Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Fool Me Once


Larelle sank into her armchair by the fire, cosy and pleasantly drowsy. The kids had been a riot today, and she was smashed. Thank heavens it was Friday.
A knock sounded at her apartment door and, staring into the flickering blue-orange flames and glowing embers, Larelle called out, Come in!
The door creaked open. Larelle waited for Jasons footsteps, but they didnt come.
Youre early, she said, pivoting around to the door, thoughts full of languid disappointment that she hadnt had time to change.
Her heart skipped then double-pounded. The figure smiling toothily on the near side of the threshold was not Jason. Partially because Jason wasnt six foot three with long, dark hair and muscles like something out of a firemens calendar—but mainly because Jason couldnt leer at her with jet black eyes and pointed, gleaming fangs.
Actually, the vampire-apparent said, I believe Im exactly on time. I do like to eat dessert before my mains. Bad habit, I know.
Better for the digestive system, Larelle said reflexively; her Year 3 students had been studying the digestive system recently. Not that shed told them the bit about dessert first, of course. She wanted permanency, not a civil lawsuit from parents. And cant you only enter houses when invited?
True, said the vampire, and he licked his fangs. And it was so sweet of you to invite me in. He rubbed his hands gleefully. Shall we begin?
Larelles chest constricted as the fatal words played through her mind: Come in.
Idiot. Shed even had a peephole installed in the door right after that werewolf had attacked old Mrs Franklin, but did she ever bother to use it? No. Too much effort.
Well, you know what else is a lot of effort? she asked herself scathingly as she stood and paced towards the vampire. Stalking predators. Next time, just use the bloody peephole. She grinned toothily, revealing the flecks of iron in her teeth—fillings shed had done specially.
The vamps cocksure smile slipped a little before he covered it with a grin even wider than hers—too wide, she thought. Hes covering.
Oh yes, Larelle said, raising the iron-and-hardwood-and-silver poker from the fireplace—the ultimate multipurpose weapon against the supernatural. Do lets begin.
The vampire lunged, but Larelle had done more than the basic training required by the government. She went down on one knee. He grabbed over her head. She stabbed upwards with the poker. He died a fast, gurgling death.
She hoped it was painful.
Someone knocked at the door. Probably this was now Jason, but Larelle pulled the poker from the vampires chest with a wet schlurp, wiped it off on his shirt, and headed to the peephole. She wasnt making that mistake again.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

THE POLAR TERROR (Part 1) by Liana Brooks



Andrea scrolled through tumblr - hashtag supervillains - looking for a cosplayer who would fit the bill.
It was heartbreaking working with the Dreams Come True program at the pediatric hospital. Sure, it was wonderful when she could help the kids make a dream come true, but sometimes... sometimes it was all too much. Everett Jones was a special one. His parents had been in a car wreck when he was four months old and an improperly fitted car seat had thrown him from the wreckage. It had saved his life - the semitruck behind their car hadn't been able to stop in time - but it had left Everett broken and orphaned. He'd been in and out of the foster care system until his aunt graduated from college.
At seven, he should have been okay. But a little cold turned into bronchitis, and then they'd found abnormal growths along the bone. And then the doctors at Merriton Pediatric Hospital, the premiere children's hospital in the Yukon Territory, found out that the donor from Everett's last surgery hadn't been screened correctly. The bone cancer was sinking in.
Everett was seven and suicidal. His adoptive mother was a wreck.
Andrea wanted to do nothing more than make sure Everett had one dream come true. She'd gone to his hospital room with binders, folders, and brochures. Disneyland. Cruises. The Stanley Cup playoffs. She would make sure he got what he wanted.
And then Everett asked for the absolutely impossible: a day with The Polar Terror, the only supervillain north of the 66th Parallel.
She glanced at the clock. It was already two in the morning and she had her first meeting tomorrow at eight. Tanya Nothstien from the third floor (burn victims) was meeting with the Whitehorse Huskies and going to three days of hockey training camp, a reward for finally hitting her physical therapy milestone and being able to walk. Tanya had a long road ahead, and at least one more surgery to repair her arm, but she could be a hockey goalie as she was.
The Huskies had even invited her to come play goalie at one of their home games once the season was in full swing.
In the afternoon she had to meet with the Jenwa family. Three-year-old Doug was terminal. Dreams Come True was getting the whole family together -grandmas and grandpas too - and flying them to Hawaii to celebrate what was expected to be Doug's last birthday.
Unthinking, she grabbed a kleenex and wiped away the tears.
Tomorrow was going to be rough. She needed sleep. But...
Blurry-eyed, she hit the pencil icon on Tumblr and wrote a post...

WANTED: The Polar Terror for a day of fun and crime with 7yo Everett at the Merriton Pediatric Hospital.
Everett is a sweet boy who has had a bad run of luck. He wants to conquer the mountains with his favorite villains, and maybe rob a candy store.
If you're available, please email me at: andrea@canada.dreamcometrue.org

She posted it with a sigh and turned the computer off. Yukon Territory was not a geek hub with ten thousand cosplayers. But, who knew? Maybe she'd get lucky and some rich American who could afford his own batmobile would feel like dressing up in a traditional Yukon furs and flying up here.


***


The next day didn't dawn so much as slink in well after Andrea was at work. Winter mornings were an illusion more than a reality. By ten the hospital was sending home non-essential staff because of an incoming blizzard. Andrea shut her door, turned off the overhead light, and worked with the street light outside.
No one could send her home if they didn't know she was there.
Lunch was a bag of pretzels nabbed from the vending machine while the hospital director dealt with a car collision in the parking garage. And at two she went up to see Doug's family.
His room was filled with red toy robots, red balloons, and red stuff dog that was bigger than he was. Andrea confirmed all the details, checked with Dr. Harper to ensure that Doug was up for travel, checked with Doug's nursing staff to make sure all their paperwork was in order, and - worn out and ready to cry - she limped back to her office.
It was cold.
Bone-freezing cold.
She was Yukon born and bred, but negative 10 Celsius with snow swirling around her desk as she opened the door was too much. Her lips puckered as she sucked in a sob.
Someone - some utter bastard - had broken her window.
She closed her office door quietly behind her. There was no need to be rude, she told herself. There was cardboard behind the filing cabinet and the Good Lord had given her duct tape and common sense, more than enough to fix anything, as her grand-mère had always said.
Andrea turned to reach for the down coat hanging on the back of her door and screamed. There was a person standing there.
A huge, fur-covered aberration with a spear in one hand a rabbit-fur pouch at his hip. All the emotions of the day came pouring out in an ear-piercing wail that was swallowed by the howling wind outside. The bowl of tiny, polished rocks on her desk jumped and rattled as the despair and rage rolled off her. And then it finally stopped; her throat was swelling and scratching.
The snow stopped swirling and her window slammed shut.
"Sorry about the entrance?" the menace offered.
Andrea stalked behind her desk, sat down in her creaking, broken chair in a huff, and grabbed a kleenex. Then a throat lozenge. She glared at the face hidden by a black balaclava.
"You, um, asked for me on Tumblr." The voice was deep. Definitely masculine. Almost apologetic.
She opened the bottom drawer and pulled out a fresh bottle of water. It was against her policy to drink bottled water unless the pipes froze, but this was an emergency.  Sometimes her carbon footprint had to take a back seat to panic.
The person shuffled and took a seat in the stiff-backed client chair.
After several minutes, and half a bottle of water, Andrea sighed. "All right. That didn't go well. I try not to scream at anyone." She glanced at the window. "Who are you? And why is there snow melting on my desk?"
"It can't stay snow in this heat."
Andrea glared. "What I meant is; why didn't you come through the front door? We have a receptionist."
"They went home early. A security guard told me everyone had, so I came up here to leave a note."
"Through my window."
The masked face turned to consider the now-unbroken glass. "Eh... it made sense at the time?" He lifted his shoulder and dropped it. There was a slight twang in his voice. Almost...
"Are you from Newfoundland?"
He turned faster than she expected. "How'd you- "
"It's the accent. I dated a guy from there once. It didn't end well." Andrea realized her hand had tightened around her limited-edition Glamdring letter opener and dropped it. She wasn't going to risk getting blood on a collectible. At least, not a limited-edition one. She had a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey stick, signed by Leo Komarov.
She could part with that.
"You did want to see me, didn't you?" With gloved hands the man reached into his rabbit-skin pouch and pulled out a folded piece of paper that he held out for her.
Andrea stood just enough to reach out and take the paper between her pointer and middle finger, then plopped back down. Glaring at him, she unfolded it with great ceremony. It was a screen capture of her desperate Tumblr post.
She shut her eyes.
This was the problem with the geek community, when cosplayers got into something, they really went all out. She was willing to bet that later - much later - when she wasn't so worn out she'd find the string this guy had used to tug the window closed so it looked like he was using the wind.
"You don't look happy," the man said. "I thought, children's hospital and all, it might be time sensitive. And I was in town."
"Of course." Andrea closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "I'm sorry. I've had a very... rough... afternoon. I was expecting an email. There's paperwork to be done. If you cosplay for a living you can use your time as a tax write-off. We also have security checks and things like that."
"I won't pass those," he said. "I'm a supervillain. An ecoterrorist or a planet defender, depends on who you ask."
Andrea opened one eye to glare at him. "I appreciate your dedication to the role, mister...?" She held out her hand as invitation for him to fill in the blank.
"Terror. Polar Terror. Rhymes with bear."
She looked at her water bottle and willed it to become a Chilkoot Larger from Yukon Brewing Co. The color didn't blush the deep amber of ripening wheat, so she figured she still hadn't come up with the ability to spontaneously make alcohol appear.
"Do you want colder water?" the man asked.
"No. I want beer, but I can't have it during working hours and usually only drink on my birthday, Canada Day, and New Year's Eve. This is not a job where I need more depressants in my life."
"I thought bringing good cheer to kids would make for happy work."
Her sour smile was enough to make him lean back. "It's great when you actually can help. Some of our kids will recover. But they don't all walk out of here healthy and alive." She lifted her shoulder and dropped it. "This afternoon I had to talk to a family whose little boy probably won't live to see four."
"Oh." His head tilted to the floor. "Is that Everett?"
"No. Everett is seven, he was in a car accident and had several surgeries to fix broken bones. One the bone grafts left him with bone cancer."
There was a moment of silence, a place for grief.
"His parents must be devastated," the man said, quietly.
"They're dead." Andrea hated how callous she sounded, but she was out of emotion. "His aunt has custody. She's a very nice woman, but totally overwhelmed. Her sister, Everett's mother, was the only family she had. She's been working hard to raise Everett and be supportive through everything, but she really doesn't have anyone else to lean on." Andrea picked up Glamdring and spun the miniature sword around. "They have your comic books."
The man nodded. "All the proceeds go to college funds for kids from the Yukon Territory, you know. I don't get paid for that. I didn't license it either, but..." He shrugged, and Andrea thought she heard a hint of a smile when he said, "I had a word with the duo drawing the comics and we worked things out."
"They donate all the money, and you don't kill them with your freeze-ray?"
"See, the way you say it sounds so mean. And it's not a freeze-ray. That's something only fake supervillains need. I have superpowers."

PART 2 (coming soon!) 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Stillborn

A dark shape moved among the trees, nearly indistinguishable from ebony night. The wraith-figure stepped cautiously closer to the edge of the forest, glancing once up at the sky. The new moon teased the stars into shining but, despite their brightness, the could not remove the shadow that kept him hidden. He progressed with an almost sinuous grace, nauseating to watch, halting at last beneath the great pine near the house at the edge of the village. Searching each window with milky eyes, he found candlelight, the flame illuminating a young woman. He whispered her name, an exhalation of the longing of the universe. An agony of despair blazed within him. It nearly made him want to rip his heart out; but that would not cease the pain. Such things could kill him no longer. Immortality was not his, yet not a form any would envy.

What of his actions deserved this? Few memories remained of his transformation. The afternoon had been warm and summery as he strode through the forest towards her house. His hands had fiddled with the ring in his pocket; no one alive could have been as anxious as he.

Suddenly, there had come a shrieking cackle, the glimpse of a witch-hag’s face. Fire had blazed, leaving behind this wraith-body shivering on the ground. The witch had vanished, but her voice remained.

“Wish you to be human again? The curse will lift only if you kill she that you love. Unless you wish to live forever alone, for none will accept you now!”

The choice, however sickening, had seemed clear. Yet, now his heart screamed in denial. In stories, the hero could save himself and his love. Here, there was no such option.

A moan sounded, the embodiment of that one unanswerable question:

“Why?”

Dark storm-clouds reflected his despairing thoughts. A single flash rent a tall birch nearby. Lightning: that near-divine power, able to rip soul from body in defiance of immortality. The hairs at the back of his neck rose, warning of imminent proximity. He remained still.

“You say you love me,” his beloved had teased. “How will you prove it?”

She must never know.