Category Archives: novel

The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 7

Canto 7 – Room 1313, Parkland

Stan brought the flowers he bought in the gift shop with him as he entered the room.  The husband, David Nguyen, sat in the cushioned chair by the bed with his head in his hands.  He was obviously distraught in spite of the time that passed since the mystery illness struck down his wife.  The daughter, Hannah according to the notes, sat in a folding chair watching cartoons on the hospital-room TV. 

Stan turned to Maria and whispered, “You make friends with the little girl.  Give her your cellphone number and tell her she can call you if she wants to talk about anything.”

Maria nodded silently and walked over to the little girl.

“Um, Mr. Nguyen?  I know now is not a good time, but I brought Brittany some flowers.  I wanted to know if there was anything I could do to help your family out in this time of trouble?”

The man looked up.  He was obviously an Asian-American, probably Vietnamese.  He had been crying.  His eyes were red.

“Who?  Who are you?  Brittany knows you?”

“I know her through her work at the charity, the one helping troubled teens.  She’s a very determined activist trying to make kids’ lives better.”  It wasn’t totally a lie.  The information he dug up about her charitable activities was indeed impressive.

“Yeah, well, I wish she had spent more time with her own daughter and less time fundraising for future criminals and terrorists.  Now poor Hannah will never know her mother as well as she deserves.”

“Oh?  Did the doctor give you bad news?”

“He can’t tell me anything at all.  He has no idea what caused this coma.  She’s not brain-dead, but nobody can say when or even if she will ever wake up.  For all they know, she will be like this until she dies.”  The man was obviously filled with bitterness and anger.

“She got this way at that old antique toy store on Mockingbird Lane, didn’t she?”

“Yeah…”

“Do you know anything about what happened while she was in there?”

“Not really.  She took Hannah in there just to look at the toys.  Why?”

“There’s a lot of very old things in there.  Some of those really old toys come from a time before anybody knew that mercury or asbestos was bad for you… even deadly.”

“You think she might’ve gotten some of that stuff from the toys in there?”

“It’s possible.  Did you talk to the store owner… or whoever was there running the place?  Maybe he could’ve shed some light on what she did that may have caused her condition.”

“I didn’t really talk to him.  He did talk to the ambulance guy and the police while I was there.  But I went here to Parkland in the ambulance with Brittany.”

Maria gave Hannah a hug and then came over to stand next to her stepdad.  Stan winked at her with the eye farthest from the man in the chair.

“My daughter and I are hoping for the best.  You and your family will be in our prayers.  I will leave you my phone number.  Anything you want to talk about or anything we can do to help, just give us a call.”  Stan handed the man a piece of paper with his cellphone number scrawled on it.

“Thank you.  What was your name again?”

“My name is Stanley… but you can call me Stan.  Stan Menschen.  My daughter here is Maria.  Your daughter is more than welcome to talk to her about anything.  I asked her to give Hannah her cell number.”

“Thank you.  I don’t know what else to say…” He dropped his head back into his hands.

Stan walked out with Maria feeling like they did not learn much, but the groundwork was laid.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 6

Canto 6 – The Porcelain Doll

Brittany’s head was swimming as she walked into the coffee shop with the doll still cradled in her arms.

“Lady, you look a little pale and peaked.  How about you sit down at the counter, and I give you a free first cup of java?” The broad-faced man behind the counter had a huge and welcoming smile.  It made her heart stop fluttering just a bit.

“World War Two is going on?” she tried not to gasp as she asked it.  But she was sure the three other people in the place, all older than dirt, knew she was rattled to the point that she was about to shake herself to pieces.

“Husband fighting in Italy is he?  We all think it’s almost over there.  Patton is wiping out the bad guys.  But it will be a while before Germany falls too.  Or is he in the Pacific?”

“No… ah, my husband is… well, he’s not in this world anymore.”

“Oh!  We’re so sorry for your loss.”  The shop owner had tears in his eyes as he poured her coffee.

“That why you bought the doll over at Aunt Phillia’s place?” asked the old man three seats down from her at the counter.  “It’s nice… um… an antique… but it’s naked…”

“Weren’t a good idea, Miss.   The toys from that store are all cursed,” said the old woman sitting next to him.

“Hush, Mabel.  She just told us her husband died a war hero.  You gotta have more respect than that.”

“No, my husband didn’t die in the war… He just hasn’t been born yet.”

“What?”

“You can’t tell them that,” said the doll.  “They won’t believe you.  And they will never understand the truth from your point of view.”

“Did you hear the doll talk just now?” she asked the shop owner.

“He can’t hear me,” said the doll.

“Listen, Ma’am, I know the world doesn’t make any sense for a while after you lose someone.  Especially if you lose them overseas and far from home.  You need something to eat?  It’s on the house in view of your loss.”

“He’s being kind.  You need to accept and be grateful,” said the doll.

“Maybe… the sausage smells good.”  She tried to smile, but the tears were real.

“Certainly.  Not real easy to come by with the war on, but certainly what you need about now.”  The shop owner took the sausage out of the frying pan and put it on a plate for her.

“Where did he die, Sweetie,” said the old woman, trying to be more considerate.

“I can’t… I mean… I don’t…”

“You don’t have to say anything.  Just eat.  Mabel is being nosy.  You need to recover from your loss.”

“It’s me you need to talk to,” said the doll.  “But not here.  They already think you’ve gone nuts from grief.  Finish eating and then take me somewhere private.”

Brittany wolfed down the sausage, which really was savory and delicious, and then tried to get out of the shop and leave the doll behind.

“Miss, don’t forget your doll.  She’s probably valuable.  And you really shouldn’t be completely alone now.”

The old woman snatched up the porcelain doll and put it directly into her arms.  She smiled at Brittany with a toothless smile.

“Please don’t leave me, Mommy,” said the doll.  “I can’t lose you now.  You are my last hope.”

Brittany burst into tears, hugged the doll to her, and started to run.

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Novel Number Fourteen

Novel #14 is now complete and published. The Norwall Pirates, softball team and liars club, take on an ancient undead Chinese wizard. All of it takes place in small Iowa farm towns during the Bicentennial summer of 1976. But some of the major players in this life-or-death struggle are immortal, and most of them are only high school freshmen, fifteen-years-old and still quite awkward in the face of a dangerous and arcane world full of the difficult problems of growing up.

The novel is called The Boy… Forever. Icarus Jones is a main character like Peter Pan, faced with the possibility of living forever, but never growing older than ten.

For now, I haven’t settled on the next one. But Number 14 is done.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 5

Canto 5 – The Game’s Afoot

Stanley Menschen was a simple man, believing firmly in the right and wrong of many things.  He believed in police procedures.     He still believed in them now that he was no longer a member of the Dallas Police Department and was doing freelance investigative work instead.  That’s why he didn’t participate in the initial investigation of Yesenia Montemayor’s disappearance.  You needed to let the police do their jobs.

“Stan, you know she most likely ran away and threw down the underwear with the blood on it to get talked about as she hid out with friends somewhere.”

  Stan leaned over the desk and looked Officer Jason Penny in the eyes.  “J.C, tell me you don’t think the boy isn’t worth investigating because he’s doing the same thing?”

“He was her boyfriend.  The connection is obvious.”

“So, the bloody underwear thing was a pre-planned throw-down?  They plotted it out together?”

“What else?”

“That’s what I want to know.  Any other clues that don’t indicate a simple runaway?”

“The detectives didn’t turn anything up.”

“Did you seriously investigate the store owner?”

“You mean the creepy guy?  Old Eule Geist?  You know he’s your stepdaughter’s alibi, don’t you?”

“Yes, but that shop has been investigated for years.  What other current investigations involve that damned toy store?”

“Just a couple.  The mysterious case of a woman dropping into a coma inside the store.  Name of Brittany Nguyen. Currently in Parkland Hospital’s Long-Term Care Unit.”

“A prior medical condition?”

“Not that we can prove.  But how would Geist have…”

“You know the toy store is owned by some guy named Mephisto?  Has been for over a hundred years.”

“Same guy?”

“Same name on all the paperwork.  Probably a Junior and a Third, though the documents don’t say that.”

“No way any of them poisoned the lady.  Especially not the dead ones.”

Stan scribbled the name of the coma lady down in his notebook.  “And the other cases?”

“Couple of runaway grade school kids.  Eight years old.  Shandra Johnson, age eight, and Mark Merriweather, also age eight.  The boy’s bicycle was found near the toy store.  But the girl’s old man is a prime suspect.  He’s been on our radar for wife beating and child abuse for quite some time.”

Stan noted that down too.

“Anything else?”

“Your girl’s case.”

“Yeah.  At least it is something to start with.”

“There’s nothing there, Stan.  Really.  It’s all coincidence and rumors about a place we all said was haunted when we were kids.  Nothing there, I tell you.”

Stan nodded.  Nothing on the surface.  But a lot of dark and deep water to dive into.  You never prejudge anything… at least, not if you’re wise.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 4

Canto 4 – The Marionettes

Shandra was waiting for him with a paper bag full of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.  She was running away from home.  There was no other choice about it.  They were never gonna beat her ass again like that, whether she deserved it or not.  And she was eight now.  She could damn well take care of her own self.

But Mark mattered.  She was gonna need him to run away too.  Through all the darkest times in first grade, Mark sitting next to her in Miss Immelmann’s class was the only reason she was still alive.  You don’t let go of somebody like that once you find them.  And he claimed he liked her too, didn’t he?  Enough that when she asked him, he showed her his little pink mushroom cap of a dick.  And he didn’t ask to see her little black coochie in return.  That was like love or something from a white man.  Even if he was just a little boy.  And when she asked him about running away together after school got out, he said yes, didn’t he?

But where the hell was he?  School was over three hours ago.  And still no sign.

And then he was there, pedaling up on his shiny silver bicycle.  He was wearing that blue jacket of his.  And a baseball cap covered his wavy blond hair.  That beautiful blond hair.  Shandra loved how it felt when he let her comb it with her hand.  And he smiled at her as he used his bike chain to secure his bike to the lamp post on Mockingbird Lane.

“What took ya so long?”

“Mom asked too many questions.  I had a bad time sneaking out.  I didn’t tell her about you or the plan or anything.”

“That was smart of you.”

“You aren’t mad are you, Shandra?”

“Well, sure I am!  I worked hard making all these sandwiches to bribe you with.  I used all Poppa Dark’s peanut butter, so he’ll kill me if the cops catch us and take me home.”

“You didn’t have to bribe me.  I said I’d follow you anywhere, and I meant it.”

“Well, we are gonna need food on this journey.  We ain’t never coming back home again if we can help it.”

“Where are we going to run away to?”

“Well, I ain’t figured that out yet.”

“Let’s go in that toy store and look around while we think about it.”

“That’s the Haunted Toy Store, Mark!  Nobody goes in Aunt Phillia’s Toy Emporium unless they want to disappear from the face of the earth.”

“Well, we are running away to Europe or Mexico or somewhere…  Maybe it’s a good place to start laying low so the cops don’t know where we are.”

“Yeah, they would never think of finding a kid in a toy store.”  She frowned at him and let that last statement sink into his little, thick head.

“…But, a haunted toy store.”

“Good point.  Let’s go.”

She took him by the hand and, carrying the bag of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the other hand, she led him into the store.

The spooky old guy at the counter grinned at them and blinked his owl eyes.

“We’ve been expecting you.”

“What?” said Mark, sounding shocked.

“How did you know we were coming here?” Shandra said sharply.

“A little mouse told me.”

“Oh, yeah?  Did he say why we were coming here?”

“He said you were trying to escape from a bad situation, and he knew this shop specializes in helping out in such situations.”

Shandra was a bit stunned by that.

“You know what marionettes are?” said the creepy guy.

“Puppets,” said Mark.

“Puppets controlled by strings.  Some people are like that… controlled by strings, I mean.”

“Yeah, so?” challenged Shandra.

“So, go see the marionettes.  That will be of help to you.”

Shandra led Mark by the hand around the corner to where the marionettes hung on their strings.  It was a wall full of creepy, round-headed people with big, round eyes.  They were staring down at Shandra and Mark.  There were kings and queens, goofy-looking idiots with buck teeth, spindly men with bushy beards and what were probably soldier’s uniforms, ballerinas, clowns, flowers in flower pots with leafy arms and big-eyed faces on their blossoms, lots of ridiculous things like that.

“They are telling us to look at the big trunk there on the floor,” said Mark.

“I didn’t hear them say anything,” said Shandra.

“They want us to get into the trunk.”

“Why?”

“They say they will help us find a new home.”

Shandra didn’t want to believe a word of it at first.  She didn’t hear the wooden heads say anything at all.  This weren’t no fantasy movie with magic and junk in it.

“They say it’s the only way,” Mark pleaded.

So, only because they were desperate to escape the city…  And Mark seemed to think it was a good idea.

The trunk was big enough for both of them to sit in it if she faced Mark and put her legs over his legs.  They both leaned towards each other, and the lid came down by itself.  The lock clicked as if someone had turned a key.

“Uh-oh,” said Shandra, “We’re screwed!”

Then the lock clicked again.

“So, Mr. Mephisto, how about these?” said the creepy guy who ran the store.

“Ah, perfect!” said Mr. Mephisto, lifting the two puppets, Mark and Shandra, out of the trunk by their strings.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 3

Canto 3 – The Gumshoe

Maria came into the kitchen, finally home from the police station where she had spent the night and half of the next day.  Her mother, Bonita, dragged herself into the kitchen after Maria, obviously, a wreck from the ordeal her daughter had put her through again.

“So, what did the criminal do this time?” asked Stanley.  He had been sitting at the table reading the news from his phone.

“You coulda helped, you know,” said Bonita, firing off an angry glare in his direction.

“I told you I was on a case last night.  My job pays for the bail money that got her out of the slammer.”

“Well, at least there is no money to pay.  The store owner isn’t pressing charges.  And he’s gonna let her make up for the mess she made by helping him clean the store.”

“And the murdered boy?”

“There is no murdered boy.  They found bloody clothes in the alley again, just like in Yesenia’s case.  But no body.  And the store owner said Maria was in the store with him when the boy was taken.”

“Well, I guess we both knew she didn’t kill him,” said Stanley.  “She’s in love with him or something.”

“Shut up, stupid,” Maria said to him with acid in the delivery.

“Don’t talk to your stepfather that way.  He loves us both and takes care of us both.”  Bonita’s eyes were filled with fatigue and pain.  “I need sleep, Stan.  You have to deal with her for a while, please.”

Stanley looked at his beautiful wife, his overweight, slightly defeated-by-life beautiful wife.  “You get a good sleep in.  Maria and I will talk this out.”

Bonita smiled at him and dragged herself towards the bedroom.

Maria looked grim.  She pulled a chair out from the table, turned it backward, sat on it with her arms folded across the back of the chair, and laid her head on her arms.

She looked at Stanley with tears in her eyes.  She didn’t pick her head up when she said, “You have to help me find Rogelio, Stan.  I love him.  If you can find him for me, I’ll have sex with you.”

“I told you before, it is not appropriate to try to bribe your stepfather with sex.  I am not interested in underaged kids.”

“You know I don’t have any money.  I can’t afford your detective skills.”

“This isn’t the same as when Yesenia disappeared.  You didn’t really know the girl.  It wasn’t something I was willing to interfere with when the police were investigating the disappearance of a girl from your school who wasn’t even your friend.”

“So, you’ll find Rogelio, and in return, I’ll sleep with you?”

“No, kid.  I will investigate for free.  Have you bargained sex for something with anybody else I should know about?”

“My answer is the same as last time.”

“But you know I didn’t believe you when you said it last time.”

“Why do you care?”

“I’m your stepfather.  Protecting you is part of the job.  And if you and I are going to find Rogelio, you are going to have to be more honest with me than you have been in the past.”

“Um, well…  I may have used that instead of money for a couple of things.  But I’m not telling you who.”

“Honesty at last.  Well, I’m a detective.  I already know who, and I already threatened both of them.”

She smiled an evil smile.

“What are you smiling about?”

“You do care… at least, more than you let on.”

“Well, we are being more honest… I suppose.”

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 2

Canto 2 – Astrophel and Stella

Rogelio met Maria at the bus stop on the corner of Mockingbird Lane and Brookriver Drive just as they had planned in Mrs. Broadbent’s English class at the end of a long high-school day.

“You see it?” Rogelio asked, pointing across the street.  “The toy store is right there, just like Fernando said.”

“Yeah, but nobody proved that it was the place where Yesenia disappeared.”

“They found her bloody clothes in the alley behind it.  What more proof do you need?”

“Well, I’m going in to look around.  Are you brave enough to go with me, Roge?”

“Anything you can do, I can do.”

The two high school freshmen walked across the street at the stoplight.  The building was spookily in shadow in spite of the gray-white sunlight trying to penetrate an overcast sky.

As they entered the shop together, the old storekeeper looked up from his old, leather-bound ledger at the front checkout counter.

“Little old for toys, aren’t we?” the white-haired loser asked.  It made Rogelio a bit angry.

“We came because of the disappearance of Yesenia Montemayor a month ago.  We need to look around.  They found her clothes behind this place.”

“So, here to solve a Hardy Boys’ Mystery, are we?”

“Do I look like a boy?” Maria said, now angry too.

“Hard to tell nowadays.  Nancy Drew, then?”

“You are just so old and out of date!” said Rogelio.

“Why do you really want to look for clues in my store then?”

“Yesenia was his former girlfriend.”  Maria’s glare was defiant.

“And you’re his new girlfriend?”

“Well… yeah, I kinda hope so.”

“Then you probably don’t want to go digging up his old girlfriend, eh?  Not in your best self-interest, I’d say.”

“We need to find out what happened to her,” Maria said matter-of-factly.  “…So people don’t keep saying one of us had something to do with it.”

“Hated her that much, did you?”

“No!  I didn’t kill her and eat her or anything!  And I intend to prove that.”

The old man looked at Maria with eyes magnified by his thick glasses.  He looked like a Lechuza, a soul-stealing barn owl, that one.  Rogelio gritted his teeth.

“Can we look around your store, or what?” he said.

“Help yourself.  If you want murder clues, there’s an old decorative Day of the Dead skull by the back door.  Pick it up and ask about the missing girl.”

“Tell the cops to do that too, didja?”

“Yep.  They didn’t take me seriously though.”

Rogelio simply turned and walked towards the back of the store.

“Do you believe that guy?” Maria mumbled as she followed him.

“I don’t know.  I don’t know if I believe you either.”

“What… what do you mean?”

“Well, that remark about digging her up and you talking about killing her and eating her.”

“I said I didn’t do that.  You believe me, don’t you?”

“Let’s see what that skull has to say.”

Eerily, the skull was right in front of them as he said it. It was a sort of Halloween decoration for the Hispanic holiday of the Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos in Spanish.  It was a white papier-mâché skull with brightly colored flower blossoms painted on it for eyes, and an intricate vine design all over it in bright pink and orange outlined with green and dark blue.

“Hola, mi sabio amigo, ¿qué me puede decir sobre el asesinato de Yesenia Montemayor?”  He used the Spanish because he knew Maria didn’t understand very much of it.  She was raised in an English-speaking house with an Anglo stepdad.

“Ella no está muerta. Ella un juguete con el que juega Imelda.”  The skull seemed to be speaking with no moving mouth.

“What?  She’s a toy?”

Maria looked horrified.  “Who are you talking to?  And what’s this all about?”

“I… I don’t know.  The skull says she is not dead.  She’s a toy, being played with by someone named Imelda.”

“Ahora, Steven jugará contigo,” said the skull.

“Roge, the skull didn’t say anything.”  Maria was as white as a ghost.

Rogelio’s mind, however, was being invaded.

“I am Steven, Roger.  I will be playing with you until we find out what Imelda’s game really is.”

“Get out of my head!” Rogelio shouted.  But his lips didn’t move.  And he couldn’t put the skull down either.  Instead, he walked to the back door and opened it.  It did not open into the alley as it was supposed to.  There was a dark room there, with a staircase going upwards, and at the foot of the staircase was Yesenia, naked as the day she was born.  And her dark-brown hair was all bleached white like snow.

“Steven!  No!  You cannot be here.  Not now!” shouted Yesenia.

“Stay where you are, Imelda.  I am coming to you!” Rogelio heard his own voice say.

“No, Roge!  Don’t go out there!” cried Maria.

Rogelio shut the door behind him so Maria couldn’t follow.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 1

Covid has thrown me for a loop this month. I am forced to rely on my Work in Progress for the NOVEL WRITING post for this work. My writing time has been seriously curtailed for a while, and I will get back to projects in their proper order as soon as I recover.

Canto 1 – The Toy Store on Mockingbird Lane

Hannah was ten, looking more like her Asian-born father than her Texas-born mother Brittany, but she definitely had her mother’s passion for things that were exotic, unusual, or simply out of place.

“Look at that spooky old toy store, Mom!  Doesn’t it look like a haunted house?  Can we go in there and look?”

The little building on 1300A Mockingbird Lane in Dallas was built like a Victorian house from the 1800’s.   It was hard to tell if the place had been painted white so long ago that the peeling paint made it look like that, or if someone had intentionally painted it light gray with black speckles.  Brittany’s curiosity was peaked.

“That store has been there for as long as I can remember.  But I’ve never been in there.  They used to tell me it only sold old, antique toys.”

“I don’t wanna buy anything,” pouted Hannah.  “I just want to look for ghosts.”

Brittany laughed as she pulled into the parking lot that served the two office buildings that surrounded the toy store and kept it in perpetual shadow all during the sunniest of days.

“We don’t have long to do this.  We have to meet Daddy at five so we can go to the movie this evening.”

“It won’t take long.  I can almost hear the spooks calling to me.”

Brittany laughed again as she collected the parking ticket from the lot’s operator in his little booth.

“Businesses are closing soon, Ma’am.  You don’t have long.  I close the gate for the night at six o’clock.”

“It won’t take us that long.  We are just going to look in that old toy store.”

“Aunt Phillia’s Toy Emporium?  You don’t want to go in there.  Nobody hardly ever goes in there.  And when they do, sometimes, the police have to show up later for something bizarre that happened.”

Brittany looked at the old Hispanic-looking guy over the top of her sunglasses.  He looked serious.  But that really only made her want to have a look inside even more.

“I hope something happens that makes the parking fee worth the money.”

“You are braver than I am, lady.  I remember when I was a kid, some white boy disappeared in there.  They never found him.”

He was seriously trying to scare her out of going in.  But Hannah was hopping in her seat, anxious to get out of the car.

“The parking spot is F13, over there in the southwest corner.  You have to be out of here by six or your car is locked inside the gate.”

She laughed.  “No worries!”

She managed to park, and Hannah burst out of the passenger seat, headed for the store.  By the time she got to the front door, Hannah had already disappeared into the store.

Inside the front door, there was a man sitting behind the check-out desk.  He had an antique-looking cash register there, and his clothes were definitely long out of style.

“That house monkey was yours, I take it,” said the man.  He was apparently old… or old…ish.  Somewhere between forty and a hundred and forty.  He had a flattop haircut, white hair, and super-thick lenses on his glasses that magnified his eyes, making him look like an eerie sort of owl-man.

“That was my daughter, Hannah, yes…”

“She took off for the wooden toys in the back of the store.  I’ve got nobody back there to supervise her, but what trouble can she get into surrounded by wood-goods?”

That struck her as funny.  She laughed.  “We’ll soon see.”

Looking around the store, she was fascinated by what she saw on sale there.  One wall was covered by marionettes, all of them with unusually large and roundish eyes, and all of them hanging from their control strings.  There were shelves of costumes and masks, stuffed toys that looked threadbare and poorly sewn together, metal wind-up toys that walked or rolled on wheels, bows with sucker-tipped arrows, porcelain dolls whose eyes looked positively real and alive, staring as if they wanted or needed something from Brittany, and a far wall lined with books, children’s books, classic books, and encyclopedias.

“Hannah?  Remember, we were just supposed to be looking for a moment.  Hannah?”

There was no answer.  So, Brittany walked down the metal wind-ups’ aisle towards the wood-goods in the back.

Suddenly a child’s voice was screaming.  “I’m on fire!  My dress is on fire!  Mommy!  Help me!”

Brittany was instantly panicked.  But it wasn’t Hannah’s voice.  And Hannah had been wearing a Miley Cyrus t-shirt and blue jeans.  Still, she ran to the back of the store.

Standing there in front of a wall of wooden cars, trucks, trains and train cars, carved wooden boats, and baseball bats was Hannah, completely naked, her black hair now completely snow white.

“Where are your clothes?”

“I had to tear them off.  They were burning.”  There were ashes and bits of burned rag on the floor around her.  And most alarmingly, the voice coming out of naked Hannah was not Hannah’s voice.

“Hannah?  What is going on here?”

“Oh, I am not Hannah.  My name is Molly Beeman.  I just have her body now.”

“What?”  She also began to realize that her own clothes were different.  The dress she now wore had puffy shoulder things on it.  It was made of a patterned material that she thought was called “gingham.”

“Hannah, let’s get out of here.”

She pulled the naked girl to her, picked her up and carried her to the front.  There she saw the same old ghost of a man, sitting and staring with his magnified eyes.

“I see you found what you were looking for…”

“What have you done to my daughter?”

“…Molly, you only have three months to play with it.  Be wise and you may actually get your mother back.”

“What?” cried Brittany.  “What are you talking about, you… you… crazy old man!”

She burst out of the store through the front door.  But she was horrified to see that her car was no longer there.  Neither was the parking lot, or the office buildings it served.  In fact, there was now what appeared to be a linoleum store and Mexican Cantina where those things used to be.  Then she saw an old-timey newspaper stand.  It was abandoned and  empty.  She ran to it.  There were newspapers there.  She saw a headline about how the U.S. Eighth Air Force suffered the loss of 60 bombers on the Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission.  That happened on the 17th of August.  World War II?  The paper was dated August 24th, 1943!

Hannah cuddled against her, still naked in her arms.

“Just hold me, Mommy.  Nobody has held me since I burned to death.”

Brittany stared at the pale Asian-American face with snow-white hair.  This thing in her arms was no longer human.  It was a porcelain doll, cuddling her with jointed, porcelain arms.  It’s porcelain face smiled at her.  This thing in her arms was no longer her daughter.   

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AeroQuest 5… Adagio 24

Adagio 25 – Pirates and the Importance of Words

Now you finally get to sample a bit of my genius at historical analysis.  I will lay on you one of the theories of history that I created, and which has had a profound effect on the whole debate over whether History is a Science, or merely a gathering of talking idiots and puppets of the governments who won the wars.

The theory is this; History is always about pirates.  I know that statement probably alarms you, or makes you simply dismiss me as a loony, bald-headed goofball who just likes to talk and is meant to be ignored by you.  Don’t be alarmed, and I am NOT a goofball.

History is never really written about the builders and creators who craft a society or a civilization.  The occasional Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Gragg of Mars, or Googol Marou gets mentioned in a history book, but it is always the man, men, or peoples who see the civilization, want the civilization, and then either take the civilization for themselves or totally destroy the civilization who ultimately get the notice and the credit for making History happen.  History is not about making something, but about taking something that is already there.

Consider how this played out in the history of the Orion Spur of the Milky Way Galaxy.  It truly began with the Ancients who colonized the entire galaxy and then, for reasons unknown, totally disappeared from it, leaving only powerful and dangerous artifacts behind.  They were creators and makers, so the story could never really be about them. 

The story then would have to proceed to the gentle alien folk called the Sylvani.  Now, they may actually be the Ancients, we have no way of knowing, but they don’t actually make History happen either.  They created jump drives and interstellar travel, particle readers and material synthesizers (as well as the Skortch beams and disintegrators that can be derived from them), and anti-gravity technology.  They did not colonize the stars.  They had the bad sense to leave everything as they found it and live their lives in relative peace.  The fools!

The amphibianoid people known as the Tellerons were the first to colonize and make an empire in the Orion Spur.  These prolific frog-men of Telleri spread their form of civilization to eleven worlds.  They wouldn’t have been able to do this, however, if they had never made contact with the Sylvani people while the latter were peacefully exploring the world of Telleri.  The frog-men imprisoned the Sylvani explorers and forced them to yield up the all-important space travel technologies they had created.  It was an act of space piracy.  They basically stole all the knowledge and equipment needed to make a star empire.

Now, the Tellerons were basically fools themselves.   They were ruthless explorers and conquerors but were a bit shallow in the thinking end of their gene pool.  They were not adaptable and had to carefully recreate their swampy home-world environment everywhere they went.  Thus, they were easily conquered themselves when they met far more adaptable races like the Galtorrians from the Delta Pavonis star system and the Earthers from the Sol system. 

Words are what basically conquered the Telleron Star Empire.  When they reached the Galtorrian homeworld of Galtorr Prime, they got themselves hooked on an alien cultural anomaly caused by TV broadcasts from Earth.  The Galtorrians had been receiving and decoding the television signals of Earth for twenty years.  A virulent black market existed there for pirated episodes of a TV show called “I Love Lucy”.  Reruns of that TV show became a model for both the Galtorrians and the Tellerons who tried to conquer them.

Truth be told, the Tellerons began worshipping the character of Fred Mertz being played by an actor named William Frawley.  Frawley’s frog-like mouth and toad-like wit made the fin-headed frog-men think Fred Mertz was a god.  The Galtorrians had already adapted the English Language from the show because it was similar in sound patterns to Galtorr-speak.  It had become the language of, not only entertainment, but of commerce and diplomacy.  Now, English is a twisted and demented sort of language, capable of double meanings, puns, and irony.  There are no sacred rules of grammar, word-formation, or spelling, and so the language can be shaped to suit the nefarious purposes of those sinister professionals known as “writers”.  Galtorrians were able to trick Tellerons with the so-called “Word of Fred Mertz” into giving them the secrets of space travel, Skortch rays, and material synthesis.

So, space travel and the Telleron Empire fell into the hands of the Galtorrians by piracy.  They stole the empire from the rival alien race.  They then ruthlessly expanded their new empire.  Being a pirate was the thing that created the History.

Now, a very similar process also happened on Earth.  Tellerons, easily tricked by Earthers, also lost control of their stolen technology when they tried to invade Earth in about the year 1990 A.D.  They tried to invade using invisibility technology acquired by showing their Sylvani slaves old episodes of Star Trek with Romulans in them.  The Sylvani succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of Gene Roddenberry.  Of course, this backfired, because it is hard to intimidate someone you are trying to conquer with armies and weapons that cannot be seen.  The Tellerons managed to lose their devices and Skortch themselves during an invasion that almost no one knew was happening.  Again, the technology was pirated from them.  I firmly believe that it was one of my own ancestors, a genius named Orben Wallace who reverse-engineered all the alien devices and brought the technology to Earth.

The empire of all humanoid and intelligent life forms in the Orion Spur would be taken and retaken using the stolen technologies and the stolen words of what would become known as “Galanglic,” Galactic English.  So, you can see, I have brilliantly proven my theory.  All History is about pirates.

William Frawley, the actor who first uttered the “Word of Fred Mertz”

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AeroQuest 5… Canto 156

Canto 156 – The Return of Tara Salongi

Ged and his students burst through the doorway to Raylond King’s private suite.  Phoenix and Rocket Rogers were both blazing in fire-form.  Projectiles whirred around Shu Kwai in accelerating orbits.  Jackie had brought little Freddy to join the strike team, and the dark-skinned boy was now transformed into were-cat form, half boy, half black panther.  Ged himself was there as himself, waiting to see what might be needed before he transformed.

What they burst in upon was easily as disconcerting as anything they might’ve expected.  Tara was dressed in luxurious purple silks and holding in her arms a tiny baby, possibly a girl.  In fact, Ged immediately felt the baby’s mind probe into his head.  It wasn’t just any baby.  It was his daughter.  Next to Tara, and clutching her right hand like a love-sick puppy, was one of the three rulers of Mingo Sector, Raylond King.  King, of course, was nothing like you’d expect from the macabre rulers of a mechano-zombie world of rot warriors and ruined palaces.  He wore black eye make-up to make his pale face slightly sinister, but this dark lord had an innocent-looking cherub’s face in so many ways.  The horned helmet he wore on his head was in many ways more of a child’s toy than a warrior-king’s helm.  He was also dressed in a purple silk robe.

“Prepare to die, King!” growled Emperor Mong from a spot safely behind Ged and his student-warriors.

“Ged!” cried Tara, confused.  “You’ve come!  But…”

Ged’s eyes grew immediately sad and dark.

“I am not trying to hurt her!” insisted Raylond King as two human torches, a telekinetic ninja, and a cat-child all closed in around him.

“Stop!” ordered Ged.  “You don’t require assistance, do you, Tara?”

“No.  Not now, I don’t.  Where were you all when those Monopoly Brigade pigs were torturing me and having their way with me?”  The bright mental fire of Tara’s recent pain burned into Ged’s mind with humbling accusations.

“I’m sorry, Tara.  I should have come immediately.”

Ged knew she could read the self-blame and self-loathing that consumed him.   Her anger softened like butter on a hot skillet.  He could feel it happening, and he felt the baby responding to it too.

“Ged, you know I still love you, but…”

Ged’s mind flitted to the beautiful Lizard Lady.  “I love you too, but…” he stammered.

Tara began to laugh a soft, tittery laugh.  “We have been foolish,” she said.  “Both of us.  I want you to get to know Lord King here.  He’s a very special man, and he rescued me when my life was at an end.”

Ged stepped forward and bowed to the young ruler.

“I owe you a great debt for saving Tara,” he stated simply.

Raylond King’s eyes dipped downward.  He blushed delicately, like a woman.  “I didn’t do it for you…”

“It’s all right,” said Ged.  “She never was mine to be jealous over.  I am honored to meet the one who will be her partner in life.”        

King now took a turn at bowing.

“What will you do with the child?” Ged asked Tara.

“She will be yours, more than mine,” said Tara.  “As soon as she is old enough to be independent of me, we will send her to you.  The planet Gaijin?  Is that right?”

Of course, she already knew it was right.  She only asked that of Ged to be polite, sensitive to the fact that she automatically invaded the privacy of his mind every time they were both in the same room.

“I am happy for you,” said Ged sadly.

“I am happy for you, too,” said Tara, almost as wistfully.

“Waitaminnit!” cried Mong in frustration.  “He’s a leader of your enemies!  Kill him!  I demand that you kill him now!”

“Actually,” said Ged, “He’s my new ally.  He will administer this planet for us, and I will gladly turn you over to his custody.”

Emperor Mong fainted dead away.  Rocket and Phoenix extinguished their fire.  Shu Kwai let all his small swirling stones settle to the ground.  Freddy actually began to purr.

“Thank you, Ged Aero,” said King.  Ged smiled.  He knew this man was the perfect choice to take care of Tara.  The planet would change dramatically under his stewardship.

“Oh!  Ged!” cried Tara suddenly.  “I found the most terrible thought in Mong’s evil head!  Your brother Ham was trapped by Admiral Tang at the battle for the planet Coventry!”

“Ham has found a way out of serious situations like that on his own in the past.  I am afraid I have to depend on him to do it again.  I have these responsibilities to care for… as well as a doomsday device from the Ancients to deal with.”

While the adults were talking, Jackie had sidled up near Tara where she could look at the baby.

“She’s beautiful,” Jackie said.  “Can I hold her?”

Tara handed the baby to her almost without thinking.  Without talking aloud she said to Ged, “You must spend some time consulting with us about the planet, the joining with the New Star League, and what to do with Mong.  We will also talk about how we are going to help you complete your quest with the doomsday thing.”

“What is the baby’s name?” Jackie asked.

“Amanda King,” said Tara aloud.

“Amanda Aero-King!” declared the baby loudly in everyone’s mind.

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