted for the time it tipped over and spilled cans of beans everywhere.
  • Water.  For some reason, the faucets don’t seem to work any longer.  All that comes out of them is this brown-red sludge.  This is either a portent of the Apocalypse, or it means that our water system in town is terrible.  In any case, I’ve got a couple hundred gallon jugs of water stacked up in the back room now.
  • Blankets and sheets and pillows.  Sure, the interior of my little personal fortress looks a bit like a tornado struck a Pier One Imports, but it’s comfy!
  • A hammer, nails, and extra boards.  I got a little tired of feeling exposed, so I boarded up most of the windows, as well as the back door.  I still remember that angel smashing apart that poor little devil Furby.
  • Batteries.  A lot of batteries.  All sizes.  I’ve got buckets just sitting around, filled with batteries.  Can’t have too many batteries.
  • Some reading material.  As I mentioned, I stole a dictionary from a nearby bookstore.  Well, is it stealing if no one’s around to ring me up?  I waited at the checkout area for nearly ten minutes before I remembered that this was the Apocalypse.  Besides, my credit card probably doesn’t work any longer.
  • Beans.  Did I mention food?  I’ve got more than beans, of course – I have cans of soup, vegetables, fruit, tuna, and just about any other food that can be crammed into twelve ounces of tin.  But somehow, whenever I reach into my big can bin to grab my next meal, my hand always seems to emerge holding a can of beans.
So, I’m doing all right with supplies, I guess.  It’s not enough to keep me going for the rest of my life, but it’s enough to keep me comfortable while I try not to think about how short the rest of my life might be.  
At some point, I suppose, I’ll have to start making my own food.  I’ve never actually grown anything before, except for some peas, back in elementary school.  My peas didn’t make it to adulthood, although that might have been in part due to my totally-reasonable-at-the-time decision to water it with Mello Yello soda instead of using water.  
I now know that, when growing crops, Mello Yello does not provide extra nutrients.
I’ll also have to start cultivating animals, I suppose.  Do animals generally get a pass on the Apocalypse?  I’d hate to hike all the way out to a farm somewhere, only to find out that all of the cows have been Raptured up to Heaven.  Are some cows evil, and stuck here on Earth?
Journal, these are the sorts of questions that keep me awake at night, staring out through the cracks I’ve left in my boarded-up windows.
Oh, and that reminds me.  On a more sobering note, I do have one other item to add to my inventory list:
  • Handgun.  I found it in the sporting goods store, although I had to smash open a glass case with my hammer to get it.  I had to mess around with it for a while before I figured out how it worked, and I nearly shot my own foot off when it first fired – but now I think I’ve got the hang of using it.  I have successfully put holes in the following items:
    • A large fiberglass deer in the sporting goods store
    • Several store front windows
    • A car tire
    • A medium-sized shrubbery
    • A glass bottle that I set up as a target
    • The crate that held up the glass bottle
    • A tree that had the misfortune to grow next to where I set the glass bottle
    • The ground around the glass bottle
    • A kayak
I originally kept the handgun sitting out, in case another angel came by and I decided to try and defend myself, but I didn’t like looking at the thing.  Something about it just seems sinister.  It’s as if the handgun is reminding me that, if I get depressed enough, there’s always the quick way out.
Journal, I currently don’t have any plans to shoot myself – but I might be tempted if the next can that I grab out of my pantry for dinner tonight happens to be beans.
In fact I’m feeling pretty hungry right now – writing journal entries can be exhausting!  Let’s see what’s for dinner tonight…
To be continued…

Near Disaster

“Madam President!  We need to get you into the bunker?”

The large, burly member of the Secret Service detail couldn’t help but roll his eyes when Madam Elaine Clifton, the President of the United States – and arguably the most powerful person in the world – finally appeared around the corner.  She looked somewhat out of breath already, and she clutched a large, struggling orange tomcat in her arms.

“Sorry, sorry,” President Clifton panted, trying to adjust her grip on the wriggling animal so that he couldn’t slip out of her determined grasp.  “Little Georgie-kins here just didn’t want to come out from underneath the couch!”

Another eye roll.  Kane, the Secret Service member, offered up a brief but fervent thank-you to whoever decided to include tinted sunglasses in the uniform design for the President’s guards.  Were it not for those shades blocking his eyes, he would have been fired long ago.

Hastily, he pulled himself back to the present.  “In any case, Madam President, we need to move right now to get you to safety.  We don’t know if the threat is-“

“What’s going on, then?” President Clifton demanded, cutting him off in the middle of his explanation.  Obviously, she wasn’t listening to a word he’d been saying.

Thankfully, at least, he got her moving into the elevator that would drop them down into the emergency bunker.  The big orange cat, George (Kane steadfastly refused to even think of the animal as ‘Georgie-kins’) finally managed to squirm and claw his way free, but the elevator doors had already closed, trapping the irate animal in the elevator with them.

“Your code, Madam President?” Kane prompted the woman, pushing her gently towards the control pad that granted the elevator access to the bunker.

“You haven’t answered my question about what’s going on!” Clifton shouted back, although she flipped open the little pad and began keying in her unique sequence.

Kane held back a sigh; the middle-aged woman might notice that sign of disrespect.  “There’s a threat on the White House, Madam President.  We aren’t sure if it’s fully legitimate, but we have enough reason to believe its credibility to move you to a safe location in the bunker until we can fully assess whether there’s a risk.  This shouldn’t take long; agents are running down the message behind the threat right now.”

He really hoped that the woman wouldn’t blow up at him.  President Clifton always put on a soothing, motherly face and attitude for the American people, but off camera she was known to be a firecracker – and not in a good way.  Some of the other Secret Service members had given her the unofficial nickname of ‘grenade.’

But as the elevator dropped down into the depths of the earth, provoking a yowl from George(ie-kins), she smiled.  “Well, this will be a new environment for dear Georgie-kins to explore,” she commented.  “Maybe he’ll find some tasty mice under some of these dusty old tables and chairs down here!”

“Er… Madam President, aren’t there some sensitive electronics down here?” Kane asked, wondering how fired he would be if he shot that damn cat.

“Oh, that’s fine.”  President Clifton kept on babbling, but Kane ignored her.  The elevator doors opened, and he hurried over to the phone, praying that the threat had already been resolved.

No such luck, his supervisors told him as he held the phone up to his ear.  In fact, it looked like there might actually be some chatter by enemy combatants confirming-

“Holy shit,” cut off the voice at the other end of the phone.

Kane frowned.  It wasn’t professional to swear on secure channels.  “Come again?  What-“

“Holy shit, no, it can’t be!” the voice repeated.  “What the hell is Madam President doing?  We just got authorization for nuclear missile launch!  What in the name of God is going on in that bunker??”

Kane’s blood went cold as he spun around.  There was Madam President, cooing at that damn cat-

-who was standing on top of a large keyboard, one hind leg resting on a very scary looking red button.

With great satisfaction, probably far more than he ought to feel, Kane grabbed a nearby stapler and chucked it at the damn cat, hitting it in the side and knocking it off of the control panel.

“Oh my god!” gasped out President Clifton, but Kane stormed past her, reaching out and slamming down the plastic cover that belonged over the red button.  He stabbed a finger down at the button, glaring daggers into the eyes of the taken aback President.

“This,” he hissed, “is the nuclear armament button.  This is dangerous.  This is NOT the sort of thing that your goddamn cat should be walking on!”

For a moment, the President just gaped back at him – and then Kane saw a new glint enter her eyes.

“No one’s ever talked to me like that,” she commented, still looking at him intently.  What was that new sound in her voice?  Was that… no, it couldn’t be.  “I could get kind of used to someone telling me off like that.”

Oh god, it was.  Lust.

Kane felt his whole mindset lurch.  On one hand, he might have just prevented a nuclear war from occurring.  But on the other hand, he really, really didn’t like how President Clifton was eyeing him up, looking at him as if he was a sack of meat.

He began to silently count up the number of sick days he could take in his head.

The Tree in the Cave

Biology is a curious thing.  How does a seed, a tiny little cluster of cells with no eyes or brain or neurons or central control, know which way to grow?

The answer comes down to gravity, and light.

The seed on the ground felt the touch of water, enough water to launch its cells into an explosion of action and motion.  This was the signal for which it had waited, enduring dryness and the tumbling external forces that eventually brought it to its resting place.

The cells grew, pushing out beyond their walls, building copies, subdividing in a flurry of growth and replication.  Proteins spun through cytoplasm in a complex dance, uniting and binding with others, and then tearing away once their function had been completed.  DNA spiraled out, unwinding, duplicating, and then recoiling back up like a spring.

The seed’s hard shell cracked, and a root – thin, pale, fragile, exposed – came snaking out.  It searched, quested, found the soil.  It burrowed in, drinking in the water all around it, soaking up that moisture and converting it into more fuel to push itself deeper.

And on the opposite side of the seed, opposite the emergence of the root, a thin little branch emerged, barely even able to support its own weight.

Once exposed from their prison inside the seed, the cells spread out, unfurling, questing for light.  Inside each little cell, dozens of green factories – the chloroplasts – floated, waiting to absorb that dazzling radiance and convert it into food.  The plant didn’t think, didn’t know anything – but those cells ran a desperate race against their dwindling supply of food.

If the supply of food, of high-energy ATP molecules failed, they would have no other options.  They’d die, and the whole organism would die along with them as it starved.

But no – there, light!  The light wasn’t strong, not direct sunlight, but it was enough.  The cells most exposed to the light leapt into a flurry of joyful production, pumping out food to fuel the growth of the rest of the organism.  They worked as a community, creating far more ATP than they needed, exporting the rest to feed their brothers and sisters.

The plant responded to these most productive of its cells, and the entire structure began to shift.  The plant angled itself, growing faster on the side away from the light, angling itself to reach all that it could.  It had to capture as much light as possible, needed all that food!

Eventually, the initial rapid burst of growth slowed.  The cells that had one split joyously in wild abandon, as fast as they could manage, now proceeded at a slower, more stately rate.  The husk of the seed, no longer needed for protection, fell away.  Its remains would break down, eventually reabsorbed by the plant itself.

The plant didn’t know this, of course.  All it knew was that it had light and water, enough to make food.  Enough to exist.

Its stalk thickened, grew out in concentric rings to add more structure and support.  Ridges formed from slight unevenness in the cells’ walls, and the external proteins stiffened, creating defensive bark, a skin beneath which the living cells of the plant flowed and swarmed, passing nutrients up and down.  They sent water up to the leaves, and brought down synthesized ATP, food to feed the growing roots.

At the base, the root sank deeper, providing support, and split off to grow in new directions.  It had to stabilize its brothers above, and it fought for every inch against the hard ground, the rocks and other impenetrable items in amid the soil.  Sometimes, its path was stymied, but it always found a way around, chasing after that water.

At the top of the tree, leaves exploded out, each a separate factory to create more energy, to support itself and its surrounding fellows.  They angled towards that precious light, drinking it in.  Each leaf enjoyed its time at the tip of a branch, but the branch eventually moved past it, leaving it as just a side extension.

No leaf complained about this shift in its fate.  They were all a part of the whole, all feeding the greater organism.

Time passed.  The tree measured the passing time, in the rings on its trunk and the growth of its cells, but it didn’t know the meaning of these changes.  It only knew the beauty of growth, the symphony of healthy cells.

Did the tree know that it was alone, away from its brothers and sisters, the sole survivor in this cave, where only happenstance allowed it to grow?  Likely not, even as much as plants understand things.

Besides, the tree would not be alone much longer.  By now, it had enough energy built up, strong enough reserves, to begin the final stage of its life.  It would create seeds, tiny little copies of its own cells, with instructions to go forth, to spread wide, and seek two things:

Gravity, and light.

The tree was alone, yes, but it would not be alone forever – and what is time, to a tree?

[AGttA] 1.2: Coffee!

Continued from chapter 1.1, here.

Axiom 1: Remain calm.

I’d done it!  That’s right, journal readers, whoever you may be – I managed to reach the Starbucks!

And even better?  The place was unlocked!

As I walked in through the front doors, I almost felt normal, at least for a second or two.  There was no Apocalypse, no end of the world happening outside these doors.  No, I was just strolling into my favorite coffee shop chain, here to pick up a boost of caffeine and brewed beans before heading back to work.

And for a moment, as I closed my eyes, I even smelled that classic scent of just slightly too burned coffee beans, the scent reminiscent of Starbucks everywhere.

But then I opened my eyes, and reality came crashing back in.

Looking around the interior of the coffee shop, I was happy to note that the building remained intact.  That, however, was about the only good thing that I could say about my newly chosen base of operations.

The tables were knocked over, with chairs lying everywhere – some of them broken.  No other patrons stood in line in the shop to buy coffee; no one sat at any of the little tables, hunched over a computer or a magazine.  I saw no hipsters with massively oversized headphones, no preppy college students pretending to study as they sipped their massively sugary concoctions, no groups of overweight mothers commiserating about why they couldn’t lose weight as they sipped their extra-large frappuccinos.

Behind the counter, I saw no bored barista, waiting to take my order and mess up my name.  Instead, I just saw spilled coffee beans and untouched espresso machines.  I stuck my head into the back room, still feeling a little like I was trespassing by going in a place intended for Employees Only, and saw that the back area was similarly deserted.  Some of the stacks of boxes in the back store room had toppled over, spilling out bags of sealed coffee grounds.

Heading back out to the main room of the shop, I grabbed one of the fallen over chairs, set it upright, and sat down on it.  Leaning on one of the tables, I gazed around and tried to figure out what I needed to do.

What do you do in an Apocalypse, anyway?  I didn’t have any prior experience in doing this.  I wondered if there were any books available on the topic.  Where was the nearest Barnes & Noble?

I dug out my phone, hoping to search the internet for answers, but tossed it away when I saw that it had no signal.  Somehow, I didn’t expect to suddenly find myself with any bars any time soon.  Not in the Apocalypse.

With little else to do, I dug out my notebook, pulled out my pen, and started writing.  Hence, this journal!  Maybe someone will find this one day, and they’ll discover what became of me.  Or maybe, if I somehow survive this, I can read from this journal to my children and grandchildren, telling them of the horrors that I endured.

Hah.  Somehow, I doubt that will happen, but I can hope, right?

After getting most of my thoughts down on the journal, I began to realize that I actually had no idea what was going on outside.  What exactly had happened?  My experience so far had just consisted of loud noises, seeing widespread destruction, and watching a winged, Heavenly being destroy a children’s toy.

I didn’t see any television sets in the main area, but I found a radio in the back room, and hauled it out to the front area of the Starbucks.  I propped it up on a table, murmured a brief prayer of thanks that it ran off of batteries, and began searching for a channel.

I prayed too early, it seemed.  After ten minutes of carefully scrolling through the different frequencies, I hadn’t found any channels, nothing but static.  I turned it off, hoping to conserve the batteries, and turned my attention back to the interior of the building – and my growling stomach.

Did you know that Starbucks has sandwiches and pastries?  And that they keep extras in a fridge and freezer in the back room?  I now know that fact.

The sandwiches actually aren’t too bad.  If there’s a chance to leave post-Apocalyptic Yelp reviews, I’m giving these Starbucks sandwiches five stars.  Well worth the addition to your underground bunker’s food stash.

After I’d put some food in my stomach, I turned my attention to my surroundings.  Prowling around the inside of the Starbucks didn’t reveal any cracks, and a lap around the outside of the building showed that it actually looked to have weathered whatever assault hit the area fairly well.  I headed back inside, feeling a bit more hopeful that the place wouldn’t collapse down on top of my head at any moment.

I found a broom in the back area and, feeling like a bit of a fool, tidied up.  I didn’t make it look exactly like the typical Starbucks – I turned most of the tables on their sides as makeshift barricades against the big plate glass front windows, which now seemed far too open for my taste.  But I swept the floor, pulled over one of the big couches to use as a makeshift bed, and even managed to produce a passable cold brew.

Cold coffee in hand, I settled into one of the stuffed armchairs, gazing out at the setting sun.  I needed a plan, I repeated to myself for the umpteenth time.  If I was going to survive this, I’d need a plan.

A plan.  Journal, do you have any idea how hard it is to sit down and think of a plan?  It’s bloody hard, I can tell you that.

But as the sun crept lower over the shattered mall across the highway from my hideout, I began to write down some ideas.

To be continued…