Show and Tell (part 1)

A gaming group takes a long-game joke to the extreme.

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“OK, Jake. You gotta tell me, How did you know that that guy was the one we could trust?” Ned said, setting his half-finished can of cola on the table with a loud thump.

Jake’s face split with a wide grin. “Simple. When the lycanthropic change happens, it’s very high energy. That’s why most were-critters are super aggressive on the full moon they’re going through a super painful process.  The pain from having the change is mitigated when the body can use body fat as fuel. So the fat guy was the one we could bet on keeping his head.”

Tina slapped her forehead and groaned, “I thought he was fat from eating lotsa people!”

“One more pie, guys,” Susan deftly snagged the empty pizza box from the table, and replaced it with a fresh one.

“Thanks sweetie,” Ned patted her affectionately on the thigh as she took her place among the other gamers.

“You’re sometimes too predictable,” Jake said around a piece of pepperoni pizza. “Not that that’s a bad thing. It just means that  we can use your world rules effectively.”

Ned nodded, pursing his lips as he ruminated on Jake’s retort. “Well, I can’t even be mad. That’s the point of the world rules, I just never thought you were paying attention.”

“So, Ned and I thought of a great prank,” Susan said, pulling a slice from the box.

Ned grinned and blew her a kiss, “Yeah we did, but all the credit goes to miss Suzy-q.”

“But we’re playing the long game here guys. And all of us are going to participate, no arguing.”

“Get to the deets, Q” Tina said, gathering her polyhedral dice back into the tattered felt crown royal bag that she had been using as a coaster.

“OK, so you know that Ned and I are trying to have a baby, and since you guys,” She nodded at Jake and Tina, “Are a few months into the oven, we thought that since we are a group of nerd-positive and higher-than-the-mean intelligence groups, we would play a trick on our future nerdlettes.”

Tina sat up straight, her errant dice forgotten, “You has my attention. Tell me more.”

“Well,” Susan began, setting her pizza down, and licking the tips of her fingers, “Remember that year we went to SuperCon in full costume?”

“Hell yes, I do. That’s where I met Jake!” Tina winked at her husband with a leer.

“Great, so here’s the dealio. We all remake our costumes. Really pour the effort and time into it. Spare no expense.”

Jake furrowed his brow, “I don’t know if I like where this is going…”

“Shut it, Jake. Let the woman talk.” Tina elbowed him roughly, “Please continue.”

Susan grinned, “Well I have a friend in the office who was a art major, and he posted a bunch of really cool looking newspaper articles in his cube. But the thing is, they’re all fake. So I thought, What if we make scrapbooks of news clippings that make it look like we’re all superheroes and hide them with the costumes in our closets where our kids will find them? How cool would that be?”

Tina bounced in her seat, “Yes. So much yes!”

Jake sighed and mumbled into the rum and coke that he had been nursing for the last hour.

“Why are you being such a negative Nancy? You don’t even have to work on your costume, yours is still in perfect shape.”

“Yeah,” Jake said, tossing back the remainder of his drink, “perfect shape…”

 

Next Chapter

 

 

Another Tome is found (Part 2)

The day had been long, and golden fingers of the last few minutes of daylight lit the office. An old oscillating fan cast its gaze back and forth over the room, its’ whirring drowning out the dozen other lesser sounds that the office made in its’ daily business. Less than hustle, but somewhat more than bustle, the agency had managed to stay alive in the dog days of summer, just barely managing to make ends meet.

The phone rang, and Jane, a thin black girl who had once been considered the office beauty before the death of her mother, now answered the phone, as if by rote. The smiles that could be heard through the phone from her, were now gone, and only a faint trace could be found if you listened real hard.

She set the phone in its cradle and strode to the large desk in the back. On this large wooden desk, sat a smaller identical desk. Seated at this small desk was The Professor, the manager/owner of the Metroplex’s premier supernatural detective agency. Standing a solid eleven inches high, she was a simulacrum of Althea Harrison, a mage who was well known by those who were in the know of recent events. She sat there, playing a video game on a cell phone on a stand on her desk, meant to emulate a computer screen.

“Professor. We just got a call from team EmJay. He’s en route, and wants a full staff meeting.”

The Professor reached up and pressed the button on the upper edge of the phone to shut it down, and stood, sending her desk chair rolling backward.

“Did he say what about?”

“It was Nate. EmJay was resurrecting.”

The Professor looked startled, “Was there trouble?”

Jane shook her head, “I don’t think so.”

“Good. OK, gather the crew.”

“Yes ma’am,” Jane made a beeline for her desk and began making calls.

***

Ramon answered his cell, as he sat on the stoop of his house, watching his son play tag with his friends.

“Hola,” He took a drag on the cigarette that he had been nursing. His eyebrows raised as he listened to the voice on the other end.

“I’ll be there,” He rubbed his shaven, tattooed head wearily, flicked the butt into the street and stood, stretching. Whistling to his son, he jerked a thumb at the house. Tapping him on the head as his son ran past, he grabbed his satchel from the coat hook just inside the doorway and buttoned up his slate grey shirt to hide his beater.

“Chica! I’m headed to the office. I’ll call if I’m gonna to be late.”

From within, his wife replied, “You betta!”

***

As the car pulled into the underground parking, Nathan turned on the overhead lights, bringing me fully awake.

“Thank you for flying Nateway, please bring your seats to the fully upright position, and wait until we come to a complete stop before deplaning. Thank you, and have a nice day.”

Flexing my fingers and toes, I did a quick inventory to make sure everything was working as intended, I unbuckled my seatbelt.

“Thanks, Nate. Did you make the call?”

“Yeah, we should have a full house.”

Another Tome is Found (A Horror’deurve from the Cookbook of the Dead) (edited)

It was cold.

Not the ‘let’s bundle up and we’ll be sorted’ kind of cold.

It was the kind of cold that cut through you like a knife.

What was unusual about this though, is that it was just a few weeks’ shy of summer, and just a few moments ago, I had been as they say, sweating balls.

This told me that I was getting close to my target, a non-corporeal haunt. For those not in the know, a haunt is almost-but-not-quite a ghost. Sometimes it’s an emotional echo, a leftover bit of rage, ecstasy, jealousy, what have you. These are by far the most common kind of haunt to deal with, but unfortunately, not the kind that has been making mischief for the last month.

The haunt I’ve been sent to deal with is sneaky. Very sneaky. Which is unusual because haunts by-and-large, are unintelligent masses of emotion, and incapable of intelligent thought.

A curl of breath escaped my lips, gradually vanishing as my body temperature dropped to room temperature.

Wait. Let me explain.

I’m what you’d call a specialist in the field of the afterlife. Yeah. Mortimer J. Appel, Necromancer, at your service. Before you get all uptight, keep an open mind. I’m what you’d call a psychopomp. Yeah, I didn’t know what that meant when I started either. It just means I guide the dead to rest. No, not like the reapers. I don’t particularly care about where you go when you die, just that you get there. Ah, but I do have some other abilities…

Anyway, after spending two weeks chasing this thing, I realized it was sensing my life force and fleeing when I got too close.

Which is convenient for me, because all I have to do is die. It’s nothing special. Anyone can do it, the trick is coming back, and not just anyone can do that.

So now, the detachment that comes along with death dulls the pain.

Oh, it’s still there. I can feel it if I care to. There’s power in pain. It can drive a man onwards when all he wants to do is lie down. I’m not at the point where that’s necessary though.

Revenancy. That’s the name for the state I’m in right now. It’s your basic intelligent undead. A few steps above zombie, a few steps below Vampire. …The purebloods, that is.

Common vampires are just barely smarter than zombies, not even considered people, they’re just smelly, faster, smarter zombies that crave blood. Don’t get me started! Vampires are a huge problem for Necromancers, and I don’t care to explain why just yet, it’s embarrassing.

Anyway, now that I’ve cast loose the life in me, I found that the haunt has become less evasive. What I didn’t expect was the emotions it pushed outwards, the Book that it orbited, or the fact that it wasn’t alone. A dozen haunts slowly circled the floating Tome

I took it into my hands, wiped away the layer of frost that covered its heavy leather cover and read its title:

The Economicon: The Economics of the Dead

I applied spiritual pressure on the haunts that hovered nearby, and felt them transfer their emotion onto me. I paused, because the emotions were unlike any I had absorbed before. They tasted like a complex combination of depression, resignation, and something else foreign to me. As I processed the emotions, the haunts faded away, finally free.

I tucked the book into the large pocket inside the breast pocket of the khaki overcoat I usually wore when out on a job, and headed back to the office. The glittery black eyes of Nathan, my driver flicked my way as I sat with a grunt in the back seat and shut the door with a little more force than expected.

“Everything alright?” He said, pulling out and heading downtown.

“Things got a little weird, but we’re good. Get us home, take the scenic route, I’m going to res.”

“Sure thing. I’ll wake you when we arrive.”

I’m gonna need some help with this one. I buckled my seatbelt, and began the process to return to life.

“Let the boss know I’m heading in, and we’re going to need a staff meeting.”

“Yes sir,” Nathan’s eyes cleared to appear normal as he drove.

A very delicious fruit – A Horrordeurve from the Cookbook of the Dead

On a random Tuesday, the wife decided that we needed to look at a house that was for sale, so I rode along as we cruised through middle-classed suburban homes that became older as we progressed. Old architectural styles marked the years like rings on a tree. Finally we stopped in front of one, with a disinterested looking middle-aged man who watered the lawn with a hand-held sprayer. Coming to a stop, I released the seatbelt, it’s whizz and snap as it sprung to it’s resting spot spurred me outside into to the warm spring afternoon.

I waved my hand to the man who nodded to me and dropped the hose, and headed inside through the garage, past a well maintained 1949 Buick Roadmaster, beckoning me as he went.

I could  not help but notice the tree that stood on the yard as I passed by. What’s unusual about that is that I had somehow managed to completely miss it. Despite being spring, it’s branches held fruit that despite my best efforts, I could not identify. Then it hit me, the scent was as if I were being caressed by sensual hands made of warm sunlight. I detoured briefly and plucked one from it’s boughs and found that it’s skin was faintly furry, like a peach, but softer than velvet. I rubbed it against my shirt to polish away the fuzz, and take a bite, but was pulled from my reverie by the home owner clearing his throat.

I blinked my eyes, the spell broken. With an embarrassed grin, I followed him inside. The house, on the inside was one part faux log cabin and one part experimental art, with unusual carvings scrolling around the room in the rounded surfaces of the logs that formed the walls. My wife took to the carvings with interest, which seemed unusual to me because she was usually a philistine about such things. I glanced at the flyer for the house that I printed and failed to identify anything in the pictures.

“Ah. Well.” The home owner began. “Since you saw the tree, I suppose I should give you a little explanation.”

Glancing back at the fruit in my hand, I took a bite. The homeowner reached out to stop me, but was too slow.

The flavor struck me like a double shot of whiskey. The good stuff too. I felt a warm glow glow into my stomach. I had never tasted anything like it before, it’s flavor somehow complex and simple at the same time. I knew I was hooked in a very real way.

The man continued, “I’m the custodian of that tree. And like you, I ate that fruit.” His eyes flicked to the fruit that now dripped nectar down my hand into the floor, then back to me. “You’re addicted to the fruit, as I’m sure you realize by now. So I’ll get down to brass tacks here. You’re buying the house, and I’m finally going to be free.”

I started to argue the point, but in my heart I knew he was right. However, I felt as if I were missing something important. Ah!

“How are you getting free of it? Is there some sort of drug?” I asked.

“Yes and no. After a while the strength of the addiction weakens, and then something can be done about it.”

“How long is a while?”

“For me? Thirty years. I got suckered into eating the fruit three decades ago.”

I was floored. He must have been a child when he got addicted.

“But today, I found my replacement, and my cure is en route.” He smiled.

A knock on the door rang out.

“That must be him now.” He dashed to the door and opened it eagerly.

“Ah! It’s been a while, come in!” He ushered in an ancient looking Asian man dressed in casual clothes and a slightly worn looking tweed jacket.

The new man looked at me, appraisingly, “Is this the new caretaker?”

“Yes! After all this time, yes!”

The old man glanced at the gnawed-on fruit I held, and back at me, almost pityingly. “It would seem so.” He pulled a metal flask from inside his jacket and handed it to the waiting hands of the home owner, who shakily opened it and began gulping its contents with gusto.

A startling transformation took hold of him, his hair began streaking, until all of his hair was a uniform grey, and his skin lost its luster as it sagged and became liver-spotted and wrinkled with age. The once middle-aged man was now fully in the golden years of his life.

“Well, you’re free to go. Enjoy what life you have left.”

“Damn right.” The man took a briefcase from behind one of the couches, a hat from the rack by the door, and left without another word, into the garage, where his equally ancient car rumbled into life, and was heard crunching away on the gravel driveway.

“Well,” The old Asian man said, “Let’s get you up to speed.”

He sat on a couch, and gestured for me to join him.

All of this was taking its toll on me, and I sat across from him, for the stability of it, if nothing else.

“My name is Hyunsung Kwok. You can just call me Kwok. I am a merchant-mage. It’s been my business to buy the fruit from that tree from its caretaker for many years now.”

I managed to blurt out what I had hoped was a reasonable question, but as my head was now spinning, I expect was somewhat less so. I can’t even remember what it was, because I swung my head about, to see my wife silently poking around the room, completely oblivious to what had just happened, or the exchange of people in the room.

“Ah, your wife, I suppose? She won’t see or remember any of this.”

A sound, a very minute sound, suddenly came to my attention, despite the overwhelming situation that had presented itself to me. I noticed that small black, shiny beetles had crawled out from under furniture and were swarming about.

“Mr, …ah, what was your name?” The old man prompted.

“Gonzalez.”

“Good. Mr. Gonzalez. The old caretaker’s magic left with him, and the tree needs protecting.” He pulled a large book from within his coat, although how it managed to fit there was a mystery.

“Magic?” I managed to say.

“Yes. And this book will teach you all you need to know in order to take care of the tree and property.”

“Oh, and before I forget…” He pulled out a thick envelope from his jacket, “Your payment for this years harvest.”

Kwok stood and straightened his jacket, “Some advice. Don’t stray too far from the house for very long. The tree needs you nearby. oh, a few hours here and there are fine. You can still go shopping, and to the movies, but the longer you’re gone, the tree will make you feel anxious, and it will get worse as time goes by. It would be very bad to ignore it. So don’t.”

“What about my wife?”

Kwok glanced to her. “She cant see the tree. Don’t let her eat the fruit. It will end badly.”

Looking back in my direction, he pointed to the book that now sat on the couch. “Start reading. Take it seriously. This is your life now. Once the tree chooses a new caretaker, I can free you.”

He opened the door and left just as suddenly as he had arrived.

“Hey, do you think we can haggle the owner down on the price?” My wife asked, sitting on the couch.

I watched in horror as the beetles that were now everywhere began crawling up her legs.

“I know we can, and in fact, I did. Go home and get your stuff, we’re going to give this place a spring cleaning.” I stroked her gently, trying to knock the beetles off of her without drawing attention to them.

“Great! I have a good feeling about this place.” She kissed me and left to complete her mission.

I sat there, and opened the book that Kwok had left for me.

“I’m glad one of us does.”