July Newsletter + New Fiction: Master of Secrets

So this post is a little wonky (and looonnngg oops), but basically, I have a newsletter which I’m going to put out quarterly. I’ve copied the July letter into a post so folks can see an example of what they’d get by signing up. Mostly it’s updates about my life and writing which I might not post on the blog. Also, each quarter I’m going to try to include a new piece of fiction, that is exclusive to the newsletter. This month’s piece is Master of Secrets which I’ll explain more about in the letter.

**Please also note that if you sign up, you’ll immediately receive the first piece of fiction I ever wrote about a Warlock Doctor. It’s kinda fun I think.

Anyway, here it is! Enjoy!


Hi all,

Welcome to my quarterly newsletter. You’re probably here because you clicked the subscribe link on my blog. I hope you did that because you’re interested in keeping up with me ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak. If not, please feel free to unsubscribe.

Still here? Awesome! So basically what you’ve signed up for by getting this newsletter, is MORE access to my random thoughts which might at first seem a little scary (unsubscribe is still just a click away), but you will also get quarterly updates on different writing projects I’m working on, how the process is going, sneak peeks and exclusive content. Ya know standard newsletter stuff. Hope it lives up to the hype! Read on to find out . . .

Announcements:

This section is pretty self-explanatory. In it I’ll cover anything that I feel needs to be announced. Right now (7/2/2021) things are chugging along pretty well but everything should be business as usual for a while. Some things are in the works which will get announced soon, but those announcements will likely be sent out over the blog, not exclusive to the newsletter (sorry).

Writing:

Another self-explanatory section. Here I’ll go over any writing projects I’m working on and what I feel my accomplishments during the quarter have been. Right now, those projects are mostly Blogging on A&A, and my novel (and associated short fiction).

Blogging on A&A:

It’s been almost five months since I reintroduced myself to blogging with I’m Baaaackkkk!, and I think it is going pretty well? I’ve certainly been enjoying it. Since my return, I’ve been trying to post book reviews on Wednesdays and short fiction and miscellaneous posts on Fridays. I’ve done 17 reviews, mostly about Hugo Award finalists, and 9 pieces of my own original flash fiction. It’s been a wild ride.

Also, during May, I participated in #WyrdAndWonder, a month-long celebration of the Fantasy genre. The post I’m most proud of is #MapMonday: Using Emerging Tech for Fictional Maps, but there’s a lot of fun posts for it, so be sure to check out my #WyrdAndWonder Wrap Up Post.

#JurassicJune was kind of a bust for me, but I did read and review a great book called Why Dinosaurs Matter by Kenneth Lacovara, and did a fun Jurassic Park Book Tag.

Two more posts I’ll mention because I enjoyed writing them are Ancient Egyptian Doggos! and On the Scholomance as a Twisted, Evil Eudaimonia Machine.

Ancient Egypt and Dinosaurs:

I won’t say a ton about this right now, as almost everything in this category is still a work in progress but considering this quarter’s “exclusive fiction” is a random scene in-world, y’all gonna know about it. The premise is simple (but hopefully fun and unique): What if there were Dinosaurs in Ancient Egypt?

I’ve written a short story in this world called Narmer and the God-Beast which I’m going to publish on Amazon. I even paid for a cover and everything, which is like 88% done and I’m sooo excited to show it because it looks great even now but it’s not done. Expect more on that coming soon!

I’ve also written a novel in this setting which will be torn to shreds, critiqued in July. I’m hoping to pitch this more traditionally once I have feedback and have done rewrites. It’s been a ton of work, and will probably be a ton more, but I’m already pretty proud of it, so hopefully I’m not delusional, and it’s alright. Look for more on this coming soon . . . but not that soon.

Finally, I’ve been working on a companion piece to the novel tentatively called The Ore of Ra Nt-ka, which will follow a merchant, Beqsu, through a similar track as the MC’s in the novel, but with different goals and motivations. I’ve posted teaser of this piece on the blog as Beqsu Takes a Leap.

Ultimately, it’s just an alternate perspective. I decided to do this because I wanted to spend more time in the world before diving into a sequel (too much work lol), and thought it might be cool to try to get it on Kindle Vella which will be live in late July. I can already tell I will not be able to make this deadline but am still going to pursue the piece and see what comes of it.

The ‘exclusive’ fiction at the bottom of this post, Master of Secrets, is a deleted scene from that work in progress. You’ve seen a preview of it on the blog as well. I hope you like it!    

Convention stuff:

Not much happening in convention world. I reserved a room for Discon III at the OMNI. I’m really looking forward to this con as I’ve never been to a Worldcon before, and am not sure how many others I’ll be able to go to (traveling to them is usually cost prohibitive). But that’s not until December so I probably won’t have much to say about it until then. But get hype! It should be fun.

Random:

Usually, I might write something here that’s been on my mind lately, about any topic, but I think this post has gone on long enough already. Future me will do better . . .

Besides, I just want you to read the fiction!  

Newsletter Exclusive Fiction:

Master of Secrets

By JD Weber

Khueninput looked into the glowing red eyes of the god-beast before her and wondered if the Lord of the Sacred Land really still protected her, or if she was being a fool to keep the dead priest’s body hidden.

Quite a bit of rumor and myth surrounded the legendary creature which stood snarling and hissing in her face, and she was horrified to say that every terrifying story she’d heard about Ra Pt-r appeared to be true.

This one stood roughly the height of a man, and walked on two sturdy legs, its head and torso leaning forward, while its tail stretched out behind it. The beast had two forelimbs which protruded from shoulders barely distinguishable from its thickly muscled neck.

But mostly she focused on its jaws, which were filled with an innumerable array of jagged teeth. Sickle shaped claws tapped ominously on the sandstone floor.

Khueninput clenched her fists and decided to direct her outrage to the very-much-still-living priest who controlled the creature.

“It does not matter how many godlings demand entrance to the embalming chamber, Ra Nt-Ka’s authority does not supersede that of The Great God Anubis. None can enter while he is here.”

The man before her curled his lips into a leer and simply raised his eyebrows as if to say “Oh really?” 

Khueninput did not let her fear of the creature weaken her stern gaze, much. If the god-beast wanted inside the embalming chamber there was little she could do to stop it. Better shore up her position before the priest grew tired of playing with her, and let the beast loose.

“A blind man can see that Ra Pt-r is controlled by your red magic. If you release it, it will not be the godling who must recite the confessions before The Court of Ahseer. Do you think the Scales of Anubis will balance for you when you’ve broken the Jackal’s own laws? None can enter while he works. None but the dead can know his mysteries.”

“There is one who may enter,” said the priest looking amused. “Hery Sesheta, the Master of Secrets.”

Real anger flared in Khueninput’s gaze now. “That is no longer my rank within his cult Setek Peribsen.”

“A shame,” the priest said with a feinted nonchalance, as if the temple storeroom where out of Bahriyan wine, and he’d have to drink something else of lower quality.

Ra Pt-r crouched as if to strike.

“Do not go against him Setek Peribsen” said Khueninput, in a hiss that would have made a cobra proud, despite her desperation. “You will not survive it. He is the Dog that Devours Millions.”

“I’m here by Chaotic God’s own decree!” burst the priest. “You do not think the Great God Set will protect me from the whims of his own son? A child no less? You truly believe your dog will be able to stand against The God of Storms himself?”

“Anubis is also known as He Who Eats his Father.”

She let the silence fall heavy between them.

The priest’s face did change, if only briefly.

So he’s heard that name as well, perhaps there is some truth to it then . . .

“Fine!” He said finally. “Let the dog play with his bones. Your only delaying the inevitable. That man was in league with The Assassin, and he will answer for it. Set will have his vengeance.”

“Then he’ll have to seek it in the Duat.” Khueninput replied cooly.

The priest was all bark now.

He huffed and made a show of whirling his black and gold vestments, as he tried to storm out the mortuary. Ra Pt-r looked at her with an almost pleading eye before stalking slowly behind him, chittering softly.

Khueninput sagged against the door behind her, her breath escaping in a long and ragged gasp. She realized with quite a bit of detachment, that her hands were shaking. She was still fighting for control of them when she felt more than heard, a voice call out from inside the embalming chamber.

You may enter . . .   

Khueninput’s heart leapt in her chest. Could it be? The Lord of the Sacred Land had just asked — no ordered her — to come into the sanctuary and share in the Mysteries of the Sky, Earth and Netherworld. He had not done so since . . .

She did not allow herself to think about the last time he had allowed her anywhere near an embalmer’s bench. She might never allow herself to think of that day again.

But neither would she allow herself to ignore his command.

She fumbled at the door, unable to work the latch correctly when suddenly, the door disappeared, a simple archway now before her.

The Keeper of Keys.

The Opener of the Ways.

She entered slowly, keeping her head bowed in respect to the great deity, but she could not help but scan the embalming chamber in search of the jackal god.

She saw much before she found him.

The room was dimly lit, shadowed so that Khueninput could just make out the shelves of herbs and animal fat used for embalming. Alabaster jars — each carved to resemble a different son of the falcon god Horus — waited to be filled on the workbench nearby. A small vat of natron salt had been rolled in, and several spoons, knives, a chisel, and spatula, rested on its unopened lid. Only the heap of linen seemed to have been disturbed by the god in his work.

It did not feel right.

The priest, Ra Nefer-Ab, or the beauty of Ra, lay wrapped and shrouded in long strips of linen on a large stone pedestal. His posture seemed tense, somehow rigid as if trying to break free of the binding of the cloth. He was contorted ever so slightly so that his face peered up at the Jackal God looming over him, and though she could not see his face, Khueninput would have guessed the man in pain.

For his part, The Lord of the Sacred Land looked just as she remembered him. In this form, he had the body of a man but wore the head of a jackal. He wore a simple white skirt which contrasted sharply with the onyx coloring of his skin. Around his neck he wore a linen scarf adorned with a double fillet of blue lotus and cornflowers woven upon strips of pith, twisted in a bow at the back of his neck. Small veins of gold pierced the dim along his arms and chest, stress fractures, as if his shape were ready to burst from the pressure of his holy blood and power as a god. Sandaled feet revealed silver toenails and when the god turned to finally acknowledge her, he looked upon Khueninput with eyes inlaid with gold, calcite, and obsidian.

Not for the first time Khueninput felt her heart drop out of her chest, and her pulse begin to race. Sweat beaded upon her brow, and her pupils dilated more than the darkness of the room should allow. To look upon the Great God Anubis was to look upon death itself.

It was to look upon eternity.

Anubis motioned for her to join him at the pedestal and then turned back to the priest lying upon it.

Khueninput heard the man’s voice in her mind as it had been during life, though his lips did not move to speak.

“Please,” Ra Nefer-Ab said. “I have not uttered lies.”

He who Sits Upon the Coffin nodded.

“I have not uttered curses.”

The jackal god nodded again.

“I have made none to weep”

Khueninput sucked in her breath in surprise as she put the pieces of the room’s puzzle together, as she realized what felt off about the scene. None of the herbs on their shelves had been removed, and the canopic jars had remained empty. The natron’s lid had not been removed and the tools were still dry and sterile. The process of embalming took seventy days of painstaking ritual and work to prepare the body for its journey through the Duat, and yet before her was a completed mummy, lying before Anubis and —

Answering the Negative Confessions . . . 

“I have not worked witchcraft” Ra Nefer-Ab continued.

The Jackal God reared back slightly and tilted his head to one side, as if trying to identify some unknown sound in the distance.

You aided the Chaotic god. Used his magic.

Ra Nefer-Ab’s voice was pleading. “I was possessed Great One! The Chaotic god forced the enchantment.”

The Great God Ahseer will not care whether you were forced, his hatred for Set is too strong. If you held his magic, Ahseer will condemn you.

“But the other Gods.” Ra Nefer-Ab begged. “Surely they can be persuaded.”

Anubis thought for a moment and then nodded for the priest to continue.

“I have not attacked any man.”

You killed two soldiers in Set’s temple . . .

Ra Nefer-Ab’s voice sounded as if his body were wracked with sobs though it lie motionless on the bench. “Please. I am not a man of deceit.”

Anubis looked thoughtful for a moment before nodding.

It is true, you are not, but as you are you will not pass The Court of God’s judgment. Take this.

Anubis opened his jet black palm to reveal a small nugget of gold, carved and shaped into the form of a scarab.

Swallow this before you speak false, and Khepri will protect your heart.

“OH! Thank you!” Ra Nefer-Ab cried. “Thank you.”

Anubis reached behind him for the embalmer’s tools and selected a golden adze Khueninput had not seen when entering. The Jackal God touched the adze to the mummy’s lips and light began to shine forth from the priest’s body. It swirled and roiled until finally it had collected into the shape of a bird with Ra Nefer-ab’s countenance. The golden scarab hung from a small chain around its neck. The priest’s Ba nodded once to the Lord of the Sacred Land and then flew towards the archway through which Khueninput had entered. She saw now that it did not lead out into the streets of Edfu, but into a shimmering field.

The Jackal cleared his throat and Khueninput turned quickly back to him in surprise, remembered who she stood before, and then dropped to the sandstone floor in a bow. With her head still lowered to the floor, the Great God spoke.

Outside, in the face of Ra Pt-r, you held your ground. Loyal, after all this time.

Yes Great One. Always,” she said, and realized that she must mean it. To speak something in The Two Lands was to make it true.

She had not looked up at the Great God when she spoke, but at her words, the shadow looming over her seemed to move. She lifted her gaze slowly and found the god’s hand proffered out to her, palm open as it had been with the priest only moments before.

A golden scarab rested in his palm.

Now it was her turn to rear back slightly in confusion.

“Great one I cannot take this, I’m not worthy of it.” She held his crystalline gaze as long as she dared, but then lowered her eyes as he wrapped her palm around the amulet.

Then find someone who is. I have faith that when you do, you will no longer need its protection.

She raised her eyes again, wanting to ask what the Lord of the Sacred Land could possibly mean by such an order, but he was gone.

Khueninput startled as a knock came at the door to the embalming chamber. The door, not the archway which had only moments ago lead unto a paradise which she could only presume had been The Fields of Aaru.

Khueninput got up off the floor, and steeled herself, expecting Set’s priest to have returned. But when she opened the door, she found a young woman in a white robe standing before her, a jackal-head mask tucked neatly under one arm.

She was one of the lower priests, ranked as W’b or maybe not yet initiated into the earliest rites.

“Are you ready Hery Sesheta? Your boat to Hardai is nearly ready to leave.” Khueninput blanched slightly at the use of her old title, but the woman did not seem to notice. She just continued on in a perky voice as if she were about to visit the market to shop for some new jewel.

“I can walk with you to the docks if you like.”

Khueninput looked at the women suspiciously for a moment, feeling the weight of the gold scarab in her palm.

Would it really be that easy?

No she decided, and told the priestess to go onward without her. She would catch up soon.

Khueninput took inventory of the things she’d need for her journey home, and quickly gathered them to her person. She elected to wear what little jewelry she had instead of packing it, and then found another W’b priest to take her luggage to the docks.

It felt strange leaving the priest’s mummy on the stone slab alone, but the other priests of his order, and whatever family he had near the temple would come soon to seal him in his tomb. She had done her job, and should be on her way to the docks.

She walked out into Ra’s light and couldn’t help but feel a bit giddy as she walked the thoroughfare to the docks.

Anubis, Lord of the Sacred Land, was giving her a second chance . . .

It was nearly impossible not to skip her step with excitement.

As she walked, she noticed the young woman from before, lingering near a merchant’s stall, eying his wares, but not daring to approach. When the woman caught site of Khueninput approaching, she quickly scurried off in the direction of the docks.

This only brought the merchant’s attention onto Khueninput, and he began lavishly heaping praise upon her beauty, complementing the jewelry she already wore, but also adding how much better she would look with one of his pieces resting gently around her neck.

She laughed slightly and was about to continue on, when she noticed he also had jars of incense to sell, and wax candles, always a commodity in the Great Jackal’s temple, or any other god’s shrine.

She knew the ship was supposed to leave soon, but she could not help but approach the merchant’s tent. He seemed slightly stunned at first that he’d actually managed to hook a customer, but he recovered quickly enough and began pull forth some of his finer wares for her to peruse. After he’d set out the leopard’s skin, and giraffe’s tails he began to launch back into his pitch.

Khueninput held up a hand to stall him.

She hefted a jar of incense, feeling its weight in her palms and judging it to be similar to that of the golden scarab within her pocket.

“Made with cypress?” she asked raising the jar of incense to her nose to smell.

“No Hery Sesheta. Pine resin.”

The merchant had a small scale on the table as well, and she placed the jar on one of its plates, declaring her intent to purchase. The merchant rubbed his hands together eagerly and began adding weight in Deben to the other side. He added many more than needed to balance the scale, and yet the jar remained firmly rooted against the merchant’s table.

“Your weights are false. I’ve already weighed the jar in my palm, will you not even try to hide your lies?”

But Khueninput found herself smiling.

This man would surely need the scarab’s protection when he finally went before the gods, perhaps she should give the amulet to him.

But that couldn’t be what the Jackal god had meant with his order could it? Simply give the amulet to some wretched street merchant who probably had cheated his own grandmother before coming to Egypt.

Khueninput thought of the Great God weighing Ra Nefer-Ab’s answers as he pleaded on the stone slab. If the man had been against Set, perhaps he was indeed a worthy spirit after all. Anubis had seemed to consider more than the literal interpretation of the man’s confessions, he’d considered the intent of the words behind them. He had protected a man who’s intent sought peace and order over the chaos of Set’s reign even though he’d needed to kill to do so.

Khueninput eyed the traveling merchant as he left her side to hawk his wears at another potential customer — somewhat rude but certainly not damning — walking by, and weighed scales in her own head.

Unfortunately, the man who’d come to hear the merchant happened to be none other than Setek Peribsen. His captive god-beast looking plaintively onward with glowing red eyes.  

“I saw him Neb,” the merchant said when Setek Peribsen finally reached the stall.

“Well? Tell me! Which way has he gone?” Setek Peribsen did not seem to notice Khueninput yet, focused as he was on the Chaotic God’s command to find this . . . Assassin.

“It all happened so fast, I can hardly remember.”

“Perhaps north?” the merchant continued looking past the great temple as if he might still be able to catch sight of the man in flight.

The priest’s hand moved to cover his mouth, but Khueninput could still see his eyes shrink with a kind of shrewdness as they searched his countenance. All the merchant’s wares may as well have been more sand among the dunes for all the interest anyone payed them now.

“I remember you,” the priest said, removing his hand to reveal a set jaw and stern bearing. “Beqsu, from back at the monument. Of course it would be you who I must bargain with. What’s your price.”

“It should not be hard to pay. It is only what you already owe.”

“Hah! What I owe. Perhaps I could give the eggs of Hunta Ari Pet back to you.”

Khueninput could feel herself startle at the mention of such a valuable item, but she quickly schooled her gaze.

The priest of the Chaotic God continued. “But then scales would again be unbalanced, and it is your life that would be required to balance them. Luckily I have Ra Pt-r here to collect the toll. Tell me which way he went.”

Khueninput felt herself beginning to shake with rage. She’d been on the other side of Ra Pt-r’s gaze, understood the terror the merchant must be feeling. To threaten someone in this manner, to control the god-beast as he did . . .

It was an abomination.

But with Ra Pt-r poised to strike, there was little she could to on exact revenge upon Setek Peribsen, nor should harming him be her purpose here. She thought of the god she served, his likeness perched atop a coffin, loyal to the dead inside. She thought of Anubis handing the golden scarab to Ra Nefer-Ab, and later to herself, protecting them from the judgment of Ahseer, and the jaws of The Devourer Ammit.   

The words left her mouth before she could think. “The man you seek went south.”

The merchant turned to glare at her, and she could tell by his expression that she’d guessed correctly. She glared back at this Beqsu. “Tell him the rest. You have nothing more with which to leverage the scales.”

The merchant looked as if he might burst he held in so much pent up anger, but eventually he sighed and the anger flowed out of him with the escape of his breath.

“He fell from the sky like the God’s ore itself and landed in the reflecting pool. When he emerged from the waters he fled south, heading towards Nile.”

Setek Peribsen looked thoughtful again, raising his hand to his chin. He turned to Khueninput. “The Chaotic God has blessed me,” he said finally. “I’ll admit that after our dealings outside the embalming chamber, I’m surprised you’ve come to my aid.”

Khueninput smiled. “You’ve not reached Aaru yet Setek Peribsen. The water from the reflecting pool must have cleared your fugitive’s scent. That is why Ra Pt-r couldn’t track him. You’ve been searching too long. He must be half way to Nubia by now if he managed to catch a boat heading that way. 

“It will break the god-beasts to try and catch him now.” Khueninput believed that this notion did not upset Setek Peribsen very much. He almost looked excited by it.

“Perhaps I can ease your journey,” Khueninput continued. “I have a ship which has not yet left the docks. I could send it south along The Great River if I had cause.”

That shrewd look came over the priest’s face. “And what is your price?”

“Give me the Hunta Ari Pet eggs and you can have the ship and everything on it. Send it whichever way you choose.”

Setek Peribsen considered for a moment.

He would be a fool not to take the deal. The sky lizard’s eggs were worth their weight — or perhaps considerably more if measured by the merchant’s false scales — in gold, but they did not come close to the price of ship. And it would certainly shorten The Assassin’s lead on the Chaotic God’s agents.

“And what need do you have for them. I pray you’re not simply going to turn them over to this vagrant.” He motioned towards Beqsu.

“I will do with them as the Lord of the Sacred Land commands me.”

Setek Peribsen did not seem appeased by this answer — a fact that probably gave Khueninput too much satisfaction — but he could not see the trick within her words and so he begrudgingly brought a linen satchel forth and handed them over. Khueninput handed over the deed to the ship, and smiled as she watched both priest and Ra Nt-ka disappear towards the docks.

“What is this?” said the merchant, unable to restrain himself any longer. “Some kind of revenge because I cheated you? Those eggs are mine!”

Khueninput looked over to him.

“You should not have cheated me merchant, but no this is not revenge.”

“Then what? Cruelty?”

Khueninput sighed. “No. Not cruelty either. If we’re counting, I believe I just saved your life from that god-beast.”

Beqsu began to look indignant so Khueninput quickly continued. “Listen. In the short time I’ve known you, you’ve tried to cheat me, and scam a priest of the Chaotic God Set. You claim these eggs are yours, but you neglect the fact that to come by them, you must have stolen them from godlings in the first place, or at the very least traded with someone who did, which will not be better in the eyes of Ahseer.”

The look that came over Beqsu’s face at her words filled Khueninput with some measure of hope and affirmed her resolve.

Grief.

“I was not always like this,” Beqsu said. “In Nubia, it was not like it is here in The Two Lands. It seems like every day I must commit some crime in order to survive. What you saw today was not even the worst of it. It does not bother me anymore.”

“Well at least repay your debt to me. I’ve saved your life.” Khueninput said. “Come with me to Hardai. Spend some time in the City of the Dog, I think you’ll find it is never too late to turn things around.”

“I thank you, Hery Sesheta, for saving my life from the god-beast but I’ve come too far. Any debt I owe you is not so great as what you’re asking me to do.”

Khueninput held forth the patted the satchel at her waist.

“Come with me. Try. If we fail, these eggs are yours.”

Beqsu looked thoughtful for a moment and then smile came across his face. “Fine.” he said then laughed “What is one more trial? Perhaps you will save me after all.”

Khueninput looked the merchant in the eye, a smile forming on her own lips.

Perhaps you will save me as well . . .


If you made it this far I’m impressed. You must like what you’re reading? If you’d like more of this coming directly to your inbox, go ahead and sign up for my newsletter.

Thanks so much for reading. Leave any comments you feel in the comments section. Until next time . . .

Newsletter Exclusive Fiction Preview Sent in to Writing Group for Critique!

Hey all, no book tags, book reviews, articles on random topics, or complete fiction to post on the blog today, but I did manage to finish the first draft of this quarter’s newsletter exclusive fiction. As the title suggests, I’ve sent it off to my writing group and will be getting feedback on Monday. Fingers crossed they enjoy it. You can look at a little preview in the image below:

Anywho, please let me know what you’re thinking so far in the comments. Also, this piece ties in with a larger narrative I’m working on for Kindle Vella. If your interested in that, you can check out my WIP tease: Beqsu takes a Leap.

Until next time . . .


Hey again! If somehow this tiny tease of my WIP, and general update as to my writing life happened capture your interest, please consider subscribing to my newsletter. I’ll do a post every quarter (expect the first one July 1st!) that fills you in completely on what I’ve been up to and send you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Or, check out my other fiction I’ve posted here on A&A. 

Thanks for stopping by, and see you next time!

Work In Progress Tease: Beqsu takes a Leap

I don’t have any new fiction ready for today. The next Max story is going to unfold over three parts (though hopefully each individual part will read as a complete story like I tried to do with Teamwork (Part 1): Phase Feathers and Teamwork (Part 2): The Twelve-Eyed Starer) and so I don’t want to post anything until all three are done.

But there’s been little adventuring happening in Max’s world recently as I’ve sort of put him aside for a bit to try and flesh out some more stories in the world of my main WIP. I have a short story already finished but I’m waiting for artwork, and a first draft of a novel which I’ve finally sent to my writing group for feedback. In the meantime, I’m trying to prepare something in an episode format, maybe for Kindle Vella.

Here’s a screenshot from my Scrivener document which hopefully is tease-y but doesn’t give away too much. Please let me know in the comments if you like this kind of thing and if I should do more teasers like this in the future. Here it is:


Hey again! If somehow this tiny tease of my WIP, and general update as to my writing life happened capture your interest, please consider subscribing to my newsletter. I’ll do a post every quarter (expect the first one July 1st!) that fills you in completely on what I’ve been up to and send you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Or, check out my other fiction I’ve posted here on A&A. 

Thanks for stopping by, and see you next time!

Dance of the Apdna

Hey all. I decided to take a break from Max (although I’m by no means giving him a rest) and try to see the world of Port Monster Aquarium and Zoo from a new perspective. Hope you enjoy!

For anyone counting (hah! only me), this piece came in at 2,249 out of 2,250. Pretty close!

Dance of the Apdna

Cara’s face blanched as she scrubbed the inside of the Apdna trough.

The amount of grime and muck which had built up over the course of the last year was enough to make her breakfast demand freedom from her stomach. She did not let it go. She wasn’t sure what kind of game she was playing, but somehow that felt like losing.

Why does it smell? she thought as she dipped her scrub brush back into a bucket of soap and water. It was starting to look about as green as the trough.

She’d managed to make one small tile shimmer in the afternoon sun, but most of the trough was still dull and disgusting. She still had a long way to go. Cara took in a deep breath, tried not to gag, and continued to scrub.

She’d nearly finished shining a second panel when she heard Max’s eager voice call from the other side of the enclosure.

“Cara? You gotta get this. Just look how cute these little nuggets are! This one’s hugging my leg. And look another is on my arm! They love me! If this doesn’t get us likes, I don’t know what will.”

Cara looked up from the trough and, as she expected, found Max standing among a small swarm of Apdnas. The little bears were about the size of a raccoon, with pointy ears, and a kind of yellowish fur. The one hugging Max’s leg looked almost green, and Cara could tell that it had already had a small adventure in the trough she was cleaning.

“You know that behavior is actually a kind of hunting method,” she said. “Enough of those pile up on you, and you won’t be able to move to save your life.”

“Ah. Looks like someone read the brochure,” he laughed. “I can’t imagine these little guys causing all that trouble. They’re too precious.”

Cara shrugged and went back to scrubbing the trough. “We’ll see how precious they are when they’ve got you pinned to the floor,” she said under her breath.

Max seemed not to hear, but that didn’t mean he was done with her. “Cara seriously. Come take the pic. Let someone else clean that muck.”

“But Mr. Quixotic said it needed to be done before the shift change. A donor is coming, and everything needs to at least look like it’s in working order, even if it isn’t.”

He gave her a flat stare. Another of the bears was attempting to wrap itself around his head, and tuffs of Max’s black hair were sticking out between its limbs.

“And one of the new kids will be by soon to clean the trough, but you were hired to run our social media accounts. Don’t you think you should be doing that? The post about Apdnas on the account last week was great! Everyone loved it.”

“Which means I should snap some photos of the Sand Seal this week. Showcase something different.”

“Cara think! That post nearly doubled our follower count. That’s the kind of results Jerry’s expecting. You need to take this seriously.”

“If I post about the Apdnas again so soon, people will get bored of them. It’s the law of diminishing returns. Another post will saturate the market. Is that serious enough for you?” 

“Look, Cara, I’m just trying to help. It isn’t fair to your brother to be responsible for paying the bills for your mom’s medicine on his own. I just thought –”

He was interrupted by the loud clang of Cara’s brush hitting the metal of the trough where she’d thrown it.

How dare he!

Before she really knew what she was doing, Cara was on her feet, trembling. “You know what Max, I think your right. I shouldn’t be cleaning this trough after all. I’m taking my fifteen.”

The new kid Max had referenced earlier, Peter, nearly dropped the expensive looking speaker he was carrying as he scrambled to move out of Cara’s way. As she stormed out of the Apdna enclosure she felt like an animal herself, stalking the asphalt pathways leading around the other enclosures.

She wanted to kill Max for hurting her – for implying that she wasn’t doing her part to help her brother. She decided to kill an order of fries instead.

Her outrage only seemed to increase as she waited in line for the meal. It was because of her mother that she was cleaning this trough to begin with, so she could show Jerry that she was capable of doing more than taking photos and writing witty captions.

Perhaps if he saw her doing work that the other employees did, he would allow her to work a couple regular shifts. He didn’t have much extra money for ‘advertising’ and was only able to pay for a few hours a week for her to work on the social media accounts.

But of course, Max didn’t understand this. His assimilation into the team at Port Monster Aquarium and Zoo had been nearly painless. A reference from Ms. Pine had got him in the door, and then a fluke accident in the Sand Seal hut had put him in everyone’s good graces right away. Sure he’d endured some minor hazing by the other employees with the Savage Penguins, but they’d all had his back at the end of the day.

Cara’s acceptance into the ‘herd’, as Jerry would say, had been less smooth. Working so few hours had meant that she hardly got to spend any time with the other employees, and the nature of her position meant that whenever she did see them, she was prying into their lives for a ‘Staff of the Week’ post or trying to get them not to pose during a supposedly candid photo.

It sucked.

She pulled out her phone and began swiping through a random app, trying to distract herself. But it wasn’t the same. Image after image swiped by, and nothing seemed to lift her spirits. Eventually, she’d gone through all the new content and found herself looking at the most recent post from Port Monster. It showed one of the other employees holding a bottle up to a baby Apdna’s mouth.

She sighed.

Maybe Max was right and she should have just used another Apdna photo for today’s post. She had enough of them saved up on her phone.  The little bears were incredibly cute and so she’d spent quite a few of her first shifts in their enclosure trying to get just the right shot.

As coworkers went, they were quite accommodating. She’d found them easy to pose as part of their natural instinct was to try to mimic what they saw. She’d read online that because the creatures needed to be so close to their prey in order to overpower them, they thought mimicking the prey’s movements would allow them to pass as part of the prey animal’s herd.

It was really wild. She’d managed to get the little bears to do all sorts of poses and even some small movements like waving.

But she wasn’t taking care of the animals. Not like the girl in the picture she’d captured. It was just as Max had said. She was hired to run the accounts.

But she wanted more

At last, Cara’s small box of fries was empty. She still had a few minutes left before she needed to return from her break, so she put her arm out and lined up a selfie. After a few unsatisfactory attempts – her curly black hair looked too frizzy in that one; the light wasn’t good for her dark skin in this other one – she dropped her phone on the table in disgust.

Normally she loved posting pictures of her day, even if it was just her lunch. But now that she’d started doing it for work, it had lost all its luster. She wondered briefly if that was the real reason she had wanted to take up the tasks she saw the other employees carrying out. She wanted a distraction.

Cara’s phone lit up and buzzed slightly, showing the alarm she’d set earlier had counted down to zero. Her break was over.

Her walk back to the Apdna enclosure was a slow trudge. She couldn’t help but feel like she should apologize to Max, but she still felt he owed her an apology as well. She knew from fighting with her half-brother Trevor, that this was never a good way to finish an argument, but she couldn’t see any other option.

Cara entered the enclosure with her phone out, ready to snap a photo of Max and the Apdnas if he was still willing. She looked cautiously around the enclosure for him, trying to anticipate the mocking sigh of relief or the cool reprimand he’d no doubt have waiting. But she didn’t see him at all.

She did catch sight of Peter who came rushing over from the other end of the enclosure.

“What do we do?” Peter asked.

“What do you m—”

But then she saw it. Max lay in the trough on his back, covered it Apdnas. He appeared to be trying to say something, but one of the yellow bears had completely covered his mouth with its little body.

Cara did not waste any time thinking of what to do. She stuffed her phone into the new kid’s chest and raced into the enclosure.

The first thing she would need to do was get the Apdna’s attention. If she could get them to focus on her, she might be able coax them away from Max.

She clapped loudly several times and yelled “Hey!”, as she had done a few times when taking pictures of the bears on earlier shifts, but as it had been then, the move was of little use. Only a single bear looked her way, giving her a little wave of its paw, miming Cara’s own frantic movements.

Ughhh! I need to get all of their attention!

She looked around frantically for something – anything! – that might make more noise and noticed the new kid’s speaker lying close to the trough, crooning k-pop softly. She rushed over to it, jabbing and then holding her finger on the little plus sign that controlled the volume. Suddenly, the room got loud.

All of the Apdnas turned to look towards the unexpected sound.

I have their attention now. But what do I do with it?

Without a clue as to why, Cara started dancing. She moved to her left in a kind of galloping motion, then back towards her right. Reflexively, some of the bears which were not already attached to Max began to mimic her. A few others even let go of him to copy her.

She kept going, adding a kind of lasso-type motion with her hands, and then cantering her legs before turning and starting the whole thing again. She kept the dance up, allowing another three rotations to pass before she was rightly facing Max again. About a dozen bears had released him from their grip . . .

It was enough that he could move again, and he began pulling them off of himself. Before long, each Apdna in the enclosure was focused on her. Before starting a second rotation, Cara saw Max flee from the trough and begin picking his way toward the exit.

Cara did not wait to finish the dance completely, but instead began sprinting towards the exit, hoping the bear’s reflexes were slow enough that she could reach it before they gave chase. Max saw her bolt and did the same, both of them reaching the gate of the enclosure at the same time.

Cara slammed the gate shut. The clang echoed, startling a few nearby patrons. She looked at Max.

“Cara. I’m – “ Max ran his hand through the back of his hair, and looked away. “Listen I – Thank you.”

That’s it?

She didn’t know what she had expected him to say, but this seemed too simple. Too small, after what she’d just done for him. 

She should call him a fool. A pompous idiot, who would have deserved to be smothered under the bear’s cuddly bodies. She was about to do so when she caught herself.

What good would it serve? His apology seemed genuine enough if crudely formed. Peter saved her from having to say anything by rushing up and blurting “Look! You’ve got to see this.”

He had Cara’s phone in his hand and basically shoved it at her and Max. The two leaned together so they could both see the screen. It showed her doing her weird dance, and seeing the Apdnas dancing alongside her was about the cutest thing she’d ever seen. Max crept comically back towards the exit and Peter’s hand waved him on.

The whole thing was hilarious.

But more importantly, people were loving it. Likes were flooding in and reposts too. The video could not have been posted for more than a few minutes, and their follower count had nearly doubled, many leaving comments wondering what caused the bears to behave like that, or where had Cara learned to dance like that. Someone from Channel 8, the town’s biggest news station, had messaged them about a feature on the Apdnas and asked if Cara would interview.

She looked up at Max. “Do you think Jerry will let me?”

He grinned like a fool. “After this, he’ll let you do whatever you want . . .”

The End


Hey again, I hope you enjoyed Dance of the Apdna. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into these stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!

See you next time!

The Savage Penguins

Hi again. Sending Max on another adventure. This time I experimented with prologues, epilogues, and I wanted to see if I could squeeze in a POV that wasn’t Max’s. I can see why people mostly think pro/epilogues are useless but I think the ones for this story are kinda goofy and hopefully fun. Let me know what you think.

For anyone counting, I came in at 2,061 out of 2,000. Enjoy!

The Savage Penguins

James Vanguard Beak pretended to preen his black, downy feathers while standing atop a jagged and quite slippery rock. There was a spot just behind his wing which never quite – well it wasn’t really important. What was important was his assignment from the commander, Charles King Beak.

Vanguard Beak – for they weren’t to use the names provided by their captors any longer – was to scout and report all interactions of the monstrous bipeds which were draped in brown cloth and seemed to patrol the area. Two such creatures leaned against a wooden railing barking and squawking to each other just beyond the nearly transparent barrier which held Vanguard Beak and his people captive.

He just knew they must be scheming something, but as usual, the strange vocalizations made no sense to him. The one with curly brownish fur on the top, raised a sickly shaped wing at the newer creature that Vanguard Beak hadn’t seen before.

 “Are you coming on the trip tomorrow?“ Brown-Top yapped.

“No.” The new one barked. Its top-fur was jet black like Vanguard Beak’s own – ah yes there it was – finally straightened feathers. “I’m gonna work. I figure with everyone gone, I can work with some of the other animals I haven’t before.”

“You’ll be up against the penguins all alone.” responded Brown-Top.

Black-Top sort of half raised its wings. Whatever kind of display this was, it did not seem to please Brown-Top for she expelled some air from her flesh-beak and walked away shaking her head from side to side.  

What could it mean?

Black-Top retreated as well, and Vanguard Beak could return to the pebble stack to report his findings to King Beak. The commander would know what to do. He had an uncanny ability to foresee the creatures’ movements and, if not thwart their machinations, at least slow them. If they came for the pebble stack tomorrow, King Beak would have something in store for them . . .

# # #

Max lay on the wet tile floor, his parka bunched up under his arms allowing the frigid air of the Savage Penguin Den to numb the skin of his back. His feet were sore and bloody from the needle-sized cuts made by the creatures’ whetted beaks. With each wheezing breath Max inhaled the stench of rotting fish, flung at him with tiny trebuchets and miniature siege engines. His vision seemed to be spotting but it could also be that nearly all of his surroundings were a near blinding shade of white.

He was only five minutes into his shift. 

“You’re doing great buddy!”

That was from Lisa up on the second floor. He hadn’t known she was here.  She wasn’t supposed to be. She was supposed to be on that trip with the rest of the Port Monster Aquarium employees. His boss Jerry had said he should go too if he wanted. They’d close for the day and he could join the rest at Wharf Town or wherever.

Max tried not to think about the way her brown curls had fluttered as she’d shook her head and walked away from him yesterday. She’d tried to warn him.

“Remember Max you only need to get up one more time than you fall down!”

Jerry was here too? No one else was could spout off clichéd maxims like he could. Were all of the employees up there watching? Probably. Max rolled his eyes realizing this was the employee’s trip.

Since starting two weeks ago, he’d done great with the animals, even winning the trust of a Sand Seal after saving its life. He hadn’t gotten a big head about it or anything, but it must have stirred up some feelings of inferiority among other employees. He’d done what they couldn’t. They were trying to take him down a peg.

Whatever. They were right. He didn’t need them.

But Max wasn’t going to finish ‘moving the pebble stack’ while lying on the tile floor, so perhaps Jerry wasn’t too off-base after all. But Max would not give him – any of them – the satisfaction of having inspired him.

Max pushed up with his arms and tried to steady himself, feet shimmying back and forth on the half-frozen tiles. A rotted fish fell from his shoulder and hit the floor with a splat. Disgusting.

The Savage Penguins exhibit used to be the Plenty of Fish exhibit before the renovation. Max remembered coming here as a kid and seeing more sea life than his brain could comprehend. From the bottom floor, people could walk up and look through the floor to ceiling glass – the fish bowl is what Jerry called it because well of course he did – and see triggerfish, eels, porcupine fish, and a bunch more that Max would never remember. And then on the second floor, the glass only came up to the waist of an average adult. Up there, manta rays and some of the other crowd favorites would swim near the surface of the water and people could pet them and feel their slimy skin up close.

The whole thing was one large tank though and so from the second floor you could peer in and see everything you’d seen below from a bird’s eye view.

That’s where everyone was watching from.

They must have seen the birds attack him immediately upon his entrance into the fish bowl but they’d just watched.

The penguin’s attack didn’t feel like mere savagery as their name would suggest, but a defense of their most prized accomplishment, the pebble stack. Tyler, one of the other employees, had said that the little creatures where always in some state of construction on the stack. Lisa thought it was proto-religious and Jerry felt that it was a physical representation of the animal’s journey towards fulfillment as a species but Max had to agree with Tyler’s assessment: the stack was a means of escape.

The stack was piled past Max’s shoulder, built from any little thing the birds could get their beaks around. The lowest levels appeared to be actual pebbles which had been placed in the habitat for them deliberately for use in their elaborate courtship rituals. But it seemed that purpose had been abandoned completely.

With the pebbles as a foundation, the pile rose ever higher. Max could see a variety of other materials present in the build. Pieces of chipped tile supported an assortment of fish bones and clumps of down feathers which had been shellacked and then dried into pebble shaped pieces. Max tried not to think about what the shellac had been made from.

Max’s job was to remove the bones and feathers thereby removing the stack which was increasingly looking more and more like a ramp to freedom for the penguins. It seemed a simple enough task, but he hadn’t expected the birds to try to stop him.

“I think he’s working it out.” Max heard from up above. Sounded like Tyler. “I give him five more minutes.”

“No bet. At least another ten. They still haven’t done the thing.” said Lisa.

As if on cue, one especially plump looking penguin stepped forward staring at Max.

It squawked a challenge, and the other penguins began to squawk in response, like the crowd at a wrestler’s match. Max looked incredulously at the bird, then up at where he could see his coworkers leaning over the glass barrier. They were grinning down at him.

Before Max’s eyes, the bird began to grow, quickly transforming from a manageable foot tall to three feet, and then four. Suddenly the bird was six feet tall – taller than Max – and beating its flipper-like wings against its ample belly. 

Then it charged.

Max tried to dart to his left and out of the bird’s way but his feet did not find purchase on the tiles. He slipped, throwing out his arms for balance, managing something akin to a turkey vulture spreading its wings, before coming down hard on his knee. It was enough movement to get Max’s head away from the animal’s striking beak, but it meant that when the bird literally gut checked Max, it was his face that bore the brunt of the blow. Apparently, blubber can feel as hard as cement.

The force sent Max spiraling away on the slick tile.

The bird seemed somewhat bewildered that its opponent did not lay slain before it, but quickly recovered, swiveling its head left than right before locating Max. It charged again.

Max reflexively stood back up before thinking that perhaps a lower center of gravity might be advantageous. Just before the bird was on top of him, Max manage to both crouch and push the shovel out in front of him.

The two collided and Max’s shovel was able to keep the penguin far enough away that its beak did not get him. Its repeated attempts pushed Max sliding backward however, his shoes refusing to grip the slick tile. Eventually Max felt his back foot come up against the glass wall of the fish bowl. It steadied him, but also trapped him. Max could feel his strength starting to wane and the distance between him and the beast was beginning to disappear.

In a last, desperate move, Max braced both feet against the wall, tread to glass, completely horizontal, and used his legs to push with everything he had.

The bird went backward, landing on its back while Max managed flop his belly on the tile. He slid a little on the icy floor, but the six foot horror he’d been battling positively shot across it. With so much weight and momentum, the animal crossed the length of the bowl in an instant, crashing into its beloved pebble stack, and collapsing one side.

Everything was still.

Max stood up and brushed some of the ice off his clothes. Not even a chirp came from the other penguins in the bowl, each clearly trying hard to process what had happened. Max looked up at his coworkers. They looked as shocked as the birds.

Good. Let them see he didn’t –

That chorus of squawking began again. Max looked back at his opponent, expecting to see the animal still lying wounded on the tiles. He was surprised to see that it was on its feet and squawking at the other birds as in the same manner it had challenged Max.

To Max’s horror the other birds began to change as well, each calling out its rage as it grew.

Ok. Maybe he did need them.  The ladder that served as both entrance and exit to the bowl was too far away, blocked by the raging birds. But Lisa was pointing towards the pebble stack He sprinted across the bowl, only slipping a little at the start. Up the side of the pebble stack he climbed, leaping for the rim of the bowl.

It was too far. He’d missed the edge. As he descended back into the bowl and the giant angry penguins, he felt something grab hold of his arm.

It was Lisa. She barely held him, threatening to be pulled in herself. But soon Tyler was their pulling him up as well. And Jerry Quixotic. And the rest of the Port Monster Aquarium employees.

They dragged him over the lip of the bowl and collapsed, gasping on the second floor. Tyler was the first to recover, standing up and then over Max with a grin on his face.

“Next time, come with us on the trip. We’re a team you know. Everyone works together.“ Max nodded and closed his eyes feeling Tyler step over him.

At least it was over . . .

# # #

James Vandgaurd Beak stood watch again upon his slippery perch. Black-Top – or as King Beak would say, the one who’d got away – stood chatting with Brown-Top as before.

“Another trip coming up,” she said. “You in?”

“I think I’d better. I would have died without y’all here last time. I guess I still have a lot to learn.”

Brown-Top flashed the white pebbles on the inside of her flesh-beak. “Yea you do. See you tomorrow.” She left him to ponder their scheme as before. Sharks! Their code was still indecipherable. Vanguard did not wait for Black-Top to leave, he went directly to King Beak. Perhaps he could make more out of it. Next time they would be ready.

The End


Hey again, I hope you enjoyed The Savage Penguins. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into these stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!

See you next time!

The Sand Seal

I think it’s only been about two weeks since I posted any fiction, but somehow it feels like much longer. Anyway, this week, Max is starting a new job at Port Monster Aquarium, after leaving Ms. Pine’s employment (you can read all about why in Teamwork Part 1 and Teamwork Part 2). I’ve got a couple stories planned for this setting so hopefully it’s an enjoyable one.

For those counting (so . . . me only), this story is 250 ish words longer than the last, weighing in at 1794. (I was aiming for 1750!)

The Sand Seal

Apparently, Jerry Quixotic hadn’t always been the type of man who would crouch waist deep in an Amazonian river, hand scooped just under a Shaiger’s dorsal fin – to calm it obviously – and take a selfie. He’d once been the type of person who would tuck in his T-shirt, and push his thick-lens glasses up onto his nose before using the rubber of an eraser to punch numbers into a calculator.  

But now? Max had seen the images of Jerry plastered all over Port Monster Aquarium. The man was fearless, posing with nearly every mysterious and dangerous creature Max had ever heard of, and many he’d not.

Max struggled to reconcile the man he saw now – muscles straining his too-short khaki shorts and ‘safari’ shirt, wavy straw colored hair, thick leather boots and no glasses – with the man Jerry reportedly had been.

“But because of these animals?” Jerry said, showing Max how to grab a rattle snake behind the head with an extra-long trash grabber. ”Their friendship? Well I’m changed! And I just know it’ll change things for you too.”

Jerry tossed the snake into the Sand Seal habitat. It looked a bit like a hockey rink, if the ice had been dropped into the floor about a foot, and filled in with sand. Plastic bleachers surrounded the pit where spectators could watch the seal as it frolicked, played, or hunted the snakes which it ate. A hard and clear material surrounded the pit, raising up almost to the ceiling. Jerry had said it was plexiglass, and that it managed to keep the Sand Seals inside the habitat when wood, metal, and solid rock wouldn’t.

Max wasn’t sure about it all, not yet. The strangeness of the animals was no problem, he’d seen strange animals when he worked for Ms. Pine. But he wasn’t sure he wanted to be ‘changed’ as Jerry had said. Just coming here to work was enough of a change for him.

Friendship sounded nice though. The one friend he’d made working for Ms. Pine, Trevor, had been pretty distant since he’d left. This would be a good chance for him to clean the slate.

Max watched as a fairly normal looking Harbor Seal with whitish grey fur, snoozed lazily on a patio on the other side of the pit. Its snout could have belonged to a puppy, with only the tiniest whiskers protruding forth to sense for predators, or prey.

When it heard the snake’s rattle, it sat up and looked over at the newcomer. Max saw its eyes go wide with excitement and it immediately rolled onto its ample stomach, sort of bouncing over to the nearest edge of the platform.

It slipped from the patio, and the once placid sand began to ripple and rock as if the seal had skipped a rock across a lake rather than touched it with a paw. The seal slipped below its surface effortlessly and reemerged eating the snake and then swimming towards Jerry and Max, its round black eyes expectant for more.

“Your turn!” Jerry said, turning to grab a bucket full of Sand Seal food. Max noticed the man’s shirt was not only tucked into his shorts, but his undershorts as well.

So maybe Jerry hadn’t completely changed then.

Jerry handed the trash grabber to Max along with the bucket of snakes. Max held one of the snakes out to the seal – which Jerry called Bartholomew – and the seal had immediately come up and snatched it away; simple as a stroll down easy street.

Good. Max needed something easy right now. He’d loved all the creatures he’d met at Ms. Pine’s, but none of them had been easy.

“Look at that!” Jerry said. “Fast friends indeed!”

* * *

Max smiled as Bartholomew caught the first snake in its jaws, and Jerry made a cheering sound as if a horde of rabid hockey fans really did sit around the pit. Not that there were any bleachers for them to sit in anymore. Indeed the Sand Seal Habitat hardly looked anything like when Max had arrived a week ago.

Bartholomew returned to his patio to finish enjoying the treat.

As Max looked around, it seemed almost everything had already been stripped away for the renovation, though some plexiglass bordered the pit. A large construction cat sat unused while a crane was similarly vacant nearby. Sheets of plastic lay suspended in the air, in the process of being moved, while the cat’s shovel appeared to have been stopped mid action.

When Max had scoffed at the worker’s untidy departure, Jerry said “Their automated Max. They start or quit on a timer like the sprinkler system. It’s hard to find help around here that’s as good as you.”

That had been nice to hear. Max had to admit, everything was going so much better here than it had at Ms. Pine’s house. In a week Jerry had trained Max on everything he would need to look after Bartholomew and they’d started working on tricks with the volley ball and some other props.

But Max felt his shining moment had come after Jerry moved Bartholomew to a new location within the park.   

The other Keepers and Trainees had started reporting that Bartholomew seemed troubled. He’d lay lazily atop the sand in the new enclosure, not even bothering to use the ability which gave his kind their name. Max had eventually witnessed it himself. Bartholomew would let out these noises which Max could only interpret as a sigh, and then shift his head from one place to another.

Apparently, Sand Seals were quite territorial and rarely ever left the dunes they inhabited in the wild. Was Bartholomew homesick? Max could understand that. As nice as things were here, he still often thought of his old job at Ms. Pine’s.

That was when Max got an idea. What would be the harm in taking him back to the old pit for a little while? Maybe Max could wean Bartholomew off his old environment slowly.

When Max had tried, Bartholomew’s eyes went wide and he bounced towards Max as quickly as his tubby body would allow. Max need only waive his hand to follow and Bartholomew did, all the way into the old building.

And now, here they were. The two had played together for several hours – most of Max’s shift – and Bartholomew was energetic and bright the entire time. Jerry looked down to his watch.

”It’s time to get him back,” Jerry said. He seemed pleased.

Max motioned with his hand, calling Bartholomew to follow him. This time the seal wouldn’t budge. Apparently, easy street had also been closed for renovation.

Perhaps more food would get Bartholomew going. Max made to scoop another snake out with the trash grabber but stopped at Jerry’s urgent voice.

“C’mon Max. Let’s go!” He was not pleased anymore.

Suddenly, there was a loud sound of an enormous engine coming to life. Max looked to the construction cat in time to see it raising its massive arm up and down, the sensor on its shovel attempting to detect the level of the sand, but there was no sensor at the top of the arm to detect the plexiglass sheeting that hung suspended from the still motionless crane.

Max cringed and there was a harsh clang of metal. One sheet of the plexiglass slid free of its constraints and fell into the sand, wedging itself upright like some kind of flat, plastic obelisk. Bartholomew panicked, racing back to his patio. 

The construction cat began scooping out the sand, oblivious to the fact that with each shovel it removed, the sheet became less stable and was already looming precariously over the patio. Eventually its weight would bring it crashing to the ground. Max’s heart stopped when he thought of what would happen to Bartholomew.

The seal was not lying idle though. He’d turned the concrete patio to the same liquid-like consistency as he did the sand, and was diving and darting trying to get away from the threat. But he was heading in the wrong direction.

Bartholomew fled away from the danger but was blocked by the remaining plexiglass that bordered the patio. He needed to come towards the falling plexiglass, for there was still space there to escape.

Max turned to Jerry, just as another piece of plexiglass fell from the crane, this one shattering into shards atop the sand. Bartholomew redoubled his efforts but Jerry’s skin had simply gone white as if no blood remained in his entire body. His eyes moved to Max thought the rest of him stood stock still.

“Go on. Do something!” he whispered, as though anything louder would alert the gaze of some terrifying predator.

Max couldn’t believe it. This was the man who – Nevermind.

Max dove into the remaining sand — an odd sensation he didn’t dwell on — swimming through it as if it was water. Calling Bartholomew’s name Max waived his hand as he had done to bring him over here.

Bartholomew stopped his frantic attempts at escape and looked over at Max. He nearly went for it on reflex alone but then remembered the looming threat, which had just dropped another few feet, and looked suspiciously at Max. He resumed his flight in the other direction.

Max sighed, and began swimming towards Bartholomew, unsure if there was some way he might be able to grab on to the creature and drag him. He had to try.

There was another creaking sound as the plexiglass sheet began to buckle under its weight. Bartholomew poked his head up above the sand, and seeing that Max was now also in danger, began swimming straight for Max.

Bartholomew was like a bullet in the sand. Max had never seen anything move so fast. But the glass had given way and there was a weightless quiet as it fell. Involuntarily, Max closed his eyes.

Max felt something hit him in the chest hard. He bounced along the sand realizing he’d expected to feel the blow atop his head. When Max opened his eyes, he was on his back, the sand firmly supporting his weight. Bartholomew lie in his open arms, embracing him with his paws as much as his tubby little body would allow.

Bartholomew opened his round black eyes, and Max could swear he was smiling. The two separated and Max stood up and looked around.

The construction cat had stopped shoveling and all of the suspended plexiglass seemed to have already fallen free of the crane. Jerry Quixotic was nowhere to be found. Apparently, he wasn’t the type of man who would dive into danger to save a friend. Max waived to Bartholomew and the two left for the temporary sand pit together . . .

The End


Hey again, I hope you enjoyed The Sand Seal. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into these stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!

See you next time!

Teamwork (Part 2): The Twelve-Eyed Starer

Hi all! Another Friday, another story. In Teamwork (Part 2): The Twelve-Eyed Starer, Max is in trouble with Ms. Pine and has to work with his new coworker, Trevor (god do we hate Trevor), to get out of it. We’ll see how it goes. If your curious about what got him into trouble, check out Teamwork (Part 1): Phase Feathers post last week.

For anyone counting, this story was 1551 words out of a goal of 1500. I’m gonna say it’s good.

Teamwork (Part 2): The Twelve-Eyed Starer

Trevor had been right, Ms. Pine did take 2nd floor access very seriously. Max nodded as she spoke and then, remembering they were on the phone, began inserting “yes” and “understood” at what seemed like appropriate intervals.

Max could barely hear her, instead focused on the numbness he felt inside. He was crushed. She explained, loudly, that some of the monsters kept on this floor were classified, or intellectual property, or dangerous! And Max did not have the proper clearance, signatures, or training to interact with them in any capacity.

Ms. Pine had never shouted at him before. Ms. Pine didn’t shout. She was always smiles and caring and adventure. Yes, he was in a lot of trouble this time.

Trevor stood in the doorway, somewhat hunched, trying to look anywhere but at Max. Sure Max had broken some rules, but he’d handled the situation properly and Ms. Pine never would have been the wiser had Trevor not called and told. Max had thought Trevor rude and curt before, but this had just been mean.

Ms. Pine asked to speak to Trevor. Max apologized one more time and handed over the phone. Trevor did not look pleased and Max felt a little better. Maybe Trevor had got in trouble too.

Still on the phone, Trevor walked down the hall and entered another room, then came back to the threshold with two clipboards in his hand. He finally said goodbye to Ms. Pine, and Max moved to the door to leave.

“Where do you think you’re going? There’s still work to do.” He didn’t move to let Max pass.

“I just assumed that with all the trouble I’m in, Ms. Pine didn’t want me around.”

“I’m sure she doesn’t. But your narrowly avoided catastrophe means Ms. Pine wants us to inventory everything in here to make sure nothing else is amiss. If I gotta work more, you gotta work more.” Trevor slammed a clipboard into Max’s chest. “Take the left side, I’ll start on the right.”

Max did as he was told, examining each of the strange creatures and checking off the items associated with each one. Did it have the proper amount of tails? Wings? Should it have antennae coming from there? Max enjoyed the work. He was seeing creatures that he’d never get to see otherwise, and maybe if he did this well, he could get back into Ms. Pine’s good graces.

But he couldn’t help thinking of Trevor. Why was he being so mean? He didn’t even seem to like this job, while Max adored it. He nearly called out to Trevor to ask but decided instead to refocus on the work.

The next creature on his list was called the Twelve-Eyed Starer. He checked the cube it was supposed to be in, and just like the picture on his clipboard, the orange worm-like creature “looked” up at him through the plastic.

It had five sets of white and blue eyes which swiveled here and there on the creature’s back. One pair focused on Max and he began to grip his clipboard very tightly and felt the desire to run though he found he couldn’t move. The eyes swiveled away, and Max let out a sigh.

Was it weird that the Twelve-Eyed Starer should only have ten eyes? He looked at the picture on the clipboard again to be sure. It showed the creature coming towards the viewer at an angle, – like a train or subway car – its tail trailing back towards the horizon. Only five “eyes” comprised the image, but its entire body wasn’t clear in the photo.

Now it was Max’s turn to roll his eyes. Maybe he should ask Trevor for help? Maybe he should ask him just to see if he’d freeze up like Max had done when looking into the eyes.

“Hey Trevor?” He said half smiling to himself. “Can you come take a look at this?”

Trevor sauntered over. “What?”

“You think this is a mistake?” Max said, trying to watch Trevor from the corner of his eye. So far it seemed he hadn’t looked directly at the worm. He was too busy acting aloof. “Thing’s only got ten eyes.”

That seemed to get his attention, but still, he didn’t look at the worm. “Tap on the side of the cube there would ya? Do it lightly but keep it steady.”

Max complied wondering what the boy was getting at. The Starer focused all its eyes on Max’s finger and Trevor finally bent forward to examine it. “Look here at the left side. It looks like it’s been sliced or something. There’s probably a segment missing. Clipboard says when they reproduce pieces break off and then regenerate like an earthworm can do. Or don’t you read?”

Max grimaced and continued to tap his finger. He really should have caught that. “Shouldn’t there be two Starers then? Shouldn’t there still be 12 eyes in the cube?”

“Who knows? Maybe the other segment is in a different cube somewhere. Maybe Ms. Pine sold it, or is using if for experiments . . .”

That’s when Max noticed that the gate on the cube hadn’t been sealed. In fact just the vibration from his finger tapping had begun to open the gate slightly and the Starer had noticed, floating towards the small opening on yarn like tendrils which made the creature resemble an oddly terrifying scrub brush. Max closed the cube gate. A hydraulic hiss signaled that it had finally been sealed shut.

Trevor rolled his eyes again and Max wondered briefly if they ever got sore, like an overused muscle.

“C’mon. Let’s go look for it.”

The silence that followed as they scanned the room was quite uncomfortable. Finally, Max couldn’t bear it anymore. “What is your deal? Ever since I got here, you’ve be rude and mean. Then you told Ms. Pine on me. And now it’s like your blaming me for this too. This is not my fault.”

Trevor turned to face him. “What? I’m supposed to just let you come in and take my job?”

“Well – ” Max stumbled. Obviously not but . . . “You don’t even like this job. Why do it? Why not work somewhere else where they appreciate – rude people!”

“I can’t! It has to be this job. Alright?!”

“Why? Why does it have to be this job?”

Trevor shook, as if he was fighting to move against the Starer’s gaze, but it was nowhere to be seen and he was looking right at Max. He was angry, struggling to control himself, not fight against the control of something else. Tears rimmed his eyes but didn’t fall.

Max relented. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t pry. Have we checked over here?” Max started towards another group of cubes.

“It’s fine. It’s not like you could know, we just met today, and I don’t talk about it.” Trevor said softly. “My mom is sick. Medicine produced by the creatures here is helping her mend, but we can’t afford it on our own. Ms. Pine lets me work here and knocks my wages off the bill. It’s enough for us to get the pills. And now, because of your catastrophe earlier and your obsession with impressing Ms. Pine, that’s been put in jeopardy.”

For the second time today, Max felt crushed. He’d never even thought . . . what could he say? There wasn’t time to think on it for at that moment, he could see out of the corner of his eye, a tiny orange, blue and white scrub brush gliding across the floor.

Max didn’t move, but this time it was on purpose. “Trevor, do you see it? You should be the one to grab it. Whatever trouble you were in because of me will disappear if you’re the one to fix this.”

“I can’t.” Trevor said through clenched teeth.

“Nonsense. You have to – “

“Max!” Trevor hissed. “It’s looking at me.”

Max tried to maneuver behind it but the creature swiveled its eyes to look at him, freezing him in place, but allowing Trevor to move. Then the creature froze Trevor in place.  It couldn’t look at both of them though, and it was only a matter of time before one of them was able to grab it.

Max counted the turns. Alternating like this, Max would be the one to grab it. But Trevor needed the win.

When it came time for Max to move again, he stayed where he was clapping his hands to distract the creature. It worked! Trevor was nearly on top of it!

Sensing its imminent capture, the Starer shuttered and its swiveling eyes split to look at each of the boys. It looked ridiculous. Max found himself laughing and he saw Trevor smile too. No longer afraid, they came forward together and grabbed the creature, carrying it back to its cube and placing it within.

Ms. Pine called later to check on their progress, and Max could see Trevor tense as he reported what happened with the Starer.

“Well who managed to capture it?” Max heard from the receiver. Trevor looked uncomfortably at Max. What should he say? Max pointed at Trevor. He mouthed “You did.” Trevor rolled his eyes again, but there was a smile on his face. He’d keep his job after all . . .

The End


Hey again, I hope you enjoyed Teamwork Pt. 2: The Twelve-Eyed Starer. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into these stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!

See you next time!

Teamwork (Part 1): Phase Feathers

Hey all. I had fun talking about Ancient Egyptian doggos last week, but I though another Max story was in order. This week he meets a coworker. Read on to see how it goes . . .

Teamwork (Part 1): Phase Feathers

Who was this? Of course, Max had been expecting Ms. Pine. Every time Max had come over to the house – whether it be to feed Jebalix to a Slagorez, or empty the litter of a toxic cat – Ms. Pine had been there to greet him.

She usually left a cryptic note, and then greeted him at the door with a smile which let him know that whatever crazy thing that was about to ensue would be alright.

This boy, standing somewhat hunched in the doorway, did not smile, and he seemed to have no idea why Max was even there at all.

“I’m Max. I’m here to see Ms. Pine.”

“Trevor,” the boy replied. “Ms. Pine left a few hours ago. She said the normal guy flaked so I’m watching the cat for the weekend.” He tilted his head over his shoulder. “You’re welcome to come in and cool off for bit if you’d like. Looks hot out there.”

It had been a rather grueling ride over. He supposed Ms. Pine wouldn’t mind if he got himself a glass of water from the kitchen.

Max watched the boy. He didn’t seem to be doing much. He just sat playing video games. Perhaps Trevor needed help.

“Has Sphinxy had a canary this evening?” Max tried, hoping to prompt the boy to action.

“Ms. Pine gave him one before she left.”

“And she showed you how to change the litter? You have to – “

“I know what I’m doing.” Trevor said curtly. “I don’t need any help.”

Max continued to drink his water and twirl on his stool in the kitchen. Perhaps he should just ride back home. If Trevor, wasn’t going to let him help, then there was really nothing else he could do.

His eyes fell upon the stairwell leading from the living room to the second floor. It’s not that he had never noticed it before, he’d always just been so focused on the tasks Ms. Pine had provided for him that he never took the time to explore.

If she had a cat which required PPE to handle properly sitting in a plastic cube in her living room, just think of all the other strange things she might have hidden away on the second floor.  It had never crossed his mind to head up those stairs, but now it seemed irresistible.

He didn’t consider it snooping. It was . . . professional development. He could take on more jobs if he knew more about the rarities in Ms. Pine’s house.It had nothing to do with being more valuable than Trevor.

Max gulped down the last swallow of his water and hopped off his stool. “Hey Trevor? I’m just gonna head upstairs for a bit. I’ll be back in a second.”

“Are you approved? Ms. Pine is very particular about where her employees go in the house.”

“Of course I’m approved.”

“Whatever.” Trevor said rolling his eyes. “But if anything is out of place when she comes back, I’m not covering for you.”

“Mhmm.”

Max took the first couple stairs quickly and then slowed his pace once he was out of Trevor’s view. He wanted to take this in.

Unfortunately, it looked pretty much the same as the last level. It had the same stylish but muted wallpaper, and the wood laminate was tidy but not sparkling.

The sparkle lay at the end of the hall, a crystal door, slightly ajar. Max felt a cool blue intensity radiating from behind the clear gate. Entering the large room, he was stunned. It held hundreds of the same type of cube in which Shinxy lived, each containing some different creature which Max had never seen.

Some had fins, others tentacles, many had wings, and some had all! Nothing seemed to be where it should, but it all seemed natural for whatever creature he laid eyes on.

Finally, his eyes came to find an unusual looking bird tapping the plastic of its cube and looking quite forlorn. Its wings were red with one gold feather each, then three gold feathers clustered around its tail. It had arms too and sat on crow’s feet with a parrot’s beak. Compared with everything else, it was quite normal.

This would be a good place to start he reasoned.

Approaching the cube, he saw a small plaque identifying the creature as a Phasing Icarie. Looking closer at the bird itself, Max noticed that one of the golden feathers had been broken – snapped off – close to the skin. The animal seemed to be in pain and before Max realized what he was doing, he’d opened up the cube and plucked the broken feather from the bird.

The bird hopped away, and held up its wing to check the wound. There was only a speck of blood. Satisfied it was not a serious injury, the bird puffed up its chest in triumph and chirped its thanks.

Then it disappeared.  

There was a fluttering sound and then a loud thunk as if something had hit the door. Max turned quickly to see the bird fluttering back from the door looking stunned. One of its golden feathers wafted to the floor beneath it. The creature disappeared again only to reappear at the opposite side of the room. It swooped low, in an effort to gain speed for the charge.

It would kill itself if it kept this up.

Max quickly moved in front of the exit and reached to intercept it. The bird disappeared again, just as his fingers were closing upon it. All that remained in his hand was a single golden feather.

The bird now clung to one of the other cubes, using its arms to help hold on, like a climber scaling a cliff. It swiveled its head like an owl to glare at Max with indignation.  Max approached slowly, but as soon as he got close enough to reach the bird, it disappeared and flew into the door.

The bird limped back to the far side of the room, clinging to the cubes only this time too high for Max to reach. He’d be here all day if he didn’t find a way to keep it from disappearing. It was then that Max realized he noticed hardly any gold in the animal’s plumage. Indeed there was only one gold feather remaining on its tail. All the other feathers had fallen to floor. They looked withered and expired.

Max thought of the game Trevor had been playing downstairs. How Trevor only had a limited number of shots to kill his enemy. The bird’s golden feathers were like its shots. It only had one left. 

Max opened the door hoping to coax it into making a move.

The bird let go of the cubes and swooped towards the open door. Max feinted as if he were going to try to grab the bird – it disappeared – and Max quickly turned and shut the door. The bird hit again, and while it was still dazed, Max grabbed it in both hands. It squawked and screeched, beating its wings to try and get away, but it did not disappear. Max held it fast and put it back into its cube.

He breathed a sigh of relief and turned to begin cleaning up the bird’s withered golden feathers. That’s when he noticed Trevor standing on the other side of the crystal door holding his cell phone. “Ms. Pine’s phone,” said the voice on the other end. “Who’s this?

To be continued . . .


Hey again, I hope you enjoyed Teamwork Pt. 1: Phase Feathers. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into these stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!

See you next time!

Rapunzel’s Tower

Hey all. It’s Friday so I thought I’d let Max go play. I was aiming for 1,000 words and ended up with 1,055. I’d say not too shabby. This piece is also exciting because I found my first continuity error between this story and the others. I decided to leave it in as these shorts are just practice. If you catch it, post it in the comments. Enjoy!

Rapunzel’s Tower

Max smiled as his pencil traced an arc across the page. He wasn’t quite sure what the arc would form – maybe a wing, or a claw. Ooh the hump of a roller coaster! – but it felt good to sit at his desk, drawing to kill the time until his friend Tim came to pick him up. It felt good to have time to kill on the weekend.

A little red stone near the end of Max’s desk began to buzz insistently. For the third time in three weeks, it was Ms. Pine. Reluctantly, Max placed his palm on the table, and listened to the message.

Hi Max,

Are you avoiding me? Anyway, I have another job this weekend. Please get in touch!

Cynthia.

Max sighed and spun around in his chair. As he had last week, and the week before, Max made no move to reply to the message. He was done with putting his life at risk, done with being scared to go to work, done with Ms. Pine. From here on out?

No more monsters.

The doorbell rang and Max ran down the stairs and greeted his friend Tim. Immediately they began to talk about how much better today’s adventure would be as compared to last week’s. Max tried to match Tim’s excitement, but something was off.

They’d gone to play laser tag two weeks ago, and that’s when Max had noticed it. Though he was running, and jumping, and shooting, he felt as if something were missing.

He’d felt it again, at the pool party over at Kimmy’s house. The other children laughed as they splashed each other with water from the pool or ate cake and ice cream. But Max couldn’t bring himself to join them. If Tim hadn’t dared him to jump off the high dive, he might never have felt better.

Now, as he looked out at the neon flashing signs, and a thousand bulbs of light which arced into the sky, Max knew he’d be able to get it back. Whatever it was.

“Which ride do you want to go on first?” Tim asked as they waited to enter the amusement park.

Max looked around and saw a large tower that stood higher than all of the other rides in the park. At the top of the tower, was the statue of a woman with long golden hair, looking down across the park. Her golden hair cascaded down her back, flowed off the edge of the tower and eventually became the track for the ride which looped and twirled its way down to a knight who stood near the ride’s exit.

“You can’t go on that ride first Max, are you crazy? It’s the tallest one!” Tim said, putting his arms around Max’s shoulders. “You have to build up to it. Let’s try something a little easier first.“

Max allowed Tim to lead him away from Rapunzel’s Tower and onward to something that looked like a caterpillar chasing a leaf held by ants. It was just ok. The next one they tried covered almost the entire park, soaring on the wings of a Pterosaur, feet dangling high above the earth. Tim looked more exhilarated than Max had ever seen him in his life. Max supposed it was nice for him too.

Finally, they returned to Rapunzel’s Tower.

An attendant pulled the padded harness down over them and checked to make sure it was secure. With everything in place, the car began to slowly spiral upwards as if the passengers were walking up a spiral staircase to the top of the stone tower.

Max looked over at Tim who seemed to blanch a little more with each floor they ascended. Max’s anticipation was twofold. Would this thrill be the one? When this car finally dropped, would he finally feel that missing something?

They crested the top of the rise, and glided smoothly towards the drop. Max’s heart was butterflies in his chest. This was it!

There was a resounding crunch and the car stopped.

Max and Tim hung suspended over the tracks looking down to the pavement bellow. The other guests looked the size of ants and Max longed for the safety of the caterpillar ride. This was too much. It was too high. How on earth had he thought that this was what he was missing?

Max pushed against the padded harness holding him in place but it wouldn’t budge. Somewhere in the distance, an attendant was explaining into the loud speaker that the ride would need to be evacuated. Just remain calm.

When the fire department arrived and began to bring everyone down, Max was shaking as he descended the rungs. As soon as his foot touched the pavement, he ran towards the exit. He didn’t make it very far though; for some reason, it was too hard to breathe.

As Max stood with his hands on his knees, bent forward, trying to catch his breath, he heard an “Oww!” cried from somewhere in front of him. A second exclamation allowed Max to find its source: a young girl standing in front of a glass aquarium of Jebalix. She reached inside and their snapping beaks moved to nip at her hands.

Max was surprised by the fluidness of his motions as he approached the girl. His hands didn’t shake at all as he removed some leather strips from a hook on the wall and laid it within the aquarium. The jebalix bit into it, as he knew they would, and he pulled the leather back towards himself, removing their beaks. The girl was delighted, a grin spreading across her face as she reached into the aquarium to pick up one of the now harmless monsters.

Max realized he was delighted too, for as he’d helped the girl everything seemed to fall into place. The missing piece had been found! It had been the monsters all along that he’d been missing.

Tim walked up looking shaken, and stressed. “Is everything OK with you Max? You were shaking as you left the ride and now you look like you’ve just won an endless supply of free ice cream.” Max blinked a second looking at Tim. “What? Uh yea, I’m fine. Wonderful actually. But we should get going. I have a message I need to reply too . . .”


Hey again, I hope you enjoyed Rapunzel’s Tower. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into these stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!

See you next time!

Toxin Cat

It’s Friday so I figured I’d better give Max something to do over the weekend. This time I actually managed to hit (exactly) the 750 words I was trying for. Critiques are appreciated, leave them in the comments. Enjoy!

Toxin Cat

Max shuddered as he watched the yellow canary flap it’s wings a few final times before falling to the bottom of a large clear-plastic cube. Dead.

Max chanced a glance at Ms. Pine, but if this was strange or out of the ordinary, he saw no shock or horror touch her expression. Her eyes remained green and sharp behind her plastic face shield.  

Max was beginning to enjoy these cryptic notes from Ms. Pine, but he had to admit, this was the most mysterious yet. All it had said was:

 Available to cat sit this weekend? Bring PPE.

Cynthia

Finally, a sandy brown and white cat emerged from a cardboard structure near the back of the large cube. A few balls of yarn, some mouse shaped stuffed animals, what appeared to be a scratching post summed up the cube’s remaining contents.

Max looked on in horror as the cat proceeded to spit a purple liquid onto the canary, wait a few seconds, and then pick it up in its mouth and carry it back into the cardboard structure.

“Sphinxy will get two of those a day.” Ms. Pine said, before rambling off a long list of particulars. “Always wear your respirator”, “he’s protective of the litter box” and “the slime is a dermatoxin” stood out as unusual but the rest seemed manageable.

“You can suit up over there,” she said, gesturing to the bathroom with a glove covered hand. “I’ll be on my way then. Thank you. And Max? Don’t forget to play with him a bit. It’ll all go much easier.”

And then Ms. Pine was gone.

Max fed Sphinxy the canaries in the morning. He read Ms. Pine’s magazines. Once, on the way back from relieving himself, he squatted down so he was level with Sphinxy. The cat made a noise that was more akin to a lion’s roar then a cat’s meow, and then left to lay within his cardboard structure. Max couldn’t help but notice he lay right next to the litter box.

The next day, when Max suited up – gown, gloves, face shield and respirator – he found himself loathe to enter the cube. What kind of animal spit dermatoxins anyway?

But Sphinxy seemed to show no interest in him whatsoever, instead content to drag his claws down the side of the scratching post. When Max picked up the cardboard structure, there was still no reaction from Sphinxy.

But as soon as he stretched his hand towards the litter box, the lion’s roar sounded again, and Max found his entire face shield covered in the purple mucous. Trying to wipe it off simply smeared it along the shield; he couldn’t see a thing.

Max took off the mask and turned to Sphinxy. The cat just licked its paws as if nothing were amiss. When Max reached for the litter box again, Sphinxy dove through the air heading straight for his face.

Thankfully, Max was wearing the respirator, otherwise he would have been literally up to his eyeballs in claw marks. However, when Max began to have trouble breathing, he knew that his face hadn’t been the target. The respirator was broken.

Max began to hyperventilate. What had Ms. Pine said to do if this happened? She hadn’t! What had she said? Somehow all that came to mind was “Don’t forget to play with him a bit. It’ll all go much easier.”

Max reached for one of the stuffed mice, struggling to get air inside his lungs. Suddenly he had Sphinxy’s attention again. Max waived the mouse up and down, pretending to hop it across the cube. Sphinxy pounced but it was different from before. It was playful.

Max kept at it a few more minutes, as long as he could, his lungs burning and his vision starting to spot. When he finally stopped, he reached one hand towards the litter box. Sphinxy’s eyes darted towards him, but then went back to playing with the mice.

Max emptied the litter, and put it back in its place. When Ms. Pine finally returned, Max was seated on the floor in front of the cube, playing with Sphinxy through the plastic.

Max waived goodbye to Ms. Pine and stowed a smaller version of the clear plastic cube under his gown and gloves. When he was well out of site, he dropped the PPE to the ground and opened the cube. A yellow canary beat its wings for the first time in months, and flew off into the sky. Alive.