Who’s Runnin for Me, Now?

by J.B. Pravda

In the annals of captive animals, it was unheard of–much less run in any respected publication to date.

Labeled the ‘anti-cheetah’ by the zoological community, Furilongo’s excuse for the refusal of the species in question to run, preferring to ‘play’ possum’–the zookeeper’s own words–was deemed illogical (they hastening to add that this did not necessarily imply that the creature was ‘ill’).

Famed zoologist Quentin Furilongo was unable to bring the fleet-footed West African gazelle out of its lethargic funk–it seemed, as he wrote in the scholarly journal ‘Gazelle Gazette’, that the prized beast knew it was THE speed limit for all other creatures–‘fast as a gazelle’– thereby suffering from the fastest run syndrome.

Desperate–his colleagues piling-on characterization of his tactics–Furilongo chanced upon a solution: he would summon Cezar Lyon to coax the animal from its seemingly feigned lethargy.

There to witness certain failure, the skeptical Gazette reporter, Upton Cooper, was on hand at precisely high noon.

Whispering into the lethargic gazelle’s keen twitching ear Cezar seemed to be crooning, albeit faintly heard by human ears.

Suddenly, what had been a supine four-legged mass of motionless favorite red meat for the competitive cheetah so sprang into flight as to conjure the blurry rotary leg action of cartoon animations.

As Furilongo’s smile foretold, Cezar had done what seemed impossible without cheating; when questioned later by a truly surprised Cooper, Furilongo would only hum a tune, mumbling what sounded like these lyrics: “Do not forsake me, oh my yearling, on this your running day–”, and something about being frank concerning millet and a fresh downy bed.

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Schmerdloff’s Proposal

by Adam Mac

In the current Journal of Statistical Probability in Law Enforcement, Viktor Schmerdloff proposes the original theory that there are two types of people: those who fold their toilet paper and those who scrunch it up.

Anticipating skeptics, Schmerdloff explains why the FBI should be interested in profiling folders and scrunchers. Folders, he maintains, are inherently dangerous since they are fastidious in their planning and methodical in execution. When combined with other threat indicators, folding can provide reliable predictive data, which more often than not results in successful intervention and apprehension of suspects.

On the other hand, scrunchers, though percentage-wise less of a threat, can be worrisome insofar as their recklessness and aversion to normative behavior makes them unpredictable and virtually impossible to combat. The very absence of orderliness frustrates traditional law enforcement professionals and warrants new and controversial techniques like chaos profiling.

A unified approach targeting both folders and scrunchers is recommended, since they are, in effect, two heads of the same monster.

Regarding the operational issue of collecting data, the agency can work closely with manufacturers to install and retrofit millions of door locks in public restrooms with tiny hidden cameras. These cameras will generate continuous and multi-synchronous CCTV feeds for the agency’s super computer in northern Nevada to analyze and prioritize.

We think Schmerdloff’s proposal is a good first step but would add that profiling should further segregate those who don’t flush from those who do and among those who do flush it should separate out those who flush with their hands from those who flush with their feet. Since both folders and scrunchers are suspect, additional data are required to distinguish between actual, probable, and possible threats.

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Land of Bandits

by Mattia Ravasi

murder in monzaThe city of Monza lies in the north of Italy, not too far away from fashionable Milan and its dreadful Duomo. It is the main center in a small but lively province called Brianza, a name that comes from the Latin word for “bandit”. My own surname, a rather common one in the area, is derived from the Latin word for “thief”. This is to say more about how the Romans saw the region and its inhabitants than about the inhabitants themselves.

Monza is an amazingly picturesque city, and those looking for horror might find plenty of it—if only they are willing to drive a few miles out of town to the industrial suburbs where you breathe in misery with exhaust fumes.

Dedicated searchers—especially those with some knowledge of the region’s history—might choose to linger for a while and perhaps visit the colossus that is Monza’s Park, this part of Italy’s green lung. It also features a small benign tumor in the form of a Formula 1 race track.

A wall was built around the park in the 18th century by the Austrian invaders who were to be kicked out, come back, kicked out again, and return at least four more times such that it is difficult nowadays to say whether they’re gone or they’re still here. In a much similar way, it is not so clear whether that first tall wall around the park was built to shield it from the expanding communities around it or to prevent anything inside from roaming where it shouldn’t.

The main function of the park was in fact that of being the private hunting ground for the Habsburg rulers of northern Italy. A Royal Villa was built in the park to serve as the summer dwelling of the Archduke of Austria, yet the much-despised rulers had introduced foreign animals to the park long before the Villa was conceived. The beasts that were left free to roam in the park came from the dark forests of Germany, from the even darker vastness of northern Europe, and from the rocky hills of the Balkan Peninsula. There is a cave not far from the Villa local parents like to show their children, giggling at amazed expressions when the small ones are told it once was the den of a bear.

It wouldn’t be absurd to wonder whether many of the strange folk stories from the city’s past could be based on reality: tales of slender predators stalking the streets of Monza at night, leaving their victims ripped to pieces and disfigured. Said predators were nothing but wolves, or lynxes. Of course, the region is full of tales of weirder beasts (the symbol of Milan itself is a basilisk devouring a child). Whatever the creature was—cryptid or plain animal—it did murder quite a number of locals. The stories agree on this point. To this day, the night life of the city has not recovered, and if you are alone in Monza late at night, you’ll wish you weren’t.

More disquieting still, and much more gruesome, are the many reports—probably exaggerated—of what the period’s Austrian rulers liked to do with political opponents and rioters. The stories are legion and they all disagree, but the common element they share is that poor souls were left alone in the park at night where they’d become the meal of the wild beasts, forced to fight to the death against each other, or—and this is the most widely diffused account—they’d become prey in a peculiar and merciless hunt, one for which it was always open season. The final touch to this unlikely but disturbing scenario is that these night hunts apparently did not stop with the end of the Habsburg rule and the establishment of the kingdom of Italy.

Every summer the king came from Turin. While in the Villa, he liked to carry on the memory of his predecessors by enjoying what the park had to offer—everything, if the tales are right.

Diabolic murderer or not, the locals never liked the king; after all, he came from Savoy, which wasn’t even “the real” Italy, and then again, people in Brianza hardly love each other let alone strangers.

Throughout the 20th century, no reports of hideous games, murderous monsters, or exotic creatures can be found. It would seem the old fantastic tales did not survive the clash with modernity. And the Villa lost most of its shine when the king himself was shot dead in Monza in the first months of the century. The murderer was an anarchist extremist, apparently, though at the time there was no lack of voices affirming there were more personal and secret reasons behind the assassination. However it was, the following generations of kings chose never to visit Monza.

The town has built a monument to commemorate the assassination, a tower-shaped chapel called Cappella Espiatoria. It is Monza’s oddest beauty, and any trip through the town should end here in the rather isolated and silent corner where the monument stands. The chapel’s statues and high reliefs show stark images of suffering, yet there is also an element of mockery in the gothic features of the whole structure, and in the bat-like wings that decorate the fence around it. To this day, huge bright graffiti keep appearing on the monument, and on the asphalted road that runs before it, praising an assassination that took place more than a century ago.

Mattia Ravasi was born in Italy in 1991 and has lived in Milan and in Birmingham, UK. He currently is in Venice where he writes short stories and works on novels, though he is supposedly studying for a postgraduate degree in English Literature. His fiction has appeared in the humorous magazine Hobo Pancakes and he will soon be featured in the steampunk anthology The Lost Worlds, edited by Eldritch Press.

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Sugar-Coated Hairpin Curve

by Stephen V. Ramey

He-Man in the driver’s seat, She-Man by his side. The top is down, the wind a hurricane in their ears. In the back, Baby-Man drowses between liquid-sweet life and taffy-sweet dream. The car is a candy red 1969 Camaro, tires underinflated to cope with the crackle-crazed topping of this winding black road down into the valley.

The pedal on the right is pushed. Hard. Asphalt sprays up from the sudden spin, a scent-like burning licorice, lava lust, vodka in their morning mouths.

“Too fast,” She-Man proclaims from the watcher’s seat.

“Not fast enough,” He-Man yells. “We’re going to be late.” For what? For life in the valley, of course.

The car hits a hairpin curve, slews left, slews right. Rubber stretches, bites, skids. A guardrail crunches, and suddenly they are flying, the granular city melting before them like a sugar glaze. Windows wink, flat-roofed buildings stare.

In the back seat, Baby-Man giggles deep down in his chest. His naked head comes wobbling up. And for just that instant all is right in his sugar-coated world.

Stephen V. Ramey doesn’t always write about babies, but when he does he writes strange. He is the author of a previous baby story at Garden Gnome Publications titled “Pacifier“.

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Spoken By the Woman Who Works There

by Russ Bickerstaff

People know what they’re getting, but we don’t know what we’re selling. People see the ads for Blubbery Steel Kisses™. They know that they want them. Maybe it’s the way those ads make them feel. Maybe it’s the fact that the actor who was in that movie everyone liked is associated with them. It’s really none of our business to bother with knowing what we’re selling. We’re only here to give people what they want. People know what they’re getting, but they don’t know exactly what it is that we’re going to give them.

There’s a steady stream of people walking in the door coming in to buy. There’s a steady stream of people going out the back of the store who have bought. It’s part of the image. It’s also really practical.

When we opened on the first day we were offering Blubbery Steel Kisses™, there was a line straight out the front that coiled its way out of the mall. We never run out, so it’s okay. People come in. People pay. People walk through the curtain and around the corner. They walk out with little bags. We have no idea what’s happened to them, and we really don’t care.

People think we’re feigning ignorance. We’re not getting paid enough to do that. Really. I figure the company that launched Blubbery Steel Kisses™ probably has people who come around to re-stock. We’re just there to look attractive and keep people from being uncomfortable in a long line.

People scoff at us as they walk by. I sometimes wonder if they’re former customers. It’ll pass. They’ll move on. This week it’s Blubbery Steel Kisses™, last week it was Sinewy Silk Embraces™. The week before that it was Fluffy Cotton Hugs. There’s always something new.

This is not Russ Bickerstaff‘s first garden gnome rodeo.

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Bugs in the System

by Anita Cooper

“Robot love. What a beautiful thing”, Bitsy said, turning to look at Bob.

Bob shrugged. It wasn’t the first robot trade show he’d been to, and it probably wouldn’t be the last.

The robots’ designer stood next to his creations – male and female robots – droning on and on about their upgraded and lifelike exterior shells with more responsive emotion simulators.

Bob looked at his watch.

Honestly, he didn’t know what everyone got so worked up about. It’s not like love was that big of a deal.

It hadn’t been for him, anyway.

The product leaflet that came with his ZR-372 – marketed as Vivian – was supposed to be the real deal.

It wasn’t.

Sure, it performed all of the mechanical functions that came with sex, but he’d been led to believe it would have emotions and logic – that it would be better than a human female.

He read through the instruction booklet…even called the help desk, but they were no help. So he sold Vivian until something better came along.

Bitsy nudged him.

“Bob, he’s going to start the programming for his “love machines”. Isn’t that such a cute name?” Bitsy said. “OMG, I’ve got to get one…look at the muscles on the male – I wonder if I could special order the size of…”

Bob rolled his eyes.

The robots began to move, the male reaching for the female as if to kiss her. He embraced her, but once their lips met, something seemed to go wrong.

Horribly wrong.

Bob couldn’t stop watching. The female’s skin began to melt. The male continued with his programming, planting blubbery steel kisses on her face, impervious to the female’s skin dripping down her torso and pooling in a large mass of steaming plastic and wires.

Hmm, maybe he’d better try again to find a human girl.

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Green

by Cat Jenkins

Li’l sister saw it same time as me.

But her eyes kenned it differ’nt.

What I saw were green and noisome, like one of Granny’s potions. Like bile milked from a sea slug. But Sara got all gaspy and whispery; her face goin’ beatific. “Lookee, Rena,” she says to me. “Lookee.”

“Don’ touch it.” I pulled at her arm to make her leave. “Come away. Don’ touch it.”

“Why, it’s like a ghost or angel leaned down from Heaven, breathin’ pearly-green all over the mucky holes, all pretty and shimmery like dragonfly wings.”

I minded me to tell Granny to stop fillin’ Sara’s head with them fairytales. Don’ do no good to have nonsense flittin’ through yer head in the bayou. They’s enough cautions to be had ‘round ev’ry corner ‘thout bringin’ fancies into it.

The green stuff was oozin’ on closer like it were drawn by heat or heartbeat, and li’l Sara couldn’ take her eyes off’n it. So’s I pulled her back and herded her all the way home, tellin’ her never to go back there.

“But it’s booootiful, Rena! Like…like the moon and the sea got t’gether an’ conjured up elf-fire…”

I pushed li’l Sara up onto the porch, and acrost it, and into our room, and that shoulda been the end to it.

But li’l girls is a han’ful. That night Sara sneaked out.
We tracked ‘er next day, but lost ‘er back where that bile-green glow bubbled up from the mucky holes. We called and called and Mama wept somethin’ fierce…Granny, too.

But no Sara.

Couple nights later I thought I heard li’l sis callin’. Her voice had gone all chimey and tinkly, but it were callin’ my name, and who else’d do that? I went lookin’, but no Sara. Jes’ her callin’ from all differ’nt sides at once, seemed like. Next mornin’ afore the sun come up, I saw bitty footprints glowin’ green in the glimmer-light. They come out from the bayou to my window and then gone back.

Bile-green they was.

When I told, Granny and Mama shook me hard and said to pay them no nevermind. And they stopped lookin’ for my li’l sister. Stopped talkin’ ‘bout her, too. Stopped usin’ her name.

But I think I’ll see Sara again. Prob’ly soon. ‘Cause I keep hearin’ her chimey voice at night. And this mornin’, afore the sun washed it away, I saw the greeny glow’d come up again.

Only this time, I didn’ think it were bile-y, but pearly-soft and glowy.

And it were pretty like Sara said.

And it come all the way ‘cross the yard again.

Only this time, it come up the siding.

Only this time, there were some on my windowsill.

Inside.

Cat Jenkins lives in the Pacific Northwest where the weather is often conducive to long hours before a keyboard. Her stories in humor, fantasy, speculative fiction, and horror have been published both online and in print. She is working on her first novel, a psychological thriller with touches of magical realism. Read Cat’s blog. Follow her on Twitter: @CatJenkins11

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Doing it Wrong

by Schevus Osborne

Danny surveyed the convention room, looking for anyone that caught her eye. A cat. Pass. A wolf. Pass. All these people were so unoriginal, she thought, and so fake. The neon plush hair and oversized eyes made her sick. No one was as committed to the lifestyle as she was.

Finally, she saw a flash in the crowd. Pointed face and small round ears. A very long, bushy tail. Now this was something that interested her. She sauntered across the room, stopping to push a giggling pink bunny out of her way.

“Hey little weasel,” she said, tapping her target on the shoulder “want to spend some time with a real woman?”

The weasel turned around and jumped three feet in the air, crashing into the pair of cows he had been talking to. He cowered on the ground with his stubby forelimbs raised.

“D-d-don’t hurt me!” he squealed.

Danny noticed a dampening between the weasel’s hind legs. “Gah,” she snorted, disgusted. “I finally find something new — a freaking weasel! — and it can’t even be a toilet-trained weasel.”

She stormed off, sharp teeth scowling and claws click-clacking on the hard floor. There was no love for a hyper-realistic looking honey badger at a furry convention.

Schevus Osborne is a featured author in the Garden of Eden anthology from Garden Gnome Publications.

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The Albino Man on Mystic Drive

by Russ Bickerstaff

albino kidIt was the dawn of the last century, a cold night in the middle of the woods. No idea why a kid would be wandering around beyond the cornfield. This kid was lost out there.

An albino kid. Didn’t know any better. He just ran off, exploring the woods. No telling why. Some kids get it in their heads to go. They hear the call of the wild or some goddamned thing.

The boy’s parents didn’t help matters. The father of some weak albino boy in the early 20th century might’ve been particularly hard on him. Maybe he preferred the wilderness to home. Truth be told, the old man that little boy turned into doesn’t know why he left. He only remembers being cold. It was late fall in Southern Wisconsin.

The boy followed sounds he’d been hearing for some time and was getting hungry. He didn’t know how to hunt or fish, or anything like that. He wandered around in the woods in Muskego, hearing whispers that melted into his thoughts. Kid must’ve been half-dead when he felt little hands drawing him in. Half sick and on the edge of death from the cold when all those little hands and arms and backs took him into a cozy, civilized warmth deep within the woods.

They later told the albino kid they’d served him bowl after bowl of gruel for days straight before he finally started to move around in a hazy daze. The people who had taken him in were different from the adults who looked down at his frail albino form. They could all look him straight in the eye. They all seemed to have a cautious respect for him. Sure, they had argued about whether or not they were going to take the kid in to begin with, and their reluctance nearly cost him his life, but they were under no obligation to help him.

The group were all as tall as the little albino kid. Every single last one of them. And they were all adults, too. Hard to believe now, but back then there wasn’t any TV or Internet and you didn’t ever go to the movies unless you had the kind of money the little albino boy’s family didn’t have. So he’d never seen full-grown adults that were as tall as him. They didn’t look down on him. They didn’t pity him because of his frailty. They didn’t hate him because of his weakness either. The little albino boy had met a group of adults who looked him in the eye and respected him as some kind of equal. The little albino boy had found this magical place where everyone was more or less equal. He knew he had parents. He knew he could find them. But he didn’t want to.

The people of the village deep in the woods in Muskego were very reclusive. The nearest major road is a tiny, little forgotten thing called Mystic Drive which ends in a gravel path. Back then Mystic Drive went from nowhere to nowhere. The people of the little village loved it that way. They were reluctant to bring the little boy back and they were sure as hell reluctant to let him stay once he’d been brought back to health. There was a pretty large minority of the village who wanted to simply escort the little albino boy back to Mystic Drive and let him find his way back home. A minority is a minority, however. The decision was to let the kid stay for as long as he liked as long as he pulled his weight and as long as he kept respectful of the villager’s decision to keep away from the outside world.

The little albino boy would come to know the villagers as dwarves. They taught him about them. He kept thinking of himself as a dwarf. His teacher kept telling him that he was an albino, but he was no albino dwarf. One day he had come back from chopping firewood and he asked his teacher what it meant to be an albino and not be a dwarf. The teacher got a far away look in his eye and he told him that it meant that he would grow to be taller than the rest of them but that his skin would always be the color of fresh snow in the dead of winter. By this time the boy was old enough to see that he was getting taller than everyone else in the village.

His teacher was a wise, old dwarf who told him that the time would come when the albino boy would have to decide if he truly fit in with a group of people who were every bit as different from him as those in the world outside. The teacher told him about a group of circus dwarves who had come to inhabit this section of the woods on account of mistreatment by a wicked ring leader. They’d killed him and hung him in the same clearing that the albino boy had always gone to for firewood. It was a dark time in their past. Like so many communities, their village had been built on blood. They didn’t want to face more of it, but they would if they had to. The world was getting smaller out beyond the village. There would come a time he would have to choose if he was a villager or someone from outside.

The boy had come to see a dozen summers in the village. He had come to be full height. He was at least twice as tall as any of the dwarves in the community. Some of them had started to mistrust him. He felt uneasy. He knew that he couldn’t go back to the world outside. He’d found his home and it was where he wanted to stay for the rest of his life. Why did some of them have to mar it by mistrusting him because of his height?

Fate had given the albino boy a rite of passage one deer hunting season. A couple of drunken hunters of the lowest caliber happened into the village and started shooting up the place. Lucky they were blind drunk and couldn’t hit worth a damned. Didn’t make it any easier rushing them and clobbering the hell out of them, but the albino did it. In so doing, somewhere in the process of that confrontation, he had become an albino man. There was no mistrust of him in the village anymore. The albino had proven his loyalty. More than that, he had proven his worth. The villagers unanimously decided to make the albino their protector.

The albino man picked up the shotguns and rifles of the fallen hunters and built himself a shack on the edge of Mystic Drive to scare off any unwanted visitors. They all come around here looking for what all the outsiders call “Hanunchyville”. Most ridiculous name I’ve ever heard. Around here we all just call it “the village”.

Russ Bickerstaff is a professional theatre critic and author living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his wife and two daughters. His short fictions have appeared in Hypertext Magazine, Pulp Metal Magazine, Sein und Werden, and Beyond Imagination, among other places. He is the commander of The Internarrational Where Port.

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Guardians of the Chimera

by Ruben Stemple

pet chimeraI was walking my Chimera when I ran into doofus extraordinaire Dylan Corbitt. His stupid hair stuck straight up, as if he was trying to hide a flight of pixies. I wished I could get Cindy to attack him for calling me New Kid at school, but Dad says we have to keep her a secret.

“Hey, Maxie, whatcha doing?” I hate Maxie more than New Kid, and the little shit knows it.

I imagined what he would look like smoldering from Cindy’s fire breath, and how much fun it would be to watch her stomp all over him before biting his head off. I didn’t really want him to be eaten, but the little bastard deserves it for pulling my hair at school.

“Go away shit-for-brains! I’m playing with Cindy.” I wanted to say, “If you don’t leave, I’ll let her eat you, and then I’ll deal with being grounded for a couple days.”

“Cindy.” He laughed. “That’s a dumb name for a dog!”

It’s an even dumber name for a Chimera. Dad named her after a sprite he knew when he was little. We’re guardians, protecting the secrecy and survival of animals and near humans. Where we used to live, there were three families with pet cryptids, but in Baltimore there are brown-shoe gnomes everywhere.

“You can play with her if you want. Here, throw the ball.”

Dad says I should be nice to kids at school, but I couldn’t get past the thought of Cindy munching on Dylan’s stupid freckles. I figured bouncing a sticky Chimera-spit tennis ball off his dirty sweatshirt was close enough.

“Don’t just hold it, jackass. You have to throw it. Or she’ll eat your face off to get it back.”

I forgot to bring extra fruitcake with me, so I checked the timer while Dylan and Cindy played fetch.

It’s not real fruitcake. That’s just what we call it because it’s brown and has a bunch of crap in it like the ones Grandma tries to make at Christmas. Its cloaking powers only work for about two hours, which gave me twenty minutes to get back home before Cindy turns into a fire breathing monster and make a meal out of my stupid classmate.

Cindy dropped the slobber ball with a friendly tail wag. Chimeras are good judges of character, so maybe the kid wasn’t all bad.

“We gotta run. Let’s go Cindy.”

“Come on Maxie! We were just starting to have fun!”

“No. My dad will get worried and I’ll get in trouble. And my dog will turn back into a Chimera and burn your pants off for calling me Maxie, you little ass hat.” I had to be firm.

There wasn’t quite enough time to get home, but I knew there were guardians on Fifth Street. I’d be in trouble for bothering a stranger when I should have had my fruitcake, but I had to protect the cryptid. “Goodbye,” I called, and walked away.

“Hey, Maxie, your house is that way!”

It’s just like this idiot to pay attention at the wrong time.

“I’m going to see my uncle. Go away. I’ll see you at school.”

I wished on all the fairy magic in the world, but the dumbass followed anyway. Cindy padded along beside us down a row of townhouses until I saw a brown-shoe gnome with an orange coat–a guardian house.

I knocked on the door. Nothing. I rang the bell.

“Nobody’s home. Come on, I’ll walk you back.”

“Go home, jerk face!” My timer was starting to glow red.

“Do you even know who lives here? This is dangerous!”

“You have no idea, asshole! Now go away!”

Cindy sensed my anger and growled. The growl was more chimera than chocolate lab, which made me extremely nervous. I gave Dylan a shove and yelled again. Before I got all the words out, Cindy changed. Dylan screamed and Cindy swiped a big Chimera paw just as everything went dark.

I woke up in the bathtub with someone screaming and shaking my shoulders. Standing over us was the biggest, hairiest thing I’ve ever seen. Sasquatch.

“Please don’t kill us! Please don’t eat us!”

Dumbass. Sasquatch are vegan.

“Shut up, jackass. I know this guy. He’s a big friend of my Aunt Friedas.” I hoped the squatch recognized the local code for guardians. “I don’t know why he has us in the bathtub, but I’m sure there’s a good reason.” I wanted to add I’m sorry mister for showing up on your doorstep with an out-of-fruitcake Chimera and a dumb-shit seventh grader, but I was out of options.

“You’re Maxine, right?” I nodded. “Your friend was hit pretty good.” I nodded, remembering the last few seconds before my blackout.

“Don’t hurt her, you freak! My dad’s a cop and he’ll be searching for us.” That was a lie. While he was yelling, Dylan slid himself between me and the Sasquatch. I was more than a little impressed.

“Relax, kid. I’m trying to help. You have no idea what happened, do you?”

The sasquatch looked at me. I wanted to say I was sorry for bringing a stupid kid here and sorry that Cindy had nearly ripped off his leg, but it seemed fine now and if Mr. Squatch could just let us out of the bathtub, that would be grand. Instead, I cried.

Dylan took my hand. He was starting to surprise me.

“I’m not going to hurt you, but you need to stay put. The Chimera broke at least two of your bones and you were bleeding pretty badly. The mixture in the tub is healing you.”

What?! Bullshit! I’m not bleeding, but you’re about to be.” My defender balled up his fists, but before he got another word out, he slumped down into the water.

“Help me! He’s drowning!” Tears streamed as I struggled and pulled, trying to drag his stupid fat head out of the water. The squatch pulled me, kicking and screaming, out of the large porcelain tub. Everything went dark again.

I woke up soaking wet and lying next to Dylan. My Dad and the Sasquatch were looking down at us.

“Is he … dead?”

“No, but he’s going to have a headache. I had to put him out four times.” Said the Squatch. “You’re both lucky.”

“We’ll see about that,” Dad said. “He’s seen things. We’ll need to have a serious talk with him, and maybe his family.”

“He’s a good kid, Dad. Worthy of the guardians.”

He could be a little shit, but he defended me. Besides, his being here was at least partially my fault. I’m only 13, but I know what happens to people who see things they shouldn’t.

Dad nodded to the Sasquatch, who waved a fur-covered hand toward the bed and quickly left the room.

“Dylan.” I spoke first. I needed my Dad to know that I was willing to help. “Dylan. It’s Maxine.”

“Hey, goofball.” His groggy green eyes looked into mine. “Why am I all wet?”

“You’re okay, but we need to talk. Do you trust me? I mean, really trust me?”

“Sure, Maxie. You know, you’ve never called me Dylan before.”

Ruben Stemple is a lifelong lover of all things written. He reads everything from Shakespeare to cereal boxes (yes, they still print stuff on them), and from Homer to the great Douglas Adams. He has written a few things for publication but would love to develop and hone the skills necessary to become part of the brotherhood of authors. He also teaches middle-school mathematics, which, though most would not consider it literary, has a beauty and an artistic sense of its own.

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