Sunday, August 2, 2020

Die Glocke

Die Glocke
Mark A Davis
377

Moonlight dusted a seaside warehouse.  Shadows pooled in recesses and crannies about the building.  The air was chill.  Waves lapped against the piers, while the salty scent of the sea wafted on the breeze.

A lone figure in black patrolled the perimeter, machine gun in hand, footsteps ringing abnormally loud in the quiet night.  His armband displayed a swastika.

There was a muffled thwap.  The guard collapsed.

Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, gripped a pistol with a silencer.  "Okay," he said in a low voice, "when we get inside, remember that the big doohicky is super dangerous, so don't go near...."

"You just shot him!" exclaimed Furious Bandersnatch Boy, Grandpa's current sidekick.  "You killed him!"

Grandpa Anarchy wore his usual rumpled gray suit with the silver anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast.  He also wore a dark overcoat, a fedora, and a black diamond mask.  Furious Bandersnatch Boy wore a suit of red and brown that resembled a furry Domo-kun costume.

"Keep your voice down!" Grandpa hissed.  "And of course I did!  He's a Nazi, so it's okay."

"But you killed him!" the boy repeated.  "Just like that!  No warning or nothing!  How is that heroic?"

"Listen Kid," growled Grandpa, "do you want to stop an evil plot or don't you?  Besides, I have a license to shoot Nazis."

"I've seen your license," muttered Furious Bandersnatch Boy, "and it says you can punch Nazis.  It don't say nothing about killing them."

"Listen, I killed hundreds of Nazis in the war," Grandpa stated.  "The only good Nazi is a dead Nazi.  Besides, if it's good enough for Captain America then it's good enough for me."

"Captain America isn't real...." Furious Bandersnatch Boy began.

"I'm not some modern namby-pamby bleeding heart hero you know," Grandpa continued.  "I fight for what's right."

"We're not at war, Grandpa," the boy said.  "What's right is not declaring yourself judge, jury and executioner...."

"The fate of the world is at stake!" Grandpa exclaimed.  "Or at least a small portion of Frosthaven NJ!  Now, let's go!"

Grandpa dashed across the parking lot and into the shadows which clung to the building's walls.  Bandersnatch Boy followed.  Grandpa opened a door and slipped inside, where he immediately confronted another guard.  Before the man could cry out, Grandpa punched him.  He leaped onto the guard, covering his mouth.  The guard's head went sideways.  There was a crack, and the man slumped to the floor.

"There," said Grandpa.  "You satisfied?  I didn't use my gun."

"You still killed him!" Bandersnatch Boy exclaimed.

"But I didn't shoot him did I?" said Grandpa.  "For someone with Furious in their name you seem quite timid.  Look, if you want to call in the police and wait until they get organized and their search warrants in order then you can go that route, but meanwhile the bad guys will have taken over half of New Jersey!  Now come on!"

Grandpa and Furious Bandersnatch Boy climbed a ladder into the warehouse rafters.  Soon they peered down on a giant bell-shaped object hovering over the concrete floor.  It spun slowly, emitting a low hum that caused the ground and surrounding building to vibrate.  It was approximately nine feet wide and twelve to fifteen feet high, and black as sin.

The air was chill and smelled of grease and tin.  Guards dressed like the Waffen Schutzstaffel, paramilitary arm of the Nazi party, patrolled the area.  At a large terminal near the bell-like device stood two scientists in lab coats, a guard with yellow-green skin and a face resembling a skull, and a tall woman in an elaborate outfit that was part Nazi SS uniform and part skintight snakeskin armor.

"Fraulein Hatra," whispered Grandpa Anarchy, "Sorceress and leader of the Hatra Organization, a secret cabal of German Nazi operatives.  That guy next to her is the Chartreuse Skull, her right-hand man."

"Hold on," said Furious Bandersnatch Boy, his eyes growing wide.  "What is that thing?  That looks like...."  He glanced at Grandpa.  "That's the famous Die Glocke, isn't it?  The legendary Nazi anti-gravity weapon?"

"No!" hissed Grandpa Anarchy.  "If you know what's good for you, you'll forget you ever saw it."

"I've read about the Nazi bell," said Furious Bandersnatch Boy.  "That's exactly what it's supposed to look like...."

"Listen," said Grandpa, "the very concept of Nazi Wunderwaffe -- miracle weapons in development by Germany during World War II -- well it's all complete fiction.  None of that stuff actually existed."

"Sir," the boy replied, "the StG 44 assault rifle and the V-2 rocket were considered Wunderwaffe, and those weapons revolutionized postwar weapon design.  And while they were far less successful, the Germans also managed to deploy a Panther tank and a Type XXI submarine...."

"I ain't talking about crap like that," Grandpa said.  "What I'm talking about is that cockamamie thing!"  He pointed at the levitating bell-like thing below.  "It's not the Die Glocke, because no such thing as a Die Glocke really exists.  And if it wasn't for that busybody Igor Witkowski people wouldn't have found out about it!  Now, they want to unleash that thing on New Jersey, so we've got to stop them!  Understand?"

Furious Bandersnatch Boy nodded.

"Great," Grandpa said.  "Now, remember, the kill field around that crazy humdinger extends some 200 meters out.  Plants are reduced to black grease, blood congeals and seperates, and crystals start to form within your flesh.  That's something you never want to experience twice, I can you from experience!"

Grandpa cracked his knuckles.  "Okay," he said.  "Time to ring some Nazi criminal bells!"

Grandpa Anarchy fired several shots, dropping multiple guards.  He leaped from the walkway and landed on a guard.  Grasping the guard's rifle, he fired at two more guards then leaped behind a crate as the rest returned fire.

Bullets whizzed through the warehouse.  "It's time to get Frumious!" yelled Furious Bandersnatch Boy.  His body expanded as he charges forward, transforming into a red-furred beast eight feet tall with arms like those of a gorilla.  He punched one guard, who flew backwards into the bell, screaming.  He lifted another guard overhead and tossed him into two more.

Though outnumbered, Grandpa and Furious Bandersnatch Boy took the entire group by surprise.  In less than a minute the villains were reduced to a couple of guards and the main bad guys.  The Chartreuse Skull snarled and charged across the warehouse for Grandpa Anarchy, while Fraulein Hatra floated into the air and hovered over the bell.

"You ain't fooling me with your imaginary anti-gravity propulsion technology!" Grandpa exclaimed, trading blows with the Chartreuse Skull.

"Anti-gravity technology?" replied Hatra.  "What are you babbling about, you foolish man?  My attack bell uses common jet propulsion, with methane and liquid oxygen propellants."

Grandpa Anarchy paused for just a moment.

"Right!" he exclaimed.  "Because anti-gravity technology doesn't exist, of course!  Wunderwaffe?  It's all lies and poppycock!  Forget I said anything!"

"It is, however, quite deadly," said Fraulein Hatra.  "My attack bell is truly a modern Wunderwaffe!  How convenient that you and your beastly sidekick are here to serve as its first victims -- I shall christen it with your blood!"

Laughing maniacally, the woman pressed a controller button.  The bell spun faster.  The humming intensified.  Lighting crackled.  Blue light surrounded the device.

The Chartreuse Skull held Grandpa Anarchy in a headlock.  Furious Bandersnatch Boy leaped for the control panel.  With one blow he knocked the two scientists away, then brought both fists down on the panel, crushing it.  When this had no effect, he ripped the panel from the floor and tossed it at Fraulein Hatra, floating just above the bell.

Hatra dodged, but the controller in her hand was knocked free.  It skittered across the warehouse floor.  Furious Bandersnatch Boy dove for it, as did Fraulein Hatra.  She snatched it up first.

The entire warehouse was by now bathed in blue light.  The hum from the bell was deafening, as it spun at a furious pace.

"Ha!" Hatra exclaimed.  "I control the device, foolish beast boy!  You can never...."

Furious Bandersnatch Boy punched her in the face.  The woman collapsed.  He picked up the remote and punched several buttons.  The bell spun sideways, crashing through the wall of the warehouse.  It spun out over the dock and then with a massive splash fell into the ocean.

"Our Wunderwaffe!" exclaimed the Chartreuse Skull.  "You've ruined it!"  After another moment he released Grandpa Anarchy.  "Oh well," he said.  "Back to the drawing board...." 

"Not a Wunderwaffe," said Grandpa.  "Just a clever ordinary weapon."  He turned to his sidekick and added, "Nice work, Furious Bandersnatch Boy.  Although I'm surprised you would strike a woman like that...."

"She's a Nazi," the boy replied.  "I didn't kill her...."

"Speaking of Wunderwaffe and Die Glocke," said the Chartreuse Skull, "I worked with Doctor Zero Hour II, and his father Doctor Zero Hour I did, in fact, work on...."

Grandpa punched the man in the face, knocking him out cold.

FINI

Monday, July 6, 2020

Arachnope

Arachnope
Mark A Davis
383

Shadows flickered against stone walls, revealing scattered cobwebs.  Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, held high his torch as he moved deeper into the cavern.  The tunnel was straight, with curved walls and a rounded roof, as if built for a chase scene involving some famous tomb raider and a large rock.

Grandpa wore his usual rumpled gray suit with the silver anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast, and a matching fedora.  Beside him was his current sidekick -- a young boy with dark skin dressed like the Karate Kid.

"You should have brought your fedora," the kid said.

"Didn't need it," Grandpa replied.  "It's a nice day."

"Yes," said the boy, "but see, when you slide under a descending stone slab, you can reach back and grab your fedora just before it slams shut.  Am I right?"

Grandpa Anarchy grimaced.  "Kid, if I was in a situation like that, I'd lose the hat.  No hat's that important."

"But it looks cool if you...."

"Nah," said Grandpa, "I lose hats all the time.  I buy 'em by the dozen from Ed Toonrad's Suits and Haberdashery on 11th Ave. in downtown Frosthaven.  Ed was the current owner's grandfather, the place has been there for decades.  I bought hats from Ed Toonrad, and then Thomas Toonrad, and now from Joshua Toonrad."

"And then," said the sidekick, "you could say hatters gonna hat...."

"Point is, I don't need a hat to look dramatic," said Grandpa.  "In  the first place, we ain't tripping any hidden traps...."

There was a click, and the floor beneath them dropped.  They fell a good twenty feet into darkness.  Grandpa's torch skittered across the stone.

Grandpa's sidekick bounced to his feet.  "Well," he said, "this is the pits...."

And they were in a pit, with walls of smooth stone.  Grandpa felt them carefully.  "Huh," he said.  "How do we...."

A light appeared above them.  A rotund man in a mask, cape and black silk top hat peered down.  "Oh dear," he said.  "You thought you could pursue me to my hideout, Grandpa Anarchy, but now you have fallen into the clutches of -- King Spider!"

The man laughed maniacally.  "Fallen into your web, you mean?" asked the boy.

"Pardon?" the villain replied.

"You know," said the boy, "a pun on the whole spider theme.  See, I'm the Pun Jab Kid.  I fight, and I make puns, so when someone misses an opportunity I can't help but notice it."

The man shuddered involuntarily.  "No!  I would not say that!" he snarled.

"Did I mention I'm from Jammu?" the boy asked.  "I'm Punjabi, see?"

"Yes," said King Spider, "you're a karate kid from the Punjab region.  You already said."

"I just feel that puns are a vital part of crime fighting," the Pun Jab Kid said.  "But I can't get Grandpa to agree."

"Puns are not a part of how I fight crime," Grandpa said darkly.

"I mean I know some of my puns are bad," said the kid, "but I've always been a little Sikh...."

"I am not here to make puns, you silly boy!" King Spider snarled.  "I am here to end your lives!"

"King Spider!" Grandpa Anarchy snarled.  "You're wanted for robbing the Frosthaven First National Bank!  Now, we can do this the easy way, or we can do it the hard way...."

"Mr. Anarchy, are you really in any position to bargain?" sneered King Spider.  "You are in my clutches; your lives balance on a knife's edge."

"You might even say," said the boy, "that our lives hang by a thread...."

The villain shuddered again.  "No," he said.  "Why would I say that?  There is no thread involved.  None!  Now, no more talk of puns!  I expect you to die, Mr. Anarchy!  You and your silly sidekick!  You will die... in my pit filled with harvestmen spiders!"

King Spider laughed like an unhinged psychopath.  He pulled on a lever.  Part of the pit wall rose, and hundreds of harvestmen spilled across the stone surface.

"Do not move, Mister Anarchy and Mister Pun-Spewing Karate Kid!  Right now you two are surrounded by eight-limbed arachnids, creepy crawly arthropods with compound eyes and venomous fangs and multiple limbs and...."  The villain gave a shudder.  "Oh!  It makes my skin crawl just to think about it!"

Grandpa Anarchy and the Pun Jab Kid watched curiously as the insects spread out.  "This," said the sidekick, "is just sad.  Harvestmen?  Really?  Not even tarantulas?"

The villain squeaked in fear.  "Tarantulas?  Oh, not on your life!  Those things give me the willies!"

"Harvestmen aren't actually spiders, you know," said Grandpa.  "Even I know that.  They're related to spiders, but they're basically harmless."

"Ooh, but they're so creepy crawly!" exclaimed King Spider.  "It sends shivers up my spine just watching them scatter everywhere!"

"Seriously, I don't even think they can bite us," said the Pun Jab Kid.  "I'm surprised you know so little about them.  What are you -- a recluse?"

"Spiders are the most terrifying thing on the planet!" King Spider said in a voice tinged with hysteria.  "Who wouldn't be terrified of them?"

"I'm just saying," said the kid, "that you could come up with more dangerous spiders.  Try searching the world wide web."

"All spiders are dangerous!" King Spider said.

The Pun Jab Kid sighed.  "You know, I try," he said.  "Oh well."

He scooped up two handfuls of harvestmen and tossed them high.  They landed on King Spider, who screamed like a little girl and thrashed about.  "Aaah!  Noooo!  Kill it!  Kill it with fire!"  There was a loud crash, and then there was silence.

"Ran into the wall and knocked himself out," said Grandpa Anarchy.  "That happens every time with this guy."

"Seriously?" asked the sidekick.

"Seriously," Grandpa replied.  "When I said we could do this the easy way... well, it's always the easy way with him.  He's one of my most pathetic foes.  His chosen name is a web of his own creation, and it always entangles him...."  He  glanced at his sidekick, who was about to speak, and added, "No pun intended."

FINI

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Abyssus Abyssum Invocat

Abyssus Abyssum Invocat 
Mark A Davis
382

Sweet scents of sugar, cinnamon and licorice drifted on the breeze.  Overhead silver leaves of thistle trees tinkled like wind chimes.  Yellow cotton candy bunnies hopped amid lemon-lime grass.  Candy bees buzzed amid delicate candy forget-me-nots in all the colors of a confectioner's shop.  A gumdrop path which led into a forest of periwinkle thistles towering thirty feet into a rose pink sky.

The candy forget-me-nots were an especially nice touch, I thought as I waited just inside the woods which were not there.

With a puff of candy smoke, Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero and my hated enemy, appeared on the path, followed by his current sidekick.  I could see them clearly -- the young woman in a spandex suit of red with yellow highlights and the words OMG in large white Impact letters on her chest, within a stylized lightning bolt, and the old man in that stupid gray suit with the silver anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast.  You would think a famous hero would dress better than that.  Show some style.  What you wear is your calling card -- such as my wide-brimmed pointed hat of green, with the clock on the front.  Grandpa always knows me when he sees the hat.

He did not appear to have any strawberries.  I smiled.  My illusion was perfect.  He would never know.

The two glanced about.  "Ahmguh!" exclaimed OMG (pronounced Ahmguh) Girl.  "Where are we?  We were in the Grand Vizer's palace...."

"He has sent us after our quarry," Grandpa Anarchy replied.  This was, of course, true -- the Grand Vizer was a wizard and had teleported them to this desolate place.  Well, I say desolate, but it did not look so to them.

"Ah!" Grandpa said, "if it isn't the Enchanted Thistle Forrest of Lavenderlandia, in the land of Hopsibayrne, near Eiderdown Town  on the shores of Crystalcola Sea.  If I've been here once, I've been here a million times."

"You have?" asked OMG Girl in surprise.

"Generally speaking," Grandpa replied, waving his hand vaguely.  "I may not have been to this specific place before, but all these fantasy fairyland realms kind of blend together after a while.  You've been to one, you've been to them all."

I almost laughed at that.  Yes, I thought.  This is why you believe the illusion, because it is so exactly like things you have seen before....

"If you've never been here," said OMG Girl, "then how did...."

"I read that sign over there," Grandpa said.  "The You Are Here sign?  By the way it says to be wary of bubblegum spiders and insurance salesmen.  Sound advice if you ask me."  Grandpa frowned.  "Although where Miss Mixelthpthpthpthp has disappeared to, I got no idea.  See, this is why I like fighting mad scientists, psychopathic masterminds and super thugs.  With criminals like that you know where you stand.  It's often atop a deadly dirigible or an abandoned roller coaster, mind you, but still.  Magical villains like Miss Mixelthpthpthpthp are a problem for me -- chasing bad guys like that through magical realms is more the domain of Dark Dr. Dark or Black Dahlia."

It's just like that idiot, I thought, to notice the sign but fail to notice the Forbidden Fountain at the center of the map.  Isn't he supposed to be an investigator?

"She stole the Ear of Mumblestilken," said OMG (pronounced Ahmguh) Girl.  "We promised  Grand Vizer Zel Gotti we'd get it back."

Ah!  The Ear of Mumblestilken!  I felt for the bronze artifact in my pocket.  You will never get it back, I thought.  It is now mine!  I had gone to great lengths to snatch this thing -- a wonderful little item of magic which allowed the wearer to understand any spoken words, no matter the language or how poorly they were spoken.  I had a shelf in my home where I planned to place this thing, next to Eisenheimer's Amazing Eyeglasses and the False Nose of Ashurbanipal.

My home is its own dimension -- a pocket dimension, full of all of the trinkets and magical items that I've acquired over the years.  It is a place that fills me with joy.

"That's another thing!" Grandpa muttered.  "Why are we helping a Grand Vizer?  Those guys are always up to no good!  Fantasy and fairylands, they're all bad news.  Next thing you know we'll be expected to slay a dragon!"

"She can't have gotten far," said OMG Girl.  "We need to hurry!"

"Okay, but we can't just run about randomly," Grandpa replied.

This was my cue!  I imagined myself as some sort of gnome creature -- a short man, bent, with lavender lederhosen, shoes with large brass buckles, a white shirt with blousey sleeves, and a feathered cap.  Just like you'd expect in a candy fairyland!  Perhaps I could even sing and dance to a tune about candy, like the Munchkins from the Lollipop Guild?  No, that would be far too obvious -- and there was only me.

Mr. Anarchy's eyes alighted on me as I came walking down the path.  "Excuse me, Mr. Gnome Person Sir," he said.  "Or elf, or citizen of Lavenderlandia...."

"I am a Tekilander," I replied indignantly.  "I come from Teki Town.  Can you not tell by my distinctive Tekilander cap?"

"Ah, yes," Grandpa replied.  "My mistake.   Tell me, have you seen a strange woman pass by here?  Someone who was obviously not a... Tekilander, was it?"

I pointed at OMG Girl.  "Besides her," Grandpa added.

I placed my hands in my suspenders.  It was too bad I hadn't thought to include a pipe -- puffing on a pipe seemed like the thing to do.  What kind of pipe would a Tekilander from the candy fairyland of Lavenderlandia smoke, I wonder?  One that produced candy bubbles?

"This strange woman," I asked, "was she about my height, but with strange yellow skin and blue hair?"

"Yes,  that's her," Grandpa replied.

"Was she wearing a long green dress," I asked, "and a tall pointed hat with a broad brim, with silver charms dangling from that brim?"

"Yes," exactly," replied Grandpa.

"Was there a large brass clock on her hat?"

"Yes!" said Grandpa.  "Which way did she go?"

"Oh, I'd have no idea," I said.  "I haven't seen anyone like that."

I delighted in the frustration on the man's face, although of course I didn't show it.  But this was the foe who had prevented me from obtaining the Ring of Hanubatum, the Undying Sapphire Vase (which could keep flowers alive indefinitely), the Silver Lamp of Eternal Flame, and even the fabled Crystal Weenie -- a maguffin of immense power.  I loathed the man and would never forgive him for these slights.  And now he wished to deprive me of the Ear of Mumblestilken as well?  The nerve!

Well, fun was fun, but I could not stall him forever or he might become suspicious.  "Wait, now I remember," I added.  I think she was headed directly for the Forbidden Fountain...."

Grandpa Anarchy pounded one fist into his palm.  "Of course!" he exclaimed.  "In many fairylands, you can not be held culpable for crimes which you've magically forgotten!"

Well, I thought, at least he remembers why the fountain is important....  Not, of course, that I would go to such lengths to avoid prosecution for theft; what good is stealing a magical trinket if you don't remember what it is or that you've stolen it?  But the threat that I might do so would send Grandpa Anarchy chasing after me, and right into my trap -- for there was no Enchanted Thistle Forrest of Lavenderlandia, no Land of Hopsibayrne, no Eiderdown Town and no Crystalcola Sea.  It was all part of my illusion.  In truth, there was just a desolate flat plain and then a cliff, the edge of which Grandpa Anarchy and his ridiculous sidekick would soon walk off.  I would be rid of him forever.

Abyssus abyssum invocat, thought I.  Abyss calls to abyss; one false step leads to the next -- literally.

"It's easy to get there," I said.  "Just go down this path past the phantom tollbooth and take a right at the second wardrobe you see.  Then it's first star on the right and straight on until morning... no I tell a lie, just a little gnome humor there; I meant to say you go through the first looking glass on the right and Oz is your wizard."

"What's that?" Grandpa exclaimed.  "The Wizard of Oz is involved?  I didn't think we were in Oz...."

"No, Sir," I said patiently, "it's just a phrase.  It means and there you are."

"Ah," said Grandpa.  "Similar to the phrase Bob's your uncle then."

"Bob is not my uncle," I exclaimed severely.  "My uncle is Candleblast the Unsteady.  He's the milner over in Eiderdown Town, where I've lived all my life."

I realized my mistake immediately.  Was I a Tekilander from Teki Town, or a gnome from Eiderdown Town?  Or was I Miss Mixelthpthpthpthp, a magical alien from the planet Rah S'bahrii?

Grandpa Anarchy drew and fired.  "Ahmguh!" his sidekick exclaimed, as my brains splattered the suddenly barren landscape.



A bullet in the brain gives me such a headache -- but it's one sure way to be rid of me, at least temporarily.  When I awoke in my home, hale and whole again but without the Ear of Mumblestilken, I cursed the name of Grandpa Anarchy.  This marked the fifth time he'd thwarted me!

Abyssus abussum invocat, thought I. But next time, Mr. Anarchy!  Next time  I will get you for sure!

FINI

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Punch 'Em All

Punch 'Em All
Mark A Davis
381

Grandpa Anarchy stared at the smartphone screen.  A small figure in a gray suit and fedora hat stood on a simplified map depicting streets occasionally dotted by small cartoon police stations.

"So," said the world's oldest hero, "this is one of them computer games?  Like Pacman, only on your phone?"

Grandpa sat in a conference room in a downtown building in Frosthaven NJ, flanked by his lawyer Malevolent P. Brimstone and his current sidekick, a girl in a full-body spandex suit of red with yellow highlights.  On her chest, in large white Impact font letters within a styled lightning bolt, was written OMG, which she insisted was pronounced Ahmguh.  Three young people in business suits sat across from them -- representatives from a company called Jailbreak Electronic Games, or JEC Inc.

A box of donuts and a carafe of coffee sat on the table.  The air conditioner hummed.  "It's what they call an Augmented Reality game," said Hidoshi Morioka.  "it's like Pokémon Go, or Jurassic World Alive.  The map you see on the screen corresponds to the real world around you."

The red-haired woman beside him nodded vigorously.  "That's right," she said.  "Or like Harry Potter:  Wizards Unite."  This was Amanda Luka.

Grandpa frowned.  "Wizards?  Pokémon?  What's all this got to do with me?  I fight crime!"

"Yes, exactly!" exclaimed the third member of the trio, a young man named David Singh.  "The player in our game Anarchy Punch! takes on the role of a crime fighter -- either you, Grandpa Anarchy, or one of your fellow heroes, which we'll add as we negotiate rights."

"You capture villains by punching them," said Hidoshi.  "Then you lock them up in jails that you can find on various street corners.  The longer they stay in jail, the more points you earn."

"This ain't a game," Grandpa muttered.  "This is my life!"

Hidoshi laughed, but Grandpa didn't join him.  "Look," Hidoshi said, "it's a game based on your life.  You're a well-known hero.  People will enjoy playing you and capturing villains that they hear about in the news. We could make generic heroes and villains, but anyone can do that.  Getting endorsements from you and other heroes gives us our advantage -- it's what will make our game stand out."

Grandpa frowned.  Mal, the demonic lawyer, said, "I see that you are using the name of real adversaries of Grandpa Anarchy as villains in your game.  Have you sought endorsement deals with them as well?"

HIdoshi coughed.  "As it turns out," he said, "very few supervillains have copyrighted their name...."

Mal smiled.  "Very good," he said.  "You have done your homework, then."

"Do I get an endorsement deal?" asked OMG (pronounced Ahmguh) Girl.  "Can I play myself?"

"There will be a robust character creator," said Hidoshi, "eventually.  You will be able to create your own hero if you like, with your own name.  But no, we are not looking to place any sidekicks in the game at this time.  We will speak to members of the New League of Two-Fisted Justice, the Archons of Excellence, and the Black Moon Maidens among others...."

Grandpa Anarchy glanced to his lawyer.  "Well okay," he said, "as long as you work out the details with Mal you can use my name.  I guess kids will buy just about anything, and I know games on your phone are popular."

"Oh," said Amanda, "but we'd also like you to try it out first.  Feedback from the real Grandpa Anarchy would be invaluable."

"I don't play games, Kid," replied Grandpa.  "I live the adventure."

"Assuming we reach an agreement," said Mal, "I will guarantee that Mr. Anarchy will test your game and provide his feedback."  Grandpa opened his mouth to object, and Mal added, "For your information, Mr. Anarchy, Pokémon Go had about $1.8 billion revenue in its first two years.  This could be a very lucrative market for you."

Grandpa's eyes widened.  "One point eight...."

"One point eight billion in revenue," the demon repeated.

"Ahmguh!" exclaimed OMG Girl.

"That's... for a game about catching cute little monsters?" asked Grandpa.

"Yes."

Grandpa Anarchy sat up straighter.  "Very well.  You want me to test out your little game?  I'll see if I can make heads or tails of it."


*** 


"Have I not warned you," said Annie Two, Grandpa's computer system, "about downloading suspicious programs to your phone?"

An image of Annie appeared on a screen on the wall of the Anarchy Cave -- that of a 19th century librarian with black hair wound in a bun and with reading glasses.  Of course, Annie was just a program, or series of programs -- the Anarchy Computer Mark II.  She was, however, possibly the world's foremost computer artificial intelligence.  Grandpa's life as a crimefighter had become much easier ever since she had been installed.

"It's just a test version of a new game that I'm endorsing," Grandpa Anarchy replied.  "It's  all hunky-dory -- or as the kids say these days, it's legit.  Mal gave his approval for it, and we signed the contract."

"Malevolent P. Brimstone is a remarkable lawyer," replied Annie, "and I have no doubt that your contract with this company is designed to give you every advantage legally allowed.  However, he is not an expert on computer programs.  All such matters should be brought to me first.  Do I make myself clear?  This applies to you as well, Miss OMG (pronounced Ahmguh) Girl."

Grandpa's sidekick was staring at her phone.  "What?  Oh, yeah."

"Sure, sure," Grandpa said, also staring at his phone.  "Anyway it's just a stupid game.  I don't even have the time to be playing... oh, hey, lookie there!  There's Holy Terror robbing a bank!  That's only two blocks away!  Well, we can't have that.  Guess I'd better stop him!"

"Ahmguh!  I need him too!" OMG Girl exclaimed.  "He's not in my Rogue's Gallery yet!"

Annie Two's eyes narrowed.  "We are talking about a fictional version of the villain, then?  I believe the real Holy Terror is serving a sentence in Attica Correctional Facility, Supermaximum Supervillain Division...."

"Yeah, not the real one," Grandpa said.  "Come on, OMG Girl!  We'll take the Aston Martin DB5!"


***


Grandpa Anarchy and OMG (pronounced Ahmguh) GIrl stood in the lobby of the Third National Bank of Frosthaven.  There were bullet holes in the walls; two windows were shattered, along with several tables and chairs.  Uniformed police officers were everywhere.  In the center of the room, several thugs in pink bunny suits sat handcuffed on the carpet.

"Nice work, Grandpa!" exclaimed Police Chief Copernicus.  "You sucked all the energy out of the Energizer Gang!  They won't be going anywhere fast after this caper -- they're facing hard time in the Hoosegow!"

"All in a day's work," Grandpa Anarchy replied with a nod.  He glanced down at his phone.  "Aw, Hades!  Baron Climate Change escaped again!  And all of his Zoot Soot Monster minions!"

The Chief of Police looked alarmed.  "He has?  Isn't he held in Attica Correctional Facility, Supermax...."

"No, I don't mean the real Baron Climate Change," Grandpa replied irritably.  "It's this game.  See?"  He held up his phone.  "I locked them up in the Dunkin Donuts Jail on the corner, but now they've escaped.  I need to track them down again."

"Ahmguh!  Me too!" exclaimed OMG Girl.

Sargent Shakespeare glanced over Grandpa's shoulder.  "Hey, that looks like fun!  Where did you download that?"

"Sorry, Sarge," Grandpa replied.  "It's just a beta test version.  You know, to see how I like it and to get some feedback.  But maybe in a few months...."  Grandpa paused to glance at his phone again.

"I love games like that," said the Sargent.  "I bet that's addictive."

"Nah, it ain't addictive," Grandpa said.  "Don't be silly.  It's just a game."  His eyes lit up.  "Hey, that's Doctor Unipus down the street, OMG Girl!   We don't have him yet!  If we hurry, we can destroy his base and capture both him and the Baron...."


***


In the downtown Frosthaven offices of Jailbreak Electronic Games, JEC Inc., three young people in business casual dress sat around a computer screen.  Hidoshi Morioka and David Singh watched as Amanda Luka worked.

"There," she finally said.  "One hundred thousand transferred into our accounts.  He won't even miss it."

"Nice!" Hidoshi exclaimed.

"Mind you," said Amanda, "this is just a test run.  Once we're all set up and running we'll be able to fleece a lot more from Mr. Anarchy and all of his super friends.  I'm telling you, the man is loaded.  The licensing money from just the most recent movie and from that Girls of Two-Fisted Justice cartoon is multiple millions...."

"And that old fool doesn't suspect a thing!" David crowed.

The doors burst open.  Grandpa Anarchy and his sidekick OMG Girl charged in, followed by a dozen cops with guns drawn.

"Now see, that's where you're wrong," Grandpa Anarchy exclaimed.  "You're all under arrest for illegal wiretapping and surveillance and tryin' to take my money by using computer trickery... I'm sure there's a term for that... anyway, we caught you in the act!"

As the cops handcuffed the three, Amanda said, "How did you know?"

"Ahmguh!" OMG Girl exclaimed.  "Annie Two, of course!"

"Annie Two is the world's foremost computer A.I.," said Grandpa.  "That's short for Anarchy Computer Mark II.  You ain't going to outsmart her.  That was your first mistake, thinking that I wouldn't notice you tracking my every move -- or rather, that Annie Two wouldn't notice.  She was on to you from the start.

"Your second mistake," Grandpa continued, "was making such an addictive game!  Seriously, I can't stop playing it!"  He held up his phone to demonstrate.  "I'm telling you, this game of yours is more than a way to spy on me and a few other heroes -- this thing will sell like hotcakes!  And I've sold hotcakes in my time, lemme tell you!"

"Do you really think so?" Amanda Luka asked.  "Then, even if we're convicted, we'll benefit...."

"Oh, but you won't," Grandpa said.  "I will.  See, you signed a contract written by Malevolent P. Brimstone, my lawyer.  Never sign a deal with a demonic lawyer before you read the fine print.  That was your third mistake!  I now own a quarter of your company, and Mal is the fourth member on your board, representing me -- and per the rules of the contract, you forfeit your board position and ownership if convicted of a federal crime.  When that happens, ownership of the entire company will revert to me."

Grandpa Anarchy grinned.  "I'm going to make a ton of money on this game," he said, glancing down at his phone.  "Oh!  Death Medal is stealing an ancient tome at the library three blocks away!  If I rush over there I can catch him in the act!"

Sargent Shakespeare gripped his gun, then released it.  He laughed.  "You almost got me again, Grandpa!" he said.

"I ain't talking about no game!" Grandpa snarled.  "Let's go, OMG Girl!"

Sargent Shakespeare said, "But the real Death Medal is locked up in...."

"Sarge?" said a young officer.  "We're getting reports that Death Medal has escaped from Paradoria Supervillain Maximum Security...."

The Sargent sighed.  "Right!" he said.  "Half of you secure this group, the rest of you, come with me...."

FINI

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Die Eier von Satan

Die Eier von Satan
Mark A Davis
380

A blue-tinged sun rose over an alien city, where a forrest of thin white spires like fingers reached skyward.  A small red croissant-shaped ship darted between spires.  Inside were two humans and one alien.

"Ahmguh!" exclaimed OMG Girl.  "What's this guy's deal, again?"

"He is a thief of valuable tomes," replied Qwaiia, the alien.  "This is surely his greatest sin and the singular feature which most defines his character."

OMG Girl wore a full-body suit of red with yellow highlights.  On her chest, within a styled lightning bolt, was written OMG in large white Impact font.  Qwaiia was a librarian of the Kanningmitt, a race of large-headed, nine-foot-tall aliens from the planet Aiin, where great libraries housed the literature of a thousand worlds.  Among other things, they have preserved human books, scrolls, and tomes of knowledge for millennia.  A visit to their planet could reveal what was once held in the great library at Alexandria.

And, if your name was Death Medal, you could steal something.

"Death Medal is a lot more than just a book thief." said Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero.  As usual he wore a gray suit with a silver anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast.  He glanced sideways at his new sidekick.  "And... ahmguh?" he asked.  The ship sailed out from the spires and over a forest of blue and violet.  In the distance an azure sea sparkled.

"Oh Em Gee," replied OMG Girl.  "Ahmguh!  Like my name."

"So," said Grandpa Anarchy, "Your name isn't Oh Em Gee Girl, or...."

"It's pronounced Ahmguh," the girl replied haughtily.  "Obviously."

"No, see," said Grandpa, "OMG is an acronym.  It means...."

"Yes, I know," said the girl.  "But when I write a word, it's pronounced just how I choose it to be -- neither more nor less.  The question is which is to be the master, that is all."

"Ah," said Qwaiia the librarian, "you quote lines of dialog from the popular Terran tome Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, composed and published by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson writing under his pen name Lewis Carroll...."

"Okay, I've read Lewis Carroll too," said Grandpa, frowning.  "I can see you've had to defend this pronunciation to a lot of people....  anyway as I was saying, Death Medal is a lot more than just a book thief.  He's a grade-A villain and a demon into the bargain."

"Surely theft of a valuable tome is crime enough to condemn him," replied Qwaiia.  "One need not bring race into the discussion...."

"Look Doc," said Grandpa, "I'm less concerned about the book theft, and more concerned about what he plans to do with said book.  Death Medal's whole shtick is destruction via spells or magical artifacts.  He wants the world to burn -- and the whole universe, if possible.  Part of that's down to him being a demon."

"If he destroys the universe," asked OMG Girl, "Won't he die too?"

"Maybe?" said Grandpa.  "He's a demon, so who knows?  Does destruction of the universe include hell?  Hard to say."

"This is an interesting conundrum," said Quaiia, "which touches on the Terran philosophy of Annihilationism, the belief that existence in an eternal lake of fire is a false doctrine of pagan origin...."

"Yes, I'm sure," Grandpa interrupted.

"Ahmguh!" exclaimed OMG Girl.  "We've got to stop him!"

"What I do not understand," said Qwaiia, "is why he would steal the tome at all?  Library registration is free to all sentient beings, and takes but a few minutes...."

"Well he's a villain," said Grandpa, "so he's not one to do things by the book."

"Ah!  Ha!" the alien barked.  Ha!  Ha!  A Terran joke!  Doing things by the book.  Both a known Terran colloquialism and one of your famous lowbrow puns, the wordplay for which your heroes are famous!  Excellent!"

"Yeah, that's me," Grandpa Anarchy muttered.  "Always joking."

Their ship alighted in a sea of violet grass on a cliff overlooking the ocean.  In the distance, the flaming skull of Death Medal stood out amid a small collection of humanoids.  The sky overhead was streaked with neon blue.  The ship's door opened, and Grandpa stepped outside.

"I implore you," said Qwaiia, "whatever you do, please protect the Atlantean Kodex!  No copy of it exists on earth!"

Grandpa Anarchy grimaced.  "Of course," he said.  "Just the sort of book that Death Medal likes to steal."

Grandpa and OMG Girl strode forward.  "That's far enough!" Death Medal called out.  Aside from the flaming skull, the villain was a muscular man in a Nazi SS Officer uniform, with silver skull buttons and a raft of medals covering the left side of his suit.  To his right stood Miss Kid Gloves, his girlfriend and second-in-command, also in a black SS uniform and with bright white gloves.  To his right towered a uniformed, misshapen Chewbacca with a serious case of chrome spikes.  This was Private Growley Monster, another of Death Medal's lackeys.

In front of these three were arranged a dozen stormtroopers with rifles.  These were pointed at Grandpa and OMG Girl, who froze.

"Nice chase, Mr. Anarchy but you are too late!" Death Medal exclaimed.  "One more step and my stormtroopers will gun you down."  Death Medal waved the tome overhead.  "Did you know that the Atlantean Kodex is not only an ancient earth book, allegedly from the lost city of Atlantis itself, but also a truly epic kick-ass metal band from Germany?  Kind of a mix of old-school Bathory and Manowar and doomy Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus, with lyrics based on H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Bavarian culture.  I mean, how could I not steal this book, I ask you?  I'd treat you to some of their phenomenal music while I unleash the end times, but you know, their music is a bit too positive for this sort of thing, and anyway someone accidentally ate the boombox...."

He glared at Private Growley Monster, who, like a guilty dog, avoided his gaze.

"Mind you, some While Heaven Wept would be just about perfect," Death Medal added, "but I supposed we'll have to unleash Armageddon without musical accompaniment this one time...."

Death Medal opened the book.  "Let's see... this version has a German translation.  Die Eier von Satan.  Yes, I think this spell should do the trick."

Death Medal raised a hand to the heavens and read out in a booming voice, "Die Eier von Satan!  Zutaten!  Sechs Eier!  Ein Viertel Tasse Mayonnaise!  Ein Teelöffel weißer Essig!  Ein Teelöffel gelber Senf!  Frisch gemahlener schwarzer Pfeffer...."

Death Medal paused.  "What the Hades?" he muttered.  "This isn't a spell -- it's a recipe!  For deviled eggs, I think."  He flipped to the front of the book.  "Hey, this isn't a spell book at all...."

"Oh.  Em.  Gee!" exclaimed OMG (pronounced Ahmguh) Girl.  "It's not an ancient tome of magic at all!  It's a cookbook!"

She paused dramatically.  Death Medal said, "Well, frack!  I think you're right."

"IT'S A COOKBOOK!" OMG Girl said again.  "You know -- a cookbook!  Like that old Twilight Zone episode...."  Her voice trailed off.  She stared at Qwaiia.  "And you're... a nine-foot-tall alien... just like that episode...."  Her eyes grew big.

"Episode 89, based on the short story by Damon Knight, in fact," said Qwaiia.  He stepped forward and snatched the book from Death Medal's grasp.  "It's a cookbook, and it has not been properly checked out.  Therefore I am confiscating it."  He glanced back and added, "I am a librarian, Miss OMG Girl -- a connoisseur of words, not of human flesh."

FINI

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Oulipo Blues

Oulipo Blues
Mark A Davis
344

Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, crashed through the front window of the Sinister Doomhollow Memorial Library of Frosthaven NJ.  He landed in a crouch as shards of glass skittered across the marble floor.  A boy in a brown tweed suit and bow tie leaped through the window to land beside him.  Grandpa was dressed in his usual rumpled gray suit with a silver Anarchy symbol stitched over the left breast.  He wore black leather gloves.

In the center of the library stood a dumpy man in a costume of black and white with a long, striped tail.  The face was masked in black, with reflective goggles.  He gripped a dictionary like a holy book.

"Give it up!" Grandpa Anarchy exclaimed.  "Your reign of terror is at an end, Literate Lemur!  I'm gonna toss you in the hoosegow!"

"Hoosegow," said Grandpa's sidekick, known as the Etymological Kid.  "From 1911, Western United States, most likely a mispronunciation of the Mexican Spanish juzgao, meaning tribunal or court."

"So, Mr. Anarchy," the villain exclaimed.  "Not unlike the French soldier Pierre-François Bouchard discovering that famous granodiorite stele known as the Rosetta Stone, you have once again pierced the veil of my clues and discerned the meaning hidden within.  You are ever the astute and worthy foe!  I salute you!  Yes, it is true that I employed Oulipo as a method to obsfucate the clues to my crime... I refer of course to the famous French literary movement Ouvroir de littérature potentielle which translates roughly as workshop of potential literature, in which constrained writing techniques are employed as a means of creating new means of expression...."

"Express this!" Grandpa Anarchy shouted.  He launched himself forward, smashing his fist into the villain's jaw.


Local Hero Grandpa Anarchy Arrests Literate Lemur


Grandpa Anarchy, well-known hero and resident of Frosthaven NJ, confronted superthief the Literate Lemur in the Sinister Doomhollow Memorial Library on 6th and Union last evening.  Mr. Anarchy apprehended the villain after a brief battle in which a front window was broken.  The Literate Lemur was charged with theft and resisting arrest.

"I was reading a book on snails, when there was a huge crash!" exclaimed library patron Nancy McDermott-Hernandez.  "Grandpa Anarchy smashed through the front window, scattering broken glass everywhere!

"Why he doesn't just use the front door, I've got no idea," she added.

Police Chief Capernicus confirmed that the Literate Lemur was wanted for the theft of several books from the city's rare book vault.  The villain will be held in the city's supervillain detention center pending trial.

Mayor Doomhollow issued a statement thanking Grandpa Anarchy once again for his service, and noting that he would not be charged with destruction of public property, granted that he paid for the broken window within two weeks as stipulated in the city's hero and vigilante regulations.

Grandpa Anarchy has operated as a legal hero in Frosthaven since at least 1910.  The Sinister Doomhollow Memorial Library was constructed in 1985 from a generous grant bestowed by Mayor Doomhollow, after his retirement from a career as one of the world's foremost supervillains.



  Grandpa Anarchy narrowed his eyes.  "Hang on," he said.  "What was that just now?  A newspaper recap?"

"Just so," replied the Literate Lemur.  "It is, of course, the same events told in a completely different style."

"Now, there's no need for any of that..." Grandpa Anarchy began.



My heart leapt in my chest as Grandpa Anarchy smashed the window pane, his burly muscles taut beneath the thin, faded fabric of his threadbare suit, his gloved hand thrusting forward not unlike the thrust of a spear from a primitive hunter.  Glass shattered like my heart had one week earlier, when first I learned that he could never be mine.  But he turned and looked deep into my eyes, gave me that rakish grin that always warmed me inside, and said, "Come, Etymological Kid.  Our foe the Literate Lemur awaits!"

And there he was, standing within the library like a wizard within is inner sanctum.  Well I knew that here stood a supervillain most foul, a prince of thieves, a brilliant but tortured man whose love for books and the words within equaled my own.  Such a brilliant man, yet so misguided!  Light glinted from his lemurlike goggles, and I recalled that night we spent together in Superfox's Diner six months ago, when he opened up and shared with me the story of his love of lemurs, of his bond with them and how they guided him -- a secret he had told no one else.

No! I told myself.  I had pledged myself to do good -- to do right!  Yet I knew deep in my heart that no prison could cure the Literate Lemur -- only love could calm the stormy seas of emotion that raged within his soul.  Love that I could provide.  Did I dare grant him that love?  The one I truly loved was Grandpa, but the one who needed me was....

Grandpa sprung forward to punch the Lemur in the face.  I felt my hand move of its own volition, reaching out to stop him....



The Etymological Kid raised his hand.  "Point of order," he said.  "I am neither in love with Grandpa nor yourself."

"Literary license," replied the Literate Lemur.  "Surely you understand?"

"Wait," said Grandpa.  "What's going on here?"

"Are you familiar with Exercices De Style by Raymond Queneau?" asked the Literate Lemur.  "Ninety-nine retellings of the same episode, each in a unique literary style and tone.  It is a fine example of Oulipo...."

"Ninety-Nine!" Grandpa Anarchy yelled.  "Not if I have anything to say about it!"



When I recount these feats of Anarchy,
Confronting lemur vile yet literate,
Solving every riddle he hath wrot,
Mental tricks of great complexity
Strode forth the hero with his mighty fists
Unto the hallowed halls of knowledge free,
Smashing glass like Christ of Galilee
Did temple moneychangers to resist
"Villain!  Halt!" the hero did exclaim
"Your reign of terror ended is today!"
With eloquence, the villain had his say,
"Oulipo be your doom," I heard him name
Trapped within each endless variation
Our hero faces ultimate damnation.


***


"Let me get this straight," said Grandpa Anarchy.  "I'm trapped repeating the same encounter over and over, each time expressed in a different literary style...."

"Ninety-nine scenes in total," replied Annie Two, the Anarchy Computer Mark II A.I.  "A complete tribute to the Raymond Queneau publication.  Such styles include Dream Sequence, Word Game, Anagrams, Onomatopoeia, Spoonerisms, Visual, Auditory, Ode, Hellenisms, Haiku, Free Verse, Mathematical, and one written in Cockney slang... all with commentary from you two in between each scene."

"The Sonnet is a nice touch," noted Grandpa's sidekick.  "Well done, that villain."

Grandpa Anarchy and his sidekick the Etymological Kid were seated in the Anarchy Cave before a wall-mounted video screen, upon which was displayed the text from the Literate Lemur.  A second screen displayed a young woman dressed like a 19th century librarian -- the visual representation of Annie Two.  Grandpa said, "And he never once explains how he's supposed to have trapped me in this mess?"

"It is a literary device, Mister Anarchy," the computer replied.  "I think he wrote it as a creative exercise."

"Well, no literary device can hold down Grandpa Anarchy, that's for dang sure," Grandpa snarled.  "The strange thing is that I normally can't make heads or tails of the Lemur's clues... but here he not only says we'll find him at the town library, he repeats it ninety-nine times...."

"Indeed," the computer A.I. replied.

"The version which I prefer," said Grandpa, "is the one where I don't show up at all, but sit here in my Anarchy Cave while the Frosthaven police arrest this literary fool."

"I alerted them an hour ago," said Annie Two.  "They have him in custody."

Grandpa punched the air in triumph.  "Good!" he exclaimed.  "I've had enough literary shenanigans for one night."

"Shenanigans," said the Etymological Kid.  "Of uncertain origin, earliest records are from 1855 in San Francisco and Sacramento in California, possibly from the Spanish chanada...."

Grandpa glared.  "Oh," the kid said.  "Right."


FINI

Monday, March 2, 2020

Dressed To Kill

Dressed to Kill
Mark A Davis
311


"You have an amazing collection of dresses!" Amaryllis said.  "I'm jealous!"

Eve Jaskulski, space babe agent, watched as her girlfriend looked through a colorful rack of outfits.  They were aboard S.I.S.B. Space Station Terra, in orbit around earth.  The room was largely undecorated, just bright white walls and smooth surfaces with a textured, rubberlike floor, but Amaryllis had discovered the storage closets, flush with the wall on one side of the room, and especially the large closet stuffed with dresses.

Eve lay on her bunk dressed as usual in a silver space babes bikini with go-go boots and a belt for her holstered weapon.  She had green hair, eyes that were completely blue, and a deep tan thanks to many days spent in the sun on her girlfriend's fairyland farm in Amethyst.

Eve made a sour face.  "I know," she said.

"I've literally never seen you wear one," Amaryllis pouted.  The fairy girl was tall and lithe, with lavender hair and violet eyes.  Today she wore the outfit that shed worn when they met -- a white blouse with a peter pan collar, and a lavender corduroy jumper dress with a very short skirt.  It was the kind of mini dress once popular on earth in the 1960's.

"I don't like dresses," Eve said.  "They look fine on other girls, but I wouldn't have any myself if it weren't for this froglike alien known as the King of Throga.  We saved his life, and now he sends us three outfits a month, including a ball gown.  Muriel gets them too -- there were four space babes who got that reward."  She made another face.  "So far, even the non-ballgowns have been dresses of some sort...."

Amaryllis pulled out a short black cocktail dress.  "Oh, but this is so cute!" she said.  "I'd love to see you in it!"

"I can show you a 3-D video if you like," said Eve.  "I wear each outfit once, so that we can send back images, that's part of the deal.  That's more than enough, if you ask me."

"Aw, you won't even dress up for me?  You're no fun at all!" Amaryllis said.

"I'm just not that a dress wearing girl, I guess," Eve said.  "They hamper your movements, and they leave you exposed.  Anyone who looks up your skirt can see your underwear."

Amaryllis glared at Eve through narrowed eyes.  "Eve, Dear," she said, "you spend 99% of your time parading about in nothing but glorified underwear...."

"This is different!" Eve exclaimed.  "It's my uniform!"

Amaryllis sighed.  She looked at the cocktail dress again.  "I think," she said, "that we absolutely must visit a fancy restaurant one night, and you will wear this cocktail dress."

"Why?" asked Eve.

"Because you're my girlfriend, and you'll look very cute in it, and that will make me happy," she said.  "I shall probably be prepared to ravish you afterwards...."

Eve sighed.  "Okay," she said.  "I'll do it.  But not  today,  If you want any of those other dresses, you can have them."

"A tempting offer," Amaryllis said, replacing the cocktail dress, "but not all of them will fit me.  You're a good deal shorter than me, Eve, and far more curvy.  If there are ones that can be easily altered... oh, what's this?"  She pulled out a floor-length ballgown of pale blue.   "It has moving pictures!" she exclaimed in delight.  Indeed, the skirt played scenes as if from a movie -- all in sepia blue tones.

"That dress," said Eve, "was the first.  I wore it the night we saved the Throgan king's life, and he gave it to me as a reward.  I mean really, a reward?  I never want to wear that thing again!"

"But -- it's amazing!" Amaryllis said, fascinated.  She stared as scenes of life on an alien world flashed by.  "How does it work?"

"It's just visual fabric," Eve said.  "It's a common technology in the interstellar empire.  There's a chip hidden within that contains thousands of old flat screen movies from the empire's past -- really old technology that's in the public domain.  I've tried watching some of them, but everything's blue, there's no sound, and a skirt does not really make a good movie screen in any case.  I'm not even sure if it plays full movies, or just random imaged from the library."

"But this is amazing!" Amaryllis repeated.  "I wonder, does the  technology work on Amethyst?  If so, I know someone who would kill to own this gown!"


***


Sharp fabric shot across the clearing.  Eve dodged as pink silk -- apparently as sharp and hard as a steel blade -- sliced past.  In the woods ahead, dresses floated in the air like ghostly apparitions.  There was a princess dress -- the one in pink silk -- a black sheath dress, and a bouffant dress in pineapple with raspberry trim.  The dresses did not appear as if they were inhabited per se -- no ghostly form filled them out -- but they were apparently sentient and prepared to attack.

Eve gripped a brass-and-wood steampunk blaster.  "When you said he would kill to own this," said Eve, "I thought you were joking!"

"The Magician of Dressmaking doesn't like visitors," said Amaryllis.  "He's a very reclusive genius.  That's why he dwells out on the heart of the Foreboding Forest, and surrounds himself with magically-created guardians...."

The black sheath dress flew forward.  Its sleeve shot out, becoming a sharp-edged blur.  Eve almost failed to move in time -- the dress grazed her cheek, slicing it with a shallow cut.  Cursing, Eve leveled her weapon and fired.  Energy struck the dress, which disintegrated.

The other dresses moved swiftly.  Eve fired again, but missed.  The hem of the bouffant dress became a malformed fist which struck Eve squarely in the face.

As Eve stumbled back, dazed, she heard Amaryllis cry out.  Distracted, Eve was enveloped by the bouffant dress.  It constricted her until she could not move.

Amaryllis slashed with a kitchen knife, but she was hampered by the garment bag she carried containing the moving picture dress.  She was also a farm girl, not a trained fighter.  The pink princess dress avoided her blade and struck her, then flowed around her.  In moments both girls were wearing the animated dresses.  They were unable to move on their own; the dresses controlled them.  They turned and marched deeper into the woods.

"This doesn't look good," Eve said.

"I don't think the wizard would kill us..." Amaryllis replied.

They came to an open clearing where sat a small stone castle.   An old man waited, tall and thin, dressed impeccably in a pink silk suit with silver buttons and a stovepipe hat.  He had wild white hair down to his shoulders, and wire-rimmed glasses that perched on a hooked nose.

The dresses marched the two girls up to this man and paused.  They were still unable to move.

"Well," he said, "two girls travel deep into the Foreboding Forest, intent on bothering the Sartorial Sorcerer, do they?  What business do you two have with the Warlock of Weave?"

"Hail, great wizard known as Cocoa Champu..." Amaryllis began.

"Wait," said Eve.  "His name is Cocoa Shampoo?"

"No," Amaryllis said irritably, "it's Cocoa Champu.  It's spelled with a C.  You can always recognize a Cocoa Champu design by the double CC initials.  That's his trademark, his brand.  Now don't interrupt!"

She turned back to the wizard.  "Greetings, mighty Frockmancer," she said.  "My friend and I have come to bargain."

The wizard's eyes narrowed.  "I see that you have brought something with you.  A dress?  It had better be fabulous, for I have little interest in ordinary raiment.

A portion of the princess dress lifted the garment bag from the girl's unresisting fingers and held it out for the wizard to inspect.  He unzipped it and pulled the bag back, revealing the pale blue ballgown with the moving images on the skirt.  The wizard's eyes grew wide.

"What is this?" he asked.  "Never have I seen it's like!"

"My friend," said Amaryllis, "comes from another universe, where people travel between the stars.  This is a common fabric in a place called the Eieio (pronounced EE-Yow) Empire.  It shows images from what are called movies -- moving pictures that tell stories.  This dress apparently has access to thousands of such images."

The wizard stared at the dress as the images moved past.  Several minutes went by before he finally spoke.

"I will trade for this," he said.  "One dress from my collection, or other item of clothing -- any item that you would like."

He snapped his fingers, and the two dresses that Eve and Amaryllis wore -- or did the dresses wear them? -- slid away.  Both girls stumbled, surprised to be under their own power once again.  Still entranced by the moving picture gown, the wizard spared a sidelong glance at Eve, dressed in her usual silver bikini.  "Certainly one of you has need of my creations," he commented.

"Hey!  I like my uniform just fine!" Eve retorted.

They made their introductions.  The wizard, it appeared, had a great many titles -- the Thaumatailor, the Mage of Smocks, the Costume Conjurer, the Ensemble Enchanter, the Shift Summoner -- but he told them that Cocoa the wizard would do just fine.

"Allow me to guess that which you've come for," he said.  "Perhaps it is the Ball Gown of Beauty?  When worn, it will make any girl twice as attractive, and will transform men into passably cute women...."

Amaryllis shook her head.  The dressmaker pursed his lips.  "No?  Well, you two are both quite pretty already, so perhaps not.  I do have a dress that will make one ugly, and one that will transform the wearer into a crone, and one that will make one look obese...."

"I don't know why any girl would want those," said Amaryllis.

Eve said, "Oh, but those would be very useful as disguises."

"Yes, exactly!" the wizard exclaimed.  "I have a full line of dresses useful for disguises!  Do you wish to look like a preteen peasant girl?  I have a dress for that!  Or how about my matronly housewife dress?  You can be a wicked witch with a simple change of clothing, or a beautiful princess -- that gown comes in multiple hair colors!  Or how about a dress that makes you look like a man?"

"A man... in a dress?" Eve asked, dubiously.

"Well, yes, obviously," said the wizard.

"Those are not what I've come for," said Amaryllis.  "What I'm looking for has more... utilitarian applications...."

"Ah, then perhaps the dress of flying?" the wizard suggested.  "The Dress of speed?  I have a mermaid gown that really does turn you into a mermaid in water -- and it's made of water resistant fabric of course...."

"Is everything you make a dress?" asked Eve.

"Not at all!" the wizard replied.  "I have quite a few skirts as well!  There's a beautiful a-line stealth skirt in black, for example, or a wraparound skirt of wisdom, or my miniskirt of strength... I also have several aprons that aid one in becoming a better cook...."

"Now we're getting warmer," said Amaryllis.

"You have a surprisingly large catalog of items," said Eve, "for someone who hides in the woods and surrounds himself with guardians meant to drive people away."

"Yes, well," said the wizard, "while I love designing magical clothing for women -- I don't like people that much."

"Have you considered mail order?" Eve asked.  "Selling online?"

"That's so impersonal," said the wizard.  "I like to know who I'm dealing with."

"Except that you don't like people," said Eve.

"Exactly!" he exclaimed.  "But it's nice to know what a customer is like before you refuse to do business with them."  He studied the two girls for a moment.  "Is this item of clothing for you," he asked Amaryllis, "or a friend?"

"A friend," she replied.

The wizard looked Eve up and down.  "I sense that you are something of an adventurer," he said.

"I am an agent for the Society of Intergalactic Space Babes," Eve replied.  "My code name is Eve the Explorer."

"I see.  Then perhaps it is the Dress of Spontaneous Weapon Creation that you seek...."

"Yes," said Amaryllis.  "That is exactly it."

The wizard clapped his hands together.  "Wonderful!  I happen to have a lovely lavender Lolita pinafore dress with a mid-knee skirt that pairs with a very nice blouse of white silk with Peter Pan collar and Juliet sleeves.  It's extremely cute, and can summon any weapon you need at a moment's notice!"  He looked Amaryllis over and added, "I'll even throw in a peasant dress for you as a bonus -- one that grants additional strength and endurance...."

"That," said Amaryllis, "would be more than fair."  She glanced sidelong at her friend.  "But will it fit?"

"All of my dresses resize magically to fit whoever wears them," the wizard said.  "Allow me to retrieve the dresses in question...."

Several minutes later, the wizard returned with two hangers containing a yellow peasant dress with a brown corset, and an elaborate pinafore dress in pink and lavender.  The lower hem of the dress depicted a scene of cute bunny characters stabbing and shooting each other with all manner of weapons.

Amaryllis held up the pinafore.  She grinned, and handed it to Eve.

"Well?" she said.  "Put it on!"

"Me?" Eve said, staring at the dress.

"Yes, of course you, Dear Eve," Amaryllis said.

"No thanks," said Eve.  "It's far too cute -- not my style at all."

"Dear Eve," said Amaryllis, "This dress is my gift to you."

"Well I appreciate the thought," said Eve, "But Amaryllis, I told you I don't do dresses.  Thank you, but... I mean, I don't want to sound ungrateful, but... the last thing I need is another dress...."

Amaryllis grinned.  Violet eyes sparkled.  "Indeed, Dear Eve, but you also told me that you wear each gift once.  I want to see you in this for the rest of the day.  We'll have dinner in Amethyst, and then go back to my farm, and once we're in my bedroom, then you can remove it.  Do I make myself clear?  After tonight, you may do with the dress as you wish."

Eve knew she was trapped.  She glanced at the wizard, who said, "You will want the proper undergarments for that -- your bikini, as beautiful as it is, will not do...."

Several minutes later Eve wore the Lolita dress, while Amaryllis had changed into the yellow peasant dress.  "I feel like a fool," Eve muttered.

"But you look so cute!" Amaryllis said.  She glanced back at the wizard.  "How does it work, exactly?"

"Simply think of the type of weapon you desire," the wizard said, "and then lift your skirt up.  The weapons will then appear."

Eve frowned.  "Seriously?" she asked.  She concentrated a moment, then lifted her skirt.  Something struck the ground with a thump.  She retrieved a long-barreled steampunk rifle with a polished wooden stock, copper fittings and blue steel shaft.  There was, however, no barrel -- just a strange collection of coiled copper tubing, and what looked like something meant to conduct electricity.

"Ah!" the wizard said, as Eve cradled the weapon.  "A subsonic immolation assault rifle!  Very nice!"

Eve sighted along the barrel.  "And this works?" she asked.

"Yes, of course," replied the wizard.

"This dress," said Eve, "has practical uses.  If only it weren't a dress...."


***


Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, stared at his new sidekick -- a young girl with dark skin in an elaborate pink and lavender dress.  There were murderous bunnies decorating the hem.  "You call yourself Ex Habitu?" he asked.  "What does that mean, exactly?"

"Out of the skirt!" the girl replied.  "Like so!"  She lifted her skirt, and six Bowie knives dropped from it.

"So you keep knives under your skirt?" Grandpa said.  "I don't see how that's very practical... I mean, you'd have to be very careful when you sit...."

"No, silly!" the girl said.  "It's a magical dress -- it can produce any weapon I think of!"

Grandpa's eyes widened.  "Really?  Give me a Walther PPK- 7.65mm," he said.

The girl lifted her skirt.  The weapon dropped out.  Grandpa retrieved it and inspected it.

"That's the real deal, all right," he said.  "Where did you get that dress?"

Ex Habitu said, "Would you believe I bought it off of Ebay?"


FINI