Monthly Archives: June 2015

Fun Friday: Even More Web Series

And yet another Friday rolls around.  The week has been fairly quiet here in the family’s treetop fortress:  lots of home cooking.  I tried my hand at making pasta (gnocchi) with good results; at least everybody had good things to say, and nobody’s dropped from food poisoning yet.  Early days on that, though.   I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I made an exception this week.  A friend correctly argued that comics and comic book derivations are as much a part of the classic pulp phenomenon as Science Fiction or hard boiled detectives.  He also argued that, were it not for pulps and comic books, the superhero subgenre would have died with Beowulf.  I’m not sure I agree with him on that one, but he did have a point.

So the practical upshot of all this is that I started watching TV.  Specifically, I started checking out some of the superhero shows currently running; this time I focused on  The Flash, and Arrow.  I’m ambivalent.  I’ve been a fan of the Green Arrow comic since I was a kid, but the television show was hella dark, much darker and more soapy than I remember.  But then again, John Barrowman as a villain?  Yes, please.  The Flash was lighter in tone, which was cool; it only took me half the episodes for me to stop looking at the lead and saying, “Hey, weren’t you on that annoying Glee thing?”

Meh. One of these days I’m going to have to take a closer look blog at superheroes and the genre in general.  MAYBE I should take a run at writing something in the superhero range for Fiction Monday.  Then again, maybe not; have to see if inspiration attacks.

Ooh ooh ooh, slightly off-topic.  Y’all know I am not one for romances, but every once in a while one slips past the barbed wire and since we were already discussing superheroes….  Heels and Heroes by Tiffany Allee is a novella about romance among the superhero community.  It’s short (novella length), superhero oriented, and fun.  Allee strikes a nice balance on her descriptions of an unusual world for novels.  I really like her characters; I don’t know how realistic you can be with superheroes, but I found it surprisingly easy to identify with the lead.  It’s a little smutty, but, being Missy McPrudeyknickers, I just close my eyes for that bit.  I have begged the author to write more about this world, but so far, no luck.  😦  (I’m telling you, Tifferz, ya gotta!  How often do I endorse a romance, huh?  I mean, seriously!)  This is not Allee’s first rodeo; she has other romance/fantasy offerings.  I’ve read several of them and was pleasantly surprised; she even got me to not hate a romantic vampire.  Shocking, right?  Anyway, check out her oeuvre on Amazon.

Okay, enough fooling around in the world of Spandex and capes.  On to today’s Fun Friday offerings.  So I was goofing around on YouTube the other day, as I am wont to do when I’m between books.  Y’all know what a fool I am for serials.  So, on a whim, I typed “steampunk web series” into the search bar.  Wow!  There is a lot more out there than I thought.  Taking a chance, I did the same thing for dieselpunk and pulp; not nearly so much joy there.  But there was plenty of Steampunk.  So I bookmarked a bunch of them, and took a look.

The first I looked at was simply called “Felix Blithedale.”  The brainchild of Erik MacRay (who also plays the eponymous main character), it’s supposed to be the video journal of a fledgling inventor in a steampunk San Francisco in 1903.  Felix is the assistant of an established inventor, and has claimed that inventor’s basement as his own personal lab.  Here he builds various gadgets and conducts various experiments.  He’s a game young fellow, ambitious and excited, but rather hapless; his life is kind of a mess, his love life is a nerd-flavored disaster, but he keeps right on trying, bless his little heart.  As each new blow comes, he shakes it off and keeps right on stumbling forward.  The episodes are shot in sepia tone, just the one set, minimal props, only one or two characters on the screen at a time; very much done on a shoestring.  Each episode is entitled “Felix vs X,” with “X” being whatever is going wrong at the moment:  “Felix vs The Foreclosure” involves the loan to save the family home.

Let me say this unequivocally:  THIS IS WONDERFUL!!!!!! Remember me saying that I will sit through a lot of dreck in the indie art mines before coming across a diamond?  THIS is one of the diamonds.   The set design and costumes are spot on.  The little scenelets are fun, and the interactions of the characters is funny and absolutely convincing.   I laughed out loud multiple times.  The writing, so important, is solid; Mr. MacRay writes like somebody who has listened to how people really talk.  Fledgling writers forget, it’s not enough that dialogue or monologue convey information.  It has to sound natural; you have to listen to how real people really talk, and be able to duplicate the rhythms and feeling without duplicating the boring bits.  Think of it as enhanced speech; as natural as possible, but cleaner and more streamlined than the real thing.

And the acting;  Oh, the acting, God bless them!  The writing and the acting is where most indie offerings fall down; the young people who are attempting these videos are just not experienced enough in these two arts to deliver solid products.  But Felix Blithedale is a true gem:  the acting is superb!  I had to go looking to confirm this wasn’t a professional production.  Felix, the lead, triggered an immediate Mommy response in me:  I wanted to cook him something homey and comfortable, ask him if he’s getting enough sleep and see that his laundry is being washed and mended (what?  I’m a grandmother, I can’t help myself!  Don’t judge me!).  He is played by Erik MacRay as delightfully diffident, inept, naive, eager, optimistic; it was adorable!  Edward Rockridge (cute name, somebody knows their Mel Brooks trivia!) is the lodger renting rooms from Felix and his sister, and is an adorable scoundrel, making his living as a low-rent crook and card cheat.  Again, played with delicious aplomb by Adam Mayfield, Eddie is depicted perfectly as the sort of high spirited overgrown 12-year -old who women can’t help wanting to mother and the girls want to flirt with.

Okay, you can tell I liked this one, because I’ve pissed away about half my word limit just gushing.  You wanna watch the show, here’s where they can be found on Youtube.  They also have a webpage and a Facebook page.  They wrapped last June, so I’m betting the chances of a second season are essentially nonexistent.  But still, they have a donate page on their webpage to fund a second season, so maybe we’ll get lucky.  In the meantime, here’s a little taste of the show (I picked one of the middle of the run eps; the first ep doesn’t really give a feel for what a treat this show is)….

Before I forget:  I noticed something the last few months.  Don’t you think it’s interesting that Steampunk seems to generate a ton of art across many media:  video, comics, etc., bunches more than dieselpunk.  But Dieselpunk kicks steampunk’s butt when it comes to indie music offerings.  You just don’t hear that much in the way of overtly steampunk music.  The biggie in Steampunk is Abney Park and frankly, I’m not seeing it.  They dress the part, and their videos play the steam card a lot, but the music itself is 90% industrial, and only a little bit steam.  There’s a lot more dieselpunk music available.  I think it’s because of WWII era swing being so popular and emulate-able.  Hey, it’s a theory.  Thoughts?

Okay, now we’ve gotten that bizarre little sidebar out of the way, time to move on to the next web series.  Dirigible Days has good cred, I have to say.  Anthony Daniels — yes, that Anthony Daniels, the one who played C3P0 in the Star Wars movies — does all voice-over narration.  The Steampunk band Vernian Process wrote the theme music exclusively for this series.  It has a tie-in comic book with surprisingly good graphics. 

But with that said, I don’t like Dirigible Days as much as I liked Felix Blithedale.  I’ll explain in a moment.

Dirigible Days is the story of the S.S. Beatrix, an airship plying its way through the aether, doing whatever job, legal or otherwise, comes its way.  At the beginning of the story, the ship is stranded with engine failure, and Captain Santiago Dunbar is at the nearest pub, getting polluted while trying to interview for a new engineer.  He finds one, but more importantly, he finds a job.  Or rather a job finds him:  a Pinkerton operative has a prisoner that needs to be transported to the nearest facility.  Problem:  the prisoner is a big dog in a very nasty, very determined Cthulhu Cult.  And they want their big dog back.

The production values worlds ahead of other web series:  the costumes are perfect, the sets are lavish (a lot of that is coming from green screen work, but that’s okay), props and set design are spot on.  The actors look and move well; their sounding the part is less perfect, but that’s nothing unusual in the indie video world, and they do better than the average.  The writing is pretty solid; with a few hiccups here and there, it does well on dialogue, and is kicking ass in the plot department.  Somebody really thought it through, which puts them ahead of the game.

But with that said, I just didn’t enjoy this as much as the Felix Blithedale piece.  The descriptions I’ve seen online (and this has gotten written up in several articles here on the web, thanks to the cred I mentioned at the first) describe it as “Whedonesque” and “akin to Firefly.”  Well, I’m not seeing it.  This story lacks the charm of Firefly.  Their is no chemistry between the players, no real emotional connection, whether it be love or hate.  Remember how I said watching Felix made me go into serious Mommy mode?  It was an emotional connection, an identification with the character that made me feel protective and indulgent at the same time (the same way I do when I see my own children when they fumble).  With Dirigible Days, I never felt that; I couldn’t make an emotional connection.

BUT!  That’s just me.  It may be that I’m not the right audience for this show.  And you should definitely check it out anyway.  Even if you don’t connect with the characters, you’ll adore the steampunk-i-ness of it all, with such terrific production values.  Definitely take a peek.  The show’s presence on YouTube is here.  Their webpage is here.  At the first ep’s page there are links to their twitter and facebook pages.

Here’s one of their promotional trailers.  Take a peek:

And that’s it for me.  Wow, that took a while.  That’s what I get for lurking on YouTube watching episodes of web series, right?  So you know the drill:  write, tweet, comment, share.  You have a suggestion for a Fun Friday, contact me on the email addy on my About Me page.  If you have questions, suggestions, just want to tell me I’m a idiot and I’m totally wrong bout Abney Park, same address.  I’d be very glad to know of any Dieselpunk web series that I may have overlooked!  But in the meantime, be good this weekend.  And if you can’t be good, well, you know what comes next, don’t you:  DON’T GET CAUGHT!  Enjoy your weekend!

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Categories: Fun Friday, Steampunk, Video | Leave a comment

Nightside series by Simon R. Green

It’s too damned cold to be the beginning of June!  I swear, if I have to endure another cold summer, I’m going to have to sic the flying ninja monkeys on somebody at The Weather Channel.  Seriously, it’s been a cold, wet, miserable few days here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia, so I’ve been staying in my Happy Place.  Me, some ginger ale, my Kindle and my netbook have been very happy and warm inside my pillow fort, and I am not coming out until the temps top eighty degrees again (that’s twenty-seven-ish for you Celsius types). I want my sauna-like Appalachian summer, darn it all, and I’m going to throw a tantrum until I get it!

Okay, that’s not strictly true.  The other night, Big Sister, who is a terrific cook, sent over a bowl of something that involved chicken, peppers and onions, a ricotta sauce and gnocchi (she likes challenging my palate, and I think she’s trying to fatten me up after the Long Illness, which I’m not opposed to).  I had never tried gnocchi before, but it was very very nice.  Nice enough that I am going to try making it myself.  I’ve never made pasta before — it looks intimidating, and I don’t think I have the right tools — but gnocchi doesn’t seem to require anything more than a bowl and a knife, which I can totally provide.  If it goes well, it may land on the dinner rotation here in our treetop fortress.

So on to business.  I’ve mentioned before that I have fairly loose parameters for what defines a genre.  I think a measurable amount of urban fantasy could arguably fall into the Pulp vein because so much of it plays on the Hardboiled Detective tropes, which are solidly pulpy.  I also think that it can still be steampunk even if there’s not a dirigible to be seen.  Genres are as much about attitude and tone as they are about the props, and, as I pointed out in my last book review, having the right props doesn’t automatically mean the story wins any cred from me.

But I understand that others can feel very differently. So it is with no small amount of trepidation that I present you with the Nightside series by Simon R. Green.  Why do I think it belongs here on a blog focused on Steampunk, Dieselpunk and New Pulp?  Because, while our hero constantly claims he is no great shakes at investigation, the stories fall very strongly into the Hardboiled Detective category, in tone, approach and style, and that says Pulp to me, as I said above.  The hardboiled detective started out as a classic pulp genre (hell, it helped define pulp as a classification of fiction), long before it went mainstream.

So, Simon R. Green is a prolific and respected British author, who has done other books besides Nightside.  Memorably, he did the Secret Histories (starting with “The Man with the Golden Torc), as well as Hawk and Fisher, Ghostfinders and the Deathstalker series.  As you can tell, his focus is on science fiction and fantasy, my favorite words in the whole English language.  But Nightside is his most well known work and arguably his best written (personally, I couldn’t get past the Marty Stu-ness of the Secret Histories, and his Ghostfinders just didn’t work for me for a lot of reasons, though your mileage may vary.  I may change my opinion in the future — I am a big one for re-reading — but for now, I’ll pass).

  1. Something from the Nightside
  2. Agents of Light and Darkness
  3. Nightingale’s Lament
  4. Hex and the City
  5. Paths Not Taken
  6. Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth
  7. Hell to Pay
  8. The Unnatural Inquirer
  9. Just Another Judgement Day
  10. The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny
  11. A Hard Day’s Night
  12. The Bride Wore Black Leather
  13. Tales from the Nightside (short fiction anthology)

The Nightside is a series of twelve novels (plus one collection of short stories) that depict the adventures of one John Taylor, a private investigator, native of the Nightside, and the Chosen One of at least one prophecy.  Being the Chosen One is never a good thing, but in the Nightside, it’s especially bad.  Which is why, when John Taylor finally left the Nightside, he stayed gone up to now.  But at the beginning of the first book, the search for a missing/runaway teen brought him back to his old haunts.  From there, things just snowballed and he took his old place back in the darkness.

So what is the Nightside?  It’s a fictional inner neighborhood of London, older than the city itself.  It’s always night time here, 3:00 am to be exact, “the midnight of the soul,” some call it.  John Taylor describes it as “a place where dreams come true and nightmares come alive. Where one can buy anything, often at the price of your soul… or someone else’s. Where the music never stops and the fun never ends.”  Every possible vice you can think of (and several you wish you hadn’t thought of) is practiced here.  Moreover, what is impossible in the outside world is common as dirt in Nightside:  angels, magic, monsters, time travel, carnivorous cars, homunculi, you name it, it’s here and probably causing trouble.

  • Angels in the Nightside are not benevolent guardians in the Nightside.  They are messengers of God, and scary as hell.
  • Gods are real, all of them, and they hang out in the Street of Gods.  Stay out.  No, really; I don’t care how good a person you’ve been, seriously, stay out.
  • Time slips are invisible, undetectable holes in time.  Sometimes people fall out of them and are stuck in the Nightside present forever.  Sometimes people from this side fall in, and are never seen again.  Watch where you walk.
  • Cars are dangerous.  They go way too fast, brake pedals are for pussies, and cars like the flavor of human flesh.  Cross the street at your own peril.
  • Ghosts can actually be pretty cool.  Knowing you have nothing more to lose is probably very relaxing.
  • Houses can and will eat you.  It’s not pretty.

John Taylor plies his trade, detective and/or thug for hire, here in the Nightside, and keeps the business running more or less.  He is hired to find missing girls, figure out why an up-and-coming singer’s beautiful voice is driving people to commit suicide, figure out why the power grid for the Nightside (they’re only nominally connected to the London grid) is failing, things like that.  But, as is inevitable for hardboiled detective, nothing is ever straightforward.  Yes, he has a small but useful magical talent:  when he concentrates, he can feel where something is, no matter how far away or how well hidden.  An inborn magical GPS for missing stuff is very handy for a PI for hire.  On the other hand,  even with magical GPS, it’s hard to play the PI game when your mother is a demigod and is weaving the destruction of the world when she’s not stalking you.  Or when an army of nearly-unkillable homunculi are looking to destroy you.  Or just when all the scary things from your nightmares think your name is a curse word and your body is great target practice.

To say John Taylor has “friends” is to stretch the blanket a little too much.  But he has colleagues and contacts who  at least respect him.  There’s Walker, who represents The Authorities.  Walker is more or less the police force of the Nightside.  No, he doesn’t care if you kill people, steal, rape, pillage, meh, who cares, so long as Nightside itself is protected.  Walker is an old friend of John’s dad.  Walker and John do NOT like one another, but neither is above using the other when the situation merits.

Alex Morrisey owns the bar John usually hangs out in.  Alex is a direct male descendant of Merlin.  The Merlin, the one and only.  Sounds cool.  But a spell cast by Merlin means that Alex can never leave the bar, ever ever.  Not for a date, not for a quick piss in the alley round back.  This makes Alex more than a little sour; he wears all black all the time because “there’s nothing darker.”  He is the closest thing John has to a friend, and Alex has bailed John out a couple times.  Then there’s Suzie Shooter, bloodthirsty bounty hunter (“dead or alive” means “dead, because there’s less paperwork”) who often partners with John on jobs when he needs muscle; she’s also his love interest, for a certain value of the term “love interest.”  Their relationship is complicated.  Then there are characters like Dead Boy, the Walking Man, Razor Eddie, and The Collector.

The prose style is classic first person, delightfully Chandleresque.  It’s a pity Humphrey Bogart is dead; he’s the only one who could do justice to an audiobook for Nightside.  Green’s style is spartan and clean, but nevertheless it describes the night and neon character of Nightside well enough that even a non-visual reader like myself can picture the place.  The stories are pretty straightforward.  As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge follower of the hardboiled genre (for some reason, I just can’t follow the logic sometimes), but I can follow these and enjoy them.

Downside?  This is pretty dark stuff.  The trigger warnings in these stories would require a whole new blog post just to list them; do not read if you have a weak constitution or are easily offended/disturbed.  For myself, I can’t really binge-read the Nightside series like I usually do Jim Butcher’s work, for example, just sit down and read and read and read until I’ve consumed the whole series.  I tried it with Nightside twice.  I enjoyed the reading, don’t get me wrong.  But around about Book Seven, I started feeling depressed and fatalistic.  I do better reading these stories in small doses.  Again, your mileage may vary.

All in all, I recommend this series if you’re down with the hardboiled detective pulp genre, but are in the mood for a dark fantasy/SF twist, aren’t easily offended, or just can’t resist the “hidden world” scenario in fiction (my personal favorite flavor).

Aaaaaaand that’s it for me today.  You know the drill:  share, tweet, comment, write.  Next up is Fun Friday, and for that I could really use some recommendations.  Contact me at ajclarkson-at-talwyn-dot-net.  I’m sure there’s something I’m forgetting….. Meh, it’ll come to me.  In the meantime, I’m out of here; now I’m in the mood to read Nightside again!  Y’all be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: books, Opinion, Pulp, Review | Leave a comment

Fiction Monday: When the Cat’s Away Part Four

Good morning campers, wakey wakey out of bed, and celebrate glorious Monday!  Aww, come on, don’t use that kind of language, there are children present (Really tall children.  With whiskers and chest hair.  And driver’s licenses.  Okay, they act childish at times, is that good enough?)!

I’ve been dragging my heels on the last short story.  Life gets in the way sometimes.  But I can’t just leave you hanging forever, right?  That would just be cruel.  So guess what:  I’m giving you another installment of the adventures of April Tyree in the Wooden Pyramid; in fact, it’s the last installment.  When last we left our plucky girl detective, she had found Charity and was getting ready to make their escape when Patty the Possessed turned up.  Will April defeat Patty?  Will she rescue Charity and save the day?  Will she ever stop snarking in the face of almost certain doom?  What is the thrilling conclusion?

Let’s see…..


 

When the Cat’s Away

An April Tyree short story
by
A.J. Clarkson

Part Four

Patty dangled my pistol from her fingertips.  If we were unlucky, she’d turn the gun around and point it at us.  If we were very very unlucky, she wouldn’t; that would mean she had something even worse than hot lead to throw at us.  Not good.  Not good at all.

“I guess we’re past the point where you’ll let me and the kid walk out the door and all is forgiven and forgotten, huh?” I said.

“Pretty much,” said Patty.

“You’re really gonna kill me in a horrific blood sacrifice-y way, and then evict the Teeny Bopper out of her own body so Hemet Nesu Weret can move in,” I said.

“Pretty much.”

“You know I can’t let you do that.”

“Yeah, I kinda was hoping you’d say that,” said Patricia.  That’s when she brought her other hand out where I could see it.  Caught tight in her clenched fish was the squirrel that had saved my butt half an hour ago.  The little creature was panicking, struggling and curling around her fist in its efforts to escape; as I watched, it bit Patricia’s forefinger hard enough to draw blood.  Patricia didn’t flinch.  She lifted the ginger creature level with her eyes and said, “That’s enough.”

The little squirrel squealed in pain and terror as Patricia started to squeeze.  I could hear its little bones crunch as Patricia crushed it in her fingers with no more effort than it would take me to crush an empty beer can.  This is what will happen to you, Patty’s smug little smile said.  When the squirrel stopped struggling, she held it out to me, opening her hand so I could see:  some of the rib bones had poked through the flesh, so blood was slowly staining the ginger fur of the crushed torso.  Its head lolled over against Patty’s thumb, the eyes lifeless, like black beads.

“No, thanks, I got some Chinese takeout before I stormed the castle.  Pyramid.  Whatever,” I said.  That quip sounded better in my head.  “But please, don’t stand on ceremony with me.  Enjoy your lunch and be careful of bones.  The teeny bopper and I can find our own way out.”

Patricia turned her hand over, letting the crushed squirrel fall to the floor with a wet splut! that made my stomach clench.  “Forever flippant.  We’ll be sure and put that on the grave marker when you die,” said Patty.  She sighed heavily.  “Don’t you understand?  Your fate has already been determined. You will die tonight.  All you can decide is the manner of your demise.  If you surrender to my will, I can make your death swift and relatively painless.  If you continue to resist, well, I’m don’t think your puny mind can grasp just how long I can prolong the agony preceding death.”

It was my turn to sigh.  “Well, I don’t think you can imagine just how unimpressed I am by your little monologue.  It’s so last year,” I said.  “But I do like the forever flippant thing.  I may get a tattoo of that.”

“Stubborn, foolish child!” Patricia hissed.  As I watched, her eyes went from gray to black again and her posture changed.  She seemed to be swelling up as I watched, growing taller, more imposing, filling the small room with her presence.  The air began to crackle with an all-too-familiar energy as she started to mutter an incantation.

Crap, crap, crap!  I didn’t have the time to crank up another spell — not that I had a good attack spell at my fingertips to defeat possessed crazies about to blast me into the afterlife.  Magic is all about preparation; I always sucked at doing the extra credit on homework.  I didn’t have my gun.  What I had was a half-asleep teenager, a ratty mattress on the floor and… well, that’s about it. Crap!

Patricia’s hair started to move and stand up as the energy caused a static charge to build up around her body.  It made her look like that Eraserhead character from the movies  Her black-with-no-whites eyes glowed and her mouth twisted into a grim smile.  And still that incantation continued.  I didn’t understand the words she was saying, but they only had one possible resolution:  with me being killed to death.

Suddenly I ran up to Patricia and punched her right in the nose.

What?  It was all I could think of.  Okay, I didn’t think, I just reacted; that nasty little smile reminded me of this chick in elementary school who used to take great delight in shoving me into mud puddles or poking me in the back with a pencil until I screamed, getting me in trouble for disrupting class.  I hate bullies.

Patricia/Hemet Nesu Weret’s head snapped back and blood started gushing from her nose.  She continued to chant, but now there was a nasty liquid sound to her words and her teeth were stained red.  More important, I’d wiped that nasty smile off her face, replaced by an expression of real alarm.

I’m such an idiot!  The incantation!  That’s what had put that look of alarm on her face.  Once you start an incantation, you have to finish it.  Stopping halfway through, regardless of the reason for stopping, has nasty consequences, usually for the caster.  All that energy wants to go somewhere and if you don’t give it a path, by finishing the spell, the energy could do something like, oh, say, backing up like a blocked toilet and burning the caster from the inside out.  Yeah, not pretty.

So Patty had to keep chanting, no matter what.  She couldn’t stop long enough to even wipe the blood from her chin.  And all I had to do was make her stop.  I turned my back to her, looking for something, anything I could use as a weapon.  Mattress — nope, doubt she was up for a nap.  Pillow, nope.  Ratty blanket wadded up in the corner, nope.  Naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling, could be useful if it were a little longer.  No pictures or crosses hanging on the wall, nothing but a big wooden ankh mounted on the center of the door.

Wait.  The ankh — a cross with a circle on top, an old Egyptian symbol for life — looked pretty heavy.  Maybe, if I could get it off the door, I could bap her upside the head with it.  I ran to the door and started trying to pry it off.

“This old lady, is she singing?” said Charity behind me, still sounding pretty stoned.

I didn’t bother looking back at her.  “Yeah, something like that.  And if she gets to the end of the song, I’m toast.  Then you’re toast.  We’re all toast.  It’ll be bad,” I said.

“What are you doing?” said Charity.

“Trying to get this — “ I grunted with effort, and managed to get the bottom arm of the ankh pulled free of the door.  I started swinging ti back and forth, trying to lever out the other nails holding it in place.  “– this stupid thing free from the door, to use the weapon.”

“Why?”

“So we can get out of here before she finishes that chant and the toasting party starts,” I said.

“She’s not stopping you –”

“She can’t do anything right now.”  I pulled the ankh free with a shout of triumph.  I hefted it in my hands; not perfect, but it would get the job done.

“So…. why don’t we just go out the door?” said Charity.

“Ummm….”  It’s all right, you can say it:  April, you’re an idiot. I resisted the urge to facepalm. “You have a point.  Come on,” I said.  I circled around Patty and grabbed Charity’s arm to steady her.  As we darted around Patricia, I glanced up at her face.  She looked pissed enough to spit nails, but there was nothing she could do.  Until she finished the incantation, she was stuck.  Tough noogies on her.

We got to the door and I opened it.  Running down the narrow corridor was a phalanx of red hooded minions.

Crap.  I slammed the door.  “Plan B!” I said.

“What’s Plan B?” said Charity.

“Still working on that,” I said.  I ran to the back of the room, dragging Charity with me.  We got to the back wall just as the door slammed open and the red robed figures, four in all, burst into the room.  I shoved the teenager behind me and hefted the ankh like a samurai sword.  The minions were unimpressed with my weapon, and launched themselves at me.  I slammed the ankh down on the first man’s head, and he fell back with a yell.  The second one came at me and I swung the ankh like a baseball bat, catching him on the cheek.  I kicked the third one; the fourth one hung back, waiting to see how the others would make out, I guess.  Chicken; I threw myself at him and swung for his head.  He dodged — damn it! — and the ankh smacked into the wall behind me.  The big hoop at the top snapped off, leaving a jagged splinter.  A sharp jagged splinter.  This I could work with.  I stabbed at the fourth guy with my shankh — a sharp ankh, get it?  Aww, man, nobody appreciates my sense of humor — and he danced back out of the way before I could connect.  I kept him at bay by waving the shankh back and forth.  Standoff.

Well, for a couple minutes, at least.  But more red-robed figures were coming in, filling the front half of the room, and effectively blocking the door.  No way could I get past all of them, certainly not while dragging Stoner Barbie with me.  No where to go behind us, and no way to go forward,  I was out of options.

Patricia’s chant had become a scream.  Energy was arcing off her like an electrical storm now, as she gathered in vast amounts of power, much more than I ever have or ever could.  Tiny black lightning bolts, surrounded by a nimbus of purple light, leaped between her outspread fingers, arced like Jacob’s ladders between the strands of her hair, and sizzled across the bloodied surface of her face.  She was shouting the words of the incantation now; there were only seconds until it went off.  She pointed at me, and little lightning bolts jumped off her fingers, trying to reach me.

I was out of time, I was out of options, and I had to get out of there.  I grabbed Charity and said, “No matter what, Barbie, when I say do this, you run.  Don’t look back, don’t stop, just keep running, okay?”

“Wait, what are you gonna do?” said Charity.  She was finally awake enough to realize what a jam we were in, because the muzziness in her speech had been replaced with fear.

“Something stupid,” I said.  I squared off in front of Patricia.  Her blood-smeared mouth twisted into a nasty smile as the words of the incantation spilled out of her lips.  All the lightning that had been dancing around her now shot down her arm, making her hand glow black and purple.  The tip of her index finger began to glow brighter and brighter, like a electrical wire about to burn through.  A bolt of that crazy black lightning started to grow from her finger, a lightning bolt moving in extreme slow motion, coming directly at me.  I had maybe three seconds before I was royally screwed.

I admit, I didn’t think this through entirely.  I just acted.  I started shrieking at the top of my lungs; no words, just incoherent rage and frustration coming out in incoherent sound.  I ran forward and slammed the sharpened end of the ankh into Patricia’s gut.  It sank in with and ease that surprised me so much, I let go.  It surprised Patricia, too.  She stopped chanting, looked down at the length of wood sticking out of her gut, the blood that was starting to spill out around it.  She looked up at me, bewildered.  I was as bewildered as she was, and stepped back.

The red robed followers stood there, just as confused as Patty and I were.  That was their mistake.  Patricia had stopped the incantation, mere syllables from the end, but still too soon.  The glow on her fingertip died as the lightning began to roll back up her arm.  It started dancing around her, wrapping her in lacy arcs of light and color.  Her hair burst into flame, then her clothes.  Her eyes flickered gray to black to gray again, over and over again.  She opened her mouth to scream, but two voices came out:  a shrill soprano and a roaring like a voice from the deepest pits of hell.

Suddenly, Patricia threw her head back and black light shot from her opened mouth, splashing against the ceiling.  Yes, I meant the word “splashing;” that was the only way to explain how that light moved when it hit the raw wood.  Wherever the light touched, the wood blackened and smouldered.  From Patricia’s hands, lightning shot out in thick bolts, striking the nearest red-robed figures. These two shouted in agony, before going stiff and jerking like they’d grabbed a live wire.  Two more bolts of light shot from these poor souls, striking the people to the side and behind them.  It spread, jumping from one man to the next quicker than I could track.

It didn’t take long for the light to come back at me.  You know how I said it looked like the minions had grabbed a live wire?  Yeah, well, it felt worse than that.  It was a cold burning that shot down all my nerve pathways at once.  i thought I was being frozen to death and burned up at the same instant.  I think I shouted something, probably a swear, but I don’t know.  I lost consciousness about two seconds in, and trust me, two seconds conscious during that was an eternity.

The next thing I know, I can taste the flavor of ozone on my tongue, and I can smell something burning, a combination of woodsmoke and burned meat.  Somebody was patting my face.  It was annoying, so I slapped the hand away.

“Come on, wake up, you stupid bitch!” shouted a voice above me.  I opened my eyes, and saw lots of blurry color.  I blinked, twice, three times, and Charity’s voice slowly came into focus.  She was crying.  “Are you awake?  We gotta go!” she said.  Her breath smelled of vomit.

“Don’t call me bitch,” I groaned.  I hurt everywhere; I felt like I had pulled every muscle in my body, and I could feel myself trembling.

“You can ground me later,” Charity shouted.  She grabbed my arm and started jerking on it, trying to get me onto my feet.  “First you gotta get up.  We have to get out of here or we’re gonna burn to death!”

“Burn?”  That would explain the smoke.  I forced myself to sit up.  The room was rapidly filling with smoke from a flame that was licking along the ceiling and working down the walls.  In front of the door, half the red robed figures were smoldering or burning.  The others, the ones that survived, I guess, were stirring, crawling, or otherwise trying as hard as me to pull it together and get the hell out.  Patricia., what was left of her, was a smoldering black blob that nevertheless pulsated and twitched; every time she moved, puffs of smoke belched out of the blob, smelling of a pork roast left too long on the fire.

Charity climbed to her feet, pulling me with her.  I pulled free of her hand so I could lean forward, my own hands on my knees, trying to keep from heaving.  there was already a puddle of vomit on the ground; I guess Charity lost her battle, and who could blame her?  I managed to keep my lunch, however, and straightened after a couple seconds.  “Come on,” I said, and grabbed her hand.  We couldn’t run, because we had to climb over the red-robed minions.

“Are they all dead?” said Charity.

“Dead or dying,” I said.  “You don’t take a magical hit like that and live.”

“You did.”

“So far, so good.  I only caught the tail end of it,” I said.  “Conversation later, okay?”  By now we had reached the door.  Thank goodness they had left the door open; we could never have gotten it open past the bodies blocking it, not in time.  We got out into the hallway, and started running.

It took us a few minutes to find our way out, and by then, most of the pyramid was on fire.  We ran out into the night, getting back at a safe distance before stopping to turn and look.  Some of the red-robed minions had gotten out as well, and milled around in the high grass, bewildered or sick with smoke inhalation or both.  They never gave us a second look, and that was just as well; I couldn’t have defended us from a bad-tempered kitten, much less a cultist who’d just had their cult jerked — or burned — out from under us.

“What the hell happened?” said Charity.  I noticed that she didn’t have shoes on, and her legs and feet were scratched up and covered with dew, though I don’t think she noticed.

“How much do you remember?”

“Passing out at a party.  A long nightmare with those guys in it — “and she pointed at the cultists.  “Then you shouting at me.  What did I miss? How did that woman make lightning everywhere?  What was she doing?”

“That’s a long story,” I said.  “Come on, my car’s this way.  Let’s get you home.  You need your mom, and I need a shot of vodka.”

The End

To Part Three


And that’s it for April this time.  I know it ran a little long, but I wanted to wrap things up.  On the ankh/shankh line, send your groans and thrown tomatoes to lilywhite, who came up with it late last night. smartassery should never go unpunished.  Tell me in the comments if you liked the story and want to hear more from April.  She’s a new kind of character for me, so a little encouragement would not go amiss.  Sometime today all the installments should be listed on the Fiction Index page, so latecomers can catch up without having to run the entire gauntlet of my blog.

And, like April, that’s it for me today.  You know the routine:  share, tweet, comment, write.  I posted on Friday about my new email addy.  I’ve also put it on the “About Me” page for when you want to contact me, with questions/comments, with suggestions for Fun Friday (or anything else, really), or if you just want to shoot the breeze.  I’ll be back on Wednesday, though I’m not sure what I’ll be talking about.  Meh, I’ll figure it out.  Until then, y’all be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: Pulp, short fiction | Leave a comment

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