Friday, October 30, 2015

Reviewing Books

I tried dealing with the five-star system, and failed.

I started with Goodreads. I went through, methodically 3-starring everything that I read-and-remembered, 5-starring a couple of favorites (Watership Down for the win), 4-starring a few that seemed somewhere in between.  I might have given out some 2s.

But here’s the thing: I can’t give out 1s and 2s.  Not even if the author personally offends me with their scandalous life/politics/interests/body odor.  My 1s and 2s are someone else’s 5s. Judging a book as “bad” is mean-spirited, plus it reflects upon the reviewer as being too simpleminded to realize they’re reading a bad book and close it and go find a good one.  Furthermore, I adore bad books once in a while, as they encourage me to write better ones. Or worse ones, depending on my mood.

At the same time, I don’t want to hand out 5s like they’re easy to get. It’s possible my range is way too high, and 5 should signify “finished it, no complaints.”

Then there’s the motivation behind ratings.  A rating can mean “this author’s my buddy” or “I disagree with this author’s politics” or “someone in my brigade told me to dislike/like this author.”  It can mean “I want strangers to think I adore this high-minded literary work” or “my sister-in-law’s book club will never let me hear the end of it unless I high-rate this thing.” 

Then there’s fronting. I’m tempted to front heavily on places like Goodreads. Ooh, I just loved this critically acclaimed book! It had literary symbolism and everything! Oh, look at me reading this book that nice people read! I’ll bet people who went to Harvard read this book too!  There are many books that become bestsellers solely through fronting, so that nice people can display it on their bookshelves to convince everyone who visits that they’re the right sort of person. 

So anyway, I review instead, here, and usually only go for the books I really like. I have a recurring nightmare where I make a writer friend and we get along fabulously and then the writer friend asks me to review their book, and I say okay, and …

I did that for a friend-of-a-friend once. The novel in question started out being a historical novel, and then the author got fixated on a kinky relationship between two of the less-interesting characters, and suddenly they were getting it on for fifty-page scenes, and you can’t really tell an aspiring author their sex scenes are gross (that subjectivity thing again), so I think I wrote something like “I liked the scene with Historical Character, and wish it had been longer.” 

That’s why I’ll never insist anyone read my book, although I reserve the right to spam people with my feeble marketing efforts.

I do sometimes mention books I’m reading, without reviewing them. If I don’t review them later, it’s probably because (a) it was a lovely book but it didn’t grab me, I’m terribly sorry; (b) ummm … it’s not really my … genre; (c) because I often read 10 books at once, it probably got pushed back down to the bottom of the shuffle list; (d) it’s underneath the 19 books I just bought by this new author I discovered; (e) I accidentally opened a Harry Potter novel, which I keep corralled at the bottom of the list until my Kindle app gives me a way to organize my stuff in subfolders, and now I have to open everything else to get Harry back at the bottom with his sequels, because deleting/reacquiring is too many steps and you never know when you’ll need some Hogwarts, and your thing got reshuffled in the Hogwarts tide; (e) I hit a nope moment, deleted it and hit the next-song button, because it was that bad.

I don’t mention all the books I read. Some aren’t relevant to this space. My earlier incarnation of this blog went off in all kinds of directions, and this time I’m trying to stay on target, so I’m not going to talk about litfic or adult subjects or genres outside YA and science fiction, and maybe a little fantasy and horror. As for the books I don’t like, if you can’t say something nice …

My tastes can be offbeat. Sometimes I’m in harmony with the market, and stuff I happen to find and like explodes in popularity. Other times, my circuits light up with joy at things others despise. I’ve been on anonymous forums, all ready to type something about how much I hated that preachy simplistic pile of drivel, and then I see someone else writing “that book changed my life” and my finger hesitates on the key. So I’m going to stick to promoting the things I genuinely like.

Sometimes I think it would be cool to get book blurbs from regular everyday people. “This book kept me from getting bored on a three-hour flight, good job,” Peter S., West Coast Distribution Associate.  “I read this book while my XBox was broken and it’s almost as good as playing XBox,” Jayden R., student. “This statement of speculative fiction contains nothing egregiously erroneous,” Wilberforce S., attorney. “Reading books is good physical therapy following a retina injury,” Nancy M., ophthalmologist. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Wylding Hall and Other Hugo Notes

Plus, while I was clicking around in a forest of tabs, I found a story called

Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Bear

This is an eerie tale about a folkie band recording an album in the early seventies, in a spooky old manor house.  As somebody mildly obsessed with the British music scene between Twiggy and Sid Vicious, I grabbed it right away on the strength of the setting, and I was rewarded with references to the Redlands bust, and Brian Jones’ Moroccan album, and Granny Takes a Trip. Not a trace of that jarring sense of millenials writing about things I recall wishing I was old enough to enjoy. 

A bad thing happens to this band, but it’s more of a subtle Shirley Jackson thing than a big loud technicolor wave of zombies thing, and the path that leads there is compulsively readable, told by an  ensemble of eyewitnesses in a style that reminded me of Carrie.  In fact, this story is sort of like an assortment of my favorite things, whirled in a blender and served with decorative foam on top. I loved it. Since I found this on a list of Hugo-eligible works, I will be nominating it. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Adventures in Semiprozine Land

I methodically clicked each of the semiprozines in that link.  Some didn't grab me at all (all poetry? bye).  I stayed the longest on zines that had a nonfiction section with editorials, or reviews, or statements of purpose -- something that could help me figure out their parameters.

I'll admit sometimes I'm biased by parameters. Like poetry. Hate it. Sorry, poetry lovers.

Lightspeed seemed to hold my click-attention the longest, and I remember liking them at Worldcon. I found a story on their site that got to me: Children of Dagon by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Stories either lodge in my brain (if they're the good kind) or slide harmlessly through my synapses barely leaving a trace (most of them), and these angry sea creatures kept popping back into my mind.  Such rage.

He's writing about a similar concept to the one I was exploring in Sea Cow Boogie, but my aquatic beings are cuddly and maternal. Tchaikovsky's are neither, I'm not sure I really liked this story, but anything that can haunt my thoughts for over 24 hours post-reading deserves a nomination.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

My Hugo considerations so far

Are pathetically brief, and nominating starts in two weeks. OMG!

So far this is all I’ve got:

  • Jurassic World, unless Star Wars rocks my world. It probably will, so both of them. BUT then there’s The Martian, film form. Which I haven't seen yet.  
  • That one short story about the AI that feeds on cat pictures. I liked that. I’ve read a few more short stories, but none that I really enjoyed.
  • Neurotribes, a book about autism – because it contains a large section on Hugo Gernsback.  And also because it’s a reminder that biologically-based discrimination is contrary to the very soul of science fiction. End of moralistic rant.
  • The Martian, print form, because it may be eligible on a loophole.
I have actually read a few more stories, but nothing I wanted to celebrate. I didn’t read Seveneves, after reading about it extensively it didn’t seem like something I’d like. I enjoyed Snowcrash and Zodiac and then sort of fell away from Stephenson – Anathem may have been the final straw.  I read Armada and was kind of neutral about it, but maybe it'll look better after I read a few more.  

Right now I’m reading Eric Flint’s 1632, in which a small coal-mining town is mysteriously transported back in time and proceeds to kick some Inquisition ass. I’m enjoying it, and note that this is some solid liberal gun friendliness. I can’t quite picture the armed miners in the same universe with Correia’s Monster Hunters, but they’ve all kinda got that warrior spirit.  Personally, I’m not into guns at all, but I enjoy stories about fighting. And I enjoy it when Flint rants about history and socialism and stuff,  

One “problem” with stepping back towards the science fiction community is being bombarded with recommendations for excellent books.  At the same time, I’m supposed to be reading brand new books and nominating them for Hugos. And at the same time, occasionally I like to re-read things and sometimes I find things like the E. Nesbit omnibus on sale at Amazon.

I did find a list of semiprozines. And I’m going to post it right here where I can find it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Jurassic World versus Jurassic Park

I finally purchased my very own digital copy of Jurassic World. I’m still not sure if I like it better than Jurassic Park.

Park had Jeff Goldblum chewing up the scenery --  I’m not sure if that’s a plus or a minus. It had, most importantly, some major Sense of Wonder with regard to the first glimpse of the dinos, and it had that overhead shot in the cornfield. As a minus, it had a tired old “technology is evil” theme, flipping the bird at the kind of people who might want to see a film specifically about computer generated dinosaurs, telling us to get out of the theaters and go play in the sun.  

World has much better CGI, plus it doesn’t scold you for appreciating that fact. The creatures move and flex and ripple and change expression as much as their reptilian features allow. The pterosaurs are breathtaking, complete with musical homage to Fantasia on the soundtrack. The raptors act.  

In the scenery chewing department, it has Chris Pratt. He keeps showing up in movies I like, so I guess I like him, and I also liked Bryce Dallas Howard as his yuppiesaurus co-star in the obligatory romance portion of the story. I liked one of the two kids -- the neurotypical one was kind of annoying, but he was good in a clutch situation.

The moralizing was a little more nuanced – GMO is bad, the military is super duper bad, the corporation that was bad last time is now worse, idealistic rich guys with a sentimental streak are also bad – and did you actually laugh at that tourist suffering death by pterodactyl?  You’re bad too. The science people, meanwhile, are just harmless geeks trying to do their jobs, except for that bad one.  

My inner child was very satisfied by the ending, and that’s mainly what matters. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Ghostly Diversity

I just read a terrific article about ghosts in Hawai'i, and I thought I'd pass it along. These are the kind of spooky stories I heard while growing up. A few years ago a guy named Glenn Grant wrote a series of books about ghosts and other weird paranormal occurrences in the islands, and turned these kinds of stories into official, academically-respectable folklore.

The ghosts of Hawai'i are diverse, like its people. Ancient Hawai'ian night marchers, Japanese obake, Filipino vampires, haole ladies that suddenly appear in the road, cursed rocks, mysterious sharks. Of course, Hawai'i is full of scary dangerous things, such as deadly eels, which would tend to make one superstitious.

Saturday, October 17, 2015


One of the ideas in my science fiction series has to do with converting people into digital entities. In my fictional universe, this is done by creating a virtual emulation based on extrapolated DNA and then comparing it with the brain of a living subject, and accepting the tracked changes. Then someone hits “execute,” killing your physical version while downloading your life experiences into your virtual version.  Congratulations, you are now an authentic intelligence, not to be confused with an artificial one. Most people in meatspace will just refer to you as a “didge,” and some may have strong opinions whether you even count as human. 

No ghosts are involved (because I’ve never seen one).  That means you can’t plug person A’s life experiences into person B’s body. Because I’ve been meditating on this particular plot detail, I have had a hard time with stories like Cloud Atlas, and the Ancillary trilogy, volume 3 of which just came out, to much acclaim. Both feature flying ghosts that visit various bodies.  I’m not wholly averse to science that clashes with my personal visions, otherwise I wouldn’t get to enjoy all the great in-space sound effects in the Star Wars series (my favorite is the seismic charge at 0:53 – they accomplished this by turning the gain way up on a dead mixer channel, so it’s literally what nothing sounds like at high volume).  

There was a recent article in Scientific American about “brainprints” that seems closer to where I’m leaning.
What we've shown is that the same brain doing two different things looks more similar than two different brains doing the same thing,” Finn says.
Neurodiversity strikes again! 

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Most Boring True Life Ghost Story Ever

A few years ago I was over at a friend’s house, and there were about six of us sitting around eating a pizza and talking. And all of a sudden, one of those conversational silences happened, where everyone in the room shuts up at the same time. We all looked over at the northeast corner of the room. There was nothing there. Our heads moved together as our eyes tracked over to the northwest corner of the room. There was nothing there, either.  We resumed talking, and then we all realized what had happened. 

The guy who lived there said, “Oh, that’s just the ghost.”  That thing where suddenly everybody stops talking to watch someone who isn’t there pass through the room?  Happens all the time at his place, apparently. 

I didn’t see, hear, smell or taste anything. No cold chills, no violin music, no drama, no terror. Just a presence, like when somebody walks by in your periphery.

I’ve always rather wanted to see a ghost, since I have enjoyed so many ghost stories. For a while I made a point of visiting places that were allegedly haunted, but I never saw a single ghost. I still haven’t seen one.  I can’t even verify that the one that I didn’t see wasn’t some optical effect or other natural phenomenon that we all misinterpreted as a presence walking across the room in a boring fashion. 

It occurred to me that maybe some people experience those kinds of things visually.  Like synesthesia

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Cat Came Back

I’m apologizing for that last story with a cat picture. [EDIT: replaced with scarier picture.]

And the lyrics to a song, which has many, many versions, as far as I can tell.  This is the one I learned. 

Now, Old Mister Johnson had trouble of his own,
He had an old yellow cat that wouldn’t leave him alone,
He gave it to a man that lived far away
But the cat came back – the very next day.

But the cat came back, the very next day.
The cat came back – we thought it was a goner!
The cat came back, it just couldn’t stay away.

The man down the street said he’d shoot that cat on sight.
He loaded up his shotgun full of nails and dynamite.
He waited and he waited for the cat to come around.
Forty-seven pieces of that man was all they found.

But the cat came back, the very next day.
The cat came back – we thought it was a goner!
The cat came back, it just couldn’t stay away.

Gave it to a little boy, with a dollar note.
Told him to take it up the river in a boat.
Tie a rock ‘round its neck that weighs a couple pounds.
Now they drag the river for the little boy that drowned.

But the cat came back, the very next day.
The cat came back – we thought it was a goner!
The cat came back, it just couldn’t stay away.

Gave it to a man who was headed out west.
Told him to take it to the one he loved best.
The train went ‘round the curve too fast and jumped off the rail
Not a soul was left behind to tell the gruesome tale.

But the cat came back, the very next day.
The cat came back – we thought it was a goner!
The cat came back, it just couldn’t stay away.

He sent that cat away across the ocean at last.
Three days out of port, and making water fast.
The sea became rough and the ship began to toss
A mighty gust of wind came up and every soul was lost

But the cat came back, the very next day.
The cat came back – we thought it was a goner!
The cat came back, it just couldn’t stay away.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Horror fiction

Every so often I try to write horror, because I enjoy reading it. And every time I try, I shake my head at my efforts and reaffirm my opinion that I can’t write horror, and go back to writing almost-published science fiction instead. 

Here’s my latest feeble attempt.  It’s … kind of a shaggy dog story.  

Friday Night at the Gargantuan House of Terror (a short story of 2,774 words)

Over four hundred people had been through the Gargantuan House of Terror so far tonight, according to the gate counter, and all of them had been startled by the mirror effect except the serious-looking girl dressed more appropriately for a heavy metal video than for being terrified. Lefty Callahan blinked. He turned to the customer who was just entering. He had sent her away earlier, because she had been walking a gargantuan dog which was not officially designated as a service animal. Lefty thought it might have been a great dane. It seemed friendly, with slobbery jowls and a dank damp odor, but it looked like the kind of animal that could do serious damage to the props without trying very hard.

She had replaced the dog with a boyfriend. One with a wild nest of hair and a scraggly beard. Lefty couldn’t help but shake his head disapprovingly, since she was such a pretty girl, with auburn hair bouncing to her shoulders. She had a pointed, catlike face, and for a moment, while Lefty was looking at her, she actually morphed into a cat, with vertical pupils and soft-looking fur on the bridge of her nose. He blinked and she became a normal teenage girl again, with terrible taste in boys. Lefty waved them both through. They were metal too, festooned with band symbols and jagged jewelry.

Not a bad take for a Friday evening this early in October. He had a good location on Frontage Road, right off the Interstate, and a big colorful sign that faced rush hour traffic, telling them all about the maze of doom, and the zombie gauntlet, and the ghastly graveyard.  For only eight bucks, you could spend fifteen to thirty minutes walking through it, depending on how fast you walked. Lefty had a stalwart crew of a dozen kids who seriously loved their job and spent their off-time thinking of ways to make the House more terrifying. He had Bebe, a gray-haired lady with fading tattoos of punk band logos all over her arms, who came up with the d├ęcor and layout. All he had to do was rent the space and pay for the insurance and advertising and talk his way through the permit. He could do that, on a good day.

Today wasn’t a good day. Two of his zombies got barfed on and had to leave early, and a guest had pitched a seizure in the alien operating room, despite a very visible sign saying that seizure-prone individuals shouldn’t even go into the House at all. The guest had signed a waiver, in any case, and didn’t want an ambulance, but he did want to sit around for half an hour drinking tea with Zoe, who played the sexy witch in the cauldron room. 

Lefty also had an assistant manager named Bob, who would be covering for him during the next three days. Normally Lefty didn’t take long weekends during the season, but Harlow Freitas was going to be in town, and Hit Miller had decided this was the perfect occasion to take his decrepit cabin cruiser up the coast so it could sit on a trailer in his brother-in-law’s field until someone got around to fixing it. Lefty was going along to help crew and drink beer, and so were JoJo Bumatai and Steve Davis.  Hit had sworn to them all that his vessel was seaworthy enough to crawl thirty miles north, but he had insisted they leave at three in the morning for some reason having to do with the tides. That was just a few hours away.

Lefty had to watch the door all the way until midnight, even though he was pretty certain nobody was going to roll in at eleven-thirty for a bedtime scare. After he locked up he scurried around picking up trash, and collecting the gate, and using extra bleach on the barf stain, and then ventilating the area.

He went out to get the big sandwich-board sign that sat out in the parking lot and noticed a funky-looking van, with some kind of custom paint job. He didn’t recognize it. Most of his workers drove beaters, or suburban family vehicles borrowed from their parents. Bebe drove a small battered pickup truck with various random junk cluttering up the back. Lefty drove a nice comfortable sedan he’d purchased at an auction for a liquidated rental car fleet. He imagined it made him look far less broke than he actually was.

He felt something watching him as he headed back inside to check on the bleach fumes. The hair on the back of his neck stood up and he whirled around. A low, rumbling growl issued from the shadows. The dog. She must have tied it up out there.

That meant they were still somewhere in the house. Lefty sighed. This happened; Lefty imagined kids had been daring each other to spend the night in haunted houses for quite a long time. He went to the breaker box and hit all the switches, flooding the venue with harsh overhead light. Moments after he did that the breakers popped, and the small battery-operated emergency light attached to the wall automatically lit up.

Lefty swore and tugged at the breakers. The main didn’t want to come back on, and he started testing the subs individually. Probably the hidden AC unit that supplied cold chills to the funeral parlor scene. He had a big flashlight stashed behind a styrofoam tombstone, both for rescuing scaredy cats and self-defense. He picked it up, switched it on and headed into the darkness.

He passed the mirror effect that would have substituted his head for a skull if the backlight had been working. He worked his way through the House, switching off lights, and fans that blew fake cobwebs into peoples’ faces, and speakers that broadcast terrifying sound effects from concealed iPods.

He finally located the short, in a motorized rig that gently agitated a rack of menacing zombies. This was one of Lefty’s favorite effects. There was a prop wall with a real window set into it, overlooking the real wall, which was painted to look like the sky outside, on a gloomy rainy day. Faint simulated sunlight illuminated the zombies from above, throwing the rods and gears beneath them into shadows, while a recirculating pump drove rain past the window. If the dry ice rig was working he could add fog to the scene.

He was unplugging the zombie rig when something fell with a loud crash, in some other section of the House. Lefty straightened his back too rapidly and bonked heads with a zombie. As he stood rubbing his forehead he could hear footsteps scurrying away. Then he heard a second set of footsteps, scurrying through a different part of the House.

“You kids quit messing around and go on home, do you hear me?” Lefty waved his flashlight for emphasis. “Don’t make me call the police on you.”

The footsteps stopped scurrying. Lefty stomped into the next room, waving his light. He thought he caught a flash of movement in the room ahead and he headed there, keeping to the path that would be faintly illuminated with little orange pumpkins every six feet, had the lights been working. Keeping the path clear at all times was one of the main rules at the House, and therefore he didn’t expect to trip over something lying right in the middle of it, but that’s exactly what he did.

He landed with a little twist that made his back flame with pain. It wasn’t exactly what he’d call a bad back, not yet, but occasionally it let him know that it had the potential to be one. A few more spills like that would make it a fact. Lefty lay still and groaned for a couple of minutes. He had dropped his flashlight and it had rolled about a yard away, throwing a round white disc of light onto a blank wall.

As he lay there, it occurred to Lefty that his leg was damp. He rolled onto his back, gingerly and with great care, and now the wetness was spreading across the backs of his legs. He wondered if he’d peed his pants during the fall, and he patted at the crotch of his pants. It was dry.

He moved his hand lower, touching the wetness. He couldn’t see his hand very well in the dark, but he could feel the familiar stickiness. Corn syrup. They mixed it with red food coloring to make fake blood. He reached down and touched it with his other hand. A big puddle of the stuff, and somebody was going to have to clean it up before the House could open tomorrow.

Lefty dragged himself out of the puddle, toward his flashlight. His back grudgingly agreed to this action with only a slight amount of pain. As he was reaching for the flashlight he heard the scampering footsteps again, and then he saw something move, very quickly. It knocked the flashlight out of his way, sending it into the next room.

“You kids are trespassers!” Lefty bellowed. He sat up, slowly.  “That’s against the law,” he added.

He could hear them whispering. He distinctly heard a man’s voice say, “Yikes,” slightly louder. More footsteps, as another one approached.

Lefty fiddled his phone out of his pocket and popped the power button. For a brief horrible moment he wondered if he’d broken it in the fall, but it lit up like normal and he left bright red thumbprints on the screen when he entered his passcode. He was well aware of the fact there was absolutely no phone reception in the middle of this room. You could get a good signal out by the front door but the ceiling of the warehouse this place had once been did a good job of sealing the outside world out. That was one of the reasons Lefty had liked the property in the first place.

He didn’t head for the phone app itself. Instead, he triggered the built-in flashlight. The voices in the next room all reacted but the thing that immediately got Lefty’s attention was the terrified expression on the bloody corpse lying on the floor.

Half a minute later, he recognized it as one he’d painted. While watching the Seahawks game. And eating a chili dog.  He had done a commendable job, as it startled him long enough for them to approach him and lasso him with a rope that he also recognized, from the gallows near the exit. There were two of them; the guy with the scraggly beard and a bigger guy with a leather hat and wide shoulders. Their faces were angular in the shadows thrown by the dim light from Lefty’s phone, which was still dangling from his hand as they wrapped the rope around and around his arms and chest. 

This was crazy. They were crazy. They were probably going to kill him or torture him in some gruesome manner. That’s what kids did these days, you saw it every time you logged onto the internet, every time you turned on the television.  Lefty’s heart did a rapid mambo against his ribcage. 

Then the strobing light from his dangling hand lit up a new face. Pale and white, and deathly serious. Except now she was smiling, wide enough to display her teeth. The incisors were white and sharp, and twice as long as the rest of her teeth. “I am Allessandra Darkwylde, and I am very pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Lefty took a rapid step back, and only the stickiness of the corn syrup coating his shoes saved him from falling again. The big guy steadied him and stepped back, and then, for a moment, he morphed into a big humanoid cat. Then he was a girl again, the same one who had left her dog parked outside.

Except it wasn’t outside. The scraggly-bearded guy was turning into it. Werewolf, Lefty’s brain helpfully informed him. Werewolf! Werewolf! And a vampire!

The light from his phone flickered and died. Low battery. Lefty worked it back into his pocket while the metal kids argued, all three of them talking at the same time. Finally the shapeshifter broke off and fetched the flashlight. “I can’t see in the dark like you guys can,” she complained. “Not in all my forms, anyway.”

“What do you kids want?” Lefty finally said, which temporarily shut them up.

“Did you post this ad?” Ms. Serious thrust a tattered piece of newsprint at him while the shapeshifter illuminated it. A copy of the Shopper’s Gazette, featuring an ad for the Gargantuan House of Terror. 

“Yup. That’s my ad.” He watched the shapeshifter’s face temporarily shift into cat again. That made hm nervous, so he looked at Allessandra instead. Her eyes were somehow addictive. Once you met them it was hard to look away.

“Where did you find this symbol?” Allessandra held his gaze as she pointed at the corner of the ad, where a spider was spinning a convoluted web. It did look like some kind of a symbol.

“On the internet.” Lefty shifted his position. He hoped they wouldn’t make him stand for a long time before killing him. “Google images, probably.”

The kids didn’t like that answer. They exchanged looks and glares. The dog morphed back into a human and shot the other two an exasperated look before saying, “So, I guess you’re not the leader of the Mysterium Monstratorium Sinistrus, an ancient cult dedicated to turning werewolves into vampire werebats in order to fulfull a thousand year old prophecy regarding bringing darkness to all existence.”

Lefty shifted his jaw around and made a few different contemplative expressions before answering, because he didn’t want them to think he wasn’t taking their question seriously. “Nope.”

“Pull his face,” demanded the shapeshifter. Allessandra rolled her eyes and reached up, pinching Lefty’s cheek. She tugged. Her fingernails, painted with tiny bats and full moons, dug into his flesh.

“Ouch,” Lefty said.

“That’s his real face.” Allessandra glared down at the shapeshifter, who was currently a bipedal and angry-looking cat.  “It’s not a mask.  It doesn’t peel off.”

“No cults here,” Lefty said. “Just a Gargantuan House of Terror.  About a month from now, it’ll be Kris Kringle’s Yuletime Forest.”

“We …. um, we’re INK.  It stands for Initiates of Nighttime Knowledge.” Scraggly smiled modestly. “We are a metal band, and we also solve mysteries. Like the time everyone thought there was a deadly shadowbeast stalking the abandoned chocolate factory and we proved it was really a real estate developer trying to get the land extra cheap. And that time everyone thought there was a killer clown in the abandoned amusement park, and we proved it was really old man Blackstone, trying to get the widow to sell it.  And then there was the abandoned toy factory --”

“We have a lot of abandoned structures,” Allessandra explained. “It’s a vampire thing. We’ve never tried solving any mysteries out here. Where the humans live. Before.”

She turned her addictive eyes on catgirl, who let out an angry yowl.

“I don’t think we’ll be doing it again,” Scraggly said just before morphing back into dog form.

Catgirl reached out a claw and slashed through Lefty’s bindings, her ears laid back against her skull. “Unless you want to kill him. Make sure he doesn’t talk.”

“That is not how mystery solving works,” Allessandra snapped. She turned back to Lefty and gazed at him sadly. “If only you’d been a venerable undead priest of the Mysterium Monstratorium Sinistrus wearing a plastic human face. It would have made a great mystery.”

“That would have been swell.” Lefty gazed into her swirling eyes, unable to disagree.

“You won’t remember any of this,” she said.

“No, I won’t.” He slowly shook his head as he stretched his arms in order to help the rope fall away faster.

The cat turned and swatted the dog’s rear, then shot toward the exit. The dog yelped in surprise before tearing after it. Allessandra gave Lefty one last sorrowful look before transforming into a bat and flying away. 

By the time Lefty got the House cleaned up, and got home, and cleaned his phone, and charged it, it was four in the morning. Missed calls marched across the screen, which still bore traces of red food coloring.

It was that moment that he realized that he would have gotten aweigh, with Hit. If only it hadn’t been for those metal INK kids.

© 2015 Charon Dunn