Monday, March 24, 2014

Captain's Log, Day 123: A New Short Story

          This is my latest short story. I spent a while on it, so I decided to post a little teaser. You can find the rest of it in the Stories tab.

Last One Left

          Last one left.
          That thought kept chasing itself around in my head, urged on by the impressive amount of alcohol I had swirling around up there as well. Last one left, last one left, last one
          Suddenly, there was a man sliding into the booth across from me. “Jordan Kirsh?”
          I jerked back in surprise—a little too far, slamming my head into the back of the booth and cursing. Being drunk was obviously not going to be helpful at the moment; few people knew my name, and no one would dare seek me out. Especially not now, after what I’d done.
          I squinted at the man, trying to make out his features through the alcohol-induced fuzziness before giving up and tesseracting back to my last lock point. Granted, I had to wait an hour for him to show up again, but this time I was ready and nursing a root beer instead of the more potent vodka that I’d been tossing back before. Because I was watching this time, I was able to spot him walking in and casing the place. I locked the moment before he spotted me.
          “Jordan Kirsh?”
          I cocked an eyebrow at him. “What’s it to you?”
          The man pulled out a wallet and flashed it at me. “Agent Phil Morton, FBI. We need your assistance.”
          I eyed him. “My assistance? What possible assistance could a freelance programmer offer the FBI?”
          “The kind that doesn’t have anything to do with your programming skills,” Agent Morton told me, flipping the wallet shut and returning it to his inside jacket pocket, giving me a beautiful glimpse of the handgun resting against his ribcage. “There’s a kidnapping that we know took place three hours ago at the Lunt Hotel. We need your private detective skills and your contacts to rescue the hostage.”
          I rubbed my eyes, trying to decide if I wanted my vodka back. “Hostage?”
          “Specifically, the vice president’s twenty-year-old daughter,” Agent Morton told me, dropping a picture down on the table. I eyed it dubiously, not sure if I should really care or not yet. This guy had all the carefully prepped enthusiasm of a politician up for reelection.
          “So why me?” I threw another lock down and flagged down a server for a beer. Or tried to, anyway. The guy missed me, or ignored me. I guess I did look pretty rough by now, or else he didn’t want to get mixed up with the suit sitting across from me.
          “You were the one who solved the cases of the bank heist and murder spree last month,” the agent pointed out. “You obviously have talent for finding people who don’t want to be found.”
          The faces of the dead fitted in front of my eyes. I shook my head violently and telekened the server’s foot out from under him, snatching the full glass of beer out of the air before his tray hit the floor. The waiter regained his balance and picked up the tray. “I’m so sorry, sir—I tripped on something—“
          I held up the glass. “I’ll just hang onto this, if you don’t mind. Put it on my tab.” I turned back to Agent Morton. “I just got lucky.”
          “Then I’ll hire your luck. Twenty grand a day.”
          I frowned at him. Does he know…? “Desperate much?”

Monday, March 17, 2014

Captain's Log, Day 122: Airbags Needed. Desperately.

          They were solid. Really solid. Weighed probably ten or fifteen pounds apiece. Made out of some kind of heavy wood. Could level full-grown trees if it was going fast enough.
          And yet, it still couldn't protect us from hurting ourselves. Probably because, as twelve, ten, eight and six years old respectively, we were stupid.
          "Dibs on the front!" I yelled quickly, to forestall any quarrels. However, I forgot that I was dealing with my siblings here--we could start an argument over literally anything.
          "I wanted the front!" Quill protested.
          "Too bad--I called it," I told her firmly. "You can have second."
          "I call back!" Nemesis volunteered.
          "Squirrel gets the back," Quill told him. "It's okay--she usually falls off anyway."
          This was true. Squirrel usually opted to bail out at the first sign of trouble which, for her, translated into "the first bump on the hill." Usually, we don't ride together, preferring to take turns; but now, since we got a new sled and we all wanted to try it out, we set aside animosity in favor of fun.
          It went about as well as expected; Squirrel bailed out almost instantly, while the rest of us screamed down the hill to slam full-tilt into the tree planted squarely in our path. Well, the sled slammed into the tree; Nemesis and Quill bailed out before impact, while I tried to steer for just a moment too long, clipping the tree on my frantic dive off the stubborn sled and spinning into a bush.
          "This hill rocks," Nemesis grinned, watching me extricate myself from the shrubbery.
          "How's the sled?" I asked.
          Quill was already checking it out for signs of damage. "Looks good. Definitely sturdier than our other one!"
          I grinned, shaking off the final, particularly persistent branch. "Wanna go again?"
          "Yeah!" Quill yelled, but a sense of loyalty to the older model caused her to add, "But on the other toboggan, though."
          "Are you alive?" Squirrel called down.
          "Yeah!" I yelled back, muttering "Wuss," under my breath. Quill hit me with a snowball, so I tackled her into the nearest drift. Nemesis emitted a long-suffering sigh and trudged up the hill with the sled. Quill and I raced after him, eager to race to the bottom.
          Well, if we could.
          See, this hill was one of the most treacherous pieces of terrain ever known to the intrepid sledder. It started with a nice, almost vertical drop before slanting towards the tree we had just crashed into. If we could avoid the tree, then the hill sloped towards a stump/tree combination, which guarded the pass to a fifteen-foot cliff, below which ran the creek. Usually, we slammed full-tilt into that, but I held the honor of having steered too far to the left and missing it entirely. It was only thanks to reflexes and guardian angels that I had managed to leap clear of the sled and snag an overhanging branch as the sled took a nosedive into the ice below. I'd hung there like a limp piece of laundry, looking down at the sled and wishing I didn't have to take the long way around to retrieve it. But I digress.
          If you steered to the right of the stump, as opposed to slamming straight into it, you could run parallel to the cliff and towards another, shorter, jump. Survive that, and the hill sloped away from the cliff (good) and straight into pricker bushes (bad). If you managed to keep your head low and shoot between the bushes (not unlike spitting from the top of the Empire State Building and trying to hit a penny on the sidewalk), you would shoot out the other side and into the creek, skidding across it and straight into the sheer bank on the other side, where your ride would stop. I held the honor of being the first person to actually make it all the way down; a dubious honor at best, because the ice broke moments after I crashed into the bank. Needless to say, I got very cold and very wet.
          Nemesis, of course, coined the name of this awesome obstacle course: "Terror Hill."
          Quill and Nemesis took off down the hill; I decided to watch. It was a good thing I did, because they missed the first tree but couldn't avoid the stump. Quill wound up wedged between the trunks of two trees, while Nemesis was thrown way off to the right and lay spread-eagled on his back. I laughed my head off, applauding at the same time.
          "Nice one!" I yelled. I took a running start and hurled myself onto the sled, shooting down the hill. I missed the tree, the stump (almost hit Nemesis, though) and preformed an amazing skid straight into the middle of the briar patch, getting stuck and scratched. I muttered a few words that I'd heard Dad use in the shop once. Quill, midway through prying herself loose, gave me a disapproving glare.
          "Wow," Nemesis grunted. "Did you see that?"
          Quill came loose with a plop. "I had my eyes shut. Look where I ended up!"
          "I think that was the best crash yet," Nemesis decided.
          "No argument from me. But I went the farthest," I pointed out, dragging my sled up to meet them. The goal here, of course, was to have increasingly worse crashes, the more spectacular the better.
          I trudged up the hill with my toboggan, Quill and Nemesis following me and chattering about their crash. I preferred to carry my sled myself, while the other two shared their load. Squirrel met us at the top; she'd been populating the hill with snowmen. I tied my sled to our golden retriever's collar and climbed on. "Geddyap, Max!"
          Maxie sprang on me and started licking my face. So much for having a sled dog.
          This time, I opted to go first with Squirrel. She bailed during the first jump, shoving my sled over far enough to slam me straight into the tree. I went over the top, winding up sprawled upside-down at the base with my legs over my head. The snow was just deep enough to make righting myself difficult.
          "A little help here?" I called. Quill and Nemesis, sense of compassion long since frozen by the cold, laughed at me and took off down the hill instead. They missed the wreckage of my sled by over-steering and flipping end over end past the tree.
          I dug myself out while the intrepid duo compared notes on how far away they had landed from each other. Scooping up a choice bit of snow, I hurled it at Nemesis. Suddenly, we had a full-blown snowball fight on our hands.
          I was managing to hold my own against both Quill and Nemesis when a golden-coated avenger shot into no-man's-land and picked off two perfectly aimed snowballs.
          "Aww, come on, Maxie!" I yelled in frustration, a moment before he snagged a salvo of the allies' shots from out of the air in front of my face. Maxie did love a good snowball fight, preferring to snatch and eat our snowballs rather than, you know, help out with distractions or staying out of the way. It was kind of a mixed blessing.
          With the now-ready Max patrolling the contested ground, we were forced to give up the rather pointless fight and hurl challenges, insults, and boasts at each other as we returned to the top of the hill. Once we reached the peak, we collapsed, exhausted, to make snow angels.
          Until I remembered the hot chocolate inside, racing to beat the other kids inside. I lost to Quill and Nemesis.
          BUT.
          I got the most marshmallows.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Captain's Log, Day 121: Spies of the Scaffold

          Uh oh, MOM ALERT.
          I hurled myself out of the window with a speed generally associated with converting most carbon-based life forms into some type of liquid upon impact with Mother Earth. However, I was ten and was possessed of the two most powerful and inexplicable pieces of wisdom to ever be conceived in the mind of a child: a firm belief in my own invincibility that carried me through childhood relatively unscathed, and the knowledge that Mother Earth would mete out a much kinder fate than Mom would, if the latter caught me playing on the scaffolding again.
          Throwing my shoulder towards the ground, I turned my headlong dive into a beautiful tuck-and-roll, landing on one of the scaffold platforms and rolling off the edge. I fell briefly before I snagged one of the cross braces with the ease of long practice and hung, dangling, out of sight of the window.
          My siblings were huddled on the platform below me, suppressing snickers. "Was Mom up there?" Nemesis (6 at the time) stage-whispered.
          I swung myself back and forth to get the necessary momentum to direct my fall to their platform. "Yeah," I snickered, landing with a heavy thud next to the 8-year-old Quill. "I think she and Dad were going to check out the living room."
          Quill's eyes lit up. "We could try to get past them into our room by climbing over there--" she pointed to the kitchen, "--and then going straight up!"
          "What about Squirrel?" I asked. The youngest of our group at 4 years old, Squirrel possessed all the daring of her namesake but lacked the climbing ability; the scaffold between ground and first floor was all the higher she could go, and that was with some generous boosting.
          "She can stay and guard," Quill suggested. She turned to Squirrel. "If you hear Mom going upstairs, hit the post here."
          "Like this?" Squirrel inquired, whanging on the member with a discarded stick she had found.
          "SHHHH!!!" I hissed. "Only if Mom goes upstairs!"
          "Oh, okay," Squirrel replied cheerfully, ceasing her infernal racket.
          Staying low, I led the way to the edge of the platform. Swinging around the leg, I snagged the ladder, climbed halfway up to the next level, and jumped across the gap to the other ladder, shinnying through it to get to the platform across from the one we had just left. Like monkeys, Nemesis and Quill followed my lead. We quickly traversed the next section similarly, crossing underneath the gaping windows of our unfinished house and out of sight for the parental unit.
          Once we reached the edge of the scaffolding that was over by the kitchen, I grasped the ladder and crept up it slowly, taking great care to scan the inside of the house. It was buzzing with the pleasant noise of construction, workers playing radios and banging on things. Dad sometimes gave us jobs to do to help out, like drilling holes for electrical cords and suchlike; but since he was discussing boring stuff with Mom (like "Where should we put the piano?"), it was more fun now to sneak around on the scaffold like miniature spies. Dad didn't really care if we hung out on the scaffold (as long as there were no workers on it for us to annoy), but Mom had the certainty that no doubt comes with watching us fall out of everything that could potentially support our weight that we would end up paralytics. I'm not sure it crossed her mind that the metal scaffold was considerably sturdier than most of the trees we climbed, and a lot easier to hold on to as well.
          No sign of Mom. I shot up the ladder, passing the first floor in a dirty flash. (I'd recently held a dirt war with my siblings, and the results of my hard-earned victory were evident.) I was concentrating so hard on listening for any shouts of discovery that I forgot to pay attention to where I was climbing, with the result that I brained myself on the underside of the second-story platform.
          Rubbing my head ruefully, I pulled myself up on top of the plank I had brilliantly climbed straight into and sat down to wait for my siblings. Quill showed up first, of course, choking with suppressed laughter. I gave her the evil eye as Nemesis followed suit. Forestalling any teasing, I pointed to the open window of what would soon be Squirrel's and Quill's bedroom.
          "What should we do in there?" I asked.
          Nemesis gave me a wide grin, itching the band-aid on his leg (slight accident over at the barn foundations; was NOT my fault). "Let's spy on Mom and Dad from the landing!" he proposed.
          Imaginations fired, we raced across the platform and leapt through the window, pausing to pick up discarded pieces of wood for a quick duel. Then, holding our makeshift swords, we crept out the door and to the edge of the landing. I peeked over.
          Seeing the floor that far away always made my feet feel funny. Ignoring the tingling, I listened to Mom and Dad discussing furniture placement and snickered with my siblings over the supposed obliviousness of the parental unit. Then--
          WHANGWHANGWHANG!!!!!
          I wasn't sure if Squirrel was bored and giving us a false alarm, but Nemesis and Quill were clearly not interested in taking chances. They bolted towards the bedroom and the scaffold retreat. I gave it a moment--almost a moment too long, as Mom and Dad crossed into the entryway and started to glance up. I leapt back like a scalded frog and tied my siblings to the window. There was a brief traffic jam before we sorted out the exit order and departed to get Squirrel to stop beating on that post already seriously ONCE WAS ENOUGH...
          Panting, breathless, and flushed with victory, we sat on the platform for a few moments...well, my siblings sat on the platform; I perched on the cross-brace above them like a bird on a power line.
          "Now what?" Nemesis asked.
          I shrugged. "Another clod war?"
          "No!" they all chorused.
          "You're boring!" I flicked a piece of dirt at my brother.
          "We could get our swords and go knock down corn stalks in the front yard!" Quill suggested eagerly.
          The plan met with assent all around, and our wooden swords were soon shoved through belts or shorts as we set out for some "sword practice."
          Yeah, pretty much the best summer ever.