Writing Challenge and Book Promo

(Mostly) Indie Book Promo

If you wish to send us books for next week’s promo, please email to bookpimping at outlook dot com. If you feel a need to re-promo the same book do so no more than once every six months (unless you’re me or my relative. Deal.) One book per author per week. Amazon links only. Oh, yeah, by clicking through and buying (anything, actually) through one of the links below, you will at no cost to you be giving a portion of your purchase to support ATH through our associates number. A COMMISSION IS EARNED FROM EACH PURCHASE. That helps defray my time cost of about 2 hours a day on the blog, time probably better spent on fiction. ;)*

FROM BLAKE SMITH: The First Adventure of Sir Garamond de Crecy

Sir Garamond- Gerry, to his friends- has been knighted for less than a month, and he’s already found his first great quest: saving the beautiful and helpless Princess Alyssia of Ollandra from the dragon that is holding her in dreadful captivity. Or so he thinks…
A lighthearted short story.

BY MAX BRAND, INTRODUCTION BY D. JASON FLEMING: Wooden Guns (Annotated): A classic pulp western adventure

Big Jim Conover has a reputation back home as a very, very dangerous man, and one of the fastest draws ever to live. Folks don’t know he’s now partly-paralyzed on his right side, his gun no better than a wooden gun. So when he comes back to take charge of the family that adopted him as a boy, people expect trouble.

Doctor Clinton Aylard has dreams of restoring the proper social status to the once-great Aylard name in England, but finds himself out west, engaged to a girl named Jack, and accidentally in possession of a reputation as a quick draw with a dead aim. A reputation that only he knows he does not deserve.

Conover is on the wrong side of the law, with a sterling character despite his upbringing. Aylard is on the right side of the law, with a conniving, deceitful character, despite his “good breeding”. When these two men meet, even with both carrying “wooden guns”, bullets will fly!

FROM KEITH HEDGER: Moving Target (Burn ‘n’ Karma Cycle Book 1).

Breeze should have know the money was too good…

It was supposed to be one last big paycheck at the end of the war. Jacob was handling the communications while she sat on a pontoon boat on Lake Michigan, freezing in the winter wind. Then they got the order to fire.

When she made it to shore, Breeze found a hit team standing around her ride out. Soon after that, she discovered her crew were being hunted, and the hunters were hot on her trail.

She wondered if she would make it out now that they had made her a moving target.

You’ll love this cyberpunk thriller with high tech mercenaries surviving in the lowest places.

FROM MEL DUNAY: Shadow Captain (Star Master Book 1)

His one chance to escape slavery could trap his brother in a terrible fate!

Jetay has been on the run with his brother for a long time, hiding his psychic powers from the evil Red Knights. Living as a slave on a star freighter, Jetay dreams of freeing himself and his brother, and of wielding his powers openly.

On a frontier planet, Lady Lanati of the Partisan Alliance seeks his help for a secret mission. It will take him across the stars to the edge of a black hole, with a Red Knight chasing him every step of the way. He might finally get a chance to use his powers for good.

But the price of that chance may be too high, putting his brother in grave danger. Can Jetay save himself and his brother without sacrificing Lanati and her friends? If he can’t find a way to save them all, the battle against evil may be over before it begins….

FROM H. NARCISSUS PETIT: Eden Will Be Destroyed!: A Very Short Story That Explains A Whole Lot

The Bible tells us mankind originally lived in the Garden of Eden until the Serpent tempted Eve who led Adam astray and they were all cast out to suffer and toil in the dirt. But what if that version wasn’t strictly accurate? What if the true story was distorted through generations of oral history, then edited by dead white men employed by an imperialistic dictator with a history of failed relationships and an unhealthy fear of snakes? Wonder no longer. Herewith, the true story of the Fall of Mankind and the Loss of Eden. Well, sort of.

FROM LEIGH KIMMEL: Phoenix in the Machine

Dreams come true in cyberspace — but so do nightmares.

Roger remembers dying in a fire on the launchpad. He’s reconciled it with being alive again. However, being an infomorph in a simulated environment has been a difficult adjustment. Toni tells him he went mad the first time he awoke, and she had to crash the computer.

Now he helps her playtest the games her employer designs. But cyberspace outside Toni’s local area network is a dangerous place. A disastrous experiment in Bangladesh left the world in a moral panic about AI and machine consciousness.

When a careless connection betrays him to those who cannot distinguish between an AI and a post-biological human being, he and Toni must flee. Their cross-country journey will either destroy him or deliver him the spaceflight he’s awaited for a century.

BY CHARLES ALDEN SELTZER, WITH INTRODUCTION BY D. JASON FLEMING: 3 Men of the West (Annotated): A pulp western omnibus of: Riddle Gawne, Beau Rand, and West!

iktaPOP Media brings you an omnibus of three classic westerns by Charles Alden Seltzer, featuring Seltzer’s characteristic western heroes, each with his own unique nickname.

Riddle Gawne

Jefferson Gawne has a low opinion of people, and an even lower one of women. After his brother was murdered by Watt Hyat, in complicity with his brother’s wife, Gawne followed Hyat’s trail across the west.

But the trail went cold, and Gawne, nicknamed Riddle behind his back, found himself the guardian of an orphan girl, and the only man in the territory who dares stand up to Hame Bozzam, founder of the dirty and lawless Bozzam City. Bozzam is too smart to challenge Gawne directly, and Gawne is too honorable to act against Bozzam without cause.

So an uneasy truce has held between the two men. A truce that is about to be broken, with the arrival of the beautiful Miss Kathleen Harkless. Every man wants her, and the men of Bozzam City don’t particularly care if she wants them back.

Beau Rand

Amos Seddon has a secret and Beau Rand knows it.

When someone starts rustling cattle, it doesn’t take long for the whispers against Rand to start. To save himself and his young son, Rand has to prove his innocence and find the real rustlers.


Josephine Hamilton’s first impression of the west was stopping the hanging of a supposed horse thief. From that moment, she decided that the west needed her principles imposed upon it.

And the man who personified that west, and most needed dominating, was Steel Brannon, a man who was merely amused that she stopped him from giving justice to a horse thief. And intrigued by a woman so willful, and so misguided.

This iktaPOP Media omnibus includes Introductions and Afterwords by indie author and editor D. Jason Fleming, putting the novels into historical, cultural, and genre context.

FROM KATRINA LEGG: Some Like it Bot (Noir Good Deed Goes Unpunished)

When the blonde bombshell walked into his office, Deputy Corbin was certain he’d seen this show before.

Then she asked him to solve her murder.

Deputy Corbin will have to follow a convoluted trail of lust and madness to save the tragic starlet… and he might not be in time, even if he figures out who did it.

This is a long short story, not quite a novella, and should not be mistaken for a novel.

FROM DAN MELSON: The End of Childhood (The Politics of Empire Book 3)

The die is cast.

The Empire has caught the fractal demons marshalling troops for assault, and there is no avoiding the decisive Armageddon between humanity and the fractal demons. Both sides have their strengths and there is no certainty about the outcome. While the Empire is free-falling towards open war, Grace is tasked with nudging the odds a little bit, ferreting out traitors to humanity, bribed with the seeming of the most precious gift possible but with a nightmare catch.

Then at the moment of the first skirmishes, personal tragedy strikes, clearing the way for a long-delayed impulse, which results in horror and more personal tragedy.

But out of the disaster, a new Grace emerges – one ready to stand on her own, fully realized as a potent force in her own right.

FROM BLAKE SMITH: An American Thanksgiving

It is Thanksgiving Day, 1865, and Margaret Browne isn’t feeling very thankful. The war is over, and her grown-up sons have returned from the fighting, but her beloved husband remains absent, last seen a captive in a notorious prisoner-of-war camp. The Browne family muddles through their uncertain path, lost without their leader, but when everything begins to go wrong all at once, Margaret must hold together the farm and her family, and turn a disaster into a true day of thanks-giving.

FROM DAVID COLLINS: Prelude of Fate: The Obsidian Valley

This is not the standard Isekai story of “average guy, sent to other world, somehow changed into macho dude doing mega violence getting all the girls”.

This is NOT that story!

Ok, he does get sent to a different world, and he will meet some “very interesting” characters, and many of them will be females.

The problem is, “He” is the primitive, he has no magic or cheat abilities and he really has no clue what’s going to happen.

This is the story of a man, ripped from normalcy, and dropped into a world populated by several very different high tech aliens. This is his struggle to adapt to the new world, and try to make friends with the alien that at first seem like monsters.

In the new world, there is no universal translator, there is no magic, or a box plug in and in 20 minutes you speak a new alien language. He has to learn the new common tongue the old fashioned way, by studying.

Jake tries to adapt and to learn to live in the new world, but he finds out that not everything is what it seems.

Sometimes the monsters are real. Sometimes the really scary monsters are the ones we hide with us. Sometimes the ones that are outwardly monsters can become your best friends.

FROM TONY CARDEN: The Sorcerer’s Lackey

How could Tony be so dumb as to choose a hopeless Hero for this story? I mean, really! Everyone knows that playing around with a dragon is playing with fire.
Hapless, an unsuitable Hero with not a shred of the usual qualities. Dragged – unwillingly, it must be said, by his foster mother – into being the sorcerer’s lackey, he is sent by his master to collect some unmentionable ingredients for his magical experiments.
His trip to “Here Be Dragons”, it does not quite go to plan.
The story is, they say, … is … well … complicated … confusing … chaotic … comic…
A hopeless hero…
A ruthless villain…
A rabble of helpers…
What could possibly go wrong?
What could there be not to laugh over?


Longest Run is set in North America a thousand years after nuclear war has knocked the tectonic plates off the table. Ecologies are in flux. People are trying to cope with the mess they have made. Since that mess includes humanity’s own genetic instability, Brand Levin is willingly engaged in a live-or-die wilderness proving trip; at stake his right to become a parent.

BY J. ALLAN DUNN, WITH INTRODUCTION BY D. JASON FLEMING: Turquoise Cañon (Annotated): A Classic Pulp Western Adventure

Jimmy Hollister just lost everything he had in a stock market crash. After a life of polo and caviar, he cheerfully starts building up his life again, eventually following a girl to Arizona and starting a goat ranch. But hostile neighbors want to make dead sure he never learns the secret of Turquoise Cañon!

This iktaPOP media edition includes a new introduction giving historical and genre context to the novel.

(Yes, there are three links from D. Jason Fleming. Apparently my email has been eating his promos. Hungry hamsters indeed. – SAH)


As we all know, this is the strangest timeline.

I invite the writers and humorists among you (Yes, I KNOW it’s often the same person) to give me one or two paragraphs of an hypothetical (you don’t have to write it) novel’s opening, that starts with a pithy summary of where we are (for pithy you’ll need to choose, trust me) and then takes a leap into the unknown with the strangest “what happens next” you can think of.

Example (and no, it’s not the strangest I can think of, but bear with me, I need to shower, finish installing shelves in the office, and work on Bowl of Red, which really needs to be done this week, since it’s as we know cursed):

We thought it was all a conspiracy theory. No, seriously.
Sure, they locked us down for two years. They terrorized us and treated us like cattle. They made up entire policies to hurt us and impoverish us.
But who the heck could believe there were really space lizards trying to drive humanity to extinction?
And then they took off their masks. On camera.

172 thoughts on “Writing Challenge and Book Promo

    1. Good call. I’ve long said that Murphy is the one god even an atheist like myself can believe in.

    2. Even if I wasn’t completely drained creatively right now, same. I already feel like he’s waiting for me with Toru Tokugawa’s tetsubo and ready to wield it with the man himself’s full Brute strength and it’s affecting me very badly accordingly, mentally and physically.

    3. Twas a dark and stormy, uh, 2 years, of constant, non-stop, 24/7 synonyms, no that’s not right, kabuki theatre of the absurd. But to our astonishment, the hoi polloi ate it up like Jerry Nadler at a Golden Corral. They ate it up and proudly displayed their feces as proof, which helped tremendously with the social distancing. The masks not so much, as they really didn’t filter anything let alone poppy smells. Speaking of which- the hoi polloi voted in, I shit-you-not ( I see a scatty verbiage trend emerging here ) for Mr. Poopy Pants himself, Dr. Demento,err, Dementia, FJB. Just kidding- elections! Hah.

      But then hark a miracle from the EAST, but no, no Magi this time. Rather, a bare-chested short feller riding a bear came a swooping and a whooping, like Slim Pickens and lo and behold, it was gone. Our hero was bathed in praise, strewn roses, OK OK just kidding again. But by Crom that dirty old bug was forgotten and life totally went back to normal. By now you KNOW I’m, say it with me, just kidding. Seems like all of this new and old kabuki was just a smokescreen for the big monster, hidden in plain sight, The Creature from Jekyll Island, starring the heavy version of Marlon Brando. Monster, monsters at every turn.

  1. Some said it started in the mid-teens. Twenty-sixteen, to be exact. That was the point that everything started to go wrong.

    Others pointed to twenty-twenty. That was the beginning of the troubles that changed the entire world as we know it.

    The historians, those that hadn’t been driven insane, often put the date much, much further back. Back to a point in the depths of prehistory, when someone, somehow, uncovered the artifact that turned out to be a slowly ticking time bomb. Only it didn’t explode. It just changed the very fabric of reality itself.

    When the war in Eastern Europe erupted and the First Vampire Legion was revealed, people thought it was a joke.

    Nobody was laughing when the plague of undeath took all of the Middle East under its shadow. When the beastkin began to emerge from the shadows there was panic. When the Mer strode out of the waves they began to fear. And when the Archmage descended from the mountains, then, finally then, they began to believe.

    Not many called it the Dawn of Magic, as the Archmage prefers to call it.

    Most people just called it The Fall.

    Mankind went from the apex predator of Earth to below the top twenty-five in a matter of months.

    Then the first spaceship landed on Earth. Popular opinion states that things really went downhill from there.

  2. Life really does simulate fiction.

    The truth was, aliens have known about Earth and humans for over 10,000 years. But they never really interfered with humanity until the early 1900s. Mimicking humans, they are the ones behind every major conflict and mass death incidents since World War I. Gavrilo Princip was fully human; his best friend, unbeknownst to him, was a Lizard. Hideki Tojo’s favorite geisha was a Lizard too. Even though Stalin was a monster, he was still human; but the Great Famine was directly due to actions of the half dozen Lizards hidden in the Politburo.

    Update to 2022, President Biden? All too human. But 3 members of his cabinet, including Ron Klain, his Chief of Staff, Lizards. Congress? Nancy Pelosi? If you guessed human, you’d be wrong. Sometime in the last 20 years they changed policy to start moving into the positions of power, and not being the forces behind the throne.

    V, by infiltration rather than open contact. And this is just the beginning.

        1. I caught some of it. It’s got it’s good points, with the too-pretty-to-be-real aliens manipulating the media and perception to push their agenda. I remember the series got some flak by people who were comparing the aliens to Obama.

  3. And then they took off their masks. On camera.

    And then the forces of Faire revealed themselves. They had left Earth centuries ago and let Humans keep it.

    Now they decided that having Humans in control of Earth was one thing but Alien Space Lizards was another thing.

    The Dragons were even more annoyed at the Alien Space Lizards.

    They liked those little Monkey Boys.

    Humans weren’t alone on Earth anymore but at least these beings were somewhat friendly.

    1. Of course, the Alien Lizards fought but between enraged humans and warriors of the Fay, they quickly faced defeat.

      That’s when they unleased their hidden Battlefleet.

      Unfortunately, their fleet quickly learned that Dragons were very good at Space warfare.

      The Dragons turned over the remaining (slightly damaged) warships to the Monkey Boys and Dwarves.

      1. Of course, the world being what it was, the return of the Fairie wasn’t completely good but humans adjusted and thrived.

        Scottish Redcaps did attempt to kill travelers but human Monster Hunters (with some assistance from “light” Fay) showed the Redcaps that humans are no longer “safe” prey.

        But even the “dark” Fay adjusted to the human world. Crime in plenty of cities went down after human muggers meet Ogres instead the “helpless” victims that the muggers were looking for.

        The biggest change occurred when “phony” trans folks found themselves turned into the “sex” that they claimed they identified as.

        Trans athletes found themselves with truly female bodies with no advantage over “born” women as well as have periods and the ability to get pregnant.

        Nobody really knows what happened to people who tried to push children into “changing sex”. None of the survivors want to talk about what the Fay did to them and many were never seen again.

        Still, the Fay did make it easier for men & women to become the sex that they thought that they’d be happier as.

        Of course, many trans who regretted having the operations found themselves as the “sex” that they were born as.

    2. Be very polite to old ladies you meet along the way. I mean, you’ll probably get diamonds and roses falling from your mouth instead of ammo, but you never know.

  4. You know, I haven’t accepted a writing challenge since college (too many years ago to worry about now), but ….Please be kind, my writing skills are quite, quite rusty

    The Great Reset.
    Hushed conversations in dark corners of seedy restaurants. Economics professors scrambling to gather what they could and “get out of Dodge”, knowing their days in academia were numbered.

    Once every hour, loudspeakers blared out the order to immediately exchange currency for the NWD (at a rate of 10 to 1)! Meanwhile, hordes of people were abandoning cities and possessions ahead of the mechanized wave of law enforcement bots being sent by Global Aristo, the force engaged to “significantly reduce” the carbon footprint of major metropolitan areas, one family at a time.

    Then, like the plot of a Bond novel – someone moved the moon….

  5. Not in the mood to write anything directly touching current events…but on the theme of societal turmoil:

    When the Lost Legion re-emerged from the enchanted bubble of frozen time-space after a thousand years and returned to the capital city they had liberated and the nation they had founded, the rioters and looters who were in the process of burning it all down found that facing the heroes of old in the flesh was a far thornier prospect than toppling their statues.

    True, the Legion troops were armed only with swords and shields, but the city had been designated a gun-free zone…

  6. He knew what he had to do. He wanted to be rich, famous, and powerful, and his studies told him how to do it even if he was loaded down with college debt and working at Trader Joe’s. Despite his fancy degrees gained by flattering his professors by repeating their Marxist tropes without the quotation marks, so they thought he was just a good student. No, he had actually learned. That’s because he didn’t just study what his profs taught. That was just to get ahead, and he didn’t need to study that to get good grades from them anyway, just convince them he thought exactly like them. Mimicry worked fine, even if they didn’t get the joke.

    No, he had gone beyond his professor’s filtered marxism and studied Lenin and Stalin themselves, as well as Jordan Peterson (in secret of course), and his beau ideal Jung as well as Sul Alinsky and Greta Thunberg and her parents. His double major in History and Film Studies had also led him to the techniques of Leni Riefenstahl and Steven Spielberg.

    Clearly the way to wealth and fame was to found a new church, The Church of We’re All Going to Die!. Of course he wouldn’t call it a church, that would defeat the purpose of attracting all those who disdained religion but still needed someone to tell them what to do and give them a purpose in their lives. He wouldn’t call it, “We’re All Going to Die!” either, that would just be the message. First, was the easy part. Convincing people that they we’re all going to die unless they made others (not themselves of coures) take immediate action would be easy. Stadium rock concert rallies would rile ordinary people up, while $5,000 a plate dinners catering to the rich and seeking would get him more money as his movement grew.

    That would all come later, first he needed to identify the Big Bad, someone who couldn’t or wouldn’t fight back, or that could be bought off by convincing them they’d profit from pretending to reform.

    1. And a woman who immigrated to these shores to get away from all that took one look and said: “Not THIS again!”

    2. And then, of course, he dies in the second chapter, and everyone else in his organization believes wholeheartedly in the cause.

  7. I know it’s only supposed to be a couple paragraphs, but this one actually grew in the writing…now I think I’ll have to add it to my to-write pile. Sci-fi but same theme: a hero from the past returning to a screwed-up future.

    Meren Zhar, courier, smuggler, scavenger and sometimes space pirate – she preferred to be called an extralegal entrepreneur serving demands among the Canceled Unpersons – was leaning back in the helm of her spacecraft, her long legs sheathed in tight-fitting leather and boots crossed on the control panel, when scanners alerted her of the derelict. She sprang to action, hazel eyes gleaming, when she realized how much closer she was than any official vessel of Gathering and Redistribution and she set course.

    The sole cargo was a large container taken from an ancient transport ship dating from the mythological founding of the near-mythological Republic, She had little interest in the ancient tales of prosperity when the starlanes were paved with gold and marked with buoys of diamond and individual liberties were not criminal affairs, but whatever the contents of the box, it was sure to be valuable to the right buyer…

    But it was when Gatherers from the People’s Fleet arrived sooner than she expected and Meren found herself in a firefight that she discovered what those contents were: the container opened, demonstrating itself to be a stasis pod, and a man leapt from his prison and landed lightly on the debris-strewn decking. He scanned his surroundings with a sweep of piercing eyes set in a handsome, chiseled face, then proceeded to dispatch the Gatherers with terrifying efficiency and superhuman speed and strength.

    Meren realized this must be one of the cybernetically enhanced warriors from the ancient past…enhanced with technology long since forgotten in this degraded time. Certainly he was more impressive than the pale, soft, maggot-like Gatherers who operated their combat shells with their atrophied limbs. No wonder his capture and study was of a high priority.

    She turned and sprinted for the airlock and her own ship, intending to strand him on the derelict, her mind already racing with thoughts of who she might be able to sell him to and how the reward might benefit her poor clan-

    A cord lassoed around her ankles, drawing them together and pitching her to the deck. She looked over her shoulder to find the ancient warrior standing over her. Instinctively she reached for the laser at her side, but the the man moved with a burst of astonishing speed. The next she knew, her hands were cuffed behind her back and the laser in the warrior’s big hands. He examined it quickly, then regarded Meren. He inclined his head in an archaic, almost courtly manner and spoke to her in an equally archaic tongue that her translator implant nonetheless made sense of.

    “I hope you were not harmed. Honor and decency forbids harming a lady.” he then resumed finishing off the Gatherers before turning his attention back to her.

    “My apologies for detaining you, milady, but I find myself in need of your vessel.”

      1. Trouble is I’m already stuck on one WIP and I want to write a couple others after that. I don’t know when I’m supposed to write some shorts about an honorable-to-a-fault super powered warrior from the distant past, teaming up with a female rogue to champion the cause of freedom.

          1. For the one I’m stuck on now, I know how the first part needs to end, it’s getting there that’s the problem: I’ve got three characters, one has captured the other for delivery to the bad guys and a third is coming to the rescue, and they all need to be awesome. They’ve all got to make decisions that impact the plot and to establish themselves as formidable in different ways so the next part of the plot can happen: the captive character is kidnapped by another, worse set of villains and the rescuer and original kidnapper have to team up.

          1. I’m trying…I’m even writing outlines now!

            But by now I’ve realized giving up and chasing a fresh idea just means I’ll never finish anything!

  8. heh, wanna hear something funny?
    Sure, I could use something funny.
    Oil is at $109 a barrel
    What! It was $125 just an hour ago. That’s not funny.
    No, what’s funny is Biden wants us to raise production to help his poll numbers
    Why would we help him, even the Saudis won’t talk to him?
    Don’t know, they believe in magic I guess.

      1. Latest word is that the UAE agreed to talk to the rest of OPEC, and try to encourage the other members to boost production.

        Of course, given how many times the “Poland is sending its MiGs to Ukraine” story has flipped and flopped back and forth, who knows which version of the UAE events is currently correct?

      1. His handlers want the entire world crippled, us first and foremost… but they’re unable to stand the pain and political threat of getting it too fast.

        May they soon get it good and hard.

        1. They’re moving pretty fast from here.


          Key quote: “Old Joe delivered right away, shutting down the Keystone Pipeline, placing a moratorium on oil leases on federal property (which was blocked in court but is apparently still followed in the Interior Department, as the number of drilling permits it has issued has dropped sharply), ”

          Democrats just do it anyway.

      2. Which is why The Babylon Bee ran a story about the White House suggesting that Texas should secede so that the US can import oil from it.


  9. When the Russians invaded Ukraine, they made a drive straight for Chernobyl. The military historians took a look at the calendar, and nodded sagely. “They’re avoiding the mass casulties of the German armies in the Pripyat marshes, when everything thaws. They don’t want the reactor, they want the roads through the area!”

    The Ukranians at the time reported gleefully on the shambolic rolling series of disasters that struck the Russians on the way… and the western world, fat, happy, and so ignorant of evil that they couldn’t recognize when the powers that had seized the western puppet leaders were exercising it upon them in the name of a made-up plague, were unable to even come up with the word “cursed.”

    These days, we note this as “the start of the chapter with all the arrows and symbols.” Unfortunately, a lot of those symbols aren’t flags. They’re warnings, avoiding saying the names like Chernobogov, or worse. Far worse.

    We’d curse our ancestral fools, because they blinded us to all the dangers by declaring the Bible a myth. But we’ve learned to be wary of curses, because all the myths were true.

    And as the psychic I talked to earlier this week said, “Nobody’s getting away with anything, anymore.”

      1. Sorry. I need more sleep, to be relentlessly cheerful. Or less sleep, because with sleep, what dreams have come have not been restful.

        1. Nobody gets away with anything…

          The other day I mused to myself: supposing a genie were to offer a wish: everyone gets what they deserve. Including you. Would I go for it?

          1. No way would I take that deal. I might accept the traditional 3 wishes offering. (Wish one: a bottle of Pam Uphoff’s Wine of the Gods.)

          2. The wife often says her greatest hope and her greatest fear is that we all get what we deserve in the end. For myself, I hope God is really, really merciful.

          3. No one sane would, Bob. Justice must ever be tempered with mercy. Else there be no one left at all to be just or merciful ever again.

          4. Definitely mercy or grace; not so much sold on the pure, undiluted justice.

            There used to be a battle cry: “God send the right!” — but I think it’s one of the bravest prayers ever.

            “Indeed I tremble for my country when reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever…”
            — Thomas Jefferson

        2. It is good.

          Just, too close to things I am worried about, for my taste in fiction.

    1. Oh great. Now I’ve got Abney Park running through my head. Thaaaaaanks. (Song “All The Myths are True.”)

  10. “Trade a Bingo card, Yosh? I’ve got some really good squares on mine.” The handsome blond offered with a grin. His brown-haired friend– who might qualify for “rugged” with another decade, and a generous observer– wrinkled his nose.
    “I dunno, Rye. Last time I took you up on that, the ‘really good’ squares all came true.” A mock-fierce glare. “You’ve been getting them from your mother, haven’t you?”
    “Well… I thought that she’d at least have something unusual, being stuck in a stone for a few hundred years….”
    “Yeah, right. Get off your tail and give me a hand, here.”
    “Excuse me?”
    “Fine, get off your TAILS-“

        1. AKA Dahji, aka the single most evil woman in Chinese (semi-legendary) recorded history.

          1. So evil that she kept running around doing similar tricks elsewhere, which is how she got stuck in a rock in Japan!

  11. 2016 was the year of Hope and Derangement.

    2020 was the year of the Unwasted Crisis.

    But the real strangeness began on November 9, 2022, when Joe Biden attempted to commit suicide and the Era of the Phoenix began.

    Kamala Harris went into hiding. She purportedly left behind a letter claiming that she intended to undergo a sex-change operation to become a real woman.

    Hillary Clinton held a press conference to claim that Biden was now dead and that she was now President of the United States. The New York Times backed her. Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to comment on this claim.

    Five days after the suicide attempt, Joe Biden held a press conference where he appeared to be physically rejuvenated and mentally supercharged. He announced that he had converted from Catholicism to Wicca and that his administration was now reversing its previous policies on nearly everything. Two of the reporters dropped dead of strokes on the spot.

    In the UK, a general election was called. It would be won by the new Baker Street Irregular Party, led by a man who claimed to be the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes.

    In Russia, the leading oligarchs revealed that Putin had been dead for the past six months, replaced by an animatronic model. They then announce a plebiscite to pick which of the current pretenders to the throne will become Tsar under a new constitutional monarchy.

    Democrats claimed that President Biden has been replaced by either a body double or an animatronic model. Both an animatronic model and a body double are produced, but neither turn out to be the Biden currently occupying the Oval Office.

    The FBI attempts a violent coup against Biden. They are foiled by the White House cleaning staff.

    Twenty-six Representatives and Senators attempt to attempt suicide, hoping to duplicate what happened to Biden. They succeed in committing suicide.

    The problems with Trump’s new social media service are revealed to be due to the accidental formation of a true AI in the system. The problems are resolved when Trump buys a new server farm to house the AI, which is having trouble deciding on a name for itself.

      1. Al’s insistence that all the hired guards at the server farm change their names to “Betty” is regarded as a bug – especially by the guards – but so far programmers have not been able to track it down in the code.

        1. Founded by a woman, the security company had an all-female force. Oddly enough, all of them had first names that were derivations of the name Elizabeth; hence the reason they were all called “Betty”.

  12. Herewith a back-cover blurb, because it (or the Gateway “Muse”??) insisted…

    Don’t Worry, the Naked Girl Explains It All

    For Jerry Dark, this April First has been one long day’s rotten journey into night. His girlfriend left him in a cloud of incomprehensible lefty clichés for a ‘metrosexual’ blogger. His cat turned half his comic book collection into designer kitty litter. His old job called to say they’ve dropped their clotshot mandate but he’s still laid off. And his new job, well, he might be the only guy in North America whose HELP isn’t WANTED.

    But, hey, welcome to another lovely new month in 2022, right?

    Now the evening drive by the sea he took to “clear his head” has been cut short by his car vomiting its coolant through a blown head gasket, and he can’t call for help because his cell service just sailed off into the 3G Sunset. Lucky for him, it’s only a dozen-mile walk back to town.

    And then, just as he’s admiring the Pleiades and wondering if he ought to simply try to sink into the salt marsh for good measure, Jerry Dark sees the light. As in, a beautiful bright golden meteor that streaks from the Pleiades stars down, down, and down into the marsh nearby — and splashes black mud on his last clean pair of pants.

    Oddly enough, the meteor turns out to be a rather pretty blonde woman in a few bits of jewelry (or tech?) and a little bluish-glowing Jello.

    Her name is Estelle (“unless you like Estrellita better”) and she’s come to Earth from Very Far Away on a mission of mercy. Just to meet Jerry.

    Because it turns out all our crazy-weird stuff (“identifies as 202x”) is coming from “deep in my bones, straight from inside” — inside our minds, the human collective unconscious as it goes through a little evolutionary jump. If we can clear the bar, at least. Not only as individuals or cultures or countries, but as a species, conscious and unconscious all together.

    Her planet, Up There, did this a long time ago. So did a lot of others. And they had the help of many other people from elsewhere, back then. So Estelle and thousands of people like her have come to help Wakeners like Jerry — fated to be so by his inborn nature, believe it or not — bring enough of us to the sane, grounded consciousness of that New Age to Come that the human race can make it past our tight spot (and, well, past our Monsters from the Id too), the way they themselves did once upon a time.

    Suddenly Jerry’s wondering why he’s fallen into a Shirley Maclaine book.

    The good news is, we really do have a bright New Age future ahead of us. As long as it can claw its way successfully into the light from out of the depths of our ages-old collective-unconscious dark, that is.

    Otherwise, we’ll simply be one more part of the universe’s Final Solution to the Fermi Paradox — roadkill on the highway of evolution. Because it’s never stopped being true, stupidity is still the only real capital crime.

    But hey, no pressure, right? Even if you’re one of the Ten Thousand.

    Welcome to the New Age apocalypse of Growing Pangs. With graphics by Carl Jung, script by Metallica, music by H.P. Lovecraft and lyrics by Hieronymus Bosch, it’s bound to be a bumpy ride…

  13. When things went all Dade County between March 2020 and August 2022, people took it to be the End of the World, the Singularity, proof that aliens really were behind it, evidence of a CIA plot, and/or unwanted further proof that the Illuminati ran the world. (The Illuminati went so far as to issue a press release denying any and all responsibility. It didn’t even get on page three of the Times.) The glowing slime from the damaged reactors in Ukraine led to dire warnings about messed up bird migrations and three headed beasts from the Pripyat Marshes, while the glowing remains of several former metro areas in Southwest Asia led to dire warnings about three-headed scorpions. (The Rock was not available for comment.)

    And then Chernobog and the Morrigan got into an argument over who owned Bavaria. The kitsune (or uplifted mutant foxes. No one asks) from Ukraine and Moldova protested to the UN over the dispute.

    Meanwhile, back in North America, Billy Bob, Joe, and Alfonso grinned like mad as their drilling rig severed the last link between California and the rest of the continent. Alfonso got the honor of shoving California into the Pacific. “You’re Hawaii’s problem now!”

  14. It’s still too early. I haven’t got over mourning for an America that actually ran out of toilet paper. Or anything else.

    I need to force myself not to desire violence toward the people who engineered that failure–and are still destroying the country where I was born.

    I need to remember my citizenship is in heaven and concentrate on telling people how to get there.

    I’d rather die like the priest in the old War of the Worlds movie than the way our fellow travelers will. He looked forward to meeting God. They’ll approach death with abject terror, suddenly realizing they’re finally going to get all they deserve.

    1. What if killing is nevessary to protect the innocent?

      Here’s a scenario to explore: The architects of this mess and their compliant, preening politicians are to be hanged, slowly, upside down by one leg. But each is granted the chance to escape. The first must choose one innocent to die in his place. After one accepts this bargain, the next must choose two innocents to die, and so forth. Each offer accepted doubles the cost of the next offer.

      How far will they go? I expect they would wipe out the rest of the world.

      1. They’re all psychopaths who’d sell their mothers, the only problem would be identifying the order they roll over.

  15. The rock had been there forever. Originally buried deep on the side of the hill, it had remained as the dirt slid away, the rain fell, the sun shone and the wind ran its fingers across the surface. The marker in front of the rock that shielded it from the worst of the ravages from the sea had been written in a language that nobody read any more. Or, they wouldn’t have been able to read it if it hadn’t been worn away millennia earlier.

    But still, everybody knew to leave the rock alone.

    And childish fingers disobeyed shouted warnings when their owners scrambled up the side of the hill to see the rock with the strange swirls etched into it.

    And every day, the sun and ran and wind worked on the rock.

    Until, one day, a gentle push from the inside split the rock.

    The thing about being an ageless trickster is that, sometimes, all you need to win is a little patience. Eventually, the people who caged you will die, as will their descendants, and all memory of their existence. Their magic will fade, baked and washed away by the sun and the ran, and suddenly you’re free.

    And the people in the village by the rock, that had been there for as long as there had been people on the island, had no memory of how you’d been defeated. Or how to do it again.

    1. A certain nine-tailed fox is providing lots of inspiration today, I see. Though this excerpt does bear some differences with the real-life rock in question.

      1. She once made a comment about Carlos Santana and next thing I knew I was brainstorming the lyrics to “Fox Spirit Woman.”

        May you ALL suffer as I have. 😛

        1. Also, isn’t she still a bit young to have all nine tails yet? I’m thinking three or four.

          1. Tomamo-no-mae is, supposedly, a new identity used by Dahji, the evil consort of the last king of an ancient Chinese Dynasty (King Zhou of Shang, iirc). She is *very* old, and had nine tails even during her first appearance in China. The Japanese claim that she turned up as Tomamo-no-mae, the concubine to the then Japanese Emperor, and made him sick.

            Also, news reports yesterday stated that the rock Tomamo-no-mae was trapped under by a Japanese holy man (according to one version of the story) has suddenly split in two, presumably releasing her.

            She’s probably best known these days for showing up in a more sympathetic form in the FATE franchise. But the Warriors Orochi video game series features Dahji and Tomamo-no-mae as separate characters.

            1. >> “Tomamo-no-mae is, supposedly, a new identity used by Dahji”

              I know nothing about any of that. I thought we were talking about Foxfier.

                1. Fair point; for some reason I just didn’t register that part of your comment.

                  In my defense, I don’t have any strong mental associations with kitsune EXCEPT for Foxfier, so when someone brings up a nine-tailed fox she’s the first thing I’m going to think about. And she DID inspire me to write a Black Magic Woman spoof – or at least one verse of it – so you saying that people were drawing inspiration from said kitsune only made the mental connection stronger. I guess my brain just didn’t bother processing further.

                  1. Fox spirits, afaik, aren’t generally named in stories, so fair enough. Dahji is an exception, and is almost certainly an historical woman who was posthumously declared a fox due to how evil and depraved she is supposed to have been (and seduced the king into doing the same). As I noted above, she’s considered the most evil woman in Chinese history. The historical Tomamo-no-mae may have also been a wicked woman, but alternately might have just been the victim of jealousy and bad luck (the Emperor grew sick supposedly due to her influence). For some reason, the Japanese decided to not only accuse her of being a fox spirit, but to also claim she was Dahji. And now the rock supposedly trapping her in place has suddenly split in two.

                    It’s also important to note that Chinese and Japanese fox spirits aren’t universally evil. Some are, but some are just mischievous. Korean fox spirits, on the other hand, are traditionally always evil (certain modern k-dramas nothwithstanding).

                    1. >> “Fox spirits, afaik, aren’t generally named in stories, so fair enough.”

                      The only named kitsune I can think of is Mystery, from Mystery Skulls Animated. But that’s just a handful of music video, so it’s not much.

                      And fox spirits don’t seem to get a good rep overall, do they?

                    2. Foxes are reasonably intelligent, curious, and predatory, but will eat most anythign else, too.

                      …these are not things you want if you have, say, a highly limited food supply that includes animals.

                      Oh, and they dig in fields, apparently….

                    3. Not necessarily true. The classic arch-typal story for the kitsune is the woman who takes in a (male, of course) traveller, and treats him (very) well. They’re called fox-wives for a reason.

                    4. I loved the presentation of the kitsune story (several ways) in the Wearing the Cape series.

                    5. That was very good. Of course, “He” was mainly known as Kitsune (along with the name of the Japanese town “he” was associated with).

                      “He” did have names for two of his main personas, one male and the other female.

                      Oh, while we first meet his male persona, the story associated with “him” was of a fox-wife.

                    6. >> “…these are not things you want if you have, say, a highly limited food supply that includes animals.”

                      …Which would include most of our ancestors. Makes since.

                      >> “Oh, and they dig in fields, apparently….”

                      Is that where the term “foxhole” comes from?

                    7. >> “Oh, and they dig in fields, apparently….”
                      Is that where the term “foxhole” comes from?

                      No idea, but they do have dens, too.

                    8. Actually, that is where the term comes from; when a fox was being hunted, it hid in its den, almost always a hole in the ground. See also “foxes earth”.

                    9. “In contrast with most cases, the story doesn’t end with the wife and children vanishing/dying horribly/etc.”

                      IIRC, the traveler typically spends a short period of time with the woman, before finally setting off again. And then he discovers that more time has passed than he thought.

                      The Chinese call them hulijing, or less commonly kyubi. I’m not familiar with any specific Chinese stories about them aside from Dahji. But I suspect the stories are similar to the kitsune story (and probably where the Japanese legends originated).

                      The Koreans call them kumiho, or gumiho. The latter is the name of the hotel in the opening for the Asian faction in the MMORPG The Secret World, which suggesta something about the nature of the woman you meet there. Though she doesn’t try to eat your heart.

  16. My wife and I are huge nerds. We’re Inklings fans, in fact. She wrote her Master’s Thesis on the Space Trilogy. My folks know this about us. They should, because I got my love of Tolkien from my Dad.
    Some years ago, my Dad gave me a copy of Sting for Christmas. When my wife played Bilbo Baggins in a children’s theatre production of The Hobbit, she used it as a prop. I hung it in our home office afterward. Beside it was a little Gadsden Flag that I got from FreedomWorks, back when it seemed like the Tea Party would amount to something. When we moved for work to a big Texas city on the coast, I put it up again. That was in 2016.

    The next few years were rough, for a lot of people, in a lot of ways. As folks talked about the Bad Orange Man and his supporters, I kept going back to the way they talked about us. Somehow, our pocket constitutions, and Federalist Papers, and steadfastly peaceful rallies us racist. I remembered the one open carry rally I attended. They were lying about us then. I know that. Why should I suddenly believe they knew the truth about others, even a Yankee Democrat like the Bad Orange Man?

    When we moved down the road, I didn’t put the Sting replica up this time. It went in a chest. I didn’t need it as a weapon, though I bet it would do well as a thrusting blade, in a pinch. I sure wouldn’t want to poke myself with it. Anyway, by that time, I had a Bowie knife. Why? I’m a Texan. A Texan ought to have a good knife. You never know when you’re going to hear DeGuello. Don’t ask what else I have, friend. Lying lips and all that.

    Back in the good ol’ days of the Aughties and the Teens, I was a prepper, of a sort. Reading and thinking about the crap hitting the fan is one thing. Watching is something else entirely. Watching Milwaukee burn was bad. Watching try to start a riot in Houston was worse. I could see the antifa in the crowd. I knew the look. I knew what they wanted. Good thing not even the fruits and nuts in Austin are that dumb and angry. But, neither of those things worried me like the empty shelves at Wally-world. None of that stung like watching us cut and run from Kabul. Nothing about that summer of rage sowed fear like year three of “two weeks to flatten the curve.” Now when I shop, I pray, and I try to manage my fear. I pray a lot these days – morning, noon, and night. We have not been given a spirit of fear.

    The world has gone mad with fear. They taught us to fear the sight of each other’s noses and chins. It is hard not to hate them for that. But, I have to remember, “perfect love casts out fear”. The Boss said, “Love your enemies.” I try to do what The Boss says.

    Sometimes I lie in bed at night praying. Tonight is like that. My wife likes it dark. The only light I can see is splashed on the ceiling, where the light gets in between the window and the curtain-rod. I look over at her. She’s already asleep. The sound of her breathing brings a smile to my face. Then I roll over, to face the wall where that wooden chest sits, almost in the corner of the room.

    There is pure, white light shining in the corner. I close my eyes and then open them slowly. It is still there, between the dog’s crate and the bookshelf that is my nightstand. The chest with the Sting replica is between the crate and the shelf. Then a faint blue flow envelopes the Bowie knife, on the top shelf.

    So much for sleep. I sit up, take it by the hilt and draw the blade. Blue light fills the room. I see in the light of the Texian fighting knife that the chest is not quite closed. Somehow, the white light is brighter now. I open the lid. The Sting replica shines with a holy, inner light. “Take up the sword of the spirit,” I mutter. “Put on the armor of light.” I cross myself and reach for the hilts.


      Those weapons need one additional power.

      Invariably, and infallibly point out which ‘people’ are orcs and goblins.

      It’s dashedly difficult to stop in the middle of a hack and slash melee and ask everyone present to fill out a questionnaire.

      1. Give some of the RoE’s I’ve heard about, isn’t that what the JAG sort of does, except via datalink, now days? *ducks for cover*

        1. But how will they know unless they ask the “people” what they identify as? *runs*

      2. That is an interesting concept. Of course, I’m a Methodist, so I believe an ‘orc’ can become a person again, and that the Armies of the Lord are composed of heavily armed combat medics. When the blade glows blue, that doesn’t mean, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.”

        1. Except for the Heavenly Host. They’re fully authorized for offensive operations.

          1. St Paul also says to “be strong,” and uses the word “stand” three times, either as a command, or as an indication of what taking up the full armor will enable to us to do. Some folks have pointed out that Roman soldiers only wore a breastplate on the front, as though this indicated we are not expected to retreat, but I think this might be reading too much into the text.

            1. We’re expected to “die on our feet” as it were; but we don’t know all the details of God’s planning… He did use pagan Nebuchadnezzar to accomplish the chastisement of His people—and then punished the Babylonian for his arrogance…

  17. Vic wanted to try out the new restaurant. Called The End, it sat appropriately at the back of an alley between an insurance broker and a trendy bar. None of his friends had wanted to go. They didn’t even seem to know it was there.

    So he went alone. Although the place seemed quite busy he was quickly seated in an empty room. His drink arrived, his order was taken, and a few minutes later the plate appeared.

    He reached for the big, juicy burger, but as his hands closed around it, the burger jumped–there was no other word for it–it jumped a foot back away from him. Its bun lifted like a mouth opening.

    “Hey, wait a minute,” the burger objected.
    “You’re not my diner! You had the spicy barbeque sauce. I’ve got the garlic dijon.”

  18. For any historical period of strife there are always arguments over precisely “when it started.” No event just occurs in a vacuum, but rather is a summation of various other events that led up to and caused it. “When it started” is, ultimately, always a matter of perspective and can never be universally agreed on.

    But when it comes to causing disagreement in such matters, the incident in question takes the cake.

    According to one popular interpretation of events it started in February of 2022, when the government of Russia – then under the command of one Vladimir Putin – invaded the nation of Ukraine. At the time the United States was suffering under skyrocketing increases in fuel prices thanks to the backwards energy policies of then-president Joseph Biden. His ideomaniacal followers attempted to blame the Russian-Ukrainian war for the spiking prices in an effort to shield their master from criticism.

    This claim was easily debunked, of course, as prices had been rising ever since Biden took office and reversed his predecessor’s energy policies. “After all,” the naysayers pointed out, “the war didn’t start until over a year later, so how could there be a causal connection?”

    Those naysayers can be forgiven. After all, how could they have known back then that there was a time machine involved?

  19. I’ll play…

    Ayn Rand had written about the productive people detaching from society. “Going Galt”, it was called. Of course, it was never a practical option. The Idiot Left was never going to tolerate the Engineers pulling out…not when the Engineers were the only people who could run the high-tech systems that made everything possible.

    But Rand had always been wrong. Atlas wasn’t going to Shrug. He was about to Drop-Kick.

  20. And let’s try something more cheerful…(and don’t try to steal it, it’s the open for a novel I’m trying to write)

    It was supposed to be a routine rescue. Q-port a one-man rescue launch over to the merchant ship, match intrinsic velocities, set up the Q-port units, and teleport back where that should have been in the first place. Easy, especially for an experienced Guardsman like Ed Davis.

    Then the merchantman in question made a garbled radio transmission…and disappeared.

  21. Re: Challenge

    I looked up the challenge /after/ reading the vignettes. No wonder that so many of them were hitting far too close to home.

    And, akshully, I’m not sure that I could satisfy the requirement of “strangest ‘what happens next’ that I can imagine”. Because yesterday, I was working out details for a story about a guy who gets transmigrated into a corpse puppet, in another world, with a time loop and a system.

    I can’t easily surpass that for weird, and it would be difficult to demonstrate the weird in one or two paragraphs.

    1. While working on the problem, I did maybe find an opening for my nonsense idea.

      Wound up coming with a different idea for the challenge.

  22. If it had happened on April 1, it could’ve been laughed off as a very elaborate April Fool’s prank executed by bored engineering students. Instead, the gate in the basement of Grissom Hall opened on April 3, Gus’s birthday. The curious students who walked through it found what appeared to be the same building on the other side — until they started pulling up news websites on their phones and read the articles about the lunar and Martian settlements, the debates in Congress about how to go about licensing telepaths, the speech by Russia’s new Tsar condemning all forms of anti-clone prejudice.

    Three days later a similar gate opened in the basement of one of the engineering buildings at Stanford. Four students went through fully expecting to find the not-quite-familiar world we were growing acquainted with, where Trofim Lysenko’s death in the Great Terror had led to biotech and human bio-modification becoming one of the great projects of the Cold War. Instead, they emerged to a world where California was part of the Russian Empire, but not a post-Soviet one. No, this was one in which the Romanov tsars had never given up their holdings on the eastern side of the Bering Straits, where Orthodox rather than Catholic saints provided the names for these lands.

    In the following weeks and months, gates opened to a multitude of worlds. Every time we thought we’d seen the wildest way history could go, a new gate delivered us a world even stranger.

    And then came a messenger from across space and time, bearing even worse news. All of this was in fact mere collateral damage in a war unimaginable to us, fought among entities at the next higher level of being — and they were but the first of many such levels.

  23. Early in 1964, a Goldwater win seemed impossible, but that was before the implosion of the Kennedy Administration. Nobody had expected the failed assassination of President Kennedy to be traced back to Vice President Johnson, Soviet spies, and mobsters who resented the Kennedy clan’s broken promises, but when it did, the consequences for the Democrats were devastating.

    The consequences for the Soviets and their lackeys were to be even more devastating. Not that they knew it yet. I hadn’t known it a week ago, either, but then my entire reserve wing had been quietly activated. The Communists would enlightened soon enough, when my wing dropped their nuclear bombs on Hanoi and Haiphong. The time for giving ground to Communists had ended. The time for their annihilation had begun.

    I’m thinking a character based upon Jimmy Stewart as protagonist and POV would work well.

  24. One blazing hot summer day in 1915, a German aero-freighter met a fiery end within sight of Manhattan at the hands of a Canadian destroyer. That might not have outraged many Americans, if its burning debris hadn’t fallen upon Long Island and killed a dozen of Americans. Those deaths had raised a bit of an uproar.
    When the news broke that the Canadian ship was within US waters, the uproar rose to a cresecendo. Despite President Wilson’s attempts to calm public and lawmakers alike, many in Congress had deemed a truly forceful response necessary. Even now, the debate raged in Congress, and it was an open question if Wilson’s allies would save Canada’s bacon, or whether Canada’s goose was cooked. Would the United States Army, freshly returned from the punitive expedition in Mexico, turn their might northwards?

  25. In retrospect it should have been obvious that when you send all the kids home and turn them loose, unsupervised, on the internet, interesting things would happen. The return of Kek previously should have warned us.

    The California schools sourcing the old Aztec rituals for the kids were bad enough by themselves. But then the kids figured out Loki was real, not just a superhero., and they went looking for more. The anthropologists and archeologists had obligingly doccumented all they could find, and no journal has a paywall that can stand up to a bunch of bored teens looking for their next fix.

    It was all there, and what wasn’t the gods themselves provided. Kek turned out to be, in retrospect, one of the least dangerous to humanity.

  26. “Was that…?” Harry asked as his wife stalked into the room.
    “Yes,” came the reply in a tone that struck Harry as slightly colder than a Montana winter.
    “What could possibly be so important that they had to reach out to you?”
    Sue’s response wasn’t really a direct answer to Harry’s question. “Go pack your bags,” she said. “I need you to come with since you’re a better tracker than I am.”
    “Tracker?” Harry’s brow furrowed briefly as he considered what this meant. “We’re going hunti…?” Harry paused mid-word and stared at his wife. “Fox hunting?”
    She nodded.
    “You’re not serious,” he said. Pause. “You are serious.” Another pause. “Crap.”

  27. You know, once you have TPTB wanting to engage in a land-war in Asia* against an opponent threatening to use nukes, fantasizing about blotting out the Sun, confirming a string of bioweapon labs, cribbing their clever foreign policy ideas from “The West Wing”, etc, it’s a bit hard to top without going into horror.

  28. The Reader thanks all of the contributors for providing interesting, amusing and stimulating reading with his morning coffee. He looks forward to at least a few of these being turned into full fledged stories. His habit must be fed you know.

  29. Éncore! Éncore! roared the crowd as the curtains closed.
    The cast made its way through the dark recesses of the theatre towards the dressing rooms. When supporting actor Ian Stoddard pushed open his door, the reception was much the same.
    “Good show, mate!” “You were great up there! Tops!”
    Drenched with sweat, Ian silently waved thanks as he reached for a pitcher of water. The backstage crowd was the usual assortment of Stage Door Jennies, toady arse-kissers, half-lashed crew members and the odd friend or two.
    “Ian, you were the best one up there — you should star in your own show!”
    Molessa Vega was always first in line to flatter. An actress herself, Vega was incessant with her thespian-of-the-week conquests — of which Stoddard had been long-studied prey…

  30. Once upon a time, a Chinese tycoon was short nickel, in size, then Vlad the Invader struck and all the world’s leaders chose to protect their son’s employers by boycotting the world’s largest producer of that rather vital metal. Now the Chinese tycoon was in trouble because he who sells what isn’t his’n must buy it back or go to pris’n, or at least put up sufficient collateral to cover the shortfall The tycoon was aghast, surely members of the billionaire boy’s club aren’t covered by laws meant for peasants. More importantly, one of the biggest Chinese banks, the one that rhymes with obstruction, was also underwater to him and facing margin calls of their own that could cause a systemic banking crisis in China and possibly the world. Not to worry, the London Metal Exchange would undo the trades already made, not future trades mind, the ones entered into by other investors in good faith who now faced seeing their profitable trades disallowed in favor of a Chinese tycoon and his bank. Who owns the LME you might ask, well now it’s the Hong Kong Exchange one of whose primary banks is the bank that rhymes with destruction.

    This is not, alas, fiction and they’ve really crossed the Rubicon. They’ve never had the nerve to undo trades made in good faith, but China is assho.

    BTW, the Chinese tycoon in question is increasing his short position, moral hazard, it’s as close to a law among psychopaths as it is possible to get,

    Buckle up boys and girls, things are about to get really stupid.

    1. I wish the rats bailing out of the burning plane didn’t have golden parachutes (to terribly mangle at least three metaphors.)

  31. Another day, another “how strange?” — as a more-conventional vignette:

    “Gas just hit six dollars a gallon. First the lockdowns, then the vax threats, then the bank craziness over the border in Canada, now we’ve got oil jumping over the moon. The whole world is going crazy, it’s just all coming unglued.” It didn’t surprise Beth Andersson at all, as she gathered up their empty beer bottles. And, truth be told, she’d about run dry on soothing things to say, to customers like him, that she still even half believed in herself. So she said nothing to it, just asked if she could bring them anything else. Got only a headshake in reply.

    “No, my dear man,” spoke up the well-dressed guy who was playing cards at the next table — she’d come to think of him as a riverboat gambler, for some reason, the old-fashioned kind from the movies not the ones who’d hop one of those buses to play slots on a glorified barge — “it’s not really coming unglued at all. Just setting itself right, just shaking off a big pile of really stupid lies, all at once.” He took a judicious drink of his own beer, a “craft” one from Back East. And there was a disapprobation in his voice, at the last, a kind of emphasis. Like a consummately artistic counterfeiter, who’d just been handed a ‘twenty’ done up in Magic Marker.

    “People used to believe the most amazing stuff, the goofiest whoppers, long as it came from a newspaper or some big-time talker on TV. Now, it’s all going sour at once. A regular ‘bonfire of the vanities’ as that writer said, a while back. Now all their marks are getting wise at once, and it’s not sitting well with ’em at all.” He had a very old-fashioned sort of air to him, hair slicked back, dressed in black pants and coat and a white shirt as was his habit. He looked right at the one who’d spoken first.

    “Did you ever see those ‘Democratic debates’ on TV? Do you remember how Joe Biden told us all he’d go after the the whole oil and gas industry if he ever became President?” His voice was polite and concerned, there was a sort of low-key trustworthiness ‘baked into’ the way he talked.

    “No, didn’t have time to listen to that nonsense. I guess my attention was on other things.” Disgusted.

    “Well, does Old Joe have your attention, now?” Kindly, interested. Soft.

    There was an odd, muffled verbal noise from the other table, that seemed to be half a dozen cusswords colliding at once. “Yes, he does, and I’ll never turn my back on any of that bunch again, they’re just too stupid dangerous. To everybody.” And he turned back to his own table companion, as if all that was a little too much truth too quick for his liking.

    The ‘gambler’ just lifted his own glass in polite leave-taking salute.

    “And I’d like another one of these Black Oaks, if you don’t mind, miss.” It was interesting, he almost always met her eyes when he talked to her, the way so many of the patrons here did not bother to do. “Certainly. And for your friend, too?”

    The guy in the drooping khaki coat and the wide-brimmed floppy hat, back in the shadows near the wall, leaned forward a bit into the light and raised his head from his hand of cards. He had a black eyepatch like a pirate from a movie, but his one eye was sharp and keen. “Like another of these single-malts, too, good on the Celts for inventing this stuff.”

    “Very well, sir, and thank you.” As Beth turned away she thought vaguely that he really ought to be a pirate, wrestling a ship’s wheel with the storm wind in his hair and a crow on each shoulder like…

    And something immaterial hit her with the force of a falling keg. No, Beth, that should be a parrot on one shoulder. Except of course, at the same time she knew full well No, it should not.

    And old bedtime stories with her grandmother washed over her like a wave, and not a gentle one. She put the tray stacked closely with empties down on a free table, and just turned to the TV and breathed. And felt very blessed that nobody, but nobody, asked, “Miss, are you all right?”

    She pulled her tips — from that table — out of the pocket of her apron. All quarters, like the quarters the two gentlemen always played for… but these were all old coins, mid-sixties at the youngest.

    90%-fine coinage silver. Worth far more than face value. (“No, keep that.”)

    Beth had work to do, the bar tonight was very far from ‘dead’ — but for her, suddenly all those weeks of piled-up quirks just… fit.

    As she looked up to the TV again, some wokester pro-ball game, her eyes dragged past the other table with the three women, almost certainly three sisters, that had started coming in about the same time as the two card players. One of them was facing her, and she met Beth’s eyes and raised her glass and winked. Not the way someone re-ordering a drink was likely to do, not even close, though of course after she dumped the empties behind the bar she would run by and ask. No, that wink had been a very intimate and knowing one, as between sisters or cousins. Maybe even almost as if the girl in the green dress had known what she was thinking. Exactly what she’d been thinking, and all of it.

    Maybe she was getting used to it, maybe it was just a touch of shock.

    Maybe she was going crazy; but of course that was going around too.

    What Beth Andersson did was pick up her tray and start walking back.

    The One-Eyed Traveller. His… half-brother? And the Three Ladies.

    Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld. (The last being the one with the wink.)

    And then she remembered something else, which almost (but did not) cause her to falter in mid-stride (not recommended with all the bottles).

    Three friends of hers from church were all ga-ga about this new revival preacher from over in the city suburbs an hour’s drive or so away, about how he looked like some sort of handsome Greek singer and preached like a young Billy Graham, but on nitromethane instead of straight gas. “You’ve got to come see this guy, Beth, it’s like the best revival ever. Nobody even comes close, it’s like a religious experience just to be in the audience. And the crowds just keep getting bigger and bigger every single night…”

    No, it can’t be. It just…cannot.

    But by the time Beth had reached the bar and handed over the clutch of empties, she’d found her way — very much to her surprise — to a rather unfamiliar thing that she used to take so much for granted.

    Faith, of a sort, in the future. The kind she hadn’t had for a while.

    Like when the parents go on a trip, and some of the kids decide it’s the best opportunity ever to simply… run wild. And then right in the middle of their stupid crazy childish party, Mom and Dad come back a day early.

    Maybe this was like that. And if she’d had to guess, really had to… the wink said it all.

    1. The one-eyed Traveler didn’t IIRC have a half-brother but did have a “blood-brother” (or sworn-brother). 😉

      1. Yes, that one is a bit ‘off canon’ — although I seem to remember at least one book going through a series of arguments why Loki actually was Odin’s half-brother, as best I remember also all the ‘evidence’ was at least somewhat indirect with ‘some assembly required’ — and of course I can’t remember which book or whose.

        And of course this requires the ‘early model’ Loki of the sagas where he’s a sort of annoying but useful fixer, not the ‘late model’ one where he shades (or dives) towards pure evil. (Odd, that, such a huge change.)

        My guess, as writer / clerk, is that Beth’s grandmother told the stories the way she’d heard them and/or simplified things for the ‘bedtime story’ version of the Norse legends. But (“gateway writer”) only a guess…

        1. You could add in a boisterous, honest fellow who looks like the sort who’d happily brawl with you, and then buy you a drink afterward. And who may or may not have a hammer near at hand. In the old stories, he tends to appreciate his half-brother’s company, when said half-brother isn’t getting them into further trouble (which happens a lot, of course…).

  32. The other day while Worsel and I were contemplating the whichness of the why we stumbled upon an ancient communication when Enphilistor a watchmen of Arisia reached out to Mentor and posed a question “Mentor my vision of the Cosmic All feels very incomplete. I can not tie any of what is happening on Tellus in the third decade of their 21st century in their reckoning to what has gone before nor can I find hints of manipulation by Gharlane or other Eddorians beyond their usual interference. Can you provide guidance Mentor?”. Mentor pondered for a span of several seconds, a very long time for Mentor to do anything involving mentation and finally replied “Young one as you have noted the actions of which you are concerned, have no clear initial source either in Arisia, or in Eddore. This of course should not be possible. It appears that the inhabitants of Tellus have been investigating apparently without direction from known sources a rather arcane field of study which We have called Artificial Stupidity. There seem to be several powerful examples of it, particularly the president of the main country on their North American continent, as well as several other members of that political alignment and several of their opposition. We have traced the likely source to a previous failed presidential candidate one Hilary Clinton. At first we thought it was Gharlane of Eddore motivating her inanimate hulk but it became clear to us that even Eddorians have a purpose and do not do things simply for their deleterious effects.” I Tregonsee am fairly certain this does not hail from this particular reality but seems to be some parallel reality, or perhaps someone somewhere is trying to cloud my mind. In any case I have recorded here with a lensmans seal. Given its reference to the Eddorians I have marked it as viewable only by entities of the second stage or above (if such exists)

    Tregonsee of Rigel L2 Signing out.

  33. Terrible effort, needs more work, but I’ve decided I’ve put in enough time and work here:

    Before the beginning, there had been many terrible political events, both domestic and foreign. In hindsight, the beginning of the end was almost exactly thirty years ago, the 1992 Presidential ‘election’, when a theiving rapist from Arkansas obtained a position of high national power alongside Gore. Theiving rapist was married to a theif disordered with ambition, who enjoyed it when her man raped human women. The pair hollowed out the American Democratic Party, turning it into a dead thing whose rot nurtured various things incompatible with humanity. Domestically, the Democratic Party had not been a force for goodness and humanity since before the American Civil War. Internationally, politics had birthed horrors like the Ottawa Treaty, Additional Protocol One, the Seabed Arms Control Treaty, and the Montreal Protocol. Yet, 1992 was a sea change for the worst, because of Emperor Gore, who wanted nothing more than to rid the ‘surface’ of human ‘surface dwellers’.

    At the time, I had no knowledge that anything was wrong. My parents hadn’t raised me with the discernment to tell the lizardoids from the ‘human’ collaborators who had seized control of the Republican Party, and I was much too young to work out the truth yet for myself. As I grew near adulthood, I begain to realize that there were things deeply and profoundly wrong with some people, but did not dare imagine the truth. I even started to touch on ‘inhumanly wrong’ with respect to the substance abusers. My early adulthood was a very unhappy time, with occupational training, unemployment, crippling medical issues, and a great deal of anger with the entire world, that mostly blinded me to the complete truth. In my later adulthood, on the verge of full exposure, situations generally became extremely horrible, but specifically improved for me, enough that I could cope and notice truth when it was revealed. Still a difficult period of mental health. Improved employment, further more interesting occupational training, mixed with insane lockdown bullshit, more insane vaccine bullshit, and even more insane legal and procedural bullshit. Finally, I had landed a dream job after years of serious effort; I did not immediately realize that things were profoundly wrong. I’ve always had lots of strange interests. That those around me lack them is not necessarily notable. I expect that people might not know about Smith’s Skylark, or Kabaneri. But surely, in a tech organization someone has heard of Gundam? No, nor Mazinger or Getter Robo. But it was profoundly impossible that no one had heard of Pokemon. So, I checked the internet. Nothing of what I had come to expect to have wikis documenting could be substantiated at all. No bulbapedia, no wookiepedia, no FFN, no AO3, no Akurasu, none of the blogs I had been addicted to, nothing. And when I finally booted up my old computers again, they also were missing critical bits of information that absolutely should have been there. Then there was a field trip at work, following sensor events that made little sense, where we found injured persons and damaged artifacts that had no place in my already damaged understanding of the world. Extremely rough mental health situation. Only when Emperor Gore announced on the TV that his Dinosaur Empire would be ridding the Earth of ‘surface dwellers’ did I realize that I had been seamlessly inserted into a Super Robot Wars fanfic written by an absolute madman, who was serious about doing /all/ of the properties.

  34. I’m a day behind on the blog, but the writing challenge sounds fun. Here’s mine:

    It started with a madman raving about homosexual amphibians, and only got stranger from there. Political elites raping children on a secretive private island? Story checks out. Heads of industry dancing naked around a two story tall owl statue in the woods in a pseudo pagan ritual? Sounds about right. The CIA using psychadelics to commune with demons in a quest to master mind control? Why not! Every time we thought we reached rock bottom, the floor gave way to reveal a new level of utter insanity and absolute depravity. From false flags to plandemics, from Great Resets to country-sized cancel culture, all the props and stagecraft that made the world seem like a normal and logical place were falling apart right before our eyes. Some said that the world was a matrix that was breaking. Others that the world was the fever dream of an insane god. Still more just laughed and called it clownword. But despite the years of buildup and hidden clues, none of us was prepared when the truth was finally revealed.

    To be continued because I haven’t come up with a good enough punchline yet.

  35. This class is about the CRAZY Years that the beloved prophet Robert Heinlein (bless his name) foretold. It is now over a thousand AA (after apocalypse), yet the lessons of the CRAZY years still remain. We must always remember that our knowledge is incomplete, and we do not know, what we do not know. We are not even sure of the beloved prophet’s name. Is it Robert? Is it Bob? Or is he an alias for the mysterious Lazarus Long?

    So in this class you will learn the importance of uncertainty, as well as the wisdom of the prophet. The crazy years were a time of lies, which makes our understanding difficult. There seems to have been a building devoted to lies in what is now radioactive Lake Washington. They seem to have called it the FIB building, another name for lies in the ancient tongue. The radiation is now less, but no one lives in DC (Demon Country) .

    When people die because of lies it is important to understand. Yet, always remember much of our information is not contemporaneous with the CRAZY years. Tsar Putin III more than 100 years after year zero, was the first to try to salvage records and to understand why two billion people died from a sinister cause.

    Inspired by a canticle.

  36. My attempt at the writing prompt:

    It was the last thing anyone could have expected. The contributing factors were obvious in hindsight, but we didn’t have the benefit of Applied Esotericism (a misnomer if there ever was one, but the academics insisted) back then. Be it the soil stained from a century of war and atrocity, church pews emptied by a loss of faith in church and family, or the empty materialism of Green Gaianism, old Europe was ripe for an event such as this.

    When the Russians touched off the tactical nuclear device in downtown Kyiv, all they wanted was the swift decapitation of the Ukrainian government and a capitulation that would put an end to the fighting that had dragged on for months. With his economy in tatters from feeding a war machine and weathering crippling sanctions, Vladimir Putin had turned to the only option that had a record of being a surefire end of hostilities. He never expected all Hell to literally break loose.

    I figure in these trying times it would be a nice bit of escapism to have an unambiguous evil that could get everyone to set aside their old grievances and rally together to defeat it. I just hope that if I were to continue this blurb into an actual story that I would be able to focus on overcoming the evil and not get too bogged down in castigating the structures and organizations that enabled it.

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