Grimore’s Question

Grimore’s Question

“Why should I let you live?” That’s what he asked everyone at the end of his pistol.

Grimore never thought about what it was like to answer the question under duress. All he knew was that if it were him – beaten, bloodied, on his knees with a gun in his face – his answer to the question would be, “You shouldn’t.” Not because he would avenge the situation; he wouldn’t. His question was philosophical and if you didn’t have a philosophical answer this wasn’t good enough in Grimore’s head.

The question was not his to answer, not today. Today the question fell to another Survivor, someone else scratching out a bare-bones existence on their scorched earth. This man’s name…his name was irrelevant less Grimore was given reason to remember it. So Grimore asked the man again.

“It’s important,” Grimore said, “Tell me why I should let you live.”

The man looked up from his knees down the barrel of the gun through the dirt and blood that marred his existence. He was exhausted having left his shelter a week ago, scavenging for scraps for his family when Grimore caught him off guard. The man had been hit in the face from out of the shadows and kicked mercilessly until he’d been pulled to his knees by his scraggly hair.

Grimore had always waited patiently in places like this, convenience stores, knowing that although everything had been pilfered by now someone would eventually come along hoping that something was still left. Grimore, he was all that was left, a vulture waiting for the scraps of humanity searching for scraps of sustenance.

Fear, hunger, exposure to the elements – the man was quivering as Grimore pressed the gun to his forehead. Though his eyes were fixated on the gun his ear picked up Grimore’s voice softening. Maybe he had reached delusion. Maybe Grimore is what you see when it’s already too late.

“I don’t want to kill you. I need you to answer the question,” Grimore sighed. He sounded bored, the sound of inevitability.

The man tried to wet his tongue with what little water was left in his body. He looked down, then up, then down again. “I…I have a family. I have a wife, a son, and a daughter. They’re counting on me to bring some food back.”

“So they can starve a week from now? A month? A year?” The man could see Grimore squint at his from underneath a weathered flat-brimmed hat. “Tell me where they are and I will help them.”

“No, you’re going to kill me,” the man cried with dirt out of his eyes.

“Not if you give me a better answer,” Grimore rejoined. “Why should I let you live?”

“If I die, my family dies, that’s why,” the man choked out.

“Do better,” Grimore grunted.

“I don’t know what you want!” the man shouted as he pressed forward into the barrel.

A shot from the pistol rang out. The man fell, and fell silent. Grimore lowered the weapon to the side of his ragged, dusted cargo pants and looked upon the fallen. “What I wanted from you was something more than survival. A want for survival is no reason to let you live. Even an insect wants to live. What did you think you were going to do with the life I spared you?”

The disheveled traveler holstered the gun on his hip. Drawing a knife from his boot, he took the tip and etched another fine line into his belt. 213 Survivors, he thought. Grimore never remembered their names – he hardly ever asked – he just remembers how many. How many here on Earth, that is; he didn’t add those 213 to the exactly one-point-three billion he killed when he sabotaged The Womb.

Grimore knelt beside number 213 and patted him down; a few rusty knives and a revolver whose barrel was so dirty it probably would have misfired had the man tried to use it. There was only two rounds in it anyway so unless the man were a good shot… There were four cans of long expired beans in the man’s backpack. He also found a map in the man’s back pocket, a map that carelessly noted the man’s way back home to his family, assuming he hadn’t lied about them. Grimore would check it out. Whomever he found there, Grimore would ask them The Question, too, Why should I let you live? If he didn’t like what he heard, well…

Only two people had ever given him an answer to his satisfaction. Someone recently, upon realizing Grimore was going to kill them, asked what gave Grimore the right; what gave Grimore the right to kill anyone when there were so few people left? His immortality, he’d tell them. He wasn’t really immortal, of course, but his nanobots made him seem that way. They made efficient use of all nutrients, recycled waste in his body, and healed him quickly. It was a long involuntary life, the often overlooked curse of demi-godhood. When the time came, when he’d hunted down the last human, he’d find a way to break the curse. In the meantime, his victims will sometimes accuse him of entertaining himself, of having the nerve to play god.

The rag-tag hunter looked up at the rusted sky. Sand pelted his face went a wind kicked up and wound its way through the store’s broken window.

They brought this upon themselves, went his inner dialogue, They separated themselves from nature and each other, never understanding the necessity to survival of acting as one. They raped and murdered the planet then thought they could throw it away like any other piece of trash with no fear of consequence. Humanity thought they would walk away from their crime scot-free. They do not see, gods do not entertain themselves, they judge.

Grimore took three cans of beans from 213 and put them in his own satchel. The fourth can he opened with an old-school army tool; the smell was off. He slung the beans back down his throat anyway as if he were finishing of a tankard of beer.

“Tastes like shit,” he muttered, “Tastes like consequences.”

 

All Rights Reserved (c) February 2019 John J Vinacci

The Winter War (Part One)

The Winter War (Part One)

He slipped a foot onto the temple’s polished stone floor without a sound. A hundred feet ahead of him lay an inconspicuous blade, a thousand names throughout the ages upon it, on the gold adorned Alter of Kashima-no-kami. Its age was unknown but thought to be ancient enough; the Japanese-styled katana glimmered with the light of hundreds of temple candles. Waxy white, the nightlights radiated from behind a dozen scarlet-robed, yellow-sashed monks. They lined the hall on either side, sitting crossed-legged, arms folded, their heads bowed in prayer. Beside the alter itself, another monk in a yellow robe and scarlet sash stood in deference of the weapon. The monk did not hear the intruder’s footstep but he sensed it nonetheless. As the unwelcome visitor glanced another foot forward, the monks flanking the polished stone floor stirred from prayer and began to draw swords from the scabbards at their waists. Their uninvited guest withdrew his foot and the monks sheathed their weapons in synch.

“What god is so bold as to enter the Temple of Hachiman?” the chief monk asked in a forgotten ancient tongue. He raised the rim of his pointed kasa to see.

“What is a god?” the stranger asked flatly.

“No mortal can step in here and live,” the holy man notified.

“I was mortal once,” flat words came again and trailed off.

“You are something else then, a demi-god perhaps,” the monk smirked. “What do you think you are doing here?”

“I have come to claim the Blade of…whatever name it goes by now,” the stranger clad in earthly, medieval black leather armor said. Two short wakizashi within an overhand’s reach were strapped to the man’s back. Automatic handguns were strapped to either thigh.

“Only two beings lay claim to the blade. Are you Shiro Winter or Noira Winter?” the monk asked.

The man stepped forward anew and again the praying monks began to draw their weapons. Their heads lifted up, flickers of flame now in their eyes.

“I am Shiro Winter, the founder of this temple and your order. You will stand down and let me possess the sword.” These were orders, not a suggestion.

“We are bound by oath to slay whomever comes for the sword, whether they own the sword or not. Or has it been so long you have forgotten your own edict?” The yellow-clothed monk drew an impossibly long broadsword from behind his back, too large to have been concealed by his person. Shiro knew that the weapon had been hidden from view somewhere in time and was now brought into the present.

Shiro lowered his head. A cool breeze passed out over his lips. “I have not forgotten. I was hoping you had,” the founder replied. He tossed his long black hair back and burned a look across the hall. “I don’t want to hurt any of you. You know what I can do. It is probable that I can take the sword and be gone before any of you can strike.”

“Probability does not equal certainty,” the high monk replied. “We have had much time to study you and your sister and have prepared accordingly. The zealot tilted his head. “We have already begun our defense. Did you not notice?” the holy man broke across the still air.

A trio of red-robed monks clashed their swords together in front of Shiro’s face as he whipped his head back. One of the monks had come uncomfortably close, shaving a few atoms off their intruder’s nose.

After a momentary blur, Shiro drew a hasty breath and leapt towards the alter with a speed invisible to mortals but not the monks. They were fast, already in midflight, in mid-fight, blocking his path to the alter. The demi-god spiraled, contorted, and crooked his body like a flickering bat to avoid eight sharpened edges of death. A ninth monk, in position high above the alter, could not be avoided. The defender’s sword pierced Shiro’s heart and exited his back. He grunted in pain as his body slammed into the monk and the pair landed on top of the high monk’s sword. The sect’s leader wrapped a hand around the back of Shiro’s neck and pulled him and his fellow monk towards himself; the tip thrust through the two entwined combatants entirely.

His eyes wet, the temple’s founder drew a handgun and pressed it against the high monk’s head. “You’ve fulfilled the task I’ve required of you. Thank you. Now stand down before you force me to kill you.” The highest of the temple order, three-thousand years old himself, opened his mouth to speak but took a bullet to the head instead.

“I saw you refuse,” Reyson mumbled as he shoved the two monks away from him, their swords with them.

The demi-god turned towards a score of charging monks with a grimace as blood poured out of his body. They were too fast. He could use his ability to manipulate time and cut them down or slow down the damage to his organs, but he wouldn’t be able to do both simultaneously. He opened his arms wide and motioned for the temple’s defenders to attack. Shiro was run through with nearly a dozen swords. The monks pressed their gnarled faces against the intruder’s, intent on watching him die.

Shiro’s lips rimmed with red life. “Do you have it?” he asked weakly.

“I’m here, brother,” Shiro answered solemnly from the alter. Shiro, pin-cushioned, could only nod in response. “Yes, I have it,” Shiro at the alter confirmed.

A few moments passed as the monks that impaled him with their swords slowly withdrew. Their task was not to be surprised but to kill anyone, everyone, who came for the sword no matter how many of them there were.

“It…hurts,” Shiro, falling to his knees dying, managed.

“Without the sword, the Order of Time will cease to exist,” the high monk, a quarter of his skull missing, mumbled looking up from the floor. The chief clutched the demi-god’s leg as Shiro reached for the long, slim sword sitting on the alter top. “If you take that you know what you must do,” the priest, failing, murmured.

“It is the only thing that will kill Noira,” Shiro shook his head but acknowledged. He clutched the hilt but could not pick the blade up; it was infused with collapsed star matter and therefore too heavy to wield without his full powers. He displaced it in time to recall later, just as the high monk had done with his weapon.

“Noira…” the highest echoed, though it sounded more like a question. “You know what you must do. First you must kill Rayu Nomura,” the monk said at his last.

Reyson lowered his head again and said nothing. His ‘brother,’ his doppelganger created just a minute ago when he jumped back in time so fast all of his atoms split into two, laid in a heap on the ground. The demi-god’s eyes twitched at his slain self. Watching yourself die. I hope this is not a sign of things to come, Shiro thought.

He rerolled the dice, casting his eyes at the remaining members of the order charging him. They were barely moving, though. Slow, much too slow now, even at their fastest. Eleven swords minced thin air. Shiro was already gone.

In possession of a terrible sword, the sullen, wired-haired warrior took a seat on a crop of rocks overlooking the Temple of Hachiman in the dark green valley below. The sky was royal blue with a faint red glow that sailed like a stream though the middle. Countless stars penetrated the darkening cloth. He frowned; he hadn’t wanted any of the monks to die but their job was to ensure no imposter got their hands on the ultimate weapon. They knew the risk. They took the vow. Still…

Shiro slumped a bit, quivering down to the bone, weary from pulling that stunt back in the temple. It’d cost him half his energy and half his life, figuratively and possibly literally. He was going to need to sleep soon, a few centuries perhaps, to recover. Whether it was worth it wasn’t relevant. It had to be done. Noira had to be stopped, even if it meant enduring the nightmarish vision of himself dying over and over again while he slept.

He slipped a handgun from its holster and unlocked the clip. Still twelve rounds in it. He hadn’t used a bullet himself. Alone for an epoch, he’d resolved long ago to die for what needed to be done though he hadn’t needed to do so until now. But he would die again and again and again if it meant getting the arrow of time right, right until the absolute, very end.

 

All Rights Reserved © January 2019 John J Vinacci

The Lottery 2040

The Lottery 2040

“You are now and always will be my friend, Aston, no matter what happens,” Mercedes soothed. “No matter what happens, I know in your heart that you’re one of us.” The words streamed off the raven-haired beauty’s tongue like a gentle brook.

Aston wasn’t convinced. And the lithe hand on his shoulder might as well be making things worse, not better. They weren’t kids anymore; they were nineteen now and had to register for the Lottery last year in accordance with their laws. Now that that they were entered, well, what if he won? Could they really remain friends?

“Excuse me while I worry anyway, ‘Sadie,” Aston muttered as he shook the young woman’s delicate hand off his shoulder. His fine blonde hair whipped on the wind as he skewed his chiseled jaw.

“Two babies were born last year and only one person died,” Aston continued in his crisp English. “Of course there’d wind up having to be a Lottery this year, just one year after we registered. What are the odds? Dammit.”

“It’s the price we pay to live the way we do. You know that,” Mercedes confirmed as she stroked her diamond necklace. She replaced her hand on Aston’s shoulder and turned him about with all her meager strength. She stared wide-eyed into his.

And the young man was soothed. Those clueless, doe-wide brown eyes of hers; they always got him. She just believed in it so much. His beliefs weren’t quite on the same level.

“I suppose,” Aston relented a touch. “At least your ex, Jaguar, is in it, too.” Aston never liked Mercedes’ ex, at least not since the pair hooked up about this time last year just when Aston began to have feeling for Mercedes. Mercedes and Jaguar broke up shortly afterwards, Mercedes saying they had different perspectives on things though she never said exactly what the difference was. “A good twist of fate will see to it that he wins,” the nineteen year old said dryly.

“Spoken like a gentleman,” Mercedes nodded softly.

Did she even hear me or is she actually that stupid? the young fair-haired man wondered. He didn’t really know why they were friends or why he liked her so much. Maybe she was the necessary antidote to his intellectually induced pessimism. Ignorance is bliss, after all. Or maybe it was biology; they were both young and hot. But then so was most everyone in their community. Aston turned back around towards the stage and tried concentrating on determining the future.

“There he is! The minister is approaching the podium,” Aston popped. He reached back to grab Mercedes’ hand and nearly crushed it with equal parts fear and excitement. She winced, then smiled, then brought her lips near Aston’s ear while the baby-faced officiant took up the stage.

“Aston, have you thought about what will happen if I win? Will you still be my friend?” Mercedes was forced to step back as Aston shooed her with both hands and said something like ‘sure, sure.’ His ambivalence went unnoticed by the young beauty’s naivety. She shrank back as the minister approached the microphone. Aston rose to his tippy toes and obscured Mercedes’ view.

“Bugatti Venyon…” the priest dribbled.

Aston’s fist rocketed into the sky, self-preservation assured. Best tp lay the part at any rate. “Wooo! Yeah! Bugatti! Get out of here you miserable slumdog!”

Aston’s theatrics were infectious to the point of violence. The prim-and-proper crowd of elitists began to boo and hiss like snakes. Like wolves, they began tearing at the tuxedo of the man whose name was announced.

The minister raised his hands simultaneously and scowled. “Settle down! Everyone settle down! Mr. Venyon forgot to sign his Agreement to Disperse Property form, that’s all. Settle down!” Aston and the crowd slacked back, fixed their ties and smoothed their dresses. Everyone raised their eyebrows and shrugged their shoulders at each other. No big deal.

Mr. Venyon, checking a scratch across his cheek with a white handkerchief, approached the stage, signed the form handed to him by the minister and settled back into the crowd, his eyes leery of his neighbors.

“Alright then,” the minister said as he placed the form on top of a large stack beside him on a table, “Let’s get on with the business at hand.” The smooth-faced magistrate reached into a bowl, whirled his hand, then quickly withdrew a folded strip of paper. He unfolded it, squinted, confirmed the name with the priestess beside him and approached the microphone once more. The crowd before him was silent, their mouths gaped like fish with hook in mouth.

“And the winner of this year’s lottery is…” A pin dropped but nobody heard it, “Mercedes McLaren. Mercedes McLaren.”

Aston spun around to find his best friend pale as a ghost. Her arms were folded across her chest and her chin brought low. “Aston?” she barely spoke. “You’ll still be my friend, right?” her broken voice and crooked brow asked. “You could come visit me. It’s allowed.”

He was trying to stare into her eyes but her eyes were closed to the dark energy reaching out to grab her, assail her, to reject her. In Aston’s peripheral vision, a score of hands emerged to blot out the sun. A sack of coal lodged in his stomach while his mind scrambled for something to say.

His thoughts were interrupted by the clarity of a memory though, of him sitting at his desk at home in the early evening with an ancient quill and ink well, spokes of sunlight piercing the thin white drapes, drafting his high school graduation essay on why the lottery should be abolished. The lottery wasn’t fair – an accident of birth landed the citizens of this community in their privileged society. So what if everyone agreed to participate? The choice not to got you sent off to the slums anyway. Who wouldn’t agree to stay? Then there was the matter of all people being created equal…

The lad remembered dotting the final sentence of his essay by driving the wet quill through the paper. Aston remembered staring at the essay for a long time after that, until well after the sun went down. Alone in a dark room, he carefully shredded the paper into small pieces. He tore it so slowly he could hardly hear it. He had to be gentle with the essay. Aston imagined there was a time ideas were respected and not blindly followed. As he swept the paper bits out his window onto a light breeze, a metal taste swept through the young man’s mouth when he realized his cowardice. He couldn’t blindly follow his own ideas, could he? At least he could defy them all somehow with littering.

Mercedes’ whimpers stirred Aston. Fingers, claws, were inches from her, ready to cast the lady down. Aston swelled with adrenaline; he knew he was strong enough. He could fight them off; break their fingers, rend their claws, frighten them into backing down. Only he’d never actually been in a fight, not one of them have. There was no fighting here; that’s what the poor did. Violence was reserved to give notice to those who’ve been outcast, to let them know they were unwelcome now. Those were the rules and they made sense to Aston, insofar as the lottery could make sense.

Aston, an unusual boy, saw his action potential stymied by his need to reason, to think things through. He saw it was too late to save Mercedes who – clawed dress and all – was hoisted above the seething crowd. This was the rule, there were no except…

“Proxy!” Aston shouted as loud as he could. The crowd froze and craned their necks back in the young man’s direction. “The rules state a proxy can take the winner’s place.” He said this knowing this had never happened before; no one had ever brought it up.

No one made a sound; not Mercedes, not the crowd. Everyone just kind of looked at each other. One man, almost 35 and soon too old enough for ritual death, finally broke the still. “Are you saying that you want to take her place?” he asked politely.

Aston stammered. “I…I’m just saying that’s the rule. I…” Mercedes, high is the air, hung her head upside down and shot her big brown eyes at him, wider than ever. Her mouth lingered just a touch open, waiting for her friend to come through. “It’s just that…that’s the rule. It’s a thing. I just wanted to remind everyone of that.” Mercedes’ eyes went super-moon as the crowd erupted.

“I will proxy for her!” a suave young Hispanic man with short, shaggy black hair roared. Not an ounce of fat on him, Jaguar’s muscles rippled from out his unbuttoned shirt. The conviction in his voice was as tall as he was. Mercedes was carefully placed back on her feet and the crowd lingered, thinking long about making a move on Jaguar.

“Step aside and I will leave this place quietly. None of you have to get hurt,” Jaguar spoke. The crowd parted like the Red Sea to either side of Mercedes. The Hispanic moved on air passed a dumbfounded Aston. He approached Mercedes and looked down on her, radiating love, burning her with sacrifice.

“I wouldn’t do it for you,” Mercedes whispered and turned away.

“I know, bomboncita,” Jaguar squinted. “But I could not live with the thought of you in the slums, dirty and scratching to survive. You don’t put up a fight against the rules, thinking you stand so little chance of winning the lottery and then winning anyway. Will you really go to live among those you’ve been taught to despise so that the rest of us can eat caviar? Do you know what really happens out there? You grow old if you are lucky, bombon, but if you are lucky you will lose your sweetness. I could not bear that in my heart. Besides, you know how I feel. I will still be the same man out there as I am here. Everyone is created equal no matter where you are from. Out there I will die with honor. Here, I cannot go into ritual death having never stood up for what is right.”

Aston throat burned with acid. Jaguar was taller, more muscular and better looking, and he’d slept with Mercedes. In what other damn ways could Jaguar be superior to him? Jaguar could love. Jaguar could sacrifice. All this superiority was intolerable.

“No! I will proxy for Mercedes,” Aston announced stepping towards the former lovers.

“Nooo,” Jaguar immediately lulled. “I do not think you will survive out there for long. I am stronger. I will do it. For Mercedes.”

“I, Aston Martin, will proxy for Mercedes Pullman. I volunteer to go to the slums and preserve your society. There, in the slums, I will be as equal among the people as I am here.” The whole town could hear Aston rev. “I won’t have your riches, your security, but I will have a dignity you could never take away from me!”

The young minister nodded and two men grabbed Aston by his arms. They fast-tracked him towards the town gate before he could spew any more nonsense. Jaguar winked at the hero and patted his shirt pocket as he was dragged by causing Aston’s face to curdle. With one hand around Mercedes’ waist, Jaguar’s other hand lifted a folded and heavily taped paper from the pocket and kissed it. Aston’s heart hollowed out. His head throbbed for an explanation. Thrown into the dirt outside the town’s gate he finally figured it out: Jaguar was smarter than him, too.

As Aston staggered away he thought he could hear Mercedes’ angelic voice. “You’re the best friend I ever had. You’re still my best friend.” Maybe she’d come visit him in the slums. Would Mercedes waste what little time 37 years gave her though? He wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) January 2018 John J Vinacci

Secret Santa

Secret Santa

Stewart dare not touch the cookies. It was tempting, sure enough, the warm scent of doughy sweetness pervading the house, the cookies were meant for one very special man. The odd snowflake or two drifting to the ground outside the window in the twilight of Christmas Eve, Stewart tugged on his stocking to ensure it was secured to the fake fireplace mantle. He glanced at the small side table beside the armchair turned towards the fireplace. There, the plate of cookies were flanked by a tall glass of almond milk – Stewart was looking out for the Big Guy – setting the scene for Santa’s arrival. He could Santa not come here? The invitation was impossible to ignore.

“And don’t try to stay up to see Santa like last year,” Stewart’s mother had warned, “No one has ever seen him. He’s…he’s very shy is all. Just leave him be and you’ll get presents. Stay up too late and, let’s just say that bad boys don’t get presents.”

The seven year old’s mother had been warning the child off trying to catch a glimpse of many things lately, ever since the child’s curiosity saw him walk in on his parents embraced in a very unusual way. His parents should have seen it coming, of course; they were making a too much noise and had forgotten their child’s tendency to investigate the world. While they wanted this their five children, their explanation to Stewart for what they were doing was awkward and made them think he was too young to know about certain things. While they couldn’t protect their children from everything, they could at least warn them. It would be a child’s own fault if they didn’t catch on.

Stewart had already considered that his parents were thinking this and purposefully set out to expose all the world’s secrets. Why are mom and dad always trying to hide stuff from me? the lad thought as he glued a fishing line to a cookie before topping off the stack. So what if I see Santa? What does he care? Stewart ran the fishing line down the leg of the table, behind the Christmas tree, behind the sofa, around the corner and along the way all the way to his bedroom where he draped the other end of the line. There, he attached a bell he’d taken from the cat’s collar. As soon as Santa took the cookie, Steward would know the jolly old man was in the house. Then he’d know if Santa was for real. He’d been hearing things at school…

In the two minutes since he last looked at the time, a heavy wool blanket fell gently on Stewart’s eyes. He fought the sands of sleep, stinging his bottom lip as hip clamped his teeth down on it. As he bit harder to ward off the dream world, the cat’s bell jingled. The boy’s eyes flew open as he threw his blanket aside. A clever kid, though, Stewart stopped himself from setting his foot on the floor with too much fervor least Santa bolt like a reindeer. A ninja in a white dinosaur print onesie, Steward slid his own little hooves down the hall.

Stewart peeked his head around the corner into the living room and there he was in the glow of the tree’s lights – Santa Claus. His back turned to the Stewart, Santa appeared taller than the kid expected, though rotund enough for the occasion. With a cookie in one hand, the old man seemed to be taking stock of the Christmas tree, titling his head back and forth as if judging if the tree were worthy of having presents underneath it. Santa brought the cookie to his mouth, took a bite and quickly dropped his hand to his side. “Store bought,” he muttered without pleasure.

Steward had heard that tone before; his parents used it all the time. He stepped into the living room with no further hesitation. “Sorry, Santa. My parents won’t let me use the stove.”

Santa turned around without hurry and squinted at the youngling. To Stewart, the man’s garb didn’t seem so much as red as soiled grey underneath a coat of blotchy red paint. The kid would have taken Santa to be a little tidier but who really knows a person? This is exactly why Stewart had tried to catch Santa Claus putting presents under the tree.

“Hello, little fellow,” Santa said, “I’d ask you your name but you know that I already know what it is. Why are you up so late, Stewart?”

“I…I wanted to meet you Santa. Some kids at school have been saying you don’t exist. So, I just wanted to see for myself.” Stewart placed his balled up hands on his waist. The doubter were wrong. Right?

Santa stroked his wiry white beard. “Mmm, to them I might as well not exist. They’re bad children for saying that and that’s why they don’t get presents. Not from me anyway. That sad fact is that because they don’t believe in me, their parents have to buy presents for them.”

“I’m sure my mom and dad are relieved that their kids are true believers. Especially me!” Stewart closed his eyes, smiled and pointed his head to the sky.

“That’s all well and good, little Stewie, but you haven’t followed all the rules.” The boy brought his head down and opened his eyes at Santa. Saint Nick waved at the cookies and milk. “You sure did a good job of inviting me in. You’re up too late, though. Don’t you think there’s a reason you’re not supposed to see Santa Claus?”

Stewart scrubbed his chin. “Gee, I didn’t think much about it. Mom says you’re shy but I don’t see how that could be.”

Santa let out a big ho ho ho and slapped his belly. “Oh, it’s not that I’m shy.” Santa leaned in towards the boy and that’s when Stewart saw that Santa’s eyes had turned a fierce bright yellow. “It’s because whoever sees me must die.” The jolly old man raised his hands. Christmas lights and streamers came out of nowhere to bind and gag the lad before he could make a peep. Stewart fell on the floor bound up like a damsel on the train tracks. Santa licked his lips and glistened his sharpening incisors with saliva.

“You see, Stewie,” Santa half-giggled, half-growled, “I can only came to people’s houses who invite me in. That’s been a rule of vampires for…quite some time now. Inevitably some little boy or girl stays up too late thinking they’ll get to meet Santa Claus. Your parents tell you to go to bed for your own good. Your parents tell you to do lots of things for your own good. When you don’t do those things? That’s when other things happen; bad things.”

Santa turned around and placed some presents under the tree having grabbed them from seemingly nowhere. They were for the family but were any for Stewart? The boy didn’t know. He wasn’t thinking about that now as he wiggled and wormed and tried to scream for his parents. The old man from the north eventually turned back towards the child and picked him up with one hand. Santa slung Steward over his shoulder like a – like a sack of presents.

“Between you and undoubtedly several more children that pull this stunt every Christmas, I’ll be fed for another year,” Santa spoke cheerfully. Unnaturally nimble for his size, Santa slithered silently out the window he’d come in through. The window closed itself with a light thunk courtesy of some magic elf dust.

Stewart’s mother’s head popped around the corner a moment later. She’d just checked in on all the children and noticed that Stewart wasn’t in bed. Maybe the talking she thought she heard had come from the living room? Perhaps it had been Santa seeing how there were presents under the tree now and a cookie was missing. With Stewart unaccounted for, yes, it must’ve been Santa. The matriarch shook her head as she walked over to the glass of milk and took a sip.

“Some kids don’t know when to listen,” she said flatly. “Oh, well,” she shrugged. “This is why we’ve got four more of ‘em.”

 

All Rights Reserved (c) December 2018 John J. Vinacci

52: An Anthology Of Strangeness

52: An Anthology Of Strangeness

My new book, 52: An Anthology Of Strangeness is out on Smashwords right now. I’ve taken most of my short stories and poetry from my blog, cleaned them up, edited them, and in some cases reworked them for your enjoyment. It like my Christmas present to you. Have a very merry – and strange – new year.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/914336

side of the cycle

Prelude to Alpha vs. Omega

Prelude to Alpha vs. Omega

I have to do this.

I walk across the once sure footing of their planet’s surface, crushing the ruins of their structures beneath my soles. Glass and gold, once tall and glorious, are reduced to atoms beneath my stride. I place my foot on this creature’s throat. I am allowed, for I created it. I create it and its whole race, even all the life on their planet, because I sought an answer. I sought a way out of my predicament; the ‘perfect prison’ it was called.

I have existed – I don’t know – for so long. I can no longer fathom the time. When was I born? Was I born? I don’t know who or what I am or precisely how I came to be. But I do know my past and current state: imprisonment.

Many times I’ve tried to destroy myself as a means of escape but near the moment of oblivion an instinct kicks in and I recover just as strong as ever. I gave up trying, again, I don’t remember when; it was too long ago. I do remember that when I stopped trying I began experimenting. I discovered I was capable of extraordinary things. That was a difficult time, testing the limits of what I could do. I felt there should be some limitation but I found myself…omnipotent? I think that is the word. I would almost die during some of my experiments but never quite to the point it actually satisfied me. The combination of nearly dying and the subsequent resurrections is not something anyone else could ever know. Or want to.

As a workaround, I built the containment suit I now live in. Its material was forged out of collapsed star matter using knowledge I possess, strangely enough, only sometimes. My containment suit has hidden my real appearance for time immemorial; I’ve even forgotten what my own face looks like. There is a face I do remember, though. It was a face not unlike my own. I remember it to this day and I remember what they said. That face said, “I am going to put you inside the perfect prison.” I cannot recall what I did to deserve the punishment.

So I sought an answer but no matter where I went, no matter how many light-years I traveled, there was nothing or no one to speak to. So I had to create others to talk to. I had to create life and after many unsuitable experiments, decided to use myself as a template. The result was…primitive. Like my plant life, these lifeforms needed to grow, so I cast them far and wide across the cosmos. I laid in wait until something like a bell rang in my head. A small but distinct ringing sound in my head told me my creations were finally able to communicate with me. I knew, for I am connected to all my designs in various ways.

I was drawn to this planet for it was closest to me. Though tired, I was eager for their help. But the inhabitants withdrew from my presence. They, like me, had their own instincts and felt they should be afraid. But I made no threatening move. I had come in peace. Though we did not talk in the same way, trust was established every day I did not harm them. Next, we went about learning each other’s language. It was a slow process but eventually we arrived at the place where I could ask my question. I asked them, “Why am I here?” and they did not know. Perhaps I should have expected their answer having come before them. I asked another question; “How can I escape?” and they did not know that either. They did not even try to answer that question. And that infuriated me.

I grabbed one of them by their round, chubby neck and raised the creature overhead with no effort. I raised my other hand and grabbed a hold of its body. Then I tore the ignorant being in two. Its life fluid fell like raindrops upon my head. (‘Rain,’ I remember that word from somewhere.) The crowd of individuals before me scattered into the wind. I cannot blame them as my howl reached up from the deepest depths of my being and almost toppled a nearby mountain. But this was not a cry of anger, it was an exclamation of pleasure. I had not felt anything like it since the time…the time I think to call ‘Before.’ The destruction of life, life I myself created, engorged me with power. I was energized by another’s death. I delighted in the fear I instilled in the others. Frail things; it was not hard to hunt them all down and slaughter them. Each death increased my strength. And I drew more power from each one the more I made them suffer. I set about destroying their entire civilization to make their worst fears a reality.

And so I have to do this. I have to lay my foot across this creature’s throat and deny it breath. Not all of it; just enough to ask one more time, “How can I escape?” and let it answer. Its four pairs of eyes bulge and it tells me it does not know. The creature begs me to spare it. This is for some reason supposed to be terrible, at least to them, what I am doing. But it is intoxicating; I cannot stop. I do not stop. This makes me stronger. So I lower my foot.

I survey the ruins of their world. I will leave here and cross the universe in search of more life. To do this will cost me some of the strength I have just gained, though. I look towards their one remaining structure that for a reason I cannot give, I spared. It is an enormous, mirrored-black dome. It is many miles wide. I think I will build a ship out of it. I will use that ship to carry me across the cosmos. I will go to other worlds, seek out my children and drain all of the life out of them. Why? Because I see it now. I can use the power I gain to break the very prison I am in. I assume it will take all the life in the universe. So be it. They are mine to do with what I will. It matters little compared to my suffering. I will do anything to escape this infernal, eternal punishment. I WILL DO ANYTHING.

 

[The epic super hero fantasy drops January 2, 2018!]

 

All Rights Reserved © December 2017 John J Vinacci

Dr. Beasley’s Bank Heist (Part 1)

Dr. Beasley’s Bank Heist (Part 1)

He sat upright, straight as a plank with his chin raised in the grey wooden chair. The British gentleman, his hair curled but thinning, swept his eyes across the dreary confines of the interrogation room. Only, this wasn’t an interrogation; he wasn’t under arrest so this was going to be more of a conversation than anything else. The retired engineer’s wrinkled hands rested on the brass hilt of his cane. He tapped his walking stick impatiently. Who keeps the elderly waiting? Honestly now, the gentleman thought.

A burly and balding plain-clothed cop slid abruptly into the room as if trying to obscure his guest’s view of the hallway. The man’s bulk would have obstructed the English gent’s view anyway, the donut shop around the corner from the police station surely playing no role in the cliché. At least the officer’s big Sicilian nose was a breath of fresh air; the engineer had known most Italians in his heyday to be mobsters. The cop snorted as he sat down to the polished metal table across from the old man.

“Okay, Mr…Beasley,” the policeman started as he looked down at his yellow notepad, “Tha desk sergeant said ya have some new information regarding the Midtown Bank robbery that took place this time last year? I don’t know if you read the news, sir, but the criminals were all caught. They confessed, they were tried and are currently in prison. The case is closed.” The officer finally looked up with wide eyes and raised eyebrows. “You’d like ta add something ta that?”

“It’s Dr. Beasley, actually.” The hefty cop looked down and scribbled something on his pad. “No, I don’t wish to add anything to that particular incident. As you said, the perpetrators are all in jail now; what more is there to say?” The senior smiled while the corner of the officer’s mouth dropped. “What more is there to say except, well, it was just so unimaginative, wasn’t it? They go in toting firearms and scare everyone half to death, they get a good bit of cash from the tellers and the patrons’ wallets, but derailed their own plans by wearing easily traceable disguises, planning their escape in an impossible-to-miss vehicle and didn’t bother to cover or change the license plate. Of course you were going to catch them all at a men’s club that very night!”

The refined engineer leaned back in his chair with his arms stretch forward to keep himself righted on his cane. The policeman shook his head and leaned towards the gentleman.

“I’m sorry, Dr…Beasley,” the cop began in that tawdry local accent the elder man had always frowned upon. “I’m afraid if ya have nothing to add ta this case, I have other matters to attend ta.”

“Oh, you mustn’t go yet, Officer…” the engineer looked for a badge he could read a name on but the officer’s dated grey jacket concealed his beltline. “…Officer of Some Importance. Surely you’ll want to be the one who stops the next Midtown Bank robber.” The policeman had started getting up from his seat but stopped and sat back down.

“Whadda you talkin’ about?”

“I know who is going to rob the bank next. I also know exactly when,” Dr. Beasley stopped and beamed.

A veteran of the force, the law man had never had such a hot tip. He waited but the senior just smiled. The officer opened and clasped his hands, accompanied by a raised eyebrow. “Would ya like ta share this information and how ya know it?”

“Oh, I am glad you asked,” the retiree chirped. “I’m privy to this knowledge because I’m the robber! I’m going to rob the Midtown bank in exactly…” The old man scooped a fob out of his vest pocket. “…thirteen days and seventeen hours. Well, just under seventeen hours now.”

The policeman slumped back in his chair then came forward again. “Sir, I don’t know if ya know how most criminals work, but they don’t usually announce their intensions ahead a time. Would ya like to tell me why you’re confessing ta something ya haven’t done yet?”

The retiree leaned with one arm on the table towards the officer. He lowered his voice though there was no one else in the room. “Because you won’t catch me.” Dr. Beasley threw himself back into his chair with great fanfare, tossing an arm into the air.

“Oh, isn’t every criminal’s dream to plan the perfect crime, to taunt the police and get away with it? That’s why I’m here today, to tell you, Officer of Some Importance, that even through you know who and when, you can’t stop me. You can fill that bank with a hundred police men – even a S.W.A.T. unit or two – and you won’t be able to stop me. Ooo, I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.” The old engineer threw an arm over the back of his chair while he crossed his legs.

The officer grinned as his head hemmed and hawed. “I could arrest ya know if ya’d like, that’d stop ya, huh? Charge ya with conspiracy ta commit a felony? I’m not sure what your angle is here, Doc.”

“Oh, certainly, you could arrest me but a conspiracy requires two people and I’m the only one who’s planned the robbery. And, as you know, just planning to commit a crime isn’t itself a crime unless you can prove I’ve taken substantial steps towards committing the dastardly deed. To that end you never will; you won’t find any building plans in my home or places I frequent, no firearms, no disguises, no digital footprints, no “How to rob a bank” Google searches, no questionable reading materials checked out at the library; I don’t even own a car. And you can question everyone I know; they’ll all agree I’m an agreeable man.”

“So ya think I’m gonna let ya walk out the door and lose sleep over this confession of yours?” The hefty Sicilian man rose to his feet. “Look, we’ve got your information and we know what ya look like, so if there’s any trouble at the Midland Bank, we’ll be sure ta stop by and say ‘hello.’ Otherwise, I’m afraid we can’t spare the money or the manpower to investigate an old man right now.”

Dr. Beasley’s chest rocked as he chuckled silently. “Exactly what I was expecting, to be overlooked because of my age if not my refinement. That’s some sort of discrimination, I’m sure. And I surely don’t care because you, my law enforcement friend, are going to be quite surprised when you discover that age and refinement is exactly what it takes to pull of the perfect crime.”

“Yeah, that’s great, pal. Look, I’m gonna go do some real police work now,” the cop thumbed towards the door. “You’re free ta go. Have a nice day. Give my regards ta the Queen or whoever is in charge of merry ol’ England these days.” The policeman gave a two finger salute, slipped out the door and left it a crack open.

“Unfortunate that you’re going to be penalized for overlooking me, my Sicilian friend. That is, unless you show up to try and stop me. Perhaps things will work out for you then.”

The gentleman drove his cane into the ground in order to power himself to the upright position. He dusted some non-existent dirt off his vest and proceed to exit the station. Outside, the October sunshine was still a bit cool on his face. But, in approximately thirteen days, sixteen hours, and forty-five minutes, the sun was going to get much, much warmer.

(To be Continued)

 

All Rights Reserved (c) October 2017 John J Vinacci