'Tis the Season To Be Dead Part Two!
For a moment I was too surprised to speak, which is unlike me. I picked the book up off the floor and, after I brushed off the bloodstain, examined the flap. The title was Fowler’s Fortunate Folly and was about a swashbuckling spy named Fowler who had gone on a secret mission and somehow ended up with a ravishing bride and a claim to a played-out gold mine. Turned out that the gold mine was ravishing and the bride was played-out, but it was selling pretty well as the kind of series where you pretty much know what you’re getting before you turn to the first page.
I said, ‘Your name is Fowler and you’re a freelance spy?’
‘My name is Myrna Hofsteder and I want this book pulled from the shelves right now!’ she screeched. That was a better plan than burning the thing, but no more feasible. But wait a minute now. Wasn’t--it was! The name of the bride in the book was indeed Myrna Hofsteder.
Foolishly, I tried to placate her. ‘Lady, if you’d just--’
‘All right, I won’t sue if you do me a favor.’ Now I’m no lawyer but I’m pretty sure if anyone was going to sue anyone, it was going to be me for Assault With a Deadly Book (ADB), but if I could do something to calm her down and shut her up without any more throwing, then I would. With some trepidation, I asked ‘What’s that?’
She pointed out the front window across the street, apparently at nothing.
I peered out the window and saw the storefronts and the parked cars and the litter and the busted up sidewalk and the construction stuff, but other than that, nothing. ‘So?’ I inquired.
‘So look,’ she came back. I looked again, and again I just saw the usual downtown detritus. Myrna came up behind me, put her hands on either side of my coconut, and turned my field of vision to the right. ‘There! See?’ And again, I saw nothing except one of those Salvation Army kettles on the tripod, but no one was staffing it. ‘So?’ I inquired again.
‘I won’t press charges for you people selling this lousy book with my unauthorized character if you fill in for Jack, who is supposed to be collecting for the Army.’
‘Now wait a minute,’ I backpedaled. ‘For one thing, you haven’t got a leg to stand on if you try to sue us. For another, how do you know I won’t abscond with the money? And in case you didn’t notice, I already have a job of work to do!’
‘Abscond. That’s pretty good,’ Myrna reflected. ‘Did you read this trash? Good old Fowler--she spat the word--absconded with the gold claim and me!’
‘Turned out he only wanted the filthy lucre, didn’t it?’ Probably I should have kept my big bazoo buttoned, for she visibly seethed at me and for an uneasy moment I thought that she was going to throw something else at me, but with an effort she calmed herself and said, ‘Look, bud, just stand out there and make sure nobody including you takes anything from the collection, and we’ll call it even. If you don’t, I’ll make your life even more miserable than mine!’
No doubt that was true. I did think the ‘including you’ part was uncalled for, but after all, I had mentioned it first. And it was just about quitting time.
‘What’s in it for me?’ I queried. Might as well get something out of the deal, and anyway it’s against my religion to work for free.
‘You’re all the same,’ she muttered. That made me wonder. Men? Booksellers? Tall skinny guys covered in warts? Then she sighed and said,
‘Just do this for me and I’ll take care of you.’
‘You already took care of me!’, I exclaimed, indicating my swollen, bloody nose.
‘Look, I’m sorry about that, but you shouldn’t go around selling this slanderous material! But forget about that! I’ll give you twenty if you stand there another hour.’
Forget about my nearly busted nose? Easier said than done. I checked my watch. Ten past seven. I was supposed to have been out of here ten minutes ago! Still, twenty for forty-five minutes of standing around sounded ok, so I shut the lights and locked the door, and at seven-fifteen I found myself standing in front of a bright red kettle wearing a Santy shirt that was about twelve sizes too big, presumably for the insertion of a pillow, and clanging one of their bells. And then I waited for something to happen. And then it did.
What will happen? Tune in next time, have a Happy Merry, and check out our holiday themed mystery tales!
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Just in time for Xmas, an original holiday story set right here at the Mysterious Bookshop! Note that y_r friendly blogger made all this up, no actual persons, books, or incidents are contained in the story or should be inferred.
'Tis The Season To Be Dead!
She shouldn’t of done it. That’s what started the whole mess. Well, not only that she done it, but that she kinda threw it in my face. I mean, why did she come in here in the first place? That’s what I can’t figure out. If she didn’t want--what? Oh. Well, I’ll try. The beginning, huh? Got to go back a ways for that, I guess.
I’d been at Mysterious since almost the beginning back in ‘79. It just didn’t feel the same after we moved downtown in 2005. Change is always hard, isn’t it? But something was different. Maybe it was the way the city and the world changed, too. People were more touchy and less willing to listen. What? Sure, I’m just as bad! I’m human too, you know. Now where was I? You’re making me lose my place.
So anyway I saw people come and go and all the time it was just me and Otto. I started in the shipping room after the guy who was there got busted for dealing. At least that was the rumor; he just stopped coming in one day and that’s what everyone said. So I did that for a while and then I went up to the sales floor when Joanne left, ‘cause I read more than everyone else put together. And not just mysteries, either. I like books on classical music and sports and birding and a whole lot of stuff. Ever since I can remember I just read and read all the time. Never did watch too much TV, there’s just too much crap out there. But I never missed Perry Mason. Did you ever see it? Raymond Burr was just terrific in that part. I heard he read for Tragg the homicide guy but the producers or somebody decided he would be a good Mason and they were right.
So I was at the front desk for a few years and then I was Oscar’s assistant for a while but that didn’t last long. Why? I think it was because we were too similar. We had no patience for nonsense and that included each others.
Back I went to the sales floor. That was ok. I liked it there. People were always asking what to read and I liked turning them on to new authors and new genres. Most of our customers were regulars and had been shopping with us for a long time. Being in downtown Fun City, we got a lot of visitors and tourists and between them and our regulars it got so everyone that came in or called fell into one of the two categories. See, the crime fiction business is a funny one--folks ask us all the time, ‘What should I read? Tell me what to read!’ So we’d all make sure to at least have a handle on what was new and hot as well as the vintage stuff so we could point folks in the right direction as far as something they might like. And very rarely did anyone come into the shop and complain about a title or author that we’d recommended. In fact, I don’t think anyone ever told me that I’d pushed a dud on them. Until one night just before Christmas. A woman came in right before closing which we all hate but which comes with the territory. As usual I was thinking about supper and my easy chair but on the surface I was polite. This lady seemed perfectly reasonable, smiled, said hello, and reached into her bag and withdrew a book and hurled it at me with all her might. And her aim was pretty good, she clocked me right in the nose. I caught the book as it fell and noticed that it was the new one from Fowler Hawthorne, who wrote swashbuckling spy stories with himself as the thinly disguised protagonist. But no matter who the author was, I was dripping blood and hopping mad and for once I lost my cool with a customer. ‘What the hell did you do that for?’
‘You can’t sell this!’
‘Say what!?’ I honked.
‘This story is all about me and I never gave my permission! Burn all copies immediately!’
Well, now, what the heck is this all about? Tune in next week for the next installment of 'Tis The Season To Be Dead!
And while we're waiting, we have several holiday-themed mysteries on hand, perhaps you saw our gift ideas email recently? Drop a line or drop in if you'd like some thoughts on what to give those on your list!
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Brand’s Heartwarming Thanksgiving Part Three
Heinrich Rott was in a towering rage, which was his usual state. He had conceived the brilliant plan to infiltrate the safe house down the street, but it had got off track somehow. For one thing, it wasn’t a particularly ‘safe’ house any more, if it ever had been. For another, they still didn’t have the priceless books and records from World War Two that had been sitting casually on the tv table for years. They had been in plain sight when The Three Musketeers, as Rott thought of them, marched Brand out of the house, but now were nowhere to be found. Meanwhile Brand was incommunicado in the basement of the very dwelling in which Rott now sat, in the hope that he would sing and tell them where he’d hid the books and papers.
For his part, Brand had actually been telling the truth when he claimed that he knew nothing from nothing, had just moved into the cold-water flat, and that the German stuff had been there all along. Bewildered, he simply sat and awaited his fate. Presently he heard a scraping sound at the door. It opened, and who should walk in but the sweet-face middle-aged lady who had ostensibly been collecting for the needy, but who was really reconnaissance for the German soldiers. She had a giant, old-fashioned key in one hand and was balancing a tray on the other, and most surprising of all, Leo the cat was perched on her shoulder just as calm as you please. In a surprisingly strident voice she informed Brand that she had brought him cake and coffee and a furry pal to keep him company. When Brand asked how long he was to be held here, and that he didn’t know anything about any German books anyway, she simply shook her head and left, locking the door behind her with the giant key. For his part, Leo the cat, also known as Moritz, bounded across the room and settled on Brand’s lap. ‘If we get out of this, kitty, I’ll give you a good home!’ said the man. But he was interrupted in his reverie by another noise at the door. Ah! Another visit from the lady! He hadn’t touched his coffee or cake and felt a little guilty. After all, someone had gone to the trouble of preparing this snack for him, the least he could do was eat it. What am I thinking? Brand thought to himself. I’m being held prisoner and will probably be shot for a spy! Then the door opened and lo! It was the Three Musketeers! The tall one strode up to Brand and growled, ‘Are you ready to talk?’ Brand replied, ‘I told you, I’ll tell you whatever you want to KNOW!’ and on the word KNOW, he hurled the hot coffee at his adversary, scooped up Leo and ran for the door before the other two musketeers could move a muscle. Dashing down the corridor, man and kitty came upon a staircase and hurtled up it, entering a kind of foyer which had several nooks and crannies where they might hide. But the heck with hiding! It was time for some action, Brand reckoned. He set Leo down and looked around for some weapon to take the offensive against his adversaries. He didn’t find one, but as he was searching, he did see something interesting on a shelf--the missing German books! Now what were they doing here? He didn’t have much time to ponder the matter, though, for just then Leo yowled, making Brand jump three feet straight up in the air. It was a handy alarm, though. It was the Three Musketeers! The tall leader had seemingly recovered from the hot coffee attack. Advancing on Brand menacingly (Leo had discreetly ducked under a table), the short fat one rumbled, ‘NOW are you ready to talk? Where are the materials you stole?’
Brand cheerily replied, ‘I didn’t steal them, but they’re right there,’ pointing to the books.
All three musketeers smiled in unison, their hostility melting away by their apparent relief in finding the German stuff. ‘Oh, great!’ ‘Thanks!’ ‘Wunderbar!’
And here Brand thought he was about to be shot. And who knows, perhaps he would have been had it not turned mysteriously turned up.
It was four hours later, and all were seated around a sumptuous banquet table. Even Leo had his own place, with a few slices of turkey and a saucer of milk.
Heinrich Rott spoke. ‘I was perhaps a bit overbearing in my methods, but forgive me--I know no other way. You see, the previous tenant in the home you occupied was my brother Henrik, and he had kept these materials from our father, who served in World War Two. We wanted not only to keep them in the family but also to prevent any incriminating evidence of wartime violence from besmirching our good name.’ Rott wasn’t such a good name, thought Brand, but he was in an expansive mood, being fuller of food than he had been in many a day.
‘Ah, forget it.’
And Leo purred.
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Brand’s Heartwarming Thanksgiving Part Two.
Then, after what seemed like hours, one of the men in the doorway spoke.
‘May we come in, sir?’ said the tall one in a surprisingly high-pitched voice slightly inflected with a German or Eastern European accent..
‘What can I do for you gentlemen?’ asked Brand, outwardly calm but inwardly quaking.
‘We’re looking for a lost cat. He is very small, basic black, and answers to the name of Moritz. Hier, Katzchen!’ leaving no doubt that he, at least, was German.
‘Nope, nobody here by that name. Now, if you’ll excuse me…’ said Brand with impeccable and unusual politeness.
‘Well, then, if there is nobody here by that name, you won’t mind if we trouble you to look,’ said the tall man.
‘Matter of fact, I do mind if you trouble me!’ shouted Brand as the three men clumped into the house from the stoop.
‘Just come right in, why dontcha?’ again shouted Brand. Next thing, the short round German was holding a Luger under Brand’s nose. ‘Vat did you shay?’ he growled in a thick accent.
‘I don’t remember,’ whispered Brand, meekly.
‘Moritz! Moritz!’ And then of course Leo came out from behind the stove to be picked up by the third German, who hadn’t said a word yet and who was neither short nor tall nor fat nor thin. He had an air about him that made Brand think that perhaps this was the commander of the small unit. ‘Ah, Moritz, there you are! You bad cat! Running away like that,’ said the commandant. While this was going on, the other two, Tall and Short/Round were searching the apartment and not being particularly circumspect in so doing.
‘That old lady sent you, didn’t she?’ asked Brand. At the smallest movement from Short/Round, Brand buttoned his lip and sat down hard on the one chair in the room. Well, he lived there alone, except for Leo, briefly, so how many chairs did he need?
‘Here they are, Chef.’ On the low shelf on the tv cart, that’s where those books were! And why did they call him ‘chef?’ Were they cooks? Cooks of German food didn’t seem likely, so Brand figured it was a term of endearment. Strange folks, these Europeans. Brand thought of Europe as pretty much one monolith of strangeness as opposed to several different countries even though he was vaguely familiar with France, Italy, Germany, et al.
‘SO!’ This shout from the Tall one brought Brand rudely out of his reverie. With a start, he came out of his chair only to stumble and fall on his face before the three manner.
‘Yes, that is it! Grovel before us, swine!’
Good gosh, what was this, a bad WWII movie? Brand struggled to his feet only to be pushed back into the chair. Then the commandant spoke.
‘You are a spy!’
‘Are you kiddin’?’ sputtered Brand. ‘Me, a spy! That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard!’
‘Do you deny you have these incriminating materials?’
‘That stuff? Those were here when I moved in!’
‘A likely story! Frankly I expected a better cover story. Was that the best you could do?’
‘I tell you, it was--’
‘Enough! We will not stand here and debate uselessly! You are a spy and we are taking you for the ultimate punishment!’
At that very moment, Leo/Moritz climbed laboriously into Brand’s lap, stomped his paws a little bit, and curled up to settle. Good timing, Leo, thought Brand.
The tall German said harshly, ‘Don’t try and gain sympathy by playing nice with our cat! You are a spy and you will be dealt with in the manner of all spies!’
Yikes! Could this be the end for Brand? One way to find out! Tune in next time for another chapter in: Brand’s Heartwarming Thanksgiving!
Questions/Comments/Some kind of James Bond gadget? email@example.com.
Brand’s Heartwarming Thanksgiving Part One
Brand stumbled out of his cold-water flat, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, to pick up the morning paper, which was in the bushes as usual, and the milk delivery. Before he got two steps, he tripped and went sprawling onto the front lawn. Well, ‘lawn’ was something of a misnomer, it was really more of a patch of dirt, but a fellow can dream, can’t he? At least he hadn’t had the milk bottle in hand, only to see it shatter on the ground. But what had he tripped over?
Well, of all the---someone left a Russian Cossack hat on his stoop! Now what the heck?
Brand bent to examine the hat and now wait a minute! It wasn’t a hat at all-it was a cat! A scrawny, soaking wet, mangy critter who looked up at Brand’s face and mewed.
Now, Brand wasn’t made of stone, so he left the milk and the paper where they were and gently scooped up the kitty and brought it inside. Being the softhearted sap that he was, he got an old towel out of the rag bag and dried kitty off. Then he rummaged around the fridge and found an old piece of semi-rotten fish that he couldn’t quite recall from whence it came and set it down on the floor where it disappeared in about two seconds. Watching this, Brand realized he was hungry too and fixed himself a Dagwood sandwich. As he was inhaling it, a slice of tomato fell to the floor and was also inhaled by the feline, who Brand was already calling Leo. He knelt to pick up the towel and noticed that Leo was wearing a collar and there was something stuck in it.
Interesting. There weren’t any tags on the collar, so Brand felt ok with calling his new pal Leo. Luckily at Brand’s place, the absentee landlord was satisfied if the tenants weren’t out-and-out criminals, so one little kitty shouldn’t pose a problem. Still, it was a little strange--how did Leo end up on the doorstep in the first place? He must have had a home at some point if he had a collar--and what was this? Stuck in the collar was a bit of paper! It was a note that said, ‘Fische müssen schwimmen, Vögel müssen fliegen, nach und nach bist du tot.’ Now what the heck did that mean? It looked to Brand like some foreign language in very stern, flowery lettering. Now where had he seen that kind of writing before?
Meanwhile Leo, full of suspect fish and nice and dry, had curled up behind the stove and appeared sound asleep. Just make yourself at home, why don’t you?, thought Brand. Then he remembered where he’d seen the funny foreign lettering before. When he moved into this apartment, the previous tenant had left a pile of stuff behind, including some books. Some of them had the same kind of writing. What kind was it? Just then there was a knock on the door. It was a sweet-faced middle-aged lady who was collecting for Thanksgiving kitchens for the needy. The holiday was right around the corner and Brand had been trying to decide whether he himself was needy enough to go to one. As he politely declined the invitation to contribute, he noticed the woman’s eyes darting this way and that, peering into the house. She hurried away before Brand was even finished making excuses of relative poverty and left him standing in the doorway, more puzzled than ever. With a shrug, he shut the door and went back into the kitchen. Leo was still snoozing away tucked behind the stove, so Brand sat at the kitchen table, after carefully propping up the short leg with a folded bit of cardboard, and tucked anew into his Dagwood. Another knock on the door! Never get this sandwich et, he grumped to himself as he went to yank open the door.
Standing in the doorway were three men, looking for all the world like refugees from a WWII movie--Sluggo haircuts, wearing what appeared to be military surplus, one even had a billy club! They stood, towering over Brand and eyeing him as if he were the sunrise and they were roosters, but saying nothing.
Uh-Oh! Now what’s in store for our man Brand? Looks like he’s in another situation not of his own making! And what of Leo the cat? Tune in next time for the next exciting installment of Brand’s Heartwarming Thanksgiving.
Little Old Ladies Solving Crimes Part Two
Ah, but there’s more little old ladies solving crimes than Marple, Fletcher, or Withers! Heron Carvic (pen name/stage name, born Geoffrey Rupert William Harris) created Miss Seeton as a gentle parody of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple in a series of five novels from 1968 to 1975. He was also an accomplished actor, appearing in Doctor Who, The Hobbit, and The Avengers, among others. He also ran away from Eton, for which he may or may not deserve kudos. I wonder how many deserters they’ve had over the nearly six hundred years the school has been in operation?
Miss Seeton, a retired art teacher, works with (or perhaps it’s more accurate to say ‘works at’) Inspector Delphick and Bob Ranger once the proper and somewhat befuddled woman finds herself entangled in the seamier side of life, usually after a murder has taken place. A lady of late middle age and an unconventional spinster (and good riddance to that term), she’s got a can-do spirit and has thwarted more than one would-be murderer with her trusty umbrella. A kind of modern cozy, these tales are well past the Golden Age and so have an edgier feel to them, but certainly some of the characters are somewhat harsher than those found in older cozies. Miss Seeton, as an art teacher, has an undeniable facility for drawing suspects and crime scenes, this sure comes in handy! She’s nosy, somewhat naive, and a bit chauvinistic in a way that only the British can be, which qualities lend themselves well to the humorous aspects of the series.
Dorothy Gilman wrote fourteen novels featuring Mrs. Pollifax, a widow in her sixties. When her husband dies, she unravels into a depression and, lacking a purpose in life other than her gardening club, offers herself up to the CIA as perhaps the Agency’s unlikeliest spy. Their reaction is, shall we say, skeptical, but she’s accidentally recruited and with her common sense and moxie eventually gets the job done and is off on her missions. By and large the stories are adventurous travelogues which send the dowager spy off to various far-flung locales.
Miss Maud Silver is a retired governess. (Can governesses ever retire?) She looks like any other harmless little old lady, but she’s really a tough investigator often involved in implausible plots who works closely with Scotland Yard. Some readers feel that she’s an early feminist model while some aver that she is not a credible character and that no elderly person could do what she does. Don’t listen to them, judge for yourself! Patricia Wentworth (pen name of Dora Amy Elles) wrote thirty-two adventures to choose from and they have a wide range to them, covering as they do the 1920s into the 1960s.
Most every fictitious woman sleuth over the age for forty or so is inevitably compared to Miss Marple, but no two detectives are created equal, so check out a few; the characters we’ve covered here just scratch the surface of some of the overlooked little old ladies of crime fiction!
The fourth of the five Miss Seeton tales that series creator Heron Carvic wrote, wherein the Bank of England and the Home Office find themselves in a spot of bother.
Questions/Comments/An ever-present brolly? firstname.lastname@example.org
The twin prototypes--well, not literally twins, I mean two of a kind--for the archetype of the little old lady sleuthing and solving crimes are probably Christie’s Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher of ‘Murder She Wrote’ fame. But wait, there’s more!
Stuart Palmer and Hildegarde Withers
Hildegarde is a snoopy old biddy, constantly horning in on the work of Oscar Piper of the NYPD. It could be that Palmer had read an Anna Katherine Green novel or two, for this is the same setup the latter used in the Butterworth/Gryce series, just as the amateur sleuth/NYPD combination was in the Philo Vance stories by S.S. Van Dyne. There’s more than a little Marple in there too!
With a female protagonist, Palmer took the opportunity in Murder On Wheels to feature an ahead-of-its-time dialogue between Withers and Piper regarding the role of women in society. Happily there is a tongue in cheek type of humor, where, for example, the first Hildegarde Withers tale, The Penguin Pool, mentions Holmes and Vance as famous fictional sleuths.
Dame Edna May Oliver memorably portrayed Hildegarde in the flickers; that’s the film role she’s best known for and how most folks visualize the tart-tongued amateur sleuth, even though she only made three pictures as the character. According to her biography, Edna May left school at the age of fourteen in 1897 to pursue a career on the stage and had her first hit in 1917--a twenty year apprenticeship! What do you bet some theater critic called her an ‘overnight success?’
While the Withers adventures are generally comic in tone, they are not farcical in any way, indeed, they pretty well follow the conventions of novelistic detection as far as gathering clues and arriving at the ingenious solution to the puzzle. Palmer wrote thirteen Withers novels, two collections of short stories, and one unfinished novel which was completed after Palmer’s passing. There’s also a collaboration with Craig Rice called The People Versus Withers and Malone in which Withers and Rice’s lawyer John J. Malone match wits. Another posthumous collection of short pieces called Hildegarde Withers: Uncollected Riddles, was published in 2002. To be sure, some of Palmer's postwar output may be considered uneven. But the Hildegarde tales are plain ol’ fun with some world class detection for good measure.
Join us over the next couple of weeks as we take a look at a few other crimefighting seniors! (Strangely, they are almost all women.)
Note new email address for y_r friendly blogger. First person who emails and mentions something in this column wins a prize! (My choice, and no arguments!)
Just the thing for Friday the Thirteenth!
Jones In Chicago--Part the Last (at last!)
WHAM! The three time/space travellers landed with a thud on the shore of Lake Michigan. Lake Shore drive was there, but had much less traffic than either George Mandible, Lt. Jones, or Valeria were used to. They were near to Eckhart park on the West side, and Valeria led them to a nondescript looking house on Ashland.
‘We can see and move in this plane, but we cannot be observed,’ said Valeria. ‘Stay close now, and watch how your precious Chicago operates.’
The Lieutenant and Mandible had no intention whatsoever of wandering off, thank you, and stuck close to the alien woman as they watched the house. Presently another glowing field appeared at the front of the dwelling, a pale blue this time, which after a moment grew transparent so the observers could see the doings inside. From the dress and the lack of automobiles, Lt. Jones placed the time in the 1890s. Soon a man strolled jauntily up the walk and knocked on the door. Well-dressed and pleasant appearing, the maid permitted him entry but instead of waiting politely in the study, barged up the stairs to the bedroom of the man of the house. The watchers heard indistinct shouting followed by gunshots.
‘There!’ shouted Valeria in their watching bubble. ‘There is the mayor of this city being murdered by a man who was rejected for a job in the administration! A civilized place? Pah!’
‘Crimes occur everywhere at any and every time,’ said Lt. Jones, mildly. ‘That doesn’t mean Chicago is any better or worse than any other place. Besides, as we reckon time, this took place over one hundred years ago. Do you judge a society on happenings a century past?’
‘I do not judge--I try to change things for the better!’ voiced the woman.
‘Seems to me that’s all you’ve been doing, casting us as the villains here,’ drawled Mandible.
‘Now I will show you the future!’ said Valeria, as if she hadn’t heard either man. Again they found themselves falling, falling through an inky black void with pinpoints of light that looked for all the world like a bevy of stars. Veteran time/space traveller that he was, the Lieutenant rather enjoyed the sensation, but it unnerved Mandible greatly. At length, and after having traveled for what seemed to be quite a while, they alighted on a sand dune, amid a sirocco blowing fiercely from the north. Their travel bubble seemed to offer them protection from the elements in order for them to see the goings-on. But here there were no goings-on, just a desert wasteland. Sand and wind and that was all.
‘Why did you bring us here,’ asked Mandible, who was sounding and looking decidedly queasy.
‘This! This is the future of this city! Your foolish, childish testing of weapons has turned this land mass into a desert! A wasteland more suited to the north of what you call Africa! See the fruits of your attempts to annihilate one another!’
Taken aback by Valeria’s outburst, Lt. Jones took a moment to gather his thoughts. Then something occurred to him. ‘Ma’am,’ he began, ‘this--’
‘LOOK!’ shouted George Mandible. Suddenly looming large before them was another many-tentacled creature, impossibly huge but so far unthreatening.
Valeria began vocalizing, a high-pitched ululating kind of wail, but tuneful in its way.
Mandible said, ‘Now there’s nothing like that in our world!’
‘George is right,’ agreed the Lieutenant. ‘Obviously there are many possible futures possible, this is only one of them.’
‘But my people!’ cried Valeria.
‘You, like I, can travel interdimensionally and interspatially,’ explained Lt. Jones. ‘All you need do is seek the best possible futures for your people, just as I have done.’
The many-tentacled giant ‘spoke,’ with its own quavering wail, only much much louder than Valeria’s, which she listened to with intent interest even as the two Earthers covered their ears with a grimace. Slowly, Valeria nodded. ‘Yes...yes, it may be done. Thank you, father. I shall join you presently.’
Holy smokes! This creature was her father? The universe truly is queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose!
‘You are wise, Lieutenant, and you, Mr. Mandible. My father has impressed upon me the need for cooperation and judicious selection of our time and space continuums. We will endeavor to work together with inter-species to enjoy the best possible future for all beings.’
‘Good,’ smiled the Lieutenant.
Valeria drew herself up to her full height, with a look and sense of regalness about her. Were she and her many-tentacled father royalty on this world? Perhaps someday Lt. Jones will find out!
‘And now, let me show you our world!’ exclaimed Valeria. Again the the trio whisked through time and space, bound for...who knows? Perhaps we will meet Valeria and her people again in a future adventure!
Questions/Comments/an interdimensional spaceship? email@example.com
Lieutenant Jones in: Just How Many Chicagos Are There?
Continuing our interminable story from the last several weeks!
(The end is in sight, honest!)
‘Jones, we’re in trouble!’ gasped George Mandible, as Lt. Jones struggled against the tentacle that held him tight. Obviously, thought the Lieutenant.
‘Chin up, Mandible, we’ll get out of this yet!’
Valeria overheard their attempts at keeping a stiff upper lip and laughed.
‘You’ve no escape! No one can stop me now!’
Interested, Lt. Jones asked, ‘Just what is your plan, Valeria!’
Valeria settled herself in front of the men, her tentacles loosening not at all. ‘Your experiments destroyed my people! Atomic power is poison to us and I am the last survivor of your attempts to build a weapon to fight your petty battles!’
‘But that was years ago! Why punish us now?’ cried Mandible.
‘You should be aware that time is in flux, it is never rigid and unyielding!’
‘I know that better than anyone!’ spoke the Lieutenant. ‘But you are interfering in a functioning society for your own nefarious ends!’
Again Valeria laughed loud and long. ‘Functioning! This city, just in an eyeblink of moments, has seen two mayors assassinated and years of lawlessness following the ill-advised attempt to banish alcohol and its dubious benefits.’
Lt. Jones countered, ‘It was your attempts to change the future that led to at least some of these events!’
‘LIAR!’ cried Valeria. ‘We generously gave you our self-sealing walls, our scanners, and our regeneration technology!’
‘So you could twist the future for your own odious ends!’
Meanwhile, Mandible had been working frantically to loosen the bonds of the tentacle imprisoning himself and the Lieutenant. Suddenly it snapped, sending both men crashing to the floor.
Valeria screamed. She began to dissolve into the same green flow that had heralded her arrival. Twisting and wavy like an out of tune video picture, she disappeared from their view.
Mandible and Lt. Jones looked at each other. Their sense of relief was palpable but quickly followed by their indecision as to what to do next.
‘So we dodged that bullet, and what do we do now? The future of Chicago is in our hands!’ said Mandible, melodramatically.
‘Well, I--’ the Lieutenant began, but that was as far as he got, for just then an orange void appeared in the wall behind the men. Incredibly, Valeria was back, in the humanoid flesh this time.
‘Thought you were rid of me, did you? Well, think again!’ she cried.
Lt. Jones had had enough. ‘I’m getting a little tired of these parlor tricks! Just what is it you want, anyway?’
This question appeared to give Valeria pause, for she did not thunder her pronouncements as she usually did. Instead she looked downright thoughtful. ‘I want vengeance for my people!!’ said she.
‘And what good will that possibly do? Sure, you might kill us, but would that bring back your people? Your society? Why not work for a better future for the city? There’s no reason for all this bluster? Why try to trap us and punish us for something that’s buried in the past? Why not work with the two of us and come to a modus vivendi, a way of life we can all live with?’ asked the Lieutenant.
For a moment, Lt. Jones and George Mandible were hopeful that the former’s words had gotten through to the alien woman, that she would see the wisdom in them.
But no! She did not see the wisdom in them. She raised both arms above her head and made a gesture the likes of which the men had not seen, a kind of cutting, savage whir, and all at once massive explosions rocked the room, sending all three of them into a darkening void. Seemingly spinning through space, the Lieutenant could see stars, literally, not the kind that one might see when one gets a bump on the noggin. Were they headed through space? Through time? They were hurtling somewhere at the behest of the strange woman in whose thrall they were, and where they would land was anyone’s guess!
Where will the trio end up? What new adventures await them? Will this story ever end? One way to find out! Tune in next time!
Questions/Comments/A list of science fiction cliches? firstname.lastname@example.org
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Note also that headed into the holidays, the ATM posting schedule may become a bit (more) erratic.
A family emergency necessitates a postponement of this week's installment of All Things Mysterious. Sorry for the inconvenience, we'll be back!
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