First Contact in Manhattan

Staring up at the smooth, featureless, curved gray surface, I couldn’t help but marvel at the plasticity of the human race. Show us the greatest miracle to ever come to Earth, and we treated it as a sideshow attraction, grew bored of it in a week.

Actually, that would make a good opening line for my next article. I pulled out my iPhone, turned on the dictation app, recited these words carefully into its speaker.

Sentence recorded, I put my phone away with a sigh, looking back up at the huge object in front of me. Off to the left, a couple dozen feet away, two guys in plush, fluorescent green alien costumes were posing with the eager beaver little families from Iowa that still flocked here.

“Damn thing’s a tourist attraction, now,” I sighed, settling back on the bench that I’d claimed as my territory. “Hey, honey, let’s grab the kids for Easter break and fly them out to New York, see that big ol’ alien spaceship that landed there! Won’t that be a treat for them?” Continue reading

“It’s dangerous to go alone.” Part II

Continued from Part I, here.

As it turns out, slaying dragons is a bit like riding a bike; once you get the hang of it, you pretty much just need to worry about hanging on and not tumbling off.

Of course, I never really got the hang of riding a bike.

This thought flashed through my head at precisely the wrong moment, as I clung desperately to the handle of the sword. The scales around me felt just as slick as they looked, and offered little in the way of handholds. I just clung to the handle of the sword, feeling it sink a little deeper in the thrashing, bellowing wyrm with each stomach-dropping plunge through the sky.

“Just give up and die already!” I shouted, even though the rushing wind whipped the words out of my mouth before anyone else could hear them. “Go down! Down!” Continue reading

“It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.”

“Hey! Hey, you!”

I almost didn’t stop. I’m still not sure if I would have been better off if I just kept walking, ignoring the shout from behind me. Maybe, if I’d just turned up my collar against the chill in the air and kept on striding across the park, I wouldn’t have arrived late to my meeting. Maybe I wouldn’t have even seen that monster in the lobby, tentacles thrashing as they came rising up out of the central ornamental fountain, smashing the expensive furniture and tearing poor Tina in half…

But you can’t buy shit with wishes, as my dad used to tell me. I heard that shout from behind me, and I paused for a second, turning and glancing back over my shoulder.

Just a second. But that was enough time to get me into this mess. Continue reading

Death’s Assistant

Happy Halloween!

I sat up with a gasp, my hands flying to my chest where, only moments ago, I’d felt that stunningly painful impact. I patted down my uniform, searching for the huge, bloody wound that I’d glimpsed before falling back, everything fading to black…

It wasn’t there.

My brain couldn’t quite seem to understand. But I’d been shot; I remembered it – the blow, like a punch to the chest from a boxer, knocking me back off of the front of the trench and down into its depths. I’d hit the ground hard, my limbs pointing in all directions, but somehow didn’t feel the impact. I didn’t feel anything, really; I tried to pick myself up, but my legs and arms didn’t want to move. I couldn’t even feel the rain hitting my open palms, dripping off of my fingers. I’d just lain there, staring up at the sky, blackness creeping in from the edges of my vision…

WELL, COME ALONG, THEN. THERE ISN’T TIME FOR DAWDLING. Continue reading

Auras, Part III

Continued from Part II, here.

I felt like I was drowning in a vat of tar, falling beneath the waves of a choking black sea. Grandma Higgins’ aura came washing over me, hitting me in repeated waves and pushing me down deeper into the blackness. I couldn’t do anything against it.

I was going to die.

The realization hit me like a bucket of cold water poured down my spine, like when Tommy snuck up behind me once during a test and dropped an ice cube down the back of my shirt. Somehow, that sudden fact, so cold and hard, galvanized me into action.

I pushed back wildly, desperately, against that black aura that wrapped around me. I opened my mouth in a silent scream, pushing, tuning my very thoughts into a focused blade to try and push through that suffocating blackness.

And then, just as I felt myself fading for what I knew would be the last time, the darkness recoiled from me. Continue reading

Auras, Part II

Continued from Part I, here.

“What are you waiting for? Come on down, James!” Grandma Higgins called to me, beaming from inside the center of the pitch black aura that glistened around her.

Finally, dimly, I forced my legs to continue down the stairs, carrying me towards her waiting arms. I almost expected to feel that horrible aura as I got closer, the blackness closing in and sucking me down like sticky tar.

But I didn’t, of course, and instead just got the normal smell of old person, combined with the hint of flour and the touch of starch that she used on all her clothes. She wrapped her arms around my middle, giving me a squeeze. Continue reading

Auras, Part I

I heard the sound of my mom’s footsteps on the stairs. She always acted astounded when I knew that it was her, before she even knocked on my bedroom door. I didn’t know if she truly didn’t understand that her footsteps on the creaky old wooden stairs of our family house sounded different, or if she just chose to humor me.

“James?” she called out, rapping her knuckles lightly against the other side of my bedroom door. “Listen, are you awake?”

I groaned, grabbing my pillow and squeezing it tighter against my face. I let out an indistinct grunt, hoping she’d take this as assent.

“James? Do I need to come in there? I know you’re feeling under the weather, but do you need to go to the hospital?” Continue reading

"Suliman" – Part 1

Usually, people probably aren’t nervous when they’re entering small towns.  Especially dinky little places in the middle of nowhere, Texas, with under a hundred residents and some desperately high-brow name like St. Vermis.  Of course, usually people aren’t hunting for the source of pure evil and various disasters over the last hundred years or so, either.  Not to mention the fact that I didn’t have any registration for the big revolver tucked in between my socks in my hastily packed suitcase.  But maybe I should back up a bit.

To be honest, I never expected my thesis to yield any real results… Continue reading

Grading

I groaned, turning the mug over in my hands. Despite its cheery mass-printed slogan – “Number 1 Teacher!” – it felt cheap. Hell, it was. If I closed my eyes and focused, I could trace back its component elements, back through the Asian factory where these cups were churned out by the tens of thousands, back to the mud pit in backwoods China where the clay had been scraped from the ground.

I didn’t bother summoning the focus. Even an insignificant little charm like that taxed my strength almost to its breaking point. I hated knowing that I’d fallen so far, feeling my limits hit me so quickly.

The mug might be cheap, unremarkable, but it still held coffee. I got up, crossed the teachers’ lounge over to the ancient Mr. Coffee that sat on the counter, its flameless heat spells showing the strain of countless years of constant operation. I poured a cupful of hot, steaming coffee into my mug, replaced the pot back on the etheric coil that served as its heating focus. Continue reading

“Don’t dig here.”

“No, sah. Not here.”

Frowning, I glanced over at Attenib. I’d heard a wobble in the man’s voice that I didn’t recognize. He didn’t sound quite like himself.

“Atten, everything okay?” I asked in a lowered tone, taking a step closer to him. Damnable insects swooped down at my face, biting and stinging. I managed to smack one, and watched with vicious satisfaction as it slammed into a nearby tree trunk and then dropped, stunned, to the forest floor.

I returned my attention back to my guide. After years alongside Attenib, I knew his moods well, recognized the minor twitches of the muscles beneath his nut-brown skin. I’d worked with him long enough to trust in his uncanny ability to know just where to dig.

But now, today, he looked nervous, pale despite his leathery, tanned hide. And when he looked back at me, I saw a glint of unexpected emotion in his eyes.

Fear. Continue reading