Happy First Anniversary! During the last year, we collected a wide assortment of stories, essays, and poetry that reflect the deep wells of imagination and creativity Writers Co-op authors draw from. Some of you have contributed an anthology’s worth of pieces you might rightly consider publishing. Even better, the comments by readers and writers have become respectful, often laugh-out-loud funny, conversations about writing, reading, and critiquing. Friendships have grown and blossomed. All of you have made this project a Writers Co-op success. Here’s to our second year!
This Show Case features seven pieces submitted in response to our twenty-seventh Writing Prompt: Arrogance. You can see responses to each prompt in the drop down menu for the Show Case page. Try an item. They are all delicious. We hope they stimulate your mind, spirit, and urge to write. Maybe they will motivate you to submit a piece for our next prompt, which you can find on the Show Case home page.
And please share this Show Case with your family, friends, and other writers.
by John Correll
I held the J-Window in both hands and faced the Keeper.
“Jenny, save me a couple of brownies. I want to take them back to I-City.”
She blushed. “I always keep a batch for you, Brother of I.”
I turned and addressed her assembled constituents, “The Challenge begins with an accusation of witchcraft…”
Jenny interrupted, “But, Brother of I, sister Isabel must have made a mistake. I don’t think…” I stopped her conjecture with a wave of my hand.
“Where is this witch?”
Jenny gawked at the oversized birdcage next to her. It hung empty. She slapped her forehead, laughed in a this-isn’t-funny-at-all sort of way, and ran into the rabble like a troubled bumblebee. There, she threatened an I-servant, who galloped down the street like a freshly-stung electric witch-hunter.
“Sorry, your I-brother-ship,” she said.
I shrugged my shoulders. “Who are the witnesses?”
“Rob!” she shouted at the masses. Rob sauntered out with a flawed smile.
“Brother of I, I saw an apple atop the sacred Window on the witches’ kitchen table,” he said.
Before I could continue, Jenny’s boisterous servant dragged the screaming witch towards us. After much yelling, shoving, and assistance from the villagers, he tossed her into the cage.
When the crowd settled, I continued, “Did you see her lay the apple, Rob?”
“Yes, Brother.” He studied his manicured fingernails without breaking his disturbing smile.
“Of I,” I corrected.
“That’s a lie.” The witch shook her cage, which began to spin.
“Did anyone else see this blasphemy?”
“I did, Brother of I. It was a rotting apple that only a witch would…” a plump farmer started, but I raised the J-Window.
“Thank you, FredericK.” I stopped the twirling cage. “Witch, two witnesses speak against you. Further, it has come to my attention that you told sister Phyllis about a demon stabbing you in the back?”
“Not a ‘demon’ demon, a pain. It felt like the devil. Did you… Did Phyllis…”
“How do you plead, witch?”
“I’m not a witch. It’s that arrogant frog-faced Fred. He did this. They’re lying. I’m not that stupid.” She shook the cage again, but I held it tight.
“Uh-um,” I prompted.
She squeezed the bars and hissed, “bother of i.”
“Can anyone vouch for you, witch?”
A handsome woman stepped forward. “What of her husband, Brother of I.”
“Agnes, I-Sister. You are correct. Where is this husband?”
“He’s plowing, but my grandson’s fetching him.”
“It seems I’ve taken this village by surprise.” The multitude gazed skyward, hoping the I-Spirit would speak on their behalf.
Their silence amplified Jenny’s whisper, “I’d say so, i-bro.”
I’m not sure why villagers get so excited about Challenges. It’s not like I burned witches at the stake or dunked them in water. No torture, no hanging, and no stoning. The I-Spirit practiced kindness — and a brief meeting with the I-Flame. Absolutely no pain.
As we waited for the errant husband, I amazed the townsfolk with my knowledge of the I-Almanac. I explained titbits about harvesting turnips, parsnips, and radishes. I finished with a warning to check for leaf-blight and the dreaded dry-dust-fungus. The people shouted their praise. Oddly, they all faced down the street. When I glanced over the back of their heads, I spied a farmer with a six-year-old boy racing for us.
At the same time, a slender woman snuck unnoticed into the crowd. I noticed. She wrapped one arm around FredericK’s and shook the straw out of her red hair as if she had jumped off an e-harvester. Then she elbowed FredericK. “Why didn’t you say there’s a Challenge, sweetums?”
FredericK inspected his boots, “Anni, the Inquisitor… Most unexpected…”
I cleared my throat and re-established my sense of authority. “Brother John, I have summoned you to testify against your wife. Two witnesses claim she laid an apple on the sacred Window in your kitchen.”
John stared, and I feared he would panic, but then he ran to the cage. “Issy?”
“Witch or not, brother John?”
John grabbed the witches’ hand. “I love her.” The villagers murmured agreement. “It was me. I placed the apple by mistake. I didn’t notice the Window. My heart kept missing a beat, and I was upset, and Issy… She made it right. She brewed me a tea that fixed my heart. I am the witch.”
“Tea? From a witch?”
“Wait an I-hound minute!” Anni jumped at me. “That’s not so, Bro.” She pointed her finger.
I stumbled back. Her accent howled in my head; a headstrong highland Highpenner — BEWARE. But I safely managed, “Who are you?”
“I’m Fred’s cousin-in-law, soon-to-be fiancée. We walked by John’s window, and I saw it, like that light on your forehead.”
“And, there was no apple?”
“There was, you bet. But I told you Fred, that was a v-window, not I, bless the Spirit.”
I stepped closer to FredericK. “Perhaps, brother, you were mistaken.”
“Anni!” FredericK scampered around like a cornered hamster. He stopped. “Yes, Brother of I, perhaps I saw too hastily.”
“Rob, an interface.” I motioned for the servant to step up.
“I, Brother of I, I may also have been…”
I raised my hand. “You are the servant of FredericK?”
“A servant can guide his master in small ways. See that your master listens to his…” I studied Anni and then the glaring horde. “You know what I mean. Then I’ll pass on praise to the council.”
“Are there any more Challenges?”
A freckled five-year-old girl shouted, “Peter peed on a tree of aye.”
“Is that so, Penelope? Step forward, child.”
“Yes. Bro of aye.” She pointed at the boy who fetched John.
Peter poked his tongue out. “Wasn’t an I-tree.”
“Was so.” Penelope placed her hands fiercely on her hips.
“Was not. My gran says so.”
I stepped between the children. “Peter, who is your gran?”
He pointed to Agnes, who winked at me. She was more like his great-great-great-gran or greater, and she knew it.
“Penelope, perhaps you‘re mistaken. An I-tree is difficult to distinguish from any old tree.”
“I wasn’t miss-taken. My mom swears it’s the biggest.”
A robust, equally freckled woman pushed through the group and grabbed the girl’s arm. “Penelope, that’s enough.”
“Yours, sister?” She nodded and dragged Penelope back into the crowd.
I knelt next to Peter. “Next time, check that no one sees you pee, aye or…” I whispered, but he ran to his grandmother before I finished.
I stood up and addressed the villagers, “Any more Challenges?” The mob glared at the ground. “Thank the I-Spirit for that. Penelope, considering Peter’s very young age…”
“He’s a year older…” Penelope started, but her mother slapped a hand over her mouth.
I faced John. “Brother, your devotion is endearing, but I must consider the issue of demon summoning — and tea.”
“You said nothing about demons.” John lunged at me, but the witch snatched his arm.
“John, the pain in my back. Remember?”
He shook his head. “That’s not right.”
I raised my hand for a minute until the audience grew silent. “Considering the nature of all the evidence, it is my verdict, which is, I will remind my brothers and sisters, final as the I-Flame — it is that this witch, sitting in this cage, is indeed…” I paused with centuries of well-polished melodrama. “Truly… Oh, pardon. Keeper, hold this.” I handed her the J-Window, so I could swear by it. “Where was I — Yes, my esteemed decision finds that she, the witch, is indeed under the great Spirit of I — a true sister. Keeper, you may release her.” At this point, the cascade of cheering made it impossible to finish my well-practiced sermon. I closed the Challenge instead. “Just in time for tea.”
by John Correll
Woodie and I hid behind the not-high enough concrete sea wall. Bullets blazed like banzai blades pitched by a berserk Brooklyn butcher on Benzedrine. Bang, bang, bang.
Rock chips clanked against my helmet, and in between mumbling to himself and kissing his little wooden cross, Woodie coughed in the dust. The cutting menace knocked off hours in only twenty seconds. Then silence, followed by the drum of gunfire somewhere else. Peace, shaking hands, and fumbling with a cigarette I couldn’t light. So, Woodie steadied my hand, and we shared puffs. Alone with smoke. A haze of safety. Refuge, until an arrogant sergeant we’d never seen jumped on the wall above us. Our own sarge disappeared in the surf forty minutes before.
“You worthless maggots. Get up and advance to position,” he screamed down.
Woodie stopped coughing. “But sergeant, the pillbox…” Crack, crack. The sergeant’s blood showered us. “…right there. Jesus.”
The sergeant tumbled at our feet, spasmed, and bled in the sand for a tortured thirty lifeless minutes. Woodie heaved and puked. I pissed myself and reflected on the lieutenant’s claim about worthless yellow-bellied little lizards.
Welcome to Tarawa.
A Surprise Visit
by Boris Glikman
An Eastern Water Dragon crawls up really close, while I am sitting at a small, folding table next to the camping tent.
Billions of years of evolution separate us; I arrived into this world more or less fully formed, while it arrived as a gelatinous mass inside an egg, and its lineage stretches back to the time of the dinosaurs, innumerably many eggs ago.
I see its little chest expanding, the loose thin skin lifting up and falling down. Despite its bizarreness, it too needs to breathe, and that is an intimate connection between us. Despite our unbridgeable, irreconcilable differences, we both are living beings existing at the same time in the same place, and we both need the same air in order to survive. It wants to go on living and so do I, and so we both keep on breathing.
The imperious look in its eyes, the way it carries itself with such serenity and poise, the way it deliberately slithered up so near to me, the way it just sits there, imperturbably calm, stuck in the same pose like a rock, lost in its own weighty contemplations and haughtily ignoring my presence – all this is so different from the instinctive fear and panicky fleeing that most wild birds and mammals exhibit when they find themselves in man’s presence.
This must be how dinosaurs conducted themselves when they ruled the world, and now this little lizard is mirroring the behaviour of its ancient ancestors, as if millions of years have not passed and this is still the Age of the Reptiles, as if it is this lizard that is towering over me rather than me that is towering over it. It may be small now but in its mind it is still a dinosaur, for one can never forget or let go of one’s glory days, no matter how long ago they were.
After studiously disregarding me for what seems like an hour, it crawls up a short distance and positions its body so that its head is exactly in line with mine. Slowly it lifts its head and looks directly into my eyes, and, as our eyes meet, that inconceivable evolutionary distance between us is erased in an instant.
It stares at me searchingly – how must I appear in its eyes? How strange must my bodily construction seem to it? Perhaps it is trying to get a better look at this curious, grotesque creature which is in front of it? Or maybe it is trying to better show off its alien beauty to me, for it can sense how much in awe of it I am?
Questions Answered, Problems Solved.
by Mimi Speike
Sly is face to face with John Dee, the ground-breaking mathematician and inventor of the navigational tools that set England on the path to being the greatest sea power the world had ever seen, his childhood hero on a par with Raleigh and Drake. You might think he would have been tongue-tied. No, he’s the opposite of tongue-tied. And his excitement trumps his common sense.
“Doctor Dee! I’ve admired you since I was a tyke in Cumbria. Sir! I had your Perfect Art of Navigation. I poured over it. It whetted my appetite for striving scholarship. I borrowed it off the bookshelf of my schoolmaster. Never returned it, I’m afraid. But I’m convinced I treasured it far more than Dumfries ever did.
“Sir! You gave me a glimpse of the future available to one with a brain. I did not have to spend my allotted span running down rodents on a piss-poor farm in far-northern England. I had a superior brain. It was within my power to do something fine with my life.”
Damn! Sly’s blowing it. The Cacodemon O-ek did not chase mice on a hard-luck farm outside Borrowtown, Cumbria. Cat! Get your act together, hey?
Hallelujah! The critter seems to have caught a break.
“With all respect, Your Honor,” says Dee. “I didn’t get a word of that, not a blessed word. Can’t you speak to me directly, no middleman? This one’s jabber leaves much to be desired.”
Previously: Sly had introduced himself as the Cacodemon O-ek, seeing it as the easiest way to forge a solid connection. Dee was known to dabble in the spirit realm, he would accept a demon-infused cat before he’d buy an against-all-natural-laws cat conversationalist.
“Impossible!” says O-ek. “You are not a receptive. You tolerate Kelley because you have had no viable alternative, until now. This cat has the gift. I promise you this–no one surpasses him as a sensitive. He has my complete confidence. I refuse to deal with a scoundrel, such as you seem to be drawn to in the misguided belief that low-lifes have superior ability. Wake up and smell the cocoa!1 Kelley’s building his future at the expense of your own. He’s a blood-sucking parasite! The cat’s an arrogant jackass, but he’s not scheming against you.
“He is, however, annoying as hell. We bicker over matters large and small. Last night I wanted lamb for my dinner. This jerk demanded fish. I got my lamb, but we had a battle royal over the mint jelly. I gave in on the jelly. We must coddle this idiot best we may or he’ll take off, and then where will we be? Bear with his dismal articulation for now. I’ll work with him until he gets the hang of it. O-ek sighs. He’s our boy, unless you want to stick with Kelley. Crap! Hold on, eh?”
Here’s where Sly’s dramatic training kicks in.2 His eyes open comically wide, then shut into equally comical slits. The nostrils flare. The brow furrows. The cranium vibrates, as if to expel an intruder into his personal space. He emits a stream of snarls and hisses.
O-ek chastises the co-inhabitant of a shared corpus in a stately cadence at odd with a jumble of sounds. “Sure, have your tantrum, for all the good it does you. Look, my friend, I’m in charge here. Live with it.”
“Ye’r no friend o’ mine,” snarls Sly.
“You dance to my tune,” lectures O-ek. “The sooner we get that straight, the easier this is going to be on both of us.”
This exchange moves quickly on the page, but it took a good deal of time for Sly to put it across. On the O-ek side: he spoke slowly and carefully. On the Sly side: he compounded that merriment with scowls and grimaces advertising his fury at no longer being master of his fate. (Cats are notoriously independent creatures.)
Dee’s ear is not yet accustomed to the cat’s style of speech, but Sly’s English is peppered with Enochian sufficient to bolster his woo-woo legitimacy.
Hmmm. Where did the animal get hold of his Enochian? For, you see, during his–for lack of a better word–séances (the term implies a hefty portion of hoke, does it not?), Dee had conjured the language, with the assistance of Edward Kelley.
Kelley’s a tippler. Had he run his mouth in a public house? Had he, sloshed, boasted of putting one over on the great John Dee? Had he invented zany words, trying them out on drinking companions, providing his circle of hooligans hours of raucous fun? Had Sly, in the right place at the right time, overheard? Let’s go with that, for now.
So! That problem’s solved. What’s up with Dee?
The post of Astrologer Royal pays poorly. Dee’s side hustle is, he caters to pleasure parties afloat on the Thames, stopping at his pier for a picnic lunch, followed by a staged séance. (Dee believes heart-and-soul in the spirit world, but he keeps the serious delving his secret obsession.)
Despite his lengthy list of accomplishments, he lives a hand-to-mouth existence. A prosperous patina is essential to his business model, but he can justify artfully shabby surroundings as a feature of scholarly eccentricity. He owns a stupendous library. His money goes for books, not a new dining-room set.
He’s saddled with a wife and seven bambinos. His influence at court is greatly diminished. He’s failed to win several clerical livings he’s sought. He’s not unlike Edward Kelley in that he’s ever on the lookout for financial opportunity.
He’d always been a mystically-minded man, but bitterness has plunged him farther down a rabbit hole than he might otherwise have gone. He’s like the QAnons, wedded to patently absurd ideas, believing in them absolutely, but he’s not trying to overthrow a government, he’s trying to save one.
“Zooks!”3 screams Sly. “Do I spy a fiddle up there?” He’s just noticed what appears to be a violin case in an overhead rack.4
“You do indeed,” says Dee.
“I play that thing!” The cat is overjoyed. (First John Dee … now a fiddle! His cup runneth over!)
“Do you!” Dee is amused.
“I made my living off the instrument at one time. I must have a go at it tonight.”
Dee is perplexed. Who made a living? Not O-ek, surely. No matter, neither of them touches his violin.
“I do not recall inviting you to join me at our monthly gathering, accomplished musicians all.”
“I’m accomplished. Highly accomplished, I promise.”
“Out of the question, I promise. Let’s have no more of this nonsense, please.”
“Have it your way then.”
“Thank you, I intend to.”
Sly accepts the rebuff, or seems to. “That boy there,” he nods in Jack’s direction. “My body servant Jack Daw must not sit on your stoop all evening. Tell your wife, rustle him up a good dinner and find him a bed. Do me that favor, at least.”
Dee exits the coach, goes in search of his wife. When he reclaims his seat, the cat is vanished. Where’s the booger got to? Ah! He’s with Daw, who’s relocated to a lawn chair. The pair are cozily settled, and appear to have nodded off.
Dee taps the ceiling of the cab with his cane, the signal to depart. As the vehicle pulls away, Sly races to the rear of the car, claws up the tarp-clad baggage bin, and slithers inside.
- Coffee did not make it to England until the early seventeenth century. Cocoa was known a century earlier.
- Years earlier, he’d been (briefly) a member of Lord Strange’s Men, a theater troupe mounting plays in noble households outside London. (The first public playhouses were not built for another dozen years.) He’d worked hard at his craft, acting whatever role he was assigned (generally a witch’s familiar) fully and generously.
- Zooks: Sly’s contraction of Gadzooks. (God’s hooks, a reference to the nails of the crucifixion of Christ.) An exclamation of surprise. First known use: mid-seventeenth century. (Maybe a bit earlier?)
- This was my longstanding problem: where to work in a fiddle. (Sly’s gotta play a fiddle.) My original idea will not work. (I was never certain that it would.) That entire section must be rewritten because of my introduction of an additional major character, John Dee.
by SL Randall
Wavy strands of gray hair framed the heavily bearded face. As he looked at the sleeping man, a wisp of irritation resolved to bemusement. Dunia stroked the beard under his chin, chuckling softly. Bepé had chided him mercilessly for his youthful looks and energy. He wondered what the man would make of him now.
“Bepé,” said Dunia sternly, “It’s time to wake up.” Bepé sleepily muttered something unintelligible, so Dunia nudged him with a foot.
Grunting, Bepé yawned. He squinted up at Dunia. “Who are you?” he asked gruffly.
Dunia smirked. “Who else would you expect to find here?”
Bepé stared at Dunia, eyes widening. “Dunia!” he groaned as he tried to get up.
Dunia watched but did not help him. “Why now?” he asked instead.
Panting from the exertion, Bepé sat up with his back against the hut wall. He stared up at Dunia with confusion and shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
Anger flared from long, dormant coals. “You don’t understand? I’ve been stranded for thirty years! What took you so long?” His voice ragged, with emotion, “I gave up hope of rescue. I thought I was going to die here.”
Indignant, Bepé retorted, “What took me so long? Where are we? Why are you so old? You’re not the only one with questions! I’m not sure how I survived my first meeting with a dinosaur. I know I didn’t imagine that.” he winced as he shifted on the pallet.
Dunia sighed, then frowned suspiciously. “How did you get here if you don’t know where we are?”
“The same way you did. With your malfunctioning verse jump device.” grunted Bepé.
Dunia squinted. “My device?”
Bepé pointed at his pack laying on the floor. “Your device is in there. I don’t know what shape it’s in,” he winced considering his own state of disrepair, “If it took the beating I did, it’s likely in pieces now.”
Dunia shook his head. “That’s not possible. I have my device. It was in my pocket when I arrived here.”
“Then why are you still here?” exploded Bepé.
“Because my spare batteries were in my pack. You didn’t happen to bring that with you?” he looked around hopefully.
Bepé sighed. “I had precious little time to contemplate what happened to you. You disappeared in an explosion that knocked me down. I searched the site for you, but all I found was what I thought, was your device. When I examined it, I had ten seconds to discover its malfunction in the worst way possible. If I had known, I was going to jump I definitely would have grabbed your pack.”
“There was an explosion?” he asked incredulously.
Bepé nodded. “Perhaps more of a concussion. The only damage was to me being thrown to the ground. There was no charring or burning to the ground or nearby bushes.” he added, “And, I only have my pack because it was on my back when I jumped.”
“Where’s your device?”
“Before I became a dino toy, it was in my breast pocket. Now?” Bepé shrugged, “No idea.”
They sat in silence, each contemplating the other’s story. Dunia broke the stillness, “For years, I was certain you abandoned me. Yet you jumped shortly after I did. That’s incredible!”
Bepé shook his head. “I still don’t understand. I have never experienced a verse jump that violent or unpredictable.”
Dunia frowned. “I have, and that little nugget has bothered me for the last thirty years.”
“When would you have done a jump like that?”
Dunia scrutinized Bepé and wondered if he really was that innocent. He sighed. “It was before you and I met. When I worked in Adventravia’s R&D division, we experimented with various jump devices. Some of them provided less than ideal jump experiences. You know Darren Winston, I assume?”
“Yeah, I know Darren. He and his wife have been over for dinner many times. Why?”
“You know, I always wondered why Sophia married you and not Darren. Anyhow…”
“Oh, come on! He’s much too old for her!” protested Bepé.
“How is it you are married to the owner of the largest travel company in the world and not know anything?” Dunia stared at Bepé, momentarily unsure if he was acting or seriously ignorant of his wife’s machinations. He decided to accept Bepé’s ignorance was honest, for now.
Bepé interrupted Dunia’s thoughts. “Why did you ask about Darren? If you want my opinion, I think he’s nothing more than a blowhard.”
“I asked, because I’ve known him for a long time. We worked together in Utah as raft guides for Adventravia’s adventure tours division. I hired on during the government’s investigation of the company’s science division, when the owners suddenly retired, leaving the whole thing to Sophia. Darren had been reassigned because of the investigation.
“I was hired during those years as well,” said Bepé. I finished my doctorate in anthropological studies shortly before we got the go ahead to resume multiverse travel.”
Dunia nodded. “When that happened, they pulled Darren back to the development team, and he took me with him. We worked well together for several years. Eventually, I noticed I was getting blamed for anything that went wrong, like accidents, or over budget expenses, or miscalculations. Those were all Darren. He didn’t want to hear problems, nor report them to the board. I can’t tell you how many times I reported questionable or unsafe jumps and Darren would gloss over my report embellishing the successes and deleting the failures. Do you remember the Explosion on Verse E068?” asked Dunia.
“How could I forget? The entire jump team was vaporized.” Bepé shuddered. “I was supposed to be on that jump, but Sophia wanted me to go away with her that weekend.”
“And in hindsight, you don’t find that suspicious?” asked Dunia.
“No I don’t!” Bepé shot back.
Dunia crossed his arms and shook his head. “Do you remember when they assigned me to your missions?”
“Yeah I do. Was that a demotion for you?” he asked sourly. “ I remember when you joined my team, I began to lose team members to the archeologists and suddenly I’m no longer on advance missions, I’m trailing the crack brain mud diggers. Come to think of it, having you on my team has been a downhill slide!” He waved his arm, indicating the little hut. “Now look where we are. You tell me my wife is responsible, but I was fine until you came along!”
“Calm down.” said Dunia. “It’s not my fault.”
“Prove it!” challenged Bepé.
“Did you ever ask Sophia why your assignments changed?”
Bepé frowned, “Hmrpf” he mumbled.
Dunia’s mirthless laugh caught Bepé off-guard, “You didn’t ask her, did you? You simply go where you’re told!” Dunia wagged his head in disbelief. “How could you not wonder? If I had been the legendary Garai Bepeigian, I would have been angry. I would have demanded to know why.”
“You do not know what its like being married to Sophia.” said Bepé petulantly.
“I can only imagine,” retorted Dunia. “I’m surprised you’re still married.” Curiously, he said, “When’s the last time you saw your wife?”
Bepé glared at him momentarily, then sighed. “About a week ago, maybe?”
“Bepé, your wife is ambitious and up to no good. She is neck deep in schemes with Darren. I’m not sure how involved the board is or if they are scamming them, too.”
“That makes no sense at all!” exasperated, Bepé tried to get up. He needed to pace, but he felt bruised to his core. He fell back onto the pallet and leaned on the wall. He held up a hand to stop Dunia from speaking. He couldn’t quite accept the fact the man had surpassed him in age, despite his looks. “Let me get this straight. You think my wife and Darren are up to some sort of shenanigans, and you and I are in the way? You seem to know something, but me? I just do my job, go home and complain like any regular employee. How am I in the way?”
Dunia shrugged. “You have the potential to get in the way? If something happens to Sophia, I would assume you stand to inherit the company, or at least her share?”
Bepé frowned. “Sophia knows I’m not interested in that.”
“Does she? Bepé are you really that ignorant?”
Bepé exploded, “I’ve had enough of your insults, you, you …” he trailed off as he stared at the bemused old man.
“Can’t call me a young punk anymore, can you?” chuckled Dunia. “Bepé, we’re in trouble here. Thirty years have given me plenty of time to contemplate my predicament. I wouldn’t be here if my device worked. I admit, when Siti brought me news of a ‘yewichi’ man, their word for alien, I was in shock. I had given up hope of every leaving Tawīyedai. Your arrival gives me hope.”
“Tawīyedai?’ Bepé rolled the word around his mouth a couple of times, “that’s their name for Earth?” the anthropologist in him was intrigued.
“Yeah,” said Dunia. “Ever hear of it in all of your travels?”
“No, but I seem to remember…” he tapped his chin for a moment, thinking. “Ah, yes. There was a recent report from one of the junior archeologists about dinosaurs and primitive humans. I only saw the title. It’s sitting on my stack of ‘to be read’ papers.”
Dunia huffed. “Useless information at the moment.” He reached for Bepé’s pack, and drug it toward him. “This is ridiculously heavy,” he muttered.
“Weak old man,” chided Bepé.
Dunia ignored him and started unbuckling the outer flap. Aside from the broken arm straps, the pack looked unharmed. He dug through Bepé’s spare clothing, bag of tools, a pad of paper, a small leatherbound notebook, an assortment of gloves and a small stuffed Yoda. He held that up with a questioning look. Bepé grinned and shrugged. He finally found the jump device. Smooth black metal, in the shape of a halved avocado, with a small LED screen on one side. It was designed to fit comfortably in the users hand. Receded buttons arrayed on the device, at the fingertips of the user. Dunia noted right away it was a prototype model. There were no logo markings on the device. Unlike the devices distributed to the company users, this one had the rough quality of being hand assembled in the R&D lab. His suspicion that Darren was behind his banishment, deepened. So did his anger.
“Well?” asked Bepé. “Does it work? Can we use it?”
“I don’t trust it.” muttered Dunia. From inside his animal hide robe, he withdrew a sleeker, yet well worn version of the device. “Here’s hoping the batteries will work in mine and that mine will work at all.”
Bepé watched carefully as Dunia transferred the batteries from the suspect device to his. “Now, before I turn this on. We should decide where we are going, and when. We may only get one chance.”
“I vote for home.” Bepé said immediately.
“I don’t.” said Dunia, “We have no idea what’s waiting for us at home. Besides, we also have the problem of when. We both know the rules of verse jumping won’t allow us to return to any point of our timelines we’ve already lived on Earth.”
“Since the typical return point is one hour post departure, perhaps we can return a week later? Maybe whatever they planned to do won’t be implemented yet? Then maybe we can do something about it?” offered Bepé
“Do you remember what happened to Sophia’s parents?” asked Dunia.
“Sure, they retired to another verse when they handed the company to Sophia.”
A skeptical look crossed Dunia’s face as he sarcastically asked, “And you really believe that’s what happened?”
“Oh give me a break! It’s bad enough you expect me to believe my wife is conspiring with Darren. Now you want me to think she exiled her parents?”
Dunia provided him with a flat stare.
“What?” said Bepé harshly.
Dunia snorted. “Ok, It’s going to take awhile and likely some hard evidence to convince you of your wife’s ‘shenanigans’ as you so aptly put it.” He laughed as Bepé glared at him. His mirth subsided. “We should probably wait until you heal before we jump. You aren’t in any shape to defend yourself.”
Bepé continued to glare at Dunia. Pain, affront and disagreeable information soured his mood. Not that he had been cheerful, but to be confronted with so much bad news didn’t help. Dunia was right on several counts, but Bepé was not prepared to admit it to his junior colleague, especially where his wife was concerned. He looked up at the old man, “Fine, if we’re not going to jump right away, then leave me alone. I need some sleep.”
Dunia nodded and shuffled toward the door. He stopped and said, “Bepé, I’m not the arrogant punk you thought you knew two days ago. I’ve had years to think about all of this. Now get your rest. We have work to do. I know I sprang a lot of information on you. But we don’t have the luxury of denying the truth. Your wife is involved in something secret, and we are here because of it. Tawīyedai is not a bad place to be stranded, but if I had wanted to disappear from my old life, I would have. Someone is going to pay for my missing thirty years, and I prefer it to be the person responsible for sending me here.” He ducked out of the hut without looking back.
Bepé, collapsed back on the pallet. He stared up at the ceiling and marveled at the primitive work. His thoughts turned to Sophia. Little things added up. Small unobtrusive things, easy to overlook or explain away. Dunia was right. She was up to something. He turned his head and looked at his pack. He stared at the small front pocket, still neatly zippered shut. He could still picture the note inside, carefully folded. She had left it on his desk. At the time it seemed so simple. Now he knew the depth of her betrayal.
Generals, Pigmies and the Comedian
by GD Deckard
Al stood back courteously as the hospital elevator door opened on the first floor and the two ranking generals of the war, U.S.’s Westmoreland and South Vietnam’s Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, got on with comedian Bob Hope. Before the door could close, a gurney careened around the corner. On it lay a pregnant Negrito woman propelled by her family into the elevator, crowding the generals together into one corner with the comedian. The generals smiled and nodded. But distantly. They wore their arrogance like body armor. Bob Hope’s smile was genuine. It was a sight to remember.
The Negritos’ of Clark were a primitive tribe of pigmies who had served the Allies as scouts during World War Two. One story of their fierce bravery told how they would creep up on Japanese guards during the night, and, either slit the guard’s throat, or chalk a white “x” on the toe of his boot. Both created fears come dawn. McArthur rewarded them with land on the base and gave them a choice of hospital care or retail privileges at the base exchange. They wisely chose hospital care.
On the intensive care ward, Al watched the trio of VIPs moving from bed to bed as they greeted each wounded soldier. The aloof generals maintained a general’s distance when talking to the men. Bob Hope related to people in real time. He was famous for touring the front lines and for being funny, and every soldier knew of him. When he approached a bedside, he knelt and leaned in to talk, it was personal. It was electric.
These guys will remember this for the rest for their lives, Al told himself.
by S.T. Ranscht
Family dinner. Three elementary school kids and two parents at the table. Baby in the highchair nearby. Dad was getting ready to ask each of the kids at the table what they’d done in school today.
Normally, fourth-grader Cynthia hated it when her turn came. There was always some criticism, some embarrassing judgment, some indication that whatever she said, it only showed she hadn’t tried hard enough to do well or to choose her friends wisely or to think for herself. But tonight, she could hardly wait for her turn to speak.
Her answer sprang from her grin and raced across the table. “Today we had an assembly and they’re gonna start an orchestra that fourth, fifth, and sixth graders can be in and I wanna learn to play the violin!”
Her father’s words slowly flowed over hers like an oil slick. “You don’t want to learn to play the violin.”
A little whirlwind blew away her grin and confused her thoughts. Hadn’t she just said she did? Wasn’t that her voice?
“What instrument do I want to learn to play?”
“You want to learn to play the cornet,” Dad decided.
“What’s a cornet?” she asked.
“It’s like a small trumpet,” he informed her.
“Why do I want to learn to play the cornet?” she wondered.
“Because when you are in high school and college, you will be in the marching band and get into all the football games for free,” he proclaimed.
The idea of being with all those kids she didn’t know sounded lonely. “When I am in high school and college and I go to the football games, I will want to sit with my friends.”
“Your friends will be in the band,” he announced.
Her brain whispered, “Not my friends.”
But it was settled.
For three and a half years, Cynthia played the cornet.
She liked polishing the brass to a mirror-clear shine. She loved oiling the valves and the sound they made when she played them quickly to spread the oil, without blowing in the mouthpiece. The spit valve was amusing, and the wah-wah mute was kind of fun.
But she hated the sound the horn made. She hated the way she had to buzz her lips together to play it. And she knew she wasn’t very good at it even though she sat in the seventh grade orchestra’s first trumpet chair.
At the end of the first semester, she quit band.
That night at dinner, she dreaded her turn.
Looking at her plate and inhaling slowly, she confessed. “I quit band.” She braced herself against the coming storm. But a few silent moments later, it still hadn’t arrived.
“What are you taking instead?” Dad asked.
“Art.” She looked at him. He was frowning, but nodding.
“Art is good,” he allowed.
Forty years later, She sat in his hospital room as he tried to fight an unbeatable cancer. The television was tuned to some symphony orchestra’s concert on PBS.
Dad sighed. “Every time I see one of these things, I think of you. Do you still want to learn to play the violin?”
Not something she ever even thought she’d hear. “That was a long time ago, Dad.”
Not the answer to his question. He asked again. Insistently. “Do you still want to learn to play the violin?”
“Sure,” Cynthia conceded.
A month later, two weeks before her father died, she received a violin in the mail. All she could do was thank him. He didn’t ask her to play it, and she was grateful for that.