Raccowrimo

Mighty Medley #12

"December 2014, by Messrs. Alambre, Brenton, Perron & Russell" by Tom Russell

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----EIGHTFOLD PROUDLY PRESENTS----
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---- ISSUE # 12 DECEMBER 2014 ----
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----WIL ALAMBRE-SAXON BRENTON----
----ANDREW PERRON-TOM RUSSELL----
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---- Editor, Tom Russell ----
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CONTENTS OF THIS ISSUE

"Buddy Cops", by Andrew Perron
Concerning fratricide and other murders in exotic locales; crimes
solved, and criminals punished. Voodoo and spirits. One woman's duty,
and the sweet sadness of her smile.

"Seven 'Gainst Thebes" Part 11, by Tom Russell
In which your humble servant proffers the closest thing you'll get to
an apology, and Silke's posse deals with the aftermath of their
skirmish with Jack Peake. One kindness is requested, and one promise
made.

"The Last Ghost", by Wil Alambre
In anticipation of the coming holidays, and in keeping with tradition,
Mr. Alambre presents a ghost story. Look, and see.

"Beyond the Fields" Part 12, by Saxon Brenton
An exhausted necromancer eats a sandwich. Meditations on control of
the arcanosphere, zombies in the hinterlands, and footprints in the
snow. As ever with magic, the effects can be unpredictable and
unintended.

"The Bad Year Blimp", by Tom Russell
A story in answer to the current High Concept Challenge- a first for
the medley. Featuring the secret origin of the Human Zeppelin.


BUT FIRST: A NOTE FROM YE HUMBLE EDITOR

This installment of monthly goodness has a sort of accidental theme
for four of our five stories. See if you can suss it out.


AND ALSO: THE SOLUTION TO LAST MONTH'S "Froggy Problem"

The esteemed Mr. Perron provided the correct solution.
   Froggy is not a member of the Villains Quartet as Monika suspects.
Both of the violins are red-headed (clue 5) while his hair is black
(7). He does not play the viola (15). The cellist smiles from
embarrassment (12), but Froggy never smiles (7). Which eliminates all
four members. Neither does Froggy philander (14), for the same reason.
So how did a share of the quartet's heist, and some incriminating red
hair, end up in his sock drawer (10)- especially as he hasn't been
changing his socks (13)?
   The answer of course is that unbeknownst to Monika, she is one of
the Violins, though only while she is sleeping. Astral projection?
Sleepwalker? The particulars we don't know. What we do know is that
she has red-hair because Froggy only dates red-heads (3); we know that
the only female member of the quartet is one of the red-headed violins
(5, 11). The quartet only performs heists when one of them is asleep
(4), yet all four of them are present (1). Monika only sleeps on
Tuesday nights (6, 8), and the Monster Diamond was stolen on a Tuesday
(9). It should be noted that our ninth clue is "The famous Monster
Diamond was stolen Tuesday night by the Quartet", and *not* "Only the
famous Monster Diamond was stolen"; i.e., the Monster Diamond was
itself one-fourth of the heist.


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----- BUDDY COPS ------
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---Copyright 2014 Andrew Perron----
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The man reached out for his prize - but it wasn't there. He flicked
the light switch and stared at the empty nook in front of him.
   She stepped out of the shadows. "Missing something?"
   It would've made a funny story. A retired science teacher comes
into money, heads out to see the world, and runs into a murder almost
immediately. First there were the brothers on the cruise ship, then
the heiress in Bermuda, then that nasty business with the land
developers in inner-city Chicago.
   He spun. "Oh, it's you! I- I wasn't..."
   After that, it never really stopped. She would go out and
inevitably cross paths with some terrible crime. Houston, Tokyo, Los
Angeles, Buenos Aires, even a couple of times back home, she'd ended
up face-to-face with murder.
   "But you were." She smiled, with a bit of sadness. "You came back
to clean up the last, crucial piece of evidence before the maintenance
people arrived."
   It bothered her, a little. She just kept running into horrible
people who saw killing other people as a way to get what they wanted.
Even if she caught them in the end- Was she causing this somehow?
Some sort of bad luck charm?
    "That- that's silly, there's no way I could've done it-"
   But she'd pushed past that idea - well, she had after that
experience with the "voodoo cursebreaker" who'd turned out to be a
shockingly racist caricature in blackface. It was what it was, and if
this was what her life was now, she would live it.
   "Yes, there was. I admit, the bit with the train schedules and the
text message was clever - almost had me fooled. But tell me..." She
was about to take his hands, then pulled back, expression beseeching.
"Why did you kill your own brother?"
   And she did live it. And eventually, in the fullness of time, she'd
died. And that was how she found out the rest of the story.
   He turned away, half in shadow. "I had to kill him - can't you see?
He would have held back Vanessa for the rest of her life. Now she's
free."
   It seemed that there were certain spirits with certain duties; how
these duties were assigned was difficult to put into human words, but
it was no matter. One such spirit had lost its connection to humanity,
and had attached to her - a passenger, nudging her along towards those
who would die unjustly.
   "I don't think she'll feel very free, with one brother dead and
another in jail," she murmured.
   She would have preferred to be asked, but it was no bother, not
really. Not compared to being able to help people - including that
selfsame spirit. Now they were bonded together, walking the same
steps, continuing the work.
   "Well then," he said, hand sliding into his jacket. "I guess I'll
just have to keep it at half that." He whipped out a pistol and fired
twice at point-blank range.
   She gave him that same sad smile. "I'm sorry, Daniel." Then she
stepped out of the way as the cops came streaming in.
   "What- what *is* that woman!?" shouted Daniel as he was cuffed.
   "Woman?" said the arresting officer. "Kid, only one in here is you.
Got an anonymous tip in time to hear you confessin' to an empty room."
   "...what?"
   She nodded politely. A shroud of pure mist rose up, and she was gone.


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----SEVEN 'GAINST THEBES-----
------Part 11------
---Copyright 2014 Tom Russell----
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Now, a ways back I said that "Silke, his boy, his posse, and his
employer" had exited the hotel, and it should now be plain that I
weren't precisely truthful regarding the last party. I suppose what I
should've said was "Silke, his boy, and his posse, including of course
the injun Skin of Snake, who was presently disguised as their
employer, who was still in the hotel". But that would take peering
deeper than what can be seen on the surface, and my druthers is not to
stray from that. For every story has a time and a place, and Silke's
story, like the man and his time, was not particularly given to
introspection.
   But even if you grant me that, you might yet take issue with my
phraseology, for I should have said something like "Silke, his boy,
and his posse, except for the shape-changer Skin of Snake who was
conspicuously absent, but Mr. Strife was with them", only more
refined-like. And if that's your opinion, you're welcome to it, only
you probably call a windhover a kestrel.

The injun stood up, as naked as the day he was born. Adams looked at
him, disconcerted-like, and said, "Now, I know I saw two bullets go
into you, red and wet as Christmas."
   "They did," said Skin of Snake. He pointed at his discarded
disguise. Adams bent down next to it, and quickly found the two holes,
big enough to put his fingers through. Both were wet with blood.
Tentatively, he reached up and poked at Skin of Snake with the same
fingers in the same spots, finding them solid and bloodless.
   "Neat trick, that," Adams mumbled before turning his attention to
Three-Nine. "That looks like it must hurt," he said, gingerly touching
the grip of the knife stuck in his head with his prime finger. "Do
it?"
   "I do not have any pain receptors," reported Three-Nine. "And my
brain is contained elsewhere in my body; my head is largely
ornamental, to help put humans at ease."
   "Is that what it does," said Adams; it weren't a question.
   There was a low little choke of a groan behind him, and Adams knew
it was Hank.

Silke and Adams found a doctor, and hurried Hank to his table. They
explained about Peake, and how the knife passed through Hank's
invulnerable skin without ever touching it, and how it sliced up his
innards while it was white-hot. The doctor gave Hank some whisky for
the pain. Weren't much else he could do.
   "Afraid I'm not long for this world, boys," said Hank.
   Silke didn't contradict him. Adams hadn't known Silke for very
long, but Silke was the sort of man where everything you ever would
know about him in your lifetime you learned in the first few minutes.
So Adams knew Silke well enough to know he weren't the sort to say
something comforting if he also knew it be a lie. But Adams was not
that sort of man, and so he said, "You don't know that, Hank. You're
tougher than most. Bet you'll pull through this."
   Hank laughed; laughing hurt. "I don't want you to watch me die.
Wasting time. Celine's out there, and she needs saving. Do me that
kindness, will you? And tell her... hell, you know what to tell her, I
guess."
   "It'll be done," said Silke. He rose abruptly, and he and Adams
went into the next room where the others were waiting. Silke looked at
them, his boy especially, then took off his hat.
   Adams did the same. "Handsomest man I ever saw."
   They lingered there for a spell, and then they was gone.


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-----The Last Ghost-----
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---Copyright 2014 Wil Alambre----
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I awake with a start and a fright in my heart. Where was I? I wear my
bedclothes but is not my house. I'm somewhere outside, somewhere
unfamiliar. Cold and dark and damp. This is a dreadful place, I can
sense it.
   A distance away, two hazy figures move away from me, disappearing
into a thick night fog. I call out in desperation, "Help! Please, good
sirs, I am lost!" Only one pauses to look back. When I plead a second
time, the figure comes back at no hurried pace.
   "Do you not recognize this place?" the tall figure ask me from
under a black hood. "Is it truly unfamiliar to you?" A thin gaunt
finger points, and just at that moment, moonlight breaks through the
terrible fog to reveal a sad neglected headstone.
   "Oh no! It is my own grave!" I exclaim, backing away from the
sight. "Then... are you the third ghost my old partner warned me of?
I've already been tormented by the regrets of my youth and the
loneliness of my present. Are you here to show me what the future
holds, dark spirit?"
   "The future? No, I am much crueler than that." Thin hands pull down
the hood, revealing not a face, but a horrifying mass of eyes, all
rolling and piled together, balancing upon exposed larynx and spine.
"I am the Ghost Of Christmas Possible. I visit an infinite number of
potential truths. I reveal all a man's probably paths, everywhere his
actions take him.
   "Here, let us visit some..." The ghost grabs my wrist in an icy
hold. The fog lurches, foreign and animal. I scream as the sky and
ground thin and disappear.
   "Look and see," the ghost says. The fog parts, and we are in my
home. Men are packing away my furniture. Paintings of my ancestors are
being taken down. Rugs are rolled up and carried away. And I am there,
slumped and defeated, signing so many papers.
   "Look and see," the ghost says. The fog parts again, and we are
outside my place of business. The windows shattered, the stone
scarred, the timbers blackened. The building, long taken by a fire,
and there I am, out front, with more than a thin cup and the charity
of passersby.
   "Look and see," the ghost says. The fog parts once more, and I see
myself lying in small dark cell. Ice has formed on the stone walls.
The watery soup has frozen in the plate. The thin blanket will not be
enough for the chilly evening.
   "No more! No more!" I tear away from the cold grip. Once free, the
tendrils of fog recede. The hazy scenes of my alternate selves
disappear. We're again at the lonely field by my abandoned grave. Only
now, the ground is freshly dug, and my coffin lay exposed, new and
open. "And here! And now this vision! The worst of them all."
   The ghost says nothing. It pulls up its hood and turns to leave.
   I fall to my knees and cling to the edge of ghost's ragged cloak.
"Please, oh spirit, tell me there is still hope. Tell me there is
still time to change."
   "Yes. Yes, of course there is time. I know of a man who will wake
on Christmas morning, full of hope and new humour. A man who has
witnessed parallel possibilities, who knows only a heart of warmth and
cheer will keep him off those terrible paths. He will learn to be
generous, and he will live a fuller life than he has ever known.
   "But he is not you."
   The cloak falls out of my hand. The ghost moves away, into the fog,
and is gone.


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-----BEYOND THE FIELDS-----
------Part 12------
---Copyright 2014 Saxon Brenton----
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   Marcus Oustler walked up the hill, away from where the Nindenheim
death camp was burning.  In his wake minor air elementals gently puffed
the snow into the air, wiping away his footprints.
   Under normal circumstances he shouldn't have needed to cover his
tracks.  Under normal circumstances he should not be leaving tracks at
all.  Under normal circumstances he should have simply wrapped himself
in shadows and moved on to his final destination.  But he was tired.
   The necromancer paused and wiped his forehead.  He must have
overexerted himself more than he had realised.  That would be easy to
do now.  Marcus glanced back towards Nindenheim.  There was some
commotion back there, but there did not seem to be any pursuit.  Given
the amount of devastation that he had wrought, he hoped that any
pursuit would be seriously delayed - but he could not rely on that.
Nevertheless he guessed that he had time enough for few minutes rest
and a quick bite to eat.
   Marcus brushed clean the trunk of a fallen tree before sitting
down and fishing out one of the remaining roast beef sandwiches that he
had cobbled together from Yuletide leftovers.  He needed to restore his
magickal strength, and with the three death camps destroyed by Marcus's
own hand the amount of power available from the environment would be
falling like a stone dropped into a river.  Without that resource
available to him he would need to rely on his own physical vitality,
which meant rest and a hearty meal involving red meat.  Unfortunately,
'rest' more properly meant at least half a week of genuine rest - not
a few minutes snatched here and there amidst an ongoing campaign to
wrest control of the world's arcanosphere and redirect it towards
Marcus's ends.
   As the man ate he wondered - not for the first time - if the
reduced levels of ambient magic would cause the ravening hordes of
zombies in eastern Europe to become dormant.  He hoped so, but without
being able to test some of his ideas he had no way to know if he was
overlooking some esoteric facet of the problem.  Ah well, he had more
to worry about than whether or not there were zombie apocalypses off
in the hinterlands.  If they did go dormant, that would be a fortunate
side effect.
   Marcus finished his meal with a swig of water from a canteen, then
stood up.  He guessed that it was about time that he should be leaving
when he heard the sound of voices.  Voices coming from behind him, from
the uphill direction away from Nindenheim.  For a tense second he
wondered if a camp patrol had somehow circled through the forest along
the top of the ridgeline, and he wrapped himself in shadows in
preparation to depart as quickly as possible.  He really had no time to
get bogged down in pointless fights - no matter how much he enjoyed the
gunfights in the Zane Grey western novels.
   Two women walked downhill towards the open area where Marcus had
been sitting.  He did not recognise them.  They did not seem to be aware
of Marcus's presence, instead being focused on the remains of the death
camp.  But by the same token there was something about them which was
trying to cause his attention to shy away from them.  Interesting.
They seemed to have surrounded themselves in a form of invisibility
that worked quite differently to the method that he was using.  Marcus
briefly wondered if they were witchmothers who worked at the camp, but
the type of interest that they displayed was all wrong for that to be
the case.
   "So what do you make of that?" asked Deidre, nodding her head
towards the complex down in the valley where the huge fireball still
raged, so large that its size could not possibly be fueled by the
buildings that it was destroying.  "That fire looks obviously unnatural,
but even so, the size of that camp seems a bit too small to be a work
camp..."
   "It's an extermination camp," Joan answered clinically.  "I can
taste the death in the air."
   "Hmmm," said Deidre thoughtfully.  She looked around the valley
and back at the surrounding ridge line.  "I suppose we shouldn't be
surprised.  Historically there weren't any death camps within Germany
itself," and here she waggled the newspaper that she had picked up
earlier as an indicator of how they knew that they were, in fact, in
Germany, "But we aren't in a sensible version of history, what with the
dinosaurs and a lack of Hitler as Fuhrer..."  Then Deidre said in an
undertone, "Joan, don't react and get ready to defend yourself."
   "What is it?" the angel asked, sotto voce.
   "We aren't leaving any footprints."
   Marcus silently cursed himself.  In his exhaustion he had forgotten
about the air elementals that he had set about to erase his trail, and
then when these two had walked close enough the elementals set about
wiping their tracks as well.  Enough delays then.  Marcus stepped even
deeper into shadow, not just to hide but to depart this place entirely.
And then he was gone.


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-----THE BAD YEAR BLIMP-----
----a high concept adventure----
---Copyright 2014 Tom Russell----
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It's not so much that Max Lang, the world-famous Human Zeppelin,
forgot their anniversary. It's more that the day somehow snuck up on
him while he was staring at it the whole time. One month from now,
have to get her a present; three more weeks, need to get her a
present; a week, how is it only a week, I really need to get her a
present.
   She's always been difficult to shop for. "What do you want?" Max
would ask, and Julie would shrug, I don't know, I don't need anything,
I have you, you're enough, you're more than enough. He knows better
than that, though. So every year he's had to use his little gray cells
("very little, very gray", Julie would tease) to come up with the
right gift, and every year he falls short. Oh, it was never the wrong
gift, exactly. Julie was always appreciative. But at the same time,
there was a sadness there, an air of gentle if forgiving
disappointment.
   One night a few years back- one of those long nights following an
argument, where they talked in strained, quiet, aching whispers-
Julie had said, "I know you but you don't know me. After all these
years, it feels like you still don't know me. And sometimes I wonder
if you ever will."
   But Julie knows him. Every day, she makes him tremendously,
tap-dancingly happy. And every day, he gives her a new reason to
wonder why she puts up with him. He was clumsy and embarrassing even
before he got his powers. Since then (he "jokes"), he's stepped up his
bungling game to a whole new level.
   This year he really outdid himself. He started a war with an alien
civilization (made them pariahs), got their super-team disbanded, lost
their savings. And now he has to buy her a gift that says "I do love
you and after ten years I do know who you are and I'm not just some
big clumsy balloon-man sent here to bring you sadness and pain". But
that's who he is. He's just going to keep right on wrecking her life
until there's nothing left.
   He knows what to get her then, but he also knows when to give it to
her: there's dumb and then there's Dumb. Offering a divorce on their
actual anniversary falls into the latter. And so, a few nights before,
he hands her the letter. She starts to read it, then puts it aside.
"I'm not going to read this. This is something you have to tell me, to
my face."
   "I can't." He's too weak, wouldn't be able to see it through.
"Please."
   She sighs, a little sharply, and then starts to read it again. "You
know, you're right," she says as she gets half-way down the page.
"This has been a pretty bad year. And you have done some monumentally
dumb things, on account of your chronic dumbness. But this? This is
the dumbest thing you've ever done. In your entire life. In fact, I'm
going to pretend that reincarnation is a real thing, just so that I
can go on record saying this is the dumbest thing you've done in /any/
of your lives. That's how dumb this is.
   "And the dumbest part is that you actually think this would make me
happy. And that's the part that hurts. If that's what you think of
me- if that's how little you think of me- then I'm right, you really
don't know me. Which is sad. I'm with you because I love you, idiot.
And I couldn't get through all this mess without you anymore than you
could without me."
   "But I'm the one that caused the mess."
   "Oh, enough with the self-pity; it's exhausting." She clicks her
teeth. "You know, you're not the only one who does dumb things that
you wish you could take back. I do dumb things sometimes. Probably. I
can't ever remember when, not even a single time, actually, but I'm
sure I have. Hypothetically."
   "Well, you gave me my powers," says Max.
   "You knew?" says Julie. "How did you know?"
   "I always knew it was you," says Max. (He's lying; for a long
while, he had suspected their cat, Doc.) "I just never knew why."
   "...Because it was like we had two lives before, two separate
lives, and I wanted us to have one life, together."
   "And it worked. So why keep it a secret?"
   "The gas was supposed to make you invulnerable. Which it did. I
wanted you to share my life, but I didn't want you to get hurt. It
wasn't supposed to turn you into a joke. I didn't want to turn you
into a joke."
   "Oh, I've never needed any help with that," says Max. "Jules, do
you remember what I used to be like? Cynical, sarcastic, angry all the
time?"
   "You're not like that anymore. Being the Zeppelin changed you."
   "Being with you changed me," corrects Max. "Made me a better
person. And a happier one. You've given me so much, changed me so
much..."
   "...and you've given me nothing in return? Oh, Max, you big moron."
   He shrugs. "It feels that way, sometimes."
   "It does," she admits. "But you've made me a better person too.
Probably. Kinda hard to improve on perfection. And happier, yes. And
sadder, yes. Hey, it's better or worse, thick or thin. Some days
you're just a little thicker than others. You gave me you. You're
enough. Boy, are you enough." Hug.
   "...But I still need to get you a present, right?"
   "Oh my goodness, yes. And after this nonsense?" She sets the letter
aflame with a blink of her heat vision. "It better be a damn good
one."


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-----SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!-----
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All stories are the copyright of their authors.

All characters are the creations of their authors.