My flash fiction, “The Fez Shackle,” is now a podcast, read by the talented Tina Connolly for her Toasted Cake podcast. Tina is the author of a trio of fantasy novels: Ironskin, Copperhead, and the forthcoming Silverblind, numerous short stories, and is a fabulous reader. You can listen to it here.
Three weeks ago I decided to take author Lynn Viehl up on her challenge to write and post fresh fiction each Thursday, for fun and to keep my drafting muscles limber while I revise The Hardscrabble. Thus a new Marquez and Tully story was born. Here’s the final installment.
Something metallic crashed below, and the floor vibrated. The hairs on the back on my neck rose. The crowd sensed it as well, people looked around, eyes wide, no doubt wondering what the noise was, and why the floor trembled. For a Normal, the arcane was that sense you were being watched, and when you twisted around, there was no one and no thing there. It was the sudden chill in a warm room, or scent you couldn’t quite recognize. I was more attuned to matters magical than that, but I was still the equivalent of a woman in the pitch black house holding a tiny flashlight trying to find locate mice scurrying around.
Worse, without mana, I didn’t have a hope in hell of binding whatever it was.
The building shook. I heard another distant boom below.
I had a very bad feeling about this.
I needed mana, and fast. I had to use my costume. Hate it or not, I had no choice.
Cute Guy wandered in my field of view. I waved at him, tried to look enticing. Blech. Another item to write on the I-hate-myself list. He came over.
“Hi, Carl,” I said as he came over. My dimples must be working over time. He looked flushed.
“Thanks for letting me in,” I said, trying to do a sultry voice. Geez, I sounded like an over the hill sex kitten who’d had too much whiskey and cigarettes. Still, Carl wore a dopey grin, looking like a teenager who realized he was about to get lucky. My un-dress and the mana it focused because of his attraction to me had that effect. The un-dress was a mirror reflecting back on the emotional energy that in turn drew mana. I know, complicated, but that was the arcane for you.
Something crashed outside, and screams erupted. Cosplayers and volunteers snapped their heads around. Nervous questions rose all around me.
Carl had turned to face the door. “I’d better go check,” he said, and started to head toward the door.
Damn it. There was no time. I grabbed Carl’s arm and yanked him over to face me in a full body contact, which in the leather near nudity I wore, meant lots of bare skin against his thin tee shirt. I pulled his head down to mine and kissed him, full on the lips. No time to waste.
He froze, then relaxed and melted into the kiss. It was like dark chocolate. Hey, I love dark chocolate, so sue me if that’s my reference.
The crystal tiara crackled with energy and my skin tingled. Mana, sweet Cassandra, mana poured into me, and from me into the tiara’s crystals. They needed energy to hold energy. Like I said, the arcane was complicated.
Here I just thought Carl was a cute guy, but there was a deeper attraction between us, helped no doubt by my un-dress’s trashy appeal. Somewhere a geezer wizard leered. I pushed the thought from my mind.
A faint crash in the distance. I broke for air from the kiss with Carl. I heard voices raised in question in the hall outside the grand ballroom, some shouting, but not the cacophony of fear and more fear I would have expected if something big and nasty had thumped into their midst.
I released Carl and sprinted toward Tully. Okay I tried to sprint toward Tully but the devil’s own high heels tripped me up and I did a full face plant, banging my left hand. Pain shot up my arm. Damn it, I knew better than to throw out an arm when I fell. Tuck and roll, Wanda used to say as she watched me fall again again in the obstacle course. Screw it. I crawled as fast as I could on my hands and knees. Pretty hard to do with my left hand hurting. Please, wide world, let it just be a sprain.
“Tully” I shouted.
He turned, took one look at me and doubled over in drunken laughter. I crawled forward another two feet before the pain hammering my left arm proved too much.
Someone pulled me to my feet.
Carl. “You need some first aid.”
“I need to reach my friend.”
He smiled and I felt myself grow hot. Cursed un-dress. Okay, maybe it was more than the un-dress, but that was my excuse and I was sticking with it. My left hand didn’t hurt so much all of a sudden.
“First things first, huh?” Carl said.
“Something like that, yeah.” I pointed at Tully. “I need to speak with him. It’s important.”
He didn’t argue, he didn’t barrage me with questions. He helped me over to where Tully stood, chatting up his new found posse.
“Hey, Liz,” Tully said. “Just tellin’ my pals here about that time in Astoria we got ambushed by those toad men and their human muscle. Or was it those human sorcerers and their toad men muscle?” He rubbed his head. “Things are a bit blurry at the moment.”
Giggles erupted from his posse. Great, Tully was spouting off secrets.
The floor vibrated again.
“Could you excuse us for a moment?” I said to Tully’s posse.
I pulled him aside with my good hand. “Spilling secrets?” I hissed. Another thing to have to worry about. The first rule of Magic club was don’t talk about Magic club. Duh.
“They all like it,” he said. Looked like he was finally reaching the collapsing into a sound sleep part of his drunk.
I palmed the stone cold packet.
High pitched laughter echoed from overhead, laughter on helium, laughter that could etch glass.
The ballroom lights flared and then went out all at once, plunging the room into darkness. People began talking all at once. I brought the stone cold packet up to Tully’s big mouth. I still needed him to locate what had just gotten loose, and to help me subdue it. Assuming the packet didn’t fall apart before it reached his mouth. Squeeze packets, the newest thing from the bright minds in Alchemy.
The packet exploded in my hand, powder puffing against my skin. If only the contents had been a jell I could have rammed my fingers down Tully’s throat. I fumbled for the other packet in my left boot, found it.
The packet slipped from my fingers. Damn it!
High pitched laughter again from overhead. I wanted my hands around a little windpipe, squeezing, only gremlins breathed through the sides of those pointed heads of theirs.
Smart phones flicked on all around, throwing out little windows of light from screens, followed a moment later by pinpricks of bright light. I snatched the packet from the floor.
Emergency lights flicked on.
“Open wide,” I said, and squeezed the packet’s contents into Tully’s mouth. “Swallow.” He did.
He belched, an epically loud belch that echoed off the ceiling. That was the stone cold for you.
“Gremlins,” I pointed at the ceiling. Tully stepped up beside me, lifted my right arm and guided it. I flexed the fingers of my left. Still hurt, but that’s was just tough. A binder’s got to do what a binder’s got to do I always said. There! A gray shadow hung from a open ceiling panel. I made a lassoing motion with my left fingers, pulled with my right. The crystals in my tiara were warm against my head, sucking mana from the gremlin. I could see his little mouth form an O of surprise, he toppled and fell.
“On it,” Tully said and snatched the gremlin from the floor, tucked it into his coat. “Rat catcher, in action!” He said. His posse giggled. Jack Strange always said that in the comic book when he nabbed a shadow creature.
Tully pointed my right arm at another open ceiling panel. Rinse and repeat as I drew mana from the second gremlin and Tully fetched and secured again. Not my typical binding procedure, but the un-dress’s mana harvesting changed the equation, hate it or not.
“You’re hurt,” Tully said when he rejoined me. Yeah, Captain Obvious strikes again.
“Costume not exactly made for running.”
He looked embarrassed and guilty at the same time.
I took pity on him. “Gremlins switched your drinks earlier.”
The door by the grand ballroom’s stage flung open. Something huge was outlined in the doorway.
“And for our next act, the return of Mister Pissed Off,” I said.
“The Troll Lord escaped?” Tully shook his head. “I can’t believe he escaped.” Like I said, Captain Obvious strikes again.
The Troll Lord stomped into the room. He looked like a scaled version of the Incredible Hulk, only in brown black rather than bright green. He raised his huge fists and bellowed.
Shit, we were going to have a helluva time covering this up, assuming we managed to get out of it in one piece. I needed a lot of energy for the binding, and I might have to improvise with a conjuring. I needed steel cables to bind that thing.
I frantically scanned the room, That was when I saw the Kaiju Wrangler costume leaning against the stage. That was one of those not OSHA approved costumes where you had to be strapped in, like a medieval suit of armor. I bet the cosplayed inside I had panicked, tried to run in the dark, and passed out when the Troll Lord showed up.
How about that? A ray of sunshine just burst forth.
“Gotta do the Jack Strange act again,” I told Tully. “Go on, ham it up.”
Tully didn’t miss a beat. “I am the warden of the night,” he shouted, striding toward the Troll Lord. Wow, hang on there big fella.
I gulped. I needed more mana but didn’t have it. Unless.
“Tully!” He turned, and I blew him my sexiest kiss.”
He blinked in surprise, and then blushed. I felt that energy. Boy did I ever. An instant later Tully whirled back to face the Troll Lord as it bellowed again.
Conjure me a cable, I muttered under my breath, pointed at the line hanging coiled on the Kaiju Wrangler. Conjure me a vessel, I muttered, made a pass with my hand, willing the suit to come to life.
It did. Tully gestured at the Kaiju Wrangler just in time. “Warrior of light, I summon thee!” He shouted.
The suit took two steps forward, One of its hands grabbed the now silver cable, which I motioned for it to throw. The lasso surrounded the troll lord just as it was about to charge.
“That’s enough of that,” I said to myself. This was going to hurt, but I already had an enter point for the pain. My left hand. I twisted it. Binders use their own pain to add in the binding, and I had a ready supply. I twisted my writst, pain shooting up my arm, and the cable twisted.
The troll lord bellowed, then stiffened as the binding took hold.
“I vanquish the foe,” Tully said, another Jack Strange trademark slogan.
I clapped. “Great cosplay!” I shouted, encouraging others to join in by my enthusiasm. I held my breath.
Applause broke out, scattered at first, then growing louder.
It worked. Barely. We still needed help from the local Sweepers to cover up the fiasco, but it worked. The troll lord was back on ice, this time heading to the silos with two very annoying and too powerful for their britches gremlins, and Tully and I weren’t headed to the silos. Thank the wide world for that.
We did get sent off to Pasco to deal with a shadow plague, but that’s a different story, and I’ll take mucking about in the dark in the boonies over being stuck guarding the silos any day of the week.
Two weeks ago I decided to take author Lynn Viehl up on her challenge to write and post fresh fiction each Thursday, for fun and to keep my drafting muscles limber while I revise The Hardscrabble. Thus a new Marquez and Tully story was born. You can find the first installment here, the second here, and last week’s here.
I dashed down the stairs to the hotel garage and our truck. The trailer’s freezer unit was working fine, and the double lock on the trailer door was engaged. Whew, that was one thing; Mister Pissed Troll Lord was still on ice. I went up into the truck’s cab, and began changing into my “costume.” Sexy sorceress could mean so many things, all of them over the top and ridiculous. Leave it to the Outfit’s founding members to come up with a leading contender for demeaning and sexist, wrapped up in the guise of necessity. The costume in question wasn’t a pretty princess. It wasn’t a chain mail bikini and sandals. It was worse.
The blackened leather was cool against my skin, where the leather actually covered my flesh, straps connecting the uplifted leather brassiere to the bikini-like bottom. The flared neck collar was like the parasol-like boney ridge of some bygone dinosaur. The fingerless gloves extended to my elbows. The thigh high leather boots almost reached my crotch, with spiked heels so high my feet were nearly at a ninety degree angle.
Oh and how could I forget to mention the jeweled tiara? I didn’t want to wear it, but it was part of the costume, and if you were going to wear the costume, you needed the whole thing for maximum effect. The rubies were mana storage crystals, low charge, but they could be used to bleed off mana from arcane entities. Binders always carried mana crystals for bleeding off magical energy from arcane creatures. I couldn’t wear the falcon pendant I usually did. That baby could store a hell of a lot of mana but it clashed with the costume.
The rules of the arcane were the rules. Follow the rules or else, Wanda’s rule number 4. The rules were there for a reason, like it or not, and the costume had to be complete to work as a mana focus. Platinum toed-Doc Martens worked just fine for focusing mana, and kicked better than the devil’s own high heels I wore as part of this costume. Tully said the costume was effective, hell, he’d said it was more than effective, it was downright deadly, in an eye-ball kick sort of way, but I like I said, I never wore it. Tonight was the exception. Since I wore it, I needed to follow the rules; otherwise it wasn’t going to be of much use.
I finished fastening myself into the costume and stepped down from the truck. The stone cold powder packets were tucked inside my right boot, in a little cartridge holder. A coiled bullwhip hung from a hook on my left hip, slapping against my thigh as I tried to stride and not sashay in my spiked heels. The garage air gave me goose bumps.
I made it as far as the elevator before encountering people, three fans in t-shirts and jeans, all guys, talking among themselves. The conversation stopped dead when I rounded the corner. Their eyes widened as they took in my costume. Damn those horny old toad wizards for dreaming this one up.
One of them swallowed and held up a smart phone. “Do you mind if I get a picture?”
I lifted my chin. “Yes.”
He smiled nervously. “Thanks!”
“Yes, I do mind.”
I would have felt like a jerk only there was the costume. I wanted no photographic evidence. Ever.
After a ten second eternity the elevator opened and I went in. I turned around. The three guys still stood outside, mouths open.
“You going to get in or wait for the next one?”
They nodded in unison.
Fine, whatever. I hit the close door button and left them stunned and drooling.
On the second floor heads turned as I wobbled in those nearly ninety degree pumps outside the grand ballroom. I swore I could hear neck bones pop as heads snapped around. Leave it to the costume designer to emphasize the sexual energy aspect. Yeah, sex can be used to generate mana, but it’s chaotic, messy and not easily controlled, especially in the field. Besides, big baddies wouldn’t wait for you to finish your hot and heavy mana gathering. This costume was designed back when rogue male sorcerers were the Outfit’s big worry.
Cute guy with a soul patch and a clipboard waited where I left him, outside one of the doors to the grand ballroom.
He didn’t miss a beat, despite his widened eyes when he glimpsed my costume. “Eight minutes,” he said, and tapped his clip board.
“What’s three minutes among friends?” I hated myself for smiling coyly at him and willing the costume to work its persuasion.
Cute Guy’s expression turned dazed and he smiled. I hated myself even more that the costume worked as advertised on men. Or maybe it was just my nearly naked bod, outlined in leather. I repressed a shudder. Curse you, old fart wizards.
His dopey grin widened. “Sure, go on in.” He signed a form and handed it to me.
“Geez, Carl, really?” said female voice from over my shoulder. A woman in an emerald green con volunteer t-shirt and a Buckaroo Banzai Lives! headband stomped up to Cute Guy—Carl.
“I don’t see what the problem is, Simone,” he said airily and opened the ballroom door for me.
“The rules are specific,” she retorted.
The rules–that was a good one. If only she knew how punny she’d been. I hid my grin and went inside.
I nearly collided with an eight foot tall monstrosity, a hulking metallic giant that loomed in the ballroom bearing the logo “Kaiju Wrangler.” The mecha stood in a line of people in costume; everything from anime characters and every incarnation of Doctor Who to more Thor impersonators than you could shake Mjolnir at.
“You’re late,” said a middle-aged man wearing a cowboy hat fashioned from materials which really belonged as part of a flying saucer.
“Carl said it was okay.”
“Carl always says its okay.” He sighed. “All right.” He jerked his head in the direction of the line.
I got in line behind “Kaiju Wrangler” and peered around one of its massive legs. Quite a costume, but it was murder on my line of sight.
Tully was halfway up the line toward where the photo shoot was setup. He had a huge grin on his face as he held forth to an elf princess, an adoring trio of American Maids, and Hello Iron Kitty and Crossplay Phoenix.
I palmed a packet stone cold. Time to get down to business. I tottered toward him, the devil’s own high heels thumping against the low-pile carpet like someone’s approaching muffled doom when flying saucer cowboy hat caught up to me.
“Please stay in line,” he said.
A fan dressed as the cheesiest superman ever chimed in, one hand straightening the oiled toupee perched on top of his head. “Yeah, no cuts.”
“I just need to tell me friend something,” I told them, and beamed at both me, and batted my eyelashes. God, what was I doing? You work with what you have, Wanda’s rule number 5 said. I wanted to crawl in a hole but I had to reach Tully.
Flying saucer cowboy hat smiled back at me. “Sure, you can have a word with him.”
“No way,” cheesiest superman said. “You gotta stay in line.”
Nods and murmurs from the other fans waiting in line. Flying saucer cowboy hat shook off his daze. “Sorry, miss, but you need to wait your turn.” Damn it, my costume must be out of mana.
I tottered back to my place behind “Kaiju Wrangler,” my shoulders slumped. The Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtle behind me in line held up a camera. “Okay if I snap a pic of you?”
I glanced around. The lights all worked, people were texting away on smart phones, and a film camera rig faced the stage, and looked like it worked fine. So where were those gremlins? The littlest nuisances in the whole wide world should be wreaking havoc right about now, with the grand ballroom ground zero, but nothing doing.
They couldn’t have left the building. Gremlins were driven to mess with people, the more people in a situation the more the pointed heads were attracted, and the more things that could go wrong the better as far as the gremlins were concerned.
Without Tully’s ability to locate arcane creatures I had to wait for them to manifest. It was one thing to have to wait for a goblin to swoop down on you in a dark alley somewhere, another to wait for the overhead lighting to crash down. Thinking about what the gremlins might be up to drove me crazy while I waited in line, the line which took forever to move. I was always bad at telling how much time had passed, and there was no place for a watch with this costume
I fiddled with my whip while the line inched forward. Once Tully was past the photo shoot I’d ditch the line. I leaned around “Kaiju Wrangler’s” massive leg for the umpteenth time to check on Tully. “Jack Strange” and his new best pals were finally having their pictures taken. It was then I noticed the line continued past the photo shoot. At the far end of the line volunteers in emerald green surrounded a handsome, familiar looking old man and two beautiful, familiar looking women. Movie stars, I guessed, but couldn’t recall who they were. The trio stood watching as cosplayers came up to them, one at a time. They must be judging.
Great, I had to wait to get to Tully until after he and his posse were judged.
In the meantime, I needed more mana. It would have been easy with my platinum-toed Doc Martens, I could have gone off and stomp danced on bare ground while reciting the words to the mana harvesting ritual under my breath. Or sat cross legged in a corner, closed my eyes and let the mana flow to my rings, but the rings were back in the truck. They wouldn’t work with the gloves.
But no, I was freezing my keister off in a leather next-to-nothing outfit in a drafty hotel ballroom with no way to recharge mana. Okay, there was one way, but no. No way in the whole wide world was I doing that.
I wasn’t about to start making out with strangers in line just to give the sexy sorceress costume a little mana charge. Besides, that sort of mana harvesting took a connection to really work. Even succubus liked to have a relationship first. The stronger the connection, the bigger spark, and
If the line would just hurry up, I could get Tully sober, I could get back into my working clothes, get a mana recharge, and snap, hey, presto! The pointy headed annoyances would be bound up again. Tully would fetch the containment chest and I’d sit on the thing all the way to Vancouver if I had to.
Finally Tully and his new best friends were in front of the judges. I thought I heard a distant boom. I wasn’t the only one. Fans looked around. I knelt, leather creaking and put my hands on the floor. My hand tingled, all the way up my arm. My feet began to feel it to. I was not a Sensitive like Tully, but I could feel the arcane when it was near. The more powerful the entity, the easier it was to feel.
A massive arcane something was headed straight for the grand ballroom.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s installment. Let me know what you think in comments. Feel free to share the link to this page, but please don’t copy or repost the story text.
I want to post weekly link salads, links to interesting news stories, websites, topics, you name it, inspired by the late Jay Lake’s daily link salad offerings. Jay passed away two weeks ago today, after a six year battle with cancer.
He was an award winning science fiction writer and blogger extraordinare, who could write at a prodigious rate. I originally “met “Jay via his blog somwhere in 2005 or early 2006, and then finally in person at Wordstock in 2008, six months after he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Jay battled it for over six years, and blogged about it, continued to write fiction until this year. I was lucky to spend a bit of time with him at conventions and social gatherings here and there, but not nearly as much as I would have liked.
Without further adieu, here’s today’s link salad, about Jay Lake:
“Jay Lake the Science Fiction Writer who blogged his own death” (Daily Dot). A moving look at Jay’s life while battling cancer.
“Jay Lake: More heartfelt unusual tributes for the late writer” (The Oregonian). Stewart Baker interviewed Jay several times, and writes here about the varied and wonderful tributes to Jay after his death.
“Scarf woven from Jay Lake’s Genome” (Boing Boing). Astrid Bear wove a scarf based on Jay’s genome, after it was sequenced for cancer research.
Jay Lake’s fiction at Smashwords. Jay was a prolific author who republished some of his short fiction.
Jay Lake’s Amazon author page. Amazon has a number of Jay’s titles, including e-versions of many of his novels.
Jay Lake’s Process of Writing. Jay blogged at length about his writing process and about the process of becoming and being an author, and had a book edited from his blog posts. It’s a unique writing book, well worth the read.
Jay Lake interviewed by Ken Scholes. A great interview by Jay’s close friend and fellow author Ken Scholes.
My collaboration with K.C. Ball, “Rules Concerning Earthlight”, is now in the June issue of Perihelion Science Fiction. The idea for the short story came from a big brainstorming session masterfully run by the very talented Ken Scholes at the 2013 Cascade Writers Workshop. Ken’s a good friend and an incredible writer, and proved to be an excellent facilitator and guide to the forty five or so writers clustered in seven or eight groups in the hotel conference room. We came up with a noun, “boat,” a verb, “stilled”, and a second noun, “vision.” Then each of our groups had fifteen minutes to brainstorm. Our group came up with Artificial intelligence and Moon, then the groups bounced around ideas. Werewolves came up somewhere along the line, with the question what would a werewolf do on the Moon. Group brainstorming is a fun, messy, chaotic, and very inspiring process.
After the session, K.C. and I turned to each other and agreed we had to write a story from this. So we did, and the result is “Rules Concerning Earthlight.”
Two weeks ago I decided to take author Lynn Viehl up on her challenge to write and post fresh fiction each Thursday, for fun and to keep my drafting muscles limber while I revise The Hardscrabble. Thus a new Marquez and Tully story was born. You can find last week’s installment here.
I drug Tully into the hall and toward the elevators. “You can’t sense the gremlins?” I asked him again.
Tully bumped against the wall as we walked, like a ship heeling from a gale, reminding me of that time the Outfit sent us up to Vancouver Island in an old schooner during a storm, because we needed to be as free from technology as possible to find the snake people and their Sasquatch pal sailing on the other old schooner.
“They’re in this hotel,” Tully said. “I tink.” He belched.
Great. If Tully hadn’t been stinking drunk he could have located the two gremlins in a snap. Okay, Elizabeth, I told myself, time to fall back on Wanda’s Rule Number Two. The List.
Where would the gremlins do the most damage? The hotel’s HVAC system could cause problems. Elevators were an obvious point. The hotel’s connection to the power grid was the biggest vulnerability. Or was it? The thing about Gremlins is they love coming at you out of left field.
I whipped out my smart phone. The Outfit was run by wizards, but we had access to our own voice activated knowledge genie, Gnosis. I called him Greg.
“I need the Hotel Marquis’s schematic,” I told Greg.
Greg brought up a 3D schematic of the Marquis. I zoomed in on the electrical system and the app crashed. Damn it. I held the home button and repeated my instruction to Greg.
“I am sorry, I do not understand Martian shawarma,” he answered.
“Marquis schematic,” I repeated.
“I’m sorry I do not have a recipe for Martian shawarma.”
Double damn it. How powerful were those Gremlins? My smart phone was shielded, rated for use in up to medium strength arcane environments. This was just a ritzy hotel in downtown Seattle for Crissakes.
Tully leaned over me. “Whatcha doin’ Liz?”
“Figuring out how stupid I am.” The gremlins must be in the ventilation duct nearby. I jumped up and thumped the wall where I guessed the duct was. I swore I heard faint high-pitched laughter.
A room door opened behind us and a Hello Kitty version of Iron Man stepped into the hallway, followed by a crossplay version of Jean Gray as Phoenix from the X-Men.
“Nice shade of pink,” Tully said to Iron Hello Kitty.
“Thanks,” a woman’s voice said from inside the armor. “Nice Jack Strange,” she told Tully.
Jack Strange, that was rich. Strange was a popular comic book hero. The Black John Constantine Tully once called him. The thing was Tully did look like Strange in his field-rated leather long coat, lined inside with silver platting. The armored coat made his big shoulders look even bigger.
The male version of Phoenix nodded at me as he passed, green body suit and gold sash a perfect fit. His mass of red hair had to be a wig. I could only dream of having such a mane.
He looked better in leggings than I did, but that wasn’t my style anyway. Doc martens, jeans and leather jackets were more like it. Wanda said that was too punk, but she was one to talk in her camo parachute pants and an A-shirt.
They went to the elevator.
“Where are you going?” Tully called after them. Man, he got positively pally when he was loaded.
“After party costume contest in the grand ballroom,” Crossplay Jean Gray said over his shoulder.
They went into the elevator and descended.
I watched the floor lights. The elevator seemed to be working fine.
Rule number two, Wanda had drilled into me, always have a list. If you don’t have a list, make one up on the spot. Don’t act without considering your options. Easy for her to say.
It hit me. The grand ballroom on the Marquis’s second floor could hold four thousand people, easy. There would be all sorts of costumes, sound system, lights, and music. God only knew how many smart phones, tablets, blue tooth headsets, cameras, you name it, would be in that hall.
That’s where the gremlins would go. All the emotion, all the passion, the energy, it would be irresistible.
My phone was working fine again, which meant the Gremlins had to be on the move. I flashed on them riding atop Iron Hello Kitty and Crossplay Jean Gray’s elevator as it descended.
“Come on, Tully.” We went to the elevator and pressed the button. I tapped my toe waiting for the next one. And waited. And waited.
Maybe the elevators weren’t working any more, or maybe they were just overloaded, but Hello Iron Kitty and Crossplay Jean Gray had had no trouble catching one.
“Looks like the stairs,” I told Tully.
Great. I’d have to shepherd him down sixteen flights of stairs.
It was a long, slow descent. Tully stumbled on the stairs a half dozen times as we descended the first two floors down from Sixteen. I stopped on Thirteen after he nearly face planted.
Damn it. I really wished I had that stone cold powder. There had to be more in the kit down in the truck. I thought.
“Tully do you remember if we have more stone cold in the truck?”
“I tink so.” He belched again. Ugh. He smelled like a microbrewery.
I couldn’t go on like this. I needed Tully sober. “Stay here,” I told him and sprinted down the stairs. My lungs burned by the time I reached the garage level. Every minute that passed meant the gremlins could be sowing that much more chaos in the grand ballroom. I jogged to the truck, side aching.
The freezer unit on the truck’s box compartment hummed. Good, it was still working. It wouldn’t do to have the troll lord loose in here.
Inside the cab I unlocked the hidden panel in the floor behind the driver’s seat where the kit was, lifted the box out. We did have more stone cold. I took two stone cold powder packs, a fresh light wand, a potion set and a standard field op charm issue.
My ritual binder outfit hung in the cab’s hidden closet. I swear some horned toad of an old male wizard had come up with that back in the 1970s. I never wore it, but regulations said it had to accompany all female binders in the field. Yeah right, old dudes. Bite me.
I plucked the night vision goggles hanging from a peg next to the sexy sorceress outfit. The goggles I could use.
The garage lights flickered once as I headed back to the door to the stairs. Good thing I had the goggles. But the lights held as I ran back up the stairs. By the time I reached where I’d left Tully I was practically doubled over and out of breath.
He wasn’t at the landing at the thirteenth floor. Crap and double crap. I flew through the door into the hallway. A crowd of people, including a half dozen different female Doctor Whos, three Spider Mans, and a Godzilla on roller-skates waited by the elevators. The crowd looked like it had been there for a while. Tully wasn’t among them. As I looked, two of the Doctors turned and started walking toward me.
“You guys see a Jack Strange around here?” I asked the Doctors as they reached me.
The one dressed like Eleven, complete with fez, shook her head. “I’d have remembered that. I love Jack Strange!”
Her companion, dressed as Ten, nodded. “I have a crush on him,” she confessed.
Oh, Tully, if only there weren’t a pair of obnoxious little cretins running around fubaring everything in sight, I’d introduce you to these two. I’d love to see him squirm, ‘Mister I-took-the-celibacy-oath-to-be-a-better-op’ Tully.
Not me. I was just off the market for now. It was simpler that way.
I just loved needling Tully about his oath. With him drunk, though, it would be too easy.
It hit me. Friendly drunk Tully encounters some nice cosplayers who decided not to wait for the overdue elevator and take the stairs. Of course Tully would go with them. Which meant he must be downstairs in the grand ballroom.
“Pardon me,” I told the Doctors as I pushed past them and down the stairs. “Must dash.” Again. My legs were starting to feel it and I didn’t have the energy to hit the stairs at full tilt. Wanda’s Rule Number Three, stamina beats strength bubbled up in my memory. You need to run ten miles and not break a sweat, she used to say as she chased me up the trails in the Alleghany’s. Wanda and her damn rules.
I had to stop on the eighth floor and again on the third. Wanda had a point, not that I’d ever tell her that. I managed to be upright when I reached the second floor. There was a Restore in the charm pack, but I might need that later. Time to woman up and keep moving. I took a few deep breaths and ignored the screaming from my lungs.
Fans clogged the hallway outside the grand ballroom. I pushed through the throng.
“Excuse me, coming through.” I had to bob and weave around all the waiting fans. I was short to begin with, and short people had a tough time threading crowds.
The grand ballroom doors were closed, and con volunteers stood guard, a pair at each door, in emerald green t-shirts with logos that said convention sidekick. I scanned the crowd. Tully wasn’t there. Nor were there any cosplayers in the crowd. They had to be in the ballroom.
I went up to the nearest door. A cute guy with a soul patch and doc martens beneath his skinny jeans smiled at me.
My heart fluttered. Down girl, I told it.
“You registered for the costume contest?” Cute guy asked. He tapped his clip board. There was a list of names in two columns on it. Cosplay name on one side and legal on the other.
“Not yet.” I smiled at him. “My buddy is inside, and I need to get a message to him.” Tully didn’t have a cell phone. Trackers didn’t carry them since tech could mess up their ability. It was different for binders, but Trackers were sensitive ones. I had teased Tully about it, but he said he didn’t like cell phones anyway, so my teasing had no impact. More’s the pity. It meant he was out of reach.
“Sorry, we’re only letting in cosplayers right now for the photo shoot.” He frowned. “What are you going as?”
What could I go as? I didn’t have a costume. I had a pair of night vision goggles hanging from my belt. Junior ghost buster? Cute guy would never buy that. Lamest costume ever.
Sweat ran down my back. I had to get Tully the stone cold. It was amazing that chaos hadn’t already broken out here. That was ominous. If gremlins weren’t fouling things up it meant they were building up for a big breakdown.
But I didn’t have a costume. Except. No. Not that. Anything but that.
I swallowed. “A sorceress,” I said.
“You don’t look like one.”
“No my costume is in my car.”
“Are you on the list?” He frowned again. He was cute when he did that, but doubt could be a problem.
“Can’t you add me?” I fingered the Persuade charm in my pocket. This isn’t the droid you are looking for, I thought.
He smiled. “Okay, but you’ll need to be in costume in five minutes.
“I’ll be right back.” There better not be any photos of this. The last thing I wanted was a record of what I was about to appear as. Damn horned toad old geezer wizards would have a field day with me in that outfit.
You owe me, Tully.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s installment. Let me know what you think in comments. Feel free to share the link to this page, but please don’t copy or repost the story text.
Last week I decided to take author Lynn Viehl up on her challenge to write and post fresh fiction, each Thursday, for fun and to keep my drafting muscles limber while I revise The Hardscrabble, and so a new Marquez and Tully story was born. You can find the first installment here.
A Gremlin Kind of Night 2
by Dale Ivan Smith
I stood there staring at the dark opening of the duct the gremlins had disappeared into far longer than I should have. The two little pointed-headed irritations were loose in the Marquis’s ventilation system. This wasn’t a B action movie, the duct was too small for me to squeeze myself into, and I wasn’t big to begin with. The gremlins could be heading anywhere in the building. They could be dashing up to the roof, sneaking into another bathroom on this floor or another, or even the hotel’s HVAC system.
Crap, the thought of them messing with the hotel heating and cooling systems set my teeth on edge.
The sound of someone repeatedly calling my name snapped my focus back to the bathroom.
“Liz,” Tully said. He leaned against the door frame, cutting out the light from the suite’s living room.
He was tall, I was short, this happened whenever he stood between me and a light source. It was like having your own personal eclipse on call.
Tully rubbed his face. “The gremlins are gone.” His words were definitely slurred now. Tully didn’t drink often, but we were celebrating getting the job finished in record time, especially after that bitch of a mission two nights earlier at the occult bookstore in Tacoma.
My mentor in the Outfit, Wanda, a hard case if there ever was one, had drilled into me her Rule Number One: never let your guard down. We’d done just that tonight. We had relaxed when we shouldn’t have. Never let your guard down. Wanda had never tired of saying that. No wonder she had been so tense. I never saw her smile. Her gaze alone could banish a trainload of goblins. She probably had the sex life of a cinder block. She was still alive though, no doubt drilling her wisdom into her current protégé.
My mind was wandering but it couldn’t be the Miller Lite. I’d nursed the one bottle, unlike Tully. Talk about role reversal, usually he was the designated lightweight. Must be the adrenalin. I couldn’t sit still.
I shifted from foot to foot.
“Come on big guy, we need to round up those gremlins.” I pushed him gently back into the living room and the couch. He staggered and half fell onto the couch. Geez, but he had gotten drunk fast. In fact, too fast for a big hard driving guy like Tully.
I picked up one of the empty laughing imp bottles. They sported a red label that said “whiskey included.” Damn, that was the fireball special. We’d gotten that as a reward at their microbrewery in Portland last week, along with a six back of the classic. At the time Tully warned me off the fireball, and said he was keeping it for the boss. That was Tully’s idea of joke. So how had he ended up drinking three bottles worth tonight?
It had to be the gremlins. But they’d been in the containment chest.
The one not rated for them.
I swallowed. I needed Tully sober. Now. We had to locate the gremlins before they caused mischief which could rapidly become mayhem and disaster. Fortunately I had a packet of stone cold, guaranteed by the Outfit’s alchemist to sober you up in under a minute, as well as clear in magically induced mental haze, or a confusion snare, you name it, but we agents liked to have it on hand for the handful of times we let our hair down in the field.
I fumbled with my cartridge case on my belt, the one I stored magic powder packets in. I hadn’t latched the case. It was empty. I swallowed again, and patted my pants pockets, coming up empty. Same for my leather coat. I’d had the stone cold powder earlier, I knew I had.
I always latched the cartridge case. I bent down. The latch was broken.
I’d slipped and tumbled getting out of the truck in the hotel parking garage earlier tonight. The stone cold could have fallen out then. Getting into the elevator I’d stumbled pushing the valet cart and wound up doing a face plant that had left Tully laughing for a solid minute. It could have happened then.
We had to recapture the pointy head twins before more than just stone cold was lost. If the Outfit had to send the Burners in Tully and me would be sent to guard duty in the silos in North Dakota, which would be in the end of my life as I knew it. Besides, Fargo wasn’t exactly my idea of the big city.
Gremlins. Did I say I hated gremlins? Hate didn’t begin to cover it.
I tugged at Tully. “We need to get you sober.”
“I’m shober,” he replied.
I rolled my eyes. “Fat chance.”
“Brew me some coffee,” he said. “Tat’ll do the ticket.”
“Coffee will shober me up.” If there weren’t a pair of gremlins loose somewhere in the Marquis his wide-eyed expression would be funny. I’d never seen Tully drunk before, not in two years of field work together.
“No, you’d just be a wide-awake drunk.” I tugged at his arm. “Come on, big guy, time to drink some water.” I helped him off the couch and up to the sink by the suite’s little bar.
A quart of water and a pair of ibuprofen capsules later he was still drunk. It was going to take time. Time we didn’t have. Note to self, always keep an extra packet of stone cold in a different place on your person.
I helped him get his socks and boots back on. “Can you sense anything?” I asked him when we were finally at the door, ready to go.
He wobbled a bit before answering. “It smells like beer.”
Man was he drunk.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s installment. Let me know what you think in comments. Please feel free to share the link to this page, but please don’t copy or repost the story text.
Author Lynn Viehl has posted a “just write” challenge for Thursdays, and I decided to join her. I’m currently revising my novel, The Hardscrabble, and love the idea of writing something else, just because, each week. No expectations, no destination other than here, for you to enjoy. So, here’s this week’s inaugural installment, the first scene in a new story featuring two old fictional friends of mine, Elizabeth Anna Marquez and John Tully:
A Gremlin Kind of Night
by Dale Ivan Smith
Things would have been a lot easier if we’d just had a containment chest rated to hold gremlins. We could have left it down in the truck’s cargo box, next the freezer unit holding the troll lord, instead of having to keep it in our suite’s bathroom.
The Seattle Marquis was a ritzy hotel. Tully and me each had a bedroom, king-sized beds, a wet bar, a giant flat screen TV, and a bathroom big enough to get lost in.
All fine by this girl, but not the Outfit’s style.
They were strictly into Days Inn and Motel 6, if you were lucky. The old hippy wizards in charge of the Outfit preferred camping, but that was hard to do in downtown Seattle. Still, I hadn’t expected the Marquis.
Not only the Marquis, but a suite on the eleventh floor, facing the Sound. Sure, the Seattle Comic Con happened to be going on over at the convention center, and the lobby was filled with cosplayers and fans, but up here in the suite, things were chill.
Tully had his feet up on the coffee table, boots and socks off, ice pack on both ankles, trying not to look embarrassed. He was lucky he hadn’t broken his legs when the fire escape collapsed outside the loft over in SoDo this afternoon.
“Liz, I can’t believe I fell for that old gremlin loosen the bolts on the fire escape bit,” he told me. He smacked the big ruby charm on his chest, rattling the silver chain. “I could have gotten you killed. You had been below the fire escape.” Two empty bottles of Laughing Imp Porter were on the coffee table. He was working on a third.
“Listen, it could have happened to anyone. Who knew the troll lord had a pair of gremlins with him? Those things are murder on net guns.” I glanced at the remains of Tully’s on the table, next the beer bottles. The gremlins had fried it good. At least, it had been a net gun earlier. Now it looked like an abstract sculpture in heat. No way was the armory going to be able to fix it. “Besides, I wasn’t under the fire escape when it came down.” I had chased big and ugly into a nearby alley and been out of the way when the escape collapsed.
Big and ugly was now literally chilling in a freezer unit in the rented tractor trailer in the Marquis’s parking garage. The outfit wanted old Festus Nisus bad. He was dumb by human standards, but smart for a troll, even a troll lord.
“Yeah, but I’m supposed to be on top of the Arcane,” Tully said, just the edge of a slur in his voice, courtesy of the Laughing Imp Porter’s 9.5% alcohol content. “You handled the Troll Lord, but I couldn’t keep those two little green irritations pinned down.” He shook his head.
I shrugged and finished my Miller Lite. Tully was a big man, ex-Army with tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he took such failures personally.
He was also the sensitive one of our duo. I teased him about it all the time. He was a six foot two dude with screaming eagle tat on one bicep and an Arcane candle circle tattoo on the other. The sensitive one. The one sensitive to the Arcane. I gave him crap, but I was blind to the creatures of the night unless I had them in line of sight. He could sniff them from half a mile away, sometimes even further, on a good night.
Me, I was just the Binder. That’s the easy part.
A rushing noise came from the bathroom, like a bathroom fan doing an impersonation of a tornado. I jumped out of my chair. My boot banged the end table and the lamp fell over.
That was the bathroom fan.
“Liz!” Tully said, but I kept moving.
The gremlins were in the bathroom, in the containment chest, the one not rated for gremlins, but the only one we had. I had figured a double dose of Sleep powder would keep the twin nuisances under for the evening, but gremlins wrecked everything.
The fan in the bathroom shrieked like a banshee. I slapped my hands over my ears, and winced. The lights went out. There was a loud bang and the shrieking stopped.
I drew my light wand. It had a single charge left. An arcane item from the Armory, the Gremlins couldn’t screw that up like your run-of-the-mill flash light.
The wand lit, throwing out a cone of soft golden light. I pushed open the bathroom door to peek inside. Pieces of fan housing littered the tile floor. In the bathtub the containment chest yawned open. Empty.
I looked up. The twisted remains of the fan blade dangled overhead, electrical wires swinging back and forth. Beyond the fan the duct was filled with shadows.
“Damn,” I said. “The gremlins have escaped.”
* * *
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I attended my second Emerald City Comic Con last weekend in Seattle, along with 70,000 or so like-minded fans. Last year my wife, our nephew and I went for one day, this year we went for two, and brought my wife’s brother along to enjoy the show. What a show it was. We drove up on Friday, in time for LeAnn and me to hit Kracklefest at the Seattle Hardrock Café, an annual nerd rock concert headlined by Seattle’s own nerd rock band, Kirby Krackle, and also featuring Portland’s The Doubleclicks and nerdcore rapper duo Deathstar, and some burlesque in the bargain.
Saturday morning I had everyone up at the crack of dawn to stand in line at the show, not that I wasn’t more eager than our teenaged nephew. Okay, I was, but it was Emerald City! Comic cons are BIG, and big means having to wait in line, and big means too much to do in a single day, and having so many different choices before you. Expect to wait in line lot. You wait in line to get into the show, wait in line at booths, wait in line for signings and photo ops, wait to get into rooms, especially the gigantic main hall, which can seat 4000, and yes, wait, in line for lunch. The main hall was the main reason I was dying to get a good spot in line Saturday morning—I wanted to attend the Empire Strikes Back improv reading, given by a host of talented voice actors, including Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson) and Bill Farmer (veteran voice actor and the voice of Goofy), held at 10:30AM, and immediately followed at Noon by Stephen Amell of TV’s awesome “Arrow”. I’m a huge fan of the show, and of Amell—he’s a very hard working actor, and a great guy on Facebook.
The thing about standing in line at a convention is that you get to meet people, and we met several nice folks in line, and whiled away the time chatting, talking about favorite comics, TV shows, movies, admiring the cosplay we could see while in line, and what we looked forward to at the con. Once the gates opened at 9:45, we made a bee line for the sixth floor, and were shepherded into a big waiting room to then be admitted to the main hall. We found some great seats.
The Empire Strikes Back Again panel was hilarious. There’s nothing like a group of very talented voice actors riffing on my favorite Star Wars movie to get me laughing.
Next up in the main hall was the reason I wanted to get into the hall early Saturday morning, Stephen Amell, star of my favorite super hero television show, Arrow. Amell did not disappoint. He came straight from finishing a shoot for the TV series in Vancouver earlier, saying he was tired, but I couldn’t tell. He was certainly happy to see the fans, answering every question with wit and interest. My favorite was his response to archery on the show, noting that there are NO arrows on set. Way too dangerous, he noted.
After that, we headed into the massive Exhibit hall below, which really needs a day of its own to explore, eventually winding up in Brick City, the massive LEGO display several levels below the Exhibit hall.
The next day we were back in the Main hall for Movie Mashup, another improv session featuring most of the voice actors from the day before. Then it was time for Kirby Krackle’s acoustic performance, lunch, and then I went to my friend Lorna Suzuki’s panel on turning a book into a movie, since that’s what’s happening with the first novel in her Imago series. She, her concept artist and a screenwriter, discussed the challenges. Movies and novels are different animals, but they are both story, just seeing it in different ways.
After that it was time to hit the road and head home. Emerald City Comic Con was a blast—very different from a literary sci-fi con like Norwescon or Orycon, its own kind of geeky fun. My advice, wear good walking shoes and get plenty of rest before the convention—you’ll need the energy!
My latest flash fiction, The Fez Shackle is up today at Every Day Fiction. A quick read, and a best of all, it’s free, like all the fine fictions at EDF. The Fez Shackle is my sixth appearance there, and an homage of sorts to a very famous novel series.